Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I Like Grace

Not talking about the kind of grace that makes ballerinas look amazingly beautiful and liquid in their movements.

This is the Jesus kinda grace.

It is what sustains me as a mother of three. It is what makes me feel bad for other mothers who don't know Jesus and are trying to raise their kids on their own strength. It is what makes me feel like I am cross country skiing when everyone else is waist deep trying to push their way through the snow covered world.

For those who's lives have been surrendered to Christ, it is available. It is real. It is what makes living a successful Christian life a possible reality for us.

I use to think grace was like this:
I would try my hardest to do something in obedience to Christ, and even though I totally made a flop of it, the Lord would still put an A+ sticker by my project.

It is kinda like that in the beginning, but it can be so much more. See, in that example, I was trying to do the obedience thing mostly in my own strength. If not totally out of a prideful mindset (I will earn His love by showing Him how good I can do it, yeah right), it is at least an immature mindset (I didn't know there was any other way).

NOW I know there is another way. I call it grace mode. I may have written about it before, I can't remember. The thing is, it can actually work something like this:

I agree to do a project for the Lord, knowing I don't have all the tools/strength/knowledge to do it well, I ask the Lord to help me, and then I do as much as I know how. Step by step I find success, and I do better at it than I know I could have ever done on my own. At the end of it people around me are cheering me on, saying, 'whoa, you did it', but I know inside that I didn't have a clue how to accomplish what I just accomplished. So I thank the Lord for His help, His strength, His wisdom, and His grace. Then, at the end, He puts an A+ sticker by my project.

That is how it is suppose to look most of the time. I wish every day looked like that. Yet there is still plenty of my own attempts that look more like the first example.

Let us not dwell on those times though. It is empowering, encouraging, fuel for my fire kind of stuff to look at the times I have done it better. Better than I could have ever done on my own. Those are the times I know that I didn't have what it took, but I succeeded because of the Lord's grace upon me. He heard my cry for help, and gave it freely! Oh how thankful I am for that.

I have become quite sensitive to His grace too.

I can tell when I am operating in it, and when I am not, and when I am not, I know enough now to stop and ask for it.

So here is a fun story to illustrate this lesson on grace.

My husband was going away for two weeks on a trip. I had three littles and I had never been alone with the three on my own before. I was a bit worried and not sure if I could do it, so I prayed a lot about it on the front end.

The trip came and went, and I not only survived without my husbands help, I thrived and enjoyed the experience. My confidence was boosted and my kids and I had a great time.

At the end I asked the Lord, "was that mostly you, or am I just getting better at this mothering thing? I wish I knew what percentage was you and what percentage was my own ability/wisdom."

No answer at that time, but then Ken had to go away unexpectedly for a three day trip. I was still feeling empowered by the success of that two week trip, so I felt confident to do the three days.

They were a disaster. Three days of hard, hard work, and if anything could have gone wrong, it did. By the end I was a wreck. My husband returned, and with him order and calm also returned.

When all was calm again, I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, "now you know what percentage is your own ability/wisdom." Well, actually, that is not accurate. It was more funny than that. The Lord has a great sense of humor, once you get to know Him.

He whispered to me, in the grand form of that old 'anti-crack' commercial from the 80's (this is your brain *hold up an egg, this is your brain on crack *crack the egg and pour in a hot skillet): this is your life (the three day trip), this is your life on grace ( the two week trip).

I burst out laughing. So now I know. I bring very little if anything to the table. My greatest successes in life are majorly due to the grace of the Lord working in me. I can take very little credit, and yet, I will say this, I am addicted to His kind of success! In that way, I suppose grace is like crack. It is very addicting.

So Lord, I ask for You to always be near me, working in me, through me, around me. With You I am a success. Teach me how to operate in Your grace daily! I want the fruit that is accomplished by Your sure swift hand, not my own! Thank you for grace! Amen.

25 Facts

Saw another blogger that did this..... so now I am too. Sharing twenty five facts about myself on here, that is. She (at Dreaming of the Country) got the idea from somewhere else.

I think it must be a woman thing, but we long to be known for who we really are.

I'm about to move to Texas, so I feel as though I'm about to be 'unknown' again. To off set that feeling, I am making myself more known - at least on my blog.

Ready. Set. Go.

25 Facts

1. I hate to shave my legs.

2. Walking in the deep woods, off the beaten path is one of my favorite adventures. Staying on the walking trails is more boring. 

3. Yellow is my favorite color, but Green is a close second.

4. My mother is one of my best friends in the whole world.

5. I like being really, really honest. 

6. Once I got a whole group of my friends out of a scrape with the police by telling them we were all out in a field trying to view the Aurora borealis in the night sky. 

7. In grade school I got in trouble for spitting in a boy's face. I had been provoked when he had used the Lord's name in vain. Later that same night my youth pastor gave me a high five.

8. I married my husband because I knew he was stronger than me.

9. My first business ever was raising and butchering rabbits for meat.

10. I have a photographic memory.

11. Making things with my hands is one of my favorite ways to spend my free time.

12. My eyes turn green when I cry.

13. I dream a lot at night, and remember a good portion of them.

14. The dinner hour is the craziest hour of my day.

15. Creating new gardens is one of my greatest passions.

16. Having children is the greatest tool the Lord has ever used to rid me of my selfishness.

17. I have never smoked a cigarette, ever.

18. My sense of smell is very powerful to me.

19. I love mushrooms.

20. I don't wear make up.

21. My childhood dream was to go to a foreign country to start an orphanage. 

22. When I played with my barbies as a child the story always went that the woodland creatures would protect and save barbie from the prince, who only wanted to marry her because she was beautiful, not because he knew her at all.

23. Despite being afraid of spiders, I will never back down from a spider if I see it. Instead I kill it so it can never haunt me again.

24. I have never broken a bone.

25. I love Jesus. (it felt like such a cliche to put this first, so for fun I left it for last)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Plants

I'm in South Carolina. Zone 7.

When I pursued my degree in Horticulture, it was in a zone 5. I will say that there is a lot that is the same in a zone 7 and a lot that is different!

Still, in the two years that I have been here, I wish to list a few of my favorite plants from the area.

Kaleidoscope Abelia - Abelias in general are beautiful and do well in South Carolina, but Kaleidoscope has such an amazing color and keeps a very nice form too. Low and mounded, it can also be trimmed and kept tidy. The color is very useful to spruce up a boring bed, and seems to hold it's color even in the heat of summer. Flowers are unimpressive, but flowers are here today and gone tomorrow. The power of this plant is in it's leaves, which are there for the whole growing season. A truly great plant.

Cedar Trees - another favorite and something I did learn about in my Horticulture classes. We were made to appreciate the elegant beauty of these trees, even though they do not grow well in a zone 5. They do however grow well in zone 7 and I have seen many gorgeous examples in the area. As an evergreen they make a great backdrop for any garden. They have a very graceful form, especially as they get older. I like that they are a bit more open looking than the dense upright False Cypress that I see almost everywhere in Charlotte, NC. Looking for a big tree to invest in. This is a wonderful choice, just make sure to give it some space and plenty of sun.

Camellia - these were such a surprise to me. Not only for their striking resemblance to roses, but because they started blooming in December. When almost nothing else is looking well in the garden, that is when these make their debut! Want some winter interest in the garden. Plant some Camelia in amongst your other plants. They will not look like much all year, and then when you are bored of looking out at your pathetic greenery, these beauties will open up their blossoms and make the most beautiful display of color. A true winter gift!

Crepe Myrtle - So common around Charlotte, NC, that the locals probably don't think a thing of it any longer, but I can tell you, it is spectacular! The colors, the form, the long lasting blooms, the easy care, the winter interest of the bark and branches! An all around good choice for any garden. I have thoroughly enjoyed it's presence in so many locations. When I first came here I was shocked by how colorful it was, and I would see it growing in medians and parking lots. Tough and beautiful, what a combination! In the gardening world, that is truly remarkable. Need a medium size tree? Take a look and appreciate the versatility of these.

Holly - sure, we have holly in zone 5, but not like these! The first I have listed is Ilex aquafolium variegata (English Holly with a variegated leaf)! So beautiful and I have seen it growing in some situations that prove that it is truly hardy here, and that the variegated quality is mostly stable. I like the form, I like that is is a broadleaf evergreen, and it isn't the normal green of evergreens. :-) From a distance it looks almost minty, or even like a lime tinted green. Very nice color and can add a bit of interest in the garden where there is sometimes an overabundance of dark greens.

The second Holly I wish to point out is the Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon Holly) which when I first saw it, I thought it was a kind of dense boxwood. It is a holly though, and dense, easily trimmed, and tough! Although there are no amazing color or flower qualities to discuss, it is a great choice for hedges, or background/foundation plantings. For any garden, you can't have all your plants be chiefs, you need some well behaved indians to uphold the chiefs.  For every specialty plant (a chief), like the Kaleidoscope Abelia, it would be nice to have anywhere from 2-3 background, complimentary plants (indians). Make sense? Yaupon Holly is a great little indian plant. :-)

Canna - we had these in zone 5, but you had to dig them up every year and store their bulbs in your basement over the winter. Then replant in the spring and they would take forever to grow up and bloom. Here, they stay in the ground, grow bigger and bloom longer. These are a great thing to tuck in among other new plantings, because they are a bulb and easily moved when the area grows to crowded (as your new plantings fill out). They come in a variety of flower colors and some either come with colored or striped leaves. I like these for color in the heat of summer. When most other things are taking a bit of a break in the heat, these are still doing well. The do need a lot of sun to do well, but are a great choice, especially if you don't want to water a ton!

For now, I think that is all of the plants I will discuss, but just know that there are a lot of other great plants available, these are just a few of my favorites. Things unique to North Carolina, that I didn't get to appreciate in a zone 5! Looking to do something interesting in your garden and need a few ideas. These are all great choices if you are looking for something larger to add in.  Although some of the Canna come in dwarf sizes and the Yaupon Holly can be trimmed quite small, I would consider all of these plants medium to large in size. When planting, plan accordingly so that you don't need to move them later. :-)

Talking plants always leaves me dreaming of my next garden. You too? Well then, happy dreaming.

Emotions pt. 2

So as I started in my previous post on Emotions...... it was my turn to share my testimony of how we had come to live in the local church community, and I started off well enough, I think.

Then I fell apart. I wept openly about moving, and how hard it was, and how sad I was. Thankfully everyone quickly rallied around me and prayed for me. The prayers were touching, but afterwards I felt so stupid.

I was so afraid I had totally overstepped some unspoken rule, like the rule about 'no overwhelming shows of emotion at first home group gatherings'.

That week I fretted, and felt embarrassed, until one day my husband came home and said he had run into one of the home group leaders. They said, "wow, it was great of your wife to be so open, it really broke the ice."

It was the first time I can recall ever being complimented for letting my true emotions come out in a group setting. It was the beginning of a new season where I began to understand more fully the way the Lord had created me to be. And to like myself at a level I had never dared to like before.

Somehow I had always felt so sure that my emotions were a flaw, not a fashioning. But the Lord made me, and my emotions!

I certainly had a thing or two to learn about how to control those emotions, but self control is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore, can be cultivated with time and effort. Once you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, your ability to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit is assured. It just takes time and effort and allowing the Spirit to work in you.

So the emotions weren't the problem, and that, for me, was a heady revelation! They had purpose, and the Lord could even use them - even to 'break the ice'.

Now, in the handful of years since that time, I have learned more and more about how to use my emotions. How to curb them too, but all for the purpose of loving the Lord more fully. Through my words and actions AND emotions!

With that, has come a tearing down of those previous lies.
Lies that said:
Me and my emotions were too complicated to figure out. 
No one would ever want to be around such a mess of a person. 
No one could handle the real me, if they knew how I really felt, they would reject me. 
I must always seem simple and uncomplicated if I want to have friends.

What lies!!!! The Lord has shown me again and again that the real me is beautiful in His hands. He is using all of me to speak to others. I am not too messy. I am not rejected. I have lots of friends, and I can be the real me in front of them. My emotions are an asset.

And that is a beautiful truth that is worth the journey it took to finally understanding it.

So be blessed. You are beautiful too! You and your emotions.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Moving Out

We are moving out. Going to Texas.


That is not what I am writing about today.

This is a story about my oldest daughter. She is so much like me in so many ways.

A few days ago we got in a disagreement over a toy. I said she needed to leave it outside, she insisted she should bring it in. I won, but she was so angry that she told me, "I am so angry with you it makes me not want to live here anymore." (she's 5, going on 15)

I said, "Oh yeah, where would you live?"

"Somewhere else," she states forcefully.

Then to her shock, I said, "okay, you can move out."

Suddenly the information sank in and ideas started firing rapidly in her brain.

"Okay mom, well then I will just go out and find a place and be back in a bit to get my stuff."


Then she walks to the back door, looks out, sees her new playhouse and says with rapid breath and near squealing, "I know mommy, I'll live in my playhouse."

I say okay again and then she is running upstairs to pack.

I sit at the computer looking at recipes for dinner when she comes back down with a small purse with underwear, and a few toys.

Then it dawns on her, where will she sleep?

She bursts into tears and says, "Mommy there is no bed, and where will I sleep?"

"I don't know," I say, but then the wheels are turning again. She will sleep in a chair she decides. So back upstairs to pack some bedding.

In a bit she comes back down with a lot of toys, some clothes, her swim suit, a bit of bedding, and every pair of shoes she owns (a true woman in the making). She begins to make a pile by the back door. Her 3 year old sister is moving in with her at this point. They are going to be 'housemates'.  So they are also packing her bedding and toys. The pile by the back door grows some more.

Then I open the door and she starts putting her stuff in the house. Casually, as I prepare dinner, I wonder aloud, "huh, I wonder what you will eat for dinner?"

She stops and looks at me in horror! The hysterics are on the verge of overflowing, "But mommy I don't have any money to buy food, and I......" the rest is unintelligible crying and blubbering.

I say calmly, "well, I can give you a bag of pretzels to hold you over until you can make it to the store."

She brightens, "thank you mommy" and goes back to moving into her new home.

Then, as I finish up dinner, she comes in crying again.

"Mommy, I just can't do it, everything won't fit and I..................I just really want to live with you again."

"Oh baby girl, I am so happy to hear that. I would love to have you live with me again."

And she melts into my arms weeping in relief.

Then from the back door I hear my younger daughter say, "Well I'm still moving out! I'm gonna live in the house 'S' gave us!"

So I say 'okay' and continue to love on my older girl, who has learned a good lesson about the realities of moving out (if even only on a small scale).

Then I say, "well then, lets have spaghetti" (my kids favorite meal), and suddenly my three year old is begging to move back in too.

Life lessons were learned, I am sure of it, and me? I got to enjoy the live entertainment for free. Kids, they are so much fun!

Some of you may ask how long I would have let the ruse go before insisting she move back in?

I would have let it go as far as it had to, even as far as her sleeping outside in her playhouse (supervised all night from the window of course). If the cramped quarters didn't do the trick, the massive amounts of mosquitos would have. Secretly I was praying it would rain, which would have sped up the process of discovery, but it didn't even take rain to drive her back to my arms. It only took the reality of all her possessions not fitting into her tiny new apartment. Ha! Such a girl.

So why would I let her think that she could move out? Because I believe in letting my kids practice being adults in as many ways as possible. To be sure, she had to think and use her brain a lot in the process of moving out, and realizing what it takes to live on her own, and so forth.

I want my home to be a safe place to practice learning these types of life lessons. It is not my job to control her and do all the thinking for her. She has a brain, and I know she uses it, so I knew in the long run (or short, in this case) that her brain would lead her to the logical conclusion that her plan was maybe not the best plan. I guarantee she is smarter now than when the process first began.

At the end, she was truly repentant for how she had spoken to me, she was suddenly more grateful for being allowed to live in my house and eat my food. It was also a great bonding moment. As I held her in my arms, I was able to tell her how glad I was that she was staying and how much I love living with her.

It was a beautiful/funny adventure.

How about you? Anyone got a funny story about a child who learns the value of a life lesson creatively? 

I have Mercy.

I have never thought of myself as being a overly merciful person. It isn't that I want judgement or death to befall people, not at all.

I had always just thought of myself as one who stood up for Justice more than Mercy.

As a Christian, I had never really made that statement out loud before, always just believing it, never really thinking about it.  Otherwise I would have realized the error in it much sooner.

Those two are not in contradiction to one another. With Justice there can be Mercy, and with Mercy, Justice can still be upheld.

It isn't one or the other, it is both/and.

So, back to my false mindset. By the way, another word for a false mindset is.......stronghold. I discovered this stronghold when I was talking with my husband. I had taken a personality test and it asked a very interesting question. It asked:

Do you tend to lean toward Justice or Mercy?

I know myself to be a rule keeper/rule maker, so I picked Justice, even though I know in my head I love Mercy too.

Then my husband said that you can't have Justice without Mercy - and vice versa. The Lord is a 'Just' God, and He is full of 'Mercy'. The Old Testament is full of examples of these two.

So, it got me to thinking and I asked the Lord. Am I really merciful?

Apparently I didn't think too hard about it though, because I quickly forgot that I had asked the Lord that question. Until He answered my question.

Over three months after taking that first personality test my husband offers for me to take a Spiritual Giftings test. Like a personality test, but focused on what your Spiritual gifts are.

I was shocked to find myself fitting very much into the Mercy gift, as well as the Giver gift. It was a shock because I had already, unconsciously, written myself off as 'not overly merciful'. Remember, strongholds are hard to move because someone strong holds them, I decided that the test must be wrong and that I was really only a Giver.

Then today, as I talked with the Lord randomly about something else before a meeting I was attending, I heard the Lord say, "you have Mercy."

I thought I must have heard wrong.

"You have mercy, why do you doubt it?" I heard the Lord say again.

I threw up several examples of times I had not shown mercy to my children/husband/family.

His response - He reminded me of several examples where I had shown great mercy to complete strangers.

I said, "Well, I am merciful to strangers, but not to my family. The way that I am to my family is really how I am."

I heard the Lord say 'No.'

He showed me that I am capable of great mercy toward people, even going out of my way to extend mercy to friends and people in need. I will share my 'dirty laundry' with almost anyone, if I am able to show them that there is hope for themselves.

So I asked the Lord why I am not always that way with my family. He said, "It is simply an area of weakness and immaturity."

That was profound. It isn't that I lack mercy at all! I have lots of mercy, and I know how to show it, I just struggle sometimes to show it to those nearest to me.

It isn't even that I am terribly unmerciful to my family. I am very merciful, but I had somehow locked in on to the few times that I have been obviously unmerciful and put those memories on repeat, until the point that I believed that I was not a merciful person.

What a lie of the enemy! What a stronghold!

Why is it that we take the 10% of our life experience and let it be the rule instead of the exception.

For example: I once was in a group of women, and one woman out of five didn't like me. I was so rocked by that one woman not liking me. I was so worried for a while that I was not really a likable person. I believed that one lady's opinion of me over the other 4 in the group, and over the opinion of my dozens of other friends.

Why is that? I don't know, but I do know this. It is a lie, and if we choose to believe it, then it can become a stronghold. My stronghold was to the point that I didn't really believe that I was a merciful person. When in fact, that is where I placed highest on the Spiritual gifts test!

Isn't that just like the enemy. Trying to blind me to one of my most natural gifts. Now that I am aware, I have taken it into my head and my hand, that mercy will be a new weapon that I will learn to hone for the Glory of the Lord.

So Lord, teach me to wield it against the lies of the enemy for the sake of those I encounter; not only to strangers, but to those most nearest and dearest to me. Amen!

Emotions pt. 1

I like to think of myself as a person who values open communication. I want to be someone that other people can talk to, and they can show me the real 'them' without fear of rejection. I am not afraid of 'messy' emotions or hard words.

I like to cultivate friendships where people can be truly candid with me, and I always try to provide a safe place for 'realness'. It is because I, myself, like to speak plainly. I like to open myself up in safe circles and show people the real me.

It was not always that way though.

First off, my emotions are a big part of the real me. I'm a woman. Enough said.

However, I remember a time when I use to be embarrassed by my emotions. I was afraid to show people the real me. I was certain that they couldn't and wouldn't be able to handle the real me. It was a very troubling place. I was constantly second guessing myself.

In one sense, I had this deep longing to know people, and in turn, to be known by them. I wanted that deep heart connection.

In the next moment though, I was terrified that if I did allow myself to go deep, to really open myself up, that they would dislike me. Reject me. Because emotions are messy. Could they really handle all of me?

These lies were spawned in my early pre-teen years (unintentionally, I'm sure). They were further enforced by a series of unfortunate friendships in High School.

By the time I was an adult, I was a crazy mix of wanting to be known, but then, terrified to be truly known.

Somehow in that state I got married, and the Lord blessed me with a wonderful husband. Then came the real test. The real me became evident to my husband. I let me emotions out. A lot.

My poor husband was shocked to some extent, I am sure. I was probably nothing like the woman he thought he had married. What happen to that cool, laid back, exciting woman he had dated?

She was a shell; that which I was willing to show him and others, to hide the real, messy me.

To be fair, those first few years of marriage were.......interesting, in more than one way, as any newly wed could probably verify.

Then came the move. Across country. To a new place.

It was in that new place that the Lord began to reach out to me, and I, in turn, reached out to Him at a new level. I began to trust the Lord at a new level. Then it happened. I began to let the real me out of the box..... in more public places.

The first time this happened (that I can recall) was at a new small group we had started to attend. All began well. Everyone was giving their friendly and interesting stories about how they had come to be a part of our church community.

Then it was my turn to share......

Stay tunes for part 2 of Emotions

Nine Month Woes

My son is now 9 months old, and I feel like I have never prayed so much in my life. You would think by my third child that I would be more relaxed, but sometimes I am not.

He is my first boy, maybe that is why I am still so uptight. Everything I thought I learned and knew with the my first two girls, I am now second guessing with my first boy.

From the get go, I could tell he was hard wired different than my girls. His crying was less dramatic, more to the point, easier to decipher his needs from. Unlike my girls crying, which sounded almost the same for hungry or in fear for their very lives. Girls = more drama. Figured that one out quick.

Yet he is just different in so many other ways. I can't even put my finger on it, but I find I am more stressed about how to parent him. So I pray.

One of my most common prayers recently has been for him to poop. He seems to have either a very slow digestive system or a very efficient digestive system. He just doesn't seem to have to go that often. Now that I have introduced solids, it seems even more nerve wracking as I wait for his poops.

Yet he has only been constipated once so far, the rest have been mostly normal. So what is my deal?

Still, I find prayer helps, at least where my nerves are concerned. I don't have the answers after all. I can't look inside his belly to see if he really needs to poop. I can't even make him poop. So I pray, and trust the Lord, and He gives me peace.

My next group of prayers for baby boy have been about his crawling. He's almost 10 months and not crawling. My girls were crawling by now, but baby boy, he is more chill than you know!  I joke, however, that he has three mothers, me and my two daughters. Why would he ever need to crawl, they attend to his every need.

Toy too far away.......let me get that for you.

Tired and ready for a nap...........let me go find mom for you.

Want to look out the window and frustrated...............never mind, let me entertain you with my antics.

The flow of love toward him is almost never ending.

Yet I still pray. Just in case. The doctor says he is fine and strong and all that. All the websites I read say he is still within the normal range for crawling. He just isn't like my girls were, so I scrutinize, and wonder and pray.

Thankfully the Lord just reminded me today that the doctor said that his head is in the 95th percentile while his body weight and length is only the 25th percentile. To me that says, big head, little body. Maybe the poor thing has to grow into his head a bit more before he can learn to maneuver his whole body around.

Whatever the reason, the Lord has been giving me peace on that front too.

So there you have it. What a mom with a nine month old prays about. I pray about a lot of other stuff too. Things much bigger than my home life, but there is something nice in praying for the small, everyday kinds of things. The Lord is a lover of the small as much as the big.  I can pray for the one while not neglecting the other, and you know what, He is always faithful to answer even my most silliest questions/petitions.

What kinds of small things are you praying about today? Nothing is too big or too small for the God of all Creation. So make your request known.

PS. Took me three months to post this. Baby boy is 12 months now and crawling great. He is starting to poop more too.  The Lord is merciful and kind to those of us who call on His name.