Catching Up

mary poppins inspired
This is a Mary Poppins-inspired page I did for Second Corinthians to remind me that, as believers, we have a mission and purpose in this world — and God will equip us to accomplish it!

Hello again, dear reader! Thank you for spending a few minutes with me online. I just realized that my last blog post said, “Christmas is not over!” Well, it is January 28. Might be time to update my blog, haha. I kicked off my New Year by starting the Daughter of Promise Bible Journaling Challenge with Amanda from Move the Mountains. It has been excellent. Even though I am a few days behind, I am catching up. I listen to her videos while I am driving to work, and they’re a pep talk for my day as a school teacher. Later, I go back and read the accompanying scripture and then do the Bible Journaling prompt. This is my first month-long challenge, and I figured the New Year would be a good time to start it. The focus of the challenge was using hand-lettering and claiming the promises that Christ has made to us as his loved daughters in faith. Amanda is not inviting new people into the challenge, but I plan to show you a lot of what I did this month in an upcoming post. Lots of other people have shared their work on Facebook and Instagram using hashtags that you can find on Amanda’s site. I was so moved by what she was providing for free that I decided to go buck wild on her site and spend about $60, which is a lot by this frugal gal’s standards — but I wanted to bless her, and the supplies she sells are pretty awesome. I got Stubby highlighter pencils that I am excited to use, and I also bought a few pens to use for another hand-lettering course that she offers. On a personal note, I have started singing in a praise band. For this shy gal, those are words I never thought I would string together in a sentence. It still amazes me that I am a teacher and get in front of students all day when I am very shy at my core. Yet, I felt the Holy Spirit give me that “nudge” to say I want to sing. Wow, I am smiling and shaking my head. It makes me happy. I have come to realize that God is not going to let me use shyness or anxiousness as an excuse! Of course, how I am doing this blog itself is a bit on the shy, anonymous side — but he can use it however he wants to as well. The biggest thing I have been claiming in my life as I have walked though Amanda’s challenge this month is the reminder that the same Spirit that raised Jesus is the Spirit that lives in us as believers. We are not given a Spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. I like a little quote that was shared during the challenge too: “I do my best and let God do the rest.” I have been watching the awesome PBS series of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (yes, the one with Collin Firth!), and I keep thinking how my shyness (and creative, contemplative nature) creates some “Darcy moments” in my own life. Who thought I would be identifying with Mark Darcy as I’m watching Pride and Prejudice (lol)? Who thought I would be singing with a praise band? I’m pretty sure God has been getting me ready for this. I don’t know where it will lead and how long He’s calling me to do this, but it is pretty cool. I just have to shake off my natural inclination to be the one in the back of the room.

 

78baa27e6d5902c9eabdb35c2dd4bb87Is anyone else doing Amanda’s challenge this month? Let me know! Before I go, I want to share one more neat thing I stumbled across this month: the idea of writing a letter to yourself. You can even use a site like Future Me to deliver the email to your inbox at a future time you can pick. I am going to use this idea with my students on the 100th day of school, coming up on Friday for my school district. Until next time, do your best and let God do the rest!

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Christmas is not over!

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If you are feeling the after-Christmas let-down, it’s okay to keep singing the carols, looking at the lights, and watching the Hallmark movies (haha). According to the liturgical calendar that is used in many Christian churches, Christmas is really celebrated until epiphany on January 6. That’s the day that commemorates the wise men visiting Jesus. Even though I never grew up with the liturgical calendar myself (I have always gone to independent churches), I have enjoyed observing the holiday season that way this year.

I ordered my family a rustic candle holder from Germany on Etsy. When I say rustic, I mean rustic. It is wobbly, and someone could get a splinter from the bottom. I thought about sending it back because the workmanship was, ahem, poor. Then I decided to just put some candles in it and use it for Advent anyway. That wonky candle holder really grew on me as my family gathered around it each evening to light candles, read a small Bible passage, and say a prayer every evening of Advent, from December 2 to 24 this year. I used all white candles instead of the three purple and one pink that are more traditional. As Christmas approached, the candle holder started looking pretty to me. Then I realized: Jesus himself was placed in a manger when he was born. That was not fancy either, but it was just right in the grand design of things.

When it was getting close to bed time, we would have my son open a window on our German-style Advent calendar. I like to incorporate some German traditions into our celebrations since I have some German heritage. Then we would gather around the little wonky candle holder. My son would repeat back parts of the short prayer, and then he would do his favorite part: blow out the candles! Since he’s only five, observing Advent this way really helped my son understand when Christmas was going to arrive and what we would be celebrating. Honestly, it was something I looked forward to every evening myself. It made the season feel special, and it was a peaceful way to end each day.

Advent cardsWe are going to continue lighting the candles and saying a prayer until January 6. This a link to where we got our prayers and readings (the cards are sold out this year, but I would guess it will be available again next year). If you have never heard of this tradition of observing Advent and then celebrating Christmas for an extended time, it’s really not too late to get into it. We are going to celebrate Christmas for 12 days. We will sing carols, light the candles, say special prayers as a family, and really appreciate the decorations and the spirit of the season. I am still thinking about how I will commemorate this in my Journaling Bible. I definitely will do some kind of Bible Journaling about it because this really has been special for us.

Exploring the Christmas story this year, Elizabeth stood out to me in particular. She waited so long for something, prayed for it often, and then gave up — and that’s when God said it was not too late. His timing was different and unexpected, but the timing was right for John the Baptist (cousin of Jesus) to be born of Elizabeth. John prepared the way for Jesus. If you’ve never thought much about Elizabeth, check out this sermon about her. It is an excellent sermon!

On a lighter note (and going back to the Hallmark movies, lol) my favorite television Christmas movie was not even from Hallmark. It was from Lifetime. It was called A Very Nutty Christmas; it was hilarious and heart-warming. A nutcracker comes to life in time to help a bakery owner (Melissa Joan Hart) get into the holiday spirit. Check it out if you get a chance. My close second favorite television Christmas movie was A Shoe Addict’s Christmas. As with any Hallmark movie, the cheese factor was pretty high, but I love it.

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This is a new decoration I added to my house this year. I can take the red ribbon off and use it year-round!

Merry Christmas, and God bless you!

The Cornerstone and Advent

Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Mark 12:10-11

As the Advent season starts tomorrow, I remember that the way Jesus came into this world was unexpected -- a little baby. The Bible Journaling technique I did on this page, making stones out of washi tape, was meant to reflect that unexpected quality too. Christ compared himself to a cornerstone -- the most crucial part of the building -- and said he was the one that the builders themselves rejected. He was not what they wanted or expected him to be, but he was God's son.

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Jesus was not who the religious community anticipated or appreciated. He reminded the people of this scripture about the cornerstone right after he told a parable about the rejection of a vineyard owner’s son. In the parable, it is pretty clear that the vineyard owner represents God, and the vineyard owner’s son is representing Jesus himself. Sometimes it helps to remember that Christ triumphed over rejection. It also helps to remember that Christ himself experienced it.

It is hard to feel like you don’t quite belong in the place where you should feel like you belong. 

Yet — Jesus did not fit in.

Jesus, as his personality on this earth unfolded, is a person who intrigues me. He was able to give so much of himself. He could speak to crowds, heal people, and see into their deepest needs. Of course, it helped that he was — and is — God’s son. Yet, even Christ had to go be alone after his work. He had to get quiet and pray. He had to get away from the chaos. There is definitely a pattern of Christ going away from the crowd to be alone.

Our cornerstone did not fit the social mold then or now.

Yet, he is able to meet us, whether we fit it or not.

God doesn’t give up on me, and he doesn’t give up on people who drive me nuts either (This is an honest confession about myself; I struggle with being patient with people. I am becoming well-aware of my weakness! I care deeply about others, and yet I struggle more often than I want to admit).

In my own thinking, I need to keep that spirit of anticipation in the Advent season. Jesus showed up in an unexpected way then, and I won’t rule it out now either. Maybe it’s time for something new. This verse is a reminder not to get too set in our ways.

 

By the way, if you have never observed Advent in a day-by-day manner, I would encourage you to do so. Look into the tradition of lighting a candle on an Advent wreath, reading a daily verse, or keeping an Advent calendar. It makes the experience of Christmas so much richer. My family has a few reasons to not be in the Christmas spirit right now, but we are going to observe Advent anyway — and I know it’s going to be good! Plus, when you observe this way, I think the commercialized noise of the holidays is quieted and put into perspective.

Bible Journaling Challenge #11

Do something unexpected in your Bible Journal. Also, look into ways people celebrate Advent day-by-day in anticipation of Christmas. My family lights candles on an Advent candle stand, opens windows on an Advent calendar, and reads Bible verses together each evening. It’s something you might want to incorporate into your own traditions.

The Kingdom and Wisdom

This weekend I had the fun experience of going to Medieval Times with my husband and son. It’s a restaurant where everyone sits around an arena for an evening of knights and their horses showing off skills while everyone eats with their hands (because, of course, that’s how people ate in the Medieval days — wink, wink). The king would announce everything in a booming, upbeat British accent, and we thought it was hilarious to talk to each other that way the rest of the evening. We spoke words such as these with flourish and grandeur:

“Dearest HUSBAND, I believe I am out of PEPSI.”

“Dearest HUSBAND, our waiter still has not BROUGHT my PEPSI.” (It was just fun to say.)

“Are we the ONLY ONES HERE who are not CELEBRATING a BIRTHDAY?”

“Dearest son, your FLASHING SWORD is BLINDING MOMMY when you put it that CLOSE to my FACE.”

My husband went all out and bought both of us huge flags to wave, along with the flashing sword for my son that I already mentioned. We waved our flags with a great flourish, purposefully waving them in each other’s space from time to time. Our knight, the red and yellow knight, never won a single event. My son kept asking if he could root for the blue knight instead. Ah, it was a great, silly time.

I am thankful for our silly times together. Yet, there are also times to be serious, in life and as a family. From a young age, Sunday School lessons about King Solomon’s request for wisdom caught my attention. I remember praying, “God, wisdom is what I want too.”

Yes, I tend to be a serious person, even though I do get pretty goofy sometimes (as evidenced at Medieval Times). As a teacher, I try to impart knowledge to my students regularly — but wisdom goes deeper than that.

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Proverbs 3:13-18 (ESV)

Blessed Is the One Who Finds Wisdom

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.

When I consider what wisdom really is, a lot of it has to do with how we think about life. It’s not living for today. It’s remembering that we are meant for a true kingdom, and as Christians, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the true king, the Prince of Peace.

Bible Journaling is one of the ways that I take time to put my focus on the bigger picture; it is a time of reading the word, prayer, and listening. God values wisdom (He is wisdom), and he honors those who seek it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

As Christians, we are different. We base our lives in the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We think differently, and that is a good thing.

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Bible Journaling Challenge #10

Have you ever had a certain person’s story from the Bible really stick with you the way that Solomon’s request for wisdom stuck with me when I was young? No, Solomon was not perfect, but his request for wisdom was honored by God. As you consider a person from the Bible who has inspired you, what was it about the person’s story that was meaningful for you? Maybe it was David, Esther, Moses, or Timothy. Create a Bible Journaling page based on the wisdom you have gained from that person’s life.

Hope is the thing . . .

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I have loved Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” ever since I read it a couple years ago while I was working on my master’s degree in education.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope keeps us going in the hardest of times. This poem describes hope as something that gives us what we need to go on, and it is just there, just with us. Do you ever feel like the bird in the storm, and you reach deep inside and find hope, the “thing with feathers,” is still there? In her personal life, Emily Dickinson struggled when it came to faith, but her poem speaks to me. She is one of my favorites.

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In Romans 5:3-5, Saint Paul writes about hope from a Christian perspective.

. . . but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE. And HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

When we go through hard times or feel like we are encountering one obstacle after another, it’s the Holy Spirit that can lift us up. It’s the “roar” in your spirit that says to keep going when you are walking in God’s truth.

Over the summer, I like to start each morning by reading a devotional while my son is still sleeping. As a teacher, the school year demands more than anyone (except other teachers) could ever really imagine; I am very thankful to have a job that impacts so many lives, but it does mean I must fill my own tank so that I can meet the needs of those who are in my classroom. Every summer that I have chosen to start my morning with a devotional, I have not been disappointed. This summer, I decided to read a chapter from I Am: A 60-Day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is by Michele Cushatt each morning. I highly recommend it. Another good one that I read one summer was None Like Him: Ten Ways God is Different from Us (and why that’s a good thing) by Jen Wilkin. I highly recommend that one as well. For Christians, spending time in the word opens us up for communication from the Holy Spirit, and it is absolutely necessary in this world of obstacles.

This morning, my devotional included the following thought about the Latin meanings behind the word inspire.

To inspire . . . has of course the stem spir in it. It is, very literally, to give or put spirit into someone. To inspire someone is way more than making them happy or amazed or even making them feel good. It is to lend them spirit when they are short. And of course because of the incorporeal nature of both air and spirit, the act of inhaling also became known as inspiration. In that sense too: it is like mechanical ventilation for a soul that’s lost its resolve for a moment.

The devotional points to how the Holy Spirit inspires us. Titus 3:4-6 says:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously.

For Christians, the “thing” that communicates what we need, that stirs the hope in our souls, is the Holy Spirit. When we ask Christ into our lives, truly believe in him for the forgiveness of sins, and seek to follow Him — when we become Christ-followers — we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are not promised an easy life, but we can see how perseverance builds character. It gives hope a chance to break through.

If we are truly in God’s word, not everything that we read will be sunshine, moonbeams, and easy-breezy. It challenges us. Some of the truths are hard. I experienced that this summer as I read through the book of Romans. Sometimes we need to persevere even in reading the word. Even the truths we struggle through are ultimately good ones. There are days when reading God’s word might not make you feel good, but keep going. Pray about it. In with the hard truths, God is shaping something beautiful that is for our good.

Go forward in hope today!

Teresa

Bible Journaling Challenge: Find a verse about hope or the Holy Spirit that speaks to you, and create a page about it in your Journaling Bible. You could just write out the verse, or you could illustrate it with something meaningful to you. If you are not sure what verse to use, Romans 5:3-5 is a good one.

 

 

Grand Canyon + Journaling Bible = An Epic Bible Journaling Journey

restoreWhat do you get when you open your Journaling Bible to reflect on a bucket list experience? It’s an epic Bible Journaling Journey! For me, that experience was my family’s trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona this summer. A couple spots at the Grand Canyon had short verses, mainly from Psalm, posted at them, so in honor of that, I decided to use a passage from Psalm for my Bible journaling page. I thought of how the trip felt like a restorative time of admiring God’s creation.

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23:3

The expanse of rock has etched itself unforgettably into my memories. The canyon seems to go on and on in a way that the mind almost cannot make sense of at first. As I stood and gazed from many view points, including Hermit’s Rest, Desert View, and the area near the Bright Angel Lodge, I had to remind myself that what I was seeing was real. I heard others around me say it too: I have to keep telling myself this is not a scene from a movie or a picture of Mars. It is real, and my mind cannot completely wrap itself around it.

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Do I mind feeling small? Not really. I know I am small in the *grand* scheme of life. Yet, I have a God who created something so wild and beautiful that it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. Do I know exactly how He did it? Nope. I am okay with that (even though it sounds like Grand Canyon Ministries has some theories if I decide to seek that out). Just experiencing the beauty was plenty to fill my heart and mind for now.

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As you view the canyon from different spots, it takes on whole new looks and shows different parts of its personality. For me, Desert View in the early morning was my very, very favorite. We woke up at 4 a.m. to get there really early before the crowds, way before the Desert View tower opens to visitors. Seeing it in the quiet of morning was so spectacular. For me, personally, the views that included the river were always my favorite because they looked more refreshing.

Hermits Rest View

My second favorite spot was Hermit’s Rest because we made it there on our very first day at the canyon in the extreme heat of the day — and it really felt like a restful spot. My son took a nap on my husband in front of the giant fireplace that Mary Colter (an architect who left a beautiful mark on the south rim with a few structures that seem to pair really well with the particular view where she placed them) designed while I walked away from the crowds to see some beautiful views. Yes, you might be noticing, I am not a huge “crowds” person (lol). Introvert alert. The nice thing is that the canyon is so big, and if you time it right, you don’t really have to be overwhelmed by crowds. I never felt like it was really crowded, even at the peak times, but it just took longer to wait for the free buses to have room for riders.

My words and the pictures cannot do the Grand Canyon justice. Pictures cannot really capture it.

It’s not the perfect place. It is really, really hot this time of year. Even the bugs don’t want to live there because it’s so hot (seriously, don’t bother packing bug spray this time of year). We literally saw dead prickly pear cacti. It was so dry that even some of the cacti were dying! For me, it felt like a place of extremes — extreme heat, extreme beauty, extreme heights, extremely harsh in some aspects. I am used to living in a place where it rains a lot, so it was just different for me in that way. The dry heat dried out my nose, throat, and skin to the point that I wished I had a good saline spray and body lotion with me; it also gave my son nose bleeds by the end of the week. Yet, less-than-ideal aspects still felt small in relation to what we were getting to experience.

We saw lots of elk — their stature is regal compared to the deer I am used to seeing — and also jack rabbits with tall ears, squirrels that looked a little different from the ones at home, and one long horned sheep that was on the move. Besides the canyon itself, a highlight of the trip for us was seeing lots of pueblo ruins from the 1100s. In America, our opportunities to see historic sites rarely go back that far. It gave me chills to walk along the different ruins and think about how this was someone’s home long ago. We went to the Wupatki and Wukoki pueblos, along with the Tusayan ruins close to the canyon, and the dwellings of Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff. These structures are still recent compared to the history and people we read of in the Bible.

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Sometimes I like to think about how many other people throughout history have walked the same paths that I am walking; in the Bible we can think about the spiritual paths people have taken, how they are similar or different from our own. It creates a sense of connection.

Bible Journaling Challenge: Think of a place or time that you felt restored. The New International Version of the verse says “refreshes.” Looking at Psalm 23, create a journaling page based on a memory of being restored or refreshed. Especially in the heat of summer or in a “desert season” in your life, the moments of refreshment are encouraging.

 

 

 

Spiritual Memory Keeping

 

When I was a girl, my Grandma Eckstine would often give me a palm leaf in the shape of a cross from her church on Palm Sunday. Grandma Eckstine is the person who comes to mind first when I think of spiritual heritage. She lived her life with great faith and passed that faith on to a very long line of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. As Palm Sunday approached this year, my mind kept going back to that cross-shaped palm leaf grandma would give me as a girl.

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Nowadays, my family goes to a non-denominational church that celebrates the major Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas, but many events on the traditional church calendar are not directly celebrated. In other words, we will have a big Easter or Christmas service, but many people in the congregation have probably ever heard of Maundy Thursday. I had not heard of many of the church holidays myself until I was reading A Homemade Year by Jerusalem Jackson Greer about a year ago. My grandma, on the other hand, faithfully attended a Lutheran church where Palm Sunday was a regularly observed part of the church year.

 

Anyway, back to the palm leaf. It was really on my mind this year. I knew my family would be travelling to take my son on a special Easter Bunny train ride. As our family took off on our road trip toward the bunny train, I prayed that God would bring us to a church where we could celebrate Palm Sunday in a more traditional way this year. Deep down, I really wanted my son hold a palm leaf in his little hands. The further we drove down the road, the more that it seemed like our timing was not going to be right in order to go to a service anywhere and still make it to the train in time.

I did some Googling and praying as we went down the road, and our family parked outside a United Methodist church in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, with literally no time to spare. We walked in and sat in the back row. I hoped my son would be quiet in this traditional service. As the service unfolded, sure enough, my son walked back to our pew with a palm leaf that I later folded into the shape of a cross. The entire service was beautiful. It really got our family into the mindset of the Easter season. Walking out of the church where we didn’t know a single soul, I smiled and silently thanked God for bringing us to such a lovely, meaningful service.

To commemorate that memory, along with the memory of my grandma giving me palm leaf crosses as a girl, I created a page in my Journaling Bible. Everything is attached with clear tape and washi tape so that it can be folded up and away from the words on the page. I can still read every word underneath. Plus, now I will have a page to remind me of Palm Sunday 2018. After creating this page, I am already thinking about other spiritual memories that I would like to commemorate in my Journaling Bible as well. When it comes to spiritual memories, I think it is important to write things down and memory-keep because we really do tend to forget.

A Bible Passage About Remembering . . . 

Joshua 4:4-7 4So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

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Bible Journaling Challenge: Do you have a spiritual memory that you could commemorate in your Journaling Bible? For my memory-keeping page, I included the dried palm leaf that I folded into a cross and parts of that day’s church bulletin that I cut out and painted with simple watercolors.

Have a wonderful week! 🙂