Lisa samson book

    Book Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson

    Lisa Samson is one of my favorite authors of Christian fiction. Her characters are often quirky and her storylines challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone. So when Booklook Bloggers offered me the chance to read A Thing of Beauty for free in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the…
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Nov
24

5 Tips to Surviving the Holidays

It’s a few days  before Thanksgiving. Some of us are wrapping up work, preparing to travel to our loved/loathed ones (Circle correct word).

Some of have already made it to their family and friends. Others are scurrying around getting ready to host a crew. (Lord help you!) A few are already camped out for Black Friday (and that is a whole other blog which will be coming your way in few days.)

I’ve been the cause of some family holiday drama in my lifetime. Let’s just say there were times I pushed my family to maximum emotional limit and I’m amazed the law (or military) weren’t called in to intervene. Can you imagine the questions my future grandchildren would have asked?

“Mommy, why’s grandma wearing handcuffs in this family picture?”

“Oh, that’s the year she dumped her food on Oma’s head and then threw the TV out the window. Yep, our family photos went viral that year.”

This time of year, “to do” lists are long and tension builds as Thanksgiving gets closer. If you’re like me, “to do” lists can help you stay focused but when they are long and there’s a short amount of time, they fill me with anxiety. So I thought I’d share some Thanksgiving 101 in order to prevent a Thanksgiving 9-1-1.

blog photo - thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day we all come together but if we’re not careful, it’s a day that can divide us into teams…

Pumpkin pie vs. pecan pie.

Deep-fried turkey vs. roasted turkey (or even ham!)

Dressed to impress vs. game-day garb.

And the biggie…

Busy-bees (a.k.a. – busy-bodies) vs. slackers (a.k.a. – couch-potatoes in front of football).

Here’s the thing – there is no right or wrong way to do Thanksgiving. To some it’s about the food. To others it’s about the game. To some it’s about being together. To others it’s about having some time off.

So here are some tips that can bring the two teams together – or at least help them co-exist.

1. Remember that it’s ThanksGIVING – not ThanksRECEIVING.

When we focus on giving thanks instead of receiving thanks it helps us take our eyes off of ourselves. Life is too short to let a personal preference to kill a relationship. Make both pies. Try a new meat.

If you’re a football widow – take you’re hubby a drink as he watches the game. If you’re hoarding the TV, take various breaks to join the Marthas in the kitchen.

2. Find the humor in everything. 

If Aunt Bertha is cranking on how your political party is bringing the world to an end, find a way to laugh it off. Statistics show that laughter brings both short and long-term health benefits. The goal here is not win a fight but to survive a war, I mean, the holidays, with everyone still loving each other (and no one leaving in handcuffs.)

Finding a reason to laugh will send sweet, refreshing endorphins through your body. Just make sure that you are laughing with others and not at them.

3. Get moving.

It may be hard to convince yourself to exercise after cooking for 2 days straight, or sitting in front of the TV for those same 2 days, but the best thing for your mood is 30 minutes of movement – even if you break it up into two 15-minute breaks. Exercise also gets the good endorphins flowing, making us happier, more positive and will help fight depression.

It doesn’t have to be hard. During half-time do a family walk. Take the kids to the park (Just don’t leave them there. That too may be cause for a holiday involving blue flashing lights. Considered yourself warned.)

4. Enjoy the moments together, even if it’s not your idea of fun.

Some of us live for the holidays and family time and others of us are eager for them to be over. No matter which camp you’re in, try your best to enjoy the time together. My grandfather had a massive heart attack when I was 10-years-old. He and I were so close, but in a matter of days I had lost him forever. If I had known that Thanksgiving that it would be my last with him, I would have stayed on his lap and watched the whole game.

It’s not about the event, it’s the people who share them with us.

5. Leave the gadgets.

Don’t bring your gadgets to the table, and if you can stomach it, don’t bring them at all. Live fully in the moment. Make sure those who share the table with you feel as if they are the most important people in the world to you.

Be thankful this holiday season and give thanks freely – especially to God. Your circumstances may not be ideal but if you’re blessed to be sharing a table with family and/or friends, you have something for which to be thankful.

I Thessalonians 5:18 says it best.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

Here’s to the best Thanksgiving and Christmas ever! And if for some reason it goes viral, laugh it off and then send me the link!

What helps you have a thankful heart?

Do you have any Thanksgiving 101 tips to share with us?

 

 

 

 

Nov
20

3 Questions I Ask Myself When I Can’t Fall Back to Sleep

Growing up my mother regularly told me, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” It didn’t take a rocket scientist, or someone smarter, like a blogger, to know she was only trying to keep her “wild child” safe. She didn’t want to receive a phone call at three o’clock in the morning with bad news. As a mother myself, I now get this. But I’ve learned over the years that this is not a principle that can be carried into all areas of our lives…especially our spiritual lives.

What, or Who, is waking me up at night?

Why is it always 3:00 a.m.?Years ago I tossed and turned in my bed. I looked to my clock and it was 3:00, in the morning (Nope, this was not my nap time). My mind was awake, worrying about frivolous things and going through my “to do” list for the next day. It was then I felt a nudge, telling me to “get up!”

Mark was still snoring so I knew it wasn’t him. In frustration, I got up thinking I could at least work on my Bible study lesson and cross that off my “to do” list. That time in study was awesome. God gave me much clarity on the anxieties that had awoken me in the first place.

God has a habit of waking people up

A while later, I was working on another study on Samuel, when he was still a young boy  (I Samuel 3). In the middle of the night Samuel heard a voice, three times, calling his name. Once he realized it was the Lord, he received a great message from God and it was from here his own personal mission began.

After this I began to notice other times God awakened people with a powerful message. He told Gideon to get up in the middle of the night to go into battle with the Midianites (Judges 7:9).

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to get up and to escape to Egypt with Mary and Jesus (Matthew 2:13).

My favorite is when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane with three of his disciples. He asked them to keep watch with Him as He prayed but instead they fell asleep. When He returned to them He woke them saying, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Makes me wonder if they would have responded differently during Jesus’ crucifixion if they had stayed awake and prayed.

Are there times I lie awake at night thinking, worrying, planning but God is actually trying to speak with me? A great bulk of my book came from journal entries that I wrote in the early hours of the night – times that God had spoken to me. Why had I forgotten this?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m awake a lot in the night. I’m a horrible sleeper. However, I do think there are times that I’m awake not because of stress, electronics, hormones, etc., but because God Himself is waking me to instruct and help me deal with the concerns of my life.

So when do I get up and when do I stay in bed? I ask myself 3 questions to help decide… 

1. Is it a quick fix?

I’ve found that if it’s an email that can be sent quickly or a backpack placed by the door – most of the time it’s best for me to get up, do it and promptly return to bed. For me personally, having it done allows my mind to rest and return to deep sleep. Others find that writing it down helps them but this is not enough for my wacky mind.

2. Is it my burden?

In my blog last week I touched on this. Often we carry burdens that are not ours to haul around. To determine this, I pray through each burden, visualizing me pulling them out of my backpack and handing them over to God to place in His backpack. Through this process I can quiet my mind and return to sleep. However, there are times it’s a burden that can’t wait.

3. Does it need my attention now?

There are times that God has called me to get up and go before Him right away. One time I had an issue involving my son and a video game. I stayed in bed praying about it but my anxiety increased so finally I got up. Once out of bed I was more focused and kept my mind from magnifying the problem. The house was quiet with no distractions.

It was during this time God gave me the solution of my son writing a proposal that I shared in a previous blog. By the way, this is still working and there have been a number of times we’ve referred back to it without fight. I’m SO thankful for God’s help on this issue.

I’m a big believer in sleep because it’s important for all areas of our health. But I’m also a believe there are times God is waking us up, inviting us to some personal one-on-one time with Him.

I’ve found when I’m obedient and get up, the freedom I receive from having my burdens removed or my problem resolved, allows me to return to quality sleep that gives me the energy needed for the next day. But, the best part is connecting with God in such a personal way. There’s nothing like realizing He sees my struggles and wants to help me work through them. Oh yeah – thank you Jesus!

So next time you struggle with sleep, ask God if it’s Him calling. If it is, follow Samuel’s example and say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (I Sam. 3:10) If He answers, be sure to get up.

Have there been times God has awoken you at night? If so, I’d love to hear your story.

What tools do you use when you find yourself away at night?

 

 

 

Nov
12

How I Calm My Mind So That I Can Sleep

I’ve never been a good sleeper. As a child it was a chore for my parents to calm me, the wild toddler terrorizing their house. I didn’t have time to sleep. There was a couch to jump off of, a pot to bang or some dirt to inspect. I still struggle with sleep.

The holidays are upon us and God knows we’ll need our sleep more than ever. How else will we be able to overlook Uncle Bubba’s constant belching or ignore Aunt Bertha’s critique of our dry turkey without backhanding her? We’ll need to be rested and sharp as we prepare for battle, I mean, dinner.

I thought I’d do a couple of posts on sleep. I’ve read a lot on the subject and have posted about it in the past and unfortunately, there’s nothing much new under the sun (or moon). But I do have an exercise that has helped me in the past as well as a spiritual application (and practice) that I’ll share in my next blog.

Oh no! I’ve passed this down to my daughter…

blog photo - calming mindA while back my daughter was having trouble sleeping and wouldn’t you know, it was on a night my body and mind were craving sleep. I noticed a light on so I got up and found her sitting on the couch, trying to read herself to sleep.

We talked about what occupied her mind and she shared a minor quirk that happened between her and a friend that day. As we sat there, she began to share more issues that were stressing her out and I asked her if she had prayed about it.

“Yes, but it’s not working! I keep praying but I can’t stop worrying about it.”

To be honest, I was tired and a huge part of me wanted to tell her, “Get over it! This is so minor. Go back to bed!” But I felt a nudge, as if God was telling me this was a teaching moment. God, if you want me to teach at 1:00 in the morning, You’re going to have to do it. My mind is not here.

I told her how God wants us to bring our burdens to Him and then shared the illustration yoke and oxen in the Bible. (Matthew 11:28-30).

Crickets…

She had no idea what I was talking about – “Oxen??? What’s a yoke?!” How could I put this in a modern day analogy that she would understand?

Here it goes…

We all go through life wearing backpacks. The purpose of a backpack is to carry things that we need for our day. The problem is that we, or others, put things in our backpack that we don’t need or aren’t meant to carry and it begins to wear us down. It fatigues us physically, mentally and emotionally.

God too is wearing a backpack. However, He wants to carry the excess for us and purge anything that is not from Him. (God is obviously not a hoarder.) He will only give us what we need to carry in our backpack. Everything else we are to hand over to Him to haul, or purge, for us.

Here’s the practice I learned from this that helps me nightly.

Each night I visualize what is in my backpack. What am I carrying with me to bed? Is it part of my “to do” list. Is it an issue with a child? Does it have to do with work, etc.

If it’s something that I can do now and needs to be done, like talking to my child or husband, then I do it.

If not, I close my eyes and visualize myself taking each thought, issue, worry out of my backpack and pray:

“Lord, I can’t carry this to bed with me. I’m giving this to You to carry for me. If I am to carry this tomorrow, I trust that You will give it back to me. If not, thank You for carrying or purging this for me. Please help me not to steal this back from You.”

Word of warning…this is not a magical fix-all prayer. It is a practice, and it takes practice. I haven’t perfected it but it has helped me to fall asleep or fall back to sleep at 3:00 in the morning when I wake up worrying.

I hope this will be of help to you. If any of you have any other tips or practices to getting good sleep and not worrying, PLEASE share. I need all the help I can get!

Here’s to good sleep!

Nov
06

Jimmy Kimmel, Candy and Manna

The past four years Jimmy Kimmel has entertained us with his “I Told My Kids I Ate All of Their Halloween Candy” prank. It’s definitely worth some good laughs as you watch kids go from happy, to shocked to complete meltdown.  But, there are always a handful of kids who surprise me with, “It’s okay. We can get more next time.” One child even hugs his mother, as if consoling her. (Who are his parents and how can I get them to help me raise my own kids??!!)

blog photo - Jimmy KimmelThe prank is hilarious and many ways I can sympathize with the children. I’m pretty sure I’d respond similar if someone stole my chocolate, or worse, drank all my wine.

It got me thinking – why is it we have such a sense of entitlement in our culture?

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not basing this off of the children or blaming their parents in any way. I was the passionate kid who had many meltdowns that humiliated my parents. But there have also been times, as an adult, I’ve struggled with discontent, wanting more or something better.

Focusing on what I don’t have keeps me from seeing my present blessings.

I was preparing for a Bible study the other week and read about the Israelites wandering in the desert. The community grumbled against Moses and his brother, Aaron, accusing them of bringing them “out into this desert to starve.”

Moses approached God and in Exodus 16:4 God tells Moses, “I will rain bread from heaven for you.” Each morning the Israelites woke to find manna that had arrived in the dew. They would collect it before the heat of the day melted it and then grind it in order to bake it into cakes.

But it wasn’t long until the Israelites began complaining again, “But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6)

I get this. I love me some pizza but if I had to eat it, solely, for 40 years straight, I’d be sick of it also and I’m sure I’d be in there complaining, “Surely I deserve better than this. Why won’t God give me a steak?!”

Modern Day Manna

The ironic thing is that it doesn’t take something as extreme as eating the same meal in a desert, for 40 years to cause me to complain.

It could be as simple as watching a home improvement show and then looking at my worn carpet or outdated fixtures. All of a sudden I’m dissatisfied with my house. This same house is warm in the winter and cool in the summer; it has running water and 3 bathrooms (albeit dirty…but that’s probably more of a parenting issue), but it feels lacking.

It could be a day at the mall with my daughter and I tell her she can buy one shirt. But as we stand in line and I see another mother in front of us buying her daughter a pile of clothes. Resentment pours in, “Why can’t I provide for my kids like that?”

It could be the hour, ahem, I mean, the fifteen minutes I spend on social media, looking at photos of my friends’ vacations, family gatherings, girls weekends, etc. Jealousy and envy abound as I long for another vacation and wish I could visit my family more.

How can I be content?

The ability to be content in all circumstances is a strength that will allow us to have joy in the midst of chaos and peace. It’s not easy but by proactively implementing certain practices, with lots of prayer, it can become second nature. Here are a few examples:

1.)  Embrace crisis – Crisis is a great teacher for it exposes both our weaknesses and strengths but it also reveals what’s truly important.

When I lived in Russia, we went through a drought so severe that we only had water for 1 hour every third day. It was hard and exposed many of the ways I was wasteful and took clean water for granted. At the same time, it showed me how resilient and resourceful we humans can be if we put in the thought and effort.

This crisis had such a big impact on me that even today I will randomly thank God for water. The lesson has not left me.

2.)  Gratitude is king – Expressing gratitude places our minds and hearts on the positive and has the power to detour our thoughts from being polluted with negative energy.

3.)  Thank God for the success of others – I’ve found when I thank God for the success of others, it redirects my mind from comparing and keeps jealousy and envy away. It helps me to see these accomplishments and victories as reason to celebrate with them – and I’m always up for a good party.

God has provided. He has blessed. He meets our needs.

 

 

Oct
30

Book Review: Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World

Recently, I was given the opportunity to review the book, Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World, by Johann Arnold. Being a mother of a preteen and teenager, I was curious to learn what Arnold had to say.

The book is well written and researched. It’s filled with stories and a good portion of the book is quotes. Normally that would bug me but not in this case. It’s as if he’s taken golden nuggets from many researchers and specialists and placed them in one location. Which is great for a busy parent.

blog photo - their name is todayArnold’s main thought is the way we over-book our children’s schedule with activities, sports, etc. and push young kids to read and do math at an early age could be doing more harm than good. Today’s children are losing the freedom of childhood to learn through play and down time.

There are many principles that can be applied to older kids too.

I find this book freeing. So many times I stress myself out, worrying that if my kids aren’t in the same activities as other kids then they’ll be “left behind.” Or I convince myself their lack of performance now means they’ll miss out on opportunities later. However, this book released me of such fears. We all develop in our own schedule, and as in the case with Einstein, being a late developer may at times be better.

It wasn’t a fast-read for me but it wasn’t due to lack of interest. A great deal of the content was thought provoking, with some theories being new to me, so I didn’t want to rush it.

An example would be in the chapter titled In Praise of Difficult Children. My son was recently diagnosed as ADHD and we’ve been researching ways to better help him learn and have healthy social relationships. In this chapter Arnold shares:

“If we are misled into thinking that children’s destructive behavior always represents some type of disease, and give them medication which is potentially dangerous, then we are taking the easy way out. Instead, we could look at our homes an schools and recognize how often our own busyness and materialism prevent children from finding their inner peace and emotional stability.”

Okay – this statement sound harsh and judgmental taken out of context, but it was something I needed. I’ve been working to reduce the busyness of our lives but I had overlooked the fact that our materialism could also be a stimulator of my son’s ADHD.  All the “stuff” we have to help entertain our kids could actually make it harder for my son to sit still in quietness and process his day.

It’s a good read and I’d recommend it to parents of young kids through teenagers who are trying to figure out how to parent their kids in our modern-day world. There are a lot of new factors that we are facing that previous generations hadn’t seen.