Sunday, January 25, 2015

Morning Grace: Why Daily Time With God Matters

Do we really need to add anything else to our schedule? As women, we never quite get through our to-do lists. There's always something more - more dirty dishes, another load of laundry, errands to run. Our hearts and minds are pulled in so many different directions. Some days we feel like Elastagirl from The Incredibles, stretching until we think we're about to snap.

Life has been incredibly stressful for me lately. It's hard to focus. My heart and mind are preoccupied by my job search, worry about the future, planning, and more. I'm working, handing out resumes, writing, editing, planning children's ministry lessons and events, knitting and crocheting and planning to (maybe) open an Etsy shop - there's no room for more. Every day leaves me falling asleep on the couch after dinner, so exhausted that it's a struggle just to take my contacts out and crawl into bed. Can adding one more thing really make life better?

It can make all the difference if it's the right thing.

Spending time with God every day matters. It won't look the same for everyone. When and how I have my time with God has changed with each stage of my life. What hasn't changed is my desperate need for one-on-one time with my Savior. I need Him.

Why does daily time with God matter? He gives us three important things when we spend time with Him:

1. Priority

As Christians, our number one priority is God - but unless we spend with Him, we're not giving him first place. Exodus 33:13 says "...let me know Your ways that I may know You..." Time with God lets us know Him. It teaches us His ways and brings us into a closer relationship with Him. It's a tangible way to put Him in first place by giving Him our time and our attention.

2. Focus

Spending time with God changes our focus. I can't tell you how many times I woke up stressed or upset about something, but during my Bible study, God drew my focus to what really mattered.

3. Peace

There is no way I could have made it through the past few weeks without God's peace. I'm not going to pretend to be super-spiritual. I've been freaking out over my job situation. If you want a picture of peace and trust, you'll have to look somewhere else. Through all the worry and fear, though, God has been there, whispering peace to my frantic heart. Over and over, He's reminded me that He's walking this road with me. He whispers His promises - "I have a plan. You're going to be fine."

John 16:33 keeps coming up in everything I read lately: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Time with Him reminds us that He brings peace, regardless of our circumstances.

Over the next few weeks, we're going to walk through every aspect of your time with God - how to set up a Selah space, how to structure your quiet time, types of journals and Bible studies, and more. I'm so excited! I hope you'll join me on this journey. (And if you sign up for my newsletter in the box to the left, you'll get bonus content in my monthly newsletter.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Technical Difficulties

Today I planned to launch my new series on how to plan and structure your time with God. Unfortunately our internet went down. Not just our internet, but the main service provider to the entire area, which means that most our area can't get online. I'm hoping the problem will be fixed soon. 

For now, I'm working strictly off my phone. As soon as I'm able - hopefully later this week - I'll get the first post in the series up. Thanks for your patience!

Friday, January 16, 2015

What I'm Making: January

Nervous energy may or may not be a good thing. I'm job hunting right now, after getting news that my boss at one of my jobs is getting ready to retire. Handing out resumes is stressful, and I've been busy knitting every evening.

I'm playing around with an idea (probably brought on by stress). Whether anything will come from it remains to be seen, but I'm thinking of starting an Etsy shop to sell my knitting. It's going to be a while - I have to build up my stock, come up with a name, and do quite a bit of prep work - but it's something I'm looking at pretty seriously.

I made my first coffee cozy this week. I love this simple pattern! It knits up quickly, and it's just so cute. I've already started a second cozy. This is something I'd love to carry in my shop.

My boys want me to make blankets for them, but I'm a little nervous about biting off such a big project. I found a great pattern on Ravelry, though. It's a block blanket, with a different pattern for each block. I'm making one for myself first, as a test pattern. If all goes well, I'll make one for each of my boys when I'm done. Here's where I'm at on the first square:

I'm working on a dishcloth, too. This ridge and rib pattern is my favorite for dishcloths so far. Again, I think these would be great for a shop. I've already made several for myself and some for family, too. When it's finished, it will look like this:

My Project Life app is seeing a lot of action, too. My goal is to create one page per week. Not necessarily big events, but just the little pieces of everyday life that are too easily overlooked and forgotten.

Most exciting of all - I spent this week editing my next short story, which will appear in the March crime-themed issue of Splickety Prime magazine. I'm really excited about this story. It's nothing like my first two - sweet stories that tugged at the heartstrings. This one is dark, full of twists, and the style I really want to write. Now that my short story is done, I'm diving back into edits on my novel this weekend. It's hard to believe I'm polishing it and getting it ready for beta readers, then agents. It still feels like a dream.

What are you making right now? 

Monday, January 12, 2015

When God Edits Your Life

I wrote a novel last year. I poured months of work into my rough draft. I spent hours researching it, trying to get every detail just right. The day I typed "the end" I was walking on air.

Then came the edits.

I had no idea what I was in for. It's unimaginably hard. Writing was easy compared to this. Editing is brutal. Painful at times. I sent chapters through my critique group, thinking the words were polished and ready, and they came back with dozens of suggestions to make it better. Sometimes there was so much red it looked like the victim in my murder mystery died on top of the manuscript.

Then I entered my first contest. I'd spent so much time on edits. My critique group thought it sparkled. I just knew I would do well. I was wrong. My scores were terrible. The judges shredded my work. I cried. I wanted to quit. Instead, I set the comments aside for a few days, then I picked them back up and really looked at the judge's remarks. I scrapped the first three pages of my story and completely changed the opening. My group critiqued it again. I entered another contest. This time, the day the announcements were made, I got a phone call. I was a finalist.

Editing is harsh, but I see the difference. It's making my story so much better. Each round of cuts, new scenes, and rewording makes my story stronger. And that makes it worth the hard work. I don't want to just leave my story as it is. I want to refine it because the end result - a better story - makes the difficulty worth it.

It's a lot like our lives. When God edits our lives, when He refines us, it's rarely easy. It can range from uncomfortable to painful. But it makes our faith so much more beautiful.

Just before Easter, I worked through Kris Camealy's book Holey, Wholly, Holy. I spent a good part of Lent wrecked. Crying. Aching. At one point I wrote in my journal: "I want to cry out, scream out to God, 'Is this enough? Is this what you want?' - because I can't face it. It's ugly. It's hideous." Cleansing, purifying, refinement - it hurts. Because it means seeing myself as I really am, and it's ugly.

The most beautiful part of editing and refining? The beauty that comes after. By the end of Lent, I could see it - my ugliness, my sinfulness, my brokenness, covered in grace, piecing me together. I wrestled with God during Lent. Refinement isn't a warm and fuzzy kind of goal. It's hard. But He wouldn't let it go. So I gave in, still scared, but knowing this is where He was taking me. I need to be refined.

There are so many things I want to refine in 2015. My body. My home. My soul. My writing. I want to be changed, better, stronger, healthier. The process is scary, though. It requires hard work, frustrating days, and sometimes tears.

Even now, as I write this, God is editing my life in unexpected ways. My work situation is changing, and I'll be honest - I'm scared. I don't have the answers. I don't know where He's taking me, and I don't like it. I wish things had stayed the same, but they didn't, and He has a reason for it.

I don't like change, but I don't want to be stagnant. I want to be better. In a world that slips further from God every day, I want to reflect Him more. 

God is refining me. All I can do is hang on tight. Cling to His hand. Maybe that's the point. Maybe the biggest lesson in this season of refinement is just to hang on to truth, to draw closer to God. My first instinct is to pull away from everyone, even Him, but I have to draw closer. The only way to find strength for the trials is to really dwell with Him. 

Next week, I'm starting a new series on spending mornings with God. This isn't something that came easily or quickly for me. I've spent years learning, and I still haven't perfected my habit. But even though it's imperfect, my morning time with God is precious to me. It gets me through the hard days, like the ones I'm in right now. Each week, I'll cover a new topic - from why it matters to how to find the right Bible study. I'm so excited. I hope you'll join me as we let God edit our lives.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why I Learned to Knit

When I was little, I had a red and white blanket that I loved. My great-aunt Linda, who lived two houses down and across the street, made it for me when I was a baby. I cuddled under that blanket when I was sick, while I watched Saturday morning cartoons, while I read, and countless other times over the years, until the blanket was worn and shredding. 

I loved our trips to Linda's house. My grandma and I would walk to her house at least once a week, usually much more. I was always fascinated by her house. I loved the wall of bookshelves in her living room and the basket of knitting she kept by her chair. She often sent me home with dusty books books to read, books her own children had read when they were young. I sometimes wondered if I could learn to knit, too. But Linda's health declined over the years, and she died when I was twelve. I never asked her to teach me.

As an adult, I tried to learn a couple of times, but I never got beyond a knit stitch. I couldn't even figure out how to purl. Last year, a couple of writing friends, both around my age, started knitting. Their projects started popping up in my Facebook and Instagram feeds. I was fascinated. They were making beautiful projects - scarves, socks, boot cuffs, dishcloths, and more. 

Knitting was on my mind in September, when my family met my sister-in-law and her family for vacation at a condo in Orange Beach, Alabama. My sweet sister-in-law Vanessa bought a copy of a Friday Night Knitter's Club novel for me. I started reading by the pool, stretched out in the warm Alabama sunshine. Reading about knitting, how it brought friends together, and the joy of creating something beautiful was the push I needed. 

When we got home, I found some free beginner dishcloth patterns and printable knittning instructions. I picked up a set of size 8 needles at Walmart for less than $3 and dug out a ball of yarn, discarded in my closet from a previous attempt to learn. Sitting in my car on a long lunch break, I cast on some stitches and started knitting swatches.

Starting my first real pattern was scary. I'm a perfectionist. What if I messed up? What if it looked awful? I decided to use scrap yarn and make a "practice" pattern first. I did mess up...this was supposed to be a striped pattern. Not sure how I turned it into a chevron. Still, I finished, and it gave me confidence.

My first "real" project, a simple basketweave pattern, turned out much better. I made more dishcloths. I turned to YouTube to learn techniques that didn't make sense written out on paper - the long-tail cast on, yarn overs, slipping stitches and passing stitches over.

I made even more dishcloths. My family asked if I was ever going to make something besides dishcloths. So I made a boot cuff. Which didn't fit. (I have really big calves. It's even hard to find tall boots that fit over them.)

I have a growing queue of projects filed away for this year - scarves, bigger boot cuffs, blankets, socks (although that's pretty intimidating - that may have to wait). I'm addicted. 

People ask me often what made me decide to learn. My memories of my great-aunt Linda were probably the main reason. I wish I could tell her that I finally learned to knit because she inspired me. One day I'll get the chance. I also started to realize that making things by hand is a lost art. In a world where everything is instant and disposable, I love the idea of making something by hand, something with a story a memories behind it - like Linda's blanket. Finally, it's just so relaxing. Knitting is so soothing - the steady rhythm of working the needles calms me down after a stressful day.

Are there any other knitters out there? I'd love to connect with you on Instagram! That's where I share most of my knitting projects and mishaps.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Goals for the New Year

I tend to be a classic overachiever. I start the day with huge dreams and goals, but I massively overestimate what I can get done, fail miserably, and end the day feeling worn out and disappointed in myself. I tend to do the same thing with New Year's resolutions, so a few years ago, I quit making them.

I do have goals and dreams for the year, though. I don't necessarily start off the year working on all of them, but I want to start on them at some point during the year. This year, my plan is to focus week by week. I bought a purse-sized weekly planner that will be my command center. I'm using it to plan my weeks and track my progress. I hope that by breaking things down into smaller pieces, I won't get overwhelmed, and by looking at life weekly, instead of day by day, I can set more realistic timeframes to get things done.

Here's what I really want to do in 2015:

1. Start reading studying through the Bible, one chapter a day.
Last year started off strong for my Bible study time, but fizzled when summer and a major church renovation project hit, leaving me exhausted. I've tried methods, studies, apps, books, planning and scheduling. But all I really need is to focus on God. In 2015, I want to declutter and simplify my Bible study time. I want to get back to what I love - inductive study - and focus on one chapter a day, leaving enough margin for journaling, scripture memory, prayer, and "grace days." I'll post on Instagram to keep myself accountable.

2. Declutter my house by following a weekly schedule. (found HERE)

3. Run more 5K's. 
My oldest son and I have have two chosen: March and June. We also want to run some in the fall (dates to be determined) and I want to run my first 10K in November.

4. Get my novel ready to submit to agents.
This means finish editing, write a synopsis, put together a list of agents who might be good matches for my story, and probably a thousand other details I'm not thinking of. Lots of coffee and panic attacks will be part of this, I'm sure.

5. Record our lives with more photos the new Project Life: Project 52 digital scrapbooking plan.
I love the Project Life app. I thought I'd given up scrapbooking forever, but this app makes it so easy. Scrapbooking is a part of my life again, in a much more affordable and manageable way. My goal is to do one page per week. At the end of the year, I can order prints and have a record of our entire year. It will also make Christmas gifts easier - I can print pages for a scrapbook for family members. 

6. Create a family cookbook, including photos, using Project Life.
I already have a cookbook that I've created, using our favorite family recipes. When I find something new that we love, I type it up and add it. Becky Higgins (creator of Project Life) shared cookbook pages on Facebook that her sister made. This year, as I cook each favorite dish, I plan to take photos and create a simple recipe page on my PL app. Eventually, I want to print a copy for myself and one for each of my boys.

7. Knit blankets for my boys.
This one's a little iffy, because I haven't been knitting long. I just started in the fall. The boys both want a patchwork-type blanket, with blocks of color. I've seen some pretty basic patterns for these, so I'm hoping my beginner knit-purl skills will enough to carry me through.

8. Read 36 books (at least).
The way I've been reading so far this year, I'll go way past 36 books. But this is my minimum. Last year I read 20 books. I'm tracking my reading on Goodreads. If you'd like to follow along, send me a friend request and let me know you saw my blog post.

What are your plans and goals for the new year?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Grace for "Those Days"

Playing Angry Birds Rio on my iPad while hiding out in my nine year old's room wasn't the way I planned to end 2014. Didn't I just write a post about dwelling in the present and focusing on the really important things? I'm pretty sure a game involving kamikaze birds isn't on that list. That's where my attention was the night before New Year's Eve, though.

Last week was one of "those" weeks. You know, the kind when nothing major goes wrong, but it's just a yucky, no good kind of week? I was still fighting the cold I'd come down with on Christmas Eve. I worked three days, pumping myself full of Claritin D and Mucinex to get through eight hours of seeing patients. My Christmas decorations were still up because I was too exhausted after work to take them down. Not quite the grand finale I had in mind for 2014.

I was tired and frustrated and feeling a little sorry for myself. But watching my Facebook friends - something else I spent too much time on - I saw a lot of hard things. Saying goodbye to family members. Uncertainty about the future. Waiting for answers. Guilt tugged at me. There I sat, wasting time and feeling discouraged, when friends were dealing with real problems.

New Year's Eve, I was a little more intentional with my time. I sat down to write my last journal entry before starting a new journal. It's always a little bittersweet as I say goodbye to a year of memories. I started looking back over 2014. There were a lot of ups and downs. We'd had our own times of uncertainty and fear. But through it all, there was grace. No matter ho big or how small the problems were, God was there.

We all need grace. The best thing? God knows we need His grace, for the big and the small things. The morning we're exhausted and trying to get ready for work matters to Him. The day we have to buy groceries in the pouring rain with kids in tow matters. The day our work hours get cut or a job disappears is important. The day we hold a loved one's hand, knowing it will be the last time, matters. The size of the needs doesn't matter to God. He cares about them all.

When the weekend rolled around, I needed another reminder of God's grace. I busied myself prepping for the week ahead, getting workbooks and backpacks together for the new homeschool semester, and planning ahead for children's church lessons and project deadlines. As stress crept in on Sunday, I sat on the couch and picked up my copy of Jesus Calling. As always, God gave me the perfect reminder.

Isaiah 40:11
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

I am always wrapped in His arms, close to His heart, and inscribed on His hands. He's watching out for me, no matter how big or small my needs. That's a promise I can cling to, even on "those days."

Friday, January 2, 2015

What I'm Reading: January 2015

If you've been reading my blog very long, you know I am somewhat obsessed with books. I'm constantly reading, usually more than one book at a time. One of my blogging goals is to focus more on books - what I'm reading, what I love, new books and new authors, and more giveaways.

Each month, I'll bring to you my current reading list. You'll see quite an eclectic mix - lots of Christian fiction (mostly mystery/suspense, some YA dystopian, a few historicals, the occasional horror) and non-fiction about faith and life and whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

The links I share will generally be for the Kindle version of the book. I do the vast majority of my reading on my iPad Kindle app. While I love the feel (and smell) of a good hard copy of a book, my iPad goes everywhere with me, so it's much easier to read on it. Plus, as I said earlier, I usually read several books at once, and it's really hard to lug around a bag of books when I'm at work, waiting for an appointment, or running errands.

I plan to post my reading list here on the first Friday of each month. You can also follow my book obsession at Goodreads and on my Pinterest board Books To Read in 2015. Here's what I'm working on in January:

Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
I love Shauna's writing style! Bread and Wine is one of my very favorite books. I picked up Cold Tangerines on sale a few months back and am just now getting to read it. In her words, Cold Tangerines is "a shameless appeal for celebration." In a world that grows angrier by the day, she calls us to focus on the joys that surround us. Shauna tells stories in a way that makes you feel as if you're sitting around a table with old friends, sipping coffee and talking about life.

The King by Steven James
I got behind on my favorite series. The final book, Checkmate, was released last month, but I have to get this one read first. As always, I was hooked for the beginning. Patrick Bowers is one of my favorite fictional characters ever. I can't wait to dive into Checkmate when this one is finished.

The Mountains Bow Down by Sibella Giorello
Another favorite series that I'm behind on. I started Sibella's YA series and am anxiously awaiting the next installment in it. While I wait, I'm catching up on FBI agent Raleigh Harmon's cases - and in this book, her Alaskan cruise gone wrong.

Warzone by Amryn Cross
I have a pre-order with Amazon for this one. Technically, I've already read it, since I was honored to be a beta reader for Amryn's second book. Her first, Learning to Die, was on my list of favorite books for 2014. As soon as my finished copy arrives, though I'm reading it again. There may also be a giveaway of this one coming up, so stay tuned for details.

What are you reading this month?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

OneWord 2015: Dwell

I can't focus like I used to. My attention span seems to have grown shorter as I've gotten older. My husband complains that it's hard to watch a movie with me. I doze off, or I get up to put a load of laundry in, or I try to multitask and lose track of the storyline, missing important details because my mind is somewhere else. My train of thought is running in so many different directions that it's hard to focus one thing at a time.

Missing out on a movie can be annoying, but other things can't be missed. There are some things that need more than our fleeting attention. Faith. Family. The truly important things in life.

Life is fleeting. We never know when it will slip through our fingers, the time and the chances for all we planned and hoped and dreamed of, gone forever. In the past few years, I've lost some high school classmates, all in their 30's, all with young families left behind to grieve. People who although I'd lost touch with, I'd known since childhood. Suddenly gone. It changes your perspective.

Life is too sacred to rush through.

I want to dwell. I want to be settled, to reside with my family. I want to keep my attention directed toward them, not getting sidetracked by things that don't really matter. I want to watch movies with my boys as we pass around big bowls of popcorn. I want to play Monopoly around the kitchen table. I want to bake cookies and make dinner and hand down family recipes. I want to read together, laugh more, explore and discover together. I want to be present, not just in body, but in heart and mind. Life requires focus, living in the here and now, really being present in every moment. To live any other way is to miss it.

I want to dwell with God, to really know Him. I don't want God to be just something I check off my to-do list. The only way to fully live is to live in Him, and that requires time. Like Mary, I want to sit at His feet and soak in His presence. There are so many things I want to change about myself, so much I want to refine, and the only way to do that is to live fully and completely in Christ.

I've been memorizing Psalm 27 with Do Not Depart, and I love this verse: 

Psalm 27:4

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.

That sums it up. "That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life..." Because nothing else really matters. When my life comes to an end, my faith and my family are the only things that will matter. They are the two things that should have my greatest attention. This year, I want to dwell on the things that matter most.