Sunday, November 24, 2013

A few of my favorite things....

So this is a first for me! A favorite things list and a giveaway!! Watch out!
Since the holidays are upon us I thought I would do a list of a few of my favorite things in case you are at a loss on your Christmas shopping for a special person in your life... I've got a lot so lets get started...

Family Focused
1. ABC Scripture cards- I love having these up in the kitchen and changing them out each week. It is not only a great memory tool for the kids to learn scripture but good for me too! They're also stylish and fun! Order them here!
2. Melissa and Doug Family Dinner Questions- I got these just a few weeks ago (had to weed through a few that didn't fit with our family) and the kids are loving them! Questions like "what is the best lesson your parents have taught you?" an
d "what is one kind thing a family member has said or done for you this week?". The kids are loving them and we have had some fun new dinner convos lately!
3. Advent Planning Crafts from Lay Baby Lay- we planned it out and are doing these 4 awesome crafts based off of the attributes of Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace). So pumped to do this this advent as a family.  
4. Light 'em up- we did this two years ago really faithfully and it was amazing. Last year I was just trying to stay above water with 4 kids but this year I am feeling back on track and ready to tackle our community with kindness! It is an awesome way to involve kids ages 2-20 in really living out the meaning of christmas! Check it out!

For the reader
5. Ronnie wilson's gift- my favorite kids book thus far. It really puts living and serving Jesus in a way that kids can understand. 
6. Jesus storybook Bible- if you don't have it yet for your family, grab it! It points every Bible story back to Jesus in such a beautiful way!
7. My favorite book list over the last few years? Interrupted and 7 by Jen Hatmaker, Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, Radical and Follow me (reading now) by David Platt, Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. For easy reading pick up anything by Charles Martin, about to start his new one Unwritten and I am beyond excited. 

For the music lover
8. Matt Papa- Look and Live album has been on repeat for me all Fall. Love it.
9. For King and Country- love them. Their Christmas album is currently playing on my phone!
10. One Republic Native album- they may be my fave band of all time. I love every song on this album!
11. Mariah Carey Christmas iTunes radio station- Our fam listened to it all weekend.  You're welcome.

12. Krochet Kids- Love their hats, bags and scarves! Handmade and hand signed by the Ugandan women that make them.
13. Noonday- love my necklaces and purse I have from Noonday! Love supporting a company that empowers women in poverty situations! Need to Christmas shop? Just browse the site!
14. Sevenly- love this site. Each week they have a new cause and new shirt designs. The proceeds that week go to the cause, everything from Medical needs/food in Congo to autism to bullying to sex trafficking. I probably have 7-10 shirts in my closet from them! Like them on Facebook and you can keep up with causes and new shirt designs!
15. 31 bits- another awesome jewelry company that empowers women struggling to feed their families! Great prices great looks!

For the Giver
16. Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog- We have never told our kids to make a christmas list of what they want but this is one magazine I let the kids mark up and circle! They are earning extra money this december for helping out around the house and then we are going to let them choose 2 gifts each to buy for someone in need. They are so pumped!
17. Care for Aids- this is the ministry we have visited twice in Kenya (I blogged about it March and Sept/Oct 2013) and are excited to give to this Christmas! If you are looking for a way to give to something this year to support orphan prevention and community empowerment look no farther! I could go on for ever about it so just read here or visit their site here!

Whew. Sorry for the long list! I always love finding new fun products, ideas and sites so I hope I introduced a few new ones to you! I'm giving away the Matt Papa album! Comment with one of your favorite products or sites and we will draw a name just after Thanksgiving! 
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Marriage soapbox pt. 2

So on part 1 I went into a little detail on the struggles of marriage and what has been a good strategy for us to keep up our connection and protect our relationship. Please read that first to get some context/back story for this if you have time!

I've been talking with some other friends on marriage and how God has directed us in certain ways to protect it and fight for it and thought I would follow up here. Again, disclaimer, we do not have the perfect marriage and I am oh so far from a perfect or even great wife. We mess up daily and thus have gotten pretty good at the whole apology and forgiveness thing because we have so many opportunities to practice it! I only hope to refresh for myself and hope to pass along awesome wisdom God, pastors, and other awesome women have given me! (A few great resources are Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, The meaning of marriage by Tim Keller, Love and War by John eldrege, Guardrails sermon series by Andy Stanley, etc)
One thing we worked on and actually stuck from our pre-marital counseling was setting boundaries for our marriage. This was a crucial step for us and has been something we have used as a line in the sand on certain issues and as continual struggles come up, we can usually identify a boundary that needs to be set there. I like two of the webster definitions on boundary: a point of limit that indicates where two things become different; unofficial rules about what should not be done: a limit that defines acceptable behavior.
Now we didn't want our marriage to get bogged down with silly rules like don't leave the toilet seat down or always put your dish in the dishwasher. These are unrealistic and aren't of the highest priority for us so it didn't make sense to basically dumb down the seriousness of a boundary in our marriage.
We boiled it down to a few areas:
Fighting Fair- we realized we had to set some boundaries there or trust/security in our marriage will crumble really quickly as the gloves come off during a fight. We together sat down and worked on a list of non-negotionables in a fight. As Andy Stanley says, a guardrail on the high way is not something you ride your car up against and get as close to as possible, just the opposite, it is there in sight as a boundary that you want to keep your distance from. So just because we set these boundaries doesn't mean we want to always get as close as possible to them, these are something we have agreed we will not go near, even when joking.
1. Never say/threaten/joke about divorce. It is not an option on the table. Now on the contrary I have learned in the last few years I am not immune to it. The less we connect and the more we cross our boundaries we will be a prime candidate for it and it would be pride to think we are above ever getting to that point. But we have decided in fights it is something we will never threaten, say as a problem solving option, etc. Not even as a joke when we are not in a fight. This creates insecurity in a marriage and leaves it out there as an option on the table.
2. Don't get physical- this includes grabbing, hitting, pushing, slamming doors, etc. This is a non-negotionable for us as well. We both agreed and have full understanding this is something we will stay far away from in our marriage.
Some notes from a sermon at church I jotted down on fighting fair (
A. Overlook what you can (Prov 19:11, Prov 12:16) This does not apply to things that do lasting damage (abuse, etc) and Grace filled speech doesn't mean you always keep your mouth shut. Eph 4:25 But always speak when it is in the best interest of the person or your relationship.
B. Examine your own heart- You'll probably find anger, malice, etc. Your reaction in anger can show if Satan has a foothold there. Don't just control your anger, uproot it. It is smoke signals of an idol burning in your heart.
C. Be practical in how you fight- Prov 12:18 Your words should be healing, or for the purpose of moving towards wholeness. Boundarize your fights. Don't fight in the bedroom. Don't fight after 11pm. That is not letting the sun go down on your anger, it is saying we are both tired and nothing kind is coming out of our mouths, lets agree to pause this and punt it to a certain named time tomorrow because we want to finish this well. Sometimes it takes a good 24 hours to separate unrighteous irritation from righteous anger.
D. Be slow to speak and quick to listen- Prov 18:13- The vast majority of communication problems are not expression problems, they're listening problems. Be a servant listener. Seek first to understand and not be understood. Don't interrupt- that is an attitude saying 'my thoughts are more important than yours'. Don't give premature advice, be a companion in pain not a solution to the problem.
E.Seek Resolution not victory- Focus not on self-vindication but on your spouses and your own sanctification. I don't need to defend myself. Jesus has already done that. Let vindication be God's.
F. Believe in God's overriding purposes in your marriage- In seasons of long suffering in marriage remember God has appointed you to be together. God has brought you together to glorify his name and point others to himself. Let that hope pull you through and rest yourself in the promises of God not in the hope that your spouse will change; they may never but He will sustain.
G. Speak Grace Saturated words- No "You" statements, for every negative remark have several positive, no sarcasm or condescending speech, no public confrontations.
H. Truly forgive- Do not get hysterical or historical in an argument. If you are bringing up past arguments that have been resolved it is an indication you didn't truly forgive. You don't have to forget but don't use it as ammunition against your spouse. Forgiveness is never conditional on your spouses repentence. It is between you and God- an overflow of his forgiveness of you.
I. Do all things out of reverence for Christ- This is the only way you will have strength is when the cross gets large in your life. When the cross is small in your life your spouses sins are huge. Do it for Jesus. Maybe this is how God will glorify himself in your marriage. Christ is worthy when your spouse is not. Retribution never changes a heart, only grace. Retribution coerces behavior but grace changes a heart.
**None of this applies to a situation of continual abuse**
Extra-Marital relationships/Friendships- we are all only a few steps away from an affair. I used to say "I would never do that" almost casting judgement on anyone who has. But the more we get into our marriage I realize it isn't something someone sets out to do with full intention. It is a slip here, a slight twist of the truth here and Satan has twisted you into believe this is a better path for you.
1. No alone time with members of opposite sex- this means riding in the car, meeting in a private/date-like place (ie. restaurant, coffee shop etc). With John's work he is around young women a lot. He has made this a line in the sand and it honors me so much and allows me to trust without reservation in this area. His meetings with female managers happen out in the restaurant, he doesn't ride in the car alone with them, nothing happens behind closed doors, etc. This at times has caused awkward situations before and he has had to call me or someone else to ride with him to the airport, meeting etc so that he was not alone in the car with another woman. This allows for no grey areas even if John didn't do anything it allows him to have integrity that no one could even really claim anything happened when it didn't. I heard once that Billy Graham would have someone walk into a hotel room before him to make sure there wasn't a female cleaning person or crazy fan in the room so he didn't have any room for temptation or accusation.
Finances- this is a big area for tension in marriage. It can turn into a blame game really quick here. Finances really points at our heart in a way nothing else does so of course this is an area that a lot of ugliness can come out.
1. No purchases over 500$ without running it by your spouse- you can set the limit for your marriage but this was a good number for us that allowed freedom and not a watchdog mentality on each other but was just a healthy limit for us to include the other person in on bigger decisions. This kept things in the light in this area and allowed us to feel valued and considered in larger financial decisions instead of a fight on the back end.
2. Using "WE" in financial discussions instead of "You"- John laid this one out beautifully. I couldn't have even articulated that this was becoming a problem for us so it was one we added about a year into our marriage. When we were doing budgeting or paying bills or looking at our statement it can be so damaging to hear "you can't spend like this" 'You have got to do better on spending less at the grocery store" etc. John does so well to bring himself into the solution even if it is actually mostly on me. He will say things like "let's try to do better next month on our eat out category" or "can we possibly lower our grocery spending by x amount". Sure I may know that the work is still on my end but it takes the defensiveness out of the argument and is a great reminder that we are on the same team on this and are both here as a support and encouragement for each other in this area.

We have a few other categories and boundaries under them but I hope that it at least gets the discussion started with your spouse of building a hedge of protection around your marriage. We have had to add along the way boundaries when it comes to sex, technology, parenting, etc. Satan wants nothing but to tear our marriages apart. Or even take good things, like kids, jobs, ministry and let them supersede our marriages and subtly let them wither away into a distant connection. We miss the mark a lot. And like I said in part 1 we have even reached out to Christian counselors at certain seasons in our marriage to check-in, get advice, and grow. There is nothing wrong with that and I hate it is a stigma in our culture.
I pray this week you make time to sit down with your spouse and discuss this! We are on our date night coming up this Friday (it is our 10 year anniversary of J asking me to marry him!:). It needs to be a continual check-point for us so we can keep this at the forefront of our relationship! We have to ask Jesus to forgive us daily on the way we mess up and let each other down. I know John cannot fulfill what Jesus is supposed to in my heart. It is usually when those two positions are out of whack when I put unrealistic and stressful expectations on John and our marriage. Leave room for grace. Extend forgiveness. Love out of the overflow of how you have been loved by a big God. And enjoy the ride.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I get to call Him daddy

We were in a crowded place last weekend touring our old university and showing the kids around. We brought the kids' scooters and they were rarely right beside us but always zipping around in front or behind. One small moment in the day, I didn't think anything of it at the time, revisited me this morning in such a powerful way my words will not do it justice. We were in a crowd. Maran wasn't near either of us. John was 40 feet in front of her and I was about 20 feet behind her. She started calling for daddy to show him something she saw while riding. She started excitedly shouting "daddy!! Daddy!" Everyone was looking around trying to help her, but not seeing a man that matched her skin color.  You could see some panic on a few older women's faces, concern on several others.  I observed all this from a few steps behind. She made her way through a few people still happily shouting "Daddy!!" Finally, John turned around and acknowledged what she saw and excitedly celebrated with her for seeing whatever it was. First on people's face was confusion. That is not who they thought would show up as her daddy. Then it was intrigue. That's her daddy? Surely not. For John, though, it was delight. His daughter wanted to share something she loved with him and he relished in the moment with her.
I thought about that this morning during worship at church. We sang 'O fount of love' and I was wrecked as I sang "Mercy cleansing every stain, now rushing over us like a flood, There the wretch and vilest ones stand adopted through his blood."..."Praise the Lord! The price is paid, the curse defeated by the Lamb, We who once, were slaves by birth, sons and daughters now we stand"
I think what God has done in my own heart through our adoption is show me a different facet of his love. It comes to life in a way where didn't once before. It grabs a hold of my heart in a way I've never felt. As I sang those words back to God, I thought of myself. The wretch and vilest one who now stands adopted through his blood. I get to call him Daddy. I am not his biological daughter. I was born into sin and slavery and bondage. But, I, who was a slave by birth a daughter now I stand.
I thought of this whole interchange as it played out that day with Maran and John. That's her daddy. It may not look like it. They may not "match". But he is no less her daddy than he is Reese's daddy. So yes, it may cause others to stare and think 'That's her daddy?'  Yes. We get to call her daughter.
Maran and Levi's adoption in no way is it a picture of our "perfect and gracious" love coming to rescue and redeem her and drag her out of a pit. More so it is our imperfect love, covered by a big God, who intersected our stories and filled a deep longing in both of our hearts.
My righteousness in the flesh is dirt compared to God's. So you would look at my heart and look at his and think there is no way. That can't be her dad, they don't match, she doesn't measure up. But sure enough, he calls me daughter. That's my daddy. He laid down his life and gave me his righteousness so that I don't have to try to measure up to earn his love. He lavishes love on me freely simply because I am his daughter, adopted and freed, purchased and redeemed, rescued and fought for.

Today is orphan sunday, please take time to pray today about how you can get involved in the orphan crisis. That could be through orphan prevention: sponsoring a child/family, helping a ministry who exists to keep families together, etc. This could be through prayer, supporting financially, exploring adoption, foster care, helping someone who is adopting fundraise, serving on an overseas trip, being a mentor for a child in foster care, etc. There are so many avenues to helping orphans, just take the step God has called you to!