Friday, April 26, 2013

A Tribute to 27 Years

All men have a sweetness in their life. That is what helps them go on. 
It is towards that they turn when they feel too worn out.
Albert Camus

Today is the 27th anniversary of two of my favorite people - these sweethearts who don't look a day over 25. 

All men have a sweetness in their lives, said Camus, and without it they cannot go on. My dad's sweetness has been my mom, from the day he first wooed that pretty girl of seventeen. The life of a small business owner is unpredictable, and often chaotic. Through it all Mom has been that gentle, loving force of sweetness and goodness and routine that keeps him grounded. They are so happy together. And their happiness has not been in the least bit self-centered. Instead, they took it upon themselves to bring six wonderfully wacky kids into this world. They raised us from a bunch of banshees... the very closest of friends. 

They love us so deeply and so well, even when they aren't quite sure what to do with us. 

They appreciate good food and can put it away with the best of them. 

They are fiercely protective of each other and their relationship.

They still play dress-up and make-believe together. 

They have single-handedly raised and educated a colony of offspring...

...and welcomed new additions with open arms. 

They love their kids more than anything on this earth...

...with the exception of each other. 

They are world-class travelers, full of creative spontaneity. 

And every April 26 for 27 years, they get dressed in wedding clothes and pore over their wedding album like it was yesterday. 

Every April 26 our family huddles around the TV and watches, again, the timeless vows whispered by candlelight. Every year the mood is magical, unbroken even when my adolescent uncle is overcome by a suffocating tie and faints in the middle of the ceremony. Every April 26 my siblings and I are reminded, again, of the love that Mom and Dad have lavished upon us - first cultivated in their early years and growing, ever more strong, selfless and free - a love that established us on a solid foundation, saw us through our most difficult years, provided far above and beyond our needs and continues to intercede and care for us. 

Mom and Dad, words cannot express what a gift you both are. God knew exactly what He was doing when He knit all these Hoffmans together. You are both gems, and have given your children much to aspire to in our own marriages. May God bless you more richly than ever in this coming year together!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Happiest Weekend

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
Eden Ahbez

On the Thursday before Easter, I boarded a plane in early-morning twilight and sneakily arrived in Maryland. I crept around downtown Frederick and covertly visited my in-laws and best friend, terrified that my presence would be discovered. And on Friday, on a sunny mountain by the railroad tracks, Jordan David Starin proposed to the love of his life, my sweet, beautiful, not-so-little sister Christene Marie. He knocked her socks off. She was floored. She said yes, and he swept her off to his sister-in-law's house where I showered her with confetti and her socks came off again (she thought I was in Texas, camping). I dressed her up in a starry lavender outfit and her soon-to-be husband whisked her off to a gourmet celebration dinner. It was a Good Friday, indeed.

There are just too many things to say about this dazzling, wonderful girl. She is bright and an extremely gifted actress, yet after she graduated from high school she chose to spend her time working with youth in local public schools. She ministers to hundreds of kids and has made an incredible impact on their lives. She is a godly and mature servant who I look up to in so many ways. And, at the ripe young age of 19 she finds herself engaged to a man she loves with all of her heart. I don't know Jordan very well yet, but my sister chose him which makes him pretty dang amazing. 

These two. I can't even.

pcs: Bethany Starin

Jordan and Christene have modeled such an admirable relationship. He first noticed her on the front lines of serving - pouring herself out for others without even a thought of "catching a man." He was hooked; here was a Proverbs 31 woman if he'd ever seen one! (not to mention the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous.) Jordan was several hours away at school, so he and Christene wrote letters for months while seeking God to see if they were supposed to be together. In November Jordan asked Christene to be his girlfriend. In March he asked her to be his wife. Some would call it a whirlwind romance, but no couple has sought God and His will more than they have. What a joy to be home and see Him lavish them with blessing. They embody Psalm 37:4 - "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." I could not be happier for them!!

Saturday was our girls' day. Mom, the littles and I took Stene dress shopping (she killed every one of them) and to high tea. It was such a lovely time.

Saturday evening the Starin and Hoffman clans all got together for feasting and much rejoicing. I was in charge of decorations and desserts, and there was such a general flurry that I forgot to get any pictures. Thankfully Leah snapped a few shots of the desserts - they were quite a hit and I highly recommend these recipes!

Moccachino Cupcakes* (Recipe is below from my mother-in-law. They are divine!)

Jordan has quite a thing for donuts. I bought the sweetest milk bottles and striped straws from Shop Sweet Lulu. It was my first time attempting Baked Donuts, but they turned out wonderfully! (Note: these were made in a mini donut pan. I piped the batter with an icing tip and there was no mess. Follow the pastry chef's adaptions in the reviews! Chocolate glaze recipe is here.)

pcs: Leah Starin

I got to spend Easter with my family for the first time in three years. We had a lovely, relaxing day at home, and Jared only got a little crazy. 

I have the most amazing family in the world. Welcome, Jordan! :)

*Mochaccino Cupcakes (adapted by Beth Farlow)

1 box of Duncan Hines Devil’s food cake mix, baked with the following two substitutions.
½ c. unsweetened applesauce instead of the oil
1c. strong brewed hazelnut coffee instead of water 
Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box and use muffin tin liners of your choice.  Let them cool while you are making the icing.

Buttercream Icing  
1 stick of butter
3 c. powdered sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla
~4 T. strong brewed hazelnut coffee, cooled
Pirouette cookies

Allow butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add 1 c. powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in the brewed coffee and the vanilla. Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar. If necessary, beat in additional brewed coffee until buttercream reaches spreading consistency.  Right before serving, insert 1/3 of a Pepperidge Farm Pirouette cookie. The cookies will get soft if placed sooner.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Freely Give

Freely you have received. Freely give. 
- Matthew 10:8

When we first moved to Texas, I was overwhelmed by the materialistic lifestyle. Store after store, restaurants and malls and theaters line both sides of the intricate web of highways that is Houston. Literally anything I could ever need is mere minutes from our apartment. As I've gotten accustomed to hopping in my car and driving 5 miles for my errands, I've noticed a strange phenomenon. Nearly every intersection has been claimed by one or more people - tattered, weather-beaten, holding signs advertising their hunger, their five kids, their desperation. Some come right up to the window and demand acknowledgement, or else determined ignorance. Others, defeated, stand with head hung low and have given up making eye contact.

Panhandlers have always made me uncomfortable, and the shocking prevalence of them in Houston makes me positively squirm with awkwardness. They accomplish their purpose very well. It's impossible to sit at the stoplights without a tummy full from dinner out turning slightly sour, or those shopping bags in the backseat losing a bit of their intrigue. My awkwardness makes me angry. "Why aren't they applying for jobs instead of standing out here?" "What kind of parent would make their child stand on the street all day as a sob story?" "Why give them money when they'll just use it to feed whatever addiction they probably have?"

A few months ago my pastor preached a sermon that turned my world upside down. The topic was compassion, the text Luke 6:34:36. "If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

The people standing on the street corners aren't my enemies. They're not necessarily "ungrateful" or "evil." And even though some have been picked up as proven scammers, there is much legitimate need in this city. So why is it so very hard to give? Usually, it's because my logic gets in the way. Giving cash is dumb. It feeds the habit and may not be used for good choices. My pastor nailed that excuse too. We don't have the power to control what people do with our generosity, he explained. Having mercy requires obeying God and trusting that His justice will prevail. My heart and my response to Jesus' sacrifice for me is what's at stake here. Can I truly give freely and trust God with what happens next?

I decided to take the challenge. I bought supplies and put together little bags with bottled water, a granola bar, McDonald's gift card and New Testament. There was one man in particular on my mind. For weeks I'd driven by him in the opposite direction, my heart breaking for the pain and defeat in his eyes. I prayed that he would be on my side of the street someday. And one morning, he was. I waved him over and, as the light turned green, put a rather large and femininely-wrapped bag in his surprised hands and gushed "Hello-Sir-I've-been-praying-for-you-God-bless-you-take-care-stay-safe." I will never forget that look of confusion, shyness, emotion, gratefulness. Here, at least, I had made a difference. I still drive by him on the opposite side of the street. And I pray that he is reading the New Testament, and that he has found hope.

Right before Easter I gave out another bag. The men look more confused than anything else, but I'm praying that as their immediate needs of hunger and thirst are touched, and a meal is provided, they will open the Bible and their deepest need will be met. How extraordinary to touch the lives of perfect strangers even in this small way.