Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today we arrived in Bloomington, having moved here from California.  We were a bit beat up and battered: our incredibly difficult 4.5 years was topped off by an even more stressful moving process.  The week of our move was one of the hardest weeks of my life.

But after that week we finally got here.  We didn't have a home yet, but God graciously provided one within a few days.  We were fortunate to already have a good, welcoming church, but didn't yet have any good friends.  We had hopes for our new town, new church and new life, but didn't exactly know what to expect. 

When I look back on this year, there is a verse that very clearly describes what God has done in our lives:
"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 5:10-11
Our "little while" was our time in California.  Though painful for 4.5 years, it is but a blink in the light of eternity.  And God is gracious, because after our time of suffering, he has used this year to "restore, confirm, strengthen and establish" us.

A lot has happened in this past year.  We added another member to our family.  We moved twice (with a third move planned for next month).  We made friends, and will say a sad goodbye tomorrow to one of the families we have become closest to, who are making their own big cross country move.  We have grown in our love for God and holiness.  We have grown in our abilities as parents.

But most of all, I thank God for rest.  Not every moment has been easy, but much easier than it has been for a while.  I am thankful for a time of spiritual recovery, as we get ready to jump back into the battle.

Because, as John Piper says, "Life is war".  And times of rest are just preparation to get back into the fight.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Simplified Winter Meal Plan

I have been feeling a need of recent to simplify my meal planning and prep, and in effort to do so I decided to make a 4 week meal rotation that I am going to use for the next few months.  Having my meals for the week already selected makes life much easier.
Photo Credit: Janine on Flickr
I had a few main goals when making this rotation.  First (as usual), I wanted to pick meals that are healthy and loved by my family.  All of these are "made from scratch" as this is healthier and cheaper than boxed foods.  Esther is picky, so mostly I try to pick meals that Alex likes (it would be impossible to please her!).  Alex, like many men, isn't a big fan of soup, but I have soup every week in this rotation because these are all meaty, hearty, yummy hubby-approved soups (I asked!).  We like a lot of ethnic foods (Indian, Thai, Mexican, etc) and this meal plan reflects that.

Secondly, I wanted meals with easy prep, with a focus on crock pot meals.  The hours between nap time and dinner tend to be hard so I wanted to make this easier by picking meals I could at least start earlier in the day.  I find that soup can be made mid afternoon, and left on the stove to be heated up right at dinner time.  Some of these meals I will make 2 pans of and freeze one, or at least double the sauce, crust, etc and freeze it to make life easier next time I made it.  Along the same lines, most of these meals only require one or two pans/pots to be used, which also makes things simpler.  I just can't do a main dish with 3 side dishes... too much clean up, especially right now while we don't have a dish washer!  Lastly, I picked meals that are good winter meals: lots of soups/stews, casseroles, and other hot, hearty meals.

You might notice that I tend to rotate through meats: most weeks I have one dish with each beef, chicken, fish, sausage and one meatless.  I know I'm probably weird, but I just like including each of these in our various meals each week for variety.

A few notes.  First, we have dinner with our small group on Sundays, so I only planned 6 days worth of dinners each week.  At the bottom I did list some ideas for small group meals for when its my turn to make the main; meals that are easy to make in large batches, generally liked by most adults and kids and able to be transported.  Secondly, I linked recipes where I use them on line, but many of these are meals that I make often enough that I don't really use a recipe, I just know how to make it.  But you can always try google or pintrest for some recipe suggestions!  Third, whenever it says rolls, I use an ABi5 sourdough recipe which makes life so easy and seriously fresh baked bread is sooooooo yummy.  Once you go ABi5 you never go back.

So, here it is.  I hope it helps you to simplify your life or at least inspires you to try something new!

Week 1
1 Beef Enchilladas with guacamole (this recipe for the sauce)
2 Crockpot seafood paella
3 Pesto chicken pasta (frozen pesto from last summer's bounty- yum!)
4 Pumpkin Sausage soup with rolls
5 Greek Chicken Pizza (w/ sourdough pizza crust)
6 Spinach and Swiss quiche

Week 2
1 Beef Lasagna
2 Fettucine Alfredo with baked salmon (This recipe for the sauce.  Shh... don't tell bean haters it contains beans.  They will never know.)
3 Crockpot Coconut Indian Chicken (This recipe is so easy I wish I could do it weekly, but I am afraid we'd get burnt out)
4 Beef Chili with rolls or biscuits
5 Sausage, onion, mushroom and olive pizza (w/ sourdough pizza crust)
6 Black Bean Tostadas

Week 3
1 Crockpot Tex Mex Quinoa (with ground beef)
2 Brazillian Fish Stew over rice
3 Crockpot Tiki Masala Chicken
4 Sausage and Gnocchi soup with rolls
5 Pizza with Beef sausage (w/ sourdough pizza crust)
6 Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche

Week 4
1 Beef Burritos
2 Salmon Casserole (like tuna casserole but made with salmon instead)
3 Thai Green Chicken Curry
4 Hungarian Goulash with rolls
5 Sausage, onion, mushroom and olive pizza (w/ sourdough pizza crust)
6 Spaghetti Squash casserole (basically this recipe but with spaghetti squash instead of pasta)

Small group meals: Chicken Enchiladas (this recipe for the sauce but I made the enchiladas themselves differently), sausage breakfast casserole, lasagna or stuffed shells, chicken and dumplings.

What are some ways that you have found help to simplify your meal planning?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My first time protesting at Planned Parenthood

A few years ago, there is no way I would have done this.

Protest at Planned Parenthood, that is.

You see, while I was against abortion in theory, I gave into the typical American thought that abortion clinic protesters are mean, angry and graceless.  I felt that protesting at a clinic wouldn't change people's minds and would just harden people against Christianity.

What changed?

A number of things have changed in the past few years that would bring me to the point of wanting to protest at an abortuary, but probably the biggest motivating factor is how God has increased my compassion for the weak and helpless, and shown me through His word how big of a priority it is to him.  One example (of many) is Deuteronomy 27:18-20.  If you look at the larger context of these verses, God lays out curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience.  Of the 12 specific curses listed, three of them have to do with preying on the weak and innocent.  The number of curses in this category is only surpassed by curses for sexual perversion.

When it comes to defending the helpless and the weak in our day and age, few others in the world are more helpless and weak than an unborn baby.

It helps me to think of it this way.  If there were concentration camps in our country, and it was legal to protest outside of them, would you do it?  There are places as bad as concentration camps in our country.  I stood outside of one today, and at least 10 lives were taken in there this morning.  I cannot keep silent.

But even though I knew it was right to go, I was still a little nervous going for the first time.  What would I do?  What should I say to the people?  Would they get angry or violent?

My heart raced as the first car pulled into the parking lot.  It was a college-aged white girl and her mother.  Before I could say anything one of the other women said "You are a mother to this baby already!  Please, don't do this!  Don't kill your baby!".  And I lost it.  That college girl is a mother.  Its easy to just think of her as a young girl with an inconvenient pregnancy. But no, she is a mother, like I am a mother, and at that moment she is going to end her baby's life.  I was crying and praying for her, praying that God would change her heart, and help her to repent of this sin, and turn to Him and raise her baby to know Him.

After the first car it was a lot easier.  Or did my heart just get a little more hard about the reality of what was happening?  I didn't cry any more, but I did  do a lot of praying.  I prayed for the clinic, and for each woman who went inside and each man who sometimes accompanied her.  I prayed for them to repent of their sin and turn to God.  I thought about how each of them will have to stand before God one day and answer to him for this sin.  And I hope that Jesus' blood will cover each and every one of them for what they have done to their children.  I hope that they will all see their children in heaven one day.

One thing that really saddened me this morning was the racial make-up of the women going for abortions.  Alex and I have remarked a number of times since we moved here on the severe lack of black people we have seen around town.  But today, about half of the women were black.

But why should I be surprised?  The founder of Planned Parenthood was a supporter of eugenics.  She once said, "Colored people are like human weeds and are to be exterminated".  And she would be happy to hear that her vision is still being carried out today: blacks make up 12% of the US population, but account for 35% of all abortions.  At this rate, the black vote in America will be insignificant by 2038.  Some people call it black genocide.

At one point a delivery truck pulled into the parking lot and the driver went in to drop something off.  As she got into her truck to leave, I wondered, "What does she think of us?  Is she cheering us on or mad that we are trying to restrict 'women's rights'"?  As she pulled by me, I was surprised to see her smile and wave.  She called out the window to me (as I was the only person there with a baby in arms) "That's better than any sign you can carry!"  It was a refreshing encouragement.  Maybe I didn't have all of the right words to convince people to turn around, but even just standing there, loving on a baby was an active protest.

No, don't listen to the Planned Parenthood workers.  Its not just tissue.  Its a baby.

Last week I made the phone call to DCS to get us started with getting re-certified for foster parenting. And there is always a little trepidation in my heart with this step.  Will I have the time/energy/ability to love on another little life?  Don't we already have enough on our plate as it is?  But today was a helpful reminder of what is most important in the world.  Defending the weak and needy is important. We want to actively participate in loving and defending those children, whether they are in or out of the womb.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

6 Reasons Why Revelation is My Favorite Book of The Bible

Many people find the book of Revelation confusing, scary and hard to read.  Not me.  Ever since I read it deeply for the first time it has been my favorite book of the Bible.

This is not to say that I understand 100% of the content.  Indeed, I still haven't chosen a position on my view of the time frame of Revelation or of the Millenium (mentioned in Revelation 20) even after a great deal of thought and research over the past 6 years.  But you don't need to know exactly what each detail means to get an incredible amount of insight and encouragement from this book.  Here are six reasons why Revelation is my favorite book of the Bible.

The Descriptions of Jesus
 "The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze" Revelation 2:18
"The First and the Last, who died and came to life" Revelation 2:8
"The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation" Revelation 3:14
"A lamb standing, as though it had been slain" Revelation 5:6 (Jesus WAS slain but IS standing!)
"He is clothed in a robe dipped in Blood... From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.  He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords." 19:13, 15-16
"[He] is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war" 19:11

Does this sound like a long haired, skirt wearing, hippie Jesus? No, Jesus' character is so much deeper and wider than he is commonly portrayed these days.  That's why I love the mind-blowing descriptions of him in Revelation.

The Descriptions of God
"And he who sat there [on the throne] had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald... from the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder..." 4:3, 5
"And one of the four living creatures gave to the seen angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary of God until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished" 15:7-8

And these don't even do the real thing justice... they are just the closest John could come using human language.

God's Victory Over Evil
"We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth." 11:17-18
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgements are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants." 19:1-2

When I see all the evil in the world and am tempted to be discouraged, I always go back to Revelation, and remember that on the day he has appointed, God will destroy all the destroyers of the earth. Praise Him!

The Descriptions of Believers
"And they have conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives, even unto death" 12:11
"Here is the call for the endurance of the Saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus" 14:12
"They loved not their lives even unto death." 12:11
"The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.  I will confess him name before my Father and before his angels." 3:5

This isn't somebody who "prayed a prayer".  These are people who take the commands of God seriously, whose lives have been changed permanently, to a course where they don't even love their lives, they have been given up to following Jesus even if it means to death.  And the reward is eternal.

The Prayers Directed Towards God
"Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you
for your righteous acts have been revealed." 15:3-4
"Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created." 4:11
"Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed a people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth." 5:9-10

How many churches sing praise and worship songs that sound like this?  This is powerful stuff.

Descriptions of Non-Believers 
[after seeing incredible plagues of God being poured out upon the earth] "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hand nor give up worshipping demons and and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" 9:20-21
"And all who dwell on the earth worship will worship it [the Beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain." 13:8
"They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues.  They did not repent or give him glory." 16:9
"People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores.  They did not repent of their deeds." 16:10-11
"And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the hail was so severe" 16:21

These verses make it clear that there is a kind of belief in God, belief without repentance, that does not save.  It also shows that God can make himself very obvious and people still choose not to trust in Him.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

July in our Home

First, something (big) that actually happened last month, but I forgot to mention: we got a van!  We've shared one car for most of our marriage (and all of the last 3 years) so this is big news.  Its a 1997 Honda Odyssey, so it'll probably last until we outgrow it (it only seats 6, not 7 like most vans) and the nice part is that its old and rusty so I don't have to worry about dents and scratches and the kids getting the seats dirty, etc.  Its also nice to have plenty of room to haul things around, like our huge double stroller, random items that I garbage pick, freecycle acquisitions, etc...

Now on to July.
Love these dudes.
The second weekend of July was our church's annual conference (and it was actually our second time going, as we had flown in from California last year to attend.)  The topic was "Salt and Light: Confessing Christ in the Public Square" and Doug Wilson flew in to speak, and several of our pastors spoke as well.  You can listen to the talks here.  I especially recommend the breakout sessions "Who is my Neighbor? Confessing Christ on our Block" and "Sharp Arrows: Training our Children to Confess Christ".  The conference was especially fun as my cousin came in from Cincinnati to attend.  We're counting down our visits with her as she is planning to go to Bulgaria for 2 years at the end of this month.  We're really going to miss her!

The last week of July saw our first trip back to California since our big move.  It was a great time.  We went for a wedding that Alex was in, but stayed for a full week, hanging out with friends the whole time.  We also got to see a sweet little girl who lived with us the first year of her life (I have really missed seeing her!).  It was really nice to be in California and actually get to enjoy it.  Our time living there was filled with so many different stress factors that when we left it was easy to forget the parts we loved.  Catching up with friends we care about was refreshing and encouraging.

Esther and "Lala".  A year younger than
Esther with 3x as much hair!
Did I mention that I now have a sewing table?  Since we moved to our new apartment last month, I now have a table in our bedroom devoted to my sewing machine and other craftiness.  This has made sewing so much easier and quicker, and I have been taking advantage!  In July I made a couple sets of bean bags, fabric blocks and a little girl's purse - all gifts for different friends.  I've been so grateful to be able to have the time and space to do these projects!  I'm not artsy, but I do need some sort of sewing/crafty outlet in my life.

Books I read this month:

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Montessouri Play and Learn: a Parent's Guide to Purposeful Play from Two to Six by Lesley Britton

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hot Days, Cold Drinks: Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte

In the summer, I love a cold, sweet drink in the middle of the afternoon as a refreshing pick-me-up, or after dinner for a cooling dessert.  Last summer, I did a series of my favorite cold drink recipes.  This summer, I want to link back to those recipes and add one that I just recently made up: iced pumpkin spice latte.

Pumpkin spiced goodies are usually enjoyed in the fall, but having recently discovered how to make this at home, I have been making it quite a bit.  Not only is it tasty, but you can feel good about having a vegetable in your snack/dessert!

Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte
1 cup of milk (I use whole milk,  raw when we can afford it)
1 tsp instant coffee or powdered coffee substitute (cafix is my favorite coffee substitute)
3 T pumpkin puree
1 T raw honey or 5 drops stevia
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or you can use 1/2 tsp of cinnamon with a pinch of ginger and a pinch of nutmeg)

Blend together until smooth (if you are using raw honey, make sure the honey is well blended in, raw honey tends to just break into small lumps in a cold beverage).

Pour over ice and enjoy!

Did you miss the series last summer?  Be sure to try one of these yummy recipes:

Chocolate Banana Shake - thick and chocolately
Green Tea Smoothie - creamy and energizing
Mocha Avocado Shake - my favorite pick-me-up
Hazelnut Iced Latte - slightly bitter but balanced
Vanilla Peanut Butter Banana Shake - smooth and rich
Homemade Lemonade - tart and refreshing
Coconut Iced Chai Latte - sweet n' spicy
Sun Tea - brisk and easy
Green Peach Smoothie - nutritious and fruity

Monday, July 7, 2014

Best Biblical Advice for Newlyweds

"When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken." Deuteronomy 24:5
Noivinhos from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Jeff Belmonte, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

As far as I am aware, this is the only Bible verse that has a direct command to newlyweds (feel free to correct me in the comments if I am wrong!).  Though this verse was intended specifically to be directed to the Israelites and how they should run their society, the principles of this verse are instructive to modern-day believers as well.

Commentators say that there are likely two main reasons for this command.  First, so that newly wed couples could have time to develop their relationship without distraction.  Secondly, so that they would have time to conceive and bear a child early on.  Many newlyweds would do much better in their relationship if they would heed this advice.

Take time to develop your relationship.  When you first get married, it is important to continue pursing building your relationship.  Indeed this should be happening during the entirety of your marriage, but to do so in the first year is laying a good foundation for your future years together.  Make it a priority to go on regular dates, weekly or every other week at least.  Look for things to do together; it is not enough to simply live together under the same roof, but it if important to really live life together.

It is also important to avoid major changes and other things that can put strain on this foundational year of marriage building.  Many couples marry and then move right away to start a new job or grad school.  It is very difficult to lay a healthy foundation for marriage while also trying to find a new church, make new friends, and figure out a new city.  It is worth putting off a job or grad school for a year to stay put in your familiar area to make sure you can focus on your marriage.

Make babies.  Early (and often!) God tells us to be fruitful and multiply and that children are a blessing.  Couples who reject the modern philosophy of children being a burden and choose to obey this will receive God's blessing for obedience.  Having children makes a marriage stronger as it gives husband and wife something to work on as partners: a ministry that involves their whole lives together.  Having children is also incredibly sanctifying, which has the added benefit of making a marriage stronger as man and wife are humbled before God and seek him more and more for godly character and help to be good parents.

It is important to remember that the advice to wait to have children is coming from a society that kills 1.3 million babies per year, doesn't honor God and has an incredibly high divorce rate.  Believers choose to follow God and do things differently, because we know that the ways of God are higher and better than the ways of man.  This includes seeing children as a blessing ALWAYS (not just when they are convenient), which practically means having children early and often while the world says wait and stop.

When thinking about this verse, I realized that ALL of the Christian couples I know who are already divorced chose not to have children in the early years of their marriage.  On the other hand, most of the couples I know who have mature walks with God and good marriages had children very early on in their marriage.  I know that this is not a scientific study, and that correlation is not causation, but it is interesting to note that I have seen in practice how this does affect a relationship.