December 24, 2012

The Thrill of Hope

I love holidays. And I especially love Christmas. 
As tradition goes, the day after Thanksgiving is the day to start Christmas songs, to decorate and get the Christmas tree.
I am pretty sure I was so happy that day I cried. 

The last month or so has been extra stressful for me.
A lot of changes, disappointments, and situations out of my control. 
I started this holiday season listening to Joy to the World. I've heard this song so many times. It is just 'part of tradition'. Most people probably listen to carols this way - as sort of the soundtrack to the month of December. But I stopped and really listened to the words. I had 'a moment,' as I sometimes do. The lyrics really spoke to me, the way scripture would. It was very poignant. I was brought to tears thinking about what joy really is. It is not affected by circumstances. It is God-given. It changes your perspective and attitude. And when you really take the time to acknowledge the gravity of what God did on can you not be full of joy? 

I love these lyrics from Joy to the World:
"Joy to the world! The Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing."
 source: salvagedgrace 

After my Joy to the World moment, I started to listen to all my favorite carols with a different ear. I was so struck by the amount of hope and peace this holiday sings about. I have always loved the way I felt at Christmas but I never really attributed it to the fact that the world (whether recognized or not) is celebrating a holiday of joy, hope, love and peace. 

Some of my favorite lyrics from O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
"Oh come desire of nations bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
An be thyself our king of peace
Rejoice, Rejoice
Emmanuel shall come to thee..."

Yes! This is my prayer. That one day our sad divisions will cease. 
And I then I listened to O Holy Night. I never know the last verse of carols. I know the first verse, no problem. But I really listened this time to the whole song. 'Jesus taught us to love one another... His gospel is peace.'
This verse in O Holy Night put me to tears:
"Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace. 
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease...
Christ is the Lord! Then ever we will praise...
His power and glory ever more proclaim!"
source: etsy

And I also hear the nativity story every year. But I really listened this year.
To imagine the moment when hundreds of angels appeared before the shepherds and sang:

"Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth to those 
whom God is pleased" - Luke 2:14
 source: tumblr 

This is the God I worship and serve. 
A God who entered this earth as a baby, so that God may dwell with God's people. 
A God that desires peace and joy on this earth for every person. 
God, who is Emmanuel - with us. Now and always.
May you take a moment, lay traditions and celebrations aside
 and really ponder the gravity of what Christ did.
May you be filled with the joy, hope, love and peace that comes from God this Christmas. 


November 28, 2012

A table and some bread

We love having people at our house. 
We love food.
And we love cooking food for people! 
Our current dining room table can seat 6-7 people but we wanted to have a place to fit more of our friends. Michael decided he wanted to build a huge table for the deck. 
He had to build it on the deck because there is no way we could get a 10 foot table up there. 
This is before we stained the benches. I love the lights! 
We can now seat 14 people around the table!

Here is the first big group of people enjoying the table. 
Our one regret is making the table right before winter! It is a little too cold to enjoy now but come spring, we will be out here all the time!

Another recent project for me is bread making. 
I, by no means, have a clue what I am doing. I have friends who are becoming experts in the bread making world. They know all the tricks and secrets. They can make bread that is gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, vegetarian, pescatarian...(Ok, a little sarcasm ;) I am not one of them, maybe one day. I just wanted to see if I could make a simple loaf in the oven. So here is what I did:
- Package of Yeast
- 1.5 Tablespoons of salt
- 3 cups of water
- 6.5 cups of flour (I used all purpose, but I have also blended this recipe with whole wheat and bread flour)
1. Mix all the ingredients together. I mixed it all in a big pot because I needed something with a lid and big enough for the dough to rise. 
It will look something like this...

2. Place the lid on the pot/container but make sure you have a little gap to let air out or a lid with a hole in it.
3. Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

(This is in the refrigerator. After I let it sit out for 2 hours I refrigerated the extra dough - just showing you how I loosely placed the lid)
This was the texture of the dough after sitting for a few hours. If you use different types of flour it won't  look like this!
4. Ok, some websites say use scissors and cut a big piece of the dough. I found it easier to use my hands. Pull/Cut off about 1 pound of dough

5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. While it is preheating, spray a pan and place the dough on the pan. It is suggested to let the dough sit on the pan for 40 ish minutes before cooking.
7. You can cut knotches on the top if you like.

8. I placed the pan on the top rack and then put a brownie pan full of water on the bottom rack. 
8. Cook for 30-35 minutes
Ta-da! Some tasty bread. 
Here is my first whole wheat loaf. I used a loaf pan for this dough. I also added honey to make a honey wheat loaf. It was not as 'slimy' as the all-purpose dough so it as a lot easier to cut the notches at the top. You could also brush egg whites on the top before backing. Or dust some flour on top. 
So now it is time to experiment with honey, wheat flour, all-purpose, bakers flour, rosemary, etc. 
It is amazing that all you need is flour, yeast and water to make bread. 
We'll see if I can perfect it.
It is so simple. 
Go make a loaf and your house will smell delicious! 

November 4, 2012

The Helper

I recently took a gifting test and discovered that I have a gifting in "helps". This gifting is described as assisting others by freeing them up to do what they need to do. Typically someone with this gifting can see when someone needs help before the person in need sees it. One website calls my Myers-Briggs personality "The Caregiver" and "The Nurturer" (ISFJ/ESFJ). I find so much fulfillment in helping others. I don't necessarily have a service gifting, I am not the first person to get a job done. But if I see someone in need I would jump up at the opportunity to help.

One of the most important days of my life was October 6th, 2010 - the home birth of Henri Cooper (my dear friends Sarah and Stephen's little boy). Since that day my life was never the same. One of these days I will put into words that experience and the shift it created in my life, but it is still a moment that I am trying to process. I have participated in two other births since then, March 2011 and March 2012. I was the role of a doula. Doula is Greek for "female slave". It is someone that walks alongside a mother in labor, like a birth partner. It is a long and laborious process (and I am not even the mother) and yet one of the most rewarding things to go through. I've found that to be true about all things I do...the most rewarding tend to be the most trying. I absolutely love walking alongside women in labor.
Sweet, new baby - March 2011
Timing contractions - March 2012
This last week I had the amazing opportunity to go with my coworker and close friend, Autumn, to Ethiopia to pick up her son Mihretu, after 15 months waiting for him. It is interesting that the process of adoption is similar in many ways to pregnancy, especially in the 3rd trimester. Waiting for Embassy clearance is like waiting to go into labor. When you pass that due date it just gets so hard to wait any longer. I remember Autumn saying, "I am ready to induce" ;). In this adoption I functioned as a doula, on call, ready to walk alongside a new mother.

The email came from the Embassy Tuesday, October 23rd and we were on a plane to Ethiopia on Friday, October 26th, just three days later. The four days we spent in Africa with Mihretu were incredibly special. Autumn got to take part in so many firsts with her new son. It was magical and I feel so honored to have witnessed such a miracle. This little boy whom I met twice in the last year, that I prayed for every day for 15 months was now in his mom's arms. It was like witnessing a birth. It was holy and precious. And let me tell you, Mihretu is amazing! That boy is so smart, brave, funny, and he knows who is mother is. I really love him.
We also got to see couples meeting their babies for the first time at the care center. It was intimate, like being in the ultrasound room as the parents hear the heartbeat for the first time or discover the gender of their child. One dad that joined us with their little girl at Embassy was sharing his heart for their children. He said, "All my children, both biological and adopted, are gifts from God. God has entrusted us to raise these children. My biological children are no more mine as are my adopted children. I love them all the same." What a beautiful picture! Adoption is a glimpse into the heart of God, that God chooses us to be sons and daughters. Michael and I definitely want to adopt - after working in orphan care, I can't imagine not choosing adoption.

(Side note: Today is Orphan Sunday. If you haven't experienced what it feels like to have a heart for the orphan, I highly suggest going on a short-term trip. It will change your life forever. Consider what sponsoring, fostering or adopting might look like in your life. Yes that was a plug for Visiting Orphans ;)

Then it was time for the flight home or to continue the analogy, active labor. I was helping Autumn here and there in-country but she really was doing great with the transition. She could still 'walk through the contractions'. But boy, 40 hours of travel is another story. One of the hardest things I have ever done. Confine a toddler to a seat for three flights, one of them lasting 11 hours. Now add the fact that this child does not speak your language, barely knows you, has hardly left his care center, experiencing so many new things, time change, jet lag, and pure exhaustion. This was the final stage of the adoption pregnancy. This is when Autumn needed me the most. And at one point I didn't think we would make it...but we did. We landed in Nashville and Autumn and I lost it, emotionally and physically we were done. We did it! He is now home. Such an emotional moment.
Although there were a few trying moments, Mihretu did great!
He is perfect :)
And now Autumn is starting the path of parenthood as all parents do after birth. I am so incredibly proud of her. When she saw her little boy the 'mom switch' turned on. She is a natural and I just loved watching her care for Mihretu with such patience, love and grace. It really was inspiring. Waiting for court, paperwork, Embassy, the ups and downs, all prepped her for this new season. God gives parents 9 months (and a lot more for adoption) to prepare. It is a long and hard journey leading up to coming home and that is just the beginning. But it is in our weakness that God is made strong. I don't know if we are ever really ready for parenthood but I think this is part of entrusting our children to God, to lean in for direction, strength, grace and peace. It is a partnership with God. And I absolutely love watching and sitting at moms' and dads' feet as they "figure it out" one day at a time.

Michael and I hope to step into this season of our lives in the next year or so. Whether through birth or adoption, I am grateful to have experienced that intimate moment of transition when a family is formed. I am so excited to experience that moment for myself and to share that with my husband. But until then I plan to continue to walk alongside others in this special time of their life.
Welcome home dear Mihretu. You are one loved little boy!

September 27, 2012

Three more days!

Woah! My twin sister gets married on Saturday. I can't believe it! I am so excited to walk through this next season with her. I love married life and I know she will, too. And I absolutely love having Lauren and Evan across the street. We have already shared so many meals and played lots of games. It really is the best. 

Lauren and Evan in front of their new home: 
Ok, I am not a cat person. I am pretty allergic to them but this little cat showed up at Lauren's place the day they moved in and he is always around. We named him Tony Fiskers and he is quite possibly the most cuddly, affectionate cat I have ever met. 
I love having a pet I can play with and cuddle with and not have to feed. He is adorable. 
So this last weekend I hosted a bridal shower for Lauren. I found this lantern idea on pinterest and I thought I would share. 
Supplies needed:
-Christmas Lights
-Dixie Cups
-Construction Paper
-X-acto Knife

1. Take a dixie cup apart and use it as a template to cut the construction paper out. 
2. With glue or tape, wrap the paper around the dixie cup. 
3. Using an X-acto knife, cut a little X on top of the cup. 
4. Push the Christmas lights through the cup and voila! I had about 3 lights exposed between each cup but you can cover the lights however you like. 
A few of the pretty ladies celebrating Lauren. 
The bride getting showered. 
The best key lime cupcakes ever!
Lots of yummy food and a delicious pineapple raspberry champagne punch. 
On a side note: Wahoo! Our first fall harvest. We have HUGE sweet potatoes. We will be eating these for a very long time. 
Enjoy the beginning of Fall!

September 7, 2012


Many of you may know that my sister, my husband and I got in a pretty bad accident a week ago. We were on our way to NYC to pick up Lauren's fiancee and spend Labor Day in the city. We were attempting the 15 hour drive through the night and it was my turn to drive. On a stretch of interstate at 11:20 pm, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Virginia, a deer jumped in front of the car. I swerved and hit the right guard rail before ricocheting and crossing the grass median, the on-coming traffic and finally crashing into the far left guard rail. I can't really explain how it all happened and there are quite a few emotions I am still trying to process. Unless you have been in a situation like this, it is hard to explain the emotions involved in a life-threatening moment. We had minor injuries including sprained backs, compressed vertebrae, Lauren fracturing her foot and major whiplash. Considering how serious the accident was, we really are ok. And I experienced my first ambulance ride - board, neck brace and all.
This is after a night in the ER and apparently we love grey.
But retelling the story of the accident wasn't really the purpose of this post.
How many times have we heard that the 'church' is not about the building, it is about the people that make up the community? This last week we have experienced what it means to be part of community in a whole new way. I have walked along side friends adopting, having babies, miscarrying, getting sick, moving houses and simply needing help. I have seen how people rally together to support those in need.
Well this last week we have been blessed beyond words at the way people have rallied around us.

It all started with super nice EMTs who were friendly and understanding. We had a great nurse named Lori who after discharging us from the ER rolled another bed into the room, brought us blankets, pillows and water and said we could sleep here for no charge. It was 2 am and we had no where to go in the middle of the night 7 hours from home. We 'slept' for 6 hours totally undisturbed. That morning we went to the cafeteria and they were wrapping up serving breakfast. The lady behind the counter came out with sausage biscuits and orange juice and told us that she was just giving them away. Sweet! A free bed and breakfast ;)
We didn't want to be apart so they treated us together. 
My parents were amazing. They drove 7 hours to come get us. They helped us get neck and back braces, take pictures of the car and accident site and got us home as comfortably as possible.
The towing company was in the middle of nowhere...seriously...
When we got home Michael's parents were there with dinner. They fed the chickens, did our laundry, cooked and cleaned for us. My brother and sister-in-law come over the following day with our nephew and dinner. Kids are therapeutic. Liam made me so happy, he was sweet and cuddly. Our dear friends, Jonathan and Becca Moody came by with the most scrumptious brunch. And my sweet coworker, Autumn, came by with dinner.

My first day back to work was better than I expected. Hellen brought me Starbucks and a stack of movies, Amanda and Autumn have been taking turns picking me up and dropping me off, Kathleen brought me a week worth of food and groceries and books and everyone took time to talk with me and pray for me. My coworkers mean the world to me. We do life together. They encourage, strengthen, challenge, and love me so well.
Some of my coworkers!
This week Michael and I even received a meal from a new friend and team leader that I just met the day of the accident. I received cards in the mail from family and coworkers. I got so many phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and posts from friends encouraging me and praying for us. It meant so much to me.

I have been reflecting on it all week - this is what the church is all about. For some it was just a text message or bringing by a meal. But that simple act kept me going until another person stepped in.

So to my family, my friends, and my coworkers (which really encompasses 'family' and friends) - Thank you. I have been overwhelmed by the way you have supported Michael and me this last week. I appreciate everyone's willingness to listen as I process the experience. Not having to worry about meals and errands and chickens and car all have demonstrated what church looks like. We were made to live in community and to not walk through life alone. So next time you guys are in need of help, we will be the first ones there!

Now time to think of all the wonderful things coming up! Birthdays next week, helping Lauren and Evan move in next weekend, showers and parties and wedding to cap off the month.

God is good and we are so grateful.

August 20, 2012

Goodbye summer

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not let myself feel guilty if I didn't post all the time. Well, it has been almost 2 months... so I thought I would summarize what all I have been up to these last few summer months. 
My summer started with a bang! I led a team of 15 to Uganda and Ethiopia in May through Visiting Orphans. I love all the women on the team and I discovered that though I am young God can use me to lead others. I learned so much about strange things that interest me, like essential oils and non-traditional healing methods. It is amazing how a missions trip can bring you so close to strangers so quickly. It really was a special team. 
I got to meet the most precious, incredible couple - Papa Isaac and Mama Rebecca. I can't wait to go back to Uganda in December to see them again! They have a sign on their property that says "You are most welcome". This really stuck with me on this trip. Everyone I encountered was so hospitable and selfless. When they say 'make yourself at home', they mean it. Eat their food, sit and relax, don't worry about a thing. It made me think about the way we host people in America. We say make yourself at home but many times it means 'don't go in that room', 'sorry I didn't clean', 'you can do this but don't do that'. It is hospitality with strings attached. I want people to feel at home when they walk into my house. I don't want to apologize if I didn't dust. I want to share my stash of yummy chai. I want to say 'you are most welcome' and mean it. I love Africans!
I spent a lot of time with sweet Sarah. She wants to be a nurse when she grows up and we were both happy to have a new friend. 
Then I got to see my favorite ladies in Addis! 
It is such a treat to see them. My first trip to Ethiopia in January I met these 6 women who work in the kitchen at a ministry we partner with. You can read about my first experience meeting them here
 I came home from Africa, which was the longest Michael and I have ever spent apart, and we went to Chicago to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary!
I loved this city, especially with this guy. 
We had so much fun exploring the city and eating all the yummy food. 
 We then decided to get chickens! You can read all about the chicken adventures on my previous posts: here and here.
We got them at 3 days old. They were so cute! Sweet Jean, Matilda, Faye and Doris. 
Time to build a chicken coop!
Here is Jean around the time they moved outside. 
 Many people have asked me how the chickens are doing. Well, they are 3 months old and should be laying eggs in the next month. They no longer chirp and are starting to develop an adorable cluck. I could watch them for hours. Look how big they are!?! They also make a convenient disposal for all my garden scraps. They love cabbage and rotten tomatoes!
In March we decided to make a garden. This summer has been full of learning what to do and what not to do. July was a wash because it was so hot. I never wanted to be outside to weed and a lot of our veggies fried in the heat. 
What worked:
-Green beans were the best by far. I grew these from seeds and they did amazing!
-All of our herbs. We made our money back in herbs. It was so nice to go to garden when I needed something for dinner. We have an endless supply of basil, rosemary, and parsley. 
-The bell peppers were great as well!
-Not sure yet because they aren't ready, but we have a whole bed of sweet potatoes that should be ready in the fall. Super excited about those. 

What didn't work:
-Anything leafy. First, I didn't realize leafy veggies like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and arugula are all fall vegetables, so they ended up really bitter. We also didn't want to use pesticides so all the leaves had holes from hungry bugs. 
-Carrots, this belongs in the sort of category. They were seeded way to close together so the carrots that had more room actually grew to the right size but most of them were so clustered together that they didn't grow at all. 
-Radishes grew so fast and were easy from seeds but they bolted and the radish never grew that big. 
-The tomatoes were doing awesome but the day that they changed from green to red it was like all the squirrels and bugs ate them. Super frustrating, but we made delicious fried green tomatoes instead. 

I am looking forward to digging up a few of the beds and starting a fall crop. 
For the 4th of July we decided to take an adventure to the Minister's Tree House. I love this place. Read all about it here.
The Visiting Orphans staff took a field trip to the zoo! These ladies are family to me. This last summer has been the hardest summer at work. But my co-workers are the best around and we all know how to support each other. Despite the stress of sending 30 teams around the world in the last 2 months, this summer solidified how much I absolutely love my job and the people I work with. I truly am blessed. 
 We also enjoyed a lovely, hot Saturday with the family at a Food Truck Festival. Michael and I are trying to cross off all the food trucks and restaurants in East Nashville on our list. So many great places to eat, so much yummy food!
In July Michael and I joined his family on a trip to Destin, Florida. It was awesome! I haven't been to the beach since 2009 and I loved the break. And my new obsession with the board game Carcassonne. I love strategy games. We play Carcassonne, or 'Crackers' as Michael calls it, just about every night. Throw in Monopoly Deal and Battleship and we are set.
 My twin sister got engaged at the end of July! Wahoo! Lots and lots and lots of wedding planning and dress finding and decor making. Words can not express how happy Michael and I are for Lauren and Evan. I am the Matron of Honor and Michael is the Best Man. They make the best friends around.
 I got to see my sweet friend Karlie at the East Nashville Tomato Festival. This was the best surprise ever. We went from sharing a room for 3 years to living in two different cities. I miss seeing her everyday but it is always a treat when we get to hang out. 
 I love her so much!
 Jonathan and Becca Moody moved back from France in July! We have spent many late nights hanging out with these two. It is such a nice thing to have a married couple that both people love. We could just sit and talk with them for hours! I am so happy they are back in Nashville. 

So this is goodbye to Summer. Michael started his last year of grad school and we are adjusting to the change in schedule.

But the next few months hold a lot of adventures too:
-We are going to NYC in 2 weeks. I can't wait to explore the city with Evan, Lauren and Michael.
-Michael and I both celebrate birthdays in September.
-Visiting Orphans has leader training in September where we will be training 50 leaders. I loved training last year and I am looking forward to connecting with these amazing people.
-And then my twin sister gets married September 29th!! Wahoo!!!!!!!
-Michael and I are also leading a Visiting Orphans team in December to Uganda and Kenya! This will be my first time back to Kenya since I was a child so this will be a huge deal. I also can't wait to meet this team, they all seem like awesome people and I know there will be many adventures ahead.

Until next time...