Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holding Out Hope

 
    I don't hate winter. I am actually a "four seasons" kind of girl. I like the changes each season brings. I love lots of things about winter: wearing sweaters (I own 33 cardigans for a reason! #notaminimalist) soups and stews, Christmas, hot coffee, snuggly blankets, and marveling over each unique snowflake. There are things I don't love, of course, like constantly clearing snow off my car, slipping on the ice, cold feet, and driving in bad weather.

   And every year, around this time, I get a little bit "done" with winter. It has been particularly bad this year, because since Joel has been out of commission (He had ACL and meniscus surgery and cannot even put his foot down for six weeks!) I've been doing double the amount of work I usually do. As I left this morning to take him to physical therapy, I slipped on the ice. I didn't go all the way down, but I have landed on my behind three times already this winter. Poor Joel had to navigate all that on crutches, which is why he has only left the house twice in the last two weeks. I am tired of doing all the driving, all the car scraping, all the grocery shopping, all the cooking, cleaning, and general household-running that he is usually so good to help with. I know I sound whiny, and that so many have it much worse, but as the kids said when they were little while waving their hands frantically, "all duh!".

   And after steering my car through a slide on the icy road all I could think is, "I wish it were summer. And the roads were dry and the weather was warm. And Joel was better."

    The fact of the matter is, I *know* summer will come. (Yes, I know spring is first!) Way back in the beginning the Lord promised us:

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
Genesis 8:22

  And I know that is true because I have seen it in my own life. Further back than I can remember the cycle of the seasons has been unbroken. And I realized, that is what hope really is. I don't know what exact day summer will come. Yes, it is marked on the calendar but we all know how *that* really goes. It is hard to think about summer right now with two feet of snow on the ground. We have had more snow this year than in many years. We had weeks of temperatures below twenty degrees. I haven't seen grass since November. I am thrilled that the sun has finally started setting after 4 pm (on the three days out of seven that I can even see it), however it is still.so.hard.  But I would bet my life on the fact that there will be summer in the year 2017. (Unless Jesus comes back, and I will take that any day!)

    And I just can't think of a better definition of hope. For a believer "hope" isn't wishing, like the rest of the world thinks it is.

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1
Confidence. Assurance. Not guessing, or wishing, or speculating, or gambling. It's a guarantee. And that is the hope we have in Christ.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:1-5 

   I don't have to worry, because I have a guarantee. This frustrating, seemingly endless, plodding, not-so-great part will end, and it will result in God being glorified. Winter WILL lead to summer and my suffering will produce perseverance if I don't give up and lose heart. I have hope. Such great, marvelous, life-changing hope. And it is 100 % guaranteed, more certain even than the changing of the seasons. True hope isn't fragile, or perishable, or in need of coddling. True hope knows what the future holds, even if I don't have a date for my calendar. True hope will see me through.

   These seasons, both the physical and the figurative, aren't going to last forever. I know, because I have hope.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

500

 
    Eight and half years. A deployment, two moves, eight job changes, three houses (not including the three months we lived with my mom). Lots of teaching: my kids, VBS, women's Bible study, co-op, adult Sunday School. Vacations, travels, trips to foreign countries near and far. The death of both of my grandmothers. A heart transplant for my niece. 500 posts.

    This blog. It is hard to believe that I have typed my way through all that living. I've been published by bigger blogs, better blogs. I have photographed, and made graphics, and put together Bible reading guides, an Advent devotional, new recipes, tons of thank-you gifts and many festivities. I have 30 days of party planning, and things I am thankful for. I've added a Facebook page and joined Instagram.

   And if I have thought about quitting once, I've thought about it a million times. I have to remind myself that this blog was never for fame or fortune, because if it was I have failed abysmally. It was just a chance to put myself out there, an opportunity to expose small bits of my heart and home with anyone willing to take a few minutes to read my little thoughts.

    And I have. This blog became something I would have never imagined. It has been my place on the web to share my thoughts and feelings, but most importantly, my faith. I know there are plenty of posts that no one on here but my family has read, and that is okay. Because sometimes, these words are simply a prayer, begging the Lord to use me in the smallest of ways, allowing me to say something that would point to His glory even if it is in broken and halting words.

  It is continually changing, but it has always been constant in this one thing: it is me. The trying, the failing, the fears, the triumphs. I write because some days I literally *have* to. I have always dreamed of becoming an author, and while I usually deny it, in all honesty this little piece of the internet has given me that chance. No one tells me what to say, no one tells me how to say it. It has brought me to tears more times than I care to recall.

   I went through several Scripture choices before I settled on the one that has been my tagline for several years now. It is a snippet of Ephesians 5:16 which says,in context with verses 15 and 17:

 "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."
     I love all of the Word but there are certain parts that I would have to confess are my favorites. These verses, this is the cry of my heart. I just want to be wise. I want to understand the Lord's will. I am so thankful that He allows me to share here. I am so thankful that He allows me to spread His Word in my own small way. I know that often, due to the pull of the sin nature and fear, I don't make the most of *every* opportunity, but this blog has helped me to make the most of far more than I would have. The Lord has used it to mold me, pull me out of my shell, teach me how to share, and to love better. And I am very thankful for that.

   And I am so thankful for you. If you are reading this, I am truly thankful that you give up a little of your time to share it with me. You may have never left a comment, pinned a post, followed me on Facebook or even stopped by here with any great regularity. But I see the little number go up when a post is viewed and even if I don't know you, I know you were there. You spent a few minutes getting to know me and I am grateful. I hope that if there is ever any way you think I could make more of my opportunities, I would love to hear it. If there is any way I can ever show Christ to you, please let me know. I hope to be here for a while, as long as the Lord allows, making the most of every opportunity...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Faith Doesn't Mean You're Fine


 

    So, I know for a few people who are close to me that the things that I said about 2017 not necessarily being the antidote to the woes of 2016 has proven true in some really awful ways. We are only a couple of weeks into the first month of the new year and yet so many things have already gone so wrong. The things that have happened will for certain leave this year etched in their memories and it isn't even 5% of the way over yet, so there are still plenty of opportunities for the other 95% to hold its fair share of unexpected, sometimes life-changing, and very possible negative, events.

     Personally, our family is still dealing with the aftermath of things that happened in 2016 and didn't magically disappear when the clock struck midnight on January 1st. My husband was seriously injured at work and can't really begin to heal or even recover until he has extensive knee surgery. Which still isn't scheduled, even though he was injured in November. We are just waiting while he lives every day in pain. And it is so hard. We don't know when he will be able to return to work, or if the promised recovery period will be as arduous as we have been told. We are on "hold"-not knowing what the next few months will bring.

   And it is seems like the right thing to say is that we are okay. We believe that the Lord holds the future, that He hasn't overlooked any of these things that have completely turned our every day routines on their heads and cut up our future plans to ribbons. We know He has a plan, and better yet, a purpose.

  But it still hurts. Some days, fear or worry, or both, rob us of sleep. We get up in the morning not knowing what the day holds, trying to convince ourselves things will get better, holding our breath without daring to think that they might possibly get worse. That maybe the events that have crushed us yesterday, last week, last month, will be something that we would gladly suffer again in order to avoid the devastation that lies just out of sight. Because, as my dear husband loves to say, "the only easy day was yesterday".

    So where does the hope come in? What good does faith do in these circumstances? Aren't we supposed to "grin and bear it"? When "sorrows like sea billows roll", aren't we supposed to say, "it is well with my soul"?  Doesn't it seem that our response should be, when hearing of our troubles well-meaning friends inquire as to our well-being, that we are, "fine"? Just, fine, thank you. And be sure to follow up with the certainty that this is the Lord's will, that we are confident that better days lie just ahead? We are fine, just fine. But is that really what faith requires of us? To profess, in the worst of times that we are "fine"?

     "Be gracious to me, Lord,

because I am in distress;
my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow
my whole being as well. 
 
Indeed, my life is consumed with grief
and my years with groaning;
my strength has failed
because of my sinfulness,
and my bones waste away." 

Psalm 31:8-9 HCSB
 And it wasn't just David...


"Why did I come out of the womb

to see only struggle and sorrow,
to end my life in shame?"

Jeremiah 20:18 HCSB

Figuring this is just an Old Testament condition? How about Paul?

"I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart." Romans 9:1-2 HCSB

What? Faith doesn't mean that you're fine? Nope. Sometimes, life is just hard. And the Lord doesn't expect us to paste on a smile when crappy things happen and pretend that we don't care, that we aren't shaken, that we are immune to the sorrows of this broken, fallen world. See, in saying that we shouldn't wallow in our grief, which is true, that we shouldn't mourn as those that have no hope, which is also true, we have somehow translated those things to mean that we can't stop for two seconds and say, "This is hard. I don't want to do this! I am not sure what to do. " That we can't shed tears of anger, or sorrow, or just being profoundly overwhelmed.

  Life is hard. Sin is real and it means that bad things will happen-both to good people and bad people. That sometimes we will bring difficult consequences down on ourselves, but sometimes we will truly be the victim of troubles that we had no hand in creating. And it is okay to not be okay with that.

  Just because we have eternal hope in Jesus doesn't mean we must pretend that we live on a different planet when the world is falling apart. As a believer I DO have faith that God is working, even in the most awful of times. But it doesn't mean that I can never say that something is just.so. hard.

    The difference is, that I know the One who wants to hear my complaints, the One who wants to bear my burdens, the One who wants to ease my sorrows. And in the midst of my hard times, I can say,


"I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

  • I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
    I cannot bear my burdens alone;
    I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
    Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.
  • Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
    One who can help my burdens to bear;
    I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
    He all my cares and sorrows will share." -Elisha Hoffman
  •   So, feel free to stop saying you are fine when your dreams are burning to ashes. The Lord doesn't ask you to say that you're okay when you couldn't possibly be. He just asks that we remember that He is always there, that He loves us more than we could possibly fathom, and that He will make a way-though the reality is that it may take far longer than we want, and there may be more tragedies than triumphs as you go.
  • "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,

        who daily bears our burdens.
    20 
    Our God is a God who saves;
        from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death." Psalm 68:19-20 NIV
  • The escape from death may not come this side of heaven, but we are promised eternal life through Christ. So even though your faith doesn't necessarily mean you are fine, it does mean you have a future. And it is pretty darn glorious...




Saturday, December 31, 2016

So Long, 2016

    I would never be one to christen any year "the hardest year of my life". See, the thing is, my life isn't over, and depending on the Lord's will, very possibly won't be for a long time. So I suppose I could say that a year has been the hardest up to this point, or very painful, or exceptionally difficult. However, I still try to refrain from using those terms. Because my thoughts are this: basically, life is just hard.

    As a believer I have Christ, but the world is still sick and sinful, and that is where I am stuck for the time being. This old fallen world will always be full of death and disease, and pain and trials. This year, well it wasn't really any different. Crazy stuff happened, not just to me personally but in the world as a whole. The only thing really going for 2017 at this point is that there is no way that it can be identical to any year we have had before.

    However, as tempting as it is to be defeated by the fact that the chances are 100% that the world is going to continue to need Jesus and act out of desperation and insanity because of that, I as a believer get to have hope. The quote above, from Relient K, has been going through my head for a few days now. It is from their song, "Let It All Out" and since I'm not the writer, I can't really say if he is talking to God or not. However, I keep thinking that in my life, that is what I am saying to God. I want to approach 2017 with a fresh faith, a new hope, to borrow a Star Wars phrase. I can't imagine what 2017 would look like if I went forward as if I couldn't fail, as if all that I do is on Christ's behalf.

    I am tired. I won't blame that on 2016. It is an inanimate object, a period of time that had no control over its contents. I am tired because my faith is weak, because I have allowed circumstances and occurrences to toss me about.

    "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:31-32

  2017 isn't autonomous. But it is fully in God's control. This year has been long, it has been hard. It is no different from any other year this world has ever existed through. January 1, 2017 isn't magical. It won't change anything. But faith in God can. I can choose to make New Year's Day a turning point, a place to mark where I made changes and sharpened my determination and focus to trust Christ for success on His behalf, to have faith that He can work His will through me. I am looking forward to that. I want to trust as if I have never known defeat...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 Reading Challenge for Kids


Last year I created a reading challenge for kids. It was so successful I decided to make another this year. (It was even featured over at Money Saving Mom!) I created a printable to make it easy to keep track of your child's progress. There were a few questions last time around, so I thought I would try to cover some of the answers here. Let me know if you have anything else!

Q. Should I use specific books?
A. Nope! I tried to choose reasonably broad categories, and you can adapt them as you see fit for your family. Nobody will fine you if you don't use it the same way as somebody else. ;) I did *not* create this with certain titles in mind. I don't have a list, and sometimes we picked books based on the categories and sometimes we read books and then found categories they fit into.

Q. Where can I find books for the challenge?
A. Anywhere you want! Your own shelves, the library, the thrift store, the neighbor, Amazon... Just don't steal them!

Q. How long should the challenge take?
A. As long as you want. If your child reads one book per category, there is a total of 20. You can spread it out over a year, just work until they finish the list, or if your child is a fast reader, set a shorter amount of time! Make it challenging, but not overwhelming.

Q. Can I read to my child?
A. Sure! If you  aren't catching on already, I really just wanted this challenge to be a jumping-off point, a catalyst to encourage kids to read a greater variety of books. If your child isn't a strong reader, or prefers to be read to, or you just want to share books together, feel free to read to them. Or mix it up and read some aloud, and have them read others independently.

Q. Should I offer rewards? If so, what kind?
A. You can consider that reading is its own reward, or you can use some "motivational tools". You can offer a small monetary amount for each title, you can offer candy or some other small treat,or even screen time! Or you could offer a new book at the end, or movie tickets, or a specified amount of money. Pick something that motivates your child! Please just don't make it drudgery or your child will curse me. 

Q. What is the best age to use this?
A. For independent work, I suggest 8 to 12. For strong readers, you can definitely go younger. If you plan to work with your child you could probably even do 4 or 5, although I doubt they will appreciate the concept of a list. If you use it with a very young child just use it to choose titles yourself.

   This is all about what works best for you. If it encourages your family to enjoy exploring books, or helps your child to read a few extra words this coming year, it was all worth it. If you don't like this list, then feel free to use last year's if you haven't already!

You will have the most success if you print the challenge from this link. Have fun and happy reading!

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