Thursday, May 30, 2013

STAY TUNED

I've heard it said before that when a blog gets quiet, there's one of two reasons...

Either there's not much going on in life to write about — or way too much going on for any chance to write!

I'll add one more category to that:  Creating a whole other blog.

For me right now, there's plenty enough going on to write about, and at the same time, I think I will always find time to write (because, well, I just can't seem to help it).  All the happening and writing is just taking place on another site... a blog I've created for my husband and me to document our adoption process.

Even though I've left this one stranded for over a month, I'm certainly not finished with it yet.  It's just that, right now, I've got adoption on the brain, and it's the only thing coming out on my computer screen these days!

So, if you're still a reader here (bless your heart!!!), thank you and stay tuned. :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

FIREWORKS

Just one thing...
I love about living in Wilmington...

Firework displays downtown that look like a chandelier of lights over the river.  Beautiful.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

FIRST 10K

Today I had my first 10K experience... and it was awesome!!!

I have done a few 5Ks, then jumped straight to a half marathon last year, and I think a 10K is just a great distance overall.  Long enough to be challenging, but not so long that training for it consumes your life.

The best part about this particular race, to me, was that it was in support of mentoring (more specifically, the Big Buddy program here in Wilmington).  Since I don't mentor through Big Buddy, the race for me was symbolic of supporting mentoring in general.  I have been a mentor since the fall of last year, and it blesses my life in so many ways...  One-to-one investment in a child or teen is one of the greatest ways we can show them value and help them develop to their greatest potential.  I can't support or encourage it enough!!!


This is the race that my sister registered for and trained to run with me.  After having two kids, it's what got her back into running (setting that goal), and I am so proud of the way she jumped right in and took off!  She lives almost 2 hours away, so we kept each other accountable with phone calls and e-mails during our training.  (After some of our conversations, I was seriously starting to worry that I was going to be holding her back!)  Her boys got sick the week of the race, so she didn't end up being able to come in town.  Even though I ran it alone, I am so glad she has developed a love for running like I have, and we are committed to doing another one some time in the future!

By the way, I am very lucky to have such a supportive husband come out on a chilly, early Saturday morning to watch his wife run for an hour!


I was thinking of my sister and the 11-year-old girl that I mentor the whole time I prepared to start the race...



We had a huge Easter weekend at my church the week before, plus a new commitment on two nights a week for me and Trey, so I was only able to get in one run the whole week and a half before race day.  I was a little nervous that I hadn't trained well enough in general.  My biggest struggle was going to be pacing myself at the beginning.  I knew I would need to save some steam, although it never feels right to go "under" what your body wants to (and knows it can do) at the beginning.  All that "rest" the week before probably worked in my favor — I was itching to really stretch my legs and get going!

This next picture cracks me up... It looks like I'm just going for a nice little sunshine-y stroll, lol!  Where is everybody???

Pacing myself at the beginning really paid off, as I felt good the whole entire time.  Kicking it in for the last half was no problem, and I had to smile every time a worship song made its way into the mix on the "shuffle" selection of songs on my iPhone.  There were at least two or three times I caught myself just thanking God in my head... for health and for being able to get out here and do this... for the beautiful place we live, where can train and run races while enjoying the environment God has given us... for having fun with something that is so good for you and for others.

Taking a few tips from a popular blogger over on Peanut Butter Fingers, I repeated mantras in my head and imagined the sound of a revving car engine whenever I passed people I had been behind in the first half.  (My husband laughed at this when I told him on the way home... hey, fellow runners know you do what you gotta do!)

Overall the race went extremely well, and I was really happy with it.  I felt great, and I did what I set out to do: run the whole thing and finish strong.


Here's to mentoring, health, and accomplishing goals!!

Friday, March 29, 2013

EASTER BLESSINGS

I am loving all the excitement, anticipation, and gratitude surrounding Easter this year.

As we are reminded and humbled by the message of Easter, may we all be overwhelmed by the presence of Christ in our lives.

Praying that everyone is knocked off their feet this weekend with the extravagant love and incomprehensible truth of the greatest news we could ever hope to hear!!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CELEBRATING FAILURE

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." ~James 1:2-3

I recently read an article about a woman named Sara Blakely.

You might not recognize the name, but she is a.k.a. the youngest female billionaire in the world.

The writer of the article begins by telling a story about Sara's childhood.

"When [Sara] was a little girl, her father would ask, 'What did you fail at today?'  He made it clear that failure was an indication that you tried something.  It was a good thing."

What a refreshing perspective!  The writer reflects, "If you celebrate a child's gift rather than her effort, you do her a disservice."

The insightful inquiries of Sara's father obviously stuck with her as an adult when she invented what has become a product that sells $350 million in global retail sales annually.  (OK, so it's a footless pantyhose called Spanx — maybe not the most glamorous way to make the Forbes' annual Billionaires' list. )  But "[she has] an innate commitment to thinking outside the box... and thinking in general," the writer observes.

"'I think!'" he quotes her.  "'I think recreationally!  I have periods of time where I turn off my TV and sit on my couch, and I think.'"

This is somewhat of a profound concept in a time where we are constantly being fed our information.  To sit for periods of time and think.  To try new things without fear of failure.

It makes me wonder what our heavenly Father is thinking, sitting across that table as He watches His children's unhealthy fear of failure.  As He longs to celebrate our steps of faith with Him rather than what's in our own ability to do.  As we feed ourselves with devotions and blogs and commentary... rather than taking a time-out to just sit and meditate on His Word.

When we stumble, it means we have recognized the value of that which we believe is worth walking toward.  And He picks us up.  He loves our faith and our desire to know Him.  Our walks with God are so much more about a process and than about attaining perfection.  We can consider it pure joy, and somewhere along the way, we find pure joy...

Something to think about.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

WHAT SEASON IS YOUR CHANGE?

It always amazes me how quickly spring just... happens.

Like Christmas, it seems to take forever to get here.  But with spring we don't get a whole season of preparation and getting in the spirit.  One day I'm driving down the same road I've been taking every day, and suddenly there are bursts of color and blooms that weren't there the day before.  It literally happens overnight.

(source)

Sometimes change is like that.  Sometimes people get their life back on track with a powerful encounter or a light-blub moment, and things are completely different from that point on.  Two people meet and fall in love, and they are married within a year.  A tragedy occurs, and everything changes in a split second.  

And sometimes change feels like the fall.  It's beautiful and layered, but it's slow, and it draws us in.  It feels a lot like holding on and a lot like letting go.  A relief from what's been and yet a preparation for bigger challenges that lie ahead.

The good thing about change is that, like seasons, it's cyclical.  Change that is a slow and painful process will suddenly, at some point, burst forth into spring.  Change can even be a carefree, no-consequences summer day with nothing but blue skies ahead.  Or every step of the way can feel painful and bitter like a trek through 4-foot snow.

The January 1 of a new beginning.  The Memorial Day of a life once lived.  The freedom of an independence, the still sweet delight in our many thanksgivings.

The only thing constant about change is that everything does.

Just because the change you see in someone else's life seems to be happening faster, or more smoothly, or simply better than what you see in your world, has no effect on the fact that change IS happening inside yours — even if it's not visible yet.  Every season is purposeful and useful and beautiful in its own way.

In a similar way, I issued a challenge in a previous post that we allow people, themselves, to change.  As much as we want change to be possible in our own lives, we have to also know that change is happening in the lives of others around us.  It isn't possible to remain in the same place throughout the course of this life.  People can change (thank God for that!).  Including your spouse.  Including yourself.  Including that "difficult person" in your life.  People can change.  And I could almost guarantee there is someone out there right now hoping they are not stereotyped in your mind as the person they were six months ago.  Don't let it surprise you.  Cast off the perception and expectation you have of that someone as they once were.  God is transforming us all the time, and it's a blessing that can be sadly, grossly underestimated.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Praise how far they've truly come, and respond as if you believe it.  Even when their summer is your winter.  Especially if they break into a new spring.

The aroma of every new victory in Christ is a blessing to everyone who encounters it.  We don't shrink when someone else blooms.  It simply reminds us just how sweet this life is.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BREAKFAST QUINOA

Recently, I made a new dinner recipe — one that gifted us with an abundance of leftover quinoa (see "Lemon Chicken with Red Beans and Quinoa" in Recipes).  Which is always a good thing!  There are TONS of delicious ways to use prepared quinoa.  I was leaning toward a spinach salad with other fresh ingredients along with this most-amazing grain... until I discovered "Breakfast Quinoa."

If you know me really well, you might know I love breakfast foods.  The picture with this particular recipe looked like a cross between oatmeal and cereal — with quinoa, dried fruits, and nuts.  What's not to love?!  I put my own twist on what I found to create the most yummy and filling start to any day...


Breakfast Quinoa
Ingredients
1 cup prepared (not dry) quinoa
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp honey (or to taste)
dried fruits and nuts (amount and kinds to your preference of texture and taste)

Directions
Put prepared quinoa in small saucepan with milk, honey, dried fruits, and nuts.  Simmer, stirring often, until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes).  Easy as that!

Notes
I used unsweetened almond milk (30 calories per cup) and agave nectar instead of honey (better on the blood sugar).  The original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I didn't use any at all.  For my fruits and nuts, I put in raisins, chopped walnuts, and goji berries.  (See "The Three G's: Breakfast of Superfoods!" in Recipes for another way to eat goji berries in the morning.)  The agave nectar and raisins gave it a perfect sweetness, and the quinoa is a protein-packed alternative to oatmeal.  Enjoy!!

Monday, March 18, 2013

JOY

They say a picture is worth a thousand words — so for this Missions Monday, I'm letting this one speak.

This is a little girl in the village where we support missionaries in Guinea, West Africa.  Her people did not have a written language until just within the past couple years, and they had NEVER before in their history heard the Gospel.  (Truly an unreached people group.)  They are now learning to read their own language, and the Word is being translated to them for the first time.

God is so good to allow us to participate in what He is doing around the world — and to witness this kind of joy!!!

(Rick and Liz Shafer)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

LEMON CHICKEN w/ RED BEANS and QUINOA

Happy Saturday!!  Today was the perfect day to try a new recipe.  Trey and I both slept in a little before he headed off to get some work done, and I took the young girl I am mentoring to our church's feeding ministry downtown.  It was an awesome time of serving together, especially after getting to hang out last night, too, just having fun and learning a new memory verse (and reading this book — a great one!).  I was able to get an errand done after taking her home, and with temps rising as we finally approach spring (woo-hoo!!!), I went for a glorious run outside before coming in to take a look at what we would have for dinner.  I had plenty of time to prepare since it was early still, and we were planning on a relaxing night in.  (Saturday nights are like a weeknight for me.)

This recipe is chock-full of delicious flavors.  I set aside my water bottle and running shoes, and I think my taste buds actually flipped with excitement to get started...


Lemon Chicken with Red Beans and Quinoa
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, each sliced horizontally into 2 4-oz cutlets
2 tsp kosher salt
1 lemon, juice only
2 tsp ground cumin
5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 15-oz cans low-sodium pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 radishes sliced, for garnish

Directions
Combine quinoa with 6 cups water in large saucepan; bring to boil over medium heat.  Reduce to a simmer; cover and cook for 25 minutes.  Remove from heat, and set aside for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.  Meanwhile, cover chicken with lemon juice, and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp salt.  Use fingers to rub in cumin, coating all sides.  Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium.  Add chicken in a single layer, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until golden.  Turn and cook 4-5 more minutes until cooked through.  Remove from skillet, and set aside to cool.  Wrap up half the chicken (4 cutlets) and store for later.  In same skillet over medium-high heat, add remaining olive oil and red onion.  Sauté for 4 minutes.  Add garlic, and cook for 1 more minute.  Season with remaining salt and cayenne pepper.  Add pinto beans, vinegar, and pepper; combine and bring to a simmer.  Stir in 3 cups prepared quinoa, remove from heat, and mix in parsley.  Divide chicken and quinoa mixture evenly; garnish with radish slices, and serve.

Notes
I didn't use any salt, and I didn't use radishes for garnish.  Instead of rubbing the cumin in with my hands, I used the backside of a spoon, and it worked great.  This recipes makes a TON, so you'll have plenty of leftovers — just look at how much plain quinoa I had left!  (Not even the mixture with onions and red beans, etc., which we also had a ton of!)


I can't wait to find other delicious ways to use this throughout the week!

And finally, here's a bonus pic.  It certainly makes you appreciate what you have (and changes the way you pray for a meal) when you can share the light and love of Christ by meeting a tangible need, such as hunger, in a relational way.  Here's a shot of us earlier today as we were able to serve meals to our guests who are hungry and/or homeless.  I love this girl!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NOT FAR FROM EGYPT

I imagine them huddled together, hushed with secrecy.  They stood on this side of a promise, lives steeped in oppression, and paused in holy trepidation.

A sacred stillness.

"...Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses.  He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed.  
And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.~Exodus 4:30-31

Hope in the form of a relationship.  Hope in a time when the law was everything — and life was bondage.  Deliverance was not yet uttered on the tongue of the Almighty, and yet this Lord, their God, knew them deeply.  It touched their aching spirits, and rising up out of their depths of despair they simply knew no other response but worship.

When the people were told, they listened.  When they saw the signs, they believed.  But it was not until they realized God cared about them and knew their pain that they fell at the feet of their Lord.  Tired and worn, their pain was great, but far greater was the assurance in the fact that God was with them.  

Most days I think we are not so far from Egypt.

We hear, and we listen.  We see transformations of people's lives (modern-day miracles), and we believe.  But to know that God cares for each of us and knows our pain — that is where relationship begins.  That is where connection clinks in like the clasp on a chain.  Where we receive that ancient election of response or refusal.

source
That Egypt isn't so far.  In droughts of depression, in the plagues of guilt, through hardened hearts, here we stand on this side of milk and honey, dripping instead with perspiration, poised even on this side of the long waiting yet to come, and what we have — what we are blessed to treasure — is the absolute anchor of hope in a relational God who knows us, a God of redemption, whose promises are true and unwavering.

He is faithful... and yet where the Israelites worshipped, I doubt.  In pivotal moments, I want to know more about His will than about Himself.  In my own sacred stillness, I have a choice that does not always elicit worship.  My impatience and desperation give way to my circumstance, my gut reaction rejects what I know of His character.

And yet He is faithful.

Where we stand on the near side of a promise yet made, what we know of who He is might be all we have to take a next step of faith.  Even if 40 years of desert stands in between.  Even if we suffer in the meantime.  When even that promised land itself is lifted as our golden calf.  Even if we never get there...

May everything I am and everything I do, bow down in holy worship at the very thought of you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

TRUE FASTING

I thought this was a challenging passage to meditate on as we are halfway through Lent on this Missions Monday...

"The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground.  Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility?  To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?  Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like? “This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.  What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.  Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way." ~Isaiah 58: 5-8, MSG 

Friday, March 8, 2013

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Do you ever feel like you need a challenge?

When was the last time you really challenged yourself?

I'm not talking about challenges that are negative: those trials and tribulations that have a way of shaping us through their unwanted pains and pressure.

I mean a conscious, positive challenge — one that is both intentional and purposeful.


Think about it: In childhood, in college, any of those glorious past seasons of life, we were constantly discovering, constantly challenged, constantly growing.  We were learning machines.  All that stuff is just as important to us as adults, but now, we have to be much more intentional about creating opportunities for them to occur.  They aren't just happening "to" us anymore.  Life certainly has its way of challenging us, in and of itself — but how often and what do we do to better ourselves — to deliberately position ourselves for growth and betterment — on our own accord?

Let's face it: We get into a maintenance mode, even "sluggish" with the safe and comfortable.  Creatively challenging ourselves as adults is not something we often think about outside of a busy schedule, a 40+-hour workweek, and training our kids in the way they should go...  But challenge offers the resistance we need to strengthen muscles we never knew (or have forgotten!) we have: mentally, spiritually, and physically.

And it's not just change for the sake of change.  It's change in pursuit of growth, for the sake of present opportunities and future possibilities.

That's a lot of words and flowers for what can be enormously simple.  And life-modifying.

So here's what I would say:

Start with small challenges.  Take one.  Try one a day, one for a whole week, or just one for a whole month.  Set a goal.  Challenge yourself to a very small change, and see where it might take you.

I've been thinking about the things that challenge me and paying attention to the things I hear that challenge others.  Again, challenging in a good way.  I've compiled a list below: challenges you can choose from, or use to inspire you, or to get you thinking.  Make your own, add to this, memorize one or two, and see if a challenge that speaks to you (below or otherwise) begins to convict you in an action-motivating way.  But whatever you do...

Choose to Challenge.


A short list:

Memorize Scripture.  But, really, like do it this time.

Find one way to encourage a different person in your life every day.  Send a quick text or, even better, write a handwritten note.  Actually pay attention to what people say in conversation with you, and if anything strikes you, inspires you, makes you think, write it on a notecard, put it at your desk, snap a picture, and send it to the person with a smiley or a thanks.

Love anyway.  Give anyway.  Trust anyway.  We've all been hurt, we all want to be right, we all want to keep things like they are, or put up guards in order to avoid, or resist what Jesus would do because it's easier that way.  What would it look like to live "anyway"?

You're not training for anything, and you don't have the accountability of a workout buddy: Spend 10 more minutes in the gym than you want to, every time.  You're at the point of wanting to stand up and leave your visit with a friend, stop playing with your kids, get up from the dinner table with your spouse just because the two of you have finished eating: 10 more minutes.

Take yourself back to school.  Learn a new word every week, and make an effort to incorporate it into conversation.

Unplug.  Don't touch —that's right, don't even touch — your phone when out to dinner, from the time you walk through the door to the moment you push back your chair.  Make an effort to be more present.  Initiate a "technology-free night" in your home once a week (or month!), including TV, Internet, and phones.

Get to know your neighbors.






This question:  What's so wrong with hard?

This book:  "More or Less: A Life of Excessive Generosity" by Jeff Shinabarger.  (Which I haven't yet read, but it's on its way!)

Have a plan when you sit down at your computer.  I will check my e-mail and Facebook messages.  I will look at any new posts on my reading list of blogs.  I will spend no more than 10 minutes on Pinterest and allow myself five pins.  Whatever it is on your "plan" of things to do, make one.  Prevent the mindless wandering and time wasting!

In between every new book, always read an old favorite.



Take a different way to work in the morning, just to enjoy a change of scenery.  Thank God for His creation.

Let people change.  Including your spouse.  Including yourself.  Including that "difficult person" in your life.  People can change (thank God for that!), and I could almost guarantee there is someone out there right now hoping they are not stereotyped in your mind as the person they were six months ago.

Sign up for a half marathon.  Or any kind of race, really.  Especially if you're not a "runner."  Trust the process.  Be amazed.

 yourself with fellow believers [only].  If you live in church world, having only church friends, doing only church activities, step back and reassess.  Examine the relationships in your life you could be missing and making a difference in.

Look for smiley faces hidden in everyday objects.  Just because. :)

Genuinely rejoice when others succeed.

Listen more than you speak.  In prayer and in life.


There is so much left unsaid!  What would you add?  What challenges you?

Monday, March 4, 2013

PRAY FOR KENYA

Being the day that it is, I would be very remiss not to make Kenya the focus of Missions Monday...

Today, March 4th, Kenya holds its presidential elections.  This is significant for a lot of reasons in political and economic world news, but for me and my church it carries very personal implications...

We have a very dear partnership with a pastor in Kenya that has paved the way for a rehabilitation center in Nakuru, now home to 60+ former street children.  These are boys and girls, young men and women, that our congregation invests in through financial sponsorship, letter-writing, and three short-term mission trips annually.  Our relationship with this pastor and the youth in Kenya (spanning 10+ years) has been very influential to our church, and of course to the many of us individually who have been blessed to visit there in person and/or meet Pastor Jackson when he visits us here.

Five years ago, the last presidential elections in Kenya disrupted the nation with ensuing violence that left hundreds of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.  Tribes, churches, and families were torn apart, and the devastation left a tremendous impact on the country on so many levels.

The first time I ever visited Kenya was in 2008, less than a year after those 2007 elections.

Photo I snapped in the city of Nakuru in 2008.
Our church has been praying fervently for Kenya leading up to today, concerning the elections, and I ask that you join us in prayer for this nation.  We are praying for a peaceful election — that there would be no ensuing conflict over the outcome.  We are also praying for the children (ours at the center, as well as those in the rest of the nation) who have been sent home from their boarding schools.  They were already late going back to school after Christmas, following teacher strikes and delayed testing results, and now the government has closed down all the schools in anticipation of what could happen during the elections.  (The plan is for them to return on March 11th.)

Among other prayers requests for our loved ones in Kenya (including the continuing grief over the loss of Pastor Jackson's wife, Mama Hellen, and the current construction of a primary school onsite at the center), we lift up these prayer requests for an entire nation today, that these elections would not mirror what happened in 2007 and that God's presence would felt in their midst.

Thank you for joining us in prayer!


Saturday, March 2, 2013

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Today, I am extremely honored to have a guest post over on the amazing blog,
Seeing Joy.

My post is a contribution to its series "You Are Not Alone," which shares stories from people all over who are going through (or have been through) a tough circumstance in life.  These stories point out the fact that we're not alone in our struggles and suffering, all while pointing TO a loving Father who is good and sovereign and trustworthy through it all...

~~~
"Hear this in your pain today:  Christ knows the language of suffering.  He spoke it with fluency and consistency.  The Word enunciates suffering with the very articulation of His life.  He can enter into our pain, He knows where to find us in our wilderness, and He shares in our brokenness.  Where we long to fellowship with Him, we can fellowship there."
~~~

God has graciously given me these opportunities recently to write through other avenues besides my own blog, and I pray that this one will be a blessing to your heart today.  If nothing else, definitely become a follower of the Seeing Joy blog — and be sure to check out the author's Etsy shop as well!  (The proceeds from all sales allow her to be a full-time foster parent.)

Check out the full piece on Seeing Joy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

QUOTE THAT

Just a quote to muse on this Missions Monday...  I love it!

"Jesus promised the disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble." 
~GK Chesterton

Praying today for faith above fear, the joy that comes with following Him, and the relationship that's worth the risk.