Tag Archives: life

Brazil Missions Trip – August 2017

In August, God opened the doors for me to go on my fourth missions trip. It was a bit surreal as the details all came together. I was the little girl who dreamed of going on one missions trip and here I was, getting ready for my fourth trip. God is good! One of the highlights of this particular trip was having my dad and my cousin Elisabeth join me. This trip was Elisabeth’s first missions trip and I’ve asked her to share her thoughts today. -Abbie


What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do, that always seemed a little out of reach? Ever since I was young, like 4, I have wanted to go on a missions trip – to see the world from the vantage point of people like Hudson Taylor and Isobel Kuhn. Most of my earliest reading ventures centered on these people – fighting spiritual battles to give the gospel to regions beyond. My grandmother gave me the best birthday gift a nine-year-old could get – 30 books, almost all of them about missionaries, and I read them over and over again. As a teenager, I thrilled to hear about my cousins trekking to Honduras, Jordan, and Peru. Stories of mountain climbing, growing a beard to fit in, food poisoning, and orphanages brought me a smile. Would I ever do something like that? In a heartbeat. However, certain things seemed more pressing on my finances… violin lessons and COLLEGE. I shelved the idea of leaving the country, and focused on what I knew the Lord wanted me to do for that day – cook, practice music, give lessons, go soulwinning on Saturday, and go to church on Sundays. In fact, I became so busy that reading almost entirely left my world, except textbooks; and dreaming of actually going to give the gospel somewhere else was almost forgotten.

In February of 2017, I had a really good conversation with one of my favorite teachers, and at one point, he asked if there was anything pressing that I had really desired to, before – you know, marriage. 🙂 I couldn’t think of anything immediately. While cleaning lots of bathrooms that afternoon, I prayed and asked the Lord the same question – was there anything He wanted me to do? A missions trip! That was the thing – and the thought made me very excited. I knew that if the Lord wanted me to go, there were a lot of obstacles He would have to overcome. I talked to my parents that night, and they gave me permission to get a passport. I prayed about where I should go; and checked in with friends in Mexico. At first, they were very excited about it; but several details were not falling into place. It did not feel quite confirmed that I should go there. On top of that, my mom was not very excited about the idea that I go to Mexico – especially with no one but my very dear, and younger, friend. I continued praying about Mexico; and in April, Abbie visited our house. She had just been to Honduras, and was now planning on going to Brazil in August. As she rehearsed stories, and explained details, I saw my mom getting more and more excited. The Brazil trip was already organized by a team leader, in a much more populated area, and sounded less frightening. As I prayed about the options, Brazil was it. Everything that had been lacking in the Mexico trip, was taken care of by the Brazil trip, including a huge peace that this was from the Lord.

This past summer was a huge faith growing experience for me, and I really mean that. The amount of money I needed to bring in to go was easily brought in by piano students – until they started taking summer vacations and getting sick. I had already put in the first $1000, and the rest was not coming in. Many hours were spent in praying for the job opportunity and for awakening in Sao Paulo. However, little by little, gifts from the most surprising of people trickled in, to the very last week – things like a suitcase, a backpack, hiking sandals, and monetary gifts. The very last week, I had exactly everything I needed, plus $20. God answered very specifically, and at times I especially needed it. Our God is a perfect God, and His purpose is always His glory. On top of that, He delights in delighting us, but in a way that matures us, grows our faith, and gives Him glory. What a purpose to take part in!

People prayed and prayed and prayed, and of course I did, too. I was so excited about what God would do and I still am. Everybody said, “It’s gonna change your life.” And I would always think, “Sure, but how?’

The change started before I went to Brazil – although I have long loved giving out the Gospel, I became a great deal more soul-conscious, praying more for souls to be saved, and praying to see more the world the way Christ does. God broke my heart for an area that I now get to go soulwinning in almost every week. My faith grew a great deal this past summer, as I saw in a new and personal way, God answer prayer and do big things.

Now a few months later, I get it. It did change my life, my daily thought process – sometimes I’m pretty slow to get things. 🙂 I love those people in Brazil, and all people everywhere. I really truly want nothing more than I want God to be glorified and to see people saved – in places where the gospel has hardly been preached. Jesus really is The Answer – He isn’t an abstract idea that makes people feel good when times get rough. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There are many people who are searching for that Way, who need to know the Love of Christ.

When I got to Brazil, I saw people. To me, it was different, but more, it was the same. These people laughed and cried and married and had babies and shopped and ate and drove and carried on a human life. Their emotions were uniquely the same as every other human’s. One difference – these 150,000 people in 6 square miles had barely if any exposure to the name of Jesus Christ – let alone true Christianity. As people crowd you on every street corner, and sip their beers, or catch up on local gossip, they have no idea that a Saviour loves them, was crucified and rose again for their soul, and wants to save them from eternal destruction. That is horrific.

Brazil has a different government and a different education system. It is fascinating to me that Brazilian children are required to only learn Portuguese and mathematics, and these at a painstakingly slow rate. Can you imagine having no concept of a country outside Brazil and the United States? No concept of a round world or your nation’s history? No concept of Israel and 2000 years ago? Most of these children do not. Yet they are given hours of intensive gender-switching training daily. However, any organization can go and teach anything in any of their public schools for an hour. What an opportunity!

Music, in the classical sense, is almost nonexistent; and the children we were with in church had never seen a clarinet or a violin. They were thrilled to touch these things and make sounds.

All this, though we were in a comparatively rich area, complete with shopping malls, cars (everywhere, very close, haha!), phones, and American fashion.

We passed out some 25,000 Scriptures, and saw four people receive Christ as Saviour. Though immediate results have been bigger, this was very much a planting work in a rich city. The Word is even yet taking root in hearts; and for many, giving them a first exposure to the God of the Bible, and Christ, a personal Saviour. I am praying yet, and am confident, that God will do a great work in Sao Caetano de Sul, not because we are anything at all, but I know Who God is, and I know Him. What big things has He done in your life? 

Our last missions trip together was to Lima, Peru in 2013. It was fun traveling with him again.

First glimpse of São Paulo, early Tuesday.



Daily activities included canvassing markets and neighborhoods handing out Scriptures, witnessing, eating (Brazilian food is amazing!), and fellowshipping. 


The markets sell just about everything.

We enjoyed pastels and caldo de cana (fresh squeezed sugar cane juice) for lunch several days. Delicious!

Lee Johnson led this lady to the Lord.

The ladies of our team: Elisabeth, Abbie, Abbey, and Brittney.


I enjoy working with a local church on missions trips. The people of Igreja Batista Compaixão were so sweet!


Elisabeth and I obviously enjoying what we were talking about. 🙂

 

Sightseeing day

I tried fresh coconut water for the first time.

Our team with the missionaries. Left to right: Elisabeth Gordon, Phillip Allen, Alan Harris, Abbey Grimes, Brittney Johnson, David Meza, Allen Johnson, Abbie Sikma, Bryan and Rebekah Johnson, Jim Sikma, Elias Correa, Lee Johnson, David Johnson

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Giant Prints on a Budget


I love displaying family photos. It adds a personal touch to my home and reminds me of fun memories and the people I love most. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to purchase the printed canvasses or the frames and gigantic photos. Here’s a solution I’ve found that costs me less than $7.

Go to your favorite office supply store website and locate their blueprint printing services. Upload your photo and choose your preferred size. I like the 18″x24″ print that costs less than $2. Sometimes you’ll have to play around with the “Fit to Size” feature to get the right crop. Choose the color finish or the black and white finish. Add it to your cart and complete your order. My photos are always ready by the end of the day but are sometimes as fast as one hour.

Next, to stay within your budget, look for frames on clearance. I got this 16″x20″ frame for $4 at my local Hobby Lobby. Sometimes they’ll be banged up a bit but we used a bit of Old English to cover the scrapes on this one. You could also paint your frame with some leftover paint from the last project you did. 🙂

Because this frame was smaller than my print size (OfficeMax doesn’t offer 16″x20″ blueprints) I did have to trim it to fit the frame. It was super easy. Lay the glass (without the frame) over the area you want displayed. Lightly trace the perimeter, remove the glass, and cut out your print.

This project was about $6. The photo, shot by my brother at our Easter celebration this year, is of my three younger sisters and me and is displayed in my younger sisters’ room.

This is another frame I got on clearance. This 18″x24″ frame cost only $5 because the glass was cracked.  I didn’t bother to replace the glass and have had no issues with the print falling out of the frame. I actually like the look of it without the glass. It’s a lovely matte finish.

This project cost about $7. This photo is a selfie I snapped with my sister Anna. 

So there you have it, an inexpensive way to display your favorite photos. Find some deals and enjoy decorating!

Guatemala Missions Trip

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I recently had the privilege of going on my second missions trip. I love missions trips! They are a crazy mix of excitement, exhaustion, and encouragement. 🙂 I love seeing God take the impossible and miraculously work through human vessels to complete His plan. It’s thrilling!

During my trip to Guatemala, it was exciting to see God work in so many different ways. He enabled us to distribute over 48,000 copies of Romans to the people of Guatemala. As a result, 175 visitors attended the special services at Iglesia Bautista Fundamento Biblico. Throughout the three services, we saw 51 people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. Praise the Lord! We ministered in two different schools and reached hundreds of children, teenagers, and young adults with the Gospel. Over 25 people were saved in the schools. A young man from one of the schools came out to the services and accepted Christ.

We walked for miles every day. Sometimes up steep streets, sometimes through crowded marketplaces, and sometimes through bad neighborhoods. Our feet blistered, we got sunburned, and our shoulders ached with the weight of our backpacks. It was exhausting work. We had some early mornings and some late nights. But the discomfort and exhaustion was worth every minute as we saw 10 individuals accept Christ on the streets of Guatemala City.

I came home encouraged and humbled. I was encouraged to see the nationals passionate about sharing the Gospel with the lost. I loved watching the young people of Iglesia Bautisa Fundamento Biblico open a Bible and declare the Gospel during the invitations. It was a blessing to work with other Americans to spread the Good News. Souls were reached for eternity because 18 people chose to follow God out of their comfort zone. God delights in using His children to accomplish His plan. I am humbled to think that God wanted to use an English-speaking girl to spread His Word in a Spanish-speaking country. As I used my few phrases of Spanish to hand out the Gospel and invite lost souls to church, God used me. There is nothing special about me; it’s only Jesus.

If you ever get a chance to go on a missions trip, do it. It will be an experience you will never forget. After I got home I shared with my cousin in a text, “I came home with a renewed love for lost souls, a deeper hunger for God’s Word, and a desire to learn more Spanish so that I can communicate better.” Missions trips will change you. They will change your perspective on life and eternity. They will change the way you interact with people on the street. They will change your walk with God.

“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8

School Outreaches

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So many of the kids wanted selfies.

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Street Outreach

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We walked through so many markets like this one. At the busier ones, you could easily hand out several hundred Scriptures.

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Church Services

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Fellowshipping in the courtyard after church.

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First-time visitors received a free Bible.

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Sightseeing in Antigua

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Yes, that is an active volcano.

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The streets are all cobblestone.

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Fellowship and New Friends (Most of these pictures are from other team members.)
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Frisbee in the church courtyard.

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Pastor Garcia and his wife, Stephanie

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Mrs. Philbrick and I were partners for the week. We had a great time together. 🙂

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Brittney and Abbey

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This picture of our entire team was taken at 4 a.m. on the morning we came home. Left to right: Mark and Tammy Philbrick, Jon and Kristi Nothstein, David Lord, Nathaniel Johnson, Chris King, Brittney Johnson, Hunter Philbrick, Luke Philbrick, Dema Johnson, Silas Philbrick, Allen Johnson, Abbie Sikma, Abbey Grimes, and Alan Harris.

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Saying “goodbye” at the airport.

Because He Lives

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“He is not here, but is risen.” Luke 24:6a

This week as I have spent some time meditating on the glorious truth of Jesus’ resurrection, I’ve been reminded of the beautiful lyrics to the song, “Because He Lives”. It’s because of Jesus that I have forgiven sins. It’s because of Jesus that I can face an unknown future. It’s because of Jesus that I will spend eternity with Him. And it’s because of Jesus that I can live each day knowing that He has made life worth living.

This weekend, I encourage you to take some extra time and ponder the victorious truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Because He Lives

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

January Update | Personal

You may have wondered where I’ve been for the past month and a half. I took an unexpected but completely necessary sabbatical from blogging. It has been an exciting, sweet, busy, sad, and special time for me. I am definitely looking forward to posting more often now and have several ideas simmering.

Here are a few photos from the last month or so.

I had a delightful Thanksgiving break and was able to spend it with one of my best friends. Hannah and I talked for hours and hours and hours. [grin]

December started off with a most exciting event. I had the privilege of attending my first birth as a doula. Little Rachel was born at 2:47 a.m. on December 1st. IMG_8895 For our family picture this year, we went with a jewel-tone theme. The younger kiddos really look tall in this picture!

My grandfather, Pop Criswell, went Home to be with the Lord after 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital. It was an incredibly sad but sweet time. Our Christmas Day was a special time as we stood around his bed and sang his favorite hymns and Christmas carols. God called him Home January 1, 2015.  His funeral was a beautiful, victorious, God-honoring service. Over 70 preachers and preacher boys sang “Faithful Men” for his funeral. Please pray for my grandmother as she adjusts to life without her husband of 62 years. She has been an incredible example through this entire time. She is a beautiful living illustration of the Proverbs 31 wife.

Acorns, Races, & Sin

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“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a

It was a beautiful fall afternoon and I was leading my siblings in our daily exercise time. The sun was shining, leaves needed to be raked, and everyone had lots of energy. It was a good combination. I decided to bring some fun into our afternoon activity. A few of us raked a complex path/racetrack through the leaves.

After some footraces in which various siblings competed, we positioned ourselves to begin a relay race. The three youngest siblings would begin by running half of the track and handing their baton to their assigned sibling, who would then finish the race. I was paired with my youngest (and smallest) brother so I shed my socks and shoes in favor of bare feet. I needed all the speed I could get. When the baton reached me, I took off running. Unfortunately, I failed to remember all the acorns that covered my path ahead. As I was running, I stepped on one of those tiny, sharp acorns. I felt the cut but continued running anyway.

When I reached the finish line (second place), I discovered that the acorn had caused a rather deep cut. I couldn’t clean it completely and had to wait until my EMT brother got home. He was able to fully clean and bandage the wound and it is now healing.

As I was thinking over this event, I was struck with a few truths.

#1: As Christians, our lives are like a race (Hebrews 12:1). We began the day we were saved and we are running toward to the Ultimate Goal–Jesus Christ. Each moment, each day is step closer to our Goal. Godly parents and mentors have passed the baton to us and we are to be running toward Jesus.

#2: Sin can be like acorns. Though I knew the oak tree stood there, I failed to adequately prepare myself to run. As fallen human beings, we sin every day. We see sin and its’ effects all around us but how often do we forget how powerful it is? We sin but fail to confess. We can continue limping on in our race but the power is gone.

#3: Confession of sin is like cleaning a wound. Getting my foot completely cleansed of all dirt was painful but necessary. Had I skipped cleaning the wound, it would eventually have become infected and caused much bigger problems. When we fail to confess our sin, it weighs on our hearts and minds. It festers and slows us down in our race. We can only obtain full cleansing and freedom when we confess our sin.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

If God is Good | Book Review

Thought-provoking and inspiring, Randy Alcorn’s book, If God is Good, addresses the problem of suffering and evil. Mr. Alcorn presents logical arguments for the coexistence of an omnipotent God and evil. He draws from numerous true life stories and Scripture quotations to show that the God of the universe has a perfect plan and that He can use suffering and evil for good. In the chapter, Why Doesn’t God Explain His Reasons?, Alcorn states,

The God of providence weaves millions of details into our lives and into all the lives around us. Maybe he doesn’t have one big reason for bringing a certain person or success or failure or disease or accident into our lives; in fact, he may have hundreds of little reasons. In order to understand God’s explanations, we would have to be God.

The 512-page book is divided into sections such as, Understanding the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Problems for Non-Theists, Divine Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice, Evil and Suffering Used for God’s Glory, and other topics. The book, though theological in nature, is written to be understood by the everyday Christian. I highly recommend that every Christian read this book. It’s not a quick read but it is an encouraging read. If God is Good will cause you to view suffering through new eyes.

Disclaimer: Blogging for Books sent this book to me in exchange for my honest and thoughtful review.

 

Northwoods Vacation | Personal

I got back from a delightful, restful, and fun family vacation last Wednesday. A sweet older lady at our church owns a cottage up in Conover, WI and has graciously allowed our family to vacation there for the past three years. It’s definitely been one of our top vacation spots. We had no internet and little cell service and I thoroughly enjoyed being disconnected for several days.

The cottage is on a lake and we took full advantage of a number of water sports. Tubing, skiing, kneeboarding, swimming, boating, etc. were all enjoyed by various members of our crew. [smile]  I got my WI boating license before we left and loved getting to drive the boat a few times. Hopefully, you won’t mind the picture overload!

IMG_0827 First campfire of the week! The evenings really cooled off and the fire felt great.

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Cuddling around the fire with Nathan.

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Joseph in a contemplative mood.

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Mom and Dad canoeing.

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Eagles were nesting near the cottage. We saw one catch a fish.

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Chloe and Andrew enjoying some time together.

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Fixing meals is fun in the cottage’s tiny kitchen. [grin] We could crowd quite a few people in there.

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Two of my pretty sisters–Anna and Chloe.

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The cottage is so pretty at night.

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Some of the guys enjoyed fishing. Left to right: Andrew, Jonathan, Zach (friend of our family), Benjamin

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One of my highlights from the trip was ministering through music at Twin Lakes Bible Church. Jonathan, Benjamin, and Zach sang a men’s trio while Andrew and I accompanied them on piano and violin. Video coming.

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Cooking breakfast over an open fire. It was the first time I had cooked a meal over the fire. I enjoyed doing but am certainly grateful for modern conveniences.

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 Chloe getting ready to go tubing!

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Tuesday found us visiting Bond Falls in the U.P. of Michigan.

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My sweet parents

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We saw a family of ducks.

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_MG_2818Zach snapped a picture of our family. Left to right: Andrew, Abbie, Jonathan, Benjamin, Anna, Bethany, Chloe, Joseph, Mom, Nathan, Dad
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Nathan at the falls.

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Our wonderful hostess, Mrs. Corbin, showed us some old slides of the cottage.

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Cooking supper over the fire. Hotdogs, baked beans, and….

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Fresh fish! Courtesy of the fellas.

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We ate outside for almost every meal. Don’t you love the random chairs?

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Joseph and Nathan

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Another of my highlights was boating up to Phelps. Here, Andrew, Anna, Bethany, and Chloe pose for a quick picture.

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We stopped in at Sweets, Treats & More for some delicious ice cream.

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All the girls enjoying their ice cream.

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We enjoyed some [ahem] singing on the way back. Daniel (Mrs. Corbin’s grandson and our faithful boater), Jonathan, Benjamin, Zach, and I sang various songs as we boated along. (Note: Benjamin’s face is not shown here but those two extra hands in the picture are his!) [smile]

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The final day, Mrs. Corbin generously treated the entire group to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Left to right: Mrs. Corbin, Dad, and Mom.

We really had a wonderful time enjoying each others’ company and soaking in the beauty of the Northwoods. Several times throughout the week, I was reminded of the awesome power of God. As you sit and ponder the creation around you, you can’t help but marvel at how mighty our God is!

Buckeye Cookies & Life | Personal

Life has been super busy for me. My mom has been sick for three weeks which left me in charge of keeping the house going. It’s provided plenty of practical homemaking experience. I enjoy doing housework but it can be a bit daunting at times. Laundry, grocery shopping, and meal preparation for 10 people is a lot to keep up with!

We are also busy preparing for Vacation Bible School. Each year, Mom is in charge of organizing the program for the grandmothers. With Mom being sick, however, yours truly has had to fill in. This week found me shopping for and preparing 21 gift baskets to use as door prizes each day. Again, a daunting but good experience.

Next week, my family is heading to Indiana for a family reunion. I am looking forward to talking, laughing, and relaxing for hours with some of my very closest friends. I had a three way video chat with a few cousins the other evening finalizing food details and we were giddy with excitement. [grin]

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One of food items we’re bring to our family reunion next week is these mouth-watering Buckeye Cookies. I am firmly convinced that chocolate and peanut butter is one of the best food combinations ever. I created these cookies after seeing a similar recipe on Pinterest. I did not have a brownie mix so made a chocolate cookie base instead. My siblings quickly devoured the test batch. Here’s the recipe.

Buckeye Cookies

Cookie Base:
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Peanut Butter Buckeyes:
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Chocolate Topping:
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. shortening

Beat butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until fluffy–about two minutes. Add baking soda, flour, cocoa, and salt and beat at low speed. Scrape the bowl and beaters and mix in the chocolate chips. Drop by generous tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheet, 12 to a sheet. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes.

While cookies are baking, blend peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Form into small balls. Press a ball into each cookie immediately after you take them out of the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack.

Melt chocolate chips and shortening. Top each cookie with about 1/2 tbsp. of chocolate, covering the peanut butter. Let cool completely and enjoy!

May Update

May is one of my busiest months each year. This year has been no exception. Here’s just a few things that have been occupying my time.

1. Taking my brother’s senior pictures
2. Preparing for said brother’s graduation
3. End-of-school-year teaching
4. Learning a new instrument
5. Helping with graduations at our church
6. Volunteering at our local food pantry
7. Enjoying weekend company
8. Preparing for a Memorial Day picnic with friends
9. Spending time with family
10. Working for my dad
11. Babysitting
12. Updating my blog look
13. Baking projects

I can’t wait to share a fun recipe and a couple new outfit posts with you. I have plenty of pictures but just haven’t found the time to sit down, prepare the pictures and write the posts.

Meanwhile, take a moment to check out my cousin’s new blog: laurencarns.com. Lauren shares “encouragement & joy for young ladies”.