Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting Unstuck - Day 18

Hello all!

     Well, I've decided to take a short hiatus from the home front and am visiting friends at my alma mater - the beautiful Sewanee :-)  I definitely needed a break from everything and my mind always clears better and my relaxation level sky rockets whenever I'm here.  There's something about the mountains, the Oxford-style stone buildings, the lack of heavy traffic, and the peacefulness that never fails to renew my soul.

Although I'm not in this picture,
it captures the essence of Sewanee unbelievably well,
what with the gorgeous building in the background,
the robes adorning 2 of my older sisters,
and the happiness and contentment 
radiating from their faces right after graduation.
I haven't seen them in years, but I've no doubt that
the minute I see them again, whenever that may be,
we'll run to each other with arms wide open 
and start talking like no time has passed.

     As you've no doubt noticed in the last handful of posts, my cleaning has slowed down a good bit and I really need to ramp it up, seeing as there are only about 4 weeks before school starts.  Plus, I'd much rather spend my only free weeks of the summer reading, crafting, and generally relaxing with no organizationally-related stress hanging over my head.  So I guess my real goal is to finish organizing by the time I complete my Unstuck study.  Now I realize that organizing and cleaning will always be a continual process, but once I get everything where it needs to go and have solid systems in place, the challenge of making the big decisions will be gone and the continual maintenance tasks will be miles easier to handle.  With all of this in mind, I think a break from the chaos is just what I need to get me back on track once I get home on Friday.

     I'm going to be in this small little town 30 minutes from the nearest Walmart until Friday afternoon - so what am I going to be able to do cleaning-wise??  A surprising amount with relaxation still as my main focus of course...  Although I don't have house junk to deal with, this will be a really great time to go through stuff that I ignore when I'm at home and there's so much visible junk assaulting my eyeballs and stress levels.

- My wallet : I'm on Learnvest now which is a fabulous site for organizing your finances.  In other words, I thankfully don't need to go through receipts and enter them by hand anymore!  But I can't just throw the whole huge receipt chunk away because of 2 things...
     1. CVS receipts could be for meds or groceries
     2. Coupons lurk in the jumble ;-)

- My car : Ugh I'm SO terrible at keeping my car's really embarrassing.  Although I don't have old food laying around, I do have empty cups (both throw away and not) as well as other junky crap.  I think I'll finally get the chance to take care of several things in my car...
     1. Throw away the trash!
     2. Upload the CDs rattling around in my trunk to my computer
     3. Go through the academic folders that were in my old Biology office
     4. And I'm sure there's more crap to deal with

- Online bookmarks : While I did get rid of a bunch of these a few months ago, I really think this needs a maintenance session.  Plus, now that I'm on Pinterest...
     1. I can get rid of all my crafting bookmarks by moving them to my CraftyLove board.
     2. upcycling bookmarks to Upcycled Magic
     3. greening (my word for living an eco-friendly lifestyle) to Green Cleaning - Home & Body
     4. organizing to Mission Organization
     5. and products I like to Super Cool Products

- Email : I keep the most ridiculous types of old email.  So here are some questions I'm going to ask myself...
     1. Do I really need communications with old profs that say, "Okay I'll see you then." - Uh, NO.
     2. Is it so extremely old news-wise that it's just not relevant anymore?
     3. Can I just pin it instead?
     4. Is this the only email in a folder? - Why might that be?
     5. Did I already receive this offer in the mail? (free samples and such)
     6. These coupons are really outdated...aren't they...
     7. Can this information easily be found somewhere else if I really need it?

- Education/Scientific articles : Okay, so we'll see how much time I have left over for these in between all of the above and hanging out with my friends, but it's worth listing.  I have saved tons of pdfs and bookmarked tons of online articles about education and scientific research.  Problem is, most of them have been sitting on my computer for a long time and still haven't been read.  I'm going to make the effort (when I get back) to start reading at least 5 a day - that should really be part of my job as a grad student anyway ;-)

State-of-mind pic of the day.
On our way from Ndarakwai Game Reserve, TZE.
(taken by me)

A couple of quick spiritual notes about Reflecting on God's Word  >>
     When reading a passage, one should really engage with it.  Unfortunately, this word gets a person all excited with abstract ideas of dynamic interaction and digging into the meat of something.    
But how do we do this??  Here are some questions that you can ask yourself while reading scripture:

- How do I feel about these verses?
- What is difficult for me mentally/emotionally about these verses?
- What do I not understand?
- Is my way of thinking a stumbling block to God's way of thinking?
- What is He reminding/asking me to do?
- What is He revealing that I had forgotten or never known?
- Is He giving me a promise?
- Is He warning/disciplining me?
- Is He encouraging me?
- What is His message uniquely to me?
- What does this reveal about God's character?
- What is His message to all Christians?
- Is He telling me to slow down and sit with Him like He told Martha?

     Many more questions can be asked but these are a great starting point to get us each individually thinking about the best ways we personally can approach not just reading, but engaging with scripture.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 17

Good morning all!
I spent all day yesterday either at church or sleeping (lol), but the day before that was pretty successful :-)

I'll start with some spiritual reflections...
Chapter 8 of Unstuck lays out some great tips for truly engaging with scripture >>

1.  Receive God's Word
     To begin engaging with scripture we must set out with a mind to "spiritually consume" it a.k.a. we must "metabolize scripture."  How cool is that description?  Haha, ok, I am a biologist so I can really connect with this metaphor.  Think about the way that we approach a delicious meal...we take in the aroma, let our eyes indulge in the yumminess laid out before us, and as our eyes and nose heighten our anticipation for what we know is going to be absolutely delicious, our salivary glands start working over-time and our mouths start to water.  Then we dig our fork into the food and lift it to our tongues and slowly savor the tastes and smells that flow through our senses.  This is how we should engage with scripture - as a delicious banquet laid out for us to consume.  As Ruth Haley Barton says, "When we engage the Scriptures for spiritual transformation...we engage not only our mind but also our heart, our emotions, our body, our curiosity, our imagination and our will."

2.  Reflect on God's Word
Two passages from Luke Chapter 2 do a great job of displaying how Mary, the mother of Jesus, does just this.
17  And when [the shepherds] saw [the baby], 
they made known the saying that had been told to them 
concerning this child.
18  And all who heard it wondered 
at what the shepherds had told them.
19  But Mary treasured up all these things,
pondering them in her heart.

49  And He said to them,
"Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
50  And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.
51  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth
and was submissive to them.
And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

     Both of the above passages describe situations in which Mary and the people around her were confused and unable to understand what was being said in regards to Jesus.  Instead of just simply wondering about them and moving on, accepting confusion, Mary stored these thoughts up in her heart so that she could continue metabolizing them and gain a greater understanding of her son and His destiny.
     I have to admit that there are plenty of times when I read something in scripture and after a few times of passing my eyes over the words without grasping anything, I just move on, "promising" myself that I'll examine it more closely later.  This is definitely an area that I need to work on - I'll expand on this in my next Unstuck post.

3.  Respond to God's Word
This is essentially another way of looking at sanctification - that journey all Christians take to become more and more like Christ.
1 Corinthians 13:13 [The Message]>>

13  But for right now, until that completeness 
[when we arrive in Heaven],
we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation:
Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly,
love extravagantly.  And the best of the three is love.

Consider what C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:
     "The New Testament...talks about Christians 'being born again'...about 'putting on Christ'; about Christ 'being formed in us'; about our coming to 'have the mind of Christ.'
     Put right out of your head any ideas that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out - [...] It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago.  It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has."
With this in mind, simply reading definitely isn't enough!

So in regards to cleaning...
     ** Went through some more of my academic folders and got rid of a bunch of stuff!  It's funny how you think an entire folder full of papers from a class relevant to your future is going to be useful...yeah no, once I started combing through some of the untouchable folders - I found a lot that I could recycle - and, of course *sigh*, more scientific papers that I could just find online and save as pdfs.
     ** Continued to go through my giant stack of completely random papers - once I get through it all, I'll post a picture - the size of this sucker is depressing...
     ** Finished filing away all my coupons
     ** Started cleaning out empty vials (from the bugs...)

Because I feel like things are going a little too slowly, today I'm setting some goals >>
1. Finish putting all my books in my bookcases
2. Finish cleaning out all the empty vials
3. Finish going through the giant paper stack
4. Fold the clean clothes sitting in the laundry room (yeah, this pile has been sitting there since before my LBS

State-of-mind pic of the day:
A banana grove in the village of Mto wa Mbu, TZE.
[taken by me]

Well, that's all for today - here's to being hopeful for a productive afternoon!!

...oh yeah...I also have a paper that I need to get started...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 16

One of my best friends popped by this afternoon and so any plans I had made to organize this evening went out the window - but I'm super excited and thankful that she came by!  This'll be a short post, but I at least wanted to stay on track ;-)

     Today was another fairly slow day but I did manage to get a few things done.  I've realized that it helps a great deal to keep my mind on staying intentional and persevering to the end.  I just repeat the mantra, "be intentional, be intentional" over and over in my mind and I can make it through even the most mundane of tasks (more on the mundane tomorrow).

So accomplishments:
- all coupons are clipped
- all old coupons are thrown away
- all current coupons are filed away
- maintenance cleaning is still going well!!
- dishes were put away
- some newspapers were gone through
- some snail mail was dealt with
- some random articles about Buffy I had laying around (haha) were read and recycled
- and email is back down to manageable levels...

Spiritual reflections...
"You are going to come across words and sentences that stab you awake to a beauty and hope that will connect you with your real life." - Eugene H. Peterson

What a great view of the love story that we have so easily available at our fingertips!

John 8:31-32 says >>
31  So Jesus said to the Jews 
who had believed him, 
"If you abide in my word, 
you are truly My disciples,
32  and you will know the truth, 
and the truth will set you free."

-Is truth setting me free? [question from Chapter 7 of Unstuck]
     Many times truth does set me free.  I anxiously await those glorious moments when Christ's love fills me with awe and admiration and I cannot believe that I am His wife and am always wrapped in His arms.  But honestly, my depression and loneliness does occasionally bring me away from the freedom that truth brings.  When I fall into these feelings, it's a downward spiral that sucks me in and refuses to let me go.  I don't even want these feelings to let me go when I'm stuck in their bondage.  That's what's so weird about feeling down...once you're there, you just crave more and more.  I know these feelings will always be a part of me (brain chemistry is simply a fact of life, says scientist me), but I also know that, with Christ's help, I don't have to be in bondage to them.  His joy, love, and freedom can fill me with the utmost sense of completeness and fulfillment...I just have to be willing to not crave the shackles.

     I have resolved to memorize 2 Peter 1:3-11 to help keep my mind on higher things and to remember the great promises that I have in Christ Jesus >>

3  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,
through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence,
4  by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises,
so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature,
having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
5  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control,
and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
8  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing,
they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful
in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind,
having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
10  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent 
to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities
you will never fall.  11  For in this way there will be richly provided for you
an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

State-of-mind pic of the day
Ngorongoro Crater, TZE (taken by me)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 15

Some additional thoughts about Christ's love...

     Yesterday I was reacquainted with the fact that the Bible is a love story written just for me.  A love story written so that I could deeply engage in a powerfully intimate 2-way relationship with my Lord and Savior who is also my husband.  I think back to the ways I've felt and acted in earthly love relationships and I couldn't wait to spend more time with a boyfriend or talk to him or see him.  I would put homework and other tasks aside in a heartbeat if it meant more time with him.  I want to see Christ this way and want to devour his love letters to me.  I remember when my heart thrilled with joy at the site of an email, Facebook message, random physical note, or other such communication from an earthly love and wonder why I don't usually feel the same way when opening up the scriptures as I read the Word's of a man who died for me - not only to save me in this earthly life but to save me from ultimate damnation so that I would be able to spend eternity with Him!!  What love is greater than that??  

And now for some quotes from Chapter 6 of Unstuck >>

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love.  And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did."  [emphasis mine]

     Michael Ross, Unstuck author - "God's Word is a living masterpiece - a passionate love story - yet we often treat it as a legal resource to use as proof of what we believe." [emphasis mine]

     Michael Ross - "He wasn't leading me into Bible reading - He was compelling me to engage His message to me with a lover's passion.  He was showing me how to find my Savior in His to have 'a daily walk with Jesus.'"  [emphasis mine]

     And lastly, a quote from Ian Morgan Cron's novel, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale [I haven't read this] on what the Bible really is beyond the doctrines and commandments, "But the Bible is less about ideas or doctrines than it is a story about people and their up-and-down relationship with God."  How true this is!  As little kids, we hear stories of big time biblical leaders from the pages of Scripture, but are often spared the messy details.  As we get older and start reading the Bible for ourselves, we see that each one of them  has some sort of downfall, sin that keeps trapping them in their humanity.  We are shown the fallibility of biblical/historical heroes so that we can truly see the extent of God's love and see how these heroes have a genuine 2-way relationship with God/Christ where He moves in their lives to change and mold them as they learn and grow.

     And once again, Jimmy Needham puts it brilliantly:

Take me, my love, escape with my heart
In chasing You
I will run right past the radiant sun
Until I find myself right where You are

So then, how did cleaning go yesterday?

- Well, I conquered LBS!!!!  Woohoo :-)  ...for a day at least lol.  I washed 3 loads and folded and put away all 3.  I even folded and put up the sheets I washed rather than just piling them on my bed, which seems to be my unfortunate habit...

- I also did a good bit of random maintenance cleaning, the results of which feel great this morning!

- And I ran the dishwasher and already have the clean dishes drying :-)

So not too much in the realm of organizing but I feel less buried and overburdened - which makes the organizing easier and makes me feel less stressed out.

I won't make goals today - we'll just have to see how everything goes...but I'm hopeful.

State-of-mind pic of the day.
Me in awed happiness in Maasailand, TZE.
(taken by me)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 14

     Good morning!  I'm feeling pretty good about today's potential - I think I'm going to be able to get a lot done...yesterday was pretty much a no go with appointments and homework filling up my schedule.  I have to go out once today to take care of a couple of things but that shouldn't take much more than an hour - fingers crossed for today's success ;-)

Regardless of yesterday's being a bust, I have done a few things already this morning.
-Washing towels
-Washing dishes
-Going through the 2 huge gray trash bags in the back room...they were pillows!!!...and a bear rug lol.  The bear rug immediately went to the donation pile - I loved it when I was a teenager and feel like a current teenager should now have it.  I also chose 1 of the pillows to give away.  The rest of the pillows will fit in perfectly in my living room - why in the world have I let them languish in a garbage bag for so long?!?  They're lovely :-)

     So one thing that I'm going to focus on today is LBS, which Sarah Mae discusses in her Day 10 post.  When I first saw this acronym, I assumed it meant Lazy Bones Syndrome, which of course is something important to tackle...but also very abstract.  No, LBS means Laundry Basket Syndrome - a much more concrete and conquerable deficiency!  If you are a person whose clean clothes pile up on your bed, in a chair, or in the laundry basket...then you suffer from LBS.  I certainly do!  I HATE folding clothes and so my clean clothes just pile up and up until I have to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on redrying them to get the wrinkles out and putting them all up.  Or sometimes, I'll want to wear a particular shirt and so I have to dig through to find it and then toss it in the dryer for a few minutes - instead of simply pulling it out of the
     So today, I plan on going through all of my laundry and folding and putting up the clothes that are clean.  The Martha challenge is to do as many loads as you can, but to put away one load before starting the next - probably a good plan...  I just wish that the washer and dryer didn't have such different cycle lengths - but hey, that's a small complaint and I'll live ;-)
     The Mary verse for this challenge is Galatians 6:9 >>

And let us not grow weary of doing good,
for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.

What a great motivator and pick me up - definitely a verse to write on my heart for all those times when I just don't feel like continuing with certain tasks.

Okay, so on to Unstuck >>

     Last night I finished Chapter 6 and loved it!  A large part of this chapter is a story by a woman named Theresa about how she went from believing in a God of Rules to falling in love with the God of the Bible.  And that's what this chapter is mostly about - falling in love with Jesus.  What a fabulous and vital topic for every Christian to study.  One of my absolute favorite songs speaks to this so well - Jars of Clay's "Love Song for a Savior":

He's more than the laughter 
or the stars in the heavens
As close as a heartbeat 
or song on our lips
Someday we'll trust Him 
and learn how to see Him
Someday He'll call us 
and we will come running
and fall in His arms 
and the tears will fall down 
and we'll pray,
"I want to fall in love with You"

Maybe I like this song so much because it connects so well with my conversion experience.  I just realized how the last 3 lines of the chorus parallel perfectly with what I shared in yesterday's post.
No wonder this was the song that I ran to immediately after one of the scariest and most painful experiences of my life - one of the "bad things" I mentioned in Day 8's post.
    And...back to Theresa.  I'll give you some excerpts from her story because her words really put it well:
     "I realized I needed to pursue Christ as my closest companion and best friend.  I must put all else aside to be with Him.  He must be my heart's priority, even while I attend to life's everyday business." 

     Remember Day 11 and Day 6?

     "Being in relationship with Him isn't about religion or following rules.  To be in true relationship with Him I must pursue...
     ...His heart
     ...His passions
     ...His character
     ...the truth."

     "Nurturing a relationship involves trust, transparency, surrender, and above all a two-way connection.  Close friends - especially lovers - must talk and grow together daily, not occasionally."

     I know this last bit a little too well from bad experiences in earthly relationships.  In addition, I've been exposed several different times to the incredible truth that Jesus is our husband.  Just as the church is his bride, each Christian individually is also his bride.  Take a look at The Voice's translation of Zephaniah 3:17 >>
The Eternal your God 
is standing right here among you,
and He is the champion 
who will rescue you.
He will joyfully celebrate over you;
He will rest in His love for you;
He will joyfully sing because of you
like a new husband.

     So to truly build a firm and loving relationship with Christ, we must treat Him as if He is our husband...which He is!  And such an approach involves a lot more than passive robotocism!

     Theresa continues, "I am called to a dynamic, life-giving intimacy with Jesus.  He speaks to me; He leads me into deeper love and deeper truth and deeper life through His love letters written just for me (and just for you).  It is only through relationship with Jesus that I can become intimately engaged with Him through His word. And as I feed on His word to me, I am changed."

A great phrase she uses to describe this change is that He works to "love me into His image."

Oh how I want to be loved into His image and have an intimate deep personal relationship with my savior.  While to some degree this is the case currently in my life, there are so many moments when the relationship could be deeper.  I want to fall in love with Him daily and build up a glorious 2-way communication that pervades my life and doesn't just come up when I need Him most or when I am most thankful.

     The authors of Unstuck also add, "As Theresa spent time with Him, pursuing His heart, she began to see, to experience, to know Him as her King and her Lord, her Protector and her Provider, and most of all, the Lover of her soul."

I want to end with this verse from Daniel chapter 2:

22  He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with Him.

Christ's light illuminates all of our deep, hidden, dark parts and although this may be a frightening concept to some, I want to point out that it is actually incredibly hopeful and uplifting.  Since He loves us no matter what, and He is well aware of our individual downfalls, He can all the better work in us to make us more like Him :-)

Check out Philippians 2:1-11 for more on the heart, character, and attitude of Christ.

State of mind pic of the day
Mazumbai, TZE (taken by me)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

God of the failed, ungodly, unable, and unwilling...

     This morning I came across a quote, brimming with truth, beauty, and incredible hope  >>

Christianity is the gospel of the failed, 
of the ungodly, the unable, the unwilling, 
who simply woke up one day 
invited to God’s house and went. Period.
- John Lynch

My conversion experience was exactly like this.  
     I was driving home from high school one day listening to one of my WOW CDs from years past and Jaci Velasquez's "God So Loved" God So Loved - Jaci Velasquez came on.  Now I wasn't listening to this CD because I was a Christian or even had any Christian sentiments.  When I was in the 7th grade I went through a really odd phase in which I decided I was a "Christian" and got my mom to get me all these WOW CDs.  I even listened to the Christian radio station - 101.1 Reality.  The phase lasted for no more than 2 months at the most.  It didn't take long at all for me to revert right back to the previous religion that I held.  A religion that I practiced for some 8 years.  Sorry about not going into details on that matter, it's just a little too personal.
     So anyway, I'm driving along and this song starts streaming out of my speakers.  The words hit me as if I have never heard them before.  If you can't already tell from the song's title, the chorus is John 3:16 -
For God so loved the world,
that He gave His one and only Son
that whosoever believes in Him
will not perish but have
everlasting life.

I was suddenly incredibly aware of my failings and inability.  The reality of my sin hit me like a freight train, waking me up from an 18-year long coma.  God's desire for me to enter His house and be a part of His loving family washed over me with an unparalleled power.  He invited me into His house and I had no choice but to go - it simply wasn't possible to take any other path.  
     I woke up, was invited, and went.  Period.  Just like the above quote says.  I had no say in the matter and I am incredibly thankful for that.  Because if such a thing were left up to my incredibly human heart and mind, I don't know if I ever would have stepped over the threshold.  I am weak and unable and everyday I thank God for that truth!  I don't want to rely on my own power because, without God, I am a constant failure, a perpetual sinner, and useless to make a positive impact in this world.  But God doesn't care that that's who I am, He loves me despite all of that and maybe even because of all that.  He welcomes me into His arms because He is the God "of the failed, of the ungodly, the unable, [and] the unwilling."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 13

Good evening all :-)

Organizational matters >>
     I continue to find more junk around my house that needs to be dealt with.
     Can you believe I still have terribly written stories from my early elementary years packed away in binders??  I finally realized that there's a big difference between those that are really cute and worth keeping and those that are just taking up space.  Looks like I really need to just read through the ones I don't remember so that I can gauge which category they fall into.  That's gonna take awhile, but I think I'll eventually be able to pair down my 3 folders to just 1.  Some of the really good ones that I wrote in middle school and beyond, I need to start retyping into my computer and back up on my external hard drive so that I can not only clear up space, but also make it possible to easily edit them in the future.
     In the same vein, I've been going through my art work for the zillionth time and am finally making those hard decisions, that I couldn't make before, on what's actually good enough to keep and what's actually memory-filled enough to keep.

     Same goes also for my theatre notes and such.  I'll keep scripts and playbills of plays I've been in but notes from activities that I did in classes...yeah, recycling bin!

     Oh, and last but not least, I had loads of English papers from high school and college - WHAT?!?  I'm not even interested in English.  Once again, a huge pile to the recycling bin, lol.

     That's pretty much been the extent of my cleaning for the past 24 hours, but that kind of stuff takes forever for Ms. Packrat...

And on to spiritual matters >>

     I finished Chapter 5 of Unstuck and want to mention a few more great finds from the chapter itself.

     First off, the authors give a 4th equation to add to the 3 equations of Paul's theology:

          Relationship (with Christ) + Truth (in the Word) = Spiritual Growth

     Additionally, as I mentioned in Day 12, we grow in and become more mature in our faith when we come face to face with our weaknesses.  I love this passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:

9  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 
about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on me.

     And from the authors of Unstuck:  His grace is free; as we acknowledge our brokenness, we allow Him to work in our hearts on all levels.  He moves into our hurts, hopes, resentments, desires, mistakes - each and every last "region" of us.  He alone truly knows our most private thoughts, longings, and struggles.

     I can't think of a more uplifting message than this - that our failures and hurts are exactly what brings us closer to God.  Turning to him in our times of brokenness and need makes ALL the difference as I stated in Day 8 in regards to bad things that have happened in my life.  Because I welcomed God's working through me during those difficult and heartbreaking situations, I can now, on the other end, honestly tell people that I am thankful these things happened to me.  I don't regret them one bit because if they had never happened I would not be where I am now.  In my opinion, this is one major difference between Christians and non-Christians - I rejoice in my pain because of the grace and divine closeness that it leads me to :-)

The Message's translation of Romans 12:11-12 puts what we must keep in mind quite nicely:

Don't burn out; 
keep yourselves fueled and aflame.  
Be alert servants of the Master, 
cheerfully expectant.  
Don't quit in hard times; 
pray all the harder.

In other words, we must always be vigilant to recognize the hard times and to treat them for what they are - amazing opportunities to grow more in Christ.

     I serendipitously ran across 3 different blog posts this morning that relate really well to today's post.  Check them out to read more on trusting God in any situation:

Is Your Mindset About God Flawed by Jamie - She takes sort of an opposite approach to this whole topic by reminding us that sometimes when we surrender all to God, He does give us great blessings - that it's not always about learning through suffering.

Liabilities and Assets by Sarah Markley - She gives a candid account of how while she would love to go back and change the mistakes that she made, she also wouldn't give them back for the world because of how they have changed her life in Christ.

A Reminder to Depend Like a Child - On how God wants us to depend on Him the way a child depends on his mother.

     I'll finish today by quickly covering the chapter's end questions.

Malachi 4:1-3 : What healing touch do I need from the Lord?

2  But for you who fear My name, 
the sun of righteousness shall rise 
with healing in its wings.  
You shall go out leaping 
like calves from the stall.

-Comfort in the fact that He has a plan for my future family.

Deuteronomy 4:32-40 : Do I live as though God truly is all-powerful and all-loving?

35  To you it was shown, 
that you might know that the Lord is God; 
there is no other besides Him.  36  
Out of heaven He let you hear His voice,
 that He might discipline you.  
And on earth He let you see His great fire, 
and you heard His words 
out of the midst of the fire.  37  
And because He loved your fathers
and chose their offspring after them 
and brought you out of Egypt 
with His own presence, by His great power, 38  
driving out before you 
nations greater and mightier than you, 
to bring you in, to give you their land 
for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 
know therefore today, 
and lay it to your heart, 
that the Lord is God 
in heaven above and on the earth beneath; 
there is no other.

-Not when I fall into the bondage of lonely thoughts and disconnected feelings.

Matthew 15:21-28:  Do I live as though Jesus loves me fully, no matter my hang-ups and imperfections?
-Yes, I would say that the vast majority of the time I truly do.  
It's what gets me through every day :-)
     I'd also like to mention that this story of the faith of a Canaanite woman is a fantastic example of how Jesus just wants us to show unwavering faith in how we approach our lives.  I'd never looked at the passage in this way before but since Jesus started off with chastisement of the woman for expecting something from Him even though she was not a Jew then ended, after her display of faith, by offering her full access to Him, the meaning of this story really opened itself up to me.

State-of-mind pic of the day: 
Tarangire National Park in Tanzania
(taken by me)

That's all for now!  Good luck in cleaning and have a fabulous Sunday night :-)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 12

Wow ... it's been longer than I thought!  I've just been super distracted lately hanging out with friends...definitely a worthy distraction :-)

The parental visit went well.  My dad complimented my DIY jewelry holder, which was really nice since my mom's response a few months ago was, "Oh..."  We had a delicious fancy meal which was a welcome change from my usual budget fare ;-)  And, of course, the visit wouldn't have been complete if my mom had not almost immediately started folding clothes and cleaning my windowsills...I didn't complain though...just kinda laughed :-P

In cleaning news (post-visit)...
All of the bug palettes are FINALLY out of my living room!!  I placed them as nicely as possible on the lower center bookshelf in the "hobby room" with the display boxes for pinned bugs on top.  It'll never be the most beautiful thing to look you'll see once I post pictures, but it's WAY better than taking up an entire corner in the living room.  Now I just have to finish washing out the empty vials and choosing which of those vials I actually want to keep and continue to take up space with...

My bookshelves are shaping up quite well...I still have a ridiculous amount even though I've filled 5 bags already to donate or sell.  The most difficult part is grouping since my shelves are only so big and I have huge amounts of certain genres...vampire books literally take up 1.5 shelves.  To make the separation onto 2 shelves make more sense, I put all the series on one shelf and all the onesies on the 1/2 shelf with other fantasy novels.  It works pretty well actually.  Hopefully, the bookshelves will all be finished by the end of the day...

In honor of my spending more time with others, 
I wanted to share this photo as my Day 12 state-of-mind pic.  
From left to right, Shingazi Anna (my aunt), Yeyo Simbai (my mama), 
Raelay (my cousin), and of course me.  
I only spent 5 days with them, but they will always be my family :-)

Spiritual reflections...
I finished Chapter 5 of Unstuck and it was a really great refresher on the daily struggle with sin that even the most devout Christians have.  Take Paul for example (Romans 7),

15  For I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.

18  For I know that nothing good dwells in me,
that is, in my flesh.
For I have the desire to do what is right,
but not the ability to carry it out.
19  For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20  Now if I do what I do not want,
it is no longer I who do it, 
but sin that dwells within me.

Just the convoluted nature of this passage clearly shows how difficult the struggle is.  But to give us hope, even faced with the reality of an intense sin struggle for a Christian super star like Paul, check out 1 Corinthians 10:13 >>
13  No temptation has overtaken you 
that is not common to man.  
God is faithful, and he will not let you 
be tempted beyond your ability, 
but with the temptation 
he will also provide the way of escape, 
that you may be able to endure it.

When looking at these two passages together, I think the way of escape becomes quite clear.  While yes, as humans, sin dwells within us, the Holy Spirit is always there to be our helper and guide in knowing the mind and desires of Christ.

As J. I. Packer puts it, "Only at the point where the insufficiency of natural strength is faced, felt, and admitted does divine empowering begin."
So the struggle is real and our sinful natures are real, but the power of the Holy Spirit is also very real.  And it is only in the struggle and in our seeing just how broken and inept we are on our own, that the Holy Spirit can do it's most powerful work.  Just think about what happens at the moment of salvation - not only do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, but you also become acutely aware of your sin and your human inability to meet God's standards.

Additionally, the authors mention 3 "equations" that sum up Paul's theology:

Christ + Salvation = Christianity

Love + Grace = Forgiveness

Surrender + Freedom = Faith

I'll end with a fabulous quote from J. I. Packer:

     The secret to discipline is divine empowerment, which builds internal strength.  Fortunately for us, the key to God's strength is our own weakness.  Through humble dependence on Jesus Christ we find the strength to put off our old life and to grow in our new one.  The power pitfall is self-reliance and failure to see that without Christ we can do nothing that is spiritually significant.  The power principle is that divine strength is perfected in human weakness.
     If I could remember each day of my life that the way to grow stronger is to grow weaker, if I would accept that each day's frustrations, obstacles, and accidents are God's ways of making me acknowledge my weakness so that growing stronger might become a possibility for me, if I did not betray myself into relying on myself-my knowledge, my expertise, my position, my skill with words, and so on-what a difference it would make to me!

I think that pretty much says it all :-)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Some of my favorite classics...

In honor of having gone through about 90% of my books at this point, here are some classics that won't make it into the donation bags...

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier  -  What a great read, full of love and dark mystery...

Animal Farm by George Orwell - Dystopian fiction at its most creative.

Equus by Peter Shaffer - A dark, discomforting look into the mental decline of a young boy 
in the midst of horses.

The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France - A twisted and disturbing but truly fascinating look into the lives of French revolutionaries.

I highly recommend all 4 of the above, but be aware - 
the last 2 are definitely NOT for the feint of heart...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 11

     I'm keeping today's post fairly short because both of my parents are coming down for a visit and we all know what happens when we're in the midst of decluttering/'s a mess!!  So today I'm going to be doing mostly triage to make the living room look presentable - part of this is throwing away all the trash and tossing the recycling in their appropriate bags.  No, I don't mean that I live in a pigsty and I bet many of you may also have this problem ;-)  For example::
- plastic grocery bags
- old papers
- receipts
- broken appliances a.k.a. coffee makers (yup, this totally happened to me a couple days ago)
- old food in the fridge
- used dryer sheets
- empty boxes
- empty plastic bottles and cans
...I think you get the idea...

     I also need to make beds, clean out the litterbox, carry out the trash, wipe down some surfaces, and replace all of my air fresheners.  Oh me...while it's always a lot of work pre-visit, it's so nice to see the people I love that I don't get to see that often AND I can't help but enjoy the after effects of getting some extra cleaning out of the way...

     I haven't been linking to many of Sarah Mae's posts recently because she pretty much stops at Day 13 and moves on to a new series.  I'm hoping to spread out her challenges over my 31 days (which will in the end be 31 days even if it goes into August).  I'm going to skip ahead to Sarah Mae's Day 12 - "There is Worship in the Cleaning" - for today, but will jump back to Day 10 later :-)

She shares a passage of scripture that goes along great with my Day 6 post : Colossians 3:23-24 - -

23  Whatever you do, work heartily, 
as for the Lord and not for men,
24  knowing that from the Lord 
you will receive the inheritance as your reward.
You are serving the Lord Christ.

     Remember the Day 6 Unstuck question - - What does it mean to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?  Well this passage from Colossians puts it quite clearly.  Whatever obligations our daily lives consist of, we must carry them out as if we are doing them for God Himself.  By putting such whole hearted effort into our daily actions, we also consequently, show our sacrificial love towards others.  And this hearkens all the way back to my Day 4 post in which I talked about how keeping our living spaces clean is a way of sacrificially loving others.
     So with today's looming parental visit in mind...I will keep an upbeat attitude of sacrificial love as I clean, so I can actively show I care enough about them to make the extra effort in making my place look nice.  [Of course, I can't get away from the selfish dimension of the whole thing either - - I would much prefer having a visit where we can focus on each other and not my deficiencies as a homemaker.  But if I keep this selfish thought in the back of my mind, then the pre-visit cleaning should go more smoothly and with much less stress.]

My dad and me on my 24th b-day :-)
I'm SO happy he's coming along with my mom...
totally unexpected!

That's all for now...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 10

Decluttering went quite well yesterday as I found another hefty stack of books to give away and went through my calendars!
     Through your calendars? you ask.  Yes, I've already admitted to being quite a packrat and along with that comes saving the strangest things.  If there's a calendar with pictures in it that I really like, well, it doesn't get thrown away.  I found about 10 in my bookshelf that were all mostly over 3 years old.  In February of last year, I discovered a fun and unique DIY project that can be done with calendar's super simple but can create a lovely piece of art.  What am I talking about?  Frame them!! - lol - Like I said, it's simple, but look at the pictures below to see how pretty such a project can turn out ;-)
This is an amazing super rustic wooden frame I found at Hobby Lobby.  And yes, to continue the theme, I put a couple of my favorite bug samples down in the left corner.

A simple rectangular poster frame is all these crosses needed to become a work of art.  Notice how the pair of crosses on either end are color opposites - the color that's in the background of each of the pair is inside of the cross for its partner - I was super excited when I realized I could get creative with how I paired colors :-)

     These 2 pieces were done with calendars from 2011, without any thought to the "collection" I had tucked away in the back room...  Well now that I've ripped out all the pictures I like from ALL of my calendars, I think I should go back through that stack and decide which ones are worthy of framing.  If I decide that one doesn't immediately make the cut, then it's going in recycling because giant floppy pieces of "paper" are not all that easy to store.  If I can go ahead and get them framed before the end of the month, then I'll have new art work to put on the walls and not just another awkward thing to store :-)

     On a further book note, it's actually gotten substantially easier to pick books to give away now that I'm in the mode.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is the synopsis so intriguing that I would want to start this book right now?
- How many PowerPuff Girl books do I really need? (I'm for
- Can the information in this book be found on the internet?
- Do I really need a book of quotes?  Can't I just pull out the quotes I like and put them in a word document? (You'll see a post of quotes soon)
- Would a child get more enjoyment out of this than me? (when considering books you still have not read)
- How many books that invoke memories of childhood is it worth to keep? (proportional to the amount of space they take up)
- Will this "textbook" be relevant to me in the future?  (if not, Rentscout it!)
- Did I enjoy this book enough to keep it, or should I release it into the world for someone else to enjoy?  (I have some favorites, and I definitely won't get rid of them, but others probably should find someone else who would actually consider them favorites...)

     If I come up with more questions, I'll be sure and share them later, but for now, on to spiritual matters...

     So I've finished Chapter 4 of Unstuck - "From Temptation to Turmoil" - and it turns out, I have quite a few addictions in my life.  Before I list what I came up with, I want to share a quote found in this chapter from Dr. Gerald May, author of Addiction and Grace:

I am not being flippant when I say 
that all of us suffer from addiction.  
Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction.  
I mean in all truth that the psychological, 
neurological, and spiritual dynamics 
of full-fledged addiction are actively at work 
in every human being...
We are all addicts in every sense of the word.

With this in mind, I asked myself, "What am I addicted to?"  And this is what I came up with:
- my morning routine (waking up next to my cat, in my own bed, and then sitting on my balcony with a hot cup of coffee)
- TV (or rather, my "need" for multitasking)
- frugality (finding it hard to spend money on others when I frequently feel like I barely have enough for myself)
- Sudoku (my Kindle's app leads me to lose hours)
- negative thoughts (while this can always be blamed on brain chemicals, the Lord has the power to help us overcome anything!!)
- worry (I replay things I've said and/or done over and over in my head...daily)
- being the fashion police (It's like a psychological impulse to point out really bad clothes)
- overeating (just one more bite...ugghhh...I need to lay down...)
- making excuses (although I feel that they're all valid, there does come a point when sucking up feeling sick or setting aside a task for later is the right thing to do)

     Not your traditional list of addictions huh?  That's one of the points this chapter is trying to make, because as the authors later point out, "as enticements increase and surface more often, there is proportionate likelihood of their becoming more and more influential, and even consuming, as they push out endeavors that help us thrive spiritually."

     After considering the above list, I could think of numerous ways in which these addictions could lead me away from relationships with others, or into sinful actions.  So what can help us overcome the snares that these seemingly trivial enticements may catch us in?
     Psalm 94:16-19 says - -
16  Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17  If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18  When I thought, "My foot slips,"
Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19  When the cares of my heart are many, 
Your consolations cheer my soul.

     In other words, we must immediately turn to Jesus when temptations and addictions first rear their nasty heads.  If we don't, then James 1:14-15 makes it very clear what will eventually happen:

14  But each person is tempted 
when he is lured and enticed 
by his own desire.
15  Then desire when it has conceived 
gives birth to sin, 
and sin when it is fully grown 
brings forth death.

     We can rest assured in the fact that God wants to help us out of temptations.  He wants us to turn to Him, running with abandon, our arms wide open.  If he didn't greatly desire for us to cling to Him and have companionship with Him, then my favorite quote of His from the story of "The Fall" would never have been uttered.  Genesis 3:22-23a - - 

22  Then the Lord God said, 
"Behold, the man has become like one of us 
in knowing good and evil.  
Now, lest he reach out his hand 
and take also of the tree of life and eat, 
and live forever--"
23  therefore the Lord God sent him out 
from the garden of Eden

     The fact that God himself can't finish His sentence reveals just how strongly He desires us to not live in constant temptation.  Every time I read this passage, I imagine God rapidly sucking in breath at the thought of Adam and Eve living eternally in sin.  He sent Adam and Eve out of Eden so that they would not live forever in sin; so that they would instead have the opportunity to be reconciled in Him and return to His presence in glory after their death.  What a fantastic reality that is!!
[All scripture passages are from the questions asked at the end of Chapter 4.]

State-of-mind pic of the day.
Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Maasai's Mountain of God 
(taken by me)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting unstuck in my walk with Christ - Day 9

     Yesterday was spent doing a lot of reading for my "low-key" class - HA!  It threw me a curve ball paper last night in addition to the reading.  It's all good though, this post is just delayed by a day...

     It's amazing how once you start saturating yourself with the word, numerous connections appear between all parts of scripture.  To begin today's "Getting Unstuck" post, I wanted to share a couple of those that I discovered last night (well, 2 nights ago now), courtesy of the YouVersion reading plans I've started.

     Remember the Exodus story of Jethro and Moses from Day 7?  Well take a look at Proverbs 15:22 where the Bible also mentions the need to share the load with others...

22  Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisors they succeed.

     And Day 8's post on Isaiah 55: 8-13's call for us to be mindful of the ways of God has a lot of parallels with Psalm 37.  I mention just a few below:  

23  The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in His way;
24  though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

30  The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31  The law of his God is in his heart; 
his steps do not slip.

34  Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

Hosea 6:1-3 - - - What must I do to return to the Lord and begin acknowledging Him again? [Question from Unstuck Chapter 3.]

1  "Come, let us return to the Lord;
for He has torn us, that He may heal us;
He has struck us down, and He will bind us up."

     I think a lot of acknowledging the Lord in our lives simply has to do with us realizing that He does all for our good.  How can we experience His loving grace and mercy if we don't suffer some?  How can we be built up if we aren't first broken down?
     I'd like to reference a couple of Jimmy Needham songs that do a wonderful job of relaying this concept (obviously, I love this guy).

I have built a city here
Half with pride and half with fear
Just wanted a safer place to hide
I don't want to be safe tonight
I am Yours and You are mine
You know far better than I
And it's Your eye in the storm
Watching over me
And it's Your eye in the storm
Wanting only good for me

Why I wanna be a hurricane
When I'm barely a breeze
'Cause I've already seen Your storm
Bring me down to my knees
Whenever I climb too high
Keep my feet off the ground
And when I get full of me
Turn me upside down
You know pride and not just summer
Come before the fall
So maybe hopefully I see less of me
And more of you and its true
I'll be finally free
That's what I want after all

     It's really all about putting our lives into perspective.  We are children of the Creator of the Universe and with that in mind, we should know without a doubt, that He has our best in mind (even in the bad stuff), since He knows all, and understands each of us intimately as one of His creations.

     As a side note, check out this article on singleness that captures this wonderful insight (thanks to my best friend).

     To tie up Chapter 3, I want to share another reason why intentionally saturating yourself in the Word and thus imprinting your heart with the ways of God is so incredibly important...
Romans 1:18-32 - What can I do to ensure that my mind starts being changed away from the deceiving ways of this world? [Question modified from Chapter 3 of Unstuck.]
This passage definitely knocks you in the gut...

24  Therefore God gave them up 
in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,
 to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie 
and worshiped and served the creature 
rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen.

28  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, 
God gave them up to a debased mind 
to do what ought not to be done.
29  They were filled with all manner of 
unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  
They are full of envy, murder, 
strife, deceit, maliciousness.  
They are gossips, 30  slanderers, 
haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, 
inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 
31  foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32  Though they know God's decree 
that those who practice such things 
deserve to die, 
they not only do them 
but give approval to those who practice them.

     If this isn't a strong enough call for us to be mindful of the ways of God and spend time in His Word, acknowledging His great presence and authority over all, then I don't know what is!

On a lighter

My maintenance tasks are going fantastically - hooray :-D

- Laundry:  Almost all the way through this for now!  Although I did manage to come across a bag of dirty clothes from my last visit to my parents...ugghh...why does it seem to multiply??

- Recycling:  Only 2 more bags to take out, and one's already in the car ;-)

- Dishes:  On track with this too.  I need to be sure and run the dishwasher today...

- Kitchen counters:  I've made a habit of wiping them down with Clorox wipes at least every morning when I make my coffee so that they're always clean and sparkly.

Decluttering on the other hand has been a little slow what with the 50 pages of reading I had to complete yesterday, along with the 4 pages I had to write...but I have made some progress in the realm of books:
- Rentscouter is awesome!!  I've found books I have that 3 different companies want, totaling over $30!! Woohoo :-D  And none of them are traditional textbooks btw.  I'll start packing them up as soon as I've gone through all the books.

State-of-mind pic of the day.  
Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania (taken by me).

That's it for now...hopefully today I'll get through most of the remaining books on my shelves...wish me luck!!