Tuesday, April 30, 2013

hospitality inspiration

I heard her tell the story more than once.  There was a couple who she and her husband knew while in grad school who showed them what true hospitality looked like.  Their home was open to anyone at any hour.  She always ended the story by saying how much it had inspired them.

Marlena Graves was my RD in college.  I babysat her daughter, I worked as one of her RAs, I asked her to stand up with me in my wedding.  And I spent many wonderful hours in her apartment.

Marlena and her husband always remember the couple they knew in grad school, but when I think of hospitality, I will always think of the Graves'.

Their apartment wasn't big or spectacular (after all, it was connected to our dorm).  It wasn't extravagantly decorated.  There wasn't usually an amazing feast waiting for me.  If I dropped in unexpectedly, I wouldn't be surprised to find things a little out of order.

But it was perfect.

Instead of making excuses about what they didn't have, the Graves' chose live out hospitality with what they DID have.  They recognized that hospitality is less about having the perfect house or the perfect meal and more about embodying Christ.

They lived life with us college students, whether we knew them from the classroom or the dorm.  They choose to let us into their lives and in return we felt safe to let them into ours.  Their apartment was a haven when life was stressful.  A safe place to ask questions and get advice.  And yes, sometimes a place to laugh about the latest SNL short.  Even now, a few years later, there are nights when I wish I could just walk down the hall, knock on their door and discuss things that are going on.

Now I'm "grown up" and have my own home.  My husband and I are doing our best to follow the example the Graves' gave us (some days we do better than others).  Our table only sits four and we don't really have much furniture in our living room.  But I'm learning that most people (the kind, good-hearted ones) don't mind sitting on the floor in exchange for good conversation and a free meal.

**I'd love for you to visit Marlena's blog and be encouraged by her writing.  : )

currently reading: Tempted, Tested, True

Dr. Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, both currently of Back to the Bible, teamed up to write Tempted, Tested, True: A Proven Path to Overcoming Soul-Robbing Choices.  Various other writers also contributed.  The book focuses on temptation, reminding readers over and over that all people all are tempted, simply in different ways.  Additionally, it gives practical steps to overcoming temptation and changing habits.

This book begins by talking about the seven deadly sins and also about the four stages of temptation (mentioned in James 1). Throughout the book, the writers touch on many different sins including sloth, gossip, lust, worry and materialism.  Each chapter ended with a "nudge" such as "Nudge 1: Learn to be God-centered" and "Nudge 4: Change your brain".  These nudges had seven steps: tempted, tested, true, memorize, listen, respond and pray.  Included in each nudge were questions to answer, research/quotes to consider, Scripture verses and written prayers.    

The appendix was noteworthy.  In it, the authors explained "three protestant views about sin and salvation" by comparing the theologies of John Calvin, Martin Luther and Jacobus Arminius.  Included was a helpful reference chart.

I picked this book to review because I was intrigued by the phrase "soul-robbing" in the title.  I appreciated the authors' straightforwardness about sin and thought that they dealt well with it: showing the gravity of our sins (ALL of our sins, not just the "big ones") but reminding readers of hope for change through Jesus.  I liked the "nudges" because they gave clear steps for change and I believe they could be of great help if used properly.  Personally, I didn't care for the fact that there were multiple writers.  Having the two main authors was fine, but multiple other writers were added, I wished that their sections would have been designated differently.  Sometimes I had to look back a few lines to figure out who was writing.  Perhaps the editors should have changed the font or set those parts in a quote block to avoid this confusion.  Other than that, the book is easy to follow.  As someone who enjoys reading more academic-type books, I did get annoyed a few times when something was written without a reference.  For instance, on page 53 the authors write about how "ancient Jews thought that a desire...could have a life of its own".  I would have appreciated an endnote designating where they found this information, however, I recognize that most people wouldn't have been bothered by that at all.  The appendix was great - I appreciated their work there.  Overall, I would recommend this book as a reminder of the gravity of sin and practical guide to overcoming temptation.

**This book was given to me by Bethany House Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

summer produce challenge

We're trying a fun little experiment in our house.  It started as the idea to eat vegan for lunches.  But it has slowly evolved when I realized that quite a few of my recipes for yummy vegetables included parmesan cheese and I really didn't want to skip that!  So then we were calling them vegetarian lunches.  But it doesn't really do it justice, because it's more than just not eating meat.

Last night I told my husband that it's "lunches where the vegetables shine" and I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes and requested that we please just stick with calling them vegetarian.  :)  We'll be eating primarily vegetables and fruits for week day lunches for the summer.

We're starting tomorrow!

I've been busy pinning interesting vegetable recipes, choosing the ones we'll try this week, compiling the list of ingredients and shopping for them.  The picture above is our shopping cart after we left the produce section! (side note: I'm a little disgusted by how many plastic bags we used.  I need a new system)

Here are some of our reasons for doing this experiment:

  • make healthier eating choices and hopefully lose weight
  • eat more intentionally (perhaps focus on what is in season and buy more local produce?)
  • find new recipes to avoid getting stuck in a cooking rut
  • teach our bodies to be satisfied with a meal of vegetables 
  • to say we did it!  we both thought it sounded like a fun experiment for the summer!

Here's the recipe I'm making for lunch tomorrow: Cucumber Avocado Caprese Salad

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

repost: bathtub of emotions

**this was originally posted on august 17th, 2011 but it's been on my mind lately as I've been thinking more about dealing with chronic pain in the midst of other general life stressors.  hope you enjoy the read!

This has been one of the most helpful communication tools in my life so I thought I would share.  I think it's especially good on those days when I am in deep pain and working with people who don't understand what that's like.  I've explained this over and over again when I was an RA and working with girls.  Mr. Mays uses this a lot to understand what I'm thinking and why I'm responding a certain way.

Imagine that you have a bathtub for your emotions and for stress.  Each time something is stressful or upsetting, it adds to the tub.  When the bathtub is full, the reaction comes.  That's your personal limit and you response in anger, frustration, tears, or shutting down.

Each situation of life adds a different amount (and each person can handle different amount of stress).  For instance, if you lost your keys and were late to an appointment, that might have only filled up your bathtub 1/10 of the way.  Another day, your car may have been stolen and that is especially stressful to you, so your tub is half filled by that situation.

Here's the key:  Life piles up.  Stress piles up.

When you lose your keys and you suddenly melt into a puddle of tears, it might be hard for you (and others!!) to understand why that small situation was so upsetting.  After all, it only filled up your bathtub 10% of the way!   But what you've forgotten is that it's not just the lost keys....  Before that happened your emotional bathtub was already filled to 95% with other issues so that last 10% pushed you over the edge and your bathtub was overflowing.

Caleb knows when I'm upset about something to ask how full my bathtub is.  It sounds silly, but it really has helped us!  When my pain levels are up, my bathtub is already filled to about 80%!!!!!  So when something that is seemingly small happens, I can get upset quickly.  It has helped our relationship a lot for him to understand how many "little" issues are filling up that bathtub.
It's a very simple word picture.  But it's proven to be really helpful for me.  Hope that this can help others (especially those dealing with pain).  Chronic pain is debilitating.  When others can't understand, it is isolating.  And it's even worse when you can't even understand yourself.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Accepted to BookSneeze!

This week I heard that I was accepted to BookSneeze so I'll be getting more free books and blogging my reviews!

My first pick is Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist.  It should be here in a couple of week so I'm looking forward to reading it and sharing it with you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

air force life: key spouse program

My husband and I started dating in college and, since he was in ROTC, I knew that if things got serious, I'd end up as an Air Force wife.  We had many conversations about the military. Would he just fill his commitment or he make it a career?  How did I feel about potentially moving every few years and putting our future children though that?  How would we balance my educational/career dreams with Air Force life?

One thing we agree on though:  if we were going to be in, we were going to be all in.  Many people talk about the military community and we knew that we wanted to participate in that.

Well...we had some disappointments.  Sometime maybe I'll share those stories, but for now I'll just say that people were not as welcoming or friendly as we had hoped.  It was discouraging, but we also knew that we could be a small difference.  In other words, instead of complaining about how people weren't welcoming to us, we could be welcoming to others and be a very tiny catalyst for change.

A very, very basic description of a key spouse is that they are a liaison between the spouses and the squadron leadership, especially focused on families who have a deployed service member. 

My husband's squadron is supposed to have several key spouses, but when we came it just so happened that no one was filling that role, so I decided/was asked to take it over.  The link above provides good information about the key spouse program, so you can read that if you're interested in more.  I'll just give a summary here of what I do.

First I had to be "appointed" by the commander of my husband's squadron and then I had a meeting with him and the First Sergeant to make sure we were all on the same page.  Then I went through training (provided by the base) and learned about the job and learned about all the different agencies on base that provide support for families.  Let me tell you, there are SO many programs!  It was a little overwhelming, but awesome to hear about all the ways that military families can get help.  There are a variety of counseling options, a support program for new parents, free childcare if someone is deployed to name just a few.

While I've been a Key Spouse, here's what I've been doing (right now I'm just working with the families who have a deployed spouse/parent).

  • every other week we deliver homemade meals to give the parents a night off from cooking
  • relay information about squadron/base events 
  • check in to see if they need anything (like driveways plowed after a snowstorm)
  • delivered Christmas cookies in December
  • give updates to the First Sergeant
Each squadron is different depending on their key spouses and their leadership, but I've loved working with our squadron.  Delivering meals every other week has been a tangible way to help and it means that I've gotten to be friends with several of them as well!  Overall, the Key Spouse program has been an interesting way for me to meet people, get involved and volunteer. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

currently reading: Finding God in the Dark

Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment and the Struggle to Believe is written by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin.  When reading my options of books to review, this one stuck out to me because I've been having many conversations lately that revolve around doubting.  I've read a few other books on similar topic and I have studied this subject on my own so I had high expectations.

This is a book I would recommend to others and will no doubt be re-reading in the future.  Kluck and Martin shared their own stories of disappointment and, I thought, were transparent with their feelings even though they had some very "unchristian" thoughts.  Kluck writes about the sorrow (and anger) over a failed adoption which seemed to be the last straw in ongoing disappointments over infertility, tight finances and an unpredictable freelance writing career.  Martin writes from the perspective of a Christian musician whose career never really took off as others did.

Other reviews I have read of this book acted as though Kluck and Martin's trials weren't difficult enough and they have given the book poor ratings as a result.  This confused me.  Perhaps this book wasn't filled with tantalizing stories, but the authors were honest about their troubles and their feelings and it seems odd to imply that their struggles weren't "hard enough" to write a book on disappointment.  I don't think we can really compare.  We all have different events that take us to our lowest point in life and these men were simply honest about theirs.

If you're looking for normal Christian niceties about how the authors are soooo godly and how they respond perfectly to all hard circumstances, this is not the book for you.  The authors are very honest about how they felt in circumstances, even when it paints them in a selfish light.  But, in my mind, that's part of what makes the authors relatable.  Over and over again I found myself nodding my head, reading bits aloud to my husband and annotating with fury.  In addition to sharing their own wisdom, both authors quoted from other theologians (e.g. C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, A.W. Tozer) and included Scripture verses as well.

The chapters alternate between authors, which could feel a bit choppy at points.  I found myself looking forward to chapter changes because I resonated with one author more than another.  I can foresee some readers being frustrated as both authors write from a (very) Reformed perspective.  If you come from a less Reformed background, be prepared for many, many references to God's sovereignty.  ;)  This could have come across as a flippant answer to disappointment and suffering (i.e. "Oh, just trust that God is sovereign and move on!"), but I really felt like the authors didn't use that as a cop-out, but continued to wrestle through the issues.

Overall, I really liked the book and am going to recommend it whenever I have the chance.  I know many people who have experienced disappointment that has left them doubting and I think this would be a good guide for them as it encouraged me in my own doubting.  Much of what Kluck and Martin wrote I had heard before, but I thought they did an exceptional job at intertwining stories, quotes and verses to make the information especially poignant.

(I posted an excerpt from the book here if you're interested)

**Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (Bethany House) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


The latest book I was given to review is Finding God in the Dark by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin.  I still have a few chapters left to go before I write a full review, but I was so struck by this passage written by Martin.  He tells the story of a girl raised in a Christian home who eventually tells her parents she doesn't believe in God anymore.  He follows the story with these words:

Like many kids who are "born into the church," she'd been engulfed by both the blessings and curses of that her entire life.  Anyone who has lived and existed in this bizarre subculture for even a short amount of time can relate to what that's like.  It's riddled with clichés, rife with contradictions, and it's a rude awakening to the reality that Christians are hypocrites and sinners par excellent.  All of this eventually becomes exhausting and sometimes that exhaustion can turn into bitterness and apathy if we let the culture of Christianity eclipse the Christ of Christianity.

(emphasis mine) 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

good reads {mental health and the church}

As someone who majored in an applied psychology at a religious university, I'm always interested in the conflation of psychology and Christianity.  To be honest, many times I cringe when I hear advice that Christians have been given in regards to mental health.  Mental health is always, always a difficult topic and there are a variety of opinions.  When you add in Christianity, the subject becomes even more difficult to navigate.

This week many Christians writers/bloggers have been addressing mental health as the son of a famous pastor died by suicide after a longtime battle against mental illness.  My deepest condolences go out to the Warren family during this time.  I am also remembering the many other families who have lost loved ones to suicide and (perhaps due to the callousness of the Church and poor theology) were left mourning in silence and, sadly, even shame.

Take the time today to read these post about mental illness and the Church.  It's an important topic and it needs to be addressed.  I've included an excerpt from each post.

Rick Warren (in an email sent out to his staff seen here at CNN)
I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said " Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?" but he kept going for another decade.

Ann Voskamp (A Holy Experience): What Christians Need to Know about Mental Illness
There are some who take communion and anti-depressants and there are those  who think both are a crutch. 
Come in close — I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.

Al Hsu (Christianity Today): When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ
Novelist Willa Cather, in her book My Ántonia, offered this prayer at the funeral of a suicide: "Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him and Thee." 

Kristen Howerton (Rage Against the Minivan): Rick Warren's Grief: The Comfort and Cruelty of Speculating on Suicide
When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent.  It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it. Searching for a familial reason for Matthew’s suicide allows us to believe that if we can avoid their mistakes, we can feel confident that mental illness will never ravage our own child.  We assuage our anxiety with the false notion that, if we do this parenting thing right, our child will be spared from ever struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. 
It’s comforting, but it is a lie. A lie we fuel through speculation at the expense of grieving parents.

Dianna E. Anderson (Faith and Feminism): Other People's Reasons and Our Narratives: On the Appropriation of Suicides
But consider this: whose story is it to tell when a person commits suicide? What right do we have to ascribe a meaning to their personal tragedy? 
Surely, the appropriation of another person’s story – especially to support a point about selfish willfulness – has to be considered, has to be weighed, and has to be understood. Surely, this distilling of a person’s story – complex, multi-faceted, and ultimately tragic – into one line is a microcosm of everything wrong with how we tell, appropriate and understand each other as people, as complex human beings, as sisters in Christ. Surely, we need to discuss how we talk about and handle suicide and depression.

Amy Simpson (Her.Menutics): Christians Can't Ignore the Uncomfortable Reality of Mental Illness
Recently, I've spent a lot of time writing and speaking up on behalf of people affected by mental illness and their families. I want to see the church embrace these people as we never have before, in keeping with our mission in this life.... 
As followers of Christ and as his representatives, we are called to follow his example. We are called to reach out to suffering people, to stick with them rather than shrink away. We are called to believe that no one is ever beyond hope, past the point where God's grace and love apply to them. God does not give up on people, even if they give up on themselves. After all, we are not called to have all the answers, understand all life's mysteries, or fix everyone's problems. But we are called to love.

Rebekah Lyons (CNN Belief Blog): My Take: Let’s Stop Keeping Mental Illness a Secret
As people of faith, let’s talk about mental illness, giving others permission to do the same. Let's release the stigma that keeps this a secret, holding untold millions captive. All secrets lose power when they exit the dark. The church is a place where we should be able to come as we are, with our longings for what we hope to be. Jesus always pursued the weak with open arms. When we are broken and fragile, He draws us closer to Him in ways we’ve never known. 
Let's not shame mental illness with the judgment of spiritual weakness...Faith should never undermine the necessity of doctors, of medications and therapy, because we must deploy every effort afforded to us when we tackle our brokenness.  

**If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, I urge you to talk to someone!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7)
 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

gratitude wall

For a few years, I kept a gratitude journal.  It was a spiritual disciple as I trained myself to see beauty in discouraging circumstances and identify God's good gifts on a daily basis.  My list lengthened.  Soon I had listed over 1000 things that I was grateful for.  Slowly I fell out of the habit of writing them down.  Life got busy and my writing time grew slimmer.

Then I started noticing how much I was bothered by negative people who couldn't find anything nice to say, but instead focused on criticisms.  Let's be honest:  it's a slippery slope before we're all there.  When I said that gratitude was a spiritual discipline for me, I really meant it.  I have to practice it or I'll never learn.

I decided to transform my gratitude journal into a gratitude wall.  This was it was visible and communal.  We set aside a little wall in our kitchen where we write down our "grateful for's" (as we call them) on sticky notes and are working on covering the wall.  As we fill the space, we are making a visible testimony to God's goodness and reminding ourselves of what He's done.  I can't wait until our son is older and he can participate too.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

troubleshooting for our family blog

It seems that several people are having trouble accessing our private blog so here's a step by step guide to help you.  :)

1.  Contact me or my husband and let us know that you would like access by giving us your email address (gmail only).  If you don't have a gmail account, just go to gmail.com and you can make one very easily.

2.  An email will be sent that gives you an "invitation" to view the blog and includes a link.

3.  Bookmark the page!  We've been told that the invitation only works once and we have no control over that.  So once you reach the page, save the link somewhere.

4.  Click on the bookmark (or just remember the web address) and when it asks you to sign in with a google account, use your gmail address and password.

If you're still having problems or would like me to resend the invitation (or just email you the direct link), let me know!

Monday, April 1, 2013

toy envy: Little Pnuts

Have you walked down a toy aisle recently?

Last week my husband and I went in search of a new toy for our son.  I'm going to be upfront about this:  we're picky parents.  We want to choose toys (and all things) with intention so that our son grows up with carefully picked, educational toys.  For now, we're doing our best to avoid toys that have characters on them and toys with batteries.  The way we see it, most of America is obsessed with electronics so we're going to "hold out" as long as possible on those types of toys and instead encourage him in more creative, imaginative toys.

Well, we're learning that toy departments aren't really geared toward intentional parents.  :(

That brings me to Little Pnuts.

A couple days ago (after we visited the toy aisle) I discovered this company called Little Pnuts. Looking over the website, I've been impressed with the company and their toys, which are "sustainably made, ecologically friendly, organic, and naturally made toys".  So awesome!

Here's how the company works:

First, you tell the company about your child (their gender and their birthday).  Then four times a year, a special box is delivered to your house containing 3-5 toys that are geared toward your child's developmental stages.  There are toys aimed at children from birth until 5 years old.   Although my son is still young, I can only imagine the excitement that a toddler or preschooler would have as each new package arrived.  :)

The annual rate for Little Pnuts is $240 (or you can pay $25 per month).  To be honest, this isn't in our budget right now so we'll have to wait before we can consider signing our son up.  Since we are careful about how we spend our money, it seemed like a lot at first.  However, when my husband and I started doing the math, it made a lot more sense to us.

Here's our thinking:  4 boxes per year each containing 3-5 toys is a total of 12-20 toys.  If you pay $240, that's between $12-$20 per toy.  That's the same price range that we saw on the toy aisle the other day for the not-so-nice toys.  And when you consider that each of these toys are high-quality, educational and would hold up well for many years, it really seems worth it in the end.

Like I said, this isn't an option for us at this point, but when I find a company that I admire, I always want to tell others about it.

**Disclosure:  I received no compensation for writing this post.  I honestly just love the mission of this company and wanted to share it with others.  The Little Pnuts logo and picture are used with permission.

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