Guard Your Chocolate

Guard Your Chocolate

In my house, I have a secret, hidden stash. The chocolate kind. I cannot even speak its coordinates to you all because there are blog readers in this house who may or may not be trusted. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Photo credit: Jennifer Pallian

Let’s just say I have my reasons for keeping my stash undercover. You know- there are a million things I have and share in a day: my time, my resources, the food off my plate. And even though I would probably share my chocolate too if my kids gave me the puppy dog eyes, it’s better if I don’t. Those little pieces of Heaven create a moment in my day. It means more to me than it does to my kids and it’s something that keeps me going on long days (not to mention I’m avoiding sugared up kiddos.) I keep the location protected so my supply doesn’t dwindle, or get stolen away. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference for me, and so I do what I can to guard it.

But my chocolate stash isn’t the only thing in my life that is small and needs protecting. There is something else worth defending- (and it’s oddly synonymous with chocolate, if you ask me)- my heart.

We give so much from our hearts, and it’s easy at some point to find ourselves in a position where we’re giving too much, or giving to the wrong people or situations.

Proverbs cautions against wrongly depleting this precious resource:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭4:23‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I have been guilty of an unguarded heart. I have at times felt that if God is leading me somewhere I need to sacrifice all of my energy and resources into that one place. Sometimes that is what’s asked of us, but sometimes we’re not being asked to tend and harvest the whole field- only to plant a seed. While it’s imperative that we act when God calls us to, the way we approach the situation is also very important and needs to be accomplished with wisdom and tact.

As it’s said, “everything you do” flows from your heart. What would that look like if you’ve poured out the last drop of that resource because you’d been trying to replenish what God never asked you to repair? An unbeliever who isn’t ready to hear the truth, a casual listener who refutes your every point, or a relationship not based on good moral ground could all be examples of heart-draining situations if God has not personally called you to those people for a purpose. Of course we will be led to encourage those who are distant from Him, but ‘who’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ are all details best left to the Lord. When we try to make up the details on our own without first seeking His will and guidance, we’re always left feeling drained.

I’ll put it like this: Have you ever left the lid open on the diaper wipes container? It doesn’t seem like a big deal. There’s a whole container of them so what does it matter if you get distracted and leave that top wipe free to dry out? If you leave them for a few minutes, no big deal. You pitch the top wipe. But if you keep leaving them unattended in that compromising situation, then before you know it the whole pack has gone bad.

Not guarding your heart dries you out.Little by little, when we devote our time and attention to the wrong things- or even when we are investing too much in the “right” things when we haven’t been led to do so- we end up feeling empty.

I can’t say I’m always an expert on the art of balance, but I can certainly admit I’ve left my heart unguarded and been drained a time or ten. In my experience, these are some things I’ve found to be helpful in that self-protection I believe Proverbs talks about:

Helpful Hints To Guarding Your Heart

1. Protect your time with the Lord. The task lists, the dirty dishes, the stack of paperwork- it will all still be there when you’re done. Don’t let those things steal you away from this time.

2. Make time for the Lord. Let’s backtrack a little. If you’re going to protect something, it has to be in existence first. One on one time with God in prayer is imperative to a God-filled, God-led life. Set apart time to be still and seek Him, and use this time to ask God for wisdom on all matters- big and small.

3. Take a step back and ask yourself- “Is this leading me closer to or farther away from relationship with God?” And act accordingly.

4. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Listen to Philippians 4:6-7 (emphasis added):

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

While we can expect hard work ahead in our mission to be a light to others, I hope it encourages you to know that we are all equipped with God’s peace to guard our hearts along the way. I hope if you are feeling depleted today that your spirit will be renewed through Him and you will stay steadfast on the path He’s set before you.

Happy Monday, friends!

Quarrelsome Wife, Lonely Life: Allowing God to Change My Attitude

Quarrelsome Wife, Lonely Life: Allowing God to Change My Attitude

Have you ever read your Bible and come across one of those kick-in-the-gut verses? The kind that makes you say ‘yep, that’s definitely meant for me….’? That happened to me a couple weeks ago when I was reading through Proverbs, one of my very favorite books:

“It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭21:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The conviction is real, y’all. I felt that one in my bones.

I’m admittedly a little Type A; the (wo)man with the plan. Organization and order put my soul at ease, and disorder always leaves me feeling anxious and stressed.

(Photo credit: Laura Mitulla)

My husband couldn’t be more different. Always easy going, calm, and collected, nearly nothing ruffles his feathers. I often hear him say “it’ll all get done,” and it’s always spoken truthfully, without a hint of concern in his voice. His laid back nature makes it difficult for him to understand why I run around like a crazy person with my bright red rubber gloves and messy bun flopping around the day before a holiday or big life event- I just can’t relax or enjoy it without my house clean and in order.

(Photo credit: rawpixel)

It’s really no surprise though, that in a busy household of two adults, two kids, and a dog, life can fall into a category that no one would label structured or orderly. It’s in those times that I sometimes become the quarrelsome wife that Proverbs talks about.

I get an attitude. I reprimand my family members for offenses I know I’ve warned against in the past. I might even toss a misplaced shoe as my lazy lab watches without surprise. These sorts of instances came to mind as I was reading that verse, and I began to feel my perspective shift from details to Deliverer. (Scriptures like this have a way of doing that; of redirecting our focus from the petty things fueled by the values of this world- to the more important bigger picture that God Himself has painted for our lives.) I already knew that my quarrelsome moments weren’t serving anyone in my family well- myself included. But I felt a tugging on my heart from that verse to be more mindful, more intentional, more grace-full in my interactions with my family, and most especially with my spouse.

That one simple verse became a call for me to put down my bright red rubber gloves and open my eyes to see how God blesses, even in the messes- and allow it to change my attitude.

Oh, and if that line didn’t say enough…. You can always count on repetition in the Bible where a message is of special importance. (You know how you’re always repeating instructions to your kids? Yeah, God has to do that, too.) A little further on in the wonderful book of Proverbs comes this:

“It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭21:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Ouch. A desert. The Bible says it’s better to live in a literal desert than with me a complaining wife. Pack your canteen, honey.

And I wasn’t kidding about repetition being a powerful tool in scripture, because then there’s this-

“A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind or trying to hold something with greased hands.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:15-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Okay, okay we get it!

Now. Can we mentally replace “wife” in these verses with “husband” sometimes? Of course we can. But we all know it’s usually us as wives who run the household, leaving us more vulnerable to daily challenges which can spur on an argumentative response. (These scriptures weren’t aimed at wives on accident.) 🤷🏻‍♀️

It happens. Stress manifests differently for all of us, and that’s where God’s grace (and hopefully the grace of our loved ones) comes in. These little gems in the book of Proverbs serve as a healthy reminder to keep a check on our attitude, which is always a reflection of the state of our hearts. As it’s said in Proverbs 4:23, our hearts should be guarded above all else because “everything you do flows from it.”

So put down the gloves and let out the messy buns, ladies. Be still and take stock of your precious world around you. Let’s pray for a gentle spirit, which is an attribute pleasing to God, and eyes that see past the mess and the stress. After all, “we can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps”- and there’s no arguing with that!

– • – • – • –

Encouragement For A Humble Heart, Gentle Spirit, & Kind-Hearted Attitude:

Philippians 2:12-16

“….Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life….”

(My Bible’s comment section says: “A transformed life is an effective witness to the power of God’s Word. Are you shining brightly, or are you clouded by complaining and arguing? Don’t let dissensions snuff out your light.”)

1 Peter 3:4-5

“You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands.”

1 Peter 3:10-11

“For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”‭‭

Ice Cream Sundaes… For the Soul

Ice Cream Sundaes… For the Soul

“Mom, my dinner belly is full,” my son used to say. His dessert belly, on the other hand, he always expressed as being quite hungry. In its sheer cuteness, this argument likely worked on his first attempt when my little boy was just a couple years old.

Over time however, it became a worn out excuse and he was reminded time and again how important his healthy dinner foods really were. (Though as his mother whose dessert belly is ALSO always hungry, I’d have to say you can’t blame the boy for trying.)

On one occasion, my husband took our son to a local restaurant. In my absence he decided to order an ice cream sundae for him to enjoy. Since our favorite waitress was working she made sure his was extra, EXTRA large. According to my husband, he ate and ate but eventually turned to him and spoke the unimaginable: “Dad, I can’t eat any more ice cream.” For perhaps the first time in my son’s life, his “dessert belly” was declared full. There was absolutely no room for anything else.

Photo credit: Flavio Shibata

Have you ever had that satisfied feeling after eating something you love? That fullness we experience deters us from searching for anything else. But whether we’re full on something healthy, or full on junk food, full is full.

The things we’ll settle for when we’re just starving can really get interesting. Have you ever went scavenging through the grocery store when you’re hungry? Anytime I stroll the grocery isles on an empty stomach I start making some baffling decisions. Nine different kinds of juice? Sure! Three different breads? Sounds like a good idea! Olives (even though I have no recipes for the week ahead that call for them)? YES. But eating before shopping keeps me guarded against straying from my shopping list. Otherwise I’ll grab at anything to fill my stomach and quiet my hunger pangs.

Don’t we do the same thing though when our souls are hungry for something more? Every person is born with that ‘something more’ need; a “God shaped hole” that only He can fill. But in our misguided searching we try to fill it with our own personal version of the next best thing. Shopping, eating, gossiping, gambling, drinking, working, relationships, social media scrolling- insert your “next best thing” here, whatever it is.

There is a Proverb that perfectly describes this search and cycle:

“A person who is full refuses honey, but even bitter food tastes sweet to the hungry.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

When we’re hungry at the grocery store we’ll buy 27 donuts, pickle flavored potato chips, or 9 kinds of juice. But when we’re hungry for God, we will fill up with anything we can get our hands on that our hearts think might help- even bitter, destructive, or unproductive things.

On the contrary, “a person who is full refuses honey”. When we see our very personal need for God and fill it with Him and Him alone, we become full– of light, of life, of peace, grace, and love- and there is no room for anything else, however deceptively sweet it may seem. There’s no room for relationships that stunt our spiritual growth, for pursuits that leave us feeling empty, or for material things that we’ll grow tired of by this time next year (or even next week.)

God fills the need. He replaces our want for things He knows will tear us down. Being full of that relationship with Him protects us, and gives us unimaginable freedom from the “bitter foods” in our lives that taste deceptively sweet.

What’s your “next best thing” that you try to satisfy your soul with? How would your life change if you replaced it with seeking a relationship with God?

Even Jesus Took Naps

Even Jesus Took Naps

Jesus healed, traveled, served, and performed countless miracles in his lifetime- and he still took naps.

Grab your favorite blanket and that cute sleep mask you’ve never taken out of the package because you know I’m going somewhere with this….

The passage from Mark chapter 4 (verses 35-41) tells the story of Jesus stepping away from the crowds and seeking rest in the back of a boat, even in the the midst of a raging storm. It brought a very realistic image of motherhood to mind:

It’s after 3 P.M. Loud and overwhelming ‘To Do’s” loom in the evening busyness of my household. Ready or not, the after work and school hours have begun, bringing on more demands than downtime. My husband asks where to find an obscure item which has faded from the landscape of a cluttered countertop over time, and has suddenly regained an urgent purpose. My 7.5-year-old son finds new sources of energy just as mine seem to be dwindling. I end up chasing him from room to room reminding him that socks don’t belong in couch cushions, and the dog needs to be fed. My 11 month daughter crawls and climbs the terrain of the living room and squeals for my full attention. Dinner needs cooked, pajamas need tiny people sprawled out within them, and after long days, a mama’s mind needs to be quieted.

Now. What happens in the midst of all this?

Is my response to,

A. Stand up, and use my calm presence to quiet the storm, or

B. Panic, lose my peace, and let my outward expression be determined by my inward unresolved struggle and weariness?

I’d love to tell you that I’m an option A mom, but I don’t always have it so together. As it turns out though, I’d be in good company because the disciples didn’t have it all together that day on the boat with Jesus either. When the storm threatened to sink their boat it says,

“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭4:38‬ ‭NLT‬‬

It sounds like they had the tendency to stress, just like this mama does.

But not Jesus. In the raging storm he calmly stood and dealt.

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭4:39-41‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now where do you think Jesus found that incredible calm? He was rested. His faith was in God, his unfailing Father, with whom he’d built a strong relationship. And so, even in the face of looming disaster and other priorities on the shore that begged for his time and attention, he protected his time alone and his time spent in prayer. Though it doesn’t specify, I can just imagine Jesus praying as he laid down, falling asleep while talking to his Father in Heaven. The Bible gives examples of his time away:

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” – Mark 1:35 NLT

“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” -Luke 5:16

So friends I have to ask- how often are we withdrawing to the wilderness?

Whether that wilderness is a Pinterest-worthy nook in your home complete with a plush designer chair and a built-in bookcase, or it’s the driver seat of your car because your kids finally fell asleep in the back, it’s calling for you. And it also requires something of you- the ability to say “wait” or even to say “no” altogether to certain things.

See, it wasn’t that Jesus had free time on his hands- but that he did what he had to in order to protect his time alone to rest and to protect his time in prayer, even when it meant stepping away from other things temporarily. (Kind of like trying to sneak off to use the bathroom even though tiny fingers will undoubtedly slither under the door within seconds. Hey, it’s a priority- you’ve just gotta do it.)

Jesus fully saw the need for his service out in the world, but he also recognized his inner need to recharge and speak with God.

Now here’s where I stumbled all over myself when I started considering this whole thing:

How important do I think I am that I can’t (won’t) take time out for God, when even JESUS HIMSELF made it a priority?

Do I not have faith that He will help to accomplish what’s asked of me in His perfect timing?

(If you’re slipping on your sunnies and sliding down in your seat right now, I’m going to guess you can relate to the grounds for those questions.)

As moms and wives it seems as if we are often the most in demand people on the planet. There is constantly someone calling our names, or something needing done that others think only we can do.

“Mom, I need toilet paper!”

“Honey, there’s toothpaste on the ceiling.”

“Mom, sissy’s diaper smells terrible!”

Oh, the demands of the job. How easily, then, can we relate to Jesus? He was highly sought after and often surrounded by great crowds of people seeking his attention. (In my mind, the equivalent must have been like having thousands of kids…. 😳) And yet, he understood the importance of rest and of his own personal time with the Lord.

I’m not suggesting we abandon our responsibilities to squander our time. Instead, let us prioritize where we will carefully place our attention before our attention is stolen away. We live out crazed days and we need rest, too. The best rest, I find, always comes after I give God some prime real estate in my daily schedule. If I want to be able to take a nap in my boat, I’ve got to make sure I’ve spent time in prayer in the wilderness first. That’s when I find the strength to remain calm in the storm. That’s when the sweet, restful moments come and are more fulfilling than ever before.

What’s your “wilderness” like? Where do you run off to when you need to spend quality time with God?

Keep Your Eye On The Couch Pillows

Keep Your Eye On The Couch Pillows

“DON’T EAT THE CARPET!” I yelled, as I dove over the kitchen chair barrier I’d created to keep my now-crawling daughter within the confines of the living room.

I pried her mouth open as she flailed her extremities in every direction. In one fluid swipe my glasses were removed from my face and landed just out of reach. “Blind your opponent- impressive strategy for a 10-month-old,” I thought. Nevertheless I was able to reach into her tiny little chipmunk-like cheeks between blows and retrieve the stray strand of carpet.

Our living room is currently its own special work of art. With an open concept floorplan there is little to keep my curious baby herded within the pasture of our living space. So, from necessity, I’ve designed a very chic arrangement consisting of a side-lying kitchen chair, furniture pressed up against each other, a laundry basket filled with hopeless, matchless socks, and a portable playpen.

I’m not sure why I haven’t been contacted by Better Homes and Gardens yet, really. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Now while much of our home boasts newer flooring thanks to the previous owner, our living room carpet has certainly seen its better days in the decades since our house was built. Charlie, our lazy yellow lab, must agree. Wherever he decides to lay, he paws at the carpet to make for a softer napping spot, and occasionally strands from the carpet are pulled loose. My eagle-eyed munchkin sometimes finds these small pieces before I do.

Feeling the frustration, I thought, “I’ll get ahead of this.” I grabbed a pair of scissors and went around extracting any little strand that looked as if it may come loose at Charlie’s pawing. Then, feeling accomplished, I returned my daughter to her designer play area.

A short time later I made a quick trip to the next room, only to return to find her squirreling away couch pillow stuffings in her tiny baby cheeks.

(Friends. Remember me in your prayers.)

As moms we know that we can’t take our eyes off of these sweet little sneaks for a second. The moment we start patting ourselves on the back for conquering the trials of one milestone, they’re already onto the next. In the midst of trying to keep up with my daughter this week, I came across a verse that pointedly reminded me that we can’t take our eyes off of our enemy either:

“When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” -Luke 4:13 NLT

That’s right- He. Never. Stops.

Even as we celebrate the moments when we find the strength to walk away from a carefully crafted temptation, or choose differently rather than going back to a bad habit, he is already scouting out the next opportunity to knock us down. He is constantly working- so that means that we need to be, too.

In light of this, I’ve got to ask you what I’ve been asking myself this week: How can you be more persistent? 

Is it waking up earlier to get into the Word before your day sets your priorities for you? Grabbing your Bible or devotional as soon as the kids go to sleep instead of the remote? Deleting an app off your phone that- let’s be real here- the enemy is using to distract you from devoting more time to God?

The bottom line is this: our purpose in life is to love God and love people. It’s so simple, but the enemy is persistent and effective in making it complicated. We have to hold onto the truths of the Word in order to be prepared for every opportunity to love, so that there is less opportunity for the enemy to take the lead.

Life Comes With Instructions

Life Comes With Instructions

I was raised on a firm principle: instructions are for sissies.

At least that much was implied on one occasion I recall as a girl when I received a laugh in return after trying to hand my dad the manual for whatever it was he’d just bought. I’ve even found myself repeating that notion through the years, and in case you’re wondering how well that’s worked for me, allow me to share a Proverb my grandma likes to use from time to time:

“Pride cometh before the fall.”

Grandma raised five boys. Grandma knows.

But as much as I’d like to jump right into things, I like having instructions. I NEED instructions. And you know who gives the best instructions of all? Our all knowing, more than gracious God. Sometimes I can just imagine him up there shaking his head at me in dismay when he sees me trying to do things my own way, and he probably gets a good laugh or two. But none the less when I go looking for wisdom it’s always right there in the word.

That’s why I love the scripture that I shared yesterday so much:

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” -Isaiah 26:3

First and foremost, I love this because God is giving us an awesome gift- I mean who doesn’t like getting gifts? And it’s GOOD. He is not giving us contentment or complacency, but his own perfect peace. The peace he promises is not some distant fairytale that we have to go chasing, or something we have to earn and figure out on our own- it’s very real and it is attainable! And not only is it available to us, but right there in the very same verse we are given instructions and told exactly how to attain it- through trusting God and fixing our thoughts on him.

Now that’s great and all.. but what do we do with that? How do we turn that into action and start experiencing his perfect peace?

Have you ever caught your thoughts spiraling? Maybe going from “I wonder if I unplugged my straightener….” to “WHAT IF I COME HOME TO A PILE OF ASH AND MY POOR FUR CHILDREN ARE STUCK IN THE HOUSE WHEN IT GOES AND I’M ONLY LEFT WITH THE CLOTHES ON MY BACK” in about 0.2 seconds? 🙋🏻 There is a simple- not easy, but simple- strategy I’ve learned to stop this in its tracks. When you catch yourself fixated on unproductive, ungodly thoughts, stop and turn your runaway thoughts into gratitude. You see, being grateful has this magical power that turns our fears into focus on God, and grants us that perfect peace that he is trying to give to us.

Instructions: they can turn a nice sentiment into a powerful testament. And thankfully for us, our God has given us the best instruction manual ever created.