I Felt Like a Real Teacher!

Friday was a good day at school.  I was exhausted, as I am at the end of every week, but I experienced something wonderful.  For a brief moment, I felt like a real teacher.  This may sound a bit crazy, as I am paid to teach a class of 22 wonderful third and fourth graders on a daily basis, but during your first year of teaching, it's difficult to feel like a "real teacher" when more often you feel like you have no clue what you are doing.

That said, currently we are working on Feature Articles in writing.  Although I love to write, teaching writing has been an entirely different animal.  Yet Friday I felt myself take a shift in my teaching.  The night before, I had diligently looked over the students' work.  I had something I was excited to share with them that I thought would help their writing become stronger.  So the next day, when Writing Workshop came around, I enthusiastically told them how proud I was of how they are growing as writers, and how a certain strategy would help them take their writing to the next level.  It's not that I shared anything incredibly profound.  It's that I was really excited about it.  And they could tell.  In turn, the kids were excited as well.  When I sent them to go write, the majority of them were eager for my help, really wanting to try the new strategy.  This is what I have been waiting for...children who are excited to learn!!!

While really wonderful, this was still not the best moment.  That came later, when we returned from an assembly, and one student said, "Are we doing writing?"  When I said no, she quickly responded with a disappointed sigh and said, "Awww."  I was thrilled.  I felt like a real teacher.  Even more, I felt like I was finally stepping into the role God intended for me at that school in the first place.  It's amazing how such a simple circumstance can become such a huge motivator.  I learned a powerful lesson that day.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  I feel like I've always known this...but God certainly knew I needed to experience it like this in order to truly grasp it.  Our students and kids reflect whatever we communicate to them.  If we hate broccoli, there's a good chance they'll hate broccoli.  If we have a bad attitude and a sarcastic tongue, these hurtful attributes will probably be reflected back to us.  If we are overwhelmed and unwilling to work hard at something difficult, there's a good chance they will be unwilling too.

So I am excited to bring enthusiasm even more into my classroom.  I want the children to notice this before they ever notice I am overwhelmed or unsure of myself.  I have something to share, and when I care about it, they just might too.

That being said, the following picture depicts how my Saturday was spent, fostering this newfound motivation, along with some serious time with God, and progress on my "read through the Bible in 90 days" goal.  Which, by the way, is an awesome experience so far.  Reading the Bible as the amazing story that it is, from cover to cover, can have a profound effect on how you see and know God.  At least for me, it has shed  awesome new light on stories I have read or heard about many times before.

What can you get excited about that might inspire someone today?

(P.S.  After one whole week, my desk is still clean!!!  Loving it!)


Have You Talked To Your Grandma Today?

My grandma read my blog today.  I told her about it last night, including all the words she would need to type into the white box at the top of her computer screen to find it.  She is new in the last couple years to the internet, but I so love and respect how adventurous she is with wanting to jump in and join this crazy web world.

So she called tonight and right away said, "You're great Pagey, just great.  I loved it and I spent all morning reading it."  Then she said, "That's how I feel too.  I just can't put it into words and write it down."  She also told me she cried while she read some of it.  To quote a phrase I have come to love that best describes how I felt, "My heart swelled."  I love that my grandma is proud of me.  I love even more that she and I have been able to connect so deeply in the past few years about all matters of the heart, including our relationships with God.  She will be 84 in almost exactly a month, and I embrace every memory I am able to make with her.  It has only been in the last few years that I feel like I have really started listening intently to every word she speaks, trying to memorize the details of her stories, knowing that some day they will become dear treasures to me.  As a matter of fact, they already have.  I have come to love the way that each of our personal stories is woven together through so many moments of history.  My grandma has a fascinating history filled with moments God alone clearly orchestrated.

My grandma is a beautiful, spunky woman, with a bold and courageous heart.  She works hard and always has.  She keeps her home cleaner and nicer than I probably will ever be able to. (Although she'd say I can do it).  When I was first married, I finally found the motivation one day to scrub the entire apartment from top to bottom.  She was the first person I called.  The only one who could truly appreciate the magnitude of me saying, "Grandma, I cleaned all day long...on my hands and knees even!"  She gracefully replied, "Wow, good for you Pagey."  She is also quite fashionable.  When I used to work at Sephora, I introduced her to some "must haves," and have enjoyed helping her keep them in stock ever since.

So thank you, Grandma, for loving me and being interested in my life.  Thank you for loving my husband and reminding me what a wonderful man he is.  Thank you for not being afraid to talk to me about anything, and for sharing such a deep wisdom about life, including how you continue to seek after God and love all that you learn.  Thank you for reading my blog.  I love you.

Have you talked to your Grandma today?


See, I Am Doing a New Thing!

"Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19

I love this verse. It was a powerful verse for me a couple years ago, and still is today.  It's quite amazing how life tends to work out that way; God allows us to choose paths that often when we look back on, we would choose to alter in some way.  Pointing once again to the fact that while we might have some regrets, we must remember that He is the great Redeemer.

This verse was a part of my Bible Study tonight, (Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer), referring to truly listening to and discerning the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.  Priscilla was talking about how we need to passionately pursue this voice and follow it boldly, as the Spirit often is ready to lead us to something new, although many times we insist on focusing on what has already passed.  I have struggled with this consistently throughout my life.  The pain of perfectionism.  Maybe what this day calls for is a willingness to live a courageous life, one that could only be made possible through the strength and power that comes from completely trusting in and depending on Jesus.  Is it possible that often when we think we are waiting on God He could actually be waiting on us?  Think about one thing in the past that you continue to dwell on.  Could it be keeping you from experiencing the adventure before you?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to show you a new thing He wants to do in you.  Receive the new mercies of every morning and pray that God will provide peace for the past. What is the still, small voice saying to you today?  Listen closely, follow without hesitation, and receive the fruit of your faithfulness.

That's So Cute!

Kevin is always laughing at me for how many times I say, "That's so cute!" So here are some creative ideas I have found recently that I find fascinatingly super cute! Check out these crafty favorites from other blogs:

Felt Mail for kids from lu bird baby :

Valentine's Day Date Idea from Me and My Insanity :

Notebook Covers (super cute Christmas presents for my students next year?!) from The Pleated Poppy:

Homemade gift bows from How About Orange :

Love these Heartstring necklaces from Lisa Leonard :

Crayon Hearts from Martha Stewart:



Surely by now you have heard of the workout, "P90X." When I was in college, (10 years ago!), I actually did the P90 videos in my dorm room. I'm definitely no infomercial, but it was pretty fun. I highly recommend the "Ab Ripper" video.

That said, this post has nothing to do with muscle building exercise. It actually has to do with a sort of work out for the heart. It's a plan my husband and I are even more excited to follow over the next 3 months - B90X. Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC has created a program for reading the Bible in 90 days. We have decided to take the challenge. Bring on the life changing power of the Holy Spirit. We invite you to do the same. Check it out by going to the following link:



The Kids Like It Clean

Well, the classroom was a hit. A hilarious hit. The kids came rumbling in this morning and quickly came to an astonished halt when they walked through the door. They stopped and stared, looking all around like it was a museum. I have to admit, my heart skipped a beat. It's just not every day - okay, more like it's not any day that people young or old marvel at any space of mine because of its cleanliness. I heard all kinds of comments like, "It's so clean." And, "Wow, where did everything go?" I was loving it. One very bright and quick witted little girl even went so far as to peek out the door, look up at the sign and say, "Is this really Mrs. Russell's class?" Very clever. I will have to say, though, after awhile, as more and more kids came in and commented, I started to think it really must have been something awful!

So, it's time for an admission. Here it goes. While I have learned to be honest about my weaknesses and play to my strengths, I get it. I'm starting to appreciate those that claim the OCD behaviors that keep a space spotless. It does feel good. And it's so much more efficient. You should have seen me walking around there today making sure things were tidied and maintained as the day progressed. And it sure made clean up at the end of the day easier!

I have to thank my dear teacher friend across the hall in the 5th grade classroom who stayed late for awhile Friday to help me create systems I had never thought of. Teamwork at its finest. It made me appreciate so deeply the necessity to share our gifts with one another. We must not keep our strengths to ourselves, when they can so enhance the lives of someone else. If you are naturally organized and think a thrilling Saturday means cleaning out the closets, then you and I might never understand each other. But I could never tell someone like you how much I appreciate when you help someone like me create "a place for everything," and help to "put everything in its place." In my mind it's all kind of a jumbled mess. Like the stinky little Charlie Brown character who walks around with that dingy, dirty cloud. But I could at least be good for a laugh in the process!

So thank you to my students for noticing and appreciating my hard work. I pray you feel loved, nurtured, and lead well here.
Thank you to all the naturally organized people who offer grace to those who struggle to grasp the concept. I am in awe of your gift.
Thank you to all those who, like me, refuse to pretend to be anything other than a beautiful mess...and aren't afraid to ask for help.
And here's to another day of having a desk I can see. Because after all...the kids like it clean.

(P.S. Those of you who are or used to be teachers: trust me, I'm aware this room will not win any awards. But for me, it's a win. I mean, you should have seen it before! :) )


Budget Booyah

Today is a big day. Basically week 3 of our super intense budget, and I had my best grocery shopping trip yet. If there is one place I prefer to save a lot of money, it is on food. Kevin and I are both able and willing to eat very simply when necessary, which is a blessing. So tonight, after 2 hours of carefully comparing and cutting coupons in Kroger, (I actually picked up the paper in there before I started shopping), I bought all our groceries for...about $38!!! Booyah - as my husband might say. Better yet, I saved $28.76 between the Kroger "mega event" and the coupons I had! Love it!!! I keep telling Kevin I am loving the challenge and look forward to even better trips in the future. My goal is to stay around $40, although I am often told that seems a little unrealistic...which gives me even more motivation. My gracious husband was even willing to let me buy him a different kind of deoderant because with a coupon it cost 50 cents! Seriously, this was a true adrenaline rush for me at the checkout. One disclaimer...we have one package of chicken breasts left that wasn't used last week, as well as a half of a box of pasta and a jar of pasta sauce that we will be using this week. And we still have half a bag of brown rice. This budget will prepare these meals: oatmeal or fruit smoothies for breakfast, turkey sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches with chips or crackers and fruit for lunch, a pasta night, a chicken, rice, and veggies night, a breakfast food night, a chicken quesadilla night, a frozen pizza night, a yummy brunch on Sat., whatever is left Sat. night, and a gift card lunch on Sunday!

Now this was not just any adrenaline rush for me. It is part of what I have come to know as "the adrenaline rush of trust." Although often difficult, I have grown to love trusting God and experiencing His overwhelming faithfulness. Is it easy? No. Painful at times? Absolutely. But the relationship I have with God has powerfully grown over the course of my lifetime largely through our give, trust, and provide relationship. I commit to giving generously, I trust that God will provide for all my needs in sometimes creative and unexpected ways, and He without fail provides, often blessing me with more than I ask for or ever deserve. It has not always been in my timing, but He has never failed me. When I was younger it became an adventure to me to figure out my tithe and round up to give even a little more, for the purpose of expressing my love for God and showing Him how grateful I am for the ways He blesses and provides. It's always seemed like a tangible way for me to communicate my trust to Him, even when I've felt like I needed every cent. I might not have the most admirable wardrobe or the most beautifully decorated apartment, but I am joyfully grateful. Or gratefully joyful. Either way, one thing I know for sure is that we cannot out give God. From my experience, and as evidenced in the BIble, He is the great multiplier. He is the only one that can make something out of what might seem like nothing. And He delights in doing so. Yet it requires us to have faith rather than often deciding we can't wait for Him to provide and taking a much less wiser path to get things on our own. Often when we work on the budget, on paper it always seems like it will never work out. Like it just doesn't make sense how there will be enough. Yet we are reminded that God never promised to make sense, He never assured us that we would be able to understand. Instead He calls us to trust Him with our lives....the very ones He created and allows us to live. So that is my encouragement to you. Spend wisely, give generously, trust ruthlessly. And be amazed at how God provides for you. In what area of your life do you need to trust God the most today?


K-Love and U of K

My husband, more affectionately nicknamed "K-Love" got to experience some U of K love today. So, while I'm admittedly not a die-hard U of K fan, I am happy that he had such good seats and so much fun. I love you Kevin! Here's to one of the greatest times of year being right around the corner...March Madness!!! Get out the brackets baby!


A Beautiful Mess

So I'm not Martha Stewart. It's certainly not the end of the world. But boy does it make a highly administrative job extremely challenging. Tonight I spent 6 hours - I kid you not - organizing and cleaning my classroom. And all the papers still aren't filed. But to me, it's like a page right out of Real Simple. (Basically that means you can see the top of my desk.) I should have taken before and after pictures like a good little blogger would, but alas, read the title. I don't exactly claim to have it all together. Besides that, I could probably take the "after" pictures first and just give it a few weeks to take the "befores." I'm telling you, a real work in progress here.

Okay, so enough about the mess, where's the beauty in it? That's what I love. Here's where I come to life. Not in a pile of paperwork, art supplies, and notebooks...but in the midst of the life-giving truth of the heart of who I am, the Spirit that lives inside me, and the God that I adore. He is the beauty in my mess. I realized while I was driving home tonight how much less I try to be perfect now than I did in my younger years. I mean, I was the girl with the bangs that took 2 hours every morning to pouf perfectly before shelaquing with aerosol. Now it's a good day if I use a hairdryer. Then there were the years of trying to say the just right thing and being literally paralyzed with fear over what people must of thought of me. I remember so clearly the process of giving up my pursuit of perfection. I basically got tired. Exhausted from taking so much responsibility for my own value and worth. It is a beautiful freedom to surrender that effort to God and let Him alone define who I am.

Growing in life is not about getting better, becoming someone you always wanted to be, receiving the affirmation of others, accomplishing all your hopes and dreams, or even having all of your papers filed. It truly comes down to how much you are willing to lean completely into Jesus alone, making much of Him while thinking nothing of yourself. It is daunting, I know, which is why the fullness of this will unfortunately never be realized this side of Heaven. Yet the process can begin today. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything of significant worth and value flows directly out of a relationship with Jesus Christ. We don't do things to prove our worth and earn our salvation, then come to Jesus ready to be approved of, forgiven, and redeemed. Instead we need to go straight to Him, broken into a million pieces, admitting our inability to make sense of or succeed at anything on our own, and cry out to Him to be everything to us. To overcome all that is in us and fill us with His Spirit. Then from that comes the forgiveness, healing, redemption, and hope. That relationship produces the fruit. The good works then become an offering of gratitude, an overflow of an overwhelming love.

Trust me, I've got problems. As a matter of fact, those are the exact words I just said to my husband. Multiple times in a day I either think or say, "I'm a mess." Smiling in my heart of course. Because I know that I can stumble and fall and fail at everything around me, but because of the Savior I serve, the Lord who loves me with an undying and everlasting love, I might be a mess...but a beautiful one at that.


I Will Be Joyful

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." Habbakuk 3:17-18


Be Still and Know...

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

I feel peaceful. Certainly not because I had a fabulously successful day at work or am all caught up on my work (only in my wildest dreams). Certainly not because my apartment is clean, (still waiting on the maid fairy to show up), and not because everything is right with the world. Clearly, as evidenced by the devastating destruction in Haiti, it is not. The peace I feel is only because of the God I know. My small group Bible Study started up again tonight, and it has set my mind in motion. We are studying about how to truly tune in to God's voice in your life, and the ways He intimately speaks.

My heart was incredibly convicted about how gracious God is to speak to us and constantly pursue us. There have been very obvious times God has spoken to me, and even more subtle, gentle times. There have been times I have been very in tune with Him and chosen to listen, and many more times that I have refused to be still and really hear His voice. Those times are often painful for me to reflect on, yet my joy comes from seeing how God has redeemed and restored anything that my brokenness caused.

At a church planting conference last April, Kevin and I heard Francis Chan speak about the Holy Spirit. It was a powerful message. (We LOVE Francis Chan, by the way. Author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God, and pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. You have got to listen to his sermons. Check out the link to his blog in my list!) The point that struck me that hardest was when he said, "You cannot be walking with the Spirit and sinning at the same time." How true that is, although often hard to admit. In that moment I was so convicted because I love God so very much. I am so thankful for the journey I have walked with Him, and I want nothing more than to be constantly in tune with His Spirit. I have a friend who has always told me that God is not a God of confusion. So the times that we often think are chaotic and crazy, confusing and complicated, we actually might need to take a hard look at how in tune with the Spirit we are, as well as how closely we are walking with and pursuing after God. Right when Francis spoke those words I began to reflect on my own life. Those times that I was crying in my car, imploring God to speak clearly to me I have to ask myself, was I doing things 100% God's way, or anything my own way, trying to ask God to bless that? It's a tough question, but one that holds a lot of revealing truth.

I am confident that when we sin we break the heart of our loving Heavenly Father. Because He loves us so very much. Yes, He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, but oh how I hate to hurt Him. How I hate to take for granted in any way the love that He has shown me and the many ways He has been so faithful to me. He never lets go, He continues to pursue. That's why it breaks my heart to think of the times I have sinned against Him.

So what now? Where do we return when we are brought back to our knees longing to be right in tune with our gracious God? For me, it has always started with being still; knowing, believing, and surrendering to God. My mind and my mouth tend to be moving an awful lot, so I know that when things are getting crazy and chaotic for me, this is right where I need to be. Still. Knowing, trusting. Not understanding, not making sense of things or figuring it out. Not having the perfect emotion or feeling. Just getting completely outside of myself and trusting beyond what I can comprehend or see. It is amazing how difficult silence can be when we are experiencing our most fragile moments. Evidence that silence and the freedom to release might be just what we need.

One of my most favorite songs, one that we played at our wedding, is by Steven Curtis Chapman. Here are the lyrics:

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

Be still, and know that He is God
Be still, and know that He is God
Be still, and know that He is God

Be still; Be speechless

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still, Be still

Listen to it if you get the chance. Sit still and just let Him love you. "Bow before the Prince of Peace, let the noise and clamor cease...Be still and know that He is faithful. Consider all that He has done, stand in awe and be amazed, know that He will never change. Be still."


"Between Sundays"

I am so thankful to have had another day off from school today! It seems like the extra days off that feel more like a "gift" are so much more productive than the regular weekends.

One thing I did today was make a trip to the Lifeway Christian Store here in town. I picked up the Bible Study my small group will be studying next, "Discerning the Voice of God" by Priscilla Shirer. She is a beautiful speaker and gifted writer, and a link to her blog is on the list of my favorites.

In honor of a cold and rainy day off, one that begs for a cozy afternoon wrapped up in a down comforter, I also picked up a fiction book to enjoy. But not just any fiction book. A Karen Kingsbury novel. Now let me just say, I love Karen Kingsbury. There were many mornings, afternoons, and evenings in college that I could not put one of her books down. Much like today. Today I bought "Between Sundays," a book that has been out for awhile but I have yet to read. (Notice the bargain budget price! Hence the reason I bought it!!!) I am half-way through and very much loving and being encouraged by the story. It is about a young foster child and his foster mom, who took him in after his birth mom, her best friend, passed away. He has a father he is trying to connect with who is an NFL football player and is unaware he even has a son. In the meantime, the football player, who is living a self-centered and wayward life is learning what he has been truly missing in life from his teammate, who is a Christian. He is learning valuable lessons about how he lives "between Sundays," and how that is what makes all the difference. He is also greatly affected by observing the gentle and graceful strength of the woman who is raising this foster son as though he is her own.

I know that Christian fiction novels can often have a predictable plot, but it's not what happens that keeps me intrigued. It is how beautifully Karen develops the characters and portrays their growth as a result of their conversations and moments of wrestling with God. Her books always display God's faithfulness, interwoven into stories that are very much filled with painful realities that people encounter regularly.

Even from the part of this book I have read so far, I am convicted to pray for and research the lives of foster children whose stories I could potentially impact. It is so sad to realize there are hundreds of children who do not have "forever families," and who are left to fend for themselves and make some sort of life starting with nothing when they turn 18. This book really brings to life the sad reality that so many foster children who are older face as they are desperately waiting and hoping to be adopted. I know this is something I will be researching in the near future to see how I can play a role in providing an element of hope to these children. In the meantime, please join me in praying for these children, that they might be welcomed into a family that will love them and provide a home for them forever. If there is any way you can help wherever you are, please pray about doing so.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows..."James 1:27


The Atonement Child

The church service this weekend at Southeast was intense. It is the 37th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade case, which legalized abortion. Since that time, over 50 million babies have been killed in the womb. It is tragic and devastating to think about. At the end of the service a person representing every age from 37 to a baby still in his/her mother's belly walked down the aisle with a rose to represent the over 1 million children that had been aborted that year. It was heartbreaking. It is a powerful sermon that you can listen to by following this link:


I know that there are women who live daily with the pain from choosing to abort their baby. I have heard stories about instant remorse, when right after a woman has had her baby brutally extracted from her, she sees or realizes it was fully formed, even if very tiny. My heart breaks for these women and their struggle. I want them to know and feel the loving redemption of Jesus Christ, realizing His forgiveness of this choice. And the loving comfort that can come from God alone, who is the great Healer. I am so thankful that our pastor at Southeast chose to speak so boldly about this topic, recognizing it as a Biblical issue, not a political issue. I am so glad he told the story of the woman called "Jane Roe" who once helped legalize abortion and now stands 100% against it, after seeing and realizing the brutality of this practice.

There are two books I have read about this topic that have emotionally rocked me each time I have read them. They are both fiction, one written about a woman's journey after having an abortion, and the other about a woman who walks the difficult road to choosing to give her baby life.

The first book is by Frank Peretti and is called Tilly. It is a story of a woman who has an intense dream that she meets the daughter she aborted in heaven, and the little girl just wants to be loved and held by her mom. She wants to know all about her family and what her brothers and sisters are like. She wants to know that her mommy loves her, and she wants her mommy to know that she is happy and that Jesus takes care of her. She says he tells the most wonderful stories. She tells her mom that Jesus says they will all be together again some day, and she can't wait. She tells her mommy that she forgives her.

The other book is The Atonement Child, written by Francine Rivers. I have read this book numerous times, and each time I cannot put it down. It is the story of a girl who has a "storybook" life, dating a nice Christian man, attending a good Christian college, and is brutally attacked walking back to the dorm from work one night. The result of this attack is a pregnancy, and pressure is put on her to leave school. Her boyfriend suggests abortion. The story walks through the turmoil she faces, the changes her relationships go through, as well as the fear and loneliness she feels. In the end, this girl searches hard after God, realizing He is searching hard after her, and chooses life for her baby. She soon realizes what a life giving choice this is, and how God will bless it. The book, however, ends with a different girl in a cold room in an abortion clinic, her boyfriend leaving the room and closing the door behind him. The last couple lines read, "When the door closed, death surrounded her. And into the silence and separation that followed could be heard the weeping of God's only begotten Son, the Atonement Child."

Tears are rolling down my face and I am sobbing as I write this. First because just imagining this scenario and the millions of women who have sat in that room and ended the life of a precious little child breaks my heart and brings me to my knees. I cry for each one of those sweet, innocent babies. I wish I could wrap my arms around each of those women before they ever step foot in that room and promise them that God can and will get them through what might seem like the most challenging scenario they could face by choosing life for their baby. My tears also represent intense sadness over that hard core depiction of God giving up His one and only son, allowing him to be brutally murdered so that you and I might have an atonement for our sins. So that we may be forgiven and free, promised eternal life.

Let me make one final plea to Christians. Although I cannot read the minds of those who have struggled with the choice or gone through with an abortion, I wonder if there is anything we could have done to help them choose life. I am not talking about protesting or educating. I am thinking more of showing grace. Often in our conservative Christian church cultures we make it horrendously difficult to struggle with sin. The irony is, if you are breathing, you struggle with sin. It is the result of a fallen world here on Earth. Yet we are afraid to hear about someone's deep struggle. Thus, he or she feels like there is nowhere they can turn for help. And the truth is, the church should be the safest place to find grace and healing for the sin someone might be struggling with. What if a young girl was struggling to stay sexually pure yet was completely terrified to share this struggle with anyone at church, for fear of condemnation? Wouldn't she find more strength and accountability to overcome this struggle if she was met with love and pointed to Jesus? What happens if she makes the wrong choice and becomes pregnant? What goes through her mind when she thinks about being pregnant and having everyone talk about her? Can you imagine the pressure she might feel to take another way out? Please, think about this in terms of the church where you worship. Is there anything you could do to make it a safe place for sinners, a.k.a. all of us, to come and be met with hope, healing, grace, and love? Please practice what you preach. Be Jesus to a broken world. Honor God's precious gift of His one and only atonement child.


A Wonderfully Random Day

Yay for Saturday! Oh how I love a day with a blank slate! Here's a few of the many things I did to fill mine...

1. Sleeping in until 10. Love it. (No picture needed. :) )

2. Drinking this (Skinny Snowman Latte - Sugar free White Chocolate, Sugar free Almond, one shot of espresso, soy - yum!):

3. Cutting out these:
4. And checking out these websites to help with the super budget:


5. Dreaming about this (yeah right - remember that budget?):

6. Reading this (because it's everything I'm not!):
7. Loving this (Because I think EVERY bed needs a down comforter...one of my favorite possessions!):

8. Also loving this (YUM):9. Thinking about taking down this (but wondering if it would make a super cute Valentine's Tree!? And the light situation is another story for another day!!):10. Walking this (love him!):
11. Worshipping here:

12. Adding to this:

13. Working out on this (VERY fun!):
14. Hanging out with this (REALLY love him!):

15. Reading this:
16. Thankful for this: "...Let the Beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders." Deuteronomy 33:12


All Who Are Weary...

It's the weekend...and I am so tired. Kevin and I are on the couch saying things like, "Please stop talking. I have a headache." And, "Quit moving - it's annoying." We are exhausted. And exhaustion around here often equals irritability. Eventually we laugh at the fact that we are staying up trying to make life exciting in an effort to appreciate and make the most of pre-kid Fridays. One day, God willing, we won't have the luxury of sitting around and wondering what to do. One day I hope we'll be feeding and rocking and burping and loving. So today I'll be thankful. And I'll realize the opportunity to go to sleep by choice- at 9:00. Knowing the sooner I go to bed...the sooner I get to experience the thrill of sleeping in.

I wonder if God loves it when we sleep. When we aren't fighting or striving, worrying, trying to understand, or feeling any pain, completely surrendered. I wonder if He just enjoys loving on and breathing life into His weary children, restoring our tired bodies and renewing us for another day. It seems so peaceful to think about. Especially after a week like this week. "Restore us, renew us, and watch over us as we sleep dear Jesus. Please comfort, heal, and love on the people in Haiti. Draw them into a relationship with you. Thank you for another day."

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

See you tomorrow....whenever I get up.


You Will Come Forth As Gold

10 But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.

11 My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.

12 I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
More than my necessary food."

Job 23:10-12

Do you know how gold is made? The goldsmith takes the elements of gold that have been extracted from another material and "refines" or heats them until they are pure. Essentially, the goldsmith puts the gold in the fire over and over until it is so pure that its reflective properties allow him to see his face in it.

This is probably my favorite analogy God uses in the entire Bible, because it brings me so much comfort on days like today. I know He is refining me. He is allowing me to go through the fire because He loves me so much and at the end of it all, whenever that may be, He wants to see His face reflected fully and purely in me. I want that so much too. So much that I'll surrender what I want for what He wants. I cannot see Him, but I believe in Him. I do not understand His ways, but I choose to trust Him.

How is God refining you today? Please, choose to trust Him. He knows the way that you take; that you closely follow His steps, and obey His commands, yet still don't understand the fire you may be walking through or the flames you may be enduring. He loves you, He knows you, He desires you, and He will get you through this. Treasure Him, treasure His word. He treasures you...and you will come forth as gold.


A Heart Set Free

My husband and I are on a budget. A super budget. We have big dreams to experience financial freedom, so we are going on a hard core spending freeze. That said, meals often have to get creative. Fortunately, Kevin and I love a good breakfast for dinner, and my husband makes great eggs. He was so excited about his fluffy, beautiful "restaurant" looking eggs as he called them, that I had to take a picture. One photo is of our yummy dinner. The other is of the table of a couple working hard on a budget. Pretty eggs, not such a pretty table.

I am so thankful to be married to such a godly husband, and an awesome partner for life and ministry. I prayed and prayed for years for this man. Last night someone asked us, "How's married life?" And without skipping a beat I said, "It's great!" Later Kevin told me how much he liked that I said that. I realized that every time someone has asked us that question over the last year I have responded with an immediate, "It's definitely hard. But it's good." Which, for obvious reasons might have been a little disheartening for the man who loves me so very much and so very well. I am sometimes honest to a fault, but when I said it was hard, I never really meant it was bad. I believe great things often go through really hard times. And when you are learning to work as a team with someone you have just joined every part of your life with, inevitable challenges are bound to be present. But Kevin and I are in such a sweet place with the way God is truly helping us come together as one, serving Him and loving others as the team we came together to be.

So much of this latest joy we have experienced in our marriage undoubtedly has come from the way I have felt the Lord renew my spirit and restore my joy. Last year might have been a tough transition for me, but because of that it certainly had to be difficult for my sweet husband. He is a faithful man who has loved me through some ugly days. And it has created a foundation for us to build on that I will be eternally grateful for.

Psalm 119:32 says, "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." I am so very thankful that God loves me and has set my weary heart free. While I may bring on the weariness by carrying burdens I was never meant to bear, He has been faithful to stand by me and hear me when I call. Almost every morning this week I have choked up while listening to music on the way to work, and my heart has been brought to its knees in gratitude for the way God loves, listens, and literally never lets go. I have also been brokenhearted for those who have and are experiencing some dark and difficult days of grief right now. I pray that they too feel God wrapping them up, holding them close, and promising to never let go.

This morning I was reminded of the song, "I Will Lift My Eyes," by Bebo Norman. Several years ago, this song was my prayer through some incredibly difficult to understand days. These are some of my favorite lines:

God, my God, I cry out
Your beloved needs You now
God, be near calm my fear and take my doubt
Your kindness is what pulls me up
Your love is all that draws me in

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
of the mountains I can't climb
I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer
of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

"Thank you God that we can lift our eyes to the Maker, the Calmer, and the Healer. Thank you for setting my heart free."


The Gift of Words

"The tongue has the power of life and death..." (Proverbs 18:21). This was true for me today. I was having a not-so-great day, as I was observed during a lesson and my performance anxiety got the best of me. It was not good. And I really struggle with failing. So in the midst of preparing for my next lesson during planning time, I had this ongoing dialogue inside my head. It went something like, "I'm smart, right? Am I smart? What am I doing? Do I even know what I'm doing? I'm just not good at this." Seriously. I went spiraling quickly. Then I received a short, encouraging note from a friend I rarely talk to. And my spirits were lifted. It was honestly a life-giving moment. And that, along with my loving husband gently convicting me with the words I had written just one day before, changed my entire day. Hope was breathed right back into me.
Have you ever felt like encouraging or complimenting someone but you held back? Have you ever thought about writing a short, encouraging note to someone but you just brushed it off or changed your mind? Maybe you thought you weren't significant enough to them for it to make a difference, or maybe you thought it just wouldn't matter. Perhaps you just didn't get around to it. My encouragement to you today is this. Please do not be a person of good intentions. Rather, become a person of bold action.

If you are reading this, there is a great chance that at some point in my life I have thought about writing you a note. Maybe several. Seriously. I think about it all the time. I think about encouraging someone during a difficult time, thanking someone even for the small things, letting someone know how valuable they are and how I notice God using them. (Or even telling someone how much I like the blog they just wrote!) What's crazy is, I think about writing notes to people literally all the time. Yet it seems like I rarely do. I seem to think I don't have the time or the just right card or the stamp or the address, etc. I usually just think I'll do it later. Ridiculous excuses. In actuality, I simply don't take the time and I'm numbed by the fear that it won't be just perfect. Thus, the thought often remains an intention for a lifetime, never becoming an action God can use. Literally everyone loves to be thought of and encouraged and built up. Quite possibly they painfully need it. And tragically, there are thoughts inside our minds that could be gifts of life to someone else, yet we selfishly keep them hidden.

I know Jesus was not a man of intention. He was completely a man of action. His whole life was devoted to doing God's work, not sitting around thinking about how it might be a good idea for him to do it. He was literally selfless. He did not have great intentions to love others, he did love others. He was obedient to his Father, and was devoted to others in love. He did not hesitate. And his devotion changed the course of history.

"The tongue has the power of life..." What an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to use you to breathe life into someone today. I'm thankful to my friend who did not hesitate to listen to God's leading today. What a blessing to think God would inspire you or put a thought in your head to encourage someone so that He might speak to them through you. You never know. My mom still remembers when her third grade teacher told her she had a beautiful smile. The phone call you make, the note you write, the compliment you give could turn someone's entirely bad day into entirely something else. Without hesitation, what one person could you encourage with words today?


Scars of Perseverance

If you have not read Erwin McManus' book Uprising, then please, go get it. Seriously, right now. Erwin is a pastor in L.A. who consistently shares God's truths in powerful ways. He is the pastor of a church called Mosaic that meets in a building on the weekends that serves as a nightclub during the week. Tonight a friend called me to be reminded of the title of this book that I said would change her life. I actually said if I could only read one author's books for the rest of my life I would choose his.

Interestingly enough, this book was a huge part of Kevin and I's "dates." We did not live in the same city, so for about 3 or 4 months we talked for at least 3 hours almost every night. And I read him this book...rather dramatically I might add. I do tend to get a little excited. I would read parts I was excited about, then we would talk about it for hours. Then one day I surprised him by sending it to him in the mail so we were both able to read it at the same time. It was awesome. I still remember the adrenaline of those nights growing more in love with one another by growing more and more in love with God. I rarely slept, but I was always smiling.

So after my friend called tonight, I was encouraged to pick the book back up. And I am now in the process of reading it again. Tonight I just want to share one page that is so good it made me laugh out loud while I was reading it to Kevin. He and I have talked a lot lately about doing the work God specifically designed us to do, that which we are truly passionate about. And in the midst of those conversations we have been convicted by the fact that God has us where He wants us, and we should be doing exactly what we're doing right now, with wholly devoted hearts. The biggest lesson we are learning is that life is in the process. Dreams are in the days. It's not like you wait and wait, and work and work at something, then one day arrive at a place where all your dreams are fulfilled. Certainly not here on Earth. Instead you live and live and live, trusting God and serving Him every day, with every gift you have. Over and over again. And He will do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine with that. With your faithfulness. So here is the page from Uprising. Keep working, keep loving, keep living, keep serving. Persevere...even when it hurts. Then surrender the scars...

How can you be faithful with the tasks entrusted to you today?


How He Loves Us Part 2

It is officially Day 5 of being 29. I have to say, it has been a great age so far. Having a four day weekend, two days unplanned, has contributed to this bliss. And this is my fifth blog. 360 more days to go until the big 3-0.

Last night Kevin and I finally checked our mail after a snowy few days, and I received this beautiful birthday card from my mom and dad. It is my inspiration for today's blog. My mom is a master at celebrating people. She raised me from birth to know and believe the very truths that are on this card. She and my dad together have been a beautiful voice through which God has communicated His great love for me. I am inspired by her to love other people in this way. She often shares with other women the importance of valuing themselves as deeply loved treasures that God adores. This card says three things, which are each accompanied by three verses. It is my prayer that every woman would hide God's word in her heart and acknowledge these things to be true about herself.


"God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special." 1 Thessalonians 1:4

Being an elementary school teacher consistently challenges the feelings I have about myself and my unique worth. Teaching 22 children well on a daily basis is a daunting task. Everyone has a different need, no one learns the same way. On top of that, the administration of it all might make a person crazy. Most hard working teachers at my school have a beautiful gift of organization. I do not. My way is a bit more chaotic than some could handle, and my desk is rarely perfectly clear. At the beginning of the year I used to criticize myself and feel constantly overwhelmed that I was failing because of my "organized mess." I knew where things were but it looked like I hadn't a clue. Finally I made peace with the fact that I love those kids with my whole heart. I am there to teach them to the best of my ability. I am working hard to do my best. Though I will never have the most orderly classroom in the school, I know who I am to those kids, and to me that's what matters most.

Isn't it true that so many times we feel little more than boring and ordinary? There are so many roles that we fill as women. Wife, mom, daughter, sister, some kind of in-law, friend, teacher, mentor, counselor, student, girlfriend, employee, cook, etc. Striving to fill all these roles well creates a huge pressure and burden for us to bear. Regardless of the role we are playing, at some point there is usually a feeling of inadequacy that goes along with it. When we are single it's, "Am I worthy of being loved the way I desire?" When we are married it's, "Am I a good enough wife to my husband?" When you're a mom it might be, "Am I raising my kids well?" When we're at our jobs it's, "Am I even capable of doing this job?" As if that weren't enough, it also seems like there is an abundance of unwarranted advice consistently available. In the end it all comes down to the fact that God loves you more than you can imagine and He has designed you to be especially you. He wants you to have no one's gifts but your own, and He wants you to live your own story. Which is probably why you don't see my blog filled with the most creative crafts you've ever seen. Would I love to be recognized and given accolades for coming up with some amazingly cool creations? Yes, absolutely. Is that my gift? No, absolutely not! I must become content to recognize I am special for who God made me to be, and my joy will come from knowing He loves that person so very much more than anyone I might pretend to be. And when I am content with pleasing God alone, I have so much more to give.


"...Even before He made the world, God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do...." Ephesians 1:4

There is a song by Kari Jobe that I used to listen to over and over in my car. Part of it goes, "I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hands. Lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat. This love is so deep, it's more than I can bear, I melt to my knees, it's overwhelming." It is a beautiful song and I LOVE that image of sitting at the feet of the sweet, wonderful Jesus who died for us and has been so very faithful. It is powerful to realize that God knew us before we were born. He knew how we would succeed and fail, what choices we would make, how we would or would not love Him and receive His love. He knew all of this and yet he chose us. He sacrificed so that we could be free to delight in Him and enjoy eternity with Him. I can only imagine what it will be like to be embraced by the only one who will ever truly know me inside and out, better than I know myself...and love every bit.


"...God, your God, chose you...as a cherished, personal treasure." Deuteronomy 7:6

If you get a chance today, look up Matthew 13:45-46. It is the parable of the treasured pearl. Often referred to as "the pearl of great price." It talks about the kingdom of heaven being like a merchant looking for fine pearls. It says when he found one of great value and worth, he sold everything he had just to buy it. This serves as an example of how so dearly loved we are by our heavenly Father. He would give anything...and essentially gave everything for each one of us. I have struggled many times throughout my life with the idea of feeling valued. I remember from the time I was a little girl always wanting to be beautiful with all of my heart. I always felt ugly and awkward. I have struggled with hating myself for my imperfections and trying to please others so that I might gain their approval and affirmation. I have struggled with finding my value in absolutely God alone, and making every choice of word or action from that belief. In the end, it is all of these struggles that have built and strengthened the deep love I have for Jesus. Often struggling to fully trust others, I have found that God is always trustworthy, and when I place my trust fully in Him, I have peace that passes all understanding. I have a crazy joy that does not make sense in the midst of life's circumstances. He has and will provide. He has and will heal. He has and will comfort, guide, forgive, listen, lead and love. Receive this love for yourself. Read about it in his word. Sit at his feet, let it wash over you and give you hope. No, you do not have to be perfect or approved of today. God created you. He knows you. He DELIGHTS in you. Please learn with me how to be okay being so much less than perfect. You are irreplaceable, You are chosen, and You are treasured.


And thank you mom and dad for introducing to me at a young age how very much God loves us...and for showing it to me still. I love you.


How He Loves Us

I woke up this morning to find this sweet note from my husband on our bathroom mirror. It is something he has done since we were first married, and I love it every time. He has such a gift of encouraging me with words. In this particular note he refers to the "divine adventure" that we are on together. That is what we started calling our journey soon after we knew that God had brought us together for a lifetime. We love our story because it is so apparent that only God could have written it. It seems like neither one of us had anything to do with it. Yet we were both at a place of taking big steps of faith and surrendering every desire and dream to Him, and he orchestrated our meeting with such beautiful care and timing. We consider our journey a "divine adventure" because at the core of who we are and why we are together, we both have a sincere craving for God, a passion for loving others in a way that draws them to Him, and an incredible peace in knowing that together as a team, we are stronger for Him. We both say the gift of each other is one of the most tangible ways God has ever expressed His great love for us.

Kevin and I were with a group of people from the Oldham Campus, the new multisite of Southeast we are helping to launch. We had a great discussion based on Deuteronomy 5:7, "You shall have no other gods before me," about making sure that we are serving only the one true God, rather than all the little gods we allow in our life to become our idols. Some of the suggested things that we idolize were spouse and kids, hobbies, work, success, finances, self, and even the Christian life. We were talking about how so often we minimize our faith down to a "to do" list that has to be done to make us "good enough." In actuality, God isn't interested in our efforts to prove our faith or earn our worth. Rather, he is interested in us...in our hearts. He created us so that He could have a relationship with us. He loves us so powerfully that if we could fully grasp and comprehend his great love for us we would be completely overwhelmed and overcome. My heart beats faster at the thought of seeing Him someday. Until then I know the only important thing is to truly know Him and build an intimate relationship with Him. To invite Him into our hearts and draw on the power of the Holy Spirit to be our strength and guidance in the battle of life. Literally everything else will flow out of that. I LOVE the song from David Crowder, "Oh how He loves us." Here are the lyrics:

He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us oh
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us oh,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

And we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

That He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

Love it!!! I also love the recording by Kim Walker. Here is the youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-rW528qiYw If you have this song or can get it, I would turn it way up in your car, be surrounded by it, and listen to it over and over. I love the part that says, "we are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes." I love how there is no mess too big or darkness too great in our lives for God to overcome and redeem. He delights in overcoming our weaknesses with His strength. We need only to be broken and lean into Him...admitting our need. I also love the line, "He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy." God wants us for Himself. He loves us so much that He doesn't want to share our devotion with anyone or anything else. When I was in junior high or high school, my youth minister told us if we only remembered one thing, remember this: "God loves me, God loves me, God loves me." That alone has sustained me so many times since then, and even still today. In any moment, at any time, if that is the only truth I have...then I have everything. He loves me, He loves me, He loves me...and He loves you.