Exciting News Updates!

In the midst of my crazy summer, God has been building new plans that I’m excited to share with you!

First, I announced to my newsletter subscribers that I’m working on a brand new e-short just for them. If you read my story in Guideposts’ A Cup of Christmas Cheer last year, you’ll recognize the main character in my e-short. Yep, I decided that Taryn deserved her own happily-ever-after!

If you’re not already subscribed to the newsletter, there’s a handy form in my sidebar. Just fill it out, and you’ll get the new e-short when it’s released in mid-November (plus you’ll get to read my Valentine-themed e-short, “Running to You,” in the meantime — two for the price of one…er, free). :)

Here’s the cover for the Christmas e-short…

In other news, I’m working on a big (HUGE!) exciting new health and fitness resource! If you noticed my health posts have been few and far between lately, it’s because they’re on their way to a happy and healthy NEW home! I’m still working out the infrastructure pieces, so I can’t share anything more yet. But stay tuned! :)

Considering the fact that my e-short isn’t written and I have a ton to do on my other news, things will be quiet here for a while. But don’t worry…I’m busy cooking up good stuff for you. I’ll be back, I promise!


Any exciting news on your front? Let’s celebrate together!

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To the Doctor Who Knelt In Front of My Son’s Wheelchair… {A Reminder to SEE}

The clock read 1:40 in the morning, and sand scraped my eyelids every time I blinked. My body buzzed with the need for sleep…but also with fear.

My son sat in a wheelchair in the eerily quiet hospital, waiting to go into emergency surgery. I kept my voice calm as I tried to comfort him about what was to come.

But deep inside, I felt horribly inadequate.

I’d already watched as he struggled through painful dentist appointments. Comforted him through the trip to the ER. Had to step out of the room when the nurses started his IV because his fearful screams were too much to handle. I’d walked him through the CT scan and distracted him through worry-filled hours of waiting for results and conclusions.

And we were finally here.

There were four of us standing outside the operating room — my husband, myself, the doctor in charge of the surgery, and you. I can’t remember if another person joined us, but I remember we all stood while my son sat, his mind likely racing with questions and fears.

I can imagine because my mind raced with its own questions. {Nothing is guaranteed in life. What if…?}

And then you stepped in front of his wheelchair and got down on your knee. You touched his arm, looked him in the eye, and said, “We’ll take good care of you, buddy. We’ll get you better soon, I promise.”

I watched as he nodded and closed his eyes, those simple words seeming to ease his worries for the time being. And in the simplest of ways, they eased my worries too. Carried me through the minutes that followed as I sat in the half-dark waiting room, trying to stay calm until I heard his prognosis.

Now three weeks later, as I sit in my living room and listen to my son’s playful chatter in the backyard, I wish I could rewind time and say thank you. But “better late than never” is all I can do.

So to the doctor whose name I can’t remember and whom I’ll likely never see again, THANK YOU.

Thank you for saving my son’s life, yes. But even more, thank you for looking at him as more than a medical chart. For meeting him at eye-level. For giving much-needed assurance to a mind and heart parched with fear.

Thank you for reminding this weary mom that small gestures matter. That people all around us are waiting for someone to see them. To notice and make eye contact. To smile and care.

As I look back on those nerve-wracking days in the hospital, the kindness and knowledge of countless doctors stand out in my memory.

But your simple gesture stands largest.

A reminder to go beyond job or duty.

A reminder to see.


 

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Five Easy Ways to Stay Focused While You Pray

If you saw my post on Monday, hopefully you were inspired to either start a new devotions routine or add new elements to your current routine.

As I shared in my previous post, my Bible reading and reflection time takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on how much I have to process that day. After finishing, I spend 5-10 minutes in prayer. Sometimes more, if my kids cooperate. :)

If you’re anything like me, you’ve attempted to pray at times, but next thing you know, your mind is wandering to the grocery list, the kids’ schedule for the day, and what you’re going to make for breakfast.

I’m not saying I have this thing mastered by any means, but I recently realized my prayer life has been much more focused lately. When I looked closer, I discovered some patterns that have helped me stay connected during prayer. So I thought I’d share them today, along with a couple other suggestions that friends have found helpful.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Focused While You Pray:

1) Write down a brief agenda before you start. I know, I know. That sounds so boring and un-spiritual-like. But if you at least have a few things written on paper, you can check in if you find your mind wandering other places.

2) If you follow the journal ideas I shared on Monday, you can use it as your blueprint for prayer. This is something I love to do! I start out looking at my victories from the previous day and praise or thank God for His attributes that I saw at work or answers to prayer. I then move on to the Bible Takeaway section and ask for wisdom and guidance related to the challenge I’ve been given in God’s Word. Then I move on to my goals for the day and pray through them, getting specific wherever possible.

3) Pray for yourself and your family by walking through your days in prayer. I’ve started praying for my husband and kids this way and love it.

For example, I might pray specifically for my kids’ days at school, starting with their morning work and asking God to help them concentrate. Then I might move on to lunch and recess time, praying that they’ll find good friends to play with and set a good example for others in their classes. I do a similar prayer exercise for my husband and then myself.

One thing that’s fun about this is I like to share at breakfast how I prayed for each person specifically. I tell my kids, “This is what I prayed for you today. I want a report after school about how it went.” This gives them something to keep in mind throughout their day and is a sneaky way to give them goals to work towards.

4) Pray through the alphabet. I don’t do this in my morning devotions as much as at bedtime–especially if I’m having a hard time going to sleep–but it can be a great tool any time of the day! I’ve heard this idea from a couple different sources–one who recommended praising God for his attributes from A to Z. For example, “God, I praise you because you are awesome.” Then B might be His beautiful creation, and so on.

You can also pray through the alphabet by lifting up people’s names who start with each letter. Pray for whoever comes to mind first with an A name, then a B name, etc. It’s an easy, simple way to get your prayers going if you feel stuck or don’t know where to start.

5) Light a candle and place it on your table while you pray as a visual reminder of God’s presence. One of my friends said this is one of the key ways that helps her stay focused during her prayer time. It serves as a reminder that God is right there with her.

As you can see, this list offers something for everyone, from the free-thinking visual learner to the linear thinker. Hopefully you’ve picked up some ideas to take your prayer life to the next level and stay focused while doing it!


What are some of the ways you stay focused while praying? Any suggestions to add to my list?

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A Morning Devotion Routine That Works!

Now that both of my kids are in school, I’ve been getting back to a routine again. Ahhh, do you hear me breathing easier? :)

There’s just something comforting about a routine, isn’t there? We know where we need to be when, and it becomes automatic.

Last spring I developed a routine of getting up early to enjoy quiet time with God. It was soooo nice! Of course, getting up at 6:15 wasn’t always nice. But after I finished my time in the Bible, my head and heart were so much clearer.

Summer break sort of threw all my progress out the window. So last week I decided to revive my getting-up-early routine.

In the past, I’ve gone through all different phases of quiet time, from reading a devotional to journaling my prayers to working through a Bible study.

My current routine is my favorite, which is why I decided to share it with you. Maybe you’re stuck in a rut or don’t know where to start. Hopefully the ideas I share will awaken your creativity to make time with God a priority and actually enjoy it. :)

Here’s the breakdown of my routine:

– Preparing to meet with God actually starts the night before. I set out my clothes for the next day, get the coffeepot ready to brew, and set my Bible, notebooks, and a glass of water on the kitchen table right before I go to bed. Since I’m usually groggy in the morning, it helps to take away as much extra thinking and work as possible. I can wake up and go on auto-pilot with everything waiting for me.

 

– When I wake up, I get dressed, go to the bathroom, and then go straight downstairs to the table. (Sometimes I start the coffeepot first but not always.) No breakfast, no email, no little housework tasks. This is the true form of fasting for me. I’ve found that if I do my quiet time during breakfast, I get distracted taking bites, cleaning up spills, etc. I want to maximize every minute of quiet in my house and feed on God’s Word before anything else.

– Now that I’m sitting at the table, I start my time with Bible reading. I use the Life Application Bible and have been reading through the Bible for about 5 years now. In the past, I’ve done plans where you read through the Bible in a year, but never felt like I absorbed anything. So I decided to start in Genesis and read one small section at a time, reading all the footnotes. When something strikes me as a message I need to hear, I jot it down in a notebook and stop my reading for the day.

After 5 years, I’m in the book of Matthew and feel like I’ve absorbed more of the Bible than ever before. Stopping at a point of conviction helps me retain the message so much better.

– After my Bible reading, I pull out my journal and write down three things. I used to write out my prayers word for word, which was a big help to me at the time, but it was also time-consuming. My new method keeps things more time-friendly and gives me both gratitude and vision for the day.

Here are the three components I record:

1) Victories Yesterday – I write down specific things that happened the day before. These might include highlights (“Napped in the afternoon!”) or things I’m grateful for (“Date night with my hubby”) or victories over a challenge. Here’s one from my journal: “Got caught up in busyness yesterday, but after my son communicated clearly that he wanted me to play with him, I set aside the to-do list for a while. Thankful for the reminder that he needs time with me.”

See how that works? Easy peasy. It can be as brief or detailed as I want, and it helps me focus on the good things in my life and realize I have much to be grateful for. It also helps me celebrate my progress toward things I’m working on.

2) Bible Takeaway – After celebrating my victories, I write down the Bible takeaway I jotted down during my Bible study portion. If God has brought to mind a specific application for my life, I write about that as well. Some days, it’s a brief sentence or two. Other days, it becomes a written prayer. It just depends on how God speaks and what particular circumstances I’m facing.

Here’s an example: My Bible takeaway — “When we stay closely connected to God, His Spirit will enable us to do His will, despite the obstacles.” That day I wrote this: “A good reminder for my writing life. If I stay in step with God’s Spirit, He’ll guide me through the setbacks. Also applies to my marriage and family. I’ve been less patient with my husband and kids lately. Missed a couple morning devotion times this week, so I know these two go hand in hand. Time to get back in step with God.”

3) Goals for Today – After writing my victories and processing my Bible takeaway, I write down a few specific goals for the day. Sometimes these are tied in with my victories and Bible takeaways. Sometimes I take out my to-do list and listen for what God might ask me to do that day.

Here are some examples ranging from areas like motherhood to health to my spiritual walk: “Accomplish things around the house but also spend individual time with each member of my family.” “Drink 8 glasses of water.” “Listen to God’s leading at church today. What’s one thing He’s asking me to do this week?”

When I reopen my journal the next day, I look at yesterday’s goals to find victories. The two often go hand in hand. I love this process because it not only opens my heart to gratitude, it also incorporates listening to God’s leading and then setting specific goals to keep in mind throughout the day.

All of this might sound time-consuming, but I usually finish all these steps within 10-20 minutes, depending on how much I need to process for the day.

After journaling, I move into 5-10 minutes of prayer time (or however long my kids allow since they’re sometimes stirring at this point). :)

Obviously, you don’t have to do everything the same as I do. If you have a favorite chair you like to sit in or a different method of learning God’s Word or music you like to listen to while you read, by all means use it!

Just don’t neglect time with God. There’s no other way to refill your tank for all the tasks you face!

On Wednesday, I’ll be back here sharing specific things I do to keep my mind focused while I pray. See you then! :)


Have you developed a routine for your devotional time? What’s your biggest struggle in making time to meet with God?

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Experiencing God in Life’s Dark Valleys

If you’ve followed my trust journey lately, you know I’ve been asking some hard questions of God. I’ve also gone through life-altering trials that have shaken me.

It recently struck me that the past eight years have been a perpetual season of trial in my life, with brief reprieves in between.

Here’s a sampling…

My son’s delivery eight years ago resulted in major internal injuries for me, which resulted in a year-and-a-half of being on long-term disability, visiting doctor’s offices every week, and going through multiple surgeries until I was finally given a clean bill of health.

After my daughter was born a year later, my sister’s declining health hit the point of requiring hospital admission until she could receive a heart transplant. She camped out in a hospital near me for six weeks, and after her transplant, moved in with my family until she was well enough to return home.

After my sister’s health improved, I began having issues with my monthly cycle, which sent me to the hospital for a partial hysterectomy. I recovered from the procedure, but continued to have health issues, which sent me for another surgery earlier this year.

Then on the first day of school last month, my son developed a serious infection that threatened to block his air passage. I took him to the ER, and he went into emergency surgery and the ICU for two days afterward.

This rundown doesn’t include the ups and downs of my writing career, or the financial burden of medical bills and roofing problems, or the death of my grandfather, or the everyday sicknesses and challenges kids bring home, or the marital hurdles my husband and I have had to work through in the midst of all these things.

Anyone could look at this list and say, “Okay, I get it now. You have permission to not trust God anymore.”

And yet, I’m still clinging to Him with all my might.

Why?

Because I can’t deny the proof of His presence.

It has shown up as a whisper of hope in the dark months after my son’s birth, when I was tempted to take my own life.

It has shown up as a Scripture reference as I sat in the doctor’s waiting room for the hundredth time and questioned why God couldn’t just heal me. |You knit me together in my mother’s womb.|

It has shown up as a worship song repeated at my church every week during the wait for my sister’s new heart. |Our God is healer, awesome in power.| And then sung one year later, on the anniversary weekend of her transplant.

It has shown up in the form of friends helping my family after my recent surgeries.

It has shown up in the form of little details being covered before I even knew they would need to be. My son’s ER trip taking place during a time when my mother-in-law was in town and could take care of my daughter. Scheduling a follow-up appointment with my son’s pediatrician and discovering I had a prescheduled check-up for my daughter at the exact time needed. An easy, providential switch.

It has shown up in the wisdom of doctors, friends, and family members directing us to just the right place at the right time, so we were able to catch my son’s infection before it turned catastrophic.

It has shown up in prayers answered before I even knew they were prayed.

It has shown up in a devotional email forwarded from a friend who “couldn’t shake my name when she read it,” and its message lining up with a vision God had been planting on my heart.

I could go on and on and on with examples like this, but I think you get the point.

I’m not a Biblical scholar or an archaeologist who can point to physical proof of the Bible’s origin. And if put on the spot to provide written evidence of His existence, I would be in over my head.

But here’s what I know.

I know God is real because I have experienced the power of His presence at work in my life.

Even when I’ve doubted or questioned Him, He has proven faithful.

Giving me hope to cling to Him for one more day.


How have you seen God’s presence at work in your life? What keeps you clinging to Him, even when life takes a hard turn?


(If you’re wondering when I’ll share my health tips and takeaways I promised after the 24-day challenge, I haven’t forgotten them! I’ve been busy working on exciting new resources and can’t wait to share them soon.)

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A Time to Rest: Pausing in the Midst of Busy

If I had to define my summer in one word, I would not use the term “lazy.”

Between travels, family and volunteer commitments, getting back in shape after my surgery, and then my son’s recent health scare, life has felt like one of those clunky carnival rides that spins you around and around until you’re begging to get off.

And yet, even in the midst of “busy,” God has moved.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I started my summer reading the book Addicted to Busy by Brady Boyd.

Talk about convicting, motivating, and reassuring all in one!

I saw Biblical evidence that God not only gives me permission to rest; He WANTS me to rest.

As I’ve put the principles of Addicted to Busy into practice, here’s what I’ve discovered: God’s voice is best heard in times of quiet.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Elijah in the Bible (found in I Kings 19). If not, let me summarize.

Elijah was an Old Testament prophet who had received death threats and ran away to save his life. He was discouraged and could only see the immediate problems before him.

So what did God do? He instructed Elijah to go stand before Him on a mountain. So Elijah did. And he watched and waited.

A fierce windstorm came. Then an earthquake. Then a fire.

I can just picture Elijah ducking into the safety of his cave while the wind howled outside. Bracing his tired legs as the earthquake shook everything around him. Covering his face to protect from the heat of the fire. He might have even said, “Okay, Lord, I get it. You’re mighty and powerful. Show me something I don’t know.”

And yet, God didn’t reveal Himself in any of those forces of nature.

No, He revealed Himself through the sound of a gentle whisper.

When I look at my own life–my rushing around, taking my kids from one place to the next, working harder and faster, volunteering my time for good causes–I often feel caught up in a windstorm. My foundation feels shaky, and the fires of life burn hotter and hotter.

But when I slow down long enough to REST, God makes His whisper known.

This slowing down isn’t easy. I’ve had to step away from commitments I believe in–had to let work projects fall to the wayside–so I can spend one entire day a week with no agenda or commitments, other than rest.

But you know what? Those quiet whispers have been present. Even in the midst of my recent doubts and lack of trust, God has made His presence known.

A Voice of Peace in the midst of busy.


Where would you rate your life on the busyness scale? What are some intentional steps you can take this week to pause and rest?

*If you’re interested in getting a copy of Addicted to Busy, I can’t recommend it enough! It was truly life-changing for me. You can check it out at THIS LINK.

*Link disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase the product or book using the links provided, I will receive a small portion of the profits from Amazon. This in no way affects my decision to recommend the product or book. I would heartily share it on my site regardless of financial implications for me or my family.

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How to Stay Healthy While Caring for Someone Else

If you read Tuesday’s post about my son’s recent emergency hospitalization and surgery, you got a sense for the challenges involved with caring for someone else.

As a mom and caregiver, I found myself needing to be “on” at all times, with barely a minute to take care of my basic needs, much less process or work through the emotional implications of everything that had happened.

Especially considering my recent health journey toward better choices, I knew I didn’t want to let my old habits creep in–a very hard task when you’re under great stress and just want a chocolate chip cookie to make it all feel better. :)

Here are some intentional steps I took to stay healthy while at the hospital. These are things that can be done at home too, whether you’re caring for young kids, an elderly parent, or a special-needs child.

1) Snack smart.

As I scrambled to pack things for the emergency room, I made a large bag of trail mix with unsalted peanuts and raisins. I had a feeling I may not be able to sneak away for supper, and the trail mix was a handy substitute during those long, worry-filled hours of waiting.

When I was able to get away from my son’s hospital room, I looked for smart choices at the hospital’s cafe. (Most hospitals have a good variety of health-conscious options available.) This included items I could eat right away, like protein smoothies or scrambled eggs for breakfast, but also foods that I could keep in my purse for later. I kept at least one or two bananas in my purse at all times, as well as these simple baked apple chips.

How to Stay Healthy While Caring for Someone Else | www.sarahforgrave.com

Keeping healthy options handy helped me avoid extreme blood sugar crashes that carb-loaded foods would have caused. I was tired enough…I didn’t need more exhaustion caused by my food choices! :)

2) Sneak in exercise when you can.

Obviously I couldn’t do my usual exercise routine with all the demands for my time and attention. But whenever my husband or another family member could give me a break from the room, I used the time to take a walk around the hospital.

One morning that had been particularly hard, I found a flight of stairs and ran up and down until some of the tension had left my body. What a difference those five minutes made! Even if you can’t get a good long stretch of time for exercise, maximizing the time you have will make a big difference.

3) Engage in deep breathing exercises.

This was huge for me. With my son’s high anxiety in the hospital, I did this with him at different points–while going into his CT scan, getting his breathing tube out in ICU, etc.–and found that it helped me as well. We simply took a deep breath into our bellies, held it for one or two seconds, and slowly blew it out while counting to five. Not only did it focus our minds on something else, it gave us much-needed oxygen to cleanse our bodies of the built-up stress.

While my son was sleeping in ICU, I also went through a short series of yoga poses and breathing exercises on my own. Stretching the tension out of my muscles felt so good! I recognize that as a fitness instructor, it’s easier for me to do a yoga sequence without any guidance, but even just doing some basic stretches you’ve learned in fitness classes or exercise videos can make a big difference.

4) Sleep whenever possible.

With my son’s emergency surgery taking place at 1:45 in the middle of the night, sleep just didn’t happen. But when opportunities presented themselves, I took advantage and rested. Even if my mind was too charged to sleep, I relaxed in one of the hospital room’s chairs or couches and read a devotional or book.

After the surgery, I made sure to ask the night nurses what their schedule would be for the night–when they would need to come in and check on him, etc. That allowed me to determine what a realistic sleeping schedule would be. For instance, if they would be returning in a half-hour to start something in his IV, I would relax and read until they finished their job and then go to sleep for the night.

There is nothing easy about caring for someone else, whether in the hospital or at home. It demanded the best of myself when I was drained dry, and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t get through.

By refilling my physical, mental, and emotional tank whenever possible, I had just enough reserves to get my son well and back to his normal, goofy self. (And maybe someday I’ll catch up on all those missed hours of sleep.) :)


Have you ever filled the role of caregiver, either in the hospital or at home? What helped you get through? Any tips to add to my list?

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Is Pain Ever Productive? Finding Purpose in the Midst of Life’s Trials

Is pain ever productive? Finding Purpose in the Midst of Life's Trials | www.sarahforgrave.com

As a fitness instructor, I often use the term “productive pain” to describe what we feel the day after a hard workout.

One scientific theory for soreness says that small muscle tears are the reason for the pain. When we do strength training, the tiny fibers in our muscles tear and then rebuild stronger than before.

Productive pain.

This term has taken on a whole new meaning for me this week.

If you saw my post a couple weeks ago about struggling to trust God, you know some of the life challenges I’ve faced recently. The funny thing is, I had just started to find my footing and was prepared to blog about it…when another storm blew in last week.

Here’s what happened.

My family was preparing for summer break to end and school to start. Frankly I was looking forward to this transition because my writing career often takes a backseat with the kids home, and my to-do list was piling up.

Five days before the start of school, my son started waking up at night, whimpering and complaining that his jaw hurt. I did some research and learned that he was due to get new molars at this age, so I assumed that was the cause, gave him Ibuprofen, and sent him to bed.

The Ibuprofen seemed to manage his pain, so we continued with it, hoping the new teeth would come in soon and give him relief.

But things got worse in a hurry.

The day before school, I had planned to take him on a lunch date–our last opportunity to do something fun together. So I took my daughter to grandma’s house and let my son choose our lunch location.

He seemed a little more sluggish than usual, but I kept an eye on him and just kept praying the pain would go away soon. I scheduled an appointment with our dentist for that afternoon, just to have it looked at and verify that the molar was coming in like we suspected.

In the meantime, my son chose KFC for lunch, but I got a little worried when he didn’t eat anything, only drank his juice box.

We went to his dentist appointment, had him looked at (as much as he would allow the dentist to see), got an antibiotic prescription, and went home. He had a barely visible amount of swelling in his jaw at that point. Nothing to cause concern. I felt hopeful that the antibiotic would help.

Unfortunately it didn’t.

When he woke up the next morning, the swelling had gotten alarmingly worse. He was barely talking or eating, and I knew there was no way he would make it to his first day of school.

I called a pediatric dentist, who took X-rays and found that my son’s new molar was decayed and caused a breeding ground for infection to grow. (We’re still not sure how the new tooth had decayed, but that’s another topic for another day.)

The dentist upped our antibiotic dose and pulled me aside to explain the gravity of the situation. My son would need a root canal at best, but in the meantime, if his swelling worsened or especially spread to the neck, I needed to take him straight to the ER. Swelling in that region could block off his air passage, which could lead to the obvious frightening conclusion.

I swallowed my emotion and tried to keep track of all the instructions, then took my son home to hang out with grandma while I filled his prescription.

When I got back from the pharmacy one hour later, the swelling had grown even more. My son hadn’t eaten or talked all day, and he was starting to drool because it hurt too much to swallow.

I took a picture of him, sent it to my sister-in-law who used to work as a pediatric nurse, and she told me to take him straight to the children’s hospital 30 minutes away. She said not to bother taking him to a closer ER because they would transport him anyway.

With tears choking my throat, I scrambled to pull together what I could, trying to think of what I might need if this turned into an overnight stay or longer.

Grandma ensured my daughter would be well taken care of, so I turned my van in the direction of the hospital, praying the whole time and checking my son to make sure he was doing okay.

The ER at the children’s hospital didn’t mess around. As soon as I checked in and signed the form, a nurse took us back immediately. Within ten minutes, two doctors had come to our room. A CT scan was ordered along with IV antibiotics.

Hanging out in the ER. The iPad was a great distraction!

The CT scan showed what they suspected. An abscess–or pocket of infection–had developed from the tooth and had grown to an alarming size in his cheek and jaw. (Apparently it’s common for these infections to stay hidden for a long time and grow serious in a hurry.)

An oral surgeon was called in. She told us our son would go into surgery as soon as possible because of the danger of the infection spreading to his air passage.

All this time, I was in survival mode, trying to process how things could change so quickly and also trying to be there for my anxiety-prone son.

As we went through the surgery process in the middle of the night, then the recovery, and I saw my son struggle and cry and even admit he wished he weren’t alive, I couldn’t help but think about my own struggles and frustration with God. How pain clouded my vision and choked my trust.

And yet, as I filled the role of mother to my son, stroking his arms and forehead, crooning that he would be okay, I got a glimpse of my Heavenly Father doing those same things for me.

I couldn’t take the pain from my son–oh, how I wished I could!–but I could reassure him I was there. The phrases I used to encourage him were ironically the very things I needed to hear myself.

“Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.”

“In a month, you’ll be back to normal and all of this will be a memory.”

“Take a deep breath. You’ll be okay.”

“God’s watching over you. You can talk to Him anytime.”

Did I want to see my son go into emergency surgery? Did I want to see him in the ICU with a breathing tube and then struggle to cope with his new reality as he became aware of his surroundings?

No.

But it was the only way to save his life.

As I return home and face the other trials awaiting me, their power dims when I remember this truth…

I might struggle to see God’s vision, and life’s circumstances may seem downright cruel sometimes–but slowly, surely He will use these things for good. Maybe to grow something in me, maybe to protect me from something worse, or maybe to strengthen my spiritual muscles.

But always to give me life.

Productive pain in its truest form.


What forms of productive pain have you experienced lately? How have you found the “productive” in the “pain”?


 

God will use these things for good. | www.sarahforgrave.com

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Roasted Italian Zucchini and Squash Recipe

I’m so excited to share a healthy, delicious recipe with you today!

This is one of those recipes I sort of stumbled on by accident. I was making pasta for my husband and kids the other night, but since I’m eliminating refined sugars and flour from my diet (more on that in a future post), I wanted an alternative for me to eat.

I’d bought some fresh zucchini and squash at the store a few days ago, but didn’t have a plan for them. That’s when the light bulb went off. I found a recipe for roasted zucchini and squash, which I thought would make a good side dish for my husband and kids’ pasta. And it would also make a great “pasta” base for me to enjoy with marinara sauce.

All of this sounded good in my head, but holy moly, the final result was beyond good! As I was eating it, I couldn’t stop raving about the flavors. My husband and kids kept looking at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I was in a happy place with taste buds dancing. (By the way, the hubby and kids weren’t converted to liking zucchini or squash, but no sad faces here. It just means more leftovers for me to enjoy!) :)

At only 95 calories per serving—plus a hefty serving of vitamins and minerals—it’s hard to not like this recipe as a healthy side dish. (Try pairing it with a lean grilled protein, like fish or chicken). Or with doubled serving sizes, it would make a great vegetarian main dish. (Vegans or clean diet purists would want to eliminate the cheese.)

For another tasty, healthy side option with this, you could make “clean” bruschetta by taking whole-grain Wasa crisps, topping them with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil, and drizzling with olive oil. Yum!

All right, on to the recipe. Here it is…

Roasted Italian Zucchini and Squash

2 yellow squash, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 zucchini, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp ground black pepper (or more, to taste)
2 cups “clean” marinara sauce of your choosing (If you like an extra saucy dish, you can bump this up to 3 or 4 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare large roasting pan by layering with foil and greasing with olive oil. Combine squash, zucchini, and oil in large mixing bowl. Add garlic powder and pepper and mix until vegetables are evenly coated. Spread squash onto baking pan in an even layer. Bake 15-20 minutes, stirring once, until cooked through.

While squash is cooking, warm marinara sauce on the stovetop. Once vegetables and marinara are ready, layer on individual plates as follows: 1-1/2 cups squash, ¼ cup marinara, 1 Tbsp Parmesan.

Enjoy all the yummy, healthy goodness!

Nutrition Facts per serving (8 servings total): 95 calories; 5.5 grams fat; 7.5 mg cholesterol; 293.6 mg sodium; 120.1 mg potassium; 8.1 g carbs; 2.1 g fiber; 4.2 g sugar; 4.8 g protein; 17% Vit. A; 27.6% Vit. C; 6.8% Calcium; 5.2% Iron

A couple side notes:

– I use Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand of marinara sauce. It’s not extremely low-sodium, but the ingredients are delicious and straightforward, with no added preservatives.

– The original roasted squash recipe I used can be found HERE. I tweaked it slightly for my preferences and eliminated the salt to offset the sodium in the marinara.

Roasted Italian Zucchini and Squash Recipe

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The Energy Difference: How Cleaning Up Your Diet Changes More Than the Scale

The Energy Difference: How cleaning up your diet changes more than the scale | www.sarahforgrave.com

A week ago, I shared my official loss in weight and inches after finishing Advocare’s 24-day challenge.

What I didn’t share was the intangible before and afters — energy, motivation, and overall sense of well-being.

The day before I started the challenge, I had an overwhelming sense of feeling all-around yucky and decided to write down exactly what I felt. I had a hunch it would serve as inspiration when I faced those difficult days on the challenge.

Here’s how I described my state of body and mind:

“General sick feeling, constant headaches, gut discomfort, feel hungry but nothing sounds good. Extremely tired and lethargic – almost coma-like at times. Overall emotions and confidence: I don’t like myself very much. I know I’m not making good choices so I’ve been really hard on myself, which leads to a lot of negative self-talk.”

Looking back at my pre-challenge days, what’s interesting to note is how perpetual the cycle was. My food choices felt like a trap I couldn’t get out of, and the emotional consequences were a recurring trap of negative self-esteem.

To complete the picture, let me share something else I documented the day before I started the challenge — A food journal of what I ate.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese; 2 pieces of white toast topped with butter and cinnamon sugar; coffee; orange slices
Morning snack: Animal crackers
Lunch: BBQ ribs; canned green beans; 3 pieces of cornbread (I can’t deny I make a mean batch of cornbread. :)); a few grapes
Afternoon snack: Ice cream; cookies (I didn’t keep track of how much, but I’m pretty sure both were more than the suggested serving size)
Supper: 3 pieces of pizza
Evening snack: More animal crackers (It’s sad when Mommy eats more of these than the kids.) :)

It doesn’t take a scientist to see the correlation between what I ate and my overall energy/emotions.

As I faced temptation early on in the challenge, all these notes gave me the motivation I needed to stick with my new habits, because I did NOT want to go back to the person I was.

For anyone embarking on a major life change — especially a new diet or fitness regimen — I highly recommend writing down how you feel BEFORE you start. Be brutally honest with yourself.

Then as you hit those walls of frustration or are tempted to quit, revisit your notes to remember what motivated you to start in the first place. Tell yourself, “I refuse to go back to that person and that life.”

Maybe even write those words on your notes, and then frame that puppy and hang it in your kitchen. The more you repeat the mantra, the more your body and emotions will follow.


Have you ever kept a food journal or documented your overall state of body/mind? What patterns would you see if you did this?

I refuse to go back

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