Archive | February 2012

A Cup o’ Cake

Have you noticed the latest craze in desserts these days?  The humble little cupcake is back—although perhaps not quite as simple and unassuming as the baked treats we grew up with.  Bakeries devoted to serving only cupcakes have sprung up across the country.  Called cupcakeries, they specialize in trendy, sophisticated, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory, swirled and sprinkled, simple or decorated-to-the-nines, small indulgences.

No, cupcakes aren’t just for kids anymore.  They show up at weddings, in place of the traditional wedding cake; at red carpet affairs; in bistros and posh cafes; and, okay, at birthday parties, showers and picnics, too.  There were 669.4 million cupcakes sold in America from October 2010 to October 2011 according to one market research firm, and who knows how many homemade cups of cake were served during that same time?

Although it may seem like a craze or fad, cupcakes have actually been part of our American culture for over two hundred years.  The first mention of a “cake baked in small cups” appeared in a recipe book published in 1796.  The term “cupcake” showed up for the first time in an 1828 cookbook.  Cupcakes have been popular all along, and from time to time have gone through minor makeovers—from the individual pottery cups or ramekins in which they were first baked, to tin muffin pans, to mini cupcake pans, and so on.  These days we see jumbo cupcakes, cake pops, fancy paper liners, and the most amazing variety of flavors imaginable!  Cupcakes have even made their presence known in fashion and home décor as we see the pretty pastel confections featured on pajamas, t-shirts, kitchen towels and tablecloths.

I first became aware of this crazy cupcake craze when I began watching a show on the Food Network called Cupcake Wars.  Its concept is to pit four cupcake bakers against one another in a series of challenges until only one remains and is declared the champion and winner of $10,000.  The judging is based on taste as well as presentation, however the contestants are often handicapped by the frequently weird ingredients they must choose to include in their cupcakes.  There are some interesting concoctions, and they truly push the envelope in trying to create a unique and delicious cupcake.

I don’t do much baking—mainly because being diabetic, I cannot eat what I would love to bake.  Recently, though, when Pillsbury came out with sugar-free cake mixes, my sister made some cupcakes for me.  They were delicious, and of course, with me being me, I had to try my hand at them and take it a notch or two further.  When I found some large, beautiful paper liners, I decided to make jumbo Black Forest cupcakes.  I was intrigued by many of the cupcakes on Cupcake Wars that were filled as well as frosted.  My jumbo cupcakes would lend themselves easily to having their centers scooped out (with a melon baller—my own stroke of genius, I must admit!) and filled with cherry pie filling, and then topped with a (sugar-free) whipped topping.  And because I am a bit obsessive about new interests, I already have plans to bake jumbo filled cupcakes with my granddaughter (devil’s food filled with banana mousse), and white with fresh strawberry filling for an up-coming party.  Ooo—yummy!  I even went out and bought a cute cupcake stand (tree or tower or whatever you want to call it) on which to display my little works of art!

Reflecting on cupcakes this morning brought to mind the account of Elijah and the widow woman in I Kings 17.  As you may recall, Elijah was in trouble with the wicked king Ahab because he had prophesied that there would be a terrible drought for years—a judgment from God—and that it would not let up until he said so.  The Lord told him to flee from the wrath of Ahab to the brook Cherith, where he could hide out and drink from the brook and be fed by ravens which God would send every morning and every night to sustain him.

Eventually the brook dried up (a part of God’s plan to move him) and the Lord told him to move to Zarephath where he would meet a widow who would help him.  It was just as God said.  In verses 10-13 we read, “So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.  And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.  And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.  And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.”

Can you imagine encountering a strange man and having him not ask, but order you to bring him  a cake?  And then when you reply that you don’t have anything except just enough flour and oil to make two small cakes for yourself and your son and after that you will die of starvation, he shows no concern at all and merely tells you to make his cake first and then you can use whatever is left to make your own cakes.  You might be thinking, “Oh, the arrogance of that man!”  Or at least, “No!  How can I take food out of my own child’s mouth to give to this stranger?”

The Lord had prepared the widow’s heart, however.  When Elijah said, “For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.” (vs. 14), she believed him and trusted God.  The widow made a small cake for Elijah.  Oh, it was nothing fancy—not a fig cake or a seed cake or even a barley cake as we see elsewhere in the Bible.  Certainly it was far more humble than the simplest of our cupcakes.  It was just a lowly little unleavened cake of flour and oil—the same kind that the Lord had instructed the Israelites to make as an offering to Him.  The importance of that cake, though, was that it was a symbol of her faith and obedience to the Word of God as prophesied by Elijah.

I Kings 17:15-16 says, “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.”  That tiny bit of flour and oil was multiplied by God to last for years, all the way to the end of the drought!

That is not the end of the story, however.  The widow’s faith was rewarded in a far greater way.  We are told in I Kings 17: 17-24, “And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.  And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?  And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed.  And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?  And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.  And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.  And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.  And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.” Because she believed God, and His servant, her son’s life was given back to her, not just once from the brink of starvation, but a second time from a mortal illness.

The next time you eat a cupcake, whether it be a humble little thing or some fancy-shmancy new-fangled concoction, think about the story of this widow woman and her obedience and faith in making a little cake for a stranger.  Kindness, generosity, and especially faith are never wasted, but bring about the blessings of God.

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Surprise! It’s a Boy AND a Girl!

Our tenth grandchild should be arriving sometime in the next two months!  We are as excited about our new grandson as you would be the arrival of any new baby in the family—only Oleg is not a baby but a fourteen year old orphan from the Ukraine.  And now, at last, I can tell the happy news—he will be joined by our eleventh grandchild, a thirteen year old girl named Nastia!  She, too, is an orphan in the Ukraine, with much the same background as Oleg’s—father died and mother took to drinking so heavily that the state stepped in and took away her parental rights and put the child in an orphanage.

Our daughter Julie and son-in-law David have long desired to adopt children, although the outcome today is very different than the one they initially envisioned.  Their adoption journey started four and a half years ago as they sought to adopt babies and/or preschoolers from El Salvador. The government there, however, seemed to have no interest in placing kids in good homes and although they led prospective adoptive parents along for several years, that fact finally became obvious. The adoption agencies here in the US have finally given up on that country.

Meanwhile, little by little, the Lord changed David and Julie’s path to Ukraine and their hearts to desire older children who needed to be rescued from orphanages before they aged out of the system and became just another awful statistic. They are still hoping to have some kind of orphan ministry when David retires. That may mean simply adopting more children or working in a group home or orphanage either in the US or abroad.  It will be interesting to see how He leads.

Oleg and Nastia will most likely arrive in the States sometime in April.  David and Julie should be receiving their invitation from the Ukrainian government in the next couple weeks to go over there and complete the adoptions and then will have to stay four or five weeks through the entire process.  In the meantime, they are buying new beds and making adjustments to welcome two more children into the family.  I had to laugh the other day as Julie and I were discussing the kids’ birthdays.  There will be a one month period this summer when they will have a 15 year old (Oleg), 14 year old (Benjamin), 13 year old (Nastia), and 12 year old (Joshua) in the house, as well as the “baby” of the family (Hannah) who will still be eight.  Sounds like a happy houseful!

David and Julie have plenty of bedroom space, plenty of room around the table, and a big Suburban that will hold all seven of them—and most of all they have an abundance of love and patience and wisdom to manage a family like this!  Can you imagine, though, trying to meld a family together where two of the children speak little to no English—and having to teach English as a second language as you homeschool all five children?  Can you imagine suddenly having a teenage daughter, after having boys and a little girl?  Imagine trying to learn to cook at least a little of a new cuisine so that your Ukrainian children don’t get too homesick.  Imagine trying to honor the culture and traditions of their homeland while introducing them to an entirely new culture, history and life in their adoptive country.  It won’t be easy, but then again, they won’t be doing it on their own.  The same Lord who put it in their hearts to adopt internationally will show them and help them in the way they should go as they raise these children.  Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.  (I Thessalonians 5:24)

Sometimes the path the Lord leads us on seems long and convoluted with no end in sight.  When we know it is His will, then we must persevere and endure.  When the way is full of obstacles and pitfalls, we must trust.  When we feel like quitting, we must be faithful, as He is faithful to us.  When our strength is gone, we must lean on His strength.  These last four and a half years for David and Julie have been difficult, but praise God, they have pressed on obeying and following the Lord.  The coming months and years will most likely be challenging, as well.  God’s way is rarely the easy way.  When we “walk by faith,” that is exactly what it is—trusting Him for the wisdom, strength and courage to go on,; trusting Him to remove obstacles and open doors; trusting Him to uphold and sustain us on our journey through this wilderness we call life.

Just a few verses of Scripture to give you the courage and strength to go on in your own personal journey with Him:

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  (II Corinthians 12:9)

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:  (II Corinthians 9:8)

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.  (Philippians 4:13)

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  (I Corinthians 15:58)

With All My Heart

Valentine’s Day is not usually a big holiday around our house.  The most important aspect of February 14th to us is that it is our Gotcha Day—the day back in 1976 when we got our sweet Robbie, eight days old and straight out of the hospital!  But as far as making it a romantic celebration—well, it’s kind of hit or miss usually.  Most years Bob and I will exchange cards, at least.  Once and a while, he’ll bring me flowers or chocolates.  A few times over the years I’ve made a nice candlelit dinner for him.  If we don’t make a big deal out of it, though, it really doesn’t hurt my feelings.  Bob’s the kind of man who doesn’t want to be dictated to by the card and candy companies.  He likes to surprise me often throughout the year with flowers or chocolates just to say “I love you,” so if February 14th comes and goes without much hoopla, it’s okay.

He won’t even be in town this year on Valentine’s Day.  I’m going to celebrate anyway—without him!  You should see my stash of Valentine’s stuff I’ve been collecting little by little the last few weeks!  Heart-shaped bowls, heart-shaped plates, heart-shaped chocolates, paper plates with hearts on them—even heart-shaped ice cubes!  Then there are the pink candles, pink flowers, pink tablecloth, pink napkins and glasses, pink serving dishes.  I am making rose-shaped chocolate lollipops and special filled cupcakes in large rose papers.  All of this, not for my love—but for my girlfriends!  It’s my turn to host our dominoes night this month, so I have gone all out!  Well, what can I say?  I love them, too, you know!

Those heart-shaped ice cubes…I’ve been making them for days now.  I got the two little silicone trays from Target’s dollar section.  They’re cute but small and will probably melt quickly, so I am trying to fill up two or three gallon size ziplock bags with them.  I chuckled to myself last night as I struggled to pop them out of the silicone trays with freezing fingers, “Talk about having a cold, hard heart!”  They might be cute in a glass of pop, but no one wants to have a heart made of ice!

Did you know the Bible has a HUGE amount to say about hearts?   I’ve been focusing on hearts this week, but when God’s Word speaks about hearts, it is not referring to Valentine hearts, or even the organ that circulates blood throughout our body.  The heart the Scriptures refer to is the spirit that lives within us.  The Lord is very specific about the heart that He wants each believer to have as we grow in Him.

First of all, He wants us to be whole-heartedly His.  He wants us to love Him with our whole hearts.  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  (Deuteronomy 6:5)  And when we love Him with whole hearts we will be obedient, as well.  This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.  (Deuteronomy 26:16)  He wants us to be dedicated to living for Him and not focused so much on the world and the things of the world.  With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.  (Psalm 119:10)  Then when our hearts are wholly His, they will be filled to overflowing with love and praise for Him in all that He has done for us, and given to us, and simply just for who He is.   The Bible says in Psalm 9:1, “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.” 

Our desire ought to be to stand before God with a pure heart, a clean heart.  Salvation comes through trusting in Christ alone.  There is nothing we can do on our own to win that salvation.  It is our responsibility, however, after we have been saved, to resist temptation, to flee from evil and to keep our hearts pure before him.  Psalm 24:4, 5 tells us, “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”  Our daily prayer should be, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”  (Psalm 51:10)

There are times when we do fall, though; times when we fail Him miserably.  Those are the times when we ought to have a broken and contrite heart.  He hears our pleas for forgiveness and restores us into fellowship with Him.  The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.  (Psalm 51:17)

How can we help but rejoice when our hearts are right with Him?  Joy does not depend on outward circumstances but on our relationship with the Lord.  The Bible tells us that He gives us a glad heart; a deep joy, comfort, peace and hope within when we are in fellowship with our Heavenly Father.  Thou hast put gladness in my heart…  (Psalm 4:7)  Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.  (Psalm 16:9)

There are other characteristics of a heart that is right with God.  It will be a trusting heart.  It will trust when it does not understand what God is doing and when it does not know the way.  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy paths.  (Proverbs 3:5, 6)  It will trust that the Lord is there to help when there are obstacles and trials along the way.  The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.  (Psalm 28:7)

Even when the spiritual battles are overwhelming and the Enemy is great; when we are fearful and we feel that we cannot go on, the Lord helps us to have a courageous heart.  He says in Psalm 27:1, 3, 14, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.  Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” 

Our day-to-day life may not always require great courage, but we ought still to have steadfast hearts, unwavering in our Christian walk.  We persevere, we endure, we press on through life’s journey as our hearts are fixed upon Him.  With that steadfastness comes the joy and the strength we need to carry on each day.  My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. (Psalm 57:7)  He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. (Psalm 112:7)

As we grow in the Lord and walk with Him daily, He gives us not only joy and strength, comfort and courage, but we begin to grow in wisdom, as well.  He wants us to desire to have wise hearts.  Psalm 49:3 says, “My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.” and Psalm 90:12 adds, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

All of these characteristics of the believer’s heart speak mostly to our relationship with our Heavenly Father, but there is one other heart that affects those around us, as well, and that is a merry heart.   The Bible tells us in Proverbs 15:13 that “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance…” and in Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…”  We may have the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts,” but when it is waaaaaay down deep in our hearts it does no one else any good.  We ought to be bubbling over with the joy of the Lord and the peace only He can give.  Our faces should reflect that joy.  Our demeanor should be uplifting and not a “downer” to others.  Our merry heart should be an encouragement and inspiration to others.  Proverbs 15:15 says “…he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.”  I would not want to be at a feast all by myself.  Let us share the feast with others!

Only God can see our hearts.  Others may believe we have a right heart within us, but God knows the true condition of our hearts.  For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.  (I Samuel 16:7)  We may fool others; we may even fool ourselves, but God knows the truth.  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.  (Proverbs 21:2)  Our prayer should be, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.”  (Psalm 139:23)  Our desire then should be to be men and women after God’s own heart.  Nothing could say more loudly and clearly to Him, “I love You, Lord–with all my heart!”

Boys to Men

Today is our grandson Benjamin’s fourteenth birthday.  Benjamin is our first grandson.  What an amazing young man he has become!  He has changed so much physically this last year that it is always a bit of a surprise when we see him again.  Benjamin is taller than his mother and as tall as his dad, and I think he will soon surpass him in height.  He’s got a mustache already and his voice is so low that every time I hear him, I think I am hearing his father.  With his dark good looks and quick smile, he will be a heartbreaker someday!

Add to those good looks a bright, intelligent mind (he loves history and science and is a straight A student in all his studies), his creativity, his love of music, and a sweet, easy-going, pleasant personality and he is a son and grandson that any parent or grandparent would be proud to claim.  And of course, we are!

As awesome as all these characteristics are, however, they are not what make Benjamin so inspirational to us.  For years we have been amazed at the spiritual maturity we have seen in him.   Benjamin’s love for God’s Word is evident as he never fails to read and study and memorize and talk about it every day.  His understanding of God’s Word is made clear as he asks and answers questions about spiritual things that would stump many older Christians.  He has taught Sunday School classes and led devotions already at his young age.  We see his application of God’s Word in how he lives his life with kindness, patience, humility, helpfulness and forgiveness toward others.  There is not a doubt in our minds that Benjamin will go on to live his life for the Lord in whatever path He leads him.  It would not surprise us in the least if God’s will for Benjamin was in the ministry somehow.

God created Benjamin the way he is, but He used his parents as models and teachers to mold and lead him in the ways of the Lord.  David and Julie are amazing parents and are doing a wonderful job with all three of their children.  What is so funny to us is to see how like his father Benjamin is.  He has his dad’s good looks, his [rocket scientist] dad’s intelligence, his dad’s quiet, pleasant personality and his dad’s love for the Lord and spiritual things.  It is not surprising to us that Benjamin is so amazing, as his father David is an amazing man, as well.

This has been a difficult week for David—a difficult month, really.  He has struggled with a severely herniated disc in his back that totally flattened, and came close to severing, his sciatic nerve.  He has been in bed for weeks, unable to work and barely even stand or walk.  He had surgery on Thursday and, praise the Lord, it looks so far that the surgery was a success.  The hard part now will be to keep from re-injuring himself as he heals.  We are praying he will be able to travel sometime in March or April to the Ukraine to finalize their adoption of Oleg, a fourteen year old orphan over there.

The pain David has suffered has been excruciating.  The inability to do his job, help Julie around the house and be active as he always has been, has been even more difficult.  He did not lie in bed moaning and complaining, though, or asking God, “Why me?”  He did not focus on himself and his problems, but instead continued to search for ways to help others, even in his crippled state.

We were surprised to get a letter from David, this week.  Well, actually, he wrote it to Bob.  He was writing to tell him that while he was lying in bed these weeks, the Lord had opened his eyes to how living with a disability must be, and that he was beginning to understand how Bob must have struggled all these years with his loss of hearing.  Bob’s hearing has gotten worse lately, and David wanted to help him get hearing aids.  Bob and I both cried as we read those words.  Here was David, in terrible pain, yet thinking about his father-in-law and sending a sacrificial gift to help him.  That is the kind of man David is and that is why Benjamin is growing to be a man like him.

The Bible has much to say about fathers and sons.  There are many examples of good fathers and bad fathers; good sons and bad sons.  There is the relationship of the Father and Son.  There is instruction to fathers on how to raise their sons, and instruction to sons on how to respond to their fathers.

Fathers:

  • Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you… And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6:1, 7)
  • For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:12)

Sons:

  • My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother. (Proverbs 6:20)
  • A wise son heareth his father’s instruction. (Proverbs 13:1)
  • A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. (Proverbs 10:1)
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.  (Colossians 3:20)
  • Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.  (Exodus 20:12) 

The best way for fathers (and mothers) to be examples and role models for their children is to lead by example in word and deed.  Our children will not believe what we try to teach them if they do not see us living out what we preach.  As Benjamin has seen the example of his father’s life before him, he has followed his lead and is becoming a man after God’s own heart and an example himself of what a godly young man should be.  The best advice I could give Benjamin today on his birthday is this:  Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.  (I Timothy 4:12)

Happy Birthday, Benjamin!  We love you and are so proud of you!