Monday, April 30, 2012

A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

I took this picture last October from our back yard.
Every day I am called out by one challenge or another. Whether I read an article online, watch a television show, see a Facebook status, stand in line at the grocery store, listen to the radio, glance at a bumper sticker, overhear a conversation or even go to the doctor's office, I am given the chance to put up a fight or engage in a debate.

At home my children challenge me all day long. In my marriage I am challenged to be selfless. In my community I am challenged to fight for growth and change. In my church I am challenged to see things through others' perspectives. In my friendships I am challenged to step out and help. In my writing I am challenged to think and grow beyond my comfort zone.

It doesn't matter where I turn, there is an opportunity to raise my boxing gloves and put up a fight.

When everything within me wants to go to battle, how do I not rise up to the challenge?

In 1 Peter 3:4-5 I find the answer. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves." (Italics mine)

Some people look at this scripture and suggest that a woman must not wear makeup or jewelry or fine clothing - but I believe Peter's intent was to show that true beauty doesn't come from these outward things, instead true beauty is found under the surface, in the inner self, the unfading beauty that comes from a gentle and quiet spirit.

True beauty isn't what we look like, it's how we act and respond to life's challenges.

For each challenge I am presented with, I am called to answer with a gentle and quiet spirit. That doesn't mean I should let others walk all over me and it doesn't mean I should refrain from voicing my thoughts and opinions (this post is a good example of that).

Whether I'm dealing with my children, or a controversial topic, I need to keep my emotions at bay (as best as I can!) and respond calmly. I've learned that my children, and those I engage in a healthy debate with, will be more inclined to listen to me when I respond this way.

Daily, I seek to live out 1 Peter 3:4-5. I don't always succeed, but I keep trying because I know it is of great worth in God's sight.

Beyond my culture, my family and my friends there is One I strive to please above all others. God doesn't look on my outward appearance - what He sees is my inner self and He's calling me to show others who I am within; who He created me to be, especially when I am being challenged.

What about you? Do you put on your boxing gloves often or does a "gentle and quiet spirit" come more easily to you?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars

I love these bars! They are moist and delicious and way too easy to make. They're especially good heated up. Enjoy.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for a gluten free approach you could use oat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 cups oats
12 ounces (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Cream butter, sugars, egg and vanilla with an electric mixer on high.
2. Mix separate and then stir in: flour, oats, salt and baking soda.
3. Add chocolate chips.
4. Press cookie dough into a greased 9x13 inch baking dish.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden and bars are set in the middle.
6. Cool for 20 minutes and cut into 24 squares.

Friday Fun: Stepping Back in Time

I just finished reading Julie Klassen's The Maid of Fairbourne Hall set in England during the year 1815. When I closed the book I thought to myself the same thing I think every time I read a good book: I would love to live in that time period! I love the formal meals, the dancing, the etiquette, the large homes, the servants -- maybe I should clarify, I would love to be the Lady of the manor in 1815 and not the servant, definitely not the servant.

When I read Laura Frantz' The Colonel's Lady I wanted to live during the Revolutionary War on the Kentucky frontier. When I read Lynn Austin's Candle in the Darkness, I wanted to go back in time to the Civil War Era on a southern plantation. And when I read my all time favorite series by Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy Books) I dreamt about living in a Minnesota town during the Turn of the Twentieth Century - if only for a day.

The beauty of a book is that it transports you to a different time and place, without the discomforts of reality.

To be honest, I like the idea of living in those time periods, but if push came to shove, I'd probably stay where I am.  Because who would have chosen to live through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars when our country was being ravished and lives were being torn apart? And who would want to live during the Turn of the Century when there were no microwaves or dishwashers? Although, I think I could have managed if I had a servant.

Hindsight (and the skills of a talented writer!) can make any era look attractive over time. Who knows, maybe someday people will wish they could have lived during 2012. Maybe.
The closest I'll ever come to
living during the Turn of the
Twentieth Century. This is a picture
of me reenacting Evangeline
Lindbergh in 1917 at the
Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site.

If given the chance to go back in time, I would choose to live during the period between 1890-1915. What's not to love about this time? It was a fun and exciting period in America History. Inventions were making life easier for the common man and allowing people the freedom for leisure activities. Clothing was beautiful, automobiles were all the rage, singing and dancing around the piano on a Saturday night was the norm and attending a movie matinee on Sunday afternoon was a weekly occurrence. Not to mention, servants were abundant! Side note: what ever happened to servants???

What about you? Have you ever read a book and wished you could step into that time and place? If you could choose one era to visit for a day, which would it be and why?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's My Birthday!

I turn thirty-two on April 25th! I've never been shy to proclaim my birthday; it's my favorite day of the year and I love to celebrate it.

This year I received an early unexpected gift. I won lunch for me and three friends at my FAVORITE restaurant, Ciatti's Ristorante, for Monday, April 23rd. My name was selected from amongst 476 other fans on Facebook! I didn't even know there was a contest. :)

The hard part was figuring out which three friends to bring with me (how do I choose?) and finding a babysitter to come and watch my kiddos for the afternoon. Thankfully my Aunt was available to stay with the kids and I invited my mom, my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws. All three were able to come on short notice.

I'm honored to be surrounded by amazing women in my life and these three are no exception. We enjoyed visiting on the way, while we ate a scrumptious lunch and later as we shopped and then drove home.

While I listened to my mom and mother-in-law talk about their childhood and their extended families, I was reminded that one day it will be me telling the stories. I'll be talking about these women and the memories we made together. I'll have good stories to tell my children and grandchildren about their matriarchs and the legacies they handed down.

As another year in the story of my life unfolds, I look forward to seeing what God has in store. I'm blessed beyond words and so thankful for the gifts of family and friends. I have a rich life!

Mother-in-Law, me, Sister-in-Law & Mom

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Challenge...

Judah & Asher
Today our pastor gave a heartwarming sermon on the blessings of children. He encouraged us to look at our children as an inheritance from the Lord and not to hinder them, but to get on their level and really listen to them because they are full of pure joy and love and they have so much to teach us. At the end of his sermon he prayed for the million+ babies whose lives have been ended by abortion in our country in the past year and he told us to thank God for our children and give them an extra hug before we left the sanctuary.

Tonight, before bed, my seven year old daughter asked me what the word abortion means. I wondered in the wisdom of telling her, but I wanted her to hear it from me before she heard it somewhere else and I wanted to give her only the barest facts, without too many details.

I challenge any adult in this world, who believes abortion is a valid choice, to be the first person to tell an innocent seven year old girl the truth. What they will see in her big green eyes is first confusion, followed by a look of unbelief, which is quickly replaced by a half smile as she searches your face to see if you're joking and when she sees the pain and tears in your eyes, you will then see pure horror on her face as her own eyes fill with tears. Your heart will then break to know that you just told her a harsh reality about the world in which she lives.

If a child, whose heart is pure and unsullied by opinions and debates and reasoning, who has never been told how to believe or been manipulated by millions of dollars being pumped into one campaign or another, and who has no understanding of partisan platforms or popular opinions, can look at you and tell you in a matter of seconds that abortion is wrong, than you can know, without a doubt, that it is.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ravioli Soup Recipe

Before I started blogging some of my recipes, I hadn't realized how many "go-to" recipes I have. As a mother of four little ones, my recipes need to contain three important aspects: my children need to like it, it needs to be healthy (proteins, grains, veggies and dairy) and it has to be a recipe with ingredients I can keep on hand, things that freeze well or keep well on the shelf. I hope you enjoy this recipe today, it has all three!

Ravioli Soup
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
3/4 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 T. olive or vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
1 (24 oz.) can Italian style or plain crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (14 oz.) can beef broth
1 c. water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped (or 1-2 Tbsp. dried parsley leaves)
1 (16 oz.) pkg. plain cheese filled raviolis without sauce (found in the freezer section)
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese (as garnish)

Combine all ingredients together, except frozen ravioli and Parmesan cheese. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain ravioli and add to soup. Serve with Parmesan cheese, sprinkled on top.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meeting Beverly Lewis

Tonight I met Beverly Lewis, one of the biggest names in Christian Fiction today.

Beverly was warm hearted and soft spoken as she shared her passion for writing, music and her family. Her current book, The Fiddler, combines all three of those passions. I can't wait to read it!

When she spoke about her writing, my heart was tugged and I found myself close to tears. I love hearing authors talk, whether in person or online, and hear them echo the same words that are in my heart. Before I started pursuing this dream, I had never met anyone else who I could relate to on such a heart level. Now I realize I am not alone on this journey. There are countless others who have the same calling on their life. It encourages me to keep looking for connections and to build relationships with other authors.

After she spoke about her work she opened up for questions. I sat there wondering what I could ask. I have a thousand questions burning in my mind, but I know I can only ask one. Which one is more important than the others? So I raised my hand and simply asked: "What is your best advice for an aspiring author?"

Beverly thought for a moment and then she gave me five tips:

1. Read and write as much as you can.
2. Join a critique group.
3. Attend a conference, meet editors and find out what they are looking for.
4. Write from the heart.
5. Spend a great deal of time in prayer.

When she mentioned prayer, it struck a cord with me. I can never attempt to follow a calling on my life if I don't first bathe it in prayer. Writing a book is not for the faint of heart, nor should it be taken lightly. Words are powerful tools and should be chosen with great care. This is a piece of advice I will always remember.

I was one of four people whose names were drawn to win a free book! I won the first book in Annie's People Series and I had Beverly sign it for me. When it was my turn in line she asked me about my writing and I became star struck! I couldn't believe it. I was nervous to talk with her face to face. I haven't been that nervous since speech class in high school! :) I did manage to choke out a reply and she smiled and asked my name so she could sign my book. She said she loved my name and it will be perfect on the cover of a book.

Tonight was more than I expected. I'm so happy I was able to meet Beverly Lewis and get a glimpse into her life and her writing. She is a sweet woman who has used her gift to bless thousands of people throughout the world. Amazing. It was an experience I will never forget.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Words are Seeds

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deuteronomy 11:18-19

Eight years ago I became a parent. Eight years ago, the Hand of God began to mold me and shape me into a different vessel than I had been before. Children have a way of doing that to you. I have learned more about my faith and more about my character in the past eight years than I had in the previous twenty-four.

As a parent, I love teaching my children about God. I love finding ways in our day, usually when I least expect it, to teach them something about my faith. Not their faith, my faith. I don't believe I can choose my children's faith. I can't force them to believe the way I believe or worship the way I worship. It is my job to teach my children who God is from my own heart, and my fervent prayer is that they will fall in love with Jesus as they watch me walk with Him.

These sacred words in Deuteronomy are amongst my favorites. They are a reminder that it is my job, as a parent, to teach them about the Word that God has fixed in my mind and heart. I am especially blessed when I hear my children echoing my words back to me, from their own heart, because I know my teaching has been planted there.

It's a big responsibility and privilege, not to be taken lightly. Words are like seeds, whether they are good or bad, the words, once matured in the life of our children, will either produce an abundant harvest of good or evil. I am very careful with my words, though I am not perfect. I've had to apologize to my children on many occasions when I've said something that has hurt them or frustrated them. But, even then, it was a great opportunity to teach them about God and His forgiveness. I remember once I told the girls that when someone says something hurtful, it's like a bad seed has been planted, but when we choose to forgive them, we are pulling that seed out and throwing it away. If we choose not to forgive, that nasty seed will keep growing and causing us trouble, eventually growing such strong roots that it will be even harder to forgive later on.

Recently, we've been planting the seed of integrity in our children's hearts: doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. In a total act of God, our oldest's Sunday School class talked about the very same thing! They used the analogy of a cookie jar, if you take a cookie without asking, and even if mom doesn't see, it's still wrong. When I was tucking her in the other night we had a great conversation about integrity and the very next day she came home and told me that she had talked to her friend on the playground and told her that some of the things she had said weren't true and she wanted to set her friend straight. I was so proud of her, she decided to do this on her own. I told her it took a lot of courage and showed she had integrity. The seed is growing!

Words are so important, especially the Words spoken from the mouth of God, planted in your heart. Talk about them when you go out and when you stay in, when you get up and when you lie down. Plant those seeds of truth into the lives of your children, and when they grow up they will produce a bountiful harvest of blessings in their life, in yours and in the world.

What seeds are you planting in your children's lives right now? What seeds were planted in your heart when you were young? Is it time to pull some of them out?

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Authentic Life

A few days ago I was challenged by something someone said to me (how's that for evasive?) and since then, I've been pondering an authentic life - my authentic life.

Ever since I can remember, I've loved God and I've always felt immensely loved by Him. I wholeheartedly believe He created me for a reason. I was chosen, as we all are, and because I was chosen, then I must be valuable.

My relationship with Christ is the most important one in my life. Since I was a child, I have never strayed from my faith, but it has been tested during very difficult times and each time it has been tested, it has come through the fire more refined and deeper. I am radically in love with my Creator and I am not ashamed! He is more real to me than anything else and His love penetrates to the very center of my being. I can’t get enough of Him!

The decisions I've made in my life have all been made with my faith in Christ as my anchor and compass. I seek His wisdom and His guidance in every area, and I believe He has greatly, exceedingly and abundantly blessed my life. I cannot take credit for anything. Everything I have and everything I am is all for the glory of God.

I seek to be authentic inside my home and outside it. I can confidently say that what you see is what you get, not that what you get is perfect. I make mistakes every day. I fail at countless things, but I work to do better. I live what I believe and I strive to do it with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

As a child, I wanted a Savior. As an adult, on my knees, in complete wretchedness, I realized I didn't want a Savior anymore - I needed a Savior. I know that if it weren't for the grace of God and His unconditional love and forgiveness, I would be utterly and completely lost.

I live my life in abandonment to my Creator. I want to make good, sound decisions, anchored in the Ancient Word, that I pray will glorify Him and lead me on a path of righteousness, for His namesake. I want to have a pure heart before God and I don't want to be swayed by human philosophies and teachings.

And you know what? I love my life! I have peace, joy and fulfillment. I have fun, I feel complete, and I feel loved. I know the meaning of life and I know what my purpose is - and I want others to know it, too.

Do I have bad days, weeks, months? Yes. I have struggled with questions, doubts and trouble. I've been to depths so low I thought I could never climb out. I've been so riddled with fear, I thought I would be swallowed whole. And I've dealt with deep, weighty questions that have shaken the very foundation of my existence...

But, Jesus.

Through every situation He has been exceedingly faithful. God has met me in each pit I've been in and He's taught me, strengthened me and shown me His character and heart as He's lifted me out onto solid ground. Through it all, I've grown to know the One and Only and His strength has been made perfect in my weakness. To the depth of my pain and wounds, has been the depth of His love and healing. I am left breathlessly in awe before Him...

I aim to please my Father and to live my life for His glory and pleasure.

Today I was talking with my seven year old daughter about the moon. On its own, the moon is lifeless and barren. But, when it reflects the sun, it becomes radiant. That is how I want my life to be. I want to be radiant because I reflect the Son. That is my authentic life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mayo Clinic

Our little Monkey was born with a "double thumb," also known as a bifid thumb. His left thumb is normal up to the last joint, but from there he has two bones, instead of one. We called it his lucky thumb because it is so unusual and rare.

When he was born we had a lot of questions to ask. Thankfully Hubby's dad is an Orthopedic Surgeon and he was able to answer them and give us a good idea of what we could expect. He was also able to get us in touch with Dr. Steven Moran, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, who is considered one of the nation's best Pediatric Orthopedic Hand Specialists. We visited Dr. Moran last August and decided to have the little Monkey's surgery this spring.

Hubby and I asked ourselves hundreds of questions before we made this decision. We talked a lot about what the doctor told us and about our own thoughts and feelings. In the scope of things, a thumb isn't a big deal - there are so many other unimaginable things people deal with every day, but this was the problem put before us and we wanted to handle it with wisdom and knowledge. We didn't want to go ahead with it if we hadn't looked at every detail or option. After much discussion and prayer, we decided it was the best choice.

Yesterday, April 12th, was the big day. We knew it would be a long process, so we left the girls with my parents and considered leaving Lion Cub, as well, but the boys have never been apart for that long, and since this would already be a hard time for the little Monkey, we decided Lion Cub should come with us. I'm happy he did.

He was such a trooper! The doctor removed the extra bone and repositioned the remaining one above the joint using two pins. They casted the whole arm so that he can't get it off. In four weeks we'll go back to Mayo and have the cast and pins removed and then have it x-rayed. Every year, until he is fully grown, we will have to follow up with the doctor to make sure the thumb is growing correctly.

After the surgery Hubby went into recovery with Monkey while I talked with Dr. Moran (my cousin lives in Rochester and she was able to join us to help take care of Lion Cub). When I was done talking with the doctor I went into recovery, as well. Our little Monkey was not happy. He was still in that state of confusion after coming out of anesthesia, but when I walked in he pointed to his casted thumb and said: "Mama, owie!" My heart broke. Watching your child suffer is one of life's hardest experiences. We cuddled him and talked to him and were finally able to get him calmed down. They brought us up to a room in the hospital and I sat on the bed and continued to cuddle him.

After we ate lunch he was ready to get up and PLAY! It was only four hours post-op, but he wanted to get busy, so the nurse showed us to the children's play area of the hospital and the little Monkey played basketball with Lion Cub for a half hour. When one of the doctors came in to see how things were going, she was quite pleased to see him doing so well. She told us we could leave and go home!

He asked me to take off the cast twice yesterday, but generally ignores it. I'm blown away with how well he is doing. When I talked to the doctor about it, she smiled and said he is doing well because he is a happy child and has such nice parents. :)

In a couple of weeks I will post some pictures of his thumb when it's healed.

Today we are thanking God for so many things, but most of all for a healthy, happy little Monkey.

Monday, April 9, 2012

5 Blogging Tips

These past two months have been an intense learning experience, for writing and for blogging. As I've combed through the blogosphere, investigated other blogs, and asked some questions, I've discovered five tips for blogging:

1. Post often
The best way to keep people coming back to your blog is to post often. I attempted blogging last fall, but I didn't understand this concept at the time. I posted once a month, maybe, and my statistic showed it. Generally, people don't wake up in the morning and run to their computer to see if you've added something to your blog (unless it's a devoted family member). You have to blog often so that people see your name over and over again. Remind them you're around and you have something to say.

2. Visit other blogs
People aren't out there looking for you, unless you're a published author, a television personality, a politician, etc., people probably don't know who you are. Get out there and introduce yourself. Read their blogs and then comment on them. Let them know who you are and what you're about. If they like what you have to say, they may pop over and take a look at your blog and may even decide to follow you.

3. Write for your reader - not yourself
We're busy people. We visit blogs to read something of interest to us. I go to blogs that teach me about writing, publishing and blogging. I also enjoy blogs that help my faith journey and my parenting journey. If a blog can give me good information in an engaging manner, I'm going back to it.

4. Click on other blog comments
When I'm on a blog that I enjoy reading, I will click on the people who commented on that blog and follow their link. I have found an amazing group of bloggers this way. Most people who follow the blogs I follow are aspiring authors, so their blogs are full of information and topics that are very helpful to me. Not only are they helpful, but I can relate to them. Each person is on a different phases of the journey and they have a different perspective I can learn from. I love connecting with other writers this way.

5. Building a following takes time
A good relationship grows over time and shared experiences, and it's no different in the blogging world. Show people you are genuinely interested in getting to know them and they may show you the same courtesy. So be patient and work on those relationships!

What have you learned about blogging? Any tips to share?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tomato Florentine Soup (with tortellini)

Here is another go-to recipe for me (I always have the ingredients on hand) and one people request all the time. Enjoy!

Tomato Florentine Soup (with tortellini)
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. thyme
8 c. chicken broth
2 (14.5 oz.) cans Italian style diced tomatoes
2 c. packed spinach
2 tsp. basil
2 (16 oz) bags frozen cheese filled tortellini
Grated Parmesan, to taste

Heat olive oil in large kettle. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly until soft. Add oregano and thyme. Cook one minutes. Add chicken broth and diced tomatoes, bring to a boil. Add spinach, basil and frozen pasta. Boil 5-10 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Leaders are Readers

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” ~ Harry S. Truman

I love to read and I am passing that love on to my children. Our daughter, the Dreamer, is seven years old and in the first grade. I've been reading to her since she was a tiny baby. Recently we've been reading the "Little House on the Prairie" series and we've been going through a children's Bible at night before bed. I don't get to read to her every night, but when I do, I cherish those moments because I know I am strengthening a leader.

I love that reading prompts questions in your mind and in your heart. I love that it teaches you something about a time and a place unlike your own. I love that it puts you into someone else's shoes and makes you feel their pain and their joy. And I love that reading increases your imagination and strengthens your thought life.

Dreamer is a natural born leader and a natural born reader. Even though she is in the 1st grade, she is reading (and comprehending) 4th & 5th grade level books. She tells me she wants to be a writer some day, and I don't doubt that she will be.

Reading is a powerful tool. Not everyone who reads will become a leader, as Harry Truman once said, but all leaders are readers. As a mom, I will do everything in my power to encourage Dreamer, and my other children, to read as much as they can. It is one of the greatest gifts I can give them.

Do you enjoy reading to your children? Did your parents read to you? What are some of your favorite children's books of all time?