Loving Your Neighbors During the Holidays (Pumpkin Bread Recipe)

Loving Your Neighbors During the Holidays (Pumpkin Bread Recipe)

Laura P

Laura P

Hello. I grew up traveling the world as a military brat. I ultimately felt God's pull to Oklahoma Christian University where I met my husband. We now have 3 beautiful children and have settled in Mustang, Oklahoma.I am a homeschooling mom and with 3 kiddos it is a full time job! I am daily encouraged by God's great patience and grace in my life. In my free time I enjoy reading and crafting.
Laura P

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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light of the world

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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Put down the Rope and Stretch out Your Hand

Put down the Rope and Stretch out Your Hand

Kristi F

I am an Oklahoman by birth, a Texan by current living situation, but claim the world as my playground.I love to travel and hope to someday soon take our family on adventures to far off lands, where we can share God with others and experience all the wonders He has created.

I am a mother of 4 crazy, homeschooling children ages 9 & under, wife to an amazing man, and daughter of the King of the Universe!I enjoy reading, making my kids laugh, cooking, all things natural, learning to play guitar and dusting off my piano skills.One day I hope to run again, but until then I’m learning patience.

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Have you ever been lassoed?

I have and let me tell you it was not a fun ordeal. Even though the person intended it as a joke, it got out of hand. The rope burn around my neck lasted for weeks. This experience left me with a memory that brought about a spiritual revelation decades later.

When I first became a Christian, I was super excited to share Christ with others–and I still am. Where I look back now with a sad heart is how I felt I needed to “rope” someone around their spiritual neck and drag them Where I look back now with a sad heart is how I felt I needed to -rope- someone around their spiritual neck and drag them up to my current spiritual understanding.up to my current spiritual understanding. I was young and immature in my understanding. I wish I could apologize to all those I left with rope burn.

So if you are reading this today–I’m sorry on behalf of myself and anyone else who has done this to you. They might have had the best of intentions but presented their care for you very poorly.

Thankfully, a wonderful Christ-filled couple willingly mentored my husband and me over the years.  Through them, we realized that our initial way of doing things was not the way Jesus handled things. They held out their hand, walked with us, studied scripture with us, and by grace, patience, and love helped us along our spiritual journey.

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Mentored instead of Roped

Instead of roping us around the neck and dragging us up to their level of spiritual understanding, they were patient with us, and allowed us time to grow and mature.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

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It’s important to realize that we are all on our own personal walk with our Lord and Savior. He has patience and grace as each person is walking and growing in their faith. We need to do so as well.  This definitely goes for those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior yet too!  Yes, we want them to have the same hope we do. But trying to drag them into it will not make it happen.

If we feel we are ahead of a friend, we don’t need to rope them and drag them to our level. No! If we try that, then they miss the wonderful opportunity to grow in their relationship with the Lord.

Instead, we need to reach out our hand and encourage them along the journey. That way, when we stumble and fall, we also have a friend holding our hand and helping us along.

So, if the rope is still in your hand, will you agree to put down the rope and reach out your hand?

Have you ever roped someone or has someone roped you?

How did that affect your relationship with that person and the Lord?

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The Prayers of A Mother

The Prayers of A Mother

Jennifer E

Jennifer E

I am "Mom" to Chloe, Allie, & Emilia. I am wife to Misael Escobar. I am a child of God. I love to learn about other cultures and learn about others life experiences.I am always a "work in progress". Through many struggles I have become "me" and I am finally happy with the person God has led me to be.I am excited to see where God will lead me in this life.
Jennifer E

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It feels like the longer I am a mom, the more I learn that I have very few answers. I have a high schooler, a middle schooler, a toddler, and one coming in February.

Being someone who struggles with control and a mom has not always been the best combination. My prayers for my children have been very much about telling God what he should do, how he should do it, and when he should do it. The last seven years I have really worked on my control issues through the twelve steps in the Christ-centered recovery program called Celebrate Recovery. One of my dear friends summed up the first three steps for me as:

  1. I can’t.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let him.

As a person who lived a life in the illusion I had control, these were hard for me. After working on these steps, it became apparent that peace in this life requires a total surrender to God. And that includes me surrendering my children.

One day, a seasoned parent told me that when her daughter was going through a time of rebellion, she threw out all her prayers. Instead, she just began praying this scripture over her daughter while inserting her name. At first, I prayed this over my daughter as she struggled with processing a lot of hurt in her life. Then, I started praying it over all my girls daily:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA’S hearts as CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA trust in him.

May CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA’S roots grow down into God’s love and keep CHLOE, ALLIE, EMILIA strong. And may CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within CHLOE, ALLIE, & EMILIA, to accomplish infinitely more than CHLOE, ALLIE, EMILIA might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT)

This verse just seems to have everything I could ever dream for them. The only other prayer I pray daily is:

Lord,
If Chloe, Allie, or Emilia are doing anything that would keep them from you, then please reveal it to me or someone who loves you and them.
In His name,
Amen

praying-ephesians-3-14-21-over-your-children

 

I don’t know if these will only be my prayers for them, but they have been for the last two years. It is so freeing to know that God knows better than me. Any hurt in their lives is His to heal. One thing is for sure, God is a much better God than I could ever be!

How do you pray for your children?

Do you pray any scriptures over your children?

prayers-of-a-mother-1

The Bully in my Brain

The Bully in my Brain

Julie W

Julie W

I am a certified fitness instructor and have been teaching group fitness classes for over 22 years. I am also a board certified holistic health counselor with a degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. I am 48 years old with a 25 year old daughter and a 23 year old son. My husband Chris and I have been married for 28 years. I have been a member of the Church of Christ my entire life as well as my mother, father and both sets of grandparents. I am the owner of a local food service based business and currently teach conditioning classes here in the Edmond area. I have been a strict vegetarian for many years but I will walk 10 miles barefoot in the snow for a good piece of chocolate! ;)
Julie W

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The Voice in Our Heads

We go out of our way to be kind to total strangers. We watch our tone with our children. When the conversation is important, we measure our words carefully. And yet for a lot of us, none of these rules apply to the voice that speaks the loudest in our own minds. I wonder why?

We not only say hurtful and belittling things to ourselves, but that voice also has a tone. It is not sweet or kind; it sounds critical, judgmental, and harsh.  In my health counseling practice I have spoken with so many women who repeat the same demeaning mantra over and over as if on a recording device.  Things like:

  • “You’re so stupid.”
  • “You are so lazy. Why can’t you get your act together?”
  • “You will always be fat so stop trying to be something you’re not.”
  • “You’re weak…you don’t matter…you aren’t capable…”

And the list goes on and on.

We would NEVER speak to another person with those words or that accusing tone but we have no qualms about being our own worst nightmare.  We would never put up with another person treating us in such a way. But if it’s coming from our own voice, in our own head, not only is it fine but we believe it to be true.

The Need for Self-Compassion

Two words have been cropping up over the past several years in counseling offices, in therapy books, and TED talks alike.  Those two words are SELF COMPASSION.  Most of us know how to be compassionate to others but are at a loss how to offer that same love to ourselves.  In the words of one of my favorite Natalie Grant songs, she says, “You can’t be free if you don’t reach for help and you can’t love, if you don’t love yourself,” and it is so very true.

Frequently, I am asked questions about:

  • Techniques for weight loss
  • How to stop overeating
  • Ways to have more energy
  • How to feel more confident in my own skin.

As a fitness trainer, I know the scientific solutions to these questions but without self-compassion, self-love and self-care, none of it works.Remember the 2 greatest commandments-

Remember that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love others.  Matthew 22 goes on to say that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Self-love and compassion is a commandment of God’s word. I think a lot of us have missed the mark on this one.

The body is the single most proficient machine ever created.  It is beyond the measure of intelligence and efficiency and comes with all the signs, signals, and tools we need to be fully alive and functional.  The problem is we have stopped listening.  So many louder voices speak over us that we are no longer in tune with our bodies’ demands, wants, and needs.

Getting Rid of the Brain Bully

What if we made a pact with ourselves to remove that harsh, critical voice in our heads, and to honor our bodies by listening to its messages?

The answers to all of those health and weight loss questions lie in this formula.

When my body says:

  • Rest–I will rest.
  • Eat–I will honor it with healthy, life-giving nutrition and I will stop eating when I am satisfied.
  • I am hurt–I will deal with the issue immediately whether physical or emotional.
  • I feel like crying–Cry.
  • I need a friend–Call one.

How opposite is this compared to the way most of us operate?  We tell ourselves we don’t have time to:

  • Eat breakfast.
  • Rest.
  • Deal with that hurt right now.
  • Connect with others.

We push and push and push and completely ignore the things our bodies are literally begging us for.

Some of us:

  • Make our bodies wait hours for nutrition.
  • Sleep as little as 3-4 hours a night.
  • Give so much to work that we miss out on the very things that make our lives meaningful.

We all struggle with these issues. However, we must find balance in order to avoid the consequences of an overworked, over-stressed, and physically exhausted lifestyle.

The body-spirit-mind connection is so strong.

The three are inseparable, so to honor one is to honor all.  If we take this challenge we will fall in line with God’s design for us both physically as well as emotionally.  We will kick the brain bully to the curb. We will treat ourselves with the same love and kindness we extend to those around us.

We are worth it and some of us have spent far too long believing otherwise!  Since God’s own son died for one and all, HE certainly believed you were worth it!

Are you ready to start kicking the brain bully to the curb?  

What changes will you start making today to live in line with God’s design for us?

Loving Others When It’s Uncomfortable: Our Adoption Story

Loving Others When It’s Uncomfortable: Our Adoption Story

Lori S

Lori S

I'm Lori! My husband and I have been married since 2008. We adopted our son in July and live in Memphis, TN. One of the things I love about Creating a Great Day is that it is focused on inspiring women to the woman that God wants them to be. Every woman is different, and we all have talents to honor God and walk alongside each other in this spiritual journey called life. Have a blessed day!
Lori S

November 2012

That is when we decided to adopt.  After I prayed for peace, the next prayer was this:

God, please help me to love our birth mom, not judge her.

As a naturally critical person, I was afraid my insecurities or judgments would interfere with God’s work in our adoption.  For over two and a half years, our prayer has been to unconditionally love our birth mother and to accept her into our lives.

Fast-forward to June 2015.

All adoptive families want to receive “the call,” and finally, we received our call.  We had been selected.  We scheduled a visit to meet our birth mother in Texas and talk about the logistics of the baby’s birth.  There isn’t a rule book of how to interact with your birth mom.  You just kind of do it.  She set the tone for the interactions, but our agency made sure that we discussed the sensitive topics.  When we arrived at our meeting with the birth mother, we didn’t know what to expect.  We couldn’t have asked for a better meeting.  All she could talk about were our needs and the baby’s needs. She constantly put others ahead of herself in our discussions.

It was (1)When Benjamin was born, we had frequent reminders that he wasn’t our child.  We were connected to him but technically didn’t “have him.  Fighting the emotions of wanting to love a child who wasn’t yet “ours” was emotionally and mentally challenging.  We tried to love him in the best ways we could.  Something else we were not expecting was the truth: loving Benjamin meant loving our birth mother.

The Choice to Love

We constantly had to work out with our birth mother who was to care for Benjamin.  Our birth mother was also recovering from a c-section and needed physical assistance, encouragement to eat/drink, and someone to talk to about her emotions.  I could feel God giving us a choice.  Would we show love only to Benjamin?  Or would we also show love to our birth mother, even if that meant giving up time with Benjamin and loving her when it was uncomfortable to us?

Using Adoption to Teach Us About Loving Others

When I look back over that time in the hospital, I am so thankful that God showed us what to do.  We had no control over what was happening and no “road map” of what to do or how to act.  God used our adoption story to teach us what loving others when it’s uncomfortable could look like.  It wasn’t until Benjamin was born that a realization hit me.  This child was not ours; it was hers.  Yes, we had waited…and waited…and prayed…and cried…and grew angry…and waited some more.  But, it was her choice to follow through with the adoption.  It was her choice to make medical decisions regarding the baby. And it was her choice to engage in sacrificial love so her child could have the life she planned but could not give.It was

Our birth mother stated that she was confident of her decision, but her pain was evident.  She loved Benjamin so much.  You could see it in how she swaddled him, fed him, changed him, and held him.  Her choice did not invalidate her sacrifice.  That sort of love made me feel guilty.  I felt unworthy of being forever connected with her.  How do I show love to a woman who is giving a part of herself to us?

Adoption Changed Our View of People

People have suggested that it’s time for us to move on.  This has been difficult for me.  I constantly think about our birth mother.  While we were together, we talked about life, family, and God’s presence in our lives.  Our time in Texas challenged us spiritually, mentally, and physically.  Beside the fact that we are now a family of three, it also provoked new thoughts of life, love, and our Christian walk.  This wasn’t something that we can move on from because it has changed the way we look at and love other people.  I can only pray that it helps us move forward in how we treat others.

This experience has led me to several questions:

  1. What would the world look like if more people chose life (adoption/parenting) over death (abortion)?
  2. If we truly treated everyone as if they were made in the image of God–put aside race, socioeconomic status, education level, worldview–what would the world look like?  What if we really treated people like we would want to be treated? We wouldn’t even need rules and regulations governing our way of life because the Spirit would lead us to live in communion with one another.
  3. What if there were fewer adoptions?  What if we were in the lives of others so much that we pooled our resources and supported all families (not just those that look, act, and talk like us) as we all try to get through life?  There would be fewer adoptions/foster care children, more family preservation, and more support.  God asks to us to give to the poor and support those in need. He asks us to stand in the gap for those who are hurting.  Isn’t this the basis of what draws biological families into turmoil and chaos?

I don’t know what the answers to these question are, or even if they are logical.  I just hope that these questions will lead our family to live out the love of Christ in everything we do.

May us all live lives where we love others even when it’s uncomfortable.

May God use us to engage others who are not like us. Help us support them with the sacrificial love of Christ.

 

 

Lori and her husband used Christian Homes and Family Services in Texas to become adoptive parents.

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Faithfulness in the “Small” Things

Faithfulness in the “Small” Things

Elizabeth P

Elizabeth P

I am a recovering Army brat who loves to travel and start new adventures. My handsome husband and I met at Oklahoma Christian University and he whisked me away to Kansas. So, I bought some ruby red high heels and made Topeka my home. I have a rough and rowdy Princess 4-year-old girl, amazing twin boys (almost 3) and a newborn baby girl who all make every day an adventure. We are grateful to be part of an amazing church in Topeka who regularly challenges and encourages our whole family. I have been both a full-time working mom and a stay-at-home-mom and/or both at the same time at one point or another. I am constantly seeking God’s wisdom on “balancing it all” and following His plan for my life, not mine.
Elizabeth P

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Faithfulness.

It’s one of those things we cherish in others, perhaps even require in our most meaningful earthly relationships.  The definitions of “faithful” according to Dictionary.com are as follows:

1. strict or thorough in the performance of duty:

a faithful worker.

2.true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.

3.steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant:

faithful friends.

4.reliable, trusted, or believed.

5.adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate:

a faithful account; a faithful copy.

6. full of faith; believing.

Faithfulness is a foundational component of love, commitment, and trust.  That is probably the reason we crave it from our friends, family, and loved ones. I believe we also need it because faithfulness is a key attribute of God and how He relates to us. God is love. God is faithful, and he keeps His promises. He is constant, He is to be trusted, He is thorough, and His word is true.

New Perspective on God’s Faithfulness

As an adult, I have reread the Old Testament with new perspective about how it is really telling us the story of Jesus and God’s plan to save a troubled and corrupted world.  When I was young, I always got “trust and obey” out of Old Testament stories. But as I grew up, the Lord showed me that His perfect faithfulness was demonstrated time and again.  Layers and layers of faithfulness. (Thanks to the Jesus Storybook Bible, I find it much easier to communicate some of this to my kiddos.)

What is a greater story of faithfulness than God’s commitment to all his promises to the Israelites?  The first chapter of Joshua comes to mind. After God told them to finally enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, he tells them this:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:8-9 ESV)

Be Strong and Courageous

Not Always Obvious

I could go on and talk about all the proof in the New and Old Testaments of God’s unending faithfulness, including the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, but it is more difficult to understand faithfulness in your own day-to-day life. God’s faithfulness is sometimes easiest seen in hindsight. It’s not something that always seems obvious when we are in the midst of something hard or terrible, or even joyous. But I assure you, He is Faithful. All. The. Time.  If we know Him, and we know His Word, we know He is with us wherever we go.

Faithfulness in Big and Small Ways

In my own life, this is sometimes how the Lord urges me to trust and obey in the hard things. He reminds me how He has been faithful in so many “small” and “big” ways.  One “small” way in which God has been faithful in my life is that He consistently provides someone to meet my needs on days I just feel weary. Whether it be a friend in a lonely place, ladies from church to help bring meals or offer extra helping hands when you have a newborn (or two), or the person at the grocery store who lets you go ahead of them because your kids are losing their minds, and even a husband who brings dinner home after a long day.

These are “small” examples, but nonetheless, it is powerful to know that He cares about the small things in my life as much as the big things. It helps me change my perspective. When I look back on the Lord’s faithfulness in my life, especially in tragedy or heartache, it overwhelms me. But his faithfulness exists even in times of joy. I can do nothing else but know the same will be true in the future.

God is Faithful because He Loves You

Finding His faithfulness in the “small” things each day makes it so much easier to find comfort when everything, or even just one thing, seems to be falling apart.  God is Faithful, All the Time.  He is faithful because He loves us; He loves us more than anyone in this world is capable of loving us. Meditate on that for a while. God loves you. He has a plan for our lives and He is faithful through it all. It may not always look the way we expect. It may take time and reflection, perhaps even years down the road, or perhaps we will never know the full extent of His faithfulness in our lives.

Regardless, know this truth: God is faithful.

My favorite verse is Romans 8:28  (NIV):

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his Note that it says-purpose.”

Please note that this verse doesn’t say all things are good in this life, but says that HE works things together for THE good OF those called according to HIS purpose.

He is sovereign; He is great. But He is love, and He is faithful to those who serve Him.  Do you know what is even better? He is faithful even when we fail. 

I implore you to seek God in all things, but especially during times of trial.  Trust in Him who is faithful. Even if we don’t understand His ways in the present, we can be assured that He loves us more than we can imagine.

John 16:33 (ESV) says:

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

How have you seen God’s faithfulness in your life?

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