Staying Focus: Having Joy in Spite Of

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I feel like I’ve learned so many little lessons from not only this Joy study itself, but the many different things in my life during this time.  It’s amazing to experience God’s peace and joy, even in the midst of things that would seem negative, things that normally would rob one of joy or happiness or peace.

This week, we’ve been learning how to practice having joy in spite of difficult or less than desirable circumstances.  This journey over the past few months has truly grown me and stretched me, to where I’m not even the same person I was a few months ago.  I’ve heard so many messages now on what God was pressing on my heart – Staying Focus – and so many gifts of wisdom from people in my life on how to respond in better, more Christ-like ways to attacks and accusations.

I don’t retaliate anymore when I’m tempted to.  I don’t try to fight back in ways that only make matters worse.  I don’t give in to feeling ashamed when Satan uses people to bring up my past failures, things I’ve already apologized for and reconciled with them about.  I know God’s used my past failures to help me learn how to respond better in my life, and that I’m fully covered in His grace.  There is no more condemnation for my past failings.  And I know how to spot Satan’s attempts at stealing my joy – they don’t even work anymore – when he tries to condemn me for things I’ve already been forgiven for.  I know I’m covered in God’s grace, and feel no condemnation!  I still have joy 🙂

Now I actually celebrate and am actually a little excited to see insults and slander, not because of it or the pain it does cause me, but because I have the renewed chance to respond the right way this time.  To do things right.  Even last night, I decided to pray for someone that was obviously acting without self-control… again, and trying to cause harm by what she thought was a good plan at retaliation at feeling wronged.  It was exciting for me to know and decide right then at that moment, that I would not retaliate, and that I would pass that test God was giving me to learn how to deal better with sinful people.

I decided not to retaliate with insults or accusations of her past wrongs, or attacks like the last time I failed this test.  I decided I was going to forgive her, again, pray for her, and thank God for what she was doing and saying.  Sometimes we have to forgive people multiple times because they keep allowing Satan to use them.  But my reaction last night, is a far cry from what I would have done just a few months ago.  And that’s amazing!

It’s something to celebrate!  So I’m celebrating this week, for doing something I never would have been able to do with such grace this time last year.  I’m celebrating for the progress and maturity this means for me.  I’m celebrating because in passing this test, I’ll be able to move to the next level with God and be ready for whatever He has for me there.

So be encouraged readers!!  Have joy – joy in spite of.

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Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

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This is the epic soup of Fall.  The combination of all the ingredients with their surprisingly opposite notes of flavor (onions + maple syrup anyone??), all came together to almost taste like a prelude to a Thanksgiving dinner.  It was like eating a Thanksgiving Soup!

Anyway, I’ve never successfully made this soup before, I think I have tried maybe 2 years ago or so, and failed miserably – somehow it just tasted horrible.  But this recipe I found at our local grocery store (HEB for you Texans) was a new spin on the traditional Butternut Squash Soup.  This soup is drastically different from it’s more widely consumed version; it has maple syrup, brown sugar, and apples – giving it a much deeper flavor and intensity as the regular version sticks with the plain ingredients.

I loved how it gave our family a taste of Thanksgiving to come!  I hope you try it and enjoy it!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup – HEB Recipe

  • 3 pkg. HEB Butternut Squash or 1-Whole Butternut, cleaned and diced discarding peel
  • 2 Apples, cored and diced (Ambrosia Apples are great flavor), or 2 cups Apple sauce (Unsweetened preferred but sweetened works just fine)
  • 8 oz Diced Savory Vegetables (HEB wants you to buy their packages, but I just looked online to see what “diced veggies” could go into this soup normally.  It’s a blend of 1/2 an onion diced, 1 potato diced, along with other optional things like 1 carrot or 1 celery stalk.  It’s up to you what you use really).
  • 6 oz Maple Syrup or 1 cup Brown Sugar (I used 1/2 cup Maple Syrup and 1/2 cup Brown Sugar because I liked the idea of having both in the soup).
  • 1 Tbsp Texas Prime Coarse seasoning (I simply used some parsley & garlic as I didn’t want to buy more seasoning)
  • 1 qt HEB Chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream (I used 1 1/2 cups of milk, whisking it in after the soup was pureed)
  • Salt & Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400’F.

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Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

1 Potato diced

1 Potato diced

The beautiful veggie mixture, onions were added afterwards.

The beautiful veggie mixture tossed and coated, onions were added afterwards.

After roasting for 1 hour

After roasting for 1 hour.  Smelled heavenly, like a Thanksgiving Soup!

After puree, the end result!

After puree, the end result!

Combine all squash, diced apples (applesauce) and veggies and place into baking pan.  Drizzle maple syrup and add seasonings.  Toss to coat.  Roast for 45 min to 1 hr.  Allow veggie mixture to cool and add into food processor in batches to create puree. In a stock pot, pour broth, cream and puree and simmer for 10 minutes.

Adjust to your favorite consistency (by adding more water or broth if you have any left over, or the texture of the puree).  My husband loves soup that isn’t completely pureed, so I make sure to leave some of chunks of the veggies in the soup.  It was glorious!

Bon Appetit!

Morning Adventures

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Yesterday morning, we went for a walk at one of our old haunts and favorite places.  It’s an outdoor mall in our city that I’ve been coming to for years.  The mall actually had it’s opening day on my birthday back in 2005, and has a rich history of our particular romance & love story.

It was a nice, cooler-than-it-looked day, and the beauty of the surroundings, especially in the late morning lighting, was just captivating to me.  You’d think after so many years, it would feel too familiar, but the familiarity seems to only endear me to it even more so.

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I think it’s good to get kids out to see the beauty of nature, whether it’s hiking, swimming in a lake or the ocean, walking on a trail or the beach, it’s just one of those things that replenishes my own joy and happiness… but seeing them enjoy it – seeing the baby captivated by the different sounds and sights of nature, is really incredible!

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The flowers everywhere still in bloom, the greenery, the vines cascading down from the roofs of the buildings… just a breathtaking place to be in the morning.  Definitely changes one’s attitude or mood if needed.

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I was talking to a sweet, older gentleman yesterday about how we’re having such a late fall here in Texas.  Everything still looks slightly like Summer, but we’re enjoying the cooler weather, me in particular, getting to wear sweaters and boots finally.

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I loved seeing this couch with the holiday pillows and wine glasses.  Reminds me of Christmas and cocktail parties that come in December.

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This red chair, along with the holiday pillow, makes it’s own statement.  So much style.

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And then we went to our favorite cooking store, when you open the doors, the intoxicating smell of delicious foods overwhelm you for a moment and leave your mouth watering.

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This woman was in the middle of cooking a delicious turkey meal, giving us some samples of Thanksgiving delights for a quick brunch.

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We have a special area my older son always loved to go see, it has clocks that tell the time of different places around the world.  We used to love going to the section and staring at the different times, and I’d explain to him what the people were probably doing in that part of the world – sleeping, eating dinner, or just waking up!  It was a romantic exercise 🙂

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I’m using my father’s camera now.  My mom thought it was a good idea to give it to me since he hasn’t (and probably won’t) be ever using it again. 😥  It took me a while before even wanting to take it out of the box. It’s a nice camera… but using it was an admission that there’s something really wrong with him, that he’s not the same as he used to be.

It does take better pictures than my old one, and maybe a part of him can be memorialized in the beauty it captures.  But it’s still a tragic change to me.

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Creamy Poblano Soup & Taco Soup

Creamy Poblano Soup

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I love a good, hearty, hot soup in when the weather gets cooler, or for those freezing Winter nights of which we have very few here in Texas.  This soup was just amazing!  I modified a recipe from Epicurious, adding in about a pound of ground beef seasoned with garlic, cumin, and pepper spices, substituting heavy whipping cream for a large can of Cream of Mushroom soup, and adding in a cup of our favorite salsa to add a little more kick, and omitting the butter altogether (it doesn’t need it!).

The roasted poblano peppers really make this soup sooo delish!  It’s hard to stop eating it!

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Taco Soup

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This recipe I came up with on the fly, based very loosely on the traditional Chicken tortilla soup – but instead, using beef seasoned with taco seasoning (garlic & cumin), adding black beans (canned or already cooked, otherwise they get crunchy – ask me how I know!), a cup of salsa, two-three cups of frozen veggies from our fridge, cooked for a few hours in a slow cooker, creates the most wonderful, scrumptious, complex-texture of soup with Mexican flavor.  We ate it with cheese, guacamole, and chips to garnish!

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My picky-eater actually really enjoyed it!  Success!!!!

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So. Amazing.

November Joy

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November might possibly be my favorite month of the year.  It’s just so beautiful, the season of Fall is truly underway, and the delights of friends, family, and food await us by the bucket-load!

Happy November to you if you’re reading this!

When I think of November, I always think of our American tradition of Thanksgiving. This is the month of all months, especially for dwelling on how grateful we are for the blessings in our life.

After deciding to do a Thankfulness journal back in August, cataloging my days with the boys like a diary of sorts, and adding in one thing every night that I was grateful for, I’ve decided this is something I will always try to do.  It’s been so wonderful to look back at the days, see what we did, the little hilarious things that happened, or the sad things and how we got through them, but especially to see what I thanked God for before bed each night.  It’s been interesting to wrap up each day, no matter how good or terrible it was, with the blessing of choosing thankfulness for at least ONE thing I was grateful for.  The days ebb and flow, stretching out and long, or passing by faster than I felt I could keep up, but God’s love remained the same.

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I love the seasons, how each year brings a chance of renewal and remembering what God has blessed us with or brought us through, or what He’s doing right now in our trials.  Recently, our Bible study has switched from studying about the wonder of God, to the joy He wants us to experience.  It’s a strange thing to be studying so much about joy when November, for me, has always been about thankfulness.

I didn’t really realize it, but joyfulness comes extremely easily to me… and this is a gift I should be thankful for!  Ever since being accused of not being genuine – being too happy to be real – back when I was maybe 16 or 17, I’ve wondered why my joy, my genuine happiness wasn’t always perceived as a reality.

Our study guide asked us each to rate on a scale of 1-10, how much joy we have in our life, and I rated it easily at a 9 out of 10.

Joy, happiness, cheerfulness are feelings that come easily to me, but I never understood how much of a blessing this was until doing this study.  In fact, I almost felt a little ashamed at my celebrating the joyfulness of life, afraid that I only looked fake.  I never realized how this is something people sometimes have to work at, and sometimes very hard.  The author of the study admitted she believed her capacity for joy in her life had been only at a 3 out of 10 before searching it out in Scriptures.  I guess when someone is at such a low score of joy in their own life, when they see someone who has a higher level of joy, their first thought is that this person can’t be real, that having that kind of experience must be fake.

“Joy is a gift.

You can be more joyful tomorrow than you are today.”

A huge part of being joyful though, is allowing yourself to enjoy the gifts God’s give to all people in life.  It is also understanding yourself enough to know how to search out and go do the things that fill you back up with more joy when you’re running low or going through a difficult time.

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Whatever it is, joy doesn’t seem to be something that is passively waiting for everything to be just right before we can feel it’s pleasure.

JOY INVOLVES A SPECTRUM OF EMOTIONS, ACTIONS, AND RESPONSES THAT INCLUDE GLADNESS, CHEER, HAPPINESS, MERRIMENT, DELIGHTING, DANCING, SHOUTING, EXULTING, REJOICING, LAUGHING, PLAYING, BRIGHTENING, BLESSING, AND BEING BLESSED, TAKING PLEASURE IN, AND BEING WELL-PLEASED.

One of my favorite places to go in the mornings for a walk with the baby.

One of my favorite places to go in the mornings for a walk with the baby.

Make November full of joy for yourself and your family!

Cook up your favorite holiday dishes a little earlier, make some delicious pumpkin pancakes with hot maple syrup for breakfast, go for a walk in nature and really feel the vibrancy of the colors around you.  Curl up in quiet space with a good book and glass of wine, or get up early and wrap up in a blanket on the couch with a hot cup of your favorite coffee.  These are things that never fail to bring me joy.

Promise to do something, to be radiant with God’s love for you, and to allow yourself to search out joy this November, and I wonder if you’ll find yourself also swelling with gratitude in the end.

Whirlwind Halloween

This Halloween came up way too fast for us!  Last year, I was able to take our son out every weekend to do something different in October either celebrating Oktoberfest or Halloween parties; I was 7 months pregnant, and it was hard, but I knew it was probably the last time for awhile that we’d be able to do so much.  I was right!  This year we did the bare minimum as far as parties and events go, and still had a hard time keeping up with the baby!

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Ninja Turtle karate moves on the way to his indoor trick treating fun.  I love the versatility of Halloween, how easy it is to do different costumes, especially if you save them from year to year.

I did cat makeup on the Eve of Halloween for our son’s party with his friends.

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It was so much fun, seeing all the little kids in their costumes is always my favorite part of Halloween.  I love seeing them having so much fun.

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We gave out candy and stayed for some of the games and fun while the kids chased each other around laughing and screaming.  We left and dropped the kids off with their grandparents.  It’s extremely rare for my husband to have the chance to have a weekend off around Halloween – so we took advantage of it to spend some time together alone.

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And then it came to the big day!  Halloween night was finally here!  The boys wore their ninja turtle costumes and I changed into a Greek goddess costume my son picked from my closet for me.

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And of course, golden sandals 😉

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It was the perfect, gloomy start to a spook-filled night.

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The baby loved it – brave little one.  ❤

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They got lots of candy last night, and an eye-full of adventure to last another year.

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And then we were home. 🙂

Letters of Thanks

Back in October 2013, I decided to start a small blog to post ideas, thoughts, and advice on beauty, health, fitness, dating, cooking, fashion, marriage, sex, and parenting.  It was a supposed to be a very tiny venture, meant for mostly myself, to have one place where all my thoughts were collected.  And now has become a blog that has over 100,000 views since I started 2 years ago this month.  I don’t know what’s in store for it, I don’t think it will ever become super popular thankfully, but it’s been fun to write out my thoughts and ideas.  I’ve often felt like I’ve learned more from some of my commentators, and so I thank you readers who have spent the time to either comment or email me your thoughts or your own advice on topics or post ideas.

For a long time, I hesitated to add “Spiritual Growth” to my blog because I felt like I still had so much growth to do in that department, and didn’t want to come across as knowing much about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe one can know a lot about something like theology or religion, but that doesn’t mean they have a good grasp of how to apply it in their daily lives.  So anything I say on spiritual growth has usually come from after a long time (even a year or more) of thinking on it, trying to figure out the pieces and how they fall together, and so, I usually don’t write about the things I experience immediately, but occasionally do if I feel there is a good lesson there.

But over these two years, I’ve received quite a few comments thanking me for the posts or the blog in general… these things really humble me, that anyone reads my blog at all, when I just started it as something very modest and only for myself, blows my mind.  But thank you to my readers who take the time to leave comments or emails – they really are encouraging.  ❤

One of my favorite emails, from a police officer in Virginia:

“Hi there,

Thank you for writing encouraging things about your family.  I found your blog from a link on the advrider.com forums (it’s a motorcycle touring website) in an off-topic (for the forum) discussion about Red Pill Theory of male/female relationships.  They were complimentary of you.

I’m not quite sure what draws me to discussions about males and females, but I read about it a lot.  The evidence would show that it touches a nerve in me somewhere. I’m not a victim of bad relationships, my parents are still married, my wife’s parents are still married, and my wife and I are mostly traditional.  She’s glad I’m a man and I’m glad she’s a woman.  We’re certainly behind the curve on being trendy or progressive, and we’re not complaining.  We’ve been married over 17 years.  Still, I feel like somewhere deep in my mind is a narrative that “manly” is a synonym for “dumb, of little use,  irrelevant” or even “threatening, harmful”.  I perceive, rightly or wrongly, that the importance of men is diminished and derided.

I’ve worked as a police officer for over 16 years, and I end up getting snapshots of many bad relationships.  Though no professional has ever made it official, I believe staring at depravity and realizing that I have no authority to do anything about relational patterns that take decades to do their damage has led to struggling with depression at times, yet feeling no energy to get out of what I do for a living.  Faith has helped on that front, but I still get distracted while someone’s complaining to me about their ex-(fill in the blank) when I notice the blank-faced looking 5 year old 10 feet behind the complainer and can’t help thinking “This is burning into that little brain.  I wish I could explain that this is not an aspirational way of life, that needing the police to intervene in your personal relationships is a symptom of a bigger problem.”

So, when I read things such as you write, I’m relieved.  Not only do you appreciate men and women for being men and women, you love them, too.  I am impatient for Jesus to come back and fix everything that’s wrong, and staring at all of the problems causes me grief.  So, when I read your take and see your appreciation for your husband and kids, I feel great relief that somewhere out there is a family that loves each other.  By writing you this note, I hope to encourage you to know that you are helping people you don’t even know (who doesn’t love feedback?).  Thanks so much for your thoughts, and, truly, best wishes to you and your family.

Jim in Virginia

And more from Jim in another email,

“Yes, my favorite aspect of your thoughts is your “tone”.  So much of the discussion about gender seems generated out of anger or hurt towards the opposite gender.  So much of the learning stems from painful experiences and retaliatory strikes at the offenders.  It doesn’t even seem popular these days to say that you like being married; it seems much more prevalent to list the annoying things (complain) about your spouse. Therefore, it’s remarkable (noteworthy?) when there are voices who appreciate the strengths of both and who seek to edify both of them.  It’s unusual (wow, it shouldn’t be) and, bummer, you may not qualify for a Reality TV show because harmony doesn’t sell commercials or newspapers.  There is no profit in everyone getting along.

Yet,  the foundation you two are giving your kids, the “safety” of your relationship and their home… as they grow older, you will be amazed at the problems they DON’T have just because you two love each other well.  I believe it’s a big part of doing the Lord’s work. My opinion is that we don’t even realize how important, significant,and eternal it really is.  It’s really a great thing.  Thanks for being salt and light.

Okay, getting rambly here.  Go love the world by loving your husband and kids.  I pray you receive much joy in your work!

Jim

Stay Focus: An Unexpected Sermon Series on This Topic

I’ve talked with friends before about how they knew when God was communicating something specific to them, and many times, they would receive the same message in a multitude of little ways, and from different people who would unknowingly speak the very same thing aloud what they’d been feeling God tell them.

At the beginning of September, after finding myself completely derailed emotionally and mentally, and drawn off a path that was beneficial to my husband, family and general purpose in doing God’s will, I felt God plainly show me that He wanted me to “stay focus.”  Here is an excerpt from what I was learning at that time,

With every choice we make, we are saying “yes” to something, and then also “no” to something else.

When I choose to say “Yes” to reading something ugly or passive aggressive, I’m saying “No” to something that is positive or uplifting, something righteous and from God that could have helped me on my path.  When I travel down that road of entertaining things that stem from other people’s unrighteousness, I’m straying off the course that I’m supposed to be on, that God desires me to stay on.

When I was finally convicted of this constant temptation to stray off the path of being focused on the purpose of my life, God’s Will for my life, it came after a long, wonderful evening with my parents when I was driving home on a long stretch of open highway as the sun was setting and dusk was appearing.  The wonder of the peaceful silence, the lack of cars around me, and the speed of the highway suddenly propelled my thoughts as God pricked my conscience that this was what He wanted me to do at this time.  To stay focus.

There were many exits I was passing that could lead me to places other than my purposed destination, but they would only distract me from getting to my goal (home), and finding rest and sleep – renewal and rejuvenation.  These off-roads would delay me in my journey, and pro-long my eventual arrival.  And so it is with distractions and temptations to stray off onto tangents in our spiritual journey, or to go down roads we were never meant to travel.

When I got home, I drew out the picture I saw in my head of a road going straight that was my purpose and God’s Will for my life, and little roads that led off of it in different directions.  I named each of these little roads that led me down unrighteous paths, and each one, as I drew it out and named it, suddenly became so convicting to me how wrong it actually was, and how much of a sinful distraction it was to living a righteous, purposeful, and productive life!  The beauty of it’s clarity was breathtaking, and this picture has been burned into my mind ever since.

About a month after focusing on this idea, I felt God telling me and convicting me to “stay focus,” and to look up verses in His Word that talk about exactly that, meditate and really internalize all that it means, I suddenly heard a sermon series by an awesome black preacher my husband used to listen to in the early mornings when driving to work.  My husband just loved this man, and he looked forward to learning from him every morning, but since it was earlier than I was in the car (back when I was working) I never had the chance to be in the car to hear him when he was preaching.  Now that I hear him at a certain time in the afternoon, this message suddenly pricked my conscience and alligned with exactly what God was telling me called Unrecognizable (you can listen to it here, it’s divided into parts 1-4).  The message from the pastor was so shockingly similar to what God had already been telling me, and came on air the day after I wrote my first post sharing what God had already been showing me for the past month; it was either a strange (very strange) coincidence, or God trying to expand on this lesson in my life.

Either way, some of the notes I got from the sermons were just incredible in aligning with the verses I’d already looked up and started applying to my daily life.  Here are some take aways from the sermon series that I found helpful in staying focused:

-When in a changing Season of Metamorphosis – God is working on changing you from the inside out… the Pastor talks about Joseph, and how through the years he went through different trials, He became unrecognizable to his brothers who had been his enemies and had spent the first 17 years of his life with him.  When you just follow God, and do what He is leading you to do right now, where you are, no matter how dire your circumstances, He will still be with you.

-God is transforming me during this season, and God calls me to become focused during this time, focused on what really matters to Him, and in my life right now, where I am serving in my family and community

-God will bless and transform me so much that I will be unrecognizable to those who sought to destroy me, were against me, falsely testified against me to try to ruin my reputation, or tried to discount any wisdom I have from God.

-God called me before my condition was taken into account.  God doesn’t call us to disciple people who are “pretty good” in the first place, it is God’s calling that is going to bring about His purpose in our life.  God will take us from wherever we are, to where we need to be (we obviously help this process by obeying and staying focused).

-Joseph was called to be a Difference Maker.  The fact that he was spoiled or bratty didn’t matter, God made His mind up about Him long before he was even in existence.  Nothing in earth or hell can prevent God’s purpose in your life.

-The message is basically to not focus on people who are against you, lying about you, opposing you for whatever reason they come up with in their minds. We shouldn’t focus on what  they’re doing or what they did, backstabbing, betrayal, twisting your words, publicly trying to smear my reputation.  These things are painful, yes, but don’t spend so much time thinking on them.

-You don’t want to engage with “little people” – which are actually people who cannot rejoice with you when you’re succeeding beyond what they ever did.  You can’t tell big dreams to little people.  They don’t have the emotional, relational, or spiritual maturity to handle God blessing you more than what He’s blessing them, they can only mourn with you when you mourn, not rejoice with you when you succeed beyond what they’re comfortable with.

-Little people will act supportive of you when you fail, but will not rejoice with you when you are succeeding more than them.  They are people who are FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS.  They can only support you under certain conditions.  All of us must learn not to get close to these kinds of people… they will turn hurtful and will become treacherous for you.

-They cannot bring themselves to be in your life for your own good, they can only be in your life when it serves their own purpose.  We need to be able to let these kinds of people go, not have them in our inner circle of people we trust.  Little people will backstabb or even betray you when it benefits them… you don’t need this in your life, not only will it draw you off your focus, it is unnecessary and painful.

-You’ve never shocked God – the things that happen in your life don’t ever shock Him.  Just because something horrible happens to you, your reputation is tarnished by someone else’s lies about you, it doesn’t mean that God throws up His hands and says, “Well, that’s it!  Can’t use them anymore!”  He is never shocked by what happens to you, especially when it comes by the hand of treacherous fair-weather friends or even family members like what Joseph had.

-Shake off the shock of someone you liked or admired suddenly becoming treacherous to you (betraying you), trying to falsely testify against you or twist your words, being shown to be a deceitful person.  Some people are treacherous or crazy, and that’s normal, you can’t change them or hope that they’ll do the right thing by you.  They are dysfunctional.

-When you try to make sense of what they did – when they seemed like a good person or smart or a good friend, you are not “staying focused.”  When you do this, you take your eye off of what God wants you to be focusing on, so that He can develop you and transform you.

-The pastor relates it constantly to Joseph’s trials and how he never let his circumstances or the way evil people treated him distract him from doing the right thing and from staying focused on being godly.  God blessed his faithfulness and focus, with giving Him favor.

-Get your eyes and your mind off of people and the devil… off of your circumstances that are unjust and don’t belly-ache about what’s going on in your life.

-It’s a time to get focused.

-When you’re going through a season where everything is brand new, you’re realizing things you hadn’t before, part of the process of God taking you to an unfamiliar place is so that He can transform you.

-This pastor had the “urge” and the “nudgings” that this message was a prophetic utterance and will be meant for some specific people who are listening.

-It’s time to get serious about letting God bless you right where you are – even if you feel like what you’re doing has little importance or is little noticed.  Honor God right where you are.  Just be faithful where you are – doing what you are doing in your life – being a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and a woman giving in the community.

-Focus on doing the best where you are placed.  Even when Joseph was a slave, he obeyed and God had favor on him that even Potiphar was able to spot.

-Serve where you are in a Spirit of Excellence.  Do everything that you are doing like you are doing it for God, because you are!

Avoid pitfalls at all costs.  For me this means to stay on the path God wants me to stay on – not traveling down into areas that distract me from goodness or what I should be doing.  Don’t engage with people who have proven themselves to be treacherous or deceitful.  Don’t even communicate with them.

Satan often uses Christians to speak his lies to or about other Christians (hence Peter when he tried to rebuke Christ, and Jesus called him “Satan”).  You’ve got to quit looking at a Christian giving them the benefit of the doubt, and trusting that they’re saying something right when it’s obvious that they’re wrong.  You have to realize that there is a demon force that uses even Christians.  If they aren’t walking in the spirit, aren’t discerning what they’re doing, can open their mouths and speak what the enemy wants to say to you – to destroy you.

You have to have enough discernment that when you are talking to a Christian, to know if the enemy is using them to accomplish his evil will in your life.  We have to learn to watch who we talk to.  Because these people wanted to kill Joseph, and then see what would come of his dreams… you have to be discerning.

-When you find someone who can only hang with you in private, but can’t go on the record to support you in public, who won’t let you be slandered in public, they have no business in your inner circle.  You have to discern who you have with you.  Do not associate with people who bait you in private only to use your own words against you (twisting it to mean what they want it to mean), in order to ruin your reputation.

You can’t use fair-weather friends, you need friends that will stand with you in public – that will speak out for you when you’re being slandered against.  You need people who will stand with you through thick or thin.

-God requires us to become more discerning about the people who we have in our life.  You have to decide that you are through with folk who say they are “behind” you, they are often so far back behind you that you can’t see them.  They’ll let and even watch the enemy beat you down, torture you, or have a parade before they ever jump in.

-You have to learn to be discerning because you’re in a spiritual battle.  God is making a trophy out of you, that he might declare through you His praises.  And the enemy is trying to mock that.  You are in a season of Metamorphosis.  He has cocooned you – not everyone can come into a cocoon.  A cocoon is where God is doing a work that is so intimate in your life, because He’s transforming things, and when you come out, the Enemy won’t even know who you are.

-Joseph had to become focused because he had to discern that God didn’t want him to focus on other people.  He could have spent years focused on what happened to him with his brothers.  But he wouldn’t have been successful that way – focusing on the wrong thing, would have led him off course of where God wanted him to be traveling.

-We need to quit romanticizing Christians.  Just because someone says they’re saved doesn’t mean that they’re safe, they’re non-toxic, that they don’t slander others.  You have to watch what they say to you, how they treat you as their brother or sister in Christ.  Are they trying to make you better or say horrible things to you that are words from Satan?  Are they acting godly toward you or allowing Satan to use them?  If you want to meet Satan, hang around Christians, he uses them sometimes more often than he uses regular people!

Staying Focused in the Valley

-God is with you, even when you don’t like where you are, and He will protect you while you’re here.  He will protect you and even help you get to where you’re going, even when it looks like you’re traveling backward.

-You can prosper even when people are trying to ruin your reputation.  You can prosper in a trial or personal trouble, God is with you right where you are.  Like Joseph, you can prosper in a place you don’t like to be in.  You can prosper being overlooked and disrespected.  You can prosper while folk are taking credit for things you did.  You can prosper raising your kids through their different seasons of life.  God will give you grace to accomplish these things and prosper.

-Joseph didn’t just prosper when you see him up in the palace, Joseph prospered as a slave.  Because he wanted to be an excellent servant, God had favor on him that was visible to everyone.  The Lord showed Himself through Joseph’s excellence.

-When you have God’s favor on your life, in your life, people won’t be able to stand it.  You will see haters rise up – that’s what they do – they don’t like seeing somebody prosper.  Don’t even try to explain it or explain yourself to them.  Joseph was focused enough where the favor of the Lord came over him.  We need to understand the importance of “focus” because I’m convinced some of us are focused on the wrong things and wrong people.

-We need to be focused on serving God and doing His will, on pleasing God right where we are, taking care of the matters that He wants us to take care of, and leave the results with Him.

-We need to have the single-minded pursuit of that goal, of wanting to please God.

Staying Focus: Guarding Against Despair

-Joseph had to be focused on becoming an excellent servant, because he couldn’t do anything about many of the circumstances he was in, he couldn’t change them – so he allowed God to develop in him a spirit of excellence.

-In order to stay focused, there are many things we have to avoid – there are some people that we just can’t spend any more time with because it takes us away from our focus.  They might be distracting us or tempting us to sin, or being used by Satan, so they become pitfalls for us.  Avoiding them is the right thing to do, but ignoring them or avoiding them actually makes those kinds of people angry, and even more likely to attack using false accusations like Potiphar’s wife did to Joseph.  They will be even more likely to try to ruin our reputation, because we won’t give them the time of day.

-It was harder for Potiphar to realize the evil influence of his wife, than to get rid of the good, godly influence of Joseph.  You have to realize that for some people who are close to evil Christians, it will be harder for them to acknowledge their evil than to shun your good influence in that place.  Where evil rules the day – where evil Christians are allowed to be leaders or in positions of authority, your good influence will not be tolerated, they will ban you because you’re speaking truth about the evil person that they don’t want to get rid of.  They’d rather keep the evil person, than keep you and your good words and good influence.

-Accept all of the above and be ok with it.  That’s also part of staying focused.  Joseph could have been upset for years after having been thrown out of Potiphar’s house even though he did nothing wrong, instead, he excelled as a prisoner.  God’s favor didn’t leave him, just because Potiphar (a good man) wanted to hold on to the evil person more than he wanted to hold on to a godly one.  How do you think Potiphar fared though, after letting go of Joseph?  All he had after that was his evil, adulterous wife.  Let Christians who want to hold on to evil influences, have their evil influences.  They are rejecting what is right, rejecting what is good and pure, and God sees it all, it doesn’t escape His notice that they are calling evil good, and what is good (your influence) evil.

-Joseph had to also guard against despair.  Sometimes we think the end-all – the most important thing in life – is justice.  Finding yourself punished or your reputation destroyed because of something you didn’t do,   Injustice is wrong… however, God can still take you, place you in an unjust situation, still get glory from it, and still get you to where you are going.

-When folks are wrong, you can tell them they’re wrong, this is not about being weak or wimpy Christians.  Where you have the ability, use your power and your ability to bring about justice for you and for others.  But in this world, you’re not always going to get justice – people will do wrong by you, and they will get away with it or at least appear to.  Justice will not always be your reality.

-Instead of Potiphar’s wife getting in trouble for lying about Joseph, Joseph got in trouble.  And he stayed in jail not for weeks, not for months, but for years – and God allowed that.  God can work through injustice, to bring His purpose to pass.

-Make sure you’re guarding against despair – don’t look at all the injustice in your life, the people who did wrong to you, etc.  I’d rather have favor from God than fairness from man.  Joseph stayed focused and didn’t give in to despair when he was wronged, he continued on and the Lord was with him.  He practiced the presence of God.

-You need to trust in God, and every morning wake up and trust that His Will will be done in our life.  No time for despair, there are people to serve and work to be done.  Even though things aren’t the way we wished it was in our life – we’re still alright.  We’re still alive and ok.  We may not have all the opportunities we want, all the money we want, but God hasn’t forsaken me.  I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken by God.

-We can spend all our time about how unfair things are, but that’s getting off focus.  Give it over to God, He knows what they did, He knows what they said, He knows who’s plotted against you – keep giving it over to God.  Despair is something that can keep coming back, you have to keep warding it off.  Despair can envelop you if you let it, but that is a major distraction from your purpose.  Depression, bitterness and anger, loneliness, and fear are all emotions of despair that are going down a horrible road leading you far off from your purpose.

-Joseph didn’t feel like being in jail… for years… but he had to learn to practice the presence of God even in jail.  The Spirit of the Lord will still be with you, and you can praise your way through unjust circumstances.

-How could Joseph get Potiphar’s wife punished for what she did to him?  He couldn’t.  There was no way for him to get justice, he wasn’t even Egyptian, he had no rights at all.  There are some circumstances where you have no control at all over the injustice that will happen to you, evil people will get away with looking like victims or like righteous Christians.  Evil Christians will get away with slandering you to others, lying about what really happened, and there will be no way for you to even remotely defend yourself or have a fair chance.

The Unexpected Halloween Kitten

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Well, leave it to our strange luck to find yet another kitten to take in to foster.  He’s attacking my fingers as I type with his furry, cuddly cuteness!

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We love fostering baby animals… this little one will be easy to find a home for – he’s got perfect black and white markings, his feet look like he’s wearing boots!

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Just the sweetest, cutest, craziest little bugger.  ❤

And more fun this October… lots of football, games every weekend, Halloween parties already…

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Our Ninja Turtles

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Encourage Your Man in Hard Times

Over the weekend, I was asked to write about encouraging your man when he’s going through a particularly difficult time, from a younger friend I truly admire and love.  She is hands down, just ridiculously amazing!  Her faith, her sweet optimism, her pure, beautiful spirit has always inspired me and encouraged me to be better myself.  I have no doubt that she has touched the lives of many people with her optimism and encouraging spirit.  Even when I used to work with her, I noticed that she had this power to make even the most grouchiest of people’s faces light up when she encountered them.  She is gifted with such a beautiful spirit.

She’s been going through a series of trials recently, extremely painful trials and, ironically, some of the same ones I went through years ago.  Because she remembered what I’d been through, I’ve been able to use my experiences for good in helping her overcome some of the extreme challenges she’s facing and has faced in her life as of yet.  Unfortunately, her fiance has been going through his own trials as well as helping share the burden of hers, and so she asked if I could write a post on this topic of what (if anything) she can do for him?

Trials… everyone has them

First off, everyone goes through hard times at some point.  It is during these times that our faith is really tested, it’s during these times that God finds out what’s really in us, and if we obey when the going gets tough.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the analogy that when you’re squeezed or under severe pressure, the world finds out what was really inside you all along because it comes out.  Trials are opportunities to grow stronger in our faith, to grow more mature as we deal with emotions we’ve never had to deal with before, but not everyone makes it through trials to become better people.  In fact, many people break under the pressure, choose to hold a grudge against others or God Himself, or choose the path of sin and become bitter and resentful due to their trials.

How can we as women help our men when they are going through a trial, or when we are in a trial together with them?

The main thing?

Encouragement.

Men will almost never complain about their circumstances or their need to feel encouragement when going through a trial, but they absolutely love for their wife or girlfriend to encourage them, and it is probably one of the highest priorities in a relationship.  When it’s lacking, men suffer or feel deprived of a basic need, even though they will usually not say anything about it.  When we encourage our men, we inspire them to achieve things they may have never even tried.  Because we believe in them, they find their strength and motivation… it’s a miraculous thing that our beautiful femininity, when used right, can arouse a man’s powerful masculinity.

Men always need this encouragement from their wife, but especially in hard or difficult times.  It can be tricky though to know what to actually do.  And to be sure, there are certain things men usually don’t want us to do when they are feeling especially low.

Men are not creatures who talk endlessly about the problems they are facing, so when your man brings something up, it means it’s probably weighing especially heavy on his shoulders, and he is in desperate need of relief.  Showing him compassion and tenderness when he does show signs of stress are healing to his soul.  It’s not even necessary to try to get him to talk about his feelings, just being with him, showing him physical affection, is comforting enough to be a real encouragement to a man.

When pressures build up from everything in their life – their job, their expectations of themselves, their burden of supporting the family (or the knowledge that they will be expected to in the future), all can become extremely overwhelming to them.  The wise woman will build up her husband – and you do this through regularly letting him know how much you appreciate him, admire his abilities, and praise him in the day-to-day life together.

Something to avoid when trying to give your man encouragement is that men usually don’t want us to try to fix things for them, or to come up with a solution unless they’re actually asking us for one… those are ways other men tend to encourage each other, in fact.  If a man’s wife takes on that role of telling him what should be done, acting like a male adviser, it can actually make him shut down or feel even more depressed with the situation.

He wants to have the solution, and when he doesn’t, he feels like a failure.  It is the wife’s job to encourage him by letting him know that she believes he will be able to find the solution.  That she knows without a doubt, that he is capable.

Many men grew up with fathers (and mothers) who didn’t give them proper encouragement.  Many men have wounds from their past that make them constantly feel as though they just aren’t enough, or may never be.  It’s our job as women to take these past wounds into account, and allow God to use our love and encouragement like a salve on a wound to assist healing in those places.  Only God can heal, but He often uses wives and husbands to achieve the healing process.

Criticism Can Go Out With the Trash…

Because we understand a man’s need for respect and admiration, it’s not our job to come up with criticisms of ways he could be doing something better unless he actually asks for us to solve something that way.  As his wife, it’s our job to inspire him to have the courage to find it himself, so that he can regain his confidence in himself through achieving success.  He doesn’t go to us for criticism unless it’s specifically asked for constructive criticism; he goes to us for encouragement and inspiration.

We show him this encouragement when we remain confident in him and his ability.

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My husband and I have been through many trials, some big some small, but through it all, I’ve been able to see God’s hand over everything – oftentimes, after the storm was over though.  In the course of a marriage, there will more than likely be many times when your husband will feel defeated or broken.  There were times when I couldn’t believe seeing how dark his emotions could go, and I had no idea of what to say or do.  It was in these times though, that just being there with him, affectionately showing him my love and support were enough.  My belief in him, the confidence that he was capable to get through whatever trial it happened to be, pulled him through emotionally.

You Create the Marriage You Eventually Have

It’s my belief that how a wife chooses to respond to things like hardships early on in their marriage, is critical to how the couple will fare later on.  If a wife chooses to criticize her husband, or try to pull him up by his bootstraps instead of gently supporting him with her femininity, the husband may respond with resentment or built up anger, and the marriage overall will suffer going on.  Relying on God’s strength when faced with trials, a wife can give her husband appreciation and value, gratitude and affection, even in the hard times.