Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Breaking Free

Last night I started a Bible study called Breaking Free by Beth Moore.  I have never done a Beth Moore study, but the ladies in my group had some really great things to say about her and her other studies.  I enjoyed the introductory video we watched, and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

However, I have to admit I'm a little nervous about Breaking Free.  But first let me share a description of the study from LifeWay:

"This in-depth women's Bible study draws parallels between the captive Israelites of the Old Testament and New Testament believers in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. Beth looks at the Book of Isaiah through the lives of the kings who ruled during the prophet's ministry. These kings exemplify many of the obstacles to freedom with which we must deal. Using Scripture to help identify spiritual strongholds in your life, no matter how big or small, Beth explains that anything that hinders us from the benefits of knowing God is bondage."

My first instinct is to say, "I'm not in bondage; I'm not a captive desperate to be set free," and then proclaim this study isn't for me.  But that's too easy.  Notice the last sentence of the description above: "...spiritual strongholds in your life, no matter how big or small...anything that hinders us from the benefits of knowing God is bondage."  Anything.

Okay.  Anything.  ...Like beating myself up for yelling at my kids after I told myself I wasn't going to do it again.  Or when God moves me to say something in Sunday school or to a friend and I bite my tongue for fear of what others might think.  Or when there's an opportunity to serve set in front of me and I hesitate, hoping someone else will volunteer first.  Or when I spend hours on the computer and watching TV, or even doing housework for that matter, while putting off reading God's word.

So maybe I'm not so free.  Free's a little scary to me.  I'm reserved, I like consistency, I play it safe, and I like to be comfortable.  Being "free" intimidates me, but I feel like I'm close if I can open up and let myself be vulnerable.  I feel I'm in that place where my chains have been broken but I'm still lurking in the shadows, trying to work up the courage to push my toes out into the sunlight and take that first step.

I pray that Breaking Free provides the push that I need, as well as the push each of the other women signed up for the study needs.  I can't speak for them, but I think my biggest obstacle is to actually let myself be set free.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." (Isaiah 61:1-3)


Monday, January 14, 2013

Life Happens

Things happen to us all the time.  Things we love and things we don't.  Sometimes it feels like the things we don't love happen to us a little too often, but I have a theory it's just because we have too many "plans" for our own lives to be comfortable with any deviation.  Well, that's the case for me anyway.
But again, things happen.  Life happens.  That's just the way it is.  And then life goes on.  No matter what happens, good or bad, no matter how it affects us, and no matter how long it lasts, life still goes on.  And I think it's beautiful!
I am the queen of making plans, holding high expectations, and setting myself up for disappointment.  I've gotten a little better over the years, but I still have a long way to go.  However, there is one important thing I've learned:  I can't change life from "happening."  And there's no use in trying.
What I can do is love Jesus, praise God for everything in my life, and enjoy my time with my family and others, no matter the circumstances.
So where is this coming from?
The last 6 years (and 1 day).
Yesterday was my 6th wedding anniversary.  I'm sure many couples can relate, but a LOT has happened in those 6 years (and 1 day), much of which I definitely did not plan, or even remotely expect!  And I've spent a lot of time since our wedding day complaining about things that happened, things that didn't happen, and wishing something were different.
(Okay, let me be honest here.  I think there will always be something about life I wish was different, but I've learned that that's okay...As long as I don't bank my happiness on that one thing changing or let my discontent affect my general attitude or my faith!)
I'm not going to get into all the things that have changed or haven't gone according to plan, but I will share a few specific times that have taught me an important lesson.
First let me begin with my wedding day, the first day of our adventure.  It got icy.  It wasn't the most ideal weather, but hey, it was the middle of January after all.  I felt nervous and sick the entire day.  My stomach was so knotted up I couldn't even enjoy the food or cake at our reception.  And I tried to plan around other people's convenience (minus the dangerous driving conditions) rather than solely focusing on my husband and myself.  Needless to say, my wedding day did not go exactly as I had envisioned.  But I learned to focus on the important things, which turns out isn't a wedding at all - it's following through on your promises to God and to each other every day after you say "I do."
10 months later my husband and I found out our son was on the way!   This wasn't in our plans, but was a very welcome surprise!  I learned the importance of God's timing and that not all surprises are bad!  (I'm generally not a fan of surprises...the unexpected...deviations from "my" plans...)
About 2 years after that we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our daughter, and one month before she was born, my husband tore his achilles tendon which required surgery.  Then shortly after he was off his crutches and healing well, we found out my husband had testicular cancer.  Let me point out that this happened on our anniversary.  The next day, 2 years ago today, he had surgery to remove it.  (This is why I included the "and 1 day" above.  It was a VERY important day in our history together!)
Praise the Lord the Dr. found it, removed it, and that's been the end of it to date.  My husband has been cancer free for 2 years!  But it was a stressful time, as you can imagine, with my husband's health issues and a newborn too!  I learned so many things during this time, but the biggest lesson was a lesson of faith.  My faith has been stronger than ever since then and because of then!
But today, ironically, exactly 2 years after his surgery, we spent the day in the hospital again.  It was my turn for surgery.  Don't worry, NOT cancer!  My surgery was very minor and I am doing very well, but it was pretty nerve-racking when it was scheduled for this date.  And yesterday I spent my anniversary eating jello and drinking liquids to prepare.  No fancy anniversary dinner here!  Today taught me to be flexible.  My husband and I have decided to "reschedule" our anniversary this year.  We're not sure when yet, but we're going to pick another day to celebrate together.  And I'm perfectly okay with that.  ...As long as there's no jello ;)
So folks, life happens.  And it truly is beautiful, because if you allow it, it's all part of God's plan.  No matter how bad something seems at the moment, if it's part of God's plan, it's got to be good, because He is good.  He is so good!
My advice to you and myself (take it or leave it) is to let life happen.  Savor every moment.  Thank God for every moment.  Let God pull you through, and be open to the lessons presented to you.  Then let life go on and you will be very blessed indeed!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Off to a Slow Start

Okay.  We're 8 days into the new year, and remember that new plan I shared with you a few weeks ago?  Well, it's still just a plan.  And I've continued to expand my plan, but I haven't actually set any goals yet, and I definitely haven't made any progress!
I guess you could say I'm off to a slow start.  A very slow start.  But at least I have 51 weeks to redeem myself!  ...Right?
Well, the first part of my plan was to set goals.  My intention behind this part of the plan is to specify things I want to change or accomplish and then outline steps to make it happen.
So here are some goals I'd like to reach this year:
Interact with my kids more.  There are many times when I catch myself saying, "not now sweetheart," or "I'm busy right now," or "maybe later," to my kids.  And some nights after I lay the kids down for bed, I have a hard time remembering what we actually did together that day.  So it's not that I don't want to interact with my kids, it's that I have my priorities mixed up and lack good time-management skills. 
Get back on track with menu-planning.  I began menu planning shortly after my now 4 year old started solid foods.  I made all of his baby food and tried to make meals for myself and my husband that I could mash or puree for him.  We also lived way out in the country at that time and trips into town weren't that easy anymore with a baby in tow.  So I got to know my grocery store, I made lists, and I only went shopping about every 3 weeks or so.  I had a pretty good system going.  And then my daughter was born...and it hasn't been the same since!
Find ways to cut our budget.  Last Fall my husband and I enrolled in the Financial Peace University course by Dave Ramsey.  We've since then created a budget and keep track of our spending each month.  We've done a pretty good job, and we're definitely living within our means, but I want to do even better.  I want to find ways to spend less and save (and give) more.
Spend more quality time with my husband.  Due to my husband's work responsibilities and simply the season of life we're in, we don't get to spend a whole lot of time together.  And we're both bad about not making the most of the time we do have together.  That needs to change!  I don't really know how to make more time for each other at this point, but I know we can do better at making our time together count.
Better my relationship with God.  Every Christian can always better their relationship with God, and I am no exception!  I already know of a few Bible studies I'm participating in this year, which I'm sure I'll enjoy and learn a lot from.  But I need to do better in reading and studying God's word on my own, every day.  I also need to pray more.  Prayer is our means of communication with God, and communication is essential to building strong relationships.  Another way I'd like to better my relationship with God is to step out of my comfort zone.  What better way to get closer to someone than to open up and make yourself vulnerable?
Get more organized in my housework.  I already know how to do this - I just have to actually do it.  I doesn't take long to create a cleaning schedule, but even without a written schedule, I know what needs to be done and when.  My problem is doing it in a timely manner.  My problem is procrastinating and letting my housework pile up.  Then I put myself in a bind when we're expecting company or even just when I do decide to clean, I have a million things to do instead of just a few.  The key is staying on top of things.
Blog more consistently.  If you follow my blog, I've been posting very sporadically for the past month or so.  It's not been on purpose.  I became very busy last month preparing for my daughter's birthday, then Christmas came along, then the neccesary recovery time afterwards, and a lack of inspiration also contributed to the inconsistency.  I really enjoy blogging and have missed it.  I hope to do better from now on!
There are my goals.  This list is not exhaustive and may change.  I probably won't delete anything from this list, but I'll very likely add more when these are accomplished or at least when I'm seeing progress, no matter how imperfect that progress might be.
Now to find some motivation...
Any tips?!?!
I hope 2013 is treating you well so far!

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best Christmas Ever

Today is New Year's Eve, so I thought I'd better share about our Christmas before 2012 is officially over!
The weeks leading up to Christmas were a little up and down.  I tried to be very intentional about putting Jesus at the center of the season for our family, but it was kind of hard when my 2 and 4 year old were surrounded by santa, elves, reindeer, candy and presents, and they heard "you'd better be good for Santa" at least once every day!
We did a few things to focus on Jesus, like a Jesse Tree, reading Bible verses and doing a few Advent activities, and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas day, but the kids didn't think those things were quite as fun as making treats for Santa, or counting down to Christmas to see what Santa would bring.
I understand that.  Those secular Christmas activities really are fun!  And who doesn't like getting presents?  Looking back, I feel pretty good about my efforts in making Christmas fun while focusing on Jesus.  And I'm not saying Jesus can't be fun, but I learned that there may not be such a thing as truly balancing secular Christmas activities and Jesus.  All the secular acitivties seem to do is take away from the importance of His birth. 
I will, however, continue to try.  After all, my kids are very young and can't even come close to grasping the ramifications of Jesus birth yet!  So we'll start small.  And hopefully they're internalizing what I teach them about the Gospel, even if it'll take them a while to truly understand it.  I'm creating a foundation.  I can already see it in my son.  Praise God!
Although I can't be sure how important Jesus' birth is to my children yet, I do know they had a great Christmas this year filled with friends, family, and love.  My son made me sure of this a few days ago when he said, "Mommy, this has been the best Christmas ever!"  It melted my heart to see the look of joy on his face as he said it!  And the feeling of joy I've felt this year is greater than any other time in my life, because it's from Christ!  I pray he and my daughter feel that same joy someday too.
I really do think this was the best Christmas ever!  I hope it was for you too.
Here are some pictures from the season:

 My sweet kids by the tree!
Fun with Santa!                                           Little one favored Mrs. Claus!

I love this one!  My husband and I and our son are on the left, my sister and my niece are in the middle, and my sister's fiance and my daughter are on the right.  Great family photo!
The kids and my nephew.  Those are some super cute kids, don't ya think?!
Making cinnamon ornaments - they loved using the rolling pin!  And the little one liked sampling the non-edible dough...
Opening presents!

Fun in the snow!                                     ....or not...
Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year, New Plan

My husband is a goal-setter.  If I were to make a list of words describing his character, "goal-setter" would make the top 5.  Maybe even the top 2.  And he's even better with his follow-through!  I've always found this quality admirable and it's one of the things I love the most about my husband.
Probably because I'm nothing like him in this way.  "Goal-setter" would not be found on my list!  I stink at setting goals.  I stink at achieving goals too.  It's funny, because I love to make plans and come up with new ideas.  But I guess I never get to that end point where I can specify a goal and outline steps to achieve it.  Or when I do actually set a goal, I stop short of reaching it more times than not.  I am a pro at leaving projects unfinished! 
I'm kind of in this neverending state of doing something or planning something without finishing anything.  I read a devotion from Proverbs 31 Ministries last week that pretty much summed it all up.  The writer, Rachel Olson, wrote "the crux of my problem was waiting for everything to be perfect before I moved forward. If I didn't feel I could do something 'right,' I often didn't do it at all. If I couldn't control each move, or the outcome, I waited rather than began. And that meant a lot of things sat either un-started or unfinished."
Do you know what happens when a lot of things sit unstarted or unfinished?  You get overwhelmed.  You get discouraged.  You give up...leaving even more things on your to-do list unstarted or unfinished.  And how can anything be accomplished if it's never started?  "Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap." (Ecclesiastes 11:4)
Well, next year I'm going to break this cycle.  I'm going to start making goals.  More importantly, I'm going to achieve those goals.  But I'm not going to wait around anymore for "ideal conditions."  I will continue to plan things, because I believe having a game plan can be helpful, smart, and sometimes necessary.  However, I'm not going to waste half my days planning instead of doing.  And I'm not going let making and following plans keep me from enjoying things that aren't a part of the plan.  We all know that life doesn't always go according to plan!
I think I need to remind myself here of the old saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."  Proverbs 16:9 provides us a Biblical reminder of this:  "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."
(Click here to read another great Proverbs 31 Ministries article about the dangers of overplanning.)
So here's my plan for 2013:
~Set goals.
~Follow through on said goals.
~Be flexible when things don't go as planned.
~Be okay with imperfect progress*.
And most importantly:
~Ask God to reveal what personal goals He wants me to set and for the tools to achieve them.
I'm so excited for my new plan for the new year!  What are your plans for the new year?  Are you making goals?  Resolutions?  Maybe a bucket list of things/activities to check off?  Or even just one thing you've always wanted to do?  I'd love to hear about it!
*The phrase 'imperfect progress' is from Lysa TerKeurst's most recent book, Unglued.  It means making a change (or achieving a goal) takes time, and there may be setbacks, but any progress is good.

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

Tomorrow's the big day.  And tonight's the big night for little ones anxious for a visit from Santa!  I don't know about you and your house, but my house is stirring with excitement!  I woke up today to two little faces peeking in my doorway flashing ornery chocolate-covered smiles, quickly followed by "Can I tear the 2 off?  Can I tear the 2 off? (referring to our Christmas countdown chain)!"
For me, today will be filled with finishing last minute details.  Cooking, cleaning, wrapping, assembling, and more are all in the order of the day.  I'm even making a sure-to-be hectic trip to Walmart before they close this evening - something I don't think I've ever done.  (Wish me luck!)
But this Christmas season has been very different for me this year.  I have never anticipated Christmas day like I am this year, except for maybe as a young child.  But it's not the same kind of anticipation.  Yes, I am excited to see my babies' faces full of joy over their excessive perfectly appropriate amount of presents.  Yes, I'm excited for wrapping paper covered floors, a too-full belly, and a cup of eggnog.  And I'm excited to participate in my in-laws' Christmas traditions for the first time since my husband and I have been married.  (This will be our 5th Christmas as a married couple!)  But that's still not it.
This year I have read, reread, and studied the Christmas story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke like never before.  I also participated in an Advent Bible Study which was all about staying focused on Jesus.  I truly feel like I am about to witness a miracle tomorrow and see the Christmas story unfold first hand even though it happened so long ago.  I have never felt so close to the story and experienced the joy and hope it offers like I do now.
This is what it's about.
I've always known the reason for the season is Jesus Christ, but now I feel it.  I pray you feel it too!  If you're not quite feeling the joy and excitement you want to feel this Christmas, I urge you to read the Christmas story.  Really read it.  Find a quiet place, light some candles, and pray for your heart to be opened and that God will make each word you read come to life.
Read Luke 1:26-56, Matthew 1: 18-24, Luke 2:1-21, and Matthew 2:1-12.  I promise you will be blessed if you do!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Run for Joy

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
-Hebrews 12:1-2
This was last Friday's Scripture for Good Morning Girls' Advent Study.  As I was "" it (writing out scripture, observations, and applications, then praying), I found myself writing a lot more than I usually do.  It stirred up a lot of thought and emotion, so feeling limited by the space on my sheet of paper, I hopped on the computer to write more here.
First of all, last week's theme for the Advent Study was joy.  Looking at Hebrews 12, we see the word "joy" in verse 2.  But we'll get there later.
Let's talk about sin.  We all do it.  Sometimes we don't mean to, sometimes we don't even know we've sinned, and sometimes we choose to sin, even when we know better.  No matter how or why we sin, we can be sure there'll be consequences.  (Understatement of the year!)  Sin opens up a great big can of worms in our lives.  It leads to more sin.  It traps us.  It entangles us, as we see in Hebrews 12:1. 
Haven't we all been there before?  One sin leads to another, then another, and another...before we know it, we're entangled in sins and can't figure out how we got there.  Sometimes it only takes one sin to entangle us, and we can't move anymore.  We become immobile.
Now look at the next part of the passage:  "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."  How are we supposed to run a race when we're immobile?  And it's not just any race.  It's THE race.  It's God's will for us.  He has it all marked out for us, and all we have to do is run.  Hard.  With perseverance.  God knows it's not always going to be easy, but He tells us how to do it:  don't let ourselves become entangled in sin, and keep our eyes on Jesus.
Jesus, "the pioneer and perfecter of faith," showed us how to keep our eye on the prize.  He had great faith and you guessed it, JOY.  Joy in the promise of eternal life with God in heaven, and joy in saving us sinners so that we might recieve the same promise.  "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down and the right hand of the throne of God."  Joy was his prize, and Jesus, who brings us true joy, is ours.  And that joy let him not just persevere, but even scorn the obstacles in his path.  What great obstacles they were!  And he scorned them.  He was able to ignore them because he knew better.  And so do we.
We know that God doesn't give us anything we can't handle.  And we know that true joy only comes from accepting Jesus.  And if we choose to follow, our race is already marked out for us.  We just have to run.  Hard.  For joy.  And don't look back!