Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Singleness and Marriage

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. –C. S. Lewis

When I read the above quote from C. S. Lewis, it particularly struck me how that analogy relates to my life, and my desire to be married. If I start thinking of this life as meant for my enjoyment, I feel dissatisfied with my current single state, and at the least, a little sad -- at the worst, frustrated with God for not having granted my desire yet. If I remember that this world is not for my pleasure - it's a world full of sinners, and God's purpose isn't to give me a sunny, happy life, but to save the lost - then I know that my purpose is to let God shine through me and use me however He sees fit for His glory. It doesn't matter how He chooses to use me; I am His servant, and if His will for my earthly life doesn't include a husband, would I dare to complain? 

It's tempting to think that if I could only be married to a wonderful Godly man, have my own little home and nothing to do but be his helpmeet, raise children and homemaking duties that I would instantly become a gentle, submissive woman. That's my picturesque dream of a Christian family who is ready to minister and serve others wherever God has them. But I know that there would still be troubles and things to frustrate me, and if I am not prepared to be joyful and content in every circumstance, marriage would not be a magic cure for my flaws.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28
All things work together for our good, even if we can't see or understand it. It may not seem like good from a worldly perspective, but isn't it wonderful to know that He is working all things together for our good, even the failures and painful moments? Sometimes I find myself worrying that I might miss getting married because I don't pray diligently enough, or because I haven't already become the person I know I should be. How silly am I? If God intends for me to get married, it will happen, and He already knows if or when that will be, just the same as every other circumstance of my life. Whether single or married, He will continue to use every part of my life to make me more like Christ.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6

So then, as it seems I must continually remind myself, since my life here is for Him, and His glory alone, I must simply follow Him and obey Him and submit and surrender myself to Him every day. If He has chosen singleness for me, I know that is best, and if He has chosen marriage for me, then I know that's best. Either way, I will be content. He alone is the only other Someone I need. 

"The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
   Do not forsake the work of your hands."
-Psalm 138:8

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trying to Define Friendship

 What is true friendship? There are so many definitions for the word "friend":
-One attached to another by affection or esteem.
-An acquaintance.
-One that is not hostile.
-One that is of the same nation, party or group.
-A favored companion.

And then, for further clarity (or lack thereof) we can define "acquaintance":
-To be acquainted (to know personally; familiar)
-A person whom one knows, but who is not a particularly close friend.

These definitions together create an incredibly vague description in my opinion. According to the 4th definition I've listed, everyone who lives in the US might be considered my friends! Anyone who is not particularly hostile to me, anyone I've ever met, however briefly, could be a friend. 

In trying to define friendship for myself, I realized that I considered most everyone I know to be acquaintances, in the sense of "a person that I know, but who is not truly a friend." This doesn't mean that I was uninterested in friendships with any of these people, but simply that we hadn't yet reached a level of familiarity that I would have considered a true friendship. Perhaps I was looking at it from the wrong perspective.

So what is true friendship? Jesus said "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." (John 15:12-14)
He laid down His life for us, and He commands us to love one another as He has loved us. If we obey His command, we will be His friends, and friends to each other.

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Proverbs 17:17
A true friend will love you through the dark days and the happy times, not just whenever it's convenient for them.

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." - Proverbs 27:6
A true friend will have the courage to lovingly confront you when they see something wrong in your life.

From those verses, I know I need to be a friend to more people than I currently am, but you can be a friend as Jesus commanded without any reciprocation from the other person and I believe a true friendship requires effort from each person. Close friendships, with mutual affection and intimacy, take time and trust, and can't be built without dedication and love from both friends.

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation." -George Washington

So here's to being a friend as Jesus commanded, and hoping for special friendships to grow along the way! And as to a definition, I think this quote from George Eliot most closely describes what I currently think a close friendship is: "Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forming Habits

We all have habits, good and bad, and I think we'd all agree that bad habits are much easier to acquire. If you're not paying careful attention, a bad habit might be formed before you even notice. Like eating chocolate every night after supper... and you go to your chocolate stash and realize it's all gone. Then you start forming the habit of buying chocolate every time you see it, completely subconsciously, because you must continue your habit of eating chocolate every night... (Yeah. Thank goodness I noticed before those bad habits turned into a lifestyle of chocoholic-ness.) Good habits tend to be much more difficult. I can start out with the best of intentions, but too easily fall back into the rut of my old habit of NOT doing whatever my new, good habit was meant to be.

For example, the past several years I've started each year with a resolution of reading my Bible every day, and reading through the entire Bible in a year. I can't tell you how many times I've read through the first several chapters of Genesis, only to miss a day, and then give up completely somewhere around January 9. I realized that part of my problem was my perfectionism, I wanted to instantly be perfect in my new habit. Then God showed me that my real problem was laziness. I had plenty of determination when I made the resolution on New Year's Day, but I didn't want to keep exercising my will. I wanted that one burst of "inspiration" to last, and my new habit to be formed as easily as the old. When Genesis became boring and the attempted habit continued to require determination that I thought was exhausting, I gave up. 

Sometime in June of 2010, I decided to try again. I had a new strategy: starting in June, and NOT starting in Genesis. I found a Bible reading record, with each book laid out in chapters, so you could mark off each individual chapter as you read it. This gave me the ability to aim for my goal of reading the entire Bible, without having to read straight through from Genesis, but instead reading whatever I felt interested in. And finally, I decided to accept that there would undoubtedly be some failure days, but that I would just keep trying. But the important part is that forming the habit taught me to rely on God for strength. When my alarm went off and I just wanted to sleep for another half hour, or when I missed a day and felt incredibly discouraged, His strength got me up and reading, and once I started reading, I wondered why it seemed so hard. 

I'm reading "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges (highly recommend), and I just got to the chapter Habits of Holiness. I hadn't realized before that my behavior, and the way I respond to situations are also habits. It made it much more clear to me what I need to do to change my ungodly responses (criticism, frustration, deception, etc) to godly responses (grace, gentleness, truth, etc). I had thought that it was something mysterious deep in my soul that would gradually change, and then I would cease giving ungodly responses naturally. It's helpful to know that there is something I must do about it, and sobering to realize how much I need to change!

I hope this doesn't seem like a prideful post, because I don't consider this to be a success for myself. It was only when I admitted that I couldn't do it myself and relied on His strength that it became possible for me.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I know I'm not able to do anything on my own, but He also requires some effort from us. You don't become a Christian and grow into Christ-likeness automatically. 
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -2 Corinthians 5:21
"For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:13
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." -Philippians 2:12-13
Clearly He freed us from sin, and gives us the strength and will to obey, but we still must make the choice. I hope this post might be encouraging for anyone who is struggling with similar issues. 

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." -Philippians 4:13

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Delights of Autumn

Cool sunny days, jackets, fires in the backyard fire pit. A cup of hot tea, a blanket and a good book. A bicycle ride on a pleasantly warm afternoon. Cold rainy days spent warm inside, playing the piano. I absolutely love fall, and nothing says "fall" to me like pumpkin and cranberries... and so, it's time for an overload of pumpkin recipes!

This pumpkin bread is delicious. Don't be fooled, it might be called bread, but that's only because you cook it in bread pans. It's a cake. And no way would I put 2 cups of sugar in it! But with some substitutions (I'd leave out the water, and put ONE cup of maple syrup or honey, and put 1/2 cup of coconut oil for 1/2 cup of the butter... or even substitute for the whole cup of butter) it's healthy enough that I justify eating a piece for breakfast sometimes. 

I absolutely LOVE this pumpkin cheesecake. I haven't actually tried putting the sour cream topping on it, I think it's great without it. I might like this cheesecake better than the typical pumpkin pie... I mean, it's so much more fat! What's not to like?? (But just in case you'd like something a little lighter, here's the pumpkin pie recipe.)

I'm not sure why they call these "Pumpkin Cranberry Bars" because it's definitely more like a cake. Or something. But whatever they are, they've always been a hit. You should definitely double the recipe and put it in a 9X13 pan. And at least triple the icing recipe. I'm serious.

Next I want to make these. They really are pumpkin bars. Maybe I'll even make them right now, and just substitute pecans, since I don't have hazelnuts...

And, lest you think that I only use recipes from Joy of Baking, I'll share this recipe from Herbal Legacy
Apparently they think that salt is unhealthy. I didn't notice until after I made them... I would add a 1/2 teaspoon. I also did NOT use Soy milk (don't even get me started, that's a whole blog post) and I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING against real chocolate. And I hate carob. But I actually put white chocolate chips and cranberries in this recipe. Add pecans and salt, and it might be a healthier version of the "Un-bar-cake" above.

Also, here is a Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe. I didn't have pumpkin pie spice mix, and unfortunately mine turned out a little too cinnamon-y. But with a LOT more milk added, it's pretty good! And with only a tiny bit of coffee in it, I can manage to drink it without the insane caffeine jolt I get from a whole cup of coffee.

Finally, I should add that I am not diligently scraping fresh pumpkin flesh from pumpkins for all these recipes. Trader Joe's is currently carrying some organic canned pumpkin and they also have organic dried cranberries!

Oh, I love fall...

P. S. While you've been overloaded with links, check out this free book download and this great blog post.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Fell for Marketing Over Truth

I'd been using Agave as my sweetener of choice almost exclusively for nearly a year when Daddy found this article. I'd been putting it in fudge, my tea in the morning, muffins, and almost any recipe that called for sugar. Except my cheesecakes (agave would have ruined the consistency!).

I should have known it sounded too good to be true. I know I need to kick my sweets addiction... I just love making all kinds of "treats." I need to get some Stevia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Called to be Different

"They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." John 17:16

I'm blessed to have been raised by Christian parents. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 4, and rededicated my life to Him at age 12. I was homeschooled all the way through school. When I graduated, I decided to stay at home and continue to be guided by my parents and train to be a homemaker. That decision has gotten me more strange looks and uncertain comments than being a homeschooler ever did and I even got some flat discouragement: "What?!? You HAVE to go to college!" Strangely enough, some of the most encouraging comments have been from people I would have expected to be the strongest college advocates. 

Now, I'm not against college for all young ladies. What I am against is following the accepted path in society without weighing it with your life purpose and making sure that it's the path YOU are called to follow. When I was considering college, I was planning to go just because it was the obvious next step. Many homeschoolers do go to college, and it seems to be the "justification" of their homeschooled past if they do well. I realized that I would only be attending college because it was expected of me, and because by doing well in college, I could prove that my homeschool education was high quality. 

Those are not good reasons to spend thousands of dollars on an education that I believe I am capable of acquiring much less expensively. Thankfully, degrees are not yet legally required for piano teachers. I am apprenticing with my own piano teacher, and gaining experience through teaching my own students. I don't charge nearly as much as a teacher with a degree would, but then, since I don't have student loans to pay, I think it works out nicely. 

This situation also works out much better than college for me because I am able to spend the majority of my time being a part of my family, and learning whatever I want or need to learn for homemaking. Since I believe homemaking is my "final" calling, it's sensible to spend more of my time preparing for what I hope will occupy the rest of my life, rather than spending a lot of time and money preparing for what will only be a temporary or side job. Should I never get married, I will likely spend the rest of my life in my parents' home, and teaching piano will be able to provide me with an income. I will never charge the expensive rates of a college graduate, but I don't believe that will be necessary to support myself. I trust God to provide for me, and I believe I am following His will for my life in not attending college.

I think that homemaking is the point where I really lose most well-meaning advisers. As a matter of fact, I have mostly given up on explaining my plans. (As you can see, I'm not very good at making it a short story.) We're in a society where women are supposed to be the "equals" of men; "equal" in their definition meaning more "comparable" instead of equal. Of course we are equal to men in value as a human being, but we are meant to have different roles, and our society as a whole continues to ignore that. To them, for a young woman to be just entering adulthood and dreaming of spending her days at home, caring for children, and being a helpmeet to her man instead of wanting to try her wings and be an independent, free person is just incomprehensible.

"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." John 15:19

I have finally realized that being a Christian means that I will get opposition from the world all the time. Why should we even want approbation from the world? I tend to be easily pressured by what other people think, and try to justify my decisions to people who don't even matter. The only person who actually matters when it comes my life and decisions is my Lord. He has blessed me with a supportive family, and friends who are similarly minded, but even if I was surrounded by disapproving people on every side, I trust He would give me the strength to follow His will in much more important matters.

"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Thoughts on Modesty

"Modesty" is very subjective, many descriptions simply being a list of what kind of clothing is appropriate and what is not. My description of modesty is simply this: trying not to draw undue attention to yourself. Now, you'll notice that my definition doesn't only apply to clothing. And that brings me to the most important point of this post, in my opinion: Modesty is a part of your character, and your heart determines how modestly you behave, speak, carry yourself and dress.

Merriam and Webster's dictionary defines "modesty" as:  
1 : freedom from conceit or vanity
2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct
And "propriety" is defined as "the state or quality of being proper."

Trying to conduct myself modestly is much more important to me than trying to dress modestly (but of course, I try to dress appropriately as well). I have seen women before wearing things that I would personally consider immodest, but conducting themselves in such a gentle ladylike and "proper" way that it mostly redeemed their appearance to me (I wouldn't count on that working as well for a man, though). For me, this means striving for the "imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" first (I Peter 3:3-4) and choosing modest clothes second. You can have strict rules, cover yourself from head to foot and still behave immodestly.

For modesty in clothing, I think it's harder to draw an exact "line." It may seem hypocritical at first glance, but my opinion of what is modest is based on what the other people are wearing at a particular venue. That's what I mean by not drawing undue attention to oneself. As an example, for competitive swimming, a modest suit for me means a one-piece practice suit with more coverage than most; for recreational swimming, it means a one-piece or tankini that fully covers my stomach, and isn't low cut. This is modest at the pool or beach because it covers more than a bikini. However, at a restaurant, my bathing suits would not be modest. (Also, when I'm not actually in the water, I'll usually wear shorts and a t-shirt or a cover-up dress over my suit.)

This makes modesty much more interpretive because rather than having a list of rules, you are just making sure not to draw inappropriate attention. At a fancy dance where everyone would be wearing prom-style dresses, I might wear a strapless dress (not a low-cut one, though) whereas I wouldn't want to wear a strapless top to go shopping. Should I happen to visit a country where the women all cover themselves from head to toe, I might try to do the same (I don't know how hard it might be to find the right articles of clothing, though), but here in America, that would draw more attention than wearing a pair of not-skin-tight jeans or a simple, modest-length skirt and a nice top. 

Now, I certainly don't mean to say that my definition of modest dress is right for everyone. I just wanted to point out the relativity that I see in dressing modestly. I like to get my dad's opinion, and if he doesn't approve, I go change. I'm also trying to enlist my brothers' opinions, now that they're older. Erring on the side of modesty would always be better than risking immodesty, and the most important thing for Christians is to bring glory and honor to God through every aspect of our lives. It is not bringing glory to God if I'm wearing something "cute" that's causing my brothers in Christ to stumble. What you might think of as "cute" might look too tempting to your brothers in Christ, and while being tempting and enticing might be "in," that's definitely NOT what Christian young ladies should be aiming for in their dress OR behavior!

"...women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works." I Timothy 2:9-10

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Love the Lord your God

 "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30

All too often, I catch myself trying to see how little I can get away with in my spiritual life. How short can I make my quiet time in the morning, how quickly can I pray, and which prayer requests can be left out? Written out (or typed, as it were) it sounds awful, but it's sadly true sometimes. Even while I'm reading or praying, some days my attention wanders.

Does that sound like someone who is loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength?

Of course not! Naturally, I'm sure none of us has the time to spend all day reading the Bible, or to spend 4 straight hours in prayer, but this is an attitude. Instead of trying to "get it over with" so I can move on to the next "task," I should be thinking of my Bible-reading as a privilege. I may have a busy day, and only have a half an hour to spend, but that half-hour should be a joy, and while you may not be able to spend much time in what I think of as "focused" prayer, there should always be a "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) connection to God through the day.

I think what it all comes down to is this: what is REALLY most important to you -- THE most important thing in your life? Is it drawing closer to God, allowing yourself to become more and more the likeness of Jesus, bringing Him glory in every moment of your life? When I find myself lacking interest in my relationship with God, He can always point out something or someone else who is taking that place of "most important." Something I'm stressing about (instead of giving it to Him), or a friendship that isn't going well, or just a busy week and I feel like my mind is running in circles trying to keep up. 

Whether you spend 10 minutes or 2 hours reading the Bible and praying each day, loving God is not something you get done, and then leave until the next morning. It's the way you live. He should be the focus of everything we do as Christians, and if I can't even pay attention in my quiet time, that's not a good sign for the rest of my day.
"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

It's easy for me to get caught up in the temporary things I'm doing now, and forget about eternity. When I think about spending eternity with Jesus, so little about this life seems important. This life is such a short flash compared to eternity; a length of time that our feeble minds can't even fully comprehend. I spend too much effort trying to have a pleasant life here, when all that really matters is bringing God glory, wherever it is that He has me. We've been saved from a fallen, sinful, devastated life. He loved us so much that He gave His life so that we could be redeemed. What could possibly be more important than complete devotion to Him?

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pride and Prejudice in Real Life

 There are innumerable reasons why Jane Austen's books have continued to gain popularity since their publication around 200 years ago. Actually, this is the 200th anniversary year of the publication of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility (1811). But I digress. Austen's work is generally lauded for her characteristic gentle sarcasm and mocking narration. She had an amazing understanding of how people think, and developed her characters in a very natural and detailed style. Her stories are well laid-out, and entertaining (which is important in entertainment). Jane (unlike many authors nowadays) wrote about what she knew, and I think that's one of the primary reasons that what she wrote has stood the test of two centuries. 

They are all romances, 'tis true. In 19th century England, the only way for a middle-class woman to secure a comfortable life was to marry well. It was the predominating fact of life for women then. From her stories, it's easy to gather that Jane rebelled against the all-to-common method of making the best "match" possible; calculating women plied their feminine wiles, and gambled with their futures trying to get the wealthiest and handsomest man they could, without waiting too long and having to settle for whoever they could finally get. Jane's heroines are above this mentality. As Elizabeth Bennet said in Pride and Prejudice, "I am determined that nothing but the very deepest love could ever induce me into matrimony." That certainly appears to be Jane's own opinion on the subject, as all of her heroines married for love, and those couples who did not marry for love were portrayed as quite miserable, and living with their just deserts. Also worth noting is that the couples who did marry for love, while being "perfect" personality matches for each other, were still not flawless people (an aspect of reality that is sometimes left out of romance stories).

I believe these stories are still so popular, particularly with women, because even though our society no longer requires women to marry to acquire comfortable lives, marriage is still built into the essence of our very beings. Woman was created for man. I believe every woman has a place in her soul that longs and yearns to be loved and belong to that one man for her whole life. Hollywood and cheap authors are cranking out movies and books with romantic stories, but the men are usually shallow, women are objectified and "til death do you part" is completely ignored. If a man "loves" a woman in these stories, it's usually just lust in disguise and that's what makes Jane Austen's stories so much richer in comparison. Yes, there are shallow men who only lust after women, but there are also respectful, honorable men who truly love and pursue the woman they admire. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, etc, are all different portraits of honorable men. The kind of men that women still long for, and sometimes despair of existing. 

It doesn't matter that these stories are set in an era totally different from our own, with lives completely unlike the lives of modern Americans, fundamentally, I believe people will always be the same. There will always be callous, uncaring cads, there will always be silly girls who will fall for them. There will always be more sensible women who want real men. And though he most likely will not dress, act, talk or look like Mr. Darcy, we hope that there are still men who are honorable and noble. We still hope for our Christlike knight. Don't worry about the shining armor or elegant finery of Mr. Darcy. Jeans are fine.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Peachy Lives

They're beautiful tones of warm creamy gold deepening in places to a rich mauve. The skin, velvety soft, yields slightly under gentle pressure. These peaches are perfect for eating plain sliced... but I have more malicious plans. First, I'll boil them for a few seconds to loosen their delicate skin, and then it will peel off easily, leaving them bare and slick. After they're peeled, I'll slice them, peach juice running through my fingers, and each slice of peach desperately trying to escape. Then the slices will marinade for a couple hours in some sugar and lemon juice.... and after that, blended into a pulp, and added to ice cream. 

Yes, I have the juice of innocent peaches on my hands... but oh, do I love fresh, homemade peach ice cream!

And I'll give one of them the dignity of being eaten plain, too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What I've Been Pondering

 At our Wednesday night meeting last week, Mr. F was talking about the infallibility of the scriptures, and he had several good points that I was glad to hear, because it helps me to better defend my position, but as I've never doubted the infallibility of the Bible, I didn't need to be convinced on that point. I was struck in a different way by one point he made though, and I'll try to rephrase what he said here. 

He used Yahtzee as an example of God's omniscience. If you had infinite knowledge about physics, gravity, the exact weight of the dice, inertia and the exact force and direction you were putting into the throw, the friction of the surface and any other things affecting the dice, you would KNOW exactly what numbers you were going to throw. There would be no way for you to throw the dice and NOT know what numbers were going to come up. And he related it back to the infallibility of the scriptures, but it brought clarity to a different thought for me.

I've always gotten a little stuck in the very beginning of the Bible, with the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, the serpent and the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. I always read it thinking, "oh, WHY couldn't they just obey?!?" And I still don't really understand all the "why's" exactly, although it's become clearer. The thought that struck me, was with God's omniscience, just like the Yahtzee example and rolling the dice, he KNEW every single event that would happen BEFORE he created Adam and Eve. He wasn't sitting up in heaven after He created them, watching anxiously to see if they would obey or not, and then when they disobeyed, put Plan B into action. No, He knew from the very beginning that these creatures He was creating would disobey. He gave us free will, but He knew what Adam and Eve would choose. He saw the whole thing, and before He created us, He knew He would have to die to redeem us. And yet we were worth it to Him. 

I don't know why He couldn't have created Adam and Eve with a free will and yet somehow made them wise enough to obey His command. I don't know what made Him want to create humans, although I only know the fallen kind and I'm sure the originals were much superior. But I do know that He, in His infinite knowledge, with full knowledge of everything that would happen, chose to go through all of this for eternity with us. Everything that has happened so far in earthly history, and everything that will happen until the return of Jesus is what had to be for Him to have His Bride, and He chose it, willingly.

That makes His love seem even greater than it has to me before. He didn't just "fall in love" with us, and then die a horrible death to save us because of a sudden "involuntary" love; He created us and loved us, even while knowing He would have to die for us. 

7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be
the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. - I John 4:7-11

That leads me to John 13:34: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." And John 15:12: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

I know this probably seems like nothing new, but it's just that these thoughts had been vague and fuzzy to me, no matter how much I pondered them, until now, when suddenly it all became so startlingly clear to me. It's easy to love others when they are "lovable" and kind, and show you love in return. But if we're to love as He has loved us, that means loving the "unlovable," sinners and enemies just as much as the kind people in our lives. And thank goodness that love isn't to come from our own strength! Because we live through Him, we have His love to draw on; that selfless, unfathomable, amazing, wonderful love is ours! And we are commanded to lavish it on others.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Would you eat your lotion?

 Would you eat your lotion? Your immediate response was probably "ew, gross, of course not!" Did you know that your skin is the largest organ in your body? It does many important jobs, besides just covering up and protecting your sensitive inner tissues. And that lotion that you're smearing all over your skin is supposed to be absorbed into your skin to make it smooth and soft... and even pleasantly scented! Maybe you aren't actually eating it, but it is going into your body, and it your lotion has toxic ingredients, they're going into your body too. A bottle of lotion from Bath and Body Works may contain some healthy-sounding ingredients like Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, and Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, but it will also very likely contain Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Propylene Glycol and Tetrasodium EDTA, just to mention a few. Now, if that doesn't sound appetizing, why would you want to rub it into your body's largest organ? Your skin's many important jobs do not need to hampered by toxic substances.

Well, I would eat my lotion, and do. I regularly use my lotion to cook and in my food... scrambled eggs, muffins, pancakes, salad dressing and fudge. That's because my lotion is coconut oil. Besides being a wonderful cooking oil, coconut oil is also a light, refreshing lotion. It doesn't take much of it to moisturize and soften your skin. If you try it and get a greasy film on your skin, that's because you applied so much that your skin became saturated and couldn't absorb all of the oil. Coconut oil helps prevent fungal and bacterial infections (including acne), and it's also good for a tanning oil because it protects your skin from sun damage and free-radicals. I switched from my healthy lotion (with ingredients significantly more healthy than B&B lotions) to coconut oil, and it's been great! I always put it on after swimming, and it's completely relieved the itchy skin that I used to get from the chlorine... my old lotion didn't help that much! 

I keep my coconut oil in a little pimento jar with a seal-able lid for travel and in an extremely small little dish at home. I don't bother to cover it at home because it doesn't spoil easily and I use it so quickly that it doesn't have time to collect dust. There is no need to refrigerate it unless you want it to be solid (coconut oil is solid until around 76 degrees). As an added bonus, it even comes with a natural, refreshing coconut scent, which I really like. And while you're trying it as a lotion, try it as a deep moisture conditioner for your hair (massage it in dry hair, and soak for 30 min to an hour, then shower and shampoo as normal). It really is amazing stuff!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Hidden Matrix

I think one of the many problems with all of our modern ways of communication is that it makes it too easy to feel deceptively close to lots of people, without the actual time commitment that a "real life" friendship takes. Before email, Facebooks, blogs, texting and even the "old-fashioned" telephone, people made the effort to spend time together. Letter writing was just a way to keep up with friends and family while they were away; when they were once more in the same town, they would visit in person again. 

There's something about speaking in person that forges true bonds of friendship. I've been told that 85% of human communication is non-verbal, and I believe that's an important part of knowing another person. On Facebook, you might be reading my words, and finding out what I did today, but how does that help you really know me? Facebook might be a good way to keep up with distant friends, or share things like digital pictures or links that you think are important, but I think technology is beginning to take the place of real personal relationships. 

Friendships that are built on too much impersonal communication seem to have shakier foundations to me; and I can tell when I haven't spent enough "face time" with my close friends. No matter how much information might be shared with friends over the internet, there simply isn't a substitute for real life interaction. Often, I wish that all this technological communication wasn't available, because then everyone would have to make the little extra effort to spend time with their friends and family, live and in person. 

 The most saddening part for me is when I see people who actually are with their friends in person, but they're still wrapped up in their phones, texting other people instead. It's one thing to use texting as a tool, like to say "hey, I'm going to the park, meet me there if you want!" or something, but when you can't put your phone away for more than 15 minutes, I think that's scary. 

I don't text, and I mostly use email for business. I enjoy blogging because I am making an effort to post about things that are important to me, not as a substitute for fellowship. But I am getting tired of Facebook, and how shallow and empty the interaction seems to me. I'm going to leave Facebook mostly for pictures, and a few links, and work on planning some real life fun!

So take some time to put your phone down, get off the internet and invite some of your friends to join you in the real world! It'll be worth it, I promise.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Do you make your bed every morning?

I've always been a "why-make-my-bed-if-I'm-just-going-to-sleep-in-it-again-tonight" person. I used make my bed only when I changed the sheets, or when I knew I'd have guests in my room. But I've been making an effort to change that, for a couple reasons.

First, do you know how long it takes me to make my twin-sized bed? Not long at all. As a matter of fact, when some unexpected company comes, I've even been able to dash up here, and make my bed in about 3 seconds. Granted, that's not as well done as the 1-minute job I just did, but it's better than nothing. And yes, I said I just spent 1 minute making my bed, and it's done. It's completely neat, the covers are straight, and I arranged my decorative pillows in 1 minute. Is anyone really so busy that they can't spare a literal minute to make their bed? I know I'm not too busy; it's laziness and lack of interest that make me want to skip such an extremely short and easy chore. 

(Now, if you're my sister, I understand. She has woken up to the most amazing contortions of sheets and blankets; I'm glad we don't share a bed anymore, because she must kick, toss and turn and dance in her sleep. It would take a good 5 minutes for her to make her bed.)

Secondly, because it looks nice! It's so simple, but it seems to add about 10-15% cleanliness to a bedroom instantly. Plus, when my bed is made, it inspires me to be more neat with the rest of my room. Like wanting to fold and hang my clothes instead of piling them on my hope chest. (Not that clothes ever pile on my hope chest... I ALWAYS hang and fold, even when I don't feel like it... eh-heh. Ahem.)

I've been trying to form more good habits in my daily routine, and I think such a simple, quick task is a good lifelong habit to have. Hopefully I will keep it up for the rest of my life!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring Cleaning Fever

  I decided to try and follow along with Old House Kitchen's Spring cleaning list (found from a link on another blog I read). Then, I immediately failed by deciding to clean out the pantry, even though bedrooms are clearly the first rooms on the list. The pantry was just begging to be cleaned, since we hadn't been grocery shopping in over a week and were running out of most everything... except all the questionable items in the back that keep getting pushed further and further into the pantry (how deep does a pantry need to be anyway?) Since I could actually see parts of the wall in the back and was therefore certain that it hadn't turned into a cavern, I decided to clean it out and organize it. 

Thursday I pulled all the remaining items and the shelves out of the pantry, vacuuming cobwebs, those annoying little moths that like our wheat and way too many spiders as I went. It took much longer than I anticipated. Mom and I went grocery shopping in the middle of the process, so by the end of the day, all of the food was in boxes around our kitchen table. 

Friday morning and early afternoon, I taught lessons, and then I had to take Sarah to her art lesson, so I didn't have any time to work on it Friday, but I had decided it definitely needed a paint job before I put it back together. 

Saturday morning, I scrubbed the pantry from top to bottom, and washed all the shelves to prepare for painting. We found some usable paint and primer, so I got started with hand-painting the corners and shelf supports. We already had other plans for the afternoon, though, so I didn't get much done Saturday either.
That is why I'm spending my rainy Sunday afternoon painting. I roller-brushed the walls of the pantry, and primed the shelves (laid out on cardboard in the living room... hehe!). The shelves really needed work. As I'm writing, I'm waiting for all that paint to dry. I need to flip the shelves and paint the other sides, and I might need another coat of paint inside the pantry, I haven't decided yet. 

Once all the painting is done, I'm going to wash the paint out of my hair. How did paint get in my hair? I have no idea. I thought I was being careful. I hope it comes out...!
And then tomorrow, I'll put all the food away and label the shelves so hopefully it will stay organized.

Yes, that's my "little afternoon job," ending up taking all my spare time for 4-5 days. Whew...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Healthy Chocoholic?

 I love chocolate. Rich, creamy, smooth chocolate... it's delicious plain, it's yummy in or on ice cream, and almost anything can be improved by adding chocolate.

The only problem? Even the best organic chocolates have undesirable things added to it, like soy lecithin (soy in some form is in nearly everything, and it's not good for you!) or cane sugar (while a better choice than plain sugar, or toxic sweeteners, still a compromise in my quest for truly healthy food).

That's when I found this recipe. How would you like to eat fudge, and have it be so good for you that you don't feel any guilt at all? Actually, it's so good for you that I think of it as yummy medicine. You know, like those flavored gummy vitamins for kids or something? Those always had a weird aftertaste to me, but this is great, I love it! 

Coconut Oil Fudge
1 cup coconut oil (for different consistencies, try gently melting part of the coconut oil in a Pyrex measuring cup placed in a lightly simmering pot of water.)
1 cup honey
1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix in blender and pour into a parchment-paper-lined 9x9 dish (or loaf pan, but I prefer the way the 9x9 works out). Chill until solid (but not too long, as I discovered if you freeze it too long it's hard to cut), cut into small pieces and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Coconut oil is liquid at 76 degrees, so it's important to keep your fudge cold if you don't want fudge syrup.  

That's the basic recipe, I've tried adding vanilla extract and raw almond butter... I want to try peanut butter soon. I also tried using peppermint hot chocolate from Trader Joe's (which is sweetened, and dampened the guilt-free aspect a little) and that was interesting. Have fun, be creative! Another possibility (especially helpful if you don't like coconut oil) is substituting 1/2 cup of butter for half of the coconut oil. I tried this for my siblings, who currently have an aversion to coconut oil, but then they started eating the plain coconut oil fudge when it ran out, so I figured the appeal of the chocolate won over the slight coconut flavor.

Coconut oil (linked to VitaCost.com, our source for many wonderful, healthy things) is a great source of dietary fat because it goes straight to your liver and is quickly transferred into energy. It is easy to digest, increases metabolism and helps with numerous ailments. It's good for cooking because it is stable at high temperatures. I've been reading The Coconut Oil Miracle and it's just amazing. It's also great for your skin and hair, and so many other things! I highly recommend adding coconut oil (and other forms of coconut!) to your diet.

We use raw honey, and it's so delicious, we eat spoonfuls plain, or eat it with plain raw pecans. Raw honey is very good for you too, being anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It helps digestion and eases allergies and respiratory problems. 

I'm very excited to have some organic, raw cacao powder. Real chocolate is actually really good for you, a rich source of magnesium and antioxidants. Plus it's just delicious.

With those simple, wonderfully healthy ingredients, I knew this fudge would be good for me. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it this much! I love it so much, I just can't believe it's so healthy! It's not completely guilt-free though... I feel just the tiniest bit guilty when I eat the last 2 pieces and don't leave one for someone else... but then I go make more, and all guilt is assuaged! (Plus I get to have another piece... or two...)

Next up on my list of "Things to Try" is making Fudge-Swirl ice cream in our new ice cream maker...

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Good Day Almost Gone Bad... But Not Quite

You never think it will happen to you. Okay, well, maybe you do. But I didn't. I honestly never thought it would happen to me. Not in the near future, anyway. Maybe in 20 years, which would seem like a different lifetime anyway.

It was a lovely sunny day, and I was cruising down I-40. Then I saw two cop cars on the overpass. They had a speed gun laser, or whatever they call those things. I had already set the cruise control, and I wasn't in a hurry! I confess, sometimes, when I'm in a hurry, I want to push the speed limit, but there was no need this time. I was just having a pleasant, leisurely drive, on track to arrive early at my destination. 

So I checked my speed, just to make sure I wasn't going too fast somehow, and then passed under the overpass, confident in my law-abiding speed. The cops on the bridge radioed motorcycle cops on the entrance ramp, and one of them pulled into traffic behind me and turned on his lights. At first, I wasn't worried. I figured he wanted to get by me to catch someone else. But I changed lanes and he followed. I pulled off the road, and spent what felt like 10 minutes with a sudden case of panicky shakiness. What did I do? Had I actually been going too fast? I thought 70 in a 65 zone was acceptable. People had been passing me for the past couple of miles, it's not like I was leading the speed pack!

The cop walked up, and I rolled down my window. "How are you today, ma'am?" he asked politely. "I'm fine, thank you, how are you?" I replied automatically as my mind screamed, "I WAS much better!" He gently broke the news, "I got you going 77 in a 65 zone." I felt my face drain of blood, my jaw went slack and I think my eyes might have popped out of my head. "What?" I choked out, thinking I must have misunderstood. "I got you going 77 in a 65 zone," he repeated. Cue incoherent babbling from the quivering ghost in the front seat of my car. I think I remember blurting out something about going 70, and that my speedometer didn't say 77. He asked for my license and registration, and I fumbled to pull my license out of my wallet and find the registration in the glove box. "Thank you, ma'am. I'll probably just give you a warning ticket. I'll be right back."

I hardly dared let myself hope for the warning ticket. I spent the surprisingly short few minutes thinking about what sort of penalty I could get if I had to go to court with a speeding ticket of 12mph over the speed limit. Wasn't that a $200 fine? My insurance would definitely go up. Could my license even be suspended? My knees were shaking so hard I vaguely wondered if I would be able to drive away once he was finished with me.

He returned with my warning ticket, explained that they were cracking down on the speeding on I-40, and warned to watch my speed. I thanked him, and asked one more time how fast he'd had me going, just to make sure that I'd heard right the other two times. He clearly said 77mph. I stared at my speedometer, feeling betrayed and mumbled something about fixing it. He informed me that the laser guns they use are generally very accurate, cautioned me to watch my speed one more time, and told me to have a nice day. I thanked him again, wished him a nice day too, and composed myself with several deep, shaky breaths. 

Then I thanked God, watched the motorcycle cop pull around me and take the next exit, and pulled into a clearing in the traffic. And wouldn't you know, it made me about 5 minutes late.

Later, we checked the speed of my Volvo with the speed of our Suburban, and then Daddy got a GPS for Christmas and we checked the speed with that too. Apparently my speedometer is about 2-3 mph slow, so I was going about 72 or 73, when I thought I was going 70, but I highly doubt I was actually going 77. Maybe the guys on the bridge had locked onto the wrong car or conveyed the wrong information, but whatever it was, I'm extremely grateful for a mere warning ticket. I guess he could see that my shock and horror were real, and decided to be merciful since there were a few possibilities for error. And now, only 3 months later, I find amusement in it. And I go about 2 mph slower than I think I could.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To read romance novels, or not to read romance novels...

"You read too many romance novels. And unlike the heroines in all those romance novels who tell themselves the very same thing, and then go on anyway, in typical fashion, to fall for whomever the hero is clearly going to be, you should believe yourself." 

I told myself the same thing several times in the many lengthy discussions I had with myself over the year that it took for me to get out of what I now consider an addiction. I always tried to placate my conscience's occasional twinges by reminding myself that I read "inspirational" romance novels, not those cheap, trashy things that somehow pass for books. Funny how infrequently God was mentioned in those supposedly Christian books.

In that year, I learned and realized many important things that made reading those sorts of romance novels no longer seem tempting to me. One of the most important ones was my personal idea of romance. Romance, to me, is NOT "falling in love."

Falling in love is highly overrated in our society; people fall in love all the time, and they fall out of love just as easily and rapidly. It was discouraging for me in my hopes for a life-long love and lasting marriage to read romance novels about "Christians" who seemed to love exactly the same way as the world, with roller-coaster emotions just as out-of-control. As God gently showed me the sin in my voracious appetite for those shallow books, He also taught me that true romantic love is not in the fluttery butterfly feelings of "falling" in love, but in the choice and decision to love that one person "til death do you part."

You see, love is always a choice. If it was just a random feeling, then how could God command us to love one another? Romantic love, brotherly love, Christian love, they are all choices, displayed in our actions. When you choose to help someone, to speak kindness, or forgive, you are choosing to love them. If or when I agree to marry someone, I will be choosing to love him as my husband for the rest of our lives. This should save me the trouble of falling in love over and over again, and hopefully will also let us avoid the divorce that frequently follows the "falling out of love" symptoms.

The other very important lesson I learned was how important it is to seek God FIRST. It seems so simple when you hear it, but how many times have you gone to God in prayer because you wanted something? I prayed a lot during my addiction to romance, but I was praying for the wrong things, and the wrong reasons! The most important thing in every Christian's life should be their relationship with God.

I was obsessed with romance, and intent on meeting that "someone" as soon as possible, so I prayed very diligently for God to bring him into my life. I was even worried that if I relaxed, and didn't pray for it consistently that God might decide to "bless" me with the gift of celibacy, and I certainly didn't want that! How silly I was!

I'm still learning to focus on my relationship with God as the most important part of my life, but I have escaped my romance addiction (I still have a completely healthy admiration for Jane Austen's books and the related movies!) and for the past year have felt the most content with my "single" status as I can remember since I was about 14.

Valentine's Day is coming up soon, and my lack of a special someone usually makes me feel like SAD (Singles Awareness Day) is a much better name for the day. This year I plan to use this opportunity to focus on my First Love, any time I might feel tempted to sighing or wishing. No matter what the rest of my life holds for me, I want my most earnest desire to be God's will, and to bring Him glory with my life.