He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young
. {Isaiah 40:11}

29 February 2012

Marriage and God

Some of you may know that my husband, Brent, took a trip to Africa for 11 days last month during the very same time that my very special guests came for a visit. It was the first time we had been apart for that long and during that time contact was sparse to non-existent. Looking back 11 days doesn’t sound that long but I can assure you that in the midst of that it may has well have been a month.
Now… some of you may also know that I love a challenge. But I suspect that very few of you know to what depth. For example, I HATE emptying the dishwasher so I often time myself (aiming for under 2 minutes) or determine how many moves from the dishwasher to the cabinets will be required to empty the load. So for me, I did my absolute best to come up with some sort of personal challenge to get me through those 11 days.
What I noticed, in those days leading up to his departure, was that my biggest concerns were not for his safety while traveling for hours over an open ocean or even that he was headed to one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Rather, I realized that I was going to miss the companionship of my best friend, my “bud”.  And this is where I found my challenge…
I have heard time and time again that God likens our relationship with our husband with our relationship with Him. I began to wonder what the specific similarities there are as well as what made my daily marriage and communion with Brent so easy while I often struggle to maintain any valuable connection with God. 
As I thought about all of this many questions came to mind and I wanted to share some of it with you…
First, Brent and I wrote one another letters. One for each night that we were apart. I found that it was incredibly hard to wait to read Brent's letters to me. I had the stack of letters sitting on my night stand and wanted them to be the very last thoughts I took in each night. Meanwhile my Bible lays on my night stand right next to my pile of letters and well within reach and yet I often have to force myself to read it's words. It's a love letter from my Heavenly Father. It is full of His words of how He loves me and I am His special and chosen child. It tells me about how He is preparing a place for me to be with Him forever so that we never have to spend a day apart. I cannot think of even one time that I have put off reading His words to me solely so they could be the last words that grace my thoughts before I fall asleep. Instead, I'm usually happy to consume my thoughts with my own concerns and desires as I pray myself to sleep. I tell myself that it’s sweet and nice to end my day in prayer but then I ask myself “What would my relationship with Brent look like if I treated him that way?”  I realize how selfish and one sided it would be. There would be no depth because he would know all about me and what I think and I would know nothing about him because I never took the time to get to know him. To hear his thoughts. That's not a passionate, long-lasting relationship. That is what you do with your therapist but in God's case, He doesn't even get paid.
When Brent had only been gone for 24 hours, I stood in church singing songs of praise and glory to God. Now, I can't say that I do this very often in my marriage… certainly not as often as Brent would like… but I can tell you that there are often times where my mind is so consumed with life and everything in it that my praises are just words. I belt them out…often in harmony. I can close my eyes. I know the lyrics well. And I can feel nothing. I don’t mean to say that I believe you must have goosebumps to truly commune with God but for me, I know the difference between holy surrender and “talking the talk”. I thought about how this would look with my husband and what it’s effects would be and I pictured myself extolling his goodness and generosity while texting a friend or blowdrying my hair. I would seem uncommitted and insincere to say the least. Once again, it would be bad for our marriage.
There were other things…like…when something happened... and I mean anything... Brent was the first person I wanted to tell. It could have been exciting or depressing, major or minute, victorious or defeating, about me or someone I know. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted Brent to know about it.
I find that most often I only go to God when I want something be it material goods, sleep, patience, or health, I often treat Him like a magic genie or, at best, a "Sugar Daddy". As the bride of Christ, I make a lousy spouse. My passions and desires are not for my beloved. They are steeped in the me-ness of my life and, once again, one sided. I would be a miserable friend and a unpleasant lover if all I ever did was ask of my husband and not offer care, love, compassion, and willingness to lay my desires aside.
Along with the above, I had a particularly rough night with the kids one night. After a full week and a day with no husband we all had one big giant melt down. Yes. Me included. In the midst of it I was able to pray for wisdom and peace but I couldn't shake the thought that it was time for Brent to come home. Up until this point I was surprised at how well I was doing. It took 9 days for the kids and I to have a bad moment. I had worked hard, I had been extra patient, I gave the kids extra time to get things done and gave them more freedom then normal. By the time our “bad moment” arrived I was tired. I was at my end. I nearly cried as I allowed my frustrations of "going it alone" bubbled to the surface. The problem… I got all the way to my wits end and I then began to feel entitled to Brent's presence. What was it that took me so long to realize my need for help. Why didn't I begin to want his help until I was at my breaking point?
I find that I often do this with God. I wait until the very end, when I’ve “done all I can do”, I’ve come to the end of me and THEN I ask for His “help”. The reality is that I never need to struggle and work hard at it to begin with and all my water treading just exhausts me but leaves me where I started. God cares for me, and all I have to do is ask. Why do I needlessly struggle when He’s there all along?
As the week went on, I began to see my “personal challenge” change. At first I thought that this time apart would show me what I was missing out on with my relationship with God as it stands. Over time I began to wonder if it was more a chance to see what it would be like if I didn't have the relationship with God to begin with. Every day things reminded me of what my usual day to day includes with Brent. Things like “quiet coffee" when the kids go to bed, his warm hairy leg to rub against at night, kisses as we pass closely in the kitchen, someone to share my strange and simple thoughts with, my feelings with, my frustrations with, someone to bring my concerns to God with, someone to speak inside jokes to. So often it only takes a single word or a look and we'll be bent over laughing together. Only a moment would go by before another reminder of my husband came along. How long could I stand to be without him?

Back to the letters that Brent wrote me… Why don't I drip with anticipation to read God's love letters to me each and every day? I've take the availablity of Him for granted. I've expected Him to be handy when I need Him and, in essence, use Him to my gain and comfort. I've come to understand that I don't need my husband by my side and I don't need to be by his but the fact is that I WANT to. In contrast, I NEED Christ and yet I don't see m to want Him and I wonder, why is that?
As I prepared for Brent’s return I went through the house and picked up all the clutter, all the stray toys, and all the dirty clothes. I wiped down shelves, cabinets, bathrooms, and I emptied the sink of dirty dishes. I readied the house for his return because I knew that he would appreciate the work I had done while he was gone, he would be grateful that his investment in our house wouldn't be wasted or left uncared for while he was away. He expected me to maintain his possessions and his children while he was gone and I did everything I could to ensure that he would be happy when he got home. As I cleaned, I began to wonder how I would have handled the mess if I hadn’t known when he would return? I'm a neat freak by nature so the clutter would have been managed and counters wiped clean but would I have put off the dusting and thorough scrubbing if I knew he could be home at any moment? Christ promised to return in His time and I often wonder how prepared I am for this. I often feel as though I have simply put away the clutter that I look ready for a quick glance. The thing is, God doesn’t promise a quick once over when He returns. He promises that one day I will stand alone before Him to give account for every thing I have done. Do I live my life to be “white glove” ready?
So the day finally came for Brent to come home. My brother was set to pick up Brent and my dad but I decided that the kids and I would drive a little under two hours to pick him up ourselves. I felt like we were dating again as the excitement built for me and I wanted to present myself and our kids at our best. I showered, brushed, dried, "make-uped", primped, perfumed, etc. I dressed the kids in cute clothes, made sure they were clean and ready to see dad. I didn't want my husband to see me half-done, unkempt, or worse, in my usual comfy worn out, faded and stretched sweats. I wanted to present myself to him at my best. Shouldn't I always be ready to present myself before the Lord? Because I do not know the day or the hour, shouldn't I be at my best and in my most presentable state at all times? And the kind of long lasting beauty that I am looking to present to both Hubs and God requires time, work, and preparation. I couldn't just go to the gym, get all dirty, slap on some lipstick and body spray and hope Brent doesn't notice the sweat and hair stuck to my face. I couldn't let myself go and eat all the bon-bons I wanted while he was gone and just before his plane landed run a mile in the hopes it will fix all the damage I’d done. In the same way, I need to prepare myself for Christ's return. I need to be on constant guard against the distractions, temptations, and messes of this world to be ready for Him, blameless and clean and I cannot simply live a messy life and fix it at the last minute.
Though I walked away with a deeper understanding of what it means for me to be the bride of Christ, I am most appreciative of one thing. Time and time again over those 11 days, I was given the gift of seeing that though my love for my husband is deep and vast, it is not what keeps me alive. It is not what sustains me and gives me joy. I could not ask for a better suited man for me and all my quirks but I believe our time apart was a gift that allowed me to better understand where God and Brent should stand in my life and for that I will be forever grateful. 

28 February 2012

Homemade Bird Feeders {Toddler Version}

Spring is coming but isn't quite here and I get a little itchy to be outside. 
I remembered making bird feeders out of pine cones when I was in grade school and figured this would be good for both the kids and I. 
... it was!
One emptied toilet paper roll {or paper towel roll cut into 3 pieces} with holes punched for hanging...
Smear the peanut butter on... the results of this will vary based on your kids...
Pour birdseed into a jelly pan and roll around to press the seed into the butter...
You can either slip the tubes on a branch or hang with thread close to a window so you and the kids can get a front row seat for the pickin's.

I saw a few other ideas and want to give them a shot...

22 February 2012

PB&J Smoothie

We have taken a break from out standard tropical fruit, spinach, kefir, and yogurt smoothie because I made this once and the kids love it!
Yes, they actually ASK for it!
I found the idea at 100 Days of Real Food. Great site!
I vary from the original a bit but the basics are the same and I want to give credit to the originator of the idea...

My Version:   1/3 c yogurt, 1/3 c kefir or milk, 1/3 c peanut butter, 1 banana, 1 c frozen blueberries

Blend together and serve.

20 February 2012

King Cake

Remember when we had some visitors?
Well she just so happens to be a bonafide Louisiana girl!
...and while she was here, she taught me the beauty of the King Cake... which basically means she showed me the recipe she uses and we made one together.
If you're unfamiliar with a King cake you can find plenty of information online about it's long and rich history and how it relates to Mardi Gras {which is tomorrow}.

Flavor-wise it's a sweet yeast bread with a cinnamon and butter center and a sweet sugar topping. It's somewhat moist and reminds me of a cinnamon roll. In other words, it's yummy!
I'm planning to make one tonight for Hubs to try. He wasn't here when we made it and since he is a true northerner I'm not sure he even knows what a king cake is!
Wanna try?

This recipe makes two cakes and does require almost 3 hours of rising and 30 minutes of baking. 

What You'll Need: 
Pastry: 1 c milk, 1/4 c butter, 2 (.25 oz) package dry yeast {4 1/2 t}, 2/3 c warm water, 1/2 c white sugar {divided}, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg, 5 1/2 c all purpose flour

Filling: 1 c packed brown sugar, 1 T ground cinnamon, 2//3 c chopped pecans (optional), 1/2 c all purpose flour, 1/2 c raisins (optional), 1/2 c melted butter, 8 oz cream cheese (optional)

Frosting: 1 c confectioners sugar, 1 T water or milk

What To Do: 
Scald milk {heat to about 180, just below a boil}, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. 
 In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
 When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. 
When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. {I ended up adding over half a cup more to get the texture I needed.}Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half. 
Sorry... no pictures...
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.  

To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, butter and cream cheese. {We tried both fillings and I preferred the one with cream cheese. It was moist and sweet!}

Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.  
Bake in a preheated {375 degree}oven for 30 minutes. If you are familiar with putting a trinket in the cake {in Europe it's often a bean} now's the time to add it by pushing it into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or milk. 
Top with yellow, green and purple sugar. 

16 February 2012

A Night of Family Fun!

Hubs and I had a great night with the kids!
It was a normal night, we had just finished dinner and Hubs and I started the routine of clearing the table, rinsing the dishes, starting the bath for the kids and getting pjs out and ready. The plan was for only CJ to get a bath but Miss Mak wanted in so I figured I'd go ahead and give them the rest of the glow sticks that we used recently when our friend Big D came to visit.
This, once again, kept the two busy till the water got cold {about 45 minutes}
We got the monkeys out and dressed by the light of the dozen or so glow sticks in CJ's room.
Then the silliness began.
Hubs had bought CJ a drum when he was in Africa last month so we played while the kiddos danced and watched each other as they looked like streaks of light around the room.
Hubs had the great idea of catching this on camera and these were the results.
They pictures aren't great but I think they're a beautiful visual of the unhindered spirits of our kids. 

If you'd like to give this a shot, you need glow sticks {or a light source like a flash light}, a very dark room, and a camera with a manual setting that allows you to adjust the shutter speed. These were taken at all different lengths but most around the 5 second mark. You can either hold the camera still and move the lights or keep the stick still and move the camera.
When spelling things out, like we did below, be sure to stand behind the light source and place it between you and the camera. This means you'll need to spell things backwards. Begin writing or "painting" as soon as the shutter is opened and try to get it all done before the shutter closes. The faster you move the more subtle the lines. The longer the light source stays still the more vibrant it will be.
The best part about this is that anything goes so try it out and have fun!
I think the kid's did a much better job but Hubs and I couldn't help but get in on the it too...
I HIGHLY recommend a night like this with your kids!
Total cost: $1.00

14 February 2012

Wallpaper Removal Extravaganza

I've been busy...
I have just one room left to get the wallpaper off of and I've all but decided to leave it and cover it with wainscoting.
No, seriously.
The past couple have days, when I've been home, have been spent in the downstairs guest bath and the craft room.
I warn you, it's not pretty...
While I was in the middle of all of this mess I couldn't help but thinking that the method I use is the absolute simplest and cheapest way I know. There are other more involved and complicated means to get the paper off but with all the wallpapered rooms I have encountered, stubborn and easy, this is, without a doubt, the best way to remove it so if you have any to get down, please, PUHLEASE give this a shot.
If it doesn't work for you, you've wasted nothing but a little time.
If it works for you you'll be elated at the amount of work and stress you've saved yourself.

Step 1: Using a razor edged scraper, remove the top, vinyl-like layer of the wallpaper.
I have used many blades and this one, borrowed from a friend, is by far the best. I am buying the same one after I return this one.

Step 2: Once you've removed the top layer, you'll likely be left with a soft porous paper. Using a spray bottle or sponge, thoroughly soak the paper with water... JUST WATER... a full sheet at a time.
I start with the outer edges first in case any extra glue was put down underneath to keep the edges from curling.
Be sure to thoroughly soak the whole strip so that it is darkened with water and has no patches like the picture above. If you don't soak it, when you begin to pull the paper away, it will tear at the dry spots.

Step 3: Go to the bathroom, check on the kids, make some coffee, whatever you have to do for a solid 5 minutes. Give enough time for the glue to get soft but not so much that it begins to redry. If you wait too long and dry patches begin to reappear, spray them again and wait a few second.

Step 4: Now for the real fun... IF the wall was prepared as it should have been and the paper hasn't been painted over and the paper isn't 100 years old... the paper should fall right off. Use your knife to peel up a corner and then gently, with both hands, begin to slowly peel the paper off.
With this method in the rooms I've been working on I've been able to pull of entire sheets in one pull.

Step 5: When the paper's off, if there are spots with extra glue, use the razor to scrape as much off as you can. If it's a lot, you may want to consider priming the wall to get a smooth finish. Otherwise, wipe the whole wall down with a damp cloth and it's ready to paint!

As for me, this is where we are at...
and with the in-laws coming in this weekend, I've got some serious work to do!

09 February 2012

Valentine's Snack Idea

The kids and I did some light cooking and heavy snacking the other day and wanted to share our goodies with you!
 Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pan.
Measure out 4 cups of mini marshmallows {or a 10oz bag of regular sized}.
Add marshmallows to the melted butter and, over medium heat, melt the marshmallows, stirring occasionally.
{Be sure to taste test the marshmallows to ensure they aren't stale}
Once you've melted the butter and marshmallows together, remove from heat and stir in 6 cups of rice cereal until well incorporated.
 Next, pick your cookie cutter of choice and get a sheet of wax paper, parchment paper, or a silicone mat {a.k.a. non-stick surface} and begin to press some of the somewhat cooled mixture into the cutter shape.
{Lots of taste tests must be made at this juncture... or so my kids seem to think.}
Once well packed, gently push your creation out of the cutter 
{Just because you're able to get in a lick or two at this juncture doesn't mean you need to!}
 You can quit here but why would you when the chocolate is next?!
I melted about 1/2 c of dark chocolate chips in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time, stirring in between each interval. Then I scooped the slightly cooled, melted chips down into the corner of a plastic sandwich bag and snipped the corner to make a piping bag.
Since the kids can't do much for this step I gave them the spoon...
Before the chocolate hardened the kids sprinkled them with rainbow dots and then we let them cool completely before sharing them.
{Disclaimer: No licked or tested treats were shared!}


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