Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts

To Those Who Are Joyful This Christmas




I have found my Christmas joy again this season.

I haven't shared much about it here, but a few years back I struggled with a bit of postpartum depression.  I always say "a bit", "a little", because it didn't feel severe enough to say it without a qualifier.  I never felt suicidal, or like I wanted to hurt my baby.  I didn't stay in bed all day.  I just cried a lot, and struggled with my purpose, and felt like I was viewing my life through a bubble, without being able to feel enough of the joy.  And I just teared up writing that sentence.  It was just "a little", but it was still devastating in it's own way.

I think my struggle manifested itself most at Christmastime.  For a couple years there, when I was going into depression and coming out of it, Christmas was just about the motions.  I tried to listen to the music in church, to let the preaching reach my heart, to meditate on Christ and what He did by coming to save us.  I tried to conjure up an emotion.  But I was mostly just stressed and waiting for Christmas to be over so I wouldn't feel so behind on my to-do list.  So I wouldn't feel the pressure to feel joyful when I couldn't.

It's been a relief to find that I've finally come fully out of that.  That I can enjoy the beauty and joys of Christmas without the same kind of stress and heaviness pulling me down.

I share all this I suppose just to say that Christmas time isn't always filled with joy for everyone.  And I know people who say that seem like they are being killjoys (quite literally), but I have a point here, just hang in there with me.

The other day I stumbled across a Bible verse while I was looking for something else, but it stopped me in my tracks.  This is the verse:

"Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart."  
Proverbs 25:20

I think we can all testify to the truth of this from personal experience.  But I think this verse really stood out to me this time because I've seen this very situation happen recently, right in front of me.  It's a little different seeing it as more an observer than a participant, and I think it grieves me more.  When you are the one with the heavy heart you are absorbed in the emotion, but when you observe this happening more on the outside of yourself, you see the damage.  And it feels like there is nothing you can personally do about it.

But maybe there is.



Today I was driving in the car, listening to a radio program, and I was reminded of that old song.  It's mournful notes are playing in my head now.  "They will know we are Christians by our love..."

I went home and looked up 1 John and read a couple chapters.  The lyrics above aren't actually in the Bible, but there is plenty about loving one another.  The closest verse to that song is when Jesus tells His disciples that "By this everyone you will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:35)

First John expands on the idea of loving each other:

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in action and in truth." 
1 John 3:19

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another."  
1 John 4:7-11

I think it's easy to miss that fact that all this talk about love is specifically talking to us as Christians to love our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ.

This stood out to me more this time I read it, I think because we are currently going through a difficult situation at church that is painful in a lot of different ways.  I think in Christian circles today there is a lot of emphasis on loving non-believers, but on the whole I haven't seen as much emphasis on loving the church.  On loving the people in the church.

The thing is, it's a little easier to love people in the world sometimes, trying to point them to Christ (though too often through mere action, without the necessary accompanying words).  And we pat ourselves on the back for following Christ's command to "love one another".

But if we aren't showing that same love to people in our church, we are missing the whole point.  In the context of these passages, that is what we are being told to do.  To not just love the world, but love each other, love our fellow believers.  That's how Christ says they will know we are His disciples.  If we love our fellow believers.

So how are we supposed to do that, specifically this Christmas, when pain feels like it has to be hidden, and maybe those who are joyful have unintentional blinders amidst all the merriment?

1. You have to be in a church, or some gathering of believers.  Preferably a church though.  That's what the church is supposed to be for, for believers to come together to lift each other up, challenge each other to press on, to encourage one another, to care for each other's needs.  You can't do that as well if you aren't gathering regularly with fellow believers.

2.  Stop plastering on a smile.  We don't gather together on Sunday mornings to pretend we are all perfect and joyful and nothing is ever wrong.  We are sinful humans.  We still struggle with sin as believers.  Life is still hard.  We are still going to go through difficult times.  Jesus promised us trouble while we are here (John 16:33).  We still hurt.  We still hurt each other.  It's okay to show you are hurting or need help, so someone else can lift you up.

3.  Take the blinders off.  Maybe we all hide our hurt or stress so much because we've too often had our pain or grief ignored.  If you are blessed enough to not be currently struggling, maybe keep your eye out for someone who is.

4.  Don't sing songs to a heavy heart.  I think this is about paying attention to other's struggles instead of just our own situation.  There are usually little clues if you pay attention, little signals that maybe not everything is well in someone's life.  Often we don't even respond right when our brother's or sister's pain or hardship is glaringly obvious.  But that's a big reason why we are supposed to be gathering together in the first place.  To take care of one another, and lift each other up.  Singing songs to a heavy heart is not the way to lift each other up (it says so right there, in the verse I shared at the beginning).

5.  Practically - just reach out.  I think at this time of year, it's too easy to just ignore the pain of others, inside and outside the church.  There is merriment to be had, after all!  But I think in doing that, we miss the whole point of Christmas.  We are celebrating, after all, how God Himself reached down to rescue us from the death and judgement we deserve because of our sin.  He sent His Son to be the sacrifice, to pay the penalty for our sin, to give eternal life to those who believe in Him!  We ought to be reaching out to offer that hope to those outside the church, and comfort and help to those inside the church.

6. Share in someone's pain.  We are all really good at rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly), but I think mourning with those who mourn is even more important.  You can be happy by yourself and be just fine, but mourning by yourself is a terrible burden.  And maybe we reflect the truth of Christmas best when we are willing to reach a hand down to someone else.  Not just in generic, good-deed, pat-yourself-on-the-back ways, but with a heart to share in someone's pain.  It's harder to do that.  It costs more to feel someone's pain with them.  But it's also the way we can maybe lift them a little bit out of it.

The main point is: if you are rejoicing this Christmas, don't forget those who are mourning, even (or especially) those in the church - and take a little time to reach out to them with the love of Christ.  I think that is one of the best ways we could celebrate Christmas.

Have you ever had a Christmas where it was hard to feel joy?

I hope and pray that someone in the body of Christ reached out to you when you needed it.

The Gifts I Bought Myself


It has been years since I've been Black Friday shopping.  I think some of the magic was lost for me when they started opening Black Friday doors on Thursday.  Come on, people.

However, this year I took advantage of Black Friday shopping when a friend invited me to go with her - I wasn't even expecting to buy much, but I ended up getting all my Christmas shopping done.  I forgot how freeing it is to get your shopping done early!  The rest of December is wide open now! I am looking forward to having more time to do Christmas projects with the kids and less time worrying about presents.

However, I may have also bought myself a Christmas gift on Black Friday.  I laughed when I read Elizabeth's post about buying a gift for yourself, because I totally do that.  This is what I got:



1. Housewife Theologian by Aimee Byrd.  

I read No Little Women by Aimee Byrd last year, and it was excellent.  I have been looking for a chance to buy another book from her, and Amazon's book coupon seemed to be it!  I'm really looking forward to this one - I love books that make theology accessible, and also that encourage Christian women toward good theology.  I'm expecting good things.




I cam across this after a similar recommendation from Jami Balmet's blog (or Facebook page or something), and I have to say I'm so excited about this one.  It arrived in the mail today, and I flipped through it - it is perfect!  On the left page it has the actual text of Hebrews, and on the right page it has a blank dot-grid page for you to use for journaling, or whatever.  

I know Bible art journaling has been going on for years, but after mulling it over for a long time, I decided I'm not a huge fan - I don't like how the illustrations so often go over the text of Scripture, and how the focus often seems to be on the art instead of the Word of God.  I'm sure it can be done well with a heart to bring glory to the Lord, so if you do Bible art journaling and have found a good balance, I think that's great - it's just not something I'm interested in.  However, there has been something appealing to me about those wide margins, because I'd love to take more thorough notes when I'm reading through a book of the Bible.  

This little volume is perfect for that; I can focus on one specific book and write down everything I'm learning with a full blank page!  I am so looking forward to using it!  I chose Hebrews, because I've become a little attached to that particular book after trying so hard to memorize it (I'm only shakily up to chapter 4).  I'd like to renew my memorization attempt in 2019, and I think this will help.





Do you buy Christmas gifts for yourself?  What did you get?

(No need for it to be spiritual, I also bought myself a new lipstick today for the Christmas season, ha!)

An Update, With Thanksgiving



Over the last week or so, I have heard several people mention how Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for them.  Maybe they lost relatives around that time of year, or they moved and are away from family.  To be honest, I think I could have dedicated more thought to this over the years.  I haven't had any sort of major traumatic event happen close to a holiday in my life to this point, and I can see how that would kind of ruin a holiday.

I bring this up only because our church is going through some hard stuff right now, right before Thanksgiving.  I wouldn't call any of it "traumatic", but I can see a little more personally how some holidays may become difficult after a major change.



But it also seems to me that Thanksgiving specifically would become a little more important in those circumstances as well.  I think in our American culture, we get so caught up in the trappings of Thanksgiving - the family, the turkey, the football, the pie - that we forget what the whole point of the holiday is.  It's for giving thanks to God for all He has blessed us with.  Sometimes it might be harder to see those blessings in the middle of all that is lost.  But they are always there, and how insulting to the Creator if we throw all His good gifts aside just because we don't have that one gift that we want.

All that to say, I'm thankful for many things this year even though this November has been filled with more heartache and stress and loss, in my own life and those around me, than some in the past.

I'm thankful for my precious children.

I went upstairs today to clean up the boy's room, and found a stack of papers all about fish beside Wyatt's table.  They are crinkled and bent from multiple readings.  He's his own little person, and I love seeing who he is becoming.  It just was a tangible little reminder at how much of a privilege is to raise and shape five precious and unique individuals.  I love that I get to do things like pick up dirty socks, change dirty diapers, and straighten wrinkled papers for all of these precious people.



I'm thankful for my husband.

Derek and I haven't been getting much couple-connection time lately, because he has been so busy tearing out flooring, putting more in, tearing apart bathrooms, and painting kitchen cabinets.  He's been working so hard to bring our vision for this house to life, and still doing his best to take care of the kids and me (especially since we all came down with a stomach bug last week).  He's something special.

I'm thankful for this house.

The remodeling process has been rough, and we've had multiple setbacks - from unforeseen delays, to ordering the wrong thing, to contracting a stomach bug, to even theft (someone stole $1000 worth of wood from us - how does that even happen?)!  I think I have finally accepted that I am not going to get the entire house put together before the Christmas season, and the Christmas decorations are just going to have to go up while we are still moving in.  It's a messy Christmas, and that's okay.  It'll come together eventually!



I'm thankful for my family.

This is a season of upheaval for us, in our house and in our church, but the people are the same.  I'm so glad I have my family (and friends too!) to lean into right now.

I'm thankful for my church.

Aside from the aforementioned upheaval, I can see that so many people are trying to handle everything in a godly way.  Maybe we won't always completely succeed, but the heart is there, and seeing that lets me know we are in a good place.



I'm thankful for my Bible study group.

So many of the ladies made me meals and watched the kids during the move!  They have showered me with love during a transition year, when I was sad about the need to quit our MOPS group in favor of homeschool stuff.  I needed the help with this unexpected move, and they stepped up and filled the gaps.  They've been such a blessing to me.

I'm thankful for audiobooks.

With the way the last three weeks have gone down, I'd be out of luck for my book club if we didn't have audiobooks!  Time to read a physical book I have not.

I'm thankful for the Hallmark Channel.

When you are really in a Christmasy mood but can't decorate (aaah!), Hallmark Christmas movies fill that Christmas-shaped hole.  We signed up for Fubo this year during the month of November and December specifically for football and Christmas movies.  You don't even need a major satellite subscription anymore to watch the channels you want!  What an age we live in.



I'm thankful for Christmas cards, and all the people who send them.

It's easy enough to keep up with people through social media these days, but it's not the same thing as when someone sits down to write out your name and send you a Christmas card.  There is so little of the personal touches anymore because of social media, but at Christmas everyone suddenly remembers that the mail exists, and there are wonderful people at a mailbox on the other side of the line.  It's a special thing.  Christmas cards, don't you ever die out.



I'm thankful for Christmas.

I'm thankful for all the fun Christmas trappings, and most thankful for the Savior who we celebrate.  The gift of our salvation through Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection - that's the greatest gift, and He is the only thing that never changes.



Happy Thanksgiving Week, friends!

I'm hoping to get back to a regular posting schedule soon - I've got something about "The Anatomy Of A Hallmark Movie" in the works in my brain, so stay tuned! 


How We Celebrated Reformation Day (And Why)

(Some affiliate links in this post!  Just on the books you know, so I can buy more books...)

A few weeks ago, we were working through a history lesson, and somehow I got onto the topic of the Reformation.

"So Martin Luther nailed his 95 points to the church door, and there is a thing called Reformation Day now."

"Reformation Day?" Wyatt asked.

"Yes, and it's actually on the same day as Halloween."

Gwen looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Mom, can we celebrate Reformation Day this year?"

And just like that, we were celebrating Reformation Day this year.

---

I already explained a few weeks ago why we choose not to celebrate Halloween in our family, so I am not sure why it hasn't occurred to me to celebrate Reformation Day.  Reformation Day is on October 31st, which is the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenburg.  He was mostly arguing against the practice of indulgences at that time, but he came to realize through this process of studying the Bible that our salvation is purely by the grace of God.  We contribute nothing to our salvation, because we have no righteousness of our own with which to approach God.  Christ took the punishment for our sin and gives us His righteousness when we put our trust in Him, and our salvation is completely through His sacrifice and apart from our own works.

You can read more about the Reformation on your own (that was a very surface-y explanation above), but the bottom line is that if you are part of any Protestant Christian denomination, it all started right here.  With Martin Luther and other Reformers, who studied the Bible, through their study rediscovered the truth of the good news of the Gospel, and brought the church back to the firm foundation of the Word Of God.

This is YOUR history, and you are still reaping the benefits of the work the Reformers did in bringing the truth of the Gospel to light. 

I think that is worth celebrating for sure!

As a mom, I really want my kids to know Christian history, and the heritage that has been passed down to us through the sacrifices of people like the Reformers, who fought and died for the truth of God's Word.  I think in Protestant circles, we tend to get a little disconnected from our history, and I'd really like my kids to have a sense of the history and heroes of the faith between the end of the Bible (around 96 AD) until today. I explain these things to them, but I think making a celebration of this part of our history is a wonderful way to help personalize it for my kids.  As I was thinking about how to celebrate Reformation Day, I was trying to think of some ways to have a little fun while we remember our Christian history too.  Here is how we celebrated this year!



1. Reformation Day Shirts 

Several months ago, I stumbled across Diet Of Worms apparel, which makes clothing for "little (and big) reformers".  I laughed out loud at their "It's Hammer Time" t-shirt, and I ordered one for Wyatt and a "Sola Fide" t-shirt for myself.  They have since gone out of business, so I took some inspiration from them and made t-shirts for everyone else in our family myself!  A little guide:

Sola Fide - Latin for "faith alone".  This is one of the five "solas" of the Reformation.


Image via Facebook



1517 - The year Martin Luther nailed up his theses (this year was the 501st anniversary!).



"The Righteous Shall Live By Faith" - the phrase in Romans that led to Luther's epiphany that our salvation is through faith alone.



"On This I Stand, I Can Do No Other" - This is what Luther said at the "Diet Of Worms", which is actually what they called a church council/trial held in the city of Worms, when church leaders asked Luther to recant his writings.  The full quote is here:

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

The kids loved their shirts and asked to wear them again the next day!  This was fun for me, because it was a like a little Reformation Day present/surprise I could give them.
Speaking of the Diet Of Worms...

2. Worm Pudding
As a play on the Diet Of Worms, we had a "diet of worms" in the form of gummy-worm-and-orea-pudding!  I thought this was really funny and clever of myself, ha!  My kids were a little young to get the joke I think, they just enjoyed the pudding.
3.  A Sausage Dinner
This is in honor of a different sausage dinner, and a sermon preached by a priest there, which kicked off the Reformation in Switzerland.  You can read more about that here.  (Sausage dinner not pictured, but it was really good.)

4. Reformation Day Books
I first toyed with the idea of celebrating Reformation Day last year, for the 500th anniversary, but I was hugely pregnant, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if my kids were old enough to "get it".  This year my oldest two are 7 and 5, and I have to say, it's been really pleasantly surprising to me how much they understand about what the Reformation means!  The got an idea of what we were celebrating just through conversations together, but I wanted to find some books to drive it home.  These are the two I picked:
Reformation ABC's - This is a thorough book for kids, covering a different aspect or hero of the Reformation for each letter.  We didn't read this whole book, since it's probably geared for kids a little older than my kids, but we read several pages, about the Bible, Luther, Hiedelburg and Westminster.  my kids were excited when they recognized a catechism question on the Westminster page!
The Life Of Martin Luther: A Pop-Up Book - This is a pop-up book (obviously), and my kids asked me to read it three times!  It's the story of Martin Luther in a nutshell, and the pop-ups make it so fun.  The only thing I'd change about this book is a line on the last page that mentions Luther introducing "new ideas" - I would rephrase that "biblical ideas" - but other than that, it's just perfect!
5.  Reformation Reading For Me 
This whole celebration of Reformation Day really started with my reading challenge this year.  One of the categories was to read about church history, so I picked up a couple books about the Reformation.  I have been a Christian since I accepted Christ as a child, and I grew up in the church, and it was shocking how much of this history I DIDN'T know!  If you want to celebrate Reformation Day with your kids, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the history too!  Not only has is been helpful in teaching the history to my kids, but it has made me pay more careful attention to different verses in my Bible reading, and really enriched my own faith this year.
The Reformation: How A Monk And A Mallet Changed The World by Stephen Nichols - This book is short and sweet, and most importantly, very readable!  I found this whole book really fascinating, and learned about how I've benefitted from the sacrifices of Reformers I'd never even heard of.  This is a must-have primer on the history of the Reformation, in my opinion.
Why The Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester   -  If the book above is about the history of the Reformation, this book is about the nuts and bolts of what the Reformation was really about.  A lot of the theology discussed is more subtle than I originally thought, but the distinctions are so, so important.  I'm almost done listening to this one on audio, and highly recommend it!

Also a heads up - one of my favorite podcasts/websites has a free "Reformation Day Celebration" for download!  I haven't had a chance to watch it yet because our internet was out last week, but it's still available here!


Stay tuned for Reformations Days in years to come, because I have more ideas already spinning in my head for next year!

Have you heard of Reformation Day?  Have you ever celebrated it (and how)? 

I highly encourage you to give it a try next year!  We had fun with it!









A Point About Evangelism


(A picture from when we visited our friends' ranch in the Spring.  Ranch...agriculture...seeds...let's just go with it.)


Last year I started going to the Community Bible Study I went to as a child with my mom.  I can't express how much of a blessing this Bible Study has been to me since I started back!  It's so encouraging to hear everyone else's insights, and it challenges me to get into God's Word and think about things a little deeper.

Today we talked about the parable of the sower in Mark 4.  To be honest, I didn't love the questions and commentary in the lesson book this week - I felt like they muddied the waters a little.  I was also frustrated with myself for not preparing my lesson ahead of time this week, which limited my ability to contribute to the discussion.  Since I couldn't really get my thoughts out today in class, I thought I'd write them out here since I've had a little more time to think about it.

 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Mark 4:3-8

The parable of the sower is a tricky parable, and I've heard it applied different ways.  But as I've read it, I've always understood it to be a representation of how different people who have not yet believed will respond to God's Word when they hear it.  I did a little more research on it today after our lesson, and I wanted to write out my thoughts for my own clarity, and because I thought about one point in a different way after the discussion today.

"Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satancomes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Mark 4:13-20

These are the categories and my thoughts:


The Hard Soil - Those with hard hearts, who hear the word but it doesn't sink in or take root at all.  Satan immediately snatches it away, and they do not believe.

The Rocky Soil - Those who have an emotional response to God's Word, but who only have superficial, incomplete understanding of it and have never truly repented.  They may even say they "believe in Jesus" in a superficial sense, but we know from other places in the Bible that just acknowledging the truth does nothing.  Even the demons know the truth (James 2:19), but they will not accept it and repent.  When tribulations come, the true colors show, and it is shown that these people never truly believed.  They superficially accepted God's Word because it made them feel good, and as soon as it doesn't anymore, they fall away.

The Thorny Soil - From the way I read this same passage in Matthew, these are the people who hear the Word, and initially want to accept it - but they love the world, they love the things of the world, and as soon as they get back to their lives, it all comes to nothing.  John MacArthur (his sermons were some of my "research" - listen to them here) gave the rich young ruler as an example of this.   They love money and everything else the world has to offer, and that love stifles the Gospel, because we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).


I think the important thing about those second two there is that these people did NOT lose their salvation!  Jesus tells us that once we are His, NOTHING can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:27-30).  Those second two categories of people are those who were never truly converted in the first place.  The love of the world, and misunderstanding of the truth, led to false conversions.

I think the temptation is to try to fit people we know into these categories, but I don't think we should do that.  God knows what kind of soil a person is, and in the end, time will tell, because true believers will abide with Christ and bear fruit (John 15:1-6).  If someone eventually falls away, it's because they never truly let the Word of God take root in their heart and change them, they never truly repented.

I think another important note here is that we shouldn't assume that just because someone "prayed a prayer" that they are actually saved.  God is the only one who truly knows, but if a person has turned away from God, by all means, I think we should preach the Gospel to them again!

Our CBS director said something that was encouraging to me today - she said that no "soil" is beyond hope.  God can pull out those weeds.  God can remove the rocks.  God can break the hard ground.

He can make the soil good.

The final category:


The Good Soil - Those who hear the Word, understand it, and accept it with repentance and faith.  They bear fruit, and spread the truth to those around them, leading to a greater harvest.


All that we have to do is be faithful to spread the seed of the Gospel.  The true Gospel, not a incomplete, feel-good, emotional gospel; not a false, you-can-follow-God-and-keep-all-your-sin gospel.  The true Gospel that we are sinners, people who broke God's law, who deserve death and Hell, but that Jesus, God Himself, came to take our punishment.  He died in our place and rose again to save us from our sin.  We must recognize the truth of who we truly are as sinners and what Christ has done, repent, turn our back on everything the world offers, turn our back on our sin, and follow after Christ alone, with all that we have.

The thing that I realized today is this:

It is not in my power to change the soil of someone's heart.  Only God can do that.

I can't make the soil good by saying things a certain way, or following certain "strategies".  If I am living out and speaking the whole truth of the Gospel, I can't mess this up.  My only job is to spread the seed of the truth of God's Word to those around me.  I can spread the seed, I can water it, but it is God who makes it grow.

"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

1 Corinthians 3:7

I can't explain how comforting this is to me.  I've lately tried to speak to people about the Gospel more, for the first time in my life really, and I've been shut down, and it breaks my heart every time.  It's easy to worry that I did it all wrong.  But according to this passage, I should expect rejection, I should expect that some will not truly understand.  God is in charge of that, not me.  I don't know how big my personal harvest will be, and I'm not in control of that anyway.  I only need to be faithful to the Great Commission, to spread the seed and pray for God to prepare the ground.

And oh, the joy when some of that seed will take root in good soil.

That's what will make it all worth it.


The Main Reason We Don't Celebrate Halloween

(This photo has nothing to do with the post, the boys just decided to go "fishing", and it was so cute.)

I didn't realize when I started this prompt series that one of the first subjects would end up being such a touchy one, at least when a person has my angle on it.

I've never celebrated Halloween.

Growing up, we always went to "harvest festivals" sometime during the month of October, but we avoided events on the actual day, holed up in our home with pizza and a movie.  We never got Trick-or-Treaters because we lived in such a rural area.  None of my friends really celebrated Halloween either.

As I became an adult, I not only never felt the need to celebrate it, but I also actively campaigned against it (you long-timers on here might remember a strongly worded blog post back in the day).  As a Christian, I didn't feel good about Halloween, and for a long time I had a hard time understanding other Christians who had no qualms about the holiday.  

I like to think I've grown quite a bit in my understanding of Christian liberty over the years.  (Read Romans 14-15:6 - that whole thing.)  I get now that a lot of Christians view Halloween as just an innocent kids' holiday, an opportunity to make memories and meet the neighbors, and they have freedom to celebrate it.  The Holy Spirit convicts us in different ways on these non-essential issues, and that's okay!  It's not something to argue about, or think less of anyone over, no matter which side you stand on.

As I've come to recognize that Halloween most likely falls under the umbrella of Christian liberty, and as I've had children who I've had to explain this whole issue to, it's forced me to further iron out my reasons for not celebrating Halloween.  I get that a lot of holidays could have pagan origins or connections, and I'm not one to abandon Christmas because pagans a long time ago worshipped trees or something - so the pagan origins of Halloween are a factor for me (because it's so strongly rooted in paganism), but not necessarily a reason by itself anymore.  We still live in a fallen world, and sin still contaminates everything; evil, neutral, and good.  So why do I still choose not to celebrate it (besides having sensitive kids who wouldn't be into it anyway)?

First let me lay a little groundwork for my personal reasoning - as Christians, we know that Jesus came to give us life, eternal life, life more abundantly!


The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

John 10:10


He came to free us from the consequences of our sin when we trust inHim to save us, to take our punishment, to defeat death by rising again!



So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56

So the bottom line for me is this: if all that is true and Jesus came to give us life, I just don't have a desire to focus on a holiday that, at it's root, glorifies everything to do with death.

When I talk to my kids about why we don't celebrate Halloween, that is what I say.  I say that some people believe in Jesus and think Halloween is fun, but for our family, we want to focus on light and life, because that is what Jesus gives us.  So far, they get it, and we just do our own thing on October 31st!  (This year I think we are actually going to celebrate Reformation Day, at my kids' request, since it also falls on October 31st.)



To finish this off, I'd just like to say if you love Jesus and enjoy the innocent parts of Halloween, I'm not here to argue or persuade you to give it up.  Like I said, I believe this is a non-essential issue that each Christian should prayerfully determine their own stance on, and I'm fine if you disagree with my take on Halloween.  I know there are even a lot of Christians that use it as an opportunity for evangelism, which I think is wonderful and needed.  I won't judge you, and I hope you won't read into anything I said either.  But that's how I handle Halloween.

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Next up...well, I'm skipping meal-planning and daily-daily planning, because I don't do either of those things well, so next will probably be an update on my littlest lady!  She just turned eleven months old, which means birthday planning is in full swing!


That Time We Almost Moved (And Why I'm More Content Now)



Let's start from the very beginning, shall we?

A few months before Derek and I got married, we bought a house.  Derek lived in it while we were in engaged, and I moved in when we got married.  We searched high and low for a house that I felt good about.  Our budget was not big at all, and a lot of the houses we could afford were..."yucky" might be the right word.  Still we kept looking, and one day our realtor showed us this house.  It had an old, outdated kitchen without a dishwasher, a bathroom that can only be described as "blah", and a rough-hewn wood ceiling that aged into a yellow-y orange.  But the ceilings were vaulted, and there was an unfinished, walk-out basement.  We bought it.

My dad remodeled the kitchen as our wedding present (for which I am eternally grateful, especially for the dishwasher).  When Wyatt was on the way, we finished the basement.  I painted and decorated, and while it was far from what I wanted it to be, it was cozy.

One day when I was pregnant with Clarice (4th baby) my mom and I drove by a house that was for sale, and I immediately fell in love with it.  Of course it was a house that was just outside of the price range that we could afford.  I schemed about how we could make it work, dreamed of all the space we would have in that new house, and checked every couple of days to see if it had sold.  It eventually did, and not to us.

The seeds of discontent were planted.   Everything we hadn't updated in our home was starting to look particularly old and grubby.  Already, with only three kids on the outside and one on the way, our 2000 square feet was starting to feel small.

The next year, after keeping an eye to see if anything we liked as well as that dream house would come on the market, we decided to stay put and update ours.  We updated almost everything in the house, and it felt brand-new.  But every now and then, when we had a particularly grumpy day in our tiny house (tiny for 7 people and a dog, anyway), I'd check the market to see if anything else looked interesting.

That's how we came across a house we liked last week.

It was bigger.  It had more land around it.  It had a hot tub.  It had a formal dining room.  It had a partially finished basement that might allow for more bedrooms and a playroom.  I dreamed of sending the kids downstairs to play in their perfectly decorated space on days when the noise got to be too much.  I dreamed of how I'd turn the dining room into a homeschool nook, a place to organize all our books and supplies.  I dreamed of finding toys in the living room and being able to just through them into a play room.

This house had been on the market for five months, an eternity in an area where things are getting snatched up in days.  Though most contingent offers are being rejected right now, our realtor thought that probably wouldn't be the case with a house that had been on the market so long.  We made an offer on it.

Derek started scrambling to replace old doorknobs we never got to during our remodel, to paint the trim.  I started making a mental checklist of what would need to be done before we could list our house for sale, and I bought boxes from Walmart since our agent thought we should list it in a mere four days.  I spent an entire day cleaning and organizing and making the house look perfect, ready to be listed as soon as we heard the word.

They counter-offered.  We counter-offered, pretty generously, sent a nice letter - but we needed the deal to be contingent.  We have five kids, we need to have somewhere to live, after all.

They rejected all contingencies.  Even though the house has been on the market for five months, with no other current offers.  "Why can't they just sell their house first, and then maybe...?" said the selling agent.

Why couldn't we sell our house first? 

The thing is, through this whole thing, I've figured out that somewhere along the way, I kind of fell in love with the house we have.  After 10 years, I have the right furniture figured out to make it feel functional and not cluttered.  I have the walls decorated the way I want them.  We've put in blood, sweat, and tears (literally), to make the whole thing comfortable and functional for our family.  I can see us here in five years.  There aren't very many houses that come on the market that make me feel the same way.

Somewhere along the way, I accidentally became content with where I am, and what I have.

After struggling so long with comparison and discontentment, I have finally realized what is special about what we have, and learned to be thankful for it.

This house is small, yes, but it is customized to our family.  We made it what we want, working with what we had.  As our family has grown and our house has not, I've learned how to choose between what can stay and what has to go, to learn how to be more organized and less of a hoarder.  We've stretched our living space to the outside, with a large porch and deck furniture that makes me feel like we're on vacation.  We have songbirds in the pine tree outside the window, and hummingbirds that count on us to feed them in the summer.  We have neighbors that don't mind our dog roaming around on their property, because we don't mind when their dogs roam on ours.  We have a sunny, wooded lot.  We have firewood stacked next to the shed, and a wood stove that keeps us warm and lets us cook when the power goes out.  It's painted the perfect color to be a backdrop for my Instagram photos (Le Luxe by Behr, in case you were wondering).  It's got a huge paved area where the kids ride bikes, and practice fledgling basketball skills.  It's where we brought all our babies home.  It has our memories.

I'm not going to put all that at risk for a maybe.

So we're staying put, and right after we made that decision yesterday, I crawled into bed after snuggling on the couch and watching the Bachelorette with Derek.  I opened my Bible app, and it was still on the chapter I flipped to when looking up a reference for Bible time with the kids that morning.  I was tired, and couldn't remember where in Leviticus I've been reading, and 1 Timothy seemed a little easier on my brain.  I scrolled up and read these words:

"But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and darkness.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

But as for you, O man of God, flee from these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus...to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ...To Him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen."

1 Timothy 6:6-14

It seems right to me somehow that I would just happen upon that chapter after we let go of the idea of a bigger house.  Because the key to contentment is right there - did you catch it?

Pursue righteousness.  Godliness.  Faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Take hold of eternal life to which you were called.

Keep the commandment free from reproach.

To Him be honor and eternal dominion.

Could I do all that if/when we get a bigger house?  Sure.  But I also can do all that just as well here.  Maybe I'll even learn to do it better, within the limitations of the walls of this small house.  Because when we learn to take our focus off the temporary and onto the things that will last forever...well there you go.  That's the secret to contentment.

And that's when you learn to be thankful for the good things you do have too, because a too-cramped house all of a sudden feels like a bonus when you have your life in focus, on the things that matter eternally.  On Christ.

So there you go.  The time we almost moved, and why it's overall really not that big of a deal after all.

(Also, I'm not going to lie, it's a huge relief that my house can be messy again!)

(Also again, I never did share the pictures of our home after the last major remodel a couple years ago.  Methinks it's time for a house tour.  Stay tuned!)


Why I Won't Be Sorry To Turn 30


(Note: We took a trip to the beach recently - vacation recap coming soon - and I got this dress from Pinkblush just in time before we left!  They sent it to me for free in exchange for the feature I am including in this post, but I totally used it as my dress for an unofficial 30-year-old photo shoot on the beach!)

There is something about those decades skipping by that seems a little more of a big deal than normal birthdays.  Some of us mark the 10 year increments with bigger birthday celebrations (that's me!), but I think for a lot of people there is a twinge of sadness or anxiety in growing older.



In less than a month, I will be turning 30, and I'm not bothered by it.  Not even a little bit.  Here's why.

1. Growing older means more experience.  

You all know I'm a talk radio fan (honestly, I listen to way too many shows and podcasts), and Rush Limbaugh often says how he is never sorry to grow older, because it means he has more experience and knows more than he used to.  I have to say, I love that.  I've adopted his attitude over the years, and especially as I've been surrounded by wise older people.  Some of them are decades older than me, like my parents or grandparents, some are people just a few years further down the road of life (ahem, like my husband), but I always look at them and think about the experiences and growth that they've walked through and I haven't yet.  So the passing of a year, even a big year like 30, is just another year that I've grown and matured and learned more.

2. Let's be honest, 30 is not that old.  

We all like to joke about how old we are getting when these decade markers pass us by, but really, the early 30's are still relatively immature.  We all think we know more than we actually do.  Just watching the people in my life who are approaching 40, I see the difference even that one decade makes in maturity and wisdom.  I'm not naive enough to think I have no more growing to do.  Thirty is still very young (maybe not always in a good way).

3. I'm surrounded by people who love me (and vice versa).

It is not lost on me how much of a blessing it is to enter my 30's with my own family established, and surrounded by family and friends who love me.  I think maybe the hardest part of getting older is not being quite where you thought you would be, whether that's professionally, relationally, or personally.  Being surrounded by the people who are most important to me, feeling like I belong somewhere, was always one of my biggest hopes for 30, and so my heart is full. When I look to the years ahead, I can expect a continuation and maturation of the fun I've already been having with my husband and kids and family and friends, and that's a blessing!

4.  I've figured out who I am.  

Maybe this is just me, but I've always had these arbitrary marker years in my head, ages that I look ahead to and think "Wow, when I'm that old, I will have arrived."  Well, I haven't really arrived because every time I reach the magical age there is another marker age on the horizon.  But 30 was one of those years for me.  When I thought about 30, I envisioned having figured out my own identity and style, and feeling confident in who God made me to be and what He wants me to do.  And maybe it's just the power of suggestion, because of the mental picture I've developed surrounding the age of 30, but I do feel like I've figured out who I am.  I just think 30 is going to be good.  (The next marker age is 36, in case you were wondering.)









(Speaking of style...I think one of my favorite parts of this age is that I've figured finally figured mine out.  I like to try new trends, but I fit them in around casual and feminine basics - this dress from Pink Blush is a good example!  PinkBlush is my go-to for maternity clothes, but I love PinkBlush's non-maternity clothes too because they are the right cut for my grown-up, post-baby body, with tons of flattering options.  Thirty means abandoning the juniors section for good, and finding brands that look good on my figure, and with options like Pinkblush I'm okay with that!  You can check out the dress I'm wearing here.  It's a perfect beach dress, right?)


5.  Each year I live on this earth brings me closer to Jesus.  

Each year I live is that much longer I have to grow in my walk with the Lord and learn to serve Him better.  Life on this earth is only an incredibly small sliver of eternity, and for those of us who have trusted in Jesus for our salvation, we have eternity in Heaven to look forward to.  And anything good that we experience here will be magnified and perfected there.  Really, how can I be sorry to grow older when I think about that?  Every year I spend here is one year closer to when I'll see Jesus face to face.  As a believer, there are only good things to look forward to when you take the long view.

Was 30 a good year for you, or was it hard to leave your 20's?  Or if you are in your 20's, do you look forward to or dread turning 30?  

Comment below, I want to hear!




When You Feel Unsettled



I'm sitting here typing this, and there is a tinge of smoke in the air.  Despite some beautiful flowers poking through the ground and dressing the trees, it has been such a dry spring.  It's hard to enjoy the summery weather when you know the sun is sucking more moisture out of the ground.  I'm praying for rain or a big, wet snow to prevent wildfires this summer.  We've already had one just this week.

It's not the most comforting feeling when we're leaving on vacation this month.

The last couple weeks have been just weird and unsettling.  I hurt my knee two Sundays ago.  Badly.  I was peddling the bike at the gym, and my knee started hurting when I got in the car.  The next morning I couldn't even straighten my leg without pain, much less put any weight on it.  

I had surgery on that same knee seven years ago, so this feeling was familiar.  I was convinced I tore my meniscus again somehow, and I was going to need surgery and be on crutches for six weeks.  I was a soggy mess the rest of the day, crying because I'd be on crutches for vacation, and I had so many end-of-year events that week, and I couldn't take care of the kids...crying just from the stress of it all.  I shared what happened with different friends as my mom drove me down to the doctor's office, who then ordered an MRI.  I was pretty convinced my May was ruined.

Then my knee felt surprisingly good the next day.  And even better the next, and the next, until the day of my MRI, I could almost step on it.  Results came in.  No tear.  I was walking without crutches the next day.  I just don't even see how that's possible with how my knee felt just a few days before.  Because it was bad.  It felt like something had torn, but this week I'd say it's pretty much healed.

I'm crediting all the prayers.  God definitely healed my knee way sooner than I expected, and it was a gift.  

So I'm hanging on to that thought, as I sit here and catch a whiff of smoke, wondering if there is another fire someplace.  Derek isn't home right now, and he has some hard work-related things to deal with that will affect our whole family.  Both of these things are stressing me out.  But then I remember my knee, and I say a prayer and take a deep breath.  Rotten things happen every day, and sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't, but this week I remember that we have a God who cares about it all.  When we feel unsettled and anxious, we are supposed to come to Him.

"Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."
1 Peter 5:7

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Philipians 4:6

I know those verses are so much used that they can almost seem cliche, but they will never seem cliche to me.  How amazing is that, that we have a God who cares for us?  And the proof of that is Jesus.  When we trust in Him for our salvation, our eternity is secure in Him.  If He died to save us from our sin, our biggest, most insurmountable problem, then He can handle all these little problems too.  And even if it doesn't work out like we want, we have Him, and that is all we truly need.

So I'll cast my cares on Him, and go work on some packing.

Happy Friday, Friends!

Creative Contentment | A 100 Days Project


One of my unspoken goals for the year has been to get better at budgeting.

Recently I was reminded of why I need this so much when a friend mentioned a deal she found on some new clothing items.  Did I need new clothing?  No, but it didn't stop me from browsing the internet in search of a similar deal.  I have three new garments to show for it, and though I stayed within my budget to buy them, and they were good buys that will fit into my wardrobe nicely, it still makes me a little unnerved each time I look at them.  Because I know they were bought from an ugly place.  A place of discontent.

2018 so far has brought to light my personal discontent in ways I didn't expect.  The budgeting and finance issues are just one aspect - at various times over the last few years I have felt discontent with my schedule, discontent with our food, discontent with our house.  I have felt discontent with how ordinary my days are, how little I accomplish in a day, the quality of the books I'm crossing off my to-be-read list, the number on the scale.  I've felt discontent with my homeschool community (or rather lack thereof), and discontent with my walk with the Lord (because I wish I had more time and was better at making it a priority!).  

Basically, I'm tired of being discontent.

I recently saw that the #100daysproject is starting up on Instagram, and I mulled over the idea of joining in.  I did 31 Days Of Writing last October and loved being able to focus my posts around a certain theme on this blog, and I liked the idea of doing it again.  

As I was sitting there, running through different topics or activities that wouldn't be too burdensome in my current stage of life (and also wondering if it's cheating somehow to write about the project on my blog instead of Instagram), I remembered my blog friend Cassidy doing a 31 Days project on contentment a few years back.  Many blog friends have participated in these challenges over the years, but for some reason Cassidy's series stuck with me.  Perhaps because contentment is something I struggle with off and on too.  

Then it came to me: creative contentment.  If I was going to do a 100 Days Project, that's what I'd like it to be on.  Thinking outside the box when it comes to practicing contentment - figuring out strategies to help myself rest in contentment, and improving my circumstances and attitude where I am right now, with what I have right now.

I think I'm just going to go for it.  Will I write every day about this on the blog?  No, but I am hoping to seriously think about and practice contentment in different areas of my life every day for the next 100 days, and write something related to this topic at least once a week right here (and maybe occasionally on Instagram too).  That counts right?  That's my plan.

So consider this the first installment, and expect more on Thursdays or Fridays for the next few months!




Reunions




This time last year, my belly was just starting to round with a new little life (Georgie!) when we made the difficult decision to search for a new church.  I remember crying.  We had been going to our previous church for seven years, and it took a significant amount of that time to really start to feel involved there, like we belonged.  Though we had been praying about it and felt like this was the right decision, I wasn't looking forward to starting over.

I didn't write about it during that time, but it was a long, hard search until we found somewhere that met our standards and felt right.  Maybe I'll write more about the process of looking for a new church someday, but let's just say I'm relieved to have it behind us.  There is a sense in which any body of believers feels like family, but every time you start attending a new church it takes some time to feel like you belong.  We've been pleasantly surprised and blessed to feel at home here quickly, and that has helped ease the transition, helped us know that it was right.  

A couple of weeks ago after the church service, I pushed open the door to the ladies' room, and looked up and into the face of a dear lady from our former church.  She stared at me for a second, and I stared at her, and then we burst out with each other's names and rushed to give each other a hug.  We laughed about meeting again in a restroom of all places.  My family visited with their group in the hall well after most of the regular attenders had cleared out.  It was a reunion of sorts, and I couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the day.  Reunions, when they are sweet, will do that.

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March has been a month of reunions overall.  We also went out to visit my dear childhood friends on their ranch.  They can't get away that often, but once a year we make the trek out to see them.  I want to make it happen more often.  

We visited, caught up on each other's lives, introduced the baby.  We ate lunch, and remembered back to when we were kids, growing up in a little white church in the mountains.  Every summer there was an ice cream social, with real ice cream churned in vintage buckets, packed with snow from the nearest mountain pass.  There would be peach, and banana, and pralines and cream - the row of ice cream makers on the shelf above our heads brought it all back.  

























We will keep making this trip out to the ranch as long they will have us, because we love our friends so dearly, and our reunions make it seem as if we live much nearer than we do.  It always feels like we saw them last week instead of last year.

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Reunions don't always feel so sweet as all this, of course, but when I do have moments of happy reunions, it makes me think how beautiful Heaven will be.  I imagine we'll see everyone who we know here who has trusted in Jesus, and that will be one round of happy reunions.  Then we'll see all the people whose names we know but who we've never met - but it will seem as if we had known them all along.  Then we'll see all the people whom Jesus saved who we never met, and we never knew their names, but we're still all connected because we've all been adopted into this family, through the blood of Jesus.

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It's Good Friday today, when we remember Jesus's death on the cross.  My heart is heavy as I remember why He died - to pay the penalty for my crimes (and yours too), when He had no crimes of His own.  God became a man, lived without sin, and died in our place - covering our sin and reconciling us with Himself when we trust in Him to save us.

What kind of despair the disciples must have felt though, when He died.  I can't even imagine that feeling, because I've never had to feel it - we all have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story, after all.  Seeing Jesus on the third day, alive again, had to be an unimaginable joy!

And now, I'm just waiting for my turn.  Because someday I'll see Him too, either when I die and enter eternity, or when He comes back on the clouds to take us home.  And boy, that will be the best reunion of all.

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Happy Resurrection Day (on Sunday), friends!  I pray that you know Jesus as your Savior too, and may you get a small taste of the joy of that coming reunion as we celebrate that our Savior is alive, forevermore!

"But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. "  

Matthew 28:5-6a
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