The Art of Giving Up

We’re almost two weeks into the season of Lent and something that has been on my heart lately is the tradition of giving something up. Growing up in a Catholic church, this tradition as well as the abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that I am familiar with and would practice every year. But now that I am in my twenties and kind of rediscovering myself and making my own path in the church, this is an interesting season for me.

For as long as I can remember, I have given up soda every year for Lent. This year, I find myself stopping to think more and more about the true meaning of this practice and how I, and many others, are really missing the mark.

Last week, my sister and I had a conversation about what we were giving up this year. She knew that I was doing my typical soda-fast but she was still debating on what she should do. She made the point that we should be giving up the thing that is keeping us from really spending that quality time with God. This has been something that I’ve been struggling with for the last couple of years, but I’ve always stuck to the soda-fast because it was what was familiar and I didn’t really have to think about it. But shouldn’t I be thinking about it? After all, what’s the big point of giving up something for Lent if it’s really not doing anything for you spiritually?

Sure, giving up soda and the sugar and caffeine that comes along with it is one way to make healthier life choices, but that is a rather selfish act and not one that genuinely draws me closer to Christ. I thought about praying every time I began to crave it, but what became abundantly clear was how I had lost sight of the true purpose of this time in the church.

While I am still holding on to my soda-fast in hopes to prove to myself that I can actually do it (I’ve succumbed to the cravings at least once or twice for the past two or three Lenten seasons), I have added a new challenge for myself. I have been an avid reader my entire life but I have always been drawn to fiction, particularly young adult fiction. I’m in no way giving up that genre, but I have begun to seek out a few non-fiction reads that will hopefully bless my life. I’ve been reading through Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist, which is amazing and I am looking into her other novels now, and will be starting The Best Yes after that. It’s a small gesture, but the genre is a departure from me so I am praying that I continue to be intentional and reflective on these books and their impact on my life.

While the Lent serves as a time for us to draw closer to God and His word, we can’t just look towards the superficial tendencies that fasting in today’s society often brings. Fasting from soda and sweets is healthy, but is it really bringing me closer to Christ? As the name of the Lent study from She Reads Truth says, Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.

The Struggle is Real…But God is Greater

Struggle is very much real and a part of our daily lives, whether we want it to be or not. No matter how bad it may seem to get, I always try and remind myself that there will always be someone out there who has it “worse” than I do. Lately though, my heart has been heavy with stress, feelings of helplessness, and just pure exhaustion.

For those of you who may not know, my full-time job is a Pre-K teacher. My class is blended with both typical and developmentally delayed learners, but this school year I have found that my kiddos are anything but typical. Each day when I walk into work, I am met with students who have significant behavioral, emotional, and medical needs. Since October, my assistants and I have tried every single strategy and visual possible from every resource available to us, with no success. I have been slapped, kicked, and bitten by these students on a near-daily basis. Granted, this is a small number of my students, but as you can imagine, the current scenario makes it incredibly difficult to not just come to work, but to actually try and teach. Not to mention there is the stress that comes from still being a new teacher, only in my second year. There is no college course on how to manage this type of classroom.

To put it quite bluntly, my job has been slowly draining the happiness from my life this school year. It may sound over-dramatic but it’s pretty accurate. But this emotional struggle that I have been dealing with is what brought me closer to Christ and renewed my faith.

Some background information: Up until this past October, I worked a part-time job on the weekends during all of this as well. Weekends, that should have been an escape and a chance to unwind, were spent at my second job working some crazy hours at times (gotta love clocking in at 4am on a Sunday!). I’ve since left that job, of course, but as of January, I am in grad school and taking classes online for my master’s degree. I’m still busy, but the difference is that the content that I am studying in school is something that I truly enjoy and have a passion for.

So where does God fit into all of this? (Disclaimer: I get a little ramble-y here but stick with me!) Well, to be quite honest, He didn’t for longer than I care to admit. Working two jobs and working seven days a week didn’t leave much time for going to church. When I left my part-time job, I had not been to church in more than two months. However, around this same time, I began to feel a pull to do a little research into a church that I’d previously would have never thought twice about. I’d seen their road signs every day for years on my route home, but never paid them any mind. But at the time something, or someone, was telling me to find out more about this place. Once I visited their website, I learned that the church had three locations as well as an internet campus that streamed their weekend services at various times. I wasn’t sure what had me so curious, but I decided to check it out. I soon began tuning into the internet services as often as I could, due to that crazy work schedule of mine.

That period of time was a time of big change for me, having grown up in the Catholic church which of course is very rooted in tradition and suddenly feeling like I was being called to a church that was nondenominational and very contemporary. But I knew that God was definitely trying to tell me something.  I had gone weeks without church before (during college), only now I was beginning to really notice that something was missing. I knew from visits with my sister that she found a great sense of community through the two small groups that she is a part of in Raleigh and I began to wonder if perhaps I was craving this sense of community for myself as well. I began to attend services at this new church and the overwhelming sense of peace was like nothing I had felt before. I began to crave that hour on Sunday mornings throughout the week. I began to look at my daily life at work a little differently with each day. God placed these kids in my care for a reason, and there’s no way that I can finish out the year without Him. I began to crave a community to call my own.

Last week, I attended an event at church called GroupLink, an event that matches you up with a small group bible study based on your age and life stage. I mentioned this event briefly in Monday’s Grateful Heart post, but it completely confirmed for me that this was why God was calling me to this place. The ladies that he has placed into my life and into my small group are already such a blessing. I completely walked away from that event with this overwhelming sense of peace knowing that I was following God’s path for me and saw that the uncertainty of beginning a new journey of faith at an unfamiliar church was all leading up to this…finding a community of women to do life with. I have that already with The Peony Project, but having a local group of women who follow Christ together is amazing.

While this journey that I’m on is by no means over, it all began with overwhelming feelings of stress and helplessness. When I was no longer able to keep my head above water by my own means, God stepped in and began to carry me through on His own infinite strength. We can’t do this life on our own. The struggles may be real…but God is always greater.

First Impressions: 2015 Erin Condren Life Planner

As a self-proclaimed planner junkie, I have been pining away for one of Erin Condren‘s planners for a long time now. A friend of mine has the teacher planner but as a Pre-K teacher, I wouldn’t be using that one to its full range of use.

Now, admittedly I’ve been holding off mainly because of the price. However, as of two weeks ago, not only am I a teacher and blogger, but now I am a teacher, blogger, and grad student. I knew fairly quickly that I was going to need a consolidated system to keep myself organized with meetings at work as well as due dates for homework and blog posts. Finally, a couple weeks ago I took the plunge and purchased one of the 2015 Life Planners. Here it is!

I got the Life Planner with the Viva Espana cover. One cool feature is that the covers are interchangeable now. The covers themselves are $10.95 and the Gold and Platinum covers are $15.95. My first impression? “OMG SO PRETTY!”

Seriously.

But let’s take a quick walk through, shall we?

Inside Front Cover and first page of the book. Pardon my terrible handwriting!

Work Hard…Play Hard! So fun!

Monthly View: I love the fun, bright colors! As you can see, I’ve already used one of the included (and repositionable) stickers to showcase and remind me about student birthdays. I’ll have some photos of the included stickers a little further down.

Weekly Spread: Alright, friends, this was pretty much one of the main reasons why I finally decided to invest in the life planner. Each day is divided up into three sections; morning, day, and night. Well, as I mentioned above, I now have three roles in my day-to-day life; teacher, grad student, and blogger. So I knew right away that I would be using stickers to personalize my planner even further by renaming the sections to read Work, School, and Blog. With school meetings, grad school deadlines, and blog posting schedules, I know this will help me to become much more organized with all of that.

Notes: Towards the back of the planner is tons of both lined and blank notes pages. So handy! Perfect for jotting down blog ideas while on the go!

Repositionable Stickers: With your planner comes two pages of pre-printed sticker sheets. You get one whole page of birthday labels (which I’ve already gotten my hands on, clearly) and another page with labels like vacation, party, day off, etc. You also get two pages of blank stickers. What’s even better? The stickers are repositionable! I saw another blogger say that her stickers were only repositionable in a more humid environment but my house tends to be a little humid and mine move around just fine.

Keep It Together Pocket + Perpetual Calendar: In the back is an adorable pocket to store any miscellaneous items as well as your Perpetual Calendar, which is included with the life planner. This little calendar is great for storing those important annual dates and birthdays and can be transferred from planner to planner.

Zipper Pouch: Last but certainly not least is the zipper pouch which stores the adorable gift labels that come with the planner. The company throws in a few labels that match your planner’s cover and there are also some gift labels in a variety of designs.

Well, there you have it! I am so, so happy with my design and I can’t wait to start organizing my life with this thing. I’ll keep you guys updated with how well it works for me a little later down the road.

Interested in getting some Erin Condren products for yourself? Use my referral link here!

Renew

This post is part of The Peony Project‘s January prompt linkup.

January is the time for fresh starts and new beginnings. The new year brings with it positive energy and a chance to create new habits to better ourselves. However, we all know that those ambitious resolutions and the excitement that comes with starting them wears off all too soon; often before January even comes to a close.

I’ve often pondered why exactly we humans can’t seem to stick to our goals. I mean, these are goals that we’ve picked for ourselves after all. It isn’t like we just plucked a random resolution out of the sky and decided to try it out. We make resolutions based on the things that we want to accomplish in our lives, so how come we so often end up dooming ourselves before we start? There are several reasons why this is, but one answer stands out so clear to me.

Our resolutions are not deep enough.

According to USA.gov, the most popular New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, getting fit, drink less alcohol, saving money. While these are admirable goals, I can think of something (or someone) who will provide a much bigger return on my investment.

This year, I’m working on growing even closer to the Lord. What better source of renewal could there be?

How I’m choosing to do this is first by intentionally reading the Bible this year. Initially, I had planned on doing this through my Daily Bible, but then She Reads Truth announced their Bible in a Year reading plan. So far, I’ve been spending sometime before I go to bed each night with my Jesus Calling devotional, following by the day’s Bible readings on the SRT app. As I read the day’s readings on the app, I have a notebook that I’ve dedicated to my Bible journey and I jot down key points, verses that stand out, and any questions or takeaways that I have.

I will also be joining a small group at church in the next few weeks and although I’m a little worried about how that will be balanced with both work and grad school, I recognize that I need to find a community of people to connect with and study the Bible with.

How will you be seeking renewal this year?

Happy Birthday

Dear Aunt Sandy,

Today is your 61st birthday. Yes, you went up to Heaven just six days after your 60th birthday, but there’s not going to be a point when we stop acknowledging and celebrating the day of your birth so happy 61st!

my beautiful Aunt Sandy, December 19, 1953-December 25 ,2013

A lot has happened since your last birthday, but I’m sure you already know that.

There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of you and miss you terribly, especially being in the thick of the Christmas season. I know Halloween was your favorite holiday, but I’m fairly positive that Christmas was tied for that honor, or at least a close second.

So many of my favorite Christmas memories and our family traditions have your spirit woven within them. Making red and green Rice Krispie treats and cookies for Santa at the Trenton Street house just hours before you gave me a glimpse of “Santa” for the first time. Anxiously awaiting the package from the mailman that held your Christmas gifts and the inevitable See’s Candies box(es) and saving them especially for opening on Christmas Eve while everything else had to wait for Christmas Day. And of course hanging the beautiful stockings each year that you made for Sarah and I.

Some of my favorite memories, though, aren’t necessarily Christmas related, however. Some of the most precious memories I have with you are pretty recent. I was able to spend a lot of time with you on my last visit with you in July 2013 while Sarah and Auntie Margaret took care of Uncle Louie.

I made you tea with lemonade and fixed you tostadas but all I really wanted to do was to magically whip up a cure for the cancer that had invaded your (and Uncle Louie’s) body.

I can’t help but smile when I see Long Island Medium marathons and when we fix tostadas. You’re still with us in so many ways.

Aunt Sandy, you have no idea how much we miss you. Our family is not the same but I stand by the words I wrote to you in the birthday card I had Dad read to you last year.

I wish you a lifetime of pain-free birthdays.

I love you. I miss you,

Ashley

Note: I’ve lost my Grandpa, Aunt, and Uncle to three different types of cancer and one of my cousins is currently battling a fourth kind. My dad has lost his father, older brother, and younger sister. Cancer is a terrible disease and it seems fitting to recognize and donate to the American Cancer Society, who is the “official sponsor of birthdays”. I donated in memory of my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Louie, and Grandpa Luis, please consider donating to this great cause as well. Visit cancer.org for more information.

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