Ready For Battle

I was reading Bible stories to Kaylia and Everett a few nights ago. We started at the beginning with the story of creation, and moved on to the Garden of Eden and the snake with the fruit. I’ve read those stories so many times, it’s easy to go into auto-pilot, and not even think about what I’m reading, but Kaylia pulled a question out from the depths of her mind which stopped me in my tracks. Our conversation went a little like this:

Kaylia: “Why did Eve listen to the serpent?”

Me: “Well, he lied to her and tricked her.”

Kaylia: “Does that mean I will listen to Satan, and he will trick me like he tricked Eve?”

Me: “Sometimes we do get tricked, but we have Jesus to help us.”

Kaylia: “But didn’t Adam and Eve spend time with God? Why didn’t He help them?”

Me: “Hmm. Well, yes, they did spend time with God – He went into the garden and walked with them all the time.”

Kaylia: “If He spent time with them, but they were still tricked, how will Jesus help me not to get tricked?”

This has stayed with me. Although I remember the conversation clearly up to this point, I can’t actually remember what I said in response to this, because I was suddenly aware of a new realization: I see myself as smarter than Adam and Eve. Somehow, in my great familiarity of this story, I’ve stopped putting myself into it, and started seeing myself above it. Obviously, I wouldn’t make the same mistake – I would see right through the lies, and choose to stay close to God instead! Wouldn’t I?!

But Kaylia’s question brought it down to the root of it all – how are we any different? Isn’t this the story of humanity? We long for God, but we have doubts. We start to think, “Does God really love me? Is He holding anything back from me? I need to take control, because I feel safer when I am at the wheel.”

How will we avoid Satan’s schemes and see through the little lies he whispers to us in those moments of weakness? It’s only by the grace of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is interesting, because in my mind, actually walking in the Garden of Eden with God sounds as close to heaven as we could get on this earth, and yet the Bible tells us it’s better to have the Spirit right inside of us. But how often do I take that for granted? The Holy Spirit covering me, protecting me, opening my eyes to truth, softening my heart, increasing my sensitivity, growing my hunger for the things of God, causing me to long for more awareness of His presence?

It’s the only thing making me any different from Adam and Eve. It’s the only thing, and it’s everything.

I’ve been stuck on the Armour of God passage in Ephesians for the last week, and Kaylia’s question has made me think about how I take God’s protection for granted. A wise friend of mine prays this passage over her family every day, and I’ve started to do the same – not out of fear, but rather with joy and confidence. How much stronger and more intentional could I be each day if I purposely, intentionally put on the protection of the Holy Spirit?

The passage starts with this verse: “Finally, be strong in the Lord….” Not my own strength. The point was never to make it on my own. I stand firm against the devil’s schemes because I’m ready for battle. I’m not smarter, I’m not stronger, I’m not more deserving. I’m just ready, because I have the Holy Spirit.

strong in the Lordsource

I love how The Message says it:

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way….Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them.”

Tools waiting to be used, set out before me, available at any moment. But I’ve taken God’s truth and peace for granted, and I haven’t been using these weapons to their full potential. I do use them, but not the same way a seasoned warrior would – not with the same earnestness as if I were really seeing this struggle as a fight, every moment. But thoughts, temptations, little annoyances and frustrations of life are all able to pull me away from the presence of Jesus, to distract me from what truly matters, and get my attention off the things of Christ. I don’t want that anymore. I want to be strong, focused, intentional, while still being joyful, peaceful, and full of grace. Isn’t that such an interesting combination?!

I was reading a book about a warrior to Kaylia last night, and it described him as feeling fully alive and charged up as he prepared for a fight, because “it was what he’d been made to do.” He didn’t feel fear or doubt and uncertainty. He felt the rush of adrenaline and confidence as he got ready for what was to come, fulfilling his destiny and purpose.

So this morning, like every morning, I take up my weapons. I choose to focus on the feelings of joy and confidence, because the final battle has already been won, but there’s these daily fights I need to rise up against. I’m made to do this, with the Holy Spirit inside of me, and God’s weapons laid out for me. It’s a good fight.

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Find Joy in the Ordinary

A friend asked me this week if God told me to start a blog. I didn’t know how to answer that – it was one of those things that felt right at the time, but when I look back on it, I see His hand in it. We were living at Red Rock Bible Camp, I had time on my hands, and I’ve always loved writing and photography, so it was a combination of my favorite things.

What I didn’t know was that it would become my accountability – I wanted my blog to be a place that was positive and beautiful, and there would be no complaining online, so if something negative was happening in my life, it made me search for the good. It made me look for the moments that taught me stuff, it was my place to record the smallest things bringing me joy. It taught me to write until I found the positive, and take pictures until I discovered the beautiful.

find joysource

As our kids have gotten older, it’s also become a place for them enjoy the ordinary, everyday stuff – Anika will spend hours reading old posts, and all three kids enjoy looking at the pictures.

Our “Year in Review” videos have always been a favorite for our family. We’ve done one every year since 2011, and on the roughest, grumpiest days of teething, the girls have shown Everett every one, because they make everybody happy around here.

This year, Anika made the video instead of me.:) Once again, I’m overwhelmed by how much can change in a year, and by how beautiful our simple, ordinary little life really is to me. If you ever need reminding of that, put pictures of all your little moments to music, and suddenly life is transformed!

Here’s our latest collection of happiness:

family pictures: Morgan Braun
song: “Better Place”, by Rachel Platten

And for the next time Everett’s teething, here are all the links our other videos: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Growing These Large, Luscious Peaches

I heard a beautiful analogy in church the other day. We were watching a video by Pastor Rick Warren, and he was talking about focus. He shared how he loves to grow his own fruits and vegetables, and has a big, beautiful peach tree in his backyard. He described how the previous year, his peach tree was completely loaded with hundreds of peaches – each branch was heavy with the weight of countless little peaches. “You would think that many peaches would be a good thing, right?” he asked.

But then he went on to share how so many peaches on each branch is actually a bad thing. The energy of the branch has to be divided into growing each of those little peaches, and as a result of the growing power being spread so thin, the peaches don’t grow very large. In order to produce nice, large peaches, it is necessary to pluck about two thirds of all those baby peaches off the tree. The result is less peaches, but bigger fruit, because all the energy can go into growing plump, juicy fruit.

This speaks so beautifully to where I am in my life right now. I love all of the things filling my life, but everything starts to fall apart pretty quickly when I stretch myself too thin. I’ve been saying yes to a few too many exciting opportunities – all those beautiful baby peaches of new possibilities have been luring me in. Everything I’ve added to my plate is something great and worthy of my time, which is what makes it hard to turn down. It feels wrong to pick perfectly good little peaches and throw them away. What a waste!

But I’m reminded once again to pursue quality, not quantity. My family and our home are worth turning down some opportunities for. I want them to get my full focus, energy, and attention. I want to take care of the details so we can do this well.  Ann Voskamp once wrote that you can have it all – you just can’t have it all at the same time. Our culture is obsessed with being busy, and doing it all, and yet when I pray about what to spend my time on, I feel God whispering to me, “You have the opportunity to say ‘no’.” I always connect “opportunity” with saying yes, but these days, I’m being led to think the opposite. As hard as it can be to say no, there’s a little spark of excitement and anticipation in me at the thought of taking things slow. We can’t rush the growing season, and I’m thinking it’s time to sit back and enjoy the long days of ripening fruit.

So I pull baby peaches of opportunities off my tree, and I trust with all my heart they aren’t wasted, because these sweet peaches of mine are worth the sacrifice. For every time I say ‘no’ to opportunities, I’m saying ‘yes’ to something else – yes to rest, yes to family, yes to slowing down, yes to noticing the little things, yes to more space and time with Jesus. The growing is good and the fruit is juicy!

Everett and Kaylia

 

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He Makes Me Laugh

It had been a long day of running errands in the city, and I came home feeling distraught, because I’d come dangerously close to hitting a pedestrian. The sun had been shining at the exact angle which made me unable to see the lights flashing at a pedestrian crossing, and I had slammed on my brakes just in time to avoid hitting the child who suddenly ran across.

I described what had happened to Ben, embarrassed by my mistake and feeling like a horrible driver. He listened patiently and sympathetically, and as usual, was quiet for just the right length of time when I finished speaking before saying anything. But after 16 1/2 years of marriage, I know that whatever comes after that small silence will always be worth waiting for, and once again, I was right. When Ben finally spoke, he said, “Just think about all the people you actually hit, and didn’t even notice!”

As always, he made me burst out laughing instead of bursting into tears, and reminded me for the millionth time not to take myself too seriously or beat myself up unnecessarily for a mistake made – or in this case, didn’t actually make!

Years ago, my older, wiser sister once said, “In the beginning, you think you know exactly why you’re marrying your husband, and what you love most about him, but as the years go by, you realize you hardly even knew him at the beginning, and you love him even more for all the things you’ve learned about him since then.”

Ben has always made me laugh, and I’ve known that from the first day, but as I look back over the years we’ve been married, I can see how his ability to diffuse an intense situation with his sense of humour and lighthearted warmth and goofiness has kept our whole family in balance. I love many, many things about him – his sensitivity, humility, wisdom, unselfishness, and amazing ability to listen, but lately, I’ve been thinking about how I love the way he makes me laugh.

He adds so much joy to my life, and has shown me repeatedly how laughter changes situations and people. I am so thankful our kids can grow up in a home where there is so much laughter.

Yesterday was Ben’s birthday, and it’s tradition for me to write birthday posts for my family. As I thought about what I wanted to say about Ben this time, the picture which remained stuck in my head was of him sitting next to me on the couch, grinning in the way he does after he’s said something he knows was hilarious and made me shriek with laughter.  I love the person he is, and I’m thankful for everything that makes him “Ben”, but today, like many days, I’m thankful for how he makes me laugh.

Ben and Kendra

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Grocery Budget Bootcamp

smoothie

When Ben and I first got married, I didn’t know a lot about meal planning and grocery budgets. We had next to no money, so I knew we had to keep food costs as low as possible, but I felt completely lost as to how to do this.

Each month, our strategy was the same: buy the cheapest food at the store to fill up our fridge, get home from work every day in the late afternoon and pull out my “Company’s Coming – Casseroles” cookbook, open it to the ground beef section (because that was the cheapest meat we could buy), and desperately try to find a recipe that could get done in time before Ben got home from work, and could be made from the ingredients in our fridge.

This continually frustrated me, because I’d never have the ingredients I needed, and time was always tight, because I’d waste most of it trying to find something to make.

I remember getting really tired of ground beef, and mentioning this one day to an older, wiser cousin who asked me about how things were going. “Ground beef?!” she exclaimed. “When we first got married, we were so poor, we lived on love and air! You’re doing well if you can afford ground beef!”

Things got a lot better over time, but actually making a meal plan and sticking to it is something that took far too long to figure out. My current method of using Google calendar is the strategy that’s stuck around the longest, and works so well, I’ve been consistent with it for a few years now.

lunch

But as I mentioned in my last blog post, it’s the budgeting aspect which needs some fine-tuning around here. We do it, just not as well as we should. In an effort to save money, it’s my goal to get better at using my meal planning to save money on our grocery budget. It’s one of the biggest categories in our budget, and seems like the easiest to improve on. We can’t easily change our mortgage or our hydro bill, but we can do something about groceries. It’s tricky, because health challenges require us to eat super healthy, which can get expensive.

For this reason, I was excited to come across an online course on meal planning and grocery budgeting on one of my favorite blogs, Don’t Waste the Crumbs. SO practical and helpful. I always find great, healthy recipes on that blog (remember chocolate hummus?), and many tips for how to save money in the kitchen.

I’m so confident this will be a great course that I’ve chosen to become an affiliate, which is a little strange and new for me – I’ve never done that kind of thing before, but I really want to spread the word, because I think this course will be great. It’s $70, but apparently the grocery savings pay it off in the first couple of weeks.

The only problem is I can’t first take it and THEN tell you how awesome it was for me, as I’ll be taking it for the first time right along with you, if you choose to sign up. But I CAN say the reviews from people who did a trial run of the course are what convinced me to register. When people are saying they’re saving over $200 per month because of this course, it makes me think it’s worth a try!

Topics include meal planning, avoiding food waste, making a shopping list, opportunities to save at the store, avoiding marketing traps, making a price book, buying in bulk, organizing your kitchen, creating systems, shopping at Farmer’s markets and online. So much good stuff will be covered!

So what do you think?! Do you want to join me? Registration is open until tomorrow, January 10. You can head over here to sign up:

Grocery Budget Bootcamp Sign-up

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3 Goals for the New Year

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions.

The idea of resolutions is completely fantastic, and something my goal-loving self can easily get carried away with, but I really don’t need another reason to beat myself up over unrealistic expectations. I gave myself a break for many years, and left New Year’s Resolutions behind, but for this year, I’ve come across a few things I can comfortably get behind. Nothing too demanding, and I really don’t even like to call them something as official as “resolutions” – they’re more like little practices I want to add to my life to hopefully bring about growth and greater intention.

1) Five Year Prayer Journal

I don’t journal regularly – more just as the need arises and I have an urge to get things off my chest. I jot notes down when I’m doing my devotions, if there’s something specific I want to remember. But I heard about this idea while listening to a sermon, and I loved it – using a five year journal to keep track of what I’m praying for.

journal

I like it because it’s simple and quick, and a really easy, organized way to look back on how God has been working in my life, sometimes so gradually I don’t even notice. This seems like something which will encourage me to wait on God in a more long-term kind of way, and as I’ve started to fill in the first lines for 2017, I feel a lot of joy and anticipation for how God will answer prayers and surprise me over the next five years. There’s no way to know what will fill those lines, and I’m so thankful He’s brought me to a place where I can eagerly anticipate it, and not be filled with worry or fear about the future. He’s proven His goodness again and again, even during the darkest times, and I know He will do it again.

It’s not too late to start this little habit for the new year, if it grabs your interest! You can order this journal from Amazon by heading over here. (affiliate link)

2) Declutter 2017 Things in 2017

This goal is a little more intimidating, but I’m okay with it because I’ve done it before (in 2015), and am pretty sure I can do it again. Last time, I just made tally marks on a paper, but this time I’ve printed out the chart that keeps popping up on Facebook, and already, I have to say – colouring in those boxes on an official chart is WAY more fun, and very motivating. I let myself get a little head start in December, and I’ve already hit 100 things, so we’re off to a good start!

You can find the chart here.

3) Budget Consistently

We’ve budgeted off and on over the years, but every time we have a baby and go into survival mode, budgeting falls by the wayside. This fall, Ben and I decided to get back on track, and since there should be no more babies, we’re hoping to stay consistent! I’m excited to start this year off fresh. The first few months were for getting a feel for where we’re at and how we’re spending, but now we’ve built up a record of how we spend, and we can work at setting goals.

Three little goals for the new year! Do you have any goals you’re hoping to accomplish? Do share!

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Christmas Favorites

When I was dreaming up the perfect Christmas, I never thought of wishing for a massive snowstorm, but it was amazing. I love snow. Ben doesn’t quite share that same love, because snow means shoveling the driveway, but to me, it means beautiful flakes falling, and feeling cozy inside. It also meant staying home because we couldn’t drive anywhere, and it was very relaxing! I loved it.

Here’s a peak at our little family Christmas:

ChristmasChristmas

One of my favorite moments! Anika has been saving her money for a looooong time to buy an iPod, and we surprised her by gifting her with the small amount remaining. I know it’s been hard for her to wait and use self-control with her money, but we knew it would mean far more to her if she had to work for it herself, and it was super fun to see her enjoy that moment!:)

ChristmasWe make a big chicken/mashed potatoes/gravy/all the extras dinner later on in the day, but we’re still experimenting with what we want our lunch tradition to be. We tried this fun option, and imagined what it would be like to make a table-sized Christmas tree as our kids get older and we need more food!

ChristmasChristmas

ChristmasChristmasAnd now it’s time to move on! I love Christmas and all the traditions and decorations, but I’m quickly ready to pack it all up, and get ready for a fresh start in the new year!