A Prayer for Joy

original photo by frialove
There are times when I feel really discouraged or a sense of hopelessness looms like a black cloud over my head, in regards to a multitude of things. It can be hard to keep a heart of joy when circumstances point to otherwise. And yet, Scripture reminds us that we’re to praise God regardless of our situation and to be content with and thankful for our lot.

From many of these Scriptural truths, I pulled together a prayer for an unconditional heart of joy and praise toward God:
Dear Lord,

I commit even now to sing to you a new song of thanks and rejoice in You in my heart as I trust in Your holy name. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you--I, whom you have redeemed. I will rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: I rejoice!

You tend to me like my shepherd, letting me rest in green pastures and renewing my strength and guiding me and comforting me. You hold me like a lamb in your arms, carrying me close to your heart. I sing for joy at the works of your hands, my LORD. You have done great things for [me] and [I am] filled with joy. So I will go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, knowing that I will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves of harvest and blessing with me. I will forget about what’s happened and stop going over old history. I know that joy comes in the morning. I am alert and present to what God is doing now. He is about to do something brand new; it’s bursting out and I’m about to see it!

I rest in You and wait patiently for You. Lord, You are my strength and your joy strengthens my spirit. Lord, with a song of thanksgiving on my lips, I praise you and release everything I have as an offering to you—my life is yours to control, to guide, to redeem. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord alone.

I come to you in praise and joy and in submission to Your will and Your ways. I love you. Amen.
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Newlywed secrets from the Old Testament (Part II)

one of our wedding photos, by Fyrefly Photography
Yesterday I posted an excerpt from an article on your first year of marriage from Focus on the Family that looks at the instruction in Deutoronomy 24:5 for men to spend this first year at home with their wives.

Michael and I have been married for just over half of a year now, and though we never intentionally went about taking this verse to heart, many of our decisions involving time and commitments have ended up reflecting these ideas of being intentional during this crucial, rooting period in our marriage.

We discussed making each other our first priority, only second to God. We talked about our expectations, things like making sure to eat one meal together each night or going on a weekly date together. We began looking at these kinds of decisions about the time we’d spend apart as soon as we were engaged, especially in light of the fact that within our first month of marriage, we’d be moving across the country, from Michigan to Atlanta, a new city and state where I knew no one but him.

So, as it would turn out, it was Michael who ended up making much of the sacrifices to guard our marriage this first year, just as Deuteronomy had suggested centuries ago. Michael had been involved in multiple Bible studies and cut back to focus on the one group he felt was most important (leading his small group). He had to figure out how to juggle his school schedule with work and homework and studying so that during the evenings we could spend the most amount of time together. And sometimes, if I’m feeling lonely and he can tell, he’ll push it all aside and say, “Let’s go do something fun and hang out together. I can do this later. You come first.”

I just love when I’m able to look at something God’s already doing in my life and then find confirmation of it in the Bible like this. I find it really encouraging to know that despite our lack of knowledge about God’s Word, he still imparts it to us, even when we’re not aware of it at all.

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Newlywed secrets from the Old Testament (Part I)

photo by h.koppdelaney

I came across this article at Focus on the Family's "Young Married Life" section: "First Year Off."

Ever read this verse in Deutoronomy: "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." (Deut. 24:5)? I remember reading it once (before I even met Michael) and saying, "Yes! I want that!"

As it turns out, this writer took that verse and applied it to his own marriage. Here’s his modern interpretation of this Old Testament instruction:
      So how did my wife and I put this principle into practice? I applied the war/duty category to the most demanding areas of my life — work, school and ministry. For others it may be career-related responsibilities or social commitments. Remember, the reason for taking time off is to focus on the happiness of your spouse, so it makes sense to cut out the things that would draw you away from intentionally seeking your spouse's happiness.
  I took a job that wasn't very demanding, for example, requiring only 40 hours a week. I didn't travel much. As for hobbies and church related activities, I chose to spend less time reading and in ministry. Sure, we still read and ministered, but we often chose to do so with one another. We were both discipling others, for example, but did so together. Our disciples would come over to the house at the same time, but met in different rooms. This freed up more time in the day for one another.
  We were careful not to over-commit ourselves to things that would distract us from developing our relationship during that first year. As a result, I didn't focus on seminars or apply to seminaries. I backed away from some ministry duties and encouraged others to take on those responsibilities. All in all we tried to spend a lot of time together.
  We found it helpful not to put our plans in stone. We made some goals and tried to hold to them, my wife extending grace when I seemed to be working or studying an awful lot and I extended grace when my wife seemed to need a lot of time with her girlfriends.
  And we were careful not to isolate ourselves from others. Setting a year apart didn't mean checking out from our friendships and our community. We need others and they need us.
    In choosing to take that time off, my wife and I had one of the most intimate, fun, and insightful times we've had in a while. By taking a step back from vocational and social responsibilities at work, church, and/or school, we were able to spend more time knowing and loving one another. In turn, that led to a greater relational intimacy and understanding, which fueled our marriage for the future.

As the author himself said in the article, "It should go without saying that the command in Deut. 24:5 is no longer binding for new covenant Christians; we are neither under the Law, nor obligated for war. However, the wisdom of a husband taking a year off of what would otherwise occupy most of his time, in order to devote it to the happiness of his wife, seems undeniable."

Now of course I'm a woman, but I feel that it goes both ways during this first year, as we learn to live with one another and learn the depths of each other, working out the kinks now before the stresses of time start taking their toll and patiences wear thin. The Bible never ceases to amaze me--especially the pages of the Old Testament.

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Why we don't own a television

photo by dailyinvention

Michael and I don't own a television.

And it doesn't really feel that weird to us. In fact, I actually like it this way, at least for now.

It all started a couple of years ago when the staples of my television schedule were "America's Next Top Model," "Heroes," and "Gilmore Girls." One night, as I flipped off the TV, I realized that nothing had happened during that episode. I kept watching, episode after episode, hoping it might be satisfying or thrilling or something. But somehow, in spite of how they made the previews look, it usually ended up being disappointing much of the time.

C.S. Lewis said that we ought spend our time doing things we need to do or things we love to do. Our time is far too precious to be spent on anything less. So, I decided to spend my leisure time on things I enjoyed more or found more fulfilling.

As I cut out television watching, I realized I didn't really miss it, and, two years later, I still don't. For one, our apartment really doesn't offer much space to a television set (because we have no intention of keeping one in our bedroom, which happens to be the largest room in the place) and our budget doesn't really accommodate one of those fancy flat-screens either.

But more than that, we've found that it makes us be selective about our viewing habits. To watch something, we either have to make friends with folks who also enjoy that show, download it on Hulu.com or rent it from the library (where I recently found a copy of the movie Coraline!). It's like when you get accustomed to drinking a fine wine (or so I'm told): No longer does the "junk" satisfy. If it's not something I really want to watch, it's hard for me to sit through it. I start to feel bored and wasteful. We still watch "The Office" (one of Michael's favorite shows, which I've adopted as the Mrs.), but if I'm going to invest my time in a TV show, I try to stick with shows where I can try learn something...like, ahem, "Super Nanny." (I know, I know...but I do love that show!)

It's a system that works for us, causing us to be picky about our habits and freeing us up for other pursuits--like this blog! (Though, admittedly, I would like to become more disciplined about how much time I spend online. I think that will be a harder media for me to break free of!)

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Our car was broken into...you won't believe what they stole

This is the sight we woke up to the other day: Light streaming through the bare branches, casting a glow on the melting snow underfoot as we ventured down to the parking lot behind our apartment building.

As is often the case, all was not as it appeared. Upon making our way closer, we saw that our innocent-looking car (the Civic in the center of the photo above), we saw that...our back window had been completely obliterated. By this:

Yes, that huge hunk of rock was hurled through our window. Fortunately our neighbor heard the large crash and woke up to see the culprit in action. He called the police, but by the time they arrived, he'd already fled the scene. Fortunately the sun was shining and it was a clear night so we didn't have to deal with the consequences of waterlogged upholstery or mildew, which would have been the case a day earlier. Fortunately, we were able to get it all fixed within 24 hours and you wouldn't even know it had ever been accosted like that.

So, do you want to know what he ended up taking, after all that effort? You shouldn't be surprised to know we barely keep anything in our car at all. I won't even keep original CDs in there--all of the ones in my car are burned copies so that I don't have to worry about scratches.

While combing through our belongings and picking out the shards, we discovered that he walked away with only two items:
1) A make-up bag I kept in the glove compartment that had some extra blush, bronzer, eyeliner and lotion, all of which were admittedly pretty old and most likely disgustingly melted. (I didn't even use them!)
2) A little tub of cleaning wipes that I kept in my car to wipe down surfaces every once and awhile. To boot, they were the generic Meijer brand!

So now some strange man is walking around downtown Atlanta with a bag of old makeup and some cleaning wipes--an interesting combination for sure!

Though it was a hassle (and an unexpected $100 expense to cover the deductible), we're just glad we're safe and he didn't trash (or steal!) the car! Besides, it's almost comical what he ended up deciding to take. Though next time, why don't you just knock on the door? I'll gladly save you the effort and take you shopping at the grocery store instead!

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Sitting Pretty: Mixing and matching prints in our living room

our living room

I love beautiful patterns. I don't know that I'd ever be happy in a room full of solid colors; I need a splash of floral here or some damask there to feel at home in a space.

Those decorative flourishes are especially apparent in the seating I've collected over the past couple of years, which I thought I'd share today. I've already shared the recent reupholstery project we gave to our kitchen-table chairs, which also bear this penchant for punchy fabrics.

Currently, our sofa is a sturdy freebie I inherited from some family friends, that we've covered with a dusty-blue couch cover. Though I do look forward to the day when Michael and I get to buy our first couch together (oh la la!), I'm actually content with what we have now, especially when it's dolled up with some coordinated throw pillows. (The green one is velvet with a crocheted doily and a felt bird appliqué that I sewed on.):

One of my crafting crowns of glory is this chair that I reupholstered, all by myself! It was a project I tackled a couple of Thanksgivings ago. My mom found this settee, which was in great condition, marked down at a thrift store for next to nothing. I settled on this oversized floral print for the fabric and did my best to makeshift the upholstery. I was ever so anxious to see the finished piece, so I didn't exercise enough patience to go through the effort of measuring and piecing together patterns and stitch it together with my sewing machine; instead I pretty much did a lot of the sewing directly onto the couch itself! Consequently, if you look closely, you can see some seams showing, but I still don't mind at all. It proves its homemade handiwork!

Have a seat, shall we?

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The faces of those in Haiti: Memories from my trip there

the Caribbean where we went swimming in Haiti

We woke up yesterday to news that yet another earthquake had rocked the land of Haiti. Another.

The thing is that I really struggle with these kinds of things. Not because people have lost lives and loved ones and everything they once held dear. I struggle because, in spite of those truths, I still continue to be moved more by friends who have lost jobs, by my own problems, even by movies, than by the devastation that has ripped through this country. It honestly makes me ashamed.

It’s so hard for me to pray for an entire “people” and to put myself in their shoes, to feel with them—whether it's the homeless of Atlanta, the nation of Israel, or all 10 million of the Haitians. It’s much easier for me to connect with a face, a name, a life.

When I was in Haiti, I got to know a boy named Johnny. He was probably twelve or thirteen at the time. I remember hanging out with some of the Haitian kids as they let out of school and trying to communicate with them. I had taken French in high school and much of the Haitian Creole that they speak there has its roots in French, so I discovered that there was a lot of overlap in words and phrases. Johnny, this young lanky kid, walks up and I’m trying to talk to him in my broken French. When I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say, he finally translated it in English—much to my surprise. Only the translators could speak English, much less a 12 year old! It was not long before we learned how smart this young kid was, with a mind and wit that could do incredible things in the years to come.

Later in the week, we took a holiday to the Haitian beach for a day. We climbed into a hand-carved canoe and a local paddled us to a tiny little island off the shore, just yards away from a coral reef. We splashed in the bright blue waters, ahhed over all the sea shells dotting the sand and the vista of pure sea and sky. I remember a couple of locals came over to our group, where we were suited up with our swimming suits, our snorkels, our goggles. These guys, probably in their late teens, had never seen anything like it and I don’t think they even knew how to swim. At one point, someone handed them their goggles to try. They poked their faces beneath the water and were given new eyes to see the waters of their backyard: Like little children, they began jumping and pointing at the things they could now see in the salty waters. I was amazed…and humbled.

I remember our translator who could tell the time of day just by looking at the sun and never had the need to wear a watch. I remember the little child who was naked and covered in dirt and ran up to hold my hand as I walked through the village and who dragged a plastic bottle on a string behind her as a toy. I remember the teen girls from a local orphanage who taught me some hand-clap songs and a hip-hop dance and we laughed our heads off about it.

I remember these faces, these stories, these people who call Haiti home and have had to experience the events of the last week. I remember them--though I have no idea how they've been affected by all this--and I am encouraged to pray. No longer is it 10 million people, an overwhelming amount for me to wrap my head around. But it is these people who I once met, I once laughed with, I once knew, I once prayed with. Now, I continue to pray.

Some more photos from my trip:

a main street in the town of Grand Goave where we stayed

fetching clean water (and they carry those buckets on their heads back home)

worship at church. tell me if that isn't inspiring?

some girls in the open-room schoolhouse

a cutie-patootie teaching me how to dance


I'm a sucker for romance: Why I love reading the Old Testament prophets

One of my favorite sections of the Bible to read is the Old Testament prophets. That's because it's here that, verse after verse, the prophets declare God's love for his people. They share time and time again that God will restore them inspite of their disobedience and hardened hearts. Over and over again, God speaks up and promises us his heart, his love, his forgiveness, his redemption. I know that if I'm having a hard day or just want a good reminder for my heart, I can flip to these chapters (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial and the like) and not have to flip long before I rediscover these truths, beautiful sentiments like:

"The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you." (Zephaniah 3:17)

"...I will not forget you. See, I have written your name on my hand. Jerusalem, I always think about your walls." (Isaiah 49:15-16)

"Israel, how can I give you up? How can I give you away, Israel? .... My heart beats for you, and my love for you stirs up my pity." (Hosea 11:8)
One thing I especially love that you find in these books is that God showers these affections on his people most often when they've betrayed him, left him, turned their backs on him and brought destruction upon themselves. Even in those moments, he shares his deep devotion to them and his desire to restore them, heal them, lavish them:
"So, I [the Lord] am going to attract her [the people of Israel, who are worshiping other gods and idols]; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and I will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope...." (Hosea 2:14-15)

"'I have seen what they have done, but I will heal them. I will guide them and comfort them and those who felt sad for them. They will all praise me. I will give peace, real peace, to those far and near, and I will heal them,' says the LORD." (Isaiah 57:18-19)
How beautiful are those words? And he still is whispering them to us, today.

1 John 3:1 says, "Consider this: The Father has given us his love. He loves us so much that we are actually called God's dear children. And that's what we are." We can rest assured that we too stir his heart, that our names are written on the palm of his hand.

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Discovering The Benefits of Waking Up Early

photo by face_it

As a fulltime freelancer, I’m able to set my own work schedule, allowing me to take care of errands during the middle of the day (before traffic builds up) and, yes, even sleep in as I please. Of course I have to make this up, but I don’t mind doing work in the evenings or finishing things up over the weekend.

But I’ve started to notice that on the days when I wake up at 9:30am, I start off with a bit of a panic, trying to juggle everything to get started: There’s checking my work email, checking my personal email, not to mention making breakfast and saying good morning to Michael. It’s like having to rush and catch up from the moment I swing out of bed.

At the same time, I read a handful of blogs by stay-at-home moms who talk about everything from cleaning to crafting to childrearing. Lately? They’ve all been talking about their routine of waking up early. Which encouraged me to set my alarm clock and wake up at 7:30am. (And to think, I used to have to be at work at 7:30am!) The thing is, though it’s nice to have a full night’s rest, I know that I only need about 7 hours.

And waking up early--though it’s difficult to climb out of a warm bed and leave my sweetly slumbering husband--has been refreshing and allowed me to ease into my day, leisurely checking emails and catching up on blog reading, making a to-do list before settling into my work. I think--for now, at least--I’m an early-morning convert.


Win a Shopping Spree for Your Home Bar or Wine Collection! [ CLOSED ]

Having a home that I find beautiful (or at least evolving in that direction) is one a thrill of mine. Especially so when you're able to combine form with function and turn an everyday essential into a work of art. Such is the opportunity when it comes to storing your wine collection: Thanks to some creative wine racks, they have been freed from the closed-doors of the pantry, allowing you to show off your collection of wines chosen for their funky labels (we all do it!).
So when my friendly neighborhood publicist emailed and asked if I'd like to host a giveaway for their website which sells all things bar- and wine-related (from the stools you sit on to wine racks and corkscrews), it was an emphatic 'yes!' on my end.

AllBarStools.com is offering any item of $35 or less to one Life Blessons reader. How do you enter? Pretty easy:

1. Visit AllBarStools.com and find an item of $35 or less that you'd like to win. Please choose wisely because if you're selected as the winner, this will be the item you get! (Here's a direct link to browse my favorite section, their wine racks.)
2. Come back here and comment on this post, including the item of your choice.
3. Make sure you also include your email address somewhere in your comment.

That's it--one comment per person, making sure you follow each step above. The contest is open until 11:59pm EST on February 1. I'll randomly choose the winner, get in touch with them (via the email provided in the comments) and then your prize will be shipped to you directly!

To get you started, here are some of my favorite $35-or-less items from AllBarStools.com that could be yours (click on the photo to go directly to that product page):

Wouldn't these be the perfect props for a romantic at-home Valentine's dinner? Now get shopping!

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From my friends who are missionaries in Haiti: Glimpses from the frontlines

a photo from my trip to Haiti in 2007 with a local Haitian family

Everyone has heard about what has happened in Haiti. But what not everyone gets to hear is what is happening there now, from people outside newscasters and journalists. A couple of years ago, I went on a missions trip to the Haitian countryside outside the capital of Port au Prince with some women from my church for a week. (You can read a short piece about my visit that I wrote while I was working at HOW magazine.) Two of the women that I got to journey with have continued returning and were down there at the time of the earthquake, witnessing all the tragedies that have resulted (though, fortunately, neither of them were hurt).

I often struggling to grapple with headlines and wrap my head around the gravity of a situation like this, unable to really understand the trickle-down affect of what it looks like in real people's real lives. It's been humbling for me to hear the eye-witness accounts these missionaries are sending back about what has taken place, which I'd like to also share with you, what they're seeing, what is happening there at the frontlines. (Though I will admit that I had to cut out some of the more heartbreaking stories they shared of lost lives they witness due to lack of medical supplies/not enough time; it just seemed a little inappropriate to share those tragedies):

From missionaries with Lifeline Christian Mission in Haiti:
Several thousand Haitians are living on our grounds [at the missions compound].  They have moved what belongings they have left with them.  We have a field of tents and mattresses in our front yard.  Right now an evangelistic rock band is playing in the front yard.  Last night a little boy was born and we had to use dental floss to clamp the cord.

We don’t have supplies to treat all the people here…they are coming here in large numbers with broken limbs and severe wounds. The Grand Goave Hospital collapsed too. We are going to try to get the school kitchen cleaned up and begin feeding the people of the community but many of our Haitian staff spent the night here last night due to damage of their homes and fear of them collapsing. Most of the school classrooms are gone! One truss has come down in the church. We have about 1 container full of KAH food here and 2 in customs. So we have to try to begin feeding people. 

Some of our gals went out yesterday and took photos for an AP writer who contacted me and wanted some photos of the Grand Goave area. They came upon a collapsed structure behind the Catholic church (which is now gone!) where a rescue was taking place with a back hoe.  As a result they witnessed about 6 people, including a priest, 2 nuns and some students being helped out and for the most part they were not harmed seriously even though they were under rubble for nearly 24 hours.

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Are your prayers big enough?: The 'whys' and 'hows' of "praying big"

original photo by ecstaticist

One of my favorite subjects to read about is prayer. I'm not sure exactly why; perhaps because it's one of the subjects of faith that I can implement so directly into my life and that has had such  a profound impact.

Regardless, I was staring at our expanse of IKEA bookshelves and the treasure trove of resources Michael and I have accumulated. I decided to pick a few of the books that have touched me the most and share some of my favorite insights from them.

As the first from my collection, I pulled out Pray Big by Will Davis, Jr. He's a pastor out of Austin, and has written a whole series on the concept of "praying big"--there's a book about praying big for your marriage, for your child and for yourself. This book, though, is the keystone for all the others.

Davis describes this concept of "praying big": "Prayer should be as big as God's promises and as full as God's resources. Your requests should require the full power and provision of God." These are the prayers that depend fully on God--only he can make them happen. And when he does--then your faith grows by leaps and bounds and our relationship with him becomes stronger.

How can you discover these kinds of "big" prayers for your own life? Davis suggests:
  • Examine your concerns. "Are you worried about your marriage, your career, a friend's salvation?" Davis asks. Those are perfect things to put into prayer and ask God for. Also, consider your passions and the things you love to do or would like to do more of. Finally, is there anything you're afraid to ask God about? I've definitely had those kinds of prayers that are hard to give over, but that's exactly what we must do.
  • Find verses in the Bible that state what you want God to do--in your life, in a specific situation, etc.
  • Finally, get specific in what you're asking him. Have you ever heard anyone talk about make things measurable when it comes to setting goals? It's kind of the same thing here--when prayers are general, we can tend to wax over them and shrug the answers off. But when we pray as specifically as needed, we become more aware of the ways God answers us.
For me, I've got a binder full of these kinds of "big prayers." But here are just a few to give you an idea of how this has inspired my prayer life:
  • For my marriage: I pray to be a Proverbs 31 kind of wife, that God would make me a woman Michael trusts, that I would greatly enrich his life, and do him good and not harm all of my life.
  • For my job: I pray that God will provide an income for us and a job that I enjoy. This is one instance where my prayers may not seem all that specific, after all--but they're open-ended for a reason: When I was moving to Grand Rapids, I knew I wanted to work in Christian publishing, so I prayed accordingly so. Now, I'm not sure what I want to do. So I have turned the specific element on its head and am asking God to pick the job for me that will meet these two essential needs and leaving the details up to him.
  • For my future: I'm praying about us being able to save up money for a future home purchase, that I will continue growing in my homemaking (ahem, culinary) duties, and that God will begin paving the way for Michael's career so that we can be prepared when we start our family.
  • For my spirit: One thing I ask is that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon his beauty (from Psalm 27).

The encouraging testimonies of answered prayers

photo by Hamed Saber

One of the greatest blessings during my 11-month stint living in Grand Rapids was the weekly prayer group I attended at Mars Hill. I got to see firsthand--in my own life and in others’--the power that prayer can have, from the mundane (like the fact that I had a good hair on my interview day) to the miraculous (people being healed from diseases, incredible financial provision, etc). Hearing the stories of what God was doing in other people’s lives still awes me, time after time, and encourages me to pray more fervently and expectantly with my prayers.

So it’s that idea of encouraging your faith through the power of prayer that I’m turning to now, and sharing just a sampling of these testimonies, which I receive in a monthly email update from that prayer group, lovingly known as The W. (If you want to find out more about The W, or to sign up to receive these updates, visit HearingGod.org.)

Prayer is powerful: Testimonies of God answering the prayers of his people
  • A woman testified about her dire financial situation and how she had received $15 in the mail. Her response was to thank God for gas money to get her to work. …. She had a big rent payment coming due and she did not know how she was going to pay it. She was praying fervently. She went to the bank with the idea to ask the teller to bring up her account information so she would know for sure, what she had. She approached the teller and told her what she wanted and the teller said ‘sure, no problem, I’ll bring up your information on the screen’.  Suddenly, the screen went black, and the computer shut down. The teller apologized and said she would have to reboot. Julie is praying while the computer comes back on.  The teller gets her account up and says: “you have -------- in your account” Julie looks stunned, and says, can you repeat that?  She repeated the amount and Julie again asks, “what did you say?” Finally the teller wrote it on a sticky note. Julie was in awe because she did not know where the money came from. Julie came away from the bank having enough money to pay her rent, utilities, gas for car and food. You are Jehovah Jireh!

  • A woman was praying for her daughter who had been molested as a young girl and was now giving them fits as a young teenager.  Within a week the daughter approached her Mom wanting to talk and opened up confessing sin in her life and asking for prayer and the Holy Spirit melted her heart and began the healing process.  We do bless you Healing Lord.
  • A woman asked her Dad to come over and fix her toilet.  That night while at the “W” a young woman prayed for her toilet that it would be fixed and running fine.  When her Dad got there he came out and asked what he was supposed to fix since it was “running fine”.  God, You act even on the mundane details of our life.
  • A man was prayed for because of an abrasion on his eye which was healed instantly.  He also was suffering from a degenerative condition in his eye that was causing great concern.  We found out this past week that he went back to the doctor and his eye and his vision is completely normal.  Way cool. 
  • An intercessor couple that is a part of the “W” saw their grandkids pray for people’s healing.  Two people were healed instantly.  Thank You Lord for allowing us to pass these truths to the coming generations.

  • A woman was at the “W” and still suffering foot pain after the ministry time.  She heard the Holy Spirit say “stop praying for the pain to go away and pray for new arches in your feet”.  She asked another woman to pray with her and as they prayed they both felt her foot move and an arch appeared where there was none before.  They kept praying and the other foot moved as well.  Father, You indeed guide us into all truth including the truth of how to pray. 
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"This Is Your Brain In Love" book review

photo by taod

It's Dr. Henslin's desire that marriages last, which has caused him (a Christian marriage therapist by trade and training) to look holistically at what makes for successful relationships, including science. He shares how he came across recent brain studies that showed how some brain imbalances can cause people to act angry, anxious, controlling, depressed or inattentive--a recipe for disaster when it comes to wedded bliss.

Often he has found that in many marriages that are facing problems, a piece of the puzzle has to do with the person's brain. Through his new book This Is Your Brain In Love, he looks at the 5 most common brain imbalances (quizzes included to help you discern any tendencies you may have to fall in one category or another), the personality types that reflect them and (most importantly) how to deal with them. The refreshing thing about his book is that he only recommends medication in a last-ditch effort; otherwise he seeks things like dietary changes or other behavior-modifications to help folks find relief.

Michael and I took Dr. Henslin's quizzes and, not surprisingly, I fell into the category that tends toward overworrying, fretting and liking things (and people) to be "just so." I was quite surpised how Henslin nailed it on the head in this category for me, which he linked to an overactive Cingulate Gyrus. He includes tips after each "diagnosis," so I'm curious to try out some and see whether it eases some of my anxieties, things like eating foods with serotonin and taking a supplement like St. John's wort. Other tips (that I already do) were to get out and take a walk when you're feeling overwhelmed or sit down and do a crossword puzzle to take your mind off things.

Though the bulk of the book is focused on maintaining a healthy, balanced brain, it is sandwiched between two chapters that look at the importance of bringing spirituality into your marriage, including insights from the Jewish perspective of marriage that shed light on what "holy matrimony" means and what certain elements of love (forgiveness, honesty, patience, kindness) look like in marriage. Though these sections felt a little disjointed from the "brain" theme that the book revolves around, I enjoyed reading them, particularly learning more about Jewish treatment of marriage as sacred.

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Easy-does-it reupholstering on our kitchen chairs

One of the gifts that parents gave us for Christmas was my very own staple gun. (Two Christmases previously, they wrapped up an electric drill set and set it under the tree for me--one of my favorite presents ever--so you can see their fondness for indulging my crafty endeavors.)

We put it to use immediately on a project I've been looking forward to for over a year: Reupholstering my kitchen-table chairs. I'd bought the chairs at an antique shop the summer when Holly and I moved out together. The dark-wood boomerang-shape of their backs caught my eye, as did the $30 price-tag. But even then I knew that someday, those suckers would be reupholstered.

I'm still getting the hang of remembering to take photos to accompany posts, so there's no "before" image. You'll just have to take my word for it that the cushions were nothing to bat an eyelash at. They were in good shape, quality-wise, but the cloth was blah-brown, mottled with some pastels. No thanks.

So, after unscrewing the cushions from the chair frame (which made the process almost too easy), we stretched the fabric right over the old cushion and stapled it in place. Like new!

Here's a more accurate image of the finished-project fabric up-close:

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Six months of marriage: One more answered prayer

one of our wedding photos by fyrefly photography

Today, Michael and I celebrate six months of being married.

Though it admittedly isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty incredible to look back and see how far we’ve come: A year and a half ago, I was single and living in Cincinnati. At the time, there were two prayers on my heart: 1. To meet the godly man I would marry, and 2. Find a job in Grand Rapids and start the next chapter of my life.

I had only been praying adamantly and intentionally about both of those for a few months when I penned this journal entry titled, "things are happening… i can see it," that reflects on God working in these two prayers:

July 15, 2008

All I can say is that I feel like I’m at a point where I’m really able to watch God work. It used to be that God would do stuff without me realizing it and I wasn’t aware that the steps I was taking would lead here or there. But now, I feel like I’m finally able to see it and perceive in, in real, live time.

It kind of reminds me of the part in Fantasia where the magic just starts to kick in, and it’s happening little by little. But after awhile it swells into this huge symphony of magic coming together. Right now, it’s that beginning. Where the buckets are teetering and brooms are waking up and they’re starting that little dance, just now stirring. And to think i’m able to watch it as it happens to me and those around me. It’s so awesome.

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…”

It’s interesting to note that when I wrote that, I had no word about a job in Grand Rapids and no men on the horizon. I knew Michael, but was convinced he had no interest in me so I had no expectation that anything would happen there at all.

Yet, there was a feeling in my bones that God was at work with these prayers. What do you know? Within weeks, I had my first date with Michael and a job offer in a city with one of the country's most depressed employment rates. A year later,  I was already a married woman and planning my next cross-country move. Miracles wrought, revealing that God can make the impossible possible, the loftiest of prayers come true, faster than we ever anticipated.

It has been so amazing to look back and see how God laid those prayers so heavily on my heart and then--why am I surprised?--answered them in such an incredible and powerful manner. A year and a half later, I'm still in awe and ever-so thankful, as both of them have indelibly changed my life and my heart!

Happy anniversary, Michael. I love you!

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It snowed in Atlanta!

photo by my husband (and his chilly fingertips!)

Well, just barely. But enough for people to hit the grocery store early, for the airport to cancel flights, etc. Me? I would be absolutely content if this were all the snow I saw this winter!

Lessons I'm Learning: Embracing the unknown

photo by nicole st. john

It feels like right now Michael and I are settling into a season of unknowing: While I'm working on a month-to-month freelance gig and looking for a full-time job, Michael is finishing up his last year of school and preparing to be a teacher. But as we all know, the teaching profession isn't all that ripe if you aren't a math/science/special ed teacher, so even there this is a big question mark looming overhead about what will happen.

And yet, while neither of us know what the future will bring and everything seems continually up in the air, I'm beginning to see the Lord at work, teaching us to release our worries, teaching us to let go of our need to have everything guaranteed for months to come, teaching us to be satisfied with a limited amount of foresight for our daily bread, teaching us to trust and increasing that trust day by day, month by month.

You, see, in spite of "not knowing" for the past 5 months, every month has been provided for us, whether it's income, groceries, a broken computer or anything else. Over and over again, he's showing us to continue on in faith and allow him to provide for us continually.

And for that, I'm learning to thank the Lord for this. I know I should praise God for the good and the bad, because you never know what He has in store to redeem the bad or the unfortunate. But it's only now where I'm able to start seeing and recognizing the fruits this experience has allowed us: growing our relationship with God, but also teaching us about being wise with our finances and learning to lean on one another.

It's beautiful when these sorts of truth begin to reveal themselves, when the foggy veil starts to pull away and the clarity of hindsight gives way. I've been listening to the free music web stream, live from the International House of Prayer and they're playing a song as I write that goes, "He's giving me counsel, even in the night. He's giving me counsel; I will bless the LORD." What a great encouragement to know that!

(I would definitely encourage you to log on and listen to the IHOP webstream. I just let it play in the background while I'm working, emailing, whatever. I've had the privilege of getting to visit there twice now, and love what they're doing there and the example they're setting with their commitment to around-the-clock prayer and worship.)

The Fruits of the Freezer: Getting More Out of Your Produce

image from x-ray_delta_one

One thing I've started trying to do more of is making use of my freezer. Especially when only cooking for two, there's a lot of room for food--and produce especially--to go to waste. But after doing some research, I discovered that, with the right amount of preparation, you can freeze just about anything.

So, in our freezer you'll find whole lemons, potato wedges, cubes of frozen chicken and vegetable broth, an extra loaf of bread, carrot sticks, even onion and garlic cloves. Not only does this cut down on food waste but also on many last-minute grocery store runs, if all you have to do is thaw and defrost.

I've also found that buying the produce fresh and then freezing it myself is more cost-efficient. (Plus, I like the satisfying hands-on, DIY aspect of it!)

I'd like to get more adept at making more meals in bulk and freezing extra portions for later, but that will come in time. (A good cookbook for that is "Don't Worry: More Dinner's in the Freezer," but I haven't made anything from it yet.) For now, I'm living--and learning--by baby steps!

The sweet comforts of the coffeeshop

a warm hot chocolate for a cold, Atlanta night

Michael and I are pretty simple when it comes to being entertained: A movie every once and awhile. Going to local shows his friends are playing. And coffee shops.

There's something about getting out of the house and exploring a nearby coffee shop--even when it means piling on layers to withstand the biting cold outside. Whether it's seeking out favorite spots in Atlanta, Grand Rapids or while visiting family in Cincinnati, this is one of the pastimes and simple pleasures we enjoy together.

Last night, we treked over to one of Michael's favorite Atlanta coffee shops, where I ordered a tasty little hot chocolate treat. (By the way: While I love making hot chocolate from scratch, I don't always like having to stand over a stove to make it happen. So to liven up an ordinary packet of hot chocolate, I've started adding just a dash of flavored coffee creamer. Works wonders.)

Michael concentrated on a book he's studying as he prepares to take his teaching license test (which will take place this Saturday; all prayers appreciated!). I pulled out my laptop and researched tax info and recipes and read blogs. It was simple, but it was a lovely way to wrap up an otherwise ordinary Monday.

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!    

Helpful Homemaking Tip: Meal planning with spreadsheets

photo by njum

So I'd heard about people doing weekly meal planning and thought it sounded like a good idea, but how necessary is it when you're only cooking for two people?

Well, given that I'm not really a foodie and quite satisfied with a good club sandwich, it didn't take long for me to see the light: We were getting to the point where it seemed like every night there were 4 dinner options to choose from--pasta, veggie burgers, tacos/quesidillas or salad. Frankly, I was getting burnt out and overwhelmed at the idea of "what's for dinner?" or trying to hunt for a recipe last-minute.

So, while I was catching up on my blog reading, I read a post on Passionate Homemaking. The post was talking about how she takes one hour each week to prep for the coming week--including planning her meals.

Though I'd heard it before, this is when it clicked: I. Need. That. Something to guide me through my culinary quandries and take the stress out of it.

A bit more Googling brought me to a downloadable Excel spreadsheet for weekly menu planning. You can customize it and add in your own typical eating fare. (We don't do much meat, so this was great for our needs.) Brilliant.

Then, when menu-planning (and grocery-shopping) time comes, all it takes is a few clicks of a button and you're set. I even added a section of "Recipes to Try" with notes about any required ingredients that we don't normally keep in our pantry.

What's on the menu tonight? Among other things, a new glazed-carrots recipe I found online. Bon appetit!

Linked up at Kitchen Tip Tuesdays!

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A lesson from the Garden of Eden: How God prepares for us

photo by stitch

In celebration of the new year, I went back to Genesis 1 to read: “In the beginning, God created…” I read through this chapter, noting the order he created things in and wondering about the significance, like how the birds and fish came before land animals.

Anyway, then God creates man and woman and gives them the command to live on this earth. “God said, ‘Look, I have given you all the plants that have grain for seeds and all the trees whose fruits have seeds in them. They will be food for you.” (Gen. 1:29)

As I read that, I noted the significance of the fact that, even before he created this man and this woman, God had already prepared their environment for them. They didn’t have to ask for food or even know a world without provision--it was ready for them as soon as they stepped onto the scene.

And I realized how that’s still God’s nature:  To go ahead of us, prepare the way for us, even before we ask or know what’s happening, he’s at work. What an encouraging reminder for me during this time, when my environment (at least job-wise) is rather bleak and hazy. I can trust that despite what my eyes may see, God is at work, prepping the landscape of my future that will get me through.

Welcome to 2010: Looking forward to the year ahead

Happy New Year!

As it is every year, the fact that another 365 days have passed still catches me off guard and murmuring along with everyone else, "Where did the year go?"

Fortunately, I know where much of it went: getting engaged, planning a wedding, getting married, moving across the country, setting up our first apartment. Still, it's mind-boggling to look back and realize, "This time last year I was only... we were only...!" A lot sure has happened.

This year, in lieu of store-bought gifts to each other, Michael and I decided that our Christmas present would be a nice date night, complete with a stay in one of Atlanta's finer hotels and well deserved massages for both of us!

Over dinner, Michael pulled out a little notebook in which we would reflect over our marriage so far (almost six months) and set some goals for the year ahead. We talked about how to grow our spiritual connection with each other and getting involved at our church.  We talked about our financial plans for saving for the future and continuing to make time (and room in our budget) for dates.

They were pretty simple and amounted to only a short list. But it was a great opportunity to intentionally sit down and discuss these kinds of things, and also to rejoice over the fact that we both have been very pleased with the state of our marriage thus far. The past few months have been full of opportunities that have taught us patience and forgiveness, humility and grace toward one another. And, by the grace of God, we've tucked our tails between our legs and buried our egos and embraced those lessons, watching our relationship grow all the better for it.

I just started reading the book "This Is Your Brain In Love" by Dr. Earl Henslin, who is a Christian therapist and writes about the role your brain has in having a healthy, passionate marriage.  This statement really stood out to me: "...it is rare for people in their twenties to experience the kind of passion that a couple in their later years is capable of enjoying."

I love Michael, and I look forward to watching our love continue to grow, deeper and wider as the years progress. Here's to the first New Year of many to come...
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