Friday, February 27, 2015

Easy Cheesy Sausage Potato Casserole

Nothing says Southern comfort food like cheese and potatoes. Cheesy sausage and potato casserole is a favorite on cold winter nights at our house. The original recipes calls for several pounds of peeled, diced potatoes, followed by 45 minutes in the oven.

But I'm a working mom. By the time I spend 8-9 hours seeing patients, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is spending an hour peeling potatoes. I tweaked the recipe and developed a quick version of this comfort classic. My family can't get enough of it, and I can have it in the oven in 20 minutes.

  • Smoked sausage, 1 lb. (I use a local company's smoked sausage ring, either beef or green onion)
  • Frozen diced hash browns, 2 lb.
  • 1 can cheddar cheese soup
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Thaw hash browns in microwave safe bowl (3-4 minutes, stirring every 90 seconds) - pour into 9x13 baking dish when finished
  • Slice and brown sausage; drain
  • Mix milk, soup, paprika, salt, and pepper until well blended
  • Pour milk/soup mixture over hash browns; stir well.
  • Top potatoes with sausage and cheddar cheese.
  • Bake for 45 minutes

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How I Structure My Quiet Time

We know our time with God matters, but putting it into action can be pretty intimidating. You get up early, ready to dive deep into God's Word - but suddenly find yourself staring into the distance, feeling lost. What now?

Over the past several years, through a lot of trial and error, I've developed a structure for my quiet time. It works well by keeping me focused, and I know exactly what to move into as I finish each part. 

There are five key areas I want to cover in my time with God each morning:

1. Gratitude

I always start my quiet time with gratitude. It helps me focus my mind on what I'm doing, and it starts my day on a positive note. A gratitude journal is the fasted way to improve your attitude, because once your start counting His gifts, you find yourself looking for more. Little things become big gifts as you look for God's graces.

2. Scripture Memory

This was the "missing piece" of my quiet time for years. I knew I needed to memorize Scripture, but I didn't know where to start. One of my favorite resources is Do Not Depart, a great website run by Katie Orr. Her "Hiding His Word" challenges are so encouraging. I also use the Scripture Typer app to study and review my verses. It's the single best tool I've found for memorization.

3. Devotional

Jesus Calling is the most popular devotional out there right now, with good reason. It's a short read that always seems to have just the words I need for that day. I will be the first to say, this quick devotional isn't meaty enough to fill your entire quiet time - but it's a perfect way to focus your mind on Him and prepare your heart for your deeper study.

4.  Bible Study

There are so many great resources available for Bible study! You can join a Hello Mornings group, read through the Bible using the SOAP method, or go through a She Reads Truth study. I shared several different methods of Bible study a few months ago. Find the one that matches you and your needs, and dive in. The study you choose doesn't really matter - what's important is consistently getting into God's Word.

Personally, I'm working on a Lent study right now. Once I finish, I'm going back to my focus for the year, which is a chapter a day of inductive Bible study. I want to work my through the Bible over the next few years with inductive study.

5. Prayer

I can't wrap my mind around the fact that the God who created the universe wants me to talk to Him. He wants me to ask for what my family and I need, to tell Him what's bothering me, to thank Him for His gifts. What an incredible privilege. While prayer should be on going conversation with God throughout the day, it's important to spend focused time praying over specific needs. I keep a list in my journal of daily prayers for my family, church, and friends, as well as specific prayer requests. (If you'd like to learn more about how I journal, check out my post series.)

It's important to note that while this is my basic schedule, my quiet time doesn't always look the same. Some days, I focus on scripture memory more than anything else. Other days I spend extra time in Bible study and skip my devotional. Some days a quick devotional is all I have time for. Something, even if it's short, is better than nothing.

Do you have a schedule or routine for your quiet time?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Lent?

Last year, I did something out of the ordinary for an evangelical girl. I observed Lent. Not in a traditional way - no ashes, no special service at church or fasting. But for the first time in my life, I did something special for Lent. I chose a Bible study God had been speaking to me about for a while, and I spent the weeks before Easter working through Kris Kamealy's Holey, Wholly, Holy.

It was the hardest season I'd been through in years. I had no idea what lay before me. Working through that study, laying my soul bare before God, really focusing on Christ's sacrifice and the enormity of my own sin - it crushed me. Morning after morning, this study left me on my knees, and sometimes on my face, before God. I asked Him to reveal my sin, and He answered, loud and clear. It wasn't just the obvious sins. He dug deep into my soul, showing me the sin I glossed over, trying to hide and justify. 

Those forty days changed me. 

Looking back at my journal from Lent last year, I'm still shocked by the aching, weeping wounds God revealed. Things hidden, even from myself, were brought to the surface. Though painful at first, I now see the healing that began through that brokenness. I'm a different person now than I was last spring. Still broken in so many ways, but a little more whole, my brokenness mended by a God of limitless grace.

Sometimes we need to ask God to reveal our sin. It's hard. We want to hide it - after all, His grace covers our sin. But when we realize how big our sin is, we realize how big our need for Christ is. We see how lost we really are, how hopeless our life becomes without Jesus. In the end, through the pain, we're drawn closer to Him. And we realize just how much the precious gift of Easter means.

This year has already been hard. A job loss, uncertainty and fear, a new job, a new schedule - a lot has changed in just a few weeks. At the end of 2014, I wrestled with my word for this year, debating for weeks between refine and dwell. I chose dwell, but God has shown me that the two are really intertwined - when I dwell with Him, He refines me, and when I'm being refined, I have to dwell with Him to find strength. 

That's really what Lent is about - dwelling on Christ, on His sacrifice, and letting Him refine us.

I'm observing Lent again this year. I've downloaded Ann Voskamp's Trail to the Tree and my friend Kirsten Oliphant's devotional Consider the Cross. I'm going through Holey, Wholly, Holy again, too. I know a little of what lies ahead. I know that God isn't done refining me, that He will reveal more sin and fear. But I know it will make me stronger, because God meets me in my weakness and give me His own strength.

If you haven't found a study for Lent, click over to Amazon and pick one up. Join me in this journey to Easter?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creating a Habit

Creating a new habit is hard. Most experts agree it takes at least 21 days to make something a habit. If you're like me, it takes even longer. I'm great at planning things, but I'm often not so great with following through on them.

Getting up early to spend time with God can an intimidating habit to start, but there are a few simple things you can do to make it easier.

1. Start small.

If you normally get up at 7:00, don't set your alarm for 5:00 the first day. Work into your new routine gradually. Get up fifteen minutes earlier the first week, then another fifteen minute earlier the next week. If fifteen minutes seems too hard, start with five minutes. What starts as a smal change will lead to a big change if you persevere.

2. Adjust your schedule.

If you're going to wake up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier. Don't try going to bed at midnight and getting up at five the next day. Instead of soaking in God's Word and starting your day feeing peaceful, you'll most likely be grumpy and desperate for more coffee. Set a realistic wake up goal and follow up with a bedtime goal. Set an alarm to remind yourself when it's time for bed.

3. Set alarms and reminders.

Set reminders on your phone. Name your alarm on your phone (mine is Hello Morning.) choose worship songs for your alarm tones. Do whatever you can to motivate yourself to put your feet on the floor when your alarm goes off. (I am a little too fond of the snooze button, so I put my phone on the other side of the room. If I have to get up to turn off my phone, I'll stay up.)

4. Make it fun.

Fix your favorite coffee. Buy a new journal. Play your favorite worship song as you start your Bible study. Wrap up in your favorite blanket. Make your new morning routine special and fun, and it will motivate you to get up each morning.

5. Be accountable.

Find friends or family members to hold you accountable. Join an online group. Hello Mornings is an amazing group that offers accountability groups via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They also have many speciality groups - homeschool moms, working moms, etc. You can find out more at 

What helps you start your mornings with God?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Creating a Morning "Selah Space"

It's hard to start a new habit. Getting up early to spend time with God takes effort, and it takes time to create a routine. Do you realize there's one simple step that can help you create this habit? Creating a place to meet with God takes only a few minutes, but it can give you an extra boost to get up and start your day.

You probably already have a place for your Bible study and prayer, a place where you meet with God. But do you have a space for it? Even if you have limited room, you can create a "Selah space" - a place to pause, listen, and reflect on God's Word each day.

1. Find a workable space.

What works is different for everyone. It depends on your home, yours and your family's schedules, and what makes you comfortable. Some people have an office area. Others like the kitchen table, so they can spread out their notebooks and study supplies. When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a huge 3,000 square foot parsonage and I used our double walk-in closet for my quiet time. Now we own our own home, and I spend my mornings with God on our living room couch. I don't wake anyone up, it's comfy, and I have space to sprawl out and work. Look at your home and your needs, and use what you have to plan the best area.

2. Gather your supplies.

Get everything you need for your quiet time and put it all together. This can be anything from your Bible, journal, and pens, to a blanket and a candle. Whatever you need to be cozy and spend time with God, take it to your space. For me, it's my Bible, journal, Sharpie pens, colored pencils, sticky notes, and my favorite blanket.

3. Contain your supplies.

This doesn't have to be anything fancy. Grab a pretty basket or your favorite tote bag and stash your Bible, your favorite journal, your Bible reading plan, and whatever else you need. I found a beautiful little Paris trunk at Ross for $11.00 a few months ago. Since I'm kind of obsessed with Paris and it matched our living room decor, I bought it. It sits at the end of our couch, tucked neatly between the couch and a corner table. It's the perfect size for my Bible study stash, and I'm not digging for my Bible in the dark at 5:00 a.m.

4. Decorate.

Keep it simple. Throw a couple of decorative pillows on the couch. Put a candle out. Frame printables of your favorite verses. Take a few minutes to make your space your own.

5. Pray.

Take a few minutes to pray over your Selah space. Ask God to help you as you make time with Him a priority. 

With a few minutes of prep time, you can create a quiet, welcoming place to meet with God. It's a perfect motivator for spending time with Him.

Friday, February 6, 2015

What I'm Reading: February

Many of you know that January didn't go quite as I'd planned. Instead of a restful month recovering from the holidays, it was a month of upheaval and job changes. I fell a little behind on my reading list. I finished two of the books on my January list, and I'm halfway done with a third. 

I'm also planning to dive deep into editing my first novel, a mystery. The rough draft is done, but I want to have it polished and ready for agents and editors later this year. When I'm writing, I can't read in the same genre. (Don't ask why because I can't explain it.) I'm changing things up this month with a contemporary spin on a classic, a YA dystopian, and a memoir that's been on my list for months.

Here's what I'm planning to read during this short month:

1. Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

I love food books. Shauna Niequist is one of my favorite authors, and I had just finished Cold Tangerines when I found Lizzy & Jane on sale. I couldn't resist. Plus, I've heard so many great things about Reay's debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightly that I really wanted to check out her books. 

2. Anomaly by Krista McGee

The Hunger Games hooked me on YA dystopian fiction. Anomaly comes highly recommended by friends who enjoyed Hunger Games, so I'm really looking forward to this one.

3. Atlas Girl by Emily T. Wierenga

Books about travel come in a close second to books about food, and this memoir about faith, travel, and yearning for home has been on my to-read list since it released. This book has received rave reviews. I can't wait to dig into it.

4. Nerve by Bethany Macmanus

I know I said I don't read mysteries when I'm writing one, but for one of my writing critique group members, I'll make an exception. I've already started Bethany's newest release, and it's really good!

So far, I'm on track to hit my reading goal of 36 books this year. I'm hoping to surge ahead a little this month.

(This post contains affiliate links, but all opinions expressed are strictly my own.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why Mornings?

My time with God has changed drastically through the years. As a young college student, I started spending time reading my Bible and praying each morning before class. I carried the habit into life as a young newlywed, having quiet time in our walk-in closet so my husband could sleep. (Don’t laugh. It was a huge closet.) Once our boys came along, I pretty much grabbed quiet time whenever I could. Now it’s come full circle, and I’m back to my morning times with God. Experience has taught me that nothing can beat those quiet early morning moments with God.

Why mornings? Technically you have your time with God any time during the day, so why am I focusing on mornings? There are several reasons.

1. It sets the tone.

When I wake up early and start my day with Bible study and prayer, I start my day intentionally. I start with a purpose: focus on God, and build everything else on that foundation. Time after time, God has used my morning time to give me exactly what I need, preparing me for the day ahead. Before I even know what I need, He’s already speaking encouragement to my heart.

2. It puts God first.

Throughout the Bible, when God told His people to bring an offering or a tithe, He told them to bring the first fruits. He didn’t want the leftovers. He didn’t want them to throw in whatever they felt like giving. He wanted the first, the best, the sacrificial giving. When we give God our first time, before the chaos of the day begins, we truly put Him first. We give Him our time before we’re frazzled and exhausted, before our to-do list takes over, before work or family or commitments take our focus.

3. It gives me time to focus.

My family does not like to get up early. After years of rising at 5:00 for college classes or early morning clinicals, I can’t sleep late. My body just won’t let me. I've learned to embrace it and use mornings for time with God. 

Early morning quiet time is perfect because there are few distractions. No one is calling or texting at 5:00 a.m. Everyone is sleeping. I can sit on our couch with my coffee and my Bible and really focus on God.

When do have quiet time with God? 

Romantic Suspense Giveaway

Looking for a great romantic suspense to curl up with? Look no further. You have the chance to win three great romantic suspense novels and two novellas! Entries are now open and will close at 12:00 a.m. CST on Sunday, February 15th. The winner will be announced on February 15th. (Open to U.S. residents only.)

Here are the books you could win:


Cade Blackwell never came home from the war, at least not the same version of himself everyone remembers. He'd like nothing more than to be that man be normal, but with physical and mental scars, it may not be possible.

At least he thinks he wants normalcy until he meets Alexandria Holst--cold, blunt, and an absolutely brilliant detective. What begins as nothing but a chance meeting soon rips him from civilian life and thrusts both of them into a murder investigation that has the police baffled and Alex thrilled at the prospect of the puzzle.

He shouldn't tempt death, not after nearly dying in Afghanistan, but he's never felt more alive than when he's running through the streets of Washington D.C. Sometimes toward danger, sometimes away from it, but always with her--a woman who both intrigues and frightens him. The shadows they chase may be nothing compared to the darkness in her head.

Cade knows one thing for certain. If he's a soldier, Alex Holst is definitely a warzone.

Also by Amryn Cross...

A ghost running for her life...

Emily Fox died ten years ago, but she’s not dead enough for Endriago—head of the Colombian drug cartel who murdered her brother while she looked on.

A past she can't escape...

Now living in Miami as criminalist Kate James and under the protection of the U.S. Marshals, Emily is explosively reunited with her past, propelling her headlong into a web of corruption.

A man who threatens everything...

Two men stand in her way—one threatens her heart, the other her life. Both underestimate her. Because in the race to solve her brother’s murder, she has nothing left to lose.

(Learn more about Amryn on her website.)

Going home again can be deadly.

Suddenly jobless, enterprising Candace Downs returns to the parched and dusty oil-town of Odessa, Texas as a trainee for her cousin's towing company.

Rejecting the romantic obsessions of a maniacal stranger intent on capturing her heart throws her life into a terrifying spiral downward.

As the clock ticks, and her hunter ups the ante, the charismatic, handsome security consultant, Josiah Bradley, is determined to keep her alive – at any cost.

Will they win this harrowing cat-and-mouse game? Or will the unrelenting stalker bury them both deep in the desert?

(Learn more about Marcy on her website

There's nothing random about this murder.

When Marcy Farris comes face to face with a murder victim at a high school football game, she's plunged into a game no one wants to play. Despite police conclusions, she knows it wasn't a random murder. Could she be the next victim? To defeat her opponent, she'll have to tackle painful memories of her husband's suicide. He may have made one too many enemies before he died.

Struck down by an injury in his prime, former NFL linebacker, Jack Briggs, wonders if there's life after football. The game changes when he meets Marcy. She's his heart's number-one draft pick. Now, Jack's got to prove to Marcy they're on the same team.

There is no overtime in the game of murder. Marcy and Jack must discover the madman behind the murder before the killer has a chance to score the game-winning drive, and exact his revenge on Marcy.

Sometimes, an athlete's biggest play is made off the field.

(Learn more about Kelli on her website.)

They thought they were going to become reality show stars.
What they got was murder.
When Jacob Mercer is trapped with seven strangers in a series of caves, he determines to seek out the mysterious predator responsible for the hoax which lured them there.
Then, one of the inhabitants is murdered the first night, and Jacob has to play detective.
Will he uncover the killer of Siren Song Caves? Or will the killer find a way out before anybody else?
(Learn more about Bethany and her soon to be released novel, Nerve, on her website.)

Ready to enter? It's easy. Just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. One person will win all five books:
Warzone (novella) - print copy
Learning to Die (novel) - print copy
Down and Out (novel) - print copy
Red Zone (novel) - Kindle copy
Murdered Between Stalagmites (novella) - print copy