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Not Quite An Ending

Maybe it is time to write again. Honestly, I was feeling as if it may be my time to sign off from the blogger’s world. I like things that have a beginning, middle and end. I always did well in class because I could construct a witty introduction, formulate a strong thesis, strictly support my argument without veering from the bounds I had created. Then it was all neatly wrapped in one single concluding paragraph. Printed off. Turned in. A+. So how do I conclude a blog that really has only had a sort of thesis, and only semi-consistent constructs? I want it to be neatly packaged with a bow on top. But maybe it all goes back to the title I chose to theme my writing: “Living Life As Is.”

Life isn’t packaged well. In fact, rarely are there consistencies. And that is (gulp) OK. In fact, if anyone were ever to have lived a perfectly consistent life we’d have books to model our life after this One. Maybe I desperately yearn to live such a life of perfection and consistency because that is what I was created for. But on my own, I can’t. In fact, on this side of heaven we never will be able to.

I find myself breathing prayers for wisdom. I need wisdom from, Jesus, the One who lived a perfect life, to even begin to deal with a world wrought by sweet joys and deep heartache. I strive and I can’t make sense of it. But maybe that is just the reality of this all. Living life as it really is doesn’t necessarily answer all the questions. Living in reality isn’t necessarily easier either. When we live life as it is, that’s when we see the frayed edges of life. That’s when we wake up and realize that today I’m lonely. But also when we choose to live life as it really is we find hope. Hope that the One who is constant and is eternal, is the Comforter, Counselor, Redeemer and Friend.  And its rather interesting that while He be perfect, His life was wrought with great suffering. Why do I expect to escape it?

With that I’ll end with some hope and wisdom that breathes in life. [Don’t expect this to the the end of my writings though, whether it be via blog or something with a cover].

“It has been well said that faith looks out instead of in, and the whole of life falls into line. The more you know Christ and focus on Him, the more the Spirit will make you like Him. But the more you focus on yourself, the more distracted you will be with the proper path.”

-John MacArthur

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil–this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him.”

-Ecclesiastes 3:12-15

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One Year, One Motivation

Its been a year.

One entire year exactly since I moved to Washington, DC. In some ways nothing has changed. I still don’t read as I would like to. Sadly my cooking skills have not improved. Instead my baking creations are usually coupled by some sort of spinach salad. And I still have not been to every Smithsonian museum. But a few things have changed. I have a different job. I live in a different home (back to the original neighborhood though). I am no longer afraid of being out at dark (or dusk for that matter). I am surrounded by dear friends that I didn’t know 12 months ago. And today we had our first ever Big Mac (we live BIG here in the city!) I understand myself, my story, and the Lord in a greater depth. I am a bit more comfortable with not having all the answers. In fact, I, along with anyone else who is willing to reflect, find more and more questions with no answers with each passing day.

Yet there does seem to be one word that at least guides each unknown: love.

Overwhelmingly I find that as I seek to live life as it really is, it comes down to: loving God, loving my family, loving strangers, loving my enemies, doing that which I love, choosing paths that lead to love, choosing paths motivated by love, and cultivating a place for others to experience love.

It begs the same question that we find in works of art throughout the centuries, without love what is this life all about? And what is love anyway? I don’t have a complete answer to those questions, but I realize that I have been blessed to both give and receive love throughout my life. And I hope to always live for and be motivated by love.

My sophomore year of college I wrote a Bible Study for class titled: Simplicity. To love and be loved. It focused on Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

We are able to love because He first loved us; we are His beloved. Only when we experience love can we begin to love. I’ve said for awhile now that I do not naturally love people. Its sheer honesty. I know my heart and bitterness, skepticism and criticism are innate within me, not love. I am often surprised when I love those around me naturally–shy of any selfish motivations. Yet my heart burns with love merely because they too exist. They too are a creation with a story, with experienced wisdom, with unique creativity and a heart that too longs to love and be loved. In those moments–usually of seemingly little magnitude–these moments, I consider to be the gems throughout my day. I want to live a life full of and motivated by love.

I think I’ve had the opportunity to do that in my year here in DC. I have not mastered it. No, in fact, I’ve failed at it many a times. But I see it more clearly than ever before and hope to intentionally create a life full of and open to loving and being loved. Even in the face of stark reality–may my story be one of living a life as is motivated by love.

Pivot and Embrace

I’ve only journeyed 23 years, 4 months and 7 days of life. Yet in 20 months shy of a quarter century, I think I may have extracted some bits of wisdom along the way. Or at least I hope I’ve been paying enough attention to learn with every day, every hour, every moment I pass through. I think the bits I’ve gleaned are no different than something you would hear from those who lived centuries past. These words are really just an articulation of the common experiences of man. With that, we find–or we all will at some point–that life is rugged, unexpected, and sweet. In dealing with life as of late, a simple mantra of a sort to “pivot and embrace” has aided me along the way.

Bear with me as I provide two short, recent examples.

These may be a stretch, and neither reference the above photo of Smith Rock (a rugged trail…seriously, will you brave “Misery Ridge”?)–I did hike it recently with the lil bro and have many other times, but I will get to my point. Mostly I really just want to tell you two stories. :)

1. Friday Night Dinner:

I recently purchased a box of food from Arganica delivery. I decided that among the produce I needed some protein–so why not a trout? We used to fish all the time when I was younger. I love(d) fishing! Had the “I’d rather be fishin’ with Grandpa” T-Shirt and everything.

So! I get my fish and see that, oh, gross, there is still a head on and its huge. I’ll save it for dinner with a friend. Friday night rolls around I pull out my dear ole trout and, yep, there is is staring back at me. The entire, complete fish. It had not been gutted and cleaned. First thought: oh…gross! Second thought: I could just throw it away, I have chicken. Third thought: Dude! I totally gutted fish as a little girl. I’m calling Dad.

I did. I pivoted and embraced that challenged. Probably one of my greatest accomplishments yet: I cleaned that fish. (I know I’m making life analogies with gutting a fish. Please don’t judge me).

2. Capitol Hill Classic 10K:

This Sunday I ran my first ever race! I should probably pull some detailed metaphor about the unexpected obstacles that were thrown my way during the race. In the face of them I had to pivot, readjust my stance, my perspective and embrace the remaining portion of the race. But no, that didn’t really happen for me. Instead it was my anxiety. Here I am 23 years old, and I’ve run consistently for about 6 years now. Yep, that’s right, for fun.

Now 6 years have gone by and I’ve never entered a race; I rarely even time my runs or the distance out of fear of competing with myself and other people. Or maybe its an underlying fear of not measuring up and hey, if you don’t try to compete who knows if you ever will measure up? That said, I promised myself that I would run a race by this Spring…and as May is coming to a close so will spring as well. Amongst various other anxieties I decided to pivot, change my perspective, and just embrace the goal I had set before myself. So the race was on a Sunday and I registered that Thursday (procrastinate, much?). I did it! I didn’t let anxiety overwhelm me.

Monday. Results in. I ran my first 10K at 45:39, # 34 of 984 women. My goal was to do it at 45 minutes, so I’m glad I embraced my own challenge. And I’ve checked my heart on telling you this, and I’ll be upfront, I am proud of myself: I came in #5 for my age bracket and out first time racers, I was the #1 female.

One major, recent example: I’ve transition out of my non-profit job. Now I Bake. I will Barista. And continue to Blog.

I’m going to give the brief version: call me if you want the long one. Y’all know I can talk. See previous blog post for some context (or really…all of them…)

About a month ago the opportunity to intern with a local pastry chef fell into my lap. To be honest, I never knew such a thing could exist. But how could I pass this up? I’ve been writing, talking and dreaming of one day beginning my own bakery. But how will I ever know if I want that unless I just jump into this baking, small business owner sector? So I did! May 9th was my last day at Mobilize.org. I am filled with such gratitude for that opportunity–and the relationships that grew during that time.

Now I am spending two day a week at Buzz bakery in Alexandria, VA. I am learning how to measure 72 egg yolks, mix a batch of peanut butter rice krispies in a pot that I could curl up in, make gallons of granola (Rachel Brown, the amount of granola I used to make doesn’t even compare–imagine: 64 cups of oats alone…), and I’ve found the best hand moisturizer: buttercream. Yep, that’s right, in order to mix in all 12lbs of butter with the 18lbs of sugar you gotta get your hand in there. I’m loving it. But it has not been without anxiety. Goodness, I was ready to quit after my second day, but I had to pivot (again) and really embrace this opportunity before me. I’ve experienced some obstacles in life that bear a far greater weight: I kind of laugh at myself when the magnitude of interning at a bakery seems so overwhelming. Its a gift. One I’ve been given and embraced.

So, those practical people in life are wondering—ok, 2 days/week, what else are you doing? I am tempted not to answer that question at all. For the presupposition is often about doing, doing, doing. Who am I if I only do something 2 days/week? But since the other half is asking on the pure base of wisdom– that God has given us time and gifts to steward and the responsibility of being productive and caring for ourselves and others– for you, I will answer. I’m going to be working at a local coffee house: Peregrine. Another great opportunity that fell into my lap. I’m excited to be working with people and providing a place to for others to experience life over a cup of coffee and scone. I am very intrigued by the strategy of this coffee house and I see that there is much to glean from their business model in thinking about one day having my own. So! There’s a big ole life update. I really believe that it has been the work of Providence that has brought me to this point and given me the strength to embrace.

I know that these principles I’m speaking of is not some new, grave perspective on life. I’m not the first to recognize this great need to be flexible and recognize, pivot and embrace the opportunities in life. Although I am just 23 years young, I’ve had life twist and turn and even admist trial and heartache see circumstances work out for the good. No, I don’t believe in some uptopia on earth. I do believe that I am given the strength to pivot and embrace in circumstances because God has revealed Himself to be good, loving, and faithful. I told someone about 2 years ago that the theme of my life is: God takes care of me. I can look back and each step of the way I see my Abba Father leading me, carrying me, and gently correcting me to bring me into deeper relationship with Him and those around me. I type these words in partial to remind myself. For the same evening that I gutted a fish (oh, yes, I am reminding you of this triumph!) my dear friend and I spent 5 hours talking about the questions, no, better word, the anxieties we have about this life. At church Sunday evening we confessed these words: [seriously felt like someone was creeping on our conversation]

Father, we come to you in need of your mercy and compassion. Though you have given us every reason for confidence, security and faith, anxiety is constantly pushing us around. We confess that though you love us and promise to care for us, we are often anxious about our future, so we try to control our circumstances. We are anxious about change, so we cling to familiar things. We are anxious about how others view us, so we try to manipulate how others perceive us. We are anxious about decisions we must make and are often paralyzed. We are anxious about commitments, so we wander. We are anxious about resting, so we work ourselves into the ground. Lord, please forgive us for our pride and doubt. Help us to put off the old life and put on the new.

And in His great mercy the Lord calls us to a place of trust in His faithfulness and love for us:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? “ Matthew 6: 25-26

It’s simple. God takes care of us. I really do not mean to make light of the deep heartache and injustices of the world by that comment. For it is a faith He has grown in me. I still get anxious about even little things like how will I commute to work? Or a bit bigger, how will my life make a difference? Or why are innocent lives taken by violent crimes? The list of life’s unexpected hurdles and growing anxieties are endless…but they draw me to a resting place. And if I had no peace in Him, I do not know how I would journey this life. I find deep solace in this hymn, it helps me pivot, and embrace Him in the next stage of life.

It is Well

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well with my soul!”

It is well, it is well, With my soul, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blessed assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well, it is well, With my soul, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, it is well, With my soul, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul

It is well, it is well, With my soul, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well, With my soul, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Back to the Basics: PB+J Cupcakes


Life just isn’t simple. I’m a girl who thrives in structure, or better stated, someone who can meet and exceed clearly outlined expectations (really, that’s not impressive anymore…). This whole life bit completely lacks structure. Too many options, too many decisions, too many directions to go. I know, I know, what a hard life. Recently a friend was sharing with me how nice it would be to have someone else plan out your day…make your breakfast, pick out your clothes, make your lunch…. With a quizzical look, her friend bluntly stated, “that was childhood.”

And ouch.

Reality sinks in. Growing up, one must learn to be flexible and comfortable in the complexity of possibilities. But then a second realization sinks in deeper. I lack the ability to deal with any and all possibilities with grace when I lack a firm foundation. And here we are…day by day, moment by moment, going back to the basics.

Admittedly, I lack any answers here. I’m really just on this journey. But what better way to link childhood and basics with a little foodie creation…the PB+J Cupcake.

While my yearnings for simplicity did not lead to this creation–I’ll be clear: it was 80% competition that spirred these beauties. A few of my friends had a PB+J cupcake last weekend at DC restaurant,which they described as less than impressive. On Monday morning I received a forwarded e-mail with all their thoughts on what they did and did not like about their cupcakes. And, yes, I decided to do my own spin…

[note: the amazing photography by Caitlin Hodges]

Peanut Butter Cake:

  • 1 3/4 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. 1/2 and 1/2 (can use regular milk)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. peanut butter
  • 1/3 c. butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-3 c raspberries (fresh or thawed)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake tins with papers. Measure all the ingredients (except raspberries) into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat all ingredients together for about 2 to 3 minutes until well combined, then turn the mixer to high speed for 2 minutes. Fold in 2-3 cups fresh or thawed raspberries. Spoon into cupcake tins, about 3/4 of the way full. Bake 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before frosting.

Raspberry Jam (or thickened sauce):

  • 2 cups frozen raspberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 T cornstarch

Bring the raspberries and sugar to a boil on medium high heat. Slowly mix in the cornstarch until thicken. Allow to cool before applying to cupcakes. You want a thick consistency so they do not slide off the tops. It will become more thick after it has cooled.Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1/2-3/4 c creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1-2c powdered sugar


As it is…

This reflection on life presents only a sliver of where live is right now (I know, I know its been over 2 months since I wrote…) So I figure I should start on the sweeter note…

I’ve had a few baking creations:

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Tiramisu Cupcakes

Grateful for the place the Lord has me, and am definitely enjoying feeding any and all the amazing people He’s placed in my life!

—-

I told myself I would write this weekend. Period. Here I am two-thirds through the last weekend of February, and I’ve done anything and everything but write. In fact, today I’ve made a list of to do’s, talked to my mom, gotten ready for a run, didn’t run so I would write, I cleaned, then ignored the remainder of my to do list—telling myself I would write instead—then I curled my hair. And burned myself. I think I was 13 the last time I burned myself with a curling iron. How did such a thing happen? Oh…I was thinking of the many reasons why I haven’t and couldn’t and shouldn’t write. I’ve said it before, but writing is my most authentic form of communication and anyone who knows me knows that I am a horrible liar. Thus if I write, I am authentic to life as I’m living it. Therefore, when I am walking through life, trudging onward, I feel as if writing becomes an impossibility. (In fact, I think this blog might take me all day; already I’ve paused at least 10 times to reevaluate). For I don’t think there is any way to write without finding or revealing the depths of my soul.

In these times, all I want to do is write. While in the same moment, I cannot bear to write. The written word often, if not always, brings clarity: moving my thoughts and feelings to facts and actions (or a call to action). It is most liberating and terrifying; leading to a place of peace, but sometimes the possible conclusions seem far weightier than I’d like to endure.

With that lens, I will attempt to look at life as it is: nothing more, nothing less.

There are many times where we find ourselves on the fringe: waiting. Sometimes it is merely waiting to make a decision, but waiting for more information before the pieces come together. Other times its just sheer lack of clarity or an unsettledness with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Thus we wait for clarity, for wisdom to reckon with reality. I hate these moments, though I am coming to peace with the fact that life is made up of many said experiences. I am a doer by nature, and when I feel as if I’m on the fringe I just want to get there. Wherever there may be. I want the inevitable: whether good, bad, joyful or painful. I don’t like the fringe.

But in a commitment to integrity, a commitment to live in reality, I must live life even on the fringe. I guess there are two main things that strike me as I contemplate this place of unsettledness, this place of waiting.

1. The response to circumstances. My natural options seem to be: fight or flight. While I often choose the former, even to my detriment, I do not believe either to be a proper response to the fringe. Rather than fighting or fleeing—I believe the proper response is in being.

I’ve created more problems when I’ve become active with in a waiting period. Thus, I think the Lord continues to bring me to a point in which I am able to be. Resting in His sovereignty and faithfulness, in recognition that the Lord is in control (period.), whether I see it, feel it, or think it. Reality is that He is sovereign and as much as I do or don’t do, He is still sovereign. So in times of eh (yes, I’ve just added “eh” to my “feelings” vocabulary: aka times in which there are just no words to describe the fringe), I can trust that the Lord who is who is able, who is faithful, and so, so good will continue to be sovereign. Thus, in that assurance, I show up. I keep going. And I allow myself to be; to be where I am, who I am, and at peace within the fringe. I continue hoping and looking forward to points of clarity and action, but all the while trusting and living in the midst. With that, my heart is encouraged to stop fighting and fleeing, and start showing up and being.  Clarity comes; in time.

2. The bigger picture: life is the fringe. In these points of life where we are waiting, I believe that our character is being shaped (ok, kind of a duh comment).  But more specifically when we look at the larger picture, this whole life is a place of interim, as we wait and long for heaven. One day we will have a reconciled, face to face relationship with God. Thus, the interim (life now, before eternity in final peace with Christ) is full of unsettledness and waiting. I long for peace, for clarity—and recognize it will come. There will be stability, peace, and finality.  Such assurance restores hope, leading to overwhelming gratitude and praise.

All that to say, He gives us the grace to live life as it is—when you just don’t know, or you can’t know. When the pieces don’t fit together quite yet, the timing hasn’t quite come, and I’m left waiting–that is the point where I breathe. I recognize that this, this whole thing, its my story—the one He’s writing—and I just show up. I’ll let the pieces stay where they are and live life today as it is…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

O what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

This is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long;

this is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,

visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

angels descending bring from above

echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

This is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long;

this is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest;

I in my Savior am happy and blest,

watching and waiting, looking above,

filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

This is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long;

this is my story, this is my song,

praising my Savior all the day long.

Beginnings. {Weddings + Cupcakes}

I am one of those strange people that actually likes change. It may just boil down to loving beginnings. There is a unique optimism that accompanies beginnings. As you step into something new or return to something old at a new time, there is the point in which you take that first step, not knowing which of the vast possibilities will become the inevitable conclusion. Its a terrifying kind of beauty. I realize this may be a somewhat romanticized view of beginnings and change–there are beginnigs points full of despair, pain and anxiety.

I was a tad bit nervous, or maybe uncertain is the better word, as to what my return to Salem, and then later Redmond, would be like this season. Before boarding the plane, I instinctively scanned through the various possible conclusions to my trip with a realistic optimism (I hope). I knew that this trip would possibly be filled with great joy and/or toil. There is still the potential for both. Yet I’ve been graced with the opportunity to embrace a joyful beginning…

I began my Oregon trip with my wonderful friend, baking 200 cupcakes for a wedding! First off, I really could not have imagined a more perfect beginning to my vacation. There is a unique joy that I only have when baking for other people…I love the necessary precision in measuring the ingredients, the sweet smells that waft through the house, and even the dusting of the flour and cocoa across the kitchen counter. I don’t know what it is exactly–its a compilation of it all and I was just grateful. Grateful to begin this season catching up with a friend while we created treats for someone to celebrate their new beginning–their marriage, their new life together.

I’ve had the opportunity to join many people as they begin their new life together. With over fifty cousins, all older than myself, I spent the majority of my childhood being in and going to weddings. As I’ve grown older, a little wiser, and experienced more of life–there is a unique, hopeful and hesitant, beauty as I participate in this celebration. Weddings vows may encompass what I’d like to really express about the beginning of a season, of a journey–in joy/sorrow, sickness/health, richer/poorer–these note the realities of what life brings. And it is only God’s grace that allows us to not just walk through this life, but really embrace it amidst the various circumstances. I find rest in the truth of His grace and His strength as I look toward various new beginnings unfolding before me…and I pray for the Lord’s grace, strength and joy to encourage my newly wedded friends.

That said, what better way to celebrate the vast possibilities that lie beyond a new beginning than with a special homemade treat–these cupcakes ended up great: Chocolate Cupcakes (seriously, the best chocolate cake I’ve ever baked) and the new classic (ok, that’s sort of an oxymoron) Red Velvet!!

Enjoy!!!

Chocolate Cupcakes: adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup  non-fat sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Chocolate Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line regular sized cupcake pans.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Fill the cupcake tins about 2/3 full.

3. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Red Velvet Cupcakes: Adapted from Apple a Day

Red Velvet Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp (1 oz.) red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar

Red Velvet Directions:

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.

3. Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

4. Divide batter evenly between 3 greased and floured 8″ round cake pans. (I only made a two layer cake, so some of my batter went unused.)

5. Bake cakes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 25–30 minutes. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

8oz Cream Cheese

1/4 cup Salted Butter

3 cups Powdered Sugar {add as needed}

1/4-1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Intentional Grace

I’ve spent the majority of my almost 23 years of life being encouraged to un-busy my schedule. I am both a dreamer and a do-er at heart–I guess it is both my strength and weakness. Sometimes busy-ness can have its benefits. And my first day home in Redmond with my family, I reaped the benefits of the proceeding semi-hectic week. In the midst of my full schedule I didn’t really have a chance to form any expectations of what it would be like to come home after 6 months away. I think this was a blessings in disguise. When I arrived home Saturday evening I was met by my entire immediate family in our snow covered home. I kind of felt like I was living in a Christmas card. I went and saw my Grandparents who live next door. We made dinner together. Went to listen to my brother play guitar at Starbucks. Came home to decorate the Christmas tree (with Christmas music, of course).

I think if I had formed grandiose expectations for my first night home I may have missed the blessings of this evening. My family isn’t perfect. An outsider looking in may beg to differ, but trust me we’re not. We have our dysfunctions, our pain, and at times our passive aggressive behavior. And those are the details only worth noting in blog-world.

There are two things that I realized that do make our six-some unique: intentionality and grace. Saturday evening each one of us was intentional to be in the same place. Not just the same location, but the same moment. There was an intentionality in each of our hearts that evening to be together. We joined in decorating with ornaments created in our 1st grade classes (trust me, these are not as cute as they may sound), entertaining my dear mom’s 100+ picture-taking craze, and belting Amy Grant’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (oh, wait…that was just me).

Such intentionality has not always been a part of our gatherings. Well, I can speak for myself anyway–it has not regularly been a part of my time with family. Maybe it is what happens when a member of the family moves 3,000 miles away or maybe there is something more. While the distance surely has played its part, I think there is a greater factor involved. Grace. I know I talk about it a lot, but it is what truly defines my life. Like I said, my family is not perfect (far, far from it). But in the midst of our imperfections, our heartache, our pain we have experienced God’s grace and have chosen to give grace to one another. This culture of grace giving has blossomed–and I think it created the atmosphere this snowy December evening for us to grow deeper in relationship with one another.

I know this season has both inexplicable pain and joy for many. While this year may seems to be the latter for me, it hasn’t always been. But my hope and prayer for both my family and yours is that you would give each other the greatest gift I’ve ever received–grace. Be intentional to be present, to embrace the moment, and to be together.

Oh, and laugh.

I know, I know, I’m not a “cat-person,” but my parent’s cat Mogli is a different one. Isn’t he cute?

The first time in awhile my dad chose to forgo the Charlie Brown Christmas tree…I love it! (Oh, and him, too!)

Merry Christmas!