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BLESSINGS FROM BROKENNESS

I’ve been reflecting on what God has done in my life over the last two years, and I don’t want to keep His goodness to myself, so I’d like to share some of our story.  (I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures and my wordiness!)

 

The hard part is figuring out where to begin…

 

By nature, I’m a fairly independent, self-motivated, self-reliant person.  What I didn’t realize until recently was how much my self-reliance stunk of pride.  I’ve always been a go-getter.  If there was something that needed to be done, I did it.  If there was something that needed to be fixed, I fixed it.  (I sometimes even fixed things that didn’t need to be fixed.)  If there was a problem, I could analyze it and conjure up a (usually) practical solution.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely good to be a hard worker, but it’s also good to know when to leave things alone and to trust God.  I didn’t have that balance down. Up until the beginning of our marriage, I had never had to trust God with anything big. Everything in life had been pretty well managed by me. Then, God began doing something beautiful.  He began taking my false pretense of control away.  He began showing me that I couldn’t figure out everything on my own; that I couldn’t direct my own life. He did it by taking things away from me.

 

At the beginning of our marriage we were happy DINKs (Double Income, No Kids).  It’s funny to look back at that time now (you know, hind-sight is 20/20).  At the time, I had a tendency to be somewhat tight-fisted with our money.  I knew we were comfortable financially, but never saw our situation as abundant.  I was cautious.  I planned.  I budgeted.  I was “in control”.

 

And then we got pregnant, and when Clara was born, I stayed home with her.  Allen and I both always knew that was what we wanted, so when the time came, it was an easy decision for us. And our income was cut in half.  And there were three of us now instead of just two. So, I became even more tight-fisted, even more cautious, even more “in control”.

 

And then, when Clara was four months old (yes, seriously, four months… not a typo) I was pregnant again (surprise!).  And the economy started turning down.  Macy Jane was born and out of necessity Allen started his own business.  Now, in case you don’t know experientially, starting your own business is hard work… and the first years don’t typically pay well.  We lived day-to-day.  Our needs were always met, but things were t-i-g-h-t.  For awhile I was pretty stressed, always worrying about future needs, but in the midst of it, I began to seek God more and heard Him question my heart, “Brooke, do you have food to eat today?  Do you have clothes to wear and a roof over your head today? I know that you don’t have what you think you need for tomorrow, but tomorrow is not here yet. I am taking care of you today, and I’m already in your tomorrow.  I’ll take care of you there too. Rest in Me.”  And so, I began to release the control that I thought I had.  The burden was lifted from my shoulders.

 

Because Allen worked for himself, he didn’t have a consistent paycheck, so we didn’t know what our financial status looked like until the end of the year when he did his taxes… and that, I’m sure is a blessing.  At the end of the year, we discovered that with a family of four, we lived on half of what we had lived on as a family of three, and one-fourth what we had lived on as happy DINKs.  And, unbelievably, I would describe that year and the year that followed as the two best years of our marriage (to date).

 

Had we known what to expect at the beginning of that year, I know I would have panicked, refused to live that way, and “fixed it”… and as a result, I would have missed out on all that God taught me through the experience.  I’m thankful that we didn’t have an overall picture of our salary for the year until the year was over and we had already survived it!  And truly, it’s amazing to reflect on those two years, knowing what we lived on, and knowing how we lived.  It just doesn’t add up.  We should have been p.o.o.r.  Seriously.  And though I was constantly aware of how tight our budget was, I never felt poor or deprived of any good thing.  Mathematically, the numbers simply don’t compute.  But, there’s no equation that factors in the goodness of God and His provision for His people.  God showed me His power and deepened my faith and trust in Him through this experience.

 

Throughout the same two years, my health very gradually decreased, and my weight very gradually increased.  At a time when I desperately wanted to find a creative way to help our family financially, I no longer had the clearness of mind to plan or the energy to execute any grandiose ideas that I came up with.

 

And then, sweet Clara, got sick, and we simply couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.  She got terrible welts all over her body that would unexplainably appear, disappear, and re-appear in different locations.  Her stomach hurt all the time.  She didn’t want to be hugged or tickled – ever – because even the lightest touch hurt her belly.  She didn’t seem like the same girl at all.  Our pediatrician said it was just hives caused by a bug bite and that benadryl would fix it.  WRONG.  We didn’t have answers or the resources to find the answers.  We felt helpless.  And it turns out that when we’re at the point that we realize we’re helpless, that’s the very best place to be. Helplessness, or brokenness, forces us to focus on and depend on God like nothing else.  It humbles us, and that’s what I needed in my life.

 

Those two years are over.  We have “turned a corner”.  Allen was offered his dream job, so he no longer works for himself… and it turns out that he likes his new boss better than his old one (I couldn’t resist!).  Clara received expensive medical treatment from some amazing doctors who very quickly discovered what was wrong and effectively treated her.  I have just begun (even more expensive) treatment at the same facility, and have already been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (a form of hypothyroidism), which explains all of my symptoms, and my health has already begun to improve.  And God has provided for all of our needs each step of the way, including for our medical expenses.

 

At this point, I should feel intense relief because our circumstances are improving.  And I do.  But I also feel some uneasiness.  When things were hard, it was obvious that I had no control, and I had to depend on God like never before.  But now, we’re slipping back into comfortable living.  Our needs are met for today and tomorrow and we’re healthy (or getting there).  Will I forget what God has taught me?  Will I slip back into self-dependence and pride?  I pray not. Now, I can truly say that I would rather live in poverty for the Lord than live in excess for myself.

 

Here’s what I learned during those two lean years that I don’t want to forget…

  • to thank God for His provision today and to trust Him for His provision tomorrow.
  • to seek God and wait patiently on Him.
  • to be joyfully content in want.
  • even at our poorest, we are still richer than the majority of the world.
  • to let go.
  • in a stuff-driven world, to appreciate, and strive for, simplicity.
  • to give sacrificially.
  • I learned that God detests pride, even in the form of my self-reliance, and that when I am unwilling to humble myself, He will humble me because He loves me too much to allow me to continue living relying only on myself, apart from Him.
  • I began to truly understand that He is my strength and my happiness and I will not find those things anywhere else.
  • to get my priorities straight and live according to them.
I hope, whatever God’s plans are for our future, that I never forget the work He’s done in my past.

DINNER LAST NIGHT

One of our favorite meals is Black Bean Chicken Chili.  We all love it.  It magically disappears from the girls’ bowls and they quickly ask for seconds.  It’s also incredibly easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 2 (28oz each) cans of stewed tomatoes, UNdrained
  • 1 (15oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups medium salsa
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese for the topping (optional)
  • avocados for the topping (optional)
  • fritos for topping (optional)
  • sour cream for topping (optional)
  • salsa for topping (optional)

Directions

  • Cook chicken, onion, bell pepper, garlic and chicken broth in a dutch oven over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onion is tender.
  • Add all other ingredients (except toppings).  Stir.  Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes, stirring often.
  • Serve with toppings as desired.

A THANKFUL HEART

My girls like to talk, talk, talk.  And most of the time, (as in, when it’s in the appropriate setting), I really enjoy hearing what’s swirling around in their minds.  All day yesterday, Clara (3 years old) and I had the same conversation… over and over.  It was really precious, so, when, at dinner time, she started that same conversation with me again, I told her to WAIT!  I ran from the dinner table to grab our lap top, flipped it open, and said, “Go ahead now” and I transcribed for her.  I wanted to be able to share her sweet ideas with Ami, my mom.

Ami is a shopper, a bargain hunter, and a gift giver.  I’d say that about 96.547% of everything Clara has is from Ami.  And Clara knows it.

When she gets dressed in the mornings, she’ll ask, “Momma, who bought this pretty pink shirt for me?” to which I respond, “Ami did. Wasn’t that sweet of her?”

After breakfast, when she goes to get toys from her bookshelf, “Momma, where did this baby doll come from?  I never seen it before.” And of course, the response is, “Ami bought that for you.  Aren’t you thankful for all of the gifts Ami gives you?”

After playing inside for awhile, we go outside and Clara hops on her tricycle, asking, “Momma, did Ami give this to me?” And, as we all know, the answer is, “Well, yes, she did!”

So, yesterday, Clara said,  We should give Ami a special present.  She gives so many things to us.  I want to give something to her.  

What do you think we should give Ami?

A fancy phone….

An adult-sized t-shirt with sparkles!

Fancy sparkly shoes!

A mom book.

A nice fancy chair.  That would be good.

And, like, hmmm, like some…

Well, when people don’t have food, we just give some food to our people.  So, if Ami doesn’t have food, we should give some to her.  That’s a good way of sharing.

Are you typing the present ideas still?  You are?  Ok, good. 

What if we give Ami a fancy skirt?

A fancy coffee cup.  I like fancy things… but not fancy food.

We can make a baby doll that’s for Ami.  A fancy baby doll for Ami.  And a stroller when I come there.  A fancy stroller.  Hey, she only has 2 and I want 3 for her.  The reason I want 3 is because, so, ummm, so when I come to her we can have 3, ‘cause I like sparkly things.  

A sparkly…..

Not a fancy computer, just a nice computer that has ruckles on it.  Momma, say, “what are ruckles?”  (Clara loves to make up her own words.  It’s cute… but sometimes conversations with her can become a little confusing.)

What are ruckles?  

Like a poof ball.

I’m gonna take a bite now.  Boy, that’s good.  (Remember, it’s dinner time.)

Now, how about…. no more sparkly things.

I think we should get Ami a pen.  Like a nice pen…. let’s put some glue on the pen and we’ll put some diamond tops on it.  Diamond tops are the things that have circles with a hole in them, but there are no screw holes, that’s it.

And how bout, we can put some… I have one more sparkly thing…

We can make a streamer with sparkly things on it.  And we have to glue it.  The sparkly things on it.

And a calendar that has some glue on it to make um, to make um, diamond tops on it.  The diamond tops are pushy things.  They’re very small and we can use them with the pen.

Helloooooo Ami! I’m giving you some presents!  (Arms outstretched, as if she’s carrying a huge load of gifts.)

Do you think Ami likes sparkly, fancy things? (She doesn’t.  At all.  She’s very casual.)

I think she does!

Any other ideas?

And um, a silly band.  Like a mom silly band.

And place mat.

And a board.

What kind of board.

Like on our, um, like a board, like the board on our wall.  In a frame.

What would Ami use it for?

For um, the wall.  And…

And I think that’s it, but I still got one more present for Ami.

A FLOWER!  That goes with the presents!  We should wrap them up in a box and put the flower on it!

One more thing.  A shirt with a dyva on top of it.  A dyva means under the sea with a rectangle on it, no screws in it.  (Remember, she’s got a thing for made-up words.)

So that’s one of the presents.

One more thing.  A piggie tale.  Wait!  I was confused.  It was not that.  It was… it was… it was a pony tale!  A pony tale holder.

Like a pony tale holder into my hair, in yours.  We get a lot of hair and then we put it down and then we put a pony tale holder into my hair.

And one more present.  Just one more.  How about we get a red shirt and pink shirt?  How would that be?

I like that.

Me too.

That’s it!

 

DINNER LAST NIGHT

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy pinterest.  It’s such an efficient way to catalog ideas so that they can be quickly, easily found again.  Lately, whenever our stomachs have started grumbling, I’ve been heading to pinterest to find new inspiration.  Last night, we had this:

basil spaghetti with cheesy broiled tomatoes

Basil Spaghetti with Cheesy Broiled Tomatoes

It was fabulous!  I wish there had been leftovers for lunch today… but I guess we enjoyed (all of) it too much last night!  Here’s the recipe, from Real Simple.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • 3 large beefsteak tomatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds), cut into 4″ thick slices
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated or sliced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 oz), plus more for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving

Directions

  1. Heat broiler. Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet. Season with ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Dividing evenly, sprinkle the slices with the mozzarella and Parmesan. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a small saucepan, warm the oil with the garlic and red pepper over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic oil, basil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve topped with the tomatoes, additional basil, and shaved Parmesan.

 

APPLE OF MY EYE

I just finished studying how we are created in God’s image and are reflections of him when Macy Jane (2yrs) woke up and stumbled into the living room to find me.  She climbed up in my lap and we gently hugged on each other for few minutes before I leaned her back in my arms so that I could look into her face as I told her how much I loved her.  As she was leaning back, she pointed directly to my pupil, in awe, and said, “Macy Jane!”.  In the darkness of the early morning, with the soft glow of light from the table lamp next to us, I realized that as we were focusing on one another she was able to clearly see her reflection in the apple of my eye, and I in hers.

 

eye

 

The meaning of the idiom “apple of my eye” is someone that you cherish above all others, someone on whom the eye gazes with pleasure.  The Hebrew word for this idiom is literally translated “little man of the eye”, referring to the reflection of someone seen in the pupil.  This phrase is used in two ways in the word of God: first to portray the Lord’s careful observance of His people, and second to remind God’s people of how they are to live.

For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.  In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.  He shielded him as the apple of his eye. (Deuteronomy 32: 9-10)

My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.  Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.  Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 7: 1-3)

 

Not only does God lovingly, constantly gaze on me, but He also protects me as you would carefully, diligently shield your eyes if anything were to threaten them.  His eyes are on me and His ears are attentive to my prayers (1 Peter 3:12).  In this incredible relationship, He commands that I live according to His ways.  He does this for my own good.  His commands for my life are yet another way that He lovingly protects me.

 

He tells me to guard His teachings as the apple of my eye.  If His teachings are the apple of my eye, the reflection that is on the surface of my eye, then it follows that I must be constantly gazing at His word, reading it, studying it, examining it.  His word and His ways should be precious to me.  As I use my eyes to view the world around me, and the reflection of His teachings is “engraved” on my eyes, they become the filter through which I view everything.  I should be familiar with them, view the world through them, live according to them, and pass them on as I would a most treasured possession.

 

It is so beautiful that as I focus on Him, without being distracted by the things of this world, He is more clearly reflected in me.

1. Stop living according to the ways of the world: Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to Your word. (Psalm 119: 37)

2. Focus on the Lord: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

3. Wisdom comes from the Lord: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

4. Shine in the darkness: Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12: 3)

DINNER LAST NIGHT

This grown-up version of tortilla soup was a big hit in our house… even with our 2 and 3 year old girls.  Some of you have asked what we feed them when we eat something like tortilla soup garnished in avocados and cilantro.  It seems too adultish for toddlers, right?  They eat exactly what we eat.  As a friend of mine says, “This is not McDonalds.  You don’t get to order off a menu in my kitchen.”  I take the time to fix healthy, tasty meals, and we all enjoy them together.  And we really enjoyed this recipe.  Luckily there are left-overs for lunch tomorrow.  Yummm!

BIRTHDAY BASH 2011

This year we threw one party to celebrate both of our daughters’ birthdays.  Half the work, double the fun!  It was a colorful “garden party”.

The bird houses came from Jo Anns’ for $1 each.  I painted them before the party and the kids decorated them with foam stickers at the party.

The girls requested a strawberry cake.  My mother-in-law gave me an incredible icing recipe and I followed this tutorial to decorate the cake.

ICING RECIPE
Mix together the following ingredients.
1/2 cup crisco
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk

The bumble bees are marshmallows dipped in yellow-colored icing and decorated with vanilla and chocolate icing.

 

This apple dip recipe is a-maz-ing!  It’s from my friend Lisa.

APPLE DIP RECIPE
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 pkg of an 8oz bag of SKOR English Toffee Bits (or Heath Bits)
Mix the cream cheese, sugars, and vanilla.  Fold in toffee bits just before serving.

This is my personal favorite cake recipe.  It’s also from my mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook.  Everything that comes out of her kitchen is memorable.  It’s rich, chocolatey, super moist, and has a wonderfully chewy outside.  LOVE it!  (I’ve made the mistake of icing this cake once.  Only once.  I learned my lesson.  When you ice this cake, you miss out on the incredible texture of the chewy outer crust, one of my favorite things about the cake.)

CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE
1  yellow butter recipe cake mix (Yes, yellow.  That’s not a typo.)
4 oz chocolate fudge instant pudding
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
8 oz carton sour cream
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a bundt pan.  Mix the ingredients, one at a time, in the order listed above.  Stir chocolate chips in last.  Bake for 55 minutes.  When the cake is cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

 

I flavored these cream cheese candies in mint, butter, and almond flavors.

CREAM CHEESE CANDY RECIPE
4 – 4-1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp flavoring
Mix ingredients.  Mold into candies.  Allow to harden.  Store in the fridge, or freeze for long periods.

 

The hats are from my etsy shop, Nanny Birds.

The metal canisters are also from Jo Anns, also $1 each.  The kids filled them with potting soil and planted flower seeds in them.  They came with clear lids, which was perfect for transporting them home without making a mess.

My new niece and nephew, Gus and Lula, also came to celebrate with us!  When we put the date for the party on the calendar, we didn’t expect these sweet guests to be able to attend because the adoption process is so long.  God blessed us all by speeding the process along so that they could come home much earlier than anticipated. Aren’t they adorable???

Gus got ahold of a baby doll bottle.  It made a great chew toy.

Look at this sweet brother and sister.  I can’t imagine our family without them now.  We are so blessed!

Here are Macy Jane and my dad.  Macy Jane snatched his glasses.  These pictures of them together just melt my heart.  My dad’s such an awesome grandpa.

Happy, happy birthday sweet girls.  I love you both deeply and dearly and would never want to imagine my life without you.

DINNER LAST NIGHT

Last night was a meat-and-potatoes kind of meal… very popular with Allen.  We had meatloaf, steamed carrots, salad with homemade dressing, and lemon-butter potatoes.  WHY does meat loaf never look as good as it tastes?  It’s not pretty.  (The Betty Crocker recipe just has ketchup on top of the meatloaf.  I mixed up ketchup, dark brown sugar, and a little bit of mustard because I like the sweetness!)

TEXTURED WREATHS

I made three wreaths that now hang in our dining room and I LOVE them.  They’re created from things that I already had laying around: buttons, lima beans, and an extra copy of The Strong Willed Child.  Sorry Dr. Dobson! I have to admit that I felt like a giddy five year old as I glued the lima beans on the wreath form.  It felt like such a kid craft.  But, I’m very happy with the finished product.  You can find a tutorial to make your own lima bean wreath here, and a similar tutorial for a book wreath here.

CLAY’S BABY SHOWER

I believe every pregnancy should be celebrated whether it’s your first or fifth.  So, I was very excited to be able to throw a baby shower for my sweet friend Kerry, who was pregnant with her third baby.  Because Clay would be their third boy, they had all of the equipment, clothes, and boy toys they needed, so this was a low-key dinner party and we showered her with diapers and wipes… because you can NEVER have too many of them!