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Last night, I couldn’t sleep after having had a special time with my mom in which the veil of Dementia was lifted and she told me she loved me for the first time since her stroke, nearly 3 years ago. My grief bubbled to the surface as I acknowledged that she is approaching the finish line of her time here on earth, and I will be losing someone who was once my dearest friend. So I came downstairs to work through my emotions with God, my Counselor. He said, “Come out to the patio. I have something to show you.”

Dear reader who is struggling with loss or pain today, I invite you to join me on the patio. Pull up a rocking chair next to me and let your gaze fall upon this image God wanted to show me in my backyard. Hear God’s precious words to me (and, perhaps, to you today).

Church steeple and cross

I died on the cross because of my great love for you. I died for your mom and all who would believe in me, so that I could make a way to bring you home to me someday. I died and was raised to life so that you also may also be raised to life with me forever, so rejoice! When I come to get your mom, although you will no longer see her, she will see me in glory!

Stand up and walk to the corner of your yard. Look at the fireworks happening right now across town. Those fireworks are nothing compared to the celebration in heaven when one of my faithful followers is received into glory. Now look behind you at the approaching lightning storm. This is where you stand: the storm of life on earth is bearing down upon you, flashing around you, while you strain to see the future glory of heaven in the distance. But in between them, right next to you, is the cross, the symbol of my love for you and presence with you. While you stand in this place between sorrow and hope, you must choose to fix your eyes on me. 

The storm is approaching. Feel the wind as it picks up speed, drying your tears and cooling down the hot, summer air.  I asked you to bring a blanket out with you because even though it was hot when you first came out, I knew you would need it now. I know what you will need in the coming storm, and you can trust me to provide it before you know you need it.

When the lightning flashes, look at the cross. There are many distractions in this world, but fix your eyes on me and I will keep you from stumbling. The enemy wants to use the lightning and thunder of adversity to scare you, but see how the lightning lights up the cross in the dark night sky each time it flashes? As long as your eyes are on me, the lightning will showcase my glory and goodness. My perfect love casts out all fear.

Listen to the rain as it begins to fall and water the parched ground. The enemy may try to frighten you with lightning, but I send the rain to refresh and restore. Do not fear the storm because there are blessings for you in it. In this season, I want you to not hunker down until the storm passes by, but sing in the midst of it.”

And so I sang. Hymns and choruses I haven’t sung in years, rocking in my chair beneath the patio shelter and the blanket God knew I would need. Thunder rolled, lightning continued to flash, and my words rose to heaven: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

As the rain subsided I looked to the cross, now barely visible, and was surprised to hear a song request.

Sing that song you sang to me when you were 5 years old in the Christmas musical, dressed up as Tiny the lamb. I loved that one.

Really? Okay… “Sleep, Jesus, sleep. You must rest free from all harm. Sweet lamb of God, precious holy one.”

No, those aren’t the words. The last line is, ‘Sweet lamb of God’s precious child I am.’ Remember that you are my precious child. Long after your mother is gone from this world, you will still be my precious child. I was there through all those memories your mother has now forgotten. She may not be able to remember your past anymore, but I do. I have always been there. I will always be here. The sun has set on the cross today, but it will rise again tomorrow. Keep your eyes on me, my precious child. I love you.

Yes, Father, I will keep my eyes on you and sing your praise in the storm. I love you too.

A while back I mentioned to my husband that since we’re both hanging on by a thread, it’s a good thing our threads are tied together. His response was, “I don’t have a thread; I’m hanging onto yours.” Perhaps you can relate? The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life. In addition to the the time-consuming, strict diet I’m on in order to heal my intestines and address food sensitivities, I’m also helping out my parents 2 or 3 days a week, as they adjust to my mom’s loss of abilities due to her vascular dementia (a terminal illness that gets progressively worse). Add to that the high stakes pressure of homeschooling high school and you have a recipe for a breakdown. And that’s pretty much what happened last week.

But sometimes a breakdown is exactly what we need because we finally realize we can’t keep going on in the same way. Something has to change. As I cried out to God in frustration, I realized that the change I needed was to let go of the thread of hope in my circumstances getting easier, and grab onto the thread of hope in God to walk with me through whatever comes today and tomorrow. Hope in circumstances will often disappoint us, but hope in God never disappoints. As I began to shift my focus off of my discouragement and onto God, the following path for navigating this season of my life began to unfold. If you’re also dealing with a stress trifecta in your life right now, I invite you to join me on this path of hope.

Remember That There Is a Purpose in this Season – But It’s Still Just a Season
The overlap of all these stressful situations in my life makes each one feel enormous, but the truth is that eventually my mom’s mind and body will be healed in heaven; eventually my kids will graduate from high school and I will no longer be homeschooling; eventually I will be able to incorporate more food into my diet and find a new normal. All of these things are part of this season, but it will not last forever. I cannot plan my way out of this season (no matter how hard I keep trying to do just that!) or control how long it will last, but I can rest in the knowledge that God is still working out his plan for my life in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What if the difficult season we’re in is exactly where we need to be in order for God’s higher purpose to be accomplished in us? What if the heat and pressure I feel is part of God’s refining process in answer to my prayer to make me more like Christ? If holiness is a higher pursuit than happiness, then perhaps God occasionally needs to accomplish the former at the expense of the latter in me.

Pray For God to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
One of the threads I’d been hanging onto was the hope that if I just did high school “right,” then everything in my oldest’s life would turn out right. But the problem with putting your hope in your plans is that it is usually accompanied by terrifying fear when something – like life – interrupts those plans.  Panic set in when I realized that having to be increasingly involved in helping my parents meant I couldn’t do high school the way I had planned. But into my frantic heart, God whispered an invitation to trust him to meet my needs by simply asking him each day to give me my daily bread, then resting in his provision. So I let go of that fabulous high school plan I’d carefully crafted for my son. In this season, I am learning to take life one day at a time, trusting God to point me in the right direction each day. So far the result has been a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in our home, more interest-led learning because that has once again become a higher priority than checking things off a list, a better relationship with my kids because I’m nagging less and listening more, and my digestive issues are finally healing as I am slowing down and focusing on just one or two goals a day (since the underlying cause of my issues, I’m convinced, is stress).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Receive Your Daily Bread With Gratitude – Even If It’s Squash Pancakes
Many aspects of my life are beyond my control right now, but I can control my attitude. I can choose to resent my situation and spend all my energy bemoaning my woes in an endless loop. Or I can choose to celebrate life with my mom and treasure those moments when I see glimpses of the woman who lovingly raised me. I can choose to focus on making memories and building relationships with my kids in their remaining years at home, instead of worrying about what will happen when they leave. I can choose gratitude for what I have instead of pining away for what is lost. It is not easy to choose gratitude for what you have when it’s not the thing you wanted, but the Apostle Paul – who knew all about suffering – offers us the key to unlocking the secret of contentment in all circumstances:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:12-13

Did you catch that? The secret to contentment is strength from God. I can’t do it on my own, but God invites me to pray for the strength to face each day, whether I feel well fed or hungry. I’m learning to accept that my literal “daily bread” right now is squash pancakes, and though my daily bread may not taste great, it is enough. What I’m doing for my parents and kids is enough. Because God is enough.

I Can Let Go of My Thread Because God is Already Hanging Onto Me
When life doesn’t turn out the way we’d planned, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the change and unrest around us. But God does not leave us alone to struggle through difficult seasons. In fact, in my personal experience, God is even closer during times of trial because he is inviting me to put my faith to the test – not to see if I will pass, but to see that HE is faithful in all circumstances. We may never know how big God is until we take our eyes off of the wind and waves and look to the One who is right there with us in the storm, whispering to our heart, “Peace, be still.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2

Notice that the above verses don’t say “if” but “when” you feel like you’re drowning in your circumstances. Look up. See his hand of protection covering you from waves of bitterness and despair. As children of God, we are constantly reminded in scripture to not be afraid; not because we have nothing to fear, but because God has promised he will never abandon us. We can let go of our death grip on being in control of our circumstances because we know that God will never let go of us.

Accept That This New Thread Can Be Part of Something Beautiful
When we moved into our house, I carefully measured and planned our landscaping in the backyard. Ten years later, almost nothing I envisioned has worked out the way I planned. The raspberry bushes took over the corner of the yard and grew over one of my bushes. The elegant white rose bushes I planted both died, then came back to life as smaller, red roses. (What the what?!!) The neighbor’s lilacs and lilies grew under the fence. And you know what? It’s all beautiful! If I had held onto my original vision and yanked out the spreading raspberry bushes, I would have missed out on the abundance of delicious berries we enjoy and share each year. (And the bush that they covered was not meant for full sun, and was dying anyway.) The rosebushes I planted looked sickly every year, and every time we had a gusty wind all the petals would blow off. But whatever this other variety is that took over happens to be hardy and better able to tolerate our growing conditions. And the lilacs make my day every time I look out my window. I had such great plans when we moved in…but had no clue what I was doing. I’m learning that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Perhaps letting go of my plans will clear a path for something even better.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we're going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we’re going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

So I’m letting go of my thread, hanging on to God, and believing that the tapestry of my life that God is weaving will be something so breathtakingly beautiful that I will someday fall to my knees in wonder and say, “Yes, I see it now.” Until then, I will have to see the beauty in God’s plan with eyes of faith, believing that the God who turns ashes into beauty will grow something beautiful in me. Right here. In this season.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8

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!

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