Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just Thinking About Things

Just a little while ago I updated my facebook status that I needed help in teaching Jonah to control his temper, and within minutes, I had several encouraging comments and one long and really helpful chat with a more "seasoned" mom. She shared some real creative techniques for training in this area. One of them involves having him run laps to expel some of that angry energy! Can't wait to try that one. Well, yes I can. Obviously, I don't look forward to one of his rage explosions. But still, that will kind of be funny, I think, to see him run back and forth from one fence to the other in the backyard. I can just see it now, and I'm smiling. Anyway, it's on my mind tonight because I just feel so supported in this. When your child has major self-control problems, it's easy to either feel alone in it, or you feel togetherness with others but without solutions. I got me some answers tonight! And I'm liking that.

I also have Bible study on my mind. Today was the first day of a class I'll be leading for the next six weeks on the book of Hosea, and I'm thrilled to pieces about it. I just still get surprised sometimes when God does things totally differently than I expect. I knew my class would be small, only a handful of ladies, and I was excited about the intimacy level possible with that size group. One told me yesterday she couldn't participate because of childcare issues and a sick baby, and another one didn't show up today. The two people I'm "leading" are my sister-in-law and one of my closest girlfriends...two people I love dearly and respect in countless ways. Two people who teach me. I am beyond thrilled to spend time in the Word with these ladies, but I admit I struggled a little bit with the fact that I also wanted to really impact people who maybe weren't pursuing the Lord like these girls do. I get really excited about teaching people who aren't so much students of the Word on their own, and one of my main goals is to always help encourage other women to know Him through Scripture. That's just one of my main passions in ministry to women. I always want to be passionate and influence by way of sharing that passion with someone who might lack it. All of these things, of course, are things I can't do on my own, but that's the kind of vision I have for my personal ministry. So I think I had a twinge of disappointment that there wasn't also one person in the class that is a little more "needy" per se. Which may sound prideful. I hope not. I just had gotten excited about that possibility...I thought it's what God had in mind for how He planned on using me these next couple months. Just switching gears in my expectations now.

BUT. I am VERY excited about what God DOES have in mind for this class. It will be such a breeze to lead this class, not having to worry about personality dynamics and how that will affect participation (which is usually a teacher's main concern with these types of classes)! And oh so FUN. What's better than hanging out with your friends, talking about God and His Word?! It's a sweet blessing. I'll enjoy it. And I enjoy Hosea a lot. I'll learn a lot from these girls too.

But it just got me thinking about how skewed my perspective of true discipleship can get. It always works best when the multiplication concept is factored in. Why do I feel like I need to be the one always having the direct impact on struggling believers? Now that is pride, for sure. What happened to the notion that a true disciple makes disciples who make disciples?? I just was reminded of that today. How important it is that all three of us are led by the Lord into deeper love for Him so that we can help lead others through that experience as God wills those people into our paths! I just can lose sight so quickly sometimes.

So my brain has been running today. I've already started writing different posts in my head. Some of them are kind of bratty though. Like the one titled "My Least Favorite Church Excuse." I wonder if I should complete that one.

Time for me to shut off my brain and "veg" for the rest of the evening. I've been trying to implement a new discipline of getting up early 4 weekday mornings a week, and it's been helpful. I've gotten more stuff done, but boy am I tired when evening comes. I'm already cozied up in bed, ready to get caught up on The Hills (I know, I know! Judge all you want...) while my husband lays beside me reading more significant, helpful things such as The Ragamuffin Gospel and Raising Kids for True Greatness. With him doing double reading tonight, I should be able to zone out to Lauren, Heidi, and Audrina, don't ya think?

Friday, January 23, 2009


I told you before about the goals I'm striving to meet for the year, one month at a time, that is. Well, this month my focus has been on MERCY. It's something that has not come naturally to me all my life, and I recognize the need to be intentional about looking at others through Christ's eyes and not from my own self-centered perspective. You can't have His perspective on yourself and not want to show mercy to others! So that's one of the main heart work agendas God has going on in me right now. As I've thought about this, I've realized a few things:

1.) It's SO much easier to show mercy to people who show me mercy. The ones who don't...well, they're the more difficult ones to love in a merciful way. I know it's obvious, but I sure have seen where that's been true in my heart lately. I've shown major favoritism in my administering of mercy, and it's no doubt a result of my selfishness. Simple. Dealing with that favoritism will require a major shift in my expectations of people and my desires. Relationships cannot be about me receiving. I must look to be a blessing. And not be concerned with what I get in return. His glory should be my only goal.

2.) With these relationships in which it's more difficult to offer mercy, I must discipline myself to take intentional action towards doing it. I need a list. Simple action plans for going the extra mile in showing merciful love. And when I don't know what those actions should be, I need to be on my knees. God will always show me ways to love someone, if I'm willing to do it.

3.) In order to take action towards showing mercy, I need accountability. I'm blessed to have a friend who will ask me if I did the thing I said I needed to do. I'm not so sure I'd learn mercy otherwise. No. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't at all.

So, the best thing I know to do, along with these other things, is to remind myself of the grace I've been given. Grace that has offered me a new life. A new heart. A new mindset. Everything amazing about life (Ephesians 1:3-14). And it's all completely undeserved. Why would I not want everyone else to experience that grace gift too?!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Girl

I sure wish I looked this cute when sick:

This little cupcake has a bad ear infection (which, for her, always brings symptoms of vomit and diarrhea, unfortunately) and a cold that the doctor says very well could be RSV but isn't bad enough to warrant any kind of treatment, if it is. Ah, Brady and Parker Jane sharing already....

But I'm telling you, she always feels better with a bow on her head.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Madness Has Begun!

Yep, it's been busy. Just like I said it would be for the next couple of months. My brother's family moved in last week, and we've been over at their new house quite a bit the last few days. Between my dad's emergency room visit for a finger injury and my nephew Brady getting RSV, it's been a crazy few days in our family! Jonah is having a blast with his cousins! And I'm loving having more family in town. I'm a family girl, for sure. No question about it. This is fun! I squeezed in a little road trip Saturday to meet some college friends for lunch, and I was reminded just how healing laughter is. It's nice to have people in my life that I know when I spend time with them, I will leave feeling lighter than when I went. I will have laughed, been a little silly even, and not been burdened by a single thing for that period in time. I'm thankful for that. Feeling lighter feels so good. I was so physically exhausted before making that trip, but that time with them energized me greatly. So did the three+ cups of coffee I drank that morning. When I'm well-caffeinated, I get pretty fun, if I might say so myself. I have to keep up with my fun friends somehow.

Life has been full. And good. Our church is going through a series on prayer, and it's been really good for me. And challenging. You know how we all have our strengths and gifts when it comes to the spiritual life? Well, mine is not prayer. Never has come very easily or naturally for me. I've known for a long time that I need to address some of the issues I have with prayer, and God certainly thinks now is the right time. Our community group is going through study questions from the sermons on prayer, and Lisa, my mentor, approached me about looking at some of the apostle Paul's prayers during our time together the next several months. She didn't know yet about the sermon series on prayer. And I had that thought a while ago about studying Paul's prayers but hadn't acted on it yet. What timing. At this point, most of what I have learned has to do with examining my motives during and about prayer. I've been challenged to answer whether or not my prayers are centered on God receiving more glory? Are my prayers, and every part of my life, about making Him more famous? That's really what "Hallowed be thy name" is all about. I confess I typically skip over the reasons and just make my requests, and I'm learning that's been a big part of my misunderstandings about my prayers and how God answers. These are actually really big breakthroughs for me, and I'm excited about what God has in store as He's teaching me to pray. There's a reason for the timing of these lessons, I'm sure. Can't wait to know what it is.

Other than all of that, I've been busy with these two kids. Jonah's been requiring a lot more one-on-one attention, and I've been trying to have more focused play time with him lately. I love spending time with him, but I don't just love playing pretend animals all day. I'm learning to do it more often though, meeting him where he is and giving the kind of time and attention that is quality by his definition. It's been good. Except that my house isn't clean at all. You don't want to walk barefoot in my house right now. But something's had to go. Parker Jane got her first tooth this week on her 8 monthday (I can't believe she's less than four months away from being a year old!!), and I'm starting to try to give her more table food. I'm so over the baby food. It would be really convenient if she would just eat real food. Right now, she's learning what to do with it and doesn't keep the solid food in really well yet, but she'll get it soon. Her dexterity amazes me. She can easily pick up small finger foods and get them into her mouth. She just struggles to keep it in. Other things occupying my mind are several showers I'm helping to throw for friends over the next 6 weeks, Bible study starting next week, and figuring out how to get organized and manage my time well. Joel has accepted an assistant coaching position at a local school for their baseball team, and that will obviously require extra time on top of his other work responsibilities at church. He wasn't looking for this at all, but when approached about it, was really excited about the opportunity. And I'm excited for him. But it's going to make these next few busy months even trickier. We're having to really get scheduled and intentional with our time together. So, that's what my days are like right now. Oh, and 24 is back on. And oh. my. goodness. It is GOOD. Hour three may have been my favorite hour of all the seasons yet. Are you 24 fans loving this season like I am??

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You, Too, Can Save Lots of Money on Groceries!

Several people have asked me what I've been doing to cut our grocery bill so much over the last 8 months, so it's time I finally organize and verbalize my "system." Hope this is helpful to some of you!

First of all, let me start off by saying that the main reason that I'm saving money is because I'm being intentional about saving money. I've followed a lot of money-saving systems, plans, and advice in this area before, and it got me nowhere. It was because my heart was somewhere else. I wasn't trying to do it because I felt this conviction from the Lord to be careful about my spending, save a lot more so that I can give a lot more, and that waste was a sin. I tried several times before, and it just didn't work. I wasn't disciplined enough. And I wasn't surrendered enough. I'm just saying this now, not to convince you to have the same convictions, but to tell you that if it's not a wholehearted, focused effort driving your changes in spending, then the following things I share will be a waste of time. If you're a spender and you don't deal with that issue at its root in your heart, you will always find ways to keep spending. You will probably have a hard time with these things, because it's not the strategies that will be your biggest help, it's the perspective-shift on waste/careless spending/laziness vs. financial responsibility/wisdom that will change things for you and your family. That was my experience, at least. I've had a lifestyle change that has led me to have an overall desire to save as much money as I can on my grocery bill and to not spend money on stupid things. I can write some other time about all of my issues with careless spending and why I've been striving to change that. But that's not the point of this particularly post. Anyway, to sum up this paragraph, you have to be seriously goal-oriented in this area in order to have real money-saving success. You need to somehow start looking at your shopping experiences as opportunities to prove how wise you are with your money. Your main question should be, "How can I best meet my family's needs (and other needs I'm called to help meet) while spending the least amount of money?"

Now. With that being said, the following are my main nuggets of advice for optimizing your money-saving potential with grocery shopping. There are plenty more that I haven't taken advantage of yet or may not know about, but here's what I do know:

1.) If you want to save money, you HAVE to shop at Wal-mart. I know. Few of us really like that store. But if you shop Brookshires (one of our local grocery stores here) instead because it's prettier and you don't enjoy going to Wal-mart, don't tell me you want to save money. I won't believe you. Why is Walmart such a money-saving jewel? Top reason: Price comparisons. For those who do not know, Walmart's policy is to match competitor's prices on everything in the store. So, here's what you do: every week on Tuesdays, you will receive your local grocery stores' weekly ads in your mailbox. You will "shop" each of those store's sales but you will get to take advantage of all the different stores' sale prices and just make one trip to Walmart to purchase everything there. If there are things in the Albertsons or Brookshires ad that are a great price and cheaper than what Walmart's price is, then you purchase those items at Walmart and show them the ad from the other stores. The cashier will charge you the other store's price instead of theirs. Easy. Simple. Doable. For some reason, everyone who starts this thinks that they might be the only person who does this. I was all nervous the first time, thinking how is this going to work? The kind people at Walmart have been doing this for years. You're not the first. They ALL know their store's policy, and I promise you, you won't be weird for asking them to do price comps for you. It's their pleasure. (Side note: Walmart is able to do this because they save a ton in advertising money because they don't send out weekly ads like the other stores. They don't do weekly sales. They have roll-backs that usually last for a month I think and they will periodically send out a circular advertising those.) So, each week when you are preparing your grocery list, your first step is to search the weekly ads for sales. (FYI...I've switched to a weekly budget for groceries, which I've found works so much better for me, and I get cash out for groceries every Sunday. So I do my weekly shopping trip every Sunday or Monday. That gives me at least five days, from the time I get my ads until I go shopping, to prepare my list and get it super precise. Just a tip I want to share. Having that many days to prepare saves me a lot! The more prep you do BEFORE going to the store is what will bring you the most savings.

2.) If you want to save money, you will plan your meals around what's on sale. For example, if chicken breasts are on sale somewhere, then well, we're going to eat more chicken meals that week. Let your weekly ads drive your meal-planning rather than let your meal-planning dictate your shopping list. I'm not suggesting this should be absolute. Sometimes I have in mind some other meals I'd like to make, so I watch weekly ads for sales for a few weeks, picking up different items for those recipes as they go on sale. Obviously, sometimes I make them even when most of the items aren't on sale, but I am adamant, in those circumstances, that I do NOT go over-budget for the week. So, with the meals I choose to make before seeing the ads, I weigh the costs of our other needed items that week to make sure it will work. I NEVER just buy what I want anymore without planning a way to make it work within the budget. Remember, if you think of it as a competition with yourself to get the most savings possible, then you're always thinking about ways to save and you'll do great with this. Oh, one thing I discovered really recently that I think will help add to savings is a website called Super Cook. It will give you recipes for those random ingredients and food items you have in your house, making what you have stretch as far as possible before having to go to the store. I'm loving this website!

3.) If you want to save money, you will want to take advantage of great coupon savings too. Couponing is an area that I've tried in the past with little savings success. I think I know why now. Let me first give you some examples of why people say they don't like to use coupons. And know that I've said them all before. "It always seems like the store brand is cheaper than the name-brand item with the discount." Not always. Especially not when the name-brand item is advertised in a weekly ad as being on sale. To sum up my main form of saving money: it's a combination of using weekly sales and coupons in whatever ways will bring me the most savings that week. What really gets me excited is when I can do both at the same time, on the same item. And you'd be surprised how often that works out! Then a name-brand item ends up being cheaper than the store-brand. "When I use coupons, it seems I end up buying more things than I really need, just because I have a coupon." Well, you just need to get smarter, then. =) Seriously, that's something you can help. Use common sense and discipline. Learn to tell yourself no when you need to. Here's one thing that will probably help. I once read in an Ellie Kay book that people who sort their coupons by discount save more money than those who sort them by expiration date. And that has made a HUGE difference for me this time around in using coupons! I clip a lot of coupons, more than a lot of people will want or need to. Since I have a more extensive coupon collection, it requires a more advanced organizational system. It would take me FOREVER to look through my coupons each week to find what I need, so I use an excel spreadsheet instead. This will only save you time if you save as many coupons as I do. Most people should not do it this way! It will be too complicated. But as for what I do, I log them in my spreadsheet, color code them by type or category of the item (ex. bread, frozen, snacks, etc), and mark them off when I use them. I include the price, not the expiration date, on the spreadsheet, and I sort it where the highest discounts are at the top of the page. This way, when I'm making my list using my ads for the week and I want to see if I have a coupon for an item I need, then I can see it quickly on my spreadsheet and I get to the better coupons first. I never look through my coupons first to help determine what goes on my shopping list. And I never use a coupon just to use it. About once a month, I go through my coupons and throw out the expired ones. And here's where my mindset is different than it used to be: I get excited to throw away expired coupons I didn't use! It means I refrained from buying something I obviously didn't need! That's SUCCESS. The only reason to be sad about throwing away an expired coupon would be if I know I bought that item anyway and didn't use the coupon. That would mean I had been lazy in my preparation and planning. And guess what, that just doesn't happen anymore! Only a few times in the last 8 months I've been doing this have I forgotten to plan and had to run to the store last-minute and just buy whatever I had to. Sometimes crazy life circumstances will necessitate that. But those times have to be VERY rare for you to save money. (Side note: Stopping those quick last-minute runs to the store for an item or two I forgot has been my main money saver. I was really bad about that. My lack of planning meant I would just run to the closest store to be quick since I was only getting one or a few things, and it just so happens that those were to the more expensive grocery stores here. Planning is crucial.)
**A few of my favorite coupon sources:
1.) I get a Dallas Morning News every Sunday to cut out coupons.
2.)www.printablecoupons.blogspot.com (My favorite one! The second page of the grocery category on that website is where I've found some of my best coupon savings.)
3.)Check out the bargain links on the right side of my blog for more coupon websites. A friend of mine from college, Lori, is The Bargain Shopper Lady, and she has been one of my main motivators. She'll help you out in a lot of ways...Check out her site, if you aren't familiar with it!
4.) Always do a google search for coupons for a particular item on your list before going to the store. There are a LOT of coupons out there. Just use the internet to your advantage.

4.) If you want to save money, you cannot be brand-specific. There are a few items I will always be a brand-snob about. You will find certain brands of things that just work best for your family. But you have to be willing to try different things. I found that I just always bought the same brands of things out of habit. It's just what I did. I always used a certain kind of detergent, and it certainly wasn't the most expensive kind, but I didn't take advantage of sales and coupons for other brands because I just didn't think about it. I was happy with what I was using. Now, I've tried almost all the common detergents, and I've found that I really like them all the same, so I'll use whatever kind is on sale and I see no difference in quality of function. Just had to get out of the rut. Be willing to get out of your shopping ruts! This also meant, for us, that Jonah's snack foods and lunch extras did not NEED as much variety as I was giving him. I don't owe him twenty different types of things to choose from that week. If applesauce and pretzels are what's on sale that week, that is what we get. Not everything else I can imagine he might like. I'm convinced it's a good life lesson for him to learn too. =)

5.) If you want to save money, you will want to be a part of CVS' Extracare Rewards program. (Walgreens has a great system for savings too, but I can't share the specifics of it because I haven't participated in theirs yet. I'm a CVS girl all the way.) You can find out details of how the program works and how you can use their program to get the best savings possible at a blog called I Heart CVS, and it really is inspirational! I look weekly at the CVS ad for great deals on toiletries, makeup, medicines, baby care, and household items, and I've had some amazing deals there, getting a lot of things for FREE, and it has helped my grocery budget in a big way as well since I take household products out of my grocery budget. I've always gotten great deals on diapers there as well. I always use Parent's Choice diapers from walmart, but I get Huggies or Pampers for baby gifts a lot, and I find great deals on those at CVS most of the time, using the ECB program. I have a friend who has used this system to get loads of really nice beauty products for really cheap and for free, and she's put together beauty baskets for the women in her family for Christmas gifts. And this isn't just in regards to CVS, but with bargain shopping in general, there are things you should never have to pay full price for because there are such good deals on them so regularly. A few that come to mind...cereal, toothpaste, feminine products, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products, and more. To save money, you must be willing to wait for the good deals that come around regularly. To keep from getting stuck in a bind without something you need, you must plan ahead.

Closing thoughts: This gets EASIER over time! It really does. What seems overwhelming and complicated before you start seems so easy within just a few weeks. If you approach grocery shopping with the goal to save and you do your part, you'll see results quickly. It's just not hard to do; there is SO much savings out there to be found all the time! It doesn't take long for bargain-shopping to become your new mindset. Really, I was the LAST person in the world likely to be good at this. It's soooo not my nature. I'm way less detail-oriented than this. But things have changed for me, and I'm seeing my friends' lives change too! Recently, a friend was sharing her disappointment in not having money to spend on clothes and how pregnancy body changes were necessitating some shopping. I told her I could save her enough that week in her grocery bill for her to buy a new outfit. I already knew what she was spending weekly on groceries and her family needs weren't all that different from mine, so it would be easy. She met with me, we came up with a list and a plan, and she spent $25 less on her first try. The next week, she called me and had saved $30. And the next week brought even more savings. By week three, she was hooked. And she keeps growing in her savings. She had been going about $50 over her budget every week prior to this. Now she saves $200 a month just doing these few "tricks." And I can tell she's going to save even more. These stories are so fun for me to know about! Mine is very similar, and I am so thankful for the freedom that has come from this. I just want to keep getting better and better at saving money! I have some new goals in it for this year. And if anyone would like some more personalized help in getting started with this, I could be available for consultation for a small fee. Or for a baby-sitting exchange. Or for some really cute little gift. =)

(By the way, I didn't even share the major savings I've started having at Albertsons. If you have one conveniently located near you, you'll want to take advantage of shopping their three-day sales and other amazing promotions they do regularly. Since this has gotten so long already and lots of you probably don't have one near you, I won't write the details on here. But if you want to know more, please let me know!! Albertsons is regularly-priced so high, but there are some great ways to save money at that store.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

No Longer Pink

Here are before and after photos of some work I had done on my "formal" living room sofa. I found this sofa at the end of last summer at a garage sale, and it was a while before I could have it reupholstered. But it's finally done (Merry Christmas to me), and I'm SO happy with the results!

Before, in all its rose-colored glory:

And now that it's been recovered with this fabric I love from Hobby Lobby...The After:

Like any project or item I buy for my house, this was incredibly inexpensive. If you're in the area, I have a furniture upholstery place to recommend! They are so reasonably priced...way less than anyone else in town, and oh my, was that lady fast! I just dropped it off last Friday and was impressed that she said it would be ready in two weeks. I thought that was amazing. Actual turnaround time: 6 days. And I'm more than pleased with her work. It's called Kelley Furniture Upholstery, and she's in the phone book. I Heart Ms. Kelley!

Now that some basic furniture is in place, I'm excited to accessorize that room, find just the right things for the walls, and pull the look together. It will continue to be a slow process, as all of my decorating projects seem to be, but I'm enjoying the process nonetheless and feel really blessed to have this sofa.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Announcement I've Been Waiting a Loooong Time to Make:

My brother and his sweet family are moving back to Texas!!! Whoooohoooo! They'll be in our same town, and they'll be here next week. We are really excited around here!

Joel heads back to work today after a two-week vacation, and I'm feeling spoiled. It was such a good time having him home. I'm preparing myself for a harder day today...first day with Daddy not home and Jonah will most assuredly be attention-hungry with all that he's gotten used to over the holidays. Not only that, but Parker is sick, so giving that attention is going to be even trickier. We had to leave church early yesterday morning because she was throwing up in her nursery class, and she did again last night and ran fever most of the day. It was awful! We've taken her to the doctor last week and the week before because of ear infections that have hung on, and I'm sad that something else is going on in her little body this week. We haven't slept much the last several weeks, but oh well. We have no choice but to press on! And caffeinate well.
I realized the other day that the next several months may be the busiest I've had in years. My brother moving here will be the highlight of January and will also keep us pretty occupied when they get here with helping unpack, keeping kids while they're unpacking, and just plain enjoying their company. Then before the end of February, I will have hosted three showers for people. As a maid of honor in my cousin's wedding, I will be attending other showers with her and doing a number of things wedding-related, such as, for example, meeting her in Lufkin this weekend
to help address invitations. At the end of this month, I'll be starting to lead a Bible study with women at church for about 6 weeks, and this one is going to require lots of preparation still. There's a possibility of going to another Weekend to Remember conference in February which I hope to know about very soon. And then add in the regular activities and responsibilities...our small group, friends, all of the people in our lives having babies right now (there are so many!!), church events, etc. It's going to be interesting around here! I just am listing all of this to hopefully help me get in gear and get motivated to get really organized and stay disciplined with my time. It's all doable, I just can't have one lazy hour. Really, if I get behind at all, I think I will be extremely overwhelmed. Gotta practice discipline. But I think these are going to be a good few months! God has some grand things planned, I am sure of that. Has the new year brought about crazy-busyness for anyone else?? If so, join my club. I don't think it's overcommitment this time...I really believe I'm supposed to do all these things. I'm just not that energetic super mom that can get everything done so well. This will be a major time of having to seriously practice reliance on the Lord for a lot of things at once. I think it's no coincidence that the sermon series starting this month at church is about prayer and my mentor Lisa wants to start discussing prayer when we meet the next few months. I've known God long enough to know that He's getting ready to beat me over the head with this issue! And I welcome it! I like that this is how He works...it's so exciting to see Him so personally involved in my life and growth that He will orchestrate various things at once to teach me the same lesson.It's one of the sweet ways He expresses love to me in a personal way.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Focus

I feel kinda sucked in to talking about New Year goals. It feels like it's what we're supposed to do on here, right? But I'm ok with caving to the pressure. I kinda wanted to talk about it anyway...

Last year, a close friend told me about her plan to prayerfully choose one word to describe the thing she most needed to focus on in 2008. I followed her lead. And the word I felt had been pressing on my heart for quite some time was "selfless," particularly pertaining to my marriage relationship. Well, I did not get very far into 2008 before being really challenged in this area! 2008 was the hardest year yet, but it was absolutely the BEST year. I can't even express how astounded I am by the things God did in my heart this past year in the area of learning to selflessly love. I've tried to say it a few times. Words haven't come. But I hope that one day they will! I was thinking about that new year's practice and wondering if I should do it again this year. It's not like I've mastered the selfless thing yet. If we get right down to it, I've really only taken baby steps. Do I add something else? Then I remembered that I'll always need to be adding things. I'll never really check anything off. So far in my relationship with Christ, I've seen that the more I grow, the more I realize I need to grow. The list of things to work on just becomes longer. And sometimes harder. When you see more of Him, you see more of yourself. The reality of your own heart comes under the light of His perfection and holiness, and you get a glimpse of His perspective on your sin. So...why act like it's strange to see more and more of the things I need to change in my life? It's what His sweet grace is for. And why would we need the Holy Spirit's power in our lives if it was just all a cakewalk from here to heaven? Of course I didn't master selfless. And I won't master any other virtues this year. It's going to be a battle. I get that. I also get that His loving, supportive GRACE is more than enough for the fight. Or climb. Or whatever you want to call it. I think spiritual growth is the only climb that brings you further down than where you started. And I'm learning to want that more and more. It's still a battle though. And now I feel confident to say that it always will be. Don't mistake me for saying I've lowered standards for myself. The only ones I want to adhere to are Christ's, and I am in this. I'm wanting growth. I just have accepted that it's an ongoing process. I know...y'all are thinking, "You're just now accepting that? That's Jesus-following 101. Basic." I've known it. But still struggled with not liking that it's true. Sometimes you just want to be the exception. I want it to be a little easier for me than the rest of the world. Ugh. Pride.

So, for my new focus for 2009, I'm picking a different word for each month. A word that inspires me to press on to live according to the convictions He's already given me in different areas. I only picked 10 so far because, well, God seems to like surprises. This way I'll go ahead and leave some room in my expectations for whatever He might have planned this year that I am clueless about. I'm going to list them here, but the details and context are just between me and Him. The application of some of them are obvious. But most are a focus word that will remind me of something He's placed on my heart and I will know exactly what context or relationship(s) they apply to.


Now, who knows what focuses the new year will actually bring! But these words remind me of things that I know it's time to deal with and grow up in. I know fresh starts are available any day of the year, but there's something so fun about having a time of year that lends itself to a little more reflection about what changes need to occur. Maybe it's because others are doing it too at the beginning of the year that we have greater hope for our own changes. Now that I think about it, the community aspect of it might be what causes us to be better at believing it's all possible. Oh good. Now I don't feel guilty for "buying into the hype" of New Years resolutions that I kinda did when I first started this post. I'm glad I caved.