Insight for Girls

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Michelle Warner

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With Grateful Hearts

Posted on July 28th, 2014
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“Wait, what did you say?”

 

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“I’m going to be a big sister?? Does that mean I have to share??”

 

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“Well, if I can still play with my woofie, I think I’ll be okay.”

In case you didn’t guess it, we are so humbled and grateful to announce that we are expecting our second child in February. After the road we have walked with my cancer, we feel so blessed that I was able to get pregnant again. We do not take this gift lightly and humbly thank God for His provision. My heart still is so tender for those who desire to have a child and have not been able to yet, and I want you to know that if that’s you, I am sincerely praying for you and asking God to minister to you in a personal way. There were many times when hearing the exciting news like this broke my heart and brought me to my knees as I continued to wait. So please know that although we are very thrilled to share our news, I do not share it without empathy of those wishing for a different story for themselves. I ask God to tenderly meet you as He did for me as well.

There is so much to say but I wanted to post our news today since we had our 12-week appointment and heard the baby’s heartbeat. We would appreciate prayers for a healthy pregnancy for both me and baby. And also for prayers for sweet Olivia whose world is about to be rocked! I gave her a Big Sister book after we found out we were pregnant and I wanted to post this video of her reading the book the other day. It has become her favorite book to read and definitely my favorite thing these days is to listen to her “read.”

[**Well, I am having some difficulties uploading the video so check back soon!]

Thanks for all your prayers and support in this journey!

A Few of My Go-To Quick, Healthy Meals

Posted on March 7th, 2014

Last month I decided to make a stir-fry for dinner to use up some of our vegetables. Before Olivia, this would have been no problem. Now with a one-year-old who melts down around 6:00pm due to hunger and exhaustion, preparing any sort of meal is quite a task. Imagine the scene: I throw the veggies in the skillet, pull out the spices, and begin cutting more vegetables–all the while, I have a cutie pulling on my legs saying “ba, ba” (her version of “up.”). When I tell her I can’t pick her up right now, she throws her head back on the floor and starts crying loudly. I decide to turn on some toddler tunes to distract her (and let’s be honest, me!), but really the music just adds to the loudness of the kitchen. This goes on for another twenty minutes while I make the quinoa and stir the veggies. Thankfully right as I finish, Jared walks in the door. His face says it all as he spans the messy counters, the toys all over the kitchen floor, and Olivia hanging on my legs. I plate the food and then sink into my chair vowing to never make stir fry again until the kids are in high school.

It really was about as dramatic as I am making it to sound! After that dinner preparation nightmare, I was reminded all over again why right now in this season of my life I need quick meals I can prepare. However, it seems a lot of the easy dinners are not very healthy. I am on a quest to find easy but healthy meals. I thought I would share a few I have found but would love for you to pass along any you have found as well!

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers 

These were really delicious and did not take too much preparation time before sticking them in the oven. Be prepared that you need to start them at least an hour and a half before dinner time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • [2 ribs celery, finely chopped (½ cup) - I omitted]
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (I added fresh because that is what I had on hand.)
  • 2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • [3 large carrots, grated (1½ cups) - I omitted.]
  • 1½ cups grated reduced-fat pepper Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

Instructions:

1.Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

2. Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Stir in 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping ¾-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour. Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 Tbs. remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

Mexican Lasagna

A good friend of mine gave me this recipe when I was newly married. I have since adapted it to add more fillings but it is always a crowd pleaser and one of my go-to recipes for new moms (although check with them about the spice and onions first!).

Ingredients:

  • 1lb. Ground Turkey (I use the organic beef from Costco.)
  • 1-2 Tbsp Taco Seasoning
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1-2 red peppers, diced
  • 1 C. Tomato Sauce (15 oz.)
  • 16 oz. salsa
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1 can black beans
  •  3 Eggs (beaten)
  •  1 C. low fat cottage cheese
  •  8 Corn tortillas- cut in half (I usually just rip them to the size I need when I am putting them on the lasagna.)
  •  4 ½ oz. shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
  •  3 oz. Mozzarella Cheese (to sprinkle on top)

Instructions:

  1. Simmer the meat, seasoning, pepper, onion, tomato sauce and salsa for 10minutes.
  2. Mix the eggs and cottage cheese together in a bowl.
  3. In a 9×13 pan, layer meat sauce on bottom; then tortillas, egg mixture, Monterey jack cheese and then repeat topping off with the mozzarella.
  4. Cook at 350 for 30-45 minutes.

 

Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

I stumbled upon this crock pot meal yesterday when I was searching for a crock pot meal that did not contain lots of cream or cheese. If you have any healthy crock pot meals, I would love to know about them!

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (just over a pound)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of taco seasoning
  • 10-16 oz of salsa
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 red pepper, chopped  (Add to the pot 1 hour before the meal is finished cooking.)

Optional

  • Burrito size or taco size tortillas
  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Lettuce
  • Rice

Directions:

  1. Cut chicken into large pieces and put into the crock pot.
  2. Sprinkle with taco seasoning, top with salsa & frozen corn.
  3. Cover & let cook for 4-5 hours on high.  (Warning – it only took the chicken 3 hours to be tender and ready.)
  4. Add the red peppers to the pot 1 hour before the meal is finished cooking.
  5. Stir it up then shred with a fork.
  6. Assemble any way you want.

Happy eating and please comment below if you have any go-to simple but healthy meals you enjoy. :)

***
(Note’: It seems my email hasn’t been working if you reply to the blog post you receive in your inbox. I think it is fixed now but do let me know in the comment section if an email is returned to you. Thanks!)

My Birth Plan Flew Out the Window

Posted on November 20th, 2012

Do you remember when I posted my thoughts about a birth plan? I really did mean what I said. I really did feel a peace about trusting God with the plan and keeping my hands open about it all. After writing a short birth plan which I gave to my doctor, she said my desires seemed very reasonable, and I felt really good about the whole thing. Alright, next plan: have this baby!

Welp. So much for that birth plan. I found out on Friday at my OB appointment that my birth plan was hijacked with a totally new set of plans, one full of medical interventions and completely devoid of any natural methods to bring this baby into the world. And I’ll be honest: this past weekend I’ve been grieving how I had hoped giving birth would transpire. I have been looking forward to having a baby for so long and as I started to come to terms with how different this birth plan will be from how I envisioned it, well, I just wanted to cry.

And I did. Sitting in Cheesecake Factory with Jared after our OB appointment on Friday, tears streamed down my cheeks as I tried to eat my lettuce wraps. I was definitely that girl that people kept glancing at to make sure everything was okay. But I didn’t really care. I needed to let it out.

Since writing my last post, I’ve been praying for wisdom to know how to walk this fine line between being honest and vulnerable about my life but also recognizing truth and keeping perspective. I have seen people usually lean too far to one side or the other and I admit I have done the same. I have leaned too far to the vulnerable side and “thrown up” my thoughts only to wish I would have tempered them and instead taken a nap. But I have also tried to be so logical, spiritual, and grateful for the blessings that I have failed to be honest and acknowledge my struggling emotions.

I am learning there is a balance between the two. My hope is to exercise this new muscle, learning to walk this line and honor God in the process. On one hand, I have experienced the difficult side of life, namely cancer. I know life can be tough and I don’t want to forget that even when life may be looking up for me, others are walking through some really deep challenges. I don’t want to lose perspective and bury my head too far in my seemingly petty concerns. Yet on the other hand, I have also learned I can’t push down my feelings pretending like they don’t matter, even if they aren’t the most rational or surrounding the most crucial of circumstances. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I believe there is a root under these feelings that needs some attention or it will continue to work its way through other aspects of my life too. I don’t want to simply bury them with optimistic thoughts hoping they’ll disappear. I’ve seen firsthand: they won’t.

As I sat at lunch with Jared, my first inclination was just to wipe the tears away with the back of my hand, paste on a smile, and “get over it.” Dismiss the pain. Move on. After all, we had so much to be grateful for. (And we definitely do.) But after working through so much over the past several years, I knew failing to address why this set of events was affecting me so deeply would do a huge disservice to my heart. I realized, no matter how silly it felt to me or others, I needed to walk through the grieving process so that when Olivia was ready to join us, I would be free and able to embrace the amazing moments ahead.

So, this weekend I had some honest conversations with God. On Saturday night I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom for the fourth time (gotta love pregnancy!), and immediately the whole birth situation popped to the forefront of my mind. I said to God really honestly with some pouting in my voice, “But I really wanted a beautiful labor story.” Without hardly a moment passing, I heard God respond very clearly to my heart, “Who are you to say what a beautiful story looks like?” Oh. Right. That piece of truth was enough for me to fall back asleep.

The next morning I confessed to God my entitled spirit that basically told Him: I deserve my ideal birth plan because I have been through a lot. Don’t You owe me this? Ouch. I really didn’t know that lie had been quietly growing in my heart until I acknowledged it for what it was. I think God was very kind not to answer that question because I knew this situation had so much more to do with my expectations than it had to do with His love and provision.

I didn’t verbalize much of my thoughts the rest of the day but ruminated on what God must be doing in this new set of circumstances. I began to feel His peace permeate my heart as I yanked out some of the misconceptions to give Him more room to flood me with His truths. I’m so thankful for the way and timing in which He works, because what I didn’t realize was how tenderly He was preparing me for my OB appointment the following morning.

As Jared and I drove to the appointment, I told him in the car that if I wasn’t dilated at this appointment then it was time to accept the fact that it wasn’t going to happen naturally. I had exhausted almost every bullet point on the “natural ways to induce labor” list, and felt like I had given it my very best try.

Boy, was I surprised when not only was I not dilated but the doctor mentioned “c-section” within the beginning few minutes of the appointment. Thankfully in God’s kindness (and I mean that; truly, in the kind way that He works with me), He had helped me come to terms with so many of my emotions that even the sharpest turn from my ideal birth plan didn’t dissolve me into hopeless tears.

We talked for a long time with the doctor about all of the options. It was then that I realized I would not have the opportunity to give birth how I envisioned. Basically anything natural flew out the window since my body wasn’t dilating on its own and the doctor suspected Olivia’s head couldn’t move past my pelvic bones to encourage labor. The only options for Olivia’s escape were either a) a several step process of drugs that could quite possibly (over 50% chance) culminate in an inevitable c-section anyway or b) a planned c-section. Ugh. No talk of my body going into labor on its own with contractions building and resulting in a little girl entering the world through the birth canal, her lungs announcing her arrival and the angels singing. Okay, maybe a bit dramatic, but I realized I must let go of my ideal for a new, apparently “better” plan.

Let’s face it: at some point or another, we all experience when life doesn’t always go the way we choose and we’re confronted with accepting a new normal. Sometimes the shift of events are big things like an illness, loss of a job, end of a relationship, or death of a dream. And sometimes they’re seemingly smaller like realigning expectations, but I have realized we all get an opportunity to look disappointment in the eye.

The question I felt God kept asking my heart yesterday was, “Do you trust Me even though the plan is going differently than you envisioned?” I think sometimes it can be easy to say the word “Yes” and yet much more difficult to live out the Yes. But I believe living out the “Yes, I trust You” is the essence of what faith and surrender are all about. I want to live out my Yes with a belief that God is not only fully in control but also tenderly caring for my heart and walking every step of the way with me. Even if the events are totally different than how I expected or hoped for them to go.

So, the amazing news is that by this time tomorrow, I will be holding our little girl in my arms. Such a long-awaited dream and prayer and I can hardly contain my excitement. Though this birth story has no resemblance to what I originally envisioned, I am so utterly grateful that I have the opportunity to give birth to our miracle baby. And it will be beautiful because God’s writing the story.

**

Thank you again for all of your prayers throughout this journey. I would love your continued prayers for all to go seamlessly tomorrow, Wednesday, at our scheduled c-section at 11:30am. I will also have the opportunity for an oncologist to attend the surgery and double check that all still looks good and cancer-free. I am grateful this is working out and would also appreciate your prayers for a good report.

Thankful. Sort of.

Posted on November 14th, 2012

During the beginning of this week I didn’t participate in the Thankful Challenge I mentioned in the previous post. And there’s a not-so-great reason: being thankful hasn’t been my top my emotion. (Which is funny to me, because this is the exact reason I decided to do the Thankful Challenge; I knew that though this would be an extremely exciting month, there would also be sleepless nights and unforeseen challenges that may cause me to need a little extra practice in the thankful category. I just didn’t expect to need the practice so early in the month and before our baby even arrives!) I have hesitated writing this post because I am afraid you’ll think that I am really ungrateful, and I don’t ever want to diminish all of the amazing things God has done in my life, especially this past year.

However, I also am growing in becoming more vulnerable and genuine, and if I don’t share the times when I am annoyed and discouraged, I am not exactly giving you a picture of the real me. Instead, it’s just the me that I want to present, and that is exactly what bothers me with much of social media. I am learning to be aware of my tendencies to want to present myself as put-together and share my struggles only after I’ve worked through them myself. God continues to work on me in this area by teaching me to find security in His unconditional love rather than the approval of others.

So in light of all of this, I am sharing with you my raw feelings even though I will go on record and say much of what I am feeling right now is irrational and does not reflect the true excitement I feel in meeting our sweet daughter–whenever she decides to make her appearance. Isn’t it amazing how we can be so blessed and have so, so much to be grateful for, but yet how easily we can become disenchanted when things don’t go exactly the way we want, even when things are going just fine? I am learning it’s all a matter of perspective and, oh, how easily my vision can be clouded with impatience and discontentment instead of seeing the amazing blessings.

So here is where my irrational thoughts have been…

Because my twin brother’s daughter surprised us all and decided to make her entrance into the world a month early, I have been quite prepared for Olivia to arrive early as well. I know that everyone told me that first-time moms usually go into labor late, but many people kept telling me that because of my small stature, I would for sure have an early baby. So I checked things off my list as if she would come in the middle of October. Jared and I have had our bags packed in the corner of our room for three+ weeks. Her car seat has been strapped in the car for over a month. I’ve cleaned the house every other day to make sure it’s clean when we bring a little baby home.

But alas, no baby.

The past three weeks at my obstetrician appointments, the doctor has told me my body has showed hardly any signs of preparing for labor. Granted, she has said that doesn’t really mean much and I could still go into labor that night. However, this last visit, I left feeling a little deflated. And I knew I shouldn’t be; I was so thankful that each appointment we heard Olivia’s strong heartbeat (something I know we can’t take for granted) and she would come when it was time. But I still felt a little disappointed that most likely my little baby was quite content in her warm quarters and not wanting to arrive on schedule.

Up until the last couple of days, Olivia’s delay has been a joke between Jared and me. Jared’s been talking to my belly and telling her that we really aren’t as crazy as we may seem and we really would like her to join us. We just imagine her holding onto anything she possibly can in my womb in order to not have to come out to these crazy parents. (ha!)

But now, I have gotten kinda sick of waiting. I hate to admit it, but frankly, I’ve been annoyed at the wait. I’m really tired, not sleeping well, feel sore, and really big. (Case in point: yesterday, my mom and I were at the store and the clerk looked at me and said, “You are big!” Who says that?! Anyway, I digress…)

On Sunday evening, I realized I needed to write my Thankful post but I couldn’t think of anything that was heartfelt that I haven’t already written. And yes, I could write that I am thankful for my restored health, a warm home, an abundance of food, a loving family, amazing friends, a good job for Jared…I could go on and on…and on and on. As I thought about it on Sunday, I knew that I was truly grateful for those things, but it just felt forced and maybe a little fake to post a cheery message about what I was grateful for when inside I was just a little annoyed.

The next day I woke up feeling similarly. I had the whole day at my finger tips before Olivia came and I knew I needed to be grateful for it. Many over-worked moms would kill for day all by themselves with nothing on the schedule. And I knew I would be wishing for this day back when I was an exhausted mom very soon.

But I was still annoyed. And I was annoyed with myself that I was annoyed. (Do you ever get like that or is it just me?)

I knew I needed to spend time with God for Him to give me a much-needed attitude check. And in the way that only God does, the devotional I opened to was exactly what I needed to hear:

“When your life feels increasingly out of control, thank Me. These are the supernatural responses, and they can lift you above your circumstances.  If you do what comes naturally in the face of difficulties, you may fall prey to negativism. Even a few complaints can set you on a path that is a downward spiral, by darkening your perspective and mindset. With this attitude controlling you, complaints flow more and more readily from your mouth. Each one moves you steadily down the slippery spiral. The lower you go, the faster you slide; but it is still possible to apply brakes. Cry out to Me in My Name! Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. Thank Me for everything, though this seems unnatural–even irrational. Gradually you will begin to ascend, recovering your lost ground. When you are back on ground level you can face your circumstances from a humble perspective. If you choose supernatural responses this time–trusting and thanking Me–you will experience my unfathomable Peace.” (Jesus Calling, October 3)

After reading and journaling for a while, I felt a little better. Mostly because I was reminded again that sometimes the key is CHOOSING truth even when I don’t feel it, even when it’s not a natural response. And for me in this instance, it is choosing to be grateful for the wait to meet my daughter even when I’m not necessarily wanting to wait any longer. And it is choosing to trust God not only has my good in mind but my unborn daughter’s good, and therefore there is most likely a very good reason for the wait. Even if it’s just to teach this mama a little more about letting go of my expectations, being real with those around me, waiting on God’s timing, and trusting Him for what I need.

And for that I am thankful. Truly.

***

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.

(Psalm 13:5-6)

Our Baby Girl’s Room

Posted on November 3rd, 2012

Well, I  know the title of this blog is “Insight for Girls”, but I admit this post won’t offer any deep insights. As we await our sweet daughter, I am checking things off my list (as referenced in the last post) and I am happy to say I finished her nursery. Since many of you have walked this entire journey with me, I thought you’d enjoy seeing some photos of her room! It will be better when she is in these pictures but until then…

As you walk into her room, on the wall to the left is the sweet monogram wall hanging my sister-in-law made for me. I love it and how it draws all of the colors together.

To the left sits her crib, our splurge for the room. My friend and wonderful helper, Sara, and I made the crib skirt from the gray, yellow, and pink Amy Butler fabric, my inspiration for the room. The Olivia basket to the left holds several special blankets that friends and family have lovingly made for us, including the quilt my Grandma made us for our wedding. We also love the quilt our dear family friend made for us hanging on the crib.

The basket has a story too.I bought it a couple of years ago at a thrift store simply because I liked the basket and the price was right. When Jared and I were brainstorming names, “Olivia” was high on the list if she was a girl. It never occurred to me that the name was monogramed on the basket liner until right before we found out she truly was a girl! It is a symbol to me that God was preparing our way even during the difficult years before her arrival. I love the little ways in which He works.

Please notice the wall paint because my mom and dad painted the room for us while we were on vacation. There used to be a mural painted on the wall by the original homeowner, and while it was sweet, it was not the look I envisioned for her room. I love how the gray on the walls brings a peaceful look to her room. I also love the sweet PBK mobile hanging above the crib given to us by good friends. A painting from my sister-in-law will hang behind her crib as well.

In case you thought our gray paint color choice did not represent my girly personality, I had to make sure you noticed one of the best parts of the room: the ceiling! As I mentioned, my parents painted the room for us, although my dad was not completely convinced about the paint we chose for the ceiling. He actually waited until we returned home from vacation before finishing painting it just to be sure the color was what we envisioned. Once our friends installed the white crown molding, Jared and I were quite happy with the look. And I think my dad even likes it now too!

The glider has been the biggest project in the room. I had trouble finding a white reasonably-priced glider and even was praying that God would direct us to the right one. When I stumbled upon one in great condition at a garage sale, I knew I had found it. The only problem was that the fabric did not match the room. My friend, Sara, and I searched online and in stores for the right fabric and finally settled on this gray upholstery fabric. Sara was gracious enough to do the majority of the sewing and measuring and my mom and I hand-stiched each cushion closed when she was finished. I am so happy with how it turned out and grateful to my wonderful in-laws for paying for the project as a baby gift for Olivia.

The PBK  black-out curtains, a gift from Jared’s Grandma, will help keep the room nice and dark since our front spotlight shines into her room at night. The pink toy bench is filled with many thoughtful gifts from many special friends. I know Olivia will love playing with them all. Of course I had to fill a basket full of books to begin reading to her at a young age.

Sitting on the little yellow rocking chair (another great garage sale find, by the way) is a bunny–similar to what I carried with me every day as a baby–and Olivia’s first doll, both from my mom.

I’ve had the white shelf with baskets for several years but love how the beautiful lamp and picture frames, both gifts from friends, add such a feminine touch to the room. I can’t wait to fill all of the picture frames with photos of our sweet girl.

I was happy to find the white shelves, white changing table tray and dresser all at garage sales as well. It was fun to bargain hunt with my mom this summer and find ways to stretch our dollar while making the room look girly and cute.

So many special gifts from friends in this picture and I love how so many important people have contributed to making this such a sweet room. Inside the pink monogrammed vase painted by my sister-in-law is the outfit I came home from the hospital wearing. It seemed only fitting that it be displayed in the room as well.The dress was given by dear family friends that matched the room too beautifully not to display. The cross reads, “For this child, we have prayed” taken from 1 Samuel 1:27. A definite true statement and one I don’t want to forget.

I found the mirror at a garage sale this summer  as well and loved how it already matched the room so perfectly. I think the sweet pillow from a friend and the cushion made by mom look cute together sitting on the bench that Jared actually had back in his bachelor days! I love the PBK wall hooks given to me by my friend that provides a place to hang a sweater I wore as a baby along with two more sweet gifts from friends.

We are blessed to have a bathroom attached to Olivia’s room too. The PBK wall hooks were garage sale finds and hold her mostly handmade headbands so well. I can’t wait to put them on her!

I just love the way all of the bathroom accessories–all gifts–bring the gray, yellow, and pink together.

Sara also made the sweet wall hanging which I thought matched perfectly with the shower curtain.

Olivia, your room is ready! Now all we need is YOU!!

A Fall Healthy Dinner

Posted on October 1st, 2012

As I approach the three year mark from when this cancer journey began, I feel like I’ve reached a little more balanced approach to nutrition and health. Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments when I swing to either side of the pendulum, but I am thankful to be where I am –almost three years old and a baby on the way!

Jared and I have had so much transition the last six months but we are finally feeling like we are beginning to find a sense of routine in our new life (just before it goes topsy-turvy with a newborn!). Part of finding our routine means me remembering what dishes I used to cook and actually cooking them! I revisited an old recipe that Jared and I both have loved, but now with so much going on and our time becoming even more limited very soon, I found a few short cuts to make this recipe even easier but still just as healthy. I also looked in my fridge and added whatever was needing to be used, so feel the freedom to tweak according to what you have in your fridge too.

Fall Squash and Quinoa Dish (originally posted as Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash here)
It’s the perfect fall dish full of nutrition and flavor.

Ingredients:

1 pkg of pre-cut butternut squash from Costco
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 cup quinoa
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 organic chicken breasts
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries
5 small portabella mushrooms, chopped

Directions:

Fill a sauce pan half full with water and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, place a steamer basket on top filled with the butternut squash. Cover. Steam for  about 8 minutes or when you can pierce the cubes with a fork.

Heat olive oil in a pot, sauté onion and quinoa for 4 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. When you turn down heat, add the mushrooms to the quinoa.

[Last night, Jared grilled two chicken breasts and so we just served those on the side of the quinoa and squash. However, you can also prepare the meat this way:] In a separate skillet, add the meat, season with salt and pepper and cook through, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the walnuts and cranberries with the quinoa. Divide the quinoa mixture, meat, and squash between the plates and serve.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Bag of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (I also found these at Costco)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
½ cup of walnuts, chopped [I omitted these last night since the other dish contained walnuts too.]
Sea Salt
Pepper

Combine Brussels sprouts, garlic, oil, and salt and pepper into a bowl. Mix and place on a jelly roll pan. Heat at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Add walnuts to Brussels sprouts. Place back in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are slightly brown.

I’d love for you to share your favorite fall dish too. Happy Fall!

Memories Grand in the Sand

Posted on August 6th, 2012

I had the fun opportunity to help lead a Youth Writing Camp at Miami University a few weeks ago. I have led these camps for seven years and they are one of my most favorite things to do. We each had to publish a piece by the end of the week to submit for the anthology and below is the piece I wrote during the week. It is based off of a type of poem called an “Around Poem,” an autobiographical poem that lists memories of your lifetime in any order. I decided this time to base the poem around my many memories of the beach. Enjoy!

Memories Grand in the Sand

Around 1982, my parents introduced my twin brother and me, just barely two years old, to a tiny island called Fripp Island, South Carolina. Little did they know what a treasured place that beach would become for me.

Around 1992, I sat around the table with my Grandma and aunts after the sun retired behind the South Carolina ocean and worked a puzzle. I still love putting puzzles together to this day.

Around 1995, I drove along the Pacific Ocean on the tree-lined 17-mile road to gaze at the seals and the scenery. I always said I would return and last summer when I soaked in the sites another time I realized it was still as beautiful as I envisioned in my mind.

Around 2002, I spent a few days with my college roommates at a cozy beach house in Florida for our senior year spring break. The deep conversations and memories made there will last a lifetime.

Around 1984, while vacationing at Fripp, I made a faith decision that has influenced my life ever since.

Around 2006, I walked on a breathtaking beach path as the Hawaiian water crashed against the rocks, spraying me with sea foam.

Around 1987, I rode my bike with my family around Fripp at twilight, counting the many deer and alligators we saw. We lost count after sixty.

Around February of 2007, Jared gave me a present on the Florida beach. I unwrapped a mirrored frame with a poem inside. My heart fluttered when I read the last line, “I love you.”

Around 2010, I gazed at a vibrant rainbow in the sky over Fripp’s waters. That rainbow brought me deep solace as my heart and body healed from chemotherapy. Every time I have seen a rainbow since I have found great encouragement.

Around 1999, the sun glistened on the Costa Rican water as I pondered the lessons I’d learned while living in a new country for the summer.

Around 2011, my family celebrated Thanksgiving together at our beloved Fripp Island. The thrill and terror in my two-year-old niece’s eyes as she met the ocean for the first time was priceless.

Around October of 2007, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Jared asked if I would marry him. Boy, am I glad I said yes.

Around 1990, my cousins, uncles, and I used flashlights to navigate our way as we walked on Fripp’s shorelines at night. The crabs scampered at our feet, dancing in the shadows.

Around 2008, I promised my forever to Jared at Fripp with the sun shining overhead and the waves roaring in the background. There wasn’t even a cloud in the sky.

Around 2013, I will take my baby daughter to Fripp Island and introduce her to the beach that has shaped my childhood memories and punctuated my adult experiences. Oh, the new adventures and milestones that await our growing family!

Giving My Concerns To God

Posted on August 1st, 2012

I have to confess that a few days ago I was feeling quite stressed about my lengthy to-do list and all I need to accomplish before my sweet daughter arrives. I know, I know; she could care less if the bedding matches the window treatments or if I choose the perfect fabric for the glider. But between preparing the baby room and still settling into our new house, I was a little overwhelmed. (Okay, I still am.) I decided to take a bath and bring my Bible study with me to read some good truth. Actually, I brought two books: Faithful, Abundant, True by Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I loved how God used both of the books to combine the truth into what I needed to take to heart.

Faithful, Abundant, True by Priscilla Shirer, pgs 96-98:

“Every single thing that concerns you concerns God. That’s right; all of it. Every little detail of your life is on the mind of God. All this talk about the grandeur and greatness of God may tempt you to think the little things in your life might not cross His mind. But you can rest assured that He cares about it all, not just if it’s big but also if it’s small…

Our attitude and ability to find peace in the midst of situations may often be directly tied to our understanding of prayer. Philippians 4:6 states, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We can needlessly suffer anxiety due to our unwillingness to hand over our requests and petition to God…

Romans 8:32 asks, Since God delivered His Son up for us all, “how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (NASB). In other words, “If I loved you enough to die for you, don’t you think I love you enough to take care of you? Don’t you think that the little things that concern you are things that indeed concern me?” And honestly, there really are no small concerns, are there? Because if it’s something that’s bothering you, it is not small, is it? It certainly doesn’t feel that way. If it’s important to you, then rest assured that it’s important to God…

God has great appreciation for what we may consider the small details of life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Jesus pointed out how little earthy value is placed on sparrows. Yet despite their earthly value, the Father is keenly aware of their activity. Isn’t it comforting that our God is not just equated with generalities but is also concerned with our specifics as well?”

***

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, pg 220, July 29 entry

“Come to Me continually. I am meant to be the Center of your consciousness, the Anchor of your soul. Your mind will wander from Me, but the question is how far you allow it to wander. An anchor on a short rope lets a boat drift only slightly before the taut line tugs the boat back toward the center. Similarly, as you drift away from Me, My Spirit within you gives a tug, prompting you to return to Me. As you become increasingly attuned to My Presence, the length of rope on your soul’s Anchor is shortened. You wander only a short distance before feeling that inner tug–telling you to return to your true Center in Me.

Hebrews 6:19: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.

Matthew 22:37: Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

***

God reminded me that He wants me to bring everything that concerns me to Him in prayer and at the same time, to keep my eyes focused on Him as my Center. I have been breathing a little easier the past few days as I try to keep God the main thing in my life and give Him the other details floating around in my mind (like hanging pictures, picking paint colors, and organizing piles).

I may need to read this entry again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that to remind myself of this truth all over again!

Loved by a Good, Kind God

Posted on July 9th, 2012

I wrote the following blog entry last Monday morning before my 20-week ultrasound. I waited to post it until this week because I wanted to add some additional thoughts with the results of the ultrasound.

***

I dread doctor appointments. Ever since my cancer experience, I am filled with trepidation before each one. I don’t sleep well the night before and I am all jittery until after the check-up is complete when I can finally let out a huge sigh of relief.

To be honest, I feel the same way about my 20-week ultrasound today. I wish I could say that I was filled with joy to see my baby on the screen but instead I am fighting back much fear.

Over the past few days God and I have been working through these anxious thoughts, and the interesting thing is that they crept up on me just as my cancer check-ups do. Right before my cancer check-ups, I am on edge. For three months, I am able to (sort-of) forget about the subject of cancer and go about my daily life but once the appointment is about a week away, my mind starts rattling through the what-ifs. What if they find something? What if I have to go through chemo again? What if I have to lose my hair after it’s finally grown out? Once the fears are kicked up, it is a full court press, as they say, to wage against the lies and hold onto God’s truth. I have gone through enough of these check-ups to know that during that week of anticipation I have got to surround myself with Scripture to battle the lies and calm my heart.

Well, this week has been no different. Unfortunately with the way my mind works, the first thought on my mind wasn’t, “Oh, I can’t wait to see my baby and know the gender” (although I am super excited to find out if s/he is a boy or a girl!). My first thoughts have been surrounding his/her health. Will they find a heartbeat? Will the baby have four limbs? Will his/her heart look okay? Will there be any chromosomal issues that arise?

As I’ve prayed about this subject this week, I have had several realizations. First, I have experienced some very difficult health realities at a young age. And so as a result, my rose-colored glasses are long gone. Whereas before I would have approached this pregnancy and ultrasound naively, now I am much more aware that the tests don’t always come back the way I want and the sickness isn’t always cured. I don’t write this to be a downer, only to explain where my mind has been this week. It has helped me to acknowledge that I have seen and experienced more than the average young mom going in for her ultrasound and thus, there is some legitimacy to why I am more tense.

The other insight I’ve realized is similar to the one above. Because I’ve seen life go differently than how I’ve envisioned, I am quite gun shy to think that a situation will turn out well. I hate admitting that fact. As I was planting flowers this week and talking this through with God, I realized that there is a core belief deep down in my heart related to this fear. It’s along the lines of: I don’t truly in my heart of hearts believe God tenderly loves me and will work good for me. Ugh, that is difficult to admit, but there it is in writing. Deep down, when life presents me with uncertainty, if I am truly being honest, I question whether God will be GOOD to me. I don’t question whether God’s character is good; I have grappled with this notion enough and have poured over Scripture enough to feel confident that He has a good heart. But if I am honest when dealing with a difficult situation, I sometimes wonder, Does God care intimately and tenderly about me and my wellbeing or is He is just working for the common good of man? I can buy into the lie that – of course He will work good for others but for me, well, He’ll just use me as an example and teach me some valuable lessons.

On two separate occasions this week God has brought me to this verse to counteract these lies:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Two truths stood out to me from this passage. First, God desires to give good gifts to me when I ask. To me. Not just to everyone else but to me too. Second, He may define “good” differently than I do. When enduring chemo treatments for cancer, I didn’t necessarily feel overwhelmed by the “good” gifts God was giving me. That is, when my eyes were focused on the hardship and disappointment of the situation. But hindsight is 20/20  and looking back, I am still reaping the benefits of the good gifts He has given me through an incredibly challenging experience. I am learning “good” has much to do with perspective.

This reminds me of a comment a good friend of mine made about her own life this past week: “You know, Michelle, I am learning that God is a lot kinder than what I even thought. I mean, if you would have asked me before if He was kind, I would have said, ‘of course He is,’ but I am learning now that He truly is a kind God and much kinder than I thought.”

This conversation came back to my mind this week as I was gardening and I thought, Do I really believe God is a kind God? To which, honestly, my response has been, similar to the father in the Bible who asked Jesus to heal his son “Lord, I [want] to believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

I decided to look in my Bible for a truth to hold onto about God’s kind nature. I loved this passage written by David,

“But You, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and You never, never quit. So look me in the eye and show kindness, give Your servant the strength to go on, save your dear, dear child!  Make a show of how much You love me  [Or in the NIV it says, “Give me a sign of your goodness”] so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed, As You, God, gently and powerfully put me back on my feet.” Psalm 86:15-17, The Message

One last realization of the week has helped prepare me for the ultrasound today. It actually came to the surface while watching We Bought a Zoo with Jared. If you’ve seen this movie, you know that throughout the entire film, the family is working through their grief over their mother and wife’s death. I’ll be honest that sometimes I don’t want to deal with death while I am watching a movie. I want to see a nice story with a happy ending and forget reality and the hardship it brings. Nonetheless, her death was the underpinning of the entire movie and so like it or not, I felt God was asking me to embrace the subject.

Halfway through the movie, we paused it so I could make some popcorn (air-popped with olive oil!) and I said to God, “Lord, you know this brings up fears for me. But I am realizing if I truly trust You and trust You will bring good to me, my only job in this is to surrender and let You work.”

Ah, back to that surrender thing. After how many times I surrendered my hopes and dreams to God through my cancer experience, you’d think I’d have this part down by now. But it doesn’t really work that way; surrender is a daily discipline of me laying down how I want life to go and giving God the reigns to work in the way that is best. Not just best but brings glory to Him and good to me. Even if the outcome is different than I hope.

It’s amazing to me how God works because He took me on a progression of trust this week. He first helped me see that deep down I didn’t really trust He would be good or kind to me. And if I wouldn’t have worked through that misconception, I certainly wouldn’t be able to surrender my hopes because how can I surrender my dreams to Someone I don’t trust will be good and kind to me?

One of the ways I know God is speaking to me is by the way He brings up the same theme over and over. And surrender has been the word of the day for the past several days. I wrote an email to my sister-in-law the other day about the ultrasound and at the end I said, “We find out on Monday [if it’s a boy or a girl]. We are excited but I will be honest: I have been worried that things won’t be okay or they won’t find a heartbeat. Did you ever fear that?! Learning to give all of this over to God…”

She responded in a way that was exactly what I needed to hear, and little did she know was exactly what God was speaking to me about:

“With both kids I’ve found myself hoping to safely get to the 12-week mark and then the 20-week ultrasound and then if we can just get through the birth safely and then if we can make it through the SIDS high-risk months and then through the SIDS low-risk months and then through the crawling months where they’re into everything but have no sense of fear yet, and then I’m sure I’ll fear their safety riding a school bus and their first sleepover and when they turn 16…. all that to say, I know for me it’s the hardest act of surrender I try to make. Knowing that we could make it through the SIDS months only to have a brain tumor diagnosis or make it through other years only to be hit by a drunk driver…All that to say, yes I could easily live in constant fear but I, too, am learning to live by the Spirit without fear and with my hands open.”

Well said, dear sister.

Before I got out of bed today I said to the Lord, “Okay, Lord, I give you today before it even starts. Fill me with your joy, peace, and hope. I surrender my will to Yours.”

I came downstairs, poured myself a little decaf coffee and opened my Jesus Calling book. I asked the Lord to speak to my fluttering heart like only He could. And just in the kind way that God acts, this is what today’s entry was:

“Let Me show you My way for you this day. I guide you continually, so you can relax and enjoy my Presence in the present. Living well is both a discipline and an art. Concentrate on staying close to Me, the divine Artist. Discipline your thoughts to trust Me as I work My ways in your life. Pray about everything; then, leave outcomes up to Me. Do not fear My will, for through it I will accomplish what is best for you. Take a deep breath and dive into the depths of absolute trust in Me” (July 2, pg 193).

So I walk through this day and into my doctor’s appointment with my hands open, disciplining my thoughts to trust God as He works His ways in my life.  I may not love these appointments any more but I am choosing to trust God knows what I need. And even more, He will act in a good and kind way toward me. May you be filled with the same assurance in whatever you face today.

***

If you’ve followed me on facebook, you already know the outcome of last week’s ultrasound. But if you don’t, I wanted to share a bit of the story on my blog.

First of all, right away when the technician began the ultrasound, I saw something on the screen moving up and down. I asked, “Is that the heart?” She replied a quick yes and relief washed over my face. It was as if God was right there in the room, squeezing my shoulders and softly saying, “I see you. I know what you need.” As the ultrasound progressed, she asked if Jared and I were ready to find out the gender. “Oh yes,” we answered.  I was convinced the baby was a boy and had even already bought a few boy items. In my heart of hearts, I deeply desired a girl—mostly because I never had a sister—but I really just hoped for a healthy child. After all we’d been through, I was beyond grateful we were even having a baby.

When the technician finally could tell the gender, she matter-of-factly stated, “It’s a girl!” I stared at her in disbelief and exclaimed, “Are you sure?” She looked again and told us as with 80% accuracy, it was a girl. I laid by head back on the table and in that moment, I silently said, “God is kind” with a newfound confidence. I couldn’t even believe I was having a baby. A healthy baby. A healthy baby girl. Truly the desire of my heart.

On the way home from dinner after celebrating with Jared, the song “How He Loves” by David Crowder came on the radio. I have written before about how meaningful this song has been in my journey. God has taught me that He loves me even when life is difficult and when it doesn’t necessarily feel like He loves me. And yet, in this moment, driving home with a full heart after learning of our sweet, healthy, baby girl, I was overcome with emotion as I listened to the words over and over that “He loves us, oh how He loves us.” Oh, how He loves me on the excruciatingly difficult days, and oh, how He loves me on the exhilarating days.

I wish I could say my faith has been cured and I will never question again if God loves me and has a kind heart toward me, but I am learning life gives us opportunities to learn these lessons over, oftentimes deeper than before. So for today, I am beyond grateful for a tangible reminder that I am tenderly and intimately loved by the God of the universe.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8

“All This Time”

Posted on April 18th, 2012

It seems that every time I hear the song “All This Time” by Britt Nicole, I feel God speak to my heart through the lyrics. This song hit the airwaves about the time that I moved back to Cincinnati and has taken my jumbled thoughts and put them into words. I especially love the chorus and the declaration that “It’s been You and I, You’ve been walking with me all this time.” With so much transition in our lives right now, I have felt a special connection with this song as I have again been reminded that the only constant in my life is my relationship with God, “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). I have been reflecting a lot recently on how God has been oh, so faithful in my life “all this time” and so when this song comes on the radio, I turn it up and sing it like a prayer.

Thank You, Lord, for how closely You’ve walked me “all this time.”

All This Time
by Britt Nicole

I remember the moment
I remember the pain
I was only a girl
But I grew up that day
Tears were falling
I know You saw me

Hiding there in my bedroom
So alone
I was doing my best
Trying to be strong
No one to turn to
That’s when I met You

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time

Ever since that day
it’s been clear to me
That no matter what comes
You will never leave
I know You’re for me
And You’re restoring

Every heartache and failure
Every broken dream
You’re the God who sees
The God who rescued me
This is my story
This is my story

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I’m not the same me
And I saw the proof I need
I felt Love I felt Your grace
You stole my heart that day

You’ve been walkin with me all this time

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time