Friday, February 25, 2011

Grace Flows Down

Grace.  Unmerited favor.  The love of Jesus.  The blood he shed, the grace that was poured out on me when he took the punishment for all my sin...  My Savior is so beautiful.

"The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

Here's a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."  1 Timothy 1:14-16

If you need a little encouraging today, I am praying that you'll find it in the Lord.  Sit at His feet.  Feel  grace cover you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seasons of the Dream

This morning, drinking my third cup of coffee and looking out the window at the dirty snowbanks piled high, I feel my thoughts shifting.  Instead of only seeing the gray of winter, I am thinking of what is yet to come.  Thoughts of spring feel good.  Beneath the frozen ground, there is life.  In exactly the right places, there are peonies, irises, roses, astilbe....  I just have to wait until the seasons change, and the beautiful things planted in the soil will push their way up into the daylight.  We will enjoy the fragrance and the beauty of what is now still hidden.

Our lives are filled with seasons, too.  In each of these seasons, the Lord is doing something very specific and very valuable.  We can't shortcut the development that is happening in the winter, while the seeds planted at an earlier time are preparing to burst open.  We can't rush the growth of springtime, just because we want to see the flowers in their full, glorious bloom of summer.  We can't hang on for long to the splendor of the autumn, with its fiery colors and cool evenings.  

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...  He has made everything beautiful in its time."  Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 11

Right now, my heart is ready for spring.  I've been really enjoying the process of reading Kathi Lipp's The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted.  I'm being more deliberate about infusing my life with the creativity that has been rekindled.  I am reminded that it glorifies God when I'm using the gifts and talents He's given me.  I'm focusing with more intention on what the Lord has planted for dreams in my heart, I'm feeling the growing anticipation of springtime in my own life.   

The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted

What are the dreams beneath the surface of your life right now?  Have you stopped to consider them?  Are you at the early stages of chasing after them?  Are you seeing the fruits of hard work you've done investing in the things God has created you to do?  What season of life are your dreams in today?  Be encouraged that God Himself is a Creator, and He has designed you as His workmanship and in His image.  The things you love to do bring you joy for a reason.  Cultivate your dreams.  Let your gifts burst forth and bloom in your life as a beautiful testimony of His faithfulness!

"Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin!"  Zechariah 4:10


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Feel the Burn

Stamina 9200 CPS Indoor Cycling Bike
One of my best friends loves a good workout.  I don't really like any workout, good or otherwise (to be totally honest).  My friend loves nothing more than to work out until it hurts, to feel the burn.  She wants to come away from her workout session knowing she's pushed her body to the point where her muscles have been broken down from the exercise and will need to rebuild and repair and then will be stronger.

Not being one prone to the enjoyment of exercise, I am faced with the striking parallel that my spiritual life is something where I am no more a lover of the workout process.  Fortunately, I value the growth, so I endure the growing process.  And as I've sometimes struggled against the ways God has asked me to grow, over the past year in particular, I realize that I'm becoming more comfortable with the way it feels.

Just as my friend's body responds to the exercise by increasing the strength in her muscles and burning  away pesky fat cells her body doesn't need, leaving her leaner and stronger and more energized, my spirit grows and changes in response to how I handle the weight of my cares and my relationship with the Lord.  I'm learning to like the burn.  I'm beginning to enjoy the anticipation of increased strength I'm developing as the nonproductive parts of who I am are being broken down and stripped away.

"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him."  Psalm 37:7

What strikes me as so ironic, however,  is how often the hardest thing I'm asked to do in order to become strong and fit spiritually is to sit back, rest in the Lord, stand still in His presence and wait.  It feels so much better to me when I can "do" something.  Last year, the Lord provided me with many opportunites to practice stillness, and a very interesting thing happened.  I finally gave in.  I could feel my willfulness and my determination finally surrender.  In my stillness and my obedience, God trimmed away some of the excess, useless stuff in my heart and in my life, and He built up my trust in Him, strengthened my spirit and my faith, and He made me stronger.... in Him.

We have had two adoptive home studies done in the past few years.  The first was for a baby, and when we were called about twins to adopt, the Lord clearly showed us that this was not His will for us.  He closed the door.  That was a February afternoon.  I cried into my hands, with sobs that came from a place so deep that I wondered if my heart would survive the sadness.  But we knew it was the right thing to do, so we moved forward, trusting the Lord.  A couple weeks later, I was pregnant with Sage!  God knew His plans for us.

Right now, we have a completed, current home study once again.  I'm not really sure why, to be honest.  I mean, I know we did it because we were pursuing adopting an older child last year, and the Lord led us to do the homestudy and provided the money for it, so we did it.  And the Lord brought us into a relationship with the child we'd hoped to adopt, which has been a huge gift to our lives.  But the door for his adoption closed.  For a number of reasons.  And we know with conviction that had it been God's will for this boy to be here, he would be, and we also know that there are other ways the Lord will use us as a "family" to him.  So we have committed to be a long-distance family to him, sending him things, staying in touch, praying for him, sharing the love of Christ with him.  We know God has not abandoned him and that he has a big future in the making, because God's plans for him are good, even when they are different than my own.

I've cried about this, too, but the tears are not the same.  This time they are quiet, and as they fill my eyes, I know that while my feelings are ok, I am not fighting against what God's doing in my life.  I am willing to unclench my fingers from their tight grip on my dreams in order to hand them to my Dreamgiver, because my life needs to be shaped by His purposes instead of my own.  The dreams from Him, He will package beautifully and hand back to me when the time is right.

But I keep finding myself pushing the Lord for an answer.  I'm trying to understand the "why" of it all.  I keep thinking there must be some culmination of these experiences, some reason why my heart is completely broken for the cause of the orphan, why we have a second homestudy and no adoption process going on now or even in the foreseeable future, why we'd be led to spend money on something that God didn't intend to use ultimately for an adoption.  I like things to make sense.  I ask God to explain.

And He does something very precious in response.  He quiets my soul.  He reminds me of how good it feels to stop pressing for answers, to stop trying to understand how or why an Almighty God does the things He does in the way He does them.  His voice in my spirit is soothing.  I feel myself relax into the trusting and the stillness and the surrender.  And I am ok with realizing that I am not owed an answer to my questions.  Sometimes God brings me to a place where I can look back and see the way certain pieces fit together.  But my faith is based on knowing that He is fitting the pieces together even when I can't see how.

What it all really comes down to is relationship.  I've come to know God more intimately as I've gone through situations outside of my control.  I've been at the end of my rope, so to speak, a number of times and in a variety of ways.  And He's told me to stop hanging on so tightly to that rope - that it's Him I need to cling to.  There are days my clinging to Him feels easy and comfortable, like my toddler with her arms slung around my neck.  But there are also days where I'm clinging desperately.  The only difference between those days is me.  God is always there.  Always the same.  Steady.  Unchanging.

God also reminds me of something else very important.  He has given me a husband who is an amazing leader.  I can rest in the peace and safety of knowing that my husband leads our family with grace and wisdom and with a relentless strength.  When my heart gets the better of me (as it tends sometimes to do), it's ok, because Selden leads from a much more capable place than emotion.  When I don't understand why God's doing or not doing something, I can let it go, because I know the Lord's leading Selden.  I thank God multiple times a day for the blessing of my husband's leadership.  He is my hero.  I will follow that man anywhere.  I trust him, and that trust lets me live in a freedom that having to understand or control things could never afford me.  The genius of God designed marriage to work that way, and I benefit from it so much.

Nike Women's NIKE AIR PEGASUS+ 25 WOMEN'S RUNNING SHOES 8.5 (NTRL GRAY/BERRY/WHT/BLK)I'm now thankful for the times I can feel the growing happen.  I know the temporary discomfort is producing good things in me.   Just like my friend and her workouts at the gym.  My faith muscles are strengthened when I am powerless and decide to rely on the only true source of strength.  It gets easier each time the challenges come.  My endurance is greater, because I realize I'm not able to endure on my own, so I rest in the Lord.  The resistance I have to work against produces results.  So I'm learning to embrace "feeling the burn."  

"...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:31

Thursday, February 17, 2011

If You Haven't Tried This, You're Missing Out!

Besides having my hair set on hot rollers from the age of 8, one of the things I remember most clearly about my childhood days growing up in Louisiana is the wonderful, incredible, amazing food.  And if you have never been to a Southern-style church supper, you are missing out, my friend!  

I love the power food has to evoke memories and to bring people together to create new memories.  Many an evening, I sat in the Fellowship Hall of Life Tabernacle, the church my dad pastored when I was a little girl, enjoying Miss Mary's chicken and dumplings and the company of friends who became family to us.  One thing I've enjoyed doing is introducing my New England family to some of my favorite Southern fare.  This recipe is one of our favorites, so I wanted to share it with you. 

My parents in the early 80's, when they first moved us to Louisiana to pastor the church. (I bet they hadn't tried chicken & dumplings at the time this photo was taken... Unthinkable!) 
I'd love to read your comments if you try this recipe - or if you have memories of Miss Mary and her incredible cooking!  What are some of YOUR favorite childhood recipes?  I'd love to have you post them in the comments section below. 

"Miss Mary's Louisiana Church Supper Chicken & Dumplings:
Whole Chicken (add water to cover)
Chopped Green Pepper
Chopped Onion
3 Stalks Celery, Chopped
1T salt
(Boil until chicken is done - about an hour)

Meanwhile- Prepare Dumplings:
In a bowl, combine:
1 1/2C flour
dash salt
Cut in:
2T butter
2tsp Crisco
Stir in:
1/4 Cup Ice Water
(Mix together to form dough.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes)

Remove chicken from broth and set aside to debone.
Bring broth to a slow boil. 
Knead dumpling dough on a floured surface.  Roll out thin (like a pie crust).  I use a flexible cutting board to do this on, and then I can take a pizza cutter and roll it across the dough to form 3/4 -1" squares.  
Drop the dumpling squares, a few at a time, into the boiling broth to cook (about 15-20 min)
(I typically make a flour/water mixture, which I add at this point to thicken the broth)
Add the chicken meat (I shred it, but you could cut chunks), and let sit 10 minutes before serving.  

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes in the world!  I hope you all enjoy it!!!  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eyeliner, Hot Rollers and Spiritual Beauty: The Heart of a Makeup Junkie

Chanel Levres Scintillantes Glossimer 63 PagodaChanel Les 4 Ombres Eye Makeup - No. 95 Sparkling Satin - 4x0.3g

Trust me - you don't want to see me without my makeup on.  And unless you're a member of my household or one of the unfortunate people driving past my yard when I'm scurrying to my vehicle in sweats and "morning hair," rushing to get my daughter to school, the likelihood of you having to bear witness to such a sight is very small.

I grew up in the South, near the "buckle" of the "Bible belt."  If you are unfamiliar with such places, you may not be able to understand such a deeply rooted makeup-love or be able to believe that when I was in third grade, my mom actually set my hair on hot rollers every morning before school.

Conair CHV14JXR Extreme Heat Jumbo and Super Jumbo Rollers

Some things are just ingrained in a Southern girl.  Some things cannot be undone, no matter how many years a girl spends in stoic New England, succumbing to such unthinkable things as "winter boots" for half the year and buildings without central air for the other half.
North Face Nuptse Bootie III Fur Boot (Women's)

There is a deeper message than all this cosmetics talk, though.  There is a matter of being "real."  I will never give up my eyeliner.  We'll establish that right now.  But one of the greatest ways God blesses me and speaks to me is through the friends I have who see me for who I really am and love me anyway.

It's important for us to have relationships that are transparent.  As women, wives, moms, so often we feel so much pressure to appear to have it all together, all the time... to look like we're doing just fine and don't need help.  One thing that God wants us to remember is that He uses people and relationships to do good work in our lives.  He wants us to be willing to be un-made-up in our inner self, so that we can receive help when it's needed and so we can receive truth spoken lovingly from a friend.

"Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30

I'm thinking today about the value of being authentic in my relationships.  It's such a great joy.  As we share our lives with our friends, we connect at a heart level.  When we can ask for prayer and receive it, when we can accept help with a meal when we're sick (which sometimes I don't do, even if I should, so I need to work on that, because I have lots of generous friends whose offers I sometimes deny!), when we can be ok with the house not looking perfect and still invite a friend in for coffee, that's when we're real.

Cuisinart DCC-1200 12-Cup Brew Central Coffeemaker, Black and Stainless Steel
It's the realness of my friends that inspires me.  I have women in my life who are so beautiful, inside and out.  They are women who speak glowingly of their husbands.  They are women who tell me the truth when I need to hear it.  They are women who keep confidences and pray faithfully.  They are women who are honest about their struggles.  They are women who send me Bible verses in my email when I need a little encouragement.  They are women who I ask for advice about parenting, or decorating or cooking. They are women who make me laugh till I have tears in my eyes.  

There is definitely something to be said for a good concealer (and a lot of coffee) when it comes to hiding dark circles caused by lack of sleep (caused by children....).  I will not venture far from home without my makeup. (And I promise to keep my morning-hair sightings limited to the school drop-off only.)  But I will be more intentional about showing my imperfections to my friends, not worrying so much about whether the house looks right before I have someone over, and about receiving help.

God doesn't mind if I like a few beauty products, but He wants me to be sure to invest even more in the lasting beauty of my spirit.  It's important to know how to truly define what is beautiful, and none of it can be found at the Chanel counter.  I'm thankful that He promises to help me develop my heart and my life in ways that are more pleasing in His sight and that He's surrounded me with such wonderful friends whose beauty shines into my life every day.

The One Year Bible for Women
Source of true beauty!
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."  1 Peter 3:3 & 4


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

(I Finally Won Something!) "The Me Project" by Kathi Lipp

I'm not a contest-enterer.  But I saw a book give-away contest, and to enter, all I had to do was leave a braggy comment about my husband (which I LOVE to do), so I couldn't resist!  And I WON a copy of The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted

The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted
Kathi Lipp challenges women to grab a journal and dare to write out 50 goals you have - anything at all!  Then, after praying about which goal to pursue intentionally right now, she creates a plan for attacking the obstacles in the way and getting started achieving!

I sat one night and wrote out some goals, and it felt so good to really identify some of the things I want to do.  To put them on paper.  Make them real.  One goal I have is to remember how the heck to thread a bobbin and operate my sewing machine (any helpers out there!?), so I can do some little sewing projects.  Another is to get more involved in ministry.  

It's cool to see the Lord take that act of focusing on goals (which feels a little self-indulgent, I admit) and bless it by causing me to see areas where He's there with opportunities that are in line with the things on my heart.  Just last night, I enjoyed the first of six weekly Biblical Counseling teachings at Calvary Chapel.  

As a wife and mom, I think it's so easy to dismiss the goals and dreams we have for our own lives, but God has made us to dream and to create and to find satisfaction in living out the interests He has created us to have.  And I'm finding that as I am refocusing on specific goals, the effect of that on the other areas of my life is that I'm having more energy, more of a commitment to time management and a greater sense of responsibility to prioritize....which are ALL things that glorify God!  

My first and favorite mission field is my family.  I firmly believe as a wife and mom that I must honor the Lord in how I serve my family before I step out to do something to be a blessing elsewhere.   But I am reminding myself that it's also important each day to inject a little creativitiy and a little purpose toward things that inspire my heart.  God has designed us to live with passion and purpose, but it's easy as a mom to get the guilt-complex (self-induced, I will add), when we put anything for "ourselves" on the priority list.  There is definitely a responsibility we have to prioritize according to God's will.  But it's also very much God's heart for us to be using and enjoying the gifts and talents and dreams He's given us! 

I'm excited to share more about The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted as I take some steps toward the goals!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spiritual Growth, Karate Kid Style

I confess:  as a kid, I was a huge Karate Kid fan.  It's true.  I can still hear Bananarama now...

The Karate Kid (Special Edition)

One thing that always bugged me about the movie was how long it seemed to take Mr. Miagi to teach Daniel just what the heck he was supposed to be doing.  It just didn't seem to make any sense.  I was so frustrated every time I had to watch the whole confusing "wax on, wax off," "paint the fence," "sand the floor" sequence.  I just wanted to get to the part where Daniel was kicking some Cobra butt!

For the past year, I've been noticing that God's been walking me through some rather tedious growing experiences.  I journal about my prayers and what I see the Lord doing in my life - the places I'm struggling to understand Him, the things I find myself fighting about with Him, the stubbornness I notice cropping up in myself.  And the faithfulness He shows in response.

Many times this past year, God has asked me to wait.  For all sorts of things.  For all kinds of reasons I don't really know.
Wax on...

Somtimes, God has allowed me to see an open door and has led me to walk toward it.  He has allowed me to invest my heart in dreams He's planted in my soul.  And some of those dreams have been met with what appears, from my limited perspective, to be a resounding slamming of doors.  
Wax off....

God has asked me to trust Him, even when it means being willing to close my eyes and jump out over the edge of my tiny little comfort zone.  Sometimes I have landed in the middle of a place more incredible than I could have imagined (like seeing the fulfillment of my dream of being a "housewife").  And other times, He's let me risk disappointment and put my heart on the line for something that has not turned out as planned, asking me to remember that He is the Lord of my life, and He causes all things to work together for my good. 

He's also asked me to let go of my grip on my dreams and be willing to open my hands to Him.  He's taught me that what I, in my human perspective, may have considered the end of a dream may very well be the redefining of a dream by the Lord, so it reflects HIS heart more than mine.  So I have to trust Him more.  So He will be more glorified in my life.   Because He is interested in accomplishing more things at once than I can really even imagine.  

I'm stepping back, at the beginning of a new year, and I'm looking at how the Lord has been refining my faith and my relationship with him.  I'm seeing some of the pieces fit together.  There is more of a connection.  I know He is preparing me still for work that is yet to be done, yet to be dreamed or understood.   He is often hard to understand.  Sometimes the training ground of faith is a series of seemingly aggravating growing experiences.  But God allows us to walk through these things, because He can see the culmination of all He's doing in our lives, and it is for our good and His glory. 

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4