Posted by: Spatzi | November 13, 2013

Why I don’t say “It’s okay”

I’m a people pleaser. I like for things to be harmonious and peaceful, for everyone to be content, and for there to be absolutely NO CONFLICT. Even so, I think I maintain a pretty healthy balance of not being a walking doormat, which is not something I can claim for my younger self. Actually, during my high school and early college years, I pretty well determined never to voice my opinion or desires. Instead, I essentially let others do whatever they would like. (Brave? No. But it felt safe.)

As a result, I developed an awful habit of responding “It’s okay” to just about every injustice, inconvenience, or hurt that I suffered. It was as though, if I could just convince everyone that I was unaffected, it would be true. So I never really thought through forgiveness or excusing the wrongs that were done. Instead, I just muttered, “It’s okay,” (of course not meaning a word of it) and continued on, all the while holding on to what had been done.

In my freshman year of college, I met a friend who challenged my use of “It’s okay,” among many other things. One day, we found ourselves in the midst of an argument. He had asked me for forgiveness for something-or-other (I seem to remember that it wasn’t anything big or something I necessarily viewed as needing forgiveness). I casually responded, “It’s okay,” thinking that was the same as expressing my obvious forgiveness. However, to this particular friend, it wasn’t the same thing. Not by a long shot.

This is where the argument arose. He was searching for a verbal acknowledgement of his need for forgiveness and a response to the affirmative (“I forgive you”) or negative (“I’m unable to forgive you”). But my thoughtless “It’s okay” addressed neither of these. In fact, in reacting to my response, he inadvertently hit the heart of the situation: I was accustomed to responding “It’s okay” to any given situation regardless of whether it was actually okay or not. The words were entirely meaningless.

I don’t know that I immediately stopped using the phrase. I’m not even sure if it was done with much intentionality at all. But I do know that, today, I don’t say “It’s okay,” and it’s very intentional. Because, here’s the thing: If someone does something to hurt me, it’s not “okay.” I can extend forgiveness to the person or assure them that there are no hard feelings. But I’m no longer willing to offer a meaningless, untrue phrase in order to make someone feel better about a wrong they’ve done. I would rather address the issue, admit I was hurt, and work through the situation with the person than put a verbal band-aid on the situation. I think that, in the long run, it ends up being much more productive.

Posted by: Spatzi | November 9, 2013

The Dangers of Comparison

“You need to stop comparing yourself to everyone around you and compare yourself to the person God created you to be.”

It was one of those rare, deep, heart-to-heart moments that quality time people like me thrive on. I was sitting in my favorite chair in the living room, legs tucked underneath me and head cocked to the side as I pressed the phone to my ear. I had just confessed a mountain of insecurity that I had not yet spoken to anyone. My mother, one step away from exasperation by the unreasonable size of said mountain, gently (but firmly) admonished me with the above words.

They hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat in my cozy little chair, suddenly out of breath from the weight of those words. But it wasn’t over there. I got quite an earful about the impossibility and danger of attempting to measure up to other people. And it was exactly what I needed to hear.

I can look back over my life and realize that much of my time has been spent in this comparison game. And I know I’m not the only one.

When my friends look at me, (I’m told) they see a strong, capable young woman who has overcome adversity, who works hard for what she gets in life, and who is tender-hearted and empathetic. It’s not that I would disagree with that assessment necessarily, but it is difficult to accept that partial truth when I know the full weight of my humanity that lurks beneath the surface. I know not only where I have come from (which is in some ways a terrifyingly dark place) but also the dark and ugly depths of my own soul. Sometimes, I think I forget that Jesus has washed me clean of all of that. I look at the “perfect” believers around me, the ones who at 20-something are already 3/4ths of the way to having a “perfect” little American family, with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, not to mention a thriving ministry/job/whatever… and I just feel out of place. I can’t look at our radically different pasts and see a common, safe, reliable future. It just doesn’t add up.

But here’s the thing I’ve been missing all along: God didn’t create me or allow certain events in my life with the intention that I would someday live up to Susan’s or Mary’s or Betty’s potential. If I accept the truth that God is sovereign (which He most assuredly is), then I must also accept the truth that everything that has happened in my life, good and bad, has been under His sovereignty. I must accept that God is bigger than my past, bigger than my failings, and bigger than my insecurities.

Further, the state of my future (or present) is not dependent on how good I am or how I measure up to Susan or Mary or Betty. And thank God for that, because if I were the captain of my fate, I’d be somewhere radically different than I am today, and I’d have a lot less hope to go along with that.

So here’s what I’m getting at: comparison is dangerous. We all do it, whether it be in fashion, dating, academics, our walks with God, or any number of other things. I’ve watched friends battle depression  over their inability to measure up to other people. I’ve seen relationships fall apart over the same thing. And I’ve seen people’s walks with God deteriorate over comparisons. How are we to be the people God intends for us to be if we are all trying to be like Susan or Bill or whoever else?

Instead of focusing on what we lack, let’s focus on what Christ is doing in us. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, let’s compare ourselves to Christ and who He desires us to be. (We will still inevitably fail, but I believe we will be striving for the right thing and growing in that direction.) Instead of walking in fear of never measuring up, let’s live our lives in the freedom of grace and truth He has given to us.

We’ll never do it on our own strength. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to.

Posted by: Spatzi | September 28, 2013

Is Chivalry Dead? The perspective of a 21st century woman.

Just the other day, I had an interesting encounter that got me thinking. I was running down the stairs to the chapel’s first floor, hoping to not miss the opening of the first song. I happened to reach the door at the same time as a group of young men who pushed and crammed their way through the door, leaving me standing with one hand on the door, wondering whether any of them had even seen me there. Of the twenty or so young men who shoved their way through that door, not one offered to let me go in front or tried to take the door from me. Only one stopped to say thank you.

Annoyed, I rushed down the aisle and slid into the seat my roommate was saving for me (ironically, a seat right next to a couple of the aforementioned young men). “Gentlemen,” I whispered to her in a huff, “do not exist.”

The question now, of course, is this: Do I really believe that gentlemen don’t exist? Do I really believe that chivalry is dead?

The simple answer is no. But I do believe that a number of our young men (and women) have forgotten what chivalry really is, and how it came to be.

In the Middle Ages, knights were held to a standard known as the Code of Chivalry. They were called to support justice, defend the weak and defenseless, assist widows and orphans, respect women, live by truth and loyalty, be courteous to others, avoid scandal, and fear God, to name a few. It is from this code that the concept of a gentleman was derived. However, there are days when I wonder whether this is an idea that is beginning to die out.

On the whole, do men nowadays occupy themselves with thoughts of fighting for those who are unable to fight for themselves? Do they determine to live by truth, loyalty, and fear of God? Do they strive to avoid scandal? Do they respect women?

The issue with this last idea isn’t really about opening doors or walking on the street side of the sidewalk, although that’s certainly a part of it. The issue of respecting women, as I see it, has to do with the ability to see women as they truly are. I believe that men and women are equal in the Lord’s eyes, but they are by no means identical. We have different strengths, weaknesses, and roles that have been given to us by God. A part of men respecting women (and, conversely, a part of women respecting men) is recognizing these differences and choosing to embrace them rather than shoving them aside for a misunderstood concept of equality.

On the flip side of my earlier story, I recently spent a weekend in California with my family for my brother’s wedding. While there, I had the opportunity to spend time with a cousin of mine who I could tell was really striving to embody the idea of a gentleman, even down to opening doors for me and pulling my chair out for me at dinner. Did he have to do these things? No. Were they a little weird to accept? Yes. But they also gave me a sense of security. They conveyed the idea that I was worth doing something for, that I meant something to him. These little things, no matter how insignificant they may have seemed, made me feel worthwhile and beautiful.

My point here isn’t that guys should have to go out of their way all the time to do every little thing for us women. I’m perfectly capable of doing things on my own, and I surely won’t die if I have to open a door for myself. The point is, guys, that what you do makes a difference, and that through embracing (or ignoring) those little, seemingly insignificant things, you convey much more than you may realize.

The fact is, we want to know we are important to you. We want to know we’re worth the effort, even if it’s a little annoying. We want to know that you see that tender, fragile part inside of us that needs protecting, and that you are willing to make that sacrifice. We want our brothers and friends and boyfriends and husbands to realize that, though we may not be lesser, we are different. And, within those differences, there is a part of us that, no matter how capable we may be, desires shelter, protection, and affirmation.

So, if you think we’re worth protecting, cherishing, pursuing, even loving… tell us. Show us. Because it means more than you may ever know.

Posted by: Spatzi | September 15, 2013

A Letter to Us All

I know I have posted this poem before, but it’s been nearly a year and a half, and it is without a doubt among my favorites that I have ever written. After taking a short trip down memory lane in reading some of my old posts, I thought I would share this with all of you once again. Enjoy! (As always, comments/criticisms are welcome.)

 
I’m baffled by the person behind the lies,
by the shadows behind those eyes that you hide behind two dark squares of glass,
whispering with false bravado that nothing has happened,
he never touched you.
I wonder at those lies.
 
You are a flash of lightning on a dark, still night,
unexpected and beautiful, here one moment and gone the next.
Your heart is not protected behind those cool, grey walls
but it’s growing colder, lacking the warmth of the Son.
I’d offer you a space heater if I thought it would help.
 
And I wonder what would happen if we each took two steps
to the left, away from those shadows, in order to gain some perspective.
Take my hand, we’ll make it, for beneath the glassy stare of your eyes
I know there is hope not yet quenched by the frigidity of your past.
You have not been forgotten.
 
Does it really matter where we go, so long as we go?
We make plans for ourselves, disguising them in false pleas for guidance.
Isn’t it true that we have to surrender everything before we can be made new,
and that, without Him, our dreams are not nearly as big as they should be?
Take a moment to listen.
 
We are not unforgivable, unredeemable, unmistakably broken.
We are stronger than they’d ever allow us to be, broken free from those unwanted glares,
ready to fall into something greater.
So fall, fall, and don’t look anywhere but Up, where hope comes from.
It’s okay to let go.
 
We are young, but we are not niave.
We have been branded by the past, but scars fade and 
the flower blooms even after the storm.
Through the cycles we come face to face with faithfulness.
Don’t worry about being perfect.
 
The depths of His grace are too great for your small form;
If we were alone, we’d be crushed.
But I saw you swim in that ocean, bathed in that fine Light,
and I smiled for all that you were.
True beauty is never what they expect of us.
 
Who are we to walk down the streets just like everyone else?
We were not made to fit that mould,
pressed into cookie-cutter shapes of what the world says we ought to be.
Don’t sell yourself for that bit of appreciation.
Do you honestly think the attention is real?
 
Listen, remember that ocean!
Did you forget what it felt like to be warm when you forsook the open arms that had for so long held you?
Acknowledge that wrong already, admit that it wasn’t your fault. 
And tomorrow, when your eyes open to the Light, you’ll remember the warmth.
His arms are never far away.
 
I remember when we used to dance through the sprinklers
like hummingbird wings fluttering 80 beats per second.
You didn’t so much tiptoe through my life as leave permanent bootprints,
like that old saying about true friends.
Let’s be children again.
 
Isn’t that the only way to go, with wide eyes and open hearts?
What makes us so inclined to hide away that pure, untainted shard of what once was,
as though that child could be hurt again so better to not let it live at all.
I miss that clarity of mind, when you spoke your words out of nothing but honesty.
If you’d hated him, you would have said so.
 
And now? Are you ready to admit it?
Say the words, speak them aloud,
acknowledge the wrong and hold fast to the right.
Bend over backwards, fall like a leaf tumbling from the heavens.
“I was never alone.”
Posted by: Spatzi | August 14, 2013

The truth about parenting: It matters.

In nine days, I will be turning 22 years old. Although most days I feel incredibly young (and in many ways, I know I still am), it’s impossible to deny that, somewhere along the line of my growing independence these last five years of college, I stumbled onto adulthood. So forgive me if I use that big, scary word throughout this post; I know I’m younger than many of those who may read this. However, bear with me. There’s a bigger point to be made.

As I progress further and further into my early years of adulthood—and the responsibilities that come therewith—I’ve stumbled upon a realization: How parents raise their children really does affect the person they become in their adult years. (To those wise adults who are chuckling or rolling their eyes, bear with me…)

Perhaps the greatest gift my mother ever gave me was her availability. We were blessed as kids to have a mother who had the option to not work. For the first twelve years of my life, I had a mother who was always available (not that she was unavailable once she began to work). She took us to school in the mornings, brought us home, cooked us meals, helped us with homework…  Whatever needs we had, Mom met them, and then some. And, perhaps most important of all, she taught us many lessons of adulthood in the context of our little world.

She taught us the basics of cooking, how to properly clean dishes, and how to do the laundry. She taught us to blare our music and dance around the house while we cleaned. She taught us to love reading and enjoy life. She taught us to work hard for what we wanted (or, at times, what we didn’t want but did need), chase after the good things God had for us, and always put others before ourselves. She taught us to save and manage our money, to take care of the nice things we were given, and to say please and thank you. She taught us to smile and make conversation with the checkout lady, to always be courteous, and to treat others the way we wished to be treated. She taught us to resolve conflict and to listen when someone else was speaking. She taught us to pick up after ourselves (though I, more than anyone, fought that one every step of the way) and treat someone else’s belongings with more care than we would treat our own.

I was shocked when I went to college and found that 75% (this is an approximate from my interactions, not a statistic) of students had never done their own laundry, cooked a real meal, or learned how to properly maintain a home. I’m not about to point fingers at their parents for not doing a good enough job, because I don’t know their specific situations. All I know is that, for many, college is the beginning of a very long journey into adulthood. For many, careers, apartment renting, house buying, and sometimes even marriage come soon after college. Even for those who move back home, it’s important to understand how to keep and maintain a home, cook meals, maintain money, and so on. If nothing else, it makes life just a little easier on those who share a living space with them.

I remember one day in my sophomore year of college walking into the kitchen area of my dorm to find a sink full of dirty dishes (many caked with food) and ants crawling everywhere. I was shocked and disgusted and immediately got to work cleaning. The frightening thing is, that wasn’t the only time it happened, not by far. Nor was that particular kitchen the only place I encountered such a mess. In fact, I’ve found that college students can be very messy people, and many of my friends confessed that they were never taught to do simple things like dishes, laundry, or cooking. Are our young adults living off of popcorn and ramen because they were never taught how to cook a meal for themselves?

Here’s the thing. While my mother was always there for us, she didn’t hand everything to us on a silver platter. Truth is, we could probably have done with a little more struggle, but I’m incredibly grateful for the work ethic my mother taught me. I’m still learning, of course, but I’m grateful for the time she took to teach me how to do things for myself, and how to do them well.

So, to those parents who have loved and labored for us, thank you. To those who are just starting off: keep going, because it makes a difference (not just to your child, but to his or her future roommates and spouse). And to the wonderful lady who raised me, thank you for all of the lessons, the truth, and the times that I didn’t understand what you were doing (or why) but learned from it anyway. Thank you, Mom for everything. I love you.

Recently, because of a particularly bad flare-up of my hyperthyroidism, I’ve had to make some changes in the way I eat. For me, this meant completely cutting out all wheat and iodized salt (no more eating out or “cheating” for me!). Due to the awful combination of hyperthyroidism and hypoglycemia, I’ve also started adding coconut everywhere I can in my diet. I use coconut flakes as a snack and in my morning yogurt and use coconut oil and milk just about wherever I can in replace of other fats and such. Thankfully, being mostly dairy-free, I already use a number of coconut products in my cooking, so the adjustment wasn’t too difficult.

Today, I was bored of the few breakfast foods I’ve been cycling through and wanted to try something new. It turned out far better than I expected, so I decided to share my good fortune with all of you here. Whether you have hyperthyroidism or hypoglycemia or just want to try something new, this breakfast is nutrient-packed to help your blood sugar and metabolism. Plus, it’s super tasty!

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You will need:

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten free if necessary)

2 tbsp Qi’a superfood cereal (I used the cranberry vanilla flavor)

1/2 tbsp coconut oil (approx.)

1/2 tbsp raw honey (approx.)

Finely shredded coconut flakes (as desired)

Directions:

1. Heat the coconut milk and coconut oil in a small saucepan on the stove.

2. Add the oats and Qi’a cereal, stirring frequently until the mixture begins to become more solid (like regular oatmeal).

3. Add the raw honey, stir well.

4. Remove from heat and serve, adding coconut flakes as desired and mixing well.

5. For added antioxidants/taste factor, enjoy with a glass of green tea.

Posted by: Spatzi | April 3, 2013

Sugar free (stevia-sweetened) custard recipe

You will need:

4 eggs

2 tbsp stevia powder (or 12 packets)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

3 cups whole milk (or milk alternative)

ground nutmeg

ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease six ramekins (or one bread pan if you don’t have ramekins) and place them in a large baking pan.

3. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over the stove, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

4. In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla extract, stevia and salt.

5. Add the heated milk and stir until well mixed.

6. Pour the mixture into the ramekins. Sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon, and a small bit of extra stevia, as desired.

7. Pour hot water into the pan within 1/2 inch of top of cups and place the pan in the oven.

8. Bake until knife inserted near the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes (45 to 50 min for custard baked in a bread pan). Remove the ramekins from hot water and cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

9. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, then serve and enjoy.

Posted by: Spatzi | March 19, 2013

Homemade Apple Butter Recipe

On a recent visit home, I was cleaning up around the house and stumbled on a pile of apples. They were past their prime but still good, and I wanted to come up with some creative way to use them that wasn’t applesauce, as we already had a jar of mostly untouched applesauce in the fridge. My solution? Apple butter. It’s surprisingly easy, though also a bit time consuming. Next time, I think I’ll look up a crock pot recipe.

I loosely followed this recipe here. My main problem, aside from having a general aversion to recipes/measurements, was that this particular recipe called for four pounds of apples. I had about five smallish apples and a jar of applesauce, which I threw in after pureeing the apples so I could have more apple butter. So here is my loose adaptation. I was happy with it, and I hope you will be too if you feel like making a smaller batch to enjoy alone or with a friend.

Don’t hate me for the lack of precise measurements. ;)

You will need:

Apples

Apple cider vinegar

Water

Sugar

Salt

Cinnamon

Ground cloves

Allspice

Lemon juice

Directions:

1. Cut the apples into quarters. I removed the seeds and any nasty spots, but it’s best to leave the core and peel on.

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2. Place the apples in a medium to large pot and add enough water that the apples are well-covered (they’ll float, don’t worry about that). Your water/apple cider ratio should be 2:1. For instance, if you use 2 cups of water to cover the apples, add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. If you use 1 cup of water, use 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. Etc.

3. In the covered pot, bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until apples are soft. Remove from heat.

4. Using a pestle, mash the apples through the strainer into a medium to large bowl. Remove the skins from the strainer as necessary so the pulp can go through the strainer and into the bowl. (Note: The recipe above calls for a foodmill or chinois sieve. I had neither, so I used a regular mesh strainer. It worked fine, but I have a feeling the suggested pieces of equipment would be easier.)

5. Add your sugar. This is where I had a vast difference of opinion with the recipe above, which calls for 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple puree. I had about 3-4 cups of puree, and I used about 1/2 cup of sugar. So, add however much you find necessary based on your individual preferences or the sweetness of the apples you used. Mix until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

6. Add your spices to taste. I used approximately 1/2 tsp each of ground cloves and allspice and 2-2 1/2 tsp cinnamon. When in doubt, start small, taste, and work your way up. Mix. Add your lemon (I used about 1/4 cup, again follow your preferences).

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7. Cook uncovered in a large/wide pot on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. It took my mixture about 1 1/2 hours to reach the right consistency and color: thick, smooth, and medium-dark brown-red.

8. If you plan to can your apple butter, follow the instructions on the recipe posted above. I put mine in a tupperware, as I knew it wouldn’t last too long.

Enjoy!

Posted by: Spatzi | March 12, 2013

The beauty of cliff-diving

Today, I visited his grave for the first time in a long, long time.

It looks exactly the same. Old, neglected, surrounded by mostly-brown grass and a patch of dirt in which a whole hoard of insects have found their playground. And underneath that worn bit of sone, I know there is nothing left worth returning to.

I used to sit and talk to him, share with him the milestones in my life. I shouldn’t have been alive, and I knew that he, of all people, would understand that. At the same time, I didn’t really believe that he was listening. It just felt good to talk, for once, to be honest without fearing judgement.

This time, I didn’t talk to him. I had no need to. Instead, I poured out questions I’m sure I’ve spoken before to the only One who has been there to hear all of these conversations. I asked God why He kept me from death time and again, against all odds, but He let my friend die. Eight years later, it still feels like a sick exchange of fate, and I’m angry for it. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

And I wish I could say that a loud, booming voice sounded from Heaven and gave me the answers I’ve been longing for. I wish I could say I suddenly learned every detail of the life that was lost far too soon, that the puzzle was miraculously complete. But none of this happened.

What did happen was this: My Daddy, in His infinite compassion, placed a whisper in my heart, reminding me, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” and “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

I have to accept that there are things in this life that I will never understand. And though I often fail, I’m learning more every day what it means to trust in the One who has all the answers.

It feels like diving off a cliff, blindfolded, and trusting that there is water below to catch me.

Posted by: Spatzi | March 6, 2013

Life and Algebra

“This is just a bit of silliness, really.”

Life and Algebra

When did I get to be so selfish,
chasing after knights and
preoccupied with thoughts of things
that probably don’t matter at all?
 
I had such good focus for a while,
but it’s hard to miss someone
and keep going as if you are untouchable.
I’m a human being too.
 
And I can’t help but think 
that things will be better if I keep quiet,
but my heart is begging me to ask
if the future is really for certain.
 
I mean, how can anyone really know?
So many variables,
a multitude of possible outcomes.
It’s hard to know which one is right. 

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