Monday, March 25, 2013

Craving Grace Like Chocolate by Ruthie Delk (Review)

I love chocolate.  A decent piece of the dark stuff can lift my spirits like no other food.  Craving Grace Like Chocolate: How the Gospel Changes Everything might seem like an odd name for a book, but it gets the point across.  Fortunately, God's grace is a whole lot healthier for you than chocolate!  And, as the subtitle suggests, it's also a whole lot more life-altering.

I've been a Christian believer for nearly 37 years.  You would think that by now I would always be rock solid in my faith.  I am not.  Like so many of you, I've experienced multiple painful crises in my faith journey. But I keep going.  

I recently found myself in a workshop by author Ruthie Delk at the Books and Beyond conference, listening again to the basics of grace, and thankful for the fresh reminder.  Ruthie, too, had a deep crisis of faith.  Raised as a missionary kid in Belgium, she was an expert in keeping pace on a spiritual treadmill.  Then, while her husband David was in seminary (of all places!), she came to the point of spiritual exhaustion and questioning. 
"I believed the gospel had the power to change people; it just wasn't changing me.  And I was miserable.  This disconnect showed up in questions like these:
My head was filled with brilliant knowledge about all the wonderful attributes of God, but my heart was not convinced He even knew my name."
If I believed His love was unconditional, why did I feel loved on the days I "got it right" and feel abandoned on the days I "got it wrong"?   If I really believed He was in control, why was I so fearful?  If I really believed He was with me, why did I feel so alone?  If I really believe His grace saved and forgave me, why couldn't I extend that same grace to others?
My head was filled with brilliant knowledge about all the wonderful attributes of God, but my heart was not convinced he even knew my name."
Ruthie shares that her simplistic view of the gospel as a mere entryway into salvation needed to deepen into an expanded perspective of God's holiness, love, and grace.  She had viewed herself as an orphan rather than as a beloved daughter of a compassionate Father.  Now, the gospel became not just a doorway, but a pathway.
It is every promise, every fact, every attribute of God, and everything we need to know, understand, and experience about God and his grace.  As described in Ephesians 1, the gospel encompasses every spiritual blessing we have in Christ.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and Ruthie has developed a wonderful diagram called The Gospel 8 to show how Christians can either walk in grace and restoration (convinced that God is our Redeemer, Healer, Defender, Provider and more) or descend into a cycle of despair (defined by rejection, abuse, bitterness, fear and anger) as they look to false gods like work, money, family, approval and performance for their security and satisfaction.

You can watch videos of Ruthie describing the Gospel 8 concept here.

A few more factoids to round out this review:

I recommend this book!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, March 22, 2013

Decorating and Organizing Bathroom Areas on a Budget

Dear friends,

Creating a post about bathrooms seems trivial compared to a lot of more important things I could be writing.  I have a whole list of posts I want to do!  But this morning, the bathroom. Why?  Because it's such a practical place, and finding new ways to make it work can bring more shalom and beauty to your day.  Besides, as you'll see, there is a little bit of a social justice theme in this post anyway.

I'm on a pretty tight budget, so a fancy bathroom redo is not in my near future.  But there are always little things we can do to perk it up and organize it more effectively.

Here's a little tour of my master bath area and then two pictures from our hall bath.

I use a full size garden flag for my bathroom curtain.  It lets the light through beautifully, while providing enough privacy.  It's also moisture resistant.  There are mini-blinds behind it, as well as a Renuzit air freshener bought for a dollar at Walmart.

My bathroom walls are painted peach, and I've certainly got a springtime theme going on in there.  My mother made these two small stained glass pieces, choosing the camellia and magnolia because they grow in our back yard.

I just installed this wall hook to hold my clothes while I'm the shower.   (I don't like setting them on the small sink counter or trying to hang them over the towel bar.) This hook is extra sturdy, and cost about $3 at Walmart.

The back of the sink can get really cluttered and cruddy if too much stuff is stored there.  I left out just the basics. I put a bunch of the stuff up in the medicine cabinet, like our deodorants and my husband's shaving cream can that kept leaving a rust ring on the counter anyway.   You can read about how I organize the medicine cabinets in our house here: Organizing First Aid Supplies, Medicines and Supplements.

I just gave up using a traditional toothbrush / toothpaste holder because I could never fit the folded end of the toothpaste tube in the hole they provide.  I bought this cheery flowerpot at Deals for $1.  I like the combination of colors on the three items I left out.  And I love the lever style sink handle.  I can turn the sink on with the back of my wrist if my hands have germs on them.

Under the sink, I store sanitary supplies and cleaning items in bins, along with a container of peroxide.  We keep a bucket underneath the sink pipes to catch any possible leaks.

We salvaged the cabinet above from a neighbor who was moving. I replaced the existing handles with decorative knobs from Walmart.

The metal toilet paper roll rack is another new addition. It holds four rolls, and it's easier to get to than the cabinet if you're sitting on the toilet and realize there is none left on the current roll. :-) I bought it for around $7. We buy our toilet paper in bulk at Sam's Club. Each roll is individually wrapped.  I think that is so much more sanitary!

Our house is about forty years old, and we've lived here about half that time. We finally had to replace the shower door several years ago. My smart husband decided to hang a shower curtain on the inside of the shower door to keep the water off it. It keeps it so much cleaner, and will certainly extend the life of the door. He can easily take the curtain down for cleaning, or replace it cheaply.

My husband just bought this shower rack for me.  We used to keep the shampoo bottles in a bin on the shower floor, but I prefer this!  I used a little white duct tape to keep it snugger against the wall.

We also store big bottles on the towel bar at the other end of the shower.  A narrow little basket (which rests on the bar) and a suction cup caddy hold smaller items like razors or tiny bottles that would otherwise fall down.

We had a ceramic soap dish that hung from a bracket that was bolted to the wall.  Unfortunately, it fell down and cut my ankle up.  I replaced it with this suction cup soap dish, $1 at Deals.

We have periodic plumbing problems, and the toilet has been known to overflow into the adjacent dressing area.  We had to rip the carpet out and replace the whole floor in that area with ceramic tile, which I love.  That's a good thing, since we just had another bad backup a week or so ago.  So easy to clean!

Speaking of plumbing problems, we also had a leak in our shower behind the wall a while back.  My husband had to cut the drywall in our dressing area to get to it.  That left two damaged areas of drywall.  Until recently, the top one was covered with a tapestry, and the bottom one was just there for all to see.  During my little bathroom redo, I decided to do something about it.  I moved the Success poster from over my desk. (You'll see in a minute why I needed to do that.)  Then, to cover the smaller hole, I bought a sturdy basket (wire frame reinforced) to hold my hair dryer.  I found it for $5 at Walmart.  The ceramic bells to the right were a gift from my husband when we were dating; they are from his trip to Venezuela.  You might see the edge of a set of white ceramic birds at the left.  One of my daughters bought them on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. 

Two other sets of South American bells -- these from Bolivia -- were gifts brought back from mission trips by another two daughters.  They hang from the top of the mirror.  

The rack below (also seen above) is a very recent gift from a daughter who ordered it from Ten Thousand Villages, a partner of the Mennonite Central Committee.  It was created by Cooperative le Semilla de Dios (the seed of God) in El Salvador.  The stories of these two fair trade charitable organizations are fascinating, so be sure to click those links and check out their beautiful gift items that benefit the local economies in Third World communities!  Did you notice the theme of social justice in Latin America for my dressing area?  Yeah, that just all came together nicely.  You can't read the poem on that Success poster two pictures up but the last lines are, "To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success." You can read the rest at A Desk for Mom.

Also in this dressing area, on the floor underneath the counter, are a large basket to hold clean towels and a small bucket to hold used wash cloths and hand towels before laundering.  Clean wash cloths and hand towels are stored in the drawer attached to the counter.  You can see those here: Organizing and Laundering Your Linens.

We also keep toiletries and personal care in other areas of the bedroom.  Some of mine are in this white cabinet that sits on my desk.  That's where the Success poster used to hang.  My neighbors gave this cabinet to me several weeks ago, and it's just right for making the most use of my space.  Small kindnesses like this are such a blessing.  What can you do to bless someone else?

My husband's dresser has a tray for his personal supplies and favorite medicines.

In the full bathroom down the hall, I just want to show you two things...

This shelf sits above the toilet, with the vertical pieces going down to the floor on the sides.  The kids tend to be a little sloppy with their stuff, but that's just real life.  I rarely go in their bathroom! The shower curtain is an under-the-sea theme.

And finally, a bit of humor...  I found this at Salvation Army for 79 cents, and just hung it up!  I guess charity and justice start in the home, in little ways.

Well, those are my bathrooms -- or at least the parts I'm willing to show!

I hope you've come away encouraged that you can make even "the least" parts of your home look pretty without breaking the bank.  Use what you have, buy inexpensive stuff at the dollar store or Walmart, and then you'll have more money for the important things in life -- like being kind to others around the world.

For shalom and beauty, 

Virginia Knowles

P.S. This post will be linked at several blog parties.  You can find the list of my favorites here: Link  Ups.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Hope Is In You

May integrity and uprightness protect me, 
because my hopeLord, is in you.
Psalm 25:21

This is my verse for the week.
Based on all the troubling news 
we've faced lately in our community 
and in our circle of friends, 
I really need it a sense of hope.

My husband called me outside to see
this beautiful rainbow this morning.
It's a double rainbow, 
but only a half rainbow since it has no left side.
Maybe that's a symbol that hope
is not always configured the way we expect.
It's not always readily apparent.
We need God to reveal it to us,
to lead us on the right path.
But it is our choice to seek and follow,
and to love the truth enough to do what is right
even in the storms.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,

    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:4-5

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bella Sophia (Lady Wisdom Sets Her Table)

"Bella Sophia"
 by Virginia Knowles

Lady Wisdom diligently prepares her feast
She fixes her savory meats and mixes her sweet wines
Then arranges her lovely banquet table:
Linens, bouquets, crystal, china, silver, candles
With exquisite hospitality and grace
She welcomes her guests:
"Come in, sit down, and dine!"

This feast is for our souls
Lady Wisdom nourishes our minds with solid truth
And delights our spirits with goblets of merry mirth
She pleases our inner eyes and ears with a deep harmony
A heart mark of the Creator.

Dear Lady Wisdom,
Teach me to teach as you do
To season my words with the spices of love and prayer
To think before I speak so I will know
What each hungry heart needs to hear
Show me how to captivate hearts and minds
With insight and satisfy their souls with delight
To feed them the honeycomb of pleasant words
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Bella Sophia
Beautiful Lady Wisdom
Help me to spread a banquet in my home 
With the Meat of the Word
The Bread of Life and Living Water
The Fruit of the Spirit
Then come alongside 
And call out with me through open doors,
"Welcome, sit down, and dine!"

Wisdom has built her house;
she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls
from the highest point of the city,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Come, eat my food
and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of insight.”

Proverbs 9:1-6

I read these words from Proverbs Saturday morning and started thinking about how I communicate with others.  It still wasn't a good day for that -- so many cross conversations! As a mother, I do need bella sophia, beautiful wisdom, in the atmosphere of my home.  How am I nurturing my own children?  I've got so much to learn and do.  As a writer, I try to set the table on my blogs with a variety of articles, some serious, some practical, some aesthetic, some light-hearted.  As an English teacher, too, I see the need to reach the hearts and minds of each of my students.  Lesson planning takes effort, but it's worth it.  Yes, I teach grammar and spelling, but most of all, through the literature, writing, music and art appreciation that I plan each week, I try to impart wisdom for life.  After reading in Proverbs 9, I'll now try to think of it as preparing the feast and setting the table -- with enough substance to sustain them and enough delight to capture their hearts for the truth.  What do you think about this?

Virginia Knowles

P.S. I borrowed the table photo from my post Welcoming Touches.  (Many thanks to my friend Judy, who hosted our Dinner with Friends feast two weeks ago!)