Saturday, December 8, 2012


Exercise.  To some, it is an enemy; to others, it is their best friend.  Or, if you are like me, you and exercise share a love/hate relationship.  I love the exhiliration and satisfaction, the thrill of victory, that accompanies the completion of an exercise session and I love the positive effects it has on my body and mind, but exercise and I didn't always share a love/hate relationship.  We were best friends growing up, somewhat enemies in college (when I gained the notorious "freshman 15"), then best friends again when I took up running and shed the weight.  The Bible describes exercise in this way:  "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:8).  Let's stop there a second and draw some conclusions from that verse.  This verse is found in a letter Paul writes to Timothy, whom Paul calls his "true son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2).  He disciples Timothy by giving suggestions for living a life that pleases God.  First, in the sentence prior, Paul encourages Timothy to "have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly" (1 Tim. 4:7).  Therefore, he implies that we should put more effort into becoming godly, meaning living a life of love, holiness, and righteousness, than we should in becoming in good physical shape.  Secondly, Paul does not say that exercise is bad.  There is "some value" in physical exercise, but it must hold its proper place in our lives, and for me, I've recently discovered, there is a fine line that keeps it from becoming an idol.  When I allow exercise to cross the line and become a higher priority and focus than God, my family, or others, that's when I experience the most strife.  Thirdly, godliness produces eternal results.  My looks, health, physical condition, and earthly body will pass away, but my relationship with God and the legacy I leave for my family will last forever.  So, on which one should I focus my concentration and effort?

Earlier in my post, I confessed to having a love/hate relationship with exercise.  I loved it growing up; I always looked forward to practices and games alike.  It was something I was decent at, had fun with, and it offered an escape from my everyday world.  However, during the time I gained weight in college, topping the scale at the heaviest poundage in my life, I did not enjoy exercise because it was more difficult, obviously.  I didn't look forward to it because I couldn't keep up with the pace I was used to.  Then, the last two or three years of college were so stressful for me that I found running to be relaxing, enjoying, and freeing.  It was a time when my mind could wonder, I could enjoy the outdoors, and I could pour my heart out to God.  Coupled with my daily Bible reading times, I really believe that is where God truly became my best friend.  And I shed the 15 pounds, which made me feel great!  I was more comfortable with myself, altered my wardrobe to "fit" my new body, and gained more confidence.  Then, I graduated college and began to work full time, teaching high school students English.  The demands of a new job, especially a teaching job, were great and I definitely needed a release in the afternoons, so I kept running.  I still enjoyed it, looked forward to it, and felt great afterward.  I never seemed to tire.  I felt like I could run forever.  However, two short months after I began teaching, God rocked my world with one of the greatest blessings He has ever entrusted me with--He placed the man who would become my husband in my life.  That shook up my world.  I had lived with a self-centered mentality for so long, this was the next step God had for me, the next step in becoming more like Him.  When I got married, I still ran.  I made it a point to fit it in my schedule, even if it meant sacrificing time with my new husband.  I was addicted to it.  Eventually, I "hit a wall."  I got burned out.  We had bought a house that we planned to flip, so among renovating a house, teaching full-time, coaching part time, running, and my daily devotions with God, where was time for my husband?

I remember telling him I was going out for a run one summer evening.  I got dressed, laced up my shoes, put my mp3 player on, and headed out the door, only to turn around a few steps later and return to our bedroom.  I sat on the bed and said the words out loud that I didn't enjoy running any more and hadn't for some time.  I didn't want to admit that because running had become part of my identity.  And if I stopped running, would I gain weight again and become obese?  I had an unhealthy obesession and an unhealthy fear.  Running was healthy, but the place it held in my life was not.  So, I did what any level-headed, strong, independent woman would do--I cried on my husband's shoulder.  His response was very clear-cut and straight-forward.  He said, "then don't run."  He clearly didn't understand; I was confident with my body for the first time in my life and I wanted to hold on to it.  I was so determined to not let myself gain weight that I would sacrifice time with my family to go for a run.  I think I knew eventually I couldn't keep it up.

However, it was not until recently, just in the past few months, that God has really exposed this weakness and area of idolatry in my life.  Exercise is good, yes, but not at the expense of my relationship with Him or my family, or my neighbors and friends for that matter.  With all the blessings God has poured on me, my husband, a house, sweet neighbors, a daughter, etc., something must give if I am completely honest with myself and am living according to God's priorities instead of the world's.  They deserve the best of me and that means allowing God to pour Himself into my life and then pouring it out on them in return.  Some people won't agree, and you might not agree.  People say all the time that women have to put themselves first so their health won't lack, but I know that my God, in the book of Matthew, says to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."  That is contrary to the world's way of thinking, but it's the truth.  When I put God first in my life and the values He wants me to put before myself, I don't struggle with my weight.  What good does it do for me to wear a size 6 (or smaller), if I am doing nothing for the kingdom of God?  The Word also tells me that it is not exercise that prolongs my life, but a reverent fear of God and the pursuit of righteousness and godly wisdom.  Based on my own experiences, it doesn't matter how much I try to control my weight and exercise, I can't and even if I could, that is not what matters in this world.  I am currently fasting from exercise and will continue to do so as I seek God and until I know that it will not carry a heavier weight than God in my life.  I love God's promise in Isaiah when He says, " 'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior" (Isaiah 43:10-11).  The Lord is my God; I will have no other gods before Him.  My purpose on this earth is to "know and believe Him and understand that He is" Lord, my everything, my Savior.  To that end, I am definitely an advocate for exercise, but I know, for me, that I can easily get entangled in the snares of having a certain body image and giving everything I have toward that goal, instead of toward God.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prayer and Trust

Have you ever heard people say, "Well, I guess all we can do now is pray"?  It drives me crazy when I hear someone say that.  I go crazy because we are so used to relying on ourselves (a false sense of security) that, in one statement, we completely undermine the power, nature, and character of God.  God--the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Creator of the universe; He has all the power, so why is prayer our last resort?  It's like we can't do anything else to better the situation, so we'll just let Him have it, but then we don't really let Him have it.  We pray about something, then take it back; we give it to Him, then worry about it again.  Do we not really believe 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you?"  The irony in the statement, "well, I guess all we can do now is pray" is the implication that we have done all we can first, as if we were really in control anyway.  We are NOT in control.  Circumstances, accidents, situations, and trials happen regardless of how careful, watchful, or prepared we think we are.  It doesn't matter how much we worry, plan, or try to anticipate life's curveballs; there will always be things out of our control.

Some time before the 2012 Presidential election, a woman who professes to be a Christ-follower shared her worries with me about who would be elected to lead our nation.  She listed worry after worry, and when she was finished, I told her she needed to pray for our future President and give her worries to God.  She lowered her head and answered, rather dejectedly and with disappointment in her voice, "I have prayed." Then, I knew the reason she was listing all of her worries--she was still holding on to them, as if her worry would stop them from happening.  She had "prayed" about it, but did not trust God to carry them for her, nor did she trust His plan.  As our conversation continued, I realized more truth about her.  She did not trust God's Word when He says in Romans that "in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose."  She thought that her ways were better than God's and that if her plan did not blossom, then all hope would be lost; her faith in God would diminish because He didn't grant her prayers.

The issue is that the woman never had true faith.  Hebrews describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  We are certain of what we do NOT see, that is faith.  If we see first, then where is our faith?  If prayer was our number one plan each day, God could do amazing things through us.  If we would sit back, let Him drive, and trust Him to get us to the destination He desires, the blessings and miracles that would occur through us would be limitless.

In John, chapter 10, Jesus describes our relationship with Him, our Shepherd, this way: "The watchman opens the gate for him [Jesus], and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."  The problem is that many of us don't know our Shepherd's voice.  We don't recognize it because we don't know what we're listening for.  We haven't spent time in His Word, in prayer, and in Christian growth with fellow believers to learn His character.  We haven't let go and let Jesus Christ romance us.  We can't expect to send up a 911 prayer and hear a clear answer.  If we don't walk with him on a daily basis, then we're not going to know His voice when He tries to help us.  He will be like a stranger to us and we will run away from Him Who is trying to lead us to safer ground.  When we do spend time with God each day, digging into His Word and learning from and about Him, we must believe what He says.  We must have faith that His Word is true, because it is, and let the truths we learn about His character shape our way of thinking, our attitudes, our speech, and our actions.

Some of us also have sin standing in the way of our prayers.  Isaiah, chapter 59, verses 1-2 states that "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear."  God is perfect, holy, and righteous.  He will not hear us if sin is standing between us and God.  He wants us to "confess our sins" so that he can "forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  We have no excuse for our prayers not to be heard.  If we walk with Him daily, trust in His Word, and confess our sins to Him always (He knows them anyway), we could do powerful things.  James says that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 1:19b).

So, we need to pray FIRST and ALWAYS.  We need to pray first in our day and throughout our day, talking to God about everything as we encounter each new situation that comes our way, the little and big things.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to "pray continually" and James (1:5) directs that "if any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."  The problem with our prayers shows up in verses 6-7 of the same passage in James.  He goes on to say that "but when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."  Consequently, not only do we need to pray first and always, but we need to trust and believe that God will do what is best and have faith that His plan is perfect, because it is.  Then, if the situation we have been praying about doesn't turn out like we hoped, we should "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kill 'Em with Kindness

Most people's natural reaction to someone who offends them in some way is to show them hatred.  We tend to give them the cold shoulder, say rude or derogatory comments toward them, or do hateful things to the person who offended us.  Are any of those things going to cause that person to wake up one morning and think, I am really sorry I hurt that person.  I never should have done those things.  Look at the way they have been treating me; I must have really messed up.  No way!  At least not in my experience, and not with most people.  I am sure there is an exception somewhere, but most people are going to fight back, or not fight at all, fight or flight.  If we are rude or hateful toward someone, they are either going to come out swinging, or run away and neither reaction is the one we truly want to elicit.

Usually, when we are hurt, we want the other person to apologize, to realize and admit they were wrong, and make it right with us.  I have often heard the phrase "Kill 'em with kindness" used to illustrate how we should treat others who we consider to be our enemies.  While I understand the kindness part, the whole "kill 'em" part doesn't seem so biblical.  I don't think Jesus wants us to be kind to someone just so they will realize that they did us wrong and come apologize to us.  This life is not about us, so everything we do, as Christ followers, should be about lifting up our Lord, which means we need to react to situations that may get us riled up "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27), instead of in a manner that would please our flesh.  Jesus commands His followers in John 13:34-35 to "love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."  Nowhere in those statements is a malicious or selfish motive behind loving others.  And Jesus made no mistakes--He did not distinguish between loving our enemies and our nonenemies.  He said to "love one another"--that means everyone.  After all, no one on earth is really our enemy, anyway.  Ephesians tells us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (6:12).  So, then the arguments and fights we experience on earth among ourselves is just a distraction from Satan.  Satan would rather us be fighting with one another because then we're not winning the spiritual battles we have the power to win and we're not experiencing victory in our walks with Christ.

This has been a lesson God has had to prove to me over and over again.  I must realize that people's paradigms are different from mine, and there is always another side to a story or situation.  I must not be so easily angered because the situation that would normally offend me is not one-sided.  I must step into the shoes of the other person, understand that though I may not see things from their perspective, that they are probably not acting out of malice.  They probably did not do the thing that upset me with the purpose of upsetting me.  People usually make decisions based on what they feel is the best decision at that time with the information they have.  If they offend me in the process, it was probably accidental, which is why sometimes I am the only one who is upset and it seems the other person has no idea that they even offended me.  So, while I am wallowing in hurt and self-pity, the person who caused that pain hasn't thought anything about it because they didn't do it on purpose.  So, I must believe that everyone means well, continue loving them in spite of what my flesh wants to do, and give the rest to God.  I must trust Him with my feelings, the situation, and the outcome.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Battlefield: Depression

For those who aren't aware of my family's story about how we moved to one income, I must pave that foundation before getting into the "meat" of this post because it is the reason we experience God's amazing provision and blessings on a daily basis, and it is the reason I am battling what I am battling today. Let me also be clear that I am speaking only from my own experiences and I am, in no way, trying to diminish or make light of any battles that we may face in life. In this blog, I only convey the lessons God teaches me from the experiences He walks me through.

First, Josh and I began praying for a way for me to stay at home with our daughter since before she was conceived.  We prayed for a total of three years before we actually committed to it, blindly stepping out on faith.  When we finally decided that I would not return to the classroom the following school year, we both felt the strongest conviction we had ever felt, but there was no feasible way we would survive on Josh's income. However, the conviction to move to one income was so strong that we had no doubt that was what God was asking us to do.  He was asking us to step out on faith and trust Him to provide EVERYTHING we need, even though we did not know HOW He would provide.  Two weeks later, He provided a job for Josh that would support our household.  That was the first way we witnessed God's provision on one income and we have been experiencing it ever since.  Additionally, we have been experiencing Satan's attacks on our walk of faith because he does not want it to happen because taking that step has led to a continuous growth in our faith.

I have never been clinically diagnosed as being depressed, but I experienced what I believe was a slight depression this month.  I have noticed that I have experienced feeling down periodically the last couple of months, but this month was rather difficult, and I did NOT walk through it gracefully. I am so very thankful for all of the ways God provides for my family and me when we are in need, and this time He provided a loving and patient husband and my church family who cares for me deeply.  I would not have had the courage to continue getting in the Word and ministering to my family and friends if they had not encouraged me.

In this particular season in my life, a lot is changing and has changed for me, so there has been a lot to get used to.  I have moved from working full-time (for 6 years) to staying at home; we have moved to one income, so I don't get to experience "retail therapy" as often :); and my body has been changing, without me being able to control it.  Josh and I are also in a waiting period for a couple of major life events and decisions.  Consequently, I let all of that get to me this month, and my "depression" lasted about 2-3 weeks.  I felt down most of the time, I couldn't see many positive things in my life, I didn't have energy to exercise, I wanted to eat foods that were bad for me all the time, I was very cranky toward my husband, and I did not want to get out of bed.  I learned that all of it boiled down to taking my eyes off of Jesus. I started looking at things around me, situations and things I didn't have, instead of all the blessings God has given me.  I started to lose focus of the real reason I am a SAHM, and more importantly, I started to doubt the One Whom I serve, my God Who is sovereign and knows the number of hairs on my head.  He knows me so intimately and passionately and He cares about every facet of my life, and I started to doubt His plan for my life.  And Satan loved it! I am sure Satan had a ball those few weeks that I was wallowing in self-pity.  He knew that it would be very difficult for me to get out of the rut and he knew that as long I was in bed or moping around, then I was not ministering to my family, praying for my friends, serving my neighbors, or discipling Nora-Kate to my best ability.  Praise God He led me out of that one!

With that said, I believe many women suffer from depression.  Our depressions may begin with different catalysts, but they all produce a similar result: we are not being used for God's glory, and that is just what Satan wants.  So, the purpose of this post is to pass on the advice of my friends and some tips that God has taught me personally during my battle with depression.

1.  Reach out. We are not the only ones who have experienced depression, and there is power in prayer.  Even if our friends, family, and loved ones can't do anything physically to help us, they can diligently pray for us.  Prayer changes everything!

2.  Get sunlight every day. Get outside, or at least open the curtains/blinds and let sunshine in the house.

3.  Turn on worship music or listen to sermons via the Internet.

4.  Do something nice for other people.  During my depression, Nora-Kate and I served our neighbors.  It was all we could do because of gas money, we were confined to our home and the neighborhood.  We wanted to serve someone and do something nice for people, so we started with the people God gave us access to.  Most of our neighbors are retired, and they enjoy seeing Nora-Kate on a regular basis, so they enjoyed our visits.  We also made cards and baked cookies.

5.  Make sure we are making time for ourselves each day, time to get in the Word and in prayer and time to do something we enjoy.

6.  Ask for help when we feel overwhelmed.  I asked my husband to help me around the house and my in-laws to take Nora-Kate for a few hours while I got something accomplished.

7.  Exercise.  Participate in a physical activity, or several physical activities, throughout the day.  Nora-Kate and I would dance to praise and worship music, play outside, and/or I would run on the treadmill while she was sleeping.  I also tried to think of physical games we could play together.

One of the most important things God has proven in my life is that He is always with me, that means He with me on the good days and He is with me on the ugliest days of my life.  He will walk with me through every valley and always provides ways out of the valley.  I just need to make sure I am doing everything I can to stay connected to Him so that I don't miss the awesome blessings He has in store for me, even blessings during the valley.  Additionally, walking through the depression has taught me to appreciate EVERY blessing from God, small or big, and to take advantage of every opportunity He presents to me for fellowship, prayer, growth, or help.

If anyone has any more tips or advice for walking victoriously through a depression or to be on guard for the next time Satan brings a depression my way, please share.  I want to be prepared for the next one!  :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Ultimate Hypocrisy

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man [woman], I put childish ways behind me." 1 Corinthians 13:11

Besides teaching me about my speech, the other biggest lesson that God has taught me has been a seemingly simple one, to love one another.  In John, Jesus commands His followers to "love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (13:34-35).  For some reason, showing true, genuine, Christ-centered love for people has been difficult for me to do.  Apparently, it is a difficult thing for other people to do as well, because Jesus explicitly commands us and teaches us how to do it through His Word, so I know I'm not alone.  It has taken a lot of divine work on me to change my critical nature.  I used to believe Satan's lies that I was "just a critical person.  That was just how I was born," but God's Word tells me in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that I am a NEW creation in Christ Jesus.  Praise the Lord!  I do not have to live in bondage with my old sins.  However, breaking the sin of a critical heart and attitude was difficult.  I would say that God has been working on that since I began diligently walking with Him in December of 1999, so that means MANY days of spending time in His Word and in prayer and MANY trials and tests that have taught me how to truly love others the way Christ loves them.

Initially, it was my nature to find fault in everyone.  I had heard people say that we should focus on the good in people, and not the bad, but I didn't really know what that meant and there were some people I could not see ANY good in, so I didn't know what to focus on, but that was where I was immature.  That was where I talked, thought, and reasoned like a child.  God has fearfully and wonderfully made each person in His image.  That means that you and I were woven together with specific gifts, talents, skills, and abilities that we are to use to bring glory to His name.  Some people just haven't been shown love in their lives and they haven't been brought up in the teachings of God's truth, so they believe Satan's lies and they seem to treat others any way they want, instead of in love.

So, that was my problem.  Matthew describes my childish mentality this way:  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (7:3-5).  I was a hypocrite!  The irony that I found in my attitude was that the faults and problems I saw in others were actually things that I did myself!  That's why I was a hypocrite.  That was a difficult truth for me to face--to clearly see the hypocrisy in my life.  I hated hypocrites!  (Ha ha!  More irony!)  When I was confronted with that fact, I knew I needed Jesus to help me and to purify my life so that I could be used by Him.

Consequently, I started to focus on my own problems, my own flaws.  I started to read God's Word intently and pray for my areas of weakness.  I prayed and memorized Scripture related to each weakness I had identified and recited it throughout the day.  Very slowly as God changed me and helped me overcome my own areas of weakness and fault, God has shifted my paradigm.  I no longer see others the way I used to see them when I was a child.  I love people!  I love learning about people, about their talents and skills and learning from them as well.  God has created everyone so uniquely that no one else could have created us this way.  God is perfect and has created each one of us to do great things in His name--He made no mistake when He made you and me.

The ultimate irony in this lesson is that when I followed the advice of Matthew to first take the plank out of my own eye before removing the speck from someone else's eye, I learned that removing the specks from other people's eyes isn't even important, nor is it what life is about.  When we focus on our own planks, the specks in others' eyes get smaller and smaller.  God taught me that life is about loving others through service.  "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  It is not up to us to change others, but just to love them.  God will change them, and if there is someone in our lives that we think needs changing, pray.  Pray to God for them.  We need to diligently pray for our enemies, friends, neighbors, and family, then God will show us how to show them love effectively.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Speech As a Stumbling Block in the Home

One of the hardest and fiercest battles I fight in my life is against my tongue.  It really does seem to be its own entity.  In my mind, I don't want to say some of the things that come out of my mouth, but my tongue does otherwise.  James, in the Bible, describes the tongue's character this way:  "Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts...the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison...With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing" (James 3).  I cannot tell you how many times that verse has convicted me.  My tongue is a restless evil!  As a Christ follower, how can I win the battle against it, then??

As God works within me to purify me and make me new each day, Satan is right there, too, fighting against Him.  I can feel Satan's attacks in my life.  Lately, he has used my tongue to attack my family.  God has grown and matured me in many areas, but Satan seems to always know where we are weak. My husband and decided for me to quit my job to stay at home with the sole purpose of discipling our daughter.  As her parents, we are around her the most and our lives are the ones that most need to reflect the life of our Savior.  Recently, God has put my speech in the spotlight.  I have noticed that my tone of voice and the words I speak to my family are not always in love.  When I feel overwhelmed or sense a deadline approaching, I get stressed and start to take it out on my family, complaining about our situation, my daunting task list, or just life in general.  Sometimes my words are "reckless and pierce my family like a sword," as Proverbs 12:18 describes, instead of "bringing healing" to my family.

During my devotion a couple of weeks ago, I was meditating on 2 Corinthians 6:3-7 and God showed me that Satan was using my speech as a stumbling block in our home.  I am supposed to be discipling Nora-Kate and helping to raise her to be a godly woman, but that passage in the Bible tells me that if I put any stumbling block in her way (such as my speech), then our ministry will be discredited.  Wow!  To think that the entire reason for me staying at home could be discredited because of a lack of discipline in the area of my speech really stung.  I am disciplined in so many other areas of my life, why can't I be disciplined to speak in love to my family at all times?

Since then, God and I have had to make some changes in me to help me become more disciplined in that area.  First, God showed me that my speech originates way earlier than the time the words actually form on my tongue; my speech originates in my heart.  Luke 6:45 says that my words are formed "out of the overflow of my heart."  Wow--that's scary.  If I were a stranger and heard the way I spoke at times, especially to my own family, I would think I was a bitter individual.  My speech didn't reflect the love I felt for God or my family.  So, the first thing that had to change was my heart, which meant I had to change my perspective.  Instead of focusing on negative things, I focused on positive things.  Instead of praying more for things/situations I didn't have, I started thanking God for EVERY blessing, small and big.  Instead of focusing on what I see as weaknesses in my husband, I started encouraging him and praising his strengths (he has so many!), and when I started doing that, I started to see what an abundant life God has give me.  Consequently, the joy, love, and happiness God put in my heart started to overflow into my speech and my attitudes.  Praise God!  Our home and conversations are so much more pleasant and are "full of grace and seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6) because we are focused on God and his unconditional love, mercy, and grace, and the many blessings He bestows in our lives on a daily basis.  Our God is good and He always provides for His children.  We don't have to be afraid or worry about anything, and I don't have to become ugly when I feel overwhelmed.  I just have to rely on my God and communicate effectively to my family so they can help me though it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Drinking During Meals

I never drink when I eat.  It is very rare that I will drink any liquid with my meals.  I hate that at most restaurants, in order to get a meal or a deal, you have to buy a drink.  I don't drink it.  I don't drink at meals because I drink water throughout the day, so when it's time to eat, I don't want anything to drink; I just want to eat.

Along my Christian walk, I have been taught to pray.  Prayer is a spiritual discipline and a very powerful tool that God equips us with to fight our enemy, the devil.  Recently, I have come to the conclusion that my prayer life is very similar to the way I drink liquids.  I talk to God throughout the day, so when it is time to sit down at the dinner table, my prayers are not long and drawn out with all of my cares and concerns.  There are times when I set aside time to pray, when I just sit and talk and listen to God.  Usually, those times come during a personal struggle, something I am wrestling with in my spirit.  Those times are absolutely necessary in order for God to prune me, equip me with Scripture to fight the battle, or to talk to me, but those times are more powerful and more intense, I feel, because I talk to God throughout the day.  I try to speak His Word during my day and pray His Word over myself, my family, my church family, and countless others continually.  I pray whenever God brings a person or an issue to my mind.  Those prayers are powerful and the repetition of the prayers, our perseverance, is powerful.  We can move mountains through prayer.  We can stir kingdoms and change lives through prayer.  We have all the tools we need because God has given them to us, we just need to allow Him to teach us how to use them and have the faith that He will use them, too.

In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul commands us to "pray continually" or "pray without ceasing," then in the following verse, he tells us to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  I love that and I hold on to those verses together because if I am diligently praying for something and nothing is happening, then I continue to pray and, in the mean time, I give thanks for the circumstances that I am in because that is God's will for me.  Practicing that kind of prayer life causes us to be completely dependent on God.  It is so difficult to do that when I'm in a waiting period, which seems to be always.  There always seems to be something I desire that I have to wait on and usually it's something that I cannot obtain on my own.  So, I have to pray, wait on God, and trust Him to act in His perfect time.  When my husband and I were so diligently praying for me to become a stay-at-home mom, I held on to those verses.  We kept praying until we felt God's leading, but until then, we continued to give thanks for His will.

I recently read a book that my awesome church gave out to some of the volunteers called "Praying Circles Around Your Children."  In it, author Mark Batterson, says that we have the tool of prayer, but we often stop short because we tire of praying (I am paraphrasing).  He offered the illustration of the Israelites when they marched around the wall of Jericho as God commanded them to.  They had to march around 7 times before the wall fell.  In the book, Batterson poses the question, "What if the Israelites had stopped after the sixth round?"  What if we stop praying right before God moves?  We can't afford to do that.  Our families, friends, communities, and nation can't afford for us to do that.  Big things, God things, are worth waiting for and praying for, however long it takes. 

Some people see the Christian acronyms of the 90s, such as WWJD? and F.R.O.G. as corny, but there is something to the one that spells P.U.S.H.--pray until something happens.  That's what Paul urges us to do--keep praying until God moves or changes your heart.  There is power in prayer!  The more we immerse ourselves in prayer, the more we are relying on God and not ourselves.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Acting as an Advocate

We have to be careful when we're standing up for what we believe is "a good cause," whether we are defending a certain group of people, a certain action, certain beliefs, or just ourselves.  While standing up for those who are defenseless may be a good thing, the very fact that we're "fighting for our rights" can be a very selfish act.  It's easy to allow ourselves to become the center of what we're fighting for because we want people to hear us.  We want people to believe what we believe and act how we act, etc.  When we're standing up for our rights, whether we are Christians, non-Christians, or unclaimed, we have to be careful that we are doing just that--standing for our rights, and not bashing others over the head because they believe what they believe.  It seems that many people whose beliefs go against what the Bible teaches are not just standing up for their rights, but bullying and harrassing Christians for believing the Bible.  Similarly, some Christ followers, when standing up for Christ, seem to shift their focus from glorifying God to glorifying themselves. God has created each one of us, made us perfectly in our mother's womb by the Master Creator, and all people should be respected and loved, even if they don't believe what we believe or don't live their lives how we think they should live them.  If we are Christ followers, we need to pray.  We need to be on our knees daily, in the privacy of our homes, praying for hearts and lives to be changed for God's glory.  There are many things we can actively do to change things we don't agree with, but none of our actions will be successful without God's favor on them.  Anything we do on our own (apart from Christ) is bound to fail.  The Bible says that, unless we speak and act in love, we only sound like a clanging cymbal.  Clanging cymbals don't change lives for eternity; we are called to love others.  We have to be careful that our focus does not shift from God's agenda to our own; we need to keep our eyes on Him, not on our circumstances.

Right now, it is easy for us to seek other people's approval because that's what we're surrounded by.  We want to evoke certain emotions in other people based on our actions or words.  That's why some people post things on facebook: we want people to be pleased with us, jealous of us, or we want to make someone angry, so we post comments that will evoke those feelings.  There will come a day, though, when we will not be surrounded by people anymore, but surrounded by our God, the Creator and Judge of the universe and His judgment will be all that matters.  We have to be careful that we're not living just for the here and now, but we are focused on our prize, our Savior, and changing lives for His glory.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Running the Race

What a fun day I had on Sunday playing with babies in the nursery!  I serve in the nursery at our church weekly, but my usual job is registration--assisting parents with signing their kid(s) in and out.  I love that job because I get to see and talk to every child and every parent.  I get to learn their names and I look forward to seeing them each week.  But last week, I had an opportunity to serve in the baby room and I had so much fun!  It is amazing the things God can teach us through babies and children.

I was sitting in the middle of the floor with the babies and my co-worker and we were playing on the mats.  Somehow, one of the little girl's balls rolled all the way to the cabinets and she wanted it back.  She held out her arm several times and kind of let out a whine, as if to say "please go get the ball for me."  The other volunteer and I urged her to go get it herself.  She sat there for a minute or two weighing her options, then she decided to go for it.  However, she didn't make it.  She started crawling straight toward the ball until something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.  She decided to veer off her path to the other toy, she looked at the toy, then crawled all the way back around to the spot where she started, completing a perfect circle.  When she got back to the starting point, she saw the ball and the entire process began again.  She cried out for the ball, we encouraged her to go get it, she started crawling toward it, got distracted, then ended up in the same spot.  She did that a total of three times, never making it to the ball she originally longed for.

I couldn't help but notice the similarities in my own walk with Christ.  When I keep my eyes on Jesus, my world is in the correct perspective.  I didn't say things in my life are perfect or that I don't suffer any trials, but I am focused on my Prize, on the One Who holds my life in His hands.  When obstacles arise, I am better equipped to handle them and it's easier for me to shrug off temptation, but if I allow my eyes to take a second look after taking the initial glance, it is much harder to get out of temptation's sticky grip.  Paul describes it this way in Philippians, chapter 3:  "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  It is so important that we keep our eyes on Him always so that we don't have to send up a 911 prayer when we're in trouble.  If we pray to Him continually, then He is able to equip us for upcoming obstacles, we experience peace and we know that He is in control; we don't have to panic like His disciples did when Jesus fell asleep in their boat during a storm.  We can rest in Him and find peace in Him.

In Proverbs, Solomon heeds us to "hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.  Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way" (Proverbs 4:13-15).  We don't have to have all the answers; we just have to keep our eyes on the One Who does so that, one day, we will reach our original goal of Jesus Christ.  We cannot allow Satan to use distractions to cause us to veer off the course our God has set before us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Fear and Worry

Key Verses:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?"  Matthew 6:25-27

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."  2 Timothy 1:7

Josh and I have prayed for Nora-Kate since before she was conceived.  After she was conceived, as she grew in my womb, we continued to lay hands on her and pray for her.  We also, in the privacy of our own home, dedicated her to the Lord long before she was born and long before she was publicly dedicated in front of family and friends at church.  We have never seen her as ours, but as God's.  She is God's child whom He has entrusted to us for a short amount of time.  When I say we dedicated her to God, I mean that Josh and I prayed that God's will would be done in her life and that, ultimately, she belongs to Him.  We continue to pray for Nora-Kate and always will as long as we are able--we pray for her physical life, her spiritual life, her salvation, and anything else that is on our hearts.

We know that our faithfulness in prayer will bring spiritual attacks because dependency on God does not please Satan in any way.  Satan will do whatever he can to hinder our faith.  Well, that is what he has done recently in my life.  For the last month or so, I have struggled with worry regarding Nora-Kate.  Over the last few weeks, we have gone on some small vacations and had several painters and electricians in our house finishing up some renovations, which I allowed to get in the way of my daily devotions with God.  I was just so tired from packing, unpacking, child care, clean up, house renovations, and driving to and from Augusta that I would just rest whenever I got a free moment instead of getting in the Word.  Well, Satan took that opportunity (a seemingly small window) and began speaking lies into my life and I started to believe them because I had not been in the Word like I needed to be.  Consequently, I started worrying about Nora-Kate's life, physical and spiritual.

I obtained spiritual counsel from a couple of very wise, God-fearing women who steered me straight to the Word.  They gave me a few Scripture references, but unfortunately the Bible does not give specific details about what will happen to our children at the Rapture when Jesus returns.  After offering me some places to explore in the Bible, both women told me it was something I had to work out on my own with God, something I had to pray about and seek God's peace on the subject.  So, I did.  I read the references I was given, then the Holy Spirit led me to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  As I was reading through them, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me and I heard God whisper, "Trust Me."  

To that end, when we are afraid of something or someone, our fear says we don't trust that person or thing.  We don't think that he/she/it has any regard for our best interest and some harm could come to us through that person or thing.  For example, if I fear rollercoasters, then I can translate that to mean that I don't trust the rollercoaster.  I don't trust it to make me feel good or keep me safe.  If I fear or worry about the actions of a particular person (it could be a boss, a neighbor, an enemy), then that translates to mean that I don't believe that person has my best interest at heart and he/she could fire me, injure me, or make my life miserable.  Similarly, God has taught me that when I worry or fear, I am saying that I don't trust Him.  I don't trust His plan, His character, or His will, which was very convicting for me to hear.  It is very difficult at times and it takes me lifting up prayers almost 24/7 and going back to the Word as much as I need to fight fear and worry, but it is possible to do.  We just have to trust God--we have to move our flesh out of the way and believe what we know is true.  If we believe He is Who He says He is and He does what He says He does, then that's all we need to know.  We don't have to know all the answers because we know in Whom we are trusting--that's faith.  "And without faith, it is impossible to please God"~Hebrews 11:6.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bold Faith

God has clearly convicted me of the lack of evangelism in my life.  I mean, if my life with Jesus is so great, then why am I not sharing Him and His gospel with everyone I can?  And if it's not so great, then why am I just going through the motions of a Christian life?  I could feel the Holy Spirit asking me on one of my runs recently, What does Jesus mean to you?  Is He so important that people need to know about Him?  Is He so important that the girl over there needs to know about Him?  What about strangers that you pass?  Your neighbors, your family, your friends?  Do they need to know about Him?  I answered Him with an emphatic Yes! to which He replied Then why aren't you telling them?  Well, I can tell you hands down that God has given me an earthly life more abundant than I could ever ask for or imagine (John 10:10 & Ephesians 4:20) and I know my life in heaven will be even greater than the one here.  I have never experienced more joy, peace, self-control, discipline, and love than I have when I am walking with God daily.  He is my fulfillment.  He is everything; He is my Purpose, my Shield, my Defender, my Sustainer, my Redeemer.  I would have nothing without Him and I would be nothing without Him.  Nothing could happen in this life to cause me to regret following my Savior.  So, with that said, I now have to confront this issue of not telling people about Christ; otherwise, I am a liar and a hypocrite.  

The Word is clear on the importance of evangelism, and I don't mean yelling at the top of our lungs, beating people over the head with the Bible, scaring them into salvation, and offering them ultimatums. Evangelism covers a wide spectrum and it all begins with love and building relationships.  It ranges from a smile to an encouraging word, to a giving gesture or act of kindness, to sharing your testimony with someone, or sharing Jesus and the gospel without shame.  The opportunity depends on the relationship and what God is asking you to do, but if we pray for opportunities to be Jesus to others and to share His love with others, God will faithfully and gladly open doors.  People need to know that, without Jesus, they are lost in their sin and that a loving Savior came to the world and was beaten, crucified, and rose from the grave so that everyone could be purified, made new and experience a relationship with the One true God and spend eternity worshiping Him in heaven.

Matthew 7:13-14 tells us that "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Later, in Matthew chapter 13, Jesus encourages us to sow the gospel to everyone we can because so few will believe and follow.  It is up to us to share.  We cannot count on man to "figure it out" on his own because Proverbs 14:12 says that a man's way seems right to him, "but in the end it leads to death."  So, there are a lot of people who need the gospel and Christ followers are the ones who are responsible for sharing it in a dark and desperate world.

The truth is, we don't know when we will see someone for the last time, nor do we know the date and time Jesus will return to earth, so we have no time to waste.  If my God is as great as I say He is, then why am I not sharing?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Divine Talent

On an episode of Jeopardy last week, there was a female contestant who was boasting of a talent she had.  When it was her turn for Alex to introduce her to the audience, the bit of information about herself that she disclosed was the fact that she could write forward and backward at the same time.  She explained that she could write forward with one hand and backward with the other simultaneously.  When she finished sharing with the audience, glaring a boastful smile the entire time, she just stood there with the biggest smile on her face, so proud of herself and soaking in the audience's applause.  A couple of days later on one of my runs, God reminded me of that moment and I thought how can she be proud of something like that?  She didn't earn that talent, nor did she create it; she was born with it.  God gave it to her.  And she was boasting like she had something to do with it.  Not once did she give glory to God for being born that way.

We all have talents and we were hand-crafted by God with specific talents, skills, and abilities, so that we can bring glory to His Name.  Ephesians 2:10 states that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  We are not created to bring ourselves glory.  I, like all of mankind, was born with a selfish streak, although I think  "streak" is an understatement.  God has been working on my pride for a long time; I am just thankful He hasn't given up on me.  Consequently, I have to be careful in my own life about boasting about things I had nothing to do with.  We, as Christians, were given talents, skills, and abilities to bring glory to God.  Are we doing that?  How are you using your gifts to spread the gospel and Jesus's Name?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Favor of God

Since my husband and I decided to step out on faith with our decision for me to be a stay-at-home mom, we have seen God provide in ways we never imagined.  However, with the commitment of following God at all costs comes tests and trials.  When we moved into the house we currently live in, Josh and I both worked in that county.  Now, God has blessed my husband with an awesome job in "the big city".  As we are so thankful for Josh's job (we thank God constantly for it), we don't like that he has an hour commute each way.  His driving alone, as well as any trips we make as a family to church or shopping, takes 2 hours out of our day.  So, we don't get to spend as much time together as a family as we would like.  Josh also doesn't get to spend as much time with our 21-month old daughter as he would like.  Through prayer and faith, we have put our house on the market, which brings me back to the opening of this post.

Putting our house on the market is a step and a test of our faith.  More than anything, we want to sell our house and move closer to everything we do so that we can spend more time together as a family, save on gas money, save wear and tear on our vehicles, and not spend so much time on the road.  But is it what God wants for us?  Does He want our house to sell and us to move?  Although we think it's best based on our limited perspective of what we can see, God has a bigger eternal picture and He wants what's best for us.  We have done several renovations on our 1967 ranch-style house and we have 3 more that are still in progress.  We were going to wait to finish all the projects before we put it on the market, but someone advised us to go ahead and get it out there so people can begin to visit.  

As Nora-Kate and I were driving to the city last week, we were listening to "Focus on the Family" on the radio.  The producers of the movies Courageous and Fireproof, etc. were the guests on the show and the interviewer was asking them questions about why their movies are gaining such success and fame in Hollywood right now.  They were comparing their movies to the "big guys" in Hollywood and wondering why, when their movies don't have big name actors, they are still succeeding.  The producers' answer was that God's favor was on their movies.  It is their goal to produce movies that God would have them produce; they don't want to take over the movies or make them about their own agendas, but they want to portray what God wants them to portray on the big screen.  They want God to get all the glory from the movies they create.  And that's the same with our house.  We want God to get all the glory in everything we do, whether the house sells or whether He chooses to keep us where we are.  It doesn't matter how many renovations we do or how much work we put into the house, ultimately, if God is not in favor of our house selling, it's not going to sell.  

So, as my husband and I wait on God's timing, we will wait patiently and prayerfully and in complete worship and submission to Him and His will.  I have learned to always pray about everything and when I can't see anything changing, to remember 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which reminds me to be thankful in all circumstances because this is God's will for me in Christ Jesus.  He wants me to pray, but He also wants me to be thankful for the location and the situations He has placed me in because He will get the glory.

We love our God!  He is so amazing and we can't wait to see what He will do in our family!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Sacred Role

Wives have such a tremendous and important job in their households and, more specifically, with their husbands.  We, as wives, were designed by God to uplift, encourage, and strengthen our husbands physically (through touch), verbally (through our words), and spiritually (through prayer).  We have a choice to cripple them or build them up so that they can be the confident, strong spiritual leaders God designed them to be.

My role as an encouraging and nurturing wife was something I have struggled with when it comes to my attitude sometimes and the words I speak, but I didn't realize the impact that my role played on my husband until recently.  Looking back as I reflect on our marriage, I can remember times (even today) when my attitude, words, or actions toward my husband have been anything but pleasing to God.  My sin of negativity and lack of trust toward my husband is just as great of a sin as pornography, murder, adultery, lying, or any other sin that exists (James 4:17).

My husband is my best friend and I must always see him in that light.  It is easy, in day-to-day activities (especially if you have children) to begin to see your spouse as a business partner, with your house and family as your business.  It is easy to focus on situations, circumstances, jobs, and tasks rather than on God, each other, and your family.  When we take our focus off of God, that's when anger, bitterness, and resentment start to rise, tempers start to flare, and arguments begin to erupt between spouses.

God has given me specific roles and responsibilities that no one else can fulfill for my husband.  I am special and sacred to him, as my best friend and my spiritual leader.  One role is to encourage him through my words.  Proverbs 12:18 tells us that "reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."  With my words, I can either pierce my husband to death or use wisdom to speak words of healing and life.  I have noticed that when I am critical of him, he shuts down, and I don't blame him.  My criticism causes an attitude and mentality that he cannot measure up to my standards, so why try?  Nothing will be good enough anyway, and truthfully, that's the message that my words convey when I point out things that are wrong or when I don't speak words that encourage (Eph. 4:29).  I am implying that he is not good enough and that nothing he does will be right, whether I would like to admit that or not.

God designed men and women differently on purpose.  He wants us to be more like Him and better understand His relationship with His Bride, the Church and with each one of His children.  Women are natural mothers, wanting to nurture, correct, and guide our children, but when we behave that way toward our husbands, it can be detrimental.  Our husbands are not our children, they are our best friends and our life mates.  We are on the same team and when it comes to life, we are not to compete with one another, but to walk together, in unity (Philippians 2:2-4).  Ultimately, our husbands are our leaders and they can and will lead with the proper encouragement from their wives.  So, when I start to focus on my husband's negative behaviors, I have to check myself first because almost 100% of the time, he is acting that way because of me.

Through my husband, God has taught me to be more Christ-like.  He has taught me about the meaning of life, true relationships, and truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus.  My husband has been a constant companion when others would run away.  He has been a constant source of encouragement when others would find nothing positive about me.  He has been patient and kind, showing me what true love is according to 1 Corinthians.  There is no doubt that God placed my husband in my life purposefully and perfectly.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lessons I Could Not Have Learned Anywhere Else

God has taught my husband and me some important lessons early in our marriage, but He had to place where He did for us to learn them.  We serve an awesome God Who wants to lead us down paths of righteousness and give us His best; we just have to trust in His plans and timing.  Isaiah 55:8-9 and Jeremiah 29:11-13 remind me that He has plans that are so much better than anything I could ever dream up.  Here are eight lessons I have learned from living and working in the city that we call home.

1.  The most important things in life are God, family, and relationships.  Living outside the "big city" has forced me, in particular, to focus on God and relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.  My husband has never had a problem with that; he thrives on relationships and socialization, but I have always been very reserved.  God has definitely brought me out of my comfort zone!  I love my God!!

2.  Depend solely on Him.  There have been so many times that God has been the only One to show up and answer our prayers and needs.  When people live in a city, everything is at their fingertips and family and friends are close by to help when they need it.  However, we have found that very few friends and even family members are willing or have the time to make the drive to help us when we need it.  Although it makes us feel lonely and somewhat sad sometimes, it also forces us to get on our knees and seek the only One Who can fulfill every need and every desire in us.  God always provides for all our needs (Phil. 1:19).

3.  Slow down; enjoy life and moments with our loved ones because life is fleeting.  When I first started teaching, our holidays and breaks (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Winter Break, & Spring Break) seemed to last as long as they should, but as I started getting older and, especially when I had a child, those holidays seemed to fly by.  I realized that even short work weeks still felt like full work weeks.  God opened my eyes and taught me that it's not the number of days we can spend with our family, but the quality of the days we spend with our family.  I learned to treasure every free moment I have with my husband and daughter and to make the most of every opportunity.  

4.  It's not what we own, but how we spend and invest what God gives us--time, money, resources, etc.  We don't have much, but very little can go a long way in God's kingdom.  Proverbs 11:25 tells us that a generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (even if you don't have much to offer).

5.  Blessings are everywhere.  God is always ready to bless us; we just need to make sure we're walking faithfully with Him so we don't miss His blessings!

6.  Great people and lost people are everywhere.  There are great people around us that we need to connect with who will enrich our lives and encourage us.  There are also lost people everywhere who are dying and need to experience the real and passionate love of Jesus Christ, the love that brings true life and hope.

7.  Prayer changes everything.  I always hear people telling others to pray about a problem, care, or concern if they don't see a solution.  It's not cliche; prayer is so powerful!  It is a way of life, to be in constant prayer with my Father.  I do not know how I would get through each day if I couldn't talk to Him and I DEFINITELY wouldn't be a full-time stay-at-home mom without the power of prayer.  One of my mentors, after I told her three years ago that God had placed a desire in my heart to stay at home and homeschool our future children, but couldn't see a way to do it, told me to "pray, pray, pray!"  Those three words (or the same word) changed my life forever.  That day, I committed to praying about that situation, no matter if I could see a light at the end of the tunnel or not.  Then, God showed me 1 Thess. 5:18, which tells me to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  So, through my trials, God has taught me to pray about everything--the good, the bad, problems, worries, praises and to trust Him and His timing.  Then, if I don't see anything changing, give thanks because that's where God wants me and keep praying until something happens, until He moves.  Additionally, God taught me not to wait until a problem arises to pray, but to pray every day, all the time.  Through my daily communication with Him, He prepares me for the bumps, curves, twists, and storms that lie ahead of me.

8.  Don't make rash decisions.  This is sort of tied to the lesson about prayer, but after having made several wrong decisions and suffered the consequences, my husband and I now have a new rule about making large decisions that affect our family.  We will pray about them for 2-4 weeks before making a final choice about the matter, and now, from our mistakes, we can teach and model for our children the importance of patience.  Although something looks good, it's not always what's best for us.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Loving Others Where They Are

God has laid a certain phenomenon on my heart and has allowed me to observe, over a long period of time, how it has played out in my life and in the lives of those around me.  I have noticed that I, and others in my life, only want to help people when it is on our terms or when it is convenient for us.  There are days when I am absolutely exhausted.  I am worn out from my duties as a mom, wife, and full-time school teacher and I just want to come home after picking up Nora-Kate from day care, sit down, and read books with her.  Sometimes, she wants to do that, too (she loves books), but other days she wants to go outside and ride in her car while Mommy pushes.  I have found myself, on the days when she wants to go outside and I literally feel like I am about to fall asleep, trying to get her to do what I want her to do, which is to read books or play a quiet activity.  This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, she gets frustrated because she wants to go outside and I get frustrated because I don't want to go outside.  Consequently, I came to the realization that playing quietly may not be what she wants, or what she needs to feel loved her.  Sadly, in those instances, I really just want to love on her and spend time with her according to my desires and not make the sacrifice to do what she wants to do.

I have seen this play out in my teaching career as well as my other relationships.  I want to help my students, but I tend to want to do it on my terms.  "God," I'll pray, "I really want to help this child, but he's just not seeing it my way" and I get frustrated at the child.  If I am getting frustrated at my child, my student, my husband, my friend, or other family members when they don't see things the way I see them, then I have to admit that the problem lies within me and not them.  The problem is with my own motives.  Clearly, I am not trying to help them or love them according to their needs, but only the way I am comfortable with showing them love. 

Radical love, which is normal love to Jesus, means stepping out of our comfort zone, forgetting our own needs and desires, and giving the other person whatever they need to know that we and Jesus love them passionately.  If we are trying to help someone or mentor them and we're getting frustrated with them, then I believe we need to check our motives.  The problem may be with the one who is "trying" to help them.  Jesus died on the cross for our sins, not because He felt like it, but because it was what we needed so that we could know TRUE LOVE.  He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, so I believe that I can make trivial sacrifices in my own life to show someone else I love them the way Jesus does.  This love does not come naturally to me, nor do I believe it comes naturally to any human because we are, by nature, selfish.  If it came naturally to us, Jesus wouldn't have had to tell His disciples in the book of John to "love one another.  Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  It is a love we have to work at perfecting and continue to learn from Jesus daily.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Myth Buster?

I have often heard it said that God will not give anyone more than they can handle.  That statement makes me cringe and my stomach churn because I don't see that concept anywhere in the Bible.  People often repeat that phrase when they're trying to comfort someone.  They say it because it makes us feel good, but that does not mean it is Scripturally based.  In my opinion, there are two reasons why people repeat that sentiment in the middle of a tragedy: one, they get it confused with 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, or two, they mean that with God's help we can face anything life throws at us.

If people are getting that statement confused with 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, which states "So, if you think you are standing firm, don't fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it," we must be careful to consider what Paul is referring to in this Scripture.  He is referring to temptation and sin.  The verse states that no temptation can overtake us unless we choose to let it.  God's promise here is that He will always provide a way out of temptation so that we don't have to sin; we just have to seek His way out.  Making the choice to take God's escape route when faced with temptation makes us more like Him.

On the other hand, some people might mean that with God's help, we can face and handle anything that comes our way, no matter how rough, tough, or fierce it is.  No matter how hard the battle is, no matter how severely the storm rages, with God's help, we can and will overcome it.  The problem with stating that fact through the words "God will not give us more than we can handle" is that it could cause people to start to doubt God's faithfulness when they're in the midst of a storm they really feel they cannot handle.  It can cause people to turn away from the living and true God because we start to ask the question, "I thought you said God would never give me more than I could handle?  Well, I CAN'T handle this.  I'm not strong enough!"  When we are in a storm that shakes our world, that turns it upside down, and shakes the entire foundation of our lives, we really don't feel that we can handle it.  And we CAN'T!  That's why we need God's strength to get through it.  God will give us trials that we can't face alone; those are there to draw us closer to God and to rely on Him when we literally cannot see the next step in front of us (James 1:2-4).  When we have no idea which way to go or where we're going to get the strength to move, that's the PERFECT time to rely on God.  He is faithful; He is faithful through the good and tough times.  He has already won the battle, and if we are His followers, we have already won, too!

When my husband and I decided to step out on faith to follow God's leading me to be a stay-at-home mom, we had no idea where the money would come from.  We did not see an answer; we did not see the provision, but that's where faith came in.  It's not faith if we already have the answer.  We must put our faith in God 100% and trust Him when he asks us to step, leap, or dive forward.  We put our faith in Him and wait on His timing to provide just what we need right when we need it.  We will question things, such as situations and outcomes.  It's sort of natural to do that.  I know I am selfish by nature, so when I question God about why a certain situation or outcome occurs, it's because I am miserable or am experiencing discomfort.  His plan is perfect and I just have to continue to trust in His promises!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Want to Know What God's Will is for Your Life?

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then, you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will."  Romans 12:2

This is a pretty hefty verse and one that has literally transformed my life.  Before God took me to a place where He could teach me one-on-one and only He could grow me, I wanted to do things my way.  I wanted to live life my way and then ask God to save me when I messed up.  Thankfully, by His grace, He has saved me from a lot of messes I have gotten myself into, but I have learned that by spending time in His Word and prayer and being a DOER of the Word, that I can save myself a lot of heartache because He will lead me where He wants me to go.  I am not saying that the path He leads us on will always be easy and trial-free, but there is an overwhelming sense of joy and peace because you know He's with you, even through the hard times.

When Josh and I started praying for me to stay at home full time, we had no idea how or if everything would work out.  We expected a tangible answer, a concrete sign that we would be able to stay afloat financially if I quit my job.  We never got it while we were praying, but God did give us an overwhelming sense of His will.  He spoke to us, provided confirmation, and gave us a sense of peace that passes all understanding.  On paper, we would not make it on Josh's paycheck alone.  He had to have a different job or I had to continue to work, but we could not get past the fact that He was asking us to trust Him and step out on faith.  So, we did.  It wasn't until after we committed to the decision that I would stay at home full time after this school year that Josh got a new job.  We stepped out on faith because that's where God was leading us and He caught us and provided for us.  Even with Josh's new job, we have enough to pay the bills and some groceries.  No medical bills, no savings, no clothes, nothing extra.  We have no idea how God will provide, but we know His will and we know His promises.

First, God had to transform our thoughts.  Our minds had to be transformed, like He says in the verse above.  Our natural mind says we have to have the money first before I quit my job.  God says we don't.  God says all we have to do is trust Him.  In Luke, He promises that nothing is impossible with Him.  In Isaiah, He says "for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.  The answer we were looking for was "our way," not God's way.  God works on faith.  Hebrews describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  Josh and I were sure of what we hoped for (me staying at home) and certain of what we didn't see (the money).

A lot of people claim they don't know God's will for their lives, but they don't want to stop living according to their will.  No one will ever know someone else's will unless they get to know them.  Once God is able to transform our thinking, He can do great things through us. We don't have to have the answers we seek; we just have to trust Him.  "Without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He earnestly rewards those who seek Him" Hebrews 11:6.

If we are trying to discern God's will for our lives, then we must allow Him to transform our mind.  We must not conform any longer to the way the world lives, but be willing to live according to His Word, even though it means we're different.  He has only good things to give us (Romans 8:28).  He wants to bless us, but we have to have faith and trust that He will provide in His timing, not ours.  He wants us to live the abundant life that only He can provide (John 10:10)!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nonextreme Couponing

After seeking God first, then seeking counsel from some amazing godly friends, this is what I've learned in my couponing journey thus far:

1.  Everything I do is for God's glory (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31); that includes my work, parenting, being a wife, exercise, household chores, serving others, etc.--this includes couponing.

2.  Couponing should not consume my life, only God should (Ex. 20:3-4).

3.  I am not couponing to rip off stores or steal all the good deals from others.  I am doing it to help provide for my family and to be a good steward of the money God blesses us with (Luke 16:10).

4.  When I pray before making my grocery list and completing the shopping process, God is faithful.  He always provides the savings we need & He always shows me my mistakes so I can improve the next time.

5.  There needs to be a balance between saving money and eating healthy.  I am not going to buy all the "dirt cheap" grocery items just because they're a good deal if I don't think it's in the interest of my family's health.

During my first 2 weeks of couponing, I saved $70 and saved $85 the second 2 weeks (we shop every other week unless we see good deals between those times).  God is faithful in teaching me through His Word, great friends, and helpful websites and I am still learning how to maximize our money when it comes to groceries. :)  Thank you to everyone who is helping me learn how to glorify God in everything I do & I appreciate everyone's feedback as I learn this process.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Extreme Couponing

  For the past few years, I have seen people post pictures on Facebook, displaying the awesome deals that they earn from couponing.  Since I will be staying at home full time after this school year, the skill of couponing has intrigued me.  I want to be good at it.  I want to help my family save as much money as possible.  So, I decided to start a quest to be a successful couponer!  My first step was to seek counsel, so I emailed a couple of friends who are really good at it.  While waiting on their responses, I decided to take the initiative by reading blogs and watching tutorials on YouTube.  I saw videos of people who actually got paid for buying products.  One girl spent about $.27 on $98 worth of stuff.  I want to know how to do that.
     I understand that some women do it to honor and serve God financially through saving money for their families, which is why I want to do it, too.  I want to be faithful in my role as a stay-at-home mom.  I am not staying at home to sit around and enjoy the ride.  I have a job to do.  Along with raising Nora-Kate, I believe my job is to organize my home, make it functional, and save us as much money as possible.
     Anyway, last week, I decided to read blogs, watch tutorials, and do whatever I could to learn the art of couponing every night from 8-10.  I sacrificed my workouts and school work to learn how to coupon.  We had to make a shopping trip that week, so I took the advice I read on the blogs and used the weekly ads to plan our meals and grocery list.  Then, I proceeded to get my coupons together.  Once that was finished, I added up the cost so I would have a good idea as to how much to expect to spend once I got there.  I pulled all my coupons and packed up my weekly ads with my coupons.  Friday night I went shopping.  It was my first attempt at couponing.  I only saved us $70.  I spent the same amount that we normally spend; I was disappointed.  I was expecting this really awesome amount of savings, like I only spent $50 for $150 worth of groceries.  I guess I need more practice.
     After a week of studying the process of couponing, I have some questions I'm wrestling with.  I understand the concept of honoring God with my money, but what about my time and health?  It seems that the couponing process takes a lot of time.  Of course, it may not actually take that much time once I get practiced at it.  It also seems that the products I get the best deals on are not very healthy items, such as breakfast foods filled with sugar and potato chips.  I don't want my family to eat sugar for breakfast and snack on chips all the time.  I like our healthy meals.  I'm wondering if there is a balance in the whole thing.  The fact that it's called "extreme couponing" makes me a little skeptical.  The only thing I want to be extreme in is my relationship and love for Christ and others.  With everything else, there needs to be a balance so that it doesn't become an idol.  I did see some healthy foods on sale, though, such as cereal bars, healthy cereal, whole grain pasta, etc.  So maybe I just have a lot to learn.  Maybe once I get some practice and get used to the process, I will become quicker and quicker and save us more and more money. 
     If you have any comments or thoughts about the whole couponing thing in light of honoring God with your time and health, I would love to hear them.  Maybe it will help shed some light for me and give me a new perspective.  I'm looking forward to what I have to learn!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Hero

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

     If anyone has weaknesses, it is me!  I have struggled with weakness my whole life, just as everyone does, whether they like to admit it or not.  Some of my weaknesses, among many others, include a tongue that I can't keep in check, impatience when I can't get things accomplished, crankiness when I'm hungry or tired, selfishness, insecurity, and the list could go on.  The point is not to bash myself, but to lift up Jesus that much more because, despite the fact that I live in weakness, He wants to use me for His glory.  On my own, I will fail Him every day.  I have tons of positive qualities and talents that He's given me, which I try to use for His kingdom, too, but there is an overwhelming feeling of excitement and joy that overtakes me when there is a problem or situation that is too much for me to handle on my own and God takes over and saves the day.  I love it!  I delight in it!

     I am glad that I have weakness so that I can see God's amazing qualities and work that much more clearly.  I think this will be my family's anchor verse for this next phase in our lives.  There is no way that we can make one income work on our own.  We are too weak.  We can't make us have more money; additionally, we will be tempted to spend money when we need to save and, I am sure, make other financial mistakes along the way, some of which could be "costly."  It will be so important for us to stay in His Word, in prayer, and in counsel with those who are wiser and more knowledgeable about things than we are.   I cannot wait for God to show up and see how He is going to provide for us and move in ways we never thought imaginable!

     One of my co-workers, after I told the gang that I wasn't returning the next school year, said "Look at you!  You're glowing, you're so happy!"  I told her that the glow was not from the fact that I get to stay at home with Nora-Kate (although that makes me INCREDIBLY happy!), but the glow was from knowing that the only way we will survive is by God showing up and providing.  I love it when He is all we have because HE IS ALL WE NEED!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Faith Journey

Well, finally, I can share with the world that I will be a stay-at-home mom at the end of this school year.  Thanks to God and His answer to prayer, we have made the decision for me to stay at home because we know that is the next calling on my life.

I strive to live my life according to God's plan. I felt Him calling me to be a teacher (I had no desire to be a teacher on my own) and I felt Him leading me to the school where I currently teach. Because I followed where He led, I met my husband, worked with some of the best colleagues anywhere, worked with some of the greatest students, and have grown tremendously in my walk with Christ.
The decision that Josh and I are making for me to stay at home was very difficult. I have had conversations with several people about finances—about how to afford vacations and how any family can live off of one income with our world's current economic status. I had those conversations because I felt God tugging on my heart to stay at home full time, but I didn't see how we could afford it, so I started asking people questions. However, God taught me something unexpected. He taught me that, where it is good to seek counsel (Proverbs 20:18, 12:15), I am also living a life of faith. Faith means that I don't have the answer before I make a move. Otherwise, it's not faith. He's also taught me to completely and unashamedly rely on Him for everything in my life and He has never let me down. So, when I asked people financial questions, they gave me good advice, but I could never find the answer as to how to make the calling on our life (me to stay at home full time) into a reality. Our numbers didn't add up on paper. We knew that He was asking us to make this move and have faith that He would provide, so we have to do that. Even if He chooses not to provide for us, that's His choice and we will still praise Him because He is good no matter what happens to us.
Working at JCHS allowed me to learn two main things. One, I am not here for myself. This life is not about me. It's about others and helping them. My co-workers have seen me make many mistakes and I will make plenty more as I work as a stay-at-home mom, something I have no idea how to do, but that's how I learn--from the errors I make. We grow exponentially when we make mistakes and learn from them. I never mind making mistakes and I don't mind that people see me fall.  I do, however, get upset if I don't learn from my mistakes and do better the next time.
The other thing I've learned is that nothing I put my hand on to accomplish apart from God will succeed. I have been fairly successful at my teaching job because God was with me. If I continued teaching next year, I wouldn't be successful because it's not where God wants me. As much as I love my job and my co-workers, I have to make this move for personal reasons. I have a daughter who needs me and a God Who is asking me to trust Him, so I am planning to act. Maybe one day, I will teach again in the public education arena, but I will always do whatever I feel like God is asking me to do because I will never succeed on my own.  I am held accountable to my Father and I cannot face Him in eternity one day and tell Him that I didn't follow His call because I didn't have faith for Him to provide what we needed, even though that is one of His many precious promises in His Word (Philippians 4:19).

I am so excited about the new chapter in my life.  I am excited to see God show up, the ways He will provide, and the acts He will accomplish through our lives.  When He is in control, everything is possible!  I know that we will see abundantly more than anything we could ever ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  I am excited about being led to a place where I have nothing else to lean and rely on besides Him.  He is everything we need!