No Matter the Cost

We were acting as if he had already been offered the position. A few days prior, JJ had applied to a job online that would have ultimately moved our small family to Puerto Rico. Although certain aspects about such a move made me nervous (I haven’t forgotten about you, hurricane Maria!), we were mostly excited about the possibility. We loved the idea of living an active lifestyle off the beach where our son could learn Spanish through immersion and we could experience a new culture together.

We began to dream about what life might be like on the island as we made tentative plans for a move. Transitioning our family to Puerto Rico would be fairly smooth, we reckoned, given our backgrounds. But then JJ did more research, and he quickly discovered that moving our belongings would not be as easy as we thought.

My excitement quickly waned as JJ and I came to the conclusion that we would have to sell all our possessions to pursue a life in Puerto Rico, and as I told JJ how I felt, he agreed that a move there was perhaps not such a good idea after all. He quietly withdrew his application that evening.

The next morning during my quiet time, with Puerto Rico still fresh on my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about the rich young ruler that approached Jesus in Luke 18. The brief exchange between them is as follows:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Luke 18:18-22 ESV

The story ends on a bitter note for the ruler, who became sad because of his wealth. Jesus then states how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, and those who hear Him are left to wonder who can be saved.

But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Luke 18:27

There is yet hope for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, just as there is for everyone else!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

That day, as I thought about my own struggle with material possessions, I wasn’t worried about my salvation because of what Ephesians 2 says. What did concern me, however, was thinking that Jesus might be asking JJ and me to sell all we had and follow Him, but instead we were walking away like the rich young ruler because we were allowing our belongings to hold us back.

As I concluded my quiet time that morning, I asked God to help us follow Him wherever He may lead, no matter the cost. I didn’t want us to live a lesser life than what God had in store because of a bunch of material possessions. I truly longed to live a life with my family where we could look back with no regrets.

A few hours later and several hundred miles away, my family and I found ourselves on a hike in the middle of the woods. JJ took the week off, so we extended the anniversary celebration by taking a short road trip out of town.

Since there were dozens of sticks scattered along the path, and since Liam is a typical toddler boy, he started picking up as many broken branches as he could, all the while mentioning a campfire a half a dozen times, something he had learned about through one of his favorite cartoons.

Liam’s actions would have normally been really cute had I not felt annoyed by his refusing our help over and over again. The path was treacherous for his little legs, but he didn’t want to let go of any of the sticks to take one of our hands, so he struggled along, having to crawl at one point as he tightly held onto the bundles he had collected.

As annoyed as I felt by Liam’s stubbornness, God used that moment to further impress upon my heart what He had already been showing me earlier that day—that I should never allow material possessions (or anything else) to hold me back from following God wherever He may lead. Furthermore, I need to let go of anything that is keeping me from allowing God to guide me, otherwise I can be sure of struggling through this life much like my son did that afternoon.

Ironically, JJ and I are no longer considering Puerto Rico at this time. JJ resubmitted his application after we determined that our belongings would not hold us back, but after more prayer, research on JJ’s part, and much discussion and deliberate consideration, it didn’t seem like a wise pursuit. Nonetheless, I’m praying God will show us differently if that is where we are supposed to be.

Although the few days that we considered such a move put me on an emotional roller coaster, and although we’re left where we started, I’m still thankful that the idea crossed our path. The whole ordeal made me aware that I had subconsciously begun to believe that I was too old and settled in life to be called to something drastically different than what my family and I have experienced thus far. That’s not true though, of course. We do not know about tomorrow or what plans God might have for us. The few days of considering Puerto Rico left me with a greater desire to be flexible and open to whatever God may have in store, and that’s exactly how we need to live as believers. Living any other way may cause us to miss out on some of the greatest adventures that God is inviting us on. So, let’s not allow anything to hold us back. Let’s hear His voice and follow Him, no matter the cost.

Take Me to the Tropics Cake

JJ and I celebrated five years of marriage over the weekend, and I decided to create a cake reminiscent of our honeymoon trip to the beach at that time. Unfortunately, the cake pictured above was not JJ’s favorite (I probably shouldn’t be admitting that, right?). My son and I loved it, however, and a good friend of mine graciously taste-tested a piece and really enjoyed it as well, so I’m sharing the recipe with you all anyway.

This dessert is undeniably tropical in taste, where fluffy coconut cake combines with tangy, mango lime sauce topped with creamy white chocolate mascarpone. I went the extra mile and toasted some shredded coconut for the sides of our cake and also dried some pineapple slices to look like flowers on top. It took a lot of work, but I was very pleased with the end result. This cake would look just as beautiful, however, with dried/fresh mango slices, nuts, or white chocolate shavings. A fuller list of ideas is included below.

The mango lime sauce does not thicken significantly, so the assembly for this cake can be a bit tricky. Some tips are included below in the “assembly” section to address this issue. Alternatively, this cake could be baked as a sheet pan poke cake, with the mango lime filling used to fill in the holes. Or, to keep the fluffy texture of the cake and its distinct flavors, cut the cake into individual or bite-sized pieces, then spoon the mango lime mixture over each serving, topping each one with a dollop of white chocolate mascarpone (JJ absolutely loved the dessert like this, which I was able to make from some extra cake we had). For this last option, I suggest storing the cake in an airtight container at room temperature to maintain its freshness longer. All other forms should be stored in the refrigerator.

However you decide to make this cake, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have and that it will transport your taste buds to the tropics with each bite.

Coconut Cake:

  • 1 c milk, room temperature
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • ½ c cake flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • ¼ t salt
  • ½ c butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ c granulated sugar
  • 2 t coconut extract
  • ½ c canned coconut milk
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ c shredded coconut

Instructions:

In a small bowl, mix the milk and white vinegar together (or substitute the milk and vinegar for buttermilk at room temperature). Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with oil, then dust each with flour, removing any excess flour from the pans.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and coconut extract together with an electric mixer, then add the coconut milk until well combined. Next, incorporate the egg whites slowly while continuing to beat the mixture with the mixer. Once combined, add the flour mixture and milk in segments until well incorporated, then fold in the shredded coconut.

Bake for 27-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool before removing from the cake pans.

Mango Lime Filling:

  • 2 large mangoes (I used Ataulfo variety)
  • 2 large limes, juice of
  • ¼ c sugar
  • ¼ c canned coconut milk
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 T water

Instructions:

Blend the mangoes, lime juice, sugar, and coconut milk together in a high-powered blender until smooth. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat over the stove on medium low heat. Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch and water together until smooth. Once combined, slowly add the sauce to the mango mixture, stirring constantly. Cook the mixture over the stove for 3-5 minutes, until heated through, then let cool slightly before transferring to a storage container. Chill for two hours, or until cold.

TIP: My friend suggested putting some lime zest in this filling to really bring out the lime flavor. I have yet to make it like this but imagine it would be tasty. Feel free to try this option, if you desire.

White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting:

  • 4 oz. white chocolate baking bar*
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 2 T powdered sugar
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 t vanilla

Instructions:

Break the white chocolate into pieces and heat over the stove on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat together the whipping cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until the whipping cream begins to stiffen and form peaks. In a separate bowl, beat together the mascarpone, white chocolate, and vanilla, then add the whipping cream mixture and beat with the electric mixer until well incorporated.

*You can use 4 oz. white chocolate chips instead. However, make sure you buy a brand that does not include oil among the ingredients. This will cause the chocolate to harden and form little clumps throughout the frosting.

Optional Toppings:

Dried/fresh mango or pineapple, shredded toasted/untoasted coconut, macadamia nuts, and/or white chocolate shavings.

To Assemble the Cake:

Cut each cake in half horizontally to form four smaller cake rounds. Set the first cake round on a plate/cake platter, then pipe a line of frosting around the edge. This will help to keep the filling inside the cake. Cover the middle of the cake with the mango lime filling, then place the next cake round on top. Repeat until the last cake round is placed on the cake, then frost the cake with the remaining frosting.

TIP: I found the cake to be a bit difficult to frost at first. If this is a problem for you, I suggest placing the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow the filling and frosting around the edge to slightly harden, which will in turn make the cake easier to frost. While chilling the cake, allow the remaining frosting to sit at room temperature so that it will be more easily spreadable. Stirring the frosting thoroughly will also help to soften it.

Lastly, garnish the cake with any optional toppings you desire and enjoy immediately! You deserve it after all that work! 😊 Store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.

What Are You Wearing?

I recently purchased a book for my son that my mother used to read to my younger brother and me when we were young. It’s called The Emperor’s New Clothes, and it’s a story about an emperor who is persuaded by two “tailors” into having clothes made for him out of a special, one-of-a-kind material that they are able to weave. The problem is, this unique cloth doesn’t actually exist. The two men are really con artists that have schemed up a plan to swindle the emperor out of his money and ensure that the townsfolk let them get away with it. They have convinced the entire town that this woven cloth is distinct because only those who are wise and fit for their jobs can see it.

The story progresses to the point where the emperor parades around in his new “clothes” for everyone within his kingdom to admire. At first, the town is shocked that they can’t see the emperor’s apparel. Nonetheless, since no one wants to be thought of as a fool unfit for his job, the whole town pretends to see the new garments, loudly voicing admiration for the ruler’s outfit as he passes by.

Finally, the emperor parades past a little boy, who loudly blurts out what everyone else has been afraid to admit all along—that the emperor is not wearing any clothes at all! He has been parading around in his underwear this whole time! As the now-emboldened crowd begins to voice agreement with the young boy, who can neither be considered a fool nor unfit for a job at such a young age, the emperor flees to his palace, bright red from embarrassment.

Although I do not remember much of the story beyond this point as a child, the one I bought for my son ends on a happy note. The emperor is able to capture the thieves and recover his stolen money. He also thanks the boy for his honesty, recognizing how he has been spared from further scams and embarrassment as a result. In the end, this vain ruler has learned a valuable lesson from the boy, which is to always be honest, no matter what.

My younger brother and I loved this story as children and always gleefully giggled at the emperor’s embarrassment. His short-lived predicament never ceased to amuse our young minds. Although we were little when my mom read us this book, I always had a good understanding of how outlandish the story was, which was perhaps why I so readily laughed at the emperor instead of feeling sorry for him. I knew in real life that no one could fall for such an absurd scheme. Or so I thought.

Over thirty years later, as I find myself living in a very different day of age, I’m beginning to think that this children’s story was not so outlandish after all. As absurd as the scheme was in The Emperor’s New Clothes, we are seeing similar absurdities in our society today. And just like the townsfolk believed they would look foolish or unfit for their jobs if they told the truth, our society would have us believe that we are fools that are perhaps unfit for society itself if we dare to speak the truth rather than going along with worldly schemes.

The truth is, this world is in worse condition than the emperor ever was. Caught up in deception, it drapes itself in human wisdom and sophistication, deafening its ears to the truth that even a small child can see to opt for its own ideas of self-perception. As time goes by, these actions and attitudes have become even more prevalent as deception continues to weave itself into the fabric of our society and cause many to think erroneously. But let’s not allow the wool to be pulled over our own eyes, my friends. Worldly wisdom will never amount to real wisdom, for true wisdom comes from God alone.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

1 Corinthians 3:19a

For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

Proverbs 2:6

Though worldly wisdom may be admired and applauded in our time, everyone will ultimately see that it amounted to nothing in the end. It was just a deceptive scheme, and those who paraded around in it were only exposing themselves in shame. Woe to them!

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

Isaiah 5:20-21

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Romans 1:18

Let us therefore dress differently than this world, forsaking earthly comfort and popularity.

Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

God has given us the apparel needed to live victoriously in this day of age. He has provided us and commands us to put on His armor, which includes fastening His belt of truth and girding His breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:13-17), so let’s put on the full armor of God and prepare for the battle at hand.

As it is, we were never meant to take part in any worldly “fashion show” or to seek the approval of man (Gal. 1:10). So, let’s suit up and prepare for practical living in this present day. Moreover, let’s take what the emperor learned to heart, because honesty still is (and will always be) the best policy, and above all else, God’s truth will prevail.

Mini Rosemary Mint Frittatas

There’s a story behind this recipe. I created it (in frying-pan form) when I was teaching English as a Second Language at a Spanish speaking seminary. I was suffering from severe medical problems at the time and submitted a prayer request to the school bulletin regarding them.

Soon the entire campus knew about my health issues, and although I was a little embarrassed by all the attention, I was very appreciative of the concern that my English students showed me. One older woman in particular, whose husband was a gastroenterologist, handed me a bunch of freshly cut mint from her garden one day, explaining that mint was good for the digestive tract.

I took the mint home that afternoon with good intentions of using it but with little imagination on how to do so other than making mint tea. It sat in my refrigerator for several days until I realized that I better use it quickly if I didn’t want it to spoil.

Since I was already making an egg frittata for breakfast that morning, I decided to add a small handful of mint to the egg, spinach, salt, and pepper mixture waiting to go onto the stove. I also added some fresh rosemary on impulse since my rosemary plant was on the decline (I really hate to waste things).

After cooking the egg mixture, I served it on a plate, ready to scarf it down as quickly and tastelessly as possible. I needed the health benefits from each ingredient, but I couldn’t imagine possibly enjoying this concoction.

Well, let me tell you, I was wrong! It was love at first bite! I savored each morsel and even made it a few more times that very week.

Since I was single at the time, I only ever made one serving of it. Since I wanted to share this recipe with you all, however, I tried my hand at turning it into mini egg frittatas this week, and I must say, I love the end result!

These frittatas are a delectable combination of slightly spicy, refreshing mint blended together with the woodsy warmth of rosemary and a hint of salt. Due to their elegant appearance and individual size, they would make the perfect addition to a holiday brunch or a special occasion breakfast. They are gluten free, dairy free, and vegetarian, so they can additionally be enjoyed by individuals with varying diets.

 I realize that it may require some bravery (or just some digestive issues) for you to make this dish. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll give it a try and discover just how delicious it is!

Mini Rosemary Mint Frittatas

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ c packed spinach
  • ½ inch fresh rosemary sprig (about ½ t chopped)
  • 12-15 fresh mint leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (I used about 1/8 t salt)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Generously spray six muffin cups of a muffin tin with the cooking spray and set aside. Finely chop the mint, rosemary, and spinach, discarding the spinach stems. Add the eggs to a mixing bowl, then add the chopped ingredients alongside the salt and pepper, whisking with a fork. Once combined, divide the egg mixture into the six muffin cups, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is cooked through. Allow to cool slightly for five minutes, then gently pull each frittata out of the muffin tin with a butter knife or fork and enjoy.

Makes 6 servings

Celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection with Children

In need of ideas to celebrate the true meaning of Easter with the children in your life? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. RESURRECTION ROCKS

This is a simple activity that children and adults can enjoy alike. For this activity, you will need the following supplies:

  • Smooth, medium-sized rocks
  • Different colored paints of choice
  • Paintbrushes (optional)
  • Small cups or bowls of water
  • Newspaper or a plastic tablecloth to keep the mess contained (optional)

Begin this activity by explaining to your children that we celebrate Easter to remember that Jesus rose from the dead, then read the following passage.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Mark 16:1-6 ESV

Next, explain that the rocks are a way of remembering that the stone was rolled away and that Jesus rose from the dead. Encourage older children to paint spiritual themes or spring time scenes to represent the new life that we find in Jesus. When the projects are finished, paint the words “He is risen!” on top of each rock, then find a place to display each masterpiece, whether that be near the front door, in the garden, or even at a local park where others can be reminded that Jesus rose again.

2. GOSPEL-FOCUSED EASTER BASKETS

If you give your kids an Easter basket each year, why not make it a gospel-focused experience this year?

This idea was posted on social media by a woman named Anita Cason in 2018. In her post, she stated that it was not her original idea but rather bits and pieces of several ideas that she found online. I love how she adapted these ideas to turn them into a weekend activity, and I’m thrilled to share that activity with you all!

For this activity, you will need the following supplies for each child:

  • A basket
  • Rocks (these will be collected at the beginning of the activity)
  • A red cloth (or a red napkin)
  • Small toys, treats, or whatever you typically put in your children’s Easter baskets

Step One: On Good Friday, go on a rock collecting adventure with your kids! Take the baskets outdoors and let them retrieve whatever rocks they find (if you plan to do the first activity listed, now would be a great time to look for those rocks).  As your children begin to collect different rocks, ask them what they can observe about the weight of their baskets. Point out that, like those rocks, sin is burdensome and weighs us down. It also separates us from God. Reflect on the gravity of sin on the walk home.

Step Two: Once home, grab the baskets and place them in a prominent place to be seen over the weekend. Next, take a red cloth and place it over the basket, pointing out that it represents the blood that Jesus shed when He died on the cross to save us from our sins. Leave the cloth over the baskets the remainder of the day and all of Saturday as a visible reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Step Three: Once your children go to bed on Saturday night, change out the rocks for toys, treats, or whatever else you generally place in their baskets for Easter, then place the red cloth back over them.

Step Four: Let your children pull back the red cloth over their Easter baskets on Sunday morning to discover the treasures insides! Explain how, when we come to faith in Jesus, He cleanses us from all our sin and fills our heart with beautiful things. He indwells us with His Spirit and also gives us the fruit of the Spirit. We are truly made rich in Him!

If any of your children have not placed their faith in Jesus yet, I want to especially encourage you to ask if they have understood the gospel message and if they would like to make a decision for Christ. How beautiful it would be for God to use this simple activity to bring their little hearts to Him this year!

3. RESURRECTION ROLLS

My sister makes these dinner rolls with her children every year, and they are always a huge success. Her daughter is quite the baker, so she especially enjoys this activity, and the whole family enjoys the finished product! It’s a tangible reminder to all that the tomb was empty. Jesus rose from the dead!

For this activity, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 (10 ounce) can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
  • 8 large marshmallows
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

To make these simple rolls, you can follow the instructions at the following website: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/84289/resurrection-rolls/.

The marshmallow placed in the middle of the roll melts as it bakes and seeps into the crescent roll, leaving a hollow, sweet treat. This recipe is so simple that even young children can help to make it. It will be sure to impress them when they find that the marshmallow is gone once baked. I can’t think of a better (or tastier) food option to represent the empty tomb.

So, there you have it! If you celebrate with your kids this year using any of these ideas, please let me know! I’d love to hear how they go for you and your children. And if you have any other ideas that you could add to this list, please share them in the comments as well! God has given us such a special task in entrusting these children in our care, so let’s plant seeds in their hearts during these formative years and pray that they will have a deeper understanding of the gospel and of God’s love as a result.

Lastly, may God bless you richly this Easter season, my friends. He is risen, and that is always worth celebrating!

God Will Not Be Silenced

Photo by Tomas Anunziata in Pexels

We stood on the walkway, peering over the cement railing at the thrashing waves below. It was the last night of our team retreat, a retreat that almost didn’t happen since, within a few short months, our team had drastically dwindled down to just us two. An official team retreat seemed a bit extravagant, after all, when we were also roommates and friends that already spent a lot of time together. Considering the hardships from that semester, however, and the fact that we would soon be parting ways, we decided to go. The time of relaxation, reflection, and prayer for the future proved to be just what we needed.

Now we stood on the cobblestone pathway that final evening, soaking up the ocean breeze one last time as we watched the waves rhythmically roll toward the shore, gaining momentum and force as they raced toward us.

There is something mesmerizing about the ocean at night, where vast, open sky meets deep, dark sea. The waves are especially awe-inspiring after dark, a symphony in crescendo that is interrupted by thunderous applause as the waves burst into a frothy, white foam before retreating into the immense depths of salty sea.

Amid this magnificent show, I finally understood what was meant by the words from a worship song that was popular years ago.

Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name
Shout to the Lord by Darlene Zschech

That night, the ocean roared. It glorified God in all its wildness, strength, and intensity because it was doing exactly what God had intended it to do. And in that moment, I caught a better glimpse of who God was. I could see a reflection of His splendor, power, and might through those waves, and I realized so much more how the One who had created the ocean in all its ferociousness was utterly worthy of all my reverence and praise.

As we reluctantly stepped away from that sacred moment, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the ocean and the row of bars and night clubs on the opposite side of the road.  A dozen or so of these locales lined the street, a cacophony of noise flooding out of their windows and doors as a chaos of colors erupted forth from their pulsing neon lights.

The irony of of such a scene was not lost on me, and I wondered how many people left the ocean regretting the little time they had really spent on the beach due to the allure of places like those. I imagined that such establishments would always exist, ready to detour and distract people from the sea. Nonetheless, their distractive nature could not detract from the ocean’s majesty.  The waves would continue to roar and to reflect God’s glory in their strength, force, and consistency. Establishments would come and go, but the ocean would always remain, and it would never stop glorifying God in its wild beauty.

It has been over a decade that I went on that trip, but remembering what the immense waves revealed to me about God that day brings a lot of comfort to my heart as of late. The truth is, we live in a world that would not only distract and detour us from seeking God but would also increasingly seek to silence His Word and His moral law with each passing day. But just as the waves would not keep silent amidst competing voices, God will not be silenced. He cannot be contained. He cannot be confined. He will not be controlled or manipulated. Even in countries where Christianity is illegal and the church faces persecution, He is revealing Himself to individuals through dreams and other divine encounters for those who have yet to believe. No government, group, or any other thing can keep Him from accomplishing His purposes.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV

No matter how bad things may be (or may become) for believers, and no matter how much society may try to silence our testimony, God will not be silenced, and His Word cannot be destroyed. It will remain forever, and the church will continue to grow. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, when all is said and done, those who persecuted the church and tirelessly sought to silence God’s voice will be the very ones to kneel before Jesus and confess that He is Lord, alongside the entire world.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

God will not be silenced, so let’s be still and revel in the power, might, and strength of our God. He is still in control. He is always and forever in control.

Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10 ESV

Dream Big

First, it was the picture that my friend painted for me of a basket being lifted by dozens of colorful balloons that floated above the billowy clouds into the deep blue sky, similar to the cartoon movie Up. The words Dream Big were scrawled to the left of them.  Then it was the travel bag that came with the makeup samples I opened later that day—a small, blue tinted vinyl bag covered with the word dream printed all over it. Then it was a text message a few weeks later from the small group leader of the virtual Bible study I joined this year in which she essentially stated that it was never too late and to never give up. God was the God of our dreams, both big and small.

After hearing the same message in such a short amount of time, I started to think that maybe God was trying to tell me something, and as I considered the idea of dreaming, I realized that, as of late, I hadn’t been doing much of it at all.

I still had dreams of finishing my younger brother’s book and seeing it get published someday. I also had dreams about somehow turning this blog into a success later down the road. And then, of course, there were the hopes and dreams that I had for my family and my son in particular, which were often expressed through prayer. But almost all of my dreams seemed distant, like a desert oasis that one searches for but can never find.

The truth is, I had become resigned to the way life was now. I wasn’t necessarily just surviving the current circumstances of what seemed to be a never-ending storm. I had gotten past that stage, or so I liked to think, and was making the best of the situation at hand. My best, however, was far from thriving. I was simply making the most of each day and wishing for better days to come. The idea of dreaming big felt beyond my grasp, a challenge too overwhelming to accept. Where did I even begin when life felt just as uncertain and unstable as it did nearly a year ago?

Fortunately for us, God does not rely on the certainty or stability of our circumstances to do something magnificent in and through our lives. He often uses the hard circumstances as the perfect setting to spotlight His splendor.

He did this for the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, using the Pharaoh’s hardened heart to manifest His power through ten plagues and through a final, climactic parting of the Red Sea. He did this for Gideon, turning him into a valiant warrior during a time of oppression who would ultimately win the victory over the massive Midianite army with a mere three hundred men. And He did this for Joseph, turning his years of slavery and imprisonment into the stepping stones that would make his adolescent dreams become a reality, all for God’s glory so that many would be saved.

Our hardest, most desperate, and impossible moments truly are no match for God. The angel Gabriel stated it best when he appeared to Mary.

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 ESV

Recently I’ve asked God to put the dreams He has for me within my heart. I was reminded of something from years ago that one of the speakers at a missionary conference personally told me one afternoon out of the blue. He spoke to me about a verse found in Psalm 37.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 ESV

He then explained how, when we were delighting in the LORD, God put the desires He had for us within our hearts, desires that He later fulfilled. It was such a beautiful explanation that I had never heard or considered before, but it made sense to me. I saw in my own life how, as I grew in my love for God, He gave me new dreams and desires that I knew were pleasing to Him.

If you are like me, and this season of your life has been filled with continual hardship, disappointment, uncertainty, or confusion—one in which dreaming feels like a distant possibility—then perhaps we both need to take Psalm 37:4 a little more to heart. Our circumstances don’t have to be ideal to delight ourselves in the LORD or for Him to place His desires for us within our hearts. We can delight in Him and dream anew, in the midst of any disappointment or uncertainty, because we know that He is good and that we have been made secure in His love. So, let’s stop focusing so much on the circumstances of today. Let’s remind ourselves that God may very well be placing us in the perfect setting to be found in the spotlight of His glorious display of splendor. And as we seek to delight in Him, let’s pray that He would truly place His desires alone in our hearts, because His dreams for us are the ones that are truly worth dreaming big.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

God’s Timing in Motherhood

Photo from Pixabay

I turned forty nearly a month ago, and although I have been wanting to share about it for awhile, I have been procrastinating a bit because the topic I feel most compelled to write about is one that makes me feel vulnerable and is least relevant to my readers. It has to do with how I have been feeling lately as a forty-year-old mother to a toddler son.

I mourned the fact that I would be an older mom (if one at all) when JJ and I were newly engaged. The feeling took me by surprise since it seemed so incongruous to the joy I felt as I prepared to marry the man I loved. The truth is, I was seriously starting to wonder if I’d ever get married before meeting JJ. My twenties and early thirties passed me by with a lot of solo moments and a whole lot of questions about my future and romance. So, when JJ entered my life and we got engaged shortly before my 35th birthday, it wasn’t something I took for granted. I saw God’s fingerprints all over our story, and I was deeply grateful for what He was writing of it.

Nonetheless, I found myself in tears the first few weeks of our engagement as I mourned the fact that I’d never be a young mom. Fortunately, I was able to recognize that I was allowing the enemy to rob me of my joy, so I asked God to help me fully enjoy the moment, and He did. My sadness diminished as I reveled in the fact that God had truly answered my prayers for a husband. Life was sweet.

Several months later, JJ and I got married, and since neither of us were ready for children right away, we waited a full year until we both were. Fortunately for us, God blessed us with a baby boy ten months later. I was 37 at the time.

The first few months after Liam was born, I didn’t have time to think about my age. As I slowly started to venture out a bit more, however, I began to meet other moms with young children and was quickly reminded of just how old I was. And while the younger moms expressed their sadness over approaching their thirties, I was thinking forward to my son’s high school graduation and wondering just how many people would mistake me for his grandmother.

Life as an older mom has proven to be emotionally hard throughout the short time that I have been one, and although part of that hardship is based on my physical appearance in the midst of moms that are young and wrinkle free, a bigger part of it has to do with knowing that I will not always be able to keep up with my son as many younger moms will. My age is already playing a physical part in my parenting more than I would like it to, and turning forty has only intensified the reality of the impact my age has on my parenting. Nonetheless, I know these thoughts and feelings don’t have to have the final say in this topic. When I think of my age, I also think of Biblical characters that became mothers at much greater ages, and I’m reminded of how miraculous, beautiful, and noteworthy their stories were as a result.

I think of Sarah, who had to wait until she was ninety before having a son. But it was precisely after all those years of barrenness and in the biologically impossible stage of bearing children that God delighted to miraculously cause her to conceive and give birth to a son. And I think of Elizabeth, who was barren until she, too, became advanced in age. But God performed a similar miracle for her and also blessed her with a baby son.

Moreover, I think of the stories of Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah, who also struggled with infertility and no doubt begged God through tears for Him to give them a child as they hoped and waited for what may have seemed like an eternity. And although they did not have to wait until their childbearing years had passed to conceive a child, their stories were still very much orchestrated by God and glorifying to Him as a result of His answer to their prayers.

There is something even more magnificent about these stories than the initial miracle of each birth, however. God blessed these women with children that would make a historical and spiritual impact on the world, and through the recording of their stories in the Scriptures, men and women are still being impacted by them today. The prolonged time of waiting, which was likely a source of shame to these women at one point, became the very thing that highlighted God’s miraculous work in their lives and the meaningful story He was writing for them and their offspring.

When I think of the story of these women and their children, I am encouraged to see my story in a new light. Although my long wait was not due to infertility, it was a wait nonetheless that included tearful prayers that God would allow me to be a mother someday. And although no one would label my pregnancy as anything miraculous, I still saw God’s hand on it, blessing me in that stage of life.

I never would have chosen to become a first-time mother at an older age, just like Sarah, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rebekah, and Rachel wouldn’t have waited so long to become mothers themselves. But God chose the timing of motherhood for me, just like He did for them. He chose for me to be a middle-aged toddler mom, so I want to trust that He will accomplish His purposes in motherhood at this stage of my life for me and through me for the benefit of my husband and son.

We often may not understand God’s timing in our lives, but we can rest assured of this—His timing is perfect, and He can use each orchestrated moment to showcase His glorious work in our lives, so let these be the truths that stay with us as the years pass by. May the areas of our lives that have somehow caused us shame become the very things that God uses to highlight His mighty work in us and to write for us a much greater story—one that will have an impact for eternity.

Cinnamon Strawberry Compote

Tangy and sweet with a hint of spicy warmth, this strawberry sauce makes for a special, winter treat.

In need of a special, last-minute Valentine’s Day dessert? This cinnamon strawberry compote would make an elegant addition to any store-bought cheesecake, ice cream, or angel food cake. Or make an extra special breakfast that day by topping waffles, pancakes, or toast with this rich, red sauce.

This compote combines the fresh and tangy taste of strawberries and freshly squeezed lemon juice with the sweetness of sugar and a hint of spice and warmth from cinnamon and cloves, making this sauce a special winter treat. The ingredients blend beautifully over the stove in a matter of minutes and can be served hot, or can be placed in the fridge for a few hours to be served chilled. It’s entirely up to you. Either way, this compote is good, and you’ll find yourself wanting to make it over and over again!

So, if you need a quick recipe, here you go! And as Valentine’s Day approaches, let us remember to love well and to love deeply, just as God loves us.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

CINNAMON STRAWBERRY COMPOTE

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz strawberries, diced
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice of (divided)
  • 1 ½ t cinnamon
  • ¼ t cloves (scant teaspoon)
  • 2 T cornstarch

Directions:

Mix the diced strawberries, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice together and simmer over medium heat for five to seven minutes, stirring often. Stir in the cinnamon and cloves and place on low heat for one more minute. Meanwhile, stir the cornstarch into the remaining lemon juice, one tablespoon at a time, until combined. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the strawberry sauce while stirring constantly. Once combined, remove from heat and serve or let chill. Enjoy!

Remembering Still

I originally posted this essay on January 21st, 2020, with my son at the forefront of my mind (Simply titled “Remembering” as the original). Yesterday morning, I reread it thinking of my younger brother. Yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of his hospitalization–one that would last for nearly six months. Reading this post again, I can see how God was in the timing of the original post last January. He was preparing me (and hopefully others through it) for the difficulties to come.

My younger brother and I started writing a book last year about how God strengthened our faith as a family during his hospitalization. We gained so much treasure throughout that trial; God taught us valuable lessons and strengthened our faith. Someday, this pandemic will end, and I hope to sit down and look at all the treasure I have gained as a result. I hope I can see the valuable lessons God taught me and the way He strengthened my faith, much like my family and I have seen from my brother’s situation. But for now, I am content to be reminded of all that we have gained as a family from ten years ago, and I’m hopeful that there are still more treasures from it to come.

Herbs that my younger brother and sister-in-law recently sent me for my 40th birthday.

A year ago yesterday, my son was admitted to the hospital for a two-night stay.

The weeks and even months leading up to this anniversary, I would get a little teary-eyed thinking of it. I would remember him in his bouncy chair watching TV before he got admitted to the hospital, moaning and too weak to move. When he finally mustered up enough strength to get out of the chair and try to play, it would only be to slump to the floor and cry because he didn’t feel well, resulting in me rushing to his side and scooping him into my arms.

I was relieved when he was finally admitted to the hospital. He wasn’t getting any better at home, and I knew things were only going to get worse as long as he stayed there. And yet watching him deal with this sickness at the hospital was even more heartbreaking than what we had experienced at home so far. He hated having all the medical staff poke and prod him, and many times he would cry inconsolably.

The one comfort we both found during our hospital stay came in the evenings when I would nurse him to sleep and throughout the night in the flimsy cot the nurses had brought for me. It brought him relief, as it did me, and we both needed that. We needed the reassurance of being near each other.

As I have thought about these events throughout these past months, I really thought I’d be teary eyed when this date arrived. But I wasn’t.

These past few days, I have gotten to see my son laugh and run and play, and all I have been able to think about is how far we have come in a year and how faithful God has been.

Thinking about this anniversary these last few days has made me think about other hardships my family and I have faced throughout the years, most of them taking place around this time of year.

One of the most significant hardships happened nearly a decade ago when my younger brother got sick with a rare illness that left him in the hospital for months. And yet God was so gracious to us during that time. While my brother spent days on end in a hospital room, God provided good nurses and doctors that worked tirelessly to find a cure for him. And even as he was fighting for his life, God put it on the hearts of many people to also fight for my brother’s life through countless hours in prayer.

It is nothing short of a miracle that my younger brother is alive today. All of us who witnessed his time in the hospital and saw all he experienced know this to be true.

Something that amazes me when I think of this incident is how my younger brother never became bitter over what happened to him. If anything, he has grown closer to God as a result, and I admire the man he has become. He is a genuine example of what it means to live the Spirit-filled life, and I know that this has been God’s doing.

There was another time a couple of years prior to this when my sister-in-law caught pneumonia and had to spend a few days in the ICU right after moving to Chile. And God was also gracious to us throughout that time.

I am reminded of how He was teaching me to give thanks to Him in everything shortly before this incident occurred. When my heart would have naturally wanted to worry over the situation, God was showing me how He was at work as I determined to thank Him instead, and soon I was able to see and feel at peace with how much He was in control of these circumstances. The timing of this incident had not been a mistake.

A few days later, I received news that she had been discharged from the hospital and was doing well! She and her family were happily reunited to begin their new life together in South America!

On yet another occasion, my older brother and his children were part of the big earthquake in Chile that had followed shortly after the one in Haiti.

This incident was a lesson for me in actively guarding my mind as my family and I waited to hear from my older brother. So many horrible possibilities bombarded my mind as silence ensued for the next two days. I had to shove the images aside and simply pray and trust that God was in control and loved my brother and his family more than I ever could. Fortunately for us, the phone lines were working a few days later, and my mom received word that he and the children were fine. God had been so gracious to them and to us in sparing their lives and providing for their needs during the days to follow.

And lastly, there was the time when I was diagnosed with severe anemia in late February one year. The only reason the Physician’s Assistant did not order a blood transfusion on the spot was because my health insurance wouldn’t cover the expenses. He sent me home with a prescription for a high dose of iron, however, and warned me he’d be admitting me for the transfusion next week during our follow up appointment if he didn’t see an improvement in my iron levels.

Fortunately my iron levels went up slightly by the following week, so I was able to bypass a blood transfusion and instead continued taking the high-dose iron pills. I also began a series of tests to see what had caused my anemia in the first place. It was an emotional time in my life as, at one point, I was being tested to see if I had cancer. Fortunately, the test came back negative. All of the tests did.

It was never determined what was wrong with me to cause such severe anemia. But I ultimately saw God’s graciousness to me in the lack of answers, because it meant there was only one true answer to believe—that God had healed me from whatever had caused my sickness.

All this to say, we have definitely had our share of hardships as a family. Nonetheless, God’s faithfulness and graciousness have been so evident to us throughout each one.

As I have been recently thumbing through my journals and reliving these past hardships, I have been thinking about how good and necessary it is to remember what all God has brought us through.

It’s not a new idea. After all, the Israelites in the Old Testament were commanded time and time again to remember God’s wondrous works and how He had delivered them on countless occasions.

Part of the benefit of recalling these times is because it strengthens our faith in God. After all, if He brought us through those difficulties, He can surely bring us through the ones we are currently facing and the ones we will face in the future.

As I write about my experience with past hardships, I recognize that I have been blessed because none of these specific incidents ended in death. I nonetheless recognize that it won’t always be this way. If the LORD tarries and nature runs its natural course, then I will see old age lay many of my loved ones to rest on this side of eternity. That, however, is why it is all the more important to remember past hardships and how faithful God has been to us through them. If we remember and stand firm in how God has been good to us and will continue to be, perhaps we will see how deep His goodness runs even in the most difficult moments.

In my own life, each hardship I have faced has become a stepping stone to deeper faith in God and in His goodness and faithfulness. I pray that will never change.

During this most recent trial with my son and the months that ensued, I was often reminded of something that Peter told Jesus after many of His disciples turned back from following Him. Jesus asked the twelve if they also wanted to turn back. In that moment, however, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Ultimately, I know that no one and nothing else can offer me the words of eternal life other than Jesus. And I have seen first-hand how Jesus has done just that when Satan has meant to kill, steal, and destroy. I pray that I will always see how He is bringing life into whatever circumstance I encounter. God’s goodness, love, graciousness, and faithfulness will never cease to surround us. May He open our eyes to see this more and more each day. And may we never forget what He has brought us through, so that even (and especially) in our most trying days, we too can stand firm in who He is and in His words of life.