Thursday, September 27, 2012

A big ol' dish of delicious...

Hello!

Time for a lighthearted post from this girl. (yay, finally! right?)
:)

As you know, I am expecting our third daughter. Like literally, expecting her any minute! She is due a week from today, although it doesn't seem possible...and neither does it feel like she is going to make her appearance any time soon. lol

As a result, my amazing husband has been assisting me in working diligently at stocking our freezer for those first few weeks after she arrives. Lasagnas, pasta sauces, different types of soups and soup bases, veggies for serving as well as including in dishes, etc. You name it, if it can be or make easier the preparation of dinner, we've either gotten it done or are planning on finishing it up in the next few days. {Thank goodness we have an extra freezer, because we're both the 'better to be safe than sorry' type and it's possible we might have gone a little overboard in our quest. haha}

Knowing we were doing this, my awesome mother-in-law loaned me a cookbook that is specifically about learning to prepare meals now to serve later. It's called "Dream Dinners" by Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna (you can get it on Amazon here) and I have just absolutely loved reading through it - finding new recipes to try as well as learning tips for preparing dinners. For example, they teach in the cookbook that it's just as easy to prepare three dinners as it is one when you're using the same ingredients. Kind of like a triple batch. Then you cook one for dinner that day and freeze the other two. Do this twice a week and at the end of a month you have 16 meals in your freezer ready to go, whether for your table or that of someone else who might need dinner (i.e. if they just had a baby! lol).

I couldn't believe how practical and simple that was! We've really gotten into meal planning as a method of making each dinner time as well as grocery shopping trip less stressful, and have found that it's really stretched our food budget a lot further as well. Now having this little gem dropped in my lap, I'm VERY excited to take that practice to the next level!

This book is awesome, it doesn't just cover dinners, but lunches, breakfasts, desserts, as well as all kinds of side dishes...and there's something in there for just about everyone's dietary preferences too! I'd encourage you to check it out if you're into having your family table be graced with a great meal as often as possible but don't necessarily have 1-3 hours EVERY DAY to prep for it...which is how long I sometimes spend in the kitchen working on dinner when I'm not big pregnant, because frankly to me (and to my husband!), the family table matters that much.

Now here's the fun part, the real reason for this post. The other day I was working on a recipe from out of here and fell. in. love. with it! So I bragged about it on Facebook and everyone wanted me to share of course! I figured out the simplest way to do that would be to share it here-easily referenced if you need to come back later! The recipe is for a Baked Pesto Ravioli with Chicken dish, and it was amazing. Now truth be told I didn't follow the recipe entirely, as we don't eat a lot of extra meat in our meals if there are other ways of putting protein in the dish. As a general rule, I rarely follow a recipe to the last detail anyway, my father taught me they're just launching points and so that's what they've always been. :)

Anyway, here is the recipe as given in the book. I'll just give you the basic recipe rather than the tripled version, as it's pretty easy to do the math, and I'll add my comments as to what I did differently as well. Any way you slice it - or bake it - it is delicious, and oh-so-simple to make. Enjoy!


BAKED PESTO RAVIOLI with CHICKEN

Ingredients:

2 lbs cheese-filled ravioli, fresh or frozen (<---here is where I made a change. I prefer spinach raviolis, or a chicken/spinach blend, so that's what I used. A LOT less cheese that way! The great thing is that it's really any ravioli, so possibilites are as endless as the selection you have available!)

1 lb cooked chicken breasts in 1/2-in slices (we omitted this since there was already chicken in the ravioli)

2/3 cup chicken broth (we used a low-sodium, organic, free-range variety that has proven to be very tasty and give just enough "under-flavor" for lack of better term. And you know, so we feel like it's healthy rather than comforting. lol)

2 cups zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup chopped scallions (we used green onions, simply out of preference)

1/2 cup basil pesto sauce (the recipe says just use store-bought, but I prefer to make my own pesto, so I made a fresh batch instead and used it!)

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper (I used more, but I'm a pepper-lover so this is a pretty common occurrence)

1 cup (4 oz) grated Parmesan cheese


Directions:

Spray 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the ravioli, chicken, chicken broth, zucchini, bell pepper, scallions, pesto, salt, pepper, and Parmesan in a large bowl. Stir gently to mix the ingredients. {If you are preparing a triple batch, divide the remainder equally between two resealable freezer bags}

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour or until bubbly.

{If you're wanting to freeze, just label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. That at room temperature before baking as directed above.}



Voila!! Dinner is ready in about an hour and a half total and did I mention your house will smell amazing? The great thing is that the hour before dinner, which is usually always stressful and chaotic, can really become a fun time with you and your family. My daughters LOVE to help set the table, and this gives us time to do so in a fun, learning way, as well as getting salad, bread, and beverages on the table too. Then when it comes out, you just sit and serve!

I hope you get the opportunity to try it out, I'm sure it'll become a family favorite in your house the way it has in ours! If you have any questions, just ask and I'll do my best to answer.

And of course, until next time, I'll still be laughing. :)
Crystle

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lifter of my Head...

"Fear not, you will no longer live in shame. Don't be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven's Armies is His name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. For the Lord has called you back from your grief - as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband," says your God. "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the Lord, your Redeemer. "Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth, so now I swear that I will never again be angry and punish you. For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken," says the Lord, who has mercy on you."  Isaiah 54:4-10

During my morning Bible reading this summer, I was reading these verses and experienced one of those "aha" moments; it was as if I was reading this passage for the first time, when in reality I can't tell you how many times I've read it throughout the years. Isn't it amazing how God works like that? It's one of the reasons I don't think I could ever tire of spending time in His Word...He never fails to bring fresh revelation when I'm open, ready, and willing to receive it, and it is always so life-changing, if even in the smallest way! This was no exception, either. It made a very big impact on my heart, and it was one I've been praying about sharing for a couple of weeks now. It's always difficult to decide what moments like this to share and what not to. This week, however, I really felt the Lord lay it on my hear to share, so here it is.

For most of my life - really almost as far back as I can remember - I have battled shame. Not just being easily embarrassed, but a true, harassing condemnation that would follow me wherever I'd go, regardless of who I was around. I could be sitting in a coffee shop at age 25 and be somehow reminded of something I did - whether "bad" or simply foolish - YEARS before and suddenly feel my neck and face grow warm with a fresh humiliation. This, my friends, is awful. And the Bible says it's unnecessary to boot! In fact, it promises in Romans 8:1 that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ, so why should I have to be walking in it, right? I would repeat this verse to myself over and over, get prayer, and it would go away for awhile...and then somehow, creep back into my mind. Whether because I'd mess up again in some area or another, or because in casual conversation someone would remind me of a time when...fill in the blank. At any rate, it was RIDICULOUS, and I'd had enough. One of the biggest things I'd been praying for this year was to finally shake off the shame and condemnation I'd been previously unable to and walk in the true freedom promised to us at the point of repentance and salvation. This summer, that prayer was finally answered and the breaking point came in the form of this beautiful passage from Isaiah.

Rather than give you an even fuller discourse, I will simply share with you the revelation I felt God gave me to accompany these verses:

"God has redeemed me! No longer do I need to hang my head in shame at the mistakes and sins of my past, He has dealt with me and disciplined me regarding them, and now He lifts my head, brings me into His loving embrace, and says it's time to move forward."

SO SIMPLE, RIGHT? And finally, it is. Whenever I feel that spirit try to knock at my door again, I simply say NO, because my God HAS redeemed me, HAS forgiven me, and HAS lifted my head so I can again keep my eyes on the high calling I have in Christ. Just like that!!!

If you are a Christian, you do NOT, no matter what some may say, have to walk in a feeling or state of perpetual overwhelming guilt over the mistakes of your past. If you have truly repented, and turned the other way from your sin, then you are covered by the grace of God and the work of the Cross. You are free! What God finally helped me to see was that I cannot walk in freedom and bondage at the same time. I had to choose one or the other. I chose freedom, and it has been beautiful. I encourage you, if this is a battle you ever struggle with, to really dive into His Word, read for yourself and get that personal revelation of the forgiveness that God has already, in His love, poured into your life. You are forgiven, you are free!!!

Thanks be to God, who loves us so much to continually speak to us in relevant ways. Because of Him, I'm still laughing, and in the most genuine of ways.

Crystle

Thursday, September 6, 2012

More Giveaway Fun!!!

Did you know I have a little business? I believe I've talked about it before, but I thought I'd share with you afresh...especially since I am doing a big giveaway, and there are lots of ways you can enter and win!

So my business...about 3 years ago I started selling crocheted goods to friends and family members who wanted fun, unique, personal gifts or accessories but couldn't make them themselves. And so, Oli J Accessories was born. Now I have an Etsy Shop (an online shop you can view and purchase from) where I sell my goodies, as well as several places in my area that sell them in their stores, and of course - because where would I be without this? - I still do A LOT simply via word of mouth referrals and Facebook orders. It is so much fun, keeps me busy, and provides us with a little supplemental income for the "extras" that pop up in life. (a friend of mine once called it 'diaper money' and that's probably what it will be here very soon!) I love to be able to create a completely personal accessory or gift, and see or hear how much the receiver loves it, it makes every second I spend perusing yarn shops and crocheting hats, blankets, shoes, etc 100% worth the time and energy.

And now, the giveaway! Recently, my Facebook page hit 300 fans, a HUGE milestone for me!, and I wanted to celebrate by doing a giveaway. Between then and now, my Etsy shop hit the 100 sale marker (also HUGE!!), so that was it, this giveaway had to be BIG. And so it is. :) I'm giving away 4 different items, and there are LOTS of ways to enter (some worth more entries than others even!), as well as opportunities to enter every day. Oh that's another thing, this baby is going to be accepting entries for the next 5 DAYS so you can definitely increase your chances of winning very quickly!

So what are the prizes? They are:

A Brimmed Beanie of your choice (size, style, etc.)

An Earwarmer/Headwrap of your choice (size, style, etc)

A Crown/Tiara in your choice size/color

And last, but certainly not least, a crochet headband in your choice size/color combo


See? So much fun, and so many different things to win! I'm excited just writing this. lol So now, the details, I suppose, are in order.

There are several ways to enter, just follow the steps below to get them all in! And don't forget to share the giveaway as well as refer your friends...those are the steps that will give you 2 ENTRIES every time!



So that about sums it up! I'd love to hear your responses below, as well as any feedback or requests for the next time we do some giving away of goodies. This will probably be the last giveaway before the holidays are here, especially since my little one is due to make her appearance sometime in the next month or so! I hope you enter and best of luck to you! Most importantly, thank you so much for all your support and encouragement while I've been on this journey, it means the world to me and I know that I absolutely would not be having the success I have been without each and every one of you. I feel very blessed and hope that in turn, I will be able to bless someone else along the way!

Good Luck!
Until next time, I'll be laughing. :)
Crystle






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Defining Moments

Over the last few weeks, and this week especially, we over here in my corner of the world have been getting ready for our church youth group's summer camp. This particular event is something that, even at nearly 30 and now as a leader rather than just a camper, I still look forward to every year, because it is always so life-changing for all parties involved. I love every facet of it, from the planning to the execution, seeing the kids all arrive at the church, either full of plans or scared out of their mind at just what exactly is going to happen, and most importantly, I love seeing the way God grabs ahold of every open and willing heart up there, young and old, and moves in all of them in a very big and defining way. In fact, I love it so much, I actually wrote my first book to be in the setting of a camp very similar to one I went to when I was in youth group myself. This post is kind of going to be a double-plug. I want to tell you about the book I'm always referring to when I talk about my writing, but I also want to talk to you about how camps like these can create the ultimate defining moments for kids, and how I feel every teen should experience them at least once. Last but not least, if you live in or close to Southern Oregon, I'd love to invite you to ours, which is coming up next week!

So first and foremost, let me tell you a bit about my book, and throw out a few excerpts. The book itself is called "Take It or Leave It," and is part of what will eventually be the Unwritten Series. It's primarily about a 15-year-old girl named Ashlie, and the adventures, both literal and spiritual, that she and her friends go on and experience over the course of a week at youth camp. That being said, here is excerpt #1, the preface for the book, which explains why I chose to write it how and where I did:

"Growing up in church, my summers as a teenager greatly revolved around youth camps. I loved camps; I would have been happiest if my parents had packed my trunk and sent me off to one that lasted all summer. Youth camp was somthing I looked forward to all year round, and just like Ashlie does in the book, I packed and repacked, shopped and shopped, made lists and plans, the whole nine yards.

One of the reasons I loved camp so much was that it seemed like it gave everyone a chance to create a different world for a week - certain 'playing fields' were leveled out, and often times you'd wind up hanging out with people you wouldn't ordinarily spend time with. Youth camp was a week you could be anyone you wanted to be. It was a result of summer camps that my relationships with some of my best friends were formed.

For me, youth camps maked some of the best times in my teenage years - some of the fondest memories with my friends, and some of the closest encounters I'd ever experienced with God. It was at camp that I had my 'adult conversion,' the point in my life when, as a young adult, I recommitted my life to Christ and knowingly promised my heart and my whole life to Him regardless of my peers and circumstances. These are the times, experiences, and choices that God used to help start the process of forming me into the person He wanted me to grow up into. It was at camp that I chose to let God dictate and write the pages of the story of my life; it was there that I realized that He alone was the Great Author and could write a better story than I ever could.

These are just some of the many reasons that, in writing the Unwritten Series, I chose to have the first book take place at a youth camp. I know I'm not alone in my camp experiences and the impact that they made in my life, and who can't relate to a bunch of friends hanging out at camp? I hope that as you read the pages of this book that you'll not only laugh with Ashlie and her friends as they deal with all that camp entails (the good and the not-so-good), but also that you'll open your heart to see how the choices that you make even in the middle of what seems like 'just another good time' can change your whole life. The other thing I pray is that you'll catch the heart of the message, and learn to take those experiences with you as you move on in your life.

Let God write the story of your life and take you where He wants you to go."


The life of a young person is chock full of defining moments; the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's part of what builds our character. I feel that in the setting aside of 'regular life' and spending a week in a setting such as camp with an open heart can create one of the most defining moments in your child's life. It certainly was in mine. Over, and over again. As with anything, your heart has to be open, but that is one of the reasons that settings like these are so great - even those with the hardest of hearts at the beginning of the week can find themselves softened, broken, and forever changed by the end. Every single event of every single day can play a huge role in this. Here are a couple other excerpts from the book, from the middle and from the end, that best sum up for me the feeling of needing to change, the difference one can feel, and the reason it is so important to take it with you. I'll try to tie them together as best as I can to keep from showing you my whole book and making it too long, but is very much a glimpse into the heart and mind of a hurting, confused young person - one very similar to many that we know in our lives, and one that I also know we can all relate to - and the journey that takes them to the point of change.

"After dinner we had about 45 minutes of free time before the Bible study was going to start, so I decided to take a walk down to the lake. I told Kayla where I was going (so she wouldn't worry again) and double-checked how much time I had, then headed off toward the water.

As I walked, I thought about everything that was going on around me. The more I though about it, the more I realized that it was all pretty much drama that didn't need to be happening. Even me being kind of ticked off at Kayla the way I was (still). It was all unnecessary. The problem was, I didn't really know how to let it go, and beyond that, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to. I had a hard time understanding why people like Kyle and Kayla could let go of things so easily and move on, whereas I would say that all was forgiven, but it wasn't always true and I knew it. I was as bad as Christian (something I really didn't want to admit) and his stupid grudge against Kyle. Good grief, what was wrong with me? Maybe, something inside me said, you should listen more closely to the messages you hear...

...All of a sudden, before I knew what was happening, I started to cry. I cried and cried and cried. I wasn't sad, though. I realized why I was so drained, and I was mad....I'd had enough! I didn't know how I was going to make it through the rest of the week unless something started changing, and soon.

I know that meant I needed to change, too, and that thought made me cry even harder, because I didn't know what I needed to change, and I sure didn't know how. Plus, there was still a big part of me that didn't really want to. I was comfortable with my life the way it was - I didn't handle change too well, especially when it directly affected me....

...I wandered around the lake, over to what I now considered to be "my spot" and sat on the bench. I looked out over the water, and allowed myself to fully think about everything - to get completely lost in my thoughts. This time, however, I tried to do what Kayla had suggested, and compared all the various things that had happened at camp with the sermons that were being preached. I realized that there were a lot of similarities between the two. However, the things that I was feeling or thinking were the things that Kayla and Kyle had been advising against - the things that they said I should be giving up to God.

I just wished that I knew what it actually meant to do that! That was the problem - I really didn't understand what they were talking about. It was so easy for them, because they had always been that way, but for me, I'd never completely understood the whole "Christian lifestyle" thing. I'd never really gotten the heart behind it. So when they started talking about turning things over to God like it was as simple as telling your friend, I didn't get it. Was it really that easy? It must be, for everyone to be able to do it and talk about it, but would it be like that for me? I wasn't sure, but I was determined to find out. I decided, as I headed back up to camp, that during Bible study that night, nothing was going to keep me from paying attention. If God was trying to tell me something, I wanted to hear it...

...It was at this point in Kayla's message, I felt as if I had just been slapped. Not in a bad way, but it was like I had just been zapped straight in the heart with the realization of what she was talking about. I finally understood. In my mind, I was seeing and hearing all kinds of conversations that I'd had with kayla, Kyle, and Christian during the last few days. I remembered looking at Kayla and wondering how she could always forgive me and mean it, how she never held a grudge agains me and was always there when I needed her. I remembered wondering how on earth Kyle could possibly let Christian just get away with being so horribly, how he could just take it in stride. And I remembered what Christian had said about really listening to the Word and realizing how closely it kept applying to his immediate situations. It all made sense. It was God's love. In each situation, although they were all different, God's love came in and He helped work everything out. I couldn't believe that it had really been that simple all along. I focused back in on what Kayla was saying, not wanting to miss a word of it, and knowing that God had planned it just for me, even if Kayla hadn't...

..."No matter wehre you are in your life, in your Christian walk, or hey, even in your youth camp 'drama,' you're never out of reach when it comes to God's love. He meets you at your point of need...when you give your heart and your life to God, you enter into a relationship with Him that is tailor-made just for you, and no one can take that away"...

...That evening's events had made my heart too full, and I decided that all I wanted to do was spend more time alone with God...I made my way back down to my beloved lake spot, and knelt down beside the bench. I was crying once again, but no longer was I embarrassed by it, afraid that someone would catch me in a vulnerable moment. Instead, I was fully immersed in my emotions, completely caught up in the rebuilding that I could feel going on in my heart. I spend a long time knelt down like that...When I finally got up and made my way back up to my tent, I felt like a completely new person. I knew that, sure, I was going to have various struggles along the way, but for the first time in my life, I no longer felt like I was dealing with everything alone. That made me happier than I had ever felt in my life...

...Up at camp, we were told that we had the option of leaving our experiences there - putting them on a shelf and walking away - or taking them with us and letting them spill over into the rest of our lives. I did just that. I took those changes home and applied them to every area of my life, and the result has been more amazing that I ever could have imagined."


I'm sure we can all sit down and remember at least one defining moment in our life, where we made a decision that affected every other area of it, and hopefully they're good memories of great moments. I know that this is kind of a long entry, but I really wanted to share my heart with you, and as a writer, I do that by sharing my writing with you. There's something about sharing that which comes from the very depths of your soul that can make you the most vulnerable, and your message the most impacting, and that's what I hope I've done in my book and what I'll do with my blog. 

And now for the other plug. Starting first thing Monday morning our youth ministry, Circle Youth Ministries will be having our youth camp. This is going to be an amazing time, full of friends, fun, food, and most importantly, the Word of God, preached in a passionate and relevant way by the awesome Pastor Randy Goudeau. This year promises to be the best yet, and we're so excited to see what God is going to do. Most importantly, if you're a youth or young adult-aged person, we'd love for you to be there. If not, but you know someone who is, please get the message out. After experiencing so many camps over the years, and watching so many young people changed forever, I'd feel selfish if I didn't extend the invitation as far as I could. Think about it, pray about it, and most importantly, please be praying for us while we are up there, for open and willing hearts, and for God to move in a mighty way.

If this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of, let me know, or you can learn more about it yourself by clicking here

Also if you're interested, my book "Take It or Leave It" is for sale through a few websites, including amazon.com and Kingdom Keys books (which happens to be part of my awesome parents' company), as well as directly through me. If you want to purchase a copy, either for yourself or someone else, please let me know. In the spirit of camp, summer, fun, and simply wanting to get them out there, I'm currently offering them at $7 locally delivered/picked up, or $10 shipped.

Thank you for spending time with me today! I hope you enjoyed the glimpse of "Take It or Leave It" and I hope that you'll be praying for us this coming week, whether you're there with us or not. We expect to see great things, walking with confidence in the fact that we serve a great God.

Until next time, I'll still be laughing.

Crystle


Monday, July 16, 2012

Gotta love a Giveaway!!

I can't think of a single person I know that doesn't love winning awesome new things at giveaways, can you? So unless you fall into that category (in which case WHY THE HECK NOT?? lol) listen up, because I'm here to announce another great opportunity to win something!

My good friend Casey, over at K See Images is a very talented, up-and-coming local photographer and she is so very generously celebrating reaching 500 fans on her Facebook fan page by giving away a free mini-session! Valued at $50, this one-person, half-hour photo shoot can be done anywhere locally, and you even get some prints from it. Definitely an opportunity to be taken advantage of!

Even more fun, she asked me to team up with her on this giveaway and so along with the photo-shoot package the winner will also receive a custom-made Oli J Accessories hat of their choice, crocheted by yours truly. How fun is that? Like I said, an awesome chance to win awesome stuff!!! :)

Entering couldn't be simpler. If you are already a fan, simply like the status on her page that shows this picture:

You can get directly to that link by clicking on her business name above, or by clicking here . Just scroll down and in a few short seconds you'll have yourself the easiest entry ever!
{I should note, that while you're on there, you can go ahead and show us both some Facebook love by "liking" our pages if you already haven't! lol}

Want to see a sample of this sharp shooter's work? I have used her both personally, as well as professionally, so I'll throw in a few of both and you can see just how talented she really is! And remember, this giveaway closes tonight, so head on over and get in on the action!

Until next time,
Crystle :)

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

~As promised, here are some family photos as well as product photos that Casey has done for me. She is very versatile, and always excited to try new things - something very refreshing in a photographer! I hope you enjoy her work as much as we do!!~



Family Photos this spring. We told her we wanted a field/barn type of feel, and she found us the perfect place that was nearby and very child friendly!








And for some great product shots, I've used her again and again because she seems to find just what to do with anything I make!







As you can plainly see, she is very talented and going to go very far in this business! My favorite thing about her isn't her eye, it's her heart toward the people she's working with. Show her some love, get in on the giveaway, and maybe you'll find yourself booking her for your next event or family photo session!!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keep your chin up, and keep to your own plow!



"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)

I absolutely hate competition. I was not born with a competitive nature, and was completely run over by those who were for a good part of my life. My world exists of multiple realms in which there are fleshly opportunities for pride and competition to come into play. And, in the past, it has, and has nearly destroyed me internally. Pride (both in the form of having too much as well as having too little) so easily gets in the way of us doing our best at that which we're called to; it makes it difficult to remember why we're there, and Who we're there for.

Two things I know: regardless of what I choose to do in life, there will always be someone who does the same thing and thinks they're better than me, and there will always be someone who does the same thing and is better than me. The important thing is not to waste a lot of time being pointlessly discouraged because of confusing the two groups. Most of the time the they don't mix; most of the time the latter doesn't have time to remind someone of their inferiority, they're too busy simply doing what they do.

Have you experienced this before? The nagging, insulting, or condescension of people who seem to thrive on constantly reminding you that they're superior, even if they're not? Or have you been that person yourself to someone else? I have done both, and they proved to be equally miserable. My encouragement - both to you and to myself - is to simply get off that path, and get back to the "plowing" you have been called to do. Don't look back, don't look to the right or the left, but keep at it. (And sometimes turning off your computer, and having a blindfold or pair of ear plugs can be handy in this!) ;)

Regardless of what it is you've been called to do, if you're working wholeheartedly and ultimately for the Lord, He will sustain you, with vision and energy to do the work, and success and good fruit as a result. And remember, success comes in many different forms, so don't ever think that because you may not be the "best" at what you do, that you're invaluable, or inferior to someone else. If you're being obedient to the call, there is no higher level you can achieve, and no one can restrain the blessing of God that will come to fruition accordingly. Ability is nothing when we have an all-powerful God on our side!

This isn't meant to be some long, fancy soap-box message, just an encouraging reminder (that I needed myself!) to anyone out there struggling with discouragement that they feel is unavoidable and/or inescapable. I hope it helps. 

"The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give." - Howard Cosell

I will add to that only to say that make sure He is getting the best and most of what you have to give. :)

Be blessed and encouraged today, and let me know your thoughts, quotes, or verses that have helped you fight discouragement, past or present.

Until then, I'll still be laughing. :)
Crystle


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Less of me, now I can see!

"This is what the Lord says: "You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me. I will be found by you," says the Lord. "I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land." Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NLT)

Wow. That is quite the message to God's people, and one we should never forget. I know that often (and maybe too often if it begins to lose its meaning) we hear verse 11, where God states clearly that He has plans for us and that they are good, but how often do we really study the whole context of the promise? My pastor would be happy to know that being in bible college has totally ruined me on that one, I have to admit. I can't just take a verse out of context because it sounds good, I have to know what surrounds it in order to feel like I know if it applies or not. And this one, in its entirety, does.

When I sat down this morning (HOURS AGO, thank you very much daughters!) to write this entry, I was halfway done with a completely different one and knew I had to put the pen down. It was too much of me talking, and when "me" gets too involved, "me" messes it up! So I walked away, worked on some preparations for dinner, ate some lunch, and spent a couple hours convincing the girls it really was, in fact, nap time! {bless their hearts...} Now here I am, back at the drawing board, and feeling led to summarize so much, and expound on something else.

What really struck me about this passage while studying it and praying about it this morning wasn't actually the part of God promising to give us a future and a hope, although that of course is a key exhortation to remember always. The part that stuck out to me was the fact that, in reality, the captivity, trials, and tribulations that the people had and would go through were also a part of the plan! God wasn't saying that they'd get off easy, He was simply promising that He would bring them out of it, and when He did, He would bring total restoration to their lives. That is one beautiful promise!!!

This year, for my family, has been a lot about learning firsthand that very lesson. The year started off pretty rocky, with a very unexpected, nasty, personal attack from a family member, to some of the hardest financial times my husband and I have faced as a family and no apparent light at the end of that tunnel, to the heart-wrenching battle against disease being fought (like a champ!) by my father. It has, in fact, felt an awful lot like captivity - no escape, no respite, no healing, no air, and (if I'm being honest) at times, total abandonment.

It can be so easy during seasons like these to miss God's hand in it all, but it is in fact still there! God promised never to leave us, and He never does. Yes, we walk through fires, but He's right there beside us, and He certainly has been for my family. Upon realizing this, I also realized it was time for a  MAJOR perspective shift - rather than focusing on the trials themselves, I needed to close my eyes, and reopen them from His point of view, paying attention to the underlying growth, blessings, and answered prayers that were occurring simultaneously. Doing this shocked me to attention.

Why do we always trick ourselves into thinking we've figured out what He's got going on? lol Honestly, it's like one of Israel's cycles in Judges - so easy to fall back into even after you've already come out of it over and over again. Once I got my vision corrected, this is what I actually saw go on this year: we've been blessed with a (currently growing) third child, due to make her appearance this fall. My family has grown closer, and if anything, stronger in the Lord during the health battle with my dad. If there was ever a time where we have been given an opportunity to "put our money where our mouth is," "practice what we preach," or "be known by our fruit," now is it, and here we are, doing just that. Standing in faith for the total restoration we feel God has spoken and promised. Easy? No. But are we doing it in our own strength? Also no, which means we fight on in prayer and deed, knowing that the battle belongs to the Lord. 

Other things that have happened just when it seemed there was no escape - I quit my job and am now fully functioning (or learning to!) in the role of wife and mother that I have been called to and always wanted to be in, and after that step of faith, my husband got the job we'd been praying for since I can remember. One that covers all the bills, that "justifies" for the doubters the decision we made to bring me home. One that actually inspires him with a future and doesn't just leave him depressed and exhausted when he comes home from work every night. One that brings a lot of peace to him, and consequently, to our family. To wrap it up (and it's only July), we were also blessed within hours of him getting the job, with a house - the perfect size, location, setup, price, everything we'd been praying for!

Captivity over! It is a humbling realization when you see that no one is still captive but you - and then it's not by your actual circumstances but rather your own fleshly thoughts. Big ouch to the ego, but like I said "me" needs to be kept in line, maybe even locked away in a dungeon! Putting my pride aside, I was overwhelmed with the goodness of our God, with all the things that He has blessed, and is blessing us, with. We felt at the beginning of the year like it was going to be a big one. Walked on into 2012 with the confidence and anticipation of a professional athlete at the start of their season. And then it seemed like we were going to end with nothing but shut-outs, and that's not the case at all! The year is only half over, and already we have an incredible testimony of what the Lord has done for us. That is something to rejoice over, that is the beautiful promise of God being fulfilled right before our eyes!

The beautiful truth about our awesome God is that He never quits. (Even when we try to.) He is ever present in our lives, all knowing as to what is going on, and powerful enough to bring us through to victory. Hebrews 10:23 says it perfectly: "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise."

Don't ever let go of the dreams or promises God has given you, just remember that His timeline is a lot bigger than ours, and He can multitask better than we could ever dream of doing! If you feel yourself struggling, ask Him for a fresh perspective and new vision. See things from His point of view and realize that even in the most painful of circumstances, He is sustaining us, loving us, and helping us, like the amazing Father He is.

I hope you find this encouraging, and I'd love to hear how He has blessed you! 

Until then, I'll still be laughing. :)
Crystle

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Introduction

Hello and welcome to my little world!

I'm very nervous and excited to start this blog! It's something I've felt like I was supposed to do for a while now but kept putting it off with the good old "I just don't have the time" excuse. (Justifiable somewhat considering I just became a stay-at-home mom of a 2 1/2 year old and nearly 4 year old and I'm pregnant with #3, but an excuse just the same.) Funny, isn't it, that the things we know we should be doing seem to wind up the easiest to put off until another day. And me - being a writer practically since I learned how to put a pen to paper - this should be like breathing to me. And yet it is not.

Yesterday I finally got myself in gear. Sort of. I got everything set up and then decided once again to put off writing my first "official" blog entry. Later, however, while I was reading my Bible, I heard that wonderful still small Voice say to me, "Yes, but since when has time kept you from doing anything else?" And through my mind flashed the realization that so many other wonderful accomplishments in my life have taken place at a time when it seemed completely impractical almost to the point of impossible. I finished my first book when my oldest daughter was 7 months old; I completed my Associates in bible college when my younger daughter was 4 months old; the list could go on, but really, why should it? I think you see, as I did, that "not having the time" seems almost to be that catalyst that sends me into 'go mode' and helps me accomplish those things I set out to do. (It must be the former journalist in me.)

And so here I am, taking this first major step and putting myself out there. I don't know a whole lot about the blogging world, but I'm excited and ready to learn. I have a heart and mind full of things I'd love to write about, but while I get them sorted and better suited to post I'll just tell you a little about myself and my heart for this blog.

My world: my husband Andrew, daughter Olivia (almost 4), and daughter Cecilia (2)

My name is Crystle. I've been married to my wonderful husband Andrew for nearly 7 years. We have two beautiful daughters, Olivia Jane and Cecilia Grace, as well as another little girl, Micah Elizabeth, due this October. I have an amazing family and I'm incredibly thankful for the life we've been blessed with. We've already had our share of trials, but God is so faithful and has brought us through each and every one, stronger and more closely bonded to each other and to Him in the end. That very thing is what inspired the name for my blog, Laughing at My Future.

A while back, we were going through what felt like a never-ending dark time. It seemed like the tapestry of our life was being unravelled from every possible angle, and it was nearly suffocating. One evening after church, I spent some time counseling with my pastor's wife (a spiritual mother to me for basically my entire life). Finally being vulnerable to someone, I let myself go, crying and admitting how difficult it had become to hold my head high and not feel like a failure. It was becoming crippling and I couldn't stand how it affected me, especially as a wife and mother. She cried and prayed with me, taking time to remind me of the faithfulness of our God, even of the times He had already proven Himself present in our lives during this particular time of trial, and brought me to some Scriptures to lean on when I felt like giving in. One of those was Proverbs 31:25. The New Living Translation says this: "She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future." She pointed out that the most important thing I needed do is to relocate my joy, for in that would be strength to press on without fear of what might or even would happen in the future. 

That was about a year and a half ago, and it has changed my perspective on everything - the approach I took to walking through the struggles we were in at the time, as well as the filter through which I have processed everything that has come at me since then, even up to now. I spent (and sometimes still spend) a lot of time crying, at the feet of my Savior, trying to earnestly learn to walk in confidence that He is my Source. For everything, GOD IS MY SOURCE!!! And in the re-realization of that, I rediscovered not just happiness, but true joy. The same wondrous heart and mindset that Paul describes in Philippians 4, when he exhorts the church about rejoicing in the Lord, not worrying about anything, but praying about everything with a thankful heart and the peace that comes as a result. 

This has become a vital, central truth in my life, something that I remind myself of multiple times a day. It is the reason that generally when you see me I have a smile on my face, and it is genuine. It is the heart message that I would love to pass along to whoever reads my blog - that through it all, we learn to laugh in the good and bad, in times now as well as to come. Maybe that laughter is mingled with tears, the important thing is that it's there just the same. I also aim to bring humor along with hope. I am who I am, and I finally don't mind sharing who that is with the world, because it's what I've been called to do. I'd love to inspire you to both find and walk in that same kind of joy and confidence in your own life.

I don't plan on this blog necessarily being a "preaching platform," I just feel like God has placed it on my heart to share what I know, love, and learn with others, and to do it in my own communicative style. (Which means I plan on cracking some jokes, people, so get ready!) Once again I invite you to share this journey with me, and I'm excited to see where it takes us. 

Until then, I'll still be laughing. :)
Crystle