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Friday, December 14, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected

Psalm 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."  For many, many years I only lived in the first part of that verse.  My story was hope deferred.

I was 35 years old when I walked down the isle and married the love of my life.  At that moment I truly lived the whole verse of Psalm 13:12.  I had the tree of life.  I am reminded daily that God not only fulfilled His promise by giving me Jacob to share my life, but He went FAR ABOVE anything I asked or imagined.  Jacob is my one true love, my soul mate, and my best friend.  We were so thankful that God brought us together.

Over the past year and a half, I have realized that my story was never just "hope deferred" but it was a story of redemption.  All those years of waiting were redeemed when I married Jacob.  And now, I can see how God is continuing that story of redemption. 

If your heart is like mine, it is forever seeking more.  We had each other, but we wanted more--we wanted children. Last December, we found out that longing was fulfilled.  We were pregnant!  Then a few days before Christmas, I was in the ER and losing the baby.  My heart was truly sick, and I was angry with God.  I struggled to understand why God would give and take away so quickly.  I struggled to understand why this was a part of my story.

Fast forward through about 6 months of deferred hope.  Earlier this summer, I got another positive test.  We had barely got the good news that it happened again.....this time we knew not to go to the ER.  There was nothing that could be done.  The doctors all said it was normal....that my chances of still having a baby in the future were good.  We prayed for understanding and for healing for our hearts. 

During this time, God began to work in our hearts on the issue of adoption.  He specifically used a Sunday message where 3 couples from our church shared about adoption.  After the second miscarriage, we truly began pursuing this together in our conversations.

It just so happened that a few weeks after our second miscarriage, Jacob and I heard about a sibling set of 3 that were up for adoption from the foster care system.  Their story immediately tugged at both of our hearts, and without a doubt God prompted us to pursue them.  And that's what we have been doing for the past 7 months.   We've been in a long, hard, and complicated process of getting these kids.

Well, today we officially can say, we are going to be parents.  Within the next week, Ethan,  who is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed 4-year-old boy and his 3-year-old identical twin sisters, Gracie and Hayley (also of the blonde-haired and blue-eyed variety) will be in our home and care.   

The kids on their first day of preschool.  
God has been doing some crazy, amazing things that we just have to share.  First, God connected me to a group of women that are all adoptive moms.  Each week, I have been going to Bible study with them and they have loved on us and walked us through this difficult process.  They've been absolutely invaluable to our journey.  They, along with a few close friends, have been praying for us through this process.  

Our prayer team especially held the ropes for us in November.  November was a hard month.  The month started on a very surprising note.  On November 8th, we found out I was pregnant.  This should be great news, but we were a little freaked out because six days later Jacob's employer, Hostess, closed it's doors and laid off about 18,000 employees.  God graciously allowed Jacob to keep his job as part of the wind-down team, although at the time we didn't know how long he had.  This happen days before the staffing to determine the kid's placement, and having a job is pretty important to the agency! 

As we entered December, Jacob and I really felt attacked on several levels.  It's not exactly a "sane" idea to adopt 3 toddlers, while pregnant, and be unemployed and uninsured.  There was a lot of pressure on us, and a lot of that pressure was financial.  So, we of little faith, set about making a plan of how WE were going juggle all of this.  You see, we'd forgotten God didn't need us to help.

In the last week, HE has proved that to us.  First, Jacob started getting some interviews after no activity for months of trying.  He had two interviews last week, which was encouraging to us.  The next day, we found out "inadvertently" that we were chosen to be the kids parents.  This news had to be kept quiet as the last few pieces of paperwork were done.  Knowing was such a relief though (and a reality check).  Later that night, we were invited over to dinner at the home of the leader of my adoptive mother's group.

When we got there, she said that the reason she invited us over was to find out our needs.  She said that although not everyone is called to adopt, we all have a responsibility to orphans and need to participate in the ministry of adoption.  She said it was our turn to receive some help from those around us.  We gave her a list of our needs--everything from a minivan to sippy cups.  After a minute she told us, "We've already had one donation that I'd like to show you."

We followed her through her laundry room and she opened her garage door and there was a minivan.  What?  Jacob and I were in shock.  A couple in our church were going to sell this minivan, and Amy told them our story.  She thought we might be interested in buying it.  They prayed about it and felt God was leading them to give it to us instead.  Um, wow!!!!  THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW US!

Jacob and I cannot even tell you how this one act totally lifted pressure off our shoulders.  This was such a huge need and expense that we now didn't have to worry about.  What an amazing God we serve!  This tangible need was met by our God through the faithfulness of His followers.  (A very cool side note to this--Amy and her husband were one of the three couples that shared about adoption almost a year to the day before that got us praying about adoption.  We didn't connect those dots until that night!)

So in the course of one week, Jacob had some good job leads, we found out the kids were coming our way, and we were given a minivan.  Wow.  We were overwhelmed by His provisions. 

This week has been more of the same.  On Monday Jacob got a job offer!  Not only does it pay better, we will also have an uninterrupted salary and uninterrupted health insurance.  Two more HUGE burdens were lifted off our shoulders.  The next day, we had our second ultrasound.  We got to see the heartbeat and hear that our miscarriage chances have dropped to 5%.  We are continuing to trust God to protect this baby.  I am currently 10 weeks along and due on the twins' birthday in July!

Then today we got the official news the kids are ours.  We started letting our prayer circle know the news.  A few minutes later, Amy texted us and asked if we could meet her at Old Navy.  We were out shopping for the kids, so we said sure.  She surprised us again with the Church's generosity.  Another church in our community contacted her to see if there were any needs for adoptive and foster families in our church.  They had a huge drive and had extra gift cards to share.

Again, we were overwhelmed.  With the gift cards from this other church, we were able to go shopping and get the girls (who want to dress alike) a whole new wardrobe.  Then Amy asked if we wanted to go to Target.  Again, through gift cards from the Church, we were able to get some much needed things for the kids--towels, sippy cups, mattress pad covers, pajamas, and hangers.  In addition we have had many people give us gifts for the kids, give us some gently used toys, and some clothes as well.

God has poured out His blessings on us through our church, friends, and prayers of His people.  And the thing is, it's not about us.  It's about HIS glory.  He has known all along that He wanted Jacob and I to live a better story.  Although I will always grieve the miscarriages, I see now how God used them to bring about a bigger story of redemption.  He has redeemed our losses, and we pray that we will be able to help Ethan, Hayley, and Gracie to begin living their story of redemption as well.

Whether you have known about this for a while or you just made it through this post, thank you for your support.  We have been sooooo blessed by the love and support of our friends.  Thank you to everyone who has given us things and helped us meet the tangible needs of the kids.  We have had so much to buy we were overwhelmed with it all.  We really don't know how we could have gotten this far without your help either!!!   

We hope our story has encouraged you.  If you're in a "hope deferred" valley or a "longing fulfilled" mountain top right now, please remember that God is there with you.  He does have a plan and it is good.  One of my favorite quotes says it this way:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

Walk with God in faith.  Trust Him.  He has an amazing redemption story for your life. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloud Atlas: Review and "Cheat Sheet" for First Time Movie Goers

Thursday night is date night at our house, and we always try to catch the newest movie.  Last night we choose the almost 3-hour epic film, Cloud Atlas, that features an ensemble cast of big names, including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.

We went into the film knowing nothing other than it had something to do with reincarnation.  The film was beautiful to watch, confusing, and had a "where's Waldo" element as you figured out which Hollywood star was under all the cosmetic and prosthesis makeup.  (This was fun but also confusing, too, as we weren't sure if the actors were suppose to be reincarnated versions of themselves or not.  More on this later.) 

Although we spent a lot of movie confused, we had a good discussion of the film over dinner later that night.  We decided we did like the movie.  There are a few cautions, however, I'd like to add before anyone goes to see it on this recommendation.  (We don't recommend that it's for everyone!) 

First, there is a good reason for the "R" rating.  (We didn't realize it was "R" when we went.)  There is brief nudity (female front, male back) and two or three sexual situations.  These were not long but graphic enough to make you want to look away.  There is also quite a bit of graphic and bloody violence.  That was what I found the most disturbing.  I do not remember language being a huge issue.    

The movie does contain the overarching theme of reincarnation.  However, the "reincarnation" plot line didn't seem to be done from a religious point of view.  Rather, we thought the reincarnation element was making a statement about humanity--how we repeat the same story throughout history.  In each of the story lines there was a struggler seeking freedom from oppression, a villain, and a savior (someone that helped the struggler attain freedom). 

I do like movies that make you think.  However, I don't like when you have to watch a movie several times to "get it."  This is one of those movies.  (Even at matinĂ©e prices, re-watching can get expensive.)  So, if you want to see Cloud Atlas, I would strongly suggest knowing a few key things before watching the film.  I feel this will cut down on distractions and help make the whole movie more enjoyable--the FIRST time.   

Below I have a Cheat Sheet to the movie for those of you that still want to see it.  I have done my best not to spoil anything.  If you want a purist view of the movie, stop reading now!
  • The movie focuses on six main story lines interwoven throughout the three hours.
  • These plot lines are centered around six characters or "the struggler" that have a shooting-star or comet-like birthmark.  
  • This birthmark seems to indicated that he/she is the same "soul" reincarnated throughout time.  In each lifetime, the "soul" has a unique struggle against oppression--sometimes causing big ripples of change and other more insignificant ripples. 
  • In each of the six plot lines, the birth-marked person has a tangible connection to their former life in some way.  (Explained below)
  • Chronological order of the plot lines:
    • The first storyline is in the early 1800's and it follows a lawyer involved in slave trade named Adam Ewing.  Ewing (played by Jim Sturgess) has the birthmark.  He writes a journal of his voyage that is later published into a book called The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.
    • The second story is about a 1930's musician named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw).  He writes a series of letters to his lover, Rufus Sixmith (James D'Arcy), as he works on composing the Cloud Atlas sextet, and piece of music that is later recorded.  Frobisher's character has the birthmark and is shown reading Ewing's book mentioned above.  
    • The third plot surrounds a 1970's journalist named Luisa Rey (Halle Berry).  Rey has the birthmark, which is seen by Frobisher's old lover, Sixsmith.  This discovery leads him to entrust in her a story.  She agrees to meet Sixsmith, but finds him dead atop of love letters from Frobisher.  His murder leads her to investigate corruption connected to the local nuclear power plant.  She also reads the letters written by Frobisher and seeks out the recording of the Cloud Atlas sextet.  She ends up writing a mystery book called Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.
    • The fourth story, set in modern-day England, focuses on the aging and unhappy, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), who is a owner of a small publishing company.  He has the same birthmark.  We see him reading the Half-Lives manuscript written by Rey (above) on a train ride to hotel where he is hiding out from creditors and mob-like crooks.  He finds out he is tricked by his brother and the "hotel" is actually a nursing home, where he is held against his will.  He, along with three other residents, plot and escape from the home.  He later writes a best-selling novel about his escape that is later made into a bio-pic movie.
    • The fifth story is centered on the birth-marked, Sonmi-451 (Donna Bae), who is a Fabricant--a genetically-engineered clone, who was bred to work in a fast-food restaurant in a capitalist, totalitarian Korea (now called Neo Seoul) in the far future.  When she is inadvertently awaken by another clone, she is shown a clip of Cavendish's biopic.  This movie sparks in her friend a revolt against her "owners" and leads to her death.  Sonmi is left behind, and through the help of rebel commander, she escapes her enslavement.  While on the run, she is lead to question her existence and the treatment of her kind.  She then goes on to lead a revolution. 
    • The final plot line takes place about 100 years after the fall of Neo Seoul.  It follows one tribe that lives in a low-tech Hawaii and is focused around Zachary (Tom Hanks) who lives a cursed life because of earlier cowardliness in life.  The people in Zachery's tribe revere Sonmi, and believe her to be holy.  Occasionally, the tribe is visited and studied by a technologically sophisticated people known as the Prescients.  One of these women, named Meronym (Halle Berry), comes to live with the tribe in hopes of finding a guide to city steeped in local folk-lore.  Meronym is looking for the old city to send a message to another colony in a far-off plant. 
Since the same actors appear as different characters in each of the six plots, it can get distracting.  I found myself trying to link each of Tom Hank's characters, for example, together through reincarnation.  This was the wrong tactic and confused me.  Rather, viewers should focus on the ONE soul with the birthmark as the same soul, although played by different actors of different ages, races, and genders.   

If you can remember that the slave-trading lawyer Ewing, the composer Frobisher, the journalist Rey, the publisher Cavendish, the clone Sonmi-451, and post-apocalyptic Zachary are all the same person, you should understand the movie a lot easier than I did the first time.  You can also see the growth of that soul better, as well as the universal plight to overcome oppression or control.

If you see the movie, let me know if these plot elements helped!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review of "The Casual Vacancy" by JK Rowling

I am a Harry Potter nerd to my deepest core.  The series, which I have read probably 20 times, is comfortably seated on the throne as my all-time favorite fiction book(s). 

Naturally, I was very excited to learn that JK Rowling was penning another book--and adult novel called The Casual Vacancy.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband surprised me with a copy of the book.  I was very excited by his thoughtfulness, and immediately jumped into the novel.  

My first impression--literally of the cover--was disappointing  The bright red and yellow colors and the cheap graphic was off-putting.  If JK had not been an award-winning writer, I'd never picked up this book on it's own merit.

This should have been my first clue.

[Disclaimer: If you don't want to know anything about the book and read it unbiased, you might want to stop reading at this point.  The following is my take on the book.]

After diving into the book, my husband asked me if I liked it.  "Um....I'm not sure yet.  It's still too early to tell.  Not much has happened yet."

Then the next day he asked me again.  "So, are you liking the book better now?"

"Um....well....not really.  There are a lot of characters that I am trying to keep straight.  Nothing's really happening yet.  She is still introducing characters."

Then the next day, "So?  Any better?"

"Well, there is a lot of bad language in here.  It seems unnecessary.  The character's names are confusing and she has nicknames for half of them too.  SO I re-reading the same parts several times to figure out which character it's talking about.  And I am still not sure what it's about so far."

This type of dialogue continued for days.  Each time my husband would inquire about the book, I would find myself giving JK Rowling the benefit of the doubt.  "Well, I am going to finish it before I make a judgement."

I really wanted to like it. 

I just finished the book, and I can confidently say that if it has been any other author, I would have thrown the book away by now.  It really was that bad.

Here are a few of the reasons that I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone to read: 
  • Unnecessary Vulgarity:  The language was really bad.  Really, really, really bad.  The adults and the teenaged characters, alike, had mouths on them that would make a sailor blush.  There were teenagers calling their parents all sorts of vulgar names that I won't even allude to here.  The parents not only beat their children, there was ample amounts of cursing too--and some to children were as young as 3 1/2.  It was too much for me.  Some might argue that I live a sheltered existence and this "gritty" language was necessary for "realism."  Well, that isn't "real" in my world, and I don't think it added anything to the story. 
  • Sexual Situations:  Thankfully, she wasn't graphic in her descriptions (watching cable TV might be worse than what was described in the book), but so many of the things were unnecessary.  It seemed to be added just to be added.  Most of the comments or situations didn't add anything to the storyline.
  • Hideous Characters:  This is a big complaint, for me.  I know JK can write amazing characters with depth, humor, and uniqueness.  I can only hope she purposefully wrote these characters as flat and one dimensional.  Seriously, there is not ONE likeable character in the book.  Each character was so horrible that, by the end of the novel, I could care less what happened to any of them.  My hope is that they were written that way on purpose.  [Note to any potential authors out there--it's hard to keep a reader reading if they hate everyone in the book.  We need someone to care about, cheer for, or at least tolerate.]
  • A Weak (at best) Plotline:  This, too, was the major disappointment.  The whole time, I expected her to bring forth some profound or amazing story or in some way redeem at least one of the the smutty, fowl-mouthed, and unlikeable characters.  Sadly, 503 pages later, I am just as confused as to the point of the book as I was when I first started it.  
In summary, I am grossily disappointed in the book.  I am a fiction-reader.  I can excuse language and even some sexual situations when there is a strong story and redeeming characters.  Or if those things added to the plot in an important way.  There were neither in this book.  Her over-use of fowl language seemed to be used "because she could" or to mark a strong distinction between this book and Harry Potter.  It cheapened her writing, in my opinion.  The plot-line, if you can call it one, was so weak that I would have never finished the book if it had not been JK Rowling writing it.

The only thing I could take away from this book is that maybe she was trying to turn a light on the real life struggles of children that live in poverty and the cycle that is created as a result.  She may have been trying to get "polite" society to realize that their private lives are not that much different than those that live in the "projects" of our towns.  That the public "sins" of the poor are just as bad, if not worse, than the private "sins" of the privileged. 

However, I am really stretching to find any good in the book.  Honestly, the best thing in the book is my Jimmy John's receipt I was using as a bookmark. 

If you still want to read this book, I would beg of you to at least check it out of the library and don't waste your money.  Or I have a copy I'd sell you.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Carb Free Tacos

It's taken me about 35 years to admit something: Carbs are not my friend.

Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly.  My, oh my, how they also LOVE me.  So much so, they NEVER leave my side!  Or my butt.  Or thighs.  

So I have been looking for ways to eat less carbs and less (or no) processed food.  After about two days of carb withdraw, the subsequent foggy-head feeling has passed.  I actually feel really good.

Tonight I made one of Jacob's favorite meals--tacos.  This time I went the no-carb route, and I wanted to share the "recipe" with you.  (Okay, so I use the term "recipe" loosely.  I don't really measure out my ingredients but let my pallet do the talking.  I'll give you my guidelines, how is that?)

My husband LOVED them and said it was one of his favorite meals I've cooked!  The crisp lettuce really did make us forget about the carb-heavy shells or tortillas!  Here is a picture of one of his tacos:


You'll need:
1 lb. hamburger meat (or ground turkey)
2 hearts of romaine
1 ripe large avocado (or 2 small ones)
1-2 onions
Garlic
Limes (or lime juice)
Cilantro
1 large tomato

To make the Salsa:
  • Dice up one large tomato   
  • Finely dice 1/4 to 1/2 of an onion (more or less to your taste)
  • Add 1 tablespoon garlic (more or less to your taste)
  • Add 1-2 sprigs of roughly chopped cilantro
  • Juice of one lime 
  • Salt and pepper
  • If you want a spicy salsa add freshly chopped jalapeno 
  • Stir and then refrigerate until meal time.  The longer the better it will taste!
To make the Guacamole:
  • Place the "meat" of your avocado in a bowl. (Set the core aside for later.)  Mash the avocado with a fork until most of the large chunks are mashed well.  
  • Using a cheese grater, grate about 1/4 of an onion into the mashed avocado.  (Trust me on this.  It adds flavor throughout this way.)  Stir in well.
  • Add about 1 tablespoon of lime juice.  Add a little salt.  Mix well.  
  • Add about 1/3 cup of freshly diced tomato and mix.
  • Place the avocado seed in the middle of the guacamole and cover with a lid.  Do not eat the core, but it will help your guacamole from turning brown from the exposure to air!  
  • Refrigerate until mealtime.  The longer the better it will taste!
Clean the Hearts of Romaine:
  • Just pull off the leafs of a heart of romaine.  
  • Wash and dry each leaf well.  
  • I selected the best leafs for my "taco shells." Those were the ones the most "boat-like" and had no tears in the leafs.  
  • Keep them refrigerated so they crisp up until time to serve the meal. 
Brown your meat:
  1. Finely chop about 1/2 an onion--more or less to your liking.
  2. Begin sauteing the onion in about 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil.  I used butter.  (It added some richness to the meat, I believe.)
  3. Add the raw hamburger meat to the onion to brown.  
  4. Add salt and pepper to the meat mixture.  If you want more of a "taco seasoning" flavor you can add additional spices.  (Because the prepackaged seasonings have carbs and unknown additives, we like our meat seasoned only with salt and pepper.)
  5. Drain excess fat and serve.  
There they are!  It really is very easy!  Of course you can add cheese, sour cream, beans and other things to your meal, but we found the fresh guac and salsa complimented the delicious hamburger meat perfectly!

Hope you enjoy!

   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Always Fall Asleep Holding Hands

Last week I was really tired.  My husband, who is a night owl anyway, told me to just go ahead and go to bed without him.  He said he wasn't tired, and wanted to stay up a little longer. 

Minutes before, I was falling asleep on the couch, but once I got in bed, I couldn't sleep.  I tossed and turned, but sleep wouldn't come.  What was the deal!?!

Most nights--okay every night--we go to bed at the same time.  Each night, Jacob and I always send a few minutes talking before we go to sleep.  We laugh.....Jacob tells jokes that aren't funny and gets annoying songs in my head.  Sometimes we talk about more serious things or pray together.  No matter what, though, his face is the last thing I see, and his voice is the last think I hear before I fall asleep.

And we always hold hands.  

That simple act has such an impact on the soul.  So much so, that without him next to me, I couldn't sleep.  What a wonderful "new normal" we've created.  I love that I need him next to me, holding my hand, before I can fall asleep. 

I love how God has knitted our hearts together.  Jacob makes me a better person.  He makes me feel safe, protected, and cherished.  And he makes me feel loved.  I can't imagine this life without him by my side.  I love him so much.   

I want to encourage all my married friends to do one thing: tonight, fall asleep holding hands. 




Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Room Makeover for under $10

Jacob and I have been married just over a year, and we have slowly redone the house.  Two rooms were left, and I've been "pinning" away trying to find something to do.  I loved the look of wall decals, but they are so expensive and you can't easily customize them. 

This weekend we found a $3 solution that turned out GREAT.  We decided we wanted to do a travel/map theme in one of the spare bedrooms.  Jacob used to run a travel company, and we have a lot of friends that serve overseas.  We'd already painted the room using $7 Oops paint from Home Depot.

After searching online, we found a simple image of the continents that we cleaned up in Photoshop.  We owned a overhead projector, but I know that's not common for most people.  You can easily rent one from most public libraries, or your local church or school might load one out.  So after projecting the image on the wall, we traced it with pencil.

Using an Elmer's paint pen we purchased for under $3 at Wal-Mart, we traced the pencil lines in white.  Wal-Mart had a great selection of individual colors or you can buy color packs for about $10.  They are located in the craft section.  Other craft store do carry these.  When selecting your pen, take into consideration the thinness of the lines you're tracing.  We used a medium point pen, but for more detailed work you may need a smaller tip. 


We LOVED how the wall turned out.  Here is a picture of the finished product.  The best part is that it cost us $3 to do this, and if we didn't like it, we could just paint over it.  We would be out only $3 and not the upwards of $50+ for a wall decal.   


We decided to do this same process but in another room.  I wanted to see if words would be as easy, so I selected one of my favorite quotes.  This time I found one online that I liked instead of doing our own in Photoshop.

After projecting it like in the other room, I traced the outside of the words. (It's a little hard to see, but that is the point....don't want it to show through!


Then I started at the top and filled in the image.  It's important to hold your pen in an angle so the paint flows out easily.  I also tried to start at the top and work my way down from the left to right.  For the most part, I had no issues getting the paint to come out smoothly without drips.


About half way through I did have to get the paint "restarted" by tapping it on a paper towel until the paint flowed out again. 


I don't consider myself a super artsy person, but this made me look like I am!  Here is the finished product.  It looks great and was super cheap to do!  I think I will take $3 over the expensive wall decals any day!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Waiting on God

Below is a passage written by Christian author, Elizabeth Elliott, on waiting on God.  I've always loved this passage.  When I was single, this was something that spoke to me as I waited on God to bring me a husband.  Now that I am happily married, the next stage is waiting for kids. 

Waiting is a universal issue, though.  Waiting on marriage.  Kids.  New Job.  It seems I am always waiting on something, and I think that is the way God built us.  Waiting makes us hungry for something more.  We're meant to yearn, to desire more, to draw near.  The question is, what are you yearning?  What do you desire?  What are you drawing near to?

Our pastor is doing a series on false gods.  Basically a false god can be anything--even a very good thing--that replaces the BEST thing, God.  What are the things you are waiting for?  In your desires, have they replaced the BEST thing?  Those are questions I am struggling with myself.

Anyway, this passage is a great reminder for me in any period of waiting.  It keeps my focus, too, on the One leading more than the long winding path. 
   
The truth is that none of us knows the will of God for his life.  I say for his life—for the promises is “as thou goest step by step I will open up the way before thee.”  He gives us enough light for the day, enough strength for one day at a time, enough manna, our “daily” bread.  And the life of faith is a journey from Point A to Point B, from Point B to Point C, as the people of Israel ‘set out and encamped in Oboth.  And they set out from Oboth and encamped at Iyeabarium, in the wilderness…From there they set out and encamped on the other side of the Arnon…and from there they continued to Beer…and from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab.’

So far as we know, nothing happened in these places.  Oboth, Iyeabarium, Arnon, Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth mean nothing to us.  They traveled and they stopped and they made camp and packed up again and traveled some more and made another camp.  They complained.  There were so many complaints that even Moses, who was a very meek man, could hardly stand the sight of these who God had called him to lead.  But all the time God was with them, leading them, protecting them, hearing their cries, goading and guiding them, knowing where they were going and what His purposes were for them and He never left them.

It is not difficult when you read the whole story of God’s deliverances of Israel to see how each separate incident fits into a pattern for good.  We have perspective that those miserable wanderers didn’t have.  But it should help us to trust their God.  The stages of the journey, dull and eventless as most of them were, were each a necessary part of the movement toward the fulfillment of the promise.

This may only be a stage in life’s journey, but every stage is a gift.  God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving.  This gift is for this day.  The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived—not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner.  It is today for which we are responsible.  God still owns tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alabama Fire Crackers

My husband and I love to entertain, but some months money is tighter than others.  We don't want that to be an excuse, so we've found some cheap and delicious party finger foods to serve to our guests.  These are a favorite of ours and our guests.  

Serve Alabama Fire Crackers with cheese (we like a variety, but try some smoked cheddar!) and these simple (and cheap) crackers will add a punch to any party!  


Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups vegetable oil  (Don't use Olive Oil--they will be too greasy!) 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 (1 ounce) envelopes ranch dressing mix
  • 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (Depending on the freshness of the flakes, adjust this to you heat factor.  1 tablespoon of fresh flakes was spicy!)
  • 1 (16.5 ounce) package saltine crackers

Directions 

Place the vegetable oil, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ranch dressing mix, and crushed red pepper flakes in a 2-gallon (or larger) plastic zipper bag. Seal the bag and gently shake/move with your hands to thoroughly combine the oil and spices. Place the crackers into the bag, seal, and turn the bag over to cover the crackers with the spice mix. Let the bag sit for about 1 hour, then turn again. Repeat several more times until the crackers are well-coated with spice mix, and allow the bag to sit overnight. Remove crackers and serve.

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    You Reap What You Sow


    This photo was making its rounds on my Facebook feed the other day.  It's profoundly true--relationships just don't happen.  We reap what we sow.

    This idea of "reaping" and "sowing" is an archaic one for most Americans.  We go to the store and buy our fruits and vegetables--never putting a seed in the ground and waiting for it to grow.  That's sad really, because the illustration of the principle of reaping and sowing is so powerful.

    Both of my sets of grandparents were gardeners.  They taught me this lesson in tangible ways, but I know this applies in all areas of life.

    Principle one:  You reap WHAT (or in kind) to what you sow.  In other words, if you plant a corn seed you should NOT expect watermelon to pop from the ground.  Anyone, even those without a green thumb, would understand that.  So why do we not understand that in other areas of life?  If you want deep, meaningful relationships, you have to sow time, patience, and friendship.  You can't go about your life investing only into yourself and expect to have real and authentic friendships.  It's like expecting a watermelon to grow from a corn seed.  What you put in, you will get out.

    Principle two:  You reap LATER than you sow.  This is not an overnight process.  When my grandparents planted their garden a lot had to happen.  They had to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, and water it daily.  The sun, soil, and water had to work together.  The seed had to die, actually, for the plants to establish roots.  It was not an overnight process.  It took months for there to be any fruit of their labor and time to show.

    Likewise, our relationships with people take effort.  LOTS of effort.  It is not passive effort, either.  It is intentional effort--preparing the "soil" of your heart for healthy relationships, planting the "seeds" of relationship by investing what you want to reap, "dying" to oneself (putting your interests behind others), and "watering" through investment of time.  This principle is true of romantic relationships and also platonic friendships.  For a large and healthy crop, we have to invest our time into people.

    Principle three:  You reap MORE than you sow.  One little seed will yield a large crop.  By planting one tomato plant, my grandparents would reap dozens and dozens of tomatoes.  The investment in the one seed will reap more than you can imagine.  This is a great principle as long as you like what you've sown.  All three of these principles are true whether you are sowing GOOD things or NEGATIVE things.  If you sow selfishness, you will reap that in return as your relationships fall apart.  Likewise, if you sow friendship and love, you will reap a harvest of that in return.      

    Last week I got to reap some of the harvest I'd sown in college and beyond.  My good friends, the "N" family, came to visit.  I invested my life into Susanne (and she into mine), and now I am encouraged by her friendship and marriage.

    Then my two best friends from college, Dana and Natalie, surprised me with a visit as well.  If you've read my previous posts, you will know I've miscarried twice in the past year.  They knew I was feeling down and wanted to encourage me in person.  They took time away from their families and drove 5.5 hours to come see me for the weekend.  I got to reap some of the time and encouragement that I'd sown into them over the years.

    TRUE heart friends are my harvest.  I know, though, the harvest didn't just happen.  I am reaping what I have sown.  I did and am continually intentionally investing in what I continue to sow, knowing that in time I will reap the benefits of it.

    Good relationships just don't happen.  It's true.

    What are you sowing right now?  If you don't know, look at what you are reaping.  If you don't like what you are reaping, ask yourself what you need to sow to change that.

    Relationships--an investment into people--is, in my opinion, one of the best thing you can sow.  It might mean giving up things you like or time you would normally spend on yourself, but I know what the harvest will be.

    And I know I need more of that in my life.

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Lego Gummy Snacks

    I love all things gummy--bears, worms, fruit shaped.  I recently ran across this recipe for homemade gummy "fruit" snacks and thought it would be fun to make these.  Plus you can make all your favorite flavors and skip the ones you don't like! 

    Ingredients:
    1 (3 oz) package gelatin, any flavor
    2 (.25 oz) envelopes unflavored gelatin
    1/3 c. water

    Directions:
    Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved.  Pour into molds and allow to set at least 20 minutes.

    But what shape to make them?  After doing a quick search, I found these amazing lego-shaped fruit snacks!  My husband loves Lego's.  Although we don't have kids yet I might have to make these just because they look so fun!


    I found instruction on how to make the Lego mold here.  Below are some pictures (from the tutorial) of the mold-making process.

    First build your structure. 


    Pour the silicone...it looks like a candy syringe or tool might be necessary.


    After setting, your mold is ready to make Lego fruit snacks!!


    I think the whole thing looks so fun to make.  Once the mold is done, you can use it again and again!  This would be great for kids' parties, special gifts, or just for all the Lego geeks you love! 

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    How "Mike" is Stealing the Real "Magic" From Relationships

    If words could cause a black eye, I think I would have one good shiner.  

    Recently I posted an article on Facebook that spoke out against the movie Magic Mike and books like Shades of Gray.  This topic has gotten a lot of chatter in my circles lately, so I wanted to try to post some thoughts on the subject.  

    You can't pick up a magazine, turn on the TV, or even breath air without hearing or seeing something about Magic Mike.  As of last Sunday, the movie about a male stripper teaching a younger performer "how to party, pick up women, and make easy money," had already grossed $39.1 Millions in box office sales.  That's $39.1 MILLION in its first 3 opening days.   

    Disclaimer:  I have not seen the movie.  Usually I don't respect people who make over-generalized statements on something they've not experienced, read, or seen.  So I post these opinions as that--opinions based on a limited knowledge of the movie itself.  However, I feel I know enough from the interviews, news articles, advertising and marketing campaigns to know why they want me to see it.  It is also important to note that I am a a person that follows Christ.  That means I try to live my life according to my understanding of the Bible.  I pray.  I attend church and small groups that discuss Jesus.  Therefore, my world view has that as the foundation.  At the same time, I want to be clear that I am not perfect.  I don't have all the answers, nor will I ever.  I am simply someone in constant pursuit of knowing God more.  This post is directed primarily (but not exclusively) at those that also identify themselves as Christ-followers (i.e. Christian, believer, or follower).  I hope that all that take the time to read it will at least walk away with something to think about.

    So, what is so wrong with Magic Mike?   

    Many Christians think that watching movies like Magic Mike is just harmless.  I disagree.  In the book Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, Laura Steep, a Washington Post reporter, interviews young women about the emotional effects of “hooking up.”  Hooking up, according to Steep, eludes a neat definition. It can be anything from an innocent kiss to sexual intimacy.  

    For many years, it is safe to say that men have viewed sex and sexuality in a disconnected, purely physical act.  Porn, for the most part, was focused on men. ( I believe porn/views of pre-marital sex is an issue for both Christian and non-Christian men).  Finding a godly man (that was also a virgin) is more and more rare.  Many women, although virgins themselves, usually don't expect their future husbands to be sexually pure as well.  Things have shifted, and now it is just as common that the guy and the girl have had previous sexual relationships, and if not, many of them engage in it before marriage.  

    Generally, it was women that held onto the sanctity of sex.  Women that "put out" had the bad reputation while male counterparts were considered studs.  There has been a double standard for years and years.  Since the 60's sexual revolution and women's liberation movement took root, however, the divide between male and female standards of purity and sexuality has drastically decreased.

    We now live in a culture where traditionally "male" issues with pornography and sexual promiscuity are just as rampant in Christian women's groups.  The difference?  I know that Christian men are being taught how to avoid these sins.  They are asking their brothers to keep the accountable.  They put filters on their computers.  They don't go see the movie.  More than anything, though, they admit there is a problem

    Well, thank you Magic Mike.  Now we have a very popular movie that sheds light on this subject.  Christian women--married and single--are flocking to this movie with doe-eyed innocence.  They don't see the double-standard.  They don't see the problem.  This is NOT a new issue, people.  It's been growing under the surface and now we have fruit of generations of changes.  

    Lloyd Kolbe, who formerly served as an adolescent health director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the majority of adults interviewed avoid talking about early (first) loves.  Kolbe says, "We demean first love, deny it, trivialize it, and so our young people trivialize it.  We lose the opportunity to talk (to young people) about real things, like the difference between lust and love."

    Adults clammed up and didn't talk to their kids about how to date.  So, television shows, popular culture, and media started speaking up.  Over time the shift happened.  According to Urban Dictionary, "Hooking up has replaced mainstream dating....It's no longer, 'OMG! When will he call?' but...'OMG, that was awesome, I wonder when he'll ask me out after [last said hookup].'"  
      
    Add in popular, "award-winning"  tv shows like Sex in the City and "hooking up" is down right glamorous.   

    So now, romance, monogamous relationships, and dating are seen as messy and time consuming.  Young women (and men) postpone love--or worse--see it as pretty much impossible.  A good number of women get physically or emotionally beat up by the new dating scene.  Even the Christian young women may feel pressure to engage in physical relationships because "if I don't, he will find someone that will."   

    The result is a generation of young people who don't know how to date or where to turn for help.  A young women Stepp interviewed says it this way, "A girl can tuck a Trojan in her purse on Saturday night, but there is no such device to protect her heart."

    Stepp goes on to quote William Beardslee, a psychiatry professor at Harvard University.  He says a girls are too quick to believe that they can't be hurt when engaging in this type of activity.  "The big issue for me is it's hard to believe that true sexual intimacy is unconnected from personal intimacy.  These young women need to be careful not to fool themselves."

    Stepp describes the stories of these scantily clad coeds who keep count of the number of guys they have slept with--many complete strangers.  Although these girls avoid anything more than the "casual" hookup, Stepp shows that, in fact, they become emotionally involved anyway.

    It's not just an innocent movie.  You can't just "casually" watch men strip without being affected.  Always, your mind and heart is involved. 

    Magic Mike is a symptom of a much deeper issue.  It represents so much that is wrong with our relationship culture today.  Men AND women are going to things (books, porn, or hooking up) to meet a need that is meant to only be enjoyed in the confines of marriage.  If we take nudity (even partial nudity), seductive dancing (meant to elicit physical excitement), casual non-committed sexual relationships as entertainment and then also expect solid, good marriages, we are deluding ourselves. 

    "Surpriseingly little research has been done on what kinds of relationships leads to good marriages.  But the traits that characterizes good marriages are firmly established and include trust, respect, admiration, honesty, selflessness, communication, caring and, perhaps more than anything else, commitment," writes Stepp.  "Hookups are about anything but these qualities."

    How is watching another man strip firmly establishing trust, respect, admiration, selflessness, and commitment to your spouse (or future spouse)?  It doesn't.  When we let outsiders into our marriages, relationships, and thoughts, we are eroding our relationships with those we have a covenant relationship with.   Comparison is our natural response: Man, my husband doesn't look like Channing Tatum.  I wish he would work out more.  I wish he would say "x" to me like that.  I wish...  When we compare our husbands to fiction, they will lose almost every time.  Discontent will build, and marriages will fall apart. 

    As women, we should be especially understanding of this issue.  Female nudity is rampant.  I don't know many women who would like their husbands looking at other women and then comparing them to that ideal.  Moreover, it steals from our relationships the power of true intimacy.  There are things that should ONLY be known by my husband.  That is a special and unique gift I give to him.  If it is shared with the world (literally, like in Magic Mike) how can the wives of these men still feel special.  The whole world can see what is meant for only them.     

    Intimacy is meant to be between husband and wife exclusively.  Bring in outsiders--through books, movies, internet, porn, or fantasy--is dangerous at best.  The Bible is much more black and white on the issue.  Matthew 5:28 says "if anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  Obviously, this is true also for a women.  The Bible is very clear on this subject.  The principle remains true whether you are single or married.  (If you are single, you are still to remain pure for your future spouse.)


    I know many think this a dooms-day response.  It's JUST a movie, and I am here, like Chicken Little, screaming, "The sky is falling!  THE SKY IS FALLING!"  
     
    In Psalm 1:1 (NIV) it says:
     
    "Blessed is the one
         who does not walk in step with the wicked
    or stand in the way that sinners take
         or sit in the company of mockers," 

    There is a progression here.  First is walking.....then standing...then sitting.  You go from a passive acceptance to being emerged in it.  Alicia, a women interviewed by Stepp, put it this way:  "Once you've trained your mind...your habits linger."   

    I believe there are numerous scriptures and reasons that we shouldn't see the movie.  Almost more than that, though, we need to go to the root of the issue--the real problem.  As women that follow God, we need to address this hook-up culture.  We need to talk to our daughters and the women we disciple and ask them if they are struggling with pornography, sexual sin, or lust.  We need to admit there is a problem and address it in a God-honoring way.  If you are a women who is struggling with these issues or have made mistakes in the past, do not lose heart.  Please find someone you respect and talk with them about it.  It's not just a "male" issue anymore.   
     
    Stepp summarizes the gravity of the issue well,  "The need to be connected intimately to others is as central to our well-being as food and shelter.  In my view, if we don't get it right, we're probably not going to get anything else in life right." 

    We need intimacy with God.  We need to protect our intimate relationships with our spouse.  The whole of life can be boiled down to our relationships--with God and with others.  Let's take a stand against movies and books that endanger these relationships.  Moreover, let's talk to those people God has placed in our lives and ask the hard questions and encourage one another to God's standard.

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    Facebook Response to Magic Mike Post

    So I posted this blog on my Facebook wall yesterday, and went to lunch with friends.  When I checked FB again, there were 30+ comments.  I was really shocked by the reaction.   

    Facebook is not the place to really have huge discussions, so I decided to move my reply here.  If you're not a FB friend of mine, then my reply might not make a ton of sense.  I am planning to write a longer, more detailed response to this issue later.  


    For those who were in the conversation, here is my take on some of the discussions from yesterday. 


    So I have purposefully not responded to this post because most of the time I believe the saying, “it is better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” is truly the best way to go.   I slept on it and feel that I do want to say a few things.

    First of all, I read a blog post yesterday, and I like it.  So, I posted it on my wall.  There was no motive behind it other than sharing information that I liked.  I know Facebook is not the platform to debate hot topics, and I am honestly shocked at the response the post got.  Controversy, shamming, judging, etc., was truly NOT my intent.  That being said, the post struck a nerve and I want to address that.  

    I totally agree that female pornography has become more and more of an issue over the past 10+ years.  It is something that is just as dangerous to our marriages and families as “male” porn.  I don’t think, however, understanding of what makes things “porn” for women, or even talking about it has been addressed much in the church.  I think a lot of women (especially younger Christian women) really don’t even know it is “bad” for them—or how our American culture has influenced us.  (I can say that tt has influenced me more than I realize, at least.)  I do believe there is a problem that we need to address.

    HOWEVER, I do not think it is my personal right as a Christian to condemn each and every women on the planet.  I believe there is ONE Judge and that is Jesus Christ.  I can merely play the part of a witness.  A witness is called to a specific case.  I don’t just walk into any courtroom and say I am here to be a witness against the accused.  However, if I have involvement in the case—I know the people, the actions, etc.—I can then witness to the issue at hand.  Basically, I feel I am called to correct, encourage, and teach the people in my sphere of influence.  I need to have a relationship with them for the correction to be heard in a redemptive way.  Why should I listen to some random person that doesn't know me or my situation or history?  That is why we have the most impact with people that know us, and we know them.  

    Yes, I can also do my part corporately by taking a stand and not putting my time/money into things like this movie.,  And I can lovingly engaging those I know by explaining why I don't want to see it.  Better yet, I can proactively give people a choice.  Where are all the believers that are ALSO amazing artists, musicians, movie-makers, or fiction authors?  Am I trying to use my God-given talents to offer alternatives?   

    Look, I am not perfect, nor will I ever be.  I have read and seen things I regret.  I, like, oh, pretty much everyone, have my blind spots to my own sin.  I need people to be a witness for Jesus in my life--not act as His personal judge and jury.  I need people to care more about my true spiritual state more than about being right or arguing their point.  Again, I think there is a problem and we do need to address it.  I am just asking for us to think about how we do that.  Asking yourself, “What is my motive for speaking up?”  Is it to just be ‘right,’ Or is it for redemption?”  If it is truly for redemption, what is the best way to bring about that redemption? 

    I am still fleshing out my thoughts.  If you care to continue the dialogue here, please comment below.  I will also try to post again on this topic more fully.  Just know that if I engage you here or in person, it's out of love.  For now, I'm going to enjoy my weekend.  Hope you do as well!