Monday, December 10, 2012

Joy! Joy! Joy!

"You have not seen Christ, but you still love him. You cannot see him now, but you believe in him. So you are filled with a joy that cannot be explained, a joy full of glory." 1 Peter 1:8

I sat with my husband at the kitchen table, tears welling up in my heart. I was getting so frustrated!! No matter how many times we reworked the budget, no matter how many times we were getting ahead, finally in the black, something came up, and we were pushing the red once again. And this time, it was cutting into Christmas. 

We are not big Christmas shoppers in our family, almost always making the gifts we give. Even the gifts we get the kids each year end up coming from a consignment store, and most likely it is a gift of necessity. But this year, we had decided to utilize Lay-Away to get the kids one BIG gift that was for the entire family. Just as we had put down the first half of the payment and our family members had already bought the accessories that go with this item, we received a notice in the mail. A very unexpected AND very costly bill came up. And this was the cause of my frustrated, almost defeated tears. 

I started questioning whether or not I should still continue to stay at home. I ran over a list of things we actually need to function in our house and what we could get rid of. This was becoming a bit of a habit for us. Cutting back, cutting back again, and then cutting back even more. It wasn't until this last time did my heart actually break. What were we going to do?

After my husband had "the budget discussion" with me, he hugged me tightly and then left for work. As I sat in the kitchen, I tried to reorganize my thoughts. My first thought was "How is God going to pull us out of this one? And what, exactly, is He trying to teach us?" 

And then God did what He always does for me: He began to give me comfort in various forms. I looked around our house and took in all that we had, knowing that we weren't truly in need. There were others who had less and continued to survive and have JOY. Then a friend on Facebook posted a wise statement "Others are happier with less than what you have." {Did you notice that my own thoughts and the statement my friend made were pretty much the same thing...uh, God was seriously trying to let me know I needed to be content.}. And then this week as I was going through the Advent Bible Study through Good Morning Girls, I was reminded of the JOY we receive just being in God's presence. These verses stuck out for me: 

"God's power protects you through your faith until salvation is shown to you at the end of time. This makes you very happy, even though now for a short time different kinds of troubles may make you sad. These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold, which can be proved to be pure by fire but will ruin. But the purity of your faith will bring you praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is shown to you. You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You cannot see him now,but you believe in him. So you are filled with a joy that cannot be explained, a joy full of glory. 1 Peter 1:5-8

HIS JOY should be sufficient for me. Not things, not silly presents, not having a perfect house, not having well-behaved children, not having a successful husband, not being admired by others. Those things will come and go. God gives and he takes. 1 Peter reminds us that struggles are what refine us. They make us stronger; and in my case, they help me put things into perspective. 

So as I continue into this Christmas season, whether we have the money to buy nice things or not, I will focus my joy on the PEACE, HOPE, and LOVE God provided for me through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Don't be discouraged, friend. Rest in Him and experience the JOY you receive when trusting that God knows what He's doing. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Devotion: Unexpected Love

"Because Mary's husband, Joseph, was a good man, he did not want to disgrace her in public, so he planned to divorce her secretly." Matthew 2:19

Photo Credit 

I am currently going through an Advent Bible Study through Good Morning Girls, and this week's theme is "Love." We started off this week reading Matthew 2:18-25, and as I was reading these verses to my children, it dawned on me Joseph's character. I always felt bad for the guy because he always seemed to take the back seat in things. His wife, Mary, was a key figure in this miracle story; her cousin, Elizabeth, was also key in her miraculous pregnancy with the child who would grow to be John the Baptist; in the manger scene, Joseph takes back seat in the awesome story of the Jesus, and the shepherds, and the wise men. We just don't really hear much about Joseph.

Today's key verse, though, speaks volumes about this silent figure. The Bible calls him "a good man" and we see how much love he has for Mary. As I was going over these verses with the boys, we were trying to pick out examples of love, as that is our theme of this week. Through this discussion, we talked about Joseph's unexpected love that he showed Mary. He had every right to publicly embarrass her, to divorce her, and to free himself completely of a woman who was having another's child {at the time, he didn't know she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit}. But even before he understood there was a miracle in the making happening with the love of his life, he loved Mary enough to show her kindness. You have to imagine the intense love he had for her and how heart-broken he was to break off their engagement. But instead of lashing out in anger, he was preparing to reach out in love.

1 John 4:18 says, "My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring." Joseph's actions were a small example of God's love for us. As much as we deserve His anger and complete separation from God our Father, He chose to love us. As children of God, we, too, are to share that love with others. The Advent Study I am doing is challenging us to participate in Random Acts of Kindness for those around us, for those we know and those we don't know. I love RAK. And although I have a pretty decent list of things I can do {just do a basic Google search or look up examples on Pinterest}, I had to send out an all-call on Facebook for ideas my kids could do {because, honestly, they don't have the money to get a gas card and tape it to the pump for the next person in line}. I also checked out the list my friend made for RAK she did for others on her birthday. See the post HERE for a list of things she did to bless others.

I encourage you to Unexpectedly Love Others this week. As a believer, this shouldn't be a seasonal thing. Make a list with your family, and once a week decide on a RAK to do for others. I bet your mail carrier would love a candy bar left in the mailbox in March just as much as getting a special gift during Christmas. Make this a tradition; make this a part of your daily life; make this part of your ministry; and most importantly, do this because God loves you more than you deserve.

Love others unexpectedly, and you will be surprised at the blessing you will receive in serving others. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Musings on Knitting; Epiphanies that Come from Hours of Creating

"Through the knot, in the back, loop over, pull through, pull off...through the knot, in the back, loop over, pull through, pull off..."

I literally had dreams of this last night after my first attempt at knitting. My desire to begin knitting came from seeing some beautiful balls of yarn at Big Lots. I know there are all kinds of crafts I can do with yarn, but each time I saw those beautiful threads, I was pulled back in my memories of a time where I remember my grandma sitting on the couch creating all kinds of things. Before I knew it, I had a little spur in my tush to buy some yarn and get to teaching myself how to knit.

After about 2 hours of a frustrating start, I finally got it. Well, let me back up a minute and explain how I got to that point. I started to buy a book at AC Moore on beginning knitting, but decided that the Internet was full of people who know what they are doing, and are willing to show me for free, so on to Pinterest and YouTube I went {see below for the sites I found helpful}. I stood in front of my computer with my supplies and tried, and tried, and tried, and tried again to get started. I had 3 Tabs with knitting techniques opened, and I flipped back and forth with them. Suddenly I found myself in a rhythm, and I had about 3 rows of something started. So I carried my supplies to the living, sat cross-legged on my couch, and knitted away while watching Big Bang Theory.

And I stayed up waaayyyy later than I normally do looping and pulling that beautiful yarn.

And I dreamed about it all night.

And I read my Bible Study while working on the next few rows.

This is what I learned while knitting:

  1. My hands are gaining new muscles. I'm not sure if I was doing it right, or if I was just holding on to the yarn too tight, but I went to bed with sore hands. It made me think of my grandma and all her older lady friends who would spend hours knitting. Either they had strong hands, they were doing it right, or they suffered because of arthritis. But I never heard her complain. Which gave me a more respect for her. 
  2. My eyes hurt. This happened this morning. I was just-a whirling away with the yarn when my eyes started to hurt. At one point I looked up from my knots and loops, and my eyes were shocked that the sun had come up. I realized that I was holding the wanna-be scarf about 6 inches from my face. Whoa, baby. I now have to stop every few minutes to make sure I pull my masterpiece in the making away from my sore eyes. And again, it made me think of my grandma. 
  3. I have a new addiction. Not sure why knitting is so addictive, but I found myself wanting to bring my  yarn and needles to car line. I wanted to knit instead of eat breakfast. I was willing to stay up LATE just so I could add a few more rows. Every time I would finish a row, thinking "this is the last one", I would go, "okay, one more." And I repeated that process over and over again. No wonder why my grandma was constantly giving me new knit socks every time I turned around. I think she was addicted, too. 
  4. I had a sudden urge to use my rocking chair. There's something about getting into a rhythm that made me desire being in my rocking chair. Having the yarn in my lap is not cumbersome, and I knew the rhythm of the rocking would help me with the rhythm of the knitting. 
  5. Apparently, I had a lot to think about. While looping and pulling, my mind ran crazy. I was thinking of all kinds things, great and small. Even this list came up as I was knitting. I thought about my kids. I thought about my grocery shopping list. I thought about updating my blog. I thought about music {I have Christmas piano music playing}. I thought about books I like to read, and how maybe I need to get another audio book to listen to while knitting. I thought about all the things my grandma used to make while knitting. I examined a blanket my great-grandmother made me with awe. I had a LOT to think about, apparently, and knitting brought it out in me. Which, again, made me think of my grandma. She was very child-like in her later years, and I always just thought she was losing her mind. But she knitted. All the time she knitted. And if she was knitting, she was thinking. So all that time I thought she was just being an old lady, she was probably solving world problems in her head, and quietly praying for all her grandkids as well. 
  6. I love small victories. I was seriously getting frustrated when I started. I almost came to tears quite a few times as I struggled to understand exactly how I was supposed to loop and when I was supposed to pull. But when I got it, I was filled with relief. And then this morning, as I got frustrated over one particular loop that I had messed up a few rows back, I was thinking I was going to have to be happy with a slight gap in the scarf. BUT, after studying the yarn, I saw exactly what I needed to do to fix the gap, and I was back in the game. My chest swelled with pride. It's the small victories that can be the sweetest. 
  7. I can sit still. If you know me, you know my schedule is c-ray-zy. I am constantly doing something. But knitting made me sit back and relax. There is just something calming about creating something warm and fuzzy. 
  8. Most importantly: I should have appreciated my grandma more. Each row made me think of Ruby. I think of how ungrateful I was for all the things she made me. I think of how I spoke to her. I think of how I treated her. No, I wasn't cruel or anything, but I was immature. I had a special treasure in my grandma. I told my children this. And they probably thought the same thing I did, "Yeah, ok, mom." But I now have a desire to teach at least my daughter how to knit. It would be a shame if another generation went by without learning how to do it. My grandma tried to teach me how to knit quite a few times, but I brushed her {and the knitting} off as being something only old ladies did. More times than I can count, I said out loud, "Oh, grandma, if only you could see me now." I gained a new respect for my grandma through this. 
So that's it for now. If you have been knitting for a while, please share some of the things you have learned while knitting. If you haven't been knitting, you really should give it a shot. You might be surprised at what you learn...about yourself, and about those around you. 

Here's what I've done so far: 

Sources I used to learn how to knit: 
  1. Queen of DIY
  2. All Free Knitting  I'm thinking this is the sister site of Allfreesewing and Allfreecrafting that I follow. 
  3. YouTube video: Beginner Knitter
If you have another source, please comment below so others can learn as well. 

Happy Knitting, everyone. :}  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Crescent Rolls

'Tis the Season for baking, and a cook's best friend this time of year can easily be a can of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls {see this link for recipe ideas...and no, they do not pay me for suggesting them}. Since I've gotten pretty handy at making most of my own bread products, and since my husband loves a good crescent roll, I figured I would give that flaky, buttery bread a shot.

So...on to Pinterest. I found a recipe that liked the finished product, but the process was NOT fun. NONE of my dough was looking anything like the pictures. AND I was practically dropping globs of dough onto my stone and hoping they came out right. And they did taste yummy, but it was not a recipe I was going to pass on...yet. {I'll be posting the original recipe link below in a minute in hopes that one of my cooking friends will try it and maybe tell me what I did wrong}.
I then adjusted the recipe. The second batch was much easier to work with. I added another cup of flour to the original recipe, changed when I added the ingredients, and floured my surface A LOT more, and ended up with some yummy biscuits. That's right, I said biscuits. They were good, but were not flaky like those crescent rolls I love so much.

And then I adjusted the recipe again. This is the recipe I'll be sharing with you. These were still messy. They weren't as flaky as the first batch, but not biscuits. I almost overcooked them as well because they were just so fluffy when I pulled them out, that I thought they weren't done on the inside.So after three tries, I'm going to give  you my best effort. Enjoy...and I got the original recipe from The Big Red Pot.

Homemade Crescent Rolls

  • 2 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 Tbsp, plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp butter, frozen
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted 
  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes until foamy. 
  2. Add 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and room temperature butter. Mix on low speed, until well blended. Cover with a clean towel, and let sit for 45 minutes. 
  4. After 45 minutes, pour the dough onto a WELL-FLOURED surface. Make sure your hands and any utensils you use have flour on them as well. The dough is super sticky. Roll into a large circle {the recommended size in the original recipe was a circle with a 12 inch diameter. This was too thick for me}. Using a floured pizza roller, cut your triangles {again, the recommended number was 12, but I'm pretty sure all of mine yielded more than that}. 
  5. GRATE your frozen butter over the triangles. 
  6. Roll the crescents, starting at the large base {opposite of the point of the triangle}. I used a very flat floured spatula to help me flip the dough over and over until I reached the tip of the triangle. This seemed to work best. Place the rolls onto a stone or a well-oiled baking sheet. Cover with a clean towel. 
  7. Keep the rolls covered while heating the oven to 400 degrees. 
  8. Uncover the rolls and bake for 18 minutes. 
  9. When they remove, brush with melted butter. 
Here's my beautiful daughter helping me out. 

SO MESSY. See how the well-floured ones turned out like crescents [top] and some were more globs [bottom]?
And my fingers were well covered and super sticky. NOT fun. 

This was my counter afterwards. SO much flour. 

This was the first batch. I stuffed them with leftover ham from Thanksgiving and some cheese. YUM

So you see here that once you figure out how to make them, you can go crazy with what you put in them. I made one batch that I filled with cinnamon sugar and served for breakfast with a powdered sugar icing. The kids loved them. 

Give them a try and let me know what you think. 

Guest Post: Birthday Blitzing; Using Your Special Day to Bless Others

Birthdays are just wonderful, aren't they? It's a day when all your friends and family stop to recognize you and bless you with tokens of their affection. Some make a BIG deal of their birthdays; others let the day come and go with barely a mention, noted only by the closest friends and family.

But what about making YOUR special day special for others

Just recently, a long-time friend of mine, Jennifer Holstein, posted on Facebook something incredible. She chose to make her birthday a time to go out of her way to make others, those she knows and those she will never even see, feel special. Here's her list and some pictures of what she did for others:

Birthday Blitz- the complete list!

1. Made brian breakfast and walked Lucas so he could enjoy it.

2. Left a treat in the mailbox for the mail lady.
3. Left popcorn on the Redbox
4. Took goodies to my long time doctor and her nurse.
5. Took treats to our babysitter.
6. Goodies for the bank teller who was SO nice.
7. Paid admission for 5 people at Wannamaker Park.
8. Gave a goody bag to the kid work
ing the booth at Wannamaker.

9. Bought a sweet old couple breakfast.
10. Left encouraging notes on cars at Trident Cancer Center.
11. Left congratulation card on cars at the Birthing Center.
12. Left nice notes on the mirrors in Target dressing rooms.
13. Drove to work and left a note on my mom's car.
14. Taped quarters to a soda machine at Tanger.
15. Left a note that said "you're a great mom" in Tanger's nursing area.
16. Left quarter on ride toys.
17. Treated a little boy waiting with him mom to a ride on the merry go round.
18. Took a goody bag to this sweet lady at Sam's who always remembers my name.
19. Took dog toys, cat toys and human treats to the Charleston Animal Shelter.
20. Left a 100% tip on my lunch.
21. Fed about to expire meters downtown.
22. Left pennies for wishing at Waterfront Park fountains.
23. Gave some lost tourists directions.
24. Surprised Brian at work.
25. Left a treat for the massage therapist who fixed my back. 
26. Encouraging messages in certain subjected books at Barnes & Nobles (weight loss, self help, parenting)
27. Left a happy note on the B&N mirror.
28. Wildly applauded the little boy who was singing in the kids section and got treated to a little concert.
29. Took treats to all the workers at the West Ashley Red Cross.
30. Let tons of people into traffic all day.
31. Left quarters in grocery store toy machines.
32. Picked up Lucas early- which he loves.
33... and my favorite- Brought flowers to a brand new mom who just had her baby today. ♥

So after seeing this, I asked Jennifer if could share where she got her idea, the reactions she received from those she was blessing, and any future plans. Here is her response: 

"I read this article {read link} over the summer and was absolutely inspired by it.  He mentions another person who did something similar and I read that too.  I thought it was a fantastic idea!  I’ve always loved my birthday and 3 has always been my husband’s & my lucky number.  Since this was my 33rd birthday, I wanted to do something really special.

I decided that I wanted to do the same thing for my birthday.  So I started to make a list.  I thought of people in my day to day life that are kind to me, that never get acknowledged like they should.  I thought of inexpensive ways I could leave kindness for strangers.  I thought of organizations that I care about or places that just plain make me happy.  And I left some blanks for places where I was just inspired by the day.

I had a handful of ideas.  I made gift bags full of hershey’s kisses and I made little tags that said “Today is Birthday…and I’m celebrating by giving to others” with a space to write a personal note.  I made some for specific people- my doctor and her nurse, the humans at the Charleston Animal Shelter, our long time babysitter, a lady at a store I frequent who is so nice, our mail lady and the folks at the Red Cross (I’m a long time blood donor).   I made a bunch more to just have as the mood stuck me.  I also made dog and cat treats for the animal shelter.

I took a bunch of the cards and wrote little messages on the back- just encouraging things that would make me smile if I read them. 

My car looked like a mobile office- I had pens, tape, markers…  If you want to do this yourself, be prepared!  I wish I’d have packed some water. 

I planned out my day to begin in Summerville, where I live.  All of those were planned stops.  I needed to hit the bank and my teller was so friendly and sweet, I sent a treat bag with a note back through the tube before I left- that was my first unplanned kindness.

I had a free drink at Dunkin’ Donuts, so I get my drink and a $10 gift card.  While I was doing this, an older couple came in behind me. They were talking about what to get for breakfast.  When my drink was done, I turned around and handed them the card and wished them a great day.  They were so surprised and pleased. 

Most of the things I did- I never saw the people who received them.  I just liked the idea of someone coming across it and making them smile.  The handful of people who I did something for directly (the little boy on the merry go round, the lunch tip, the boy at Barnes & Noble, the Red Cross folks, the nurses at the maternity ward) were so surprised and almost taken aback.  It so strange to think that we go so long between acts of kindness that it is almost shocking when it happens.  I’ve always believed that the best way we can live is to simply look out for others… smile at a stranger, hold a door for a mom…  be kind to each other. 

It was without a doubt the best birthday I’ve ever had.  I felt so blessed, like the universe was just filling me with positive energy and I’m so energetic about what this 33rd year of my life will bring."
So my challenge to you, dear reader, is this: 
How can you bless others? For your birthday, for Christmas, for Veterans Day...for no reason at all, how about take the time to make someone else's day brighter. 
It doesn't have to be expensive, time consuming, or even anything that takes a lot of planning. I am thinking of making this one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2013. How about you? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Devotion: Appreciating the Desire for God

Photo Credit 
Writer's note: You are going to follow my train of thought here. 
Stick with me as you will see how God revealed to me His truths of truly desiring Him. 

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we were driving the 2-hour trip home from my in-laws' house. My "Mom Brain" cranked back up as I began assessing what needed to be done in the next few hours to get my family ready for a regular week back at school and work. My kids had been out of school for 5 days, and I knew that Monday morning could be rough if I didn't prepare them. I then started thinking of the past 5 days and how I had blessedly slept to almost 8 am each morning. I groaned as I thought about my 530 am wake up call Monday morning. Another 4 more weeks of getting up before the rest of the house...and the sun...until I can sleep late again. ::SIGH::

But then I started thinking about sleeping in. I remember when I was working I promised myself that if I ever had the opportunity to stay at home, I would sleep in until 7 am every morning. Now that I have been blessed to stay at home, sleeping until 7 has rarely happened, even on the weekends. Even in the summertime, when I don't have to prepare my kids for school, I still got up at 630 each morning.What struck me, though, was how much I truly appreciated sleeping in when I had the opportunity. I realized that if I got to sleep in every morning, I would never really appreciate the joy of it. I wouldn't have a desire, a craving, for those few extra moments of blissful sleep.

So this all lead me to thinking about my desire for God, and how similar and different this is compared to my desire for things I rarely get to enjoy.

How are they similar?
That desire. When I really want something, I truly desire it. I can't wait until the moment I get to enjoy that peaceful moment, that piece of chocolate, the crisp air, the warm sun...and the presence of God. A few weeks ago, I described what it felt like to Feel God's Joy. It's not every day I get to literally feel the presence of God, to know that I am surrounded by Him. And I yearn for that. I look for God in the little things {a sunrise, my children's hugs, scripture, a good toe-stomping from my preachers}. When I am studying His word, I search the scriptures, I pour over commentaries, and I write out my  prayers. I have a TRUE DESIRE to be with God. 

How are they different? 
Time. I knew that if I got to sleep in until 7 or 8 am each morning, I would never really truly appreciate it. So I needed to just keep to my regular schedule in order for me to be delighted by those few chances I get to enjoy an extra hour of blissful dreams. BUT, I would never desire that for my relationship with my Lord. In this case, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. 1 John 2: 24-25 says, "Be sure you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you continue to follow what you heard from the beginning, you will stay in the Son and in the Father. And this is what the Son promised to use - life forever." We are encouraged and instructed to continue with our relationship with God. We need to constantly be in God's Word, through personal devotions, consistent attendance and fellowship with other believers, and deep studying of His scriptures. I have found some incredible Bible studies through Good Morning Girls, its sister site Women Living Well, A Virtuous Woman, and its sister site The Vintage Homemaker....Staying in constant contact with The Creator, with The Savior, only creates more desire. There is no momentary, fleeting pleasure like the kind you get from tasting a good, dark chocolate, or those few moments you get to see an incredible array of colors through a sunrise. When you stay with the Lord, your desire for Him increases to where you are constantly thirsting for Him.

Recognizing those similarities and differences can help put into perspective the type of appreciation I should have for the Desire I have for God. Take a moment today to reflect on the blessings God has given you {a warm home, children, food on your table, a car to get you to work, having a job, a strong cup of coffee, a cold glass of sweet tea...}. See how God has His Hand in so many aspects of your life. Look back at how you have grown {as a woman or man, as a teacher, as a mother or father, as a daughter or son, as a wife or husband....}. See how God has His Hand in molding you. See how He has intervened in your life {when you ended up being able to pay a bill you never thought would get paid, when you did NOT get a job you thought would be good and it turned out to be bad, when it rained on a day you wanted to go out, but ended up providing water to make your garden grow, when you were cured of a disease that tends to overtake so many in your family....}.

See God. Desire God. and Appreciate every aspect of Him and His involvement with you. You will experience such JOY.

If you also have a great Bible Study you follow or a website that is encouraging to you, please comment below with the link. I love nothing more than to discover other sites where the Truth of God is proclaimed and the study of His Word is encouraged.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Devotion: Co-workers for Christ

"Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family." Proverbs 18:24

I remember the moment as clear as day. It was the end of the Young Couples Sunday School class, and a young mom-to-be {with twins!}, whose husband was deployed, stood up and confronted the rest of us. "I was not at church last Sunday, and no one cared to call. No one made sure I was okay or asked how I was doing..." She sat down and a silence spread across the room. Guilt washed over me with such intensity. Sure I had a busy life. I had just had my 3rd child, I was living with my parents while we tried to sell our house in another town, and I was working hard through a particularly rough year as a teacher. But she was right. Her absence went unnoticed by me, and she neatly put me in my place, and that moment changed me forever. Now I do my best to check in on others when I don't see them at church or church functions. I don't ever want anyone to feel like she did that Sunday.

The best part of that situation was the friendship that came of it. She was alone. She wasn't from the area, so family was far away. She didn't live by the church, so even most of the church family was far away. Her husband was off fighting in the Air Force, and she was essentially alone. Through a series of events, she and I developed such an incredible relationship. She lived only a few minutes from me, so it was easy for us to meet up for food, to work out at the Y, or to even just hang out. And even sweeter was that her little boys stole my heart.

The most incredible part of our friendship, though, was our service to the Lord. This past Sunday our pastor said, "When you meet a new brother or sister in Christ, you don't just make a new friend, but you also meet a new co-worker." My first thought when he said this was of my dear friend who chose to boldly stand up that one Sunday morning. His point was that we tend to stay in our comfort zones and miss incredible opportunities to meet other believers. And if you fail to meet other believers, you are missing out on opportunities to serve the Lord together. We believers are CO-WORKERS for Christ. The bond you have with your church family should be closer than the bond you have with your biological family. And if your biological family also serves the Lord, then even greater still. If my friend had not been brave enough to stand up that Sunday morning, I may or may not have developed a sweet friendship. She and I spent much time serving others, individually and together, all the while lifting each other up in prayer and support. We were co-workers for Christ. She has since then moved away, but I continue to keep up with her and her ministry opportunities in her new town. And she continues to encourage me as I find new ways to serve.

What are you doing to meet other believers? Do you develop relationships with other believers who don't go to your church? Do you seek new ways to serve? Do you always sit in same place at church, therefore getting to know only the other people around you who also sit in the same place each Sunday? What would happen if you went to a different Sunday School class for a while? Or what would happen if you just changed your seats during church? How about serving in the community? That's a great way to meet other believers and to get to know other co-workers for Christ. Our pastor challenged us to sit somewhere else next Sunday. How about you? What will YOU do to change your normal routine? You may be surprised in how God will surely bless you.

Photo Credit 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recipe: Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes are pretty regular in our house. When I have extra collards leftover, my family always enjoys a Twice-Baked Stuffed Potato, a meal all in itself. But I have not tried sweet potatoes yet.

I looooovvvee sweet potatoes. It was always something I could bond over with my Nana, as the two of us could down a large sweet potato like it's nobody's business. So when Piggly Wiggly has them on sale where I can get 6 LARGE sweet potatoes for 2 bucks, I grabbed those babies right up and get to cooking.

Tonight's recipe is inspired by my Twice-Baked Stuffed Potatoes. I started to look around Pinterest, Allrecipes, and all kinds of other places looking for some inspiration, but decided to just try something on my own. And I am just so happy with my creation. My house smells like Thanksgiving {a week early}, with hints of gingerbread and cinnamon wafting from my oven. And I can't wait to share it with you.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes


  • 6 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, pricked, and baked {I did mine in the crockpot.}
  • 2 containers of Activia Breakfast Blends, Maple and Brown Sugar 
  • 1/2 cup {chopped}  Stacy's Pita Chips Simply Gingerbread {These are limited time only, so grab a bag while they are out}
  • 15 almonds, finely chopped OR 1/4 cup 
  • 1/2 cup mix of craisins and golden raisins. 
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350. 
  2. Once potatoes have been baked, set aside to cool before handling. 
  3. Meanwhile, mix together the Gingerbread chips, almonds, craisins, and cinnamon
  4. Once the potatoes have cooled a little, lightly run a knife around the top of the sweet potato, and scoop the insides out, making sure the keep the potato skin in tact as much as possible. All of mine looked like little canoes. Place the scooped insides into a large bowl. 
  5. Mix the yogurt with the insides of the potato until the yogurt mixed well. Add the gingerbread mixture, mixing well. 
  6. Using a spoon, scoop the potato mixture back into the sweet potato canoes {hehe} until it reaches just the top. Once all the potatoes are full, add whatever is left of the mixture to the top. The potatoes will be overflowing. 
  7. If you have anymore of those Gingerbread Pita Chips, chop up about 5 more real fine. Sprinkle on top. 
  8. Place into the oven for 20 minutes. 
Here's the directions in pictures: 
6 baked sweet potatoes, set aside to cool

Here are the rest of the ingredients

IN LOVE with these. 

I buy a TON of these and freeze them. Then I pop them into a smoothie. SO GOOD

My sweet potato canoes 

Craisin/Raisin, chopped almonds, and chopped Gingerbread Chips 

Fill just to the top 

Here they are all stuffed right before I sprinkled the tops with crushed Gingerbread chips and baked them. 

This could easily be served as a side dish, a main dish, or even a dessert. After putting the information in my calorie counter, EACH STUFFED SWEET POTATO is just under 300 calories, 51 carbs, 4 g fat, and 8 g protein. 

Please try these and comment here how yours turned out. If you have a recipe you like with sweet potatoes, please share that as well. 

Happy cooking

Monday, November 12, 2012

Devotion: Always Being Thankful

Photo Credit 

November. Seriously the best month of the year. I know, I know. If you have been following me, you have most likely heard me say this countless times. But I honestly believe it. Check out the wonderful trend that is sweeping through Facebook now, as so many people list, each day, something they are thankful for. It truly is a blessing to see how God is working.

Today I was reminded, again, of how incredibly wonderful November is. As I opened my devotion and prayer journal eeeaarrrlllyyy this morning, I was ready to talk about Veterans Day and how incredibly grateful I am and how honored I am to know so many people who have faced mankind at its ugliest through war. As I was going through my devotions, of which one I used the same verse Proverbs31.org used, each one was about focusing on all the many, many blessings God has given us. That particular devotion gave a few ways we can remind ourselves of being thankful for what God has given us. Please check it out. There are some great ideas there.

 I am also following Women Living Well's weekly challenge on "Making Your Home a Haven". Last week's challenge, in combination of this week's challenge served as yet another reminder of how much I had to be thankful for. She suggests lighting a candle in the home, not only to spread delicious scents around the house, but to also serve as a reminder to pray for peace for your family. What a great way to also remind yourself to thank God for a blessing.

So as I opened my prayer journal today, I wrote out the things God has blessed with me. I found that it was important for me to not only list what I was thankful for, but to write out why I was thankful for it. Here is what I wrote:

You have given me a beautiful home where we can serve you by serving others. 
You have given me an opportunity to stay at home and to use that time to glorify  you by ministering to others, to teach my children your Truths, and to develop a better relationship with you. 
You have given me 3 incredible kids all who continuously astound me in the way they learn. 
You have given me an incredible husband who works hard every day and who is constantly working at being a wonderful husband and father. 
You have given me a church home that preaches the Bible and is willing to gently step on my toes so my relationship with You is continually growing. 
You have given me a church family who encourages me to serve and, in turn, is always showing me how to serve. 
You have given me parents who are still married for almost 40 years, and give examples how to be patient and loving to each other. 
You have given me a sister who gives me a friend for life. 
You have given me wonderful in-laws who love and support me, despite the fact that I am the more "spirited" one. 

And this was all I could fit in my journal for today. Even now, as I type this, I am reminded of so many other wonderful things God has placed in my life. Even things, that at first, seemed to not be so much as blessings. God, in His time, showed me how truly blessed I am. 

Take the time today to make a list of things you are thankful for. Make a running list in your family that others can see and add to. And don't do it just this time of year, but do it all year long

If you have a special blessing you are thankful for, please share with us by commenting below. You have no clue how your blessings remind others of the things they, too, need to be thankful for. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Devotion: How I Treat My Employees

"Masters, give what is good and fair to your slaves. Remember that you have a Master in heaven." Colossians 4:1

Photo Credit

I tallied up the points on my children's chore chart for another week. With a sigh, I realized that I let two days go by without documenting the chores my kids did. I had to think back to earlier in the week, trying to remember who cleaned the bathroom and who dusted the baseboards. It just seemed that my days were filling so many activities, that I was having a hard time keeping up, and the temptation to just not document their chores...and hope they forget to get their rewards...was strong. But the words to today's scripture verse, Colossians 4:1, rang true in my heart. You can easily replace "Master" with employer, teacher, supervisor and "slaves" with employees or students, and it have the exact same meaning, just as I replaced it with "Parents" and "children".

As a parent, when I was a working parent, and now as I am a stay-at-home parent {or home manager...as I like to think of myself}, I have the responsibility to foster a positive environment with my kids. Each member of the family has a responsibility. Each person is expected to pull his or her weight to ensure the home functions well. Everyone has chores. Everyone has expectations. I am expected to make sure the family gets fed three healthy meals a day, to monitor the cleanliness and upkeep of the home, and to manage the family calendar. My husband's responsibility is to lead the family in spiritual development, to provide a good example to my boys on how to be a good daddy and to show my daughter the type of Godly man she should marry...all the while working to provide for our family. And each child is required to do their best always, do homework and chores before play, and to strengthen their minds and bodies with fellowship and playtime with each other and those around them. We each have our part.

So our verse for today says two things:

1. I am to be a good and fair manager to my children.
- I need to treat them all equally, making sure that they are working up to their potential and to encourage them when they get discouraged.

2. Remember that God is my Master
- What a reminder this is. This is another example of "treat others as you would be treated." I would never want the Lord to be a task master, constantly on my back, never encouraging me. HE sets the example that I am to pass on to my children.
-Ways my Master is a great "employer":

  • He gives me tasks He knows I can complete, even if it seems hard at first
  • He sees my strengths and encourages me to focus my energy on those strengths
  • He encourages me when things get tough. 
  • He disciplines me when I get lazy...and the discipline is never over-excessive 
  • He is patient with me when I do not get the job right the first time
  • He is fair in his rewards
  • He treats me equally to others
  • He understands when I need a break 
  • He genuinely cares for about my well-being
So as I look at how my Father treats me, as a worker for Christ, I must pass that on to those God has given me to manage. How about you? At work, do you have employees you are in charge of? How do you treat them? Do you give them the same grace, mercy, and encouragement the Lord gives you? How about with your children? As a believer, do you encourage others, including non-believers, as they work? 

Look at the list of ways God manages you, and pass that on to those you manage. I surely will be printing this list and posting it somewhere for me to remember when I get frustrated with my kids. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Devotion: There is No Room for Fear

"Where God's love is, there is no fear, because God's perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears." 1 John 4:18

It was 1 am when my bedroom door burst open, and my oldest child comes running into the room, tears streaming down his face. He can hardly breathe as fear gripped his little heart. I woke up in a daze trying to figure out the best way to handle a hysterical, scared 7 year old boy.

Let's rewind a few hours.

I love Ernest. As in Ernest Goes to Camp and Ernest Goes to Jail. So when I saw the box set at Wal-Mart for 5 bucks, I grabbed it up fast. And there was an Ernest movie on there I had never seen, Ernest Scared Stupid. I figured it was an Ernest movie, so there's no way it's scary, and it is Halloween, so why not, right?  And as a whole it wasn't all that scary, but there was something about seeing this face....
Photo Credit
....that freaked my oldest child out. Not only did he wake us up at 1 am, but again at 4 am, and at 6 am. And then all day he was in tears, eventually having a panic attack. He didn't sleep for 2 days and barely ate anything during that time. He was seriously scared.

So when he refused to go to bed the second night in fear that a troll was trying to get him, I sat him down next to me on the couch, pulled out my Bible, and opened to 1 John. 

I read to him 1 John 4:7-18. Those verses remind us that God is love {verse 16}, and if you are a believer, you have God in you, being filled with His love. If you are filled with something, there is no room for other things...including fear. I had him repeat verse 16 "God is love" and verse 18 "God's perfect love drives out fear" over and over again, encouraging him to remember that if he is filled with God's love, then he should not allow fear to try to push its way in. I then directed him to one of my favorite verses that I have always repeated to myself when I was afraid, "God is [my] protection and [my] strength. He always helps in times of trouble" {Psalm 46:1}. With those versed tucked in his heart, my boy finally got some sleep.

Now let me address the 1 John verses on a different level for 2 seconds. 

I used those words to help my son get through his fear of being attacked by trolls, but the true treasure of those words is nestled salvation. John was encouraging the church. There were SO MANY false teachers trying to discourage believers, telling them they can lose their salvation, causing the church to question the authority of Christ. But John encourages believers here. He says in verses 7-8 "we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God's child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" and then in verse 10 "This is what real love is: it is NOT OUR LOVE for God; it is GOD'S LOVE FOR US in sending his Son to be the way to take away our sins." If we trust in God's love and the salvation He gives us in sending his Son to take the punishment we so deserve, we should have no fear. Our salvation is firm. The believer's name is written in the Book of Life, and there is no erasing it. 

What a great reminder for all of us believers. There is nothing like knowing that God "has our back" and that He will take care of us. There is no need to be afraid of losing salvation. There is no need to be afraid of the future. There is no need to be afraid of all the little things we encounter each day...even trolls. 

Have no fear, fellow believers, for God's perfect love is greater than any fear, and we can have faith that He can cast it out far from us. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

100 Calorie Brownie with Coconut Whipped Topping {a review}

Chocolate....mmm....comfort food for my woman's soul. As much as I love chocolate, I know that more than just a piece of dark chocolate a day is not necessarily going to help me lose/maintain my weight. But because I have such a sweet tooth, and I'm normally craving chocolate like it's my life support, I have been trying to find acceptable, healthier options that meet my sweet tooth craving, but won't sabotage my efforts to live a healthier life.

My secret to success? Coconut. Yeah, yeah. I know I'm pretty sure I jumped on this band wagon, but experimenting with coconut the past few weeks has been interesting. I started adding coconut water to my smoothies. I bought up a bunch of cans of coconut milk at Big Lots and have been using the milk in my coffee, oatmeal, and other desserts. Here's the kicker: I don't really like coconut. Well, "imitation" coconut. It always smells like suntan lotion, and it's normally a turn off for me. I do know, though, that I'm coming to like this stuff, adding it here and there. Check the links below for other recipes where coconut is a factor. 

NOW back to chocolate {and really the reason why so many of you are reading this}. 

I found a recipe for 200 Calorie Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae on Pinterest {as I was looking for a way to make coconut whipped topping}, and since it was one of my favorite librarian's birthday, what better way to celebrate than to make brownies that won't make you feel like you have to hit the treadmill for 2 hours? 

We didn't make the hot fudge, the banana soft serve ice cream, or add the cherries, but check the link above for all those recipes. 

Here's the recipe for the brownie and the whipped topping: 

The brownie was in the shape of a rose. I have this nifty muffin tin from Williams-Sonoma...but I don't think they sell them anymore. :{ 
100 Calorie Brownie with Coconut Whipped Topping {all credit is due to Back to Her Roots}


  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce {I made my own since I didn't have any at the house}
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup egg whites {about 4}
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cups sugar
Whipped Topping: 
  • *1 can whipped topping, not lite {see NOTE below}
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar 

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. 
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together applesauce, vanilla, and egg whites until well combined. 
  3. Add flour, cocoa, salt, and sugar until just combined. 
  4. Pour in muffin tin and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool for 15-20 minutes. 
Whipped Topping: 
  1. Carefully open the cold can of coconut milk {say that 3x fast} without shaking or stirring. Spoon out the top white portion, leaving the coconut water on the bottom. 
  2. Whip coconut cream on high in an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes
  3. Add in confectioner's sugar and mix for another 2 minutes. 
Assembly: {Uh...duh? But I'll add this anyway}

Once the muffins have cooled, add the coconut whipped topping on top. Eat. Each brownie is roughly 100 calories. 

The recipe called for a closed can of cold coconut milk which you open when you are ready to mix. After trying out a few "whipped coconut" recipes, I have found the best way to utilize this is to gently open the can of coconut milk the night before and then place in the fridge. For some reason, this helps solidify the milk faster. The can I used for this recipe didn't have the milk and water separate, but I whipped it up anyway. I had to add a little more powdered sugar to thicken the topping enough that it would actually stay on the brownie. 

Other "Coconut" recipes I have tried: 
  1. Chocolate Frosting Shots
  2. Make Ahead Oatmeal Smoothies
  3. Overnight Refrigerator Oatmeal {I must say I have made this with and without coconut milk. The coconut milk made this SUPER thick, and I'm not sure I really like it too much.}
  4. Crockpot Pumpkin Oatmeal {I had to actually add a little more honey to it, and then it tasted like pumpkin pie oatmeal. These were super thick and froze well for smaller individual servings}
  5. Muffin Tin Smoothies
  6. Avocado Chocolate Pudding

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

White Bean and Collards Soup

Collards. I love them. Really, really love them. Anytime I make a batch of collards, whether I buy the leaves from the store {which is almost never} or I get them fresh from my garden or my dad's, I normally end up eating the leftovers in a bowl. By themselves. For real. I love collards. 

So this past Sunday, I made a roast with vegetables for Sunday lunch, and I had to have collards with it. I had an extra ham hock in the freezer as well as a few bags of collards from last year's garden. Saturday afternoon, I covered the collards with water and let them soak on low, with the ham hock, until Sunday afternoon lunch. YUM-O


I had a ton of collards leftover. And as much as I love them, it was really almost too much for me to finish off on my own. So I Googled and Pinterested around, looking for some ideas. I could have made my Twice Baked Stuffed Potatoes, but we already had stuffed potatoes earlier in the week. I was looking for something different, something I had never tried before. What I found was quite a few variations of a collards soup. So I picked a little here and there, and came up with my own Meatless Monday {that could easily have meat in it} soup. Check below for my family's reviews. 

This is really with what to do with leftover collards. So if you don't already have some made, do it. Then come back. You are going to need those collards soaking in ham hock juice for a while. {I guess that doesn't necessarily make it vegetarian, but whatever} 

White Bean and Collards Soup  {If you see *, please see below for further details or information}


  • About 4 cups of cooked collards, in juices it was cooked in. 
  • *1 pound of white, dried, beans 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 Tbsp of dried Thyme or 2-3 sprigs of fresh Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • {OPTIONAL} 1.5-2 cups cooked country ham, chopped
  • Parmesan and Feta Cheese 
  1. **Prepare the dried white beans in the "fast soak" style.
  2. Pour soaked white beans into a large crockpot. Add leftover collards, onion, thyme, and seasonings. If needed, add some more water. We like our soup chunky, so I didn't add but maybe a half a cup more of water.
  3. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or HIGH for 4-6 hours, or until beans are soft. 
  4. If you choose to add the ham, add in the last 30 minutes. Also, at this point, taste. Add more seasoning, if needed. 
  5. Serve with Parmesan and Feta cheese on top. 
I served mine with some Homemade Biscuits Like Grandma Made, but I'm willing to bet the soup would go just as well with some Made from "Scratch" Cornbread Muffins

* You could use canned beans, if you like, but make sure you rinse them off first. Adjust cooking time. You want the beans soft, not mushy. 
** "Fast Soak" basically is boil 1 pound of dried beans in 6-8 cups of water for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover for 1 hour. 


Okay, so my oldest child is my best food critic. He will honestly tell me if something is good or not. He gave this soup a 6. He said, "I would eat it again, if you made it, but it's not something I would ask you to make." 

My husband, after hearing this response said, "No. It was good. I would say it was better than what he said. More like an 8." 

When made this, I did not add the country ham. I just didn't have any. But we all talked about what was good or not so good about the soup, and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of adding country ham to the soup. It was almost like getting a Sunday Dinner Soup {hmmm....new name? Maybe.} without the meat. So next time I'm for real putting the ham in it. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Books and Banana Bread

Do I have a special for you today. I stumbled across a book series that I absolutely love on my weekly trip to the library. Lately, I have steered away from the romance novels that are more about the "canoodling" and less about developing relationships. Lucky for me, my local library makes "good, clean" love stories easy to find, with a special sticker on the side. So when I picked up Sweet Caroline, a Lowcountry novel, by Rachel Hauck, I was immediately wrapped up in this world based out of one of my favorite places to visit, Beaufort, SC. I quickly ran back to the library and picked up the rest of the series, Love Starts with Elle and Dining with Joy.


All three of these ladies, Caroline, Elle, and Joy, are pushed into a situation where they suddenly have to discover who they are, what their purposes are. Caroline, a people-pleaser, was unexpectantly given ownership of a failing restaurant and has to decide whether to keep it or to drop it and go to Barcelona for an incredible job opportunity. Elle, a free spirit, closes her art gallery with the expectation of moving away to marry the man of her dreams, only to be faced with no man, no job, and no gallery. Joy, the humorous and the local tv show cooking host, can't cook. Now that her show has been moved to a prime time national spot, her secret of not being able to cook is threatened, and she could chance losing everything. 

Each of these ladies not only struggle with discovering their purpose, but they are each faced with unexpectantly developing a relationship with a man...and more importantly, they are faced with their relationship with their Creator. 

These stories were quirky, good stories where I had to put a bookmark at the end of the chapter so I wouldn't keep reading. I was completely engrossed in their lives and the outcomes weren't always 100 percent predictable. 

This is a good beach read or a great coffee, blanket, fireplace read. And I recommend both. 

And now, for a recipe. 

At the end of Dining with Joy, I found a wonderful surprise: a recipe for Banana Bread. Throughout the novel, Joy was constantly reminded of her father's infamous Banana Bread, something he made on a regular basis and was the source of so many memories. I was pleased to find the recipe at the end of the book. I didn't have all of the ingredients, but I sure did have most of it. I tried it, and it was GOOD. So I'm going to share my variation here for you. 

Almost Dining with Joy Banana Bread Muffins Original Recipe Found On Rachel Hauck's site here

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup Turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 ripe, mashed bananas 
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup milk, plus 1 Tbsp white vinegar, mixed
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  1. Preheat oven to 325. 
  2. In a large bowl mix flours, sugars, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. 
  3. In another bowl, mix eggs, bananas, oil, milk mixture, and vanilla. 
  4. Add the wet to the dry mixture and blend. 
  5. Slowly stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter
  6. Pour into a greased muffin tin. 
  7. Bake for 40 minutes. 
This is slightly different, but came out great. And it's a good thing I was paying attention to the muffins. The original recipe, which is for bread not muffins, had you cooking for twice as long. I almost went outside for an hour on my hammock while I waited for it to be finished. Thank goodness that didn't happen. :} 

So whip up a batch of "Almost Dining with Joy Banana Bread Muffins", and curl up with one {or all} of these three books. You won't regret it.