2 resources to encourage your walk with the Lord

I've gotten really picky about the books I receive or request to review, mostly because there are just so many things I want to read out there that I just can't read them all. But recently a few things have caught my eye; a few things in fact that are great resources for the spiritual journey (ours, and our kids-- you can check out my review of The Radical Book for Kids over on our homeschool blog). scripture-doodle-pray-atoz-1

Today the books I have to share are timely, too, because I think they would would bless you , and that they would also make great gifts for a gal who loves Jesus in your life.

One thing I struggle with in my relationship with the Lord is prayer. I just can't seem to get in a good rhythm with praying for things that are important to me. I pray sporadically, when someone comes to mind, when a friend asks me to pray, before dinner, during the day when I'm feeling desperate.

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I even have reminders on my phone to pray at 9am, noon, and 3pm, which was an idea I got years ago to pray at set times from Ann Voskamp's blog-- often they are just a quick re-centering which is always helpful. But I like the idea of having a bit of specific direction with my prayer, and this new book, Pray A to Z, is a wonderful resource for that.

Pray A to Z is a book of prayer prompts that guides the reader in "a practical guide to pray for you community." Each letter of the alphabet lists a few topics to pray for (like adoption, pain, neighbors, missionaries, etc.) along with a couple of praise topics that thank God for his character (like mercy, righteousness, & dwelling place). It's a great starting place for spending some time in prayer as I start the day.

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The second fun book I want to share today is actually two editions of the creative journaling book Scripture Doodle (the second one is Scripture Doodle God's Promises). These books combine devotional/worshipful scripture readings with the "adult coloring books" phenomenon. The author/artist April Knight gives mini art lessons and guidance for doodling scripture (and for hand-lettering as well) as a way to memorize verses and hide the word in our hearts.

I wouldn't call these books a super deep, gospel-focused devotional or a substitute for reading the Bible itself but they are a really fun and beautiful way to interact with God's word while also functioning as a creative outlet. As Litfuse put it, "Each of the creative worship prompts in this interactive guide includes biblical encouragement and ideas for worship through art." The books themselves are beautiful as well, and would be great gifts for both adults and maybe even a tween or tween.

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(a spread I colored while watching a Hallmark Christmas movie)

Thanks to Litfuse for the review copies of these books. There are affiliate links in this post; thanks for reading and supporting the blog.

Advent and album liners

christmas-cds There's something sweet and nostalgic about hearing the 9-year old singing along with a song, using the CD liner notes (because who buys CDs anymore?) to read the lyrics from.

It's a CD as old as she is, part of a dated collection that comes out of a box and gets placed in the car every December, and hasn't been added to in years.

And then a song you've been listening to for nine years, sung by your sweet girl, makes you tear up and have a spontaneously worshipful moment on the way to school.

And the first time That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior And the first breath that left Your lips Did You know that it would change this world forever

To look back and think that This baby would one day save me In the hope that what You did That You were born so I might live To look back and think that This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day That You were born to die So I could one day pray for You to save my life

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And then a song plays that she connects with because we're currently reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

A song speaking more truth into our hearts during this advent season. She sings along to a song of hope, expectant hope, because the curse has indeed been lifted, and Jesus is coming.

It's always winter but never Christmas It seems this curse just can't be lifted Yet in the midst of all this ice and snow Our hearts stay warm cause they are filled with hope

And everything it changed overnight This dying world you brought it back to life And deep inside I felt things Shifting everything was melting Away oh away And you gave us the most beautiful of days

Cause when it's always winter but never Christmas Sometimes it feels like you're not with us But deep inside our hearts we know That you are here and we will not lose hope

(Thanks, Relient K.)

Delighting in the days

delight-2 In January, I chose delight as my word for the year. I'm never very good with followthrough and this one word exercise is usually no different. But recently as I thought about how I was feeling these days with our lovely summer and our new fall rhythm/schedule/day-to-day life, I realized that things had been quite... delightful... and that without particularly trying, I had in fact been delighting.

Last spring was hard. I felt like a chicken with my head cut-off with three kids doing three different things school-wise, plus sports, church, and other activities. It was crazy. I felt like if I could just make it through till summer; it was a season with little delight in some ways, but it was also a season of embracing my writing life right where it is, and pressing on and moving forward intentionally, which is in its own way, a form of delighting.

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Through the chaos, and then into the peace of summer, my delight in the Lord has been strong though. This year I've taken on a Bible reading plan that my church recommended and it has kept me in the word consistently. My prayer life has been lacking still this year, but in reading the word I have felt a growth which is powerful.

Summer was beyond delightful. Beach days, camping trips, long days, family camp (ahhh-mazing!), swimming, barbecuing, reading, baseball, relaxation, concerts (Coldplay!) time with family and sweet friends-- it was all the lovely things of summer that I adore-- the very definition of delight, thank you, Jesus. I was incredibly sad to see it go, as much as I always love the start of a new school year.

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And as we've entered the new fall season, a season which can bring with it chaos and busyness, I'm delighted to say that things have, amazingly enough, not gotten out of hand, and in fact, I'm quite delighting in our days and enjoying the rhythm of things right now.

We now homeschool three days in a row (Monday through Wednesday), and then, the kids all go to school all day on Thursday and Friday, a gift to this mama that has brought blessings galore in just the first month. Lunches, brunches, coffees, mama outings, peaceful errands, days to clean and prep, writing time, and moments of quiet have been amazing.

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I'm relishing this time and trying my best to use it wisely and keep it from getting over-scheduled. And just like I expected, it actually has me looking forward to our next homeschool days... and despite all the solo-time benefits, even missing my kids a tiny bit. ;)  For our family, and for me, it is the perfect fit.

So all this to say, even though many days I'm still tired (from knowingly burning the candle at both ends) and there are still overwhelming moments and feelings of inadequacies and frustrations with schoolwork and parenting challenges galore...

There is amidst it all a strange feeling of r e s t.

There is p e a c e.

There is d e l i g h t.

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And there is gratitude. I'm very thankful for this season, and for the ways the Lord, in His grace, has orchestrated this time. May I use it for His glory.

Two secrets of hospitality...

summer hospitality 2 "Every year, I long for the lazy days of summer – late nights outside, grilled food and fruity desserts, lots of beach days, and visiting and hosting friends and travelers from near and far. We love staying with friends when we road trip and travel, and we equally enjoy returning the favor at our home.

...

When I think back to both times we’ve had with visitors in our own home and the fun memories of of staying with friends on the road, I realize the highlights of those times are pretty universal, no matter who we are with or where we are."

Read the rest over at The Art of Simple....

3 spheres of influence and calling

3 spheres of influence and calling Sometimes it's hard to try to summarize and recap a powerful experience. I want to try to give you a succinct summary of my trip to Portland last weekend, but I'm struggling to put my finger on the right words. Which is ironic, considering the main purpose for our trip was a writing conference.

It was a weekend of beauty and friendship and encouragement and kick-in-the-pants inspiration. Of good coffee and the best donut I've ever had. Of virtual friends made real and reconnecting with dear old friends as if no time had gone by at all, that is to say, of oh-so-kindred spirits.

Jumping back into regular life has honestly made it hard to try to process all that I learned, both in conference sessions, and also in heart-to-heart conversations.

I have twenty pages of notes in my Moleskine journal and a million thoughts swirling in my head, but this is what I'm most concretely able to pin down right now. As I process this, it feels a little like a manifesto, and maybe it is.

As a believer, my main goal in life is to glorify God and live out the gospel. But as an individual, I believe I have a few specific spheres of influence, areas of calling and responsibility.  I can't deny any of these or I will not be living fully as the person God created me to be. The more I invest in these areas, the more fully I will become myself (which, it turns out, is a pretty darn good definition of success, according to Emily).

1. My family. I have been gifted with the wonderful responsibility of being a wife, and a mom of three. It is my job to, in the grace of God, put forth my best effort in these relationships. A weekend away with my husband was a darn good way to invest in my marriage (but so is making his favorite dinner and sacrificing a Saturday so he can play golf).

Discipling my kids and training them in education and gospel living is my primary quotidian job. Parenting is really the hardest job I've ever had, and it refines me more than I ever wanted to be refined. It also teaches me more about my relationship with God than any other experience has.

2. My community. I believe that the sovereign hand of the Lord has put me exactly where I am for a reason, and that my family is right where he wants us to minister at this time. I love opening my heart and my home to others and I take the hard with the good because I wasn't created for isolation but for community.

My church family (and our community group and the music ministry), our extended family, friends, neighbors, school, sports teams, my local Community Bible Study group, even my long-distance friends and our farther- away extended family-- God has me right where I am to live out the gospel and connected to the very people to whom I am meant to be connected. I'm thankful for these people and for the privilege of doing life with them.

3. My words.

Two weeks after I graduated college I married David. This stage of life of marriage and raising a family and being a veritable grown-up seemed to start that day in June. Since then, those first two spheres have become such an integral part of my daily life and who I am.

The third one I have wavered in. I always felt called to words. A voracious reader, one who loved to write stories and poems and essays, a student of language and languages. I have bounced around in figuring what I felt like I was supposed to do in addition to those first two areas, but I've always known it had to do with words.

Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to not have a third sphere of life-- no calling beyond family and community-- but then I feel that I would not be living out true to who God made me to be. And I don't want to miss out on any of His plan for me.

I don't have this one nailed down yet--I don't know when it will fully emerge or what it looks like-- but I'm getting more and more inklings and feeling more of that heart-thumping pull to releasing the art I was meant to create.

In the pre-conference retreat day, we were asked in one of workshops, "How will this realization/lesson/experience change what you do on Monday after the conference?"

And so that's where I've started. I've started with words, with continuing to read, and with just plain ol' writing. I'm craving more consistentency in exercising this craft that I feel called and pulled towards. Because I've been waiting for inspiration and time, but time is just an excuse and "inspiration follows work" (Madeleine L'Engle).

There is beauty and glory in the world that needs to be translated into words, and our goal as writers is to show that the beauty of the kingdom is breaking through here on earth, and to show that to others. (Thank you, Seth and Nish, for articulating that for me).

So that's my calling, my third responsibility in life. I don't want to shy away from it even though there are a million fears that want to drag me down and away from it.

I have so many more thoughts from my experience at the conference that I'm sure will come out in one way or another as I process them. But for now, I leave you with this little manifesto, and I guess, I'd love to know if you've nailed down your own spheres of influence and calling. I know this life isn't the be all end all by any means. But I still want to make it count, and I want to be all who I was created to be.

Leaving auto for manual: thoughts on stepping out

Leaving auto for manual and other thoughts on stepping out My friend Kacy has a phrase she has used a lot-- leaving comfort for courage-- that has always stuck with me. Isn't that just how we are to live? Outside our comfort zone, being courageous in the face of what may come, being bold, and strong in grace and in the gospel.

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It might be a stretch to make this analogy, but bear with me here. I recently started shooting photos on manual. This month's 10 on 10 was my first all-manual set. On Sunday, we spent a family day at the beach for my birthday (it was a gloriously lovely simple day).

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The fog rolled in thick and low, while the brightness of the sun still fought to shine through, making the lighting incredibly tricky.

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For quite a while now I've been shooting on A which means that I adjust the shutter speed but my trusty camera figures out the rest for me. It was a good stepping stone, but I've been standing there perched for far too long. (Professional photography is not my goal; I just want to learn how to use my camera better and get the most out of my photos.)

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I decided it was time to jump off that step and just start doing my best to set the camera right (armed with a couple of ebooks on photography and a skilled brother as references).

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I made a lot of mistakes and had to reset the camera with almost every shot. It was challenging and yet the photos that came out spark a lot of joy in me, knowing that I had to work at achieving the correct lighting.

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You know what holds me back and has me switching back to A or even to Auto in a dicey light situation? It's fear. Fear that I'll miss out on the perfect shot because I had the settings wrong.

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But the wonderful thing about digital photography is that we can take a virtually endless amount of photos (depending on media card size, of course). We just keep shooting and shooting and adjusting as we go, and checking to see if we get it right. Eventually, I think I'll get the hang of it (or I'll at least remember which way to dial the f/stops). It won't be so touch-and-go, and I'll be more confident.

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Any time we try something new, it's this similar learning curve.

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It feels like it takes this enormous amount of boldness to step out into the unknown or into a new direction, but the truth is that when we step out where God is calling us, we're stepping out onto the path that has already been prepared for us.

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We don't actually have to bolster up all this faith, all this courage, all this boldness on our own. He actually provides it for us as we go. We just have to ask for it! God's pretty great like that.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 4:14-21

On Katniss, The Hanging Tree, and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus-- a manifesto for the new year

on katniss, the hanging tree, & fixing our eyes on jesus David and I went and saw Mockingjay Part 1 the weekend it came out. I can't really explain my love for Katniss-- the Hunger Games books aren't really my usual cup of tea. They're a bit dark, and definitely intense compared to what I usually enjoy. But there's something about them.

And there's something about her character-- brooding and bold, she's an unlikely leader thrown into the limelight--to heroine status-- by apparent circumstance, and it's there that her true calling comes alive, and we see her living out her purpose (hmm,that sounds like a book I'm reading), whether she likes it or not.

We both enjoyed the movie (but I'm a bit miffed that I have to wait a whole year for Part 2 though). There's one scene that, two months later, I can't stop thinking about. And It's not just because I love it when actors who aren't known for their singing voice sing in movies (See also: Keira in Begin Again).

It's the scene where Katniss sings The Hanging Tree and we see the rebel forces rising to fight the Capitol.

(this video isn't the whole song but I like this clip because it actually shows a bit of the scene it's from. You might have to click over from email to watch.)

A week later, one of our pastors taught on a somewhat obscure passage in 2 Chronicles 20. A story with a vaguely-familiar character and a story of which I had no real memory. You might want to go read it now (I'll wait here).

I know these are two very different battle scenes-- we've got the rebels storming a dam to take out the Capitol's power supply and God's people up against a great "horde" of the Lord's enemies-- but I read the passage with the image and the haunting beauty with which Katniss sang The Hanging Tree running through my mind.

That movie scene helped me visualize the battle scene where Jehoshaphat and his men are praising God before they've even won the battle, confident that the battle is His and that He will give them victory. It's an unlikely juxtaposition of singing and a fierce battle.

Of course for the Israelites it wasn't just "singing;" they were praising their God for His sovereignty in the midst of the battle.

The story starts with the enemy coming up against God's people for battle.

"Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord." (vs. 3-4)

Pushed to the edge, Jehoshaphat doesn't let despair overwhelm him, instead, he immediately goes to the Lord in prayer, gathering others to join him.

He pleads for God's intervention, recalling what God had done for His people in the past and how He was always present with them, and then as "all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children (v. 13)," the Spirit of the Lord answers through a prophet.

"You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” (v. 17, emphasis mine)

So what happens? Jehoshaphat (and his people) immediately worship God, and then they obey: they go out the next morning and enter the battle (still worshiping), and God, He gives them the victory just like He said He would. In verses 21-22, we see that salvation came when they went out to worship.

And through all of this scene we see this: it plays out in the context of community.

We see this in Katniss' song, too. She starts singing it and it's quiet, haunting, just her voice, and then gradually, the music builds powerfully and we hear the chorus join in and get stronger and stronger. The districts will never have victory until they come together with their various gifts, resources and skills and fight the enemy together.

The phrase that has stuck with me, engraving itself into my heart is from verse 12:

"We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Before God had answered, Jehoshaphat and his people came together to fix their eyes on the Lord, remember His past work and provision, and seek His guidance.

When we walk through the trials and challenges of life, we need to surround ourselves with people who are helping us keep our eyes on Him.

This year, for 2015, I didn't choose a word like I did last year. Instead, I'm picking this verse and this phrase to guide me through the year.

Our eyes are on You

So often (okay, basically every day) I find myself at a loss, not knowing what to do. In motherhood, in community, in my calling, in marriage... in LIFE.

And herein lies the answer: I'm not in this alone, and my best weapon isn't the battering ram that knocks out the Capitol's power.

It's the God of the universe, who created everything, and stands boldly to fight all of my battles for me, giving me victory over sin and over my enemy... all while I worship Him right where I am. It's the gospel-- that's my greatest weapon, and my greatest comfort.

 

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