Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Inner Beauty


Unlike a morning glory, it won't fade.

Photo Credit: No, we don't have flowers blooming yet! I took this on a walk back in August '09.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Curbing Computer Cravings

What is your biggest time waster?

For many, like myself, the answer would have something to do with the computer, and more specifically, the internet. The amount of information accessible at your fingertips is endless. There's always new things to read, new ways to connect, new things to learn. While these opportunities aren't bad, they can easily be abused.

Too often, I sit down at the computer when I'm tired and just want something somewhat brainless to do. Too often, the hours fly by while I jump from one blog to another, reading some very worthwhile articles, and some ramblings that just didn't need to be read. Too often, I turn to the computer to stay up-to-date with family and friends instead of taking the time to interact in more meaningful ways. Too often, late nights on the computer result in mornings of regret.

One of my goals for 2010 is to curb these bad computer habits. Though I've already failed a few times, the following guidelines help keep me on track. There is so much to life beyond what you experience in front of a screen!

Not on too early
The first part of the day is, for me, the most productive in terms of studying and getting needed things done. If I turn the computer on first thing, even just to quickly check my email, it's too easy to get caught up in answering emails, reading the latest blogs, checking favorite sites - and before I know it, an hour or two has passed. Getting a late start in the morning usually brings the productivity of my whole day down.

So, my guideline is to not turn the computer on until I've completed most of my studying for that day. It doesn't happen every day - sometimes I have no choice but to get on for teaching-related things - but as a whole, it keeps me focused and diligent. Sometimes I really want to see if an important email has been answered or a post responded to, but delaying that gratification helps me stay disciplined as I work, and provides motivation to complete my work.

And somehow, when I get on the computer later in the day, things don't seem to take as long, and I'm less likely to waste time.

Off by 10 PM
Setting this rule has been one of the best things for this new year. My eyes often hurt after hours staring at a screen, and it's even worse if that time is spent at night. Plus, I noticed that, while some good things got done when I was on late (such as blogging and working on production details), most of the time spent on the computer late at night wasn't very profitable. I had a higher tendency to feel lonely and try to quench that by browsing blogs or Facebook, wasting time as I checked yet again for new things.

My sleep also suffered. I'm usually pretty good about getting up at the same time each morning (though this, too, has been harder to get back into after the weird schedule of the holidays), so when I go to bed late, it means that I loose needed sleep. Lost sleep attributes to lethargy, headaches, and decreased productivity the next day.

While turning the computer off by 10 PM doesn't necessarily mean that I turn the light off by then, it does make me more likely to go to bed at a decent hour. It's also motivation to me, if I get on the computer before bed to check something, to get it done quickly and not waste time. Again, this rule can be broken if there are urgent things to attend to. But most things, I've learned, won't hurt if they wait until the next day.

It's amazing what a relief it is when the computer goes off each night. The computer, to me, often signifies work, so when its noise ceases, I feel much more relaxed.

None on Sunday
Another guideline I've been following for quite a few months is to not even turn my computer on on Sundays. Again, I found that most of the time I spent on the computer on Sunday afternoons was not well spent. Plus, I just needed a break, a day to disconnect from the virtual world.

Though as Christians, we don't have to observe Sabbath laws, God was truly wise to set aside one day in every seven as a day of rest. When you work the whole week through, you enter the next week feeling tired instead of refreshed. Since instituting the "no computer on Sunday" policy, I have entered each new week relaxed and ready to face all that it brought, instead of in a frenzy and feeling stressed. After church in the morning, not having the distraction of the computer gives me great time to spend with family, play games, read, write, choreograph, sew, watch a movie, or be with friends all afternoon/evening. Sundays have become one of my favorite days!

Each one is different
Not everyone needs to follow the guidelines I have, for each one of you leads different lives and has different needs. For some, the computer may provide little or no temptation to waste time. For others, you're entire job revolves around the computer, so you naturally need to use it more than I. But for me, the above goals have helped me use my time more wisely this year. I pray that I will have the self-control to follow them the whole year through, and in doing so, not have so much of a tendency to waste time online.

The computer isn't bad - I enjoy the many opportunities it provides. But more often these days, I just get tired of technology. In setting these goals, I hope to glorify God better with my time this year, using the computer in ways that help with that, but also knowing when to take a break.

What about you? Do you struggle with wasting time online? How do you curb your computer cravings?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Even on Difficult Days

Today hasn't been the best of days. When I realized that we didn't have anywhere to go this weekend besides church on Sunday morning, I had high hopes of getting stuff done. When I went on an impromptu trip to Hancock's Fabrics yesterday afternoon, a lot of plans for Friday got shifted to today. No problem - I had plenty of time. After all, there's a lot you can do when you have an entire day at home!

As I sit here and type, the best part of the day is gone, and only one thing has been checked off of my to-do list. To make matters worse, around noon I was in a horrible mood and took it out on my mom. I was irritable, felt awful, and rejected any of their attempts to help. I definitely wasn't displaying the fruits of the Spirit, despite the time I'd spent doing devotions this morning.

I could blame my irritability on a host of things: the feeling that I'm coming down with a virus, womanly hormones, sore muscles, and the headache that started yesterday afternoon, woke me up with its pounding at 6:30 AM, and resulted in my taking pain relievers, eating a bit of banana, and going back to bed until 9:30 AM. But the fact remains: my reaction to these downsides of life is sin.

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15)
It's nice to know that even the apostle Paul struggled. I can definitely relate with him:
"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:18-19)
Sin can seem like a little thing. After all, everyone has their days! Fleeing interaction with others, after lunch I climbed the hill to my spot, hoping the fresh air would clear my head, then retreated to the solitude of my room. My mood affects the rest in the family, so perhaps things would be better if I just avoided them for a while, I reasoned.

Even on difficult days, however, God is still there, and He is still working. When we, with Paul, exclaim,
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
the answer is the same:

"Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25)

As I prayed and, I admit, complained some on the hillside, God helped alter my perspective. A book I read inside" just happened" to deal with confessing sin and asking others' forgiveness, and by God's grace I was able to, though it was hard to admit my wrong to my mother. I'm human, after all. But thanks be to God - He has given me grace through the Lord Jesus Christ and guidance and comfort through the Holy Spirit.

Even though the day is half gone, I can start again with a renewed perspective. I may not have as much time as before, but the hours I do have are a gift that can be used well. I still don't feel my best, but at least the headache is pretty much gone, which makes the other things more bearable.

I have plenty to be thankful for - most of all, the grace of God that allows me to keep going even when I fail so many times. When I am weak, His strength doesn't falter. And in that strength, I will carry on.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Surrender

"God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him." - Andrew Murray


"Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my time, my all, utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever." - The daily prayer of Betty Stam, missionary and eventual martyr in China

These quotes were found while reading A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Beyond Bethlehem" Pictures and Slideshows

In the midst of Christmas travels, preparing for the start of dance classes for the spring, with all of the choreography and costume searches, and preparing for our cast party, I never took time to upload many pictures from "Beyond Bethlehem." But, now they are up for your enjoyment! It's nothing like being at an actual presentation, but it does give you a taste of the production.

If you're interested, click the below links to see pictures, slideshows, and a dance from the production.

Cast Picture Slideshow - introduces the characters
Album of pictures from Dress Rehearsals - outlines the story with pictures and captions
Picture slideshow - shares pictures and memories from the rehearsals
A Silent Prayer - The dance that opened the musical, in which I portray the prophetess Anna interceding for her nation. It is a silent video, since I had to remove the music for the upload due to copyright.

It's hard to believe it's all over... But there are plenty of things coming up in the future that are keeping me busy!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reminders of His Care

Our red 1995 Geo Prism and I have been through a lot together. I drove it when I took - and passed - my driver's license test. It soon became "my" car for when I went places, probably because it's one of our few without a manual transmission. :) I was driving it when I was in my first and only car accident, it's back bumper now bearing the scars of that night. I took it with me to college and twice experienced the sickening feeling when I turned the key and nothing happened - the first was remedied by getting the battery replaced, while the second left me stranded at college for extra days at the end of the semester, hoping it would get fixed before my dad came and rescued me.

So it's nothing unusual that I was driving it today. I stopped by the bank and then was turning into Fountain of Grace for another afternoon of teaching ballet when the wheel suddenly got very hard to turn. As it continued to lock up and lose power, I managed to guide it into my normal parking spot.

Like any blessed damsel in distress, my dad was only a cell phone call away. Why investigate when you have such a handyman around? My investigation wouldn't have done much good anyways... I've never had a knack for mechanics. My dad told me to leave the keys in a specific location, that he'd be there before my classes ended, and that he would either fix the car or take me home.

Content, I went inside and began preparing for classes, moving the barres out of the closet, turning up the heat, moving chairs into the foyer for parents to sit in... After teaching two classes, I came outside to a beautiful sunset and the sight of my dad working around the car with its hood up. With our older cars, it's a common sight.

The belt running to my alternator had shredded, so my dad was replacing it. As he finished up, I had some time to organize a few things into my drama closet and brainstorm more dance choreography. It was nearly dark by the time I started the car, got an okay from dad, and drove on, amazed at how easy it was to turn the wheel.

It's a minor thing that was easily fixed, but it could have been much worse. What are the odds that it "just happened" to lose power when I was turning into the place I had to be? If it had given out just a few minutes away, it would have been hard to get to the church on time for classes. As it was, I had plenty of time to spare.

God truly was taking care of me. It was a strange sensation when I began to have difficulty turning the wheel, but I didn't really know what was happening. What if I had tried to turn earlier, at a more critical intersection, and had not been able to complete the turn? Yet I was able to safely guide the car into the parking lot, exactly where I need to go. Somehow everything continued to work for another half mile after I heard the belt shred - though of course I didn't know that was what the strange noise was at the time!

God is so good. As I drove home, each easy turn of the wheel reminded me of His loving care. It's just another reminder that our times are in His hands - and that He sustains us for each new day, with each new breath, and through each new turn.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

She Failed Art

Mrs. Susie has long been an inspiration to me. She exemplifies Godly womanhood and trust in God even through the hard times. When I was ten, she was my beloved Sunday School teacher; now, two of her granddaughters take dance from me. Her life continues to bless others as she encourages and serves many, often without recognition.

She also has a gift for artistry, and many people have been blessed with the beauty she brings. Over the years, church sanctuaries, special events, homes, and weddings have been transformed by her touch. She allows God to work through her, and brings glory to Him with the results.

With all of her skill, she must have had extensive training in the arts, right? While she worked on turning a theatre set into ancient Israel, we asked her: “Mrs. Susie, did you take art growing up?” She acknowledged that she had taken one art course in college, and with a half-smile, remarked that she had failed it. The teacher refused to pass her because, though her art was good, the teacher said she worked too slow.

It took a minute for me to comprehend it all. Here she was, making brown paper look like the Judean countryside with a little bit of chalk, being asked to do so only the night before, and only having 3 hours to finish – and she failed art class for working too slow?

That class was the end of her formal artistic training, but she didn’t let it stop her from using her gifts. Even now, many years later, she continues to use her talents on an ongoing basis. I wonder how many of her classmates – those that passed the course with straight As – still use their training to do art. God truly works in unique ways.

What if she had given up? What if she had believed that she really was too slow, and didn’t have what it took to be an artist? There would be a lot less beauty in this community, among her family, and among her church. Her daughter probably wouldn’t have become the artist she is now, which she learned to be through helping her mother. My sister’s wedding locations wouldn’t have been decorated so beautifully, and the set of “Beyond Bethlehem” would still be lacking something.

Yet, Mrs. Susie didn’t give up. She persevered and trusted God to use her gifts as He saw fit. She may not have trained in a world-class arts school, but she has learned to see things through His eyes. And as she allows His creativity to work through her, she has touched the world in ways she may never know.

What about you? Is there something God has called you to do, but that seems too hard, and you feel like giving up? Have others told you that your work isn’t good enough, that you don’t have what it takes? Take encouragement from Mrs. Susie, and don’t lose heart. If God has called you to do something, He will give you the strength and ability to bring it about.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

In All Purity

What do young men think about purity, femininity, courting/dating, modesty, and guy/girl relationships? Have you ever wondered what they think? Are there even any out there that care about their own purity, and want to help you protect yours?

Just how are we to relate to members of the male gender? Is there any way to understand them? 1 Timothy 5:2 exhorts men to treat "the younger women as sisters, in all purity" - but what does that practically look like?

Meet Ben Simon, a young man with a God-given passion and message about purity. Years ago, he began writing a letter to his future wife, with all the things he would tell her about men and how to relate to them, if he only knew her now. Unwilling to let the letter sit unread and unused until after his honeymoon, he began expanding it into a book, wanting to encourage other young women as well.

That book is nearing completion of its first draft, but Ben didn't want to wait any longer before getting some of the message out. So, he began a blog. The name of the blog? www.InAllPurity.com

I've known Ben for 5 years now, ever since our families met at a Frontier Day hosted by mutual friends. Soon, the Simon family began meeting with our home church group and coming to the biannual camping trips. Over the years, our families have made many memories of worshiping and fellowshipping together, playing games, being in homeschool band, picnics at the park, talking about wide and varied subjects, acting in productions (Ben played Simeon in the recent "Beyond Bethlehem"), and our seeming inability to leave after spending an evening together.

It's easy to write about a subject, but harder to live it out. However, I can recommend Ben and what he has to share without reservation, for I've seen him live it out over many years. A true gentleman, he has always treated us young ladies respectfully, having fun together as friends, but doing so in all purity.

I first heard about his book in October, when he mentioned what he'd been working on, and gave me its table of contents. I was excited about it right away, excited about the gift he is giving us young women. When you look around and wonder where the good young men seem to have gone, Ben gives hope that they're still out there. And when you wonder about how you should act around them, Ben will be providing some suggestions.

So, make sure that you head over to In All Purity, read the introduction, and keep following it for updated posts, and eventually, the release of a book. And, if you have any comments, questions, or encouragement for him, please leave him a comment! Ben values your interaction as he develops this message and shares it with the world.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fall 2009

The school year found me beginning my first semester at Judson College. God blessed me with the amazing opportunity of attending this school and I never cease being thankful.


One of the highlights of this semester was the Tango Night that I participated in, by learning a form of the tango and performing it with an authentic tango band from South America.


At the end of the semester I packed up and headed home for three and a half weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed going to my siblings' choir and orchestra concert. The orchestra concert was strange, though. During the whole of the performance, it felt so weird being the audience instead of one of the orchestra.


After the choir concert, Caleb and I had some fun playing and singing at the piano while parents talked and children ran around. Three days later, their choir went to a couple of retirement homes to sing and I had the opportunity to also sing for the people there. This was probably one of the most special times of my entire break.


Another big event of this year was the gaining of another nephew, Mark James. The darling little boy arrived on September 28 and was joyfully welcomed. He is so precious and I'm so blessed with three nephews and a niece.


Anna Naomi asked me to sing two of the songs in her Christmas play, Beyond Bethlehem, and I was thrilled to be asked. Singing for dancers was a new experience, but one I enjoyed.


And the most physical change of the year...I had eighteen inches cut off my hair! I'd threatened to cut it many times, but I was finally ready and have not regretted it since.

Before

After

Overall, I had a wonderful year of 2009 and look forward to even better things from 2010!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Walking with a friend...


"A friend is a precious possession
whose value increases with years.
Someone who doesn't forsake us
when a difficult moment appears.
And our road will be smooth and untroubled
no matter what care life may send;
If we travel the pathway together,
and walk side by side with a friend."
Henry Van Dyke

From the December 31st page of a daily friendship calendar given me by a dear friend.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

December 2009 Reading List


Anna's Books

Completed This Month:
  • Biblical Womanhood in the Home edited by Nancy Leigh DeMoss - This book, with articles from 7 different women, is a refreshing and thought-provoking look at God's calling for women. It explores everything from true beauty, examples of Biblical womanhood, our relationship to God, and a woman's relationship as wife and mother. Definitely a good read!
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser - Funny, thought-provoking, and well-written, this has become one of my favorite books on writing. With 5 double-sided pages of quotes and notes from reading the book, I can't possibly cover all of its aspects. If you like to write, I highly recommend this book. Even if you don't particularly enjoy writing, this book is an enjoyable read just for its humor and excellent way of phrasing things - and you're bound to learn a thing or two along the way. I did find a few feminist, evolutionary, and anti-Christian remarks in the book, but on the whole, it is a great read.
  • The Family Meal Table and Hospitality by Nancy Campbell - This is an excellent resource for ideas to make your meals delicious, healthy, and unique, while uniting the family and reaching out to others. Quotes, poems, and stories are woven throughout to give inspiration and warmth. There are also discussion questions and lots of Scripture to start you thinking. It's a book I'll want to revisit when I have my own home one day.
  • Where Yesterday Lives by Karen Kingsbury - This novel follows a family as they grieve over the sudden death of their father and share memories - both good and bad. It tells the story of reconciliation, as each sibling has to work through their personal problems and the tensions between them. I wouldn't really recommend it, though. The story was gripping, but I didn't like the way one of the women reconnected with a lover from the past while having problems with her husband. No, they didn't go too far, and she ended up being recommitted to her husband, but it still wasn't the best story, in my opinion.
  • Sacred Singleness by Leslie Ludy - Having enjoyed many of Leslie's books, I was excited to get this book for Christmas (thanks, Miriam!). It left me with mixed feelings and a lot of questions, however. On the one hand, I was inspired by the stories of women living passionate, set-apart lives for God and serving Him in their singleness. Yet, sometimes it seems as though the examples in the book and experiences of the author are put forth as something all girls should do - when God has different things in store for different people. Its emphasis on finding contentment in Christ is good, but while holding up the opportunities of singleness, it seems to downplay the great way God can use women in marriage, as a wife and mother. I know that the balance between the two is hard to find, especially in writing when you want to say a point. Preparing for the practical aspects of marriage or helping your current family during this time didn't seem to be encouraged, but there was a good call for us to help the poor and outcast. The book also quoted from Get Married by Candice Watters (which I've read) and Getting Serious About Getting Married by Debbie Maken (which I haven't read), and refuted their encouragement of women to pursue marriage. I agreed with some of her reasoning, but also agreed with things Candice Watters had written - and some of the quotes (having read the entirety of Get Married) seemed out of context, making the author seem more radical and pushy than they really were. So, all-in-all, this book has left me a bit confused, caught between two authors I admire, seeing both of their points of view. It's a subject I hope to continue studying - from God's Word.
  • For the Love of God Volume 1 by D.A. Carson - This devotional book took you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs twice over the course of a year. With approximately 4 chapters to read a day, and a 1-page reflection on one or more of the passages, it was an enjoyable guide.
  • My Utmost for His Highest (Updated Graduate Edition) by Oswald Chambers, edited by James Reimann - With different topics and a short devotional for each day, this was a nice supplement to my personal devotions. There are many insights I'd never noticed before, as well as challenging questions to think through. While his insights were good, sometimes it seemed as though some of the short verses he based his thoughts on were taken out of context. But, as a whole, I enjoyed these daily thoughts.
Currently Reading:
  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
  • Faith Alone by Martin Luther, edited by James C. Galvin
Miriam's Books

Completed This Month:
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy - I was so happy to receive this book as a gift (thanks Gabrielle!). A most amusing piece of British literature and a most enjoyable reread.
  • Freefall by Kristen Heitzmann - A college friend highly recommended this book and I was glad I read it. A young woman has fallen down a waterfall and maintains little memory of what happened. As days pass, incidents help her remember little by little what happened and who she really is.
Currently Reading:
  • Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  • Get Married by Candice Watters
  • When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy
What have you recently read? Any you would recommend?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Into a New Year

It's hard to believe that it's already 2010. I know, I say the same thing nearly every year, but time truly seems to be moving by faster than ever.

Looking back, I wonder how all that happened last year fit into just one year - and how quickly it managed to go by. If the past few years are any indication, the feeling that time is flying by will only continue to escalate.

2009 was an amazing year. It was a hard year, at times, but it was a good year. God faithfully lead me and showed me what to do in His time.

If anything characterized this last year, it was trust - learning to trust God more. Through the uncertainties and the pain, as well as the clarity and the joys, God taught me to trust Him with it all. Even the little details of life are safe in God's hands. He orchestrates things so much better than I could, if I will just let go and let Him work. No matter what, God has been faithful. Looking back, it is amazing to see how He used each day to prepare for the next, how He even used things from years gone by to prepare me for recent challenges.

Each new year is exciting, with all of its opportunities that I can't fully know. Looking forward, I do wonder what it will hold in store. But, God alone knows where this year ahead will lead, as my poem from last year put it. Although the immediate future seems a little more clear than it did last year, each day is still a new lesson in trust, to trust God with small decisions as well as momentous ones.

There are plenty of unknowns. No matter what goals I set or what things I plan for, God is ultimately in control. It is an adventure to wait and see what He will bring into my path.

No matter what course I plan, it is God Who determines my steps (Proverbs 16:9). And, there is great peace in that.