Growing in Gentleness (an Update on August’s Goals & What I Learned)

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My overarching goal for August was to become a gentler person [to show restraint coupled with strength and courage] by serving those whom the world deems “below” me, bearing offenses without complaint, allowing John to lead, and by daily stretching my muscles. I used a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- (I) Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about gentleness each week, (II) pray every day that God would increase my gentleness, (III) meditate on God’s gentleness weekly.

(I) Though I continued the pattern of choosing three verses specifically about gentleness, writing them on index cards weekly, and reciting them at least a couple times per day, if you asked me to recite them from memory, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to. I definitely became slack in this area throughout the month of August.

(II) Despite dropping the ball a bit with my memory verses this past month, I was sure to pray and ask God daily for an increase of gentleness. After all, I cannot forget that it is a fruit of the Spirit; not something I can merely drum up and produce on my own.

(III) I may have done this once or twice, but I definitely wasn’t intentional about it like I should have been.

2. Marriage– (I) Overlook minor offenses and (II) allow John to lead in our marriage (by not questioning or micromanaging him, not telling him how to drive, etc.)

(I) The first week of August John and I didn’t have any conflicts that I needed to overlook. But then God tested me one Sunday morning. Usually John leaves for church at least an hour before I do because he is in charge of the technology and likes to play drums during music practice. But on this particular Sunday we had special guests who were going to lead the congregation in singing and John didn’t need to go early. Since we live right around the block from our church building, I looked forward to walking together to church on this particular morning. But we ended up leaving the house a minute or two behind schedule and my uncompromisingly punctual husband had a one-track mind: getting to church as quickly as he possibly could. No thought about how romantic it’d be to stroll to church hand-in-hand with his wife… No thought about how his wife was wearing uncomfortable shoes that only permitted her to walk only so fast… By the time he turned the first corner from our street, I was several paces behind and the distance was quickly expanding. When I too reached the corner, I resigned myself from even attempting to keep up. In that moment I knew I had a choice. I could harbor bitterness toward my husband for ruining what had been a potentially enjoyable stroll to church, OR I could take advantage of walking alone and pray for my husband on the way to church. By God’s grace, I chose the latter. An incident that could have been blown out of proportion and drove a wedge in my marriage simply became an opportunity to extend gentleness and understanding and love to my husband, instead. 

(II) If you asked me if I was a submissive wife I’d wholeheartedly tell you, “Of course!” But when it comes to the little things like parking a car or making minor decisions, I am the first to attempt to micromanage my marriage and husband. I like to have things under control… my control. That being said, to practice gentleness in the area of allowing my husband to lead was not always easy. I started with insignificant details like allowing him to choose the path we took on our walks or what we watched in the evenings or what kind of pizza we ordered. I knew that if I couldn’t release control in these small areas, I wouldn’t be able to follow him when it came to larger issues within our marriage.

However, there were two particular instances in which I did not submit to John this month. The first time was right before we were heading out the door for family pictures. He was wearing sneakers with his nice khaki shorts and dress shirt. Unfortunately I did not approach the subject gently… without tactfulness I blurted out, “You are NOT wearing those!” My poor husband hardly put up a fight, probably because this was not the first time I’d made demands about his attire, and he knew how stubborn I could be. Thankfully I’m a work in progress.

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                    Family Photo by @DavidBruecknerPhotography                          [note John’s shoes to the far left]

The second time I lacked submissive gentleness was at my brother’s wedding. I knew beforehand that my husband does not like to dance and absolutely refuses to do so, yet I badgered him relentlessly about dancing with me. I pointed out other couples who were dancing, reminded him we still hadn’t had our “first dance” together, and even tried to get others to persuade him to dance with me. Talk about a woman who’s a dripping faucet!

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John and I at the wedding

3. Health- (I) Stretch muscles daily and (II) reward myself with a small indulgence once a week.

(I) Though I didn’t stretch every single day in August, I only missed six days total. This one was pretty easy since I usually stretch at least a little before and after going for a run.

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(II) I don’t remember if I “indulged” in anything the first week of August, but during the second week I enjoyed both gluten-free pizza and ice cream! The ice cream was sweetened with fructose and was actually frozen yogurt, but it was still very much a treat for me. I liked it so much that I went back a couple weeks later for more! I also “treated” myself to delicious homemade desserts, gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns, potato chips, and extra time relaxing and reading.

4. Homemaking- (I)  Don’t consider any household task “below” me or a waste of time, (II) take on tasks that John usually performs, and (III) tackle a home project I’ve been putting off for years (… cleaning our back porch).

(I) I don’t remember thinking that any of my housework was a waste of time. But toward the end of the month there was one night in which I lost track of time and completely forgot to make my poor husband dinner before scampering off to prayer meeting. And to make matters worse, all of our bowls were dirtied, so he not only had to fix himself oatmeal for dinner but he also had to wash his own bowl, first! After that incident I knew I needed to buckle down and be more diligent about keeping a weekly menu and staying on top of housework.

(II) Since my husband works 50 hours most weeks, leaving early in the morning and not returning home until 7:30pm or later, I assume most of the household responsibilities. There is one that he often does, however: take out the recycling and trash. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to doing this task for him the first week, but was sure to do so in the following weeks. It only took 3 minutes of my time each week, but I know it was a blessing to him.

(III) This was the perfect month to tackle cleaning my back porch since I had so much extra time on my hands. We’ve lived in this duplex for 4 years in October and I had never once vacuumed that porch. It has just always served as more of a storage area than anything else. The only time I looked at it was when I opened the door to recycle a can or box, but I knew it needed to be cleaned and organized sooner or later. I guess I never got around to it earlier because I never made it a priority. It just goes to show how powerful goals can be! I’m so grateful I finally buckled down and made our porch nice and neat.

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My (finally) Clean Back Porch!

5. Interactions- (I) Serve somebody the world considers “below” me each week and (II) bear all offenses without complaint.

(I) This goal was difficult for me because I personally don’t think anybody is below me. But I had to continually remind myself of the phrase, “somebody the world considers “below” me”. So, in the world’s perspective, spending an afternoon watching and playing with children was a waste of my time and energy. In the world’s eyes, the elderly I spent time talking to and connecting with were beneath me. In the world’s eyes, the individuals I ministered to at the crisis pregnancy center were scum. But in God’s eyes–and in my eyes–each and every one are precious and have immeasurable worth and dignity.

(II) I don’t really remember if anybody offended me this past month. Perhaps not, or perhaps if they did I was able to overlook it and thus not even remember it.

6. Books I Read: I’m grateful I was able to read so much during the month of August. I’ve read 65 books so far this year! Here are a few from this past month:

  • The Relationship Cure (John Gottman)

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This book was not written from a Christian perspective, but it was still well-written and founded on excellent research. Though it wouldn’t be the first marital book I’d recommend to a couple, it is still worth the read. It made me more aware of the nuances in my communication with others that either improved the relationship or hindered it. For example, instead of giving one word answers to a question that is asked of me, I have been trying to elaborate more and ask questions in return. Just one more thing to practice in order to improve in the area of communication.

  • The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee)

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I enjoyed this book and it gave me plenty to think about. There was one particular point he made that hit me right on the top of the head. Speaking of sanctification and holiness, he explained that Christ Himself is holiness. “Today there is a call for patience: he is our patience! Tomorrow the call may be for purity: he is our purity! He is the answer to every need. That is why Paul speaks of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ as one (Gal. 5:22) and not of ‘fruits’ as separate items.” These are my favorite kind of books, so I’m biased, but you should definitely read this book if you desire to live for Christ.

  • Live Life on Purpose (Claude Hickman)

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The main focus of this book was evangelism and missions. Hickman opened my eyes to the fact God is concerned with the fame of His name. After reading this book I started to notice in my quiet times all the times God punishes His people because they have not upheld His great name and all the times God makes mention of all nations fearing Him. Definitely a great book to dive into.

  • Sense & Sensuality (Ravi Zacharias)

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When I picked up this book, it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. Ravi Zacharias took liberty to write in conversation style between Jesus and the promiscuous Oscar Wilde on his death bed. I like nonfiction works far more than fiction, so it was difficult for me to get into this book. However, he made many wonderful points throughout and it was very thought-provoking.

  • The Unlikely Missionary E-book (Dan King)

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I was a little disappointed that this “missionary” was merely in Africa for two weeks. I wasn’t expecting the title to be referring to short-term missions. However, his insights were good and it brought me back to my own short-term experiences in Africa.

  • Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God E-book (John Piper)

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I always love John Piper’s works. This one was no exception. He tackled the difficult issue of disability with tact, unifying it with God’s sovereign goodness. He also interviewed a man whose son was born without eyes, delving into the practical, every day application of reconciling pain and suffering in this world with God’s character.

  • Divine Design E-book (John McArthur, Jr.)

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Definitely a great read for all Christian couples. I especially appreciated McArthur’s expository explanation of why women are not to exercise authority over man. He doesn’t twist Scripture to make it say what he wants, but he looks closely at each passage dealing with the issue at hand and interprets it in light of its cultural and historical context, laying it all out in an easy-to-understand format. If you want to fulfill your God-given role as a woman, you should definitely read this book.

  • Unglued Audio Book (Lysa TerKeurst)

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I listened to this book while training for my marathon and I really enjoyed it. Though I don’t yet have children, there was plenty that still related to my own personal situation in life. Lisa TerKeurst is honest, sympathetic, and encourages practical application. If you struggle with “losing it” in stressful situations, this book is for you. I liked it so much I am considering buying a hard-copy book and reading it again!

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT GENTLENESS

Many people mistakenly believe to be gentle is to show weakness. But there is an illustration I came across by Myer Pearlman that has forever changed my perspective on gentleness:

“A guide was taking a group of visitors through a factory. One of the things he showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an automobile. Then the guide put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut. What an illustration of gentleness as power under perfect control!”

Gentleness is “power under perfect control.” This is no easy feat. To show one’s strength while keeping it under control in the midst of difficult circumstances is… well, HARD. Probably the area in which gentleness is most needed in life is with raising children. Though I do not yet have children of my own, I have a lot of caretaking and ministry experience with children of all ages. When it comes to disciplining children in love, it’s a balancing act. You want to be authoritative in a sense that children will listen and obey. Yet, if you do not have their respect and you do not speak to them in love, it’s likely they will not heed your words.

I had the privilege of witnessing my nephew’s birth many years ago. He is now 12 years old and has been known to get into a spat or two with the adults in his life. When I spent a couple days with him this past month I decided to especially practice gentleness toward him. Kids like him get harped on a lot because they have a lot of energy and can get carried away at times. But I decided ahead of time that I didn’t want to join the chorus of meticulous nit-picking and barking of commands. Instead, I would be intentional about encouraging him when he did something right, be silent when his actions weren’t putting himself or others in danger, and correct gently if the situation warranted it. Guess what happened? He listened to me! Because I spoke to him in love, even when correcting him or asking him to do something, he felt respected and responded with obedience. Nobody likes to be talked down to and though an adult should be the authority over a child, the relationship can still be marked by gentleness.

To show gentleness is to be considerate and courteous. The Greek word translated as gentleness in our English language is “Epiekes”, which literally means equitable, fair, moderate, considerateness, sweet reasonableness, and not insisting on the letter of the law.

I love what Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss have to say about gentleness from their workbook, True Woman 101: Divine Design:

“Gentleness is the opposite of being insistent on one’s own rights, being rude or pushy, or demanding one’s own way… Gentleness means we wholly rely on God rather than our own strength to defend ourselves against difficulty or injustice. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. Gentleness isn’t self-abasement. It’s the mark of the wise woman who remains calm even in the face of other people’s shortcomings.”

As Lysa TerKeurst notes in her book, Unglued, we should “absorb the blow” when we are offended by somebody, just like a pillow absorbs the blow of a fist. This doesn’t mean keeping it inside and letting it fester. It means letting it go. Not allowing the situation to upset you or make you bitter. I wish I had listened to her book earlier in the month because it would have helped me one evening while riding bicycles with my husband.

We had just enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch at the beach and were heading home. Since I am a slower bike-rider, he graciously allowed me to take the lead on our rendezvous. That is until we were 2.5 miles from home and he announced his gluteus maximus was beginning to hurt and he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. He then proceeded to pull in front of my bike and increase the pace two-fold. Despite the fact I was pedaling as fast as I could, the gap was continuing to grow between us and I was becoming increasingly annoyed with my husband. Doesn’t he realize I have to run 16 miles tomorrow? How could he be so inconsiderate? On and on my thoughts went, ripping into the same man that I had been laughing and contentedly conversing with only minutes earlier. Hearing me call out my complaints behind him, he graciously pulled over to wait for me. But instead of slowing down when I reached him, I sped right past, giving him an evil glare and sticking out my tongue at him. So mature, I know. Thankfully, we quickly worked through our dispute, but perhaps Lysa’s advice to “absorb the blow” would’ve been helpful in this instance. Perhaps I would have responded closer to how I did on our walk to church [see update on marriage goals].

I don’t know if they’re true or not, but I’ve read a couple stories about George Washington and how he was a gentle man. One day, while fox hunting with a group of his friends, George Washington’s horse knocked a stone off the wall he had jumped over. Rather than continuing on his way as though nothing had happened, he immediately stopped, got off his horse, and put the stone back in place. Seeing this, one friend declared, “You are too big a man to bother with that.” But George Washington gently responded, “No, I am just the right size.”

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On another occasion, George Washington observed a corporal at Valley Forge direct three men as they attempted to lift a heavy log into place. Despite their perseverance and the corporal hollering out, “One, two, three, lift!” over and over, the log was just too heavy. George Washington walked over and asked the corporal, “Why don’t you help them?” Puffing out his chest and smoothing his uniform, the corporal retorted, “Sir, I am a corporal.” Without a word, General George Washington began to help the struggling men and in a matter of moments, the log went easily into place.

What an example of true gentleness. George Washington did tasks that were- by the world’s standards- below him. He had position and power that he could have used to demand the prideful corporal to pitch in and get his hands a little dirty. Instead, George Washington led by example. His actions spoke far louder than his words and I am sure the corporal learned a lesson he never forgot on that day.

Reflecting on this one day led me to apply for a job I had previously overlooked. It was a janitorial position. I’ve had several custodial jobs in the past and didn’t mind the work, but as I was doing my preliminary job searching I decided to forgo applying to this particular position because it was “below my pay range.” I have a bachelors degree, so why should I consider a job like that? Unfortunately, that was my original attitude, but once I realized this was an opportunity to exhibit gentleness, I immediately applied for the job. For reasons I’m unaware of, I was not chosen for the position, but I learned an important lesson along the way: no job, no duty, and no person is below me. 

George Matheson says it best:

“Of Moses it was to be said in miniature what of his Antitype can be said in full- that his gentleness made him great. Not when he parted the waters of the Red Sea, not when he sang his hymn of triumph on the shores of liberty, is he half so great as when he bore the sorrows and endured the murmurings of that rude, undisciplined multitude. If ever a man has inherited the earth by meekness, that man was Moses. His was a grand, unselfish life, made to wait upon the lives of others.”

I would love for people to say that of my life. But how did Moses become a man known for his gentleness? I believe it was his close walk with God, his life of unceasing prayer and dependence upon the Lord.

As I mentioned above, one of the books I read this past month was The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. His arguments changed the way I prayed about gentleness. For example, on August 8th my prayer was, “Lord, help me be gentle in my demeanor, for Jesus’ sake,” while on August 18th after finishing Nee’s book my prayer was, “Jesus, I want You. Demonstrate Your gentleness through me, for Jesus’ sake.” I realized that He is all I need.

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An example of a prayer I wrote from my journal.

“It does not matter what your personal deficiency, or whether it be a hundred and one different things, God has always one sufficient answer, his Son Jesus Christ, and he is the answer to every human need.”

I began to ask for more of Jesus, knowing that the more I have of Him, the more I am like Him. And the more I am like Him, the more I will exhibit fruit such as gentleness. Lord, give me Jesus.

 

What are your thoughts on gentleness?

 

 

 

My Goals for September

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September’s Focus = SELF-CONTROL

My goal for September is to become more self-controlled [to use self-constraint in the midst of temptation] by giving up one meal a week to pray, sticking to a strict budget in order to save for a romantic outing with John, only watching entertainment from Friday through Sundays, breaking the habit of chewing my nails, avoiding technology until housework is done daily, and avoiding all negative comments. I will use a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- (I) Pray every day that God would increase my self-control, (II) Memorize and meditate upon an entire Book of the Bible this month and (III) Give up one meal per week to pray.
  2. Marriage– (I) Stick to a strict budget and save for a romantic outing to enjoy at the end of the month and (II) Only watch t.v. or movies from Friday-Sunday (find other more meaningful and interactive activities to do together, instead).
  3. Health- (I) Stop chewing nails, (II) Be strict with medical diet and (III) Don’t slack off with marathon training.
  4. Homemaking- (I) Avoid technology until household tasks are finished daily.
  5. Interactions– (I) Refrain from all negative comments, (II) Avoid gossip and (III) Refrain from judging others.

 

Do you have goals for September?

Update on July’s Goals & What I Learned About Faithfulness

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My overarching goal for July was to become more faithful [to be reliable, loyal, and honest] by spending time with God daily whether I felt like it or not, by taking captive every thought, exercising in some form daily, keeping up with household chores, and showing up on time to all meetings and appointments throughout the month. I used a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- (I) Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about faithfulness each week, (II) pray every day that God would help me to be faithful, (III) dwell on God’s faithfulness weekly, and (IV) read my Bible and pray every day, even when I don’t feel like it.

(I) During the first 11 days of the month of July I only practiced my verses on three days. It was a bit of a rough start. But then I sat down and came up with a “Quiet Time Schedule” which included practicing my verses, so I became much more consistent the rest of the month.

(II) I remembered to ask God to help me be faithful every day this past month.

(III) I can recall intentionally meditating upon God’s faithfulness twice this past month. The first time was at prayer meeting while singing the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and the second time was at a funeral while listening to that same hymn.

(IV) I did one or the other (read Bible/pray) every single day, but there were a few days this past month I missed out on doing both. The quiet time schedule I came up with was really helpful in keeping my time with the Lord focused and allowed it to be more profitable, too. In case you’re curious, here is the schedule I made:

Quiet Time Schedule 

Memory Verses (2 min): Practice this week’s memory verses

Meditate on One Attribute of God (2 min)

Pray/Sing (5-10 min):

-Praise & Thanksgiving

-Confession of sins

-“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.”

Read Christian Testimony (3-5 min): Read short biography or martyr story 

Pray for Missionaries/Persecuted Church (5 min)

Study One Chapter of Bible (15-20 min)

Listening Prayer (5 min): Sit in His presence and wait for Him to speak to you 

Application Prayer (2-3 min): Ask God to help you apply what you’ve learned to your life

Supplication for Resolutions (5 min): Pray over your resolutions for your life

Intercession for John (5 min): Pray for your spouse

Intercession for Others’ Needs (10 min): Pray for people & needs as God brings them to mind

Dedication Prayer (2 min):  Thank God & surrender your day to Him

2. Marriage– (I) Take captive every thought that doesn’t encourage marital faithfulness.

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(I) This goal certainly made me more aware of my thought-life. God helped me direct my thoughts in such a way that they were pleasing to Him and honoring to my husband. I think it was quite fitting that faithfulness was my focus during my anniversary month. John and I celebrated 5 years on the 23rd. Our “theme” for our wedding was the faithfulness of God and now we can look back after 5 years of marriage and see God’s continued faithfulness in providing for us and keeping our marriage strong.

3. Health- (I) Do some form of exercise every single day.

(I) With the exception of Sundays (my day off from marathon training), I did indeed exercise every single day this past month. I counted all the miles I ran and it totaled over 150! Having my workouts planned out ahead of time really held me accountable this past month. There were definitely times when I didn’t feel like running for an hour, but I chose to silence the excuses and run anyway.

4. Homemaking- (I) Keep the home well-kept so John can rely upon it, even on top of other responsibilities (John’s top 4 main concerns: Clean laundry, Clean dishes, Clean toilets, Food to eat).

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(I) July was a fairly busy month with several appointments, meetings, and interviews. Even so, I was able to stay on top of the housework pretty well. I’m grateful my husband appreciates  simple meals and doesn’t mind leftovers. A couple times I left dirty dishes in the sink a little too long… and I could’ve made cleaning the toilet a bigger priority, but overall I was faithful with my house duties.

5. Interactions– (I) Keep commitments even if it hurts, (II) tell the truth even when tempted to tell a “little white lie”, and (III) show up on time to all meetings and appointments.

(I) At the beginning of the month I was planning on continuing to run with John’s younger sister, but I ended up dropping the ball due to my inconsistent schedule. That wasn’t a very good start to the month. I also had to change the time and date of a doctor’s appointment, but I did it weeks in advance, so I think I still maintained faithfulness in the situation. There was also one Tuesday when I asked somebody to cover for me last minute in my volunteer position at the pregnancy center so I could say yes to babysitting that night. I only left two hours earlier than I was scheduled to be there, but was I still being 100% faithful to my commitment?

(II) I only recall lying twice this past month. The first time, I lied to my doctor. I hadn’t been taking one of the medications he had prescribed for yeast, but I led him to believe I had been. I realized this isn’t the first time I’ve misled my doctor- no LIED TO my doctor (let’s call it what is really is). I’m thankful God opened my eyes to this and made me more sensitive to the temptation to tell lies the rest of the month.

The second lie was to my husband. I justified it at first because I hadn’t actually said anything to him… I was withholding information, which is deceptive and by very definition, lying. I failed to tell him right away about how I had rear-ended a car in my recent travels. I intended on telling him… eventually. I told myself I was “waiting for the right timing.” Well, his parents ended up pointing out the damage to John and he asked if I realized somebody had backed into me. Thankfully, I told him the whole truth right at that moment, but I felt ashamed for not telling him sooner. He made me promise I’d tell him about future incidents right away.

(III) I would have been on time to my interviews if it hadn’t been for mapquest… TWICE in one week mapquest led me astray. Thankfully I had left an extra half hour early for each interview, so I was a mere two minutes late for both. But, that still doesn’t look very good for a potential job candidate. I think I was on time to other meetings, but I could’ve done better about leaving earlier for work on a couple occasions. Leaving earlier definitely prevents me from having to rush (aka speed).

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6. Books to Read- The books I hoped to read during the month of July were:

  • Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud & Townsend)

I haven’t had a chance to pick this one up, yet.

  • The Relationship Cure (John Gottman)

I started reading this book, but have not finished. Even though it’s clearly not written from a Christian perspective, it’s still been insightful and an enjoyable read.

  • Flawed but Faithful Ebook (Pastor Joey Bauer)

I never even opened my Kindle during the month of July.

  • The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee)

I started reading this book, but haven’t gotten far. Once again, I’ll put it on my “to-read” list for August.

  • Ministering Cross-Culturally (Lingenfelter & Mayers)

I never even cracked the cover of this one.

  • On Being a Servant (Warren Weirsbe)

This book was geared more toward full-time vocational pastors, but I still gleaned some good insights from it. It was short, not too deep, but challenging.

  • No Grain, No Pain (Dr. Peter Osborne)

I really liked this book and continue to go back to it for reference. I learned that grains like rice, quinoa, and oatmeal can cause similar problems in gluten-sensitive individuals as wheat can. My dad has Celiac disease and has recently been having issues despite being on the typical “gluten-free” diet. I learned that regular, ground coffee can cause issues for people like him and that it’s best to use only organic whole bean coffee. Ever since he made the switch he’s been feeling MUCH better. I too had gastrointestinal issues this past month and when I realized my supplements could have added ingredients like “rice flour,” I purged them and my symptoms have almost completely cleared up. I definitely recommend this book if you think you might be sensitive to gluten.

WHAT I LEARNED THIS MONTH

Since being voted “most dependable” in 8th grade, I’ve had an inflated view of my dependability and faithfulness. But, as Chip Ingram says, “Past successes are no guarantee for future faithfulness.” I can’t depend upon a label given to me 14 years ago, believing it’s a guarantee I’ll continue to be faithful now that I’m 27 years old. Looking over my goals and the ways in which I fell short this past month has made me realize I don’t possess as much faithfulness as I thought, after all.

Faithfulness is time-consuming. It takes time to sit down and be quiet before God as I study His Word and pray. It takes time to workout every day… especially when you’re training for a marathon. It takes time to clean the house, make dinner, fold laundry, etc. There are no shortcuts. If I want to know Christ and become like Him and be faithful to Him, it requires me to prioritize spending time with Him, which may mean making sacrifices.

I had decided early on in my marathon training that I was going to keep God first by reading my Bible and praying BEFORE running every day. This has not been a convenient commitment to make, especially this past month. I prefer to run in the mornings because it’s still cool (and I like to get it out of the way as soon as possible). However, I had to leave my house by 8:20 am several weeks this past month in order to teach at Vacation Bible Schools. So, if I wanted to have my quiet time AND run before 8:20 am, I would have had to wake up by 5:30 am. One day of this schedule may not have been too bad, but if you have ever taught at a VBS you know how much it can drain you by day #3. I ruled out waking up at 5:30 am and instead, slept in an extra 1.5 hours and opted to do my marathon training later in the afternoons. This definitely made for some grueling workouts in 80 degree weather, but I don’t regret putting God first. How could I expect to feed God’s Word to children if I myself wasn’t getting filled up, first?

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At the end of July I began studying the book of Jonah during my quiet times. I also began studying the story of Joseph as I prepared to teach it at VBS during the first week of August. I was struck by the contrast of Jonah and Joseph’s attitudes. Even though Jonah did obey God the second time God commanded him to go to Ninevah, his heart was clearly not right before God because the moment God relented from sending calamity upon the great city, Jonah became angry and threw a pity party. What’s more, he showed more compassion toward the plant that provided shade for him than he did toward 120,000 perishing souls. Joseph, on the other hand, endured great suffering without complaint. When his brothers showed up years after selling him into slavery, he repaid them with good by returning the money they’d used to buy grain. He didn’t withhold love or forgiveness from them and he had an eternal perspective on his circumstances. He could’ve just as easily gotten “payback” and treated his brothers with contempt, but he chose to show them kindness, instead. Joseph remained faithful to God, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Jonah, on the other hand, never displayed true faithfulness.

Sometimes I display a Jonah attitude more than a Joseph attitude. My loyalty to Christ can be so fickle sometimes! I have a few car troubles, experience a little joint pain, face a couple disappointments and all of a sudden I’m doubting God’s goodness. Why does it take such little things to shake my faith? Perhaps God was trying to test me during July.

This month didn’t go quite as I’d planned it would. I had expected to work quite a few hours this past month so my husband and I could get our savings up. But after returning from my two-week CYIA training, my boss didn’t schedule me any hours until the third week of July. At first I was upset, but then I tried to see the positive side to not working and took advantage of volunteer opportunities. I felt like God was telling me, “Be faithful in the little things.” 

The first week I had free I ended up teaching two Bible lessons at a VBS and filled in one day for the client services manager at Carenet Pregnancy Center. Then, that weekend I was able to go camping with my parents, two younger sisters, and their children. It was a really special time. On another weekend I was able to visit my friend overnight in Rutland after attending a meeting. Since I had so much free time on my hands, I also decided to bless my sister by cleaning her house and folding her mounds of laundry while she brought her kids to a doctors appointment. In addition to this, I was also able to say yes to teaching the Bible stories at second week-long VBS due to my open schedule. So, all-in-all it ended up being a far better month than I had anticipated. I learned that God will use me if I am just available and willing… if I’m faithful.

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In addition to job troubles, I experienced some car troubles, too. First, I rear-ended a car (as I explained earlier in my goal updates), which led to overheating issues. (It literally took me over an hour longer to get home from a VBS one afternoon because my car kept overheating and I kept pulling over to let it cool down). After John’s dad graciously replaced our radiator, we didn’t have overheating problems anymore, but our wheel-bearing needed to be replaced. After picking up my car from the garage and using it ONE day, the very next day it wouldn’t start. It’s frustrating for sure, but I know that even in all this, God has a plan and purpose. God seems to be asking, “Will you love Me even if you continually face hardship after hardship? Will you remain faithful to me? It’s easy to say a definitive “YES!” when the sun is shining and you’re sailing smoothly through life. But when trials come my prayer is often closer to a whispered, “Lord, I want to love You and I want to remain faithful. Please help me…

Perhaps one reason so few people exhibit faithfulness is because it often goes unnoticed and is underappreciated. Most the time nobody notices if you show up on time, never miss an appointment, or do what you’re supposed to do day in and day out. Usually it’s the off day they take note of: forgetting a meeting or showing up for work 10 minutes late. Where’s the incentive for being dependable? Thankfully, for the Christian we DO have incentive. One day we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… I don’t know about you, but I long to hear those words from my Savior. The key is keeping our eyes on eternity, and not remaining fixated on the fleeting tasks of the here and now.

 

 

My Goals for August

gentleness

Focus for August = GENTLENESS

My goal for August is to become a gentler person [to show restraint coupled with strength and courage] by serving those whom the world deems “below” me, bearing offenses without complaint, allowing John to lead, and by daily stretching my muscles. I will use a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about gentleness each week, pray daily that God would make me a gentle person, and meditate upon Christ’s gentleness weekly.
  2. Marriage– Overlook minor offenses and allow John to lead in our marriage (by not questioning or micromanaging him, not telling him how to drive, etc.)
  3. Health- Stretch muscles daily and reward myself with a small indulgence once a week (things like stevia-sweetened chocolate, zevia soda, extra reading time, etc.)
  4. Homemaking- Don’t consider any household task “below” me or a waste of time, take on tasks that John usually performs, and tackle a home project I’ve been putting off for years (… cleaning our back porch).
  5. Interactions– Serve somebody the world considers “below” me each week and bear all offenses without complaint.
  6. Books to Read- There were several books I wasn’t able to finish during July, so the books I hope to read in the month of August are as follows:
  • Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud & Townsend)
  • The Relationship Cure (John Gottman)
  • The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee)
  • Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (John Piper)

 

What goals do you hope to accomplish this month?

 

 

 

June: Practicing Goodness & What I Learned

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Focus for June = GOODNESS

My goal for June was to exhibit more goodness [moral excellence; upright conduct] by filling my mind with morally good things, saving more money in order to give to needy families, smiling at strangers, and being friendlier at church. I used a calendar to keep track of my daily and weekly progress.

  1. Faith- (I) Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about goodness per week, (II) ask God daily to fill me with His goodness, (III) listen to Christian music daily, and (IV) think about at least one morally good thing every single day this month.

(I) The first 2-3 weeks of the month I only missed an average of one day per month. But then CEF training came around and I got busy with studying and preparing my lessons, so I kind of dropped the ball with going over my verses the final couple weeks of the month. But, traveling back and forth to Rutland (2 hour drive one-way), did give me opportunity to refresh my memory of the book of 1 John that I had memorized last year.

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(II) I did ask God daily to fill me with His goodness. Writing down my prayer every day really helped hold me accountable.

(III) I’m grateful I made this a goal. Listening to good, wholesome, godly music both encouraged and refreshed me. Making the effort to listen daily made me more aware of the lyrics, too. Sometimes you can sing along to familiar songs without thinking about what the words say. But I found myself pondering the messages that were being sung this month and it was really quite edifying.

(IV) I think it was fairly easy to think of just 1 morally good thing per day. It was just a matter of “thinking about what I was thinking about.” Confusing? Maybe. But we have so many unconscious thoughts throughout each day. This month helped me to reign in my thoughts- to take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ. I found on many days my morally good thoughts simply centered on the beauty of God’s creation and how intricately He made everything. Other days I had the privilege of thinking deeply about Biblical sermons I listened to or just snippets of Truth God revealed to me in my daily quiet times.

2. Marriage– (I) Commit to pray for John and our marriage at least 15 minutes every day and (II) serve him in at least one way per day without expecting a “thank-you.”

(I) 15 minutes is a lot longer than one may think. I often use the time while I’m running to pray, so he was my main focus during that time. I prayed for him daily, but I don’t think I prayed 15 minutes for him daily. But then there were other days when I spent a lot more than 15 minutes praying for him and our relationship. I’m thankful for this exercise as it reminded me of the importance of keeping John lifted up in prayer not just once a week, but every single day. It also improved my attitude toward him on several occasions.

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(II) I think serving others is one of my spiritual gifts, so this goal was fairly easy for me. Of course, I was away for about a week and a half at the end of the month, so I couldn’t really serve him from afar, but I put in extra effort in making his meals and labeling them ahead of time before I left. The last part, “without expecting a thank-you” was my struggle. Who doesn’t like to be appreciated? Yet, if my motive is to receive praise, am I truly practicing goodness? So I had to be extra conscious not to fish for compliments or to hint at the work I’d done for him.

3. Health- (I) Practice being “good” on my medical diet by eating only anti-inflammatory foods this month.

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(I) Other than eating way more fruit than I really should have, I did pretty well with my diet this month. Staying away from inflammatory foods has done wonders for keeping my joint pain at bay. And I’m slowly learning how to make tasty alternatives to the dishes I used to love.

4. Homemaking- (I) Chop my grocery bill by $80 in order to bless others with the money I save.

(I) I wasn’t quite able to cut my grocery bill by $80, but I did give $60 away and was able to still maintain our grocery budget. (John picks on me because no matter how much we seem to increase our budget for groceries, I always manage to go over, but this month I did it!). I found out later that one family I gave to wanted to use the money to bless somebody God had laid on their heart. Talk about goodness! Whenever I’m given money my first thought has never been “Who can I bless with this?” Instead, I usually think about what I can purchase or how it will increase our savings.

5. Interactions– (I) Smile at one or more strangers per day and (II) practice being friendlier and more outgoing at Church functions.

(I) I think I did a fairly good job at this even before the month began, but I especially enjoyed smiling at strangers through out the month of June. There is a typical running route I took this past month and almost nearly every morning I saw the same elderly couple walking down the street. We always exchanged hellos, smiles, and waves. I’ve never officially met this couple, but I feel like I know them and I really looked forward to greeting them.

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(II) I think I did pretty well at this, except for the last Sunday of the month. I was sick with a cold and exhausted (probably due to a combination of 2 hours of exercise the day before, being sick, and recovering from a week of teaching at a CEF training program). I’m finding it so much easier to talk to people now that I’m not so sick with Lyme. It’s amazing what a difference having energy and feeling pain-free makes!

6. Books to Read- The books I wanted to read this month: (I) The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee; (II) The Genius of Generosity, by Chip Ingram; (III) 31 Days to a Happy Husband, by Arlene Pellicane; (IV) Knowing God, by J.I. Packer; (V) Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter, M.D.; and (VI) Cooking by Color, by Trish Davies.

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(I) The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee: This is the only book on my list I didn’t get a chance to pick up. But hopefully next month I’ll read it!

(II) The Genius of Generosity, by Chip Ingram: I read this book aloud to John, mostly as we traveled together in the car various places. I think it was a timely message for us as we recently decided to be more diligent about getting our savings up. Chip Ingram encouraged us to continue the pattern of giving above and beyond the 10% tithe, despite wanting to increase our savings- after all, you can’t out-give God.

generosity

(III) 31 Days to a Happy Husband, by Arlene Pellicane: I enjoyed this book, though I feel I went through it a little too quickly. She encouraged her readers to read one chapter per day for an entire month, but I chose to read several chapters in one sitting. I plan on skimming through it again so I can better apply what I already read.

31 Days to a Happy Husband

(IV) Knowing God, by J.I. Packer: I started this book months ago, but it’s so deep you kind of have to read it slowly to fully benefit from it. It was definitely a good book to read during my month-long focus on goodness. Who better to read about and emulate than God Himself? I highly recommend this book and I plan on re-reading it somewhere down the road.

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(V) Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter, M.D.: I liked this book a lot, though I thought it’d talk more about grains in general rather than mainly gluten. According to Dr. Perlmutter, simply being gluten sensitive can cause a huge range of health issues from migraines to autism.

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(VI) Cooking by Color, by Trish Davies: This was a quick, easy read. I think it was written in England because of the spelling used for many words. I learned that you can group fruits and veggies into groups according to their color and the various colors provide different benefits. For example, if you need a mood boost, eat purple and blue foods.

 

WHAT I LEARNED THIS MONTH

. I love J. I. Packer’s words from Knowing God:

…God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness, His unfailing justice and wisdom, His tenderness, forbearance and entire adequacy to all who penitently seek His help, His noble kindness in offering believers the exalted destiny of fellowship with Him in holiness and love- these things together make up God’s goodness in the overall sense of the sum total of His revealed excellences.

This past month God convicted me about how I portray my husband John to others in conversation. One of my goals this month was to serve him in at least one way every day. At first I viewed this as merely physical acts of service like making his lunches or taking out the trash for him, but then God revealed to me that I can serve him in the way I talk about him to others. Lately I haven’t been overly pleased with some of his decisions and while I’ve been trying to take it to the Lord in prayer, I’ve allowed my discontent to overflow into the way I talk about him.

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I was reminded of Proverbs 31:12 of the wife who brings her husband “good, not harm all the days of his life.” Oh how far I have fallen short in this area! If I am to be a wife of noble character, I need to speak highly of my husband, no matter the situation; I need to support him, encourage him, and spur him on toward love and good deeds.

I also learned that what I allow myself to watch, read, and listen to has a profound impact on my life. I had surface knowledge of this, but this past month when I committed to listening to Christian music and purposefully dwelling on that which is good every day, I gained experiential knowledge of this concept. Just the other day I started off my day with Christian radio and I was amazed at how it put me in such a good mood (normally I’m not a chipper morning person). Even the children’s songs from CEF 5-day clubs were an encouragement to me.

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Sometime during the month of May I had started watching “Grey’s Anatomy.” I don’t know why, I was just curious and felt like I needed something to help me relax. But throughout the month of July I stopped watching the show and realized just how depraved it is. I should be filling my mind with good things, for “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…” (Luke 6:45). The more I dwell on good, the more my life will overflow with goodness. But in the same way, (as my mom used to say), “garbage in, garbage out.” If I am filling my mind with garbage like “Grey’s Anatomy,” well, my actions are going to follow suit. Needless to say, I won’t be watching that show anymore.

One of my favorite goals this past month was smiling at strangers. I already mentioned the sweet elderly couple I saw often on my daily running route, but just the act of intentionally smiling really did make me feel more cheerful. I’m definitely going to keep this up.

pray

As I tried to focus more on prayer this past month, I realized it is the bedrock of goodness. I often pray during my daily run and it’s always so refreshing to pray for whoever God lays on my mind. When you pray, you connect with the Lord and start to notice and really care about the things He cares deeply about. It’s impossible to be filled with goodness without spending time with the One Who is good. His goodness overflows into my life the more I seek Him.

I love these questions from J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. They were timely questions for me to consider as I sought goodness:

Do I daily dwell on the love of God to me?

Do I treat God as my Father in heaven, loving, honoring and obeying Him, seeking and welcoming His fellowship, and trying in everything to please Him, as a human parent would want his child to do?

Have I learned to hate the things that displease my Father? Am I sensitive to the evil things to which He is sensitive? Do I make a point of avoiding them, lest I grieve Him?

Do I love my Christian brothers and sisters with whom I live day by day, in a way that I shall not be ashamed of when in heaven I think back over it?

Does the family likeness appear in me? If not, why not?

 

What are your thoughts on the attribute of goodness?

My Goals for the Month of July

faithful

Focus for June = FAITHFULNESS

My goal for July is to become more faithful [to be reliable, loyal, and honest] by spending time with God daily whether I feel like it or not, taking captive every thought, exercising in some form daily, keeping up with household chores, and showing up on time to all meetings and appointments throughout the month. I will use a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about faithfulness each week, pray every day that God would help me to be faithful, dwell on God’s faithfulness weekly, and read my Bible and pray every day, even when I don’t feel like it.
  2. Marriage– Take captive every thought that doesn’t encourage marital faithfulness.
  3. Health- Do some form of exercise every single day.
  4. Homemaking- Keep the home well-kept so John can rely upon it, even on top of other responsibilities (John’s top 4 main concerns: Clean laundry, Clean dishes, Clean toilets, Food to eat).
  5. Interactions– Keep commitments even if it hurts, tell the truth even when tempted to tell a “little white lie”, and show up on time to all meetings and appointments.
  6. Books to Read- The books I hope to read in the month of July are as follows:
  • Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud & Townsend)
  • The Relationship Cure (John Gottman)
  • Flawed but Faithful Ebook (Pastor Joey Bauer)
  • The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee)
  • Ministering Cross-Culturally (Lingenfelter & Mayers)
  • On Being a Servant (Warren Weirsbe)
  • No Grain, No Pain (Dr. Peter Osborne)

 

What are your goals for the month of July?