Tag Archives: God

the way to victory: intentional sacrifice

“…victory isn’t a place we arrive at and then relax. Victory is when we [make the better choice] over something not beneficial to us. And we maintain our victories with each choice…the very next choice is a crucial one….One wise choice can lead to two, can lead to three, can lead to a thousand, can lead to the sweet place of utter dependence on God and lasting discipline.”

– Lysa Terkeurst, Made to Crave, Chapter 17

Finding victory through intentional living…How does one get there?

This is not my first round with the word “intentional”. Although I’ve heard it numerous times throughout my life, the three years since I’ve moved to Minneapolis to help plant a church have been full of circling back to that phrase and what it means to live that way.

Be intentional with your relationship with God.

Be intentional in reaching out to your neighbors and serving in your communities.

Be intentional with the relationships you have with your co-workers.

Be intentional about really asking people how their souls are…don’t be afraid to get deep.

Be intentional about giving.

Be intentional with your relationships. Period.

And now…

Be intentional with your health.

Be intentional with godly self-care.

Prior to going through this study (see here), I knew that with my being a four-part being (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) that all parts are interconnected and that if one suffered, they all suffered. But, I did not know or realize the implications my food and exercise choices (or lack thereof) had on the spiritual portion of myself.

Oh does it ever!

2013 wasn’t the greatest year for me. Yes, it was full of trials and growth, but the latter portion of it: Not. Fun. In reading through Made to Crave these last six weeks, I’ve come to realize and embrace the truth about how and what I crave and what I should be seeking instead.

Crave

To crave means to long for, want greatly, and/or desire eagerly.

By that definition, I came to realize several truths about myself:

I crave love. After all, wasn’t I created to love and be loved? In the past, I’ve sought that out in my relationships with others – with my friends, my pastor, men I’ve dated…or wished I had dated (projecting is not healthy). My worth and feelings of being loved does not stem from those relationships nor should I be placing that expectation on them. We’re human and we’re all incomplete. Only God can validate me and it’s when I embrace that truth, letting it get really deep, that I feel satisfied and deeply loved.

I crave affection. There were so many days where I felt that if I gave another ounce of all I have within me, I’d be wiped from existence (wouldn’t really happen, but that’s how I felt). I used to give, give, and give until I was empty, but I’m learning that I can’t rely on people to keep my love-tank full. When I turn my focus to God, on who He says I am, only then can I continue to give, give, give without nearing the empty side of the tank. It’s a beautiful thing.

I crave feeling as though I matter…to someone…to anyone. I crave being asked how my day was, what my dreams are, what I need to do to achieve them, where I succeeded and where I didn’t. Being single, I rarely get that. Just this last week, a fellow sister in Christ posted a very encouraging blog article regarding the matter and it truly hit home for me. I also realized that God, in His goodness, provided me with a few good friends who do just that. When I’m with them, I’m not left feeling as though something’s missing or that there is something wrong with me. They love me as I am and continue to point me back to Jesus. That, my friends, is what Christian community, accountability and living should be. It’s amazing when the body of Christ works as it should.

I crave companionship. I do not fear being alone as I do enjoy my own company quite a bit, but going home to an empty apartment after a long day at the office and meeting appointments only holds so much appeal at times. Maybe I should get a pet…kidding, slightly. If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize this last year, it’s that I do fear ending up alone. There is a big difference between the two, but I’m learning that whether I have three really close friends or five hundred Facebook friends and Twitter followers at the end of the day, it won’t matter as I am never truly 100% alone. I have Jesus and He is all that matters.

I crave comfort. I’ve chased after so many things in this life, seeking the temporary satisfaction that they would give…that whole tray of Oreos…that pack of soft-shell flour tortillas…those Doritos…that bottle of sparkling cider…that next potential relationship…that movie or book I could get lost in for a couple of hours. I could go on. Ever since that little girl sought comfort that only a father-figure can give and was turned away, due to his own incompleteness, I have sought that comfort in food, entertainment and other things, all in the form of gluttony. I realize that now. That truth dawned on me last week as I was going through the car wash and it’s finally reaching the depths of my heart. Thank you, God!

I crave soul-deep satisfaction. Relationships, food and worldly pleasures can’t give that. I’m done living through if-only’s. I don’t need a man or that donut to be complete or satisfied. When I remain in Christ, I am enough. I am content with where He has me, but not so “content” that I let life just happen to me…that’s playing the victim. I’m done with that.

This study is nearing its end and I’m sure this won’t be the last of God’s work on me in this area. After all, we’re moving forward with the Action Plan portion of this book, taking a look at how to live this out and learning to put that into practice (I’m so excited!). Lysa begins closing this portion of our study with a challenge to live with intentionality.

Intentionality: Actions performed with awareness; done deliberately, consciously, on purpose Intentional11-819x1024(pp_w295_h368)

Intentional living requires sacrifice. It requires making choices that will benefit in the long run. It requires making choices that will not be comfortable. It requires choices that will “unsettle me,” getting my out of my blasted comfort zone and continually stretching and strengthening my spiritual muscles with God’s truth. Intentional living is a process and it’s not going to be an easy one. Anything worth having rarely is. This process and these choices will take a lot of discipline, focus, determination and hard work. It will also take courage.

What does that look like for me? And is it possible?

For me, it means

  • Choosing to sacrifice “sleeping in” to get my workout in before work in the morning. I discovered that I prefer to be up early. It’s quiet. No one else is at the gym. It’s just me and God, having a heart to heart in the secret places of my heart and mind, a place my imagination created as a child (it’s fun being able to return to that beautiful place on a daily basis). I listen to podcasts (usually past sermons or Christian talk shows) or Christian music (Jamie Grace, Kerri Roberts and Mandisa – music that really gets a girl moving). Sometimes, I’ll do my workout in silence and let God touch my heart any way He wants to as I listen to the hum of the treadmill and feel my heart beat to the rhythm of my shoes hitting the pavement/belt. If I crave sleep as much as I do, I can go to bed earlier. It requires choices, compromises and sacrifice.
  • Choosing a healthier diet. My current diet consists of lean protein, vegetables and fruits and eating three meals with a snack in between if I am hungry each day. Minimal on the grains as I’m staying away from those floured tortillas I mentioned earlier and most breads. I’ve also given up sugar where I’m aware of its presence (candy, cookies, pies, cakes, etc…frosting is a huge weakness!). The only exception to that rule: the two small pieces of dark chocolate I allow myself when I’m craving it.
  • Choosing to actually read the nutrition labels on products I pick up. If it doesn’t fit my diet, I put it back.
  • Choosing a workout regimen that works for me. I’ve always tried to cram it all in on one day…cardio three days a week, full body the other two. No results. I’m going to be taking a different approach with the help of a trainer (free perks courtesy of my gym) and will now be focusing on upper body, lower body and core on different days mixed in with adequate cardio every day. Here goes!
  • Choosing to have an accountability partner/partners who will get in my face. I know there will be moments of being uncomfortable because I’m being convicted by the truth she has/they have set before me. This also comes down to choosing to not allow that type of honesty to ruin those relationships, but rather deepen them. Guys and girls, you know who you are and I am so thankful for each of you (Philippians 1.3-6).
  • Choosing to have a plan. I like Lysa’s idea of planning out meals after breakfast, once you have a full stomach, being intentional about what you’re going to have the rest of the day. I also want to pre-plan before I go to the grocery store. That way, I’ll have on hand what I need for each day.
  • Choosing to get outside and move rather than go straight home to sit on the couch for another four hours, filling up that time with mindless TV watching or surfing the internet, after I get off work. I picked up a couple of books from my local library that cover different hiking trails or city walks in my area. The plan is to do each of them. Date-night walks with Jesus anyone? The more I think about that concept, the more excited I am about doing these. If only the deep freeze would end…soon.
  • Choosing to take any dating profile(s) I currently have up down and live my life pursing only one Man, Jesus. Would I like to date again? Sure. But I won’t do it at the cost of my relationship with God. After all, He is the only one worth pursuing. I could go on with this one, but that’s a topic for another day. Ladies, any man you have to chase isn’t worth your time. Pursue God and if you’re meant to be with someone, He will bring the two of you together in His time. You are not less of a person or less capable of doing good work for His Kingdom if you’re single. That is a truth I’m learning to embrace, no matter what our culture says about the matter.
  • Choosing to pray when I’m tempted; to allow the Word of God, scripture He has etched upon my heart, to roll through my mind and spirit when I’m facing a particularly tough situation (like the donuts a co-worker brought in to work on Monday or feeling tempted to browse Match.com just one last time).
  • Choosing to be intentional with my thoughts. Not allowing them to wallow in my own incompleteness, but choosing to focus on the things of God; choosing to “park my mind” on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8).
  • Choosing to look beyond hurtful words rather than respond out of my own incompleteness.
  • Choosing to really ask “how goes it with your soul?,” being prepared to patiently listen to that response, no matter what it is, without inserting my own agenda, and seeking out ways to serve that person.
  • In all, choosing to live my life in such a way that honors and pleases God and ultimately brings Him the glory He deserves.

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the patter of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.1
    -2

Is this possible? Yes. Not on my own strength or willpower, but on God’s. I know I won’t get there overnight. This process is one God wants me to venture on through with Him at my side. Intentionally pursuing holiness means God is the only One we should long for, want greatly, and desire eagerly.  He is the only one I should crave. I want that. Boy-o-boy, do I want that.

I am still confident I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord…be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord. Psalm 27.13-14

I’m intentionally choosing to wait on Him and there I will find victory.

How about you? What is it that you crave most? What does it mean to you to live with intention? What sacrifice would it require? Is it possible for you to live that out?

 

© Anita J. Brands. 2014. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

finding #peace with my hair: transformational thoughts based on God’s truth

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Psalm 139.14

Psalm 139 is by far one of my most favorite Psalms and one of the most convicting.

You see, growing up, I hated my hair (among other things, but let’s start there). It was the bane of my existence.

Red.

Auburn.

It was wild and there were many days I feared it would never be tamed.

Blessed with natural volume, wave and curl…

Cursed with frizz, no thanks to humid Minnesota summers. I didn’t like summer either, but that’s beside the point.

My hair set me apart. It made me different.

And because I was different, I didn’t fit in.

I hated it and cursed it, every day.

Learning to genuinely like yourself is possible. Learning to have peace with yourself is possible.

In fact, the best foundation for changing something you don’t like about your body is accomplished when you learn to like yourself first. I’m not talking about just loving yourself. I’m talking about liking yourself.

Most of us get it backwards. We think, “If I can only change this one thing about my body/personality/looks/etc., then I will finally feel good about myself.” The problem with that is, even after you’ve lost the weight, get the nose job, get breast implants or liposuction, etc… the body hate does not go away. You move from that focal point to another and obsess over something else.

But how do we journey from body-hate to body-acceptance?

You first need to recognize the destructive power disliking your bodies has on your life.

Ask yourself questions like: “Do I avoid certain activities I am ashamed of my body/my hair/my face/etc.?” Think about what you spend on cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, personal trainers, diet plans, exercise equipment, etc. Are you afraid to go out in public without makeup? How many diets have you been on in the last year?

The solution isn’t found in fixing your body. It is found in fixing your mind.

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12.2a

Hollywood and the fashion industry spin lies about what we should look like, how we should dress, act, etc., but they’re wrong.

That redheaded, freckle-covered girl from childhood was surrounded by lies and her mind was filled with thoughts like:

American Girl didn’t have a redheaded doll so that must mean that I’m not normal.

No one in my class has curly, red hair. I’m a freak.

My teacher doesn’t know what to do with my differences. Why?

And those lies eventually wormed their way into my heart to the point that I believed them. I couldn’t wait until I was a teenager and could make decisions on my own about maybe dying my hair a different color or maybe even straighten it.

But, in the fall of 1996, God used an illness and the events that followed to change the way I saw myself.

but come the fall of 1996, God used an illness and the events that followed to change the way I saw my hair.

Prior to Halloween, the last of which I would be allowed to go trick-or-treating, I became ill with flu-like symptoms. Those symptoms lasted the better part of 14 days. The doctors couldn’t diagnose what was wrong. Dehydration set in and I understood the meaning of real thirst for the first time. At one point, I couldn’t muster up the strength to move from the recliner I’d been “chained” to during that time and I really thought I wouldn’t live to see the next day.  

Miraculously, I woke up one Saturday feeling better and very hungry. I ravaged an entire bag of Nacho Cheesier Doritos and felt no shame. I was twelve.

But it was the events that followed that illness (which they’ve now copped up to salmonella poisoning) that God used to give my adolescent self a huge wake-up call.

I had lost over 40 lbs. during my bout with that illness, leaving me incredibly weak, and since my body had been fighting that illness, my immune system didn’t know what to do with itself once I got better and, in turn, attacked my hair…much like chemo does to a cancer patient. I lost all of it.

Gone

As an adolescent walking around with a shaved head and wearing baseball caps because my parents couldn’t afford a nice wig, I was angry with God; I cried out him: Why?!

With the passing months, my hair slowly grew back – a shade darker and a lot more curlier.

Hello afro!

And I hated it even more than I did prior to my illness.

I was met with silence during many of my why-moments, but there was one particular Saturday afternoon that I remember his still voice entering the quiet corners of my heart:

I gave you your hair, didn’t I?

Yes…

Doesn’t it keep you warm during the long winter months in Minnesota?

Yes, but…

Every good and perfect gift comes from me, Anita…remember that. I blessed you with this hair, the color and the curl…all of it, because I love you. So much. I have set you apart for myself. Before I formed you in the womb, before you were even born, I set you apart. You were never meant to look like anyone else. That was never my intention. You have been called by grace for so much more…

He gently nudged my heart with the truth and began to transform the way I saw myself.

No matter what the kids whispered at school…

No matter what the models on TV proclaimed…

I chose to not let those words bring me down. I knew what God thought of me. That was all that mattered.

God says that you can have peace in your soul no matter what your body, or your hair, looks like.

We need to choose to let his truth sink in and confront the lies that bombard us every day and once your mind is focused on his truth, your feelings about your body, your hair, your face, will change.

The day God shined his light on the lies I had believed, I slowly began to find and embrace my beautiful in when it came to my hair. It’s what I like and love most about the physical attributes I was given today.

And when it comes to the things I struggle with about myself now, I trust that God, in his goodness and in his timing, I will come to a place where I will find peace just as I did with my hair. I’ll find my beautiful and I will embrace it in such a way that it will ultimately give him glory.

© Anita J. Brands. 2014. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: goodie bags and the gingerbread gospel

2749c40ef0109887d41f0ee9930f7839Did you know that today is National Gingerbread House Day? It’s true. Look it up.

Decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s. According to my research, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairytale Hansel and Gretel, in which two children, abandoned in the forest, find an edible witch’s house made of bread and sugar decorations…you know how it goes. After the book was published in 1812, German bakers began creating these ornamental fairytale houses of “lebkuchen,” which is German for “gingerbread.”

Before long, these little houses became popular during the Christmas season and a new tradition had begun.

All things gingerbread sure haven’t changed much in the years since its deluctible beginnings in Germany. Immigrants brought the cookie delights to American when they came here and markets all around the world still sell decorated gingerbreads houses and villages.

Few have even taken it further:

  • In Bergen, Norway, people and children get to create a gingerbread city each year. The tradition began in 1991 and is today, the largest gingerbread city in the world…small scale, of course.

    gingerbread city

  • Just this year, a group in Bryan, TX broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house by creating an edible – you read that right: edible! – 2,520-square-foot gingerbread house to aid a local hospital. Believe it or not, this record was previously owned by the Mall of America.
  • There are Gingerbread House Competitions held all over the world each year.
  • The list goes on.

In years past, my church group has held our own miniature version of a gingerbread house competition – see photos:

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Granted, we used graham crackers instead, but fun, right?

I personally am not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I do enjoy baking and creating treats each year. Over Thanksgiving weekend (Black Friday), I opt to kick-off my annual holiday bake-off, which I started three years ago. During that time, I make anywhere from 12-32 dozen cookies and 4-5 lbs. of fudge. All of them are made with butter and sugar substitutes, making them less in fat and lighter in sugar content (not to mention calories).

I rarely keep any of those treats for myself. I used to, three years ago, before I decided to start leading a healthier life. I may not eat as many sweets as used to, but I do allow myself the smaller-portioned amount at each holiday festivity I attend. Note small.

Instead, I share what I make with the people in my life – my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. In a way, sharing these treats connects to sharing the love of Christ with those around me. I don’t expect anything in return – I share and give because I want to. And with that, I’ll leave you with this fun read: The Gingerbread Gospel.

*I’ve tweaked it some as the original was written in a way that children could understand it. Please let your mindset be that of a child while reading through this.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a life-sized gingerbread house? What would your favorite candy house be made out of? What would you use for beds, chairs, pillows, toys? (Best shared with children…hear them out…or better yet, let your own imagination flow).

That would almost seem like the perfect place to live, wouldn’t it? Well, the Bible tells us about a real  live ‘perfect place to live.’ It’s called Heaven. Long ago, that’s where Jesus lived. But God decided to send Jesus from His perfect house in Heaven to Earth (John 6.39).

What was the first house Jesus liked in on Earth – a stable.

What is a stable? A barn.

What would it have looked liked? What would have been in that stable? What would it have smelled like? And Jesus’ first bed was a manger. What is a manger? (Luke 2.1-7)

Was it anything like the perfect place Jesus came from?

[I’m actually remembering the barn I grew up working in…back home….dairy air…or derriere, depending on how you look at it, and I can’t help but wonder, why there?]

Now, why do you think that God would send His own Son from a perfect house in heaven, to a dirty, smelly, cold place like a stable?

Because He loves us very much!

[God wants us] to know Him so He sent [Jesus] to tell you and show you all about God. Jesus did just that. He taught us about God, and the things that He taught are all written down for us in the Bible (John 3.16).

On day, when Jesus was still a young man, He left his home on Earth. He died for all [our sins]. And now He has a new home.

Do you know where that is?

[Within us.]

[He has forgiven us our sins and we’ve been made free! (John 14.15-17)]

Why?

He [has done so] that we can all live with Him forever in that perfect , wonderful place (heaven) (Luke 1.31-33; John 6.38-40; John 14.1-3).

Review the types of houses we’ve talked about: heaven, stable/earth, our hearts, heaven.

[Now, look to the gingerbread house] and remember how much Jesus loves you every time you look at it…remember that Jesus wants to be a part of your life and that He has invited you to live with Him in heaven one day.

© Kelly Hancock, http://faithfulprovisions.com/2009/12/07/the-gingerbread-gospel-2/

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: trimming the tree

I’ve said it before and have no shame in mentioning it again.

I love Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to decorate my apartment since I would be away during the holiday 14aa4b07b7c8e786dcf8d175e25282a0weekend and wanted to come home to Christmas. The balcony had been decorated during one of the last 50 degree days of October (early, I know, but that’s what we do in Minnesota).

I hauled out my new tree, last years’ ornaments, the matching, deep-red tree skirt, and other odds and ends. As I was wrapping glittered, net-style ribbon around my little tree, I pondered how they got their start and the connection to Jesus.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him… John 19.17-18

Let’s start with the Christmas tree’s history: It’s been said that the Christmas tree has its roots buried in Germany. Ever hear of the term tannenbaum? It’s the German word for Christmas tree. In 1570, a small tree was decorated with what we now consider holiday foods and was set up in the 16th century equivalent of today’s gentleman’s club: a guild-house. Children were allowed to collect those treats (apples, nuts, dates and pretzels) on Christmas Day.

Wax candles were added to the mix in the 18th century and eventually, the tradition spread to other countries.

By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was termed a Christmas tradition. Artificial trees were introduced and they, too originated in Germany.

The connection to Jesus: I think of God’s story…our history.

When you start in the book of Genesis and follow His story to Revelation, there are two trees: The first trees in the garden and the tree where Jesus gave his life.

Trees are a symbol of strength, growth, prosperity, intimacy, life and death. They provide context for both the sorrow and hope of mankind. A tree is at the center of our fall into sin and is also at the center of our salvation.

God created us in his image; to commune with him through an eternal life of worship. This life was embodied in the Tree of Life in the midst of Eden. And it was through the abuse of another, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Adam and Eve were separated from the Tree of Life; from God himself. Hope seemed lost forever.

But God, in his great mercy and grace, offered another way through his Son at Calvary.

At Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We celebrate our hope.

His story climaxes on the tree at Golgotha; on the cross.

That last tree, the cross, was a far cry from the one gracing my living room. That first tree wasn’t a beautiful evergreen found among many on a tree farm or in the woods. It was a piece of rough-hewn wood with no natural beauty and its sole purpose was to bring misery and pain and eventually death. Its only beauty was in the purpose for which God intended in using it: to restore our relationship with him.

Instead of being decorated with white lights and ornaments from my childhood, the Light of the World hung upon its limbs, his body beaten and bruised by those responsible for his punishment.

There was no tree skirt or fake snow beneath this tree. Instead, the ground was stained crimson red by the blood shed for the sins of the world.

We share stories of Christmases past, sing Christmas carols and joyful laughter around our trees today. Those who did so then were hurling insults and mocked the Son of God – Emanuel – God with us. He was shown no mercy and yet, chose to show us mercy.

Remember those gifts tied to the branches of the first originating “Christmas trees”? This may very well be the only similarity between our tree and the tree on which my Savior died. The greatest gift of all was “tied” to the branches of the tree on Golgotha. There he died and paid the penalty for not my sin, but the sins of the entire world. There, he gave a gift, a free gift, so unlike those we give to one another and this gift is still active, alive and available today.

My tree is placed in a prominent position in my living room: right in front of the giant glass patio doors for the world (well, my little world anyway) to see. Just as my tree has that vantage point, I have to make that same choice to have the cross placed in a prominent position in my life and in my heart. Does the world see him through the way I live? Through my actions? Through my words? Do they?

I challenge you to look beyond the tree gracing your home, if you have one, and see the tree on which Jesus gave his life – for you and for me.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. 2 Corinthians 9.15

27. the simple things

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them… Ecclesiastes 8.15

I’m a quote collector.

I’ve got this leather-bound journal full of them and with me being a reader, well, let’s just say I might have to invest in another one to start logging those I find in the years to come. During one of my “browsing sessions,” I stumbled on one that still lingers on my mind today:

“Everything is a gift from the universe.”

That quote isn’t in my journal for the fact that I don’t believe it’s true.simple

I’m a Christian.

Everything is a gift, yes… But from the universe?

Humanity has always grasped at straws when it comes to acknowledging a higher power. We all know that there is something or someone greater that created all that we see. It didn’t come from nothing. As Christ-followers, we know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. God is our ultimate gift-giver and those gifts look different when we know what they are and where they came from.

I’m also a collector of simple pleasures.

Life is short. Life is adventurous and I don’t have to explore the high seas or another country to find it (although that is on my ever-growing bucket list). Life is full of gifts, if only we would take the time to stop and look for them.

Simple pleasures are a gift from God and you don’t have to go far to find them:

  • Taking a long, relaxing shower
  • A good novel
  • My favorite coffee mug filled with something warm (coffee, hot cocoa, tea)
  • Watching animals play, especially puppies and squirrels, although usually not together
  • Soaking up the warm sunshine on a brisk autumn day
  • Going on a nature hike
  • Fresh baked cookies
  • Flannel sheets in the winter
  • Egyptian cotton sheets in the summer
  • Kettle corn and a movie
  • Putting on clothes straight from the dryer
  • Walking barefoot in the grass
  • Watching a sunrise or a sunset
  • Listening to good music in the car
  • Long drives
  • Meditation on Scripture
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Dark chocolate covered espresso beans
  • Lazy Saturdays
  • French fries and ice cream
  • An unclutter room
  • Hugs
  • A familiar smell that brings back fond memories
  • Receiving a letter via snail mail
  • Drinking water
  • A pull-through parking spot
  • My favorite sweater
  • Floating in the water
  • Iced Chai tea
  • The feeling after a good workout
  • Checking off something on my to-do list
  • Playing a game of volleyball
  • Christmas snow
  • A good laugh
  • Taking the scenic route home
  • Writing on good-quality paper with my preferred ink pen
  • Collecting quotes
  • Sleeping in on a stormy, rainy morning
  • People watching
  • Making someone smile
  • Finishing something you started
  • The small celebration you experience in that moment when something finally makes sense or a truth finally clicks within your heart
  • The still, small voice of God

We commonly think of gifts when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and other special occasions. If we were to make a list, it might include diamond earrings (or a ring for us hopeless romantics), a car in the driveway with a huge red bow on it, toys for the kids, a new doll, a new pair of boots, a greeting card full of cash or a gift card to your favorite store… the list could go on. Who doesn’t enjoy some tangible displays of affection, especially if it was a little spendy?

There have been few in my life who have taught me to look beyond the materialism, and being the type who prefers a person’s company to a gift any day, well, I can easily relate. This was also one of the many blessings of having grown up on a farm.

There were good years and there were tough years, depending on the markets and how good the crop was. All four of us (my siblings and I) were provided for. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table and two parents who loved each other and us. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was full of blessings.

It’s the tough years that stand out most to me from my childhood. Those years, there weren’t Christmas gifts under the tree. Those were the years we all opted to pitch in a little cash and filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and went without. Those were the years we played Yahtzee, Monopoly, Apples to Apples and Cranium – laughing until our sides hurt and enjoyed watching holiday movies while mom made goodies (with which I helped when I came of age) in the kitchen. It’s those years that taught me the joy of the simple things in life, those things listed above.

I’ve got a challenge for you:

simplethingsFor one day (tomorrow would be perfect, by the way), count your blessings. Carry around a little notepad if you need to and write them all down.

For example: I woke up without an alarm this morning and was able to enjoy five minutes in my warm, flannel-sheet-covered, queen-sized bed. That’s one. I enjoyed a nice, hot shower. That’s one. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with my neighbor. That’s one. Three blessings in the first 30 minutes of my morning and I hadn’t even left the house yet.

See where this is going? Note every moment of happiness and be thankful. By the end of the day, you’ll notice that you unwittingly unwrapped hundreds of gifts throughout your day and you will have cultivated gratitude in your heart.

King Solomon understood these simple pleasures all too well:

 

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do…Enjoy life…all the days of this [life] God has given you under the sun…Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… Ecclesiastes 9.7-10, paraphrase

The echoes from the Garden affect us more than we know. We tend to focus on the negative. One bad minute in the morning has a way of ruining your whole day, if you let it. But, what would it look like if you made it a point to collect those small, simple blessings and see how they outweigh the bad?

Everything is a gift from God and knowing that he loves me that much leads me to feel nothing less than gratitude and a deeper devotion to him.

It’s not always the expected things that affect us. It’s not always the big things that leave an impact. It’s usually the little, simple things that leave a mark so deep that the fabric of a life can be forever changed.

That’s why I’m thankful for the simple things.

25. my work

“I don’t live to work. I work so I can live.”- Christina Gandhi

I couldn’t agree with that statement more. While I love my job, most days anyway, it, in no way, shape, or form, rules my life. But, I do get some sense of fulfillment out of my work. Whether it be going in to the office Monday through Friday or putting on a candle show by night, serving at church on Sunday or leading a Bible study during the week, I’ve found ways to bring glory to Jesus.

“A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling if only it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self- realization slowly crushes a person.” – Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor

Truths about God’s purposes for us here on earth have been coming quite clear through reading that one book. If you look back at that garden, God gave Adam work. He gave Eve work.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock, and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground…” God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Genesis 1.26, 28

Work gives us purpose, and, according to Tim Keller, it’s one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm – that is, unless it has become an idol in one’s life. That’s also why God gave the ultimate example of taking time to rest: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Genesis 2.2

“The material creation was made by God to be developed, cultivated and cared for in an endless number of ways through human labor. But even the simplest of ways is important. Without them all, human life cannot flourish.” – Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor

In light of that, any work I do matters, whether I personally thing it does on any given day or not. Being kind and listening to the callers I speak with on a daily basis does wonders on not just them, but me too. It means I intentionally listen. I intentionally discover ways to show God’s love to those around me, both over the phone and in person. I intentionally serve.

And through that, gratitude is born. I’m thankful for work, no matter what I do.

What about you? What makes your job matter? How can you intentionally bring God into your work, whether it’s through acts of service at church or your 9-5 job?

23. the gift of music

gift of music1

22. the blessing of a healthy life

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6.19-20

Read that again.

I am the walking tabernacle of the Presence of God. He chose to make his temple an internal one…made up of you and me – the body of Christ. Everywhere we go, the Holy Spirit goes with us because He lives within us. My body is His temple.

What a humbling thought!

Since the Word of God speaks truth, my lifestyle should be one pleasing to him. I should embrace a lifestyle where I’m pursing holiness, righteousness and godliness (becoming like Jesus) and making physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health a priority. In other words, I need to take care of myself too.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus, Matthew 22.37-39

Yes, God calls us to think of the needs and interests of others more than our own, to value them first, but He doesn’t ask us to abandon taking care of ourselves in the process. He asks us to be humble. Tim Keller quotes the definition of humility perfectly:

“…the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Note the commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself.

Take care of your neighbor in the same way you take care of yourself.

When it comes to caring for others, we can only go so far if we’re not healthy to begin with. If you catch a cold or the flu (it is that season, after all) or run yourself into the ground with the combination of stress and lack of sleep due to never taking a day off, you’ll be useless.

I’ve been there.

I went through two years of that when I was in college. I worked four jobs, took a fulltime college coarse load, was involved in two college ministries, church activities and choir and not to mention maintained an active social life outside of all that while completing homework on time. My days often began at 4 AM and finished well after midnight.

I gained more than the dreaded freshman fifteen and experienced a major lack of energy. My typical positive outlook onhealth life wavered and by the time I surfaced again, I had realized that God was still standing where I had left him as I drifted off into the abyss.

Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Perhaps it was the energy of a person in their early 20s. Perhaps it was by the grace of God. And I’d like to say that it will never happen again, but you know how that goes. “Life” might kick in again in the form a husband and kids one day and if not, ministry and work may demand more of my attention than it does now, but I am bound and determined to not let it derail my health on any level again.

Food. Sleep. Jesus.

God designed us to nourish the body through healthy eating, physical exertion, rest and mental stimulation through His Word.

In the last three years, I’ve trained myself to eat more vegetables and prefer fruit to cookies and other sweets. Oreos (my weakness) have taken a back row seat – and this is not to say that I don’t allow myself the joy of eating those sweet little cookies occasionally. I joined a gym when I moved to Minneapolis and went five times a week for over two years. I’ve since changed gyms to a more cost-effective one (not to mention that it’s on my way home!) recently and am now learning to love running. I do yoga and enjoy Pilates (the free kind). I practically walk everywhere and love the fact that I live in  city that is so walker/biker friendly. I don’t diet but have adopted a healthier way of eating. I’ve also allowed myself more time to focus on my relationship with God, growing through reading scripture, prayer and through the community of my church.

The benefits: I’ve lost 45 lbs. and kept it off. I have more energy than I did when I was in college. My relationship with God and those I have with my fellow brothers and sisters is deeper and they all continue to grow. I’ve found joy in Him and it’s enough to bring laughter and a brighter smile to my day.

Laughter is quite the health-promoter…and for both that and my current health state, I am grateful.

How about you? What can you do to take care of yourself today so that you can put the interests of others first? Pray and God for guidance and empowerment on this journey to honoring him with not just your heart, mind and soul, but with your strength, your body, His temple.

And remember – smile today. It’ll do you good.

21. my discipleship group and the power of prayer

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2.42

I love my discipleship/accountability group and I could not imagine going weeks (or years as I had been before) without those strong relationships; relationships where we can disagree, hash it out and know that it we will still be okay moving forward. I’m okay with them confronting me about my stuff even when I may or may not want to hear it at the time; even when I don’t realize it’s there.

And it’s because of Jesus’ use of those relationships that he’s forming me into the woman God intended me to be and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I met Rick first, back in the fall of 2005, while I was away at college. I had just started my sophomore year and, having fallen in love with the local church I attended, I wanted to find a way to get more involved. I had been involved in a campus ministry but didn’t feel connected or part of a community; not the way I did when I was at that church.

That September, I received a postcard in the mail about a new college ministry that would be starting up at my church. They were looking for singers, musicians and others interested in being on the leadership time and after “chewing on it” for a few days, I emailed Rick and got my foot in the door. We met that November during one of the bands’ first meetings.

I met Holly shortly after and although our friendship at the time didn’t have the depth then as it does now, I’ve enjoyed going into those deeper waters with her, knowing that Jesus will keep us afloat the further we drift out as long as we remain in him.

It’s been nine amaznig years since and Rick has become more than just my pastor. He’s one of my best friends and a pretty stand-up guy (minus all the teasing I get). It’s been an immense blessing to watch God work through him in the lives of those his touches as well as knowing that I can get a solid, truth-filled answer or opinion if I weret o seek one out.

The same goes for Holly and I met her shortly after. She’s intense and in my face when it comes to most things and while there are moments when I want to kick her out of my apartment or walk away, I love her. It amazes me how a person can frustrate and move you at the same time. Only out of the love and grace of Jesus Christ is that possible.

In this last year, we made the decision to start meeting at least once every three weeks to discuss more deeply what God’s been doing in each of our lives, seeking out truth together, and being the iron that sharpens another (Proverbs 27.17).

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12.2

We’ve devoted ourselves to one another to learn from Jesus’ teaching and from those of his God-inspired followers (Paul, Peter, John, etc.). We’ve devoted ourselves to fellowship and community with one another and just last night, we talked about what that should and will look like in our church. We sometimes enjoy food or coffee together, partaking in the elements of communion with the rest of the body and we always pray for one another, sending sporadic notes of encouragement throughout the week/month.

Combining this with my relationship with Jesus, I’m being transformed from the inside out. I’ve seen the evidence of this my life, which is now, so much fuller.

I am so grateful for those who have chosen to partner with me and God in helping me become the woman he created me to be…especially when they have to call me on my junk when it shows.

Accountability goes a long way, as does love, truth spoken in love and a large dose of grace when it comes to these relationships.

Rick and Holly – I’m so incredibly thankful for you and I pray that God also enriches your lives with blessings, not earned by these actions, but because you are his children, my brother and sister, too.

20. intellect

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” – Jesus, Luke 10.27

Intelligence

The way God created us.

You

Me

Smart

Thought-processing

A beautiful mind

Out of everything God created, human beings have the ability to be creative with our thinking, tointellect form thoughts, string them together and form complete sentences…most of the time, anyway.

I’ve always loved learning, reading, writing (case in point), and letting my creative giftings run wild. It’s never been something I could force so when the moment strikes, I have to get those words, thoughts, lyrics, etc. out.

But, our minds can also be a dangerous place if we don’t learn how to control our wayward thoughts with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.2

To keep Satan from gaining a foothold in your life, you must develop a sound mind that is completely controlled and directed by the Holy Spirit. Your mind must be renewed. When you make the choice to follow Jesus, the old is gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5.17). This doesn’t happen overnight. This isn’t a one-time event where you give your life to Jesus and BOOM, everything is fixed. Believe me, God and I are still in the processes of renewing my habits and ways of thinking and I honestly want to get to a point where living out His life through me is second nature.

We must conform our thinking on purpose, on a daily basis and sometimes, moment by moment. We do this by diving into God’s Word on a regular basis. We do this by meditating on Scripture. We do this through prayer. And all of that may look different for you than it does for me. Everyone relates to God differently.

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 1 Peter 1.13-14

You mind holds a tremendous creative ability. That’s why God gave us an imagination – the Creator of all gives his creation the ability to create, to add faith to the things we imagine and the ability to see them come to life. Once you’ve made up your mind when it comes to something you want to do, a dream you want to come true or a goal you want to meet, you map out a way to attain that and you do it.

If you can control your mind, you can control the choices you make, which pile up like snowflakes…either revealing the beauty or the ugliness underneath (again, depending on those choices) when it all finally melts away. You can choose right now to end up with a different ending than what your past would dictate. That’s the beauty of being able to decide; to make that choice.

In making the choice to immerse yourself in the Word, you set yourself up for success – not by the world’s definition, but based on God’s terms and you’ll be okay with his timing. He’ll bless you with wisdom, discernment, insight and the ability to accomplish anything through him.

The mind is a beautiful thing when under God’s control and for that, I am thankful.

Set your mind on him and he will bless you beyond what you can imagine or come up with on your own.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3.1-3