June 23, 2012

Lover of Emptiness

"This lover of emptiness, of nothing, is so out of touch with reality, so far gone, that he can't even look at what he's doing, can't even look at the no-god stick of wood in his hand and say, "This is crazy." Isaiah 44:20 (The Message)

In Isaiah 44, God brings this charge against his people: You are worshiping unworthy things - things made with human hands, things that are not gods at all. They were so blinded by what they were doing, that as another translation states, they can't say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" (Isaiah 44:20, NIV)

In the previous chapter, God challenges His people to take him to court and evaluate what He has said and done for them. No other god has told them what was to come. No other god has provided forgiveness and a way of escape. God says that they have proven themselves to be no gods at all.

It's harder to pinpoint idols these days. I doubt the majority of us are going into our backyards, hacking down a tree and carving it up into something we kneel before and pray to. But the comparison is not totally lost.

In the illustration God gives in Isaiah 44, He describes a man who goes out, cuts down a tree and uses part of the wood as fuel to cook his food over and then uses the other half of the wood to make something to worship. For some reason it doesn't dawn on him that he's essentially worshiping firewood.

It's really not so different from what we do. With part of our money we go out and buy food to feed our families and with the other portion we turn it into something we worship. We each have our own gods of choice - a nice home, cars, the latest gadgets and technology, a beautiful appearance, a big bank account etc. We may not physically bow down in front of them, but we worship them with our hearts, with our thoughts, and with our time.

We look to them to satisfy and to save us, but in the end they will only disappoint. But somehow, like the man in the illustration, we don't notice that the thing we're holding onto in our right hand is a lie. It has no power to save us. It cannot tell us what will happen tomorrow, and it's certainly not looking out for our best interests. It's a created thing: with half, we eat our food and with the other half we bow down and worship.

God calls them on their foolishness, but he doesn't just leave them in their current condition. He admonishes them to come back to their senses:

"I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud,  you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel." Isaiah 44:22-23

Help me to recognize when I'm worshiping something that has no power to save me. Help me to recognize that the thing I hold in my right hand is a lie. Thank you for being a God who sweeps away my offenses like a cloud and my sins like the morning mist. You alone have the power to save. You have done great things. Thank you for being a God who calls us out when we're in the wrong and restores us to a right relationship with you. 


June 22, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait: The Blessings and Blues of Living on a Budget

My husband and I went through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University back in January of 2011. I was pregnant with my second child and we were looking to buy our first home. We were fortunate not to have a great deal of debt. We were like most Americans, we had a car loan, a student loan, some medical bills and a few small credit cards bills that we paid in full each month. Still, when you added it all up, it came to around $10,500.

After a lot of discipline, hard work, and selling a TON of miscellaneous stuff we didn't really want or need, we were able to pay off the full amount of our debt in less than a year. For a two-income family that might not seem like that much money, but for our household, it was a sizable percentage of our income. If you look at your finances and feel discouraged, I just want to let you know that IT CAN BE DONE.

I'm not going to lie, living on a budget takes discipline, and discipline is hard work. There are a lot of times when you have to just wait. I have had to resist the urge to just go out and buy what I want (even if it is on sale and its a great deal).

At the moment our countertops are cracked and warped and our dishwasher has a hole in it thanks to a plastic lid that fell and melted on the heating element. Pre-budget Sarah would have checked the bank account and if there was money available I would have just gone out and bought what I wanted (probably putting it on a 0% interest credit card). I've always been frugal, never paying full price, shopping around for the best deal, but I admit I was a bit of an impulse purchaser. If I liked it and it was a good price, I bought it. . . and paid for it later.

If I'm honest, I don't really like telling myself no. I would love to just go out and buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I'd love to travel and remodel my home. Heck, I'd even love to just go out to lunch with friends a few times a month without worrying about using up all of our "Restaurant" money. I'd love to just go out for a day of pampering and get my hair and nails done, but for the time being, Pro-cuts and Sally Hanson will do.

I suppose learning patience is just part of growing up. A child wants what they want when they want it. An adult is willing to delay gratification until the proper time. I have to tell myself "no" now so that I can tell myself "yes" later. 

One day I will replace my counter tops (albeit they will probably be topped with fake granite laminate instead of the real thing), but for now I'll just hurry up and wait. There are other, more pressing concerns: my husband's tuition for the Fall semester, replenishing our emergency fund after $1k in home repairs, saving up for the inevitable replacement car since both of our vehicles are nine years old, building up 3-6 months of living expenses in savings.

I must admit that living on a budget does have its advantages. I find it to be significantly less stressful. They call it debt freedom for a reason - it really does feel liberating not to owe anyone money. I know how much our bills are and when they are due. I very seldom have to worry about an "unexpected" event because we've usually gotten everything planned out far in advance. We even have an emergency fund in place for those things you can't plan for. And the best part, I never have to worry about missing a payment, because there are no payments. . . ahh that's a good feeling (it will get even better when we pay off our house one day).

It sounds hokey, but sometimes when I'm tempted to gripe about what I don't have, I take the time to remember that I have quite a bit. Other mothers around the country and around the world would be so thankful for what I have. I can honestly say that even though I may not have everything I want, I really do have everything that I need, and for that I am truly grateful.


June 19, 2012

Not "Just" a Stay-at-Home Mom

I lean up against the counter at the doctor's office. My two year old fidgets on my hip as I fill out the paperwork to see our town's new pediatrician. The woman behind the desk works her way through a checklist of questions.

“Your employer, ma'am?"

I sign a paper with one hand, hold my toddler with the other arm, and simultaneously rock my infant's car seat with my foot. 

"Oh, I'm just a stay-at-home mom." 

JUST a stay-at-home mom? I catch myself as soon as the words slip out of my mouth. You would never hear a doctor say "Oh, I'm JUST a doctor." Why do I feel like this is something to apologize for rather than something to be proud of? 

The last century brought about some fantastic, positive changes for women – we can get a good education, exercise our political freedoms, and influence society in the workforce. Unfortunately, it has also shouldered many moms with guilt. To be honest, I've struggled with fears that I'm wasting my abilities reading "Hop on Pop" seven times a day. I'm smart. I'm educated. I could be successful. I could make a name for myself.

But what if the name I want most is “Mom”?

As a girl, I was told that I could be anything, but very few ever encouraged me to pursue full-time motherhood. That was taboo – a holdover from a previous era when women spent their days in heels and pearls, polishing the silver for their dinner guests. Unfortunately, in their zeal to open up the doors of possibility for a future generation, they’ve given the impression that caring for a home and family is beneath the enlightened woman.

If you choose to work outside the home whether due to financial necessity or simply because you have found a career that you love, there's no shame in that at all. But I think it's important for millions of moms to know that what they do is important and valuable, even if there are no annual bonus checks or performance reviews to confirm it. 

Your education and life experiences enrich the lives of your children. They have shaped you into the person you are today. They are not wasted.

Next time someone asks you what you do for a living? Stand up straight and proudly proclaim: I've got the best job in the world - I'm a mom. 

June 9, 2012

Free Shaklee Products #Cinchspiration

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago I applied to the Shaklee #Cinchspiration blogger campaign. There were a whopping 264 applicants, but only 50 positions available. I have to admit, I was pretty disapointed when (along with 214 other people) I didn't make the cut.

One of the reasons I really wanted to participate in the program was for the opportunity to try their Cinch inch loss program free of charge. I've done some research online on a couple different programs and this one seemed to have some great success (people lose an average of 16.3 lbs of fat over the 12 week period, but they keep their lean muscle )- the only downside, living on a limited budget, I couldn't afford to buy it on my own.

I really didn't want to give up. I've been exercising religiously since January, but to be honest, my diet hasn't always been the best (some of my family's favorite food choices are pizza, burgers and fries, chicken nuggets, etc.).  I know that until I get my eating habits under control these last 20 lbs of jiggle are not going to budge.

In the midst of my "Woe is me" pity party, a friend told me about the Shaklee referral program. Whenever someone orders $25 worth of products from your referral link, you are credited with a $25 of free product of your choice. They don't have to join or become a Shaklee member, all they have to do is make a $25 product purchase. Plus they can get 15% off their first order

There are tons of great things to choose from. If you're one of the fortunate few who don't struggle with weight issues, there is an exceptional line of green, non-toxic, concentrated cleaners. (I bought the H2 organic household cleaner and their concentrated dish soap). We had a lady come to our MOPS group last year to let us try them, and I really liked them. I can wipe of my kiddos toys or high chair without having to worry about toxic or dangerous chemicals. There's no strong odor to give you a headache and it's super effective. You can use the concentrated cleaner for everything from windows, to counters, to degreasing a dirty stove top. You just mix the concentrate with water and put it in a spray bottle of your choice.

They have a Get Clean Basic H2 Sample kit for just $25 that contains enough concentrate to make 100 sixteen ounce bottles of non-toxic cleaner. (It's much cheaper than buying cleaning solutions at the store - plus these are non-toxic, safe and organic).

They've also got a wide assortment of vitamins, sports nutrition, and beauty products.

If eight people purchase $25 of products through my link, I'll have enough credits to buy my first Cinch starter kit and get on my way to my healthiest weight.

Maybe you're a blogger like me, and would like to earn free products or do the Cinch program on your own. You can share your personal referral link on your Facebook page, Twitter account, or on your favorite social media platform. Even if you're not a blogger, you can participate in the program by sharing on your personal accounts!

They're also running a promotion for the Cinch program through the end of July. If you buy three months of their Cinch Transformation Kit on auto-ship then you get your fourth month for free.

If you're just interested in buying a product you do not have to have a membership, plus you'll get 15% off your first order.

If you're interested interested in signing up for the referral program you can do that here.

*In order to earn the free products you will need to sign up for the membership  (The $19.95 fee gets you great discounts on products you order during the year, and it gives you a unique referral link to share with your friends and family). But the good news if just one person orders through your link then you will have already covered the cost of the membership and then some. 

**I'm not a Shaklee distributor, I don't earn anything from your purchase apart from the $25 referral bonus that I mentioned. I'm just your average blogger trying to earn my way to a healthy weight! Hopefully you can too!


June 8, 2012

Running to Texas (weeks 5 & 6)

Summer is rapidly approaching and my deadline is looming. I've got about two more months to cover the 411 mile distance to the 2012 MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Convention in Grapevine, TX.

I was able to enjoy some beautiful scenery during my walks/runs on our family vacation in Glorieta, New Mexico. I've got to admit it was a beautiful change from the gym treadmill and my usual neighborhood route.

 I have to admit that the higher altitude and hills made it super tough to run. It was a great work out though, and the views certainly made up for any discomfort. It was just beautiful!

Here's my summary for the last two weeks.

Tues. 5/22 - biked 3 miles
Thu. 5/24 - ran 2 miles
Friday 5/25 - walked 2 miles, ran 1
Sat 5/26 - ran 2 miles, walked 1
Sun. 5/27 - walked 1 mile
 Week 5 summary - 12 miles

Mon. 5/28 - rest
Tue. 5/29 - Ran 1 mile, biked 4
Wed. 5/30 -2 miles
Thu. 5/31 - 2.25 miles
Fri. 6/1 - 2 miles
Sat. 6/2  - rest
Week 6 summary - 9.25 miles

I am making slow progress. I've got a lot of ground to cover. I think I'm going to need to start biking more since I'm able to quickly cover more distance (I can usually cover twice the distance that I can when I'm running in the same amount of time). I think it's going to take a mini-miracle to get me there. If my calculations are correct, I've got about 10 weeks left and 316 miles left to travel. That means I need to get in about 31 miles a week . . . oh dear. It's not totally impossible, but it's certainly a challenge finding the time to get those miles in. I'm going to try my darndest though.

Here's where I've come so far:

Week 1: 14.05 miles
Week 2: 37.025 miles
Week 3: 6 miles
Week 4: 16 miles
Week 5: 12 miles
Week 6: 9.25 miles

Total: 94.3 miles (I'm almost 25% of the way there).

Fundraising goal $60/$500
  (not quite there yet either)

Where am I on the map?

I'm trying not to get discouraged, but it's such a massive distance to travel. Fortunately, I'm right on the outskirts of Lubbock, TX so I am making some progress. I'm just going to need to double my efforts. Maybe I should just start wearing a pedometer and count my steps as well, lol.

Well, there's your update for the week. To read about the rest of my journey (and why I'm running 411 miles to convention), check out the links below!

*I would walk 500 miles 
*Week 2.5 update
*Week 4 update


June 5, 2012

Quarter Life Crisis

I guess it's technically too late to have a quarter-life crises (unless I plan on living to the ripe ole age of 112, of course), but I can't think of a better way to describe this season of life. 

A few days ago I asked some of my Facebook friends to sum up their current daily life with one word. Some of the responses included words like blessed, crazy, hectic, fulfilling, and one honest response of "sucks." If I had to pick one word to define my life right now, I think I would choose the word "scattered." 


  [skat-erd]  Show IPA
distributed or occurring at widely spaced and usually irregular intervals: scattered villages; scattered showers.
dispersed; disorganized: scattered forces.
distracted or disorganized: scattered thoughts.

The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" comes to mind. If I focus on my blog, then my housework suffers. If I spend time at the gym getting my body in shape, then I'm not spending time with my family. If I work on generating a little extra income, then I am taking time away from my children. All of these things are good things, but I feel like they each are pulling me in a different direction at the same time. I want to channel all of these good things in the same direction. 

I feel like I need to take a weekend, sit by myself, and get a plan together. To find some way to lasso these scattered ideas and activities into one cohesive unit. To streamline, so to speak, the many facets of my life (woman, wife, mother, blogger, frugal housewife). 

Lots of businesses and ministries have what they call a mission statement. It defines their purpose for existence. That's what I'm looking for - a deep down, soul-confirming mission - a central plan around which I can focus my energies and attention.

What do I want to be remembered for? What do I want my legacy to be? What is truly important and what is just wasting my time (nobody better mention Facebook or Pinterest - surely I'm not the only one attached to these time-suckers)? 

I think that I often go about my daily life without paying attention. I never stop to think, "Is this moving me in the direction of my heart's desire or away from it?" What am I working toward? What do I want the end result to be?

I'm looking for a central purpose. The Westminster Confession states that the "Chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever." True, but how does that pan out in the individual's life? How has He equipped me to know and enjoy Him? How does this affect the way I interact with my family and friends? The way I spend my time and money? How does this influence my priorities? I want to see this principle wrapped up in my own skin. What would Sarah look like if her chief purpose was to know and enjoy God forever? How would this change the course of my day?

I was listening to a bible study last night while I was running at the gym. Beth Moore made the statement that we were all created for holy passion - if we don't fill our  life with holy passion, another lesser passion will always take its place (jealousy, anger, worry, greed). Christ doesn't want to be our top priority he wants to be our life. 

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:1-4 (emphasis mine)

My quarter life crises involves reconciling the holy with the ordinary. The eternal with the temporal. I don't want to go out and buy a sports car - I want my life to be significant. I don't want to race through the next twenty years at a scattered and frantic pace and look back on all of the missed opportunities. I want to make a difference. In the scheme of eternity, I want to matter. 

Where do I begin? I'm going to work on my personal mission statement and you can bet your bippy I'll share it with you. You hold me accountable.  

Do you have a personal mission statement? What do you think God placed you on this earth to do? I'd love to hear about it! Feel free to share in the comments section below!


June 3, 2012

Diamond Candles Blogger Opportunity

Diamond Candles has an opportunity for 100 bloggers to particpate in a blogger review program. If you're interested all you have to do is fill out a form with your information.

Space is limited, so if you're interested, go ahead and sign up. :-)



Dealing with Disappointment

This week hasn't gone the way I hoped it would.

Rejection isn't easy. It's not easy on the elementary school playground and it's not easy as a grown-up either. I had my heart set on the #cinchspiration blogging program, but it didn't quite pan out.

I was going to work so hard, lose 30 lbs, get in the best shape of my life and win the $10,000 contract. With it, I could pay the rest of my husband's tuition, beef up our emergency fund, and cover some of life's everyday expenses. I had it all worked out in my head. It was the perfect plan. The answer to my prayers. The only downside - it didn't happen. I was left feeling disappointed and discouraged.

It makes me wonder - perhaps God withholds the "good" because it is not the best (either for us or for our family). Does that lessen the sting of disappointment? Probably not, but it helps to put it in perspective. If I truly believe that God is in control and that he has a plan for my life, should I feel discouraged when my plans doesn't align with His? It comes down to the crux of faith - do I live out what I believe? Can I trust that God's ways are better than my own? Can I rejoice in the fact that he has something else in store?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. 
This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” 
 Isaiah 55:8-13

God tells us that he does things differently. His ways and thoughts are different than our own. This whole "name it and claim it" mentality is not Biblical. As a Father, he welcomes us to bring our petitions and requests to Him, but sometimes he has to tell us "no." To demand that he do our bidding and always give us what we want, is not a sign of faith, but sign of childish pride. God will do what he wants to do, but the good news is that he has a plan, and it's ultimately for our own good and for his glory.

I'm thankful for my children. God uses them to teach me lessons that I'm sometimes too dense to get otherwise. My son loves cookies. Cookies are good. He sometimes wants them to the point that he gets seriously distraught if I don't give him cookies exactly when he wants them. Would I be a good parent if I always gave my son what he wanted when he wanted it? Would he grow and be healthy if I only fed him cookies? 

Sometimes the things I want are cookie equivalents. They would be enjoyable and good, but they may not be the healthiest option for me, and God, as the perfect parent, knows when to turn down my request for something good in exchange for something that I need. 

I really wanted to participate in the program, but I have to trust that there is something else in store. Something that is not only good, but great - something that accomplishes His purposes in a way that I can't always recognize. 

I think it's perfectly natural to be disappointed, but instead of throwing myself a pity party (complete with a pint of Ben & Jerry's), I have to consider that God has something else in store. A perfect plan with eternal purposes. I choose to trust his timing and believe his promises. 

" And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28