What Are You Wearing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 3:19a

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

Proverbs 2:6

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

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

Isaiah 5:20-21

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

Romans 1:18

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

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

Romans 13:12

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

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

Remembering Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Argentina-Style Empanadas

Crispy, savory pastry meets seasoned, slightly sweet beef in this dish, with extra bursts of sweetness from the raisins throughout, and a surprise bite of hard-boiled egg and a tangy green olive.

Several months after JJ and I got married, we had the opportunity to visit his parents in the hometown where he grew up. Other than wanting to spend quality time with his immediate and extended family, we didn’t have a lot of expectations for our visit. We did have one main goal, however—to learn how to make empanadas from JJ’s father.

JJ and I had very distinct reasons as to why we wanted to learn, although equally as strong desires. For JJ, it was a beloved dish reminiscent of special moments throughout his childhood. I wanted to learn, on the other hand, because making authentic empanadas from my Argentine father-in-law was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Although JJ’s father was not too excited about the long, laborious process of teaching us how to make this main course, he conceded to our request, and we were soon learning how to make this tasty dish.

The empanadas that JJ and I formed that day were nothing near lovely, but they were delicious. Enough so, in fact, that JJ and I decided to try our hand at them again for our first Christmas together as a married couple several months later. JJ pulled up the short clips he had recorded from our empanada-making session with his dad, and I got out my notes with rough estimates of each ingredient used.

 It was quite the process for us to form and fry the empanadas, but several hours later, we had a heaping bowl full of these tasty, golden treats, and our tradition of making empanadas during the Christmas season began.

Since learning how to make empanadas, I have noticed that there are other Argentine empanada recipes online. Some are similar to the ones that we make with a few additional ingredients, and some are different altogether. Nonetheless, the recipe below is what JJ’s father taught us, and it is the one that we love and that we will pass on to our son as he grows. We hope it will stay in the family for many generations to come.

If you make these empanadas, please let me know how they turn out. I hope you like them as much as my family and I do. Who knows? Perhaps they will even become a new family tradition of your own.

Argentina-Style Empanadas

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef
1 ½ t paprika
1 t crushed red pepper
1½ T taco seasoning mix
1 to 1 ½ T sugar, according to desired sweetness
1/3 c raisins
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut into small cubes (around 12-15 pieces per egg)
Small jar green olives (one green olive per empanada)
2 packages Discos Goya*(thawed in refrigerator overnight)
Oil for frying

Directions:

Brown the beef and drain its grease.  Return to low heat and add the paprika, crushed red pepper, taco seasoning mix, and sugar and mix well. Stir in the raisins and remove from heat. Place a couple of tablespoons of the meat mixture into the middle of the disco Goya. Add a piece of hard-boiled egg and one olive to each, then fold the dough in half. Make a crease along the opened end, then pinch the dough along the crease line to ensure complete closure of the empanada.

Heat up enough oil in a frying pan for the empanadas to float above the bottom of the pan. Flip each empanada after 30-60 seconds, or once the side submerged in oil is golden. Fry the other side until golden, then place on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow to cool slightly. Makes 20 empanadas.

NOTES: If you are not familiar with discos Goya, I recommend searching for them in the frozen section of ethnic food at your local Walmart. If you do not have a local Walmart and/or simply do not have access to discos Goya where you live, the following website provides a fairly simple recipe for making them: https://www.laylita.com/recipes/how-to-make-empanada-dough/. Please keep in mind, however, that I cannot attest to the taste of these discos nor their similarity to discos Goya since I have always been fortunate enough to find discos Goya at the store.

To make a healthier version of this dish, use lean ground beef, lightly brush the dough with oil, and bake until golden.

My Mom’s Hands

The quilts and cross-stitch that my mom made for my family and me.


She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands.”

Proverbs 31:13

My mom will be turning seventy in a few days, and I have found myself thinking about her a lot as a result and all that she has accomplished throughout the years. When I think of my mom, I can’t help but think of her hands. They have been the driving force behind many of her achievements.

I think of the endless hours those hands played the piano when my siblings and I were young. She began taking lessons as a little girl and went on to earn a Master’s degree in music by her mid-twenties due to her giftedness and love for the instrument. Although she was primarily a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling us five children during our elementary school years, she also made a side income through her musical ability–both through piano lessons that she offered in our home and as the pianist at the congregation we attended.

Some of my most special memories involve my mom’s hands moving across the keyboard of the upright, black Yamaha that graced our living room when we were growing up. My younger brother and I used to dance and frolic around the living room when we were little while my mother practiced her songs. As I grew older, my sisters and I would gather around her to sing songs as she played the piano and sang along, often resulting in raucous laughter at our failed attempts to harmonize or because of the humorous lyrics of a song. Our home was filled with music, and each of us children have been blessed with differing degrees of musical ability thanks to her.

If my mom wasn’t playing the piano, then often times she could be found quilting or cross-stitching. She started quilting before I was born, and I can easily think of fourteen quilts that she has made throughout my lifetime. My siblings and I have owned a number of these quilts, and we have been very grateful for her willingness to bless us with such special gifts.

To this day, JJ and I use the latest quilt that she made me over five years ago when I was single. We use it during the warmer months since it’s a lighter blanket, turning it horizontally to cover the width of our bed. Liam also uses a baby blanket that my mom designed and created for him over two years ago. Additionally, one of her cross-stitches hangs on the wall by our front door. It’s an Irish blessing that she made five more times after completing the original once since my siblings and I wanted one so badly. I’m glad she was up to the task. Years ago, she told me that she prayed for me as she made my cross-stitch, as she did for my siblings when she made theirs. It makes the Irish blessing that much more special.

She continues to quilt and cross-stitch to this day, and my parents’ home is filled with the work of her hands in beautiful, vivid colors because of it. Each masterpiece is a testimony of her patience, perseverance, and skill. The pieces that each of us children have received from her are also a tangible expression of her love for us, which I’m so grateful to have since my mom and I live far apart.

Another big part of our life growing up was the baked goods my mom made with her hands. She baked challah every Friday for our evening dinner, then she often used the leftover bread to make French toast the following morning. She also made a variety of breads and muffins during the fall and winter, and we also enjoyed her occasional homemade cinnamon rolls and birthday cakes and Thanksgiving pumpkin cream pie. As we got older, my mom taught us how to bake as well, and most of us still enjoy that skill today.

Of course, my mom used her hands for more basic things also. They were used to clean, cook, and care for us children as we were growing up. They have also been used to turn the pages of the numerous books she has enjoyed overs the years, and even more importantly, to flip the pages of her Bible as she has read and memorized Scripture each morning. More symbolically, they have been used in constant prayer. She has been a beautiful example of righteous living to my siblings and me over the years.

Although the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 reminds me of my mom in general, I especially think of the verse mentioned above when I think of my mom because of her readiness to work with her hands in different ways.

I’m so thankful for the godliness, giftedness, and kindness that they have expressed throughout the years and the blessing they have been to me and others in the process. Although I do not possess the same talents as my mother, I pray that I can leave the same kind of legacy that she is leaving the five of us. I pray that my hands will be an expression of kindness and godliness to my family and others, and I pray that the gifts God has given me will leave a legacy for my son and future generations. I’m so thankful for the example that my mom has been to me all these years, and I pray that God will give her many more years so that I can keep learning from her.

How Love Can Move You

Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

A few weeks ago, I was looking through some old documents and found an excerpt from the summer in which I met JJ. Although we had just met, we knew that we were mutually interested in each other and were getting to know each other better as a result. As I pondered what the future might hold, I wrote the following words:

Lately I find myself thinking about relationships more. I would like to be in one, and I ask myself quite a bit nowadays what I would be willing to do for a relationship. Would I be willing to move to another country (or even another state, for that matter) for a relationship? Would I be willing to switch gears and leave a ministry position or move into a different ministry position in order to be in a relationship?

A lot of times, it is hard to think about doing any of those things if I didn’t have thoughts of moving to those places or doing those new things in the first place. But I keep coming back to the same conclusion—I would be willing to do a lot of things to be with the man I loved, and knowing he loved me would inspire me to be daring and try new things.

Thinking of this makes me think of my relationship with Jesus. It makes me wonder how much I love Him. He has called me to go to new places with Him, and I have been willing to go. He has also called me to some new job positions, and so far, I have been willing to accept those positions. However, will I always feel this way? Do I feel this way even now? I recognize my need to ask Him to cause my love for Him to grow and to be sustained. I also recognize my need to remember how great His love is for me. When I am confident of His love for me and love Him in return, I am willing to do so much more than I ever dreamed possible, and I know that is exactly where I need to be.

It seems appropriate to have found this entry recently. JJ and I are once again waiting to hear about a job he applied for earlier this summer. We should know no later than the first week of August.  If he gets it, that will mean a move to the Northeast.

I was originally excited about the possibility. I am one of those odd people that likes to move. I like packing, cleaning, the actual move to the new place, and the unpacking that follows. I guess the whole ordeal gives me a huge sense of accomplishment in the end.

My excitement has been waning as of late, however. JJ mentioned how much it will snow there in passing last night. It’s something I knew, and I’m used to the snow since I grew up in Colorado. Nonetheless, I have lived in warmer climates for over a decade now, and I’m not too fond of the idea of cold, snowy days. Also, Liam has been waking up early for more than a week now (before 6 a.m.), and the lack of sleep I have been getting because of it makes a move feel overwhelming.

There are, of course, some general concerns regarding COVID-19 as well. The pandemic would definitely complicate a move, and it would be hard not to get to hug my friends goodbye.

I’m still willing, however. I love JJ, and wherever he goes is where I want to be. I also know that JJ loves Liam and me and only considers job positions in places where he believes our family could thrive. I am very thankful for that.

Even so, I believe it is God’s love that should thrust us toward a possible new place to call home—not our own for each other.

Our own ideas and knowledge are limited, after all. As much as we have researched about the Northeast and the new job that JJ would have, we don’t know everything about this position or place. We won’t truly know if this will be a good fit for our family unless or until we go.

God knows, however. And He knows if this is what He has in store for us. He has known all along. If we go, it will be because He moves us there and has lovingly determined these next steps for us.

That’s not to say that we won’t have struggles. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that we will think the Northeast is a good fit for us if we go. But if this is where God guides us, we can trust Him in it because He loves us, and we can have faith that He will open our eyes to see His goodness in it, no matter how differently we may have thought life would be.

Although most people probably can’t relate to the idea of a possible physical move right now, I believe that God would like to move all of us in unexpected ways this year (and He probably already has in many ways).

How does He want to move you at this time? Perhaps He wants to lead you to volunteer at a food bank in the midst of the economic hardship so many have encountered this year. Or perhaps He is moving you to donate blood. Maybe you sense Him directing you to talk to your neighbors as you pass them on your daily walk or He is challenging you to call your friends or family that have yet to begin a personal relationship with Him.

The things God is calling us to do may be challenging. We may struggle in the midst of trying to obey Him. But let us pray that God would cause our love for Him to grow and that we would understand His love for us more fully. When we are confident of His love for us and love Him in return, we will be willing to do so much more than we ever dreamed possible, and that, my friend, is exactly where we need to be.

Nothing is Too Broken

My niece is celebrating her 13th birthday this month, and in honor of the occasion, I wanted to share a children’s story I wrote for her several years ago by the title of “Nothing is Too Broken.As broken as our world is nowadays, all I can say is this–I’m glad that this title is true. I’m glad that nothing is too broken for God and His purposes.

So without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy the story! I hope it is a blessing to you today.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from pexels.com

Carianna woke up earlier than usual for a Saturday morning. She couldn’t sleep well last night because she was too excited. Today was her ninth birthday! The smell of waffles wafted to her room, and she went to the kitchen to investigate. There her mom was, making a special breakfast for the birthday girl.

“Happy birthday, my beautiful girl!” her mom, Megan, exclaimed as she rushed around the counter to give her sweet daughter a hug.

“Thanks, Mom,” Carianna replied with a smile.

Carianna helped her mom set the table for her special breakfast, and then soon she, her mom, her brother, and her dad were sitting around the table eating the delicious meal.

The day proved to be a busy, fun day. She and her family went to the zoo with a few of her friends, where they got to go on a camel ride.

Later that evening, after she and her family washed the dust and sweat off from their zoo outing, they went to Carianna’s favorite restaurant and then returned home to enjoy the strawberry shortcake and vanilla ice cream that her mom had made.

As the evening was nearing an end, her family presented her with what she was long awaiting—the gifts! She received a mermaid blanket, hair chalk, and a nail kit.

“Thank you!” Carianna exclaimed, smiling contentedly as she hugged her presents.

“We have one more for you,” her mother stated. She and her father then left the room and came back with a big present that had a bed sheet over it.

Carianna pulled off the sheet to see a small, multi-colored glass table.

“Wow!” Carianna exclaimed.

“Do you remember how you asked me for this table a couple of months ago?” her mom asked.

“Yes, I do!” she stated. “I wanted this table to put my alarm clock on it in my room. I just thought it was going to be too expensive to get as a present.”

“Well, it was a bit expensive,” her dad chimed in as he gave her a hug. “But I worked some extra hours last month so that we could buy this for you. We knew how much you wanted it.”

“Thanks, Mom and Dad!” Carianna exclaimed as she gave them a hug.

Her mom and dad helped her put the table in her room that night, and she put her presents on top of it to sleep with them nearby. Today truly had been a special day. She felt like a princess. And she knew she was loved by her family and friends.

The weeks went on, and Carianna continued to enjoy her new gifts and life in general.

One day, however, all of that changed.

One of Carianna’s friends came over to play one afternoon, and in her eagerness to go outside and ride bikes with her friend, she threw a book she had been reading onto the glass table.

As soon as the book hit the table, the glass tabletop came down with a thud.

Carianna screamed and then started to cry.

Megan heard her and rushed to her room.

“What happened?” she asked with concern. “Are you okay?”

“I am,” Carianna wailed, “but look at my table!”

Megan looked to see the table lying on the floor, in pieces.

“Well, let’s clean this up,” Megan replied.

The two carefully picked up the pieces of the table and placed them in a cardboard box.

“It’s ruined, Mom!” Carianna cried. “My new gift is ruined!”

“Don’t cry,” Carianna’s mom comforted her as she wiped her tears away. “We can still use this for something.”

“I don’t see what,” Carianna stated grumpily, then started to cry again.

Megan held her close and let her cry. Carianna later went outside to play with her friend. Megan had encouraged her to go play. It would be good for her to get her mind off of what had happened. In the meantime, Megan thought about what to do with the broken gift.

Several weeks later, Megan told Carianna, “I have a surprise for you.”

“What is it?” Carianna asked as she looked up from what she had been reading.

“Come with me,” Megan stated.

Carianna and Megan went to the kitchen where a beautiful, colorful vase was sitting in the middle of the table.

“Wow, Mom! That’s beautiful!” Carianna gushed.

“Do you know where I got the material from?” Megan asked her.

“Is it from my table?” Carianna asked.

“Yes, it is.” Megan smiled.

“I love it, Mom,” Carianna told her. “Thanks!”

Later that day, Carianna and her mother picked out flowers from the store for Carianna to put in her new vase. Carianna had never seen a vase so big or colorful before. She absolutely loved it and loved the fact that her mom put so much work into it to make it a precious gift for her. She had the best mom in the world.

A week later, however, when Carianna was hanging a picture on the wall, the picture fell and dropped directly onto the vase, breaking both the vase and the picture.

“It’s no use, Mom,” Carianna wailed. “This gift just keeps breaking. It’s hopeless!”

“It’s not hopeless,” Megan remarked.

“Yes, it is!” Carianna retorted, and then ran out of the room crying.

Megan picked up the broken pieces once again and placed them in the same cardboard box from last time. The pieces were much smaller than they had been before, but they were so vibrant in color that they were beautiful just as they were. Surely, she could still use them for something. All of the sudden, she had an idea. She knew it would take time and a lot of detail, but she was willing to put in the effort.

The weeks passed, and while Carianna was busy with the new school year, Megan was busy working away in their shed on the glass project.

Carianna had no idea what her mother was doing, but whenever she thought about the two accidents that had occurred with her gift, she felt sad. Nonetheless, she tried to focus on her other gifts and her friends and school. She had a pretty good life.

Finally, a month after the last accident, Carianna’s mom approached her.

“Carianna,” her mom said. “Do you remember how you thought that your gift was completely ruined?”

“Yes,” Carianna sadly replied.

“Well, I have been working on something in the shed, and I want to show it to you.”

The mother and daughter walked to the shed, and Megan opened the shed doors to reveal the most beautiful piece of art that Carianna had ever seen. It was a stained-glass window!

“Is this, is this from the broken vase?” Carianna stuttered, barely able to believe what she was seeing. How could such beauty come from something so broken?

“It sure is!” Her mom exclaimed with a smile.

“Wow, Mom! How did you do this?”

“Well,” she slowly replied as she traced the outline of the glass with her index finger, “It wasn’t easy, but I read lots of books and took a class where the teachers were able to help me design and create this, and this is what came to be.”

“Do you like it?” she asked her daughter.

Carianna nodded and then rushed to her mother’s side to give her a hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“I was thinking that we could take out the window in your bedroom and install this,” her mom told her. “Your dad knows how to do that. We would just need to buy a few items at the hardware store.”

Carianna nodded again. She was too overcome with emotion to say anything. She loved the stained-glass window even more than she had loved the table. And she knew that this was an even greater display of her mom’s love to her because she knew that the intricate work must have taken a lot of time.

That weekend, they scheduled a trip to go to the hardware store. However, before they left, Carianna had an idea.

“Mom, would it be okay with you if we gave the stained-glass window to the church?” she asked timidly. “It’s so pretty that I think everyone should enjoy it.”

“Is that what you really want to do?” her mom asked.

“Yes, as long as that is okay with you.”

“It sure is,” Megan replied and hugged her daughter.

Megan made a phone call to the church to see if they would accept the window, and then Megan and Carianna carefully packed the window into the back of their van and headed to the church.

The secretary profusely thanked Carianna and her mom for their generous donation, and then Carianna and her mom stopped by a pastry shop to eat a cupcake before they headed home.

“You really surprise me, Mom,” Carianna said in between bites of her chocolate cupcake.

“Why is that?” Megan asked before she took a bite of her own cupcake.

“Because you can make something out of anything. It’s really amazing. You are an amazing mom.”

Megan smiled at her daughter and then remarked, “Well, nothing is too broken that it cannot be used somehow.”

The two finished their treats and then headed home to a nice and quiet evening with their family.

Several weeks later, the stained-glass window was finally installed at church, making the front of the church look heavenly. Carianna loved to look at the window every time she went to church, and she was happy that she and her mom gave it to the church. It belonged there.

She imagined that one day she would get married in front of that window. In the meantime, she continued to enjoy her family, friends, school, and the other gifts she had been given. And she was learning to be more like her mother—fixing things and making something new out of broken pieces, because nothing was so broken that it could not be used. In her heart, Carianna knew that was true of people also. No one was so broken that God couldn’t use them.

Amidst Dreams and Disappointments

JJ didn’t get the job. He had applied for a position as a supervisor within his company, and although the position would have required a relocation to Arizona, we didn’t care. As stressful as it would have been to try to sell our house and pack up and move, we welcomed the possibility.

The truth is, life here in El Paso has been somewhat difficult as of late. We like this city, but the circumstances we have faced over a little more than a year have made it hard for us to fully enjoy life here. We haven’t been able to be involved in the community as we would have liked, and recently I have had less opportunities to see the few friends I have due to some changes in their own lives and increased busyness on their part.

All of these factors, along with some issues JJ has been facing at work, made me think that it would be easier to just start over somewhere new.

The two of us were pretty disappointed to learn that JJ wasn’t chosen for the position. Being the optimist that he is, however, JJ bounced back quickly and reminded me that God is good and that we could trust that life was better for us here for the time being since this is where God had us.

It has taken me a bit longer to get over my own disappointment about the matter. I fully agree with JJ that God is not withholding goodness from us in keeping us here. At the same time, I’m having a hard time seeing that goodness in a phase of life that feels so stagnant.

I have been reading Priscilla Shirer’s book, One in a Million with a small group of women for the last few months, and it has been speaking to me loudly in the midst of these past few weeks.

The book in general talks about how God takes us through the wilderness at times to teach us to trust Him and to know Him more deeply. He is also able to shape us into the person He wants us to be through these experiences in the wilderness.

The most recent chapter I read distinguished between the wilderness and the desert. God doesn’t take us through the desert where no life can be sustained. Rather, He leads us through the wilderness where we can occasionally find moments of refreshment. These are the moments that keep us going and that build our trust in God a little more.

The literal wilderness I live in has been such a physical representation of the figurative one I have been going through as of late. But just as God has physically refreshed me in the midst of this wilderness of El Paso throughout my time living here, I have to remind myself of the ways He has been refreshing me through this spiritual and emotional wilderness as well. He has worked in ways that are undoubtedly His doing.

Sometimes it is only when we have no other option but to trust Him that we realize how trustworthy He is. He has been proving His faithfulness over and over to me by putting me in this wilderness journey where I have lacked the ability to come up with my own plans or resources to solve life’s problems. And the result of all that has been greater confidence in Him as He has solved them for me.

With shifts in friendships and less opportunity to make meaningful connections with the friends I have, I find myself wondering what God will do in this situation. How will He provide? From where will my next moment of refreshment come?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I am hopeful.

Just yesterday I noticed that one of the palm trees in our front yard was growing a new leaf. Since it is exposed to the sun more than our other palm tree, and because we had a colder-than-usual winter this year, it was struggling to survive. Just last month, I had to cut off two or three of its dead branches and wondered all the while if I would ultimately have to uproot it because it had died. But yesterday, it showed new signs of life as the promise of spring lingered in the air.

My life has been like that palm tree in certain ways. I have been exposed to the elements and endured a harsh winter. Nonetheless, God is giving me hope for the spring and for new life, and I am ready to embrace those things. In the meantime, however, I don’t want to stop recognizing the moments of refreshment that God has given and will give me for however long my time in this wilderness lasts (both physically and metaphorically).

He is not withholding goodness from me. Perhaps I just need to remember the ways in which He hasn’t and open my eyes a little wider to see the ways in which He is showering me with it now, even in the midst of my wilderness experience.

Remembering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meaning Behind the Ornaments

The latest, still as a work in progress.

The year my husband JJ and I got married, I bought an ornament of two lovebirds painted on wood that depicted our first Christmas together as a married couple. The next year, a friend of mine made an ornament for me that said “Baby on the Way” since JJ and I were expecting. I also found an ornament that year portraying a pregnant woman, so I bought it. The following year, I bought an ornament which stated “Baby’s First Christmas” for our first Christmas with our son.

After so many Christmases of buying ornaments to represent each year, I can’t help but want to continue this tradition for years to come.

This year I wanted to buy an ornament in the shape of a heart but couldn’t find one, so I decided to make one instead. I have yet to finish it, but it’s a simple wooden heart that I painted red and will attach twine to so that I can hang it up. I’ll write the year on one side, and I’ll include the following verse on one side as well:

     “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalms 73:26

As I have mentioned in past posts, this year has been hard. Our son became ill toward the end of January and had to be admitted to the hospital for a couple of nights. Fortunately, he received treatment to counteract his illness and recovered quickly, but his health was affected nonetheless. As a result, he had to take medication daily and have follow up appointments with a specialist.

We have been very fortunate because Liam has lived a pretty normal life this year despite all of this. JJ and I have had to make some significant alterations in our activities, however, to ensure that Liam stays as healthy as he possibly can (if he were to come down with the flu while on his medicine, he could become seriously ill).

The biggest change of this year has been my attendance of a group for mothers with preschoolers and to church.

I had to stop attending the mothers of preschoolers group altogether because the group I was attending could not accommodate my son and me in our new set of circumstances. It was painful to have to leave that group since I had found so much support and encouragement in it as a new mom with a young child, but at the same time I saw how intentional God was in causing me to leave, so I have had to trust that He has a good purpose for it and that He has not been withholding goodness from me in taking that group away from me.

As far as church is concerned, JJ and I stopped attending for awhile. We would listen online as a couple, but it was hard to fully focus since Liam would be playing noisily beside us. By May, JJ and I agreed to start taking turns watching Liam every week so that the other could go to church.

In June, the flu season finally ended. Since my desire to go to church as a family was growing, I suggested to JJ that we pray about it. There was a measles outbreak by July, however, and since our son had not yet received his MMR vaccine (he would not be eligible to receive it until 11 months after the treatment he received at the hospital), going to church together as a family was no longer an option.

Needless to say, it has been a somewhat isolating year for me. There have been times when I have had to stay home for days on end so that I don’t expose Liam to germs. With no family in town and a husband who works long hours, this has made those days especially difficult. It has been easy to feel lonely and forgotten at different times throughout this year.

There have also been days of wondering why everything had to work out the way it was. Liam’s health seemed like a big knot that I couldn’t untie. The more I tried to “fix” things, the more I saw how God had ordained these events in our lives. Our circumstances and the complexity of them were just too precise for me to believe they were a coincidence. As much as I hated that at times and just wished that God would change things, I found a great amount of comfort in recognizing that God was in control of the situation and that He would bring us through it. This time in our lives was not in vain.

Last Wednesday, JJ and I took Liam to another doctor appointment. It was the first time this year in which I didn’t feel weepy the entire week before the appointment. I was kind of surprised by this but figured I was just getting used to our new reality. I imagined the results would be the same as Liam’s past appointments, but I was wrong. They were not the same.

Liam got sick when he was only 11 months old, and now 11 months later, we were hearing different results than what we had been told for the last 11 months. Liam was healed! God had healed him!

As soon as the doctor stepped out of the room, we hugged as a family and JJ kissed me and then Liam. Tears of joy were streaming down my face that afternoon, and it’s a moment I hope to never forget.

The doctor still wants Liam to continue taking his medicine as a precaution until his next (and perhaps final) appointment, so we will still need to take measures to protect Liam’s health for the time being. Nonetheless, God has brought us through the darkest moments of this ordeal, and we have hope for the future.

I am still unsure as to why these events were part of God’s plans for us this year. I can only imagine that the answers will unfold with time. I can say, however, that I believe more fully in God’s faithfulness today than I did a year ago. And I take less for granted than I did before as well.

Whatever God’s purposes have been for this past year, I pray I have learned and will continue to learn the things that God wants to teach me through it. God has given us such a beautiful Christmas gift this year in allowing us to see Liam restored to health. I know, however, that the lessons learned and the ways He has wanted to mature me this past year through these events are meant to be gifts as well, and I want to receive all the gifts God has in store for me.