Friday, December 2, 2011

'Tis the Season

OK, fellow Moms...let's see if you can relate to this scenario:

Years ago, as a little girl, you couldn't wait to grow up and become a Mommy...partly so you could share the magic of Christmas with your own children. Christmas was your favorite time of year. Filled with so many wonderful moments. The decorations, the time spent remembering the birth of your Savior, the special times with extended family...it was just one magical moment after another! Oh for the fun of being able to share that with your own children someday!!

And now: you love to see the wonder of your children's eyes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You play the Christmas music. You decorate the house. You plan some special things like: cookie baking with friends, Christmas parties, and "Elf" movie nights. Yet all the while, you just can't shake the feeling that this time of year is not how you remember it. Now that you're the "magic maker", Christmas just isn't quite the same. Instead of warm fuzzies, you get...well, the need to take stress relief tablets. Where did the wonder of Christmas go?!

I have a pretty good idea. My bank account doesn't match up with my gift-giving love language. And really, what made the magic for me at Christmas-time as a little girl? The gifts under the tree. Oh sure, I loved to sing the songs about baby Jesus and I loved that our Christmas was highlighted by our annual candlelight service on Christmas Eve. But really...the "magic" came from all the shiny wrapped things under the tree.

Want to know the other thing that has taken away some of the magic of Christmas for me? Change. What do I mean? As a child, my grandparents were alive and here to share in the memories. They died before I met Dave and had kids. My heart still aches that they're not here. (In fact, I'm crying as I type this.) Oh how I wish they could have met my kids. Oh how I wish they could have known the man that has given me more happiness than I thought ever possible. I know that such is the circle of life. I also know that my own parents are now reaching the age where every year with them is a true gift. I just can't bear to think about those types of changes. Makes me want to freeze time right here. At least make it slow down a little.

Also, as a child, we used to celebrate Christmas with our extended family crammed around the ping-pong table (brought up from the basement just for the day). We had grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. Now our Christmas gatherings are quite small. My kids don't have any cousins their age. Both my immediate family and Dave's are quite small. As the years go by and family traditions change...it just totally changes the feeling of this time of year. I try not to get lost in the thoughts of how it used to be. I try to focus on the here and now and enjoy it all. But still...it's just not quite what I remember.

Well enough of that. It's time to re-claim the magic!!

Two books that have helped me this time of year are Lisa Whelchel's The ADVENTure of Christmas and Karen Ehman & LeAnn Rice's new e-book Untangling Christmas. If you long to get the focus of Christmas back to its proper place...and make some fun new memories and traditions with your kiddos - you'll want to read both of these!

Want to hear some of my magic creating "plans" for this Christmas? Here are a few:

  • For starters, I'm putting my shopping list on paper...and then praying about it before I start shopping. (Yes, that's right. I've barely begun my shopping. Don't judge me.) You see, since gift-giving is truly one of my biggest love languages, I could go a little overboard this time of year. I'm trying to find that balance between letting my kids enjoy the gift portion of Christmas like I used to - while still keeping the focus on Christ's birth (and not breaking the bank). I hope that praying and thinking about my gift list a while before actually purchasing, will take away some of the anxiety that this portion normally causes.
  • We are going to be doing several of the fun ideas from The ADVENTure of Christmas. Things like: decorate a tree in our backyard for the animals (page 9), lighting our Advent candles & sharing the meaning of each one (page 6), trying our hand at home-made candy canes (page 15), and maybe even making some homemade "spiced" Christmas ornaments (page 13).
  • A tradition we started a few years ago, which the kids just love, is using the What God Wants for Christmas kit. It's a little nativity scene where each of the main pieces - like an angel, a shepherd, a wise man, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus - are inside a box and opened one a day for a week. There is a poem with each piece and even hints on where to hide them. The last box just has a mirror in it - because what God wants for Christmas is YOU! It's a Maranka family favorite. 
  • A fun thing that a couple friends and I started last year, is to get together with all our kids and have a cookie baking/exchange day. Our plan this year is to have the GFS pre-cut Christmas cookies (they're SO good and SO worth the money!) all baked and ready for the kids to decorate. Then we'll make 3 different easy recipes together that day (things like Oreo Truffles, Easy Turtles) - plus we'll each have made 2 recipes beforehand to share. That means when the day is done, we'll not only have had several hours of fun interacting...but we'll all have 10 different Christmas treats to take home & share! This is one of my favorite new traditions.
  • And the last thing that helps make Christmas keep the magic for me, is to listen to lots of great Christian Contemporary Christmas songs. (Thank you Pandora!) I LOVE Christmas music. But, I am not a big fan of many of the secular Christmas songs. They just put the focus where I don't want it to be. I am going to immerse myself in Christian Christmas music this month. I'm listening to Pandora as I type this. Thanks to my techie husband, I can even listen to Pandora through our big stereo in the living room. The kids and I are going to worship through song every day!

The theme of Untangling Christmas is to weed out the things that don't really need to happen, and just focus on the things that mean the most to you and your family. Have you stopped to think about what those things are for you? I hope this year to be able to enjoy the gift-giving (remember, it's one of my biggest love languages!) while not getting caught up in the expense of it. To bless others with some thoughtful things that didn't cost a ton. And, (because I love to worship through music!) I'm going to saturate myself in Christmas songs centered on Jesus. 

May we each remember that the baby in the manger grew up to become our Savior on the cross. Take some time, along with me, to read all the Scriptures (both Old and New Testament) focused on the birth of the Savior. It's really breath-taking to think that hundreds of years before the angel spoke to Mary...our Savior's birth was foretold. Oh how that gives me goosebumps! 

I pray we each reclaim that child-like faith this Christmas. 

That we are in awe of our God. 

In love with His Word. 

Thankful for the precious gift of His Son that first Christmas morn'. 

I can feel that magic...can you feel it too?

Merry Christmas friends!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not Just Good Enough

What is it about my personality that keeps me hugging the edge of the cliff? Well, if you know me at all, you most certainly know I'm NOT talking literally here. (You will NOT see me hugging the edge of any real cliffs ever...as in NEVER!) I'm talking about the edge of the "good enough" cliff. Do you know the one? In my quest to finish losing the rest of my desired weight, I am constantly seeing just how bad I can be but still have it be "good enough." Seeing how much I can slack off of what I know are the best choices yet still see a small amount of weight loss. And, therein lies the problem: my weight loss has just about come to a screeching halt. And I know why. Good enough - well, it just...isn't!

As I finish leading another "Made to Crave" Bible study in my home (MTC the fall edition - since MTC the winter edition was so much fun), I was struck this time by my need for repentance in this area of good enough. It's been interesting to do this study again several months (and several pounds) after I first did it, because I am seeing things jumping out at me that are very different from what jumped out at me nine months ago. That tells me a couple things: first, God has graciously given me freedom & growth in areas that I used to struggle in (praise the Lord!); and second, Made to Crave is NOT a study that you can just do once and be done. This journey of finding the proper relationship between us and food (and our spiritual walk) is not one that is a quick fix. I can tell it's going to be a long-term process. Yet that doesn't scare me. It's somewhat a relief. Why? "I am on a journey with Jesus to learn the fine art of self-discipline for the purpose of holiness." (Lysa TerKeurst) That is a journey that I never want to end! From now until my first moment in heaven, I want to be continually pruned to become more holy...in every one of the fruits of the Spirit. Right now, self-control just happens to be at the very top of the list.

I love this quote from Chapter 18 of "Made to Crave":
I can make the choice to identify my shortcomings and, instead of using them against myself, hand them over to Jesus and let Him chisel my rough places. The grace-filled way Jesus chisels is so vastly different than the way I beat on myself. My beatings are full of exaggerated lies that defeat. His chiseling is full of truth that sets me free.
Amen.

The freedom I grabbed a hold of early on in this journey is that of learning to love myself.  A year ago when I was ending my "argument" with God about making this a spiritual matter, I clearly felt God telling me it was time to stop doing the enemy's dirty work for him. That every time I showered myself with guilt and condemnation...those things were NOT from God. That was not God's voice speaking to me. It was the enemy's. I am so glad that was the first chain God broke in my life. Why? Well, partly because it was the catalyst to gaining freedom from a lot of head stuff. Head stuff that had me stuck in more areas than just my weight. But ultimately, gaining freedom in this area meant that I had to strengthen my relationship with God. Oh why would that be, you ask? Because my internal self-talk was so incredibly messed up, the only way to correct it was to be in an almost constant state of prayer. I would wake up each day and ask God to open my eyes to the areas I needed to work on. Well, open them He did. There was a lot of eye-opening and a lot of praying going on. And for that, I'm so grateful.

And you know what? That's a place I still need to be. No longer because of my destructive self-talk. Nope. Now it's that I need God to regularly help me to see my edge-of-the-"good enough" cliff-hugging tendencies. We can't change what we don't know exists. I know that it exists, and I know that its existence is what is stalling my weight loss.

Every time I'm tempted to eat something I know I shouldn't just because I find a way to justify it - that's hugging the edge. Every time I convince myself it's OK if I don't exercise because of excuse A, B, or C - that's hugging the edge. Every time I hit snooze on the alarm (which means I know I won't have time to do something that really ought to get done) - that's hugging the edge. None of these things will mean I fail or completely screw up. But they usually mean I'm not walking in 100% obedience. That's what we're really talking about here. Full-on, sold-out, 100% obedience.

I'm not talking perfection. I'm talking about making the best choices - instead of the good enough choices. I'm tired of good enough. Good enough in this weight loss journey makes me want to settle in right here. The differences from 55 pounds ago are obvious. The positive comments are plentiful. Good enough could easily be the place I choose to stay. But I'm not in this journey for "good enough." I don't want God to say, "Good enough." I want Him to say, "Well done." And for that...good enough just isn't, well, good enough!

Where is God asking you to go beyond "good enough"? Let's move forward together. It's all about taking that next courageous step. Ready? Let's go...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mandisa: "Shackles"

The perfect song for today's post...

Letting Go of the Shackles

I love it when God gives a fresh perspective. I'll admit it, I've been having a fair number of pity parties for myself lately in relation to our financial journey. It feels like we have been climbing the Dave Ramsey debt-free mountain for SO long. We thought for sure we'd be over the "hump" by now. But, we're feeling kind of like Lewis & Clark in their maiden journey West: the mountain is big and seemingly right over the next hill...yet over the next hill isn't the base of the mountain - it's another hill. How much longer? How BIG is it?!

Lately, much to my embarrassment, my internal conversations with God have all too much resembled the Israelites in the wilderness. It's so easy to read their story and laugh at how childish and unreasonable they sound. Yet, without even realizing it, we can sound just like the 21st century version of them. Whiny. Un-thankful. Stubborn. Clueless. Yep...it makes me sad to think how often I mimic their actions.

Here's the thing that I want to share with you. The thing that has helped me to get my focus back in the proper place. Just like in the weight loss journey...following the right financial path doesn't always mean quick results. Or maybe, just like an out-of-whack metabolism from too many years of failed weight loss attempts, perhaps we've gotten an out-of-whack financial "metabolism" too. What do I mean by that? Well, depending on how bad the financial picture was when we began the journey towards repairing it...we may have dug ourselves a lot of financial holes. It's hard to show a lot of progress up the hill if we have to spend a lot of the beginning of the journey just getting back on solid ground. So, here's the ah-ha moment: even when we aren't getting the desired outcome (lower number on the scale or higher number in the bank account)...we still need to do what's right. Why? Because our goal isn't a number on the scale or a specific amount in our bank account. Our goal is to obey God.

Does God have an opinion on our weight and on our relationship with food? Why yes, He does. For details on that, read Lysa TerKeurst's book Made to Crave. Does God have an opinion on our finances? Well, I'm sure you know the answer to that too (a resounding "YES!").

I was able to get the "do-the-right-thing-whether-the-scale-is-moving-or-not" concept into my head. But lately, the feeling of working really hard but getting (seemingly) nowhere in our financial picture has gotten me down. Until God reminded me otherwise.

Past failures, no matter what area of our lives they were in, are still in the past. Nothing we can do now can ever un-do those things. So, therefore, no amount of guilt, condemnation, or shame is going to change them. All those things do is keep us locked up in the enemy's chains. Except, here's the thing about those chains: they aren't really locked. God has long ago broken those off. The only thing that keeps us in bondage, is our own willingness to remain there. Ouch. Did that sting your ears as much as it did mine? (If not, maybe you need to read it one more time.) The only thing that keeps us in bondage, is our own willingness to remain there. Yep. Still stung.

Can you imagine choosing to stay imprisoned when the door isn't locked and the way to freedom is right within your grasp? Who would do that? Oh, my friend. You and I choose to do that every single day. It's just that our chains aren't visible. Well, not except for the despair in our eyes. The guilt and shame we wear on our faces. The fear that furrows our brows and weighs us down. Nope. Our chains are where no one can see them. They're on our hearts and minds. But God has given us the gift of freedom. Freedom from ALL the things of this world that want to imprison us. Not just freedom in one area. Freedom in EVERY area! How many shackles are you still wearing? No, really. How many? I hope we can take some serious time of reflection to let God get in our face about this issue. This is the real deal, folks. This is where living life as a Christian should make us stand out. It should make us FREE! My prayer is that we'll have our eyes opened to our shackles this week. Every last one of them. And then...that God will give us the courage to leave them behind and walk through the freedom door. Did your heart leap for joy just now? Mine sure did.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Re-Programming Our Habits

I've been reflecting a lot on my "Made to Crave" journey the last few days. God has gently reminded me of a few things that I thought might be encouraging to some of my blog readers as well. Whether you're struggling to lose weight, build a positive body image, or just get on track with your relationship with food...listen to some of what is running through my mind on the topic.

#1~ Everything mentioned above has to start with getting our heads on straight. I honestly can't stress enough how important this step is. This is the step that the study "Made to Crave" has helped me with the most. Every other time when I've tried to lose weight, I only partially dealt with the head stuff. And then it was never too far into the journey that my lack of dealing with that emotional baggage stopped my weight loss dead in its tracks. We HAVE to get our heads on straight in this area. God's Word has a LOT to say on the matter. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll pick up Lysa TerKeurst's book "Made to Crave" and start letting her open your eyes to the Truths of God's Word. It is really life-changing stuff.

Want to know why this step is so hard?  Because the enemy would like nothing less than for us to continue to be stuck in the crazy cycle (bad choices/guilt & condemnation/more bad choices). He loves it when we shower guilt and condemnation onto ourselves. He loves it when we call ourselves "fat, ugly, loser, weight loss failure" (or whatever else we can call ourselves). If we're all being honest, we know that when we're stuck on this horrible emotional "crazy cycle", we are NOT giving God our best each day. There's no way we could be! How can God use us to the extent He wants to when we're walking around not talking to ourselves in a very Christian manner? I know first-hand how years of negative self-talk can damage our soul. I was a walking war-zone. When I started the Made to Crave journey one year ago, I had to work the hardest at first on just speaking lovingly to myself. I had to, word by word, change my internal dialogue. I was a serious kind of messed up. When I look at pictures of me that are over a year old, I see the hurt in my eyes. I may have put on a smile on the outside. I may have been quick to laugh and sound cheerful. But I was one broken-hearted, sad, self-loathing person on the inside. Just thinking about the healing God has given me in this one area, makes me want to shout from the rooftops. Just a few short months ago, I was a prisoner in my own body. I couldn't break free from the chains of this emotional baggage. But through God...I am FREE! I'm singing the song as I type: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, THERE IS FREEDOM!"

One more thought on this first step. Since Satan does NOT want you to gain freedom in this area (you'd become dangerous to him!), I caution you to be careful what you say out loud about your struggles. If you are starting this journey as messed up emotionally as I was, there is a LOT of changes to your internal dialogue that have to happen. A LOT of emotional healing that must begin. Since Satan is not omniscient and cannot read our minds, he can only use against us what he hears us saying/sees us doing. My advice at first (when the healing needed seems so large) is to keep your struggles in this area a private issue between you and God. When you're really struggling with some kind of negative self-talk and your first thought is to talk about it with your friends (or even pray about it out loud), at first I would suggest to just pray about it silently. I felt like I didn't want to give Satan a clue of my weakness. Or if I was having a really bad day, I didn't want Satan to know that either! Call me crazy, but I really think this helped make the healing go faster. God could help re-direct my thinking and heal my tender soul without the enemy having a clue that the healing was happening. Oh sure, later on Satan must have figured it out - based upon my lifestyle changes and things. But at first, when I was an emotional wreck and walking war zone...I didn't want to give the enemy any extra ammunition to use against me. Give it a shot. I really felt I needed that extra "secret" dose of healing. Eventually, you will be strong enough to fight the enemy's attacks (you'll recognize them as lies). At first, though, I was so wounded I needed some strength built up before I was ready for that fight.

#2~ The next step is to make sure we've got a healthy eating plan in place. Maybe you're floundering around just because you've never settled on an eating plan that you can stick to. Or maybe it's one that doesn't work well with your lifestyle. I found that I needed one where I didn't have to think about food too much. As I was trying to overcome my food addictions, the whole process of having to weigh everything and write everything down seemed like too much focus on the very thing I was trying to "get over." For me, I found a healthy plan where for two meals a day (if I chose to follow it exactly), I had either a protein bar or a protein shake. It was perfectly balanced and healthy. It knew that for two meals a day, I could eat without any guilt or extra planning. Then one meal a day was a healthy, balanced one that I cooked and shared with my family. Find what works for you. If you think you're making some good headway on the head stuff, but the scale isn't moving...maybe it's time to take a hard look at your eating plan. Oh, and one last thing on this one - I HIGHLY encourage you to find a plan that is not a "diet." Make these permanent, life-long healthy eating plan changes. Diets don't work. I should know. Find the healthy changes to your eating that you can (literally) live with for a long, long, time. Looking at it as a lifestyle change helps to take away the diet deprivation mind-set.

#3~ Are you moving enough? This is the obvious next step, right? We can't conquer everything in a day or a week...or maybe even a month or more. The head stuff has to come first. Then once you've started to get some of that addressed, you begin to focus more on what's going into your mouth. Once that is set, I think it's time to focus full force on exercise. This is especially true if you're mostly a couch potato right now. Don't try to change everything about your lifestyle at once or you'll put too much pressure on yourself and set yourself up for burn-out. But at the same time, you have to know that regular exercise must happen - and not just for now. Regular exercise should happen for the rest of our lives.

As you begin to workout, maybe you're like me and you have some false ideas about yourself and what you can/cannot do. Don't be afraid to push yourself! Now is the time to break free from those comfort zones (that really weren't so comfortable) and challenge yourself to do things you never thought you could do. For me, it was becoming a runner. What's it for you? Build up your cardiovascular health and you'll be surprised what your body can do. It's really exciting when you start using your body more and pushing it to levels you never knew you could. Just one more way to stand in awe of God and His Majesty.

#4~ Ask God to daily help you in one specific area. Are you negative? Are you un-disciplined? Are you rebellious? I know that for me, often what leaves me struggling for every pound of weight loss is my desire to get as close to the edge of my healthy eating plan as I think I can get away with. Why would I do that? Rebellion (a.k.a PRIDE!). That whole thing of not wanting to be defined by boundaries. Being upset that x, y, and z should really be off limits to me. Especially if I feel that others aren't held to the same boundaries. I was thinking this morning in church about what God has called each of us to. If we are Christians, our bodies are to be treated as temples - because, after all, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us! Whether we're trying to lose weight or not, we need to treat our bodies with respect. Don't defile ourselves. Whether it's in relation to drugs, alcohol, sex, physical mutilation, what we think about, or our eating/exercise habits - we are to take care of these temples! I know that, for me, when I really think about my body in those terms it makes me want to eat lots more veggies and fruits. Stay away from junk food and empty calories. So when I ask God to help me to crave those healthy things - He is happy to help me do just that! When we ask for things that are in line with God's will, He loves to bless us with our request. My goal this month of October is to take a daily inventory of how well I'm doing with taking care of myself. I want to ask God each morning to show me what my area of greatest need for improvement is. I'm going to be bold and pray for Him to change my cravings and turn around my rebellious tendencies.

Let's stop thinking that God doesn't care about this part of our spiritual walk. If our relationship with food or our body image/self-talk are getting in the way of us being fully used by God...then you bet He cares deeply about this struggle. Oh how I can't wait to be fully free from these chains. Many of them have been broken, and I feel incredibly empowered in this area now. But I know God's not done with me yet. My deepest prayer now is that I won't allow pride, rebellion, or fear to keep me from reaching the finish line. If you're at the beginning stages of this journey and feeling overwhelmed by the length of the road ahead (or how high the mountain feels) - just start making better choices today than you did yesterday. Pray like crazy. Re-program your self-talk. Eat a little less. Move a little more. I promise you - all of those little things start adding up to big results. And I'm not just talking about the number on the scale.

Blessings friends! Until next time...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Turning 40

I'm back! Wow...it's been a while since I've updated my blog (8 weeks, to be exact)! I think I was waiting for life to settle down. But, as everyone else who has children knows, that's just not happening anytime soon. Since my last post, I have hit a major milestone birthday - the BIG 4-0! Because of that, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic. I hope you'll humor me as I share some of the things I've learned during my first 4 decades on this earth.

  • We have to love ourselves. I think this could be stated: "love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves". I have had the beginnings of a very big transformation over the last year. I've lost 55 pounds. Gone down 6-8 pant sizes. Become a runner. These are just outward changes - and they're all great. But do you want to know the biggest and best transformation? I have learned to love myself. One year ago, I was my own worst enemy. I said things to myself on a daily/hourly/moment-to-moment basis that most of us would never dare say to anyone. They are things I had said for so many years, that I didn't even realize the long-term damage they had done. As God began to open my eyes to these things, He also began to release the chains these strongholds had on my life. I look back now on the person I was...and I'm amazed and humbled by all that God has done for me. It's a journey that's not over for me. I still have 45 more pounds to go to hit my goal weight. I still have lots of other fine-tuning things I'm trying to discipline myself to do. But the tremendous emotional healing that has happened thus far - it's unbelievable. There almost aren't words to describe how much better I feel! Praise God.
  • When we keep our focus on God, we don't get caught up in the anxieties of this world. Oh how I wish I could have learned this lesson earlier in life. Any time I begin to feel anxious about something, the heart of the matter is always that I'm not putting my full trust in God. The minute I can see the Big God picture, the minute my worries fade. When we remind ourselves Who our God is...it seems silly to fret about the things we do. I pray that my next 4 decades, I do a better job of seeing everything through the lens of God's eye. Fear is the opposite of faith. And fear is exactly what I feel when I allow myself to think about the things of this world. Who wouldn't?! This world is scary. This world continually lets us down. This world is fading away...fast. But God. God is peace. God will never forsake us. God is eternal. And the best part? God. Loves. Us. Wow.
  • Memories are made. This is a reality intended for all the parents reading my blog. Oh how easy it is to think that memories just happen. You know, the GREAT memories. Special outings with the kids. Family traditions. The things you want your kids to treasure from their childhood (and pass on to your grandchildren). It's so easy to just wait for them to happen. But guess what? For the same reason that I haven't had a blog post in almost two months...those "memories in the making" don't get made. Time races by. "It can wait until next week" turns into "oh, shoot! we said we were going to do that last year and we didn't!". Yep. You know the saying, "The days go slowly, but the years fly by." Oh how true that is.
  • So, how do we help the memories in the making? Let's see: get off the computer, turn off the TV, create more white space on our calendar (a tough one for me it seems), put family time on the calendar, plan special events with the kids on a regular basis, say no to social invites (us AND the kids), occasionally just stop whatever you're doing to join in the kids' fun just because they asked (or because you know they'd love it if you did). In essence, it's about not giving away all of ourselves to the outside world...while leaving our children feeling left out. Our kids want to feel special. They want to feel loved. They want to feel like they're the most important thing in the world. Doesn't that sound just like our relationship with our Abba Father? Imagine how we'd feel if He only gave us the leftovers of His time. Ouch. Time to stop fooling ourselves. We can't be everywhere else but home. We can't give everything we have to all those people asking for our time. Our kids don't always ask...but oh how they want us to be with them. Time is flying by. The need is urgent. Parents: let's challenge ourselves on this one while the kids are still at home. Deal?
  • Laughter. Just the word can make a smile come to my face. When was the last time you laughed hysterically? When was the last time you shared a big laugh with your kids? In our house, laughter happens daily. There aren't many things that I enjoy more than sharing a good belly laugh with my kids and my husband. We are also very blessed to have friends who love to laugh...and who make us laugh hysterically too. Have you had your laugh today? I hope so.
The list isn't long. Nor is it conclusive. Just a few thoughts that I wanted to share. Maybe some of the things I wish I could have told the high school me. Or even the college me. For now, I hope we all remember that the point of life is not all about now, or all about me, or all about the world's version of success. Instead, it's all about eternity. It's all about the people we're blessed to have in our life. And, most importantly, it's all about the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father.

If we just go through each day remembering that. Amen? Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thoughtful Tuesday

Let me start today's post with a very deep, philosophical question (which I would love to hear your thoughts on): How do you know if you're in the middle of "spiritual persecution" or "God trying really hard to get your attention because you're not on the path He wants you on"? I feel like the term spiritual persecution is used rather freely by some. And as I think about the two options above, I really do think they could "look" quite similar to one another. I mean, look at some of the things God did to people in the Bible to get their attention! They might have felt like they were under spiritual persecution from the enemy...but it was God's hands causing their issues. He was upset and wanted them to change! The Bible tells us God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Therefore, I'm sure He still releases punishment on His wandering children. Can I hear an Amen?

So what about when the people He's trying to get the attention of,  just think it's the enemy doing it to them and they continue to go along fervently on the path they think God has them on? That's what I'm thinking about today. Has God ever gotten your attention in a way that could have also been called "spiritual persecution"? What are your thoughts on this topic? I'd really like to know, so feel free to leave a comment below if you have anything you'd like to share.

Now onto a much more fun topic in just a minute: weight loss. Last time I talked about how well you really feel, on a scale from 1-10. I gave you the "homework assignment" of reading some of the labels on your favorite foods/household products. I'm not quite ready to go back and talk about all of those things I listed in detail today. Just take this as a friendly reminder to do a little homework before my next post. I truly believe the best thing we can all do for our health and that of our families, is to get educated on what we're bringing into our home. Do some research into what's really healthy and safe. And don't unknowingly bring toxins into your home everytime you come home from the grocery store. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I bet you'd be surprised at what types of toxins are lurking in your bathrooms, laundry rooms, and cleaning supply closets.

OK, back to weight loss. I had the very fun surprise yesterday of fitting into a pant size I haven't worn since probably the 10th grade! My Mom had found some cute capris on a really great sale a few weeks ago, but they were only available in a size that I wasn't down to yet. I didn't even try them on when she first gave them to me, because I knew I was just comfortably in the size above that...and it had taken me several weeks to be able to be "comfortable" in that size. I figured it would be at least September before I could even think of squeezing myself into those new capris. Well, for whatever reason (probably from having a few good workouts on the weight equipment at Fitness 19), I thought I'd just give them a try yesterday. I couldn't believe it when they actually fit!! I don't 100% know the last time I wore that size, but I'm pretty sure it was 10th or 11th grade. I know I weigh less now than when I graduated from high school. And less than when we got married. I told Dave from here on out, he's looking at a woman he's never seen before!

I don't tell this story to just give myself a few pats on the back. I tell this story to encourage you. Maybe your issue is also food & weight related. Or even if it's something else like alcohol addiction or overspending or any host of other things we can struggle with. No matter where you're at, let me encourage you how great the small steps are. Oh, they might not feel like anything at first. And you might not see one iota of a difference for many weeks. But dear bloggy friend, let me promise you something - little successes add up to HUGE differences down the road. Huge!

I am FINALLY to the point of this weight loss journey, where people are noticing. I've lost almost 50 pounds! It took over 9 months of some pretty serious hard work and dedication to reach this point. Nine months!! Now I get to see some more tangible rewards of this weight loss. Wearing a pant size I haven't worn in almost 25 years is one pretty fun one. Seeing my smaller body when I look in the mirror every day is also fun...but one that I don't always recognize. Funny how years of being overweight can skew your ability to see clearly, isn't it? Thankfully, God is gracious and allows my brain to catch those glimpses of change.

The fact is, I'm only halfway done. I have a LOT of hard work ahead of me still. That can still feel overwhelming to me. A couple days ago the Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional was talking about "finishing the way you start".  It was a great reminder.

At the beginning of this journey, my head was so messed up with all these lies I'd been believing for most of my life, that I had to rely on God literally every minute as I worked to recognize those lies and re-train my brain. As time went on, my head got on more straight and I didn't have to depend on God quite so much. The food and exercise portion also got easier and more of a habit, so again I didn't have to have total reliance on God as I went through this journey. I thought I could handle it OK without Him I guess. Well, here's what I know: in order to continue on to total success in this journey (which, I'm calling when I hit the 100 pound weight loss mark), I need to get back to daily dependence on God. Gotta get back to where I started.

And you know what? Reminding myself that it's time to get back to that point, actually lifts a lot of weight off my shoulders. (No pun intended.) With God...ANYTHING is possible (and a WHOLE lot easier)!

Blessings to you today friends! Can't wait to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Health Factor

Today I feel like talking about health. Not spiritual or emotional health, but physical well-being.

How "well" do you feel? On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being feeling completely horrible and having no energy, and 10 being feeling incredible)...where do you fall? If you're being honest, are you in the top 50% or the bottom?

I'll be honest. The more weight I lose, the better I feel...and the more I realize just how "un-well" I felt before. It got me to thinking: how many people are out there saying "I feel fine" when in actuality they have NO idea how good they COULD feel?! Maybe they feel as well as they know how to feel...but on the scale of 1-10 it's really only a 5 or 6.

This is a topic that I'm very passionate about. I hate seeing people settling for less when it comes to their health (or the health of their children). My heart breaks when I see people stuck in an unhealthy cycle...particularly when they don't even know they're there. What do I mean by that? I think so many people think that regular doctor's visits for sickness is normal. They think that prescription medication is normal. They think that allergies or runny noses or headaches are normal. It reminds me of this Dave Ramsey bumper sticker we used to have on our car: "Debt is Normal. Be Weird." When it comes to health & wellness, I guess my mantra should be: "Sickness is Normal. Be Weird."

Here's my biggest wish for others in this area: that we will each become experts on our own bodies. Read that again. Become an expert on your own body.

Why should you do that? Well, for one thing, no one else can understand your body and how you feel the way that you can. No one else lives in your skin 24/7, right? So let's stop leaving the primary health decisions of our own bodies up to someone who doesn't live in it. Educate yourself. Do the research. (Just make sure your resources are accurate...a thought for another day.) Never blindly assume that everything your doctor tells you is safe or the best answer. Ask questions. Look for answers. Please, please, please.

Why else should you be en expert on your own body? Because every drug has a side effect. (And, for the sake of this discussion, most supplements on the market are NOT whole-food and 100% natural, which means they can have side effects as well). I've been talking about drugs having side effects for years, but it's really only been since watching my parents walk through a few things last year that I REALLY knew how DANGEROUS some of those side effects can be. Some of the drugs my Dad was prescribed after his heart surgery last year were causing side effects that would have killed him if he hadn't been keeping close tabs on his body. Praise the Lord my parents have become experts on their own bodies and learned some very safe & effective ways to build health. If left to just the world of prescription drugs, I really don't think my Dad would be alive today.

Another reason to become an expert on your own body is so that you can fine-tune the research that you do into what your body needs. Now why in the world would we need to do our own research into health & wellness? Because the medical community is NOT educated on disease prevention. They're trained on disease treatment. If you want to gain maximum health for your body so that you stay well and have a strong immune system, the medical community is just not the best place to look. You need to look into things like: nutrition, exercise, chiropractic, etc. And even then, you need to be careful that the information you're getting is based on scientific accuracy. I get so frustrated with the things being thrown around as fact, that are just not true. I've been around enough to know that you can pretty much find something out there to confirm anything you want. The key is to find the facts. Are the facts based on science & research? Or just personal testimony & advertising? Know your source.

Before I get off my soap box, I want to challenge you to look into a few things. Things that maybe you use regularly and think nothing of their health ramifications. I'm not going to go into any details on them today, I'm just going to get you thinking about them. I will just tell you this: none of these things are healthy (even though many of them are found in things marketed as "health foods" or "safe products"). Here's the list for you to ponder & check for on the labels of your favorite products:
  • Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, and many new ones...anything with that artificial sweetener after-taste)
  • Margarine
  • MSG (normally listed on labels as: natural flavors, hydrolyzed soy protein, processed free glutamic acid, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, autolyzed yeast, maltodextrin, etc.)
  • Formaldehyde (listed under MANY names, but here are a few: Quaternium 15, 2-bromo-2nitropropane-1,3-dio, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin)
  • Fluoride
If anything I said makes you curious or challenges what you believe...let me know. I have resources I can direct you towards to help all of what I said make more sense. Oh, and if you find these ingredients on things you were suprised to find them on...feel free to post those products below. I'd love to know what's out there!

Today, I just wanted to get you thinking. Just how healthy ARE you? Hmmm....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wanting to Shout it From the Rooftops!

Have you ever watched the show "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition"? It's very similar to "The Biggest Loser" except that you see one person's full year journey in each episode. Last night's episode really struck a chord with me.

It was a young father/husband (in his late twenties) who weighed 490 pounds. He struggled with extreme food addiction. And he was NOT a success story. Rather than finishing the hour seeing this amazing transformation...we finished the hour seeing him (still weighing over 400 pounds) checking himself into rehab.

My heart broke for him. I felt his shame. I felt his condemnation. I felt his fear.

No, I have never weighed over 400 pounds (nor anywhere close to that, praise the Lord). But I have struggled with food addiction. I have struggled with self-hatred and shame. I have struggled with the fear that I would forever be stuck inside a fat exterior.

But then: God introduced me to Lysa TerKeurst and brought me smack dab into the middle of her study "Made to Crave." Oh praise the Lord that He did!

You see, when I watched that show last night and saw that man's failed attempt at weight loss success...I was thrown right back to all my past failed attempts. All that emotional baggage that kept weighing me down farther than any physical weight could push me. The host of the show last night even said it. When we look at overweight people, we see the physical weight that is bogging them down. What we don't see is the emotional baggage that is weighing them down even worse.

I know that is true. And my heart breaks for every person out there struggling with this issue.

Eleven months after I heard the "Made to Crave" information, I am here to tell everyone struggling in this area that freedom IS possible. Oh how my heart rejoices when I think about the chains God has broken in my life.

Part of why my heart was so troubled watching that show last night was that I wanted that man to know what I know. There is something out there that will help him in a way no therapist or physical trainer ever can. He needs to know that in order to break through the chains of food addiction and emotional baggage...he needs God. He needs to know that we ARE made to crave: God, and not food.

Oh how I wanted to share this good news with him! There IS freedom!

I am so thankful for this journey and all that God has taught me. I know that somehow, somewhere He will allow me to use what I've learned to help someone else. Oh, and I'm not done yet by any means. I'm about halfway done on the weight loss journey...but I'm SO much farther along in the journey to freedom. I honestly can't tell you how good it feels to be free. Satan does NOT have a hold on me in this area any longer. God has opened my eyes and I pray they will never be blinded again by the schemes of the enemy. At least not where it comes to food & cravings.

Oh, and one more thing: on Lysa TerKeurst's blog today (see my link to the right) she is talking about how to know when you're traveling down the slippery slope of addiction. The first way to know is that you're doing things in secret. So true, isn't it? If we're trying to hide something, we know that's our conscience trying to clue us into the "naughtiness" of it all. Let me encourage you today: if you're doing anything in secret...share it with a friend. Get it out in the open. Give it over to God. Don't let the enemy sucker you into falling for his schemes. He's nothing but a liar. I pray we all recognize him for what he is and stop allowing ourselves to be duped.

Thanks for stopping by and hearing what's on my heart. Until next time...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Standing Firm & Reaching Out!

Apparently, I'm still a little girl inside. Sometimes things happen in life that make the internal struggles of growing up feel like they just happened yesterday. Didn't we all have those struggles? Wanting to fit in. Wondering who liked you and who didn't. Wanting to be accepted and loved by our peers.

Yep. I'm sure we all had those feelings growing up. And we probably all still have them now.

What I'm kind of surprised at is how easily I can still get my feelings hurt.

I've only worked two shifts at my new part-time job at the mall. (Just saying that makes me sound like I'm back in high school, doesn't it?) Well, I don't know whether it was how tired I got hustling around the store for four hours, or the fact that I was a bit under the weather, or if I really did just have the whole "I want my new co-workers to like me but I don't think they do" scenario running through my head...but I was kind of an emotional mess when I got home last night!

What shocked me about it is that I really thought I had grown out of this issue. I mean, yes, I've been a bit shy my whole life and I still tend to be on the reserved end of things (unless I really feel comfortable around you, and then I wouldn't say I'm shy or reserved at all). But I really thought I had this issue beat. In several areas of life I've chosen the road less traveled...which means I don't expect to "fit in."

For instance: we're homeschoolers. That in and of itself means I have to firmly stand on my convictions in this area and be ready when those naysayers come along. Another area we take the road less traveled is our way of nurturing health & wellness in our family. We have chosen to build health through natural supplements and regular chiropractic adjustments (and eating right, exercising, etc.). Many of those we meet are regularly running to the doctor for this sickness or that drug and relying on pharmaceuticals to keep their family healthy. We don't do that. I've learned lots of great health & wellness principles over the last 20 years that we turn to instead of drugs. Most people think that's strange. So again - I stand firm.

And what about the fact that we're Christians? I think that's the most untraveled road around lately! Even many I know who call themselves Christians seem to not be walking the straight and narrow that I believe we are called to walk. The path the Bible has clearly laid out for us. So we not only have to stand firm against the world. Sometimes, we have to stand firm in the midst of other "believers."

Whew! That's a lot of standing firm! You'd think I'd be a pro at this by now! But I guess standing firm gets a little draining. Sometimes...I'd still like to just fit in. Oh, but that would mean compromising on my convictions, and that - that just isn't going to happen.

Want to know what I think God wants me to do? I should make every effort on a daily basis to show love to everyone I meet. Why? Because that's the heart of the issue. That's what made me feel like I did yesterday. I wasn't feeling accepted. I wasn't feeling appreciated. I wasn't feeling loved. Are we called to show love to people we don't even know but just come into contact with in our daily lives? You bet! The Bible obviously tells us to love our neighbors as ourself. Well, I don't know about you and your neighbors...but there are many people I'd consider my neighbors who are still strangers to me. You too? Well, there you go.

God made it clear that He wanted me to stop worrying about myself. So what if I didn't get lots of warm fuzzies yesterday. That's not what my daily life should be about. I'm supposed to focus on bringing glory to Him through my interactions with others. Every. Single. Day.

And you know what else? If the people from yesterday weren't believers...then my focus really ought to be on how I can reach out to them (not how they should be reaching out to me). Every morning when my feet hit the ground, my goal should be to spread the light of Jesus to everyone I have the privilege of interacting with. God is bringing people into my life for a reason. And it's not...about...me.  

Maybe it means I have to show love to the unlovely (I believe God calls that loving your enemies). Maybe it means I have to get over my own insecurities to possibly be the one person showing kindness and love to that other person today. And who cares if it means I have to be brave and stand firm on my convictions. I ought to be getting used to that by now anyway!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nearing The Halfway Point

I'm getting very close to reaching the half-way point of my long weight loss journey. So, in light of that (and to help me keep my focus and determination as I continue working towards the goal), I thought I'd share some of what God has taught me so far on this journey.

First a brief recap of how the journey even began...

Last summer I was thrilled to be chosen as part of the studio audience for the filming of Lysa TerKeurst's "Made to Crave" Bible study series. The very funny - and very God - thing about that, is that when I got chosen to be part of the filming I had ZERO idea what the Bible study was going to be about. I just knew it was Lysa TerKeurst...and it was going to be good. Imagine my surprise when I find out the title is "Made to Crave" and it's all about: "finding your satisfaction in God, not food."

Still makes me laugh about it today. God knew EXACTLY what I needed to hear. He had some BIG things in store.

But I didn't want to accept them. I sat in on the taping of the 6 sessions and was excited about everything Lysa was sharing. I knew she was speaking what I needed to hear. But I wasn't ready to do anything about it. I basically came home from that DVD taping and proceeded to argue with God for about 6 weeks. I so did NOT want God to make my overeating and overweight issues to be a spiritual matter. It made me mad. It scared me. It threw me for an emotional loop. Why? Because I knew if I allowed God to have this...it was going to require a lot of hard work and discipline on my part. It was going to change a lifetime of poor habits. And I was scared to death about just how much this was going to shake my world!

Well, shake my world it has. But only in the BEST kind of way.

I was just telling someone last night that I'm amazed at where God has taken me. I've been given freedom in  some very specific strongholds that I never dreamed possible. Never mind that I'm almost to 45 pounds lost total...this journey has been way more about the emotional healing than the physical so far. God has shown this broken self-esteem girl how to love myself. How to offer up grace and forgiveness to myself. How to fill my thought life with positivity and truth. How to daily make some very tough choices for the betterment of my physical body. How to gain freedom and victory one day at a time.

Now that my weight loss is reaching a point where people can really notice it, I'm getting asked regularly: "How did you do it?". Well...here's how (get ready for some real mind-blowing thoughts....NOT!):

  • Don't eat past 7PM
  • Have my Cinch bars/shakes at least 1 meal a day (preferably 2)
  • Eat smaller portions (brilliant, I know)
  • Don't eat until my stomach growls (really novel idea, huh?!)
  • Stay away from processed foods as much as possible
  • If I'm going to eat something less than stellar, I try to only eat it early in the day (before 2PM) and only eat a little bit.
  • Eat lots of RAW fruits and veggies
  • Exercise regularly! (and my exercise of choice has been running)
  • Because this is a lifetime change for me and not a short-term "diet", I have not been cutting anything completely out. It's just not realistic. Plus it brings on that whole deprivation feeling, which leads me to self-sabotage. So...all things in moderation is the key!
The other HUGE thing is that I read "Made to Crave" and did the Bible study with some friends. That book has seriously been the catalyst for all of this. Whether your struggle is with food or some other addiction, I highly recommend you read the book and watch the DVD's. We are talking LIFE CHANGING stuff!

I laugh as I think about what I'm doing to lose the weight. None of it is rocket science. None of it is the least bit surprising. Yet somehow, I had turned the whole process of losing weight into this completely unsolvable mystery. I'm here to tell you it is NOT complicated. It's simple. It is, however, not easy. It is hard work to stay disciplined and do all the things that you need to do. But with God...even this is doable.

If you're out there still trying to get started, I hope you can find some encouragement in this. I'm actually thinking that sometime in the next few months I want to start a weekly accountability phone call with anyone interested in joining me on the journey. I certainly don't have it all figured out, but I do think God has taught me a lot over the last 8 months. If you would be interested in doing a call like this, let me know. I'm just starting to pray about it...but would love to know who's already interested.

Happy 4th of July weekend to you all! Remember: it's not about the food...it's about the fun. So enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reminiscing

Time is just flying by, isn't it?! It is just mind blowing to me that it's already June 26th. Now that the weather is starting to feel more like summer here, I wish we could somehow press the pause button for a while. The speed of which life flies by truly does make me sad. So many reasons and recent reminders to make every day count, and just treasure those we love.

I'm looking ahead to my youngest nephew's upcoming wedding and thinking back on the last big wedding our family had: mine & Dave's. It was almost 11 years ago! I still get teary-eyed thinking of how God changed my life when He brought Dave into it. Those post-college years (and pre-Dave years) were some of the most depressing years of my life.

I graduated from college in December of 1993 and didn't meet Dave until August of 1999. During those years, I was kind of a lonely, single mess. Looking back, I can see the foothold that Satan had on my thought life. In this last year (thanks largely to the lessons God taught me from Lysa TerKeurst's book Made to Crave) I have gotten a tremendous amount of freedom in this area. (Praise the Lord!) But for much of my life, this was a huge problem. And during those 6 years after college (and before Dave) it was probably at its worst.

I know many of the reasons why it was such a miserable time: for at least half of those 6 years, I didn't have a roommate (so I was alone a LOT), I was recovering from a broken heart (we "dated" for almost two years but I spent at least that much time afterwards trying to figure out where things really stood), I really thought that men found me repulsive (a long story of how this idea was formulated...but my 6 years of having not one single date sure made me believe it was true), I watched the show "Friends" and wanted my social life to be like theirs...but it wasn't even close. You get the idea. I was caught up in what the world said made you happy (men, big social life) and failed to see the person I was in God's eyes. I wanted to be loved and validated from other people...instead of finding my self-worth in God.

Want to know the timing of when God brought Dave into my life? Right about the time I got a grip. (No, seriously.) I had finally gotten to the point where I decided it didn't matter if I was single. I only needed to find my happiness in God. So I totally ramped up my level of Bible study & prayer. I filled my mind and heart with all kinds of positive things. I even got to the point of taking better care of myself (and I had lost about 25 pounds...right about to where I am today, as a matter of fact). I went from a self-loathing downcast spirit...to one of joy & vitality. God had done a big work in me and He was about to do the biggest work ever.

The day that I first saw Dave in person (walking up my driveway on his way to a cookout at my house), I KNEW he was the man I was going to marry. His smile warmed my broken heart the way no other man's smile had ever done. He treated me like a princess...instead of like the ugly duckling I'd always thought I was. 9 1/2 weeks later we were engaged...and one year later I was walking down the aisle to meet the love of my life on the other end...smiling from ear to ear as I did it.

Our pastor shared these verses in Ecclesiastes 4 (verses 9-12) at our wedding:
     "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."


Then he went on to talk about how much better Dave and I will be as people because we are Christians joined together in marriage. That having God and Dave and I as our "cord of 3 strands", our relationship will not be quickly broken. His prayer for us was that years down the road as people look at us, they would see that I am a better person for having Dave as my husband...and that he is a better person for having me as his wife. And I believe it's true, but only because of the work God has done (and continues to do) in us.



So as I think about my nephew - my godson - taking his vows of matrimony in less than two weeks, I get very sentimental. I think about the amazing gift of marriage in my life. The person that I wouldn't be if it weren't for Dave and the three children we're blessed to call our own. I think about my parents who have been married 57 years - what an amazing legacy of love they are leaving all of us. I think again about just how fast time flies.

Let me encourage you in these things: don't let Satan keep you down - with God you CAN find freedom from whatever stronghold you're under, don't forget to find your self-worth through the lens of God's eyes - no other view will show it to you straight, and make lots of great memories with the ones you love every chance you get. Laugh together. Take lots of pictures. Make your moments count. Because life...it goes by faster all the time.

Have a great last few days of June!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

No More "Just Enough"

God has been speaking to me lately about my propensity to do "just enough." Just enough housework to feel like it looks good. Just enough Shaklee to say I tried. Just enough Bible study to keep from spiritually starving. Just enough exercise to not lose progress. Just enough eating right to...well, see the scale go at a snail's pace.

I suppose if I were OK with the results of doing "just enough", this wouldn't be an issue. I mean, I'm sure there are times where doing just enough housework to get by is certainly better than doing none and living in filthy chaos. Sometimes life is just so busy that "just enough" HAS to be good enough.

No, I'm not talking about those times. I'm talking about living a life where I seem to do "just enough" all the time.

In my weight loss journey, it seems that my "just enoughs" are more productive this time than anytime in past weight loss attempts. BUT, that doesn't mean they're going to see me through to the finish line. I'd really like to REACH the finish line of this weight loss journey at some point this time. And that means I have to move past the just enough stage and into full determination.

Determination. That's the word that I chose at the end of my 7-week "Made to Crave" Bible study in my home. It's my key word for this journey. I have it on a key chain on my purse, so I see it regularly. Well, I was fully convicted this morning (Yes, it was in the shower again...I know. My #1 ah-ha moment spot.) that it is time to let go of this just enough mindset. Stop letting myself "get away" with eating something I know I shouldn't. Time to make exercise a regularly scheduled activity (my training has taken a severe nosedive since the race). Time to get re-focused and re-energized! These goals of mine aren't going to happen when I'm only doing "just enough"!

So, after my little talk with God in the shower, I then e-mailed a friend to be my accountability partner on these two things: for the next 5 weeks (until my nephew's wedding) I'm not eating dessert until I eat wedding cake on July 9th & I'm running for 30 minutes every Monday/Wednesday/Friday morning before Dave leaves for work. I've also told Dave and the kids to help me stay accountable on the no dessert thing (it's easy to sneak a cookie here or there). AND, I guess, I've now made myself accountable to my blog readers as well.

Do you have an accountability partner in life? Whether your goals are in the area of weight loss or some other discipline, accountability partners are critical. I've found that I can't make my husband my weight loss/exercise accountability partner because I get too easily offended. Of course he might occasionally have to help push me out of bed when that early alarm goes off 3 days a week for my runs.

Here's the other thing about the next 5 weeks: whether I hit my 50 pound weight loss goal or not, I want to at least know I gave it my all. Not that I gave it "just enough" to get by.

Imagine if I stopped using that mindset in every area of my life! It's almost scary to think just where God might take me when I do.

Have a great week friends!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Closet Chaos (Not What You Think)

Things are happening. My nerves are on overload. My mind is spinning a thousand miles an hour. My heart is overflowing. I'm sitting at the computer searching for some calm to my chaos.

Anyone looking at me right now would not characterize my current state as "chaotic." But inside my heart & mind...chaos is in overdrive.

For the most part, all of the things sending my nerves and brain cells into overdrive are good things. So, don't be alarmed that there's something wrong. There's really not. I mean, there's always some struggles in the midst of life. But I don't think it's those things that are causing these feelings.

I think my chaos has ensued this time just because of change. Unknowns. Variables. And I'm not talking the kinds of unknown variables that can be solved with a math problem. You know, the kind with one right answer. That's the only type of unknown variables I am a fan of. Math problems have ONE right answer. If you know how to solve the particular problem, then you should get it right. It's all very cut and dried. I like that. Life's variables are, well...confusing. Full of lots of grey.

I'm not here saying that I'm frustrated because life is full of unknowns. That's obvious. It's expected. I'm just walking through a moment where it seems like there are more unknowns than certainties. Multiple areas of my life are being stretched. Challenged. Changed. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. But do you know me? Have you figured out yet that I'm a really big fan of my "comfort zone"? Uh yep. BIG fan of that. But God isn't such a fan.

That love for my comfort zone has certainly kept me stuck in many a rut over the course of my 39 years.  Now again, I'm not trying to say that this has proven to be a good thing in my life. Actually, I think over the course of the last several months I've been asking God to help me achieve success in some specific areas. Well, guess what...He's answering my prayers. He's shaking my world. Breaking down the walls of my comfort zone. Bringing me into some uncharted territory.

My comfort zone is being shaken by its very core. From every angle. My heart is being broken for the hurting. My "plans" are being tipped upside down and changed at the last minute. God is doing a big work in me! I know I was put on this earth to be used by Him to help others. Exactly how and when and where is still being figured out. But He's definitely up to something good. I hope all along the path to wherever He's taking me, I keep my eye on the goal and don't lose sight of my everyday opportunities.

Philippians 1:6 ~ ...that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14 ~  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

As I sort through all the different things going on right now, I'm trying to pray like I've never prayed before. In fact, God is definitely teaching me a lot about prayer lately. That might have to be a future post. I'm praying. Searching His Word. Trying to be a good listener. And praying some more. Little by little, He's sending some answers and giving me peace on specific things.

So as the kids and I are drawing to a close of our 2nd year of homeschooling, God is giving me direction for what He wants me busy with this summer. I covet your prayers as I continue to work through all of this and wait to hear His direction. Oh, and if you have a specific prayer request that you'd like me to pray about, please e-mail it to me at maranka@sbcglobal.net. I know that there are many hurting people out there. People who, like me, might not look like anything is going on by looking at them. But deep inside, they are hurting. Or searching. Or just stuck in a rut. If that's you, I would be honored to pray for you.

Wishing you all a wonderful last week of May! Blessings friends...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Discerning God's Voice

Are you good at discerning God's voice? I think I'm getting better at it. Or at least, that's the way it feels. That's pretty much all you can ever really have is a "feeling" of discernment anyway. Right? I mean, no one ever hears the audible voice of God anymore. So how do you know when what you "feel" is Him? When is it really a nudge from the Holy Spirit (and not just you "feeling" good about the decision)?

I think the way you tell it's God, is when you feel a sense of spiritual peace. Oh but...be careful. The world tries to offer you peace sometimes too, so you have to make sure that's not the type of peace you're feeling.  It takes discernment to know the difference between spiritual peace and worldly peace. There's that word again (discernment). Oh boy. How do we do all of this discerning anyway?!

Here's how I think you do it. Bring this thing before God in prayer. The thing being whatever it is that you need God's direction on. You bring it before Him in prayer, and then you wait. That's the key: the waiting. You don't rush into anything. You give it all to Him in prayer and then you watch to see what happens next. And while you're waiting on His answer, you keep praying. And you stay observant. Why would you do that? Because God will sometimes use other people or our circumstances to speak to us. It's amazing how often you can pray about something and then begin to see little answers from God start popping up all over the place.

The one thing I know for sure you don't do when wanting God's discernment is to make impromptu decisions. Which is part of our problem. We have to make a decision on something within the next few days. That feels really rushed to me! But I can't tell if God is just asking me to make a leap of faith, or if this is really me trying to be hasty about a decision that isn't supposed to be made that way.

Right now Dave and I are smack dab in the middle of deciding what homeschool curriculum we're going to use next year. I thought I had it all figured out. I wanted to go to the homeschool convention this weekend to see this particular curriculum in person. I had researched it online (it's called Tapestry of Grace) and I really thought this was the one. I mean, I have been incredibly excited about this! But then, God turned my world upside down. He brought this whole other curriculum to the forefront (it's called Classical Conversations). It's a curriculum that, prior to Thursday night, I was COMPLETELY not interested in. I mean, it's SO different from the direction I thought we were heading with our schooling. It just has me thrown for a loop and completely freaking out!

You should have seen me at the homeschool conference. I kept walking back and forth between the booths of these two programs. I still really love Tapestry of Grace, but also still really feel God pulling me towards Classical Conversations. This is where you want to hear the audible voice of God! But since we can't, I'm doing everything I know to do to discern God's direction.

So over the last 48 hours, Dave and I have been doing a lot of praying about this. We've asked a ton of questions from the CC people, and received a ton of answers. I was starting to feel like we had this figured out, but the more I think about it...the less sure I feel! I mean....AAHHHH! We have to make a decision on this ASAP! I hate that kind of pressure!!

And so I go back to my original question: are you good at discerning God's voice? Well, if you are, would you share with me your pointers? How DO you know when it's God leading you a certain way? I mean, both curriculum options are Biblically-based. Neither of them is bad. Just one of them is more right for our family right now. You know? Yet, it feels like a really big deal to be having to make this decision so quickly. Does my uneasiness mean that CC isn't the right choice? Or am I just feeling that way because I don't like being surprised and this feels way too much out of my planner's comfort zone?

Whew. If you think of it in the next couple of days, would you pray for us as we try to make this BIG decision? I'm praying that we'll be full of such peace on the whole idea that we can't help but know we're following where God is leading. I'd covet your prayers for the same thing.

Blessings friends!

PS: Dave and I finished the 10K last weekend with a smile on our face and holding each other's hands. He had to slow down for me (bless his heart...I messed up his previous two times), but we still finished in under 90 minutes (my first goal was 60 minutes, but my outside training runs quickly showed me THAT wasn't going to happen!). The pride in myself I felt after crossing that finish line was like nothing I've felt in a long time. Once we get this homeschool curriculum decision made, I'll try to come back here and write more of my thoughts on the whole race-running thing. It's significance is HUGE!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Praying for TRUTH

Is having another "bite-my-tongue" moment. I've had a lot of them over the last several months. My human nature wants to scream some truths from the rooftops so that others are aware. But God keeps telling me it's not my issue. I need to step aside and let Him handle it.

So what is the only thing I can do as I see lies continuing to be told & manipulations continuing to be tolerated? Pray. Pray that the person doing all these things gets convicted and repents. Pray that those under this person's leadership will have their eyes opened to the truth.

What makes me so angry is hypocrisy. I worry about those being led astray. I fear for the hurt that is still to be inflicted. Yet, God is clearly telling me to stay out of it. Let Him handle it in His way, His timing.

What's that saying, "The truth will set you free"? Well, I do think that's correct...but God is insistent that the TRUTH come from Him, not me.

So, I'll pray. And pray some more. And when my human nature flares up again like it is right now...I'll pray even harder.

Here's hoping my tongue makes it through relatively unscathed...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Budget Points

It’s been a little while since I posted on here, so I figured it was time for an update. As far as that scholarship I was hoping to win: not this time. I’m OK with it. I mean, I’d REALLY like to attend She Speaks one of these years. But, the fact is, even if I won a scholarship to the convention, I’d still have to get pretty creative to afford the gas or airline ticket to get me there and back. This is just not a good year for me to be thinking about doing something like that. Any extra trips this year are already spoken for with the family: hopefully weekend priceline trips to Chicago and Cincinnati. This just isn't the year for me to take a trip away on my own. That's OK. I'm going to keep writing on this blog to my heart's content whether it ever amounts to anything else or not!


Here's what I've been thinking about too much lately: our finances. Worrying is what they call that. I think for us it’s the combination of rising food and fuel costs. Especially if you live in Michigan, times are pretty tough right now. So I think this post will be a few words of encouragement (directed as much at me as to anyone) on how to make the best of some rough financial times.

Here we go…

1. Give all our worry over to God. Well, I already mentioned that I’m not doing so hot with this one. I mean, I even have the prime verse on this issue posted right in my bathroom where I read it every single day:

Philippians 4:6-7 ~ Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

These are some very comforting words, aren’t they? The thing is to take that comfort and let it last longer than the five seconds it takes to read the verses. How do we do that? That answer goes back to my post on dealing with ugly thoughts: re-training our brains. For starters, we have to saturate our minds with verses like the one above. We have to fill up our heads with what God’s Word says about worry. The TRUTH on the matter. Then, we have to spend time in prayer asking God to help us with this sin issue. And also ask Him to reveal to us when we are doing it so we can “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and then we can begin to “be transformed by the renewing of [our minds]” (Romans 12:2).

Yep. That’s what we need to do. Now we need to conjure up the discipline necessary to do it. And to stop making excuses like, “well, I’m just a worrier by nature.” Hog wash. God didn’t plan to leave us where He found us. He’s not done with us yet! Let’s promise each other right now that we’ll work together to abolish worry from our lives. It’s nothin’ but a joy-stealer. No good will ever come from it. I'm downright sick of it, aren't you?!


2. Cut all the extras from the budget. Oh boy. This one can be just as daunting as the first one, can’t it?! I mean, I think we all know there are probably a few things floating around in our monthly budgets that we keep in just because we feel we can’t live without them. That we "deserve" them. Things like maybe: cable TV, regularly eating out, Starbucks, etc. Well, let me be Dave Ramsey here for a second. Tough financial times call for tough financial measures. That means: quit thinking we “deserve” to be pampered. Some of our “can’t-live-withouts” are quite expensive! Imagine how much money could be opened up in our budgets if we looked for some of these extras. Unfortunately for me and Dave, we already gave up cable a long time ago. And most of the other “extras” have been long gone too. (This living on a tight budget isn’t anything new to us.) However, we had gotten used to living on paychecks with some overtime. That overtime is now a thing of the past. So it’s time to strip away a few more things…or at least find ways to get by with less. Which leads me to the next point:


3. Have regular “budget meetings” with your spouse. This one is EXTREMELY important. Especially when you’re at the beginning of this whole journey down “money’s really tight” lane. Whether this is your first real budget meeting or you just haven’t had one in a while, I’d highly recommend starting it off with prayer. We all know that money (and sex) are the biggest things couples fight over. You want to go into this not-so-fun budget experience full of the fruits of the Spirit. That means love, joy, and peace - not irritation, annoyance, and finger-pointing. (Just sayin'.) So go ahead. Get all those budget numbers ready, grab a calculator and a good eraser, and make sure the kids are in bed. Trust me. You’re going to feel SO much better when you’re both on the same financial page. Makes this whole journey a much more enjoyable one.


4. Once the new and improved (and hopefully more balanced) budget is on paper, you may have come to the same realization that many other couples in this situation have: it’s time for somebody to get another J-O-B. This is where you have to get creative and figure out what works best for your family. It all goes back to that lesson we learn as kids: if you want more money, you gotta work for it. Sometimes there isn’t enough stuff to cut out of a budget. Sometimes the only way is to bring in more. I tell you what: my parents were the perfect examples of what to do here. I saw my Mom take various jobs throughout my childhood. Whatever it took to make ends meet, they were willing to sacrifice to do it. As their situation changed, so did Mom's work schedule. It is possible to homeschool your kids (or be a mostly-stay-at-home-mom) AND bring in extra money for the budget. It's hard, but it's possible.

Now sometimes (as Dave and I know all too well) things happen and jobs are lost. In those moments, you can still do every other thing on this list. And when it comes to this part…you pray, trust, and wait. Well, obviously the waiting doesn’t mean sit back and take it easy. But while you’re sending the resumes and doing the interviews, you trust that the Lord has a perfect plan and you wait on Him to reveal it. And He will. It may not be when you thought, or how you thought…but God’s ways are ALWAYS greater than ours. Trust Him. Oh the story you’ll have to tell when you’re on the other side of it!


5. This last one applies especially to those of us with kids: laugh. You know that saying, “never let ‘em see you sweat”? When it comes to our finances and our kids, that’s EXACTLY what we need to do. Kids don’t need to be worried about adult things. They just need to see that no matter the circumstances, Mom and Dad are happy. Because laughter to a kid means peace. It sure did to me! Even though my parents walked through some very tight times while I was growing up, I never really knew it. I just knew we were happy. My parents didn’t shower me with material things or fancy trips. But they showered me with laughter. They showered me with fun memories. That’s all that mattered to me. Not only is laughter good for our kids, but it’s good for us! It takes the edge off. It helps us to see things in a better light. It’s like that line from the new Francesca Battistelli song: “it’s not the end of the world.” (click here) Yes, it can sometimes feel that way. But laughter and prayer and counting our blessings helps us to see that no matter what our financial struggles…it’s truly NOT the end of the world.

So if you’re walking through a rough financial time right now, I hope something from this post encouraged you. As I said, I wrote this as much to get my brain set back on the right track as much as for anyone else to read. I’m so glad for parents who showed me that it’s possible to have a home bubbling over with love and laughter even when the budget is screaming for some breathing room. The material things don’t matter. There's always going to be someone who has more than us...but there's just as many who have less. We can’t ever get disappointed in what we don’t get to have. Let’s always choose to be thrilled about the laughter. The friends. The memories. You can’t put a price tag on them. As the commercial says, they’re “priceless.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dealing With "Ugly Thoughts"

A friend recently asked me if I would write a blog post about what to do when we are constantly thinking “ugly thoughts.” You know – the kind of sarcastic and rude things that you have enough sense not to say to the person right as you’re thinking them (but probably something that you’ll vent to someone else later on).

Well, goodness knows that I’m really good at over-thinking and just plain dwelling on the wrong things all too often. It’s part of why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate a few years ago in the Bible study Who Switched Off My Brain? by Dr. Caroline Leaf. It’s a book (and DVD series) all about the science behind how the brain works. Dr. Leaf takes a topic full of science and teams it up with God’s Word. It’s really an incredibly eye-opening book! She says in her book that, “Controlling your thought life is not about a destination, it is about a journey. The first step on that journey is to understand what a thought actually is, how it grows in your brain, stores memories and ultimately how it affects your health, whether positively or negatively.”

More on that in a minute.

But first, we all probably know this Bible verse that speaks directly to our thought life:

2 Corinthians 10:5 ~ We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

And then there’s also this one, which tells us just what we should spend our time thinking about:

Philippians 4:8 ~ Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Yes. God’s Word has a LOT to say about our thought life. The truth is: the only way for our thought life to be glorifying to God, is for us to take regular snapshots of what we’re thinking and hold those thoughts up to see how they reflect God’s will. Are they true? Are they noble? Are they right and pure? Are they lovely and admirable? If not, then we need to do some cleaning up.

God’s Word calls this act of cleaning up our thought life: renewing our minds.

Check out this verse: Romans 12:2 ~ Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

That’s kind of where Caroline Leaf’s book comes in. She actually teaches us how to stop thinking negative thoughts, and how to start thinking positive ones. Listen to this excerpt from the first chapter of her book:

     “What’s in a thought? More than you probably know. Every thought has a corresponding electrochemical reaction in your brain. When you think, chemicals course through your body in magnificently complex electrochemical feedback loops. These chemicals produce electromagnetic waves which, if you could hear them, would sound like the most exquisite orchestral symphony.”

Wow! Had you ever even given that aspect of your thought life any thought (no pun intended)? It’s really quite astounding. Well, she goes on in her explanation of our brains to explain that each individual thought we’ve ever had becomes a little “thought tree” in our brain. Each of those thought trees (or “magic trees”) is made up of neurons. The more intelligent and accessible the thought is, the more branches the thought tree has. And you want to know the most alarming thing her book taught me? Negative thought trees look like thorny bushes. While positive thought trees look like lush and healthy trees. Big wow again, huh?! I sure don’t want my brain scan to be full of thorny bushes. I want it to be full of healthy trees!

Well, here’s the part of her book that might be the most helpful “nugget” for my friend’s ugly thought question. Dr. Leaf talks about how we constantly have thoughts coming into our mind. But, the only ones that stick around and become “magic thought trees” (negative or positive), are the ones that we choose to dwell on. If I remember correctly, we have about 60 seconds from when a thought first comes into our minds to either believe it as true and keep it in our brains, or to call it false and kick it out of our thought life. Sixty seconds. That’s how long you have to determine whether each thought is worthy of hanging around. Whether it’s going to take root and become a little thought tree.

So, when that ugly thought comes into your mind, just choose to recognize it as false and kick it out. If you are struggling with actually feeling those “ugly thoughts” about the person, then that means you need to pray and ask God to change your heart where that person is concerned. But maybe you’re just thinking something ugly that you heard someone else say. Maybe you haven’t really claimed it as truly something you believe just yet. Well, just because it pops into your head doesn’t mean you have to accept it as true and invite it to set up camp.

And how is it if we know if something is true? If it’s worth having its own piece of magic tree property in our brain? By filtering it through God’s Word, and asking God to speak to us about the quality of our thought life.

Remember: if our thoughts aren’t true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy…then they need to be kicked out of the magic tree orchard. (You won’t find that term in Dr. Leaf’s book, just so you know.)

As her book states – controlling our thought life is NOT a destination. It’s a journey. The more we bring our thoughts before the filter of God’s Word, the more glorifying our thoughts will become. Don’t lose heart. If this is your struggle too, I’m here to tell you this journey of controlling our thought life does indeed get a little easier as we grow in our spiritual walk. But if you want to really get into the nitty gritty of all this brain chemistry stuff, I hope you’ll pick up Dr. Leaf’s book. It’s…thought-changing!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Letting God Handle Past Hurts

Well apparently, God needed to drive home the point of being still so that I would hear what He really wanted to talk to me about: letting go of grudges. Ouch. That’s not what I was hoping to have a revelation on. Because, let’s be honest, I’m really good at holding onto them. I can still remember who hurt my feelings in the first grade and exactly how they did it! As much as I hoped my quiet times with God this first week home were going to be full of all kinds of warm fuzzies – God has had a totally different agenda. He wants to do a little more pruning. And His focus this time is really hitting where it hurts.

Grudges are sneaky. You think you’ve handled the issue and that all is well. Then all of a sudden, something new shows up and brings the old grudge right along with it. Like it’s bringing an old friend home for dinner. Or rather, an old unwelcome guest. Unfortunately for us, feeling this way just means we never really dealt with the problem in the first place. Somewhere along the journey of trying to heal from that old hurt, we chose to hang on to some it – instead of handing it all over to God and letting Him truly heal our hearts. Then we wonder why our stomach gets all tied up in knots when something comes along to remind us of the experience.

My husband and I are walking through one of those moments right now. A friend is going through a job loss situation (my husband’s former employer as well) that is nearly identical to what my husband went through two-and-a-half years ago. Right about the time I had thought I had completely gotten over all the anger and fear of the experience…I feel like we’ve just been thrown right back to that horrible place. A place where the people are mean and vindictive. Where lies are told, and the saga is drawn on and on. Where it felt for a while that we were living smack dab in the middle of a bad dream. A place that I really wouldn’t have wished upon anyone, let alone upon our friends.

Not only are we sad to see our friends have to walk through this, we’re also full of anger towards the people who are doing this to them. Their tactics haven’t changed much – still downright mean and nasty. They’ve just gotten a new target. The fact is – it still hurts.

As I started to pray about this, I heard God reminding me: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Don’t you just hate when the Spirit brings a Scripture to your mind that means you have to be the one to go into action? Especially when it means putting aside our selfish ambitions? As much as I know it’s exactly what I need to do, my rebellious side sure fights it tooth and nail.

Pride. Now there’s another part of the whole grudge-holding deal. In fact, maybe this is the true heart of the matter. See, I think in the past I’ve not recognized grudges as being prideful. I think I’ve always justified the grudge-holding by assessing the magnitude of the past hurt. For instance – if I felt that the thing done to me was deliberate and extremely cruel, then I’ve given myself the okay to occasionally go back and re-visit that grudge. Ring any bells? Never mind that if I were really being honest, I could come up with some pretty insignificant issues that I was still holding onto a grudge about.

Oh, and then there’s this tiny little truth (which really sums the whole situation up for us): all sins are equal in God’s eyes. He’s not qualifying our sins (thank goodness). So why in the world do we do that when others sin against us? And where do we get off not showering others with the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that our Heavenly Father constantly showers upon us every single day?!

Oh my. God’s really hitting me upside the head with this one. Is this something you need to hear as well?

Refresh your memory on this passage, and pay special attention to the last line:

Galatians 5:22-26 ~ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Did you catch that last line? “Let us not become conceited”? Sounds like pride, doesn’t it? We grudge-holding pros better not overlook this one.

I’m convicted to go before God right now and ask forgiveness for all the people I haven’t fully forgiven. Some of them are from years ago. Some are very recent. No matter what the situation, they are hurts that belong in God’s hands – not mine.

I imagine that I’m not the only person God is trying to speak to about letting go of grudges. Did any of this speak to you? If it did, I pray you will get on your knees before the Lord and handle this matter right away too. I actually can’t wait to let God clean out all my old grudges. It’s a much bigger deal than I’d ever realized before.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Creating Stillness

Ahhhh…it’s back to reality for us. After a much needed vacation away from cold & dreary Michigan, we are back home from warm & sunny Florida and ready to jump back into our busy schedules. Or, at least that’s what is supposed to happen after vacation. Somehow, instead of feeling rejuvenated and refreshed today, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the reality of our day-to-day life. My ten days off seem to have just left me with the desire to take a few more days off!

Can you relate? I know I’m not in this boat alone. We are a very busy homeschooling family of five. With three busy kids, it seems there’s always a lot going on each week. I’ve become much too good of friends with the calendar feature on Outlook. Our vacation came at the end of an intense four-month season of homeschool basketball for the twins. Between all their practices and games and running to and fro, this overbooked Mom was about at her wits’ end. I literally told my husband that if we postponed the vacation just one more week, I was pretty sure I was going to have a nervous breakdown. He must have taken me seriously since he had to miss his own church basketball league play-offs to make our vacation happen when it did. What’s that saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”? Well, I think my man was taking that one very seriously in our house.

Ever since school began last fall, our schedule has been full of: school, church, Awana, sports, tap dance, laundry, dishes, bill paying, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, running errands, socializing with friends…and the list goes on and on. Does any of this sound familiar? Ultimately, it all adds up to this Mom being overbooked and overwhelmed and ready for vacation!

Of course, being the good homeschool Mom that I am, I did take time to prepare some vacation homework for our 22-hour car ride and any bored children. Much to the dismay of the teacher side of me, there were no “bored children” and the car ride only produced about twenty minutes of homework being done. But the burned-out Mom side of me really didn’t care a lick about that homework once we pulled out of our driveway on Day 1. At least I can say we left prepared.

Once we got to Florida, the only thing I wanted to have to plan were my trips to the pool. Thankfully, taking a vacation at Grandma’s means that I was actually able to do just that! Grandma had the meals planned, the groceries bought, and the housework done. I just had to show up. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

But honestly, you want to know what I realized was the best part of the vacation? I was able to be still enough that I could actually hear from God. See, apparently, God had a few things He wanted to bring to my attention. I’ve just been too focused on getting through my daily schedule to really take time to listen. I mean, I certainly take time in my normally busy life to pray and try to discern God’s voice. If I didn’t, there’s no way our homeschooling or parenting or any other aspect of our lives would come close to succeeding. But sometimes, my ability to just shut up and listen needs a little help.

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to listen when things are quiet? That’s when you can actually hear the birds sing and the wind blow through the trees. When you can distinguish the sound of sidewalk chalk being used to create a masterpiece in the driveway. Or the quiet hum of your little girl playing with her baby dolls in the other room.

Quietness is a gift.

And it’s a rarity in my house.

So as I was working on my tan or swimming a few laps in the pool or taking an evening jog…I was praying. When I stole a few extra minutes in bed each morning just because I could, I was listening for God’s voice. In the long stretches of highway or the seemingly endless Atlanta traffic, I could ponder God’s directions for my life.

As we were on our final leg of the trip home, God reminded me of just how much I need to take time to hear Him. He had a lot He wanted to talk to me about when I gave Him the chance! Everything from my parenting to our finances to following my dreams. He wants me to pray more specifically for my friends, and continue working on being a self-disciplined woman. He wants me to dream big! And not be afraid to take a leap of faith.

What about you? When was the last time you slowed down enough to really listen to God? What things might He be trying to get your attention about?

I know one thing for sure: the next time I’m starting to get sucked into the craziness of my overbooked schedule (like in two weeks when Little League begins), I’m going to make sure I find time to just be still. It’s probably going to mean that I have to get up in the morning long before anyone else is awake. I’m going to have to make a few self-sacrifices so that God can speak to me in the stillness.

In my house, as probably in yours, stillness doesn’t just happen. We have to create it. Because only then, can the gift of God’s presence truly find its way to our hearts.