Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Digging My Own Cistern

I have been receiving Kay Warren's daily video devotions about choosing Joy. In today's video, she discussed Jeremiah 2:13, which says, "'My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water'" (NIV).

She offers this illustration: Imagine you're in the desert. You're hot, tired, and thirsty. Suddenly, you see a kiosk off to the side, and you see Jesus there offering you water. But instead of taking the water and quenching your thirst, you say, "No, I got this" and you start digging your own cistern.

As a person who always likes to be in control, this is such a great verse to ponder.

While this verse is pointing out that the Israelites chose to do it their way rather than God's way what I love about it is that God's way is obviously so much better. God offers a spring of living water while what the Israelites dig are cisterns. When I think of a spring of living water, I think of fresh, flowing, cool water.

When I think of a cistern I have in my mind this cistern that was outside our dorm at boarding school in Africa. It would collect rain water, but then that water would sit there. Algae would grow on the sides of the cistern, and a nice green scum would coat the top. Leaves, grass, and dirt would fall in and rot in the water. The water really didn't smell so fresh either. It was by no means a place where you would want to quench your thirst.

So if  would just stop trying to take control over every situation and give that control to God, look at the wonderful, better plans He has for me.

When Audrey gets sick, instead of worrying and trying to control every aspect of her life in MY attempt to make her better, if I would give that control to God, He will take care of her.

Instead of trying so desperately to control my future, I need to rely on God, and He will show me where He wants me to be 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

When I'm feeling down, instead of complaining or trying to drown my sorrows in chocolate or my favorite TV show, I need to turn to God.

How much better and more joyful would life be if I gave him the reins instead of so foolishly yanking on them myself?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Faith

One of my Facebook friends started a thread about faith recently which has elicited some thought provoking - and surprisingly civil - comments from many. I found it interesting that I came to Hebrews 11 in my Bible reading today.

Hebrews 11:1 - "Now FAITH is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see" (NIV). One commentator I read suggested that "substance" is a much better translation of the original language instead of the word "confidence", but I rather like the word confidence. The word confidence reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman who goes about her life with confidence. She has faith. She knows that no matter what she will spend eternity with Christ.

I want to live with that confidence because of my faith.

Hebrews 11 goes on to give examples of people in the Bible who truly lived out their faith. Abel was faithful by giving his very best. Being faithful in giving is one of the best things you can do. This is one of the only areas where I feel I have been consistently faithful to God. And I'm not pointing it out to be applauded but only to say that giving to Him what He asks us to give is a step of faith, yes, but it is also a chance to observe His faithfulness.

By faith, Noah in his old age built the ark God told him to build and built it to God's exact specifications. I can't grasp how much faith this would have taken. Imagine being Noah...an old man in the middle of an arid land that rarely, if ever, saw a drop of rain being asked to build a boat. And not just a little row boat but an enormous ark. I can just imagine it: as Noah started his project people probably gathered around to watch out of curiosity. I wonder if he told them outright what he was doing when they asked him what he was building. If he did, they would have scoffed at him. As the boat began to take shape, I'm sure the ridiculing mounted. After some time passed, though, I bet people just ignored him with a shake of their head: "Looks like our neighborhood crazy man is making progress on his boat."

What would I do if God asked me to do something for him and that something earned me the ridicule of all of my friends and neighbors? And not just ridicule for a day or two but for years? Would I obey?

Abraham trudged up a mountain with his son, all the while knowing he was about to do the unthinkable, yet it was the unthinkable that God had asked him to do. He kept going, one foot in front of the other, in faith.

But God would never ask me to sacrifice one of my children, right? We don't offer sacrifices to God in that manner anymore because of what Christ did on the cross, right?

Mark and I fully committed our children to God. We committed to loving them and caring for them to the best of our abilities, but ultimately our children are in God's hands. Which is the best place to be.

When I worry about my children, though, aren't I disobeying God's command to place our children in to His loving hands?

Abraham was faithful with Isaac. My constant fears that something will happen to my children outside of my plans shows me to be unfaithful.

By faith, Moses, though hesitant, chose to obey God and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt rather than staying with his adoptive family, a family who could offer riches and freedom to him.

"He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:25-26, NIV).

What if, by faith, I lived a life where I consistently chose the right path even if it meant giving up worldly treasures and conveniences? What if I lived a life where I didn't fear what others' opinions would be? What if I lived a life of perseverance without worry?

What if I lived out my faith consistently?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This is Now

"This is now" (Laura Ingalls from Little House in the Big Woods).

I recently took one of those Facebook quizzes. You know, the quizzes that you probably shouldn't take because by doing so, you're dumping your personal data on to some server on the other side of the country, but sometimes you just can't help it because who doesn't want to know what 80's big hair band you should be in or what sitcom mom you most closely resemble?

So the question on this particular quiz was, "Where do you mostly live: in the past, in the present, or in the future?" I did not have to ponder this question at all. I live mostly in the future. I am a planner. I plan. Everything. I plan school for the day, for the week, for next year. I plan meals. I plan finances. I plan. I plan.

I am also a worrier. If there were trophies for worrying, mine would be on my mantle. And it would be a BIG trophy because I am a champion worrier. And I worry about the future a lot. In fact, a worry that has been on my mind lately is college for the kids. Where will they go? Will I have prepared them enough to get in? Will they score high enough on the SAT? How will we pay for college? With college only three years away, I grant myself some allowance in worrying about it.

But then there is the fact that I worry occasionally a lot about what in the world I am going to do with myself as an empty nester. Since that time is eight years from now, even I roll my eyes at me.

So, yes, I do live in the future. Which isn't healthy.

I've been reading a book by Kay Warren called Choose Joy. I sought this book out because I long to live a life of joy, but joy is often elusive to me. Happiness is not. I find great happiness is many things; I just don't consistently live in joy. Really by its very common definition, I am not by nature a joyful person. I am a glass half full, expect the worst kind of gal, so joy by its simple definition does not fill me consistently. That is why I was so happy to hear Kay label herself an Eeyore. It's always refreshing when a spiritual leader is honest; the honesty makes them so much more relatable.

I love her more defined idea of joy: "Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things."

And I love that she shows that joy is a choice. I have always just thought that because of my pessimistic nature, perhaps a joyful life will always be out of my grasp. But choices? I can make those.

There are so many things to learn from this book, but I focus today on her admonition: "To experience joy on a daily basis, learn what it means to live in the moment." Not for the moment because living for a moment is unhealthy, but live in the moment.

My eyes are so often directed to the distant horizon that I miss the moment.

Psalm 118:24 says, "This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it."

Not that God didn't make all the days past, and not that He is not the author of all the days forward, but this verse says that this is the day. Today. Rejoice in today. Don't worry about the future. Rejoice in today.

I said I was a planner. And I am. I actually love to plan, especially when it comes to homeschool stuff. The problem is - and I hate to admit this - I am much better at the planning and enjoy the planning more than I do the implementation. The action is always the hardest.

And it's easy for me to choose joy. It's easy for me to choose to live in the moment. It's the putting that choice to action that's difficult. I know what kind of person I want to be. It's the allowing God to mold me into that person part that is hard.

Three - just three - things I want to focus on to learn to choose joy by living in the moment:

1. Be thankful. Instead of complaining about everything, be thankful.

Philippians 2:14: Do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Psalm 31:19: How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.

Psalm 100:4: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

So instead of complaining about the incessant winds that sweep across this state, I can be thankful the sun is shining.

Instead of complaining that I have to be TaxiMom tonight and drop three off at three different places at three different times and then pick them up the same way with no time to go home in between, I can be thankful that I don't have to cook dinner tonight, that my kids get some time with friends, and that I get to have a night out with my baby girl.


2. Bring joy to others. Even if it's inconvenient for me. Especially if it's inconvenient for me.

Romans 15:2: Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.


3. Say yes more often. I'm usually "too busy" to say yes to the kids. I need to not as my oldest would say.

Ephesians 5:15-16: Be very careful, then how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity...


I've been farsighted for so long, it's difficult to think of becoming more nearsighted, but I don't want to be someone who regrets the past in the future because I didn't live well enough in the present.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hockey Puck Biscuits & Puke Gravy

This morning I made a favorite for breakfast: biscuits and gravy. Except the biscuits didn't rise like they normally do, rendering them into the overused description of failed biscuits: hockey pucks. And I tried one of Chef Hubby's tricks and put the sausage in the food processor to improve the texture of the meat in the gravy. But instead of pulsing it, I put the food processor on full blast and left it alone for a minute. Mostly because at that very time I had to rescue the hockey pucks from the oven, or they would have been burned hockey pucks. So the sausage, instead of being fine bits of pork heaven, became a pork slurry. I wasn't about to waste breakfast and start all over, so I added the slurry to the gravy. It looked like barf.

And, naturally, one of the kids was kind enough to also point out that it looked like barf.

I've discovered that in this season of my life, it's easy to feel like a failure. I think most moms struggle with this feeling. There aren't many accolades in motherhood. There are no awards, no promotions. And it's so much more personal than a job when you're dealing with your own flesh and blood.

I often say that I'm so grateful that my kids are really good kids in spite of me. And it's true. By God's grace, they really are good kids, awesome kids. But saying these words doesn't make me feel any less of a failure as a mom.

It's definitely harder now that they are older. As a mom of littles, all it takes is a fun sandwich or a paper craft, and the delight that comes over their little faces makes any mom feel like a superhero.

Smily-face sandwiches and glitter don't always elicit such a response from teenagers.

So how can I overcome this feeling?

Well, this morning I pondered three things: Honestly, I'm a mess. Obviously, I'm a work in progress. Clearly, I must fully rely on God.

That last thing is so hard for me because not only am I a perfectionist, but I am also a control-freak. It is hard to fully rely on God. In fact, I don't honestly know what that even looks like. But I so badly want to learn what it looks like.

So, this morning I decided to check in on Ann Voskamp whose blog I haven't visited in forever and whose blog is always so encouraging and full of wisdom. Naturally, there was something there just for me: a post called "When You Feel You're Not Enough." In this post, she shared some insight from author Scott Sauls. Here is what I needed to hear:

We are not called to be perfectly awesome.
We are called to be imperfectly faithful,
because we have been perfectly loved,
liberated, and highly esteemed
by the Most High.

I still can't grasp why God loves me. Why me? Out of all of the extraordinary people in the world, how can God have enough love to also love me?

Despite the fact that I cannot fully comprehend His love, it is liberating to know that He loves me in spite of me. And that He forgives me when I mess up. Which is a lot.

He loves me and forgives me when I'm not as kind as I should be, when I lose my temper, when I don't put as much effort into a task as I should, when I complain, when I worry, when I'm impatient.

I know I still have so much to learn about Him, so much growing to do, but His love and grace is such an awesome comfort...especially when all I have to serve for breakfast are hockey puck biscuits and puke gravy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Blogging...

I keep eyeing that shortcut button to Treasured Chapters that sits on my browser's Bookmark Bar. It occasionally taunts me, really. I've come to the conclusion that I no longer blog for three main reasons. First, I still hold a huge grudge against Google+ for making it so easy for me to inadvertently delete all of the photos from my blog. As a perfectionist, it's difficult for me to continue a project that has holes in it. At least I know I can keep busy during my empty nester years restoring those photos. (Of course, my premature worries about what in the world I will do with myself once the kids have flown the coop is fodder for another post altogether. Or 100 posts. Or maybe just material good for a reclined position on a psychiatrist's couch.)

Anyway, the second and probably most influential reason I haven't been able to pick up my blogging pen much is that it's just not as easy to blog about older kids. Dare I say they don't do things so cutely anymore? That's not to say my joy in sharing life with them has in any way been diminished; in fact, I am enjoying them more now than ever. They are witty and insightful and funny and just a lot of fun to be around. Just not cutesy, which is kinda what I used to focus on.

Facebook wasn't around yet when my babies were babies. I feel like I missed out a little because I didn't get to show off adorable photos of my babies on a daily basis. Of course, that very point serves to emphasize the third and perhaps equally as important reason I've been avoiding Treasured Chapters. I have such a love/hate relationship with any media that falls under the social label. It's hard enough being a patient homeschool mom to four kids and a loving wife to a traveling husband without being barraged by daily reminders from photos and status updates about how incredibly awesome other moms are, what supermoms they are. Of course, they probably think the same about me; we tend to post the highlights of our lives that we think others will admire. It's more difficult to be real and thus vulnerable in front of others. I know from experience that the devil uses this to cultivate a culture of comparison with a huge dose of feeling like you can never measure up.

I'm working on combating the devil's schemes by spending less time on Facebook and other social media. At the same time, however, I feel like time is flying by so very quickly and I'm not capturing enough of those quick moments in a way that I can savor them more fully later.

So I am back with my random ramblings, my photos, and my desire to save these moments in a way that I can better treasure them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I spy...

With a traveling husband and three out of four kids involved in numerous church activities, it's been difficult lately to keep all of my family members all in one place. So when one of our local homeschool groups offered us the opportunity to participate in a Family Scavenger Hunt, I realized it would be best to complete it in shifts so everyone in the family had a chance to be involved.

Last weekend, Mark was away in Europe, and a scavenger hunt adventure afforded us the perfect way to make the time without him pass more quickly. Our adventures took us to Hubbard Park and Castle Craig.

So, yeah, we've been here before (and, coincidentally, on another weekend during which Mark was absent), but the beauty of fall gave us a different experience this time.


It was a beautiful view and a lovely drive up and down the hill upon which Castle Craig sits.




Afterwards, we enjoyed a bit of time on the playground at Hubbard Park.


Oh, and there was a potty stop too.

If you know me, you know I have portopottiphobia and will hold it 'til I burst rather than stepping foot in one of these; however, my son doesn't seem to have a problem with it. I caught the horrid things in black and white; it seems to give them a more sophisticated air, don't you think?

* * * * * * * * * *

This week was a busy one of running one kid here and picking another kid up there. But Mark was home. So, though we were down one kid by the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, we decided to continue the Family Scavenger Hunt.

First, we drove through a small town called Collinsville. A couple of weeks after we moved to the Arctic, I called Mark and told him that I had just driven through the prettiest, most charming little town. You can see why:





Next, we stopped by one of my favorite farms, Tulmeadow Farms. They offer veggies, grass-fed meats, and Amish popcorn. They also have delicious ice cream. But in light of our recent sugar-free lifestyle change, we skipped the ice cream today, and I picked up some popcorn. We're going through the
popcorn quickly!

Today Tulmeadow not only had popcorn, but also quite an assortment of pumpkins.

The next stop on our adventure was Stratton Brook Park.

Stratton Brook is one our favorite places. During the summer, we visit weekly with homeschool friends to enjoy the beach and the lake (which is more of a pond) and to play frisbee.










I've mentioned this before...I love all of the farms in Connecticut! Our last stop was another farm. Flamig Farm is a popular place with its petting zoo and farm store.


We did not enjoy the petting zoo today; however, we did meet some adorable, fuzzy little chicks.


And we appreciated some of the other charm as well:







And then it was back to home sweet home where we've added some charm of our own:

We went a little overboard on Halloween decorations this year...since we're going light on the sweets, we over-compensated by letting the kids go crazy on our front porch. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Just Desserts

Although it seems like a few YEARS have passed, it has only been a week since Audrey and I went sugar and gluten-free. I decided we needed a little "sugar"-free treat today. I chose a tasty fall recipe from Sugar-Free Mom: Low-Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse. Here is the original recipe:

8 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese
1 c. pumpkin puree
1 c. heavy cream
1 t. pumpkin pie spice
2-4 full droppers vanilla liquid Stevia

I followed the recipe. Sort of.

Here is what I did:

*1 c. of homemade cream cheese - It is so easy to make cream cheese! Place about 2 cups homemade yogurt in a bowl with cheesecloth or a tightly woven dishtowel suspended above it. (You can use clips or place the cloth inside a wire strainer that hangs over a bowl.) Let yogurt drain for 1 1/2-2 days. Voila! Cream cheese!

*1 c. homemade pumpkin puree. This is fairly simple as well. First, purchase sugar pumpkins at your local grocery store, farm, or pumpkin patch. The sugar pumpkins are the small ones - not the minis your kids like to paint and not the ones you carve, but the in between ones. A sugar pumpkin will have more meat than your typical jack-o-lantern. Preheat oven to 350. Cut stems off of pumpkins and cut in half so that you have two symmetrical halves. Clean out the guts, saving the seeds to roast. Place both halves cut side down in a baking pan. Roast in oven for 60-90 minutes. Allow to cool enough to handle but don't forget about it and let it sit until it's completely cold. Scoop out all of the wonderful pumpkin "meat". Run quickly through a food processor to smooth it all. I usually make a bunch and freeze it. If I was really ambitious, I would can it. Since I'm more in survival mode at this point than ambition mode, freezer it is.

--Using a hand mixer, thoroughly blend cream cheese and pumpkin together.

*1 c. coconut cream "whipped" cream. This is the first time I tried this. Not sure I did it right, but it turned out OK. Take a can of organic, full fat coconut milk. Place in the fridge overnight. (I have read a couple of different methods; some say to open the lid first, others don't mention it. I left the lid on, and the milk did not solidify, so perhaps you should leave the lid off.) In the morning, the milk should be separated with the coconut water on the bottom of the can and a thick, waxy layer of solid milk on the top. It is a little less than a cup, but that's OK. Take out only the thickened part of the coconut milk. Save the coconut water on the bottom for a smoothie. Using a hand mixer, whip the cream. It doesn't whip into peaks like regular heavy cream (at least mine didn't), but it did thicken a bit.

*2 t. vanilla

*3-4 T. powdered sugar. I actually have vanilla Stevia drops, but I have not mastered the Great Art of Stevia Using yet, and the one thing I tried with Stevia tasted terrible, so I'm just going to let it sit lonely in my cupboard for awhile longer. Audrey is allowed to have erythritol/xylitol. I have some Swerve, which is the texture of finely granulated sugar. To make my own powdered sugar, I placed 3/4 c. Swerve in my Nutribullet along with 1/2 T. arrowroot powder (you can use cornstarch) and blended it. It is my understanding you can do this with any granulated type of sugar. Because my Nutribullet has a smaller container than a blender, I only used 3/4 cup of Swerve. If you use a blender, you would probably need to use 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch.

--Add vanilla and powdered sugar to coconut cream and blend with handmixer.

--Now add coconut cream to pumpkin mixture and lightly blend.

--Chill and serve!

Though I won't win any contests with this photo and certainly won't be hired as a food photographer, here it is:


And, yes, I realize that doesn't really look all that much like pumpkin. My pumpkin for some reason was very light colored. Still tastes like pumpkin, just not very orange.

And, yes, those are chocolate chips on top. MINI ones (that's a mini bowl next to a mini pumpkin...just to offer some perspective). 11 of them. Count them. I know. I may have upset the whole thing with the .001 grams of sugar. I don't know.

Anyway.

I asked Audrey if she gave it a thumbs-up.

She did not.

She gave it TWO thumbs-up!