Monday, December 29, 2014

Inscribed: One Year Later (OneWord 2014)

On New Year's Day, I wrote this in my journal:

I'd read the verse before, but this time, everything changed. The words came to life and jumped off the page at me:

Isaiah 49:15-16
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
"Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

That promise is more than I can wrap my mind around. I am inscribed on His hands. When Jesus looks at those nail scars, He sees me. He sees my broken past, my failures and fears, my sins - but they don't matter anymore, because I am inscribed.

I am inscribed on His hands, and that changes everything.

A year later, I still can't wrap my mind around that promise.

When we read through the Bible, we see over and over again that God had a plan to inscribe us. From the first sin (Genesis 3:15), He already knew the cost to save us. And it didn't end on the cross. He promises that He is always with us. (Matthew 28:20). We inscribed. Not written, so that we can be washed away, but inscribed. Engraved. Forever His.

In the beginning, I though this journey through "inscribed" would be about God's love for me. In part, it has been. But in more ways, it's been about my love for Him, how His love changes and refines me. He has worked with me through hard things things this year. Through Lent, and the study that opened wounds from decades past. Through hard truths, struggles and trials. I still have so far to go, but there is grace. Always grace.

This verse is now burned into my heart. Into my life. I am inscribed by the God of the universe. The One who breaths life, who hung each star, who painted the sunrise - He loves me so much that He inscribed me on His hands. He engraved me there. He will never leave me. I may fail Him, yet when I turn back to ask forgiveness, He stands waiting with open arms.

I am inscribed on His hands, and that changes everything.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

This has been a great reading year for me. I finally recovered from the chaos of college, graduation, and the career change that last year brought. After struggling to get back into reading, I found my groove again. Between my writing groups and my personal reading, I got through a lot of books this year. I found some amazing writers this year! Of course, this list doesn't include the great books I got to critique through my ACFW groups, Some of those will be on my 2015 favorite book list, I'm sure. Here are my favorites for this year:


Praying for Boys: Asking God for the Things They Need Most by Brooke McGlothlin
I read the original book, when it was a self-published ebook. I loved it then, and I love it even more now. Brooke added so much content. This is one of my favorite books on prayer. I love the emphasis on praying Scripture over your children.

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman
Technically I'm still reading this one, but I'll finish this week. Emily P. Freeman could have written this for me. If you deal with perfectionism and feeling like you never quite live up to the ideal, pick this one up.

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith
This was no so much a home decorating book, but a making-a-home book. It's about creating a home no matter where you're at or what circumstances are in your life. Great read that made me look at my home in a completely different way.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
I got so far behind on my reading list when I was in college. I love Ann's blog, so this book had been on my list for a while. I wasn't disappointed. I don't say this lightly - this book was life changing. If you haven't read it yet, put it on your list for 2015.


The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Yes, I know I'm seriously behind, since I just read these in May. For the past fifteen years, I've stuck with Christian fiction, but I heard so much about these books that I decided to check them out. I'm so glad I did. They are amazing. I read them all in a matter of days.

Operation Zulu (5 part serial novel) by Ronie Kendig
I'm a die-hard 24 fan. I was so thrilled when Fox brought it back for a mini-season this year. But as always, when Jack Bauer's bad day ended, I found myself in withdrawals. It was perfect timing for the release of Operation Zulu. I made the mistake of starting this series in the middle of a major renovation project. I couldn't stop. It was like reading a 24 episode. I was sneaking in a few pages anywhere I could, hanging on for the next week when the new installment came out. My only suggestion? Clear your calendar before you start this one.

Stone and Spark by Sibella Giorello
I've been a fan of fan of Raleigh Harmon since the first book in Sibella's adult series about the FBI agent and forensic geologist. This YA novel, though, is her best yet. So much of Raleigh's drive comes from her dad's unsolved murder. In this new spin-off series, we get to see her life before everything shattered. Getting to know her dad makes her story even more compelling. I can't wait for the second novel in January!

The Giver by Lois Lowery
I don't know how I made it through childhood without reading this classic. Of course, I'm not sure I would have grasped the full meaning of the story as a child. Wow. Just wow. Not a light read - I sat on our balcony on vacation and cried as I read. The second book in the series is on my 2015 reading list.

Learning to Die by Amryn Cross
I may get myself in trouble with my critique groups here, but I'm going to confess: romantic suspense isn't usually the first thing I'll pick up. I'm more of a straight mystery/suspense girl. This debut novel from Amryn Cross has changed my mind, though. Realistic story, imperfect characters, tons of action - this book grabbed me from the opening scene.

(On a side note: the sequels to Stone and Spark and Learning to Die will both release next year - I can't wait!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

How to Make the Holidays the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Even When It's Not)

December isn't always the most wonderful time of the year...especially when you're a pastor's wife. This past week officially kicked off our busy season. We have Christmas parties (one to two a week - most weeks, it's two), church activities and special services, the children's church Christmas play that I direct, plus shopping, wrapping gifts, trips to the post office, and the other normal chaos that comes along with the holiday season.

As a kid, I loved everything about the Christmas season. As an adult, I too often find myself counting the days until it's over. If I could go back to my childhood love of all things holiday, I would, but it's hard to recapture that innocent adoration of it all.

This year, I promised myself I would try to slow down and enjoy the season more. My starting point: I simplified my Christmas tree decorations. After years of begging from my boys, I gave in and replaced my white lights with multi-colored ones. I left off all the ribbons and mesh, simply putting up lights, ornaments, and a big sparkly bow for a tree topper. To my surprise (and great joy), the tree looked better than ever. The kids loved it, and I stressed over it a lot less.

My kids made their first ever gingerbread house this year. Nothing fancy - I bought a $6 kit at Walmart and turned them loose. Okay, first I tried to help, but after a couple of walls collapsed, the boys told me they could handle it themselves. I think it turned out pretty well. No wonder my youngest wants to be an architect.

There's not a lot of free time this month, but I'm trying to still squeeze in a couple of workouts a week and spend a little time on my newest hobby: knitting. I'm slowing down and enjoying the little things more. It's working. This year, I'm finding more of my Christmas joy creeping back into my life. I'm still stressed. Some days are still overwhelming. But it's getting better. 

Are you ready to make the holidays more wonderful this year? Here are a few things you can do:

1. Keep your focus.

Daily time with God is a necessity for this stressful season. Jesus is the entire reason for our celebration - we can't leave Him out. Starting each morning with a little quiet time for journaling and Bible study sets the tone for the rest of the day. Plus, time with God and a cup of coffee by the light of the Christmas tree is so special. I look forward to it all year.

2. Create joy.

Bake cookies with your kids. Listen to your favorite Christmas music. Knit. Read. Drink coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Get outside in the snow. (Or in the balmy 70+ degree sunshine, if you live in Texas like me.) Take your kids to visit Santa.

3. Let it go.

You either want to scream or burst into song right now, I'm sure. But during this crazy season, let some things go. I decided to step back from my novel this month, taking a break from critique groups and editing until Christmas is over. Some things can't be taken off the table, but remove what you can to make the holidays easier. Less on your schedule means more time to enjoy this time of year.

4. Remember the season.

When it seems like the busyness will never end, remember that it's just a season. It will pass. Quickly. Just breathe, focus, and remember that New Year's Day will be here before you know it.

What are you doing to enjoy Christmas more this year?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tell Them Your Stories

Our Christmas tree stands in our living room, fully decorated. You can't miss it. I bought it on sale months before we moved from Arkansas to Texas. The 5 1/2 foot wide, 7 1/2 foot tall tree would have looked great in the large parsonage we lived in, but it's huge in the living room of the small home we bought seven years ago. I've affectionately nicknamed it the "Jolly Green Giant" tree and can't imagine having anything smaller.

My boys love decorating the tree. Now that my oldest is taller than me and can easily reach the top, they're a huge help when it's time to put everything up. I was trying to balance putting up the tree and cooking dinner, so I let them handle a lot of the ornaments this year. I wasn't expecting what I heard:

"Here's Mitzy's ornament." (Our first Yorkie, who died almost three years ago.) "And here's Miley's." (Our two year old Yorkie.)
"Mom, here's the one from when you and Dad got married."
"These were Grandma's rocking horses, right?"
"Can we put up our baby ornaments?"
"Mom, here's more of your vintage Santas. What does vintage mean anyway?"

The significance of their comments didn't strike me until later, as I sat looking at the tree. My boys know the stories.

I have a thing about ornaments. I won't buy them just because they're cute - they have to have a story. There's our Santa on a motorcycle, because I've been promising my husband for years that he'd get one someday. (And he finally did, about two weeks ago.) My ballerina, because I took ballet and learned to dance on pointe (not well, but I did it). The wooden Hershey's ornaments and rocking horses that hung on my mother-in-law's tree, a small piece of my husband's childhood and his parents, who I never got to meet. The boys' first Christmas ornaments. The photo frame with the boys sitting in Santa's lap together for the first time, when our oldest was three and our youngest was just six months old.

Our tree isn't just hung with ornaments - it's hung with memories and stories.

Every family has stories. We have stories of how our family came to be: how we met, how our faith has been passed down from generation to generation. There are stories of our faith: miracles we've witnessed, answered prayers, God's faithfulness. We have family members our children will never know this side of heaven, people whose legacy shouldn't be forgotten. It's our history, and our children need to know it.

Tell your kids your stories. That's part of why I write, journal, and blog. I want to pass something down to my boys, something tangible that my children and grandchildren can see and touch. I want them to read about our family's ups and downs. When God is faithful, when He comes through in an amazing way, I want them to have a record of it.

I love the commands God gives Joshua and the Israelite's in Joshua chapter 4:

 Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”

He repeats the command just a few verses later:

21 He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’

Our stories matter to our families and to God. This Christmas, take time to sit down with your children and tell them your stories. Tell them about your family, your faith, and  the greatest story of all - the story of God's love.