Building Blocks

I wasn’t familiar with Tel Aviv. The last time I visited Israel, I was only in Tel Aviv for the airport. Now I know what I was missing! I enjoyed staying only a block from the Mediterranean Sea. The breeze was refreshing, as was the people it, along with the sun and sand, attracted.

10.31.14 Tel Aviv Med Sea 3
©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

But I learned one of the consequences of trying to enjoy something too much.

10.31.14 Tel Aviv Promenade
©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

The people who built along the shoreline wanted to enjoy its benefits so much that they built a row of buildings parallel to it. That makes sense…until you step beyond those buildings and realize they block the refreshing breeze from everything inland. If the buildings had been built perpendicular to the shoreline, the intentional gaps would have welcomed the breeze further into the city for more people to enjoy. As it is, the benefits of the air coming off the Mediterranean Sea is limited.

Sometimes, we enjoy something so much, what we do to savor it ends up diminishing the extent to which we can enjoy it. What we build ends up blocking the very things we built to enjoy. We create our own obstacles.

What has God given you to enjoy?

What effort have you put into being able to enjoy it?

How has your effort created obstacles to the gift God has given you?

Think about it. It might be time for demolition and reconstruction.

Fit Faith: Interval: Lost Bridge Trail

I have a favorite trail. I don’t get to walk it very often, because it’s almost an hour from home. It was built on an old railroad route. It’s straight and flat, which might not seem appealing to many, but the foliage is beautiful. Trees gently bend over the trail to make a canopy in many places. People who maintain the trail do an exceptional job of keeping the side foliage trimmed, so it’s not obstructive, which also clears the way to notice birds, squirrels and chipmunks beside and skittering across the trail.

One of the reasons I enjoy the trail so much is the memories I associate with it. My oldest daughter and I have walked it many times together. Even now that she doesn’t live at home, we try to find time to revisit it every now and then. We enjoy the length of the walk, talking along the way, and taking a short detour to our favorite restaurant for a break.

Another reason I enjoy it is that it’s not my usual routine. If I walked it every day, I don’t think I’d notice as many details. I don’t think I’d appreciate the sunlight filtering through the tree tops or the variegated colored-leaves fluttering in the breeze. I might not notice the pattern of wood on the floor of the bridge or the small pools of water in the tunnel. I might not find as much thrill in the small chipmunks, which I don’t usually see on my regular walking route. And even when I walk the same distance, I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment when I finish one of my regular routes.

Interval training usually has to do with short bursts of activity alternated with longer, more enduring work. For me, I consider my Lost Bridge Trail walks as interval training in a bigger picture sort of way. My regular walks are the longer, more enduring workouts. My Lost Bridge Trail walks include a different focus. I push myself in a different way along that long stretch of flat path. As much as I push myself, I intentionally look around and enjoy the sights and sounds. It gives me refreshment in my overall fitness. My body might be tired when I’m done, but I am rejuvenated.

Refresh my heart in Christ. (Philemon 1:20)

We must seek refreshment, not just physical but spiritual. In order to gain refreshment, we often feel exhausted through the process, but it’s an exhaustion due to pursuit and effort. It’s satisfying even with the sore and tired muscles, physical and spiritual.

What can you do today to differ your routine and invite refreshment?

Let’s not define refreshment selfishly. We don’t seek refreshment because we need things to go our way. We get tired of routine, and we think there should always be adventure and newness for us. That’s not the case. Commitment is important in our relationship with God. However, we can have variety within our commitment. You don’t read just one Scripture over and over day after day. You don’t say the exact same thing every time you pray. Every sermon you hear is not the same.

Appreciate the routine by putting a twist on your routine. If you have a committed place for your morning prayers or Bible study, take a break and go to a park or coffee shop. Visit another church to hear a different speaker and experience different music.

You don’t have to like every new thing you try. You also don’t have to compare it to what you’re used to. You can appreciate it for what it is. You can consider it in the larger picture of your spiritual growth and appreciate how God uses a variety to challenge and nourish you. Open your eyes, ears and heart and be attentive to what he wants to give you through varied experiences. He will always be present and never be silent.

In the process, you might find that special place, where you can visit occasionally and get rejuvenated, even if it takes effort to reach and complete.

This Week’s 7 – Sip on Summer

Each Monday on the Pure Purpose blog, I feature This Week’s 7, a simple list about an everyday topic, giving you ideas and encouragement. Last month I shared warm recipes to sip through the cold months. Someone commented how she appreciated the recipes even though she lives in a tropical location, because she could at least imagine winter as she sipped the warm drinks!

As the winter days drift by and spring looms on the horizon, I wonder if sipping a refreshing, tropical drink or biting into a fruity treat might remind those of us in colder climates to imagine the warmer days ahead. So today I’m sharing a few ideas for you to anticipate the warmth of spring. Put on those flip-flops (even if over your fuzzy socks) and enjoy!

Hawaiian Lemonade

  • 1/2 of a 12 ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 12 ounce can apricot nectar, chilled
  • 12 ounce can unsweetened pineapple juice, chilled
  • 1 1/4 cups of ginger ale (chilled)
  • In a large punch bowl, combine all juices with 3/4 cup of cold water. Slowly add the ginger ale down the side of the bowl. Stir gently to mix. Add ice cubes. Decorate with slices of lime, oranges, cherries or grapes. Makes 6 servings.

Iced Mint Green Tea

  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 3 green tea bags
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 4 stalks lemongras for garnish

Combine mint leaves, tea bags, honey and boiling water. Let steep for 5 minutes; remove tea bags. Refrigerate until chilled. Divide among 4 large ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a stalk of lemongrass.

Kiwi-Mint Julep

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 2 cups ice
  • 3 kiwis, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons frozen limeade
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint

Dissolve sugar in hot water in a 1-cup measure; let cool slightly. Combine ice, kiwis, limeade, mint, and the sugar mixture in a blender; blend until smooth.

Rosemary Cucumber Lemonade

  • 3 large cucumbers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons agave syrup

Peel and chop the rest of the cucumber; transfer to a food processor, add rosemary and puree. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl or large measuring cup. Press on the solids to extract all the juice. Add water, lemon juice and agave syrup to the cucumber juice; stir until the agave is dissolved. Divide among 4 ice-filled glasses. Garnish with thin cucumber slices and rosemary sprigs.

Raspberry Bars

Crust

  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Raspberry Filling

  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 cups fresh raspberries, divided
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons nonfat cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

To prepare crust: Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.

Place flour, pecans, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt in a food processor; process until the nuts are finely ground. Add butter one piece at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition, until incorporated. Add ice water and vanilla and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Transfer to the prepared pan. Press evenly and firmly into the pan to form a bottom crust.

Bake the crust until it looks set, but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

To prepare raspberry filling: Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl; let stand, stirring once or twice, while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Reserve 16 raspberries. Puree the remaining raspberries in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and stir in 1/2 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat until bubbling. Stir in the gelatin mixture and cook, stirring, until the gelatin is melted, about 1 minute.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Pour the raspberry mixture into a medium bowl and set it in the bowl of ice water. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of loose jam and is beginning to set around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, milk and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.

Spread the thickened raspberry filling evenly over the crust. Dollop the cream cheese mixture over the filling. Draw the tip of a sharp knife or skewer through the two fillings to create a swirled effect. Nestle the reserved berries into the filling, evenly spacing them so each bar will be topped with a berry when cut. Refrigerate until the bars are completely set, about 3 hours. Cut into 16 bars, one raspberry per bar.

Pineapple Empanaditas

  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese,  (Neufchâtel), cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 tablespoons low-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
  • 1/3 cup pineapple or apricot preserves
  • 2 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting  (optional)

Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add cream cheese and oil and blend with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture with milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir with a fork until the dough just comes together; the mixture will still be a little crumbly. Knead a few times in the bowl, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few more times until the dough comes together. Divide in half and shape into 2 discs. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Combine pineapple and preserves in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until syrupy, 12 to 15 minutes. Mash the pineapple into smaller chunks with a potato masher or fork. Remove from the heat; stir in breadcrumbs and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

On a well-floured surface, roll out one disc of dough at a time into a 1/8-inch-thick circle. Cut circles of dough using a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Repeat with the remaining dough, re-rolling scraps as necessary, to make 24 circles.

Place 1 teaspoon pineapple filling in the center of each circle. Fold in half, press edges together and crimp with a fork. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the empanaditas until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

Tropical Fruit Salad

  • 1 medium mango, seeded peeled and cubed
  • 11 ounces mandarin orange sections, drained
  • 2 kiwis peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 cup tiny marshmallows
  • 8 ounces carton vanilla yogurt
  • 3 bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut
Combine all the fruit in a bowl, together with the marshmallows and the yogurt. Cover and chill for 2-4 hours. When ready to serve, cut each banana half crosswise into 2 pieces. For each banana half, cut lengthwise again to split the banana. Place 2 banana pieces on a dessert plate. Stir half of the coconut into the fruit mixture. Then spoon on top of the bananas. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on top. Drizzle with honey on top. Makes 6 servings.

This Week’s 7 – Challenge for Today

Each Monday on the Pure Purpose blog, I feature This Week’s 7, a simple list about an everyday topic, giving you ideas and encouragement. This week’s list includes a challenge for your day. Will you accept? I’m making assumptions about some of the things you’ll do today, so I’m not challenging you to add something to your day. Choose one or accept all the challenges. Let me know how it goes!

  1. Walk. As you take physical steps today, think of the impact your steps have on your spiritual journey. Are you blazing a trail on your own? Are you asking God to bless your steps – after you’ve already taken them? Are you second-guessing yourself to such an extent you’re frozen and don’t move? Be intentional as you walk today. I will walk with the Lord  in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:9)
  2. Talk. Be mindful of the words you say today. Encourage others. Build others up. Are you making excuses for what you say? Are you taking others into consideration? Are you being bold in what God wants you to say but remaining silent when he guides you to silence? Be intentional in your talk today. When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you. (Ephesians 4:29)
  3. Rest. Life is busy. How well do you rest? Quiet yourself – even in the middle of a busy time or place. Look around. Take a deep breath. Soak in all God provides. Sink into his blessings. Trust him to refresh you throughout the day. Be intentional in your rest today. Anyone who enters God’s rest will rest from his work as God did. (Hebrews 4:10)
  4. Pay. How are you spending your time, money, and energy? Do you hoard time, money, or energy? Do you overspend time, money, or energy, resulting in emotional, financial, or spiritual debt? God provides. Respond with good stewardship. Be intentional in how you spend your life today. When people work, their pay is not given as a gift, but as something earned. (Romans 4:4)
  5. Read. How are you filling your mind? What sources do you trust? Be discerning in what is worthwhile to read, hear and see. Step beyond the basic choice between what’s good and bad. You’ll more often need to choose between good and good. Choose the best. Consistently soak in God’s Word. Be intentional in what you read today. Until I come, continue to read the Scriptures to the people, strengthen them, and teach them. (1 Timothy 4:13)
  6. Eat. Does your day revolve around food? Do you ignore what your body is telling you? Does the ease of eating override the health of eating, or does the short-term pleasure override the long-term effects when you’re making a decision? What do your habits reflect about your priorities? Make healthy choices – one at a time. Be intentional in how and what you eat today. The answer is, if you eat or drink, or if you do anything, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  7. Tech. You will likely use a variety of technology tools today. How are you using them? Are they helping you connect in healthy ways, or are they pulling you away from relationships? Reflect on your priorities. Choose each click well. Honor and glorify God in all you do. Be intentional in how you use technology today. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don’t belong to it. (John 15:19)

The UnBirthday Party

Some of the Church Ladies recently visited Mabel. The Church Ladies are a group of women who serve and support women in need – usually women who are going through medical treatments, bedrest, surgery recovery, etc., but we also help community ministries organizations as well as women we can encourage by cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening…or listening.

Mabel is one of those one-in-a-million ladies. She has poured into people for years. My family sat in front of her the first Sunday we visited the church we now attend, and Mabel took a sincere interest in our young girls. Her genuine attention made a lasting impression on us.

Mabel has lived with pain for many years, but she’s rarely let it slow her down, either physically or emotionally. However, lately she’s been able to leave her house less and less. So a group of us decided we’d plan a party-on-the-go for her. Her birthday isn’t close, but we decided we could celebrate her life any day of the year. Happy UnBirthday, Mabel!

We met after church and packed our cars with a variety of items for a lunch smorgasbord. We tried to keep it simple, so we could pack up the leftovers and leave them for Mabel’s meals for the week. We took paper products, so there was no need to dirty any dishes. And who wouldn’t want fresh flowers? So, we included those as well. We wore our Church Ladies shirts as we traipsed into the house. We’d asked her ahead of time if we could visit, but I think she was still surprised to see the extent of what we had planned.

Mabel said she wasn’t hungry…but she ate a full plate. We visited for over an hour, answering questions to keep her updated on church happenings and listening to stories about her family and recent visitors. We shared memories and laughter…and planted seeds for helping in other ways.

But no matter how much effort we put into encouraging Mabel, at the end of our time together, we felt we received more encouragement than we poured out. As usual, Mabel opened her heart and shared her life in an offering that God accepted, multiplied and showered onto those around her.

Every year, we celebrate birthdays. Living another year is cause for celebration, but each day in between our birthdays are equally worthy of celebration. It’s in the moments of those unbirthdays that we have the opportunity to share laughter and lives with others, and when we do, something wonderful happens. We feel a weight is lifted, nearly as if minutes and days rewind and help us experience a renewal. We’re refreshed and rejuvenated.

As we sang Happy UnBirthday to Mabel, her eyes twinkled, and she proclaimed, “You just made my day!” Perhaps, Mabel…but you made ours as well.

Already, the one who harvests is being paid and is gathering crops for eternal life. So the one who plants and the one who harvests celebrate at the same time. John 4:36

Who will you encourage today? Many people have unbirthdays today. Celebrate with someone!

Be the Straw

One of the greatest encouragers in my life recently sent me a message: “Be the straw to the soda.” (She was quoting Sam Dalton, a speaker she admires.)

Such a simple phrase, and yet it encourages me to “be the straw” to Jesus in so many ways…

Being the straw to the soda reminds me that I’m not the soda. I don’t have to be the soda. I just have to be the vehicle through which someone tastes the soda. I’m going to mess up, but that’s because I’m not the soda – only Jesus is!

Being the straw to the soda reminds me to stay grounded. If I’m out of the soda, what good am I? I’m just a piece of plastic filled with air. I’d rather be filled and useful!

Being the straw reminds me that I’m not the only means someone has to the soda. Again, it’s not about me…it’s about the soda! Some people prefer direct drinks without a straw, and I’m okay with not being needed sometimes.

Being the straw reminds me I need to stay true to my purpose. Straws are consistent in structure: a long hollow tube. Sure, they might differ in color, size…and some even twist or bend, but some designs just aren’t going to work…like holes all over or a sharp bend. I need to accept the way I’m designed – my purpose – and trust I’m going to be most effective in it!

What about you? How will you be the straw to the soda today?

And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. 1 Corinthians 12:6

Ready for Rapids

Once you’re in the rapids, it’s too late to plan. Planning occurs in smooth waters. We waste time in smooth waters. We relax in the sun and look around at the scenery. We need moments of relaxation, but God provides those times to rejuvenate us for what’s coming next. We need to be attentive. God knows what’s ahead. He doesn’t need the sound of the crushing water or the sight of the churning rapids. He knows beyond the limits of our hearing and sight. God uses moments in smooth waters to rejuvenate us, renewing energy and strength in us…so we’ll be prepared.

We journey the river with others. Are we working with them in the smooth waters to prepare for rapids? Do you feel at a loss of what to do when in crisis? You enter the rapids, and your heart races. You try one thing. It doesn’t work. You try something else. It makes the situation worse. You’re in a raft with someone, both trying the best you can, but you’re not working together, which guides you straight into the most dangerous rapids, headed for the jagged rock or capsizing into hungry waters. You can’t hear each other screaming instructions. You can’t pry the oar out of your hands to gesture to each other. You can’t make eye content. Your focus is on the surrounding danger.

You somehow survive the rapids, soaked and exhausted. Now, you have a choice in how you use the next stretch of smooth waters.

Focus. Will you focus on what’s behind, blaming each other, or will you focus on what’s ahead? Reflecting on experiences can be helpful if your goal is to learn and move forward. When we get stuck in our trials, we’ll soon find ourselves in a similar situation. Refusing to reflect, learn, and move on results in unproductive repetition.

Focus on what’s ahead. You may not know exactly what’s coming, but you can make plans to work together, watch out for each other, and trust each other. Trust comes with experience. Spend time together in the smooth waters. Getting to know each other will give you insight into how the other responds to stress. Share yourself. Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can work together.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – Ephesians 4:15-16

Heal. Trials leave us with sore muscles, raw emotions, and exhaustion. We’re bruised by getting knocked against rocks. We might need to paddle to the shore to bandage a cut or wrap a sprain. Admit your need for healing. God knows what you need to prepare you for the next trial, but you must approach him and fully rely on him. Spend time in his care. Ask him and then allow him to heal and comfort you.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Train. Condition your muscles. Work through soreness. Stretch. Work together, testing what works and what doesn’t. Turn your oars in different directions at different depths to become familiar with the tools you have. God will always provide tools and resources for you to use. He will help us use them effectively, but we must be willing to be instructed. We must listen and then try, so we’re sure we heard correctly and can apply what we heard. Then, we’ll need to listen and try again and again. Training is a process.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. – 1 Corinthians 9:25-26

You approach another set of rapids, and your heart races. Will your time in the smooth waters affect your experience in these rapids?