SWB: Managing the Tension

At an conference last Friday on the arts in the church, Nancy Ortberg talked about learning to manage the tension in our lives and ministry. Previously I’ve heard it said that we must learn to live creatively in the tension. But for some reason, this idea about managing the tension struck me afresh.

It occurred to me that tension is a great indicator that we are not only alive but growing. What would a life be without any sort of stress or tension or conflict? If we could ever attain that state, most likely it would be because we managed to isolate ourselves on some remote paradise island, but even there after a while, we’d probably notice some stirring within that would push us once again away from our comfort zone.

So how do we manage tension? How do I manage tension? I don’t think she was referring to the uptight, tense feeling I experience far too often, but it probably applies. I think I’ve done better over the past few years, learning to press into conflict and tension a little, to listen to what’s going on within me, and within my interactions with others. Most importantly, I’m learning to accept that tension is a part of life – not something to be avoided. I still don’t love it. But I’m starting to realize that’s where the real growth happens.

So how am I “Sleeping with Bread” in this awareness? Given my tendency to either run from things or close my eyes and pretend that knot in my stomach is just hunger pain, acknowledging that something is going on inside serves to get me and God on the same page. And from there, I am learning to just be still and listen. Literally, I find myself going to sleep trusting God for a way through situations. That sort of bread truly satisfies.

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SWB: Burnt Bread and Spilled Milk

If my last week were depicted visually, it just might look like burnt bread and spilled milk. Mistakes. Failures (kitchen and otherwise). Disappointments. Wasted time. Relational blunders. Emotional meltdowns. All things I want to shove under the rug or toss in the trash. Only in real life, I tend to do more than shove things under the rug. I run. I quit. Burnt bread? Metaphorically speaking, I think – I’m not a baker. I’ll never be a baker. Time to move on. Spilled milk? I think – I can’t keep it together.

The reality is, there will always be burnt bread and spilled milk. That’s just life but I have to remind myself over and over.  It’s not the end of the world – get up and begin again.

Anyways, yesterday my sister gave me her recipe for Chicken Stew with Austrian Dumplings. It was just what I needed to restore confidence in myself, and perfect for yet another cold wintry day. My gram used to make this and I can just hear her calling over to our house, “I made chicken stew.” Nothing could keep us from running across the field and enjoying a bowl of this oh-so comforting stew. Being a little gravy illiterate, I’ve struggled with this recipe in the past (actually I never had the recipe written down). It always seemed like a 2-day project – one to cook the chicken and stock; one to make the stew). My brilliant little sister came up with a much easier version that tastes exactly like Gram’s did. The dumplings are filling enough that you don’t even need bread to make this a complete meal. This is the perfect comfort food for these mid-winter days, and goes along way towards helping me get past the burnt bread and spilled milk!

Chicken Stew with Austrian Dumplings

chicken parts (I use thighs) – about 10-12 or a whole roasting chicken
1 – 26 oz. can cream of chicken soup
4 cups chicken broth (from cooking the chicken or 1 – 32 oz. carton )
1/4 c. flour
3-4 stalks celery
1 large onion
3-4 carrots
3-4 potatoes
salt
pepper

Boil chicken parts in water until chicken is well cooked. Set aside chicken to cool. Save broth. In another large pot, mix can of cream of chicken soup with approx 3 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Add in chopped celery, onion, carrots, potatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer until tender.

Pull cooled chicken off the bone, cut into small pieces. Set aside.

Add a approx 1/4 cup flour to about 1 cup of chicken broth. Mix well. Add to stew mixture, bring to boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes. Fold in chicken and dumplings.

Austrian Dumplings

1/2 c Butter, softened
2 eggs, separated
3/4 c Flour
1/4 ts Salt
dash Pepper
dash Nutmeg

Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside. Cream butter until soft and beat in egg yolks; gradually stir in flour, seasoning and stiffly beaten egg whites. Drop by teaspoon into boiling salted water and simmer, covered, about 5 minutes; do not let dumplings boil. Gently scoop out of water w/ slotted spoon. Makes 1 1/2 doz.

SWB: Surviving Storms – Receiving Gifts

Like the rest of the Mid-Atlantic states, Pittsburgh was pelted with voluminous amounts of snow this past weekend. It began Friday afternoon, just as predicted. But the accuracy ended there, as snow continued to accumulate until many areas had between 22-24 inches blanketing their worlds.

I am not a snow-hater. Generally I’m of the mindset that snowstorms are God’s way of helping us take much needed breaks. So I curled up with a good book Friday night and was prepared to enjoy the stillness.

Suddenly the lights flickered, strange blue lights flashed outside my front window, something popped, and my heart did a few quick flip-flops. Seconds later, the scenario repeated itself like an unrequested encore, and I found myself in the dark, like the rest of the neighborhood. The dark, and subsequent very cold temperatures, would last until Monday afternoon. We managed to make do with flashlights, loads of blankets, layers of clothing (strange, for my t-shirt wearing husband), and our trusty wood stove. The afternoons warmed up enough to warrant hours of shoveling ourselves out, the roads were cleared enough to run a few errands, and our cell phones kept us in touch with the outside world. Once we figured out we still had hot water (Sunday evening), I even resumed a bit of dish-washing routine. By time Monday morning rolled around though, I was ready for it all to be over. We had enough wood to last just another day, if we were careful. I was concerned about our neighbor who had still not emerged from her house (and whose husband is an invalid). I had work to do. I longed for something to eat that did not come out of a can or plastic (I’ve gotten quite spoiled on my own cooking-from-scratch lately).

Strangely though, one thought kept echoing in my mind: Can I receive this as a gift? Snow – yes, that one’s easy – cozy and picturesque and my introverted self just loves an excuse to hibernate. But utter darkness and cold? Really, God – you aren’t serious? Can’t I just muddle my way through and make the best of it, and be glad when it’s done and over with?

Honestly, I’m not sure how well I did. I’ve had a lot on my mind and felt the need to just stop and listen this weekend. And yet when I was afforded the opportunity, I think I kind of ran the other direction. Yet just the idea of God offering me a gift of time and space was sustaining, and when all was said and done last night, lights restored and body warmed, I was able to sit down and finally process some of the internal stuff.

So that’s the bread I’m carrying with me into this week (a day late but the “oven” was offline) – a reminder of God’s good gifts that show up when we least expect them.

For more “Sleeping With Bread” posts or to learn how you can participate in this weekly meme, visit Sleeping With Bread.

Sleeping With Bread (Again)

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in this meme, but hopefully the bread isn’t too moldy!

Actually, I just copied out tons of quotes from Erwin McManus’ book, Uprising. I’m kind of stuck on Chapter 6 which focuses on the surprising connection between gratitude and forgiveness. So perhaps it’s fitting that I recommit myself to the practice of reviewing my week, in an effort to practice gratitude with more intention and purpose.

Here are a few quotes that have resonated with me:

Perpetual brokenness is defined by a lack of gratitude, and this is the key to wholeness.

Gratitude unleashes the healing power of love.

Forgiveness and gratitude are inseparable.  When we receive forgiveness, we grow in gratefulness. When we grow in gratefulness, we are more willing to give forgiveness. Our ability to receive forgiveness is directly related to our willingness to give it.

I’m still pondering this connection between gratitude and forgiveness but this morning, I swear I heard myself saying, “Oh for goodness sake, Dianne. Maybe you ought to just go ahead and practice gratefulness, while you think this all through!” It’s true; if I wait till I understand it, I may never commit to practicing it.

So what am I most grateful for this week? I continue to appreciate my husband’s great sense of adventure in agreeing for me to quit my job two months ago while I take a few months to establish my own editing and writing service.  Some days I find myself a bit beside myself, thinking of all I want to and need to do. But when I stop and take a deep breath, I remember what a gift I’ve been given and how important it is to just live into every single moment.  Even as many of those moments are filled with questions, uncertainties and doubts, they are just as often filled with creative opportunites which make my heart beat and remind me how glad I am to be alive.

And what am I least grateful for this week? Lots of memories have been stirred up over the past few weeks – places I’m not really sure I’m ready to go, and yet I’m recognizing the need to reach back and and gather these stray pieces of me into who I am, for they are part of me.

Visit Sleeping With Bread to read others’ take on their week or to join in. And thanks to the SWB family, Tara especially, for the always open invitation to participate in this meme of examen.

Sleeping With Bread 5

Sleeping With Bread is a Monday meme based on the practice of examen, a time of stopping to review the week or day and seeking to be more aware of God’s presence.

As I thought back over the past few days, it occurred to me how different my SWB posts might be, if the meme fell on a Thursday or Friday. As it is, on Mondays, the thing nearest to my mind is the weekend – time spent with loved ones, worshiping, relaxing, etc. It’s kind of like the chocolate sauce running down over the frozen whipped cream which covers the peanut butter that’s nesting on a smooth bed of chocolate. And the crust is at the very bottom, where it should be. Posting towards the end of the week however, might be more like eating the crust first. And as anyone in my family knows . . . I have no use for pie crust (unless it’s the graham cracker sort)! Funny how perspective changes everything!

So I’m reaching back a little beyond the weekend in answering this question: When did I have the greatest sense of belonging? Least sense of belonging?

Of course in Pittsburgh we’re celebrating the Stanley Cup win and once again, I am reminded that I do love this city. Not because of it’s sports victories, of course, but those times do highlight what I think is at the heart of the city – a deep camaraderie and love of “place.” It makes me thankful for all those places where I know I belong.

But there’s one place I feel like I don’t belong and it was highlighted to me again this week at work. When I joined this customer service team that serves the East region, I actually replaced the girl who became my boss (who was also my good friend – to make it more confusing!) She had a great relationship with the regional director and a few of the sales people, and to this day – well, let’s just say they’ve never broken it off! So where those people should be coming to me now for questions, they still go to her. I try to shake it off but it’s just a little reminder of those groups in high school where you felt like you never really belonged. But then I ask myself – is this really where I want to belong anyways? The answer to that question is pretty telling!

So that’s the bread I’m holding on to this week – knowing where I belong!

Good Gifts

I have received several gifts over the past few days. And am realizing even the awareness of these gifts is in itself a gift, like 3-D glasses that allow you to appreciate a visual story in even greater depth. I skipped the Sleeping With Bread meme this week, but I’ve been sleeping with these oh so fragrant gifts tucked close to my heart:

  • an invitation (or two). In this stage of my life, I often find myself on the initiating end of things. So I received an invitation the other day as a wonderful gift. Someone took the time to extend themselves and followed through with a plan and all I had to do was show up and be blessed. But on the other hand, I realized that as often as I initiate things, it’s a way for me to give to others.
  • a response. The other day I shared some words (something I’d written) with a friend, via email. Even as I hit “send,” a wave of doubt swept over me – feelings of insecurity and “what if she thinks I’m weird!” But I just hit send, feeling certain that I was obeying a Spirit-led prompting. And I’m learning to let go of responses, realizing that’s out of my control. And yet God saw fit to bring a response my way, an affirmation of sorts to both of us.
  • prayer. I always think it’s God that changes things. And yet prayer does have this mysterious role in our relationship with God and others. Anyways, the prayers of a friend were a timely gift the other day and it was exciting to share with that friend how God worked and the whole experience has kind of left me in awe. How exactly did prayer change things?

Even as I write this, I am aware of a common thread of friendship running through each of these gifts. And isn’t that one of the greatest gifts?

So what good gifts have you received this week?

Sleeping with Bread 4

I always remember hearing that the Jewish people began their days in the evenings, preparing for the next day the night before. There seems to be tangible value in viewing the end of a day as merely the beginning of another.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been walking through an audio version of a prayer of examen.  Those few minutes just before I fall off to sleep are an ideal time to recount the events of the past day. Learning to be aware of God’s presence throughout each day makes such a difference in how well I sleep. And as often as God brings it to mind, I’ve been trying to start my days expectantly, recalling that “this is the day the Lord has made . . . ” as I lay in bed, half awake. I like to imagine that God is inviting me into the day. Doing so helps me feel less like my days are just a series of loose ends and more as though God is daisy-chaining them together.

When did I feel most alive? This Monday begins the last of four 4-day weeks in a row for me. Seriously, I could get used to this! I spent Friday with my dad at a giant flea market in Ohio – one of our favorite things to do. We neither one bought much, but somehow we managed to spend over five hours there, just taking our time poring over other people’s junk! Like many other people, Memorial Day is when we get the garden and flowers planted and Saturday found me at another flea market in search of plants (everything was pretty picked over by time we got there). We spent Sunday evening at the home of some friends from church – a great time of music and way too much food!

When did I feel most drained of life? At some point Friday night, I was starting to feel drained . . . and the weekend was barely begun. It was good to stop and realize why . . . as usual, I tend to approach days off with an unachievable to-do list, in a state of perpetual motion, with little or no allowance for anything life-giving and energizing. For an introvert, that translates to some intentional quiet time . . . a nap, some light fiction reading and probably a hike or bike ride Monday morning. I’ve managed to totally ruin four-day weekends in the past, so this awareness was a sign of growth and an extra serving of bread this week.

Visit Sleeping With Bread to read others’ take on their week or to join in.