Cheer up, buttercup! {Five Minute Friday}

Today as I rode in the car with my girl, she shared that she was feeling down.  She’s had a rough season in her current sport, and it’s been hard to maintain a joyful attitude.  We’ve prayed often for her to find true joy in the gifts she’s been given.  We’ve prayed that her heart wouldn’t get bogged down in the analytics of her athletics, but that she would rejoice in what her body can do, and always point others to the One who gives her the ability to do it, whether in word or countenance.  I fight the urge to just tell her, “cheer up!”

 

She’s a wise young woman who speaks the truth she’s studied to learn.  She told me she was having pep talks with herself, but they only work for so long.  Teasing her, I asked if she’s going to the One who will give her true joy, or if she just needs to have more self-pep-talks.

 

The thing is, I can tease her, but I’ve got to be honest, I’ve heard a lot of “pep talks” from pulpits, and platforms, where well-meaning teachers tell us we need to “pull up our boot straps” and “just do it,” when it comes to walking out the Christian life.  Sermons peppered with encouraging verses and uplifting music end with a sort of “rah, rah!” send-off that leaves us thinking we should be able to muster up the happy thoughts, and avoid doing bad things, and all will be well in life.

 

The thing is, true joy isn’t something we can magically manufacture.  It is a dear gift from the God of all joy, who longs to fill us with good cheer, and not in the manner of a happy Christmas carol.  He longs to give us hope when we can’t seem to say kind words to our kids when they irritate us, or stay away from that food choice that causes us to feel rotten, or smile when we can’t accomplish a feat in work or play that we feel we should.  And I’m concerned, because if we’re selling this message to those in the church, then chances are, those who don’t know Christ feel this burden heaped upon them, too.  Then we wonder why they don’t want what we’re “selling;” but it’s no different than what they’ve got.

 

true joy good cheer

 

Be of good cheer, my friend… and by that, I mean, admit you can’t “bootstrap it;” you can melt into the love and graceful care of your good Father… the one who really will hold us close and give us hope, when we’ve got no ability to muster it up.  It might not look lighthearted on the outside, and it might not even feel it in your temporary “feel-good-mind…” but there is Hope, and it brings Joy.

 

Are you walking through darkness?  How do you find cheer in its midst?

 

much love,

 

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{On Fridays I try to keep up with a wonderful group of writers who challenge themselves to free-write for five minutes on a shared topic. Click to Kate’s page Five Minute Friday to see what others are saying!}

Miss the Mark {Five Minute Friday}

In high school, my two best friends came at a time when I had been broken and beaten down, and had newly moved to a new state and found a fresh start.  But I was in a strange school, a strange church, and I had strange new things to learn about what love, and truth, and “safe,” meant.  These two swept in and captured my young girl’s heart, bringing laughter and prayer and encouragement, not to mention a tripled wardrobe, and Friday night dates for shared fettuccine, with salad and breadsticks.  We attended each other’s youth groups, started a Bible study in our school, and sang together – barefoot – but that’s another story.  We drove to the beach, sunroof open and our favorite a cappella music blaring, and we ate ice cream and we cried when our hearts were broken.

 

Sometimes, though, because our lives were so interwoven, the hurts we knew were caused by each other.  Sometimes, in our effort to be all that our young hearts and minds already sensed we were called to, we would miss the mark of the heart of it all.  We agonized over right and wrong and we held each other to a higher standard than the rest of the world (I am good at pushing, even when I can never live up to those standards), and many times, I remember my sweet mama saying, “Honey, you need to learn to accept, and to give, grace.”

 

Flash forward, and I’m a mama with a girl (and four boys) of my own.  I have high standards.  I know that the stakes are life and death, and I don’t want to waste a moment.  I’m sharpening arrows (well, I’m presenting them to their maker to be sharpened), and I have high hopes those arrows will fly straight and find the hearts of those who so desperately need love.  As our world grows darker, I have a growing sense of urgency for those who have answers to step up and be light.  It’s easy, though, for me to trample headlong right over hearts and forget again the grace.

 

center_of_the_mark_acs

 

I don’t want to ever miss the mark.  I was created to offer truth in love.  To embrace the never-ending, never-wavering pursuit of my Papa, and to offer it right back out to those around me.  It’s not cheap grace we receive or give; it cost the Creator everything.  It requires of those who yield to it, everything.  But that everything is not an effort to grasp that love, nor a tool to win or earn it.  That everything is a response that can be the only fitting one, to ultimate grace.  Grace says, “you are enough, because I made you enough.”  Grace says, “run after me, because I am all.”  Grace says, “yes, die to self, but gain LIFE.”  I want to say hard things, but say them for the good of another.

 

Those heart-friends and I shared a favorite song all those years ago, and its refrain still plays in my head:

 

To Love God, love people
That’s the center of the mark

In this life some things
Are bound to change
But one thing remains the same
We all need love

Time goes on, it moves like a hurricane
And through all the wind and rain
We all need love

As this world just keeps on turnin’
round and round
There are treasures to be found
If we just let compassion lead the way
Draw back your bow, let love go
Shoot straight for the heart
With all of your might, set your sight
Take aim from the start
To love God, love people
That’s the center of the mark

Every day, through what is and is to come
When all has been said and done
We all need love

So Jesus came, a gift from the heart of God
He gave us His life because We all need love

And the love that death could not
keep in the grave
Is alive in us today
So we must live to show the world the way

For the world is the target
And the arrow is the cross
As we set out on this journey
Lets obey the call from the heart of God
Let us Love at any cost

Songwriters: KOCH, DONALD A/KOCH, DONALD A/HARRIS, MARK
Center Of The Mark lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
Is there a way you’re being challenged today, to live out a lesson that maybe you “learned” ages ago, or maybe is brand-new to you?
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{On Fridays I try to keep up with a wonderful group of writers who challenge themselves to free-write for five minutes on a shared topic. Click to Kate’s page Five Minute Friday to see what others are saying!}

Daydreaming and Key West

When we were first married,my parents called us one night and offered to run away with us for the weekend, to kick off our sandals and relax in the Florida Keys.  Today I’m dreaming of that trip, and celebrating some of the magic of Key West.

A favorite destination for Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, and many more, Key West is known for its palm lined streets and fish that is fresh enough to draw any committed culinary traveler. With a distinct mixture of cultures, the island is not only home to a strong seafood scene, but an enticing fusion of cuisines. After watching the sunset onto the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has a vibrant nightlife to keep you dancing till the sun comes back up.

 

key west street

 

The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions . The southernmost, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to a temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood set to a beautiful backdrop. Bringing together a multitude of cultures that have made Key West home during its history, Key West’s food scene has delicious flavors, like African and Cuban, that are difficult to find anywhere else in the US (and as a fairly-new-northerner, I can attest to this!).

When our family moved to the east coast, we were awed by the connection the fishermen have to the area, and as a result, the deep connection between fresh seafood and chefs and home cooks.  (I still melt when I think of this scallop recipe we created with the gems our friend walked to us from the dock.)

Paul Menta of Three Hands Fish in Key West is a guide to the restaurant and seafood landscape; as a professional chef and community advocate and a pro kite surfer, Paul is full of insight into the secret dining spots of Key West. A Philly native, he began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing.  His most recent venture, Three Hands Fish is a community supported fish market in Key West. Its members, chefs and homecooks, have access to the freshest fish, shrimp, stone crabs, and lobster that come in on the docks. As Paul describes it, the first hand is the hand of the fisherman, the second the market, and the third is when the fish makes it into the hands of the individual or restaurant. Paul is proud of his market as it brings local, traceable seafood to the people with plenty of variety to avoid over fishing a specific species. Key West has seafood unlike anywhere in the world and the crucial ingredient is the water. The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. Like those who won our hearts in New Jersey, Key West fishermen have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling overproducing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem.

“Not only are visitors able to jump on the boat for themselves and go fishing in some of the clearest waters, but they are able to sit back and relax, knowing they can find the same fresh fish in local restaurants,” says Paul.

Paul suggests visiting The Stoned Crab restaurant, serving straight-off-the-dock seafood. They have Key West’s famous stone crab, and their fresh recipes are served with an unbeatable view of the water. Settled in a resort built in 1956, the restaurant keeps alive the tradition of the fishermen bringing their catches straight to their dock. For gorgeous accomodations, Paul recommends Ibis Bay Resort, which is home to The Stoned Crab and also has a retro feel, serving stone crab, lobster, Key West shrimp, and more local fish they catch themselves.



If we were headed to Key West tomorrow, I’d have to go for a ride on a private charter to catch the freshest fish for myself. Paul recommends Lucky Fleet, chartered by Captain Moe, to lead us on our adventure and help guide us in hooking the best seasonable seafood. Moe has been fishing the waters around Key West for over 30 years.  I’m not an experienced deep sea fisher, but we’re assured we’re in good hands with Captain Moe for a great adventure, not just a boat ride, whether we’re looking for sailfish to tuna or grouper.

 

Key West 4

 

After our cruise, I’d be to take a class at Isle Cook, where Paul will teach us how to cook local recipes and healthy meals with seafood.

“Being a chef and commercial fisherman I can tell you there is no better teacher of how to use, care for, store, cook and eat a product than a fishermen. They have ideas and techniques that most chefs would die for….but they have to ask…..so we spread the word to them,” says Paul.  I have to agree with him; I’ve learned my best tips for new foods to conquer, by working alongside the fishermen and chefs who know where their food is sourced.

I’d especially plan to try local specialties; native to Key West are the Hogfish, Mangrove Snapper, and Lion Fish. Paul’s favorite? The Hogfish. This fish is caught by spear fishing, which is a fun challenge to try (would I dare? Would you?). Speared yourself or not, Paul suggests serving the fish whole and affectionately calls it the Key West Turkey, stuffed with lobster, onions, and herbs. (Ok, next recipe to develop…)

 

Of course, we’d order Key West’s famous Key Lime pie… or I’d make this yummy spin I created for a beach picnic with a friend…

 

TB

 

As Florida natives, we loved Key West’s conch fritters, native to the Caribbean, but Paul prefers to make grouper fritters. Fisherman of Key West are able to catch the grouper right off the coast, so this is a true local specialty.

Similar to the conch fritter, the grouper is mixed with onions carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning by Key West Spice Company that is made of celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is simple, but fresh grouper doesn’t need an overpowering of flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them inside of a sandwich or as an appetizer by the water.  Paul’s recipe is below.  I’ll be working on my own recipe to share, both gluten and grain-free; stay tuned!

 

Key West

 

This post is sponsored by Honest Cooking. Photos provided by Honest Cooking; personal anecdotes and dreaming are all my own!  Who’s ready to kick off their shoes and head to the Keys with me?

 

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