Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Turning your Critics into Coaches (or, why I am writing with caps)

Have you ever noticed that I write my blog posts in all lower case letters?  Maybe it bothers you.  Maybe you barely notice.

To be honest, its something I barely notice.  I've been writing all blog posts, facebook posts and most emails/messages (to friends... not important messages!) in all lowercase for at least 5 years now.  I don't really remember when it started, but I do know that I have been doing it at least since I lived in Germany, because that was the first (and until recently, only) time someone told me that it bothered them.

Why did I start writing like that?  I can't say for sure since its been so long.  I guess partially because its just easier that way (fewer typos if you never have to push shift!) and also partially because it feels casual and informal and unique.

Like I said, I barely think about it.  Its just a habit.  Until a couple weeks ago when someone left a rude comment on one of my blog posts that basically said "Don't you know that you are supposed to capitalize the first letter of a sentence?  How can you expect anyone to take your writing seriously if you don't do that?" It was a little bit more rude than what I just wrote here, but I can't remember for sure what that person said since I deleted the comment. (side note: I don't delete comments from people just because they disagree with me in some way.  I have had more than my share of negative comments on this blog, since I don't shy away from controversial subjects.  But I do delete comments that are unnecessarily rude, especially when someone I don't even know attacks my character.)

But the comment did get me thinking.  And since I do think it is important to listen to your critics, pray about what they say, and repent or change if necessary, I have wondered if I should reconsider my writing style.

And long story short, yes, I do think I should change. I have decided to do so for two main reasons: first, because I will likely be home schooling our children at some point during my motherhood career, and I should be practicing what I plan to teach them, which is to use proper grammar, punctuation and capitalization.

Secondly, I do in fact want people to take what I write seriously.  I write about serious subjects: about spiritual life and death, about knowing God and following Jesus.  And I write on more lighthearted subjects as well: posting recipes and updates on our family life.  But whether serious or light hearted, I don't want my lack of capitalization to be a distraction to anyone reading my writing.  And since I know of at least two people who have said something about it, how many others have thought the same without speaking up?

So, from this day forward I am going to start writing blogs (and FB posts, and emails) in all caps.  I already have several posts over the next few weeks scheduled, and those were not written with caps, so there will be a time of transition until everything is written properly.  But certainly within the next month, my writing will be normal.  And I hope that you find it more enjoyable and easy to read. :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: vanilla peanut butter banana shake

have you noticed a pattern so far in my recipe series? most of my deliciously frozen drink recipes call for frozen bananas. frozen bananas are perfect for this kind of drink because they make the shake thick, cold and creamy (almost like ice cream) and add natural sweetness without refined sugars. i almost always keep frozen bananas in our freezer, especially in the summer. with bananas in the freezer, you are only minutes away from a delicious, healthy dessert any time you want it.

my secret for keeping our freezer stocked with frozen bananas is to buy the old, brown, sale-priced bananas whenever i see them at the store.  not only does this save money, but the over-ripe bananas are sweeter, giving them a better flavor for frozen drinks.  in the freezer they will last a long time, but they never stay around for that long because i use them in so many recipes!

'Bananas' photo (c) 2010, Luke Wisley - license:
slicing the bananas before freezing them can make
them easier to separate, but i usually don't have
time and skip this step!

vanilla peanut butter banana shake

1 frozen banana
1 cup milk
3 Tblsp peanut butter
2 tsp ground flaxseed (optional- this adds healthy fats)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until mixed. add more milk to make it thinner or more banana to make it thicker.


click here for the next recipe in the series: fresh squeezed lemonade

Saturday, July 27, 2013

what is that to you? you follow me.

sometimes i get jealous of single people or married people without kids.  i remember those days: my favorite thing to do was to go hang out at a coffee shop four, five, six hours.  not fitting my life around nap schedules.  sleeping in and relaxing on the weekends.  not feeling constantly drained.  i became a mom at age 24 (most 24 year olds i know are still "living it up") and have spent the last 3 years pouring out my days to little ones.

sometimes i get jealous of lukewarm christians.  the hardest thing they have ever dealt with was when their puppy died (since the Enemy sees no need to bring anything more difficult than that into their life).  they are buying new clothes every month (with little concern about how God wants them to spend their money), not having to serve at church (just consuming what they want to take), not feeling the burden of their own sin or the sin of those they love (just floating along blissfully ignorant), not having to sacrifice (besides having to roll out of bed by 9:45am on sunday to make it to church in time), and with little concern for mission (unless the american dream counts as mission).

sometimes i get jealous of people with "easy" adoptions (easy is a misnomer.  all adoptions are hard in some way. i just mean people who have had an easier time than us).  they bring a child into their home, they go through a few legal bumps and turns and a year or two later they are finalizing an adoption.  we are three years out from our first placement, with no adoption even on the horizon.

in a way, it makes sense that i would be jealous of these things. being a parent is hard (especially being a foster parent).  serving jesus is hard.  

but at the end of the day, i have chosen to follow jesus.  and jesus has given me a passion to raise up disciples of Christ (of first importance my children, and of second importance everyone else), which is why my days are full of sacrifice and living for others.  doing these things is building up real and lasting treasure, treasure in heaven, which is ultimately much more satisfying than an afternoon at a coffee shop whenever i want or buying all the clothes that would make me "happy".  in 100 years, i will not care about money or relaxation; only who is in heaven and who isn't.

when i am tempted to believe the lie that my life would be better if only _____ (fill in the blank), then i have to intentionally turn my mind back to truth: 

1.  "when christ calls a man, he bids him come and die" -bonhoeffer.
when jesus called me to follow him, the offer entailed leaving behind all that the world holds dear.  since i still live in the world, it is painful to leave these things behind.  but the more i know jesus, the less painful it is.

2."now i rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh i am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church"  colossians 1:24 
what does this verse mean?  john piper puts it this way: 
"What’s missing is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others."
suffering is the price of mission.

3.  When Peter saw [John], he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” john 21:21-22

i don't need to compare my ministry to the ministry God is calling other christians to.  my main focus needs to be on following what he wants from me.  right now he wants me to raise children (even some that aren't mine), disciple women and share the gospel.  this is what i fill my days with.

4.  "godliness with contentment is great gain.  for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. but if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." 1 timothy 6:6-8

i am praying for godliness and contentment.  God says these things are great gain.  he does not call material possessions great gain.

5. "for we do not lose heart.  though our outer nature is wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  for this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that far surpasses them all, as we look not to things that are seen, but things that are unseen.  for the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 corinthians 4:16-18

the things i get jealous of are temporary things.  as i set my sight on and live for unseen things, i am living for that which will last forever.

what or whom are you jealous of?  do these things resonate with you?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

the adventure of following jesus.

since i started following jesus about 10 years ago, life has been quite an adventure.  and i am loving every moment.

now, if you know me, you know that i am not quite an adventurous person.  the only adventures that i generally like are adventures that are well planned out and written into my schedule well in advance. :)

but following jesus has been an adventure that is NOT well planned and generally defies the things that i have already written into my schedule.  in fact, most of the plans that i have made for myself since i have started following Him have not come to fruition.  but he has replaced those plans with better things and greater blessings.

late summer (usually august) has been a time of transition (and adventure!) for us, and i always reflect on it this time of year.  five summers ago we got married and started our adventure of following jesus together.  four summers ago we moved from ohio to california.  we thought God was bringing us here to work with a latino campus ministry, but it turns out that he brought us here to love on latino foster babies (five so far and counting).  three summers ago we got our first four aforementioned latino kiddos and soon thereafter moved from our tiny 2 bedroom apartment to a much needed 3 bedroom house with a yard.  the following summer they left us to be reunited with their mom, and then God blessed us with esther.  last summer, with got our fifth latino baby.  this summer, that baby will (most likely) be reunited with her birth mother and we will be open for another foster placement.

though summer is the most common time for these changes (ahem... adventures) we have also gone through many other adventures... several job changes for alex, a roommate who lived with us for almost two years, my mom coming for several extended visits and finally moving in for good, and focused planning towards alex going to seminary and then God dramatically veering us off to a different, very unexpected course last minute.

never a dull moment in our household.

i once had a mom friend tell me (when i explained to her than in the foster care system, you get a call one day and then later that day you have kids in your home all of the sudden) "i don't know how you do it.  i need to plan for these things in advance".

i don't know how i do it either.  well, i do know how i do it, but its not me.  its jesus.

you see when i decided to follow jesus, i decided that he is more important than me (because he most certainly is) and that his desires for me are more important than my desires, and that i would follow him where ever he may lead me.  and i can do these things because God's love is so massive (which i know because jesus was willing to die in order to know me) and he cares so deeply (because he is a perfect, loving Father) and because he is trustworthy (because he created me and will certainly lead me in what is best, even when that "best" thing may be painful).

and God has grown my trust in him daily since i started to follow him.  there have been times where i didn't know what God wanted beyond my very next step in life, but he proved to be trustworthy in where he was leading.  several times i haven't known where money for rent and food where going to come from, and God proved himself trustworthy by providing.  many days when we had our first four foster kids i didn't know where the strength or patience for the next day were going to come from, but God proved trustworthy and provided just enough of what i needed.

you see, as i alluded to above, i am an extreme planner.  but when i decided to follow jesus, i decided to put my own desires aside (like my desire to know/plan for the future) and trust Him to lead, provide and empower me the whole way.  so i don't need to stress about the future, wondering exactly what day our next kiddos will come.  because God will bring them in His time, and give us the grace on that day to make a major course change in life and start loving on those kiddos with the strength, grace and love that He gives us for them.

now, don't get me wrong.  i still plan.  i make a meal plan at the beginning of every week, i often schedule my days a week in advance, and i am already planning what to put in my garden in the fall.

but set-in-stone long-term planning?  nah.  i have an idea of what i think might happen in the future, but jesus will probably change that as he has done many times before.  and even my short term, week to week plans are in his hands and submitted to what he wants (because his will is much better than mine 100% of the time).

my life is submitted to God to do his will and honor him.  therefore i don't need to stress because he is the one empowering, leading and providing for my every step of the day as i follow him.  he does his job, so that i can do my job.

Monday, July 22, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: hazelnut iced latte

icy, sweet, aromatic and slightly bitter: the perfect glass of hazelnut iced latte.

one of my favorite sweeteners for drinks is liquid stevia.  stevia is an herb that is an all natural sweeter.  the whole leaf herb is a bit bitter/leafy tasting, so i usually buy it in liquid form which is basically a stevia infusion that has been filtered to improve the taste to being just sweet without the other flavors (make sure to research to make sure you buy a brand that is minimally-processed, like sweetleaf.  avoid powders, which are usually much more processed).  stevia is especially great for drinks because it mixes easily into a drink, unlike other natural sweeteners like honey or sucanat.

liquid stevia comes in many different flavors, which i have only just started to try.  the first one i got is hazelnut, which i have used to flavor coffee, milkshakes and ice cream.  one of the reasons i particularly like hazelnut flavor with coffee is that it is not overly sweet.  being a dark chocolate lover as i am, i appreciate the bitter coffee undertones coming through.

'Blue Bottle, Kyoto Style Ice Coffee' photo (c) 2011, Kenny Louie - license:
hazelnut iced latte

1 cup of milk
1 Tblsp instant coffee OR 1 shot of espresso OR 3/4 cup strong coffee
5-10 drops of hazelnut stevia

1. combine milk, coffee/espresso and 5 drops of hazelnut stevia in a cup.  mix with a spoon until blended. taste and add more stevia if needed.

2. add ice and enjoy!

click here for the next recipe in the series: vanilla peanut butter banana shake

Saturday, July 20, 2013

praying for big things

do you pray for big things?  things that are very close to your heart?

and how do you handle it when God doesn't answer these prayers?

'cold prayer' photo (c) 2008, Keith Riley-Whittingham - license: i read something from jerry bridges recently answering this last question.  it has reverberated through my head since i read it, and i wanted to share it with you:
"an attitude of acceptance says that we trust God, that He loves us, and knows what is best for us.  acceptance does not mean that we do not pray [for example] for physical healing, or for the conception and birth of a little one to our marriage. we should indeed pray for those things, but we should pray in a trusting way.  we should realize that, though God can do all things, for infinitely wise and loving reasons, He may not do that which we pray that He will do.  how do we know how long to pray?  as long as we can pray trustingly, with an attitude of acceptance of His will, we should pray as long as the desire remains"
interestingly enough, among a few of the big things i have been praying for recently include two that he listed above.  i have been praying for God to heal esther from her hypothyroidism and that our next two kiddos will be adoptable as soon as they enter into our home.

these things are very close to my heart.  i want so much for God to answer these prayers that i can't even describe it.  and, by his grace, i don't think that these prayers are too big for him, and i know he can easily answer them if and when he wants.  he has shown me time and again that he indeed can do immeasurably more than i could ask or imagine, and he also delights to give us what we desire, in the same way that i delight to give our girls the things that they desire.

but at the same time, by God's grace, i have immense trust in him for both of these things.  i know that God will work it for good even if he doesn't heal esther, and i can already imagine many good reasons why he wouldn't choose to heal her.  but i continue to pray that he will.  i also know that God can work it for good if we don't get to adopt our next two kiddos.  God has done much good in our lives and family through all five of the foster kiddos we have had in our home, none of whom have been adoptable.  but i continue to pray with all of my heart that he would choose that our next two would be adoptable.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

church discipline

disciplining your children is not popular in our culture.  there is a stream of thought that says you can just love your child into being good without ever having to enact any consequences for their actions.

this line of thinking has bled over into the church.  because discipline is hard and painful at the moment,  churches often fail to look forward with faith to what discipline can accomplish (see hebrews 12:11).  in so doing, they ignore sin and allow it to spread like cancer through our churches.  and we wonder why so many american christians are weak and lukewarm.

here is a great story of a young man who experienced church discipline in his family, and the fruit it yielded in his life:

"One Sunday after our church service, the senior pastor extended his hand to greet my dad, one of his fellow elders. Yanking his hand away, my dad jetted past him. I sometimes question why God let that instance from six years ago sear my memory. Frankly, I don’t know.
But I do know that like this memory, God used my dad’s excommunication for good. I hope this testimony shows that. I hope it encourages churches to not shirk what God requires for their good and, most importantly, for his name’s sake (see Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5).
I suspect many pastors fear obeying Jesus’ command in this area because they dread the strife that could result. Judging by what happened with my dad and the reactions from my church, my family and myself, I understand that fear. But I hope this testimony will help you overturn that fear and embrace faithful obedience to Jesus’ commands..."
Click here to read more... 

Monday, July 15, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: mocha avocado shake

avocado with coffee?  i know, it sounds weird.  but its actually pretty good.  the avocado adds a creaminess to the drink without overpowering the taste.  in fact, i barely taste it at all.

'Avocado' photo (c) 2012, You As A Machine - license:
it is helpful to put your avocado in the fridge for a bit before you make this so that the drink is nice and cold.  you can even freeze the avocado for an even colder, creamier drink.  if you freeze it, make sure to remove the peel and pit first, as they will be hard to remove after it is frozen.  it is also helpful to slice or cube the avocado before freezing it, so that your blender doesn't have to work as hard.

this can be made with instant coffee powder, or a coffee substitute powder (i have tried both pero and cafix).  i often go for the latter, as i can not handle too much caffeine after morning time (it affects my ability to fall asleep at night).

mocha avocado shake

2 tsp instant coffee powder OR coffee substitute powder OR 1 starbucks via packet (if you really need caffeine!)
1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup of milk
3-5 ice cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cocoa powder
5-8 drops of liquid stevia

1. combine all in a blender and blend on high until smooth.  make sure the ice is completely crushed.

click here for the next recipe in the series: hazelnut iced latte

Friday, July 12, 2013

helping a child versus increasing family size: motivation for adoption

what is the motivation for adoption?  is it to help a child in need or to increase the size of your family?

this is a hard question that i have been thinking through for the past couple of months.

'Shopping with dad' photo (c) 2013, John Mallon - license:
certainly, i would not argue that this is completely an either/or question.  the motivation for adoption should be both.  unfortunately, too many times parents are so eager to adopt that the emphasis is too heavily placed on increasing family size, often at the expense of actually helping the child (maybe because we pridefully assume the most helpful thing for the child is to be a part of our family).

this is an especially important question to ask in the situation of foster care adoption.  when a child is taken into foster care, the first priority is to work towards being able to reunify them with their birth parents.  if that doesn't work, the second priority is to place them for adoption/legal guardianship with a family member.  if neither of these two things happen, an adoptive family is sought out.

one of the difficult aspects of foster care adoption is the possibility of "losing" a child (ie the possibility of the child going back with their family after they are in your home).  if you want to adopt a young child (anything under 5 years old) you usually have to be open to taking in a child who is still in foster care, and that child will be in your care either until they are reunited or until they are open for adoption.  the problem is that parents can be so intensely focused on adoption that they are almost cheering for the birth parents to fail.  i know that this is true because i have felt these feelings and battled this pride.

it is important to the the best needs of the child first.  for a child to lose their parents is a tremendous loss, one that often haunts them for years, even if they are very young when they are adopted.  in fact, as hard as it was for me to accept this when i first heard it, studies do show that children who are able to be reunited with their birth families do better in the end than children who are adopted out of their families.  foster adoptive parents should be open to the idea that the best thing they can do to serve the children in their care is to give them a temporary good home (complete with lots of love and prayer and trust in God for that child's future), and if possible reach out to their birth family in order to help them be better parents when and if reunification happens.

of course, reunification is not always possible, and in that situation adoption is the best second option.  for kids in that situation, helping that child AND increasing your family size are one in the same.

for prospective adoptive families, this is an important question to ask yourselves, and certainly something to pray over: that God would give you wisdom as how to best help the child in your care, and also that God would grow your family (since children ARE a blessing and the desire to adopt a good thing) even if its not in the way/timing that you had previously planned.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

june in our home

june was a great month, and a busy month.  summer has begun and so has the activity of summer!

this past month saw esther's debut as a flower girl. true story: i used to think that ring bearers/flower girls were a useless part of a wedding.  we didn't have either in our wedding.  but, of course, now that we have a daughter and i am convinced that she is the cutest thing on the planet (because she is), i was so excited to see her as a flower girl.  esther loves being the center of attention and she didn't let her audience down, pausing halfway to the alter and doing a dance before the ring bearer noticed that she was missing and went back to grab her hand.
i was also in the wedding, as the bride was one of my best friends in college.  the wedding weekend was a ton of fun, as i got to see several good friends whom i haven't seen in a year and a half.  the weekend was busy, but refreshing, and certainly a lot of fun.

june also saw the beginning of our tomato harvest!  i have been missing fresh tomatoes since last summer!  i refuse to buy tomatoes at the store, since they just don't even compare to homegrown.  we have had green tomatoes on the vine since mid-may, but they didn't start to ripen until the end of june.  i think they needed heat, and june started off much too cool (well, i for one liked the cool weather, but the tomatoes didn't).  we have also gotten our first harvest of beets and radishes, as well as the last of the spinach and lettuce.

june also saw baby girl's first overnight visit with her mom.  certainly a bit bittersweet, but have been waiting for the social worker to approve these visits for a while, so it also felt a bit overdue.  esther was certainly excited to see her "lala" come home, but didn't ask for her when she was gone, so i think she is getting used to her coming and going once a week.

my june goal was to learn to start a fire.  after watching numerous youtube videos, i have the head knowledge about starting a fire, but not the experience yet.  living in wildfire-prone so cal, its not like i can just start a fire in the back yard (unless we decide to invest in a fire pit... but i don't see that happening any time soon).  i did have two possible opportunities to try it out during different hang outs with friends, but neither worked out.  so.... if you need a fire started, give me a call :) we even have tons of kindling in our yard.  but for now i will keep waiting until i can put my knowledge to the test.  we are going camping in september, so maybe then.

what was june like in your home?

Monday, July 8, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: green tea smoothie

i have recently been introduced to the wonders of green tea powder.  green tea powder is made up of ground green tea leaves.  this means that it contains all the goodness of green tea, but packs an even more powerful punch since you are actually eating the whole leaves and not just an infusion.

the green tea powder that is most well known is matcha, but i use sencha powder, which is supposed to be lower in caffeine and higher in antioxidants.  but, from what i understand, they are pretty much interchangeable.  knowing how i operate, i probably ended up with the sencha because it was cheaper :)

'Matcha Tea' photo (c) 2011, Steenbergs - license:

green tea smoothie

1 frozen banana
1 cup of milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-5 drops of stevia
1/4 tsp green tea powder
optional: 1 tsp maca powder, for added flavor and nutrition

1. combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

like i mentioned in my last recipe, i love putting my glass in the freezer for a bit before making this drink, that way it is frosty and cold the whole time i sip!

click here for the next recipe in the series: mocha avocado shake

Monday, July 1, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: chocolate banana shake

most summer days i enjoy a cold afternoon drink after the girlies go down for naps.  usually some kind of smoothie, shake or iced coffee/tea, it serves as a great pick-me-up, as well as something to sip as i relax over a good book; recharging my batteries before getting as much housework done as possible before the girlies wake up.

this summer, i am going to do a series of these recipes so that you too can enjoy one of my favorite afternoon routines.  the good news is that all of these drinks contain nourishing ingredients which will help you be at your best to serve your family.

today's recipe, and the first in the series is a chocolate banana shake recipe.  what i love about this recipe is that it literally calls for THREE ingredients (how simple is that?!) and it is so healthy: full of antioxidants and good fats, with no sugar.  also, it requires no ice cream but tastes just at delicious as a real ice cream shake.

'Chocolate Shake' photo (c) 2012, WILLIAM ISMAEL - license:
chocolate banana shake

1 cup of milk (we prefer our milk whole, and raw when it fits into our budget)
1 frozen banana
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder

1. Combine all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.  Add more milk to make it thinner (like chocolate milk) or more banana to make it thicker (like ice cream) if you want.

for an even chillier shake experience on those really hot days, put your glass into the freezer a few minutes or hours before you make this shake so that you can pour it into a frosty glass!

click for the next cold summer drink recipe: green tea smoothie