Monday, September 21, 2015

Where I've Been - and Why I'm Ready to Come Back

Watching your son's dream come true is amazing. My youngest is a huge fan of the Dolphin Tale movies. He almost has them memorized and can rattle off all kinds of details about Winter and Hope, the marine stars. When we went to Orlando for our family vacation/business trip last month, we were only an hour and a half away from the marina where the movie was filmed. So on our last day of vacation, we made the drive. It was amazing! We saw all the animal stars of the movie up close. We got to touch stingrays, and both of the boys fed them.

That day was special, but the whole trip was amazing. Five days at Disney parks, a trip to both Disney water parks, and multiple visits to Disney Quest, plus Clearwater Marine Aquarium. We snorkeled with sharks and stingrays, ate dinner at our favorite restaurants, rode all our favorite rides, and marked everything off our list. 

It was a great trip. After the rough year we've had, we desperately needed this break from the routine. We were all sad to leave, especially because we know this was probably our last Disney trip while both boys are still home.

Now we're firmly planted back in reality. My husband is dealing with church business, paperwork, and sermon prep. I'm back to work and adjusting (very happily) to a great new job just minutes from home. I'm planning children's church lessons, writing, and doing laundry. Our homeschool year started just after we returned, and adding to the stress is the fact that our oldest started high school. Record keeping is a lot more complicated now.

After more than a year of writing and revising, my long dreamed-of novel is finished. It's about to go through the final editing test - six "beta readers" who will read it cover-to-cover with fresh eyes before I send it to agents in January. In the meantime, I'm working on book proposals for my finished novel, starting a brand-new one (book two in the series), and writing a short story to submit to a magazine later this year. I also have some other potential writing opportunities coming up that I can't wait to share.

It's been a year of refinement. Life has taken us through a lot of ups and downs. But it's a year that has taught me a lot. The ups I've had, the moments of celebration, wouldn't have come without the downs. Some of my greatest blessings this year grew directly out of some of my greatest disappointments. That's just like God. He took what was meant for harm, and He turned it around, making it into a gift. I couldn't always see that at the time. I only saw the bad. But He knew what was waiting just down the road for me. 

Now life marches on, much faster than I'd like. I'm already missing our days filled with roller coasters, snorkeling, and dinner at our favorite restaurants. God has given me lots of reasons to celebrate, though. He's refined me this year. He  may not be done yet. If He's not, that's okay, because while the process is hard, the end result is worth it.

While I share a lot about my Bible study methods and notes here, if you want to see more, you can find me on Instagram. If you want to follow my fiction and where I'm at with my novel, you can follow my author page on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Grace

50/50. Those were the survival odds the doctor gave me and my mom. After three days of labor, seventy-two hours of agonizing pain, three days of a doctor insisting my mom could have a "natural" birth despite so little progression, the odds weren't good. When a new doctor arrived and rushed us into emergency surgery, he wasn't sure either of us would make it. 

I came into the world a perfectly healthy bundle of eight pounds, covered already in God's grace from my first breath. From even before. I had no damage from our ordeal, not a single health problem.

But I didn't have a name. 

I did, but it didn't work. In the days before ultrasounds, it was all guesswork, but I was supposed to be Jeremy Wayne. The revelation that their only child was wrapped in pink, not blue, left my parents scrambling for a new name. My mom chose Christy Lynn, but my dad had a last minute change of heart. He chose Amanda Michelle.

I don't believe for a second that my name was an accident. My parents didn't know the meaning of it. They didn't have time to research it, like my husband and I did before our boys were born. They just liked it. It wasn't until middle school that I learned the meaning:

Amanda - worthy of love
Michelle - who is like God

Worthy of love. Growing up, I felt anything but worthy of love. I was the skinny, painfully shy, clumsy kid, the one who never quite fit in. Not talented. Not pretty. Not anything special. Just a misfit.

But from the beginning, God saw something else. He saw a little girl with a broken heart and dreams bigger than herself. He knew me.

I wonder sometimes - when did He first think of me? 

He knew me when He spoke the earth into existence, before Adam took his first breath. 

When Jesus went to the cross, when He walked up the hill to Golgotha to be tortured and killed, He knew me - and He knew I would need grace. He gave His life so He could inscribe me on His hands forever.

Before my parents met, before they were born, before their parents were born, He knew me. He knew that from a tangled mess of sinners and praying parents and changed lives would come a little girl who was supposed to be Jeremy Wayne.

He knew me, the little girl who would put her life into His hands. He knew I would mess up over and over, running back to Him for more grace. He knew I would battle fear, taking trembling steps forward, sometimes moving ahead and sometimes cowering in terror. He knew the feelings I would have - that I was worthless, unwanted, unloved. So He gave me a name that would remind me every day that I am loved - Amanda, worthy of love. 

Grace from the first breath. From even before. Grace I can't even begin to wrap my heart around.

It's all grace. Every moment, every breath, every heartbeat is grace. From the first to the last.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How I Study My Bible

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my new Bible study chart. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the method I’m using, so I wanted to share my methods and the resources I’m using.

I’ve been studying the Bible for over twenty years, since I really got serious about my faith as a fifteen year old high school sophomore. My methods have changed a lot over the years as my life has changed. The one discovery that changed everything, though, is when I was introduced to inductive Bible study. I’m a very visual and tactile learner – I have to see something and work through it to understand it. My learning style makes inductive study a perfect match for me. My chart has developed out of that, but I’ll get to that a little later.

I’m starting to add art journaling, too, but I’m very new to it. That’s definitely a work in progress. I think it will add a lot to my current study. I want to get more comfortable with it before I share it on my blog, though.

The best starting point for inductive study is KayArthur’s book, Discover the Bible for Yourself. This is how I got my start. She walks through a detailed approach to inductive study and provides step-by-step instructions, charts, and more for each book of the Bible. 

Along with the book, I highly recommend the symbols key available as a free download at PreceptsCamden. I printed this list and keep it in my Bible study notebook. I use it every day. I’ve added a few symbols to the list, but this has just about everything you’ll need.

Now for my chart. There’s no printable for this, it’s just something I draw out on notebook paper to help organize my thoughts from my study. The idea came from Pinterest. I loved the basic concept of the chart I found, but I knew it wouldn’t work for every chapter, so I took the idea and tweaked it a little.

I use the same basic layout for my chart:
  • ·    Basics (who, what, when, where, why, how – recommended in Discover the Bible for Yourself)
  • ·    Key Words/Phrases (I list them and draw the symbol I used)
  • ·    Key Verse (This is something I may verse map or art journal later)
  • ·    Word Studies (Words I want to dig deeper into at a later time)
  • ·    Chapter Theme (another Kay Arthur recommendation)
  • ·    Extras (timelines, notes on specific topics, etc.)

As you can probably tell from my Bible pages and my chart, inductive study is a slow study of the Bible. I usually spend 2-3 days per chapter. My usual breakdown is:

·         Day 1: read chapter – mark Bible with symbols
·         Day 2: fill in chart
·         Day 3: word study/journaling

I love this slow approach to God’s Word. It gives me time to really soak in every detail of a chapter.

If you’d like to see more of my Bible study, followme on Instagram, where I post pictures from my study most days. You can also follow my Pinterest boards, including Bible study, Bible art journaling, journaling, and more. And if you’re on Periscope, I’ve started doing a few videos. Periscope is new and hosted by Twitter, so you can find me by my Twitter handle (@graceourmoments).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fun Weekend Links

I'm so glad the weekend is here! Lately I feel like I've been spinning in circles. My work schedule is busier than ever, my summer is full of children's ministry events, I've got several writing projects going, plus life and family stuff. I have a couple of quick, fun things you might enjoy this weekend.

First, my friend and writing partner Voni Harris has done a great series on her blog this month. She challenged four mystery-suspense authors to write a short story based on the same prompt. She's wrapping up the series this weekend with my story, Run. She's also offering a fun giveaway. You can check it out at her blog, Vonilda Writes.

Second, I did my first ever Periscope chat on Bible study! It was really fun. If you're wondering what Periscope is, it's a new social media outlet started by Twitter. I describe it as SnapChat meets YouTube. Periscope users broadcast live videos, which are then available for 24 hours. Mine should be available until around 10:00 a.m. Sunday (CST). Here's the link if you'd like to check mine out: How I Study My Bible.

I'm planning a post next week that talks more about my current Bible study method, why I chose it, and how it works. Until then, I hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Last month, San Antonio left me unraveled. Not the city itself, not the trip, but a combination of things. I sat in our hotel's library one night, thankful for something familiar, missing my family. The day was full of convention exhibits and continuing education classes required for my dental hygiene license. At night, though, my heart ached because someone I respected fell hard, shattering the image of the person I thought I knew. Just one more rock tossed at my soul in this year of refinement and hard grace.

This whole year has left me reeling. The girl who hates change has faced constant shifts: job changes, writing groups dissolving, my youngest struggling with health issues, plans changing. 

The urge to curl into a fetal position and hide has been strong. Despite our 90 degree Texas summer, I crave leggings  and fuzzy socks and my favorite hoodie sweatshirt that's two sizes too big. What I'm really craving is comfort. Safety. Security. An end to the unraveling before everything I know and love changes. 

But sometimes everything unravels in the best possible way.

God has a way of preparing things before us, laying a foundation for what we need long before we even know we'll need it. Looking back, I can see Him working when I read Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist as I started the new year. It deals in large part with Shauna's job loss and how she wrestled with it - and I read it days before my boss announced his retirement, which meant my own job loss. God spoke to me on those hard days, telling me exactly how He was going to work things out. I wish I could tell you I boldly trusted Him, but I didn't. I was a weepy, emotional mess. True to God's promises, I found another job that started as soon as my old job ended. But if it was a test of my faith, I failed miserably.

The changes didn't stop there. It's been a year of refinement, a year of learning to cling to God. James 1:2-3 have taken on a personal meaning to me: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." Testing is hard. Refinement is not a process I get excited about. "Joy" is not the word that comes to mind when I'm going through trials. It's painful. But verse 12 tells us that God makes the pain worthwhile: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which The Lord has promised to those who love Him."

That's our true joy in the middle of the pain: knowing that God is in control. We don't have to panic, because it's not our job to work it out. God will take care of it. He has a way of taking our disasters and turning them into fresh starts. When life unravels, He weaves a new, more beautiful pattern.

This year has been hard, but it has also defined me. The changes have forced me to focus on what matters most and refined what I believe, what I cling to. My time with God has become slower, forcing me deeper into every word and nuance of His Word. The year has left me on my knees begging for more grace. It's drawing me closer to God. 

Life has left me unraveled...but God is weaving the pieces into something new. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hard Lessons in Grace and Trust

I'm excited to link up (for the first time ever) with Emily P. Freeman's "What We Learned." April has been a month full of hard lessons in grace and trust. It's driving me to my knees...and I have a feeling that's exactly why it's happened this way.

1. Failure is part of our story.

The words hit me so hard I stopped the podcast to think about what I'd just heard. "It's not enough to write a good story. We have to live one." 

Reading is my passion. I love getting lost in a good novel, being so caught up in the story that I feel like I'm there. Any good story has conflict. Who wants to read a story where the main character just floats along with no opposition? When I write, my motto is "How can I make this worse?" It sounds horrible, but the higher the stakes, the better the story. So I make things as difficult as possible for my main character.

Why should my life be any different? If I just float along with no struggles, I won't experience victory. I texted a writing friend recently about my novel. I'm halfway through edits right now, and it's making me crazy. I told my friend how discouraged I was. "I'm feeling so fragile right now...but maybe that's what I need. So when the victory comes, I'll stand there with trembling hands, knowing it's all Him and nothing of myself." Life imitates art. I talked to her about writing, but it's true for my personal life as well. God is using my circumstances to make my story better.

2. God is enough - and because of Him, I am enough.

After 35 years, you'd think I would know this by now. I do know, but I need a lot of reminders. This post from Shauna Niequist was perfect.

3. My soul doesn't need empty calories any more than my body does.

4. Bullet journals are the best thing ever created.

Technology is great, but when it comes to planning, I'm still a pen-and-paper kind of girl. I'm also weird about my calendar and how I want it laid out. So bullet journaling is a perfect match for me. It's basically a build-your-own-planner project, and it's working beautifully for me.

5. There's a good reason why Rhonna Designs is my favorite photo editing app.

This is the app I use for all my blog photos. It's so easy to use and has so many options. When the latest update released, they added even more. AND they've been offering free backgrounds to their Instagram followers. I love this app!

6. Our world is only as big or small as we make it.

This, from the latest She Reads Truth Bible study, has been rolling around in my mind for days. Since January, I've been wrapped up in my own problems. My thoughts and prayers have centered on me, even though my problems are small compared to what's happening in our world. I need to broaden my horizons and realize just how big the world is, and just how small I really am.

7. This quote is true, and it's where I'm at right now.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

When Your Soul is Full of Empty Calories

Breakfast last Thursday morning was a Coke and a devil's cream cake. Empty calories. Junk. Not what my body needed as fuel before I spent the morning seeing patients. It was a guarantee that I'd crash before lunch and need a snack to pull me out of my slump. My body doesn't function well on empty calories. If I start the day with my normal fruit and yogurt smoothie, I can go strong for hours. But if I'm not prepared, or if I simply decide to be lazy and not take the time to make something healthy, I grab junk food, and I pay the price.

It's easy to feed my soul junk, too. When I'm feeling worn down, it's so much easier to open Candy Crush Saga than my She Reads Truth app, or to pull up Criminal Minds on the DVR instead of opening a book. I can make every excuse for why I should veg out on the couch instead of going for a run or working on my to-do list. Not that it's always bad to relax. Sometimes our body and brain need to tune everything out. More often, though, we need to push through the exhaustion and the cravings for junk and really feed our souls.

This has been a tough year. I've gone through two job changes. My family and I stayed sick for weeks at the beginning of the year, passing illnesses back and forth. Right now I'm deep into edits on my first novel. It's painful. One of the hardest things I've ever done. Emotions are high right now. Fear peeks around every corner as I make plans to submit my manuscript to agents in a few months. It's been a year of refinement, in more ways than one, and it's scary.

I've learned something through all these changes. I am weak. That's the biggest thing God is teaching me. On my own, I fall so easily into sin. I slip into fear, negative attitudes, and bad habits. It takes so little for me to fall. One day of not reading my Bible, skipping a morning of reminding myself of His promises, and I'm falling, my faith growing weaker.

Clinging to God isn't an option. Dwelling with Him every day isn't just something I should do - it's something I have to do. If I don't stay on my face before God seeking Him, I'll fall on my face. The older I get, the more I learn about Him, the more I realize how desperately I need His grace and mercy. I am completely incapable of making it on my own.

Psalm 31:16 (NASB) should be our daily prayer: "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; Save me in Your lovingkindness." Save me, Lord, because on my own I'm own, I'm a sinful, fear-filled mess. I can't do this life without you holding my hand. My soul can't live on empty calories. Help me fill up on You every day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How I Use My Commute Time

Commuting can get really, really boring. In good traffic, I drive 30-35 minutes. In rush hour traffic, which is pretty much every night, it's 45 minutes. Add in wrecks or road construction, and I'm in my car for over an hour, one way. I spend anywhere from 1-2 hours in my car every day, five days a week.

As much as I love music, it didn't take long to get bored with my favorite radio station. When I started dreading my time in the car, I had to find something to fill those hours. Here are my favorites: 

1. Podcasts

My first foray into podcasts was a disaster. I downloaded the app to my phone and found it eating up massive amounts of data. After just a few weeks, I deleted it. Months later, I got an iPad mini and realized I could use the podcast app on it. I quickly subscribed to several podcasts. Now on my drive to work, I can just plug in my iPad and listen.

There are so many great podcasts! The first one I listened to was How They Blog by Kat Lee (of Inspired to Action). Kat's interviews with bloggers have given me so many ideas for my own blog. I've learned an incredible amount from her. From her podcasts, I found The Portfolio Life by Jeff Goins. 

I sometimes listen to health and fitness podcasts, although I haven't found one yet that I really love. I'm open to suggestions. I just subscribed to The Art of Simple but haven't had a chance to listen to it. If it's as good as the blog, I know I'll love it.

When my favorite radio personalities left Air1 several months ago, they started their own podcast. If you want something fun that will keep you laughing, check out Brant and Sherry's podcast.

2. Audiobooks

This is my newest obsession. Modern Mrs. Darcy introduced me to audiobooks. Listening to my first one was such a great experience! 

3. Memorizing Bible verses

Katie Orr changed the way I memorize Scripture. In the past, when I learned verses (which was rare), I chose one or two verses. Katie introduced me to the concept of memorizing entire passages. Over the past couple of years, I've memorized Isaiah 55, John 15, and Psalm 27. When I'm memorizing, or even just reviewing, I love listening to the passage. Using the Scripture Typer app, I can record myself reading verses.

4. Brainstorming

Sometimes my mind is just too busy to focus on listening to anything. There are days when ideas are rolling through my mind and I'm tiring to sort them out. That's when my iPhone's voice recorder comes in handy. I can not ideas for my writing, things I want to research, or a list of things I need to do.

Note: These ideas work for driving. If you commute by subway or bus, you have even more options. You could use this time to plan, read, knit, write, or just about anything else. 

Do you commute for work? What do you do during your drive?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bible Study

There are so many Bible study options available now: topical studies, word studies, book studies, inductive studies. Some of them require a major time commitment, others take only a few minutes a day. It can be an overwhelming choice. Where do you begin, and how do you make Bible study a part of your daily routine?

1. Choose the right Bible.

If you're going to make the most of your time studying the Bible, you need to choose the right one. There are three main translations I love:

NIV - easy to understand, this is a very popular translation with lots of Bibles and other study materials to choose from. This is the translation I use when I teach children’s church.

NASB - For my own personal study, I use the NASB Study Bible. It's widely regarded as one of the most accurate translations, plus it's easy to understand. It's filled with good information, including background information on each book, maps, cross references, and more - but it's all on a pretty easy to understand level. It's a great for your first study or your hundredth.

ESV - Also a very accurate and easy to understand translation. 

One important note: Make sure you choose a translation (NASB, NIV, etc.) instead of a paraphrase. A translation is word for word from the original languages, while a paraphrase is a retelling in an individual's own words. Paraphrases can be a great tool, but they should be used as extra reading, not your main study Bible.

2. Think about your learning style.

Are you a visual learner? Do you like variety or do you need repetition to learn? Do you move quickly through new material, or you like to mull over new ideas over a few days or weeks? Look for a study that moves at your pace without overwhelming you.

I'm very visual. I love using colors, symbols, charts and graphs to help me digest information. When I discovered Kay Arthur's book "How to Study the Bible for Yourself" I knew I'd found my perfect match. 

3. Start small.

If you are just starting your Bible study journey, start small. Instead of committing to reading the entire Bible or jumping onto a year-long study, find a study that you can finish a few weeks. There are some great long-term, intensive Bible study plans but for now, set goals that you can reach in the short term. This also lets you experiment with different study styles. You might find that your original approach doesn't work. You may need to try several styles before you find one that fits. A few options to look at include: 

  • Big Picture Studies

These plans take you through major portions of the Bible, or the whole Bible. Examples are read the Bible in a year plans, the Bible in 90 days, or reading though the New Testament. YouVersion provides lots of great options.

  • Detailed Studies

My favorite type of Bible study is inductive study. I love the depth of these studies - reading cross references, digging into the meaning of key words, marking maps, and really going deep into a text. I could spend weeks studying the same chapter.  If this type of study appeals to you, Kay Arthur's Precept Ministries is the best place to start. 

  • Word Studies

The Bible wasn't written in English. The original Hebrew and Greek are very different from our language, and sometimes English just can't do as well with its descriptions. Word studies are perfect for going deeper into the Bible without getting overwhelmed. 

  • Topical Studies

Topical studies cover specific topics from the Bible. The possibilities are endless--from prayer to parenting. 

  • Total Immersion Studies

This is my absolute favorite way to study the Bible. I don't know if it's technically listed as a method, but I love to focus completely on one book - studying it, writing it by hand in my journal, memorizing verses from it. I love to wrap my mind and heart completely around one book, digging into the individual words, using inductive study, and seeing how it fits into the bigger picture. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

What I'm Reading: March

I have a new book obsession: audiobooks. It's Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy's fault. She's been talking about Audible a lot recently, and then she posted this. Around the same time, a friend (and author) was looking for reviews on the audio version of her first novel. I volunteered. Now I'm addicted. From now on, my monthly "What I'm Reading" post will include what I'm listening to, plus links to the Audible version of it.

I also have to confess: I got majorly behind on my reading last month. At the beginning of February, I was sick (again) and trying to adjust to a new job, including a new work schedule. It really threw me for several weeks. At the end of February, I finally got into a new routine and starting catching up, but I was already behind. As of now, I'm finishing two of the books on the February reading list, but I'll carry one over into the new month.

What I'm Reading

1. Anomaly by Krista McGee

This is the book I'm carrying over from my February list. I can't wait to dive in, since I've heard so many good things about it from fellow Hunger Games fans. I just ran out of time last month.

2. How She Does It by Anne Bogel 

A new job. Easter's quick approach (a busy time for a pastor's family). Home. Family. Projects. My blog. My novel. Life seems to be flying at me faster all the time. I love Anne's blog and her great advice on books, balance, and life in general. I'm hoping to find some practical tips to help me reign in the chaos. 

3. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

This is a new author for me, but I love spiritual memoirs, and I've heard a lot of great things about this one. 

4. Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

This falls into the "I can't believe I haven't read this yet" category. New York Times and USA Today bestseller, multiple award winner - it's been on my radar screen for months now, but I kept pushing it aside. I'm really looking forward to digging into this, even though it's not in my usual genre. (Although the past couple of months, "my usual genre" has been pretty much non-existent. I've been stretching my reading comfort zone a lot.)

What I'm Listening To

God's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert

I was honored to be an advance reader for Heather's debut novel. I gave it a five-star rating on Goodreads, something I rarely do, but I loved this historical fiction novel. The narration is great on the Audible version, and I'm enjoying listening to it on my commute to and from work. 

What are you reading or listening to this month?

Monday, March 2, 2015


I journaled consistently for several years as a teen and young adult, but gave it up in my early twenties when I realized that my journal had become little more than a place to complain. A few years ago, I read SavoringLiving Water, and I decided it was time to try something new. I started the habit again, but with a new perspective. This time I transformed it into faith journaling and incorporated it into my time with God.

What resulted is a deeper walk with God than ever before.

There are so many benefits to journaling. Just a few:

1. Journaling adds a new depth to my quiet time.
If you want to really grow your relationship with Christ, start journaling. Tell Him what you're thankful for. Write out your prayers. Write out the verses that seem to jump off the page as you read or the words that touched your heart. Choose a “one word resolution” for the year and focus on learning all God has to teach you about that word. Find recurring themes and what God is speaking to you. You will find a new depth in your relationship with Christ.

2. Journaling gives me “memorial stones.”
I love Joshua 4 because it tells about “memorial stones,” the ones Joshua placed in the Jordan where the priests carrying the ark stood as Israel crossed over the river. That's what journaling is to me - it's my memorial stone. It's a physical reminder I can point to and say, "This is what God has done."

I want to lay these stones not just for me, but for my children, too. My kids have to see and hear what God has done in my life, and remember what He has done in their lives. We have to lay memory stones for generations to come. I pray that my journals will give my children and grandchildren evidence of their heritage of faith.

3. Journaling forces me to slow down and focus on God and His Word.
Each day, I write out the scriptures I’m memorizing. Sometimes I’ll add verses from a devotional or from my daily reading. I love writing these words by hand.

We live in a fast-paced world. We're constantly on the go, racing from one activity to the next. When I journal, it forces me to slow down and focus on God. It makes me think about the words I'm reading and writing.

Journaling doesn't have to be time consuming or complicated. You don't have to journal every day, and you don't have to spend hours on it. It only takes a few minutes, and the benefits are enormous.

Ready to start? Grab your journal, if you have one - if not, grab a notebook and add this to your journal later. Write down your "why." Why do you want to journal? What do you hope to gain from it? Then share in the comments why you want to journal.

Need more ideas? You can check out my Journaling boardon Pinterest or follow me on Instagram to see my journaling posts.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Easy Cheesy Sausage Potato Casserole

Nothing says Southern comfort food like cheese and potatoes. Cheesy sausage and potato casserole is a favorite on cold winter nights at our house. The original recipes calls for several pounds of peeled, diced potatoes, followed by 45 minutes in the oven.

But I'm a working mom. By the time I spend 8-9 hours seeing patients, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is spending an hour peeling potatoes. I tweaked the recipe and developed a quick version of this comfort classic. My family can't get enough of it, and I can have it in the oven in 20 minutes.

  • Smoked sausage, 1 lb. (I use a local company's smoked sausage ring, either beef or green onion)
  • Frozen diced hash browns, 2 lb.
  • 1 can cheddar cheese soup
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Thaw hash browns in microwave safe bowl (3-4 minutes, stirring every 90 seconds) - pour into 9x13 baking dish when finished
  • Slice and brown sausage; drain
  • Mix milk, soup, paprika, salt, and pepper until well blended
  • Pour milk/soup mixture over hash browns; stir well.
  • Top potatoes with sausage and cheddar cheese.
  • Bake for 45 minutes

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How I Structure My Quiet Time

We know our time with God matters, but putting it into action can be pretty intimidating. You get up early, ready to dive deep into God's Word - but suddenly find yourself staring into the distance, feeling lost. What now?

Over the past several years, through a lot of trial and error, I've developed a structure for my quiet time. It works well by keeping me focused, and I know exactly what to move into as I finish each part. 

There are five key areas I want to cover in my time with God each morning:

1. Gratitude

I always start my quiet time with gratitude. It helps me focus my mind on what I'm doing, and it starts my day on a positive note. A gratitude journal is the fasted way to improve your attitude, because once your start counting His gifts, you find yourself looking for more. Little things become big gifts as you look for God's graces.

2. Scripture Memory

This was the "missing piece" of my quiet time for years. I knew I needed to memorize Scripture, but I didn't know where to start. One of my favorite resources is Do Not Depart, a great website run by Katie Orr. Her "Hiding His Word" challenges are so encouraging. I also use the Scripture Typer app to study and review my verses. It's the single best tool I've found for memorization.

3. Devotional

Jesus Calling is the most popular devotional out there right now, with good reason. It's a short read that always seems to have just the words I need for that day. I will be the first to say, this quick devotional isn't meaty enough to fill your entire quiet time - but it's a perfect way to focus your mind on Him and prepare your heart for your deeper study.

4.  Bible Study

There are so many great resources available for Bible study! You can join a Hello Mornings group, read through the Bible using the SOAP method, or go through a She Reads Truth study. I shared several different methods of Bible study a few months ago. Find the one that matches you and your needs, and dive in. The study you choose doesn't really matter - what's important is consistently getting into God's Word.

Personally, I'm working on a Lent study right now. Once I finish, I'm going back to my focus for the year, which is a chapter a day of inductive Bible study. I want to work my through the Bible over the next few years with inductive study.

5. Prayer

I can't wrap my mind around the fact that the God who created the universe wants me to talk to Him. He wants me to ask for what my family and I need, to tell Him what's bothering me, to thank Him for His gifts. What an incredible privilege. While prayer should be on going conversation with God throughout the day, it's important to spend focused time praying over specific needs. I keep a list in my journal of daily prayers for my family, church, and friends, as well as specific prayer requests. (If you'd like to learn more about how I journal, check out my post series.)

It's important to note that while this is my basic schedule, my quiet time doesn't always look the same. Some days, I focus on scripture memory more than anything else. Other days I spend extra time in Bible study and skip my devotional. Some days a quick devotional is all I have time for. Something, even if it's short, is better than nothing.

Do you have a schedule or routine for your quiet time?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Lent?

Last year, I did something out of the ordinary for an evangelical girl. I observed Lent. Not in a traditional way - no ashes, no special service at church or fasting. But for the first time in my life, I did something special for Lent. I chose a Bible study God had been speaking to me about for a while, and I spent the weeks before Easter working through Kris Kamealy's Holey, Wholly, Holy.

It was the hardest season I'd been through in years. I had no idea what lay before me. Working through that study, laying my soul bare before God, really focusing on Christ's sacrifice and the enormity of my own sin - it crushed me. Morning after morning, this study left me on my knees, and sometimes on my face, before God. I asked Him to reveal my sin, and He answered, loud and clear. It wasn't just the obvious sins. He dug deep into my soul, showing me the sin I glossed over, trying to hide and justify. 

Those forty days changed me. 

Looking back at my journal from Lent last year, I'm still shocked by the aching, weeping wounds God revealed. Things hidden, even from myself, were brought to the surface. Though painful at first, I now see the healing that began through that brokenness. I'm a different person now than I was last spring. Still broken in so many ways, but a little more whole, my brokenness mended by a God of limitless grace.

Sometimes we need to ask God to reveal our sin. It's hard. We want to hide it - after all, His grace covers our sin. But when we realize how big our sin is, we realize how big our need for Christ is. We see how lost we really are, how hopeless our life becomes without Jesus. In the end, through the pain, we're drawn closer to Him. And we realize just how much the precious gift of Easter means.

This year has already been hard. A job loss, uncertainty and fear, a new job, a new schedule - a lot has changed in just a few weeks. At the end of 2014, I wrestled with my word for this year, debating for weeks between refine and dwell. I chose dwell, but God has shown me that the two are really intertwined - when I dwell with Him, He refines me, and when I'm being refined, I have to dwell with Him to find strength. 

That's really what Lent is about - dwelling on Christ, on His sacrifice, and letting Him refine us.

I'm observing Lent again this year. I've downloaded Ann Voskamp's Trail to the Tree and my friend Kirsten Oliphant's devotional Consider the Cross. I'm going through Holey, Wholly, Holy again, too. I know a little of what lies ahead. I know that God isn't done refining me, that He will reveal more sin and fear. But I know it will make me stronger, because God meets me in my weakness and give me His own strength.

If you haven't found a study for Lent, click over to Amazon and pick one up. Join me in this journey to Easter?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creating a Habit

Creating a new habit is hard. Most experts agree it takes at least 21 days to make something a habit. If you're like me, it takes even longer. I'm great at planning things, but I'm often not so great with following through on them.

Getting up early to spend time with God can an intimidating habit to start, but there are a few simple things you can do to make it easier.

1. Start small.

If you normally get up at 7:00, don't set your alarm for 5:00 the first day. Work into your new routine gradually. Get up fifteen minutes earlier the first week, then another fifteen minute earlier the next week. If fifteen minutes seems too hard, start with five minutes. What starts as a smal change will lead to a big change if you persevere.

2. Adjust your schedule.

If you're going to wake up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier. Don't try going to bed at midnight and getting up at five the next day. Instead of soaking in God's Word and starting your day feeing peaceful, you'll most likely be grumpy and desperate for more coffee. Set a realistic wake up goal and follow up with a bedtime goal. Set an alarm to remind yourself when it's time for bed.

3. Set alarms and reminders.

Set reminders on your phone. Name your alarm on your phone (mine is Hello Morning.) choose worship songs for your alarm tones. Do whatever you can to motivate yourself to put your feet on the floor when your alarm goes off. (I am a little too fond of the snooze button, so I put my phone on the other side of the room. If I have to get up to turn off my phone, I'll stay up.)

4. Make it fun.

Fix your favorite coffee. Buy a new journal. Play your favorite worship song as you start your Bible study. Wrap up in your favorite blanket. Make your new morning routine special and fun, and it will motivate you to get up each morning.

5. Be accountable.

Find friends or family members to hold you accountable. Join an online group. Hello Mornings is an amazing group that offers accountability groups via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They also have many speciality groups - homeschool moms, working moms, etc. You can find out more at 

What helps you start your mornings with God?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Creating a Morning "Selah Space"

It's hard to start a new habit. Getting up early to spend time with God takes effort, and it takes time to create a routine. Do you realize there's one simple step that can help you create this habit? Creating a place to meet with God takes only a few minutes, but it can give you an extra boost to get up and start your day.

You probably already have a place for your Bible study and prayer, a place where you meet with God. But do you have a space for it? Even if you have limited room, you can create a "Selah space" - a place to pause, listen, and reflect on God's Word each day.

1. Find a workable space.

What works is different for everyone. It depends on your home, yours and your family's schedules, and what makes you comfortable. Some people have an office area. Others like the kitchen table, so they can spread out their notebooks and study supplies. When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a huge 3,000 square foot parsonage and I used our double walk-in closet for my quiet time. Now we own our own home, and I spend my mornings with God on our living room couch. I don't wake anyone up, it's comfy, and I have space to sprawl out and work. Look at your home and your needs, and use what you have to plan the best area.

2. Gather your supplies.

Get everything you need for your quiet time and put it all together. This can be anything from your Bible, journal, and pens, to a blanket and a candle. Whatever you need to be cozy and spend time with God, take it to your space. For me, it's my Bible, journal, Sharpie pens, colored pencils, sticky notes, and my favorite blanket.

3. Contain your supplies.

This doesn't have to be anything fancy. Grab a pretty basket or your favorite tote bag and stash your Bible, your favorite journal, your Bible reading plan, and whatever else you need. I found a beautiful little Paris trunk at Ross for $11.00 a few months ago. Since I'm kind of obsessed with Paris and it matched our living room decor, I bought it. It sits at the end of our couch, tucked neatly between the couch and a corner table. It's the perfect size for my Bible study stash, and I'm not digging for my Bible in the dark at 5:00 a.m.

4. Decorate.

Keep it simple. Throw a couple of decorative pillows on the couch. Put a candle out. Frame printables of your favorite verses. Take a few minutes to make your space your own.

5. Pray.

Take a few minutes to pray over your Selah space. Ask God to help you as you make time with Him a priority. 

With a few minutes of prep time, you can create a quiet, welcoming place to meet with God. It's a perfect motivator for spending time with Him.