His Mercies are New Every Morning

Did you make any goals for the New Year?

I made a few-- some of them more important than others. The most crucial goal for me is "Get Organized." I waste far too much time on things that don't deserve it. I also forget so many things, especially related to school and my daughter is only in 4K. She doesn't even go to school five days a week yet. I decided that I need a plan of action. Things will only get busier around here as the children grow and get involved in activities, not to mention I have my own schedule with deadlines to meet. I need to get this figured out, and the time is now! So I bought myself a bulletin board, a fancy, pretty planner, and a calendar that makes me laugh when I look at it. (Maybe you caught my Instagram post last week.) I've pinned my daughters school notes up on my bulletin board. I've filled out some to-do lists and my weekly goals in my planner. I've noted our schedule on our chicken calendar. 

Don't you love that feeling?

That feeling of a fresh start. 

Now you obviously don't need to wait for a new year to start accomplishing new goals and making changes in your life, but a new year lends itself to making the process easier. You're able to put the old year behind you. Forget about what didn't work. Forget about the mistakes. You are starting with a clean slate. It is a new year after all. 

Among my thoughts of a newly organized life, the books I want to read, the exercise I want to pursue, and so forth, I couldn't help but think of how lucky we are as children of God. We get a fresh start every. single. morning.

So when you are feeling down on your day (or your year even), take a moment to remember just that. God has forgiven you. He has forgiven you when you lack trust in Him. He has forgiven you when you missed the opportunity to witness. He has forgiven you when you got unjustly angry with your children or spouse. In fact, no matter what horrible things you managed to do today, he has forgiven you. 

That fresh start feeling doesn't have to fade away. 

Lamentations 3:22-23: "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." 

Sleep: Why is it so Hard?

Sleep Header Before I begin this blog, I have to throw two disclaimers out there:

#1) Anyone who knows me will probably have a few good chuckles while reading this post. This is because anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a far cry from having a handle on the area of “sleep” in my own life. But I figure that makes me an expert on struggling to get enough...right?

#2) If you are currently living with a newborn (or a child of any age, for that matter) who is currently not sleeping through the night, you may want to skip this post. The following content has no words of wisdom or advice for those who literally cannot obtain a full night's sleep no matter how hard they try. If you fall in this camp, I'll pray for you. Truly. Those days and nights can be oh-so long.

So now that I've covered my bases, let's talk about sleep. Oh, glorious sleep. This period of rest, which has been referred to by scientists and doctors as a “fundamental human need” is something we truly cannot live without it. For when God created the world, He of course did so in a very systematic and organized way. And on that very first day, He created light and He created darkness -- and there was a reason for that. The Bible says,

And there was evening and there was morning – the first day. Genesis 1:3

But yet I've struggled with following this pattern of evening and morning for the majority of my adult years. I'd like to blame my lack of adequate shuteye on motherhood, but that wouldn't be entirely true. The truth is, the bedtime battle of getting into bed (and in turn, getting out of bed) on time is one I've fought for most of my life. Through conversations with numerous friends and the reading of many articles on the topic, I have realized that I am not alone. In fact, the first full week of next month has been set aside as “Sleep Awareness Week” (03/02/16 – 03/09/16). You think it might be something other people fight, too?

Bed

So why is it such a struggle? How can going to bed and getting “good sleep” feel so good but yet be something I put off and cheat myself out of on a daily (or nightly) basis? These are the questions I've asked myself over the past several months as I began to sincerely evaluate my lack of decent sleep patterns. And here are the answers I've come up with (perhaps you can relate to some of them):

  • The house is finally quiet and I can finally have my “me” time. This is HUGE for me. Living with a husband, four children under the age of 6, a dog and a couple dozen fish (ok, so the fish don't contribute to the chaos all that much but they do demand a few moments of attention now and then!), there's barely a minute of peace during the daylight hours. When the night falls and I can finally hear myself think, this is sometimes the first time I have truly sat down all day.
  • My husband and I are finally alone. I think this one speaks for itself, but in all honesty the “after bedtime” hours are sometimes the only time we have to discuss adult topics, such as parenting, other relationships, money, or even just the nitty gritty of the plans for the upcoming weekend. My husband and I also find great pleasure in having certain TV shows we “binge” from Netflix or Hulu together (it's kind of like an “in home date” almost!) and it's so tempting to watch “just one more”...
  • The later evening hours seem like the perfect opportunity to get stuff done. Somewhat relating to the above, it's nice to finally not have anyone else demanding my attention. My over-productive, Type A personality sees this as the perfect opportunity to make headway (or finish?) a project, whether it be something home-related, blog-related or even my latest knitting endeavor. Again, putting something down that I find so much pleasure in doing is tough.
  • I lack the self-control to just go to bed. Plain and simple. I want to stay up, for whatever reason and I'm too short-sighted to see just how much that decision to not go to bed is going to affect me (and others) in the days that follow.

I used to think that indulging in my "night owl tendencies" was a sign of how driven and motivated I was. And while that may be partially true, the physical and mental effects of consistently receiving too little sleep far overshadow any benefits I may be experiencing from staying up late. Once again, I know that I am not alone in my thinking. An article which appeared early last year in Newsweek says:

Sleep is perceived to be the enemy of efficiency: inescapable wasted blocks of time that can't be converted into anything of broader use to society.

Yikes. Do we really think like that?

I think we've all heard or read lists on the importance of sleep in our lives and the many benefits getting a good night's sleep can bring to us as far as health and well-being are concerned. But in doing a bit more “on purpose” research for this post, I was surprised to learn a couple more which really struck a chord with me:

  • Getting a good night's rest can actually assist in weight loss. There are multiple reasons for this but one of them is so simple: getting yourself to bed at a decent time eliminates late-night snacking when your metabolism is at it's lowest. Being well-rested all gives you better will-power and a clearer thought pattern when making decisions about what foods you put in your mouth the following day. Boosting fat loss and the burning of more calories also contribute to the weight loss factor of sleep. You can read further details about this in the article written by Women's Health magazine.
  • Recent research has shown that sleep actually aids in the flushing of certain neurotoxins out of the body. One of these toxins is amyloid beta which is an amino acid that can eventually contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Many other conditions which lead to the loss of brain cells are also a result of the build-up of damaged proteins in the brain – proteins which may indeed be discouraged when your head spends an adequate amount of time on the pillow. You can read more about some of this research in this article which appeared on BBC News back in 2013.

Alarm Clock

But I have a feeling you already knew that sleep was good for you. And you probably already know why you're not getting enough. Right? But besides identifying the problem, what else can you do to help fix it? In my recent heightened awareness of my need for sleep, I've put my mind to trying to follow a few seemingly-simple (but really tough!) guidelines:

  • Committing to a bed- and wake-time. As difficult as it is, I've been making a conscious effort to keep the time I turn in and the time I roll out of bed as consistent as possible. As a part-time working mom, this is pretty tough since no two days during the week are exactly the same when it comes to schedule. But on the other hand, having 4 little “alarm clocks” in the house definitely keeps me from ever banking on being able to sleep in to make up for an extremely late night. When selecting a target time for hitting the pillow, I looked at what time would give me 8 hours of sleep but still allow me to set an alarm so that I could be awake and upright before I heard the pitter-patter of little feet. While it's oh-so tempting to lay under the covers until I no longer can due to the demands of my children, starting the day that way is not good for anyone involved.
  • Refusing to start a project that I know I won't be able to finish or put down partially done. I know myself pretty well and if I'm being honest with myself, I know which projects are going to be too tempting to stop halfway through. So if it's already 9pm? I don't get involved. Instead I'll look ahead to the next week or two or even month (depending on the nature of the project) and figure out a block of time that would allow me to make headway on it but not interfere with my much-needed shuteye.
  • Starting the “process” of going to bed early enough. I'll never stop being envious of my husband's ability to decide he's turning in and then successfully be sawing z's no more than 5 minutes later. But it's not that way for me. Getting myself between the sheets is an entire process that involves checking the locks on the doors, making sure the often-forgotten lights are turned off, making preparations for the next day, removing my make up, checking on the kids, and the list goes on. Therefore, if I'm aiming to be in bed by 10:30pm, I better not start moving in that direction at 10:25pm and expect to succeed.
  • Refusing to use my phone while lying in bed. Having always been just a tad behind on technology (I only acquired a smart phone within the last year or so) and just a bit "anti-social networking", I never thought this would be a problem for me. But is it ever. Again, I don't fall asleep nearly as fast as my husband. So while I'm laying there awake, my mind comes alive with articles I'd like to look up, things I'd like to shop for or friends I'd like to check up on. After all, when is a better time than midnight to do some email inbox housekeeping? That answer is pretty much anytime. The same Newsweek article which I referenced earlier says, “Research shows that every time we check our email, Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and find a new piece of information, we get a shot of dopamine—a chemical our brains release to simulate pleasure.” When talking to a friend about this the other day, she said to me, “Why don't you just keep your phone in a different room if it's an issue?” Well, of course I had my reasons: My phone is my alarm clock. We don't own a home phone so what if there were an emergency and someone needed to get a hold of me? I use my phone as a flashlight if I have to find my way to the bathroom or one of the kids' rooms. Despite all of my excuses, I managed to figure a way around them. I purchased an old-fashioned alarm clock. I keep my phone in our bedroom but NOT in reach of the bed. And I uncovered one of my many trusty flashlights and keep it in my nightstand. Problem solved – my cell phone is no longer stealing my sleep. (And I'm also paying more attention to my husband! ;)
  • Making a list of all of the reasons I need and want to get a good night's sleep. This list includes many of the things I've mentioned above but also some very simple truths, such as the fact that I have more patience with my kids when I'm well-rested, I feel better about myself, my skin looks healthier, I drink less coffee, and the list goes on and on. When I'm tempted to burn the midnight oil, I pull out this written list and remind myself just why it is so important not to.

As I stated above, I am definitely a work in progress. But progress is being made and I ask God daily to continue to help me fight this inner battle of mine. Do you share in this struggle at all? If so, tell me I'm not alone in the comments below. Have you found anything else that helps you stick to a sleep schedule? Tell me that, too – I need all of the help I can get! I'll be praying for you, too. And then I'm going to bed ;)

MelBioEdit

Making Room, part 5: Finances

 

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If you’re just joining us, this is the final post in a series discussing Making Room for God in our lives. You can catch up on parts one, two, three, and four here. 

It’s Sunday, we’re sitting in church, and the offering basket is coming our way. I nudge my husband and pointedly suggest with my eyes: “The offering basket is coming! Get the offering money out of your wallet!” He raises one eyebrow and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Whoa, now! That was my job this morning?” I give him a blank stare. “REALLY?!?!” my eyes scream at him. “AGAIN?!” Sighing as dramatically as one can manage to sigh in absolute silence, I dig through my purse and rummage up a quarter, three pennies, and a stick of chewing gum. I hope God likes Juicy Fruit.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who occasionally (ok, frequently) gives to God only as an afterthought. What can I say? I live a busy life! I have three young children. Making it to church on time with all three of them wearing some type of clothing is an accomplishment. Bonus points if I’m able to comb my hair before walking out the door! Remembering to add offering money to my diaper bag is frankly the last thing on my mind Sunday morning. So sometimes I forget! God won’t hold it against me. I’ll remember next week. Not the biggest deal in the world, am I right?

You know what I don’t forget though? The credit card when I’m headed out the door on my way to Starbucks. No way would I forget money when my enjoyment of a Grande Iced Mocha is on the line! When those much needed shoes for my kids go on sale, I’m on it. If I owe a friend twenty bucks, you can bet I’ll have cash in hand the next time I see them. Date night with my husband? THAT’s important. We can’t skimp on that because our very relationship depends on our enjoyment of our alone time together. The car needs a crucial repair again and I’m headed to the mechanic, checkbook in hand. This piece of furniture is an investment, right? The tickets to the baseball game were practically free so may as well indulge in some overpriced hot dogs! Library fines, student loan payments, rent, groceries, gas, zoo pass renewal, a frugal vacation, utilities, clothing, shoes, Internet, Netflix, fast food, paint for the bedroom, farmer’s market, kids' activities, a new rug, savings, thrifting, Dr. bills, vet bills, car insurance, haircut, and suddenly it’s the end of the month and we have no money left over to give to God.

Sometimes we as Christians get caught up in the details when it comes to giving to God. We want to know exactly “how much” is expected of us, so that we can give just enough to feel good about ourselves without giving more than we have to give. What exactly do you want from us, God? Isn't ten percent of our income the magical required amount? Is that before taxes or after taxes? If I give nine percent am I still going to heaven? Is it justifiable to give less if I volunteer at church a lot? Can I just do nice things for people and call it good for now? I kind of have a lot of debt I’m trying to pay off here, God.

I feel like in all this reluctant mental bargaining we do with God when it comes to tithing, we’re kind of missing the point of giving to God entirely. God doesn’t want our begrudging guilt money packaged in an even 10 percent with an extra .5% to spare any more than he wants the change from the bottom of our purses presented as an afterthought. The money itself isn’t important to God.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

What God wants is the FIRST and BEST of us.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (proverbs 3:9-10)

He wants us to give to him FIRST. He wants our BEST. Most of us no longer have choice cows or sheep to sacrifice to the Lord as they did in Old Testament times, so it can be tricky to define what our first and best is, exactly. In the modern era, giving God our first and best may mean deciding at the beginning of a pay period what to give to God. God ought to be the most important line item in our budget. Every other item should be weighed in light of that importance. If I sit down with my budget, reflect, and pray over how I’ve been spending my money, it’s usually pretty clear to my conscience which spending habits I have been prioritizing over giving. A month that ends with no money left over for God probably did not need to include quite so many iced mochas.

When attempting to make room for God in your budget, don’t start by listing everything you’d like to spend your money on for the month and giving to God only what is left over at the end of that list. Instead, try listing first what your heart feels called to give to God, and see if you can make sacrifices in other areas of your budget in order to make that happen. Had I prioritized giving to God this month, I might have made a thousand different spending choices in order to make that gift possible. (Fewer mochas, no new rug, a cheaper date night, a stricter grocery budget, no vacation, to name a few). Instead, I intentionally used that money to glorify only myself and my family instead of God.

God doesn’t just want our first fruits. He wants us to give them to him cheerfully.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Believe it or not, as easy as it is to place giving to God on the proverbial back burner, it’s just as easy to employ a reluctant over-diligence. Maybe you’re someone who prefers to pay several months worth of tithing at a time, just so you don’t have to think about doing so for awhile. Or maybe you’ve set your giving to an auto-withdrawal system and it’s so simple that you don’t think a single thought about those gifts until tax time. While this type of auto pilot giving is not a bad thing in and of itself, it can reduce the opportunities we are given to come before God presenting our gifts with joy in our hearts. Scheduling advance payments just so we don’t have to think about them isn’t a fantastic motive for doing so. We should think about the gifts we are giving the Lord and should rejoice often in our God-given ability to give them! If you have an auto-withdrawal system in place, consider setting an alarm on your phone or writing a reminder on your calendar to stop, reflect, and pray to the Lord with joyful gratitude whenever that payment goes through.

This joyful gratitude business--it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have months (or years!) when our budget is absolutely stretched to its limits, and that’s only including the costs of the most basic of human needs. In difficult financial times, giving to God can feel like an unnecessary chore. How can we possibly make room for giving when we feel He isn’t providing?

Yet God promises He will take care of us. In fact, He challenges us to “test (him) in this.” Give freely, and stand in awe at the capacity of his ability to bless us.

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:8-12)

This week’s challenge: 1. If you haven’t already, sit down and plan your budget with giving to God your FIRST and BEST at the top of your priorities this month. Then stick to that plan. What else can you eliminate or reduce in your budget in order to meet your desired giving goal this month?

2. When you bring a gift to God (or when your auto-payment goes through), take a moment to say a silent prayer of joyful Thanksgiving for the blessings God has given you. Ask God to accept your gift and pray that it will be used to his glory.

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