Struck Down But Not Destroyed

Sigh.

Back in September, Little Man and I had to stay home while Little Miss and Hubs attended the wedding of our dear “Cousin Uncle Travis”. (No, it’s not a backwoods relationship – just a funny story with a name that stuck.)

Once we got well, I got sick again. Once I got well, Little Miss got sick. Then I got sick again. Then Little Man got sick. Then Hubs got sick. Then I got sick. Then Little Man got sick again. And on. And on. And on it’s gone.

I’m sitting here today, behind my keyboard, nursing a horribly sore throat, and a bit of a bruised ego.

Physical illness wears on me mentally in ways I can’t aptly express. On top of the physical aches and ailments, I feel helpless, vulnerable, weak, and useless.

Since I’ve been sick more times than both my hands can count within the span of only a few months, you can imagine the emotional toll it has taken on me.

I’ve got lots of things going on and brewing and coming into light for the year ahead. The more momentum these things gets behind them, the more I feel we’re derailed. This morning in the shower, I was reciting – through incredible frustration – “I am His. He is for me. Sickness is not His will.”

I believe it. I proclaim it and share it and receive it and all those other religious phrases. But I believe it.

Y’all, I am being very transparent here. I am worn. down. I feel like a big pile of doo. Because I’m sick, yes, but because I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t shake these ailments. It has worn me out. Completely. Done. Exhausted. Spent.

I am struck down.

But I am not destroyed.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Though I’m so tired of this hamster wheel of illness, I’m not going to be stuck here.

The “rat race” so to speak is no longer part of my routine. Planning for my life outside of the rat-race is a big part of my year ahead (and I’m excited to share all of it with you in the days and weeks ahead) and I can promise you a hamster wheel is not part of my decor!

We’re going to move into more of a tortoise race. Slow-going, but purposeful. Then, when we’re healthy and further along than we were the day before, we’ll kick it into whatever gear we need to for the time and purpose we need to.

So right now, I’m going to focus on getting healthy. Then I’m going to focus on staying healthy. As a family. Then, we can focus on staying healthy and doing everything we want and need to do, one thing at a time.

Our plans are changing next year. My blog is changing next year. Our focus is shifting in the year ahead. And it’s all awesome.

I am being renewed, even the midst of my cyclical illness. What I’ve got going on today is all part of the bigger picture. What’s most important is I look at it all through the lens of eternity.

Take that, sore throat. Take that, weary mind. Take that, embattled spirit.

I do not lose heart. I might lose my voice – for the third time in four months – but I do not lose heart.

The Dirty Truth About PMDD

Many moons ago when I was away at college, I called my parents in the middle of the night, crying. Dad answered, obviously still half-asleep. I asked to talk to Mom and as he handed her the phone, he sleepily told her it was my sister. After I made sure she knew which child she was speaking to, I told her I hadn’t been able to sleep at night, but always wanted to sleep during the day. I was sad and crying all the time, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I alternated between having no appetite and eating all the things, and I just wanted to be normal again.

“Well, it sounds to me like you’re depressed. I’ll make an appointment for when you’re home at Christmas.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I sat in front of our family practitioner who asked me several questions and looked me over. After listening to my answers and spending some time in deep thought, he gave me a formal diagnosis of “PMDD.” Pre Menstrual Depression Dysphoria, or as I call it, Heavy hitting hormonal hell. He wrote up a prescription for an anti-depressant and that was that.

I understood it to be “just like PMS” only “a bit more extreme”. Not a big deal, I thought, but I looked forward to getting back to my old self. It took a little while, but I did notice slight changes. Everything revolved around my cycle. I was able to sleep at night again, though still slept heavily during the day. As time went on, I knew it would get better.

Except it didn’t.

Bear in mind this isn’t a post I want to write. Sharing this deep dark secret wasn’t on my agenda this week. Or ever. For some reason, however, I feel compelled to share my story.

While my sleep regulated and I was breaking into sobbing puddles far less frequently, I was – what we’ll call – “subdued in my anger”. I was mad, always, but not to the point of acting out. A followup appointment increased the dosage of the medication.

What I noticed with the medicinal increase was a decreased desire for most anything. I was waking up, doing what I had to do, and being miserable through most of it. I wasn’t crying every day, and I wasn’t shifting my appetite. I was simply existing in the subdued, angry state. Acceptable, right?

Eventually, the subdued anger grew over time and gave way to fits of rage.

I’m not talking about yelling. I’m talking about having an out-of-body-experience, watching myself fly off the rails in total fits of RAGE. One morning after my shower, I walked out to find one of our cats was chewing YET AGAIN on my clothes in the laundry basket. I don’t remember exactly what ensued afterward, but I know if I had caught her, I would have killed her.

That is not okay.

As I walked to the top of the stairs, Hubs gently cupped my shoulders and asked, “Do you think…. maybe…. it’s that time?” He meant PMS. But PMDD is PMS to the 100th power. This is something not a lot of people understand.

Irritability during PMS is one thing. I desired to roundhouse kick people in the face. For any reason. Or no reason. That’s not irritability; that’s rage. I would blow up at the smallest of things, and the more others tried to calm me down, the angrier and more defensive I became. I was more than irate, and it didn’t matter that I realized how out of control I was. There was no reigning it in.

Something had to change.

What makes PMDD worse?

In my experience, sugar is PMDD’s best friend. It feeds the crazy. When I eat foods high in sugar, and processed foods at that, my ability to manage my PMDD erodes significantly. Along those lines, fast food and fried food exacerbate PMDD’s symptoms as well. This is tricky, because the only thing I want before good ol’ Auntie Flo comes each month are foods high in sugar, the faster the better, and dropped in a vat of Canola oil is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Food is medicine. Or poison. These kinds of food absolutely feed the severity of my PMDD, and it’s to everyone’s best interests when I steer clear of them.

Also on Team PMDD, lack of movement. You’ll be hard-pressed to find people who hate exercise more than I do, but it’s an incredible detriment to me (and those I live with) when I don’t exercise. My mind stays clouded and hindered, and my body works to process what I won’t stop eating rather than to clear my mind.

Lack of sleep is a big one, too. I’ve always loved sleep. My sister has some funny stories about what it was like to try to rouse me from slumber. No one wanted that job. If I don’t get proper rest, everyone suffers, but my mind and body especially. It adds fuel to the PMDD fire, and a perfect storm begins to brew.

What makes PMDD better?

Obviously, proper diet and exercise make PMDD far easier to manage. When your body is being cared for, it cares for you in return. It may seem insignificant, but how we feed our body determines how our body treats us in return. Crap food produces crap ‘tude. Garbage in, garbage out.

Believe me when I tell you, everyone notices when I’ve been eating right. I look good, feel good, and I’m not trying to chase down any precious kitties.

Consistent, regular chiropractic care is critical to my PMDD management. When I go more than two weeks between chiropractic adjustments, it’s bad news. If I did better with my food and exercise, I’m sure I could scale back on my chiropractic visits. For now, though, they are my saving grace. I’m a strong believer in chiropractic care, and can tell you my PMDD treatment depends on it.

I also use a few essential oils to help mellow things out. I have a daily regimen I use, and definitely have my favorites. I use Young Living oils, (or as Hubs calls it, my “hippie voodoo”) and though I was skeptical at first, 18 months after starting using them, I’m a firm believer in their benefits as well.

I’ve not been on anti-depressant medication since 2008. While I didn’t stop it in the wisest way, my doctor agrees with me I don’t need it now. That may not be the case for everyone, however. Absolutely adjust your diet and exercise, and schedule some chiropractor visits (and a few sprinkles of oils here and there), but keep your doctor’s recommendations close at heart.

I’m not “cured”. It’s important to note this is a management regimen I have to stay consistent with. After delivering three babies in five years, my body started doing weird things, and for that matter, so did my brain. Being in my mid-30s, experiencing the trauma of our daughter dying, and having my body go through an intense restructuring three times in five years, all started to work against me.

Why am I writing about this now? It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I turned 36 this year, and while I’m not in the best shape of my life, I’m far more keen on the steps I need to be taking to make sure my family doesn’t suffer for having to live with me – but also, so I don’t have to suffer.

I’ve noticed this holiday season I’ve turned to more and more sugar and used gatherings and events as excuses to fall off the food wagon. As a result, PMDD is standing at attention.

I share all of this to offer encouragement. If you’re a woman, and your PMS seems a little tricker than most, I feel you. PMDD is a treacherous condition and another betrayal by our own body. I’m thankful for a doctor who recognized my situation all those years ago. I’m more thankful for having found treatment options I trust and have benefits far beyond managing my PMDD.

I’m especially thankful I didn’t kill my sweet (though naughty) cat.

I’ll be more mindful of what I’m eating, how I’m moving, and the appointments on my calendar. My mind, body, and especially my family, will thank me for it.

The Son He Never Had

elk-hunting

My whole life, I felt the pressure to fulfill the role of the son my dad never had. I put that pressure on myself, of course, but I felt it nonetheless. He had me and my sister, but he was totally a man’s man. He needed someone to play catch with, so I donned my mitt. He needed someone to fish with, so I begged for a pole. I made tool belts look good, and learned how to put up a tent before I learned how to paint my nails.

Lucky for him (but really, for me) I turned out to really enjoy those things. I love playing catch. And fishing. And hunting. I used to joke and say I was the girliest tomboy to ever exist. Even as a joke, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it.


It was the second year we had gone hunting together. The first time I went hunting with him, I told him I had no problem shooting an elk, but I wasn’t so keen on field dressing it. He expected to hear that. I was the same way with fish. I’d catch them and cook them, but I had no interest cleaning them. He agreed to take me hunting anyway.

Just before 5:30 one particular morning, while it was dark and mysterious outside, Dad’s headlights showed up in my driveway. I grabbed my gear, all our food I had prepared, walked out the door, and we drove to our spot.

I remember sitting in the cab of the truck until it was legal for us to shoot. With the window cracked, we heard the howls and yips of coyotes. Dad was convinced they had come upon a gut pile of a successful elk hunt. I didn’t care what they had found… they sounded evil.

Before first light, we began our hike. A few switchbacks over a dusting of snow led us into the tree line, crunching through some pretty solid snowpack.

Here is where I should mention, hiking with my Dad is like hiking with an unleashed Labrador. He walks (quickly) all over the place, and in order to travel two miles, you have to walk six with his meandering. He gets on a trail of prints or scat, and he follows every. single. hoof. print. Even if you can see where it picks up a few feet away, he’ll follow it as it winds, rather than heading straight on.

If you’re not in any kind of shape, you won’t survive while hiking with him. I know this, because he almost killed me with his merciless meandering.

As the sun came up, we made it to the top of a hill where we sat under cover of some pine trees, and hoped the elk would cross the valley before us. Just as the light peeked over the horizon, we saw a coyote – most likely one we heard earlier – make his way through the clearing below. We watched for a while as he walked away, and rabbits began to appear in the valley after he had passed.

Sitting still on the hillside in the early morning cold, I started to shiver. A lot. I was wearing a few layers – thermal underwear, jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants, and snow pants, all topped off with my bulky hunting coat. With no more movement, however, I started to cool off quickly.

I turned to my dad and whispered through my chatters, “D-d-d-did you kn-kn-kn-know sh-sh-shivering is your b-b-b-b-ody’s way of st-st-st-st-staying warm?”

Without taking his eyes off the valley below, and without missing a beat, Dad whispered back, “So is wearing more layers.” Steam rolled out of my mouth as I let out a silent laugh. Easy for him to say.

We made a lot of memories hunting together. I never did get my elk. For the record, I would have field dressed it…

The thrill of the hunt was enough to get me out there, but that time with Dad was worth every unfilled elk tag. I live 700 miles away from Dad now. There are no early morning hunting trips together. No fits of laughter on the hillsides. No lengthy wandering on the hot trail of the herd.

Every year during hunting season, I think about our trips up the mountain. It wasn’t warranted, but I’m glad I put the extra pressure on myself to do those “manly” things. It turns out I’m a far better cook than I am a huntress, but I wouldn’t trade those little adventures in the big woods for any kind of fancy shoes or manicures.

I do really want some elk steaks now, however…

Too Many Leftover Mashed Potatoes?

One of my favorite coffee shops in town gives you a little donut on top of your cup when you order a hot coffee. One day (soon… I can feel it!) when the Lord moves us out into the middle of nowhere (and manages to provide high speed internet, I feel that, too!) , I won’t be able to make the trek to my coffee shop for coffee and donuts.

But that’s okay. I have a Nespresso Virtuoline coffee maker, and it has changed my coffee world for the better. And now? Well you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve found another reason to love the internet. I made donuts.

From leftover mashed potatoes.

mashed potatoes

Yep. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, getting all kinds of sugar granules in the keyboard as I sip my Nespresso (Melozio is my favorite blend) and shove my face full of donuts.

On Thanksgiving day, I asked my husband, “How many leftover mashed potatoes do you want?” to which he replied “Not many.” I set aside, then peeled the amount I would need. Then I forgot about those, and peeled and diced other potatoes. Then I found the ones I had already peeled.

We ended up with a ridiculous supply of leftover mashed potatoes.

After two meals with them, and using them in a leftovers-version shepherd’s pie, we still had an entire large bowl.

“Now what?”

Times like this are when the internet really comes through for me, and I fall in love with the wonders of the world. I found a recipe to make donuts from leftover mashed potatoes.

Up front – I added garlic, salt, butter, and milk to my mashed potatoes when I made them. Butter and milk (and even salt) are great donut ingredients. But… garlic?

Well, the recipe assumes you mash potatoes specifically for the donuts. That’s crazy.

I went ahead and used my garlicky mashed potatoes anyway, and they ARE AMAZING. I don’t ever have to leave home again. I accidentally-on-purpose didn’t measure the vanilla, put in a little too much, and that covered up the garlic for sure. These are sweet little bites of breakfast to be sure!

Back when Brent and I started Financial Peace University the first time and we were committed to eating healthier and making beans and rice all the time, we bought a Presto combo vegetable steamer and rice cooker. But we were tired of fishing rice from both the basket and the cooker, so we eventually converted it to our deep fat fryer. Because… health.

steamer fryer

These donuts are totally gluten free, if you do it like I did. And I fried them in coconut oil (which I was scared to do, because I do not like the flavor of coconut – but you cannot taste it AT ALL.) which means these are the healthiest donuts you will ever make, right? Maybe.

The recipe calls for: (as found here)

1/2 c mashed potatoes
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
—— mix all of these together in one bowl
In another bowl, mix
1 1/2 c flour (I used a gluten free blend I picked up at Costco)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
—– add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix well.
Fry (in coconut oil! Trust me!) in oil heated to 375* until golden brown. Roll in sugar and set to dry on paper towel. Then watch them mysteriously disappear.

mashed potato donuts

Coconut oil is easily the best oil on the face of the planet – it’s good for skin, good for immunity, good for joint health, good for regularity, people use it to swish around in their mouth (I’m going to try it, because, why not?), and YOU CAN USE IT TO FRY DONUTS. I mean, if that doesn’t tell you coconut oil is a gift from God, I don’t know what else to say to convince you He loves us.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~ Nehemiah 8:10

 

Giving It All Away!

There is a home we love that’s only a few hundred thousand dollars out of our price range. We haven’t counted ourselves out, because a girl can dream. It has acreage. It has trees. It has a river. And the cutest wood fire kitchen stove I have ever laid eyes on.

There are a few ways we could get this home…. one is an outright miracle from God. Another is, well, an outright miracle from God.

Short of a couple of miracles, we’re not getting this house.

But I’m not going to stop dreaming and planning and doing whatever I *can* do to get my family into a home, and onto a property, we long for. It probably won’t be this particular one, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up and settle into this apartment for the long-haul.

Really, though, wouldn’t it be something if someone would give it all away?

I can’t give you a house. Or acreage to put one on. But here’s what I can do!

A while ago, in a total lapse of judgement, I planned a small-scale surprise party for my husband’s birthday.

My husband hates surprises. Like… really, really hates them.

In an attempt to clean house without really cleaning so he wouldn’t catch on to what I was doing, I took a stack of books that was on our countertop, and I shoved them into the back of a bottom kitchen cupboard.

Because…more judgement lapse.

These books sat there for almost two months, because I completely forgot what I did with them. In the meantime, I ordered books from Amazon. And I ordered a book I had already purchased.

Whoops.

There are a few lessons to be learned here.

One: Don’t try to show love to your spouse by doing something they absolutely abhor. It doesn’t go well.

Two: Don’t put books in a kitchen cupboard.

Three: Check your order history once in a while before you click that “checkout” button.

This works really well for YOU, though! Everyone who is on my mailing list (hint: if you get an email from Val’s Mind Mumbles every Saturday, you’re on my list. If you don’t get that email, you are not on my list yet!) will receive an entry in three upcoming giveaways!

I’ll be giving away three books between now and Christmas, and the only way to enter is to be a subscriber to my mailing list. (See at the top left of this page [or bottom, if you’re on your mobile] where it has a form to enter your name and email to get my newsletter? Submit that!)

The first drawing will be held Thursday, December 1st, and I’ll announce the winner then.

And no, I’m not giving away any of our Little House series books. I’ll be giving away the following:

  • The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney
  • Undone by Michelle Cushatt
  • Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson

They’re all awesome books, and if you’ve already read the one you’re drawn for, it would make a great gift for someone else.

Make sure you’re entered (all it costs is your email address!) and best of luck!

What If I’m Not Thankful?

_mg_4827

It’s the time of year when everyone is preparing to gather ’round a home cooked meal and tell, one by one, everything they’re thankful for.

For some folks, the thought of having to share thanks stirs more angst and anxiety than thankfulness.

You’ve lost a loved one. You had to bury your child. You’ve received a terminal diagnosis. You’re going through a divorce. You lost your job. Your car stopped working. Someone stole your wallet. You’re immersed in negativity. You’re stuck. Your past haunts you.

“I’m not thankful. I’m hurt. Angry. Sad. Grieving.”

What if I’m not thankful?

I resonate with those feelings. That despair. Resenting the holidays because while some were skipping around in “the most wonderful time of the year”, I was realizing more and more what wasn’t, and what would never be.

In the same breath people were telling me they were sorry for our circumstances, and either quoting scripture (to try to pipe me out of being sad) or another cliche phrase they assumed would magically make everything better.

It is true, scriptures says, “In all things, give thanks.” (1 Thess 5:18) There is an important clarification to make note of here, however.

The verse says IN all things, not FOR all things. Even when you’ve been dealt the worst possible hand in life, while you don’t have to be thankful for that circumstance or situation, the premise is – though you may have to dig really deep to find it – there is still thanksgiving to be found. No matter what situation you’re facing, there is always appreciation or joy in something else.

There are things I will never be thankful for. That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t find something else to appreciate.

If you find yourself in the throes of thanklessness and if you find yourself resenting this holiday season, I want to encourage you to take baby steps.

Maybe you’re not thankful – for so many things! – but your breakfast tasted good. Start there.

Try to find one thing, one day. Two things the second day. And don’t confuse being thankful with being happy! You don’t have to be giddy about anything to be thankful. One little step at a time.

I’m thankful potatoes were on sale.

I’m thankful for cashews.

I’m thankful I choose my own holiday traditions.

I’m thankful the sun is shining.

I’m thankful for indoor plumbing.

I’m thankful it’s almost January.

Wherever you have to start, start there.

If anyone is trying to force you to be bubbly, or over-the-top enthusiastic because they somehow deem this is what this period of life is about, be thankful you’ve got more depth than they do.

I know this time of year is challenging, to say the least, for so many people. I know while the hustle and bustle of gatherings and food and decorations has everyone else occupied, you’re trying to figure out why you have to get out of bed in the morning. No matter what you’ve been through or are wrestling through still, others have decided it’s time for you to “buck up and be thankful.”

They’ll never get it. Don’t expect them to understand. They can’t, and a lot of them won’t allow themselves to.

Be thankful for the people who do, and who are, supporting you right now, where you are. For those along for the journey while you grow, taking one step at a time.

As we head into Thanksgiving, and then into Christmas, I want you to take the pressure off yourself. If you’re not thankful for what you’ve suffered through, no one can blame you for that. And if they do – find new people.

Try, though, to find one little thing – anything – you can be thankful in. I promise you, there will be things that present themselves that may surprise you. You’ll be thankful for things no one else will realize or notice for themselves.

Work through your feelings. Work through your issues. And simultaneously, look outside of those feelings and issues to find what you can appreciate. It will bless you. Somehow. His way.

I’m pulling for you. You can count on that.

Snow Thankful

snow thankful

Our snowpocalypse storm that was originally calling for 6 – 10 inches of fresh snow overnight ended up dropping under two inches.

And I’m here to tell you I’m okay with that. Very okay.

The wind is pretty wild outside today, though, so I haven’t taken Little Man outside to test his new snow boots or snow pants. There will be lots of time for that over the next several months, though. The wind is getting woolier as the day goes on, and as I hear it throwing things up against the outside walls, I’m so thankful.

I’m so thankful I get to work from home.

I’m so thankful I didn’t have to drive over ice and snow in rush hour traffic to go anywhere this morning.

I’m so thankful, as much as I am going completely insane from and detest living in an apartment, we have a clean, cozy, comfortable abode, protecting us from the elements and with no responsibility of snow removal.

I’m so thankful Hubs got the flat tire on the mommyvan fixed before the storm rolled in.

I’m so thankful I canned until I could can no more this season, and we have a hall closet and kitchen cupboards full of home-cooked goodness that will get us through these blustery, freezing cold days.

I’m so thankful Amazon delivers right to my door. And so does the grocery store.

I’m so thankful for prayerful friends who respond to a “please pray” email with wisdom and affirmation – and prayers!

I’m so thankful for Rotel casserole and how it fed me three times this week. #leftovers

I’m so thankful even though we live in one of the harshest winter climates in the nation (In 2011, Fargo won The Weather Channel’s “America’s Toughest Weather City” poll.), we had some of the most beautiful, enjoyable summer and fall weather this year I’ve ever experienced.

I’m so thankful I can plop down in my favorite spot and hammer out a quick post on a blog, that people actually read. I’m so thankful for you. Really.

I’m so thankful my oven smells like chocolate chip cookies when it preheats.

Which reminds me, I need to go bake a squash.

There’s a lot of stuff going on these days. Some of it has me shaking my head, some of it has me shedding tears, some of it has me cracking up. But it’s all stuff, nonetheless. I thought I’d give myself a break and remind myself of a few of the many – many – things I can still be thankful for, even when everything isn’t going how I’d like it to.

I’m so thankful I care enough about stuff to get riled up about it. I’m thankful I’m free to express my heartache, joy, and peevedness (made up word alert).

But for real, I need to go bake a squash.

Southern Comfort To The Rescue

This would have made a great video, but I still don’t have a voice and am battling this cold, so a lengthy post will have to do. I’m one who never understands why people who post recipes have to go through some kind of historical-account dialogue before they tell me how make the daggum meal, but now I find myself needing to tell a story about this dish.

Many (many) moons ago, when I was away at college, I drove from Tennessee to Arkansas for the weekend to visit a family near and dear to my heart. The wife was about to start making dinner after I arrived, and asked me a few questions. The conversation went something like this:

Her: “Val, do you like tomatoes?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Do you like chilies? Like, green chiles?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Well what about mushrooms, do you like those?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Shoot. I was going to make Rotel casserole, but if you don’t like those things…”
Me: “Make what you want to make! I’ll eat around it if I have to, but don’t worry about what I like.” (thinking: because if it’s not Taco Bell, I don’t like it.)

She whipped up this Rotel casserole and I fell in love. IN. LOVE. So much so, that I made it all the time for the rest of my 20s, and I even sang a song about it. When I almost died hiking up the mountain, I would break out into a song that kept me going, because when we got back to town that night, I was going to make this for everyone for dinner. The thought of serving this after a grueling day in the wilderness was absolutely delightful. I couldn’t think of a better way to heal my bruised ego than to shove my mouth full of “Ro-teeeeeeeeeeel Cass-uh-roooooooooole”.

I don’t make it often now. It’s rare when it makes an appearance. It’s far from healthy. I’m sure there are some changes I could make to make it a little healthier, but…. why? So even though I don’t like 50% of its ingredients on their own, this is a southern-comfort-food that quickly became a favorite.

As we’re preparing over here in North Dakota for snowpocalypse this weekend, I thought this would be a great warm dish to share on those freezing cold evenings.

southern rotel

Ingredients:

1 lb. hamburger (or ground turkey)
1 can Rotel tomatoes & chiles*, undrained
1 can corn, undrained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 c. minute rice**
1 (big) bag of nacho cheese Doritos, or plain corn tortilla chips
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (at least!)

In a large skillet, brown and season your meat. I always season my meat the same way: with onion, garlic, and chili powder. Add the can of Rotel, the can of corn, the mushroom soup, and the rice. Stir to mix well and let simmer together over low to medium heat for 20 minutes. In the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan, crush some Doritos in a layer to cover. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese to cover. When meat mixture has heated through, add half of meat mixture to pan. Layer more crushed Doritos on top, sprinkle more cheese, and add the remaining meat mixture. Top with more crushed Doritos and more shredded cheese.

If you have cheese or Doritos left over, you’re doing it wrong. Live a little.

Bake at 350* for 20 – 30 minutes until cheese is melted through. Voila!

*I am at a stage in my life where my sensitivity to spice is worse than it’s ever been. I can’t even use mild Rotel anymore. So I use petite diced tomatoes. They have to be petite diced, because regular diced tomatoes are really just “lazily cut huge chunks” of tomato.

**We don’t buy minute rice. So I cook rice ahead of time and add it to the skillet mixture to simmer with the rest. I guess that’s one way I improve the nutrition quality of this meal. Look at me, being an example.

Warm up, and enjoy this delish dish of good ol’ southern comfort food. You’re welcome.

God Is A Good Gift Giver

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“God is a good gift giver.”

Tahni Cullen’s son, Josiah, had typed those words on his iPad. As a toddler, Josiah stopped talking. Tahni wrote a book to explain how autism stole his words, but God gave him a voice. As Tahni spoke at our women’s retreat in 2015, she shared this story, and the incredible profound wisdom from her son Josiah since.

I’ve remembered those words, and her story, frequently since hearing them.

Recently, I was in Dallas, TX with my client to help organize one of his events and participate in the mastermind I’m a part of. It happened to be about 10 days or so after my birthday, and my client and his wife treated me to a very special birthday dinner to celebrate. I have a soft place in my heart for fried catfish. Not just any fried catfish, but tasty, crispy, mouth-watering southern fried catfish. They took me for some fried catfish and hushpuppies (and fried pumpkin pie. My life changed forever!) and as we walked to the restaurant, I noticed Sabrina’s arms were full of gift bags.

I gave her a curious look but kept walking. Sure enough, the gifts that filled her arms were for me.

After we ordered and sat down waiting for our food, I was encouraged to open the gifts. First, a gift my client had chosen himself. A true-blue Nespresso cup and spoon set. About a year ago, he had me try a cup of his Nespresso coffee. Oh my word. People. We’ve been doing coffee all wrong! I took my Christmas bonus check last year and we bought a Nespresso machine and lots of coffee. Nespresso is the besto. Unlike my compliments or praise of it.

As I reached for the next gifts, Sabrina explained, “Holy Spirit led me in picking all this out for you. I didn’t know what to get you, so I just prayed Holy Spirit would lead me, and He told me what to get.”

I had never heard that before. It made so much sense, yet I had never heard – or thought – of asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in picking gifts.

We’re getting closer and closer to the holiday season. Gift giving is about to run rampant again, especially in our nation and day and age of total materialism. The year Harlynn died, my priorities and desires changed and shifted dramatically. That Christmas, when I looked around at our living room piled high with stuff we had just unwrapped, I was completely overwhelmed. We were loved, we were blessed, and we were under a pile of stuff, a lot of which was completely useless to us.

What we, especially as Americans, tend to do when choosing gifts is let our purchase be dictated by price, convenience, and appearance.

Not by guidance from Holy Spirit.

Incredibly curious, I started to unpack the gifts she had felt led to purchase, as she continued to explain, “I got the sense you take care of your family before you take care of you and you needed to spoil yourself some.”

Those words caught me off guard a bit. I hate shopping. It’s no secret. When I do shop, I do it for practical reasons because my husband or my children need something. If I need something (other than groceries, specifically – chocolate) I put it off. Not because I don’t feel like I deserve it or anything, but because shopping drains me so much mentally and I can’t bear to spend my energy spending money for things I don’t know or realize I want or need.

I started pulling out item after item. Jewelry. Gorgeous, bold pieces of jewelry I would have been too timid to buy for myself, but always secretly want to try to pull off wearing.

Boot socks. Fun, comfy, cute boot socks, even. Not the boring, black nylon boot socks I’ve had for three years.

Leggings. Mine had holes worn in them and weren’t even comfortable to wear anymore. These leggings are the most comfortable I’ve ever worn – and I was short a pair of leggings for my trip, so they were also quite timely.

Comfy pants. Y’all, when I say “comfy pants” I mean quite simply: I WANT TO LIVE IN THESE PANTS. They aren’t bulky sweat pants. They’re the coziest cotton I’ve ever slung a leg into.

Pajamas. Comfortable, adorable, warm (I live in North Dakota…) pajamas. I don’t remember the last time I’ve worn actual pajamas.

Underwear. Not just any underwear, but the exact size and cut I wear.

In fact, everything fit perfectly. She had no idea what size I was. But Holy Spirit did.

A gorgeous sweater (when I had just thought, “I wish I had a nice sweater to wear.”) and lovely scarves. Chapstick. Lotion. Hand sanitizer.

I cried. Right there at the table, I said thank you over and over again and I cried. This wasn’t just someone getting me something for the sake of celebrating my birthday. This was a person walking through a store, praying to be led by God for exactly what I needed and what would lift my spirit. I was completely overcome.

God is a good gift giver.

As you begin, or maybe even finish (over-achievers!) your Christmas shopping this season, pray about the gifts you’re giving. Let God – who has given you multiple gifts – steer your gift-giving for others. You might be as surprised as they are.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. ~ James 1:17

And Life As We Knew It Was Never The Same

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Last night, Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, I wasn’t feeling well.

I’m not being metaphorical. I had a sore throat, major headache, and lots of drainage. I wasn’t feeling well.

I went to bed embarrassingly early and was fast asleep by 7:45 pm. Yes, there was an election going on that would make history one way or another, but I was sick, and went to bed.

And the strangest thing happened. I woke up (at 4:15 am) and my neighborhood was quiet. Everyone was sleeping. Everything seemed normal That’s not the strange part, hang with me.

I checked my phone to see who won the election. I knew the person I voted for wouldn’t win nationally, but I still stand behind my vote and am proud to have cast it. And I hope you voted and stand behind your vote, and your responsibility to do so.

I saw the projected winner. The new president.

No way.

Granted, “No way” would have been my response no matter the victor.

Just as I suspected, people I respect, admire, and consider friends, were freaking out. On all sides of party lines. Had the tables been turned, the rhetoric and outright spewing would have been the same, just coming out of opposing mouths. Or fingertips, as it is in our social media day and age.

There are no winners in this post-election fallout. There wouldn’t have been if the numbers were flipped. You guys. It’s the strangest thing…

Every day I wake up, get my family taken care of for their day, tell them to have a great day and send them on their ways. Every day I make my amazing coffee, I decide what I’m going to do, and then I make stuff happen. Every day I do what I love and build and expand on my gifts and abilities and I make a difference for at least one other person. That seemingly insignificant difference starts a ripple effect and leads to a movement, no matter how big or small.

Every day I improve upon life as I knew it the day before.

Life shouldn’t be the same. Ever. We were made for more. We’re smart, creative, innovative, driven people. Yet we spend our time and energies degrading one another, ignoring common courtesy, letting entitlement rear its ugly head (and y’all, it is so, so ugly) to tout our pride or our disappointment.

It’s seriously the strangest thing.

Election years exacerbate this. Without question. Every cycle, millions of people falsely put their faith in one person. A PERSON. When that person wins the ticket, out come all the “in-your-face” comments and criticisms, name calling, mock hallelujahs, etc. And when that person doesn’t win the ticket, the lives of their supporters are ruined. Our futures are destroyed. There’s no hope for us. We’re doomed. It’s like watching a grade school playground at recess, except the people on the playground are in grown adult bodies.

Still, somehow today, even though I’m still not feeling well, I woke up, spent the morning playing with my sniffling son (we share germs around here), took a little nap, did all the work I wanted to do (note I didn’t say “had” to do…), moved ahead with planning my future, put the all too convenient mobile deposit feature to use, ordered groceries and had them delivered to my door, took a stroll in the amazing weather we’ve been having to try to get some sunshine and fresh air into this ailing body of mine, and made today better than yesterday in every way I could.

No one else could have done any of that for me.

My hope does not, nor will it, rest in a single person.

Life as we knew it will never be the same. Nor should it. Every day you wake up, no matter who bears what title, you do and be the absolute best you can.

Now we’ll see how many of you read this to the end before I get the fallout responses.  Elections are critically important. Issues at stake can make or break society. I don’t dispute this. I absolutely condone being educated and voicing your causes and concerns by voting. Please hear me on this.

When it’s all said and done, however, the only future we can be dependent on is the one we build for ourselves. The only legacy we have total control over is the one we leave behind.

Don’t lose hope. Don’t berate each other. Don’t display the very behavior you’re preaching or hashtagging against.

Don’t let life ever be the same as we knew it. Make it better. Make it different. Be the difference. Every day.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.  ~ 2 Thess 2:16, 17