Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Take on Prayer Journaling

Since I shared about how I read my Bible during my daily personal study, I thought I'd also share how I spend time in prayer. Now, this is not the only time I pray throughout the day. It's important to pray when a need arises, before you go to bed, you know, continually. However, I do find that having an organized way of praying with my study helps keep me accountable and I feel more effective. I'm not a superfluous prayer so my method is pretty straight forward (which also helps me to not get distracted). So here it is.

What I Write In
I've had this particular journal cover since December 24, 2008. How do I know the exact date? Because it's how my husband proposed to me. I've had several blank journal refills inside it over the years, but obviously this cover has sentimental value for me. I don't want to have to continue to buy a nice new journal every time I finish one, although some people like to do that. This has worked pretty well for me.

How I Write In It
I've used several methods for prayer journaling over the years. I used to write out my prayers like a letter to God. I still will on occasion, especially if something big is weighing on my mind. Obviously, this can take quite a bit of time. Currently I just used bulleted lists of what I want to pray about as a guide and then I pray through them like normal. A conversation with God. It's probably not "journaling" in the strictest sense, but it helps me keep track of my prayers and it helps me stay focused.

What I Write About
My prayer is broken up into 3 main sections:
One section is where I pull out something I've learned from the Scripture I'm currently reading. For example, today I read Isaiah 52. Verse 7 says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'" So I prayed to be those feet and to be given an opportunity to share the good news with someone today. Essentially, this is where I pray Scripture back to God. I don't write it down, but this is also when I pray for God to forgive my sins. It's important to be specific, but I don't write them down because once He's forgiven me, I (try to) move past them.
The next section contains my prayer requests. One thing I like to do is focus on something different each day. Now that's not all I can pray about that day, but it helps my prayer time to not be so rambling. I pray for my immediate family every day and anything else that feels urgent, but a lot of the time I spend praying is focused on these categories.

The final section contains praises for what God has done. This is one benefit of journaling. I can look back through my past prayer requests and see how God has answered them. God has done so much for me, and this helps remind me of that.

Once I've written everything down I just pray through my list. Sometimes stuff pops into my mind which of course I'll pray about then, but this focused time of prayer has really made my time with the Lord so much better. What about you? How do you pray during your quiet times?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible - Book Review

My May non-fiction book was The Most Misused Stories In the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff. This book goes through 13 passages of Scripture which are sometimes misunderstood. It discusses the error some people believe and then walks through the actual meaning according to Scripture. Some of the Bible stories include David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, the betrayal of Judas and many more. 

Not all of these stories are "misused" exactly, but they might be misunderstood or misinterpreted. That might sound like splitting hairs, but there is a subtle difference. For some stories the focus is taken off the main idea. For example, with Jonah and the big fish, a lot of people focus on Jonah or the big fish (especially with kids). Really, God should be the main focus of the story. The same with the story of Zacchaeus. Some of the stories are taught incorrectly like Gideon and the fleece. Some use this story as justification for testing God when in reality it should be the opposite. While sometimes it can seem like splitting hairs, misunderstanding Scripture can have serious consequences. 

I will say that as I read through the book I was glad that I had a correct understanding of all the stories Bargerhuff wrote about. That wasn't always the case though. I was definitely one to think there were only three wise men and that they visited baby Jesus in the manger. I also had been a Christian for many years before I heard a correct interpretation of Cain and Abel's offerings as well as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. For some of these stories, a simple reading of the Scripture will take care of any misunderstandings. Others are more complex. It's so, so important to be students of Scripture and not just rely on tradition or Scripture taken out of context. Bargerhuff does a good job of clearly walking through each passage and contextualizing everything. I think this book would be great for anyone that has been a part of "Christian culture" but has only recently started studying the Bible. Or if you're like me and just curious if what you think matches up with what Bargerhuff says.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Inductive Bible Study

As Christians, we know that reading the Bible is important. But not just reading it, studying it. There are all kinds of methods for doing personal Bible study. I've even used several of them, but I wanted to share the method I most often (and currently) use. WARNING: If you're offended by someone writing in their Bible you should probably skip this post. Or don't. It's up to you.

What is an inductive study. Induction is the process of using specific instances to form general conclusions. Inductive Bible study is essentially using details in a passage to draw conclusions about the passage, book, and Bible as a whole. You use the Word to interpret the Word. It involves three skills: observation, interpretation, and application. Here is a really good guide to how it works. (You have to make an account to download it, but it's free). Below I've laid out a few points and discuss how I do it.

Observation: What does the text say?
This is very similar to how you learned to read passages of text in school. Read through it (multiple times), ask questions, mark key words and phrases, notice patterns, themes, etc. Basically what stands out as being important? This is where the marking your Bible up comes in. These things are marked directly in your Bible. This helps you see what's important in the text by just glancing at it. Below are a couple of examples from my Bible.

I use pens and colored pencils to mark key words and phrases. This is my study of Isaiah.
I have a journaling Bible which helps me make notes in the margins.
You can use whatever symbols you want, but if you want a list of common words/phrases to get you started, this is a document I use. They have a few lists for specific books here. If you don't have a lot of room for comments because you're not using a journaling Bible, then I would recommend a regular journal. This also helps you keep track of all your symbols. I still use a journal (which I also use when I'm praying) because it gives me more room to write everything down. 

Interpretation: What does the text mean?
It can be difficult to interpret Scripture, even if you have a degree in it (which I definitely don't). The inductive study method really encourages using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Put the commentary down (at least at first). What clues in the passage, book, or other books of the Bible can help you figure out what it means? Context is key! We are given the Holy Spirit which helps us interpret Scripture. This is why praying before you read is so incredibly important. God will help you interpret Scripture correctly (which keeps us from reading our own meaning into it).

Application: How does the text work itself out in your life?
This is what we all want to jump to first. What does this mean for ME? But if we don't have a good understanding of what it says and what it means in context we are likely to draw the wrong conclusions. This is still a very important part of study, though. Don't be hearers of the Word only but doers. If there is no fruit from what you're reading, then why are you reading it? Let the Word of God transform you.

I often use books from The New Inductive Study Series by Kay Arthur (and various other authors). She gives suggestions on what to look for which can be very helpful. I still sometimes use commentaries, but only after I've carefully read through the passage. God can (and does) use others in increasing our knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Just remember, commentaries are not the Bible. Be discerning while using them. Hopefully this has given you a little glimpse into one method for Bible study. What's your favorite way to study God's Word?

As a side note, another way I like to dig into Scripture is by working through study workbooks. Lifeway Women is offering some of their video studies online for free. You just have to purchase the workbook. I plan on doing one of these studies starting in June and leading discussion in a Facebook group. If you're interested in joining us, let me know!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Resources for Moms

Happy Mother's Day! In honor of the day I want to look at tools that make us better moms. I've offered a few below that I've enjoyed recently, but what I really want is for you to tell me what resources you've used that have helped you. Now, this isn't just for moms with littles like mine. This could be for moms of older kids, grandmas, or those without kids but act as a mom-figure for others. I'll take a look at the suggestions and expand the list so that we can have a place to look when we need help/advice. Now, of course the best places to look are the Bible and our own moms. But lets add to those.

  1. God Centered Mom Podcast - A friend recently recommended this on Facebook and I thought I'd check it out. I want to start listening to podcasts instead of audio books all the time on my long drive to and from work. I've only listened to a few so far, but she and her guests talk about some really interesting things and it's neat to see the perspective of other moms (and dads).
  2. The Introverted Mother - I need to give credit where it's due. I found this article on my friends' blog. These ladies are amazing and have interesting perspectives on motherhood as well. Anyway, this article really spoke to me because it's me to a T! If you think this might describe you as well then check it out.
  3. Don't Make Me Count to Three - Some of you may have seen where I reviewed this book by Ginger Hubbard. She gives her take (from a biblical perspective) of disciplining children. I didn't necessarily agree with everything, but she gives a lot of good advice that I need to do better about implementing.
So now it's your turn. What blogs, podcasts, articles, books, etc would you recommend to other mom's or mom-figures? 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Postpartum Health Journey

I wanted to give a little update on how I've been doing since having Sophia. She's 5 months old today 😍 and she is just the perfect addition to our family.

My postpartum recovery wasn't too bad since I had a pretty uncomplicated delivery. Adjusting to a brand new baby, nursing, and having 3 kiddos was definitely a challenge, but I had some wonderful help along the way. Exhaustion was obviously a big struggle, but it wasn't unexpected. We eventually got the hang of nursing which made nights a lot easier. Sophia actually started sleeping through the night (like ALL the way through the night) at around 6-7 weeks. Since she had reached her birth weight again I stopped waking her up to feed and let her sleep. This sounds great, but my supply took a hit, she struggled a bit gaining weight, and I actually got my first period at 2 months postpartum. Her getting RSV around that time also affected her weight. She's steadily gaining now, she's just super skinny. We still nurse ok, but my ability to pump enough has somewhat declined. Especially since she's pounding down 2-3 times as much as she did when she first started daycare. We're getting adjusted to it all, but it's been a struggle. She's back to waking up once a night to feed, but that's okay with me.

I was pretty lucky in that I only gained around 20 pounds with Sophia. After giving birth and because of nursing I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight at about 10 weeks. I had also started working out a couple of times a week with some ladies from church after my doctor gave me the go-ahead. I was pretty pumped about the weight coming off so quickly, but obviously I still had a bit of a belly, and I wanted to lose some more weight since I hadn't been happy with it even before I got pregnant. I tried a couple of things to safely shed some more of the weight, but I had pretty much stalled. That's where my friend Caroline's challenge group came in.

At the end of March she did a 5 day clean eating crockpot challenge. I jumped on board because I knew part of the problem was I was still eating whatever I wanted. I used the extra 500 calories I needed for nursing as an excuse, just like I did when I was pregnant. In reality, those 500 calories were mostly junk. Plus, who doesn't love a good crockpot recipe, especially with three very young kids? The group also challenged everyone to work out more. I had never worked out consistently, and it was hard to find the time on the days I worked so I think I managed 2 or 3 workouts that week, but I tried really hard to eat clean foods, not just with the crockpot meals, but also breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The goal is 80/20 - eating healthy, clean foods 80% of the time. Because life is too short not to have a small bit of chocolate every now and then, am I right. Because I had enjoyed the week so much (and lost a pound), I jumped onto the 3 week challenge she was holding in April.
It's fun to see the changes. (Ignore my grumpy face in the first ones. I'm sure I was running on very little sleep.)

During the next challenge I continued to expand my repertoire of clean meals (that my family would also eat), and I did much better working out consistently. The challenge group was more of a group of like-minded encouragers. They helped me push my limits, and rejoiced with me when I succeeded. The accountability of logging my workouts and posting pictures of my meals (good and bad) gave me what I needed to really get over that hump. Plus, now, it wasn't just about losing weight, but it was about getting healthy. Each week I had to write down my goals and my why. Keeping this in focus helped me when it got hard. I loved the group so much, that I joined the 3 week group for May as well, and I'm almost 2/3 through it right now.

During that first 3 week challenge I started feeling like I needed just a bit more help to get consistent workouts in and get all my daily nutrition. Caroline is a Beachbody coach, and I saw lots of other ladies in the group drinking Shakeology and doing the Beachbody workouts. There was no pressure to do so (and many in the group don't), but I decided to try it out myself. I signed up for a challenge pack which got me a year's access to Beachbody on Demand which is a digital library of ALL of Beachbody's workouts. I also got a month supply of Shakeology and the portion fix containers that some of the meal plans used. I jumped right in as soon as I got it all, and WOW did I love it. There's a bit of a learning curve at first (especially with the portion containers), but there was a huge difference in how I approached getting healthy. It wasn't a magic potion. It was an all-around system to help me reach my health goals. I've lost 9 pounds since starting that first challenge group, but most importantly, I feel better. I'm more confident in my clothes (but I'll have to buy new ones soon), and I have more energy to keep up with the kids (except on those 5 hours of sleep days). I'm still a work in progress, but I know that this isn't a fad diet, it truly is a change in my lifestyle.

Because of the success I've had with the Beachbody system, I've decided to become a coach as well! Not only can I get better access to the tools I need to reshape my life, I can help others do the same. Like the challenge groups have done for me, I really want to encourage others in their health journey. It's not some pill that they say lets you eat whatever you want because it magically burns the fat away. It's also not a diet that severely restricts what you can eat. Those things are often hard to sustain in the long run. This is something I can joyfully do for years to come, and hopefully I can help others do the same.

I plan on posting more health/fitness posts giving details about what I've done from recipes that even Lee will eat to how I've done with various workout programs. I'm also planning on being a part of more challenge groups. If you're interested in joining me on this fitness journey then feel free to shoot me a message. I'd love to just chat about it, no pressure. I'm not going to creepy cold-call your phone to convince you to try something, but I'll be available if anyone wants to jump on board. I want to say a special thanks to Caroline and the others in the challenge groups who have helped me really start my journey to becoming a healthier me.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson - Christian Fiction Review

Hey, look at me. I'm staying on top of my reading this month. I'm utilizing my time nursing/pumping since there's not much else I can do anyway. My fiction book for May is Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson. This is the 2nd book in the Evie Blackwell Cold Case series. (The first book is Traces of Guilt.)

Y'all know I love me some Dee Henderson. All of her most recent books are connected by the characters Ann and Paul Falcon (from Full Disclosure which I reviewed here). Threads of Suspicion is the 2nd book that follows Evie Blackwell, an Illinois State Police detective who has been appointed as part of a missing persons task force. Evie and her new partner David work together on a pair of seemingly unrelated cases in a Chicago suburb. Evie's case involves a missing college student. As they untangle the threads of these cases they find that things are more connected than they once thought. During all of this, Evie is also trying to work through some personal issues in her life.

Let's start out by saying that this, like the previous book, is not a suspense novel as many of Dee Henderson's earlier books were. I wouldn't even consider it a whodunit, but I don't want to ruin the ending by explaining that too much. I really enjoyed Evie's character. She's complex, especially in that she stays so upbeat in spite of the horrible things she sees in her job. She enjoys the puzzle of solving a crime, but is also compassionate for the victims. I also enjoyed David's character although his relationship with his fiance is a bit strange for me. I'm not sure I liked how Henderson handled the relationship between a believer (David) and a nonbeliever (his fiance Maggie). I'll have to see how it plays out later. I think Henderson is going to give Evie a different partner in each book to explore the other members of the task force, but hopefully we still get glimpses of past characters. I also wasn't really sure how I felt about Evie's relationship with her boyfriend Rob. He grew on me this book, but I spent most of the last book disliking him so it's hard for me to jump on the Team Rob bandwagon. Dee Henderson has always done well with character development and forcing her characters to go through some really challenging things. That is the main driving point of the book since most of the mystery is solved through solid police work and not crazy chases or epic showdowns. I really look forward to seeing how she develops this main character further in future books.

I really enjoyed this book, but like all of her recent books, it's not particularly fast-paced. It has taken me a while to adjust to this new method of story telling from Henderson, but I'm more prepared for it than I was when I read Full Disclosure. If you like Henderson's books you'll enjoy this one too.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Invitation (Harbingers) - Christian Fiction Review

My April fiction book was Invitation: Cycle One of the Harbingers Series. This is essentially a serial novel written by four authors, each from a different character's point of view. The four authors are Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky.

The four main characters, Brenda (the street-wise tattoo artist), The Professor (the atheist ex-priest), Andi (The Professor's observant assistant), and Tank (the kind-hearted jock) are brought together under mysterious circumstances. Each comes with a specific gift and they need these gifts to form their reluctant team. Four stories, told from four different perspectives with one central theme: there are dark powers at work that are no longer possible to ignore.

I was a little nervous about this book being written by 4 different authors, but the fact that they each wrote from the perspective of a different character made it work. The different styles of writing made sense. I haven't read any books by any of these authors. I had heard of Frank Peretti because I knew he co-authored a book with one of my faves, Ted Dekker, but that's about all I knew. His story was probably my least favorite because it was told by my least favorite character and it leaned more towards horror and involved ghosts which I'm not a fan of. All of the stories dealt with spiritual warfare which I'm usually pretty leery of too. I didn't really like any of the characters until I read their story. They seemed just a little too flat when described from a different perspective. That may have been the point though, that there's more under the surface that you don't see until you get their point of view. By the end I really did like the characters, and I was invested in the story.

I haven't quite decided if I'd read the next cycle. They have, I think, 19 self-published stories out so far with the 20th coming on May 5th. Bethany House is gradually publishing them as 4 book cycles like this one which means the stand-alone books won't be available any longer. My biggest issue is I have a hard time connecting Christian fiction with supernatural suspense. Allegory is one thing, but ghosts, psychics, etc are a bit much for me. The writing was fantastic, but I'd have to not read it as Christian fiction. However, if that doesn't bother you, then this would be a fantastic read.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.