How to Simply “Fall”

Summer went out with a hissy fit.  The last few days were hotter than blue blazes.  We sat, melting, on the sidelines of a soccer field and I drank a half-gallon of water within an hour plus I got a sunburn.

Just a week later, on the heels of a thunderstorm, Autumn moved in.  I put out my mums and scarecrows and decorated the mantel with a colorful orange and yellow-leaved garland.  The days are beginning their slow cooling, with highs in the 70’s and sunset coming earlier and earlier.  Fall is always my favorite.

There are a thousand things I love about this season.  Some physical, many symbolic.  I want to do all the Fall things, eat all the Fall foods, but you know as well as I do that it is just not possible to do everything.

I am notorious for overloading my to-do list.  Whether it is recipes to try, traditions to uphold, or activities for our family to enjoy I set high expectations and even higher ideals, only to be frustrated when I fail to meet them and another beautiful season has come and gone too quickly with me busier than I wanted to be, distracted and unable to sit and just watch the leaves turn to the glory of God.

This year we are in a new house, a new neighborhood surrounded by green hills about to explode with color and a big sky above with constellations glimmering by moonlight.   I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

So how do I simplify?  How do I make the Holiday season memorable for my family without stressing us all out?  How do we make each moment count without obsessively counting those moments and lamenting as they slip through our fingers?

Consider this idea:  Choose what you are not going to do.  I know that sounds odd.  With the advent of Pinterest and all the other social media that reminds me of the amazing things everyone else is doing (making me think I should be, too) I can misguidedly believe that my kids are missing out if we don’t do x, y or z.  But what if I say no?  What if I say lets SLOW and hey, guys, y’all go ride your bikes and meet up with friends while I finish my book on the back porch.  What if celebration means we don’t actually go anywhere to enjoy Fall, but stay right here…put down deep roots and watch the hills explode come October?

What if I pick one or two delightful Autumn treats and we only indulge on Sundays?  Maybe we don’t need four dozen cut-out and artfully iced cookies.  Maybe one dozen will do.   I have been following the Trim Healthy Mama plan since June and feel better than I have in years.  Do I really want to undo all the good health I have attained because it’s getting cold outside?  Remember how awful sugar made me feel the last time I gave in?  It’s just not worth it.  I can make a hot Trimmy and enjoy every sip without guilt.  The ingredients for healthy homemade biscuits and gravy are in my pantry right now.  Soups and stews are so easy to make without ingredients that will spike my blood sugar.  It can be done!

Pumpkin farms and petting zoos abound around Nashville.  Scenic day drives and salted caramel everything are all around me.  There is no shortage of opportunity to go and see and do and get really, really tired.  But I have two dogs who enjoy being petted.  My kids have, sadly, outgrown the pumpkin farm phase and we just buy ours at Wal-Mart.  We have seven beautiful horses living in the pasture right in front of our house.  Trees cover the hills all around us and my porch is the perfect spot to enjoy the cooler evenings with a fire going in the firepit.  Why do I think “out there” is where the fun and memories lie?  Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of these activities, but sometimes the wisest and most restorative thing we can do is sit right here and just be together.  Let the boredom creep in.  They will survive and, likely, thrive in it.  Let long stretches of silence go uninterrupted.  Sip a sugar-free mug of hot chocolate and munch on a cinnamon muffin that blesses your body while your breath fogs in the crisp Autumn chill.

Cuddle the kids.  Even the big ones.

Keep Autumn simple.  Don’t worry about what everyone else says they are doing.  You do what brings peace and rest and the presence of God into your home.  Slow down.  On purpose.

Your family will thank you.

 

 

Finding Joy in Seasons of Grief

Throughout the weeks of Lent I spent the first minutes of each morning before lit candles and a cup of coffee with a simple, yet profound, book in my lap:  The Promise of Lent Devotional-A 40 day Journey Toward the Miracle of Easter by Chris Tiegreen.

I remember well the day I purchased it.  It was displayed on a table in our local Lifeway Christian Bookstore, next to a devotional based on the writing of C.S. Lewis.  Now, being a proud Rabbit Room member and lover of all things British, my first instinct was to grab the writings of Mr. Lewis, call it a no-brainer, and head to the checkout counter.  But something about that little purple book by an author of whom I had never heard with a golden crown of thorns gracing the otherwise plain cover caused me to pause and pick it up.  I flipped to the devotional for Day 1 and knew, immediately, that this was the one I was supposed to have.  With my apologies to C.S. Lewis, I bought the little purple book and dove in, day by day, as Lent marched me forward to the Cross.

God is so good.  With each day and every page, I was reminded of simple truths, known in my mind but often forgotten in the heat of the moment.  (You may have seen some of the quotes I shared on Instagram and Facebook throughout the 40 days of Lent.)  Truths such as these:

  1. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming kingdom long before you see it.  Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.
  2. Those moments of crisis are a mark of all good fiction, and they are also a mark of God’s best stories.
  3. The world says, “How dare you call me sinful?” and stays enslaved.  We say, “Yes, I am that and more,” and are set free.
  4. The dawn is most beautiful after the darkest of nights.
  5. The ways of the world have to surrender to the decrees of the insistently, stubbornly, relentlessly faithful.

And then this sentence…on Good Friday as the beautiful strains of Andrew Peterson’s new album, Resurrection Letters, Volume 1, washed over me and brought me into a beautiful place of worship…”Friday is not the end of the story.”

Is it Friday in your life, where you are, today?  Are you standing at the foot of a cross, dreams shattered and heart broken, in disbelief?  Are you caught up in a storm, not of your own choosing, and tossed about on a sea of tears?  Finding joy in those seasons can be difficult, if not impossible.  How do you find joy in sickness, death (whether of a loved one or of a dream), a rebellious child, an adulterous husband, or poverty?  How do you see the “good” in the very, very bad?

There was nothing “good” on Good Friday.  To all outward appearances the Son of God ended up just being an innocent man murdered on a cross between two thieves.  Everyone who had believed in him walked away disappointed and afraid.  Their hope was gone.  The words he had spoken to prepare them for this day had pooled into a jumbled mess of confusion in the back of their grief-stricken and panicked minds.  There was nothing for which to be thankful.

Nothing.

But what they could not see was the other side of the veil.  Their earthly eyes, blinded by tears and worry, were not attuned to the hum of voices and the drumbeat of Heaven building up into a cadence of victorious joy that would burst through on the morning of the third day when the dead body of Jesus suddenly drew a deep breath and sat up, unwrapped the grave clothes that bound Him in death, watched the light of the morning sun break through as the angel rolled the stone away and walked clean out of that tomb.

It may be Friday in your life, and right now there is nothing good about that.  But will you choose to hope?  Will you cry out to the Father along with me, “I believe, help my unbelief?”  And can you rest on Saturday, just as our Savior rested, knowing that Sunday is coming?  Resurrection is coming?  

He will make the joy so worth the pain.  It’s a promise.

Friday is not the end of the story.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Spring Emerging: Finding reassurance in God’s faithfulness.

Every year, as Summer heat beats down and yet another plant dies from lack of water (because by August I stink at gardening), I vehemently declare that Autumn is my favorite.  Cooler temps, sweaters and jeans, hot chocolate with marshmallows…and the Autumn leaves.  Simply beautiful in every way.

But then Winter comes.  At first it’s good.  I’m excited about Christmas and fill my home with way too many decorations and cook all the cookies, despite my low-carb vow.  I tolerate the cold nights by the fire and find joy in a plush blanket…

until January.

Then I’m over it.  It’s cold and dreary and dark and all the bare trees, dormant grass and NO SNOW despite the frigid temps send me into a funk.  (My area of Tennessee is notorious for cold, snowless winters.)  I just want warmer days and sunshine.  Is that too much to ask?

And just when I begin to think it’s never going to happen, I inspect the trees lining the sidewalk…especially the one the landscapers were sure had died…and there they are.  Buds.

Redbuds, to be exact.fullsizeoutput_a616

This discovery turns my frown upside down and I get happy.

Suddenly, Spring is my favorite.

And it’s finally coming.

The air is getting warmer by the day and all of creation is pregnant with life and color!  Take a walk today.  Look closely at the branches and inspect the mulch, noticing the spears of new leaves peeking through and flowers getting ready to bloom.  Slow down and put down your phone.  Take in the sights and smells of the season and rejoice!

Hosea 6:3-Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

As sure as the dawn, friends.  Our Lord gives us these seasons in their predictability and consistency as reminders of His faithfulness!  Is that not reassuring as we emerge from the cold of Winter?  No matter how difficult this season has been, Spring is on it’s way!  As we stop and take in the newness of the bright green grass and flowering trees let’s do just what the verse above said…let’s press on to know our Lord, for he is faithful and trustworthy and consistent in all His ways.  He WILL come, just as Spring shows her face every single year in the blooms emerging from their winter sleep and the rains that feed May’s flowers!  If we press on to know Him, we will be rewarded with what we seek.  Intimacy, light, color and beauty will fill our spirits and we will walk in the warmth of His grace.

Happy Spring, dear ones.

 

Eyes forward.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   Revelation 21:5

In the crazy of moving during this, the most busy wonderful time of the year, I have struggled to keep my sacred mornings with the Lord.  In fact, four days before we moved my desk got packed up…including my Bible.  Now, I always have the online version but I so prefer the actual physical book in my hands, the weight of the Word on my lap.

I woke up each morning, not with relaxed anticipation of time spent with Jesus (which had become my blessed norm over the past months) but with lists of lists spinning through my overwhelmed mind.  And celebrating Advent, in the insanity of packing every. single. thing. we owned and moving it thirty minutes up the highway to a new house in the hills surrounding Nashville, fell to the backburner.  I purposed that as soon as we moved in we would make up for lost time.

As soon as we had left the old behind we would begin anew.

And we did.

As I wrote in my last post, we moved in with lights and candles and trees all in place and ready to point us to the coming King.  We feasted and sang and baked and gazed in wonder at the expanse of sky above in the absence of the once-familiar trees.  It was sweet and began our life in this new place with good and needed memories.

And now, the New Year is upon us.  For the past few years I have asked the Lord for a word from Him.  A glimpse at what He might have ahead for me, a focal point for my prayers and vision as I walk into January.

I haven’t received it from Him just yet, but I know I will.  He has been perfectly faithful, every time I have asked, to give this to me.  So I watch and pray and listen, knowing the newfound quiet of our surroundings can only help me hear the voice of my Father.  (Though, I do have five kids and three dogs so…quiet is a very relative term!)  As we leave this old year behind, shutting the door on the successes and failures, joys, heartbreaks and grief, we have an opportunity to begin anew on January first.

Does it mean I forget the hard?  Well, yes, maybe it does…or it just might mean I should.

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I believe this is a worthy goal for us as we begin the new year.  2018 does not have to be overshadowed by the pain hangover of 2017.  Instead, we can allow the struggles to push us onward and upward, remembering why and for Whom we are here in the first place.

Because if we remember the “why” we are less likely to fall into bitterness and discontent.  And if we remember for Whom we are here, well, it makes it awfully hard to be selfish.

Not that I struggle with selfishness.  *sarcasm*

So I’m seeking the Lord today, asking for His word for me to be made clear before the New Year dawns.  If you are doing the same, I would love to hear what the Lord gives you!  What a gift it would be for us to pray for one another as we begin this fresh leg of our journey.

May the God of angel armies bless and keep you in 2018.  May you know who you are and Whose you are as you walk each day with Him.  And may the Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you and sustain you throughout this new year.

The Making of a Home

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.

John 14:3-4

If you had asked me what the absolute worst time I could imagine to squeeze in a move to a new house could be I would have, without hesitation, said Christmas time.  Need I list all the reasons?

I think not.

But here we are.  In our new home.  Just moved in with only days before Christmas morning arrives.

Call us crazy.  We might be.

God has a way of stretching us when we least expect it and, more often than not, the stretching is accompanied by great blessing.  In fact, sometimes it is because of great blessing.

We scaled down quite a bit in house size.  That meant some extreme and brutal purging in the midst of buying Christmas gifts and decorating our new home.  Talk about conflict.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my brain is just plain tired.  Don’t even ask about my body.  But the process has been so good and sanctifying.

First of all, it spawned this little corner of the internet.  My quest to simplify our life and to find contentment and inspiration in the everyday normal of life brought me here, to you.  Second, I was convicted to the core about how much stuff we had accumulated.  Stuff I had honestly forgotten I even owned and, obviously, did not need.  I was determined to move only that which was needed and brought joy.  That may or may not have traumatized our resident hoarders.  (Ahem.)

We sold what we needed to sell and gave away the rest, which was a lot.  Friends and Goodwill benefited greatly and we spent weeks moving one SUV-load after another to our new space.  As Christmas neared, I spent two days putting up trees, the special decorations that speak “Christmas” to our family’s hearts, and dreaming of the first magical days in this house with a view.  Horses grazing out front, hills and trees and sparkling ponds out back.  A porch with a swinging bed where my daughter contentedly strums her ukulele and laughter echoing down the wooden stairs as the kids explore and discover their new favorite spots to land.  Moving in with Christmas already in place has been so good and helpful for our transition.  Having our traditions waiting was a gentle buffer to the stress a move brings.  I am grateful for that.

And now I can look out my window and watch the sun rise over the hills, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen and the eggnog-scented candle burning next to the sink.  I sigh and thank God, once again, under my breath as I take in this beautiful and quiet moment on an Advent morning.

Christmas was waiting, here, for us, when we arrived.  All that meant joy and Jesus in this season was prepared beforehand so that our arrival would be seamless.  Home, with all of the trimmings and sparkle and tradition, was ready.

Though the original Advent took many by surprise (remember, there are 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments) the reality is that the preparations had been underway for thousands of years.  From the day Adam and Eve fell into sin, God had begun the countdown to the arrival of Jesus to redeem and restore mankind to intimacy with Him.  The star was ready to shine.  The manger was built.  Mary was chosen and Joseph placed in to “such a time as this” before anyone in the world realized what was coming.  God was moving and working behind the scenes, preparing Christmas for his Beloved.

For you and for me.

And as we arrive, one by one, in His Kingdom by faith don’t you imagine He rejoices as we cross that threshold of eternal life?  Don’t you think it pleases His father-heart to no end when we gasp in wonder and realize what He has done for us, embracing the gift of Jesus and walking through the doors of eternity to begin life with and for Him?  I do.  Most definitely, I do.  Our God is full of good gifts and lavishly loves us.  He gives us beauty and feasting and music and laughter for us to enjoy, together, as a family.  These holidays are just a foretaste of what is to come and, today, I am going to linger a little longer at the window and watch the wind blow through the horses’ manes as they graze.  I am going to sip my coffee slowly and inhaled the sweetly scented candle as Christmas carols play softly in the background.  And I’m going to thank God for leading me down this road to a more quiet and less cluttered life that frees me to be in the moment, fully, with the ones I love the most.

Merry Christmas, sweet friends.  You are loved.

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.

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!