Sugar-free Jam?! What?!

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Before this summer making jam wasn’t on my repertoire of things to do.  It seemed like a daunting task.  A full day in a steamy kitchen, sweating and smelling of raspberries just didn’t seem like my idea of a good time.   I know, shocker.

I do love me some jam though and my eldest son consumes it in a similar fashion to the time we saw the lion feeding at the zoo.  His eyes get slightly glazed over and there may or may not be some grunting involved.

So when I learned that there was a way to make Jam that didn’t have to involve 17 hours of work, I was curious.

When I learned that there was a way to can jam without having all of the fancy pants pots, I leaned in a bit and started to eavesdrop.

But it wasn’t until I heard the words sugar-free combined with delicious that my jaw dropped and I raised my hand and jumped up and down repeating, “pick me!  pick me!”

It seemed too good to believe but I knew I had to try it.  I don’t know about you  but I’m a visual learner.  It’s why my favourite recipes are ones that have lots of pictures in the cook book!  The pages with no pictures?  Skip right by ‘em.

So when my friend offered to come over and make it with me I knew life couldn’t get much better than that.

Being taught in person by someone who knows well?  Amazing.

Being able to produce something awesome while chatting and stirring together in a kitchen?  Triple amaze.

I kid you not this is the most amazing jam I have ever tasted.  It also contains not one stitch of added sugar, though of course there are naturally occuring sugars.  And if I told you it only takes an hour would you believe me?  Because it does.  One. Hour.

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I arrived home from the berry farm at 8:30 am and spent the next 10 minutes washing the berries.  So far I’ve made strawberry, raspberry and blueberry. The strawberries are the only ones you have to slice up – so that might take an extra few minutes.  The raspberries and blueberries are fine to use whole.

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Measure out 12 cups of berries and dump them into a largish pot on the stove.

Grate up a green (granny smith!) apple, peel and all, and chuck it into the pot!

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Note: the apple must be green as they have the highest levels of naturally occuring pectin, especially near the center of the apple.  This is your natural Certo!  No more icky preservatives or chemicals under the guise of ‘natural flavours’ entering our jam, thank you very much!  If you like a thicker jam you can add 2 apples.  I did with my raspberries but not my blueberries so we can also use it more like a runnier syrup!

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Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add it to your berries.  I also like to grate the peel finely and add the zest in because in my opinion you can never get enough lemon zest!

Next, measure out one and a half cups of honey.  The local-er and more organic-er the better!  Put that into your berry pot and you are ready to cook!

I cooked mine over medium heat adjusting the temperature slightly along the way to avoid any unsightly boil-over.  As the berries heat up they’ll start to liquify and you want to get a good boil going.  Once that happens, turn the temperature down a bit but still having a rolling bubble.

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Set your timer for 45 minutes and stir at random.  If your berries aren’t breaking down as much as you’d like you can either use the potato masher to mush ‘em or a handheld blender does the trick too.  Depends if you like your jam on the smoother side or with some nice berry chunks in it.

Your jam will start to reduce and thicken and will literally taste like heaven.  After the 45 minutes it should be done!  The most amazing jam you will ever taste and it contains zero added sugar, is completely natural and as organic as the ingredients you choose to add are!

There you have it.  One hour, amazing result, and a great thing to keep your people happy throughout the year!

**I obviously haven’t included the ‘canning’ process here as there are a bazillion youtube videos about that.  however, if you’d like a rhonda tutorial on my simple ways without large pots or fancy racks, let me know!

Making jam is my new jam!  (ha ha too much?!)

The campfire and how it allows our teens to talk

I woke up this morning only to discover that my keys were locked in my vehicle.  The great thing about starting a day like that is that it can really only go up from there!

We’ve pretty much embraced all things summer around here.  Things like water on the trampoline, making jam and traipsing to every body of water within a forty minute radius.

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I’ve written before about how these are the days we live for, the days that get us through the rest of the year of homework and rain.

This year we’ve taken one of our favourite things to a whole new level.  The campfire.  It’s the best thing about camping.  I’ll even take the smoke saturated clothing and hair for days for what the campfire brings out in everybody.

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We read aloud, page after page of the best books.  We hold sticks in the flames, poking at the charred logs until the end glows and we can write our names in the air in smoke.  We lean into the warmth and stare at the dance that never stops before our eyes and the stories start to come out.  The stories start to flow when we don’t need to be looking eye to eye.  When noone is watching for reactions.  When the dark engulfs us and we are hypnotized by the light we aren’t hindered anymore.

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We have learned more about our children around a campfire than any other time.  We ask questions that are hard to answer and for some reason they talk.  It just comes out.  Stories we missed during the school year.  Things we didn’t have time to listen to between basketball practices and dinner prep.

There’s no way we wanted those experiences on only the few weekends a year we actually go camping so we got a small fire that we can sit around on our back porch.  Turns out it works in just the same way.

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We’ve heard tales of times they ate 7 pieces of pizza and wanted to throw up.  We’ve heard stories about school dances that they didn’t attend.  We’ve heard about about the time one of their classmates came to school high and the time they were offered drugs.  We’ve heard about the time that they were bullied at school and the time they got really scared.  It all just flows…

And they ask questions about hard things.  About death and what it feels like to be drunk.  They admit to fears that are deeper than spiders and snakes.  They look for us to tell them about the time God provided in ways that seemed so mysterious.  They ask again about the day they were born and how you know what sort of career to begin.

They start thinking about big things while the smoke wafts around them and the flames heat up their knees and so we’ve created them more often.  They’re part of our normal now and it doesn’t matter if we’re at home or in the woods the effect is the same!

When Being a Family Is Hard

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I once read this thing about how family’s are either sweet or spicy.  It made me breathe a sigh of relief because for some reason it felt like this was the first time I was given permission to not be precious.

Not that there’s anything wrong with precious!  There’s not.  It’s beautiful.  It’s just something I could never pull off and it made me feel somehow like a failure.

I felt like Those Moms somehow loved their kids more than I did because they wrote them notes in their lunch boxes and cut the crusts off their sandwiches.  I thought they must have more affection than I ever could and my children were somehow missing out because my heart didn’t ache for them when I wasn’t with them.  I wasn’t spending my time after school drop off pining for them.  I was sort of enjoying the time by myself.  I had moments of questioning myself because their room isn’t decorated with heart warming sentiments or even decorated at all.  At bedtime I would tell them that I’d peek in on them in 10 minutes and then I would forget.

All I could think was, what is wrong with me?!

Until I was given permission to be who we were made to be.  Not precious or sweet, but I’ve realized not really spicy either.  I’ve come to think of us as a more robust flavour.  We’re strong, the lot of us, and we’re sturdy, though a bit sinewy, I’ll give you that.  We’ve got a strong flavour that you can’t miss and we’re not afraid or ashamed of it.  But you sort of have to be ready for us or we may catch you off guard.

The past few weeks I’ve been wishing we were a bit more precious.  More lovey.  More dote on each othery.

Because sometimes being a family is just plain old hard and when it is I feel like the precious family is better at caring for each other through it.

I’d like to blame it on summertime and more time spent in close quarters.  I’d like to blame it on late nights and too much junk food.  I’d like to blame it on lack of structure and the sticky heat but I’ve been in enough counselling sessions to know that blame shifting gets you a total of nowhere.

It’s the little things really and nothing new.  It’s big brother being annoyed with middle’s taste in music and incessant tapping on things.  It’s middle brothers victim posture.  It’s everyone mad because the little always gets his own way.  It’s Dad working overtime.  It’s Mom tired of making dinner.  It’s the garage is always nearly impossible to walk through because of sporting equipment chaos and recycling that never gets taken in.  It’s why were you created that way and my way is clearly better.  It’s your opinion is less than mine and can’t you see that I’m right.  Always.  It’s I want to be in charge.  It’s your way is stupid.  It’s when the sound of someone’s breathing becomes a missile heading straight for your brain and it’s all you can focus on.

It’s 5 humans with sinful hearts living together and let’s not hide behind the beautiful mess gig, okay?  Sometimes it’s just a mess.  Plain and simple.

We’re there right now.  In this place of annoyance and selfish.  In the place of you’re chewing too loud and stop looking at me.  In the place of it’s not fairs and I don’t want to’s.

Matt Chandler, one of my favourite (alive) preachers has this phrase he uses constantly and I love it.  He says, “It’s okay to not be okay, it’s just not okay to stay there.”

So we recognize that our robustness has turned less into flavourful fun and more into mean.  And we acknowledge that our bold and vibrant nature can be all sorts of awesome when we use it to love big and loud and can also be all sorts of gross when we shoot glares and roll eyes.  Robust can be amazing and it can be hurtful.  Our hearts can be beacons of light and of brooding dark.

It’s okay that we’re not okay.  We’ve been a family long enough to know that these things come.  But it’s not okay for us to stay here.

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There’s only one way out of the not okay and it’s recognizing the intention of our hearts.  It’s admitting that we’re wrong.  It’s being able to look each other in the eye and say I’m sorry.  It’s knowing that light pushes out dark and so we reach and yearn and run towards the sun.  We bask in its glow and we let it penetrate deep and feel it warm on our skin and for a few moments we look around and know that even when we’re not okay, we really are okay.  We hit the reset button on our hearts and we remember that we are so loved and so we ought to love in return.

It won’t be perfect.  In a few moments we’ll forget.  In time we’ll be right back in this same place and that’s okay.  Because being a family is hard.  But it’s also amazing and so again and again we will arrive here and maybe the intervals of goods between the hards will get longer but maybe they won’t.  As long as we remember to keep coming back to the light.  Sometimes we may sprint there with all we’ve got and sometimes we may drag our heels and kick up some dust along the way.  Sometimes we might just stand looking and others be barely able to look up at it but be on our knees facing in its direction.

It’s all okay.  Sweet or spicy.  Robust or zesty.  Charred or braised or blackened.

Give yourself grace and know that when its hard, you’re normal and we’re right there with you.

Warnings that seatbelts may be required

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It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I’m typing to you with bare feet and hair still wet from the shower.  The sunshine on my face is glorious, as is the mess from last nights dinner with friends.  We went to bed late avoiding most of the mess and we slept in and traipsed straight outside to avoid it again.

Of course, I’m an adult and I’ve learned that avoiding the mess isn’t going to make it go away.  I can no longer sneakily brush the crumbs off the table onto the floor so that Mom will have to swoop in and clean them up.  Because I’m the Mom now and the sneaking is all aimed towards my having to do it.

I’ll be honest with you and say I have nothing much to say this morning and yet so many disconnected thoughts streaming through my brain.  I like to assume this is how you operate too.  So many things to say and not sure how to get them all out?

Truth is I haven’t been able to connect any points to get them down in type lately.  I’ve got roughly 87 blog posts started and none of them finished.  I have approximately 17 bajillion ideas in my head but exactly zero ways to wrap it all up in a pretty post and lay it out for you here.  I’m finding that the more people I know are reading this little place of mine the more I think I have to do it a certain way.   Like I owe you clearer ideas, better thought out ways, beginning  and endings to stories and not just jaggedy starts with ‘I’ll get back to you laters’ on how it ends up.  Maybe even a pretty bow tied on top.

But let’s be honest, my life is not really a picture of clear thoughts, destinations and pretty bows.  It’s not the gathering place for happily tied up stories and advice on how to do things well.  Instead I feel more like the grab bags that use to entice me at the candy store as a kid.  50 cents and you never know what you’re going to get.  The thrill of the surprise was what drew me in, the logic behind not being able to choose your own candy was what scared me away.  In typical Rhonda fashion I would get them about half the time.  Because sometimes you need the anticipation and sometimes you just really don’t want squishy strawberry marshmallows.

Here’s what I know about myself.  I change my mind.  I hold my own opinions loosely because God knows that just when I decided that I’ve placed a stake in the ground on not wearing coloured jeans, I’m won over and I have to admit I was wrong.

It’s just one of the ways God keeps me humble.  I think it’s his way of messing with me.  I’m pretty sure it’s hilarious to watch and even now I’m learning that it’s kind of hilarious from my vantage point.

I might as well just tell you right now that my so-close-to-being -a-teenager-he-can-taste-it, middle child just asked if he could have pizza and rootbeer for breakfast and I said yes.  I’m quite sure I would have judged parents of teens who didn’t make their child eat a balanced breakfast – UNTIL I HAD A TEENAGER!  Now pizza and root beer sounded about right for the morning because sometimes you just have to stop saying no to your teens and give them a yes that really doesn’t matter.

Moral of the story?  I don’t know.  Maybe that we can’t know until we’re in it.  Maybe that whole walking a mile in someones shoe thing.  Maybe just that I don’t have any answers and I need you to know that’s just the way it is.

I do know that I write best when I allow my heart and head to process what’s actually in there – pretty bow or hurricane.  It’s why I started this little spot on the internet to begin with and it’s where I need to get back to.  To process with pencil and paper or fingers and keyboard and to allow myself the freedom to not be right and not even know where it’s going but  to live the journey alongside you guys without worrying about having 3 perfect points, a good tie in story, humour in just the right spot and a conclusion that brings tears to your eyes and has you nodding along with me.

I’ve never loved just a pretty package.  In fact, more often than not it scares me because I have a hard time believing that the contents inside can match.  I’ve long been drawn to honest, to raw, to quirky.  I love a challenge and learning new ways and new things and not being afraid to say I have no idea.

I don’t know if you should consider yourself warned or just buckle up for the ride.  Either way, I really like you and I hope you want to come along!

Drying herbs.

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Our Mother’s Day tradition is to head to the garden shop and pick out our favourite flowers and herbs to plant outside.  We fill the pots on the deck with whites and purples and we  fill wooden cranberry crates with the herbs we use the most.

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Well, it turns out this year our herbs have decided to grow and grow and grow and we can’t keep up with the eating of them.  So, I decided to try drying them.  I figured it can’t be too hard.  Can it?

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I picked some stems, gave them a good shake to fling out any creepy crawlies, tied the ends up with twine and hung them upside down, as per internet instructions.

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And now I guess I wait!

Have any of you dried herbs before?  Any tips for a newbie?

With any luck we’ll be eating rosemary chicken all winter long!

Learning What I’ve Been Made To Do

Sometimes I just get caught up.  I mean, there are so many good things in life and I want to do all of them.

Things like bury my toes in the sand and fly kites on the beach.

Things like combining my love for photography and storytelling with the youth I meet at the clinic and working it all into a book.

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Things like adopting babies.

Things like hosting a lunch and sending out invitations.

Things like traveling across the ocean to lands only seen in the movies.

Things like actually cooking meals from recipes.

I’m telling you, so. many. things.

Things like getting back up to running 10 Km.

Things like learning to speak another language, or play the piano, or decorate without using jars.

Things like painting the canvases that have been in the back of the closet for over a year.

Things like using up all of the thank you cards in the drawer.  (So…I have a thing for thank you cards…what of it?)

Things like heading up a missions trip to Ireland.

Things like painting the wall I stopped halfway through almost a year ago.

The ideas that start swirling just snowball.  They grow and they combine and grow some more and I think and think and think on them.   I even start to dream.

I dream about joining teams that are heading to dangerous places to rescue women from slavery.

I dream about sitting on the porch with my husband 40 years from now.

I dream about having a real life garden.  And chickens.  And a goat.

I dream about living in the gritty epicenter of the city and baking treats to give to the women who make their living on the streets.

I dream about being surrounded by trees and tall grasses and beautiful flowers and rows of corn.

I dream of being surrounded by brightly coloured buildings and graffiti and the sound of shopping carts along sidewalks in the quiet of the night.

Of course,  I can’t do them all and I can’t be them all and I can’t live them all, simply because time won’t allow but also because not all our mine to do.

And so,

I encourage you to run your 10 K.

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And I marvel at the canvas you painted.

And I read your meal plans.

And I pray for the baby you’re adopting.

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cute baby warning! those with pangs – move along…

And I visit you and your chickens and am thankful for the eggs you send me home with.

And I love to hear what you’re doing at the overly cool coffee shop in the city.

And I listen to you play the piano and watch you make jar after jar of jam and I read all of the books you have written.

And it’s good.

Because we aren’t all made the same and we all can’t do it all and I’m slowly (oh so slowly) figuring out the things that are mine to do just now and the things that are yours.  And I’m learning that this is how it was made to be.  You doing the things you were made to and me doing the things I was and sometimes these may look similar but other times worlds apart.  But I was not made to do your things and you were not made for mine so when I feel like yours looks better I’m going to put all my energy into encouraging you in it.  And then I’m going to put all of my passion into my things.  And marvel at yours and thank God for you and that you’re doing it.

And sometimes I might follow along and give it a shot.  And sometimes I might not.

But know that I value what you’ve been made to do.

And I’m just now learning to value what I’ve been made to do.

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I’ve been made to love my husband, to respect him.   To live this precious life close by his side, sharing, learning, discovery, all of it together.   I’ve been made to mother my 3 messy boys and love them and nurture them and teach them and just breathe them in and breathe into them for the short time they’re within my grasp.  I’ve been made to love and cherish people from all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs and be a safe place for them to journey.  I’ve been made to be a listener to girls younger than I  who are working through places I’ve already been without having to tell them how to do it.  I’ve been made to feed hungry bellies and clothe the poor while listening to crazy stories and be hugged multiple times even when I don’t want to be.  I’ve been made to create a home that is a place for any and all to come, sit at the table, be heard and loved and fed.  I’ve been made to give of what I have.  I’ve been made to share stories of my life and of His work in me.  I’ve been made to love right where I am each day.  So I’m going to do just that.

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And I want you to do what you were made for, whether you know exactly or are just figuring it out.  And I want to cheer for you.  Encourage you.  Learn from you.

What were you made to do?

 

When you feel like you’re never enough.

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There’s a lot of chatter going on in my head.  I didn’t know it until recently.  It was just there.  Me being completely unaware.

The thing with chatter is that you can’t just decide to let it go.  It’s there exactly when you don’t want it to be.  In the quiet moments, the glorious time of day when your head is on the pillow but you’re not quite asleep, that moment when you’re running along the suburban sidewalks.  It comes in the moments of precious alone, while you’re unassumingly folding the laundry or giving the counters a final wipe after dinner.  Simon and Garfunkel knew it to be true when they wrote,

“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.”

The chatter is coming in sound bites in the silence.  Sort of like 140 character phrases.  It’s not even full sentences or completely thought out ideas.

The noise in my head might be all fine and good if it held any truth to it.  But it doesn’t.  It’s simply someone else’s idea, opinion, thought.  Someone I don’t even know.  The bottom line is that the chatter is hijacking my time to just be.  It’s taking over every life giving minute that my soul needs to fuel myself for the rest of the day.  And let’s be clear, it is painstakingly obvious when I’m running on fumes.  It’s not like I coast breezily through, hair blowing in the wind.  I get irritated and snappy.

Turns out the chatter is robbing me of peace.  Robbing me of time.  Stealing some of my very favourite times of the day.

I didn’t realize it until I woke up from a dream.  Literally.

I rarely dream but this night I did.  I woke up in the middle of the night  feeling horrible.  Feeling shame.  Feeling not good enough.  Feeling like I can never measure up or accomplish what’s expected. Why?  Because that’s exactly what I was told.  In my dream I was back in high school and my gym teacher (who wasn’t really my gym teacher but actually a woman in my life now whom I barely know at all!) yelled just those things at me.  She told me I was a failure.  She blew her whistle and screamed in my face that I couldn’t do it.  I’d never be able to do it.  She told me I was worthless.  She hissed at me, in her lululemon athletic wear, until I felt the burning sting of tears in my eyes.

And then I woke up.  Feeling all of that.

It turns out that what this woman yelled at me in my sleep is exactly what the chatter in my head was telling me. And as we know, when something is rolling over and over in your mind for long enough, well, you might just start to believe it.

The chatter I was hearing was coming from social media.  It was coming in snippets.  It was coming swiftly and harshly and I couldn’t turn it off.

All of those articles that people share and forward and comment on?  I don’t read them.  But the titles alone were what was incessantly nattering away in my head.  They were becoming the white noise in my mind.  The constant whir in my days.  The backdrop in my everyday moments.

They go something like this.

The Dangers of Helicopter Parenting.  This Baby Needs a Home.  Best Summer Crafts for your Kids.  Dangerous Foods to Avoid.  6 Lessons Travel Teaches You.  Why Your Child Should be Bored this Summer.  50 Things to add to your Kids Summer Bucket List.  Why I Let my Child Curse.  15 Reasons Couples Should go on Vacation.  Put on that Swimsuit, Moms.  Take Pictures with your Kids, Moms.  Cook all these Amazing Meals, Moms.  Make Delicious Popsicles with Vegetables, Moms.  Date your Husbands, Moms.  Date your Daughters, Dads.  Date your Sons, Moms.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  Go here but never, ever there.   Eat This.   Never eat that.  Parent like this.  Do Summer like this.  Have your marriage like this.  Live your life like this.

BE THIS!!!!!!

Friends, there is nothing wrong with any of these articles and I believe the mode of the writers is pure and good.  What isn’t good is what these titles (just the titles!!)    was doing to my head, to my heart and to my very life.

Because guilt sneaks its way in and says you’ve never done a craft with your kids in your life.  You eat all of those dirty dozen foods.  Your kids love jumbo Mr. Freeze not veggie popsicles.

And following behind guilt comes the shame.  Shame because I haven’t been on a vacation with my husband since the year we were married, what does that mean for us?  And shame because I haven’t owned a swim suit in at least 3 years because I hate water and swimming.  Shame because as a part time working mom our ‘dates’ are homework time around the kitchen table.

I’ll be completely honest and say I cringe when people use the word ‘blessed’ now to describe all of the good things we have in North America.  Because of the title of an article I once saw telling me this was poor use of the word.

That’s messed up.

These things are shaping the way I see the world.  They’re shaping how I think I ought to live.  They’re projecting on my very life that I’ll never be good enough because I can’t do all of these things all of the time.  They’re informing my subconcious to believe that my children may be having a terrible childhood based on the things I’m not doing.  They’re causing me to feel like I have to perform my way through this life being someone other than me.

This age of information is filling my mind with untruths more often than I like.  And let’s be honest, these are untruths.

Truth says that I love my children and bathing suit or not they will have great memories.

Truth says that we take care of our bodies and eating an apple that is not organic is not likely to be the thing that kills us.

Truth says God has a plan for us and it’s going to look different then everyone else.

Truth says we are to train up our children in the way that they should go and not worry so much about the crafts. (Proverbs 22:6)

Truth says that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:18)

Truth says that the will of God is our Sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

Truth says that God’s grace is sufficient for me, for my children, for my health, for my marriage, for every piece of my life.  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

How much time, friends, are we spending in untruths instead of truths?  How much of our energy are we giving to things that don’t matter instead of things that do?  What are we allowing to shape how we spend our time, our energy, our very life?

You ARE enough.  You ARE His.  You ARE beautifully made.  May that be enough today.

*I’m choosing to quiet the noise for awhile.  My weak and weary soul can’t handle it just now.  I simply need time to pursue truth.  If you need me or need me to know something, choose text or email or let’s have coffee, rather than facebook or twitter.  Thanks, friends.