Saturday, December 31, 2011

Put His Kingdom First (by Luke)

I had read Luke 12:31 in connection group one week. It states: “But seek first his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.” I had been doing a spotty job having a quality quiet time every day. Then, the week before Thanksgiving, God gave me grace to read my Bible and pray every day. That week could have been one of the most stressful of my life, as previous weeks had ended up being. I had so much to do and so much going on. But, this week was strangely serene. Amidst my tiredness, I met more Chinese people than I have ever met in a week before. I remember it being a Tuesday night and having met nine different Chinese students since Monday morning. It was such a little thing, the time I gave to God in the morning, but it has the power to change the trajectory of every day of my life.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Zach (by Luke)

One night after The Salt Company, I walked out into the foyer of the Englert Theatre. There was Lance with Zach M. Lance tried to introduce me to him, but Zach was my Spanish partner in High School, so we started talking. He said he wanted to come to our connection group. He did come to our connection group about a week later. He was very open sharing about what God had done in his life this past summer. His story was obviously very powerful; Zach was shaking as he told us just a little bit of his story.

I went out for lunch with Zach later that week. I just asked him to tell rest of his story. It went something like this: Zach had a really rough freshman year; he started hanging out with some not so good people and got into drugs. Then this past summer, he had a crazy manic breakdown that couldn’t really be explained (except by God). It was so bad that his mom blackmailed him into checking into a mental hospital. Zach said that he had never really prayed before, but because of his circumstances, he started to. He started to feel peace amidst craziness. Even though his internal situation had started to get better, Zach was still sharing a room with a Schizophrenic patient. Zach asked to be moved to a different room because he couldn’t stand it anymore. Zach did eventually get moved to a room, shared with a very ill man. Then, one night as Zach was just about falling asleep; he became very sure he was supposed to pray for the man he was sharing the room with. After a few minutes, a nurse came in to administer some drugs to the man, but he said that he didn’t need them and that he was feeling better than he had in month. Immediately, a shudder ran down Zach’s spine, and he knew he had to talk to this man. Zach did, and they ended up talking for much of the night. The man was a very strong believer and Zach accepted a faith in Christ that he had never had before.

Because of his circumstances, Zach’s doctor recommended that Zach not take any classes for the fall semester, he decided he could handle one, but he told me that God had provided the room and the time for Zach to pursue him.

My senior year of high school, I had really wanted God to work at Ames High. I prayed for revival, for a movement of people to come to know Him. I was slightly disappointed at the end of my senior year, and felt like I could have done more.

This summer, I went to Salt Company in Ames. I saw Josh, who I played offensive line with in high school. He was not a Christian when I knew him, but that night, I joined the connection group that he was leading.

Hearing stories like Zach’s and Josh’s, I am convinced that God was at work during my senior year, but his timing was not my own. I am constantly amazed; it is not that Zach or Josh was so far from Christ, or that their lives were so sinful, but that their lives were so normal, that both of them seemed to have their lives pulled together. The fact that Christ impacted both of their lives makes me excited at how God works.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stories of Life…

Well, Luke gave me my favorite thing again this Christmas—the gift of words.  Just like last Christmas, he wrote down pieces of his life for me to read and discover and enjoy.  I love reading what God is doing in his life and the life of his friends.  God is definitely on the move in Iowa City.  In the next few posts, you too, can experience a gift from my first born.  Prepare to be amazed…

Thanks Luke!

 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 4

Monday, December 26, 2011

‘member that time?

‘member that Christmas that Tanya and I got the racetrack that we had been wanting for sooooo long?  And member how we set it up in my room and played with it until the wee hours of the morning?  And member how Tasha twisted her little kitty head around to watch the little speeding cars as we raced them? 

That was pure delight. Probably the best Christmas present ever.  Either that or the black Baby Alive I got when I was 7.  I thought it was cool when she pooped the applesauce I fed her.  Pooping wasn’t nearly as fun when I had real babies though. Neither was changing diapers.  Now I have neither the black Baby Alive nor real live babies, so it’s all good.

Merry Day after Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I am God's child (John 1:12)
I am Christ's friend (John 15:15 )
I am united with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17)
I am bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20)
I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)
I am a personal witness of Christ.  (Acts 1:8)
I am the salt & light of the earth (Matt 5:13-14)
I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)
I am free forever from condemnation ( Rom. 8: 1-2)
I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant (Phil 3 :20)
I am free from any charge against me (Rom. 8:31 -34)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Cor 5:17-21)
I have access to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)
I am established, anointed, sealed by God  (2 Cor 1:21-22 )
I am assured all things work together for good  (Rom. 8:28 )
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16 )
I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph.. 3: 12 )
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13 )
I am the branch of the true vine, a channel of His life (John 15: 1-5)
I am God's temple (1 Cor.. 3: 16).   I am complete in Christ (Col. 2: 10)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am God's co-worker (1 Cor.. 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1). I am God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
I am confident that the good works God has begun in me will be perfected. (Phil. 1: 5)
I have been redeemed and forgiven ( Col 1:14). I have been adopted as God's child (Eph 1:5) 

Keep this bell ringing. Pass it on.
May the LORD bless you and keep you.
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you.
The LORD turn His face toward you,
And give you peace.'
Numbers 6:24-26

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Right Hand Reminder

Shelli is determined to lose weight.  Shelli has a number written on her hand.  This number reminds Shelli of the weight she wants to be next week.  Because the number stares back at Shelli every time she opens the fridge, or sits down to eat, or writes her grocery list, she is reminded of her goal to eat healthfully.  She keeps this number always before her to remind her what she is to be about.  Because of this visual reminder and the remembrance of her purpose (losing weight), Shelli is enabled to keep herself in check.  The reminder is what keeps Shelli focused on her goal.

Here’s what we can learn from that:  As Christ-followers, much of our spiritual laziness or neglect occurs in our lives because we forget what we are to be about.  We forget to remember to be holy.  This is why, in the Old Testament, God told his people to set up altars—or memorials—to help them remember their roles and His faithfulness.  God knows we are naturally forgetful which is why He wrote His Word down for us in the Bible.  If we don’t know what is in the Bible, or if we haven’t spent much time lately in the presence of God, we will have trouble capturing our thoughts and making them obedient to Him.  But, if we start each day by filling our lives with Truth from the Bible, if we pray for direction from the Creator of the world, if we consciously choose to give up our “rights” for His glory, if we hide Scripture in our minds and in our hearts, our lives “will be hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) as they should be. And our days will be all about Him…not about us. This daily re-focusing reminder will keep us focused on Heaven, not on earth, and help us remember why we are here—to glorify the One True God.

What will you do today

to help you not forget

to remember

to be holy?


Thanks Shelli!


I have set the LORD always before me.
   Because he is at my right hand,
   I will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Grand Experiment---a follow up

My experiment is working!

So…many of you have asked if I have stuck to my “To Not Do” list and the answer is YES I have!  And it has been truly wonderful!  I have probably enjoyed this Christmas season more than any other since childhood.  After I got over my initial bitterness at Panera for not having their annual gingerbread bagels, I have reveled in the joy I feel this Christmas.

Here’s why I think I’ve been joyful:

1)  I have evaluated my motivation for doing lots of the Christmas stuff that I do, and I have found that I do much of it to please people.  But, if my goal in this life is supposed to be pleasing God, then I can just go with that because God really doesn’t care if I use Pillsbury premade peanut butter cookie dough to make my cookies or not.  He does not consider me of less worth if my baked goods are not homemade.  And by the way, I did make those peanut butter/Hershey kiss cookies with premade dough and they are in my freezer, but I only made them because I wanted to--not because I felt compelled to have them there.  In fact, since I gave myself permission not to do several things, I have actually wanted to do them because they were not mandatory—does this make sense to anyone else?

2)  Since Brent and I scaled back and decided to buy only one gift for each kid---and since I was only in charge of the girl’s gifts—and since I ordered them online, I have not had to do any Christmas shopping in busy stores with crazy people.  I did, however, buy a few stocking stuffers for the kids, but I really enjoyed it because I just picked up things here and there and didn’t worry about stocking equality (it’s on the list).

3)   My non-participation in the commercial aspect of the Christmas holiday has really opened my eyes to how Americans are very unbalanced  when it comes to celebrating Jesus’ birth.  It’s not that I think that gift buying or Santa is all wrong, it’s just that we way overdo this “fun” part of the celebration.  Christmas in America becomes a frantic-paced mess of materialism and excess. We let our Christmas joy come from the “Christmas” we create with presents, and events, and food when it really should come from our wonder of the Baby who came to save us.

4)  As an adult, I have always understood the true meaning of the season.  And if you would have asked me, I would have told you that I thought Jesus’ birth was the most important part, but what I would be thinking in the back of my mind was, “I need to get one more thing for that kid to make all the kids’ presents equal” or “ I wonder if I can fit a cookie exchange in that weekend” because I have been very distracted by Christmas preparations in the past.  This year, though, maybe because of my grand experiment of the “Not To Do” list, or maybe because I have been able to sit back and “people watch” since I haven’t been as busy shopping, I really understand what it means to FOCUS on Jesus.  And I really really love it.  Christmas has been so much more meaningful for me!  Yesterday, I sang along to “Away in the Manger” on the radio with tears streaming down my face because God sent Jesus as a baby to save me.  And it is just SO incredible—the birth, the baby, the angels, God’s idea to save His people. And it really happened; Mary was a real girl—just like my daughters, Joseph was a real guy—and I’m sure the whole virgin birth thing seemed a little weird for him—as it does for us. Baby Jesus was a real baby; a real baby just like the babies that I had---a baby that had dry newborn skin and tiny little feet and a piercing cry.  It all happened—for real—just like it says in the Bible!  No wonder we celebrate—this baby came to bring us back to our Father!

5) So much of what we do at Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth and everything to do with our self-focus and our drive to create “perfect memories”.  I’m not sure why I am just now realizing that.  I’m not sure why I based my joy on so many external things in years previous.  But now, it’s as if God has flicked on a light switch in my mind.  Things that were cloudy or hidden are now so crystal clear.  I like this new way of seeing and understanding and experiencing Christmas.   And I love the joy that this new understanding creates.  It makes me so grateful to God and so anxious to celebrate—really celebrate--his appearance in history.  It also makes me understand that my joy at Christmas should not be dependent on how all MY plans work out because Christmas is not all about me.  It’s all about Jesus.

And Jesus being born beats a gingerbread bagel any day.  It’s true.

Amen and amen!

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
   and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

25 Christmas Sanity Savers

I wrote this little number when I had littl’ns myself. Now I have bigg’ns and I get a lot more done. But I remember Christmas with “helpers”, so here’s my little Christmas gift to you.


Instead of sitting the kids in front of the TV to watch The Polar Express (again) while you finish up those holiday projects, check this list…and put your little “helpers” to work!

Have the kids…

1. Make Christmas cards for friends and family.

2. Make a paper chain out of construction paper to hang on the Christmas tree.

3. Make a garland of ribbon and pretzels to hang on the Christmas tree.

4. Play a board game with their siblings.

5. Play in the snow…or in our case, the grass!

6. Make Christmas cookies with play-dough.

7. Dance to Christmas music.

8. Do homework… “How many balls are on the tree?” How many cans are in the pantry?”

9. Have a tea party with water and animal crackers.

10. Pretend they’re a grown-up and plan their family’s Christmas or vacation.

11. Look at the Christmas catalog and circle all the toys they like.

12. Make up actions to Christmas songs.

13. Color Christmas pictures and deliver them to elderly neighbors or to a nursing home.

14. Play in the bathtub in swimsuits.

15. Make stuff from boxes—a bus, a sleigh, a castle, a washer, a doll bed.

16. Make a fort under the card table.

17. Look at old photo albums or at photos on the computer.

18. Pretend it’s Easter and hide plastic eggs. Remember your basket!

19. Put on a Christmas puppet show.

20. Play Post Office with an old box, paper, stickers, and some envelopes.

21. Wash and dry dishes for your Mom.

22. Make up and perform a skit. Record it with a camcorder if Mom says yes.

23. Watch and do an exercise video.

24. Play fix-it shop with an old clock or radio (ask Mom first).

25. String beads or macaroni to make a necklace for Mom for Christmas!


Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
   and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
   and a chain to adorn your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9

Monday, December 12, 2011

‘member that time?

‘member when I was little and we lived in a town of 600 people in Minnesota?  And member how every Christmastime we would go to the American Legion and watch old Laurel and Hardy movies on a big screen?  and then member how we would play games like Bingo and win prizes and one time Tanya won a turkey?  member that?

And member how when we left, they always handed everyone a little brown lunch sack filled with peanuts in the shell, tiny candy canes, and an orange?  And member how happy that little gift made me? 

When I left that place and walked home in the snowiness, everything was right with the world.  And I was completely content…and I hadn’t even opened any presents yet.

And I think maybe that is a key to Christmas joy—contentment and gratefulness.  Contentment for what we have…and gratefulness for what we have been given—namely Jesus—because we need nothing else—not even peanuts or presents or turkeys. 

And that’s worth remembering.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I have plenty of insightful things I could be writing about…and I will write about them, but now I just want to ramble.  OK?

I’m starting to think about the cruise that my mother-in-law is taking our whole extended family on during the Christmas holiday.  How cool is that'?  Pretty cool.  Anyway, during vacations, I always really like being at wherever we are, I just don’t like getting there.  In short, I don’t like transportation.  I don’t like flying.  I don’t like driving.  I don’t like being on a bus.  I guess a train would be alright, but I have only ridden one once, and I got so cold when I was sleeping that my Dad covered me up with newspapers because we had no blankets.  And a bike is just not practical in most situations.  I do like walking, though, which is also impractical in most situations regarding travel, but this is probably why I think hiking is so great.  You know what I think would be super neat?  Remember that teleportation thing in Acts 8 where Philip is suddenly taken from Gaza or someplace like that and set down on the road beside the moving chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch?  Member how he just suddenly “appeared” without the necessity of traveling? Yeah, well, I wish I could go on trips like that too.  The “just appearing” thing would make the whole trip thing O so much better. 

I just thought of something.  I never mentioned a boat.  The boat that I will be cruising on is my destination, so I’m hoping I like it since it is transportation and all. I don’t think I will be able to feel it moving which will help.  Or maybe, I’ll just pretend I’m hiking—on the boat—and then I’ll like it.  Or I’ll just sleep while it’s moving and I when I awaken, I will have been teleported to a new and sunny location--minus the eunuch. 

All in all, I’m very thankful that I am going on a Christmas trip.  And I’m very thankful to be spending that trip time with such a great family.  But traveling is still on my bad list.

And teleportation is on my good list.  And my impossible list.

And no, I don’t like sky diving.  And I will never do it.  And if you make me, I will be dead from fear when I get to the ground and you will feel horrible.

That’s all folks. Thanks for listening.

PS.  If you are a Bible scholar, you will realize, as have I, (now that I have actually read the real account in Acts), that Philip was actually teletransported after his encounter with the Eithopian, not before.  But either way, it’s pretty awesome, don’t ya think?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Grand Experiment

With all the hullabaloo at this time of year, and the pressure to achieve that “perfect Christmas”, I have decided to rebel. Buying presents, decorating the house, making goodies, and entertaining others are all good things, but sometimes my December “To Do” list can get very long…and stressful.  And if you remember correctly, I am not getting stressed this year.  So, here’s my rogue (that’s rogue—as in Sarah Palin, not rouge—as in color for my cheeks) plan:  I  have decided to write myself a “To Not Do” list. Nothing on this list is bad, but the experiences that I am choosing instead, like watching old family movies or reading Christmas stories to my kids, are better.  In fact, this year, I’m going to bypass some really great things so that I have time to do the best things.  Here goes:


  • I will not stress myself out to make Lefse. I will just go to Story City, where all Lefse-makers live, and buy it.
  • I will not worry about making the contents of the children’s stockings equal.
  • I will not host holiday parties when I don’t enjoy it.
  • I will not stay up all hours of the night creating something complex and homemade in my sewing room just so I can say “I made it.”
  • I will not force myself to put the decoration boxes in the storage room when no one can see them in the porch.
  • I will not feel compelled to write numerous blog posts explaining the true meaning of Christmas.
  • I will not write something personal on each and every Christmas card.
  • I will not feel compelled to send an extra Christmas card to those people to whom we didn’t send one when I get their card in the mail.
  • I will not feel compelled to have homemade peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses on top in my freezer.
  • I will not make a gingerbread house.
  • I will not use holiday placemats.
  • I will not go out and buy more Christmas paper if ours runs out.  I will just use the ugly peach stuff I bought for the school fundraiser.
  • I will not clean my house every Monday if I want to do Christmas stuff.
  • I will not force my family to listen to “Read Aloud Family Christmas” every night after dinner.
  • I will not grieve that no one in my house wants to do the count-to-Christmas calendar anymore.
  • I will not force myself to learn Spanish or learn how to knit.
  • I will not get mad at myself if I want to sit in my polka-dotted chair and drink tea and read other people’s blogs.
  • I will not force my children or any other member of my family to unnecessarily clean their rooms, or their closets, or the kitchen, or the cat’s house, or the porch, or the garage. Even if I have company coming over who I don’t really need to impress with my immaculate cleanliness anyways.
  • Actually, Tess hacked my blog and wrote that last one, but I will abide by it.

Ahhhhh.  I feel so relaxed.  Isn’t Christmas grand?