Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Confession and A Realization

With another month just about over, I like to look back at the last few weeks and take note of the exciting events, lessons learned and anything else that might need remembering.  As I grabbed my pretty, new 2018 planner, I realized a couple things.  But first....

A confession:  last year, my "planner" was a simple wallet-style calendar.  The one in a plastic cover from Hallmark.  Or the drug store.  Cute design but super simple.  This year, I went for the big, multi-page and multi-sectioned one that looks like a mini three-ring binder.  There is still one more day in January, so technically I have not even used it an entire month...but I already miss my simple, yet oh so easy to use day planner.

In order to look back over the month, I've had to flip back through all the pages.  Not my preferred style.  My new planner does have a whole month at a glance page, which I could use, but then what is the point of all these extra pages?  I am sure many (many!) ladies love their jumbo planners and that many are much more organized and even productive because they use them.  Truth be told, that is exactly why I have one.  I thought all the smart people - and surely all the productive ones - used these planners.  YouTube and the internet convinced me.  I seem to fall into the murky trap of internet comparison way too easily these days.  I should have learned by now.  But the blog posts, videos, and Instagram photos are so convincing!

Don't get more wrong.  I enjoy the posts, the pictures and all the ideas.  But they simply need to be food for thought.  Note to self:  That amazing color of green on someone else' wall simply will not transform my dining room.  Ever.  I will never look "cute" in a big blanket scarf regardless of how many girls make it look super easy - and adorable.  I do not need to declutter every inch of my home, pare my wardrobe down to three items or create my home to reflect any other current trend no matter how popular it might be on the internet.  I can use these ideas to spark my own creativity or even to improve routines, etc. but they don't dictate my choices and decisions.  Or, at least, they shouldn't.  Truly - just a note to myself.

A Realization:  as I looked back over the events of January, I have not one, not two but three marked through with "CANCELLED" on them.  And all three were essentially due to lack of interest.  Two were volunteer opportunities ("field trips") and one was a ladies event.  Apparently, I am not the only one finding winter challenging and a reason to stay home.  My home is cozy.  The fireplace crackles making me warm and snuggly.  It is also filled with plenty of my favorite things...and enough to keep me busy for weeks.  I could stay inside until April....or, at least, until the wind stops howling and any standing water unfreezes!  This yearning to hibernate is something I definitely have to fight and I'm beginning to think, I'm not alone.  There were so many interesting things on the calendar for January - I was actually looking forward to bundling up and heading out:)  But, they were cancelled.  Hopefully, we will try again in the weeks ahead.

There were a few things of note this month:  After months (and months!) of procrastination, angst and other troubling factors, I finally scheduled and completed some oral surgery I needed.  I only include this in a post because God used a good friend to encourage me to move forward.  She listened to my concerns (and my whining) but she didn't settle there.  She pointed out my excuses, helped me plan a resolution and then, gently, held me accountable.  That is a picture of a true friend.  I thank God for the many ways He has used her in my life.  By the way, next week she is teaching this "old dog a new trick" and that should be interesting!!

A new Bible study began at our church.  For many reasons, this is an answer to prayer.  I am looking forward to seeing how God will bless through this.  We will be using the book, Adorned, by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth.  Have any of you read it?

As gray and wintery as this month has been, God has been working in extra special and personal ways for me.  He is leading, directing and opening doors.  I know there will be much to share about in the months ahead but I, as I remember January, I want to praise Him for all He has done - and is doing!!  Even January is blessed - which is a treat for my summer-craving soul!!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Results of Surrender

When my children were just little ones, I rocked them to sleep.  Every day.   Did it spoil them?  Did it contribute to them being "poor" sleepers?  I don't know.  But I wouldn't trade those quiet moments of cradling my sleepy babes for anything.  Cuddled under my chin and drooped against my chest, their sweet baby aroma actually putting me asleep!  However contented they might be, they always fought against sleep.  It would take several minutes of rocking before they'd actually surrender - quit resisting - and their little bodies would fully relax against me.

Isn't that exactly what the Heavenly Father wants from each of His children?  We can stop struggling - stop striving for our own way and our own desires, and always trying to work things according to our own agenda.  Oh the sweetness of simply leaning on Him.  We can trust Him and enjoy the peace, the rest and true contentment that comes from surrender.

These are my thoughts this week on the FMF prompt:  surrender.  Short and sweet - but, oh my, how those memories of precious days with my babies have been sweet to my soul!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Three Ways I am Challenging my Comfort Zone

The weather has gone from artic to spring-like....seemingly, overnight!  Last night's rain not only washed the road salt and reminders of last week's winter away but also left the air so fresh this morning!  It makes you want to grab a bike and let the wind blow through your hair.  Well, sorta.  Maybe a nice walk will be just the thing!  Bike-riding is not exactly in my comfort zone these days.

Then again, perhaps it is time to push out of my comfort zone....just as I discussed in last week's FMF post.  Intentional living is, apparently, quite the buzz word lately.  Maybe I was just more attuned to everyone's thoughts on the subject.  Either way, it seems everyone wants to live with intention - including me.  And, for me, that means examining the status quo for habits and attitudes that keep me "too comfortable" and making choices and decisions which can stretch me, help me grow and allow me to abound more and more in God's plan for me.

This not only takes self-examination but asking the Lord's help as well.  Asking Him to reveal things that need to change or that keep me stuck.  It might be something simple or could involve a major shift but He will enable me if I sincerely seek His help.  That said, here are three ways I believe He is helping me stretch my comfort zone.

Strengthening my prayer life.  My devotional time is a habit.  It is as much a part of my morning routine as showering or eating oatmeal.  I read my Bible.  I work on Bible study.  I meditate on, and keep plugging away at memorizing, scripture.  However, my prayer time is weak.  It often feels robotic.  And empty.  I am so easily mentally distracted!!  I want a powerful prayer life.  I need a powerful prayer life.  I am trying different ways to help with this.  I don't have the exact answer yet but I know God will bless my effort and, so, I will be persistent.

Creating boundaries.  If I'm honest, I already know several weak spots - even before I ask in prayer.  I know areas in my life, even times in my day, where I am lazy....physically and spiritually.  They are not necessarily sinful but if I stay in these spots too long, I quickly lose all motivation to challenge my comfort zone.  I even know the friends who will validate my choice for zero change.  I have to set boundaries.  Limit my time.  Monitor my activities (mindless scrolling through the phone, anyone?).  This is a challenge but I truly believe God will honor my effort.

Stop overthinking.  This will be an "in it for the long haul" challenge.  Over-thinking is a part of who I am.  I can look at a triangle from fifteen different angles - surely, three sides are enough!  I will never be accused of being impulsive - nor do I want to be.  However, I am certain I have missed more than just a few opportunities (to be blessed and to be a blessing) where God opened doors but I simply could not stop trying to process every detail of the door.  Note to self, the blessing was inside the "open door" and was not the door itself!

I am going to say yes more.  Yes to new things.  Yes to things outside my comfort zone.  Yes even when I feel unqualified or intimidated.  I have already said yes to God several times in the last couple weeks - and I see Him working.  It's pretty exciting actually!  This Christian walk truly can be defined as "abounding more and more" and my comfort zone is not where I want to settle.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Danger of My Comfort Zone

I like cozy.  I like comfortable.  I have to admit...I like my comfort zone.  Comfort zone: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.  Even the definition sounds nice.  At ease, without stress.  Isn't that often our goal?  Not only to create a comfort zone but to stay close to it.  The busier our lives become and, ahem, the older we become, our comfort zone (whether loosely or clearly defined) becomes even more important.  If you are like me, a comfort zone is framed by routine and familiarity keeps in defined.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong with routine or even activities and relationships that allow us to "feel safe and at ease," our comfort zones can easily become stagnant and can cause us to become complacent, or satisfied with the status quo.  This cannot be the goal for a Christian.  God's word is often encouraging each of us - exhorting us - to move forward.  To consistently be making spiritual progress.

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
I Thessalonians 4:1

If we are to abound more and more....to grow spiritually and, ultimately, to become more like our Heavenly father....we have to live intentionally.  Making purposeful choices - choosing what is best and denying ourselves whatever might be keeping us too settled in our comfort zone.  Being intentional is key to abounding more and more.

Its Five Minute Friday and, yes, the prompt is intentional.  As most often is the case, five minutes are up.  However, knowing I want my life to be abounding - to be moving forward - in the Lord, and for the Lord, begs the question of how?  What intentional choices can I make to help me do just that?  I plan to look at that question, and some answers, more in my Tuesday post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tortilla Soup, Actually

This blog is in no way a food blog.  It really is not even a good place to look for recipes.  I know my strengths - and my weaknesses and I am not a great cook.  However, I can follow directions and easy to follow recipes are my friend.  So is Pinterest.  I love to look through recipes (a genetic thing from my mom, I believe) and I enjoy trying new ones...and so, I pin.  And pin a lot.  There are so many pins, and so many different boards on my Pinterest, it is beginning to feel like clutter - and clutter drains all my joy.  I am trying to actually make the recipes that I have "neatly" filed away on my boards - and then keep the winners and, well, delete the losers.  But organizing my virtual file cabinet is another post altogether.  This post is for sharing a delicious recipe I have made repeatedly in just the last few weeks. 

Yesterday, we had a Sunday school class fellowship - a soup and subs type of afternoon.  Perfect for a winter day.  And, I brought this soup. (I'm pretty sure I referred to this as Enchilada Soup all afternoon - but it is technically called Tortilla Soup.  Potatoe. Potato.  Let's just call it yummy!)   I tend to think that the longer an ingredient list, the tastier a recipe will be, but this soup has a rather short ingredient list (yeah!) but it is very tasty.  The directions also include steps to make this a freezer meal.  This soup would be perfect to have on hand for snow days (we might just have one tomorrow!) or whenever you might need to take a meal.

The website link is here.  You can also find it on my Pinterest boards - both Soup's On and, the brand-new and waiting to be filled board, Recipes: Tested, Tried and Tasty!!  My Pinterest is linked on the sidebar.  There are plenty of soups just waiting to be tried and tasted.  I think there might be plenty of winter days, as well, ahead in order to try them all!  Sigh.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Two Ways to Better Enjoy Today

It's Friday.  I love Kate's description of Five Minute Friday....

We take a deep breath and bravely post our five-minute scribblings for others to read.
It’s really not about the quality — it’s about showing up. It’s about sitting down, setting the timer, and doing the work. It’s about the discipline and the practice of letting the words flow. It’s about releasing fears and embracing imperfection. And we do it together.
For me, it is definitely about embracing imperfection and simply doing the writing.  I am an over-thinker.  I over analyze and over-critique.  It's actually one reason I am late "showing up" this week.  After I read the prompt - SIMPLIFY - there were so many ways I wanted to apply this to my life and ways to approach this post.  I was completely over-thinking it.  Totally counter-productive to Five Minute Friday.  So,without further ado...some of my rambling thoughts on SIMPLIFY.
GO - To simplify is to clarify.  To make plain or easy to understand. And, for me, easier to appreciate.  In order to best appreciate and enjoy this life I have been blessed with is to keep it uncomplicated.  Often it is my own thoughts, and thought processes, that way over complicate life for me.  That snare of over-thinking and, especially, over-critiquing traps me way more often than I care to admit.
One way to avoid this is "to live in the moment" - which is not to be confused with "live for the moment" or an "eat, drink and live for today" mentality that I think is contrary to Bible teaching.  To live in the moment, I believe, requires two things.  Forgetting the past and refusing to constantly look toward and wait for the future.
The days gone past have their share of regret, disappointments (even shame) but, as well, hard to forget victories, hopes fulfilled and a multitude of sweet moments.  If I use the past as a lens to view today's choices and activities, I not only miss opportunities but, undoubtedly, miss many of the joys that could be mine right now.  Simplifying, for me, includes letting go of the past.  Yes, I enjoy the memories but I am not living in the memory but living today in order to create even more memories.
On the other side, comparing today's moments with my perception of tomorrow can also rob me of today's blessings.  It may be something as simple as the weather.  The temperatures today were unseasonably warm and extra delightful after our bitter cold snap.  I heard a statement similar to "it is so beautiful today....what a bummer that it is going to be lousy again tomorrow!" more than a few times today.  I may have even thought it myself:(  Why not simply enjoy today?!  
Similarly, I often fail to enjoy the beauty of the day, the time, the phase I am currently living because I am convinced tomorrow will be the better time to pursue a dream, make a bold choice or any number of things.  I am way too guilty of this.  Simplifying - or removing all the extra that over-complicates and squeezes out the joy - also includes a proper focus on tomorrow.  I want to savor all that today offers.
STOP - I must say that this post was not written in just five minutes.  I was just beginning to write when my husband invited me to enjoy a cup of coffee on the porch.  Something we usually do in the warmer months.  What a treat!  Pausing to stop and enjoy a simple pleasure of today was the perfect "note to self" for living in the moment!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

More Thoughts on Choosing

Last week, I wrote about my verse for this new year.  Joshua 24:15 - which I claimed after trying to settle on a word for the year.  Choose.  Aren't "words for the year" supposed to be a noun?  Choice.  But the simple word, choice, didn't seem to really convey what God was impressing on my heart.  The idea that so much of life - most of life - is truly a choice.  And so, I went with a verse.

Yes, there are situations, circumstances and some things that I have no control over...but even in those times, there are choices I can make.  Very often, my testimony, my influence on others... my walk with the Lord and my spiritual growth are a direct result of those choices.  I want to make the best choices - and so I will "choose this day whom I will serve."

Once I month, I plan to highlight some of the choices that are mine and how I am making them.  So many choices but I will look, at least, at twelve.  Choices I am specifically focusing on - and that might need some fine-tuning - or fixing - in my life.  I hope they will be an encouragement.

The idea of making a choice is not the only pertinent part of this verse for me in 2018.  "Choose you this day..."  This day.  Right now.  It is in this phase of life that I need to make the best choices.  For me, that looks like an empty-nest, semi-retired, middle-age phase of life.  My nest is not completely empty but my children are grown adults and self-sufficient.  My mom-life phase is complete.  I stopped earning a paycheck last year but am certainly not ready to stop working.  However, I am definitely not as young as I used to be:)  However I would describe these days, I want to use them wisely and use them well.  That requires the best choices.

I am also a grieving mother.  I never imagined it would be down paths of deepest grief I would travel before I would get to this phase of life.Yes, God has done much healing in my heart but the death of a child forever marks your life.  I believe He has taken the ashes of my life - what I once saw as hopeless and completely not worth the living - and helped me see something beautiful.  A life with purpose and promise and full of beautiful moments.  Hence, the name of this blog.  I do not want to use my grief as an excuse for poor choices nor do I want all God has taught me and carried me through to be in vain.  I want others to be encouraged and, if necessary, to find the courage to trade their ashes for the beauty He offers.

All of us are in different phases.  Not all of us - but I believe most of us - have our own share of ashes.  Broken hearts.  Failed plans.  Ruined dreams.  You, too, might be grieving or your unexpected path might be totally different.  A broken trust or unwanted divorce.  A wayward child or other heart-wrenching relationship.  A financial crisis. A medical diagnosis that forever changes your life.  It might be all completely new or you may be settled into your new normal...but, all along the way, there are choices to make.  My prayer is this blog can help all women make those choices which draw them closer to the One who is faithful and whose promises never fail.

Isaiah 61:3  "to give unto them beauty for ashes...."

Friday, January 5, 2018

Motivate By Example

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Hebrews 10:24

To provoke is to excite or encourage.  You might say, to motivate.  We are called to motivate one another.  I think we all want to be an encourager, myself included.  But to do so - and to do so even better in the year ahead - we have to encourage on purpose.  I would like to purposefully motivate those around me to be not only their best but also to do their best for the glory of the Lord and in His service.  This includes my family and those closest to me.  Those I serve with in ministry.  My friends.  Those I love but live miles from me.  Even those who visit my blog.

How can I be an encourager? A motivator?  How can each of us provoke, excite and motivate those around us?  One of the best ways is by example. 

When my children were little people and I wanted to instill a good habit - anything from brushing their teeth to saying the blessing or respecting their dad - the easiest, and most effective, way to do that was to do so myself.  Similarly, I have several friends with a "no shoes in the house" policy.  We, on the other hand, wear our shoes at home.  However, when visiting a friend, I know when I should remove my shoes....because my friend removes her shoes.

If I want to motivate, encourage - to provoke - others to love and to good works.....I need to be doing just that myself.

STOP.  Today's post is the first Five Minute Friday for 2018 and today's prompt is MOTIVATE.  Writing for five minutes - unrehearsed and, for the most part, unedited.   I often have a hard time staying within five minutes but, as a good rule-follower, I do indicate when the time is finished.  I made the time today but my thoughts seem so scattered.  These posts are always a good challenge.  I want to be an encourager and God has used today's word to prompt some self-examination.  Certainly, there is work to be done in the months ahead.

 The rest of this week's posts from the word motivate can be found here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Not a Word - but a Verse for the Year

Happy New Year - and hello to a new year.  Another new beginning.  A fresh start.  I love the energy and fresh vigor that comes with a new beginning...whether it is a new week, a new month and especially when it is a new year.  This year even began on a Monday - win-win!  During the week between Christmas and yesterday, there was plenty of time to reflect on the past year and to prepare and purpose for this new year ahead.  Whether or not you write out specific resolutions, goals are good.  Goals, at the very least, point us in the right directions.  Continuing in the right direction and, certainly, reaching our goals will be determined, in large part, by the choices we make.

We make choices all day. Every day.  Choices of no real eternal value and others that have great impact.  Some choices affect no one but ourselves.  Others have far-reaching ripple effects. Very often, the bigger, high-impact choices are the result of lots of smaller choices beforehand.  Choices matter.  I want 2017 to be a year of good choices.  And not just good choices but wise choices.  Choices that honor Christ.  Choices that not only draw me closer to Him but also point others toward Him.

Obviously, I have no idea all the choices that 2018 will include.  But starting today - er, yesterday - I can begin with the small choices. For instance, I can begin each day with the right choice.  To start each day with the God's word and in prayer will only happen if I choose to get up when necessary, adequately schedule my morning and stop accepting excuses.  Doing so repeatedly, this choice soon becomes a habit - even a priority.  The same principle applies to more than habits.  Emotions. Recovery.  Reactions or responses.  Relationships.  Our health.  And the list goes on.

Will there be days that I settle for a lame excuse rather than make the best choice?  No doubt.  But each day has the same fresh promise of new Monday and I can choose the get back on the right path.

Joshua 24:15  "choose you this day whom ye will serve....."   I added the emphasis.  This day.  Today.  This year - I will choose to serve the Lord.  To honor Him.  To give Him my best choices.