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I enjoy sharing my favorites with you. I know it’s just my opinion and you may not share it, but it’s been fun to think about what I like and then narrow it down to just five things. So to conclude a rainy, sloppy, cold-then-hot-then-cold-then-wet-then-tornado month, here are my final five for May.

(1)  Casey’s pizza

For those of you reading this from anywhere other than Middle America, you have no idea what Casey’s pizza is. I’m sorry for your loss. Casey’s General Store is a chain of convenience stores in just about every small town throughout the Midwest. They have decent coffee, really good donuts (if you get there before they’re picked over), normal convenience store items like small cans of oil, overpriced 2-liters of pop, whole shelves full of beef jerky, beer (and more beer), bottled water and…pizza. Really good, greasy pizza. Download their app so you can order it at the end of your tutoring session and have it ready for pickup at your most convenient location. As I ordered my large pepperoni pizza the other night, I had four Casey’s locations within 1 mile of me…life can be so good sometimes.

(2)  Lemon Asparagus Pasta with Grilled Chicken

img_2780-1Don and I enjoy trying new recipes. Made this pasta dish over the weekend. Definitely a keeper!! Didn’t take any pictures of the finished dish but trust me, it looked and smelled amazing. And tasted so so good. Lemon zest and lemon juice in the alfredo-style sauce made it feel lighter than other pasta dishes…so I had two helpings. Don’t judge.

Another culinary entry – this makes 3 out of 5 favorites are food related. I know – I’m suffering.

(3)  Gianni’s Italian Beef

My downfall is that Gianni’s is within close walking distance from my work so though we’ve only been there twice, we’ll definitely be going back…over and over again. Take the time to read the back story on the restaurant’s owner and how the name Gianni’s was selected…and tissues.

If the story doesn’t grab you, the Italian beef will. Or the Italian sausage. Or the seasonal Italian ice. I plan to try the salad and the beef hot dog at some future visit, but that Italian beef is tough to pass up. Small menu but big flavor. Love the atmosphere too.

(4)  Joy Williams 

My go-to resource for new music is my adult children. All four of them love music so I have a never ending list of artists to try out. David and Tristen love Joy and now I do too.

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Joy Williams – Front Porch

Give a listen to her latest album “Front Porch” – such a sweet, soulful, slightly country sound. An interesting side note: I am also a huge Ben Rector fan. Ben’s song “Boxes” off his “Magic” album talks about CDs given to him by wanna-be musicians as he tours around the country. It’s a really good song (as are all of his) and includes these lyrics:

“On through this Rolodex of railroad tracks and fresh-cut hair
I see Joy who won some Grammys and is now a millionaire”

That’s Joy Williams – isn’t that cool? Well, I think so anyway.

(5)  Ephesians 4:1-3

I read my Bible every morning. Sometimes things jump out at me…sometimes not. But I trust that my obedience in reading God’s Word will feed my spirit, even when I may not “feel” like it. Recently read this passage from The Message version…

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”

Isn’t this awesome? Run on the road God has called you to travel. Run!! Quit sitting around waiting for God to tell you what to do. Move forward until He tells you to stop. This journey He has for each of us is not a sprint – it is a marathon. And our training isn’t done via YouTube…it’s done out there in the real world. So put on your running shoes and run!

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New Five

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve compiled five favorites. Since I love to eat and love music, it’s no surprise what I’ve picked this week.

(1) Wilder Woods

I have been a NEEDTOBREATHE fan for years, often taking my kids (and sometimes Don) to their live concerts. I was very happy when I found out NTB lead singer Bear Rinehart has recorded a couple of songs as the solo artist Wilder Woods. I first heard the new music a few weeks ago on Spotify but the videos are on YouTube as well. Bear’s voice has always been distinctive so there was no way a fan couldn’t figure this out before the big reveal today. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ rating, for sure.

(2) Maddie Poppe’s new album Wildflowers

More music from Iowa’s sweetheart is a good thing. Winning last year’s American Idol propelled Maddie into the national spotlight but she seems to have stayed true to her musical roots. A little pop, a little country, a lot of catchy lyrics and toe tapping tunes. I enjoy each song, but especially the title track.

(3) Ham & Cheese Rollups

Made these last weekend for a brunch with girlfriends. Turned out great and will definitely be making them again. The sauce poured over the top would taste good on a flip flop.

(4) Street Tacos

I’m too old to care if my food choices have the latest cool ingredients. Hey – I loved Brussels sprouts before they were cool. But I do enjoy eating tasty food and I’ve really enjoyed eating street tacos. Now I can buy street taco size tortillas (both corn & flour) at my favorite grocery store. They are smaller, easier to hold and not as sloppy. And you can put just about anything inside: shrimp, fish, beef, pork, chicken. So good.

(5) Psalm 91

I have a few friends struggling with tough health issues and though I pray for each one, sometimes I struggle with what words to pray. But this psalm cuts to the heart.

God is our refuge, our place of safety. He is our rescuer, His angels are ordered to protect those who trust in Him. Read the whole thing and believe it!

I need to come up with some catchy title for my weekly favorite-things blog. If you have a reasonable suggestion, let me know. Since I don’t post it on Fridays, I can’t use “Friday Favorites.” “Wednesday Weirdness” may work. We’ll see.

I found it hard to narrow down my favorites to five this week. I loved the Reese’s peanut butter cup blondies I made on Saturday – but I’ll write about those next week.

img_2584(1) Trader Joe’s dark chocolate cherries and almonds. Because I made a three-hour road trip back to my hometown to celebrate my uncle’s 80th birthday, my cousin (who flew in from California!) brought me these amazing chocolate treats. Not sure how she knew dark chocolate was my muse, but we are treating ourselves to one or two (or three or four) a day. Don prefers the cherries so of course, that leaves a large container of almonds just for poor me.  I think they may last through Sunday, but only because I’ll be out of town for a couple of days.

(2) Dare to Lead. I try to read something enlightening, entertaining or educational, along with my daily Bible reading. This week I’m working on Dare to Lead by Dr. Brené Brown. I’m only about 50 pages in, but I know I’m going to love it. There are a lot of Tweet-able quotes in here along with some amazing content designed to make me think. And then do! Imagine that. One of my favorites already: “You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck.” It’s gonna be a great read.

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My new mug, complete with this morning’s lipstick!

 

(3) My library. I use my local library every week, sometimes multiple times, and not even for books. Every Tuesday evening I meet my little 5th grade tutoring student in a study room to play math games. Every so often my husband will camp in a chair with a black coffee for an afternoon to study or write. When I was a homeschooling mom, I used library resources to supplement my curriculum. My company has used their auditorium for our annual meeting. The space is open, light and loud. Yes – the library isn’t the quiet space I remember from my childhood. It is a gathering spot for everyone: teenagers studying after school, young moms hauling kids to story time, job seekers on the computers, groups having meetings, homeless staying warm and dry, and of course, those sipping a latte on a rainy afternoon. I could go on and on – haven’t even mentioned the rooftop garden. My library – it is definitely one of my very favorite things.

(4) Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. I listen to a lot of music. When I walk, drive, sit at home…I love music.  About six years ago, at our first NEEDTOBREATHE concert, we fell in love with the opening band. You can go to their website to read all about them, but I feel like Drew and his wife Ellie really are my neighbors. They are down to earth, honest, faith-filled people, writing and performing down to earth, honest music. Their latest music video “Family” is a new favorite – filled with some of my most beloved musicians (spying Amy Grant in the group!) and some pretty fun dance moves.

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This song is on repeat – YouTube and Spotify.

(5) Kathie Lee Gifford. Seems like an odd addition to a favorite’s list, doesn’t it? Kathie Lee’s been around a long time, only recently leaving her talk show hosting duties on NBC’s Today. She was welcomed into America’s homes while co-hosting Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee for 15 years. And I actually remember seeing her on “Name That Tune” back in the early 80s – something not even noted in her Wikipedia biography.

But Kathie Lee is on my favorites list today because of her most recent work. Her book The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi records her journey into a deeper understanding of God’s Word. But I was in tears last night because of her collaboration with Nicole C. Mullen on The God Who Sees. I’m not going to spoil it for you – you must click on the YouTube video and experience it for yourself. Many years ago, Don had a few of us take a name for God and do a study to present to our Sunday school class. Mine was “El Roi” – the God who sees. Maybe that’s why it was so powerful for me. Or maybe it was because the Holy Spirit spoke directly to me in the middle of that video – giving me assurance that He sees ME and those I love…that the dreams He’s given us have not been forgotten..that the desert we are in isn’t endless – He sees me. And He sees you. Wherever you are today.

Until next week…

My Lent blog posting adventure (marathon) is complete, but I’ve kinda, sorta gotten into a routine writing again so I don’t want to stop completely. Really enjoyed writing the Five Favorites post last week, so you’re going to get another list of five of my current favorite things.

(1)  Spring Flowers! You have to be honest – this winter in Iowa was brutal. Cold. Snow. Cold. Snow. The cycle that never ended. But within the last week or so, we’ve had some absolutely lovely weather and so spring has sprung in the gardens, trees and bushes around Cedar Rapids. I love to take nature photographs with my little iPhone so if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen a few flower shots. Such a reminder of fresh beginnings. Something we all need occasionally.

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(2)  “Lay It All Down.” Saw a friend post about a song she has on “repeat” this week. I love it when friends share music because I don’t always know when good stuff comes out, especially with artists I’m not familiar with. img_2563It was a definite perk of having music-loving sons living at home. So when I began listening to Will Reagan’s “Lay It All Down,” I also put it on repeat. All day. Each day. I have Spotify so I listen to Will’s music on my long walks, but you can also enjoy this on his YouTube video. Please listen. You’ll be singing along in no time.

(3) Iowa Coffee Roasters. My Lenten caffeine fast is over!!! My wonderful husband took me out for good coffee on my first day back but I am blessed to have a wonderful friend who roasts coffee. A personal coffee roaster! How cool is that? Well, he roasts for lots of people (and my office, and many other offices, too) but I hope you’ll check out Lee’s website and retail space in Marion, Iowa.

(4) My Uncle Dan. img_2561Today is his 80th birthday. I was so glad I was able to attend his party last weekend. My nephew Matt took some wonderful pictures of Uncle Dan out at the farm he was raised on (and lived at until the mid-90s). Matt posted the photos on his Instagram account and I was in awe (and a little teary) when I read some of the comments. Dan, a life long bachelor, is a retired middle-school English teacher who has touched so many lives through his teaching, volunteering and church work. He enjoys attending local school sports and music events and is a well known and loved member of the community. We are so blessed to have him in our lives.

(5) Monthly Bible reading plans. Since the first of the year I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s Bible reading plans to focus on one characteristic of God each month. In May, she is using God’s magnificent power. She provides a journal to download, plus a daily reading that only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. I’ve been using a plain notebook for my journal, and as I read the Scriptures each morning, I also write them out in my own words. It has been a powerful exercise for me – to get those life-giving passages deep into my spirit for the rest of the day. Rachel has many plans to choose from – you don’t have to do them in any particular order…confident trust, pure joy, perfect, names of God, and more…I have enjoyed every one.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand, it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13

 

He Is Risen!

I hope you were able to celebrate the true meaning of Easter today. We love the Easter bunny (especially the chocolate kind), egg hunts, jelly beans, family dinners and baskets filled with goodies…but Easter isn’t really about those things.

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Pastor Don McGarvey, Troy Mills Christian Church

Easter is about our risen Savior Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried, and raised to new life. My husband preached a great sermon this morning (yes – I’m biased) on the Odds of Easter.

He related the story of Dylan McWilliams who, in three separate incidents in three separate years, survived a rattlesnake bite, a bear attack and a shark attack. Some math geek somewhere figured the odds of all three incidents happening to one man is 893.35 quadrillion to one. In case you don’t know, a quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeroes….it looks like 1,000,000,000,000,000.

By comparison, The odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 5,000; the odds of being bitten by a venomous snake in the U.S. is estimated at 1 in 37,500; attacked by a shark, 1 in 11.5 million and attacked by a bear, 1 in 2.1 million. Some say Dylan was a very unlucky guy. If I believed in luck (I don’t), I’d say Dylan was a very LUCKY guy.  He told a British reporter that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But compare Dylan’s adventure to the odds of Easter. The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Jesus…his crucifixion (Isaiah 53:6, 10), his scourging (Isaiah 50:6), the piercing of his hands and feet (Psalm 22:16); the piercing of his side (Zechariah 12:10), the disfigurement of his appearance (Isaiah 52:14); that none of his bones were broken (Exodus 12:46), his burial place (Isaiah 53:9) and his resurrection (Psalm 30:3). The odds that all eight of these prophecies would be fulfilled by one man in the course of three days are 1 in 10 to the 17th power…100,000,000,000,000,000. Unlucky? No – supernatural.

There are 48 prophecies concerning Jesus’ life in the Old Testament – and the odds of all 48 prophecies being fulfilled by one man, Jesus, are 1 in 10 to the 157th power. Too many zeroes for me to type out. A 1 followed by 157 zeroes!

e52ac01a-3514-4f75-b4b6-e5aca107a96bJesus, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, betrayed by his Judas, unjustly tried in a bogus court, scourged and crucified, buried in a borrowed tomb, but raised to life on Easter Sunday morning. He wasn’t a good man. He was God in flesh, sent to take our sins upon himself so that we would not have to bear them. It wasn’t luck or lack of luck. It was love.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9

 

The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter can be spent in a frenzy of activity, scrambling to buy jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, baking hams and pies, scrubbing bathrooms, and laying perfect dinner tables.

Or maybe this day was spent in reflection, contemplating the hours the disciples mourned their rabbi, their Messiah, hiding in fear for their lives after watching an innocent Jesus crucified by the Roman soldiers.

Holy Saturday. Black Saturday. Joyous Saturday. The day of despair, hopeless, fearful, wondering “now what?” It is easy for us to skip over the importance of this day. We know the story. We know what’s ahead. Sunday’s coming. Easter will bring new life, our resurrected Savior.

But the disciples didn’t know. They heard what Jesus told of this time but how do you really prepare yourself for this day? Do you hope? Do you hide? Do you leave? Do you stay?

Did they trust? Did they believe the One who poured Himself out, teaching, praying, healing?

Maybe your life is currently sitting on a Black Saturday. Your dream seems dead. You’re fearful, hopeless, despairing. You grieve and hide, questioning “now what?”

Do you trust? Do you believe the One who poured Himself out for you? Stand firm and know – Your Easter is on the horizon.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”

‭‭John‬ ‭14:18-19‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

‭‭John‬ ‭16:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

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Don and Kris McGarvey, Troy Mills Christian Church

My husband is a rock star. I asked if he would write a guest blog and as always, I’m blown away by his depth of insight into the Scriptures. I hope you will be challenged as much as I was. Thank you, Don McGarvey – for loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and sharing your  wisdom with us.

 

 

I’ve recently had a unique encounter with Proverbs 24:10:
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (NKJV)

Solomon was warning his son about tough times. Solomon in his wisdom understood the temptation to withdraw during tough times. But his warning to his son was if he withdrew from tough times, he wouldn’t grow.

Solomon understand that tough times make us stronger. Knowing and watching God sustain us during tough times causes our confidence (faith) in God to grow.

Solomon wasn’t blaming God for tough times; he was reminding his son of how God promised to work in tough times (Romans 8:28).

A few days before my encounter with Proverbs 24, I was being challenged with the thought that “set-backs” are often “set-ups” for God to work.

Again, I don’t believe the setbacks are from God. They come from a variety of places including our own poor choices. God is never the source of set-backs. But He is the source of set-ups.

Today is Good Friday. Perhaps the greatest set-up ever.

If we could read the biblical account of what happened on this day without knowing how it ends, we might raise an eyebrow at the use of “Good Friday” to describe the day. It looked more like a “set-back” than anything else. Certainly, the two men walking along the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 felt as if it was a set-back.

But it wasn’t. What looked like a colossal set-back was really a set-up for you and me! It brought life and life abundantly (John 10:10) that goes above and beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20).

So, when adversity comes, don’t faint or withdraw. Keep moving forward; do the good works God has called you do (Galatians 6:9); and know in your heart that this too could be a set-up.

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Easter at Troy Mills Christian Church, 2016

Don McGarvey is the pastor of Troy Mills Christian Church in Troy Mills, Iowa. If you are interested in reading more by Don, his blog is located here.