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A Forever Embrace

“…I am with you always…” – Jesus (Matt. 28:20)

“Just one more hug, just one more hug,” my 11-year-old said after I tucked him into bed. Because I have three older sons who are now turning into men, I know this begging for “just one more hug” will not last for long. But, in the meantime, I am enjoying it!

Last week, in the midst of a big bear hug, he whispered, “This is the best part of my day…”, and when we let go of our embrace he said, “…and letting go is the worst part of my day.” That kind of talk does a momma’s heart good, and I soaked in the love of those words expressed so sincerely.

As I pondered those words later, I thought about my time in my Heavenly Father’s embrace. The Creator of the Universe who is in control of all things is available to me, his child, at a moment’s notice. Through prayer and the Word and the leading and comfort of the Holy Spirit, He wraps His arms around me daily. That’s awesome. The question is, Am I staying there long enough? Or, like a child who squirms out of his loving daddy’s arms with his eyes on his toys, do I run on towards my day distracted by the stuff of life?

I have found the seasons that I do spend more time with him, I just want more of Him. The fullness of His Presence, joy and peace are indescribable. He speaks to me when I am still enough to hear. And the problems and challenges of the world fade as I fix my eyes on Him. Yes, the best times of my day are when I’m in His embrace.

This is a prayer I like to pray as I sit down to spend time with Him in the morning, Bible in hand:

Speak, Lord, in the stillness, while I wait on Thee,
Hushed my heart to listen in expectancy.
Speak, oh Blessed Master, in this quiet hour,
Let me see thy face, Lord, feel they touch of power.
For the words thou Speakest, they are life, indeed,
Living bread of Heaven now my spirit feed.
Speak, thou servant heareth! Be not silent, Lord;
Waits my soul upon Thee, For the quickening word.

– Author unknown, as quoted by Mrs. Charles Cowan, in Streams of the Desert

 

Thank you, Father, for your love and faithful care. Being in your Presence is the best part of my day. And I’m thankful I never have to let go. When I rush past you to my to-do list, remind me you are there. Teach me more how you are with me in all the “dailys” of life, and help me to live in the power, joy, and peace of your embrace each day. Amen.

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Reflections on 2011

ImageAs I reflect on 2011, I keep coming back to the same things: what filled it. Yes, there were plenty of activities to keep us from sitting and twiddling our thumbs, but love, joy, peace, and purpose are the overriding memories.

During dinner last night we laughed as we told stories on each other. The following is a compilation of some of the things we recalled.

Karis Joy (9 years old):

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Highlights:

  • Making a sock monkey, which matches her new sock monkey hat!

  • Playing on her first soccer team and loving it (Next fall she plans to play flag football. Watch out, boys!)

  • Skipping a grade in school (Much to Micah’s chagrin, she is now only one grade behind him.)

  • Being interviewed, along with Micah and their teacher, on a McKinney TV program when Mr. Wright was named the 2011 Outstanding Teacher of the Gifted and Talented for Texas Region 10.

  • Having her wise man drawing chosen by The United Way of Dallas as one of their Christmas card covers.

Micah (11 years old):

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Highlights:

  • Finding and catching a small pufferfish in the creek behind our house, and adopting it as a pet – what a miracle a fish like this was back there! (We found out later that our next door neighbor had “let it go” in the creek.)

  • Catching a game ball tossed up in the stands by a major league catcher at a Texas Rangers game.

  • Playing in his first soccer season with a team that went undefeated and won the Dallas Area Tournament of Champions.

  • The day we told him that yes, we felt like God was leading us to adopt an orphan. His months of praying and campaigning were successful! (*More details about that is shared three posts back.)

Caleb (13 years old):

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Highlights:

  • Having the opportunity in El Salvador to preach his first sermon.

  • Realizing his lawn business is not so humdrum when you happen onto pretty girls poolside.

  • Cliff jumping with his siblings and dad into the Seven Pools of Oheo in Maui.

  • Having beautiful girls in harem costumes sing his (Aladdin’s) praises in the musical “Aladdin.”

 

Derek (16 years old):

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Highlights:

  • Getting his driver’s license (so far, so good….).

  • Snowboarding for the first time on a fathers/sons trip.

  • Winning second place in his first sprint triathlon (and crossing the finish line with his mom).

  • Hoisting Genie up on his shoulder in “Aladdin” (quite a change from the Disney version – our Aladdin was 220 lbs. and Genie was maybe 65 lbs!)

Dillon (17 years old):

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Highlights:

  • Being offered scholarships covering tuition, room and board by his #1 college choice, Baylor University, on Dec. 23 (Merry, merry Christmas!)

  • Making history as he and his MBHS tennis teammates qualified for State, making them one of the top four 5A high school teams in the state of Texas.

  • Memorizing 750 scriptures over the summer and qualifying for the National Bible Bee.

Brenna:

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Highlights:

  • Making memories with the family in Maui, the trip of a lifetime.

  • Completing her first Olympic Distance Triathlon (which included her first open-water swim, a big step, as she’s not big on swimming with fish in murky waters!)

  • Square dancing at Wind River Ranch, near Estes Park, CO.

  • Being surprised by Chris with a date to see Les Miserables, and getting ready, long black formal and all, and out the door in 15 minutes flat (last minute surprises are all the more exciting, right?)

Chris:

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Highlights:

  • Leading a small group on a mission trip to Mexico, and seeing God bring 1,100 to faith in Christ.

  • Enjoying a 6-week Sabbatical after 24 years of ministry.

  • Taking Derek and Caleb hunting (They each got a deer!)

  • Being 45 seconds off of the 3rd place time in one of his Sprint triathlons (Inching closer to the winner’s stand!)

If those were the highlights, these were the lowlights (or is that a hair term?) Basically, these are a few things we would have gladly done without:

  • Seeing Caleb brought down the mountain at Wolf Creek in a yellow body bag on a sled (Daring ski jump/accident knocked him unconscious, which led to ambulance ride to ER. Suffered a concussion that put him on the bench during basketball season.)

  • Brenna at the wheel for the Maui Road to Hana (a narrow winding mountain road overlooking the ocean) trip, which was about 10 hours roundtrip in a day and included 1,234 sharp turns and 112 one-lane bridges roundtrip (Chris, who may not admit to having control issues in the car, forgot to bring his renewed driver’s license to Maui…a trial for all.)

  • Forgetting to empty pockets before snorkeling…then feeling his cell phone vibrate in his pocket while 50 yards off shore (poor Derek.)

 

We thank God for his many blessings this year, and pray the same for you this year of 2012. Most of all, I pray for you God’s love, joy, peace, and purpose for living.

 

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. Psalm 28:7

 

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I have been on the search for a good tomato basil soup recipe. We love tomato basil soup, but many recipes are full of butter and heavy cream. The following recipe is quicker and healthier than most (yes, it does still have some cream). But it doesn’t compromise on taste. And it feeds a crowd. Everyone in my family loved it when I made it last weekend, and I am making it again for dinner tonight!

6 cloves of garlic, minced

4 T. of olive oil

3 – 28 cans of crushed tomatoes (or pureed)

4 cups of chicken stock

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp of salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/2 c. of heavy cream

6 T. fresh basil, diced

In large pot, saute garlic in olive oil on medium heat for 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes. Add chicken stock, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook the soup on medium at a simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in heavy cream. (Note: When I used the cans of crushed tomatoes, at the taste test we felt it wasn’t smooth enough. A few minutes in the blender made it perfect. Tonight we will try using the canned tomatoes that are already pureed.) Makes about a dozen servings. We served with grilled cheese sandwiches made from Panera Bread’s tomato basil bread, and it was incredible!

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Easy Overnight Oatmeal

Do you want the taste and goodness of oatmeal made from steel cut oats without the 30-40 minute cooking time? Have it waiting for you on the stove when you start your day by using this easy recipe.

I make this large recipe (serves 9), then use what’s left over for the rest of the week (it is good for up to a week).

 

 

Ingredients:

2 1/4 c. steel-cut oats

9 c. water

Pure maple syrup

Pick any of these to top with:

1/3 c. toasted slivered almonds

1/3 c. dried cranberries

1/3 c. blueberries

1/3 c. strawberries

2 T. ground flaxseed per bowl

Directions:

1. In a large pot, boil the oats in the water for 1 minute. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.

2. The next morning, uncover the oats, heat on medium high until the oats start to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, sirring frequently, until the oatmeal is cooked and creamy but still chewy (5-7 minutes). Sweeten the oatmeal with pure maple syrup.

3. Top with slivered almonds and fruit if you would like. Also, 2 T. of ground flaxseed per bowl (and be sure to add some milk to keep it from getting too thick) gives even more of a nutritional boost to this already-healthy breakfast.

*Steel cut oats are getting easier to find on grocery shelves in the cereal aisle. I usually purchase mine from the bulk section at Sprouts.

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Fabulous Fruit Smoothie

This healthy and tasty treat carried us through the long, hot days of summer 2011. I don’t follow any recipes. I just try to stay stocked up on frozen fruits, yogurt, and 100% pineapple juice concentrate. Then I make it up as I go. A daily dose of this fends off those ice cream cravings!

To try one of our favorites, mix the following in a blender:

2 cups of frozen strawberries

2 cups of frozen blueberries

8 ounces of vanilla or plain yogurt

1/2 container of frozen 100% pineapple juice concentrate

2 cups of water

Blend this mixture, then add ice until it is the consistency you desire (about 2 cups).

Serve, and enjoy! What am I watching for on Craigslist? A Vitamix blender!

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At brunch yesterday, my friend Suzanne told me about how she is making a difference in her family this summer, and I knew we needed to share this idea. She has initiated The Kindness Challenge with her family this summer.

After a few rough first days of summer vacation, with kids (ages 10, 5 and 3) poking and picking at each other, irritating each other just because they could, Suzanne had had enough. It wasn’t going to be like this all summer. So she prayed and talked with her husband Tim to make a plan. Out of this moment of crisis came The Kindness Challenge – How 40 Days of Kindness Can Change a Family (Think of it as The Love Dare for the whole family).

Finding it easier to break the challenge into weeks, here is her plan (in Suzanne’s words):

Week 1 – Change starts at the Top. We as parents commit to always speaking kindly to the kids (and each other for that matter), to praying daily for each child’s specific needs, to having continuous daily conversations about kindness, and to doing small acts of kindness unique for each child.

Week 2 – Get big brother on board. It’s time to build kindness skills in the oldest child. Because there is an age gap between him and the other two, it is important to teach kindess lessons on his level. This includes daily one-on-one discussions on kindness, such as what the Bible says about kindness, why it’s easier to be kind to strangers than your family, and how to be kind to someone who isn’t kind back.

Week 3 – It’s a family affair. Blessed to have a full week with Dad at home, we are planning daily family activities with a focus on building family unity and encouraging kindness to one another. Activities include, picking berries (sharing in God’s delicious provision by working together), hiking (each child having a turn to lead), Lego building challenge (how big can we build if we use all of our Lego sets together), etc. Kids will each have a special one-on-one time with Dad during the week. We will also start learning Bible verses on kindness each week.

Week 4 – Kindness School. A full week of lessons and activities on kindness. Using Bible stories and other stories familiar to the kids, we will learn different ways to be kind and show kindness. Kids will work together to create a book about kindness.

Week 5 – Putting it into practice. Family members will draw a family member’s name each day and do a special act of kindness for that person. Family members will sign a Kindness Contract, committing to a lifestyle of kindness. Dinner conversations will  focus on recognizing kind moments shared that day.

Week 6 – Beyond our walls. Family will plan and perform service projects and kindness activities for others outside our family. On day 40, we will have a celebratory dinner and enjoy the fruits of our efforts – a kinder, more peaceful, loving family.

Some Bible verses on kindness: Proverbs 21:21; Proverbs 31:25-27; Micah 6:8; Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12-13. 

What a great challenge to all of us to show kindness to our family members and then to reach out with kindness to others!

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