What I Do: When I Don’t Know What to Do

Have you ever been pulled from a place of belonging into a phase of uncertainty? From a place of confidence in your skills to a moment of feeling as if you really have nothing to offer? What do you do in those moments?

Hold Loosely

Last week, a sermon illustration reminded me of the importance of holding everything so very loosely. Allowing God to give and take away for His glory. It was not a new concept. I’ve heard it time and time again – and tried to live by it diligently. Yet, while standing in the middle of a long stretch of time in which my confidence has been challenged again and again, God knew I needed the reminder to hold loosely to everything.

So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? You hold loosely. Surrender. Trust.

Admittedly, I don’t do any of that easily. Especially when my confidence is being stripped. When I feel like I don’t really have a place. When it seems as if I’m not doing anything well – or that I’m outright failing.

But the Lord never promised it would come easily. In fact, He promised suffering. He promised struggle. He promised challenge.

And He promised Himself right in the middle of it.

He Does Best When I Can’t

I know this all seems much more spiritual than practical. Like it fits more in my Friday Faith Nugget post. But, in truth, it’s very practical. Because what I do – every single aspect of what I do – is riddled with insecurity. I never experience a day when I don’t feel like I am failing in at least one area of life – being a wife or a mom or a homeschooler or a pastor’s wife or a teacher or an editor or an employee or a whatever-else-I’m-doing-at-the-moment. Or all of the above.

Only when I hold it all loosely is the Holy Spirit capable of performing the jobs through me. And only then do I see success.

That makes “holding loosely” a very practical part of what I do. Even if it’s a part I forget regularly and have to be reminded of.

Hold loosely, my friend. Be ready to let Christ be the success, not you.

And be ready to remind me of this very thing tomorrow, because I’ll need it!

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What I Do: Reading Reviews

Last week I shared some tips for writing reviews. But, most people are more likely to read a review than to write one. Reviews helps us discover new products that might be useful to us. They help us make a decision on major purchases. And they help us discover whether or not a product lives up to its claims.

Unfortunately, not all reviews are reliable or useful. Here are some tips for finding the best and most reliable reviews.

Avoid the extremes.

Although there are honest one and five star reviews, those are also the most likely places for scam reviews. Someone paid to write a review will almost always give a five-star ranking. Someone determined to undermine a product or brand (yes, those people exist!) will go with the one-star. Most truly thoughtful reviewers will fall somewhere in between.
Seek details. If a review is rated low and begins with a comment about slow shipping or a damaged product, it is probably not going to be helpful or relevant. Also, if a reviewer either raves about or bashes a product without giving true context, it might be hard for you to apply those pros and cons to your own situation.

A caveat to this would be the reviewer who says that the product arrived damaged, but an assessment of the product was still possible. In fact, a review like that could be incredibly useful!

Look for experience.

How many ways was the product used? For how long? Is there information that is not in the product description? Does the review candidly respond to the product description? Or does every detail seem to simply mirror the description?

Consider the relevance of the review.

An example will actually work best to explain what I mean. A few months ago, I took to the Internet to search for a shoulder rest for my daughter’s violin. I found one with solid reviews, but there was one primary complaint: there were no instructions for mounting the shoulder rest. The shoulder rest received several one-star ratings for that one reason.

In all honesty, lack of instructions is not a bad reason for a product to receive a low rating in some cases. Users need to know how to use a product. In this case, however, other reviewers offered slightly more helpful input than those who just gave the product a low rating. These reviewers stated that, although a newbie might have issues, someone who had mounted a shoulder rest before would have no problems. Our conclusion? YouTube and knowledgeable friends were close at hand, so the negative was not relevant for us.

Bottom Line: Before you accept the reviewer conclusion, whether positive or negative, make sure his arguments are relevant to your unique needs.

Compare reviews.

The more reviews a product has, the easier it is to make a genuine assessment. Compare pros and cons. Consider voices and credibility. Often, good reviewers will evaluate other reviews and directly respond to common negatives and positives.

As a side note here, a low number of reviews doesn’t automatically mean a product is bad. If you are familiar with a product that has few reviews, consider that an invitation to write one! Other customers will be grateful. And, if your review is positive, so will the manufacturer. (This is especially true of authors. They will love you for your help!)

The ultimate advice for reading reviews is this: pay attention! With a little discernment and practice, it becomes quite easy to sort out the bad reviews from the good.

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Marriage Monday: Just Because

My husband is the king of “just because” moments – those little moments when there’s no real reason to celebrate, give a gift, or do something out of the ordinary. He just acts out of love.

I’m not so great at those moments. I tend to be more of a planner and need a reason or an occasion to motivate me to action. That’s an area I want to grow, though. I want to be more about the “just because” actions.

So, why are those moments so important? Because they show that we’re thinking of each other. They are tangible proof that our relationship goes beyond just the normal facts of married life. Our marriage is not just about going through the daily routine, parenting our kids, and putting up with each other. It’s about being a picture of Christ’s relationship with us.

And, let me tell you, my friends. There are many things the Lord does in our lives “just because.”

Just because they help us bring glory to Him.
Just because they fill us with joy.
Just because they teach us to know Him better.
Just because they bounce through our lives to impact others, drawing them into the kingdom.

Yes, marriage is a picture of all of that.

Suddenly, those little “just because” moments become far more important, don’t they? Those moments in which we are wide open in our love for our spouses. Those moments in which we display that love before the world. Those moments that are not about bragging but are about being true and real and honest.

I love seeing husbands and wives sitting close together, holding hands in public, or fully engaged in delightful conversation. I love seeing them drawn together like a magnet. There’s little more beautiful than the sight of a husband’s face lighting up when he sees his wife or a wife’s expression when she’s about to explode with pride for her husband.

Those are “just because” moments that shine.

Creating a marriage that reflects Christ, thus fulfilling marriage’s true purpose, is not an easy task. But, it can start with something as simple as being intentional about “just because” moments.

How can you be intentional this week?

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In

Several months ago, I was praying for a friend who had been in the midst of some great challenges. As I prayed, one of my go-to passages popped into mind: Philippians 4:4-8. But, somehow, I didn’t get far past “rejoice in the Lord.”

Actually, I got hung up on one word: in.

It’s easy to fly over that phrase and not truly stop to ponder what it means. “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Okay, Lord, let me see what I can be thankful for right now. It’s hard, because I’m overwhelmed by the circumstances, but I’ll try. Maybe. Yes…here goes. Oh, Lord, HELP!!!!

Unfortunately, that’s usually how it sounds when I try to start my prayer with thankfulness. But, here’s the problem. I’m still focused on circumstances. I’m just trying to find some way to be thankful for them.

And there’s another problem. Thanksgiving is not actually what this phrase commands. The whole thankfulness instruction comes later in the “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” part. For now, it is simply “rejoice in the Lord.”

Now, to come back to the word “in.”

You see, so many times we get stuck on word “rejoice.” We stop there and wonder why it is so hard to obey that simple command.

I confess I have to laugh a bit as I process through this. Why? Because this is a grammar issue more than a heart or mind issue. And as an editor, I’m all about grammar! Will you bear with me for a moment while we look at this phrase through an editor’s eyes?

For those of you who aren’t too fond of grammar, here’s a quick two-part side note. First, an imperative is a command, often encapsulated in a single word. Second, a preposition is a word that lends a sense of direction, like in, of, for, to, under, over, etc. It is followed by a noun called the object of the preposition, telling you to whom or what the direction relates (under the table).

Now, back to the passage.

The opening of this passage is not just a single imperative word with no further modification. It is a phrase with an imperative verb followed by a prepositional phrase. And a preposition always has an object.

Rejoice (imperative) in (preposition) the Lord (object of the preposition).

What happens if we don’t stop with the imperative, but continue on to the prepositional phrase? What if we truly rejoice in the Lord?

I know what happens to me. I get a refocus. I find myself in the center of Him instead of in the center of my circumstances. I am moved. Transformed. Lifted. The circumstances don’t change, but I do. And it makes all the difference.

When I rejoice in the Lord, the following commands come much more easily:
– let your gentle spirit be known to all men
– pray with thanksgiving
– think on these things

Yes, it’s all a natural progression, but only if I start by truly rejoicing in the Lord.

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Review: Philippians-Discovering Joy Through Relationships

I love inductive Bible studies. But, I often get burned out quickly when trying to process through them, simply because of the time they take. Don’t get me wrong – I could delightfully spend the hours each week digging deeply into Scripture. But, the honest truth is that I need to be able to dig in much less time than that.

Enter Sue Edwards’ Discover Together Bible study series. The newest addition to the Discover Together series is Philippians – Discovering Joy Through Relationships. Like other studies in the series, this Philippians study helps women dive deeply and quickly into the word through several integral components:

History

Rather than focusing on Philippians along, this study establishes context. Who is the author? Why is he writing the letter? To whom is he writing the letter? What is the historical setting of the recipients? This is information is critical to the true study of any Bible passage.

Admittedly, I’d encourage any believer to learn to research this information for themselves, just to know how to do it. But, as a wife and mom with a very full slate of responsibilities, I appreciate the blessing of having all the resources right here in one place.

Context

A true study of Scripture must also explore how a passage or book fits into the grander picture of the whole Bible. This study pulls passages from throughout Scripture to explore the message of Philippians in this greater context.

Scripture Memory

A memory verse is included in each lesson. Although the verses are not all from Philippians, they all correspond to that lesson’s focus.

Basic, Yet Thought-Provoking, Questions

The format of the questions makes weekly progress very manageable when studying with a group. But, there is also a depth to the questions that leaves some women desiring to slow down and spend two or three weeks on each lesson. And that’s just at the basic level.

In the margins, those processing through this study will find quotes from authors, pastors, and theologians as well as notes from Sue Edwards. But, they will also find “Digging Deeper” options, encouraging even more thought and processing regarding the application of lessons from Philippians. Feel free to take your time!

Supplements

Video supplements are available at discovertogetherseries.com or via QR codes embedded in the study. While the videos are not necessary, they do add to the fullness of the study.

Philippians – Discovering Joy Through Relationships can be completed alone, with a group, or even through Facebook chats with the author. There is also a general Discover Together series leader guide, offering tips for leading a small group. This will be considered by some as the drawback or negative, as there is not a leader’s guide for this specific study.

I went through this study quickly and on my own for the sake of this review. But, I look forward to going through it again more slowly, and hopefully with a group, in the future. I will be recommending it to any woman seeking a Bible study option.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
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What I Do: Writing a Review

According to my blog, I wrote my first review seven years ago this month. Wow. It’s quite incredible to think of all the doors that have opened because I started writing book reviews. Something I’ve learned along the way is that not all reviews are created equal. So what does it take to write a solid review?

Nuts and Bolts

The first thing to keep in mind is that a review is not an excuse to gush over or bash a product. Instead, it is to inform. With that in mind, there are a few practicals to consider before even looking at the content of your review.

Word Count

The ideal review length is 300-500 words. Setting a minimum goal of 300 words (or, if you are reviewing on a site like Amazon rather than on your blog, 150-200 is sufficient) makes you stop and truly think about a product that you might be tempted to review in two sentences.

On the other hand, a limit of 500 words keeps you from rambling and gushing. The review I intend to publish tomorrow currently stands at 835 words. So, part of the editing process will be to cut out the unnecessary wordiness and make it more manageable.

Note: There are some reviews that require more words. Be as concise as possible, but don’t be limited by self-imposed word counts in those situations.

Format

Use visual stimulation in your presentation. Bullet points, numbered lists, and headings are very useful!

Order is Everything

Whether this is a negative or positive review, try to both start and finish with a positive comment about the product. “This didn’t work for us, but ______ would find it useful,” makes for a great closing statement to a negative review.

Credit to Product Source

If you received a product in exchange for review, remember to include a statement such as this at the end of your review: “This product was sent to me by COMPANY NAME in exchange for my honest review.”

Content

Now you’re ready to start building content! Here are some tips (in no certain order – you can build your review your way!).

My Story

Set the stage by sharing in just a few sentences how this product fits into your family. That is relevant to the reader, as it shows readers how your family differs from theirs. But they don’t need all the fine details. Keep it brief!

Pros & Cons

Find at least one con about a product you love. Putting this thought into the review builds your credibility and indicates that you’re not a paid reviewer. Of course, you also should find at least one positive about a product you greatly dislike, in addition to the “this would be useful for” statement mentioned earlier.

In fact, whether this is a positive or negative review, ending with a recommendation statement makes closing comments a cinch!

Just the Facts

When it’s all said and done, however, the facts are what people are looking for. Be helpful. What would you want to know about this product that you can’t find through other sources? Does the product actually live up to the company’s claims? Are there additional pieces of information a customer would like to have before buying? This is the meat of your review around which the rest is built.

Clean-Up Time

Finally, don’t forget the edit! Walk away for five minutes, or even a day, and then come back to reread. Does it make sense? Are there spelling or grammar errors? You don’t have to be a grammar Nazi or an editor to make sure your review is well-written. Just pay attention. It makes all the difference!

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Marriage Monday: Thinking of You

Okay, so I’m a day late for Marriage Monday! I got this written, but not edited yesterday. But, as I’m trying to be more diligent about posting, I’m going to go ahead and publish today. Enjoy! 

This morning, the power of thought is hitting me strongly. Oh how powerfully our thoughts intertwine with our actions, speech, and relationships. What happens when your mind is full of delight? What about when you rehash something that made you angry? What if your thoughts are melancholy? Or sad? Your words and actions follow those thoughts, don’t they?

Although there are instances when we can be good actors when the need demands, it is extremely hard to truly act in a manner that contradicts our thoughts. And often, if we consciously separate our behavior from our thoughts, we either find our focus and mood conforming more to fit our actions or we become so exhausted that we can no longer maintain the charade.

Thought & Marriage

Let’s apply that to marriage. I’ve written before about the importance of speaking positively about our spouses in public, especially in this culture where spousal bad-mouthing is an art form! But, how can we expect to be honestly positive about our spouses in public if our thoughts do not flow accordingly?

Think about the last time you were angry or aggravated with your spouse. Think about the thoughts that flowed through your mind. Did you combat those thoughts or stew in them? Did you talk out your frustration with your spouse, or did you just let it simmer? How do you feel right now when you remember your agitation? Does it quickly stir up negativity in you again, or does it leave you wondering why you got so upset in the first place?

When we let negative thoughts stir, simmer, and stew in our minds, we do not truly grow our marriages. Instead, we set ourselves up for that moment when exhaustion sets in and our charade is exposed. It might take a while. Years, even. But eventually, we will awaken to discover that our marriages are crumbling and a fix is going to take a whole lot more than just a mental adjustment.

What Scripture Has to Say

But, what if we do something about it right now? Today? What if, in this very moment, we choose to follow the scriptural mandate to take authority over our thoughts?

We can find insight into this scripture mandate in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. In the grander context of the passage, Paul is offering a defense of himself, but these specific verses sum up the reason he feels the need to defend himself. He has had some challenging words to say to the Corinthians, and they’ve apparently fussed a bit about it, challenging Paul’s authority in the process. He responds by telling them why it is so crucial that they listen to his teaching. Take a look:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Is marriage any different? In the grand scheme of things, is your fight truly with your spouse? Or is it possibly with the spiritual forces against which we are battling? Should it not then follow that we, too, must take every thought captive in our marriages as in every other area of life?

My Prayer for You and Me This Week

Perhaps your week has gotten off to a beautiful start, and your thoughts toward your spouse are pure and beautiful right. But perhaps you are struggling. Getting into a new week has you scrambling and frustrated, and that frustration is seeping into your relationship.

May I encourage you to take captive your thoughts about your spouse? May I pray with you as you seek to ensure that your obedience in marriage is complete? Oh, how I pray that you will be able to delight in your spouse today and throughout the week, in thought, in speech, and in interaction!

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