Monday, March 27, 2017

#wifestylin Winner!

Good morning lovely readers!

I'm sure you're all curious about who won this helpful little book... yes?

Give your best congratulations to Beverly Steele! Yay! Email me your address and I will ship a copy of this book to you for free!! I know that you have taught me so many wonderful tips on how to be a good wife and mother, so this book will likely be a refresher on what you already know :)

Thank you to everyone who read my review and entered the giveaway. If you're local and would like to borrow this book, just let me know! I'm happy to share the love. I have another few books in mind that I'd like to giveaway as well, so make sure you check back here in April. 

My prayer for all of you this week is that you'd look at your life, your marriage, your tasks, and your job, and instead of seeing duty, obligation, responsibility, or plain hard work, you would see the opportunity to give away God's love. I pray that responding in kindness, gentleness, self-control, and love would be on the front of your mind and the intention of your heart. May you see the beautiful and life-giving fruit it brings to your week and be changed day by day by God's working in your life! 

Thanks again to The Blythe Daniel Agency, BlogAbout, and Leafwood Publishers for making this giveaway possible!

Friday, March 24, 2017

#wifestylin and a Book Giveaway

After a short hiatus for our move, I signed up to read and review another book! Thank you to The Blythe Daniel Agency, BlogAbout, and Leafwood Publishers for providing me with this book to read, and an extra copy to give away! There are affiliate links included in this post.

I'm not exactly sure what answer I would have given if someone had asked me exactly what that secret is. I'm sure it would revolve around scheduling more time for reading the bible, prayer, serving others (definitely the husband, right?) and those sorts of things. I can't say I was surprised by what the author Jen Weaver says, but somehow it all still caught me off guard. If you are a newly-wed, or getting married soon, I think this book will spare you LOTS of heartache, miscommunication mishaps, and frustration. It would make a great wedding gift!

The format of her book is very practical. Each chapter is a blessing we receive from the way we act toward our husbands and our marriage, and not just the things we do, but really the way we treat our spouses and our relationship with them.

I'm in a weird phase of life these days. Our lives have had so much upheaval, strain, and demands, marriage investment has not exactly been our top priority. We have been more intentional with date nights lately, and while I know (and probably anyone who interacts with me knows) that I've been less than my best self, I attribute most of it to lack of sleep and the high demands of homeschooling while pursuing so many other endeavors. However, after reading just a couple chapters of this book, I see how my treatment of my spouse really does kill my own joy and make everyone's lives more difficult.

At the end of each chapter there is a little quiz to take in order to help you analyze what your "wifestyle" is, such as Frayed or Braided, Duel or Dance, and MVP or Dream Team. While I could easily tell you the things we should aim for in living with our husbands, I was kind of in denial about how many of these I "failed" or how often the keywords she suggest described me, such as Combative, Entitled, Weary, Frustrated, and Indifferent.

Overall, this book was a gentle wake-up for me. It's incredibly hard to swap out my self-preserving habits for offering the best of myself to my husband. I want to say I don't know why, but I'm confident it is a combination of the attacks of the enemy and my own selfish desires. But the daily choosing to serve myself first? Goodness. Ladies, we cannot keep choosing to invest primarily in our own self-serving desires and expect our husbands to enjoy loving us too. We think we know what we need, and we are convinced God cannot fulfill us while following and serving our flawed men. Big. Fat. Lie.

So today, I would say that the biggest secret to a happy marriage is surrender to God's ways. Yes, that includes submission, and allowing your husband to be in charge. But here is a great quote by Jen near the end of the book. "Being in charge means stewarding resources, receiving counsel, and taking care of the people you lead." Letting our husbands be in charge is for our benefit. Not because we are incapable, but because a team needs one leader. It doesn't mean he controls you, or dictates your every more. Your husband is capable of being a leader, but you need to be willing to wait, support, pray, love, and serve as God grows your husband into his role and shapes your family along the way. Jen is quick to draw lines between abuse and neglect, so don't fear being told to basically sit down and shut up - you won't be hearing that from her!

The few things in the book that I didn't love were more just based on writing style. There are some things that seem a little trite, or more cliché than I prefer, but her points and wisdom are spot on. It's not a deep, theological, or philosophical book. She doesn't go into the depths of marital problems, but her advice is rooted in truth and she gives us SO many practical tips. Most of all, she points us to Christ, and that is where we always need to start.

Are you ready to win? Ready to swallow a bit of pride and courageously face where you can work to improve your marriage? I know you can. If I can get through it with hope and positivity, you totally can :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope that you will keep an open heart and mind about this book. I know I was a bit skeptical at first, but there are so many valuable pieces of advice here, you would be wrong to dismiss it right away.

Come back on Monday morning and I will announce the winner!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Not Being a Quitter.

Gosh, yesterday I wanted nothing more than to be a giant quitter. I know I'm not the only mom to find herself here, but it still doesn't feel great.

I like to think I'm just very busy, maybe slightly over-committed, but this really isn't true in regards to time. It is extremely true in regards to mental energy. For some reason, our culture views the need for down-time, quiet moments, and private reflection as a weakness, for those who don't quite have it together enough. I know this is becoming less of an assumption as it used to be, but while it may not be looked down upon as much, it's still feels like people presume if you are capable of more, you are more worthy of high regard, or just better in general. I'm sure most of my friends and family would not say this flat-out, but I feel a pressure, or maybe an expectation, to fill almost every minute of my day with productivity and usefulness. Needs at church, needs in friendships, needs in my marriage, needs of my children, and the constant pull to do my absolute best in every single endeavor - lately it feels like more than my mind, body, and soul can tolerate.

Yesterday, nothing in particular triggered this quitting response, but at the end of every finished task, there was another task, sitting impatiently, waiting to be picked up and executed. Floors, laundry, schoolwork, dinner, fight-club interventions, etc. There just isn't enough of me to do it all, which is fine when you can hire out the cooking, the laundry, the learning, or the childcare, but those are things we haven't upgraded to quite yet. And for some reason, I'm too stubborn to give up my other endeavors to better balance the demands of my household - I'm still not sure what that means for my future, but I was definitely too stubborn about all of it yesterday.

I get in this funk where I look at all the things on my plate, and since they cannot all be done at maximum effort, I'd rather not do a single one. I long to quit everything. I dream about escaping to a magical, tropical island with little to no responsibility. I am not sure exactly what I'd do with all the time, or with any of my life at that point, but this all-or-nothing fire rages and consumes almost every rational thought in my head until I'm furious about the 10 crumbs that got knocked off a kitchen counter after I had swept and mopped. I sure hope I'm not alone.

Last night, while I was still taking deep breaths, breathing in my happy-oils, and trying to vent a little here on my blog, I started taking steps toward not believing all the lies that keep me in that all-or-nothing mode. Voices tell me that since I started something, I need to finish it. Assumptions linger about what that lady or this person thinks about my capabilities. My inner person taunts that if I can't be the best, I am wasting my time. Doubts creep all about, making me wonder what on earth I am actually doing with my life. All of these things going on in my head need to be shut out so I can enjoy what's going on right now, but I can't seem to quiet them as quickly as I'd like.

I have made improvements. I don't doubt myself as much as I used to. I am mostly okay with not being the absolute best. And I'm pretty darn sure my kids are on a great path, learning all kinds of important things and growing in their ability to think about the world. They have more opportunity than I did as a child, so my guilt over wanting to give them more needs to take a back seat. In order to talk myself down from this level of crazy, I work hard at telling myself the truth, because from there my path is far less confusing, overflowing with grace, and leads to the ultimate destination. But telling myself the truth has to be more than just a positive word, or an uplifting song. The only truths worth clinging to are the ones found in God's word. And if I'm not going there when I feel like quitting, I'm not filling up my mind with any sort of goodness strong enough to dispel the lies attempting to make a home in my brain.

So today, while I don't have any particular choices I am looking for wisdom about, I find that I need a general wisdom to help me know how to interact with my children, my friends, and my spouse in ways that show honor, respect, and sincerity. I need wisdom about what is right, on how to think more rightly, so I can act more rightly. And James 1:5 is a guarantee I cling to...

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

It's humbling to ask for wisdom when you don't actually want to change, but I know I can't stay in these trenches forever, wanting to quit every other day or acting like a jerk because I'm unhappy with myself. I'm not sure why it's so hard to ask God for good things. I know "good things" doesn't always  mean easy, fun, fulfilling, but the end results are always worth it. If I can just remember that God's ideas of absolute best is the only idea that matters, the only thing I need to embrace, my quitting days will be fewer and far between. I don't have to be the best, the most, the awesomest, or the greatest, just willing to embrace the here, the now, the ugly, the not-so-fun, and whatever else happens to show up. It will truly have to be God-enabled, but I'm pretty sure it'll be worthwhile.

I hope you can relate to this struggle. And I hope my struggle enables you to take courage in yours. It's not just you, it's not just your situation, and it's not just our culture. Our world is falling apart, and the only solid rock we have is God - His promises, His path of redemption, His love.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Learning to Love the Challenge of Growing.

If you remember a while ago, I posted a little about myself and my struggle with certain strengths and desires here. I listed my top five strengths according to the survey in Now, Discover Your Strengths tried to better explain my constant desire to finish well, to do my best, and achieve the greatest possible outcome I can control. As I seem to be given many opportunities to grow in my areas of weakness, lately I have been inspired to see how I can use my strengths in ways that don't seem so obvious at first. These strengths are things I've known about for over 15 years now but I have rarely looked at them objectively, seeking to leverage them in order to fulfill a purpose or achieve a goal - despite being an achiever! Ha! But lately, I've been intentionally embracing these parts of myself and trying to enjoy them, to let them be a blessing to others, even if the opportunity to use them is less than pleasant, and grow into them as much as I can.

I've often been told I am energetic, passionate, and that my excitement over something rubs off on other people. But let me tell you, I hardly ever feel like that energized person for more than moments at a time. This really got to me the last couple years, as more and more strangers would talk about how I inspired them or encouraged them in their learning, or their ambitions, and I would feel a little bit dumbfounded. I tried really hard not to look confused, but that is definitely how I felt.

Days after a big event, or after and meeting where I got to talk about a subject I love, I'd often crash emotionally and wonder if I was being something other than my genuine self in those settings. It wasn't until after SheSpeaks last year that I began to connect the dots about this mystery in my life. With each passing month I am gaining more clarity about myself, my role, my choices, and see the different modes in which I operate. It wasn't that I was not being genuine during those times, but rather than much of my life does not include room for my natural strengths to be used, at least, not in the ways I envisioned, not in the ways that easily rejuvenate me.

How does one "achieve" as a SAHM without making herself overly proud of the role she is in? Plus, I'm bad at cleaning, so my daily list of accomplishments is rarely something to boast about. How does a SAHM feel good about the progress of her projects at home or the things she got started when it's very taboo to brag about home-life and homeschooling your children? I definitely think that is not the way to go, and it would just build walls. How could I possibly Win Others Over or win at anything important when I often prefer to stay home and read a book? Yeah, it definitely does not feel like a lot of winning on those days. Are you seeing how I was feeling? So many of my strengths are not ideal for being a homeschool mom.

For long bouts, I let this defeat me. I succumbed to the idea that a good homeschool mom makes everything from scratch, is 100 percent content to sacrifice most of her time for her kids, or is a patient, soft-spoken, morning person. If I met another woman who didn't struggle with the desire to accomplish something important, I automatically assumed she was better than me, or that something was terribly amiss in my heart. Women can be like this, as I'm sure you know. We analyze ourselves by comparison, it just comes naturally. But we need to start analyzing ourselves by God's standards.

Several things will happen when we do this.

We will be more humble. When we see that we can never live up to the level of perfection and love that God calls us to, we will receive His grace much more willingly and happily.

We will love other women without judgment... or at least less. We will recognize their flaws as innate, not purposeful or impossible to overcome and we will be quick to forgive and overlook offenses. We will desire to see good things in them, to know them better and be real with them more regularly.

We will be free from our own judgements. We will see that God has made us in particular ways for particular purposes, and different seasons of our lives will grow us in different ways. This will enable us to embrace difficult seasons, knowing they are not the only season we will have in life. We will not be fearful of enduring hardship, because we trust it will end in due time and will have its desired effect.

According to God's word, He is preparing me for good works, according to His purposes (Ephesians 2:10). A long season of sacrificing in ways that are not natural, or even desirable, is preparing me for different hard seasons, which may feel easier after having endured those other hard seasons. I will be stronger because of them, or at least, more willing to endure, because I know there will be another spring at the end of each desolate winter.

While I truly love homeschooling and being home with my kids, I see this season not as the pinnacle of my life, but as a season of preparation and opportunity. Part of the great opportunity lies in being the primary person my children turn to for help. They have come to trust me, to see me as the first person they can come to for whatever need they have. What a blessing that is! Another part of this opportunity is the chance to grow in ways that are uncomfortable in the comfort of my home. I stink at serving, I am often a lousy house-wife, and usually pretty bad at being tidy. But, I'm not called out publicly on these things (unless you count admitting this all to you). I can work on these in private and avoid being shamed in front other others. I can get help from people who love me as needed, and my job is not at stake because of my failures.

The preparation aspect of my role at home is a little harder to remember on difficult days. I have many interruptions throughout my day, a lot of people asking me questions, and so many demands placed upon me, both from myself and from others, that I am forced to be more organized and more intentional. But somehow, I still end up getting sidetracked, becoming distracted by other people's success or by my own misery (yes, that's a little dramatic, but I'm just trying to be honest here). I forget to trust the Lord and work with His plans instead of dwelling on my own. When I put my heart into my "work", no matter what that looks like on each particular day, I can trust this work has a good purpose, one God has set in motion to accumulate and build and grow into another purpose He has for me down the road. When I despise this work of being steady, patient, service-minded, and giving, I miss out on being ready for the other works He is setting on my path. They get delayed, or maybe I'm simply less prepared when I finally catch up to them, and there are few things I hate more than not being prepared for something important!

I hope you are catching my drift in all of this rambling. Our strengths are not always used in all the seasons of our lives, but we can find ways to grow no matter the situations we find ourselves in. I am practicing my strength of Winning Others Over by trying to Win my children's hearts and minds over to the Lord's purposes. I try to use my strength of being an avid Learner to show to beauty of learning to those I encounter, young and old alike, and homeschooling really does afford me great opportunity in this certain strength. While my strength of being an Activator is hard when often stranded at home with obligations other than the tasks I'd like to accomplish, I can work on getting the kids started on their tasks, investing in their needs and goals, finding contentment in God's purpose behind being home, not just in my own goals or personal endeavors.

Most of all, I really want you to see how your strengths can still be used in situations that are not what you had planned, or even what seem fitting. No matter where you find yourself, you can use your God-ordained gifts to grow, bless, and be content, despite every single challenge you encounter. When you look back at these seasons of difficulty, you will smile seeing all the ways you grew, all the ways God prepared you for the situation you are currently facing, and know that once again, you will grow, learn, and be fully capable to walk in the truth.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On Being and Giving.

Last summer, I read Madeleine L'engle's book A Circle of Quiet per the recommendation of a friend of mine, Angela. She's an avid reader and an excellent writer, so I trusted her recommendation without question. If you remember, I more than loved it. It was indescribable to read pages from a woman's mind that seemed to come from my own, except, said better and with far more life experience and adventure than I feel able to bring. Anyway, I keep coming back to the word Madeleine was fixated on: ontology.

Actually, I don't care much for the word, but I am intrigued by the concept: Being.

I love accomplishing tasks. Big or small, if they get done and I can show evidence of the validity of my accomplishments, I am one happy woman. Not for long though, as there is always more to do, more to prove, more to achieve. But the older I get, the more I want to be loved for who I am, not just for what I do. This is great for the saved, because it isn't our sinful nature that defines us, but our being children of God that determines our worth. And I'm finding my happiness is linked to this difference in thinking too: we are not what we do, but who we are becoming.

This idea keeps popping up in everything I do, all the movies I watch, all the books I read, and many of the interactions I have with my kids. Finding our center, our being, the part of us that God made tick a specific and purposeful way, is going to bring us more peace than any other endeavor on earth. Like it or not, we will not find that peace if our hunt in not centered on God. It is only in Him that we find any purpose worthwhile.

He did not create us so we can glory in ourselves, and a major part of our purpose in being created by God is to have fellowship with Him. Our being brings Him glory, and His glory brings us happiness. It's insanely simple and completely generous.

Consider this. When I look at the ocean, the more I know about it, the more I experience it, the more I see amazing life within it, then the more peace reigns over me while I am there. When I look at flowers, the more familiar they become, the more I can name them accurately, the more I can tell their smells apart, then the more of a joy they are to me. Are you seeing the trend? The more we know the being of something, the more beautiful it is to us. This is true for God, and true for ourselves. The more we know God, the more we enjoy Him. The more we live true to the spark of creativity and potential He put within each of us, the more we are glad to be us. We must always give all credit to God for His amazing design, grace, and purpose, but we have to also recognize the incredible beauty He planted in each of us.

So here are my two pieces of advice to be happy with you, with your particular and original being, and I do not give these independent from knowing God - that is the first must!

1. Look at yourself less. I know, it seems weird to love yourself more by looking at yourself less, but it really is true. The more you focus on what you are now, the less time and energy you have to become the person God is shaping you to be - wonderful, perfectly formed, and a blessing to others. Stop looking in the mirror so much, stop thinking about what you could have done, and stop wishing to be something other than the current version of yourself.

2. Give kindness. It's the best way to be the best you. Recently, I read a snippet about how trying to please others doesn't actually please them, but being a happy and pleasant person to be around is what actually pleases other people. If we think more about smiling at our children, paying attention to the needs of others, and being gentle towards those we encounter, the joy we spread will outnumber the stars and cause us to be more in line with the purposes God has for us. You won't feel deprived of self-care, but you will be blessed by spreading love so generously, by having God's Spirit moving through you.

That seems really easy, completely over-the-top dumbed down. Maybe it is, but I know it works. When I smiled and waved at my daughter on her bike the other day, her surprise quickly turned to joy in both of our hearts. When I encouraged my son to do the same thing on her next trip around the sport-court, we tripled the joy between us. We all became a little more us, a little more the way God wants us to be: giving, joyful, purposeful, pleasant.

As the joy quickly turned to the grumps in our house, I reminded my son "It doesn't matter what you get in this life, it's what you give that makes the difference". It's also what makes you specifically you. What you give to others is part of the intentional design of our creator. The ocean gives awe, flowers give cheer, clouds give rain and inspiration, and those qualities, along with thousands of others, are what make each of these creations uniquely divine. So it is with us.

What you give is forming you every day, both in your own being and in your being towards others. If you want to be happy with who you are, or content with what is going on in your life, think less about you and think more about what you can give. It's the upside-down way to peace, and it was God's upside-down way to redemption as well, in giving us His Son. My prayer is that my life will lead you to aim high in enjoying your giving, whatever that looks like for you. Giving up vices, or giving up time, giving up bad attitudes, or giving away your cash. What we give says more about who we are than our words can ever articulate. You were made to give life, and God empowers us to give more than we can imagine, even more than exists within us. That is the biggest blessing in our giving - feeling the movement of God in our lives. Enjoy becoming who you are meant to be by loving the act of giving. It does not lead to loss, but to the greatest abundance you can imagine, and more.