A Dare to be happy

Happiness seems to be an elusive concept in our society.   Society chases it, hunts for it, claims it as the reason for their decisions, and hopes for it to come “one day”.  It’s as if happiness was a rare butterfly where people wait hours in one spot hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature, only to have it flit away on silent wings.  People gamble for it, shop for it, dream of it, and hope that by ‘luck’ it will come….if even for a moment.

But what if happiness wasn’t a mystical creature that by chance you capture, but rather a fulfillment of the gifting and calling God has given each of us individually?  What if instead of being a ‘kill-joy’as many people think of Him, God has already given us the ticket and it’s up to us if we want to join Him on the ride.

Such is the premise of Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book The Happiness Dare.  In it, she proposes that each of us has a specific style of happiness God wants us to fulfill. These five styles are Doer, Relater, Thinking, Giver, and Experiencer.  Jennifer writes from her farm house in Iowa, of her own struggles to experience happiness. She wrestled with whether God even wanted her to be happy in the first place. Jennifer finally came to the conclusion that God not only permits it, but desires for us to join Him in this pursuit of happiness through blessing those around us and delighting in His creation.

Even without taking the handy quiz online or in the book, it was clear my style is the relater.   Take me out for coffee, send me a note, or let me communicate with the world in some form, and I am happy.  I also enjoy my moments of doing and sharing new experiences.  One of my dear friends is a Doer who thrives on helping others, while another friend is always looking for ways to give time or materials to support those around her. Each of us is most ‘happy’ when we are acting within our personal style.

To say I loved this book is an understatement!  I sent the quiz to my friends and processed how it would help me better support them in their journeys.  I also am learning to be content in my own gifting/enjoyments, instead of comparing myself to others.  I highly recommend this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for review purposes.

Cover: The Happiness Dare

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Coloring our praises

I’ve been intrigued by people who draw their way through the Bible, adding artistic flare to what the Lord is teaching them.  I was excited to be able to review the Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal.  I was equally excited to see all the other products they offer in their  Living Expressions collection! How cool to be able to journal and color your Bible as you read through the text!

The Gratitude Journal provides space to record your heart’s prayers in the areas of confession, praise, and petition.   The prayers are coupled with Scripture, surrounding the reader/artist with God’s promises. This artistic journal provides another way of speaking  your heart to Jesus, and listening to his heart. It covers such topics as worship, family, unsaved people, daily time with Jesus, confession, blessing others, and many more.

I received a complementary copy of this journal from Tyndale House Publishers for review purposes. 978-1-4964-1579-0

Having a clean house and a clean heart

How do you find the balance between keeping your life under control and keeping your heart in check? In her book, Having a Martha Home the Mary Way, Sarah Mae gives daily assignments for your heart and your home.  It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and to not know where to start when you survey your closets and secret stashes of things you can’t bear to part with, but don’t know what to do with.

One of my favorite phrases is, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’  In her book, Sarah attacks the elephant mess of your house and breaks it apart into 31 bite size pieces.  Each day, she provides a devotional reading dealing with areas of contentment, priorities, motivation, and developing a vision for your home.   She ends each chapter with an assignment for the day such as cleaning out the kids’ closets, washing all the floors, emptying out the junk drawer, etc.

The things I loved about this book were how she broke it down into small steps, and how she balanced house work with heart work.  From experience, it’s easy to write a to do list, and know what rooms need help, then feel overwhelmed in knowing where to start. I’ve heard of people doing book clubs with this book, to keep each other accountable in finishing each day’s assignment.   It’s also easy to get caught up in doing, and miss Jesus’ invitation to join Him in his vision for our home and life.

To be honest, in this season of life with a 1 year old, a puppy, and expecting our next, I couldn’t keep up with the assignments.  The layout won’t fit everyone’s season of life.  For some, it may be better to do two chapters a week, instead of one a day.  I chose to read it for the main ideas, instead of following the game plan. More important to me were the major concepts of: just do something/start somewhere (don’t sit there), don’t keep it all, determine your main priorities, have a vision for your home, be intentional, and ask Jesus for help.

I received a complementary copy of the book from Tyndale House for review purposes. having-a-martha-home-the-mary-way-by-sarah-mae-cover

The Unveiled Wife ( a book review)

I’ve been a follower of Jennifer Smith’s writings for a while, and was excited to see she had a new book out. Her new book, The Unveiled Wife, is a autobiography/devotional book. In it, she shares her personal struggles dealing with intimacy, trust, expectations, and how her relationship with the Lord affected her relationship with her husband. Jennifer shares her personal story of how she met her husband, and the trials and growth they shared for the next 5 years until the Lord restored them as a couple.

In a society where people are suppose to meet, fall in love, marry, have smooth/passionate intimacy, make pretty babies that always coo, and live happily every after, it’s refreshing to hear an honest voice. Having grown up in the church, I don’t feel like intimacy and the real life working out your marriage are talked about enough. It’s not like the movies where everything flows gracefully and there’s fireworks in the background. A healthy marriage and great intimacy take commitment, work, and they both are a constant learning process. I completely enjoyed this book and totally recommend it to all women, especially those who have been married 5 or less years! I’m passing my copy on to a newly married friend immediately! 978-1-4143-9804-4

Fears and Trust

The last four months have been a series of choices…..choices to choose trust over fear.  It began with taking our pregnancy test. Being friends with some dear ladies who have either lost precious little ones or who long for them but are unable to have them, puts a different perspective on having my own. It is not a blessing to be taken for granted (as if we should take any blessing for granted), but rather an event to be received with gratitude and to be held with a loose grasp.

Knowing that every pregnancy carries its natural risks, and that life is never guaranteed to any of us, I  was fearful to make the news public….afraid in case something went ‘wrong’.   Gently, the Lord whispered….”Trust me”.

With each step of telling people at school or at church, my fear battled my trust.  I kept fearing the what if’s, while the Lord kept whispering the ‘trust me’s’.

What if I tell people at school, then you take the baby to Heaven?          Trust me.

What if I post our ‘announcement’ on social media,  to immediately follow it with a sad one?    Trust me.

What about the risk of SIDS? What about all the other possible things that could go wrong?   Continually, the Lord whispers…..’Trust me.  Trust me that no matter what happens I will walk through it with you. Trust me that through the mountains and valleys, you will not go it alone. Trust me that I have a purpose that I want to accomplish in your life through every situation you go through.  Trust me, that nothing is a surprise to me. Trust me.”

Somehow with all my vast four months of experience (ha!), I have a feeling that this is only the beginning of learning to trust God for this little one.

Expectant Parents: a book review

Expectant Parents
Expectant Parents, written by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, is a how-to manual for the hearts of new parents. In her book, she covers mom and dad’s individual roles, career decisions, emotions, community, family background and other essential topics. It’s not so much a reference manual as a gentle discussion with a friend of all the new challenges and blessings that come with a new little one. Suzanne shares a variety of both positive and negative experiences from people at different stages in the journey. She strongly supports the belief that there are no set ways/methods for each family. Rather each couple needs to seek out the Lord’s leading for their own family, and this may not be the same as their upbringing or of the cultural norm.

Reading this book was like receiving a comforting embrace midway through a white-knuckled drive down a foggy road. I about cried tears of joy as I read her chapters and realized……I was normal. It was all going to be OK! I remember excitedly telling my husband that “the book said it’s going to be OK! It said that I’m normal and it’s going to all be fine!” My husband and I are expecting our first child next summer, and thus the first couple months of pregnancy were filled with fears, weariness, sickness, and talk over the future. Remember in Luke, where Mary went to visit Elizabeth after finding out she was ‘with child’? How comforting Elizabeth’s words and embrace must have felt to a girl who had just obediently accepted a social outcast role in raising her first child, God’s Son! As Mary heard Elizabeth’s words, she must have thought, “It’s OK! I’m not alone! It’s going to be OK.” As I read through that chapter with new eyes this Christmas, I connected with her. I too, needed someone to tell me it was OK, and that the emotions and fears I had were normal. I would recommend this book for anyone expecting their first child. It is a good reminder to seek the Lord in each area of this new adventure, and it also provides good discussion between couples over the expectations each one has for delivery through raising a family.
I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes from Tyndale House Publishers.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A book review

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

Ann Voskamp has written a beautiful family geared version of the daily Jesse Tree Christmas readings. She has taken the scriptures for each day and retold each story in a child-friendly fashion. Each story comes with beautiful illustrations depicting the wonder of the season, and providing a visual to support the literary experience. This version of the advent reading is unique as it follows the story of Christ from the world’s creation through the kings, prophets, and the New Testament events. For those families who have enjoyed using the typical Jesse Tree Christmas readings, but need some support in using it with children, Ann Voskamp has made it easy for you. Each daily reading includes suggested discussion questions and activities to expand the lesson with your family.

I have loved reading Ann Voskamp’s blog for a while now and I appreciate her finding wonder in the simple ways in life. Understandable, I was very excited when I found out there was a book available combining her unique style with my favorite Christmas readings. This year, my husband and I read through it through December and enjoyed how she carefully used each story to point to Jesus. So often, we view Jesus as simply the Christmas story and beyond, when He really is the central point of the whole Bible. All through the Old Testament, He has been working with the Father to complete their plan. I would recommend this book to any family who wants to read and discover the whole story of Jesus during the Christmas season.
I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes from Tyndale House.

Past the brazen altars…

Some thoughts as I worshipped this Sunday:

“Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place, past the brazen alters…Lord, I want to see your face.” (Take me in by Petra and Kutless)

Past the brazen alters? Wait, can I just walk past them? I’ve been through the outer courts, on the outside hoping to meet God.  All along, even without knowing, I desired that Holy Place.  To see the place where God dwells, to sense his presence.  And since the brazen altars are on my route, they must be part of my journey there. But what do you offer at an altar?

Clearly, in reading through the Old Testament, you often read of goats, sheep, oxen, doves, etc being continually offered daily. Sometimes these offerings were in the thousands! (King Solomon’s dedication of the temple 1 Kings 8:63)  The outer courts were reserved for Gentiles and women. The men would enter in to present the sacrifices to the priests.  Access to the Lord’s presence was very restricted….until Jesus came and ripped open the curtain to the temple.  Though Jesus paid the final, complete sacrifice, I still keep seeing this word ‘sacrifice’ through my reading.

“Let us offer, through, Jesus a sacrifice of praise….”

“offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”

“Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”

“a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God…”

What do I offer? I confess….often my life has that noticeable stench like rotten tomatoes surrounded by fruit flies.  Lord, make it smell sweet!  Take the striving, doing, pushing, and replace it with your beauty. Take the pressure, the worry, the trying to be good enough, and replace it with your sweet smelling presence. As I spend time in your fragrant presence, may it rub off on me.

To just be…in you. To be in you…..while canning, freezing greens, making bread, writing lesson plans, collaborating with co-teachers, and doing laundry. To just be, not do. To just be..with people. To smell of you when talking with those you created.

“So, I give my life, a sacrifice of praise. Father, take my heart, every part today.” (Wickham)

A life change…every two pages.

You know those books you read that make you rethink your whole life every two pages?  Those kind that make you feel like nothing you do is even close to what you should be doing? That you’re not even a follower of Jesus?  That if your life didn’t change every time you picked up that book, you would be like the person in the book of James who looked in a mirror, saw the mess she was, and just forgot about it. 

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That’s how I feel when I read anything by K.P. Yohannan or his wife Gisela.  They are part of my favorite organization in the world Gospel for Asia.  I love how they use native missionaries to give gifts of livestock, sewing machines, and a number of other employments to people in villages all across Asia.  They also created schools for children who otherwise would be left to the streets or sent to work. And most importantly….Jesus and the hope of forgiveness from sin is offered to all. 

Reading books from someone who has seen it, been there, experienced another side of life always challenges your core actions, thoughts and living.  I remember how  every couple pages, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m not even saved!” (meaning not following Jesus).

In K.P.’s book, “The Road to Reality”, he literally challenged my reality. “Measured against eternity-nothing of this world makes much difference at all. A hundred years from now, it is unlikely that even one person in the world will remember what we looked like in this world.”  

 

The following is a list of realizations:

If my heart does not grieve over the millions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus…

If my day is not filled with prayer whispers to Heaven for my brothers and sisters here and abroad….

If my finances and time do not reflect HIS kingdom instead of my own……

If I harbor any coveting, pride, jealousy, unforgiveness or anger…..

If I can look at another picture of a thirsty child, a broken man, a widow, a loveless woman and have my heart not break for their pain and eternal outcome…….

Then my heart does not reflect the heart of my Savior. 

 

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Reading through Scripture and through K.P’s book it is evident of the power of prayer if we would just admit our inadequacy and rely on HIS sufficiency. People are healed, bread/fish are multiplied, and villages are transformed. “No man is greater than his prayer life” (Leonard Ravenhill)

Now to be honest…..(which if I wasn’t, there wouldn’t be any point to reading this) I haven’t fulfilled that list yet.  Yes, I do pray more ( I find that the shower 🙂 is a perfect time to get some regular time in), and yes my heart does weep with those who weep (especially in Iraq, Israel, Asia, and here in my town). And yes, I do think about needs vs. wants, especially keeping in mind how many true needs there are around the world. 

Gisela writes in “Broken for a Purpose”: “The secret of overcoming is through dying-to die to the right of recognition, honor, position, respect and so on.” “If I understand this truth…I will learn to view my trials, disappointments, persecutions and victories as opportunities for the Holy Spirit to build and mold my life. Then, even during the most difficult and painful times in my life that strip me of all that I thought I was, I will be able to say, ‘Yes, Lord.’ trusting Him, knowing He is bringing me at that moment one step closer to look like Him.”  Broken for a purpose….his purpose… to look like Him. 

 

To beat with the same heart beat, to weep for the things God weeps for, to see as He does, and to pray as He wishes. “stamp eternity on both my eyes” “Break my heart again with what breaks your heart”

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This is a life-long process made by a series of small steps….every two pages. 🙂 

 

 

The language of love

You know the story….guy wins over girl through gifts, or love notes, or long walks in the park. Then after they get married and have been married a year….reality sets in. “You never give me gifts anymore. When can we spend time together? Remember, when you used to write me notes? Yah, those were the days…”

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Now, it’s not that either person has stopped loving the other, or that they stopped caring. It’s just that we don’t know how, at least not in a way our loved one will receive it.

This summer I read “The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Now, of course, I started thinking through the people I know and analyzing their language. 🙂 My siblings? Definitely quality time, just like my parents. 🙂 Big surprise, I know. 

So, in case you haven’t heard them, here they are:
1. Quality time: spending intentional time with someone, or even just being together in a project.
2. Physical Touch: hugs, a pat on the back, a high five for a good job, holding hands/
3. Acts of Service: taking out the trash, washing the dishes, helping someone carry something
4. Words of Affirmation: encouragement, verbally affirming their good qualities, appreciative words, notes.
5. Gifts: small gifts to let them know you were thinking of them, flowers generally fit this.

 

When people date, they generally do all of these things to earn their partner’s love and affection. But often, after time, we switch out of overload and back into our natural language.

The trick is to figure out what really blesses the other person and what they receive the most. My mom is a prime example of quality time. (Mom, you know it so don’t deny it). You could give her a gift every week or give her a quick hug when you see her each time (which, by the way, is her secondary language), but after a while you’ll start to hear her complain…..”sometime we should hang out again! Sometime, we’ll have to catch up. How’s this going? Just letting you know I’m thinking of you.” You get the picture. 🙂 That’s why she’s easy to birthday shop for….either a coffee date or thrift store shopping date.

I’m pretty blessed as Jesse’s languages are very similar to mine. Quality Time is his primary, with physical touch and affirming words coming second.

And if you’ve known me for any length of time, you should know mine. Guesses anyone?
Yep, quality time and words of affirmation. No surprise there.

The difficulty comes when our definitions of quality time differ. My choice of quality time (a walk in the neighborhood or a game) is different than his (eating dinner together, or chilling in the living room). Way easier to navigate than some of the examples I read about in the book.

It’s interesting how you don’t realize them until you start to miss them. I didn’t realize how strong words were to me until I heard negative words and upset words. Then it crushed me as what someone says to me is a big deal unless I train myself not to care…..as much.

Now, disclaimer alert! I’m not blind enough to assume that all people fit into neat boxes.  One of my dear friends told me recently she’s not sure which languages are hers.  As unique as people are, they may have a unique type of language that’s all their own.

So, we sometimes use this phrase around our house (and they talked about it in the book too).
“How’s your love tank doing? How can I help to fill it?” Sometimes it’s nothing as it was just a rough day at school, but sometimes it’s something as simple as cleaning the dirty dishes out of the sink.

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Love really is a choice. A choice to learn how to love the other person in their own way.