My Anniversary Gift for Year Five: Marriage Counseling

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This weekend my husband and I will celebrate our five year wedding anniversary. Just this past January, we began discussing about how we wanted to celebrate this milestone. We both value experiences and quality time over gifts, so we determined to take two trips sans kiddo. (We like to gift equal opportunities for babysitting to both sets of grandparents. It’s only fair.) But on top of two great experiences seeing different parts of the country, I also asked for a bonus gift. Marriage counseling.

When I shared my request at a recent speaking engagement, there were audible gasps in the room.

So I wanted to take a moment to explain why I believe one of the greatest gifts we could give our marriage is counseling. Unfortunately, counseling, especially marriage counseling, still carries a bit of a stigma for many people. Countless female friends and acquaintances have confessed to me that although they might like to visit a counselor, they didn’t think their husbands would consider counseling as an option. The reason? “There’s nothing that wrong with our marriage. I’m happy. Aren’t you happy? I don’t need to talk to a stranger to know I should love my wife.”

David and I committed to several sessions of marriage counseling because our marriage is good – really good – and we want it to continue that way. In the same way I see my doctor for yearly checkups or get the oil changed in my car, the goal is to do the work before any crisis arises.

If you told me that next year I would be expected to get in a boxing ring and go toe-to-toe with Laila Ali, I would be foolish to think my training could come in the middle of that match. You do the work outside of the ring so that you are skilled and equipped for the fight.

I asked for marriage counseling because I want to fight for our marriage, together.

The greatest threat to our marriage isn’t outside of our marriage. The greatest threat is in our marriage- it’s me and my sinful heart. It’s my husband and his flesh. I so appreciate the outside perspective provided by my counselor that helps us to see our blind spots both individually and as a team.

A personal trainer helps you to do the work that will shape your body and strengthen your muscles. A counselor helps us do the work to strengthen and shape our marriage.

Statistics scream that marriage is hard. My husband graciously accepted my request for counseling because we both want the same thing: a great marriage.

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On a recent road trip we talked through some of the greatest marriage lessons we’ve gleaned through reading (Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage and Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas in particular), learning and counseling over the past five years. Here’s what what training has taught us:

Prepare for the fight before you get in the ring!

Invest in your marriage by strengthening your team: pursue each other, schedule date nights, develop your communication skills, seek out mentors, enlist a counselor for support. I have yet to regret time devoted to knowing my spouse in a greater way.

(Romantic) Love isn’t enough. 

David doesn’t complete me. He can’t complete me. To place my total purpose and satisfaction upon his shoulders would be crushing. David cannot read my mind. He will disappoint me. So giving love only when I feel the love, that’s going to lead to some lonely stretches of time. Instead this one goes back to our vows. We committed before God to be a picture of the gospel to the world. That’s our end game. That’s our firm foundation – we are both sinners in desperate need of a Savior, not each other. Even when I don’t feel loved in the way I might imagine for a particular moment, I am still called to lean in and love. Marriage is a daily choice.

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Place your vows where you can see them.

Our first Christmas together I had our vows printed and framed with a shot from our wedding. The picture hangs outside our bedroom door and serves as a daily reminder that we go out into the world committed to each other before God. We are in this journey to help each other become our future glory-selves, and that takes daily vow renewal in our hearts.

“[Spiritual friendship] is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Practice Patience.

Almost every little frustrating spat is a result of differing expectations. Take a deep breath, then proceed with the reminder that this other person is FOR you and not out to get you.

Communicate. (Kindly.)

Sometimes it’s not exactly what you say, but how you are conveying your message. We have two big rules in our marriage when it comes to our words: No silent treatment and no cussing at each other, EVER.

Release the need to justify yourself.

I’m sorry goes such a long way to mend hurting hearts.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

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There are obviously countless more things to share, but this is what is fresh on our minds in a year with so many friends experiencing deep grief and challenges in marriage relationships. Marriage is hard, but it can also be such a blessing. That’s my hope and desire for this next year, that this journey together (no matter the minefields that await) would be so, so good because we are determined to walk this together.

“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Happy 5th Anniversary, David.

I love you so. xoxo

-G

*Wedding photos by Jane Zarzynski Photography

From dead sticks to new life.

 

I’m sitting outside on my back patio enjoying a gorgeous spring morning. The highs sit in the upper 70’s (SORRY REST OF THE COUNTRY!) and remind me why living in Arizona is worth any discomfort the summer may bring. The trees are green, a light breeze rustles the leaves, and a humming bird hovers near the bloom of my Aloe Vera plant. New life is all around me.

But out of the corner of my eye I can see which one of these things is not quite like the other. My failed potting attempts sit together on my patio. You might never have guessed that these brightly colored pots once held oregano, rosemary, dill, and even tomatoes as recently as last spring. The soil is dried and cracked and browned sticks poke out from the surface.

Do you know what would happen if I began furiously watering and fertilizing these pots for the next month? Do you know what you would see in those pots?

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[Read more…]

Reading List for 2014

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This year is a wide mix of material, and I’m excited for all of it!

Spiritual Growth Titles:

1. (Not pictured) Currently Reading – Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
I feel as though I’m one of the few who have never read this in its entirety. I’m working to fix that at the moment. He provides such logical explanations and examples to so many complex thoughts, ideas, and theology in this work.

Mere Christianity is a theological book by C. S. Lewis, adapted from a series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944, while Lewis was at Oxford during World War II. Considered a classic of Christian apologetics…” (Wikipedia)

2. Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness by Andrew Murray
Yet another book I’ve had for ages and still not done my due diligence and read it all the way through. Perhaps 2014 is the year to finish every book I’ve started. This one came highly recommended by several of my friends. It’s not long at all, but packs a firm punch.

“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” 

3. A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
I’m also currently reading this book. My copy is marked and worn and I haven’t even finished it yet. I read chapter 6 three times before moving on. So much of Emily’s writing feels as though it has been taken from a page in my journal, only my journal from a few years down the road and with a lot more wisdom. The subject line of this book speaks to my heart: Uncover the art you were made to live. You don’t have to be an artist or even an art enthusiast to enjoy this book. She’s taking the truth of Ephesians 2:10 and applying it to living daily art. “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing.” (NCV)

4. More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Generosity by Jeff Shinaburger
I don’t know much about this book. My friend Carey text me while she was at the Allume Conference this October and told me I should look into Shinaburger’s stuff, that apparently I would really connect with it. So I put the book on my Christmas list and my mother-in-law was kind enough to oblige. Now I have the book and I look forward to reading it and sharing what I learn.

In More or Less, Jeff Shinabarger calls readers to create their own social experiments to answer the question, “What is enough?” (Amazon)

 

Family Growth Books

5. On Becoming Baby Wise: Book II by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam
Can you tell I needed some more titles to round out my list?

6. Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel
My friend and former boss, Kevin East, highly recommends this one. I’ve only heard positive reviews so I’m definitely looking forward to cracking this one open.

Despite the numerous examples the author cites where parents fail, this text is overwhelmingly upbeat with hope and possibility: Parents who strive to live a life of faith characterized by daily trust in God will pass on this message of possibility and potential to their offspring. Kimmel asserts that this “radical” mode of parenting will meet the three essential needs in kids’ lives: for security, significance and strength. He assures parents that these needs can be met with grace-laced love, purpose and hope. Kimmel’s gentle heart is evident in every chapter, and his obvious passion will spur frustrated parents to keep at the task with new resolve and optimism. (Publishers Weekly Review)

7. Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just isn’t Good Enough by Justin and Trisha Davis
Yet another title that I don’t know much about. I actually saw this book pinned on someone’s Pinterest board and decided to do likewise. I pinned it and my husband gave it to me for Christmas. I’m hoping we can read it together.

How safe is your marriage? The answer may surprise you. The biggest threat to any marriage isn’t infidelity or miscommunication. The greatest enemy is ordinary. Ordinary marriages lose hope. Ordinary marriages lack vision. Ordinary marriages give in to compromise. Ordinary is the belief that this is as good as it will ever get. And when we begin to settle for ordinary, it’s easy to move from “I do” to “I’m done.” (Book Description, Amazon)

 

Fun Reading

8. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
My husband received this book from my dad this Christmas. We’ve been slowly reading it out loud on nights when we feel alert enough to stay up past 9:30. Jim is one of my favorite comedians. He’s pretty sarcastic and down-to-earth. This book is his memoir of sorts about surviving life with his wife and 5 kids in their 2-bedroom New York apartment. We’ve laughed aloud. A lot.

9. Son by Lois Lowry
Yesterday I wrote about books two and three of the “Giver” series. This is the final installment, book four. David wants to read it aloud also, so I’m having to sit on my hands to keep from tearing it open and reading it on a 24-hour binge!

My thoughts on the series: The Giver (book one) has been one of my favorite books for the past decade. It took having lots of downtime to finally check out the rest of the series. Think Hunger Games minus the violence. It’s young adult fiction but the themes within the book have nothing to do with teen romance. Each of the books has left me thinking for days.

– – – –

There you have it. Looks like I have an odd nine books on my list. I would love to add at least three more asap! I’m still formulating, although I’m fairly certain my sister’s top choice (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by  Mindy Kaling)  will be making an appearance fairly quickly. That’s why I’m also looking to you, friend. What should I add to my hold list at the library ASAP?

What’s on your list for 2014?

Following,
Ginger

Strengthen My Hands

After three months of resting, waiting, and making lots of excuses, I finally pulled out my post-baby workout DVD. Ugh. I was determined to make it through one of the twenty-minute sessions. Everything started well enough. My daughter was entertained for the moment, a miracle in itself. But about halfway through the workout, I began to doubt my plan. The perky mom on the screen was very encouraging as she demonstrated the set of 15 push-ups we were to attempt. I’ll be honest; the push-ups were a disaster. It felt like I had never done a push-up in my life. I immediately considered turning off the DVD. I thought to myself, “This is way too hard. I just want to be done. Can’t I just get the results without doing this work? UGH!”

And then I remembered Nehemiah.

I know. Odd line of thinking, but I’ll connect the dots. My Thursday morning Bible Study is walking through Kelly Minter’s Nehemiah: a heart that can break. Nehemiah is the central figure in the story of the Israelites rebuilding the dilapidated walls of Jerusalem. He wasn’t an engineer or a military leader. As an exiled Israelite in Babylon, he had served as cupbearer to the king. And yet, the Lord stirred in Nehemiah’s heart to see Jerusalem restored to its former glory. Even though he had limited leadership and building experience, Nehemiah responded in obedience. (If you haven’t spent time in the book, I highly recommend you pull it out soon.)

Fast-forward in the story and we discover that after a mere 52 days of building, the walls are almost completed and the opposition from enemies is in full swing. Nehemiah can’t seem to catch a break from these enemies, but his passion never wavers. In chapter six we read,

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’

But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’” (Nehemiah 6:9, NIV)

That one short prayer teaches me so much about Nehemiah’s resolve. Had I been in Nehemiah’s shoes, my prayer would have probably looked a lot different. “God, this is way too hard. Can you just take away the opposition and everything that makes this difficult so we can just be done?” (Sound familiar?)

All too often I just want the Lord to make my problems instantly disappear. I don’t want anything difficult to cross my path.

God cares deeply about my struggles, His Word promises that. But I also believe that the Lord wants to teach us through the challenges. Nehemiah reminds me to ask for strength in the middle of trials, to persevere, and to pursue God’s will.

My workout DVD is in no way a trial, but I’m thankful for the small ways that the Lord continues to remind me of His word and His promises.

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Whatever you are facing this month, know that God is walking with you. He has not abandoned you. May we have the courage to pray with Nehemiah, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Happy Friday!

Following,
Ginger

Not to Forget

Psalm 105: 1-7 (NIV)

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
    his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God;
    his judgments are in all the earth.

REMEMBER.

Psalm 106:12-13, 20-21 (NIV)

“Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel… They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things.

I do not want to forget. I want to remember the God who has done great things in my life…

He gave me a loving family.
He brought me to camp.
He gave me encouragement to live my passion.
He protected my heart and life.
He taught me to love through pain.
He showed me the way I should go.
He cultivated my story.
He directed my steps and journey.
He granted experiences.
He spoke to my heart.
He brought me to the desert.
He gave me countless opportunities.
He granted failure and favor.
He has given me a home.
He richly blessed me.
He granted the desires of my heart.
The Lord has done great things for me.
I will remember!

newtonPerhaps today is the day to make your own Psalm 105. Let’s remember what He has done for each of us, the way He has woven our stories. Let’s not forget.

Following,
Ginger

Patiently

I learned about the Fruit of the Spirit when I was just a kid going to Sunday school.  I’m not sure I understood what they were, but I absolutely had them memorized thanks to a catchy tune.  Here’s the verse that addresses the fruit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23, NIV

Background info: Galatians is a letter written by Paul to a church in Galatia. In the paragraphs of chapter five, Paul is talking about having freedom through Jesus from sin and death and also how to live by the Spirit, rather than by the flesh… meaning my own selfish desires. He lists all sorts of behavior associated with living by the flesh, and it’s not a pretty picture: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions… the list goes on and on and doesn’t get any better.

But… (there’s a but) Paul then says that the fruit that comes from the Spirit are these 9 great characteristics.  These are the FRUIT of the Spirit.  So how does one grow a specific trait… say patience?

 basil

Patience is one of nine traits listed in the Fruit of the Spirit. Plant yourself, connect yourself, abide with Jesus and the Bible says that the fruit produced will be these nine eye-catching things. (Don’t you notice when someone oozes kindness or patience?)

But what happens if you feel like one or some of these fruits aren’t defining character traits for you? Is this yet another time to throw up your hands and shift the blame elsewhere?

I don’t think so.

We were born with personality traits  I’m fairly outgoing but my husband tends to be more of an introvert. He can speak to a whole room of people if needed, but he won’t enjoy it as much as I will. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 aren’t personality traits. They are different aspects of godly character– and character is something that can be developed and grown. I don’t get to blame impatience on my personality, even though I certainly might like to!

You see, usually impatience comes because I have unmet expectations. (We’ve talked about these before!)  We had a plan for the day and it didn’t involve the printer jamming, our friend making us late, or the driver in front of us going 15 under the speed limit. It’s all about control and it is all about ME. Notice that none of the Fruit of the Spirit have to do with self-promotion. That’s just it… it’s not about ME.

Step #1 to cultivating fruit: Recognize that it’s not about me because it’s all about Him.

Check out 2nd Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new!”

This passage talks about a definite change in our lives. When we recognize that we can’t hold it together, that we’ve made mistakes (yes, sinned), and that we need a rescuer… that’s when Jesus steps in to make us new. Notice it doesn’t say that we receive perfection in that moment. You and I are a work in progress for our entire lives.  Remember that God is FOR us. He’s not waiting for us to mess up, He is coming along-side us right where we are!

I recognize that sometimes impatience isn’t associated with irritability. Sometimes our impatience looks more like anxiety and worry. That’s still a problem because it’s basically saying that we distrust God and what He has for us.  God is head over heels crazy about us and (thankfully) He is in control. His timing is for His people.

Step #2 to cultivating fruit: Strengthen your muscles.

While there is no growth or change happening without the Lord, gaining strength in this area requires exercise.  I take the time to strengthen my arms with weights, and my spiritual life isn’t any different. I have to daily notate where I am living selfishly and not producing good fruit. Thankfully God seems to be totally aware of my blind spots and seems more than happy to keep giving me situations in which to recognize the lacking fruit. “I have the slow cashier again?!” Maybe that’s an opportunity to meet the cashier and show kindness… and in doing so you utilize vast amounts of patient strength you didn’t know you had! Growth is going to take some strength training, so don’t get frustrated if you feel like a lightweight when it comes to patience. The time devoted will pay off.

Cultivating good fruit in our lives is a process that will take a lifetime.  I will not arrive at a point where I am never impatient, but perhaps one day I will be thought of as a patient woman.

Oh would that day come sooner! ;)

Following,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Apathy

dear ginger

Hi Ginger. Lately I have been struggling with the sin of apathy in my Christian life. It has become so bad that it has started to affect my prayer life and reading of the scriptures drastically. I feel like I have tried so hard for so long to climb out of this rut, and I simply don’t feel that I have any more strength left in me. I recognize that this is a problem, but I just don’t know how to deal with it anymore. I yearn for the passion and zeal that I used to have for the Lord and I want to get back to that place so badly, I just don’t know how. Please help me!

Sincerely,
Fallen and I can’t get up

Dear Fallen…

As I read your question, I thought to myself: From one “Fallen to another “Fallen.” That’s the truth of it. If only we stayed up for the whole journey, right? But this tug and give seems to be part of the human experience, even in the life of faith.

My first hope is that you aren’t living under the yolk of a “try-hard life.” Obviously God desires us to be walking toward Him, leaning forward, drawing near on a daily basis… but at times in my life I let the guilt of my own stagnation actually push me FURTHER from Him

Imagine you and I meet up for coffee regularly. We have a 4:00pm date each and every Monday. And say I missed one Monday, just totally forgot about it. You would expect me to be apologetic. I might buy your coffee the next time and beg profusely for your forgiveness. Not that ridiculous… but imagine if I did that EVERY time we met up for the following year. You couldn’t get a word in edge wise for the first half hour of every meeting because I was talking about the guilt I feel. Guilt has a way of keeping us from an intimate relationship. Because the truth of it is, you would likely grow tired of the routine and might eventually lament, “Would you please stop apologizing? I just want to spend time with you!” 

I recently pulled out my prayer journals from high school and college and discovered a common theme at the start of every entry. I expressed so much guilt. All. the. time. 95% of my interaction with the Lord was just me apologizing. I wonder now if God ever wanted me to just enjoy my time with Him – to let Him speak to my heart and encourage me in my walk… even if it wasn’t perfect. Confession to the Lord is a beautiful thing, but I was living in the land of self-condemnation… and I just want to make sure you aren’t camped out there as well.

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For MANY years I spent most of my prayer time asking for forgiveness for not being focused or passionate. I began to feel burnt out and unsure of how to initiate the growth I desired. I know that I fall into thought patterns where I assume that I’m the only one who struggles. I’ve been a believer for as long as I can remember. I have lived in church all my life.  And yet, I sometimes worry that I’m the only one who’s thinking: “I don’t know how to do this… pray, fast, be spiritual, choose which way to go.  I should be better than this!”

And then I read a book that spoke right to the heart of my struggle: Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli.

“Spirituality is anything but a straight line, it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.  In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms.” –Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

Amen to that.  I feel like I’m in a life-long journey of admitting my mess. I spent a large portion of my life being terrified that someone would figure out just how much of a mess I was. But the first step is admittance.

Hi, my name is Ginger and I am a spiritual mess. My time in the word is sometimes sporadic, my prayers distracted, and my heart selfish.

But thank God for grace that covers my fears… and mess. Thank God for grace that covers us both!

Now that we’ve covered that side of things, I wanted to tackle the rest of the question. How do we fan the flame in our relationship with the Lord?

Some ideas for you – as it seems like you already have some sort of a routine in place: 

  • Change up your routine from time to time.  (Sometimes I read from a different translation or at a different time in the day. Sometimes I read a book, and sometimes I take a walk outside while listening to a podcast. Watch the checklist – this is a relationship!)
  • Remember that walking is still moving! Just keep moving forward.  (Some days I can read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting and other days I only make it through a verse or two.)
  •  Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or if you’re just off your game. Pick it back up tomorrow.  (Don’t let guilt keep you away from a gift!)
  • Find exciting new ways to pray. Try writing out your prayers, doodling and drawing, praying with someone else, making a prayer box… write your requests on slips of paper and then draw 1-2 a day to specifically pray for. When they are answered, post them somewhere visible.
  • Volunteer/serve/encourage someone else! Write out Bible verses and send encouraging notes to friends and family who might need a pick me up. Maybe even try it anonymously. Joy comes from blessing and encouraging others, rather than focusing on our own needs. When life is “all about me” it leaves little room for the joy that emerges through loving people.

Remember, if a relationship is worth growing, it’s worth pursuing even on our lamest of days. Your efforts will be rewarded!

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7, NIV

I love this reminder from Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman:

“Emotions don’t have a brain. They are reactors. They may respond to truth, but they may also respond to lies with the same passion and conviction, sometimes more so. You must decide if you will trust the feeling or if you will trust the truth.”  

It’s important to remember that your spiritual journey is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get tired, just like a runner. That’s why you need the nourishment of God’s Word, the encouragement of fellowship, and the care for your temple to see you through the tough days of training! Hang in there. Keep talking to God.  He is FOR you, and not against you!

Remember that He’s not holding out on you, waiting for you to get it together.

Remember that He sees you and He hears you. 

Remember that His promises are precious and great.

Remember that He loves you and He has given you everything that you need to live a great story and grow in His love and Word. Hang in there.

When your strength runs out – that’s when He goes to work! “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

Praying for freedom from guilt and the passion you so desire.

Following,
Ginger

Starting Somewhere

With temperatures hitting near 110 all summer in Phoenix, I’ve spent most of my exercise time indoors and enjoying the ac at our local recreation center. The plan is to possibly run a 10k in September and then a half marathon in November or January. Because of those goals I’ve had to start seriously training again. And just like the last race, training for this next round started with mile number one. So more miles to run = more time on the treadmill. While music helps me for the first few miles, eventually I turn on the TV and start hunting for something that will keep my mind off how long I still have to run! Since I run mid-afternoon the programming is less than desirable. I keep getting sucked into viewing shows I ordinarily wouldn’t watch; much less admit to you now. (Darn you Bravo and those housewives of all kinds.) It’s easy to fall into patterns of behavior with entertainment, food, gossip, language – you name it. The more I’m around something the more I’m prone to just go with the flow.

This weekend in church we were challenged by a great guest speaker (Marty Caldwell) to look at Romans 12:1-2 in a translation I’m not familiar with- the J.B. Phillips New Testament. Check out why it’s made such an impact on my heart:

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:1-2, JBP NT)

I love that picture of God re-molding me from within. You are probably more familiar with the NIV version of this verse that says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The reason I like the J.B. Phillips version so much is because I think it gives me a more literal picture of what it looks like to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I understand the concept of transformation… it’s like the caterpillar to the butterfly… but how do I actually accomplish that? “Let God re-mould your minds from within…” It’s Him. It’s God’s work.

So does that mean there’s nothing I can do to work out this transformation? Paul also writes this in his letter to the Philippians… “So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice—and that not only when I was present to give it—so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.” (Philippians 2:12, JBP NT)

Our speaker challenged us to consider the evidence of transformation in someone’s life. He suggested that the first bit of evidence would likely be seen through an attitude of gratitude. Think about it- it’s totally counter-cultural. Everything about our culture tells us we will be happy if… we get the right stuff, have enough house, take the big vacations, have the best body… and on and on.

Thankfulness should be our daily rhythm because it’s the truth. We have SO much to be thankful for. Paul’s challenge in Romans 12 is to NOT let ourselves simply be influenced by the world, but to reprogram our thoughts and desires – to ask God to open our eyes so we can see and live as thankful people. Gratitude is like a muscle… we’ve got to work it out.

So while I LOVE combing Pinterest to find projects and things to beautify my house, maybe I need to start walking through my own house and pin post-its of thanks for the blessings I DO have. The growth could start by simply thanking the baggers at the grocery store. Or maybe it looks like voicing my thanks to the Lord in the morning and listing out my thanks in a journal before I go to sleep. Who knows? A workout has to start somewhere…

What are you thankful for today?

Following,
Ginger

Roots by the Stream

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.  They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV

con·fi·dence

noun

1.full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliabilityof a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability tosucceed.
2. belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: His lack of confidencedefeated him.
3. certitude; assurance: He described the situation with suchconfidence that the audience believed him completely.

Root

noun

1. a part of the body of a plant that develops, typically, from the radicle and grows downward into the soil, anchoring the plant and absorbing nutriment and moisture.

It’s time to check our roots.

Following,

Ginger

 

Graven

I’ve had  “Before the Throne of God Above” stuck in my head for almost a week.  (Believe me, I know there are far worse songs to have stuck in your head.)  In case you aren’t familiar with it, LISTEN to any one of these recordings.

This hymn reminds me of my own faulty struggle with self-righteousness. I’ve battled being good enough for most of my life. I let comparison (judging my behavior as better or worse than others) and my own attempt at being “right” keep me from experiencing God’s grace in the ways that I should. God has been using studies, sermons, and everything in between to show me the hypocrisy and judgment that keep me from genuine repentance.

In simpler terms: When I attempt “being good enough” to earn God’s love, I end up acting like I don’t need His love at all.

This hymn reminds me that if I really believed that God’s love was enough I would be quick to say I’m sorry (to God and to everyone around me), I would live humbly, and I would have no need to seek my own righteousness. If only I could remember how He showed His love, with my name graven on His hands.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because a sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Behold him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!

One in himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by his blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God
-Charitie Lees Smith

Even now as I sing along with the words I can’t keep my eyes from welling from tears.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.”
Isaiah 49:16, ESV

I write things on my hands so I won’t forget. My Father- my Savior, engraved my name upon His hands.  The Creator of the world engraved your name upon His hands. He won’t forget you.

Forgiven,
Ginger