Friday, August 30, 2013

Sow, Mama, Sow

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, he will also reap.  For one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will also reap from the Spirit eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."  Galatians 6:7-9

If you are a mama, you know all about sowing.  Your whole days' work is sowing: changing diapers, nursing babies, comforting bumps and bruises, reading Bible stories, cleaning up the millionth accident, praying with kiddos, sharing the gospel and teaching them everything under the sun.

And if all your little ones are still pretty young, you probably haven't reaped much yet.  Maybe you have been working at potty training for months, and haven't reaped the reward of a potty trained child.  Maybe you have patiently and consistently disciplined tantrums time after time after time recently with seemingly no progress.  Maybe you read Bible stories every night and pray several times during the day, and your child still shows no interest in spiritual matters.  And these things are pretty little; you are still years away from seeing your child choose to do good for others, seeing them be reborn into a relationship with Christ, or see them be able to help in any significant way around the house or with siblings.

This has been especially hard for me in foster parenting.  I taught oldest brother A his letters, but never got to see him read.  I have changed thousands of diapers on baby girls J and A, and baby boy A, but never got to see the accomplishment of them being potty trained.  I have gotten to share the gospel with all five of the children that have been in our home, but never got to see any of them reborn.  But the reaping with these kiddos is different than the reaping that happens with biological or adopted kiddos.  In due season, I will reap what I sowed with them, but this will probably not be until Heaven.

What does the Bible say to those of us in the sowing stage of life? Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  Do not grow weary, mama.  God will reward it.  He will give you a harvest to reap.  It seems a long way off, but it will also be here before you know it.

If you have ever planted a veggie garden, you know this. In spring this year, the tomatoes seemed so far away.  I spent hours in the garden planting, weeding, tilling, composting and fertilizing.  All I could think about were all the tomato recipes that I hadn't been able to enjoy since the previous summer and how much I wanted juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes ASAP.  In June, we had green tomatoes on the vine for a good month before any chose to ripen.  But now we are harvesting.  We have tomatoes coming out of our ears, and I have barely any work but to water the garden and pick the tomatoes.

'vegetable garden, detail' photo (c) 2008, Southern Foodways Alliance - license:
So let your garden be a lesson for your life.  You will not reap if you do not sow.  You will not reap much if you do not sow well.  You will reap weeds if you sow weeds.  You will reap beets if you sow beets, even if you hate beets.  And you will reap fresh, delicious produce, if you work hard to sow and tend the right plants.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the unamerican parable

"Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
-jesus, in luke 17:7-10

this is one of my favorite parables. its hard to exactly describe why, but i just love it because its so counter to american christianity where everyone thinks that they are the center of God's universe.

we should be serving God in realization of our own unworthiness, without demanding our service be recognized.   our continual thought should be "we are unworthy.  praise Him, praise Him."   

praise Him because he doesn't need us, praise Him because he invites us to participate in his mission to the world.

--from the archives 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hot Days, Cold Drinks: Green Peach Smoothie

I love smoothies.  Around here, we have smoothies at least weekly, and sometimes (especially in the summer) daily.  Since smoothies are one of the only ways to get green vegetables into Esther, I make them even more often for her.

Green vegetables into a smoothie? Why yes.  Green smoothies are pretty trendy these days, so you may already be familiar with the concept.  The veggies we usually use are a mixture of leafy greens (kale, chard, beet greens, spinach), steamed, pureed and frozen in ice cube trays.  Each cube is the right size for a smoothie.  We also keep spirulina on hand to add to smoothies as it is very nutrient dense.

Though raw leafy greens are trendy these days, I think that there is more evidence to support the idea that it is better to cook your leafy greens in some way before eating them, because of the goitrogens that affect your thyroid (especially if you eat greens daily as we do).  Even if Esther didn't have thyroid issues, I would still probably do this, but especially because of her thyroid we make sure to cook all of our greens well.

Many types of fruit will work for this recipe.  We generally use whatever fruit we can get for the best price, and since our neighbor lets us take whatever peaches from their tree that fall onto the ground, we have been having lots of peach smoothies this summer.  Other types of fruit we use in smoothies include blueberries, pears, blackberries, strawberries and plums.

Green Peach Smoothie
(makes two servings)

1 frozen banana
1 cup cubed peaches
1 cup kefir or plain yogurt or coconut milk
1 ice cube of steamed greens (see above)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon redmond's clay (optional)
1 teaspoon spirulina

1.  Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until smooth.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Four Great Biblical Womanhood Resources

In a world that constantly seeks to flatten gender differences, as Christian women we need to constantly "renew our mind" (Romans 12:2) by learning about biblical womanhood from the One who created man and women.

Here are four great resources about biblical womanhood for your refreshment and encouragement.

1. The Bible

Reading and meditating on scripture is by far the most effective way to battle the lies we hear daily by living in the world.  Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3 and Titus 2 are great passages on godly womanhood, as well as Ephesians 5:22-24 and Proverbs 14:1.  The whole book of Proverbs is excellent for increasing in wisdom.

2. Under Authority like Christ by Mark Driscoll (a sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:2-16)

I have listened to this sermon probably 5 or 6 times.  I love how he is very upfront and unapologetic about what the Bible teaches about womanhood in the context of the church, even when it goes against our current culture.  Moreover, the reasons for why biblical womanhood is better than feminism are important to hear.  He delves into the topic of submission and being under authority, and points out that Christ himself was also under authority, showing that submission is not a demeaning thing.  I especially love the two stories he tells during the last part of the sermon, so make sure to listen until the end.

3. Speaking on Womanhood by Voddie Baucham (a sermon on Titus 2)

I found this sermon randomly last month.  I listened to it and found it to be the best sermon on Titus 2 that I have ever heard.  I found myself going "yes!" and "amen!" the whole time I was listening.  This sermon focuses on a woman's role, especially in the context of marriage and family.  A strong, biblical wife and mother will make for a godly family.

4.  The Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney

This is the best book on biblical womanhood that I have read.  I am hoping to re-read it sometime in the near future.  Carolyn Mahaney touches on some of the same things as Baucham (as they are covering the same passage) but she is able to go more in depth since it is a book, and she is able to speak more from personal experience, since she is a woman.

What resources on biblical womanhood would you recommend?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

happy to be a mel.

i just finished a gem of a book called "temperament and the christian faith" by o. hallesby

i love when i read books like that... little, short books with powerful content, ones that few people talk about, books that are years old and maybe have been put to the back shelf with all the new books that are coming out all of the time.

this book was one of those kinds. i've already read a lot about temperament, but found this to be possibly one of the most valuable resources on the topic. specifically, God used the book to help me understand some more things in my relationship with alex [how he functions and also the strange ways that i function].

i loved his description of the melancholy. it was like reading about a day in the life of sarah costa, haha.

in celebration of this gem, i will share a couple of the quotes that impacted me:

"the struggle of one's own thoughts is like fighting a chimney sweep. the more we fight him, the dirtier we become. the more the melancholic individual struggles against his morbid self-centeredness, the more will his thoughts continue to circle around himself... the struggle must be continued daily. as often as he is convicted of his self-absorption, so often must he turn to christ to be renewed by him."

[after describing how melancholies are pessimistic, overly-sensitive, self-absorbed, critical, complaining... the "suffering" temperament of the four]:

"john, the melancholic, was the disciple the Lord loved. this fact i wish to underscore as a consolation for all melancholics. there are none that suffer so much as the melancholics. they have, as we have said, the suffering temperament. regardless of outward circumstances, it is the nature of melancholics to suffer."

"[in heaven] our temperaments also will be perfected. on the new earth under the new heaven, the saved will reflect their Creator's glory, not as exact copies of one another, but in an endless, varied multitude, proclaiming God's rich creation throughout eternity.

the divine masterpiece will be completed: the chorus of the redeemed of all ages will blend in perfect harmony, to the praise of his glory"

i cant wait!!

--from the archives 

Monday, August 19, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: sun tea

you may have noticed a trend in my cold drink recipe series.  almost every recipe calls for stevia.

there are many reasons that i use stevia in most of my sweetened drinks, hot and cold.  the biggest reason is because stevia is so simple to use, as it mixes easily into the drink.  my other sweetener of choice, raw honey, is almost impossible to dissolve in cold drinks, and takes work to stir into hot drinks.  stevia mixes in within seconds.  as a busy mama, the difference between seconds and minutes is priceless.

i also like stevia because it is much less expensive than honey.  one bottle is a bit pricey ($15 for 4 oz) but it lasts a long time (at least two months, and we use stevia daily). on the other hand a gallon of raw honey (which i guesstimate sweetens approximately as much as 4 oz of stevia) costs about $45.  big difference!

another reason to love stevia is because it is an all-natural sweetener made from the herb stevia.  make sure to buy the liquid form of stevia, which is less refined than the powder.  also, make sure to do research on which brands have the most pure form of liquid stevia.  we like sweetleaf brand.

stevia is the perfect sweetener for sun tea.  the best part about sun tea is that you don't need to heat the water to make it.  not only does this save energy, the environment and money, but it also keeps your kitchen cooler in the hot summer time!  this recipe makes a weak brewed tea, which i find refreshing in the summer.  if you like a stronger brew, add a few more tea bags.

Sun tea brewed in Mason jar
Sun Tea

4 bags of black tea
1 gallon of filtered water
juice from 1 lemon
stevia to taste (about 5-6 droppers full)

1.  add water to a gallon sized glass jar.  add tea bags, keeping the tags out of the water.  screw on the lid with the tags hanging out so that the tags are outside of the lid.

2. set in a sunny spot for 6-8 hours.  i usually make sun tea first thing in the morning, and let it brew until mid-afternoon.  that way it can cool in time to serve with dinner.

3. after the tea has brewed, add juice from one lemon and stevia to taste.  for visual appeal, add a few slices of lemon to the pitcher if you want.

4. chill and enjoy!

click here for the next recipe in the series: green peach smoothie

photo credit: Andrew on flickr

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"I wish that more people would recognize how much I sacrifice."

These were the unfortunate words that tumbled out of my mouth one evening recently.

Being a stay at home mom is hard.  Serving at church is hard.  Neither of these jobs usually come with an annual performance review, where at least once a year you can hope that your boss will recognize and reward your hard work.

It can be encouraging and motivating when others commend and compliment our hard work.  But is this why we do it?  Should this be our motivating factor and what we live for?

Not at all.  The Bible says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ." (Colossians 3:23-24)

It is important to note the context of this verse.  Paul was writing to Christian slaves.  Some of these slaves were even serving non-Christian masters, meaning that all their hard work was not only not benefitting their own life, but going towards someone who was an enemy of their God.  But what does Paul say?  Work half heartedly unless you are serving a Christian master?  No, he says work heartily.  Another translation says "work hard and cheerfully".

Why?  And how can they do this?  Because they are to view serving a non-Christian master the same as serving God (since, after all, God is the one who puts all people of authority into our lives).  The work God had given these slaves was to serve, and they were to serve out of the reality that they really were ultimately serving God.

Now if this is the command for someone whose whole life was devoted to serving someone they didn't have any kind of desire to serve, how much more so those of us who have the privilege to serve those whom we love?  Whether it is fellow Christians or your family, we especially should be following this command.  Moreover, we should do it because all of our work is ultimately for God, and when done with the right attitude for the right reasons, it will have eternal rewards, unlike the temporal compliment of a boss whose words are quickly forgotten.

So what did I do after I spoke those words?  I repented.  I confessed my evil heart and asked God to change me.  I can't serve like this on my own, and daily pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that I would be filled with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" towards my family and others.  The bad news is that we can never do it on our own, but the good news is that with God's power, we can live like this, and serve others with joy.

Keep seeking Him for the strength to work hard and cheerfully for eternal things!

Monday, August 12, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: coconut iced chai

i love the decadent richness of coconut milk.  adding coconut milk to any dish or drink is sure to take it up a few notches in taste.  that is why i love the combination of coconut milk and chai tea.  this recipe tastes like it should cost $5.00 at a coffee shop (and they could easily charge that much) but you can make it at home for less than $1.00 (even if you are using organic ingredients!).

for this recipe, i use loose leaf chai tea blend of rooibos and tulsi herbal teas.  i am starting to move towards loose leaf teas because they are less expensive per pound than bagged tea, and create less waste.  almost any chai tea should work for this: black, green or herbal, bagged or loose-leaf.  sometimes i make a double batch of tea for breakfast and drink half with breakfast and save the other half for an afternoon iced chai!

Chai Latte at Chinatown Coffee

coconut iced chai 

1 cup of strong brewed chai tea, cooled
1/2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
5-8 drops of stevia (more or less to taste)

1.  stir together the tea, coconut milk and stevia.  pour over ice and enjoy!

click here for the next recipe in the series: sun tea

photo credit: Mr. T in DC on flickr

Friday, August 9, 2013

3 Ways to Welcome in Strangers

What does it mean to be hospitable?  How do we best live out the bible's commands to be hospitable?

'Twin beds with an exotic flair' photo (c) 2008, - license:
Often, when we think of the characteristic of being hospitable, we think of someone who likes to host events: parties, dinners, play dates.  But when the bible uses the language of hospitality, it is referring to welcoming strangers into our homes, especially for overnight (see for example, Hebrews 13:2).  In the time that the bible was written, inns were rare and sketchy.  Travelers would often stay in the home of a stranger while going to a different town.  Christians are commanded to welcome in these strangers without complaint, rejoicing to get to serve in such a way.  In fact, this was so important that one of the qualifications for a person to be an elder was to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8).

These days, this meaning can be lost on us.  It is rare to have a stranger stay with us while traveling, usually they stay at any of the nice, welcoming hotels in town.  But the biblical command remains, even if our customs have changed.  So how do we show hospitality this day in age?  Here are three suggestions.

1.  Be a Couch Surfing host

You can publicly offer your house as a place to stay for "couch surfers" (the website i linked to is one way to network with people looking for a place to stay while traveling).  Often times these are young, single people, the demographic of people who are are questioning spiritual matters and looking for answers to life's big questions.  By hosting a couch surfer you are letting these people into your life and allowing them to see how a Christian lives.  Furthermore, if you invite them to eat with you (which you certainly should) you have the opportunity to learn more about them and let them learn about you, since these kinds of conversations happen best over meals.

This type of ministry reminds me a bit of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who ran a guesthouse in Switzerland open to people seeking answers to spiritual matters. The Schaeffers had an impact on many people through this ministry.  In fact, Mrs. Schaeffer's keeping of the home was an integral part of this, as one person noted that, "As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer's cinnamon buns as through Mr. Schaeffer's sermons."

2.  Host an international student.

The past two summers (this summer we didn't have the extra space) we hosted Chinese students while they were studying here.  The students we hosted were young and had very low English language skills, but we tried our best to communicate our faith to them and live it out in front of them.  We also sent them home with parting gifts that included Christian materials in the Chinese language.

Hosting international students is a great ministry opportunity for many reasons.  It gives you the opportunity to share with people who come from countries (like China) where Christianity is restricted and missionaries are illegal.  Many internationals have never even met a Christian, let alone heard a reasonable explanation of Christianity.  Many have been told lies about Christians that can be broken down when they live in your home.  If they are in your home for a length of time, you will likely have the opportunity to have multiple conversations about spiritual matters.  They may come with walls up about Christianity, which can be broken down over time with love and intelligent conversation.

Even if you don't have the extra space to have a student stay with you (though some programs will allow international students to share a bedroom with your children), look for opportunities to invite internationals (including co-workers) over for meals, especially on holidays.  Many internationals come to America and are appalled at the lack of hospitality when they are never invited to someone's home during the entire duration of their stay here.  It could be possible that you are the only person reaching out to the lonely international friend in your life.

3. Be a foster parent.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am a big fan of foster parenting.  Foster parenting not only gives you the opportunity to invite someone in need into your home, but you may even be the first person who has ever truly loved that child.  You have the opportunity to change their entire worldview as they have likely come from a background of abuse and/or neglect.

Foster parenting is a ministry with a potential for great impact.  In contrast to ministries like after school programs, fostering is whole life ministry.  You don't just see the children for a few hours per day or week, when they can keep up a good face if needed to remain in the program.  When they are in your home it all comes out... but that means more opportunities to show unconditional love and forgiveness.  Furthermore, the opportunities for evangelism and discipleship of kiddos living in your home abounds.  Even on the hardest days, it is important to remember that everything you do for your foster children you are really doing for Jesus.  But not all (or even most) days are necessarily hard.  Fostering is fun when the kids write you thank you notes, when you see them become Christians, or when they just want to snuggle and hug.  There really is nothing else in the world that compares to being a foster parent.

Two verses that are very helpful and motivating in opening your home to strangers.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)

This happened before (see Genesis 18:1-15, Judges 6:11-24 and 13:3-24), and it could happen again in your home.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gatheredall the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40, ESV)

What we do for the least of Jesus' brothers, we are doing for him.  This has been a very important passage for me in our fostering journey.

What have been your experiences with welcoming strangers into your home?  How have you seen blessings come from it?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: The Better Baby Book

When I was at the library the other day, I was searching the "Latest Arrivals" shelf when a book caught my eye.  It was called "The Better Baby Book" by Dr. Lana and Dave Asprey.  Since I am in the child-bearing stage of life right now, and since health topics always interest me, I decided to pick up the book.  I was a little wary of it, because there are such a wide range of definitions for what is "healthy", but I was pleasantly surprised by the book and even felt like I learned a lot (which is saying a lot since I have read pretty extensively on how to have a healthy pregnancy).

The book is written by a husband and wife; he is a health researcher and blogger, she is a Swedish doctor.  They wrote this book after she had two babies in her early fourties.  Before she got pregnant, they both did extensive research on factors leading to a healthy pregnancy and baby.  Not only did she go through both pregnancies without morning sickness, strong cravings or stretch marks, but the prenatal tests done on both babies were off the charts- in a good way.  The person who did the tests for her second baby said they looked like the results of someone in their young 20's.  Of course this is just an anecdote and does not prove that every principle in the book is true and perfect, but it is interesting to note.  I found it especially encouraging because we want a large family which means probably having babies until my late 30's, which is deemed "high risk" but I am glad to hear information which will help me have have healthy babies (Lord willing) until my late 30's (also Lord willing!).

The premises of the book are based off of the newly emerging field of epigenetics.  Most people believe that our genes determine how we are, and that is true to an extent.  But studies are now showing that various environmental factors affect how genes are expressed, which is the study of epigenetics.  The environmental factors emphasized by the authors to positively affect gene expression in pregnancy include detoxification, supplementation, eating the right foods, and controlling maternal stress.

The detoxification chapter was the most helpful to me.  Though I have learned a lot about reducing toxins in our environment over the past few years (in household chemicals, health/beauty products, etc) the authors heavily emphasized avoiding mycotoxins, a type of toxin found in some foods which comes from mold contamination.  Even very small contamination (we're talking parts per billion) is very damaging to your health (especially fertility), and may even be a bigger concern than things like household chemicals (though those are things they mention to be careful about too of course).  In the chapters regarding diet, they list the foods highest and lowest in these toxins.  They also mentioned the importance of filtering your water with a high quality filter, which made me extra thankful for our Berkey (and how God generously provided it).  Another source of stress to the body come from EMF's (electromagnetic fields) that are emitted from electronic items, and they list ways to decrease exposure to EMF's.

The supplementation chapter was also very helpful and eye opening to me.  For my first pregnancy, I only took prenatal vitamins (and most days just a half dose because high quality vitamins are so darn expensive) and a DHA supplement during the last half on the insistence of my midwife (I'm glad she talked me into it :) ).  But the reality is that 100% DV might not even be enough because "daily values" are established based on the bare minimum you need of each vitamin and mineral, which is less than what is optimal, especially when you are pregnant.  Furthermore, they recommend more than just the typically discussed vitamins and minerals; their supplementation list extends from antioxidants to fish oils to probiotics to collagen protein and specific amino acids.

They mention that they spent about $300 per month in supplements (because they personally decided to buy the highest quality supplements) but mention that you can get by spending about $100 per month to get all of the supplements they recommend.  Even $100 per month is pretty high for some people, so I recommend reading carefully their description of all the supplements they recommend and determining which would be most helpful for you personally (and also doing outside research).  The reality is that a prenatal vitamin probably isn't enough, so making informed decisions in this area is important.

The chapter on diet was good, but nothing eye opening to me personally.  The foods that they emphasized as most healthy, such as eggs (especially raw yolks), coconut, grass-fed meat, wild fish, grass-fed butter and vegetables are things we already try to eat as much as possible.  The foods they recommend emphasizing are the lowest in the mold toxins (mycotoxins) that I mentioned above.  The one thing I disagreed with was their emphasis on eating a low-carb diet, which I don't think there is enough evidence to support this idea yet.  I would be concerned for a woman to test out a diet like this during pregnancy when she really needs the energy from carbs.  Nevertheless, the diet seemed to work for them, even if I wouldn't follow their recommendations to a tee.  Anyone who eats the standard American "healthy" pregnancy diet that is low in fat, and high in whole grains and fruit would benefit from reading this chapter.

One tip that the authors gave that I have found to be incredibly helpful is to drink a half teaspoon of sea salt (NOT table salt) in a large glass of water first thing in the morning after you wake up.  The reasoning is that when you wake up, your adrenal glands are struggling to push potassium levels down and sodium levels up, and consuming a balanced salt with water helps the adrenals to do their job prepare for the day.  I have done this almost every day since I read this tip and have found that it has helped my energy level incredibly in the morning.  Within minutes of drinking the water, I am feeling very awake and ready to take on the challenges of the day.  The water tastes slightly salty, but certainly not like drinking ocean water.  Sea salt is a balanced salt that will leave you feeling satisfied after you consume it, not more thirsty like table salt does.

The chapter on stress was a bit helpful, because its always good to be reminded about how damaging stress is to your health (like when I am stressing out about eating healthfully, and then I remember that I am canceling out all the benefits of eating healthfully by being stressed!).  I didn't find their suggestions for dealing with stress helpful, because I am a Christian and I deal with stress in a Philippians 4:6 kind of way, and not through yoga/biofeedback/meditation etc kind of a way.

In every chapter they mention the importance of starting these things before you get pregnant, which I whole-heartedly agree with.  It is important that your body be well nourished from day one (especially since it can be a few weeks or sometimes months before you know you are pregnant), and that healthy patterns are started early (and not a stressful new thing to learn and enact after you are pregnant).

Overall, I would recommend this book.  It just came out this year, and is well-researched with the latest studies in epigenetics, which itself is an emerging field.  Though newer doesn't always mean truer, their research is helpful and important to think over.

Anyone in the child-bearing stage of life would benefit from reading this book, especially if you are interested in health and wellness.  As with anything in life (besides the Bible): remember to chew the meat and spit out the bones.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

dear esther: your sister is leaving

dear esther,

you are about to make a huge sacrifice.  you are about to lose one of your favorite people in the whole world.  your little sissy, whom you call "la la" or "jay jay" or "si si" will be leaving us today to be reunited with her birth mother.  we have been anticipating this day for months, but there has been no way for us to explain it to you, so that you could prepare for it as we have.

you love your la la sissy.  i can see it in your eyes after you two have been apart for a few hours or a few days.  i see it in the way you always open our bedroom door while she is napping so you can wake her up to play.  i see it in the way that you try to imitate our care for her, trying to give her a bottle or a banana, or trying to change her diaper.  i even see it when you sit on her head or try to ride on her like a horse or attempt to poke out her eyes.  your love for her is precious to me, and it makes me happy and excited for you to have more siblings in the future (hopefully, by God's grace, many more).

esther, i love you so much and i need you to know something.  you were born into a family where this type of sacrifice will be the norm.  you see, your father and i are christians, we follow jesus and we take the commands of the bible literally.  we hope (by God's grace) to care for many orphans in our lifetime, because God adopted us when we were orphans.  some may join our temporary, earthly family, but others, like your la la, we will have to say good bye to (while praying that they join God's eternal family).  furthermore, in your lifetime, at least during your childhood, you probably won't have one place to call "home" as we anticipate moving several times, living in different cities and countries to fulfill God's call to us.  you will never own the nicest stuff (by american standards) or the latest things, but you are a part of a family who seeks to honor God with our possessions, not just make ourselves temporarily happy.

i don't know if these things will be easy or hard for you.  but my prayer is that you will meet them with joy, and that you will always sacrifice with joy.  my prayer is that you too would be a follower of Jesus and call yourself a christian and take the commands of the bible literally, sacrificing your life for others, because Jesus first sacrificed His life for you.

esther, you are named after two people: your great-grandmother and a queen from the bible.  queen esther also lived a sacrificial life entrusted to the God she served.  there was a point when she had the decision to preserve her life, or to risk losing it in order to speak up to the king for her people, who were to be annihilated.  her choice was to risk her life.  and when she made that decision, she said "if i perish, i perish" because she would rather sacrifice her life than waste it sitting in the comforts of her palace.

though by american standards our family lives quite simply, by the entire world's standards we are the richest of the rich.  you too, like queen esther, have the choice whether to live a comfortable, easy, bland life, never risking anything too much, or to risk everything to live by faith and follow jesus, trusting that following him is greater than all the riches of the earth.

undoubtedly, following him will be hard.  you may not even see many of the good results of your living by faith.  keep your eyes on jesus, and look forward to the reward of heaven.  i pray that you will cling to these verses in times of difficulty as i have:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (hebrews 11:23-40)

your mama

Monday, August 5, 2013

hot days, cold drinks: fresh squeezed lemonade

one of the things that i love about southern california is the proliferation of fruit trees in people's yards.  when we moved into the house we currently live in, i was so happy to discover that we had a lemon tree in the back yard.  with this tree, we are able to have fresh lemon juice almost year round for a number of homemade treats, such as salsa, hummus and lemon-herb baked fish.

but by far my favorite use for these lemons is to make homemade lemonade.  in the summer i try to keep lemonade in the fridge as often as possible.  i love drinking it after i come home from a summertime walk with the girls when i am all sweaty and need something to quench my thirst and cool down.

'Lemonade' photo (c) 2008, Becky Stern - license:

fresh-squeezed lemonade

10 cups of filtered water
1 1/2 cups of lemon juice (you will need 6-10 lemons to get this much juice, depending on their size)
approx. 50 drops of stevia, more or less to taste (we like our lemonade on the less-sweet side)
a tiny pinch of sea salt (optional- but this really makes the flavor pop)

1. combine all ingredients in a pitcher and stir to mix.  allow to chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

if you are impatient, you can pour it over ice to drink it right away, though this will dilute the flavor slightly. :)

if you are serving the lemonade to guests, add a few slices of lemon for visual appeal- and so that they know you are serving REAL lemonade, the good stuff!

click here for the next recipe in the series: coconut iced chai

Friday, August 2, 2013

july in our home

july saw our first trip to the midwest since esther was three months old.  july was also the sunset of our time with baby girl.  july also saw the beginning of more focused potty training for esther.  and, just like most summer days, are days were very full with activity this month.  full of blessings.  oh, and nesting, nesting, nesting...

we just got the professional pics from the wedding last month
over the fourth of july weekend we went to indiana.  we got to spend a lot of time with alex's mom and step-dad, as well as go to a conference at clearnote church, a church that alex used to attend in bloomington.  the weekend was fun and relaxing (with alex's parents) as well as encouraging and challenging (at the conference).  we spent some time with some of the pastors from the church and some church planters.  it is always refreshing to spend time with people who love the gospel, theology and the great commission, and are living lives shaped by these things.

baby girl stayed in california while we were in indy.  it made the reality of her leaving us a bit more tangible.  at this point, it is almost certain that she will be going back with her mother next week (ultimately it is a judge's decision, but there isn't much reason he wouldn't rule for reunification).  we have known this since sometime in february, so our hearts have had time to prepare, though it will be sad when the day actually comes.  esther will be so lonely without her favorite playmate!  i have much more peace and trust in God this time in comparison to the last time we were in this situation (i cringe to read my words from this post, especially that i know they would do better with us. God is good and kind, and has grown me a lot since then).  furthermore, we have a good relationship with baby girl's mom, and we will certainly keep in touch, though of course it will never be quite the same after she leaves.

the thoughts about her leaving lead to wondering about who will God bring to us next?  we will be open to another placement as soon as baby girl leaves, so it is possible within the next few weeks we will have another two members of our family.

two more members?  yes, you read that right.  we have prayerfully decided to take another sibling set of two kiddos under the age of two (this was the age of our very first two kiddos, before we took in their two older brothers).  there are a number of reasons why we are doing this, but basically it boils down to two things: 1.) we want to love as many kiddos in need as possible.  we feel like, by God's grace and especially since my mom lives with us, that we have the ability to care for one more than we currently care for. 2.) after much prayerful consideration, we don't want to take in any children older than esther. so this means we will have to be open to young kiddos, under the age of two.

this means we will have three kiddos under the age of two in our home.  i am absolutely positive that we will only be able to do this with God filling us with energy, patience and love.  we will not be able to do this on our own strength.  but with God's strength, we will not just get by, but do this well.   please pray that we absolutely would be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

in preparation for the transition that will likely happen in august, i have been in full nesting mode.  anyone who hypothesizes that nesting is a hormonal instinct has never met an adoptive mama.  i nested before the arrival of our last two placements, and i am nesting again.  mostly i am trying to get things in order to make life easier once our next little ones come, so that i can focus as much as possible on attachment and showing them love, and not so much on housework.  so, i am deep cleaning each room of the house, running errands to buy things i know we will need when they come, and preparing dinners to put in our freezer for easy meal prep.  things like this invigorate me, and i am enjoying each day full of the work that God has blessed me with (yes, i do believe that all of our work is a blessing from the Lord).

potty training is another thing that we are doing to prepare for this transition.  its been hard but we have seen good progress.  to give a bit of background, though we've had 6 young kiddos in our home, we haven't had to potty train any of them.  esther is our first.  with her, we have chosen to we practice a form of EC where we put her on the potty for a couple minutes most of the times that we change her diaper.  so, she has gone on the potty at least once a day (but most days more) since we started when she was about 2 months old.  we probably could have had her fully potty trained by time she was 18 months, but i just didn't have the time to focus on that with baby girl in the house.  with baby girl spending more time with her mother, i finally have the time to devote to it.  moreover, it would be nice to have esther potty trained (more or less) before we get our next two kiddos.  we've had two in diapers for the majority of our time as parents; i would prefer not to learn what three in diapers is like.

so, a couple of weeks ago, we started doing diaper free time most of the day (while we are at home).  the first few days were awful.  accidents all over the place.  and i was starting to get frustrated.  while praying about it, i realized that part of my motives for potty training her were bad: pridefully i wanted her potty trained early to prove all of those people wrong who laughed at me for trying EC.  after repenting of this pride, I asked God to make things improve, recognizing that it was not in my power to do this.  things got significantly better that same day.  now, while we are at home, esther wears underwear and has maybe one or two accidents per day.  i usually put her in a diaper while we are out, as i see going on the potty in public as potty training 2.0, and we are still on level 1.0.  but the good news is, for many of our errands that are under 2 hours long, esther has been able to hold it.

so we are getting there.  and hoping for little to no regression when our family situation changes.

::sermons i listened to this month::

[the first three sermons are among my favorite sermons of all time.  i have listened to each numerous times.]

the centrality of the home by voddie baucham

under authority like christ by mark driscoll

doing missions when dying is gain by john piper

divine sovereignty: the fuel of death-defying missions by david platt

shocking youth message by paul washer

so that has been our july.  how was july in your home?