Posted in What Works for Me

Chocolate!

Yes, I’m going to be goofy. No serious contemplations here today.

Then again…chocolate IS a pretty serious topic, is it not?

Okay, so here’s the deal. We all know the truth about sugar. It’s addictive. It’s poison. It robs us of energy, keeps our clothes from fitting, and tastes oh so good!

I’m choosing, once again, to say no to it. I’m not getting all nit-picky – at least not yet – about every little ingredient of every bit of food I eat. Honestly, it makes a big enough difference to just say no to the mouth-watering peanut butter chocolate chip cookies or peanut brittle currently sitting on our kitchen counter. Accomplishing that is a major success, and I’m much less concerned, for now at least, about the type of yogurt I eat or the amount of sugar in this food or that.

But then there’s chocolate. I love chocolate. I crave chocolate. Yes, truly I do. So, how does that fit into the mix?

Here’s the catch – I know that in the process of cutting out sugar, I know that the teetotal mentality just does not work for me. Been there, done that many times before. What does seem to work, though, is allowing myself two small pieces of good chocolate – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to the plan.

Nice, dark chocolate. Really dark. Sometimes with almonds and a hint of salt. Mmmmm. Oh, and my cup of Choffy, especially now that I drink it “black” most of the time – only occasionally adding a touch of dark chocolate almond milk if it happens to be a weak brew.

So, here I go. It’s day two (nope, I haven’t gotten very far!), and I’m already feeling a bit better. And somehow that chocolate was even more enjoyable yesterday when it was the ONLY sweet I ate. I can handle that!

Posted in Marriage Monday

Tending the Foundation

Over the years, I have interacted with women who have stepped into the beauty of real marriage after years of exposure to marriages of abuse. Perhaps they watched their parents endure an abusive marriage and never had the chance to see beauty in marriage before God granted them beauty in their own. Or perhaps they lived through spousal abuse themselves. Either way, they are suddenly confronted with what marriage should be: a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for the church.

Each time I talk to one of these precious, precious women, I’m delighted in the things they discover for the first time. No matter who else has seen the beauty in them, there’s something amazing when they’re told they’re beautiful for the first (or hundredth) time by a man who truly loves them. They discover how it feels to be reinforced by the person who knows them best. And they see the respect that exists between husband and wife in a God-honoring marriage. No matter how many times I see it, these three things are repeated. Every time. And it’s always beautiful!

And it’s a reminder to me. I’ll admit, there are days when I do not understand how my husband always sees me as beautiful. I get discouraged even when he builds me up. And, I do not actively express the respect I have for him. But, even when I fail to act on these things, I don’t take them for granted. I know what a blessing they are because I have see the alternative played out over and over again in the lives of other women.

Unforutnately, there are other things that I do take for granted, mainly because it is hard to fathom that marriage can exist without these things. For instance, I take for granted the fact that my husband and I both entered this marriage with a devotion to making it work.

I take for granted that we will make decisions together.

I take for granted that my husband married me, in part, because he wanted to be with me permanently. That I am his favorite person, and all other relationships – except with the Lord – are secondary.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that there are several things I assume are realities for every marriage simply because they are realities for me. But they are not. Many, many marriages, even lasting and spiritually growing marriages, exist without the aspects that I consider to be foundational.

So what do I do with that information?

First, I must never make assumptions about someone else’s marriage. I want to encourage couples. I want to see marriages strengthened and grown. I want to see them positively challenged and deepened. But, I must be careful to never assume that another marriage needs what mine needs. There is only one thing we all need – the Lord Jesus Christ at the head of our marriage. Period. If that is true, everything else will fall into place!

Secondly, I need to stop taking aspects of my own marriage for granted. The things that seem most natural are also most foundational to our relationship, and those things need attention just like our weaknesses and growth areas do. Sometimes it might be something as simple as thanking my husband for desiring to be with me. Whatever it is, I need to be intentional about tending our foundation.

How can you tend your foundation this week?

Posted in What Works for Me

Making Change Easier

Yes, I’m still thinking about change, probably because we’re still processing through how to implement some of the things I mentioned last week.

We often shy away from change because we think of the disruption. We think of the mess it will create and the temporary frustration it will bring. And, my friends, it definitely causes all of that! So, why not just leave things as they are?

It comes back to those positive effects. The results. Whether my change has been willing or unwilling – even when I fought against change very, very hard – the Lord has brought unimaginable beauty into my life as a direct result. Every time.

He has also taught me how to make the change a little easier to bear. Yes, there are practical ways to help process through change, whether it’s something as simple as reorganizing a room or something as big as a complete life upheaval.

  • Pray fervently. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but how often do we skip it as we approach or find ourselves in the middle of the chaos of change? Or, how often do we neglect to pray when it’s only a “small” change? I’ve used rearranging a room as an example of how I tend to change things up now and then. Does that truly require prayer?Honestly, it’s not about praying over every little detail. It’s about living a life of prayer so that we may do everything for the glory of God. When I’m not living a life of prayer, all change is hard – yes, even reorganizing a single room in my home. But, when I’m in a communicative, growing relationship with my Savior, His guidance flows through everything I do, no matter how big or how small.
  • Build a haven. Have a spot in life that is normal. This could be one room that isn’t touched until right before a move – or is the first to be set up afterward. This could be a relationship that keeps you energized through a life change. It could be a stretch of time in every day that stays the same no matter what else changes. Every time change faces me, my haven is different.
  • Step away now and then. Not all change requires this. If it’s a change in a schedule, for instance, a new rhythm will form within a few days and be better than ever. But, when change introduces a stretch of utter chaos, it’s a good idea to find a way to step out of the chaos for a time.

What does this look like practically? Well, for someone who likes to finish, it looks like an interruption. A delay. So, I often don’t like to follow through with this one. But, I’ve learned that I have to. It’s important to find a way to completely step out, refresh a bit, then dive back in. It can be as simple as making myself go to bed at a decent hour instead of trying to push as late as possible to continue progressing through the change through discussion, planning, or physical work.

Change is unpredictable. Change never impacts us the same way twice. But, we can process through change well when we are fully surrendered to the way the Lord is working through us!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Fruit or Weed?

This year, we tried to grow strawberries.

We purchased young plants, laid a foundation for them, added some soil, followed the directions to get the plants into the ground, and waited expectantly.

The plants did start to grow quickly. And, we did find a few little strawberries, some of which were mouth-wateringly delicious. But, that was it. A handful of little bitty strawberries, followed by nothing.

Well, I can’t exactly say nothing. Lots of green. But no strawberries.

Meanwhile, though, another vine has grown quite well in the same soil. And some grass. And a few other weeds. No matter how much we have tried to keep them out of the strawberry patch, they have stubbornly returned. And they grow well. Very, very well.

The same soil denies growth to the strawberries but allows the weeds to flourish.

What about our spiritual soil?

I suppose the real question is not about our soil but about our ability to discern whether the growth is fruit or weeds. You see, some weeds resemble desirable plants. The vine that is working very hard to take over our strawberry patch (and many other places in our yard) is not an ugly vine. In fact, looking out my window today, I see some pretty purple flowers on the vine. To an unpracticed gardener like myself, it might often be difficult to determine what is weed and what is actually a desirable plant.

And, sadly, the same is true spiritually. Many, many things sprout up from our spiritual soil that seem to be great spiritual fruit. Productivity at church. A great feeling of communion and community through a Bible study or other small group. Or even a belief that we “know” what Scripture is saying about this topic or that.

How can we tell if our spiritual growth is fruit or weeds?

1) Real growth always points to Jesus Christ. There will be a desire to glorify Him, draw closer to Him, and honor Him in every way.
2) Real growth dives deeply into the Word of God. It is not topical, nor is it focused on limited portions of Scripture. A passion for the whole of Scripture is evident.
2) Real growth deepens our hunger. We won’t be able to get enough. We’ll want more of Scripture, more of Christian community, and more growth for ourselves and those around us.
3) Real growth is unselfish. This is most evident in that small group time. Do we just want more of our group, or do we want more of God’s work, whatever that looks like? If we just want more of our group, it’s not real growth.
4) Real growth results in a passion for the lost and for growth in other believers. We want to see the kingdom expanded, and we’re willing to do what it takes to accomplish that.

Real growth does not crave comfort. It is never satisfied with the knowledge and understanding already gleaned. And it cannot be contained. It desires to explode and expand, and it is not satisfied with staying as it is.

My strawberry plants cannot move to new soil. In fact, it’s really too late for me to do anything about them this year. Next year, I want to do more to provide better, richer, more nourishing soil. I want to do more to rid our strawberry patch of the random weeds and annoying, invasive vine. I want to create an environment for my strawberries to grow well.

As believers, we don’t have to wait for next year, though. We can check our soil today. We can evaluate our growth and do what we need to do to make sure that what we see growing in our lives is true fruit, not weeds.

What’s growing in your soil?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Time for Change

People who know me well know that I like to change things up, especially in my house. The fact that we have rearranged very little in our house over the past year shows just how crazy the year has been!

But, contrary to what some people may believe, I do not like change for the sake of change. In fact, I often shy away from change as strongly as the person who has lived in the same house, with the same furniture arrangement, for forty years. Change in and of itself is not fun. The benefits, though, are great. Perhaps that is why I enjoy changing things up – I have lived a life full of changes and moves and rearrangements and I have seen and enjoyed the positive results too many times in my life to ignore the fact that it can be a good thing.

Change reduces clutter.

Whether it is in a home, a schedule, or a heart, change helps us see where we have piled up junk and forces us to at least acknowledge the junk. Even if we just move it from one place to another, we cannot ignore it. We have to recognize. Over time, if we are growing in maturity, we will deal with the junk and clean up the clutter in our lives. We’ll free up space to move in our homes, space to serve in our schedules, and space for the Lord to reign in our hearts.

Change deals with problems.

Have you ever experienced the ripple effect of a schedule that no longer functions? As a homeschooler, I have dealt with that many times! Our needs change, and sometimes that old routine causes more harm than good. The same is true in all aspects of our lives. We cling to what used to work, even after it no longer functions properly. As a result, we often find ourselves struggling unnecessarily. A simple tweak is all we need to get back on track.

Change brings freshness.

There is a reason we are inclined toward spring cleaning! We get stuck in ruts that make everything seem stale. Spring cleaning – even if nothing is drastically changed – shakes things up a bit and freshens up the stale. Whether we realize it or not, that alone is change, and it does not just impact our homes. It impacts our emotions and sense of freedom.

Right now we’re praying about changes in our family schedule and routine. What will help our mornings run more smoothly, giving us a peaceful start to the day instead of leaving us feeling rushed and behind? What will allow us to interact more fully with our neighbors whose schedules seem so different from our own? What will ensure that we all get the rest we need while maximizing each day? All of this will throw us out of rhythm for a bit, but once it’s all said and done, I think we’ll feel more refreshed than we have felt in a long time!

No, I don’t love change just for the sake of change. But, the benefits are truly wonderful!

Posted in Marriage Monday

The Real of Marriage

I write a lot about marriage, whether directly or indirectly. But, writing advice or sharing lessons learned means nothing if it is not backed up by something real.

Through all of our ups, downs, joys, struggles, times when we loved where we were in life, and times where we begged to be elsewhere, one thing has remained constant: my husband likes being with me. He enjoys our family. He wants to be a part of us.

That’s the “real” that backs up everything I write about marriage.

Our culture is designed to tear marriages apart. Despite the cry for gender equality, a traditional married couple is not expected to enjoy the same things or truly want to spend time together. That can be seen in the fact that, although our society is pulling away from marketing individually to men and women,  husbands and wives are still actively marketed to individually.

Meanwhile, we talk about “girl time” and going “out with the guys” as if our marriages are something we have to escape from every now and then. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love time with my girlfriends. But when that time is considered to be a break from husbands, there’s something wrong. Yet, that is what our society promotes. A break, not just from our kids, but from our husbands as well.

Everything about our culture wants to separate us.

My friends, the “real” of our marriages is our unity. True, beautiful, biblical marriage is two becoming one. We still have our unique personalities and interests, but they blend and merge and overlap such that we can truly be together. Not just coexist. Not just relate. But be. 

Eighteen years ago this month, my amazing husband and I decided that the friendship we’d had for several years was no longer the right relationship between us. But we didn’t just progress from friends to dating. Very shortly after realizing we belonged in a deeper relationship, we went ahead and set a wedding date. So, today, I do not write advice or lessons learned. Instead, I write of gratitude and deep thankfulness. This is an effort to show profound appreciation to the man who has chosen to be with me for nearly eighteen years. He tells me that the decision to be with me was the best decision he’s ever made, and, as crazy as it seems for someone to truly want to be with me, I believe him. Because I know that every days confirms that God brought us together, and every day that sense of joy in being together grows. Every day.

That’s the reality that backs up everything I say. Not fluff. Not idealistic answers for marriage. Not even training in marital counseling. Just eighteen years of being.

Posted in Reviews

From This Moment

If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you probably know that I’m not a big “fluff” kind of reader. I love fiction, and I enjoy a good romance. But, I do not enjoy just reading a love story. I want more – real issues, historical depth, something.

The Historical Component

That’s why I enjoy Elizabeth Camden, and her latest novel did not leave me disappointed. As is the norm for Camden, the events in From This Moment tie into a specific historical event. In this case, the event is the building of the first subway systems around the world at the close of the 19th century, with specific focus on the electric system in Boston.

From This Moment is full of scientific concepts, technicalities regarding the subway system, and an interesting historical summary of events surrounding the development of the subway. As is frequently the case when I finish an Elizabeth Camden book, I found myself wanting to go dig further and learn more about the historical setting for this novel.

And the Love Story

But, the prominent story cannot be forgotten in the midst of fascinating history. There are actually two stories bound into one. By her own admission, what was originally intended to be the primary focus of the novel turned into a sub-theme, while a supporting character, Romulus White, took the center stage.

After reading From This Moment, I can definitely see the alteration in the plan to have been a wise one. Romulus White, a flashy but very insecure magazine publisher, finds himself entangled with Stella West, an artist he has been pursuing professionally for years. Romulus is convinced that Stella’s art could catapult his magazine to the peak of popularity, but Stella is only concerned with solving the mystery of her sister’s questionable death.

Obviously, From This Moment is a love story with complications. That is to be expected. But, it’s also so much more. In addition to being historically fascinating, this is a story of a battle against pride, triumph in adversity, perseverance even when the worst happens, the debilitating impact of hidden insecurity, and the wisdom necessary to choose between preservation and abandon.

I have loved Elizabeth Camden’s style of writing from the start. But, her characters have become more compelling, more real, and more captivating with each new story. If you are looking for a new read, I definitely recommend From This Moment. And, go ahead and check out her earlier books while you’re at it!

Check her out for free!

Get a feel for Elizabeth Camden’s writing style by snagging her two free novellas, Toward the Sunrise and Summer of DreamsAlthough both novellas tie into her most recent full novels, these stories stand alone and are great samples of her writing style.