Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom-to-be

The Mystic Way of Evangelism October 30, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 7:25 AM

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My brother-in-law BJ selected The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach by Elaine Heath for me to read as part of my 2016 reading challenge, and I selected it to be my pick for October.  BJ completed his Doctor of Ministry degree last year, and he read The Mystic Way of Evangelism in one of his classes.

 

I’ll be honest.  I was intimidated to read this book.  Despite regular church attendance for much of my life, I have little background knowledge on theology.  Apart from one class on the Old Testament that I took as an undergrad, the depth of my theological understanding ends at the Sunday School level.  The introduction only confirmed my uneasiness.  Apophatic?  Kataphatic?  I was indeed out of my comfort zone.

 

Yet the further I read in Heath’s book, the more interested I became.  She spotlights several mystics from history, some of whom I knew (Julian of Norwich, for example) and many of whom I did not (Thomas R. Kelly and Father Arseny to name just two).  I was a history major, so I enjoyed learning about these historical religious figures.

 

The Mystic Way of Evangelism is primarily aimed at pastors and those training pastors, but I found plenty of material with which to connect.  Heath promotes a missional view of evangelism grounded in love.  Rather than preaching fire and brimstone, evangelism in the mystic way is about showing the love of Christ through caring, giving actions.  This is something all Christians, not just their pastors, should aim to do.

 

Heath criticizes the modern church in America, and the more I read, the more I agreed with her.  We’ve largely lost the missional aspect of our faith.  Many churches are more concerned with building massive complexes for themselves than with serving the neighborhoods around them.  Having lived in DFW for most of my life, I have observed this for myself over and over.  How much does it say about our country that missionaries from some of the poorest nations in the world are now coming HERE, the most prosperous nation on earth, to conduct their mission work?

 

In the final part of the book, Heath offers a number of strategies for pastors and churches to take to correct the path of Christianity in America.  They sound wonderful on paper (bivocational pastors, smaller churches, eco-evangelism, etc.), but even as I read I was doubtful about the reality of a nationwide change.   In this, I was struck by the similarity of my cynical reaction to education books I’ve read over the past 8 years.  Yes, churches and schools need overhauling, but how in the world do you get everyone on board?  The answer, of course, is that you don’t; you start small with yourself and your specific church or school.  It’s certainly better to try than to say nothing will ever change.  I pray that I will put some of what I read in Heath’s book into action myself.

 

So despite my initial uneasiness, I ended up giving The Mystic Way of Evangelism 4 stars on Goodreads.  It’s very much a worthy, thought-provoking, action-inducing read.

 

Fall Baking October 26, 2016

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:54 PM

We always have a long wait for fall weather to come and stay here in central Texas, but we’ve had enough cooler mornings of late to get me in the mood to turn on my oven and bake.  I’ve also wanted to take advantage of my last few weeks of maternity leave to restock our chest freezer before life really gets crazy.  Marriage, motherhood, work, personal time…I know millions of women out there do this juggling act daily, but I’ll be learning how to do so for the first time as a working mother come October 31.

 

I kicked off my fall-inspired baking spree earlier this month with these Pumpkin Crumb Cake Muffins from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  My friend DM introduced me to this blog a while back, and I finally got around to making one of the enticing recipes from it.  Despite the worry about how long it might take (I never really know when Mr. Baby will awaken and want to eat, after all), I made all three components–muffin, crumb topping, and icing.  I saved time by measuring out the muffin and crumb ingredients at the same time, as there is a lot of overlap on what’s needed.  To make these rich muffins slightly more healthy, I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose flour and used unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil.  My icing turned out much thicker than Sally’s, and it definitely ended up looking globular on top as opposed to her more artistic drizzles.  This may have been partly due to the fact that my crumbs spread apart quite a bit during baking, so there were gaps in which the icing pooled.  Appearance-wise, my muffins weren’t the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  Taste-wise, though, they were worth the effort.  These muffins were delicious, even with my substitutions, spreading crumbs, and gloppy icing.  They had just the right amount of pumpkin flavor, and I loved the contrast between the moist muffin and the crumbly bits on top.  I would highly recommend them as a special breakfast treat or afternoon snack.

 

For my next baking project, I stuck with muffins (which freeze well and are already individually portioned) and made the Skinnytaste Maple Pecan Banana Muffins.  I’ve had wonderful luck with Skinnytaste recipes, and I love Gina’s Skinnytaste Cookbook.  I was especially drawn to this recipe because of its lack of refined sugars.  My husband, John, doesn’t like his breakfasts super-sweet, and I’ve been trying to watch my sugar intake a bit more closely lately (easier said than done).  A maple syrup-sweetened muffin seemed perfect.  This time, I followed the recipe exactly.  And this time, my muffins looked exactly like the pictures on Gina’s blog.  I loved these muffins!  While they are not of the BEST MUFFINS EVER caliber, they aren’t trying to be.  They are a healthy-but-tasty, everyday kind of muffin, and I will make them again.

 

Next up were Pumpkin Waffles.  I’m a longtime Ellie Krieger fan and own all of her cookbooks.  I’ve been trying out a few new recipes from her most recent, You Have It Made, and the pumpkin waffles caught my eye.  I rarely make waffles, but every once in a while I get in the mood for them.  I liked the healthy aspects to these waffles, which included whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and no sugar.  I followed the recipe exactly, but I ended up finding them to be a disappointment.  There was something off-balance with the pumpkin flavor of these – it was somehow both too much and too little at the same time.  The recipe yielded 8 large waffles, so after John and I ate breakfast, I had 6 for the freezer.  I’ll eat them up so as not to be wasteful, but I’ll look for another recipe next time I get a hankering for a homemade waffle.

 

The waffles called for 1 cup of pumpkin puree, so I went looking for a way to use up the rest of the can.  I didn’t have to look far, as Ellie Krieger’s Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats in Jars recipe, also from You Have It Made, sounded worth a try.  (I realize this is not a baked goods recipe, but it’s autumnal so I’m writing about it here anyway!)  I prepared the oats around lunchtime one day, and we tried them the next morning.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them!  I’ve had hit-or-miss luck with overnight oatmeal recipes in the past, so I was wary when I first opened up my jar to take my first spoonful.  But it had just the right amount of sweetness to it, the pumpkin spice flavoring was spot-on, and the add-ins (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries) added texture and flavor.  John wasn’t as big of a fan, as he didn’t like being able to taste the plain yogurt (he hates yogurt on its own unless it’s of the frozen variety).  I, however, would make these for myself again!  Plus, they are just pretty to look at:

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Finally, I made up a batch of The Pioneer Woman’s Maple Oat Nut Scones last week.  My mother-in-law first made these during the holidays one year, and since then they’ve been a favorite among the Pierces.  When I was needing a baked goods thank-you gift for some of John’s students who kindly cleaned up our yard after some other students toilet-papered it (oh the joys of being married to a high school teacher), I almost immediately thought of these scones.  They are decadent and unhealthy, but oh-my-goodness they are delicious.  The only change I ever make to this recipe is to divide the dough into 2 balls, which then yields 16 reasonable-sized scones rather than 8 massive ones.  They were amazing, as always, and the perfect end to my month of autumn baking.

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Happy Fall and Happy Baking to you!

 

Calling Me Home September 13, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 2:06 PM

Thanks to the arrival of Baby Pierce last month, I got an early start on my September reading challenge book, Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.  Postpartum recovery and breastfeeding allowed me lots of sitting–aka reading–time.  I chose Calling Me Home to read next because a digital version of it was available for check-out from our local library.  I’m finding it easier to use my iPad to read books while holding and nursing our newborn son.

 

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My sister, Julie, recommended Calling Me Home to me.  As an elementary school teacher and mother of two young girls, Julie reads picture books aplenty but finds reading time for herself difficult to come by.   However, the librarian at her school gave her a copy of Kibler’s novel last year, and she chose it for me to read, also.  In Julie’s words, “It is significant to me because I am actually still reading it. :)”

 

Calling Me Home follows two unlikely friends–89-year-old Isabelle McAllister and her 30-something hair stylist, Dorrie Curtis–as they travel from Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral.  Isabelle is white; Dorrie is black.  On the road, Isabelle tells Dorrie her story, which is illustrated in the novel as a series of flashbacks to 1939.  At seventeen, Isabelle fell in love with Robert Prewitt, a young black man who worked for her family in a small Kentucky town which forbid African Americans from within its boundaries after dark.  Calling Me Home is essentially Isabelle and Robert’s story, although Isabelle’s reflections on the past have a profound influence on Dorrie, a single mother of two with her own romantic difficulties.

 

I was skeptical of the novel at first, as the writing was a bit too colloquial for my taste and the plot appeared to be predictable.  While my opinion of the writing remained unchanged to the end, my initial assessment of the plot did not.  Kibler surprised me, in a good way, with her story arc more than once.  She kept me reading, intrigued about what else she was going to reveal.

 

Calling Me Home also felt timely, despite its focus on the past.  Kibler weaves in some of the modern-day realities of being black in America rather than neatly saying that all is now resolved between blacks and whites.  Just one look at the headlines of today shows that racial divisions remain.  I appreciate that Kibler did not gloss over that fact.

 

In the end, I gave Calling Me Home a solid 3 stars on Goodreads.

 

Living Jesus September 3, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 2:10 PM

For my August reading challenge book, I selected Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount by Randy Harris.  Loveta, my mother-in-law, chose this book for me to read after she had read and studied it in Bible class at church.  Randy Harris is a popular author in the Pierce family, as my husband took a class of his while studying at Abilene Christian University.  Living Jesus was to be my first experience with Harris’s work.

 

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Harris discusses one portion of the Sermon on the Mount in each chapter of the book.  I limited myself to reading just one chapter per night so that I could contemplate Harris’s observations, explanations, and challenges.  Yes, challenges.  Ultimately this book is a challenge to, as the subtitle indicates, do what Jesus says. Oftentimes this means thinking deeply about what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount.  For example, in chapter 7 Harris examines Matthew 5:33-37 in which Jesus instructs us not to swear oaths.  Harris believes Jesus means this directive to be more about maintaining high integrity–avoiding/correcting lies big or small, confessing wrongs, etc.–than about just avoiding oath swearing.  Harris writes, “The goal here is to examine our hearts and to expose the roots of our dishonesty” (p. 82).  He admits this isn’t easy, but Jesus didn’t care about making things easy for us.

 

I enjoyed taking a slow, in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, which in the past I’ve quickly read but never really studied.  I definitely had to stop and examine how I am fulfilling or failing Jesus’s challenges, which was one of Harris’s goals in writing the book.  His writing is very accessible, and I can easily see why he’s popular not just among my family but at ACU and beyond.  I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

Anthem July 25, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 8:39 PM

Today I finished my latest 2016 reading challenge book, Ayn Rand’s Anthem.   After my lengthy June pick, I wanted a shorter read for July.  At about 100 pages, Anthem fit the bill.  My younger brother, Ken, selected the novel for me to read.  He went through an Ayn Rand phase a few years ago and found it to have an interesting story.

 

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It took me just a couple of days to read Anthem.  For the first 80 pages or so, I too found it to be an interesting read.  The main character, known only by the name and number Equality 7-2521, is trapped in a future, dystopian society in which “I” does not exist.  Everyone lives for “we” and must follow what is deemed best for the community rather than the individual.  There is no freedom; there is no love.  Equality 7-2521 begins to challenge this structure in secret when he finds a subway tunnel from the Unmentionable Times of before.  He begins to write and experiment – both sins in the eyes of society.  Eventually Equality 7-2521 runs away from the city into the Uncharted Forest, where he is joined by a woman he refers to as the Golden One who is also seeking to escape the confines of “we.”  Together they come upon a house from before and learn of the existence of “I.”  They discover freedom.  They discover love.  They also turn completely inward.

 

And that is where I no longer found the novel interesting but rather infuriating.  For it is one thing to acknowledge and respect “I”; it is another to elevate it above all else, even God.  The Golden One can’t be pulled away from looking at herself in the mirror.  She falls asleep in front of it. Equality 7-2521 writes,

“And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:

‘I.'”

 

As a Christian, I utterly disagree with Rand’s philosophy.  She only writes of the world in black and white – either it’s “we” or it’s “I.”  She is leaving out so much in between.  Christ challenges us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  He doesn’t require us to give up our freedom and individuality, but he does require us to love and respect our fellow men at the same time.  And oh, what this world needs right now is love.  And not self-centered love, for we already have plenty of that.

 

I gave Anthem only 1 star on Goodreads.

 

The Brothers Karamazov July 18, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 5:49 PM

At the beginning of June, I began The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — my sixth reading challenge selection for 2016.  My older brother, Tom, had given me a list of several books that he recommended, and from that list I chose The Brothers Karamazov.  I have read many works of classic literature over the years, but I had neglected to read any of the famous Russian novels.  I knew that by selecting a Dostoevsky as Tom’s choice, I would begin to correct this oversight.

 

 

Despite my enthusiasm for taking on this nearly 800-page tome, I struggled to get into the novel.  The summer break from teaching usually affords me the time to fly through books, but I had trouble focusing on this one.  This is no fault of Dostoevsky, however; I blame pregnancy brain.  I would nod off after only a handful of pages, or I would have to reread pages read the day before because I simply could not remember what had happened or what had been said (probably due to the frequent nodding off).  These reading behaviors are highly unusual for me during a break from work, so I suspect they had more to do with me being eight months pregnant than anything else.  At one point I strongly considered putting the novel aside and trying again later in the year, but I worried that I would never get back to it if I did.  So I soldiered on, and after the first 200 pages or so I fell more into a rhythm with the book and made slow-but-steady progress.  It still took me halfway into July before I finished The Brothers Karamazov, though!

 

The novel contains a number of lengthy monologues and explanations, but it is also packed with drama.  Murder, suspicion, jealousy, betrayal, and love triangles all take center stage at various points in the plot.  In addition, an element of humor can be found in Dostoevsky’s portrayal of human foibles, such as wealthy, middle-aged Madame Khokhlakov’s attempts at winning over/manipulating handsome young men.  These elements add interest, intrigue, and readability to the novel.

 

I found myself wishing for more background knowledge on mid-19th-century Russian history as the book clearly confronts the political and religious movements of the time.  In fact, The Brothers Karamazov is well-known for its discussion of religion and the existence of God, with the youngest Karamazov brother, Alyosha, representing the faithful believer in contrast to his doubting father and elder brothers.  While I am far from a theological expert, I still found the religious discussions and debates among the characters fascinating.

 

Overall, I gave The Brothers Karamazov 4 stars on Goodreads.  My interest level surged and waned at different points in the novel, but I recognize and respect the quality of the work.  I doubt I ever attempt a reread, but I am glad to have experienced Dostoevsky’s masterpiece this once.

 

Colorado Bend State Park: Tie Slide Trail June 9, 2016

Filed under: Hiking — skpierce12 @ 2:38 PM

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After hiking the Spicewood Trails at Colorado Bend State Park over spring break, John and I had looked forward to returning to the park for the hike to Gorman Falls.  Yesterday we set out early for Colorado Bend, but upon arrival we learned that the Gorman Falls area was closed due to flooding from last week’s rains.  A park ranger suggested that we hike the Tie Slide Trail, which leads to a river overlook that would give us a view of the falls.

 

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Now 7 months pregnant, I am more limited on difficulty and length of hikes.  Texas Parks & Wildlife rated the Tie Slide trail at a moderate level of difficulty, and combining it with the connecting path to the Gorman Falls Trail would have us hiking a loop just over 3 miles in length.  So after thoroughly spraying ourselves down with sunscreen and insect repellent, we headed out on Tie Slide.

 

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It was in the low 80s when we parked at the trailhead, but the humidity made it feel much warmer.  Luckily about half of Tie Slide is under shade from oak and cedar trees.

 

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The other half of the trail winds through open meadows, which at this time of year were dotted with yellow and orange wildflowers.

 

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We hiked about 2 miles before reaching the river overlook.  We gratefully took a breather and caught some cooling breezes from our vantage point above the river.

 

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The Colorado River was not at its most picturesque, as it was especially brown and muddy from the excess rain last week.

 

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But Gorman Falls indeed could be seen–and heard–in the distance.  I had to zoom in quite a bit in order to capture more than just a small white blur in the background.

 

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We soon continued our hike, taking the connecting trail between Tie Slide and the Gorman Falls Trail back to the trailhead to turn our hike into a loop rather than an out-and-back.  The scenery was much the same as before: a mixture of small bunches of short trees and wildflower-strewn meadows.  Throughout our hike, the elevation remained fairly level, which confirmed the moderate difficulty rating that the trail had been given.  We completed our hike in about 1.5 hours, and we were glad to get back in the car with the AC turned up.  It was not yet noon, but the outside temps had already climbed into the 90s.

 

While we enjoyed our excursion at Colorado Bend, we continue to look forward to making the hike to Gorman Falls.  The glimpse we got from afar convinced us that the falls will be more than worth seeing close up.