My Journey of Faith, part 7.

My Journey of Faith-7We had been living in Pueblo, CO for about 8 months when we heard about a church that might be a good fit. My husband and I believe strongly that a disciple of Jesus needs to have regular fellowship with other like-minded believers. Commitment to a local church is something we take seriously.  We want to be a part of a church family – somewhere we can be accountable to other believers in a closer way than we are with random christians we meet occasionally. We don’t want to be seat-warmers, slipping in and out quietly without anyone really knowing us.

Jesus preached to multitudes; but He had the 12 that He interacted with on a deeper level, teaching, sharing food, traveling.  It seems that in following His example, one should try pretty hard to find and integrate with a local church. We need community, people to do life with, people who have the same vision and goals in their walk with God. Not perfectly alike, mind you, but similar.

Well, we hadn’t found a church fellowship that really spoke life to us in Pueblo – so we were cautiously willing to check out a church in Northern CO. This was a church that we had visited years earlier, but we didn’t know much about it. We knew a couple people there, but again – mostly strangers. So, one bright Sunday morning, I woke the kids early, and dressed them for church, and we piled in our minivan and headed north.

After not being part of a church for over a year, it was like water on dry ground to listen to that sermon! The pastor’s words poured life and truth and love. My eyes filled with tears; I can still remember that morning. We fellowshipped with the church folk afterwards, at their potluck lunch. We talked about how much we enjoyed it on our long drive back home.

We visited again soon, and after the second visit, we knew. Well, actually, after the first visit I knew that we were supposed to move there. But the second visit was a definite confirmation. But we didn’t have any extra money to take off work and drive up to look for work or housing. We weren’t sure what to do. But then one of the men from the church (he was one of the pastors) called us and told us he found Cliff a job in construction, and he found us a house! ( he’d negotiated a 6 month lease for us, if we were interested.)

Well, with that kind of support, what could we say but yes?! The pastor paid the down-payment on the house for us, and set up  the job. He also gathered church folk to be there to help us unload furniture when we moved, and brought us food. This was not a wealthy man, by the way. Just an ordinary, hard-working man with 7 kids of his own. He never said much, but his life spoke more to me than most pastors I have listened to in my life.

We moved to Weld County, CO in March, 2006. It was good to be a part of a church where the sermons gave life, the fellowship was sweet.

But we were still broke. I think Cliff made 13 or 14 dollars an hour, building houses. He is a good carpenter, but he doesn’t really enjoy it. After nearly a year on a ranch, it was even less appealing. But he didn’t complain – just worked hard for our family. I stayed home and did a little custom sewing, stretched our money as best I could. I did struggle with loneliness, because we lived 45 minutes from the church and from most of our friends. I didn’t know people very well yet, and we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend on gas to drive around.

But, God taught me one of my most treasured lessons while we lived in that trailer-house in Weld County. A few months after we moved, I started feeling unwell. Nothing I could put my finger on,  just tired, sometimes nauseous, aches and pains. I worried and fretted about it. I knew it must be diabetes or cancer or something! I googled it, worried some more, and finally had a breakthrough:  God showed me that it was because I was lonely, discontent,  and verging on depression. Between finances, having three small children, a new church, a new community… I wasn’t handling it all very well. I was stewing and worrying and nervous, instead of trusting in God. I don’t even know when or how it dawned on me, but at some point I realized it was not a health issue at all but merely my body mirroring what was going on in my head.

I had basically made myself sick from discontent and worry. I wanted a house in the country… I didn’t want to have money troubles… I missed my sister…  I felt out-of-place at this new church… Bottom line: it was sin. It was like the parable of the Sower – some of the seed fell on good ground, but it was choked out by the cares and troubles of this world. (Matthew 13) I truly wanted to be a disciple of Jesus, but I allowed circumstances to cloud my vision, hiding the sunshine of God’s glory. When plants grow with little sun, they get sickly and weak. And so do people.Focus on Christ, and let the stuff of his world fade out a little.

I came to realize that my happiness could not depend on external circumstances, but had to come from within. I had to focus on Christ, and let the stuff of this world fade out a little. I realized that you can actually become physically ill from worry and discontent. I can’t tell you five steps to victory – it was subtle changes. It was waking up and forcing myself to get up and read the Word of God and praise Him. It was refusing to allow my thoughts to dwell on myself, but to start looking out and up. Out at others who I could bless, and up to God who was and is always worthy of praise and honor!! In a few weeks, I was happier and felt better than I ever had. I had no health problem! It felt like a miracle to me, and indeed – isn’t it always a miracle when God gets a hold of a person’s life and transforms them??!!

If you have slid off the path, fallen in a pit, or are choked up with the weeds of this old world – get up! Take courage! God is on your side! He wants you to be happy and fulfilled in Him. When your gaze is on Jesus, there is nothing in this world that can harm you or entice you. Discontent comes from taking our eyes off our precious Saviour. Start praising God. Look for ways to bless others in your life. Place every trial and problem in God’s hands. You probably can’t fix it anyways, so why hang onto it? :)

Anyways, we lived in Northern CO for nearly a year. Then one day in early January, Cliff’s boss told him that he didn’t have enough work for Cliff. He said that he would have to let Cliff go in two weeks.

Now what?!? We couldn’t afford to go very long without a job, but winter is slow in construction, and where would we find another job? The news was a bit of a shock, for sure.

To be continued…

February Thaw

wyoming

My favorite spot: a bluff overlooking the Medicine Bow river and Elk Mountain in the distance.

This month we had our mid-winter thaw. The weather warmed to an incredible 35-40 degrees! Tons of snow melted, the run-off swelling the river and making a muddy mess around the house. The river had been nearly covered in snow and ice since December. Only a few small open spots. But the warm weather melted most of the ice and the water was rushing merrily along.

I went for a walk one warm day, and while walking along my favorite spot above the Medicine Bow river, I had a strong sensation of deja vu. medicine bow river

I realized it was because I have read and re-read books about the far north; White Fang, Tish, Mrs. Mike, and Silence of the North. In them, you read of a ‘warm spell’ when the hardy pioneers would go out and relish the warm weather, having picnics on the bare patches of ground where the snow had melted.

“Less than a week after that the weather broke. The sun came out warm and bright, the snow started to melt, and the lakes opened up along the shores…”  ~The Silence of the North

When I read those stories, I never understood how it could be ‘warm’ at 30 or 40 degrees?! I mean, c’mon! There was still ice on the river and snowdrifts in the shade, for crying out loud! (remember, I spent childhood winters in Florida!)

But now I know.

When you have been through several months straight where the temps never climb out of the teens, there is literally 4 ft drifts, and the snow falls fresh almost daily — well, you can see how melting snow and 40 degrees feels warm! :)

I did actually consider a picnic, but the wind was blowing pretty hard, so I decided against it. Instead, I went for a walk, first along the top of the bluff, then down the winding lane to the river bottom. The late afternoon sunshine was so lovely, falling warm and clear across the water. medicine bow river

medicine bow river

wyomingdeserted cabinold ranch barn

But, the February thaw ended, as all good things do, and we are back to full blown winter. :) It is good, because when you live on what the land produces, you need snow. You may not enjoy working in it, but it is good for the soil. The land. The cattle. The grass. The water supply for next summer. So I will take it with thankfulness, and hope I don’t have to drive on the snowy roads too much! 😉

snowing

snowy cows

Both of the snowy pics were taken from my kitchen windows. Those cows are on some kind of internal clock that is pretty precise. Every morning when I get up, they are lying on the hillside. But right at 6:45 to 7:00, they all get up and file to the water. It’s funny, kind of, how they are so reliable. You could set an alarm by ’em!

sourdough cinnamon rolls in cast iron pan

I received a new cookbook for Christmas; ‘A Taste of Cowboy’, by Kent Rollins. I have been experimenting with some of his sourdough recipes, and they are pretty tasty! I made these sourdough rolls one day, and they didn’t last long, I can tell you! It was the first time I baked them in a cast iron pan, and I decided I need to pul them out of the oven a couple minutes sooner, because that cast iron holds heat for a long time, so they continue baking after they are out of the oven.

What are ya’ll doing today, I wonder? Anyone else staying close to the fire? 😉

 

My Journey of Faith, part 6.

My Journey of Faith-6

 

We lived in Missouri for 5 years, and had many experiences, good and bad.

  • Three children were born to us, a girl – then two boys.
  • Cliff’s dad passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 45.
  • We built a small house mostly by ourselves. It was on my mother-in-law’s property.
  • Cliff started a small rock-laying business on the side.
  • Then he started a leather tack business in our living room. (still going today!)
Building our tiny house! 2005

Building our tiny house! 2005

It was during this time that I grew a lot in the areas of patience, self-control, and unselfishness. Not that I am perfect by any means, (!!!) but the day-to-day responsibilities of being a mother and a wife taught me a lot.

Making ends meet when we lived on $400-500 per week, struggling to pay dental bills and vehicle breakdowns and appliance failures. Thanks to my naturally thrifty nature, and my mother’s example, I often made 20.00 last for a weeks worth of groceries for the two of us. The babies were always breastfed and the toddlers – well, you know how little they eat! :)

Our little family back in 2005.

Our little family back in 2005.

We ate a lot of beans and potatoes, and Cliff shot a deer or two every fall. Often neighbors would give us extra deer they’d shot. One fall we bought a pig and butchered it. That was a huge treat! I cured the bacon myself, to save on butcher house costs. It was great! The Lord blessed us tremendously during that time. I found a man who had lots of grapevines he didn’t use, so my friend and I would go pick bushels of grapes and can the juice. I bought ‘seconds’ of apples and peaches and canned them. I had a generous neighbor who gave me her extra green beans to can, and corn to freeze.

My sister and her husband; Marcel.

My sister and her husband; Marcel.

One year we went on a vacation to Idaho to visit my sister and her family on a ranch. When we got back, my garden was destroyed by the neighbor’s goat herd! I felt pretty defeated, but we made out ok. It was a lot of work gone, though!

I gave birth to several of our children at home, and midwives are not covered by insurance, even if we would’ve had it. (we didn’t) We paid for years for our babies. ($4,000 was a common rate) With one of our sons, we were blessed to be able to trade work towards the cost of the delivery. Cliff worked on their house in the evenings, in trade. (The midwife was a friend, so we were very thankful.)

I say all this – not for pity – but to share the goodness of God who never leaves us, and always provides for us! Always!! Along with learning to be a mother, I was learning to trust God. It was hard, financially. We were always tight. But I grew up like that, so it wasn’t new to me. In fact, I didn’t know any other way to live.

Such a good daddy!

Such a good daddy!

It was difficult having 3 babies so close together, too. Each time, I got pregnant when my baby was 11 months old. So the three of them were all 21 months apart. At one point I had a 3 year old, a 1 year old,  and a newborn! I get quite sick when I am pregnant, so there were many days where I would lie on the couch, nauseated, while my toddler(s) got into mischief. I had two babies in diapers, twice.
As a kid, I had always been my dad’s right-hand-man, so to speak, and never did get along very well in the house. So the transition to a full-time homemaker was a learning curve. The constant stream of dirty dishes, the constant exhaustion from being pregnant and having toddlers, the ever-needy children, the endless laundry and cooking that needed doing… it all wore on me.

My first two babies.

My first two babies.

Cliff and Andy.

Cliff and Andy.

I loved being a mother, but I had to learn to pull on my big girl boots and just do it. My mother was very practical, and she raised us to have emotional control – which I am ever so thankful for! I knew the only thing to do was get up and do what needed doing.
I can tell you; you don’t need afternoon wine, or chocolate, or me-time, or girls’ nights or anything else our self-inclined society tells you. You need a reverent fear of God and His Word. You need to take control of your thoughts and put to death your selfish desires, and do what needs doing. “I die daily,” the Scripture says. (1 Cor 15)
Death isn’t fun! Death isn’t easy! Death is hard and painful. But the result is sweet acceptance and submission to God’s will. In my case; the raising and nurturing of a family. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with me-time and chocolate. Those things have their (limited) place. But please don’t turn to things to replace what God wants to do in you. He will mature you and grow you in ways you never knew possible, if you are willing to be purified. Seek God, above all! Read His word daily. Die to Self, live for Jesus. God is able to give you ALL you need, I can assure you.

When our 3rd baby was very young, our church went through an upheaval. Due to uncontrollable (by us) circumstances, we were left without a church. It was the first time I felt a bit lost and betrayed. We wanted to serve God, and know Him. Why would He jerk out the church from under us? Why would He leave us hanging, so to speak? I was confused. I wanted to move to Pennsylvania to a church where some of our friends were. I didn’t want to look for another church! I sure didn’t want to sit alone. But sit alone we did – for a while.

Then one day, Cliff was talking to his cowboy friend (my sister’s husband) on the phone. When he hung up, he asked me: “How would you like to move to Colorado and work for Marcel on his cattle operation?”

Of course I wanted to! They talked some more, and I wasn’t sure if it would work out. Maybe August, they said?
It was July, and I had the prettiest garden ever. The tomatoes were just starting to ripen when we got a call. Marcel (my bro-in-law) was taking a trip and needed someone to watch the cattle while they were gone. Could we come out in a week?

Cow country.

Cow country.

Well of course we could! We packed up our belongings and stuffed them into the front of the horsetrailer. We packed the truckbed and minivan full, too. There was just enough room for three carseats. We loaded our horse into the back end of the 4-horse trailer, and headed out one evening. Like any parent of small children – we knew if we travelled at night, they would sleep a good portion of the trip. Since we had a 5 month old baby, we knew it would be best if he was sleeping a lot of the way, since we both had to drive.

I drove the minivan and he drove the truck & trailer. We drove all night, stopping once for a short nap-break for me. I was so tired. I fought sleep so bad! When the sun rose, we were in CO and the scenery had changed. So that was better. I stayed awake pretty good for the rest of the trip. We pulled in to my sister’s place before noon, and I was sleep-drunk. But the babies were awake and hyper by then, so I sat in the cool grass and watched them play. The dry desert air of Pueblo was invigorating!

We lived in Pueblo for 9 months. Cliff rode and did care on yearlings with his brother-in-law. I thoroughly enjoyed living close to my sister, for the first time since I’d been married. We did everything together! We went shopping, canned peaches, did laundry, even went on a double date once, when our men found a sitter for our assorted toddlers!  😀 It was a special time in our lives. I had missed my family, and this living-a-mile-apart was so special.

Cowboys roping and doctoring a yearling.

Cowboys roping and doctoring a yearling.

Round-pen work.

Round-pen work.

It wasn’t easy… as inexperienced ranch hands, and working for a small outfit, we didn’t earn much at all. (1,200/month, plus free housing) The cost of living was higher in CO than it had been in MO. Gas had skyrocketed to over four dollars a gallon, and we were still driving junky vehicles that broke down a lot. Those nine months were the toughest, financially, that we have experienced, to date. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that it was hard. But you know what? God is a good Father. Often, just when money was due, we somehow got the money. We were given food and hand-me-downs, and we never went hungry. Again, I learned that God always provides, that He will always take care of you.

Horsey rides are the best! (Jenni)

Horsey rides are the best! (Jenni)

Your faith can grow in these situations, more than when you are ‘sitting pretty’. But let it be known that being poor is NOT romantic! I have had several people in my life, different times and places, ask me “how it feels?” And, that they think it would be kind of sweet and fun to be poor… “Just working hard together!” “Growing in faith!”

Huh.

Please don’t tell me that lack of money is somehow desirable. All that tells me is you’ve never tried to decide whether to pay your electric bill or buy food. You’ve never gone 6 months with the same razor because you couldn’t afford a new one. That you’ve never looked in your purse and scraped together enough coins to buy a jug of milk. There is nothing – let me repeat – NOTHING romantic about being poor. If you think there is, you probably haven’t been poor enough! 😉 It is definitely a faith-builder, but I would never ask for poverty.

Cowboys

Now I want you to know – we enjoyed life! We weren’t trudging along, depressed and worried constantly. We had our worries and troubles, almost daily, but we were living and working on a ranch, and that was our dream! We worked and played and went to church on Sunday. We didn’t eat out, go to movies, or heat all our bedrooms, but we lived just fine.

Country roads...

Country roads…

Speaking of church… at this time, we were attending my sister’s church most of the time. Not because we were particularly drawn to it, but because it was convenient. We visited several other churches in the area, but nothing really caught our attention. We didn’t know what God had for us.

We prayed about it, and sometimes I felt discouraged, because it seemed like we wouldn’t ever find a church that was right for us. We wanted something with life and vision. We didn’t just want to go to church on Sunday – we wanted to be part of a church family, one that wanted to follow Christ passionately! We kept looking.

Valentine’s Day and birthdays and rainbows.

rainbow over ranch countryWhen I was a little girl, my mom always baked a heart-shaped cake for my birthday, because my birthday falls just a few days before Valentine’s day. Mom would slather my cake in pink frosting, and sometimes she’d decorate it with candies on top, or little paper doilies under the edges, to make it special.

Many of my birthdays were spent in Florida, where it’s 80 degrees in February. My Amish grandma lived there, along with a bachelor uncle and a single aunt. I loved celebrating with them. Riding my bike on the warm streets of Sarasota was my favorite pastime! Here is a photo of my dad and three of his daughters. (I am in the center)father and daughters in florida

Anyways, so my birthdays are not as warm and sun-kissed, these days. Usually we’re snowed under, with gale force winds blowing. This year it was pleasantly warm – about 40 degrees, but of course we still have plenty of snow lying around. I had to take my daughter to the Dr. on my birthday, and I wasn’t feeling well. But I splurged and bought snacks for the evening. We watched movies and ate junk food, so it was a relaxing evening. :)

We don’t do a lot for Valentine’s Day. Sometimes we go out to eat, but this time we stayed home. Maybe you are of the persuasion that Valentine’s day is a forced-affection, commercialized day. Cheesy. Annoying. Invented to remind singles of their sad, unmarried status. High pressure on husbands.

But I love Valentine’s Day! I love the hearts and cheesy sentiments, and all the chocolate. I love roses and dates and hand-made Valentine’s made by my kids. I don’t expect a lot from my man. There’s been days he’s worked 12 hours and was too tired to go get a gift. That’s ok. I don’t always make his favorite treats, but he doesn’t mind. We have each other – true love that has endured much, and we love to celebrate it. But we don’t HAVE to celebrate it. We love each other every day, whether we’re riding in a tractor, feeding cows, or eating steak and ice cream.

I have been riding in the tractor with Cliff, lately. I just like to ride along and open gates and have uninterrupted time to talk, while he feeds hay. One day last week we saw this gorgeous rainbow! rainbow on the ranch

feeding cows

Taken from the tractor door…

The balebuster chews up the big, round bales, and spits them out in a nice row for the cows. This helps the cows get at it easier, and there is less waste. Some people just put the bale on the ground whole. Well, that works fine, but then manure piles up in one spot, and that is not good for the ground. This way the manure gets spread out and is good for the hay meadows. They spread the hay in a slightly different spot each day.tractor and balebustercows eatingfeeding cows

I know I have said it before, but I can’t get over how cozy and warm our little house is, with this wood stove! I am shamelessly enamored with wood stoves, anyways, and this one is so efficient and perfect! I try to keep it burning at all times, although it does go out at night, usually. I just don’t wake up to replenish the wood during the night. Frank helps me chop wood and keep it stoked.
wood stove

By the way, while I am repeating things, let me say again how much I love teens!! They are so much help. They are funny, caring, and smart. They can take care of themselves, and sometimes me. Their jokes are actually funny, now, and they are so creative and inventive.

Of course, they eat more, and are learning to drive, and don’t believe everything Mom says, ha! But that’s ok. I enjoy seeing them grown into their own personalities and interests.

Some days my man will call me about 10 o’clock or so, and ask if he may bring some guys along home for lunch. Usually he works alone, but some days they have a project that needs extra guys. I always say yes. Sometimes the lunch is rather slapped-together and certainly not fancy. But it’s hot and filling, so they don’t care.

Sometimes they just come in at 10 for coffee and snacks. Sometimes I have snacks and sometimes I have to serve bread and jelly. 😀 Anyways, it adds variety to my days. I enjoy cooking, so to putter in my kitchen all morning is a fun treat.

I wasn’t very consistent with my exercising in January and first part of Feb. I was gone some, and I was sick several times. But this week I am back at it. I am SORE! Whew. The gal on the workout dvd says: “you know, you’re burning lots of calories, doing this!” and I’m like: “I better be!” 😀 Haha! I do not workout because I enjoy it – I do it solely for the benefits. I have to admit that there is a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with exercising.

What have you been up to, this Valentine season?

 

My Journey of Faith, part 5.

my-journey-of-faith-5In the year 2001, I became a mother.

It was around 4 pm when our sweet daughter entered the world with that special newborn cry. I, who had never been too baby-crazy, looked down at her scrunched-up face and fell in love – as all mothers do! I was pretty sure I could feel my heart swelling with love, and the enormity of my emotion was overwhelming.

We took her back to my in-law’s house, and surrounded by family, we discovered the joys of night-wakings and first smiles. We were living in one bedroom, and my husband worked with his father during this time. My mother-in-law and the teen daughters operated a small bakery/sandwich shop, and I stayed home with my baby. fall centerpiece with candle

It was during this time that we started going to the same small church that my in-laws attended. It was a 2 hour drive one way to church. Not because there weren’t churches closer; this was the Bible Belt, after all. But this small country church had something the others didn’t: it had life. We drove to church every Sunday morning and home every Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, the folks at church were extremely hospitable, and we rarely left without a dinner (lunch) invitation. And usually a supper invite as well. Or more often, the dinner would stretch out to afternoon popcorn and games, then on into supper.

This church was pastored by a man whose teaching I hadn’t heard before. He preached often about the power of the Holy Spirit. Not about jumping and screaming and being slain in the spirit. But the power of the Holy Spirit… the power in a Christian’s life to overcome sin. I hung on every word. I hadn’t heard such life-changing stuff since Youth Bible school!

Some of the biggest lessons I learned there were:
Temptation is not the same as sin. Satan puts thoughts in your head, and that is not sin. But if you yield to those thoughts, that is sin. Wow! That was life-changing for me! It took away all guilt I had for not being able to stop thoughts from popping in my head.
To have power in your life, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8  I prayed specifically to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, and I learned to ask for His help in each moment of temptation. I fell a lot in the beginning. But over time, as I followed the Bible’s teaching and grew in understanding, my ‘new man’ grew stronger and the ‘old man’ became weaker. Romans 6:6Eph. 4:22-24
Two rules I learned that helped me overcome sin; 1. sincerely repenting each time, and 2. asking forgiveness each time the sin involved another person. My biggest problem is sinning with my tongue, so I had a lot of uncomfortable conversations with people! But when you go to the person and ask forgiveness, the very awkwardness of it will help you ‘think before you speak’ in the future.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is simply the third Person of the Trinity: the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9

smell the flowersWe moved to the community where this church was located, several months after our daughter was born, and we lived there 4 years. During that time, the pastor became a true spiritual father to us. He taught us many truths from God’s Word. He shepherded us as a young married couple, being an example with his life. His wife is a godly woman who taught me many things about living in a Christlike manner. I watched her ways, her speech, and her example. To this day, I text or call her when I am feeling overwhelmed! What a need there is for godly women to teach and mentor the younger women!

There were several very Godly women in that church who took me under their wing, and taught me how to mother, how to be a wife, how to cook and clean and be a better sister in the church. Sometimes I look back on those years and wince, as I remember all the dumb things I did and said as a young wife and mom in her early 20’s. Oh, goodness. So much immaturity! But no one chided me; they simply loved me and cared for me and gently taught me. My mother-in-law was one of the most important. I am so blessed with the mother I found in her! She was there when my own mother was far away, and I learned so much from her.

sunsetThanks for sticking with me on this journey of faith. It has been good for me to go back and remember all the goodness of the Lord; all the mighty things He has done for me! There is nothing good in me – ONLY in Him!!

To be continued…

My Journey of Faith, part 4.

My Journey of Faith-8

At last I had begun to see what a real relationship with Jesus was like! It started simply; by talking to Him throughout the day, about everything. I was purposely, consciously, training my mind to constantly turn to God during the day. To ‘set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth’. Colossians 3:2  I was not finished struggling against sin, but I was starting to see growth in several areas. I finally had hope. I had the promise of help and victory.

Day after day, I pored over the Bible and prayed earnestly for God to help me gain victory over my anger, selfishness, and discouragement. Up until now, the Bible had been quite dry and boring. It seemed almost sinful to admit that – and I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone. But now! Now the Bible was like fresh, cool water on a parched desert. It came alive in my hands, and I feasted hungrily on the Bread of Life!

I don’t know if any of my family or friends could tell a difference. I’m sure Mom could – poor mom had to put up with me during my hard, temper-fraught years. As God changed my heart, I grew to respect and love my mom. I started trying to make life easier for her, instead of trying to get by with as little work as possible. I still flew off the handle at people, I still had a sharp tongue and a scornful attitude, often. But I saw these for the wicked sins they are, and began praying about them and fighting Self.

The next three years I attended the same Youth Conference. Each year I learned more about Jesus Christ, and more about how to walk by the Spirit, and not the flesh. Each year I came home determined to be a light and example to my friends, to help them see the wonderful new truths I was learning. But each year I came home and realized that we were not on the same wavelength, so to speak. The church I attended put a lot of focus on our Christian heritage, and a good moral life, but they didn’t have power! Or if they did, I never heard about it. Every Sunday it was the same testimony of struggling with the same old sins. They preached that Jesus would forgive your sins (and He will!) and that each day was a new beginning (and it is!) but I wanted more! I saw people who had real joy on their faces and testified of changed lives! That’s what I wanted.

So I kept on seeking, learning, reading. I also became disillusioned with the Mennonite culture in general. I loved my church – I really did! But they didn’t seem to be able to offer me much. And frankly all their rules and expectations were grating on me. Not that they were hard to keep; I had no problem keeping them. I never got into trouble with the leaders; I was a ‘good kid’. But the rules were not in Scripture, and the only thing they accomplished – as far as I could see – was burden people with unnecessary loads, and turn away those raised in a different culture. OR, they attracted people who saw it as some sort of ‘Laura Ingalls’ idyllic lifestyle. The reason given for the rules was to keep us from danger. To keep us from falling into sin. But there is a wonderful verse in Jude that says God can keep us from falling! How wonderful it is that anyone anywhere can be kept from falling by the power of the Holy Spirit within us! We don’t need to depend on man-made rules. (verse 24)

Of course, Mennonites are just like any other culture: There are wonderful people who love the Lord, and there are some who have wicked, unrepentant hearts. The problem I saw, was that if your heart was evil, you could still be a good Mennonite. You can hide heart stuff real easy when the church focuses on your appearance. Human beings are wonderful hypocrites. We are all pros at putting up a front! I include myself in this, by the way.

In 1998, my oldest brother died, about a week or two after Youth Conference. I was devastated. It was my first taste of death. But God ministered to my heart in such a special way, that it became a cornerstone for my Christian life. Ever since, I look back and remember how loved I felt at that dark time. You can read about that experience here: This Day in my History.

Well, when I was 18, my family took a 3 month visit to Belize, a small country in Central America. To give a bit of history, my mom is related to some Mennonite missionaries that run several missions in the southern part of the country. When my parents were younger, they went several times to the mission to help  while the missionaries were on furlough in the States. The last time they went, I was 4 years old. I had vague memories, and my sister – who was 6 that time – she also had a few memories. But we wanted to go again and see the mission as adults. My dream was to be a missionary like Amy Carmicheal, so I think my dad was trying to give us a mission experience without us leaving him to get it! 😀

A village school in Belize.

A village school in Belize.

Our family planned to road trip through Mexico to Belize, and there was this friend of the family who decided he wanted to go along. He’d spent almost a year at the same mission doing volunteer work, and had friends down there. So one cold January day, we headed to Belize.

What does this all have to do with my faith? Well, two things. 1. It opened my eyes to the problems that come when you try to impose Mennonite culture on 3rd world natives. (doesn’t work very well) and 2. That family friend who went along, asked me to marry him! 😀 Yes, it was Cliff, and it was in that hot, tropical country that we started dating. And we started dating because one day we had a long talk about Christianity, churches, and our longings for a church that taught more. We both had the same longings and desires, spiritually, and we were both kind of unsure where we wanted to be.

When we went home 3 months later, my church was going through a major church split. Caught up in my new romance, I never did get all the details, and I really didn’t care. I had been wanting to leave the Mennonite church, and here was the perfect opportunity. I gave a letter of withdrawing my membership, and, considering the confusion that church was in at the time, I guess it didn’t get much attention. I didn’t go to church the Sunday it was read publicly, so I don’t really know how that went down. But anyways. I want to say again how much I loved my church. It was real hard for me to leave it. I had close friends there who had poured time into my life. Friends who I am still indebted to, and whom I respect. But it just wasn’t meeting my deep heart cry for life and growth.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

At our wedding reception.

At our wedding reception.

Cliff and I got married in November. (can you hear the happy church bells pealing? 😉 ) And we honored my mother by having a traditional Mennonite wedding. But when we got back from our Arizona honeymoon, we began attending a little non-denominational church. Most of the members were former Mennonites, so we felt comfortable, yet it had some life that we had been missing. We attended that small church for a few months, then  circumstances forced us to move in with my in-laws several hours away. We started attending their small church and eventually moved there.

Arizona honeymoon.

Arizona honeymoon.

Our first home.

Our first home.

I want to share another major, life-changing truth that I learned there; next time!

January Ramblings – and a story about a cow.

snow drift by barn

The deer that live in town!

The deer that live in town!

January is nearly over – can you believe it?

I can. And I’ll tell you why: we haven’t seen the ground by our house since November! 😀 We live in a place that takes winter very seriously. We have drifts upon drifts, and if the temperature reaches 25* it is a warm day! horses in snow

My view on my way to workout!

My view on my way to workout!

I got stuck twice, so far – in ONE DAY! Yuck. I hate getting stuck, but even more so when someone other than my husband has to pull me out. (both times!) But there is no way you are digging out in these rock hard drifts. When you get stuck, you get stuck!dodge stuck in snow

The view from my kitchen window!

The view from my kitchen window!

I have been driving the 4 miles to my neighbor’s place to exercise each day. Well, Monday – Saturday as long as I am at home and the roads are 4WD-passable! I have missed some days in January. My oldest daughter started going with me, so that is nice.

 

...when you walk 'down' to the porch that is 3 steps off the ground!

…when you walk ‘down’ to the porch that is 3 steps off the ground!

We are blessed to have a small woodstove in our living room. I try to keep it blazing at all times. But in the afternoon, I go in my bedroom to write and forget all about the fire. Somehow the kids don’t think of putting wood on, either! Sometimes I sit right beside the stove to write, because it is so toasty and warm, and I still let it go out! This is what happens when I write. :)

woodstove

Last week my husband went to Billings, Montana. He was attending the Ranching For Profit school. It is a full week, and covers topics such as grazing techniques, employee relationships, profit margins, etc. This outfit we’re on sent him there, as they do for all new hires. People who implement those principles seem to really like the results.
While he was gone, I took the kids and drove to Colorado to visit some friends. I visited my Romanian friend, and she served me some of her homemade tomato preserves. I think she said  it has tomatoes, peppers, and… squash? I forget the third ingredient. Anyways. It is not sweet, just a mild-flavored vegetable spread. She served it on toast. She also served a sweet homemade bread that was yummy. The swirl was ground up walnuts, cardamom, and rum. I asked her 3 times what it was called, but I already forget. (I’m so bad at forgetting foreign words!) romanian vegetable spreadRomanian sweet bread

I have been buzzing my son’s hair since he was 2 years old. But recently he asked me to cut it more… well, stylish. And I tried. But it was sad. And I appreciate a good haircut, so I started taking him to the hair salon. They call it a ‘gentleman’s cut’, and it looks amazing. Totally worth the money!

I could be prejudiced, won't deny that.

I could be prejudiced, won’t deny that.

Meanwhile, my baby is growing up (insists she’ll be 35 soon, “just like you, mom!”) 😀 but she still loves cuddles and hugs.my baby girl

 

I went to a friend’s store while I was in CO, and loaded up on fruits & veggies. I LOVE veggies! stirfry and avocadofruit

Then i undo the good of the veggies with my mug cakes! They flopped.

Then I undo the good of the veggies with my mug cakes! They flopped, by the way. But I plopped some cool whip on top and hey! still yummy!

So let me tell you a story about living on a ranch…
Our lane is pretty narrow, and the cows like to stand on it, for some unfathomable reason. Well, one night I was driving home from town, and it was dark. I honked the horn at the cows, and drove slowly through them. Some went off the lane into the field. But there is a ditch between lane & field, and they do not like to cross it. Understandably, because hey – I wouldn’t enjoy wallowing in snow up to my belly either! But still. Get off the road you crazy cows! Anyways, so they all moved to the side of the lane, and I drove slowly past. As I passed the last cow, she decided too late to switch directions. She swung her hindquarters around and her hip bone caught the back corner of my Suburban and left a big ole dent! I looked in the rearview, and she went scampering off, the bugger.  I mean, it’s not like my rig is that precious; it has major hail damage, 230,000 miles, and the 4WD no longer works. But still. Get off the road, you ornery cow!

Hard to get a pic with a cell phone after dark.

Hard to get a pic with a cell phone after dark.

A new thing I am doing this month, is starting a 31 business! I heard lots about them, but never was interested. I went to a party to help out a friend, and fell in love with the products! I am hosting a launch party for the next 4 days, so go over and check it out! Every one who orders will be entered in a drawing for a prize! My Thirty-One Party

jan-customer-special-social-graphic

Well, that’s about it for my January ramblings. Hope you’re staying warm and cozy! :)

 

My Journey of Faith, part 3

 

My journey of faith

“This fog is terrible. Can’t see a thing,” my brother muttered as he peered into the gray darkness. The road was barely visible in the beam of his headlights, the winding mountain road seemed to go on forever through the dark trees and murky darkness. Occasionally, we would see the dim taillights of a vehicle ahead of us, which gave some depth perception to the haze that blanketed the road.

It was November, 1997, and I was riding in the backseat of my older brother’s Mazda pickup. My sister was along too, and we were headed to Pennsylvania to attend a youth conference. Actually, I wasn’t even riding on a ‘seat’, really. My brother loved his music, and he’d removed the backseat of his pickup in order to fit in a giant subwoofer box. 😀 There was a space beside the box for one person (me!) to squeeze in. My knees were in my face the whole trip, but other than that it was quite pleasant, really.

We drove for hours through the foggy night. Finally we drove out of it, and then made it to our host’s home. It was dark, the family was all in bed. We tiptoed up to our rooms and fell into bed.   In the morning we ate an early breakfast and headed to the church. The parking lot was filling up as we drove in, and I was nervous to meet all those strangers! My mom had taught me how to meet people though, and I’d had lots of practice from all the churches we’d been to. But I still didn’t enjoy it when I walked in and the foyer was a crush of strange youth. I managed to hang up my coat and squeeze through the crowd to to the sanctuary. My sister was 2 years older than me, and her personality was more outgoing and friendly. She led the way to an empty bench. Directly behind us sat two girls – clearly sisters – and we’d barely sat down when my sister promptly turned around and introduced herself to the older girl. I shyly introduced myself to the the pretty younger girl seated next to her; never realizing that we would end up lifelong friends! :) (we now attend the same church and she is still one of my best friends and one of the prettiest people I know!)

Anyways. Getting long-winded here…
So we spent a week at this conference, along with 400 other youth. We listened to two sermons every morning, had prayer groups in the afternoon, and choir, then another sermon. In the evening they opened it up for a family meeting where we again listened to a sermon.

I soaked it all in! I took copious notes, I shared my struggles with my prayer group, I re-committed my life to God. One speaker in particular really captured my attention. He was a tall, kind-eyed man from South Africa. He had a way of speaking – a way of using stories and illustrations – that I had never heard before! He spoke about being hid with Christ in God. About the Holy Spirit. About counting the cost of discipleship. He asked searching questions, and thundered warnings. He told funny stories and laughed with us. He also prayed. His prayers sounded like they were going somewhere. I hung onto every word.

Another speaker, white-haired and much less dramatic, spoke softly but gave me new ideas. He talked about victory over sin, living a life filled with the Holy Spirit, and practical christian living. He also gave me a gift that would unlock the biggest blessing in my life to date. He gave me this little book by A.W. Tozer. Now, Tozer is not light reading for a teen who never finished 8th grade! I had to read and re-read some of the paragraphs multiple times to understand what it meant. But that book was where I finally learned what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus.

“Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous person, quietly and without strain.Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window…
When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes  of God looking in,heaven has begun right here on this earth.”  -The Pursuit of God

The pursuit of God -Tozer

After youth conference, I went home and read a little piece in that book every night, along with readings from the Scripture. I read the book several times. It was eye-opening. I decided that this was it. I was tired of my failing, floundering attempts to live right. To please God. This new life that Tozer talked about – this was amazing! I was in for the long haul. None of this half-hearted Christianity, no more laziness of heart; I was ALL IN!

The first test came quickly. I worked on my father’s sawmill, and I hated that job. It was boiling hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. I remember walking out to the sawmill one dreary wet day that winter. It was cold and damp and miserable. Normally I dreaded the job so badly that I would feel sick. But today, new-found faith firmly in hand, I was feeling almost cheery! I decided that if Tozer could fix his gaze on Christ, so could I! And so I began praying as I worked. I prayed silently – just ‘thinking’ prayers, but of course those kind are as good as any. :) I prayed for everyone I knew of who needed prayer. Then I prayed for myself, all my stryggles and questions and besetting sins. Then, as it was still early in the day, I started just talking to Jesus. I told Him how I felt about the weather, what my dreams were, how I wished I could serve on a mission… my mind wandered, (just like Tozer said!) but each time I would bring it back to talking with Jesus.

My dad's small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

My dad’s small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

Now, stacking lumber is a rather mindless task. Hard, yes, but repetitious and brain-numbingly boring. So I did a lot of daydreaming. And in the days that followed, I still daydreamed a lot. But each time my thoughts would wander to frustration or anger or discouragement, I would start telling Jesus all about it. At first it felt awkward and stiff. But after a few days it seemed natural to tell my new Friend all my deepest thoughts and fears.

And so I began to grow in my relationship with Him. As I cried out to Jesus for deliverance from my sins, and found a safe refuge where I could pour out my heart – I started gaining victory over my besetting sins. I was no longer angry about everything; I could tell Jesus! I was no longer depressed; I could tell Jesus! I wasn’t ‘fixed’ overnight, of course. It was a gradual growth, just like a tiny seedling growing, stretching toward the light, drinking in water and nutrients. So I started to grow; little by little, so imperceptibly that even I didn’t realize it.

I continued reading my Bible, soaking it in large portions at a time. I devoured it!  I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I asked God for victory over sin, and, most importantly, I now believed He could give it to me! I also started feeling unsure about the church I was a member of. Why had I never heard these things before? Why did they focus on outward appearances, yet left the heart issues go untouched? Why were rules held above all? I was confused, and unsettled about it, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted everyone to know about this new life hidden with Christ in God. I did try to talk to my parents and friends about it, but some brushed it off as conference enthusiasm, and others didn’t understand what I was talking about at all!

Come back next week and see how I left the Mennonite religion.

My Favorite Winter Clothing.

Elk Mountain in winterAfter 10 years of Wyoming winters, I have finally figured out some clothing that makes life much easier for this southern gal! 😀 I realized that one major reason I hated winter was because I didn’t own the right clothing. My family spent some winters in the Midwest, even spent half of a winter in northern Idaho – but we never really owned quality clothing for the season. Most winters we spent in the sunny south, and it didn’t seem worth it, I guess. But when we moved here, my husband insisted that we invest in good winter clothing. So we did. Here are my favorites!

My son went with me to find our Christmas tree. We were both wearing our Mucks!

My son went with me to find our Christmas tree. We were both wearing our Mucks!

Coat. The piercing winds in this great state will fly right through anything woven! I finally found my dream coat: Woolrich’s down parka. I found mine on sale one year during Black Friday, and it was the best winter clothing purchase I have ever made. I couldn’t find the exact same coat, but this one is similar.

Gloves. I won a giveaway from my friend over at ‘From the Corner of the Circle L’ for a pair of Stormy Kromer mittens. They may not be great if you need dexterity, but for just being outdoors, they’re wonderful! I wear mine nearly every day. Once they wear out (which doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon!), I will buy another pair. (these say ‘mens’, but you can buy other colors if you like)

Boots. I found my first pair of Muck boots at a thrift store for $10.00! They lasted for 6 years. 😉 When those wore out, my husband bought me a tall pair for Christmas. These are seriously amazing boots! They come up close to to my knee, and the top is snug-fitting, so they keep snow out! I walk through waist deep snow (yes, literally!) and no snow falls inside. Yay! 😀 We bought Muck or Bogs boots for every member of the family. Except the littlest. She has a knock-off version since she is growing so fast! All the other kids have the real deal. Totally worth it. I like that my kids can go outside to do chores and play, without worrying if their feet are too cold.

Ear-warmer. I won a cute little fleece ear-warmer from a friend online, and it gets worn a lot. Several times a week, usually. I can’t find that online seller anymore, but Amazon has some similar styles.

Wild rag. A traditional piece of cowboy gear, the wild rag is essential for keeping those icy drafts off my neck! I love winding a soft silk rag around my neck and tying it snug. It’s amazing how much warmer you are when you wear a wild rag! And, they are soft and never chafe. Just be sure to get a silk one. Polyester is ok, but for the softest, most wonderful feeling – stick with silk.

So there you have it! What is your favorite winter clothing?

If you are a maker or seller, please feel free to leave your website or store info in the comments!

winter clothing

winter clothing

Our house gets pounded with blizzard winds.

Aspens in snow

My Journey of Faith, part 2.

my-journey-of-faith-2

My family moved a lot. In the years when I was 11-14, we lived in 3 different states for seasonal work, and 3-4 additional states for various other church or work-related reasons. So we weren’t in a ‘settled’ church. Mom asked me if I understood baptism, and she gave me a couple verses to look up in my Bible. I did look them up, and got excited about it. But there was still that issue of a church…

In the Mennonite church that we were part of, a person who got saved was expected to go through 6 months of ‘instruction class’ (where you were taught all the Mennonite doctines and church rules), then be baptized, and be taken into the church as a member. This structure was quite rigid; you couldn’t just be baptized without the 6 months instruction, and yet as a Mennonite, you wouldn’t be welcome if you went to a different church to be baptized. So I waited.

When I was 14, we were attending a small church in Oklahoma. It was made up of several families who had broke away from the Mennonites, and a few other christian families needing fellowship. We attended that church for about 6 -8 months, I guess. The first few weeks we lived in our fifth-wheel camper while we fixed up a dilapidated old house.

Dad had stripped the carpet and couch out of the back of the camper, and put a small woodstove in the middle. The floor was unfinished wood, and the six of us sat scrunched around that stove during the cold winter weather, pulling our folding chairs as close as we could without burning our shoes. I don’t remember where the chimney went… I guess Dad must’ve cut a hole in the roof to stick it out.

Anyways.

I remember Dad trying his best to get us kids to join in on family worship. He would read a passage of Scripture, and expound on it awhile, then ask us our thoughts. There were four of us girls at home at this time. All four of our brothers were out and about on their own. And us girls were used to our brothers and Dad loudly discussing ideas and thoughts. We scarcely knew how  to discuss Scripture, and we weren’t interested in discussing it with Dad and Mom. We just wanted to get family worship over with! So Dad got discouraged and finally stopped trying. (Shame on us kids!)

But the thing about this church was; they all seemed excited about God. I could see why Dad was drawn to them. It was a very young church, maybe 1 year old? And everyone was on fire for God. They were trying out new ideas and sharing God’s love and God’s dealings in their lives. They genuinely loved the Lord! We were only there several weeks when two of the young men were baptized. I stood on the riverbank and sang joyously with this new group of believers, resolving to be the next one in the river.

I told my parents that I wished to be baptized. Dad was happy. Mom was hesitant, but she also agreed. We talked to the preacher. He asked me and my parents to come over one evening to discuss it. He read some verses, and asked me to read some verses. While reading my verse, I mispronounced the word: vehemently. He gently corrected me, but I was mortified! I have never appreciated ‘grammar nazi’s’ since. 😀 We discussed my salvation, and I was nervous because I didn’t have a ‘grand’ salvation story, nothing real dramatic, and I stammered around, unsure how to say what I meant. But he was kind, and didn’t mind that I was nervous to the point of being unable to speak.

The next Sunday after service, the whole church drove down to the river again. Dressed in white, but wearing my secondhand rose-colored coat, I walked out into that muddy Cimarron river. It was cold enough to take your breath away, but I didn’t care! My teeth chattered as I answered his questions, but  I couldn’t stop smiling! As I came out of the water, the church family standing on the river bank broke into song: “Oh happy day, that fixed my choice! On thee, my Saviour, and my God!”

Image courtesy of Britannica

Cimarron River, Image courtesy of Britannica

Being baptized was a special experience for me. It was a public way to show my sincere love and commitment to Jesus Christ. I was taking my stand with Him, and telling the whole world that I was a child of God.

“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4

But I still did not understand how to gain victory over sin. My life was beset with lying, despair, temper fits, and unkindness. I had a sharp tongue and was not slow to use it. I tried – oh I tried! I hated myself. I felt so guilty for being such a mean person. But I was powerless. I listened in church, and yet never heard the answer I needed.

We soon moved on from that church, back to a Mennonite church in Illinois.
See, when I was six years old, we moved to this small country church in Illinois. We had moved away and then back to it many times. We lived in 7  different houses in that community, and one of the houses we moved in and out of, several times! My dad saw inconsistencies in the Mennonite church, but Mom grew up Amish, so Mennonites – to her – seemed like a good place to be. The inconsistencies that Dad noticed, she was ok with, since to her – it was just a chosen lifestyle.

Well, this church was one of the most caring churches that I have been to. They loved my dad and our whole family. And even though they would’ve loved for us to all be members and stay there, they didn’t pressure us, and always welcomed us back with open arms. Even after I was baptized in a non-Mennonite church, they welcomed me into the church later that year.

So when my friends were baptized and taken into the church, I sat beside them and was given the ‘right hand of the fellowship’ into the Mennonite church as a member. I thought that since I was baptized, and a church member, I would surely become more holy.

But it didn’t work that way. I still could not gain victory over my sins. I fell daily into anger, jealousy, unkindness, lying. I contemplated giving up. As our home and family situation deteriorated, I seriously considered running away. I thought about leaving the church behind and just living how I wanted! But two things held me back:

1 My mother had instilled a proper fear of God in me, from a child on her knee. I knew that I could run but I couldn’t hide from Almighty God.

2 My brothers loved me, and I couldn’t run away from home and ever be able to face them again. I just couldn’t. So I stayed home. I would rather be miserable than to disappoint them. They were my heroes.

So there I was. Stuck in the same frustrating circle of sins. I just wanted to know how to get out!

...Stay tuned for next week! Victory is coming! :)

Ohiopyle falls

O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day;
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!

’Tis done—the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine;
He drew me and I followed on,
Rejoiced to own the call divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,
Fixed on this blissful center, rest;
Here have I found a nobler part,
Here heav’nly pleasures fill my breast.

High heav’n that hears the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear!
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless, in death, a bond so dear.

Philip Doddridge, 1700’s