Sunday, April 20, 2014

Because of Christ, I live.

This morning, I think of this verse in one of my favorite books of the Bible:

Philippians 3:8-12 (ESV)
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."


Because of Christ, I can be made whole. Because of Christ, I can be righteous. There is power in the resurrection. There is peace. There is joy.

In the quiet this morning, I feel the exhaustion of a week spent doing extra, thinking extra, and sleeping less. I feel the weight of responsibility for what we will do at church again this morning. I
am tired from a busy week, and even more tired thinking of the things that have yet to be done today.  I look forward to serving the families that attend our church this morning. I look forward to celebrating with my family later today. I look forward to resting tomorrow.


BUT, more than all that, I am thankful that my Savior defeated death once for all, and because of that I can and will rejoice for all eternity in His presence. That is truly amazing. 

So now, this morning, as I rush off to a busy Easter day serving and celebrating, I leave you with these words from Ephesians...

Ephesians 1:3-10 (ESV)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Good" Friday

I work at a church. I have heard and had several conversations about Good Friday in this week before Easter. A few have heard it called Black Friday, and our conversations have all centered around WHY this Friday is good. In other countries like Moldova and Romania, it's always called Black or Grey Friday from what my international friends have told me. Calling it "good" gives them another reason to think we Americans are crazy. They understand why it's good, but it still isn't Good - it's Black.

I tend to agree with them.

I always hear myself saying "... well, I sort of hate Good Friday. I mean, I am grateful for it, immensely so, but I don't like it." Between my first comment and the rest of my explanation, I get a momentary look of terror from whomever I'm speaking with, that relaxes as they understand what I mean. I really am not a fan of this day.

I am so thankful that Jesus died for my sin so I could live with Him and for Him eternally. But I really hate WHY He had to do that. I hate that my sin exists. I hate the struggle, I hate the pain, I hate the suffering - and not just of myself, but of those around me. On the occasions I let myself really sit still and think about that, I can hardly bear the fact that MY sin, MY mistakes, MY selfishness put the Person who loves me more than I can ever fathom through the most horrific pain and death. And all because He loves me that much. He loves me SO much, He willingly went to the cross, was beaten, was stabbed with a spear, was mocked, was spit on, and died suffocating while hanging by nails. And He'd never, ever, in His entire existence done anything remotely wrong. He was perfect. And He dealt with all that in quiet and patience because He wanted to save me from myself and from separation from Himself.

No one else loves you like that.
So, for that, though I hate the reason, I am overwhelmed by gratitude, grace, peace, and love.
And that makes this Black Friday good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Excess & Minimalism

(fair warning, this is one of those "longer than I expected" posts.)

I have been fascinated by minimalism for about 3 years now. Fascinated, but not committed. If you were to ask me how much I have minimized my life in those 3 years, I'd readily admit that I have a very long way to go. I have taken a couple of steps, but no more. Yet (or so I keep telling myself).

But if you ask me what my plan is to make those couple of steps into more and more, I don't have a solid answer. And when I realize that, I feel guilty, because I know I am very comfortable, despite the things I'd still like to have in my life. This applies both to relationships, job and life aspirations, and actual tangible "things."I don't know that I'd say I live in excess... but I certainly don't live a minimal life, and just knowing that I don't quantify myself as "in excess" probably means that's exactly where I am.

The new small group I'm in with some friends is reading a book on "...mutiny against excess." (7, by Jen Hatmaker). Talk about timing. I just finished a group focused on keeping goals and striving to live better. Throughout those 3 months of our goal keeping challenges, one of the girls shared many pertinent articles from a blog I've come across a few times in the past years: Becoming Minimalist. The author has a family, so sometimes it's how to do family life minimalistically, and sometimes it's for you as an individual (which of course has ripples for those around you). It has been a good jumping off point for many thoughts and discoveries these past few months.

I have only started the introduction to 7. Already, I can tell it will make me think very thoroughly about what I believe ,and what God is saying to me. It has already challenged me to make sure I'm not just sitting back and thinking about these things, but rather making changes to glorify the God I say I serve.

In the intro, Jen mentions that most of us in the US are super rich, especially when compared to people almost anywhere else in the world. The majority of the people on this planet live for $2 per DAY, and we here complain that we don't have enough, and pray for more. She states that if you make 35k per year, you are in the top 4% in the world. Woah.

Now, I hear my defenses rear up immediately... "I make less than that! At least I'm not in that top percent...oh. Wait." Though I make less, I'm still in the top 10%, I bet (I haven't actually checked). I know I'm in the top 50%, and am likely in the top 80% or more. $2 per day?! It's unfathomable in so many ways.

Of course, I also hear my defenses saying, "yeah, but things are more expensive here than in a lot of those places... so if you right-size I bet it's not as horrible in statistics." Seriously, girl? Knock it off. You live in the richest, safest country in the world. Shut up.

I strive to live with what I need, and not much more, but I KNOW I have more books than I need (it pains me to say that. I love books). I have movies, tv shows on dvd. I have plenty of clothes - and not just an outfit or two to rotate and wash. I have a surplus of blankets, toiletries, towels, even. And that's just the beginning.

While I don't think it wise to swallow anything we read without thinking about it and processing it, even if it's from people we know and/or trust, I think it worth saying that we must must MUST not write things off either; even if it's written by people we're not sure about or don't trust. I have a few friends who have read this book and have been challenged and changed by its contents. I don't know what that will look like for me, but to be only a few pages in and be compelled and challenged enough to write about it bodes well, I think. I don't know that I'll ever be truly a minimalist in the most specific sense, but I do think there are many practices and philosophies that line up well with what God calls us to be.

I don't know how often I'll write about it, but you can bet I'll be thinking much over the next several weeks (and beyond). Here's hoping the challenges don't paralyze me, but rather motivate me to action, and to positive change.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Goal: Complete! (Well, sort of...)

Back in January, I posted about how I hate goals.
And how I was...
...part of a wonderful group of ladies who is setting goals for 3 months - Jan-Mar 2014 to stick by. Many of us are setting goals for the year, but knowing that the accountability is to see it through to March. ...we are all on the same page....

We have all had ups and downs. But I can hardly believe it's been 3 months! Today I congratulated us all on making it - and doing well in our challenges. I know this couldn't have happened without each other. One of the girls even said that this was really encouraging to her (she did it last year alone, and invited us to join her this year).

On Day 30, I posted an update to our group - goals #2 & #3 were vague as ever and it was super frustrating. Thanks for the (continued) lesson on patience, God. I think. Anyway, it was not less than I expected, but not what I hoped for either. However, on my #1 goal, I had made progress (yay!) but needed to make an adjustment so I wouldn't quit because I felt like I'd failed already.I decided (through prayer and conversation) that it would be best to not make a daily reading goal, but a weekly one. I made my goal 75 minutes per week, and moved forward with that, to great encouragement from the girls.

Today is the last day of our 3 month challenge. While I didn't always hit my 75 minute goal, my #1 Goal has been met - my time spent Bible reading is more consistent - though (of course) I still have things to tweak. I am more in the Word than I have been in the last year, and I can already see the effects of His changing hand in my outlook and my attitude (not to say I still don't have bad days!). I have also seen a decline in how much time I've spent on media as well - sometimes with my Bible, sometimes with a lesser book, but I'd say seeing that down without it being an express goal is kinda cool. 

As far as goal #2, I have found peace and lost the guilt that was hanging over me regarding things past and even things current. God has given me the gift of grace and peace in that situation - and I could not be more grateful! I know that only God knows what will come in the future, but God is so good, and I am excited to see how He uses me in that situation, rather than fearing htat I'm failing Him.

Goal #3 still needs some work, and is still adding to the stress in my life. But. I know now that I need to find a way to change the situation - and I am praying more diligently and more directly for a clear, direct answer from God. It involves some change, which may terrify me, but I can't just let it go on this one. And the bonus is, I know I have a group of ladies praying for me still!

I LOVED being part of this group this past 3 months. Even on days or weeks I didn't have much to contribute, just keeping up with and encouraging and praying for them was hugely beneficial and encouraging to me. I thank God for the opportunity He gave me to "meet" them and connect with them.

Here's to the next 9 months!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Books and Lists

I have been in love with books for my entire life (thanks Mom & Dad). 

In 2010, on recommendation from a friend, I decided to join Goodreads. I was thrilled to find that it was, as she described, a site that is one (small) part social, one part lists and list making, and one part sharing the love of reading and books. In 2011 I began tracking my reading, and have been doing so off and on ever since. I love being able to see when I last read a book - and knowing that it is, indeed, time to pick it up again.

I added books to my "read" list only if it was current enough that I could give you several more details than you'd want on the plot and the characters. Otherwise, I'd add it to "to read" and give it a rating based on what I did remember (if anything). There are several I've read since that I simply haven't kept track of on there.

One of the things I love is going through my friends' lists, and the other lists Goodreads has made available such as books-turned-into-movies, and so forth. There are online book clubs, discussion groups, honest reviews (mostly - much better than most sites including Barnes & Noble and Amazon). Many books have been added to my "to read" list from browsing others. When I am finding myself running out of things to read, or bored with what I have on my shelves at home, I can easily look at my "to read" list and get them at the library (or put a hold on them to pick up when they're back in). It is a wonderous thing. :)

I have also been in love with lists since before I can remember. 

I think it has to do with school and liking organization. Anyway.

In light of this, I thought it would be fun (if for no one else, that's ok) to have some lists of books I've read on this blog. So today I spent some time putting pages on this blog starting in 2011 that have the lists of books I know I read each year according to my Goodreads profile. Last year I tracked pretty good, and this year I've started to keep better track. I'm excited to see how many books I'll read this year - and how many will be repeats and how many new gems I'll discover.

One note I feel I must make: the yearly lists don't say if I like these books or not - you can check what rating I gave them on Goodreads if you like. Also, a friendly reminder that just because I like it doesn't mean you will (of course)! 

Join me on the journey - and if you read something, let me know! I'm always looking for more titles.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hope and Praise

All will turn to silver glass. 
a light on the water, all souls pass into the west. 
hope fades...

I know this is a song, from a movie, from a novel. But. It struck me today. Hope never fades until there's no reason for hope anymore - which is to say, when Christ returns and the world is truly over, and the new is now and we are in the beyond we cannot yet fathom to imagine.

Because of this, I choose to cling in the midst of this world, at the end of this crazy busy week to Psalm 112:7-8a,
"He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady..."
and Romans 8:28 & 31,
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" 
Indeed.

My God is bigger, the biggest, the strongest - because He is REAL. He IS truth.
And that means He is really and truly ALL I need.

To the praise of His glorious grace. All praise to His wonderful name.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Insomnia...?

I went to bed at 10p tonight with the intention of being asleep by 10:30/11p. I finished checking my social media sites for the night (hadn't seen much this weekend - busy!) and snuggled in. Obviously, my plan didn't pan out. It's now nearly 3:30a as I type this, and I'm so tired but awake. I figured I'd get out some of my thoughts and try for sleep again. 6:30a is coming REALLY soon.

The thing is, I can't figure out what my issue is. I am a night owl, but usually by 12:30a at the latest, I'm done in - I can't keep my eyes open. So, I started to wonder if this is beginning stages of insomnia (does that even exist?) or if it's just a bad sleep pattern. I began thinking through my weekend.

I was up late Friday with a friend, but not ridiculously so. Saturday was a busy day. Then, I was up late Saturday because I couldn't sleep, despite going to bed at a pretty normal hour. I got 4 hours of sleep before waking up (late) for work. I ran around all morning, but had a relaxing afternoon and evening. And I'm still awake.

Is it just a weird weekend? Is it the time change? Is it stress? I have tons going on at work, but this week will likely be actually manageable, and less stressful than normal, but certainly not more stressful. So I can't imagine that's it. Is it residual effects of the stress that is happening now that there's the tiniest of lulls?

I suppose it could also be partly just needing more fresh air. This winter has been a long one, and I can't rightly express to you how glad I am that the high tomorrow (today) is 53 degrees. Even if I'll be in my windowless office for most of it. It could just be spring fever. I rearranged my desk space at work last Friday because I needed a manageable change - and have no real space/way to do that at home right now.

Whatever it is, I can't think of anymore options. And since I really do have to be up in 3 hours, I'm gonna let that be it (unfinished as it is... let's hope that doesn't keep me awake) and try to get some sleep so I can make it through tomorrow.

'night....