Monday, January 31, 2011

Looking for a Hand-Out?

Our pastor spoke yesterday morning about serving the Lord with what is in your hands. If you know me at all, you know that I struggle with feelings of inferiority. I firmly believe that God has given each of us a unique set of spiritual gifts. However, I sometimes feel like I have very little to contribute. I have completed dozens of spiritual gifts inventories; if practice makes perfect then I should be very, very good. I "know" what my gifts are-but those things don't necessarily translate easily into real life.

I usually score fairly high in the area of teaching. I have taught in various positions and to various groups. Currently, I teach Awana (kids ages 6-11) and also I lead a moms' group. I haven't really felt like I have been majorly impacting anyone in either of those things. Don't get me wrong, I know that I am supposed to be involved in each, but neither is very ego-boosting. I actually had one of my moms' group members jokingly tell me that if I was unable to fill my position as facilitator that the group would be fine without me. Talk about a blow to your pride! Everyone wants to be wanted, everyone wants to feel like they are filling a position that no one else could. I haven't felt that way much lately. As a matter of fact, I often wonder if there aren't quite a few people who could do it better, faster, smarter, and on and on.

So, that left me pondering. What is in my hands? I don't have much, but I strive to give freely. Generosity does not come naturally to me, so I fight the old nature constantly to be more giving. It so often seems everything is limited: my time, my talents, my money. I don't want to withhold, but does anyone want what I have to offer? I know that we often are not allowed, for whatever reason, to see the fruits of our labor on this side of heaven. And I try to be okay with that. But sometimes, you just want a tiny sign that you are making a difference.

Sometimes, you want an email from Australia. I wanted one, and I didn't even know it. I wanted someone to say, "who you are, what you do, what you stand for-it isn't in vain". My family is terrific to encourage me- but there is always that teeny ugly voice telling you that they have to say that-they're related, and by affirming you they are, in a way, affirming themselves. You just want an impartial, unrelated, hopefully unbiased, someone to give you a little pat on the back. And the Lord knows that. I hope that this dear, sweet believer doesn't hate me for sharing what she did in secret, but I can't not share what an amazing blessing it was.

Someone from the other side of the world wrote me to say that she was blessed by this tiny little insignificant blog. My babbling, the slivers of my very soul that I pour out in broken, fragmented words, held a little bit of meaning for her. I won't share exactly what she said-but oh! To just know that all this striving, all this struggling, has not gone unnoticed. I know that it was from the Lord. It was His way of saying that He wants me to keep muddling on. I seriously thought about framing it.

"My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Colossians 2:2-3

I so wish I had the gift of encouragement. Along with generosity, it is something that I have to be very conscientious about. But for this fellow believer, it seems so natural. Please- never let the opportunity to encourage someone pass you by. An kind word is never inappropriate. Too often, I am afraid to praise someone else. What a tragedy! I want to always let others know of my appreciation for them. To be for someone else what this kind heart was to me. And by lifting me up, she has reignited my desire to, hopefully,prayerfully, encourage others in heart, and unite us in love. Oh, to encourage and love others into a better understanding of Christ! To be able to use what is in my hand in the smallest of ways to do that...

So, in short(-or really, in long, because that is always the way it is with me. Why say 6 words when 100 will do?) I will keep giving what is in my hand, or rather in my heart. I feel the Spirit so strongly when I write down what He is teaching me. To know that He has used me, if only once, to speak to someone else, renews my commitment to continue to keep sharing. Because there just might be someone, even on the other side of world, who cares enough to keep listening.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wanted: Your Opinion

What do you think of the new header? What about the layout? I know what I like, but sometimes it is hard to know if that is working for anyone else. I have a tendency towards minimalistic styles- I think they are a little easier to read. I feel like this layout is a little cramped, with all the space on the sides, but some of the other options seemed too stretched. Anything technical takes me so long- it took me almost 2 hours to get that header together and up! I know, it is probably easy-peasy to those of you who are educated in such matters, but I am completely self-taught. In this case, I am fairly pleased with the results, but I am always looking to please my "audience" first! So, tell me what you think...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Drop the Act

I am sure most of you know by now that Joel is being medically discharged from the Army. It is a really looooong story but it boils down to sooner rather than later he will have to find a "real" job. It is complicated-mostly by the fact that we have no timetable for when he will actually be out. People keep asking, "What is he planning on doing when he gets out?". That question is about as distasteful to me as asking a newly married couple when they plan to have kids. Some things you just don't know- you have to leave them up to God.

It is hard to make plans when you can't make plans. Joel can't apply, or even actively start looking, for a job until we know when he gets out. Most employers aren't anxious to hire an employee who can start "sometime". We don't know if we are staying in CO, we don't know if he is going to go to school, really we are just useless! But what an exercise in faith! I am sick of thinking that I know something, I am tired of making arrangements based on foundations that are about as stable as an ice cube on the sidewalk in July.

God knows. I don't have to. He is sovereign, amazing and knows EVERYTHING. I am free in that. I know He has called me right now to have faith, be prudent with our finances, and not worry. I am not called to find Joel a job- as a matter of fact, I feel released from even thinking about what will happen. I am really living in the moment right now- and it is not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

However, I am not at all released from praying. I have felt a stronger urge than ever to continue to pray fervently for Joel. Joel is the one who is carrying the heaviest weight through all of this. He desire to provide well for this family is causing him such stress. Daily, sometimes hourly, I am before the Throne begging the Father to lead Joel through His will.

I was praying on the way to Bible study the other day. I was asking the Lord to give Joel assurance that He had a plan for our family. And I asked Him to provide Joel with a job. Any job. I remember thinking, "Lord, I am not asking for extravagant. I am asking for barely enough to get by. I am asking for the driest crust." I remember thinking that I didn't want to be demanding- I wanted to be humble.

And then I heard the Lord say, "Why are you asking for so little? Are you assuming that I am planning on giving you less? Why are you asking me for a stone when I am waiting to give you something so much better? Why won't you ask me for the best I have for? Why don't you believe that I have something more than the bare minimum? Why, when I have saved and redeemed you, don't you believe that I want to bless you even in this? Ask me for a full, fresh, loaf."

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! "
Matthew 7:9-11

Don't misunderstand me- I don't think that the Lord is calling me to ask for Joel to become the CEO of a major company, for a million dollar salary, for a house in the city and a cabin in the mountains. I know He could give us all those things. He wasn't telling me to name it and claim. I think He just wanted me to realize that it isn't humility to ask Him to help us scrape by. He wanted me to have faith that His plan is abundance. I don't know what that means- I don't know if that will be contentment and peace in my heart that surpasses our earthly circumstances, I don't know if that will be a job that is offered quickly or one we are given patience to wait for. I only know that He showed me that our manna for today is quickly expiring, but there will be more tomorrow. More than enough. Not asking for His best is not being humble- it is being faithless. It is believing that He doesn't love me enough to provide WELL for me. I am hiding behind a facade of humility to cover my lack of faith.

So here I am Lord. I don't know what You have planned. But I know You want to bless with something far beyond what my simple mind can conceive. You want me to have faith that You will provide in abundance, according to Your perfect plan. You long to give me the desires of my heart- the very desires-You want me to ask You to tell me what to want! Then You will give it to me when my heart is where it belongs- with You. You have good gifts for me-and I am ready to believe. Give me fresh, hot, Your time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: Lady in Waiting

"Lady in Waiting" by Susan Meissner is the intwined stories of current day Jane Lindsay, and Tudor-era Lady Jane Grey. Each woman's story was so compelling that I did not want to leave one behind for the other, but when I would reach the point where the story reverted, I was so involved in whatever one I was reading that it happened all over again! In the end both parts tie together nicely, so it is worth the intervening cliff-hangers.

Present Jane tells her story in her own words, but past Jane's story is told through Lucy's eyes. I liked that Ms. Meissner did not give immediate see-through parallels of the two Janes, but instead slowly drew out the similarities. Each Jane discovers that she is responsible for her own choices, but it does not read as a feminist diatribe. Instead it is a gradual awakening to the ability that God gives us to chose how we will respond to Him and others. We are not puppets, but instead gifted with the ability to control our own responses to the situations God allows to confront us.

This is a carefully written story, with very real and identifiable emotions. Most of the historical references were very accurate and the modern portion was very relatable. I was a little disappointed that Jane Lindsay did not have more of a spiritual experience, but you can definitely see all of the Christian influences around her, even though she is not a believer. Lucy carries most of the spiritual weight of the book- in real life Lady Jane Grey was a strong believer and much of the conversation about God occurs between Lucy and Lady Jane.

Each Jane feels the victim of her circumstances, especially in the area of relationships. Jane Lindsay's husband has recently separated from her, and she begins to wonder if he was really the right person all along. Lady Jane feels that she has no choice in her relationships because they are all carefully planned political matches made by her parents. The ring Lady Jane is given by one of her suitors makes its way into Jane Lindsay's hands and that is the basis for the connection between them. Tracing the story of the ring in both eras guides us through the maturing of both women. And it is a very interesting journey indeed.

I was given a copy of "Lady in Waiting" by Waterbrook in exchange for my unbiased review. Please check out my review at their site and rank it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Two in Review: Chocolate Syrup

To be perfectly honest with you, when I think of chocolate syrup, I always think of a brown bottle of Hershey's. Growing up my mom always had a bottle in the fridge (and more often than not, a couple of reserves in the pantry!). There is absolutely nothing wrong with it- as a matter of fact, I rather like it. However, a while back I decided I wanted a big bowl of ice cream, with melted peanut butter and chocolate syrup on top. Much to my horror I realized that I did not have any! I vaguely recalled seeing a recipe to make your own, which I had given little thought to.

So, like any good internet user, I searched until I found a recipe! I actually found two- I made the first one, found on Small Notebook, because it was easier and required fewer ingredients. I liked that it had a slightly thicker consistency than Hershey's. However, Rachel (the author of Small Notebook) said that she only need 1 teaspoon for a glass of chocolate milk. I must like my milk to be more chocolaty because I used about 1 tablespoon for a glass. I also think that it didn't blend as well, most likely because it was thicker.

Then I tried this recipe from Sugar Bananas. It called for some different quantities, and also for corn syrup. Not surprisingly, it was even thicker than the first recipe! I had a really hard time using it for chocolate milk, and after I had stored it in the fridge for a few days I had to microwave it to get it out-which made it even thicker the next time! I put both recipes in a bottle similar to this one, except I bought mine at Walmart and paid $1 for (and it has a little attached cap to close it with). It worked fine for the first recipe, but even after I cut the top off some to make the opening larger it was still REALLY hard to get the second one out. In the end, I actually had to unscrew the whole top to get any out. If I made the second one again, I would probably store it in a different container.

My verdict: if you are looking for something that tastes and has a closer (just a little bit thicker) consistency to the "real thing", go with the first recipe. If you are looking for something that is closer in consistency to fudge topping, try the second. They were both a teeny bit grainy- the Sugar Bananas one more so than the Small Notebook one, but I actually liked that- and will readily contribute it to a cooking error on my part more than anything else. I will probably make the first one again, I liked it's consistency and also it was more chocolate tasting and less work. So, there you have it. Now go make your own chocolate syrup-it's easy and tasty!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Coupons and Quesadillas

I was talking to Joel today about coincidences. Specifically, that I don't believe in them. I will say it- I do not believe in coincidences, chance, fate, whatever. There are no "accidents".

I was at Target the other day. I had a coupon for a free box of pain reliever- up to $5.99. Well, my choices were: a box of 20 pills for $4 or a box of 100 for $7. Then I spotted it: a Target issued catalina (one of the coupons that prints at the register-they are called "catalinas") for $2.50. Little known fact: you can use a Target issued coupon and a manufacturer's coupon together for the same item at Target. So basically, they paid me $1.50 for the pain reliever I bought! Right after I paid I told Joel, "God did that for me". Joel just laughed.

But think about it. We serve a God who has named every star. Who crafted each snowflake to be individual. Every. Single. One. Unique. Why in the world would He not care about how much money I save on my Excedrin? Ummm, He does. And He likes to put me in situations where I can offer gratitude to him. Even little ones! Honestly, I think it tickles Him to give us things like free fries, money on the sidewalk, or a coupon you weren't expecting.

At Taco Bell the other night (yes, we eat out- all the time actually. No shame here-I love fast food!) I didn't order what I really wanted: a chicken quesadilla. I never eat those, but I wanted one. I ordered one for Josie, but minus the "spicy sauce"-my favorite part. I ordered something cheaper for myself. When Joel brought our order to the table and lo and behold- there were two quesadillas! They had mistakenly put the sauce on the first one, so after they re-made it, they just gave us the "mistake". Nope, don't believe it! I know that the Lord gave that cheese, chicken, saucy little filled tortilla to me as His way of saying, " I know what you want, and I am going to give it to you-just to make you happy."

You can argue. You can say, "He doesn't concern Himself with paltry matters such as that." But you would be wrong. And worse, if you feel that way, you are robbing yourself of opportunities to rejoice in the little things and see even the smallest of matters as reasons for giving thanks to the One who gives us everything.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

You can look- that verse does not specify size or quantity for those gifts. He wants us to recognize that every good thing in our life is from Him. Regardless of whether it is money, food, friendship,EVERYTHING in your life that is good is from Him. So quit using phrases like "chance" or "luck". It is all from the hand of God. And whether it is a quesadilla or a coupon-give thanks where it is due.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Snow" Easy

Isn't that a tasty and delicious looking dish of ice-cream? Would you believe that I made it out of...snow?! I know, everyone has heard of snow ice cream. But I had no idea it was so easy- or tasty!
I looked on the internet for recipes. Most of them called for heavy cream, condensed milk, or half and half. I didn't have any of those things on hand. Quite a few called for raw eggs, and I wasn't comfortable serving that to the kids. I saw a couple that just called for vanilla, milk and sugar, but I was worried that might be grainy. Then I hit upon an idea: we had eggnog in the fridge from the holidays. I figured that would work well- and it did! After all, eggnog is eggs, milk, sugar and spices, right? My very simple recipe ended up being:
Eggnog Snow Ice Cream
1 c. eggnog
6 cups clean snow
Mix until well blended. Serve (or freeze) immediately. Serves 4 generously.
Fun, huh? I liked the really creamy consistency. To ensure that I had really clean snow, I set out a plastic bowl last night on the back steps. Although, this is probably not a great recipe if you are a germ-o-phobe!

Snow- the perfect setting for snow ice cream. Isn't it pretty?

The kids really enjoyed it and they thought that it was great fun that it was made out of snow. Since there was a considerable amount of snow in it , it really didn't taste too eggnog"gy".

Carson, sampling his.
So, that's it! Our first taste of snow ice cream. I am sure we will be making more- it is the perfect kid-friendly recipe, since it doesn't require beaters, or anything raw. I think we will probably try a more traditional version next time, but for now the eggnog saved the day!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Moving Memories

I can't seem to find my creativity. My mind has been full of so many things. Mostly it has been consumed by thoughts of moving. We decided several months ago (due to Joel's impending release from the Army for medical reasons) that we would move off-post in the beginning of 2011. There are several really boring, but practical reasons, for this choice. I won't share them here. Anyway, we decided that we would target February as the month we wanted to be in our new place. It would be more exciting, but we decided to downsize in order to save money. If you know anything about our house at all- it is tiny. We have a living room connected to our tiny dining room, a kitchen, a SINGLE bathroom, three bedrooms and that is it. The only "surplus" area is the laundry room- I did not appreciate that space like I should have. We have limited closets, but now that we are looking at apartments, I see how much room we really have!

I don't love this house but now that leaving it has become a reality, it is harder than I thought it would be. We have been married for almost 8 years. We have lived in this house for 3 years- it would have been 4 if we had stayed until April. Almost half of our married life has been spent here- we haven't lived in any other place longer than a year. This house has a lot of memories for me: it has been Carson's only home, and really the only one Jocelyn can remember. I know it is not the place that makes the memories, but it still puts a lump in my throat.

We haven't done too much; there is definitely still miles to go before we sleep in our new home. We have purchased some moving boxes, made our last call to maintenance to have a few things fixed before we turn in our 30 day notice sometime today or Monday. I have been purging and downsizing for a while now in anticipation that we will be losing space. I have sold things on Craigslist, given things away to friends, and this week alone I have donated two bags of things to Goodwill. There is still so much to do...

However, there is much to be thankful over. I am glad that we aren't leaving the Springs (yet- I am secretly hoping it won't be later either!) and this may be an opportunity to move to the "good" side of town! Joel will be making this move with us- we aren't relocating because he is deploying! I am trying to look on the positive side- I guess it is kind of like graduating from high school. So many memories to leave behind, so much uncertainty in the future. But it is full of possibilities and I have peace knowing that the Lord is leading.

But it is certainly stymieing my writing, which is aggravating me more than probably anyone else. So be patient if my posts seem scattered or few. I am hoping things will be back to "normal", whatever that is, in about six weeks. Until then, keep us in your prayers...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fashion Finds

This is absolutely my favorite time of year to shop. From now until the end of January (even until the beginning of February for some stores) you can get some of the best deals on....well, on almost everything! I have written about my love for after Christmas sales before, but I thought it might be fun to share some of my actual deals.

I am unsure as to why anyone would pay full price for fleece at Old Navy. I purchased both the brown half-zip and the blue vest for $5 each. (I bought them on different days.) They both fall under my "if it costs less than lunch at McDonald's, it is worth it" rule. I figure I will eat lunch and it will be gone, so if I don't mind spending $5 on that, I shouldn't hesitate to buy clothes that I will get a so much more use out of! The flowered shirt underneath the vest is from the Lucky store at the outlet mall. It was originally $59 (I don't know anyone who would pay that) but I snagged it for $6.50! I was happy to find they matched each other- although it is hard to see how cute the shirt is in this photo.

I bought these two sweaters today. Dillard's was taking an extra 50% off their clearance. That made each of these sweaters $5! I thought that was a great deal, considering that they were each originally priced over $25. I am especially fond of the eggplant boyfriend cardigan. Purple is my favorite color and I am really liking that style. The cream one- another poor photo, I'm sorry!- is one of the swing style ones, and it will be cute with a long sleeved shirt underneath.

Charlotte Russe has become one of my favorite stores. I like that it is not quite so casual, and once things go on sale they have some of the best deals! I bought all the tops in the photo above (minus the oatmeal long sleeve tee- I layered that under the peach top) for $20. Each one was on sale for $5 and they sent me a coupon for $5 off (seriously consider joining the email lists of the stores you like, almost all of them send coupons, even if it is not frequently, so it is worth deleting all the junk emails that don't have them to get the good ones)-so I got two tanks, the purple 3/4 sleeve top, the paisley drawstring top and the peach embellished tee for $4 each! Their sizes are a little funny sometimes- the paisley shirt is an extra small- but if you are willing to try things on, you might find something you like for a price you will love!

Obviously, $5 has been my price point lately. I think getting 9 tops for $40 is a pretty good deal. I am also happy because I will be able to use the peach tee, purple top, cream sweater and tank tops almost year-round. That is a big selling point for me. I like to be able to layer (or un-layer) things to make extend their usability. Now, I am on the hunt for some new jeans, I am hoping I will be able to find some soon!

So what do you think? I have been toying with the idea of having some regular "features" to post about when spiritual inspiration isn't striking. Would you be interested in reading about my good deal finds, or more about fashion? Since I have such an abundance of readers I want to make sure I am appealing to everyone.:) If those things aren't your cup of tea, is there something else you would rather that I post about regularly? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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