Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

I love making cupcakes.

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Kelly’s Baby Shower

My seven-months-pregnant sister-in-law requested these triple chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting for her baby shower last Saturday. Considering she’s carrying my first-born niece, whom I’ve already bought too many clothes for, I agreed.

But first, I have to give credit where credit is due. I did not develop this recipe myself, and I want no claim to it! But because so many of my friends have text me to ask for the recipe, I wanted to share it on here. But, for the original post, head over to the I Heart Naptime blog written by Jamielyn. If I’ve made you one of these cupcakes, you have her to thank.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge chocolate cake fan. I typically prefer lighter flavors, like strawberry. But these don’t taste like your typical chocolate cupcakes. As my sister-in-law, Kelly, says, it’s like combining a cupcake, brownie and muffin together. The pudding mix and chocolate chips really add to the cupcake.

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Easter Cupcakes

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Wedding Shower Cupcakes for Stephen’s cousin, Amanda

Ingredients

  • 1 box (15 oz.) devil’s food cake mix (I use Betty Crocker)
  • 1 box (5.9 oz) dry chocolate pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chips (milk chocolate, I use Nestle Toll House)
  • 1 cup sour cream

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together your cake mix and chocolate pudding; stir until combined. Mix in eggs, canola oil and water; stir until combined.
  3. Stir in sour cream, then chocolate chips.
  4. Pour cake mix into the cupcake liners (about 1/2 the way full). Bake for 20-25 minutes—my oven takes right at 23 minutes. To test, lightly touch the top to see if it springs back when touched. You can also stick a toothpick in the center to see if the center is cooked all the way through. Don’t overcook!
  5. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack to cool.

Now, for the best part … frosting.

love buttercream frosting. Here’s my go-to recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks), softened
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar (I usually use right around 4.5 cups)
  • 1-2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine softened butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and heavy cream. Mix until fluffy.
  2. For thicker frosting, add more powdered sugar. If the frosting is too thick, add a smidgen more cream. I recommend taste-testing as you make it to ensure it’s the right consistency and taste!

And If Not, He Is Still Good

18922881_10208712360355609_6124737615411317520_oAdoption isn’t easy. It’s a roller coaster that is full of loops and sharp turns, and more often than not, you feel like you’re just hanging upside down.

About two weeks ago, Stephen and I were contacted by our agency about an expectant mother who wanted to meet us. We met with her the next morning and loved her, and by that afternoon we learned that she chose another family.

I won’t sugar coat it: That rejection stung. We were disappointed and hurt. And while this is the first rejection we publicly shared with people, it’s not the first “no” we’ve heard. In April, before our home study was ever approved, we were connected with a family for a baby girl who had been born a week earlier. For two weeks, we rode that roller coaster, scrambling to finish our home study, get paperwork in order, and hire an attorney. And, sadly, it didn’t work out. 

It would be easy to look at both of those scenarios and question whether God sees me and hears me. And I’ll admit, I’ve asked God whether He truly loves me and wants good for me, whether He hears or even cares when I cry every month, and I’ve asked why He’s given me a desire to be a mother and yet no children to mother.

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In April, after the first potential adoption fell through, I was reminded of a devotion from She Reads Truth. In 2013, during a study through the Book of Daniel, Hayley Morgan wrote, “And if not, He is still good.” That phrase became an anthem, or a rally cry, for women and readers of She Reads Truth, including me. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to worship false gods or be thrown into a fiery furnace. The trio refused to worship false gods, and they believed that God would show up and save them from the fiery furnace. And if not? They would still only worship God.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s faith wasn’t conditional on what God could do for them. So maybe I’m not facing death by fire—whew!—but I don’t want my faith to be conditional on what the Lord can do for me. I believe that the Lord hears my fervent prayers and will answer them in His timing.

And if not?
If I never experience pregnancy …
If an expectant mother chooses another family instead of us …
If this process takes longer than we anticipated …
If life stops going according to my plan …
If we face rejection time and time again …

I will believe He is a loving father.
I will remember that His plans are better than my own.
I will worship Him for His goodness, grace and mercy.
I will cling to the promise that He is better than any earthly treasure.
I will trust that He is good.

 


Necklace: Dear Mushka || Bracelet: Grace While We Wait

5 Years, 5 Reasons

Today is our fifth wedding anniversary. It seems like just yesterday we were standing at the altar and saying, “I do.” We’ve been together almost nine years which seems unbelievable—how did nine years fly by so fast? How did five years of marriage happen so quickly?

I thank God every day for the gift He gave me when He brought Stephen into my life. In honor of our fifth anniversary, I thought I would share five things I admire and love about my husband.

He loves the Lord. I so admire Stephen’s relationship with the Lord. It’s real, and he is so full of faith. When things go wrong or outside of my plans, I begin to question God. Stephen is the one to remind me of God’s faithfulness, love and sovereignty.

He leads and guides me. Stephen’s the spiritual leader in our home and takes that responsibility seriously. He prays over me every morning before I leave for work. He shares with me what he is listening to or studying. He prays with me and for me.

He serves me without complaint. He creates spreadsheets to monitor our budget, takes my car in the early morning hours to get gas, makes sure my car is taken care of and maintained, cleans up after Rosie, helps with grocery shopping and laundry, and does the dishes every single night. Plus, he does so much more. Stephen understands the small things matter just as much as the big stuff, and he’s always looking for ways to serve me and help me.

He pursues me. He calls during the day just to say, “I love you,” or sends texts as a reminder. In May, he had to go to Birmingham to work for a couple of days, and he left loves notes hidden throughout the house and my car. I’ve never, in all the years we’ve been together, questioned whether I’m loved by him.

He cheers me on in whatever I pursue. Stephen reads every article I write while it’s still in draft form—and sometimes that means he reads 13 versions of the same article.  He supported me when I wanted to apply for graduate school a few years ago, and he supported me when I decided not to go. He is my taste-tester when I’m baking something new. It doesn’t matter what interest I’m pursuing—he’s my biggest cheerleader.

Happy Anniversary, Hamby. I’m honored to be your wife, and I love you more today than I did five years ago.

5 Crazy Things We’ve Heard About Adoption

When we announced that we were starting the adoption process, I knew we would be asked many questions and that people would have opinions.  I understand, and I welcome comments and questions. Curiosity is a great thing, and I appreciate when people want to know more about the process. We are so appreciative of the support people have shown us, and we love that people want to understand adoption better. If I didn’t want to answer questions and talk about adoption, I wouldn’t broadcast our lives over my blog and social media.

I know that 99.9 percent of the questions and comments are not asked or said with malicious intent. I know that most people are simply curious and don’t know how to phrase their question. But sometimes these questions and comments are startling because of the way they are phrased, and I don’t know how to respond. Here are five of them.

1. Do you want children of your own?

I understand that most people are simply asking, “Do you plan to have biological children?” We would love to have biological children one day, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen and we’re OK with that. Right now, we feel that God has called us to adopt … kids of our own. We want a family and little feet running through our house. We want family vacations at the beach or Disney World, carseats in the back of the SUV, a high chair at the kitchen table. We love kids and we want kids. And it doesn’t matter to us how these kids enter our family—adoption, foster care, childbirth—they’ll be “our own.”

2. Don’t you know how to make a baby?

I’m so glad that my parents raised me with a sense of decorum, because if they had not, I would probably answer this by saying, “Yes, we practice often.” You may think your question is funny, but I guarantee the person you’re asking does not think it’s funny. I’ve actually been asked a version of this question twice—yes, twice!—and both times I’ve cried privately after the fact. It actually makes me feel like I’ve failed at something.

When you ask this question, you’re probably wondering if there is a medical condition (such as infertility) that led to a couple or individual choosing adoption, and you’re trying to think of a lighthearted way to ask. People decide to adopt for a myriad of reasons, so I would suggest you ask, “What led you to choose adoption?” The answer will be different for every person or couple, but if you asked me, I would share with you how we tried to get pregnant for two years, didn’t feel peace about going through treatments, prayed fervently and asked God to show us how to grow our family, and how God first opened Stephen’s heart and then mine to adoption.

3. You’ll get pregnant as soon as you adopt.

I hate to break the news to you, but that isn’t how pregnancy works. I know, your sister-in-law’s best friend’s sister adopted and then got pregnant with twins. TWINS, you say. That’s absolutely awesome and I’m totally happy for them, but adoption isn’t going to increase my likelihood of getting pregnant. While I still desire to be pregnant one day, I’ve also accepted that at this point in our lives, God has given us an even greater desire to grow our family by adoption.

4. I saw this movie on lifetime about a couple who adopted and then the birth mother took the baby back a few years later. Does that scare you?

No, it doesn’t scare me. Adoption is a legal process. In the state of Tennessee, there is a revocation period after the baby is born when the birth mother can change her mind, and rightfully so. She has every right to change her mind during that time period. While it would be painful for us, I accept and acknowledge the rights she has as the child’s mother. After that revocation period and once the adoption is finalized down the road, the child is legally ours.

Now, we do hope for an open adoption where we have some sort of a relationship with the birth mother and potentially the birth father.

Also, stop watching Lifetime movies.

5. I adopted this dog once …

Nope.

It’s important to note that we’ve never been angry with anyone who has said or asked any of these things. (OK, maybe we’ve been a little bit frustrated.) Like I said, I understand that most people are just very curious and want to understand more about this process, and we really do love to answer your questions. Sometimes they’re just a little weird and we need to figure out how to respond. 🙂

The Worst Day Became the Best Thing

Today marks three years since I lost my job.

I remember it like it was yesterday: I was sitting in my office with my earbuds in, listening to Ellie Holcomb’s album, As Sure as the Sun. I was doing my first reading of a manuscript for a Bible study that had just hit my desk the day before. IMG_6580Not editing yet, just reading. I always read through once before I start editing. Around 9 a.m., my two bosses knocked on my door, asked if they could come in, and then shut the door behind them.

I froze.

Closing the door couldn’t be a good sign, right? I immediately started going through the previous days, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Did I leave work too early one day? Did I make a major editing mistake that somehow got published? Did someone overhear my thoughts about just how much I, an introvert who gets anxiety about phone conversations with random people, disliked calling churches to talk about curriculum? I couldn’t think of anything horrible that I had done. I absolutely loved my job (despite those phone calls) and I enjoyed going to work. I was dedicated to my job; it was my “dream job” and one I had worked hard to get.

I don’t think I truly heard the words they said to me that morning. Something about budget cuts, lay-offs and “this isn’t personal and we’re thankful for the work you’ve done.” I was in a fog. This couldn’t actually be happening, I thought to myself. I just knew I wanted them to stop talking and get out of my office. I wanted to talk to my husband, call my mom and get the heck out of there. I felt like a failure—I had been hired and let go in a span of 15 months. I cried to Stephen and my mom, asking them what I did wrong.

I was in a daze the rest of the day, and even the weeks (and months) that followed as I adjusted to a new pattern. Instead of waking up at 4:45 to make the commute into Nashville, I was doing freelance work in my pajamas at 11:00 a.m. and going to the grocery store at 2 p.m. I baked, I baby-sat, I wrote, I edited and I searched for a new job.

It was a hard, difficult season, and I used to say it was one of the worst of my life.

But now, looking back, I can say it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Here’s why:

If I had not lost my job, I would not be working where I am today, gaining new, valuable skills.

If I had not lost my job, Stephen and I would not have learned how to scrimp and save on one paycheck and still make it work.

If I had not lost my job, I would not have had the extra time to spend with friends, babysit their kids, learn to bake or get to know our new church family on a deeper level.

If I had not lost my job, I would not have learned to fully rely on the Lord for His provision.

If I had not lost my job, I would not have learned the pain that comes when the Lord takes something away and the joy that comes when you can still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

He gives and takes away,
But my heart will choose to say,
Blessed be the name of the Lord

I’m so thankful I lost my “dream” job. It was a terrible season in my life, yes, but it led me to something beautiful. I love what I do today.

But that terrible season also taught me something else: We all go through difficult seasons. Walking through that awful time of unemployment prepared me for even more difficult seasons of life. As I wait (often impatiently) to be a mother, I’ve reminded myself how important it is to continue praising the Lord in the valley and on the mountain. This season I’m currently in—infertility, longing to be a mother, waiting to adopt—is hard and emotional and difficult. But I have confidence that one day I’ll be rocking a baby and look back on this season and say, “That was a difficult time in my life. But the Lord is good, and He drew me close to Him. This wasn’t my plan, but it was His, and it is beautiful.”

Go Gray in May

IMG_6755May is Brain Tumor Awareness month. I’ll admit, in the past, I never paid much attention to health observances or the ribbons people wear for every type of disease/diagnosis imaginable. It seemed silly. After all, what difference can colored ribbons make?

On December 26, 2015, my grandfather was rushed to the emergency room, where tests revealed a tumor that was causing swelling in his brain. The following morning, he had brain surgery, and we learned afterward that he had a glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive type of brain tumor. He was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer.

Cancer.

 Last year, nearly 1.7 million Americans learned they have cancer. It’s a life-altering diagnosis that interrupts your life and knocks you off balance.

“Living with cancer has been a profoundly frightening, instructive, exhilarating, and yes, even humorous experience. It is a rude introduction to a basic fact of life: your body, that mass of bone, blood, cells, nerves ad organs, is your friend. Until it isn’t,” wrote Tom Brokaw in his 2015 memoir, A Lucky Life Interrupted.

Papaw’s cancer diagnosis not only altered his life, but it changed our lives, too. Suddenly cancer wasn’t a subject that only affected “other” people, but it now affected us, too. We were shaken with the knowledge that Papaw was sick, and this wasn’t an illness that an antibiotic could fix in 14-21 days. Radiation and chemotherapy started a couple of months after his diagnosis, and we all watched as he endured that. We have witnessed a support system gather around him, felt the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ pleading with the Lord to heal his body, and watched Papaw fight his cancer battle with grace and strength.

And now it’s May 2017. It’s Brain Tumor Awareness month, and I see gray ribbons pinned to shirts, Facebook profile pictures with the “Go Gray in May” frame, and social media posts from people about how their lives have been changed by brain tumors or brain cancer. Those ribbons? They don’t seem so silly now. They represent a community of people who are standing together; a camaraderie of people who understand the viciousness of cancer. When you see a gray ribbon—whether it’s pinned to a shirt, tied to a purse or backpack, posted on Facebook, or shared on a blog—you know that person understands; he or she is standing with you.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview my papaw about his battle with brain cancer and share his story in the magazine I edit, Health to You. You can read the entire article here.

The Visits Are Over

15069030_10207195973766892_4018589824086735397_oWell, it’s a wrap! On Tuesday, March 28, Stephen and I had our fourth and final home study visit. We have a few more pieces of paperwork to complete (tax returns, medical forms) and 30 minutes to complete of our 10 required education hours, and then we are good to go. I don’t think Allison, our adoption counselor, expected us to go through this process so quickly! Our first visit was on March 3, and here we are, wrapping things up within a month. When Stephen and I set our minds to something, we’re kind of an unstoppable team. 🙂

Many people have been asking about these visits and what goes on during the meetings, so I thought I would give a short breakdown of each one. Some of the stuff we have covered is personal (challenges in our marriage, how we budget our finances, things we argue about, etc.), so I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details. But, if you’re thinking about adoption, this will give you a high-level overview of what the process looks like (for our agency at least).

The First Visit

The first visit took place on a Friday afternoon at our home. (Side note: Although this process is called the “home study,” only one visit was actually at our house.) Goodness, y’all. My house was sparkling clean. The Wednesday before the first visit, I sent Stephen off to church and Rosie to my in-laws so I could scrub the floors. Over the course of that week, I cleaned the baseboards, organized linen closets and scrubbed the windowsills. On that Friday, I left work early so that I could make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I complained to Stephen that I didn’t get the opportunity to mop the garage floor (don’t ask).

As it turns out, she didn’t look once at my linen closet, didn’t inspect my garage floor (and laughed when I told her I wished I had time to mop it), and didn’t eat the cookies. She simply went through a checklist to make sure our house was clean, safe and ready for a baby. I stressed out for nothing.

During that visit, we turned in the first (large) batch of our paperwork, answered questions about our relationship and marriage, and discussed how we share chores, argue, budget, etc. It lasted about 2.5 hours.

The Second Visit

For the second visit, on March 16, we went to our agency. Stephen and I were interviewed separately about our upbringing, childhood, and family. We were asked about our relationships with our parents and siblings, how our families disciplined us and how that will translate to our own parenting styles. After our separate interviews, we were brought back together to discuss the values and standards that we want to instill in our own children, fears we have about parenting, and ways we want to discipline and encourage our children.

The Third Visit

This visit was also at our agency, and we narrowed our focus on learning more about birth mothers. We discussed our feelings about open adoption and how we have a desire to have a relationship with our child’s birth family. We talked about how every woman’s situation is different, and their reasons for making an adoption plan are across the board. We also talked about how to answer questions people have now (be on the lookout for a future FAQ post!) and how to address potential questions in the future, particularly related to a transracial adoption. This was a fantastic informational meeting, and we learned a lot.

The Fourth Visit

Our final visit was short, sweet and to the point. Originally, we would have discussed transracial adoption and the potential challenges related to that. However, the night before our visit, we attended a panel discussion where two parents talked about their journey through a transracial adoption and covered several of the topics we had planned to discuss. So we were able to bypass that discussion. We filled out the last forms stating we wouldn’t abuse our child (isn’t it sad that they actually have to ask people to sign that?) and acknowledging appropriate forms of discipline. We turned in our profile books, and then headed out, celebrating with lunch at Puckett’s.

Now, we’re just finishing up our required education hours and then waiting for our adoption counselor to write the home study report. Once it’s finished, we’ll start playing the waiting game!