Loss and Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetheart Cake

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 13:7

SWEETHEART CAKE

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

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

Chocolate Mousse Ingredients

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

Cinnamon Strawberry Compote Ingredients

  • 16 oz strawberries, diced
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice of (divided)
  • 1 ½ t cinnamon
  • ¼ t cloves (scant quarter teaspoon)
  • 2 T cornstarch

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

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

For the Chocolate Cake:

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

For the Chocolate Mousse:

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

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

For the Cinnamon Strawberry Compote:

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

For the Chocolate Ganache:

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

For the Cake Assembly:

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

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

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

Out of the Depths

Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 71:20

The Birds of the Air

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

Do You really care about me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:26

Furthermore,

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

Matthew 10:29-31

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

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

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

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

-Sparrows by Cory Asbury

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

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

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

Pit Stops

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

Proverbs 16:9

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

We’re moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best is yet to come.

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

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

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

An Unexpected Christmas (Readapted)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greater Gift

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 37:4

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

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

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

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

Numbers 23:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Decker Butterscotch Bars with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

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

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

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

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

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

DOUBLE DECKER BUTTERSCOTCH BARS WITH EGGNOG CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Ingredients:

For the Cookie Bar:

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

For the Butterscotch Candy Layer

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

For the Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting:

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

Optional Toppings

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

TIPS:

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

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

Homecoming

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

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

Psalm 116:15 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of 2021

Whew! My family and I had quite the weekend! It started on Thursday when my family and I woke up before the crack of dawn to make the eight-hour trek to my older sister’s house so we could celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. After enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and quiet evening at her house, we got out a bit the following day, eating at my husband’s favorite pizza place for lunch and then heading to a nearby town to enjoy the Christmas lights and festivities that evening. The following morning, we woke up, ate breakfast, and packed our bags to make the long trip back home—this time a twelve-hour road trip since we made a few more stops along the way. Needless to say, we were exhausted come Sunday. By the time I tucked my little one into bed that evening, I was ready to go to sleep myself. But I didn’t. I stayed up just a little longer to uphold a personal, cherished tradition of mine—writing a list of the things I liked most about this year. It’s the list that makes me recognize God’s extravagance towards me all over again and causes my heart to overflow with gratefulness. It’s the list that helps me to recognize that, no matter how hard any given year may be, it is still laced with beauty and the touch of a loving Father that knows how to give good gifts to His children. And it’s the list that, once made, can be read over and over again throughout the years to remind me just how generous God was to me, even if life that year was hard. Thinking about these things makes me want to reread the list I made for last year and several others years past. I want to remember God’s goodness more than I remember any trials I endured. Perhaps someday I’ll find myself rereading my list of bests from this year as well.

I’m truly thankful for all the blessings God has had for my family and me throughout these past eleven months (and the ones that we have yet to discover in December). I’m thankful for the small moments that will forever be etched in my mind as precious memories, and I’m thankful for the bigger moments for which their anticipation was even a gift.

As hard as this year has been worldwide, it has been one of our best as a family. God made a way when there was no way, and I look forward to seeing where His way for our family will lead as we close out this year and journey into the next.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:17