Saturday, October 30, 2010

Practical Practicalness from Mrs. Practicality

Haha! I KNOW that "practicalness" is not really a word...but it just had a ring to it...

Seriously, though, I have been thinking about a handful of practical tips that have made such a difference in my home. I decided to break away from the normal perspective-shifting diatribe and venture into the land of all things domestic! So, here are my 5 all-time best "practical tips":

1. White vinegar, baking soda and tea tree oil can clean pretty much everything in your home.

I use white vinegar to mop my laminate and tile floors, run it through my dishwasher on occasion and have used it to soften calcium build-up in my bathtub and shower. Baking soda has removed many a foul stench from my home and car - it can even soak up vomit and remove the smell! Tea tree oil, although more expensive than vinegar or baking soda, is a very effective cleaner and also has topical medicinal benefits. I have used it several times to help deep bruises disappear - it's amazing! Aaaaaaaand...all three substances are safe and nontoxic alternatives to chemical cleaners. Click the highlighted words to find out more...

2. Probiotics.

After my son had his second ear infection as an infant, I decided to get down and dirty with the war against germs and bacteria. I marched myself into the health food store and asked what I should do...and came home with a few wonderful products that have made all the difference in my children's health. One of which is powdered probiotics. There are several brands, and different strengths/doses for children and adults. I just put 1/4 tsp. of the powder into my son's milk every morning and he hasn't had a significant cough or cold in at least two years! It is always wise to get advice from health professionals when introducing something new into your diet or your children's diets, but I HIGHLY recommend probiotics to keep everyone healthy. (this is the one I use)

3. Establish a "per-meal price" when meal-planning.

As you get a grasp on feeding your family, regardless of the number of mouths, it helps to set a cap on what you can or want to spend per meal. As I plan our family's meals and make my grocery list, I try to make sure the average price of each dinner is at $5. Doesn't sound like much, I know. But a little creativity and humility can make all the difference in the bottom line of the grocery money. A few nights a week, we will eat for SUPER cheap: rice and beans, spaghetti, pancakes and eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. Those meals for my family of four (actually three, since Graham doesn't eat) cost us $2 or $3. Then, I can choose a couple of meals that are the highlights: steak and baked potatoes with a yummy salad, or fish and fancy veggies, etc. You will have to adjust the per-meal amount for your own family, but I think it is a great way to get a handle on what you spend and the meals you plan.

4. Set achievable goals and offer rewards.

You can do this for your children and even for yourself and your spouse. Have specific things laid out to accomplish - whether it be daily responsibilities or specific projects - and designate an appropriate reward when that task has been completed. Both of my children, ages 6 and 3, respond extremely well to "putting stickers on their charts" when they have done what I asked them to do. Once they fill up a certain amount, they get the carrot I have been dangling in front of them as motivation. My daughter has a couple of expensive toys on her most-wanted list, so when she reaches 100 stickers for doing homework with a good attitude, I will probably be taking her to the American Girl Store... If you need motivation to get something done, set a time limit and decide what you will give yourself as a reward - it could be anything! A Dr. Pepper, extra time to yourself, a new pair of earrings, a nap. (A nap is GOLD in my book!) Rewards are the spoonfuls of sugar that help the medicine go down!

5. Pray first.

This is my trump card. Before you pick up the phone to call your mom, your best friend or your husband to tell them what just happened, pray. As you are trying to figure out how to get your baby to stop crying and go back to sleep, pray. When you have taken a serious emotional hit, pray. When you need to make a decision, pray. When you want to buy something, pray. When you are overjoyed, pray. When you have won, pray. When you have lost, pray. You see, prayer is not some religious ritual that must be checked off your list. Prayer is your lifeline to God. It is conversing with Him, connecting with Him and hearing Him. His voice is the most important one to speak into your life. His thoughts about you are the thoughts that matter most. He has all the answers and He loves you so much more than you can even imagine. He is just waiting for you to pick up the other end of the line. This is the most practical thing I could ever pass on to anyone.

And there it is, folks. The Fab Five. Take 'em or leave 'em, but I pray you are blessed going in and blessed going out...and that everything you set your hands to will prosper!

Monday, October 11, 2010


If you have been in church for a while, I'm almost sure you have heard the phrase, "guard your heart." It is a good phrase. It is in the Bible. But, for some reason, we nod at it and agree mentally while having no understanding (revelation) of how to actually do it. We assume that guarding our hearts means building up a wall around our emotions and not letting anyone proceed past a certain point. Or, we assume that the wall must keep our own emotions tucked safely inside so we can't reach out too far and get hurt.

Guarding your heart is much more than constructing a fortress. Guarding your heart is stewarding the place where life springs up in you. Proverbs 4:23 is the famous verse on the subject - read it in a few different versions:

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (NIV)

"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." (NKJV)

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (NLT)

"Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." (Amplified)

"Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts." (MSG)

God puts great emphasis on your heart. The core of who you are. When you make the decision to follow Jesus or when you have a salvation encounter with Him, we say that you are "giving Him your heart" - that He comes to "live in your heart." The Scripture equates our beings to the Temple - instead of a Temple made of stone and wood, we are living, breathing Temples where the Holy Spirit dwells - the Holy of Holies being in our hearts. Your heart is the most sacred place, the innermost "room" where you meet with Holy God. Pretty amazing.

I just read Waking the Dead by John Eldredge - a MUST READ - and he discusses a whole lot about the heart. He points out that we have believed so many lies from the enemy about who we are - foundationally, that our hearts are bad. We tend to mentally believe that yes, we have been saved from our sins, but we struggle every day with ourselves because we must curb our bad behavior because we are bad people. Our tendencies are bad, our responses are bad, our thoughts are bad...yadda, yadda, yadda. Newsflash: those are lies.

When you have a transforming encounter with God where you give Him your heart, He permanently removes the old one and replaces it with a perfect one. He cleanses you with Jesus' blood. He comes to live inside you IN YOUR HEART. You are a new creation - not the same person as when you woke up that morning. God talks about this heart exchange in Scripture:

"...I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 11:19b

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

Basically, what John Eldredge takes several chapters to unravel is that, once you have given your heart to God, your heart is good. God changes you, transforms you and gives you a "heart transplant" so that you are no longer sinful in your core. You are living out of a spring of GOODness that God placed in you. Good things coming out of a good heart is your new normal. That sheds a completely different light on things, wouldn't you say? And that gives us all the more reason to guard it.

So, with all that foundation laid, how the heck do we do this heart-guarding business?! Well, I learned something new from Pastor Lynda Grove a while back when she was talking on this subject. She took us to Song of Solomon chapter 2, where the Lover (Jesus) calls to his beloved (you) to come meet him in the vineyard/garden. And then he says this: "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom." (S. of S. 2:15) Your heart - your intimate meeting place with God - is likened to a garden or a vineyard. And Jesus calls you to come and meet Him there. He is the Lover of your soul and he yearns to be with you. The meeting place is important. He can't truly have all your attention and affection if you are distracted by your surroundings. So, He gave instruction to "catch the little foxes...that ruin the vineyards..." so that your meeting would be unhindered. A vineyard back then would have had a fence around it to keep most animals out, but the little ones...those are the sneaky little buggers who caused trouble. What did the vineyard owners to do about the little foxes, then? They tied a string of little clay pots together and hung them at the end of each row. When the wind blew, the pots would clank together and scare away any animal who was able to sneak in. The pots made a loud noise and frightened away the enemy.

That rings of something spiritual... For most of us, we're not battling big giants on a daily basis. We're battling the little, pesky problems that seem to come in and wreck everything. Annoying family members, money issues, lack of sleep, potty training.... So how do we chase those things out of our hearts? Clank some clay pots together - or, rather, do some praising! Clap your hands! Stomp your feet! Shout, sing, dance and praise your God! Praise will scatter your enemies - and no little "foxes" can stay around because they are SCARED!

There have been many, MANY times when it seemed like I was banging my head against the proverbial wall, and I had to drop everything to purposefully praise God. My kids would be screaming, my bank account would be overdrawn, my mind would be in chaos, but I knew that if I could begin to praise God that He could bring order to my world. You see, when you praise Him, He comes to sit down with you. Your Big God shows up in His glory - and sketchy little things can't stay in the room with that.

Here's the tricky part: once you're in the heat of the battle and you feel like the stinkin' little foxes are attacking from every side, you're not going to feel like opening your mouth to praise. No, not one little bit. But you need to shove your feelings aside and do it anyway. Would you rather continue in the torture? Just force out SOMETHING to declare His praises - and you'll find that the vice-grip around your neck loosens just a bit. So, then you take a deep breath and shout out or sing out your praises! And pretty soon, you'll find that you're face to face with sweet Daddy God and everything else has melted away.

Guard that precious heart of yours - the new heart that God have you in exchange for the old one. Guard it fiercely with praises to the King. As long as you are declaring His goodness, faithfulness, beauty, grace, and so much more, little creepers can't find a place to get any good bites!

So, my friends, let's SING! SING! SING! Again, with the Chris Tomlin, I know! :)