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.
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.
WordPress wants my photo. Badly. Every time I log in, they ask. I like to assume it’s because I’m (pick one) gorgeous, charming, aged, not millennial, parent of millennials, rocking the baby boomer thing, incredibly popular, moderately hot, screamingly sexy, or possibly ___ (provide your own adjective).
As much as I would like to take it as a personal compliment, I suppose they nag all their new bloggers so I remain unmoved. I have been calmly searching my technological devices for a recent and decent photo to satisfy the obviously passionate need of my new blog site, and have discovered something weird.
Current photos of solo me are nonexistent.
I have a gazillion photos of my family, friends, events, and scenic views. I have saved memes (“I don’t always drink wine . . . But when I do, the day ends in the letter y.”), saved quotes (“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” – C.S. Lewis), pictures of our pets (four of them – not four pictures, four pets; we’ll address that another time), and the occasional amazing photos of cakes and cupcakes my youngest daughter has decorated. I am in photos with others, but nothing croppable. Huh.
So I dug through my bathroom cabinet, found and applied my rarely used make-up in a manner my cosmetically gifted older daughter would find utterly appalling (I plan to wash my face before she sees me) and began to take selfies. Many of them, trying to get a good one, Because – wow.
I appear to have aged. What are the odds? I feel a perky and youthful 30 inside, but I promise you that the outside most certainly does not match the inside.
Of course, I am aware that I have white hair. No self-deception there. I once had a friend who whispered that her decidedly graying husband saw only blond when he looked in the mirror. Since I was originally an auburn-level ginger, I could not claim as blond the white strands that started appearing before 30 and created a snow-on-the-mountain effect by 40. Matter of fact, a friend once hauled me into an unlit traveling TARDIS (I kid you not) to shine a sonic screwdriver blacklight on my head. Does my hair, in fact, glow in the dark? Yes. Yes, it does – but I digress. Even though the white was premature, I have apparently grown into it now. And I am a bit surprised and slightly appalled to discover that my eyes and other parts of my face have become riddled with smile lines. Many smile lines, going all different directions. One might even say my face smiles no matter the expression, and not just around the mouth.
And now you know why I appear mildly shell-shocked in my photo. So this is me, in make-up (don’t expect to see that again), wearing reading glasses, taking a selfie. Now, look back to the first paragraph – did you pick an adjective? I most certainly did. After pondering my inside, my outside, and my photos, I have finally decided I’m a hot, rockin’-the-boomer-vibe babe. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Christ tells us to forgive 70 x 7. That sounds like a lofty goal, but have you ever had to work so hard at forgiving – or been offended by the same person so repeatedly – that you actually counted up to that 490th time? So does that mean when we hit 491, we are exempt from forgiving? If so, I think there should be a revenge app that plays the theme from Jaws when the counter flips to 491.
Sometimes forgiveness is easy. But sometimes – well, sue me – sometimes I don’t feel particularly forgiving. Forgiving certain offenses rips at my brain and tears at my gut. My anger is especially fierce against hurts to my children or others I love.
But carrying unforgiveness causes me to hold anger in my soul and bitterness in my heart – the very same heart and soul that I have given to Jesus as a dwelling place within me. Who would want to live in that? Who would even ask anyone to live in that? There is a reason He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who curse us. I have discovered it is quite difficult to hold a grudge against someone I pray for regularly – or even irregularly. When I close my eyes to pray for someone, God opens my heart to the fears and struggles causing that individual to be unkind or thoughtless. That makes me look at my own fears and failures, and then I see how much I share with that person, after all – and my heart breaks a little, surrendering my grip on the negativity. I cannot help but release my resentment and forgive. This does not relieve the hurt entirely, but the bitterness and the anger are lifted and compassion flows instead.
Not all offenses are major – some are light and easy to forgive. But others generate pain, and pain leads to anger, and I must wrestle fiercely with myself and God before finding peace in forgiving those offenses.
Offense can be fierce. Anger is fierce. Forgiveness must be fierce. There is nothing more fierce than battling the powers of Hell and death in order to offer grace. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be a living, breathing carrier of the very grace and forgiveness that was given to me – no matter the circumstances. So on the days when my heart burns with hurt, I remember that Christ burned with so very much more. My soul is humbled – my defenses are lowered. His mercy flows hard and fast through me. And the light of forgiveness bursts outward in a fierce healing rush.
Sometimes life throws so much at you that there is a need to step back, ponder, recover, and renew. Like the mythological phoenix, you learn to have faith that you can arise anew from the ashes left by the changes and struggles of your past, no matter how far back, or how recent.
The past is behind you, the future is unwritten, and you can only live in just this moment – in the very breath you are taking right now.