Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tuesday's Top Ten [Favorite Places to Read]

Yesterday snowballs fell from the sky. Literally. Giant snowflakes straight from the sky and all I wanted was to enjoy it from my window seat, coffee and book in hand. Rainy or snowy days are best spent in a place where I can see the outdoors and enjoy it without being in it. Unfortunately it was a busy, busy morning that didn't allow for that luxury, but it was a wonderful idea. This is one of my favorite places to enjoy a book on crummy weather days...

When the weather is sunny and warm my favorite place to read a book is lounging on a hammock or blanket letting the sun warm my bones. If I wasn't allergic to every type of grass in existence I'd enjoy laying on the grass directly, but because hives and itchy, swollen eyes are zero fun I opt for blankets and hammocks instead.

Where the sun is. During the winter the sun streams through the giant living room window, hitting the end of the couch directly - and that is where I like to sit and read while the girls finish breakfast. I'm usually freezing so any place where the sun is streaming in, is my favorite place to be.

In bed, under the covers, cuddled next to my hubby (who is also reading a book). There's not a better way to ready my head for the pillow.

Next to my husband. It doesn't really matter where, but if I'm reading a book next to him and then stopping to chat about it every once in a while - it's a wonderful place to be. One of our favorite places to read together began in the car as we drove the long trek to my sister's home for a visit. I opened page one of J.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and began reading out loud as my hubby drove. It took a while to finish it, but (some of the time) it kept me awake and kept him entertained as he drove down the boring interstate. 

Soaking in the bathtub. Especially if it's a jacuzzi, next to a view and a fireplace (This has never actually happened, but a library with a jacuzzi, view and a fireplace is on my bucket list. I may never come out - which is probably a good reason to never have this dream come to fruition, lol.) A book in the bathtub, however, has happened and is quite delightful - so I can only imagine how much more enjoyable a place it would be if all those things were included!

Quiet places. One year I heard one of my favorite book lovers express her one Mother's Day wish: an hour or two in a quiet coffee shop, enjoying every last sip and reading without interruption. As I listened to her reveal her Mother's Day hankering, it became my own. Just give me a quiet place to read without interruption. Despite the love and delight little people bring into the life of a mommy - we still need quiet places every once in a while to refresh and refuel the soul.

With my children. Sometimes a break is needed, but most of the time, one of my favorite places is wherever my girls are enjoying a story. Having them in my arms, listening to a favorite children's book, makes my heart content and happy.

One of the things on my bucket list is to read a book - from beginning to end - on a beach. That sounds like an absolutely refreshing, delightful, amazing, best of the best vacations ever. Since I have two crazy kids who enjoy water more than land, this relaxing endeavor will have to wait.

This may sound crazy, but more times than not I opt for our dining room table. I can spread out! Bible - check. Pens - check. Highlighters - check. Prayer journal - check. Study materials - check. Coffee - check. It's my favorite place to study, meditate and respond in writing with plenty of space to accomplish this wonderfully delightful activity. 


Honestly, no matter where I go, I bring a book along and if there is a time and a place to actually enjoy the art of reading it - then it's a good place!

-----

As a reading and writing teacher, one of my favorite things to discuss was favorite places to read. This helped me determine my readers from my non-readers, while helping those non-readers dream up a place they might actually enjoy a book. This was one of the first steps I took to cultivate the love of reading. Find a drink... grab a snack... pick a book all about your favorite thing to do (for example, most boys picked hunting)... go to your spot... and enjoy. It always amazed me how quickly they got lost in the idea itself the more we talked about it. As the year progressed and the love of reading grew - they were finally able to talk about their favorite place to read! 

If you have a struggling reader be creative in the places you go to read. I read of a mom who made it her goal to go on adventures with snacks, drinks, and a book. They went to ghost towns, picked a hiking trail with marvelous views, the zoo, historical landmarks, &etc. This was a monthly activity that the kids grew to love and became some of their sweetest memories - I want to be that mom! Go on an adventure, learn and see something new, and then take time to read a book! How awesome does that sound?!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review [Rory Feek's "This Life I Live"]

I doubt Rory Feek will ever read my review, so what bugged me most about his book isn't for him, it's for my readers in case you pick up his book.
I encourage you to read autobiographies and biographies like they're going out of style. We have so much to learn from others when you open the page of a book. And I learned a lot from Rory even if there were some foundational issues that I'll address here.

Rory spends a lot of time talking about his past. The guilt, anguish and shame of it all. I admire him for that. It takes a lot of guts to talk about past mistakes with open frankness. He said something that I really like,
"There are chapters in a person's life that you don't want to write. Things that you don't want to talk about. I would've thought for me it would be parts of my past that I am embarrassed about or ashamed of. But strangely, I don't have any problem writing about those things. I can see now where they have led and what they've taught me and how important they are to the bigger story that God has been telling with my life. And my hope is that in my being honest about who I was... who I am... it might encourage someone, the way that my wife's courage in life and in death has encouraged me and others." (p.247) 
That statement was an excellent piece to read after the first 100+ pages where I felt he was still holding on to the guilt, anguish and shame he felt because of past mistakes.

So here's what I have to say about that: if you put your faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ - that He died on the cross for sin according to Scripture, that He was buried, and that He rose on the third day according to Scriptures - do not let guilt consume you. Jesus died for your sin, who are you to remember it? It is the only weapon Satan had against us - sin. He likes to remind us of it, remind us of our depravity, because it takes our mind off the things that are above - on the gift of grace and righteousness given from Jesus Christ, his enemy who defeated Him because He conquered death and sin on the cross!

Do not ever, ever forget that truth.

The second piece of this book that bugged me was this ideal most Christians have about being a Christian: change. True, heart change. For some reason we think we have the power to do so. We forget verses like Ephesians 2:1 where it clearly states that we are dead in our trespasses and that we follow the prince of the power of the air and that we are children of wrath. We forget passages like Romans 3:1-11 where it says that no one, not even one does good, no one seeks for God, no one understands. We glaze over Scripture that deals with the depth of sin, not ever realizing our position before God is hopeless. We are absolutely nothing, nothing without Jesus Christ who (thank goodness) died for those trespasses that made us dead while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We miss portions of Scripture where it clearly states that this work of redemption "is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8) We are so sinful that we want to take the glory away from Christ and give ourselves credit for the change and then we forget who to rely on when the change desperately needs to occur.

You cannot change you. You cannot, with your own attempts, become a better wife, mother, person. You just can't on your own accord. We are ruled by our desires. Our desire is sin. We covet. We lie. We are greedy. Faithless. Heartless. Boastful. Inventors of evil. Envious. Disobedient to parents, or any authority for that matter. And before you stop reading, I suggest you turn to places like Romans 1-3 or Ephesians 2, "And you are dead in your trespasses..." Those things I said are direct quotes from the apostle Paul himself.

We are enemies of God because God is at war with sin, and we are sinners (another truth from Romans). Plus, Ephesians 2 is pretty darn plain, we are dead in our trespasses. And there is nothing more for a dead-man to do than stink.

So I wish Rory said less about what he felt he had to do to be a better man and more time on the gospel. 

We need Jesus. He changes hearts. Through HIM and HIS perfection do we become better from the inside out.

So I wish Rory shared exactly what he believed about the God he serves. Or exactly what his faith was in. Here's why I make such a big stink about this: Satan serves God (Read Job 1:6-12 where we see that Satan is subject to the authority of God. Satan himself must give an account of his actions.) Satan believes in God, he knows he exists, and knows God's word better than the best theologian. I am not saying that Rory's belief in God is fake, I'm just saying that Christians spend too much time saying, I believe in God without a firm stance on the gospel - the only means of salvation.

That's what I did before I was truly a believer. I claimed I believed in God, but the name of Jesus curdled my stomach. I couldn't stand other people sharing His name. I loathed the idea of going to church. I had zero desire to open my Bible. And yet, I said out loud that I was a "Christian" when I was far from it. I slept around. I drank too much. I was lazy. Glutenous. Loud-mouthed. Disobedient to parents and despised authority. I was selfish.

It was only when I heard the gospel (for the thousandth time) but finally understanding that I could do nothing for my salvation and I could do nothing on my own accord to become a better person. That is the work of Christ! He did the work when He died on the cross according to Scripture, was buried, that He was raised from the dead on the third day according to Scripture and there are witnesses to prove it (1 Corithians 15:3).

And he gets the glory for it.

So the grace He gives is a gift. And the work He does He does for His glory.
"For we are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which GOD PREPARED beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 (Caps mine.) 
Workmanship can be translated to literally mean, poem. We are His poem. I find that beautiful. With each stanza He is changing us, creating beautiful poetry and He will be get the credit for His work.

I must simply hold fast to my faith. Rest in Christ, know (with every ounce of my being) verses like Galations 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I must understand that my old self is gone and I am a new creation in Jesus. While living in Christ, I begin to loathe the sin that once held me captive, but does no longer! Because of Christ I can be victorious and pray that God kill it in me because I know He is capable and He will. And as I read my Bible these truths permeate throughout, helping me rest and draw closer to God as He reveals Himself in it. I pray that for Rory - that He takes his talent for words and makes the message of Christ clear to his readers. That he uses his God given influence to be a witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Write "Jesus died on the cross. Jesus was buried. And HALLELUJAH! Jesus rose again!" Nothing else saves. Nothing else changes lives eternally. Nothing.

Don't mince words with a simple, I believe in God. Satan loves that. Share the only defense we have against Satan - Jesus died for my sin and you can no longer hold the guilt and fear against me. And just in case Rory does read this - if that's what Joey believed, that is what you should fearlessly share.  


-----

One of my favorite parts of the book was that they hit their knees in prayer for everything. The difficulties in their marriage, health, music career, money, everything. And Rory has these amazing truths woven throughout, like this one amazing example on page 167 where the book became hard to put down, 

"[Joey] let the music go. She didn't need it anymore, not the way she did before. She could finally open her hand and give it to Him. Completely.

And I think it was then, and only then, that He could give it to her. The music. The dream she'd always wanted. To sing on a stage and have a million people watching and hearing her. 

He was about to give it to her.

Only because now she didn't need it.

That's when He does it sometimes. And He'll do it in a way that you never expected. 

That's what He did with us, anyway."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday's Top Ten [Becky's Best Books of 2017]

In no specific order these were my favorite reads from the last year...

The One World School House by Salmon Khan is a must-read for all persons in education. His ideas are unique and inspire creativity, student to teacher interaction, and life-long learning. Reading his vision for education inspired me in my classroom and helped me see how the faults in our current system affect the classroom environment while also inhibiting potential. If you call yourself a teacher - read this!

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay I've written about this book many times on my blog as I aspire to become a minimalist. She helped me create a minimalist mindset - which was the game changer for me as I declutter and discover who I am, what my purpose is, and what it is I want to do with my life. 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling - I'll be honest, this was the first of the Harry Potter series that I enjoyed from the beginning to the end. The first two took me a bit to get into and I'm glad I kept reading them! (And no judgement, haha; this is my first time reading them!)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - This was another one that took me at least 30 pages to get into, but once I was able to differentiate between the characters and get past some of the literary references I knew nothing of, I could not put it down! There was so much depth to the story and the formatting was so different than anything I've ever read that I fell in love with the author's ability to tell a story through letter correspondence. It was genius! I highly recommend this story that will add to your knowledge of WWII. P.S. DO NOT skip the author's note.

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - I picked this one off a bargain rack mostly as a joke. As a 12 year old I was drawn to the idea of a mail-order bride. I read many books related to this story plot and dug into a bit of history behind it. I wondered how much of my fascination was just childhood fantasy or a genuine interest, so I picked this up. I did not regret reading it. This became one of my favorite books on page 231. It is not that it was a bad book up to that point, but it was at that point the book went from average to phenomenal. All because of one character who helped Anna see how big God really is using my favorite Scripture; a turning point in my own life becoming one for the main character. Despite her being fiction, I felt a connection. She drove me crazy with her nonsensical reasoning behind the biggest moments of her life and was saddened to read the note her father wrote was one that actually existed. Which brings me to my next point: I enjoyed the book all the more when I finished with the author's note detailing her research behind this fantastic historical fiction novel. One that I did not go into with overwhelming confidence but would now recommend as a must read! And one that will stay on my shelf to read again someday.

Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses by Kurt Cyrus was a delight to my poetry loving, silly self. My girls and I giggled through the whole thing while also enjoying the clever rhymes and word plays.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was one of those terrible books that I loved to hate. This book revealed so much about the life of a quadriplegic, perseverance, love, suicide, choices, dedication, and so much more. It opened my eyes, made me angry, fall in love with the characters, and admire Moyes for tackling such a major topic. 

After You by Jojo Moyes - It is rare indeed when the second book is loved more than the first. I enjoyed reading about the character's life post "Me Before You" and getting a glimpse into how she coped with grief and lived.

School's First Day of School by Adam Rex is one of the most adorable children's books I've read. I definitely recommend this one for every elementary teacher's shelf. You'll fall in love with the main character, "School" who offers a wonderful new perspective on the first day of school.

Dragon's Merry Christmas by Dav Pilkey is one of those easy readers for beginners. Unlike most level 1's, this one was actually enjoyable as you follow Dragon through his Christmas. It was refreshing to read a creative story line of a selfless character inspiring me (and my emerging reader) with the joy of giving to others and thinking of their needs above your own desires. It was one Brielle could read and I actually enjoyed reading it with her! 

Plus One: 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine was a book I read after watching the movie. I was genuinely impressed that I enjoyed the movie as much as the book despite their many, many differences ('cause that has never, ever happened). Levine has a gift for writing and I found this book hard to put down. The main character is charming, full of wit, and easy to love - as is Char. The antagonist is hated as much as the protagonist is loved. For its originality, this well-written book is a favorite. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday's Top Ten [Blessings to Beginning Your Day in Scripture]

I read a momma blogger who challenged women to begin their day in Scripture with a question, what does it matter if your home is a mess, if you're a mess on the inside? She asked it with much better clarity and fluidity than I just did, but for the life of me I cannot seem to find who wrote it; but I have not forgotten it. I take joy in tackling this challenge because I know that my focus must be internally and eternally valuable, otherwise I risk being self-reliant, lazy, disheartened, and forgetful.

Reading my bible is a daily undertaking with many, many blessings...


1. Scripture exists for our instruction. (Romans 15:4) Reading word by word, sentence by sentence, book by book teaches believers about who God is, what He has done, and the promises He made. The more we read the more we learn about GOD. The more time we spend in Scripture the more God will open eyes to the truth found in His words.

2. Scripture exists for our encouragement. (Romans 15:4) God has said all He needed to say for our encouragement through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ we have hope. Jesus offers promises of eternal life through faith alone in Him alone (Romans 6:23). When we read about who God is, what He has done, and the evidence of promises kept to people like Abraham and Sarah, or King David, or Moses, or Joshua we can trust that God keeps His word. If He said it, it will be so. And Jesus said that He is life and that by believing in Him, we will be saved (John 20:30-31, the purpose of John) then we know it is true. That is so incredibly encouraging!

3. Scripture exists to help us endure. Jesus struggled in his life. He was persecuted, hated, beat, and sentenced to death. We - as His followers - are not promised an easy life. Jesus said that because He is hated, and we love Him, we too will be hated. However, we are promised that if we persevere to the end, that if we run the race set before us, that if we hold fast to the only thing that will save us: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus - then we will spend an eternity with Jesus in His glory! That gives us reason to endure whatever God gives and whatever God takes away. No matter what God put in our path, we know He is working for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). Like Paul wrote in Romans 8:18, consider the sufferings of this present time to be nothing in comparison to the glory that is to be revealed to us. Wait, like creation, with eager longing for the return of Christ. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39). When we learn about this total security in Christ we should be encouraged as we endure trials, temptations, persecution, famine, danger, life, death, rulers, or anything else on all creation.

4. Meditate on God's wondrous works and you will laugh at the time to come (Proverbs 31:25). When you look at all that God has done (just look outside your window and notice the sky, the sun, the clouds, the moon, the stars, the trees, the plants, the birds - all of which exists to prove He is real - Romans 1:21) you will find comfort. He created the earth, the heavens and all that is in it and all of it exists to reveal the power of His word. Also, when you read portions of Scripture like Psalm 104 (my favorite Psalm right now) or Matthew 6:19-33 you begin to notice that He feeds the lions, the birds, He clothes the flowers; His creation looks to Him for food (Psalm 104:27-30). When you consider God's wondrous works (like Elihu told Job to do after losing everything) then you - like Job - will marvel at God, rest in His sovereign hand, and realize that you can laugh at the time to come because God.is.in.control. If He feeds the birds and lions and clothes the flowers, then He will take care of you. Grow in your faith as you meditate on His works every morning. As your faith grows so will your strength and you will not faint on the day of adversity (Proverbs 24:10)

5. When trials come, because they will come, you will be at ease, without dread of disaster (Proverbs 1:33). There are two times in my life where Scripture offered the only comfort in a moment of calamity and heartache. The first was when I received a disparaging text from a friend. The only thing I wanted to do was go back to the hotel room and read my Bible. Once everyone was asleep I pulled out my ESV Bible app and began reading in the Psalms. Psalm after Psalm after Psalm soothed my heart and put my soul at ease until I fell into a restful sleep. God is good. God is faithful. God is sovereign. When my focus changed from the problem to the Problem Solver I was encouraged beyond words. I praised Him for that time, thanking Him for opening my eyes and putting my heart at ease. The second time Scripture comforted my heart the most was after the recent death of a friend. I found out she had passed away at Menard's, shopping with my husband. I didn't have access to a Bible and I was carrying around my two year old. The week before her death I memorized with my children Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God." As I wept and walked around Menard's the Holy Spirit kept bringing this verse to mind. When I went home that evening to reread it, I was renewed again by the amazing God we serve,
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. ... Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."
As God opens my eyes to Scripture like that doubt gives way to faith though my heart is breaking, fear gives way to fearlessness as I trust in the sovereign God of the universe, sorrow is intermixed with joy as I praise God for who He is. And I know that when trials come again - because they will come - I will be at ease, I will be still for HE.IS.GOD.

6. Faith originates from the word of God. (Hebrews 11:1-3) This portion of Scripture defines faith so well: the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. What is assurance? What does it mean to be assured of something? It means we have confidence, a guaranty, we have freedom from doubt. Isn't that an amazing thought? We have confidence in the things hoped for. We have freedom from doubt from these promises God gave: He promised an eternity in His presence because of our faith in Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection on the cross (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, Ephesians 2:10-10, &etc.) Because God has promised; I believe, with confidence, that it will happen.

The second part to that definition is conviction. What is conviction? If you're convicted of something you have a fixed or firm belief due to evidence. What is our evidence? Keep reading in Hebrews,
"For by [faith] the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
We look to creation and know that, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:1. How did He create it? by the word of God! We can look to His works of the past (i.e. the creation of His world by His word) to give us confidence of future promises! God spoke. And it was so. Faith does not focus on uncertainties, or unknowns, or trials, or future possibilities; faith looks up to the Creator and meditates on His wondrous works, trusting by faith alone in Christ alone through Scripture alone.

7. Faith is sustained by the word of God. How do we remain steadfast in our faith while living in a world full of lies? Through faith alone in Christ alone found in Scripture alone. It is there we find the hope of salvation offered in the gift of salvation by Christ's death, burial and resurrection. We hold fast to the Jesus Christ of the Bible so that we are not swayed by "human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes, by every wind of doctrine, by empty/hallow philosophy, or tossed to and fro by the waves" (Ephesians 4:14 and Colossians 2:8).

8. Seeing that God is faithful to His word results in a whole-hearted trust in GOD. For example, He promises Abraham and Sarah they will have a child in their old age. Sarah spent her life barren. That resulted in years of heart break. BUT God is faithful to His promise and gives her a child. Sarah experienced -first-hand- God fulfilling His promise. Therefore, she trusted God (Hebrews 11:11, 1 Peter 3:5-6). With endless examples like this to follow throughout Scripture, we too grow in our faith knowing God will come back and give us Himself. He fulfilled promise after promise after promise, reading His faithfulness results in assurance for readers who believe it to be true.

9. God's word gives confidence with a clean conscience. God has promised that because of our faith "that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) that we will be saved (Romans 10:9). We have complete assurance that Jesus became sin to take the wrath for that sin on our behalf. Due to this fact, we have confidence of a clean conscience and are able to enter the holiest of holy places: the presence of God! (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19)

10. Knowing God according to what He has said about Himself in His word results in fearlessness. That was how Peter described Sarah, "she did not fear anything that was frightening" because she trusted in God. (1 Peter 3:6) And we have something better than Sarah! We have the Bible, a book that she did not have. The more that we as women read it and take note God's attributes or God's sovereignty, the more fearless we become as our trust grows. And that is what God finds beautiful - a full and complete trust in Him (1 Peter 3:4).

Plus one...

You will be like a tree. If your delight is in the whole of God's Word, and if you meditate on it day and night, you will be like a tree, "planted by streams of water, that yields fruit in its season, and its leave does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." (Psalm 1:2-4) You will have what you need, you will be useful, you will be eternal, productive, you will have substance - unlike the chaff described in the very next verse. Reading the Bible every day produces amazing results. God will not waste the time you spend in it; you will be blessed. Read it.
Meditate on it.
Memorize it.
Study it.
Learn it.
Grow in it.
Put these words all over your home.
Discover who God is according to what it says.
Be changed by it.

Beginning your day learning about God - who He is, what He has done, the promises He kept and will keep - encourages your soul, gives you reason to endure, relieves you of self-reliance, renews and sustains faith, offers freedom from doubt, ables you to laugh at the time to come, makes you fearless and confident and strong.

That is a pretty incredible way to begin your day.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Most Impactful Scripture of 2017

As I read through my Bible, I'm always amazed at how (no matter how many times I've read from Genesis to Revelation) something new is learned, something new encourages me, some new revelation blows my mind. There are specific portions of Scripture that I can point to that were most impactful as I reflect on the year. One year it was Romans 11:33 - 12:2, another was Job 38-41, or Ephesians 2:1-10, another was Exodus 1-15. I debated for a long time between Luke 1:1-55 or Psalm 46. I decided on the later.

Grab your Bible marking pens, if you mark your Bible. Here's my key:

(I gave that only because I'm going to mark the Psalm as I marked it in my Bible, that way you understand the colors.)

TO THE CHOIRMASTER. OF THE SONS OF KORAH. 
ACCORDING TO ALAMOTH. A SONG.

God is our refuge and strength, 
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, 
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,  
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; 
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; 
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; 
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among all the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"
The Lord of hosts is with us; 
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

(*Note - The underlined portion is underlined in red. Whenever things are repeated, I know it's important.)

Mind Boggling Details About This Psalm.
From the beginning you see who God is. He is a refuge. He is the source of His people's strength.
And for those reasons, they will not fear even if the earth falls apart. 

There is a complete trust in God in the midst of colossal calamity.

From the first three verses it is clear that the Psalmist wrote this for Israelites as a means to teach them (through music) to have faith in God - no matter what. And it continues to enthrall the singer...

The city of God = Jerusalem. In the time this Psalm was written God was in the midst of this city. His presence was in the temple. Today, that is not the case. His dwelling place is in his people through the Holy Spirit. The Bride of Christ (those who have faith alone in Jesus Christ alone) are "the holy habitation of the Most High".  Back then the Israelites could look to the temple and feel secure of the promised protection because of their faith, today we rest in the security of salvation through Christ alone, who gives the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49) - the guarantee of our inheritance until we die and acquire possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14). The promised inheritance is an eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in the city that is to come (Revelation 22:3). This city will not be moved! Jesus will reign supreme as King in this eternal kingdom!

The moment God speaks - all of this turmoil will end.

As God's people look at the works of God, as they reflect on his sovereignty (how he brought desolations on the earth, and then how he ended it - verses 8-9) and rest in this phenomenal truth:

"Be still, and know that I am God. 
I will be exalted among the nations, 
I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10 

then they have full assurance that God is with us and God is our fortress. He will not fail.

Why This Psalm Moved Me to the Core.
I have full assurance that because of my faith in the fact that Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, that I am His. The same power that rose Jesus from the dead is the same power that resides in me (Luke 24:49, Ephesians 1:13-14). These truths alone help me rest knowing that because Jesus did all the work, I have nothing to fear. Nothing can separate me from His love. 

When I read Psalms like this I am moved beyond words. God is my refuge. He is the source of my strength. He is my fortress. He is in control of the desolations (verse 8b) and He brings them to an end (verse 9). When I read attributes (yellow) like "he utters his voice, the earth melts." (verse 6) I find myself in awe (and a bit fearful) of this powerful God of the universe. 

Those verses are an amazing introduction to what God states in verse 10, "Be still, and know that I am God." 

Though the earth fails.
Though wars wage.
Though earthquakes quake.
Though volcanoes erupt.
Though glaciers melt.
Though presidents fail.
Though fires break out.

Just be still. Be still and know that God is God. He is in control, He is with His people. He is our fortress. 

That is extremely comforting after this last year. So much has happened. Though January and February of 2017 were two of the hardest months I've ever experienced, though April brought many changes to my lifestyle, though July 8 brought sorrow, be still and know that God is God. He will be exalted. He will reign supreme in 2018 as well as He did in 2017. Of that I am certain. 

That is the woman I must become, a woman who laughs at the time to come (Proverbs 31:25). Who, like Sarah, considers God faithful to deliver on His promises (Hebrews 11:11) and does not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:6b). Though the earth fails, though nations wage war, though earthquakes quake, and fires roar, I do not have to fear because God is God and He is in control.

Story Behind It.
In my daily reading I reached this Psalm the week before a friend passed away. I was so moved by this Psalm I wrote down verse 10 so I could be reminded of it daily, thus committing it to memory. It was this Psalm the Holy Spirit brought to mind over and over and over again after learning of her death. In moments when I felt my faith might fail, or that my assurance was tested, or grief overwhelmed me, I opened my Bible to this Psalm over and over again. And in those moments when my Bible wasn't readily available, "Be still, and know that I am God" played time and time again. This portion of Scripture offered immense comfort in the midst of sorrow.

Just be still.

Then this Christmas my sister-in-law made me the most precious gift. She visited a few weeks after all of this, and I honestly do not remember if I told her this story or not, but I am incredibly thankful for what she made me. It is near and dear to my heart...
What an incredible reminder this verse holds of this last year, which will now hang in our home for years to come. So no matter what God gives or takes away, just be still and know that God is God.

Be fearless.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday's Top Ten [What Inspires Me]

While I continue writing on a post that is taking quite a bit of time (I work on it when I can. When time itself is of the essence, that is super difficult!) As I work on that particular post, I began thinking about all the things that inspire me and felt another list coming on... so while you wait I whipped this one up right quick...

I am inspired by...

Scripture. Encouragement is one of the reasons Scripture exists! "For what was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Romans 15:4 Nothing inspires me like the Bible. (This one is a hint at that post that is taking me forever to write!)

Music. Whether it's jazz, rap, classical, rock... music motivates me. Rap and rock, for example, get me off my butt, ready and excited to exercise. Depending on the lyrics, music works on my heart strings, changing me from the inside out. There are musical liturgies that speak to my soul. The more I listen to good music, the more I begin to understand that composers are genius in their harmonious, rhythmic, and lyrical design. Author's of song are distinguished poets and express these poems with such harmony that I am inspired by their workmanship - not all have this gift, but when they do, it is one of the highest forms of inspiration for me.

Poetry. Poetry books are typically on the discard pile more often than not, which is great for people like me who enjoy reading them! It is in the withdrawn books at the library that I found some favorites; or in the to-be-recycled pile or on the free shelf at a book store where I also find hidden treasures. I get all giddy when I happen across them. I recently read a poem about a tree, short and sweet, but quite wonderful. While reading J.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings I fell in love with each poem he wrote. Children's poems are some of my favorites - cute, hilarious, and brilliant. It's in poetry that I find the clever play on words, rhyming, rhythm, witty lines - masterly and powerfully written - that invigorate my mind. When I'm in a slump, I pick up one of these books and read a few. Once I sat down and read it cover to cover, completely enthralled and inspired. There is so much to learn about writing just by reading poetry written by an unknown champion of words!

Prayer. When poetry and prayer are combined, I experience a bit of heaven! Arthur Bennett's The Valley of Vision is a favorite for this reason. His prayers are poetic, full of deep theology, convicting, thought provoking, and utterly amazing. His prayers perplex me at times, but his words impress deeply and strongly upon my heart and mind. I go to his prayers quite often when I lack the words. Still, it is in my own prayer time that my soul feels at rest, especially when I write it down. It is through prayer - praising, thanking, and giving my worries and cares to the sovereign God of the universe - that affect me most.

Quotes. When little snippets of wisdom are written down and shared, I soak that up! I have an entire board on Pinterest for them and could not possibly pick a favorite!

Books. When I'm in a writing slump, it's typically because I haven't taken the time to read in a few days. If I don't take the time to read, the desire to write is nill. Each day my girls are required to spend 30-60 minutes sitting quietly with books in hand. If I don't join them, then I'm uninspired and I'm also not setting a good example. At the end of that time, they each pick a few to read aloud together. This is one of our favorite times of the day!

Sermons. While folding laundry or doing dishes or scrubbing the bathroom, I listen. I go to Ligonier, Desiring God, or our own church's website for sermons I missed and find myself (yup, you guessed it) inspired.

Podcasts. TedTalks are amazing for inspiration! They are short and sweet, and have wonderful ideas or practical advice. I went to these quite often to hear about the minimalist lifestyle that we decided to tackle. Many pastors provide podcasts worth listening to, and there is a lot out there for teachers as well. Inspiration at it's finest! Also, there's an app for that (called the Podcast App)!

I think it's clear at this point that words are what inspire me most! (Is anyone surprised by that?)

Discipleship. I've written about discipleship quite a bit here, but it is one area of my life that I am incredibly thankful for. God has blessed me with a woman who continually points me to Jesus. I trust her advice, her wisdom, her life experiences as she leads me through this life as a wife, mother, and follower of Jesus Christ. As Christians we were not meant to journey this life alone! Jesus commanded his disciples to disciple, teaching others all that He taught them (Matthew 28:18-20). And as you read through Scripture, you'll find that a good church body values this principle as well (as one of many examples, read Titus 2:3-5). I find just as much value and inspiration from the women I disciple as well. It's a two-fold relationship of accountability, instruction, encouragement, and friendship where we learn from one another as we seek Jesus.

Pinterest. This one may sound kinda silly, but it's a storehouse of good ideas and I've saved A LOT of them!

+1

Drinks. This one may also sound kinda silly, but if I make myself a good cup of tea or coffee or pour a glass of wine or open a bottle of good beer, soaking in it's flavors - well, it's an enjoyable and productive way to relax, open a good book, or my writing journal and thank God for all the amazing things He has blessed me with in this life. If I had nothing else in this life (in the way of desirable things) I'd be completely happy with a good book and a good drink. God has blessed me with both, and then some!

I hope this post inspires you as you take on the new year, reflecting on 2017 and hoping to make changes. I encourage you to find things that inspire you, so that when you're in a slump, you pick up one of those things to find encouragement and motivation.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Kicked My Tail

Reflecting month by month, day by day, I can honestly say that God brought some of the biggest challenges, heart wrenching days, memorable moments, and friendships than I have ever, ever experienced. There are monumental years (i.e. 2012) that deliver enormous change and memorable moments; 2017 is one of those years.

It's in this year that I learned I loved being a librarian and also had to give it up for the sake of my family. We began homeschooling our kindergartner who fast became a reader and quick learner, mastering skill upon skill upon skill.

We had to let go of much, yet gained much more. These moments of letting go of the nonessentials to focus on the essentials has been a new focus this year, and everything I've ever had to let go has claw marks on it.

This includes my stuff.

In April I discovered that my stuff gave me stress. I stressed about cleaning it and picking it up and having too much of it. I discovered that I needed to be a minimalist. Since April I have purged an enormous amount of stuff from our home, freeing me of time and allowing me to enjoy that time more. My goal was to donate 40 trash bags of stuff and by December I reached 35 and I'm not entirely sure I've kept a good record of it. This does not include items sold, which includes a dresser I emptied and endless totes! This pursuit of minimalism has changed me beyond what I can possibly explain here. I can only say that I realized my stuff was taking my focus off of Christ because I held fast to things rather than moments and memories and eternity with my Lord and Savior.

This journey began in April and I didn't truly realize how desperately I needed an eternal perspective until a friend passed away on July 8. She left behind her husband, 3 young children, and all of her stuff. I knew I could take nothing with me when I died, but it wasn't until her death and cleaning her home amidst everything she created, hung on the walls, her shoes by the door, that I began to think about my own death-date and all the things I would leave behind. I began to ask myself, what do I truly want to leave behind? It isn't a mess of things for my family to sort through, but it's memories and moments to cherish, and it's a reflection of my life - that I was focused on the only thing that mattered: the day I finally meet my Creator face to face. The day, like Erin, my faith becomes sight.
Erin with Brielle and her daughter Addi from a mom's group trip to a small local zoo back in 2014 (which I wrote about here).
Above her kitchen sink was the word simplify the one word that exemplified -exactly- the lifestyle I needed to pursue. Erin inspired me in many ways, even after her death. And as I prayed, tears streaming down my face, I thanked God for my short time with her. Teaching with her. Play-dates with her. Memories made. Laughter shared. Excitement over books and coffee. Observing her patience with her children, the kindness of her actions, the thoughtfulness of her words. Sharing due dates and birthdays with our girls. Conversations centered around our Creator. And then I praised God for His sovereign hand, for the joy set before us as we hope for an eternity with Him.

It was an incredibly hard - yet uplifting, joyful - yet full of heart ache moment I'll never, ever forget.

This moment was even sweeter because I shared it with my sister. As we cried and prayed together our appreciation for the life God gave us together grew tenfold.

God provided immense comfort and growth in my discipleship relationships as well. As Deb and I poured over Scripture the days following Erin's death we were comforted by God's sovereignty and encouraged by His promises. We prayed and cried and praised God through two songs.

These two songs became essential encouragement during this time. For just one week before Erin passed away our pastor played them for the worship team with the instructions to learn them for future worship time. They spoke to my heart and soul even then, fast becoming favorites. The days following Erin's death, they were played on repeat.



How timely did God bring about the later song, My Worth Is Not In What I Own? It was this song, Erin's death, the removing of nonessentials to make room for the essentials, that I began to solidify my identity.

Who am I?
What is my purpose?

And as I asked these questions, Brandi and I (whom I disciple) wrote it down and shared it with each other. This simple task was exactly what I needed and it was a moment of growth for both of us.  I needed way less of myself, and more of Christ.

I learned more about who I am because of Jesus this year than any other year. That alone makes 2017 pretty remarkable. And hard. 

While the summer was riddled with sorrow, it also brought joy. I added a sister-in-law and I had the privilege of taking their pictures.


We visited my sister in Minnesota and discovered (once again) that the time is never long enough. On our way to her we visited friends along the way, meeting new little ones and relishing the short time with them (again wishing we had more time).

We enjoyed time with our pastor and his wife learning from them and growing in our friendship. These memories become more and more precious knowing that our time here is not guaranteed and is a gift from God!

One of our dearest friends got married and Brandi and I felt blessed by her wanting us to take her pictures.



There were showers, and play-dates, and short family trips (that we won!) and many more memories. There were countless lessons, celebrations, convictions, and changes.

Like our college friend setting a world record by being the first hemophiliac to summit Everest. We follow his journey daily and travel to Denver to celebrate his accomplishments. It is so fun to see how your friends surpass expectations, and accomplish feats unimaginable to anyone who doesn't know them. We celebrate Chris and his wife, giving thanks quite often for having them in our life.

Or adding two new discipleship relationships.

Or that our 8 year long pursuit of a dream - is finally becoming a reality (more on that later).

Or the fact that our babies are growing - as evidenced by their bedroom. It once held a crib and a toddler bed. Now they sleep in a bunk bed. They are fast becoming little ladies full of creativity, imagination, and a desire for learning.
Just looking at our most recent picture fills me with gratitude!
God changed the Lowery's immensely this year. He's done a great work in us. Although I won't mention all of it today, for we could seriously be here forever, I am thankful for it. All of it.