Sugar Sugar

I’m still getting back to real life after our vacation to California to visit family and friends over a week ago. It was wonderful- the people, the weather, the experiences (especially a WEDDING, yay!). But I decided to take a vacation from some of my food restrictions while I was at it, and it seems I’m now paying the price for my transgressions.

I did pretty well avoiding my biggest food offender, eggs, but I really let my guard down with sugar. Thing is, the stuff is so addictive! Once we got home I continued my sugar monster ways, hunting down every trace of it I could find in the house. It was so difficult to cut myself off! I was tired from living in Pacific time for a week and readjusting to the early mornings of Central time, so I just continued to indulge in sugar due to my weakened state. And eventually, I was fighting off symptoms like fatigue, a sore throat, and congestion. I spent most of yesterday in bed on my usual sick day schedule of Netflix and vitamins. I’m feeling better today, and determined to kick sugar out of my body.

I tend to keep most of my personal dietary practices to myself, lest others think I am judging their food choices. I eat the way I do because specific foods trigger specific problems in my body, and I recognize that foods affect each person differently. I don’t believe that everyone needs to avoid the foods I avoid. But sugar is a little different. I am not a medical or nutritional expert by any means, but it doesn’t take one to know that sugar is bad news for our health. I wish I could share some solid research on the subject, but I’ll admit that I haven’t done too much digging so far. It’s something I want to know more about. For now I just have my personal experience, and since cutting back on sugar a few years ago and being 80-90% sugar free now, I notice a difference when I go back to it for a little bender. All I will say is cutting out sugar has helped me, and I would encourage anyone to look into its adverse effects and find some ways to cut back.

This weekend my goal is to devote more energy to kicking sugar to the curb (again). Here is a Google search I did to motivate myself on a mental level:

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I hope these sugar facts will cause me to think twice when the cravings strike!

I also have a fun playlist on Songza to boost my mood:

"Yummy Yummy Sugar Sugar" delivers sweet oldies tunes to my ears!

“Yummy Yummy Sugar Sugar” delivers sweet oldies tunes to my ears!

On a “gut level” I’m going to feed myself some treats that are sweet… without sugar. This will mainly involve stevia (I use this one from VitaCost) and fruit. I pinned Dashing Dish’s recipe for watermelon strawberry sorbet a while back, and it seems like this weekend of cutting myself off from “the white devil” (my mom’s nickname for sugar- Hi, Mom!) is the perfect time to try it out. I will, of course, be using an alternative sweetener and using much less than 3/4 cup. Fruit brings sugar of its own to the table!

Doesn’t it look delicious? (image from dashingdish.com)

Wish me luck! Happy weekend!

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2015 Verse of the Week #21: Isaiah 40:29-31

This is my 21st verse (or passage) of the week, Isaiah 40:29-31. I’m following the order of Seeds Family Worship’s “The Power of Encouragement,” and this one is track 9. Here is the verse from the NIV translation:

Isaiah 40:29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. 

There is encouragement in this passage, to be sure. But I don’t want to forget that these are also words of correction for God’s people who had turned away from his path to pursue their own ways (and the ways of those around them). Here we see a just and loving God reminding his people that he will sustain and strengthen them if they will only place their hope in him again.

Because this verse in very familiar to me, I poked around a bit for some deeper meaning. What I came away with was the meaning of the word “hope.” Apparently this Hebrew word carries the meaning of anticipation and excitement, like when we are looking forward to an exciting event.

My prayer as I meditate on this passage during the week is this: Father, help me to walk in your ways, with strength from your Spirit, in anticipation of your Son’s return which will bring true communion with you and your church. Transform my mind and heart so that this hope is more exciting to me than any earthly thing. Amen.

made on my own chalkboard with my own hands :)

the chalkboard in my kitchen

2015 Verse of the Week #20: Matthew 28:19

Matthew 28:19 is my 20th verse for 2015. The Seeds Family Worship song is “Go,” track 7 on “The Power of Encouragement.” The 1984 NIV used in the Seeds song is the same as the 2011 NIV, and here is the verse:

Matthew 28:19

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

 

This is a very clear command from Jesus, and also some of his last words to his followers before his ascension into heaven. So we need to pay attention.

Jesus told his followers in verse 18 that, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and that is what the “therefore” in verse 19 refers back to. Disciple-making and baptizing may look different to different believers, and there is some room for discussion and study on this verse, but if all we do is read and discuss this verse, we miss the point.

The point is to GO! And not in our own faltering strength, but on the authority given to Jesus by God the Father. There is little room for excuses with this command, but we sure like to make them up anyway. We turn “making disciples” into a complicated science rather than a practice of seeing others and sharing with them about who Jesus is. I know I have made my fair share of excuses like, “I don’t know where to go” (I can start where I already am) or, “I don’t know what to say” (I should share from my heart in obedience to the Spirit) or, “Maybe I’m not the right person to make disciples” (I never know the part I might be playing in God’s plan, so I need to obey). But if we are followers of Jesus, filled with the Spirit and rooted in God’s Word, we can and must share the truth. It will take practice, but God’s perfect power is there to help us grow in this skill. God doesn’t give us commands without providing the help to obey!

I want to share the verses surrounding Matthew 28:19 for a little context as I wrap up my thoughts for the week:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We don’t need to hesitate, we don’t need to overthink it (although thinking is important), and we don’t need to be afraid or unsure. We can take comfort and find encouragement in Jesus’ authority and his promise to be with us. I find the words “make disciples” empowering, because I’m used to thinking of myself as merely a vessel through which the power of God can work if I will allow it. And that is partly true, but I think I shortchange myself sometimes. Jesus simply said, “Go and make disciples.” Because of Jesus’ authority, this is a work I can participate in if I will just GO!

How does this verse encourage YOU?

p.s. it’s just as true for children as adults! Below is a cute coloring page and some more goodies for home or Sunday school.

image from 1plus1plus1equals1.net’s Raising Lil’ Rock Stars

 

Chocolate = Celebration

Whether it’s a legit special occasion or a midday treat, I think chocolate ups the celebration factor every time. Since abandoning corn syrup, soy lecithin, and similar ingredients typically used in store-bought chocolates I’ve struggled to find good recipes for quick and easy chocolate treats. That taste good. (I almost forgot that part.)

When I saw this recipe on Design*Sponge, my baking senses kicked in and told me, “try it with coconut milk.” So I did, and my senses didn’t lie. The recipe has worked when I keep everything the same except subbing in canned, full fat coconut milk for heavy cream, but it can also handle a few tweaks here and there like instant coffee instead of espresso (I know, but it is quicker!). There is a spiffy video for this recipe, so I thought I would share it here.

Happy weekend!

2015 Verse of the Week #19: James 1:17

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My 19th verse of the year is James 1:17. I love, love, LOVE the Seeds Family Worship song for this verse, “Heavenly Lights,” which is track 6 on “The Power of Encouragement.” I have a special attachment to this verse because it was one of my preschoolers’ favorite songs, and I had them perform it at graduation and as I watched them (and mouthed the words for them) I cried from all the adorableness. It was more than simply adorable, which I’ll get to, but first I should share the verse. The image above is from my Bible app, which I have set to the ESV translation. I think the 1984 NIV is easier to memorize, though, and that is the version used in the Seeds song, so here it is:

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

My challenge today will be getting through this post without crying, because I can’t help but think of two different classes of 3- and 4-year-olds shout-singing these words while smiling, looking around at their peers, and doing motions. I am also preparing to attend preschool graduation tonight, and will be saying goodbye to the little ones I was blessed to spend a few months with as a substitute helper in their class. Preschoolers typically prefer more rowdy fare for their action songs, and while there is some rocking guitar during the chorus of this song, it’s definitely on the mellow side overall. So I was always surprised that my munchkins loved it so much. But should I have been?

As I pondered this verse from a grown-up perspective I felt like maybe I taught it to my kids out of context. It sounds very nice and happy: God, our father and creator, gives us good gifts. And this is true (look up Matthew 7:11 for a start). But the verses preceding 17 are about temptation and the results of sin, and the first part of the chapter is about enduring the difficulties of life. Chapter 1 of the book of James opens with that classic pick-me-up, “count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (verse 2).

That opening may sound like a downer on the surface, but this first portion of James 1 is actually quite encouraging, full of assurance and truth and affirmation. Verses 2-6 are particularly rich, and verse 12 boldly affirms God’s heavenly reward for those who trust and follow him. James also wanted us to know that God does not tempt us. And his reasoning behind the statement is that God cannot himself be tempted by evil (13), and when humans are tempted it is by our own evil desires (14). Verse 17 confirms that God is unchanging and gives good gifts. To put it all together, he would not lure us to evil because that would contradict his intrinsically, naturally, permanent and unchanging good nature.

When I taught this song, maybe I did disregard some of the context. And maybe when I try to dig really deep into the context of the passage, my brain hurts a little bit. I don’t fully understand the placement of this verse and all of what it means past what I have shared above. But despite my lack of understanding, I latch onto it just as my little preschoolers did. Why is that?

I believe this attraction is due to the power of God and his Word. I believe that the human authors of the Bible were guided by God’s Holy Spirit in their writing, and that his Spirit also guides our reading of the Word. James 1:17 not only contains powerful truths about God, but it is also written beautifully, and something about the beauty of the words is conveyed to our hearts by the Spirit. This is such a beautiful and unmerited gift from God to us, and now I have failed my “no crying” challenge. 😉

There is something about the Word of God that draws us to Him. That something is actually someone, or God’s very Spirit. So even if we’re 3 years old (or 31 years old) and don’t feel like we fully understand the theological implications of a verse, it can speak to our hearts. This is the uncontainable, unstoppable, unchanging power of God. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6, Ps. 90:2). He acts out of his everlasting nature of love and righteousness, and his desire is for every person to choose to be reconciled to him through Jesus (John 3:16-17, Acts 17:27).

Sometimes we may “feel” a verse before we fully understand it. And that is alright! God knows our limitations- that’s why we need salvation, and were given a perfect Helper in the form of the Spirit to guide us as we seek to know God better. I would love to hear from you– how does this verse or passage encourage you? Do you have any experience with being drawn to a verse even if you don’t fully understand it?

2015 Verse of the Week #18: Mark 9:35

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Verse #18 of 2015 is Mark 9:35. The Seeds Family Worship song is called “Servant of All,” track 6 on “The Power of Encouragement.” It is a super fun song! I have fond memories of my preschoolers dancing around with air instruments to this one when I was teaching my own small class. Seeds uses the 1984 NIV which is different from the updated NIV, and I like the ESV (which my church uses) so that is what I’ve included here.

Mark 9:35

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

This statement from Jesus is so foundational to his earthly and eternal character, to our understanding of the character of God, and to our understanding of the gospel in our lives as Christians. Jesus’ serving others was one of the ways he showed that he was the Messiah and set an example for us to follow (Phil. 2:7).

Earlier in Mark 9, we are told of the transfiguration (2-13), at which point I have to assume that Peter, James, and John knew Jesus was the Son of God; and the story following the transfiguration details Jesus’ casting out a demon that the disciples had failed to cast out earlier (13-29). In verses 30-37 (which contains my memory verse, 35), Jesus speaks with his followers and predicts his death a second time and gives further evidence of his being one with God the Father.

Jesus shows his omniscience by speaking to something the disciples wouldn’t tell him about: that they had been arguing about who was “the greatest” in their group (33-34). Again, they have missed the point entirely, but Jesus takes the opportunity to lead them back to the real point (which is the classic Sunday School answer: God). He tells them that if they want to be first, they must be last, and a servant of all (35).

I don’t think Jesus was saying that the way to win and be the first or best is to do our time by humbling ourselves and serving others; it’s not a means to an end kind of thing. Or just not the means to the end the disciples were thinking about. Certainly, Scripture tells us that those who put others before themselves will be rewarded, but again that is not the main point. God is first! God is all! His glory is the goal.

So in the process of serving others we should lose our initial desire to be first or raise our status or be above others at all as we become aware of our humble position in comparison to God’s holiness, and we recognize the importance of elevating the truth of who God is for all to see and believe.

With Mother’s Day coming up, I can’t help but think of a mother’s sacrificial love when I read this passage. My own mother lives a life of putting others before herself, and I have had the privilege of knowing many other mothers who live this way, specifically my grandmother and my mother-in-law, but also countless other ladies who were and are part of my church life. This love lived out is a great example, and it doesn’t take great wisdom to recognize this- we all know we need to thank our mothers for everything they have done and continue to do for us.

Even in preschool last week as we asked the kids about their moms for a special Mother’s Day gift, we heard the most precious responses. The words of these children revealed the service and sacrifice of their mothers. Many of them said, “She plays with me,” or “She gives me food,” which may seem like simple things but are sacrifices of time, effort, money, and planning. The sweetest thing I heard by far was when I asked a little girl what her mom does that makes her happy. She said, “She thinks about me.” That is being a servant: thinking of others first.

So my first encouragement is to put a little thought into how you will thank your mother (or grandmother, or “other mother”) for thinking about you! Then, put some thought into how you will serve others through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, available to us because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. We do not do this on our own, but through him and for him, so we can acknowledge that HE is first.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this verse, on mothers, on this passage in Mark, or whatever comes to mind from reading this post. Thanks for reading.

How to: Perfect Hash Browns

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text & graphic added to my own photo with the Rhonna Designs app

 

I love breakfast: the ritual, the energy it gives me for the day, and the foods themselves. Eggs used to be a huge part of my breakfast repertoire, but I have since discovered that eggs make me come down with a cold within 48 hours of eating them. I almost wrote that this discovery was “a bummer,” but– hello– that’s a gross understatement. It has been truly heartbreaking! 😦

Thankfully, potatoes have saved the first and most important meal of the day! At one point in my diet change-up, I made hash browns from scratch by grating whole potatoes, but felt like that was a lot of effort for something I was only going to devour in a matter of minutes. So when I spotted Mr. Dell’s Shredded Hash Browns on a trip to my local WalMart one day, I tossed them into my cart immediately. Visions of delicious, convenient, safe Saturday morning breakfasts danced through my head. Now they are a staple in our house. These hash browns are advertised as “all natural,” and it’s true– the only ingredient is potatoes. There are no tricky wheat, corn, or soy additives.

It took me a few tries to get my hash browns right; sometimes I overdid it, and sometimes I underdid it, but now I can whip up a batch without paying too much attention. When my husband came home from his recent business trip and remarked that his hash browns at IHOP (breakfast professionals, for goodness’ sake!) didn’t measure up to mine, I figured I should share what I have learned. I’m not saying my hash browns are better than IHOP’s, but there is something to be said for experimenting with food and getting it the way you and your people like it. Even if this is only evidence that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I’ll take it.

I will list my steps to perfect hash browns (for our household, anyway) below with pictures for reference. You will find the “secret” to “perfection” in step 3. You can use your favorite frozen potato shreds or grate your own potatoes. Use this as a guide, but please do change it up to suit the tastes of your own household.

Step 1:

I start with a generous dollop of coconut oil in my non-stick skillet and turn the element up to medium-high heat. (I could probably use my cast iron skillet for this, but I’m intimidated by it. If you have any tips for getting over this fear, please share.) I use enough oil to cover the entire skillet in a thin layer once it melts. Start with a heaping tablespoon.
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Step 2:

I add my frozen potato shreds a few handfuls at a time until I can’t see through to the bottom of the skillet. Sometimes I will use the first handful of potatoes to spread the oil around if there are any un-oiled spots on the skillet. Don’t overfill your skillet or you will be left with underdone hash browns; I try not to let the potatoes go too far up the sides. This may require practice.

At this point I also add salt and seasonings (sometimes I like to throw in a little bit of cajun spice).
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Step 3: 

LET THOSE SUCKERS BROWN. Don’t stir them or fuss with them, just let them do their thing. It will take several minutes, but you should notice more of a sizzling sound and be able to see a nice, even steam (or is it smoke? I don’t know) rising up from the skillet. This hands-off waiting is the “secret” I discovered through experimentation. When I stirred and flipped the entire time it actually took longer, and I didn’t get the crispy pieces I was going for. I like to keep myself a little distracted by making coffee or doing some dishes during this step so I don’t hover over the stove. When you notice those sight & sound changes, gently lift some potatoes up to see if they have browned. Once you’ve achieved the desired level of browned-ness, move on to the next step.

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Step 4:

Flip. Carefully. This step also takes a bit of practice. You have to know your pan and your spatula. Work in manageable sections and go around the skillet flipping chunks of potatoes over. In the picture below I let them brown a little more than usual, and I think I also overloaded my skillet a little bit. If I had used less, I would have gotten more uniform browning. I also could have potentially skipped step 5, letting the other side brown and serving the hash browns as-is.

At this point you may need to turn the heat down, and it’s a good time to add more salt or seasonings if you want.
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Step 5 (optional):

Stir… at your own risk! If you are a perfectionist like me, you will probably want to do this to get a more uniform browning. Arrange any underdone portions so they can brown up a bit, but watch closely to make sure you don’t burn the already browned portions. It should only take a couple minutes. Once I’m done with this step I turn off the heat but leave the skillet on the element.. UNLESS I am close to burning some portions, then I remove the skillet from the element immediately.

Serve the hash browns while they’re still warm and endear yourself to your people forever.
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That’s it! It seems like a lot, but it only takes 15-20 minutes total and the taste is worth it! I topped mine with Annie’s Organic ketchup that is really good, but once I use it up I’m planning to use only the homemade stuff so I can avoid added sugars. I also had some allergy friendly banana bread, fresh pineapple, and coffee (duh).

I hope you will enjoy these hash browns as much as we do. I’m planning to make them tomorrow morning. Do you have a go-to breakfast food that your family loves?