Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome and Happy Easter Weekend!

Happy Friday! Welcome to all of my SITstahs!!

I'm super excited that it's my SITS day today :) Please take some time to look around and make yourself at home. I sure hope you'll take a moment to follow Welcoming Spirit, and check us out on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Welcoming Spirit is a place where I share about our home renovations, DIY projects, stories about our 2 1/2 year old son (he goes by Zoom around here), and spiritual reflections.

This blog started in 2008 as a way for me to chronicle, journal, and share my journey as a retreat leader. Leading retreats and sharing my writings with people is my passion (even though I'm a project manager by day, which I also love), and I've been delighted by the study of religion since way back in college. For my master's degree, I went to Yale Divinity School, which was an amazing experience. I have to admit that I'd love to be a full time speaker / retreat leader and blogger. Some day it will happen :)

In the mean time, we bought a 1971 "casita" last year; it was a short sale and we've spent a lot of time dolling it up. Last year we redid the floors, painted the whole house, and put a new roof on the place. This year, we need a new garage door (there are mushrooms growing in does that even happen?!?), and we are going to paint the kitchen cabinets. Wish us luck ;-)

Over the past couple of months, I've done few fun projects around the house.

I created a feed sack bulletin board:

Corkboard Redo

I stenciled our hallway and dining room:

Hall After

I updated the hardware on our front door, and shared my steps on "how to paint a peephole" ("peep" - it's even Easter-themed!):

And we took a trip to The Sea Ranch:


Lent has been a "big" season for me; my former room mate from Divinity School and I have been leading a Facebook group and posting reflections every day. If you want to read those posts, you can see them on the Lent link in the navigation. And my Good Friday (that's today!) post is also up for reading :)

And, if you want to link up to a Wednesday Linky Party, my friend Kristen and I host those every week. You can check out our writing prompt calendar in the side bar --->

Zoom and Sean and I want to wish you a very Happy Easter, and thank you for stopping by! I sure hope you'll leave a comment or two, and follow along for our future adventures. 


Good Friday: Cured

Today is the day, the amazingly heart-breaking day that our Savior dies for our sins. It is the day that we have known to be coming, the day that all of this reflection and introspection, of all of everything, really, is about.

Contemplating Jesus' death is part of our curing process. Spending a little time meditating on what Jesus' death means, on coming to grips that God loves us so much that he sent his son to break through the confusion, the daily hurt, the knowledge of this act, is overwhelming. Like the soap, quietly curing under my bed, I know that my mind and my heart needs to sit quietly with this act of love, I need to soak it in, let it change me, let it cure the hurt of this life, and ultimately my own purpose will become clear if I sit with this love long enough.

In our last retreat, my friend Carol and I ended the day with a beautiful reading out at the outdoor altar at San Damiano Retreat. The altar sits amongst old oak trees, and a lovely outdoor Stations of the Cross. Our small group of young adults had been an amazing group, sharing, contributing, opening up that day. We had created walked the stations of the cross, and we had meditated on Lent. Out at the altar, we played Laura Story's "Blessings" to close the day.

San Damiano Retreat: Stations of the Cross

As the music started, one young woman sitting near me let out a quiet gasp, and whispered, "no." And that's when I caught her eyes. She looked like a frightened child, her eyes big, brimming with tears. Whatever this song reminded her of was too fresh, too hard, too much for her to sit with. She started to cry.

Another girl, sitting next to her said, "Brianna, it's OK, it's OK." And she put her arm around Brianna, and held her close, while Brianna cried.

It was a touching moment. I don't know what Brianna was going through, but I know what that moment feels like. When emotions are too intense, when you wish you could run and hide, do anything to get away from the pain, but you understand that the harsh reality is that the only way to deal with it is to go right through it.

This is how Good Friday feels to me. To think about the true occurrence of this day, about what happens to this man, this Son of Man, this Son of God, is too much. My brain grasps the concept, but honestly, I can not spend too much time with Jesus' death. My heart breaks with Jesus when he calls out "Father, Father, Why have you Foresaken me?" I can not comprehend the hows and whys of humanity allowing this to happen, of a real man dying, of the intense sadness of the scene.

The good news is that we do not have to sit with this sadness for long. This death is an act of love for each of us is like no other, a love that stares death in eye, a love that eventually triumphs over death itself. Love wins in the end. And, through it all, our Father is there, he is always there, he is like Brianna's friend, sitting silently beside us as we cry through the pain, assuring us that we are OK, holding us as we are eternally cured.

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

Updating the Front Door and Entry

A couple of weekends ago, I tackled a few small updates to our front entry area. The hardware around the door had four different metal tones: black, brushed nickel, brass, and gold. So I decided to update all of it with a little spray paint - Rustoleum's Oil Rubbed Bronze:

I removed the mailbox, the door knobs and locks, the peephole, doorbell casing, and the hook we have for wreathes. And I gave it all a good 2-3 coats of paint.

The old doorbell was quite dated. Very 1971:

old doorbell

It looked worlds better with new paint, and a new button.
The update I was most proud of was the peephole. I removed it from the door, and then cut a bit of painter's tape to cover the plastic peephole. After that, I painted it, and the painter's tape kept the plastic clean.


Once everything was back in place, the entry looked a little more put together and unified.  In the before and after, I especially like the more mellow tone of the door handle and lock.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Awe

God's presence by Buechner

"For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not that just beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God's existence that we want but the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle we really get." - Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

We sit squarely in the middle of Holy Week, the midpoint of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. If we were walking with the original disciples, we might be standing next to Jesus, we could speak with him, we could have spent time with God. There is a sense of awe in this idea for me. That our God knew that we needed to experience him, to behold the miracle of him, so that we could each have a relationship with him.

Yesterday my friend Kathy shared a story about a cat named Bailey who would cry and mew even after her owner had filled her bowl with food. One day the owner knelt down with the cat, after filling her bowl, and sat with Bailey. And she began to eat. The food alone was not what Bailey wanted, she had wanted her master's attention, she had wanted love and relationship.

Jesus is the pinnacle of God reaching out to each of us, again and again, in the hopes of sharing His love. When word alone was not enough, when prophets, when signs were not enough, God kept trying. God keeps trying. We never quite grasped the enormity of God's love, the tenderness of His message in the Old Testament. We were too afraid, to focused on upholding the covenant, too worried about earthly legalities to understand it. So, as a loving master, God came to us as Jesus, to sit with us, to eat with us, to be near, and to show us his love.

I stand in awe of this today, and every day.

And now for the Wednesday Wanderings Linky Party!

The simple rules:
1. If you post something, please stop by and leave a comment on the 2 people that posted before you.
2. Please stop by "On Wings and Waves" and say hi to Kristen :)
3. Please share links from your blog that you haven't shared here before.
4. Please grab the Wednesday Wanderings button and share it in your post so other people can join in the fun.

Let's get linking!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Lord Remembers: The Story of My Son's Name

When I graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1998, my parents gave me a trip to Israel as a graduation gift. It was amazing. I saw the places I'd studied, walked the roads that Jesus walked. Jerusalem was beautiful, rich with history, filled with the wonder of God and the story of humanity.

My friend Margaret and I took a walking tour that led us along the Wailing Wall, underground, close to the "Holy of Holies" where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Temple. We were told that where we stood was closer to the Temple Scrolls than where the men outside stood, near the Wailing Wall. I could feel God's presence in the place, an old, cobbled tunnel, dark and worn from centuries of hands and feet passing by.

I sat on a common white lawn chair in that tunnel, with my hand against the Wailing Wall and prayed. My heart to God. That he'd bless me with a partner for this life. That my parents would someday see their grandchildren. That I my family would be safe and healthy. And thanksgiving for the blessing of this life.

We left that tunnel, I left Israel, and only thought about that moment every so often.

Fast forward to twelve years in the future. I had become a retreat leader at San Damiano, and found a special friend and mentor in Father Rusty there. We led retreats together, he gave me more books than I can count about Franciscan theology. His teaching picked up where my learning at Yale had left off. And in September that year, he led a pilgrimage to Israel.

And in September of that year, Sean and I had our son. I was in labor for 56 hours. I was in the hospital for a week, and our son was in the NICU for six days. It was the hardest time of my life. During the labor, I remembered the words of the song "Candle on the Water" from my childhood, encouraging me on, like God's ongoing blessing on the event. "Though you're lost and drifting, know the clouds are lifting, don't give up, you have somewhere to turn..."

We chose the name Zachary for our little boy, we spent hours picking it out. I loved that his name, from Zachariah, was in the old and new testament. Zachary means "The Lord Remembers," and I liked that too, the idea that the Lord would always remember my little boy.

The day we took Zack home, I got an email from my friend, Father Rusty, from Israel. He said that on Friday, they had been in Jersualem and he'd said a prayer for me and Sean and the baby at the Wailing Wall. That he'd prayed for our health, for the baby's safe arrival. And that he hoped we were all well.

Tears filled my eyes. That Friday was the very day Zachary was born. Father Rusty had said that prayer for us at the Wailing Wall the very day that Zack was born.

And then the enormity of the event hit me. Zachary. His name means "The Lord Remembers." It all made sense. And oh, how He remembered. The Lord had remembered that prayer from me, over twelve years ago, at the Wailing Wall. He had heard my prayer, had let it cure in me, and had found a way to send me a sign that indeed, The Lord Remembered. With my parents around me, little Zachary in my arms, I could not help but be overwhelmed by a God who cares, remembers, and of the wonders of our lives.

Linking up with:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Master Bedroom: Ideas for Curtains, Fabric for the Chair

This evening we finished installing our baseboards. Nine months after we moved in! The next thing I really want to tackle in our house are some small updates to the master bedroom. When we moved in, we hung up some painter's drop clothes as our curtains for the room. A great solution as they are neutral, and for a huge window, I think we spent about $40. We re-used the hardware the previous owners left. But the issue is that the drop clothes offer very little as far as darkening the room. And while they are neutral in color, they also don't make much of a statement. You can see the curtains in the far left of this photo:
I think I'd like something with a bit more color, like these light robin's egg blue (officially called "slate") ones from World Market. They are velvet, and I think they would block out the light in the morning a bit better:


If we go with the bluer tones, though, I think that I'll need to re-cover our chair, which is now red. (it matches the pillow on the center of the bed, above.)I've been thinking that one of the following fabrics would be a good choice:


It's possible that the chair could be one of those prints, and then some of the pillows for the bed could pull in the others. I'm trying to get a good sense of what would be best. It might mean that I need to get the curtains in place first. Looking at the prints near the curtain color in this post, I'm thinking the middle fabric might be the best bet.

What do you think?
Do you have any big plans to update any of your rooms?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Journey

Today marks the kick off of a journey of sorts, the beginning of a new partnership with Kristen of "On Wings and Waves." We met in an (in)Courage group, and have decided to start co-hosting a Wednesday Link Party together. I could not be more excited about this :) We're also welcoming our friends from that same (in) This Season group who are joining to post links to their blogs!

As I've been thinking about the word Journey, I have to admit that my mind has wandered back to an evening in college. My friends and I were Sophomores, living in the dorms, and the group of eight included my best friend from high school, and a pair of best friends that we'd met in our Freshman year. The four of us (we called ourselves "The Unknown Gauchos") had been set on getting into one of the on-campus suites for our Sophomore year, and we'd found four more girls to join us.

In those first few months, the eight of us hung out a lot. We got to know each other. We had what we called "All Suite Blow-outs" which usually involved watching a movie, singing songs, and often taping ridiculous movies with Erica's camcorder.

One night we decided to go serenade some boys. We took our boom box, snuck outside their room, and blasted Journey's "Faithfully" below their window. We sang along, loud, off key, totally sober that night. It still stands out in my mind's eye like a scene from a movie; partly Say Anything, partly something all together unique. (It may be this memory alone that makes me love how Glee effortlessly weaves the 80s, singing, and everyday life.)

Journey - Escape
The real band Journey, courtesy of Legacy Recordings
Looking back, that time really was the beginning of so many journeys. Four of the eight of us have remained very close. We're all married now, and we marvel at how three of us all had little boys. That Sophomore year was the year I decided to become a Religious Studies major, the year I joined a sorority. It was the year we yelled "Hot Buns!" at people as they rode their bikes past our window. It was a taste of freedom, of learning, and of forming dear friendships.

And now for the Wednesday Wanderings Linky Party!

The simple rules:
1. If you post something, please stop by and leave a comment on the 2 people that posted before you.
2. Please stop by "On Wings and Waves" and say hi to Kristen :)
3. Please share links from your blog that you haven't shared here before.
4. Please grab the Wednesday Wanderings button and share it in your post so other people can join in the fun.

Let's get linking!
Sharing with: Tell Me a Story The Alabaster Jar

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lent: "Cured", or Reflections on Soap

Three weeks ago I bought some soap, my favorite soap ever from Goat Milk Stuff, and decided to get a full "log" of it. I'd long toyed with the idea of getting a three pound, foot long supply of the soap. It always seemed so ... attractively frugal. Like a "victory garden," or sewing my own clothes. But easier.

Anyway, I ordered my soap and it arrived, a long huge bar that I suddenly didn't know what to do with. The website instructed that you cut it in to 1 inch bars of soap and let it cure somewhere with good airflow for 4-6 weeks. And yet it sat, staring at me atop the microwave, having lost any sort of appeal, until I was home on Monday with a toddler who had the flu. I took out my knife and cut it up because enough was enough.

And then I had 14 bars of soap (thinner seemed better), and again I was met with "what do I do with this now?!?!" So I pulled down three Christmas Spode plates, placed my soap on them, and put them all under my bed. To cure. A happy trinity of cleanliness.


In the shower I started thinking about the odd business of curing. A long process, where not much outwardly happens to either the soap or the hopeful bather, and then, at the end, the soap has been transformed into something with a purpose. Something made new. Both soap and bather are the better for it.

I wondered, is this how God works with each of us? And if so, what is each of us being cured for? How long will it take? Will we wake up one morning and just "know" our purpose? Or will it take a strong hand, some water of sorts, and some loud singing to announce that our time has come?

Or in the person of Jesus, we see that He had a long, long curing time, with glimpses of His ultimate purpose and message throughout His life, and then, when all was said and done, His purpose became clear and singular. An entire creation made new. We have all been bathed in Perfect Love.

I do believe that God is curing each of us for something amazing. He is fortifying us for a great purpose, something unique, something sudsy and new. For some of the seasons in our life, we sit, we wait, we possibly wonder about our strange surroundings. (A Christmas plate in Lent, what is going on here?) And in many cases, transformations in our lives are of an inward, soul-centered nature.

Lord, thank you for curing us, for transforming us, for giving us each new purpose. Please let us be patient and understand this act of curing occurs in Your time, not our time. Thank you for sending your Son to make us all squeaky clean and bathed in Your love. Amen :)

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Better, not Bitter

All day, Thursday, I heard my own footsteps saying "Better, not Bitter, Better, not Bitter" as I walked. It was the mantra to my steps as I journeyed to meetings, to lunch, to dinner with my retreat planning group. It wasn't that I had much to be bitter about, a conversation earlier in the day ... about forgiveness, about choices, had found their way to my heart and I kept remembering the words of my friend, Father Rusty.

"Part of the paradox of living Christianity is that we have to learn to be better, not bitter. That it is in descending in this life that we eventually ascend. That in order to rise, we have to first fall."

I can hear his voice in my head, see him use hand motions to explain this theology, this reference for our lives. This vast wisdom, explained in a moment.

The irony of Father Rusty's simplistic explanation is that in its brevity, it encompasses the complexity of our lives. That we hurt, we grieve, we feel loss, and we question choices made.

At some point we fall.

The fall hurts, and as we tumble, we reach out for a hand to grasp, and there is God. God catches us time and time again, and it is in falling that we learn again to ascend. In the fall, we learn new things about ourselves, about our faith, about what is important. We learn that there are tiny choices in every minute, that we decide to take ownership of our situation, that we become either better or bitter.

It's that moment of choice that fascinates me. It's often split second, often something we do without thinking, perhaps it's ingrained from so long ago we don't realize we do it. But somewhere, each moment, we decide how to react to our circumstances.

Better, not bitter.
Better, not bitter.

That's what I'm striving for. Looking for the good in each thing, the beauty of each person, embracing love and not fear. And I know it's a choice. Every minute.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kale Chips Recipe - So Delicious!

The other day at work my co-workers asked if I'd ever tried kale chips...and no, I had not. But I had kale at home, and so the other night, woo-hoo! I made some.

It's pretty easy, so here's what you do.

Wash the kale, and remove the leaves from the stalks. Tear the kale into bit size pieces and spread over a cookie sheet. I used a sil-pat sheet under mine.

Kale chips!

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the kale, and sprinkle salt over it as well.

Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until crispy. Remove it before the kale turns brown.

Here they are out of the oven. The brown parts were a little too crispy.
Kale chips!

I have to say, these chips were light, salty, buttery, and delicious. They had just a hint of the rustic flavor of kale. :) We will definitely be making kale chips again.


Linking up with:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Welcoming Spirit Blog Hop #19: Forgiveness

I've been working with one of my good friends, a former room mate from Divinity School, on a Lenten Study Circle. We host it on Facebook, and it's our second year that we've led it together. This year, we're picking a word a week to focus on, and this week, we're spending time with Forgiveness.

Today I'm drawn to the song "Heart of the Matter," originally by Don Henley, but also covered by India Arie. Gorgeous. The song just washes over me in waves of conviction.

Do you remember this song?

It's time to bring back my Wednesday blog hop! I sure hope you'll join in the fun by sharing a post about something you love, something you've worked on this last week.If you share a link, I'll be sure to stop by and say hi  :) I can't wait to see what you all have been up to!

The simple rules:
1. If you post something, please stop by and leave a comment on the 2 people that posted before you.
2. Please share links you haven't shared here before.
3. Please grab the Welcoming Spirit button and share it in your post so other people can join in the fun.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Gluten Free Beef Stroganoff with Minute Rice

Tonight on the way home from work I stopped off to do our weekly grocery shopping. On my list was "Minute Ready to Serve Rice," and I was super excited to try it out with a gluten free beef stroganoff recipe.

I found the Minute Ready to Serve Rice near the other rices, way up on the tippy top shelf. And score! it was even on sale! While I was there I picked up lean ground beef, light sour cream, gluten free cream of mushroom soup, an onion, and broccoli.

Here's the recipe:
1 pound ground beef, cooked and browned
1 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
1 can gluten free cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cup light sour cream
2 servings of White Long Grain Minute Ready to Serve Rice (1 package)
Total cooking time: 20 minutes

Minute Rice

Cook the ground beef and onion in a large pan, drain when browned. Pour in the full can of gluten free cream of mushroom soup. You may need to let the soup, beef, and onion simmer for a bit to reduce the soup. Turn to low heat. Fold in 1 1/2 cups of light sour cream.

Prepare the White Long Grain Minute Ready to Serve Rice for 90 seconds in the microwave. Easy!

I also steamed the broccoli for 4 1/2 minutes in the microwave as a side dish.

The rice smelled great and was easy to work with. I split the two servings across our three meals (2 adults, one toddler).

As I set the food on the table, Zoom got curious. It smelled delicious. Yum!

Minute Rice

He even snuck in to get a bite before we sat down!


The stroganoff was really tasty, and the Minute Rice offered a great gluten free option for the dish. The dinner was easy to make, which was a huge bonus after a long day at work. By choosing light sour cream, and lower fat ground beef, and pairing the entree with steamed broccoli, the meal was pretty healthy, without skimping on awesome flavor. I definitely appreciated how quickly the meal came together; in all about 25 minutes!

Minute Rice

All three of us cleared our plates, and went back for seconds. Three cheers!
Minute Rice
Minute® Ready to Serve Rice is an ideal portable solution for lunch or breakfast because you can eat it on the go, straight from the cup. In just 60 seconds, you have fully cooked rice for any meal or snack. You’ll never get bored with your lunch since there are 10 flavorful and wholesome varieties. If you’re looking for a healthy option, Minute® Ready to Serve Rice provides easy portion control since it’s conveniently packaged in two individual single-serve cups.
Visit for recipes, including Minute® Ready to Serve Stir it Up recipe ideas and more information about the Minute® Rice family of products.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Minute® Ready to Serve Rice.

Lent: About Balance: More Mary, Less Martha

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me."

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” - Luke 10:38-42

I love this story of two sisters who are getting ready for a big feast, honoring Jesus. As is often the case, these two sisters are as different as any two people can be.

One is the planner, the cleaner, the preparer, the doer. Martha is busy getting ready for a huge party and is running around, ala Martha Stewart to make everything perfect in her house for a VIP.

Mary is the student, the listener, one who can stay in the moment. She's sitting at the feet of her Lord, listening.

Martha, as an older sister might be known to do, gets angry that her little sister is doing nothing, and just SITTING there with the guest when there's a lot of THINGS NEED TO BE DONE. So she kind of blows her lid at Mary and even asks Jesus if he doesn't care that poor, poor Martha has been left all alone to do all of the WORK.

And Jesus' response is interesting (as his responses always are). "You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

The doer in me wants others to be praised for all that hard work, and at first can't comprehend why Martha isn't commended for her dutiful ways. (And yes, I'm an older sister). Instead, Jesus commends Mary for listening, for being present, at the feet of her Lord.

If we take this lesson and look at our lives, what is the message of balance, and of choices? It seems that Jesus is saying that there will always be plenty of busy work to be done, dishes to be cleaned, clothes to be put away, but really, there are only a few fleeting moments that present themselves each day when we can be truly present with the people who are important in our lives.

That choosing to take time and even make time for those moments, to spend time with Him and our family and the "guests" in our lives is more important than all the doing it takes to get ready to receive that guest. And it's only by intentionally setting aside the time for our relationships, with God, with Jesus, with each other, that we begin to find out what what is really important to us, and to them. Relationships take work. I like to think that in Luke, Jesus is imploring us to take time for relationships, with each other, and with Him, and is stating that we should value those relationships over the other distracting things of this life.

When the party is over, and the guests go home, and we think about the evening, it's the shared moments that stand out. We remember how mom played the tambourine and marched down the hall with our son and his cousins, while dad played backup kazoo. Sometimes it takes reminding ourselves to delight in the moments shared, the laughs, and the hugs, in pulling ourselves out of all of the "Doing" and let the human "Being" part take over. That's the challenge in balance.

And that is why, before family events, or any event, as I'm standing staring in the cupboard, or hiding one last pile of important papers in the garage so the house looks tidier, I often hear a faint whisper in my ear of "More Mary, Less Martha..." and I have to smile.

Linking up with:
Tell Me a Story