Pit Stops

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

I considered sharing this news in several ways but decided that being direct was the best route.

We’re moving.

In mid-December, JJ got an offer for a position that he had applied for over the summer, and he decided to accept it. We’ll be moving to a small town around seven hours east of here in early March.

Although I’m happy we’ll be living within a couple of hours of my family in San Antonio, I’m saddened to leave El Paso for all the momentous highs and lows we’ve experienced here.

El Paso is the city that JJ and I moved to as newlyweds. It’s the city where I went mountain biking with him for the first time, we had countless of barbecues over the grill outside our first apartment, I spent numerous hours with a friend swimming in our apartment pool, and where I got a job as an interpreter that provided me the most breathtaking view of the Franklin mountains each morning I drove to work.

It’s the city where JJ and I discovered that we were going to be parents and where we attended birthing classes and began to prepare for and anticipate life with a little baby. It’s also the city where our baby boy was finally born, where I became a stay-at-home mom, and where we discovered the hardships and joys of having a newborn and then a toddler who is now almost four.

JJ and I bought our first house here and turned it into a home, and we’ve seen a lot of firsts here ever since. First steps. First words. First holidays as a family.

It was here in El Paso that Liam was admitted to the hospital for a couple of nights and diagnosed with an illness that caused him to be on medication for nearly an entire year. Much of my social life was stripped away from me during that time as JJ and I sought to protect Liam’s immune system as best as we could. But it was also here where God blessed me with incredible friendships during that period of time. One friend came to visit weekly, and another group of dear friends came monthly for a Saturday afternoon potluck. I came to realize how life-giving friendships could be during that time, and I’ll forever be grateful to these friends (and others) for how they helped to bring me through a rough year.

It is here where, after Liam fully recovered his health in December 2019, we entered into the pandemic with the rest of the world a few short months later. Despite all the restrictions life threw us at that time, however, my friends and I still found ways to connect, doing Bible studies together or baking and doing crafts together online. And then there were the drop-offs of baked goods or presents to each other at our front doors in 2020. We connected even more deeply over our shared hardship, and God used these challenges to cause us to experience spiritual growth.

As I remember all the epic moments that my family and I have personally experienced here thus far and all the beautiful reconnections of 2021, I recognize how much God has both blessed JJ and me and stretched our faith as He has taught us to trust Him more deeply. Much like the actual wilderness that El Paso is, God has brought us through a wilderness experience in our spiritual journey here these last few years. We’ve been reminded more profoundly that He is enough and that He is faithful. As uncomfortable as our journey has been at different points of time here, He has continued to provide for us and to remind us that He has journeyed with us every step of the way.

When I think about all of the incredible moments that my family and I have experienced here in El Paso, a popular saying comes to mind. All good things must come to an end. Fortunately, as believers, we know that this phrase is not really true. As much as this good thing of living in El Paso is coming to an end for my family and me, another popular phrase rings truer for those of us in Christ Jesus.

The best is yet to come.

The truth is, any place in which we make our dwelling in this life is only a pit stop on our spiritual journey here on earth. Our Forever Home awaits us, and we know that only what is good and true and pure will welcome us in that place.

As my family and I begin to pack and prepare for this next move, and as I deal with my own uncertainties and fears in the process, I am comforted to remember that this next place is only a pit stop on this road trip of life. Furthermore, it brings me greater comfort to know that God has placed this specific town on the map of my own spiritual journey. He knows exactly how He will provide for my family and me in this new town, and He knows what treasures we will unearth there and the friendships we will gain.

As bittersweet as it is to say farewell to El Paso and our friends here and everything this place has represented to us, I trust that God is leading our every step to this new place, and I trust that He is good. So, we will move forward by His help and through His strength, looking forward to all that He has in store.

An Unexpected Christmas (Readapted)

I wrote this last year but thought it was so pertinent to this year as I re-read it, so I readapted it slightly in order to share it again this Christmas season. Merry Christmas! May God’s joy fill your hearts.

Last year, I found myself reflecting over how many details of Jesus’ birth were unexpected after putting on a cartoon for my son about the first Christmas.

For Mary, the angel Gabriel’s appearance and message to her was a complete surprise. She did not expect to be told that she’d be expecting as a young virgin woman, much less to the Savior of the world. She couldn’t she have imagined that her much-older, barren cousin Elizabeth would be pregnant at the same time as her either, especially since Elizabeth was past the age of child-bearing. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth soon after Gabriel gave her the news, she could not have expected for Elizabeth to bless her and recognize her as the mother of her Savior, even before Mary had told Elizabeth all that had transpired. The exchange between them led to Mary exalting God as she perhaps understood more fully the special task that God had called her to.

Joseph couldn’t have imagined the situation in which he would find himself when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant. Although he decided to divorce her quietly, he once again experienced the unexpected when an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to instead marry Mary. As a result of his obedience to God, he would have the enormous privilege of doing something beyond his wildest dreams. He would help Mary to raise the very Son of God.

Both Mary and Joseph could not have imagined the trip they would have to take to Bethlehem in Mary’s advanced stages of pregnancy in order to participate in a mandatory census. They neither could have imagined that there would be no room for them in the inn and that Jesus would be born under those circumstances, his first makeshift crib a lowly manger.

The shepherds watching their flock that evening could not have expected to experience such a momentous night. Not only did an angel announce the Savior’s birth, but they witnessed a whole host of angels praising the Lord. Little did they know that they’d be meeting the Messiah that evening, nor could they have realized that He would be the Great Shepherd and ultimate Sacrificial Lamb.

The wise men probably never expected to follow a star to Bethlehem to find a specific child and worship Him. No one else could have imagined the reverence and honor that they would show the child either, nor could anyone have imagined the precious gifts with which they would present Him.

The first Christmas happened in such an unexpected way, but it was through the unexpected events and details that God became flesh and dwelt among us. And because these different individuals were willing to surrender to God’s will through the unexpected events of their lives, they were given the privilege of being a part of a greater story that would surpass their lifetimes and be told and celebrated worldwide for the many years to come.

Perhaps this Christmas season was not what you were expecting. Perhaps it has been laced with confusion, disappointment, frustration, or heartache. If that has been your experience this year, then I pray that God would use the unexpected events and details of your life to birth a deeper sense of His presence in you.

The One who came as a little baby and lived the human experience was not impervious to pain or grief.  The sin that effects this world and our lives so greatly today is the sin that led Him to suffer and die on a cross. He understands pain and suffering. He knows what it feels like to be abandoned and forsaken. And He understands what it means to mourn. After all, He wept too.

He who became fully human for our sakes understands each intimate detail of our lives today, and He is full of deep compassion for us. Perhaps the unexpected details of our lives are the very areas where He would cause something beautiful to be born. Perhaps it is through them in which He would allow us to see a greater display of His power and glory. Whatever you may be facing today, I pray that God would allow to you to sense Him at work in your life and that He would overflow your heart with joy, peace, and a deep sense of hope.

Perhaps, through surrendering to God’s will in the unexpected events of our lives, we will be given the privilege of being part of a greater story that will surpass our lifetimes—one that will have an eternal impact and that we can tell to our children and their children for the years to come.

The Greater Gift

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A few weeks ago, I was reminded of an anecdote about a father and son that I heard during a chapel service years ago. In the story, the father bought a blue, Schwinn bicycle for his son’s upcoming birthday, which he hid away in their barn. He then proceeded to ask his son what he would like for his birthday the following morning over breakfast. The son wasn’t sure, so the father suggested how nice it would be if his son had a bike to ride along the dirt roads and explore more of their farmland.

A few days later, as the son began to want a bike, the father commented on how neat it would be for him to have a blue bike—his favorite color. A few days later, the father talked about what a good, reliable brand the Schwinn bikes were, and how amazing it would be if his son could have a blue, Schwinn bicycle. Soon, all the son could think about was owning such a bike.

The day of the boy’s birthday arrived, and when the father finally pulled the blue, Schwinn bicycle out of the barn, the son was ecstatic. The father had succeeded in giving his son a desire to own such a bike, and then he fulfilled that desire by giving him the gift that he had already set aside for him before the son had ever dreamed about owning such a gift.

The chapel speaker that day went on to explain how God does the same thing for us as the father in the story did for his son. When we delight in Him, He gives us the desires of our heart (He places desires within us), and then He gives us the desires of our heart (He fulfills those desires). Psalm 37 states it best:

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desire of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4

Ironically, as encouraging as the chapel service was that day, I walked around the campus the next few days feeling pensive as I fought back tears. That simple story shared in chapel had penetrated a tender area of my heart that I had boxed up and packed away years ago, and now I was forced to face its fragile contents and to recognize that perhaps I had wrongly stored them away. Could it be that God had really placed the things that I desired in my heart? And if so, how and when would He fulfill them? Did He really have good gifts already set aside for me?

The idea that any of this could be true was like a soothing balm to my tattered heart, yet I found fear competing for my thoughts regarding all of this. Nonetheless, I knew that fear must not win.

I ultimately asked God to help me unpack the dusty box of desires that had been sitting in the attic of my heart for all these years. I needed Him to help me sort through each item. I needed to know which desires had been given to me by Him so that I could display them in my mind as a masterpiece—a painted picture of a promise that would someday come true. Each God-given desire might not come to pass when I expected it to, and it might not even look like what I had imagined, but one thing was for certain—if God had placed a desire in my heart, then He would fulfill that desire in His timing and in His way. After all,

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Numbers 23:19

Thinking of the story recently from chapel made me recall another story I heard many years ago at a campus meeting. The speaker that evening shared about a little girl whose father owned a silver dollar. He often times would take it out of his pocket in the evening to admire its shine, and his own daughter’s fondness for the coin grew each time he did. Soon, she was asking her father for a silver dollar of her own.

This man worked a humble job, so he knew he couldn’t afford to buy such a gift for his daughter. He knew how much his little girl wanted a similar coin, however, so he decided to make her a deal one evening. If she could grab the coin out of his clenched fist, it would be hers.

The little girl excitedly jumped into her daddy’s lap at the offer, giggling and bantering with him as she tried to wrestle the coin away. Twenty minutes later, however, her enthusiasm waned as the object remained in his hand. Just as she was ready to retreat to her room in disappointment, he opened his hand and willingly offered her the gift, much to her surprise and glee. As she took the silver dollar, she thanked him with a kiss on his cheek, then she hopped off his lap, giggling as she skipped to her bedroom to further admire her new treasure.

Much like the chapel speaker, the campus speaker related this father to God. The truth is, the girl’s dad didn’t have to keep the coin from her for a time since he knew he’d offer it to her anyway. Nonetheless, he withheld it momentarily because he loved how her desire for the coin drew her closer to him.

Perhaps it is no different with God. Any desire God has given us will be fulfilled in due time. But as we wait, our heavenly Father is offering us a greater gift. He is developing a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him as we cry out to Him from the depths of our yearning hearts. He is drawing us to Him as we wrestle with these unfulfilled longings, teaching us to trust Him in the waiting and producing patience, perseverance, and hope within us, which alone are good gifts from the Lord.

As we yearn for any unmet desire, let’s ask God to help us desire Him most. Let’s ask Him to help us see the good gift He is offering us now—a deeper sense of His presence in our lives. Furthermore, let’s especially remember how this was made possible this Christmas season—because Jesus came to the earth as a baby so that He could ultimately die for our sins. He is the best gift that we could ever receive, so let’s celebrate Him and trust Him with all other longings.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear Desire of ev’ry nation,
joy of ev’ry longing heart.
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley

Double Decker Butterscotch Bars with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

Chewy butterscotch chip bars with a rich butterscotch candy layer and creamy eggnog cream cheese frosting

If you’d like a delicious yet distinct dessert this Christmas season, I highly recommend these Double Decker Butterscotch Bars with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting. Made from an adaptation of a recipe a former roommate gave me years ago for the actual cookie, the first level consists of a chewy butterscotch-chip bar, which is then covered with a rich butterscotch candy layer and topped by creamy, eggnog cream cheese frosting.

Much like the cookies I posted about last year (found here: https://anticipatingadventure.com/2020/12/02/almond-cherry-chocolate-chip-cookies/), these cookies came about thanks to an annual Christmas cookie competition that I entered this fall. Also much like last year’s recipe, these cookies did not win a prize. These bars are too good to keep to myself, however, so I wanted to share this tasty treat with you all this Christmas season.

The cookie bar and frosting come together fairly quickly and easily, with the butterscotch candy layer requiring a bit more work and concentration. Nonetheless, these bars are so good (and quite addictive!) that the extra effort is worth it. Below I’ve included a few tips for this recipe, including some comments that should make the butterscotch candy layer a bit simpler.

As always, please leave a comment if you make this recipe to let me know what you think. I hope you enjoy these bars as much as I do! Now please excuse me as I make my way to the fridge to eat another…

DOUBLE DECKER BUTTERSCOTCH BARS WITH EGGNOG CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Ingredients:

For the Cookie Bar:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 box (3.5 oz) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix*
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t nutmeg
  • ¼ t cloves
  • ½ c oil
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c butterscotch chips

For the Butterscotch Candy Layer

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T heavy whipping cream
  • 15 butterscotch disks, crushed

For the Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • ¼ c heavy whipping cream
  • ½ c and 1 T powdered sugar, divided
  • ¼ c eggnog
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ½ t cinnamon
  • ¼ t nutmeg
  • A pinch of cloves

Optional Toppings

Additional crushed butterscotch pieces, finely chopped nuts, or ground cinnamon

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×13 baking sheet and set aside.

Mix the cake mix, pudding and pie filling mix, flour, 1 t cinnamon, ½ t nutmeg, and ¼ t cloves together, then add the eggs and oil and mix well until combined. Mix in the butterscotch chips, then spread the mixture over the baking sheet, patting it down and into the edges until the bottom of the baking sheet is covered by the dough. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until done.

While the cookie bar is baking, make the candy butterscotch layer. Crush the butterscotch candy into smaller pieces** and set aside. Heat butter over the stove on medium low heat until melted. Add the 3 T heavy whipping cream and stir to combine, then slowly add the butterscotch pieces, stirring constantly. Use an additional spoon alongside the stirring spoon to try to separate the candy pieces as they try to stick together again. USE CAUTION! The candy and butter-cream mixture will be very hot! Continue stirring over medium low heat until the butterscotch dissolves completely into the mix, roughly 7-10 minutes. Immediately spread over the baked cookie bars as the butterscotch mixture will begin to harden once allowed to cool. Set aside to cool completely before adding the frosting layer.

For the frosting, whip the ¼ c heavy whipping cream with a beater until peaks start to form, then beat in the 1 T powdered sugar. Once combined, slowly add the eggnog, beating continually, until left with a thick mixture (the peaks will become softer once the eggnog is completely added).  Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, thoroughly beat the softened cream cheese with a hand beater, then add the ½ c powdered sugar, ½ t cinnamon, ¼ t nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves and beat until combined. Combine the eggnog mixture with the cream cheese mixture and beat together to blend. Spread over the butterscotch candy layer of the cooled cookie bars and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 16 bars.

TIPS:

*For a richer butterscotch flavor, substitute the vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix with butterscotch instant pudding and pie filling mix.

**To make the butterscotch candy easier to crush, drop each one to the floor a few times in their individual wrappers, then carefully open over a resealable gallon storage bag and roll over the crushed candies on a flat surface with a rolling pin (I suggest rolling over the candy on a cutting board to avoid damage to any other surface due to possible jagged pieces of candy).

Homecoming

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Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Psalm 116:15 ESV

There’s a certain type of video that makes me cry every time I watch it. I sit there, eyes glued to the screen, as tears stream down my cheeks to my chin, falling to my shirt like water droplets falling to the ground from a rooftop after it rains.

I don’t purposely look for these videos, but somehow, I stumble upon them and can’t seem to turn my eyes away from them once I do. They are videos of military men and women surprising their loved ones by their return home.

The reactions of the surprised family members almost always vary. Some squeal in glee and jump up and down at the sight of their loved one. Others run into their arms. Yet others just stand there and cry or collapse to the floor from the weight of all their emotions. Although each response is distinct, there is a common thread that binds each clip together—the overwhelming happiness and sheer relief that these individuals express over seeing their loved one home at last, safe and sound in their loving arms and far from the dangers of war.  

I’m always surprised by the weight of my own emotions while watching these clips. I have never experienced anything similar to these family members welcoming their soldier home from abroad. Nonetheless, the raw emotions expressed in these clips are too real and too vulnerable to not feel anything. Each scene is so tender. So sacred. So precious.

Although I grew up in a God-fearing, Bible believing home, I don’t remember reading the verse listed above until I was in my late twenties, but when I did, I felt very disturbed by how cruel and unusual it seemed. How could the death of anyone be precious to God?

For the rest of my quiet time that morning, I tried not to think about that verse. I wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist. It bothered me so much, however, that I decided to talk to God about it, telling Him how I felt and asking Him to help me understand how that could be. Within a few hours, it dawned on me why the death of a believer would be so precious to Him. It was because that was their homecoming. It was that initial moment when they would finally see their Savior face to face.

Perhaps our own homecoming as a believer is not much different than the military reunion videos I’ve seen. Or the long-awaited baby that is finally born. Or the couple in a long-distance relationship that makes it to their wedding day to forever be together at last. Much like these events, our homecoming is marked by such overwhelming joy and immense beauty as we are welcomed home by our Father at last. It’s such a sacred moment. So tender. So precious. It’s the moment where we will finally be safe and sound in the presence of our loving Savior and finally free from the dangers and doom of this life we’ve left behind.

Considering these ideas as of late has been a balm to my weary soul because I’ve known too many saints to pass away this year. I don’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to consider death as a precious thing. Not this side of heaven, at least. We taste the bitter side of death on this side of eternity. We are reminded through it of how much this world suffers because of the effects sin has in every crevice of this life. But knowing how anticipated and how precious the death of His saints is to God brings me comfort. It’s so touching to think of the excitement there must be when a believer enters heaven at last.

I’m so thankful to know that the individuals I’ve known had that type of homecoming, and I look forward to my own. I’m also thankful that, however painful our losses on this earth may be, we do not grieve like others who do not have hope. Our own homecoming will be a glorious reunion with the believers who have gone before us. We will see each other again.

The Best of 2021

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.”

James 1:17

John 3:16 (A Song)

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.”

John 3:16 NKJV

*If you would like to learn more about Anna Bartlett Warner’s story, you can do so at a former blogpost of mine found here: https://anticipatingadventure.com/2019/12/08/jesus-loves-me/).

Ants and Other Problems

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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.”

John 16:33

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.”

Andy Stanley

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.”

1 Peter 5:6-7

To Such Belongs the Kingdom

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.”

Luke 18:16-17

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 them and 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.”

Matthew 18:1-4

Palm Tree Ponderings

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.”

John 3:30

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.”

John 15:1-2