Going Deeper

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My family and I recently went out of town. JJ’s nephew graduated from high school several weeks ago, so we flew to a beautiful area in the northeast to celebrate with him and to visit with family in their neck of the woods.

The week away was a much-needed break. It was good to get away from the constant reminders of the tragedy that took place here in May, which had engulfed me in deep sorrow ever since that day. My family and I also welcomed the chance to escape the scorching, Texas heat! I packed a sweatshirt for our trip and actually wore it a few times!

While away, we reveled in the cooler weather as we enjoyed good conversations, nature, some sight-seeing, and my sister-in-law’s delicious home-cooked meals. The week was simply glorious!

With an extra day on our trip due to a flight cancelation, my family and I took advantage of taking a quick dip in the neighborhood pool our last day, where we were surrounded by mountains on one side and stately pine trees extending high into clear blue skies speckled by fluffy, white clouds. It was the perfect way to bring our trip to a close.

While there, I intently watched two mothers as they tried to reason with their young children to go deeper into the pool with them. It was the same problem I had been having with my own son as of late. They were at an age where they were somewhat afraid of the water, wanting to either cling to the ledge of the pool for dear life or sit staunchly on the swimming pool steps, refusing to further enter in. Seeing these children act this way as a spectator was somewhat comical. It’s as if they forgot who they were with—that they had their mothers by their sides who would not leave them. Or perhaps they hadn’t forgotten but didn’t fully comprehend who these women were. Maybe they failed to understand that their mothers would do anything to save them, even sacrificing their own lives.

Fortunately, one of the young children finally mustered up enough courage to acquiesce to his mother’s pleas, and soon he was splashing about, laughing with glee as he glided around on a pool noodle that his mom was securely holding onto. He was finally enjoying the fun that she had intended for him all along.

As I watched this happy moment, I wondered how often we, as believers, acted like those children in our own relationship with God. When God wanted to take us deeper into some aspect of our lives, did we instead insist on staying on the sidelines, staunchly sitting on our own swimming pool steps rather than following God’s leading into something more profound and purposeful? When presented with a situation that threatened to inundate us, did we forget who was by our side and that He would never leave us? Or did we fail to comprehend who God was and that He would do anything to save us? Because, in fact, Jesus already did. He sacrificed His very own life.

In all honesty, it’s hard for me to write these words, because I know how much I struggle to go deeper myself. My natural inclination is to want to give in to worry and fear, opting to “play it safe” on the sidelines rather than fully immersing myself in something more meaningful. But maybe that is the precise reason why I needed to write this—because I need to forever remember those kids at the pool and the insights gained that day. And I need to challenge myself in this respect and pray to God that I will be different—that I won’t miss out on the opportunities and invitations God gives me to go deeper with Him in any way.

Something I keep thinking about as I continue to mull over that moment at the pool is how much those children (and my own) could benefit from going deeper into the water with their moms. They might eventually learn how to swim if they entered a little further, where they had room to splash their arms about and kick their feet as their mothers upheld them and taught them some basic moves. These simple lessons, in turn, could eventually lead to more advanced lessons which would equip these little ones with the ability to swim over time.

The thing is, you can’t learn to swim if you are fiercely clinging to the ledge or stubbornly sitting on the side. You have to go deeper. Your trust in the one who is upholding you must be greater than your fears. And only there will your fears fade away as you revel in the beauty of the moment. Only there can you learn new things that will open the door to many new adventures to come.

Similarly, you can’t learn how to have deeper faith, character, and trust in God, nor any other skill with which God would equip you, if you only wade in the water when God is calling you to go deeper.  

The truth is, He wants to take each of us to places where our feet will no longer touch the bottom, where we cannot sit on the side. But we know that we can trust the One who is leading us because He will uphold us.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

He will help us and teach us what He wants us to know. And we can revel in the beauty of the moment, despite our fears, because we know that God is forever with us.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

Isaiah 43:2a

He is with us and will equip us for greater things—many new adventures to come.

Becoming Real

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”1
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

***

Have you ever read the story of The Velveteen Rabbit? It’s the classic children’s story about a stuffed, toy bunny that dreams of becoming real. The story has its ups and downs as the bunny believes he is real at one point but then realizes he is not. In the end, however, the little rabbit is finally granted his wish.

After reading this tale recently, I came to realize that the ending wasn’t quite what I remembered it to be. I knew that the stuffed bunny willingly suffered alongside his owner while the little boy was sick in bed with scarlet fever. I also remembered that the bunny and some other toys were to be burned after the boy recovered from his illness so that they would not spread germs to anyone.  And it was in the yard, while he waited this impending doom, that he met the magic nursery fairy who ultimately brought him to life.

What I didn’t recall was that the fairy made the rabbit’s wish come true because she took care of old, worn down, or broken toys that were loved.

I somehow failed to see the connection between the boy’s love and the rabbit’s realness when I first read this story. Instead, I implicitly understood something that I still believe to hold true—that the bunny was brought to life because of the way he suffered alongside the child. The truth is, the sacrifice this stuffed animal made for the boy ultimately brought him to the end of his toy life, which, in a roundabout way, opened the door for him to become real.

As a side note, this secular story reminds me of the following spiritual truths:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13 (ESV)

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:39 (ESV)

I love how God can use even the simplest of things to point us back to Him.

I read this children’s tale to Liam nearly every night throughout the first few weeks of March. There was something about this story that felt so cathartic to me in light of my own suffering—something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but had me coming back every night, seeking to understand. The story resonated with me deeply, and I felt like God was somehow using this simple children’s tale and my ability to relate to this imaginary bunny to bring healing to my heart, because I saw how God was using my own suffering to make me real too.

My own pain was causing me to be more authentic with God and others rather than simply putting on a front. It was making me wrestle with hard questions and seek out God for true answers, and I know suffering has done this and more for others too.

Suffering truly has a way of scrubbing off the superficial surfaces of our lives to reveal what is most raw and real about ourselves, and although we may not always like what is exposed beyond the surface, God’s best work is done there, within the very depths of our souls. It is there where He is able to fortify our character and create a greater sense of compassion within us. It is there where He teaches us humility and gives us a greater capability of relating to others. And it is there where new seedlings of purpose are planted that can bloom into beautiful redemptive stories over time, because our pain, when surrendered to God, is always redeemed.

I don’t like to suffer, but I am learning to love the results it produces in me and to trust the process, and I’m thankful that God is preparing me to comfort others who suffer just as He has comforted me in my own suffering. It is something I am finding to be of extreme value of late.

There will never be a shortage of suffering in the world, but there will never be a limit as to how God can use our pain when submitted to Him. It becomes the fertile soil where spiritual growth takes place. And although I may not see this in the actual moment of hardship and pain, I truly believe that suffering can become the gateway God uses to make real what our best dreams could never have imagined, even as He is in the process of making us more real through it all—more like His Son Jesus.

1 Williams, Margery (1922). The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. A Celebration of Women Writers. https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html

Hope for Uvalde

The back side of the anchor off of Main Street

Hello again. If you read my last blogpost, you’ll remember that I decided to take a break from blogging for a while. At the time, I had no idea how long it might last, but I knew I wanted to seek healing after a series of hardships followed by loss.

Although I have more healing and reflecting to do, I recently began to feel a strong desire to blog again, and I started praying that God would show me when and what my next blogpost should be.

Ironically, the topic leading me to blog today is not the one I would have chosen to write about. I wouldn’t have chosen it because I would have written a different ending for the events that took place on Tuesday when an armed eighteen-year-old entered Robb Elementary and claimed the lives of nineteen students and two teachers, additionally injuring many others that day.

I know that I also stated at one point that I don’t necessarily want to be writing about every tragedy that wrenches at my heart, because I don’t think multiple opinions are always beneficial. Sometimes more words merely turn into background noise, and that noise does not help those who mourn. Our words are often better formed as prayers to God for those who suffer.

This event is a little different for me however, because it hit close to home. Literally. About two and half miles from my front door.

Because we live in town and have a next-door neighbor that is very connected to the community, we were aware of very general details in the moment as events unfolded. We also became more aware of the seriousness of it all as we continually heard sirens around lunch time and then watched one ambulance head to the scene from outside our back window, then another, and then another and another and another in a row. But we had no idea of the complete devastation until we turned on the news later that afternoon and learned of how utterly destructive and heinous this crime had been.

That evening, as JJ and I tried to process all that had happened that day, we stepped out onto our patio with our young son, and I felt comforted in sensing God’s own sadness painted over the sky—a canvas of stormy clouds streaked in shades of gray. He grieved with us. He grieved over how such precious lives were taken that day through a horrific, demonic crime. And He mourned with each hurting individual in our small-town Uvalde.

It rained several hours later, and the flashing lightning and distant rumbling of thunder kept me up for some of the night. The following morning, I woke up wondering how a small community like this could survive such a tragedy.

That evening, however, as I attended a prayer event at the Uvalde County Fairplex with what seemed to be everyone in town, the speakers shared a Christ-centered message and prayed for hope and healing within our community, and God confirmed the answer to my question that I knew in my heart all along. We would survive this through the help of God.

Lately, as JJ and I hear of more tragedies happening around us and throughout the world, we are reminded of the simple fact that Satan knows his time on earth is short. His time is short, and he seeks to kill, steal, and destroy anything while he can. But God knows this too, and His purposes shall prevail.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 ESV

Would you pray with me that this community would find abundant life in Jesus in the weeks and months to come? Let’s also pray that we, as a community, would be able to see God more clearly and to recognize that He is victorious.

There is an anchor that stands in the middle of town—a large, cement structure that feels so out of place in this land-locked town. But when we first moved here not long ago, I instantly fell in love with it and found comfort by it because of our own loss as a family earlier this year. That anchor reminded me of what we know to be true as believers—that we have hope because of Jesus.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 6:19-20

As this community mourns, I pray that the anchor in town will ultimately become a symbol of hope to many others also through new, renewed, or strengthened faith in Jesus, and I’m asking God to make me and the many other believers who live here to be a light and a source of comfort to our community. Please join me in praying for that too.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

James 5:16b NIV

The message on a coffee truck outside of the Civic Center today.

Lessons from a Hyacinth

My mom bought me a hyacinth during her brief visit earlier this month. The vibrant purple flowers and their fragrant scent made our house seem happier for a few brief days. But then the flowers on one of the shoots started to die, and then another.

A few days later, after returning home from a long day of running errands out of town, I gazed at the plant and finally accepted the fact that it was past its season of blooming. There was nothing more I could do to preserve its fragrant blossoms.

After watching a short video on how to care for a hyacinth, I got out the scissors and cut off the three shoots covered in dried-up, purple hues. It was a somber moment for me—a deep reminder of how fleeting certain joys in life can be. Nonetheless, I knew it had to be done if I wanted the plant to grow and bloom again someday. I would just have to trust in the process and patiently wait through each season, caring for the plant until it blossomed anew.

The following morning, as I sat down to drink my coffee at the table, I glanced over at the plant and was pleasantly surprised to see how well it was doing. It was only half the size it had been with its flowers, and it no longer held a fragrant scent, but it looked so alive and healthy! It seemed to be thriving, and it made me happy to know that cutting off those flowers had been the best thing for me to do. The hyacinth in its new form was still bringing a piece of happiness into our little home. Furthermore, it was preparing me for lessons yet to be learned.

A few days before deadheading the hyacinth, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should take a break from blogging for a while. Life has been hard for me personally since 2019, and although I experienced a brief respite from all the hardships last fall, the storms of this year have hit me with full force, uncovering debris from the last few years that I never got to fully clear away but merely managed to sweep to the side as each new trial emerged.

I feel pretty weary as of late, and I need the time and space to deal with the damage done by all these downpours. I’m seeking healing with intentionality, but it will take some time.

Cutting off the shoots of my hyacinth recently has made me realize that sometimes we have to cut back in order to seek health. Sometimes we have to let go of certain things so that God can restore and bring growth to the inner depths of our lives, which, in turn, can cause us to blossom and bring forth fruit in time.

It is bittersweet to be writing these words, because taking a break from this blog feels like another death to me. But I have to remember that it’s not. It’s just a pause so that I can focus on grasping ahold of the wholeness that God wants to give to me.  

In the meantime, I’ll keep gazing at the vivid, green leaves gracing my windowsill. My hyacinth plant in a less glorious form. And I’ll keep trusting that the process is worth it—both my health and its, waiting patiently for the season in which we will see new blooms.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11a

Planting Seeds

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I write a birthday letter to myself every year. I try to finish it within the first two weeks of January, then I seal it in an envelope and tuck it away in some safe place to open the following year on my birthday. It is one of my most cherished, long-standing traditions.

Each time I write these letters, I consider what the following year might hold, then I ask my future self about those tentative plans, all the while trying to encourage myself to have a godly outlook over them and the year in general. Before ending each letter, I include a word that I believe will have described the year personally. It’s not a word I strive to remember and live up to. Rather, it’s a word that I reflect upon as I read the letter with fresh eyes after the year has ended.

I’ve been writing these letters for years, and it’s not something I take lightly. I pray about them for several weeks before ever sitting down to write one. I ask God for wisdom to know what to say and to know what word to choose for the year. Although some letters are more meaningful to me than others when I read them, I am always encouraged by each one in some way or another, and I can generally see how my word described the year in some way.

This year, as I was praying about my letter and what word to include, it became clear to me through a one-minute devotion on Christian radio, and I became even more convinced of this word when reading its meaning in a definition I found through a Google search a few minutes later.

Flourish.

To “grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.”

With an upcoming move out of the literal desert at that time, I was excited to think that a new environment could bring healthy growth and development to my life and that of my family’s. I had been feeling nervous about the move, but the idea that we might flourish in a new place made me hopeful.

In mid-February, as I considered what I had written in my birthday letter weeks earlier and with the move still a few weeks away, I scoffed at the idea that the word flourish could describe any of my experiences this year.

Although we had already enjoyed some beautiful moments as a family, we had also encountered great loss, and I couldn’t help but think about the other losses to follow as we packed and prepared to say goodbye to our friends in El Paso.

Today marks a week since we left El Paso and safely arrived to our new town, and although I am trying to be open-minded to this new place, I am also becoming more aware of new losses now that we are here.

The trees are still barren outside, and the spring has yet to come. Almost everywhere I look, I am reminded of the death of winter, and I am reminded of death in our own personal losses as well. But then I am reminded of the mystery of a seed—how it must die in order to bring forth new life. And it makes me want to believe that all the losses we have experienced so far are like seeds that have fallen beneath the surface, dying so that new life may spring forth.

We experienced a literal death on my birthday this year, but this next wedding anniversary, JJ and I will celebrate the Resurrection, and through it we find our greatest hope.

The winter won’t last forever. Spring will come. Plants will sprout again, and trees will be covered in green.

God will make a way for this barren land to flourish again, and as the seasons change, I trust that He will change this wintry season of my life in due time and make it possible for my heart to flourish again too.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!

Psalm 126:5 ESV

Friends in Ukraine and Russia: One Podcaster’s Point of View

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

The personal problem I find with blogging is that I feel like I must share something regarding the tragic events taking place in our world but often times don’t have the words to say. This is the case for the conflict that is currently taking place between Ukraine and Russia.

My heart has felt heavy as I pray for safety and refuge for Ukrainians and also pray for Russians that want nothing to do with this attack on Ukraine, but I have no wisdom or special accreditation to believe that my opinions account for much on this matter. I’m just one of many that feel and think the same.

This evening, I had the chance to listen to my friend Rachel’s newest podcast, where she shares about her family’s experience getting to be in contact with friends in Ukraine and Russia this week, and I appreciated her insight as a result of that communication. I was also drawn to the compassion and concern that she shows for both countries as the citizens of each nation struggle in different ways during this time.

I encourage you to listen to her podcast as you pray for both nations so that you can gain insight and wisdom as you pray. And if you enjoy this podcast, then check out her others too! Rachel has a lot of godly wisdom, insight, and encouragement to offer.

The link to her podcast is as follows:

https://mommingonthego.buzzsprout.com/1237064/10152740

God bless you as you seek Him this week!

Loss and Grief

The day before we put our house on the market, I found out I was pregnant.

It was a tough time to discover this news with a major move ahead and all the limitations that a pregnancy would put upon me. After all, who would help JJ move our furniture now? And would I be up for packing in light of possible morning sickness and fatigue?

Regardless, I started to warm up to the idea of expanding our family within the next few days and even started thinking about baby names. The truth is, I never wanted Liam to be an only child, but the timing was never right to have another baby before. So, as much as the timing still did not seem right to me (nor would it ever, considering my age), I was happy that Liam would finally have a sibling, and I started to pray for a strong relationship between the two.

All that changed the morning of my birthday, however, as I had reason to believe that I was losing my baby, and as much as I wanted to ignore the signals, I couldn’t. The evidence remained consistent throughout the day.

At JJ’s suggestion, I took a pregnancy test that evening, and JJ was thrilled to see that it was still positive. I felt somewhat relieved too, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the beginning of the end. A quick trip to my doctor’s office the following day confirmed my horrible suspicions. The baby was gone. My pregnancy was over.

The following week, I cycled through different negative emotions—shock, anger, hopelessness, depression.  I couldn’t understand why God would allow us to experience such a loss. I still don’t understand, other than knowing that we live in a sin-filled world, and none of us are exempt from experiencing its horrid consequences up close and personally.

I told God I was angry with Him early on, and I wasn’t willing to receive His comfort, because I knew it would mean acknowledging what had happened, and I just wasn’t ready to let go of what could have been. I wanted God to somehow switch back the hands of time and to erase this awful reality. I wanted to welcome a new baby into our home this fall. I wanted Liam to have a sibling. I wanted to have something to look forward to in light of the upcoming move to a small town that gave me so much angst. I didn’t want to let go of my dreams.

Nonetheless, as much as I tried to push God away, I still found comfort in knowing that He was near. I’ve been through enough hardships alongside my family to recognize that God often seems silent in the midst of our trials, but He’s never far away. We’ve seen His fingerprints all over our stories when we have looked at our hardships in retrospect. This time around, I’ve been more aware of His nearness to me in the moment, grieving alongside my broken heart.

Sensing His presence has made me to think of the few times that my own son has gotten hurt and pushed me away. Each time, I have wanted to gather him into my arms and hold him until his tears have subsided, but he has pushed me away. Instead, all I’ve been able to do is to stand at the entryway of his room, watching him silently as he cries on his bed, waiting for the moment that his pain and anger will fade and he’ll let me console him again.

Perhaps I have acted this same way toward God. I have refused His comfort in my own pain and anger, but He has never left me. He has been watching over me all this time, silently sitting with me, as He has waited for the moment where I would accept His comfort once again.

As much as I would rather never have to experience the emotions that come with mourning a loss (or experience a loss, for that matter), I’m grateful that God does not rush us in our grief. He doesn’t offer meaningless statements or trite responses in hopes that we’ll all the sudden be okay and move on. After all, those words only add to the pain of loss.  No, He allows us the time that grief deserves, and He sits with us the whole time while we mourn.

Not only have I been thankful for His presence in my life during this time, but I’m also comforted in knowing that my grief doesn’t scare Him away. He’ll never abandon me in my pain and suffering. After all, Jesus Himself was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He understands it better than anyone.

These days, the pain and sadness have subsided some, although they creep up on me unexpectedly at different times, and I imagine this may always be the case. But I know God will see me through this. I know He will encourage me and sustain me when I need it most. And as is the case with many of the past hardships I have experienced, I believe I will see more of His fingerprints over this time as I look back over it in the years to come. I see Him with me now, but I believe He’ll open my eyes even more in the years to come so that I can see just how much He was at work in my life throughout this time. I just have to keep trusting that He is good. I just have to keep believing that He is not withholding good from me.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

Sweetheart Cake

I apparently have a thing for decadent desserts as of late. This one is no exception. Inspired by a raspberry cake I recently saw online, I decided to make a similar cake for my birthday this year, but with strawberry compote instead of raspberry filling.

This cake is the perfect combination of moist, chocolate cake layered with creamy chocolate mousse and tangy, sweet cinnamon strawberry compote with a rich chocolate ganache to top it off.

Perfect for any strawberry and chocolate lovers, this cake would make a scrumptious addition to any Valentine’s Day celebration. Add freeze dried strawberries to top it off, if desired, or simply enjoy it plain. Either way, it is sure to be a show-stopper that everyone will enjoy.

As always, let me know if you make this dessert and tell me what you think! I hope you enjoy it as much as we have! Happy Valentine’s Day in advance!

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:7

SWEETHEART CAKE

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 2 ½ c cake flour
  • ¾ c cacao powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 c milk (minus 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 T white vinegar*
  • ½ c vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c boiling water

Chocolate Mousse Ingredients

  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate baking bar (I used a 60% cacao Ghiradelli bar)
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • ½ c powdered sugar
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
  • 1 t vanilla

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 quarter teaspoon)
  • 2 T cornstarch

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate*
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream

For the Chocolate Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small ball, combine the milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cacao powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and eggs and beat together with an electric beater. Add the milk mixture and blend, then add the hot water and blend with the beater to combine. Evenly distribute between two 9 inch greased and floured cake pans, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in pans.

For the Chocolate Mousse:

Break the chocolate bar into pieces and melt over the stove on medium low heat until completely melted. Set aside to cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, beat the whipping cream with an electric beater until peaks form, then gradually add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, beat the softened cream cheese with an electric beater until smooth, then add the chocolate and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the whipping cream to the cream cheese mixture and beat together. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to be used.

For the Cinnamon Strawberry Compote:

Follow recipe as found here: https://anticipatingadventure.com/2021/02/10/cinnamon-strawberry-compote/. Cool completely before using.

For the Chocolate Ganache:

Heat the heavy whipping cream over the stove on medium heat until small bubbles begin to form. Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips, making sure that each are covered by the heavy whipping cream. Cover the mixture with a lid and let sit for five minutes, then stir together to combine well. It will take several minutes to mix together and get a smooth consistency. Once combined, let sit an additional ten to fifteen minutes before pouring over the assembled cake.

For the Cake Assembly:

Cut each cake lengthwise to form four circles. On the first circle, spread a third of the mousse evenly over the top, then gently spread the compote on top, forming a slightly smaller circle over the compote. Repeat each step with the second and third cakes, then top with the final cake. Spoon the ganache over the top and sides of cake until the cake is covered in ganache. Top with freeze dried strawberries, if desired, and enjoy. Refrigerate any leftovers.

*If desired, use 1 c buttermilk instead of the milk and vinegar.

*The 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate should be measured according to weight and not by a cup. If you are not able to measure the chocolate, I suggest using the entire 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate with 1 ½ c heavy whipping cream.

Out of the Depths

Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on Pexels.com

I recently rewatched a show that I had caught the better half of with JJ in early December. It’s called The Rescue, and it’s a documentary based on the real-life mission in June of 2018 to save 12 Thai adolescents and their soccer coach after they became trapped in a cave that suddenly became inundated by rushing rain water.

Although the documentary is not a Christian film by any means and in fact talks about the Buddhist beliefs held in that region of the world, I have no doubt that God’s hand was upon this harrowing mission. Everything about this rescue was hazardous, and one volunteer died as a result of such dangers. Nonetheless, against all odds, no other lives were lost. The Thai soccer team and their coach were saved and reunited with their loving families, and it’s evident that God brought about such success.

This film is touching for so many reasons. I was amazed by the resiliency of the soccer team, moved by the selflessness of the individuals that sought to rescue them, and remained in suspense as the documentary shared about each detail that made this rescue mission so hazardous and quite nearly impossible. What touched me the most, however, was hearing the back stories of the group of men that eventually found and retrieved the teenagers and their coach from the cavern.

These individuals were not part of the Thai Navy SEALs or the U.S. Air Force Special Tactics that also formed a huge part of this rescue mission. Rather, they were a humble group of men that merely practiced cave diving as a weekend hobby. They had no special training per se, but their love of the sport and the hours they spent practicing it was what made them equipped for this task like none other, and it was fascinating to hear how their childhoods played a part in bringing them to that moment in time, where they would be the exact individuals needed for this mission. The ones in a million.

 Most of them shared about how introverted and socially awkward they were as children and how they were always chosen last for team sports. But their lack of athletic ability caused them to find a unique sport that they could excel in as adults, and their distinct personalities caused them to enjoy such a hobby that left them largely alone in their own thoughts as they drifted in the darkness of each cave with a partner, immersed in the depths as they explored each crevice.

Little did they know that such a hobby was preparing them for something far beyond their wildest imaginations. Everything about their lives was leading up to this moment. They would play a vital role in what would become one of the most astounding rescue missions of modern day.

I can’t help but feel choked up when I think of this small group of men and their stories. None of them talk about faith or God in the documentary, but I can’t help but see how God prepared these men for this task nonetheless. After all, He is able to use anyone for His purposes. He used the very things that brought these men insecurity in the past to eventually lead them to the unlikely event that would bring them such great honor.

At the end of the film, the Thai officials, the boys they saved, and the Queen of England herself honored these men and gave them awards, and this group of men will continue to be honored for their sacrifice, courage, and the skill they showed in saving the soccer team in June of 2018. The documentary is a lovely tribute to the countless volunteers who gave their all, but it is an even greater tribute to this elite group of cave divers who chose to be a part of this incredible rescue mission.

The pasts of this small group of men were not in vain. Their introverted personalities were not a mistake. The very things that made them insecure growing up were the very things God would use to equip them to save lives. God called them into the depths of the caves, and then He called them out. And in those fateful days of June, He would call them out into honor, prestige, and fame. He is a God who redeems. He is a God who can use anything and everything that makes us who we are. Our own insecurities, weaknesses, and hardships can become the very things He uses to bring about something magnificent and extraordinary at some future point in our lives—things we cannot even fathom as of now. He can call us out of the depths and mark our lives with honor as we seek to bring glory to His name.

Nonetheless, we must open our hands to God and trust Him if we are to see any of it. We must follow Him out of the depths when He calls. We must have faith that, if we put our stories in His hands, He can make something out of our broken pieces, and it will be beautiful, and it will be good. So, let’s trust Him to call us out of the depths whenever we find ourselves in them, and let’s remain confident that He is with us in any dark caverns in which we find ourselves today. He will not abandon us. He will rescue us. And He will bring about a better story. One rich with redemption that is glorious and magnificent and ultimately results in His praise.

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.”

Psalm 71:20

The Birds of the Air

I took this picture the next time we went on a walk as a family after the big snowstorm here in Texas last year. Many people were without power for quite a few days, my sisters included. Here in El Paso, we were fortunate to keep our power. It sure did snow, however! A few days later, as the snow began to melt and the sun came out again, we went on a walk around the field by our house, and I was surprised to see this nest, completely covered from top to bottom in foliage except for a small opening on the side. It hadn’t been there a day or two before the storm hit, but here it was after the storm, a warm, little refuge to a bird and her eggs, I imagine. That image continues to serve as a reminder to me of God’s care for the littlest of creatures and His even greater care for us.

Do You really care about me?

My mind knew the answer to that question, but I needed God to reassure my heart of it.

It didn’t have to be that way. I didn’t have to be having these doubts. But as we planned for a garage sale, prepared to put the house on the market, and searched for an apartment to live in come March, I allowed fear and anxiety to get the best of me, and I found myself striving to do everything in my own strength instead of leaning into God and trusting Him with my burdens, as I knew He longed for me to do.

Nonetheless, even in the midst of my sinful attitudes and lack of trust, God was still gracious to me, providing the answer that I needed to hear once again.

As I used the restroom where my son takes speech lessons, I was struck by God’s tender care of me as I stared at the painting on the wall. I’ve seen this painting dozens of times before, but now I saw it in a new light, filled with symbolism and significance, because through it, God’s answer to my question was staring back at me.

The picture was a simple painting on wooden slats that depicted three birds in a barren, wintry tree, and I was immediately reminded of Jesus’ words regarding birds in Matthew, as follows:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? “

Matthew 6:26

Furthermore,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31

As I headed to my car to wait for my son’s session to end that day, I searched for a song that I had heard on Christian radio many times before, then I listened to it over and over again as I silently cried in the parking lot and asked God to help me trust Him.

I won’t say that life was all the sudden perfect. I still faced a bit of anxiety a few days later, and I had to ask God to help me be calm and to trust that everything would be completed according to His will. Nonetheless, it makes a big difference to deliver those feelings over to God and to recognize how He is walking with us in all our challenges, ready to lead us and to show us His goodness as we trust Him with each step.

Lately, my family and I have been seeing so much of His goodness in the midst of what mainly feels like chaos as of late, and I’m reminded of the lyrics to the song that I listened to in the parking lot over a week ago, the one that continues to run through my head when I awake each morning and throughout the rest of the day:

You hold me in Your hands
With a kindness that never ends
I'm carried in Your love no matter what the future brings

-Sparrows by Cory Asbury

We’ve seen His kindness through a successful garage sale, His provision of an apartment in a town with very scarce options (when I called the apartment complex, the first move-in availability was the exact date we were planning to move), and through what is appearing to be a successful sale of our house (we put the house on the market last Friday and received a generous offer that following Monday). And as I look at the future and all the tentative events and plans of this year, I see God’s generosity written all over it and know that I am blessed beyond measure.

Although there still seems like so much to do, and although this fast pace of life does not promise to slow down anytime soon, I am learning to see more and more how much we truly are carried in His love, no matter what the future brings. I only need to walk with Him and let Him determine the pace. And when fear and anxiety threaten to get the best of me, I only need to trust that He is working everything out behind the scenes, just as He has been revealing to me as the details with this move have become clearer.

If He can care about little birds and lilies in fields, then He surely cares about us humans—the very ones made in His image and whose Son died for our sins so that we could live with Him eternally if we believe. We don’t have to fend for ourselves. We don’t have to live this life trying to figure it out on our own. Let’s trust Him with this new year, no matter what it may bring. He knows how to shower us with His goodness, regardless of our circumstances, so let’s place our hand in His and walk with Him through this journey, receiving whatever good gift and whatever valuable lesson He may bring to us along the way.