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Ready for Fall: No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake

Because I was in Central America at this time last year, I have been super excited about the holidays this year.  Even though the cooler weather has just barely made an appearance, I have been in full-blown fall mode, pinning fall recipes and decorations, making chai, and breaking out the scarves and hoodies.

We were invited to a game night for church, and I decided to make my first pumpkin recipe of the season-No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Josh LOVES anything pumpkin, so I knew that this would be a hit, (even though he thinks that anything mixed with the pumpkin “taints” it, haha).

I found this recipe on Pinterest, but the original calls to make them in individual cups.  Because I didn’t know how many people would be at the party, I adapted it a bit from the original.  It was a huge hit, and I was sad when it was all gone.  🙂

 

No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 Sleeve Graham Crackers (I used cinnamon graham crackers)

1/2 Stick Butter (4 Tablespoons), melted

2 Tablespoons Sugar

2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

For the Filling:

1 8-ounce package Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature

1 15-ounce can Pumpkin Puree

3 Teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (I didn’t have pumpkin pie spice, so I used the spices individually to equal 3 tsp: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg)

1 1-ounce package Sugar Free Cheesecake flavored Instant Pudding Mix

1 14-ounce can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 16-ounce container Frozen Whipped Topping

2 or 3 Cinnamon Sticks (optional)

 

Instructions

1. Place the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse the crackers into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter, sugar and brown sugar and pulse until combined.
2. Press into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish, covering the bottom of the pan.  Place in refrigerator to set while you are preparing the filling.

Image3. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until creamy.

4. Add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and pudding mix, and beat until completely mixed, scraping down the sides and bottom to ensure that all ingredients are well combined.

Image5. Add the sweetened condensed milk, and mix until well combined.

6. Use a wire whisk to fold in 2/3 of the tub of whipped topping.

Image7. Allow the mixture to sit in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm.

8. Spread the filling over the graham cracker crust until it fills the pan.

Image9. Spread the remaining whipped topping over the pumpkin filling, sprinkle cinnamon over the top, and add the cinnamon sticks to the center as garnish.

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Success!

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Marriage Maintenance

The last few weeks have been…a little rough.  Basically, this season after the World Race was not shaping up in the way that I had thought it would, and I didn’t like that.  Pair that with unemployment after a year of constant going and doing, and I found myself facedown on the bed in tears, and often.  Unfortunately, this was taking a toll on Josh’s and my relationship.  I had been unfairly blaming him for decisions that had been made, and it was causing some tension.

So, a few days ago, we decided to get out for a date day.  I couldn’t take looking at the walls of our room for another second, so we got dressed, hopped in the car, and headed out.  We ate lunch at Which Wich, hung out at Sequiota and Jordan Valley Parks, grabbed some Pineapple Whip, and went to house church that night. 

It was sooooo good for us to hang out not at home, and for me to do the opposite of the usual get-your-mind-off-of-things.  I needed to get my mind on some things.  We also had some fun with the camera.  It was a wonderful day.

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I Almost Adopted a Four Year Old from Swaziland

When I heard there was a “baby house” at El Shaddai Ministries, which houses babies to four years, I knew that’s where I would be every day that month.  Having contracted baby fever long ago, it was the only ministry that I was interested in.

El Shaddai is a children’s home located in the Mnyokane/Ekufikeni valley in northwestern Swaziland.  Their mission is simple: to take in children from the area who have been orphaned, abused, or neglected, to love them, and to give them a wonderful home.

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The first day at the baby house, I was playing with several of the kids outside on the swing set.  Often, it ended up being one American trying to juggle pushing at least four different kids on the swings, including the one that was across the playground.  I can still hear the choruses of “Jen!  Push me!  Push me!”

As I was running back and forth, trying to keep up with pushing all of the kids on the swings, I looked over, and I saw him.

He was standing on the outskirts of the swing set, looking at the ground, then looking up at the kids playing on the swings, wishing he could join.  His dirty white t-shirt was a stark contrast to his dark skin, and his eyes were round and moist with tears.

My heart melted.

I walked over to him with an outstretched hand, intending to lead him over to a swing for a turn.  Instead, he reached both arms up towards me-the universal “pick me up”.  I picked him up, and he grasped on to me tightly.

“What’s your name?”  I asked him.

“Musa,” he quietly whispered.

“Musa, do you want to play on the swings?”  He nodded his head, and his eyes were wide.

I placed him on the swing, and pushed him for a full thirty minutes.  We only stopped because it was time to go inside for lunch.

The next day, I walked into the baby house, and I had barely taken off my shoes before Musa came running towards me, arms outstretched, and gave me a bear hug around my legs.

We were BFFs from then on.

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Every day was spent playing on the swings, singing endless rounds of If You’re Happy and You Know It and Jesus Loves Me, sliding down the slide, reading books, and rocking him to sleep when he got too tired to play.  I made sure to tell him often that Jesus loves him.

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I was falling in love with this little four year old Swazi boy.

One morning, I asked the director if any of the children at El Shaddai were adoptable.

“Not really,” she said.  “We used to do domestic adoptions, but it ended up being harder on the children.  They have already left one home and transitioned to the one here, and it is too much to ask them to transition to another.”

Of course, I was asking her with Musa in mind.  My heart was a little sad, but I knew that the logistics of adoption, especially during the World Race, were probably not going to work out anyway.

On our last day there, I went by the baby house to say bye to the kids, and I saved Musa for last.  We played on the slide one last time, and when it was time to go, I knelt down in front of him.

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“Musa, it’s time for me to go.  Always remember, I love you, and Jesus loves you.”

He looked back at me and said a quiet, but sure, “Yes.”

As our van drove away, past the baby house, most of the kids waved goodbye from their swings or their spot on the ground.  Musa ran along the fence, stopping only when he could go no further.

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Musa absolutely captured my heart, and I am so grateful for the short time that I was able to be in his life.

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Has there been someone in your life, even for a short period of time, who has made an impact on you?

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From the Kenya Archives: The Evil That is Not Talked About

Near the end of our time in Maasai Mara on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, our ministry contact requested that we host a Q&A with the youth of the church.

The Oloolaimutia church is a lively, growing body of believers, which is largely made up of many dedicated youth.  Pastor Samuel wanted us to connect with them, so they could ask questions about the Bible, education, and whatever else they wanted.

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We sat down in a circle of white plastic chairs, as the teenagers trickled in.  The breeze blew through the open windows and doors of the church, and the girls shyly adjusted their colorful lesos around their shoulders.

“Well, I guess we’ll get started,” I said. “Is there anyone that can translate for us?”

One of the boys volunteered, and we started by going around and saying our names.  After introductions, we quickly learned that the girls were too shy to come out and ask questions, so we passed around a few pieces of paper and pens.

Several good questions were asked, about how to keep your integrity as a Christian while playing competitive sports, how to study the Bible, and what to do if your boyfriend doesn’t go to church.  We were expecting questions about our favorite soccer teams or favorite foods, so we were surprised by the depth of the questions the youth were asking.

A paper was passed to my teammate next to me, she read the question, then leaned toward me.  She whispered, “I don’t know what this means…”  I took the paper from her, read it, and took a deep breath while I tried to gather my thoughts.

What should I do if my parents want me to do a traditional practice such as FGM, but I don’t want to do it?

Female Genital Mutilation.

Just two months before, I sat in a house of prayer in Penang, Malaysia, at a prayer station.  I was on my knees, crying out to God for the voiceless women all over the world who are subjected to this evil.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is defined as:

“…all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons…FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to and live with the effects of FGM, and most victims are found in African and Middle Eastern cultures.

The practice originates from centuries-old beliefs that FGM will preserve a female’s chastity, and it that will make her more marriageable.  In reality, it has no health benefits.  The risks include blood loss, infertility, increased chances of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, along with a host of others, including fatalities.

Aside from the medical complications, FGM is a complete violation of human rights.  Often, the ritual is performed on infants, and is also performed up to adolescence.  The girls usually do not have any say in the matter, but rather are forced to submit to the pressures of family members and communities.

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(Cheyanne with some of the girls.  Photo credit: Rachel Lamb)

As I sat with the piece of paper in my hand, I tried to figure out how to answer this question. 

“This is a really tough situation.  I know that it is hard when your family wants you to do something that you know is wrong.  Especially when it comes to traditions.  But your body is your body, and no one has the right to tell you what to do with it.  You should find someone you trust, like a friend or an aunt, and confide in them that you don’t want to do it.  They can help you to take a stand for what you believe is right.”

The Q&A session moved on, and the youth asked a few more questions.  As we packed up the plastic chairs, I thought more about the FGM question.  I knew that it happened in the world, but I never expected to come face to face with a potential victim of it.  Actually, I probably already had met victims, but I just didn’t know that I had.

There is so much darkness around the world, and it’s easy to see the evil and get lost in the frustration and helplessness of the situation.  As a high feeler, identifying with the victim is my natural setting, so I often get stuck there.  However, I am learning how to take the next step.

Although we get a lot of rap for many things, one thing that I think our generation does well is advocacy.  We love our causes, and we fight hard for them.  One of the easiest and most effective ways to advocate for a cause is by spreading the word.  Research it.  Write about it.  Talk to your friends or your Bible study group.

The more it is talked about, the more it is identified as a human rights violation that needs to be put to an end.  Knowledge is power, you know.

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For more information on Female Genital Mutilation, check out the reports at UNICEF and World Health Organization.

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(I wrote this blog a couple of months ago, but I’m just now getting around to posting it.  African internet is…difficult, lol).

 

Today I got to stand (actually kneel and stick my head out the rails) on a platform 145 feet above the Nile, and photograph my friends bungee jumping. It was so fun, especially since I love capturing the moment to remember forever.

Jen Bungee Photo 2 Jen Bungee Photo

Although it was so fun to see them freak out, and ultimately conquer their fears all in the name of adrenaline rush, it was also kind of hard. See, bungee jumping and rafting the Nile at Adrift in Uganda is kind of a World Race staple. Ever since Josh and I signed up for the Race over two years ago, I’ve been reading blogs about this very opportunity.

As much as Josh and I wanted to do it, we just can’t afford it. A jump and rafting cost $100 each, and multiply that by two for both of us. It just wasn’t going to happen. So, I settled with watching my friends jump, and being the photographer.

I’ve realized that I have the dreaded disease called FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. It can strike at any time, any day. It whispers in your ear that if you are not at the forefront of what is happening, if you don’t get to experience everything to the fullest, that you will miss out on the most important thing, interactions, and adventures that will ever happen. Or, that if you are somehow not able to do whatever or be wherever, that you are less than those who are.

I had a great time up on that platform. But, as soon as I came down, and saw the faces of my friends that did jump, I realized what I had missed. Then, I got depressed. I’ve been fighting it all afternoon. (It probably doesn’t help that I am also tired from a rough night of sleep last night. It’s crazy how much that makes a difference on your body).

But, the Lord reminded me of something that the dad of one of my squadmates said at the Parent Vision Trip in Kenya. At one of the worship sessions, two of the cooks sang some hymns. First, the woman singing the melody sang, then the other woman joined in with the harmony. Their voices harmonized beautifully.

Later, the dad said something that I thought was incredibly profound. He told the group that he had always felt that because he was more of a quiet, reserved person, that he was somehow less important to the big picture. He said that when he heard the first woman singing, it was definitely beautiful. But, when the second woman joined in with the harmony, it was even more beautiful; it was complete. He realized that the “background” people are just as important as the ones who are front and center in the action. They are the ones that enrich it.

This is such a beautiful concept to think about. God uses us in every role: the preacher, the hearer of the Word, the introvert, the extrovert, the writer, the talker, the missionary, the office worker, and on and on. Some may be more on the front lines and more visible than others, but every role is necessary and important.

So, I don’t have to worry about missing out, because even if I am not “in the action”, it is just as awesome. I got to experience this firsthand when most of the rest of my squad went white water rafting the Nile, and Josh and I, along with a few others, stayed behind. I ended up going kayaking with a few of the other girls at sunset, and it was absolutely perfect.  FOMO conquered. (For now).

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Here are a couple of my favorite shots from bungee jumping.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACheyanne Bungee

 

 

 

 

 

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Revelations of a Missionary Wife

I just finished reading a book called In the Presence of My Enemies, written by Gracia Burnham about she and her husband Martin’s year of captivity in 2001 in the jungles of the Philippines.  They had been missionaries there for fifteen years, and Martin was a pilot to several of the islands, flying goods and supplies out to missionaries working with tribes in remote areas.

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Martin and Gracia decided to celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary by staying at a resort for one night, but they ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That night, members of an extremist Muslim group called the Abu Sayyaf broke into the resort, and took several people hostage, including Martin and Gracia.

They spent the next year in the jungle, being forced to move from place to place as the Filipino army tried to attack the Abu Sayyaf and release the hostages.  They were exhausted, starving, and sometimes their faith faltered.

I picked up the book at my friend Edith’s house, here in Uganda.  We were over for lunch, and I was checking out her books.  After reading the back, I realized that I had briefly heard their story several years ago, and started reading the beginning of the book.  As I read about how they met in college in Kansas City, decided to pursue missions, and trained and moved to the Philippines, I was hooked.  I asked if I could borrow the book, and over the next week and a half, read the entire thing.

I got really excited when she wrote about how she and Martin, on their way down to Arkansas to see Gracia’s family, stopped in Springfield and ate at the Battlefield McDonalds.  Later in the book, she tells one of the other hostages about Silver Dollar City.  Whenever something about the Springfield area would come up, I would excitedly tell my teammates about it.  It was so cool to get a little taste of home, even all the way in Uganda.

I happened to read the end of the book when Angela, Rachel, Cheyanne and I had left the boys, including Josh, at home to join another team who is close by for a girls’ night.  We did the classic (but not too stereotypical) girls’ night activities-a delicious dinner, fresh baked cookies, played a game, and watched a movie.  I was getting tired, so I left the movie early to go to bed. 

As I laid on my sleeping pad, trying not to wake the other girls with the light of my headlamp, I read about (SPOILER ALERT) the Filipino army’s botched attempt at rescuing them, and Martin’s death.  Although I already knew the outcome, it was still hard to read, especially on a night that I was spending away from Josh.

I realize that spending a night away from your husband is nothing to actually losing him, but in that moment, as I read Gracia’s account of losing her best friend to senseless violence, it hit me in a way that I didn’t expect.  I cried as I read about how she was loaded in the helicopter, and had to leave Martin’s body in the jungle because of the severity of the wounds she sustained.

The next morning, I could not wait to get back to Josh.  As I read about one woman’s loss of her husband, I remembered how thankful I am for mine.

Many people ask me, “What is the hardest part about being married on the World Race?”  My honest answer is being around your spouse 24/7.  That’s just not what we were used to in the States, so sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes we need time apart to make our time together better.

Even though it is challenging, I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on being around each other so much.  When the men and women separated for the month in Thailand, leaving Josh at the airport was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  We spent the month in opposite sides of the country, more than 25 hours of travel apart.

All month, I felt like a piece of myself was missing.  I know that’s so cliche, but it really was true.  I just didn’t feel like myself.  It’s interesting that just myself no longer feels like myself.  It’s that whole two become one flesh thing, like Jesus said.

I highly recommend reading In the Presence of My Enemies.  It’s a story about faith through trials, and how the love of two people for each other, as well as the love of the Lord, kept them going through difficult times.  It’s also a wonderful tribute to Martin, and it is inspiring to read about how they both live(d) their lives.

Gracia now lives in the States, and travels for speaking arrangements, and has also written another book To Fly Again.  She has made telling their story her ministry, and encourages countless people around the world through it. 

Of course I love this, since I believe in the power of story.  Jesus can take something as horrible as a year in captivity, and the loss of a spouse, and turn it into something beautiful.  In my case, it was remembering how much I cherish and admire Josh, and how I am so thankful to be living this life alongside him.

Image(Josh and I at the Great Rift Valley in Kenya)

 

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Bebe Fever Part 2

Today, we volunteered at Sanyu Babies’ Home, and it was probably my favorite day of ministry on the World Race.

When we arrived, we had a short orientation with one of the administrators, who had the quietest voice I’ve ever heard.  If you’ve seen the movie pitch perfect, it reminded me of the Asian girl, haha.

After our orientation, we headed inside to the main building.  As soon as I walked through the door, there were babies everywhere.  They had just woken up, and the staff and volunteers were bathing and feeding them.  One little guy, Felix, was about to crawl out the door, so I grabbed his hand, helped him up onto his shaky feet, and led him away from the door.

I thought we were going to tour the home first, but then someone asked me, “Do you want to feed some babies?”

“Sure.”  I said.  As I was waiting for the next baby to be brought in, I sat on the ground, and Felix crawled right over to me, grabbed my shoulder to pull himself up, and gave me a huge hug.

My heart just melted.  After all of the baby fever that I’ve had lately, I felt so known by the Lord, that He knew we were going to be there on that day, that literally right after stepping in the door, I would get a big baby hug, and that it was exactly what my heart needed.

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Felix was taken to go to the playroom, and another baby, Daniel, was brought out, and given to me to feed him.  He was probably 4 months old or so, and as he drank his bottle, I was taken back to my nannying days, when I would sit and feed 6 month old Finley.

After Daniel ate, since he was one of the littlest babies, he was put back in his crib for a nap.  I headed over to the playroom, which was filled with babies, toys, staff, and volunteers.  When I sat down on the floor, immediately two babies came right over, and gave me hugs.  We spent the next few minutes playing, but then I was asked to help mop the floor in the main house.  I went to help mop, and then went back to the playroom as soon as I could.

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I played with the babies for a few hours, and a few of them really captured my heart.  Vivian, one of the older babies, loved to point to everything.  She’s one and a half, and when she was reprimanded by one of the staff for hitting me, she dissolved into a toddler tantrum on the floor.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  Helen was one of the smallest in size, but she has a big personality.  Duncan loves to cuddle, and after I fed him, he stayed in my lap for about an hour.  They kept stealing the glasses off of my face, and I had to hide them a few times behind my back.  They would get really perplexed when the glasses just “disappeared”.

After that, we took the babies outside, to play.  They have a play yard, but the staff wanted to bring them outside the gate so they could see the outside world.  Which was a bit stressful for me because the road was ten feet away with mutatus and bodas whizzing by.  Most of the babies just sat on the mat and watched, but a few were adventurous and wanted to explore.  I put myself in charge of making sure the runaways didn’t actually run (or crawl, lol) away.

When it was time to go inside, I grabbed a little girl with an adorable pink dress.  As I was carrying her inside, I started smelling something really awful.  I thought it was something from outside, which wouldn’t be that surprising because I’ve smelled some pretty bad stuff around the world.

I kept smelling it, and I was like, “Man, that is really bad.”  It didn’t smell like a poopy diaper, though.  That’s when I realized my armpit was totally soaked.  I knew I couldn’t have sweat that much, especially on just one side, and then I saw that her dress was covered in vomit.  Not spit up.  Full blown chunks.  I’m not a reactive puker, but I gagged and had to try really hard not to vomit myself.  And, of course, I hadn’t thought to bring an extra shirt.

“Ummm, I think she needs a change of clothes,” I told one of the staff.  They were getting ready to eat lunch, so we just took her dress off, and she would have a bath after eating.  We also got to help feed the babies their lunch, which was some kind of rice and corn mixture.

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As they were finishing up lunch, it was time for our team to head out.  We were tired and stinky, but we all loved it.  It was such a blessing for me, and it really spoke to my heart.

Sanyu Babies’ Home has been around for over 80 years, and is one of the top orphanages in Uganda.  It was started when a woman who worked at the hospital realized that there were so many babies who were orphaned or unwanted, so she established a home that would love and care for the babies.  They stay there until they are 4, and then they are transferred to one of two partnering orphanages.

And, for the icing on top of the cake, tonight as my team and I were doing listening prayer (prayer where you sit and listen for what the Lord is saying rather than just talking at Him), He spoke to me about babies.

As I was listening, my mind was wandering a bit, and it wandered to the babies, and how much fun and how natural and at home I felt with them.  Before the question had even formed in my mind, I heard Him say, “You will.”  As in, you will be a mom.

And my heart was at peace.

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Not Dengue Fever…Bebe Fever

I know that I said, in a blog post a few months ago, that I was totally cool with this season of being babyless.  But, the fact of the matter is, as the end of the World Race draws near, our fourth anniversary comes up next month, and I see more and more friends having babies on Facebook, it is just hard.

I’ve always had the desire to be a mom, and as I see people around me having them, it’s hard not to imagine what it would be like. 

I am definitely thankful that right now, I’m sitting in Kampala, Uganda, in a house called the Jesus House, that is the office of an organization that gets village children sponsored and fights child sacrifice.  I wouldn’t trade this, and all the other experiences we’ve had on the Race, for anything, but maaaaybe for the chance to be a mom.  But really, I wouldn’t.

I guess I’ve just been thinking about it a lot lately, after seeing all of the mother’s day posts, and especially since tomorrow we are going to work in a babies’ home.  Yep, tomorrow, we get to bathe, feed, change, and cuddle babies, at Sanyu Babies’ Home.

Although they are not my babies, I will take what I can get, haha.  Thank You, Lord, for giving me these Ugandan babies that have no moms, so I can be a mom to them, at least for a few hours.  I will try to wait patiently until You bring Josh and I into the season of being parents.  😉