Whew! My family and I had quite the weekend! It started on Thursday when my family and I woke up before the crack of dawn to make the eight-hour trek to my older sister’s house so we could celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. After enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and quiet evening at her house, we got out a bit the following day, eating at my husband’s favorite pizza place for lunch and then heading to a nearby town to enjoy the Christmas lights and festivities that evening. The following morning, we woke up, ate breakfast, and packed our bags to make the long trip back home—this time a twelve-hour road trip since we made a few more stops along the way. Needless to say, we were exhausted come Sunday. By the time I tucked my little one into bed that evening, I was ready to go to sleep myself. But I didn’t. I stayed up just a little longer to uphold a personal, cherished tradition of mine—writing a list of the things I liked most about this year. It’s the list that makes me recognize God’s extravagance towards me all over again and causes my heart to overflow with gratefulness. It’s the list that helps me to recognize that, no matter how hard any given year may be, it is still laced with beauty and the touch of a loving Father that knows how to give good gifts to His children. And it’s the list that, once made, can be read over and over again throughout the years to remind me just how generous God was to me, even if life that year was hard. Thinking about these things makes me want to reread the list I made for last year and several others years past. I want to remember God’s goodness more than I remember any trials I endured. Perhaps someday I’ll find myself rereading my list of bests from this year as well.
I’m truly thankful for all the blessings God has had for my family and me throughout these past eleven months (and the ones that we have yet to discover in December). I’m thankful for the small moments that will forever be etched in my mind as precious memories, and I’m thankful for the bigger moments for which their anticipation was even a gift.
As hard as this year has been worldwide, it has been one of our best as a family. God made a way when there was no way, and I look forward to seeing where His way for our family will lead as we close out this year and journey into the next.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Over a month ago, I decided it would be good to try to help my three-year-old learn some Bible verses, so I made up a little song to help him memorize what is possibly the most popular Bible verse of all—John 3:16.
The tune I composed is simple and repetitive, and I debated sharing it on this platform for that reason, but I believe it makes for a good melody in aiding young children to memorize this verse. Also, after chatting with my husband last night about purpose and recalling the story of Anna Bartlett Warner, the woman who composed Jesus Loves Me,* I felt compelled to share this song.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the most impact, but regardless of whether they do or not, we know that a life of obedience pleases God. It’s my prayer that God would be blessed through this song and that He would bless others through it as well.
I’ll tell you right now that I made some mistakes while trying to record this song for at least a dozen times. I don’t know if I’ll ever see the day where I play the piano and sing flawlessly (or have a flawless looking video, for that matter). It is just not in my nature to do so, no matter how hard I try. Nonetheless, I’m reminded of statements in the Bible like that of Paul’s:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
May I learn to see my own weaknesses as Paul did his and to remember that this life isn’t about me but about a good and great God that can accomplish anything, and He can do so through anyone whom He pleases. God bless you as you listen to this, and may you be reminded of just how great His love is.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Unfortunately, my first attempt was not too great. My family enjoyed it with the cream cheese frosting that I smothered on top of it, but the bread wasn’t sweet enough to enjoy on its own. That didn’t stop me from continuing with my attempts, however, and since then, I’ve created this bread.
Although this bread does not taste like chai per se, it is made with black tea and chai spices, giving it a taste reminiscent of autumn. The combination of applesauce, roasted butternut, and pumpkin puree only adds to those traditional fall flavors, creating a delightfully moist and sweet bread fit for having “harvest” in its name.
Not only does this bread make for a delicious fall treat, but it will bring all the coziness of fall to your home with its warm scent and is sure to quickly become a favorite. It already has become one of mine. So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for Glazed Harvest Chai Bread, and as always, please let me know if you make it and how it turned out for you!
GLAZED HARVEST CHAI BREAD
For the chai buttermilk mixture:
• 1 ½ c milk • 4 tea bags of black tea • 1 t cinnamon • ½ t ginger • ¼ t cardamom • ¼ t cloves • 1/8 t pepper • 1 ½ T lemon juice
For the bread:
• ½ c chai buttermilk mixture • 2 eggs • ½ c applesauce • ½ c butternut squash, roasted • ½ c pumpkin puree • 1 t vanilla extract • 1 ¼ c light brown sugar • 2 c flour • ½ t salt • 1 t baking soda • ½ t baking powder • 1 t cinnamon • ½ t ginger • ¼ t cloves • ¼ t cardamom • ¾ c white chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, almonds, or walnuts (optional)
For the glaze topping:
¼ c chai buttermilk mixture
½ c sugar
½ t honey
¼ t baking soda
2 T butter
½ t vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
To make the chai mixture, combine the milk, tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and pepper in a small saucepan and heat over medium low until warmed and thoroughly combined. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator to let cool slightly, around ten to fifteen minutes. Once lukewarm to slightly warm, add the lemon juice and let sit for an additional ten minutes.
While the buttermilk mixture is forming, mix the eggs, applesauce, butternut squash, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and brown sugar in a blender. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom together. Add the baking chips or nuts, if desired, the blended ingredients, and the ½ c buttermilk chai mixture. Mix to combine, then place in the loaf pan and bake for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted through the middle of the bread comes out clean.
While the bread is baking, make the glaze by combining ¼ cup of the chai buttermilk mixture, ½ c sugar, ½ t honey, ¼ t baking soda, and 2 T butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Bring to a boil, then stir in the vanilla. Set aside.
Once the bread is finished baking, pour the glaze over the it while it is still in the pan (just use what is needed to cover the top surface of the loaf), then bake an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before removing from its pan. Slice and enjoy! Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.
*You may have additional chai buttermilk mixture leftover by the time you have finished baking the bread and making the glaze. The amount of milk used in this recipe is to allow for any reduction of liquid that may occur during heating.
**The chai mixture may or may not become like buttermilk in consistency. It did for me my first attempt, but not the second attempt. Either way, the varying consistency did not noticeably affect the end product.
Shortly after the neighborhood caterpillar infestation, we had a problem with ants in our house. It was stressful and bothersome, but I felt capable of handling the situation since I had a much worse ant infestation years back when I was single.
I pulled out all the old tricks, and soon the ants were gone and I had patched up the hole from which they had entered with some plaster. But then that afternoon, we had a new cluster of ants paving a trail into the inner confines of our living room, and then we had a new one the following morning just a few feet away from the second one I had cleared up the previous afternoon. I ended up spraying the areas where the ants had entered with bug spray, mopping the house thoroughly again with a solution that would deter the ants, vacuuming the living room rug (the ants were starting to climb it), and then patching up all the areas (and possible areas) where the ants had entered our home.
For a week or so, it seemed like all problems were solved. We soon realized they weren’t, however. We found ants in our hallway at that time. And then a few weeks later, my husband pointed out a new group of ants in our living room, not far from the original problem area.
As I took care of the most recent case of ants, I felt disheartened by the consistency of this problem. Just as we thought we had resolved the issue for good, it came back to taunt us, it seemed. Would we ever fully be rid of these little intruders?
Clearing out this latest cluster of ants made me think about how much their constant invasions symbolized life issues in general. The truth is, we will all experience an ant intrusion sooner or later. We may not encounter a literal ant problem (although that is very probable too), but at some point, we will face issues that resurface over and over again.
The ongoing conflict with a coworker. Problems at home between a family member. Health issues. Financial problems. The bad habit that hasn’t quite been broken or the sin issue over which complete victory still needs to be claimed.
Facing problems in this life is an unavoidable part of our existence. Fortunately, Jesus gives us hope in the midst of this somber truth.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
When our problems seem overbearing and everlasting, that is the hope we must cling to. As endless as our hardships may seem, we will not take them with us past this life. They are only a temporary part of our existence through which we can seek to please the Lord, just like all other aspects in life.
As I was clearing out the latest ant trail, I realized one way I could seek to please God through my hardships was in persevering through them as I did the problem with the ants. The truth is, I haven’t wanted to keep cleaning out these ant clusters. I have grown discouraged and weary by this reoccurring issue. But I know that I must continue to do so. If I simply give up and ignore the problem, it will grow bigger overtime, and our whole house will be covered in ants.
When problems resurface and I tire of responding to them over and over again, perhaps I need to remind myself of just how big my issues could become if I never dealt with them again. Thinking of hardships like an infestation of ants definitely motivates me to persevere and work through whatever issues I can. I may not be making the headway I want to in a certain area of life, but keeping an area from becoming worse as we ever so slowly try to inch toward something better is valuable, so let’s keep persevering through our trials.
Something else that I have been thinking about as of late is how God does not call us to deal with our problems on our own. As believers, God’s Spirit dwells in us, and He is able work in and through us to bring victory over certain areas of our lives. He can help us to be loving and kind and to show goodness and gentleness to the coworker or family member with whom problems are mounting. He can give us joy and peace in the face of financial or health crises. He can fill us with self-control when we are tempted to fall back into bad habits and faithfulness to walk in righteousness instead of turning back to sinful ways. And He can give us patience in the midst of our hardships as we wait for them to fade away, whether in this life or the next.
Many months ago, a friend told me about a quote she posted on her bathroom mirror that really sums up God’s ability to work in and through us. It reads as follows:
I can’t. You [God] can.
‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ Phil. 4:13
Teach me the MYSTERY of CHRIST in me.”
We really can’t, and the trials we face in this life are an ever-present reminder of that fact. But God can through us. These struggles give us the opportunity to depend on Him like nothing else as we become more deeply aware of our own frailty, and dependence on God is key to walking closely with Him. So, let’s humble ourselves before Him and recognize our own inability as we face each hardship, great and small. Let’s press on through the power of His strength, not giving up to our problems, not giving in to self-pity or bitterness, but continuing to give each trial over to God and trusting that He will see us through.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Around this time last year, I dreamed about creating a pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon and caramel swirl. The days quickly turned into weeks, however, and I never got around to it. Soon Thanksgiving had come and gone, and the opportunity seemed lost.
I kept it in mind for this year, however, so I decided to try my hand at at it this month, and my family and I are equally delighted with the results.
This no-bake cheesecake is a luscious, elegant dessert worthy to be part of your Thanksgiving or a fall potluck or get together. Creamy, sweet pumpkin combines with morsels of warm cinnamon and swirls of creamy caramel in this rich dessert. The best part? It is so easy to make! If you want to make a dessert that requires minimal effort yet is sure to impress, then give this one a try! And as always, leave a comment in the comments section if you make it to let me know what you think!
NO BAKE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE WITH CINNAMON AND CARAMEL SWIRL
2 sleeves graham crackers (18 full graham crackers, equal to 3 cups finely crushed)
2 T Saigon cinnamon, divided (or your preference of cinnamon)
1/8 t salt
1 c butter, melted
2/3 c granulated sugar
1 c brown sugar, divided
1 c caramel sauce, store bought or homemade
1 c heavy whipping cream
2/3 c powdered sugar
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 c pumpkin puree
1 T pumpkin pie spice
1 t vanilla
Spray a springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Crush the graham crackers in segments in a sealed plastic freezer bag using a rolling pin or drinking glass. Place the crumbs and granulated sugar in a mixing bowl and stir in 1 T cinnamon and salt, then add the melted butter and stir until combined. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture, then press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the spring form pan, pressing the edges up the side by a half inch. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
In the meantime, prepare the cinnamon swirl mixture. Add the remaining tablespoon of cinnamon and ½ c brown sugar to the remaining graham cracker crumb mixture and mix until combined. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the heavy whipping cream until peaks start to form, then add the powdered sugar and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, ½ c brown sugar, and vanilla, then add the whipping cream to the pumpkin mixture and mix until combined.
To assemble the cheesecake, spread 1/3 c of the caramel sauce over the center of the crust, then spread a half of the pumpkin cheesecake mixture over it. Add 6 spoonfuls of the cinnamon swirl mixture and caramel sauce to the top of the cheesecake mixture, alternating between the two, then use a butter knife and carefully slice through the cake to create swirls with the cinnamon mixture and caramel sauce. Next, spread the rest of the pumpkin cheesecake mixture over it, then drizzle the remaining 1/3 c caramel sauce over the top and slice through the top half again to form different patterns with the sauce. Spoon the remaining cinnamon mixture around the edges of the cheesecake to create a border. Chill 3-4 hours or until set before serving. Enjoy!
We had an infestation of caterpillars in our neighborhood a little over a month ago, and although I was somewhat disgusted by it, I also found joy in watching my toddler son enjoy them so much.
“Pet, pet, pet. I pet a cata-pil-wer,” he would tell me after bending down to stroke each one with his index finger. He was oblivious to their attacks and attempts to get away, despite my best efforts to make him understand. In his mind, he was showing them some much needed affection, and he contentedly smiled to himself as he continued to bestow kindness upon them.
I’m glad that walking is no longer my main form of exercise. Liam is much too fascinated by nature to take things at a brisk pace. He wants to explore and enjoy creation, and he’s teaching me to slow down and look at life with the same wonder and fascination that has captured him.
Moments like these make me think about Jesus’ own interactions with children and His words to the disciples about them.
Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Liam has yet to place his faith in Jesus or to even understand the gospel, for that matter, but I find myself learning more about what it means to be childlike in my faith because of him. He is showing me how to recognize and enjoy the small pleasures of life that God gives us. The simplest of moments hold so much adventure and delight for him, and he doesn’t take any of it for granted.
Often times, I wake up feeling steeped in the sorrows of this world. There are countless tragedies taking place nowadays, and it is all too easy to hear about them and feel burdened by them. These things weigh me down and have me walking through life in a fog at times, not fully aware of the beauty that surrounds me and the way that God lavishly pours down His love upon me through the simple gifts of each day. But seeing Liam enjoy these thoughtful gestures so freely helps me to recognize that God’s goodness abounds. There is still so much to enjoy here on earth. God abundantly blesses us with good gifts each day, and Liam is making me a little more aware of them through our excursions and other ordinary life moments, for which I’m grateful.
Liam is also making me more aware of my need to be less concerned about my own comfort and convenience in life. If there is a great adventure to be had, Liam is ready to enter into it, despite the discomfort he might experience in the end.
Weeks ago, he walked home with me in wet pants and shoes due to jumping in some puddles near our home, and it reminded me of how excited I was to jump in puddles as a little girl. I’m not encouraging any of us to jump in puddles or play in the mud as adults per se, but watching him have so much fun made me wonder if I am truly willing to enter into all of the adventures that God has in store for me, regardless of how messy they might be.
My son is still very young, so I can only imagine the other lessons and insights that God will give me through him as he grows. And of course, he has much to learn from me and others also, but I’m so appreciative to God for the ways in which He is growing me spiritually through my son. He delights to teach us and help us grow in whatever position or role in which we find ourselves, and I find that to be a special blessing in this season of mothering a small child.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
I keep thinking about the palm tree in our front yard—the one we tried to uproot earlier this year. With only a couple of green, half-inch patches peeking out of its branches, I took it for dead.
A few weeks later, with JJ’s approval and only a hand shovel at my disposal, I began to dig away at that tree with great fervor and optimism. A half hour later, however, my enthusiasm had diminished. Sweat was dripping off my face as I accepted defeat against the unmoving palm tree. It didn’t get much better when JJ and I bought a normal-sized shovel and he had his turn tearing it up, either.
As the sun began to set that evening, our yard was littered with dirt and severed roots, but the center root remained intact, firmly anchoring the storm-weathered tree to solid ground.
We considered our options and finally decided we’d leave the tree alone for a few more weeks. Perhaps there was still life to be found in the tiny plant considering the great strength it had exhibited that day. I’d give it some extra care in the weeks to follow, and if we didn’t see any growth at that time, we’d figure out how to be rid of it once and for all.
Surprisingly, the tree had grown an inch alone by the very next morning, and green was lining the bottom of its branches as they spread out and continued to grow. Today, that palm tree is the greenest plant in our front yard—still tiny, but bursting with life and growing stronger and bigger each day.
I think of this palm tree often, because our lives as a family seem to parallel its story. We’ve experienced our own personal storms; we’ve faced the elements of desert living. And the harshness of the climate these past few years has made it difficult to recognize much growth. Sometimes it has felt like we have not been fully living at all. But then I’m reminded that growth isn’t simply about branching out or living in an eternal season of spring. Perhaps growth involves severing roots that have hindered growth, at times, and anchoring ourselves more firmly to the Root that causes us to truly live. Sometimes growth requires that we go through seasons of pruning in order that we may bear more fruit in time.
When I think of our life as a family and the seeming barrenness of these past couple of years, I want to keep these perspectives in mind. Most times, it feels like our attempts to branch out have brought us back to bare roots. But then I’m reminded of John’s words about the Messiah.
He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Perhaps all of this digging up and pruning and seemingly becoming less is part of me decreasing so that Jesus may increase in my life. If that is the case, then let it be so. And may God help me to willingly accept that rather than struggling through it as I often do. Ultimately, this season of pruning won’t last forever, so may God help me to graciously accept it with anticipation for the harvest that He is preparing as a result of all the digging up and pruning.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
I’ve been weeping a lot as of late—for tragic events that have happened recently and for the ones that happened twenty years ago during the 9/11 attacks. One story that has especially left me bawling this weekend has been a transcript circulating social media between Todd Beamer of flight 93 and Lisa Jefferson, a telephone supervisor with GTE (found here: https://texags.com/forums/16/topics/3225742).
I am unable to confirm the veracity of this transcript. Nonetheless, it beautifully captures the essence of the last moments of flight 93 and the courage that a group of people displayed by their determination to unravel the plans of the terrorists. The transcript ends with Todd Beamer’s famous last words of that call: “Let’s roll!”
The older I get, the more his actions and those of the other brave people among that flight move me. The truth is, as Americans, we are indebted to this small group of people in many ways.
Had they not risen up against these jihadists, it is most probable that many of our country’s leaders would have perished in the horrid events of that day. Our country would have been more vulnerable and less secure than it already was in the days that followed. This, in turn, would have left our country vulnerable to further attack in the days to come. Who knows what might have happened to our nation? Who knows if perhaps other terrorist attacks were deterred because of the failure of the hijackers’ mission for flight 93?
Todd Beamer and the other brave men and women that chose to stand up against the terrorists on flight 93 did not choose to be heroes that day. They merely chose to go about their everyday lives, which involved a flight on United 93 that morning.
Nonetheless, when they were faced with an unwanted yet unavoidable, grave situation, they decided to rise up. They chose courage. They decided to fight against evil. And they ultimately sacrificed their own lives for the good of their country, so that we might continue to enjoy the freedom that we have always known.
I am so thankful for their lives and their example.
Let’s not forget them. Let’s strive to be more like them.
We may never be called to give up our lives selflessly for others in the way that they did that day, but we can live selflessly for others every day. We can sacrifice in simple ways for the good of others. We can love like Jesus through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Let’s ask God to help us do so. Let’s ask Him to unify our country through His love expressed through us as believers. And let’s pray most of all for those within our country that are most easy to see as our enemies, that God would be at work in their lives and ours.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 6:12 ESV
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.Let all that you do be done with love.”
This is the type of book that I hope you’ll never have a need to read. If you do, however, I hope a copy makes its way into your hands.
Written by my mother’s cousin’s daughter, Heidi L. Paulec shares the personal account of losing her cousin Jamie to death by suicide, including fond memories of him when he was alive, what it was like to receive the news of his death, and how this event has affected her life since then.
The book is very much a family keepsake in that it not only shares Heidi’s thoughts and feelings regarding this loss, but she also shares her family’s memories of Jamie (up to four generations), their thoughts and feelings upon receiving the news of his death, and how they have found hope in God since this tragedy through their firm foundation of faith.
The book is compelling, easy to read, and deeply vulnerable as each family member shares about their own struggles in the face of loss. Nonetheless, hope is the underlying theme of this book. Even in the darkest moments after Jamie’s passing, Heidi and her family have been able to see how God was and has always been their abiding light, sustaining them in their profound grief.
One of the greatest gifts this book has to offer (in my personal opinion) is the knowledge of knowing that no one is alone in such a journey of loss. Others have walked down this road and are ready and willing to lend a listening ear and a lot of empathy and compassion to those who suddenly find themselves in a similar story. Heidi offers resources at the end of her book so that individuals can connect with others in their journey of grief. She can also be contacted at her own website, found here: https://heidipaulec.com/abiding-light/.
Heidi furthermore offers the gift of hope to her readers, as already mentioned. Although she felt steeped in the murky waters of confusion in the early days of her loss, she has been able to see how God was right beside her, sustaining her and providing healing every step of the way.
Not only is this a good resource for those who have experienced loss of a loved one to death by suicide, but it is also an excellent resource for friends or family who are walking alongside a loved one who has lost someone by this means. Heidi provides her own thoughts about how she was best comforted throughout this time, providing the reader ideas on how to show compassion to others.
If you or someone you know is experiencing such a loss, please consider purchasing this book. It may very well be instrumental in your own healing journey (or the journey of someone you may know). It can be found in Barnes and Noble and online at Amazon.
I pray that none of us will ever have to experience this sort of loss, but may we be ready to be part of the healing journey of anyone who may journey this painful path. May we point others in their darkest moments of life to the Light of the World, the one and only Abiding Light.
God prepares us for grief with gifts from his hand, his mind, his heart. He strengthens. He comforts. And he connects us with a resilience and love like no other.”
I haven’t been writing much as of late because JJ, Liam, and I are out of town visiting family. The situation in Afghanistan has been heavy on my heart, however, and I have felt compelled to write about it. Perhaps I’ll write a longer post regarding my thoughts when we get back home next week, but for now, I find comfort in the following words from the song This Is My Father’s World (you can listen to the complete version here–https://youtu.be/32dsCyNCYGE):
This is my Father's world O let me never forget That though the wrongs seem oft so strong God is the Ruler yet
God is the ruler yet, and I’m praying that this truth will become evident to the Afghan people in the days to come and that many will be drawn into a personal relationship with Jesus as a result.
Although I cannot pretend to understand why God is allowing this situation to take place, I am grateful for how He is drawing believers around the world to pray for this nation and do not doubt that He will draw men and women to Him as we pray. So, let’s continue to lift up the Afghan people in prayer and to trust God to work in powerful ways on their behalf.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.