Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

I went way back six year's ago on this one. This was on Peyton's 10th birthday, and she turns 16 next week. I won't talk about how hard that is to believe. All these kids are going to be sophmores and juniors when school starts back. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

My first week of meal box cooking

So, after one week, I still hate cooking.

With EveryPlate, all the ingredients come in a box to make meal planning easier, but you still have to cook. I think the recipe cards lie. It takes way longer to cut, chop, prep and cook. It's definitely not a time saver, but I'm going to keep at it for now. 

Here's what I thought about this week's recipes as I venture to cook more. 

My first recipe to try was the sloppy joes. 

I was a little leery of the soy sauce. I'm not a fan of Asian flavors. I also don't know anything about cloves of garlic.

My phone camera takes horrible pictures as proven here. If you squint in to focus, it looks pretty good.

I've also never been a fan of homemade French fries. The roasted potatoes were so-so. Probably going to take some practice to get them right.

For a first meal, that was really good. Not something I would usually fix on my own, but would be easy to recreate again. I like the texture of the ground meat and thought it was better than store bought.

The second recipe had couscous. I've never had couscous in my life, so had no idea what to expect.

I don't have the fresh garlic thing down yet, so it was a little much in the couscous. I guess I cooked the couscous right. I'd eat it again. I don't usually pan cook chicken, and it took longer to cook than the recipe said. I knew it would. I think there are faster ways to cook zucchini than to roast it too. However, all round, this was really good.

The third recipe in my box included rice. Other than eating Mexican rice at a restaurant, I don't eat rice. I've never liked rice. Thought I'd give this recipe a try. 

I skipped the Sriracha because I didn't want that kind of kick. The gravy/sauce was great without it. 

I kind of wonder why you always pan cook the meant and roast all the vegetables. That seems to take forever.

The rice was horrible by the way. I cooked it as directed, but it was not done. It was crunchy. Rice isn't supposed to be crunchy unless it's Rice Krispees. Also, I thought the ginger and garlic in it was horrible. I'll be skipping rice choices from here on out. 

If you want to give an EveryPlate box a try, you can get 2 or 4 servings and 3, 4 or 5 recipes a week. I get three meals, two servings of each. They have a really good trial price, and even after your first three weeks, the price is lower than any of the other meal plans out there. There are about 12 choices per week. Usually there are a couple of veggie options, and there are a couple of "premium" options where you can upgrade for a little extra cost.

Another thing that's good about this is you can try different ingredients you wouldn't use often. It means you don't have to buy a bunch of expensive ingredients you wouldn't use much and would be left sitting in the fridge or pantry.

Want to try EveryPlate and get $20 off your first box?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Find, Fellowship, Forgive and Fortify One Another

Part 2 of an Interview with Amberly Neese,
Author of The Belonging Project

Miss part 1? Read it here!

In The Belonging Project, speaker and comedian Amberly Neese combines Bible study with delightful humor to create a refreshing and engaging experience that will encourage and equip women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging by loving and serving one another. She describes The Belonging Project as an exploration of the New Testament as it pertains to biblical community. “God has designed us to live in mutually beneficial relationships and has given us the blueprints to do so in his Word. The study is designed to encourage, empower, and equip participants to thrive in the community to which God has called them,” she shares.

Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an examination of the many “one another” scriptures throughout the New Testament. She groups more than fifty of them into themes in order to lead readers on an exploration of how to:
  1. Find One Another
  2. Fellowship with One Another
  3. Forgive One Another
  4. Fortify One Another

Having women in our lives to help us grow in our capacity to love, serve, and forgive is always important, regardless of what is going on in our lives and our world around us. However, now, more than ever, we’ve become keenly aware of the need to pursue and build an authentic tribe. She shares more about that in the interview below.

Q: We’ve been in the midst of social distancing for what seems like forever now. How has this period of time made meaningful relationships all the more important?

Social distancing has made us painfully aware of the pangs of loneliness and disconnection. Zoom parties and drive-by encouragement are wonderful, but they are no substitution for sitting knee-to-knee with a friend, sharing our hearts. In addition, for some, having a house full of family in quarantine can be fun (and loud), but it may not be a conducive place to be truly seen and heard.

The time away from others has helped us see the need for others in our life. Biblical community is more important than ever as we rebuild from the quarantine. One of my closest friends lost a child during this season and the inability to hug her family, have a service for her sweet daughter, mourn collectively, and support her clan in this tragedy have been salt in her wounds for sure.

The Belonging Project highlights some ways to love and serve others from the comfort of one’s living room as well as the sweet discomfort of sitting with a friend in her pain. Social distancing may put a damper on connection, but there are ways to encourage others without breaking quarantine. I am a hugger—more like a tackler—so this time has been hard for me, but it has allowed me the opportunity to explore new ways to comfort, encourage, and connect with others.

Q: Sometimes social media is the only way we keep up with our friends. How can social media be both a help and hindrance to our friendships?

Social media can serve as a wonderful way to stay in touch, but it can also serve as a source of discouragement. It is easy to get caught up in the “compare snare”—the heartache of being left out and/or comparing oneself to the feed of others. It is easy to believe that someone else’s feed, their social media gallery, is an accurate picture of their lives. I rarely see dirty dishes, marital discourse, unemployment, bad hair days, or depression on Facebook or Instagram. We only share good stuff and only after it has gone through a filter to remove our wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

We should avoid comparing our real life to the “reel” life of others because it begins to give us a false sense of reality, and we can suffer from envy, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—mindsets that erode a biblical community.

Recently, I found out on social media that many of my cronies (an old school word for friends) had started a Bible study. Without me. To try and keep the numbers reasonable, they had made a list, and I wasn’t on it. It crushed me. The ironic thing was I had already started writing the Belonging Project, my attempt to encourage women to seek community with others in Jesus’ name, and I was not invited. It took me a little while to recover, but my husband and I have also since started a Bible study with an amazing group of folks who were hungry for community as well.

Q: What can we learn from the life of Jesus about living in community? How was this so different from the political, social and religious culture of the day?

Jesus was counter-cultural as he set an example of including others that others cast aside. He loved those who were hurting, broken, and vulnerable. He chose to invite twelve others to do life alongside him and paved the way for us to do likewise.

Throughout his time on earth, Jesus said things that seemed revolutionary (and downright crazy) to his contemporaries. He broke through cultural, political, and social barriers during his thirty years of life and three years of public ministry. His followers (including the apostle Paul, who penned many of the letters in the New Testament) followed suit. Their behaviors, practices, and words often flew in the face of the culture and helped shape history.

God has designed us for community. In fact, Jesus was so passionate about community that He not only chose disciples—twelve guys of varying backgrounds, personalities, and gifts, to walk with him in his journey. He also instructed them to do likewise with others. He invited a myriad of others, including many women, to partner with him in ministry along his path. Through his teachings and the teachings of His followers, we have a blueprint for the community that he has designed for us. This blueprint can be found in the phrases in the New Testament that include the words one another, such as love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and many more. Some of these concepts were certainly counter-cultural in the time of Jesus and are today as well. Jesus spoke these words in times of political, social, and religious tumult and they are so applicable in our current context as well.

Q: What are some tips on finding your tribe? As we search, what are some things we also need to find within ourselves?

Despite what we see in movies and magazines, where personal strength and winning are celebrated, we are created for community. We are meant to encourage one another, walk ahead of and behind one another, and create connections with one another. Yet even as part of a church, we often fall prey to societal patterns of comparison and competition and miss out on true community.

To find one’s tribe, we should first pray about it and ask God specifically for people alongside whom we can grow, serve others, and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone.

We need to make sure, however, that we also are willing to be vulnerable, humble, and a safe place for people. Biblical community is not for sissies. We are a broken people, and even when made holy by the blood of Jesus, we sometimes make broken choices. We speak unkindly, we act unfairly, we give grace unequally. Community with other believers can be challenging and can take a lot of faith, but it is a gift and it is worth the hard work of extending and embracing forgiveness.

Q: The last week in the study focuses on fortifying one another. What does that look like in a practical, daily way?

It can take all shapes and forms, but first, one should commit to spending time to find a body in which you can grow in your knowledge of God’s word, stretch your faith muscles, and be built up by other believers.

If we are going to find our tribe and learn to thrive, we need to be committed to encourage others. Not the “Oh my, what a cute dress!” encouragement (although that is always fun, not the wearing a dress part, but the compliment part), but the encouragement of others in their walk with Jesus. Ask yourself: How can I encourage someone in his or her spiritual walk today?

We live in a discouraging world. The political climate, the tragedies all over the nation, the starvation of children all over the world, the disregard of the value of human life, the threat of war, the rise in stress and anxiety—it is overwhelming. How do we keep our perspective? By focusing on Jesus and encouraging one another daily. Do one small thing today to encourage another believer. One could also consider encouraging someone you know who has left the church with a text, call, email, or letter.

Finally, one can easily develop a habit of gratitude through daily practice—perhaps by writing down all the things one is thankful for each day. Find a friend with which to share that list. It becomes a blessing to both parties!

Q: How is The Belonging Project designed to be used? What are the components of each week’s study?

The great thing about this study is its versatility. It can be done with a few friends or with hundreds of ladies. The format is designed to be easy and enjoyable—five days of lessons each week for four weeks.

There is a daily lesson, memory verses, calls to action, and questions to grapple with for each week’s teaching. The lessons are designed to be completed in about 20 minutes. Each day starts with a “One Another” verse, which sets the tone for the day, includes a scripture focus and questions for reflection, and ends with a Call to Action.

Since each of the days in the study covers another “one another” from the New Testament, if those doing the study have extra time, they can also read through the entirety of the chapter from which the verse comes to get a more full picture of the context in which it was written.

Then once a week, you’ll gather with your group to watch a video, discuss what you’re learning, and pray together. The session outlines, which provide options for both a 60-minute and a 90-minute session, include discussion questions, activities, prayer prompts, and notes for the video segment (available separately). You’ll find the outline for each session at the end of the personal lessons for that week.

For more information, visit her website She is also active on Facebook (@Amberly Neese – Comedian/Speaker), Twitter (@amberlyneese), and Instagram (@amberlyneese).

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Kind Words Are Like Honey

Part 2 of an interview with Bonnie Clark,
Author of Taste Your Words

Teach kids about the power of words and the importance of kindness with Bonnie Clark’s charming picture book, Taste Your Words (Worthy Kids), that cleverly illustrates why we should think before we speak.

Amera’s having a bad day. Her best friend ruined her cupcake and they both said mean things. When Amera brings her bad mood home with her, her mom tells her to “taste her words.” Amera’s mean words taste like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and lemons! As Amera realizes that her mean words make her feel bad and others feel worse, she starts saying the kindest, sweetest words she can find.

Taste Your Words is an excellent resource for parents who want to teach their kids to think before they speak. With humorous text and lively illustrations by Todd Bright make it easy for even the youngest children to understand the power of their words.

Q: The concept of tasting our words is Biblical. Where can we find that idea in scripture?

Proverbs 16:24 (NLT) says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” This verse was a big inspiration when writing the manuscript for Taste Your Words because I loved the imagery of kind words tasting sweet!

I really wanted Proverbs 16:24 to show up subtly within the illustrations and not overtly in the text. In the spread when Amera is home sulking about her yucky day, there is a hand-lettered chalkboard hanging on the wall behind her with Proverbs 16:24 written on it. I hope it gets noticed by the readers, especially the adults. I actually have a chalkboard like that one hanging in our kitchen, and I hand-letter family verses often. This verse has made it “on the board” quite a few times.
While I chose that particular one as inspiration for the story, the Bible is full of verses about the power of words:
  • Proverbs 18:20 (NLT) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
  • Proverbs 18:4 (NLT) – “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook.”
  • Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) – “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”
  • Proverbs 25:11 (CEV) – “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.”
  • Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We can impact the world and be a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, beginning with the words that we speak to one another.

Q: How can using the sense of taste help parents teach kind speaking habits?

Taste is a primal sense that is developed very early in life—infancy, in fact. It is after the introduction of food (what we put in our mouth) that kids learn about using their words to communicate (what comes out of our mouth), so it is an easy and fun mental leap for a child to imagine that words can have a taste. A yucky taste from food elicits a strong negative response in the mind and body. A yucky word can have the same effect on the person to whom the unkind word is spoken as the person who is doing the speaking. Taste Your Words creatively demonstrates that the words that we speak nourish our souls in the same way the foods that we eat nourish our bodies.

This review that came from the parent of a “sensory seeking” child, really means a lot to me. “This book totally captivated the attention of my two-year-old and my four-year-old and caused them to laugh out loud during the yucky parts. [It was a] super helpful tool for my sensory-seeking/sensory-avoiding (SPD) son who lacks natural empathy towards others. All other books are pushing kids to imagine what the other children feel when a mean word is said, but this book uniquely turns the experience inward in a sensory-rich way which totally resonated with my son (FINALLY!). This book is a gift for parents. We've been using, “How did that word taste?” successfully in my household already, and we just got the book yesterday.”

Q: How is the message of Taste Your Words relevant today in light of the current cultural climate?

I try to practice “social media distancing,” especially when it comes to controversial discussion and heated debate. I was already bracing myself for a stormy presidential election year because four years ago I had to get off all social media to stay sane. This year my first book debuted in the middle of COVID-19. I do have to be online to homeschool my three kids, sift through the news, and promote my book, but it’s hard to not see the hateful discourse.

While the book is a children’s book, the message has never been more relevant for adults as well: Taste Your Words. No matter your position or politics, choose your words carefully. Nothing is either/or. People are fearful about different things, and we should all be respectful. Listen and respond with love. That’s the only way we can possibly be the UNITED States. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful.  Taste Your Words is my contribution to 2020.

Q: The illustrations for the book are fantastic. Can you tell us about the illustrator for the book, Todd Bright?

This is my favorite part of my story to publication. My illustrator is Todd Bright, who I mentioned is my stepbrother. My dad and his mom married about 12 years ago, so we didn’t grow up together, but I have always admired his work as an animator. He has worked for Disney/Pixar and others on ridiculously big animation projects such as Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Curious George and others. When I started writing picture books years ago, I had the crazy idea that Todd could illustrate a book for me. (I’m driven remember?)

First of all, I was unaware that that’s not how it works—you don’t get to pick the illustrator when you’re an author. Second, I was a newbie, and he was a seasoned vet. And third, the book I pitched to him wasn’t very good. He politely declined. I kept on writing new stories (because the whole driven thing) and was well into the process when somehow the subject of my latest project was brought up between he and my sister on a family beach trip. This time he expressed an interest in illustrating the story, and I jumped at the opportunity.

Q:  Is there a special reason why the family depicted in the book is a blended family?

Taste Your Words has become a special gift—a blended family collaborative since I was able to work on the book with Todd. The main character, Amera, has the likeness of my youngest daughter Amera. I didn’t make this request because I wanted him to have creative liberty to see the illustrations as he wanted them to be, but it was a sweet surprise. I named the little brother in the story Remy, which is Todd’s son’s name, and he looks like him too! I love that the family depicted in the story is a blended one. Amera and Remy have different skin tones in the illustrations and in real life! I hope children who are a part of a blended family pick up on this subtle story within the story.

Q: How did you get into writing children’s books and why is it such a passion for you?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling to get my thoughts out of my head. I feel lighter and clearer after I’ve poured my heart out on paper. In high school, my favorite classes were always literature and writing.  I have a business degree from Georgia Tech, but the only classes I remember enjoying were my English/writing classes and one on Shakespeare. I guess I didn’t pursue writing professionally because I didn’t think that was an adequate profession. So, I was over-educated and under-prepared for the toughest job of my life—stay at home mother to three kids (ages 3 and under).

My mom recently found the very first picture book I wrote and illustrated: The Lifeguard Who Couldn’t Swim. It was so fun coming across this and sharing it with my kids because truly the whisper of writing has followed me through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This should have been a clue over the years to pursue writing as a career! Having children of my own made me fall in love with picture books again and re-discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I had my firstborn, I wrote another picture book, Sleepy Town and had it printed and bound just for him. As I had more children, and we would frequent the library, I started to wonder what it would look like to be a “serious” writer of picture books. I was in the throes of raising littles, but I also call this stage “research.” In 2015, I joined a kid lit critique group and my pursuit and dream of becoming a published author began.

It is my hope that children who read my books will see themselves somehow in the story, the illustrations or in the emotions and feelings that come up. I want my books to be a safe space to explore emotion, to feel encouraged to like who they are, and to be inspired to make the world a better place by being themselves.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Small-town minister John Cross can’t seem to keep himself out of danger

 Part 1 of an Interview with Andrew Huff,
Author of Cross Shadow

All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth. There’s always more to the story, and she can’t rest until she uncovers it. All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid the truth. Given his prior life, he thinks hiding the truth can protect those he cares about. A journalist out for the truth and a pastor avoiding it sounds somewhat backward, but that’s where Christine and John find themselves in Andrew Huff’s Cross Shadow (Kregel Publications), the second installment of the Shepherd Suspense series.

When Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, she vows to get to the bottom of the crime and prove his innocence. Christine wants to investigate on her own, but when John arrives, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of intrigue, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation and in trouble far deeper than they expected. A chain of events reveals a bigger conspiracy than either could have imagined involving a robotics defense contractor, a private military company, and an assassination plot.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive. In the face of danger, will John’s former instincts kick in? Will he turn back to his old ways?

Q: For those who may not have read A Cross to Kill, tell us a little bit about John Cross and his past.

CIA assassin John Cross found himself at a crossroads in his life during a covert operation in Spain. He walked in on a Catholic Mass at a historic cathedral while tracking his target and couldn’t help but get caught up in the majesty of the building. Instead of fulfilling the requirements of the mission, John found an English Bible at a local bookshop and spent the night reading it. Convicted by his sin, he gave his life to Christ and resigned from the agency.

In an effort to pay penance for the targeted killings he was personally responsible for, John embedded himself in a small church community in rural Virginia and served the various needs of its members night and day. Impressed by his commitment to caring for them, and in need of leadership, the congregation offered him the chance to be their pastor. Thinking it might be another step toward paying the price of his past sins, he accepted, though he continues to hide the truth about who he used to be from the members of the church.

Q: What are some of the relationship challenges John and Christine contend with? Why does Christine seem to be second-guessing their dating relationship?

Throughout the events of A Cross to Kill, John and Christine are drawn to each other like two magnets. After Christine gives her life to Christ, they decide to see if a dating relationship will work. What they find, however, is that neither is sure what such a relationship should look like as new believers. While the chemistry is still strong, their dates are consumed by John’s compulsion to train Christine in survival skills. Christine loves the small community of Rural Grove Baptist Church, but blossoming spiritual relationships and potential job opportunities keep her tied to New York City. Christine begins to wonder if her connection to John was anything more than an infatuation with his story.

While both are struggling to separate their identity from each other, the biggest challenge in their relationship comes from the lack of communication, both in the sense of the distance between them and also a lack of trust. John struggles to reveal more of who he really is for fear of driving Christine away while Christine struggles with planning her life around John for fear his plans might not align with hers. The tension in their relationship stems from their hesitancy to be truthful with one another when simply sharing their feelings would bring many of these struggles to light.

Q: Both John and Christine seem to have a problem with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Why does this keeping popping up as an issue throughout the story?

John’s life prior to Christ was built on one lie after another, and he’s been oblivious to how that has continued to be the case, even in the wake of his conversion. For him, there’s also an objective to the lie, because he is convinced that he needs to deceive others in order to protect them. John thought his only lie was hiding his past from the members of his church when in reality he’s been lying to himself about who he is and what he should do about it. Finding forgiveness for the lives he took was only the first step of John’s journey toward becoming the new man God has called him to be.

Christine has less of a problem telling the truth and more of a problem obsessing over it. To her, there’s always more to the story, and she can’t rest until she uncovers it. Sometimes, however, she finds herself willing to bend the truth in order to get at the truth on something else. New to Christianity, Christine is still learning about the balance between grace and truth, too often erring on the side of the latter at the expense of the former.

Q: Without giving away too much, can you tell us about the situations they encounter this time around in Cross Shadow?

With the first story, A Cross to Kill, we were introduced to the characters and saw what happens when John’s cultivated small-town life clashes with the fallout from his previous career. For the second book in the series, I wanted us to spend more time with Christine and see how her past might draw them back into a world of danger. Only now she sees the world from a new perspective based on her relationship with John.

On her way to an interview with a new network, Christine spots a suspicious character on the subway who turns out to be a suicide bomber. With the aid of an off-duty NYPD officer, Christine “defuses” (not literally; John didn’t train her to do that!) the situation and is thrust into the spotlight a second time. As if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of it all she learns the shocking news that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Dallas, Texas. Christine vows to get to the bottom of the crime and prove his innocence. But when John arrives to shadow her, it starts a chain of events that reveals a far deeper conspiracy than either could’ve imagined involving a robotics defense contractor, a private military company, and an assassination plot.

Q: Christine is a national news reporter and in Cross Shadow has some opinions of her coworkers and how the network covers certain stories. What do you think her take would be about the current news of the day and coverage of events?

Before her kidnapping in Jordan, Christine felt at home among her colleagues at the network news division she works for. But upon her rescue and return, she can’t help but feel like most of the work happening in news is less about presenting truth and more about shaping it. I think she’d sense the same in the way news is covered currently, and she would be bothered by that. At the same time, she’s committed to the profession, and I think she would want to work to effect change from the inside.

When I created the character of Christine, I saw her as someone who went into the job believing she was an agent of change in the world, only to be stripped of her idealism by her captivity. Rather than turn cynical, the experience grounds her in reality and opens her eyes to the possibility that human beings can’t fix what feels broken about the world. That’s how her journey leads to John, then ultimately to Christ. She’s searching for something truly good and right. I think because of that, she’d be less interested in the sensationalism of today’s news and more in understanding the reality beneath the headlines.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you as a new author following the release of your first book?

The biggest surprise has been the season following the release. I looked at the specific date of release as something akin to a movie’s opening weekend and expected there to be a lot of excitement over it immediately. I don’t know if you know this, but a book is very different from a movie, and while the release day was exciting, it’s been really fun to watch new readers discover the book over the months following its debut last October. I’m still getting reviews and messages about it (which is probably laughable for other authors to hear, but hey, I’m still new at this).

Another surprise has been how much I enjoy hearing the varied aspects of the book that different readers enjoyed. Of course, I know and love that each reader is their own unique person, but as an author, you are always trying to reach as vast of an audience as possible. And while many readers have let me know how much they love similar things, it’s been a lot of fun to hear the personal connection each individual has to certain themes or characters.

Learn more about Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Kum Ba Yah

Another throwback video that was originally titled, "Dead People Don't Get Treats." You never know what might come up in class. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Going to give EveryPlate a try

I don't enjoy cooking.

I can't say that I ever have. Yet, I have done more cooking the past three months under "Stay at Home," "Safer at Home," "Quarantine," or whatever it is we are calling it than I have as a poor college student who rarely went out to eat. 

At first the first of all this lockdown mess, my parents or I would go pick up something on Sundays after doing livestream of church. Then, we backed off that. Seeing the ins and outs of employees without masks at some places was cringe-worthy. Also, the food we've gotten just hasn't been that good. 

As far as ordering groceries, I can only handle so many chicken strips, baked potatoes and breakfast for supper. I don't order groceries well, I get stuff, then I don't want to cook it, or if I do cook, I end up with so much food I have to eat it so many days in a row.

So, I decided to try meal delivery. I'll only have to eat whatever I cook twice (instead of four times or something like that), I'll eat more vegetables/healthier food, I'll make myself cook better, and it will help on shopping since meat and some other items are harder to come by. 

I got my first delivery today. At a trial of $2.99 per serving per meal, you can't beat trying this. This is the unboxing, and I'll share what I cook next week.  

The box 
The recipes

The ingredients

The meat

The couscous --- never had it before.

The vegetables -- I have never cooked with fresh garlic or ginger.

The spices and such. See these itty bitty packages?

Want to try EveryPlate and get $20 off your first box?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Are You Living by the Line or the Spout?

Part 1 of an interview with Shannon Popkin,
Author of Comparison Girl

Click here for part 2.

I wish I were tall like her. If only my kids got along the way her kids do. Why does she always seem to have it all together? Women compare themselves constantly. On social media, in their neighborhood, at church, at work, even in the school drop-off lane, they glance sideways and ask, “How do I measure up?” Behind all this comparison is an enemy gaining tactical advantage.

In her new Bible study, Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World (Kregel Publications), author and speaker Shannon Popkin invites women to leave measure-up comparison behind and connect with those around them by choosing Jesus’s me-free way of living. It’s a real chance to break free from the shackles of comparison.

Q: In your previous release, Control Girl, you confessed to your struggle with needing to be in control. Is it safe to assume with the release of Comparison Girl, that comparison is also a problem for you?

Yes, I wrestle daily with comparison, and I’ve noticed that my struggles with control and comparison are related. As I glance sideways, measuring myself against others, I’m often laser-focused on things that are out of my control. I wish I was tall, like her! If only my kids got along the way her kids do. Why has the Lord given her so much more wealth than he’s given me?

Comparisons such as these lead to sulking, questioning, and doubting—not entrusting myself to the One who is in control. Actually, it was the study of Rachel and Leah in Control Girl which prompted this study on comparison. Rather than pacing, fretting, and driving ourselves to outdo each other (like these Old Testament sisters did), Jesus invites us to pour our lives out in surrender to our Creator—who both fashions and leads us as individuals.  

Q: How far back does your struggle with comparison go? Has measuring up and proving yourself to others been something you’ve struggle with your entire life?

My comparison problem literally goes back as far as I can remember. In fact, my first memory is a Comparison Girl story. When I was four years old, I was in church and feeling very grown up, holding my own hymn book. But then a woman from the row behind me reached forward and turned my book right-side-up. I felt embarrassed, exposed, and ashamed since the entire watching world now knew that I could not read.

It seems silly, now. Why was I so worried about being exposed as an illiterate preschooler? Yet, some of my current struggles are just as absurd. Why do I worry about being exposed as a less-than-perfect mom? Or a middle-aged woman who struggles with her weight? Or a Christian who still sins? My heart, since childhood, has been bent on perfectionism, pride, and measuring up—which has not led to great freedom and joy. Instead, it’s led to a great fear of what people think and a great dread of being found lacking.

Q: You find it ironic that we often refer to comparison as a game. Why do references to “The Comparison Game” rub you the wrong way?  

It’s ironic that we call comparison a “game” since I’m pretty sure Satan thinks of it as a strategy of war. Listen to the way James 3:14-15 links comparison to Satan’s agenda: “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts… this is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthy, unspiritual, demonic.” You can’t be jealous without first comparing. And you can’t be selfishly ambitious without glancing sideways to make sure you’re still in the lead. When we try to measure up and get ahead, we are being influenced by the world.

So, keep this in mind. If you hear some voice saying, “Look over at her. She’s so much thinner than you…” This voice is never Jesus; it’s always Satan. And if you hear a voice saying, “Look over at her. Her kids are a mess! You’re a way better mom than she is…” again, this voice is never Jesus. It is always Satan trying relentlessly to pull your attention back to this measure-up, here-and-now world. Comparison Girl is written to help readers reject what Satan has to say and learn to listen to Jesus instead.

Q: How does Satan use comparison to keep us in bondage? Why does Satan count our comparison as a win?

Satan once held rank and position in heaven, but he was discontent. He loathed being less than God, so he set out to lift himself up, saying, “I will be like the Most High.” See that comparison word, “like”? Satan’s undoing began with comparison. He had the audacity—as a created being—to measure himself against God, and because of his pride, he fell from heaven like a streak of lightning (Luke 10:18). But when Satan landed on earth, it was not with new meekness. He is a liar, and the truth has no place in him, so he lives out the delusion that he is somehow God’s rival. Today, he still roams the earth with dogged resolve to challenge God’s preeminence. And how does Satan attack God? By hurting and destroying us. He sees us as pawns to prove his blasphemous point.

Many times, we stumble into comparison, thinking only of ourselves and ignoring the cosmic battle playing out in the heavenly realms. And Satan is fine with that. He’s content to remain anonymous, whispering to us from the shadows as we glance sideways. He is equally pleased when we compare up as when we compare down; both inferiority and superiority drive us to the exhaustion of measure-up bondage. As we ignore God and fold into ourselves, we begin to resemble Satan—back when he was insisting on a higher throne. Satan counts this as a win.

Q: Can you explain your analogy of living by the lines vs. living by the spout?

Jesus, however, turns your attention to your measuring cup’s spout, saying that you were designed—not to measure up, but to pour yourself out. And he shows you how it’s done. If Jesus had a measuring cup, it would be completely brimming full. In fact, it would be impossible to find a cup to contain his worth, which is beyond compare. But instead of concerning himself with proving his worth, Jesus, who was “in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant…”  (Philippians 2:6-7). In other words, Jesus lived by the spout. He emptied himself of status and poured his life out on the cross, giving his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He invites us to follow him, pouring out what we have and who we are in service of other people.  This is counter-intuitive, to be sure, but living by the spout is what frees us from comparison. For when we tip our measuring cups to one side, the lines become irrelevant.

Q: Comparison breeds pride, yet there are different kinds of pride. Tell us more about healthy pride vs. the various kinds of unhealthy pride and how they impact our relationships.

We sometimes talk about taking pride in something. Like taking pride in our appearance or our work. This is appropriate, since as God’s image bearers, we have great worth. We matter. Our bodies and our work matter. The problem comes, however, when we turn to other people (who are also created in God’s image and who also matter) and use comparison to feed our pride.

Comparison-fed pride takes many forms. For instance, envious pride says, “I wish I was great like her.” Jealous pride says, “I’m angry because she is great.” Haughty pride says, “I’m so happy that I’m great.” Insecure pride says, “I’m ashamed because I’m not great.” Wounded pride says, “I hate being overshadowed by the greatness of everyone else.” Our pride is expressed in both longing to be first and in despising being last. Of course, comparison and inflating pride is exactly what Satan wants for us. But Jesus says that in his kingdom the first and the last, the greats are those who empty themselves out. In other words, our pride is what keeps us from greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about bad comparison, but when can comparison be positive?

Picture yourself walking into a room of people. If you enter the room with a measure-up mindset, you’ll spend your time measuring yourself against everyone else. You’ll either fill with pride, inadequacy, jealousy, or a combination. You might start posturing to compensate for your inadequacies. You might become guarded around those who make you feel threatened or outdone. Or you might distance yourself from those who seem “beneath you.” In each instance, when you enter the room focused on the lines, you’ll keep people at arms’ length, and there’s a good chance you’ll leave the room feeling even more isolated than when you entered.

However, what if you could enter that same room of people, focused on the spout? What if you could approach others, knowing exactly what is in your cup and looking for ways to pour yourself out? What if, instead of being threatened by the gifts of others, you could anticipate receiving what’s in their cup as a gift from God? We are all different on purpose. God gave more of this to one and more of that to another, not so that we can measure up, but so that we can pour ourselves out. Picture that room again with yourself right in the middle of a cluster of people who are all pouring and receiving. Instead of isolation, there’s community! By engaging the spout, not the lines, we free ourselves to compare and explore our differences with new freedom and joy.

Q: Tell us more about the format of Comparison Girl and how it was designed to be used. Could the book be used in a group setting?

Comparison Girl is a Bible study which examines the conversations Jesus had and the stories he shared with people who—like us—were comparing. The study is built around in the upside-down comparison statements of Jesus (such as “the last will be first”), which he often used in these stories and conversations. Chapters two through six look at various ways that we tend to compare ourselves: comparing sin, wealth, appearances, our work for Jesus, and status. Each chapter is broken into lessons which begin with a Bible passage to read and end with application questions and a meditation.

Since this upside-down life is meant to be lived in groups, not as individuals, it would be great to gather some friends and do this study as a group. Also, if you’d like to have me be part of your group time with additional teachings, please check out my Comparison Girl video sessions (they are sold separately).