Life around my table

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I recently read a book and I felt so understood. Not that I walk around the world feeling misunderstood on a regular basis, but when I read Shauna Niequist’s words from her latest book, “Bread and Wine,” I knew I wasn’t alone in my belief that the kitchen table is the most important piece of furniture in my home.

There is a sense of peace you experience when you read another’s words and know you have a connection. You understand the joy she’s talking about because you’ve experienced it. You understand the sacredness she’s referring to because food and family and faith are indeed things to be cherished.

And honestly, I didn’t know how deeply I treasured, adored, and needed people around my table until I read this book. I’ve always known that I loved it — but, oh my friends, it is so much deeper than that for me.

“Food is the starting point…,” Shauna says. I couldn’t agree more.

I love community. There is so much beauty when we can come together to slow down, open our homes, sit at each other’s tables listening to one another’s stories for hours and hours. We push our plates back, but then laugh as we reach for just one more bite of pasta puttanesca. I care about loving what we eat, sharing the food with people we love, and gathering people together; whether it’s for store-bought cookies or homemade pie. The gathering is most important. The community is of great significance.

My dear friend Shanti bought me this book. In her sweet note taped inside the front cover she said she couldn’t read this book without thinking of me. She quoted that exact same statement from Shauna. “Food is the starting point … the currency we offer to one another.” Apparently Shanti already knew I embody this truth — she knew me more than I did. Best friends have the ability to discern things like that about us. Thanks for understanding, Shanti.

It’s more than just about the food set around that table. It’s about life. And that pretty much means it’s about everything.

I love food. I love people. I love when the people I love are sitting around my table eating food. It creates a joy in the depth of my being. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at my table. Bread being torn, beverages being poured, forks clinking the side of plates. The warmth. The community. Joy is all I experience.

There is something so beautiful about a houseful of people. There is something comforting about men and women who feel the freedom to come over to my home and make themselves at home. I want you to invite yourself over. I want you to help yourself to my cupboards of glasses and fridge full of food. It tells me I’ve done something right. You feel welcome, you feel safe, you feel cared for and loved.

As Shauna says, “Life at the table is life at its best for me, and the spiritual significance of what and how we eat, and with whom and where, is new and profound to me every day. I believe God is here among us, present and working. I believe all of life is shot through with God’s presence, and that part of the gift of walking with Him is seeing his fingerprints in all sorts of unexpected ways.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I think I was meant to be a host — in every sense of the word. I want to cook you things. I feel alive and connected to God’s voice and spirit by creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. What’s your favorite food? Come over to my apartment and I will make it for you. I feel confident saying that it would bring me more joy to serve you than it would be for you to eat whatever is on your plate.

Thank you for your words, Shauna. For many years I didn’t understand nor have the words to tell the truth about what I really love.

Living life around my table is my favorite place to be.

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He Giveth More Grace

Poem by Annie Johnson Flint

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Read this poem slowly, reflectively, and prayerfully. Ask God to make its truths real to you in your particular situation.

Be he said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Cinnamon-Swirl Bread

I really dig cinnamon bread. I think it’s the gooey cinnamon swirl, melted butter and rising yeast, and cinnamon-sugar crust that lures me in. There is just something about it that says, “homey deliciousness” to me. You agree?

When I make this bread–which is fairly often–Erick and I always say, “we should totally make french toast with this!”  Every time, because we’re so proud of our ingenious thinking, we act as if it’s the first time we’ve ever come-up with this brilliant scheme. Erick usually says, “Epic.” And I squeal like a 13 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Food gets us really excited in the Horrmann household.

While this is a great idea in theory, it never works. We always eat the bread before it has a chance to get dipped and thrown in the pan. Someday. Maybe someday. Gotta have goals in life people.

This recipe is from the Sono Baking Company. It’s this bakery somewhere in Connecticut. My youngest brother bought this cookbook for me this past Christmas and I haven’t stopped baking since. If you’re looking for an amazingly well-written, semi-advanced, but simple baking book — this is my recommendation. John (he’s the baker who wrote the book) has made me a better baker. Truly.

Okay, I’ve plugged the book enough. Happy baking.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Dough:

3/4 cup warm milk
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse salt
6 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2/3 cup raisins (optional)

Filling:

2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

To make the dough: In a small bowl, pour the warm milk over the yeast and let proof for 5 minutes. Make sure it gets bubbly.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, salt, and butter and beat on low speed until the butter breaks down and dissolves completely in the dry ingredients, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the yeast mixture and the water and beeat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the ingredients are well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not sticky when you touch it. It should be damp enough that the dough still attaches a bit to the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too dry, it will collect around the paddle–add water by the tablespoon. (Err on the side of too much water; you can always add more flour as you knead.)

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface. Knead by scooping the dough up from underneath with the thumb and the first tow fingers of each hand, then folding it over on itself. Give it a quarter-turn and repeat. As the gluten develops, the flour absorbs moisture; as you work it, the dough will pull together into a ball and become less tacky. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy. Pat the dough into a 9-inch round. Sprinkle with the raisins, and knead briefly to incorporate. Stretching it gently, fold in the left and right sides to the center, then the top and bottom. Place the dough, smooth side down, into a lightly oiled bowl, then turn the dough over so that both sides are coated with oil. Cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times and very soft, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough and turn the dough in the bowl so the smooth side faces up. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again in a warm place until increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, to make the filling: Stir together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup to sprinkle on the finished loaf; reserve it separately.

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, smooth side facing down. Gently stretch it to flatten it to a rectangle, about 6 by 14 inches, with a short side at the bottom. Make sure that the edges are not too thick, or you’ll end up with a loaf that sloped down in the center. Brush with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar filling, allowing a 1-inch border at the top and bottom. Rolling from the top, roll the loaf as tightly as you can into a log. Gently press the seams together. Place the loaf seam side down in a buttered 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the loaf is increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times and has risen over the top of the pan, 30 to 45 minutes.

Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet, place it in the oven, and immediately reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees. Bake, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the crust is evenly golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 40-45 minutes. Turn the loaf out immediately, on its side, onto a wire rack to cool.

Brush the cooled loaf all over with the melted butter, and sprinkle with the reserved 1/3 cup cinnamon-sugar mixture. Transfer to a wire rack and let stand until the sugar dries, about 30 minutes.

The Meaning of Marriage

I think it’d be intimidating to write a book on marriage.

There, I said it.

Take “write book on marriage” off my list of things to do.

Maybe once I’ve been married for like … I don’t know … five decades. Maybe. I might have it figured out by then.

There are a lot of marriage books out there — I’ve read a lot of them — and many claim to have the keys to a happy, biblical, and gospel-centered marriage. With some — these claims ring true. With others — not so much.

If you’re currently engaged and preparing for marriage, I doubt you have the time (or the $$) to tackle all of the titles weighing down the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble.

So — how do we work through them all? Which ones should you read?

This one. You need to read this one.

Even if you’re not married or preparing for marriage — this book is for you too. Tim Keller’s church is predominantly singles, and he focuses a significant portion of this book on being single and on pursuing marriage.

There is one feature to this book that distinguishes it from any other marriage book I’ve read. Gospel-centeredness. Tim and Kathy Keller lead me deep into the gospel of Jesus Christ, and showed me how the gospel extends to every part of marriage.

The book is written primarily by Tim, but his wife, to whom he has been married for almost four decades, contributes in several ways. They speak from the powerful combination of Scriptural grounding and real-world experience.

“As theological students, Kathy and I studied the Biblical teachings on sex, gender, and marriage. Over the next fifteen years, we worked them out in our own marriage. Then, over the last twenty-two years, we have used what we learned from both Scripture and experience to guide, encourage, counsel, and instruct young urban adults with regard to sex and marriage.”

Today, marriage is for the fulfillment of the individual. We live in a world that says you can’t marry someone until you find the perfect soul mate — happy, healthy, interesting, content with life.

A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low-or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.

In a world where we know how to fall in love but are rather clueless on how to stay in love, Tim’s words give us wisdom.

Erick and I have only been married 28 months — 28 months today, actually. So we rely on the words of those older and wiser than us to tell us what’s up. We will not claim that we’ve got this whole marriage thing figured out. Cause we don’t. We work at it daily.

However, I can say with confidence that we have a good marriage. A marriage centered around Christ, and based on respect, love, friendship, truth, and a heck of a lot of grace.

I tweeted this the other day, but I’m gonna say it again because it’s one of my favorite quotes from this book: “Truth without love ruins the oneness, and love without truth gives the illusion of unity but actually stops the journey and the growth. The solution is grace.”

If I had to say one thing I’ve learned about marriage, it’s that it’s a never-ending growth process. Marriage shows you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are, and then forces you to pay attention to it.

When I’m me on my worst day, Erick could be thinking “there’s gotta be someone better than her.” The gift of marriage is that the “someone better” really is me, just a future version. It’s Erick’s desire to be with me when I get there.

The Meaning of Marriage — read the book my friend. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Having no clue how God will use your story

I stole this post. It was written by Jon Acuff, the blogger behind  the Stuff Christian’s Like Blog. I can’t stop thinking about Beth’s story, and this was posted a couple of weeks ago. Since it “knocked me over” — I thought I’d share it with you. 

Having no clue how God will use your story
By Jon Acuff 

I recently received an email that knocked me over.

I decided to post it for two reasons:

1. Somebody has a story like this and needs to know they’re not alone.

2. A lot of us have gifts we’re supposed to use that we can’t ever imagine God doing something with and this is a testament to what happens when we try. When we do something as silly and insignificant feeling as starting a blog.

After she emailed this to me, I asked Beth if I could share her story and she graciously agreed. I changed some of the details to protect her privacy for reasons that will become crystal clear as you read it. It’s time for me to just get out of the way and introduce you to the amazingly awesome Beth.

Hello!

My name is Beth and I’m from Texas. I am painfully shy. I didn’t always used to be. I used to be the crazy, silly gal that everyone laughed with. But now, I am shy. I used to be NUTS! I distinctly remember going to a pool hall and crawling around under the tables pretending like I was an alligator to cheer up a friend who had just broken up with her boyfriend. I was the only one who was SOBER.

My mother was a practicing (sorta) Catholic & my father was a Buddist. Since they could not see eye-to-eye on religion, I was not baptized. My younger sister, on-the-other-hand, was born 4 months premature & in 1977, there was no surviving that. She was baptized right away. She did survive though and in our Catholic upbringing, what that meant was that all my family went through the Christian education and rituals while I constantly sat in a pew. Because I was never baptized, I wasn’t able to go through church school or learn about the bible. My mom did the best she could to teach me, but she was hurt by being disowned by her family when she became divorced. It was difficult for her to teach me about Christ’s love when she was having a hard time experiencing it herself.

I found Young Life in High School and thought that was great. I got to start to learn about Christ and the bible, but I was struggling with my Catholic upbringing telling me I couldn’t do anything until I was baptized. I was very ashamed to become baptized at so old an age, so I always felt on the outskirts of Christianity. I used to tell people “I love Christ, but I’m not a Christian.”

A few years later, I graduated from college. My friend fixed me up on a date with a friend of hers and the night ended up with me in the emergency room. When I woke up, the doctors told me they had given me Plan B to prevent any pregnancy, done an STD work-up and started pain medication and antibiotics for a broken right cheekbone. I still can’t bring myself to use the word used to describe what happened to me that night. I’ve only used it a handful of times in counseling and with my husband.

My mom was a single mom of myself & my sister and we are 3 very strong women. I was in amazing amounts of physical pain from the damage to my face and struggling all the time an emotional crisis from letting some man do this to me. I tried to cope for 2 months. The broken facial bones and bruising were so obvious. My sister is a model, literally. It’s how she worked through college. She’s a tall, thin, leggy perfect model. The joke in the family was always that she was the pretty one & I was the smart one. Compared to her, I was a bit of a troll, but compared to the rest of the world, I was a normal, fairly attractive young woman. This trauma to my face was obvious and had so many people asking so many questions that I just couldn’t bear to answer. One day, I gave up. I took a bottle of 60 Vicodin, curled up on the bathroom floor and waited to let it all go.

Within just a few minutes, I started vomitting everything in my gut. My mom found me and took me to the doctor. I was 8 weeks pregnant. I spent days crying non-stop. My mom & my sister thought the decision was obvious. The pregnancy was because of a rape & this is 1 of 3 times when people don’t judge you considering the inconsiderable. Everything in my body told me that this baby was a gift from God and even if he wasn’t conceived in love, he was given by love… the love of God. I mean, God did save my life with morning sickness, ya know.

I called this man and told him about the pregnancy. That was about the worse thing I could have done. He began all kinds of violent threats. Evil violent threats. The police were called and he was hauled away. I walked over to St. Mark and asked to speak with a priest. There was no priest available, so I spoke with a nun who lived at the convent. I think I got the bitterest, crankiest, meanest nun in all of Texas, maybe the US. I told her the situation. She told me the only thing I could do was to marry the father. I remember her words to this day “if you don’t marry him, you’ll be damned.” I got up, threw my bible at her and left that church in a dead run. I was sure there was no redemption from throwing a Holy book at a Holy person.

I had a very difficult pregnancy and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. After a few years I decided to go back to school and became a nurse. I raised my daughter and dealt with restraining orders and her violent father for 4 years alone. I was so ashamed of what happened to me that I refused to press charges, so he was never charged with what he did. He was arrested and found to have an unbelieveable amount of drugs on him which kept him in/out of jail most of the time which was a blessing.

When Julie was 4, I started to take an interest in gaining a specialty in Hospice Nursing. I took care of a woman named Nancy. She came onto an Alzheimer’s unit I was running. She was 46 years old. Her husband was so tired and so desperate for any help he could get. She started losing her memory 13 months before I met her; the day after her daughter committed suicide in their garage and Nancy found her. She was so hard to care for. She didn’t just have memory loss, she had severe hallucinations, often thought she was on fire, screamed at her reflection in the mirror and cried sometimes non-stop for days at a time. One morning I got a call from the nursing assistant telling me that she was so hot that it was painful to touch her. When I got there the paramedics had just arrived. Her fever was 108 degrees.

Turns out she had a drug interaction from the antipsychotic medications we gave her that caused this syndrome to happen. So now we had a woman who was severely uncomfortable with psychotic symptoms and we couldn’t treat her with any medications. She went to a psychiatric hospital for 2 weeks. Her husband was told that the only way to control her symptoms would be to completely sedate her which meant she would not be able to eat and she would die. Her husband very tearfully agreed. She was transported back to my facility on Hospice services.

The sedation didn’t work and she started this syndrome again. She started having seizures. We covered her floor with mattresses and her walls with body pillows. I stayed in her room for 3 days and slept on her mattresses waking up every hour to give her medication for her pain & seizures. After 3 days, the chaplain came in. Usually when the chaplain came in, I always left the room or sometimes the building. This time, the Chaplain came in and I looked at her & asked “why won’t she let go?” Tears started streaming down my face. The Chaplain offered to pray & I accepted. The Chaplain prayed for mercy and to take her onto her new home. When we said Amen, Sharon took her last breath. I broke down in sobs in the Chaplain’s arms and took a week’s vacation.

The next day I walked into the 1st church I could find from my house. It is an Assembly of God church I’ve been going to ever since. The Assistant Pastor is amazing and held my hand through my journey. I completed the Basic Christian Beliefs class and felt really good. It felt good to finally agree that I was, in fact, a Christian. I felt free and peaceful. I was baptized finally and started taking communion. It felt good… For a bit.

Pastor Bob started trying to get me into small groups. I went to a parenting small group, but I wasn’t married & not about to volunteer up why, so everyone thought I had been stupid and young and kept trying to fix me up. That was too painful. So I went to a Singles small group. Pastor Jeff promised me that it wasn’t a pick-up club, but a place for singles to get together. He was wrong. I tried to volunteer in the kiddos department, but found it was not OK to talk about Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and that may even send me to hell faster than being an unmarried mother.

I used to be a barista, so I tried to help out in the Connection Center, but we covered this before… I’m shy. Apparently I wasn’t outgoing enough for the supervisor lady to volunteer and slowly started seeing my name disappear from the schedule until it was gone altogether. I started taking some bible classes and really got into 1 on the book of Revelations. I look very young for my actual age and at the time, I was still getting carded EVERYWHERE I go. I was joking with someone in class about how I had been carded at a R rated movie that my sister and I went to over the weekend. The teacher called me out in the middle of the class (horrifying for us shy ones) and told me that if I would just listen to the Holy Spirit within my heart, I wouldn’t want to see those movies in the 1st place. After that, I started avoiding classes.

I started going through the motions at church and lost that sense of peace and comfort. I still prayed and read my bible, but found excuses to not go to church on Sundays and quit going on Wednesdays all together. I started to believe that I couldn’t believe in Christ and be a goof ball. I started to believe that I would never get my goofy spirit back. I started to believe I would always be a shell.

This went on for 6 years. Until I found Dave Ramsey. My husband is perfect. Perfect in every way. The only thing not perfect about him is the fact that he’s PERFECT. He never yells. He’s always supportive. He gorgeous (I know that’s not supposed to be important, but he’s really hot)! He’s brilliant. But I’m not. I’m broken. I’m weird. I have a temper, who boy, do I ever have a temper. We were teetering on the edge. We were discussing divorce. He was completely responsible with money, I was completely crazy with money. So Financial Peace University was offered through church & I suggested that we do it. He whole-heatedly agreed because he wanted to do anything to save our marriage (again, he’s perfect).

I’m a compulsive researcher. Once I learn about something, I have to learn everything about that topic. So I was looking over Dave Ramsey’s website before our 1st class and I ran across you and your blog and I started reading. I read every single 1 of your blog entries. I laughed out loud. I didn’t sleep for 2 days. I woke my husband up several times to read him entries I found enlightening (he’s perfect & he put up with it). I bought Stuff Christians Like and that 37 book for my Nook and read those.

You know what you did for me? It was something that no one had ever told me before. You gave me permission to laugh. You gave me permission to be silly. You gave me permission to be Not Perfect. For the 1st time in a very very long time, I have started to feel like I can be a good Christian and I can also be my goofy, silly self. For the 1st time ever, I realized that the 2 are not mutually exclusive. God made me a goofball. He made me a silly, R-rated-movie-watching, crawl under the table, laugh at myself, laugh with others goofball and there is nothing wrong with that.

I was in counseling with my Pastor/Counseler at the time I found your site. He told me it was like someone flipped a switch. 1 week, I was constantly crying and the next, I was almost chatty! My husband has said several times that it is nice to have me so happy. I do housework and play with the kids and get along with my sister. He told the counselor that he feels like he’s always seen this person in me and now I get to see it too.

People at work ask me frequently what happened to me. I love telling them your quote “God made laughter and when we don’t use it, it makes him want to take it away, like the unicorns.” I love referring to your blog and book when I try to explain why we do the weird things we do. The Chaplain who prayed over Nancy (and eventually married my husband & I) has me keep a Praise journal and not a Prayer journal. She says that it keeps me focused on the positives and not the negatives. She reminds me that we need to Rejoice in all things. I honestly write your Blog post about Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in that Praise Journal down once a week. It lets me defend my absolute LOVE of Harry Potter without any guilt.

I’ve started going to church more (more importantly, I enjoy church more). I’ve started going again on Wednesdays and now I volunteer as a greeter. It’s great for me. It forces me to practice small talk and smiling and meeting new people. Soon I’ll be able to shed the “shy” label. I used to have to take anti-anxiety medication to handle the crowds at church. I don’t have to anymore. For some reason, you making satire and jokes about the silly things that Christians do, allows me to relax and I don’t need any medication anymore. No more anti-depressants. No more anti-anxiety meds. I continue counseling, but I think I probably will at some level forever.

So I read in your book, Quitter, today that not everyone liked Stuff Christians Like when it came out. And some gave it harsh criticism. I guess that I just need you to know that those folks are short sited. I needed the humor to move on. I needed permission to laugh in order to be a better Christian. If not for your blog & book, I would have likely given up again. I think I was about to walk away from the church again and I think I may have given up on my marriage. I believe that there are others out there just like me. As I start building my dream job of running my own company I look forward to developing a class about self-care and being about to give away whole bunch of your books and encouraging caregivers and nurses to seek humor and spiritual health.

StrengthsFinder: the Horrmann Edition

Courtney here. This topic is arguably one of my favorite to talk about. Things are about to get real nerdy, but stay with me folks. This is good stuff.

Back in 2001, Gallup introduced the first version of its online assessment, StrengthsFinder, to help people uncover their talents.

Have you ever read the book? Looks like this.

No? Then go buy a copy. The book leads you to an online assessment, which in turn throws out a little thing called the “Top 5.” Out of the 34 themes, this list is considered your “sweet spot.”

The purpose of StrengthsFinder is not to anoint you with strengths –– it simply helps you find the areas where you have the greatest potential to develop strengths.

You should know that I don’t work for Gallup (though it’d be a sweet job), nor am I a paid advertiser (not even close). I’m just a believer.

I passionately value the knowledge and coaching this provides.

You know that cheesy maxim we’ve heard our whole life — Knowledge is Power? It’s totally true here. Knowledge, skills, and practice are important parts of the strengths equation. Without basic facts in your mind, and skills at your disposal, natural talent can go untapped.

God gifted each of us with a particular skill set, and it’s our responsibility to be a good steward of those blessings.

These are our top five. What are yours?

Erick’s Top Five

1) Empathy
2) Developer
3) Adaptability
4) Connectedness
5) Belief

Courtney’s Top Five

1) Belief
2) Input
3) Achiever
4) Responsibility
5) Arranger

Lots of info comin’ in and out

We’re reading a library right now. Yes, these are all being read by two people. I may or may not claim four of them.

Don’t judge me. I like to overwhelm my brain with information.

Erick’s all over “A Million Ways to Die,” by Rick James. I’m finally tackling “Changes That Heal,” by Henry Cloud (my Campus Crusade friends are all gasping right now). And I’m off-setting Henry with a little Howard through “Onward.”

Good stuff people.