“I have a surprise for you!” Liam exclaimed in a sing-song sort of voice on the way home from school a few days ago. He then proceeded to rummage through his backpack from the back seat, insisting I take his surprise from him once he found it, despite the fact that I was driving us home.
Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice twisting my arm behind the driver seat to give and take things from him over the years, so this was no different. I even managed to get a good look at his creation as we came to a stop at a light—a picture of a person he had drawn during art class that day.
“You drew this for me?” I asked him in pleasant surprise.
“Yes,” he answered sweetly. It’s not the first time that he has given me little gifts like this, but for some reason, my heart felt especially touched by this piece of art. Perhaps it was knowing that he had been thinking about me throughout the day. Or maybe it was because Liam had poured his little heart into this picture that resembled a monster to me out of love for me, confidently knowing I would gladly accept it from him.
No matter the exact reason, Liam left me with a lot to think about that afternoon in light of this surprise.
Something I love about the stage of life that I find Liam in is that he is not self-conscious of his developing abilities. He doesn’t compare his work to the more advanced artwork that I have been working on for nearly a year (more on that in a later post), nor does he compare his abilities to the other children he knows, becoming insecure by those who are more advanced in their artistic abilities than he is. He is pretty unaware of this idea of comparison as of now (unless it comes to who has the bigger dessert! Lol!), and I’m grateful for that. What compels him to draw is his love for the activity and his desire to shower love on friends and acquaintances alike through sharing his little masterpieces with them.
I wish I were more like Liam in that respect. I wish the world were more like him in that respect. I have a feeling that we would see a lot more acts of kindness and many more displays of beauty in this world if we could shed our own fears and insecurities when it comes to our own abilities. And imagine how much more God’s glory would fill this earth if we, as believers, would offer our talents, abilities, and gifts up to God wholeheartedly for His good pleasure as He used them to bless others!
As Liam and I continued our short drive home that afternoon, the passage from Luke 21 about the widow’s offering came to mind.
Jesuslooked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4 ESV
Although this story speaks of generous financial giving, it’s a story that God used in my life years ago to convict me of other areas in my life where I was failing to be generous toward God. He specifically used it to convict me of my desire to keep certain talents hidden due to insecurities and my own self-perception that I didn’t measure up to others when it came to those specific abilities. The truth is, I felt like I had so little to offer when it came to certain aptitudes that I felt God was nudging me to use. So many others could give substantially more than I could in those areas.
But then God reminded me of this widow. It didn’t matter if all I could give was much less than others as long as it was my all. After all, He knew how much talent I had and to what extent my abilities would develop and grow, because He had given me those abilities and caused them to grow in the first place. All He was asking is that I not hide the gifts that He had given me. All He wanted was for me to focus on pleasing Him with my talents and abilities, because pleasing Him was all that mattered in the end anyway, and in offering my gifts, abilities, and talents back to Him in worship, I knew He could ultimately use them to bless others also.
I can’t say I don’t struggle with this topic anymore. It continues to be an issue that I must continue to surrender to the Lord. But when I think of Liam and all the people that he’s made smile through his rough sketches of faces generally sporting mustaches and beards, I can’t help but think what God might do when I wholeheartedly offer my abilities back to Him. After all, if He could feed 5,000 from one boy’s two fish and fives loaves of bread (John 6), then what might He do through us if we give our all to Him?
We had an infestation of caterpillars in our neighborhood a little over a month ago, and although I was somewhat disgusted by it, I also found joy in watching my toddler son enjoy them so much.
“Pet, pet, pet. I pet a cata-pil-wer,” he would tell me after bending down to stroke each one with his index finger. He was oblivious to their attacks and attempts to get away, despite my best efforts to make him understand. In his mind, he was showing them some much needed affection, and he contentedly smiled to himself as he continued to bestow kindness upon them.
I’m glad that walking is no longer my main form of exercise. Liam is much too fascinated by nature to take things at a brisk pace. He wants to explore and enjoy creation, and he’s teaching me to slow down and look at life with the same wonder and fascination that has captured him.
Moments like these make me think about Jesus’ own interactions with children and His words to the disciples about them.
Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Liam has yet to place his faith in Jesus or to even understand the gospel, for that matter, but I find myself learning more about what it means to be childlike in my faith because of him. He is showing me how to recognize and enjoy the small pleasures of life that God gives us. The simplest of moments hold so much adventure and delight for him, and he doesn’t take any of it for granted.
Often times, I wake up feeling steeped in the sorrows of this world. There are countless tragedies taking place nowadays, and it is all too easy to hear about them and feel burdened by them. These things weigh me down and have me walking through life in a fog at times, not fully aware of the beauty that surrounds me and the way that God lavishly pours down His love upon me through the simple gifts of each day. But seeing Liam enjoy these thoughtful gestures so freely helps me to recognize that God’s goodness abounds. There is still so much to enjoy here on earth. God abundantly blesses us with good gifts each day, and Liam is making me a little more aware of them through our excursions and other ordinary life moments, for which I’m grateful.
Liam is also making me more aware of my need to be less concerned about my own comfort and convenience in life. If there is a great adventure to be had, Liam is ready to enter into it, despite the discomfort he might experience in the end.
Weeks ago, he walked home with me in wet pants and shoes due to jumping in some puddles near our home, and it reminded me of how excited I was to jump in puddles as a little girl. I’m not encouraging any of us to jump in puddles or play in the mud as adults per se, but watching him have so much fun made me wonder if I am truly willing to enter into all of the adventures that God has in store for me, regardless of how messy they might be.
My son is still very young, so I can only imagine the other lessons and insights that God will give me through him as he grows. And of course, he has much to learn from me and others also, but I’m so appreciative to God for the ways in which He is growing me spiritually through my son. He delights to teach us and help us grow in whatever position or role in which we find ourselves, and I find that to be a special blessing in this season of mothering a small child.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
My son gashed his chin at the park a few weeks ago. It’s not something I intended to write about, but it really left an impression on me. Considering all the blood and how deep the cut was, I think I responded fairly well. My son was a real trooper, too. He cried on the way to the hospital, as is to be expected from a three-year-old, but he quickly calmed down as I continued to reassure him that I was taking him to the emergency room so that he could get better. He even managed to take a nap in my arms as we sat in the waiting room.
Three hours later, after a lot of waiting and a bit of medical care, my son’s chin was finally stitched up, and we headed to the nearest drive thru to pick up a late lunch before heading home. Liam was soon back to his happy, rambunctious self as we ravenously scarfed down our food. It was as if he had already forgotten about the incident. Life was far from normal for me, however. Apart from the stress of trying to keep Liam’s stitches dry and clean that week and keeping him from picking at them or injuring himself any further, my mind was brewing with unwanted thoughts.
That day, I was freshly reminded that I cannot always protect my son. I wasn’t able to protect him at eleven months when he had to be admitted to the hospital for two nights for a disease my husband and I had never even heard about. I couldn’t protect him subsequently at his follow up appointment two weeks later, where the doctor determined that his health had been affected by the illness and he would have to be put on medication indefinitely. I couldn’t protect him eight months later when he slipped on a step at the zoo and had to get stitches for the first time, and I couldn’t protect him this last time when he tripped over his own feet just a few feet from my side.
As much as I try, I am unable to shield my son from much of the harm that comes from living in a fallen world, and this most recent incident was a vivid and painful reminder to me of just that. I am incapable of completely keeping him safe, and I always will be. But the thought that I wrestle with more as I think about all of this is knowing that God can keep him from harm, but He doesn’t always choose to do so. Liam will continue to experience sickness, pain, and sorrow in different seasons of his life, just like everyone else, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
My faith does not falter as I consider these things, however, nor do I doubt God’s character. I have learned long ago to view my circumstances through the lens of God’s goodness rather than the other way around, and He has helped me to see Him at work in the different hardships I have faced thus far. I simply write this to confess that I’m struggling to reconcile myself to the fact that my family’s story may not turn out the way I want it to. We may experience greater suffering, sorrow, and loss than we have ever known, and there’s no way for us to undo whatever hardships we may face.
The most meaningful truth that I keep coming back to, however, is knowing that God did not spare His own Son for me. He gave Him over to a painful and gruesome death on a cross so that I might choose Jesus and have an eternity awaiting me with Him. And if God loved me so much to give His Son for me, then I can trust that He will not abandon me in my darkest moments and worst sufferings. He intimately knows my heart and all its emotions, and whatever may come, He will strengthen, comfort, and sustain me. He will completely see me through this life on earth until He sees me Home, where pain and sorrow will be no more.
I’m also comforted in knowing that God did not spare His own Son for Liam to give him a chance to believe in Him and be saved if he so chooses (and I fervently pray that he does).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God loves Liam more than JJ and I ever could, and it would do me good to really meditate upon that fact and to find freedom in God’s great love for him. I can’t keep my son from harm, and God may not always shield him from all harm either, but I know that God can minister to Liam in his pain, just as He has done for JJ and me over and over again. He can comfort him, give him peace, and outpour His love upon Him in ways unlike anyone else. And those moments, in turn, can become the stepping stones that God uses to build faith in Liam and a deeper understanding of who He is.
Ultimately, I know that I must choose not to dwell on the possible hardships that this life may bring. The Bible admonishes us to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), so I will seek to turn my thoughts to those things. But for every new stitch, sickness, or sorrow that may come our way, I want to keep remembering that God did not spare His own Son because of His immense love for us, and He is ready to outpour His love, kindness, compassion, and comfort upon my family and me. We just have to keep seeing our circumstances through the lens of His goodness. We just have to keep believing that He will carry us through this life until He carries us home.
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.”
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!
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
AIR FRYER OPTION:
Lightly brush each empanada with oil, then bake in the air fryer in segments at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 minutes, flipping over when halfway through.
She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.