MERCY

Along with my somewhat frequent posts on hair, I wanted to start posting on faith as well.  The following is a devotion I wrote for our church’s compilation of Lenten devotions.  The subject is mercy, which I love receiving, but admittedly struggle giving.

MERCY

Luke 17:12-14

’12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers,[a] who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.’

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mercy as: ”compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power.”  In other words, it’s extending grace to an individual or group of people who may not necessarily deserve it.  It’s laying down the sword when by most accounts we would be well justified in swinging it.  Most of the time showing mercy is accompanied by setting aside pride and our own hurts, past and present. It’s not something that comes naturally to us, but It’s something Jesus was in regular habit of doing.  It’s often a thankless job, as people (myself included) are quick to forget tender mercies shown them.  If we were to continue reading in the above passage from Luke, we would see that of the ten lepers Jesus healed, only one returned to thank Him.  Only one.

Which got me to thinking…do I thank Jesus for the mercies shown me? Is this something I am in a habit of doing on a daily basis? Not just a “Thank you” and now I’ll be on my way, type of thank you.  No, the kind of thanks I am talking about is a face down, worshipping, in-awe reverent type of thank you.  A thank you that recognizes that the mercy He has shown me is life-altering. Honestly, the kind of thank you I want to send up to my Savior is a life lived in reflection of the awesome mercy shown me.

But it’s hard. Sinful nature gets in the way.  Sinful nature tells us it’s all about us.  That we have a right to hold on to our pride.  That people who have hurt us are undeserving of mercy.  Which is true…most people don’t deserve mercy.  We certainly didn’t…but Christ went to the cross just as much for you as He did for me, in His ultimate act of mercy.  You didn’t deserve it, and I certainly didn’t either.  By definition, if we were deserving of this gift, it wouldn’t be mercy.  Yet Christ freely gave it.

So today I challenge all of us to extend mercy…not because the recipient is particularly deserving, but because they aren’t.  It’s the example Jesus set, and one he calls us to follow.  More of you, Jesus, and less of me.

Dear Lord, we thank you for your undeserved, daily mercies in our lives. Thank you, Lord, for your Son Jesus and the example he gave us to follow.  Help us, Lord, to put off our old-selves, and be increasingly transformed in the likeness of Your Son. Help us to extend mercy to others, and give us the strength to do so, even when it’s hard.  We love you, and pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Why I initially didn’t like behavior charts…but now maybe I do (the jury is still out)

So I finally, finally got around to finishing up my latest Pinterest project-which I have been working on for an embarrassingly long time.  I had been working on a behavior chart for months.  Yes, months, I kid you not.  It was the laminating that really slowed me down-I mean, who has time to laminate?  Usually, I don’t go to an establishment of business unless I have more than one thing to do there…so I had to wait until I had a certified letter to send in addition to the laminating before I went in to Mailboxes-otherwise it’s just not worth it with all 3 kids in tow.  (At least I think it was Mailboxes, my memory is a scary place these days.)

So where was I?  Oh yes, the Pinterest project.  I finally got the darn thing laminated, and the kids were EXCITED.  They’re kind of little nerds like their momma in that way.  I explained to them how it works, trying to keep it fairly simple, because they are 2 and 4 (the baby had to sit this one out, obviously).

behavior

Let me just tell you, those first couple of days were scary.  T, my oldest, is a little bit of a people pleaser.  That aspect of her personality went into over-drive.  At one point she told me, “Mom, if you need anything done, just tell me, and I will do it.”  And she was serious.  She cleaned the living room, dusted the furniture…I had to restrain myself from asking for a back massage.

That’s all fine and good, but she was beyond distraught if her clothes pin ever moved down.  Oh, she would cry and howl.  (She’s always hated breaking the rules-and time outs nearly destroy her.)  And it bothered me a bit.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like that she likes to follow the rules, and obviously I LOVE my daughter.  But should the approval of others matter SO much to her? I mean, I wanted her to obey, but I DIDN’T want her to turn her into a little people-pleasing robot. (And again, she’s four-so maybe I should just soak this all in before she turns into a teenager and that will most likely change!)

Plus it all seemed a little hollow.  My husband and I try to teach our kids to obey, and to watch out for each other because it’s the right thing to do.  Because people matter.  Because ultimately, when we love and take care of His people, we honor God.  I wanted my kids to listen, and to do the right thing..but I also wanted them to do it for the right reasons-not just to get some reward!  (Whenever they end the night on top of the chart, they get to put a few pom balls in their glasses, and when they are full they get a “date” night of their choosing with mom or dad.)

Then there’s my middle child, V.  Time outs have never fazed that child.  Not much does.  She’s a good kid, don’t get me wrong, but she marches to her own rhythm.  So a clothes pin moving up and down on a laminated piece of paper wasn’t super motivating to her.  Plus, 2 year olds are into the here and now.  A reward that may or may not happen in the future…also not motivating to them.

OK, and another thing…when a kid is having a rough day, do they really need to see it?  When you’re at the bottom of the chart, it’s almost depressing, because you have SO FAR to travel to get to the top, and one mess-up sends you right back down again.  Where’s the grace in that?  We also practice forgiveness in this house, and the behavior chart is just not very forgiving.  It remembers-and that doesn’t line up with what we are teaching them, or what the Bible says, for that matter.  When you are forgiven, it’s like whatever you did was washed away.  It doesn’t mean there’s no consequence-there often is.  It just means it doesn’t keep hanging over your head like something you can’t escape.

In Hebrews 8:12 it says that “For I [God] will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”  That’s pretty clear, and that’s not the only place in the Bible where it says God forgets your sin when you hand it over to Him in true repentance.  Check out Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Jeremiah 50:20, Micah 7:18…and I could go on. God repeats it over and over again in the Bible, because he wants us to know that it is TRUE.

So after all of this inner-turmoil over the behavior charts, you might think that I would have just thrown it away.  But a part of me wasn’t quite ready to give up, not yet.  So we stuck with it for a few more days…and surprisingly (to me, anyway), it got much better.  My children seemed to begin to like having a physical marker they could refer to and see if their behavior was okay or needing improvement.  They liked having something to work towards.  A goal, if you will.  And bestill my heart, they started to encourage each other.  (Which is something we have been working on a lot, as well.)  Instead of T running to me to tell me that V was misbehaving, again, she encouraged her to act the right way so she could get a pom ball at the end of the night.  And I believe that it was the encouragement of her sister that allowed her to do what no pom ball ever could-she stopped what she was doing, and she changed it so that it was an acceptable behavior.

Moral of the story:  I might not dislike the behavior chart as much as I originally thought.  In fact, it might be kind-of okay.  HOWEVER (and here is my huge disclaimer), it is not a cure-all, and it cannot be used by itself.  I am still a huge fan of TEACHING kids the right way to act and modeling good behaviors at home.  Punishments, like time-outs, have always been secondary to teaching kids the right way to act in our home.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming to be some super-parent.  Please.  Far from it.  I mess up (badly), just like my kids mess up from time to time. There is a lot of grace involved, from all parties living in this house.  I am not afraid to apologize to my children, or to tell them, “You know what, Mommy was wrong, and I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”  I don’t want them to think I’m perfect, because they would find out soon enough on their own how untrue that is.

Besides, I want a family that is REAL with one another.  That means there are problems, and we deal with them.  We don’t pretend like those problems don’t exist.  We deal with each other, even when it’s painful.  Because that’s how you grow.

family

 

Matzah, matzah, matzah (Plus a tad overdue garden update)…

It only seemed fitting to order the book about Passover.  I think I get more excited about Scholastic book orders than my kids.  Ever since I was little, as soon as I caught a glimpse of those book order sheets, it sent my heart all a flutter.  I’m a dork, I know.  So I was super excited when my oldest child went to preschool, and they sent her home with her first Scholastic book order form.

There was a book on the Passover, entitled A Sweet Passover, that caught my eye.  Right now in Bible Study Fellowship we are looking at the life of Moses and Israel’s mass exodus from Egypt.  Passover originated there.  It celebrated the angel of death passing over the houses of the Israelites who had all painted the doorframes with lambs’ blood, and claiming the first born in all of Egypt.  It was what finally broke the Pharaoh,  who then gave the Israelites their freedom (even though he later changed his mind, and paid dearly for it…because even though Pharaoh changed his mind, God didn’t-he still had plans to make Israel a nation set apart).

Plus, it’s just that time of year!  So I ordered the book, and my daughter LOVED it.  AND it comes with a fun recipe in the back for matzah brei, which she wanted to make.  Unfortunately for her, I didn’t know how to make matzah, which is a requirement to make matzah brei. So we looked it up on AllRecipes.com (what a great site!) and it turned out to be incredibly easy.  And delicious. T covered hers in applesauce and declared it tasted, “Just like cake!”  She now has it in her head that we will be making matzah brei for breakfast.  Ok, so we probably will.  It is cool to see her and her sister make the connection back to what they are learning in Bible Study Fellowship.  Plus I love their adorable excitement over reading and trying new recipes.  (T offered to lend me her book with the matzah brei recipe.  This was after she read it to her babies-they were all lined up and “listening”.)

matzah

The matzah.

 

Tmatzah

T loving her some matzah!

 

In other news, no major news from the garden.  Most of the plants have sprouted and are cover free.  I have yet to plant bell peppers for lack of time.  I also have a little fluorescent light, but have yet to install it.  Noticing a theme here?  I am convinced that the plant babies need more light, and light (of the fluorescent variety) they shall have.  No spindly plants for us (hopefully!).

plants033115

Our indoor plant-starting setup.

 

broccoli33115

Broccoli gone wild.

 

Jesus Christ, Redeemer

I received a phone call last week that threw me for a loop.  It reminded me of the person I once was, of a life that I used to lead before committing myself to Christ.  You see, I had applied for a leadership position within an organization, and things came to light from my past.  Things that had happened 12 years ago!! Nothing that I was trying to hide, but not anything that I was necessarily proud of either.  In that moment, I felt that I would never be free of my past.

The devil likes to remind us of our pasts.  He wants us to dwell on our darkest moments.  He wants us to think that our sins are too much for God to handle.  Too big for God?  We know that’s not true.  Yet sometimes when you’re stuck down in the muck and the mire, and your vision of the cross is obscured, you begin to forget.  The devils lies start to seem a little more plausible.

”In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” Ephesians 1: 7-8

There has to be blood for the forgiveness of sin.  A just God, which our God most definitely is, cannot let sin go unpunished.  There must be atonement.  In the Old Testament, that atonement was made through animal sacrifices.  Part of the ritual of the sacrifice was that the worshiper actually put their hand on the animal prior to the slaughter, to signify their sin passing on to the animal, which then died for that sin.  That is why Jesus is referred to as the Lamb-He substituted Himself on the Cross.  He died once for all to cover any and all sin that had been or would be committed.  He is our Blessed Redeemer-through Him we are saved.

We deserve death.  Yet God doesn’t give us what we deserve; in his infinite compassion, he shows us grace.  As Jo, the lector at Bible Study Fellowship’s First Lutheran class, so eloquently puts it: “Grace is God’s gift to the undeserving.  If you deserved it, it wouldn’t be grace.”

God forgave and forgot our sins as soon as we repented of them.  Jesus Christ redeemed them on the cross.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12.

There is no sin too big for God to forgive, no past too dark. I won’t lie, that phone call bothered me for a couple of days.  Until God, in His wisdom, led me to understand that God doesn’t love me in spite of my past, He loves me because of it.   I am now more fully able to understand the full measure of God’s grace because of my deep, dark past.  His grace has become more palpable, more real to me now that I recognize the enormity of my sin.  In redeeming my past, he has broken the chains that hold me in bondage, and now calls me to use my past in His service.

“ Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:19-23.

Amen.

redeemer

 

Faith in the Journey

faith

Last year I was invited by a friend to attend a welcome class for Bible Study Fellowship.  I went, and two years later, I am still loving it.  If you want a place that challenges you, that stretches you in your thinking, that makes you look at the Bible in a completely different way, and that provides you with an awesome fellowship opportunity, then I HIGHLY recommend Bible Study Fellowship, or BSF as we affectionately call it.

You see, it all started with a prayer.  Ever since I had moved back from Peru with my husband, I had felt disconnected. Sure, I had my family in the area, but I didn’t really have many friends.  (I had lived in Colorado for six years prior to living in Peru-suffice it to say I had not lived in the area since close to graduating high school.)  I didn’t have other women to talk to, to share my daily struggles with and vice versa.  So I prayed (you might begin to notice a reoccurring theme in my life and blog…).  “Please, Lord,” I prayed, “help me to connect with a group of like-minded women who will help me grow in my faith, who will hold me accountable.”  And shortly after I received the invitation from my friend to attend BSF.  (I am a firm believer that there are no coincidences; God plants an opportunity in our paths and our choices are to jump in with both feet, or to ignore God and His calling.  Believe me, ignoring God never works out very well.  His will gets done with or without you.  Been there, done that, not going back.)

BSF was the first step to me on the road to a deeper relationship with my Savior.  Prior to BSF,  I wanted a deeper relationship with God, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  BSF pointed me in the right direction, and it continues to keep me on track to this day.

This year our study focuses on Moses and the Israelites journey out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  The distance from Egypt to the Promised Land was not that great in miles, yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it there because they had much to learn prior to being ready to receive God’s promised blessing.  I can relate-I’ve done a little wandering around in the wilderness of my own.

At first glance, it’s easy to be critical of the Israelites.  After all, every other passage they’re complaining about something new!  “Thanks for raining down super-natural food from the sky God, but what we would really like is some meat.  Think you can make that happen?”  They saw God perform miracle after miracle (we’re talking water springing forth out of rocks and plagues being rained down on Egypt), and still they questioned him at every turn.

It’s easy to be critical of others, harder to see fault in ourselves.  How many times have I looked past the plank in my own eye to point out the speck of sawdust in another’s eye?*  At work (I work at a call center), it’s easy to become angry with people who call in and are rude.  If I’m being honest, I’ve even made fun of people after disconnecting from the conversation. “Can you believe that guy?  He was so rude, and had no clue what he was talking about.  What a dummy.” It’s easy to become defensive when someone is mean to us.  It’s easy for us to snap back out of anger.  Yet, Jesus teaches us that we need to love even our enemies.  Easier said than done.  However, how many times have I done the same thing as the rude customer on the phone?  So many times we are able to justify and rationalize our own anger.  I remember lashing out at a friend because some things she had said behind my back got back to me.  I felt justified in my anger.  How dare she say those things about me?  She had no right!  Yet how many times had I done the same thing?  I’m not talking about them behind their back, I would rationalize, I’m talking out my problem.  That darn plank, always clouding my vision.

If we were to be defined by moments such as these, none of us would stand a chance.  There are certainly plenty of instances recorded throughout the Old Testament of the Israelites screwing up (Golden Calf, anyone?) Yet it’s not those moments that define them.  The Israelites were defined as being God’s holy people, set apart to Him.  This is a distinction He gives to us, as well.  Even though the Israelites continued to screw up, like the gracious, forgiving Father He is, God continued to welcome His children back with open arms.  This is not to say that there were never consequences for their rebellion.  Good parents discipline their children so that they grow and mature.  This is what God did to the Israelites.  This is what God does to us.

Faith is a day to day struggle that is hard-fought, and never won of our own merit (Jesus accomplished for us what we could not do ourselves).  It involves constantly dying to ourselves, our anger, our will, OUR WAY.  It’s humbling.  It’s meant to be that way.

The best thing about faith?  It’s a gift from God.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  My prayer today?  Jesus, increase my faith.

 

eye

God loves “Real” Food (here’s why…)

real food

God loves real food. There, I said it.  And I stand by what I said.  Let me explain myself, for those of you who are currently scratching their heads and wondering, What is she talking about this time.  By God, I mean, well, God.  Creator of the universe.  By real food, I mean…food in it’s most natural state.  Food produced and naturally found in nature, NOT produced in a lab somewhere. Why does He love real food?  The most obvious reason would be for the simple fact that He made it!

You see, real food was what God made for people to eat.  Duh, you might be saying right about now.  But the thing is, we don’t.  We’ve gotten away from eating real, honest-to-goodness food.  Don’t believe me?  Walk around a grocery store (almost any grocery store will do) and read the ingredients label.  Chances are what you find will NOT be natural ingredients, but things like THIAMINE MONONITRATE.  Thiamine what?  Now I don’t know about you, but I have never heard about a thiamine mononitrate tree.  I’m pretty certain that one does not exist.  So it’s fairly safe to say that thiamine mononitrate is an ingredient existing outside of nature.  The other thing you will find is sugar, in levels far beyond what is healthy or recommended.

Let us examine the ingredient label for Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Bars, which are supposed to be a “healthy” snack.

nutrigrain

Filling (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Strawberry Puree Concentrate, Glycerin, Sugar, Water, Sodium Alginate, Modified Corn Starch, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Methylcellulose, Caramel Color, Malic Acid, Red No. 40), Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Whole Wheat Flour, Sunflower and/or Soybean Oil with TBHQ for Freshness, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Contains Two Percent or Less of Honey, Dextrose, Calcium Carbonate, Soluble Corn Fiber, Nonfat Dry Milk, Wheat Bran, Salt, Cellulose, Potassium Bicarbonate (Leavening), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Mono- and Diglycerides, Propylene Glycol Esters of Fatty Acids, Soy Lecithin, Wheat Gluten, Niacinamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Carrageenan, Zinc Oxide, Reduced Iron, Guar Gum, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid.

When listed individually, are these ingredients you want to be consuming?  Would you let your kids eat anything on that list?  How many times can you find SUGAR listed on the ingredients list?  (Here’s a clue…the first couple ingredients are actually sugar, and if you look carefully you’ll find sugar hidden under different names throughout.)  You may also note Kellogg’s use of an artificial dye-Red No. 40.  Raise your hand if you pledge never to eat another Nutrigrain bar for the rest of your life…I know I have mine raised.

Why does mankind feel the need to mess with the perfect food source that God created specifically for us?  We arrogantly assume that we can perfect something that is already perfect.  Our society is so consumed with losing weight that we’ve invented “foods”* that are “low-fat”, “no-fat” and “low-calorie”. We’ve largely gotten away from eating fruits and vegetables, or when we do we think we need to sweeten them up.  (Which is laughable, as fruit has naturally occurring sugar.)  So why, then, are Americans fatter than ever?

overweight

In my weight-loss journey, I have tried many a diet.  And diets don’t work. Oh, don’t get me wrong-they do for a time.  Weight watchers was fabulous and I dropped about 30 lbs, but then gained it all back and more with my subsequent pregnancy.  If you really want to lose weight, and keep it off-you need to make a change that is sustainable.  Something that not only works now, but will continue to work five years from now.

You know what I did?  I prayed about it.  Yes, I prayed about losing weight.  I asked God to help me do it His way, because my way clearly wasn’t working (as is typically the case).  It was after one of these prayers that I stumbled upon the book 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake (she also conveniently maintains a website under the same name, 100daysofrealfood.com).  I was intrigued by the concept: cutting out overly-processed, artificial foods, and making everything myself from whole food ingredients.  And then my brain made the connection.  It made sense.  Eating naturally-occurring foods made by God to be in the body God designed me to have.  Duh.  It took me 33 years to figure this out (which is most likely because I am stubborn and had tried to do things my way up to this point-had I simply asked God sooner, I could have avoided much of the trial and error that led me to this point).

100days

And you know what else?  It’s working. I’ve lost weight.  A considerable amount, and I’m not done yet.  Even more exciting is all this new-found energy.  I feel great!  It’s like if your body was a car, and you’d been filling it up with the cheap gas for years.  Then one day you switch to premium, and wow!  You notice how much better your car is running and how many more miles per gallon you’re getting.  Cars run better on better fuel.  So do bodies.

Once again, God to the rescue, solving my life problems.  Maybe next time I could just remember to ask for guidance a little bit sooner…

 

*I use the term “food” for lack of a better term.

So WHY raining orange peels, you may ask…

Well, it reminds me of my daughter, Viviana.  This girl is hilarious.  She is also an orange addict.  The kid can go through a 5 lb bag of Cuties in 2 days.  No joke.  Did I mention she’s only 2 years old?  There are literally orange peels “decorating” our entire house.  Orange peels on the carpet, orange peels on the baby’s toys, orange peels in the sock drawer-you get the point.  Orange peels.  While I suppose this could be annoying (with 3 kids I have long ago accustomed myself to the random clutter found around the house)-I find it a great reminder of the things that matter in life: family, faith, and good, wholesome FOOD.  And wouldn’t you know it, that’s what this blog is all about!

moustaches

Guess which one is the orange eater?

 

I could write about my kids and hubby all day long.  Seriously.  But you might get tired of hearing about that-which is why this blog also encompasses two other things I’m passionate about: food and faith.

FOOD:  I have recently switched over to a whole-foods diet.  No more highly processed foods.  No more refined sugars.  Just good old-fashioned REAL food.  Since I am the one that largely does the cooking in our house, this means that my entire family’s eating style has undergone a change recently as well (much to my hubby’s chagrin-he’s coming around, though).  So you may occasionally see posts for new recipe tries and fails, and what we’re eating these days.

FAITH: I am totally, madly in love with the Big Guy upstairs.  As such, you will probably here about Him a time or two.  (I mean, how can you LOVE someone or something and not incessantly talk about them?  Impossible, I say.)  From new faith A-HA moments to daily struggles to anything in betweeen…I could potentially ramble on about any (or all) of it.

So there you have it-me in a nutshell.  (I’ve always found that a random expression…what does being in a nutshell have to do with summarizing yourself…but I digress.)  I look forward to spending time together with YOU (used in the universal sense).