Friday, July 31, 2020

We're Being Changed

I saw this quote and it spoke right to me about 2020:

"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."
 –Thomas Edison

How many times have you seen and heard from someone else, or said it yourself, how absolutely trash this year has been? I know I've participated in that conversation! 🙋‍♀️ You can be sure I did my fair share of whining and complaining, especially when home became school and I became the teacher. I was a miserable case. Ask my husband and kids. No, don't do that. 🙈

And it's just been one thing after another since. With the virus, the politics, the opinions, the MEDIA. Plus, having to decide what to do for school this year...

I don't know which thread to follow anymore and I kinda just wanna dump 2020.

But listen, friends. We can do this.
Even if 2020 hasn't gone the way we planned, we'll get through it. How many other years have we made it through when things didn't go as planned? The answer is all of them. 

We we made it through them. If we hadn't, we wouldn't have made it here... to the sh*tshow. 🎪😂
(sorry for the language but I know you get it.)

Here's the thing...
Every passing year is important.
Every passing year serves a purpose.
Even 2020.

Every season stretches us and challenges us.
Every season helps us grow.
Even 2020.

This year is not useless. It's doing something. It's waking things up and stirring people. It's stretching us and helping us grow. It's making us stronger, even if we won't notice the new muscles for awhile.

Don't spend the remainder of the year fixated on all the things that have gone wrong.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking nothing good can come out of this.

Stay focused on doing what is right in front of you, to the best of your ability.
Pray about whatever is on your plate.
Help people when you can and accept help when it's given.
Keep stretching and pushing through.

2020 is not useless.
It's just changing us.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Only Freedom Worth Having

My family spent the 4th of July together at home. We watched movies, played outside, and grilled out for dinner. When the sun went down, my husband lit up a glorious, thrift store version fireworks show for us and the neighbors next door. He laughed and shook his head the whole time and we all cheered wildly as if we were witnessing the fantastic fireworks display at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.

Despite the regulations in place for Covid-19 and little to no large gatherings taking place, our day was spent in joyful celebration, reveling in our freedom the way we always do. The freedom to be at peace amongst ourselves and enjoy another beautiful day on this planet is a blessing. We have that freedom all the time, no matter what is going on in the world and regardless of any twists and turns we’re witnessing in the political realm. We have the freedom to choose happiness and live content, despite our earthly circumstances.

We have that freedom because true freedom comes from Our Creator and no one, not one single person or event, can take that away.

It’s a difficult time for the world right now. There are opinions of every kind flying at us from every angle. No one can seem to agree on anything. If you’ve spoken your mind about something in the last six months, you’ve likely never felt less heard. But I promise you – when you shut down all the noise from the outside and focus on God; when you pray more and talk less about what’s bothering you, you will find the freedom you’re looking for. I'm not saying it's bad to educate yourself and stay current on the issues. As citizens of the country we live in, that's our responsibility. But if we spend all of our time obsessing over what's going on and despairing over everything we can't control, we'll just be overwhelmed and unsatisfied. When we get on board with the fact that God runs the show, we get to experience the only freedom worth having. God-given spiritual freedom. And that freedom covers over every single part of our lives.

Hear me out:

Nothing in your life is new business to God.
None of the current events are a secret to Him.
None of this has caught Him by surprise.

He’s got this. It may not always feel like it. But He does.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:17‭-‬18

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Raising the Future

Nearly every time I go out with my children, I'm told by a stranger in passing that they don’t know how I do it. I’ve given different answers in response, including:

“Lots of Jesus and coffee!”
“Chicken nuggets and prayer”
or my personal favorite, “Very carefully.”
I get a smile in return and we all go on with our day. They don’t usually care to know that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years, that I have sixteen loads of laundry waiting for me at home, or that I rage stepped on a toy earlier that day and my foot still hurts. I’ve never once looked the person in the eye and said, “I have no freaking clue. I’m completely overwhelmed.” But that’s how it feels sometimes.
I’m not being critical of the people who ask this question. It’s almost always harmless and 100% not their problem that my kids leave their toys out and I’m bad at laundry.
But I have to admit, it does sometimes leave me feeling strange that I brushed off my role as a parent, such an integral part of my life, with a quip about chicken nuggets.
The truth is, this job is kind of a big deal.
Parents are important. And not just to our own households and the kids inside them.
Parenting is a truly essential thread in the circle of life with an impact that carries over from generation to generation.
Raising tiny humans isn’t just for us. It’s for the world.
And it's a heck of a lot more than just keeping everyone fed and clothed.
It’s about bringing up good, productive, and kind humans to release into the world.
Parents, raising kids means you're raising the future.
If it feels overwhelming, that’s because it is.

It’s making sure that you’re exhibiting good habits and character traits because they’re watching.
It’s filling your home with positive words and good music because they’re listening.
It’s having difficult conversations and giving tough love because they need to learn.
It’s helping them through academic hurdles, talking about world events and politics, and encouraging them to find their voice.
It’s doing your best to teach them everything they need to know in order to not only survive, but to thrive without you.
It’s ensuring that they become productive members of society.
It’s training them up to be good friends, outstanding employees, and helpful co-workers; devoted husbands and wives; excellent parents and so much more.
It's equipping them to know, love, and serve God and to love their neighbor, no matter what.
It’s preparing them for the ugliness they’re bound to face and encouraging them to be a light for other people.
Being a parent is so much more than just providing income, keeping everyone alive, and running the household. It’s more than the playdates, the grocery shopping, the cooking dinner, the LAUNDRY.
It’s the responsibility of sending good people out into the world to change it for the better.
That’s a huge, gigantic responsibility. Rewarding and so worth it. But it's freaking hard.
Don’t sell yourself short. Keep up the great work.
You’re raising the future.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Grow Basil. Make Chicken.

I posted over on the Instablog earlier this week about the basil growing like crazy this year in the garden. We were a little excessive in planting it, throwing it in between all the tomatoes and peppers as a companion herb, because it's such a fun and easy thing to grow.  It germinates really quickly, too, which is nice for impatient little ones who are eager to see the fruits of their labor. Added bonus, baby basil sprouts are super cute. Just saying.

The problem is, now we have so much basil, we can hardly keep up with it. I've been using a little, giving away a lot, and it just keeps coming back up. I prefer to use basil fresh because it has such a rich flavor and adds nice color to so many dishes. But since we have so much, I'm planning on drying some of it and using it in some seasoning blends. I don't have a ton of experience doing this. I don't follow many recipes. Typically, I can be found in the kitchen sprinkling meat with a variety of spices that sound good in the moment. But I do have a seasoning blend I love to keep on hand and it's so good, I figured I'd share it! We use this a lot on chicken and veggies. Just mix everything together and sprinkle!

I don't know how to make fancy recipe cards.

I realize the title of this post might be a bit misleading. This is not a cooking blog so I needed to bridge a gap from what I like talking about (growing basil) into something I would ordinarily not talk about (recipes). For clarification purposes, you do not need to grow basil to make this seasoning blend. 🤣 You'll find the necessary basil in your Italian seasoning of choice. But I promise you, you'll love growing basil. 💚

A disclaimer for your reading entertainment: As I said, this is not a cooking blog. No science has gone into the creation of this "recipe." It might be too salty for your taste or have too much paprika. You might hate it. Please don't hold it against me. 😂 If you do try it and like it, please let me know. Also, I take no credit for this recipe because it's adapted from another recipe I found years ago and I don't need a legal issue haha. I took away a spice, added a different one, and have changed the amounts used over time. I have found similar recipes online but this is what I use.

P.S. I sometimes make my own Italian seasoning from a recipe you can find here. I like this blend much better with it homemade. But it's great with whatever Italian seasoning you can find in store, too.

Obligatory photo of the ingredients looking
pretty in a bowl before mixing them.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Always Gently

Coming at you from the garden today! It's all sunshine, blue skies, and tomatoes out here. Plus cucumbers, carrots, peppers, a bunch of tasty herbs, and even some edible flowers.

I found Pineapple Sage at a local nursery this year, which was exciting. I haven't tasted it yet, but it smells just like pineapple. I'm thinking it will be great to try in a fruit salad or tea! After a little research, I also found out that it flowers at the end of summer and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Sounds like a perfect addition to the flower beds for next year, right? It's not well known for doing great as a perennial in our growing zone (6a) but I'm willing to baby it and hope for the best. It's been really happy in the raised beds so far. Growing like crazy and not finicky, so that's a win for us. You can read about pineapple sage here.

We had a learning moment last week in the garden, my daughter and I. The same activity but two different lessons, one for each of us. There are lots of good lessons found in the garden and bringing the kids in to learn with me has been a super rewarding experience for all of us. Life science and hard work, patience and determination are a few of the best things we've gotten from growing things. It's also been a great escape from all the noise in the world lately. Noise that I've been letting myself get a bit too involved in, to be completely honest. I have strong opinions and I know that's a good thing. I stand by all of them. I'm always up for hearing other people out, too. But when I feel like an opposing opinion is being thrown at me super aggressively or when people are being sarcastic and rude about something I think is important, I don't like that at all. 😂 (Who does?) It makes me think Oh my gosh, I hope I haven't been doing that. I don't want to make anyone feel like this. Going back over what I've shared and conversations I've had, I'm confident I haven't. BUT I only stand in my shoes or, as I like to say -- I'm only looking out from my own front porch.
If someone else is looking out from their front porch, wearing their own shoes, have I considered the way I come off to them from where they're standing? Maybe I wouldn't be put off or offended by my thoughts and how I share them (duh, because they're my thoughts), but how do they make others feel?

Have I been kind?
Have I been helpful?
Have I considered other people's situation/argument?
Have I stood in their shoes or tried to imagine the view from their front porch?
Have I said everything with love? That's the most important one.

Because truth gets lost without love. And too much truth, put out harshly when people aren't receptive to it does more damage than good.

This brings me to the lesson. I usually do the first garden watering by myself when I wake up and then the kids help with the evening water. But we'd slept in and I had to run out after the sun was already fully out, which isn't great for the plants. The sun beaming down on wet leaves can be a death sentence.  I already knew we'd have to be careful and since I'm a control freak, the last thing I wanted to do was hand over the hose to my six year old when she asked to help. But it's always a good time to teach, so I gave her the hose and watched her begin spraying the plants.  Very enthusiastically. She soaked a couple tomato plants before I stopped her and showed her how to gently push the branches  aside and water at the base of the plant. It's a little tricky, especially when it comes to those wild and showy tomato plants. But you have to get to the base and avoid soaking the whole plant.
That gave me a thought...

How like the plants we humans are.
We need watering but time and place matters. Being over showered with even the good, life giving stuff at the wrong time can be damaging. And since we can never know what kind of timing it is for another person, our job is to focus on what we can control.
That means choosing to go forward with gentleness and empathy.
That means speaking with love at all times.
Gentleness is key. Empathy is necessary. Love is everything.
Our greatest, most life changing message will fall flat if we go aggressively overboard.
Our carefully researched truth and strong opinion will fail being heard by those who need it most, if we're unkind about it.
Does that mean we stop putting it out? No way. Using our voice to say what moves us, what we're passionate about, is not only empowering and beautiful but a necessary course of action.  But none of us are exempt from doing so with love. I understand that, sometimes, the occasion calls for a little more vibrancy and a serious tone. But if we truly believe someone needs our message and we want them to actually hear us, we must choose to speak with love. Seek to understand. Take the gentle approach.

Keep talking. Keep watering.
But gently. Always gently.
That's how we get the fruit.

Pineapple Sage from Bonnie Plants

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Give Everyone a Chance

Hi, I'm Jheri 
👋🏻 and I'm about to rant. I hope you'll come along.

Racism is everywhere. It happens everyday and in the small day to day activity of human beings, not just when the police are involved and it makes it to the news. It happens everywhere and inside every ethnic culture and color that exists.

My sister has done missionary work in parts of South Africa where white people are the ones who live in fear.
A person reached out to me yesterday after a piece I wrote about my husband, Phil, got shared to Instagram. He said he lives in a small town with a heavy Asian population where he's been spat on and called names by them often.
There are owners of Chinese food establishments that have had to endure heinous treatment and close down permanently because of the ridiculous prejudice during the pandemic.
The list goes on. Just ask someone who doesn't look like you.
Racism knows no ethnic or geographical boundaries and it doesn't play sides.
It doesn't care if you're Republican or Democrat.
And it doesn't care if you have a handful of black friends. Sorry, that doesn't exclude someone from being racially insensitive.

I live on American soil. I'm a proud American. While sensitive to issues around the world and my family does what we can to support the wellbeing of others, as part of the body of Christ, I am here. In America.
This country I live in and where I'm raising my children is my priority. And on this American soil, the poor treatment of black people dominates our society. If you can't see that or fail to look closer, I can't help you.
I do not support rioting and looting. But when a tragedy strikes in the American Black community, and all you are focused on is the small, minute population who let their outrage rule their hearts in violent activity, you are missing the point. If you cannot accept the fact that racism against black people is more prevalent in your American communities and neighborhoods, I pray for your eyes to open.

I've seen the statistics. Yes, police brutality happens to white people.
No one is saying it doesn't.
But here's the difference:
Typically, white people aren't suspected of being trouble makers or suspicious until they have done something troubling or suspicious.
The same is absolutely not true for black people. If you don't get that, I hope you take the time to really try and understand what it's like for them every day, not just when you see them on the news. Please take the time to read my previous post detailing some of the treatment my husband has personally experienced.
Many of you know my husband. You know that he is one of funniest and most friendly people out there. Until he can walk into an establishment, minding his own business and being polite to everyone he encounters, without being followed around by the anti-theft department for no good reason, there is no real, actual equality. That is why they're mad. That is why they are calling for change. That is why they are trying to get our attention.

On the topic of the protests, don't be outraged by the outrage. Seek to understand it. Seek to understand a population of people that continue to be treated unfairly, oftentimes for no reason at all.
Think about the ones who skipped the rioting.
Focus on the ones who are praying and holding their babies tight at home; the ones who are fearful for their lives and the lives of spouses and children on a daily basis because of the tragedy they witness time and time again; the ones who are just as disgusted as you are by the violent activity afterward.
If we are not to judge all cops, based on the activity of a few and we are not to judge white or black people on the activity of some, then don't judge the outraged on the activity of some either. I understand that activity doesn't "help their cause" and it "makes the good ones look bad." Be quiet.
Focus on those good ones.

People of all races do bad things. But the fact is that not all of them are judged fairly from the start. Not all of them have to do a bad thing before they are profiled and dealt with accordingly.
Some of them never get the chance.
Start giving everyone a chance.
Don't be colorblind. That's not the solution.
See color. Delight in all that everyone has to offer, no matter what they look like.

Look at the bigger picture. Turn off the TV and look at the bigger picture.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

This Is My Husband

This is my husband.

He is a good looking, extroverted, laid back, and friendly guy.
He's a Godly man of good character.
He's a loving and faithful husband; a generous lover, a great lay.
He's a patient, fun, and gentle father of five.
He is an imaginative and hilarious story teller.
He is ambitious and strong, an amazing provider.
He's a hard-working man of integrity.
He's an Air Force veteran and a proud, upstanding American citizen.

He shops at all the same places as everyone else.
He fills up at the same gas stations everyone else does.
He innocently walks the same streets everyone else walks.
He drives on all the same roads as everyone else drives on.
He makes all the same kind of mistakes everyone else makes from time to time.

But he is not treated the same as everyone is treated at all times.

He's been avoided walking down grocery aisles and blatantly ignored by a chatty cashier who engaged happily with every white customer before and after him, but spoke not a word to him apart from telling him his total.
He's watched people in the gym make obscene, unmistakable animal jokes about him as he works out.
He's been asked, "Did you have all these kids with the same woman?" as if it was anyone's business but ours.
He's had people call him Obama because he's very well spoken... for a black man.
He's been told, "Our entrees start at $50." as we walked into an upscale restaurant for our anniversary dinner.
He's been told by work colleagues in the past that his name was "too white." They gave him a more appropriate, "black" name that he was referred to as for the next two years.
He's listened to heinous, racial slurs dropped casually on work sites. But don't worry, they apologized to him afterwards. They would never want to offend him.

These are just a few of the blatant things he's experienced. This does not mention the quiet things done in the dark; the things he's not allowed to assume are related to the color of his skin even though they probably are.
And these are mild, compared to the treatment others have received.
Turn on the news and see for yourself.

We're doing something wrong.
Color exists. And it's beautiful.
But racism exists, too. And it's ugly.
Let's be better.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. --MLK

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

We See What We Look For

I've never seen such filthy bath water.
But my kids have never been so joyful and worn out at the end of the day.

I've never seen so much dirt tracked into my house.
But I've also never seen so many mud castles and bowls of dirt stew on the patio.

I've never cooked so many meals.
But we've never sat down to so many family dinners.

I've never seen such messy bedrooms. 
But I've never seen so many glorious blanket forts, LEGO buildings, and books all over the place.

I've never seen so much wild hair blowing in the wind. (No, this is actually a problem. Our entire family looks like we belong in Middle Earth. 😂)

They've never been so bored. 
But I've never seen so much ingenuity and creativity.

We've never been so confused and overloaded by school work.
But I've never seen so much perseverance and hard work.

I've never seen so much chaos on the news.
But I've also never seen such clear skies and calmness in nature.

I've never heard so many political opinions. 
But I've also never heard so much laughter and singing in this house.

I've never seen such wild changes to workplaces.
But I've never seen so many kind, diligent workers with resilience.

I've never seen so many rules posted on storefront windows.
But I've also never seen so much adorable artwork covering the walls of our home. 

I've never seen so many churches closed.
But I've never seen so many people become the Church.

I've never seen so much fear.
I've also never seen so much faith.

We see what we focus on.

Yeah, it's a little crazy out there. And crazy seems to have a different meaning for lots of different people. Your view might not be the same as the person next to you. We all look out from different front porches. But we've all got a clear choice in front of us on how to react, even in the worst case scenarios.
Let's all try and pray through the hard parts, enjoy the good parts, and hope for the best possible end. 💜

(I would also not turn away any cleaning fairies who are willing to clean my bathtub right now.)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Pandemic Thoughts

The onset of this pandemic has changed our lives and shifted our perspectives in some very impactful ways. It’s brought many things to mind besides just health and sickness, flattening a curve, and remembering to wash our hands thoroughly. Obviously, those things are of utmost importance and what I'm about to say is certainly not to ignore the serious affect this sickness is having on people, especially those who are most at risk. But for myself, and so many others, a resounding topic from the walls of quarantine has been the discussion of what we’ve taken for granted. From fully packed grocery store shelves and open restaurants to normal work days and family gatherings, a new appreciation for the simple things is growing.

I miss my family and friends. My kids miss their cousins, classmates and teachers. They miss running up the street, grabbing a friend or two, and playing until dinner time. We miss church. We miss worship, fellowship, and youth group. We miss going out to eat. We miss hitting up the library on a rainy day and going out for frozen yogurt. We miss normal days where we didn’t have to think twice before we did basically anything to make sure it was in line with social distancing and stay home orders. It’s been a strange adjustment. People who know each other around town have to stop before greeting one another in a warm and physical way. The comfort of a hug and the feel of a firm handshake has been temporarily taken from us. Even a friendly conversation with a neighbor has become more difficult from the safety of social distance. Screaming at another person across the grass just isn't pleasant.

Let’s face it, we have taken so much for granted.
But a few weeks deep into the new pandemic way of life, where most of us have had some extra time to think about what we’re missing and how things have changed, I find myself looking my privilege in the face. It’s unpleasant. It’s eye opening. It involves some things people would prefer not to think about, like hunger and abuse. But it’s real.

When I look inside my cart and see a pared down grocery haul (only the essentials!), I roll my eyes because I didn’t even find everything I wanted. But to someone around the world, maybe even the person behind me in line, my half-filled cart holds more than they’ve ever been able to afford or have access to. Some people have struggled to acquire toilet paper and other toiletries since long before the idea became the subject of hilarious memes.

When I get frustrated with teaching my kids at home, I think about the essential working parents who are also (somehow) supposed to be teaching their kids at home. I think about the teachers who are helping me teach my kids, but also teaching their own kids. (No, seriously. How are they all doing this?!)

When I get irritated with my kids for being too noisy, bickering with each other, and eating all the food in the house, I wish they could just go back to school already. But then I’m reminded that somewhere out there is a parent wishing they could see their kid(s) more often; or a couple struggling with infertility who aches for noisy children in their home to break up the silence.

There are husbands, wives, and children whose time spent sheltering at home is an elevated version of a daily horror story, due to domestic abuse and neglect.

There are foster kids out there who adjust to a different normal every few weeks, sometimes on a day to day basis. Some of them carry around every single item they own in a trash bag from home to home, never knowing what kind of environment they will have to get used to that week or which school they will attend for the next few months before moving along again.

There are kids of ALL ages whose meals primarily come from school/daycare but they aren’t even able to take advantage of the lunch program right now because their parents, grandparents, or caregivers don’t have a way to get there. Some may not even know about it.

It’s easy to get irritated when the Wi-Fi signal is low and I can’t access social media or my child’s new virtual classroom, but then some people don’t have internet to work, learn, or keep them busy and connected to the world. Some don’t have running water and other basic necessities either. I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m just being real and offering perspective. No one has it easy, I get that. But some people have it really really hard all the time, pandemic aside.

I could go on. I could really lay out how good some of us truly have it. And it’s not to make anyone feel bad or negate what they’re going through right now. Like I said, we are all struggling with stuff and facing our own hardships. And the current state of the world certainly seems to magnify those difficult parts. But the simple truth is that there are people throughout this entire world, and even right in our own neighborhoods, communities and schools, who are forced to stare into the face of what they lack every single day and in much more powerful, life changing ways than us. And in times like this, it’s a whole lot worse for them.

Can I change the world by simply wishing things were better for everyone? No, I cannot. But I can bring attention to their struggles. I can research more volunteer opportunities and outreach programs in my area, get involved, and encourage others to do the same.  I may not be able to do anything huge, but I can do small things that cause ripples and change lives. There are numerous opportunities in my community (and yours!) to take advantage of. There’s always something more I could be doing. And I can certainly begin by keeping my complaining to a minimum. Because someone always has it worse than me. That’s an unpopular opinion but an undeniable fact, when you really take the time to think about what other people are going through.

I know that soon enough, this will all be over and we’ll adjust to yet another new normal. We’ll definitely make jokes about social distance and that one time when we weren’t allowed to leave the house. But we’ll also talk about how we overcame a difficult time in our country together -- a scary time of sickness, death, and economic hardship. We’ll talk about how excited we were to hug people and go out to eat again. We'll handle a common cold or a stuffy nose with new attitudes and grateful hearts, I'm sure. We’ll reschedule all of our events, catch up, and eat lots of birthday cake together. There will be normal shopping trips, new haircuts, and a general appreciation for the world around us.
But I also hope we come out of this with some extra compassion, empathy, and a drive to make positive changes in the lives of people whose return to normal didn’t look like ours or change at all. We can do that, too, right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Obedience > Sacrifice

Obedience opens the door to a life full of abundance and peace. Disobedience leads to a path of destruction.

That's true obedience, okay? Not Saul's version of it. He was told to destroy the Amalekites. Proper destroy. Not save the cows and capture the king. 😒

“But I did obey the Lord ,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”  But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord ? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord , he has rejected you as king.”
1 Samuel 15:20‭-‬23

Did anyone else hear Samuel saying "God saw everything and you're out, bro."

Really though, lots of valuable life lessons in this story:

  • Just because you look the part doesn't mean you're a good fit. Prove yourself as a good leader. Be obedient and teachable.
  • Stop lying and don't make excuses. God wants full obedience. Not partial obedience, littered with excuses.
  • Stop trying to talk up what you're doing if it's clearly in violation of what God says.
  • Depend on the Lord. He'll guide you, if you'll just stop trying to go your own way.
  • Your way is wrong, if it goes against God. Get on board with that. Quick.
  • Jealousy is ugly, sinful, and destructive. We're all equipped for our own specific, God given purpose. Just do that and stop getting caught up with what everyone else is doing.
  • You don't know better than God.

Read all about Saul, the first king of Israel, in 1 Samuel 9-31.

Friday, April 10, 2020

We Will Serve The Lord

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. • Psalms 127:1

This time last year, we were a few months into building our home. Our contractor told us that the drywall would be going up soon, so we hurried to the homesite with permanent markers and covered the wooden framing with God's Word. We wrote scriptures all over the house and we prayed. 

We prayed for protection in our home; for health and happiness inside it. We prayed for Godly provision and contentment in our hearts. We prayed for restful sleep, traveling mercies, and so much more.
I remember everything we wrote and where we put it. Sometimes I walk by and run my hands along the walls and smile, thinking of the beautiful, life giving words that sit just under the messy drywall and paint.

We love that we were able to take advantage of this opportunity in our new build. But the truth is, you don't need to cover the frame of your home with Bible verses to bless it and ask for God's hand in your life. He's already in your home and He's listening every time you pray. 

Seek the Lord. Pray for His guidance in all you do. Double check with Him about all the things. He is listening. He wants to grant you the desires of your heart, according to His divine and perfect will. It can sometimes be difficult for us to trust God, especially when things aren't going well. But He wants the best for us and will provide our every need if we just give Him control.

"Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan." • John Bunyan

Be Pruned

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. • John 15:2

Pruning is one of the things I dislike most about caring for plants. I don't like hacking away at vines and branches, even if I know they are hindering growth. And don't get me started on flowering plants. I utterly despise deadheading. Seeing those blooms drop to the ground, even if they're looking brown and sad, is terrible for me.

Pruning feels mean; uncomfortable. The plant always looks bare and awkward. With every snip and every cut, I feel like apologizing. But I know it will help. In time, this will pay off.

Soon enough -- the leaves get a little spring in their step. They stand a bit taller. They grow bigger and more full. The flowers begin blooming again, in multiples more plentiful than what I cut off. All the discomfort the plant experienced seems to fade as new growth comes in, making it healthier than ever.

Pruning. A necessary discomfort that always pays off.

That's what God does to us. He makes us uncomfortable. He cuts things out of our lives. He changes our scenery and makes us feel awkward for awhile, a little sad. But if we lean into what He's doing, trust the process, and pray for strength to go with whatever He's doing, we will always reap the benefits. Always.

Friends, I pray that you feel pruned. 🍊
I pray that you feel more fruitful with every choice you make, every action you take, everything that you've been through.
I pray that your decisions are Holy Spirit led, bringing you a sense of joy and accomplishment as the results of His work unfold.
I pray that the Lord is cutting away every branch that isn't helping you to bear fruit in this life.
And I pray that you have the strength to go with it and trust God through all the adversity and discomfort. 🦋

Monday, March 2, 2020

All Things to All People

Rethinking our ideas for reaching people. 🌏

My husband and I listened to a great message recently about the apostle Paul and his passion for reaching people. It talked about how Paul became something to whoever, everyone, all people -- for the sake of sharing the Gospel.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19‭-‬23

It really got us thinking about the people we spend time with. We believe strongly in the ministry of hospitality. We always tell everyone our door is open to all and everyone is welcome. And we've had many beautful and fulfilling times with friends and family by doing this. But this message about Paul had us asking ourselves, Are we actually being welcoming to ALL? Does truly everyone feel comfortable around us? Or are there those who shy away from us for fear of judgement since they live differently than we do? It was pretty eye opening to say the least!

We strive to be a friend to all, regardless of differing lifestyles, political views, and beliefs. We decided it was time to take a close look at what we were putting out there for the world to see and feel. Now, this doesn't mean hiding our love for God and the knowledge of His Word, or changing it in any way, to attract the world to us. That would very dangerous. Instead, it involves stirring up and nurturing a love for others that is more inclusive and whole. If our love FOR God is at the top of our priorities, then spreading the love OF God must fall closely behind. And keeping in mind that God does not play favorites -- remembering that we never look into the face of someone God does not love -- that means we must show that same love to everyone. We must carefully step into their world and be their friend.

We must become all things to all people. And that means everyone.

Not just the people like us that we prefer to spend our time with -- but the ones we might ordinarily avoid.

Not just the ones who know who they are -- but the lost ones, too.

Not just those who have it all together -- but those who are broken, as well.
Not just the people inside of our homes and churches, where it's comfortable and safe -- but the ones out in the world, where it's unpredictable, a bit more scary, shaky, unfamiliar and messy.

Reaching people for Christ's sake has no exemptions or limits. It doesn't play favorites.
When it comes to sharing the Gospel with others, people don't care how much we know about God until they know how much we care about them. We can recite all the scriptures we want and preach at them until we are out of breath. But if we do not truly and genuinely show them that we care about the salvation of their soul, they will not listen to us.
We need to meet others where they are, not where we are, and get to know them. That means spending time with people that aren't like us. It means being understanding of and loving people who do things we disagree with; whose lives we disapprove of. It means associating with morals and beliefs that don't match our own.

We need to be firm and confident in our own relationship with Christ, then enter their world, and bring God's love to them. And not by shoving our beliefs down their throat or smacking them over the head with our Bibles, but by being their friend; by comforting them in times of need and being a person they feel safe around.
We do not have to be like others in order to be a part of their world and connect with them; to love them and show kindness; to be salt and light. But we do have to love them, regardless of who they are and what they do. And we'll never love them right if we don't get to know them first.

We can't lead anyone towards salvation if we spend our lives avoiding them. And since we never know who is looking for Jesus, we absolutely cannot pick and choose.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

God Saw That

God saw everything.

You can be sure of that absolutely undeniable fact. If you've ever been the recipient of cruel behavior in any form, cling to that truth. God saw what you saw. And God also saw what you didn't see, which is sometimes far worse. He listened in at every table where you were the topic of hateful conversation; every phone call where your name was unfairly smeared. He saw and heard it all.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. • Proverbs 15:3

It's so hard to let things like that go and move on from a painful hurt. No one likes being misunderstood and mistreated. It can be so hard to forgive; to drop the bitterness and anger. But you cannot change other people. Only God can do that. The only thing you can control is your response to their behavior. Pray for them and let it go. Be at peace knowing that God is watching and taking note.

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” • Jeremiah 17:10

Most importantly, if He's concerned with their heart, He's also concerned with mine and yours. Man, imagine if God took screenshots and tucked all of our behaviors into special folders with our names on them. 😳😢 Let's keep that in mind when we are the ones in the wrong. We cannot hide anything from our Creator. We need to pray for wisdom and discernment; we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts. ❤

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. • Psalms 139:23‭-‬24

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord . “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord . • Jeremiah 23:24

God is everywhere.
Check yourself and pray.
Pray for everyone else, too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Nature's Splendor

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalms 19:1

Sipping on a Coke Zero and dreaming about the garden. 🌱 We've definitely hit that part of winter where everything is a bit less magical and a lot more muddy.
I'm anxiously waiting for everything to turn green again and I'm hopeful that spring is coming soon because the backyard is changing and the birds are busy. 
Since my connection to nature has always brought me closer to God, I found myself in the book of Psalms for a little mid-week encouragement.
I wanted to share a quick message on my heart about showing up for God:

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.  Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. • Psalms 96:11‭-‬12

Read those beautiful words! This is just one of many beautiful scriptures that illustrate for us how the sky and seas, land and trees, flowers, plants, and animals proclaim the Lord's handiwork.
No doubt about it, nature SHOWS UP for our Creator. To rejoice like this is goals. To say so much about God without ever speaking a word is beauty to behold. The splendor of nature is such a true testament of God's glory. But what's more awesome is this -- we are His creation, too, friends. Don't forget that.
To know God is an unfathomable blessing. To love Him, serve Him, and make Him known is our greatest purpose. It can be so easy to get sucked into earthly comings and goings, become lazy, and forget the magnitude of our existence. But we are created in God's own image, for His glory. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Let's be like nature and exalt our Creator the way the sea and the fields and the trees do. Let's be glad and jubilant, make waves, and sing for joy. Let's make some noise. 🌊

Let's show up for God.

Messes Don't Last

My house was trashed this past weekend.

I couldn't even take a picture of what it looked like because I was so overwhelmed before we got started on it. Besides, I'm not going to normalize the mess by showing everyone my filthy kitchen and telling you that messy houses = happy kids. Because that's not true for me. And that's mostly because I don't do well when my house is super messy. I can handle it here and there. But I don't usually allow things to get too out of hand because it gives me anxiety and makes me a grumpy wife/mom. Leaving the dirty dishes doesn't always mean you win at happiness. Sometimes it makes you snappy and unkind. And that makes no one happy. But I've been training myself to let things go a little and be present in the moment. I'm trying not to obsess over the messes.

And that's how the house got trashed this weekend.

It all started with a snow day. We've had such a strange winter; full of ups and downs in weather patterns and no snow, apart from some windy flurries. So, waking up to a thick blanket of snow was glorious. The school issued a two-hour delay, which quickly turned into a snow day. We had a nice, slow morning and then happily suited up, anxious to make the most of the snow before the weather changed again.
We played outside all day, coming in only to warm up and throw all the icy mittens and hats into the dryer. We had a quick lunch and went back out again. We ordered pizza for dinner, watched a movie, and the kids played until bedtime. We didn't really clean. There were coats, boots, and snow soaked towels all over the floor when we went to bed. I took a deep breath and ignored it.
The next two days were as gloriously spent as the first. And again, without much tidying up,  but just doing the bare minimum to keep mommy sane. I did wash all the bedding in the house, which is a serious task when you have a bunch of kids.
We visited my sweet sister and my brother in law, snuggled our brand new niece/baby cousin, then slept in again and played all day Sunday before going to youth group.
The perfect weekend. And a perfectly messy house to freak out over while the kids were at church. But it got cleaned up. It wasn't the end of the world.
I didn't take a picture of the mess. But I took lots of pictures of the fun. And of the super cute baby, the cousin love, and the sibling snuggles.

I took this picture of my clean kitchen to remind myself that messes don't last.
But memories do.

Mustard Seed Faith

How big is your faith? How big is your mountain?

Jesus says your faith can be as small as a mustard seed and you can move mountains.
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." • Matthew 17:20

That’s tiny, you guys. A mustard seed is tiny. That means that even if your faith feels small and you struggle with doubts and fears — nothing is impossible for you, according to God’s plan. We are not promised a perfect life free of trials and hardships. Open up your Bible and you’ll find a TON of evidence that knowing God, and even being close to Him, doesn’t keep you from bad times, sickness, hardship, and difficult people. But we ALWAYS have a mighty God by our side to help us through everything we are going through. And with just a little bit of faith, He can and will do amazing things through us.

The size of our faith doesn’t have to be great because we serve a God that is GREAT.  But the more we grow in faith, the better equipped we are to fight the works of the flesh and allow the fruits of the spirit to flourish in our lives.

Here are a few ways to get started:

• Love God and love your neighbor.
• Do all things for God’s glory.
• Be an imitator of Christ.
• Devote yourself to others in love and honor.
• Show kindness wherever you go, through actions and words.
• Tell people about Jesus.
• Read your Bible!
• Take care of your body.

God Equips the Called

God doesn't just call the equipped. He equips whoever He calls.

Putting a leadership spotlight on Moses today. The development of his character is really an inspiration. 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God isn't concerned with our outward appearance. He looks at the heart. That's evident as we see many instances in the Bible of God using unexpected people to carry out His will. Moses is one of those people. The Exodus journey is one of those times.

The book of Deuteronomy completes a long, important section of the Bible where, to summarize, God uses Moses to deliver His people from slavery and then lays down the law for them. Throughout this important story, we watch Moses rise into the position of a mighty leader. It's such a gradual transition, as we read the trials of the journey and see the Israelites test Moses' patience and challenge his authority so many times. Before his death, Moses addresses all of them with these powerful words and then blesses the tribes before he departs up the mountain to die, knowing he won't get to join them in the land being promised to them by God. The prophetic words are long and inspired, an appropriate closure to Moses' years spent with the Israelites -- time after time convincing them of God's faithfulness. When we arrive at the end of Moses' life, you almost can't imagine him being anything other than a strong, persistent, humble, and encouraged leader.
But remember in Exodus 4, when God first called him to confront Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt? Let's visit that passage [Exodus 4:10-13] real quick:
Moses said to the Lord , “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord ? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.
That was Moses, the same man who would later deliver that long speech to the entirety of Israel, straight up telling God at the beginning to send someone else because he wasn't good at speaking and didn't think anyone would ever listen to him. Yet we see all that was done through him!Was it easy? No. And Moses learned hard lessons along the way. But God was with him and provided for Moses everything he would need, including exactly what to say and even someone to say it for him at the beginning.

Be encouraged. God equips the ones He calls. And where He guides, He provides.