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.)


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!


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.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Marriage Is Not a Minimum Maintenance Road

On our way to visit my in-laws we pass by a minimum maintenance road. I always debate on whether or not to stop and take pictures because the sign and the road are beat up making it a cool picture; plus the destination always intrigues me. Where does it go? After passing it by for the umpteenth time on our way to my brother-in-laws wedding, I couldn't help but make the comparison of a minimum maintenance road to marriage, so I finally stopped to take a picture.

One of the reasons it came to mind is my study on marriage. I'll add it to my marriage is like a tree comparison, but this one is what marriage is not like...

Marriage is not like a minimum maintenance road. 
When you look at a minimum maintenance road you'll notice overgrowth, pot-holes, caving shoulders, all because it receives little or no routine attention and resources. It's quite obvious, just by looking at it, that without a vehicle built to travel these roads, you risk damaging it. 

A marriage that looks similar to the above description is not a healthy marriage. It needs weeding, pot-holes addressed, caving shoulders fixed and all of this requires daily attention and hard work.

Good marriages are not perfect; they require routine maintenance.

You see this when you dive into Scripture. God does not direct Christians to do things that are easy. In Ephesians 5:22-33, for example, Paul explains the mystery of marriage in relation to Christ and His bride. Notice that Paul gives clear direction for husbands to love their wife and wives to submit to their husband, with one important emphasis added at the end that is vitally important for wives to notice: respect your husband. He has given direction that is not easy to follow: men are called to cherish and nourish their wives as Christ did the church (25-33a) and women are called to respect and submit to their husband as the church does Christ. It is important to note that if we did these things without any effort Paul would not have given this directive. Women are better at cherishing and nourishing and men are better at respecting because those are the things we want – women desire nourishment and to be cherished, men respect. Therefore it is imperative that we make the effort to honor and respect our husband. It will not come naturally for us; we must work at it! The truth of the matter is this: a woman will not easily love a man the way he desires love if she does not honor or respect him. Both men and women need love and respect, but God gave men a deep hunger for respect and women a deep hunger for nourishment and to be cherished.

Notice the language in portions of Scripture like Ephesians and 1 Peter 3 that command, not request, husbands and wives to behave in such a way that honors God in our marriage. There are no if's. God has given us tasks that require hard work, self denial, daily attention, and (most importantly) reliance on Christ.

With that said, my target audience is not men. I do not feel that it is my job as a woman to address the directives God gives to men. So I will not spend a significant amount of time discussing them. I do, however, feel an overwhelming desire to share what I've learned through God's Word to women. It literally feels like it will spill out of me if I don't. So let's look at one example Scripture gives for us to follow...

Before we dive in, I pray that God opens eyes, as He has mine. That women take it to heart, as God has placed it on mine. And that lives are genuinely affected so that we live differently - so that God is glorified. Then share with others what God has revealed and rely on HIM to do what He has called us to do. Only through Christ, and our faith in Him, are we able to submit as He submitted, respect as He respected, and love as He loveS.

Wives, Be Like Sarah 
We are going to spend time in two portions of Scripture for this one, so grab your Bible and your Bible marking pens. This is how I mark my Bible:
We will begin in Hebrews 11:1-2,
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it 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."
Then the author gives example after example of people in Scripture who, despite their imperfections, were commended for their faith. One example is Sarah, Abraham's wife,
"By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised." (Hebrews 11:11)
Sarah's obedience was a direct result of her faith. She had the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. What is assurance? If you have assurance you have confidence in the declaration given. You have freedom from doubt, boldness, a guaranty. Sarah had freedom from doubt and set her eyes on the promise God gave her to conceive, even though she was past the age. 

What is conviction? A fixed or firm belief. Or the act of convincing a person by argument or evidence. So Sarah looked at creation with the understanding it was created by the very word of God and because of this evidence she knew that if God said it, it would come to pass. Her faith was sustained by the word of God, because she knew what He said and then looked to his works of the past (i.e. the creation of His universe) to give confidence of future promises.

God has spoken.
And it was so.

I began to underline the phrase, "And it was so." beginning in Genesis 1:7. God said it, and it was so. Over and over and over again. Faith does not focus on the unknowns or brood over uncertainties. Faith instead looks up to the Creator and mediates on His wondrous works. Be like Sarah, who did just that and knew that God is faithful. 

He said it and it will be so.

Sarah was commended for her faith and because of her faith she was obedient to God's calling for her life. At first, she laughed at the idea of conceiving, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" Yet God told Abraham, "Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, and about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son." Genesis 18:12-14

Although she doubted at first (she's human!) we know that her faith was solid. She conceived. And she had evidence that God was faithful.

We also know of her faith in God because of her obedience.
1 Peter 3:1-6 has a lot of pink and red. Pink because it is directly applicable to me as a wife and woman and red because there is a lot of important stuff in this portion of Scripture,
"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise is underlined in red. It's an important word. When you see it you must ask yourself, like who? Like what? In order to find that out you must read the previous paragraph. I'm not going to read the entire paragraph, but understand that Peter's audience there is to servants. And he's telling them, whether your master is just or unjust, obey. Like servants, wives, whether your husband is good and gentle or unjust, obey. Be subject. Submit.

Just like Sarah did in Egypt when Abraham told her to pretend she was his sister in order to save his own life (Genesis 12:10-20). Instead of trusting God, Abraham sinned and she was still obedient. God took care of her and was faithful to His promise. She was obedient despite her husband's disobedience, because she trusted GOD!

Those are not popular words because it requires self denial (like Christ) and an admittance that God designed your husband as the authority in your house. I did not write this, so don't give me a tirade on how you don't agree. Quite frankly, I do not care. I'm not God and I did not design it this way.

He is God and that's just the way it is.

He has called wives to obey.

It is not easy or even fun sometimes, but our obedience to GOD'S way of life reveals whether or not we truly believe what God has to say.

He has said it, do you have faith that it is so?

Or do you doubt?

To have faith requires strength, a high level of discipline, and good theology based on the study of God's Word. We must not see this as weakness! We are smart and strong and fearless - IF we have faith in God's Word and are obedient to it.

If you are obedient to God's word Peter tells us that we can actually win an unbelieving husband by our conduct. I circled conduct in red because it's mentioned more than once. If our faith is strong, our conduct will reveal what we believe. A husband can be won without a word, which is underlined in red. This doesn't mean we shouldn't present the gospel, but we will not win a husband by preaching, nagging, badgering, begging, bugging, hounding - which will irritate him, pick at wounds, plague him, provoke him to anger, torment him. Would you want to come home to that? Instead, we will win a husband by our respectful and pure conduct. When he sees the outpouring of our faith, he is going to start asking questions and marvel at the work of God.

Verse 3 begins with our focus. What is getting our main attention? Is it our outward appearance or the inward beauty? From a distance you can see a beautiful woman. We can all picture her beauty, slender yet curvy, well done hair and makeup, a beautiful smile, bright eyes... and then you hear her talk and it kills the beauty. You can tell that her focus is on her outward appearance. Peter isn't telling women to stop caring about how you look, he's telling women to stop giving that your main attention. Consider the extravagance! You obviously have to wear clothes and you must do something with your hair, BUT focus on the things that will never fade or wrinkle. Exert more effort on your soul. Be more concerned with your inward beauty. Your husband could give a rip if you're beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside; you will not be a person he will want to spend time with. Most importantly, if you are a woman who's foundation is in Christ, who's theology is based on the very word of God, who rests in God's sovereign hand, who meditates on the word of God and knows it by heart, who hopes in God - GOD FINDS THAT PRECIOUS! That is how the holy women of old adorned themselves! And God found them beautiful. Because they had faith in HIM and were obedient to what He called them to do - submit to your husband because it's a direct reflection of your faith in me. And people will look at you and begin to understand the mystery of my people submitting to Christ. This mystery is revealed in our conduct. Our conduct reveals our faith.

Be consumed by what God thinks of you - not what the world thinks of you.

When you do that - when you do good - when you do not live for yourself (as Christ did not live for Himself) then you will be like Sarah and not fear anything that is frightening. You will know that God is in control, what have you to fear? You will know that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, what have you to fear? You will look on the works of God and have faith that what He says He will do, what have you to fear? And as you look to Jesus Christ, you will have strength and dignity as your adorning and laugh at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

That is how you be like Sarah, and work to make your marriage a God glorifying one.

We have MORE than Sarah!
We have the very word of God from Genesis to Revelation. 67 books to reveal God's wondrous works, that tell us of His promises, that give evidence of His faithfulness. We can read about who God is according to His word, see that He is in control and rest in Christ. That is more than Sarah had. Consider yourself blessed to live in the United States of America where we have freedom of religion and equality to learn and study. We as women, can wake up every morning with a cup of coffee and the word of God opened to instruct, encourage, and sustain us in our day to day life.

Wives, Be Like Jesus Christ
Go to Matthew 26:38-39, a passage of Scripture that was most impactful to me in terms of submission (This portion of Scripture is marked in yellow, for WOW, but it also reveals so much of Christ's heart.),
"My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
Jesus Christ, as evident from the statement He made to His disciples and from His prayer, did not want to die on the cross, let this cup pass from me. He knew the cost. He knew how painful it would be. He knew that He would have to endure the wrath of God for sin. He knew He would have to die for sinners. He knew He would have to defeat satan and sin and death. He knew that in order to accomplish God's will, He would have to submit to His plan, despite not wanting to endure the pain. So with the joy set before Him He gave His life willingly. He submitted with a whole heart.
"... let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2 (underlining mine) (Verse 1 is pink in my Bible for wisdom to live, verse 2 is yellow.)
Wives, our most important example of how to live is Jesus Christ. He is our perfect example of submission. Even if we don't want to, do it willingly. Even if it's hard, do it willingly. Do it with the strength Christ gives, because without His perfection, His example, and His help, we cannot do it. 

If Christ was able to endure the wrath of God on our behalf, for our sin, willingly submitting to God's will - despite not wanting to - how much more will God give us the strength to submit to our husband?

Rely on Christ in order to be like Him. In order to live as He lived, submitting to His will in our lives - revealing our faith in Him to others, we must set our minds on Christ alone. Look to the joy set before us, an eternity with Jesus.

Focus on Jesus Christ, for it is in Him that you will find sufficiency for your marriage. It is in His life-transforming work on the cross that you will find the provision and the power to maintain the road you journey on alongside the husband He gave you. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Why We Will Only Ever Own ONE Television]

This was a decision my husband and I made the first year of our marriage. That year didn't bear much good fruit, but this decision is actually one we will stick with for the entirety of our lifetime together. That period of our life seems like a lifetime ago already. It was the beginning of our walk as Christians. Since then, we've made a lot of mistakes and learned a great deal. I do not like thinking about myself back then - arrogant, combative, worrywart, emotionally impulsive, easily enraged - but thanks be to God who continually works on my heart - teaching, changing, humbling, and encouraging me through this decade with my husband! And I know it had nothing to do (and quite a bit to do) with the amount of television we watched...

1. Too much television bears little fruit for Christ. If all I do in my day is sit my butt down in front of a television show, what am I doing for the advancement of the gospel? How am I being the hands and feet of Christ? I am not saying that watching television occasionally is a bad thing, I'm not even saying that a restful day in front of the television is terrible, but if that is all I do day in and day out, it is wasteful.

2. I find that the more time I spend watching TV I see the woman I once was. Our world encourages arrogance, concealing it as self-love. Our world cheers on the combative (just watch shows like The View or Judge Judy). Our world worries about anything and everything (just watch the news); we are an anxious people! Our world let's their emotions control them rather than being in control of their emotions; we immediately react rather than patiently thinking about it first (just watch dramatic sitcoms). Our world is easily enraged (you can easily see that in reality television or political debates). The television is a place that encourages behavior that once held me captive.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..." Romans 12:2
The more I know about an abundance of television, the less likely your mind is renewed in Christ and the more likely it will become conformed to this world. Which leads perfectly into the next point...

3. It is a mindless activity. Watching television requires little to no imagination and we definitely do not want to encourage our children to spend hours doing something mindless, that is one major reason why they will not have one in their room. JAMA Psychiatry published research that proved that young adults who watch too much television had lower cognitive function than those who did not watch too much television. It was a 25 year study where researchers monitored 3,000+ people between 18 and 30 years of age. Their research concluded that an early couch potato lifestyle actually impairs brain activity. High television activity resulted in poor performance on three different cognitive tests! (source)

Be mindful of Jesus.

4. It is not an active pastime. When you watch, you sit on your tush with minimal physical change - you expend very little energy. Our bodies were made for movement, exercise, imagination, dancing, climbing, learning, exploring. How much of that can you accomplish on a recliner while staring at the TV? USA Today published an article with a claim that watching too much television is directly related to an increase in diabetes and heart disease. Researchers studied more than 13,000 individuals over an 8 year time span to determine whether there was a correlation between sedentary lifestyles and death. Turns out that individuals who spent three or more hours a day in front of the television had a higher risk of early death than those who watched less. Why? A cardiologist said that television watching is a passive lifestyle. Those who spend more time watching spend less time paying attention to diet and exercise. This study proved that diabetes and heart disease were associated with a sedentary lifestyle (too much television was the major culprit). (source)

5. It's too easy to turn on and get sucked in without even realizing it. When it's in one location (ours is in the basement family room) then it's less likely to be turned on and left on. Most importantly, it's less likely to become an addiction.

6. It does not encourage much interaction. If you're in front of the television 3 or more hours a day, how much conversation do you have with others?

7. BUT when it is on, that's where everyone is located, so making it a rarity does encourage interaction. What I mean by this is that we are purposeful in what we watch. My husband likes the survival shows and we watch them occasionally. We also watch football and we hysterically giggle over Parks and Rec. What we do watch (which is less than 5 hours a week) helps us relax, laugh over something together, chat about something new... And when football season or March Madness is on, it's then we have friends and family gathered around eating lots of good food, cheering, and enjoying each other. There are some great memories gathered around the TV when you're purposeful about what you watch and when you watch and who you watch it with and why.

8. Television is not the place to go to fulfill our job as parents. Our biblical job is quite clear: raise up children in the knowledge of the Lord. To resort to television as a source of upbringing is disobedient to this calling. That doesn't mean I haven't learned anything about parenting by watching Daniel the Tiger with my children (seriously) but watching this show (no matter how valuable) will not teach my children about Jesus.

9. Television is not a necessity to living and I do not want to give our children any other impression. It is a luxury. Sunday night is our family movie and pizza night. The girls love it. I do believe that it was left on all the time it would become less of a luxury, which is just what it is. It is a treat, a frill, a symbol of high living and wealth. If you have one with the means to afford movies, football, Netflix, &etc. consider yourself blessed.

10. We do not want it to be the center of our home. We do not arrange our main living room around the television. Our main living room is conducive to conversation, games, reading, comfort, and play.

The center of our home is Jesus Christ and if the television is on all the time, I do believe it will take away from Him. Anything that does that, must go.