Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Discontent vs. Being Content

I'm going to be honest here...There are rare times I've ever been content with life. I'm not sure I know how to be content- I mean, what does 'being content' really mean?

I used to think being content meant being happy, All. The. Time. Unicorn farts, rainbows, and all that cotton candy-type fluff. The good life I'd wanted, filled with no strife nor stress because all of my needs were met, and everything was running smoothly. 

Hah! We all know how that turns out in our own lives, don't we? 

My friends would tell me the verse in Philippians 4:13- 'I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.' That's a nice sentiment. It's taught over many pulpits and put onto a myriad of mugs, T-shirts, and plaques. But what does that have to do with contentment, I wondered? 

So I decided to look it up. I wasn't familiar with the previous verses that put everything in context. So here's the gist of contentment, according to Paul...

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Interesting.

Paul's needs weren't met all of the time. In fact, his needs were not met a lot- and he was in trouble most of the time! So what was he doing that I needed to do? I thought Christians are automatically supposed to be content with life!

But read verse eleven. He learned to be content. He wasn't given a free pass into the life of satisfaction; he had to learn, step-by-step. He felt the same whether he was living a rich life or not- 'No matter the circumstances.' He was satisfied that God would provide for him when he needed it, no matter what 'it' was.

So contentment isn't the same as a provision. It's the feeling that God's got your back and will give you what you need when you need it- not necessarily when you think you need it.

Big difference. 

Being content is not where you are, what you have, or what you're doing. It's trusting who you're with. So if you're with God, He will give you what you need when you're ready for it. You don't need to worry about all that other stuff!

And if you're doing what He wants you to do, He will also give you what you need to endure the trials and enjoy the blessings in between. 

Energy. 
Time. 
Provision. 
Strength.

Wow. Contentment is pretty powerful. 

We live in a world that teaches- no, revels in discontent. The world rolls in discontent like a pig in slop. The more discontent we are, the funnier we are, the more attention we get, the more clicks/likes/whatevers we collect on social media. 
Image by Chetan Dhongade from Pixabay 

And when we do feel that contentment? Someone comes along and plants thorns in our heads about how rotten life is, and we shouldn't be content at all. Discontented is how the world wants everyone to be! No wonder we have such a hard time remaining content- it's a rare gift that is only seen in those that have practiced it for a long, long time. 

Look at people who are contented (and I'm sure you know at least one person that's like this.) They aren't blasting their contentment from the rooftops. They are the ones working quietly, maybe with a smile of satisfaction on their face, exuding a peace about them that can be felt even in the worst of the chaos surrounding them. How do they do it?

'Be still and know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10)
They trust God with everything. God never said it would be easy. Just take a look at Paul's life. It took a lot for him to get to that level of contentment. But he did it one step at a time. 

So can we!

Being shaken from my contented treehouse happens more often than I'd like. I need a lot more practice. I'm glad God is a patient Dude willing to wait for me to learn all this. I'm like a toddler, taking one step at a time. But He's always there to catch me when I stumble!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

When God Speaks

Almost every story in the Bible talks about how God spoke to them, and for the most part, they listened.

For the most part. 

God talks to us each day. Sometimes we can hear Him, and sometimes we are deaf as a stump. 

On occasion, He can be heard quite clearly. I had that happen a few years ago (if you read my other blog posts) when God told me to write all of the books. My reaction was less than stellar- and I'd heard the Big Dude Himself.

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay 

I partially wrote some of the books. Partially. Some. I might have finished a story or two since He told me what to do. But it took me years of on-and-off obedience before I finally decided to truly listen.

At least I thought I was listening.

I tried to make time to write, but I kept getting distracted. It's so easy in this digital world we dive into each day. But in the end, I kept berating myself because I, once again, was caught up in the digital world, wasting the time God gave me.

This past week I'd had an inkling. A feeling. A persistent need to make changes. But this wasn't the same voice I'd heard out loud years ago. This was inside. The little voice everyone thinks is their conscience. It's really the Holy Spirit. 

It wanted me to give up something I loved. I was lead to give it up. I was urged to give it up. The Spirit wanted me to give up my phone games. However, I'm a game addict. I'd limited myself to a few games, but they still stole a lot of my attention, money, and time. That persistent little voice came when I wasn't ready to give them up. But I did. Well, I almost did.

I deleted all but one.

I was actually willing to give it up, but I hesitated. I was a long-term player, I was in a group, I'd made friends (Christian ones!) and I'd gotten to a significant level that I was a great benefit to my group. They needed me. 

But did they? Or did I need them more? Did I need them more than God's blessings?

Ouch.

At first I decided to make myself dormant for gameplay. I wouldn't delete the game app, but I would just stop playing. That should be enough, right? Even I knew that wasn't the answer. I'd been playing this game twice a day for almost two years! I felt the Spirit nudge me again. I had to delete it.

The Holy Spirit wafted over me and I felt myself separate from my addiction. I didn't need these games to be happy. I'd be happier without them- especially this one. So I told my gaming buddies I would be leaving, and gave myself one last day for others to get on so I could say my gaming goodbyes. 

I went out in a blaze of glory, fighting one last big battle, using all of my saved up items (read: hoarded items) to beat the bad guy and said my farewells to the other players. (I talk to a few of them on a different chat platform- we'll keep in touch and maybe even meet in real life.) And after everything was said and done...

I deleted the game.

It took three days from the initial urge until I'd finally obeyed everything the Spirit indicated. My obedience was delayed, but I still listened. I want to be able to listen better (and faster) in the future.

Two hours after I deleted the game, my husband called. We were immensely, unexpectedly blessed. I felt like my obedience was possibly the last pebble that needed to be removed to release the flood of blessings!

I still wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed stubborn and didn't delete that last game. Scary.

There are still struggles and distractions to contend with. This laptop (the new one this time!) still needs files transferred, programs installed, and tweaks here and there. I won't be bored! I still have files that need to be sorted, but the writing ones are ready and waiting for me to work on them.

And when I woke up this morning? I didn't miss the game. In fact, I was looking forward to using the 'extra' time to write this blog post!

God is good. The Spirit is good. Jesus is good. I'm part of the best team ever!

And I'm really glad I listened.

Monday, January 4, 2021

A New Lap- and Laptop!

Lots of new things this year!

I've been intermittent fasting for nearly four months and have lost 25 pounds. I can now fit into leggings I had hoped to fit into when I initially bought them, but it was like trying to stick a bowling ball in a marble bag. My thighs and rear lost some serious inches, and now my leggings fit like a glove! My belly shrank too, so I can now see my lap- I thought I'd never see it again!

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband and kids gifted me with something completely unexpected- a new laptop!

The laptop I have now (and that I'm currently typing on) is quite old (maybe 5-8 years?) and the memory is warning me it's full. Not with my writing per see, but with things that go along with my writing, including pictures and artwork I'm doing for my blogs and books.

Another friend gifted me her old digital art tablet, but I haven't been able to download any art programs to use it; my laptop takes forever to boot up. I don't want to risk losing data just so I can practice doodling!

So much to do, so little time. Ah, the things I want to do with this new laptop are going to be epic, if I can stay focused!

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay 

The only resolution I'll make for the New Year is to try and stay focused. I need to write and want to learn computer art for both my books and my hobbies, which now includes cookie decorating. I've been talking about starting a business forever, but to be honest, we really need to concentrate on paying off debt and saving funds for a startup first. A business plan can be made as we pay things off.

In the meantime, I'll be working, learning, and creating!

I don't know what surprises this year will hold, but I know with God watching over me, it's going to be stellar!

May your New Year be filled with prospects, progress, and prosperity!


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Ooh- Shiny! - 'Tis Not the Season for Distractions!

I've learned a lot this month. I learned how to fancy-frost cookies. I learned the processes to run a bakery-cafe. I even learned the steps needed to move in that direction. But the most important lesson I learned was to discern distractions from God's will.

My husband introduced me to a book and video series called X: Multiply Your God-Given Potential. We'd only gotten through half the book and a handful of videos when things finally clicked; what I thought was God taking us in another direction was really a shiny distraction from God's true wishes- which He'd made known to us years ago.

I am to write books. All of them. Use my gifts to support my husband.

He is to work in building Men's Ministries and being a Godly influence to those around him in the workplace.

My husband is meant to be where he is in his job because that's where God wants him to be in this season. I don't mean the Christmas season, but this season in our lives.

All these plans for a cafe bakery, all the cookie frosting lessons, and business model studies were distracting us from what God wanted. I was too focused on the shiny stuff and not putting my full efforts into what God clearly told me to do- which had nothing to do with a cafe bakery.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Part of it was simply misunderstanding what He wanted. Part of it was me being lazy by ignoring what He wanted. Part of it- a big part- was rebellion. 

I wanted more than what God planned because my gifts had nothing to do with my husbands' ministry. Support my husband? The only way I could fathom 'support' was to go into business using my gifts, making enough so he could quit and start his ministry work full-time. 

I'm not gonna lie- that was my focus for years.

Then...this video talked about using our gifts to help spread God's word. Would I better serve God through a cafe bakery or writing and supporting my husband? 

We both know the answer.

I work part-time to help pay down debt. Helping him at home right now is the best way to spend my time when the workday is done. And since I don't start until the early afternoon, that leaves even more time to do what God told me to do all those years ago.

Maybe one day we'll have that cafe bakery. Maybe it'll never happen. We both have come to the realization that God has us where we are for a reason. Actually, my husband accepted this from the beginning- I was the one that had issues with it! But now I see things a bit differently, and I hope the shiny stuff can be avoided in the future. 

In this season, all those cookie decorating and bread baking gifts I have can bless my friends and family. The other talents like quilting and paper crafting can be done for pure pleasure and not profit. Who knows but God what will happen in the future?

It's been a while since I set pen to paper (or fingers to keys?); God's been there the entire time waiting for me to get back to work. I'm so glad He's patient with me!


Monday, November 23, 2020

Tough Cookies!

Oh, what a crazy few weeks I've had!

I've been taking classes for fancy cookie decorating (like I need another creative outlet in my life...sheesh). I've always loved making cookies, but cutouts were a pain- I'd always mess up the cookies by mangling them with the spatula- they were so hard to pick up, no less decorate! So I took this class, hoping to learn a few things and maybe spend a little creative time with my daughter when she came home from college for the holidays.

After finishing the online course, I was talking with my husband about some of my cookie ideas when running our errands one morning (he is encouraging me because this particular skill ties into his interests as a chef and baker), and one of the stops was a Jewish bakery we love. 

We are friendly with the baker, and when I showed him some of the cookie class pictures from other students, he was so impressed, he said if I could show him my work and he liked it, I could have a job as a decorator for his bakery. He needed a decorator, but would rather offer the job to someone he knew and could get along with. He didn't want fancy-schmancy stuff, just simple and pretty- right up my alley.

Then my husband showed him a couple of cakes I'd made through the years for the kids' birthdays, and he added simple cake decorating to the job as well. He wanted to see some cookie work as soon as possible. I didn't even know my husband had those cake pictures on his phone!

It didn't take long for my husband to make a small investment to fill in the gaps for the cookie baking equipment for the class- especially these things called silpats- small sheets of silicone that would help me not mangle my cutout cookie dough without using any additional flour!

Just a few short days later, I had everything I'd needed for making and decorating cookies. The class recipe for the cookies was awesome! It rolled out beautifully on the silpats, and came right off with no mangling; the cookies baked so nice with straight edges, and the frosting (for the most part) did what it was supposed to do. It took a lot longer for me to frost the entire batch (because I was making each one different and used way too many colors), but in the end, not bad for a first try. Here are some my first batch!


My personal fave was the 'Snow' in the bottom right corner. My first try of that was the the one in the top row. Most weren't finished, but I took a picture anyway because I was seeing the baker the next day. I was so excited!

I went into the bakery and the staff surrounded me to see what I did. Each had their favorites, and the baker liked the snowflake the best. He knew I would improve with practice, so he said he would let me know in a few days because he had to confirm things with his financial advisor (they'd just renovated, and the mayor was threatening another Covid shutdown by the weeks end.)

I was elated, and after the baker ate his favorite cookie (and the staff had theirs), I left with a lighter box and a lot of hope- and ideas for icing more cookies.

Then the bottom dropped out. The mayor made good his threat to shut down food businesses and restrict limits on the ones that were open. Thanksgiving plans were to be cancelled and travel limited. The bakers' Thanksgiving orders were five percent of what they were last year, since most people decided to stay home, and the prospect of starting a new venue in decorated cookies didn't bode well for business. 

So for now, the job is on hold until further notice. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop baking and decorating. In fact, this Christmas I can practice cut cookies with my daughter and her friends! They can take some home, and we can eat the evidence if some frosted ones aren't up to snuff. I'll make sure some of them get 'accidentally' smeared. Heh.

I still don't know why God gave me yet another creative outlet, since the job offer fizzled. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to turn this into a business, help my husband, or become an expert before the job is offered again. All I know is practice is going to be fun. And edible.

We picked up our daughter from the airport over the weekend, and went straight into Lancaster to pick up some much needed cookie supplies for our regular Christmas cookie baking. I found some mini candies, sugars, and jimmies that would look great on iced cookies, including some nonpareils that will put a little twinkle in the eyes of my cookie-characters.

I also created a binder filled with small sketch papers, markers, pens and a spiral book that will be my very own Creative Cookie Book- one I can record any time I create a new cookie design, and reference when I can't remember all of the details. So until that job (or some other cookie-related blessing) come along, I'll be sketching, writing, baking, and frosting!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Sparrow Blessings

Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay 

If God watches over the sparrows, He watches over us...right?

So why, when asked about how God blessed me, I feel I can only tell others the big blessings, because the little ones are just too insignificant to be recognized? Why forget or ignore the hundreds of little sparrow blessings God has done for me every day?

The big blessings are so awesome a story to tell. It's mind-boggling the things God has done in my life in just the past few years, no less my lifetime. But those little blessings are what gets me through the day, and many times I forget to thank God for those too.

Sometimes they seem silly, sometimes sweet- thanks for that ice-cold raindrop in my armpit when I was overheated and ranting in the car- I stopped ranting and laughed! Thanks for waking me with a kitty pounce so I wouldn't be late for work. Thanks for cat snuggles just when I was feeling unloved. Thanks for the unexpected tip from a normally stingy customer. Thanks for a bright, sunny day when I needed a spiritual lift. A breeze at the right moment. The sink unclogged itself. The first taste of a freshly brewed iced tea. The smell of mown grass or just-baked bread. Moments of peace within the chaos.

I can close my eyes and smile at every one of those things and be thankful because God was a part of it all.

Don't forget to count your many sparrow blessings. They keep us sane through the mess that is our lives. They help us cope, smile, and sometimes laugh, but always lighten our spirit. 

Thank You, God, for our little sparrow blessings!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Hope Uprising

It wasn't long ago that I gave up on everything. 

I gave up on being a wife and mom- cooking, cleaning, etc.- the family complained about what I cooked and just made the house messy again. My advice was no longer needed or wanted since the kids were grown now. Everything I knew was...useless.

I gave up dieting. Past attempts didn't work, and I was tired of gaining more weight after each try. I stopped writing humor because it seemed there wasn't anything left to laugh about without offending someone. I stopped watching online church services since it was just someone on a screen- I was being talked at, not talked to

I hadn't just given up on those around me, but I gave up on myself as well. Each day was filled with thoughts of just do what you have to do to get by, bite down on the pain, and escape life through sleep. 

I slept a lot.

But God had other plans. 

No matter how deep the rut is, how vast the chasm, how high the climb, God is always there for me, whispering in my ear (and yours!), giving me hope when I least expect it. 

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay 

It started with a surprise trip to Cape Cod after driving our daughter from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire. I was overjoyed- it was the first time since our honeymoon twenty-three years ago that we were going on a bonafide vacation; no cooking, cleaning, or campfire building for the entire week! 

But I started feeling anxious because my husband was talking about doing a lot of walking- something that I just wasn't able to do. The more he talked, the guiltier I felt- and there was no time to 'get into shape' to walk long distances either.

We enjoyed going to the beaches (I encouraged him to explore on his own while I waited by the exit and people-watched), read books, ate fantastic restaurant food, and had good conversations. He was still enjoying himself despite my hindrances, working around them so we could both have fun. God gave me an awesome man for a husband!

I was still feeling guilty for not being more mobile. I wanted to walk on the beaches too! One time he decided to 'go for a short walk' before dinner, and next thing you know, he called me to come to pick him up, otherwise, we'd be late for dinner- he wasn't far, he said. Just three miles down the road.

Three miles. A short walk, my fanny! 

I wanted to be so much more active for him. He deserved a wife that was better than the current model. My engine revved great, but the body was dented and the tires were overinflated. No MPG on this baby!

That night, I decided to put on the hotel TV. I flicked through the channels and found Shark Tank. We watched an episode before I decided to channel surf. 

And that was when God whispered in my ear. What will motivate you to change?

Well, I wanted to be an entrepreneur (hence Shark Tank), but I wasn't certain I was cut out for it. Then the remote clicked on a show that hit me like a ton of cookies. My 600 Pound Life.

Wow. Both of us were shocked at some of the attitudes and occurrences we saw on the show. Some of them were not so surprising (but worrisome), and some attitudes were so downright familiar they were scary. 

I'm going to backtrack a little here. Several years ago I was a borderline hoarder. I could never figure a way out of hoarding until I watched the show Hoarders. It shocked me into making major life changes. I've now gotten control of my hoarding tendencies, and decluttering is a regular part of my life. I don't even have a junk drawer!

And now I had to shock myself again but in a very different arena.

It only took a few episodes of My 600 Pound Life to realize I was headed that way, big time (excuse the pun.) Their excuses were my excuses, their diet fails were my diet fails, and though these people opted for surgery, I didn't want to go that route. Extreme dieting wasn't the answer either- not for long term weight loss. Been there, done that, never will do it again. 

So how was I going to get where I wanted to be, and walk on the beaches with my husband? What was I going to do to consider a three-mile walk a 'short' walk?

I knew better than to run to the next new diet fad. 'Lose 85 pounds in a day' was just not a good thing, no matter how you looked at it. So I did a little research, bought a book called Fast, Feast, Repeat, and chose to start an eating lifestyle that was easier to stick to, and at a slow enough pace I wasn't crashing and burning like the Hindenburg.

All because God whispered at the right time. He gave me hope that I can change for the better.

My lifestyle eating journey starts in a separate blog, here.

Less weight, more energy. More energy, better life. Less time in bed, more time living.

And finally doing what God wants me to do. 

I'm not going to lie- I'm still struggling. Those feelings of being incapable are still very prominent. It's hard to be hopeful when you have doubts about yourself and lack the hugs you need from friends and family during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hope is hard to hold, but not impossible. Because God is still there, whispering. Hope rises from the ashes and lives another day. And another. And another. I'm so grateful for His whispers. I hope you hear His whispers too. Just take a deep breath and listen. His hope will come!