Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sweet Endings.... a simply lovely evening. Thanks to sweet Canadian friends who were willing to come over and help this American celebrate her favorite holiday. :-) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Ponderings

I'm living in Canada. Tomorrow is not Thanksgiving here, but let me tell you, this US girl is still feeling the holiday pull. Quite honestly, celebrating here in the middle of October just didn't feel real. I mean, it was still warm, and, well, just too Fallish! It felt somewhat like it was kind of a pretend, make believe game. People here say the same thing about our Thanksgiving. They can't imagine celebrating it with snow on the ground and Christmas just around the corner.

Thanksgiving has always been a special season for our family. I can say quite truthfully that I looked forward to it more than Christmas in many ways. For me, it always marked the beginning of a cozy, family-centered winter, with free times scheduled around books and hot cocoa, games nights with cider and snacks, or outdoor activities such as ice-skating and family snowmobile trips. It marked the end of a busy gardening and family music schedule, and promised a little more time to breath and enjoy life. 

It's bothered me over the past few years how much Thanksgiving seems to be overlooked. Stores and yards seem to go immediately from ghoulish Halloween decor straight to a Christmas theme. Our country as a whole seems to give the same impression that Thanksgiving is a fairly insignificant blip in the middle of the week, and merely an excuse to enjoy a day off of work and a big turkey dinner.

My intent is not to make a big deal out of nothing, but it's caused me to think a lot about gratefulness over the past few weeks, and wonder if that character trait is also one that is largely overlooked. In a country abounding with more wealth than 90% of the world can even dream of, discontentment and complaining are stunningly real and everyday with most people.

I've been mulling over a quote I read a couple weeks ago, and really praying the Lord would apply it to my life.

"A thankful heart makes everything enough." 

I guess the connection between gratefulness and contentment had never hit me quite in that way before. If we're honest with ourselves, it doesn't take a lot of effort to want something different than what we have. Cultivating a spirit of discontentment  does not take a lot of work. But contentment can really be just as easy to cultivate if we start making habits of looking at life through a grateful set of eyes. Not a whole lot of thinking is needed to to discover how much we really have. 

Let's remember, that at it's root, gratefulness  stems from a trust, and surrender to God, believing that He has given us everything we need to glorify Him best. Let us take hold of this, and implement the exhortation given in Hebrews 13:15 -

"...let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name."  
 You might find yourself surprised at how blessed you really are!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Wedding - Anticipation!

 The week before our wedding surprised me. Everyone told me it was going to be crazy, hectic, stressful, and exhausting. That I was going to be so tired by my wedding day that I would just want to crawl into a bed and sleep for a week. I was expecting this, and even with all our planning, and my mom's incredible organizational skills, I wasn't holding out for a relaxing week before.

I remember the feeling so clearly that Monday morning. Mom and I looked at each other, and said, "Are we really done?" We could think of very little that we needed to do yet! I had a few last minute thank-you cards to write, and final packing for my move and honeymoon, but that was virtually all! We had worked, and worked, and worked so hard before the wedding, that when that Monday-before-the-big-day hit, we all as a family felt that we could literally breath a sigh of relief, relax, and just enjoy our last few days together. None of us were expecting this at all, but it turned out to be one of the greatest blessings that could have happened.

Joel drove in Wednesday evening, and as the hour drew near for him to arrive, I sat on our front porch steps, watching, waiting, and snapping beans. Yup! You read right! Our garden was by no means taking a break for our wedding, but that was normal summer life, so I don't consider that wedding-related busyness. :-)

So, as the late afternoon sun filtered through the leaves, I snapped, and snapped, and dumped my bucket of finished beans a couple times, and waited. That last 30 minutes before he arrived during our courtship always seemed SO long, and this time was by no means an exception. Joel did eventually arrive in good time, despite my impatience, and as we beamed at each other and enjoyed a hug, all we could say was, "No more goodbyes this time." It was a wonderful feeling!

Thursday morning Joel and I spent in town buying a few last minute things, and arrived back just in time for lunch and for my flowers to arrive by Fed-Ex. Now, I'm going to go on a rabbit trail about flowers, so if you aren't interested, just skip the next two paragraphs. ;-)

I chose cream and lavender roses, antique purple hydrangeas, picasso calla lilies, and babies breath, plus some assorted greenery. Before planning my wedding, I honestly had no clue whatsoever what flowers would cost. When I first walked into a florist shop and inquired about ordering un-arranged flowers in bulk, the prices nearly took my breath away. The cheapest of those that I was thinking of were roses @ $3.50 a stem. Mind you, I said the cheapest, with hydrangeas soaring near $10 a stem. I knew I had to find a different option, especially considering my centerpieces were also going to feature flowers.

To make a very long story short, I traded time for money, and spent literally hours online researching the best options. It was worth it though for $0.79 roses from Globalrose and a case full of greenery and baby's breath from Sam's club. Weddinghydrageas is a company out of California that had the best prices I could find, (though hydrangeas are expensive anywhere!) and Bloom's by the Box had the mini Picasso calla lilies I was looking for. It was a bit of hassle ordering them from four different places, but I literally saved hundreds doing it this way. Another thing I did to cut down on prices was to look for nice silk flowers or arrangements in my colors at thrift stores and garage sales. Silk flowers are also very expensive, but I knew if I could find them this way, they could be used as filler for my centerpiece bouquets and nobody would know the difference. All in all, I would say that if you have a friend who knows how to arrange flowers, try this option! I have no regrets with any of these companies.

A dear friend of mine came in Thursday afternoon and prepped these buckets full of flowers for me, while Joel and I headed out to door to go pick up my florist friend from the airport. That hour and half drive was a wonderful time to just relax, and enjoy the last few quiet moments together before the big rush. This "florist" is a dear friend of mine from NC who flew out just to arrange flowers and decorate for our wedding. This was a HUGE blessing, and I can't imagine a professional doing a more beautiful job than she did. Tasha has incredible talent!

Tasha (far right) headed up the decorating with Letha and Hannah assisting.

That evening held a bridal shower for me hosted by my bridesmaid's, and it was so wonderful to have so many of my close friends there. NC, MI, MN, WI, and Ontario were represented, and it was a sweet evening of fellowship, games, a delicious meal, lots of gifts, and a powerful devotional that encouraged reliance on Christ no matter what season you are in.

So many seasons were represented there.... A busy young mom with children, a married friend waiting on the Lord for children, engaged, and single girls yet waiting on the Lord for that godly man they dream of. I appreciated the fact that this devotional touched each of us in a special way, which it can really only do if Jesus Christ is at the center. Sara did a wonderful job at bringing that out.

The beautiful Victorian Tea the girls prepared.

Though exhausted from the evening, I could not sleep. That's just me, though. When excited about something, or when I have a mind-full, my brain will just not shut off. So, I tossed, and turned all of Thursday night, and was thus quite exhausted the next day. That was one thing I wished I could have changed, but it was what it was. God's grace was sufficient for even that, though I did feel I had to mentally shake myself out of brain-fog the entire next day!

Friday morning found me fairly early at the Sykora's, where Joel was staying, as were our wedding coordinators, with the lady of the house being one of my bridesmaids. :-) Because our wedding coordinators were from Canada, we had to wait until last minute to go over all the details with them. This took a good couple hours. First, though, came the biggest feast of a breakfast I have seen in a long time, followed by a short time of reading Scripture together and singing. This was a special blessing for me, and calmed my heart for the rest of the day. It didn't get us to the church until nearly noon, but it was worth it. :-)

Decorating the guest book table

The decorating and preparation was already in full swing, and I could hardly believe how many people were there serving, and throwing their hearts and talents into making our wedding possible. Cooking a rehearsal dinner for 70 and half the food for the nearly 400 guests the next day (we had half of it catered) was no small feat. Arranging bouquet centerpieces for 50+ tables, turning the gym into a reception site, and the 4 bridal party bouquets was an all-day project. It surprised me HOW much work it took, but also how smoothly it went. For myself, I was merely running around all afternoon answering questions and giving details. It was a slightly overwhelming feeling at times to be on my way to do one project and to be caught by three different people at the same moment all needing things. :-) I didn't quite anticipate that, but I suppose it was quite normal, just a bit tiring. :-)

Answering texts from bridal party members that were lost! :-)
Antique jars waiting to be filled with flowers and candles.
Who would've thought a gym could look so pretty!
Though it felt for awhile that things weren't going to get done in time, they did, the rehearsal went fine, and the dinner afterward was lovely. It had been a long-time dream of mine to serve a nice rehearsal supper as a thank-you for all those that put so much effort into preparing and helping out. Our friends John and Linda Marvin, and Gena Borntrager were largely responsible for making the meal of BBQ ribs, almondine green beans, garlic baby red potatoes, and garlic bread a possibility. We went simple for dessert, and served brownies and Chocolate Shoppe's "Heaps of Love"  ice cream. Folks, seriously *the best* brand of ice cream that is possible to create. :-)

Practicing for that big moment. :-)

The church we were renting had the policy of being out of there by 8:00, so the evening was not too late. I was grateful for that. Upon arriving home, I got a shoulder rub from one of the 3 girlfriends that was staying at our house that evening, a hot cup of "Sleepytime" tea, and a soft bed. Many were praying that I would sleep that night, and their prayers were heard. I woke up Saturday morning feeling quite refreshed and excited for the biggest day of my life!

Photo credits: Seth Haley, Christian Gawin, Linda Newman, Ryan Hoshor, and Janelle Sykora

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Gateway to Glory

My mind travels back to a little over two years ago. After two trips deep into the recesses of the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, Mexico, and discovering that a piece of my heart landed there, I was considering the invitation to make a longer term trip back there. Much of me wanted to go, parts of me held back. What was God's will? Where was I supposed to spend my time, efforts, energies, and prayers?

Over the course of the next several months, these questions pressed hard upon my heart, forcing me to the throne of God. For answers. For directions. For clarity of vision. For purpose.

There were times I felt like I praying in a brass-lined room. My prayers and desires seemed to bounce back, with no rhyme or reason, no finger-writing on wall, no sense of peace either way. So I sought harder. I surrendered myself deeper. My prayers became more earnest, and my times of seeking God more real.

Did the answer come in a flash? Did some sudden moment of revelation break through the clouds, and stun me with a blinding clarity? Did the months of waiting suddenly seem as nothing, and the fruit of them quickly becoming apparent?

In looking back, my answer has to be a resounding "no." Peace gradually replaced questions with the gentleness of a morning sunrise. Uncertainty turned to answers, as God slowly put pieces together. But more important than the eventual clear direction that I was seeking, was the realization of what God had done in my heart during the process. In this months of seeking Him, God taught me a valuable lesson of what it means to hunger and thirst after Righteousness. (One of the attributes and names of God.) He taught me the reality of the statement:

What you are becoming while you are waiting, is infinitely more important than getting there.

Do we believe this? When answers are not straight-forward, do we give up in despair, accepting the subtle lie that God is really not concerned about our everyday details, or more importantly, the yawning, uncertain future that sometimes seems to press us down with the weight of the unknown?

In the past few days, I've been meditating on this concept of waiting, and the suffering that it sometimes involves. Some of Nancy Leigh DeMoss's teaching in the recent weeks have tied into it as well. Some of the thoughts she shared were a spring-board for what I'm going to write, so I would encourage you to go listen to her whole series if you are walking through one of these particularly difficult times in life and need some encouragement.

One of the statements she made jumped straight out of my speakers, and hit my heart.

Waiting in and through fiery circumstances with a heart set on God only burns away the cords that bind us. (Fiery Furnace)

What sort of cords? As I thought through God's refining process in our lives, self kept coming to the front of my mind. "Christ in me, the hope of glory," and "Not I but Christ" is God's ultimate goal for us, therefore some of those cords that bind us can rightly be named as:

Cords of selfishness.
Cords of self-love.
Cords of self-reliance.
Cords of self-pity.

 Cords of a self seeking, or worldly mindset

Our natural human tendency is to run away from suffering, to resist pain, to do everything in our power to escape hardship. Think about it. In reality, doing this cuts short the refining process God wants to take us through to root out these tendencies in us. Consider with me that the most scathing rebuke in the New Testament is given to Peter when he seeks to turn Jesus' face away from the cross. Whether it be a catastrophic tragedy, heart-rending circumstances, waiting when there seems to be no moving or answer from God, or simply the daily cares and trials of life that seeks to wear us down, the principle remains the same. The cross is God's gateway to glory, and to prosper in our walk with Him, we must embrace whatever God sends our way.

If we will take time and consider the multiple principles laid out through Scripture, we will realize that on the other side of that cross is everything we are looking for. Remember it is promised that a momentary affliction will produce eternal fruit. (11 Cor 4:16-18) If we take this by faith, there is nothing that should hold us back from rejoicing in tribulation, Only a worldly, "here-and-now" focus on life will thwart God's purposed in our life.

The biggest question then must be asked. Are we willing for God to bring us through whatever it takes to work in us the refining that He sees as needed? Can we take our eyes off of the momentary pain or uncertainty we are facing right now, and focus on the eternal fruit God has promised to work in our lives through it? We are being fashioned through these things for greater fruitfulness here, and for a better place above where we will at last be made perfectly into the likeness of the One who is fashioning our life according to His perfect understanding. We Can Trust Him.