Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strong Enough by Matthew West

I have been hearing this song playing on the radio quite often as we've been out running errands this week. Each and every time it has literally floored me. It's one of those songs that just reaches in and gets deeply into the depths of what I've been feeling----for such a long time.

Be strong. You are so strong. You amaze me. These are the words I've heard so much lately. I know they are meant to encourage and uplift. I GET THAT----but yet, I am not strong enough. I've never felt weaker. This song definitely expresses where I am right now. I am not strong enough. However, I have a source of strength that compares to no other.

There is so much truth in the words about being at rock bottom actually being the BEST place to be. It is at the bottom when we have no choice but to look up. THAT is where our strength comes from. He is the strongest when we are at our weakest---IF WE LET HIM BE!

The words of the chorus just say it all:
I know I'm not strong enough to be
everything that I'm supposed to be
I give up
I'm not strong enough
Hands of mercy won't you cover me
Lord right now I'm asking you to be
Strong Enough
Strong Enough
For the both of us

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Peculiar Treasure

I love how you never know when God will speak to you and how you never know who might be the one that is the vessel he uses to deliver his message.

Today that vessel was my daughter and an amazing group of high school friends ( still stings to use daughter and high school in the same sentence!).  She left a few hours ago with a couple of friends and they were meeting up with more of their group to volunteer at a local food pantry.  Today is distribution day and she was excited to see how they would use them today.  Last week, they sorted clothes and stocked shelves.  Because this group of girls decided that they wanted to make it a "regular" thing----they had to choose a name for their group to go on the volunteer sign in sheets.  The desire to serve last week had originated out of their desire to work in the community because they were either not old enough or not available at the time to join in with the group that spent the week in Joplin.  They tossed around a few names and by the end of the afternoon, they settled on the name "Peculiar Treasures". 

As I talked with her this afternoon before she left, we were talking about that word....Peculiar.  We talked about how they came up with the name and what it meant.  It definitely sparked a conversation!  She knew that it was based on a Bible verse in the Old Testament and the word itself was typically only used in the King James Version.  Since we normally use NIV and NLT on a regular basis, we pulled up and start looking it up.  I wanted to see what context it was being used because I just really like the "ring" those words had together. 

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a PECULIAR TREASURE unto me above all people: for all the earth [is] mine: 
Exodus 19:5

I loved it and it brought such peace to me.  You see, I've often been described as peculiar and it usually hasn't been in a loving attitude.   To be honest, I just really haven't liked that word since it often reminds me of how some people view me and my take on life.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that they see me as different because God has called me to BE different.  However, the word just seems to rub salt in a wound. 

To hear my daughter use the word combined with treasure and know that it had a Biblical base really made me start thinking.  Peculiar TREASURE?  Can something BE peculiar AND be treasured?  It made me start wondering what those words meant in combination. 

Other versions:  treasured possession (NIV), my own special treasure (NLT), my treasured possession (ESV),  my special property (Bible in Basic English).

I don't believe there is ANY negativity to be found in those words.  God was speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai and told him to give that message to the people of Israel.  Keep my commandments, listen to me, and I will call you my peculiar treasure.  What beautiful words!

I love how God has poured that into my wounds.  What words some have used to harm, He has used to heal.  After all, He does call us to be set apart from the world.  One of the actual definitions of the word peculiar is "to be distinct from all others".  Never will I look at this word the same!  Instead of hearing it with dread, I'm loving it.  I'm embracing being a "peculiar treasure".

I'm most especially thankful for a daughter that has beautiful friends that are seeking to be peculiar treasures and place such value on servanthood and living a life for Christ.  It brings such joy to this mom's heart as we have faced such struggles to help her find such a group.  God has blessed our socks off and I can hardly wait to see what He has in store for all of these girls.  So thankful He has placed them together and with such a group of mentors leading their way. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thankful for my Husband

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm thankful for my husband.  We've been down some tough roads, but we went down them together and have something extraordinary to show for it.  Because we didn't "settle" for having an OK relationship and just getting by and because we didn't walk away when it was the easiest thing to do, we are beginning to see the rewards.

Today, I had a rough day.  Stress is oozing out my ears from things out of my control, things that are in my control, and things I should have had better control over.  Today was one of those days that I actually felt a wave of panic.  The panic of letting depression take over or even just letting everything fall apart.  It was about more than grief (even though it has escalated in the past few weeks).  Truthfully, I'm just overwhelmed with too many things coming from too many directions.  I WANTED to shut down and just let everything go numb.  When I had that feeling come it terrified me because it was the first time in a long time that I know I could have slipped into those old ways.  I fought against it and won.  I'm still overwhelmed and my heart is heavy with so many things, but I resolved to keep my head on straight and deal with it all in a healthy manner.

I'm most thankful for my husband.  My best friend.  Because we've been drawing closer and closer together (didn't believe it was possible....but no matter how close you are there is always room to grow!), he was brave enough to point out to me this morning that he recognized what I was doing to myself.  He knew where my mindset was heading.  He didn't ignore me or push me to the side, but instead FOUGHT for me.  That is what happens when you begin to fight for your marriage with spiritual warfare. 

Though my stress didn't magically disappear, my teammate has made me stronger.  I have a partner walking along side of me.  Yes, he did things in a physical sense to help restore some of my sanity.  He cooked dinner and let me have some downtime.  He's out now picking up dessert that will hit the spot (thanks to Samantha's facebook status that made me start craving Rolos!!!!).  It's more than those "acts of service" or gifts---which are the love languages he speaks naturally.  He also realizes that my love language isn't the same as his and he stepped out of his comfort zone to make sure he was speaking "my" language.  He used words of affirmation to reach me.  He sent me emails and messages that let me know he was thinking of me and battling for me.  He refused to let me feel alone.  He also made me laugh until my sides hurt with his off-the-wall wit. 

Best of all,  where nothing will ever reach any deeper----I know tonight that the best is yet to come.  My best friend is my prayer partner.  He will go to our heavenly father tonight on my behalf, on our behalf, and on behalf of all the other things that are weighing so heavy.  No other tool in our arsenal is any greater.  It binds us together and it transforms.  We may not hear an immediate answer to all of our requests and needs, but the heavy weight WILL lift.  No other act is more intimate when shared with the one God has given you as a life-partner. 

I'm just thankful.  I'm thankful for the man I'm married to.  It's a TRUE blessing. 

Book Review "Lillies in Moonlight" by Allison Pittman

"I envy you.  I wish I could have just come to this house and forgotten about everything I've done.  Everything that's happened to me.  I guess that's been your gift to me. seem like you love me, no matter what, Without question."

Betty Ruth reached out and patted her leg.  "Don't lose sight of where that kind of loves comes from.  That is how Jesus Himself loves you.  When you are His child, and you open your heart to accept that He has forgiven you, He sees you through eyes of love, and He restores you back to that place of perfection.  Pure perfection."

Lily looked down at the tiny hand on her knee and covered it with her own.  "That's what Mama always said.  That I needed to beg Jesus to forgive me.  That I could never be a child of God with so much darkness in my soul."

"Land sakes, child.  There's no begging to be done.  Forgiveness is for the asking, but most of all, for the accepting.  Sin wounds us, but Jesus heals us.  We're clean in His eyes.  The scars are in ours."

Wow---those are some pretty powerful words.  A beautiful description of the pain that sin causes us and the healing power of forgiveness.  Sometimes our pasts are painful because of things we have done or because of things that were done to us.  Sometimes we struggle with the gift of forgiveness that God gives us.  Scars are painful well past their healing. 

Alison Pittman, wrote these words in "Lillies in Moonlight".  The story takes place in the mid 1920s.  The historical Christian romance centers around Lilly Margolis and Cullen Burnside.  Lilly is a beautiful young woman that has made some poor choices.  She's a flapper that knows how to use her body and beauty for her benefit.  She enters the story as a door-to-door sales girl for Dalliance Cosmetics.  Cullen, is a wealthy, disfigured war veteran. 

I am a huge fan of historical fiction.  I have mentioned many times how I love to get "lost" in a time period and how a good book takes me from our present time to the past.  "Lillies in Moonlight" didn't disappoint.  Within a few pages, I felt completely entranced in the 1920s. 

The great thing about this novel is that as with most Christin romance stories, there are usually two stories going on.  There is usually someone in need of God's redemption and there is a romance.  Lilly is in need of learning to forgive----both her mother and herself.  She is in need of finding God in a personal way and turning her life over to Him.  Cullen, is battling with having a mother with a mental illness and the death of his father.  His father's death left him with unresolved issues that he needs to work through.  He needs to feel loved and accepted, despite the fact that he is disfigured from the war.  As expected, the two main characters find love with each other, but most importantly they find the REAL love they are both searching for----FINALLY in the right direction! 

I absolutely loved the story line and it made for a great summer read.  Because I read so quickly, I was finished with the 340 page book in just about two hours.  I enjoyed it so much that I read it cover to cover in one sitting. 

Because I'm expected to leave an honest review, I will say there were a couple of disappointing points for me.  One, the mother's vision in the story was treated as part of her craziness.  I would have rather seen at least some points of someone treating it as God communicating with her.  Even when her vision came to be true in some ways, I think it was somewhat brushed away.   Secondly, I think the book ended too soon.  I love how the story ended, but it left me with too many questions and too many unresolved issues.  Though the story was about the two main characters finding love and acceptance in each other, so much more of the story was about forgiveness and relationships with their parents.  I felt the entire book was about the relationship with Lilly and her mother and it was quickly wrapped up in just a few pages.  That was disappointing. 

All in all, if you are in search of a summer read that leaves you feeling great about God's redemption, that draws you into a historical time period, and than explores a budding romance between two individuals with "flaws"----"Lillies in Moonlight" is a great one!

*Disclaimer:  This book was provided to me by WaterBrook Multonomah in exchange for my review.  My opinions are my own and are truthfully based on my impressions of the book.*

Survival Mode---Dinner Plan

Life is about to take on whirlwind status as we have busy schedules coming up.  Though I'm VERY excited about the activities we have ahead, I'm not so thrilled to know that it will create havoc on dinner.  In a nutshell:  I will blow the budget, wide-open, upside down, inside out and will beat myself over the head a million times because I allowed it to happen. 

Enter in the solution:  A meal plan.  At times, I do well with a meal plan.  Other times, I admit to just not liking being so "scheduled".  Because I don't want to see all of our hard work in reaching financial goals and savings towards some specific future purchases, trips, and debt-free living----I'm committing to it for the next few weeks. 

The meals aren't fancy.  They are about as blah and boring as it comes.  Even though we've been moving towards healthier choices, more organic and whole food when possible....this pretty much tosses it out the door.  Hopefully I will make up for it in our snack choices and side dishes.  What matters most is that we come through the next few weeks with our sanity, MY SANITY, intact.  We also want to come through without digging ourselves into a hole financially by grabbing meals on the go or buying countless convenience foods because we are in a time crunch or I'm too stressed to use my brain!  I have enough padding in the food budget right now to do *more* of that, but I don't want to.  I'd rather end up with that money still left over to apply to one of our many goals!  Isn't it amazing how quickly we can sabotage those goals when we are on the go and running in circles?

Breakfast Plan:  no real plan at this point.  This usually isn't an issue for us during the summer.

Lunch Plan:  plan to come later.  This is an easy area to blow the budget, but I do have a few stand-bys to focus on until I nail another plan down.  Mostly things like: bagel pizzas, homemade chicken nuggets, homemade uncrustables (Kevin just made a large batch of these with whole wheat bread and natural peanut butter for us and put them in the freezer), tortilla wraps with meat/cheese or peanut butter/honey. 

Dinner Plan:  The REAL area where I need a bit of a sanity saver!

  • Tuesday 28th  steaks, potatoes, veggies on the grill (a splurge meal!)
  • Wednesday 29th  Easy Layered Nacho Bake (VBS meeting) large batch to share with a stressed out new mom
  • Thursday 30th  DATE NIGHT  ($5 pizza for the kids).
  • Friday 1st  Harvest Moon Drive-In Gibson City Double Feature Cars 2 and Mr. Poppers Penguins.  Expecting a large crowd and need to arrive VERY early (as soon as Kev can get home and we can get loaded up!).  Will be taking our own food for the night. 
  • Saturday 2nd Arthur Fireworks We love the tradition of going to see these amazing fireworks and enjoying the Amish surroundings.  We avoid the large crowds by watching from the park and the kids have a blast running around playing for hours.  Again, taking our own picnic (this is just as much fun to the kids as the fireworks!)  Sometime that afternoon, I do plan on making Pizza Pasta Salad to keep in the fridge. 
  • Sunday 3rd Stuffed Mozzarella Pizza Burgers
  • Monday 4th Champaign Freedom Fest  Again, another picnic to pack!
  • Tuesday 5th (VBS meeting)---dinner provided
  • Wednesday 6th  DATE NIGHT  (Take out or leftovers for the kids). 
  • Thursday 7th Italian Pasta Bake (VBS meeting)  Double batch to freeze for the 14th. 
  • Friday 8th CHRIS AUGUST concert (FREE!).  Taking our own snacks, but eating dinner at home.  Asiago Peppercorn Homemade Chicken Nuggets (chicken dipped in dressing and rolled in crushed club crackers).  Triple batch for freezer to restock lunches and for dinner 13th.
  • Saturday 9th Corn Dog Muffins for freezer (Jiffy corn bread mix, diced nitrate free all beef hot dogs, cheese) for lunches or quick meal.  Dinner will be Kevin's choice----grill master! VBS decorating most of the first half of the day.
  • Sunday 10th basically living at church with attending 1 service, teaching 1 service, VBS decorating, and then VBS kick off!!!!  Crockpot Lasagna started late Saturday night to eat in shifts or whenever we get the chance to run home.  Fortunately church is less than 2 miles away!
  • Monday 11th (VBS) Baked Chicken and Pastini or if time is really short, may pull out corn dog muffins or even just have eggs and toast. 
  • Tuesday 12th (VBS) Easy Cheeseburger Pie Kids favorite, but we haven't had it in a VERY long time. 
  • Wednesday 13th (VBS) Asiago Peppercorn Chicken Nuggets from freezer and Sweet Potato Fries
  • Thursday 14th (VBS) Baked Pasta from the Freezer
  • Friday 15th (VBS-Family Finale)  Bubble Pizza
Hopefully during the day I will be able to squeeze in a few extra minutes to stock up breakfast and lunches for the freezer.  We are eating LOTS of steamed veggies and salads, so I will have to make sure those are on hand to grab!  Snacks are mostly apples, cheese sticks, yogurt parfaits made from organic low fat yogurt, granola, and fruit.  Obviously, I'll have to throw in some desserts in there at times as well or my family husband and I will begin to feel a bit deprived and will be heading out for midnight snacks way too often!

It's going to be a great few weeks.  In addition to VBS (planning for 500+ kids!) itself, we have SO much prep work to do and food to prepare for all of those nights.  My mentorship for the Bible in 90 days challenge begins during that time as well.  A precious little one that we are greatly anticipating should also be making her arrival.  I will finally have finished all of my dresses for Africa.  It's going to be an amazing time for family memories, LOTS of laughter amidst the stress of VBS because the relationships we've made are truly priceless, numerous chances for service, great times together as husband and wife.  Most importantly we are choosing to throw the stress out the door and just enjoy these days together!  Hopefully by planning ahead we can still enjoy afternoons at the water park, lazy afternoons with books and crafts, late night movies and just enjoying the gifts God has given us!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ordinary Days: Photo Journey (1)

At the urging of some friends, I am going to start posting some photo glimpses into some of our daily activities.  Since I'm so incredibly far behind in scrapbooking and because so many of my family isn't on facebook (where I share so much of our daily lives), this photo journey will help remind us of all the ordinary days that are priceless. 

I haven't felt so well the past couple of days, so I was thrilled to get outside and spend a bit of time working on VBS prep work tonight.  I was anxious to try out my idea of making bamboo poles out of cardboard tubing (fabric bolts).   Sneak peak:

While we were waiting for it to dry, Bradlee was getting a bit bored and wanted to go play at a neighbors house with Peyton.  Peyton really didn't want a tag-a-long so we had to come up with an idea to keep him busy and happy.

 Several weeks ago, I finally received my box of busy bags from a swap I participated in. It was the perfect time to grab one that was just perfect to play with outside. Bradlee loved playing clothes line.

He had a bucket of soapy water, one with clean water, some clothes cut out of felt, clothes pins, and a make shift clothes line that Kevin temporarily put up for him.  He was happy, busy, and VERY much occupied for a good solid 30 minutes.  Success!

Oh......and let's not forget he made sure and turned this activity in to a typical boy version.......

He had to make sure the clothes were GOOD and muddy first. 

Submission: It isn't a Scary Thing! It's a Respect Thing!

Some days I choose to do everything in my power to avoid conflict.  I try to avoid controversy.  Keep my head low, focus on what I'm doing, put my blinders on to the outside world, and bite my tongue. 

Then there are days like today.  The days where I open my big mouth and let the words fly! 

Though I try to walk a fine line of not causing dissension, there comes a time that I just can't zip my lips any longer.  Today is that day.

There are going to be people that disagree with me.  They are entitled to that opinion.  There are going to be people that agree with me and I hope that God continues to give them the encouragement they need to continue to "press in" and live out that principle. 

What is this controversial topic?

Submission.  Specifically the role of husbands, wives and the leadership of the home.  It's been creating quite a bit of buzz everywhere I've turned lately and I guess that has been my signal that it is time to stop biting my own tongue.

I'm going to admit that I'm aggravated.  I'm so tired of hearing women trash their husbands.  I'm tired of watching them take over every lead role in the home.  In general, homes are falling apart.  Marriages are failing.  Parents are being best friends instead of parents to their children.  Family values are declining.  There is a HUGE breakdown happening at a rapid pace and it's beginning in the home.  Many times it's beginning in the way that husband and wife are interacting.

Do I believe that submission of the wife to the husband is the biggest contributing factor?  Maybe not, but it is absolutely part of the solution. 

Before the arrows start heading my way, let me explain myself. 

I am strong willed.  I am set in my ways.  I am far from stupid.  I am capable of handling most anything and everything that is thrown at me.  If I don't know how to do something, by gosh, I can surely find out and do it.  I am not anyone's doormat.  I have value.  I have rights to my opinions and can choose to voice them. 

Submission doesn't take away any of that! 

The Bible plainly gives direction in 1 Peter 3 and in Ephesians 5.  It doesn't get much clearer than verses 22 and 23. 

22) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23) For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Not much wiggle room there!  I didn't see any words there that says "maybe" you should do this.  I don't see any words that say "if you want to". 

However, let's remember that the Bible doesn't give the husband the right to treat his wife in a servant role.  We aren't dirt under his feet.  We aren't second class.  Though we aren't necessarily equals----we aren't beneath him either. 

The Bible's instructions are pretty clear in how a husband is to treat his wife.  He is to love her as Christ loves the church.  Though as wives we are called to submission, he is called to an even greater task.  I talk about some of those responsibilities here.  Basically, he is to cherish her and protect her.

Truth of the matter is:  we as wives have a responsibility to RESPECT our husbands.  That is the essence of submission.  We should honor him in our speech and in our actions. We should honor him by allowing him to have leadership in the home.  Don't dishonor him among other women by trashing him with jokes or making him out to be incapable.  Absolutely don't dishonor him in front of your children.  As a mother, I can't stand it when a situation comes up and I don't feel my husband has my back in regards to the kids (typically a discipline issue).  As much as we need our husbands to be united with us, HE needs us to be united with him.  United front.  You can't parent without it! 

Submission doesn't mean I left my brain on the altar of the church the day I got married.  I still have my opinions and I still am quite able to think for myself.  My opinions, skills, and abilities are valuable to our home. 

Submission doesn't mean I have to agree with everything my husband says.  It doesn't mean that I am a robot and nod my head in agreement with everything he says or does.  It does mean that I should RESPECTFULLY voice my difference in opinion.  It doesn't mean I should manipulate to get my way.  I shouldn't sulk or give the silent treatment until I get my way.  OUCH!

Submission doesn't mean I should never try to change his opinion.  A husband very well can be won over by our words.  Again, when they are offered in respect, the door opens for honest communication as resolutions are worked through.  Obviously, THAT skill takes work since we as women are HIGHLY emotional.  Or maybe I am the only woman that finds her emotions getting in the way occasionally often!  :)  (I still smile thinking about the illustration JP put on the screen Sunday.  The man had one on and off button.  The woman had countless on and off switches and dials of every different shape, design, and color!  We are quite complicated!). 

Submission doesn't mean I should never want my will above his.  Again, a wife is to be valued.  Relationships require give and take.  Otherwise they crumble.  No one can be the winner every time. 

Submission doesn't mean that because he is the spiritual leader of the home that I can sit back and just soak it in.  He may be the leader, but I am responsible for my own growth.  If he is falling short in this category, I am still responsible for myself.  If he is exceeding in this category, it doesn't mean I can just be like a sponge and soak it in.  Our husbands aren't to meet our every need.  Only God can do that.  The greatest change in my life came when I REALLY got the words of a statement I had read.  "A woman's heart should be so lost in God that a man must seek Him to find her."  Few days go by that I don't refer to these words in some form or another.  The power to change a marriage is in THOSE words. 

Submission isn't out of fear!  A husband doesn't reign over a wife and have her trembling in fear.  That is NOT what Biblical submission is based on.  Remember, the Biblical call of a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church.  Submission is out of love and respect.  It is out of freedom. 

What submission is is this:  respect.  It's about fully embracing the principle that upon marriage, two truly become one.  It's about wanting the best for each other.  It's about wanting to make sure that you both are living out what God wants for you in marriage.  Respect is TOP of that list. 

I recently read this definition and LOVE how it is worded.

Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. It is an attitude that says, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish in the relationship when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.”

Call me old-fashioned....that's OK.....I admit that I don't have a problem with that!  I am grateful to have my husband as a leader.  My submission to him does not make me weak.  It means I recognize the role that I have been given and I respect the role he has been given.  Parents have a role.  Children have a role.  Employers have a role.  Employees have a role.  I'm not walking around with my head hung low because I'm a lowly woman under the feet of a man that I feel servant to.  I'm walking around CONFIDENT that our marriage is being shaped into one that is representative of  the one that God has intended. 

So there it soapbox rant for today.  I reached the limit of hearing how "weak" it is to be under the leadership of my husband.  I find NO weakness in it!  The only weakness I see is that I'm often guilty of not supporting him in his roles or I try to take on more of what is intended for him.  Truth is I'm happy to be under my husband's leadership.  He has our best interest at heart and when he falls from that path, THEN it is time to respectfully come to a compromise or pray for peace to come in to our decisions. 

I find no shame in saying that a man has authority over me.  In all honesty, I cherish it.  I cherish it because it is Biblical and expected.  I cherish it because "that" man is the one God chose for me.  He is the one that God designed to be the leader of our home.  Though he may fail at times, He is STILL the one God chose and God will continuously shape him in to the leader He designed.  I cherish him because He tries to always keep his "end of the bargain" by loving me the way God has intended.  When either of us fail, God puts us back on the right path. isn't a scary thing.  It shouldn't strike such controversy when the word is mentioned.  It is actually a word of love and of freedom.  It is of God's design and for that I'm thankful.  To be honest, I'll gladly take my role because I think at times my role is easier.  When I make the mistake of stepping out of my own role and into Kevin's shoes, I quickly find that the "grass isn't always greener" or I quickly find that I'm out of my comfort zone.  It is because that is of God's design.  He has equipped me for my roles and he has equipped Kevin for his.  Stepping out of bounds is when our biggest conflicts arise.  God designed it that way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Perfectly Imperfect

Wish you could see this giant smile on my face.  It's quite large----very goofy I might add. 

You see, I realized something rather important.  I've spoken many times about my tendency to get caught up in the dangers of perfectionism.  I can't attain it.  It drives me crazy.  It creates disaster after disaster. 

Tonight, I realized there IS something that I can reach a level of perfection in.  IMPERFECTION!  How awesome is that?  I'm perfectly imperfect.  I know, I'm crazy when that excites me so much!  It's just so gosh darn----freeing!  (OK, IL friends----I admit that was "spoken" with my full on southern accent)!

Seriously, it is an amazing feeling to have come to the realization that I am perfectly imperfect.  It gives me the freedom to accept all of my failures without punishing myself because I am perfectly the way God made me.  It gives me the freedom to let my guard down and be ME.  I admit that it's hard for someone that is so "tough" on herself to fully accept the FACT that God's love is UNCONDITIONAL.  We do NOT earn God's love and favor.  It is not by works that we are saved.  In other words, God does not love me more because I do this or that for Him and He doesn't love me less when I fall short of His expectations.  I don't have to get bogged down in feeling unworthy of His love and sacrifice.  That is SO easy for me to do!  Satan is GREAT about manipulating us into focusing on our failures/sins.  The truth is:  I am not worthy.  Yet, He loves me no matter what.  He loves me just as I am.  He will never abandon me because of anything I do. 

He knows all of my secrets.  He knows all of my flaws.  He knows each and every one of my deepest hidden thoughts.  He knows ALL of the ugliness that hides inside.  He knows what we look like on the inside and on the outside.  He knows how many hairs are on our heads.  He knows what is hidden in our closets.  It doesn't matter what kind of image we "put on" for the outside world.  He knows it all. 

Yet, He loves us anyway.  He LOVES us in our imperfection.  The Bible says in Romans 5:8:

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

It doesn't say that when we are perfect, then He will love us.  It doesn't say that when we get ourselves "all cleaned up" and shiny, THEN He will love us.  I may scramble around frantically when someone announces they are coming over and make sure the house is spotless, but God doesn't expect that of me.  He loves me right smack dab in the middle of my filth----my sin covered self.  God loves YOU----exactly the same way.  He loves you with each and every one of your flaws.  Guess what?  He even loves us with those flaws that we try the hardest to keep the world from seeing. 

Though His love is unconditional, we do have responsibilities.  We are cutting ourselves off from his blessings and there are REAL consequences to sin.  However, He NEVER withholds his love.  Just like a GOOD parent disciplines in LOVE----so does our heavenly father.  He only wants the best for us.  We only want the best for our children so we have definite rules and expectations for them to follow.  When (not IF!) they fall short, we don't withhold our love from them.  Neither does God withhold His from us.

Perfectly imperfect.  I think I really am loving those two words together.  It's great to actually be perfect at something!  Don't we all REALLY crave that?  You don't have to be a perfectionist to crave being completely perfect at something.  It's great to be imperfect.  Perfection in any other capacity is impossible because there is only ONE that embodies perfection.  However, isn't it the most amazing feeling to know that you are completely, 100% loved unconditionally by someone the one that is perfect?   He is perfection, but yet He chooses to love us in our messed up, flawed, selfish imperfect states!  That is worth a HUGE smile!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not Having Answers....Excruciating!

Sometimes, even though you can't stand it, you just don't have the answers.  I'm information driven and have an insatiable desire for learning.  If I don't know the answer, I instantly start researching.  You'll be hard pressed to ever see me without a book close by.  It's my nature.

Not having answers is a VERY uncomfortable place to be.  I feel off balance and as if something is missing if in my search for knowledge I don't come up with the answer I need. 

With that said, you would think these last months would have been torture because I have DEFINITELY had more than a fair share of questions that haven't been answered.  I could spend hours writing a list of questions and it wouldn't cover them all.  Though many questions do involve the loss of my father, there have been many other situations that have left my asking why?, what now?, are you serious?, what is your purpose?, what are you trying to show me?.......Though I'm very open in blogging, there are some things that you just can't publicly proclaim either because you are respecting the wishes of others or things that just aren't meant for the world to know about.  I'll just say this:  you just never know what weight another person may be carrying or what difficult situations they are facing.  Our plates are very full with heartache going on around us. 

Though they swirl around in my brain and my heart is heavy, I'm not defeated.  Though I don't have the answers and no amount of research is going to give me the answers I seek, I have great comfort.  I have THE one that holds the answer to every asked and unasked question living in ME.  Peace comes from that relationship.  Hope comes from having an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.  Though that relationship does NOT erase pain and it does NOT create perfect circumstances, it DOES provide the greatest source of comfort and support one can ever imagine.

However, I'm frustrated.  There are numerous situations going on around me that have left some heavy hearts and GREAT wounds among those that I care for.   Because they either have made the decision to walk away from their faith, have become calloused to God and His love, have allowed pain to create a wedge between themselves and God, or even have never experienced the love of Christ by asking Him to be Lord of their lives.....they CAN NOT find the comfort I am experiencing. 

Simply put:  IT. IS. RIPPING. ME. APART.  

I could not have made it through these last months without Christ.  Even with Him, it is difficult and some days it seems impossible.  Just when I think I can't carry on another second, He reaches out and sends JUST what I'm needing.  It never fails.  Just the right encouragement comes in many different forms and many times in the most unexpected ways.  He provides.  I survive. 

How do those that I love that don't have that "connection" make it through their difficult situations?  How do I reach out and help them when I know that without a doubt they can NOT do it without Christ, yet their hearts aren't ready.  How do you know what to say and when to say what, when the door does open slightly?  If you push too far, the door snaps closed and you don't know when the door will open again.  If you don't say enough, you've lost an opportunity that may never come again.  Yes, I know the answer to that is pray and let the Holy Spirit guide.  I KNOW that answer, but let's face many of us REALLY know what that means?!  Just being honest.  Surely I'm not the only one that is guilty of thinking I was doing something lead by the Holy Spirit, but instead I was being led by my own emotions.  My heart was absolutely in the right place and my motives were pure, but it was my own timing. 

I'm not going to lie.  I'm struggling on many different levels with many different things.  Most of the time, I've found ways to work through whatever is happening at the moment by turning to God.  It may have meant pouring myself into an uplifting Christian fiction book and allowing my mind to rest or escape.  It may have meant just releasing everything I was thinking (both good and bad) by praying.  It may have meant engrossing myself into a good non-fiction book or devotional that helped me dig deeper into God's word.  A mentor or friend may have said some comforting words (or even some tough words through tough love!).  Lyrics of amazing Christian music has soothed more times than I count. What do you do when you don't have that?  THAT is the question that is weighing so heavy on me right now.  Not being able to help those I love and care for because they have either never experienced that peace or they are blocking it by not allowing God to reach them is RIPPING me to shreds.  I'm just broken right now watching them searching in the wrong places or pouring themselves into the wrong vessels because they don't know where to turn.  Many of us are carrying the same hurt so I KNOW first hand what they are feeling so I know how devastatingly out of control they feel right now.  Yet, I feel so helpless because the answer I have to offer is an answer they aren't ready to hear or even worse, is one they are completely rejecting. 

Not having answers is.....excruciating.

Slowing Down....Tough to Do, but the Rewards are Many

There is a phrase stuck in my head today.  One that I can't get to fade away and the more I think about it, the more it penetrates those hidden away places. 

Today I'm finding myself a bit disapointed in myself.  I'm behind on MANY things I was planning on doing during summer "break"  (haha....what a joke!!!).  No, they aren't things that will cause a great collapse if they don't get done.  Pretty insignificant in the scheme of worldy things.  However, for my heart, they were pretty big.  Instead of being thankful of the progress I have made, I'm stuck looking at what I haven't accomplished.  That tends to be a tiny HUGE problem I have.  It's one I am trying to work on, but yet I have a few LOTS of lessons to learn. 

I have these visions in my head of what I want our home to look like.  Sure, I want the house to be neat, clean, organized, hospitable, etc... but that isn't what I'm really focusing on this time.  It's the bigger picture.  It's about how I see myself as a wife, a mother, a friend, a servant of Christ.  It's how I see my kids in their roles and how I see my husband in his.  In my head, I see these images of how I want us all to be and yet in reality I see where we are and I cringe.  Granted, our family has never been closer, more purposeful.  Our marriage has never been as fulfilling and thriving.  I'm daily thankful for the relationships that have been built and are growing deeper by the day.  Life TRULY is good despite the unspeakable heartache that we've been dealing with and the attacks on us from every direction as Satan tries to get us to turn our backs on God.  However, I see and want SO much more.  I admit to being impatient in growing.  I want results now. 

Instead, God keeps saying wait.  He keeps saying stop and stay here awhile.  He isn't letting me speed through by accomplishing one task and moving to the next seemlessly on hyperspeed.  Working through the "Power of a Praying Wife" as part of the 30 day challenge with S.H.M.I.L.Y has caused some great moments of growing.  God isn't allowing me to just read off the prayer and be done with it.  He's giving me situations that require me to STOP and pause. He's telling me over and over to give ALL of me to it and spend time REALLY studying the topics and how they apply to ME.  It has become so much less about Kevin, the changes are happening with in my own heart.   If I were on track with Good Morning Girls as we study Clarkson's book "The Ministry of Motherhood", I should be on week 6.  Good grief, I am barely in week two because there is just THAT much to soak in if I want to let it truly get a grip on me. 

The list goes on.  Everywhere I turn I'm behind according to MY schedule.  I planned to squeeze so much in this summer.  There is so much I wanted to accomplish on so many levels, especially knowing the pressure this next school year will bring and how hard it is to keep EVERYTHING balanced.  Without a doubt, the majority of it is GOOD things that focus on spiritual growth and serving others.  However, even too many good things become a bad thing.  I found myself hurrying through just to get it checked off the list.  God will have nothing of it.  He keeps telling me that if I'm serious about making change x,y, or z.....then I have to slow down and do it on HIS time.  To be honest, that unnerves me.  I'm not good at being still and slowing down.  I'm perfection driven.  I also fear if I spend too much time "here or there" then I won't make it on to the next project and then I'll start dropping all the balls.  Again, I'm stuck in the mode of thinking about what I haven't finished yet. 

Then "the" phrase comes along.  It changes everything.  It makes me remember that progress is good, even if it is going at a snail's pace. 

"I look for persistence----rather than perfection---in your walk with Me." 

Hello?  Tracye, are you listening?  He doesn't demand perfection.  He is the ONLY perfection there is.  I can NOT attain it and it's destructive to think otherwise.  I'm not disappointing Him in the least as long as I am moving in the right direction....EVEN IF it is at a snail's pace!  Wanting more of Him and less of me is absolutely the right track to be on.  However, expecting it to happen overnight is setting up for failure.  All He  asks that I am being persistent and focused on Him.   After all, He IS the one causing me to slow down.  I'm not meeting MY goals, but I'm meeting His.  Which do you think matters more?  That's a no-brainer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Come my Children, Listen to Me....

It sure didn't take long for "balance" to be restored and my focus to be renewed.  As soon as I began pouring myself into my necessary responsibilities the peace began to return.  Most specifically, after a few minutes of listening/singing along to Seeds (specifically volume 4: purpose), my emotions began to settle and my thoughts brought me closer to God instead of allowing the temporary wedge to grow.

Specifically, the words of the song "Listen to Me" (Psalm 34:11-14) really caught my attention and it caused me to truly stop and listen.  Sometimes it is more than just the words of a song or words of scripture that change you, it's the message from the Holy Spirit that penetrates your heart while you are listening.

The words of the first verse is what caught my attention.  "Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD."  It caught me and reminded me of my greatest responsibility in raising my children.   The greatest concern I should focus on is their spiritual growth.  How many times have we as moms and dads ever said the words, "Listen to me!"?  Some days, countless times!  As a mom, I should be saying, "Come my children, listen to me.  I will teach you the fear of the Lord.".  I admit that for many years, I was confused about that word fear in regards to God.  I thought it meant be "scared" of Him because He has the power over us to do as he pleases, that He was sitting on his throne waiting to dole out judgment and punishment.  To our modern ears, the word fear conjures up a negative image.  However, that isn't what "fear the Lord" actually means.  To "fear the Lord" means to be in awe of Him.  The only fear in the traditional sense of the word is for us to fear being separated from Him.  To fear means to be fully rooted in His love and to be reverent of Him.  Respect.  Unity. 

This afternoon, I did a search about other ways to describe the fear of the Lord.  I came across this description and I love it. 

The Fear of God is rooted in our appreciation for God’s Holiness. God is Holy and the gift of Holy Fear strikes within us a deep awareness of this holiness as well as a deep understanding that we must be made holy before coming into his full presence. The gift of fear helps us to appreciate that we do not simply walk into God’s  presence in the spiritual equivalent of jeans and a T-Shirt. Holy Fear inspires us to be clothed in holy attire, to get ready to meet God. Just as we might bath and wear fine clothes to visit a world leader, we reverence God enough to be robed in righteousness by his grace before we go to meet him. Holy Fear makes us serious about this preparation.

That is my responsibility as a mother in raising my children.  This is the fear I need to instill in them.  Amazing responsibility when you think of it.  Every other thing I can ever teach them  pales in comparison.

While I was soaking in the words of scripture/song as it played, I was reminded of a fantastic article that a friend shared recently on facebook.  When I read it, it moved me tremendously as it reminded me that being a mother IS a ministry.  I've mentioned before that people in my life have been vocal about saying that I'm not being "light in a dark world" by being at home and by teaching our children at home.  Though I KNOW the truth, it always a welcomed boost to read encouragement that confirms it.  You can read the article here.  If any of you moms are wondering if what you do matters, be sure to read it!  Though so much of it made me think and gave me much needed encouragement, there was a specific paragraph that really brought to heart the role I have and the fact that motherhood IS a ministry.  My role in my home does matter (SHAME on those that have told me differently!).  The author says:

Look at your children in faith, and see how many people will be ministered to by your ministering to them. How many people will your children know in their lives? How many grandchildren are represented in the faces around your table now?

Our human eyes are limited.  We can't see into the future.  The world says right now doesn't matter.  Oh my, but it does.  The author's words absolutely helped me to regain my focus.  My purpose is clear.  These three blessings that I spend every single day with ARE my ministry.  I cannot in my limited vision have any idea how far reaching their lives will be.  God can see.  God knows.  That is why it is so important for me to be diving in with everything I have to tell them, "Come my children, listen to me;  I will teach you the fear of the Lord."  It's overwhelming and I admit to failing more than succeeding, but God can take the small seeds I'm planting and nurture their growth into amazing adults with deep-rooted faith and fear of Him. 

Not Perfect---A Bit of Honesty

I made it through Father's Day.  I didn't make it through Father's Day. 

I made it through most of the day with just a heavy heart, but no break downs.  Kevin left a precious card for me to find while we were getting ready for church supporting me through the day and acknowledging he knew I was struggling.  I didn't lose it.  I punched his arm and told him "thank for trying to make me cry" and used humor to push the moment away.  I made it through the sweet emails, facebook messages and texts from friends far and near offering prayer and encouragement.  They each meant so much and I focused on their sweetness and my gratefulness for such friends.  I really tried NOT to think about why they were sending them.  I made it through the kids giving Kevin his Father's Day gifts without a hint of problem.  After all, it was HIS day!  It also helped knowing that I most likely would have not seen my Dad in person this weekend.  It was easy to not feel much different than previous years in that regards.  I made it through the tear jerker video at church because I was so focused on the day being about Kevin and I treasured the fact that he is striving to be the godly father presented in the video.  I made it through church and seeing friends that know my heart by being busy.  Running here, running there....didn't have time to slow down and let anything really hit.  Lunch wasn't a problem either because as typical we laughed so often that sadness really didn't have a chance to root.  I made it through the phone ringing time after time as Kevin enjoyed calls from his boys and talking to his own Dad.  Again, the focus was about Kevin enjoying his day.  I made it through texting back and forth with Teresa by acknowledging yes it was a rough day, but moving on to other things.  I didn't allow myself chance to focus on the heavy heart aspects.  By the end of the day, I was thrilled to have felt like I made it through the toughest "first".  It wasn't easy, but I had made it.   I was actually quite proud and grateful.  I was thinking "I did it" was tough, but not as bad as I was expecting.  I got ready for bed with the confidence that this one was off the list and I could move on.

Then reality hit!  When the house was quiet and I had no more excuses to be busy, my heart couldn't handle it any longer.  Focusing on the GREATNESS of my earthly father celebrating fatherhood in the presence of our heavenly father no longer soothed and encouraged.  Attempting to spend time enjoying my relationship with Kevin created havoc in my brain.  Without getting too detailed----I'll just say----we were both thrilled to take on this weeks Level 3 challenge whole-heartedly, especially since neither of us was willing to take the 3rd challenge the last two weeks  (FCC sermon series on Song of Solomon).  However, intimacy in it's entirety and as God designed requires complete focus on feelings, emotions, all the senses, vulnerability, etc...  The collision of those emotions just broke me. 

At first I was angry and agitated.  I was mad at myself for not being able to shut my brain off and control my emotions.  I had been able to do it the rest of the day and was furious that I could no longer do it when I really wanted to the most.  I was ready for the day to be over and was ready to switch gears and focus solely on my husband and our roles as husband and wife, not father/mother/daughter/son/etc...  Kevin even prayed for my mind to slow down and for a peace to wash over me.  He prayed for a soothing spirit to comfort.  It didn't happen.  Well, perhaps it did, but not in the way we were expecting and hoping for. 

Instead, the dam broke.  I was unable to control my emotions in the least.  It was like every negative emotion I had tried to control and every thing I had determined to not allow to creep in my mind took over at once.  For those few minutes, I regretted making those promises to Dad.  I WANTED to be mad at God.  I WANTED to throw my hands up and say that having a strong faith isn't worth it.  I wanted to give myself the liberty to scream and say all the things I've refused to think or say.  The list goes on and on.  I WANTED to be furious with people that have disappointed in the last months.  I was FURIOUS at myself for not being able to push it aside.  I was hurting for everyone else so often that I was able to "survive".  Last night, I was hurting for myself.  It created a wave of emotion that I couldn't fight off no matter how much I tried.  Kevin's prayers didn't bring about the typical peace.  I had such an emotional break down that I was physically sick.  No amount of praying stopped the tears.  No amount of praying soothed my heart.  It was one of those nights that I ended up giving into a sleeping pill.  That in itself made me mad.  Failure----lack of faith.  That is what it felt like.  There is your honesty.  No picture perfect perfection here!  Not able to be on the pedestal of being "strong" and faithful.  There you have it. 

This morning, I'm not quite sure where I am.  I am not mad at God and I still am clinging to my faith.  I'm trying to realize that what I experienced last night was normal and it doesn't matter how strong your faith is, there are still times of doubt and anger.  Grief and sorrow are overpowering and are extremely strong emotions.  I'm normal.  I may be temporarily mad at myself for not being in more control at this point, but yet I realize God isn't expecting me to be.  This morning I am GREATLY struggling, but I know that I'm not defeated.  For the most part, at this point, I just need the stupid effects of the sleeping pill to wear off.  I have NEVER been drunk, am a complete abstainer from all alcohol----but I'm guessing this is as close to a hangover I will ever experience.  Brain fog.  Inability to focus.  Grouch.  Nauseated.  Yes, that's me this morning. 

The sky is overcast.  The clouds are gloomy.  I'm not certain what the weather is going to be like today, but I do see a bit of a break in one of the clouds.  I think I feel like that this morning.  I'm waiting for that little break in the cloud to open up and let the sun overtake again.  I know it will; I know it's there.  That little break in the cloud will eventually spread until the sun is beaming.  I know without a single doubt that today will eventually be a better day and that last night's experience was not a bad thing (in actuality, it was probably a GREAT thing).  I know that I just need to take a few deep breaths, get my focus back and move on.  I am human and selfish.  I am in need of God's grace. I am in need of God completely overtaking every crevice of my soul and filling it with His spirit.  I have rough edges that need to be smoothed.  I have bumps that need to be cut away.  I have areas that need to be completely removed and replaced----like an organ transplant.  I need an extreme makeover.  Perhaps this journey of grief, the attacks of Satan that we've been battling lately, and the growth we are trying to experience is just all part of His plan.  His plan to bring us closer to Him as a family, as husband and wife, as parents, and most especially as individuals.  Growth comes from difficult times.  I just don't need to fight it so hard.  I realize that a rough night doesn't mean that I'm going to spiral downward out of control.

 As today goes on, I'm confident that I will find my solid footing again.  Peace and calm will overtake again.  I'll turn on some good music, I'll pour myself back into the excellent books and devotionals I am reading, I'll open up my Bible, I'll pour myself back into the kids and taking care of our home, I'll focus on my sweet husband, I'll sing along with a Seeds CD and I will find myself back in my comfort zone.  I have projects to work on today and a meeting tonight.  Life will move back into hyper speed.  Today will end up being a great day.  One foot in front of the other!  Without a doubt, I'll bounce back!  I believe those prayers Kevin prayed are beginning to work.....God just waited a bit longer in answering!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day 2011

Are you ready for this? I'm going to write a post that is going to take a whopping two minutes or less to read. 

Father's Day.  Such a sore spot in my heart right now.  I know everyone is expecting a huge post that honors my Dad.  Simply put:  I just can't do it.  My emotions are too tender.  I'm choosing to focus on Kevin because I don't want to take anything away from his day.  He deserves our full attention and SO MUCH more because of the kind of father (and husband!) that he is.  I refuse to turn this day of honor into a pity party.  Granted, it would be easy to do.  I'm walking on egg shells trying to keep my emotions under control (and not always succeeding!).  Truthfully, I wish I could just "skip" this day this year----but I can't.  Therefore, I'm choosing to keep my focus on my biggest blessing in life.

I will say this:  my heart hurts.  There is such an odd feeling going on with such an empty spot.  However, it's an amazing thing to know that my earthly father is celebrating together in the presence of my heavenly father.  I choose to focus on that image and it will get me through this "first".  I would LOVE to write all about the wonderful man my dad was.  Today I just can't!  However, you can read about what an amazing man he was here.  I don't know how on earth I had the presence of mind to write about him just days after his death, but somehow I did.

I'm thankful that my children are being raised in a godly home with the type of father that Kevin is.  He isn't perfect and doesn't always get everything right (who does?), but I've never met a man with a bigger heart.  We are BLESSED beyond belief that God gave him to us!  Enough said. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Guiding our Children towards Christ

It was just this morning that I was talking with a dear friend.  I was expressing my enthusiasm about Bradlee being five.  I told her how much my heart aches to have a baby around me at all times----babies are my passion.  However, my second favorite age is FIVE!  I explained that I just find so much joy in the Kindergarten year.  I LOVE to see my kids learning and there is something special about being five.  You can just SEE the wheels turning in their heads as you turn the switch on to reading, writing, and basic math.  The entire world opens up!  I LOVE all aspects of hand on learning, making and playing with manipulatives.  I generally follow a workbox/ center approach that first year and nothing excites me more! heart does skip a few beats to know that they are growing up and the baby and toddler years are long gone. 

When I got home this afternoon, waiting in the mail was a fantastic article by James Dobson (formerly of Focus on the Family, now head of Family Talk).  God's timing is perfect!  Right there for me to read was this:  "Spiritual training of children should begin at the earliest moments of awareness and continue through the teen years.  The most important year, however, MAY BE AGE FIVE!"  Hello?  It was like God was saying "Tracye, are you listening?  PERK UP and pay attention."

Why is this year so important?  Statistics show that this is the time frame that kids either begin to internalize what they are taught and make it their own or Bible stories and lessons become like fables that don't apply to the real world.  It's VERY important to carefully instruct during this time to lay the foundation of faith. 

Listen to these startling statistics from a nationwide poll in 2003.  Children age five through thirteen have a 32 percent probability of accepting Christ as their Savior.  That rate drops dramatically to just 4 percent for kids ages 14-18.  Those that have not become Christians before age 19 have only a 6 percent probability of doing so the entire rest of their lives.  Oh my!  What a responsibility we have as parents! 

Though Christ is a HUGE focus in our home, I am honest enough to admit that we just aren't always doing enough.  Dr. Dobson shared four key components to help guide our efforts more effectively.

  1. Talk to your kids early and often about the Lord and His kindness.  One of the first verses a child should learn is "God is LOVE!" (1 John 4:8).  Often point out how trees, flowers, birds, rainbows, and other wonders of nature are gifts from God's hand.  He made all those wonderful things, just as He created each one of us!  Teach them to thank God for their food and ask for His help when they are hurt of scared.
  2. TEACH YOUR CHILD TO PRAY AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!  Perhaps, this is the area that I am failing the most.  It's time to move past "now I lay me down to sleep" and other rote prayers.  They need to hear us as parents pray out loud.  I am pretty private about my prayers and I need to work on being more open and "vocal" with them. 
  3. Scripture Memory---"Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." (Psalm 119:11).  If you want your children to be morally guided when they are not in your presence and when they are older, you MUST hide the Word of God in their hearts NOW.  Make it a game!  Use rewards.  Many Sunday School songs are based on scripture.  Teach them those songs.  Music is a wonderful tool (which is why I highly recommend Seeds Family Worship CDs). 
  4. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for the spiritual warfare of your children.  Prayer is God's remarkable gift to us.  It is our lifeline to heaven!  We have to constantly be "at bat" for our children against the destruction Satan is waiting to bring.
Dr. Dobson also talked about a topic that has been intriguing me the last several weeks.  I began following a blog called Impress your kids ( ).  It isn't about impressing in the terms of showing off.  It's about following Moses command in Deuteronomy 6.  Dr. Dobson points out that Moses didn't offer suggestions of instructions, he issued COMMANDS. 

"These commandments that I gave you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates".  (verses 6-9).'s a serious job!  We can NOT do it without God!  We HAVE to be purposeful.  Spiritual training should never fall squarely on the shoulders of our children's church ministry staff and volunteers.  They are there to reinforce what should be taught at home.  They are to be our greatest cheerleaders!  However, they are there to help...NOT shoulder it all!  Monumental Task? Absolutely.  Required of us?  Without a doubt.  Time to stop letting time slip away with wasted opportunities.  Never been a more important time to be purposeful.  Thankful that God's grace fills in where I've missed opportunities and grateful for the opportunities that He will continuously put in our paths.  The time is NOW. 

Not Meant for Me to Carry

I'm behind.  Never would I have dreamed that to be possible.  HA HA!  Almost every project I'm working on I'm finding myself 2-3 days behind.  I spent quite a bit of time tonight working on catching up and I made progress.  Though we try to live by our "technology curfew" to make sure we have plenty of one-on-one interaction AND white space in our lives, sometimes you just need to bend the rules.  Tonight I find myself "bending". 

I've already posted two blogs today and now I'm tackling a third because I can't sleep until I get the words down on paper typed. Tonight while I was working through note taking from Stormie Omartian's book "The Power of a Praying Wife", I found God stirring again to make sure I slowed down and listened.  Though I thought this praying challenge and book would be more about Kevin, it has been MUCH more about changing my own heart and regrouping my own focus!

I got really caught up in the chapter about "His Trials".  Between Stormie's writing, some pretty intense conversations I had tonight with a family member (not intense as in fighting, just intense as in "deep" and "heart-wrenching"), and the blog posts I wrote earlier today, I found God really talking to me.  I discovered another reason I am going through positive change (as talked about earlier today).  I just didn't recognize it until it was just "starring" me in the face tonight.

I am beginning to realize that I can't carry the weight of everyone else and that has brought such peace and contentment in my life.  I've spent so much time trying to "take on the world".  I feel incredibly deep burdens for individuals and REALLY want to help.  I would tend to get so wrapped up in that, that I carried the weight.  I NEEDED someone (more than one!) to change their lifestyle and make better choices, I ached for someone to accept me unconditionally that didn't,etc...  I get VERY wrapped up in other people's burdens.  Wanting to help and have a tender heart can be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental.

Somewhere along the line, I realized I could no longer do it in the capacity I was attempting.  I have not become calloused.  I have not closed my eyes to those suffering and those turning against God.  I'm actually more in touch with those things.  However, my approach is different.  At some point, I began to learn how to separate myself from it.  It is STILL a very HUGE struggle I face constantly, but yet I'm making progress.  I'm finding it a bit easier to turn it over to God and give HIM the control in the situation.  Many times our roles should be to just pray, encourage, and then LET GOD HANDLE THE REST!  It somewhat goes along with the idea that the only person I can change is myself.   I have zero control over other people's situations. 

In finally slowly learning this "letting go", I do believe is when I did start the process of becoming more joyful.  My heart still aches for people constantly, but yet I don't carry the weight so squarely on my shoulders.  There truly are people and situations that I can do nothing to help.  Only God can make the way when there seems to be no way!  Releasing myself from that pressure HAS been tremendous in restoring my joy and creating more balance in my life.

Though Stormie is specifically speaking about husbands, her words can apply to so many other relationships in our daily lives.  "If your husband is going through a difficult time, carry it in prayer, but DON'T carry the burden.  God doesn't want you doing HIS job!  He doesn't want you trying to be the Holy Spirit to your husband.  Even though it hurts to see him struggle and you want to fix it, you can't.  You can pray, encourage, and support, but God uses trials for His purpose and you must stay out of His way. "  It is my responsibility to pray sincerely on behalf of people and I believe encouragement is one of my gifts that I should practice often, but I'm not meant to carry the weight of the burden!  What a relief!!!!

She also talked about trials in general and it moved me considerably!  She says:  "Everyone goes through hard times.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  Sometimes our prayers help us to avoid them.  Sometimes not.  It's the attitude we have when we go through them that matters most. If we are filled with anger, bitterness, or insist on complaining and blaming God, things tend to turn out badly.  If we go through them with thankfulness and praise to God, He promises to bring good things despite them."  She goes on to say later in the chapter: "Whether it feels like it or not, when we serve God, His love attends every moment of our lives---even the toughest, loneliest, most painful and desperate.  He is always there in our midst, working things out for good when we pray and look to Him to do so.  His purpose for our trials is often to bring us humbly before Him to experience a breaking in our inner, independent, self-sufficient selves, and grow up into compassionate, patient, spiritually strong, God-glorifying people. "  Did you catch that?  It's basically saying that without trials we become shallow, compassionless, impatient people!!!  Our trials keep us connected to Him and rids us relying solely on ourselves!  I would MUCH rather be a woman that is God-glorifying than shallow and compassionless.  Isn't it true that our greatest compassions often come from our own heartache?  When you've experienced something hurtful you naturally want to reach out and help someone else suffering the same. 

I also LOVED how she ended the chapter.  I often think of the process of refining (which is obvious from my blog name!).  It has often moved me closer to God to remember that each day He can take me, refine me, and make me more like him IF I ALLOW HIM to!  She talks about how trials can be purifying fire and cleansing water.  We don't want to get burned or drown!  Our focus should be about being refined and renewed!!!!!   As I finally head off to bed tonight,  I know that I'm going to be thanking God that though I may be facing trials from every direction and my faith has been stretched, I am thankful that He is keeping me from getting burned or drowning.  He is allowing the trials to connect me to Him and refining the rough edges to be more like Him.  Is it painful?  Absolutely.  Worth it?  Without a doubt!  Would I rather skip it and move to the end result?  MANY times!  Since none of us can, we just have to embrace it and let the process take place.  The results will be worth every bit of struggle! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Philippians 4:6-7 - Seeds Family Worship - "Do Not Be Anxious"

Going along with my earlier post this morning, THIS is another reason why our lives have been changing. We have made much more of a daily effort in regards to prayer, Bible study, and memorizing scripture.

Let's face it. What goes in, come out in some form or another. Listen to music that creates imagery in your mind that shouldn't be and it WILL affect all aspects or your life! Watch TV shows that leave nothing to the imagination, covers topics that you wouldn't dare let your children watch, and unacceptable language is WILL come out!

Fill you heart with God's word and it WILL drown out the negativity that is thrown every direction. It WILL help you stand against Satan's attacks. It WILL connect you to the one that loves you so much that He gave His VERY life FOR YOU! It IS the strongest weapon we have to strengthen our families, marriages, and fill every ache in our hearts.

Let me be bluntly honest. It's usually not fun. It CAN be hard to get children to memorize scripture and even HARDER for some of us adults. Reading the Bible WILL change your life. Memorizing His Word will create an avenue for blessing that you can't comprehend! It IS LIFE giving and LIFE-CHANGING. For years, I've memorized countless verses but I had two problems. One, I NEVER was good at remembering where it was found in the Bible itself. It was great to have His words in my heart, but I struggled to FIND them when I wanted to refer back. Second, I have trouble thinking of specific verses when I need them most.

A few months ago, we stumbled on something that greatly changed how I look at scripture memorization. Seeds Family Worship CDs have been AMAZING! We LOVE music in our home. Music changes me. A bad day can instantly be changed when I listen to music that helps put me back in the right frame of mind. Seeds has taken scripture (NIV version) and put it to music in ways that just penetrate and are catchy. After listening just a few times, we find that we are humming along and we start filling in the blank with the next word. Before long, we know the entire song which means we know the entire verse or passage! What I LOVE is that there is no filler words; it is pure scripture. They also repeat the chapter reference in the song MANY times! It's also great that each CD is based on a topic. We started out with Courage and those verses have come to mind CONSTANTLY. No effort. Just God using the words that had already been penetrating my soul! It is so much easier to "clean out your thought closet" when your thoughts are more often centered around God's word. It isn't as difficult to hear His voice over the chaos of life when you heart is already bathed in His word.

I don't like boring. I don't like "hard work". I LOVE easy and I most especially LOVE effective tools! Seeds fits that bill. (NO, I'm not being asked to write this nor am I doing it in exchange for any freebies, etc.... like I do with some of the books I've written about. This is purely based on what a blessing it is in our lives!).

We gave Bradlee the next 3 CDs for his birthday last night (had a promotional code to reduce the cost!). These newest ones haven't disappointed in the least and I'm super excited to listen to them all.

You can check them out at . Two other things worth noting: 1) Each CD includes an extra identical CD for you to share with someone to plants seeds in their hearts. We typically use the extra CD for a few weeks in the van and then pass it along to someone. 2) If you visit the website and click on the "kids" header, you can download and print out memory cards and check lists to help as well. The "Families" section also has great ideas for incorporating scripture and excellent resources for creating God centered homes!

Some people may think we are "freaks", weird, and all of those other negative words that we hear often. I say, maybe so....but so what! Our home has never been more joyful, our lives have never been more greatly blessed (even despite great losses!), our marriage has never been more connected, and our children have never been more "settled". I think the results speak loud and clear. I'll take "freak" any day! (Yes, you can probably imagine that we love rocking out to "Jesus Freak"!)

An Obvious Change

When life is going great and you are overflowing with joy, people can't help but notice.  Obviously, the opposite is true as well.  I've had several people stop me to chat, email, etc... asking me what in the world is going on in my life that is making me so positive and strong right now.  Those that are the most dear to us that know the weight we carry with some very difficult situations going on, Satan attacking us from every direction, and the great loss and stress we've been experiencing want to know what it is that is changing my heart so dramatically.  For someone that openly admits to battling very deep, long-lasting depression it's obvious that "something" has changed.  If I were to picture myself right here a couple of years ago, dealing with all that we've been asked to carry, I would have never dreamed I could have done it.  I know that had some real changes not taken place, I would not have survived.  My marriage would have collapsed.  Our family would have deteriorated.  My faith would have been torn to shreds, possibly to the point of being unrepairable.  Without a doubt, I would have easily lost it all!

Instead, I'm overwhelmed with peace and joy.  I'm energetic and focused.  Our home is more peaceful and we are more connected as family members than we ever have been.  (Now, don't go thinking it's perfect.  We definitely have our rough moments and I still struggle often with "gentle" answers and patience!!!!)  My marriage is simply put...extraordinary.  God has taken something that was struggling to barely survive and turned it into something that is thriving and becoming more amazing EACH day.  My faith is stronger than it has ever been.  I still have days that I feel disconnected and I'm not in perfect agreement with God's plans, but I'm not fighting against them either.  He isn't answering every prayer the way I think I need and He is often not answering in my time frame.  However, it isn't creating the wedge  brick wall between us.  It IS causing me to have to dig deeper into Him and day by day minute by minute turn over my own will and listen for His. 

Where did the change happen?  When did "life" start coming together?  What was the magic word? 

I don't know for sure.  I can't go back in time and say "this" day is the day that changed everything.  I can't say "this" is the action that put our lives back on track.  It has been a combination of small daily choices that have rolled together to create a bigger ripple.  Some things were incredibly difficult to step out in faith and others were just a matter of not being disobedient.  I'm glad He really finally started to get a grip on my attention and started molding me months and months ago.  I know I wouldn't have had the strength to deal with the last year, most specifically the last six months.

It has been the obedience of REALLY going against the modern world and unplugging the TV.  Guarding our hearts and minds has absolutely paid out greater dividends than I ever imagined.  Taking a more purposeful approach to EVERY single aspect of our lives has tremendously opened our eyes to our blessings and is helping us make decisions that keep our family strong.  It has been about digging DEEP into God's word through the Bible itself, in depth studies, blogs, book groups, etc... It has been about taking charge of our own need to grow closer with Christ.  Spiritual growth doesn't fall square on the shoulders of your church's ministerial staff.  It has been about not being afraid to look at the dark spots in life, embrace them, and being willing to change them.  It has been about focusing on the needs of another person and the magic that happens within your own heart.  (That has been the biggest part of saving a marriage!  Less focus on what he is or isn't doing.  More about how I'm reacting to Him and what I'm doing for him.  In the process, it's amazing that what I needed in the first place gets met in the process.)  It's about making healthier choices and kicking bad habits; putting myself on the list as something that matters.  It's been about realizing it isn't selfish to need some downtime to emotionally recharge from the demands of raising three kids and the pressure that comes with homeschooling and balancing everything else.  It's about taking the bad things and searching until there is some positive to be found. 

The list goes on indefinitely.  It's been a journey of doubt, frustration, and painful growth.  It's been worth every second.  It's been most especially about daily choices.  Many of those choices people have looked at us like we are crazy, but it is worth it.  It's worth it because though the ground we are on feels like it is slipping out from under us, we still have the greatest stability in the world.  Every uncertain moment we are facing and those that make us feel vulnerable have us just reaching out to God and not coming back empty handed.  It's knowing that Satan is fighting us SO hard right now because He knows we are just on the edge of a breakthrough with God and how He is going to use us.  Because Satan isn't silent and because He is fighting to pull us in the wrong directions, it means we are on the right track.  If he is silent and not on our backs, it's because we've already allowed him to take too much hold of us.  That's a question to ask every day!  If you don't feel him pulling and throwing daggers, you best run the other direction!  IF he isn't fighting you, you've already given him too much power in your life and he sees no need to attack you.  You are no longer a threat.  Embracing the fact that we must be a threat and not about to back down! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One WHOLE Hand Old---Bradlee

We reached another milestone today.  The baby of the household turned five.  As he likes to say, he is one whole hand old!  This one has been a bit rough on his mom---but at the same time it has been a sweet, joyous occasion.  This was our first 5 year old birthday that I didn't at least have another little one or one on the way to help "pad" the heart!  We are no longer a household of infants, toddlers, or pre-schoolers!

On the flip side, I am loving watching him grow.  He excites me more every day because I just can hardly wait to see what God is going to make of Him and how he is going to live up to being the "mountain mover" that we know he is.  Though I could write a novel or two about how he fills my heart with joy and need a few boxes of Kleenex in the process, I instead will just let a few pictures tell his birthday story.  I'm sure we will look back at this post a few years from now and just be in awe of all the changes in him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

My attempt at a candy robot cake.  It may not have met my standards
but it thrilled him!
"Major Hunk" ready to see what's inside!
Showing us how old he is!
He had been wanting that game since playing it at a cousin's house many
months ago in Indiana!

He's proud of his new set of Diego phonics books. 
He is LOVING the new freedom that comes with
basic reading skills!
Sweet gift from our precious neighbors in their 80s!
He loves Cat in the Hat---hooded bath towel! Maybe it
will keep him from streaking through the house so
often.  Maybe.  Maybe Not!
5 one dollar bills---to help him reach his goal of
buying a remote control helicopter like the big kids in the house.
OH boy!  Three at once will be interesting!

Happy Birthday to our "Mountain Mover" that teaches us more than we can ever teach him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Choosing to Trust When He Says "NO"

This month I'm participating along with many other women across the United States in the S.H.M.I.L.Y group's prayer for 30 days focusing on our husbands.  Though this isn't the first time I've participated, it has so far been the deepest I have ever gone with it.  Though we definitely feel Satan attacking us STRONGLY as we are becoming closer to God and each other, it has been a tremendous time for us. 

I could write endlessly about the benefits it has produced in our marriage, our home, and specifically within me.  However, today's post is about how God can use something to specifically speak to us even though our focus is completely geared towards something else. 

There have been two great contributing factors that have produced the depth level:  my open, pliable heart and the time I'm spending REALLY studying and working through each day's chapter.  Instead of just skipping to the suggested prayer, I've taken each chapter and written notes to place in each day of my prayer journal.  Today, I found myself a couple of days behind in the note-taking, but God used that being behind to really speak to me this afternoon.   The notes I'm working on today deal with healing and our husband's health.  Generally, I would imagine I would have normally sped through the chapter and moved on.  After all, health is something we can easily take for granted.  Kevin is in general good health (he hasn't even had one of his horrific headaches in several months!).  Therefore, I could have easily zipped through this chapter and worked quickly on catching up.  Instead, God told me to slow down and soak in the chapter.  No skipping to the end was allowed.

It was in those few pages that He grabbed me.  Stormie Omartian wrote about praying for healing and how powerful God's healing is.  NO doubt!  We've all witnessed healing many times in our own lives and those around us.  It was the other words that caught me.  It was the part about when he DOESN'T heal.  When he lets physical ailments linger and even when He allows death to take someone we love away from us.  It caught my attention on many levels.  For many years I've struggled with my own chronic illness.  Though I'm in a phase right now that I'm least bothered by symptoms than I have been in many months, there were years that it robbed me of my joy and prevented me from being the mom I needed to be.  God hasn't lifted that from me and He has his reasons.  I have to trust Him regardless of how He answers our prayers.  He may either be saying "No" or simply "wait".  I thought of it on the level of someone close to me suffering from a serious, rare disease NEEDING immediate healing.  So far, He is also saying "Not now" in regards to healing.  The final level I thought about was the one that has being weighing so heavy in recent months.  He didn't say "Yes", he didn't say "Wait"......he said "No!".

I admit I struggle greatly with the fact that He didn't heal my father on earth.  I don't see the big picture and understand how this plays into His ultimate plan.  I have yet to come up with any purpose in taking such a great, healthy man and destroying his body by allowing it to be eaten away by cancer in such a rapid way that stunned even the doctor's who deal with it every day.  However, God DID have a plan.  He knows exactly why he said "No". 

Stormie talked about how we always need to keep praying for healing, but we have to be ready to accept the bottom line that God's decision is exactly that....HIS decision.  We don't have the final say over anyone's hour of death.  The Bible says there are both times to heal and times to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2,3).  We don't make that decision and we have to accept that.  We can and SHOULD pray, but HE determines the outcome.  The words that most specifically caught my attention were "We have to give Him that privilege without resenting, faulting, or getting angry at Him.".  That is the hard part.  Accepting the outcome is the easier part for me because I know I can't change what has already happened.  The hard part is ridding myself of all resentment and not getting angry.  Fortunately, MOST days I can release it.  The other days.....well, I'm working on those.  I have to remember on those days that I have no right to question an all knowing, all powerful God that has the right to give and take life.  His ways aren't always MY ways.  However, that is no excuse to throw myself on the ground and have a temper tantrum.  Trust me, it isn't pretty when a child does it....can you imagine an adult?  Just this weekend we witnessed a child that appeared to be the same age as Peyton throw a FULL tantrum in Target because his mother was firm in her decision to not buy him a $9 toy he demanded.  It took everything in our power to keep our chins off the ground at the sight we all saw.  I can only imagine what kind of crowd I would draw if I were to do the same!!

So, today I choose to trust.  Today I choose to not lay on the ground kicking and screaming drawing a crowd.  Today I choose to guard my heart from resentment.  Today I choose to allow God the privilege that is solely His in deciding healing and death.  Today I choose to continue to pray for healing for those dear to me.  Though He didn't make the decision my heart desired in regards to my father, it doesn't mean that I give up hope of Him restoring health to those others in need.  Today I choose to not let jealousy or bitterness take root when He heals someone else.  Oh, it would be easy to allow it.  Instead, I choose to cling to the joyous and tender moments where He has reached my heart in the last months.  Today, that is the choice I make!