We’re On the Move…

We’ve owned our house for less than two weeks now, and we’re boxing up the last of our belongings and moving everything there in the next week or so. This will make the third place we’ve lived within a year.

And as much as I hate moving and packing and unpacking, I’m so thrilled because it will be the last time for quite awhile (hopefully!) that we’ll have to go through this process. Now rearranging furniture and repainting walls will have to suffice, and I’m quite okay with that!


The funny thing is that we weren’t really expecting to move this soon. While the lease on our current apartment states that we only need give 30 days to cancel, our landlord informed us that the notice had to be given on the 1st of the month…and we were calling her on November 9th. Which meant that we were going to have to rent it for the month of December as well.

But we got to thinking and, more importantly, praying. We decided to see if we could find someone to move into our apartment early, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for all of December. (Because heavens knows we could put that money to good use elsewhere!)

With a couple of ads posted on Craigslist, I started packing up our belongings, trusting that the peace I felt in my heart about the situation was encouragement to trust that something would work out.

Within about a week, I got an email from a woman interested in seeing our place. As it turns out, her workplace is only blocks away and so she was thrilled with the location. And of course, the cheap rent doesn’t hurt either!

The holidays through a wrench in things and we hadn't heard anything in some time, so I was beginning to wonder if it really would work out. But then, today, my landlord called and told me that the woman decided to rent the apartment and is planning on moving in mid-December, which will give us time to do a little painting in the house before moving but still help keep a couple extra hundred dollars in our pockets. Perfect timing, right? Which of course happens to be exactly what I had been praying for when we started praying for a replacement tenant.

You know, when I prayed that I would be “pleasantly surprised” with this whole house thing, I really was not asking for much. I just wanted everything to be okay, to be liveable, to not be a burden or cause financial ruin. Yet every aspect of this process—from inspecting the house and negotiating for updates to finding someone to move into our apartment—has proved to be above and beyond what I imagined possible. I asked for the bare minimum, and instead I have been showered with rich abundance every step of the way.

It has been breathtaking to say the least. Pleasantly surprised doesn’t even begin to describe it!

And so I sit here, with cardboard boxes scattered around, the walls of our apartment blank and bare once again. I can barely believe all this is actually happening. But it is, and for that, I am in complete and utter awe.

So, with this hasty move and all the settling in that comes with it (plus a holiday or two mixed in), I’ve decided to take a break during December from posting new content. Instead, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite posts from the archives that I’ve written over the past two years.

If you’ve been following for very long, I hope that you enjoy getting to re-read many of these posts. And if you’re new to Life Blessons, I hope that this little trip down memory lane will be an enjoyable one for you.

I’ll be spending the extra time unpacking and painting and dreaming up creative ways to turn this house into a home. And then in January I’ll be back with a fresh line-up of new posts, plenty of updates and a brand new series to kick the new year off. Happiest of holidays, friends.

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Secrets of a Newlywed: A Recap of the Complete Series

It's been almost six months since I first started the Secrets of a Newlywed series here, which I kicked off on my two-year wedding anniversary. I'm aware that two years isn't that long, but it's been enough time for me to become aware of all that can impact—for better and for worse—my marriage.

Since then, me and almost a dozen other bloggers have opened up to share what some of those things are that we've learned along the way. Everything from the words we say to how we address conflict of all sorts, from learning to trust our spouses more to taking steps to make God the center of our marriage.

It's been wonderful and inspiring and humbling and convicting getting to share these stories, getting to glimpse in at the raw, gritty realities of how each of us are learning, day by day, how to nurture this relationship of ours.

I hope you have enjoyed getting to read through each of these posts as much as I have, and for old times' sake, here's a compilation of each and every post, in case you missed any the first time around.

You Did Not Marry Brad Pitt: "In the movies, Brad Pitt knows exactly what to say and what to do simply because it’s written into the script. He knows when to buy his leading lady flowers or when to take her dancing under the stars or when to just remain silent only because he’s memorized his lines. Our husbands, on the other hand, do not have a script to read from to know exactly what to do that will sweep us off our feet or exactly what to say that will melt our hearts into the carpet below. Instead, they fumble along, trying to guess about what will work. All they can do is guess…unless we decide to give them the script."

Learn to Embrace Your Differences: "I used to see those piles and cringe, wanting to stuff them into a folder or a drawer out of sight. I imagine that he wished I’d pick up a dust buster every now and then. But in those instances, we’re focusing simply on the other person’s faults and neglecting the strengths we each bring to the table. We’re zoomed in on everything that is wrong and not letting ourselves see all the things that the other person does right."

Let Your Husband Lead: "I believe that the role of a husband is to be a leader for his family, to be their shepherd guarding them in safety and guiding them to the best pasture. I believe this is the role that God has called husbands to and, in doing so, He will equip them to make the decisions necessary. However, that all comes into question when my husband has the choice to say 'No,’ when I am looking for 'Yes.’ It’s in those times that I want to grab the shepherd’s hook from his hands and tell him, 'Here, we’re going this way.’ Essentially, I can be afraid of what his decision might be."

Choosing to Forgive: "I wouldn't just have to forgive my husband once. I would have to forgive him over and over again. That was the hardest thing: Choosing to forgive. It's easy to forgive someone for not doing a chore, or forgetting an important event, but how do you forgive someone for such a betrayal?"

Learning What My Husband Really Wants: "If I got home first, my husband would walk in the door to a wife with her back to him as she worked away cutting up potatoes. As he tried to put his arms around me, I would often get annoyed with him. Couldn't he see that I was working hard to make his dinner? I didn't have time for that! Eventually, I realized that my husband didn't want to come home to a meal; he wanted to come home to a wife!"

What Can You Do for Him?: "Even if they are the smallest details that I take upon myself and even if my husband doesn’t even notice that I’m doing them for him, it still is a way for me practice learning to think of others before myself and learning to turn words into actions, let love speak loudly, live out my faith in the routine of day-to-day life."

Who's At the Center of Your Marriage: "After a year of frustration, we began questioning what was happening in our relationship. And then we both realized we were doing this marriage thing all wrong. We built our marriage on the idea that being married would lead to personal happiness, but that foundation was shaky, uneven, and breaking already under the stress of daily life. We wanted God to be the center of our marriage, but we were leading lives centered on personal pride and strung together by rings."

Two Simple Truths : "I think some of the most important things we can do when it comes to having happy marriages is to realize that "It's not all about you." And then fess' up when we-sort-of-kind-of-do still want it to be about us, at least a little."

Get Used to Saying, “I'm Sorry”: "Apologizing is one of those things that none of us at any age enjoys to do. It takes humility to say, I was wrong. It takes us being willing to think of another to say, I was wrong. It takes courage to admit, I was wrong. And yet, with that courage, humility and selflessness comes restoration..."

Make Your Marriage a Priority: "We realized that over the course of experiencing a major, life-changing event, and becoming parents, that we were completely neglecting each other. Although we had little time to spend together during that time, we weren't taking advantage of the time we did have. We weren't trying. We weren't working. We were taking the easy route. We said we were too tired to go out to a movie. Or we were too busy to have a quiet dinner alone. Each time we turned down an opportunity to spend time together, we unknowingly pushed each other further away."

Being Aware of Your Expectations: "'I don’t have any expectations,' I remember thinking. On second thought, I realized I did have one expectation: That my husband would take out the trash, a chore I looked forward to retiring when I got to wear that pretty silver ring. But to my innocent mind, I couldn’t think of anything else I expected from my husband. That’s the thing about expectations, you don’t realize you have them until it’s too late…"

Showing Respect When Asking for His Opinion: "But that situation was an epiphany to me, beyond just breakfast foods and boxed grains. I realized that if I'm going to ask him for an opinion, I must be willing to accept it. I realized what it means if I ask for his opinion and then disregard it, like it doesn't matter. Though the scenario was innocent on the surface, I now saw it in a new light, that my actions spelled out disrespect and insult."

Letting Your Husband Provide for You: "I found that after I let go of the need to be in control—be independent—be the one to make sure everything is always fine—God started teaching me about trusting not only him, but my husband. Now, it’s not that I didn’t trust my husband before. I’ve just always wanted to do it myself. And, this was the first time I was letting him do it. Letting him take care of me."

Know Thyself—And What Makes You Cranky: "There are lots of things in life that can set us off, so to speak. Things—like being hungry—that can make us crankier, meaner, snarkier than normal. For me, I’ve realized that things get ugly when I’m hungry, tired or rushed. (Don’t even think about what it’s like when I’m facing all three at once!) This really doesn't have much to do with marriage until you go back to that whole "becoming one" vow that we took and realize that when these kinds of situations come up, it's our spouses who are affected most by them."

The Truth About Struggles Having Sex: "Ultimately, our marriage is only satisfied and sustained by Him. Sex is a glue, but it's not a foundation. I learned to view myself through God's eyes. The fact of the matter was God knew what struggles we were going to face before we faced them. In His eyes, I wasn't a failure."

The Role of Being His Encourager: "When my husband and I were first married, I pondered that verse: Who is it that wears a crown? Someone of royalty. But how do you know that they’re royalty? Because they wear the crown. If they remove the crown, they look just like everyone else. The crown is what distinguishes them from all the others. And, ladies, that’s what we can be for our husbands, too. We can be what distinguishes our men from all the others that are walking down the streets everyday, going into work everyday, mowing the lawns everyday."

The Power of Our Words: "As Proverbs says, “Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife.” There will always be things to criticize our husbands about, but likewise, there will also always be things to compliment him for. And when we choose to compliment him rather than criticize him, we can watch wonders. It’s simply a matter of changing our perspective and keeping your eyes peeled for the good rather than the bad."

Who Are You Complaining To?: "I greatly desire to keep any venting out of conversations with man. Instead, they only have room in my conversations with God. And I can tell you that it’s these conversations that I’ve come to see bear much fruit. I don’t know that any one can say the same of the other kinds of conversations. Simply because the Lord is the only one who can actually do something about these issues! "

The Beauty of Sacrifice: "I finally realized that the state of our marriage wasn't up to anyone but us. I was so busy concerning myself with myself, my needs, and my feelings that I forgot about concerning myself with my husband. So about a year ago, I tried something new..."

Learning To Trust Him...In Everything: "I didn't trust my husband to change out the lightbulb in a timely fashion. I didn't trust him with doing the laundry like he said he would. The list went on and over time, I had become resentful. That epic meltdown even lead me to rip all the pages out of my journal, where I had written about meeting my husband, falling in love, and everything about our lives up until that point. All because I didn't let myself trust my husband in the small stuff."

That Which Sanctifies Us: "Marriage has the potential to transform us into a better person, if we let it. If we’re willing to look our own sins square in the face and confront them, then we can see our hearts softened and start looking more Christ-like. On the one hand it’s the hardest thing about marriage, because it’s a process that is never without pain. But when you’re willing to walk through that pain, it also because the most beautiful as the sins and selfishness begins to be pulled away."

(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

Secrets of a Newlywed: That Which Sanctifies Us

This is the last post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings--the little secrets--that have made my marriage the wedded bliss that it is. Like anything else, they are easier said than done. But I know from personal experience that when I do manage to live them out, I've seen what beautiful fruit they bear in my relationship with my husband. 

So, today, I share another with you: That Which Sanctifies Us.

sanctify: to make holy; to set apart as sacred;
to purify or free from sin

Thumb through the Bible and you’ll see how God constantly compares our relationship with him as one of being married. We are called his bride, he is the bridegroom. Heaven will be like a wedding ceremony. We have made a covenant with him, to be his people, not unlike the wedding vows we recite today. “For better or worse, till death do us part…”

And I believe that in much the same way, our earthly marriage is a tool that God uses to prepare us for that heavenly matrimony: Like no other relationship or experience, my marriage has been the greatest sanctifying force in my life. It has been through this union that I have seen my selfish self exposed like never before, that I have realized how imperfect I really am.

Because before being married, I could close the door on my problems. If a friend or relative or coworker was bothering me, I could get away from them, ignore them and let it wear off without every really addressing it. Not so with a spouse. You are forced to confront your demons, you are forced to realize the role you play in these problems, you are forced to acknowledge truths about yourself that you never imagined.

This is the blessing tied up in marriage. Sure marriage is great because you always have a best friend. You don’t have to show up at parties alone. You have someone you can always confide in, someone who knows you better than anyone else in the world. But even that—all the heartwarming, lovey-dovey stuff that sends us swooning—isn’t what makes marriage so powerful, so beautiful.

Marriage has the potential to transform us into a better person, if we let it. If we’re willing to look our own sins square in the face and confront them, then we can see our hearts softened and start looking more Christ-like.

On the one hand it’s the hardest thing about marriage, because it’s a process that is never without pain. But when you’re willing to walk through that pain, it also because the most beautiful as the sins and selfishness begins to be pulled away.

We must make it a point to be willing to walk through these scuttles and skirmishes that come with any marriage. We must be willing to look at them rather than the other way, willing to look more at our ourselves and our own sins and inadequacies rather than those of our spouse. We have to trust that it’s for our own good to deal with the problems and see the parts we played in them.

Therein lies the potential for transformation. A transformation that prepares us for our next and eternal marriage: to the Bridegroom. In that way, marriage is not just about us, during this time on earth. But it is a means to point us to the union that awaits us, a means of teaching us what that relationship requires.

And because of that—because of that sanctifying aspect that comes with any and every marriage, which cannot be avoided no matter how perfectly suited we are for one another—we take joy in these daily struggles to learn to love selflessly. They are not done in vain!

(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

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A Sneak Peek at Our New House

Now that we have closed on our new house (you can read the story of our process purchasing it here) and have started packing boxes and picking out paint colors, I thought you might enjoy a little sneak peek at our humble little abode.

These photos are from the walk-through we did when the previous owners' were still living there (so all the stuff you see is theirs), but they give you a good idea of what caught our eye when we saw the house and why we are so excited to make it our own!

(Yeah, those trees are our backyard. It's like our own personal nature preserve!)

We have a growing list of things we'd like to do to the house, so I can't wait to share those updates and personal touches as we make them! Look for those in the coming months.

For now, I hope that you are all staying warm and cozy with friends and family this Thanksgiving season!

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The Story of Buying Our House (Part 2)

Continued from yesterday's post. (Please click here to read Part 1: The Story of Buying Our House)

Not only were we surprised to find that we actually liked this house, but it also happened to be the cheapest one we’d looked at yet.

It wasn't anything fancy, but we weren't expecting anything like that anyway. It was a humble ranch starter-home—which we quickly deemed "the log cabin"—that had recently been renovated, updated with all new appliances and furnace. The backyard was filled with a tower of trees that made me feel like I was in the midst of a nature preserve rather than the heart of suburbia.

It all seemed too good to be true, it seemed like there was no way it could actually come together. In the past, we had always been outbid or days too late in coming to the table. Even so, we waited a week before making an offer.

As the days ticked by, I started worrying, What if we missed our chance?! But I quickly caught myself and remembered that God is not consigned to time. If this was the right home for us, the timing would all work out. We needn’t rush into anything in haste. We could trust that God—who cares about our souls and hearts but also, so graciously, even about the littlest things in our lives, like buying a home—would be able to overcome even those circumstances.

We were shocked when they came back and accepted our offer. Even our stipulation that they cover all closing costs and throw in the fancy fridge in the kitchen.

That had never happened before.

So for the first time, we found ourselves in uncharted territory, calling up inspectors, making negotiations and letting the concept sink in: We are buying a house!

As the idea of purchasing this home—for what seemed too good to be true—started to sink in during those first days, so did something else. Anxiety started to worm its way in, twisting and contorting the beautiful possibility that lay before me: What if the house ends up falling apart in a year? What if everything needs to be replaced? What if…?

I soberly recognized that in those thoughts, I was expecting God to pull the rug out from beneath me. That something this good couldn’t be. There had to be a catch somewhere.

But then the Holy Spirit countered and reminded me: That is not the way God works.

And so, I prayed, Lord, let me be pleasantly surprised. Let this house not be something that ends up crushing us under the weight of misfortune. But let it be something that is just one more reminder of His gracious love and mercy, to provide a perfectly good home to his children—no strings or smashing anvils attached.

We walked cautiously into the series of inspections, waiting with bated breath for the results. Each time we were, in fact, pleasantly surprised with the findings. Sure, with a house built in the 1970s, there were plenty of minor fixes and updates that were recommended. But nothing disastrous. Nothing like what I'd feared.

I admit that I was astonished at how God was answering that prayer of mine to be "pleasantly surprised." And as I watched and waited, the anxieties began to melt away as we inched closer and closer to the reality that this would in fact become our home.

We signed the final documents last Friday and are already in the midst of packing up boxes and picking out paint colors as we turn this little homestead into our own.

I can’t wait to show you this home-sweet-home of ours. Until then, we stand in awe at how God's love has been written all over this journey of ours, how he has taken something as simple and as ordinary as buying a house and has used it to remind us of his unfailing love and mercies.

And right in time for Thanksgiving, no less. What timing. We have so much to be grateful for...

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The Story of Buying Our House (Part 1)

I mentioned before that this buying of our new home—our first home—came about rather suddenly.

The truth is, we weren’t really looking for a house. Last winter, we were seriously shopping, seriously looking for a house to call home. After countless abodes and a couple of rejected offers, we decided to take a break from the house-hunting and move to an apartment instead.

Rent at this apartment was cheaper, but it was filled with its fair share of peeks into the challenges of home ownership, what with leaking roofs, broken appliances, infiltrating ant armies. Even then, I wondered if this season of apartment dwelling might be preparing us for the day when we might have a home of our own.

Even though we hadn’t looked at a house in months, I kept praying that God would prepare a “humble but sturdy” home for us. I prayed in faith.

Then, out of the blue, my husband told me that there was a house nearby that I might like. Evidently, he’d made it a habit to keep an eye out for homes for us, to keep poking around even though we weren’t actively looking. It’s insights like that that make me cherish this husband of mine all the more—that indeed he is always looking out for me, for my interests, for my future. Even when I have no idea.

He called me to his computer, and I looked at the quaint little Cape Cod. It seemed too good to be true. We phoned our previous agent and asked about the house. It ended up that it was a short sale that was already under contract, but then our agent pulled together some similar houses to show us.

We were back to looking, even though we didn’t really expect anything to come of it.

We went and looked at a handful of houses, but nothing caught our eye. We went out again, and as we made our way from one house to the next, they started feeling like one of them might actually work. We got to the last house and walked away surprised that there wasn’t anything major about it that we didn’t like, like there had been with every other house.

In fact, we actually did like it.

Not just in a well-you-have-to-compromise sort of way. Not just in a well-if-we-rip-this-up-and-change-that sort of way like all the other homes we'd looked at had been.

It seemed as though that little prayer for a "humble but sturdy home," uttered on the couch months before, was actually coming true...

Click here to read Part 2: The Story of Buying Our House.

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Learning To Trust Him...In Everything

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and a handful of other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have strengthened our marriages. (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

Today, I am happy to share this guest post from Iradis: Learning to Trust Him...In Everything

When I think back to a few years ago, I hardly recognize the woman I once was. More accurately, the girl I once was. A scarred girl with deep seated trust issues that resurfaced when my future husband and I started becoming serious about our relationship and issues which continued even after we married.

Before my husband and I met, I was still healing from a previous relationship which was abusive on all levels. My self worth was nonexistent and I trusted no one, not even my own parents. Within a few months of moving back home to my parents, by God's grace my eyes were opened and I was redeemed.

Quickly, I came to realize that although by His mercy, I was healing and able to forgive the man who scarred me, I still could not trust. One day, in my life journal I came across this Bible verse (Luke 16:10) and I couldn't get it out of my head: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." These verses also go on and talk about how we cannot serve two masters and must choose either God or money.

In my meditation of this verse, the answer was simple. If I could allow myself to trust in God, then I needed to be able to trust my family, the people who loved me. After this realization, I thought I had a grip on my trust issues.

Eventually, I fell in love with the man who would soon become my husband. I was also quite secure that I had overcome my trust issues. Little did I know, my trust issues were still lying dormant.

Fast forward to about 18 months into our marriage. I naively thought my trust issues were a thing of the past. Sure, we would have arguments like normal couples. One night, we had an epic (literally WW III) argument and I felt at such a loss. Then the lightbulb moment came; not that night or the next or even the following week. It actually didn't hit me until a few months ago.

Here was my realization: the core issue with each argument was distrust on my part! And much to my surprise, it was my lack of trust in the little things. I didn't trust my husband to change out the lightbulb in a timely fashion. I didn't trust him with doing the laundry like he said he would.

The list went on and over time, I had become resentful. That epic meltdown even lead me to rip all the pages out of my journal, where I had written about meeting my husband, falling in love, and everything about our lives up until that point. All because I didn't let myself trust my husband in the small stuff.

Learning to trust my husband in the little things began with making the conscious choice to trust that he would actually do the laundry or change that lightbulb. Every time I feel distrust creeping in, I remind myself that since I trust my husband with the big stuff, then I also need to trust him with the small stuff. Of course, even now and for the rest of our lives, I still have to constantly make the choice to trust but at least now I can recognize it.

While I still get sad about my rash actions that night, I strongly believe the importance of trusting in the little things in order to help our marriage continue to flourish. The biggest change I have noticed in our marriage is that in the past year, we have a lot less arguments when it comes to doing the laundry, changing the lightbulb or doing any other household chore.

In fact, the change has been so refreshing that my husband asked me the other day our last argument about doing laundry because he couldn't remember. Amen! All that small stuff is a lot easier to deal with and talk about when I choose to trust my husband.

Being able to trust my husband with the small stuff will allow me to trust him with the bigger stuff. If he doesn't do the laundry when I think it should be done, that's okay! Making the choice to trust my husband with the small stuff has made a huge difference in how we handle arguments in our marriage. Now when I read Luke 16:10, it really serves as a good reminder on how I need to trust my husband.

This was a guest post by Iradis, aka Urban Wife. She says, "I am married to my best friend, Red Beard. We just begun year 4 of marriage and it's been a thrilling journey so far. We can't wait to see what else God has in store and what other lessons we will learn. Feel free to stop by my blog Life Faith Fully for more about our lives. A huge thanks to Carmen for allowing me to share my insights of marriage - she is a great inspiration & blessing for me in many ways!"

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Books About Love Edition

These are A Few of My Favorite Things, an on-going, once-a-month series that sheds some light on, well, my favorite items throughout my home. (To read through all posts in the series, click here.)

In this Books About Love Edition, I'll be looking at six of the books I've read, as both a single woman and as a wife, that have helped me understand what a healthy, biblical relationship looks like and what I can do to make that happen. As I wrap up the Secrets of a Newlywed series next week, I thought sharing these would be particularly fitting!

1. Love and Respect: If I had to recommend any one book to someone who's married, this is the book. I've read it twice now, and expect that I'll read it plenty more over the course of my marriage. It's Scripturally based on the underpinning from Ephesians that husbands are called to love their wives and women are called to respect their husbands. The book is divided into a section for husbands and a section for wives, and each one walks through why those two needs are so pivotal, how they can practically go about tending to those needs, and why those needs are so important for that gender. It was eye-opening for me to get a glimpse into how my husband's need for respect is so different from my own for love and what I can do to show my husband that he does truly have my respect. (Click here to read some of my notes from this book.)

2. The Divine Romance: I read this book when I was still single and thought it was a one-of-a-kind title, addressing women's tendency to romanticize romance and put it on a pedestal above the Divine Romance we are called to have with the Lord. It's convicting and eye-opening in a good way that will really help you weed out your heart's intentions.

3. Get Married: I've sang the praises of this book many times and for great reason: It encourages women to embrace their desire for a godly husband and to start praying boldly about it as well as live like you believe God is going to answer that prayer and start using your time during singlehood to cultivate the qualities (such as humility, gracious speech, conflict-management) and skills (like smart money management) that will only enrich your future marriage. (If you're interested, I started a Women Praying Boldly group based on this book that you can join.)

4. Kiss Me Like You Mean It: This book takes Song of Songs from the Bible and teaches couples how they can learn from this age-old book and use it to transform their relationship into one as madly in love as the one captured in the verses. By looking at this book of the Bible, the author points out the relationship wisdom that's hidden in there and how couples can apply those insights to their own marriage. I loved that it was truly rooted in the Bible, and consequently, it helped me learn as much about the Song as about my marriage!

5. Created to Be His Help Meet: This book is one I often recommend with a grain of salt. I think it's filled with some really great insights that will call you to be a more gracious, humble and helpful wife. But the author's tone at times can be a bit condescending and negative, something of a "tough love" approach I suppose. She calls women to rise above the pettiness and bitterness that can turn a marriage sour and to practice unconditional love, whether our husbands deserve it or not. Never an easy task, but she shares many testimonials of how this approach has transformed other women's lives. One of my favorite takeaways from the book was encouraging women to learn how to do stuff for themselves, such as simple household tasks and fixes. Because if we have a lengthy honey-do list and our husbands fail to tend to those tasks, they can prove fertile ground for sowing arguments and resentment. Avoid all that by trying to take care of things yourself, if possible. Plus, you'll likely feel much more efficient that way!

6. Mars & Venus On a Date: Something of a silly title, I read this right before my husband started dating. Great timing because it really gave some really interesting and helpful insights into how men and women treat and act in relationships differently. Although it's the only book of these that's not labeled as being from a Christian standpoint, it does uphold a lot of Biblical viewpoints on relationships, such as mens' desires to be leaders and what that means for women. One of my favorite insights from the book was how the author touched on how many women bemoan the fact that their boyfriends (or spouses, for that matter!) aren't as helpful as they were early in the relationship. The author said that many women interpret this as a sign that the man doesn't love them anymore, but really it's just that now that you're closer, he expects that if you want him to do something, you'll ask. He's happy to pitch in, but he just needs to know what you need. Sounds like giving him the script, huh?

Do you have any favorite relationship books that have profoundly impacted you?  I'd love to hear any recommendations you have to suggest!

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Being Willing to Serve

The church we attend is a small-ish size church, humble with a couple hundred members who meet together week after week. One of the things that comes with going to a smaller church is that everyone ends up needing to pitch in, plug the holes to keep the church afloat…

Whether those holes look appealing or not.

That has been something that’s cropped up recently for me: opportunities to serve in areas that I typically wouldn’t volunteer for, areas that I don’t particularly feel gifted in, areas that I feel inadequate to undertake.

And yet, we can’t always let those things stop us from serving.

To be sure, there will be times when we shouldn’t serve, when our schedules are already stress-inducing and we’ve already stripped them bare of all the extras. Or when we’re already serving our hearts out and need to let others pick up the slack. Or when the Holy Spirit impresses upon us ever so clearly that this is not the place for us.

But what about other times? When we could, but we don’t really want to? When we could, but we don’t really feel up to the task? When we could, but it’s just inconvenient?

I struggle with this myself, guarding my time and commitments so that I’m not stretched thin and can give fully to those causes that the Lord has already put in my path.

Recently, I was asked to step up and and serve in our church in a couple of areas that I didn't feel like I was "ready" for. Honestly, I felt inadequate for the position. It can be so easy to hear about a need in the church and say, “I don’t feel called to do that. I’m not gifted in that way.” And then walk away from the things that need to be done.

And yet, I know that God does not always ask us to do that which we find fulfilling or satisfying, because the floors still need to be scrubbed and the trash taken out and who really feels “called” to do those things? I know that God often asks us to step out in faith, to those places that feel uncomfortable, that stretch us, that humble us, that make us rely on him.

I wanted to say no and leave those tasks to someone else and avoid taking the risk that I might fail at them.

Instead, I said yes.

I said yes because my church needed me. Because the church saw beyond my shortcomings and encouraged me not to let my fears hold me back. Because even if I don't yet feel it in my heart, doesn't mean it's not from Him. Because sometimes we have a hard time recognizing His gifts until they are in hindsight.

In these instances, I did not feel pressured to take up the tasks. I did not feel like the Holy Spirit was telling me no—which I have experienced in the past and consequently turned down volunteer opportunities that were presented to me. Instead, I felt like this truly was an opportunity to step up to the plate and out in faith and let God take care of all the gaps that I saw that stood in the way.

And are you surprised to learn that I was not disappointed?

One of those serving needs was to teach a couple of women’s Sunday School classes, where I am barely older than most of the women (and much younger in a few cases!). I've taught one class and will be teaching another this Sunday. After that first class, I walked away amazed at how God made that little hour so fruitful. I had been afraid it wouldn’t be deep enough or challenging enough or any other string of “enoughs.”

Instead, I was humbled at how the conversations had been encouraging and engaging, at how God took my reluctant willingness and brought such beauty from it, which I never would have expected if I hadn’t trusted him with the opportunity and followed along far enough to see for myself.

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Saving Money at the Grocery Store (Plus, a Chance to Win a $25 Kroger Gift Card)

Awhile ago, the Wall Street Journal featured an article about using coupons—advocating it as a serious (and worthwhile) way to save. And the argument was based solely on numbers:

The writer found that the average saving per coupon is $1.44. (Personally I’ve seen very few coupons for that much, but that’s what the research evidently says.) Assuming it takes you a minute to find and clip said coupon, you make $1.44 per minute. Translated into an hourly wage, that’s $86.40.

Okay, now you’ve got my attention.

“Very few of us ever do this kind of math, because we tend to treat low finance differently from high finance, and small sums differently from big ones,” the article states. “And the individual amounts of money may seem small, but they prove the old adage about tiny acorns and mighty oaks. Someone who saves $25 a week will save $100 a month, and $1,200 a year. Over a lifetime that can easily grow to $100,000 or more–even after accounting for inflation.” (Waste not, want not, right?!)

When my husband and I moved to Atlanta and our future financial stability was still unknown (as it was for many months), I started to dip my toes into this world of clipping coupons and shopping grocery sales as a way to save money in case we ever did find ourselves in a situation without income. (Fortunately, that never happened!)

I was impressed by the variety of coupons for high-quality products that could be found—ones for Seventh Generation cleaning supplies or Smart Balance butter, products we were already buying. So even though now that my husband has a stable job and I'm freelancing away, I still make it a point to use coupons and shop sales to get some of the products we would already be buying at significant discounts. Even if we only save $10 a week, that's more than $500 a year!

So how do I do it?

Personally, I don’t buy a weekly newspaper; instead, about once or twice a month, I’ll log onto websites where you can print out your own coupons from home. I especially like to use Swagbucks for printing my coupons, because you earn extra points for every coupon redeemed. If you want to learn more about using Swagbucks, you can read my article with more details here. If you're already using Swagbucks, you can find the Coupons section under the tab that says "Earn." You can also find print-at-home coupons at Coupons.com or Smartsource.com.

Then, usually at the beginning of each week, I'll log on to the websites for the stores I shop at most often and check out their weekly ads and make a note of any good sales I see for products we can use. And if I can use a coupon on top of an already good sale price, all the better.

One sale that's going on right now is at Kroger, where you can get a gallon of milk for free or a $3 credit off your total when you purchase four participating General Mills products. The sale lasts through November 26, and you can find out more about it here. If you routinely buy cereal and milk, this can be a nice way to put a little dent into your grocery budget. Add in some coupons, and you're golden!

Plus, in celebration of their current sale, Kroger is giving away a $25 gift card to one Life Blessons reader to use to really maximize their savings! 

enter this giveaway

You may enter up to 3 times, by completing any of the tasks below. Please leave a comment on this post for each entry and a way to get in touch with you if your email address is not linked in your profile. 
1) Leave a comment and let me know how you save on groceries. 
2) "Like" both Life Blessons and Kroger on Facebook (please include your first name and last initial in your comment)
3) Follow both Life Blessons and Kroger on Twitter (please include your Twitter username in your comment)

details about the giveaway

The giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Sunday, December 11. One winner (US addresses only, please) will be selected using Random.org from all valid entries. (Entries that do not follow the rules or cannot be verified will be disregarded.) The winner will be emailed and will have 24 hours to respond with their mailing address, and the sponsor will mail the gift card directly.

Disclosure: The Kroger gift card, information, and giveaway have been provided by Kroger and General Mills through MyBlogSpark.

Hello, I'm a Worrier. But, Right Now, I'm Not Worrying. (Read on for Some Big News)

It is in my nature to worry.

My mom says my grandma is always finding something to fret about, so I guess somewhere alongside my brown hair and freckles, is a thread of DNA that coaxes all my frantic worrying over things great and small.

I can remember being young—first grade, perhaps—and a thick crust of snow on the ground outside. I sat crouched in front of the television, watching the names of school districts scroll by, waiting for mine to zoom across the screen. And when I finally saw it, I waited until it went by again. I thought, maybe someone might have made a mistake and retract it. What would happen then? I had to wait and be sure.

Even then, when I had seen the name go by time and time again, I was still saddled with worries, half expecting that when I boarded the bus the next day, the driver would ask where I had been the day earlier; that there hadn’t really been a snow day.

So worry and I have had years of companionship together, plenty of time to get to know one another since those early days fretting about snowflakes and school days.

But then, oddly, there are times when I catch myself not worrying, fully aware that they are things that would typically send me into a worrying frenzy. Instead, though, I find myself in a state of peace, a peace that is so very unnatural and comes not from myself.

It’s there—that unlikely ring of peace—that I find myself in, now. As what-ifs and possibilities and big numbers and years signed off in ink swarm around me. It’s a situation where I know, left to myself, I would be filled with anxieties.

But for some reason—for some Reason—I am not.

Right now, my husband and I are in the process of buying a house.

Yes, a house. With multiple zeroes strung to its tail. With a 30-year commitment. With walls to paint and responsibility to spare.

It all came about rather suddenly—which is a story for another day.

For now, though, I stand in awe of where I find myself. This unlikely place of peace, which I know comes only supernaturally, as a sweet gift from God. It’s as if he is whispering to me, “Trust me. It’s going to be okay. There is no need to worry. I’m with you in this—in all of this, in everything and every detail. Trust me.”

And so, I do.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. 
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 
Then you will experience God's peace, 
which exceeds anything we can understand. 
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 
– Philippians 4:6-7

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Secrets of a Newlywed: The Beauty of Sacrifice

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and a handful of other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have strengthened our marriages. (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

Today, I am happy to share this guest post from Emma: The Beauty of Sacrifice.

At the start of our marriage, things weren't ideal. We fought quite a bit. There was love, and there was most definitely commitment, but it wasn't the newlywed bliss we had expected. Something was missing. We would be in the middle of a fight and I would feel completely lost and hopeless. I would know that there was love, and I could feel it, but I was just so unsure of where we were headed.

He had his ways, and I had mine. He wanted this, and I wanted that. He thought we should go this way, and I thought we should go that way. I'm not going to do this because he did that. I felt this way, he felt that way. You get the idea.

I wish I could equate my selfishness to my age (I was 20 at the time), but I have a feeling this terrible thing brings many marriages to divorce. Selfishness is a pretty natural tendency, and one that can easily destroy a marriage.

Then, I finally realized that the state of our marriage wasn't up to anyone but us. I was so busy concerning myself with myself, my needs, and my feelings that I forgot about concerning myself with my husband.

So about a year ago, I tried something new:

Rather than sleep through his morning routine (he works at 7, I was working at 9), I got up with him at 5 AM. I made his breakfast. I made sure he had a good lunch for his long work day. I put his laundry away. I did the dishes. I took care of him and lost an hour of sleep.

At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable as I went about the morning. A bit too Stepford Wife-ish. But the feeling I got from seeing (and hearing) how thankful he was for an hour of my time was worth more than an hour of lost sleep. (Or three!)

Big deal, right? Some pancakes and we're back on track! No. But it was in that span of an hour that it all became so very clear.

It didn't take long to see the beauty of selflessness. I'm not perfect, and I still catch myself acting out of selfishness at times. But consciously choosing to serve him before myself has truly made all of the difference in our marriage.

I needed to put his needs ahead of my own. I needed to ask how his day was, I needed to see if I could do anything for him. I needed to look past minor flaws and annoyances and remember what was really important.

I needed to make him pancakes.

This was a guest post by Emma, who says, "Hi all! I'm Emma and I blog over at www.shegotmarried.blogspot.com about marriage, healthy food, dogs, and saving money. Carmen is one of the reasons I started blogging and I love sitting down to her posts with a cup of coffee. I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do a guest post for this wonderful series, and I cannot wait to read more stories from other wives! I'm always learning new things in my marriage, and this realization that I have shared here was definitely a big one for me. As for my blog, I'm excited to start adding more budget friendly DIY posts into the mix as we just bought our first (and quite tiny) home in New Hampshire. I love being with my husband, running, cooking, yoga, taking pictures for fun, baking bread, and trying to tackle DIY projects that I would rather hand off to my mother-in-law.   I love meeting new bloggers, so please stop by the blog and say hi!"

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Whole Wheat Pretzel Bites Recipe

When it comes to cooking for a crowd, one of the things I've learned over the past year or so that I've been intentionally collecting recipes good for hospitality is that the recipes don't need to be fancy or complicated.

In fact, it's better if they're not. Because the easier they are, the more likely it is that I'll actually make them. (And isn't that the whole point of it all?)

I've also learned that you don't need dozens of recipes to choose from. You just need to whittle them down to a couple of trusty standbys that you know you can turn to and whip up without too much fuss.

With those two tenets in mind, I've started adding soft, whole wheat pretzel bites to my recipe repertoire as snacks and appetizers for events and potlucks. They're fancier than storebought pretzels from a bag but with pantry-staple ingredients, they're easy to throw together.

Plus, they're a hit. Every time I've made them, I'm always come home with an empty dish because they've been gobbled up, by kids and adults alike.

I usually take some mustard along as a dipping sauce (feel free to stir in some honey), and you're good to go.

1 cup lukewarm (but not hot) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
2 teaspoons yeast

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine in the order listed (meaning, add the water first and add the yeast last). For the yeast, make a shallow well in the middle of the flour and add the yeast there. Select "Dough" setting on bread machine, and press "Start." (By the way, here's the newest version of the bread machine I use.)

When the dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep. Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan, and turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Divide dough into about three dozen balls, one-inch in diameter. Place on baking stone (here's the baking stone I use) or cookie sheet spritzed with olive oil (I use my Misto!) or another non-stick spray. Leave about an inch between each piece of dough. (You may have to use 2 baking sheets to fit them all.) Cover with tea towel and let rise for 20 minutes.

In a 3-quart sauce pan, fill with water halfway and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons baking soda. Drop dough pieces into water and let simmer for 10 seconds on each side. Remove from water and let dry slightly on a cloth napkin or towel. (You will probably have to do this in batches, a few pieces of dough at a time.)

Place on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 425 for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on how large you made your bites, so that they are golden on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. If not eating immediately, store in airtight container for three to four days. Makes about 3 dozen bite-size pretzel pieces.

P.S. If you are new to this blog, thank you so much for stopping by! You can feel free to browse all my other posts about my journey toward a lifestyle of simplicity and DIY, as well as some of the ways my husband and I are learning to save money. I also write about my faith, my marriage and everything in between, which you can explore in the archives.

Plus, if you like this recipe, click here to pin it to Pinterest. You can also follow me on Pinterest here. 

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Who Are You Complaining To?

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have made my marriage the wedded bliss that it is. Like anything else, they are easier said than done. But I know from personal experience that when I do manage to live them out, I've seen what beautiful fruit they bear in my relationship with my husband. 

So, today, I share another with you: Who Are You Complaining To?

I hope that you will never hear me complain about my husband. I hope that you will never hear a negative comment about him slip through my lips.

It’s not because he’s perfect, because he certainly makes mistakes—just as I do.

But it’s because I value our marriage and don’t want to give, as Song of Songs calls them, the “little foxes” room to roam free and wreak havoc in our relationship.

You see, I believe in the power of words. As James says, the tongue can be “a whole world of evil among the parts of our bodies” and “it starts a fire that influences all of life.” (James 3:6) Even when we’re simply joking about how he leaves dirty clothes on the ground or the toilet seat up, I think those conversations can plant seeds of discontent in our hearts that, over time, can grow into jungles of festering resentment. All because we opened our mouths and breathed life to negativity.

That’s why I greatly desire to keep any venting out of conversations with man. Instead, they only have room in my conversations with God. And I can tell you that it’s these conversations that I’ve come to see bear much fruit. I don’t know that any one can say the same of the other kinds of conversations. Simply because the Lord is the only one who can actually do something about these issues!

There have been times when I’ve found myself frustrated with situations in my marriage, but taken them to the Lord earnestly in prayer. And I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work in our relationship, softening both my own heart and that of my husband.

Because hardly ever is conflict a one-way street. Yes, it may be the actions of one. But it doesn’t often stop there. We carry logs in our own eyes, whether it’s the ways we overreact in perceiving things or in expecting perfection from another human being. The Lord steps in with sanctification even in these moments, when we think we’re blameless!

The beautiful thing about that is that my husband hardly ever knows about these things, which keeps our relationship intact and healthy. And at the same time, it grows my dependency on and faith in the Lord, to know that with him, all things are possible and that he is the rock upon which we built our relationship. I let go, and let him work.

But the tongue can also be used for good and bring life. “Careless words stab like a sword, but wise words bring healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) And so it is true in our marriages, as well.

Instead of airing complaints, we ought to sing our husband’s praises. We put words to the things we appreciate about him. We tell others of the things he has accomplished. We only let words of encouragement flow from our lips.

And it bolsters our hearts, reminding us how much we do have to be thankful for in our marriage. Because if we look hard enough, there’s always something to be thankful for. Even when there’s dirty laundry on the floor and he left the toilet seat up, again.

(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

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Two Years Ago Today, I Started Life Blessons...

Today, this little blog of mine turns two years old.

I started this blog with the vague notion that I wanted a means for sharing what I was learning in my life with other people. I’ve always been a lover of deep, thought-provoking blogs and I felt that it was time for me to give back and put up a little home of my own in blogland.

And so, in the midst of posts about food and decorating and random life events, are those posts about my heart and my soul and the things that God is doing deep inside of me. Those are the reasons that I write this blog, even though those posts might only come a few times a month.

That's because those are the only words I say that might actually change someone’s life and matter. They have the power to possibly push someone closer to God, to push them into his arms. And then, with all the recipes and tutorials in the world, I say, It was worth it, because of that.

It’s been two years now that I’ve been publishing Life Blessons, week after week.

I had no idea then what this little corner of the internet would turn into. I feel like now, I’ve just started to get into a groove here. I’ve found my place.

And I’ve managed to stick around long enough to see the beauty it has wrought in lives around the globe. Here are some of the kind words that I’ve received over these past two years from people who have happened upon my blog:
"You are such an encouragement to me. I pray that you will continue to be used through your blog to inspire others. Stay blessed =) "

"Just wanted to let you know that I love your blog! Very powerful! Thanks for sharing what you do on here...so many people are reading it and you are getting them thinking! :) "

"I just found your blog and am so excited to come back from now on to read! I am always so encouraged to find fellow believers on the internet who are unafraid of voicing their love for the Lord and attributing things like job offers to Him."

"I am so absolutely ecstatic to find you!! You will definitely be on my FAVES' reading list, and plan on devouring most of your posts asap."

"I hope you know what a wonderful place you've created. You've already blessed me so much just from the little bit that I've been able to read."
Those souvenirs—words of how a single post, a single entry has helped someone see God more clearly, feel his love more deeply—are what keep me here, week after week, year after year.

Thank you so much for reading, all this time, and for sharing those words with me. Because if it weren’t for you all reading, I likely would have given up long ago.

So, with two years of posts at Life Blessons down, here’s to the next…

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A Look Back at October: Writing and Crafting, Aplenty

If September surprised me with all the falling leaves I noticed for the first time, imagine my disbelief when I found myself pulling my winter coat out of the back of the closet and wearing it day after day. So was my welcome to October.

In spite of the unseasonable chill that came with this latest month, October brought with it plenty of good news and good memories.

For starters, I saw quite a few of my articles for HOW magazine published (in the September issue, now on newsstands), as well as another one about a green design company posted on their website. I also had two guest posts featured on some blogs:

At Money Saving Mom, I wrote about some realistic ways we’ve managed to cut back on how much we spend on eating out. (Consider it a practical follow-up to the post I made about when we had cut our eating out budget down to a whopping zero.)

And at Hannah Explains It All, I wrote about all the different ways creativity expresses itself in my life—from recipes to crafts—and some tips I’ve learned over the years for embracing this call to experimentation.

Speaking of getting creative, I found myself quite inspired, crafting up some artwork in the bathroom and also undertaking a renovation for a mirror I picked up at a thrift store as well as a handful of wardrobe crafts that I can’t wait to share with you. And they go beyond just the Isn’t this pretty? fashion crafts to ones that help you make ill-fitting clothes simply fit better and fixing some of the quirks about clothes that I hate most.

It was enough inspiration that I’m planning to make a new series out of it—ways to revamp the wardrobe you already have. Expect to see that around here at the beginning of the year while I cull up more ideas to round it out. (Email me if you’re interested in contributing to this new series!)

Although I didn’t end up creating an abstract painting like I’d set out to do at the end of September in last month’s update, but I think I did even better.

October, it was nice knowing ya.

What about you? What was October like in your life, at your home? Let me know or share a link or two in the comments!

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