Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Finding Hope

It's hard to believe another year has almost come and gone.  Another calendar year, and, for our family, another year without Mom and Dad.

Some days, the victory of making it through another day--another moment--is exciting enough.  The holidays still brought an extra twinge of pain, a few extra tugs on our heart strings, and a sharper awareness of what we no longer have.  I still thought of how strange it must look for Chase, Jordan, and me to be road tripping to Indiana without parents along.  Opening presents without Mom and Dad just didn't feel right.  The dinner table, though packed elbow-to-elbow, was a few elbows short of full.  I can tell I'm a little less patient and a little more tired than I have been in a while.  The loss is still great, and still real...but God really is so much greater. Tonight, God reminds me that His grace has brought us so far beyond just being "okay." 

This past year has been quite the discovery process.  I've learned that sometimes God strips away what we always thought provided our hope and joy and security to show us that He is the only sufficient One.  In His grace, He has gently shown me how adulteress my heart is so that I am beginning to cling more tightly to my true Provider rather than running to temporary fixes.  God is slowly, patiently, faithfully revealing to me the fact that the things I chase and long for in this world--even good things!--are simply not Him. 

He alone reigns forever.  His love and grace, faithfulness and provision, joy and hope are infallible. 

So this Christmas season, the reality of loss is still inevitable, but the power of hope is stronger than the pain. 

Tonight, as we opened Christmas presents, I received an ornament that was a cute little teddy bear holding a sign that simply says, "Hope."  I smiled, and Aunt Beth leaned towards me and said, "I got you that because I've seen you really seeking out that hope this past year." 

Hope.  Hope brings encouragement and the will--no, the desire--to go on.  "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." (Hebrews 6:19-20).  So hope and Christmas go hand-in-hand. 

Our God in His kindness decided He didn't want us to have to spend eternity away from Him as we deserve.  And so, the Christ child Jesus was born.  In the form of a baby, so small and dependent, God delivered the most thought-out, enduring, powerful gift He could have given.  He brought us a Savior.  The gift is there, and though we don't deserve it, God longs for us to chose to open and embrace the gift of His Son. 

So I have hope.  And I'm realizing how much more lengthy my "Thankful-for List" is than my "Wish List."  Each day, God reminds me to trust Him through my insecurities and to look for the blessings He's planted.  There really is power in counting blessings! 

This Christmas night, here is part of "My Thanks-A-Million List"

1.  I am a child of the King, placed here for a reason.  He promises to never abandon me as He helps me discover and fall into that plan. 

2.  I have true friends who love and support me.

3.  The Lord grabbed the hearts of my grandparents, and they became first-generation believers.  Since then, they have not been perfect.  But they have remained faithful and, after 91 years, continue to enjoy life as they pray and seek the will of God. Their choices have made all the difference in the lives of our family members.  I don't want to imagine what the process of grieving the death of Mom and Dad would have looked like without their faith showering years of prayers and wisdom on us. 

4. I have a warm bed, new Josh Turner CD's :) , and yummy food to enjoy on this rather chilly night.

5.  My family, though crazy and sometimes a bit much to handle, brings so much laughter, joy, and good goofy memories into my life.

6.  God promises to have my back and go ahead of me as I step into whatever new adventures He has in store.

Yes. Tonight, I'm thankful for hope.  Because who wants to go through life in fear?  I've tried that route, too, and I don't recommend it. 

My Christmas prayer is that God would become so undeniably real to the widows, the fatherless, and the broken-hearted.  I pray for strength, peace, and joy for those who aren't able to be with their families over the holidays.  Whether a loved one has gone Home, was a no-show to start with, or has chosen to go so they can defend the freedom of loved ones left behind, my heart goes out to the lonely and hurting hearts this season in a way it never has. 

The beauty of hope lies in its reality and availability.  Don't lose heart when hope seems out of sight.  Give yourself some grace, make the choice to keep seeking and taking hold of God's glorious promises, and know you are loved.  May hope in our eternal God restore your weary spirit and bring a special depth to the joy that already exists.

Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beyond Contentment

I usually avoid posts about relationships and self-image and all that, for several reasons, really.  One of those reasons is that there are sooo many of them!! Post after post is about one more person's opinion or status in the whole matter.  I think the reason for this is because God created us to be in intimate relationships, and our world is so thirsty for the commitment and life-long love that many believe is only a fairy tale these days.  But that's a big ol' soap box for a whole other day. :)  The other reason is 'cause it just makes me feel silly and a bit uncomfortable.  I've always been a hopeless romantic, but I've never really liked to flaunt that side of me.  I like being independent.  I don't want to come across as desperate.  And most of all, I guess there's a part of me that thinks, "If you avoid displaying the subject, it'll go away."

Yet here I am, about to share my heart on some of my most personal thoughts that may seem to contradict those above statements.  You should know in advance that I only share this post to be real with you and myself.  Life is a crazy ride. And let's be honest, for most of us girls, this relationship/self-image stuff is not something easily avoided.  It's the stuff we either broadcast or hide and try to deny.  It'll drive us crazy, yet there seems to be no lasting remedy. So, if you get confused, it's alright--join the club! :)

Most of you know I dated a guy, kind of off and on for the past two summers, but we officially ended it before starting school this fall.  Our time spent together was great! I learned so very much about God and His love through Jason.  I learned about the hope that was still available to me.  I also learned about parts of me that I'm not so fond of...they say relationships will do that, you know.  Our relationship was a blessing, but it was only intended to last for a season.  It became clear to us both that that season was up, so we parted with a hug, grateful for the time we'd spent together, yet knowing that God must have someone else in store for us somewhere down the road. 

So down the road I've gone.  Needless to say, some days have been better than others.

On my best days, I'm so grateful that I'm single!! I love looking forward to the adventures I'll get to take without trying to schedule around some guy's life.  I look forward to sister dates when I'm home over breaks.  I have no problem dwelling in the love and presence of Jesus Christ so that I can get to know Him better.  Those moments are great--so full of joy and contentment.  I find myself thankful just to be alive and to go out into the world to discover another part of the woman God intends for me to be.  On these days, sure, guys are alright, but singleness...that's where it's at! Not 'cause guys are overrated, but because each day is a blessing in itself, and I don't need a significant other to be fully aware of that fact.

However, other moments are not so full of sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes, Satan attacks with gloom and doom thoughts, and I let him win.  At my worst, I'm left insecure, doubting that who I am is anything significant or lovely.  I become fearful of the future and wonder if I'll ever find that man I'll get to call mine.  Or even worse than never finding one (girl translation: being chosen by one who I want, with all of my heart, to say "yes!!" to), what if I accidently pick the wrong one?!  Or what if I'm left with someone who's alright, buuuut, you know.... Or what if who I am is simply incapable of attracting the type of man I want?? And then I turn right around and question the very person I see in the mirror.  I wonder if my lack of being asked on a single date is my personality or my looks or maybe my laugh or my interests or outfits or this or that or blah, blah, blah.... And I just get sick of it all!

So then, I do my best to reign it all back in rather than staying in a place where loneliness and doubts seem to rule.  God has taught me a lot about how to handle these moments, and I'd love to share them if you don't mind reading through them :)

  • Sometimes the greatest comfort comes from reminding myself that this life isn't about me, anyway!  Rather than that being one more depressing thought, it is so very freeing!  My very existence is not about my own glory.  I am here to please God, not man.  I am here to reflect God and to remind the world that His greater plan is why we're here on earth.  I was born to show the world how very beautiful God's story of redemption is, rather than on spending all my energy trying to measure up to an impossible standard of outward beauty.  So, if some people think I look alright, you know I'll gladly take it :) But that's not where it ends.  Even on bad hair days, or those days when not a bloomin' thing in the closet is workin', I can shine like the stars by focusing on my heart.  When I just don't feel pretty, I remember that it's a gentle and quiet spirit that make God's heart smile.  It's genuine love for those around me that creates the most attraction.  It's the fact that I am created in His image and by His plan that makes me drop-dead-gorgeous, able to face the world with confidence, and more precious and desirable than I could ever imagine.  Am I pouring out the love and blessings He's given me, or am letting the significance of them evaporate before I let myself be used by God?  Am I letting my insecurities cloak God's majesty?

  • I remind myself that I'd rather be single than dating the wrong guy or missing out on the mission God has for me on this day. 

  • I tell myself to just suck it up and smile because I am a daughter of the King, fully known and deeply desired.  Nothing else compares to that.

  • I find comfort in the fact that there is no one "right" type of woman.  I recently thought of all the women who have made the biggest impact on my life, and I was blown away by how different each one is.  Some are servants, others are leaders.  Some speak softly while others struggle to use that filter.  They have chosen to do so many different things with their lives, and, of course, they all look entirely different. But there's not one of them that I would hesitate to call absolutely stunning.  My favorite thing about each one is that she has a deep love for the Lord and for the people around her.  So that's my goal.  To be a lady who is encouraging and lets the next generation know that Hollywood's standards are not the goal.  The goal is to be content in who and how God has made us.  But let's not stop at contentment. Let's embrace the choices God made while designing us so that we allow ourselves to be a blessing rather than hiding behind insecurities.  

  • When all of this is weighing heavy on my mind, I have committed to praying for my future husband rather than worrying about the logistics of when and how we'll meet and who he may be. 

  • Lately, God smacked me with one of those "Oh, duh!" type of thoughts that has become a favorite.  As we (God and I) were walking along one evening, I realized that I was so scared I would never be able to make a man happy.  I get scared that every guy will lose interest or get bored because I'm really just a simple girl who finds the most excitement in living daily life with the people who mean the most to me.  So God addressed this, too.  I've always known that no guy is flawless, so I must look to God as my primary source of completion and perfection.  Well guess what? The guy is supposed to do the same thing!  I'm scared I won't be enough, because I won't be.  It's that simple.  And that is why it is crucial that our men love God above themselves, and especially above us.  If we unmarried women ever become priority number one, we'd better get out 'cause it can only go downhill from there!  It will be my job to support and respect my man in a way that makes him want to be all that he can be, but it will never be my job to make that happen or to be his primary source of satisfaction.  God must already have that place in his heart. 

  • Returning to scripture is always a good thing, too!  That book holds so many beautiful promises of joy, laughter, better days, and a hand to hold when the going gets tough.

Nothing makes me more excited than seeing a man who adores his woman while she stands behind him and helps him chase his dreams. No doubt, I still look forward to committing myself to a warrior of God who will cherish me and pursue me for the rest of our lives together.  My hearts desire, cliché as it sounds, is to be a wife and a mother.  So, God is gently showing me how to become that woman.  He reminds me that these days are not just meant to be spent waiting for Mr. Right to snatch me up!  Each waking moment is an opportunity to go hard after God and to embrace the simple blessings He sends me.  I get to use this time to become the Biblical woman I want my Prince to fall for, and I get to spend extra time getting to know the Godly women God has placed in my life. 

Of course, it never hurts to remember that when Prince Charming finally crashes our #foreveralone party, we will be so glad that we're not busy dancing with a dud :)  Yet we are His daughters, designed to recognize the adventure in each and every day.  Let's not spend so much time worrying about how we get to the next step that we miss out on the music God has playing for us right now.  As women, we are called to a beauty that runs so much deeper than the perfect figure, hairstyle, outfit, or complexion.  The beauty we should seek is the joy that brightens a smile and the love that brings comfort to an embrace.  May we trust His perfect timing as we laugh, cry, twirl, and crawl our way along the path He has set before us this very day. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Freely Dancing

Wow, a lot has happened since I last blogged!  The oldest is now happily married. My brother and I are back at Liberty University--"the largest Christian university in the world!" And the little sister is conquering her sophomore year of high school.  My summer was spent teaching Bible School, taking two online classes, watching as the oldest officially left the nest, dating, and working some at a darling antique/gift store called the Rug Cottage.  But more importantly, I spent the summer healing. I let God love on me, and the ways He has freed my heart since I last blogged are indescribable.

My life is no walk on the beach, but as we vacationed at Myrtle Beach this summer, I took a walk on the beach that felt much like watching different scenes from my life.  Let's see if I can help you see it, too....

As I walked along and observed, my heart was warmed by the memories of what I had and torn by what I no longer do.  I saw a middle-aged couple walking the shoreline, hand-in-hand, their steps in perfect unison.  I saw a little girl squealing as she ran full-speed into the open arms of her daddy, her hero.  I saw families--moms and dads and brothers and sisters--scrambling to get that family picture that's bound to end up on this year's Christmas card. 

In the midst of these images that still come with such mixed emotions some days, I saw the most perfect display of God's splendor.

The air was warm and salty; a breeze was blowing off the ocean as it always does during the last couple hours of daylight.  The sun was setting, splashing warm colors across the clouds that dotted the horizon...that endless horizon where the water meets the sky and nothing stands between the power of the ocean and the glory of the heavens.  As the night wore on, the almost-full moon rose as the sun set, creating a silver lining on every cloud.  Those clouds would pass in front of the moon, but they were so transparent and the moon was so bright that its light wasn't dimmed one bit.  They reminded me that no problem I face should be allowed to steal the glory and warmth of God and  His love.  May He always shine through. This is what I've been learning most of all. 

No matter what I'm going through, God is bigger.  God is greater.

Here at school, we have convocation three times a week.  During this hour, we worship through song and prayer and are given the opportunity to listen to some of the Christian world's most influential men and women.  The other day, we sang Meredith Andrew's "Not for a Moment (After All)." One part of the lyrics says "I was held in Your arms, carried for a thousand miles to show not for a moment did You forsake me." Wow.  Is that ever true.  This line brought me to the poem, "Footprints," that many of you are familiar with.  In this poem, God tells man that the times when it looks as if we've been abandoned are actually the times when God remains the closest...that He lovingly carries us in His arms.

While those I know tell me how strong I am, the truth of the matter is that this journey since losing Mom and Dad has been a long and bitter struggle.  Too many days, I've lost the battle and given in to fears of the future and accidents, the confusion, and the loss of a sense of identity.  I've faced the realization that maybe I'm not as kind-hearted as I always thought...maybe my heart needs a make-over so I can stop playing the part of the perfect pastor's daughter and start embracing the challenges we all must face to look more like our Lord.  Challenges like loving sincerely and being willing to associate with those we wouldn't usually been drawn to.  I've been learning to love the simple, country-loving girl I am because of how I was raised and who God has called me to be.  I've been learning...always learning.  And many of the lessons have hurt, but every one of them has drawn me closer to God and brought me deeper peace, security, and a sense of worth even as I realize that I am nothing.  He is everything.

You see, nothing will ever last except for the Creator of it all.  So I've discovered that the secret to feeling the best about myself and my circumstances is to accept the truth that somehow God has chosen to personally know little ol' me.  He knows my name, and He calls me by it. I never thought that was a huge deal until I thought back to the days of having a crush on that cute football player at school and being totally astonished when he said "Hi," and then said my name!! He knew my name!!! Any of you ladies remember that feeling?  Like for some reason you were suddenly significant and the world was right because he knew your name, and he called you by that name.  God says that's just what He's done.  He's called us by name, and He knows our most intimate fears and insecurities and questions and hopes and dreams.  He knows how we long to love and be loved, and He offers that to us.  With a deep jealousy, He watches us turn from man to unsatisfying man, from magazine to store to mirror, for what only He can give. But when we finally come...blemishes and all--no makeup or brand names to cover up with--He accepts us.  And then He keeps on wanting us for all eternity.  If that's not good news, I don't know what is. 

This walk has not been an easy one, but it has been so very rewarding.  With His time, patience, grace, and a whole lotta love, God has pursued me relentlessly.  He has carried me for a thousand long miles and reminded me daily of who He is so that I may trust Him.  And as I've learned to let go of me while holding on to Him, He has let His blood wash over me and make me clean.  He has let His peace settle deep within my soul so that I may rest.  He has let His love cradle my broken heart while He's gently rearranged the pieces to make me complete and lovely.  He has been my everything even on days when I struggled to believe that He is relevant and able.  And I'm so grateful to Him for that!

He has romanced me and made me free.  He has given me permission to laugh and carry on and dance barefoot through the rain.  He knows my heart and speaks directly to it.  And this is what He desires for you. 

We all face hard days, and we're all different.  But the God who never changes will deal with your heart as it needs to be dealt with. He knows you and loves you with a depth that's beyond what you or I could ever imagine.

Will we take His hand and jump in, or will we promise to call Him back later and then "forget"...again?  Life is so much better when we go with the first option!  God is an excellent dance partner, and no matter how many times we step on His toes, He'll keep on asking us to dance. So let's dance! Let's laugh and love and twirl and giggle with excitement as we get to know the freeing love of God the Father, the composer of our song, and the care-taker of our hearts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Your Happy Home

[The following is my "parenting book," so this post is quite long.  While I obviously think all of the things in it are wonderful, your family is your own, and you must decide what works best for you.  It's also a bit of a skeleton, simply creating the support structure for the way my home was run growing up.  If you have questions, I'd love to take the time to answer them!  Mom and Dad did so much to make our home what it was, and I would love nothing more than for other people to experience home as I did.]

On February 4, 2012, life changed for the happy preacher’s family living in small-town Iowa.  That family—my family—suddenly changed when the slippery road, and I suppose the will of our Sustainer, took the lives of the two people our family was built upon.  In a few hazy hours, both Mom and Dad were gone, and life just kept going.  Not as it always had, but it’s going nonetheless.
The oldest of us four siblings will be getting married to a wonderful man of God in a few short months.  I’m now a freshman at Liberty University, studying to be an elementary teacher.  The only boy in the midst of three girls was crowned homecoming king and continues to develop a love and talent for all things outdoors—something our father instilled in us.   And the youngest is taking on her high school years, bravely conquering her freshman year and Driver’s Ed. 
We are all at different places in our young lives, but one thing still holds true for all four of us.  We are still aware of, and daily claiming the truth that, God is sovereign, all-knowing, and good.  I’ve had several people ask how it was Mom and Dad raised such good kids, so strong in their faith.  The following is the heart of Mom and Dad and their ministry.  It’s all the secrets and tips I can think of for how they raised us as they did.  There are no secret formulas.  No research was involved. If there is any plagiarism, I’m truly sorry.  This is just what I remember, what I’ve reflected upon.  This is how they turned our house into a home, not perfect, but daily striving for improvement.  This was their dream of how every child would be brought up.  From their heart, to mine, to yours, the following is a young lady’s guide to raising children who will love and respect people, life, and most importantly their Lord.

Relationships and priorities.  Every home is built upon these two things, and the two must go hand-in-hand.  Here’s how:

                Love God. Love your spouse. Love your children.  In that order.

If you remember nothing else, remember that those three things, in that order, were the foundation of our happy home.  They turned us, biologically related yet totally different, into more than just a group of people living under the same roof.  They made us a family in the truest sense.  And that’s what this is all about: family.  I suppose this is one formula you’ll find in here.  If those three things are taken out of order, you might as well disregard the rest of this “book.” Granted, people rearrange them all the time, and sometimes great children come from those homes.  But imagine if the order was correct.  If the order is correct, that’s not a guarantee to anything, but it’s the best place to start. Now, I’d like to take a moment to dig a bit deeper into each of those three things, as they were modeled and “preached” in our family. 

Love God.
The paraphrase of Matthew 6:33 that I heard countless times went like this: “Seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness, and He’ll take care of the rest.”  That was the principle Mom and Dad taught and lived out every day.  I remember walking up the stairs every morning to find Mom sitting on the couch with her hot tea and Bible, preparing herself for the day.  Dad would often slip away, especially on long vacations, to journal, pray, and read.  Daily quality time with God, one-on-one, was emphasized in both word and deed.  We were taught that, just like any other relationship, our relationship with God won’t grow or become personal unless we put effort into it.  That didn’t mean salvation by works—quite the opposite!  Spending time with God in His word lets us really see His grace and His good desire for our lives.  Without that, what’s the purpose to this life we’re living?
Apart from reading the Bible, we learn the most about God through prayer.  It was always made clear that prayer is not just a ritual.  It’s a time in which we open our hearts to God and reverently listen for that “still small voice.”  We thank Him and express fears and doubts, we jabber on about our days and we listen quietly, we ask for forgiveness and humbly accept the grace and strength He grants.  Talk out loud, write it down—whatever it takes to lay it all at His feet.  It’s in those times of surrendering to God and laying our lives before Him that we become vulnerable enough for Him to grab ahold of us and change us from the inside out. 
These changes make us look more and more like Him.  At the same time, spending all that time with Him makes Him easier and easier to identify and pick out of the crowd.  Much of loving God is about knowing Him.  I remember Dad giving the following example—or something like it—while talking to the youth group about knowing when it’s God trying to get our attention:

Think of a time you were in a store with your parents.  If you’re anything like my kids, you managed to wander off and lose them for a while.  When we’re younger and that happens, we feel the panic set in because our security is suddenly gone.  So, you start frantically moving through the store, but you just get more and more lost, and just as you think you’re going to lose your own mind, you hear that whistle you know so well, rising above all the other voices.  Or maybe it’s that name that only your parents call you.  God does the same thing when we get off track, calling us as individuals to return to His side.  For a time, it seems like He’s gone, but if you listen, you’ll always hear His voice above the rest of the noise.  If we’re wise, we’ll return to our Security instead of trying to tough it out on our own.  Ultimately, the choice is yours.  Don’t purposely ignore God, run in the opposite direction, and then shake your fist at Him when it’s closing time and you can’t hear His voice anymore.  Respond with humility and thankfulness.  Run back to Him.  Talk with Him, and get to know Him.  It’ll make things much easier the next time you head to the outdoor section when He’s clearly told you to go towards the formal evening wear. 

We were also taught much about trusting God in His sovereignty.  This didn’t mean life was always easy.  It didn’t mean we always had to like what we were going through.  It just meant trust God, no matter what.  For a time, Dad’s theme was God on His Throne.  I don’t know how many times within that short phase I heard him tell about different people in the Bible who’d seen visions of heaven, and every time, God was right where He belonged: ruling on His throne.  “Isaiah saw a vision, and in it, the Lord was seated on His throne in glory.  And guess where God’s at at the very end?  Still on His throne.  Folks, God hasn’t moved, and He doesn’t intend to.  Even today, in the midst of whatever you’re going through, God is ruling, still His throne.” 
I could go on and on, but the underlying principle is here.  Your children must know that your faith is not your parents, your spouses, or theirs.  You faith is your own, uniquely grown and cultivated, and theirs must be too.  God is not just the boss, Santa Clause, or the best friend.  While He takes on all those roles at some point, He is infinitely more than that.  He is beyond our comprehension, yet revealing Himself to us daily.  He is all around us, working in our lives even when we’re blind to what He’s doing.  He is our everything and deserves everything we have.  Our character, priorities, possessions, thoughts, attitudes, and deeds should all be given back to Him.  In releasing the things that matter most, we are able to become like Him and instill in those around us what it is to not just know about God, but rather, to know God Himself. 

Love your spouse.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dad telling us that he and Mom promised early on to never make each other their first priority.  I was shocked.  Isn’t that what a husband and wife are supposed to do?  Isn’t that what they’d been showing us since the day we were born?  In their wisdom and love for God, that promise had been made to make sure the Author of their love story always occupied the number one spot on their priorities list.  It was then made quite clear that they loved each of us children more than words could express, but their commitment to each other came first.  They had made a promise to each other, before God, and they intended to keep it.  As long as they both did live.  
My dad loved my mom, and my mom loved my dad.  That was so obvious to us four kids!  It was so obviously displayed. 
Dad was a charmer, but an honest one.  He would often stop Mom in the middle of the kitchen, pull her close, and kiss her, always with the reminder that “kids feel secure when their parents kiss in front of them.”  He called her “Foxy.”  He held her hand and started the car for her on cold days.  He took us to restaurants she liked, even if the rest of us weren’t especially excited about it.  He planned vacations to spots she would enjoy.  He praised her often and gave her credit for the role she filled in our home.  He recognized her hard work and encouraged us to pitch in when she was especially tired.  He cherished her and never took her for granted.
Mom was a jewel.  Dad didn’t just call her that because it went along with her name.  She woke early to pack his lunch.  She smiled through all of his bad jokes and even his crazy moments that I’m sure were nearly mortifying.  She cleaned up after him and knew exactly where he’d put that “lost” item.  She made real mashed potatoes because he didn’t like the boxed ones.  She learned how to clean pheasants and put up with the many dogs they had through the years.  She’d follow him anywhere.  She supported him and gave him utmost respect no matter what. 
They worked as a team.  He was adventurous, and she was consistent.  His presence was always made known, and she was usually in the back corner talking to the one who’d had a rough day.  He got all worked up, and she looked at the matter at hand with complete logic. 
Most couples have things that confirm the statement “Opposites attract.”  While the differences listed weren’t things they chose, what they did with those differences was a choice.  Moment by moment, they chose to honor and appreciate the things they saw that were so unlike themselves.  If you really want to love your spouse, try adoring the qualities you see in them that are so unlike yourself.   Instead of being jealous and/or frustrated, thank God for them.  Take the time you need to get to know your spouse.  Know what makes them smile and hurt.  Be aware of the things they like and don’t like, and act on that knowledge.  Celebrate each other as individuals, and embrace yourselves as a couple. 
Even with the conscious decision to be thankful for the differences, you will run into conflict.  Ideas will clash, and feelings will be hurt.  Many times, I heard Dad talk about the promise Mom and Dad made to each other to never go to bed angry at each other.  If he had acted unkindly to her in our presence, he would also apologize to her in front of us kids. I know Mom didn’t always agree with Dad, but she always respected him.  Upon agreeing to marry Dad, she had agreed to build him up and support him through good and bad. That meant that she brought up disagreements behind closed doors, but in public she had his back.  She was not acting hypocritically; she was giving him the dignity he deserved as head of our household.  As we got older, they worked out more disagreements in front of us, but it was always done in love.  They wanted us to see how couples could discuss things as adults and Christ followers, never giving in to screaming matches or physicality. 

Love your children.
Okay, let’s get the discipline issue out of the way.  It’s no secret that well behaved children are easier to be with than those who are always whining or causing trouble.  Letting a child get whatever they want is not love.  Children don’t come out knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do.  Reasonable guidelines need to be made and kept.  Children need discipline.  The keys to discipline are consistency and control. 
Consistency is pretty self-explanatory.  If you say you’re going to do something, do it.  Don’t threaten things that you’re not going to do—like leaving your child in a store.  Being consistent encourages obedience, but it also develops trust and a sense of security.  Your children will not respect you or your boundaries if they don’t know what’s expected of them.  If one morning a spilled glass of juice is no big deal and the next it’s worth a spanking, your children will never feel comfortable with you.  Choose your battles wisely. Know when kids are just being kids; know when discipline is needed. 
The last thing a parent should want is for their child to be afraid of them.  This is where control comes in.  A lot of parents think it’s their job to control their children.  One thing I learned through Mom and Dad is that a parent’s job is actually to teach their children how to control themselves.  Step one is Mom and Dad having control over themselves.  Mom once told me that she never punished any of us kids; she disciplined us.  Punishment is a parent’s way of getting even, in the spirit of anger.  If you are angry, do not take action in that moment, because you will always take it a step too far.  Discipline is correcting a child, in the spirit of love.  Spankings, if used correctly, are a form of discipline.  Mom and Dad hated having to spank us, but sometimes it was necessary.  We knew this because they told us.  Beforehand, they made it clear why we were being spanked, and afterward, they would look us in the eye, tell us they loved us, and give us a big hug.  It was the relationship being built in everyday moments that made this possible. 
One thing I know is that a child measures love by time.  Not time spent working for a standard of living.  Time spent with the one you’re claiming to love.  And by with I mean really with.  Yes, your family needs the money you make to live, but what your children really need is a relationship with you.  Set boundaries at work.  When you get home, get off your phone or iPod, or whatever it is that’s stealing your attention.  Be with your children.  Listen to them, and really get to know them.  Play with them.  Teach them.  Be patient with them.  Explore with them.  Take them on dates, and treat them to an ice cream cone when finances allow.  Let them run errands and complete projects around the house with you.  Play games, do puzzles, or go for a walk.  Just, please, do something with your children.  Let them be a child, and have fun with them! 
Looking back, one of the most wonderful things Mom and Dad did was treat each of us as individuals.  They recognized that we were each unique, and they valued that.  None of us were expected to be like the others.  None of us were valued above the others.  They did their best to be equally involved and interested in sports, academics, the arts, and our many ways of handling our social lives.  At the end of the day, they would do the same for each of us:  tuck us in, say a prayer, listen to any last-minute jabbering, then give a hug, closing the day with an “I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”  Let your children know they are valued for who they are as a human being.  For their talents and the areas where they’re growing, for the struggles they’re working through and the fears they face, for their beauty, and the joy and adventure they add to your life. 

There is so much more that could be said about every one of the subjects I expanded on.  I’m sure I forgot something, but each family is unique.  Even if you were able to see a complete movie of my life, your individual story would leave room for question and debate.  No family is perfect, but every family has hope. Start with loving God.  Let Him transform your life and your marriage with it.  Love your spouse.  Cherish each other as you demonstrate patience and conflict resolution.  Love your children.  Value them.  Make memories while life allows. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Another Valentine's Day Post :)

Valentine's Day.  Some love it, some hate it. This year...I'm totally loving it!  I have no official boyfriend. I was in classes all day. I went to the gym and got all gross instead of getting dressed up for dinner.  I had dinner ALONE in my dorm room, for pitty sake! And now I'm eating a RingPop. Classy, right??

All my life, Valentine's Day has been a bit bitter/sweet.  Cute, buuuut...then again, how great can it be if you don't have a real get-you-flowers-and-call-you-beautiful Valentine? 

But. Today, as I looked around at all the couples holding hands, and a young man dressed up in a suit crossing the yard with a dozen red roses, and watched as half the campus escaped the ROT (our dining hall) and headed for a real restaurant, I realized something.  I just love love! :)  Love, as God designed it, is just so pure and sweet and beautiful. How sad is it that we (I say "we" because I'm guilty of it, too) turn up our noses and look with disgust and/or dismay, jealousy filling our hearts, when we see a couple clearly possessing the love we wish we had. 

For those of you who aren't believers, I'm sure my pulling God into all my posts gets a little obnoxious...seems a little obsessive...and is definitely cheesy, cliche, and flat-out weird.  But I just can't help it! Cuz the love of God? No words could possibly describe it.  When you know Someone who's as unbelievable as He is, you just can't help it!  Besides, His love doesn't stop at me, and how selfish would I have to be to not to share Him?

Here's the account of how He brought a million smiles to my single self in the midst of a million and one love birds:
This morning, I awoke refreshed.  As I was getting ready, I turned on Pandora and was a little bummed when I kept getting worship songs (terrible, I know).  I was really in the mood for sappy love songs.  Until I reminded myself that the songs playing were about the greatest Love Story of all time.  I then listened with new appreciation for the message--the love songs--God was playing just for me.  Continuing on, I even felt reasonably cute in my outfit! (you girls know what a blessing that is :) ) I walked outside to find the sun shining on a warm February day.  A couple of weirdos whistled and waved at Carrie and me as they drove past us walking to class, which we graciously took as confirmation that others thought we looked alright, too, instead of as a threat or disrespect ;)  A ridiculously hard quiz got postponed so I can study more.  I felt great after going to the gym.  Then I promptly ate away all the hard work, but each calorie was from a Valentine's gift, reminding me that singles are loved, it's ok...? hehe :)  Theeeennnn--this is my favorite part!--after the post office was closed (of course) I learned that I have flowers waiting there for me!!!

So, needless to say, this single girl's day was preeettty stinkin' good.   Now, I know not every day goes like that.  I know sometimes we're cranky and feel like everything is going wrong. Those days stink.  But the great part is that the Giver of all these good things never changes.  He's great like that :) So, when you have a good day...chalk it up to Him. I dare you :) And when you have one of those bad days, remember this: God is faithful. Tomorrow will be better. :)

I have so much I could say, but unfortunately, home work calls even on the good days.  So you'll just have to wait to hear the rest.  For now, happy Valentine's Day! I hope  you know that you are terribly loved.  You are special and desirable.  This day wasn't made just for those with the perfect significant other who knows just what to say and do.  This day was made for every one, "For God so loved the world...."  This day. was made. for you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

ooooh, Life!!!

...When one of you all figures out this thing we call life, let me in on your secret, would you??  Cuz I'm feeling like a bit of a basket case at the moment. rotten fruit this time, just a confused bunch :)

Maybe I'm writing now to avoid homework. Or maybe it's because I'm feeling a bit homesick tonight. Or maybe partly because I just looked at a friend's blog ( and it's like my favorite blog ever, but it always makes me sooo stinkin' nostalgic! that much (plus our names :) ) Nicole and I have in common. Or maybe because I still don't know how I feel about this whole college thing. I mean, I like it here. It's good to be back. buuuuut, it's also hard.  I miss my family and community (have I ever mentioned that?) Plus, my gorgeous and wonderful roommate transferred, so I'm all alone for a while, which is kind of odd.  So that plus who-knows-what-else seems to be taking over the part of my brain that's supposed to be figuring out Communications class.  Maybe writing the distractions out will once again get them out of the way, for at least a little while.

Over New Years, I decided that during 2013, I want to laugh more, worry less, and love life.  I remember Dad preaching a sermon about contentment, and he said the best cure to being discontent is being thankful instead.

So, here's to being content and loving life once again.  A list of my favorites at the moment:

I'm thankful for a good school. A place to learn and stretch myself.  ...hopefully the art of staying focused is one I'll improve this semester, even though I'm clearly not off to a good start! :/

I'm thankful for the mind God has given me, even though it has problems focusing.

I'm thankful to know what it is to truly miss home.

I'm thankful for surprise run-ins with friends I hadn't yet seen this semester.

I'm thankful for snowy evenings that make it so I get to sleep in and take cute pics!


I'm thankful for the tears that help me remember Mom and Dad and the depth of their love.  Even though it hurts.

I'm thankful for sappy old country songs that make me think of Dad and how just about every love song was his song to Mom at some point.

I'm thankful for MilkyWay's (even though my figure may not be! hehe) because Mom loved them.  Especially out of the fridge with a good, cold Coke.

I'm thankful for the prayers sent on my darkest nights that remind me God knows what's going on, and He is in control.

I'm thankful for the promises of a faithful God.
11" For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity."  ~Jeremiah 29:11

So. I guess I really have quite a bit to be thankful for.  I just have to "train my mind" as my sister's man says!  Some day, all of this will make sense.  For now, with the good Lord's help, I'll just enjoy the days--the moments--I'm given, and I'll be thankful.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The One That Got Away

(Warning: the following is a post full of confessions from a sleep-deprived, still-trying-to-figure-this-grieving-thing-out, teenage girl.)

Wowzers. ...I don't even know where to start...

My first semester of college is over, PTL (praise the Lord).  While it was good, it was also a challenge I'm glad to have completed.  Classes went well, and the girls in my hall are wonderful! was...different than I expected.  For starters, there are so many people! So many new people, and I didn't realize how much I would miss the community back home.  I guess I expected more of the summer-camp-type relationships where the girls you live with become your best friends right away, and you laugh and have a good time, but deep conversations also come naturally.  I've had some of that at college, but those "life-long" friends? ...I'm still waiting to see what God has for me as far as that goes.  That said, relationships are a much bigger challenge than I expected.

And then, I came home for Christmas break. ..."home"...such a strange concept these days, especially if "home is where the heart is."  You see, I'm not really sure I know where my heart is.  Some times it's at our house where I grew up and learned so much about life through Mom and Dad.  Other times it's at the Fiordelise's where my family mostly is now.  Many days it's several years down the road in what I imagine my home, with my family, to be.  And more often than I ever thought would be the case at 19 years old, my heart has moved past it all, and I long for heaven and an end to all this struggling. 

But here I am, and so I'm trying to figure out how to live the days I'm given. Trying to know when it's good to figure things out, and when I need to just let things be. Trying to find joy in the days to come and not fear.  Trying to keep my focus on God's character and provision instead of all the world has and could hurl at me.  ...always trying...and I get so tired of all the fighting within me.

I get tired of waiting for life's next great tragedy.

Fear. Fear is so crippling. Love...has the power to set the darkest heart free. So why do I choose fear so often?

I want to again be that girl who "laughs at the days to come."

So. I guess I'm trying not to try so much.  I want to enjoy the moments.  I want to see the good and exciting things of life again.  I don't want my days to slip away before I realize what a good thing I've got.  I want to be as Mom and Dad were described in Gehman Photography's blog post I just read: "alive! Inside and out."

Sometimes a "bright future" seems like an event, locked behind giant doors, impossible to open.  Until, through a song on the radio or an old inbox from a complete stranger, a hug or smile from a friend, or through a Psalm I highlighted when my biggest problems were high school drama and tests, I am reminded that I hold the key in my pocket.  So I reach in and take it out.  And inscribed on that key is one simple word.  Love. 

I have the love that Mom and Dad raised us with, and I have the Love of the One who now welcomes them into His Home.  His perfect love.  And perfect love, my friends, drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

...Knowing all that, it's still strange that my New Year seems to be waiting for February 4, the day of the accident.  I know I won't ever "move on." I'll just move differently.  Yet moment by moment, I'm learning to lean on that Love and take God up on His offer to carry my burdens.  And when I do, He is always faithful.  In fact, He's even faithful when I don't.