Perspective.

She sat with my daughter, bent over the canvas with a brush hanging from her lips, peering critically at every detail of her work.  Wondering if it was good, or maybe even (dare she hope?) great.  My daughter and I looked at it from a few feet away…amazed at the depth and perspective in her painting.

“It makes me want to jump in and walk through it,” I said.  My friend grinned, encouraged by our enthusiasm.  We all looked again, loving how a little distance seemed to smooth out imperfections and bring the work to life.  The more she painted, the more layers and colors she added, the more alive the painting became.  To watch it happen was like getting a glimpse of what God must have felt as He created color and depth and beauty on this earth.  What a gift!

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Painted by my talented friend, Jenelle Schimpf

 

I retreated to my desk a little later, thinking over her work.  How like our Father to use art to teach truth.  How appropriate that the Father of Lights would reach my heart through the play of light on oils and canvas.

In a season of history where the world feels so jumbled and chaotic, when the news is rarely good and tragedy hits too close too often, it is all too easy to feel lost and confused and unable to see God at work in the midst of the struggle.  But He is.  He is so busy, painting the masterpiece of Creation, adding layers and color and depth to the form of Man and history…HIS story.  Carefully He adds light here, darkness there.  Intentionally He places every color exactly where it is needed in order to produce the end result that He has in His mind’s eye.  And we, you and me, get to be colors on the great brush He holds in His hand.  We get to be a part of the beauty and the glory that is God’s story.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I think so…until he plops me into an area of blackness, of darkness contrasting the light where I had hoped to land.  But if that is His will for me, in this season, to settle into a dark place…though it may be difficult…I have to make a choice.  Do I trust the Artist and allow Him to use me where He wants me or buck against Him, muddling the colors and marring the end result?  If I submit and let Him use me in the darkness, then I become part of His glory and beauty.  Maybe I am being used to define the light, to draw attention to the bright beauty of the painting’s center…Jesus.

It reminds me of a beautiful little chapel in Carthage, Missouri…the Precious Moments Chapel.  Many years ago, on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited this special place.  As you enter the chapel you are met with a beautiful mural…Hallelujah Square.  It is filled with images of children and families, of reunions and tears being wiped away, of crutches no longer needed and broken bodies healed.  But the most beautiful part, to me, is where Jesus stands in the Square. When Samuel Butcher painted this mural he did not realize, until he was finished, that he had placed Jesus Christ at the very center.

Isn’t that so like God?  All of the sadness and sickness and heartache that we go through, all of the longing and seemingly endless waiting point back to the One who is at the center of it all…Jesus.  As we walk through these days of the season of Advent, try to take a few steps back and ask God to give you His perspective on your role in His masterpiece.  See if, just knowing there is a center focus to it all, a reason for the dark color values as well as the bright ones, doesn’t help you lift up your face a little more and hold your head a little higher in hope.  Ask Him for faith to endure, for the ability to trust His hand as He works in and around you.  Remember all the ways He has been faithful in the past and choose to trust Him to be the same today and tomorrow as He was back then.

Because He is.

Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.

Filters

The struggle is real in my home.  With five kids, two of whom are well into their teens, we have every device imaginable at our fingertips.  Phones, computers, Kindles, and I-pads all compete for attention and, to tell you the truth, I could go Amish in a split-second and toss them all out the window.

Until I want to write a blog post.

Or watch Chip and Joanna.

Hence the struggle.

Filtering what my kids watch and listen to is like swimming up a waterfall with my ankles tied together.  Information rushes in so quickly these days and software updates constantly change the game.  I can’t keep up.

So how, in an age of information overload, do we protect our children?  In spite of internet filters and limits on what shows they can watch, too often they are still exposed to things that go against God and His desires for them.  Even if we successfully put up a concrete wall of internet safety, they are not in our home 24/7.  They have friends.  Their friends have TV’s and computers.  We cannot block it all, no matter how much we try.  There must be a better way to protect them, a more effective and dependable filter.

In the book of James, the twelve tribes of Israel have been dispersed throughout the world.  They are suddenly immersed in new cultures and learning to survive away from their beloved homeland because of persecution.  I can only imagine the temptation they faced to compromise, to “fit in” and just not be noticed or singled out.

I’m sure their kids, growing up in this foreign culture that did not feel foreign to them,  (this was their normal, just as a world full of electronic devices is normal to my kids) often pouted and whined, “Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?”  The adults likely felt the same struggle.

So James reminds them of who they are and Whose they are.  He encourages them to face suffering with the courage of God and allow God to use it to refine them, making them more like Jesus, who happened to be James’ oldest brother. (Can you imagine?)  He reminds them that they are here for a purpose…God’s purpose.  He wants to use them. Their obedience, though it will not save them, will model the love of the Father to the dark society in which they live.  They have been given a mandate to love and serve sacrificially, because Jesus sacrificed his very life for them.  They are to live outwardly what has happened inwardly as evidence of their salvation and position in the Kingdom of God.

In chapter 4, James warns them about resisting worldliness.  Selfishness, arguing, boasting, befriending “the world” and arrogance are all on his list.  He didn’t tell them to only allow Christians into their home.  He also didn’t tell them to stay home and avoid society in order to avoid temptation.

He told them, in order to win the spiritual battle for their hearts, to turn away from their own interests and submit to God alone.  There are two opposing forces at work, battling to influence our minds and either cripple us spiritually or give us wings:  the World and the Kingdom of God.  They are polar opposites.  We cannot function in both at once.  We either live as an enemy of the World, or we effectively become enemies of God.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing enemies it’s not going to be the Creator of the Universe.

As I ponder this, though, I wonder if what I just wrote is true.  Every day I make a thousand little decisions that add up and affect my loyalties.  This morning, as I was teaching this chapter of James to my children, a light bulb switched on in my spirit and the words came alive as never before regarding the choices we make minute by minute, hour by hour.  We talked about the characteristics of worldliness.  (They had no problem making a long list!)  I looked at them and gently challenged my sweet ones, “When you watch TV, like on Disney, and listen to music do you see any of these things?”  Three pairs of eyes widened as they nodded and named off the list again:  Pridefulness, boasting, selfishness, arrogance.  I continued…

“When you watch or listen to things that are filled with worldliness, it gradually soaks in.  The Bible says that ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45) so what happens is your heart becomes full of these characteristics and it begins to show in your behavior and attitude.  We have to remember that God is the only one worthy of judging what is right and wrong, so if He says these things are sin then they are.  If we want to live as a friend of God then we have to choose not to immerse ourselves in the messages of the world.”

Boy, do I wish this was easy.  I wish that my just saying it to my kids would result in instant transformation and that they would, from this day forward, make awesome choices and have no desire for the things of the world.  But that is not reality.  I can filter internet and TV (which I do) all day long, but if their hearts are not drawn toward the Father then the second they leave my home they will run in the opposite direction of everything they have been taught.

I guess the next question is, how do we help them turn to God?  Well, we begin by modeling it ourselves.  Do they see me change the station when something inappropriate comes on the TV or radio?  Am I having good, gentle discussions with them as they learn to navigate these choppy waters or just casting judgement when they make choices that I disagree with?  It is in the day to day, minute to minute living and learning from real life consequences as well as experiencing blessing from good decisions that their little hearts are molded and shaped for Jesus.  I cannot cast a blanket of rules and expect them to blindly follow.  Legalism breeds sin.  Always has, always will.  But grace draws us to the Father.  Unconditional love and acceptance, having a safe place to land no matter how they have messed up and knowing who they are in Christ are the foundation for them to draw from as they stumble, fall, and learn to walk again.

I struggle with this.  I want to control and just keep them from messing up in the first place, but that is not possible.  There are only certain things I can do, provide a safe haven for them, a home where there are standards and filters and loving discussions bathed in forgiveness when the filters fail.  (Which they will.)  And I can help them develop their own, holy filter…a realization that choosing things that honor the Kingdom are always better, always more beautiful, and always with good consequences.  It takes time.  It takes a lifetime.  And it depends solely on the grace of God manifesting in the prayers and hard work we put in as parents.

 

Belgian Waffles. Real ones.

We interrupt your weekend preparations with a recipe sure to make your mouth water, you pants tighter, and your family rise up and call you blessed!

Belgian Waffles, just like the ones found on a food truck in the Market of Stockel in Brussels, Belgium.  Our family took a trip to Belgium a few years ago and these, my friends, were some of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth.  After we arrived home I had to recreate them.   I perused countless recipe sites and blogs, finally finding one that was close and tweaking it until I achieved perfection.  Even our friends who lived in Belgium, when they came home for a visit, tried them and pronounced them “spot on!”

They have become a staple of our holiday celebrations.  We enjoy them on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, New Year’s and even Easter.  They are tres delicieux!

So, without further adieu, I give you the REAL Belgian Waffle.  (Do not be fooled by the IHOP, frozen or other versions.  They are not even CLOSE!)

Stockel Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (such as Lars’ Own-you can order it from Amazon.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT!)

Directions:
Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C).  Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar.

Then (DO NOT skip this step.  It is the secret to the hot, doughy center and crispy outer layer!) roll the dough into baseball sized portions and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  You will have between 8-12 dough balls depending on how big you make them.

Do you see the little pearl sugar chunks?  I’m telling you, they are about to turn into golden nuggets of bliss!

Refrigerate at least two hours, overnight if possible.

 

When you are ready to cook these lovelies…
Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Place a ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.

 

I mean LOOK at this.  Caramelized sugar sizzling around the edges, perfectly crispy crust with a soft, not-quite-done cookie dough texture.  Mmmm…

Repeat with the remaining dough balls. As you cook subsequent waffles, the sugar will begin to caramelize and the last waffle will be even more tasty than the first.  But don’t tell your kids.

 

 

I can hardly wait.  

 

Pretend you are being selfless and going last out of loving sacrifice for your hungry tribe.  It is worth the wait, I promise!

Allow the waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.  You can top them with fruit, whipped cream, etc. but, honestly, mine have never lasted long enough to be topped with anything!  They just go straight to our bellies!

Please refrain from licking the screen.

 

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!

Simple begins now.

More than fifteen years ago I was a mommy of two toddlers.  We lived in a little white house on Galveston Island and life was blissfully simple.  I would sometimes go five days straight without ever leaving my house! My to-do lists were short and the kids’ naps were nice and long.

We were in a season of training, of waiting as my husband worked his patootie off to complete his residency and move on to the next phase of life.  We looked forward to the good things that were to come and dreamed of bigger houses, cars with warranties, and evenings out with friends where the meals came from restaurants that did not serve chicken nuggets.  It was a such a sweet time!

I had this incredible group of friends.  They were all medical wives, like me, and in various stages of training.  Some a year or two ahead, some a year or two behind.  We all had babies and toddlers and our play group grew from four mamas and a handful of kids to nearly thirty moms and kids destroying gracing a house every Tuesday morning!  We enjoyed endless hours of conversation, coffee and prayer while our children watched Veggie Tales and ate endless bowls of popcorn.  We called our little/big group “Pray and Play” and it was the highlight of our week.  Shoot, looking back, it is still one of the highlights of my life as a young mother.

I remember a particular conversation with my friend, Stacy.  We were coming up on our last years in Galveston and the reality of life beyond the island was hitting us.  She told me of a girl she had recently spoken with who had moved on to “post-residency” a year or so ago…

“She said to enjoy this time.  Life is so simple. Right now it is a big deal to get a 99 cent ice cream cone at McDonald’s.  Little things are such a treat.”

I nodded in agreement.

“She said that, after residency, life is so much more complicated and that it will never be this simple again.”

We looked at each other, knowing it was true.  We were so intentional back then, so determined to make the little things count and appreciate the joys that filled our young-mom days.  We wanted to believe we could keep it up and not lose sight of the beauty of this gift of wife and motherhood.

“Keep life simple.”

I mean, really, how hard can that be?  You just choose it, right?  You just don’t let the crazy creep in and you determine not to conform to the harried schedule of the world.  You have decided you are going to have dinner as a family almost every night and home-cooked meals will be the norm.  You are going to make memories with your kids and maintain that beautiful pace you have found, extolling the virtues of patience and discipline and raising little pastors and missionaries, right?

Wrong.

Somewhere along the way, the crazy crept in.  It doesn’t matter the source, you know what I am talking about.  You find yourself stretched so thin you can’t believe you haven’t snapped and died of whiplash.  Late nights find you in front of a screen in a haze of fatigue and early mornings find you mashing the snooze button and crawling out of bed only after your child pries your eyes open and asks if you are asleep.  Quiet time? You put on a Christian song and call it even.  You stop cooking from scratch and burn out two microwaves because you keep a steady supply of frozen junk in the deep freeze.  Processed food becomes such a staple that you have all forgotten what fresh food should taste like.  Yet, despite the lack of cooking, your kitchen is a disaster.

You are drowning.

Life is anything but simple.  It is complicated and you feel frazzled.  You stare into the mirror, wondering when the bright girl you once saw got replaced by a tired and bitter old woman.

So here we are, today.  Sisters, it’s time to start over!  God loves us too much to allow us to wallow in the pity pit!  He has so much waiting for us!  He longs to fill us with joy and the peace of Christ!  But, first, we must shed the entanglements and pare down our lives. What is holding you back?  What is making you feel like you can’t keep your head above water?  Pray for wisdom and clarity and get ready because today we begin.  Today we are going to find beauty in the mundane, rediscovering the little things that bring big happiness.  We are going to restore order and catch a vision for our future.  We are going to wake up prepared for each day so that when suffering does come (and you can be sure it will) we have the fortitude to face it and dare to find joy in the midst of it.

Are you ready?

 

Staying afloat, head above water, sunrise, mercies new every morning
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬