Birthday Favorites: Spiritual Growth

Hey, Friends! It’s that time again – this week is my birthday, and it’s tradition around here to share everything I’m loving right now, and the things that have made this last year enjoyable/delicious/successful/positive in any way.:)

Leave a comment sharing YOUR favorites, and you’ll be entered in a draw for a prize….

Today I want to talk a bit about the spiritual growth opportunities I’ve been exposed to over the past year. Some exciting, uncomfortable, awesome things happened in my 35th year of life! Here’s what impacted me the most:

1) Taking a Prophesy Class at Church of the Rock

I’ve written about this a number of times before (like here and here), but I’ll say it again: This class changed me. I didn’t want to go at all, but I’m so glad I did! Here’s to taking risks. Let’s see what this next year holds!!

2) Leading a Prayer Class at my Church

Another uncomfortable experience that ended up being one of my favorite things this year! I’ve led that class for a year, and by the time it ended in June, I still didn’t feel like I had a clue what I was doing. But God is so awesome, and did so many amazing things in that class, we were just all glad to be a part of it, I think.

3) My “December Challenge”

Another one I wrote about a number of times in the past (here and here). Probably the most life-changing experience of my year. If I hadn’t taken that leap of faith, I would not be sitting here today with our little baby boy in my belly, kicking me repeatedly as I type! Still can’t believe it – God has done what seemed impossible, and I’m blown away by it all!

4) Beth Moore’s Bible Study on “Jesus, the One and Only”

This was such a powerful Bible study! It’s always hard for me to drag myself out of the house on a cold, dark winter night, to get over to our church for a Bible study. But every time I do, I’M SO GLAD I WENT!! Learned a ton from this one. If you ever get the chance to do it, go for it!!

Jesus, the One and Only

5) Speaking About Moses at a Ladies’ Retreat in Spring

You know how they say the one teaching always learns the most? True, yet again! I loved learning about the life of Moses and Egyptian history as I prepared for this retreat. There was an absolute TON on information I devoured but never shared, and I would love to find a way to share it at some point. Not sure how. But much of what God taught me during that time about faith and believing God to do the impossible held me together in the months after that retreat.

Any awesome classes, Bible studies, or books you took in this past year? How has God been challenging you? Give me some new book ideas!!

3 Reasons Why I Say “No” to God (And what I’m choosing to do about it!)

On Wednesday, I wrote a post about saying “yes” to God, but I’ve been thinking since then about the times when I’ve said “no”, and missed out on really awesome opportunities.

I figure that if I’m aware of what tempts me to say “no”, maybe I’ll be more aware of what I’m doing, and catch myself in the midst of it! Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1) I’m Afraid.

This is a big one for me! I’m scared that I heard wrong, and maybe it’s not God speaking to me. I’m scared of what other people will think of me – that they’ll think I’m doing stuff just to act more spiritual, and doubt my sincerity. Or I’m scared they’ll think I’m weird.

I’m scared that things won’t work out, or I won’t have what it takes to do what I’ve been asked to do. I’m scared I’ll make a mistake.

As I see God provide again and again, the fear begins to grow quieter. My faith is growing, a little bit more each time I say “yes”…

2) I’m too comfy.

I liked my life the way it was. This reason is starting to lose it’s grip on me more and more, as I experience the awesomeness of saying “yes” to God – I’m starting to crave His work in my life so much, I’m becoming more willing to be uncomfortable. But there is definitely still a part of me that likes things safe, predictable, controlled, and comfortable.

3) I doubt.

Beth Moore says, “If you don’t trust God, you are saying He’s untrustworthy.”

Well, now. I wouldn’t go that far – I just doubt God. But what am I actually saying by doubting Him? If I doubt Him, I’m not trusting Him. I’ve always seen that as my problem – there’s nothing wrong with God, there’s just a trust issue with me.

But if I truly believe He is trustworthy, which I would say I do believe, then there should be nothing holding me back. All in. Right now. Can I trust Him?

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All of these things are lies from Satan. Crazy how he gets so much done with a bunch of lies, and no new tricks, hey? He’s not all that creative. I’m still struggling with the very same lies that Christians have fought against since Jesus first came to Earth to set us free.

Where is my freedom to be found?!

Well, I’m finding it in God’s Word, and I have something fantastic to share with you today! It’s a list of verses from Beth Moore’s blog, and I’ve been using it for about a year now. It’s a collection of verses to use when fighting back doubt and fear. Beth Moore says that whenever she’s going through a tough time in her life, she writes down every verse she can find that pertains to the topic at hand, and memorizes them until every negative thought can be fought down with Scripture she’s downloaded into her heart.

Ann Voskamp says,

IMG_9092_2

Well, let’s get healed! No more lies, and no more fear! Here’s the link to Beth Moore’s awesome resource:

Fear and Courage Verses

What makes you want to say “no” to God?

Winter Favorites

I’ve decided this is my last week of winter.

We leave for Florida on Friday, and by the time we get back, it will be the middle of March, which means things will be getting all drippy and melty, and the sun will be getting warmer, and the air will smell like spring is coming. It is soooo easy to be happy at the end of March.

So, because this is my last week of winter, I wanted to share my winter favorites – all the stuff I’ve been enjoying which have helped pass the cold, dark months of the year. Maybe you can quickly try them, and get a little enjoyment out of them, too, because you probably have about two weeks left of winter.

Plenty of time to discover some new favorites.

Here we go:

1) Healthy Hot Chocolate.

Yes, it is possible. Who knew. No longer must I feel guilty about bribing the girls to stay outside for half an hour longer with the promise of hot chocolate. You can find that recipe here. It tastes just as good as the regular stuff, I promise. (The only sweetener we use is honey, and it’s plenty sweet enough.)

hot chocolate

2) Humongous Scarves.

The girls bought me this pink scarf for Christmas, and the first time I put it on, it almost swallowed my head, so I had serious doubts about how often I’d wear it.

scarf

photo credit: Morgan Braun

But oh, my word. It is the warmest thing ever. I love it so much, it almost makes me like the freezing cold, because I get to wear my scarf. I have used it all the time.

3) Soup.

Oh, how I love soup. I eat massive amounts of soup in winter. I’ve written before about my great love for green smoothies in the morning, but this winter, all I want is soup. So, I’ve decided to give the smoothies a break until warmer weather comes, and just keep going strong with good, hot soup.

I made this recipe for Potato Pea Soup yesterday, and it was quite fantastic. Oh, just writing about it makes me hungry for it right now…

It’s not much to look at, but trust me, the taste makes up for it’s lack of beauty!

soup

4) My Bible Study Group.

A group of ladies from my church have been doing the Beth Moore Bible study on the book of James, and it has been amazing. I never feel like going out on a cold winter night, but once I get there, the warmth of those ladies is more than enough to make up for the effort of going out in the cold.

If you ever get a chance to do this study, you should jump at it. Beth Moore is always a good idea.

James

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And that has been my winter. It’s been quite enjoyable. I would even say it’s gone by fairly quickly. It helps to keep going away on vacation. Good grief. One of these days we’ll need to stay home. But we decided not to turn down any free vacations, so we’re off again!

What are your winter survival secrets? Help us get through the last few weeks of cold weather!

God is Longing For My Freedom

Freedom has been on my mind recently.

I posted recently about some of my past experiences with spiritual warfare, but I’m feeling the need to share what I am presently experiencing. Because it’s been bothering me so much, I’m thinking I must not be the only one, and it’s an important message to share.

But I like sharing in past tense better. I guess my pride likes to make it sound as though I don’t struggle with stuff anymore. Ha! We’ll remedy that by being painfully honest here…

The truth is, I’ve been challenged over and over and over again this past winter to gain control over my thought life. You may have noticed the theme of “worry” coming up often on my blog, the reason being I struggle with fear and anxiety and worry running away with my thoughts so often, you’d think I’d be exhausted and sick of it.

Actually, I am. I was reading books about it, praying, and struggling through it, trying to fight the good fight against all those thoughts, without feeling like I was making much progress.

One night my emotional upheaval reached such a climax, it suddenly struck me that I was feeling completely frazzled, worried and stressed….without a single reason for it. I tried to think of why I was feeling so incredibly worried, and my mind kept trying to come up with a reason for being worried.

That scared me. Searching for a reason to be worried? That’s just out of hand.

When I described to Ben how I was feeling, he immediately said, “We should pray about it.”

Oh. Good idea. Funny how I didn’t think about doing that….

So he prayed, and immediately, it was as if a weight was lifted off me. I felt completely different.

I wish I could say it lasted forever. But that’s not how it went.

Sometimes, the worries and fears build up until they almost overwhelm me, and I pray like crazy to fight them back down.

And then things go back to normal, and I slack off, thinking it’s all fine, and then it all comes back. Part of me wants to get discouraged about it, but part of me knows (from experience) that I need to keep at it, it takes time, but it will get better.

I want to get stronger mentally. I want to be able to take every thought captive. But that doesn’t happen overnight. So I keep plugging away.

I went for a walk last week, and as usual, spent all my time looking up to the tips of those evergreens. It doesn’t matter how heavy my spirit feels, when I look way, way up to those tree tops, I feel like my soul flies high and free.

As I walked along, with my soul flying, some words came back to me from a new Beth Moore book I started – Breaking Free.

God always cares more for our freedom than even we do. He initiated the saving relationship between the people and the Liberator. “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7) God is intimately acquainted with the sorrows and suffering that result from slavery. He also has a remedy. He is the meeter of our needs….Christ sets us free by the power of His Spirit; then He maintains our freedom as we learn to live from day-to-day in the power of His free Spirit.”

I walked and thought over and over, “God cares more for my freedom that I do. God cares more…” Praise the Lord, He pursues me. That boggles my mind.

I so desperately want to be free, and to be strong in the joy of Jesus, and I fight, and strive, and beg God for it. But sometimes I forget that He wants it more for me that I do.

I read somewhere that this struggle is what’s meant by “working out your salvation”. We need to learn to live from day-to-day. Our human nature tells us it’s better to worry, fear, and be anxious. That sounds plain ridiculous, and yet it’s the age-old lie of Satan’s that we fall for every time we sin. As if anything could possibly be better than God’s glorious, right way!

Ann Voskamp writes,

Sometimes, too often, I don’t want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier. Easier to let mind run wild with the worry than to exercise discipline. (p. 147, One Thousand Gifts)

Really, you could put any sin in there. It’s always easier to give in to the areas of weakness. Often, we even see the weakness as freedom. Who wants to burden of changing something we’ve grown comfortable with?

But then the Holy Spirit starts to open our eyes to where the true bondage is, and Ben always tells me this is the first step. I need to feel truly miserable and desperate before I will want to change.

I guess this, then, is the part where I’m working my way past miserable and desperate. I’m slowly rising.

Because God longs for my freedom more than I do.

Because if worry is a sin, and Jesus says “Fear not!” more times than there are days in a year, then surely, these habits, this sin, this bondage, can be overcome.

My Struggles With Prayer

What a week. Thank you all for your kind words, love, and support. It’s a bit hard to know how to go back to normal blogging after a life-changing announcement.

But…that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Obviously, there’s more to say about the whole leaving camp thing, but I feel like I need a bit of a break! We’ll talk some more later. 🙂

In the meantime, here’s a little something I cooked up about my thoughts on prayer…

Prayer is something I have struggled with a lot.

I mean, on the one hand, it’s not hard to just talk with God. I don’t believe it needs to be anything complicated, and I completely believe that God is always listening, and cares about everything I say. I believe He has ways to speak back, even if I can’t hear an audible voice.

The stuff I struggle with is how to accept His answers, or how to wait on Him and trust Him in everything. I struggle with boldly asking for miracles, while still wanting to pray within His will.

Sometimes He just says no. Will my faith be big enough to handle His no? Do I trust Him enough to let go, and surrender, and rejoice even when He says no?

And how much does prayer change things? I’ve always had a problem with that woman in the Bible who asked and asked and asked, until in frustration, the judge finally relented.

I don’t like the idea of nagging God. And yet Jesus is the one who told that story!

And what happens when I go out on a very uncomfortable limb, and try praying with the “ask and ask and ask” technique, and…nothing happens? Is that a “wait”? Is that a “no”?  Did I not nag hard enough?

Or is that the part where I surrender and trust Him with my life, even when things don’t make any sense?

So maybe my biggest struggle is: When do you persist, and when do you surrender?

For years, I just stopped asking for anything. I stopped praying boldly and stopped waiting for miracles, because I couldn’t handle getting a “no”.

And then Beth Moore got me in the soft spot, while I was taking her “Believing God” Bible study online. I sat there one night with tears streaming down my cheeks as I realized what had happened to me and my faith and my prayer life. It had become as safe and boring as it possibly could, and there was no room for God to do anything, anywhere.

I had Him in a nice, safe little box.

But after that night, I started to let go of the control. I started (fearfully) asking Him for big things. I gave Him room to be unpredictable.

And most importantly, I realized that I trusted Him enough to get a no. My faith will not fall apart if I don’t get my own way. His ways are much better, anyway.

But sometimes, I still start to wonder how much my prayers help, and how much they change. Oswald Chambers has written that the purpose of prayer is to change us, more than it is to change God. I am on board with that. I need a lot of changing. God, on the other hand…not so much.

I just finished up Andy Stanley’s book, Enemies of the Heart, which was fantastic, and I loved what he had to say about prayer:

The fact is, God loves you too much to give you everything you ask for. He loves the people around you too much to give you everything you ask for. But – and don’t miss this – he still wants you to ask. He still wants you to bring it all to him.

Why? If there’s no guarantee, what’s the point?

God wants you to know him as the source of all good things. And when he says no, he wants you to trust him….He’s the source of all good things, not all wished-for things. But he still wants us to ask, to lean, to depend, to cry out. (p. 169)

I love that. I want to see Him as the source. Since reading that, I’ve thought of praying more often throughout each day. Some problem, some dilemma I don’t know how to handle? Well, He’s the source. I bring it to Him because He wants me to.

Yucky emotions or thoughts that don’t even make sense to me? I know it’s time to go to the Source of all good things, because that’s what He wants me to do.

It’s as though seeing Him as the source of everything is taking away my need to understand prayer. I go to Him because He wants me to. I still don’t understand when to persist, and when to surrender, but He’s the source. He wants me to ask. I ask out of obedience. And whenever we obey God more fully, good things happen.

So, any thoughts on prayer out there? I’d love to hear them…

Insecure Much? (Part 2): I Want to Be the Best

Well, that just sounds really bad when you put it right out there in the open, hey?

But it’s the painful truth, and I’ve become more and more aware of it since reading Beth Moore’s book, So Long, Insecurity.

People often think insecurity comes from a negative self-image, and being really down on yourself all the time. But Beth Moore suggests that often, the root of insecurity is not low self-esteem, but rather…pride.

Once again, I was surprised by what I learned, and even more surprised by what I uncovered in my own life. I had never recognized the pride in me that was feeding my feelings of insecurity. I had bought into that whole “I need to love myself, and accept myself. I need to feel special, and that’s how I will overcome insecurity.”

Being the poor “victim” in need of love sounds much less sinful than being prideful, doesn’t it?

Here’s how this whole thing works:

We see someone who is very gifted and talented, or fantastic with people, or model-beautiful, and we start feeling insignificant or awkward or ugly or whatever other undesirable feelings that might arise. We realize we are not the best in the whole comparison game. And that can hurt a person’s pride.

I hate to admit it, but how often do I long to be the best? How often do I secretly wish to be the smartest, the best-dressed, the best parent, of the best kids, the most talented, the funniest, the most spiritual…

The list could go on so long, it’s embarrassing.

That kind of thinking turns life into a competition. It means that every time I am in the presence of other women, I am “ranking” myself.

Beth Moore writes,

Most of us aren’t in a public place for five minutes before we peruse the female players in the room and judge where we rank.(p. 279, So Long, Insecurity)

Apparently I’m not the only one who has thought that way, which is the only reason why I’m brave enough to admit it. I’m totally guilty of being in a room, checking out the other women and comparing myself to them, trying to figure out who’s the “best” and in what categories. If I don’t come out on top, who am I beneath? What is my “place” in the room?

Oh, that looks so ugly typed out on the screen. But can you relate?

I was curious about this. I’ve always felt yucky, alone, critical, and awful for thinking stuff like that, and to finally acknowledge it was happening in my life was very hard, but also a kind of relief.

I started wondering how common these thoughts were among females. So I spent some time with a fantastic group of girls, talking about this sense of competition.

And the result was absolutely amazing. Girls started opening up about their insecurities, the areas in which they felt most weak and undesirable. They shared the strengths they took pride in, and we could all relate and laugh together, instead of compete against each other. It was the best experience I’ve ever had in an all-female setting.

The goal in our female relationships should be to encourage one another’s security. (p. 279, So Long, Insecurity)

What holds us back from doing more of that? For me, it’s the simple, ugly fact that I don’t want to encourage the competition.

So now what?

I was at such a loss that I went to my mentor. I confessed all of those ugly, prideful thoughts to her, and asked her how in the world I could be free.

And she told me to start praying. She said that whenever jealousy reared it’s ugly head, I should start praying for the woman I felt jealous of. She said I should pray that God would richly bless that woman as she went about using her God-given abilities.

That is not an easy, natural response, but I have found that it does wonders. It takes my focus off me, my pride, and my silly sense of competition, and it gets the focus back on God and how much He loves each of these beautiful, wonderful women that I come in contact with.

What about you – can you relate too? Have you ever felt like you wanted to be the best?

Insecure Much (Part 1): What’s Your “One Thing”?

So yesterday I let you all know about my newest little blog series about insecurity. I’ve been learning a ton from Beth Moore’s book, So Long, Insecurity, and I want to share with you some of the things that I’ve been working through as a result.

To start things off, I’ll give you a little tip on how to figure out what your biggest area of insecurity might be.

Beth Moore writes that if you want to figure out what your “soft spot” is, the area where you are most vulnerable, just try to figure out what is the one thing that you would change about yourself, if you could.

She calls this “a prominent false positive: one thing that we think would make us more secure in all things.

She writes,

Think of the person you believe to be secure and determine what earthly thing he or she has that you don’t feel like you possess, at least in matching measure….Needless to say, we would all like any number of things to give us the security we’re after, but we each have a tendency to prioritize one above the rest….Often we’re not even aware of it, but we demonstrate it by the inordinate power we assign to it. (p.37)

I read that, and thought, “I really don’t think that’s true in my life. I don’t think I have just one thing that sums up my insecurity.” But I wanted to be a good sport, so I spent some time thinking and praying about it.

What finally came to me was kind of surprising.

For me, it’s health. I often start to think that if I could overcome the health issues that I’m still trying to deal with once and for all, I would be perfectly happy.

I watch the other moms here at camp with their kids, and they seem to have boundless energy. They seem to do endless amounts of crafts with their kids, have never-ending amounts of patience, and run all over camp with their children. I used to watch out the window as my friend Terra-Lee went sailing past our house on her bike with all her children in tow.

And then I would look at my house that was a mess, because I was exhausted and had no energy to deal with it. My kitchen was pure chaos, because my health requires me to stay on a very restricted diet that’s a ton of work. And my hips give me so much trouble that I can’t even go for walks, never mind a bike ride.

I would feel very sorry for myself, and I would think, “If only I was completely healthy, then I would be the one biking, and having the time and energy for crafts and cleaning, and parenting with all the energy and patience that everybody else has. I would be able to have as many babies as I would choose to have instead of being restricted by my body, and my whole life would be wonderful….if only I was completely healthy.”

So positive, right? I didn’t feel that way all the time, just on the bad days.

But Beth Moore is right – I do have a soft spot, and my “one thing” is health. I was longing for the health that others seem to have, I was pouring a lot of time and money into trying to achieve it, and if you would ever want to crush me, all it would take is telling me that I looked like I was “wasting away” (yes, that was a direct quote), and looking tired, run-down, and unhealthy. Then I would go away and cry, and feel discouraged about absolutely everything in my life. I felt insecure about how I was doing as a mom and as a wife, and I felt insecure about how I looked and what other people thought of me.

I thought that everything would just be better if I was healthy and vibrant and full of energy.

But you know what? As long as I was thinking about all of that junk, as long as I was wishing for the life that someone else seemed to have, as long as I was feeling sorry for myself, I was never be able to see myself the way God sees me. If I’m thinking about what I don’t have or comparing myself to other people, I can’t focus on God. My thoughts are focused on myself and on the little pity party that can kick into high gear at a moment’s notice.

That’s my soft spot.

I found out what it was, but I also found out what to do with it. I need to surrender it over to God, and allow Him to heal it. I need to stop the pity party, and start filling my mind with thoughts that are glorifying to Him.

Sometimes identifying the soft spot already makes the hugest difference. I realized that I was unconsciously thinking a lot of harmful thoughts in a day. When I figured out what my “one thing” was, I was able to stop those thoughts, and replace them.

And it’s always possible to replace those thoughts: I am so much healthier than I used to be. And maybe I’m not biking all over the place with my girls, but we sure have fun snuggled up on the couch, reading books. Maybe my diet is a lot of work and really restricted, but at least I’ve found a way to function well and feel good.

My negative thoughts were feeding the insecurity I had about my health. I was constantly comparing myself to others, and only seeing all the ways in which I was not strong enough, not good enough, just….never enough.

But Ben often says, “It is what it is.” This is the life and the body that God has blessed me with. It’s not perfect, and that is okay. In His eyes, I will always be enough. Instead of continually focusing on that one thing, I need to keep looking to Him. He heals the hurt and the insecurities, and the years of not measuring up.

So what’s your spot? It might take some thinking to figure out, but I think it would be worth the effort. What is the one thing that you think would make everything better in your life, and then take it to God and ask Him to heal you and free you.

Anyone brave enough to share? I’m kinda curious about your “one thing”...

(If it’s way too scary to share something like that publicly, you can always send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.)