Thursday, July 2, 2015

June in our Home: In Pictures

This month's update will be in pictures.  I just got a nice camera before we left for Portugal, and I have been loving it so much!

Here are some highlights from this month, in pictures.

Hudson got his first haircut this month.  Here is a before picture:
And here is after...
Whoops.  Botched that a bit.  In my defence, Hudson was squirming too much to do it the "right" way, so he just ended up getting more or less a bowl cut.  Alex says he looks like this:
We also moved into our new house this month.
 And met some of our new neighbors.
(That's a bison.)
Settling is taking longer than I would thought, so I haven't taken many pics of the inside yet, but here is one of our entryway.  Please come visit if you haven't yet.
The first week of June we were in the Azores, Portugal visiting family.  Here is Esther swinging in the yard of our hotel.
And here she is exploring flowers at a huge royal garden on the island.
Too many beautiful flower pics.
And Hudson being cute.

I have tons more vacation photos (about 2000 to be exact) so I hope to post more eventually!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thought on the coming persecution

Friday's supreme court decision has really thrown me for a loop.  Not because it was unexpected (it wasn't) but because it has really gotten me to think about persecution.  And for as much good as I logically know persecution does for the individual and the Church, I'll be honest, it scares me.

In the coming years, we are going to see two things happen: churches who preach against homosexuality will be in danger of losing their 501(c)3 status and speaking against this sin will become a hate crime.  The first will cripple many churches financially, and the second will cause many faithful Christians to be sent to jail.

But the government will be generous.  If only a church will refuse to preach the whole counsel of God and bow instead to government regulation, they will be allowed to continue on.

This reminds me of Christianity in China.  Churches can either be government registered, and have to follow government rules about what they can do and teach, or they can be independent (and therefore, illegal) and worship God without government regulation.  Pastors of illegal churches are often thrown in jail.  Meetings have to be secret and there is always the thread of intrusion by authorities.  You see, the Chinese Government wants to be god.  And churches that dare bow only to the True God and not to the Chinese god feel the wrath of this human institution.

Even more, this reminds me of early Christianity.  Early Christians were persecuted in large part not because they worshiped a different God (the Romans had a whole pantheon of gods and didn't mind adding one more) but because they refused to worship the god of the Roman government: Caesar, the one god they were required to worship.

Reading in Daniel this morning, I was struck by two verses.  The context is an uprising by a major enemy of God.

"He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder" (11:32-33)

And what is the final end of this enemy of God and his people?

"And he shall come pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him." (11:45)

So let us stand firm on the Word of God and not fear.  Let us not be man-pleasers and conform the Bible to what is currently popular and accepted.  In the end, there is only God.  The US government, and all governments will have their end in time, but He will not.

Sorry SCOTUS, nice try thinking that you have the power to define marriage.  There is only One Creator of marriage, and He created it to be for one man and one woman.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The End of a Sprint

The end is in sight.

We started on a sprint back in February. That month, we started raising money for the community garden we hoped to build.  Around that time, I took on responisbilities for two big events at church.  In March, we started looking for a home to buy, and made the decision to travel to the Azores, Portugal at the of May to see Alex's family (he hasn't been there in 27 years, and I have never been there or met most of his family).  In April, we broke ground on the community garden (and once we started, Alex worked 30-50 hours per week on it, and it took the majority of my free time as well).  In May, our sprint hit a fever pace as we started packing for our move, finished enough of the community garden to get it open, called our loan company often enough to make sure they got things done in time for our closing, closed on our house, and packed suitcases for our trip to the Azores.  All of this was on top of church and home responsibilities that were already keeping us quite busy before the sprint started.

But you can't sprint forever.  And the end is in sight.  Our vacation is almost over, and while it was relaxing in many ways, as is usual at the end of a vaction, you look forward to getting back to normalcy.  When we get home, we will have three days to finish packing and move into our new home.  So one last push, and we will be finished with the majority of the work we embarked on a few months ago (we still need to finish some things on the garden, and then of course there will be the work of making our new house a home).

But God has been very good to us in this very full season.  All of these potentially stressful things could have caused difficulty in our marriage, but instead, it has strengthened us as we have worked hard side by side.  God used this time to strengthen my prayer life (which is still so, so far from where I want it to be) as I have sought to emulate the example of George Mueller who found it necessary to devote more time to prayer in difficult seasons, when our temptation is to pray less.  And we have both felt God's sweet blessing in many ways, as he has made our community garden vision come to reality, allowed us to visit family that we have been trying to see since we got married almost 7 years ago, and given us our first home (even though we know its just temporary, for the next 4ish year we are in Bloomington).

Here are a few pictures from our vacation.  I definitely plan to write more about that (it was absolutely wonderful!) so look for more to come on that.

Alex and Esther walking down a beautiful cobblestone sidewalk.

Behind Hudson is a picture of a small island created by a volcanic eruption.  It is hard to see in this pic, but in the middle is a lagoon, almost perfectly round, the mouth of the volcano.

Hudson on the beach.  The sand is very dark, made from volanic rock.

Beautiful flowers in front of a beautiful waterfall.  I think I have several hundred pictures of flowers from our trip.

And espresso.  Lots of espresso.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Materialism and Asceticism

I can't stop thinking about this blog post I read today.  I recommend reading it, but to sum up the author says that she was concerned about materialism in her two daughters and after getting fed up with their toys, she took them all away.  As a result she has seen more contentment in her daughters' lives.

On one hand I totally get where she is coming from.  When we first became parents, we went from 0 to 4 kids in two weeks, all of them under age four (they were a foster sibling set).  We were incredibly blessed that many people stepped up to give us hand me down clothes and toys for our kiddos.  In fact, within a few weeks we had 4 full bins of toys!  I tried my best to rotate these toys but they always managed to take over the house.  When the kids were reunited with their mom, we sent the vast majority of the toys with them.  Since then I have continually been reducing the number of toys we own, and keeping fewer toys out at a time when we do toy rotations (or at least I try... sometimes the number of toys around the house seem to multiply despite my best efforts).  Having fewer toys around helps keep me sane and the kids really don't seem to notice (especially when I do a good job of rotating).


There is one thing that concerns me about this idea.  Taking away your kids toys is not going to stop them from being greedy.
"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2:20-23 (emph. mine)
So taking away your kids' toys to help them be less materialistic?  Maybe if they don't have toys they appear less materialistic and more content.  But setting up these regulations in their lives will not stop the indulgence of the flesh.  Only the Holy Spirit can change your children from the inside out.

Pray for His mercy and soul cleansing work in your children.

And maybe you should take away their toy or at least get rid of a good number of them.  But don't expect that to save or sanctify them.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We did it!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who was a part of our kickstarter campaign for the community garden we are building!  With just 6 hours to go yesterday, our campaign received full funding.
Our future garden site!
Part of me feels relieved, like we can just kick back and relax now.  But actually, the opposite is true.  The hard work is over, now the really hard work starts.  Now that the funding is in and the weather is warming up, its time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on building this thing.  Today a big truck is going to back up to our tiny apartment and deliver enough 8' fence to surround the whole garden, along with two 8'x6' gates.  In the next few weeks Lord willing and weather permitting we are going to be building and installing a fence, a shed, water pipes and a new spigot, compost bins and raised bed gardens, among other things.

Did I mention that at the moment Alex and I own a hammer and power drill and that's about it for tools?

But we are not alone in this effort.  Some forty people have already offered help (and I hope they were all serious because we need it!!).  And God raised the money, God can raise the fence.

Will you please pray for us?  This is possibly the biggest project we have ever embarked on.  Pray for patience, wisdom, enough help, good weather and fun.  Lots of fun :)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 6, 2015

My Late Winter/Early Spring Meal Plan

This past winter I decided to simplify life by making a 3 month meal plan, a 4 week plan that I would repeat 3 times.  It went very well over all (I didn't follow the plan 100% but it worked for us) so I decided to make a new plan for the next few months.

My main goal with this meal plan was to try some new things, and like last time, include at least one crock pot meal per week and meals that I can double and freeze.

I have included links to recipes where applicable.  Some of these are things I make often enough that I don't use a recipe.

Week 1
1 Hamburgers with sweet potato fries and carrot sticks
2 Sri Racha Meatballs (made with beef, not turkey like the recipe says) with Asian sesame-lime cabbage salad
3 Crockpot Chicken Enchillada Soup with warm buttered sourdough tortillas (I make half of this recipe)
4 Mujadara (I recommend doubling the onions.  Also, the site says it serves 4-6 but I would say it serves 2 adults and 1 child if it is your main dish).
5 Pizza with sausage, olives, mushrooms and bell peppers
6 Brazillian Fish Stew

Week 2
1 Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
2 Tuna Melt Sandwiches
3 Meatloaf with French Fries and Steamed Broccoli
4 Fried Rice
5 Chicken Pesto Pizza with carrot sticks
6 Fish Tacos (all you midwesterners probably think this sounds weird.  I did too until I lived in Cali and now I know fish tacos are the best!)

Week 3
1 Chicken Gyros with Hummus and Veggies
2 Spaghetti and meatballs
3 Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala
4 Thai Peanut Stir-fry
5 Pizza with Sausage, olives, red onions and mushrooms
6 Chipotle Salmon Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries

Week 4
1 Burritos
2 Quiche
3 Crockpot Sloppy Joes
4 Curried Alaskan Salmon
5 Pizza with Pepperoni and Bell Peppers
6 Pesto Pasta with Salmon Fillets and Steamed Broccoli

Bonus: desserts
I don't really plan ahead for desserts very often, but here are a few I plan to make in the near future

Five ingredient peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cups

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Our Community Garden Vision

Six months ago, Alex and I had a crazy idea.  What if we started a community garden?  We already knew the location: our church has over 200 acres of land and we were hopeful they would let us use some to start the garden.  And we felt like this would be the right place to serve our community, as it is right down the street from a very large low-income apartment complex (with lots of international students and young families).  It would be a great way to build inroads into our community and be of practical service to our neighbors. Around this time we also found out about a new bike path that the city was building right through this same area! This would be another draw for people to garden on this land.

But there were some major hurdles to be cleared: coming up with a proposal and blueprint for the garden, getting it approved by our elders, raising the money for materials and gathering people to volunteer to help build the garden.  Did I mention that we know almost nothing about community gardens?  I visited a community garden that my friend had a plot in while we lived in California, and last summer I had a plot in a garden on the other side of town.  But... that's pretty much it.

We worked hard coming up with a proposal (and by "we" I mean Alex as he's done most of the work on this whole thing).  And finally it came time to propose it to the elders.  We really didn't know if it would be approved or not (among other barriers to it being passed, our church gets much needed money from renting out our currently unused acreage to a farmer).  And to be honest, I almost didn't want it to pass... I knew it would be a lot of work on our shoulders if we had to turn this dream into a reality.

It passed.  And I prayed for strength from God to carry this increased load.  But though I knew it would be hard work, I was also excited to have something so big to trust God for, to depend on him completely for.  It has been a while since I have had to do something where I thought "If God doesn't move in this, then this is going to completely fail."  While that is a scary place to be, it is also a place where you get to see God move the most.  As George Mueller once wrote "Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends."

[Side note: I highly recommend reading The Autobiography of George Mueller.  This is one of my favorite books as it is very faith building and challenging]

Since the proposal passed (and that was just two months ago), we have been working on various aspect of this project almost daily.  We read a book on how to start a community garden and started a kickstarter campaign. We started to spread the word about the garden and have about 10 plots filled and 40 people willing to help build!  

I find that I am being amazed daily with how God is working.  Raising up 40 volunteers?  This is at least double what I could have hoped for.  Just this past weekend he put us in touch with an organization that is probably going to donate the fruit trees we need for the mini-orchard we are hoping to have in the garden.  And just today we passed 50% of the funds we need through our kickstarter campaign.

Will you join us in this work?  Would you consider:

1. Praying for us.

2. Sharing our kickstarter campaign on your social media of choice.

3. Giving to our fundraising campaign.  We have just one week left to raise up the last of what we need.

Thank you!