Loving Your Neighbors During the Holidays (Pumpkin Bread Recipe)

Loving Your Neighbors During the Holidays (Pumpkin Bread Recipe)

I have a tough time loving my neighbors.

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For me, this is just not something that comes naturally.  I can say hello and make a bit of small talk here and there, but beyond that I mostly try to ignore my neighbors.  That sounds so mean!  However, I think it’s something that’s true for most of us.  We are comfortable to a certain degree with the strangers that surround our own personal space. But beyond a quick hello or wave, I think most people prefer to tuck away and not be sociable.

To me, it feels funny to be expected to make friends with complete strangers.  After all, my friends are people I’ve CHOSEN.  Neighbors are not chosen.  I choose to surround myself with like-minded people.  Because I like to be comfortable in expressing myself with the people I spend time with, I choose them accordingly.  I also like to surround myself with friends who have similar parenting styles.  Someone I trust my children to.  None of these qualities are things I get to choose in my neighbors.

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A Light for Christ Cannot Be Hidden

I do, however, recognize that I cannot possibly shine my light for Christ if I’ve kept it hidden away behind the door to my house. And so each year I try to do something nice for my neighbors.  That sounds pretty lame now that I’m writing it out.  Once a year?  Is that all I can muster?  Perhaps I will have to find other opportunities throughout the year to bless my neighbors. For now, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my children and I bake pumpkin bread for our neighbors.

The recipe I want to share with you today is from my dear friend Megs.  There is probably someone who needs to be credited with this recipe, but she’s the one who first made it for me so she’ll get the credit here!  This recipe turns out incredibly delicious, so keep that in mind when you’re baking!  You’ll want to be sure and leave some for your family as well.

Pumpkin Bread

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

5 eggs
1 1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 (3oz) packages of instant vanilla pudding
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs well.  Add oil and pumpkin and beat until smooth.  Next, combine all of the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and stir to mix.  Gradually beat into pumpkin mixture, scraping the bowl between additions.  Pour batter into two well-greased 5×9 loaf pans.  Each pan should be a little over half-full.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a knife can be inserted and removed cleanly.  Let stand 10 minutes to cool.  Remove from pan and serve!

Mini-Loaf Option for More to Share

When I make this for the neighbors, I use a mini loaf pan that holds 12 mini loaves.  I grease the pan generously and fill about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes.  After my mini loaves cool completely, I wrap them in plastic wrap and tie a pretty bow around the loaves.  I try to include a message of well wishes from our family and we hand deliver them to the neighbors.

How does your family like to shine the light of Jesus?

What are some ways that you love your neighbors?

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Reading the Scriptures Through the Eyes of an Unbeliever

Reading the Scriptures Through the Eyes of an Unbeliever

Last month I wrote about being more diligent against laziness in my life (read about that here).  Part of what that means for me is regularly and intentionally reading my bible in the mornings.  Many mornings my children will rise before I’m done–and sometimes before I’ve even started–but I press on.  I occasionally read the same passages two days in a row if my children have interrupted the previous days’ reading enough that I didn’t retain much of what I read. However, I am glad that they see me immersed in the Word, and I pray that the seed that is planted from these early mornings will sprout and grow as they grow.

I chose to begin my bible reading right at the beginning.  I purchased a devotional bible that has a short devotional every few pages, and I try to read one devotional each day as well as the scriptures in between.  If I miss a day, I don’t get upset; after all, I need to give myself grace occasionally. However, I put it in my mind each night that I will wake up in time to get my bible reading in.

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In the Beginning

When I set out on this endeavor I had given it quite a bit of thought.  For some time, I had felt that I needed to find a way to get more Bible into my life.  I do well with doing Bible lessons and memory work with our children, but for myself my discipline was lacking.  Then one day it hit me.  If someone questioned my faith, would I be able to stand up for it?  If one of my friends or family members asked about certain questionable passages that throw us all for a loop, would I understand what it means or know the appropriate response?

A resounding NO was in my mind.  Because I grew up in the church, I know no other way.  And yet I did not have the knowledge to back up my faith.  I attended a Christian college and yet my studies there still did not equip me to defend my faith.

Taking Action

I knew at that moment I was not going to pass through another day without equipping myself with the knowledge to defend my faith.  That meant asking a lot of hard, uncomfortable questions.  It meant putting my faith in God that whatever answers I discovered would not invoke fear in me but understanding and acceptance.  During my younger years I always felt that a person had to be a bible scholar to be able to understand the deeper meanings in the passages of the Bible.  Time and maturity has allowed me to see that through reading quality resources and prayer for wisdom, a simple Christian like myself can understand the words written in the sacred texts.

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And so I set out to read through the scriptures as best I could through the eyes of an unbeliever.  Based on my upbringing, it would not be possible for me to be 100% unbiased.  However I can read the passages without assuming the “goodness” behind the words.  It has allowed me to ask questions that I hadn’t recognized before.  I have been able to allow my emotions to be unguarded.

In reading through the scriptures I’ve found myself feeling pity for some and something bordering on disgust for others.  I’ve been able to see the stories in a different light.  I’ve seen the Israelites through the eyes of a parent with whining and disobedient children.  But I’ve also been able to ask hard questions about questionable morals and living situations.  It’s allowed me freedom to recognize the imperfections of the people and still accept them as part of God’s plan.  It’s taught me more about my lack of grace than any other single lesson in my life.

Pressing On

I still have a long way to go to get through the Bible, but I’m happy to say I’m in no hurry.  Some chapters and entire books are difficult to get through because of lengthy lineage or repetitive language. Nevertheless, I have read each one.  Looking at the passages as building blocks to my faith brings a whole new meaning to the words.  Even greater than that is the freedom to allow myself to question anything I come upon that doesn’t seem to fit.  While some questions are yet unanswered, I am blessed with many knowledgeable people and an abundance of resources to call upon.

Have you ever had your faith challenged? 

Were you able to adequately defend it?

Please share with me the ways you expand your knowledge and understanding of God’s word. 

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My Fast Against Laziness

My Fast Against Laziness

Occasionally I find myself in a rut of general laziness.  Do you ever get to that place?  As a homeschooling mom of four little ones I often tell myself that I deserve a much-needed break.  Sometimes I say to myself that I’ve earned this time to read for five hours a little while.  If I’m being honest, there are days my break times are exceptionally long and my work times exceptionally short.  I can easily fall into this trap of allowing myself time to “rest” or telling myself that I’m relaxing, when in reality I’m just wasting time.

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Wow! There’s a lot of depth in this proverb.  Let’s consider for a moment that we’re looking beyond the obvious overgrowth of thorns and disorder that encompass my home when I’m in my “resting” time.  I’d even like to look past the deeper implications this has on my relationship with my husband and my children.  Let’s look past my husband’s dissatisfaction when he finds himself scrambling for work clothes through days-old stacks of laundry. Look past the broken hearts of young children whose favorite things have been trod on and broken by scurrying feet that are undisciplined by the keeper of the home.  I’d like to look all the way inside my spirit as it sits unattended and unfulfilled during my laziness.

And there it lies, the very scene this proverb spoke of.  I see the thorns sprouting and covering over any beauty that once was.  I see the weeds poking through, disrupting the order that could still be.  The stone wall that Jesus so carefully guided me in erecting around my soul as a veritable fortress is crumbling.  Little bits of mortar have flaked off and lie sprinkled across the ground as stones begin to sag in defeat.  When this fortress of diligence was left unattended it began to break down.  And each day I choose to neglect it in favor of laziness, it crumbles a little more.

Building Back Up

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  We are so very blessed to serve a forgiving Savior.  Just as a parent continues to guide their child after making the same mistake over again, so the Lord guides us back to Him.  The beauty of my relationship with Jesus is that I can repent and be set right immediately.

My dear friend challenged herself, and I challenged myself to use August as a fast against laziness.  The premise was simple: As we looked through our days and saw ourselves doing something lazy in place of something useful, we would work to choose the useful thing instead.  The very first day that I woke up twenty minutes early and opened my Bible to spend some time with Him, my Savior began to trim back the thorns.  Throughout the day as I chose to be diligent in teaching my children the word and how to apply it, He began to pull the weeds.  As I went about my work within my home with a happy heart and a soul contented, He gently pushed back the sagging stones and patched up the holes.

The glory of my Savior can radiate through me when I have a firm foundation of discipline and diligence.  When I choose the next right thing to do at each turn of the day, I am blessed by my work and by His work through me.

Do you find your diligence slipping in your time with the Lord like I do?  Don’t despair!  It only takes one right choice to get back on track.

Can we pray for you today?

Get into Fall with a DIY Wreath

Get into Fall with a DIY Wreath

Fall is in the air!

Can you feel it?  Here in the Midwest we have had the strangest weather this year, and I’m totally loving it!  We’ve already had a handful of days that have me thinking about pumpkin bread, chai tea, and snuggly scarves.  While the need for a scarf is still a month or two away, it’s never too early to decorate for fall!  Try this easy and inexpensive DIY to get you in the mood for football and hoodies.

Step 1: Gather your supplies.

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You’ll need:

  • A few inches of raffia, twine, or yarn to tie your bow together
  • Some decorative pieces (I chose a bundle of sparkly fall leaves and a little stuffed owl, both from Dollar Tree.)
  • A wooden or cardboard letter for your last initial
  • Approximately 16 inches of burlap wired ribbon (or whatever kind you prefer/have on hand)
  • Fabric strips in your color scheme–I use whatever scraps I happen to have in my craft stash. If you buy fabric for this project I’d say you need one yard at the most.  A yard of fabric varies in width depending on the bolt, but in general is between 26-60 inches wide.  Since you’ll use 4-5 strips that are between 6-9″ by 20-22″ long, you should only need one yard unless you get a very narrow bolt.  I also advise looking at the scrap section at your local craft store.
  • Paint or accent fabric for your letter
  • A wire clothes hanger and a pair of pliers
  • Hot glue gun and extra glue sticks

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Step 2: Shape your hanger into a circle.

First, use the pliers to untwist the wires on your hanger.  Shape the wire into a circle and re-twist the wires.  Don’t worry about it being perfect or pretty.  It’s going to be totally covered, so just get the general shape and you’ll be good.

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Step 3: Attach fabric to the wire frame.

Decide what width you want your strips.  I used a lightweight fabric that doesn’t hold its shape well on its own.  My strips of fabric were approximately 20-22 inches long.  I recommend keeping them this size or smaller because you’ll need to roll them back on themselves to get everything glued down.  My strips were about 9.5 inches wide, which for this fabric was almost too wide.  I could have easily gone down a couple of inches and still had a great piece in the end.  If you choose a heavier fabric such as burlap or an upholstery fabric, you can get away with going a bit wider.  Fold the strip around the wire and glue the ends together.  It should come out looking like this:

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Step 4: Scrunch and glue the fabric around the wreath frame.

Take one end of your fabric and hot glue it to the wires where you twisted them together.  Every two inches, grab your fabric, bunch it towards the first end you glued down, and glue it to the wire.  It should come out looking something like this.

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Continue adding strips of fabric around your wire, bunching and gluing them to the wire.  Work with one strip at a time so you don’t wind up wasting any fabric.  Once you have done most of the wire, leave a space for your accent fabric, if you wish to use an accent fabric.  Mine wound up covered by my decorations for the most part, but I still think it looks good there!

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Now it’s time to have fun!

Step 5: Determine placement of decorative items and attach.

Gather up your decorative supplies and arrange them on your wreath until you find what you like, then glue those babies down.

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You see what I mean?  A lot of good my accent fabric did since I covered it up, but alas, you gotta go with the flow on these types of projects.  It wasn’t all wasted, however, since I used it to cover my wooden “P.”

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Step 6: Decorate your letter.

If you want to paint your letter, now is a great time.  If you choose to use fabric, I achieved the shabby look by tearing strips of fabric about an inch wide and scrunching them into the hot glue as I went around the letter.

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Step 7: Make the bow.

Now, let’s make that bow.  Grab some burlap ribbon.  It’s totally a personal preference on how big you want your bow.  My piece was about 16 inches long.  Fold it so that both ends meet in the middle, overlapping them slightly.
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Now pinch it together and use your twine, raffia, or yarn to tie it together.  I chose raffia since I had it on hand, but you could easily use another type of ribbon or yarn that coordinates.

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Step 8: Make the ribbon hanger.

Eyeball the length you want your wreath to hang and hot glue a piece of burlap ribbon around it.  You will probably burn your fingers.  I’ve found that a Popsicle stick can be a good glue smasher to keep your hands unscathed.  I applaud you if you’ve made it this far without a single hot glue burn!

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Glue your bow onto the top of your burlap hanger and you’re done!  See that little owl in his green hat?  Isn’t he the cutest? This wreath is a great way to brighten your front door for the fall season!

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This DIY wreath is so easy and cheap that you can do it for every season of the year!  Now you’ve got time and money left over to bless the neighbors with some pumpkin bread!

Matthew 7:12 says:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Who wouldn’t love a little treat from a neighbor or friend?

Or maybe you can invite over a few girlfriends to join you in this DIY wreath!

Matthew 18:20 says:

For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.

Join together with your girlfriends and have a mini devo and craft time!  Chances are they need it just as much as you do!

Do you enjoy simple DIY’s? 

What suggestions do you have to bless others throughout the year?

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God Did Not Create Me For This…

God Did Not Create Me For This…

What did God create you for?

Have you ever stopped to think about all the things that God did not intend for us in this life?  I feel like some days I am constantly reminded of these things.  Many evenings I will sit down and reflect back over my day.  What were my general feelings today?  What went right, and what didn’t?  Did I get things done?  And what did I put off or forget to do?  What habits do I need to start to make me feel more successful?  And on and on and on…

God gives us a full range of emotions to experience life to its very fullest.  In my mind I can be the most fulfilled if I’m feeling generally more positive than negative.  That’s my personal preference.  Some people are like a piece of metal.  When the heat is on they just bend and change to fit the temperature.  Some people are more like a piece of paper and they just burn up.  I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle.  As a result of my military upbringing, I am a pretty flexible person, regardless of my personality.  However, having children and running my own household presents pressures and challenges that at times threaten to burn me up and leave behind a little pile of ashes.

Perseverance, not Exhaustion and Defeat

James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Sometimes it seems as though perseverance for the sake of perseverance alone is the only thing I’ve got left.  But God does not want us to feel downtrodden and hopeless.  It is not His will for us to be exhausted and defeated by the day.
Isaiah 55-8-11New International Version
I love this whole chapter of Isaiah.  The Lord is really encouraging His people and giving them comfort.  God knows that our journey here on earth will not be easy.  There are going to be bad days and tantrums.  There is going to be spilled milk on the carpet and sand in their hair, dirty dishes and floors and toilets.  I often dwell on and worry about these things and that was never God’s intent. God created me for more than my to-do list!

Letting Go and Letting God

I’m going to make a list for myself of what I am intentionally going to try and let go. Perhaps, this list will be helpful to you as well.

This week I will work to let go of the following:

  • Distress over my housekeeping imperfections
  • Incessant worrying about my children’s (insert your worry here)
  • Frustration at other people because of (for me it’s their driving!)
  • Jealousy over someone else’s blessings, calling, or opportunities
  • Fixation with my idea of how everything should be

Considering I’m going to work on these for the next week, it’s a pretty long list; however, these are the things that God has revealed to me recently.  Some of these things are issues I grapple with frequently while others are rather infrequent.  I feel that each of these are relevant to God’s will for my life, and that these things are holding me back from other things God has for me in my life.

I pledge this week to work towards laying these concerns at the feet of Jesus and clothing myself in things that are pure, holy, and right.

Here are my really great reasons to work on this list. I’d like to make more room for these things!

my reasons

Will you take this pledge with me?  

If you’d like to, please share your list with us so we can be praying along with you about what God can take from you to make more room for Him!

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