Monday, July 20, 2009

I Am A Light

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

There was a time when I first started to write when I felt like I had nothing to share. There were no experiences others would be interested in reading; no words of wisdom I could impart to make a difference in their lives. In my imagination, I rehashed the same old tired plots. When I tried my hand at non-fiction, that too seemed dull and lifeless.

"Why are you asking me to write, Lord? I just can't do this!" Like a hot potato, I dropped the $300 correspondence writing course I was taking and ignored the flicker of God's light from the dream He placed in my heart.

His light frightened me because it exposed the shadows of my heart - things I had hidden away because I was too ashamed and hurt to look at them; things about myself I frankly didn't want to know, much less to share them with others.

But God nurtured the tiny spark, gently blowing on it year by year, slowly adding kindling until the it burned small but steadily. He began to teach me about the darkness in which I hid, uncovering the pain and shame that bound me. The more things He helped me uncover about myself, the brighter my writing dream shone - I wanted and needed to share Him and the healing His spirit brings to a wounded heart.

I began writing again, haltingly with clumsy fingers around the pen. The words tangled in my mind and straggled onto the paper, but at least they were there in black and white. The halting flame of a dream inside my heart intensified to shed light to others along the path.

I learned that in order to be a Matthew 5 light, I had to understand the darkness inside myself. The more God teaches me about the person I once was and the person He is shaping me to be, the more His light shines through me. He gives the ideas, the words and the wisdom to share.

I no longer worry what I should write about - He has given me a whole heart full of darkness-to-light experiences to share. He has taught me that the emotions, thoughts and problems I struggle with are common to my sisters. I only have to be obedient and share from my heart. He will take care of setting that light on the hill so the ones who need His light the most will see it and respond.

Are you struggling with the dark issues in your life? Allow Him to illuminate and heal those issues - He will use His light to teach you what you need to know and them spread it to others. That's just the way Light works!

Monday, July 6, 2009

I am Blessed!

Psalms 84:11-12 For the Lord is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O lord almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.

As I drove to visit my son on Friday, the sky was gray and overcast, full of long banks of clouds. Though it was mid morning, it felt like twilight because of the dimmed light. True, the clouds blocked the heat of the sun, making it a pleasant enough trip, but I found my muscles were tense and my thoughts somber, matching the grey skies. Though I prayed throughout the trip, the prayers felt dismal, centering on the problems my family and I were currently facing.

Nearing the Maryland border, there was a break in the clouds. In places the sun peeked through and created patterns of light and shadows as I drove through the heavily wooded areas. I suddenly realized that my thoughts had lightened too - I was concentrating on happier things and praising God for the sun's breakthrough. My hands no longer clenched the wheel and my shoulders began to relax as I enjoyed the ride once more.With each passing mile, my heart lifted until I was singing joyful praise songs to the Lord.

When we are in the throes of discouragement, it is difficult to remember how blessed we really are! Discouragement is like that overcast sky. The clouds or worry and care dim the sunlight. The size of the problems build, growing darker and more ominous causing torrential tears or resounding anxieties.

This discouragement/depression sequence can be debilitating. A tiny problem can mushroom in our lives, feeling so large until all we see are the dark sides of the situation. All we can feel are our tears and heavy hearts.When we reach this point, we've lost our hope. We just can't see how the situation can ever get better and we begin to sink into the muck and mire of a full-blown depression.

It's not something we can lift ourselves out of by just "pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps" and moving forward. We usually need help to overcome the debilitating defeat, discouragement and depression.

That's why God gave us the spiritual weapons of prayer and praise. He asks us to trade our threadbare garments of discouragement and to put on His beautiful garment of praise. It has Sonlight woven right into the threads and when we put it on, His light begins to lift our spirits. Just like the sun can lift our mood after the dismal rain clouds.

It is the power of God's Word and His Light that lift us up spiritually, mentally and emotionally. We can help the process by taking time to count our blessings each day. Each blessing is like a single beam of light. As we remember each thing God has done for us, we allow one Sonbeam then another and another into the dismal places of our heart until His powerful beams drive away all the darkness. No shadows can encroach on His light!

Like other areas of our Christian walk - it may sound like an easy "cure" for depression. But it's not easy at all. We may need to consciously and even forcibly direct our minds away from our worries and toward Him. Sometimes we sink so far into the mire of it all that we don't have the strength left to even direct our minds toward Him.

We need the help and prayers of our Christian brothers and sisters to encourage and lift us up. We may sometimes need medication to mellow the depression so we can function and begin to take the steps we need toward wholeness. The important thing is that we take positive steps toward overcoming the depression. Once we can begin to get God's Light inside us, the darkness will flee.

Though He is powerful enough to heal depression instantly, I think God prefers to do it slowly, In the slow step by step healing process He draws so close. He strengthens our relationship with Him and we learn to hear His voice more clearly.Those things can only be taught as we are held in His loving arms. Healthy sheep struggle to run and play. The tired and sick ones are more content to lay in His arms.

My prayer for you today is that you will learn to lay quietly in His arms, listening to His heart. There you will see and feel and hear His love for you. The dismal dark clouds will begin to fade and His love/Light will shine in your hearts and on your face!

Love to you all,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I am set on a rock!

I am set on a Rock

Psalms 40:2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. he put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Amen

I have visited several beaches along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Each one is unique and beautiful in its own way.

Most recently we visited the Gulf Coast in Florida. There the sand is powdery white, very fine in texture. The water is the most amazing shade of teal I have ever seen. The gentle waves lapped the shoreline and we were able to wade out several yards before it became too deep.

On the Atlantic coast of Florida, the sand is coarse, made up of the pulverized shells of long forgotten mollusks.. It certainly made a great abrasive for smoothing the skin of my ankles as I waded in the surf.

As a child, my family went to Wildwood New Jersey every year until I was ten. There the sand was a light eggshell color and fine in texture, similar to the Gulf Coast sand. The long, flat beach stretched for miles in either direction, but the water had more of a dirty green hue and was rarely above 60 degrees in June when we swam there. Occasionally a low, flat rock protruded from the surface of the sand, worn smooth by the pounding surf.

During my Bible College days, I visited the beaches in Rhode Island and Maine. What a sharp contrast to the beaches of Florida, stretching for miles, level with the water's edge. Here the surf smashes against cliffs, wearing the edges smooth. In some places the rock formations are riddled with holes from the tidal barrage. There is a lot less sand along the northern beaches - and the sand that is there is pebbly, bits of crushed rock worn smooth from eons of tumbling waves.

I think of this New England beach picture when I read Psalm 40:2 - walking out on an outcropping of rock and watching the surf smash at its base . Even though the water has smoothed the rocks below with its incessant pounding, it is still strong, secure, a sure foothold.

The Lord has given me a firm place to stand while watching the waves of life roar around me. He will endure over time, in spite of the barrage of sin, of sorrow and death. He is the only sure thing in my life and I can feel His resolute strength under my feet. Above the crashing of the waves, I can hear and sing a new song of trust. I don't have to worry or fear anymore because my God is strong - a rock, a firm foundation!

Praise Him!

Friday, June 5, 2009

I am the head, not the tail!

Deuteronomy 28:13-14 "The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them."

There's an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

Some days I realize just how true that old adage is. I have so many things to do, I just never seem to get caught up. I feel like I'm at the tail end of the line all day long. And when I look back over my life at the end of the day, I wonder just what I accomplished?

Those are the days I need to look at my priorities. Am I a head - really putting God first in all my "busyness" or am I a tail - engaging in things that are unnecessary in God's grand scheme of things?

According to today's verse - there are conditions to becoming the "head and not the tail." Moses instructed Israel to pay attention to God's commands and carefully follow them.

So what are these commands of God that we are to pay attention to and follow? Moses reminded the Israelites of God's commands in chapters 12 through 26 - covering everything from their worship to daily food preparation, to how to treat others. These instructions were an expansion of the basic ten commandments God originally gave him on Mt. Sinai.

In the New Testament, Jesus boiled down those 10 commandments to two - You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

The common thread through all these references to God's commands is that of relationships. How we treat God, others and ourselves is the most important thing to Him.

If I measure my daily activity against Jesus' yardstick, I begin to see that the things I do are only important if they nurture relationships between myself and God or myself and others. Also, they must nurture my own spiritual growth.

Ok - I'm not advocating that we women go on strike and refuse to clean house! But perhaps we need to consider our motives for all the mundane tasks we do. As Christian women, if our motive cleaning furiously is so we can become puffed up by our spotless house, we run the risk of being the "tail."

Consider the story of Mary and Martha. Jesus chided Martha because she was so worried about propriety and duty that she missed a deeper relationship with Him.

Mary on the other hand loved Him so much she was willing to risk her sister's ire to sit at His feet and bask in His presence. Mary definitely got the "head" position.

But I wonder - if Martha's attitude had leaned more toward offering the best food and a restful environment for Jesus because she knew that His teaching, healing and ministry activities tired Him out -would His response have been different? Perhaps He would have had a word of praise for her because of her loving service to Him?

When I feel overwhelmed by my busyness, I wonder how much of my activity is motivated by a need to control, to feel needed or to avoid something else?

If these attitudes drive me, I lose my joy in serving. It becomes a burden rather than a joy to do my tasks. Things take longer to accomplish and I feel disgruntled in the process, often missing opportunities that would bring me even greater joy - just because I'm using up my emotional energy on bitterness and self pity. I will always be "behinder" when my attitudes are off kilter.

Father, examine my heart today. Give me eyes to see my activities as You see them. Teach me to make changes in my attitudes and motives so I do them because of love for You, for others and for myself. Help me come out on top at the end of my day, both spiritually and in all other areas! Amen!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I am empowered with inner strength!

Ephesians 3:16-18 (New Living Translation)
16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Which chicken wing is healthier for you?

A. Don Pablo's Buffalo Chicken Wings
- or -
B. KFC's Boneless Fiery Buffalo Wings?

Hmmmm. Ok - I'll bite! Which one?

According to the nutrition experts at Spark People in their daily Food Showdown e-mails, an order of KFC Boneless Fiery Buffalo Wings is the healthier choice. One little wing has 87 calories and 4 grams of fat so the whole order of 6 pieces would have 520 calories and 25 grams of fat.

Don Pablo's wings on the other hand have 129 calories and over 8 grams of fat EACH! That's 1036 calories for an 8 piece order and 78 grams of fat. Wow! That's over half of my daily allotment of calories if I want to continue losing weight!

I've been counting calories and measuring portions for over a year now and have learned how to make healthier choices both at home and in the restaurant. So far it has paid off with a weight loss of over 57 pounds! I'm learning which foods are full of empty calories and which ones contain nutrients that will strengthen my body from the inside out.

Coupled with making healthier food choices, I'm exercising more which helps to tone muscles and improve strength. But the increased activity and healthier eating habits have also paid off in other ways - I am feeling more content - I feel less depressed and anxious than I felt a year ago. Plus I'm enjoying life more.

Just like these healthy lifestyle changes have strengthened me physically, mentally and emotionally, there are changes I must make in my spiritual life to become strong and healthy.

1. I must choose to put my relationship with Jesus first on my list of spiritual priorities.

As a child I learned the way to happiness was to follow the anagram J-O-Y (Jesus-Others-You). But as an adult, I am realizing there are times that doesn't work.

As a Super-mom, I used to think I had to do things for everyone else first and if there was any energy left, I could look to my own needs. You know - "Never say no." My needs weren't important. Consequently, there was rarely time for my own spiritual nourishment. I grew weaker and weaker spiritually until I burned out.

God finally got through to me. I need to keep my relationship with Him open and functional at all times. When I keep that vertical channel open and clear, I am happier, easier to get along with and more productive for Him. Rather than putting my spiritual needs last as I had been doing, I must put them as top priority so all other areas of my spiritual life are healthy and strong. Then I can and want to do more for others.

2. I must eat a healthy "meal" from His Word daily.

I'm active in children's ministry so I'm not in adult church on a Sunday morning. It strikes me as funny when people say, "I can't teach Sunday School or Children's Church because I need to be fed."

Those poor souls! My best meal of the week is seeing the hearts of children open up to Jesus and blossom under His care! As an adult, I am perfectly capable of opening God's Word and reading His truths for myself. I know how to pray and listen for His voice. When I do those things daily, I am strong and ready to minister to others whenever the opportunity arises. I am healthy, not so weak and sickly that I need to be spoon fed each Sunday!

True, there are times when I need the spiritual strength and support of others. We all go through trials which weaken us for a time. That's when I need to call on those around me who are spiritually strong. I can lean into their strength until my own strength is restored.

3. I must exercise my spiritual muscles daily.

Without exercise, the physical body grows weak and flabby. The same with our spirits. If we are not running with endurance the race He sets before us; if we're not putting on our spiritual armor daily to meet the challenges of the day; we will ultimately lose our ability to make it as Christians in this world.

Things are changing - getting more difficult as the days pass. Will we be strong and healthy spiritually, ready for the battles that lay ahead? The answer is "Yes!" - When we learn to make healthy spiritual choices and become empowered by His strength from the inside out.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I Am Still

I am still

Psalms 46:10-11" Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

"No more laughing, no more fun; Quaker meeting has begun!"

With those words, my young cousins and I pasted deadpan expressions on our faces. Lips clamped tightly shut as we silently vowed not to utter a word or crack a smile. The object of the game was to see who could keep still the longest.

I'm not sure where the game originated. We played it often as we sat on the back porch of my Mennonite Grandmother's home on a Sunday afternoon while our parents visited in the parlor. Because Sunday was a day of rest, we weren't permitted to play active outdoor games like tag or hide and seek. Instead, we contented ourselves with board games like Chinese Checkers and quiet indoor contests.

Inevitably, our Quaker meeting game only lasted a moment or two as the giggles attacked. We usually ended up laughing so hard, one of the adults would cast a frown in our direction to remind us to be quiet on the Lord's Day.

Being still was difficult for me as a child and that never changed as I grew into an adult. Each time God spoke the words to my heart, "Be still and know I am God," I would paste a reverent expression on my face and quiet my heart.

But just like our childhood game, the stillness didn't last as my mind began to whirl with worries. "Will God really do what I've asked Him?" "What should I do about this situation?" I conjured up a thousand reasons why I ought to step in and try to solve the problem myself because I lacked trust in the sovereignty of my heavenly Father.

It was easier to do things myself rather than to sit idly by and wait on Him. This attitude of controlling busyness originated from my inner fear that somehow I wasn't good enough for God to guide, protect or provide for me.

I wish I could point to a specific instance where God finally broke through and taught me to be still, but the truth is, I'm still working on the issue of being still before Him and trusting Him fully.

Whenever I feel the old controlling mechanisms kick in, I have to consciously stop what I'm doing and manually work at changing the way I react. I try to lay the situation out before God and ask for His help so I can wait patiently before Him for the answer.

Sometimes I have to do it several times a day because my heart wants to revert right back to worry mode. During those times, I do what I know to do - I place scriptures in plain sight and stop to focus on Him and His words frequently. I pray a lot - exposing my willful desire to solve the problem in my own feeble strength. Then I make a conscious effort to still my mind and focus on Him so I can hear what He is saying with His still small voice.

My cousins and I couldn't "be still" for very long as we played our childhood Quaker Meeting game. But with His help, today I am learning to quiet the anxieties of my heart and to be still in His presence.

Father God, I know I'm not alone in this. So many around me are suffering from anxieties and worry born of the inability to trust You fully. Help us to work each day to focus our eyes and hearts on You - to relinquish our need to control our lives. Help us to learn to be still and KNOW You are God, our strength and fortress. Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I am a treasure!

Today: I am a treasure

Deuteronomy 26:16-18 "The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with your soul. You have declared this day that the Lord is you God and that you will walk in His ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands, and laws, and that you will obey him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possessions as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands.

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." ~ author unknown

My daughter, sister-in-law and I spent Memorial Day cleaning my mother-in-law's front porch. Ugh - what a dusty job as we sneezed our way through piles of old cardboard boxes containing fabric, craft supplies and yarn.

My first inclination was to cart the filthy cardboard boxes and their contents to my house where I could toss them in the dumpster without offending Mom. But as we began pawing through them, I discovered many real treasures! One box contained pre-cut quilt squares, just waiting to be stitched together. We also found a few already stitched into pretty pillow tops that just needed stuffing. Of course, they needed to be washed to get rid of the slight musty smell, but someone had gone to a lot of trouble to cut and sew them all. I can always use new throw pillows - or perhaps sell the squares at a yard sale.

Another box held pre-printed fabric panels with designs perfect for making baby quilts for gifts. Again, they had a slight musty smell from being packed away for so long, but the box had protected them from dust and unwanted critters. As I examined them, I refolded the panels and laid them aside, trying to figure out where I could store them. As a pastor's wife, there are always new babies being born to church members and I like to give them gifts.

On and on the afternoon went as we found boxes of stuff - from whole skeins of yarn to small balled up remnants, rolls of quilt batting and even several unfinished quilt tops that were pinned together with batting, ready to be stitched. Cammie found one she loved and asked me to please finish and launder it for her bed.

We never did get to the cupboard that held lengths of quilt fabric and the boxes under the game shelf. That's a job for July 4th when we gather there again! But the point is that the boxes we did manage to sort through held things that were treasures to Mom. As her arthritis became worse, more items were moved to the enclosed porch because she needed the room for her motorized wheelchair, hospital bed and clothes downstairs. She asked us to sort through them hoping her treasures would be passed down to people who would also value them.

While we can't and won't keep everything for lack of storage space, many of her treasures will be valued and used up eventually - not just thrown in the dumpster.
God created man in His image, originally intending him to maintain the earth; to please and enjoy His presence as well as the world He created forever. Sin separated man from God. Much like Mom's treasures which were boxed up and moved to the front porch, sin caused man's heart to become dirty and unusable.

But God isn't content to let His treasures disintegrate with age or disuse. He constantly goes through the dirty, dusty, musty piles of refuse, looking for His treasures so He can wash them and restore them to places of use and honor in His kingdom. He turns the musty, cut up fabric of our lives into beautiful quilts and then uses them to wrap others in His warmth.

How often Satan's trash becomes God's treasure! Consider a person, like the woman taken in the act of adultery. Those around her wanted to trash her life - to stone her because of her sin. But Jesus forgave her and restored her sense of value and worth.

Without His restorative power in our lives, where would we have ended up eternally? Because we have been redeemed, we are privileged to share that trash to treasure story with others. The challenge is before us. Let's get to work!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I am valuable!

TODAY: I am Valuable

Matthew 6:25-26 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?"

"Oh look! There's a yard sale sign. Pull over quick!"

My husband tells me the car won't stop at yard sales, but when I'm driving - it does. LOL!

I'm not sure why I enjoy pawing through other people's cast offs, except that maybe I'm hoping to find just the right "treasure" - that one thing I really need and can't live without at a real bargain price.

Over the years I have found some neat treasures too - all kinds of bargain children's clothes to help clothe my 7 grand kids; toys to keep at my house for when they come to visit; furniture to overhaul so I can change my home decor, kitchen gadgets and so on. These things were useless items to their owners, but now occupy places of honor in my home.

At least they do until I need to clean house or pack up the moving van! Then they go out the door into my own yard sale and bring in a few extra, much-needed dollars to purchase something else.

The point is, the things others think of as expendable trash have become useful and enjoyable to me. Sometimes they need a little TLC, but they are treasures nevertheless.

Think for a moment of where you were before Christ found you. What kind of crisis were you going through at the time? What hardships or trials drew you to Him? Did you feel like a heap of trash - with no value to anyone?

According to one Christian psychologist, 99% of people who seek Christ are in a crisis situation at the time they call out to Him. Many feel worthless and hopeless. Only 1 % of Christians can actually say they "grew" into the family of God. That's a staggering statistic!

God saw us among the enemy's trash and bought us back, took us home, and put us to use in His Kingdom. Yay! He fixes us up, repairs the broken parts of our lives and loves us because He sees value in us - He sees what we CAN be.

True, even after He works on us we may bear scars of sin or of our poor choices down here on this earth, but He finds ways to bring beauty and wonderful things from those scars. They become our personal experience evidence of Christ's love and care in our lives. As we share those experiences with the hurting around us, they too allow Him to rescue them from the "trash." What a beautiful trash to treasure story!

As one Christian bumper sticker put it:

"I know I'm somebody 'cause God don't make no junk!"
Our value isn't determined by our perfection, but rather by His grace.

Thank You Lord!

Don't be afraid to share your story just because of your scars or imperfections. The hurting around us need to see those things to know He can minister to them too, right now, right where they're at. Just as He still bears the scars from the cross, He values the scars that remain from our hurts and mistakes. He redeems them by using them to touch the lives of others. We are VALUABLE to Him.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I am Heard!

Today: I am heard

Psalm 69:33 (Amplified Bible)

For the Lord Jehovah Shama (Shaw-Mah') hears the poor and needy and despises not His prisoners (His miserable and wounded ones).

Have you ever been talking to someone and realized they weren't listening to you? Maybe their eyes darted back and forth watching everything else going on in the room. Maybe they were zoning out, planning what they could say next. Whatever they were doing, you knew they hadn't really heard a word you were saying.

Moms tend to do this too with their kids. Johnny will come home from school and be so excited he will burst if he can't chatter a hundred miles per minute about his day. Meanwhile Mom stands at the stove trying to concentrate so she doesn't burn dinner.

Or have you ever noticed how the kids seem to need your undivided attention when you're on the phone? All day long they played just fine in the other room out of your sight, but when the phone rings, they're right there needing your listening ears?

We all need to know that the people we talk to are listening to us. Being heard helps us feel validated, like we are important, not merely afterthoughts or nuisances.

With people, we can tell they are really hearing us by their nonverbal cues like how they stand before us with an open, accepting posture. They will not cross their arms or legs and will lean slightly forward toward us or lean their head toward us. Making direct eye contact is another way to let us know they hear us.

A good listener gives verbal clues too - like repeating back what they heard us say. They will nod and say "yes," "That's right," or "Uh-huh." They will also respond appropriately when we pose a question or pause for a response.

So if we rely so heavily on verbal and visual clues to know we've been heard by a person a we talk to them, how do we know an unseen, formless God hears us?

In Psalm 69:33, the Hebrew name for God - Jehovah Shama - is used. The name means "I Am the One who hears you (listens to you). By His very nature God is a Listener. Knowing He cannot lie, especially when speaking of Himself, we know He listens when we call.

We know He listens because of the scriptural examples He gives us. I'm thinking of the story of Hagar. Twice she encountered the God who sees and hears. She named her son Ishmael which means "God has heard" based on her experience with Him in Genesis 16.

We also know we are heard by our own past experiences with God. At times He answered our prayers instantaneously. Other times, He gave us assurances that the answer was on the way - like a "hug" through a scripture, a friend who knew exactly what we needed or maybe even a physical sensation of being held and comforted in response to a prayer we prayed or a need we expressed.

Still, during my 34 years in ministry, I've heard so many people say, "I feel like my prayers aren't going any higher than the ceiling. God's not listening to me." The problem isn't that God has failed to listen to us. It's that they don't FEEL heard or validated. And because they don't feel Him, He must not be listening. So they pull back from Him and begin to wallow in their feelings of low self worth.

In other words, they begin to listen to the lies that they have believed most of their life. "I must not be good enough for God to answer me." "What have I done wrong to make God hate me?" They begin to turn their eyes inward, rather than upward and miss the little hugs and reassurances God sends along the way.

In counseling with these women, I usually try to encourage them to work at drawing closer to the Lord, rather than worrying about the answers to prayer. As they begin to focus on Him, they can see the little signs all around them that encourage and fortify their hearts.
"God really does listen to me," they say with an incredulous smile as they relate the littlest details where they see His hand at work.

We know we are heard when we turn our eyes on Jesus and look full in His wonderful face. The things of this earth really do grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Am Victorious


Deuteronomy 20:1-4 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them,because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall say: Hear O Israel, today you're going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
I am a visual learner so the Lord often helps me understand His presence in my life through visuals - pictures of His relationship with me.

Many years ago when I started on my journey toward wholeness, God showed me a picture of how I saw myself. I was dressed in Roman-type armor - you know, the sandals that laced up the calves, a skirt of leather strips which covered the thighs, a leather breastplate, etc.

I had removed the helmet and stood with one foot balanced on the helmet. In my hand I held a long Roman spear with the butt end planted in the ground. My other hand perched on my hip.
I stood there on my cliff poised for battle, my long hair whipped back away from my face as the winds of adversity buffeted me.

I saw myself as a strong, fearless warrior for the Lord. However, I failed to see how alone I was on that hillside as I tried to handle the battles on my own. I didn't know how to trust Him through the battles. I was afraid of being a "bother" to Him so I stood firm on my own two feet, fighting FOR Him.

Twila Paris sang a song many years ago called the "Warrior Is A Child" As God began showing me this picture of Bonnie, the warrior princess, I began hearing the refrain of that song : "deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child" - a broken, wounded, hurting child. God dismantled that visual in one fell swoop. I was reduced to a small frightened child with no armor at all, naked and exposed to the elements.

Thankfully, God never leaves us in a place of brokenness. He always heals and works with us to bring out the beauty and strength He sees in us. For me it meant a long process of healing as He slowly changed my picture of myself from warrior princess to warrior bride.

What does a warrior bride look like? That picture of Christ is still evolving in my heart and life. But as of now to looks something like this: I am riding on the back of a strong white horse, but I am not alone. Christ rides on that same horse, right in front of me and I am comforted as I hold on tightly to Him.

I can feel the strength of His armored breastplate as I rest my cheek against His back. Even though I know we are at the forefront of the battle, I can't see the enemy because He fills my immediate vision. He feels strong, safe, secure.The muscles of His arms ripple with strength. I can hear His war cry ringing in my ears and I'm not afraid though I sense the enemy is quaking.

As His warrior bride, I fight with Him instead of alone, though most of the time, I must admit, my energy is spent clinging to Him so I don't fall off the battle steed! Because of that, I don't carry a spear. Instead, my weapon is prayer - watching the works He is doing and praying for those I see in the battle all around me. At times, He deposits me on the ground so I might minister to the fallen in battle, like Lucy of Narnia with her Aslan-given gift of heavenly cordial that has the power to heal those who drink of it.

How do you see yourself in this battle?

As Christians, we are definitely warriors on the forefront of the battle. He has given each of us a work to do to bring healing, encouragement and victory! Allow our Warrior King to give you the necessary training and weaponry as you fight this battle with Him.

After all, I've seen the end of the book - and WE WIN! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Am Chosen

I am chosen
Ephesian 1:3-6

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. (The Message)

When I was a small child, there was a large portrait of Jesus and the children at the bottom of the stairway leading to my Sunday School class. It portrayed a smiling Jesus seated among a cluster of children. I loved to envision myself in that group of children and thought how wonderful it was to be loved by Him.

As an adult I am awed by the idea of being "chosen" by Him. It's not because I'm good enough, or flawless enough. Rather, it's because He chooses to love me - to want me. It's His choice. He sees my innermost being - my naked real self - and He likes what He sees. It's because He sees past the destruction of sin to the innocent being He created.

Wow! His choice gives me value.

What a priviledge to write this message so other women who are hurting might learn to know they are chosen too - to be lifted from their own inadequacies to the knowledge that His love gives them worth!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Am Born For A Reason

Several weeks ago, a fellow pastor's wife began a series of e-mails about who we are in Jesus - the "I ams" of scripture. While I have seen similar lists over the years, this list once again challenged me to begin a series of e-mails and blogs of my own to encourage my Christian friends. Understanding who I am in Jesus has lifted my heart so much, I decided to share them here as well.

Day one:
I am created for a purpose Psalm 139:16 (The Message)

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.

In Bible college many years ago, our class song was written by a gifted music ministry student.The chorus to our class song has always stuck with me:

I was born for a reason
Not just by chance
God has a purpose
For letting my breath last
If I seek Him I will find HIm
He will see me through
For with the help of God
There is nothing I can't do.

It had been an eventful year for me. I went off to Bible college convinced I would one day go to the jungles of South America and translate the Bible into the native tongue of some remote Amazon tribe.

But somewhere along the way, I began to believe that I wasn't good enough, my motives weren't pure enough so God couldn't use me as a missionary. I abandoned my teenage dreams in a pool of crocodile tears.

Thankfully God didn't abandon me! He continued to work with me, bringing experiences across my path to help me discover the writing ministry He had in store for me. That year, the class leaders came to me and asked me to write the dedication pages of our college yearbook. I was to write about Sister Mary Campbell, an intrigal part of Zion's history and a shaper of many young college students.

What an honor! And I felt so insignificant and unworthy of it.

I argued with God saying, "I'm not a writer!" And it was true. At that time, I had never written anything for publication. I had never even dreamed about being a writer. But because I couldn't say no to anyone, I told my classmates, "Sure I'll try."

I sat and stared at the blank piece of paper. I struggled to put something down - anything - all the while fearing it would be horrible and ruin the whole yearbook. I wrote sentence after sentence, scratching them out and crumbling the paper into trash can missles. As the deadline approached, I finally was able to draft 4 simple sentences that described Sister Mary Campbell. I turned in my feeble attempts, feeling like it was a big flop.

But when I saw the finished page with the words embellishing her photo, I knew the words were just what they needed to be. They fit Sister Campbell, her life and her ministry:

To be born for a reason is to live a life of dedication.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of self-sacrifice.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of quiet waiting before the Lord.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of faith.

As the years passed, God began showing me He wanted me to write. I fussed again, believing I was inadequate and untrained for such a profession. I even quit a writing training course after only 5 lessons because I was too intimidated about the process of writing, revision and submission.

God took me back to that yearbook page and reminded me of the struggle to get those words down on paper. "That's what a writer does," He said softly. "She works to find just the right words to bless, inspire and move the hearts of her readers. You already have the heart of a writer and I will teach you what you lack."

And He has!

Each one of us has a purpose in God's plan. He orchestrates every event of our lives to educate us, to develop the necessary skills and bring us to the place where we can fulfill that plan.

What is God's purpose for your life today? If you don't have any idea, begin by praying for the Lord to reveal His purpose to you. Then sit down and look over the past events of your life.

What lessons have you learned? What people have inspired or encouraged you? What obstacles have you overcome? All of those things are signposts to guide you toward the fulfillment of His purpose.

Share your heart with someone today!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A sweet smelling fragrance

Last night I actually made my second batch of laundry soap. I concocted the first batch at my daughter's house in Florida, after everyone had gone to bed. After all, there's no sense trying to do it with several curious little helpers!

I can just imagine my conversation with my grand children:

Eve: "What are you making Grammy?"
Me: "Laundry soap."
Eve: "Can I help?"
Jack: I want to help too. Ew! It smells and feels like slime."
Me: "Jack, Get your hands out of the slime!"
Eve: "Mommy! Jack got yellow slime all over me."

Anyway, you get the idea.

So there I was at 11:30 PM, wishing I had a clothespin to put on my nose because the smell of the melting soap seemed over-powering at times. The bar of Fels Naptha soap had to be grated and then melted/dissolved in a pot on the stove over medium to low heat while stirring constantly. That process took about a half hour and by the time I was done, my arthritic feet and knees really were protesting.

Hm, there had to be a better way!

Last night when I started making my own batch here at my house, I decided to try the crock pot which took a lot of drudgery out of the process. So here's my adapted recipe.

Grate 1 bar of Fels Naptha bar soap into the crock pot. Add 4 cups of hot water, cover and turn crock on high. Stir occasionally until all soap is melted/dissolved. This will take an hour to an hour and a half but is soooooooo easy! And since it's covered, there wasn't a lot of the soapy smell through the house.

Fill a 5 gallon bucket half full of hot water and add 1 cup Washing Soda and 1/2 cup Borax. Stir until powders are dissolved and then add the melted soap. Fill the bucket the rest of the way with hot water and stir thoroughly with a long wooden paint stick or long handled spoon (Plastic preferred). Cover and let stand overnight.

In the morning, stir again. Mixture will be thick and jelly-like. Pour into plastic storage containers using a ratio of half soap mixture and half water. The five gallon bucket of concentrated soap will make 10 gallons of ready to use detergent. That's about 180 loads for top loading machines and 640 loads for front loaders. Shake the containers each time before use.

To use your homemade detergent, add 5/8 to 1 cup of the liquid soap to a top loading machine -OR - 1/4 cup of the liquid to a front loader.

Optional - you can add 5-10 drops of any fragrance essential oil to each plastic gallon container of the mix for a fresh laundry scent (we're so spoiled by the perfumy pre-made brands). I like lavender essential oil for sheets and fresh linen for most other loads.

I haven't tried mine yet, but my daughter likes the way hers works and it only costs about 3 cents per load to make.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fund Raising - Gospel Tabernacle Kids Church Style!

Last week in our Children's Church we started a fund raising project which will take the boys and girls through the whole process from making the product, to selling it and donating the proceeds. At the end of the time, we plan to visit the project site which is in a nearby town and see firsthand what the kids accomplished!

For our project, we purchased Easter candy molds and make pretzel rod chocolate pops and chocolate lollipops. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but after I purchased the supplies, I began to feel a little leery of how it would work. Thankfully we have a small group and were able to recruit enough adults so there was one adult for every 2 children to supervise the activity.

I placed the chocolate pieces in small squeeze bottles and melted it in warm water in the crock pot ahead of time. Then we lined the children up along the island in the church kitchen and allowed them to squeeze the different colored chocolate into their molds.

What fun! The children became enthused about the candy-making project and all of them worked hard the entire time. It was one of the best class times we've had! We even sold several pretzel pops immediately following church to one of the dads who came to pick up his kids.

This week we'll be adding homemade labels and bows letting everyone know the boys and girls made them as a fundraiser. We'll be selling them to family and friends as well as at work and at a small craft show at one of our sister churches.

Then the money will be donated along with some of the boys and girls offerings to a mission project in a neighboring community. I'm making an "It's Time to share Jesus clock" to show how close they are getting to their goal. I'll let you know how this turns out when we reach our goal. I should have taken pictures of them at work!

In the end, I think this will turn out to be a valuable lesson in giving for the boys and girls. Not only are they giving their time and energy to the Lord to make the candy, they're also earning money to give to the Lord for missions. I definitely will be doing this lesson again!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Frugal recipes for a more beautiful you!

For a long time now, I've tried to be frugal with health and beauty products. Over the years I've turned my shampoo and conditioner bottles upside down and drained every last drop into a new bottle. Those last few drops are hardly enough to do anything with, but they do add up over time. I can usually can fill my travel sized bottle over a few months so its full and ready to go when vacation time rolls around. It may contain several different scents so I just call it my fruit salad shampoo.

After I stopped working outside the home, I needed to be more economical when it came to purchasing beauty products like shower gel. I found I could lather up my bath pouf just as well with a bar of soap as I could with that nice gel - so I stopped buying the pricier shower gels and settled for a simple bar of soap.

But even with a bar of soap, there's waste - that little sliver that just isn't big enough to use effectively. Did you know the average person uses 656 bars of soap over their lifetime???????

This weekend I found some new frugal "recipes" I want to try - making my own shower gel and designer bath soaps from old soap slivers.

Boy was I impressed when I found this video showing how to make new designer hand soaps from stuff I already had on hand like soap slivers, olive oil, food coloring, oatmeal and oranges!

How To Turn Soap Slivers Into a New Bar Of Soap - These bloopers are hilarious

Sooooooo easy! I have some great cookie cutters that might work for molds and if I really wanted to get fancy, I could purchase some fancy soap molds to match the decor of my bathroom to make cute designer soaps. Or maybe for Christmas gifts (using new bars of plain soap instead of slivers of course!)

Of course, if you don't want to go to all that trouble of making these cute little soaps, you can always just put y our soap slivers in a sock (one of those mateless ones you can't wear anymore) and use it in the shower. Or another suggestion I found was to cut one leg from a pair of pantyhose that has a runner and put the slivers in that. Knot it and hang it from the shower. Not the most attractive way to do it, but it works.

I also made an amazing discovery - in all the recipes I found for shower gel, the main ingredient was unscented shampoo! The best recipe I found was on

It uses equal parts of unscented shampoo and water, adding up to a quarter cup more or less water to get the consistency you like. The scent comes from inexpensive essential fragrance oils that are available in craft stores like A. C. Moore, JoAnns or Michaels. The other ingredient is regular table salt which acts as an exfoliating

I like citrus scents in my bath products so I used inexpensive citrus shampoo, added the water and salt and a few extra drops of citrus scented oil which made a great mix! However, if you have sensitive skin, you might want to purchase the unscented shampoo - even unscented baby shampoo.

Developing a frugal lifestyle is an adventure. Each day brings new discoveries - new things to try. Have fun on your adventure today!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Frugal Tips - Wow! This stuff works in the dishwasher too!

I sent my husband out to the store today to buy the ingredients for homemade laundry soap. Since I started reading about making my own, I couldn't resist giving it a try - especially if it works! According to the estimates, it can save a bundle over time and does just as good of a job.

Then while I was cleaning up from breakfast, I realized I forgot to put dishwasher liquid on the grocery list this week. Hmmmm! If it's not on the list, Dan won't get it.

So back to the computer I went. I found several ideas to try including a recipe on The New Homemaker. According to editor Lynn Siprelle, the main ingredient in her recipe is the same one I just sent my husband out to purchase - one cup of the 20 Mule Team Borax, along with one cup of plain old baking soda. This recipe can be found on many sites, but Lynn adds a common "secret" ingredient to hers for a great lemony smell.Click on her link for the full recipe.

The neat thing is that she stores that same powder in a metal shaker can and uses it to scour her sink. According to Lynn, it works like Bon Ami - a polishing cleanser powder and it smells good too.

Ok - my dishwasher has a compartment for Jet Dry rinse aid. So what can I put in there? Every site I checked out said the same thing - white vinegar. Once the Jet Dry is used up,I can fill that compartment up with white vinegar and let it do its thing. So easy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Help! I'm having a Frugal Friday!

It all started last summer when my sister-in-law brought me some little pears from a neighbor's yard. I promised the Lord, I would try to use them up because it was such a shame to waste them.

Well, I decided to make pear butter because they were tiny, hard and full of gritty spots. but they made the most wonderful pear butter. I washed, cut and cooked them in my crock pot over night, then put them through the food mill to remove the gritty spots, seeds and skins.

That left a wonderful sauce which I returned to the crock pot with brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of ginger. It cooked all night long with the lid off to thicken it and then I canned it. I got about 2 pints from each crock pot load after it cooked down. Everyone has commented on how good it is!

Now each time I receive a food "blessing" the Lord challenges me to use it up!

Yesterday I cooked a turkey and of course, there were giblets in that little paper sack in the bird's neck. No one eats the liver, heart, neck and gizzard here at my house so I was set to throw them away.

"Why not try a recipe for dog cookies," the Lord suggested. "That way you won't waste them."

Groan. "Well, I did say I'd try not to waste things." So I put the giblets and neck into my little 1 quart crock pot and let them simmer away. By this morning, they were well done and cool enough to chop up. But I didn't want to heat the oven just to bake dog biscuits - that's not very frugal! So I decided to make my dessert for the meal we're having at church on Sunday afternoon. And, oh yes I almost forgot - I needed to make some cornbread for the soup I was supposed to make.

Ok! This was beginning to look like an all day affair. I got my recipes ready and put them in order - the chocolate zucchini bread first because the oven needs to be at 350 degrees.

This is a great Spark People recipe which has only 114 calories per slice so I know I can enjoy it on Sunday.


2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
3 eggs or 3/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups packed, grated zucchini (if you use frozen zucchini-thaw and drain well first)
1/2 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 loaf plans with nonstick spray.
In large bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, egg, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Stir in zucchini.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened. Fold in Chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly in prepared pans.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.
Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool on wire rack before serving.

Number of Servings: 24

Recipe submitted by SparkPeople user RAMZEE.
Number of Servings: 24

After the chocolate zucchini bread finished, I turned the oven up to 400 degrees and started on the doggie cookies. I couldn't find a recipe that matched my ingredients, so I improvised and created my own.

Turkey Giblet Treats

2 cups of flour
1 cup bran

Then mix in:

3 Tablespoons of oil
1 egg
The broth from the turkey neck and giblets (About 1/2 cup)

I chopped up the giblets and neck meat in my food processor which came to about a cup and added that to the rest of the ingredients. It made a stiff dough. I used a teaspoon for each biscuit and rolled it into a log shape, flattening it slightly, then baked it for about 15 minutes until lightly browned.

Oreo must have known they were for him because he plopped down in the kitchen and didn't move the whole time they were baking.

While the doggie cookies baked, I mixed up a double batch of cornbread using the recipe on the back of the package. The oven temp had to go up to 425 for the cornbread. Soon that was in the oven, making my mouth water!

Oh well - I might have been frugal, not wasting the giblets and about making several things in the oven at one time, but now I have a mound of dishes to finish up.

I'm so glad God loves to surprise us!We got an unexpected invitation to dinner tonight so I didn't have to cook after my baking marathon. I guess it does pay to listen when He suggeste we do something!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frugal Living - Wash Day Blues

I remember my mother-in-law doing wash every Monday morning with her old wringer washer. Rain, snow, sunshine - it didn't matter. If it was Monday, it was wash day!

Clothing was gathered on Sunday night and sorted so mom could begin washing at the crack of dawn on Monday morning. All of the children had to strip their beds and make sure their bedding was in the back porch mud room by the washer right after they got up.

Since she used her wringer washer, she washed from light to dark clothes, using the same water for several loads to conserve on water.(They had a shallow well which made conservation a necessity.)Dad's clothing from the coal mines was the last load of the day. She changed the water once during the process so she could add bleach and do whites, towels and bedding.

With my washer and dryer, it doesn't matter what day I do laundry; or even what time of day I do it, as long as it gets done. But I have found some frugal ideas to help me get it done.

I haven't tried it yet, but I'm considering it - making my own laundry detergent. I found a lot of resources with recipes for this including the book by the Duggars - The Duggars: 20 and counting I just can't imagine the mounds of laundry their family has to do each day! I've helped my daughter with her family laundry for a family of 7 and even that seemed endless!

Other homemade laundry soap recipes can be found on Tip Hero - these are all recipes submitted by readers.

Another great blog was one written by Trent at The Simple Dollar Trent gives his recipe, a cost breakdown for the product he makes and even a video of how it looks and the steps to make it! Great resource. According to his blog, he gets 312 cups of laundry soap for about $7 and in his own stain tests, it works as well as the brand name laundry detergent.

Ok - the wash is done and it's time to dry it. The most frugal way to dry clothes is on the wash line. I love blankets and sheets hung on the line on a spring day. The smell is so relaxing at bedtime. But practically speaking, I don't always have time for that.

But I have cut costs by making my own dryer sheets. Old towels can be cut into small squares and drizzled with liquid fabric softener. Old or mismatched white socks work well too. These can be tossed in with the rinse cycle of the washer if you're hanging your laundry outside, or tossed in the dryer with a load. I like to put the softener on the cloths and then let the air dry before using them so the fabric softener doesn't leave spots on my clothes in the dryer.

Of course, if dryer sheets and fabric softeners cause allergies or problems for you, vinegar is a safe alternative - just 1/2 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle will work as well as fabric softener - but don't mix use with bleach - since that may cause toxic fumes.

Tennis balls work well in the dryer too (rather than those pricier dryer balls) at helping to keep down static. Since static is produced by synthetics more than by cotton fabrics, you might want to air dry your synthetics.

I will say this - my mother in law had the right idea - when she did laundry, she did the whole process from start to finish - washing, drying, folding and putting it away. Sometimes I get too busy and the clean loads pile up for a few days before I can put them away. That makes extra work since they tend to get wrinkled and need pressing. If I can hang and put away each load as it comes out of the dryer or off the line, it is more frugal time-wise for me than if it piles up.

Who knew laundry could be so complicated??????

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Savoring Jesus

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
~Frederick Buechner~
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

If you popped a Hershey Kiss into your mouth right now, how would ou eat it? Would you chomp it down in one bite or would you let it melt slowly in your mouth?

Personally I'm a chomper from way back. I eat the Hershey Kiss quickly and go back to have half of the bag before I'm satisfied. Then I end up with a tummy ache and feeling guilty for eating so much chocolate.

But over the last few years, I've been consciously working to learn to savor the velvety chocolate flavor of the Hershey Kiss, though it's hard! I've found one Kiss that melts in your mouth is more satisfying than a dozen chomped ones - and I can even enjoy one Kiss occasionally on my diet with no guilt!

When I thought about today's quote, the Hershey Kiss illustration came to mind. I have moved so often as an adult, it was difficult to put down roots - difficult to form lasting deep friendships with those around me. It was like chomping on the Hershey Kiss - enjoying surface friendships briefly, then leaving empty, unsatisfied, wishing for something deeper.

Real lasting and deep friendships take time to develop and nurture. They are the kind that leave you satisfied, even when you are apart and pick back up almost as if no time elapsed when you are together again. Thankfully I do have several friends like that. Even when time passes, our relationship is still full and sweet. They are friends I can pour our my deepest heart to and they still care and accept me - warts wrinkles and all.

The sweetest relationship of all is my relationship with Jesus. I have to admit, I often "chomp" in that relationship, failing to savor the time one-on-one with Him. When that happens, I find myself getting up off my knees feeling unsatisfied. That's when I succumb to the world's attractions and distractions because I haven't satisfied my need for the sweetness of His presence.

I have to consciously work at savoring Him, savoring His awesome presence. It takes time to be quiet before Him, touching Him with praise and listening to His voice and knowing His touch on my heart. After those precious times, I get up from my knees feeling loved, feeling joy and peace. I am full, whole and completely satisfied.

This week, Nina is hosting “In ‘Other’ Words” on her blog, Mama’s Little Treasures . Be sure to visit her site and the links to the other women who have shared on this quote.

If you'd like to play along, simply blog about the quote on your blog site and leave your URL in the Mr. Linky Box on Nina's site.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Frugal Convenience Mixes

When I was a young pastor's wife, I have to admit I was a little envious of other shoppers as I saw their carts piled high with all sorts of premade convenience foods while I had to stick to the basic staples to keep within my grocery budget.

I knew I could make things like pancakes, biscuits and cake cheaper from scratch since I already kept the basic ingredients on hand anyway. But it always seemed like a real chore at the time to get out all the ingredients, measure everything, and then clean up all the bowls and utensils at the end. Oh how wonderful it would be to just open a box of cake mix, dump it into one bowl, mix, bake and enjoy!

One day at the grocery store, I indulged and bought a cooking magazine put out by Family Circle called Easy Budget Meals. It was published sometime in 1979 or 1980 - I can't tell because I used it so much the cover got ripped. I found lots of great recipes I used for many years including recipes to make convenience food mixes like homemade cake mix, homemade cookie mix and an oven fried coating mix.

Pantry Shelf Cake Mix - makes 4 cakes
8 cups flour
5 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
2 cups shortening
Optional - 1 1/3 cups cocoa for chocolate cake mix

Stir the dry ingredients until well blended and then cut in shortening. Divide the mix into 4 parts (about 3 1/2 cups each) and store in quart size freezer bags in the freezer.

To use, add:
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat at low speed for one minute, then medium speed for 2 more minutes. Pour batter into greased and floured pans.

Bake at 350 degrees:
For 8" layers - 25 minutes
For 9 x 9 x 2" square pan - 35 minutes
For 24 cupcakes - 20 minutes

Pantry Shelf Cookie Mix - makes 3 batches of 3 dozen cookies
2 cups shortening
3 3/4 cups sugar
9 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon of salt

Cut shortening into sugar until crumbly, then add other dry ingredients and stir until mixed well. Divide mix into 3 parts (about 4 1/2 cups of mix) and store in zipper storage bags in the freezer.

To use, add:
4 1/2 cups mix
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
This makes a stiff dough

Optional additions:
1 cup pared apple
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chocolate, butterscotch or peanut butter chips
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup peanut butter

For rolled cookies, shape in a log, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Then roll and cut with cookie cutters in desired shapes.

For dropped cookies, add 1/4 cup milk or 1/4 cup orange juice or 1 large mashed banana to the dough and drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 for 8 minutes or until golden brown.

For bar cookies, add 1 cup of fruit, flavored chips or nuts to dough. Spread in 9 x 13" pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack and cut into 36 bars.

Oven-Fried Coating Mix - Makes the equivalent of 4 packages
1 - 16 ounce can of bread crumbs (or 2 cups of homemade bread crumbs)
2 Tablespoons of Onion salt
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine dry ingredients, then drizzle on the oil and mix well. Divide into 4 portions and store in a zipper storage bag.
When ready to use, add any of the following:
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
or 2 Tablespoons of chopped parsley.

Place chicken pieces in the storage bag with the coating mix and shake to coat. Arrange chicken on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

For pork, try adding:
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon thyme

For fish, try adding:
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill (1 teaspoon dried dill weed)
or 1 teaspoon savory

I've enjoyed making homemade biscuits and pancakes for years. Recently, I found a recipe from cdkitchen for Copycat Bisquick Pancake/Biscuit Mix. The recipe makes 8 cups of Mix
6 2/5 tablespoons baking powder
9 3/5 teaspoons sugar
7 1/5 cups flour
16 tablespoons canola oil

When ready to use, measure out 2 cups of mix, add 1 egg and 1 1/4 cups of milk to the batter for the desired consistency for pancakes.

For biscuits, use 2 cups of the mix and about 2/3 cup of milk to make dough Roll out and bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

I'd love to hear from you with other suggestions for making your own convenience foods at home!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Frugal Baby Food

Babies are wonderful! As I sat here this morning missing my new grand baby, I decided to do the next best thing - write about babies!

When my children were small, we pastored a small town church which couldn't pay my husband a large salary so it became an adventure in creativity to find ways to make ends meet. Around that time, I bought a cook book called "Feed Me, I'm Yours," by Vicki Lansky (first published in 1975, newly revised in 2004 so it's still available) with all sorts of healthy recipes and helpful hints on feeding my babies. That book became my child care"Bible" and by the time I passed it on to my daughter to use with her 5 little ones, the cover had fallen off and pages were oil stained.

One of Vicky's suggestions was to cook the family's vegetables without salt so they could be pureed for baby at the table using a baby food grinder. The baby food grinder I used (back in the good old days LOL!)was available in the baby section at the larger department stores for about $5. It was plastic tube with a hand cranked grinder mechanism on the top. Food was inserted into the tube and forced through the grinder. It was completely washable and easy to use.

Now the same manual food grinder costs $14.99 online. There are also electric baby food grinders available at $29.99, though you could probably purchase a small electric food processor or smaller containers for your regular electric blender for less that would do the same thing rather than buying a "baby" food grinder.

So EASY! My babies ate the same veggies and later meats as we did so it saved me the expense of buying jars of baby food.

After the meal, Vicki suggested pureeing leftover veggies and freezing them in a plastic ice cube tray. The tray created perfect baby-sized portions that could be popped out of the tray after freezing, labeled and stored in a freezer bag. When I needed a meal for my babies, I could pop out a variety of "cubes" and heat and serve.

Vicki Lansky also offered ideas for healthy finger foods and even recipes to make baby biscuits for teething. I found this recipe which was adapted from her cookbook at another online baby food site:

Teething Biscuit Recipes - Try These Banana Bread Sticks

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana
1 3/4 cups flour (white, whole wheat, or a combination)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine ingredients and stir only until smooth. Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour or until firmly set.Cool, remove from pan, and cut into sticks. Spread sticks out on a cookie sheet and bake at 150 degrees F for 1 hour or longer until the sticks are hard and crunchy. Store in a tightly covered container.

Adapted from Feed Me I'm Yours by Vicki Lansky **Freezes Well**

The folks at Wholesome Baby Foods also suggested making teething biscuits from your favorite healthy breads ( like carrot, pumpkin, zucchini or apple bread) by baking the bread as usual, then slicing, cutting the slices into sticks and returning them to the oven to bake until hard and crunchy. I wish I'd have known that trick when my children were small!

Even after my children grew up, I loved making the recipes in Vicki's book - especially the craft recipes for play dough, finger paint and other crafty recipes which I adapted for my children's ministry.

So what resources have you used to live "green" or frugally as you raise Baby? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Frugal Baby Wipes

Oh the joys of being a Grandma! I can hold 'em and spoil 'em and hand 'em back!

Honestly though, I just returned from my son's house where I was privileged to help out after the birth of their second child. Little Autumn was born on Groundhog Day and weighed in at 9 pounds, 9 ounces.

So with a newborn granddaughter, my mind naturally turned to ideas for frugal living that involve babies. Recently I found a great frugal website called Tip Hero filled with all kinds of great tips for cutting costs. While looking through all the tips, I found this "recipe" for homemade baby wipes which was submitted by a reader.

1 tbsp. baby wash
1 tbsp. baby oil
1/2 roll of strong paper towels
1 3/4 - 2 cups of water

Cut the roll, including the cardboard tube, in half. Add all liquid ingredients to a plastic container (about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, and about 6 inches high - or reuse an empty baby wipes container). Put in the cut roll of paper towels, place top of the container on and turn the container upside down until the liquid absorbs. Remove the cardboard center, and pull wipes from the center.

Since you're only using a tablespoon at a time of the baby oil and baby wash, the bottles last a long time. If you wanted to, you could purchase soft terrycloth wash cloths for use at home with this solution and keep the paper towel wipes in the diaper bag. The cloth squares are washable and re-usable, a great green alternative.

One reader commented that she used a serrated edge knife or an electric knife to cut the roll of paper towels more easily since they are difficult to cut without shredding them.

Other readers suggested using the Viva brand because they are thicker and softer to use for the baby. Viva makes a "select-a-size" paper towel so you can tear off a smaller piece at a time, making them last longer.

Another reader makes her own moist towelettes by pouring a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide over squares of cloth which she cuts from old tee shirts or other cotton type fabric. She keeps them in an opaque container in her purse. She places the used ones in another container or baggie and washes them at home so they can be used again.

I plan on passing this suggestion along to my daughter in law ans my daughter who also has children still in diapers. What other helpful baby money-saving things have you tried? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Frugal living - There's nothing like a big pot of soup!

Mmmmm! There's nothing like a big pot of soup or savory stew simmering on the stove on a cold winter day. Couple that with the aroma of fresh baked bread and my mouth starts watering right away.

The great thing about soups and stews is that they work well for big batch cooking - as a matter of fact, they even taste better when made in a big batch, simmering slowly to blend the flavors.

I have a large electric roaster to cook my soup and by the time I finish adding ingredients, it is usually 3/4 full of delicious soup bubbling away. We always eat some of the freshly made soup, keep enough for a second meal or a few lunches and freeze the rest. That way, I only have to cook once to make several meals which is a real time, money and energy saver.

One of my favorite frugal soups is Bean Soup.

1 package of dried beans, soaked and drained according to the package directions.
1 small chunk of ham or a ham bone
4 large carrots,
3 stalks of celery,
1 medium onion
Seasonings to taste.
Water to cover the vegetables and ham.

Throw all the ingredients in a large pot (I like to use my large crock pot so this soup doesn't scorch)After cooking on low for 6 hours, I add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and cook on high for several hours to blend the flavors. This usually makes 4 to 6 quarts of soup which freezes well.

Another frugal tip for soup making is to save all your leftover cooked vegetables from other meals - you know - that spoonful of peas which doesn't seem like enough to bother with? I put the leftover veggies in a freezer bag each day and when I make soup, just take it out of the freezer and toss it into the pot. That way, nothing goes to waste. You can do that with little bits of leftover meat too. Keep a separate zipper sandwich bag in the freezer with each kind of leftover meat and use it to help flavor your soups.

I freeze my soup in meal sized containers - our empty margarine containers hold about 2 cups of soup, just right for a single lunch meal.

For cream or milk based soups, you can make the soup and freeze your portions BEFORE adding the cream to it so it will keep better. Just thaw and reheat later, adding the cream at that point.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A frugal use of time

Hurry up and wait!

In the supermarket, the store manager had to cut back on cashiers due to the economy so now ten people are ahead of me. All of them are irritated, grumbling about the length of the line and how many "important" things they have to do after they leave the grocery store.

Meanwhile, the harried clerk tries everything she knows to do to ring up an item with a damaged bar code. After about five minutes, she gives up and calls the manager for a price check which takes another five minutes as the line grows longer.

Breathing a sigh of relief as the customer finally pays for her purchase and moves toward the exit, the poor cashier is faced with a red-faced, not-so-gentle-man whose clipped words and short manner let her know "she" is to blame for all the world's ills.

And so it goes as she muddles her way through the angry impatient line of customers. When I finally reach the register, the poor girl looks like she'd rather be anywhere else at the moment.

Standing in that line, I have a choice to make about the way I will spend my time. I could get angry, decide I really don't need the item in my hand and storm out of the store. I could join my fellow shoppers in complaining all the way to the register. Or I could redeem or "buy back" the time so it isn't wasted by a bad attitude or simple inactivity.

So what can I do during that waiting time?

1. Being a "fixer" I like to diffuse the growing tension in the line by chatting with my fellow customers. By observing those around me, I can usually find something that makes me smile or a compliment I can give. By turning the attention away from the "wait" to pleasanter topics, the people around me will often relax a bit, enough to prevent them from taking their irritation out on the cashier.

2. If you don't feel comfortable talking to others, you might carry a book with you or even a pocket Bible which you can pull out and read during the waiting time. It's also a great time to memorize a scripture verse. Not only does it get your mind off the wait, it will improve your attitude in general and help you keep spiritually "fit."

3. You can always use the time to pray. Since prayer is conversation with God, you can carry on a mental conversation with Him anywhere. Picture Him standing in line with you and begin talking to Him about any of the needs on your heart - both for yourself or others. Or pray for those in line. You may not know their needs, but He does.

4. Being a writer, I try to keep a pen and notepad with me. Waiting in a long line is a great place to jot down snippets of conversation I hear around me or ideas for a scene in a short story or novel. Who knows? The ire of the customers in line may spark an idea for a blog about anger management or things you can do while waiting in line. LOL!

5. Get organized. Waiting in a line is a great place to organize my life. I can make lists of things I need to do, develop plans to achieve goals, make a list of Christmas gifts I want to buy or make for the grandchildren, make a wish list of craft supplies I need and prioritize it - anything that might need to be organized.

Any of the suggestions above could end up fitting into category #1 as conversation starters or openings to witness about the love of Christ as you wait - definitely a great way to frugally "spend" your waiting time.

So as the lines increase all over town, how do you frugally spend your time? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't worry - be spiritually frugal

I received an e-mail today - one of those "forwards" - so I haven't got a clue who wrote it originally. But it was filled with wonderful advice on keeping yourself spiritually, mentally and emotionally fit.

One of the best pieces of advice in this e-mail dealt with learning to tell the difference between worries and concerns. Now, I'm an expert "worrier" with years of experience so I'm writing about this for my own benefit, though I know I'm not the only one out there. LOL!

Worry prevents creativity. It's like trying to fit an object into a box filled with Styrofoam peanuts. Until you take the peanuts out, the object just won't fit!

When I worry, the thing I am anxious about ruminates around and around in my brain. It becomes larger and larger until there's no room for any other thoughts. Like the Styrofoam peanuts, the thing that I'm worried about has little eternal weight, but takes up more space than it's worth.

It steals my time - time I could use to be praying, waging spiritual warfare against the situation or circumstances, or figuring out creative solutions. Worry wastes my physical energy as well as I pace and wring my hands. Because it is based in fear, worry raises my blood pressure and causes sleeplessness which affects my health. It uses up a lot of mental energy to remain focused on the object of my worry, keeping it at the forefront of my mind so I can continue to see it at all times, leaving me mentally drained.

I like how this anonymous author put it:
'Never borrow from the future. If you worry about what may happen tomorrow and it doesn't happen, you have worried in vain. Even if it does happen, you have to worry twice.'

Since one of the most important principles of frugal living is not to go into debt, it makes a lot of sense not to go into spiritual debt by worrying about something that may happen tomorrow - something I have no control over. Simply put - worry "borrows" trouble - and that's not being very frugal!

Jesus understood the tendency of human beings to worry. In the Gospel of Matthew, He uses several illustrations to show the futility of worry. "Don't worry about food," He said, pointing out how God takes care of the simple house sparrows who don't plant gardens or gather food into barns. "You are more valuable than they are." (Matthew 6:26 paraphrased)

He continues on. "Don't worry about what you will wear. The wildflowers in the field are glorious to look at - I provided all their finery. Don't you think I will take care of your needs?" (Matthew 6: 28-29 paraphrased)

So the key is to learn the difference between worrying and being concerned. Concern is rooted in love. When we look at the world around us, our concern for the things we see should spur us to action - both heavy duty praying and doing what we know we can do. It means loving enough to be committed to obedience and trusting Him for the knowledge and strength to do His will.

It's like taking the object of our concern, packing it in an empty box and surrounding it with Jesus' love and compassion rather than those empty worries. Then we take that box and give it to Him , allowing Him do what He will. If He asks us to do something with our concern, we do it. Otherwise, we let Him handle it.

Matthew 6:34"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (The Message)

Lord I give my empty worries to You. Show me the things I need to be concerned about - what things I need to act on and what things I need to leave in Your capable hands. Help me to become spiritually frugal for you!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Creative Opportunities Ahead!

Thanks to Amy over at In Pursuit of Proverbs 31 for supplying this week's quote for "In Other Words."

Caution: Road Slippery When Wet

Eleven years ago, my husband and I pastored in Northern New York. In January that year, the area was hit hard by one of the worst ice storms they had ever experienced. The Governor declared a state of emergency because the heavy ice toppled electrical poles in a domino effect, causing the area to lose power. Roadways were covered with ice, slush and downed trees. A nearby river flooded, affecting a low income and Senior Citizen complex.

Though the storm crippled the area, some pretty amazing things began to happen. As a reporter for our local newspaper at the time, I wasn't housebound. There was no time for getting discouraged or sitting around waiting for the power to come back on. I had a wonderful job to keep me upbeat and encouraged - I was able to travel around and see firsthand how people were coping, giving and sharing with each other. Then I had the opportunity to encourage my community by writing those stories.

The temperature had dipped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit after all the rain, which forced those without power to seek other shelter. Several of the large local churches, the schools and even the local prison opened their doors as shelters for those without electricity and heat. Others who had alternative heat sources like fireplaces or wood stoves opened their doors to their neighbors. Families shared the contents of their refrigerators and freezers to avoid losing all their food to spoilage. I still chuckle when I remember how our neighbors "borrowed" our shower because we had hot running water.

For me, it was a unique lesson in giving out of our own need. We all faced the same circumstances, but everyone who was able, gave and shared with those who were in greater need. We all learned to get by without TV, without the things we once considered necessities. For me, it cemented the joy of giving firmly in my heart. Even when things were tight, it became an adventure to find creative ways to give and share what I had.

As I see the signs for slippery economic roads ahead, I remember those days of the ice storm and know in my heart that giving is a part of frugal living. I suffer from less stress when I stop focusing on my own needs and focus on the needs of those around me. I am energized as I look for creative ways to help meet those needs. As I found out during the ice storm, writing is an awesome gift God has given me which allows me to give encouragement as well as materially to those around me.

If I were to post a sign on this leg of my life's road, I think it would read:

"Rejoice: Creative Opportunities Ahead!"

If you'd like to share your thoughts on today's quote, simply blog about it on your site, then visit Amy at In Pursuit of Proverbs 31 and leave your URL in the Mr Linky Box! Then take a few minutes to read some of the other blogs and leave a comment.

Have a blessed day!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Frugal Living - Bread Crumbs of Wisdom

Since I started eating healthier last June, I have probably eaten the equivalent of a whole produce aisle of dark leafy greens.

Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but I have learned to like salad and I eat a large one almost every day. But I do have to confess, the greens are more palatable with 2 tablespoons of fat free salad dressing, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a few seasoned croutons sprinkled on top.
Without those additions, I doubt I could get the greens down.

So as I continue writing about living frugally, I thought it was time to share a few salad secrets to make a healthy and less expensive tasty green salad. And yes - I have done these!

With the rising cost at the grocery store, I make more things from scratch at home. But there are some things I really like - for instance Kraft Catalina Salad Dressing. I just wasn't sure I could duplicate the taste, especially the low fat or fat free variety. That's when I discovered there are sites with "copy cat" recipes where I can make my favorite taste-alike foods from ingredients I usually have on hand at home!

CDKitchen is one of these sites where I find a lot of my favorite recipes like this Kraft Catalina :

1 cup of sugar
2 tsp. salt
a dash of paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
grated onion to taste
1/2 cup vinegar
2/3 cup ketchup
1 cup oil

It's easy to make too - just put all ingredients in the blender, mix and store in the refrigerator. The recipe makes 3 cups.

Since this is not the "diet" version, I tweaked it a little and added Splenda instead of sugar and only 1/2 the oil with 1/2 cup water. It's really good!

Seasoned bread crumbs and those tasty croutons can also be made at home just as easily.

For years I've been storing my broiler pan in my oven. I just lay the crusts of each loaf of bread on that pan and leave them inside my oven until they dry out completely. The pan catches any extra crumbs and allows air to circulate around the bread. Once dry, I just chop them up in my food processor and add the desired spices to the mix. I store the crumbs in an air tight container and always have them on hand for breading my oven baked fish and chicken.

To make the croutons, I cube several slices of bread (it's a great way to use up older bread or sandwich buns that are starting to dry out.) I lay them on top of the broiler pan as well and allow them to dry thoroughly, usually a day or 2. I like to do this right after I get done cooking something else in the oven since a hot oven will speed the drying process.

When the cubes dry, I mix 2 Tbsp of olive oil and the desired spices (garlic powder, a pinch of salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, etc) and drizzle it over the croutons on a baking sheet, tossing them lightly to coat them all. It goes back into the oven on the lowest heat for an hour or two until the cubes are thoroughly dried out. Then I store the croutons in a plastic container.
Just a few of these on my salad make all the difference. They taste every bit as good as their restaurant counterparts. Yummy!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Frugal Living - Spicing Things Up a bit

Ever since I started looking for creative ways to cut costs, even my dear hubby has gotten into the act!

I have a lot of pumpkin in the freezer and in jars on my shelf here at the house so I needed some pumpkin pie spice from the store for several of my recipes. Dan pulled it from the grocery bag and remarked how expensive that little jar was.

Then he got this goofy grin on his face and said, "Look! Now you won't have to buy any more of this - you can just read the label and make your own!"

His idea does have merit, since several places in our local area sell bulk spices. Buying them in bulk is generally cheaper - but only if you can use what you buy in a reasonable amount of time. Spices have a good shelf life, but they won't retain their peak flavor forever. Nothing is a bargain if you end up wasting half of it!

So how about making your own spice blends and gifting what you can't use yourself?

Over the Christmas holiday, I found these two great articles with interesting spice blend recipes:
Enhance the flavor of your food
Healthy Homemade Gifts

I've tried the Ranch dressing mix from the homemade gift site and found it to be a great alternative to the packets of Ranch seasoning mix at a fraction of the cost.

Ranch Dressing Mix:
4 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dry dill weed
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper (or to taste)

There's no salt in the recipe so you can add it to your taste and cut the calories by using light sour cream or low fat yogurt.

Since my DH suggested making my own pumpkin pie spice, I googled it and found this great recipe at All Recipes .

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground allspice

Simply mix well and store in an air tight container.

I'm definitely going to be looking up more spice blend recipes as I continue on this frugal lifestyle adventure!

Do you have any favorite spice /herb blend recipes? I'd love to hear about them.