The Inner Struggles of a Mom

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My son gashed his chin at the park a few weeks ago. It’s not something I intended to write about, but it really left an impression on me. Considering all the blood and how deep the cut was, I think I responded fairly well. My son was a real trooper, too. He cried on the way to the hospital, as is to be expected from a three-year-old, but he quickly calmed down as I continued to reassure him that I was taking him to the emergency room so that he could get better. He even managed to take a nap in my arms as we sat in the waiting room.

Three hours later, after a lot of waiting and a bit of medical care, my son’s chin was finally stitched up, and we headed to the nearest drive thru to pick up a late lunch before heading home. Liam was soon back to his happy, rambunctious self as we ravenously scarfed down our food. It was as if he had already forgotten about the incident. Life was far from normal for me, however. Apart from the stress of trying to keep Liam’s stitches dry and clean that week and keeping him from picking at them or injuring himself any further, my mind was brewing with unwanted thoughts.

That day, I was freshly reminded that I cannot always protect my son. I wasn’t able to protect him at eleven months when he had to be admitted to the hospital for two nights for a disease my husband and I had never even heard about. I couldn’t protect him subsequently at his follow up appointment two weeks later, where the doctor determined that his health had been affected by the illness and he would have to be put on medication indefinitely. I couldn’t protect him eight months later when he slipped on a step at the zoo and had to get stitches for the first time, and I couldn’t protect him this last time when he tripped over his own feet just a few feet from my side.

As much as I try, I am unable to shield my son from much of the harm that comes from living in a fallen world, and this most recent incident was a vivid and painful reminder to me of just that. I am incapable of completely keeping him safe, and I always will be. But the thought that I wrestle with more as I think about all of this is knowing that God can keep him from harm, but He doesn’t always choose to do so. Liam will continue to experience sickness, pain, and sorrow in different seasons of his life, just like everyone else, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My faith does not falter as I consider these things, however, nor do I doubt God’s character. I have learned long ago to view my circumstances through the lens of God’s goodness rather than the other way around, and He has helped me to see Him at work in the different hardships I have faced thus far. I simply write this to confess that I’m struggling to reconcile myself to the fact that my family’s story may not turn out the way I want it to. We may experience greater suffering, sorrow, and loss than we have ever known, and there’s no way for us to undo whatever hardships we may face.

The most meaningful truth that I keep coming back to, however, is knowing that God did not spare His own Son for me. He gave Him over to a painful and gruesome death on a cross so that I might choose Jesus and have an eternity awaiting me with Him. And if God loved me so much to give His Son for me, then I can trust that He will not abandon me in my darkest moments and worst sufferings. He intimately knows my heart and all its emotions, and whatever may come, He will strengthen, comfort, and sustain me. He will completely see me through this life on earth until He sees me Home, where pain and sorrow will be no more.

I’m also comforted in knowing that God did not spare His own Son for Liam to give him a chance to believe in Him and be saved if he so chooses (and I fervently pray that he does).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

God loves Liam more than JJ and I ever could, and it would do me good to really meditate upon that fact and to find freedom in God’s great love for him. I can’t keep my son from harm, and God may not always shield him from all harm either, but I know that God can minister to Liam in his pain, just as He has done for JJ and me over and over again. He can comfort him, give him peace, and outpour His love upon Him in ways unlike anyone else. And those moments, in turn, can become the stepping stones that God uses to build faith in Liam and a deeper understanding of who He is.

Ultimately, I know that I must choose not to dwell on the possible hardships that this life may bring. The Bible admonishes us to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), so I will seek to turn my thoughts to those things. But for every new stitch, sickness, or sorrow that may come our way, I want to keep remembering that God did not spare His own Son because of His immense love for us, and He is ready to outpour His love, kindness, compassion, and comfort upon my family and me. We just have to keep seeing our circumstances through the lens of His goodness. We just have to keep believing that He will carry us through this life until He carries us home.

French Toast Made from Challah

My mom was making French toast out of challah long before it was a thing. Back in the early 90s, when all of us children were still living at home, she would whip up a couple of loaves on a Friday afternoon. We would then enjoy some of the freshly-baked bread with our dinner that evening, and she would convert the leftovers into delicious, fluffy French toast the next morning. It was undoubtedly our most favorite breakfast of the week and is one of my favorite memories today.

Sometimes we would eat the French toast with butter and maple syrup. Other times, we would have it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Whatever way my mom served it, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we began to limit how much bread we would eat the night before just so that we would have a greater quantity of challah for French toast the next day. Freshly baked bread with butter is really good (I’m almost drooling just thinking about it), but nothing beats French toast made from homemade challah. It is the best!

Nowadays, French toast made from challah is becoming much more common. I’ve seen it on menus at different restaurants and have noticed it in recipes online, and while I’m happy for more people to discover this delectable dish, I always have the urge to tell people that my mom was making French toast like this first. So, if you’re reading this, now you know! 😉 Maybe she was even the one to start the trend!

This recipe requires quite a bit of time to make. The good thing, however, is that it is fairly hands off once the dough is made. The majority of the time spent making the bread will be letting the dough rise and baking it. Once it is baked, it’s a simple matter of mixing up the French toast mixture, soaking each bread slice in it, and then cooking it over the stove (but do me a favor and eat a slice or two fresh out of the oven with butter first. You will not regret it!).

This recipe would be perfect for a special, summer brunch served with strawberries and whipped cream. You can really enjoy this with whatever toppings you desire, however. Some additional great options are butter, syrup, sliced bananas, nuts, berries, Nutella, peanut butter, or preserves.

What toppings do you enjoy on your French toast? Let me know in the comments section! 😊 And, as always, if you make this recipe, let me know! I’d love to know how it turns out for you!

FOR THE CHALLAH    

Ingredients:

  • 1 package yeast (1 T)
  • 2 t sugar
  • ¼ c lukewarm water
  • 3 ½ to 4 ½ c flour
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 c lukewarm water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Gently combine the yeast, sugar, and ¼ cup lukewarm water in a small bowl. Set aside for five minutes. Meanwhile, mix together 3 c flour and the salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well and add the eggs, oil, and remaining cup lukewarm water to the middle of it. Mix together, then slowly add more flour as necessary, ¼ c at a time. Start kneading as the dough becomes stiff, adding more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Do NOT add too much flour, however, as this will dry out the dough and make it denser once baked.

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, brush the dough with oil and let rise in the mixing bowl, covered, for an hour. After the dough has risen, divide it into three even portions, then roll each one into long log shapes. After creating three strands from each portion, braid them together on a greased baking sheet and let rise another 30 minutes. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the optional sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake 20-30 minutes until the bread is golden on top and baked through (thicker loaves may require additional time).

FOR THE FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 slices of Challah, cooled and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch slices
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c milk of choice
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • ½ t maple extract (optional)
  • 2 t brown sugar
  • 1/8 t cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2-3 T butter

Instructions:

Heat a pan over the stove medium-low heat. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla extract, maple extract, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together until thoroughly combined. Melt a tablespoon of butter over the pan to coat it, then dip a slice of Challah into the egg mixture until well coated and place into the pan, repeating with additional slices of Challah until the bottom of the pan is filled with Challah slices. Bake for several minutes until the French toast is thoroughly browned on each side. Repeat the process with any remaining pieces, making sure to coat the bottom of the pan with butter again. Enjoy your French toast hot with whatever optional toppings desired. Makes 8-10 slices.

God is Merciful

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

It drizzled a couple of times earlier this month, and both times were a vivid reminder to me of how much it rained in June a year ago—something odd for our desert region known as the Sun City. My family and I were not complaining though. With highs of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout most of the summer months, the rain provided moments of refreshing to our parched land and weary souls.

I have always enjoyed the rain, so I felt especially encouraged by it, and even more so on the few occasions that a rainbow appeared in the sky afterwards. It was a good reminder of God’s mercy expressed through His covenant to Noah after the flood, which is as follows:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Genesis 9:8-13 ESV

The rainbows from last summer reassured me of God’s tender mercy toward humanity, which I was very grateful for after the hardship we had already faced worldwide at that point. He is merciful and gracious toward mankind and consistently reminds us of that in different ways.

This June, I have seen quite a few rainbows as well, but not the ones that appear in the sky. They have been manmade symbols that are especially prominent in ads, clothing, and commercials this time of year, and although the intended meaning of this politicized symbol is far from the purpose for which God created it, I’m beginning to see God’s mercy even through this manmade form. I see God’s mercy because I see how He allows humanity to live and move and breathe even when we distort His creation for sinful purposes. And I see it, because He sustains the lives of those who actively reject Him and seek to live in wickedness. And I see it more personally because He gave His Son to spare me of my deserved punishment, and He has forgiven me of all my sins.

God shows mercy so that individuals may have the opportunity to place their faith in Him, because He desires that no one should perish and forever be separated from Him.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. “

2 Peter 3:9 ESV

But let’s not confuse His mercy for leniency, my friends. He may not destroy the whole earth by water again, but make no mistake—He will execute His judgment on this world. By His Word, He will execute judgment and destruction on the ungodly.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

2 Peter 3:7 ESV

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

2 Peter 3:10 ESV

For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, their sin has already been paid for through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. But for those who reject Jesus and continue to live their lives on their own path, whether in their own self-righteousness, wickedness, or somewhere in between, they will pay for their sin through an eternity in hell.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23 ESV

God is merciful, but He is also just, and we will see His justice completely executed on this earth someday, so let us not take His mercy for granted. Let us not presume that we can live apart from Him and face no consequences for that decision, regardless of how good we think our lives might be. And for those of us who have confidence in our salvation through Christ Jesus, let’s remember to pray for the lost often—that they would understand just how merciful God is and that His mercy would draw them to Him. Let’s allow all rainbows, furthermore, to remind us to do just that.

Growth

I was recently reminded of a trip I took to the supermarket three years ago. It was one of those rare occasions where I was able to go alone while JJ watched our son, so I took advantage of my little retreat by visiting the seasonal section of the store before making my purchases.

There’s something about a store’s seasonal section that enthralls me. I love seeing the décor, activities, crafts, gear, and food that accompany each season, and I often leave with some creative ideas of my own for how to better enjoy the coming months ahead.

During this particular trip, the aisles were filled with summer gear—grilling utensils, gardening supplies, water sports equipment, etc. And then there was the tiny section down one aisle filled with fun summer activities for children, which quickly caught my attention since my son had been born earlier that year. My eyes rested on a cute, plastic bucket and shovel meant for building sand castles, and I wistfully thought of the day that Liam would be able to enjoy such activities. I was honestly tempted to buy him the little bucket right then, but I resisted. Liam was only four months old. He was much too young to enjoy such fun activities at this moment in life. He would have to grow a little more before he could enjoy building sand castles and some of the other finer things in life.

As I headed out the supermarket that day, I couldn’t help but wonder if God ever thought of me the same way I thought of Liam that afternoon. Was He waiting for me to grow up a little more in my faith so that He could take me on certain adventures with Him? The idea gave me an even greater desire to grow. I didn’t want to miss out on anything that God had in store for me because I had become stagnant in my faith. I desired to live a meaningful life because it was one walked closely by God, following His lead in the direction in which He moved me. My prayer echoed (and still echoes) the lyrics to a Hillsong United song.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), by Hillsong United

Today, Liam is old enough to enjoy playing with shovels and buckets, and fortunately for us, we have a tentative trip planned to the beach later this summer when we visit JJ’s family. It will be Liam’s first trip to the beach ever, and I look forward to seeing his reaction as we sink our toes into the sand and let the waves wash over our feet.

There are quite a few things that I enjoy doing with Liam at this stage of his young life. We sometimes bake together, and we enjoy painting and reading and going to the park, among other things. I still must wait patiently to enjoy certain activities with him for when he’s older, however. He still has much growing to do. Nonetheless, I am learning to enjoy the moment that we’re in (or so trying) and to take advantage of the activities Liam enjoys now while he’s young. He won’t always enjoy tickles or fort making or all my hugs and kisses. As I look forward to what is ahead, I want to remember to enjoy the process and to celebrate each new accomplishment and what each new moment brings.

Perhaps our walks with God are similar. He knows our trajectory of growth. He knows what each new step will bring and how He will mold us more to look like His Son through our journey. As we seek further growth in our relationship with Him, let us be thankful for how far He has already brought us and be encouraged by how He is molding us to look more like His Son each day. It’s a process, but it’s a good one with much to enjoy and celebrate along the way, so let’s press toward the goal and let’s also embrace every God-given moment along the path.

Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole

My family and I love tortilla chips but never tend to finish eating an entire bag. The bottom of each bag is inevitably filled with crumbled up chips that are hard to grab or dip into salsa (which is a must with tortilla chips!), so we set the unfinished bag aside and opt for a new bag with perfectly triangular chips.

The problem, as silly as it may sound, is that these bags tend to accumulate in our pantry over time since I hate to waste food. Ironically, most times these unfinished bags go stale, so then I end up throwing them out anyway.

Recently, I decided I wanted to find a way to use these crumbled up chips so that they wouldn’t go to waste. Thus, I present to you slow cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole!

I’ve made this recipe a couple of times now, and my family really enjoys it. It’s nutritious, delicious, and easy to make. You can serve it over rice, potatoes, or simply as is, and it makes for a wonderful meal after church or on those busy days when you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the kitchen. So, without further ado, I leave you with the recipe for Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole, and, as always, please leave a comment if you make this meal to let me know how it turned out for you!

SLOW COOKER TEX-MEX CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breasts
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 1/2 t taco seasoning
  • 28 oz can green enchilada sauce
  • 5-7 sweet peppers (or red bell pepper, if preferred), cut into slices
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 2 c crushed/broken tortilla chips
  • 1 c shredded cheese of choice (I used a blend of Monterey, Cheddar, and Asadero)

Optional toppings: shredded lettuce, avocado/guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, black olives, salsa, additional crushed tortilla chips.

Instructions:

Add the flour and taco seasoning to a freezer bag, seal, and shake to combine. Add the chicken to the bag, then reseal and shake together until the chicken is evenly coated.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then cook the chicken for a couple of minutes on each side until the chicken is browned but not cooked through. Place the chicken in the bottom of the crockpot and add 2 cups of the enchilada sauce to cover it. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred or break the chicken into smaller pieces as desired, then add the peppers and mushrooms. Spread the crushed tortilla chips over the surface of the chicken mixture, cover with the remaining enchilada sauce, then cover the mixture with cheese. Cook for an additional 30-45 minutes on high or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy over rice or potatoes, if desired, and any additional toppings of your choice.

Tip: The tortilla chips will soften in the crockpot. If you desire to have a crunchier chip, use them as the base of your casserole instead of the rice or potatoes, or simply add them to the top of the mixture along with any additional toppings.

The Unexpected Blessing of Blogging

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I began this blog in the fall of 2019 when I sensed God inviting me on an adventure with Him. Excited about the idea, and not wanting to forget any lessons learned along the way, I decided to document the journey as it transpired. Little did I know of the adventure awaiting just a few short months down the road! This journey has been much more epic than I could have ever imagined, and God has been teaching me so much throughout this past year and a half.

Soon after beginning my blog, I realized what a good outlet it was for me. My family and I had already experienced nearly a year of semi-isolation due to some health issues my son was experiencing, and it was easy to feel lonely and to question why God would allow our current struggles to be part of our lives. Starting the blog gave me a sense of purpose through our struggles, however. It also provided a means of expressing my thoughts and feelings on a regular basis—something that had become harder to do now that I was home alone with my son a lot more.

Several months later, my sense of purpose in blogging grew as illness became a worldwide issue and concern. God gave me ideas throughout that time that I knew would be relevant to our current reality. He encouraged me in the months to follow with different Bible passages and insights, and I prayed that others would be encouraged and experience renewed hope alongside me as I wrote.

Now, over 18 months later, I am so grateful for what this blog has meant to me and for the comments I have received on how it has encouraged others. Perhaps one of the best and most unexpected blessings from blogging, however, has been gaining a sense of community throughout this journey.

I’ve always considered writing to be a solitary activity. It is for me, at least. But as I have posted my writings and started readings posts from other bloggers, I began to see a community forming in front of me. I started following the blogs of talented, godly women and noticed that many of them also began to follow mine. And as we all wrote and commented on each other’s blogposts, it felt like God was giving me friends through this means.

After a year like the last one, where my family and I experienced even greater isolation like many others did throughout the world, I can only say one thing about the camaraderie that I’ve gained through blogging.

Only God.

His timing for this blog was perfect, not only so that I could encourage others through a pandemic, but so that I could receive the encouragement I would need, and so that I would be challenged to grow in my walk with God amidst the present-day difficulties.

So, thank you to all of you who have been faithfully following God and sharing about your journeys while encouraging me on my own. I admire you, and you inspire me.

Sometimes I think of what it would be like to have you all over for a brunch or tea. We’d all sit around my dining room table and share about the most recent lessons God has been teaching us or the most impactful blogs that we’ve read of each other’s. And after hours of talking, eating, laughing, and deep connection, we’d pray for each other and encourage each other to keep writing for God’s glory. Perhaps we would end our time together by planning our next rendezvous several years down the road, in a different country in one of your homes, or perhaps in just another state (or city).

I don’t imagine that we’ll all get a chance to meet in person like that, much less have subsequent reunions afterwards. Not this side of heaven, at least. But if any of you are ever in my neck of the woods, mi casa es su casa. I hope you’ll contact me so that we can meet and mutually encourage each other in person, much like we’ve already been doing through our blogs.

In the meantime, I pray that God would immensely bless each of you. And may He continue to be Who you write for, guiding your thoughts and words so that you keep blessing and encouraging others through them, just like you have blessed and encouraged me.

Spiced Lemonade

Tangy, fresh lemons blend together with golden honey and sweet cinnamon to make a refreshing twist to a classic, summer drink.

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it’s the perfect time of year to drink fresh lemonade. This recipe is one I created years ago, when I was teaching ESL at the Spanish speaking seminary. I’m not sure what inspired me to add a cinnamon stick to the mixture other than the fact that I really like cinnamon—both for its taste and health benefits. That, and a friend of mine used to put a cinnamon stick in her iced tea when she brewed it, and I found the cinnamon to make her tea incredibly delicious.

Regardless of whatever the exact reason was, I’m glad I thought to do it. The tartness of the lemon juice blended together with honey, sweet cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla is the perfect blend. You’ll find yourself wanting to make this drink over and over again.

SPICED LEMONADE

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 c water, divided
  • 1/3 c honey (or sweetener of choice, to taste)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ c fresh squeezed lemon juice (around 2-3 large lemons)

Instructions:

Heat two cups water and honey over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the honey dissolves. Add the vanilla, cinnamon stick, and fresh squeezed lemon juice and simmer on low for five minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten to twenty minutes, then place in the refrigerator and chill overnight, or a minimum of six hours (this will allow the cinnamon flavor to really infuse itself into the drink). Add the additional 1 ½ cups water before serving, stir, and serve over ice. Makes 3-4 servings.

NOTE: This lemonade tastes tart before fully chilled but will become sweeter once cold.

Planting Seeds

I planted some lantanas in my front yard earlier this spring. Their small red and yellow blossoms were the perfect pop of color for an otherwise monochromatic yard. The first few weeks after planting them, I couldn’t stop gazing at the tiny blossoms. I’d sneak away into the guest room to catch a glimpse of them in the morning and let my eyes linger on them whenever I left the house. Seeing their tiny splash of color made me happy. It’s funny how simple things can bring so much pleasure.

Planting those flowers a few months ago made me realize what a good time of year it was to plant in general—and not just in a literal sense. Last year, the world was thrust into a deep, dark winter as the coronavirus swept over the globe and changed life drastically for society as a whole. Many of the plans and dreams that we had sown as seeds a few months earlier never got a chance to blossom or even sprout. They stayed buried beneath the surface as the pandemic blanketed the world in heavy snow. With mandated quarantines and other restrictions, many of us all but hibernated, wishing away the long months that felt like winter to our hearts with no end in sight.

 There has been a shift in weather as of late, however. The seasons are changing, and the deep winter is bidding its farewell. The snow has been melting, giving way to spring, and our garden’s soil is thawing so that it can birth new hopes and dreams.

What will you plant this season? Will you be able to revive the seeds sown last year? Or will you need to start afresh, with a new vision for your “garden”?

As we transition from winter to spring, whenever that might be for each of us personally, let’s take time to ponder these questions, prayerfully seeking God’s guidance in our “planting.” The garden that we imagined for our lives might look different than what we may have expected over a year ago. Some hopes and dreams may be too frostbitten to revive. But even so, God can make a beautiful garden out of the life that He is giving us in this present moment. He undoubtedly has already sown lessons, values, and a deeper hope within us as a result of the winter that we have weathered. We have only to tend to these seedlings and to watch God bring growth as a result. And we have only to cooperate with Him in further planting, watering, and weeding as we watch our gardens begin to blossom. So, let’s think about planting again as we enter this new season. Let’s give God the soil of our lives so that He can sow seeds within us that will bring forth a harvest for His praise, and let’s put in the work to tend to each new planting of the LORD daily, trusting that, as we faithfully toil, God will bring forth a bountiful harvest in due time.

“Those who sow in tears
    shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    bringing his sheaves with him.”

Psalm 126:5-6

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.

TAKE ME TO THE TROPICS CAKE

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.