Signed with the Cross of Christ

Matthew 16:24-25 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.'”

“If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you.  It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here…When you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God.  Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace.  For it is the grace of Christ, and not your own virtue, that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world.  You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you arm yourself with faith and are signed with the cross of Christ.” (Thomas a Kempis)

My New Favorite Thing

Dear Podcasts,

It wasn’t until this fall that I discovered you.  What was wrong with me that it took me so long?  I love you.
–Allison
Seriously, I think I was living under a rock until October.  I got taken in by Serial and my list of subscriptions has grown steadily since.
Here are some of my favorites (now that Serial is on hiatus):
The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey — I mentioned this in my last post.  It’s definitely my #1 — I feel like I’m just eavesdropping on two friends.  It’s fabulous.
The Therapy Show — a brother and sister team talking about all things psychology and sociology.  It was made for me. 
That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs — Annie is just so funny.  I wish she was my friend.
Stuff You Missed in History Class — I don’t listen to every episode, just the ones that look interesting, but they are short and I learn things.
And a few new (to me) ones:
World News Roundup — a seven minute summary of the news each day.  Keeps me informed but keeps me from becoming a news junkie.
Finish Line — this is a daily summary of the Boston Marathon Bombing Trial, so it won’t be around for long.  Two reporters discuss what happened in the courtroom each day.  It’s fascinating.  
I would love to hear what you’re listening to.  Send me recommendations!

Before 30

I’ve been listening to podcasts A LOT lately.  I started with Serial and quickly moved on to several others.  I listen while getting ready in the morning, while I’m cooking, at the gym….pretty much anytime I can.  If I could get away with it at work I might even be tempted to do that… 😉

Anyway, one of my favorites is The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.  She interviews some amazing women and I find it fun and inspiring.  I listened to an older one this morning, and during the episode, Jamie and her guest discussed an article from Relevant Magazine, “15 Things to Start Doing Before You’re 30”.  Since I am turning 30 in 11 short months (ahh!) I figured I’d see how I measure up.

1.  Wake up earlier that you have to

I try so hard to do this.  And I guess for the most part I am successful.  I always get to work earlier than I have to because I like to get settled and check my email and messages before kids start coming in.  I definitely want to make sure in the future that I wake up before my kids vs. being awakened by my kids.  I think it will make me a better mother.

2.  Save Money

I’m getting there with this one but I need to do better.  I put money away for retirement, but need to do better with my budget and adding money to my savings account, especially since I just took out a good chunk for my Italy trip.

3.  Actually care about what you eat

Do I actually care? Yes.  Do I consistently eat in such a way that proves this? No.  Am I better than I was at 25? Yes.

4.  Create a pattern of giving in your finances.

I give myself a B-.  I give regularly, but I’ve felt convicted lately about the amount.

5.  Becoming friends with people much older than you

YES!  I love my “old lady friends”.  They are the best thing about Lexington to me, and I have been so blessed by their kindness and wisdom.

6.  Let go of baggage from past relationships.

Ask me when I’m 30.

7.  Be content with the life you have (while still trying to accomplish your dreams).

I think I’ve always done well with this.  I’m more or less content with my job and my ordinary, simple life.  However, I’ve got this dream of being a writer one day and I’m not letting it go just yet.

8.  Read the news every day.

Yep.  And watch the news.  Except recently.  I miss Brian Williams.

9.  Learn to unplug.

Ehhhh.  I do a pretty good job on the weekends. I try to set aside about 5 hours of uninterrupted time each week for me and I put my phone on “do not disturb” during that time.  I am attached to my phone but I am able to set my boundaries with this.

10.  Find organizations or causes to support long-term.

Young Life and World Vision are my big two right now and probably will be for a long time, but I am open to more, especially as I seek God’s will for my giving.

11. Make exercise a lifestyle.

I think if a teacher was writing comments on my report card they would read, “Needs improvement, but shows good effort”.  Ha.  I’m in the same place I am with my eating habits.

12.  Actively combat spiritual complacency.

Hmmm.  Can we ever say we’ve accomplished this?  It will be the fight of my whole life.

13.  Be intentional with relationships

Being a single woman in Lexington with a demanding job has made this a necessity.  I find that I am both naturally inclined to this and naturally disabled with this.  I’m an introvert, so I desire deep friendships and don’t want to waste time, but I’m also an introvert so I like to go home from work and put on sweats and watch TV with my dog.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

14.  Buy things that last

Slowly working on this.  I can only do so much since I live in a partially-furnished house.  I am saving for nice things though. 🙂

15.  Make margins in your life.

I’ve improved in this area dramatically since December.

And there you have it.  How is everyone else doing?  Anybody have any advice for me?

The God of All Comfort

I’ve been working on a few long(er) posts, but this all I wanted to share today.

Some of you may have seen this before…I know I have…but do me a favor and read it out loud this time.  Then, worship.

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in lift and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Cue the Doxology.

Infinite Wisdom, Mercy, and Love

2015 did not begin the way I hoped it would.  My boyfriend and I broke up after nearly two years of dating.  I can’t even begin to describe the hurt I felt.  To make it even worse, he began dating someone else within a couple weeks.  Weeks.  After two years.  This same man had told me that he loved me and wanted to marry me.  And he forgot about me within weeks.  Less than four weeks.
My heart aches. 
The past month has been one of the most difficult that I can remember, as I’ve sorted through my feelings (so.many.feelings!) and wrestled with the Lord over my deepest fears and hurts.  However, I’d be remiss if I failed to say that this month has been so sweet and precious.  God is proving to be my Refuge, Strength, and Shield.  I’m beginning to see things differently.  This breakup may really be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
As I’ve drawn near to Him, He’s revealed Himself in new ways. 
Exodus 13:17-18 “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.”
God led the Israelites down a MUCH LONGER road – through the desert in a roundabout way (see the map below).  In some ways it probably looked frustrating and unfair and ridiculous.  The truth, however, is that God had really chosen the easier way for them.  It was the road He knew they could handle, even if they didn’t always handle it well…hence the 40 years in the wilderness. 
I must trust that God has chosen the best way for me – the road that I can handle, but only by His strength; the road that will not cause me to flee from His grasp and run back to captivity; the road that will cause me to draw near to Him and seek His face with every breath.
Maybe he caused my ex to find someone else because He understands how weak I truly am, even better than I understood.  He knew my resolve might not have held and I would have run back to a relationship in which I now realize:
  • I was not loved
  • I was not tenderly cared for
  • Did not satisfy me or bring peace and contentment
  • Did not bring me joy
  • Was based on fear and the need to perform to prove myself worthy of his love and attention
  • Did not cause me to seek the Lord
  • Did not encourage me to fall more in love with Jesus

Acts 17:26-27 “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
God is merciful.  In His sovereignty, love, and tenderness, He ordered these circumstances so that I would reach out for Him.  The verse in Acts points to the fact that He plans all our lives to set us up for our best possible chance to know Him.  As Spurgeon writes, “Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there…Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.”  So even though sometimes I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to think about this without crying, He is good.  He ordered these things so that I could be rescued from a relationship that, if it had lasted, would have only led to my eternal destruction. 
All is grace.
I will praise Him.
His cross dispels each doubt;
I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each lingering shade of gloom.
I praise the God of grace;
I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine.
My God, my joy and light.

Christmas Tour of Homes

It’s Friday!!!

Today I’m participating in the Christmas Tour of Homes over at Kelly’s Korner.  
I love decorating for Christmas!  I don’t have a ton of decorations, mainly because I’m slowly buying things each year, but also because I am currently renting a furnished house and I am waiting to invest in some things until I live in my own space.  Still, I am pleased with how it’s all turned out.  
This is the view from the kitchen into the living room.  I bought this tree five years ago for $25.  It still looks good when decorated, but I plan to get a new one with the after-Christmas sales.  I love that my dog decided to put all his toys under the tree this year.  

 My landlord has a thing for corner cabinets so I tried to jazz them up a bit.

 I bought this candle nativity from Dayspring a couple years ago.  I plan to get a Willow Tree one in the future, but for now, this is enough.  I did the canvas myself.

This is a printable I downloaded from Pinterest several years ago,  I actually leave it up all year.
This is the view from the front door.  This house is so cozy.

 And a bad iPhone pic of the tree.

 Moving into the kitchen, I just have a few touches here and there.  Christmas mugs and She Reads Truth Advent prints….

 Some Christmasy hand towels I got for a dollar at Kohl’s.

 Another canvas I did last winter above the kitchen sink.

 My Christmas cookie tins.  I cut back on my Christmas baking this year for a couple reasons.  First, I just don’t have the time.  Work is crazy.  Second, I’m trying to be on a diet.  Not easy during this season, but I’m trying to muddle through.  I only made shortbread and snowballs, so a couple of these are empty.

 The kitchen table, which I rarely actually use for eating.  I should probably have used my Christmas tablecloth.  Oops.  The poinsettia in the background was a gift from my boss.

And there you have it.  How I wish I could decorate like this all year!

Tasty Tuesday: Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Caramel Frosting

Last week four of my coworkers in our front office had birthdays in a two-day span. Naturally, this required a party.  We planned a potluck lunch for Friday with a traditional birthday cake, but I wanted to make sure the Thursday birthdays didn’t feel completely ignored (Friday’s festivities were a surprise).

This is the cake I made for Thursday.  It is amazing.  The cake itself is so moist and the frosting is to die for.  Many people told me they’d love to just eat it with a spoon.  I found the recipe on Chef-in-training, and hers was much prettier.  I think I let the frosting cool a bit too much before pouring it on the cake.  I plan to make this one again soon and I will do better. 🙂

Cake Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-15 oz. can of pumpkin
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (which I omitted, obviously)
1 teaspoon salt

Frosting Ingredients:
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.
2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin and sour cream.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices and stir to combine.  Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.
3.  Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Invert cake onto a cooling rack (I suggest waiting about 10 minutes first) and cool completely.

For frosting (or is it icing — does anybody know the difference between the two or know which one this is?): heat milk and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla.  Cool for five minutes and pour over cake.

As you can see, I waited too long to drizzle and had to spread it with a spatula.  Fortunately, what this cake lacked in the visually appealing category, it made up for in taste.  Oh. my. Wow.

Tasty Tuesday: Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Blondies

I made these on Saturday and served them to my best culinary critics — my sisters — on Sunday.  The recipe is from Averie Cooks Blog and is in her upcoming cookbook that includes only pumpkin recipes.

Recipe first — then my thoughts.

Ingredients: 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I made my own sans nutmeg)
1-1/4 cup flour
3 Tablespoons sugar, for sprinking
2 Teaspoons cinnamon, for sprinking (I actually cheated her and used a cinnamon sugar blend that I keep on hand for toast)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

2.  In a large microwaveable bowl, melt the butter (about 1 minute) and set aside.

3.  Wait a little while for the butter to cool — this is key, y’all.  You don’t want scrambled eggs in your pastries!.  I actually whisked my egg before pouring into the mixture and stirred continuously while adding it.  It worked!  Then add brown sugar, pumpkin, vanilla and pie spice, and whisk until smooth.

4.  Add the flour and stir until just combined.

5.  Pour into prepared pan, smooth (I didn’t do that very well because I didn’t care) and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

6.  Bake 25-27 minutes or until done (toothpick comes out cleanish).

Overall, this makes a yummy dessert.  I must say, however, that I was slightly disappointed with the texture and I think the “Blondie” in the name was misleading.  I just didn’t get that wonderful blondie taste and texture in this.  I’m not sure if it needed more butter, more flour or what.  Maybe it’s just that the pumpkin makes it very moist and spongy/rubbery.  It just isn’t what I expected but was still yummy.  I would just prefer that they’d been named “Pumpkin Snickerdoodle BARS” and there wouldn’t have been such a let down for me personally.

They do, however, get the Mock girls’ stamp of approval.

Divine Love

A friend shared this Spurgeon devotional below on Facebook a few days ago.  These words are such comfort, both to her, who is walking the road of a mother whose child is gravely ill, and to me.  While I face nothing so severe, I spend much time wishing my life was different.  Praying for dreams to finally come to fruition.  Wondering why, if He loves me, He has not given me the life I’ve hoped for since I was a small girl.

But this is the truth: if any other circumstance were better, I would be there.  I must trust that this is best.

Psalm 47:4 — “He shall choose our inheritance for us.”

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you.  Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition.  A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should some one ask, “Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?” His answer would be, “Because I should not get my vessel into harbour at all if I did not keep to the deep channel.”  So, it may be, you would run into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession.  Some plants die if they have too much sunshine.  It may be that you are planted where you get but little, you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation you will bring forth fruit unto perfection.  Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.  You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, “Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.”  Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.  Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God.  Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love!

“Trials must and will befall–
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all; 
This is happiness to me.”
**Copied from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening, November 11, emphasis mine**