Blooming in January

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I was delighted to wake up this morning and see my pomegranate plant embellished with a gorgeous flower.  What a cheery morning greeting; I couldn’t help but feel happy, despite the cold morning of January 31st.

It’s anyone’s guess why it is blooming in January.  Pomegranates usually only bloom in spring and summer; but since my green thumb is partially black, I probably did some forbidden gardening rule which confused my poor little plant.

This little bloom started me thinking about myself and the way I handle life.  When wintertime comes to me through questions, trials, unfulfilled dreams, health concerns, and whatever else the blizzard blows my way, I often shrivel up and shrink into the deep dark shadow of myself.  I start to look and feel like most of my plants who go dormant for winter.  There is no color, there are no blooms, there are no leaves, there is absolutely NOTHING.  People around me even wonder if I am alive anymore.  Oh yes, I can bloom well and be fully alive when the spring of life flows over me with its scent of cherry blossoms, hues of lavender, and touch of sunbeams; but so can all the other plants.  That is when they all burst out of their shell and blossom.

But to do what my little pomegranate plant is doing feels impossible.  If I was sitting in its flowerpot, I would say that the window’s draft is too cold, much to cold to think about blooming.  I would complain that there isn’t enough sunlight during the winter months to gain enough strength for blooming.  I would make the excuse that there will be plenty of time to bloom when my roots are planted deeply into the earth’s soil at transplant time.

And so I would sit there on the shelf, oblivious to the joy and beauty that comes from blooming during winter.  A blessing comes to us, when no matter how cold our Januaries are, we BLOOM!  It’s easy to let the blizzards of life push us into a dead hibernation which separates us from God and everyone else.  I have been there plenty of times.  I feel as if I have nothing left to give, no energy to keep up relationships, and no heart to talk to God.

That is exactly what the blizzard wants us to do; it wants us to be missing out on the joy of blooming- because there is joy in blooming.  Yes, it is tiring and hard; but it is worth it.  Blooming takes effort and time, but it brings color and beauty into one’s own life and the lives of others.

God wants us to come to Him when the trials blow our way.  He wants us to show the world that the light in our hearts and the joy in our spirits isn’t based on what happens to us, but on Who lives within us.  He wants us to find the joy that comes from serving and reaching into the lives of those around us.  When we reach out, we start to forget about ourselves.  Our lives may be facing dark, grey winters, but our hearts are alive with SPRING.

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Why I Dress Like A Woman

I think we are facing a huge war which is aimed at females and everything they represent and embody.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it is exactly what Satan wants because women are the core of emotion, sensitivity, and compassion.  Perhaps you are familiar with the old saying, “Behind every great man is a woman”?  God even decided that a woman was needed to complete His perfect Creation.

For years, women were mistreated.  They were viewed as mere slaves and unintelligent lower life.  God did not agree with that, because He views man and woman as equal in His sight.  However, He assigned different traits and responsibilities to man and woman, not because He liked one more than the other, but because He knew how they would best complement each other and the world.  Man is supposed to be the leader- strong, courageous, and able to make decisions; woman is supposed to be the nurturer- loving, caring, and feminine.

But we, women, overreacted to the bad way we had been treated by men.  We decided that we wanted to be men.  We decided we wanted freedom to break the bounds of gender.  And with that freedom, we left our children and husbands and joined professions that men had only held.  We traded skirts for jeans and heels for boots.

And as we enjoyed a new way of life, the man took the place of the woman.  Divorce numbers soared, abortion rates climbed, and homosexuality advanced.  Children were lost, man had become woman, and woman had become man.  This was not God’s original plan, and woman was not truly happy- whether she would admit it or not.  Whenever one steps out of God’s design, he or she will not have that inner peace, satisfaction, and joy that comes from following God’s will.

Today, woman no longer represents that trust which children understood, that tenderness that the world had seen, and that beauty which husbands knew.  Oh yes, the modern version of woman which has emerged is beautiful.  When females stepped forward for freedom they also unknowingly created a spin-off version of woman which was to satisfy man’s desires while they went for their freedom.  They created a woman who would be the toy for the slobs that man had become through all of this unnatural change.  One can see that this created woman is beautiful; she has to be so that she can catch men’s eyes.  But she is not beauty.  Beautiful is an adjective, but Beauty is a noun- which is what a true woman should be.  Beauty is deeper than the hair style, the layer of makeup, the hour-glass figure, or the facial features…beauty is what the woman’s heart, soul, and mind was meant to be.

I’m sure you know what I am talking about, you have seen it happen yourself.  But what we, as Christians, don’t realize is that the exact same pattern is starting within our own churches.  Start watching young ladies’ hobbies and interests.  Check out the clothing they are wearing.  I know I’m going to have a lot of disagreement on this, but please hear me out.  Girls nowadays don’t know how to cook a meal, but they do know how to spike a volleyball.  They don’t know how to clean a house, but they do know how to drag race.  Girls used to heal, bandage, and nurture a wounded animal and leave the killing to the men, but now they are avid hunters who don’t blink twice at ending an animal’s life.  Once again- please hear me out!  I know sports, hunting, etc.. are a great way for dads and daughters to connect, and I also know that many girls thoroughly enjoy less feminine activities.  I enjoy a game of soccer, the sound of a diesel truck, snowmobiling, and wearing cowboy boots; but I’m trying not to let the tomboyish things of life completely eliminate the feminine side of life.  I still enjoy tea parties, wearing ruffles, playing sonatas, and caring for a sick puppy.  I’m afraid that young ladies almost despise things that are associated with being girly because they want to be tough, brave, and able to compete with the males (or else gain their attention).  They have banned “domestic” things as old-fashioned and feminine character traits as wimpy.  And yes, there are some things that will and should change over time; but perhaps we should be careful in choosing what to get rid of or accept.

The clothing has also been evolving over the past few years.  My mom had kept quite a few of my brother’s and my baby clothes.  I always enjoyed looking at mine because it was ruffly, lacy, and had lots of bows and ribbons.  How boring to have opened the baby chest of my clothing and see apparel that looked like my brother’s.  Very seldom do you see little girls dressed like little girls anymore though, and I think that is quite sad.  Oh yes, my parents had their hands full as I was growing up.  I thought dresses were the most revolting things.  They were always in one’s way, and up until about six years of age I still struggled with keeping my dress in it’s proper place when I plopped down on a chair to proudly survey my  grass-stained knees, rolled through the leaves with the dogs, or attempted to climb a tree.  But I’m glad my parents were willing to teach me the importance of acting like a lady.  The easy thing would have been to dress me in pants, but then I would have never adjusted to handling my body as a woman of beauty should.  Once I reached the grown-up age where I could choose my own wardrobe, I decided to keep dressing as a woman.  Yes, I know that one of the reasons Anabaptist women wear skirts or dresses is because of modesty.  And for the most part- that is true.  However, I have seen trousers and culottes that are much more modest than some of the dresses our Christian women wear; but that doesn’t do away from the fact that dresses/skirts made or bought properly are usually much more modest than pants.

But, the main reason I choose to dress like a woman is exactly because of that- I want to be a woman.  God specifically talks about woman not wearing men’s apparel and men not wearing women’s.  “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”- Deut. 22:5

Some people refer to this as applying to cross-dressing, meaning that a man wears articles of clothing specifically designed for a woman, and vice versa.  I have heard arguments that state it wouldn’t apply to women’s pants because they were styled for a woman’s body and are sold for the female gender.  Perhaps, but still, what has been the clothing associated with men for hundreds of years?  What about the old saying, “Who wears the pants in the family” (referring to the leader of the home- which should be the male)?  How does one tell the difference between men’s and women’s restroom signs?  One might also say that it does not apply to our time since it was written in the Old Testament, but an abomination to God means that it is something He hates.  The character of God did not change between the Old and New Testament.

I am not ashamed of being a woman; so I will portray my femininity in the way I dress.  But it doesn’t stop with the way I dress, it also applies to my complete attitude, reputation, and outlook.  I want God to create in me the woman that He intended.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t get my hands dirty or I have to swoon if I ever fall in love, but it does mean that I can be content with the gender I am and embrace that through the way I live, dress, and act.

May you have a beautiful day living as the man or woman God created you to be!

A Four-Letter Word

Three years ago, I decided to start claiming a word for each new year, a word which I wanted God to instill within me.  The first word I had claimed when I started doing this was JOY.  Last year, I picked TRUST.  This year, I picked HOPE.

I wasn’t sure what to pick this year; but when the word “hope” came up in a game we were playing, I knew it was meant to be.

Each year, I am thoroughly tested in my word.  In 2014, I had to keep trusting that God had it all under control when my father had a stroke, the business was spinning out of control, and there were a lot of unanswered dreams, prayers, and questions.

It looks like it will be no different this year.  I have already lost my dog, my brother is scheduled to see a surgeon about an enlarged lymph node which may be cancerous, and everything is pretty much going crazy— and we’re only twenty-seven days into the New Year!  So the only thing to do is sit back and let God have control.  Perhaps He wants to see if I love Him more than the most precious things around me.  Perhaps He wants to see how I respond during it all.  But perhaps He wants me to see that often my hope has come because of my ambitions, my family, or my cozy life.  So with the power of God, I will hold Christ as my HOPE.  He is the reason I live.  He is what can keep me looking forward to the future because I know He has it all under control and has the best plan, whether or not it aligns with what I think is best.  I serve a mighty, yet loving God; and that is what gives me HOPE!

 

“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Hugging Those With Empty Arms

There are quite a few books, articles, and blogs which deal with what singles face and how ones around them can help, understand, and care for them; but there is a group of people often overlooked who are also needing to be understood and cared for.  I am finding this more and more as I talk with and hear from family and friends who would fall into this category.  I feel I have the freedom to write about this group- the childless women- because I am not married and facing their exact situation.  Sadly, lot of childless woman are judged wrongly if they try to share their feelings.  So as a bystander, I would like to speak on the behalf of these women.

God designed a woman with the natural instinct to want to cuddle a baby in her arms, to watch his eyelids flutter as he sleeps, to feel his tiny finger wrap around her own, to hear the first, “Mum, I wuv you”, to see the first step taken, to love and nurture the little life she calls her child, and to forget all the frustrating times when she hears that adorable giggle.  It is only right, and there is nothing wrong with that maternal desire.

The emotions a woman goes through when she realizes that she will never have that privilege are deep, because the desire for children is deep.  God placed that desire in the very fibers of a woman’s heart and soul, and so every fiber feels torn when her heart can not beat in rhythm with a little life.

I think the first thing we who have never worn her shoes need to realize is the pain she is going through.  Every Mother’s Day, every time she holds her sister’s newborn infant, every empty nursery, and every fuzzy blue or pink blanket brings back the stabbing realization that she is missing something.

Sadly, many childless woman have hurtful comments and questions thrown their way, which only adds to the pain.  Those who are not in her situation seem to have all the answers.  We tell her to get control of her emotions, we tell her to stop being selfish and adopt a child, we tell her that maybe she should try an all-natural pill that has healed every problem from cancer to infertility, we ask what her problem is…

If we aren’t part of the commenters, then we are the distancers.  The distancers stay far away because they surely don’t want to associate with someone who can’t have children.  Or perhaps we are a distancer who hides our child every time the childless woman comes near because we are not sure what to say and don’t want to offend or hurt her with reminders that we have children and she doesn’t.

Either way, we are pushing this woman into a lonely little world apart from anyone else.

What are some ways to hug those with empty arms?

1.  We need to try to “walk in her shoes”.  Try to comprehend the emotional pain and turmoil she is facing.

2.  We do not have the answers.  Stop telling her what she should or should not be doing.  That is one of the quickest ways to make her feel like a failure and as if it is her fault for her infertility.

3.  Don’t judge the decisions she makes; everyone’s path is different.  Maybe it would be good for her and her husband to adopt or foster a child.  There are lots of hurting kids out there who are hungry, abused, and crying themselves to sleep every night because they have no one to love them.  Many childless woman have taken lost children as their own and have been completely blessed and satisfied because children’s voices fill the empty house and sticky kisses adorn their faces.  BUT that is not our decision to make.  We can stop slipping Bethany Christian Services pamphlets in her church mailbox.  If that is what God calls her to, He will bring her to that point in His and her own perfect time.  Don’t lecture her about the money she and her husband may be spending on surgeries, operations, and doctors’ appointments.  Once again, that is their decision.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes couples take that money and invest it into adoption….but any of those choices are theirs.  If they are not committing a sin, how do we have the right to judge?

4.  Pull her in instead of pushing her away.  Take her out for coffee sometime and just have a friend-to-friend chat.  Tell her that you love her and you don’t think she is of less value or importance because she does not have children.  Let her know that you will always be there to simply listen to her heart.  Show her that you truly care about what she is facing.

5.  Her situation and personal information does not need to be the subject of gossip.

6.  Someone had shared this point that I had never thought about before— Do not think that she has nothing to do because she does not have children.  She still has a house and husband to take care of; and a lot of childless woman work jobs or do babysitting, mission outreach, and elderly care for others.  Do not expect her to help you with all of your children just because she doesn’t have any.  Believe it or not, even though she doesn’t have children, her schedule is full from morning till evening.

7.  That doesn’t mean though that she might not enjoy spending some time with your children.  It may be just what she needs; so feel free to invite her over for a day once in awhile to change diapers, help with homework, sing lullabies, and scrub grass stains.  Don’t keep your children away because you fear you will offend her.

8.  Watch your attitude.  She is not of less value than you because she does not have children.  She may not be a mother to her own child, but she has been a mother to Sunday School children, neighbor kids, nieces and nephews, and many dreams and wishes.

9.  God’s heart goes out to the childless woman, and He strongly dislikes when people devalue or judge her.  We have many examples in the Bible.  Do some research on the barren woman in the Bible, and watch how tender God is toward them.  I think He asks the same of us.

10.  Remember that God calls each person to a different journey.  No family is exactly alike; and emotional, physical, and financial capabilities form a big part on how many children God chooses to fill a home.  Some are full with ten children; some with three; some with none of their own but dozens of neighbor kids who know they have a safe place to come to when they need help.   -I’ll share a little of my parents’ story.  Both my mother and brother almost died when he was born.  My parents were advised by quite a few doctors to be content with the two children God had given them because another pregnancy would take my mother’s life and then leave three children motherless.  Family and friends often made remarks that made my mother feel like she had failed motherhood in some way and was not a true woman because she was not like the Duggars.  But God had our family planned this way, because during the traveling years it would have been impossible to live the way we did with more children in the family.  It is not our decision to plan other peoples lives.  We need to love them and realize that a woman’s value is not based on if she has children or how many she has; but on the joy in her eyes, the service in her hands, the kindness in her mouth, the witness in her steps, and the love in her heart.

Go ahead and give a big hug today to someone with empty arms!

Still Learning in the Midst of Busyness

If you’re like me, you love learning, studying, reading, writing, and soaking up information and knowledge.  As much as I would like to spend my life in a classroom, at a typewriter, on the couch with a captivating classic, or at the easel with my oils; I know that I have bills to pay, responsibilities to uphold, and a job to keep.  So how does one find time for brain exercise in today’s crazy busyness?  How does a mother with five children get time for anything besides caring for her family?  How does a man with a 5-7 job find time for anything besides work?

Let me clarify, no, knowledge is not the most important thing in life.  In fact, we have example after example of those who have used knowledge in the wrong way or who made a god of education itself.  But there is something good about learning and using knowledge in the right way.  Not only is it healthy for our minds, but it can teach us valuable lessons and give us helpful information.  And we, as Christians, can even use knowledge to benefit those around us!

Proverbs 16:16  King James Version (KJV)–  “How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!”

Proverbs 18:15  King James Version (KJV)–  “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.”

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”  –Benjamin Franklin

“Mental decline as you age appears to be largely due to altered connections among brain cells. But research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. You could even generate new brain cells.Low levels of education have been found to be related to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. This may be due to a lower level of life-long mental stimulation. Put another way, higher levels of education appear to be somewhat protective against Alzheimer’s, possibly because brain cells and their connections are stronger. Well-educated individuals can still get Alzheimer’s, but symptoms may appear later because of this protective effect.” -Alzheimer’s Association

And yes, I know, when you have been up five different times during the night with a sick child or you are aching and exhausted from working outside all day- the last thing you want to do is stretch your brain.  There are some days when it is impossible to do anything but focus on one’s responsibilities, but I decided to share a few ideas for those moments when it is possible to squeeze in a little bit of brain exercise.

 

 

Brain Exercise Ideas for a Busy Life

-Memorize poetry while you do the dishes, mow the lawn, walk the dog… (I love this idea that I borrowed from a friend; it is a great way to put some wonderful words to memory while passing the time quickly). 

-Challenge yourself to read one chapter a day (carry a book with you and make good use of waiting times like doctor’s appointments, lines in the grocery store, school pick-ups…).

-Listen to audio books while driving to work, cleaning the house, or doing a workout.

-Have a special spot where you can keep supplies out (because it will never get done if you have to get everything out and put it back away all the time) for spare moments when you want to splash around some color, scrapbook a page, or do a little woodcarving.  Believe it or not, even things like hobbies and the arts make the brain work.

-Memorize a few verses during your devotional time (not only are you keeping your mind in great shape, but you are also committing God’s Word to memory).

-Take one night a week or once a month to do an online class on something that you interests you (either through a local college or youtube movies).

-Write one or two-hundred words a night before you go to sleep.

-Learn sign language, take CPR and first-aid classes, try out knitting, sit in on a lecture on music composition, go to a local community night when they host a special speaker….(these are all things you can do with older children, and if you home-school it counts toward their school credits!).  Here are some great avenues for Christians to learn knowledge in order to help others.

-Make your brain happy and warm-up those vocal chords with singing while you are changing diapers or changing oil.

-Ponder on Sunday’s sermon, questions, or a new fact you just learned while you are folding laundry or sitting at the desk.  Isn’t it crazy how many thoughts we have during a day and how most of them are meaningless?!

-Keep a crossword or Sudoku puzzle in the bathroom, car, backpack….

-Put together a huge jig-saw puzzle on a Sunday afternoon.

-Learn a new language with your children or while you’re driving (there are great options for learning online or through audio cd’s).  There is a huge need in churches, hospitals, schools, and even businesses for bilingual Christians.

-Be creative and use your time wisely.  Brain exercise is not only healthy, but can be lots of fun!

 

I’d love to hear your ideas on the ways you exercise your brain in the midst of your busy schedule!

Remodeling and Renovating 2015

We are human; we are people of habit- usually bad habit.  We choose the easiest and most comfortable path without even thinking about it.  Our self-control and self-restraint is almost non-existent in today’s culture.  So we make ourselves feel good by making resolutions.

I do not like resolutions.  Usually resolutions are said in passing by those who wish for change but never take the action needed.

That’s why I prefer lifestyle remodeling and heart renovating.

With God’s help, that is what I will be working on in 2015.  I’m remodeling my lifestyle and renovating my heart because I want it to actually HAPPEN!  Supposedly it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a habit; average length of time for a habit to become a habit is about 66 days.  So if I start something now and can last till the first week of March, it will most likely become natural to me (pretty exciting, isn’t it!).

I’ll be vulnerable and share some of my goals for 2015-

  • -healthier eating
  • -continuing a daily exercise regime
  • -keeping up with birthday, encouragement, thank-you, and sympathy cards and gifts
  • -taking those daily vitamins, shots of apple cider vinegar, and probiotics
  • -formulating and sticking at a better devotional schedule
  • -making more godly music choices
  • -investing in the friendships around me
  • -bringing joy to my family
  • -focusing on the rainbows instead of the rain
  • -flossing and wearing my retainers every night=p
  • finding ways to do something for someone else each and every day.

Some of these you might laugh at, but I think it’s good to break bad habits and form good ones, no matter how big or small they may be.  Whether it’s flossing or deciding which radio station to listen to, each decision plays part in building up that self-control which is essential to godly character!

How to last in a routine till March?  I’ll share some of the ways that have worked for me.

  1. First and foremost, ask for God’s strength.  Nothing is to small for Him, and He loves us asking for His help!
  2. Find an accountability partner who will check in on a daily or weekly basis to see how you are doing.
  3. Make rewards for yourself (could be a new pair of shoes, piece of chocolate, drink at Starbucks…).
  4. Find ways to keep whatever you are doing exciting.  Switch up exercises (go ice-skating, play soccer, do a workout dvd…), go online and search for good books/movies/music you didn’t know about that can replace the questionable ones you have been reading/watching/listening to, find a new herb to incorporate into your healthy meals to kick up the flavor, buy fun-colored floss, get a special pen for devotional times, do insanely awesome things for other people (like send them anonymous gift cards, kidnap them for a night out, go help them at work for half a day- if permitted, deliver a huge handful of balloons to their front door), and just be CREATIVE!!!
  5. Keep a written checklist/diary/journal.  There are free apps out there as well that will help you track your journey in prayer, exercise, letter-writing, or whatever you are interested in.
  6. Take one day at a time; looking far ahead or making impossible goals will only overwhelm you.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up and give up if you miss a day or mess up; just get right back on track.
  8. Take courage in the change you see.
  9. Talk to people who struggled with your same problem, yet eventually conquered it.
  10. Write yourself notes or find things that will motivate you.  I keep a before/after picture of my weight-loss journey on my mirror to remind myself how much healthier and happier I feel when I exercise.  I also write crazy notes to myself on my alarm so that I am sure to motivate myself when I am completely unmotivated to do anything but sleep.
  11. Remind yourself of how much better of a friend, sibling, child, spouse, teacher, employee, witness, example, child of God… you will be if you gain control of whatever habit you are trying to break or form.
  12. Thank God profusely, and celebrate when you achieve a goal.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever forget to floss those teeth or have nightmares when it comes to doing dreaded jumping lunges, but it will become much easier when it becomes a daily habit.

I’d love to hear about your 2015 renovation/remodeling plans and what you have found motivational in reaching your past goals!  Please feel free to share=)

Blessing on your New Year,

MarJ