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My hard shoes scraped on the stone stairs. Every morning I climbed the five grueling flights up to my corner tower office where the only window looked out over the parking lot. On the spiraling staircase, each step dipped in the middle, eroded by decades of other wandering soles.

For a year I worked as a proofreader for a government office, in a beautiful old stone building with winding staircases and wide, echoing halls. On my lunch hours I walked alone through dark and mysterious corridors, traveling under the building’s basement through tunnels that looped endlessly back upon themselves. For a year of lunch hours, I wandered those halls and stairways, always circling back to the beginning, always ending up back in the place where I had started.

Over the building’s main entry, a faded mural depicted settlers moving west. A woman in the center of the panel had her arm raised and pointed toward the horizon. The mural reminded me every morning that while the rest of the world explored great adventures, I was stuck quietly walking in circles.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard me” (Psalm 40:1).

Everyone experiences periods of waiting. We will all face times when we wander in circles and wonder when we will break out of our pattern to cover new ground.

Throughout that year of waiting, as I was forced to circle back and confront myself every day, I learned many lessons about facing my fears and conquering the frustrations that kept me from moving forward. I began to see the value of traits we develop during times of waiting.

Patience: We can choose to have patience. We can commit to learning everything possible from our current situation. When the time is right and we are ready for new lessons, the road ahead will turn and take us in a different direction to a new and surprising destination.

Perseverance: We can’t stop walking. The only way to move forward is to keep moving, keep traveling. When we hit an occasional dead end, it’s alright to turn back and try a different route, but we have to keep taking one step after another.

Trust: God is working for us behind the scenes. While we wait and trust, God is shifting walls, removing barriers, and directing the traffic that will take us where we need to be. When we’re ready to move on, God will rearrange the signs to point us toward the place he wants us to go.

Hope: As long as we live, we will always have hope. There are always new opportunities to find and new challenges to face. When we keep moving and keep looking forward, our path will be open to new experiences and our eyes will discover new vistas.

After a year of walking through the cold and empty hallways, I did set off on a new path. I moved to a new home, started a new school, changed jobs, made new friends, and met my future husband. When we wait and trust in the path God has planned, we will escape the daily climb to reach more wide and expanding spaces.

How do you face a period of waiting? In what direction is God leading you today?

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What am I doing here? I wondered as I trudged up the hill toward the middle school.

In 2001 I worked as a teaching assistant while I finished my Elementary Ed degree. I had no experience working with kids, felt very insecure about my abilities, and quickly questioned how I had gotten hired.

I thought: God made a mistake bringing me to this place in my life, this school, this job, this town.

Within walking distance from my apartment stood a small shopping mall with a big bookstore.

I like books, I decided. I’ll quit my job and drop out of school to sell books instead.

On Saturday I revised my resume walked through the hilly neighborhood to the mall, but when I rounded the corner, I encountered an enormous “Going out of Business” banner tacked to the front of the bookstore and flapping in the breeze. I literally turned in my tracks and marched home.

When I called my friend Paege and told her what happened, she said, “I guess God gave you a pretty big sign.” On Monday I went back to work at the middle school, and I worked there for two more years.

Signs are not always as big and bright as a “Going out of Business” banner on the side of a building. Many signs arrive as subtle clues, quiet whispers, or gentle nudges turning us in the direction God wants us to travel. Signs may be missed if we’re not vigilant and watchful for the methods God often uses to steer our steps.

Conviction is that gut feeling we get telling us when one option is right and the other wrong. Conviction often defies logic and relies on hunches and emotions. Going to college as a single mom made no logical sense at the time, and though I often questioned my abilities and claimed I would quit, I always felt a certainty that I was called to return to class.

Coincidences are those seemingly unrelated events that happen at just the right time and place. Coincidences are often unexpected and unexplainable. I had not applied to work at the middle school where my daughter was a student, but the principal coincidentally found my resume in the school’s district office and called to offer me a job.

Conversations with friends and advisors often offer insights and revelations about God’s intended purposes. Chance comments from others often help us see and understand our circumstances more clearly. “I’m glad I work with you,” my coworker Molly told me after one particularly disappointing day. “God brought you here because he wants you here.”

For two years I worked at that middle school. The work was never easy, but I began to see the reasons God wanted me to stay. I received college credit for my hours in the sixth-grade classroom. I made connections with teachers who helped me with my homework assignments and later offered me job references. For two years I walked to school with my daughter every day. I knew her teachers and friends, and I felt we developed a better relationship through our time together. Most importantly, I learned to persevere through sometimes difficult and discouraging circumstances, and I began to realize that when we pay attention and follow God’s directions, we are always exactly where God wants us to be. God never makes mistakes.

What sign is God showing you today? How do you watch for his clues and direction?

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From Saturday morning cooking shows, I learned to make a perfectly-browned pan seared chicken breast, zucchini noodles and spaghetti squash, and the correct balance of butter and flour for a roux (the base for many soups and sauces.) But for many years I refused to try to make risotto.

Risotto is too sophisticated for my skill level, I thought. Risotto is only made by cooking school students and those TV chefs. I am satisfied with boiling rice and adding butter and salt.

But like many new experiences, once I tried making risotto, I discovered the result was easier and better than I ever expected.

Risotto is surprisingly easy to create, uses few ingredients, and can be adapted to many different tastes. Saying “I made risotto” makes me feel more sophisticated and accomplished than saying “I boiled rice,” and the basic technique makes a versatile, delicious dish.

Start with Arborio rice and olive oil. Drizzle some oil in the pan. Add 1 ½ cups of rice and stir it around over medium heat until the rice just begins to turn golden.

Pour in half a cup of chicken stock. Stir until the rice has soaked up the stock and starts to look dry. Add another half cup of stock and stir.

Keep repeating that process: pour, stir, pour, stir. . . until you’ve gradually added about 4 cups (32 ounces) of chicken stock.

Taste the rice. It should be soft and tender.

Then add 2 Tablespoons of butter and a cup of grated parmesan cheese.

The basic recipe is simple and smooth, creamy comfort food. Once you’ve mastered the process, any combination of ingredients and flavors can be added. My favorite is cooked and crumbled bacon with thawed frozen corn.

You could try fresh peas and parsley, or mushrooms and asparagus, or any other combination you can imagine.

Check here, here, and here for risotto recipes and preparation ideas.

And though I am eager to explore new flavor ideas and try new risotto recipes, I can still appreciate the simple comfort in a bowl of basic boiled rice.

What do you enjoy preparing in your kitchen? What have you always wanted to try?

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Many years ago, I worked briefly as a proofreader in a government office. One of my coworkers was an older gentleman who enjoyed chatting more than he enjoyed proofreading.

Whenever the office had a difficult day, when deadlines loomed, or attitudes and morale suffered, my coworker said, “We need to throw off some ballast around here. We need to throw some stuff overboard so we can rise above it.”

Ballast is the row of sandbags tied to the sides of hot air balloons. Ballast keeps the balloon balanced and grounded, but for the balloon to lift off the ground, some weight has to be untied and left behind.

We all have ballast in our lives that we sometimes need to let go so we can gain altitude and start soaring.

Memories of past mistakes keep us tied to the past. We need to leave behind our regrets, forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know then, and carry only the lessons we’ve learned as we navigate forward.

The need for control can keep us bound to situations that are not our responsibility to fix. We have to let others own their own balloons and control their own altitude and steering.

Anger is a particularly heavy burden to bear. Everyone has some anger to release, or it will drag us scraping and bumping along the ground, unable to lift off and take flight.

When we recognize what is holding us back, we can pitch it over the side and watch it drop as we soar on, growing faster and lifting higher. When we leave behind the things that hold us down, we will gain new experiences, grow into new perspectives, and travel much faster than we ever thought possible.

What is holding you down today? What do you need to leave behind so you can fly a little higher?

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I wrote “Liz” at the top of the paper, and my Communications professor told us to pass our papers to the person on our left. She instructed us to write our first impression of the person whose name appeared at the top of the page, then fold the paper over to conceal our comment, and pass it on. The pages moved around the circle. My sheet with “Liz” at the top was returned to me. I unfolded it and read.

Several of my classmates had written “caring,” to describe their first impressions of me. Maybe their description was only a generic compliment to describe a classmate they didn’t know well, but I decided to appreciate their comments, and for a while I tried to be the kind and caring person I thought people believed me to be.

But over the years I grew less and less sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. I became busy with my work and career. I focused on my progress toward status and success. I listened to the “take care of yourself first” propaganda our society broadcasts, and I forgot to be the caring, compassionate person I once believed I was. And as I grew older, the world began to seem like a harsh, cold, and uncaring place.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~~ Mahatma Ghandi

This year I want to be the compassionate person God created me to be. I want to be the caring person my classmates recognized in that long-ago college classroom.

“As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

In 2017, I’m planning a few actions steps to return me to the caring person I used to be.

Reach out to some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. Plan to meet someone to reconnect over lunch or coffee each month.

Serve without calculating how many hours I spend.  Volunteer without asking, “What’s in this for me?”

Be present and pay attention to the people in my life every day. Ask them how their day was and really listen to their answers.

Say “Thank you,” I understand,” and “I’m grateful” to someone every day.

Perform regular random acts of kindness. Look for opportunities to give someone a surprise gift or compliment every month.

If I want the world to be a more warm, welcoming and compassionate place, I need to be a more interested, open and caring person. In 2017, I’m writing “caring” at the top of my list and passing it on.

How do you show your care and concern for others? What helps you show compassion and kindness to the world?

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