Monday, December 21, 2015

Choose Joy: A Reflection

I recently read a book titled Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver. In it the book talks about Sara's outlook on life and how she continually chose joy even while her life was becoming more restricted due to an illness. She was a woman of faith who sought God continually to help her find the joy in each day, especially on rough days. I don't really know how to share the encouragement and truth I received through the book other than to share some quotes from it along with my personal thoughts.
More than anything, I'm in the habit of believing if I just continue to step out in faith, that God will put what I need in front of me. That He'll line my path with the abilities and confidence that I'm lacking. p5
This is a really encouraging thought. I know intellectually that God will equip me with what I need for his purposes at the needed time. My heart sometimes has trouble accepting this and so I struggle with giving in to fear when I face something new or daunting.
I think our expectations of what we want life to be often overshadow the good things that are already in front of us - and that's when we miss the silver lining. p14
I choose joy. When something is going badly and I'm dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful. I swear to you, it's as simple as that. You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow. And before you know it, you'll have an attitude of joy more than any other attitude you have at your disposal. p27
I have been thinking about needing to be more grateful for the things in my life. I know that gratefulness is a key to contentment. I don't want to be someone who is always striving for the next, better thing. I want to be able to see the blessings in my life and be joyful for them without a pull to want something more. Especially since I have recently been reminder that Jesus is enough. If I have him, I have everything I need. My discontentment means that I am not believing that Jesus is enough for me.
Control is an illusion. Life will do with me what it pleases, my circumstance will change, my pain will fluctuate, my finances will come and go, my health will alter at will (and alter my weight right along with it), and the only thing I can do is stay open to letting God change me in those circumstances. p40
I definitely struggle with wanting to be in control of my life. I feel like I have been more open recently to allowing God to change how I have perceive events. He has encouraged me to give more grace to others instead of judgment. He is trying to get me to trust him with everything.
Let go of the expectations I put on myself to be more than myself. It's a constant process as I lose more abilities, to adapt and adjust and let go of the notion that what I should be is anything other than what I am. p66
This strikes right at my heart. I often am concerned with being the person I think other people want me to be, even if something is not in my range of abilities. I really struggle with being okay with not being great in every area or with doing things differently than most others (especially in parenting).
It's a relief to know we're not graded on a curve, but instead loved for exactly who we are designed to be. I am whole. I am who He created me to be. p77
Life isn't fair. But it wasn't meant to be. What we tend to forget is that we created the idea of fair. God didn't. He never told us we deserve a perfect existence. He never told us life would be simple if we were faithful. He just told us to be faithful, and that He would be, too. p111 
 I have been dealing with this recently with my five year old. She has been complaining quite a bit about things not being fair. Usually it's when her younger brother gets something she doesn't. I usually start with "Life isn't fair" and then remind her of something she has gotten that he hasn't. Not that it squashes this mentality of wanting fairness but I'm hoping I'm planting some seeds of truth.
It has been in those silent times, when my mind drifts into thoughts and topics at random, that I get sparks of Him. I get an idea or a conclusion or a peace that I know has nothing to do with me. But I have to be quiet. I have to be with Him. p125
This reminded me of the importance of not always being on the go, of spending some time reflecting and being still. Being still is sometimes so hard because it feels counterproductive or like wasted time. But opening my heart and mind to God is never a waste.
Imagine if we all went about our lives remembering the core of who we are: a Spirit born in the image of Christ who is sent here to fulfill a purpose before going back home. I forget that so easily. I want to make this life all about me. All about my human existence instead of my spiritual being. I want to worry about my health and my finances and my housing and my potential. I want less pain and more easy. I want I want I want. p157
I frequently fail to take this perspective that God does have a purpose for me each day and I ought to be seeking his will throughout the day. Often I am focused on my self-made to-do list. I allow bumps in my plans to frustrate me rather than considering that they may be God's plan for me that day.

These last few quotes are from some of Sara's friends and what she taught them through their relationships.
Sara taught me that choosing joy doesn't mean living in denial of reality. It doesn't mean pretending everything is okay when it's not. It doesn't mean not allowing ourselves to grieve or acknowledge our own heartaches in life. It means being honest and authentic with where we are and, from that place, still lifting our eyes homeward. p169
Beautifully said. Speaking your grief or hurts is not the opposite of choosing joy. It is okay to acknowledge that life isn't always roses. Through an honest account of our struggles we can begin the process of healing and finding Jesus in our circumstances.
Choosing joy is acknowledging that while I don't understand what's going on, God does. Choosing joy is remembering that while life seems to be spiraling out of control, it is never out of God's control. Choosing joy is remaining mindful that while my circumstances may feel anything but ideal, God still has my good and His glory in mind. Because like Sara said, "It's not about me. It's about what He can do with my life." That statement holds the very essence of her lifestyle of choosing joy. p170
Such a good perspective to take. Choosing to trust God is involved in your life and will bring some good from any situation (Romans 8:28) helps us to remain hopeful no matter what is going on in our lives.
I dove in. Heart-first. Because that's how all of the great things in life are to be done. p171
This sounds amazing and also super scary. I read Dr. Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly earlier this year and its focus was on being vulnerable, which pretty much means living with your heart open (she calls it living wholeheartedly). I know that this is the only way to really connect and live well but it's still hard to risk rejection and judgment. Perhaps if I trust that wholehearted living is a gift I am giving to others and that falling just means I tried and am still able to get back up and try again, I will have the courage to do so.
She told me once that the most important gift you could give someone was your full and undivided attention. p171
This last quote hit me personally because I have realized recently that I often fail to be present in moments with people, most frequently my children. The things I am choosing to distract me are worthless compared to really seeing and being with my kids. They are so sweet and kind and funny. Why would I want to miss these moments? I hear over and over again that these years are short and I know they'll be gone before I'm ready.


I hope these small bits from the book encouraged you and made you think as they did for me. Sara's joy, gratefulness and heavenward perspective are inspiring and make me want to live similarly. If you are desiring a more joyful heart, I strongly recommend reading this book.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dear Daughter: Learn From My Mistakes

Dear Daughter,

I love you so much! I know that you are only five years old as I write this but there are some things I want to remember to share with you as you get older so I thought I'd write them down now while I'm thinking about them. I pray that you choose Jesus while you are still young. I pray that you know how much God loves you and that he is trustworthy and has wonderful plans for your life. I pray that you will choose to love and honor Him with your life. I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was 17, but I did not understand what it meant to follow him then and didn't really begin that process purposefully until I was nearly 20.

I wish I had been more secure in my knowledge of who I was in Christ and more confident in God's plans and provision for me. I struggled for several years with feeling shame at my failure and imperfection before learning that the shame and fear I felt were from Satan. God is love and perfect love casts out fear. There is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. I didn't fully comprehend that my first couple of years of college and believed the enemy's lies about myself. I pray that you do not also believe the enemy's lies and so I want to share some of my experiences with the hope that you might not travel some of the same roads I did.

I made a public profession of faith in Jesus and was baptized the spring of my junior year of high school. I had a friend tell me he already thought I was a Christian. I was actually really good at following the rules and acting somewhat like someone who was a Christian. I hated getting in trouble and was fine with playing the role of a "goody two shoes". It was not the outward manifestation of a heart who loved Jesus. So when I was baptized, I continued in my rule following because I didn't know that there was more to being a Christian. Perhaps someone had talked to me about how much Jesus loved me and encouraged me to deepen the relationship through prayer and reading the Bible but I don't remember. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have been more firm in standing up for what I thought if I had gotten that aspect of the relationship with Jesus while in high school.

Nothing major happened between 17 and 20 but I had some stumbles I was afraid to share for a long time because I thought it made me a bad Christian and I would be judged poorly by other Christians (and considered a hypocrite by those who didn't believe in Jesus). I allowed the physical boundaries I had set up for myself to be breached because I feared that if I stood firm I would be rejected (and I am a recovering people pleaser). At the time I did not trust that God had plans regarding my relationships and would provide me with a man who loved God and loved me enough to respect my boundaries. I sought man's approval over God's. I admit that I blamed others for taking advantage of my naivety and trust and for manipulating my emotions. I am learning to see that they are human, too, and were seeking love and acceptance like the rest of us. I understand now that they were trying to obtain that love and acceptance in the ways the world told them were right or normal. I'm not saying that there is not responsibility on all sides, I'm just saying that I don't think they were trying to purposefully hurt or take advantage of me. 

I share this with you to say that God is trustworthy and faithful. He knows what you need when you need it and will provide you with it at just the right time. This includes a loving, respectful relationship. It is important to remember that God's timing is not your timing. I know several people who dearly love Jesus and had to wait longer than they wanted to meet and marry their spouse. It is possible that you may meet your spouse in high school and college so I'm not going to say that dating during these times is fruitless but I don't think finding a spouse should be your main objective. I think you should focus on loving and serving God with your life. If you are pursuing his purposes, he will provide whatever is needed, including relationships. I believe that God will provide you with a spouse who respects you and your boundaries, one who does not put any pressure on you to prove your love for them. I believe someone who truly loves God and is pursuing Him themselves will be more concerned with increasing your intimacy with God than increasing your level of physical intimacy with one another.

Right about the time I started to understand more about what having an authentic relationship with Jesus meant, I met your father. In one of our first interactions I attempted to share my faith with him. It turned out he already knew Jesus, but it was a good start to a potential friendship. God's timing was perfect. I was seeking to know God more and was quite excited about what I was learning. As such it was a subject I brought up often and wanted to discuss with others. In our first few months of getting to know each other I was praying a lot more and seeking God's guidance. We were friends for about eight months (part of that time I was dating someone else, the rest was spent trying not to begin a dating relationship with your father before I studied abroad for a semester). Our first four months of "dating" were spent on pay phones using international calling cards and long emails filled with questions about one another. As hard as it sounds not having any physical contact for months, it was such a blessing. I feel like we were really able to spend that time focusing on our individual relationships with God and encouraging one another in our faiths. It helped secure our relationship to God, I think. Our dating relationship wasn't perfect (obviously since there was a break-up along the way - another story for another day) but I know God was in it with us and helped us become people who encouraged, supported, loved and were committed to one another. That's what I want for you - a spouse who loves you and God, supports you, encourages you in your endeavors and faith and is committed to you and your relationship together.

My precious girl, you are worth the wait. You are worth a commitment of love and faithfulness. You are worthy of a spouse who loves you and respects you and encourages you to become the woman God created you to be. You are lovable just as you are and there is nothing you must do to earn or be worthy of another's love. Jesus loved us before we loved and knew him. He found us worthy of love and sacrifice simply because we are God's creation. If Christ's love has no demands, then neither should man's. Love is something that is to be freely given without expectation or demand for reciprocation. Remember that God loves you no matter what and that your father and I will also always love you. You cannot lose God's love nor ours. It is yours regardless of your words, thoughts or actions. We love you and desire God's best for you and your life. We are proud of you and we pray that you will grow into the woman you were created to be, a woman who loves and serves God and others.


Love, Mom

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Forgiveness and Love

This year there has been one section of scripture that I have continued to return to when evaluating my life. It is Matthew 22:34-40.
 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these to commandments."
To make it easier to remember, it can be summed up as this: Love God. Love people. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially the "love people" part. I can be very task oriented at times which does not always leave room for people. However, I do desire to be more willing to exchange my agenda for God's, which usually is about loving and caring for others.

Recently there was a Sunday sermon about forgiving others. I recognized that I held a few small grudges against people, fairly insignificant things that wouldn't be very difficult to let go of and move forward. I don't feel like I have received large injuries from other people that might require more wrestling and struggling to forgive.

This thought led me to think of a friend of mine who is having serious relationship issues. They are currently enduring emotional pain and struggle. I realized that I held anger toward the spouse. I was thinking about my friend and felt sad that they are hurting and have limited control over the circumstances. I wanted to have someone to blame for the pain, hurt and mess and the spouse seemed like the obvious choice. Realizing these feelings I asked God to show me how I could love both people in this situation.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
God reminded me that the spouse is human, just like me. They make mistakes and poor choices that hurt others at times, just like me. They are probably hurt, confused, and frustrated themselves right now, just like my friend. They probably do not want to cause pain to their spouse. They desire the same things we all desire - to be loved, known and accepted. The spouse is worthy of love and respect, just like me. They are deeply loved by God, just like me. God desires to show them grace just as he has shown me grace.

God also reminded me that my friend's spouse is not really the enemy. Satan is the true enemy, the father of lies. With this knowledge, I ought to be praying for both my friend and their spouse. I need to pray for the truth to be spoken into this situation and into both of their lives. I need to pray for supernatural healing and restoration. Because of Jesus there is hope that this situation can be redeemed.

My heart is being softened and I'm learning that it is possible (though definitely not always easy or natural) to show grace and love even in difficult situations. Of course, so far the offenses against me have been minor and not very life altering or affecting. I have a strong suspicion that more grievous offenses require greater amounts of God's power to love and forgive and extend grace.

Earlier this week I learned that someone I went to high school with appears to also be struggling in their relationship. The person wasn't always the kindest to me so my first reaction was tinged with a bit of gladness at their misfortune. I was surprised at my callous reaction and realized it meant I still held some unforgiveness after all of these years. I asked God to help me to see this person through eyes of love and grace. This person also wants what we all want - love, companionship, acceptance. So I prayed that they would receive these things. I prayed that they would know that Jesus loves them and can comfort and help them during this difficult time.

I am so thankful that God is changing my heart toward others. I know that loving God and people will take my whole life to master but I desperately want to get better at both. It definitely is painful at times to learn how I am falling short in these areas but I know that it is necessary for change and growth.

Image courtesy of graur razvanionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Conflict in Relationships

I am an introvert. I prefer one-on-one conversations to a large group setting. I am not very physically or emotionally expressive. The thought of public speaking makes my heart race. In a public setting I worry about standing out in the crowd. On my wedding day I was most nervous about having a group of people (even a group I know and love) focusing their attention on me as I walked down the aisle and said my vows. I like spending time alone doing quiet activities like reading and writing.

This isn't to say that I am anti-social. I enjoy hanging out with friends, going to cultural and sporting events and some parties/large gatherings. Part of it depends on my level of comfort with the people who will be attending or how much I will be noticed. I am usually fine as long as I know there will be at least one familiar face. I tend to hang out and talk with one or two people at a party rather than try to meet and converse with everyone.

I did go to an event this summer where I knew there were going to be over 200 people and I really didn't know anyone. I had met one of the attenders earlier in the summer but there was no guarantee I would see her in such a large crowd. I was quite nervous about it, but I considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and chose to push through the uncomfortableness. Per usual (for me) I met someone early on who was friendly and then spent the majority of my time talking and learning about her. It made the party much more enjoyable to feel like I knew someone and could talk with her (which, of course, went deep quickly as opposed to two hours spent on the weather).

I recently read Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It was such a good read! I would encourage other introverts and people living with introverts to read it. It helped me to see the benefits of my personality as well as encouraged me that there's nothing wrong with the way I was wired (the book talks a lot about the Extrovert Ideal as what our society has come to prefer and encourage).


There was a section that talked about relationships and conflict. Susan gave an example of a couple, one an introvert and the other an extrovert. Each temperament thinks and handles conflict differently. Introverts tend to try to minimize conflict and keep the peace, which means they tend to get quiet and anger tends to cause them to withdraw into themselves. Extroverts are more comfortable with conflict and are more passionate and loud when they are trying to work out an issue. Their volume/passion tends to increase as they get closer toward a resolution. Extroverts tend to be external processors, working out their ideas out loud, whereas many introverts are internal processors, working out their thoughts in their heads before voicing them.

I can see how the introvert's problem-solving process would frustrate extroverts. While I'm trying to decide what I want to say and how I want to say it (preferably in a way that is not inflammatory or hurtful and will lead to a peaceful resolution) it seems like I'm closing myself off and not contributing to the conversation. Meanwhile, an extrovert is passionately voicing his/her thoughts and feelings in the hopes of coming to a resolution but if feels like an attack to the introvert. The louder or more fiery the extrovert becomes, the more uncomfortable, stressed and quiet the introvert becomes. You can see this creates a terrible cycle that is counterproductive.

I liked the explanation of how each temperament handles conflict because it helped remove the feelings that affect understanding. I learned that the extrovert is not attacking but earnestly trying to express their underlying emotions and achieve reconciliation (the same goal as the introvert). As an introvert I need to remember that conflict is inevitable and not bad in itself. I need to allow myself to deal with the tension I feel and be willing to walk through it in order to resolve issues. I also need to be more vocal during conflict and give input even if it doesn't seem perfectly crafted yet.

Having read and thought about conflict and the different styles of dealing with it, I feel more empowered to deal with future issues when they arise. I'm sure it will still feel uncomfortable and I will have to remind myself that it's not necessarily a personal attack but more likely a genuine desire to resolve a grievance.

And, of course, you can see I've done a lot of internal processing to come to this conclusion.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Grieving Lost Relationships

I feel like I'm cycling through old feelings and issues this morning. I struggle a good deal with letting go of friendships. I am a loyal person. I don't necessarily give friendship easily, but when I do it is firmly fixed in my relationships. Obviously not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime. It's especially hard to maintain friendships when someone moves because distance is a huge barrier. But I am not usually willing to give up easily. I continue to reach out through emails, letters, texts, phone calls. Maybe not frequently, but enough to catch up and maintain a connection. However, if my attempts do not make contact and the other person fails to reciprocate then I become disheartened and will eventually give up, let go and try to move on.

This morning I was reminded of one such relationship and was trying to figure out why I was so bothered by ending relationships. I think it's because, when a friendship ends after multiple failed attempts on my end to connect, I feel like it means that my friendship was not valued (and perhaps this means that I am not valued). That's the core of my hurt - the feeling of being not valued or unimportant.

Intellectually I know that time and distance are difficult obstacles to overcome. I know that in-person friendships are very important and so, when people move, they focus their time on meeting and making new friends they will see regularly. I did that when I moved too. I can't fault others for moving on. It doesn't mean I still can't struggle with the loss.

Because that's what it is to me - a relational loss. We are supposed to grieve losses. It's supposed to help us heal and move forward ourselves.

So I guess that's what this post is - an outpouring of my grief for lost relationships. Perhaps acknowledging these feelings will lead to the healing I need so that I can pour my old energies into current and new relationships.

Lord, help me to treasure the memories of old relationships and let go of any hurt I may feel from losing them. Help me to not close myself off from new relationships because of the possibility of future loss, but to trust that you will provide me with the things I long for - companionship, shared interests, deep conversations, to be known and loved and valued. Help me to forgive any perceived wrongs or slights and rest in the knowledge that I am important and valuable in your eyes. Thank you for your wisdom and love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Road to Becoming



I recently read The Road to Becoming: Rediscovering Your Life in the Not-How-I-Planned-It Moments by Jenny Simmons. I was intrigued when I learned she was the lead singer for Addison Roads, a band I very much like. I did not know much about the band other than I enjoyed the messages of their songs. I had even created a Pandora station for their music. So when I heard that there was a book that talked about the end of the band I was curious to read it.

The book is so much more than the last year of Addison Road, though. It is a memoir of sorts of how Jenny dealt with a number of setbacks that led to the demise of a long-held dream and the birth of a new dream, a new way of life.

The book starts by taking us through a series of unfortunate events that led to the end of the band and Jenny's dream. She is honest about all of her efforts to continue on with her plans despite the signs that it was not in the cards. I know that I can be equally stubborn when I have an agenda I want to see accomplished. I will move forward despite evidence that shows that perhaps it is not the wisest course. We, as people, struggle so much with giving up our dreams or sense of control.

Jenny then talks about her season of burying her dream and waiting for what comes next. She likens it to a desert, a place where it seems no new life could possibly grow. I feel like Americans are especially terrible at waiting, a season that seems stagnant and unproductive. We are all about busyness and moving forward. Sometimes we need to rest and allow healing to happen so that we can receive or cultivate a new dream.

I have friends that are in very tough seasons right now. They may have been waiting for a door to open for them to move forward with plans. Others are going through crisis and sensing that their future is going to look very different from what they planned or imagined. The book talks to both the person waiting and those watching and supporting those who are waiting.

Image created by Denise Kinsey Tyriver

I had a season like this at the end of my college career. I had been dating my boyfriend for over two years and had sensed early on that he was going to be my husband. In the last semester of college, I became frustrated about our relationship situation and began to sense that God was asking me to end the relationship. I balked at the thought and fought God on it for several months. He was persistent in his request. Eventually I realized God was really asking me if I trusted him and his plans for my future over my own. When I saw my dilemma in these terms I knew that I wanted to be obedient and see what God had in mind.

It was so tough giving up my plans for the future but I clung to the hope that God's future for me was even better than what I could ever plan. It was my mantra that got me through all of the awkward conversations with family and friends about the break up.

The last section of the book is about the imagining and development of a new dream and new future. It reminds us that without death there can't be new life. It talks about saying yes to the adventure of each new day, open to whatever may be in store.

This book is full of so much wisdom and encouragement that, no matter where you are in life, there is something that can help and encourage you. I have written some of my favorite quotes from the book. I hope you will also find some wisdom in this book.

I had spent years encouraging other people to live by faith but I had no idea how to live by it.

Security has become the drug of choice for religious people who don't really want to live by faith.

Turns out, following God-sized epiphanies doesn't guarantee instant happiness.

The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened.

Usually the hardest part is doing what you already know you need to do.

I don't believe God ordains pain and chaos; I believe He redeems pain and chaos.

If compassion, humor, and careful insistence on closure are gifts that we give our children when they are dealing with loss, why should we treat our own grief any differently as adults?

The only choice I get is what to do when the road suddenly ends.

When my life intersects with the world's brokenness, Emmanuel intersects with me. God with us.

As a person of faith, I am invited to live in the tension of believing that God is present and at work, whether I see immediate evidence of it or not.

During seasons of waiting, dreams are growing up.

Watching someone else wait is like watching a slug die. Brutal. Tie that in with the threat of failure as the end result and we almost can't bear it.

What every saint must wrestle with: If God doesn't step in and divinely change where I find myself on this piece of broken earth, do I still trust Him? Can I still live my story well?

New life looks like being faithful in the little things.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For the Love!

The book I have read multiple times and have been gushing about to anyone who will listen is finally, officially available for public purchase and reading! Of course, if you were in Barnes & Noble on August 1st you may have noticed the book already on their shelves. I wonder if one of the higher-ups read it and thought, "This is too good to keep in boxes until the 18th!"

Anyway.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker released today. I have already read it three times and know there will be a fourth reading very soon (I like it so much I want others to read it too so I am co-leading a group study of it in a few weeks at my church. I am sooo excited!). I cannot wait to hear what others think. In the meantime, I'll share a little of my experience with the book..

The first chapter, "Worst Beam Ever" is sooo amazing! After reading it, the phrase "Off the beam!" is now permanently in my vocabulary. I have felt freedom from striving for perfection and been released to just be me. This chapter talks about not concerning ourselves with doing it all but to decide what is most important to us in this season, what is necessary for ourselves and families, what adds value to our lives, and say "no" to the extras that steal our time and our joy. After reading it, I immediately implemented it by choosing not to have party favors at my child's upcoming birthday party. It's a small thing, but it was one less thing to have to think about or spend time on. I doubt anyone missed them either.

Here's a quote from the chapter:
We combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane. The only thing worse than this unattainable standard is the guilt that follows when perfection proves impossible. p.3

I could probably summarize each chapter for you but that would ruin your experience. Let's just say that there are many wonderful chapters that contain wisdom and freedom to be who God created you to be.

There are also some chapters that provide a type of comic relief (but still have truth in them). There are some titled "Thank You Notes" similar to Jimmy Fallon's segment on The Tonight Show. One of my favorites:
Thank you, Maxi Dresses, for helping me appear dressed up, as though I really made an effort, but making me feel as if I'm wearing a nightgown out in public. You are basically crotchless yoga pants, and I salute you. p.50

As if that were not enough from this amazing book (which I describe to others as being like potpourri - a little bit of everything), there are also some recipes to help sharpen your skills and invite other people over to grow relationships. I made the Beef Bourguignon which was delicious and very rich. I also made the Pad Thai and agree with Jen wholeheartedly that fish sauce stinks when cooked and permeates the entire house, but it did help create another oh-so-tasty dish. My family actually did share both of these meals with friends and had a great time!

This book really does have a little bit of everything. It offers encouragement, truth in love, humor, sympathy, wisdom, fashion advice, parenting comfort and frank talk about real issues. It is a book you could read once a year (or more frequently) and find things to apply to grow in your spiritual and personal relationships. I highly recommend this book and would love to hear your thoughts after you've read it. For the love, just go buy it already! 


You're still reading? Well, I have news for you! I'm giving away a copy of this awesome book to one reader! All you have to do is comment below and tell me if you're familiar with Jen Hatmaker and, if so, how (have you read a previous book, seen her on HGTV, follow her blog?). I would also appreciate it if you'd let me know how you found this post. You can enter until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday the 20th. I'll announce the winner on Friday, August 21st. (If you can't post a comment for some reason, please send me an email at mybyrdlife @ gmail dot com). Thanks!

***The winner of the book (chosen randomly by my 2yo) is "John, Elizabeth, and Grace"! Congratulations! I will get the book to you shortly.***

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Finding Freedom From My Emotions


I just finished reading Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst. I checked it out from the library because I had heard good things about the author but I wasn't sure how applicable the book would be. I'm not a particularly emotional person, at least not outwardly emotional. However, in the book she talked about the various ways we deal with emotions (stuffing or spewing) and I was able to see how I tend to process emotions.

I liked that she acknowledged that we are not necessarily always a stuffer or always a spewer. How we react can depend on the situation or the relationship we have with the person in the difficult, emotion raising moment.

Lysa stated that the goal is not perfection - never losing our cool, never lashing out and hurting others, never stuffing our emotions down to keep the peace but feeling bitterness rise within us. Her goal is imperfect progress. It is growing in managing our emotions with rationality, peace and wisdom. It's getting out of our immediate feelings to gain perspective on what may be underneath the emotions.

I was very skeptical about the book but was very pleasantly surprised. Her words gave me a lot to think about in my relationships with my family and friends and how I tend to deal with uncomfortable emotions. I liked the reminder that emotions are external signs of internal issues.
Image courtesy of Mr Lightman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I have also been reading Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend and I feel like these two books are related. Boundaries talks some about not giving others control of how we feel. Others can't MAKE us feel angry. We have to choose to feel emotions and deal with it by changing our circumstances (preventing an undesirable action or event to occur that causes us feel negative emotions). We cannot ever change another person, only our response to others.

Some of this really resonates with me. I have a tendency to think that I am not living up to others' expectations and then feel guilty. This is my own negative thinking. I am allowing myself to feel guilty. I can choose to ask the other person about their expectations rather than project what I think their expectations might be. It can save a lot of anxiety. Thinking more about what words and actions stir up my emotions can help me address them for clarity. I can ask what someone meant rather than thinking the worst. It is encouraging and freeing to me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Losing One's Life

We are going through a series at church called, Things I Wish Jesus Never Said which is about hard truths. A couple of weeks ago the focus was on Mark 8:34-37:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Image courtesy of mrpuen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Damian Boyd, pastor of Vertical Church in downtown Atlanta, shared his story with us. Below are the notes I took from what he shared.

*What does it really look like to lose my life for God's kingdom?
*How dare you (I) not give Jesus everything?! He deserves everything.
*Jesus wants to be everything to/for me.
*Look for ways to empty your life.
*Live for more than your comfort and convenience.
*Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

This was a very challenging and convicting message for me. What are the things that I hold back from giving to Jesus? Why do I think that worldly things are better than all that Jesus has to offer me? I am constantly amazed at God's provision for me and yet I still live as though he is not completely trustworthy. There is nothing this life and world can offer that could possibly compare to Jesus and yet my life does not represent this knowledge. For some reason, it has not reached my heart and translated into thoughts and actions. Am I afraid of missing out on something? This fear is actually causing me to miss out - to miss out on the things God has for me. I drag my feet when called to be obedient rather than fully trusting and believing Jesus is all I need and all I could possibly want.

It's nice seeking comfort and convenience. It's hard to choose discomfort and inconvenience. Unless. Unless by choosing discomfort and inconvenience, I find my purpose for this life. Unless I become engaged with God's plans and find myself living for God's kingdom and for things that truly last, things that moth and rust cannot destroy. In those moments when I feel that I am doing what I was made to do, when my desires and actions are aligned with God, I feel truly alive. What if I could feel truly alive all day every day? What if the seemingly mundane things of daily living were done for God rather than man? What if each morning I turned my heart toward God and sought his agenda? What if I really did seek to empty my life of that which is unnecessary and unneeded in order to have room for God's plans?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, June 26, 2015

Carrying Burdens

I feel like I have been very fortunate in life. I haven't had many hardships or difficulties (by my standards, at least). Sometimes I have felt that I shouldn't say it out loud for fear that something bad would then happen. (Side note: I've been reading Dr. Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly and she calls this "foreboding joy". It is actually refreshing to know that this is fairly common for people and has strategies for being able to embrace joy.) 

Anyway, I had been thinking about my feeling that I don't have a lot of drama in my life and yet I know many people dealing with difficult circumstances and pain. I listen and pray and try to keep tabs on how they are doing but feel like I don't have any power or ability to do anything really meaningful to help in their situations. I have been texting a lot with someone who is dealing with and overwhelming situation and one day she said that I seemed to know when something was going on with her and would text or email her when she needed it. I responded that it was God prompting me to contact her (which is true).

Recently I had the thought that perhaps I don't have a lot of drama going on is so that I can listen to what is going on with other people and help carry their burden through encouragement, support and prayer. I shared this with a good friend of mine and she seemed to think it was possible. A couple of days later I found Galatians 6:2 in my morning quiet time. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Okay then. That sounds like confirmation to me. The next day, she texted me her devotion reading for the day called Attentive to People's Needs. Here's an excerpt from it:
 Are the people around you happy, or are they struggling in some area of life? Maybe the real question is: Are you attentive enough that you would recognize the difference?
Although we may not be able to solve all their problems, a simple word of encouragement is sometimes enough to lift the weight of the world off their shoulders. But to do that we have to be tuned in to the lives of the people around us and God's leading. Be willing to stop, listen and care.
The devotion ended with Galatians 6:2. Apparently this is God's message for me right now. I pray that I can be faithful to follow his leading through the Holy Spirit.
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Love Like a River

This morning I heard a song by Third Day that had the lyrics, "Your love is like a river flowing through my heart."  I pictured a river in my mind and it looked like a babbling brook. I was going hiking to see waterfalls later in the morning and thought I'd see some small rivers and streams along the way. 

The appropriately named Little River taken on my hike

I then remembered that, in the Bible, Paul says, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" in Ephesians 3:17-19. 

It does not sound to me like God's love is a small, shallow brook where you can see the bottom and wade into the middle without getting your knees wet. I tried to think about larger rivers I've seen and the Missouri River from when I lived in St. Joseph came to mind. It is very wide and deep. You would get carried away if you tried to swim in it. I did a little research and found that the Missouri River is the longest river in North America, flowing 2,341 miles before it enters the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Its basin is 529,350 square miles which sounds like it contains a lot of water.

Image captured by Linda Gordon Rokosz
Imagining God's love like the Missouri River sounds much more accurate. It is too big to see all of it at once. It is much too deep to stand in. It is so powerful that it will drag me in and whisk me along with it. I probably couldn't get out of it in my own power. This image was a better help for me to understand the enormity of God's love. 

Later in the song it says "Your love is like a rock that I am standing on." I acknowledged to myself that normally I would probably picture a rock about my size but should probably be imagining a mountain, strong, unmovable, and towering.


Through this imagery my heart revealed that I have a tendency to limit God. I keep him confined to what I can imagine instead of relying on the truth that says "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21). It now makes sense that these verses follow the ones previously mentioned. Once we realize that God is bigger than we think he is, we can acknowledge that he can do much more than our minds can comprehend and remember that his plans are for his glory to be made known in and through us. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

More than Mommy Guilt

I have been confronted lately at how much I deal with guilt. I make decisions trying to avoid feeling guilty even when in my head I know I shouldn't feel this way. I think it is my desire not to offend or disappoint others that fuels my responses to these feelings of guilt. Trying to rationalize why I shouldn't feel guilty does not seem to work to ease the tension I feel inside. I'll share my two current conundrums.

I am visiting my family in another state for a few weeks. I always enjoy getting to spend time with them and giving them the opportunity to spend face-to-face time with their grandchildren. I always have fun exploring their city, playing games and making memories. When I'm here, I stay in the room upstairs away from everyone else and the main living room. My mom has encouraged me to sleep in and relax from my normal daily activity of getting the kids up and breakfasted (they are early Byrds like their dad). I have struggled EVERY DAY I've been here feeling guilty for not going downstairs to help the minute I'm awake. I have gotten up early(ish) to have some prayer and Bible reading each day and some days I'll also do some exercise before going downstairs. But whenever I know that the kids are up, my guilt awakens in my head telling me I should go downstairs and help because the kids are my job. It kind of sours the remainder of time I spend upstairs. For some reason I don't feel like I deserve to have a little time to myself to do things I enjoy. I feel guilty that my mom is doing "my job". It's silly. I'm sure mom enjoys getting some time with just the kids as we only see each other a couple of times per year. I just don't know how to feel okay about it.

This year I have been provided with an amazing opportunity. I was selected to be part of a book launch team for an author who has spoken truth and wisdom and laughter to me through her books. An online community has developed that is so open and kind and loving and encouraging. It is incredible. The author has consented to hosting a launch party for all of the team members in the fall. It sounds like an awesome opportunity for fellowship and to meet in person all of the encouraging people I have only been reading about. I have really wanted to go but struggled with knowing that it would 1) cost money (flight, hotel, rental car, food) and I do not provide any income; and 2) require me to leave my family for a couple of days and give sole parenting duties to my husband. I feel guilty about that because for some reason I feel like it'd be a burden for him. It's really dumb. They're his kids and he loves them and will probably enjoy the bonding time. I just know how long days on my own with kids can be and don't want him to be inconvenienced. I'm afraid he'll feel resentful that I am spending money on a solo venture and leaving him with the kids. As I write it, it seems silly, but that's what my inner monologue is saying. He's encouraged me to go for it which I had hoped would ease my guilt but it hasn't.

I may appear full of confidence but at the moment I am not. I don't know why I am feeling this way right now. I have been praying. I feel like the root of these feelings is being concerned of others thinking badly of me and being inconvenienced themselves. They have both told me otherwise and yet this permission still has not caused these feelings to cease. It's probably a battle with my people-pleasing tendencies. Lord, help me! Help me to accept the assurances I receive from others at face value and not think that secretly they are feeling put out. Help me to comprehend that taking time for myself is a necessity and not being selfish to the detriment of others. I struggle so much with feeling selfish and then feeling guilty when I don't need to be. Please give me peace and confidence. In Jesus' name, Amen.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trusting God's Timing

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you are probably aware that I have desired a mentor in my life to help encourage me in my various roles and to offer wisdom when needed (if you're new check out this post and this post for details). There was a woman who filled this role for me when my daughter was young. I've been without a mentor for about three years now and have prayed for an older women to be interested in encouraging me in my journey for about as long.
Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The first experience was so positive and encouraging to me and has kept the desire for another relationship like this alive in my heart and mind. I do understand that the experience will not be the same due to a number of factors - I have changed in three years (though I'm still a SAHM with littles) and it would be a different person with different experiences and a different relationship with me - but the core of the experience should still be there (a woman further along life's journey who is genuinely interested in me and my life and is willing to challenge me in various areas of my life).

Last week I met with a woman who said that she was interested in being a mentor-type influence for me. It was a welcome surprise to hear her say this. I already felt comfortable enough with her to share without fear but my introverted nature desired this official permission to share all areas of my life - successes, struggles, questions. I'm so used to doing most of the listening in my relationships that it is so freeing and energizing to be invited to share myself. When someone seems truly interested in hearing what's going on with me I feel loved and supported.

The meeting was quite timely. There was a lot going on with me and I received encouragement and wisdom from this woman. I absolutely believe that this was God's answer to my prayer and that he set up the timing of this meeting and has been preparing our hearts for a deeper connection with one another. I am excited to see what God does in and through this relationship. He is so faithful!

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose...under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Do Small Things With Great Love

Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love. 
-Mother Teresa

This winter/spring of 2015 I read Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker with a small group of women. I must say that I thoroughly enjoy reading and discussing a book with other people. It is so interesting to learn which parts impacted each person. It amazes me that each of us were impacted by a different part of the same book.

Early on in the reading I felt that the book had the capacity to change how I live as a Christian (which I suspected might be the case by the title when I first considered reading it). I did feel like my Christianity was comfortable and thought that it could be something better than that. My prayer for the study became that the book would not simply be another "good book" I once read, a book that had no affect on me, but rather would challenge me to change some aspect of how I understand Jesus and/or how I live as a Christ-follower. I sought to find truth that I could apply to my life.


The book is an unfolding of the story of how Jen and Brandon Hatmaker felt God calling them to something different and new which ultimately led to the launch of Austin New Church. There is truth, inspiration and encouragement to be found within the pages of Interrupted. If you are seeking a new perspective on your faith or a reminder that God is trustworthy and loving and his timing is perfect, read this book.

As a stay-at-home mom, I have often felt like I have to wait for my kids to get older and more independent so that I can then begin a ministry of serving God with my gifts and abilities. That's not true at all! God has given me opportunities to serve and use my gifts right now, right where I am in my life stage. I just need to reshape my definition of ministry.

My first opportunity is, of course, to serve my family, to love my husband and children, to teach my children about loving and serving God - some through conversation but mostly through my example (this has become increasingly obvious as of late, as you may know if you read my previous post about a personal parenting fail). I can serve my neighbors by showing kindness and taking advantage of opportunities presented to me - preparing and delivering meals, watching pets, hosting play dates, offering free babysitting, listening to others and praying for them. I can write letters to others and use my gifts of encouragement and words without taking away from my responsibilities and duties to my family. God can use me right now in this current stage of my life and will be able to use me in some additional ways as my kids do eventually get older and become more independent.

I know that none of these seem like extraordinary activities. I don't expect to receive accolades or a well-known name from these small acts of kindness but I do find satisfaction in knowing that I am taking advantage of everyday opportunities to help those around me. And perhaps, if I am faithful in these small things, I will be ready and prepared for larger opportunities that may come.

"The kingdom advances in our small neighborhoods and small acts of love and small moments of faithfulness and small feats of courage." -Jen Hatmaker, Interrupted

Monday, May 4, 2015

Not My Proudest Moment

Everyone tells you that having kids will change everything. I have certainly found that to be true. I have had to shed my me-first mentality and care for the needs of others before myself (sometimes instead of myself, though not always successfully - selfishness is ingrained deep in us). I have changed occupations, developed a new group of friends and relationships, thought a lot more about the future and what is in store for me and my family and grown deeper in my faith.

One thing that has been forefront most recently is how much my words and behavior are noticed and imitated by my children. Some days I will listen to them playing together and they will pretend play that they are a family and one is the parent while the other is the child. They will parent like we have been parenting them. Sometimes it is sweet and reinforces that I am doing a good job. Other times, it is a gut check and reminder that my words are powerful and they are sponges soaking everything up.

My son is very active, often on the go. When I want him to pay attention to something I am saying (because I think it's important) I'll tell him to look at me (and sometimes turn his face to mine) in the hope that he will soak in more of what I'm saying. Now, I hear the kids saying "look at me" to each other during pretend play when the "child" is "in trouble".

This past week I was confronted with an inconsistency in my integrity. While out with my kids I experienced a situation that caused me shame and embarrassment. It was a combination of a lapse in close supervision and kids being kids. Nothing dangerous, but I panicked and we left rather than dealing with the situation. I chastised my kids when we got to the car but realized later that I was really angry with myself for not paying closer attention. I wrestled with feeling guilty all evening until finally I prayed about it. Through prayer I was able to work through my feelings and realize that it was not too late to apologize to those I had wronged and make amends for the situation.

The next morning I confessed the whole story to my husband (because shame was telling me to keep it quiet so that guilt could continue to hound me). I then spoke to my kids about what I did wrong and what I should have done. I apologized for speaking unkindly to them. I stated what I was going to do to try to make up for the situation. (Now, my kids are only five and two and I don't know how much the oldest took from what I said because I know the two year old didn't care, but perhaps it planted seeds in her for the future.) Later that morning I returned to the scene of the situation, acknowledged what I should have done and apologized. It was sooo hard and uncomfortable but I felt that it was what God wanted me to do. The person I spoke with was so gracious and kind to me. He accepted my apology and said that he appreciated my efforts. He said it was a sign that I had a good heart. I almost cried at his kindness.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

The best thing that has happened through all of this is that my guilt is gone! Yes, I could have owned up right at the moment (and obviously there is still growth occurring in this area but I also know that, in the past, I would not have owned up to my mistake and tried to make it right) but God used it as an opportunity to remind me that it's not too late to humble myself and apologize. It was an opportunity to teach my children that we all make mistakes (and they will hopefully also choose to try to correct them). My response will help to equip me for future situations that may arise. Hopefully the next time I begin to feel shame or embarrassment, I will stop and consider the best choice. Perhaps I'll develop a habit of responding with integrity so that my kids will learn the proper way to handle difficult situations.

"Train up a child in the way he should go;
  and when he is old he will not depart from it."
      Proverbs 22:6

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Weight Loss Challenge: Diet and Exercise Specifics

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I participated in a weight loss challenge at the beginning of the year and ended up learning a lot about myself and about being healthy. I have been sharing my experience with quite a few people as I was so amazed at how well I did (not that I was not super glad when the pressure of competing was over and could relax a little). I'd like to share my experience here on my blog in case people I don't personally know might be able to benefit. This post is going to be about what I ate and how I exercised. To know what I learned from the experience, check out the other post here.

During the challenge I tried to stick with eating three regular meals with an afternoon snack and sometimes dessert in the evenings. Breakfast and lunch were both fairly monotonous which helped as dinner was different nearly every day. My goal for each day was 1450 calories (excluding exercise) in order to lose at least one pound per week.

Breakfasts before the challenge were usually a bowl of cereal with milk (unmeasured for serving size) and a container of yogurt. The cereal did not tend to stick with me until lunch and I often had a snack of some sort.

Breakfasts during the challenge focused on protein and fiber. Calorie count was generally between 275 and 400 calories, mostly less than 350.
*Two eggs scrambled with spinach, onion, green pepper and a tablespoon of cheese (sometimes other/additional vegetables or a little sausage or bacon as well), pear (orange, apple, melon, berries, etc), 16 oz of water
*One egg scrambled, a slice of American cheese, slice of cooked bacon on 1/2 whole wheat English muffin, Kroger carbmaster yogurt, 16 oz water
*1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 tbs raisins, 1tsp brown sugar and 1/4 cup milk, banana, 16 oz water

I either had fruit or yogurt with breakfast. I ate two egg scrambles unless I was having a bread product and then it was just one egg and a little bit of bread. Occasionally (usually on weekends) I would have pancakes or a biscuit with sausage gravy or a cinnamon roll but I recorded it all and tried to moderate the rest of the meals' calorie counts for the day.

Lunch before the challenge was either leftovers from previous dinners or a sandwich with a couple of carrots and hummus and some chips or pretzels. Often lunch was followed by a sugary treat.

Lunch during the challenge was small tweaks to the usual such as using one piece of bread instead of two for sandwiches and half of a piece of cheese, increasing the vegetable portion with more carrots or a salad with reduced calorie dressing, adding a fruit and eliminating the after-lunch dessert. I also tried to keep lunch under 400 calories most days.
*Salad (lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, spinach, snow pea pods) with grilled chicken, light ranch dressing, honeydew melon, 16 oz of water
*One slice of whole grain bread, 1/2 Tbs miracle whip lite, slice of tomato, lettuce, 1-2 oz turkey (or ham), 1/2 slice American cheese (sandwich), 1 cup of carrots, 1 apple, 16 oz water
*Salad (like above with the addition of corn, black beans and avocado as well as a little barbecue sauce mixed with ranch for a southwest salad), 16 oz water
*3/4 cup sauteed yellow squash and zucchini, 10 spears of grilled asparagus, 3 oz London broil, 1 Tbs steak sauce, 1/2 cup blueberries, 16 oz of water (this was dinner leftovers)

Dinner was different most evenings. The biggest thing for me was inputting all of the items into the app to determine calorie content which I used to decide on serving sizes for everything. I ate pretty normal things - hamburgers, lasagna, steak, barbecue, fish, shrimp. The majority of my meals were prepared at home which helped with regulating ingredients and calorie content. Whenever I ate out for any meal, I tried to look at the menu ahead of time to make wise selections.
*Two chicken soft tacos (homemade), 16 oz of water
*Side salad, light raspberry vinaigrette dressing, green beans with onion and bacon (1/2 cup), pan fried tilapia, 16 oz of water
*Side salad, light Italian dressing, chicken parmesan, sauteed squash, 16 oz of water
*1/2 cup baked beans, 1/4 rack pork spare ribs, 1 yeast roll, side salad, light Italian dressing, 16 oz of water
*Grilled salmon (5oz), roasted sweet potato (1 cup), fettuccine (1 oz), butternut squash pasta sauce (1/2 cup)
*Chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya, 16 oz of water
*1 1/2 cup Turkey barley vegetable soup, 1/2 grilled cheese sandwich, 16 oz of water
*Bacon wrapped dates, rabbit empanada, seared scallops with saffron risotto, chicken confit, French martini (this was date night/cheat night at a tapas restaurant - sooooo yummy!)

Many days I would have a mid-afternoon snack, especially on days when I exercised. It was usually a snack of less than 200 calories.
*Carbmaster yogurt with fresh strawberries
*Fruit (1/2 cup blueberries, banana, apple, orange, pear, plum, etc)
*1 oz almonds
* 3/4 cup Honey Bunches of Oats with 1/4 cup of milk
*Fat free cottage cheese and a cutie orange
*Ants on a log (celery w/ peanut butter and raisins)

On days when I could afford a sweet treat I tried to be reasonable in my portion size.
*Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Protein Bar (by Kind)
*1/2 cup ice cream
*2 inch lemon bar (homemade)
*1 chocolate chip cookie (homemade)
*Popcorn (1 cup)
*Serving size of packaged candy
*2 inch caramel turtle brownie (homemade)
*1 slice angel food cake (homemade)

As I mentioned in the other post, I had to fit my workouts in during nap time inside my house (usually in my living room but sometimes in the garage. I had max an hour and a half but wanted to allow a little time for cooling down and showering before the kids got out. I alternated between cardio videos, workouts with light weights and the occasional yoga routine. One of my television channels has 25 minute workouts from Radius. It was a fun variety - kickboxing, HIIT routines, boot camp, kettle bells. I had previously done Jillian Michaels' 30-day shred workouts and  added those to my regimen. I found a few longer and more intense workouts by Jillian on YouTube which are fantastic (Banish Fat Boost Metabolism, No More Trouble Zones and 6 Weeks 6-Pack Abs are highly recommended by me). If I was feeling on the sore side on a workout day I might do a cardio-only routine or yoga to help stretch the muscles. Doing such a variety of workouts really helped to keep my body from adjusting and plateauing. Toward the end I added P90X's plyometrics routine to the rotation for a great calorie burn and even more muscle confusion.

The final thing that I think really made a difference was trying to drink enough water to keep my body hydrated. My goal was fourteen 8 oz glasses per day. I have had pretty bad eczema on my hands for several years. My dermatologist said that it was aggravated by continuous hand washing which is hard to avoid with all the dishes from homemade dinner and diapers that need changing throughout the day. I had started wearing gloves to do the dishes but it didn't seem to help a lot even with the super strong ointment. A couple of weeks into drinking more water the dry skin cleared up and my hands looked normal again. I think it also helped to curb food cravings and kept me from wanting to eat too much at meals.

So that's what I did and lost thirteen pounds in nine weeks. Not a biggest loser stat but pretty impressive (I think) considering I didn't have a personal trainer, gym membership or nutritionist. And a lot of the habits have stuck. I used to order the grilled chicken sandwich combo at Chick-Fil-A every time. Now all I order is the grilled market salad with the berry balsamic dressing (it's so good that I don't feel like I'm depriving myself by not getting a sandwich and fries). I'm also sticking to a regular exercise routine. I feel like if I get off track in the future I now have the knowledge and tools to return to a healthy lifestyle.

The Weight Loss Challenge

At the end of 2014 I was offered the opportunity to participate in an eight week (which turned into nine weeks, much to my chagrin) weight loss challenge with a group of people beginning in January. I had fallen victim to the food holidays and gained some weight I was not keen on retaining. I hesitated to sign up because there was an entry fee and I knew the odds of me being the big winner (or loser, as is the case of a weight loss challenge) were very slim. While I needed to lose some weight, it didn't seem like I needed to lose enough to result in a high percentage of weight loss. However, the fee was small enough that I could use it as motivation to stick with the challenge and there was the added benefit of accountability via a Facebook page which would certainly encourage me to stay on track. I am a competitive person so I knew I would at least try to end up in the top half in the standings.
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So on January 4th, the challenge began. I thought I ate pretty healthy to begin with (minus all of the sweets I ate in November and December) so I knew I needed to cut down on high sugar food. I cut out any after lunch treats (which the kids were forlorn about as I made it a family-wide rule to help me stay on track) and decided to try to keep dessert in the evenings to no more than every other night, but hopefully less frequently as my willpower allowed or as the lack of available calories remaining demanded (perhaps you do not have a sweet tooth, but I definitely do). I also saw a segment on the Today show saying that eating our kids' leftovers could lead to a seven pound gain over a year period so I decided to refrain from finishing their meals and only eat what I served myself.

The second week of the challenge I decided to use the My Fitness Pal app to track calories of foods as I was not very knowledgeable about that aspect. The app let me input my current weight, my goal weight and how much I wanted to lose per week. From that info it told me how many calories I ought to consume each day. I ended up using the app to input my exercise as well as water consumption.

I thought I might benefit from drinking the recommended amount of water each day. I knew it would help me to not be as hungry and perhaps I was a little dehydrated. Water was the only beverage I drank throughout the challenge (I did have some milk in my cereal snacks but it wasn't in a glass). I don't drink a lot of other beverages generally but I had gotten into drinking soda several times a week (and I only drink regular soda, not zero calorie) and I knew that could help me save some calories.

As a stay-at-home mom of at least one child who needs constant supervision, I knew that my exercise had to fit in to the hour and a half allotted for nap time (I was already getting up an hour before the kids to pray and read my Bible so I didn't want to get up any earlier and I wanted to be able to relax in the evenings) and take place within my house. I found some exercise videos on YouTube and our NBC Sports channel that ranged in length from 25 minutes to an hour. I decided that my initial goal was three times per week for at minimum 25 minutes each. As I got further in the challenge, I increased to exercising five days per week. Toward the end I chose to do a P90X video for added intensity and chose the lengthier exercise videos. I tried to do a different video each exercise day of a given week. Some I liked more than others so I did them for more weeks (but still just once per week).

I learned a lot through the experience. I became much more informed about the calorie content of food. I learned that getting enough water kept me from being prematurely hungry and that I could survive a few hunger pangs between breakfast and lunch without snacking as well as the pangs as my stomach adjusted to receiving smaller portions of food. I learned that I won't feel deprived if I eat healthier foods and make wiser choices in restaurants. I also learned that a cheat day does not mean "eat all the sweets I can see" unless I also want it to mean "do not lose any weight this week." I learned that being properly hydrated would significantly improve my eczema (hallelujah!). I learned that I can make time for exercise and that, as I'm aging, my body needs a healthy diet in addition to regular exercise to change and improve tone (I used to be able to eat whatever and then exercise well and be fine. Not anymore).

So what was the end result? I ended up in fifth place of about twenty people, missing 13 pounds from my body and about eight percent of my body weight. Not bad, right? I surpassed my personal goal weight which was the exciting part for me.
Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It has now been approximately six weeks since the challenge and I have continued a lot of the habits I picked up. I don't eat as many carbs (specifically chips and other prepackaged food), eat more fruits and vegetables, try to drink plenty of water and continue to make exercise part of my weekly routine. I weighed myself a couple of days ago and found I had lost another pound even without using the app to track my calories. I'm hoping this means that I have developed a lifestyle with wise and healthy choices.

If you'd like to learn more about what I ate or the exercise videos I used during the challenge, I have a separate post with that information here. Please feel free to ask me any questions about my experience. I'm more than happy to share!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Being a "Yes" Mommy

I just finished a book called Yes Mommy: The Mayhem and Madness of Not Saying No by Amy Sprenger where the author shares her account of going thirty days without saying "no", "don't" or "stop" to her children. The purpose was to try to lighten up a little in her parenting. She had the normal concerns that her kids would eat nothing but junk, be uncontrollable in public and possibly be injured from lack of boundaries. She did, at times, try to get around her self-imposed limitations by redirection and attempting to persuade them to make a different choice.

I have recently been evaluating my own parenting and trying to figure out how I can be more loving and encouraging to my kids. I am learning to carefully consider the reasons I am saying "no" to my children. Often it is because of my personal preference - I don't want to put in the effort or I might be slightly inconvenienced or I'll have more to clean up. If it isn't a valid health or safety issue or there isn't a time constraint, I am trying to say "yes" and the book helped remind me of the value of being open to my kids by saying "yes" to requests for activities and ideas of how to spend our time together.

My daughter is in preschool and has dressed herself for quite some time. Her fashion style is a bit eclectic, definitely different from my own. For a while I would try to convince her to change some part of her outfit so that she matched better but I realized it was only because I was concerned that others would judge me negatively for my daughter's fashion sense. Really, what does it matter if she wears a plastic pink tiara to preschool most days? As long as her clothes are weather appropriate I'm doing my job. It is one less thing on my morning to-do list and helps her gain independence (and isn't that a major goal of parenting?).

My creative and confident girl
I was an unusual dresser myself as a child. My mom said that she figured if I was teased at school for my outfits by other kids I might change how I dress but it wasn't important enough for her to fight about with me. I have chosen to take this road with my daughter as well. Of course, I still choose outfits for pictures I'm paying for and some special occasion events, but allowing her freedom the rest of the time makes it a non-issue.

More often than not saying "yes" is just about getting over my own preferences and agenda and opening myself up to fun and meaningful experiences with the kids. And being okay with cleaning up art supplies, fake snow, sand and sweaty, dirty, happy children.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Still Struggling

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The day after I wrote my last post, my verses for the day's study were from Titus 2 where it talks about older women training younger women. I felt a pang of disappointment at not having this type of relationship. Even though I am choosing to trust God's timing, it's still difficult and has not removed my longing for this type of relationship. I thought I'd share my devotional for that day so that you can see what my personal study looks like.

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Titus 2:3-5
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, and to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Older women are instructed to actively encourage/teach/mentor younger women. Even in my thirties, I am considered an older woman to those in their teens and twenties. My five-year-old daughter is probably watching me to help establish her identity as a girl and learn what it means to be a woman, wife and mother. This means I should be very aware of how I present myself and represent Biblical womanhood.

Even though I can be an example for some, I still desire to have an older, wiser woman help me to be a better wife, mom and Christ-follower. My mother lives far away so it is harder to have this type of mentoring relationship with her. I know that God can develop all of these traits in me on his own, but I desire community and relationships with others and I still struggle.

I think that's the detriment of our mobile society. It's harder to establish and maintain close relationships. Many people live away from their families which removes them from having built-in community and support Humans were made for relationships. It's how we grow and thrive. Family will always be there - you can't get rid of them (good or bad). Friendships tend to be more delicate, vulnerable to time and distance. 

Lord, I am trying to trust you with my needs and relationships. I struggle so much in this area of close relationships. I don't know exactly what I desire but I know that you know what I need. You love me and will provide at the proper time. Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Living Life on Purpose

When my daughter was a toddler, I had a friend who had school aged children and was also a SAHM. She invited me and my daughter to come to her house every other week to let my daughter play with her girls' toys and allow me to talk to her about what was going on in my life. I felt very comfortable with her to share personal issues and to also ask her advice about parenting, marriage and faith. Her kindness was such a blessing to me. I remember while receiving this encouragement and support I thought that it was a ministry I would like to have once my children are older. Many SAHMS desire a welcoming, accepting place to share while embracing their current season as mothers of little ones.

While pregnant with my second child, this amazing woman and her family moved away. It was difficult for me to lose this close connection. My family and in-laws all live in different states from my family so our only local support is from friends we make here. 

I tried for awhile to find a replacement for my friend. I participated in mom groups and sought to deepen friendships with other women. It was nice to have people who could relate, but I still desired someone who could impart wisdom about the future and serve as proof that difficult seasons of parenting will pass. I spent a lot of time praying for an older woman mentor of sorts. 

Finally, at the beginning of this year, I decided I would choose to trust God to provide what I need in terms of relationships and in the meantime seek wisdom on my roles as woman, wife and mother from the source - the Bible. (I think God has really wanted me to seek him for this wisdom on how to live and thrive in these roles all along and it took me awhile to realize this.)

This decision also coincided with me feeling that I was reading my Bible as a checklist item and not really seeking to learn and apply what I was reading each morning. I wanted that to change so I decided to change my methods. Instead of trying to read a chapter each day to get through the entire Bible (my previous plan), I decided to study scriptures about my womanly roles. I chose to start with the illustrious Proverbs 31 woman we hear so much about. 

I am a journaler. Writing is how I process my thoughts. I decided that to truly study God's word and let it sink into my soul, I would take it slow and use my strengths. I began by writing out the verse I wished to study. Then I wrote out what I thought it meant and how I might be able to apply it. I ended with a prayer about the verse. Some verses were tough for me to determine a modern-day application. One particular verse I was so stumped, I did an online search to see what others had gleaned from the verse. I am trying to improve my ability to seek help when I need it. 

Once I was through those verses, I sought out other verses referencing these topics. I am currently focusing on what the Bible says about being a woman and a wife. I have verse references about children and parents for the next part of this dig into the Bible. 

Having used this method for more than two months now, it has not become rote. I think it's the amount of focus needed to write my thoughts. It has been so encouraging and inspiring to me that I am considering turning my pages into a devotional when I am finished. This declaration is a little scary as I struggle with having meaningful thoughts and/or wisdom to share with others. I know that God will work out the details if this is what I am supposed to do with this personal Bible study.

Recently, I received the opportunity to read and complete a Bible study about Biblical womanhood that another woman has written. I do not think it is coincidental that her study topic is what I have been delving into personally for a few months. I am very interested in reading about what she learned from her experience with the Scriptures. 

Now, Dear Reader, I have an opportunity for you as well. The author, Katie May Tramonte, has provided me with an additional copy of her Bible study, Gospel-Centered Womanhood, which I am able to give away to one of you! If you would like a chance to win this study, please leave a comment between now and April 6th. The winner (picked randomly) will be announced on April 7th. Good luck!



P.S. - If you're having trouble leaving a comment, please let me know so I can try to fix the issue!