Cup O’ Courage Brimming with Blessing

(Shared from April 2010 issue of Exemplify Magazine)

Imagine with me this scenario: you are preparing meals for an enemy, who has destined you and your extended family for the grave.  He is completely unaware that you are actually in the camp which he has already destined for death. In fact, his pride and joy at being invited not only once, but twice, to dine with you and your husband is immeasurable. He is both giddy and unassuming. So what do you prepare? Are you more or less likely to spend extra time caring about preparations for an enemy? How are you feeling about this whole situation?

This scenario is exactly what Queen Esther faced (you can read Esther’s story in its entirety here). She chose to prepare and fix two meals for her husband, who makes her feel less than confident, and for Haman, who has placed all Jews, including Esther, in mortal danger–and with his own money.

Queen Esther begins by asking her uncle Mordecai and all her people, the Jews, to fast from food and drink for three straight days–morning, noon and night.  On the third day, Esther initiates the preparations for the banquet she would host.

Her invitation to the king could easily have ended in death, depending on how he felt toward her at the time.  If he felt edgy that particular day, he easily could have sentenced his wife to die. But rather, he extended favor by putting forth his gold scepter.

The invitation is accepted by the king and Haman, so Esther begins to prepare the meal for her husband and her enemy. They sit to dine and the king asks Esther what she would like, even up to half his kingdom.  And Esther’s reply is that she want to do this all again tomorrow. She then prepares a second meal for her enemy.

Let’s now press the pause button…how did Esther feel about preparing the meal and sitting down with her enemy–twice? Did she make an extra effort to prepare or not?  Perhaps she thought of King David’s words in Psalm 23 (The Message), “I’m not afraid when You walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.  You serve me a six-course dinner, right in front of my enemies. You relieve my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.”

In courage, Esther issued the invitation. By courage, she prepared it. And clothed with courage from head to toe, Esther sits to sup with her enemy.

The ones she loved most had fasted for three days, as she had fasted herself, and the LORD infused wisdom and strength, wrapped in courage into this young woman named Esther. He showed her how and when to carry out each course of each meal.

I asked some friends to share about when they prepared a meal for an enemy and whether they prepared more carefully or less or the same. I also asked how they felt.

Here are their responses:

“Yes, I have a few times. I don’t think I prepared or decorated any differently but I do remember wondering if they might feel differently about me afterward. They didn’t, but it made me feel good to be serving them for His Name’s sake.”

“I worked extra hard, hoping to make some difference in their opinion of me.  I was uncomfortable at first, but as I began to pray, I felt God’s unexplainable peace. It did not change their opinion.”

“Knowing he was coming, and wanting to avoid any sort of negative comment and/or put down, caused huge anxiety and bitterness as I cleaned my home and ‘went all out’ preparing food I knew he favored.  It was never good enough, however, to escape scorn and ridicule…not enough salt, too much ‘this,’ not as good as my mother-in-law’s, ‘guess Judy didn’t teach you anything about cooking’ and the inevitable selfish comments and behavior. All of this from a man who professes to love the Lord and is a ‘religious church attender.’ During the time of preparation, I would be short-tempered, impatient, wanting everyone to be on top of things. By the time I sat down after hours of preparation I was usually unable to eat. I would brace myself for the comments and rude remarks directed at myself, my husband, my children, my mother-in-law. My focus would be defending my children and intervening if they became the target of his abuse.”

Can you imagine?  Have you ever felt this way before? It takes a God-infused wisdom and courage to face some people, doesn’t it?  Of course each of these scenarios did not leave their lives or their loved ones’ lives hanging in the balance.  Queen Esther’s real-life story is an extreme.

However, I believe, in reality, Esther planned more carefully, paying attention to every detail–perhaps she even listened to the advice of the head of the kitchen, as she listened to advice when she won her husband’s heart. And I believe she was not feeling angry at all.  Rather, I think the Spirit of God hovered over her as a guard. I believe she felt courageous and fully at ease. She was secure, confident and even quietly courageous–a God-infused response.

I want that in the face of my daily battles. I want to be quietly confident, courageous and secure in the face of my enemies.  I want to live God-infused every day, like it matters. I want to make quite a wave–affecting many– in light of the small drop of courage I release into the ocean of each day’s possibility. Don’t you?

Like Esther, we need to take our invitation to our enemy seriously, carefully and confidently–even courageously. It makes all the difference in a life, a day, a people and an eternity.

With that being said, here are two courses Esther may have chosen to prepare–rich foods, comfort foods, expensive foods, which call for careful, even tedious, steps in preparation. I think you will enjoy them!

Shrimp Scampi
3 T. butter
2 T. minced garlic
1 1/2 pounds peeled, de-veined shrimp
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. tomato sauce
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. oregano
1/8 t. thyme
1 1/8 t. Italian hot pepper flakes
2 egg yolks
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
2 T. finely minced parsley (optional)
12 oz. angel hair pasta (plus 2 more T. butter for pasta)

Melt butter in skillet. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add shrimp and cook for one minute over medium-high heat, tossing with a wide spatula, until shrimp are bright pink all over. Do not overcook shrimp (makes them chewy). Add white wine and tomato sauce (still med-high heat) for one minute.

Turn heat down to medium-low. Add 1 cup of cream, basil, oregano, thyme and hot pepper flakes. Beat egg yolks with remaining cream and add to sauce., stirring until sauce is thickened. Do not boil. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Cook pasta according to package directions. Then drain and add 2 T. butter and stir.

Pour sauce over pasta and enjoy! Serves 4-6.

Chocolate Mousse
4 1/2 (1 ounce) squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/3 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
2 t. brandy flavoring (or 2 1/2 T. brandy)
3 c. heavy whipping cream
1 egg white

Melt chocolate over hot water in the top of a double boiler. Place water and sugar in small saucepan, cooking over medium heat until sugar is dissolved (stirring frequently). Pour melted chocolate into blender or food processor. Blend, slowly adding in sugar/water mixture. Continue, while adding egg yolks, one at a time. Add brandy flavoring. Process until smooth.

Set aside and let cool. In a separate large bowl, blend egg white and whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in cooled chocolate mixture with a spatula. Spoon into 8 individual serving dishes. Garnish with chocolate shavings. Chill 2 hours. Serves 8.

Be courageous!


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Getting Your Front Porch Ready

My mother is an artist–not just any kind of artist, she is Martha Stewart minus the kitchen plus the skills of Michelangelo for many mediums of artwork–from oils to pencil to clay.  Seeing her home in all its adornment is something beautiful to behold.  At the front door there is always a wreath decorated to suit the season.  Oftentimes, a wee bird will have made its home in the wreath, so that opening and closing the door is quite a challenge. Inside, the home is decorated with wood-crafted frames, porcelain and works of art. In every way it is fine, extravagant-looking and reflective of her heart for her home.

I inherited a few artistic qualities from my mother.  One is that I like to make wreaths. Every season, I adorn my front porch with a change-in-the-season wreath that I make myself. I usually have my favorite music playing, which right now is Kelly Minter’s Ruth CD called Loss, Love and Legacy. I make my favorite, seasonal drink, which right now is a homemade Chai recipe (adapted from here–I doubled the dry milk to replace the French vanilla creamer, added 2 t. pure vanilla extract and substituted splenda for sugar) that I make and is sugar free (I’m on a sugar fast right now). Then I gather the materials I keep tucked away for each season: a large, viney-looking wreath, ribbons, flowers and other special touches, my sharp wire-cutting scissors and my green wire.

Often I will have to undo the wreath from the season before and gather those materials to put away for the next year. Carefully, I unwind the wire and each floral piece until the wreath is down to its barest, original self.  Then I begin to layout the placement for the new pieces.  I attach the flowers and special touches first, then I begin to wind the ribbon around. At the very end, I put a bigger, poofy-looking bow.  I go out to my front porch and place it on the nail. 

Then I stand back and admire my handiwork. Most of the time, I run inside and grab my Chris to come see! I snap a few photographs. Then I smile. For once again, I have welcomed the new season in.  Everyone, who comes to our door, hopefully feels welcomed and leaves with a smile on their faces.  It is a preparation for WELCOME. And it reflects my heart of joy to share with others.

God does the same thing for me each season.  He gently takes off all the “old-season digs” and gets me down to my barest, original self.  Then He begins placement for the new pieces that He is adding.  Each new adornment has His very own style and touches added, so that when I am on-display in my new season, I will be marked as His own.  I will be His very own WELCOME to others.  I will reflect His heart of JOY and share His love with each one I meet on my front porch.

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