Grace

I’ve been listening to a particular pastor via podcast lately who preaches very gospel-centered, expositional messages.   

Something I am becoming more aware of through digesting his sermons is that hearing the gospel, hearing about the character of God, hearing about the person of Jesus (1) makes me fall more in love with Him, and (2) heals me.  The healing leads to obedience, but I don’t think obedience in the sense of behavior modification (which is often how I subconsciously think about it) is the point.  Our sinful and frustratingly blind human nature, not to mention our current culture, and even church itself, makes obedience the point.  But I think that is our blindness, not the gospel.  I’m not saying obedience is irrelevant, just that our minds distort it into something it is not.

This has impacted me on a practical level (as well as the theoretical/theological level).  As I think about and adjust to marriage, it is so easy for me to approach my husband with advice like “spend more time in the Word,” “put on the armor of God,” “go to your brother when he has offended you,” etc.  I so often revert to behavioral modification language, and I admit that I may have even used the words, “why can’t you just . . . ?”. 

But the more I listen to the gospel message again and again, daily (gospel- and grace-centered sermons as well as the Bible itself), the more I think that what my husband needs from me, or what we all need from others, is for me to model Christ’s love to him.  In times of conflict, my prayer life is shifting to “Lord, how can I show him Christ’s love in this moment?”  This is grace: not that I would tell my husband (or anyone) about the Bible, but that I would be a living example of Christ’s love. 

Well, I fail miserably on a daily basis, of course.  I am insanely impatient and selfish.  I want to analyze everything and come up with an action plan (usually not the Christ-like approach).   Yet my new awareness is evidence that sanctification is taking place, that I am gaining a deeper understanding of the gospel, and that is exciting.

I think again, “What is healing for me in my life?” and thus, what is probably also healing for others that would enable me to better minister to them?  The answer is to be filled with the character of God, by hearing about the character of God (and/or the person of Jesus) and by experiencing it from others.  Hearing a list of things I “should” be doing as an obedient Christian is not healing or really all that helpful (especially, I think, for those of us who grew up with abusive parents who used guilt and fear as modes of punishment/behavior modification, as we erroneously tend to view God similarly to our parents’ nature).

How Would You Rate Your Marriage?

My husband meets with his discipleship group on Monday nights, and this week, they began a new unit on marriage.  I am also in a discipleship group at our church, studying the same curriculum for the year, but we are about two months behind schedule, so we are stuck studying the Trinity for now.   Three in one, it’s not rocket science.  The topic of marriage sounds more interesting.  But I digress. 

Smith came home last night after his group meeting and said the guys in his group all rated their marriage on a scale from 1 to 10, and he relayed to me his score.  I heckled Smith a bit because he didn’t give our marriage a perfect 10; he claimed that no marriage is a 10, so that score was automatically out.  He has a point; I’m not sure why I gave him a hard time about it.  I know he is happy with me.

I have been thinking about our discussion and the rating scale all day today.  I keep coming back to this: I would give our marriage a 10.  Not because it is perfect; far from it.  Having such a close, intimate relationship with another human being is messy, far messier than being single and living alone.  Dying to my own agenda and my selfishness is painful.  Constantly working to communicate well, compromise, and coordinate schedules is tough.  Conflict hurts. 

And yet.

I would not be the woman I am without Smith.  The process of growing and learning together is beautiful and has prompted me to grow and become sharpened in ways I never would have as a single person.  I have many opportunities to put Smith’s needs ahead of my own, and when I do, God does lovely things with it.  The oneness I experience with Smith as our lives and our minds synchronize is incredible.  My faith has deepened tremendously over the past seven months as my dependence on God for the grace to grow, learn, submit, and serve has expanded.

If I had imagined a picture of a wonderful marriage while I was still single, it would have contained all the elements of what I have with Smith.  He gets me.  He loves God.  We have a deep friendship and laugh a lot together.  We are extremely similar to each other.  These qualities barely capture a chip of the splendor of our relationship.  Like the Trinity, we are two in one (plus God makes three).  And that is a glorious thing: a 10.

Ephesians 5:31

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Thankful in 2012

image credit

Reflecting on 2011, I have so much to be thankful for:
 –       I am most thankful for God, and the gift of grace I receive because God sent Jesus Christ to live the life I should have lived and died the death I deserved to die so that I might have new life.

–       I am also hugely thankful for my new wonderful husband, who I married in 2011.  At times it still seems surreal that I am actually married.  I feel so accepted and loved by him, far more than I deserve. 

–       I am thankful for my renewed relationship with my mom, the part she played in my wedding planning and ceremony this past year, and the quality time we spend together on Sunday evenings.

–       I am thankful for my friends who I seem to need now more than ever, who are like family to me, and who made me feel so special and loved at my showers and my wedding this past year.

–        I am thankful that I got a sister this year, as my brother also got married in 2011!  I have never had a sister before.

–       I am thankful for my job and coworkers, my stable employment, work I enjoy, and coworkers who are edifying and nourishing to my spirit.

–       I am thankful that God has increased and deepened my faith in Him and my trust in His plan for my life over the past year.  Through struggle and hardship, I have realized more of the depth of my dependence on Him to sustain me.  I am thankful that He has a plan for me, because my plan for me would have turned out disastrously.

–       I am thankful for My rich times with God while riding in the car over the past 3 months in particular: being able to listen to the Bible and sermons and pray and listen to worship music – a surprising blessing that has enriched my personal worship times.  I am spending a great deal more time in the car over the past few months than I was previously. 

–       I am thankful, too, for the struggles I encountered in 2011, which have exposed some of my sin and increased my dependence on God.  I am thankful for the hardships that help unite my husband and I, and working through conflict with him: apologizing, repenting, and growing in relationship with each other and with God.

My goals for 2012:
–       Finish listening to (or reading) the entire Old Testament.  I am currently on the book of Joshua.

–       Pray that God will strengthen my weak areas, specifically my impatience and inflexibility.  Seek to surrender to His will for my life daily.

–       Learn better ways of responding to conflict or stressful situations.

–       Learn how to better love and serve my husband.

–       Continue healthy eating and regular exercise, maintain my weight and body fat percentage, strength, and general health.

Christmas Decorations

Our First Halloween

Smith and I are celebrating our first holiday together as a married couple, and since he knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday, he offered for us to carve pumpkins together.  Technically, we were married prior to Independence Day, but we both dislike crowds, humidity, bugs, children, and staying up late, so we forwent the fireworks. 

I have fond memories of my parents making each holiday special for me and my three brothers, and I am excited about starting new traditions with Smith.  My dad was creative and artistic, and he took us each year to the farmers market or pumpkin patch to carefully sort through all the gourds to find the perfect ones for carving.  He enjoyed helping us gut our pumpkins, carefully drew designs on their faces to our liking, and proudly displayed our masterpieces on the front porch of our house.

Smith and I first picked out a couple of pumpkins from the grocery store.

We love analyzing the personality types and interpersonal dynamics of the characters on “Family Guy,” and we recite lines from the show as a part of our daily conversation, so Stewie and Brian seemed like natural choices for our pumpkin carvings.  I drew a couple of stencils for us to use.

I made sure the stencils fit our pumpkins.

We scraped the guts out of our pumpkins.

Yum.

We attached the stencils to the pumpkins using toothpicks. 

Using a pointy plastic tool, we punctured small dots through the stencil into the face of the pumpkin.  This gave us the outline for the areas that would be carved out.  Smith preferred to use a metal dental pick to make the dots, as it was sturdier than the plastic tool.

Stewie is fully carved.

Brian is almost ready.

We put candles inside the pumpkins and turned off the lights.  Voila.

Stewie and Brian together and all aglow.

Sweet Memory Albums Review

I often read bloggers reviews of products prior to purchasing them, particularly when I buy online.  I recently got married and received beautiful digital images of our wedding from my photographer.  I envisioned having those pictures displayed in a flush mount wedding album, with hard pages, photo quality paper, and a journalistic style layout. 

I had a difficult time locating a company that would produce the album I desired; many companies only sell to professional, credentialed photographers.  I came across Sweet Memory Albums, who offers flush mount albums to the amateur individual, and I was instantly impressed by the photos and layouts displayed on the website.  I could not find any blog reviews of the company, so I hope this review will be helpful to those who may be looking for a high quality photo album.

As a first step, I took advantage of the site’s offer to send a few sample layout pages.  I uploaded several photos, and Fritz Duchardt, who I assume is owner, operator, and designer for Sweet Memory Albums, quickly emailed me back with two sample pages in PDF format.  The layout was beautiful. 

I was somewhat skeptical of the site at first because I could not find any reviews online, other than the reviews on Qype, a European review website, to which the Sweet Memory Album home page offers a link.  I tend to question everything and wondered if the consistently glowing reviews could be fake (I now realize they are not).  While Sweet Memory Album’s risk free purchase guarantee was comforting on one hand, it was also a bit unsettling, because I wondered how Fritz could offer such a great deal.  If I did not like my album, I could send it back within 15 days without paying anything.  I wondered how he was protected in case I absconded with the album.  I was also wary of the fact that the company is located in Germany, and I live in the United States.  I have never ordered online from overseas.

However, I could not find another company who could produce the album I wanted, and I was impressed with my interaction with Fritz via email and the sample pages he sent, so I proceeded to place my order.  I uploaded about 70-80 wedding photos.  I chose to order an 11.8” x 11.8” album and included the design service, for a small extra fee.  Fritz included nearly all of the photos I sent in the final design, and I ended up with seven full two-page spreads, as well as two single pages (the very first and the very last page of the album). 

My husband emailed to ask how Fritz was protected in case of shenanigans on the part of the client, and he explained that because you agree to the terms and conditions when you order, he would be able to sue the client if it came to that.  However, he indicated that it had not been a problem for him.  Per the terms/agreement, I could terminate the process at any time without paying any money, so ultimately I felt comfortable proceeding.

I was highly impressed with the design Fritz sent back within a day or two of placing my order; he emailed me a proof in PDF format.  He then worked with me to produce the exact layout I wanted as I gave feedback on a few details.  I owe all the artistic ingenuity of the design and layout to Fritz, but I had a couple of suggestions to switch some photos around or use color photos instead of black and white.  He was happy to oblige and quickly responded with updated proofs.

Fritz was highly professional and prompt in responding to all my emails.  Once I approved the final design, about a week after placing my original order, Fritz told me it would be 4-5 weeks until the album was printed and shipped.  He shipped my package via Fed Ex, and sent me a tracking link, just less than 4 weeks from the date of final approval on the proofs, and I received it two days later.  Once I received the album and looked it over, I had Fritz send me the payment link.  I paid via Pay Pal, which is a safe and secure payment method.  The payment went through with no problems.

I am amazed by the quality of my album; it is lovely.  I was touched by the care that was taken in packing it for shipping.  The album was carefully wrapped in brown paper, with plain white paper in between each of the pages.  It came in a cloth bag, which I will keep to protect my album from wear.  It was then wrapped inside several layers of bubble wrap and cardboard, and then placed in the outer box.  My husband is my greatest earthly treasure, and this album will always remind me of the tender and excited feelings I had on our wedding day, so the care that was taken to package the album meant a lot to me.

The album itself is gorgeous.  While Sweet Memory Albums offers very competitive prices, the album was much more expensive that what I would normally spend.  For me personally, I would consider it a luxury item, as I am extremely frugal.  But it was worth every penny.  (Prices are listed on the Sweet Memory Album website.)  The photos in the album are gorgeous, owing in part to our talented photographer, and in part to the photographic quality of the album’s pages.  The album is constructed very well and I imagine it will last a lifetime. 

I have included pictures of our album throughout this post as a reference.  Any issues with the images I posted are the sole fault of this writer and my complete lack of photographic skills and technique.  The actual photos in the album are as crisp and clear as the high-quality digital images we received from our photographer.

Halloween Cupcakes

I aimlessly wandered the aisles of Wal-Mart last week as often happens when I enter the brightly-lit, wide aisles filled with colorful displays, despite my best intentions to shop with a purpose and stay focused on my 4-item shopping list.  I was enticed by a spooky display of Wilton Halloween decorating supplies.  Halloween has long been my favorite holiday.  I love the warm clear air just beginning to chill in the evenings; the creepy spider, ghost, and pumpkin decorations make me smile; and I enjoy the creative aspect: one can dress up and be whoemver he or she wants for one night only.  There are endless possibilities, and I love possibilities.

Last month, I took a 4-week cake decorating course, and I have been eager to practice my “skills.”  So, I picked up a few fun cupcake decorations and plotted my masterpiece.

I decided to try making Wilton’s recipe for Buttercream Icing, in contrast to the Class Decorating Buttercream Icing to which I had previously been accustomed.  Several of the reviewers on Wilton’s site indicated that the Buttercream Icing was a bit thin, so I added only half the milk that the recipe called for.  However, I believe that the Buttercream Icing, while a mushier texture than the Class Decorating Buttercream Icing, needed the full amount of milk, as the icing came out of the decorating tip jagged on the edges (can be a result of icing that is too stiff).  I used salted butter as some of the reviewers recommended to cut the sweetness of the icing a bit.

I do not eat sweets and am far from being a connoiseur, but I had a small taste of each type of icing, and I believe that the Buttercream Icing tastes better.

 

I made my favorite cupcake recipe: one box of yellow cake mix and one 12-oz can of pumpkin stirred together and spooned into (pumpkin-printed) baking cups.  I baked a pan of 12 cupcakes on 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  These cupcakes turn out very moist and tasty.  (I do not add eggs, oil, or water as the instructions recommend.  The pumpkin substitutes for all of these ingredients.)

I made two recipes of Buttercream Icing and divided it in half.  I put Wilton orange food coloring in one batch and mixed Wilton green and yellow for the other batch.  I iced the cupcakes using the 1M tip and disposable decorating bags (no coupler used).  I had a fair amount of icing left over, but I think one recipe of the icing may not have been enough to ice the 12 pumpkin cupcakes.

I added fun Halloween toothpicks and voila!

I put the cupcakes in the refrigerator as a fun surprise for my wonderful husband Smith to find when he gets home from work tonight.