Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Single Focus

My very talented dad wrote this poem and it was a huge blessing to me. It sometimes feels like there are a million and one things to focus on in life.... Church, marriage, family, kids, work, finances, health, hobbies... How do we zero on in any of them without neglecting the others? How do we choose what's important and what's not? 

I have been thinking about this very question for a while now, and the answer I've arrived at (in my infinite wisdom) is that the overarching, all-encompassing focus and priority for my life should always be pleasing Christ and growing in my relationship with him. As long as Jesus and I are okay, everything else will be too (eventually.) And how do I keep him first? By literally keeping him first... Choosing time with him before anything else in my day. 

Dad says it best... Be blessed! 

Lord Jesus, I just want to say,
That with the gift of one more day;
If it's the last one that I'll see,
Please make me what I ought to be.

I want my first thought of the day,
To be of You in every way;
I always want to seek Your face,
Before another I embrace.

Your Book, the first I want to read,
Your bidding first, I want to heed;
Your voice, the first I want to hear,
It's still and small and yet, so clear.

The words I speak first are for You,
So that I'll know just what to do;
For cleansing of my heart I'll ask,
So I'll be equal to the task.

And after that I'll ask for power,
For You to fill me every hour;
So through the week I'll speak to men,
And warn them of the price of sin.

The first deeds of the day will be,
The things that only count for Thee;
The first place that my feet will walk,
Will be that place where we can talk.

I do believe if this be true,
I put you first in all I do;
That every day you'll care for me,
Your hand I'll never fail to see.

Help me to live from day to day,
To one day hear You, Father say,
"Because you put Me first, my son,

I'm glad to have you home - well done!"


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Disney Playlist Series...

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a Disney buff. Blame it a childhood without cable television, or a mom who cries over every animated movie, or a dad who loved to surprise us with a new VHS tape every so often... but we watched and owned and rewatched just about every Disney movie out there (even the more obscure ones.) And naturally, the one thing that our family loved the most about these movies was the songs. I own a lot of Disney music on iTunes but it's my Disney Pandora station that definitely gets the most listening time. 

I've been thinking about this post for a while (probably longer than a grown woman should, but I make no apologies) and I have, after far too much deliberation, decided that I can only address this matter in a series of posts because compiling the Disney playlist is just impossible (at least for today.) So, I've broken it down (if that's even possible) into the following categories: 

Clockwise from top left: 1)Buddy Songs, 2)Tear-jerkers, 3)Adventure Songs, 
 4)Silly Songs, 5)Party Songs,
 6)Fighting/Inspirational Anthems,
7)Love Songs, 8)Villains, 9)Lullabies

What? Did I spend all afternoon looking up Disney playlists and trolling IMDB and YouTube? Don't be silly... I'm almost 25. Actually, I did... and it was probably the most fun I've had in a long, long time. No shame in my Disney game! So, in a couple days (and every week for a while) I'll share one playlist. If you have any suggestions/requests for a particular category, fire away! There might even be a guest post or two planned, so stay tuned. 

(I do realize that spending this much time on a big pile of children's songs might seem like a waste, but hey... I've been smiling/singing along for hours and all this fun was free, so I can't say I'm bothered by it. And as my sister pointed out, some people might not "get" this series, but I'd like to think that such a tragic thing wouldn't be true of any of my friends. =)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Don't Be Stupid!

"What a fool," quoth he, "am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon,
 when I may as well walk at liberty." 

I've said this before, but one of my favorite things about teaching English is the opportunities that arise from our literature lessons. When we read an excerpt from Pilgrim's Progress this week, this quote really jumped out at me.

If you're unfamiliar with this part of the book, Christian has found himself a prisoner of Doubting Castle. He stays in the Dungeon for quite a while before finally realizing that he actually holds the Key (called Promises) to the Dungeon and can leave of his own free will! So, naturally, it takes our buddy Chris about two seconds to flee that nasty Dungeon and get back on the road to the Celestial City. 

Think about it... If prisoners held the keys to the prison, how many prisoners would stay imprisoned? (Say that five times fast.) Seriously, though- our jails would probably be empty. Somehow I doubt that all our nation's criminals would just dutifully lock themselves up each day and hang the keys outside the cell like Otis on The Andy Griffith Show. 

But remember, this is an allegory, so every part of the story has a double (in this case spiritual) meaning. Are we any different than Otis, locking ourselves into jail? It's crazy, foolish, and even (dare I say it?) stupid to go around feeling like we are imprisoned by sin, or circumstances, or desires that we know to be wrong. Are some things out of our control? Sure, but most of my daily decisions are just that- mine. And I can either feel enslaved to my own selfishness and carnality, trapped by my own trials, and captured by own weaknesses, or I can take out the key of God's promises , throw open the door to the Dungeon, and walk out in freedom.

I made this point to my students: there is nothing restrictive (in a "prison" sense) about God's love or His will. As Mark Hall wrote, "When you're tired of fighting and chained by your control, there's freedom in surrender- lay it down and let it go." We are often only imprisoned by our own desire to control. The most freeing, liberating thing in the world is to actually relinquish that hold, whatever it may be, and instead trust God's promises. 

Our Bible study group (yes, that again) has been talking about God's sovereignty quite a bit. If God is sovereign and has everything divinely planned, then wouldn't it be a whole lot smarter for me to claim the promises of His word as the key to my own freedom instead of desperately straining against chains that bind me by my own design? (Ouch!)

So, I can either feel like I'm living life in a Dungeon, whether it's a besetting sin or trying situation, or weakness of character (or all those things!) that have me imprisoned... or I can get smart and take the key that is already in my possession and open the door. I'd so much rather "walk with liberty" than live my life in prison.... wouldn't you? Let's not be stupid. =)


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Winner

As I mentioned recently, my friend Sara came to visit and not only did we have a glorious time, but she also brought me a big ol' bag of birthday presents. Yay! One of them was this fabulous necklace, which I put on immediately and wore that very night (good thing I was well-dressed for our children's play.) I've already worn it again... twice in three days! It's a real winner.

On a related note, I am loving that the weather's warmed up enough to wear spring colors and short sleeves without regretting it instantly each morning. And while I've never been a huge fan of pastels (they just don't really do anything for my complexion), I've seen so many pretty options this spring that I've been snatching them up (mostly pink) at every opportunity. Fortunately, this necklace matches several different spring shades. Win! (That Sara has good taste... in jewelry and friendships. Ha!)

A night at the "theatre": and the perfect brick wall, because fash-un blogger. (Not.)

T-shirt: Target
Skirt: Belk
Flats: Target
Bag: Target

Isn't it pretty?

Those chalk hearts were already there (naturally)... an homage to conversation hearts, perhaps? 

My photographer =)

Sweatshirt: TJ Maxx
Skirt: New York and Company
Flats: Target

One more closeup... because I love it. 

So, my necklace collection didn't really need to be made larger, but since it has been, I'm thrilled to have added another winner. =) Don't you love presents (and those who give them?) I know, I'm a mercenary. I've learned to live with it.


P.S. Linked up with Lindsey!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend with a Twist

This past weekend, my BFF Sara came down for a visit (her first since I've been married... shame, shame) and we crammed as much as fun as possible into a 26-hour trip. (She had to get back for church on Sunday... something about responsibilities. Pssh.) 

I left school a little early on Friday, ran home to rush-clean the last remaining areas of my house that needed attention (including one final OCD run-through with the vacuum cleaner) and then gleefully waited for her to arrive. Of course, this reunion was made even more joyful by the fact that I had been calling Miss Thing for like an hour and she hadn't answered so I, of course, assumed she was unconscious in a ditch somewhere. Nothing makes you appreciate seeing your friend like a little terrorized worry at the last second. 

Anyway, she brought me a great big bag of birthday presents (which I opened immediately because I am nine years old) and then we went to Target (because, what else do Ashley and Sara do? Nothing.) THEN we came home, changed, and went to Baker's Kitchen, which was heavenly as always.

I'd been excited to show Sara around downtown New Bern because it really is adorable and the weather this weekend was perfect, but since it only takes a couple hours to see everything there is to see, I decided to plan another way to pass some time and still be entertained (by something other than our own cleverness =) so I bought tickets to a local production of Cinderella.

What could be better? A girls' weekend, a historic downtown theatre (with the fancy spelling), a little Rodgers and Hammerstein? I was feeling positively- dare I say?- cultured as I led Sara proudly down the street to the theatre and we claimed our tickets. 

Not exactly the Gershwin =)

Seems legit..

When we got inside, I immediately sensed that something was off. (For one thing, the theatre- fancy spelling notwithstanding- was not much better than my classroom and then seats were older than me... but not in a "I'm experiencing history" way. More like a "I think they performed Cats here in the '80s" way.) Also, the audience around us was decidedly... young. (Think a ton of little girls in tiaras and princess dresses. I won't say I wasn't a little jealous, but still. Not a really sophisticated crowd.) THEN an old lady got up and started talking about theatre etiquette and mentioned "when the kids come down the aisle." Oh, sure... she's like 102 so of course she calls all the actors kids. She is old enough to be their grandma!

HA. As soon as the first number started, it became very clear that we were watching a production made up of CHILDREN. Not just the roles for children in the play, either... the king and queen, stepmother, godmother, you name it... all kids. (Also the king looked about 10 and was a good foot shorter than his "wife.")

Now, the kids were cute and they did a great job, but since a) I had no idea this was a kids' show and b) I had been feeling so cultured about taking my friend to a night at the theatre, all I could do was laugh uncontrollably for about the first 10 minutes of the show (which, by the way, only lasted 52 minutes. Rodgers and Hammerstein probably wouldn't have loved for their beloved tunes to be sped up to marching band tempo, but hey. The cast had a bedtime.) And since Sara started crying uncontrollably as she laughed, everyone around us probably thought we were big jerks. We aren't... we were both just in shock. 

So, after stumbling out of the theatre still dying laughing when it was over (but trying to conceal our giddiness since we didn't want to offend any mommies, daddies, or proud grandmas) we finally made it back to the car and topped off our evening at the children's show with ice cream cones, because we are grown-ups. 

Oh, man. I'm still laughing about it! (By the way, one of the main reasons we were dying is that the prince was like watching Ted from What Not To Wear at age 13.... seriously.) So, yeah... the whole thing was pretty unexpected but way more memorable than a typical BORING night of watching professionals sing and dance. Where's the fun in that? =) I'm so glad Sara got to come visit... besides experiencing so much New Bern culture, we got to stay up late, get pedicures, shop (naturally), and talk, talk, talk. For two busy teachers, it's not always easy to stay connected like we want to, so even though it was brief, the time together was appreciated. I so love this girl! 

How was your weekend? Also, have you ever forked over money that really didn't turn out to be what you thought? I'd love to compare stories. =)


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Right Now

Lately my posting has been sporadic at best and it's partly because busyness (wah, wah, shut up Ashley) and partly because I have a box full of drafted posts that I haven't finished. I've been hearing a lot about maintaining consistency in my posting schedule (typical blogger advice, but true) and then I came across this post this morning from my dear friend, Jon Acuff. (He's not really my friend. He does follow me on Twitter, but if that makes me his friend, then I'm one of nearly 70,000 so... yeah. Can't say that we're tight. I just admire him from afar and try not to retweet him obnoxiously.) 

So, back to Jon's wisdom: essentially, every post is important. Why? Because whether it's encouragement that someone needed or humor someone related to or whatever, I have no idea who is going to connect with each of my posts, and they're not written for me. They're written for you, the reader. So rather than procrastinate or talk myself out of posting altogether, I really should just hit the plunge and hit "publish" because who knows? That might be just the thing someone needed to read today. 

All that being said, I know that not every post is going to resonate with every reader. I don't envision myself nobly publishing a blog post and then basking in the Shekinah glory of righteousness when just the right person is talked off the ledge of their emotional basket case because I wrote about Disney movies. However, I do need to get my butt in gear and start writing more consistently, so keeping the reader in mind (that's you!) and not just my own selfish self is a good motivator.

*FANFARE* And now for the actual post after a sweaty evangelist-length introduction. ("The porch is big but the house is small." Ha! Both are far too large. Sorry.)

It's one thing when I hear a word or phrase and it pricks my conscience a little bit, but remains an isolated incident. It's another thing when that same idea or principle is presented to me in multiple ways and various formats over an extended period of time. Then, it's like, "Okay, Lord, I get it. I'll listen!" For a couple of months now (actually, since I chose my word of the year) I've been hearing/reading/seeing a lot about the idea of delight. Delight was my word of the year. I'm not sure how I came to choose it, but the idea of really being excited about life was behind it. Then I read this book, which is all about the word thrive. While most of us simply survive from day to day, Jesus wants us to thrive- to really dig deep into our relationship with Him, reach out with His truth, and experience His blessings daily. 

So, I'm supposed to be delighting. Okay... that whole word of the year thing was kind of like a New Year's resolution, and we all know how those turn out. Then I'm supposed to be thriving... similar idea. So I can't really get away from this concept, and I'm feeling convicted about not living it out like I should. But, like all good Christians, one of my spiritual gifts is taking conviction and putting it a special place that is like the "free box" in a yard sale of emotions. (I know, my spiritual maturity is astounding.I'm available for counseling! )

Then I join a ladies Bible study group (which you probably know isn't typically "my scene"), and the first couple of weeks are good. And then the third lesson is on... get this... the abundant life. Jesus told us that He would give life exceeding, abundantly ABOVE all that we ask or think. But not when this season of life ends, not when the next one comes, but NOW. 

What? I've supposed to delight, thrive, and live the abundant life NOW? Right now? This very moment? Eh... how about when all my ducks get in their neat little row and I have life exactly how I want it? 

Nope. Paul wrote in Ephesians, "Now unto Him.. be glory." Well, there goes my reason for delay. It doesn't matter what you're waiting to get over: a financial crisis, a health problem, a season of frustration. I'm not saying "get over it" like it's just going to go away, but even in the MIDDLE of these times, God wants us delighting, thriving, living abundantly because... why?

Why do we always get told to power through the problems? "Praise You in This Storm" is a great song, but why do we need to live that way? Because Paul also writes that God's strength is made perfect... when? In my weakness. Oh, snap! (Sorry, I'm around teenagers all day. Sometimes it slips out.) There is no better time to thrive/delight/live abundantly than when it's hardest! Woah! 

So, it sounds great to delight in every circumstance, to thrive no matter what, and to live abundantly even when it doesn't really make sense. Is actually carrying out those actions easy? No, but I believe that "the best things, the richest things, aren't supposed to come easily. "(Okay, that was totally a Psych quote and I'm not sorry.) Seriously, though... we can thrive in our relationship with Christ, we can delight in His goodness, and we can live abundantly in His endless blessings... even when it's hard. Because, actually, that's the best  time. 

Are you delighting? Thriving? Living abundantly? You can! Now is the perfect moment to start. =)


Monday, March 31, 2014

Hello There

Hello, friends. It's been a few days and I've been quiet... mostly because I've been reading a lot and feeling... not really uninspired, but for once tossing around a whole bunch of ideas and since I still haven't picked one I chose the reliable old "everything but the kitchen sink." So, what's new? Let's say hello...

Hello, Monday. Nice of you to be relaxing without any pressing plans.

Hello, downtown New Bern. You're totally my favorite... and the Pepsi store has the best Mountain Dew in the world.

"Did ya see that sky today? Talk about blue!"
"Yes, Kronk, riveting."

Hello, Psych Season 1. Even though I'm still heartbroken that it's all over, I'm thoroughly enjoying watching from the beginning. 

Hello, spring weather that has finally decided to show its face. Nice of you to show up!  (Although, I was wearing leggings, boots, and a scarf last night, so... we'll see. Mother Nature is a fickle woman.)

Hello, my new favorite sweatshirt. Finally getting it was quite an ordeal that I'll have to share sometime. (Also, hello to my new favorite shirt. Hello, sales from Old Navy.)

Hello, gorgeous spring flowers. I love gerbera daisies! 

Hello, my new favorite picture:

Hello, my other new favorite picture:

Hello, my sweet husband that I love so much...

Hello, amazing dinner that he made tonight: 

What are you saying hello to this week? 


P.S. Sara, sorry this post is probably far less than inspiring, but... it's what I've got.