Friday, February 24, 2012

Salvation and the Slow Cooker

Last night was our turn to host community group. I love our community group - it's small, personal, honest, and fun. We meet once a week, but also hang out together a lot during the week, either in book clubs or at church or random drop-ins at work. Honestly, some of my very good friends are in the group, so it's as much a time of friendship as it is a time of study and prayer. (Plus, their children are ridiculously cute and I love playing with them.)

So anyway, for dinner I decided to make barbecue beef and beans based on a recipe I found through Pinterest (this woman made something in her Crock-Pot every single day for an entire year). It sounded tasty and easy, and I haven't made it for group before, so I bought the ingredients and set out my slow cooker last night to remind myself to get it started this morning. 

Yesterday morning, around 6:30am while John was getting ready for work, I began to gather the ingredients: barbecue baked beans, an onion, some garlic, barbecue sauce, a 3 lb. cut of chuck roast, etc. I put the chuck roast in the slow cooker, cut up the onions, and poured the can of barbecue baked beans over the roast, just as the recipe stated. Then I opened the barbecue sauce....and I realized it was not the same flavor as the beans. I hesitated. Then, in what I can only describe as unconscious act of self-sabotage, I watched myself pour the contents of the bottle into the slow cooker, covering the beans and chuck roast completely. 

I froze. So, maybe this will make a new, more awesome flavor, I thought optimistically.  Or maybe each flavor will be ruined by an ingredient in the other, making it completely and utterly inedible.  I stood there for a moment trying to figure out exactly how bad the situation was. I've never made barbecue anything, and I rarely cook red meat (not because I'm a meat snob...I just don't know how to prepare it right). After 10-15 seconds of deliberation, I decided that the flavor medley would be nothing less than earth-shatteringly horrible. How on earth could I have purchased maple bacon baked beans and Southern-style barbecue sauce without realizing the consequences?! Oh, the humanity!

And guys, I want to be honest with you. I found myself praying for the barbecue sauce. 

No, really. Lord, I said, I think I screwed this up, and I don't have a plan "B." We're on a tight budget and I don't really have the money or the patience to go out and buy more stuff. So, I kinda need this to taste good and not make anyone sick, ok? I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.

And although I feel silly announcing that I prayed a pitiful blessing over the pot of chuck roast and baked beans, I confess that almost immediately the verse I'd memorized  for last week's Bible study pushed it's way through the self-pity and guilt. 

"For God has not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7) 

And it clicked. Was I really going to spend the rest of my day nervous about the quality of one meal? I mean, I couldn't exactly taste-test a pot of raw meat and beans, and I'd have to wait at least 8 hours before attempting to try it, so I could either throw it all away or move on with my day hoping for the best and realizing that even if it tasted funky, I was serving it to my community group. As in, the people who love me and pray for me and text me when I'm sick to make sure I don't need any chicken noodle soup or popsicles. The people whose children I love, and whose houses I've been to multiple times. The people who are sharing life with me because they are passionate about the Gospel and about lifting one another up in fellowship and prayer, not because they like the taste of barbecue beef and beans. Not because they're food connoisseurs seeking only the best and most delectable dinners available (though they're all fantastic cooks). Not because of anything I do, but because they are good people who love Christ and live in community with other believers. 

So I finally realized the worst that could happen: I'd serve a sub-par meal to a group of friends, who probably wouldn't even say anything about it and forget within a week what we'd even had for dinner. Yep. That was it. I've been so afraid of "losing approval" from people, and from Christ, that I'd completely overlooked the fact that you don't earn Christ's love, you just have it, freely given. And those who love Christ are typically pretty good at loving the same way (even if it means pretending to enjoy a meal of odd-tasting barbecue). If Christ's love was dependent upon me and my actions, I'd be in a lot of trouble. Thankfully, Christ loves me completely, eternally, and sacrificially. 

So today, I am basking in the reality that my salvation is not dependent on the quality of my cooking, or my housekeeping, or my ability to do laundry or yoga or mountaintop yodeling (ok, not actually a skill but you get my point).  My salvation is dependent upon Christ, who has already accomplished His goal when He came to earth as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, including every single one of mine. I need to spend my time in adoration of Christ, not in fear of a potentially disappointing meal. 

p.s. The meal was fine. I guess the two flavors sort of melded together into a fairly mild and tasty barbecue. A couple of people even went back for seconds :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Reading Update

Here's an update on books I've read so far in 2012...
and a list of what I'm currently reading.

Books I've Read

  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - I've heard a couple of people talk about how this book has changed their idea of running, and I see why. While at first the book appeared to simple be a chronicle of McDougall's journey to uncover a hidden tribe of Tarahumara Indian ultra-runners in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, it slowly becomes a critique of everything we know today about running, from shoes to posture to the proper fueling of your body. He invites the reader along as he trains for a 50-mile trail run against some of America's best ultra-runners and members of the Tarahumara Indian tribe. In between chapters on the progressing tension of the race, he also researches the habits of the best runners in history, analyzing the philosophy of barefoot racing, the evolution of running, and the hidden levels of endurance most people never realize they can reach. It's a good read, especially for anyone interested in running or running methodology. 

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I read this book when it first came out back in 2009, and re-read it during the week between Christmas and New Year since my husband bought me the trilogy for Christmas. In 2009, when I was still an English teacher, my students and I loved this book. I had multiple copies in my classroom library, and I could not keep them on the shelves for more than a day. The students absolutely loved the story, and all the English teachers were reading right along with them. I even used portions of the book to teach tone, sentence structure, and word choice. So re-reading it brought back a lot of great memories of my teaching days, and reminded me of all the wonderful co-workers I've been blessed to work alongside. It's so easy to get caught up in the plot of this book, to take an entire day snuggled up in a blanket with Katniss and Peeta saying just one more chapter until you've finished the entire book in a single sitting and stare longingly at Catching Fire until your husband says it's time for bed. Hypothetically speaking, of course. 

  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - Yep, read this one too. Some say it's the strongest of the series, and I might agree. The plot definitely strengthens and the character development is much stronger in this second book. I don't want to give too much away lest someone be in the midst of reading the first book, but this is where you really struggle with the Peeta vs Gale issue. At first, I was all for Peeta. Who wouldn't love a baker's son who risks his life (literally) for a girl who doesn't really seem to love him or really even care for him deeply at all? I can see why any girl age 12-25 would fall madly in fiction-love with Peeta. But then there's Gale, the handsome, rugged, brooding teenage boy who comes back to challenge the feelings of his childhood friend and risk his own life in the process. And so the fun begins.
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss - This was our January book club read. It's got a plot line that's eerily similar to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in that both novels star curious adolescents who set out on an adventure in New York City to discover hidden family truths and, along the way, meet old men with memories of WWII who have suffered the deaths of long-lost sons. Oh, and both are set to be released as movies in 2012. Oh, and Foer married Krauss just before publication of her book. As for the book itself, I was immediately drawn to the writing style, which shifts dramatically between chapters as multiple perspectives move the plot along. If you aren't paying close attention it's easy to get lost in the shifting stories, but it's also easy to float through the chapters, eating up the curious details of Alma Singer and Leo Gursky's seemingly unrelated lives. 

  • Food Rules by Michael Pollan - I read this on a road trip to Dallas a few weekends ago. It's got a pretty simple premise: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But Pollan fleshes out the meaning behind eat statement, explaining what "food" is and is not, underscoring the importance of plants and plant-based foods, and identifying ways to stay in tune with your body's true hunger cues. Really good read. 

Books I'm Reading

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis - This is our community group book for the next month or so. Each week we read over a chapter and discuss it together over a great meal. So far I've been blown away by the connections Lewis makes between our worldly desires and our innate need for God. When we walk further from God, we fill the void with things of this world, and yet, those things can never replace our need for God. So we find more and more things to fill our time and our thoughts with: politics, food, people, nature, etc. We try to control, manipulate, and draw affection out of them in the hopes that they'll make us feel good and happy. But it doesn't work, and we're left frustrated. Lewis is an amazing writer, and I am excited to continue working through the book with my community group.

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - This fun young adult novel is our February book club choice. I've only just started on it, but I can already tell it's going to be a good read. 

So what are you reading?