What I learned // Spring 2018

The first quarter of this year just flew by!! (Partially because I’ve been growing a baby and that first trimester was just hard!) I’ve loved this link up that blogger Emily Freeman does every quarter to reflect on what she and many others have learned. Though a bit late, I still want to take time to reflect for myself, and maybe you’ll enjoy it too. I’d encourage you to think through it for yourself, even if you don’t make it public. Such a good discipline!

  1. The DayOne app is so fabulous for recording gratitude – ever since we got married seven years ago, I’ve made it a priority to record a gratitude list almost daily. This was spurred on by this book, and has brought and sustained so much joy in my life! I used to use a good old-fashioned journal, but this app makes it quick and easy, and it’s fun to add pictures from the day as well. Totally recommend!!
  2. Late on this one, but Downton is totally addicting. And I must get the final season (soon!) – a friend loaned us the first five seasons of Downton Abbey and we have thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s rare that hubby and I find shows we both love, but this is definitely one on the short list. The character development and plot line are just amazing (as most of the world already knows, but I’m so happy to have found out too!)
  3. Feeding toddlers takes a huge amount of patience – I was not expecting this AT ALL. I suppose I had a bit of pride in this area, having grown up on a farm and surrounded by super-healthy people… somehow I thought eating healthy and loving it would just miraculously be natural for my son. (I hope you’re laughing, because I’m not.) Nothing is more frustrating to me than making a healthy meal and my sweet toddler refusing to eat it! We are making sloooowwww progress in this area, but suffice to say this has been quite the sanctifying experience for me. This blog has given me some good ideas, and I love this kitchen gadget!
  4. Creative outlets are super important for me – being sick from pregnancy for four months really limited me to just the basics of life, so I wasn’t able to write much or make time for any “extras”. It’s been so nice to get back to some of the creative things I enjoy, and I really hope I can keep that up once baby two comes. I feel so rejuvenated after spending even 15 minutes writing, playing piano/guitar, or coloring. Really anything that involves beauty or creativity gives me a boost.
  5. Living frugally can be a fun adventure – though our church is very generous, living on a pastor’s salary requires some creativity and effort! (We are so happy to be where we are, and don’t feel it’s a sacrifice as some might see it.) But I’ve found that second hand shopping, groceries at Aldi, and thrifting online can not only be fun, but can also help me grow in contentment. I’m looking forward to reading this book that’s been on my list for a while!

What about you? What did you learn this Spring?

 

Prepping your soul for Spring

Did Winter get the best of you? No thanks to Phil the groundhog, it seemed this Winter would never end! We may have finally shaken the cold weather, but I want to offer some suggestions for warmth and refreshing in your soul – regardless of what the weather does. Here are some reflections from my Winter hibernation as well as some forward moving ideas for Spring in your soul.

  • Assess where you are, body + mind + soul – We all have some pretty atrocious closets to clean out and cobwebs to dust, but when clutter starts building up in your soul, every aspect of your life is affected. Start by taking inventory. How do you feel? Are you sleeping and eating well? Moving your body? What do your relationships look like, as far as you can control? Where are you with God?
  • Start with one goal – and follow through – There’s nothing more discouraging than getting to April and realizing your January goals are buried in a pile and needing some attention. I like to start with ONE area, and ONE goal – and follow through on just that one thing. A goal of mine that needs a little attention is gentle exercise. Yoga is always my favorite way to move so I’m heading back to class and also spending a few minutes in the morning or evening to refresh. This post inspired me lately in remembering that even one pose a day is better than nothing!
  • Try something new – I’ve been stuck in my reading and haven’t enjoyed the study plans I’ve been using, but it’s taken me a while to try something new. So I pulled an old Bible off my shelf – the Daily Chronological Bible and I’m getting back on track there. You can switch it up too! Maybe it’s time to change your routine in some way, and breathe new life into this season. In the kitchen, I’ve been using this weekly meal service to keep my meals fresh, and it’s been a lot of fun.
  • Make it beautiful there’s nothing like beauty to refresh you inside and out, and it doesn’t have to be big. In fact, making your daily environment or beauty routine refreshed for Spring is better done small and intentionally. Think through one area that could use some life – your wardrobe, your kitchen towels, maybe a new candle for the bathroom? Try pulling out a bright scarf instead of the winter grays and blacks! Get some fresh linens on clearance or put citrus oils in your diffuser to brighten up your everyday.
  • Give yourself grace – This one has to be mentioned, and though I talk about it a lot here, it bears mentioning again. Oftentimes for me, I don’t realize how much I am neglecting my soul or demanding perfection of myself until emotional dashboard lights start going off. Dial things back even as you move ahead, by creating more white space on your calendar, making an easy meal, or saying no to something. One small step to give yourself grace could make things so much smoother elsewhere – I know from experience! (PS – thanks for giving ME grace as I’ve been growing a new baby – coming August of this year :-))

All I want for Christmas is a changed heart

It was a small thing, really. The store clerk couldn’t have known that the stamps she had weren’t going to be my favorite, but it revealed a yucky heart attitude in me and showed me I cared more about myself in that moment than the message of the Nativity stamps I wanted. I held my tongue and took those Santa stamps, reminded that Advent is made of all these small choices. I’ve been a slow learner, I’ll admit. Thankfully, I’m on the road to making Christmas more about Christ than all the other things it sometimes is.

We all come to Christmas with our baggage – albeit wrapped up nicely with shiny paper and bows. It has taken me a while to see the yucky amidst the shiny wrapping in my own life. Good deeds mixed in with selfish expectations, gift giving tied up with my own desires for affirmation, forcing traditions so I’ll have plenty of picture-worthy moments. Certainly, it is good and right to have quality family time, reflect on the meaning of the season, and cultivate habits of service. But God has shown me how having a quiet heart of anticipation, over expectations (for myself or others), makes for a Christmas worth remembering. Am I striving in my own power to make Christmas amazing, but over-spending, over-stretching, over-everything to do it? Am I expecting others to come through for me to make the holiday special (whether I express it or not?) I have in the past, sadly.

The shift in my heart is big – but it’s happened slowly. Too slowly, sometimes. But God is never late, and He has prepared this December with you in mind – and your people. Just like that first one, with all the messy beautiful. Oftentimes we find ourselves either trampled upon, or having made too much of ourselves. Only God knows where our hearts are. I’m stepping back from the big and bold Christmases in my past, in exchange for a quiet, humble, and hopeful one this year. And it feels so good. I’ve gotten all I want for Christmas – God has changed my heart.

You might feel like God is giving you a lump of coal this year, when you look around at your circumstances (I’ve been there) but His heart for us is good. Trust me when I say, I have had those hard (very hard) Christmases. Even though this year is full of joy and hopefulness, the greatest gift God has given me is a changed heart. And the bumpy path is what brought me here. Keep fighting for joy if it’s hard, and give thanks if it’s not right now. He is good, and here is here. Emmanuel, God with us. 

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Keeping your heart alive to hope

It’s been almost exactly three years since I posted this previously, and I wouldn’t have thought to repost it except for seeing it on a friend’s FB page and remembering all God has done in the past three years. He is so good and faithful! We have walked through some pretty hard things, but God has been so good and gracious to bring us to the other side! We are grateful to be serving in a church together, enjoying our darling little guy, and excited about what lies ahead. If you are walking a tough road, may this post remind you that you are not alone. This journey to heaven is hard, no doubt! But we serve a great God who has overcome all….one passage that I held on to tightly during that tough season was 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” There will be an end to your struggle. And God will restore!

Adapted from the blog archives…

Perhaps you’ve seen bits and pieces of the story the Divine Author has written across the pages of our one flesh life this year. The job loss, the weeks of travel, the moments of joy and reconnection with family, the darkness of losing a mother I never knew but gave me so much in Paul, the renewed desire to give our lives fully to vocational ministry, the desire for little ones, new and unexpected callings, moving a-g-a-i-n, and the unforgettable brilliance of Grace in the midst of it all. It has been an uphill, tearful, and yet joyful season. I am quickly reminded of the Cross as I write, the Story of Grace in the midst of darkness, as the story His followers thought should be written one way had a dramatic, painful, and yet glorious eternal twist. It was the hardest and best Story ever to be written.

Perhaps you are living a hard story, a painful story that you never wanted and would gladly write yourself out of if you could, yesterday. I know. I’ve been there. In some ways, I am there. And yet, it’s in these dark and confusing moments where we find the deepest Grace, the most profound connections with those we love, and the most dramatic growth possible. There’s no other way to move forward sometimes, except through the darkest valleys. We all live for the happy days, the days when life ‘makes sense’ (at least to us). But we look at our reality and we ache: we see the wicked flourish, the unlikely prosper, the ungrateful and selfish expand their broken families endlessly. Disease abounds, governments make unwise decisions, women make choices that bring death and not the freedom they crave.

And yet. Or rather, but God…. This masterful HIS-story maker and life-story production manager is at work writing an epic story through our brokenness. He is turning the effects of the fall, our sin and the broken systems in which we live into something glorious, beautiful and breathtaking. If you are written into His eternal playbook as His adopted child it’s happening in your home, closer yet, in your very heart. Pretty amazing, I think!!

But it hurts. It really hurts. Some days, who am I kidding, most days, it is easier to distract ourselves from the pain with anything that works… could be something harmless, could be something damaging and deadly. You know what your go-to method is. [To be clear, finding ways to lift our hearts and bring us joy in good and godly ways is not to be denied. In fact, we are called to rest and allow our hearts space to breathe.] But our good God often allows pain to heal our hearts. The pain could be a result of our sin choices, the sin of others, or the brokenness we daily face because of the fall in the Garden (See Genesis 3). Life just doesn’t work the way it was meant to. Are there good and healthy ways to keep our hearts alive but at the same time not ignore the deeper work going on within us?

What happens to our hearts when life hurts? Does our heart stay alive to hope or does it slowing stop beating? Do our relationships die or do they grow stronger? Do our callings become stronger and more obvious, or do our dreams slowly die? This is where the battle lies, and the enemy wants nothing more than to turn our hearts to stone…to kill, steal, and destroy the life that is growing within us as we are daily renewed in Christ. How do we fight for our own hearts, and the hearts of those we love to keep beating with purpose, joy, conviction, and intentional focus on Gospel living?  There are never easy answers. At least I haven’t come up with any! But looking to the ancient paths God gives us are the surest ways to lasting hope and joy. May I humbly encourage…

The Living Word. Ingest it in small amounts, big amounts, listen on audio, read online, read the old-fashioned hardbound, read it in Spanish or Greek. However you can get His words into your soul, please DO. The Psalms bring me relief in hardship like nothing else. Read good Christian books, fiction too!

Prayer and confession. With a friend, as you shower, as you cry, give kisses, wash dishes, or wish the day would end. Pray honestly, one word at a time if needed.

Gratitude. There are apps, there are notebooks, you can text it to your friend, or post it on FaceBook, or across the sky. But thankfulness will breathe life into your otherwise dreary day as few other things will. Ask God to help you when you’re not thankful, and thanking Him for the Grace He gave on the Cross is a good place to start.

Honesty. With your spouse, a friend, yourself. There’s no need to look pretty when life is messy. I’ve tried it – with horrible results!! I like the Day One app for a place to record my thoughts and prayers.

Care for your body + soul. (Romans 12:1-2). Sleep, eat your veggies, take a walk or yoga class. Taking care of yourself, even when you don’t feel like it, will reap huge dividends. I find that taking care of myself physically and emotionally reminds me of my worth in Christ. You are worth the effort, friends! But – ahem – dark chocolate might help too!

Extra grace. Being hard on yourself when life is hard is just…pointless! But we all do it. God is looking at you with deep compassion even if you’ve made bad choices to get you where you are right now. Beating yourself up in the midst of your struggles will just compound the difficulties.

Fellowship. Hold onto friends and family. Tightly. Look for every chance you can to spend a moment together with someone you love, whether on the phone, over coffee, a movie night, doing chores, whatever! Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone new – I’ll bet he/ she needs a friend as much as you do, and sharing your struggles honestly will open up more of your heart as well as theirs.

Look to eternity. If you are His child, all pain and tears will pass away, and our joy in Christ will far outweigh the pain and suffering of this life. I know very well how hard it is to wrap your mind around this truth, so ask God to help you live with eternal hope. Preaching it to myself as I type!

Find rest in the fellowship of His suffering, knowing you will never face the depth of pain and sacrifice that He bore for your sins, but that He is also a gracious High Priest who understands. He will meet you there, in deep and profound ways.

I recently started reading The Hardest Peace and have been so deeply moved and impacted by Kara’s words. One point in particular that blessed me immensely are her comments concerning Proverbs 1:33, and the promise that as we rest in Him, He will remove not the disaster, but the dread of the disaster. Fear causes us to live in agony as we imagine the impossibility of future circumstances (often not imagining the God of Abundant Grace with us there!) But He will keep you in perfect peace as you turn to Him, as you walk the ancient paths… slowly replacing fear of pain, with faith in the One who suffered the deepest pain.

 

The journey to freedom in Christ

Today is a day to celebrate freedom, but we are remiss as believers if we do not celebrate our freedom in Christ…freedom from sin and death, from things that hinder our growth, from fear, pride and shame, among other things. I have been freed from many sins, situations, and hardships over the years, and I’m sure you have as well. Celebrate that! Share your story! Over breakfast we were listening to this podcast with author Jeff Goins (whose work often encourages me to share my story), and he was talking about his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. (I haven’t read it yet, but intend to and love all his books!) Artist or not, none of us are promised an easy life. Tolkein is mentioned in this podcast, which reminds me today of his book, The Hobbit. 

Bilbo Baggins is the main character and he reluctantly agrees to embark on a treacherous journey with some new acquaintances, 13 dwarves, and a wizard, Gandalf.  The goal?  To claim the treasure that has been passed on to the dwarves–if they can make it through Mirkwood forest and past the dragon.  At many points along the journey, Bilbo wishes that he never agreed to this.  But {spoiler alert!} once he acquires the ring, and learns that it will provide invisibility, he becomes quite a leader among his fellow travelers.  He is able to help them through many a pinch, and the incident we’ll discuss is no different.  The problem is that the dwarves are not that excited about his method of escape from their current dilemma:  capture by the Elvish King.

“Bilbo saw that the time had come to explain his idea, as far as he could; but he did not feel at all sure how the dwarves would take it.  His fears were quite justified, for they did not like it a bit, and started grumbling loudly in spite of their danger.  ‘We shall be bruised and battered to pieces, and drowned too, for certain”‘ they muttered.  ‘We thought you had got some sensible notion, when you managed to get hold of the keys.  This is a mad idea!’ ‘Very well’! said Bilbo very downcast, and also rather annoyed.  ‘Come along back to your nice cells, and I will lock you all in again, and you can sit there comfortably and think of a better plan–but don’t suppose I shall ever get hold of the keys again, even if I feel inclined to try.”

Perhaps you see the corollary?  At times, I see myself in the same situation as the dwarves….hearing the Lord’s voice leading me out of sin, shame, or another self-made prison, but not wanting to face the difficult road out. Isn’t it easier to remain trapped, than it is to risk freedom, and the treacherous path to get there?  We choose the comfortable, but deadly route, when freedom is right around the corner, beckoning us to come near.  I have chosen imprisonment far too many times.

As mentioned above, Jeff Goins shares a story of J.R.R. Tolkien being stuck as he was writing what we now know as The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis was a contemporary of Tolkien, and in response to him feeling ‘stuck’, was able to help Tolkien get ‘unstuck’. You can listen in to hear more, but my point here is that freedom is not a solitary journey. We need fellow travelers to spur us on and lend a hand as Bilbo did for the dwarves and vice versa. Do you have a group of people doing this for you? Have you looked? Have you prayed for this? Don’t go it alone.

As Christians, we are all moving from death to life, through the process of sanctification, and we as a family have recently entered a new season of freedom. We have moved out of darkness into light. There will be hardships, for sure.  But these very trials and joys will all be a part of the story. Check out Steffany Gretzinger’s song Out of Hiding – I love this line -“and oh as you run, what hindered love, will only become part of the story…” What is holding you back?  Are you pressing on, pressing into the fight for freedom, or lingering in the comfy prison cell? On this day, in which we celebrate the freedoms that have been granted through the courage of our forefathers, may I challenge you to turn your mind to the battle that Christ won on the cross?

Galatians 5:1:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Freedom is yours, if you will accept the journey….even if reluctantly, like Bilbo 🙂

 

Blue Apron review – is it worth it??

Hey there busy friends! I know you have lots going on, and I do too, so I’m sure you’re looking for time-saving tips and shortcuts. I just met with a group of moms last night for our summer book study, and the consensus was that we just can’t get it all done! (book spoiler: you don’t need more time, you need more Jesus ;-)) All that aside, though, exploring practical helps is definitely worth it. Here’s my lowdown on the Blue Apron meal service – you decide if it’s for you or not.

(I am not paid for this review, and we did pay for every week we used the service.)

Who/what: Blue Apron is a meal delivery service that provides a box of pre-measured natural, farm-fresh (not organic) produce and pantry items for three meals.

When/where: Weekly, if you like, or skip a week or two and jump back in when you’re ready! It comes right to your front doorstep in a medium size box (for two person portion) and nice big freezer packs that can be saved. The box will be fine to sit outside/inside a couple of hours if you are away, but I wouldn’t let it sit all day.

How: You get a box in the mail that contains everything you need to make three meals for either 2 people or the family size. I am speaking to the smaller size that we got. Meals come with a handy 8×11 stock paper meal sheet, that gives a summary of the meal on one side, with the items sent for that meal, as well as the prep and cooking directions on the back side with photos. I really liked their meal sheets, but the size is a little large when your counter is full of foods. (I like the Hello Fresh half size card a little better.)

Why: You want to have home-cooked meals and quality family time, but the meal planning, prep and grocery shopping takes more time than you have.

Now I’ll give you a little free-form blurb on what I LOVED, liked, and didn’t like so much, and my final verdict on if we will continue this service. We both loved the gourmet taste of the meals – totally worth the price to get such amazing meals almost every time, and we both agreed it was tastier and cheaper than going out. Who doesn’t love getting real mail!? I especially like mail that helps me avoid shopping, because even though P is a better shopping passenger than a few months ago, with two naps still some days, it can be hard to get out. Finding time to plan meals can be tricky too, although there’s several apps that help! (More on Mealboard.com another time.) I loved getting a box of yummy fresh food in the mail. That excitement never wore off, and it was such a relief to know the planning, prep, and shopping were all done for me!

What I LIKED: the packaging for what they call ‘meal knick knacks’ was cute, which involved tiny bottles and packages of pantry items that were pre-measured for that particular recipe. Think, speciality oils, vinegars, créme fraîche, and other goodies that I would never buy otherwise (or buy and only use a small amount, thus wasting much of it.) I also liked the meal inserts with helpful cooking tips, such as how to wash cast iron, the pollen crisis, or instructions on flash cooking green beans. It was always relevant and very interesting, leaving me feeling like a more experienced cook. Nice touch, Blue Apron!

What I DIDN’T LIKE: The meals are time-consuming, more time than I would prefer, though not more than I would expect for a gourmet meal. When I say gourmet, I must add that I would still consider these easy/intermediate meals, and you don’t need any special cooking knowledge or paraphernalia to bring the yumminess to your table.It’s not difficult to skip meals, and they send you reminders that your meal is coming, however you have to stay on top of it because I just forgot to skip one and am getting some things this week we may not like! (You get to choose from a few meals each week, as to which you’d prefer to receive.) Blue Apron has added some quick/easy meals each week, so I was able to use those near the end of our trial period.  I also didn’t like the cost. As I said previously, when you consider that these meals are easily gourmet-quality meals, and I learned so much (and made my husband a very happy man) while using this service, they are more expensive than I would pay on a regular basis.

Final verdict: We did end up deactivating my account recently, and I would say the main reason was the cost and time involved. If you love cooking, but not the shopping, and you have plenty of expendable income, than I would say go for it! But at $59/week  for only three meals and most meals taking at least 30-45 minutes, I’m happy to get back to my Instant Pot and spending less on my total grocery and household budget. 

What about you? Have you tried a meal service that you like? Please share in the comments!

What I Learned This Spring

I love Emily Freeman’s ‘What We Learned’ Link Up and I’m excited to reflect on what I’ve learned! Writing is a good way for me to reflect on these things, so thanks for coming along!

Boys will be boys – I have come to love hearing my husband and son playing together. There is a special bond there, that I don’t have with my little Sweet P, and it’s fabulous. I’m learning that it’s a relationship to honor, even if it’s messy, loud, or different. What things don’t you understand? Can we give them honor even if we don’t understand? I’m learning. And so thankful.

Life is in the details – So often I’m waiting for the next big thing to get revved up about, something to lead, encourage, something bigger than me. But I’m reminded that the call of the Gospel reaches into even, and especially, the small everyday details. The washed dishes, wiping messy hands, washing underwear, and picking up one more toy all draw me back to Christ, if I allow them to. I don’t need to go looking for the next big thing to be involved in, whether work, ministry, or otherwise. I’m called to my now. That is where God is with me. The great I AM.

It’s not about the food – We’ve enjoyed hosting family and friends over the past few weeks, and I’m reminded again that people don’t come for the food and finesse – those things will get done, and can be fun to fuss over – but not at the expense of relationship. This past month we enjoyed dinners, lunch time chats, and time with my mom (Grammy) and I’m so grateful God reminded me to rest, relax and enjoy.

I have to take care of myself – and it’s not selfish – Life as a wife and mom has slowed in some ways, and picked up the pace in others. The middle-of-the-night waking is not as frequent, but I have a much more energetic little guy now! I’m finding more quality time with my husband than when he was working second shift, but this is often found over things we do to serve others – and that’s great! Just different. In all this, I have to constantly remind myself to take little breaks. Nap time is great for that – even if it’s just 20 minutes to read something, paint my nails, or take a quick shower before I need to get chores done. These little self-care moments remind me of my worth as a child of God – more on that in the next point.

Scripture memory changes me – This past month I was invited by a new friend to memorize Scripture. I actually said HELP! and she invited me to join her :). This is not an easy thing for me, although 15 years ago I was quite adept at memorizing body parts and cell structures! Having accountability to memorize, and even just writing the bimonthly verse (that’s right, only two a month) on my kitchen whiteboard, has changed my thinking tremendously and I’ve experienced growth in areas where I never thought I would overcome sin. Philippians 4:8 is on my board now; over and over I am reminded of my worth as God’s child by the first phrase – thinking on whatever is TRUE. I am His child, no matter what thoughts the enemy throws my way.

What about you? What have you been learning lately?