Pinpointing the thoughts that hurt us: A book review

In her book, "Every Thought Captive," Jerusha Clark takes the well-known verse that admonishes us to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" and helps readers understand what that actually looks like.

Throughout the book, Clark pinpoints some of the most common unhealthy and detrimental thoughts that plague a woman's mind, like those that tell her she's not good enough or thin enough, that it was all her fault and she's always messing up, that she doesn't have enough time or that everything's going to come crashing down any moment.

Often, we think these kinds of thoughts without even being aware of it, but that's where this book comes in handy: By going through each section and the list of lies that Clark identifies, readers can begin to recognize the lies that are most recurrent in their own lives.

For me, that came to life as I read through the section "One More Thing," which looks at our desires for "more" and our temptation to think that this "one more thing" will make us happy--if only temporarily. She gave an example of her search for new black shoes, and how she went shopping everywhere to try to track them down. "I never thought the black shoes would bring me ultimate satisfaction," she writes, "but I certainly thought they would bring me relief from gnawing desire....Sometimes I realize that I've wanted something more than I've wanted God."

This is an episode I know all too well--whether it's searching for the perfect pair of curtains or, ahem, new artwork for my kitchen wall. In doing so, we are putting our satisfaction in things, rather than in God and being satisfied by what he has already given us. She reminds readers that God gives bountifully and without ceasing, meeting all our needs. And it's those kinds of biblical truths I can keep in mind when the lie of "one more thing" pops up--undoubtedly, again and again.

My decorating dilemma: The search for the perfect artwork

photo by pmo

I love decorating, but it can be such a struggle for me. It’s often a struggle because of the fact that I like to view decorating as a reflection of my tastes and personality. When you look at decorating this way, not just anything will do. Rather, I want to surround myself with those things that I love to look at, those things that make me smile when I walk past them, those things that meld function and fashion at once.

Michael and I moved into our apartment about 5 months ago. During that time, I’ve slowly taken on different projects at a time, figuring out what will work best and scouting out items in our budget. Still, there are a couple projects that still loom on my decorating to-do list: Artwork for our kitchen and our living room walls.

I even have the picture frames ready: An ornate poster-sized frame for the wall over the kitchen, a series of six identical walnut-finished 11x14 frames for the empty wall in our living room. I also have two extra frames on-hand in case an “extra” idea comes to mind for another empty spot in the kitchen.

These projects have eluded me month after month, as I’ve sketched and brainstormed artwork ideas to no avail. I can’t simply walk into Target and be happy with one of the pre-made framed images they offer. In anyone else's house they look fine, but in my own they feel lifeless, acting as something to cover up a blank spot on the wall rather than convey a message.

What this ends up meaning is that I’m left to scour more unique outlets like Etsy or thrift stores or create something truly one-of-a-kind by hand (or, more accurately, computer and camera). And that’s why it’s five months, and still blank spots waiting to be filled. (I am nothing if not patient, right?)

Right now I’m contemplating a few ideas:
  • For our living room, I’d like to frame a series of similar prints; either vintage botanical sketches or prints (ferns, flowers, fruits) or find some old sheet music with meaningful lyrics.

  • Over our kitchen sink is a large swath of blank wall. This has been the hardest spot to come up with ideas for because it fits a poster-sized image, but I want something that will pull together all the different colors of our kitchen (teal, leafy green, mustard yellow) with some sort of fitting kitchen-appropriate image. I’ve considered a teapot, collage of kitschy kitchen utensils, beautiful array of colorful fruits. I’ve also thought about trying to do a silhouette of some such image against a colorful pattern. A final idea is to scour old cookbooks and blow up a detailed image.

  • There’s an additional, smaller blank spot on the opposite wall in our kitchen. I’m thinking of framing the verse, “Taste and see that the LORD is good. -Psalm 34:8”
 What do you think? Any creative ideas to share? I could use all the inspiration I can get!

Celebrating the holidays with friends and family

a print of Cincinnati available from

After driving 1,000 miles roundtrip up and down eastern U.S. and spending seven days frolicking in the Buckeye State with family and friends, Michael and I are back at home in Atlanta. (And I'm back behind my computer screen!)

Though I hate the drive it takes to get there, I love being in my old Cincinnati stomping grounds. There’s something about being able to get anywhere in 20 minutes, about knowing what places people are talking about and how to get there by memory.

But even more than that, it feels like home because so many people I love live there. When we were in town, we spent some time with my family and my parents helped me reupholster the cushions for our kitchen table chairs. We played with Michael’s little brothers. We grabbed coffee with old friends and spent time around countless kitchen tables catching up with relatives.

And I’m beginning to miss that—the little things like a helping hand and an “I've missed you!” hug—more and more, on each trip.

For now, Atlanta is our home as Michael finishes up his degree. And I’m enjoying it—having a little place to call our own as we forge our newlywed years together, just the two of us. Then there’s the warm weather, which has been such a reprieve after my year steeped in snowy Michigan. But, with an eye toward the future and the long-term, I know that a few extra degrees can’t hold a candle to being near to your loved ones.

We still have no idea what the future holds as far as jobs and opportunities and timelines. But still, I suspect that when it comes time to settling down and starting a family, there’s a good likelihood that we’ll return to this little town, on the edge of the Ohio River where pigs fly and bengal tigers play.

A Morning Prayer to Start Today

photo by frialove

Last year, I picked up a copy of John Eldredge's "Walking With God." In it, he shares daily prayers that he recites upon waking up in the morning and before going to bed at night. (Awhile ago, I posted his evening prayer.)

While I don't pray them everyday, I've found them to be good reminders as a way to offer a spiritual blank slate to my day. Here's the prayer for starting your day:

My dear Lord Jesus I come to you now to be restored in you, to be renewed in you, to receive your love and your life, and all the grace and mercy I so desperately need this day. I honor you as my Sovereign, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you. I give you my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind, and will. I cover myself with your blood—my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I ask your Holy Spirit to restore me in you, renew me in you, and to lead me in this time of prayer. In all that I now pray, I stand in total agreement with your Spirit, and with my intercessors and allies, by your Spirit alone.

Dear God, holy and victorious Trinity, you alone are worthy of all my worship, my heart’s devotion, all my praise, all my trust and all the glory of my life. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I give myself over to you in my heart’s search for life. You alone are Life, and you have become my life. I renounce all other gods, all idols, and I give you the place in my heart and in my life that you truly deserve. I confess here and now that this is all about you, God, and not about me. You are the Hero of this story, and I belong to you. Forgive me for my every sin. Search me and know me and reveal to me where you are working in my life, and grant to me the grace of your healing and deliverance, and a deep and true repentance.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me and choosing me before you made the world. You are my true Father—my Creator, my Redeemer, my Sustainer, and the true end of all things, including my life. I love you, I trust you, I worship you. I give myself over to you to be one with you in all things, as Jesus is one with you. Thank you for proving your love by sending Jesus. I receive him and all his life and all his work, which you ordained for me. Thank you for including me in Christ, for forgiving me my sins, for granting me his righteousness, for making me complete in him. Thank you for making me alive with Christ, raising me with him, seating me with him at your right hand, establishing me in his authority, and anointing me with your Holy Spirit, your love and your favor. I receive it all with thanks and give it total claim to my life—my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I bring the life and the work of Jesus over my home, my household, my vehicles, finances, all my kingdom and domain.

Jesus, thank you for coming to ransom me with your own life. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I give myself over to you, to be one with you in all things. And I receive all the work and all of the triumph of your cross, death, blood and sacrifice for me, through which I am atoned for, I am ransomed and transferred to your kingdom, my sin nature is removed, my heart is circumcised unto God, and every claim made against me is disarmed this day. I now take my place in your cross and death, through which I have died with you to sin, to my flesh, to the world, and to the evil one. I take up the cross and crucify my flesh with all its pride, arrogance, unbelief, and idolatry. I put off the old man. I ask you to apply to me the fullness of your cross, death, blood and sacrifice. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my life, my holiness and strength, and I receive all the work and triumph of your resurrection, through which you have conquered sin and death and judgment. Death has no mastery over you, nor does any foul thing. And I have been raised with you to a new life, to live your life – dead to sin and alive to God. I now take my place in your resurrection and in your life, through which I am saved by your life. I reign in life through your life. I receive your life – your humility, love and forgiveness, your integrity in all things, your wisdom, discernment and cunning, your strength, your joy, your union with the Father.

Apply to me the fullness of your resurrection. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my authority, rule, and dominion, my everlasting victory against Satan and his kingdom, and my ability to bring your Kingdom at all times and in every way. I receive all the work and triumph of your ascension, through which you have judged Satan and cast him down, you have disarmed his kingdom. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you, Jesus. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you, and you are worthy to receive all glory and honor, power and dominion, now and forevermore. And I have been given fullness in you, in your authority. I now take my place in your ascension, and in your throne, through which I have been raised with you to the right hand of the Father and established in your authority. I now bring the kingdom of God, and the authority, rule and dominion of Jesus Christ over my life today, over my home, my household, my vehicles and finances, over all my kingdom and domain.

I now bring the authority, rule and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fullness of the work of Christ, against Satan, against his kingdom, against every foul and unclean spirit come against me. I bring the full work of Jesus Christ against every foul power and black art, against every human being and their warfare. I bind it all from me in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and in his Name.

Holy Spirit, thank you for coming. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I sincerely receive you and all the work and victory in Pentecost, through which you have come, you have clothed me with power from on high, sealed me in Christ. You have become my union with the Father and the Son, become the Spirit of truth in me, the life of God in me, my Counselor, Comforter, Strength, and Guide. I honor you as my Sovereign, and I yield every dimension of my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will to you and you alone, to be filled with you, to walk in step with you in all things. Fill me afresh. Restore my union with the Father and the Son. Lead me in all truth, anoint me for all of my life and walk and calling, and lead me deeper into Jesus today. I receive you with thanks, and I give you total claim to my life.

Heavenly Father, thank you for granting to me every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. I claim the riches in Christ Jesus over my life today, my home, my kingdom and domain. I bring the blood of Christ over my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I put on the full armor of God – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel, helmet of salvation. I take up the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit, and I choose to wield these weapons at all times in the power of God. I choose to pray at all times in the Spirit.

Thank you for your angels. I summon them in the authority of Jesus Christ and command them to destroy the kingdom of darkness throughout my kingdom and domain, destroy all that is raised against me, and to establish your Kingdom throughout my kingdom and domain. I ask you to send forth your Spirit to raise up prayer and intercession for me this day. I now call forth the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout my home, my family, my kingdom and my domain, in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all glory and honor and thanks to him.

(For other prayers, see his website.)

Chicken burgers: Recipe for the weekend

{chicken burger: it's what's for dinner}

One of my and Michael’s favorite, weekend meals is about as all-American as you can get: hamburger and fries. Usually, though, we swap out homemade sweet potato fries and, of lately, we’ve found a new favorite alternative burger: chicken burgers.

My discovery ended up being quite accidental: I happened to find the ground chicken on sale at the grocery and, still being quite new to my cooking adventures, wasn’t sure what I’d use it for. So Michael suggested the age-old ground-meat standby: burgers.

Then, when it came time to whip the recipe together, I got distracted by the police arrests going on next door. (Don’t worry: There was no violence and I have to hand it to the police though they were loud and insistent, they were quite patient, hanging outside and finally calling in about 5 other cops and a K-9 unit until the guys came out from inside.) Still that held our attentions moreso than following the recipe instructions word for word.

In spite of the circumstances though, these burgers could not have turned out better in either of our opinions. They are the juiciest burgers I’ve had and the onions mixed in give them a satisfying crunch.

{my handsome husband who loves getting his picture taken}

{me, chowing down}

Here’s the recipe for making two burgers, which I adapted from
The Food Network:

Ground Chicken Burgers
Ground white meat chicken: approx. 1/2 lb., enough for two generous-sized patties
*1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (see note below about easily making your own at home)
1 tablespoon low-fat milk
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

All I did was put all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, and used my hands to mix it together. Then I formed patties, plopped them on a heated skillet sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. Flipped them a couple times until they were browned all the way through, and perfectly juicy hamburgers with a bit of crunch!

* An easy way to make your own bread crumbs using a food processor: Take a piece of fresh or slightly stale bread and tear into chunks. Pulse it in a mini chopper or food processor. If you make a giant batch, you can freeze the extras so that next time you can skip this step.

DIY decorating: The trick to a stylish lamp for less than $7

our lamp, post revamp

While there are some twentysomethings with a six-figure salary, our homestead lives up to the adage "our humble abode." And yet, I'm thankful for this. I'm thankful that we're having to learn to watch our money and spend wisely and learn to make do (and be content) with what we have.

So we've had to get creative with our house, finding new and inexpensive ways to furnish or fix our place up and still keep it inviting in the process. I wanted to share one of our crafty fixes with you here.

First up, is our living room lamp.

We have an overhead lamp, but there's something about the glow of a lampshade that I find soothing and I love to read by. I went shopping to a few different places, but I figured that if I was going to spend a chunk of change on a lamp, I wanted to love it and be able to keep it for a few years. Nothing I found fell into that category, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

It was pretty simple, really. I went to our local thrift store and found an ugly, tarnished brass lamp without ashade on sale for $3 with working wiring. I thought the shape looked suitable and along the lines of what I had in mind so I decided to give it a try.

I picked up some silver/chrome spray paint. (Note that it isn't shiny like the cover conveys, but will show up as a more matte shade.) Using old grocery bags and packing tape, I made sure to cover up the electric cord and top where the lightbulb screws in. Then: Shake. Rattle. Roll. Let your newly spray-painted creation metamorphasis (and dry) over night and you're good to, all for less than $10 total. (I believe the spraypaint was about $3, and the lampshade was an extra my mom had stored in the basement, so that was a freebie.)

(For other inspiring examples of ways folks have recycled or reclaimed household goods, check out the "Before & After" section at design*sponge.)

Related Posts
Make Your Own Fancy Chalkboard with a Picture Frame and Spray PaintEasy-does-it reupholstering on our kitchen chairs

I Didn't Get the Job: A Story with a Silver Lining

photo by bluecinderellee

Do you remember that a month and a half ago, right when I started this blog, I asked for prayer regarding a job interview and then shared how well the interview and all the circumstances surrounding it went? Well, a week later, I received a call back from them asking me to come in for a second interview. Everyone interviewing me was talking to me, treating me as though I already had the job. And that's how I was feeling.

Until it had been two weeks, three weeks and I hadn't heard a peep. Even after giving them a phone call follow-up and hearing nothing. That's when I began to realize...I don't think I got this job.

Up until now, any job I've ever had an in-person job interview for, I've been offered the position. I had thanked God that he'd never opened any door that he didn't deliver on, job-wise. I thought, how kind he is to spare me from that kind of disappointment and rejection!

Well, no longer. I got a very kind and amicable phone call today from the woman in HR who let me know that they've decided to move forward with another candidate. Now I had fully been expecting this, seeing as I hadn't heard anything in almost a month. Still, it's humbling to hear the words, when I'd been thinking, 'Maybe, just maybe..."

Previous to hearing this, I'd already committed to trust God with whatever he was doing in this situation. I had stopped praying for this specific job and stepped back to ask that he simply provide an income for us and that it be something I enjoy. I'd decided that whether this job came through or did not, that I would give praise to God, trusting that just as he is the One who is, was and is to come, that he has done great things for me, is doing great things for me and will do great things for me. Though I can't always see those great things happening right now, I will not fret but will wait patiently and expectantly for him to fulfill these promises of his.

Disappointing though it is, there are a couple silver linings: First of all, I asked the woman from HR for any feedback regarding my interview and she shared that the biggest decision-maker was that the other candidate had 12 years of experience versus my five. She said that I was a strong second candidate, and that they'd enjoy entertaining me in the future for other opportunities. That was encouraging to my slightly bruised ego. Secondly, with the suspicion that the job offer was going nowhere fast, I followed up with my current boss to see about extending my freelance contract through the new year. (Currently, it was slated to expire December 31.) She emailed me back almost immediately to let me know she'd been talking to upper managment about that very thing and would like to have me continue through January and likely February.

So, it's another month without having to wonder about income or dipping into savings. It is not exactly the stability I yearn for, but I think that's what God has been teaching me lately: To learn to trust him for my daily bread. To give him the chance to provide for me, month after month after quitting my job. With the peace that comes from him alone, I am thankful and encouraged, about all that was, that is and that is to come.

"...What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open."
Revelation 3:7

A lesson I learned while watching a movie: Praising God “even if we lose”

photo by sleepishly
There’s a movie called “Facing the Giants.” It’s by the same church that put out “Fireproof.” It’s a feel-good football movie with a plot that is pretty familiar so far as movies go: Ragtag team of misfits can’t win a game to save their life. They’re resigned to being losers, until a coach takes heart in them. He helps them overcome the odds and come from behind to win the league—become the champions that few believed in.

(For me, the original of this genre will always be “The Mighty Ducks.”)

Anyway, this is that with a Christian twist. The team becomes good because they begin playing for “a higher cause.” (It’s a small-town Christian school, so they can get away with that.)

Michael thought the movie was really cheesy, which it is—but so are all the other movies in this category. Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed it, cheese and all.

The reason I bring the movie up isn’t to review it but to share a line that was repeated throughout the movie that I fell in love with. As the team prepared for each game of the season, the coach told them, “If we win, we’re going to praise God. And if we lose, we’re going to praise God. No matter what happens tonight on that football field, we’re going to make the choice to praise God for it.”

This simple, made-up movie scene has stuck with me and encourages me in the moments when I’m discouraged or questioning why God isn’t doing something or has let something happen. It stops me in my tracks and reminds me that in spite of what my emotions or circumstances might say about a situation, I need to praise God for it.

As Job says, in the midst of having lost all his livestock, his children and his health, “Should we take only good things from God and not trouble?" (Job 2:10)

It’s not easy to swallow my pride and thank God for the situation that’s inconvenient or frustrating or the exact opposite of what I’ve been praying for. But I grit my teeth and praise him anyway, taking the bad along with the good, and expecting him to fulfill his word and bring redemption, somehow, someway.

Daydreaming about our someday, future home

photo by linda yvonne

Lately, I've found myself daydreaming. Daydreaming about a home for me and Michael where we can put down our roots and call our own. I'm not sure where this came from, because I've always been content to rent and not have to worry about financing repairs or upgrades or handling a mortgage. And I'm still content to do so, but somewhere over the past few weeks, it's as if a switch went off inside of me that made me begin thinking about our future home.

Even when we were dating, Michael and I would go for walks through little neighborhoods and point out which houses we liked. Fortunately, we both gravitated toward the same kinds of homes: Small cottage-like homes with character and charm. (Yes, this was something I filed away in my mind while we were dating: "Reason #429 why I want to marry this man! We like the same kind of houses!")

I've always leaned toward having a smaller home, mostly because I've always hoped to stay at home once I have kids and I know that a larger-home mortgage is apt to be a burden on a single income. In speaking with some friends, they've shared the blessing that a small living arrangement provides: Less to furnish (which allows you to pick the pieces you really like and have an excuse to spend a bit more). Less to clean. Less to hoard. They attest that it's a practice in simplicity and minimalism, which I can definitely appreciate.

But I also like the idea of cozy home, where someone is just down the hall or in the next room--almost where you're forced to live amongst one another, even when you don't feel like it. (And, I expect that during the teens years, that will be the reality!) In a book of stories about the Amish and their daily life, the author shares that the way the Amish structure their homes is very intentional: Bedrooms are constructed quite small and the only room in the house that is heated is their family room. (I believe they call it a "great room.") They do this because they want everyone in the family to spend their free time together, to congregate in one area of the home and interact rather than retreat off into separate bedrooms.

Now, we're not ready to start shopping or putting down bids anytime soon; we want Michael to have a stable full-time job first, so that we can know neighborhoods to look at and what kind of budget we have. Recently, I came across a blog of a couple who is saving up to put 100% down on their first home purchase. I'm not sure how realistic 100% is for us and our timeline, but I think that the idea behind it is quite inspiring and something that I've added to my prayer list. (Also inspiring because I used one of those online calculators and found out that with the amount we currently have saved as a down-payment, we'd pay $69K in interest over the course of a mortgage!)

For now it's a percolating thought that's got me thinking. I'll be curious to see what our someday-home looks like and how closely it resembles the one I've been imagining!

Discerning God's Will for Your Life: Some basic principles to guide you

photo by eternal

One of the things that I feel like God has been shepherding me through over the past year is understanding the illusive idea of "God's will." We hear people talk about this so much, but how do we really know what he wants us to do, particularly when it comes down to grey areas like "Should I take this job or that job?" or "Should I speak up and say something about her choices?"

When I was trying to figure out whether to move to Grand Rapids or not, I sat down with the youth pastor at our church who I volunteered with (and who later introduced me and Michael and officiated our wedding). We went through why I wanted to move and I remember saying soemthing about wanting to do God's will. He shared a great illustration with me about how he understands this idea of God's will: Picture God's will as a big golf-style umbrella. Though the umbrella is small compared to the storm outside, it's big enough for you to stand various places under the umbrella. And so long as you're under the umbrella, you'll be kept dry from the rain. There's not just one, single spot and if you're not standing directly under it, you'll be pelted with thunderbolts. Rather, God is merciful and gives us options of where to stand under the umbrella of "his will."

This was the first time someone had introduced me to the concept of God's will as being one that is freeing rather than one that is confusing and condemning.

Last winter, I read an article that I found particularly insightful. In it, the author shares basic insights into discerning God's will. He points out that much of what God cares about most, he has revealed to us in the Bible--sure he cares about what job you take, but what he cares about most is your heart and your relationship with him. The author says, "Much of God's will has already been made plain....We must be willing to do his will in those things he has already revealed, if we are to know his will in those things he has not yet made known."

He then goes on to remind us that God usually doesn't make everything plain upfront, but leads us (often times unnoticably) as we go along. "However much we would like to know things in advance, there is no need for it. God wants us to trust him to open the right doors at the right time. And if we get to a door and it doesn't open, maybe God is asking us to wait as he has some more work to do on us first. Or maybe he is turning us in another direction," the author writes.

He also encourages readers to remember that God has gifted us with wisdom for a reason--and expects us to use it. "If God gives us wisdom to know what is the best path to take, that is just as much his guidance as giving us some special sign. This may involve hard work in grappling with issues, seeking advice and weighing up the options; but all this is part of our growing up."

Finally, he lists some of the things to consider as we weigh a decision with wisdom: What is God saying to me through the Bible? Do I have "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding" in regards to this decision? What do other godly Christians say about this decision? Are circumstances aligning to open doors or are they pulling closed?

(You can read the article in it's entirety here.)

Decorating for the Holidays: Celebrating our first Christmas

I enjoy the holidays; in fact, in my opinion, they're pretty much the only saving grace for winter. But for some reason I am not one of those women who walks down the Christmas aisle at Target and snatches up every red-and-green (or blue-and-silver, if you're going mod) tchotchsky. I guess I find it cute and I appreciate when other people festively deck the halls of their home for the holidays, but it's never been something I really get excited about or feel is necessary.

Over the past year or two though, I've tried to make more of an effort to pay homage to the season. And the thing is, that when I do, I really enjoy it. I like to walk in my living room and see a little nativity scene perched on a table or a tiny tree of tinsel decorated with ornaments.

This year is my first Christmas with a new last name, as a married woman. So even though our space is limited and I still don't feel like winding down the Target aisles, picking out Christmas decorations (maybe come January when they're all marked down or by using a Target coupon), I did pull together a few things to at least attempt to add a bit of holiday cheer to the homestead.

Here are some photos:

This is a miniature tinsel tree I bought 2 years ago, with matching green-and-silver ornaments. Right now, the tree topper is an ornament we got as a wedding present: It features two frogs cuddling on a big engagement ring. Even though it's kind of weird (it is), it's actually pretty cute:

My dad had a box of random Christmas decorations and toys he'd gotten from a garage sale, and let me go through them. I dug up this nativity scene. The only thing that was missing was the star on the top of the manger, so I cut one out of mustard-yellow construction paper and scotch-taped it to the peak:

Finally, I wanted to decorate our coffee table in the living room--pretty much the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Everything I used are things we already owned: The pinecone basket is from our wedding (it held the napkins on the buffet table), the vintage ornaments are from my mom; the green runner is just a large, jagged swatch of fabric I had that I ironed so that it looks presentable; and the gold leaf accent is actually a necklace Holly bought me one year. (I tried to hide the chain by tucking it around the glass!)

No garlands, no singing Santas, no fake snow. It's humble and simple, but it's something. It's a start. Here's  to the coming holidays!

P.S. To stay updated, you can have all my future blog posts sent directly to you via email or RSS feed by clicking on those links. (Let me know if they don't work.) Thanks for reading!   

Breaking down over a broken computer


Have you ever had one of those days that starts off beautifully—birds are chirping, you’re feeling good about everything on your to-do list, like the world is going your way. Then, out of nowhere you’re hit with a semi-truck that makes you want to pull out your “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” book and commiserate?

That was my Saturday. It started out lovely—waking up early, doing laundry, paying bills, making yogurt, baking bread. My husband worked all day on his papers due this week for finals, so for dinner we went out to this hip little Mexican shop where they were playing Feist and we got dessert and went to a coffee shop afterward. A cinema-worthy day, right? Totally.

But then we got home. We checked the mail, and I had a letter about my freelancer taxes not going through. This is an issue I’ve been trying to get fixed since September and has yet to be resolved. Then, I decided to take my laptop into the bedroom and snuggle in with a movie while Michael finished working on one of his papers. What happens? But I drop my laptop. And by drop, I mean it grows wings and flies out of my hands and crashes on the hardwood below. I have absolutely no idea how it happened except that when it did, I knew the thing was broken. Broken.

What did I do? I went in the bedroom and cried. I cried and told God how mad I was at him. Even typing it, I realize how not-a-big-deal these two incidents are. But at the time, they were huge with snarling mouths and glaring eyes.

At that moment, I was convinced: That I had messed up—yet again. That here I am trying to help us with our finances for the future, and instead I go and break something that costs hundreds of dollars to replace. That God was against me, not for me. Of course those are all lies (from Satan, “the father of lies,” John 8:44), but at the moment, I was convinced of them and consumed by them.

Then my husband edged into the bedroom. I was still fuming at God, at myself, when he crawled in bed and wrapped an arm around me. I know that God speaks himself and through the Bible, but he also speaks through other people. He was speaking through my husband during that time, as he was so understanding, so gentle, so encouraging while I poured out what I was feeling and all my anger.

As I did, the angst-filled fog began to clear. I saw that it’s just a computer. I saw how many good things we have and how many blessings we’ve received, time and time again—how this doesn’t even compare to those good things. I saw how limited my perspective was, and how I have no idea what God has in store. I began to trust him again.

Then, I felt the peace of God, that “which transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) We crawled under the covers and I apologized to God for my hissy fit, for my lack of faith and my lack of trust in him. I apologized to my husband for my unjustified anger over things that don’t merit it one bit. And to my surprise, I slept so soundly, and woke up with that peace still covering me like a warm, cozy blanket. What a gracious heavenly Father we have.

Making Yogurt in the Crock Pot: A weekend experiment

{a bowl of homemade yogurt with granola and honey}

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been collecting recipes for making homemade items. This weekend was my foray into trying homemade yogurt, using the crock pot.

It appears as though there are lots of ways to make your own yogurt, but most of them involved heating and cooling and measuring temperatures—a bit too involved for my likes (plus, I don’t have a suitable thermometer). Using the crock pot, though, is a lot more straightforward and just requires you be able to set a timer, plug and unplug. That is more my style.

So we tried it and it’s just as easy as it sounds. The only thing is that this isn’t exactly like the store-bought variety: it’s runnier and very bland. I added some honey to it and that perked it up substantially for my tastebuds.

Also, be forewarned that this makes a hefty dose of yogurt! I hadn’t expected that since we only eat it occasionally, but now I have a Tupperware full in my fridge so I suspect I’ll be having yogurt and granola every day for the next week. (However, if you frequently make smoothies, I think this would work great for that.)

Here are the steps, which I followed from Nourishing Days.

Crock Pot Yogurt

You’ll need:
Crock pot
½ gallon of milk (I used skim but trying 2% or whole might offer a thicker consistency, not sure)
½ cup of yogurt with live active cultures (just read the ingredients list and it should say)
  • Turn your crock pot to low and pour in 1/2 gallon of milk.
  • Heat on low for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Once 2 hours and 30 minutes have elapsed turn your crock pot off and unplug it. Let the milk cool in the crock with the lid on for 3 hours.
  • After 3 hours remove 1-2 cups of the warmed milk and place in a bowl. To that add 1/2 cup of yogurt with live active cultures and mix very well.
  • Pour the yogurt-milk mixture back into the milk and whisk thoroughly.
  • Place the cover back on the crock and wrap the entire crock pot in a thick bath towel or two.
  • Let it culture overnight, 8-12 hours.
  • In the morning stir yogurt (if desired) and store in glass quart jars or a container of your choice.
  • For optimum texture, refrigerate for at least 8 hours before using.
If you’re curious, here’s what I understand about the science behind the yogurt-making: Essentially, you have to heat up the milk to kill off any bacteria in it so that it’s a blank slate. You let it cool so that it doesn’t kill the yogurt bacteria. Then you let the yogurt-and-milk mixture ferment and you're set!

How a 3-ring binder has changed the way I pray and spend time with God

{a photo of my prayer binder}

I recently mentioned that I had finished reading Becky Tirabassi's book "Let God Talk to You." In it, she encourages readers to devote a significant chunk of time to God each day: a complete hour. For anyone who has struggled to stay focused through even a short time of prayer or remember what you just read, the idea of spending an hour alone in prayer and reading seems intimidating and almost unrealistic. I wondered, what do you do?

Fortunately, the reader is not left in the dark: She shares the template she's developed over the years for structuring her daily, hour-long quiet times. It starts with an ordinary, three-ring binder and a handful of dividers.

Her binder is like a guided tour through prayer and reflection: a section devoted to praise, another to confession and repentence, another to prayer requests, another to reflections on her daily Bible reading, etc. Through the hour, she works through each section.

Inspired, I created my own prayer-time binder. I didn't follow her exact set-up, but personalized it for one that worked better for my thought-process and preferences. I used a small binder I already owned, created divider tabs from pieces of on-hand construction paper cut in half, and ordered lined, 3-hole punched paper that fit the binder. (In case you're interested, the only place I could find with reasonably priced paper this size was

Here's an overview of how I've set my binder up and how I use it:
  • The first section is devoted to journaling. It's a place for me to reflect on what has been happening today and put some of my emotions on paper. It's not in-depth journaling, but a string of ideas and feelings and thoughts. I've found that even a sentence or two can really help me release anxieties or worries that have bottled up inside me. I also come back to this section when I'm doing my Bible reading to record certain verses that really stuck out to me or to journal how they might apply to my life. (Each day, I usually only journal a page or two, total, so it doesn't have to be extensive.)
  • The second section is where I list out my daily confessions and thankgivings. For this, I divide each section in half and on the left side, list my confessions and on the right, I list the blessings I'm thankful for that day. At the beginning of this section, I have a page of "praises" pulled from the Psalms that I'll pray over before jumping to my confessions and thanksgiving prayers. As Tirabassi explains, it's a good idea to start your time of prayer off by worshipping God for who he is and his infinite goodness, power, mercy and beauty.
  • The third section is for intercessory prayer. As I mentioned before, I try to base as many of my prayers of request on Scriptural truths as possible; this holds true for prayers I pray for other as well as for myself. The first page of this section is devoted to prayers I'm praying for Michael. After that, I have biblically-based prayers for specific people: friends, family, my church, etc.
  • The fourth section is dedicated to my personal prayers, whether it's regarding my character, circumstances or needs (and of course, wants).
  • The final section is one I've labeled "Archives," where I can move older material and keep each front tab as "fresh" and uncluttered as possible. I do enjoy reading back over this older material, though, so it's nice to have it easily within reach for later reflection.
I use this to help me move through my time of prayer and to reflect while doing my daily Bible reading and reflection. Whether you're trying or not, you'll be surprised at how easily it does fill up the complete hour. Now that I've been doing it awhile, I've stopped watching the clock and when I'm done, I'm done. Sometimes it might be 45 minutes long but other times it might take an hour and a half. Either way, it's not about being legalistic about the passage of time, but merely about setting aside time for God time during your day. Knowing that my binder and an empty page is waiting for me has helped me commit to this practice, especially during the times that I don't feel like it--of course, those are usually the times when I need to sit down with God the most .

Our Friday morning tradition: Breakfast with all the fixings

When I was living in Grand Rapids, there was a restaurant known for its breakfasts. One of my coworkers discovered that if you went on a weekday, before 7am, you could get a huge breakfast plate for $1.99.

For the last few weeks before my husband and I moved to Atlanta, we would meet at Wolfgang's at 6:30am with a couple of my co-workers for a hot meal and some good, outside-of-work conversations.

Even though it meant losing an extra hour of sleep, my husband and I really enjoyed our once-a-week tradition of a big breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon, eggs and toast. So my husband decided we should continue this tradition at our new home.

So it began that every Friday is celebrated with a  table-full of breakfast goodies.

My husband is usually the one who does the breakfast preparations, including whisking the pancake batter and forming them into perfect circles.

It's a nice--and anticipated--change to our usual tablescape of us, a cup of coffee and a couple boxes of cereal. And, it's great to have "a tradition" of our own that we can look forward to, little memories that we can look back on and, well, savor.

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What a step of faith looks like: Living in anticipation of our future goals

photo by denis defreyne 

Yesterday, I touched on the idea of making do with what you have as a characteristic of the Proverbs 31 wife. Toward the end, I mentioned that I'm doing much of this in preparation for the day when I have a family, even though we're a couple years away from that (at least accordding to our plan!).

When I was still single, I read a book that talked about the idea of living in anticipation of our future goals. The aptly named book, Get Married by Candice Watters, revolved around the idea of a woman's desire to be married. The author encouraged readers to live like they're going to be married--that is, act in a manner befitting of a wife. That translates to things like not being a flirt or being wise with your finances (since a husband will inherit your debt, too).

She notes that this kind of preparatory train of thought is an outward act of faith: Even though, in the case of the book, the reader is single and marriage seems far off, once you put this desire before God in prayer, you then begin preparing in these sorts of ways because you expect him to answer. That is stepping out in faith.

Since then, I have clung to this idea and tried to live it out, from my prayers for marriage to my prayers for new jobs. I have also begun applying it to my prayers for the day when I become a mother and start raising our family.

Even though it may not be for a couple years that this prayer comes to fruition (and for now we're glad for that, while Michael finishes up school!), I want to begin learning the art of homemaking now so that by the time this is in full-swing and I have a little one depending on me, I will be prepared. I won't look at my cupboards and freak out because I don't know what to make for dinner. I won't look at our finances and freak out because we haven't prepared for this transition. I know that when that time comes, I'll have enough to worry about as it is. I want to live today to make tomorrow as promising and fulfilling as possible.

For me, I am learning to live like I'm going to be a parent. But for you, it may be some other prayer that God has laid on your heart--a job, a spouse, a healing, a specific provision. Consider what steps of faith you can do today to pave the way for tomorrow's answered prayer. Hebrews 11:1 encourages us, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Learning to Live Proverbs 31: Cultivating the Art of Resourcefulness

photo by tillwe

One of the things I’ve noticed since getting married is how suddenly it put my homemaking urge into overdrive. Given, much of it boils down to necessity: Living for two essentially on a one-income salary, there’s a greater need for me to learn how to make things stretch.

I’ve always had an eye for sales and mark-downs and flitting from Target to thrift shop to TJ Maxx. But now, there seems a purpose to it. And I am enjoying the “challenge” of learning to make-do, to see the benefit it makes to our family now, and knowing the foundation it is laying for the future.

We’re all familiar with the wifely image presented in Proverbs 31, she who is “of noble character” and “worth far more than rubies.” When I went back and read that section a few days ago, I took note of how much of that section focuses on the work of her hands. There are about 20 verses that describe what it is about her that makes her so commendable. Of those verses, 11 revolve around the work she does for her household to provide and prepare it for the future.

In one of the books on the role of a Christian wife that I read, the author emphasized that women learn to be content and resourceful with what they do have. Oftentimes (especially if you are a stay-at-home mother), there’s little you can do about your income. But as a wife who deals with much of the day-to-day decisions of the household, you have the ability to put your creativity to use and bridge this gap through your savings, your spending and your handy DIY projects. These are the things God has placed in our hands--we are called to appreciate those gifts, make the most of them and avoid lamenting other things we wish we had.

So for now, while I’m still a newlywed and still a couple years away from motherhood, I’m starting small on this journey of homemaking. I don’t expect to figure out all the corners to cut or save every single penny. What I do want to do is learn and keep learning how to do this. Right now, that means things like researching how to make store-bought items from scratch (I especially want to try homemade granola bars), scouring sale ads from local groceries and even clipping coupons, which I never understood until now. For now, those baby steps are good enough for us.

She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
- Proverbs 31:27

Maple-Walnut Chicken Recipe: A sweet (and easy) dish for winter

photo by jakescreations 

This is a recipe I tore out of a copy of my mom’s Good Housekeeping, that is a sweet and super easy twist on regular chicken that Michael and I both really like.

(See, we do eat some meat!)

Maple-Walnut Chicken Recipe
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. packed fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ c. walnuts
5 Tbsp. cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. maple syrup

1. Rub chicken breasts with oil, then rub with thyme, salt and pepper. Let stand.
2. Toast walnuts in skillet on medium-heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Transfer walnuts to dish, do not remove skillet from heat.
3. Add chicken to same skillet; cook 12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer chicken to clean plate; do not remove skillet from heat.
4. To same skillet, add vinegar and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add syrup and ½ cup water; simmer 6 to 7 minutes or until mixture has thickened, stirring occasionally.
5. Add chicken back into sauce, and spoon walnuts over. Once re-warmed, remove chicken and drizzle extra maple sauce over dish.

P.S. To stay updated, you can have all my future blog posts sent directly to you via email or RSS feed by clicking on those links. (Let me know if they don't work.) Thanks for reading!   

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