It's The Free Things...

This is one roadside-yes, roadside- find that was worth blogging about.  As many of you know, there are many aspects of becoming a first time parent that can be tedious, time-consuming, and even stressful.  For me, one of those things has been finding the little pieces of furniture needed for the nursery.  I am not really one for decorating, but I have been looking for a change-table/dresser that matches the rest of the furniture in the room (namely, the bookshelf, crib, and desk).  Even if I don't do much decorating, at least the colours will look uniform.  I have looked on Kijiji numerous times, but haven't found much. 

Jake and I were out for a walk tonight, and for some reason I chose a different route.  We take this route maybe once every two or three weeks, so I know it was God-ordained from the start.  We had walked barely 5 minutes when I spotted the dresser on the side of the road.  It's garbage day tomorrow, and people put out all sorts of treasures.  I couldn't believe it.  The dresser was the perfect height, the perfect colour, and even has some beautifully designed drawers!

I felt like crying a little bit.  I'm sure these people could have sold it on Kijiji for a good $60.  God knows what our hearts desire, and this was surely above and beyond what my heart had been desiring.  I'm so thankful to him for his blessing in even these free things, the small things.      
 I can't wait to fill it with baby clothes and diapers.



Post Wedding Weekend...

 This weekend we had a chance to go to our friend Mike's wedding.  We drove with Jake's brother Josh to the Port Elgin area, which is about a 1 1/2 to 2 hours drive away.  I'm so happy we could be there to celebrate with Mike and Hannah on their special day.  Needless to say, we were exhausted after a delicious turkey meal, an energetic dance, and a squishy car ride home.  Since Jake and I had met up with Josh at their parents' house, we decided to crash there last night.  We enjoyed a luxuriously relaxing Sunday morning with Jake's fam, happy to take it easy after the busy weekend.  Here are some of the pictures taken at the bride's parent's gorgeous country home.  Enjoy!

Jake and Josh

Us with the groom, Mike.  Congrats!


Spiritual Disciplines: Study

I've noticed that my readership has taken a downward spiral since starting these posts about the spiritual disciplines. I can't change that, but I'm grateful for those of you who stick with me even in the tedious moments when I need to flesh out my thoughts and dialogues on the Christian walk.

The chapter on study in Celebration of Discipline was highly practical, especially the list of some classic Christian literature that should accompany our regular reading of Scripture. I confess, some of those books haven't even made it on my to-read list. I'm more of a fiction girl myself, but I pride myself on reading a wide variety of literature. I should probably give them another chance. Here are today's points from the chapter:

Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free ~John 8:32

Freedom is an amazing aspect of our lives in Christ. Let's be encouraged by His words!

WHAT we study determines the kind of habits that are formed.

We know that the things we read about and study circulate in our minds. If I consistently read about the unrest in Egypt, that's going to be heavy on my heart. In the same vein, we need to focus our study about God so that we can form habits that are life-changing.

We [often] give a critical analysis of a book before we understand what it says.

In this statement, Richard Foster is just encouraging us to read a book with the simultaneous actions of a.) understanding what the author is saying b.)interpreting what the author means and c.) evaluating if the author is right or wrong. I have often been found guilty of judging a book 'by it's cover', if you will. The discipline of study requires us to go a little bit deeper into the text to glean extra meaning.

To read successfully, we need the extrinsic aids of experience, other books, and live discussions.

Just as we cannot do life solo, Foster intimates that we cannot read a book without supplementing to enrich the experience.

God desires various "tarrying" places for all of us where he can teach us in special ways.

Using the example of Paul's vision of clean and unclean things in the book of Acts, Foster suggests that God may not have been able to speak to him had he not been delayed there. It's important that we deliberately tarry, or open up space in our busy lives so that the Lord can grow us.

The key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books, but experiencing what we do read.

When my sister and I were growing up, we always kept a list of the books we read. Melissa was very detailed in her notes, even going so far as to write down the pages for each book. We became very competitive, but it was never a surprise that she read way more than me. Her secret? Drown out the distractions and lose yourself in the story. I was so focused on the goal to read more and more that I forgot to experience the story in all its fullness. Perhaps if I focused less on the task and more on the meaning I would gain more from my study.

One of the principal objects of our study should be ourselves.

We don't just study to gain insight into spiritual matters, but also to gain insight into personal matters. When we study ourselves, what makes us tick, why we see things the way we do, we should be changed people.



Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting

Since it is recommended that expectant mothers abstain from fasting, I haven't fasted in a while. My past experiences with fasting have always been met with mixed feelings. I understand the spiritual act very well, but it doesn't always feel spiritual in the moment. The other difficult thing is trying to avoid constant thoughts about food.

Fasting has many purposes, such as effectiveness in intercessory prayer, guidance in decisions, increased concentration, deliverance for those in bondage, physical well-being, revelations, and more. Here are a couple that I want to dig into a little deeper:

Fasting must forever center on God.

Becoming closer to God must be the reason we fast in the first place. If God is not the central focus of our fasting period, then it is all for naught.

Fasting reveals the things that control us.

This one was particularly telling for me. I often let things control me- my emotions, other people's expectations, and even my pride. It would be interesting to see my response to fasting were I to do it again some time soon. Some people see their anger rise quickly when they fast, which allows them to ask God to deal with it in that moment.

Fasting helps us keep our balance in life.

Creating the space for balance is so important. I get so distracted with the trivialities of life, and fasting is a good way for me to focus on those things that matter.

In his book, Foster talked about various types of fasts. Firstly, there is a partial fast. He recommends going from lunch to lunch, so you only skip two meals and drink only water and juice. Secondly, there is a 24-hour fast, which involves fasting for a full 24 hours (skipping three meals) and drinking only water. He suggests that the fasting muscle, like so many of the disciplines, needs to be built up and trained. Once you have become used to the 24-hour fast, he advises to move up to a 36-hour fast, and then gives practical advice for how to do a 3-7 day fast, and then up to 21 and even 40 days.

Let's look at some of the statements that stood out to me in this chapter:

Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes.

This is crucial to remember, since health and fitness media most often focus on fasting for weight loss purposes. Fasting as a spiritual discipline is not the time to try to lose those final 5 pounds you can't seem to shake.

It is clear...that Christ both upheld the Discipline of fasting and anticipated that his followers would do it.

Whatever your thoughts are about fasting, Foster points out that Christ never actually commands His followers to fast. However, He does say, " 'When you fast...do this' ". He expected that his disciples would do and do it regularly. We can also see, from various examples in the Bible, that there are definite spiritual benefits to fasting.

Perhaps in our affluent society fasting involves a far larger sacrifice than the giving of money.

This one hits pretty close to home, doesn't it? For some of us, giving money can be pretty easy. In my case, $39 automatically comes out of our account every month for our sponsor child, but I don't consciously think about it. Some months that money could come in handy somewhere else, yet the sacrifice is a drop in the bucket. Fasting, however, is something we can barely stand to imagine, and thoughts like, oh-my-gosh-how-can-I-go-without-food-for-a-day?!! circle 'round and 'round in our heads. We are constantly bombarded with health magazines, fast food ads, and surrounded by so much food and drink that it almost becomes physically impossible to fast in our society. We have so much, and yet we are often unwilling to give it up for even a day to become closer to God.



Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer

I am always wanting to improve my prayer life, but have found this aspect of Christian spirituality to be incredibly elusive.  I so admire those prayer warriors I know who, when they say they'll be praying for me, actually do bring my requests before the Lord.  Recently I have made a task list on my phone so when someone asks for prayer I immediately enter it there before I forget.  Then I pray for them right on the spot.  Whenever I add a new prayer, I see the old ones there and remember to pray for them too.  So far, it's a great system.  

Reading the chapter on prayer in Celebration of Discipline, Foster leads me to a greater depth of understanding in intercessory prayer.

Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.

Crucial to the life of a growing Christian, daily transformation into the likeness of Christ must take precedence. Knowing this, prayer must be an essential aspect of my daily life.

The Bible pray-ers prayed as if their prayers could and would make an objective difference.

Do I believe this? Are my seemingly lackluster prayers as effective as those Bible pray-ers? Foster says that prayer is an exercise in which we will grow stronger the more we do it. Even if I feel weak in this discipline now doesn't mean my prayers don't reach the ears of the Father.

To understand that the work of prayer involves a learning process saves us from arrogantly dismissing it as false or unreal.

Learning can be painful. I just look at my ESL students and feel their humility and self-doubt as acutely as if I myself were in their place. How can we be arrogant in prayer when the learning process so blatantly brings us to our knees before the throne? We can know the work and power of prayer is real, since we feel the work of the Holy Spirit wash over us in those communion moments.

Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God's prior initiative on the heart.

I really liked this statement. Like, a lot. Just think about that reflex action. Imagine you are at your yearly physical check-up and the doctor taps your knee. You barely miss him with your kick, your reflexive action. Now, imagine God is that doctor, and he's been tapping on your heart, prodding you to pray for so-and-so. All of a sudden your spirit kicks into action and, before you know it, you start interceding for that person. That's some neat imagery to consider, isn't it?

We must never wait until we feel like praying before we pray for others

This is what trips me up. Every time. Just like exercise, I often need to give myself a little nudge to get out there and just do it.

Let's encourage one another to 
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18



Spiritual Disciplines: Meditation...

I finished the chapter on meditation in the book. Isn't it so difficult to just be still and open ourselves up to the voice of God? It is for me, at least. Foster encouraged his inexperienced readers to make meditation a regular part of the day. He said having that scheduled time helps us to practice and grow that meditative muscle. Because there may be some confusion between yogic meditation and Christian meditation, here are some [hopefully] clarifying statements from the book:

Continual focus upon obedience and faithfulness most clearly distinguishes Christian meditation from Eastern and secular

Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.

Foster reminds us that meditation is not only for those ascetic or very experienced Christians. Every Christian should meditate on God's Word. Here's why:

[Meditation] boldly calls us to enter into the living presence of God ourselves.

During meditation, we create the emotional/spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart .

Meditation can be a comfort to the Christian for many reasons. Foster suggests taking one piece of Scripture and focusing on only that for one entire week. We can then become closer to the text, feeling, tasting, touching, seeing, hearing God's word in HD, if you will.

I will leave you with a final quote from Foster to hopefully encourage you towards godly meditation:

The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God.



Spiritual Disciplines...

I started re-reading Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster.  This was one of our assigned texts at Bible college, and it's been a long time since I've gone through it. I have been craving spiritual growth and maturity in Christ; I knew that it was time to get back into the disciplines of our faith.  As I was reading yesterday, I tweeted some of the sentences that stood out to me: 

Superficiality is the curse of our age....The desperate need today is for deep people.

Willpower will never succeed in dealing with the deepest ingrained habits of sin.

The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.

This is pretty powerful stuff. It's a blessing to have resources that come alongside God's Word and guide us into a deeper understanding.  As I read through the book, I would like to share my thoughts regarding the various disciplines. I'm praying that I will grow closer to God through the practice of each discipline. I hope you will benefit from it, too.

Love, Ashleigh


Happiness Is...

Day 14: Ten things that make you really happy

1. Chocolate

2. Jake
3. My bed i.e. the pillows that make it more comfortable to sleep
4. A good, danceable song
5. Visiting with family
6. Time spent reading an engaging book
7. Walking outdoors, usually on a trail
8. Thinking about my growing baby
9. Being surprised
10. Traveling overseas