Once Upon a Time

“Once upon a time.”  We’ve all read books that open with the familiar line.  And most likely with the ending, “And they all lived happily after.”  According to Wikipedia, “Once upon a time” has been used in some form since 1380 in storytelling and it simply means, “at some time in the past” not to be confused with a long time ago in the past.

Storytelling.  We love to tell stories. Stories of events from years gone by, last month, yesterday or five minutes ago.  Memories put into words allow us to connect, provide sweet recollections and remind us of God’s faithfulness.  Good ones or not-so-great ones, memories help us tell our “Once upon a times.”

As I think about stories and the telling thereof, I am forced to ask myself, “What kind of story am I telling?”  More importantly, “What kind of story do I WANT to tell?” And, even more significantly, “What will my children’s ‘Once upon a times’ sound like as they tell their own stories?”

None of us can change or undo any point in the past that created our “Once upon a times” but we can certainly live in such a way that guarantees that we live happily ever after.  What does YOUR “Once upon a time” sound like?

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Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.  Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

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Hard Headed

Clunk…clunk…clunk!!  For the past three weeks this sound has resonated throughout my house.  Every few moments…clunk…and again…clunk…and again.  “From what?”  you might ask.  From the beak and head of a bird who has incessantly flown directly into the dining room window! Seriously!  Over and over and over again.  The first time I heard the noise I wasn’t sure where it was coming from.  Upon closer examination I learned that a bird, normally perched on the bush right outside the window was repeatedly flying from the bush to the window, back to the bush and to the window again.  Three weeks today.  Clunk…clunk…clunk.

Yesterday I decided that I would video the entire scenario and zoom in on all the marks left on the glass, some of which include spots of blood.  As I carefully walked to the window and retrieved my phone to capture the incident, the bird immediately flew away.  I had other things to do and never attempted to film again.

Throughout the remainder of the day I thought about that bird and how, as Christians, we are sometimes just like the creature.  Trying to go places where God never intended us to go.  Repeatedly banging our heads hoping to achieve different results.  As much as the bird wants to bust through the window pane, it won’t happen.  It isn’t intended for the bird to go there.  Don’t we, like the bird, often wear ourselves out when we are so determined to do a certain thing?

If you are like me, you often pray for God’s will in your life.  What He wants for you.  And has for you.  How He wants you to live.  Seeking.  For direction. Guidance.

Have you been repeatedly running into a dead-end?  Banging your head?  Into a situation that you cannot penetrate?  Perhaps it’s time to examine the marks that are left behind and as the bird did, fly into the open sky that was there for its fulfillment and freedom all along.

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But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

  Is. 40:31 (KJV)  

    

Creating a Legacy

My grandmother would have been 104 years old today.  Born on April 11, 1911, Maggie Aline left her life on earth in August, 1995.  Better known as Big Mama to her grandchildren, she was beautiful, feisty, and determined.  Although her last days were spent in a nursing home and her body had exhausted its strength, there remained a spark in her eyes until she took her last breath.  She lived. She loved.  She died.  And now she’s living it up with Jesus.

I recently ordered a new wallet which arrived yesterday.  As I sorted through the various items in the old wallet preparing to transition them to the new one, I ran across a piece of paper that I have carried around for years.  As I smoothed out the wrinkles and began to read the words, my mind turned to Big Mama and I thought, “She was like this. She left this kind of legacy for me.  I wonder if I’m living out – right now – that kind of legacy for my children.”  Here are the words:

The Proverbs 31 Woman is:

  • Rare
  • Trustworthy
  • Constant in her love
  • Industrious
  • Thrifty
  • Self-Starting
  • Enterprising
  • Willing to do hard work
  • Willing to work long hours
  • Willing to do monotonous work
  • Compassionate
  • Prepared for the future
  • A good seamstress
  • Married to a leader
  • An entrepreneur
  • Not swayed by circumstances
  • Wise and kind
  • Duty-conscious
  • Blessed by her family
  • Not satisfied with the mediocre
  • A woman of God
  • Praiseworthy
  • A woman of means
  • A woman of great skill and ability
  • Dedicated to her home
  • Clothed with strength and dignity

Taken directly from Proverbs 31 in the Bible, these qualities define the type of woman who God desires for each of His daughters.  And, although my grandmother did not exemplify every single one of these traits, I know that she aspired to become a Proverbs 31 woman.  I witnessed her as she pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, as described in Philippians 3.

My grandmother created a legacy.  Was she perfect?  No way.  Did she live – and leave – a legacy for her children, grandchildren and generations to come?  Absolutely.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

I want to create, live out, and leave behind a Proverbs 31 legacy for my children.  Won’t you join me in creating, living and leaving your own legacy? Together, we can make a difference for generations to come.

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The struggle is real

Do you struggle with anything in your life? What a silly question, right?!  Most, if not all of us struggle with something.  Or many things.  Your struggle(s) may be different from mine and mine are not necessarily the same as the next person’s but the battles exist nevertheless.

Diet.  Exercise.  Finances.  Marital issues.  Sibling discord.  Illness.  Wayward children.  Fear.  Guilt.  Loss.  Addiction.  And many, many others….some quite deep, extremely painful and unbearably real to millions of souls.

As I ponder over my own struggles, I am reminded of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, which is believed to be the great apostle’s last penned notes to his pastor friend and mentee.  Among several other straightforward exhortations to Timothy, Paul declares in Chapter 3, verse 12 that as Christians, we will suffer persecution (italics mine).  The NIV version reads, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Obviously persecution as most of us know it today doesn’t include being stoned or beheaded or some other violent act.  Praise God that we can proclaim our beliefs openly and freely without the fear of losing our lives.  Although unfortunately, some of that does still exist, our persecution is typically of a different sort.  It can often be found in our weak spots.  You know – that thing that has haunted us for years. The habit that we just can’t shake.  Or maybe, it is something that comes out of the blue.  A new struggle. When all is going well with the world……

What struggle are you facing today?  Whatever it is, I pray that you will allow God to meet you where you are – right there in your pain – and not only get you through it – but use you to come alongside others in their own struggles.

Time Flies!

Time flies when we are having fun.  And even when we aren’t.  Like the blink of an eye or the blowing of the wind, we can look up and suddenly 30 minutes – or 30 years – has passed.  Just like that.

It has been 17 days since I last blogged.  Over two weeks since I sat down and purposely took the time to turn my thoughts into writing, share my heart, and express my feelings to you – my readers.  In many ways, two weeks is a short time-span.  After all, God’s timetable is not mine.  To Him, a thousand years is to a day or vice versa, right?  Just as His will is perfect, so is His timing.  And everything else about Him.

As my mind turns back in time to recall the events of the past two weeks, I am forced to ask myself, “What have I been doing?”  More importantly, “Whatever I did, whatever I invested my time in, did I make a difference; did I touch someone’s life in a positive way – or was I just busy?”

Busyness is one of the devil’s sneakiest ways to get us off track.  If he can keep us busy, caught up in the never-ending circle of chores and errands and work and….even service to the Lord, he’s got us right where he wants us.  Distracted.  Stressed.  Overworked.  Exhausted.  BUSY.  Too busy to notice that we’ve not done what the Lord has called us to do – or perhaps not done it in the proper spirit, according to His intent and purpose.

As I was reading my devotion earlier this morning, I found myself almost speed-reading, as if my time with the Lord was just something else to get done so I could move on to the next thing.  Then suddenly, the Holy Spirit ever so gently guided me to a very familiar verse:  Psalm 46:10 which reads, “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (KJV)  In that moment, with tears slowing making their way down my cheeks, I was reminded that He is faithful.  He sees my heart.  He knows my struggles.  And if I will only be still – still in His presence, the only time that truly matters is His time.  Two weeks – or two days, He never ever lets me go. And He will finish the good work that He has started in me.

Are you busy?  Does time fly for you like it does for me, and for most of us?  Be still in His presence today.  Be restored to the joy of your salvation.  It’s the best time you will spend today – or any day.

From Good to Great

Last night I had the privilege of attending the 30th Annual Meeting for the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. The main floor of Verizon Arena was the ideal space for the event, which drew in nearly 800 business men and women from various parts of  North Little Rock and Little Rock.  Entrepreneurs, Bank Presidents, CEOs, Upper Level Managers.  They filled the room.  Dignitaries – former Mayors, the current Mayor of North Little Rock – were also in attendance – and the brand-spanking-new Arkansas Governor himself was the keynote speaker.  Important folks doing important stuff.

After the awards were presented and a couple of short acceptance speeches were given, the Mayor introduced the Governor.  As he took the stage and made his way to the podium, I quickly wondered what his subject matter would be.  Shortly into his speech about his focus on computer science in the schools, I thought to myself, “That is a great thing.  He is doing great things.  Lots of folks here are doing great things.  I want to do great things.”

On the way home in the car, the BGITW (best guy in the world), aka Brad asked me what I thought of the Governor’s spiel.  I replied, “It was ok.  I think I like him.  But I got the feeling that he was still in candidate mode.  He’s in office; we already elected him.”  Brad made a comment or two and our conversation went elsewhere.  He had no idea that I had been contemplating this idea of greatness and was grappling with both my own opinion of the Governor’s “greatness” and my own definition of what it means to be great and to do great things.

Several years ago while working on my Master’s Degree, I was required to read Good to Great by James C. Collins.  In the book, Collins identifies great companies, specifically those companies who have successfully made the leap from good to great.  And while he does divulge several key traits, habits and practices of the great companies, that isn’t his chief intent.  Rather, he addresses why more companies don’t do those things on a more consistent level.  It’s quite a good read and one that I recommend to anyone in a prominent business role.  Inasmuch as the book pertains to companies, some truths can also be applied personally. As examples, here are a few quotes:

“Good is the enemy of great.”

“A culture of discipline is not a principle of business, it is a principle of greatness.”

“Bad decisions made with good intentions, are still bad decisions.”

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

As my mind continues to ponder greatness, I think of great men and women.  George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and many others.  And as great as they all were, I can think of none greater than Jesus Christ.  For believers He is our Savior, our Lord; the One whose example we are to follow.  And then I am reminded:

  • Standing upon a hillside in sackcloth garments and sandals, He delivered the blessings of obedience to all who were eager to listen.  No business suit, shiny black shoes, stage or podium.
  • In the midst of a condemning crowd, He reached down to pick up a stone from the sandy earth to protect a sinful woman.  No carpet floors.  No awards handed out. Just pure forgiveness.
  • After an already long journey, He chose to travel through Samaria so He could provide Living Water to a dry and thirsty soul.  No three-course, white table cloth meal.
  • Mocked.  Beaten.  Bruised.  And hung on a cross – a heavy, wooden cross carried by Himself – and left to die.  For me.  And for you.

Greatness.  Yes, I want to do great things.  I want to accomplish, achieve and excel.  I want to make speeches of my own and win awards and go to fancy dinners and mingle with the other great-doers.  Much more importantly though, I want to be like Jesus.  I want His greatness to be revealed through me.  I want others to see that it is only because of Him that I can do ANYTHING good, let alone great. Without Him, all my efforts are in vain.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

John 14:12 (KJV)


Comfort Zone

For the second time in as many weeks, Little Rock is experiencing “snow days.”  Arkansas has certainly seen its fair share of winter weather in the first quarter of 2015 and according to the meteorologists, it isn’t over yet.  Sleet and snow last night.  Snow earlier today.  Snow again now.  And the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen! A white wonderland awaiting fresh footprints from those who choose to embrace the cold temps in exchange for a little fun.

Being snowed or iced in makes me want to eat. Oh wait, everything makes me want to eat!  When it’s really cold outside though, there are certain foods that I like to prepare. While some folks prefer to bake cookies or some other sweet concoction, I opt for comfort foods.  Soups, stews, dumplings…the good, warm hearty stuff that sticks to my bones and fills my belly for an extra layer of warmth – whether I’m trekking through the snow or relaxing in front of the fireplace.

One of my favorite comfort foods is chicken spaghetti.  Quick, easy, and yummy…it’s in my oven as we speak!

Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts                       1 can diced Rotel tomatoes

1 can cream of mushroom soup                              1 can cream of chicken soup

1 7-oz package spaghetti                                            1 16-oz package Velveeta cheese

1 small onion  (optional)                                            1 7-oz jar sliced mushrooms (optional)

Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder

In large pan, cover chicken breasts with water.  Add salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Cook until done and set aside to cool.  Add spaghetti to boiling water (chicken broth).  In a bowl, mix together both soups and the tomatoes.  Once spaghetti is done, empty entire contents of the pan (including the broth reserve) into a 9×12 casserole dish.  Pull apart chicken into bite-size pieces.  Add the soup mixture to spaghetti and stir well.  Then add chunks of Velveeta and chicken and stir again.  (Sometimes I even use my hands to mix it).

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir well (to make sure the cheese is melting evenly and distributed well) and return to oven.  Bake another 15-20 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and slightly browned on top. Serve with a salad and Texas toast or French bread.

**I don’t always add the onion and mushrooms.  My daughter doesn’t care for them and sometimes I simply don’t have them on hand.  If you do include them, just give them a quick saute’ in olive oil and add them to the soup mixture. They are really good!

**And, depending on your level of love for cheese, you may want to use half/three-quarters of a 16-oz package, instead of the whole thing.

**Be sure to add the seasonings to the water while the chicken is boiling, as this adds a lot of flavor. And, the spaghetti cooked in the chicken broth is extra flavorful as well.

Cookin’ in the ‘sip

Oxford, Mississippi is one of my favorite places on earth.  Quaint, small town full of culture with an abundance of art, food, music, and of course SEC football!  Ole Miss fan or not, it should be on everyone’s “must go” list.  I was blessed enough to live in Oxford for three years and I get back as often as I can.  In fact, right now I am contently curled up on my BFF’s sofa in God’s country (Yes, that would be Oxford)!  🙂

I love all of Mississippi.  How does the saying go?  “You can take the girl out of Mississippi but you can’t take Mississippi out of the girl.”  The Magnolia State is my birthplace; my home. And always will be.  No matter where I go or what I do, forever I will be a Mississippi girl.

So it is with my cooking.  It was in the Mississippi kitchens of my grandmother and my mother where I learned how to cook and developed my love for all things culinary.  One of my favorite recipes, however, did not come from either of those wonderful women, nor did it come from anything remotely related to Oxford. It actually came from – are you ready for this – Starkville, MS!  Yeah, I know…Oxford’s and the University of Mississippi’s biggest rival; the enemy right?!?

How in the world did that happen? What was this Rebel fan doing in Bulldog country and why would I eat anything from there, let alone assign credit?  Ha ha – just kidding – I do love that part of MS as well as my MS State friends, I promise.  Long story and mostly irrelevant for this post, but I can tell you that I’ve used this recipe for over 20 years and it’s one of the best (with a few little tweaks of my own)!  No doubt, there are various versions of the Southern dish, especially in New Orleans and I’m not claiming to have won any awards, except with my kiddos (and that’s all that really matters anyway).

You gotta try this (and remember, it’s even better on the second day after sitting in the fridge overnight). .

Red Beans and Rice 

4-5 slices bacon, fried & crumbled                 1 package Bryan smoked sausage, sliced

1 package Bryan Cajun sausage, sliced          1 can beef broth

2 cans dark red kidney beans                         2 cans light red kidney beans

2 cans red beans                                               1 can diced Rotel tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, chopped                  2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bunch green onion, chopped                      1 green bell pepper, chopped

Salt, Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Paprika, Cajun Seasoning, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Worcestershire Sauce, Shredded Cheddar Cheese, Sliced Jalapenos (Old El Paso is my favorite brand) and Hot Sauce of choice (I’m a hot sauce freak so I use all kinds).

Cooked rice  (I use Success Boil-in-Bag)

Fry bacon, drain on paper towels and set aside.  In a small amount of bacon grease, saute’ yellow onion, half of the green onion and the bell pepper.  Add sausage and continue to cook until sausage begins to get nice and brown. Then add the garlic. Coat all ingredients in a good sprinkling of Cajun seasoning and paprika, allow it to cook a little longer and then turn off the heat and allow it to sit. Fill a separate, large boiling pan with all 4 cans of beans and simmer for a few minutes. Once a slow boil begins, add the vegetables and sausage and slowly add beef broth (about half of the can).  Stir well and add a splash of Worcestershire sauce and remaining seasonings to taste.  Cook on very low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, add crumbled bacon. Serve over rice with remaining green onions, cheddar cheese, jalapenos and hot sauce on top!  And with a piece of Texas Toast!  Be sure to scoop out plenty of the yummy, juicy gravy along with your beans, as you will need this for dipping.  The gravy will be fairly thin on day one, but on the second day it will have a nice, creamy texture.

**Sometimes I add the entire can of broth and at times, I add a second can of Rotel tomatoes. All of the seasonings are by taste – I don’t measure.  I do usually add about 3 bay leaves and I leave them in there for flavor. And my daughter is in charge of telling everyone: “Watch out for the bay leaves and don’t eat them.”  Ha! And yes, the canned beans are good! I ain’t got time for soaking beans. Just sayin.  Lastly, I just like Bryan sausage and the Cajun flavored is especially good, but I’ve used other brands. I’ve also thrown in some andouille at times. Just use whatever you like.

So now that I have talked myself right into wanting a big batch of these, it’s time to go to Kroger. Calories consumed in Oxford don’t count, right?

Self Proclaimed Foodie

I love to cook (almost as much as I love to eat).  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in the kitchen.  I recall, as a young girl, watching my grandmother (Big Mama) prepare rice pudding and English pea casserole.  Yeah, I know English pea casserole sounds gross to some but it was SO good back then.  I suppose it would be delicious now too; I’ve not made it in years!  I can almost taste it right now – the magic combination of English peas, cream of mushroom soup and other ingredients.  Needless to say, Big Mama’s cooking was special and her influence finds its way into my own cooking on a regular basis.

I also remember being in the kitchen with my mother.  She made a mean homemade brown gravy that I would put up against any ‘Home Cookin’ Diner’ and I owe her full credit for the batch that I can whip up within a few minutes. Give me a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, some oil drippings from fried chicken or cubed steak, flour, water and salt and pepper (extra pepper) and it is ON.  Mmm…ain’t nothin’ like Mama’s gravy ladled over a mound of rice atop a big ol’ piece of fried chicken.  Lord, help me…great for the taste buds, terrible for the hips!

Lately (You know, like in my late 40s when rice and gravy and fried chicken goes straight to my hips and tummy in a matter of minutes), I’ve been trying to eat healthier.  Cleaner.  Better.  Most days I do well.  Sometimes I just want to devour a huge bowl of chips and salsa from my favorite Mexican restaurant. Or three bowls.  Or homemade hamburger steak with – you guessed it – gravy!  So, just because I want to and because it’s a part of the Mississippi blonde cook in me, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and share some recipes.  Don’t worry…I will share the delectable, high calorie, not the healthiest but the yummiest homemade recipes. I will also share some healthier versions of some of my favorites.  Let me know if you’d like anything special.  Pull up a chair.  Let’s eat, y’all!

SMOTHERED FRIED CHICKEN

 4 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts          1 c. vegetable oil

2 cups milk                                                                  1 c. plain bread crumbs

1 egg, beaten                                                               2 c. self rising flour

1 tbsp. Louisiana hot sauce                                      1 14 oz. can chicken broth

½ tsp. garlic powder                                                  salt

1 tsp. chicken seasoning                                            black pepper

1 tsp. seasoned salt                                                     1 can cream of chicken soup

1 sm. red bell pepper, diced and sautéed until slightly tender

1 sm. red onion, diced and sautéed until slightly tender

fresh parsley

Mix together milk, egg, hot sauce, garlic powder, chicken seasoning and seasoned salt. Use a paring knife to make small slits in chicken breasts on both sides. Place chicken in milk mixture, making sure both sides are well covered. Cover and refrigerate for two-four hours.

Heat vegetable oil in cast iron skillet. Remove chicken from milk mixture and roll in bread crumbs and then coat with flour. Fry chicken (covered) over medium-high heat until golden brown. Remove from oil, drain on paper towels and set aside. Strain oil to remove excess crumbs. Return enough oil to skillet to cover bottom (about ¼ – ½ cup).

Add remaining flour to hot oil and stir until well browned and thickened. Add chicken broth and stir continuously over low-medium heat until thin gravy forms. Add salt and pepper according to taste. Add soup to gravy and stir well. Place cooked chicken in the gravy, cover and simmer for 15 minutes over very low heat. Garnish with sautéed red peppers and onion and a sprig of fresh parsley. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Time, Love and Tenderness

When I walked into the kitchen on this past Saturday morning, this is what I saw :

plant - before                   plant - before2

One touch of the soil revealed that it was as dry as a bone.  Deprived of water and light for too long, it had fallen from its beautiful, healthy stance to a sad, limp state of survival.  How could I have allowed this to happen?  Neglect.  Lack of attention and care.  The plant that I was given four years ago that has a special meaning.  The plant that overcame a move from Mississippi to Arkansas.

After quickly hydrating the deprived greenery, I moved on with the plans of the day. After all, it was Valentine’s Day.  I had lots to do.  Throughout the course of the day I noticed the plant.  At first there was no hope of recovery, as I saw no lift in the leaves.  As the day progressed, however, I observed small glimpses of revival and I prayed that it would rebound.

My mother loves Michael Bolton’s music.  I’m not sure if she still does so, but she used to listen to one of his CDs over and over and over.  I can see her now driving down the road, fingers tapping on the steering wheel, foot tapping on the floorboard, belting out the lyrics like she is a backup singer.  I’m reminded of “Time, Love and Tenderness” by the artist.  Some of the lyrics read:

When love puts you through the fire
When love puts you to the test
Nothing cures a broken heart
Like time, love and tenderness
When you think your world is over
Baby just remember this
Nothing heals a broken heart
Like time, love and tenderness

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/michael-bolton/time-love-and-tenderness-lyrics/#cVjYpIS7y5Uw8pPx.99

Time, love and tenderness – otherwise called good, old-fashioned TLC (tender loving care) – can do wonders for a broken heart, a wounded relationship – or a healthy relationship!  And, as it turns out, it can also revive an unattended plant. By Sunday morning, a little TLC had proven to make a significant difference:

plant-after

My plant!  It is back. It is standing up.  Hanging in there and soaking up every single drop of water that it was finally given. And, although, it has a few leftover wounds manifested by way of its yellowing and browning leaves, it’s going to be ok.  It has survived and it will thrive once again.

Isn’t that how we can be with ourselves and with each other?  Just as I neglected to provide water and light to the plant, at times I fail to provide myself – and those closest to me – the love, care and attention that is needed to remain healthy and vibrant.  Often I scurry through life, oblivious to the dry spots longing for the thirst to be quenched.

I find it to be no coincidence that the plant caught my attention on Valentine’s Day – the day of love.  What a simple, yet profound way to remind me that we all need time, love and tenderness on a regular basis, rather than only when we have become bone dry.