Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

24 June 2014

A letter to my friend

Dear Deb,

I know I have mentioned this before but every time I pull my slow cooker out of the cupboard I think of you and smile as I remember your public declaration that slow cookers are not for you, coming a week after I got one for my birthday.  I was quite struck by your post, in part because I value what you have to say and also because it followed my efforts of splitting my corner of the facebook community in half as they debated the merits of slow cookers over slow cooking in cast iron - and also the suitability of a slow cooker for a birthday gift.  Well, dear Deb, we are about six months down the track so I thought I would let you know what I think the old slow cooker now.

First up, the slow cooker is not for the most part, in my humble opinion, a time saver.  Where we all I went wrong ten years ago was thinking you could just throw everything in it in the morning, turn it on and come home to a delicious dinner.  That was a recipe for bland, broiled meat.  Blah.

When I use it now I take the time to brown things and get the sauces going.  As I like to cook in bulk where I can, it has taken up to an hour of preparation, frying off and creating at least the beginnings of delicious sauces before I reach that point of lobbing it all into the slow cooker and turning it on. So for the most part I look upon it as an electric casserole dish.  I do like that I can cook a casserole slowly, over eight hours, turning cheap, tough meat into something glorious.  And I like that I can leave it on all day.  One could argue that you can just slow cook like that in the oven or on the stove top.  For me, I don't really like leaving my oven on and unattended all day.  But I don't seem to mind leaving the slow cooker unattended while I leave the house to do other things.  

I got my men to get me a big one in order to do the bulk curries and casseroles.  Consequently it is a big item.  It takes up a lot of room in the cupboard.  It's heavy.  It's a bit unwieldy to clean.  I confess that I do have to pick my time and psych myself up to use it.  But when the time is right, it's a great thing.  I have used it maybe ten times in the last three months.

I've tried soups but I don't think I'll persist with this method for soup preparation.  It takes a very long time for all that liquid to warm up.  I'm happy enough with my big pot and going a bit faster for soup.  I should say though that a friend gave me THE most wonderful pea and ham soup recipe for the slow cooker BUT when I served it up one up one member of the family loved it, one tolerated it and one thought he was being poisoned.  There was quite some theatre.  We haven't had a scene like that at the dinner table in months.  Maybe years.  It was almost worth it.  Almost.  The recipe is not dependent upon a slow cooker.  I could recreate it in my soup pot if I was feeling like some dinner time amusement again some day.  I think my clan prefer the minestrone style of soup.  It may be a texture issue with the blended soups...they're not that keen on pumpkin soup either.

BUT dear Deb there are three recipes that are to die for.  And the lovely Jane has put them all on her blog.  Three recipes that are delicious and have had universal appeal at our dinner table.  Recipes that had me inviting friends over for dinner the first time I cooked them, so confident was I of their potential for dinnertime happiness.

Pulled pork.   I have already given this one the three hip hip hoorays on this blog.  And research indicates that there are recipes out there for doing it from scratch but the bottle of marinade seems to do the trick very nicely.  And this is indeed one recipe where you can just lob the TWO ingredients in, press the button and go.

Lamb's equivalent of pulled pork.  Oh Deb.  This is glorious.  Not cheap.  But it is absolute deliciousness.  It could be done in an oven.  But it works really well in the slow cooker.  I browned the lamb when I made it.  Despite what I said about taking the time to brown things, next time I make this I won't be browning the meat.  And again, like the pulled pork, this is a throw it in and leave it recipe.

The third one is Jane's recipe for beef stroganoff.  It's great for a family dinner with veg or pasta or rice.  It's great for a church feast.  It's great for leftovers, for freezing and for giving away to a family in need.  It's great.

And so to the $64 question.  Given what I know now, would I still get one given my time birthday again?  Well, I think yes.  I would maybe opt for the smaller version next time, although that wouldn't allow for leftovers.  I don't use it all the time.  But when I do I'm pretty sold on it.  Which is in no way meant to pressure you into asking for one for your birthday.  If you don't have a lot of space in your kitchen or you don't like to have an appliance that you only use occasionally I wouldn't get one.  And be warned too - not all recipes for the slow cooker will be as delicious as these three.  I have had some epic fails as well.  I am learning to know what will actually work and won't end up tasting like broiled, bland blahness.  It's not my favourite thing in the kitchen.  But unlike the one I bought ten years ago, I won't be giving this one away.  It has earned its spot in my kitchen.

Hope you are well and that you have great school holidays. 

Love Meredith xx

17 June 2014

Farewell IKEA meatballs

If IKEA sold shares in their company via packets of frozen meatballs I would be well on my way to 50% ownership of the company.  I can't tell you how many times I have trekked to IKEA, grateful for my chest freezer at home, and come away with five bags of them (that's five kilograms' worth thank you very much) to tuck away in the freezer. 

These meatballs have made their way into many kids' dinners for evening church and have been the key ingredient in my standby recipe for when people suddenly turn up for dinner unexpectedly, for those times when a dinner of pasta just has to get its way onto the table in a big hurry or for those moments when I was too tired to cook anything else and there was no bolognese sauce left in the freezer.

BUT...

...earlier this year it seemed that every second recipe I read involved skinning sausages and using the meat therein in interesting ways.  So I got to thinking, what if I exchanged the IKEA meatballs (which I admit did receive some very bad press last year, but let us not speak of such things because my family has eaten a LOT of these meatballs in the last ten years) for the contents of some Italian sausages? 

WELL...

...I was recently heard to say that should a meteorite come hurtling towards the planet (I do believe I have just snitched a line from the movie Julie and Julia) and we have sufficient notice to prepare and eat one last meal, it would be this, with a ridiculously large amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese and a little cracked pepper sprinkled over the top.

My "the meteorite is coming" pasta recipe
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons of Italian herbs
  • 4-6 Italian sausages - skinned
  • 1/2 cup of red cooking wine
  • 700gm bottle of tomato passata
  • Dried pasta - quantity and style as suits your needs
  1. Fry the diced onion, garlic and herbs in some olive oil. 
  2. Add the sausage meat and fry, breaking up the meat as you go.
  3. Add a splash of red cooking wine.
  4. Add a bottle of tomato passata and simmer.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Meanwhile cook up enough pasta for your situation.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, run it through the sauce and serve with parmesan cheese.
The quantities are not exact.  A little more or a little less of this or that works.  And should you need to take anyone to basketball training on a Tuesday afternoon from 5 - 6pm, the sauce can be made before you go.  Just cook and add the pasta when you get home.  Quick, easy and delicious.

Now, what to do with the remaining 3kg of IKEA meatballs in the freezer...

12 June 2014

Encouragement to share what you know

Like attracts like.  So I am pretty sure that you, dear reader, like reading your Bible like me.  That you probably know your way around the whole of the Bible.  That you know Bible reading isn't just a daily exercise one does to tick a box but something we do to deepen our relationship with God.  That the more you read the Bible, the easier it is to understand and the more you understand it, the hungrier you are to read it.

It occurred to me a while ago that rabbiting on about Bible reading here on this blog is probably "preaching to the converted" for the most part.  I like to keep you all ( and myself) encouraged.  But guess what??  I had a light bulb moment a few months ago.  There are people who I sit with in church week after week who find the Bible an enigma. 

Last year I got up in church during the notices section and started flapping my favourite Bible reading plan around - just like I do my virtual flapping around of it periodically on this blog  - explaining the options of doing the full plan or just a part of it (like following along the New Testament readings to start with, to help get into the habit.)  And at various points this year I've got up and given my three suggestions for those who started but ground to a halt or for those who never started and wished they had...
  1. Start from where you left off and don't worry about the dates.  Don't be a slave to the dates.
  2. Start from where you left off, do double readings as you can and soon you will catch up.
  3. Cut your losses and start from today's date.
And in late May, just as the plan approached the section where the Old Testament becomes, shall we say, complicated...1 and 2 Kings...I ran a guided tour of the Old Testament.  It was a simple thing really.  It took an hour and a half over tea, coffee and snacks.

I spent ten minutes going through the contents page of the Old Testament explaining the three different sections and how the genres change, each requiring a different approach to reading.

 
I then spent 40 minutes going through this road map, telling the story of the Old Testament that is covered in the history books.  Explaining how the kingdom splits in two is the key sticking point.

This diagram is from
Gospel and Kingdom: A
 Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament
by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32.
(Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)
 

We had a break for a cup of tea and then I spent the last half hour showing this page from the IVP New Bible Commentary found at the beginning of the section on 1 and 2 Kings - a table of who was king - when and where - during the period of the kings.

 
Finally I gave them my notes from here about how the books of the prophets fit into the chronology of the kings, most of which I had sourced from the Lion Handbook to the Bible - nothing too complicated.  I didn't read through the notes slavishly but just ran through a couple by way of example and left it at that.  (Feel free to lift and use this - or anything else from my blog - if that is helpful.)

I'd been a Christian ten years, struggling my way through the Bible, before I met that roadmap.  What a revelation!  And as long time readers will know, it is only in recent years that I have come to grips with the prophets - and that in only a small way.  But now I've got a handle on that section of the Bible and it's making much more sense.

One of the women who came to the guided tour said that she had been in churches and in and out of the Bible for 60 years and this was the first time she'd had this stuff explained to her.  This isn't a criticism of the preaching she's sat under all these years.  You just don't learn frameworks during church sermons.  That's not what sermons are about.  She left encouraged to press on with the hard but rewarding work of Bible reading.

Maybe you don't know your way around the Old Testament yet.  And if not, these particular posts might be of help.  Maybe you DO know your way around the Old Testament but don't think you could possibly manage to do something like this.  That's fine.  This is not for everyone.  But I'm pretty sure that some of you could do this.  And if that is you, then can I encourage you to have a go at sharing the framework of the Old Testament with those around you.  (Or ask someone you know who could do this sort of thing to do it for you.) 

There will people you know - people who maybe, just maybe, don't read as widely as you might - who don't know how the Bible hangs together and whose lives will be transformed if you give them the basics.  I've been blogging about this sort of thing for years.  It's good to have shared it in person with some of those I meet Sunday by Sunday in church and I'm looking forward to doing it again some other time down the track.

Oh, and by the way, if you aren't using a Bible reading plan but wished you were, the beginning of July is another EXCELLENT entry point for this plan.  And I'll be saying that in church in the next couple of weeks too.

08 June 2014

Age wearies and the years condemn, but there is hope

I've done a lot of observing of and being with the elderly in recent times. And what I've noticed is that there's a lot of grief for the one who grows old. 

The grief of watching your friends die - it's no source of glory to be the one who outlives your peers and it's very hard to be oh so frail as to be unable to attend their funerals.  The loss of one's driver's license.  Didn't downsize in time?  The grief of losing the family home and so many possessions as circumstances impose the downsizing upon you.  The move to a nursing home that reduces one's possessions to the barest minimum.  The grief of loss of capacity - mental and physical.  The grief of the transformation from independent, functioning, dignified member of society to one totally dependent, like a small child, except knowing of a full life lived independently.    

It was never meant to be this way.  But even in this world, broken by sin, God shows His love and mercy.  Very recently it occurred to me that God has timed the grief of aging perfectly - by putting it at the end.  I know that's a perfectly ridiculous statement to make.  Stating the obvious somewhat.  But let me explain. 

When I was pregnant for the first time I spent a lot of those months predictably concerned about what lay at the end.  The delivery.  And yet, by the time I was eight and a half months pregnant (and it seemed to be 40⁰ every day) I was ready to deliver that baby.  God's perfect design.  Six, seven and eight months was too short to be ready.  Nine months (and then ten days overdue) and I was ready.   That's the microcosm.

The big picture is the span of my years filled to the brim with the stuff of life. Learning, living, loving. And coping with suffering as well. I don't live in Eden and Jesus has not yet returned. The world is fallen. And so there is suffering.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Romans 5:1-5

Suffering and grief help me to grow in faith and hope. I hope that I respond with a little more faith and trust in Him with each new grief. I have a lifetime to practice this. And so it occurred to me that God has placed the end of life, so filled with grief and suffering - and there is no way around it...sickness, aging, dying and death are terrible - so that when the span of my years is drawing to its end and I am faced with grief upon grief, I am ready to face it with grace and hope. I observe that you don't get to be a sweet, wise, godly and prayerful old lady (or gentleman) just by being old. It takes a lifetime of sweetness and growing in wisdom, godliness and prayerfulness to bear the grief of old age with grace.  It's not that it's any easier for the sweet ones.  They have learned to bear it well - with hope.

God is good, gracious, kind and wise.  Putting the end at the end was no accident.

All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be...

Search me, O God, and know my heart,
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:16, 23, 24

----------------------------------------------------

Here is a beautiful post from Rebecca at Rebecca Writes - the story of her husband who didn't make it to old age because of cancer, but who had clearly used his life to grow in faith and hope, and passed on a precious gift to his family before Jesus took him Home.

And a beautiful post from my friend Steve at his blog about the need to share the hope we have with those who don't have it, especially those who perhaps didn't get the chance (or take the opportunity) in life to learn and hone hope for themselves or for those who did have it but have forgotten, whose need in the sufferings of old age is just as great.

02 June 2014

Things I've been working on # 2 - Worrying

As well as working on complaining I've also been working on worrying.  I know.  I have all the fun.


Worry.  Concern's evil twin.  I've been working on this one for a L.O.N.G. time.  As I child I lost months of sleep in the lead up to the single, solitary day of each year when we did high jump for sport.  It's humiliating being the tallest in the class (at least I was while I was in primary school) and not even be able to get over the first jump. 

I lost sleep over times tables - particularly that awful game where everyone gets to stand and the teacher fires a times table question at you and if you get it right immediately you can go to recess or resume your seat but if you get it wrong you have to remain standing until the next round.  And the twelves generally, with or without the game.

I lost sleep over the impending end of the world when some careless teacher told us about the planets lining up and of the cataclysmic events that would ensue. Think earthquakes of the ilk of the ground opening up, swallowing you and your house whole and then closing up again.  (I don't think the teacher went that far...my overactive imagination was quick to kick in.) 

Eventually the earthquake apocalypse gave way to the firestorm terror after a terrible video in science about nuclear energy and nuclear bombs.  Then I spent hours lying awake checking for signs of firestorms outside my bedroom window - as a worrier must certainly do when one lives in a weatherboard house. 

I worried about not being able to the recall the theorems I was supposed to have memorised for maths.  And did I mention high jump?

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:25-27

I recall having a conversation with my then new minister when I first became a Christian on the whole subject of worrying.  He told me he had at one time determined that he would not worry and then went THREE WHOLE YEARS without worrying.  In awe, I set about trying to get my worrying under better control, because clearly you could.  And I did.  I have gone long chunks of time through my adult life without worrying.  All thanks be to God.

But there have been chunks of time when I DID worry and last year I noticed that I was losing the battle again.  I found myself worrying about all sorts of things - big (and real things) and small (and of the adult equivalent of the ten seconds it takes to muck up the first high jump and then spend the rest of the sports lesson sitting under the tree...nothing at all sorts of things.)

Worry was a real problem for me last year.  And the irony is not lost on me...the fact that last year I read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges and was so thoroughly convinced by his argument and so thoroughly encouraged by his words. 

Is not worry a patent lack of trust in God?  Ahem...yes.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30

Unsurprisingly, the worrying did not go away with the new year.  The habit (because it IS just a bad habit) and the sources of my anxieties didn't just disappear with a new calendar on the kitchen wall. But over the year, with God's help, I have found a means of keeping the worry at bay.  It's not about getting more sleep, trying to do some exercise, trying to eat better and consume less caffeine, or even crying out to God more in prayer...although I have been doing more of all of these things and they do all help.  Especially the crying out to God bit.  And it is not about trying out this little theory either, although I have employed these techniques as well, such is my respect for the one who spoke these wise words. 

No, I have been missing something in the equation all along...because I am a long term planner from way back.  The bit I've been missing is the bit about taking one day at a time.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34

I worked this out because I reached a point where worry would hit overdrive if I thought too far ahead into the future.  I could keep my anxiety down if I just focused on today but as soon as I looked too much further ahead I would start to worry big time and feelings of panic would come upon me.

I know, I KNOW (she says, hitting her forehead with her hand several times so as to bang the truth in a little further) so well in my head that God gives us what we need for today and that we don't need to worry about tomorrow until tomorrow.  Today we just need to deal with today.  How well I know this in my head.  And this year, because of the way the year is turning out, I am beginning to learn what that means in my heart and my hands as well. 

This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Matthew 6:9-13


When I pray "Give us today our daily bread"  I am truly learning to ask only for what I need today.  And that is making all the difference.  Just today.  Of course Jesus knew that, otherwise he would have taught us to pray for a week, a month or a year's worth of bread. 

I am slow to learn.  But this year He is teaching me, and undoing the bad habit of a lifetime.  One day at a time.