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Growing up, my little brothers loved Winnie the Pooh. I spent lots of time reading Winnie the Pooh books and watching the movies that accompanied. In Pooh's Most Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin prepares Winnie the Pooh for a tomorrow without him, which is hard for Winnie the Pooh to understand. Christopher tells Pooh to remember that he's braver than he believes, and stronger than he seems, and smarter than he thinks. And of course Winnie the Pooh gets it all mixed up and Christopher tells him again and assures him that even if they are apart that he is always with him. 

Jesus does the same thing for us. He tells us that we are strong in him and that he is with us until the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20) and will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) in good times or in bad. Even when we get it all mixed up with relationships and people and trials. Trials are vital in life. They show us how much braver we are than we think. How much we can really handle. They test our faith and affirm God's presence in it all.

Jesus tells Simon Peter that Satan wants to sift him like wheat.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31

Satan wants to break Peter down. He wants him to turn from following Jesus. He wants him to fall and fail and revel in guilt. Satan also asks to test Job - to see if Job will curse God (Job 1:11). God does not test us or put us through trials but they will happen. If Satan wanted to sift Peter and get Job to curse God, why would anyone be spared? The enemy came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and wants to sift us like wheat, too. This sifting comes in all forms and sizes and temperaments. It comes in the form of a bad marriage, health issues, a prodigal child, insecurity, self hatred, loneliness and anything else that is not from God.  It comes for days or months or years with more issues piling up as we go.

How long can you handle suffering? At what point do you praise God or throw in the towel?

Jesus reassured Peter that he prayed for him and that his faith would not fail. Jesus prayed for Peter assured him that once he turned back that he would be able to strengthen others. Not only does Peter endure his trail but he goes on to build up others, as well because of it. He is able to rise from what seems like a failure - denying knowing Jesus, not one but three times - to a great leader in the first church because Jesus. Jesus also prayed for us (John 17 20-23) and we are able to rise from our challenges, too.

Beneath the Waters by Hillsong is a great reminder of this. It was written about baptism but fits perfectly on the topic of rising above trials because of the power of Jesus. Have a listen.

I rise as You are risen
Declare Your rule and reign
My life confess Your Lordship
And glorify Your Name

Praying that you would see the benefits of your trials and the little blessings that are found in them. Praying that you stand firm in your trials, whether they last days or years, and that you would truly seek what the Lord is teaching you through it.

Praying that you would understand the importance of trials and the beauty that comes out of them - ever increasing trust in God, better understanding of yourself and others, and learning how to share that information with others. Praying that you would not be sifted like wheat but be like a rock, as was Peter, standing firm in the faith and leading others it to. 

Here's to sifting and rising. 

Merriam-Webster defines a gift as something that is given to another person or to a group or organization. Today gifts of all sorts are being exchanged. Sweaters and game systems. New phones and Barbies and toys of every shape and size. So much excitement and anticipation on the faces of children, young and old. There is something special about receiving a gift. A shiny, new thing you can use and hold and look at. Something that will cut down on kitchen prep time or help with work or will add a new dimension to your hobby.

Most gifts are unwrapped from pretty paper that held a bow or two but some of the very best ones are things you cannot hold in your hand or keep forever. The gift of time. Time with those you treasure so. The gift of salvation and promise of eternal life (John 3:16). The gift of forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and others for past mistakes and failures. The gift of transparency. Allowing yourself to be you, mess and all and giving God the praise for where you have come from.

Transparency is a key component in relationships of any kind. Being able to be honest about feelings and expectations and dreams is the only way for a relationship to be nurtured and have the capabilities to thrive, especially our relationship with God, who already knows it all.

The bible states how nothing is hidden. God knows everything about you (and everyone else, if that is of any comfort, Psalm 139).
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Luke 8:16-17
Everything is exposed and if it has not been yet, then it will be. Just give it time. Jesus came that we would have freedom (Isaiah 61:1). He came to set us free. Being transparent aids in our freedom - for ourselves and others. We are not made to hide our short comings or malfunctions. We are made to openly share where we have come from and because of the power of God through Jesus, we are no longer there. We were meant to shine with the light we have been given. To shine through our past situations or current trials. It teaches humility and shows others what it looks like. 

Being transparent turns your shame into God's fame. Transparency allows you to be okay with who you are - who God made you to be. It allows you to openly admit that you are not perfect and did things you would rather not have done or had things done to you that were out of your control. 

Being transparent takes some of the hardest life experiences and allows God to transform them in to more beauty than has ever been. It allows God to take out the victim aspect from rape or domestic abuse or child abuse and turn it in to his victory because through him, we can overcome. It allows God to take the shame out of the divorce or addiction or depression and allows him to give us new perspective on it all and restore us.

It enables us to being honest with others instead of shimming around for an indignant answer. It allows us to be welcomed in to the club of redemption. Redemption from disappointments and struggles and breakdowns.

Praying that you would give the gift of transparency throughout this coming year. That you would have discernment to know when to speak and what to share and what is better left unsaid. Praying that any shame you find yourself carrying that God would redeem to it to a source of victory.

Praying that you would give it at any cost because giving when something actually has a cost - a reputation or job title or relationship status - is the hardest to give. Praying that you would experience the candid warmth that is brought through transparency.

Here's to gift giving and transparency and a merry Christmas.

My most favoritest Christmas song is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It is fun how many different versions there are to choose from but there is nothing like singing alongside others live. My favorite recorded version to date is by Tenth Avenue North. Have a listen.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere

After the shepherds saw Jesus, they went to tell everyone about his birth and what they saw. The people on the low scale of society were witnesses to the birth of the savior. Following their example, we also have things to tell about Jesus, as well, as he commanded (Mark 16:15). Although we do not have to literally tell it on the mountain or hold up signs on corners or billboards -unless God directs you that way but that is another story. But we do get the privilege to live it out. To tell the good news of the life of Jesus with our actions and speech each day we are given breath. We get to proclaim the good news of Jesus and what he has done in our lives. About how he saved us from the sin that so easily entangled us and how we are victorious because of him. About how he has restored us to better than we have ever been and continues to guide our steps in hope and joy.

There is so much truth in the little saying: share the gospel, use words when necessary. Our lives speak volumes for themselves. Our actions and demeanor. How we respond to others. How situations are handled. How we interact with the barista or sales associate or co-worker or husband or friend. They are all indicators of where our heart is resting - with God or otherwise.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an answer when someone asks why we do what we do. Why we act the way we act. Why we have hope in hopeless situations. Why we have joy through financial hardships or illnesses or job loss. Why we have peace when others speak maliciously against us and try to tear us down. Be prepared because people will be able to see the difference in you, whether or not they comment on it. You are different. You are chosen. You are God's beloved. 

Praying that you would seek God for direction in your actions and conduct. Praying that God would open your eyes to what you are telling on the mountain about him with your life and that it would glorifying to him. Praying that you would think about what you post on Facebook or Instagram before you hit post. Praying that you would consider your activities and current events and how they relate to your telling of God's story in your life. Praying that the words you use would be ones of encouragement, not only to others but to yourself.

Praying that you would be bold to tell others of what God has done in your life and not be ashamed of where God took you from because someone may still be where you once were. Praying that you would follow the guidance of the holy spirit as you go about your day and enjoy your daily encounters with family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and managers and each person God places in your path. 

Here's to words to speak and actions to accompany them. Here's to telling it on the mountain. 
Giving grace to others is always easier than giving it to myself. Of course you could not come because things got busy - I totally get it. It is okay you forgot it - next time. Late again? God's timing is perfect - amen. Perhaps it is the fact that their stories are better with an epic climax about nearly solving world hunger all during lunch time. Or it's the tone in which it is explained that their child was sick again and up all night. Or the look in their eyes as they pour out their own short coming. Or perhaps they just know how to give themselves grace as God so freely gives to everyone - something that I have been learning the past few months, as I have been giving up my own expectations and leaning more on God's grace in the day to day and embracing my weaknesses.

It is knowing that when you are weak, then you are strong.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Giving yourself grace begins with failure - knowing that you are a sinner (Romans 5:8) and that you are not meant to know how to do laundry, while prepping snacks for a daily adventure, all while holding a baby and simultaneously cleaning the house and tempting to answer the text message about dinner and the email about the event tonight but also knowing that God always offers forgiveness and grace nevertheless (Psalm 103:12). It is knowing that with Jesus failure is not an option, just a work in progress.  

Failure is not about giving up or being weak; it is about making yourself available to soak up God's grace and mercy. It is a giving up of yourself to allow God to fill you. Fill you will humility and forgiveness and a deeper communion with him.

It is learning that God's grace is sufficient no matter the circumstance. No matter what you have done. Here Paul is talking about how much he learned from his ailment. God says that his grace is sufficient for you. How much more should you freely give it to yourself?

If you expect too much from yourself and lack grace, you may end up feeling like a failure. But you will learn it, if nothing else. Learn humility and balance and forgiveness - for yourself and others.

Praying that you learn how to accept grace and give to yourself if you have not and that if you have mastered it, that you would share what you have learned with those around you because half of learning is teaching. When you really understand something, you can teach it to someone else (at least that is what my math teacher always said). Praying for more dependence on God through out your day and for his strength to be enough. Praying that you would overcome through Christ, since he has already overcome the world (John 16:33),

Here's to failure and more grace. 

As I sat listening to the telling of the Christmas story during my first pregnancy, my perspective on it was forever changed. And the Christmas following the birth of my daughter changed it even more. Seeing things from a mama's point of view tends to do that.

Perspective on logistical things, like traveling on a donkey during the third trimester of pregnancy. A donkey. I had issues traveling via car. And what about potty breaks?

Sleeping on the ground while nine months pregnant. No pillows?

The smell of the animals in the stable. I could hardly stand the smell of a fridge.

Giving birth in a stable. A. Stable. With. Animals. With your first child. Not knowing what to expect.

Mary was a champ. I know this is all silly but part of Mary's life and things I cannot even envision.

Then there is the emotional side of it. Giving birth to the Savior of the world was a pretty big deal. And the responsibility of raising him was, too. The love that Mary had for Jesus was different than that of anyone else. One of a mama. A chosen mama, who was with child before she was married. The love of Mary for Jesus is unimaginable.

There is nothing like the feeling of your baby being placed on your chest after birth and the first looks. The first official meeting of the one who has been wiggling and moving and poking around for months. But meeting the Savior of the world after carrying him for months and looking in to his little eyes and touching his little hands, that I cannot fathom.

You're Here by Francesca Battistelli really conveys this aspect of Mary as a mama. Have listen.

I don't know how long I'm going to have you for

But I'll be watching when you change the world

Look at your hands, they're still so small
Someday you're going
To stretch them out and save us all

Having a child is like having a little piece of God with you. God has given you his creation as a special gift. Whether through birth or otherwise. A gift none the less. A gift to raise and teach and mold. To give laughter and life. You do not know the length of the duration or what he or she will grow up to do but you have him none the less. You get a front row view to watch as he changes the world, little by little, with whatever God has made him to do. It can be daunting to think of the outcome of decisions you have to make while raising and all the what ifs or if you mess him up. But God has grace to give and wisdom to guide. And Mary was already in charge of raising the Savior of the world, so no pressure on you. 

Praying that this Christmas season you will look at the Christmas story a little differently, as well as your children. Praying that you would see the gift in each smile and laugh and all the learning and discipline. Praying that you would see the humanity of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us, as well as his glory. Praying you would truly enjoy mamahood this Christmas with gratitude and love. 

Here's to mamahood and Mary. Here's to the birth of Jesus. 

And just in case you missed the past few Music Monday Christmas edition and looking for some Christmas tunes, here they are:

I am not a morning person and I  have yet to see a sunrise completely. One occasion I woke up with intent to see it. I googled what time it would rise and left accordingly. I went out in the brisk morning to a place I thought for sure it would make an appearance. I waited. I had some time still. And I waited. As the time came and went I still had yet to see the sun rise from behind the peaks I assumed it was coming from. I had missed it entirely. My lack of knowledge of the sun and sense of direction became evident.

As I walked along in hopes of catching a glimpse, I asked someone. She informed me, as I had pieced together, that the sun rose behind me on the other side of the lake. I had enjoyed the beauty of the lake and surroundings as I waited but did not accomplish what I had come for. Had I asked someone prior, just maybe I could have basked in it that morning.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Enter here some direction and people. Solomon wisely states the importance of others. Perhaps you are that person. The person who knows the way to Jesus. The person who shows others the Jesus they can open the door to and dine with (Revelation 3:20. The Jesus who loves you and continues to knock despite each failure or disappointment or trial. Perhaps you are the person waiting to open up and see his glory and love and mercy.

We need people. People in our lives to guide us and point us and share and explain and pour in to us. Life is not meant to be done alone. We are missing out on the sweetness of community when we are trying to do it all alone. We are missing out on knowing Jesus deeply or possibly at all without others. Others to pray with. To cry with. To laugh with. It is here that the church is more than just walls of a building but a reflection of Jesus. It is here that lives are intertwined and God's story is written on hearts.

Praying that if you do not have a community that God will show you the people he has in your life for just that purpose. Praying that you will be able to see the truth in Jesus and be the person who picks others up when they are down and points them to him. Praying that you are able to see the blessing that comes with doing life with others, not alone.

Praying that if you are searching for truth that you would find it and open the door accordingly. Praying that you would embrace the opportunity to take some time to meet with someone God has been leading you to. That you would see the way he has so intricately weaved your lives together for his purpose and glory for such a time as this and that you would thank him for the blessing of friendship. 

Here's to friends and pointing and guiding. Here's to doing life together. 

The past week has been a little blurry. Trips to the ER and text updates and preschool volunteering and of course the care of two littles and their activities and has filled my days. It was a trying week but God has been so faithful. No matter how physically exhausted or tired, he always blesses. He blesses the conversations and keeps it going a bit more and allows rest and keeps giving peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). He constantly leaves little blessings and reassurance throughout the day. One of the verses on my phone this week was Ecclesiastes 11:5:

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

It was such a beautiful reminder and made me laugh. I never understand God's plans but I know he works for the good of those who love him and that is enough for me to know (Romans 8:28). It is one thing to say we trust him but another to get the opportunity to live it out. To see it played out as you trust him to do good. To do good in the health of loved ones. To do good in work relationships. In children's decisions. In your life. He is doing good. Can you see it?

Can you see him weaving his goodness in to your moments and hours and days? Can you see it this Christmas season? Can you see it in the humble birth and teachings of Jesus who died to save humanity? To save you. Cloverton's song, A Hallelujah Christmas, is a beautiful rendition of this. Have a listen. 

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you

Praying that your eyes will continued to be opened to see glimpses of God's mysteries in your life. Praying that whatever you are going through that you will be able to trust God. Truly trusting in His word and what he promises. They are not empty or void but full of life. Praying that you would be able to see the development of your faith as you cling to them and that you would come out with more than you knew you had.

Praying that you would focus on Jesus and all that he has done in your life as you celebrate Christmas. Praying that you would find hallelujahs throughout your day and praise God.

Here's to more hallelujahs and trusting. 

On my quest for simplicity, I stumbled upon More or Less by John Shinabarger, which I had downloaded months back as a Kindle freebie and just recently started reading it. It is straightforward. It is basic. It is like answering right there questions in class. It is constantly saying things that I know and believe, with sprinkles of inspiration that keep me going. But there is a truth that made the simple life more attainable and made me question what simplicity is. What is enough? What does it look like for me and my family. Yes, we have enough. God has blessed us graciously and we have a surplus of things. And most likely if you are reading this, you do, too but that is another story. We are rich. God has been showing me how rich we are since giving my life to Jesus.

Being rich is not about having millions in the bank and houses in other continents or states. It is about having more than you need. It is the mere fact you have options. It is deciding which pair of pants you will wear. Which food sounds good to eat for lunch. Which kind of cream you like in your coffee. Which decor you want displayed in your home.

When food, clothing and shelter needs are not met, options are not important or typically offered.
Simplicity is asking yourself what is enough for you. How many shirts do you need in your closet? How much food do you need in the fridge? How many square feet do you need to live in? What is enough for you to be content?

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Simplicity is asking what you will be content with having. Nothing we have is ours. It belongs to God. He made it and has given it to you. He has blessed you and given you more than you probably need, which is not a bad thing. It is when it starts ensnaring you that it becomes an issue. When you start coveting those blessings. When you start lusting after the new car or home or phone or outfit. When you think only of yourself with your material and monetary possessions, not caring for those who needs are not met. When the care for the item becomes more than the caring of relationships and of people. 

Praying that you will find contentment in God alone and that through his grace he will open your eyes to your abundance. Praying that you will be able to set boundaries in your life that instill simplicity in your life and change the way you think of needs and wants. Praying that you will not fall in to marketing but would truly enjoy what you have. 

Praying that you will not fall in to temptation or lust for material items this Christmas season but that you would seek out to fill the needs of others with your abundance. Praying that you would be able to determine what is enough for you and go from there.  

Here's to less stuff and more contentment. 

Happy December. Happy last month of the year. Happy almost Christmas and New Year. Oh happy day. This month commemorates the first year of our little man and we are excited to celebrate that, along with the birth of Jesus, of course.

The weekend after Thanksgiving we start hanging Christmas decorations and put up the tree. We drink warm apple cider and eat yummy, homemade sugar cookies and listen to Christmas music. Just a simple tradition but one that we love none the less. This year Rend Collective came out with their own Christmas album, which is fabulous and perfect for Christmas decorating dance parties.

This song, Merry Christmas Everyone, is so fun. How can you not get in the Christmas mood and spread some cheer? Have a listen.

Time for parties and celebration.
And people dancing all night long.

Christmas is fun, right? But what about Christianity? When you hear the word Christianity do you think fun? When you think of the savior of the world coming down, living with man and dying for the sins of humanity? For you. For me. Does that convey fun? Is following Jesus fun to you?

When you move out of hearing the word of God to living it out and doing it (James 1:22), the party starts. Comfort zones start to lessen. Random conversations with strangers begin and Jesus fills the time. The adventure begins. And the fun. The fun of sharing life altering news with others you never dreamed of sharing with. And doing things you never thought were possible. New experiences are sure to abound.

In Acts, after being persecuted for believing in Jesus, Peter and John rejoiced for being found worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). They are rejoicing because of persecution. Fun? Definitely not to my standards. But they were excited to be found worthy to suffer for Jesus. They understood the extent of what Jesus did for them and they were able to rejoice accordingly.

In Mark Batterson's book, Wild Goose Chase, he talks about how ancient Celtics referred to following the holy spirit as just that - a wild goose chase. You cannot fathom the direction it will go. Just where it will turn. What terrain it will run to. Where it will lead you is an unknown. When you follow the holy spirit, you will be lead to places you cannot imagine. You will have unexpected conversations and friends you never thought possible. Healing that nothing can compare to. And you will find yourself having fun along the way.

Praying that among the shopping and wrapping and baking and embracing our Emmanuel, Christ with us, that you have fun. That you would enjoy the ability to purchase items for loved ones and have fun. That it would not be burdensome or out of obligation but of loved. 

Praying that you see the fun and joy in Christ and that your spectrum would be broadened this season to see God with an increasing clarity.

Here's to fun and Christmas and Christianity. 

I am thankful that God has not left me where I was but keeps moving me forward in to deeper and more meaningful relationship, which keeps changing me for the better. I am thankful to look back at my failures and short comings and know that it is not who I am now. I am thankful for progress and pushing and challenging and knowing that only by God's mercy + grace am I able to put one foot in front of the other.

I am thankful for the chaos and the crazy because I am able to embrace and savor the stillness that much better - being able to bask in his goodness in both and see that he good.

Someone one once brought up the thought, though I cannot recall the source or person, if God were to come down and interrupt you at some point in worship - midway through a song during service - what would your response be? Are you focusing on worshiping God or something else? Is the tune catchy? What are the next words of the next verse? Is your heart in your worship? Is the person next you off key? Or is the fact the person next you is raising her hand distracting you more important than worshiping God? Is your mind racing or are you meeting with God?

Hope you will be crafting along with Pocket Blessings this month, as we make these sweet tree ornaments. The message behind them can be found here. We are doing both fabric ornaments and ones made out of sticks. There is a tutorial on how to make the stick one here. Since I could not find one on how to make the fabric ones, here is a quick step by step.

There is nothing more soothing than a warm cup filled with a scrumptious drink on a brisk morning. Sitting and relaxing as you hold it close. Enjoying the heat of it, as it warms your cold fingers but careful not to drink it down quite yet as it is still too hot and a burning tongue emanates thoughts.

When melted butter is needed in baking, it is usually recommended to cut up the stick in to smaller cubes before putting it in to the heat source. This makes it melt faster and who wants to wait when they are in the middle of making some gooey, chocolate brownies? Not this girl. Although while baking the other day, I placed my half stick of butter hastily in to toaster oven without cutting it. As I took it out to cut up because it was taking longer than anticipated, God reminded me that united we stand, divided we fall.

For the month of November, Pocket Blessings will be making tree ornaments. In the bible, trees are often used to symbolize a person being rooted in God. Truly growing in relation and faith with him. Growing in trust and reliance.

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:8

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. Psalm 92:12-13

This is the sort of life that God wants to instill in each of us. He wants us to be thriving and growing in him. Constantly learning more about who he is and revealing those characteristics in ourselves. It is the abundant life of following Christ and in that there is nothing better.

This is the message that we want to portray to the recipients of these ornaments. The relationship and growth that is offered because Christ was born. Christmas is a fun holiday but the fact Jesus was born in to the world, God with us, is simply amazing. 

Praying that if you do not have roots in Christ, that you would seek him and find him and bask in his grace. Praying that you would learn and find the truth. Praying that if have never experienced Christmas in the light of Jesus, that this year you would have new eyes to see the beauty of the God of the universe coming to earth to die for your sins. All because of love. Because he loves you.

Here's to roots and growth and Christmas.

A simple tutorial on how to make the trees and printable tags will be posted next week. Here's God's will leading to you in some way to participate in little crafts of kindness,

For more info on what Pocket Blessings is all about, read it here

Penny loves to help me in the kitchen and is naturally my baking side kick. Her three year old self has mastered pouring and scooping and stirring and tasting. Depending on what we are concocting, she will stay glued to the chair for the entire duration of the product without a second thought of her toys in the living room. Especially if she knows she is going to get to lick the spoon, which only happens when frosting is being made, since all other batters have some sort of raw egg. After all of her efforts of mixing and measuring, she is rewarded with her spoon full of frosting and the world is good.

The bible says that we have rewards and treasures and are promised them in to the next life. When we believe in Jesus, we are promised eternal life. We have done nothing to earn this. The reward for believing. The reward for our faith.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

When life gets hard and the future seems hazy and you do not know what the outcome is going to be, it is easy to fall away. It is easy to make your own path to fix the problem. To go off and play with your own toys, away from God, instead of sticking around through the hard parts - through the work.

That is when you have to ask yourself: is Jesus and the promise of eternal life enough for you? Are you okay with a reward you cannot touch or see or fully grasp? Is your dedication worth it? Is the pain of an illness or the loss of a loved one or the financial instability or the ridicule from friends and family or the pressures at work worth it?

If we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more so does God know how to good give gifts? (Matthew 7:11) Can you imagine what it means to have rewards in heaven? What it really means to have eternal life and rewards. Jesus comes and saves us; we simply believe in him and we have eternal life, (John 3:16) not because of anything we have done. We are faithful and store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:1-4). It is truly amazing the love that God has for us and the gifts he graciously gives us now and promises to come.

Praying that your eyes would be focus on Jesus and the work that he did on the cross for you. Praying that you would embrace the rewards God has for you in this life and the next. That you would enjoy the work he has put you here to accomplish and that you would be obedient to do it, despite the impending trials.

Praying that your perspective would be one of eternity. That you would see how God is using you for his eternal purposes and that you would be okay with that, no matter the cost because you know your rewards on earth are temporary and eternity is ever coming.

Here's to your promised rewards and eternity and an ever changing perspective of trials.

New stages are inevitable with children. The only constant with children is change. Change in height and weight and speech and understanding. My daughter is at the independent stage. She likes to dress and pour and snap herself. She also likes to walk by herself, without my hand naturally. This has been an ever increasing battle of safety and obedience all in one, accompanied with my ability to allow her some freedom. She is learning to hold on to the cart or stroller and walk in step with me and I am learning how to let go and give her freedom.

When you accept Jesus in your life, you are given a new found freedom from sin. You have been set free. Sin no longer has a hold on you because Jesus took it away (Romans 3:23). 

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:18

Do you believe that you were set free from sin? When you accept the freedom that comes from accepting Christ, you are lifted out of the pit of sin. Your perspective changes and you can see the other side. Whatever entangles you, addictions or malice or anger or guilt, becomes a victory in Christ. You are able to grow and develop the righteousness that comes with following Jesus.

Sin no longer has a stronghold over you when you accept Jesus. Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18). He came to set you free from whatever holds you hostage. Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Grief. Insecurities. Bad relationships. Lies. He offers freedom. He offers life. Not a life of monotony or comfort but one of fullness and abundance (John 10:10). A life that changes eternal destinies and impacts the world for his glory.

Praying that you see the freedom that you have in Jesus if you have accepted him as your personal Savior and if you have not, that your eyes would be open to the freedom that is being offered to you. 

Praying that you would be set free from any sin that you are currently wrestling with and that you would be able to use that victory to help another going through a similar trial, as our trials are not just for us but to benefit others in the name of Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:4). Praying that you would live each day in the freedom that comes with following Christ and learn how to navigate through it in your walk.

This song, Shake the World, by Finding Favour is a fun way to wrap up the freedom and its effects on you and those around you. Things change and you are never the same. Neither are those you encounter. Have a listen. 

When we all start marching to the beat of the drum
Moving to the rhythm of the Kingdom to come
It's gonna shake the world
You are here to make a difference in the kingdom of God now. You meant to be free in Christ.

Here's to being set free and showing others the freedom God has given you in hopes of setting them free. 

Compliments have always been hard for me to accept, no matter the source or the reason. At one point I was getting so many that I found myself regularly venting about them to my husband, then boyfriend. I started going out of my way to try to avoid getting another. Changed my hairstyle. Stopped wearing those earrings. Kept that outfit in the closet. It really was an annoyance for me.

In reality, it was insecurity. I was full of insecurity. Compliments felt like a handout. Someone trying to be nice and make me feel good with false intentions but I did not need their help and could care less what they thought - simply out of my own pride. God has been working on my in this area since then and I welcome them now. If someone takes the time to tell me something sweet, I embrace it. And if it happens to be done out of malice, then it lies on them and not me.

Insecurities can show themselves in the strangest of places, like marital status or job title or number of children or personality traits. They form in conversations or appear in invites or the lack there of and start playing themselves out before we know it. These are the ties that hold us back from freedom to truly live for God and his plans for us. This is where the captive lives.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
In order to be free from insecurity, we must rely on the power of Christ and what scripture tells us. Through his power, we can demolish strongholds - in our thoughts and habits. We have the power to take every thought captive for Christ. Thought of not looking put together and putting yourself down. Thoughts of what someone thinks about you and how others perceive you. Scripture says that you are chosen (John 15:16). You are a child of God (John 1:12). You are victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57). You are more than the mental picture you paint of yourself.

You must believe who you are in Jesus.

Being held back to a calling that God has placed on your life due to insecurities, whether something as small as talking to someone or as big as a change in career, is not a fun place to be. It is there that you find yourself smothered by fear and doubt and lacking trust.

When you focus on who God says you are, insecurities start to melt away. When you become so consumed in who God is and how big he is and his plan for your life, you find strength and take your eyes off of what is wrong with yourself. When your eyes are fixed on Jesus, instead of yourself, your decisions will be based on what he says, not what others say or your own doubts and fears.

Praying you find confidence in who God says he is and who you are because of what Jesus has done. Praying you can embrace the word of God and truly understand how God sees you and live in that freedom. Praying you take each negative thought captive and that your insecurities become small victories through Christ.

Here's to focusing on who God is and less of who you say you are.

Let us be silent, that we may hear the whisper of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I think of being busy, the whole Mary and Martha analogy tends to come to mind. Mary, the one who listens to Jesus and does what is better and Martha, the one who is doing everything else except listen to him (Luke 10:38-42). Martha is frustrated because Mary is not helping her in preparations. I am sure all the household chores were in need of doing - chopping and pouring and folding and sautéing and Mary is just listening. This situation is one of busyness born out of necessitates and duty.

Busyness is defined in my concordance as: engaged in action, being in use; full of activity, full of distracting detail.

Busyness is easy to achieve and being too busy for God is even easier. Being too busy doing the things that God has called you to do. Or even being too busy celebrating the blessings and promises he has given to you, that you miss him whisper, you're welcome. This is another sort of busyness, more like one born out of basking in God's blessings in celebration.

In Joshua 3, the Israelites are in all sorts of excitement. After wandering in the desert for forty years, they are now about to enter into the Promised Land. Forty years of dust and sand and manna and now they are about to welcome the land flowing of milk and honey with open arms. There are still things to take care of but the physical land is near. Excitement is building and anticipation is beyond bursting. With all this energy flowing, Joshua takes time to stop and listen to what God has to say in all of this. God tells Joshua that he will exalt him in the eyes of Israelites, so they will know God is with him as he was with Moses. Joshua is obedient to listen to God and tells the people:

Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. Joshua 3:9

In all of the enthusiasm of the new path they were journeying on, it could have been easy for Joshua to not be listening for God's guidance. Joshua could have been so happy that he was about to lead the Israelites in to land that he works out his own accord and rushes the land, finding some means to cross over the water ahead, which was at flood level. But this is not how Joshua operates. He takes the time to see what else God has in store for them. He seeks God, listens, and obeys. They cross the water on dry ground, witnessing yet another miracle. Adding another piece to their testimony and God's faithfulness. And Joshua is blessed by it.

A Little Longer by Jenn Johnson, really reinforces the idea of being still for God. Not doing for God, whether in duty or celebration. Just listening and focusing on him. Have a listen.

You don't have to do a thing. Just 
simply be with me and let those things 
go. Cause they can wait another minute.

If you are coming out of a season of trials and celebration is on your horizon, I pray that you would not miss God in the victory. If God has given you the long awaited child or the much dreamed of job has come to fruition or your health status has been cleared or you have the passport to travel the world, whatever your time of celebration is, I pray that God will continue to be the foremost thought in your mind. That you would take time to listen and wait and be still. That in your excitement you would praise God for all that he is doing.

Praying that you would pour out your blessings on others and they would see a glimpse of him in you. That your testimony would grow and that you would draw nearer to him. Praying that you would truly hear from him. He has something to tell you, you need only to be still to hear it.

Here's to open ears and open hearts and quiet hands and quiet feet. 

Over  year and a half ago, as I was reading through 1 Peter 4:10 and God really challenged me with it: 
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Craftiness runs in my blood. I thoroughly enjoy making almost anything that involves fabric or glue. It is something that has always been easy for me and something God has gifted me with to use for his purposes. I felt him nudging me to do a craft ministry that makes items to give to others in the community. I had no idea what this would look like or what it would entail and leading it seemed daunting. I have hardly any expertise in leading. I prayed about it for a few months before I mentioned it to anyone. This is where Pocket Blessings was born.

It just so happened that God had moved Juli and her husband, Scott, to our area a few years before and we had met in Sunday school. She is the craftiest person I know. Naturally, God directed me to ask her what she thought.  It never ceases to amaze me how God gifts us in certain areas and calls  us to use them for his glory. And how he brings people beside you to help you and show you the ropes.

The neighborhood we live in is referred to as the pocket and our focus is on small things because it is the small things that make up the moments, that turn into years, which form memories - hence the name was born of Juli and her husband, Scott.  

The goal for Pocket Blessings is to make an impact in our community for Christ one handmade blessing at a time. Each item comes with a verse attached and is covered in prayers, both for the person who made it and the one receiving it.

It such a rewarding time for both the people involved and the people crafting. The community comes together and God brings the people he wants to be there and the people he wants to receive them. It is a win - win.  

Praying God will give you guidance and direction if you feel him leading you to participate or put in to action something he has placed in your heart.Praying that you would embrace your gifts and that God would show you how he wants you to use them in your current season of life, whether in big or small ways. Praying that if you find yourself wondering what your gifts are that the Lord would you reveal them to you and you would accept them as the present that they are,

Interested in starting a Pocket Blessings craft night in your community / church / area?

Here are some tips to get you started:

Choose how often: we do once a month on the 3rd Saturday at our church but you can do it whenever works for you.

Who: we like to open it up to not only our church but community, too, so we leave fliers throughout town (i.e. coffee shops, library) but the choice is yours. You can do it by yourself or with a few close friends. Do not let numbers stop you from making a difference or crafting abilities. We do a demonstration for each craft before we start and help through the night.

Craft: varies, we like to incorporate upcoming holidays (we make it the month before, so delivery can be arranged by the month of the holiday). Each month I will post what we will doing, along with any resources (i,e, printable tags) that we are using. 

Who to give to: we pray about which organization / place (i.e. local nursing home, hospital units, rehabilitation homes) God wants us to give to leading up to craft night - he has not let us down yet. So pray and do not be intimated to ask around. Perhaps a friend is the perfect recipient or knows someone who is.

Supplies:  use what you have and/or ask for donations - people love to give and most have some supplies they need to get rid of, especially for a good cause. Freecycle is an awesome resource for free crafting supplies.  

Message: we start out with a prayer and teeny message explaining what we are making and a pull it together with a verse

Share: If you are  interested crafting along, be sure to tag on instagram @ingracealways or #pocketblessings

I will share more about the craft we are doing for November in the coming weeks and how you can prep for it. And of course, if you are in the Sacramento area, we would love to have you attend.

Nothing beats a great church with biblical teaching and awesome community, along with personal bible study, but there are other awesome resources that compliment them well. Thought I would share some of my favorites that I use weekly, if not daily. Think of them as old friends with lots of wisdom to give. Great for encouragement and answering practical issues within marriage, parenting, culture and everywhere in between.

I keep the widget on the front of my phone so there is always scripture to look at when I open it. Not to mention I love having access to the bible wherever I am. And it's a free app.

This site has parenting advice, stories of mamahood and God rolled in to one. If you are a mama, you cannot go wrong checking this out.

Full of practical information on relationships, marriage, parenting and life in general. I LOVE the podcasts. I always learn something from them.

Geared to women in different life stages, it has inspiring posts about life and God. And of course the annual free in(RL) conference is amazing

Music is HUGE influencer for me and since I have started listening to Christian music there is nothing I enjoy listening to more. I highly recommend making the switch for a week and see the difference it makes in your daily routines. 

I am usually not one to recommend things but I think it is important to share some resources that help my walk. Perhaps God will use them to help you, too. This is not a sponsored post, just some recommendations from one friend to another. Hope enjoy them as much as I do.

What are some of your favorites?

In our culture, so often when we hear the word neighbor, we think of the person living next to us that we occasionally wave at as our paths cross when we are pulling out of the drive way or grabbing the mail but we usually do not associate the term with family, rather merely as an acquaintance we hardly know. 

Jesus call us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). The word neighbor in the Greek is is plēsion, which is what the New Testament was written in originally. It is referring to those in our  neighborhood but also those who are nearest to us. 

The Blue Letter Bible gives these definitions for plēsion:
·        a friend
·        any other person, and where two are concerned, the other (thy fellow man, thy neighbour), according to the Jews, any member of the Hebrew nation and commonwealth
·        according to Christ, any other man irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet

For most, family is near at one point or another, both physically and/or emotionally. Jesus is calling us to love our family members as ourselves. Relationships are messy. Especially when a lot of people are involved. But there is also a commonality that not found anywhere else. The longevity that has been weaved in and out of memories and years forms a beautiful bond.

God calls us to engage in difficult relationships. To be stretched past what we think we can handle to see how big he really is (Matthew 19:26).  Harboring bitterness, envy, anger is easy. It can be so easy to pit sister against sister and brother against father due to the longevity and history of the relationship. There are a lot of opportunities over the years for bitterness to creep in and frustration to form, whether between a husband and wife or the children. Choosing to forgive and rebuild is harder and is worth more in the end.

It is forgiving those God has put closest to you, who have openly hurt you, whether by choice or indirectly. It is loving them. A sister. Aunt. Mom. Friends. Whomever that may be in your personal community. Loving someone who does not deserve it and perhaps does not want it is what love is all about. That is how God has loved us. That is the change that God puts in us. It is the compassion that God gives towards us towards others, as well as understanding for the opposing view. It is new incite and perspective. It is healing. 

This song, Healing Begins by Tenth Avenue North conveys this quite well. Have a listen. 

This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken 
within The light meets the dark

God can do anything, even fix a broken family and all its relationships. I know because he has been mending and shaping and restoring mine. He is still at work and I am excited to see where he will lead us next. 

Praying that God will move in your family and relationships and restore what needs to be restored. Praying for healed hearts and new beginnings. Praying that God will be praised throughout the difficult conversations and each warm embrace. Praying for God to show you what steps to take and guide your heart to truly forgive what or who needs to be forgiven. That you would open your heart and make the choice to make an effort and let God piece your lives back together. 

Here's to healing and new beginnings. Here's to seeing God move in your relationships and choosing to take the harder route.