Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Your schedule is full of All The Things a “good” mom does: You juggle kids, home, cooking, relationships, finances, church responsibilities, kids’ activities, and possibly a full-time job (or if you have babies at home, you have a 24/7 job, bless your sleep-deprived heart). You collapse at the end of the day in front of the computer where you see pictures of All The Things the other moms are doing and wonder if you’ll ever measure up. Then someone reminds you that it’s Ash Wednesday and – oh, by the way – on top of all the sacrifices you’re making, Jesus would like you to make one more for the next 40 days so you can relate to his suffering. GREAT!

Dear stressed out mom, if that is you, can I just say that Jesus can relate to your sacrificial giving to your family, and he promised that his yoke – the things he asks you to do with his help – is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Fasting something during the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter plus Sundays, on which no fasting is to take place) can be a valuable spiritual discipline for those of us who need God to help us develop self-control – one of the Fruits of the Spirit – as we focus on saying no to the desires of the flesh that hinder us from experiencing freedom in Christ. But when you are weary from running your race, Jesus invites you to find rest in him so he can grow the other Fruits of the Spirit (like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.) in you. When you are empty, you have nothing left to give or sacrifice, and must come to the Giver of all good things to be filled up.

So my Ash Wednesday – or any day – invitation to the weary is to go on a date with Jesus for the next 46 days. (I suppose you can forgo it on Sundays, if you’re going to church, but I find that I especially benefit from quiet time with Jesus before I walk into church because I have many words, and I need God to sanctify my mouth. And my entire Sunday School class says, “Amen.”)

Light in the darkness.

When I say “date,” I mean exactly that. Set up a beautiful space with as many things as you can think of that make you feel special, like you’re on a date. What do you enjoy? What makes you feel nurtured, loved? Is it being outside in your garden or on your patio? (Being outside is too big a distraction for me because all I can see are the weeds and yard work I need to do, and that tends to lead to discipline from God rather than comfort…) Perhaps you have a sunny window where you can enjoy a cup of tea while the little ones nap. Maybe there’s a piece of artwork in your bedroom that you love, and you could pull up a chair, light a candle, and turn your back on the pile of laundry on the bed. You may have to do a little cleaning to get rid of any distractions and put a little effort into making your date space beautiful, but I promise it will make a difference in how you feel about your time spent with Jesus. Why? Because YOU ARE WORTH IT.

You are worthy of beautiful things. You are beautiful to Jesus. You are his precious treasure. When you are on a date, you feel special, and sometimes we need physical reminders of just how much God cherishes his time with us. We know in our heads that Jesus died on the cross for us, but do we feel in our hearts the depth of his love and enjoyment of our relationship with him?

I can tell you from personal experience how much this concept has changed my relationship with Christ. I developed the “discipline” of daily quiet time with God at the beginning of the day years ago, but in the past two years God has been growing the fruit of joy in my life by first teaching me how to find my joy in him, and secondly, by encouraging me to incorporate things that bring me joy into our time together. As I began to infuse my quiet time with sights and smells that delight me, and listen to his whispers of love to my heart through scripture and healing devotional books, I could not help but fall deeper in love with my Savior.

And that’s what Jesus desires most from you; not your sacrifice for him, but your love and relationship with him.

Quiet Time

Here is my “date” space with Jesus. I put twinkle lights on our fake tree to brighten up the dark winter mornings, and light scented candles (to cover up the smell of our disgusting dog who is a third wheel on our date). I curl up under a cozy blanket and savor a good cup of coffee (because coffee is God’s gift to moms) while I meditate on God’s Word and talk to him about my day. In this environment, I have a heightened sense of how precious I am to Jesus because it makes me feel precious. (If you struggle with low self-esteem, it’s especially important to incorporate physical reminders of his love for you into your time together.)

I’m currently reading Beth Moore’s inspiring book, Audacious, and would also highly recommend Jen Hatmaker’s, For the Love, to anyone in need of grace and a good belly laugh. But for date time, I can think of no better book than the Jesus Calling one year devotional (not as a replacement for scripture, but as a supplement). Some might balk at it being written in first person, as Jesus speaking to you, but it was simply the author’s way of sharing what Jesus was saying to her through the scriptures noted at the bottom, not an attempt to add to scripture (so let’s not get into a theological debate in the comments section, okay?). However, I found that the first person messages helped me to overcome the negative voices in my head – “You’re not good enough, and you’ll never be as good at that as ______, so you should just give up.” – by allowing Jesus to counter them directly through words of grace and encouragement.

The devotional messages may not be direct quotes from Jesus in scripture, but I believe they come directly from his heart to you and me. We cannot overcome the negative messages from our culture until we learn to recognize the voice of Truth. Jesus said that his sheep would know him by his voice, so if you are bombarded by negative self-talk, I would encourage you to go on a date with Jesus every day during the season of Lent. Learn to recognize His voice, and The Truth will set you free! If you don’t want to buy a devotional book, just read through one of the Gospels and focus on the words and character of Jesus.

Let him woo you, dear sister. The Bridegroom loves his Bride, the Church, and you will find the emptiness in your heart that will never be filled by doing All The Things, satisfied by his love and grace toward you. I leave you with some of the words from today’s message in Jesus Calling (the italicized words are a direct quote from scripture):

Trust me enough to spend ample time with me, pushing back the demands of the day. Refuse to feel guilty about something that is so pleasing to me, the King of the universe (Luke 10:41-42).

Don’t fall into the trap of being constantly on the go. Many, many things people do in My Name have no value in my kingdom. To avoid doing meaningless works, stay in continual communication with me. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8).

In one year he grew six inches taller and his voice dropped an octave lower. Welcome to the exciting – yet terrifying – experience of adolescence! The summer before he started 7th grade, I wrote my son a letter to give him a heads up on some of the changes he could expect in the coming years, challenges he would likely face, and insight into how to navigate them from one who’s been down that road. Honestly, I don’t think any of it sunk in at the time because it all seemed so far away, but a year-and-a-half later, some of Mom’s predictions have shown up in daily life. So I decided to print off the letter for him to read again as a way of reassuring him that while the challenges he’s facing are normal and to be expected – because I “called it” 2 years ago – he does not have to respond to these challenges like a “normal” teenager.  The world expects very little of teenagers, but why waste these years by sinking to everyone’s low expectations? (For more on this subject, I highly recommend having your teen read, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. It has motivated my now 14-year-old to see this time in his life as a gift not to be squandered.)

I decided to share this letter with you today with the hope that my adolescence survival guide could be used as an instrument of grace, as I acknowledge the unique challenges of the teen years, and a launching pad for discussion with your teen on how we can rise above them to be more than just followers of the crowd. There is another way; the way of following Christ.

Some days it's an uphill climb...

Some days it’s an uphill climb…

Dear Son,

As your journey through childhood comes to an end and the journey through adolescence begins, I want to first tell you how proud I am to be your mother and how fiercely I love you.  (You know I would give my life for you, right?) I’ve watched you grow into a thoughtful, compassionate, creative, funny, talented young man who loves God with all his heart, and I am so thankful God gave you to me.  We’ve faced some challenges together over the last 12 years, and God has been faithful to help us through them.  Now, as I look ahead to some of the challenges you’ll likely face in adolescence, I want to share a few insights with you based on my own experience as a teenager (as you’re fond of saying, “waaaay back in the 1900s”).

Embrace Who God Created You To Be
The central focus of adolescence is often the pursuit of acceptance and approval by peers. Kids will do anything to be popular, changing themselves to become who they think others want them to be. Some kids get so good at being chameleons, fitting in with the crowd at all costs, that they reach their 20s having no idea who they really are. With the added pressures of presenting a perfect image on social media (like Facebook), teens fall into the trap of believing that image is everything. That is a lie. The truth is, you are uniquely created by God to fulfill a purpose uniquely suited to you, for “You are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for you to do” (Eph. 2:10). How can you fulfill your unique purpose if you’re putting all your energy into trying to be someone else, just to please others?  Don’t fall into this trap.  

You cannot please everyone, nor will everyone like or accept you. If you make popularity the goal of adolescence, you will enter adulthood feeling empty and uncertain of your purpose, because popularity may prop up your self-esteem temporarily, but once the whims of “the group” change, you will once again have to reinvent yourself. Instead of the exhausting pursuit of acceptance by peers, I challenge you to focus instead on loving God, loving others – whether they return your love or not – and developing the gifts God has given you. The world doesn’t need more sheep to follow the crowd. The world needs innovators and problem solvers who think outside the box, like you do. Hang onto who you are, and when you are uncertain of who you are, hang onto Jesus. He’ll remind you that you are His creation, His treasure, His beloved worth dying for.

Own Your Strengths and Weaknesses
During your teen years you will be tempted to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone who is smarter, more talented in a particular area, more popular, more athletic. If you attempt to define yourself as “The Best (fill in the blank),” you will try to cover up or make excuses for your weaknesses, suffer the rise and fall of your self-esteem depending on how you feel you compare to those around you, and continually live in fear of failure. I don’t have to tell you that the above scenario will bring you nothing but misery. Trust me, I’ve been there. Remember that it’s not usually the struggling kids in your dad’s college classes who cheat, it’s the top students who are so afraid of failure that they will do anything to keep from losing their status as “the best.”

The truth is, our weaknesses are a gift from God because it is in our areas of weakness that we most recognize our need for him and invite God to demonstrate his power in us. It’s better to learn to lean on God and discover that he is able to help us in our weaknesses, than to cling to the false belief that our worth is defined by our accomplishments. (If you don’t think you’re worth anything because of your weaknesses, read the gospels and see for yourself how much you’re worth. Jesus died for you while you were still a sinner.) So don’t fall into the comparison trap. Accept that you – along with everyone else – have weaknesses.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from your mistakes and keep your sense of humor when they happen. If you can acknowledge your weaknesses freely and learn to laugh at yourself in a healthy way, it disarms those who would use your weaknesses as a weapon against you. Not only that, it lets others know they are safe to be themselves around you when embarrassing situations are funny rather than a death blow. (Just be careful with your sarcasm and don’t use it to humiliate others or get laughs at someone else’s expense. EVER.) Own who you are and don’t let accomplishments become your god. Learn now to turn to God to help you when you are weak, and you’ll be in a better position to face life’s disappointments than the kid for whom everything has come easily, because that kid will likely fall to pieces when he is dethroned by someone who is more talented than him someday.

Your Brain May Betray You at Times – And It’s Okay
There will be times when it seems like all the adults in your life, including me, are being too hard on you or expecting more from you than you feel like you can deliver. Please forgive us. You see, your body is about to go through some amazing changes, and you will soon begin to look like an adult. This can sometimes lead adults to believe that you are like us, but the truth is that your brain will not fully develop until you’re in your 20s. So there will be times when you exercise poor judgment and make stupid mistakes because your frontal lobe – the part that weighs consequences before acting on impulses – is the last part to develop. Your dad and I will try to remember to show you grace, but we will also allow you to experience the consequences of your poor decisions because part of growing up involves taking responsibility for your actions. 

So when you have the urge to do something dangerous or just plain wrong, remember that you can always talk to us and we will do our best not to overreact. But if we do discipline you, it’s because we love you and want you to grow into a responsible adult. That’s our job. While we look forward to relating to you as an adult, we’re not your buddies. We’re your parents, and we’re responsible to God to train you to do what’s right. So when it seems like we’re being tough on you, we’re just trying our best to do our job (and there’s no “How to Raise a Teenager” manual). We’ll make mistakes and so will you. Hopefully, we’ll show each other grace on this journey.

Your Body May Also Make Life Difficult
Unfortunately, it’s not just your developing brain that will make life tough for you at times, it’s your developing body and a whole host of hormones. Your growth spurts may not happen in all areas at the same time, so you may suddenly get bigger feet before the rest of you catches up, and feel awkward and uncoordinated for a time. Hang in there and it’ll pass. There will also be days when you just feel rotten for no good reason because of hormone surges. These feelings may make you overreact to little things or just want to be left alone. I want you to know that it’s okay to acknowledge these feelings, even if they’re not justifiable. But I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager that you don’t have to give in to these feelings or let them be your master. You can say, “Mom, I just feel down today,” and I will do my best to honor what’s happening inside you. However, I’m also going to encourage you to set a time limit on wallowing in your emotions, and then brainstorm some ways to redirect your thoughts (like reading a book, going for a walk, listening to upbeat music with positive lyrics, working on a favorite project, etc.). The sooner you learn to recognize negative thought patterns and emotions and take steps to turn them around, the happier and more successful you will be in your life and relationships. It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I didn’t learn this valuable life skill until I was in my 30s, and my life would have been so different had I learned how to interrupt negative thought patterns in my teen years.

Everyone Around You Is Also Going Through These Changes
It’s important to remember, too, that all your friends will be going through these same changes. Their brains and bodies may cause them to say and do stupid or unkind things. (I don’t know any adults who have no regrets from their teenage years. We ALL did stupid stuff – just ask your dad…) In addition, your friends are trying to deal with their own desires to be accepted and liked by their peers. This strong desire to fit in often leads kids to reject anyone who doesn’t fit in because they don’t want to be associated with someone who isn’t like the crowd, for fear that they too would be rejected by association.

Listen carefully, son: If you follow God’s path for you instead of living to please others, you will likely face rejection because kids who don’t follow the crowd or stick to the status quo are dangerous. Be dangerous anyway! Friends may walk away from you simply because you’re different. Love them and pray for those who persecute you. It won’t make the pain of rejection go away, but the God who came to earth to die for you knows very well the sting of rejection and pain of betrayal. He will use these experiences to strengthen your character and develop within you deep compassion for those who are rejected.

If you follow Jesus through the narrow gate, it may lead to suffering and rejection at times, but it is the only way to become like Christ. And if there is one desire I have for you, it is to be like Christ. I don’t care how popular you are, how many awards you win, or how financially successful you are someday. I just want you to know how much God loves you – no matter what you do – and walk with him all the days of your life. I promise you that the time you devote to developing your relationship with God will never be wasted. He will always accept you, so look to him for your purpose. Find your self-image in the shadow of the cross, focusing on who God says you are, not on who other teens say you are. Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, follow him, and you will emerge from adolescence as a confident, secure adult because you’ve found your security in the only One who can fill your heart’s desire for acceptance.

Be a Friend
The best thing you can do to navigate through the murky waters of teenage relationships is to just focus on being a friend. Be a good listener and do your best to take an interest in others. Look for the person who most needs a friend and be a friend to that person. You don’t have to be BFFs, but God will bless you when you make loving the “least of these” a priority. If your love is not returned, see all the stuff above. And speaking of love…

At some point, you’re going to start noticing girls and want them to notice you. Again, just focus on being a friend (and maybe wearing something a little nicer than sweats every day – just sayin’). Dating while your brain and emotions are developing can be dangerous because you will likely be more focused on how the other person makes you feel than on doing what is best for the other person. Real love is not making out with someone or giving in to lustful desires.  Real love is not what you see in the movies that would lead you to believe that love is a feeling or physical expression. Real love is about self-sacrifice and doing what is best for the other person. However, when your hormones are raging throughout adolescence, your feelings and physical desires will be hard to override (see above section on the adolescent brain). Since a high school sweetheart may not become your wife, how you treat her will affect her self-image and, potentially, her marriage to someone else someday. (Think about how you would want other guys to treat the girl you’re going to marry.) It’s a huge responsibility, and one that shouldn’t be rushed into.

So have lots of friends who are girls and learn how to be a good friend. Go out with groups and make memories with them. That’s how your dad and I came to fall in love. We went out with groups of friends for 3 years in college and have wonderful shared memories together, even though we didn’t date until our senior year. Our relationship is still strong to this day because it was founded in friendship. So don’t worry about finding Miss Right. Just be a good friend and enjoy life as it unfolds. There are blessings in relationships and blessings in singleness. Choose to live for God in whichever circumstance you’re in and you will be blessed.

No matter what, remember that your dad and I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make us love you more, and nothing you can do that will make us love you less. We look forward to watching you continue to grow into the wonderful man God created you to be. Welcome to adolescence!

Love,
Mom

...but the view from the top is amazing!

…but the view from the top is amazing!

I was feeling agitated after watching what should have been a motivational video, but the message of “you were created for more than this” instead made me gripe at God. “Oh really?” I pouted, “What MORE would you like me to add to my plate?” I actually got out a notebook and filled the page under the title “Stuff I do” with all the things I do for other people on a daily basis. “Okay, God, the ball’s in your court!” I huffed.

“Get your coat on and let’s go for a walk on the dirt road,” was his reply. I was rewarded for my tantrum with a bitter, cold wind and shoes full of goatheads, but as I again voiced my frustration with all the messages I hear on a regular basis to do more, be more, serve more to God, he responded with, “Take a look at those ruts in the dirt.”

“You mean the ruts that are filled with ice because it’s REALLY COLD out here?” I snarked.

“Yes, child, those ruts. What have I been teaching you about your mental ruts and what you need to do to put an end to this spinning of your mind right now?”

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

RESET

I’ve been reading a fascinating little book called Habits, by Charlotte Mason, in which she likens the mental pathways we develop through constant use to ruts in a dirt road. Our brains take the path of least resistance, so once a habit or path of thinking has developed, it’s very hard to get out of that rut, in much the same way it’s hard to drive a bicycle or car out of a deep rut. To change a habit or rut, we need to intentionally substitute a different habit or insert a distraction that will cut across the path and allow a new one to be developed.

My personal take on this has been to visualize a distraction – squirrel! – as a mental reset button. When my thoughts take a nose dive and I begin the downward spiral (of dwelling on things outside my control, obsessing over how I measure up to someone else’s standard, fill in the blank with miscellaneous fears/hang-ups…), I can follow that well-worn path (developed over a lifetime of struggling with insecurity/people-pleasing) OR hit the reset button.

What is the Reset Button?
I can’t tell you exactly what the reset button is – well, at least what it is for you. For me, the reset button is any brief, pleasant distraction that shifts my focus away from the endless loop of negative thinking and gets me off the merry-go-round so I can start over with a more positive mindset. In the circumstance above, taking a walk with God was my reset button. (But watching a short, funny “Tonight Show” video also works!)

[Disclaimer: The reset button is not procrastinating and putting off things you should be doing. The reset button distraction is not a substitute for dealing with real problems that require attention.]

The value of the reset button is not that it solves problems, but that it changes your frame of mind from a negative one to a refreshed, more positive one, which then enables you to think more clearly and deal more effectively with whatever issues you’re facing. The reset button is especially useful when you’re having one of those “I overslept, then was grumpy with the kids who, in turn, were grumpy at me, and when I tried to salvage the day by making flatbread, it tasted…well…flat, so I tried to broil some cheese on top and ended up burning it, making the whole house smell terrible” kind of days. When nothing is going right, a reset button allows you to make a clean break and start over.

The Reset Button For Your Family
I recently taught this survival skill to my 14-year-old – and if anyone needs to learn how to reset a bad hormone/mood-swing day, it’s teenagers! After a miserable morning that climaxed at math time (shocker), I finally yelled (yes yelled), “Stop! Go outside for 15 minutes and get some exercise.” When he came back inside, we agreed on a reset button activity for him; he can set a timer for 5 minutes and read Calvin and Hobbes to get off the bummer train whenever his mood swings take him for a ride. (Longer than 5 minutes would likely lead to procrastination, and we discussed the difference between the two.) After his reset, we returned to math and were able to see the solutions to the problems that stumped him earlier. (I wish someone had told me that I did not need to be ruled by my emotions when I was a teenager, marinating my mind in depressing music and wallowing in my melancholy like a pig in the mud.)

The 2-part Reset
After my husband got separated from the kids and me at a crowded theme park and was ready to call it quits and go home by the time he found us, we were able to salvage the day with a 2-part reset. We did not say a word while we stood in line because if there’s anything I’ve learned after nearly 20 years of marriage, it’s that you cannot talk someone out of a bad mood. After a few minutes, however, I silently started handing out snacks, since it had been several hours since we’d eaten. Sometimes a reset button requires addressing a physical need like hunger, a need for exercise (in my son’s case above), or a good night’s sleep first.

After we started eating, I noticed some machines that looked like they were supposed to set off “explosives” along the edge of the ride, so I silently walked over and began turning the crank and pressing down on the lever until BOOM, we saw water spray up into the air along the fake canyon of the ride. Suddenly, all 4 of us were excitedly winding cranks and setting off explosions until we got on the ride and forgot the woes we left behind as we enjoyed the roller-coaster.

Part 2 of a family reset is setting an example by taking the first step out of the rut and engaging in an inviting distraction without prodding your family to join you. The 2-part reset button of snacks and a distraction enabled us to break from the negative mindset we were in and move on in order to enjoy the remainder of the evening. Contrary to the feeling of our momentary frustration, a bad circumstance does not have to equal a bad day! (Again, why couldn’t I have learned this years ago?)

A Reset for Routine
Sometimes the rut is simply a routine that needs to be shaken up. This year, my focus word is faithfulness, and I’ve realized that in order for me to be faithful to carry on the (sometimes monotonous) work of homeschooling and homemaking, I need to allow myself periodic breaks from routine to refresh and revive my spirit. Last fall, this looked like filling a backpack with fun educational games, activity books, and reading materials, then taking the kids for “park school” and a picnic as our reset.

"He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." - Psalm 23:2-3

“He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” – Psalm 23:2-3

A Reset for Marriage
If there’s any area of our lives that regularly needs a reset it’s our marriage. But rather than wait until we’re in a rut, we’ve learned to be proactive in scheduling resets (a.k.a. date nights). If your whole relationship is consumed by the daily grind of life and raising a family, you’re in danger of bitterness and resentment carving ruts. (If you find yourself regularly dwelling on something that irks you about your spouse, then a reset is in order.) A weekly date night helps to reset our relationship by providing a break from our everyday routine in order to just have fun together. (I’m less likely to get hung up on the toilet paper being replaced the wrong way – and yes, there is a right way – if we’re still laughing over how the instructor for our weekly swing dance class keeps calling my husband by the wrong name.)

If you’re in a “we can’t figure out how to make a date night happen” rut, a weekly date night doesn’t have to be on the weekend, doesn’t have to require a babysitter, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Here are some of the variations we’ve tried, which I hope will inspire you to be creative and, most importantly, get a reset date on the calendar soon (and if you’re too busy to make time for your marriage, you are just plain too busy and need to look for some activities to cut, dear one):

  • Midweek Coffee or Ice Cream Date – Drop the kids off at church on Wednesday night, then head to McDonald’s for the cheapest cup of coffee in town – if there’s no climbing structure, it counts as a date restaurant. We order 2 cups of decaf for $2 (or in the summer, order ice cream sundaes) and chat about things we’re reading or big picture dreams (like what we’d do if we had no debt – a fun and motivating conversation starter). God cares about your marriage, so ditch the guilt over ditching Wednesday night church in order to nurture your marriage. (We don’t skip Sundays, however.)
  • Walk, Talk, and Sip Date – Take a walk together on Saturday or Sunday afternoon – put the kids in a stroller or on bikes to go with you if they’re too young to leave at home – ending with a cup of (hot or cold) tea or coffee WITHOUT THE KIDS at home. Since you’re saving money by having a date at home, splurge on some fancy cocoa, coffee creamer or flavored teas that you like. Our favorite homemade treat is a Rum Mocha: 3 c. (8 oz. each) hot coffee, 2 envelopes cocoa mix, 1/4 c. half-and-half (or almond milk or whatever milk is on hand), 3/4 tsp. rum extract. Combine in a saucepan over medium heat and pour into 2 large mugs. Top with canned whipped cream and enjoy in whatever nook of your home is clean and/or pretty. So long, Starbucks!
  • Bedroom Date – Set up a date night in whatever part of your home you feel is beautiful and/or clean. (We invested in an electric fireplace for our bedroom and bought extra twinkle lights at Christmas to put on a fake tree next to it. It transformed our boring bedroom with hand-me-down, 1970’s, plywood and veneer furniture into a cozy little getaway. Worth. Every. Penny.) If your kids are pre-school age or younger, put them to bed first. If they’re older, let them fix themselves a nutritious dinner of microwave corndogs and chips (God bless you Foster Farms, for giving us gluten free corn dogs), while you order take-out or heat up something easy but special for the two of you. (Costco and Trader Joe’s have lots of fun, gluten free, heat-and-eat options.) Put in a movie for the kids in the family room while the two of you enjoy a leisurely dinner and conversation together in your room or wherever you can carve out a date space. If it’s been a rough week, watch a funny movie or show together to unwind or give each other back rubs. Oh, and don’t forget the dessert!

Why Does the Reset Work?
Back to that picture I took of the ugly ruts. The next day, I woke up to blue sky with a blanket of snow covering the ugly, muddy ruts, reminding me that each day is a new day with fresh hope in a God who blankets us with his grace to start over (as many times as it takes in order to break free of the rut). As I headed back out to the dirt path, this time with warm sunshine on my face (and camera in my pocket), I was reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Romans 12:2 (NLT):

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but let God transform you by changing the way you think.

Those negative thoughts that sent my brain into a tizzy the day before were the pressures I – we all – feel to conform to the pattern of the world to be always striving, always comparing ourselves to others (and never measuring up). But by the grace of God I can exit the rut and start a new path. By the grace of God, my family and my marriage can move out of ruts as we continue to place our hope in God who makes all things new.

Marking a new path.

Marking a new path.

The walk I took with God the day before was the distraction I needed to remind me that God is not calling me to do more, but rather inviting me to live differently, to rise above the old patterns of thinking and knee-jerk responses to disappointments, and allow him to teach me to to be more joyful. Yes, there is more to this life. There is more joy, more love, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that God wants to develop in me if I will stop looking down at the rut and instead look up.

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Utilizing the reset button is one way that God is transforming me by literally changing the wiring of my brain as I cooperate with him when he makes me aware that I need to change the direction of my thinking. Just because certain neural-pathways have been well traveled for 40 years does not mean that I am stuck in a rut forever! God is able to transform me into a more positive, joyful person when I yield to the nudge to shift my focus off of whatever is irritating me – whether it’s the winter blahs, the pressure to conform to the world’s standard for (unattainable) success, a string of unpleasant circumstances, or a hormone-induced mood swing – and accept God’s gift of grace to choose to momentarily focus on something that brings me (and my family) joy and reminds me that God is the giver of all good things. The power to change comes from God, the reset button is the tool he’s given me to help me transition out of my ruts, and the result is a more joyful life that benefits both me and my loved ones. Glory to God!

God, examine me and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any bad thing in me.
    Lead me on the road to everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 (NCV)

 

 

This delicious, holiday breakfast cake is full of fiber, protein and pumpkiny goodness that won’t spike your blood sugar or cause you to gain weight. (We’ll leave that job to Grandma’s sugar cookies and fudge.) Nicely spiced with cinnamon and vanilla, there’s just enough sweetness (from only 1/2 c. honey!) to compliment the tartness of the cranberries. If you don’t care for fresh (or frozen) cranberries, you can substitute dried cranberries, although they are heavily sweetened with sugar.

Using a half coconut flour, half almond flour blend delivers a wonderful texture and moist crumb that lasts for over a week in the fridge, which makes this a great make-ahead recipe for your gluten free or dieting guests.  (Check with strict Paleo guests to make sure they’re okay with the xanthan gum and baking powder; everything else is Paleo. You can omit these ingredients, but it will affect the texture and rise.) If you’re not a fan of coconut, rest assured that there are so many other flavors going on in this recipe that you’ll get all the health benefits of coconut flour without tasting it!

Although this resembles a muffin more than a cake in terms of sweetness, baking it like a cake in a 9″x13″ pan makes the equivalent of 2-dozen muffins without all the scooping (and yes, I’m just that lazy). This is one of my daily breakfast choices that helps me maintain my weight loss, but if you’re looking for a holiday treat to please your sweet tooth, check out my gluten free caramel sticky buns and bacon-wrapped smokies. However, with the guilt-free breakfast below, you can have your (breakfast) cake and eat it too!

Pumpkin Cranberry Cake

Grain-Free Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cake

1 very ripe medium banana
½ c. pumpkin puree
6 eggs
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. xanthan gum, slightly rounded
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ c. almond flour (fine flour, not coarse almond meal)
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ c. fresh or frozen cranberries

Break banana into chunks and place in a large mixer bowl. (The riper the better; just cut out any black parts.) Mash using the paddle attachment until the banana is pureed and smooth. Mix in pumpkin puree. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well on medium speed after each addition. Add salt.

Pour the coconut flour into the mixer through a sifter or sieve to separate the coconut flour clumps. (You may have to press some remaining coconut flour balls through the wires.) Add the baking powder and xanthan gum, then mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides, until the batter is smooth.

Melt butter in a glass liquid measuring cup. Add honey until you have 1 c. total liquid; stir a little to soften honey. Add to the mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Add almond flour, cinnamon and baking soda to mixer and mix until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in cranberries.

Spread mixture into a greased, 9”x13” baking pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (if using a glass pan – less for a dark, nonstick pan, and possibly longer in a disposable foil pan) or until the top springs back when pressed in the center of the cake. This will get pretty dark because of the pumpkin and almond flour, so don’t worry if it looks overdone!

Serve warm. Store cooled cake tightly covered in the fridge for up to 10 days. Serves 12.

This easy-to-assemble, deliciously creamy cheesecake is a gluten free version of a recipe I found for the Cheesecake Factory pumpkin cheesecake.  I reduced the recipe to fit an 8″ round disposable aluminum pan (see note), which eliminates the need for a springform pan since you can bend the edge of the pan down to easily release a slice. (It also eliminates the need to wash your pan!) This recipe makes 8 large slices (pictured below) or 10 smaller slices. If you want to double the recipe for more guests, I’d recommend using 2 pans rather than a 10″ springform pan because long, skinny cheesecake slices are impossible to cut and serve neatly.

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Crust Substitutions
Because I like a hint of pecans with pumpkin desserts, I substituted pecans ground in a food processor for some of the graham cracker crumbs in the original recipe. (Be careful to grind them just until they resemble crumbs; if you grind too long you’ll end up with nut butter!) I used the gluten free Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs, but you could make the crumbs by crushing or processing in a food processor whole S’morables. (While putting in links just now, I discovered that Pamela’s also makes gluten free graham crackers.) If you need a nut-free dessert, simply substitute additional graham cracker crumbs. Or, if you can’t find gluten free graham crackers in your area, try using gluten free ginger snap crumbs and omit the sugar. Pamela’s, Mi-Del’s, and Trader Joe’s gluten free ginger snaps are all good.

This cheesecake tastes better and better each day, so it’s the perfect dessert to make a day or two before Thanksgiving. I haven’t tried freezing it, but most cheesecakes freeze well. If you freeze it, be sure to cover it with a layer of plastic wrap and foil, then thaw it in the fridge at least 24 hrs. before serving.

For more holiday recipes, type “Thanksgiving” or “Holiday” in the search bar on my blog. And while you’re at it, check out my yummy GF pumpkin pancake or grain free pumpkin cranberry muffin recipes to use up your leftover pumpkin. Happy holidays!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust:
1 c. GF graham cracker crumbs (see crust notes above)
1/3 c. ground pecans
1 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, melted

Filling:
2 pkgs. cream cheese, softened
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
2 eggs
¾ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ea. allspice, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients for crust in a disposable, 8” round foil pan.  (Note: I bought the kind that comes with a paper/foil lid at the dollar store, and while it says 9″ pan on the label, the bottom of the pan measures 8 inches.) Stir in melted better and toss with a fork until combined. Press into bottom and partway up sides of pan. Bake 5 minutes, then set aside until ready to fill.

Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in mixer. Mix on medium-low until lumps disappear. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into crust and smooth the top.

Place crust in a 9”x13” pan filled with 1 in. water. Bake 55-65 minutes until just set and the top appears dull. (If it’s cracked it’s overdone.)  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack (out of water bath) for 10 min. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to release the edges, then continue to let cool until room temperature. Cover carefully and refrigerate overnight. (You don’t want any plastic wrap to touch the top of the cheesecake, but you also don’t want it to taste like the leftover pizza in your fridge.)

Serve with whipped cream and additional pecans or caramel sauce or crushed ginger snaps – or all of it!

After a lovely summer of letting my children forage for their breakfast most days, I decided to celebrate our first cool, fall day with some I-can’t-believe-these-are-gluten-free ooey, gooey, caramel sticky buns. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but as those are tricky to make gluten free and require a lot of work, these little bites of heaven satisfy their desire for sweet rolls and my desire to not curse while baking.

Now if you are a more recent follower of my blog, you’ve probably come to expect low sugar, grain free or otherwise healthy recipes from me. This recipe is…um…not those things. But sometimes you need a recipe that will knock the socks off of a gluten-free skeptic, and so I feel obligated to share with you the mouth-watering result of my combining and tweaking the Namaste biscuit and Pillsbury Caramel Sticky Bun recipes. Happy fall baking (or whatever excuse you need to make these)!

Sticky Buns

Biscuit Ingredients:
2/3 c. milk + 2 tsp. white vinegar (to make buttermilk)
1 egg
1/2 c. very cold butter
2 c. Namaste Flour Blend (or other GF flour blend + 1 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt (I just eyeballed a scant tsp.)
1/8 tsp. baking soda (omit if using other milk besides buttermilk)

Biscuit Coating:
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. butter, melted

Caramel Topping:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla (vanilla flavoring, not vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pop the 1/2 c. butter for the biscuits in the freezer to get it nice and cold. Put the 3 T. butter for the biscuit coating in a microwave safe bowl and set aside. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the biscuit coating in another bowl and set aside.

In a 1 c. liquid measuring cup, combine 2/3 c. milk with 2 tsp. white vinegar and stir to make buttermilk. (Using buttermilk really does make a difference in the texture of the biscuits, but if you need to use a dairy free milk, skip this step and omit the vinegar and baking soda.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine the flour (plus xanthan gum if using a GF blend that does not contain any xanthan or guar gum), sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda (only if using buttermilk, which is needed to activate the soda). Take the butter out of the freezer and chop it into 8 slices, cutting each of those into quarters until it’s all in little cubes.

Toss half of the cubes in the flour mixture with the fork to coat. (This makes it easier to cut in butter without it all sticking together.) Using a pastry blender or two knives, start cutting in the butter. Add the remaining cubes and coat with flour, then cut in the butter until it is all in pea-sized or smaller crumbles. (And when you’re all done, recall that you have a food processor in the garage that is meant to make short work of projects such as this, then kick yourself for not remembering sooner.)

Place the 1/4 c. butter for the caramel topping in an ungreased, deep 8″x8″ pan and pop it in the oven to melt while you form the biscuits. (You really do need a pan with deep sides because the caramel will bubble up, and I can tell you from personal experience what a travesty it is to have the precious, yummy caramel bubble over onto the oven liner, making the whole house smell like burnt sugar for days. Heed this warning, gentle reader, lest ye suffer likewise.)

Crack the egg into the buttermilk and mix well with a fork. Stir this into the flour mixture with the fork until just combined. Place a little extra flour in a measuring cup to dip your fingers in to keep the biscuit dough from sticking to them. With floured fingers, pull off  2-3 T.-sized chunks of dough and roll into a ball, then gently flatten into a smallish biscuit on a piece of waxed paper. (The size/number is up to you; the smaller the biscuit, the more surface area is covered with sugar and the more servings you have. I ended up with 15.) Continue until all the dough is rolled into biscuits, occasionally checking on the butter in the oven to see if it’s melted.

Remove pan with melted butter from the oven (before it browns). Stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until you have a buttery caramel, occasionally swatting away fingers of children who wish to sample the caramel.

Melt butter for biscuit coating in the microwave, about 30 seconds. Dip biscuits into the butter, then coat in the sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside AGES ago. (We’re almost there!!) Place biscuits on top of the caramel mixture in the pan, overlapping as necessary to make them all fit.

Bake 20-25 minutes until golden and biscuits are no longer doughy in the center. Let cool for 2 minutes (while you pour a cup of coffee or heat some sausage to serve with these in an effort to avert a sugar-coma).

Place an upside-down pretty serving plate on top of the pan (so your family will recognize that this is a special occasion and acknowledge your efforts accordingly) and, using oven mitts – duh – carefully invert the pan onto the serving plate. Spoon any remaining caramel from the pan onto the rolls (or save it for yourself as a reward for later if your family fails to give you the proper praise). Serve immediately.

After a year of tweaking my Paleo pancake recipe, I finally found the secret to delicious, grain-free, refined sugar-free pancakes that don’t turn into scrambled pancake – *#$*@%* – on my griddle. (There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for the treachery of banana/egg/coconut flour pancakes that stick to the griddle in a gloppy mess.) “So Brenda, what did you learn from your year of trial and error?” asked no one. Well, I’m going to tell you in great detail anyway, because it has been a loooooong process of discovery that must be documented.

Moist and Pliable…
The secret to pliable, easy to flip pancakes was right there in my gluten-free baking supplies: xanthan gum, which replaces the gluten in GF baking and keeps breads from being crumbly. To the Paleo purists it is off limits, but to those of us who prefer to eat our pancakes with a fork and not a spoon, xanthan gum is our friend (and is a totally benign ingredient, so I’m okay with it).

It also helps greatly if you cook grain-free pancakes in a generous amount of bacon grease or coconut oil. I usually start with the grease left on the griddle after cooking some bacon – oh yeah – and add coconut oil as needed to keep it greased. The other key ingredient is almond milk (unsweetened for a totally refined sugar-free pancake, or original if that’s what you have on hand), which helps to smooth out the batter and make it less eggy.

While making gluten free pancakes from scratch with grains for my family, I discovered that “regular” pancakes use both baking soda and baking powder. The baking soda makes them brown nicely, while the baking powder adds extra leavening. While most Paleo recipes shun baking powder – it contains cornstarch! gasp! – I find that adding it really makes a difference in making grain-free pancakes less dense and heavy. It also helps to lighten them up if you beat the eggs well in the mixer while making your batter.

Yet Healthy and Filling
I’ve made pancakes with just coconut flour, but I prefer to combine it with almond flour for better texture and less coconutty flavor. Coconut flour is full of fiber and good-for-you stuff, but almond flour is high in protein and lower in carbs, so the two combined provide a filling breakfast that will keep you energized until lunch (and keep cravings for carbs/sweets at bay, which is why this breakfast is a key component of my weight loss success).  You can make these with melted coconut oil instead of butter for a totally dairy-free option, but I prefer the taste/texture of pancakes made with melted butter (probably because the coconut oil starts to harden in the batter).

Full of Flavor with No Refined Sugar
I eat these tasty pancakes with a hint of sweetness every day, and add variety by topping them with whatever berries are in season (sometimes with a little canned whipped cream for a decadent treat). However, there’s so much flavor from the pure maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and bananas that I usually just spread a little butter on them and that’s it.

Grain Free Pancakes

Grain-free, Refined Sugar-free Pancakes

1 very ripe banana (brown peel)
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
6 eggs
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (for salted butter, cut salt to 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. pure maple syrup (I’ve used honey, but prefer the hint of maple)
2/3 c. coconut flour
1/3 c. almond flour (not almond meal)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 – 3/4 c. almond milk (unsweetened for refined sugar-free pancakes)
Bacon grease and/or coconut oil for cooking

Break the banana into chunks and mash in the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment. (If it’s not overripe, you may want to put your hands over the top of the bowl when you start the mixer, to avoid flying bananas that rain down like manna from heaven on your dog who is constantly underfoot in the kitchen precisely because of moments such as this.) When the banana is a thick puree, add applesauce. Mix in eggs, 2 at a time, beating until foamy after each addition.

Melt butter in a liquid measuring cup, then add maple syrup to the butter. (I just add syrup to the melted butter until it reaches the 1/2 c. mark, and stir it a little to make it easy to pour.) Add butter/syrup mixture to the mixing bowl and mix well.

At this point, I usually start cooking the bacon on the griddle. Mmmm…bacon.

Measure coconut flour and pour through a sifter into the batter. (If you don’t have a sifter, don’t worry, but it does help to incorporate the coconut flour without chunks.) Add remaining ingredients except almond milk and mix well. Slowly mix in almond milk. The batter will be thick.

Preheat griddle to 325 degrees (which is cooler than you’d use for regular pancakes, but because of the high egg content you need to allow more time to cook without over-browning). Spoon about 1/4 c. batter onto well-greased griddle, adding more coconut oil as needed, and gently spread out batter with the back of a spoon. (It will not spread on its own, like regular pancakes, so gently spread it out into a 4″-4.5″ circle.) When the outside edges appear dry, they’re ready to be flipped. They take a little longer to cook on the first side than regular pancakes, but quickly brown on the second side and are ready to be removed.

These stay soft and pliable in the fridge for a week and freeze well.  This recipe makes about 18 pancakes.

Reheating Tip: Since these are delicate on the surface, butter before you reheat them in the microwave to avoid tearing. In the fall, I like to skip the butter and top them with cranberry apple spread from Trader Joe’s, which only has 4 g. sugar per tablespoon. So good!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 151 other followers