"The happiness which God designs is the happiness of being freely united to Him and to each other"

"The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other..." -C.S. Lewis

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Growing by Accident

As Lent approached this year, I decided not to make it a "big thing."

Instead of giving things up or fasting on Friday like I usually do, I decided just to be instead of focusing on all the things I could do. 

I figured that Lent this year would be a nice break. No changing, no growing, no transforming...

But God had other plans, apparently. Big huge other plans.



I really feel like He decided to use this Lent to strip me down. To direct my heart to safe places. To change my attitudes and my habits.

It's been a tough couple of months for me.

But in some ways, since Lent began, I feel like an entirely different person- and isn't that such a part of the message behind Lent? The transformation, the cleaning up of our hearts and souls?

It kind of started when I realized that despite outward appearances, I wasn't trusting in God's incredible power. Not really. I was trusting in just about everything else, though. In my chart, in not drinking too much caffeine, in taking my vitamins... don't get me wrong, none of those things are bad. The problem is that by doing all these things, I thought that I was somehow in control.

That couldn't be farther from the truth.





So I stopped. I stopped charting. I stopped worrying so much about what I'm eating or drinking. I also made the decision to stop checking Facebook. I realized that I was logging in to Facebook at work when I needed a short break, and it had become a habit. I needed to refocus.

I'm still in the process of doing just that.

Of trusting God instead of trying to control my body.
Of making Him a priority.
Of spending time in the Bible.

I also ran into a couple of situations at work and at home that made me go, "Whoa. My heart is so far from where it should be right now."


God showed me that my attitude is out of whack in a lot of ways, and I started working through that.

I realized that I've been spending my time constantly looking at the horizon towards someday, but I've been neglecting the now. I've been trying to control things that I really have no say in, while simultaneously overlooking all the things that I can do to improve my attitude, my stress level, and my home.

I took a hard look at some of my daily routines and started to find joy in small habits and tasks. I'm working within my vocation as a wife and as keeper of my home, rather than fighting against it, and my home life and work life have been so much more balanced as a result.


God has directed my heart to some safe places this Lent. I've been able to accept some grace, for once, and peace came right along with it. And I've had the help of some wonderful friends, co-workers, pastors, and bloggers (bloggers bloggers bloggers!) pouring truth and light into my life. Community is a wonderful thing- online or in person.


This Lent has been a major time of growth for me, even though I didn't really intend it to be that way. God and His mysterious ways, huh? Good thing He knows what's best for me, even when I don't realize it.


<><><><><><><><><><><><>

Also, on a totally unrelated note, my computer (which is actually Zeke's computer, but potatoes) has suddenly and completely crashed (not my fault, I tell you! The fact that mine crashed a year ago is simple coincidence!) so I may be a little out of the loop until we fix this one or find a new one. 

Have a lovely Easter! 

  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Prodigal

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' " - Luke 15:1-2
Most of us know the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

It's about a younger son, who demands his inheritance from his father (rude) and runs off, completely wasting all of it on partying. He ends up hungry and degraded, doing manual labor, feeding pigs. Finally, he decides to return home and ask his father if he can be a servant. The father runs outside when he sees his son coming and forgives him, giving him a welcome home party. If you wanna read the whole story, you can find it here.

It's a wonderful story of redemption and forgiveness.

I want to be the younger son. He's dumb and makes bad decisions, but realizes his mistakes, and comes home to be forgiven, welcomed back.

I'm definitely not the younger son, though. 

I'm the older son in this story. See, while the younger son is out messing up his life, the older son is back at home, doing the "right" thing. He's responsible. He's trustworthy. He's not having any fun. And then his little brother comes home, destitute and desperate. And Dad throws a party for him! So the older son does what I would totally do. He gets peeved. Maybe a little more than peeved.

I am the older son. 

(Almost) literally and figuratively.

I have a sister who has done just about everything the "wrong" way- had a baby out of wedlock with a guy who was in jail at the time, smokes and drinks, never holds down a job, leaves her son with her friends for entire weekends while she goes to clubs and binge drinks. Of course, some of that's going to change now that she found out that she's pregnant again. I'm not sure how she plans to pay bills.... Somehow, she seems to do whatever she wants, making terrible decisions, and yet she has been blessed with children.

Deep inside my heart, I would like to stomp my feet and shout, "Not fair!" just like the older son does in this parable.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><>

Typically, we fall into one of two camps. Either we feel that we're not good enough for grace, or that grace isn't good enough for us. I'm in the second group more often than I'd like to admit.

Like the Pharisees in Luke 15, I look at Jesus's grace and say, "Wha? He's eating with sinners!" They wanted Jesus to be one of them- someone who upheld rules and self-righteousness and laws. A responsible, trustworthy guy... he should be in my group, he should be my friend, but there he is-  hanging out with those sinners instead! 

How do I view God? Do I view him as Santa- I make a list of the things I'd like and if I'm good, I get those things? Do I see Him as a GPS- there to give direction, but sometimes I know a better route, so I turn Him off? What is my relationship with my heavenly Father?

See, the older son was just as far from his father as the younger son was.

There are two ways to be lost: 

Running from God

or

Trusting in our own righteousness


The older son is doing all the right things, but his heart is in the wrong place. He isn't following the rules out of love, but for an ulterior motive. He's doing good enough, but doesn't have a true relationship with his father. The older son doesn't know how to respond to the grace and forgiveness that his father is showing the younger son.

Is that how I'm living? Am I apart from grace and forgiveness- not because God hasn't given it, but because I feel that I'm too good to accept it?

Am I trying so hard to be like God that I don't think I need grace?




(Let that sink in a minute. Does it hit you between the collar bones? It does for me.)


No one is too far gone for God's grace and no one is without need of God's grace.



This parable is most often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. "Prodigal" means wastefully extravagant- and that certainly describes the younger son in this story. But really, we could also use the word "prodigal" to describe the father in the- he is extravagant in his forgiveness of his son, sparing no expense to celebrate his return.


And oh, we have such a prodigal God- He is so extravagant in His grace for us!





Monday, April 14, 2014

Rethink Date Night: Dinner and A Movie is a Lame Date and Fifteen Things to Do Instead

If I could give one piece of advice to couples- whether they're dating or engaged or married- on how to encourage deeper connections with one another, it would be this:

Rethink Date Night. 


We have several married friends who have made it a priority in their marriages to spend time dating one another. That's a great thing to do, for sure! But here's the thing... when I ask what they're planning on doing, the answer always seems the same- "Dinner and a Movie."

The same thing is true for my sister and her boyfriend of three years- they're going out on a Friday night? What are they doing? You guessed it! "Dinner and a Movie."

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with going out for the good old D&M combo, but it's not really the best way to grow as a couple. There's no real experience to it.

If Zeke and I go out for dinner and a movie, a year from now, I may remember parts of the movie (unless I fell asleep during it... which is pretty likely...) or maybe some of our dinner conversation, but it won't be a date I'll clearly remember. I most likely won't learn anything about myself or about my husband.

It comes down to this- why do we do date nights? Are we just checking it off our to-do lists, or does date night actually have a purpose? For us, that purpose is to connect and grow as a couple. Watching a movie together doesn't really help us to do that. In short, dinner and a movie is really kind of lame.

Why not try something a little more... adventurous? Have an experience, not just a date.


1) Go for a walk or a bike ride or attempt to roller blade together (carefully.)

2) Drive out to a lake and go fishing (or kayaking or canoeing).


3) Learn something together- like a language or kickboxing or how to reupholster or ballroom dancing or flower arranging or fencing!


4) Go check out garage sales or thrift stores- cheap and interesting

5) Plan a road trip- figure out places you'd like to stop along the way, the things you'd like to see. Then actually do it!

6) Cook together, or try something completely new in the kitchen (The other day, Zeke bought a jerky shooter online... we broke out the dehydrator and learned how to make jerky!)


7) Do one of those guided painting classes

8) Make a list of places around your town that you'd like to visit (ours includes a Frisbee golf course and a tiny museum dedicated to... trains, I think?)

9) Visit a random town (we went on a weekend trip to Milwaukee)


10) Go swimming- even if it's winter. Go to the gym, or check out local hotels- lots of them will let you use the pool for cheap

11) Check out open house listings around your area and go dream about your future while checking out other people's houses


12) Play cards or get a group of friends together to play games

13) Go camping- even for just one night- and make s'mores. Because s'mores are always good. Or heck, just make s'mores in your backyard.

14) Have a stay-cation- check in to a hotel nearby (or just turn your house into a "hotel," or just don't worry about laundry and housework for a weekend) and spend a weekend pretending to be tourists

15) Farmers Markets! Get some sunshine, do a little walking, and pick up some sugar snap peas.



Of course, sometimes you're just gonna want to do dinner and a movie. And that's okay- we just need to remember to make some memories, too!



Linked up with Marriage Monday, MMandM, Titus 2 Tuesday, Wise Woman, and Wedded Wednesday.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Afternoon By the Lake {phfr}

{Pretty}


So, yesterday, Zeke had this sudden urge to do something he called, "Get the dock support beam out of the lake." I call it, "Mess around in the lake while wearing waders."

To be sure, there was actually a support beam in the lake. This one:




And it was a lovely day, so I went along. The ice is melting! 


{Happy}

And he didn't even make me get into the water. Sweet guy. Pretty soon, the clogs will be replaced with sandals and painted toenails, and the jeans will be replaced with a flowy summer skirt. But for now, I'm just happy to sit on the not-currently-in-the-water dock.


This guy. He makes me happy. (This picture was taken like, fifteen minutes after the support beam was sitting next to me on the dock. See, I told you he was messing around.)


{Funny} 


This goose couple was not pleased that Zeke was interrupting their romantic evening and kept honking. Loudly. So loudly that they disturbed a pair of ducks that flew away, quacking in obvious scorn.

{Real, and also pretty Funny} 


So, in interest of transparency and also of embarrassing my husband... 


That is a vice grip, holding his waders together. Because the zipper is broken and obviously. Obviously a vice grip. This man and his creative problem solving... it keeps me on my toes.



Linking up today with Like Mother, Like Daughter. And I think I got 'em in the right order this time. Adrie for the win.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe {Ephesians 1:18}

I pray also that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." -Ephesians 1:18



In Ephesians 1, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that he's praying for them- specifically that he's praying that they may know the hope to which they've been called, His glorious inheritance in the saints, and finally, that they would know God's incomparably great power for those who believe.

I tend to think of God's power as, well, just nice. Yes, God has power. I kind of take it for granted. I read the word "power" in scripture and just leave it at that.

But when I really think about examples of God's incomparably great power...

Creation- in all it's wonders and intricacies, systems all working together

The Incarnation- Christ as fully God and fully man, born to a virigin

The Resurrection-taking a lifeless, decomposing body and from it, life again

Not to mention all of the miracles in the Old Testament (the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho) as well as in the New Testament (sight to the blind, healing, feeding the five thousand, water to wine, calming the storms, walking on water).

That power is for us who believe. 


Why would Paul think this is an important thing to pray the Ephesians would understand?

He wanted the church to know the future we have through Christ, and he wanted us to know that we have incredible value to God...

... and here he's saying, "God's got this."


The same power that rose Christ from the dead is for us who believe. What do we have to worry about?  I get all stressed out about maybe buying a house someday or what I'm going to do with my life or what is wrong with my body... and God's resurrection power is right here in my life. Right here, for me.

How amazing!




As I wrap up this little mini-study on Ephesians 1:18, I want to just pray this for you, whoever you are. If you stumbled upon this post somehow or if you've commented here before or if you've been a follower from the very beginning (and if you're one of the last types, thanks for sticking with me...)- this prayer is for you today.

Oh God. Oh, oh, God. Thank you. Thank You so very much for sending Your Son to die to take away my sin. I don't understand that kind of love, and I don't think I ever will, but help me to get there. God, I pray today for anyone reading this. You know right where they are and exactly what they're going through. Be with them, comfort them, and encourage them. God, I pray that You work out Your plan for them. I pray that You would enlighten them; open the eyes of their heart that they would see the hope to which You called them- the amazing hope we have only through Your salvation. I pray that they would see their incredible value in Your eyes- help them to see themselves the way You see them. And I pray that they would know Your power- that they would see Your power in their life today. You've got this, God. We trust in You always. In the name of Christ I pray, Amen. 



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Most Searched Items and Aquatic Turtle Tank Tips

Blogger has this fun feature (does every blog-hosting doo-hickey have this feature? I dunno) that allows you to see search items that brought people to your blog. Some of them are really funny.

In honor of that fun feature, I give you... the 10 most searched items that led people to my blog.

10) Aquatic turtle not happy with new tank (with 4)- I write a lot about Tucker's crabby little self and have gotten lots of hits on my post about how to clean a turtle tank.

*Tangent* Just for the record, humans of unhappy turtles (because I've been there, oh, I've been there)- aquatic turtles are rarely happy with new tanks. Seriously. When we moved Tuck into his new big huge tank with lots of fun fish to chase, he anchored himself to the bottom for about three days, only coming up occasionally to breathe. Turtles are like... well, they're like me- they don't like change.

Make sure your turtle has a ten gallons of water for every two inches of shell length (the experts say ten gallons for every inch, but that's a lot of water), a place to come out of the water and bask, a heating lamp, and plenty of places to hide (like tank decorations or big rocks or plants). Then let your turtle baby sit and sulk for a couple of days- he'll get acclimated. He may not come out of the water while you're around for the first couple of weeks, but just know that behind that gloomy-gus face of his, he's really doing just fine. *End tangent*
So over-dramatic


9) The best bouquet (with 8)- Apparently my coffee-filter bouquet is the best? Well, thank you, random searchers, I'm flattered!



8) Joan Bars (with 10)- Lack of a flattering picture aside, I'm surprised more people haven't found this post. Because the recipe is just that stinking delicious. And terrible for the waistline. Bad Joan.

7) The future and that hopefully (with 11)- I... I just don't even know. I even Googled this and went through the first five pages (before I got bored) and nothing even remotely related to my blog. Fascinating.

6) Slow cooker cinnamon rolls (with 12)- Oh, I'm sorry, everyone looking for delicious treats. I totally botched that recipe. Burned to a yucky, charcoal-tasting crisp. Hopefully they found a better example somewhere!

Mmm. Yummy.... ?

5) Rubber seal (with 13)- I wrote a post about how Zeke comes home with pockets full of rubber seals and the joys of being married to a maintenance guy. Probably not what these folks were looking for.

4) Crock pot cinnamon rolls (with 42!)- Same thing as #7. Sorry, O seeker of breakfast pastries.

3) Ribbon wedding program (with 44)- I used ribbons on my wedding programs. And made them myself. And it was kind of a pain, but they were inexpensive and turned out great!


2) Motorcycle get away bride (with 45)- Oh yeah, we did that, too. Note to the wise- make sure your giant poofy dress doesn't touch the hot pipes. That could be bad.

I'm the motorcycle get away bride!

1) I do not have gonorrhea  (with 58)- This one is for a post (one I actually took down because it was so popular, and that was creeping me out) about how I went to the doctor with an infection in my thumb. And then about how, without asking me if I was even sexually active, the doctor told me I needed to get tested for gonorrhea. Something about infections in joints and how gonorrhea causes that. I had to convince the doctor that I was a virgin and not an intravenous drug user. It was a good time. I bet you feel very sad that I took that one down.



What have your funniest search items been?


Monday, April 7, 2014

Why My Long-Distance Relationship Was Super Awesome

Zeke and I are practically on top of each other most of the time. Okay, maybe not literally... but we spend a ton of time together. We wake up together, we work together, go to staff meetings together, eat every meal together, walk home together, go to the store together, watch TV together, clean up the house together, go to sleep together, and wake up and do it all again. Together.

And I love it.

It wasn't so long ago, though, that we didn't get to do anything together.

Zeke and I went to colleges that were 500 miles apart, and with busy schedules and limited finances, we only got to visit one another about every two months or so. Even after the weekend we got engaged, I went back to college and he went back to college and we knew we wouldn't see one another for a couple months.

It was hard, but it was so good for us.

I know every experience is different, but for us, our long-distance relationship was super awesome.



Zeke and I only dated for about a week before we each had to be back at college. Honestly, I thought I'd never talk to him again. He was a nice guy, but come on. Summer flings never work out, and definitely not with distance involved. We'd get busy, he wouldn't call me or I would forget to call him... it just couldn't work.

My first night back at college, Zeke called. And the next night, Zeke called. And I realized that maybe, just maybe, this was going to work.

Long-distance relationships require commitment, right from the start. Zeke and I had to commit to making our relationship a priority in our busy lives, in our busy schedules. That commitment has carried into our marriage. We're committed to each other, even in the tough stuff. Even when I'm cranky or bossy or not feeling well or we're super busy, I know that he'll stick by me and that we're in this together.

Being far away from one another really changed the way our relationship matured. In my (few) previous dating experiences, the physical side of things almost always went too quickly, and really stunted spiritual and emotional connection. Dating that includes lots of kissing or cuddling can be so emotionally confusing- all the physical affection made me unsure if I actually liked the guy, or if my feelings were being warped by my hormones... and that meant that relationships would continue even when it wasn't a good relationship or when the guy and I weren't compatible.

With Zeke, the distance meant that we weren't able to let the physical stuff go faster than the emotional stuff. We were in tune with one another, without smooching or cuddling or hand holding to make things confusing. I knew I cared about Zeke because of who he was, not because his hand felt nice in my hand or because he gave really great hugs. The hugs and hand holding grew out of the way we felt about each other, not the other way around.

And because we couldn't spend hours upon hours watching movies and cuddling, we learned how to communicate. Our entire relationship was based around, well, talking. Most nights, we talked for about two hours. Really.

It was amazing. I knew all about Zeke's dreams, about his childhood, funny stories about his siblings, his deepest fears, his struggles in school, his successes, the people he looks up to... and he knew the same about me. I felt like I really knew him. Communication was so vital to every part of our relationship- we became really good at making plans for visits and scheduling phone calls. We solved logistical problems together- discussed navigating downtown Chicago, planned our adventures. Our dating relationship became so much more than just dating- we weren't just "boyfriend/girlfriend." We were best friends and partners. And we still are!

Our communication has changed since getting married. We don't sit and talk for hours on end anymore, and sometimes he really gets under my skin (and I'm sure I get under his!). Our strong foundation on good communication has really helped us, though- when we do argue, I feel like I kind of know where he's coming from- I know his character and what makes him tick. And what makes him ticked off. I'm still learning, of course, and I think I always will be learning, but I know how to talk to him about stuff, no matter what it is.

True story: My toothbrush is the red/pink one. Zeke happens to be somewhat colorblind- and thinks his toothbrush is blue. Shh, don't tell him.

When we did get to see one another, we truly valued the time we had together.  Sure, we did watch movies together during our visits, but we also explored Chicago, tried new foods, went on hikes, bought a turtle, cooked together, went to concerts, played games, spent time with friends, learned new things. Our time together was short, and we made as many memories as we could during our every-two-month weekends. Our relationship was much deeper than it otherwise might have been, because we didn't just "hang out"- we experienced things together.

Dating long-distance also gave me the chance to learn about me. Sure, Zeke and I did spend a lot of time talking to one another, but it was up to me to take care of myself. I had to maintain friendships apart from him, I had to have my own social life without him as a buffer. I had Zeke as a sounding board for big decisions, but really- he wasn't right there, so I had to make decisions for myself and by myself. I was able to grow as an individual.

I tend to be a little (*cough,* a lot, *cough*) bossy and controlling. I like being in charge. But with Zeke, I couldn't be a "helicopter-girlfriend." I couldn't be overly opinionated about his friendships or his daily activities or what shirt he wore, because I wasn't there. I had to make a decision to trust him.

That trust has spilled over into our marriage, as well. If he thinks buying a different truck is the right choice, I trust him. He thought this job was the right one- and I trusted him. I'm not very good at being a submissive wife, I'll admit, but the time we spent far away from one another put me in a correct attitude, at least!

I remember the last time I took the Megabus to visit Zeke. I remember feeling a little sad- it was the end of an era! - but mostly relieved. By that point, we were engaged and planning our wedding; preparing for a life together. Finally, really together. I was so excited, and I knew that things were changing for the better.

Those four years were difficult. There were plenty of times when I thought that maybe I should just transfer schools to be closer to him. But really, looking back, I wouldn't change it. Dating long-distance created a solid foundation for our marriage, and I'm so grateful for it!



Linked up with Marriage Monday, MMandM, Titus 2 Tuesday, Wise Woman, and Wedded Wednesday.