He is Here.

When you think of Jesus Christ, what image comes into your head?

Every day, every way, on more levels than any of us can possibly understand or imagine, Jesus lives. He is not a baby in a barn, a child in the Temple, preaching in Israel, bleeding on the Cross, currently resurrecting, or even wearing human skin. All of these events are part of His life and message and are worthy of breathless awe and honor, of course! But they are part of His history, not to be confused with what Christ is doing today or where He is right now – which happens to be in Heaven, at the right hand of God, listening to our hearts and being involved in our lives.

So, do these things:

Bow before the Holy Babe in the manger to honor Christ’s great love in coming to us.

Fall on your knees at the Cross and see the sacrifice He made and your own brokenness so you can repent and change your life.

Humble yourself to the ground in gratitude at the empty tomb because He miraculously conquered death to offer you a joyous forever.

Then stand in grace before the living ever-present Christ who is right here for you and is compassionate and powerful and sees exactly who you are from the top of everything lovely about you down to the tippy-toes of everything ugly and still loves you unconditionally, hears you unceasingly, laughs with your joys, weeps with your sorrows, encourages you unerringly, pours grace and mercy all over you, and stays with you wherever you go, whatever you do, no matter the darkness or mistakes – because He is yours and you are His! Reach toward the unfathomable wonder of Jesus Christ in the present and step up with confidence.

He is glorious, He is love, and He. Is. Here.

“I came so they might have life, and have it abundantly.” ~ John 10:10b

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.” ~ John 3:17

Remember Me

My Mom often said, “It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” She was right.

People are so often stressed about not being “good enough”, but the most powerful evidence that Heaven is gained by faith alone – not by any human effort – may be the testimony of a dying criminal who just asked.

Jesus on the cross was bloody, gory, weak, suffering, publicly shamed and ridiculed. In the eyes of most, there was nothing to recommend Him as a human or king, and certainly not as any kind of savior. He was accused of being – and, indeed, appeared to be – a lying, blasphemous, cult-leader of a criminal under a common death sentence with two other criminals. In that moment, His appearance gave no one cause for faith. Those suffering and dying with Him were admittedly guilty. They had no good works that were recorded, they certainly were not baptized, did not speak in tongues or prophesy, and had no time left to perform redemptive acts. In that moment, they had nothing to offer anyone – certainly not God. Like many in the crowd, the criminals jeered and taunted the bleeding, dying Jesus.

But one of them changed.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” He was on a cross, scared, dying in shame and agony. Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

Nowhere is it written that Christ said, “Sorry – you need to be baptized. You need good works. You need evidence of the Spirit. Sorry, man.”

Instead, at this evidence of faith alone – a shaky faith born of pain and fear – Jesus told him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

As Jesus bore the darkness of this world into death to earn redemption for all who believe, he took along the criminal dying right next door. Just because he asked.

No other reason.

So do Christ followers need to do good things? Should we study the Bible, love one another, and act kindly? Yes, of course. But we are called to lives of love and caring and acts of goodness because we have already received grace and are already destined for Heaven, and because we want to share His mercy and our hope with others any way we can. Not because we need to earn our way to Heaven – that way has already been earned for us. We have chosen to believe, we have asked in faith, so Christ has given the gift of eternity. He remembers us – always.

So today, if you just want a some peace in your life, some hope, some assurance, some comfort – even if you are not sure who He is or how He can give it – try a little faith. It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

“Jesus, remember me.”

Resurrection chalk art by our family. Design chosen by our daughter Maggie.

Oxygen

If you are, like me, a mom of amazing special needs children, then you completely understand when I tell you that hope is the very air I breathe.

Some days I am left gasping amid the debris of shattered dreams. My lungs constrict with fears for my children’s futures, their wellbeing, their happiness, their faith. In these moments, I breathlessly cry out to God with all that is in my heart – and He hears.

He hears. And I rest in knowing that He is always there and He loves my children more than I can ever imagine, and my faith is strengthened. Hope again saturates my soul and fills my lungs for the beloved marathon of blessing my family another day.

God. Is. My. Oxygen.

We Will Remain

I live in one of the top 25 most ethnically diverse cities in Texas. Within that city, I live in a recognized ethnically diverse neighborhood, on a very ethnically diverse street. My husband and I moved here in 1993 as newlyweds, raised our children here, and still remain safely and comfortably . . . here. Our neighborhood is a good, solid, lower-middle income bastion of teachers, police officers, blue collar workers, tradesmen, nurses, sales people, and small business owners. Folks who do important jobs but don’t earn important money. We also have our share of retirees, single income families, and first-time home buyers.

In our 27 years in this town, the population has boomed from 7,000 to 64,000. In all that time, with all that growth, we have not had reason to worry about safety or racial hostility. We love our town and conduct most of our business and have most of our fun here side by side with our neighbors. We shop, play, eat out, visit parks, attend movies, etc. in a community that is ethnically diverse and pretty much contented to be so. Our citizens like our police force (judging by all the support for them I see online) and appreciate first responders and those who serve. People here seem willing to make the effort to be generally thoughtful, informed, and kind in order to live everyday life in a safe, amiable environment.

We are an average American town.

So why am I sharing this? Because we are an average American town. Of course, we are concerned by what happens in the world. Of course.  But most of us, in all our American diversity, are living out our daily lives, loving our families, caring for neighbors, doing our jobs, paying bills, supporting one another, being friendly and kind when we meet in public. Most towns like ours not only do just fine with ethnic diversity, we genuinely appreciate the differences everyone brings to the table.

Most of us are not caught up in rioting and protesting and hysteria. We are the quiet majority who do not believe that rage and violence are real solutions. We believe in America, we believe our people are generally growing and striving to do right, and we are patiently and actively waiting for this moment in history to resolve, hoping that it does not upend the lives we have worked so hard to build. 

And – make no mistake – we are the builders and the heartbeat of this nation. We vote, we volunteer, we work hard, we care. We are the ones who hope, who believe, who persevere. We are patriots. And we are praying every day that our country will not be decimated by those pursuing destruction, violence, and power in a misguided attempt to wrest away the lives we cherish and the freedoms that make possible the lives, hopes, and dreams of millions of Americans.

We are not violent or loud or radical so the news media ignores us. But we are, in fact, most of America. We are still the deep root and solid core of this country. And we will remain.

Don’t Wait

The complicated present world is going to give us all more than enough darkness and sorrow to bear – humanity has messed up from the beginning of time and we will continue to do so. But the God who loves, lives, and never leaves offers love, comfort, hope, and a future.

The world will not always be like this. Those of us who have read the Book know how it ends. There will be an epic battle – but there will also be victory and rejoicing and peace.

The thought of eternity might be thrilling or terrifying to you (maybe both) but I encourage you to embrace the forever hope we have in Christ. Embrace it, and pass it along to all those around you. Everyone needs hope. Everyone needs joy.

Don’t wait until life is perfect or until you think you are brave enough to speak truth. Truth is always a risk and life will never be perfect – all the prophets, apostles, and great men of faith who ever lived can testify to that!

Joy can always be TAKEN.
Hope can always be GIVEN.
Salvation is always OFFERED.
The Lord can always be PRAISED –
Because the Love of God is always present
and will never, ever, ever end.

Small Things in a Time of Crisis

Internet communication and media entertainment and information are helpful and convenient right now, but do be careful in how you think of yourself in the realm of all you see. We can’t all be COVID-19 media famous! We can’t all be volunteers in our communities, or first responders, or have shelter-in-place exempted essential jobs. But you are so very valuable and whatever you are called to do in this moment – whatever is in front of you right now – is important. Even the small things matter. Especially the small things matter.

My husband and I have three brilliant, amazing young adult children with special needs, still home. Two are on the autism spectrum and one has autoimmune disorders and is immune system compromised so we are being careful. I help out friends when I can but my time is primarily committed to keeping our family moving forward and de-stressed as well as maintaining the household. We are not perfectly organized, not frenetically sterilized, and definitely not ready for YouTube! Our house is a bit small for five people and four pets, and we live in every corner of it. We are a single-income family and my husband’s hours have been cut so we are also working to pinch those pennies extra hard, but he is at least still employed and I am thankful for that. It is a crazy time and keeping everything running relatively smoothly with moderate peace in our home is more than a full time job. This is our life right now. Can you relate?

I laugh when the news airs segments about what to do with all the alleged extra down time! How to self-improve, new books to read, what media to watch, how to get in shape, and so on. I love my family so much, but they are time-consuming. Anxiety can be a profound issue with our beautiful early-20s children and sometimes my most important tasks of the day involve giving loving care, compassionate comfort, laughter and distractions, reassurances, and especially prayer. All these activities are precious but also intangible – no matter the hours or energy I expend, most of what I do leaves no lasting mark that will breathe beyond me on the world stage. Yet my job is so very important and valuable in the moment it needs to be done.

So here’s the thing – I am never going to be famous for my accomplishments during this time. You probably won’t either. Most of us won’t. History books will not reflect my name or my non-income job as a mom, home administrator, home lay therapist, and caretaker and say, “Wow! Look what this person did during the 2020 corona crisis!” When I see people doing amazing things on the news, I need to be at peace with the fact that I am not one of those people. But the person I am right now is the person God is calling me to be right now, doing my best to be patient and loving with what is before me right now (some days are pretty darn great and others have some epic fails!), and staying as faithful and committed as I can be – right now, in this moment, and each day as we travel this wild and unpredictable timeline in world history.

Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” A slice of of wisdom that is both an observation and a challenge. Let’s meet that challenge.

Dear Grandpa & Grandma –

Today, I was reminded of the importance of keeping love and passion alive within. While sorting documents, I found this letter I wrote in 1989 in memory of my maternal grandparents. The memory of their faith and love lives in my heart.

Dear Grandpa and Grandma,

Keith & Lela’s Wedding Photo, 1924

I am writing this letter to you and sharing it with family and friends because I had to put into words what I learned from your lives. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it well enough to tell you when you were here, but maybe I didn’t know it then.

To live is to age. You taught me not to fear either. 

Lela Mabry, c. 1922

A few years ago, Grandma,  you told me about the time very recently when you were scrubbing the church floor with other women in the church. You felt a little faint from the odor of ammonia and stood for a moment, leaning against the wall. A younger woman came up and said, “Mrs. Roper, are you all right?” And you thought to yourself, “Good heavens, she thinks I’m old!” After you told me this, we looked at each other and laughed! Old? You? What a silly idea!

Keith Roper, Football Captain, 1923

And Grandpa, I remember after Grandma died – I came in and sat on the edge of your bed and held your hand and you told me about her last few days and moments and we both cried. Listening to you talk about Grandma touched me deeply. Your love for her was certainly mature and strong, yet still so fresh and incredibly sweet. I knew then that you were not merely mourning the loss of complacent companionship – you were mourning the loss of a wife beloved with a passion stronger and more vibrant than the day you were married.

I have watched the two of you never grow old, for you waited upon the Lord and He renewed your strength, and you have flown on the wings of eagles to stand before the very throne of God in all your beauty and youth and vigor – just the way you were intended to be.

You were young when I knew you . . . You are younger now.

1974. 50 years of love, commitment, faith.

Oh, I am not afraid to live.  In you, I have seen two who have followed Jesus to the last. I have learned that life is not so long that it is to be feared, and the reunion with the Father will surely be very sweet. I will always remember the maturity of your spirits and the sparkle of youth in your eyes, and I have great hope because your Lord is also my Lord and, like you, I will never grow old.

Thank you for loving me. I do thank God for you. I know that he understands how great a gift you were to me and I hope you understand it now, too.

I love you both and miss you, but plan to see you in the twinkling of an eye.

Love, Karen

Grandpa & Grandma’s 50th Anniversary Celebration with their children and grandchildren.

Mom’s Meatloaf with a Side of Kitchen Wisdom

Last night, I made five pounds of meatloaf. I’m hoping this will last for two dinners in our family of five, although if we have meatloaf sandwiches at lunch – probably not. This recipe is so popular around here that my husband claimed he married me for my ability to make it. Well, some marriages have been built on less . . .

In the 1960s through early 1980s, my talented mom won or placed in a multitude of local and national cooking contests including two stints as a Pillsbury Bake-off Finalist. One of her best and most enduring recipes is Dilly of a Meatloaf, fondly and everlastingly referred to by the family as Mom’s $500 Meatloaf (the amount she won for creating it). Mom’s kitchen abilities were legendary, and time spent cooking with her was pretty awesome. Since she usually lived nearby, we spent many hours over the years sharing laughter and life while preparing meals for loved ones. 

Mom’s recipe (below) tells just a small part of the story of actually making it. If you have a favorite recipe, I am sure you have some little tips learned from experience that never made it into print. The same is true here. I learned to make this and many other recipes at Mom’s side and my memory has mixed together the recipes with her thoughtful kitchen wisdom. So, just for the moment, pretend you are here making this ultimate comfort food and sharing these thoughts with us – 

1. There is grace. While it is important to come pretty close to the original requirements of this recipe, the measurements don’t have to be precise. Meatloaf is not soufflé! It’s simple, everyday food – glorified hamburger. There is a place for order and precision, but perhaps not right now. This is relaxing comfort food so it should be relaxing and comfortable to make. Enjoy the process.

2. Consider what you are putting into it. Many years ago a lady I know tried this recipe and, rather disgruntled, called to say she did not understand how it won a contest when it didn’t taste good. When I gently asked about her cooking prep, she admitted making it with turkey burger instead of beef, leaving out the eggs and stuffing mix, substituting for the chili sauce, and changing the quantity of onion. We definitely understand the need for food substitutions in our family, so I get it! Recipes, like life, will frequently need to deviate from the original plan and change can often be quite beneficial. But if you decide to change things up, brace yourself for an unexpected outcome and just own it, whether good or bad. If you made the decision, then the blame or credit is yours. And this topic leads us to . . .

3. Balance. In case you were wondering, the changes listed above can actually work, but further adjustments for taste and texture must be made to achieve a tasty, balanced outcome. Mom and I used to laugh about how very seldom either of us actually followed a recipe as written, and we both think the need or desire to sub out ingredients probably made us better, more creative cooks – but we were careful to balance dry and wet ingredients and tried to be thoughtful about seasonings. Maintaining balance can be a delicate task, but leads to a much more satisfactory result.

4. A little fat in your life is a good thing. If  the meat is too lean, the result will be dry; if it is too fatty, the result will be mushy. To make things come out just right, consider how much fat vs. lean is best for you.

5. Go all in – measure and dump all the ingredients in the bowl before mixing. There are times you have to throw all you’ve got in the pot and hope for the best.

6. Be willing to get those fingers gooey! When my mom made meatloaf, she cheerfully mixed up that mushy pile of raw ingredients with her bare hands and I do, too. She said some things don’t come out quite right unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. So scrub up and dive in!

7. In the recipe, you will see that you need to stop in the middle of cooking to add the sauce on top. Before you sauce it up, take a moment to tilt the pan gently and drain off the excess fat that has already cooked out. You will need to drain it again at the end, but it helps if you get rid of what is unnecessary along the way.

8. If you are using deep loaf pans like I do, check the center of the meatloaf before you shut off the oven, just in case the meat isn’t done. Bear in mind that some things take longer than anticipated! I learned from my mom to stick a large spoon or metal spatula right in the middle and draw out a little meat to verify doneness. You might end up with a funky-looking hole in the middle, but you don’t want to bring an unfinished product to the table just because you neglected to check. Finishing well is much more important than looking pretty.

9. Serve your meatloaf with whatever side dishes you prefer, and enjoy without guilt! There are enough things in life to cause discomfort – meatloaf shouldn’t be one of them.

My awesome mom went home to the Lord in 2018 and the many times we shared laughter and lives while cooking side-by-side are some of my sweetest memories. This is the first time I have made the meatloaf since she passed and I wanted to share the moment. I think she would be pleased.

LaVerne’s $500 Meatloaf


Prep Time: Approx. 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: Approx. 60-75 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:
2    lbs ground beef (we like an 85/15 meat/fat ratio – add a little water if you use leaner meat or turkey burger)
1    6-8 oz pkg of cornbread stuffing, including spices (we use gluten-free)
2    eggs
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce (sweet chili sauce, NOT hot – usually stocked near the ketchup)
1/3 cup finely diced dill pickle
1/4 cup dill pickle brine/juice from the pickle jar
1    cup finely chopped onion
1    tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt

Place in a 2-quart loaf pan or casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix the following sauce:
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dill pickle brine/juice
(You may wish to double this amount if using a wide, flat casserole dish.)

Remove meatloaf from oven after the first 30 minutes, drain any excess fat, and spread the sauce over the top. Return to oven and bake for 30 more minutes or until done. Depending on your oven and the size of your pan (especially if you use a loaf pan rather than a shallow casserole dish), cooking time may extend another 10 to 15 minutes. If you double or triple the recipe and are using loaf pans, count on additional time. Remember to check for doneness before serving.

Enjoy!

Just Drive

I hate those days when I feel like I’ve lost my drive. Not just the drive, actually – I seem to have lost the whole dang car.  And there God is, patiently holding the keys and GPS that will get me back there. All I have to do is ask for help and mean it.

I have to mean it.

It sounds so simple, really. I just have to drop my earthbound baggage so my hands will be empty to take what He’s got – but I can’t seem to do it.

Why is that? Maybe because I am so tired in my head. Some days, the world just wears me down until I want to curl up in bed and turn my face to the wall. No drive, no momentum at all. I do know that God will lovingly pick me up every time I fail, so why am I hesitant to take what He is so willing to give? And still He remains – standing right by me, loving me so much, patiently prompting me to ask Him for help, and promising to stay near no matter what happens, no matter what I do, no matter where the road takes me.

But I still have to ask for my drive – my spirit – to be restored. A simple request. I can’t let the fear and fatigue stop me from doing that one little thing.

Everything else is on Him, but the first step is on me.

I can do this. I will do this. Here I go –

Buckle up.

You, too, can be Peter – Just Show Up.

On the night before Jesus died on the cross, He was hauled off for a sham of a trial and hours of abuse. Peter and John – two of His closest friends – managed to follow him secretly and witnessed the unjust trial and subsequent persecution. Peter was clearly afraid and famously betrayed Christ by convincingly denying three times that he knew Him. When Christ later rose from the dead, He reaffirmed His love for Peter and gave him an awesome commission that changed Peter’s life and, in many ways, wrote the future of Christianity. This is an amazing encouragement for those of us who need to know that an incredible legacy is still possible for each of us, even if we have done some pretty bad things.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that Peter showed up. Just that. John, too. They knew they would be facing a tough crowd, but these guys buckled on their spurs and came to the party. Not much is said about John that night, simply that he knew the high priest and was able to get himself and Peter into the so-called trial. But for Peter – it’s all about his personal Armageddon.

I confess that I seriously admire Peter and John just for showing up; their beloved and controversial leader is hauled off under circumstances that would surely end in some kind of an unjust conviction, probably a whipping, maybe a beating, possibly death, and they follow along knowing there is a reasonable chance they might share in the accusations against Him. We kind of expect John to be cool under pressure, but Peter had a bit of a problem with falling prey to his emotions. That night, showing up was a massively courageous thing for him to do.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most of you have days when the very thought of showing up is an overwhelming concept. I am absolutely with you – some days, I can only function if I sluggishly remind myself of my blessings, barely haul my fanny out of bed, paste a smile on my face, and reluctantly force myself to be present. Nothing fancy, nothing momentous, nothing bold. I’m just showing up. But know this – even just showing up is an act of faith and courage when your heart is burdened and fearful and your greatest desire is to roll over, bury your face in the pillow, and stay put for the rest of the day, or possibly the rest of your life. If you just give what little you’ve got to give to the Lord in those moments, He will do more with it than you can imagine. Really.

It is true that God wants so much more from us than just showing up (I’m not gonna lie about that!), but I know from experience that His wonderful grace shines on days we simply fail to pull it all together. Sometimes just having the courage to show up can lead to blessings and opportunities that would have been otherwise unavailable. God knows your heart. Jesus, above all people, understands what a scary, crazy, painful, messy world this can be. Peter showed up that night lacking the courage to shine in any way and even betrayed his friend and Savior at the worst possible moment, yet a few days later Christ extended Peter the powerful grace and salvation that turned his life into a wellspring of passionate ministry. Scripture tells us that those who are forgiven much, love much. Showing up on the night of the trial gave Peter the chance to fail so that Christ could offer the grace that would change Peter into a rock of faith – an example that still shines for us 2000 years later.

So today and tomorrow and the next day, try this – even if you haven’t got a shiny atom in your body, even if your heart is burdened and every other minute you want to break down in fears and tears, even if you absolutely know you can do absolutely nothing on your own, I still challenge you to show up and give all the moments to God – the worst as well as the best. You may not see the results right away, but just by showing up you are giving Him the opportunity do something through you today. Maybe something that will change a life. It might even be yours.