Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Waiting for God's plan

 I remember at age 4 or younger drawing pictures of wedding dresses. Hideous, boxy things with flowers and ruffles not unlike something a tiny child would draw. I don't even remember where I learned about weddings or seeing flowing white dresses, but apparently I had, and it stuck with me. Sitting on the floor surrounded by my Beanie Baby collection, I sat them down in rows and "walked" the bride to the groom. A stuffed lamb wrapped in a gauzy dryer sheet. Not long after that, lamb and leopard had little lamb and leopard children who were also getting married. To rhinoceroses and bears. All this being said, I can't ever remember a time when I didn't think about weddings and getting married, even when I had little or no concept of what marriage was. I assumed that everyone got married. Long before the notion of bridesmaids and ceremonies and dating and fidelity entered my mind, the seed was planted - perhaps while still in the womb - that I was going to get married. And I've never doubted that I someday will, even though I'm entering my 20's now never having had a boyfriend. Honestly, and as odd as it may sound, I believe that I'm destined to be a wife and mother. So... that means my life isn't completed and God's promise isn't fulfilled until I walk down the isle, right? Wrong! If you are a Christian, no matter what your dream is, even if you wholeheartedly believe it is your fate, it never supersedes your relationship, or marriage, if you will, to God. And God never promises anything other than salvation and sanctification here on earth, unless it is personally revealed (aka divine revelation). He doesn't owe us an easy life, nor a happy family. He does, however, promise faithfulness to His own, to His bride. Long before I arranged matches between my dolls, and long before discovering Pinterest, God "put a ring on it" and called me His own. Then he created the world, and watched and waited, organizing lives and events, until He knit me together in my mother. And in that time, He wove into me a purpose greater than my personality, my career choice, my birth order, my hopes and desires, and even greater than who I would chose as my spouse someday. He wove into my the purpose of pursuing and knowing Him.
 Do you know Him? Are you actively seeking? Or do you still think that He is more interested in what you major in, or who you date than how engrossed you are with Him? Because He has a plan, and it won't wait for a drivers license, adult maturity, a degree, a significant other, a job title, or money. It won't wait until you have resources to call your own. Because all He wants to use is you; yes you, and what little you may call your own.
 My purpose? To know God and make Him known. I think that'll include a spouse as some point in time. It may also include a trip around the world before then. But I know what it will include. It will include everything I touch, everything I own, everything I am, and everything He's making me to be. So... why wait? God's plan is now! What does He want you to do with what you have now? How can you draw closer to your Bridegroom?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A struggle with the Truth


"The Truth Will set You Free!"
John 8:32

 It certainly doesn't seem like it, when you're trapped in the delusion of control; when everything that seems to be on your side says that will hurl you into a vortex of harsh, uncontrollable realities. Indeed, being able to twist the truth into your own convenient shape, and not having the "luxury" of picking and choosing what you would very much like to be true, and throwing away the rest, sounds so very appealing and safe. It seems to the world to be the definition of this open-minded age in which Ultimate Truth is illusive and over-rated. Yet God waits patiently for us to realize - caught up in our own chasing tail - that the truth is the best and safest and most peaceful place to be. Not because the truth is comfortable and catering. But because He is the truth, and He loves us. Only when we step out in faith and embrace a reality bigger than our own selves will the light dawn upon our eyes and illuminate our hearts, releasing us from the chains of falsehood and darkness. Ushering us into a world that does not promise safety, yet delivers it, rather than the opposite.
 Liken it to a child standing on a rock in the eye of a hurricane, watching the waters torn by the winds while his hair is only slightly rustled. Then picture a grown man, hurled to and fro by the waves, balled up in a fetal position and head tucked between his legs, oblivious to his surroundings and peril, wrapped up instead in the world inside his head.
 The truth promises to set us free, not re-affirm our fantasy. Freedom - for us - comes at a cost. God's cost was the sacrifice of His Son; our cost is the surrender of our hearts, comfort and all.
 Is it truly worth it? Absolutely!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why the big deal about MODESTY?

Despite any previous experiences you may have had,
modesty has nothing to do with shame
Oh no! Not another blog post about... don't say it... please... Modesty. There, it's out. I wouldn't blame you if you sighed in exasperation and didn't read another word. I mean, how many blogs are dedicated to this subject? Yet there's apparently a need to rehash it all. Not to mention argue about it. Personally, I'm sick of it.

 It's not that complicated. Not if you read your Bible and have an ounce of humility, it isn't.

 For many people, the word "modesty" is associated with Shame. Especially with church, camp, or school dress codes. Real Modesty doesn't equal shame. In fact, by definition, it means the opposite. But if people read their Bibles, they'd know that.

 Modesty is not a code. Modesty is an attitude. 
(and an attitude, I might add, cannot be legislated, but more on that later.)

Usually, I'd start out with the Bible verses on the subject, but I think it fitting to post Noah Webster's original 1828 definition of the word Modesty, since nobody seems to have a concept of what it is. (don't worry, I'll get to the Bible verses too)

MOD'ESTY, noun [Latin modestia.] That lowly temper which accompanies a moderate estimate of one's own worth and importance. This temper when natural, springs in some measure from timidity, and in young and inexperienced persons, is allied to bashfulness and diffidence. In persons who have seen the world, and lost their natural timidity, modesty springs no less from principle than from feeling, and is manifested by retiring, unobtrusive manners, assuming less to itself than others are willing to yield, and conceding to others all due honor and respect, or even more than they expect or require.

2. modesty as an act or series of acts, consists in humble, unobtrusive deportment, as opposed to extreme boldness, forwardness, arrogance, presumption, audacity or impudence. Thus we say, the petitioner urged his claims with modesty; the speaker addressed the audience with modesty

3. Moderation; decency.

A modest attitude is more beautiful that anything on the
4. In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.

 I know, a lot of big words in there, but essentially, modesty is... moderate, humble, unobtrusive, and chaste. Antonyms include... extremity (being extreme), arrogance, presumption, audacity, impudence, and disgrace. (if you are not familiar with these adjectives, I highly suggest looking them up here)

 Hmm, so basically, being modest is just being a good person.

 From this point on, when you hear the dreaded word "modest" or "modesty," instead of thinking about clothing or shame or sexuality, think about an honorable, non-assuming person that is a delight to be around. Go ahead and practice this new word-association by saying  that word in your head a couple times. "Modest." It might take a while to get used to.

 How does this tie in to how one dresses?
 First of all, I used a gender-neutral reference there, because modesty is not just for women, just like lust is not just a problem for men. I'm not pulling a feminist-card here, because it's a fact that men are more generally visually stimulated than women, who are generally more emotionally stimulated. That is the reason why modest apparel is most often made into a woman's deal and not a man's.

 Wearing your attitude:
 When one shops for clothing, they're usually shopping to achieve a certain look, or create a certain impression. Shopping for your executive office job? You want to look sharp, professional, and powerful. This is called dressing for Impression. (There is also dressing for Function, which is a different topic). When dressing for impression, one has a certain attitude they desire to exude.
 Take a walk down any given street and you can guess a lot about someone you pass by how they dress. This is not judging them, it's simply observing. Clothing does not define who someone is, but it is one of the very best ways to convey who you are on the inside. It is such a powerful indicator that
celebrities and politicians hire professional Image Consultants to tell them what to wear, because that is how people will view them. And a first-impression is very, very valuable because it is nearly irreversible.

 You may not be a celebrity or have a social agenda, but you will still meet - or simply pass by - many people that you will be exhibiting your true self to. It may or may not matter to you personally if you have been falsely represented. But, if you are a Christian, your body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are no longer the only one who is being represented by yourself. He is. That realization kind of took my breathe away.
 Suddenly modesty is a big deal. But not the way people are making it out to be. How does the world see your attitude? Is it presumptuous, disgraceful, arrogant, or impudent? I might add stubborn or mule-like to the list. If the answer to any of those adjectives is yes, then I'd say you have a lot more to worry about than what you wear.

 It's not that modest apparel is completely unimportant. It's that inner modesty - your attitude - is infinitely more important. However, how you present yourself is how people see your attitude, or at least at first.

 That's why I find all this bickering on the subject so repulsive and trivial. It's usually done in a spirit of pride, which is the exact opposite of what real modesty is. But the biggest reason I hate so much dispute is that is distracts from and sometimes eclipses what Christians should really be focus on: Christ and the gospel. Do you really think that God is looking down upon His church and says to Himself "little Susie is a brat who disrespects authority and refuses to love her neighbor, but at least her skirts are cut below the knee." I don't know if God talks to Himself, or if He is sarcastic, but that's what I picture Him thinking.

Show how much you respect yourself by being modest.
It takes a strong, capable woman to exhibit the character
of self-control, humility, and godliness.
 But what exactly does God say about modesty? Actually - depending on the translation - the word modest is only mentioned twice in the Bible. I'll mention one of them in this blog post, but feel free to look them all up here.

 "likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control... but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works." 1 Timothy 2:9-10 ESVA

I like this version as well, which puts modesty in the context of prayer. Why is prayer important? Because prayer is what keeps us humble and centered. "Likewise, the women, when they pray, should be dressed modestly and sensibly in respectable attire, not with elaborate hairstyles and gold jewelry, or pearls, or expensive clothes. Rather, they should adorn themselves with what is appropriate for women who claim to be worshiping God, namely, good deeds." CJB

 Ladies, dress respectably, sensibly, and with self-control. This does NOT mean you have to wear boxy, shapeless clothing. Remember that God created your body and it is nothing to be ashamed of! In fact, it is beautiful. Your body is a beautiful gift. But as with any gift given from God, there is a huge responsibility to handle it correctly. Don't hide it away in shame! But don't misrepresent it, or invite shame upon it.

 You're not responsible for how others see you. But you are responsible for presenting yourself respectably. And sometimes in this world that is all you can do.

 Sometimes, men will be men, and by that I mean that his lust is not a woman's responsibility to keep in check, because we can't, nor are we called to. But there is a big difference between a man lusting,
and his lust being invited.

 Men, I'm not letting you off the hook on this. It is your responsibility to keep your mind pure. Nuff said.

 What about dress code?
 Just as good parents will set rules for their children to follow in hopes of them adopting the principles behind them, sometimes I think it might be necessary to set boundaries. However, it should be done in the spirit of helpfulness, not shamefulness. Say, pool party for the church youth-group? Better to avoid that setting all together, but at least bring plain t-shirts for people to cover up suits with, if necessary. But for heaven's sake, don't make a big deal out of it! It's an outreach, not a righteousness contest. But know this: regulating what someone wears will not cure the problem of lust!

The heart of the matter is... the heart.

 It was always so. Lust is a problem with the heart rather than a problem with the eyes (and I'm not just speaking to men here). Modesty is a matter of the heart rather than that of appearance.
 When King David repented of his sin of open adultery, he did not pass the blame on to his mistress, saying "if she hadn't been bathing within my sight I wouldn't have stumbled." Nor did he pass it off as the norm, saying "it's just how guy's are wired. Any other fellow would've done the same thing." No, he humbled himself before God and cried out in his lowliness "create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 ESV. This attitude of modesty is something we can all learn from. Come to an understanding of who you are before God, and suddenly, clothes take a backseat in your mind. Live with an awareness of His presence, and you will present yourself differently. Grow in virtue and your attitude will dictate how you dress. There's a reason that appearance isn't mentioned much in the Bible. Because if you're reading the Word for what it's worth, that will come naturally.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Attitude Behind Photo Editing

 Photo Editing is so prevalent that apps exist to transform your face and add makeup even before the photo is taken. We're all aware that it's so unrealistic that most adds look absolutely nothing like the original shoot. All that deception and vanity has left a bitter taste in my mouth for photo editing. But is there a time and a place for it? Perhaps so. There's nothing wrong with wanting a picture to look its best, just so long as it accurately portrays the person. And sometimes pictures just don't do the person justice, or can capture annoying little features that otherwise wouldn't be noticed in "real life."
 Above you see, side-by-side, a before and after of a quick webcam pic of me. I'm not wearing much more makeup than I would on any given day - foundation, grey eye shadow, black eyeliner, and mascara - although some days I'll only wear foundation, or none.
 My process was simple: upload the picture to ipiccy.com, and increased exposure. I literally just made it look more sunny. This doesn't change anything about me, it simply adjusts the environment. Then, I must admit, I used the "liquify" feature just to add just a touch of volume to the top of my hair. (I'm so ashamed of my conceit!) Then I cropped it to make a balanced photo. And that's all folks! Some simple, non-invasive adjustments can bring out the best in your photograph. And it only took 3-5 minutes.
 Another thing I could've done as well would  to erase the background, as it's distracting from the focal point, but I refuse to spend that much time on a snapshot of me.
 So where does one draw the line? I think that the attitude one brings into the editing makes a huge difference. Is it to make a picture a better picture, or to see how many "likes" you can get on your profile pic? That consideration alone makes a huge difference.
 Also, if you're changing something that is naturally part of you, I'd reconsider. I wouldn't use the "liquify" app to elongate my neck, or slim my body, or the "clone" app to erase my widows peak on my forehead. Those features are naturally part of who I am. I feel that the finished edit accurately portrays who I am.
 So next time you decide to edit a photo of you or a friend, look to lightly enhance and balance instead of change. Because the point of every surface self-improvement should be to enhance, not to over-haul.
 But, admittedly, I'm not very good at photography or editing. What are some tips you'd like to share?

Monday, September 1, 2014

The ALS Ice Water Challenge - the Good, the Bad, and our Nation's Response

 The nation is being hit with a wave of cold, icy water. And it's altogether deliberate. Yes, you already know what I'm referring to: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, to raise awareness and support for research in order to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system, which refutes the sufferer's brain signals to the rest of his muscles. This leads to paralysis, and eventually heart failure (the heart is a muscle). Needless to say, it is a terrible disease, and if people dumping freezing water over their heads in order to post the video to facebook helps in any way, I'm all for it. But the question is, does dumping freezing water over your head and posting it to facebook really help? Remember, the challenge is, do it OR donate. While some people take the challenge as well as donate, the publicity is really what it's about, raising $100 Million, as of August 29st (see source). All too often the publicity is all one really thinks about, giving many self-absorbed youngsters an excuse to strip down to their swimsuits, drench themselves for social media, and create a little network of friends to do the same. This being done, they are not obligated to donate. However, the motive doesn't matter as long as those with ALS get help, right? They are getting help, aren't they? The ALSA (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association) is taking steps to find a cure. Steps, yes, but in my opinion - both moral and practical - not the right ones. Let me explain:
 I'm always very leery of any organization asking for my money. With the amount of medical and charitable organizations in the US alone, and the amount of money they acquire every year, you'd think that every problem in the world would be eradicated. Whether that is my ignorance speaking, or simply my cynical nature, I cannot say, but nonetheless I believe it is one's duty to find out what their resources are actually going toward. For example, many "non-profit" groups make their founders into millionaires because the proceeds collected goes straight into whomever's pocket he sees fit. While I'm sure that's not the case with ALSA, the method of research used may be a waste of time and human life. In fact, I'm absolutely sure it is both.
 Many medical research groups - including the ALSA - use the highly controversial Embryonic Stem Cell Research. It's been a sore spot in the news, and some states have banned the practice. What's the big deal?!
 Stem Cell Research takes stem cells from the base of one's brain, which can be experimented on in hopes of being transfused into someone else's body to heal and regenerate their own cells. It has taken remarkable strides and while still experimental, has already saved lives! To master Stem Cell Transfusion would be holy grail of medical science!
 Embryonic Stem Cell Research is similar, except it uses stem cells from frozen embryos created specifically for science, killing them in the process; duplicating children in labs in order to harvest their cells. The unavoidable question has been raised: "Is it morally right to kill in order to cure?" Many Christians say "absolutely not!" Because of this reaction, they've been categorized as morons constrained by outdated morality who would rather blast Bible verses from atop their holy mountain than advance science, turning a blind eye to those in need. Is this true? Does "thou shall not commit murder" really apply to advancing our ability to heal? Oh, God forbid it. (irony)
 Actually, contrary to Adult Stem Cell Research, Embryonic Stem Cell Research has proven Zero Percent
The sad reality is that he may not have needed to wait
- and the embryo would not have needed to die - if
adult stem cell research had been used.
effective. ZERO PERCENT. Not one case of embryonic stem cells has proven effective. Countless lives have been lost, millions - perhaps billions - of dollars have been wasted, our nation becomes sicker by the hour, and we wallow in a sea of blood and failure rather than waltz grandly into the future of health, free from the ancient chains of morality.
 Putting all morality aside, just for a second, would you donate to, or even humor, an organization that takes such fruitless measures? I won't try to tell you what your response should be. Just ponder that question.
 Coming back to the ethics of the matter, do you believe that it is right to manufacture children in their most vulnerable stage in order to use that life for science, even for the possibility of a cure for ALS, Alzheimer, or Cancer? Even an adult who is already deceased cannot be an organ donor without familial consent, or seeing to it himself to register beforehand. Human rights and the constitution would see to it that these children would at least have a shot at living. But perhaps we've outgrown such base beliefs as "rights" and "life." (that was sarcastic)
 But what else is there to do?
 Adult stem cell research has proven to have potential, and does no bodily harm to the donor, since they are highly regenerative. Also, one might look elsewhere, such as healing from the natural world (non-medical). Natural medicines and treatments, though unverified by Governmental organizations, have made well many sufferers, including cancer patients. It is uncertain whether there is a cure or not, so I believe all options should be tested.
 All cures aside, let's consider what else we can do. It seems to be our nation's mark to do anything possible to avoid making time to help someone with their own hands. We'd rather give a part of our paycheck or douse ourselves in ice water than take the Bible's advice and visit those in need (James 1:27). In fact, out of the 5 million American Alzheimer's sufferers, 800,000 of them live alone. Many sites exist with a big red "donate" button, but just as much as these people need a cure, they need care. Our nation's response is to skirt the real issue, and that is to love one another. Giving money may be one way to love those in need, supporting science may very well be another, and maybe going viral for something silly you did will raise awareness, but how will you know unless you take personal initiative. To Care as well as Cure. And I can't say that embryonic stem cell research can make either one of those claims.

Other articles:

More information on stem cell research (from secular view):

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New lyrics, partial draft - I Can't Save You

 Started writing this watching my little siblings play. They're adopted, so they've already been through a lot, but I know they'll have to go through a lot more. Such is life, and I know that pain. Loving them so much, I just want to be that someone to take the pain away. But I'm human, and I fail. Even if did everything humanly possible to help them, if I didn't show them the way to God, I'd actually be doing them a disservice. I can't save them. But God can.
 (As you can tell, it's a partial - not done yet - and a simple draft. Just wrote what came into my head.)

Verse 1:
I want to be your sanctuary
I want to be your safe place
I want to be the shoulder to cry on
Want to be your saving grace
I want to say that I'll be true
I want to say I'll never fall
That I'll be there to catch you
I want to be your all-in-all
But as much as I would die for you
Cry for you
Maybe lie for you
Be a light in the night as a guide for you
I know that I can't be your rescue
But I know who can

So I'll stand at the crossroads
Point you to the right
I'll carry a candle
And tell you of the light
Write a sign with my life
To show you what to look for
Give a taste of living water
Tell you where to find more
Because I can't be your savior
But He can

(all rights reserved)

New song lyrics - Complete

Complete, written by Michaela Danielle
(all rights reserved)

Could they just give me one second to breathe
I will get back up but i am not a machine
I'll fight while I'm alive, but if they kill me I'm gone
By God I try and do right, but sometimes I'm wrong
These wounds will heal but give me some iodine
I will walk all night but I'll need some sort of a sign
Sticks and stones will break my bones all right
I'll admit it hurts but still continue to fight

Because I'll give everything I have
But sometimes it's not enough
And I'll do whatever it takes
But I am only so tough

I need You to
Finish, complete, and satisfy
Because I've
Been pushed to the line
And I'm not alright
I can't fight
Another round, 1,2,3, I'm still down
I'll continue to compete
But only You can complete

Standing up, seeing stars, so I hang on to Your sleeve
I know You only have me here because it's good for me
Throw a punch, knock em out, they'll be back for me
You're the only One to bring em all to their knees
Fighting in the night You are the lamp by my side
Even though I lose hope You are still my Guide
This is all for You so I'll press on til I die
Cuz You were all for me when You renewed my life

Because I weighed my good and bad
But it was not enough
And I needed an overhaul
So you gave Yourself up

I need You to
Finish, complete, and satisfy
Because I've
Been pushed to the line
And I'm not alright
I can't fight
Another round, 1,2,3, and I'm down
I'll continue to compete
But only You can complete

"It is finished" was Your cry
As You suffered; as You died
With my incompetence on Your back
My failures laid to rest

You complete the law
You satisfy my life
You finished the race
And You'll finish the fight


Philippians 1:6 - And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Luke 22:37 - For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me [Jesus]: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A new kitchen - first day

In other news... I MOVED INTO MY VERY FIRST APARTMENT! Being nineteen, that's a big deal! There's much more to write about, especially how God guided my decision and provided just the right thing. But for now - being I've only just moved in a couple hours ago - I just want to post a few pictures. More to come!

Contrary to the picture lighting, the walls are an off-white

Crock pot already plugged in! Trying out an oriental soup
with mung beans and wild rice. Above in the cupboard
are most all the dry food goods I should need.

Since there are no pull-out drawers, mason jars or pots will
do to hold utensils

Atop the fridge: two decorative bowls for shelf-stable
produce like onions, garlic, and yams. Also, my oil staples
- extra virgin olive and coconut

Friday, June 27, 2014

New song lyrics "Heart Hit"

(Written my Michaela, all rights reserved)

Everyone's got a story
But nobody wants to tell
So we sit in whitewashed tombs
Like we're the only ones in hell

Everyone has a rough spot
But we excuse our own
And blame it on our victim hearts
We're the only ransomed soul

Well, everyone has a past
And everyone has a future
But for now our solitary selves
Join the crowd of nondisclosure

Last night I had a dream
Of an army too great to number
They were marching side by side
But not one of them saw the other

So I'll show you my wound
You don't have to show me yours
My guess is both of our hearts are torn
So what are we waiting for?!

Secrets, stories, battles, glories
Wins and losses, we've all got it
Everyone's wound is different
But everyone's had their heart hit
Their heart hit
Yeah, everyone's had their heart hit

Everybody's pumping blood
Like arrows through their heart
We've all been born into this world
That's a good enough place to start

If you don't want to share
Don't pretend that no one does
Have the courtesy to sympathize
Because you've been in that rut

We're really all the same
Skeletons playing dress-up
Born and raised so differently
All tainted by Adam's mess-up

I think you're the victim
And the offender all the same
It's a real small world we live in
So who are you gonna blame?!

So I'll show you my heart
It's an ugly, beautiful mess
Show you the One who loved my soul
Enough to take upon my distress

Secrets, stories, battles, glories
Wins and losses, we've all got it
Everyone's wound is different
But everyone's had their heart hit
Their heart hit
Oh, their heart hit
Yeah, everyone's had their heart hit

Everything that you've been through
Everything you're crying over
Jesus nailed it to His body
So give up your load and give Him what He asked for

Your secrets, your stories, His battle, His glory

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pencil Sketch "The face of determination"

I drew this on a Sunday afternoon when I was feeling quite under the weather and really bummed out that I didn't get to go anywhere that I'd planned. Messaging a friend, the subject of art came up. Guess what, he draws too! I never knew that. So it inspired me to start drawing again. (I'd been so busy during the winter I had grown rather apathetic) I actually looked at my own profile in a picture just as a guideline, and then went from there. It actually looks nothing like me.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Headband out of a Square Scarf w/ pictures

A simple and cute look for work, play, church, the office, dates, or bad-hair-days. You can choose from most any scarf and make it work for you.

The picture tutorial is pretty self-explanatory, but let me elaborate if need be.

Note: if you are using an oblong scarf (as opposed to a square scarf) steps 1-4 are not necessary.

Step 1: Decide whether you want your hair up or down, or your bangs forward or back. Do your hair accordingly, keeping in mind you'll need about 2 inches of room for the headband to go around. Hairspray is helpful. Also, if you are going to wear earrings or wear makeup, do so now.
Step 2: Lay the scarf down flat, and fold it in half, point to point, to make a pyramid or triangle.
Step 3: Visualize a half-way point between the top-of-the-pyramid corner and the base, and the point down to that area.
Step 4: Visualize the remainder of the scarf in fourths, or quarters. Find the 1st quarter between the top and middle part, and make a crease with your hand. Fold the crease over, as to hide completely the top-of-the-pyramid point folded in step 3.
Optional step: depending on how wide you want your headband to be, you can stop folding after step 4, or you can fold the scarf in half one more time.
Step 5: Hold the scarf by each end, pulling firmly as to keep from unfolding. With the smooth side facing out, place the middle of the scarf at the nape of your neck and bring either side up to the front of your head.
Step 6: Secure in the center with a simple knot, pulling just tightly enough to keep it firmly in place without potentially giving you a headache.
Step 7: Tuck the ends of the scarf underneath the headband, close to your head, on either side. Ta-da! You're done and look fabulous!

More pictures:

Trying out a 70's style

This is actually my sister's dress
 What I'm wearing:
Chocolate brown, high-necked sleeveless dress (my sister's)
Floral Scarf, draped around my shoulders backward ($1, local thrift shop)
(no shoes, couldn't find any heels the right color)
Henna design (temporary tattoo) on my foot and forearm
Foundation, brown eye shadow, mascara

My sister's dog on our deck

Recently got about a foot taken off my hair length

My mom was the photographer

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I'm attracted to the heart

 Most women have something specific they're looking for in a man. And in Christian circles, it's been encouraged for girls to actually make a list of requirements for potential beaus to measure up to. (which can be dangerous, because nobody looks like Chris Hemsworth, loves like Ryan Gosling, has the character of Tim Tebow, is as rich as Jay-Z, and sings like Hugh Jackman, all in one) I must admit I have written up such lists, though they really only contained character traits and such. But the more I've observed the opposite gender (and the more the opposite gender has observed me :/ ) I've come to realize that I really don't have a certain stereotype of guys I like. In fact, I've become much less legalistic when it comes to what I do and don't want. I don't care if a man has been to college, what job he has, or what he looks like. His hobbies are his own, so as long as he's passionate about something, I don't mind what it is, or isn't.
Is he a woodsman? A hipster? A nerd? Good for him.
Is he a businessman? A blue-collar worker? A DJ? As long as he's a hard worker.
Has he been to Yale? To Moody? To a tech school? The question is, does he pursue knowledge and wisdom?
Is he clean-cut? Does he have tattoos? Does he wear skinny jeans... or carpenters? As long as he's reconciled his appearance with the Lord.
Does he listen to hymns? To jazz? To heavy metal? I'm cool with that if he's able to worship God through them.
 Please don't misinterpret this as me being desperate and willing to take any man that comes along. In fact, it's just the opposite. I've developed a deeper standard: a good heart. (as well as being a Christian, that's already been established.) Let me explain: more recently - because I'm getting older and therefore eligible - there have been a couple potential suitors interested in me that I've had to evaluate, and make a decision based upon that whether I said yes or no to pursue a relationship with them. Because of all the time, thought, and prayer put into these decisions, I've really had to ask myself, "what is it that GOD requires in a man," and not "what do I think I need/want in a man."  Taken back to Micah 6:8 I found my answer: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" That's it! It says nothing about hairstyles, hobbies, and personal preferences! So what is on my man-quality-list now? Love God, love others (the first two commandments, Matthew 22:37-39), do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
 Don't get me wrong, I don't expect perfection. No one is perfect. If I were to come across a perfect man, he wouldn't want me, because I'm not perfect! But the man who loves God and strives to model after him, it will motivate him to love others before himself. But that means I, yes me, should be striving for the same thing. I must love God before I love any man; love God more than I love anyone. And not try to "work the system" by taking things into my own hands.

 So, girls, let me give you that list, again:
  1. Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength
  2. Love others as yourself
  3. Do Justice
  4. Love Kindness
  5. Walk Humbly with God

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Working on lyrics

I've been listening to Eminem songs lately (OK, don't judge me!) because - even through the language - he is honest. His heart and soul are in every word. For a while now the only thing that's motivated me to write is my own feelings, which is probably why I'm attracted to his music. However, I found his Marshall's hypocrisy saddening. Many of his lyrics are about his love for his family despite his and their failure. I'm not judging him in any way, but he seems to be saying "I love you so much, but not enough to change. So I hope you think of me fondly."
 As a Christian, I'm not obligated to my old sinful nature. There is victory in Christ to move beyond myself and the constant self-focus that may be the root of Eminem's stagnant progress.
 I sat down on my bed with my trusty pen and old battered notebook, and jotted these down. Definitely in need of editing, and it's obviously not finished, but here you go:

I've been thinking like this pen and paper's my only companion
But oh wait, has it been?
I choose to refuse to open up to those closest to home
I say they've failed me before
Oh yeah, well who hasn't
We're all in the same place, we're all social hazards
I do it to you, you do it to me, but you've always cared and been there
So I guess I've just refused to see
I've been living selfishly with this notebook all to myself
Grieving alone like I don't want to hurt no more, I push you out
This self-pity glues me down
I can't get out, and I keep writing these songs like they'll set me free
But baby could it be
That the more I listen to the sound of the words of my mouth run out
The more I'm trapped in their sound
The more self-focus abounds
So if I were to listen to the music from the hearts of others
Tell me could I recover
If I chose to reuse my experience and learn from the hurt
Maybe others wold start doing the same but even if they don't
We're still in the same boat
We've all been used or abused, chewed out or called the issue
So I'll skip the tissue
I've been reliving for too long; self-evaluating in every song
I can acknowledge what I'm feeling without substituting words for people
See the church and the steeple
We're all a bunch of hypocrites lying and evil, needing love
Thank God love is enough
My past is pathetic, I regret it, but look where I'm headed!
I turn my eyes ahead and off of my scars and myself
Because my card has been dealt
My old self is already in hell but the new me's homeward bound
I lay me in the ground every morning and yet I live
Because Christ is within
Reflection is essential for grown but not a way to live

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Destination: Marriage?

 You may only be able to relate to the second half of this post, because I'm starting out with an observation made of a specific crowd. A group that I've been part of, and a mindset that I believe I've been set free from. This is the "Christian young adult" group, but the type of thinking many of us have adopted can - and I believe does - cover over all people. (So read the whole article anyway!) It is the belief - subconscious or not - that reaching a certain goal or attaining that special something or someone will make us happy.... and that after that is achieved, there really isn't much else to worry about. That's the I-can-die-happy-now, paradise plateau, that-would-be-the-life mindset. All too often that applies to marriage, or more specifically, the wedding. You see, a Christian young adult, who adheres to the standard of purity in the Bible (keep the marriage bed pure) know that they can't experience the "couple effect" until they've walked down the aisle and said "I do." Since I believe that most everyone naturally longs to love and be loved by someone their very own, getting hitched can become a big priority, especially when a person reaches their mid 20's. And, I'll be frank, what young adult doesn't want sex?! Pure and simple. It's this blend of emotional needs and physical desires that drives many to think "if only I were married!" It seems like the one and only gateway to fulfillment in life! But I think that marriage is the last thing on their minds. Confused? Let me explain:
 When the goal becomes personal satisfaction, no matter how lofty the goal or how long it takes to get, it becomes so shallow and short-lived. If the goal is to get married, after the bells have rung, the cake is eaten, and the dress is trashed... well, goal accomplished... now what? Same thing with a business-related dream. "If I could become the CEO, or if I could make 100 grand this year, or prove to my co-workers that I have what it takes, then I'd be happy." That is why so many successful, privileged, and seemingly happy people end up depressed and taking their own life. The dilemma is not that their goal wasn't lofty enough, or that they didn't work hard enough, it's that they are programmed for so much more. Some have coined it a "God shaped hole." The Bible says that "if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
 No matter what you do, if you are not living for the greatest cause of all - an eternal one - nothing is accomplished; nothing is gained. That doesn't sound very fulfilling to me! No wonder the richest country in the world is clinically depressed. America may currently have the most economical weight, but is depleted of its original heart of Christianity.
 So what is this "Eternal, Greatest Cause of All?" Love? We turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, flip on the radio, talk to a friend, or walk through a grocery store, and we see and hear all about this thing we call "love." But only the love of God really counts. Yes, marriage (not just the wedding) is wonderful, and becoming wealthy and influential has great benefits, but all of those start and end in this world. As a Christian, my purpose transcends this world. My purpose is not to become great, be happy, or even to love others. It is to love God and bring Him glory. If this sole purpose is not foremost and forefront in my life, anything I do will be empty. When my fleeting life ends - as all of ours will - and I stand on the threshold of eternity, it won't matter if I found Prince Charming, saved the world, or became personally fulfilled. None of those things last! The last few verses in 1 Corinthians tell us that "love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away."
 So "set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2) Live for the Kingdom of God, and follow His lead. Become fully in love with Him and your destination will transform into heavenly glory!
 The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philipi "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." (4:12) The significance of this statement is that Paul was rotting in prison as he penned these words. But he knew that he was accomplishing the task that God had called him to do: instruct and encourage the early church. Also, as he lived out his last days in a dark, dank cell, he was able to witness to the guards, and eventually the governor. His goal wasn't to become a church celebrity, nor to free himself from a gloomy fate, but to bring glory to God. He understood that this mortal life is so incredibly short in comparison to eternity. Only when our life goal reaches beyond our own selves will it become fulfilling and worthwhile. When our destination becomes God's calling for us, our destination becomes eternal!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Never give up on anyone + my testimony

Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
I sat, knees tight together, and legs dangling off the edge of the small platform and hands folded in my lap, with an estimated four dozen pairs of eyes blankly staring at me. It was year 2011 and I was the last graduating teen to share that night, in a room full of high school students gathered at our church's youth group end-of-the-year gathering. It's a tradition that the Christian seniors would share briefly a bit of what God had done in their life; a testimony. Needless to say, it was a long evening, full of varying emotions from the speakers, and I could tell that the audience was more-or-less bored and tired. After all, I was the last of 10 Seniors, and my guess was that few thought little home-schooled Michaela had anything terribly profound to share. Indeed, compared to some of the stories shared that night, I hadn't anything horrendous to complain about. I was raised in a proper Christian family, had a good childhood, never did drugs, had sex, and never had trouble with authority. However, this was the night I would tell a large group of teens - many simply visiting for the event, which included snacks and hors d'oeuvres - and church leaders that I had nearly died several years earlier... from anorexia.
 I had a feeling that my closer friends knew part of the story, or at least suspected. It wasn't a secret what I had been through, but simply something I didn't like to talk about. I mean, when exactly is it a good time to casually bring up in general conversation that I used to starve myself.
 I took a deep breath, telepathed a prayer, and tried to start off on the right page.
 "Hi guys, I'm Michaela Johnson. I'm the one you see but never hear." A few giggles ensued, so I proceeded. I was determined to deliver. All apprehension left me. In fact, I felt a strange anticipation to get my past in the open, and hopefully encourage some people as well. For too long I had been ashamed and terrified of my past, but tonight marked the end of those sentiments.
 "Most testimonies are categorized as either the Dramatic Salvation type - aka God saves the druggie destined to die - or the Perfect Christian genre, the ideal, did-everything-right-since-birth people. I don't fit into either one of these categories fully."  I hoped to shatter a pre-held view on the "church testimony," or at least how I had always thought about it.
 "Most of you know that I was born into a loving Christian family and hardly missed a Sunday at church. Accepting Christ at 4 years old, I realize now that even the beginning of my walk with Christ is beyond anything I could boast about. The Spirit showed me my need for Jesus, and in faith I trusted in Him. My salvation wasn't something I could come about on my own - by my own discovery, experience, reflection, intellect, or reasoning. Since then God has been teaching me to lean fully on Him for every need.
 "When I was about 6, my older brother - 5 years my senior - started getting involved in the wrong crowd. He was my idol, and I looked up to him, so when he left home a year later due to drug-abuse, rebellion, and theft, I was crushed and confused."  A few eyebrows raised. Not many people knew I had an elder brother! The 5' 3" girl wasn't as transparent as she came across.
 "I don't know if that factored into what happened later, or if it was simply insecurity plus sinful nature, but at any rate, I learned to blame myself for everything, and really truly hated myself. I guess it didn't help that I'm a perfectionist and tend to take mistakes personally. The fatal flaw was that I developed a works-based religion for myself only. I knew that I was saved by grace alone through faith, and I
certainly didn't hold others to the same standard as I imposed upon myself, but I felt less of a Christian if I wasn't doing things right. Perfectly, in fact. The difference between head-knowledge and heart-felt is vast!"  I paused.  Even though it had been years (it felt like a lifetime) since I had struggled with the ordeal I was about the explain, it had only been a few weeks since I had been revealed this simple truth:
 "The thing is, in thinking that I had live out my salvation before being worthy to come to God, I was actually denying Jesus His full glory of saving me completely through His sacrifice alone. There's nothing I can do to deserve it. If I think that the chasm between me and God is not too great to bridge by myself, I make God out to be a liar, and trivialize the tremendous feat that He performed on the cross."
 Deep breath. This was the time. A few more moments.
 "I was afraid at first to give my testimony to you because there are so many misconceptions about the disorder I battled with after that. Some call it a choice, and to some extent it is, I know. Some view it as a means to get attention or get what one wants. I suppose some people might use it that way. I knew it as an addiction, a death trap, and Satan's lie. It's medical name is Anorexia. And all I knew was that I was in control of my body - which I hated - and it felt so incredibly good to not eat. My high was losing weight. And by the time I was scared to death for my life I had no choice but to feed the monster... and starve myself."
 Total silence. I swear my ears were ringing from the pause.
 "Some of you may have known me then, but I kept to myself, so it wasn't very noticeable when I left. My parents and doctor freaked out when I hit 90lb and sent me to a 'special hospital.'"
 My mind jolted back in memory to my arrival at that... place. I was assigned a room in the small subdivision of the hospital with another "eating disorder," as we were called. In reality, my room-mate simply had an untreated case of IBS, which causes extreme irritation and pain during digestion. She didn't want to be thin. It simply hurt too much to eat. I shared a room with her, and the rest of the division with about a dozen other people, ages 5-25, male and female, and struggling with various and diverse afflictions, including but not limited to self-harm, anger-management, substance abuse, ADHD, and those with visions of delusional realities, as well as other "eating disorders." In all honesty, that must have been the most frightening day of my life.
 "After one week of hell, the supervisors there told my parents that it was be in my best interest to put me on a feeding tube, since it was so laborious for me to actually eat, especially since my body went into hyper-metabolism. After a tube was inserted into my nose and down to my stomach, taped to my face, and hooked up to a machine, things started to change. My parents received the cold shoulder and half-truths were relayed on my progress. My food intake was doubled, despite their promise of a lighter load. I fell and broke my tailbone, yet no action was taken for comfort. I was allowed to leave the 'ward' once, to be shuttled to a clinic. After a scan, I was told that my spine was deteriorating rapidly. My parents knew that something was wrong, and they wanted me out of there. However, the paper they signed in order to allow my feeding tube inserted apparently stated that I was not to be released until their special doctors recommended it. Which, of course, could take months... or years. After saying that they were coming to pick me up, my parents were informed that if they were to do so their parental rights would be revoked and my sister and I would belong to the state."
 (To this day the irony is not lost on me that years after such a threat, our family adopted three young children through foster care!)
 "In this time I fell into a deeper depression than I had been before. I looked no one in the eye and spent most of my time drawing. Some of my best artwork was created during that time, though I cared not and most of it was destroyed. They were bleak days. However, I don't wish this to be a pity-sob-story. God felt infinitely distant, but He was at work. After all, this isn't my story, but His.
 "Two days after being roughly placed between a rock and a hard-place, my parents received a phone call. A phone call from a currently untraceable lawyer in California whom had 'heard about' our predicament (though no one had been told) and offered to take the hospital to court, since I was essentially being held for ransom, as the hospital fare was very expensive. But God is so good, and
Sovereign literally means Ruling over ALL.
rarely leaves his children merely grateful, but astounded at the impossible. This lawyer would not charge our family for his services; his offer was free."
 Was he an angel? We don't know, and speculation is all I have, so I left the possibility open to the small crowd in front of me to ponder. At any rate, he had weight in the real world, and the hospital dropped me like a hot potato!
 My next words were chosen carefully.
 "This may sound like the end of the story, but it was not. After two weeks in 'the house,' (so I call it after reading Frank Peretti's book The House) I lived through hell in my own home. There are still things that I was put through that I have yet to justify in my mind and heart. And I really don't have much memory of that time, and the recovery was blurry, but here I stand today, and I believe with all my being that I was divinely healed, and I thank God for my parents who never gave up on me."
 There, I had said it!
 "Perhaps now you think my story is over," I said jokingly, as I realized I had been talking on heavy materials for almost 10 minutes. "But I have one more update, and this one happened very recently! In fact, I had even thought that my struggle was over, except for the occasional flash-back, but God exposed to me my heart not three weeks ago! I had grown bitter and cynical, not allowing myself to feel any emotion too deeply. My heart had grown stale and un-penetrable. The rest of my life would've been spent in decline because of my fear of being hurt again and losing control, but that one night God spoke to me."
 I almost expected someone to roll their eyes at the classic "I heard God speak to my heart" story, but I was too excited to notice if anyone did.
 "He asked me - inaudibly - if I was willing to obey His command and lay all my burdens, sins, fears, and hurts upon His cross. It was if He said 'Michaela, you've promised me your present and your future. I know you wish to serve Me! But you cannot do so if your past is not also Mine. I died so that I could have your past! Give it to me!' All the pain flooded back into me like the damn over my heart had finally caved in under the pressure of the Spirit. Only this time, I let it flow. I didn't attempt to rebuild it. I let it fall upon the back of Christ as He carried the tree along the road to Calvary. I let it pierce His hands and feet like nails when He tacked the sin of the world onto His perfect body. I let it fill His lungs as He breathed His last and forgave unrepentant sinners. I let it kill Him, hanging on a Roman cross. I let it distill in His lonesome tomb as the devil laughed. But truly, He rose again, leaving behind the sin, the pain, and the past.
 "So I challenge each and every one of you, first of all, to give to Christ what He asks of you. Only then can you truly live, when all control is resting in the hands of a Sovereign God, and you feel vulnerable and open to the world, but are trusting in His protection."
 Secondly, I now challenge each of you reading this now. Look around you. Ask Jesus for a heart-view of the people whom you come into contact with every day. They're people made in the image of God. Just as much the image of God as the skeleton-sized freak I was at 14 years of age. Just as much in the image of God as the old homeless man reeking of beer and cigarettes. Just as much in the image of God as the down-syndrome baby in the womb of their mother. Just as much in the image of God as the hateful activist ranting against humanity. They are loved, the need help, they need God, they need you. So I implore you who value the Word of God, never give up on anyone; always fight for everyone!

Never give up on anyone; always fight for everyone!

Monday, February 24, 2014

One week of Surrender - day #1

The sound of contracting metal from the heat register on the floor next to me pulled me from my shallow slumber. My right-side shoulder and hip bone told me loudly that I really shouldn't put them through this sleeping-on-hard-ground ordeal, but hey, the bathroom floor was warmer that the carpeted living-room, and I knew I needed to add at least another hour to my sleep schedule, which was at about 3.5 hours. This is where I found myself at 6am this morning, satisfying my insomnia in an empty house with my coat on and blanket encompassing me and a small floor register in a 50 degree fahrenheit bathroom. Before you feel too sorry for me, let me explain that this was by my own doing, through not exactly by my choosing.
 Since last year, a lot has changed for me. Nothing terribly major, I suppose, though sometimes it feels that way. At 18 years of age (I'm 19 now) my parents added three young children to the family through adoption. I couldn't be more thrilled, but of course that does require a little more effort on my part. Going from a family of 4 to a family of 7 exacts time and effort. That's most definitely the most life-changing of the curve balls as of late, though working nearly full-time does add to the load. Not to mention online college, which I hope to finish in 3 years with a Bachelors in Psychology.
 But I've been through worse before, and with a much worse attitude, to be sure. Yeah, I was stressed, but I knew I was strong enough. After all, I knew exactly where my future was heading, and I was in control. I felt good, looked good, and had some accomplishments under my belt. This kid is going places!
 This summer we got a call. A call from a family friend of ours, informing us that the property next to his - just 4 miles out of town, was up for sale, and would be just perfect for our family. A large, cabin-style home with a sunny kitchen, 6 bedrooms, land for growing children to play on, and a huge garage for dad. We all laughed, of course. Our house was, well, big enough, or at least we made do, and we certainly had enough on our plates already. But God has a way of testing us show us if we really trust Him. We bought the house and moved. Just like that. I was not looking forward to another adventure. My juggling act was wobbly at times, and I had dropped the ball on spending quality time with God. After all, it wasn't required, and I seemed to be just as close to Him as before. I was still passionate about His Word, I was still living in righteousness, and I was still making a difference for His kingdom. Notice the common denominator in all of those statements? The key pronoun is "I"; me myself and I. Including God, but he was farther down on the list. Like I said, this kid is going places! Slowly, I started to find out what was really important to me: Status at my job. Again, the dominant word there is "mine!" But was it really my job? I remember burning with jealousy and hurt after the former manager was rehired to "help" me with all my responsibilities. Hadn't I
proven myself? I was good enough. They didn't need her. But was I really good enough? This went far deeper that the title of manger, and "right-hand man." I was trying to make myself - my life - in my own strength, for my own self; religious rebellion.
 Meanwhile, back at the homestead in the country, I was letting things slide. My room was a mess, through I used the excuse that I had just moved all my earthly belongings. I consistently slacked on my chores, although I told myself that the average American teen would probably faint at my workload. I was too tired at the end of the day to properly study for my tests, and I woke up in the morning still exhausted as I was before my 9:30 bedtime.
 Knowing my heart that I couldn't stay in control much longer, I started turning to other things for satisfaction. A friend's reassurance, my boss's praise, desert after supper, and replacing much school time with social media. I was afraid of whatever seemed to control me, so I tried to control it - whatever that was - first. The thing is, it was my own self I had set as an idol in my heart. Trying to control myself - and my idol controlling me - were the same exact thing.
 Surrender is a scary thing to do, and I was already frightened with the uncertainly of life.
 Still, I continued to go through the motions of religion. Though there were times of honesty and connection between me and my Creator, apathy had become my new outlook on life. Running on adrenaline tends to deplete one's emotional reserve. Sitting through an adult's Sunday School class called God's at War, by Kyle Idleman, I knew God was not the driving factor in my life at the time. But my complacency and fatigue drove me to unrighteous laziness. "If I promise God I'd try again, I'll only disappoint Him again. And again... and again." Legitimate concern, but still unacceptable.
 These things I pondered as I lay on the chipped tile in our old bathroom, trying to stretch my coat from my head to my feet  by scrunching into a fetal position. Had it occurred to me then that I was more than just a selfish and tired individual? That spiritual warfare was being waged to make me ineffective and discontent in God's kingdom? Had it not crossed my mind, or did I really not care? Whatever the reason, I cared now.
 I knew the deal. It was fair, and the terms weren't hard to understand. My parents made certain that I knew that if I did not complete my tasks at home on time, especially by the weekend, I was grounded from the car. Though I tend to be an independent, hard-working gal, I came up short one too many times. In a kind effort, I was given extra jobs, or paid for my mom's pedicure, in order to make up, but finally the lenience had to come to an end. Saturday afternoon I was informed grimly that I was indeed grounded from the car. For one whole week; 7 days, 10,080 minutes, and however many seconds that is. Although it was not the very first time it had happened. it was the first time for me in a location 5 miles from town, aka my job.
"I'll walk," I said, not defiantly, but in an effort to grasp at a workable option.
"That isn't safe!" Replied my mom. "The temperatures have been far too low, and the wind is bone-chilling."
 Riding my bike was out of the question, as the road shoulder was pure ice or snow. There was only choice left for me: get up at 4am, shower, pack my lunch, textbooks, laptop, clothes, and makeup, and ride into town with my dad on his way to work. He'd drop me off at our "town house," which we still owned, and I'd have to find something to do until noon when my shift started at work.
 I was close to my breaking point. I wasn't in control anymore. I didn't feel like an adult, much less a college freshman and retail manger. And certainly not a big sister to be looked up to as an example. The circus act had ended, and my many colorful balls were no longer up in the air, but rolling and bouncing away from me on the floor. And the worst thing was... it was all my fault. I had no one to blame.
 But I wasn't about to ask for help. Perhaps I thought that the little control I had left could be used to accept
my due consequences.
 Saturday night, lying agitated in my bed like so many other evenings, consumed with my shortcomings, I remembered I was supposed to meet my friend the next day after church for a coffee date. Every fiber left in my body said "No!" I certainly didn't need any questions asked about how I was doing, what God had been teaching me, or what my future plans were. She'd understand if I texted her now and said I just wanted some family time after a busy week, cancelling our outing together. After all, she was a busy individual herself, and would totally get needing a day of rest. But a familiar voice not my own whispered to me, "Go."
 I replied with an emphatic "NO!" The soft and persistent comeback, "Go." I realized my muscles were tensing, and it felt like a battle was surging through my veins. This was war! And I finally recognized it as
such. The enemy didn't want me in honest and transparent fellowship with another believer who cared about me. God did.
 Even the next morning, every possible effort was given to keep me from even going to church. I slept through my alarm, I needed to shower, I didn't feel good, etc. But through some miracle I got my brooding, reluctant into the rusty old family van by the time it pulled out of the driveway.
Arriving just in time for the conclusion video of Gods at War, I caught the title of this weeks subject: The idol of... Myself. Until now I had only mildly resonated with the testimonies given. Exploring the gods of power, money, sex, etc. This one struck home. It hurt. I knew I was living to further my own end, but God not only wanted my life and priorities, He wanted my heart, my desires, and my affection. I texted my friend and asked if she could pick me up on her way to the coffee shop since I didn't have a vehicle. As soon as I got into her car she asked how I was. I took a big breathe. "Stressed out," I said. The next two hours were filled with a mutual heart-to-heart conversation. Was I the only one struggling? To my surprise and relief, I was not alone. That day was a turning point. I wasn't loved because of anything good in myself. I wasn't even approved of by God because of anything good in me. It wasn't about me at all, but about Him. My Jehovah is the first and the last, and He consumes the in between. The only one thing I needed to do was give myself over to it, and even this task I was not able to do by myself and in my own strength. Brokenness is beautiful, and humbling brings relief. I have nothing to prove, as my righteousness and identity are in Christ alone.
 It isn't easy. It isn't supposed to be easy. But God is good.
 After an early morning, a dismal fight for warmth, and a chilling walk to the coffee shop before migrating to the library at 9am, I felt like I was coming down with the flu. My ribs ached, my head swam, and my stomach made me believe it was crawling up my esophagus. But the peace in my heart surpassed any fix I could try myself. The energy drinks, the chats with certain someones, the chocolate chips, the Netflix marathons, were all trivial. By the end of the day I was still exhausted, and had had a few anxious moments, but hope for the future filled me. But another 6 days await me, and new challenges to test me for sure, although I am determined that - through the Spirit - I will lay them down at the feet of God. So begins my week of surrender.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The blessing of children

 A young, pretty mother held the hands of two small children on either side of her, waddling a bit to accommodate her very pregnant body. There were circles under her eyes, and she looked like she would very much like to go into labor at any moment.
 "Mommy, can we get that?" "Mommy, when are we going home?" "Can we have a snack, Mommy," were the high-pitched questions that constantly flowed from the mouths of the blonde-haired, freckle-faced little ones, who couldn't have been more than two years apart. "No, we're not getting that today." "Just wait a little longer" "We had lunch half an hour ago," were the gentle replies. I smiled, and reached into the jar of cookies at the front counter.
 "Your children are doing such a good job not touching anything on the shelves." I complimented. "Would they like a fig bar? And can I get you a cart or a basket?" The look on her face was relief and thanks. I remember myself what it was like to be taken shopping at a young age, and a health food store would not have been my choice at four years of age.
 "What do you have in the way of multivitamins? I ran out of mine a week ago, and just feel like I should get back on one," she said, as she guided one youngster away from the bulk bins full of flour.
 "Good call!" I complimented. "Let me show you what we have. We have prenatal that can be taken before and after delivery, because your body needs time to recover." In no time at all we were chatting like we had known each other for years, and exchanging healthy recipe ideas that were friendly to picky children's pallets.
 I had seen the looks from a few of the other customers as they made their way in the door, coats, hats, and mittens trailing, dragging a heavy diaper bag spilling over with wet wipes and butt-rash cream. They seemed to communicate that she was irresponsible; a nuisance. Perhaps even a burden on society. Did she have food stamps? Was she even married? She probably hadn't taken the effort to use birth control. For shame, they seemed to say. Of course not all of them thought this way. I could see the tender, reminiscent look on a grandmother's face. An understanding nod from the 40-something woman with a teenager. And then myself and the other employees. I had originally come from a small family. My sister, two years younger than I, had grown up comfortably in a country suburb house we had designed and built ourselves. We weren't wealthy, but we certainly lacked nothing. It's not that we didn't like children - we babysat for neighbors and friends regularly - but we were just fine how we were. But God had other plans. An unexpected move into a smaller town house, my dad being laid off of work temporarily, and the call to foster care soon thereafter. Now, several years later, our family has swelled to 7 (counting mom and dad) and another one "on the way." (foster child with a hopeful adoptive future) We've been blessed, and even though things aren't easy, we now live in a large house on 6 acres, my dad has a good job, and our church family has been more than encouraging. Our home is filled with laughter, joy, hugs and kisses, learning moments, and grand opportunities, as well as busyness, bickering, minor accidents, tears, and scuffed furniture. Most everyone we come across seems to be delighted in our choice. "Oh, that's just wonderful that you've chosen to do that. Those children are so blessed," is a common response, though it's quickly followed by, "but I could never do that!" They then proceed to list the reasons why a boatload of children simply wouldn't fit into their plans for the future. It's true that foster care and adoption is NOT for everyone. It requires dedication to the maximum power, and a friendly environment to raise children. I would never try to guilt-trip anyone into committing to such a life-long excursion. But we didn't choose to take on this responsibility because we were bored and looking for a new adventure. We didn't choose to dedicate ourselves because of some void in our life that needed filling. It was most definitely not convenient, and many situations have been less than ideal. Two teenagers going through the throws of life and discovering who they are, a mortgage on a relatively small house built in the 60's, and by no means tons of money. So why did we do it?! First of all, God laid it upon my parents hearts. Second, we believe in the blessing of children. Yes, our three adopted children are
blessed to be with us. They've grown by leaps and bounds, and the benefit of being in a stable, loving home is a seriously under-rated feature. But I truly believe that we - mom, dad, my sister, and I, as well as all who know us - have been blessed just as much if not more. Not only have we lacked nothing important in the way of physical needs, our lives have been enriched without measure. I know for sure that I am a better person - more patient, compassionate, positive, generous, and thoughtful. I manage my time better, get more done, and know how to prioritize events in my life better than I did before. But I also see beautiful qualities being developed in my family. My parent's positive determination inspires me, and their kindness in the face of adversity is truly amazing. Also, a good point someone made a while ago is this: multi-generational families not only built stability, but keep life in perspective. Nowadays, everything is graded and segregated. School classes, office cubicles, and friend cliques. Caring for children keeps my parents young at heart. Caring for children makes me more mature. Children with older and younger siblings gain invaluable insight on how to relate from those who aren't their age or in their grade.
 But here is another thing that you may not have even considered, living in a world of "now." What about the effects our children have on the future? I shudder to think of what I may have become if I were not raised and nurtured by a decent family. Yet every day I come into contact with people who weren't so fortunate. The outcome and their attitudes are reason enough to consider parenting the most important - and necessary - job in the world. I honestly believe that a dedicated mom of three is doing the world more good than if she were an executive or president of the biggest firm in the United States of America. Anyone could fill that roll. But who will train the army who will conquer tomorrow? I am not saying that a women's only place is in the home. Some of the best engineers, designers, church and political leaders, writers... just about any career path one might chase down, will have a woman at the top circle, and they're doing a great job. But the roll of parenting - good parenting - is so under-rated that it is breaking down our country. Corporate mothers and aloof fathers are training a new generation to be just like them. Distant and self-absorbed.
 So when I see a young couple struggling to become the best parents they can be, or an older couple with an unplanned little one, or a 16-and-pregnant hiding on the outskirts of society, I try to do my best to encourage them. After all, children are not simply a life event to be put on somebody's biological calendar. They are people. They are not disposable, they cannot be bought or traded, and they are certainly not a neutral factor. And given the chance, these people, though small and sometimes burdensome, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. There are so many things that children can teach us. In fact, Jesus - the Son of God - said that unless we become like them, trusting and humble before Him, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus' disciples tried to shoo the children and their mothers away from Him while He was discussing deep religious matters with the church's leaders, He rebuked them, and said, "let the little children come to me, and hinder them not!"
 Not ten minutes after the little troop of family had left the store, but another group came in, and I believe they are worth mentioning. A 20-something, texting vigorously on her Smartphone, entered with a five-year-old son traipsing along behind her. Immediately, he grabbed an item off the counter. "Mom, I want this!" he blurted, dropping his electronic on the floor. "No! You're not getting anything today!" was the harsh response. He ran after her, whining, and was soon distracted by a stack of granola bars. "Stop it! Put that down!" After he ignored her completely, she hollered a bit louder. Still no response. She wandered down another aisle.
 "Is there anything I can help you with?" was my routine question.
 "Yeah, do you have anything for stress? Alex* just wears me out!"
 I showed her our nerve complex, our tinctures, our B-vitamins, and adrenal supplements, while my co-worker tried semi-successfully to politely restrain her son from wrecking the store. Periodically the woman would yell "Alex*, get over here!" but to no avail. After twenty minutes, she bought him two candy bars, and an caffeinated beverage for herself. "This child will be the death of me," she muttered as she left the facility.
 I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as I watched her pull little "Alex" into her car, kicking and screaming. She was unhappy and exhausted, and her little boy was discontent and vying for her attention.

 My point in writing this is not a lesson on correct parenting (although that is important), but on correct perspective. What did woman#1 have that woman#2 did not? I'm assuming a lot here, but from what I've observed, and allowing for many obvious differences, my guess would be that their perspectives were fundamentally opposed. The first mother I talked to - though worn and tired - had a lively personality and an inner joy that came through when the subject rested on her children. The second was weary in spirit, and although she loved her son, she would have rather taken him to a daycare than chase him around the store.
 I remember a year or so ago, I was speaking with a woman at a class I was at, and the subject of family came up. Of course, it came out that my parents were fostering three young ones, with hopes of adoption, and she seemed almost sympathetic.
 "I suppose you have to help out a lot around the house!" She commented.
 "I do what I can to help out," was my response. "The workload has increased for me, but I had expected that when our family discussed this a couple of years ago." (I must say that she is one of the few who seemed skeptical of our choice.)
 "Well... I guess that this is a good opportunity for you to see what having children is like. Then you can decide for yourself if you want to take all that on later. You know... kids, and all." She must have seen some surprise in my face. I had never really looked at it that way before.
 "Oh, I can't imagine my experience with fostering ever dwindling my fondness of children!" I said readily. "If anything it will better prepare me to have a large family of my own someday."
 I wonder if she would have been half as hostile to my situation if I had simply said that we were investing in livestock, or hoping to open a business downtown. But children... well, that's another story!

 Every person and situation is different, but perspective is everything! I challenge you, next time you see a child, look into their eyes and see. See their potential, their energy, and the hope of tomorrow. See the blessing of children, for they will not be children for long!

Our little ones after the adoption!!!

*any names mentioned were changed by me from their originals