My heart is full this morning, and I don't feel like sharing a recipe, I feel like sharing my thoughts. :-) So I'm going to try to do both.

Life is hard. I know that's nothing new to any of you. But good friends of ours have been walking through some really tough things this week, and it makes me want to question "why?". And it makes me think again about the fact that life is just hard. When we lived in Africa, on hard days I dreamed about America. I remembered McDonalds and Walmart and church fellowship and family living close by and all the wonderful things about our old life in America and I missed it. Fast forward to when we moved back to America . . . and suddenly, as I told my husband, the "American Dream" wasn't as wonderful as I remembered. Finances, our job situation, trouble with neighbors, family stresses, and so on made us realize that we didn't have it so bad overseas after all. We started to miss the tropical beauty of our home, the convenience of food sellers coming to our doorstep, the simplicity of a slower way of life.

And then we see our colleagues overseas go through really tough stuff. And we remember that it wasn't all easy, it wasn't all fun. In fact, it was really hard. Today I want to give a shout-out to all of you on the "front lines" working overseas.

  • To those who are focused on language learning, studying for hours every day, struggling to understand, working to learn the culture. What you're doing is hard. You don't always feel like you're making progress. You keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are leaders, whether leaders of teams, leaders of organizations, leaders of churches, leaders of your family. What you're doing is hard. There is conflict, different ideas, criticism, lack of appreciation for what you're doing. But it's your job and you keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are dealing with sickness, or even worse, your child's sickness. What you're doing is hard. You feel weak - you ARE weak, you don't always have good help or answers, you face separation from family to get medical treatment. You wonder if you'll be able to continue, but for now, you keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are in the trenches of tough situations, unexpected challenges, frightening circumstances, things that you can't even talk about or share with people. What you're doing is hard. You feel alone. You feel vulnerable. You feel scared, or guilty, or helpless, or defeated. You keep plugging away anyway.

I don't exclude my friends who are living in the "ease" of America, either. Life is hard. We cannot compare our challenges or struggles with others'.  When I became a mother for the first time, it was really hard for me. I was uptight, I was afraid I was doing the wrong thing, I was struggling to take care of my baby and keep up with my other responsibilities as a wife and homemaker. I cried. I thought there was no way I could have anymore children, because I couldn't even handle one. It was hard. Now I have three beautiful boys - boys who keep me up at night, keep me busy all day long, keep me on my toes, and keep my house messy. And do you know what? It's not hard anymore. Oh yes, there are moments when I've had a sleepless night and the baby is fussy and the other boys are fighting and I should be making supper and the house is a disaster and all I want to do is cry! But mostly, mothering is not what's really HARD right now. There are other things.

When I was just out of my teens, I was in a short, intense romantic relationship. When that ended, I suddenly knew the meaning of a broken heart. And it was hard. I looked at a bleak future and wasn't sure I cared about life anymore. I didn't know how to go on. I didn't know how I could love again. But I kept plugging away, and it got easier . . . and now the memories of that difficult time are dim and distant.

Do I laugh at the girl I used to be? The heartbroken young adult? The struggling young mother? I don't. The struggle was real. The things I was walking through at that time were really, really hard. It doesn't matter that other people were going through "harder" things. It doesn't matter that the things which felt hard then wouldn't feel hard now.

And that's why I am giving this shout-out to all my readers, all over the world. Life is hard. Most of you have a situation in your life right that is stretching you, terrifying you, hurting you, discouraging you. It's okay to admit that it's hard. Because you know what? If life wasn't hard, we wouldn't need God. If we could do this thing on our own, it would be easy to leave Him in Sunday morning and go on our merry way all week long.

As it is, we do need Him. And we need each other. And we need to give ourselves grace. And we need to realize that it's okay if we don't have it all together. Because life is hard.


And to close, here's my kiddos' absolute favorite veggie: Fried Okra! The most commonly available vegetables when my boys were tiny were greens (like spinach) and okra. We ate lots of both, and they learned to love them. Even now that we live in America, the land of always-available produce, they turn up their nose at wonderful things like fresh green beans and cauliflower, and beg for familiar spinach and okra. I don't have a recipe with exact measurements, but here's how I make it.

 Take fresh okra, cut off the stems, and slice into 1/4" rounds. Dip into a bowl of milk, then into a bowl of flour mixed with salt, pepper, and onion powder if you have it. Drop into about 1" of hot oil and fry without stirring or turning for several minutes. When one side is browned, flip all at once and brown the other side. Serve hot!

Tip #1: This method works best if you work quickly. It seems like the longer the okra is cut, the slimy-er it gets, and that makes everything gum up. If you're doing more than one "batch" in your skillet, don't cut the second batch and leave it sit while the first batch is cooking. Cut, dip, and fry right away.

Tip #2: Only fill the bottom of your skillet with one layer of okra. You want every piece to get nicely browned on both sides.

Tip #3: When you're buying okra, try to buy the smaller, darker green pods. If you can, test them by breaking the tip. It should be a crisp, clean, soft break. If it feels woody, stringy, or is hard to break, the okra is old and not as good.

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