Missional Marriage: 10 Practical Ways to Serve Other People

My husband, Jeremiah, and I always had a desire for our marriage to make a  difference in the lives of others. We knew that God brought us together for a greater purpose beyond “us.”

Early in our marriage we had the opportunity to serve in an apartment ministry together. Our responsibilities were to facilitate community among residents, build relationships, host dinners and events, and share the love of Christ. We invested in our residents for two years and most of them were non-Christians…

Continue Reading over on StartMarriageRight.com… I’d love to hear your thoughts over there!

The Best News You’ll Hear All Christmas

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Reflections from Luke 2:1-20

God became a man and lived on earth…

He came by the most humble means and was laid in a manger- a trough or box used to feed animals- very far from a crib in a royal palace. His father and mother, Joseph and Mary, sought a place for Mary to give birth but there was no room in the inn.

After Mary gave birth to the Savior, an angel of the Lord first appeared to shepherds. Humble, lower class citizens of the day and considered unclean- God chose them to be the first to hear the good news of this Savior.

Then that same angel and the heavenly hosts praised God saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This baby Jesus would bring peace. The peace that mankind had been waiting for all along. His birth would usher in hope and life in the midst of chaos and brokenness.

Then the shepherds traveled to Bethlehem to actually see this Jesus. They saw him, Mary, and Joseph just as they were told. They spread the news to everyone. And everyone was amazed. But Mary hid and treasured all that was going on in her heart. I can only imagine her feelings and thoughts.

Then the shepherds went back to their fields, praising and glorifying God for all they had seen and heard. Finally, the Messiah had come. Not in the way that many expected, but he was here.

So what did this child’s birth mean for all mankind?

Did it mean good cheer, cozy Christmas songs, presents, Santa, snow, a nice manger display on the mantle, parties, charity, family gatherings, and good will toward men?

Those good things are only the outpouring of what this child’s birth means. His birth means so much more for us today.

His birth means that God stepped into history by sending his only son Jesus to earth. Jesus struggled and faced temptation like we do, yet he was sinless. He healed and saved those far from Him. His purpose in coming was to save us from our sins- all our offenses toward God. And they are numerous.

He would come to redeem, restore, renew…

So he did it just as he promised. He proved his love for us on a cross. He died the most shameful, disgusting and horrific death. He screamed. He cried. He agonized. He bled. He asked his father if there was anyway he could save him. But he knew it was God’s will for him to die because it was the only way to save the world.

So he willingly did.

But his death wasn’t the end. He rose again like he said he would. No man has ever raised himself back to life. Only God.

Over 500 witnesses saw his appearing and when his time on earth was finished, he ascended into heaven to be with his father.

Oh but the Christmas story doesn’t end there. Thank goodness. He is coming back for those who know, love, and have committed their life to him. He will one day, judge the living and the dead. And we need to be ready for his coming. We need to revere him and honor him.

Jesus is our hope this Christmas, no matter if we’re jobless, our spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, or we’ve lost a loved one. No matter what we’re going through, He is still our peace. And He is what our hearts are longing for.

Jesus is why we do all that we do in this joyful season. May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the greatest gift that has already been given to us in a manger many years ago.

Big Life Changes and a Never-Changing God

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A few weeks ago, Jeremiah accepted a new position at a well-known hospital where we live. Just a few days into his nursing job, the higher-ups decided to get rid of the entire floor he was working on for budget reasons.

All of the staff including his manager are seeking new jobs, hoping that the recruiters in the hospital can place them on another floor soon.

Of course this came out of nowhere for us. Jeremiah was so excited about his new job and I was happy too. We were excited about the awesome benefits and convenience in him walking to work. Clearly, it was God’s will. How could it not be?

But in an instant, that security vanished like a vapor.

Just before Christmas? Really, God?

I’ve asked him many times.

Not only that, in October, we found out we’re expecting a special little gift at the end of June- our third child to which we are very excited!

A job loss while I’m pregnant? Really, God?

I’ve asked him many times.

And in May, Jeremiah will graduate from seminary and before the summer ends, we will have to move out of seminary housing and know where we are going to live and do ministry.

Where do you want us, Lord?

I’ve asked him many times.

Right now, there have been no clear answers to my questions. But I know it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

And even in the midst of my questioning, a sweet, still voice has spoken truth into my heart. Truth that comes straight from His Word, reminding me that He. Is. God. The God of the Universe who created me and loves me and my family deeply.

When life is crazy and ever-changing, there is no shadow of turning with him as the old hymn says. He is constant, yet fully engaged in the details of our lives.

What I am starting to understand more as He takes me through trials is that he is teaching me God-reliance instead of self-reliance.

Way too often, I love to have the control and to tell him my plans. I’m often wrapped up in self instead of what God is doing. I often forget the bigger picture at hand.

God has proven himself in the past and has always been faithful as I wrote about this past summer, I have no reason to doubt him. It would be foolish to not trust Him this time.

So in this Christmas season, my prayer of course is that Jeremiah will have a job again. Soon! But more than that, my prayer is that God will change me and teach me what it means to cling to Him in the good times and the trying times. I want to look more like Him and give him glory no matter what season of life I’m in.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:5-9

Why I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom: The Short Story

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John- 3 yrs.

From last week’s blog post You Write the Title, I Write the Post, I decided to tackle Grace Graieg’s title: Why I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom. Thank you for the great topic/title Grace and for everyone who participated!

My desire to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) came from an early age. My mom was a SAHM to my sister and I for as long as I can remember. She made our lunches every night for school the next day and she was always available if we were sick and needed to come home. She drove me to school and picked me up. When I started riding the bus, she had a snack ready for me when I came home and drove me to swim practice. When I got my license, well, nothing really changed except that I drove myself everywhere!

The impact my mom’s presence in our home had on me from an early age was significant. It was not only her physical presence but her emotional and spiritual one too. Her genuine interest in my day, her prayers, and sweet conversation assured me that I was loved and cared for. And I never doubted her love. She also made a significant impact outside the home among our neighbors and friends. She was always baking something to bring to someone and I remember her sharing the gospel regularly.

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So I guess you could say I always assumed I would wear the same shoes as my Mom. I wanted to make a difference like she had in my life.

After Jeremiah and I found out we were expecting our first child, we decided that after our son was born that we would trade roles and I would work part-time while he took care of John. You can read about my experience transitioning out of my career and into the home in this article I wrote for Ungrind.

Once our second child was on the way, I knew that it was time for me to be full-time at home. From the books I read in my child psychology classes in college, I knew that the formative years (birth- 5 years) were critical to a child’s development and growth and if the proper nurturing, discipline, and love were absent in those years, it could have a far-reaching effect in the future.

Other friends and moms who were further along in the journey than I was encouraged me to be fully engaged in the home as well. I knew in my heart that’s what I wanted so Jeremiah and I made the necessary changes. In August 2010 a few months before my daughter’s birth, I dove right in!

Now about a year and a half into it, I’ve learned that being a SAHM isn’t particularly glorious. In fact, most days it’s not. And I struggle many days with my anger and impatience. My kids can be demanding, needy, whiny, fussy, difficult, and more. Dirty diapers are yucky, having to schedule your world around naps can be annoying, and sometimes you just wonder if the sacrifice is worth it and if you’re really making a difference in this little one’s life.

But regardless of how hard it is raising my kids on a day in and day out basis, I still believe the sacrifice is worth it. And I believe the hard work of being fully present in our home will pay dividends in their life on down the road.

Of course, this is my prayer.

Before I know it, my oldest, John, will be in school and I know I will miss him greatly and will look forward to seeing his handsome smile when he comes home. These formative years will fly by, and I want to be the first one to see all the milestones my children cross. And I believe it’s my role and responsibility to do so.

I want to be the one to give them all my love. I want to build into their self-esteem and teach them how to respect and love all people. By God’s grace and with his help, I want to teach them right from wrong and discipline when it’s needed. I don’t want to look back with any regrets in that I “should” have been there but other commitments took precedence over them. I want to be all there for my children and for them to never doubt my commitment to raising them.

Of course, this all can only be done by God’s grace.

Everyone has their own story and convictions when it comes to being in the home. For me personally, the only way for me to be fully present and to be the best Mom I can be is to be right where my #1 mission field exists.

And of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t regularly schedule girl night outs, date nights with my husband, babysitters, weekend getaways, time to write, to be resourceful and make money, and time to have fun. All the more, I make time for “me” (and sanity) because I need it badly!

Well I just heard a cry. My time to write is up. Until next time…

You Write the Title, I’ll Write the Post

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For my next blog post, I thought it would be fun to include you in the creative process.

I’d love for you to write the title for me! Then, I will write my next post based on your title.

If there is a certain topic you’d like for me to write on, you might want to include it in the title. Here is an article from CopyBlogger on how to write catchy titles. Don’t think too hard though. I want this to be fun for all of us.

Feel free to also go through my Archives to see titles written in the past.

I’ll choose the one I think I can tackle and praise you for your great work.

Ready. Set. Go!

When You Fear People More Than God

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As Christians brought up in the church, this particular young woman and her boyfriend struggled with their purity. Eventually, they found out they were pregnant and considered having an abortion. All kinds of thoughts brewed through their mind:

We know abortion is wrong, but it would be devastating if people in the church found out we were pregnant.

Getting pregnant out of wedlock is the worst sin imaginable.

People would never look or treat us the same again.

We can’t let anyone know we’ve been living in sin and having sex.

Other thoughts ran through their mind and they just couldn’t bare the thought of keeping their baby and the turmoil they would experience from others. They eventually made their decision and sadly ended the life of their innocent child.

This story isn’t a whole lot different than the real-life stories laced throughout Scripture that involve men and women who trusted and put their hope in people more than God. The Bible calls it the “fear of men.”

I’m going through a Bible study with my seminary wives small group on fear and anxiety and I thought these questions were very helpful when it comes to pinpointing what the fear of men might look like in our every day lives. The author of the study, Edwards Welch, asks:

  • Have you ever struggled with peer pressure?
  • Have you ever been overly concerned about your appearance?
  • Have you ever been tempted to get plastic surgery?
  • Do you find that your view of yourself fluctuates on the basis of your achievements or the opinions of others?
  • Do you show favoritism?
  • Do you ever say yes when you should say no?
  • Do your public actions look much better than your private thoughts and behaviors?
  • Have you ever had a difficult time loving someone because you didn’t feel loved by that person?
  • Do you ever struggle with jealousy?
  • Have you ever been scared to talk about Jesus with someone for fear that the person would think differently of you?

From time to time, I struggle with all those questions (some more than others) minus the plastic surgery one because well… that freaks me out.

The danger in fearing other people is that we allow them to control us. We make decisions based on what they think or say. We fear the consequence if we let them down. We put our hope and faith in them instead of what God thinks or would have us do. And it’s a bit of a “subtle” sin.

But thank goodness there is a solution to being obsessed with what other people think of us. And it comes in four beautiful letters:

L O V E

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18

Welch describes it like this: “God took all the initiative. He loved you while you were an enemy of his. He loves you now not because you are great, but because he is love. Such love is unwavering and secure. The Cross of Jesus- the ultimate evidence of God’s love- establishes it.”

God’s unconditional love is our motivation to trust in Him. He knows what is best. He is watching out for us. And he is guiding our path as he desires. And if we ever doubt him, we need only to fix our eyes on the cross that he died upon to remember His love.

When we look to Him, this world and what it “thinks” tends to fade away.

I personally know the young couple who had the abortion. For many years they dealt with guilt, shame, regret, depression, and major emotional, physical, and spiritual turmoil. They eventually learned that the people in the church they’d feared were far from perfect too. They just looked good on the outside and were able to say the right words.

While this couple still naturally carries guilt and shame at times, they have accepted God’s forgiveness and love and have forgiven themselves. They are open about sharing their mistakes and they’re learning what it means to trust in God, rather than in men.

Fearing, Loving, and Reverencing God more than men.

How liberating and God-glorifying to live life in such a way.

On Sailing… and Serving Others With Your Gifts & Passions

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On Saturday, I surprised Jeremiah with a boat ride for his birthday. We boarded a beautiful wooden catamaran that seated about 30 people. Scott was our captain. He was super friendly and we knew we were in for a treat on the lake. It was just what we needed after a stressful week.
About 30 minutes into our sail, Scott came by to accept our payment. Jeremiah initiated a conversation with Scott on how he got involved in sailing.

“I got on the computer and Googled ‘how to build a boat,’ ” he said.

“I found all the necessary resources and started building. I never dreamed I’d be taking 35 trips a week and that my business would grow like this…”

Then he said something profound that stuck with both of us:

“I think it’s important to find what you love to do and serve others through it.”

You could tell that Scott had what he wanted in life. He’d been married to his wife of 30+ years, his children were grown and doing well, and he was doing what he absolutely loved. But not only that, he was blessing the lives of a lot of people- every week.

Scott takes a shot of us behind the wheel

During the remainder of the trip, I thought about how God distributes gifts to people and how the purpose of those gifts are to edify and equip the Church. So often it’s easy to get caught up in the what-my-gift-will-do-for-me kind of mentality.

But it’s not about that at all. Certainly, our gifts and passions draw us closer to God, make us come alive, and give us meaning and purpose. But our gifts aren’t supposed to be hoarded and hidden inside our own little box.

We’re supposed to give our gifts away. And if we think anything different, we’re missing the boat.

I don’t know if you’ve found your gift or the one thing you want to spend your life doing. I don’t know if you’re discouraged in that pursuit or if you believe you have something to contribute to this world.

But what I do know is God created you for a purpose and that involves building into the lives of others.

You have something to offer that no one else does and other people need you to draw out your gifts, however that might look and whatever risks that might involve.

When you view your gifts with an outwardly-focused kind of mentality, your life will change drastically. Your perspective will shift off of yourself and onto how God can use you to make a difference in the lives of others.

In middle school, I started journaling. It was how I felt closest to the Lord and it was the easiest way for me to write out my prayers and remember them. It also came natural, just like the assignments did in my Creative Writing classes. After receiving my first publishing contract in college (7 or so journals later), I realized that God was starting to call me out of my comfort zone of personal journaling and into riskier territory of writing for an actual audience.

As the years passed and I started writing for other publications and eventually writing Bible study curriculum for churches across the country, I realized even more that writing was my number 1 passion. But the best thing about it was that I could use my writing to serve and encourage other people and help build God’s kingdom. My focus, including my goals, started to shift. Still today, I’m learning what it means to be outwardly-focused and I’ve found so much joy in the journey.

“Find what you love and serve others.”

I’ll always remember the wisdom Captain Scott imparted to us that evening and I hope it will encourage you too.

*From the Archives*- You Might Also Enjoy Reading…

Daring to Risk a Little More

The Joy of Being on Mission

Five Minutes to Let It Shine

Give Yourself Away

 

 

 

Heartshot Headshots with Katie Bowman

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My friend Katie and I recently went on a little excursion here in Dallas to a district called Deep Ellum and a trendy little coffee shop called The Pearl Cup that serves the best chai tea lattes in big porcelain mugs.

The purpose of our outing was to take some headshots for this blog and for Start Marriage Right.

Katie is a very gifted photographer, writer, and do-it-yourself guru. Both of us have seminary degrees, our husbands are both currently in seminary, and we both live in seminary housing. Go figure! We also went to the same college in Virginia and have spoken on/taught abstinence in public schools (Katie still does).

I guess you can say that we’re like peas in a pod when we get together.

It’s always awkward to have pictures taken of yourself (with no one else in them). It can feel vain and weird, but I knew Katie would be the best person for the job. She did an amazing job putting me at ease and captured exactly what I was hoping for. And it helped that she always has a way of making me laugh!

Head on over to her blog, Shades of Grey, to check out her work and give her some comment love.

Whole Food, Whole Faith – Exploring a Plant-based Lifestyle

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For a while now, I’ve felt like something was missing when it comes to my overall health and nutrition. If you were to ask me if I was a pretty healthy person, I would say, “Sure!” I try to eat really well and watch my portions.

I get good sleep and I exercise consistently. One day a week I do a strength training class at the gym that whips me every time. And I run 2-3 times a week. And walk regularly.

But lately I’ve been taking a hard look at my diet (thus what I’m feeding my family) and I’ve noticed were I really want to see some change and ultimately feel better. Here’s how I’ll sum it up borrowing from the words of popular food writer & UC Berkeley Professor Michael Pollan:

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Cancer experts agree that adding green and other vibrant colors to your diet in addition to vegetables, fruits, legumes (dried peas & beans), and grains aids in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

We’ve heard it before. Foods so rich in phytochemicals and other fancy words can do nothing but help my diet. But this knowledge has never made a significant impact on my personal health and food choices until now.

Fruits & Veggies As the Foundation

In other words, I’ve never seen fruits and veggies as the foundation of my health. They have been more like a “side” item.

Going green in one form or another has been a trend for a while. Celebrities and politicians like Alicia Silverstone and Bill Clinton are adopting plant-based lifestyles. And movements like Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and the Meatless Monday Campaign are making a big dent in how people view what they consume.

Recently, to my surprise,  I’ve discovered that several of my friends have adopted plant-based lifestyles as well.

From what I’ve read, a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian, it just means that most of the food on your plate should be from plant sources. But with that, many people do choose to go all-out vegan or vegetarian.

Introducing More Color to My Kitchen

For the last four days, I’ve been off meat completely. I’m not sure if this is something I will do long-term but for now I want to see how my body feels and if I notice any differences over a span of several weeks.

This is huge for me because I love meat. Most of my favorite dishes involve chicken and beef. But for now, I’m going to get my “meat” from the protein that exists in plant sources and through dairy. We thrive on yogurt and milk around here.

Practically for us this week, my fridge and pantry is filled with foods like raw spinach (for eggs or smoothies), orange, red, and green peppers, hummus, tomatoes, celery, carrotts, whole grain bread, kale, organic yogurt, oranges, grapes, apples, satian (a wheat gluten), quinoa flakes, nuts, and more. I’ve decided to budget out organic crackers, fruit snacks and cereal for the kids.

Here’s our meal schedule until Thursday:

Monday- Chickpea Burgers w/ corn and brocolli - it turned our really well. Very different than what we are used to but we didn’t go to bed hungry. Not sure if I’ll make it again.

Tuesday- Black bean & Zucchini Tortilla Casserole - delicious! a little weird without meat but the whole family enjoyed it.

Wednesday- Tortellini in Sweet Potato Sauce

Thursday- Vegeterian Greek Meatballs in Tomato Sauce w/ Feta Cheese

I’m on the hunt for good recipes that I’ll reuse and I know there are better ones out there. The main thing I’m remembering as we look into the plant-based lifestyle is that it’s a lifestyle.

If we have a party, are eating out, traveling, or at a friend’s for dinner, there is room to flex a little. I don’t want to be obsessed about it, but aware and conscious of my food choices with moderation and balance.

Whole Faith

So why am I going into detail about all of this health stuff on a blog that is primarily about faith and life? I guess first, I love sharing with you about what I’m learning, especially when I feel like it could encourage you.

Obviously I’m not a health expert or nutritionist- I’m a writer and stay-at-home mom. My husband is an amazing RN so I’ve heard a lot of health-related stories. My sister is a gifted Registered Dietitian and has taught me a lot about health and wellness.

But the truth is that we don’t have to be experts to understand that our health greatly impacts our spiritual life, and vice-versa.

Here’s what I’ve experienced:

  1. When I have more energy, I’m highly productive during the day.
  2. When I get sufficient sleep, I’m quicker to go for decaf coffee than caffeinated.
  3. When I feel good about my body, I often treat others better.
  4. When I’m properly fueled, I have energy to carry a conversation and share my faith with someone.
  5. When I’m renewed in God’s Word and prayer, it changes the attitudes and choices I make.
  6. When I see my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, it changes how I steward my body for God’s glory.
  7. When I pray, anxiety and stress is lifted as I give my burdens to God.
  8. When I exercise, I release endorphins that give me a “high,” making me feel better than I did before while decreasing depression, moodiness, or irritability.
  9. When I serve others as the hands and feet of Christ, it gets the focus off of me and my problems and onto helping people.
  10. When my overall health is well-balanced, I’m inspired to keep at it and persevere in my faith.

Well I’m not exactly sure what my diet will look like months from now, but I do know that I’m going to make better choices. I know that this lifestyle will require sacrifice and hard work, no doubt. I know it’s a road less traveled in our American, fast-food culture. But I’m excited to start this journey and see where it will take me and my family and my faith.

I’d love to hear from you- Did any of the 10 points jump out to you when it comes to your health and faith? What would you add? Do tell!
If you’re interested in more resources regarding the plant-based lifestyle, these have been helpful for me:
5.) Vibrant Life Magazine- faith & health

Article: Letters to My Future Husband

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photo credit: StartMarriageRight.com

Before I went off to college, finding a husband was always on my mind. I had shared that desire with a friend who was married and she suggested I start writing journal entries to him during the waiting process. It had helped her a lot.

I was all over her advice because I loved to write and reflect anyway. I had five spiral bound journals I’d written in since middle school. Yellow legal pads were always laying around our house, so I got one out and wrote my first entry on Dec. 16, 2001…

Today I’m contributing over at StartMarriageRight.com. Continue Reading and join the conversation.

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