Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kutless sings This is Christmas

After writing the post Forget Not, my sweet husband sent me off with his blessings to finish up some Christmas shopping.  Oh what fun that was!  During the various drive times, I kept thinking about this time of year and how so many people celebrate Christmas all around the world.  My mother-in-law and I were just marveling the other day that people who do not even believe in Jesus celebrate.  What they are celebrating exactly, I am not sure, but gift giving and feasting abound under the heading of Christmas.  And as such thoughts ruminated in my mind, this song came on the radio:



It seemed to sing the very thoughts I was thinking.
Just had to share it with ya'll.
Yes indeed, tis a Savior born that we celebrate!

Forget not

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15 that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners". 

Now keep that in mind as we hop over to Psalm 103...the kids and I were reading this yesterday together.  Verses 1 and 2 start with:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits..."

I asked my kiddos, "What is another way of saying 'forget not'?"  Their answer: "Remember."  That's right...we are positively to remember His benefits.  What benefits?  The passage continues...
* He forgives our sins
* He heals our diseases
* He redeems our life from destruction
* He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies
* He satisfies our mouths with good things
* He brings justice to the oppressed
* He makes His ways known
* and more

Our family just read through the book of Esther together over the last couple of weeks.  There was some serious rejoicing happening at the end because the very real threat of annihilation was met with a very real deliverance.  Now remember how I opened this post...Jesus came to save sinners.  Save?  From what?  Do we know?  Do we understand the very real wrath of God against sinners?  Do we know we are sinners? Do we "get" that Jesus came to save sinners, and that in fact He did! 

It was commanded in Esther that Purim be celebrated year after year as a remembrance...they were to give gifts to each other, feast, and remember the poor.  The generation that lived through the threat did so spontaneously...it was the overflowing response of their joy in being delivered. Did future generations celebrate with as much joy?  Did gift giving come to feel obligatory and bothersome?  Did the feasting requirements become a burden?  Did the poor become neglected?

It is Christmastime...will we remember that Jesus came to deliver us?  He physically took on flesh a couple thousand years ago, but His love is steadfast and His sacrifice was once and for all time.  Remember His benefits....they are graciously being applied to all who have faith today...this generation has just as much opportunity to respond with joy as all those who have gone before us for the deliverance is every bit as much ours. We have experienced an even greater deliverance than the Jews did in the days of Esther! If celebrating the birth of Jesus feels so far removed that you are tempted to feel burdened about gift giving, about feasting, about remembering the poor, then carve out whatever time is needed for you to remember Jesus came to save sinners.  Now.  The rescue is real.  Let us celebrate our Deliverer...may we overflow with joy in Him!

"Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits..."



Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy Slow-cooker Fudge



Slow Cooker Fudge
Taken nearly verbatim from the website: 

This is a new-to-us recipe that we tried last week.  We altered it slightly to make use of ingredients on hand...instead of raw mild honey, we used regular clover honey; and instead of sea salt, we used kosher salt.  And being hopeful that it was going to be yummy, we doubled the recipe, which seemed to work dandy.  Also, due to not ever having developed pioneer woman arms, I used the strength of the paddle in my kitchen aid mixer when I got to the instruction to vigorously stir for 5-10 minutes.  That is how I get away with renaming this fudge as "easy."

What was the vote?  Two thumbs up.  It is truly rich and yummy.  We experimented a bit with shaping some of the pieces into balls and rolling it in things like powdered sugar or toasted coconut...we liked it even better that way.  

So for all you friends who may like to try this as fudge, or roll it into balls and call it a truffle-like candy, here you go...we think we will try substituting mint extract for vanilla in our next round.  Hmmm...soooooo many possibilities :-).

Ingredients
Directions:
Fudge is perfect for the slow cooker because it doesn't scorch or burn. 

Add chocolate chips, coconut milk, honey and salt, stir to combine. Cover and cook on low 2 hours without stirring. It's important that lid remain on during this 2 hours. 

After 2 hours, turn the slow cooker off, uncover, add vanilla and stir to combine ingredients. Allow to cool in uncovered slow cooker, until fudge has reached room temperature...approximately 4 hours. Using a large spoon, stir vigorously for 5-10 minutes until it loses some the gloss. 

Lightly spray a 1 quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour fudge into dish, cover and refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Cut into 30 pieces. This fudge is very rich and meant to be eaten on occasion as a treat.

Note: Canned coconut milk can be found in the Asian or organic sections of most grocery stores.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My favorite Gingerbread cookie recipe

We have been using this recipe for years...it makes a great dough for cut out cookies, and tastes DELICIOUS.  One batch makes about 25-30 cut outs.  We'll be making these today for a cookie decorating party later this week and wanted to share it with ya'll.  Pray I resist the temptation to eat a thousand of them :-).

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
3 tablespoons molasses
1 each egg
2 tablespoons water
3 1/4 cups flour (I use bread flour, but regular works)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves

1.    In large bowl, beat sugar, butter and molasses until light and fluffy.

2.    Add egg and water, blend well.

3.    Stir in dry ingredients, mixing to form a smooth dough.

4.    Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour for easier handling (can be stored for days and still rolls out really well).

5.    Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness, using just enough flour to keep it from sticking to board or cutters.

6.    Bake at 350 for 9 minutes, remove to cooling racks and cool completely before storing or decorating.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Paul and Sprocket

video
Laughter is beautiful.  If you listen to these two, you'll more than likely be smiling yourself by the end of this brief video.  The boy on the right is my son, Paul (and his cousin Patrick is to the left).  Tomorrow Paul will be unbelievably 8 years old.  He is our "baby" that is far removed from being a baby...he is becoming a young man before my eyes! 

 We began the celebration tonight as a family...
he was pretty excited to open his 8 presents!

His Daddy got them matching hats...I love these guys!

He also got a model of an A10 Warthog that he wanted to build immediately.

Birthdays can be such fun...we have a whole week of celebrations planned.  One of the most fun things for Paul this year is that he gets to share his birthday with another creature in our household.  From the moment we brought Sprocket home, he's been plotting a "Sprocket and Rocket" party, which will be happening this Tuesday, Lord willing.  We were all pretty stoked to learn he had been born on Paul's birthday!
So happy birthday, my boy turning into a young man!  We are so pleased you are a member of our family!  We can look back and see all kinds of ways that God has been at work in your life, we thoroughly enjoy you in the present, and we can look forward to seeing how God completes the good work He has begun.  You are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.  May He bless you and keep you, and make His face shine upon you, and give you His peace.  We love you immensely!

And happy first birthday to you too, Sprocket.  We are glad (most of the time) that you are here too!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Glad in Him

"And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, 
and in Him there is no sin." ~ 1 John 3:5 


"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, 
that we should be called children of God!" ~ 1 John 3:1

He is amazing!  
And we are so privileged to be His.
Let us rejoice and be glad in Him!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What has God put into your hand?

A good friend asked me a question many years ago.  I was in a time of transition and feeling confused.  She asked me: "What has God put in your hand?" That season, and the counsel this friend went on to share with me, was transformational.

That question  seems to keep coming back to me, from different angles.

18 years ago it was posed because I didn't know what to DO...I didn't have an overarching plan like I like to have, but I did know what was right in front of me. I learned to live the day in front of me, trusting God to lead me BECAUSE HE KNOWS the whole plan.

Now the question is lodged in my mind from an angle presented in Ann Voskamp's book, 1000 Gifts.  What has God put in your hand?  Ann talks about living with open hand, receiving His grace gifts.  This time the question isn't task oriented; it is receiving and responding oriented.  Will I receive the grace gifts He chooses to give?  And will I respond with thanksgiving?


Yesterday, one of His gifts was rain.  Refreshing!  I went for a long walk in it with my dog, getting soaked and loving it.  Some days I would chafe at the rain, but yesterday I opened my hands, received it, and gave thanks.  It was the big cry I've needed.  God knew!

He gives gifts of growth.  Sometimes we can learn the easy way by cracking books open, sometimes it comes by being cracked open...whatever tool He uses to grow us into the likeness of Christ, whatever it "feels" like, whatever it costs, will we open our hands?  Will we receive growth graces and offer thanks?

He gives gifts of fruitfulness in our lives... The writer of Hebrews prays that God would  "make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever" (Heb.13:20,21).  And Paul makes it clear in Phil. 2:13 that "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  Remember to pause and give Him thanks for the fruit He bears in and through you (in contrast to the temptation to well up with self-glory).

He gives us times when we feel empty.  Times of brokenness and loss can feel this way.  His special grace is given then with the sweet invitation to draw closer to Him.  To be still and know that He is God.  The grace of surrendering our wills to His is a very special grace indeed.  Thank you, Father.

He gives us gifts of love and friendship.  Not to distract us from His love, but to magnify our appreciation of His love.  These are precious gifts, graces.  Thank you, Father.

He gives us gifts of the unknown.  These are invitations to trust His sovereign goodness, wisdom, power and love.  He leads, provides, and cares perfectly for us.  Why, oh why, am I still so quick to become fearful?  Here too, I am learning to open my hands, to receive, to give thanks.  In my weakness, You are strong.  Thank you, Father.

He gives gifts of beauty.  Sunsets, ocean's shores, smiling faces, flower gardens, puffy white clouds in the sky, acts of courage, the embrace of a loved one, the communion of saints, and SO MUCH MORE.  Thank you, Father.

God is the most cheerful Giver of givers.  The answer to the question "What has God put into your hand?" is always GRACE.

And if we ever doubt His goodness, let us remember what He opened His hands to...
"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" ~ Rom 8:32

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rubies hard won

Psalm 100

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! 
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.

Sometimes, we wake up and the day stretched out before us looks bright and cheery.  Psalms like this one can be spoken or sung easily enough on such days.  Other times, the day ahead looks dark...and that day may fall on the heels of many others before it that were filled with trials.  But this Psalm, and many other passages, do not give qualifiers like "serve the Lord with gladness when you are having a Disneyland sort of day".  He is God. Period.  He made us. Period.  He is good. Period.  His mercy IS everlasting.  Even on the hard days.  Even in the midst of the trial. 

Is that harsh?  No, it is loving.  He tenderly reminds us that this is not our home; that the glory that awaits us is not worthy to be compared to the sufferings of the moment (Rom 8); that we can count it all joy by His grace when we face various trials because He is using it to make us more like Jesus (James 1), and because He is always with us (Hebrews 13:5), and most importantly that HE HIMSELF IS OUR JOY, and that our joy in Him is our strength (Neh 8:10, Ps. 28). 

Last night, I finished reading A Lifetime of Wisdom, Embracing the Way God Heals You, by Joni Eareckson Tada.  In it, she illustrates many "rubies hard won" over the course of her life as a paraplegic.  She has faced hard days, and shines!  I highly recommend the book.

She points us the Jesus over and over, the One we can trust in our darkest days.  The apostle Paul tells us to note such people, and to imitate them.  I know I need to.  On my dark days, I am still far too prone to whine, or to allow fears to overtake me.  Maybe you are too.  There are many mentors in life and in books, and my Mom used to tell me that when the student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear.  I want to learn.  I want to grow in serving the Lord with gladness ALL the time.  Wanna join me?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Driving Nails, part 2

In John 8, Jesus said: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." 
Yesterday I wrote about driving nails; about replacing old habit/thoughts with new habit/thoughts.  Throughout the day I kept thinking about another set of nails...the ones that were driven into the hands and feet of Jesus.  I believe His testimony.  He bore much more than a set of nails in my stead, but bore He did...He drank down the cup of God's wrath that I was due.  And not just for me, but for many, many others.  And He is risen!  Risen indeed!  We do not need to wait for Easter to celebrate that, right?

Anyone, believer or unbeliever alike, can replace old habit with new...but that is not really the full point I wanted to make.  What I want to be doing when I drive nails is to celebrate the victory I have in Christ who took nails into His flesh for me; to live out a life of praise to Him.  As He brings it to my attention that I am thinking thoughts or doing deeds that in effect deny Him or are displeasing to Him, it is time to get out the hammer and nails. 

We are told in Phil 2:12b-13 to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  Work out?  Yes.  We sing of His amazing grace...a grace that saves us, sanctifies us.  He didn't just give us a ticket to heaven, He gives us the grace to overcome our hellish hearts and practices.  He gives us the grace to bear Spirit-filled fruits in our lives for His glory of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:22-24).

His crucifixion involved nails and ours do too.  Daily we drive in nails of truth so that our lives become more and more like the One who bore nails for us.  Daily we work out our salvation.  Daily we put off the old man and put on the new.

Eph 4:20-24 But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:  that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

To God be all glory!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Driving Nails...

Erasmus said: "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." I am learning the truth of this.  So are my children.  And I am thankful.  Often I have tried to wrench out the unwanted from my life by focusing on the problem...for example, if I am fearful, I might tell myself over and over again "don't be afraid."  Hmmm.  How effective is that?  Not.

Neither has it proven effective to read every book and scour every google page that describes the problem in an attempt to reason myself away from the problem...reading about whatever the problem in hand is, at least in my case, has not done a whole lot to alleviate it.  It educates.  It sometimes provides leads. But mostly it tends to bog me down as my appetite for learning more about the problem grows insatiable.  More than once I have been accused (rightly!) of over-thinking things..."go easy", "breathe" my friends say.

So thank you Erasmus, and thank you Ann Voskamp for quoting him because it was in your book I read his words.  This insight is proving far more helpful and effective in practice, and I get to share it with my children while they are yet young.

My eleven year old daughter fell recently and wounded herself.  The obvious wounds were the gnarly scrapes on hand and leg, but as time marches on and the increased pain in her right arm drains the color from her face we are searching out answers to the extent of harm done.  And as family plans for together-fun get rearranged, and homework is tediously slow due to needing to use the hand not used to writing, fears creep in.  Guess what?  It seems like it is instinctive for her to do the very same thing I had done for years..."don't be afraid, it'll be alright" is the chorus of the mind but the fears seem to scream louder that it is NOT all right...there is pain, and there is disappointment, and I don't know what is going to happen at the doctor's office (what are they going to do to me?), and how am I going to do school?, and, and, and...

Together we begin to drive nails.  We sing "Amazing Grace" together. We talk about how this is  NOT taking our Father by surprise, but rather it is here in our life by His wise and loving design.   One hammer stroke after another, we pound in trust and drive out fear.  We pray.  We take the next step in front of us, trusting our Father's grace-laden love and perfect care.  And it dawns on us as we drive up to the hospital for the second time yesterday...fear seems to have taken leave and we laugh freely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

smiley faces

1 Sam 2:1-2 "And Hannah prayed and said: 'My heart rejoices in the Lord; My horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.'"

This last month has been hard, really hard on many levels, and most of the "behind the scenes" stuff that made it so hard are unknown to all but God.  The month has been good too, overflowing with things to give thanks to God for. Both of those can be true at the same time without contradiction.  We are complex creatures, able, for example, to mourn the loss of a loved one while simultaneously rejoicing that they are home with Jesus, their race having been run with endurance to the end.

In Philippians 4:8, God instructs us to meditate on the pure, the lovely, and so forth...looking for the praiseworthy daily is a God honoring discipline.  And those of us who take up that discipline can say with Hannah, "My heart rejoices in the LORD...I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation."  We have enemies. We face all kinds of things that challenge us emotionally, physically and spiritually...things outside of our control, but they are NOT OUTSIDE of GOD's control.  BECAUSE He is on the throne bringing about all His holy will; BECAUSE He loves us with passion and is working all things together for our good and His glory; BECAUSE He saves and redeems and restores and delivers and strengthens us, we can face our enemies in their various forms and smile.

We don't always feel like smiling though do we? Sometimes our feelings get out of sync with what we know to be true.  And God is so gracious, bringing encouragements in all kinds of unexpected ways. On Saturday, while out walking our dog, God gave me one of His big encouraging kisses.  I had a lot on my mind to sort so I went without the kids, and as I walked I prayed, pleaded really, for God to help me wholly rejoice in Him.  My "feelings" were out of sync and I knew it.  We tend to walk the dog on what we call "the loop", which is basically one mile's worth of a strangely cut city block.  Soon into my journey, I noticed someone had drawn a big smiley face with chalk on the road.  I didn't think anything of it.  I kept walking, sorting my thoughts and praying...then I saw another smiley face, and a little farther along there was another, then another.  After about a half mile, I started to chuckle.  I don't know who drew these smiles along the whole loop, the last one being just across the street from our house, but I think God used them to remind me that He has it all sorted (everything that is weighing on me), and that I can rest in Him, and smile at my enemies because of His salvation. By the time my foot crossed our threshold, I too was smiling again.

Someone had drawn those smiley faces intentionally spreading some cheer...I share this little story with you in hopes that it will do the same.  The Lord bless and keep you, and make His face shine upon you, and give you peace.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Time with my mother-in-law...

When God took a machete to my "to do" list last month, He quickly handed me a different one. This whole month has been filled with the unexpected on a daily basis as we've dedicated ourselves primarily to caring for Pat in her time of recovery.  I mentioned in my last post that my mother in law fell and broke her femur.  The next day she underwent surgery for a partial hip replacement. A few days later she was moved to a rehab facility.  I wish I would have taken a picture of the wall that faced her bed...the grandkids covered it with pictures and messages to cheer her on.  It was lovely.

This is her little great grand-daughter Allison (with her mommy Ciara) and I think her visit was some of the best medicine of all.  The card "she" made suggested we needed to "bust Grandma out of this place".  Truth be told, we were grateful for the care she received in this facility, but there simply isn't anyplace like home and we were all agreeing with Allison to bust her outta there asap.  
 
Two weeks ago we did that very thing!  We have enjoyed the privilege of being able to camp out at her house as she's continued to heal.  A visiting physical therapist and an occupational therapist have come to help her be able to live independently again.  Oh how we praise God for her continued healing!  What an incredible example she has been to us all of receiving a difficult "gift" from God with a spirit that looks for the praiseworthy!  I love this woman who birthed and raised the man I am thrilled to be married to...I am so grateful to God for her friendship and example over the years.  

She is still healing and has some restrictions on her movements, but she has "graduated" to being able to care for herself once more.  Having received the stamp of approval from her physical therapist this afternoon, we plan to move home in the morning.  

Remember that month old to-do list that God took a machete to?  Did you know He is in the business of resurrecting the dead?  Resurrected life (and lists) never looks exactly like it did before it died...God has been at work in us this month, bringing clarity to His call upon us...I think just maybe the list will look a little different.

Here are some pictures from the past couple of weeks as we reflect on God's presence with us and His goodness to us...these weeks have stretched us all, but God's mercy has overflowed:
 MJ giving Grandma a manicure :-)

Grandma catching up on paying bills 
while we snack on popcorn and watch the Olympics

MJ and Paul playing Monopoly after finishing their school

 Bekah and Sprocket curled up with a Hardy Boy mystery

 MJ getting "kissed" relentlessly by the doggies

MJ and Paul giving Sprocket a bath


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Agreeing with Ann

In the book 1000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp wrote raw and real about a time when she wanted to write the story differently, but later concluded "There's a reason I am not writing the story and God is.  He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means.  I don't."

When I was in Florida a few months back, I went to a ladies Bible study and some of those gals were facing hard spelled out in capital letters.  That night the leader directed us to consider the character of God from the book of Psalms (thank you Mrs. B)...hearts softened and hope flooded in.  Somehow in the presence of God, hard becomes doable as we trust Him to be with us, to hold us, to carry us through and to use it for His glory and for our good as He has promised to do.

Man plans his ways, but God directs his steps...we live out the story that God is Authoring.  If we remember He is good, that He loves us with incomprehensible passion, and His glory is overflowing in an incredible redemption story, then we can handle all the times that we wake up thinking the day is going to look one way and it ends up very different than we imagined.  Even when broken bones or cancer or loss of job or death of a loved one or some other excruciating pain is involved.

We've had a week that played out very differently than the one we had planned, but it flowed exactly as our Father designed it.  Last Monday I felt ready to be swallowed up by my "to do" list. I popped a note to a friend that morning saying "Life turned crazy busy...too busy in fact. Methinks I need to downsize my to-do list. As soon as I find the machete, I'm going to start chopping."  I was dizzy with activity and felt so pressed upon by so many tasks that seemed urgent.  And that afternoon, my sweet 82 year old mother in law fell and broke her femur, leading to a partial hip replacement surgery the following day.  All of a sudden, the to do list didn't even matter.  I guess God took His machete and whacked my list for me.  Weeks like this can be very clarifying...what is really important and what isn't?  Would I have written this into Pat's story or ours?  No way...who asks for broken bones and long recoveries and serious alterations of plans?  But there is no doubt in my mind that God has written it in and that He is using it for our good and His glory. 

I agree with Ann: "There's a reason I am not writing the story and God is.  He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means.  I don't."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pepperoni

Our annual camping trip with church family and friends is coming up quickly.  It has been our tradition for many years to make homemade pepperoni to take as snacks, but this year meat prices have been so high that I was ready to call it quits.  My kiddos were not so quick to throw in the towel.  How they teach me! They opted instead to pray, one after the other on Monday morning, that God would provide us with a good meat sale.  Instead of only seeing an obstacle, they saw an opportunity that they could talk to our Father about. Tuesday I brought in the paper with the ads, opened up to Safeway's and found this:
Do you think there just may have been a little whooping and hollering of praise be to God going on at our house?  

Very early the next morning, Paul (my early riser!) and I scooted out of the house while Daddy and the girls slept so we could go buy our much desired meat in time to get it prepped and in the dehydrator.

 "Mom, can I have a turn to make the sticks?"

"Sure, son."
 This year, the tradition is more than tradition...it is an answer to prayer. 

God can use something as simple as pepperoni to grow our delight in Him, 
the One who hears
and answers prayers.
Blessed be His name!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two quick stories

Seven children.  
Beautiful, faith-filled, Jesus-loving, world-transforming children.
Ages 5-11.
Team Goal: To raise $5,000 
for the Pregnancy Resource Centers 
in the Steps for Life event.
Reached: $6,125 (thanks be to God)
The winners?  yes, the "Under His Wings" team was first place fundraisers in their age category, but CEO Larrry said it best...the real winners are the men, women and children that will be served this year at the Pregnancy Resource Centers.  We agree.  All for the glory of God.



Two quick stories:
 Friday morning 6 out of 7 of the kids had reached their personally set fundraising goals. The seventh was only shy by $45.  The cut-off for entering sponsor information was noon.  We were all together at our Friday Co-op and an idea was spoken during the morning Latin class...if we worked hard and finished early, the four older kids could have a little time to go door to door to seek sponsors.  Yes...let's do it was the unanimous, hearty response.  Finishing early, we prayed together at the door and sent the four kids down the road...less than a half hour later, four excited youth returned with 70 more dollars for the PRC.  We quickly entered the info online and everyone at the Co-op celebrated over the reality that every one of the kids on the team were able to reach their goals.  We had watched them ask just about every person they came into contact with over the past month, and their enthusiasm never waned...down to the final minutes they wanted to do everything they could to raise more funds for the men, women and children that receive compassionate care and truthful information in the name of Jesus at these centers. 

Last night, after we returned from our family rejoicing together over a little Chinese food, MJ came into the office carrying a box.  "Mom, do you mind if I destroy this box?  I have an idea."  I answered that I didn't mind and went back to what I was doing.  A little later, I went to investigate and found she was making a container to collect her change in which she had decorated with "Steps for Life 2013." 

I am a very blessed Mama!  
A very pleased Mama! 
Papa is very pleased too!

Thank you to everyone who came alongside with prayers and finances...God is at work.  We are so thankful He is pleased to give us the privilege of being a part of His work.  We know the Redeemer, the Healer, the Restorer...we are Under His Wings.  He is our Refuge, our ever present Help.  But there are many who are still held captive by lies and and in bondage to fears...they do not yet know the comfort of His love.  The body of Christ has the unspeakable joy of being His hands and feet...to reach out to the hurting, the confused, the ones who need to hear that they too can be forgiven and move forward in faith as they come to Jesus.  Being involved with the Pregnancy Resource Centers is one of many wonderful ways to do this...we are thrilled to be part of this work and the kids wanted me to thank all of you who joined them in this year's Steps for Life.  It is definitely a cooperative effort.

They will know we are Christians by our love!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Chloe's shower


Yesterday a group of beautiful Jesus-loving women gathered to celebrate the God's gift of life, the life of Chloe in particular!  She's a sweetie, and here are a few words I was allowed to share at her baby shower:

Raising Chloe for God’s glory…
Hello faith, goodbye pride and fear!

Col 1:15-18 tells us: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

May God grant all of us the desire and the grace to live in such a way that in all things Christ may have the preeminence!  Apart from faith in the Living God, we are rebels seeking to exalt ourselves and our own plans.  But as recipients of faith, we’re to be all about His glory.  We’re to delight ourselves in Him and His ways.  As Christians, this is the arena in which we daily fight the good fight of faith.  We are called to die to self and live unto Christ, right?  This applies to all of us, young or old, married or single, parents or not. 

But in particular, what does that look like in parenting?  There is plenty that could be said, I’m sure, but I just have two main ideas. 
  • I was thinking about you Brenda as a new Mama on my way home from Friday school. 
  • I was thinking about the preeminence of Christ in all things. 
  • I was thinking back to when my kiddos were younger, and simultaneously considering conversations I’ve had with friends with grown children and lessons they’ve learned along the way. 
  • Melanie had mentioned to me earlier in the week that there was no devotion planned. 
  • In my swirling mind, two main thoughts kept resurfacing and I wondered if maybe God was wanting me to share them today.
  • I called Melanie and she welcomed the idea…I’d like to ask God to bless these thoughts and encourage us all with them.

Let’s pray. 

A) Brenda, first I want to encourage you to remind yourself regularly that Chloe ultimately belongs to God.  She is His workmanship.  She’s made for His glory.  And God in His wisdom and providence has entrusted her to you and Aaron to raise her up.  Your job is to daily point her to Jesus. 
  • Live before her in a way that demonstrates your belief that this is His world and He rules it. 
  • Teach her about Him creating a good world, the rebellion of mankind and the gracious love of the Father to send His son to redeem us. 
  • From her earliest days, read God’s word aloud to her and delight yourself in Him before her eyes. 
  • Let her hear you sing His praises.
  • Pray with her and for her every day.
  • Let her see you and Aaron forgive each other and move forward in faith and love. 
  • Seek the wisdom of God together. 
  • And even though it is true that only God can change hearts; only God can give faith to our children; aim for her heart.  Pray for her heart. 

Does behavior matter?  Sure.  But in your directing and correcting, point to Jesus.  If your concern is only outward behavior, check your heart for pride.  You may have fallen into thinking that your children are YOUR workmanship created for YOUR glory and that you can control them if you just apply the right methods. 

The truth of the matter is, Chloe will sin at times.  She will misbehave.  The question is, will you respond with anger because your pride is hurt or will you respond with compassion that reminds her of her need for the blood of Jesus to wash her clean?  Will you shout the message “how could you?  I haven’t raised you to do stuff like THAT?”  Or will you humbly come alongside and strengthen her weak knees as a fellow sinner saved by grace? When she is resistant to your pleading, and your corrective efforts, will you faithfully plead with God on her behalf?   

And the truth of the matter is also that Chloe will for behave well at times.  Will you remind her at those times that God is at work in her, and how thankful you all can be that He who has begun a good work in her has promised to complete it?  Will you pause to give praise to God together?  Or without one thought of Christ will you burst with pride, seeing her as a reflection upon yourself?  I dare say there is a difference between being pleased and being proud relative to our children. 

Another way pride sneaks into parenting is when we get fixed on our own plans instead of submitting ourselves to God’s.  We can see our children as assets or obstacles to OUR plans.  When we’re running late, and our child fills her diaper to overflowing just as we’re finally heading out the door, how do we respond?  Do we REALLY believe God ordains ALL things that come to pass?  Can we trust Him with the “blowouts” of life?  Can we trust His grace to be sufficient when OUR sleep is disrupted repeatedly?  I had to wrestle that demon to the ground again recently…night after night sleep was interrupted by boy wheezing, dog barking, girl bleeding, restless husband elbowing and more… after a number of days I was feeling pretty justified in being put out by it all…easily irritated, barking at the kids, the whole gamut.  Then in mercy God made me aware that the problem was pride…wanting MY way, not submitting to HIS.  The problem was not REALLY the kids, the husband, the dog, or the shower fixture that made a loud bump in the night.  I became so set on MY need for sleep that I was forgetting that God is fully capable of giving me the grace to live on interrupted sleep.  Once I repented, it was yet a number of nights before I was given sweet uninterrupted sleep again, but I quit being irritable and started trusting God to strengthen me.  Pride gets in the way of the preeminence of Christ so lose it whenever it finds you.

B)  The second area I want to encourage you in Brenda relates to fear.  You and Aaron will make so many choices as you raise Chloe.  It can be mind boggling and it started before she was even born, didn’t it?  You understood from the moment you discovered you were pregnant that how you took care of yourself would affect her, right?  I bet from the getgo that discussions about what kind of diapers to use, schedule feeding versus feeding on demand, and so many other things started to matter to you in a way it never did before because now YOU were going to be responsible.  

Then here came sweet Chloe into your arms…and questions began to flood your sleep-deprived mind (Facebook status’ while you were still in Holland kept us all informed J):
  • How do you get her to sit in a car seat without screaming?  
  • What do you do when she’s clean and fed but she won’t stop crying?  
  • And that is just a tiny tip to this decision-making ice berg! 

Everyone around you has opinions galore; advice asked for and unasked for, but in the end you and Aaron have to make the choices.  It can be scary and overwhelming at times. 
  • Sometimes you have to make decisions on the spot.
  • Sometimes you can take time to think it through. 
  • You love this little one SO MUCH and you don’t want to do her wrong. 
  • Let me encourage you to live by faith, not fear. 

Fear will paralyze you; faith with equip you with all the grace and armor you need.  Remember that it is God who gives life and it is God who redeems.  Remind yourself that He draws straight blows with crooked sticks every day so He can use people like you and me.  It is NOT by your choosing perfectly that Chloe will fare well, it is by His grace.  Remember that He loves her perfectly, and you can rest there whenever fear rears its ugly head.

That is not to say that it doesn’t really matter what decisions you make.  God does use means.  He will use you and the choices you make in Chloe’s life.  But we are to make those decisions in faith, not fear.
  • By all means, consider your options.  It isn’t always clear to us but we can trust God to direct our steps as we search for answers.
  • Prayerfully seek out and benefit from the experience and insights of others in the covenant community.   
  • Most of all, do not forget to ASK GOD for His wisdom, my friend.  He tells us in the 1st chapter of James that as we come to Him in faith and ask for wisdom, He will give it liberally and without reproach.  Whether we are searching His Word, hunting down info on the internet, or interacting with believers, we need the discernment that only God can give and He promises to give generously to those who ask.  Though I listed this last, do not think of asking God as a last resort…think of it more like breathing…you need to ask often to live. 

I was thinking about when Paul laid in my arms in the hospital, non-responsive.  It was a minute by minute choice to trust God rather than cave to fear in those long hours.  Sometimes the choices we make don’t have so much to do with a fork in the road decisions to make (should we use cloth or disposables?), but choices about how we respond in the situations we face which in turn teaches our children how to respond.   Bekah has had nose bleeds, significant in number and volume, from the time she was little.  Certainly there have been many decisions regarding her care, but also decisions of response.  We began to believe early on that God in His wisdom has ordained these in her life and ours to draw us closer to Himself, and to mold us into Christ’s image, and He has.  People who have witnessed Bekah bleeding tend to make comments about how composed she is, and she really is.  She doesn’t panic.  She trusts.  We trust.  We pray and we sing and we wait upon the Lord to stop the bleeding in His timing, and we seek medical intervention when she bleeds too long.  It is God’s grace at work in our life that we haven’t panicked, but rather chosen to calmly pray aloud for God’s healing and help to trust Him.  Fear will rob you of the amazing opportunities to trust the sovereign goodness of God, and to point your children to Jesus when hard things hit in their lives and yours.  But faith lets you hold unresponsive boys and comfort/care for bleeding girls without doubting the goodness or power of God, and God grows you all in the process. 

Brenda, we rejoice with you and look forward to seeing how God will work in and through you and Aaron and Chloe for His glory.  Good bye pride; good bye fear…hello glory.  May God bless you richly as you walk with Him in faith.  Thank you for letting me share a couple of thoughts with you.
                                                                                                                                               

Love,
Connie

Saturday, April 21, 2012

CAN DO

When my girls were far younger, one of the silly books we liked to read from the library was called The Can-Do Pigs.  We all enjoyed that these pigs made no excuses...they just figured out how to get the job done.  They, after all, were the amazing "can do" pigs. 

Well we're not pigs, but I welcome their fictionalized can-do influence showing up years later.  I enjoy seeing my children look for ways to overcome.  Yesterday we met for Latin class in tighter quarters than we usually do.  Was there any complaining?  Nope!  All the kids that meet up for our Friday school just rolled with it.  I love that!  Then mid-way through Latin we decided to do our 5 minute Korean gymnastics routine, again in a tight space, and again no complaint, just energized bodies in motion.  In fact, we started talking about the Can-Do Pig story and how if we just modify an exercise or two, we can still do it.  And we did.  We could have made excuses like "there isn't enough room."  We could have whined throughout the day about how many people were trying to do school in a little house.  But God is at work.  We are HIS workmanship.  And as we gave thanks to Him for a place to meet and the opportunity to learn, He continued to make us into can-do kind of people. 

My kids are great examples to me of looking for what we CAN do.  For example, we're not rolling in extra moolah at our house and yet we want so much to help Christians be able to afford to adopt.  It has been my kids that have been the big brain-stormers...thinking of how we CAN host or help with garage sales, we CAN arrange a fund-raising candle party, we CAN collect pop cans, we CAN communicate encouragements along the way, we CAN CAN CAN do lots of little things.

I told you last time about my trip to Florida.  I totally would have never thought that trip was possible, but God made a way.  He is definitely a CAN DO GOD!  He opens the doors He asks us to walk through.  But we need to listen to Him and be willing to trust Him, to take the steps towards those doors that perhaps look closed. 

Our oldest daughter suggested awhile back that we go visit our friends, the Niemans, in South Korea.  I've never been out of the country.  Ever.  My first response was NOT "can do."  But after many conversations and prayers, we have decided that for MANY reasons, we would really like to try to make that trip next year. That seems HUGE to me. The thought of going as a family simultaneously frightens and excites me.  God is stretching me, and I am so very thankful.  I have played life very safe, sitting on the side lines far too long.  He's called me and my family to be in the game.  We really are HIS workmanship and He tells us He has created us for good works.  Where's the mission?  What does He want us to be doing?  Let's live this life to the fullest, trusting Him and following wherever He leads.  If He is leading us to visit S. Korea as part of our mission, let us donne the trust hat and go. We know that if God has this for us, He is able to open all the doors.  As God enables, we'll keep walking in that direction.  We want to be in the game.  We want to be can-do people.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The joy of seeing my friends in Florida...


Last month I got to hang out with these dear friends in Florida.  Yes, that's right.  This home-lovin' Oregonian who hadn't flown in 18 years braved the journey so that I could hug and kiss on a handful of little ones who are no longer orphans, and spend some time with the families God had chosen for them.  Our family has had the incredible pleasure of being a part of our Father's work of setting the solitary into families over and over again for 11 years! 

"A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation. 
God sets the solitary in families." ~ Ps. 68:5-6a

"The Lord watches over the strangers;
He relieves the fatherless and widow." ~ Ps. 146:9a

For the past couple of years, we have been specifically working alongside four families in the Tampa area.  We know the Shubins in the video above originally from here in Oregon. Now they live in Florida and God has continued to grow our friendship despite the miles between us.  They, and three other families in their church, began the adoption process and God gave us a heart to want to cheer them on in whatever ways we could.  Via emails and skype and phone calls and fundraisings, our hearts were all knit together in the process.  After all the kiddos came home, my hubby very sweetly took a week off of work, planned a week of fun activities with our three children, and sent me off to Florida so I could have some face to face time with all these folks.  I split the week, spending part one at the Shubins and part two in Ft. Lauderdale with my nephew Arthur and his family.  What a week!  What a gift! 

The adoption journey is just the beginning.  God has been pleased to graft 3 children into our family and now we get to experience the grand adventure of living the day to day together.  The same is true for these families, and I count it a precious gift to have them as friends.  

I have a number of pictures to share.  Here I am with a portion of the Shubin clan on "the other west coast."  I got to visit the true East Coast with my nephew later in the week when he kindly drove me over for the sunrise...thank you Arthur :-).  This beach had beauty all its own, and the company I enjoyed was fantastic, but I'll take the easy-on-the-feet sand of Oregon's coast lands over the itty-bitty-ouchy-on-the-feet shells of the other west coast any day.  Just sayin'.

 We hung out around the house a lot,
playing games, jumping on the trampoline, coloring, etc.
It was just good to be with these friends, whatever the activity!

Erica, bless her heart, took me to an Amish Ice Cream store.
After sampling almost everything in the store, this became my new favorite:

On Sunday I got to meet Mrs. B in the flesh!  What a treat she is!  
When I grow up, I want to be like Barbara 
because she wants more than anything to be just like Jesus. 
We were partners on the cheerleading team...
what should we take on next Barbara?  
We make a good team, don't you think? 

Meet the four adoptive Mama's...from left to right
 Rachel Walser, Melissa Maser, moi, Christy Waulk, and Erica Shubin.
I love these gals!

Right after church, Zahra (Shubin) and Abby (Walser)
grabbed handfuls of the remaining communion bread.
I found them giggling in a corner, munching away
and they let me join their little party.  
These two are SO MUCH FUN!

Speaking of fun, the party continued after church at the Shubins!

Karis (Waulk) is a hoot!
A few Sandra Boynton books later, she had warmed right up to me :-)

The last of the four to come home and the last for me to meet
was precious Caleb (Maser)...his smile melt my heart!
And those dark, handsome eyes!  
What joy to see him HOME in his family!
 
It was a wonderful trip and I am so grateful
for these families,
for my family who sent me to see them,
for the privilege God gives to love and be loved.
 
Now it is a new day.
New choices to make.
God entrusts us with time, talents and treasures...
Let's put them all to use lovingly for His glory!