Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How I lost 40 pounds: 7 rules that I live by

As I've mentioned in my blog before, I want to preface this post by saying that my goals are all about being healthy.  Research shows that excess weight is more likely to lead to health problems, and being healthy is my ultimate goal in weight loss.  Also, if you're the size that I used to be (or bigger), please don't think that I am judgmental about your appearance.  The most attractive attribute a person can have is confidence, anyway. 

Having said all that, if you're looking to lose some weight at the start of this new year, maybe you can find some helpful insights here that have helped me along the way.  I don't claim to have figured it all out, but I think I've learned a few things that may help you too:

1. If I don't like it, I don't eat it

This is a big one for me.  I used to eat like 2 or 3 cookies while complaining about how they're dry, or drink an entire smoothie while complaining that it's too sweet.  I didn't really enjoy what I was eating but I was still taking in the empty calories.  

If I decide to have a piece of chocolate or a dessert, I will only eat it if I really enjoy it.  It seems the more we savor what we eat, the more satisfied we'll feel and be less likely to overeat. 

2. When I feel like my sweet tooth is taking over, I go on a sugar fast

After thanksgiving this year, I was feeling pretty over indulgent.  I had just finished making (and eating!!) a sugar-loaded, oreo-packed chocolate bark.  I actually don't believe that people should avoid all sweets.  A food that you completely eliminate suddenly becomes something that you think about a lot and you'll end up feeling deprived.  That will make you more likely to overindulge and give into that temptation before long.  Instead, a moderate/balanced approach seems to be best, in my opinion.  Even so, sweets were my biggest weakness before my diet and lifestyle change last year.  So, this is an issue that I struggle to keep under control.  

So, after thanksgiving was over, and I was eating my third or fourth piece of lovely chocolate bark for the second day in a row, I felt kinda awful for overindulging.  This is an area that I struggle with, and it is best for me to completely avoid all sugar at certain times to address this issue head on and keep it in check.  I took about 2 weeks off from it (which I admit wasn't easy and made me kinda grumpy).  Some of you may think that this sounds ridiculous... maybe others think that it makes perfect sense.  I verbally said to my husband that I was going to avoid all desserts until Christmas.  It seems that there's something about telling someone that you're going to do something that really carries more value that just deciding it in your head.  More than anything, I want to be a person of strong character and someone who keeps my word.  This was a good way for me to follow through on this... simply because I said I was going to.

Some of you may feel that I'm being too hard on myself about this, and taking it a bit too far.  But, I think this is a good time to explain that the apathetic mindset I used to have about overindulging was what sent me down to an unhealthy road to health problems in the first place.  Recognizing when this pattern comes back into my behavior is more than just keeping the holiday pounds off; it's about keeping balance and self control. 

3.  Be accountable

I have to tell you, I was VERY uncomfortable posting my before/after picture on my blog related to my vegan diet change.   Maybe it was because I didn't want to come face to face with how I used to feel about myself (insecure, with an elevated BMI).  I wanted to put those feelings behind me and erase every Facebook picture that I didn't like of myself.  Recognizing how crazy that would be, I knew that doing that would be similar to erasing precious family memories in some way.  Anyway, posting the before/after picture of myself was a big accountability issue.  I was willing to put my emotions and insecurities out there for the world to see, and it made me feel more accountable.  I sure hope none of you look down on me if I gain some weight back, but when I first set out on a plant-based diet and really struggled to stay on track in the beginning, I reminded myself that I told all of you that I was going to do it.  I didn't want to fail and let myself down, but I also didn't want to disappoint others either.  Maybe it's all to avoid embarrassment, but I think it's also to be a person of my word. 

If you're really serious about losing weight and adopting a healthier lifestyle, tell people!  Yes, if you fail, you'll probably feel worse when others see you fall back (I can definitely relate to that feeling), but they can also encourage you and go on that journey with you.  Plus, by not telling anyone our intentions, it is sort of like we're leaving a way out for ourselves so that no one keeps us accountable if we quit. 

4. Exercise is important, but diet is MORE IMPORTANT for weightloss

More than once, I've had trainers in the gym tell me that the food that I eat is more important than how hard I work out.  Here I am standing in the gym, paying what seems like fist-fulls of money to have the privilege to work out there, and what I basically hear from the trainer is that I will not lose weight and see the results I'm looking for simply by working out.  

You would think that the 80/20 rule would be reversed in the gym, where health/weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise, but the truth remains the same.  The trainer makes money on me being at the gym!  But, an honest trainer, I believe, would be willing to tell you what you really need to hear, which is that diet is a bigger contributor to weight loss than exercise.  Toning muscles and increasing your heart rate affect your health overall, but it seems the bigger dangers are with a poor diet than minimal exercise.

When we went on vacation after Christmas, I didn't exercise as often as I normally do at home (although we did a lot more walking than usual).  Yes, exercise is important, but I tend to think that what I eat is more important than hitting the gym. Studies show that a calorie deficit is much easier to achieve through diet over exercise, and people who are more concerned with diet over exercise have a lower BMI.  Both are important, but no matter how hard you work out at the gym, you won't see the results you're looking for with a poor diet

5. Drink a lot of water and eat A LOT of low-starch vegetables

There's something that I really like about being able to eat as much of something as I want: vegetables.  I have always been a fan, but now they're a major staple in my everyday diet.  For breakfast most days, I start out with a veggie wrap with a whole wheat tortilla filled with tons of veggies (spinach, corn, avocado, red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, onions, or something else).  I find this to be very satisfying.  In addition to veggies, I eat lots of black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans.  

In Dr. Furhman's book The End of Dieting, he talks about how so many people suffer from chronic hunger.  We can overeat all day long, yet still be hungry and malnourished because we're not eating nutrient-dense foods.  I don't mean to sound like an infomercial trying to sell you some kind of crazy idea, but I honestly feel MORE satisfied eating natural foods than I did eating lovely, sweet donuts and cookies.  Yes, I still enjoy these foods on occasion, but because I feel so much better eating healthy foods, I naturally want to eat them more often.  

And, yes, I drink lots of water.  Lots.  Do it.  You'll be glad you did.  I've heard more than once that you are more likely to overeat if you're thirsty, and your brain can even send the message that you're hungry when you're just thirsty.  It's an easy way to keep your hunger under control.

6. You don't have to clean your plate

You really don't.  

I feel like I could have been the president of the "clean plate" club... if there was such a club.  I would stop eating when my plate was empty, not when I felt full.  Even if you grew up being told that you had to clean your plate before you could leave the table (I didn't grow up hearing that but somehow adopted that idea), we need to recognize our natural indicators of being full to stop eating, and not our clear plates.  

7. It's all about self control

THIS is really the main issue that keeps me going.  Early last year, Bob was on a whole foods fast for personal/spiritual reasons.  While he was drinking green tea and eating lots of apples and carrots, I somehow found it necessary to make a big pan of brownies.  As I was reaching for my second brownie, I saw his restraint and self control and I felt really guilty.  It's not that eating brownies is so awful, but that moment made me realize that I wasn't giving much thought to what I was eating.  I felt like eating lots of chocolate, so I did.  But I really don't want to be given over to mindless eating.  I really want to eat to be healthy.  And, I really want to honor God with all the choices in my life.

No, I'm not saying that if you eat lots of sweets that you're dishonoring God.  But maybe you could ask yourself if self control is optional.  Are you practicing self control by eating that third brownie?  For me, I felt like it was an area that I needed to make changes.

The Bible says that a person without self control is like a city whose walls have been broken through (Proverbs 25:28), and that we need to discipline our bodies and keep them under control (1 Corinthians 9:27).  These scriptures aren't meant to make us feel bad, but to empower us to make right choices.  God knows what's best for us, and by practicing self control in every area of our lives, we honor Him.

I certainly haven't arrived, but I am honest enough to say that I recognize my shortcomings and areas that I need to keep working on with having self control and discipline.  

Hopefully some of these tips have helped you!

What helps you stay on track to weight loss and healthy living?  I'd love to read your comments below!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh God, help me to keep my hormones in balance, my emotions in check, and my life in perspective...

These past few days I have been battling inner frustrations that I know are directly related to monthly cycle and hormone changes.  I get easily irritated, even with little things, and I can go from calm to feeling maxed out very quickly.  I try to recognize why I feel so easily stressed out and short on patience with my kids.  When I have an inner battle just to keep my peace and be a pleasant person to be around I try to give myself some space to level out and deal with the real issue rather than take it out on my family.  I have been diagnosed as having PMDD, some kind of intensified version of PMS... but that's a different story.  On the inside, I feel like a different person when I have PMS than other times in the  month, but I am determined to do my best to balance my hormones naturally, and work through things physically and spiritually rather than chemically (with drugs).  I am not an opponent to drug therapy when it is needed, but I have found that my success of battling things naturally tends to work well when I am willing to recognize that I need to do something about my hormones rather than let them control me, although it is not without a great deal of effort on my part.  

Exercise is a key to helping me improve my mood and attitude in those times.  It's been proven scientifically that exercise boosts endorphins and helps balance hormones.  I'm always amazed at how much better I feel when I get my heart rate up for a while.  The foods I eat help me feel better, too.  Even though I feel like eating lots of salty and sweet foods (oh, how I love you, chocolate-covered pretzels!), I know that I will feel better if I stick to natural foods and drink lots of water instead of lots of caffeine.

Prayer and encouraging music also helps me when I deal with PMS.  I was feeling especially irritated with my kids this morning as they were getting ready for school.  The smallest setback with the morning routine can cause a quick downward spiral with my kids' attitudes.  With the mild weather we have been having this December, my kids have been able to wear sweatshirts to school a couple days this week.  This is something they really love for some reason, and since the weather has changed back to the cold Michigan December's we're used to, it can be an unhappy reality when the kids have to go back to their bulky winter coats.  Add that to my PMS and suddenly the quiet morning can feel like a wave of unsettling emotions.  In those times, I try to be rational, calm, and level with my kids... although I wasn't quite so calm this morning.  Even though the idea of wearing a sweatshirt vs a winter coat can seem like a petty situation to us rational adults who despise the cold, it can be a big deal to kids.  

Anyway, after I sent the kids off to school in their warm winter coats, I opened my bible looking for some encouragement to keep a good attitude for the day.  After reading through a few different verses, I came across Psalm 128:1-3:

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.  When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you, your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.

I sure didn't feel like a fruitful vine in the heart of my home this morning.  I felt more like an unfruitful vine that needed to keep my mouth closed and my coffee cup full.  I got to thinking, though, that if I better understood the function of the heart, I could better understand my purpose as the wife.  I know that the heart pumps blood to the body, but maybe there's more to it than that.  Here is some thought-provoking insight I found:

"Relatively simple in function, your heart's primary purpose is to pump...blood that delivers life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients to 300 trillion cells" (Yale-New Haven Hospital, Yale School of Medicine).

"The purpose of the heart is to pump the blood that bathes every organ in the body...If the pumping action of the heart is disrupted, the body's organs begin to fail very quickly.  Therefore, life itself is dependent on the efficient operation of the heart" (Fogoros, 2014).

My responsibility as a wife isn't just to keep my PMS under control; it's to help sustain life in my family.  I don't think its coincidental that the scripture compares the wife to the very heart of the house because her role is so vital to the function, operation, and health of her home.  This scripture challenged me this morning to realize that getting my kids out of the door dressed appropriately for winter is not my primary job.  Sure, it's part of it, but my position as mom and wife carries such a greater purpose than the ordinary things that can so quickly irritate me and stress me out.  This dose of perspective helps me realize that the little things are not as important as they seem in the heat of the moment. 

My prayer for today:  Oh God, help me to keep my hormones in balance, my emotions in check, and my life in perspective as I strive to take my role as a wife and mother seriously.  Help me to realize the blessing that my husband and children are, and to create a home environment full of life-sustaining nutrients.


Thursday, October 30, 2014


6 Month Results

Weight lost: 32 pounds lost and down 4 pant sizes!  

I haven't been this size since about 10th grade!  I promise that my intentions are good:  I don't mean to brag about how much I've lost, but about how much I've gained (self-control, discipline, confidence, and feeling better about myself in general).  I still have progress to make in plenty of areas in my life and I have every good intention of staying on track.  I don't want it sound like if you are the size that I was in the first picture that you're unattractive.  I was an average size and I was just fine, but I was definitely on an unhealthy track with health problems that were slowly creeping up and it wasn't slowing down anytime soon. That's really what it's all about... being healthy!  So, seriously, I don't want anyone to think I'm vain or judgmental at all based on size.  I really see where I'm at now as a comparison of health to where I was at before.  But, for the sake of showing you where I came from and where I'm at now, here is a before/after picture.  In the first picture, those pants were getting too tight on me and I was uncomfortable wearing them out of the house, and in the second picture I'm wearing the same pants:

Exercise: I have learned the hard way that weight loss is primarily through diet.  I used to work out SO hard and SO much and I wasn't making progress like I wanted.  I would feel myself toning up, but not slimming down... which was my primary goal.  There's a picture I saw on Pinterest that I think sums this up pretty well: 

Having said all that, I realize that exercise is still super important.  I don't think you can obtain optimal health without exercising on a regular basis.  I usually exercise 2-4 times/week.  I go to the gym a couple times a week for cardio and yoga classes (if you haven't tried yoga, don't think it's an easy workout!).  I use the elliptical and lift weights at home and go walking/jogging on occasion.  Overall, this is less than I was doing before, but my results are so much better because of my food choices.  I feel stronger and leaner. 

Food journal: I'm still not keeping a food journal. I think it's too much work and not all that necessary.  I'm totally convinced that not all calories are created equal (100 calories of vegetables DOES NOT equal 100 calories of candy) and most food journals show you a "calorie goal - calories burned = weight lost" type of formula.  That formula is simply not entirely accurate.  I think food journals can be useful to help shine a light on the actual amount of empty calories that we often eat without realizing it, but true health has to be more than just counting calories; it has to be a lifestyle change.  I'm convinced that if we primarily eat real food (avoiding processed, fast food, preservatives, and artificial ingredients) that maintaining a healthy weight is a natural result. 

Having said all that, I think this is a good time for me to explain that I didn't lose weight because I'm a vegan (Oreos and Frito's are vegan-friendly, friends!).  I lost weight because for the most part, I eat real food (primarily vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains).  I'm not eating 100% natural, but that's my goal, anyway.  I'm not eating 100% vegan, either.  I'm somewhere in between vegan and vegetarian... probably 95% vegan and 5% vegetarian. 

How I feel and future plans: I've read some VERY good articles by some highly respected professionals about the potential dangers of eating strictly vegan.  One that has really stuck with me is by Dr. Mercola called Strict Vegan Diets May Be Dangerous.  Dietary deficiencies are not terribly uncommon, even among the best-intentioned vegans.  Dr. Mercola has mentioned on his website the fact that among all of the people in the world over 100 years old, none of them are vegetarian/vegan.  A fact worth pondering, at least.

I also read another article by a popular blogger called Lessons from a Former Vegan who had major health problems while eating an excellent, well-balanced vegan diet.  I found this to be very eye-opening.  I know that none of us can guarantee a disease-free life, but if we do all we can and still end up fighting illness, maybe a vegan diet isn't the only key to health.

I have concerns about eating enough iron, omega-3s, and B-12 (and I eat tons of black beans, spinach, tofu, and other iron-rich plant foods on a regular basis, as well as nutrient-enhanced foods like organic soy milk and cereals).  On one hand, I feel proud to eat a plant-based diet and I want to stick with it, but on the other hand, I realize that eating a small amount of animal-based proteins have their place in a balanced diet.  

When I am in a really intense cardio workout, I have been fighting blackout-like symptoms.  I find myself feeling lightheaded and I even had to quit once in the middle of a kickboxing class because I literally felt like I was going to pass out.  I used to have these symptoms back in my early teen years when I was going through puberty and, like most teenagers, I was not eating a balanced diet.  Something about these symptoms reminded me of that time in my life, and rather than worry about every possible reason I could be feeling this way (Google can be a pretty overwhelming, terrifying source of information on such subjects) I feel like eating small amounts of animal products may help correct iron-deficiencies, and eating small amount of sugar may improve other blood levels.  Since I've added that into my diet, I don't feel light-headed as often.  Some animal nutrients (i.e., iron) are better absorbed than plant-based sources.  So my solution?  Eat some animal-based foods (eggs, cheese, and even fish once YUCK!) on occasion.  I am a lot more mindful of the sources of these foods.  I am determined to minimize my contribution to animal suffering, and I want to eat the healthiest options available.  Having said that, I think I will not be adding dairy products back into my life on a regular basis.  It doesn't seem to agree with me, and my face breaks out terribly even if I have small amounts. I still allow myself an occasional indulgence (hurray for dark chocolate!), but I have definitely changed my view on sweets as occasional treats.

If you've been following my vegan adventures in my blog, let me sum my experiences up this way:  we must have self-control and discipline in every area of our lives in order to be healthy and balanced.  I regularly reflect on this and meditate on scriptures about self control when I feel frustrated about not giving into the bowl of Halloween candy that calls my name.  Seriously... this is sitting on my counter right now...

It all really is an emotional issue for me... and also spiritual.  Denying myself is not easy, but the more I do it, the the more natural if feels, anyway. I honestly feel like a different person than I did 6 months ago, and not just because my jeans are smaller.  I feel more in control of my own health and life.  I don't feel like I have food issues nearly as much as I did before.  I have a healthy respect for food as fuel for my body, and try to avoid mindless eating.  I don't continue on this path because it's easy but because it's worth it.  


Tuesday, September 30, 2014


This split pea soup is my new go-to recipe when I want something full of vegetables with lots of protein, no fat, and plenty of vitamins and fiber.  I make it at least once a month and it saves well in the fridge for several days.  I love a recipe where I feel like I can really fill up without feeling weighed down, and this one definitely fits the bill.

Even if you're not a big fan of peas (canned, fresh, or frozen), do yourself a favor and give this a try.  Dried split peas taste a little different than other varieties.  Plus, I think I've found the secret to successfully duplicating the smokey flavor of traditional split pea soup, which typically is made with a ham bone by using a little liquid smoke and some cumin. 

While I enjoy a pureed soup, I think a little texture can add more depth, and so I add some diced potatoes after it is pureed.  Feel free to make some additions or substitutions however you see fit, but don't worry that you'll be missing out on flavor by not using a ham bone or bacon... I promise!!  I tend to add a little more salt and pepper than the recipe states at the end of cooking, and I have made it without any vegetable broth (only water) and it turns out just as awesome.


4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
32 oz. bag dried split peas, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium size carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced small


Step 1
In a large pot, combine vegetable broth, water, split peas (you do not need to soak them before cooking), onion, carrots, celery, garlic, spinach, Italian seasoning, basil, cumin, salt, pepper, and liquid smoke.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

Step 2
Meanwhile, boil potatoes until tender in a separate pot.  Drain.

Step 3
Remove soup from heat, and in batches, carefully blend in a blender until desired smooth texture is reached (or use an immersion blender in pot).  Return to pot.  Stir in potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Serve with some hot crusty bread or crackers, and a nice hearty salad on the side.  


Friday, September 12, 2014

Sweet & Salty Vegan Caramel Popcorn

I have a deep appreciation for the flavors of fall.  As soon as the leaves start turning colors, I start burning my pumpkin spice candles, drink hot spiced cider, and find any excuse to include pumpkin in my recipes.  Ahhhhh... I love the fall...

Since going vegan earlier this year, I felt kinda bummed about missing out on my old favorite caramel popcorn recipe.  I looked up a few recipes online but none seemed to include everyday ingredients that didn't require a trip to a specialty food store.  Plus, it seems like a good vegan caramel recipe is hard to come by, so I decided to modify my previous recipe.  And I have to say, it turned out pretty awesome!

A couple of pointers before you start:  

-make sure you have a paper grocery bag before you start this recipe

-do yourself a favor and make the popcorn on the stove top and avoid the microwave popcorn dangers (that's what people tell me, anyway).  If that doesn't bother you, you can use 2 bags of microwave popcorn for this recipe.

-the Earth Balance butter can be replaced with an equal amount of regular butter for a traditional/non-vegan caramel popcorn

-yes, this recipe calls for corn syrup (which is not the healthiest thing to eat, but it's certainly better than half the foods with high fructose corn syrup on the shelves at the grocery store), but I figure it's okay for an occasional fall treat.  The dangers of regular corn syrup are debatable, anyway.


1 cup popcorn kernels
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


Step 1

Cook popcorn and oil on stove top according to package instructions.  Pour popcorn into paper bag; set aside.

Step 2

In large glass bowl, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla.   Microwave 3 minutes.  Stir and microwave 1 1/2 minutes longer.  Stir in baking soda.

Step 3

Pour caramel sauce over popcorn in bag.  Roll down sides and close bag. Shake vigorously for 10-20 seconds.  Microwave 1 minute and 10 seconds.  Shake vigorously for about 20-30 seconds.  Cool popcorn on wax paper.

Step 4 

Combine popcorn in a bowl with your favorite candy or nuts.  I like adding candy corn and honey roasted peanuts.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

With ISIS, border patrol dangers, and other devastation, does God really care about my first-world problems?

My house is for sale right now, and it is literally about all I can think about.  I feel like it's overtaken my thought life to the point that I forget basic, everyday things... like paying bills.  I NEVER forget to pay my bills!  This past month I forgot to renew my license plate tag.  I had it tucked away in the proper place I hold onto such important papers, and I completely forgot it was there.  Thankfully an additional $10 fee on the day after it expired was all I needed to make it right, but I was pretty disappointed in myself that I let it slip my mind.  Following that incident, I was completely off track with what day it was last week, failing to remember the kids' open house at school until a couple of hours before when they reminded me.  Then, I forgot that I volunteered to purchase some additional classroom materials until I saw my note tucked away in a drawer in an effort to keep my counters clutter-free and ready to sell.  Because clearly a stack of papers would deter even the most interested buyers... at least in my mind.

I feel incredibly scatter-brained right now, with a greater focus on the laundry being washed at all times than on my everyday responsibilities I'm somehow forgetting.  My stress levels are high, my patience is low, and my ability to focus is difficult.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Clearly, selling a house isn't so simple, and it has definitely bent me out of shape a little.  Perhaps it's just an indicator that I need to be more organized with writing things down.  But it's probably also an indicator that I need to not be so focused on my own problems, but consider the bigger picture around me.

I tend to feel a sense of guilt when I pray about our house selling... as though I shouldn't waste God's time with my own first-world problems of buying a fixer-upper, or building our own house.  Both options are clearly better than worrying about catching Ebola, fearing for my life for standing up for God, having enough food to feed my family, or any other life-threatening issues that so many people deal with around the world on a day-to-day basis.  We currently sponsor a little girl in the Philippines, and she sends us drawings about her dream life, which simply includes a house with flowers... and probably not anything that we would ever be happy living in.  But, compared to her current living conditions, it would be a dream come true just to have a roof over her head and four walls to block out the rain.  Add a couple of pink flowers to the yard, and her life is complete!

These are the things I consider when I'm feeling overwhelmed about my house selling.  This global perspective helps me realize that paying a 3% commission to a buyer's agent really isn't all that awful, and neither is a $10 late fee for my license plate tag.

So, should I not waste God's time with my first-world problems related to selling my house?  Instead, should I only pray for those in need? 

Here are some scriptures that can provide us some insight:

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.   So, don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Come near to God and He will come near to you. (James 4:8)

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Clearly, God cares about our everyday lives.  He cares about my anxiety about keeping my house clean, and He cares about children who go to bed hungry.  As our Father, He doesn't have to neglect one of his children to attend to the seemingly bigger problems of others.  I think the bottom line is this: He cares about everything that we're dealing with, and He's close to anyone who calls to Him.

While I definitely think a good dose of perspective can help me, I clearly see that God is concerned about my first-world problems.  We shouldn't feel guilty praying for His help with seemingly small things.  But, at the same time, I think we shouldn't let our relatively small problems overwhelm us to the point that we forget about those around us fighting for their freedoms and lives.  

The bible doesn't say that we can call on God and He'll answer us only if our problems are big enough.  It simply says that He'll answer any time we call on Him.  He's all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.  So as we pray for God's help in our own lives, I think it's always important to be mindful of those who are in greater need, and pray for them as well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My favorite part of our Caribbean cruise (HINT: it wasn't the all-you-can-eat buffet)

Bob and I just got back from an AMAZING Carnival Caribbean cruise to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico.  It was our first time cruising, and we loved it!  Every year we try to take some time off and get away (or have a stay-cation) to celebrate our anniversary.  Our birthdays also happen to be in the same month, so our adventures are sort of an all-in-one kind of deal.  I enjoyed the tropical environment in the Caribbean, but we actually talked about doing an Alaskan cruise next time for something different.

The humidity/heat was a little intense for me, as was navigating through the buffet (a germaphobe's worst nightmare!).  Coming back to Michigan's mild summer and my vegan-friendly, germ-controlled kitchen seemed more appealing than when I left it.  

On the first night of the cruise, Bob and I were standing out on the deck of the boat taking in our new surroundings.  I loved looking out over the water; I was fascinated by the way the ship left a water trail behind the boat.  Watching the sunset over the ocean was definitely my favorite part of the whole cruise.  While taking in the vastness and intensity of the ocean, I found myself overwhelmed to tears with God's love.  I remember hearing a message from Billy Graham a while back about the same God who created the universe that is so perfectly set in motion and design, is so intimately concerned and full of love for us.  As I was standing on the deck that night, I felt so small compared to the enormity of the ocean.  Yet, I felt so close to God.  In my day-to-day life, I talk to the same people, go to the same stores, and have the same routine.  Taking a step back to appreciate the sunset helped me remember the simplicity of life and love.

I see the same beauty in nature in everyday life.  I love seeing the birds and chipmunks in my backyard, the changing colors of fall, and the collection of shells on a beach.  From the variation of my kid's hair colors and personalities, to the flavors of fresh foods, to the beauty of music and art, I see God's hand print on everything.  His creation speaks of His love; of His creativity, design, and power.  It seems to me that if someone says "there is no God," they simply fail to see the incredible design and beauty of the world around them.  

CS Lewis sums it up pretty well:

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

God's creation speaks of His love for us, and His love for us is seen in His creation... 

"that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Maybe we can't always take a cruise, watch the sunset over the ocean, or visit a foreign country, but we can always see God's love in the beauty of life around us. 

QUESTION: What helps you reflect on God's love?  Feel free to leave your comments below!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wedding dress still fits...just checking :) Sometimes a girl needs to feel like a princess

I was straightening up my closet the other day getting ready to show our house to potential buyers, and there it was in the back of my closet just hanging there drooped down in the bottom of the garment bag- my wedding dress.

Of course I had to fix it.

But not without trying it on first :)

And before you start thinking I'm vain and must wear my wedding dress all the time, trust me, I don't.  After nearly 13 years of marriage, I've probably tried it on just a few times.  (I will admit, though, that I'm glad I can still zip it up... something I couldn't always do).

I remember an old friend talking about how she was a princess when we were teenagers because she was a child of the King.  I have reflected on that over the years, and I think it's an identity that I often fail to remember.  I guess I don't always feel beautiful.  To be honest, when I look in the mirror, I see the imperfections in my skin, the few more pounds I'd like to lose, teeth that aren't white enough, and on and on.  While I try not to be too critical of myself, I definitely don't feel like a princess on most days.  I wonder if you can relate.

As a Christian, I am the daughter of the King.  He says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in His image (Genesis 1:27).

While wearing a dress obviously isn't necessary to see true beauty, it can somehow serve as a great visual reminder of the beauty that God sees in me.  Yes, true beauty is on the inside: 

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30) 

But I wonder if God doesn't smile when he sees his daughters (young and old) try on a dress and spin around in the mirror.  Because as they see their beauty on the outside, what they really see is the beauty and value that their Maker has given them on the inside.  

My challenge to you: try your wedding dress on!  Doesn't fit?  Don't have one?   No big deal!  Try on a different dress that you love and feel nice wearing.  There's something about dressing up that reminds me of being a little girl with limitless dreams and promise of the future.  Sometimes I think I should still feel that way.  Just because the pressures of life can be discouraging at times doesn't mean that life isn't full of promise.  And even if we see our imperfections when we look in the mirror, I'm sure that God sees the beauty of His creation in each of us.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why do bad things happen to good people? No simple answers, but one simple truth.

I just finished watching Kirk Cameron's documentary called Unstoppable.  In case you haven't seen it, the documentary sets out to answer some of the most perplexing questions of faith: Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why does a loving God not stop pain and suffering?  Is it that He doesn't want to, that He can't, or that He doesn't care?  

At times I have fallen into the "doesn't care" category.  When prayers are not answered in the way that I hoped, and plans don't work out as I expected, I have often cried out to God asking if He even cares.  I'm not proud to admit this.  Because in my heart I know He cares... but my emotions can get the best of me in my frustrations.  I think it's okay to question God, though.  In a message I heard a while back by Rick Warren, he said that it's okay to wrestle with God, but it's not okay to walk away from God.  At least in our wrestling we are facing towards Him, sending our questions and frustrations in His direction, rather than giving up and turning away.

Anyway, I found the documentary to be very thought provoking.  While there are no simple/straightforward answers as to why there is suffering in the world, the documentary definitely got me thinking about the stories of suffering in the Bible in a different perspective.  For example, in the story of the flood, rather than focus on the death from the flood, focus on the mercy of God to save Noah's family and restore the earth.  The documentary shares a lot of other stories from the Bible and how they are actually a message about God's love rather than the evil we talk about.  We tend to focus on the bad in a story.  We remember the bad.  We dwell on the bad.  We tell stories about the bad.  We blame God for the bad.  What if we focused on the good, instead?  In God's great mercy, He saved Noah and his family.  Perhaps we should remember such stories as a demonstration of love and redemption, rather than focus on the sin that God wiped out.  

We live in a fallen world.  Man turned away from God and chose to go his own way.  But God has not turned away from us
God loves us so much that Jesus gave His life for us. 

So what about the things that we don't choose that are not as a result of our own sin, but of someone else?  What about the pain that someone else inflicts on us?  What about cancer, disease, poverty, war, natural disasters?  How is that a result from us walking away from God?  It's simply a result of the fallen world.  

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.  Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body."  (Romans 8:18-23)

Even though His own creation turned away from Him, He did not turn away from us. God is always near, even in hard times.  He is always with us, even when we suffer loss and pain.  While there are no simple answers to pain, suffering, and death, there is a simple truth:  God is still good.

I remember reading an online post several years back from an old friend who talked about how she didn't understand how a loving God could let her grandma suffer so much at the end of her life.  After all, her grandma was a christian so how could God let her suffer?  The pain of her grandma seemed to turn my friend's heart cold towards God.  Somehow, seeing her God-fearing grandma go through so much difficulty was reason enough to decide that God was not real.  It broke my heart to read that post.  I can understand the questioning about God not being there for her grandma (as I have at times wondered the same as I've watched close family members suffer).  But, the reality is that God does not guarantee problem-free living.  He does guarantee, though, that He will be with us through it all.  Being a follower of God does not mean that we are immune to the evil in this world.  It means that God will help us through hard times.

Don't let your questions, doubts, fears, and frustrations turn you away from God; let them turn you towards Him.  God is still good, my friend.  He is only good.  The struggles we face in life are not the end.  Jesus is coming again to make right what was wronged in this world.  Instead of focusing on the bad things that happen (to good and bad people), focus on the good (a loving God who is always with us).

"...In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. (Lam 3:22)

I'm curious to know if you've seen the documentary, Unstoppable.  If you did, what do you think about it?  What are your thoughts on why there is suffering in this world?  Feel free to leave your comments below!