Sunday, November 8, 2015

He is a good, good Father

Last night, we went to the Saturday night service at our church. Samuel wanted to go to "Big Church" with me and James, so we agreed to let him join us. I held him during some of the worship service so he could see the band.  One of the songs that our worship pastor lead us in was "Good, Good Father."
Here are some of the words if you're not familiar with the song:

You're a good good Father. It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by You It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

As I stood there, singing with Samuel in my arms, I smiled with gratitude. There was a season in our adoption story when I was so grief stricken that trying to sing that song would have sucked the air out of my lungs and left tears streaming down my face.  Doubt. doubt. doubt. It didn't feel like He was a good Father. I didn't feel like I was loved by Him. "I do believe; help my unbelief!" from Mark 9:24 became the cry of my heart.

And now, He has blessed us with the children we longed for.

This popped up in my Facebook memories last night.

I looked at the date, and my mind went back to the tragic news that we had recieved a few days prior. The little Ethiopian babe that we had longed to bring home, was going to be leaving the world soon. Her health was utterly failing. She left this world just after Thanksgiving, only a few weeks later.  My heart was crushed that Sunday, five years ago. I remember praying and weeping with two of our pastors after church. One of whom was an adoptee himself and the other an adoptive father. I remember wondering where God was.  I was grateful -and still am- for the body of Christ who grieved with us, and prayed for us - especially when I had no words to pray. One of the pastors who prayed with us that Sunday was Stephen Miller. (If you aren't familiar with his music, go check it out. It is gospel saturated.) He shared a quote on Facebook yesterday from Spurgeon's Morning and Evening that tied in well with what I had been remembering.

"Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."
Isaiah 49:16

What can be more astounding than the unfounded doubts and fears of God's favoured people? The Lord's loving word of rebuke should make us blush; he cries, "How can I have forgotten thee, when I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands? How darest thou doubt my constant remembrance, when the memorial is set upon my very flesh?" O unbelief, how strange a marvel thou art! We know not which most to wonder at, the faithfulness of God or the unbelief of his people. He keeps his promise a thousand times, and yet the next trial makes us doubt him. He never faileth . . . and yet we are as continually vexed with anxieties, molested with suspicions, and disturbed with fears, as if our God were the mirage of the desert.  Heaven and earth may well be astonished that rebels should obtain so great a nearness to the heart of infinite love as to be written upon the palms of his hands. "I have graven thee." It does not say, "Thy name." The name is there, but that is not all: "I have graven thee." See the fullness of this! I have graven thy person, thine image, thy case, thy circumstances, thy sins, thy temptations, thy weaknesses, thy wants, thy works; I have graven thee, everything about thee, all that concerns thee; I have put thee altogether there. Wilt thou ever say again that thy God hath forsaken thee when he has graven thee upon his own palms?
In the midst of sorrow, grief, and loss our hope lies in the Risen One who bears the wounds that were necessary us to be adopted into the family of God. He is ever with the rebels that he redeemed. His ear ever listen to our prayers and pleas. He is always faithful to the ones He spilled His life for.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Celebrating Samuel's Adoption Day

 Today marks the third anniversary of the finalization of Samuel's adoption. I'll never forget that day in court and the relief and gratitude that washed over me as the judge declared him to be legally our son. After all the waiting and the grief of having four little girls slip though our fingers, I had wondered what God's plans were for Samuel. Was he to be ours only for a short time too?  I'm so thankful that God saw fit to make him part of our family, and this is certainly sometime to celebrate. 

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, Psalm 107:8

After breakfast, we went to the St. Louis Galleria to visit the original Build-A-Bear. This was our first time there, and we had fun. Samuel decided to build his own Toothless, and Eva Kate decided on Rarity from My Little Ponies. The added a heart and a voice box to their toys. Samuel's dragon roars, and Eva Kate's unicorn talks. The heart actually makes a "beating" vibration. The toys have their own unique birth certificates also.

We ate lunch at the food court. James and I got sushi. The kids shared a Honey Walnut shrimp bowl from Panda Express. They also got a fortune cookie to share, and I thought the fortune was appropriate in light of conversations we've had with the kids lately about being kind to others.
Every good celebration calls for cupcakes. These came from Cupcakes Amore. So yummy!
The kids' birthmother is always in my thoughts as we celebrate their adoption days. I wonder if this day weighs on her heart, and I wonder how she's doing. We pray for her with the kids, and we write to her.  We're ever grateful to her for giving these children life and for entrusting them to us.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fourteen Years

On Tuesday, James and I celebrated our 14th anniversary. We got a sitter on Saturday evening, and we went out to dinner. We had hoped to go to the Shakespeare Festival, which was about to wrap up for the year. The play this year was Anthony and Cleopatra, which I was kind of familiar with. The Festival takes place every year in the late spring. We've lived here for 7 years, and we still haven't been because it was raining when the show was scheduled to begin. Oh well.
Photos by Kevin Beasley

We went out to eat at The Shaved Duck. The restaurant has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so there's a bit of hype surrounding the place.

We got there a little before 6 pm. I don't think they have a parking lot, but we were able to find a free spot on the street close by. The place was insanely packed. You couldn't open the front door without banging the doorknob into someone's rear end.There was an hour wait for a table indoors, so we opted to sit outside in the sun. If that option hadn't been available, we would have left. After we sat, I wanted to wash my hands. That meant having to go inside through the crazy cram-packed-maze of people to get to the restroom. I spent five minutes digging in my purse for hand sanitizer before giving up and making the trek to the restroom. Back at our table, it was hot. Thankfully, another guest showed us how to tilt the umbrella at our table to provide some shade. James ordered a combo plate with three different types of BBQ meat. I ordered the duck breast, which was delicious. James was not wowed with his food. He said it was good, but he prefers the burnt ends at Super Smokers.  The service was slow, so this wouldn't be a good place to take the kids. They do have an extensive menu of local beers and whiskeys, so if you're into that, it might be worth a visit for you. I'm glad we tried the place, but I don't think it is worth a second visit unless some things change - like they start accepting reservations.

We drove to Ted Drew's for dessert. They are where Dairy Queen got their inspiration for their Blizzards. We still have never eaten there because there were about a hundred people in line when we drove by. It might be good, but I'm not going to wait in a line that long for ice cream. We had dessert at Bissinger's Chocolate instead, which was amazing. The had a large seating area, inside and out. This place is certainly worth repeat visits.

 On Tuesday, our actual anniversary, James had flowers waiting for me when I got home from work. He cooked scallops for dinner - and even the kids liked them.

Celebrating our anniversary made me reflect on our wedding vows. Our vows came from a seminary's website. We tweaked them a bit. Here's a link to them if you want to read them: Wedding Vows
I think the most weighty line in them is the promise to serve Christ together. Satan finds way to deter us, sometimes using the most benign means possible.

James, I am so thankful for you. You have been Jesus to me when I was too heartbroken to worship Him. There is a sacredness to my love for you that grew in hospital rooms, doctors offices, and on our knees in Ethiopia. After our first Ethiopian baby girl went to be with Jesus, you were by my side week after week at church, quietly hoping for the Sunday when I could make it through the service without weeping. In the midst of that despair, had I known that three more Ethiopian babes would slip through our fingers, I would have been utterly hopeless. It is a good thing that God doesn't let us see into the future. I had no idea when I said "I do" at age 21, what God would ask of us. You have stirred my affections for my First Love, and I pray that our children will say the same of you. May they be able to say that their Daddy showed them the love of Jesus.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tour de Cure Recap

A little over a week ago was the St. Louis Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes association. I signed up on my gym's team, hence the yellow and black jersey in the photo above. All of the participants who  had diabetes, received a "red rider" jersey. I've had diabetes since I was a kid, so I got a red jersey. I decided to leave my team jersey on for the ride though.
I wore this pin on my jersey. The photo on the left is my Dad's younger brother, who just just recently lost his battle with diabetes.  The photo on the right is my Mom's sister. She passed away 14 years ago, and she battled with diabetes for years. Neither of them saw their 55th birthdays, and they are both sorely missed by many people. Two lives cut short, partially due to diabetes. 
The ride started a bit later than originally announced, and I never heard why there was a delay.
I met a couple of other people to ride with, and this is the three of us at one of the rest stops. 

This is the  50 mile route I was riding. See that pink bar at the bottom of the photo? That shows the elevation changes. This was a hilly course, but I'd been training on some hills.  Somewhere between 28 and 30 miles, I crashed. See that last tall pink peak? I was near the summit.  I'm frustrated that I had made it through almost all of the challenging part of the route when I crashed. If I could have hung in for a couple more miles, I would have been back on mostly flat terrain. I still don't remember what happened. I was exhausted. I hadn't slept well for 2 days. It was kinda hot, and I was taking the descents too fast. A deputy found me on the downside of a hill with my bike on top of me. I have no memory of even speaking to him. He stayed with me until first aid arrived.
My helmet and gloves did their jobs. The foam on the interior of my helmet was cracked. The straps were bloody. I started to try to wash the blood out of my gloves, until I saw that they were ripped. I threw it all away. The day after the crash, I checked my bike computer to see what the maximum speed recorded was - thinking that would be what I was doing when I crashed. It was just over 30 mph. Too fast. 
I had to get checked out at the ER. X-rays and CT were all clean, thankfully. Just a lot of road rash. I saw my chiropractor two days after the crash and my internist the day after that. The appointment with the chiropractor was so helpful. He adjusted my back, neck and ribs. It was the first adjustment I had ever had there that was painful, but I felt much better afterwards. My ribs are still sore a bit, but they have healed to the point where I can breathe deeply enough to exercise.
My new helmet and gloves arrived last week, and I have already put them to use.  Over the weekend, I got an email from my team captain. He told me that there would be a small gift for me at the front desk of my gym on Monday. I had no idea what would be there, and I went and picked it up today.
 Here's what he and the regional manager sent me!  A new helmet, new gloves, a water bottle, a dri-fit shirt (which was the right size!), and a card. This was so thoughtful!  I love the card. Here's what the inside says.
I found this to be so encouraging.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

I want to wish a Happy Mother's Day to some special women in my life.

To Mom -
Thank you for your love, and for sharing the things that you love with me. You helped instill a love for the arts in me.  I have so many memories of you playing the piano when I was growing up, and hearing the piano still moves me in a way that other music doesn't. It triggers memories of being a carefree child sitting on the piano bench with you. You always encouraged me in my artistic endeavors. I remember picking out my first camera with you. I think I was about 9 years old. It was a simple 110 film camera, and I had fun with it. More importantly than the arts though, you shared your love of Jesus with me. You were my Sunday School teacher for a time, and I still remember some of the curriculum you taught from. You taught me as a young child that all people are worthy of love, no matter their age or what they look like. You took me to serve in nursing homes and encouraged me to volunteer with Special Olympics when I was a teen.  Thank you for all your prayers, and for being a loving Nana.

To my Mother-in-Law -
I'm so thank for to have a Mother-in-Law who loves Jesus and shared her faith with her son.  When I met James, I saw that he valued biblical truth deeply. My family is blessed my your talents that you shared with him. He loves to cook, because he had a momma that loved to cook.  I never had you as an algebra teacher, but you gave a few pointers on my homework in college.  I saw then that you were a gifted math teacher, and you passed your teaching gift on to James, along with your love of numbers. Thank you for the practical cooking knowledge you shared with me as well. Thank for you the support and love that you give us. Thank you for the way you love on your grandbabies.

To James' Grandmother -
What a blessing to have a family who's love for Jesus spans the generations. A mother's most lasting legacy is her children.  You raised your children to serve the Lord, and they followed suite raising theor own children. You set a lovely example for your family, in how you serve at your church, in your community, and in your own home. I see you in James in his love for animals. He is without a doubt, your grandson when it comes to animals. I think he got that soft heart from you, watching you serve for so many years in the Humane Society.  Thank you for your faithfulness and love.

To Elizabeth -
When we were in the process of adopting, we had to name guardians for our child-to-be should something happen to us. We prayed about it, and he discussed it with James' mom. She suggested you and Stephen, without knowing that we were also thinking of you two.  Thank you for saying yes when we asked you to be Godparents to our children. I'm thankful to call you family.  Thank you for your faithfulness to pray for the kids - and for James and me.  You're a wonderful example for the kids.  I pray that they will be quick to follow Jesus' voice, where ever it may take them - just as you and Stephen are faithful.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Value of Menu Planning

One of the habits that I've developed as I have tried to live a healthier life is menu planning.  I did it a little before Samuel was born, but it became a necessity after he came along. I had some space in my kitchen pantry to paint a chalkboard, so I did that one day while my mom-in-law was here watching newborn Samuel.  I've used it every week since then.  The black paint is chalk board paint, and the white paint was just some white latex paint that I had left over from another project.

Menu planning has helped eliminate stopping to get take-out for dinner when life gets crazy. I'll take some time on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday each week and choose recipes for the coming week. I usually print out recipes from the internet and then I make my grocery list off what I printed.  Having a plan for the week means that I know I have healthy options to prepare at home when something unexpected happens.

My lunches usually consist of left overs from the night before, but I keep some back-up options on hand just in case we don't have any leftovers.  My favorite things for last minute lunches are unsweetened coconut milk yogurt with fruit and hemp seeds or eggs and Canadian bacon with veggies or fruit on the side.

Sometimes I get a mental block when trying to decide what the plan for the week. So here's a little framework that I came up with:
  • a crock pot meal
  • breakfast for dinner
  • fish prepared one way or another
  • a chicken recipe
That leaves three nights unaccounted for. If it's cold, I'll add a soup or chili recipe. If it's warm I'll plan for something that can be grilled. Sometimes I will plan a meatless night, but I've been doing less of that lately. One night is take-out night. Cooking is a chore that James and I share. I do the planning and grocery shopping. If a recipe has a lot of steps, I'll do some of the prep work. James does most of the cooking.  He enjoys it more than I do. Cooking is a hobby for him, whereas it is a chore for me. I usually keep the kids entertained while he cooks. I'm thankful for his willingness to help!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cures for my First World Heart

This is part of a series of posts that I'm writing on replacing the consumerism in my heart with contentment and gratitude.
"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." Philippians 4:12 (NIV)

We Americans often battle with consumerism. The desire for a larger home, a better car, a more extravagant vacation, or a more luxurious lifestyle are well known to us. I realized years ago that I needed to learn to be content in whatever situation I was in. It's a hard thing to learn here in the land of plenty. Things really began to change for me when I went to Haiti in 2010. I saw poverty that took my breath away.  Along the way, I've found a few things that have helped break my desire to have more. The first thing that I want to share with you is a company called Noonday Collection. A quote from their website to explain what they do:
"Noonday Collection is a business that uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities around the world."
Noonday partners with artisans in developing countries to develop fair trade businesses that offer fair wages and good working conditions free of child labor. Here is a short video about one of their artisans:

Please go check out their website and watch some more of their videos - so moving.

The Noonday necklace in this photo is made from ethically harvested animal horn.

I own several pieces from Noonday. I love them because they are beautiful, unique, affordable and durable. But I also love them for much deeper reasons. One of my favorite pieces is the necklace in the photo below, and it was made in Ethiopia from re-purposed artillery. 

Something that man created to do harm has given someone a job making lovely necklaces. While Noonday feds my consumerism on some level, it frees me from it at the same time. I love to buy it and give it away.  I always feel good knowing that my money went to a company that is breathing life into countries where people struggle to get buy. I love getting to wear jewelry that has given another woman a dignified life.  If you'd like to purchase some Noonday pieces, I'm hosting a trunk show! Have fun  shopping at Noonday Collection & enter my name as the trunk show host.  You have plenty of time to order for Mother's Day deliveries!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Weight Maintenance Update

It's been a little over a year since I hit my goal weight, so I thought it was time for an update. Hitting the one year mark, and still being at the weight I want to be at is a big deal for me. When I started trying to improve my health over two years ago, I was truly unsure of how successful I would be both in the short term and long term. Could I actually loose the weight? Could I maintain healthy eating habits for the rest of my life?

 I've hit a new low weight of my adult adult life. The photo above was taken this morning, and it's the first time I've seen my weight below 150 lbs as an adult. It's a welcome change from this before photo:

 I have to admit part of this recent dip in weight is due to a stomach virus that my whole family has been fighting, but that's not all of it. We got back from vacation about a week ago, and vacation time usually means a several pound weight gain for me. Not this time though. I did three things differently - no desserts at restaurants, I made a solid effort to track most of the food that I ate, and I tried to stay away from wheat. I did have a little wedding cake on the trip, but I came home weighing what I weighed when we left for the trip! I've noticed that avoiding wheat has resolved my issues with water retention.
I still have these size 20 jeans in my closet, just as a measure of restraint. They are there to remind me of what I used to have to wear. I still struggle with self control, and I still eat and drink things that I shouldn't at times, but one day off the wagon is just that. One day.

I've been reading Made to Crave, which a a great book that addresses the emotional and spiritual component of over eating.  I'll write a more detailed review of the book when I'm finished with it, but I want to share a quote from the book.
"Food can fill our stomachs but never our souls,
Possessions can fill our houses but never our hearts,
Sex can fill our nights but never our hunger for love.
Children can fill our days but never our identities."

The main point of the book is that we find true joy and satisfaction in God alone.  I finally got some time to listen an excellent sermon on gluttony that was recently preached at my church.  Hear is the link, if you'd like to watch it: Where do you find your satisfaction?  One point that our pastor made that really stuck a cord with me was this:

Does my over indulgence mean that someone else starves?

Oh that pinged my heart. I've seen severe poverty, I've lost a child in Ethiopia, partially due to malnourishment. How much money each week do we spend on food that we don't really need? How much of that money be given to buy food for someone else who doesn't know where their next meal is coming from?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saying Goodbye

I wish could be with my husband's side of the family today as they say good-bye to his grandmother - his Mamaw.  She passed away on Wednesday, and James and Eva left for Louisiana yesterday to be with his parents. Samuel and I stayed home because we've both been battling a stomach virus. I think we're both on the mend today though.

Mamaw was delighted to be a great-grandmother.

 I don't know what these ladies were talking about, but it sure was funny. James is not the best with the camera, but sometimes he captures some true gems. He grabbed up my camera after I left it to chase down a child & I'm so glad he got that shot.

 James has many fond memories of his Mamaw. She was very involved in the lives of her grandchildren. He talks often playing at her home as a child and vacationing in Nashville with her and her husband. She loved her husband well, and she enjoyed life best when he was at her side. Mamaw loved to sew and cook, and she enjoyed sharing her talents with others. We have three quilts that she made. In her wisdom, she made baby blankets to give her great grandchildren before her grandkids were even married. She feared that her hands wouldn't allow her to sew by the time the great-grandbabies came along. I'm glad she prepared them in advance!  James' favorite recipe of her's was her cornbread dressing, and he went over to her home one day around the time we got married so she could teach him how to make it.  I'm glad he did this, and so was she. The recipe was all memorized & she had never measured any of the ingredients. James measured everything out, and put it to paper.  Here is it is - you have to start with homemade cornbread first.
- Verdell Thomas
1 ½  C.  Martha White’s Self-rising corn meal
1 Tbs. oil
2 eggs
1 ¼ C. buttermilk
½  tsp. baking Powder

Preheat oven to 400°.  Beat eggs before adding them to the rest of the ingrediants in a medium sized bowl.  Mix well.  Pour into greased and floured skillet.  Put skillet into hot oven.  Bake 20 min. on Medium rack, then 5-10 min. on high rack.

Cornbread Dressing
- Verdell Thomas
1 cornbread (see above recipe)
2 stalks of celery (chopped)
1 onion (white or yellow)
1 can cream of chicken soup

Crumble cornbread in a large mixing bowl.  Saute celery and onion in skillet.  Mix celery and onion with crumbled cornbread in the mixing bowl.  Warm a can of Cream of Chicken soup with 1 can of water in skillet then mix into dressing.  Pour into buttered 9x13 aluminum pan – cut slits into dressing with knife before baking.  Bake at 350° for 15-20 min.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bye-Bye Wheat

At a doctor's appointment a couple of weeks ago, my doctor advised me to eliminate wheat from my diet.  This wasn't a big shock to me. I've recently had some blood work come back that may suggest I've got an autoimmune disease brewing, and wheat can be problematic for people with autoimmune diseases. I don't have any noteworthy symptoms, thankfully, so no diagnosis, no medication for now.
A few months ago, a pharmacist friend of mine let me borrow a book called Breaking the Vicious Cycle. That book outlines a diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), and my friend used it for his son following his diagnosis of Crohn's disease. After following the diet, his son is symptom free and not in need of any medication.  That is a huge victory.  However, the SCD plan is rather rigorous with a long list of foods to avoid - wheat is one of them, along with a host of others. Since I wasn't having any symptoms, it didn't make since for me to jump all in with it. One change I did make after reading the book was eliminating Splenda. I had been using it in my coffee and oatmeal. After giving it up, I realized just bad Splenda was making me feel.

After leaving the doctor's office, I decided that giving up wheat is doable. Coming from the girl who used to love and crave bread, that is a big deal.  Some friends gave me some good ideas of substitutions to make for wheat products in recipes, and I'm off to a good start.  Last Friday, the four of us went out to dinner at a little Italian restaurant. The bread didn't look appealing to me, so I didn't even want to eat it. The kids enjoyed it though.

I get most of my recipes from Skinnytaste, and you can find a searchable list of gluten free and paleo recipes there. I really love that the author post the nutrition facts for every single recipe. I had to give up my favorite Kashi granola bars, because they contain wheat. I started making my own, thanks to a gluten free recipe at Skinnytaste called Banana Split Bars.
So yummy!