Cultivating Gratitude for the Smallest of Things

Gratitude. Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts posits that a life of joy and of a filling salvation comes when we learn to live a lifestyle of being grateful and thankful for every single thing God has gifted to us. Good, bad, big, little. We rejoice in it all.

Upon reading Philippians 4:11-12, where Paul writes, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation…”, Voskamp points readers to the fact that Paul had to learn these things. She realized that we must learn to live a life utterly thankful for all that God doles out. It does not come naturally.

So she decided to keep a list. She shares many of the things on that list, thanking God for his little gifts of sunshine and a warm griddle and the dancing moonlight. Little things. I kept waiting for the big ones. The revelatory ones. Honestly, I started to scoff a bit at the little things that made her list.

Then I read this: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle. The miracle of eucharisteo, like the Last Supper, is in the eating of crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful. Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life—even the hard—is made up of the minute parts, and I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out.”

Learning to seek out an attitude of gratefulness in even the smallest of things, I hadn’t realized how important that is. Because there are always small things for me to be thankful for; the artwork on the wall that makes me smile, the healthy pumpkin-oat muffins I made for breakfast, the cardinal that skips along outside our window. We need not wait for the big things to give thanks. Instead, by stringing our days with little upon little thing to thank God for giving to us and placing in our path, it reminds me of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas story, when it says, "The Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day."

Yes, seeking out the tiniest of details and seeing them as gifts from God and thanking him for them teaches my heart to grow bigger.

Joy is always given, never grasped.
God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.
— Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

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Notes from "One Thousand Gifts": Cultivating Gratitude When It Hurts

The Search for a Home

Originally, we had been planning that we’d be moving right around this time. We wanted to find a place to live closer to my husband’s work and thought we’d already have all the details nailed down right now. However, a couple of weeks into the search process and we realized something: There’s a chance we might try to buy a house!

It really came out of nowhere and surprised even me because I didn’t think it was really possible right now. But when we started looking, we saw that with a little TLC, it could really become a reality.

Because of that, we have extended our lease at our current apartment for another month, while we troll more houses and contemplate putting offers on the ones we feel make a good fit.

We’ve only been looking for a couple of weeks, and already I’ve realized how overwhelming this process can be, how consuming it can be with the thought of finding the “perfect” home.

When we first started looking at homes, I got pretty excited, thinking that this could become our future home. With barely even an offer on the table, I caught myself daydreaming about all the accessorizing and decorating and crafting that might be. I caught myself starting to worry about the disheveled décor that I’d seen and wondering how in the world I could fix them up. I started researching ideas and possibilities, scouting out modern rugs for the living room, pretty knobs for the kitchen cabinets, paint swatches for the bathroom walls.

And I caught myself as I was swept up in the moment of “maybe” and letting it overwhelm me, when we didn’t even know if this house would become ours. (Not surprisingly, it didn’t.)

As we search for a possible home, I want to be careful to make sure not to waste my energies fretting over surface details like these when they’re not even yet a reality. I have to remind myself that a house is more than how it looks and how it could look if only a little bit of this and that.

As they say, “Home is where the heart is.”

Whether we find that in a house with our name on it or another rented apartment where squirrels invade, I want to find contentment there—not in what might be.

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Daydreaming of Our Someday, Future Home
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Jo-Ann's Testimony: Finding Healing from Fears

The next guest post in my series of testimonies about God at work in everyday lives,
comes courtesy of fellow blogger Jo-Ann of simplification. Thanks for sharing, Jo-Ann!

“Before I could find my voice as a writer, I fought for my voice, period.
A voice is not a given; words don’t come easy. Both are worth fighting for.”
- Scott Hartman

Words are beautiful. I love words. They string together the little pieces of our lives and connect us with the hearts and minds of others we encounter upon our road of life. But there was a time when words didn't come easily for me. My voice was trapped inside a dark pit of gloomy despair and fear. I fought for my voice, period.

I was born into a wonderful Christian family. I don't think I could have had a more wonderful childhood. When I was two, we were joined by my only sibling, a brother. I loved being a big sister. A year later my mother went back into full-time work. My brother and I were cared for by a nanny during the day until my mother got home from work.

Shortly after my mother's return to work, I stopped talking. Not at home, there I was still a chatty toddler with an excellent vocabulary and expressive outbursts of joy and laughter. But in situations outside of home, I became extremely reserved and shy. I hated going out. I hated interacting with people. Social situations began to scare me. I developed an irrational fear of being left on my own and I became like velco to either one of my parents.

Over the following years, I was pretty much mute. I didn't speak to almost anyone outside of my immediate family. There were a few exceptions but not many. As traumatic an experience this was for me, my parents struggled deeply with my affliction. They urged me to talk, even just to say hello. I agonized with this, wanting to please my parents and wanting to be able to talk to people. But when the time came to open my mouth, fear would wrap its little tendrils around my heart and no words could come out. I feared even the possibility of someone hearing me when I could not speak to them in person and rarely uttered a sound in public.

In spite of this, I was a very happy child. I had friends, some that I spoke with and others that I didn't. When I was thirteen, we had friends who went overseas for two weeks and their children stayed with us. It was too long and too hard to be able not to talk at all and one day I just blurted something out and began to talk. They were shocked. From that moment, it became easier. There were lots of things that made it easier after a while but that was the breakthrough moment for me.

Since then, I found out that the medical explanation for this is called selective mutism. It's recognized as an anxiety disorder which occurs predominantly in the early childhood years. It's quite rare and there is no proven method of treatment.

I had always just assumed that I was the only one who had experienced this. But about a year ago, I saw a television documentary about selective mutism and as I watched it, I cried. I saw myself. The scared child who wanted so much to be able to speak freely but trapped in a hole that was too hard to dig themselves out of.

From the moment since my breakthrough, Jesus had already begun to heal me. But as those tears came, God bound up the wounds that still lay hidden in the deepest corners of my heart. The insecurities, the uncertainties, the fears, the hurts. It was like the last of the dirt was washed away from everything I had carried through the ordeal.

His healing brought purpose to my experiences. They did not define me, they were not meant to break me or be a dark shadow in my past. They were meant for good. For out of my once mute mouth, I speak of what God has done for me. It was worth the fight.

This is a guest post by Jo-Ann, who blogs at simplification. Jo-Ann is a newly graduated teacher who loves the big things in life and the small things even more. She enjoys walking her dog, finding a good book to bury her nose into, playing the ukulele and drinking tea out of lovely cups. She calls New Zealand home.

P.S. If you're interested in submitting a guest post testimony to be featured on Life Blessons, please visit the original post for details!

A Playlist: Some Songs for Your Soul

I love having a soundtrack going in the background while I'm working around the house or taking a walk or running my errands. And I got the idea to try to share some of my favorites with you, in hopes that you might discover some new tunes to keep you company during your drive or workout or even to set the mood for some time alone with the Lord.

Below are songs from some of my favorite Christian artists that aren't only good for your ears but also for your spirit. Rock 'n roll for the soul!

To listen to them, I set up a playlist on iTunes where all the samples are grouped together (that link will prompt you to open up iTunes to listen to the playlist). I thought that would be nice, because you can just pop it open and let the samples play in the background. Or you can check each song out individually below, whichever you like!

 #  songartistlisten
1.So Shall It BeCool Hand Luke(iTunes / Amazon)
2.Faithful to the End     Cory Asbury(iTunes / Amazon)
3.Dress Us UpJohn Mark McMillan   (iTunes / Amazon)
4.Fill This HouseMaeve(iTunes / Amazon)
5.Break the ChainsMisty Edwards(iTunes / Amazon)

And I'm always up for discovering other good Christian artists, so if you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments below. Also, let me know if you listen to any of these folks and find new favorites!

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Your Questions Answered: Encouragement for the Season of Waiting to Find Your Spouse (Part 2)

QUESTION: If there are any books or passages of scripture you recommend that truly spoke to you during your season of waiting [to meet your husband], definitely let me know.

Yesterday, I shared some of the specific resources that I found helpful during my time of waiting. Today, I decided to take a look back into my old journals and share, in my own words, what really was encouraging me during this period of waiting. What was strengthening my heart and my hope in the Lord’s timing?

While flipping through my journal entries, I came across this prayer that I'd written during the early months of 2008:
I’m feeling emboldened in my quest for the ultimate human love (toward a husband)–not that there are any nearby or possible prospects, but that I believe that marriage is something You want for me and that is in my cards.

So right now I’m preparing.

I’m learning more and more what to look for in a husband, and praying for it. I’m trying to learn to treat others in a way that will allow me to be a better wife/mother (nonjudgmental, more encouraging, listening, prodding more questions to spur contemplation, generosity with time, etc). I’m trying to practice my nurturing spirit now, as I volunteer with the youth group and learn to guide the young women without demands or directives, but through suggestion and spiritual challenges.

And I believe that You will act and that You will bless and that You will guide. And that’s what satisfies me right now, that’s what keeps me joyful and looking up and forward.
This idea crept up again and again in my entries: to see my time as a single woman as an opportunity for investment rather than a chain around my neck. I began to realize that God had given me this time alone for a reason. Perhaps it’s because I’m not yet ready to meet the godly man he has in mind? Perhaps he would like me to work on some things now that will only benefit our relationship later? Later, I copied a quote from an online article I read that spoke to this, saying: “But if I am not happy now, if I am not content in my present situation, will a new career or a relationship really change anything for me at a heart level?”

I also was encouraged during this time by the expectation that God will come through on his promises. That I can give him what I have in my hands and he will multiply and bless it. This is incredibly evident in the story of Abraham and Isaac when Abraham trusts that God will provide an alternate sacrifice, even though he's already been commanded to sacrifice Isaac. God will provide, and we must learn to trust him, even when the odds look impossible! That is when he gets the greatest glory, because only he can overcome the impossible! So perhaps when things look impossible, we must stop thinking that they really are that way but learn to trust that this is an opportunity for us to watch the Lord work his wonders.

Later in my journal, from April 24, 2008, I found this prophetic nugget: “also, as far as my future goes, i really do feel like God has it under control and feel comfortable that i’ll be at that “married” point in 2 years, that perhaps this summer he will bring that certain someone into my life and set us up for a future. i see this happening as i prepare to move–that maybe if i end up in grand rapids, that’s where that will fall into place and stand as a moment that validates those decisions. something (whether it’s peace from God or my own brand of wishful thinking) tells me that that’s on the horizon and that I don’t need to fret. i like that kind of comfort and trust. i still fidget in my seat waiting for it to come to pass, but i feel it approaching. i just hope that when it does, that i can weather and balance it well.

Discovering these words just blew my mind because this was exactly how my marriage transpired: Later that summer I did meet my husband (not until the end of June, though) and we started dating just as I was moving off to Grand Rapids. The following summer (less than two years later), we were married. This is proof that the Lord does speak! The Lord is good and does not lead us astray! Listen to what he is whispering to your heart!

What Other Questions Do You Have For Me?
Recently, I invited you to ask me any questions you might have that I could answer in upcoming posts, whether it's follow-up regarding anything I've written about in the past, curiosities regarding any of my personal experiences, or your general blogging questions. In the following weeks I will continue to respond to your questions, so please feel free to ask any that come to mind in the comments below or send me an email

Your Questions Answered: Encouragement for the Season of Waiting to Find Your Spouse (Part 1)

QUESTION: If there are any books or passages of scripture you recommend that truly spoke to you during your season of waiting [to meet your husband], definitely let me know.

Waiting is one of the most difficult lessons in life, especially when it involves something that is incredibly near and dear to your heart, as finding a loving spouse is for so many women. I know the fears and frustrations that come along with it all too well.

So I'm going to address this question in two parts. Today, I'm going to list out some of the specific resources that I sought during my season of waiting. Tomorrow, I'm going to look back into some of my journal entries from that period and share them with you to give an upclose look at how I was encouraged.

In my experience, there was a huge variety of things that swirled together to do those things—a Scripture here, an article here, a wise word there. Slowly, slowly those things all worked together to give me the confidence to wait on the Lord in this area and trust him to deliver my heart to someone who might treasure it—and to forgo the others who wouldn’t.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most encouraging books I read during this time (and trust me, I read many others, but none were as impactful as this) was Get Married by Candice Watters. (I shared some of my notes here as well as some bullet-point notes on my old blog.)

One of her main encouragements is to be bold in praying for a godly husband. I remember that much of the Scripture that I feasted on during this period of time was in regards to God encouraging us to ask him. I went through the Bible and marked each passage I could find where we’re told to Ask and ye shall receive with a big, inky question mark. This might seem disjointed from the pursuit of waiting for marriage, but for me, it was nourishing to know that God compelled me to ask for his gifts, of which marriage is one. This heartened my time of waiting and made it one of expectation rather than discouragement.

I also found solace in Tara Leigh Cobble's memoir, Here's to Hindsight, because here was a godly woman who also experienced heartache in regards to dating. In those moments when it's easy to feel like the whole world is against you, it's a good reminder that there are others who know what you're feeling and are journeying down this same frustrating path, as well.

Other resources that gave me special encouragement during this time of preparation also included podcasts and articles from, which often included godly wisdom regarding dating. Those really grounded my search and expectations and behavior toward dating, in a way that I don’t believe much else of contemporary Christian culture does. They really set the bar high and challenged me to realign what dating was going to look like in my life—and, most importantly, what it wasn’t.

Finally, I also was incredibly encouraged by other Christian couples I knew who were the real deal. I’m talking about the couples who really loved the Lord together and were a light. That inspired me and rather than stoked envy, because I saw with my own two eyes that it was really possible for two people to come together and use marriage as a tool to bring glory to God. This desire in my heart could really happen!

Tomorrow, I'll share some thoughts and insights from my journal entries during my time in waiting...

What Other Questions Do You Have For Me?
Recently, I invited you to ask me any questions you might have that I could answer in upcoming posts, whether it's follow-up regarding anything I've written about in the past, curiosities regarding any of my personal experiences, or your general blogging questions. In the following weeks I will continue to respond to your questions, so please feel free to ask any that come to mind in the comments below or send me an email

Steps Toward Hospitality: Creating a Card Box

I’m not sure where she got it, but for quite some time, my mother has kept a big teal box filled with greeting cards for every occasion. It was always so handy to have that card box there at a moment’s notice to thumb through, without having to make a special trip to the store. I can remember running off to a friend’s birthday or preparing for a bridal shower, and her asking me if I needed a card for the occasion. “Look in the card box!”

For quite some time, I’ve had an assortment of stationery and a handful of greeting cards that I’d bought and never used, stored in an empty shoebox. But it was not the same as my mom’s well-stocked collection.

So, I decided to create a card box of my own. It’s not as pretty and polished as my mom’s, but for the materials I had on hand, it works. Cutting the flaps off a cardboard box we’d recently received in the mail, I filled it with filing folders arranged by topic: “Congratulations,” “Birthday,” “Milestones,” “Thank You,” “Holidays.”

And then I went to work stocking up my collection. This way, I can slowly build up my collection when it’s most convenient and then, when the occasion calls for the perfect card, it’s ready and waiting.

In my pursuit of growing more of a spirit of hospitality, I feel like taking the inconvenience out of it and having these simple-but-thoughtful papers on hand is an opportunity to make this desire more effortless in my life. It becomes that much easier to incorporate small gifts of love like this into my routine.

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What I'm Reading in 2011

With the "new year, fresh start" mentality running rampant, I thought that I might start a new practice with this new year of ours: Keep a running list of all the books as I read and complete them.

I love the idea of being able to look back and see where the days and weeks went, see all the places where I rested my eyes and roosted my mind during the passing of the seasons.

I'll continue to share book reviews from time (whether they're special favorites or ones that I've committed to reviewing). But, in the meantime, this list will have to suffice.

So, without further adieu:


  1. Unstuff by Hayley and Michael DiMarco (my review)

(Also, if you're interested, you can also see many of the books that I'm hoping to get around to reading someday on my wishlist. Let me know if you've read any of them or any additional suggestions you might have.)

Here's to growing bookshelves and dogeared pages!

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Rhianna's Testimony: "Jesus wants to bless you today"

The next guest post in my series of testimonies about God at work in everyday lives, comes courtesy of fellow blogger Rhianna of Romeo: love, laugh, craft. Thanks for sharing, Rhianna!

One of the things I regret about my blog, is not discussing my faith, enough.  I always thought that someone’s faith/religion was a private matter, but I no longer believe that. I think that is one of the  problems with the world today, too many people for too long have kept their faith private.  I was very fortunate to grow up in a Christian home, with very loving, morally conscience parents, and where our faith was exercised daily. As an adult, I still live by everything that they taught  and raised me to believe, I just sometimes forget.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.
Acts 16:31

A few weekends ago, on a Saturday evening I pulled up at a restaurant to pick up food that I ordered. When I was ready to leave, my car would not start.  It seemed that my battery was dead. I had to call for roadside assistance to jump my battery.

Later that night, when I got home,  I found that my laptop battery was dead.  My car battery and my laptop battery both died on the same day?! I thought to myself that maybe God is trying to teach me something or maybe this is just a coincidence? To some, these things may not seem like a big deal.  I try not to make things like this stress me or anything, but I really didn’t have the extra money at the time to pay for extra repairs or replacements.

The following day, my mother and I took my car to a mechanic shop. I was expecting to have to buy another car battery or something that would be a major expense.  The problem was that some wire got loose. That’s all.  The mechanic didn’t even charge me to look at my car.

I was not too worried about my computer battery, but I was not sure how much that would cost.  And this was not something that could wait. I depend on my laptop for my business. So I went and bought one. Buying this didn’t make me totally broke, but it was just an added expense that I certainly don’t need at the time. 

When I got home that night, I checked my mail. In my mail, was a card that said, “Jesus wants to bless you today,” and inside of it was a check for an amount that would cover my laptop battery. It was from one of my aunts. This was very much unexpected; people in my family don’t just casually write checks to one another. I called up my aunt to thank her, and she said, “Don’t thank me, thank God. He is the One who laid it my heart to do this.”

I was felt so relieved. Then I felt a little foolish for doubting that everything would be okay. I often hear that people usually picture God with the same characteristics as their parents (subconsciously). At that moment, I felt like God was saying to me, “Silly girl.”  That is often what my parents would say to me when I worry about something I don’t need to worry about. I felt as if God was saying that to me, “Silly girl, why do you worry? Don’t you know I have everything under control? I will take care of you and your needs.”

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:8

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:26

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33

This is a guest post by Rhianna, who writes a personal little blog called Romeo: love, laugh, craft. In her spare time, she enjoys paintng, decorating, making jewelry, and reading magazines. Rhianna comes from a large Cajun family and resides in the colorful city of New Orleans.  

P.S. If you're interested in submitting a guest post testimony to be featured on Life Blessons, please visit the original post for details!

Staying Productive Without a Job

I'm still new to this unemployed stint of mine, just a couple of weeks fresh off of daily phone calls and wrapping up loose ends.

It's not all that easy, you know, to spend a whole day by yourself and feel useful. It's a job of its own, to keep up with every little thing there is to do and actually do it, now while I can. The weekend that my job ended, I pulled out a big colorful weekly agenda and began scrawling out a massive running to-do list, whether big or small. Moreso than before, I feel like this is essential to enjoying this respite in which I've found myself, because without some feeling of fulfillment or satisfaction, what can be relaxing can easily become racking. This has become something of a security blanket when the feelings of boredom start to well up. I turn to my list, divided into categories, another page for daily tasks, and I get to work checking them off.

I've found it to be incredibly useful, else I'm afraid I might find myself in the middle of my living room, looking around with eyes wide, lost, and unsure of what to do with myself. Of course there are always things to do; that's one of the things I've learned about life. You can make a great meal tonight, but tomorrow another will need to be made. You can get ahead on this week's laundry, but next week a new load will surface. There's always something.

And so I endeavor to strike a balance between these productive "to do's" of keeping up with an apartment forever gathering dust and mounds of day-old clothes as well as trying to take advantage of the extra time I have to spend time at length with the Lord.

I recognize that there are few opportunities like this in life, when I have little responsibility tugging at my sleeve for 40 hours a week. It's the first time in six years I haven't held down a full-time job. And when most women find themselves staying at home full time, it usually comes with the around-the-clock job of motherhood. But here I am, a stay-at-home wife.

I don't want to look back on this season—whether it lasts a month or a year—and wish I'd taken advantage of this jewel frozen in time when I have all the time to spare to be Mary and sit at Christ's feet and soak up his teaching and ready myself for this next season of life that awaits.

And do you know, sometimes it's hard to let myself just sit. I've been in such the go-go-go, do-do-do mindset for years, that sit-stay-pray is difficult. Yet, I recognize how much I need it. For today but also for all the days to come. This is a time for me to root myself in the Lord. A pocket of time when I have the opportunity to readily drink from those waters without deadlines or diapers cutting me short. A pocket of time I must make sure to protect and savor and put to use—that unique usefulness that matters most.

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Your Questions Answered: More About My Baking-Soda Shampoo

In my last Q&A, I answered some of your questions regarding using my baking soda shampoo. As it turns out, you had even more questions about making and using your own homemade shampoo! So, here's Part 2...

Q: You mentioned in your first post that you use herbs. Do you use fresh or dried and how much? Also what type of herbs do you use since I have a similar hair type...

Well, the first couple times around that I made my baking-soda shampoo, I did include herbs, specifically dried rosemary, which is supposed to help if you have dry scalp. The first time, I just dumped some dried herbs into the mixture, but that ended up turning the water a brownish color and ended up stuffing up my pump at times.

Then, I decided to try to make a little sachet, putting about a teaspoon of dried rosemary into a square of gauzy fabric and tying it at the ends so the herbs couldn’t fall out. Then I submerged it into the mixture. That worked better at keeping the herbs from clumping in the pump, but after a few times it seemed like a bit more work than I felt like, so I’ve since stopped including rosemary at all.

After all this, someone recommended using essential oils instead of the herb itself, and just add a drop or two to the mixture. That way you take advantage of the natural properties of the herb without the mess of the herb itself. I have yet to pick up some essential oil and try it, myself, though.

Q: Did you miss having the lovely smell of highly fragranced shampoo? What does your hair smell like now? I am curious since if I skip a day of washing, my hair has this oily smell that I do not like.

Well, to be honest, I don’t think my hair smells like anything other than hair! I’ve never put much of a priority on how my shampoo smells, anyway though, so the lack of a strong fragrance doesn’t bother me at all. I care more about how well the shampoo actually works!

However, if you do miss a perfume-y smell, you can also try experimenting with adding essential oils to your mixture. As I mentioned before, I haven’t tried adding essential oils, but it seems like a great way to personalize and perfect the smell you want, using natural fragrances rather than synthetic ones.

Have you tried adding essential oils to your baking-soda shampoo? If so, please share your suggestions or combinations of ones to try in the comments!

Q: Does your husband wash his hair with this solution too?

Good question, because the answer is that, no, he does not use my baking-soda shampoo! He keeps his hair pretty short with a closely cropped buzz-cut, so he doesn’t really need to use shampoo at all. Instead, he just uses Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, which we use as our body wash of choice, as well. I think for him, it’s just easier to keep using that.

What Other Questions Do You Have For Me?
Recently, I invited you to ask me any questions you might have that I could answer in upcoming posts, whether it's follow-up regarding anything I've written about in the past, curiosities regarding any of my personal experiences, or your general blogging questions.

In the following weeks I will continue to respond to your questions, so please feel free to ask any that come to mind in the comments below or send me an email. I have some questions in the queue regarding my thoughts on tattoos and some kitchen insights, so those and more to come!

Book Review: The Need to "Unstuff" Our Lives

Hayley and Michael DiMarco decided to spend three months downsizing their lives and live in a 200-square-foot motor home with their young daughter as an experiment in what it means like to live with less. They are quick to admit that this was not some easy decision they reached, they reached it more as a means of necessity because they realized the strangle that consumerism and wants and "stuff" had on their lives, even though their day jobs are creating Christian books that aim at helping folks (and teens especially) learn how to walk out their faith in everyday life.

I can relate to this dilemma so much, to love the Lord a great deal and, from many perspectives to have it "together" as a Christian, and yet to be missing so much because of my greed and want for "more."

They share some of this downsizing journey in their new book, Unstuff, which I received a complimentary copy of to review from the Tyndale Blog Network. However, the bulk of the book actually focuses on spelling out why we need to "unstuff" our life, how things in a variety of forms (from possessions to food to church commitments, even) get in the way of a Christ-focused life, and the benefits that cutting back can bring to a variety of situations (not only financially, but also to your relationships, self-esteem, physical health as well as your relationship with God).

The thing is that I get all that. I can see how stuff gets in the way and holds me back from what God intended. But I was really looking forward to getting a deep look into how one young couple actually broke free from their stuff, how they really honestly wrestled through the pangs of wanting more and learning to be content with less. Yet, those details are relegated to small sections scattered throughout the book called "Life on the Road, Day XX" that provide glimpses into how the "experiment" is going, from both the husband's and wife's points of view, but are limited to just a paragraph or two—hardly enough to get a real, raw feel for what it's actually like.

For that reason, I was disappointed by this book. However, they do provide a solid, biblically-based look at all the ways that stuff gets in the way and all the different forms that these distractions can come in. I appreciate the premise of the book and that they actually did something about their desire to cut back; I just wished they would have shared more about that in the book!

Find Unstuff by Hayley and Michael DiMarco on Amazon.

December Highlights from Our Home

After taking a weeklong break from blogging last month, I thought I'd revisit and share some of what the last month of 2010 brought my way:

December brought about a lot of transitions to our home. My husband started his new job, while I ended mine. I originally was supposed to wrap up my work-from-home gig on December 3, but was asked to stay on an extra week to provide some additional training for my in-house replacement.

For me, I'm relishing this little respite of time while I look for a new job. Having worked full-time for the past six years without any extended break, I'm making sure to appreciate this bit of downtime I've found myself with. I have had a couple of interviews this month, but nothing too promising to speak of just yet, though I’m still looking and applying—and trying to keep the apartment looking spic-and-span!

With my husband's new job has also come new bedtimes and rising times. He has to leave our home between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., depending on the day, so we're waking up an hour early and going to bed between 8pm and 9pm! I think it's the earliest bedtime I've had since elementary school!

He has about a 40-minute commute, so we're looking to find a place and move out there by the end of this month to give us as much time together as possible! Moving is not my favorite thing (no sort of physical labor is), but I am looking forward to what this one might bring. I'm hoping to find a new place with its own washer and dryer and some more storage space than we have now. I would also love a yard or outdoor access of some sort, but I'm not going to get greedy with my wishlist just yet!

We ended up spending the holidays here in Atlanta this year, since we haven't accumulated any vacation days just yet. While we missed spending time with our family in Ohio (a first for me!), we were able to be involved in more Christmas-related outreaches down here, including caroling at a nearby nursing home and spend Christmas with friends, passing out Starbucks and winter gloves to folks on the street—which was especially fitting since we had a white Christmas, thanks to our first snowfall of the season!

Otherwise, the most excitement we’ve had was when, upon going to bed one night, we realized a small squirrel had quietly come in for a visit, and was perched on our ironing board, and then jumped into our closet! I’m sure we looked pretty hilarious trying to coax the poor guy out with breadcrumbs, all the while donning oven mitts for protection and a laundry basket for a cage. Fortunately, we finally were able to escort him out when he made a beeline toward our front door, which we obligingly opened and he made his way out, after a short visit trying to climb up our bookshelf and then deciding our choice of titles wouldn’t do. Thankfully, we haven’t seen him since and think he got in through a hole in the baseboard in our bathroom. Just another reason why we’re looking forward to the possibility of moving, and avoiding any more critter visits in the night!

I hope you had a wonderful December yourself and are enjoying your foray into 2011. Here's to a new year before us!

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Selecting a Bible Reading Plan for the New Year

With the new year, I'm starting a new Bible reading plan that I wanted to share, in case any of you are also interested in using it to guide you through your Bible this year.

The one that I'm using is a chronological reading plan that arranges the Bible so that you read them in the order that the events happened (although not necessarily in the order the books were written).

I've tried out different reading plans over the past couple of years and have often wished that I had read about this prophet when I was reading about that event back in Kings or Chronicles. So, I set out to find a plan that would help me get a larger understanding of what all was going on (particularly regarding Old Testament events), intertwining the history with the prophets of the era with the Psalms being sung and so forth.

From the research I've done, it seems that this reading plan that I've selected will do that. It's set up so that by reading between about three and four chapters a day, you'll make it through the entire Bible in a year. I don't really mind how long it takes me to get through the Bible, because I care more whether I remember what happened, rather than just speed-read my way through.

But, I think that having a plan to help guide me through my Bible reading is incredibly useful and motivating, especially when you're not really in the mood to read (because that is all too often reality some days!). It also helps me read the stories I wouldn't normally want to, if I were the one arbitrarily selecting passages. (Ahem, the story in Judges where the fat guy gets a sword to the stomach? Yeah, that one.)

Anyway, so if you want to try this reading plan, you can print out a 2-page PDF that lists out each date and the corresponding readings for that day. Then just keep it with your Bible and mark off the days as you go.

(There are also a variety of other reading plans you can choose from, if you're not into the chronologically-arranged type. They also have ones that walk you through the Old and New Testaments simultaneously, or ones that integrate daily Psalms and Proverbs readings, as well as others.)

Do you have a reading plan you're using that you really like? Feel free to share it in the comments!

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Welcoming In the New Year

I’ve never been one for making new year’s resolutions. It just seems silly, to me, to put off accomplishing those things that your heart really wants to do, even if it means sacrifice. The earlier you start, you’re apt to accomplish your goals that much sooner, if you ask me.

Still, there is something about taking a moment, whenever it is, to gaze off into the future and ponder what you want it to look like, what you’d like it to become.

When my birthday came to pass last year, I sat down and came up with a random list of goals to accomplish during this latest phase of life as a 27-year-old. Some of them were easy and silly, some of them are challenging, and some of them will take a lifetime to even come close to accomplishing.

It’s been nine months since I created that list. I figured now as good a time as any to look back at what’s left on that little list of mine and look forward to some of the goals that I'm still hacking away at:

· Continue learning how to respect and honor my husband and strive to be: "A wife of noble character is her husband's crown." (Proverbs 12:4)

· Continue learning to guard against negativity and what I say.
· Cultivate a more generous and hospitable spirit toward others. (Maybe throw a party?)
· Go thrift shopping / antiquing! (It’s been too long!)
· Spend less time at my computer.
· Take as many walks outside as possible.
· Use my crock pot more.
· Keep up daily quiet times and Bible readings.
· Take picnics!
· Plan a date for Michael. (He deserves it!)

It’s funny because when I look at this list now, only nine months later, I find myself thinking of all the other things that ought to have made the list, as well. If I were to make this same list today it would include things like learning to care less about stuff and things (I’ve been reading a couple of books lately pertaining to that, which I’ll share sometime soon!), finding a job, nabbing a new apartment that actually gets warm (as I type sitting next to a space heater!), finding little ways to reach out to someone every week, spending more time in prayer, among a litany of other things.

But I guess that is the beauty of making and keeping lists, in that they can freeze a moment in time and remind you what you were hoping and wanting and looking forward to back then.

So, we’ll see what the new year brings. I look forward to keeping these goals ahead of me, directing where I go and striving to make the most of each moment, each day.

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