Friday, January 16, 2015

Warm Up Your Winter

This hyacinth bulb warms my desk.
(It was only $2 at Aldi!)
I was born in March, when everything is bright and colorful and new, so dark and dreary and dead just go against my instincts. In the past, winter has often turned me into quite the bear--grumpy and lethargic, wishing for spring. But lately, I've learned a few tricks to make it through. Maybe they'll help you too.

1. Buy winter clothes you love. Hubby, the outdoorsman, is always telling me to "just dress warmly," which may seem like common sense to everyone else. But I confess: I hate bulky coats and maiming mittens and hair-messing hats, and often I run out of the house without them. While this may seem like a no-brainer, I'm hoping that I'm not the only one who needs this reminder.

We can easily and practically combat the cold by buying colorful cold-weather accessories--gloves that fit well, a cute scarf, and a snug, fun coat. And then, of course, you have to wear them. I keep my gloves in my coat pockets so I don't have to think about them and my scarf on the hanger with my coat. Everything's there, easy to grab. You'll look fabulous on the outside--which will no doubt lift your spirits--and be toasty on the inside too.

2. Sit by the fire. Three years ago, we moved into a house with a fireplace, and it has made all the difference. When I'm bone cold, there's nothing like a wood-burning fire to warm me through. Don't have a fireplace? Find one! (Seriously. I've done it.) Does your coffee shop have one? What about a hotel lobby or restaurant? Go order a cup of something warm and relax. You'll be amazed at how a fire warms you, both physically and emotionally.

3. Grow something. Something green brings a little life to the dead of winter. When all of those paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs go on Christmas clearance, buy one (or three). Place it on your desk or kitchen table where you can soak up the green and revel in its growth. I can't wait until the hyacinth on my desk fills my office with the fresh scent of spring. 

4. Citrus up! Hubby's grandparents send oranges and grapefruits every Christmas, forcing me (thankfully) to partake in the benefits of citrus fruits each winter. The high doses of vitamin C not only protect you from those winter colds and flus, but they contain lots of fiber, promote healthy vision, and have other benefits that will last you well beyond the chill of winter. And it seems that the lasting aroma of a freshly peeled orange has its benefits as well. 

5. Step into the light. More than anything, it's the gray of winter that gets me. But I've found that something as simple as keeping the blinds open in my office can make a difference. Be aware of the amount of natural and artificial light that you're getting each day. Natural light is the best. This article notes that "an hour's walk in winter sunlight was as effective as 2 1/2 hours of artificial light." So on those warmer winter days, bundle up and take a walk. If you're needing more of a jolt, you may even want to try light therapy.(Harvard Health recommends 10,000 lux to be effective.)

6. Keep hot drinks handy. Hot cocoa warms my soul. And for that reason, I have a jar of homemade cocoa mix sitting on my kitchen counter. Starting in October, we keep a jug of apple cider in the fridge, ready to be poured in the kettle and infused with cinnamon sticks. Hot tea, coffee--whatever warms you up--keep it stocked and on the counter for convenience. It'll warm your hands and your heart.

7. Read a book. Fill that extra indoor time with brain-stimulating activities, like reading, crosswords, board games, or Sudoku. It'll keep your brain active and happy all winter long. Plus, that book can take you to a faraway place, where the sun is shining, waves are crashing, and the smell of coconut oil fills the air. 

Just remember, since December 21, the days are only getting longer. But in the meantime, keep your inner bear at bay by warming up your winter. Your loved ones will thank you for it!

What do you do to brighten the winter days?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Planting Seeds

The first Seeds that we bought--
now completely committed to memory.
As our children grow, trillions of little seeds are planted in their minds. Loved ones teach them and correct them and applaud them. Books, music, and other media can do the same. These seeds can bloom into beautiful creations or destroy like weeds on Miracle-Gro. 

So when this mama came across a charming little CD called Seeds of Praise, it was love at first sight. The little stick man design and earthy colors were enough to make me pick it up. And when I did, I discovered that for the price of one CD, you actually get two full CDs and sleeves. It wasn't a promo--they were all that way. There was one CD for you to keep and one for you to give away. 

Who does that?! 

I'll tell ya: people who are passionate about the seeds they're planting.

When we got home, I put it into my son's CD player while he was in his room, and a few minutes later, the sweetest sound emerged: he was singing along. It's pure Scripture set to music--music that you will actually enjoy listening to (even on long car rides), words that you will end up singing yourself, seeds that need to be planted in all of our hearts.

Then when the guys at Seeds Family Worship asked if I'd like a copy of their new album, The Word of God, to review . . . well, duh.


I wasn't surprised to find that the latest release was just as wonderful as the first CD that I had fallen in love with (and the second CD I had bought shortly thereafter). And when a product makes it so easy--even fun--to do something as important as planting seeds of Scripture and goodness into our hearts, who can get enough of that?

So, do your family a favor and check out their site. You can listen to the full albums (but trust me, you'll wanna buy your own), download some of these resources, and sign up for their mailing list. They're always sharing free songs, making it easy for us to spread the seeds around. 

And with seeds like these, how can we not grow some beautiful things? 

(But one suggestion guys: can we have the little stick man back? 'Cause I kinda love him. ;)

In the spirit of planting seeds, comment below, and I'll choose a random person to send a Seeds Family Worship CD. I'll even let you pick which one!



Friday, January 2, 2015

A Life-Changing Way to Start the Day


On a beautiful May day five years ago, I opened a daily devotional Bible and read the passage for that day. The next day, I read the next. Then the next. And somehow I've done it (almost) every day since.

This daily commitment to devote a little time to God has changed my life. It has given me guidance and hope. It has framed my days and been a constant reminder of my purpose here on this planet. I cannot recommend the process highly enough.

So to get you started, here are some guidelines for a life-changing way to start the day:

1. Pick a time. Any time. For me, it's "the first thing." Now, that may mean "the first thing" after Ethan gets delivered to school or after the coffee's brewed, but it's the first thing I do when I sit down to start my day. I don't check Facebook or email or even open my computer until I've had my time. Start by picking a time in your day where you're likely to have some time to yourself and adjust as needed.

2. Pick a tool. Mine has developed into a three-book process. (More about that here.) But it can be as simple as a reading plan on your smartphone or a chapter a day from that Bible you got as a kid. The power is in the time, not the tool(s). 

3. Make a commitment. Making it official will make it more likely to happen. Write it down, comment here and now, or at least tell yourself, "I'm going to do the NIV 365-day reading plan." Or "I'm going to have 30 minutes of quiet time with God during lunch." Or whatever. Just make the commitment to spend time daily with God.

4. Give it some grace. So you miss the second day. So what? High-five yourself for reading on the first day and try it again tomorrow. 

5. Give it some time. As with any habit, over time, you'll feel that you can't live without it. The hard part is getting started. But now, after five years, my day doesn't feel right without starting it with God. Your new commitment may feel forced and awkward at first, but please trust me on this: stick with it. 

Looking back now, after reading five different versions of the Bible (and counting!), getting daily reminders of God's love and grace and guidance in my life, I cannot imagine it any other way. And I don't want to imagine what my life would be without it.

Want to make your commitment here? Comment below. We'll cheer you on!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is Christmas . . .

I often tell people the story behind the My Christmas List dedication to Frederick because it was such a shift in perspective for me. 

While we were working on his memoir a few Christmases ago, I asked him, "What's on your Christmas list?" He didn't seem to understand. I explained, "You know, what are you asking to get for Christmas?"

"Oh." Pause. Laughter (as he does when he's a little uncomfortable). "I don't get anything for Christmas. I buy rice and beans for the people on the streets."

"Oh." And that's when my perspective changed.

Fast forward to today, Christmas Eve (not-so-coincidentally), when I received photos of Christmas in Rwanda. While Frederick was here, we sold a lot of the crafts made by the people at the UCC. "Every penny," I promised the enthusiastic buyers, "will go back to the people of Rwanda." Some of the money goes back into buying craft supplies, some goes directly to the crafters, and some goes to support the UCC. We also had some donations to add to the craft sales, to be used wherever Frederick and Zacharie saw the most need.

So this week, Frederick and Zacharie used that money to buy food and supplies for the families in their home visit program. 

And here's what Christmas looks like: 









But that's not all. 

When Frederick and I visited Mrs. Mears's girls Bible class at Middle Tennessee Christian School, the girls wanted to know how they could help. And when they heard that some of the people in the home visit program were bedridden and spent most of their time on a dirt floor, they put the Sweet Dreams program into action. For about $25 each, they could purchase a mattress for one of these people in Rwanda. 

And just in time for Christmas, thanks to some selfless teenage girls in the United States, some precious people in Rwanda will be having those Sweet Dreams.



So this Christmas, please remember, if you have food to eat and a mattress to sleep on, you've already had your Christmas. Everything else is just icing on the sugar cookie.


Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Love a Sinner: A Christmas Story

Christmas 1995
We hear a lot about hating the sin and loving the sinner these days. And I sort of agree with the notion—as long as we're really clear about how to love that sinner.

Of course, the Bible tells us who the sinners are. For easy reference, here's a list from Romans 3:23: 

  • "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). 
So if you happen to know anyone on that list, maybe you can relateand learn how to love a sinner.

I was a divorced nineteen-year-old. Single mom to a toddler. And it was Christmastime. I had obviously broken a commandment or two in the past couple of years, and let's just say I wasn't feeling like Mom of the Year. God was already preparing to send me the man who would complete our little family, but I didn't know that. And I was feeling quite lonely. 

Don't get me wrong: that toddler was my joy. But sometimes being with people who speak in complete sentences is a plus, especially on a too-quiet Christmas morning.

I don't remember how it came about. I don't even remember if they brought gifts. But I do know this: early on Christmas Day, my grandparents showed up just in time to celebrate the joy of the morning with my little boy and me. 

It wasn't the first time my grandparents had shown me how to love a sinner. And it certainly wouldn't be the last. But that one act spoke volumes—not so much because they were my grandparents, but because they were leaders of the church, a pastor and the pianist. 

If a couple so steeped in God's Word and worship, these leaders of His church, could love me, then maybe so could I.

Loving a sinner isn't only an “I'll pray for you” kind of love or even a drop-some-quarters-in-the-red-bucket love. It's love that shows up at a teenage mom's house with breakfast on Christmas morning. It's a love that leaves His throne in heaven for an animal trough on earth. It's a tell-the-people-how-much-God-loves-them-until-they-kill-You-for-it kind of love.

It's messy. It's scary. And it's beautiful.

That's the love of Christmas. 

And that's how you love a sinner.


Friday, December 12, 2014

My Morning Trifecta



the morning trifecta
In a series of coincidences (God's way of helping a girl out), I've built a morning routine that starts my days with peace and hope and God-given guidance. For the past five years, I've begun (almost) every day with a little time with God, and my life will never be the same.

What started as a simple reading of the Bible each day has grown into a routine of reading, prayer, devotional, and reflection. For me, it is the perfect combination. So, if you're thinking about starting a quiet time or if you're looking for a change to your own, here is what has worked wonders for me.

When I sit down to spend time with God, this is my routine: 

My daddy gave me
this KJV in 1991.
I'm reading it now.
1. Reading the Bible. I've read a different version of the Bible every year. I love The Message. As a "thought for thought" translation, the translators are allowed a little more license in the language. The result is a passionate rendering of God's story and love for us. If you're wanting more of a word-for-word translation, the NASB is a good place to start. Or just grab whatever Bible you have on your shelf. It doesn't matter--the message is all the same. Whatever Bible you will read is the best Bible for you.

There are also a variety of formats available: audio versions to listen to in your car or while you exercise, an app that will remind you to read AND make it easy to share your favorite verses on social media, and of course, there's always the good ol' paper version. You can even have Johnny Cash read the New Testament to you! (No joke. Look.

2. Prayer. Whether you use fancy-schmancy words that you memorized as a child or eke out indecipherable whimperings, He hears your heart all the same. That's the magic of it. Just show up. He's already there. He already knows. He just wants you to know that. And knowing makes all the difference.

My mom gave me a daily planner (that I thought I'd never use--that I use every day) with a section for prayer requests. I date the request, write the request, and before I know it, I'm filling in the "Date Answered" column. Talk about a faith-builder. This is one tool that will do it.


3. Devotional. Browse the devotional section, and find one that speaks to you. Jesus Calling is wonderful. So is the one I'm currently reading, The Listening Heart. (I talk more about it here.) Both of these devotionals really allow you to hear God's voice speaking into your heart. They remind you of God's everlasting, grace-soaked love for us. Even if you aren't able to hear His response to your prayers, a devotional reminds you that He's there, He's listening, and He truly cares about your life.


Any guesses as to what "socks" means?
4. Reflection. The reason I thought I'd never use that daily planner is because my calendars are all electronic. I loved that this planner had a prayer journal section and even a Bible plan to follow--not to mention the embossed pink paisley. But what would I do with all of that blank space for each day? 

Well, I'll tell ya: I made a DID list. I got tired of feeling like I'd gone in circles all day, creating nothing but dizziness, so I decided to record whatever I had accomplished (however off-task it may have been). 

It became part of my quiet time, reflecting on the day before to see what I had done, reminding me of what still needed to be done, and letting me know what all I can do in a day. Plus, it's a pretty cool record to look back on, no?

Sounds like a lot, huh? Believe it or not, I'm usually done in thirty minutes--depending on how abundant the prayers are that day. And the results last me all. day. long. 

Actually, longer. I grow as a person--as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a Christian--every time I sit down and look at my life through the timeless lens of God's eyes. I'll never know how much it has changed me, how much it has steered my career, how much peace it has brought to my life. I only know that it has. 

So whatever your process, set aside some time today and spend it with God. He knows you better than anyone ever could. Isn't it time we get to know Him?

What do you do to spend time with God? How has it helped?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Seeing the Future

"I have a phone call at 3:30," I said.


"How do you know?" quipped my child. "Can you see the future?"


Pause.


"Who am I going to be married to?" He wants proof.


I laughed. 


And then it hit me.


When you plan, sometimes, you can see the future.


I'm a go-with-the-flow girl. God's timing. God's provision. Divine intervention.


But there's also the verse that says, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5 NIV).


Yeah. So as much as it goes against the grain of my free spirit, planning is a good thing. 

There's also the saying, "If you expect nothing, you'll get it every time."


Expect the best. Plan the future. Set a goal, then draw a map to it. 


Absolutely, you should consult God. And don't be surprised if you've misunderstood His counseling or if He throws your plans in the air just to remind you that He's in charge.


But when you do a little planning (I'm telling myself), you'll be surprised at how often you'll be able to see the future.