What 2016 taught me

What did you learn in 2016? I learned a lot. But I can’t begin to measure what 2016 taught me.

It wasn’t my best year in concrete ways. I lost count of the challenges and financial setbacks somewhere around June.

Only to find higher and higher hills each month, culminating in complete physical and technological breakdowns that have left me physically wounded and without my computer to write and at least virtually step outside this broken body.

God is forcing me to BE STILL so completely right now. I’ve been trying to revel in the stillness despite its frustrations, and listen in it.

I have made no attempt to blog until I couldn’t let go of God’s sweet presence with me this morning. I am slowly and painfully typing this on my phone. But I wanted to write this down at least for myself.

I had times this year that I was so sad, I struggled to breathe in my despair. I felt hurt and inadequate, alone.

But what I learned there was what made me realize in the end, 2016 was exceptional in ways that defy measuring.

I drew closer and closer to God, pressing in, crying out for guidance and solace. I wept, arms outstretched to heaven, praying, groaning. Mostly seeking His answers and peace.

And I learned the greater blessing in that.
The blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms. Click To Tweet

This morning, I was reading in Isaiah, chapter 65 God’s promises for His people and I ached with hope.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭65:19-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

After spending this year immersed in such a tremendously broken world, oh! how I long for this day of God’s promises: long lives and children who always grow up and personal health and prosperity.

If 2016 taught me anything, it is that without God, all we have are the storms of this life without any hope or joy or peace.

What did you learn in 2016? It was a challenging year, but I learned the blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms.
With God, we still have storms. Sometimes, they are even more challenging with being rejected by the world and attacked by Satan.

But we have PEACE.

A peace that makes no sense outside of Christ, but is so real and so profound that I know as hard as this year has been, for all the losses financially and emotionally and physically, I’ve been blessed spiritually beyond measure.

I’ve grown in how I process my hurts and fears. I’ve grown in how I respond more than react.

Each storm prepared me for the next. While I would have rather not had the challenges, I would not trade the reliance on Christ I’ve gained.

Each type of season passes. Both busy and slow, joyful and difficult seasons eventually give way.

Every season passes - both joyful and difficult seasons give way, only God is eternal. Click To Tweet

I wouldn’t mind a season of fewer struggles, yet I know I’m heading into 2017 facing some difficulties that may not make for an easier year.

But when I gave up my life to follow Christ, I gained back a life that is blessed beyond measure in ways that cannot be counted.

I am still human and struggle against grief and fear, but through overcoming this year, I have an underlying current of trust and hope that the end of Isaiah speaks to so beautifully.

He writes a stunning dichotomy of God’s wrath and punishment juxtaposed against prophecies of Christ’s redemption of His people and glorious eternity in Heaven.

Joy and pain balanced with hope and promise, which is a pretty good way to end 2016. Happy New Year!

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Going Gluten Free

Going gluten free isn’t a journey I ever wanted to undertake. I LOVE chewy, warm, rich bread.

But being a parent takes me to places that I never would have imagined.

Our daughter started complaining about stomach pain early into 2016. In her squeaky, small voice, she would say, “My stomach hurts, Mommy.”

And I would answer, maybe you’re hungry or maybe the milk was bad, maybe you have a stomach bug (that led to an interesting conversation!), but at some point, the complaints got more numerous, then nearly continuous.

I never planned to go gluten free, but parenting takes me to places that I never imagined. Click To Tweet

She was uncomfortable and hurting everyday. She seemed able to function and play, but if she sat still, the pain was too distracting. It was rarely so bad that she was crying in pain, but she hurt everyday.

We had an ultrasound and liver enzyme blood tests done, yet there was no clear reason for her discomfort. But after months of charting her pain, I finally couldn’t stand to watch her suffer anymore.

I took lactose out of her diet, but it didn’t seem to help.

A trip to our clinic for a physical led us to decide to try removing gluten from her diet. Days before a cross-country trek wasn’t great timing, but we went for it, desperate for answers.

Going gluten free isn't a journey I ever wanted to undertake. I LOVE chewy, warm, rich bread. But being a parent takes me to places that I never would have imagined.

After a few weeks, she stopped complaining her stomach hurt. After a few months, I threw away her pain chart.

And of course, we’re willing to go gluten free for her, but I am still mentally adjusting to this change. It changes so many things I didn’t anticipate.

She can’t often have the snacks at church. I have to do extra planning and preparation for playdates and babysitters. I’ve had to teach my six year old how to graciously decline snacks when I’m not around. I always have to carry safe food.

On National Talk like a Pirate Day, Krispy Kreme gives free doughnuts for customers who talk like pirates. As we drove past, she asked if we were could get our free doughnuts this year. No, honey, doughnuts have gluten.

We’ve found some swaps for bread items and just changed our diets to a larger extent, but the holiday season is making this adjustment really hard. Some things just aren’t the same.

While gluten free recipes and flours improve every year, some dishes are just different and others have been kind of gross. We all have had to adjust.

I’ve had to learn more scratch baking, no more prepackaged pie crusts for us. I’ve never had xantham gum in my kitchen before. I’m still a little unclear about what it is, but Google and Alton Brown are my friends.

I got distracted at a party a few weeks ago when my daughter asked if she could have one of what I was eating. I handed her a bagel chip without thinking. Face palm.

As much as there is a learning curve for going gluten free, I hate to complain. Her health and happiness are paramount. It isn’t a life threatening allergy (if it’s an allergy at all-see below), and I give HUGE PROPS for those with serious allergies.

Knowing she may never have flour again is one thing, but knowing she may never be able to casually order from a restaurant menu again is a little emotional.

We went to one of our favorite restaurants last week only to realize she can’t eat anything there. They had one gluten free option, plain grilled chicken with green beans. The kitchen staff wasn’t even clear on what gluten is. I was literally reading the ingredients labels for them.

We went to a church potluck, and it was so hard to watch her dejected face at the dessert table when she couldn’t have a single one. Luckily, someone brought a bowl of candy which was all gluten free.

I hate watching her be disappointed. It breaks my heart more than it breaks hers.

Thinking about how this will affect her life forever gets a little overwhelming, so I try not to, just taking one day at a time.

And today, I don’t know if going gluten free will be permanent for her or not. The doctor wouldn’t order the blood test for gluten allergies without any clear diagnostic reason, but in order to get a diagnostic reason, we had to take all the gluten out of her diet for months to see if that made any difference.

Thinking about forever can be overwhelming. Take health changes one day at a time. Click To Tweet

Once we believed it made a difference, the doctor was willing to test her, but she has to be eating gluten for two months before the antibodies can be tested for an allergy.

SIGH

So, we’re gradually adding gluten back into her diet. A few bites of bread here, a slice of pizza there. I figured if we have to do it for the testing, we might as well do it over the holidays so she can enjoy our favorite treats, and I can practice with some gluten free recipes for next year.

We’ll see what the next two months bring. Perhaps she is just sensitive to it, not allergic. Maybe it was the pesticides, and the wheat needs to be organic or non-GMO??? Maybe it was something else entirely.

We really don’t know what will happen.

I do know that I have a better understanding and greater compassion for parents with children who have food allergies. If nothing else comes from the past two months, I am grateful for that.

Many of our homeschool friends have serious allergies like Celiac’s, nut allergies, dye allergies, etc. And for the first time, I’m more than aware of it, I get the seriousness of it and have serious respect for those moms!

Every ingredient has to be investigated.

A homemade recipe by a dear friend could be dangerous because they might not know how to examine labels the way you do. Gluten hides in crazy places: soy sauce, taco seasoning, Twizzlers! She can’t have Twizzlers on a gluten free diet.

Cross-contamination is a real risk.

So, a product that might be edible alone is rendered unsafe because it was made in a factory that also processes wheat or nuts or eggs or soy or milk. This often includes our own kitchens, especially for celiac’s and nut allergies!

Reading labels has helped me understand just how many products are off-limits for people with serious allergies, especially nut allergies.

It is so true that things just don’t hit home until it’s your child.

I am grateful I’ve had this chance to learn how to be mindful of allergies for food preparation and hospitality.

Seriousness of food allergies (Cross-contamination and reading ingredients) doesn't hit home until it's your child. Click To Tweet

I found myself turning down invites to parties or lunch because it’s hard to find many places that offer safe food. I know more seasoned allergy moms have some great strategies for handling these things, but for now, I’m still learning.

No matter how her tests turn out in February, I have learned so much. I’ll always have something safe for guests and label food items for potlucks, making sure to be the one to think of those with allergies.

Going gluten free is a journey. And we’re in a weird stretch right now, but we’ll keep taking one step at a time as a family.

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How you can give better this Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and is an opportunity to focus on the real meaning of the holiday season, the greatest gift of Christ and His love which frees and transforms us.

Honestly, in my opinion, Giving Tuesday should precede Thanksgiving. Maybe we would all be less focused on the commercialized shopping if we started our season with giving. And, it is a good reminder that we are to honor God by giving of our firstfruits, not what’s leftover.

Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV  Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Giving has always been something important to me. When I was five, I got passionate about supporting the missionaries at my church. I went home, dumped out my checker cup, and went door to door for donations without telling anyone.

I’m lucky my parents didn’t kill me! I can’t imagine my six year-old being missing for two hours. But I did collect some money for a good cause. 

That intense heart for causes and passion for people never changed.

Giving should be something we do all year round not just at Christmas, not just on giving Tuesday, but today’s a great day to focus on why we give back and starting the season with the right heart and the right attitude.

Giving should be part of how we live all year round, not just on #GivingTuesday Click To Tweet

Number One

Give where you are passionate.

The world has millions of different causes. Even important work would get overlooked without people like us finding the ones that matter to us.

God gave each of us diverse interests and put us in specific places for a reason.

Find something that speaks to you and give there.

For example, I have several causes near and dear to my heart, but SavingEliza.com is extra special. A friend of a friend has a daughter who has Sanfilippo Syndrome, a tragic childhood Alzheimer’s, a disease orphaned by modern medical funding.

But the people who love and care about the children affected with Sanfilippo syndrome knew science had a potential treatment that just needed funding to get it through the final FDA stages.

With a handful of hope, several families with children suffering with Sanfilippo made an incredible push to get it done. They raised millions through people like me and you who care about giving. And children are starting to get treated!

Every year for her birthday which is right before Thanksgiving time, I make a donation and often a few times during the year because so many children are still waiting for their chance to get this potentially disease halting treatment.

Secondly, give locally or personally.

Giving to someone in need near you is a powerful way to be a light in a dark world. Just this week, I had a chance to give to someone during a deeply difficult family loss. Sometimes, we don’t know what to say and other than prayers, we feel helpless. Donating to a fundraiser is one way to say I’m walking with you.

Or take the time to give personally, mail a check, slide a grocery gift card under their door. Make a difference for the people in your life.

Today is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and is an opportunity to focus on the real meaning of the holiday season.

Third, gifts don’t have to be financial.

Volunteer. Offer to cook food for an event. Babysit the neighbors’ kids so they can have a night out.

Give of your time, your talents, your treasures. Look for ways to help people. I find that if I slow down, I realize how much need I can be missing by just being too busy. Sometimes people just need our attention.

Also, pray about need. God will sometimes bring someone to your mind. This summer, He did just that for me and I felt like I was supposed to mail her a check. It was kind of strange, but even as I was writing it, I made it out for more than I initially thought.

It wasn’t much, but I was blown away when she called and said there had been a problem with her husband’s paycheck through finance. Our small gift was enough to make some ends meet.

I love seeing how God is uses us when we take the time to get quiet and listen to His prompting.

Lastly, research your charities. Lots of great causes are represented by non-profits that pay millions in salaries for CEOs or even celebrity endorsements, and sites like Charity Navigator are great ways to see how much of your donation goes where it should.

My personal rule of thumb is 90% or more should go to doing what I intend it for.

I don’t have much compared to some, but so much compared to so many, and I want to make a difference for Christ.

#GivingTuesday is one opportunity to show others the light of Christ that shines in us. Click To Tweet

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We Gather Together – Thanksgiving 2016

After a year of tremendous division and fear in our country, we need Thanksgiving more than ever. As I thought about giving thanks today, I couldn’t stop singing the classic hymn We Gather Together.

The lyrics seem extra poignant. Maybe, I’ve never really paid attention to them before, but they drew me in today.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Not only is gathering important as friends and family, but especially as Christians for fellowship. Living separate from the world but in it, can be lonely. We gather together to encourage and be encouraged, reminded that we need not fear because we belong to the Lord.

Hebrews 10:25 (NASB) 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We gather together for fellowship and encouragement, remembering to Whom we belong. #Thankful Click To Tweet

I love how the hymn discusses a body of believers gathering to seek His blessing, His chastening.

Chastening is God’s correction of the sin in our lives. And it is a blessing, He corrects our steps, sets us right. I’m not always grateful for the correction in the moment, but I’m learning to see it correctly.

God promises us He reproves whom He loves.

Discipline isn’t punishment, it’s guidance. When I punish my daughter, it’s never vindictive. I want her to learn, grow, mature so that she’ll be prepared for obstacles to come.

God chastens & reproves those He loves. It is part of His blessings for us. Click To Tweet
Revelation 3:19 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

In the hard times, I’ve learned to seek His face. When I hit a wall in a friendship, my marriage, or parenting, I’ve learned to search out God’s will, even if it means I must change.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

After a year of tremendous division, we need Thanksgiving more than ever & the simple words of the hymn We Gather Together create such a beautiful picture.

I think about all the small ways God ordained my every step this year. The devotionals I read that challenged and convicted me at just the right moment, the lessons I learned at exactly the time I needed them.

I’ve faced some heartbreaking moments this year. But God orchestrated my paths to and through them. He stood by my side through it all. His picture is an eternal one.
I am especially grateful for the way His word is always relevant for me, everyday.
Today’s daily passage was Revelation 3 which reflects the hymn I had already been singing and writing about.
Revelation 3:10 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

We lift up His name in praises today, seeing His leadership and dominion, asking for Him to defend us against the tribulations of the world.

What tremendous safety we have in Him.

And much like the company that shared our feast today, God promises His great desire for communion with us.

Revelation 3:20 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I imagined the Lord sharing my table today, seeing Him through the blessings of friends who joined our celebration because of providential happenings, and know God is present in our thanksgiving as we gather together.

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Adoption Made Us Family: Adoption Day 2016

Today is National Adoption Day, bringing awareness to the great need for adoptive families in America, but all I can say is adoption made us a family.

I have yet to find words that do this journey justice. Because it is a journey, not just a destination.

This week I was watching the new Michael Weatherly drama Bull. The episode featured a woman who went into surgery expecting to come out with her ability to carry a child restored, but had to have an emergency hysterectomy instead.

I almost couldn’t watch the episode.

My first reproductive surgery was supposed to make it possible for me to carry a child, but instead I learned that I would most likely never get pregnant and should have had a hysterectomy during that initial procedure. Less than a year later, I ended up having a total hysterectomy when I no longer could ignore how drastically it was affecting my health.

While the health benefits of the hysterectomy finally allowed me to lead a more normal life, losing my ability to ever experience pregnancy and have children was devastating. Sometimes, those emotions are still very raw.

The vision of the family I dreamed of as a young woman would never come to be.

I will never know how it feels to look at a miniature version of my husband and myself, created in our love.

Adoption doesn't erase the hurts of infertility. But is its own rainbow miracle too. Click To Tweet

Adopting doesn’t heal that specific grief.

Adopting after infertility might be similar to the experience of having a rainbow baby (a child born after a miscarriage or still birth). This new life is precious and celebrated, but doesn’t replace what was lost.

I never lost a specific child, but had my heart broken over all the images of my children I had carried in my head and heart.

But the Bull episode ended with one of the main characters walking up to the woman saying, “There is more than one way to make a family. I’m adopted and I can’t thank my parents enough for giving me a family and this life. Adoption is just another way.”

And I was crying ugly tears for no reason at all.

Because adoption did make us a family.

I’ve written about how God has used adoption in my life several times.

But this year, I’m really struck by how God used adoption to make us a family. He took two people who had both had their hopes and ideas of family shattered by divorce and created a new family through this adoption.

It is a beautiful picture of second chances and redemption for all of us.

Today is National Adoption Day, bringing awareness to the great need for adoptive families in America, but all I can say is adoption made us a family.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Despite all we did to make a mess of our lives, God’s mercies are new EVERY morning. He brought us through the adoption process so perfectly, moment by moment was orchestrated by Him.

Each of our lives are changed through adding this little girl to our family.

My husband’s boys from his first marriage have their only little sister. My husband got to have another chance to be present for the very young years that he mostly missed with his boys due to military deployments.

Adoption made us a family. It gave our dreams a second chance. #NationalAdoptionDay Click To Tweet

and I get to be a mom.

Being a mom is like the old Peace Corps slogan: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

There are moments I feel completely wrung out, ready to dissolve into a puddle of frustrated tears, but I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Becoming a mother fundamentally changed my perception of my place in this world, my relationship with God, and the concept of what my legacy might be.

Mom: Toughest job you'll ever LOVE! Are you up for it? #NationalAdoptionDay Click To Tweet
This Adoption Day wasn’t picture perfect.

We scrambled to fit in an extra school day in preparation for a trip next week. We struggled through how many dimes can you trade for 18 nickels until we were both ready to quit, cry, and just carry credit cards.

Then we raced out the door to see the Budweiser Clydesdale team. Because HORSES and 6 year old girls. Running to buy a toy for the Salvation Army toy drive, I accidentally stole a soda and had to go back to pay for it on the way home after driving 30 minutes in the dark on a low tire. My husband shot one deer in the woods today but executed another via his truck on the way home, damaging his truck and doubling the butchering this evening.

Such is life.

But this is family, doing ups and downs, working hard to challenge the chaos in this world.

It’s learning how to best love this family we chose to commit to.

And there is a reason God says we’re adopted into His kingdom as co-heirs with Jesus Christ. He sets the precedent for chosen, adopted, brotherhood.

There is something special about being chosen, being loved by daily decision, being adopted . . . because it makes us family.

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