Wednesday, March 2, 2016

{power in defeat}

We have been dealing with a season of illness here in the Milton house.  Nora was first, with a little cough, then I got sick with what seemed like a regular head cold.  Over the course of the first week, however, we both just kept getting worse and worse, ending up on antibiotics and doing little more than trying our best to make it through the day.  Let me tell you, being sick is one thing.  Being sick with a toddler is something totally different.  And still harder is being sick with a sick toddler.

These illnesses lasted for three full weeks, with residual effects lasting four.  And wouldn't you know, as soon as things started seeming to turn for the better, I got sick again.

Being sick has a way of affecting me emotionally.  It can be so easy to feel defeated, to feel useless in so many ways.  I'm behind on work, behind on housework, I haven't been cooking and I haven't had the energy to give our sweet Nora the attention she needs.  And the Enemy knows.

Too often, I hate to admit, I put my worth in these things - How well did I keep our house clean?  Did I have dinner ready every night for my family?  Did I engage completely with Nora today?  And when I can't check these things off, I feel like a failure.  Never mind any other good things I may have done.  If I can't check it all off, then I've failed.  But the truth is...none of these things define me.

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! {Galatians 2:21}

Grace.  It's a concept I struggle with daily.  But this is the heart of the matter.  When I concern myself with trying to do everything right and refusing to accept help, then I have diminished the purpose for which Christ came.  The truth is, friends, none of us were meant to do this alone.  It's impossible.  

And perhaps that's exactly why God has allowed this continued season of illness in our house right now.  Perhaps this is a perfect opportunity for me to be humbled and remember the freedom that can come from realizing that I'm not superwoman.

I'm not sure where you are today in your heart, but if you're like me, if you're struggling with feelings of insufficiency or defeat, then join with me today in making the choice to stop being a victim.  Let's claim victory today, knowing that with Christ's sacrifice behind us, we have already won.  It's okay to accept help.  It's okay to admit that we can't do it all.  Take a moment to just rest in the comfort of grace that Christ has given us and make the choice to wake up tomorrow with a fighter's heart, remembering that your strength to keep going comes from the One who never grows weary.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. {Psalm 73:26}

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

{learning to let go}

When I was in college, we used to have a small group Bible study with a few girls from an organization I was a part of, called Cru.  Our discipler, Laura, was an awesome encourager and always had the right things to say when any of us was having a rough time.  I remember one time, when we were all sitting around in her cozy living room, having a discussion about how hard it is sometimes to just let things go.  And I don't know about you, but I am a visual learner.  I have to be able to see something written down or acted out in order to remember it.  And this was one of those moments that I distinctly remember.

As we were sitting there, Laura stretched out her arms in front of her, hands facing down and open wide, and she started wiggling her fingers.  She said, "Sometimes, you just gotta let it go."

That was an awesome visual reminder for me of how important it is in life to sometimes just be willing to let go of the things that you can't control.  You have to stretch your arms out and wiggle those things out and let it go.

My, how hard it is to remember that sometimes.  If you've ever been around me for any period of time, surely it didn't take you long to discover that I am a planner.  I like order and lists and predictability and black and white, and above all, I do not like changing plans.  I get something in my head and I stick to it, for better or for worse.  While I think that certainly helps me in certain convictions and aspirations in life, it can be quite detrimental in a lot of ways.  I mean, I don't know if you're aware of this, but apparently life doesn't always go how we want it to.

Planning can sometimes be the biggest impediment to our letting God provide us a life of fullness and joy.  And I am certainly guilty of this.  I won't generalize because I don't know everyone's struggle, but I will say that for me, I have spent many years planning in my head the way I thought my life would look by age 23, 24, 25, 26...yet here I am at age *gasp* 28...and many of the things I envisioned being true of my life simply are not.

I don't want to confuse you - I am incredibly grateful for my life, for the growth I have experienced since college, for my endlessly loving and patient and grace-giving husband, for having a job that allows me to pay my bills and serve the community, and for many other blessings that God has given me.  But does my life look like I thought it would?  No.  Does the Enemy use that fact to steer my heart from focusing on God's goodness sometimes?  Absolutely.

You know who else felt that way?  A lady named Sarai.  Sarai was married to Abram and she just could not seem to bear him a son.  She got so desperate that she finally told Abram that he should just sleep with her maidservant, Hagar, so that he could have a namesake.  Sarai had an idea in her head of what she thought life was supposed to look like and rather than trusting in God to provide her an answer and a solution that was glorifying to Him, she decided to take matters into her own hands.  And you know how it turned out?  Hagar did get pregnant and Sarai resented her because of it.  She hated Hagar because Hagar was able to do something she wasn't.  Because Sarai was unwilling to let God provide her the right future, she created her own future and guess what?  It didn't turn out as great as she thought it would.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 20:24, which says this:  "A man's steps are directed by the Lord.  How, then, can anyone understand his own way?"

It's so true, right?  I mean, here's what I know:  I woke up today, and I hope I wake up tomorrow, but I can't control that.  So ultimately, it doesn't make sense for me to think that I can control the happenings of tomorrow either.  Here's what else I know: Once I trusted God with my salvation, that meant that I was turning over my life here on Earth in order to gain the one in heaven.  And that life is way sweeter than anything I could envision here.

I have this old calendar that has little quotes on each day and one said: "I'm so glad that life didn't always turn out the way I wanted it to."  Oh man, is that true of my life.  There are so many things that I thought I wanted when I was in college that, if I had gotten my way, would have prevented me from experiencing the joy and fullness of life that God has provided to me in those following years.

So what does that mean?  It means that my focus should be changing.  Rather than being focused on whether my life looks exactly how I thought it would, I should be focusing on how I am using each day to further the kingdom.  Ultimately, furthering the kingdom means focusing on...wait for it...other people.

Yep, that's my purpose.  Bringing other people closer to knowing how cool God really is.  And if I am spending all my time doing that, guess what?  I have a lot less time to worry about whether my life looks perfect here.

And here's how we battle that: by spending time reflecting on God's goodness, on his provision, on his promises.  Reflect on the Ebenezers you've raised in the past.  Review what the Word says about the mission you've been entrusted with.  Reflect on all the times you didn't get your way and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.  Remember that there is someone who can actually see exactly how every single day of your life is going to play out, and while remembering that, focus on what He has told you about how much he loves you.  Someone who loves you knows you and knows your heart's desires and wishes.  But more importantly, someone who loves you knows that what's best for you isn't always exactly what you want.

To me, it's pretty cool to think about what God has in store.  I mean, He knows me better than I know me, and He is always trying to figure out how to use my gifts, talents and personality traits to fulfill a very special part of His mission that's designed specifically for me and no one else.  Getting to discover that is way more important than my life looking exactly how I envisioned it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

{Office Christmas 2013...and a Giveaway}

A little over two years ago, I started work at my very first real-life, full-time job.  I have to say, I never thought that I would be blessed to have coworkers as awesome as the ones I have.  They are kind, friendly and helpful and have been incredibly patient teachers as I've tried to learn my craft in these couple years.  

Now, I am naturally a pretty mushy person.  I cry at everything and I'm always talking about my feelings (my poor husband...).  And when it comes to work, surprisingly, sometimes people get freaked out when you just walk into their office and start crying while telling them how much they mean to you.  {Ha.  Just kidding, I haven't actually tested that out, but I get the sense that maybe people wouldn't like it?}  :)

So, to show my appreciation without scaring people off, I just feed them.  Last year, the treats looked a little something like this:

{hot chocolate on a stick}

{dipped Oreos on a stick...I guess I was on a stick theme last year}

...and some other stuff that I forgot to take pictures of.

This year, I got an idea make bottled beverages from my friend Becky's blog.  {I mentioned her in my last post.  She's legit.}  I made her recipe for Cider Cocktails to take as a host gift for a party I attended.  But I had a ton of bottles left over as well as some beverage carriers.  So, I decided to transition those extra materials into gifts for my coworkers this year.  

I love trying new recipes for tasty treats during Christmastime, so this year I decided to make homemade vanilla marshmallows and peppermint patties.  Also, my parents have this amazing pecan tree that produces an absurd amount of pecans every year.  They gave me a giant bag when I went home for Thanksgiving, so I decided to try out a candied pecan recipe as well.  


{vanilla marshmallows}

In both prior years in which I have taken treats to the office, my unspoken intention was for my coworkers to take the treats home to share with their families, but I noticed that the treats rarely made it through the exit door.  So this year, I also made some soft ginger cookies, some almond sugar cookies and some additional candied pecans for us to enjoy during the day so that perhaps the treats would make it home.  :)

I had so much fun preparing and packaging these treats, and I'm already thinking about what I can make next year.  While I made these as Christmas gifts, I also think these would be an awesome party favor as well, filled with a couple Izzes and some packaged treats!

So for the giveaway...Leave me a comment and let me know one of your favorite Christmastime activities.  I'll randomly select a winner next Monday and post it on the blog.  Oh, you want to know what you're getting?  I'll make you six (6) custom craft paper carriers with background colors and custom message of your choosing.  You'll also get tissue paper to match and some clear bags and ribbon to use to package your own tasty goodies.  (Delivery will occur shortly after the new year.)  Be sure to let me know in your comment how I can contact you.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

{holiday parties and host gifts}

It's that time of year, friends - parties galore and festivities for all.  Certainly one of my favorite things in the whole wide world to do is host parties and attend parties.  Intimate gatherings are my favorite, and especially those hosted in someone's home.

{My parents' house...where my heart will always live.}
Growing up, one thing my mom always emphasized was the importance of letting people know that you appreciate something they've given you.   As a child, this meant handwriting thank you cards to those who gave me gifts.  It was something we always did and I came to truly understand how much it means to someone to receive a handwritten acknowledgment of your appreciation.

As we grow older, we tend to receive fewer gifts, but one thing we do a lot more of is attend parties.  As I'm sure anyone who has hosted a party is well aware, they can take a lot of time and effort to put together.  What better way, then, to show your appreciation to the host than to give a thoughtful thank you gift?  This has been my way of bringing the good old-fashioned courtesies that my mom taught me into present day.  {And in case you didn't already know, those old-fashioned teachings were what inspired me to create my etsy shop Simply Living...check it out!}

This week, I attended a small party at the home of my husband's boss.  Since it was my very first time in their home, I wanted to bring something extra special to show them how much I appreciated their inviting me and putting together such a nice party.  

There are SO many ideas out there for host gifts - from wine and flowers to candles and coasters.  Any gift that you take means that you have put effort and thought into showing your appreciation.  But as I'm sure you already know, I just happen to be one of those strange people who finds cooking/baking/crafting therapeutic, so that's what I tend toward for my gifts.

So I decided to try out a beverage recipe from my friend Becky's blog {y'all...she's crazy talented} and to make an almond sugar cookie recipe that I made for my coworkers last year that was a total hit.  So I gathered all my supplies and got to work.  The result?  

{Who doesn't love a gable box?}

{Oh, you didn't know that my husband moonlights as a hand model?}
Somehow, I was able to transport those bad boys all the way to Midland...on a's sort of a miracle, really.  The party was fantastic and I got to meet some great people.  And after developing this idea, I decided to carry it over into my annual Christmas gifts for my coworkers.  Stay tuned for a post on that soon.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether you make something or buy something, spend a lot of money or spend a little.  What's important is to remember that although times have changed, common principles of appreciation and courtesy haven't, and everyone appreciates knowing that their thoughtfulness was recognized.  So I encourage you this holiday season to consider showing your appreciation in whatever way suits your personality best - send a thank you card, give a candle or special bar of chocolate or spend some time creating something that's uniquely your own to share with those who give of themselves to make your holiday season more merry and bright.  

Take a moment to enjoy life, to enjoy each other and to make the most of each day.  Spend some time {Simply Living}.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

{yada, yada, yada} {part II}

Welcome back {or just plain "welcome" if you just got here}.  In case you missed part I, go ahead and take a quick peep at it and then come on back.

In my last post, we were talking a little about what faith really is {and, I guess, what it isn't} and the difference between knowing of someone and actually knowing them.  So let's get back to it.

Think about your most intimate relationships--the ones where you can tell the other person absolutely anything and know that they won't judge you or hold it against you.  The ones where you can trust that the actions they take are in your best interest or trust that you can give them something to do and they will do it.

Now, tell me this--what is it about that person that lets you know you can trust them?  Because you are familiar with them?  Because you have spent time with them?  Because you have felt their love for you?  Because you have seen how they have treated you in your relationship in the past?

And tell me this--would you tell a person your deepest, darkest secret if you had only heard from a friend that they are trustworthy but had never actually spent any time with them?  Would you trust this person to decide how you should invest your life savings if you didn't have a personal relationship with them?

Probably not.  {And if you would, I have an ice cream cone worth a million dollars that I'd like to sell you.}   :)

So here's the thing--to be able to trust someone (that is, to put your faith in them wholeheartedly), you have to know them.  You have to have an intimate relationship with them in which you know their character - what would make them happy and what would hurt them, how they have handled difficult moments with you in the past, and more importantly, what they would give up in order to put your best interest first.  It's not enough to just know about them {head knowledge}.  You have to know them {heart knowledge}.  In my case, it's not enough to just know that God exists or that my friends say He's a good guy.  It's about being able to say I know God's character.  It is the understanding from time spent with Him {studying His Word, seeking His leadership daily and watching his responses} that He is constant and trustworthy and that his nature wouldn't allow Him to act any differently.  It's about knowing not just what He can do, but what makes Him tick--what makes Him happy and sad, what types of things are important to Him and that He actually cares about what happens with my life.  I know who He is.  And because I know who He is, I can trust him.

In Hebrew, that's called {yada}.  In the Bible, this word is used to describe the intimate relationship between a man and his wife--a kind of intimacy that you can't fabricate, that's deeper than any sort of head knowledge, and guess what else it's used to describe?  The intimacy God wants to have with us--the sort of knowledge He wants us to have of him.  The kind that knows that His character would not allow him to do anything other than seek our best interest and provide for us in the exact way that He knows is best.

To get a better understanding of what exactly that looks like, we're going to take a look at 3 friends from the Bible {we'll talk about one of them here and the other two in part III}: (1) a neighbors-think-he's-crazy shipwright, (2) a take-life-into-your-own-hands hopeless romantic (of sorts) and (3) a prostitute {huh? yeah, just hang in there with me}.

The Shipwright:  Noah

There once was this ordinary man named Noah.  (awesome story, huh?)  As far as we can tell, there was nothing spectacular about him except this--in a world full of self-indulgence and idol worship, he was a lone believer and follower of the one, true God.  Yes, he may have seemed rather ordinary, but this man was different.  

One day, God got super fed up with all of the people on earth acting like all that was important in life was their own comfort and pleasure.  They didn't respect God, they didn't care to serve him and they didn't even treat each other kindly.  He decided that things had just gotten so bad that he needed to wipe the slate clean and start over.  But because He knew his people, He was able to single out Noah as one who had been faithful to Him.  God told Noah exactly what to do--build an ark and prepare for a flood.  He gave Noah dimensions and told him what and whom he was to bring into the ark.  And the Bible tells us that "Noah did exactly as God had commanded him."

Alright, so remember, this is WAY back in the day.  There was no Home Depot for Noah to go to for all his supplies.  In fact, there weren't even any chainsaws with which to cut down the trees, nor were there any giant cranes to lift stuff up into place.  History tells us that it took Noah 100-120 years...120 YEARS, build this ark.  Oh, did I forget to mention that until the time of the flood, no one had ever even heard of this thing called "rain"?

So here we have this man...he's 500 years old.  He's in his backyard for 100 years building this giant boat in preparation for this thing that no one has ever even heard of.  Yeah.  Either you have to be totally insane {which would clearly be the case if he were just doing this on his own with no direction from God} or totally, 100% secure in your knowledge {that is, your yada} of God that you are willing to look like a complete weirdo for over 100 years because you know in your heart that even though you can't see it all right now, God has a huge plan in mind and your obedience is needed.  That's some kind of trust.

Noah didn't complain.  He didn't ask God if he was sure if that's what He really wanted.  He didn't stop building just because people didn't understand him or because he couldn't really even understand it all himself.  He just did what God asked him to do.  Why?  Because he (as the Bible tells us) "walked faithfully with God."  He was with God every day.  He knew what God expected.  He had seen God's actions, but more importantly, he knew God's character of faithfulness.  Because he knew his character, he knew he could trust God's plan, even if it seemed crazy and impossible and even if he didn't understand it.  

You can understand that, right?  If you're married or even if you have a very best friend, you understand that there is just something about your relationship that allows you to trust them, something that, when they call in the middle of the night and ask you to be there, you just go and figure you'll ask questions later, if at all.  You trust them not only because you've heard about some isolated awesome things they have done, but because you have experienced life with them.  You don't have to take time to think about whether you should respond when they call.  Because you know them, you trust them and you go.  That is what God wants.  That is the relationship Noah had with God.

Tune in next time, where I'll wrap this whole thing up.  (And I promise it won't take quite so long for part III to come out.)   

P.S.  Just for fun, if anyone can guess who the last two people are/where their stories are found, I'll send you something.  Leave me a little comment here with your name.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

{blogger's block}

Y'all...this is what happens when you get busy for even just one week--you get off your blogging roll and a post that you started ends up just sitting all lonely and shaking in a corner by itself, waiting for months for you to finish it.  Yes, I was supposed to publish Parts 2 and 3 of my {yada, yada, yada} series, but alas, I have yet to do so.  But I have just recommitted myself.  Yes, it's true.  It will happen, good Lord willin'.

I hope all is well with you, my two loyal readers.  :)  I look forward to seeing you again soon when I finally finish this series!  Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

{yada, yada, yada} {part I}

Alright, y'all.  This is a long one (so long, in fact, that I'm breaking it up into 3 parts), but just stick with me.

I've been challenged lately and today, I'm taking you with me on this journey.  Our Bible class has been doing a topical study of this book called "Not a Fan" and our minister has been doing some fantastic sermons lately about faith and trusting God and learning more about His character, and it's sort of crazy how it's all been fitting together, so this is a summary of those teachings as well as my thoughts on all of it.  {So no one things I'm stealing, shout-outs to Russell Carr and Dave Yasko--neither of whom actually reads my blog :) --for many of the questions and analogies I'll be sharing.}  Ready?  Alrighty, let's go.

Let's talk a little about faith.  Yep.  I know.  You already know what faith is.  You've heard it your whole life.  You know you have to have it to understand why Christians believe what they do.  But do you really know what it means to have faith?  I thought I did.  But I was wrong.  So let's talk.

We are given a clear definition of faith in the letter to the Hebrews.

{Now FAITH is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.}

Okay, that's all well and good.  But, let's go real talk here--I'm a lawyer.  When I see a statement like that, the first thing that comes to my mind is "...but how?"  But how am I supposed to be sure of something that I can't envision and certain of something that seems unrealistic or infeasible to me?

My whole life, I have been taught to believe that God will provide.  I have read it in my Bible and I have heard it in my Sunday School lessons and in church service.  And you know what?  I do believe that.  But sometimes, if I were to take a step back and examine what my life looks like from the outside, I can't honestly say that I've always lived that out.  {a little talk about head knowledge vs. heart knowledge coming up} I complain about the stage of life I'm in.  I fear that things won't turn out the way that I envisioned them.  I get frustrated when I don't see what's coming up next.  I simply often fail to trust God with the future.

Fortunately, God always has a way of giving me an encouraging word or gentle nudge to remind me that I am supposed to trust him, so I snap out of my rut and repeat to myself that He will provide. Out of obedience, I pray for wisdom and patience then push all the negative thoughts out and choose to just ignore them for the time being.  Sometimes I go back and read my old journal entries to see how God has provided for me in the past and get re-energized by that reminder.  And until recently, I thought that was enough.  I thought that was faith--being able to look at God's actions in the past and then push the negative out and just decide to believe in Him based on what I've seen.  There are two {well, probably more} major problems with that method, though.*  (1) Living only off of head knowledge about God's past actions usually doesn't stick.  Every time a situation arises in which God is calling me to be in a different place than I expected or to be willing to be content where I am and trust Him for my future, I have to go through the whole process all over again--sadness, denial, frustration, hear an encouraging scripture/read an old journal entry, push the thoughts out, move on.  And what do you do when there is no past example that's similar to what you're struggling with right now?   And (2) God is so much bigger than just what I have been able to see in my past or even in the {relatively} few stories captured in the Bible.  Surely this is not all that God wants from us.  Surely He didn't give up Jesus for us so that we could just choose him in our heads but not our hearts.  Right?  He wants obedience, yes, but He also wants us to learn to trust Him because of who He is {through knowing his character--I call that "heart knowledge"} and not just what He has done {that's what I call "head knowledge"}. 

Here's what I'm learning--Faith isn't something you can just force yourself to have.  It's not something you can will yourself to have.  It's not something you can just turn on when you need it.  Faith is based in something so much deeper and to have true heart knowledge of what it means to live by faith, we have to learn more about where it comes from--we have to go to the Source.  To be able to answer the questions "How am I supposed to be sure of something that I can't envision and certain of something that seems unrealistic or infeasible to me?" we have to get to know the One in charge, and not just know of Him.

Tune in for Part II coming up soon.

*Caveat: You'll see as you read through the remaining parts of this series that I do find it highly valuable to learn about and remind yourself of God's work throughout your life and throughout history--they are very important and integral ways of getting to know God.  But my point here is that simply knowing the facts alone is not enough.  Yes, faith involves knowing facts about God and it also involves a decision to trust him.  But, most importantly, growing your faith involves getting to know the character of God so that your decision comes from the inside out.  Hey, I told you this was going to be a journey...just stick with me.  Mmmk?