Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday, Lent & Preparing for Easter

   It's Ash Wednesday, which signals thee beginning of Lent and the process of preparing ourselves for Easter where we will celebrate Christ's sacrifice for us by submitting to die on our behalf and his subsequent resurrection three days later! 

   Growing up my family attended Methodist churches until I was in high school. We participated in fasting for forty days over Lent in imitation of Christ's forty days of fasting in the desert in preparation for his ministry. I have one distinct memory from when I was in second grade and gave up chocolate milk for Lent (my drink of choice at school).

   I don't have any other strong recollections until I was in college. In my junior year I recommitted myself to Jesus (I was baptized at the end of my junior year of high school but I spent the first few years of college floundering). That spring I was leading a women's small group and suggested that we all participate in Lent by fasting from something and helping each other stay accountable.

   I think most years since then I have either fasted from something or added a practice to draw me closer to God even though I have attended non-denominational churches (which generally don't talk about fasting during Lent).

   In the last couple of years I have really begin to miss the traditions of Advent at Christmas and Lent at Easter that I grew up with. My husband also grew up Methodist so we have continued to practice them at home together.

   Some years it has been a real challenge, especially the years I have fasted from dessert (I haven't done that in a while because my daughter's birthday always falls during Lent and that seems cruel). I love chocolate and sweets! But it has really helped me to be reminded regularly of Jesus and what he did for me.

   This year I struggled a bit to figure out what to fast from. I have been feeling a little pudgy but Lent is not about losing weight so I didn't want to stray from its purpose in remembering my need for Jesus. I ended up choosing both a fast and an added practice. I am fasting from all beverages except water. My added practice is to meditate on (and hopefully memorize) a Bible verse each day. 

   I also found a local Methodist church where I could receive ashes as I begin this season of Lent. It felt a little foreign as it's been so long but I am glad I did it.

   Do you fast from something at Lent? If so, what has been your most challenging fast? Do you fast from the same thing every year? If not, do you have a different way you like to prepare for Easter?

Friday, January 20, 2017

My Goals for 2017

  Last year I was fairly ambitious with my goal setting. I was not successful in keeping them all perfectly, but the real aim is improvement and growth. Normally I would beat myself up for failure but I have been growing in my understanding and acceptance of grace.

  Last year I also learned more about trusting God and the importance of rest. I still struggle with choosing rest over productivity at times but I am seeing the benefits of resting and trying to rest in the knowledge that my worth and value and acceptance are not based on achievement. I have subtitled 2017: The Year of Less. With all of that said, this year's goal list is short.

1. Call one family member each week.

  For some people this is something that is a regular part of their life. That is not the case for me. My family is spread out, mostly on the western side of the country. I see some of them about once per year. My immediate family has never really been one for regular communication - we don't have a history of contacting one another unless there's something important to share. Since I've had kids, we have had a little more frequent contact, mainly Facetime/Skype so my parents can see the grandkids. But anyone with small children can tell you that not a lot of important information is able to be communicated while conversing with toddlers and preschoolers.

Facetime with my niece

  Last year I struggled a lot with loneliness and a desire for greater community. I realized that I could do something to feel more connected with my family members - more regular communication. I'm not a huge fan of talking on the phone (part introvert, part distraction from my kids), but it's the most effective option for me at this time. I would like to feel like I am more aware of what's going on with my family and hope that this will improve our intimacy and connectedness. 

  I have thus far called a different family member each week and have enjoyed catching up. I can tell it surprised them to have me call randomly. One person was concerned that something was wrong because I was calling them (proof I should call more often). I think I will enjoy this goal very much. Even if I don't manage to connect with someone weekly, I will benefit from more regular contact however frequent it ends up being.

2. One date night with my husband each month.

  Again, I realize that some may see this as a low bar, something they easily achieve. Once again, not for me. It's not that we struggle with wanting to spend time together away from the kids. We enjoy date nights. In the past our schedules have been too full to have time for a date. We also have to find a babysitter every time because we don't have family nearby. With finding a babysitter, our date night costs are greater than we'd like sometimes. But money should not be what keeps us from having some fun, maybe even an adventure, to keep us connected.

  It helps that our kids are older and easy to babysit. They're practically self-sufficient. Having it as a goal will hopefully helps us to keep date night a priority in our minds. We've already had to reschedule January's date three times (once for weather, once for a change in plans, once for babysitter conflict). Not a huge deal as we haven't settled on an official plan. I am finding it humorous (and not surprising) that the first one is taking so much time and effort. The enemy enjoys trying to thwart our efforts. Knowing there are eleven other dates to plan is helping me to think of things we could do or places we could go for a different experience. It is exciting!

  Additionally, we are working toward going on a couple's vacation this year. We haven't had a real vacation without the kids since before we had kids (so at least 7 years). We did have a day trip in Sedona and a couple of days in Yellowstone a few years back but I'm talking about taking a plane somewhere where we're completely out of contact for a bit. I'm definitely looking forward to this!

  So those are my official goals for the year. It appears the focus is on relationships. It seems like a natural segue after all of my loneliness talk last year. I felt that these goals were Spirit-led so I am excited to see what happens.

  I do still want to work on blogging more regularly and being present with my family at home. There are always a myriad of possible improvements in my life but I recognize that I don't have to do it all at once (or, actually, do it all period). I'm also still going to make sure reading is a regular part of my life as it's something that helps me relax and refresh but I don't have a set goal for books this year.

  I do also have a goal (desire) to finish my book revisions and have it available online before May. It has a deadline so it's a little different from my regular goals. We will see how that goes.

What are your goals for 2017? Have you made so many that you feel overwhelmed before you started? Perhaps cut the goals in half (or by half)? Remember the spirit of setting goals - motivation to work on something you want to improve in your life.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Top 5 Nonfiction Books of 2016

I read so many books this year that I thought it would be fun to rank my top five of all I read this year in the two major categories: fiction and non-fiction. Check out my top five fiction reads post as well. Below are my top five non-fiction books read in 2016.

1. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst

  I borrowed this book from the library and loved the book so much that I bought a copy and will be participating in a DVD study this winter with some other ladies. This book resonated so much with me and where I have been the past year. It brought some healing to my heart and helped me to see some circumstances through a new perspective. If you have ever felt left out, rejected, or set aside this book is definitely for you.

  Lysa TerKeurst shares her experiences of feeling lonely or left out and the things she has learned from God as she's walked through a variety of circumstances and experiences. I appreciated her candidness and the honesty of admitting that she is not completely through this struggle. Lysa encourages us to lean into God and trust that he has good plans and purposes for us. One of the things that stuck with me was to consider that when I feel set aside God might actually have me set apart instead. These pearls of wisdom helped me so much and filled me with hope and faith for my present and future.

2. Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman

  This was another book I enjoyed so much that I had to purchase a copy so that I could re-read it. I received a kindle copy for purposes of reading, reviewing and promoting the book, but this was one I wanted to be able to highlight and pick up to re-read various sections as needed. The subtitle was what really got my attention. I hadn't read anything by Karen Ehman but, after reading this book, that will change.

  Karen Ehman reminds us that part of our calling as Christians is to love others. In Listen, Love, Repeat she gives us advice and examples of how to love others well. She talks about truly listening to others and hearing the "heartdrops". The book really inspired me to find ways to love and serve others. I think it would challenge and inspire you as well.

3. The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

  I heard about this book from Jen Hatmaker on her Instagram account. Jen showed a picture of something Myquillyn had made in her house and she copied for her writing office. It was a beautiful book page wreath and I was intrigued. I checked the book out of my library and LOVED it.

  Myquillyn Smith does an excellent job of making the average person feel that she can have a beautiful home regardless of her decorating skills. She reminds us that beautiful is not synonymous with perfect. Perfect should not be our goal (nor is it particularly possible if you have kids or want to enjoy living in your home). But making it a home filled with things that you love, bring you joy and help you feel relaxed and at home will do the same for those who visit as well.

  If you struggle with not wanting to do something because it might not be perfect, this is the book for you. Myquillyn encourages us to just try something little like painting a bathroom or a $10 dresser you found at Goodwill and see what you think. If you don't like it, you can repaint and try again.

4. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero

  I heard about this book on an episode of The Happy Hour by Jamie Ivey podcast. Her guest said that this was a book she was recommending everyone to read. I love Christian non-fiction book so I added it to my to-read list. 

  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is so good! It is open, honest and encouraging. It has practical advice on how to grow in your emotional health including prompts to help you see where you are on your journey and exercises to practice. It is a wonderful book that I highlighted extensively and will be referencing again. 

  The book reminds us that emotions are not our enemy. It is true that we should not let them rule, but they are excellent indicators that something is not right and needs to be addressed. I appreciated Peter Scazzero's vulnerability in sharing examples of his own journey toward emotionally healthy spirituality. 

5. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life's Biggest Yes by Kristen Welch

  This was the first book I finished in 2016 so some of the details are a bit fuzzy a year later. However I remember being very encouraged as a mother and person after finishing this book.

  As a parent I know that I have plenty of room to grow. Let's face it, it's a learn-as-you-go, trial and error kind of job (shhh, don't tell my kids!). I welcome resources that can help me reach my parenting goals (raising responsible kids who love Jesus and serve others). The end of each chapter in this book has a "take away" section that is divided by age range for kids so you can implement any valuable suggestions in an age appropriate manner (so helpful!).

  In addition to being encouraged that it is possible to teach our children gratitude and contentment I was also reminded that I am not responsible for my children's entertainment every waking hour of the day (which, as a SAHM, I sometimes feel like that's part of the job description and can feel guilty about trying to get housework or errands done instead of playing with my kids non-stop).  

  If you are a parent and you desire for your children to love Jesus and others and grow into people who are considerate of others and actively serve others, this will help you to introduce them to service and be encouraged in your endeavors to raise kind, considerate, generous, loving people.

I read so many wonderful non-fiction books in 2016 it was very challenging choosing a top five. I look forward to discovering more fantastic books in 2017. Have you read any of these the books on the list? Have any recommendations that you think might make my 2017 top five? If you are more of a fiction person, check out my favorites from 2016.