Thursday, February 28, 2013

Queen Esther & Purpose

Happy Thursday, friends.  I'm frantically writing this post pre-night shift, and should really be cooking my dinner or making my bed.  But I've been searching for purpose lately, as you all well know (do my posts always come across as me being restless? I don't intend for this to be so, but I fear that "restless" would be a good word to describe how I'm feeling this year), and was encouraged by Queen Esther this afternoon.

Y'all (sorry grammar fiends.  I just did that). I love Esther.  I will probably name my future child, pet, or some inanimate object in my life after her.  Queen Esther is incredible to me.  Her story is one of strength and bold love.  Here's a quick rundown of her (I could spend hours talking about her.  She is a woman who fears the Lord whom I admire so much), just to give you some background on her story.  The best way for you to understand her is to turn to Esther in your Bible to read about her (or if you don't have one, just Google it online!). But I'll do my best in this forum.

Here's the lowdown.

Our setting: Persia, under the rule of King Ahasuerus, or King Xerxes (depending on what translation of the Bible you're reading).

What's going on: The King is holding a LAVISH party.  There is fine linen adorning the venue, marble pillars set about, drinks served in golden vessels, etc.  His wife, Queen Vashti, is holding a similar gathering for the women of the kingdom.    The King summons the Queen to come to his party, to show the people her royal beauty.  But she refuses.  And drama ensues.  If other women in the kingdom see that she has refused her husband, every woman in the kingdom will think that they can do the same to their husbands.  The solution? Queen Vashti is banned from ever coming before the King again and her royal position is available to be filled by someone else in the kingdom.

Cue Esther: A search is performed in the kingdom for all of the beautiful virgins.  Esther (or Hadassah), is being raised by her cousin, Mordecai, a Jew, for she had neither father nor mother (note: he raised her as a daughter, I suppose he was much older than Esther).  Mordercai encouraged Esther go to the palace when this search commenced.  The girls supposedly are provided with cosmetics and a beautification process, and Esther took favor amongst all the women.  She never made it known that she was Jewish, as Mordecai had told her not to.  The whole meeting of the King is quite interesting and shady to me.  After 12 months of beautifying (!! my mouth is agape. Men: you should not complain about how long it takes your lady to get ready any longer. At least it's not a year!), they go into the King's palace in the evening and return in the morning.  I like to imagine that they're doing PG stuff, maybe playing Scrabble or pin the tail on the Persian elephant.  But I think the indication here is that they are not doing those things.  Esther, upon visiting the King, was loved by him more than all of the other women and was made Queen as a result.  A great feast was given for the new Queen Esther shortly after.

A Fearless Queen.  Now, Mordecai found out about a plot to kill the King and relayed this to Esther, who in turn told the King.  The men were hanged on the gallows for this.  At this same time, a new official was promoted, Haman the Agagite.  Mordecai refused to bow down to him or pay homage to him, so instead of harming Mordecai himself, Haman set out to destroy all Jews in the land.  He convinced the King to order an edict to destroy all of the Jews in the land.  Mordecai comes to the king's gates, as all other Jews are mourning, dressed in sackcloth and ashes. Esther summons Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs, to go find out why Mordecai is doing this.  Hathach does so and returns with a message from Mordecai: Esther must go to the King, beg his favor, and plead with him on behalf of her people.  (Remember: the King does not know that Esther is a Jew, for she has hidden this from him).  And here is what Esther relays back to Mordecai:
"All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law- to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.  But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days." (Esther 4:11)
And Mordecai's response?  I love this.
"Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14)
That's the part that gets me right there.   Esther is in a place she does not truly belong, ruling as Queen when she is  Jew (an outsider, viewed as different than everyone else, following different laws and customs).  She got there by very shady means and questionable ways.  But there is purpose in her being in the kingdom, ruling as Queen.  And Mordecai brings this to her attention and shows her that, though she may not see it clearly, there is immense purpose in what she is doing.

Whenever I'm feeling a little down about where my path has taken me or what I'm currently doing in my life, I read Esther.  She is a woman who is fearless and bold.  The story continues for several more chapters in the Bible, and we learn that Esther goes to the king with this thought:
"Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16). 
What courage she has.  And how bold she is to use her position for good and to find purpose in the seemingly menial, lavish life of a Queen.

 Don't be discouraged by where you are in your life right now.  Regardless of what you are doing, who knows whether you have not come to your position for such a time as this? God may be using you in ways you cannot possibly fathom.  His love for you is extravagant and overwhelming, and He desires great things for you.  Don't put Him in a box and limit what He's doing in your life.

Grace & peace,
C. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Difficult People

Hello friends!  We're resuming normal posts again on the blog after a few days of R&R at the beach and ample time to reflect and restore the soul.  Sometimes you just need familiar people, places, and things to bring you back to who you once were.  I remember in college having this experience frequently.  I always felt so high strung and tightly wound at school, and then I'd come home and immediately feel myself return to the old me as I hit exit 420 on I-40 East.  That sense of peace would wash over me as I drove past familiar places, and I would remember who I was again, someone not defined by grades or my major.  I feel that I have been reminded of who I once was and am claiming her again.

In any case, this blog promised you thoughts on difficult people.  I surely consider myself to be one of those, but let's talk in a more general sense first.  My home church in Wilmington, Port City Community Church, just finished up a series called "That Guy."  The series was about difficult people, loving them, BEING one of them, and what God calls us to within that.  Honestly, I thought it was an incredible series for anyone and everyone.  If you interact with people  at ALL (which most of us do) and are in relationship with others (friendships, roommate-ships, romantic relationships, family relationships, etc.) you surely encounter moments of frustration where you wonder why in the world you're having to deal with this person's annoying personality and why they won't just change how they are.  If only THEY would change, we could be friends.  If only he would stop doing this, he'd be a better boyfriend/fiancee/husband to me.  The list can go on.

Pastor Mike Ashcraft had two main points he used to demonstrate how we are to approach this idea of difficult people.  One of his phrases is this: "What's it like to be on the other side of me?"  And his second is "What would love have me do?"

The first one, "What's it like to be on the other side of me?" is interesting.  But it's how I believe we are supposed to approach ALL relationships.  In the past few years, I've read a few Christian books about relationships/marriage (I'm always intrigued by these for some reason.  They provide practical knowledge about something I hope to one day be part of), and one of the main points I've taken away from them is that we are to live in relationship serving others.  We are not to participate in relationships because of what we can gain from them or for what that person can do for our happiness.  

JD Greear, pastor of the Summit Church (and my church I go to when I'm in Durham), has always said that lonely, insecure single people become lonely, insecure married people.  The act of marriage doesn't save us in and of itself.  If we aren't happy alone, when we have ample time and energy to focus on ourselves and our relationship with the Lord, why would we think that marrying someone and adding another personality and chaos to our lives would make us happier? 

Other individuals aren't intended to make us happy.  No where in the Scriptures will you find verses that encourage us to enter into relationships because of what we can gain from them.  Jesus was relational to his very core and sought always to serve others through those relationships.  We are called to the same thing.  So when we approach relationships, we are to serve regardless of the quirky or difficult personality that the other person has.  

As JD Greear also says, we are to view ourselves as first, sinner, and second, sinned against.  Think about this for a minute.  Let's look at it from the opposite point of view first.  Say you view yourself as deserving of certain things in a relationship.  You deserve to be treated well, respected, appreciated, etc.  Anytime the other person in that relationship seems to violate that, you snap and get upset because they have sinned against you.  This is the view of someone who believes they are, first and foremost, sinned against.  They are always expecting something more and are always trying to gain something from the other person.  This is probably the way most of us live.  It's in our human nature to feel deserving of something good and to feel that we have somehow earned the right to be treated well. 

But let's look at how JD says we should approach relationships.  If we view ourselves as first, sinner, in relationships, we're always looking at what we could do or change to better serve the other person.  We would approach our interactions with them with more grace and forgiveness than in the previous example when we're always snapping at them for not treating us as we think we deserve to be treated.  Truthfully, we deserve nothing.  According to Isaiah 64:6, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away."  But it's through the blood of Jesus that we are restored and redeemed.  If even our righteous acts are as filthy rags, why would we think we are deserving of anything, especially when in relationship with another who is living in this fallen world?  It's only through Christ that we have hope for more.  

I've gotten a bit sidetracked and have now confused you by talking about two different pastors' views on relationships, but if you're able to follow me, I actually find them grossly intertwined in how they've presented relationships.  JD's "first, sinner, second, sinned against" seems to parallel Mike's "What's it like to be on the other side of me?"  Both cause you to look inward to see what it is about you that is causing you to struggle to serve the other.  But then you must also look outward to see how you can better serve that person.  

Mike's second point, "What would love have me do?" is based on the Gospel.  What does Jesus call us to?  We've already discussed it a bit here.  But it's to give grace as freely as it has been given to you.  It's to forgive and show mercy as the Lord has done for you.  And it's to encourage the other person (in a way that does not condemn them).  Mike did also speak on what to do when there are behaviors that the other person exhibits that seem to destroy every relationship that person is in.  He does not encourage us to "babysit bad behaviors" but to stop, think, and pray so that you may speak with clarity about this issue with that individual.  There is a humble and gracious way to address these heart-issues with someone, but you must "remove the plank from your own eye" so that "you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Both quotes from Matthew 7:5).  But the plank, as Mike stated, isn't always the same issue that our brother is struggling with.  It's not "I'm going to talk to them about X but I have to stop doing X myself first."  The plank is our condemning nature, and we must ask God to remove this so that we have understanding and wisdom to speak with our brother in a non-condemning way.  

I know that you deal with difficult people every day. It could be a parent, sibling, friend, roommate, coworker, spouse, etc.  Almost anyone you could possibly be in relationship with can be difficult.  But think about the fact that you, too, are a difficult person.  We think of ourselves as saintly, more often than not.  We don't see our own shortcomings and if we do, we don't think they're as bad as someone else's.  Remember that Jesus loved us despite our most wretched personalities and that He died for us in spite of that.  And approach your relationships in that way, knowing that you are a sinner, and that you have been rescued from that and forgiven for all that you have done.  

Free others from the expectations you put on them through grace and love.  I'll leave you with a last quote from Mike that I really appreciated in his message.  
"Love is the most powerful force in the world because God is love.  In the absence of love, we will resort to manipulation." 

How true that is.  Apologies for going so Sunday-school on you all, but I really appreciated this series from PC3 and thought I had many friends who could benefit from it as well.  If you're interested in listening to the sermons, they can be found here: That Guy

Also, I have several resources to recommend for relationships.  A lot of these books are about marriage, but through reading them, I've actually learned a lot about how to be a better friend, roommate, etc. because I try to approach all of my relationships with the ideas expressed in them.  Here are my recommended resources:


>>Marriage: Why Bother (from PC3)

>>The Good Women Project (has links to entries on relationships.  I love this website and use it frequently for not only this topic but many others as well)

>>The Resurgence (Another website I love to keep tabs on.  Blogs are my thing, ya'll.  Through thick and thin, I will find the worthy ones!)

>>For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn (It's counterpart, For Men Only, by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn is supposedly also good.  I have not read it, but Scott has and thought it was good)
Source: Google

>>Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas (possibly the most influential book I've read so far on relationships.  And I promise you, for those skeptical of how a book on marriage could change other relationships in your life, it will.  Though marriage is the most intimate of relationships we will ever enter into, its principles on how to love another person can be applied to other relationships in your life)
Source: Google


 >>The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim Keller (same disclaimer as the previous book)
Source: Google

If you have other resources PLEASE share.  I know a lot of mine are marriage-tinted.  But like I said, though those books are intended for use pre-marriage, the concepts inside will change your outlook on most relationships in your life.  For reals.  I've experienced it myself (and am obviously not married) which is why I feel I can recommend it to you with confidence.  I've seen how it changes my approach to my roommate relationship, my family relationships, and my interactions with coworkers.

Grace & peace to you all.
Cristina

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Small Joys (volume 3)

Oh, my friends.  Small Joys are coming to you a bit late this week.  If you read my previous post, you'll see why.  It's been a bit of a week for me.  But as with last week, even in the midst of immense chaos and uncertainty, joy can be found.  So here we are for this week's joys.

No. 1: Southern Weddings magazine.  I JUST discovered this magazine in Barnes and Noble this week and am IN LOVE. No, I'm not planning a wedding.  But yes, I can still enjoy wedding-related things and magazines.  It was so fun to read and was just such a light and happy magazine.  Sometimes I need light and happy things.

No. 2: Public safety.  Never have I been more thankful for public law enforcement, particularly police officers.  You may get irritated with them for a speeding ticket they write you, but in moments of vulnerability and uncertainty, they are saints.

No. 3: Psalms.  Alright, I know they were included in last week's post, but this week was another week when I really needed and cherished them.  Check out Psalms 55 if you're having one of "those" weeks. Reading it last night after a tumultuous week was true rest for my soul.

No. 4: Josh Garrels. I went to his concert this week with sweet Rachel Cooley and quite enjoyed the evening.  It was a completely unexpected and beautiful evening (considering it was a weeknight).  Rachel made scrambled eggs with rosemary and goat cheese (one of the most delicious meals I've EVER eaten, don't know why I've never thought of this) and broiled grapefruit before we headed to Garner for the concert.  The concert was lovely and beautiful.  More rest for my soul and more encouragement in turning to Jesus.  (Also, check out his song "Ulysses" if you havent heard it before. It's my fave. Right up there with "Father Along")



No. 5: Family.  My family, my roommate's family, Scott's family.  All of these families have been good to me this week and have reached out to throw a lifeline to me.  I've been blessed and surrounded by loving families and am so thankful for all of them.

No. 6: New air fresheners. Look, sometimes one joy is smaller than the other.  But air fresheners cannot go unrecognized.  I love how my mood changes when I change out my air freshener.  Don't laugh. Just be ok with it.

No. 7: 7 miles.  I didn't intentionally make this number 7, but it just came to mind when I typed the number "7" into my computer.  I ran 7 miles this week for half marathon training, and though I did not fit in any other runs this week, I'm thankful that I was able to make it to 7 in a decent amount of time.

No. 8: Preceptors.  My preceptor from when I first started my job visited our floor this week (she's now an assistant nurse manager on another floor) and it was so refreshing to talk with her about work.  She offered fresh perspective and insight on nursing and all that it entails.  It was so good to talk to her, though it was brief, just to re-energize me for the remainder of my shift and put me in a good place for the rest of the week with work.

No. 9: Reunions with old friends.  So I technically had two this week.  The one I mentioned earlier, with Rachel, and then with my roommate from high school, Lindsay.  Lindsay and I had a day of failed adventures, but through it all, we still had a good time and were able to catch up with one another.  She's in Kentucky now and it has actually been about 8 months since I've seen her, so it was so great to catch up.  Her wedding is coming up in October and I'm getting super stoked for it!

No. 10: God's grace.  I feel very blessed for safety and security this week, and I know it's by His grace that I am here typing to you right now.  I've never been more thankful for so many things.  God has been so gracious and merciful this week (and is all the time, but I'm more attentive to it this week).  All glory goes to Him for my safety.

I hope you found some joy in your week, regardless of what your week entailed.  Love to you all and stay warm, dry, and SAFE this week.

Grace & peace,
Cristina.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Criminal Minds

I hesitate to write this post because of how fresh everything still is in my mind.  However, I think that I must write it for that very reason.  Here's the short of it: our house was broken into last night.  Our safe, comfortable home was broken into by some treacherous being who never learned to keep his hands to himself.  He had to put his filthy hands all over our stuff and take some of it.

I don't want to share all of the details on here for several reasons.  Number one would be to protect the privacy of our home (though it was wildly violated already) and to keep our secrets of security to ourselves (referring to my roommate and myself).  Secondly, I have been reliving this since it happened last night.  I've been telling family, friends, etc. about it and don't care to relive it here in a forum like this where it will be published and available for me to look back on at any time.  The nightmares would only continue if I had to read and re-read the tale.

But the brief version is that our house was broken into in a way that we could not have anticipated, our alarm company alerted us, and we came home to find that something had been taken.  The police arrived within 20 minutes, took a report, and the forensics team showed up to dust fingerprints (of which there were many. Including an entire handprint that is hauntingly on our window still, which I hope to clean off tomorrow in broad daylight).  They stayed until 2:30AM, at which point I was ready to pass out since I had been awake since 5 for work.

There's one detail that I cannot get past and that I continue to remain ever thankful for.  Within two minutes of the alarm being set off, my roommate was alerted of the incident.  Police had been dispatched already.  When she was alerted, she was seconds from our neighborhood and came in the back entrance.  I was not far behind my roommate and came in the front entrance to the neighborhood.  We were minutes away from home and could have been home when this occurred.  If it were another night, we could have been sleeping in our beds at the time he broke in.  Oddly, neither of us saw anyone in the neighborhood running or driving away, which means he was quick and stealthy.

But we were safe.  Though we no longer feel a sense of safety and security, in a general sense, we were safe.  I know the Lord's hand was on us; I simply can't see things like that as a coincidence.  There's a reason for everything that happens in the world, and for some reason, though I had a trying day at work, I went out with friends last night instead of staying at home.  For some reason, we got home from our outing later than expected.  And for some reason, we hadn't yet pulled into our driveway when we heard about the event.  And I firmly believe that God was protecting us.

In any case, all day I have been a wreck.  I keep replaying it and reliving it in my mind, even though we weren't here.  I keep imagining who it was, how they could have known we weren't home.  I keep trying to think like a criminal, which makes me feel sick to my stomach.  I'm not a criminal, and trying to think like one is so repulsive to me that I really feel physically ill.  I will never understand the mind of a criminal.  I will never know what makes them choose one house over another.  Were we being watched, perhaps targeted for this crime? Or was it as the police officer said, most likely a random crime?  What could we do to better protect ourselves?  How can we prevent this from happening again? Is he going to come back? All of these remain unanswered and likely will never be truly resolved.

I think that my dad gave a really great explanation of how I feel (Note: I talked to both of my parents this morning and relayed the entire story to them; both are former NYPD cops and had lots of things to share to put my mind a little more at ease.  I'm so thankful for their knowledge during this frightening time). He said "the most valuable thing they stole from you was an intangible: your peace of mind."  And he's exactly right.

I don't know what it will take for me to feel safe again, but I feel neurotic right now.  I was scared to take a shower when I was home alone today, scared to be downstairs in my house, where I always used to spend time.  I was scared to even make a cup of coffee downstairs, which I typically do every morning.  Every creak in the house, every blow of the wind against our house makes me shudder.  "He's back," I think to myself. Despite numerous promises that burglars never strike a place twice, I'm convinced that this will be the exception.  A building company came for renovations at our neighbor's house today and I was ready to call the cops for suspicious activity.  My mind will go to the deepest and darkest places it can right now, and I need rescuing from it.

My day was filled with trying to rescue myself.  One of my dearest friends, Lindsay, came to visit today, and we spent the day catching up and travelling around town.  When she left, I changed and headed straight to Garner for the Josh Garrels concert with sweet Rachel Cooley (the concert: amazing.  Completely brought me back to a happy place where there are no bad things).

Somehow, I will get past this.  What I need now is saving.  And thankfully I have a Savior who walked the Earth in human flesh and died a brutal death for the forgiveness of my sins.  He loves me and pursues me daily.  He craves relationship with me.  And He protects me from evil in the world.

I like what Angela Thomas says about God.  She's so right in her assessment of Him.
"What God promises is that He always, always comes. He always shows up. He always saves. He always rescues. His timing is not our's. His methods are usually unconventional. But what we know, what we can settle in our souls, is that He is faithful to come when we call." -Angela Thomas

What treasure and hope I find in that.  I'd really appreciate your prayers for my roommate and myself as we heal from this event.  Some may read this and think we're being overly dramatic.  If you've never been burglarized before, it's a feeling I can't quite explain.  The most private place you know, the place where you eat and sleep and relax and enjoy most of your life has been explicitly violated.  Someone else has entered into your safe place and left you feeling utterly exposed.  It's a dreadful feeling.  I pray for the Lord to come into this place and protect us as He did last night.  
Your prayers are coveted at this time.  

Grace & peace (though not of mind),
C

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Currently

Reading The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman.  I'm loving this book so far and have finally gotten into it to the point where I don't want to put it down! I love getting to that point in a book. I've also been flipping through some magazines this week, including Southern Weddings, Fitness, and Self. I love a good magazine to read before bed sometimes. Also, in my Bible, reading through Exodus.

Listening to Josh Garrels.  I'm excited go be going to his concert in Garner on Thursday with some lovely ladies from my days at UNC.  He sings one of my all-time favorite songs, "Ulysses."  It's so beautiful. Listen to it if you get a chance

Eating not super healthy items.  Tomorrow is a new day though.  I made a delicious treat this morning that I'm not even a little bit sorry about... strawberry & Nutella crepes. Oh, yum. I'm hoping to make my Panera/CPK knock-off salad again this week! It's the only salad I think I will ever crave in my whole life.

Watching several shows, including The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor, and Downton Abbey. I watch more tv now than I ever have in my life.  It's a little sad, I suppose.

Running around my neighborhood and missing the Bolin Creek trail.  Especially on days like we had yesterday.  I wore a short sleeve shirt to go for my 3 miler and found myself missing the beautiful Bolin Creek trail in Chapel Hill.  Running update from my post, the Running Chronicles: I never did my 7 miler.  Weather permitting, tomorrow will be that day.

Writing my book, currently titled Until (though this may change). Yesterday I spent an afternoon at Barnes and Noble editing Scott's essays for a scholarship he's applying for (I really can't wait until the day I can tell you more about this scholarship... but until he hears more I'm going to just leave it at that), and afterwards, I flipped through some magazines, downed a cup of coffee, and opened up my manuscript again to continue writing.  I have a 6 page introduction now that I'm feeling mostly finished with.  I'm still majorly in a research stage for my book.  I'm searching for Bible verses, praying for the right words to say, and also looking at other books in the same genre as mine to learn more about how to organize it and how the chapters should look.

Feeling more optimistic than I did a few days ago.  The ugly happenings of last week are over, a new week will be ushered in by a Sunday tomorrow, and I am ready to pick up the pieces and start working on this puzzle of a life again.

Waiting for my opportunity to see Scott in three short weeks.  Forgive me if I tire you by talking about it too much, but it's hard living 650 miles away from your best friend and having to go 4 months at a time without being in the same state.  Oh, how excited I am to see him.  I just want simple things.  I want to hold his hand, give him a really long hug, smell his hair, and do normal day-to-day things together like go grocery shopping and stop by the gas station.  It seems silly, but I value doing those seemingly mundane things with him.  It's those things that make me excited about sharing a life with him someday.  Real love isn't about ABC-sponsored, Bachelor-style dates.  It's made up of the small moments and experiences you share together.

From our Skype "study session." Helping him study for boards.


Missing summer, though it's so close now I can almost taste the salty ocean air and smell the Ocean Potion sunscreen on my skin.  I'm praying that Scott will be able to come home at some point this summer, though we're just not sure yet how things will work out.  I'm particularly hoping for the annual Myrtle Beach trip to take place that I so love every year.

My favorite R&R: Myrtle Beach with the Davis clan.


Wearing OPI's "From A to Zurich" nail polish (first time I've worn anything with color in a while.  I've been sporting a clear polish for work for weeks now), cozy yoga pants, and lots of warm blankets at night.

Wanting to finish my taxes! I had a mini-crisis over them this past week when one of my deductions ended up causing me to owe money.  Thankfully, I found out I didn't have to include that deduction and I'm now back in TurboTax's "green" zone, meaning I will hopefully be getting some sort of refund this year.  Can't wait to put that sucker into savings!

Needing to spend more time with Jesus this week.  I was ashamed at church tonight when I found that the last time I had spent serious time in prayer was February 4th (compliments of my prayer journal).  I've prayed out loud a few times on my way into work (my 20-30 minute drive to work provides plenty of opportunity for this), and I pray throughout my day as different things occur, but I like to have a time each day for reflective, introspective prayer, which is what I do in my prayer journal.

Learning so much from work and feeling incredibly humbled each time I make a mistake that causes me to become more aware of something or that teaches me something important for my patients.

Enjoying snow days, hot tea, writing, reading, and editing.

Resting in God's infinite grace and endless peace. His love truly endures forever.

Grace & peace,
C.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Small Joys

Another week has come and passed already, and it's time to reflect on small joys for this week once again.  This week has been a challenge for me in many ways.  My body has been run ragged from night shift (and pretty crazy night shifts, at that), I'm growing more gray hair by the day trying to figure out my taxes, and I've had a series of unfortunate news this week.  That said, there is still joy to be had in the week.

No. 1: Finishing a book.  What a sense of accomplishment it brings one to be able to finish a book, particularly one that has been on your nightstand for almost two months.  I finally finished one of my books for book club and am now making progress through another (this one was also supposed to be completed in December and I failed miserably at that.  I'm liking it as a February read though).

No. 2: A day for love. It's true, I love Valentine's Day.  Not in the sappy, romantic way, but just in terms of celebrating love.  It's an entire day to celebrate love.  I know some people say you should celebrate love year round, which is true, but we often don't.  We get caught up in our busy lives and take our loved ones for granted.  A day for love is just what this world needs every once in a while.  I wish we could have more of them. I thought I'd be spending my Valentine's Day mostly alone, so I cooked some coconut shrimp, baked sweet potato waffle fries, and steamed broccoli, poured a glass of red wine, and watched How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and the beginning of Gone with the Wind.  It was a pleasant treat to be able to Skype with Scott and celebrate our 7th Valentine's Day together over funny YouTube videos and talk of seeing one another in a few weeks.

No. 3: Catching up with good friends.  In the past week, I've had a pretty good opportunity to catch up with friends either in person over coffee, on the phone, or through letters.  I often overbook myself with catch-up dates with friends, but relationships are so important to me and I am always sad to lose one to negligence.  I'm careful to maintain my friendships and seek out friends who I don't see all too often.

No. 4: Progress with short-term savings goals. And long-term ones. This year has been a year of increased financial responsibility for me.  I'm blessed to have graduated debt-free from Carolina and have been able to start saving for goals that I have in the future.  Retirement, "emergencies," car maintenance, maybe a wedding someday... all things that I've been able to start planning for and saving for this year.  It's a bit daunting sometimes when I look at how much I want to save and how long it will take to get there, but Rome wasn't built in a day, to be certain.

No. 5: Sweet coworkers.  When I say I had some terrible nights this week, I am not exaggerating in the least.  I don't know what it was about work this week, but my patients all required a lot of emotional support and "de-escalation" from high-anxiety states.  In doing so, I took on a lot of their anxiety, and, as a result, feel drained tonight.  I'm thankful for some days off and for all of my coworkers who assisted me this week.  I'm lucky to work in a place where teamwork is understood and practiced as freely as breathing is.

No. 6: Earl Grey tea. A favorite of mine.  I keep one mason jar filled with decaf bags and one filled with regular caffeinated bags in my pantry at all times; I carry bags in my purse and at work.  It's always on hand.  There's something about a cup of tea that takes care of you in a way no other drink can.  Mid-morning, it pairs well with brunch, or mid-afternoon, it can be your "breathing moment" that you use to refresh and rejuvenate.  My personal favorite time of day for Earl Grey is right before bed though.  True, my bladder doesn't thank me, but something about that cup of tea at bedtime soothes me in a beautiful way.



No. 7: Hot pink ear plugs. I experienced the incredible wonder of earplugs this week; though I have used them for years during exams in school and occasionally at night to drown out noisy neighbors, this week I decided to use them so that I could try a different sleep pattern pre-night shift.  I went to bed around midnight on Monday night, inserted the hot pink ear plugs, and did not awake until almost 1PM the next day.  It was a beautiful night of sleep and I felt well-rested for the night ahead.

No. 8: Career goals.  Though I am still not certain what my "long term" goal is for my nursing career, I know I'm learning a lot where I am right now and I'm starting to think about where I want to go with my career.  I've looked into becoming Board Certified in Medical-Surgical nursing, which I cannot do yet as I do not meet the eligibility criteria, but it's certainly on my radar.  For now, I'm excited to pursue some interesting continuing education opportunities and explore things that really interest me within the nursing profession.

No. 9: Soy candles.  Just bought my first one this week with a TJ Maxx gift card from Christmas and truly, it is lovely.  It's also considered to be a "green" candle, so it is supposedly better than breathing in typical petroleum-products found in normal candles.  (Not that that's going to stop me from buying regular candles.  I'm not too discriminatory when it comes to candles).

No. 10: Psalms.  One psalm in particular has been rest for my soul this week as I have struggled through difficult emotions and challenging shifts at work.  Psalm 61:2 is the one I'm referring to, of course.  It's one I quote on the regular and have committed to memory now.
"From the end of the earth I will cry to you, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. "
Friends, the weekend is upon us.  If you are lucky to have a job that does not require you to work weekends, soak it in and enjoy your weekend.  Rest your body and your soul, spend time with Jesus, and appreciate quiet moments.  For those who have to work, be excited for your "weekend" as it appears-- is it Tuesday? Thursday? Friday? Are you blessed to have off on a Manic Monday? Or if you find no break at all and your time constantly filled, as I fear is true for my poor mother, find quiet moments in your day to decompress, drink a cup of tea, and release some stress.  Read a few pages in your book before bed, or walk around the block to catch some fresh air.  In the midst of chaos and immense stress this week, I'm looking for moments of small joys that are quiet and restful.

Grace & peace,
Cristina.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Lent

Some of you know this about me, others, perhaps now.  I was raised in the Catholic Church for most of my life.  I went through all of the appropriate ceremonies and sacraments, up until I went through the sacrament of "Confirmation" in high school.  However, since middle school, I had also been attending a Baptist church and youth group with my best friend, Hannah.  It was completely different and new to me, and I felt that I was able to experience God in different ways than I had been able to previously in the Catholic Church.  So upon being confirmed in the Catholic Church at 16, I  made the decision for myself to switch to a Protestant Church.

This is not my post to bash the Catholic faith, or to say that one denomination of Christianity is better than another.  Faith is a very personal thing, and how we experience God is very personal.  In the midst of the tradition and ceremony set-up of Catholic services, I, myself, did not find God there.  I felt like I was going through all of the motions and that I was very distant from a Divine Being.  Winter Park Baptist Church, however, showed me how God is accessible to all and how I could have a deeply intimate and personal connection with Him.  I consider myself to have truly accepted Jesus as my Savior in this context.  Though I had always believed in Him before, He seemed far away and more like a ruling authority than someone I could be in relationship with.  I still attend Catholic services with my family for holidays and those sorts of events.  Now that my faith is more established, I actually do find that I can speak with God and experience Him in those services as well.  Maybe I was too immature when I was younger to understand how He was reaching me then.  God is not hidden and He exists in all places.  He pushes out darkness and dwells in even the most seemingly sin-filled, scary places (I am not saying that the Catholic Church is such a place.  Just making the point that He is present in all places).  So I know He was always there, even when I attended the Catholic Church.  But His spirit didn't move in me and speak to me until I was in a different place.

This is not at all where I was intending on going with this post, so I'm going to stop there and go in the direction I actually intended to go, for fear of offending someone.  I hope I have not done so thus far, though if I have, I offer my sincerest of apologies to you, friends.

I was actually going to talk about Lent, which starts tomorrow.  My point in explaining my background to you was to show you how I became involved in Lent considering that I am now a member of a Baptist Church.  The Baptist Church does not celebrate Lent in quite the same way that the Catholic Church does, though they do still recognize it.  Because I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent, I still find immense value in it and in giving something up for that 40 day period.  Lent ends with Jesus's resurrection on Easter Sunday, so the 40 period is really intended to prepare your heart for that through prayer, fasting, and sacrifice.

A lot of people use Lent as a sort of New Year's Resolution.  They'll give up a list that looks like this: soda, chocolate, fried food, profanity, ice cream, etc.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  In fact, you'll see that what I am giving up this year is a food item and may fall within that "diet" or "New Year's Resolution" category.  But, many people give those things up in an attempt to lose weight or something along those lines.  That's not really the purpose of Lent.  The purpose is to sacrifice something that takes your attention away from God.  Often, I give up Facebook for Lent.  It's one of the biggest things that distracts me from my quiet time with the Lord and also which pulls me away from Him through how I compare my life with those of others on Facebook.  I get caught up in the comparison game and forget to be thankful for what God has blessed me with.  The intention then, is that you spend time that you would normally spend with that other activity in prayer with God.  It's essentially "fasting" from an activity or something that takes you away from God.

So, with that said, and keeping in mind that I just bashed giving up foods for Lent, here's what I'm giving up: fast food.  Go ahead, roll your eyes. I give you permission! "Where's she going with this one? She's just one of those 'New Year's Resolutionists' this Lent, isn't she?"  Sort of.  But here's why I'm giving up fast food.  Firstly, some people have no desire to eat fast food, ever.  You are a blessed species, to be sure.  I love myself a fresh box of Chicken minis from Chick-fil-a, so I will never be someone who just sticks there nose up in the air at the thought of a Chick-fil-a breakfast.  But lately, I've been using it as a comfort.  After several horrendous night shifts, I've stopped at Chick-fil-a on my way home to pick up a quick breakfast before heading to bed.  It's delicious, satisfying, and comforting.  But it's usually something I go to for comfort.  Instead of God.  I had a history of stress eating in college, and Chick-fil-a was always my go-to comfort food. There's so many locations, it's cheap, and it seems healthier than other fast food joints, right?  But I was giving into desires for food for comfort instead of surrendering my struggles to God, and it's something I still struggle with.

So for Lent this year, I'm going to give up fast food and spend time with the Lord when I need comfort and rest instead.  I'm reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well when I think about this.  The story, in John 4, tells of a Samaritan woman who is filling up her bucket with water in the middle of the day.  This is significant because no one else fills up their water at this time of day due to the heat. She's an outcast, not accepted at all by others in her town.  Jesus walks up to her and asks her to give him a drink a water.  This is also significant, for Jews and Samaritans do not associate with one another.    Jesus proceeds to tell her about living water found only in God.
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." -John 4: 13-14

He then proceeds to talk with her about her way of life and the multitude of men that she has slept with in hopes of finding satisfaction and worth, but this story is just so significant  and so indicative of how many of us live, including myself.  I may not seek satisfaction in the same ways that this Samaritan woman does, but looking to food for comfort is certainly a struggle for me.  I read a book recently that really put this into perspective for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in overcoming your stomach as a god in your life.  It's written by Lisa Terkeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries (also author of Unglued) and it's called Made to Crave.  I highly recommend it.

Source: Radiant Lit


In any case, please hold me accountable this Lent season for this, friends.  I'm not going to do the whole "do whatever you please" on Sunday thing, which I know some people follow for Lent.  I'm hoping for a true 40 day fast.  Also, I am not including places like Jimmy John's or Subway as fast food.  Mostly your true "fast food" joints like Chick-fil-a, Arby's, McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, etc.  I think that's important for me to define now before lines become gray and murky.

Grace & peace,
Cristina.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Purpose.

Gracious. My friends, I have been struggling lately.  I'm calling it a "rut," you may refer to it as whatever you'd like.  But whatever it is, it's not fun.  The best way I can describe it is like this: everything in life tastes very bland right now.  I've been reflecting on this with friends, Scott, family, wondering why this is so.

And I think the answer is super simple.  Since starting this whole adventure of living in the real world, I have been SO focused on myself.  What I want, what I need, what makes me happy, what I feel like eating, what I want to do on any given day, what I don't want to do, etc.  It's all about me. I've reflected on this previously on my old blog, but I think that a lot of this self-centeredness comes from the incredible amount of alone time I have this year.  It's more than I've EVER had before.  Last year I had four (incredibly awesome) roommates, and the previous year I had three.  I was constantly surrounded by people, laughter, and noise.  People were always coming by the house-- I mean, really, we were only five minutes down the road from all of our friends.  But this year, the quietness and the solitude leave me feeling a bit removed from the world.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm missing that community that I so thrived amongst in college.  I say "thrive" with hesitation, as I've already confessed my introvert nature to you.  But I think you know what I mean.

The bigger problem, though, is that I have also removed myself from Jesus recently.  This is how bad it has gotten: I couldn't even find my Bible this morning.  I had no idea when the time that I used it was or where I might have taken it.  After some vigorous organizing and cleaning of my room, I found it, thrown under a stack of mail like it was just another book of coupons ready to go to recycling.  It made me sad to see it there, and when I picked it up, I was even more sad about the fact that I haven't spent any time in Scripture or in prayer in the past week.  My self-centeredness seeps into my faith life and tarnishes my walk with Jesus.  It makes me think I don't need Him and that I can figure things out on my own.  My prideful heart is what pushes me to just keep going all the time and never take time to slow down and listen to God in quiet moments.

I need more quiet moments in my life.  I need more time with the Lord.  And I need to listen to Him as He fills me with His purpose and direction.  I have lost my sense of purpose recently and have misdirected my efforts.  I've sought to do things that make me happy (temporarily) and that fill me with a sense of satisfaction, while completely forgetting that I am here to bring glory to the Lord and to teach others of His love.  It seems like such a giant thing to forget, how could I forget that that's my purpose here? How could I forget that every moment I am here, I am not living for myself but for Him? Oh, what a broken life this is.  I'm ever so thankful for God's grace and mercy, which are eternal and unending for us through Jesus.

I pray for myself and for you this week friends, that the Holy Spirit would fill you with a great sense of urgency for His kingdom and for a great purpose as you set out in your week.  Every task you do, no matter what job you have (doctor, cook, waitress, plumber, flight attendant, nurse, teacher, engineer, parking attendant, parent, spouse, etc.), or how mundane it may seem, do it to your very best ability and as for the Lord and not for men.

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving Christ the Lord." Colossians 3:23
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." -Philippians 2:14-16
And one last verse.  This has been my verse that I think about almost every time I go into work now.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." -Hebrews 12:1-2
Be encouraged, friends.  God never stops chasing after you and will pursue you for as long as you live. Don't be discouraged by a a bad week (or a bad month, or a bad year).  Remember that His promises are true and He is faithful when we call.  His answers may not be what you would like for them to be, but His plan is perfect and His purpose in you is flawless.  Wake up and spend time with Jesus before you start your day.  He is waiting for you.

Encourage me in this as well and hold me accountable, sweet friends.  And please, pray with me and send me things to pray about for you.

Grace & peace,
Cristina

Friday, February 8, 2013

Small Joys

Those of you who followed my Grace and Peace blog may remember my post on small joys a few months ago (and if not, or if you didn't follow that blog, here's the link: Apologies & Small Joys).  I thought it was time to reflect on some of the small joys that have been saving my life the past few weeks. Some of the joys are smaller than others, but all are still joys I hold in my heart.

No. 1: Hazelnut Coffee. Hazelnut coffee is a favorite of mine, and something that, for some reason, I don't often have on hand.  Thankfully, Food Lion was having an awesome sale this past week which allowed me to partake in my hazelnut obsession.  Hazelnut coffee also makes me think of one of my oldest and truest friends, Bananz (real name: Hannah).  She's a hazelnut coffee lover as well and drinking it often reminds me of her sweet spirit. 

No. 2: Country music.  We had a few flickers of warm weather in the midst of our blustery winter, and warm weather always makes me want country music.  It's so simple and makes life seem so sweet.  Several of my friends recently purchased the Country Megaticket for Raleigh this year.. which includes 9 different concerts! I'm super super considering.  Super. 

No. 3: Country BOYS.  Ok, maybe just ONE country boy.  But mine will be home one month from today, and I am beyond excited.  It's been almost 4 months since I saw Scott and I have been missing him like crazy lately.  With his crazy semester this spring and my wild work schedule, we're lucky to find a chance to talk a few times a week.  I've taken off vacation for a whole week in March, will be picking him up from RDU's airport and transporting him to Wilmington, and am just so excited for see that boy.  I've missed him more than I could ever explain, especially in the midst of engagements/weddings galore down here in NC.  

No. 4: Chicken minis. Sometimes, you just need a good chicken mini. Hopefully, that craving doesn't hit you on a Sunday when Chick-fil-a is taking their restful Sabbath... but any other day, live a little a have a chicken mini. 

No. 5: Carolina football.  Always, always a fan of Carolina football, but this week that took on a new meaning.  My younger brother is going to play as a walk-on QB for Carolina this coming fall.  He officially enrolled yesterday and will be setting off to my alma mater in the fall.  Could not be more excited for this kid.  He deserves the best college experience. 

No. 6: Chapstick.  There's not a whole lot to say about this. Except that it's life-saving in the winter cold and during long night shifts.  I always carry some around in my pocket or purse.  

No. 7: Cozy blankets.  I'm always cold. Always.  At home, you'll find me snuggling in an oversized sweatshirt or wrapped up in several blankets while reading a book.  I sleep with 3 extra blankets when I sleep post-night shift, and two of the blankets are ones I have sworn to hold onto for all of eternity.  They are super soft and snuggly, and I found them in TJ Maxx several years ago. Love a good deal on cozy things.  

Exhibit A: leopard print blanket. 


No. 8: Jesus Christ.  Not such a small joy.  A big one.  But He's been watching out for me this week when I've felt discouraged beyond words.  My commute to work lately, which I do solo, has involved me praying for strength and endurance to make it through my shift and to be a safe nurse for me patients.  It's been a rough week on my floor but each shift brings new hope.  You just never know what you'll find in your assignment for the day.  Thankfully Jesus brings life and hope to each day and is faithful in His promises.  

No. 9: Creative Writing.  Ok, maybe it's not so creative.  But I was looking at my list and realized everything on my list has a "C" in it, so I had to give "writing" a "C" adjective.  Obviously.   But I am writing a book and am quite enjoying the process, even if it leads to a manuscript that sits on my coffee table one day for only myself.  It's such a fun self-discovery process.  

Those are this week's small joys, friends.  Apologies for not being super consistent with posting this week! I worked Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday nights, and two of those three were TERRIBLY TERRIBLE.  I usually leave before 8, and twice I left at 9 or close to 9.  So blogging was far from my mind as I longed for hours wrapped up in my blankets sleeping.  I'm hoping to do a "small joys" post each week, maybe similar to "Friday Favorites" that some people do.  But  small joys are much more my jam.  

Love to you all!
C.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Running Chronicles

Friends, I hope you are all having a beautiful Tuesday so far! Can you believe we're already 5 days into February?  Where does time go? Since I've graduated from college I feel like time just goes on and on and on and on.  I thought about it the other day, and technically, I could be working my same job and living in Durham for the rest of my life.  And that very well could happen, and it very well could not.  But it is daunting to think that things could go on as they are now for years of my life, and there's no more "Christmas breaks" or "summer vacations" or anything of the sort.  There are vacations when I request them, and so time can be broken up in that way, but otherwise, it just seems like it goes on and on.  Do any of you ever have this thought? Particularly, recent graduates? I know many of my friends have plans to go back to graduate school, and that may well be in my future, though I haven't completely decided yet.  Time is just so confusing to me.  How can it seem to go on forever yet also seem to fly by so quickly at the same time?

Anyways, I believe I promised you we'd chat about half marathon training.  So, as I mentioned in my post on Sunday (2013 Forecast), my running journey began about 2.5 years ago after spending many years despising the activity.  I've trained for half marathons before (this blog used to log my mileage and document my journey, if you look back to previous posts), but I have never actually run in one!  Scott and I began our running journey together in May of 2010 when he briefly lived in Chapel Hill for a summer.  It's one of the only times that we've ever dated while living in the same town, and it was such an incredible growing experience for our relationship.  Running together, too, was an incredible growing experience for us.  At first, I didn't like it.  He's a boy, he's competitive.. and I am not.  But then it became a time when we could talk about our days, meet challenges together, and encourage one another on longer runs.  And I have missed that ever since.  I really can not wait until we live in the same place and can run, cook, eat, shop, and go to church together.

But I've digressed AGAIN! I need someone monitoring me at all times when I write. This is quite absurd. The point I was trying to make was actually that Scott & I were training for a half together until he got an injury playing basketball.  He was unable to do much of anything in terms of exercise for several weeks (possibly months, I can't even remember at this point).  The plan was to train the following year for the Wilmington Battleship 1/2 marathon, but lo and behold, my boy went off to pursue his dreams of being a dentist in Indiana.  So our half marathon hasn't happened yet, and I've kind of held onto hope that the first one I run would be with him.  And now, it looks like it just might be! We've signed up for the OneAmerica 500 Series Mini Marathon (!!) on May 4th in Indianapolis.  Scott's birthday is May 7th so I'm hoping to be able to visit for a few days and stick around for his birthday.

In any case, I've been training and so far have made it up to 6 miles.  My mental trick for getting me through my long runs is telling myself that it's just one more mile than the previous week, and can't I endure for just one more mile? Surely, I can.  So today is supposed to be my 7 miler. We'll see how THAT goes, considering I work night shift tonight and did Body Pump yesterday, leaving my body feeling like it could fall to pieces at any moment.

I looked back at a post from when I was first training for a half marathon, and I quite enjoyed seeing my 8 Mile post.  My running journey has very much been centered around relying on Jesus and His strength to keep me going when my body feels weak.  I used to listen to rap music when I ran because it was just fast and loud and easy to run to, but lately I've actually been listening to a playlist I made called "Running: Jesus Jams."  It's got lots of Passion music, stuff I've heard and loved on K-love, and worship songs I loved when I was younger.  It's so crazy how running for me has now become a time of worship and a time when I turn to God for strength.  Running outdoors also gives me an opportunity to marvel at the beauty of His creation and all that He has blessed me with.

So, there's my running update.  Will 7 miles happen today? Only time will tell.  I'm currently getting ready to go BACK to sleep to prepare for my night shift tonight, and hopefully I will take up in a few hours rejuvenated for my run.

Love to you all,
Cristina

Some super fly pics post-run. The top one is my 5k with
my roommate Jessica from this past fall, the middle is from a 
10K in Wilmington with my friends Brad & Rebecca last spring, and
the bottom is a super not cute one from a 5K I did over a year ago in Chapel Hill. 
Hopefully I'll have a half marathon one to post with a medal and all soon!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl Eats

Most of you would probably agree that Super Bowl Sunday is filled with fried, greasy foods that are oh-so-delicious and satisfying as you cheer on your favorite team (or if your team didn't make it... cheering against the team you hate so much in the Bowl).  Well, I can't say that I ate incredibly healthy foods for the Super Bowl, but I did attempt to make slightly healthier versions of unhealthy treats.  So that must count for something, right? Well here's what Super Bowl Sunday consisted of for me.  I attempted to make my morning/afternoon somewhat healthy to prepare for the madness that would ensue for dinner/snacks that night.  I think I'll tell the food story in pictures to keep your attention.

Note: for full recipes (if you're not interested in reading all of my side notes in this post), see the "She Eats" tab at the top of the page!)

This is actually a photo that I took on Saturday,
but I ate the same breakfast yesterday. Half of a
grapefruit, one egg over medium on whole wheat
toast, coffee with hazelnut creamer & Stevia. 


This is a rando salad that was inspired by.. 
Panera and CPK. It's mixed spring greens
with sliced apples, Craisins, goat cheese, grilled
chicken (shredded), walnuts, and strawberry Balsamic
vinegar. Oh, it was good. Beyond a normal salad. 

Dessert: blueberries covered in light Yoplait vanilla
yogurt, all frozen overnight.  All the credit for this one
goes to my roommate of two years and dear friend Chancey Rouse.
She's a smart little cookie. This is a super yum dessert though!
....................................................................................................................
The line above is to separate the true healthy foods from the wannabe healthy ones. So here it goes!

A football classic- ranch dip with chips! This ranch is SLIGHTLY
healthier. I buy the Hidden Valley ranch packets (in salad dressing
aisle) and mix it with light sour cream. Note: LIGHT. Not fat-free. 
Firstly, fat free tastes awful. Secondly, it's filled with more chemicals
than it's worth. Light makes me feel a little bit better than full-fat. Little bit. 


My favorite. Lightened Buffalo Chicken Dip. 
You'll need these things, plus 1-2lbs shredded chicken.
There are two hot sauces here, just pick one. I didn't end up using the
Texas Pete one because it had 90 calories per serving and the Food Lion
brand had 5 calories per serving. No, thank you. Returning Pete tomorrow. 
Also, note that I am not a cook who sticks by strict recipes. I kind of toss
in little things here and there until it looks and tastes good, so forgive me
for not having exact portions to tell you about.  


Next, cook chicken in frying pan. I just spray a light
coat of olive oil cooking spray and that's it. Cook until no pink in center,
then toss in a large-ish bowl.  Take two forks and start shredding chicken. 
Beware of carpal tunnel while doing so. I could barely use my hands after this 
step.  

Add in about 1/2 cup of hot sauce/wing sauce,
6 oz plain Greek yogurt (one personal sized one
will work. I just have the large container because I use it
a lot for cooking. If you have a large container, about two to three large
spoonfuls of Greek yogurt will do), and 2-3 tablespoons of ranch dip
mix. Mix it all up with a spoon or fork!


Place mix into an 8x8 pan baking dish (or size of your choice).
Make sure to spread it out so it covers the dish. Sprinkle Colby
Jack cheese on top (just enough to cover the chicken, unless you want
some clogged arteries in your future. In that case, pile on the cheese!), and
add a little sprinkle of hot sauce on top of that.  I literally just put little dots of it
here and there, so don't use a lot in this step! Bake for 20 minutes on 350 in the oven and you're Super Bowl ready! Serve with multigrain tortilla chips or chips of
your choice

Also, these were just two of the dishes at the Super Bowl party I attended.  It was pot luck so I contributed these items, and other friends brought veggie trays, salad, queso, barbecue wings, cupcakes, mushrooms stuffed with bacon/cream cheese/garlic, pigs in a blanket, etc. 

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And since I didn't exercise yesterday, or the day before, it's time for me to hit the gym for Body Pump with my fellow body builders. More to come on this later, but imagine me in my pink gym shoes lifting weights in the midst of men wearing intense weight-lifting gloves (true story: I now own a pair because of all the calluses I was getting. But they're gray and pink) and bandanas on their heads as they lift. I'd provide photos if it were allowed, but for now you'll just have to go with your imagination!

Grace & peace,
Cristina

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Grace Like Rain: 2013 Forecast.

Yesterday's post was a brief introduction to what you can expect on Grace Like Rain this year, but I thought I'd break it down a little more and give you some details.  Firstly, I'll explain the title.  "Grace Like Rain" is a worship song by Tom Agnew that was released in 2004.  Since my walk with Jesus began, my story has been one of learning grace.  It's never made sense to me that I have been so incredibly forgiven despite my wicked heart and selfish desires, but I suppose that's why I am so in awe of God and who He is.  Maybe grace isn't supposed to make sense to me.

In any case, my most recent blog, Grace and Peace (see tab above for the link to it), was a wonderful growing experience for me.  Though I wrote the posts with a target audience of close friends and family members, I often feel like I'm just writing journal entries and learning more about myself as I write.  In any case, I think those things are important for you to know as you take on reading this blog.  That's kind of my perspective of where I write from, and I don't really have an incredible theme picked out for this blog.  It's about life and love, following Jesus, living a healthy life, pursuing passions, finding great reads, attempts at cooking and baking, and growing in relationships.  This can't be labeled a food blog, a spiritual blog, a design blog, etc.  The topics will be as random as the inner workings of my brain.  I hope you're still interested.  Here's more on my vision.
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Healthy Living (Including running, cooking/baking, other exercises & more)
I'm not entirely certain how many of my friends know this about me, but throughout high school and most of college, my weight was constantly on my mind and consistently something I struggled to feel good about.  I left home at 16 to go to the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, NC, and while there, was faced with challenges and stresses beyond my wildest imagination.  I began stress eating, and though we had a gym with plenty of exercise equipment, fell into a pattern of laziness and a life of inactivity.  This continued through college, though I did take advantage of our Student Rec Center's group exercise classes a bit more in addition to beginning my life as a runner.  

May of 2010 was the beginning of my journey as a runner, and I have hardly looked back since.  In fact, you'll notice that this blog has some posts from a few years ago.  This blog originally began as my running blog. My first post, May 24, 2010, was when I was finally beginning to feel like I could label myself as a "runner."  I started running in Chapel Hill, NC down Gimghoul Ln.  It was a big accomplishment when I could run the full mile through Gimghoul.  I remember setting out on my first day of running and being discouraged because I could only run half of a mile, but I used that as my motivation to run farther.  I did not let my asthma hold me back, and even now, I use my inhaler before each run and carry it with me at all times.  In fact, my asthma has improved greatly since I started running.  I rarely have symptoms of wheezing or the "barking" cough that I used to experience when I was younger.  Running has somehow improved my health in that way, and I am so thankful for that.  

I will also tell you that I used to despise running. Absolutely despised it.  So for those of you reading this thinking I'm some wild, crunchy, granola chick (I'm becoming more crunchy now than I ever would have imagined, but that's a story for later) who came out of the womb running marathons, this is not the case.  I hated running with a passion but knew I needed a cheap and simple way to exercise.  Running, the "poor man's sport" as many call it, is so simplistic.  All you need are exercise clothes (not even nice ones, at that.  Shorts and a cheap t-shirt work great) and running shoes, and you're all set.  You don't need fancy equipment, a gym, a personal trainer named Byron (more on him later), or anything like that.  As you might be able to tell, I'm now a passionate runner and find it to be the greatest stress reliever when I'm having a terrible day or just need to be outside for a bit.  I'm training for a half marathon now, which you'll hear plenty about this year, and hope to continue running for many years of my life (dear knees: please be good to me. I don't want to give up running for you!).

Back to healthy living, though (apologies for my tangents, friends).  When I graduated from college this past May, I saw pictures of myself looking the biggest I had ever been.  I felt sluggish and large, and very unhealthy.  I knew I wanted to change-- but how could I? I had my nursing boards to study for, weddings to attend, moving to a new house, etc.  There didn't seem to be time.  But then I met with my friend Kirsten, one of my roommates from high school and a good friend since then, and we started talking about practical ways to lose weight (over delicious Port City Java coffee).  By the end of our conversation, we had mapped out a weight loss plan and had set goals for our journey.  We planned to check in with one another every so often, made plans to hold each other accountable, discussed healthy eating and how many calories a day we should eat, and even logged into MyFitnessPal (my first time, though she had used it before) and connected to one another to watch each other's progress.  How thankful I have been for Kirsten and her motivation these past few months.  We have both lost about 20 pounds since May (alright, you caught me. I've only lost 19.4. But I'm SO CLOSE), and though we have had setbacks, continue to pursue healthy living.  I still have some pounds to shed and toning to do, but it will all come in time.  I'm not on a mission to lose as much as possible quickly, but rather to ensure I'm losing weight in a healthy way and continuing to find advanced methods for a healthy lifestyle.

So that's what you'll find on here this year in regards to healthy living.  I'm a newly converted crockpot girl and love my crockpot more than any other item in my kitchen (calling myself out for a lie again: my coffeepot might be my favorite item), so you'll find healthy crockpot recipes coming this year that I've either thrown together on my own or modified from other recipes that perhaps aren't quite so healthy.  You'll find updates on exercise- new kinds I'm trying, things I hate, things I love, etc.- as well as simple substitutions I use in cooking to add more nutrition or less fat/calories to a dish.  I'm by no means perfect, I live by the 80/20 rule and try to eat healthy 80% of the time and "splurge" 20%, though some weeks it's more like 60/40.  or 40/60. Depends on a lot of things :)

My 2013 Fitness Goals

Before & After. First picture taken at my
graduation in May 2012, second one
from December 2012. 


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Books (What to read, what NOT to read, book reviews, etc). 
One of my favorite blogs I follow has a link on the side that shows what books the author is currently reading, and I'm hoping to figure out how to do this.  Coming soon will be a tab at the top of my page called "She Reads" which will show book reviews, what's on my nightstand, and what I'm hoping to read in the near future.  I'm in two book clubs and have been horrible lately with keeping up with the books, but I'm hoping to keep up with those, read additional books, and tell you about all of them so you'll know what's good!  Also, I'm happy to take suggestions so please leave comments or e-mail me at gracelikeraincristina@gmail.com with recommendations for books!
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Faith (Following Jesus, Scripture, Challenges in faith & more). 
One of the biggest parts of who I am is my faith.  In my every day life, such as at work, at the gym, etc., I struggle to talk openly with people about my faith, though I strive to live out Jesus's commands through my actions.  I'm much better with the written word, which is why I write so much about my faith and even write my prayers out on most days, but I am working on being more open about my faith in my every day life and not just in my blog.  I try to spend time in Scripture every day (though I fail sometimes!) and while doing so, I process a lot of things about what I'm reading and like to share those things with you.  I'm also in the process of writing a book right now, which I've told only a select few people... but now you're all in on the secret, too!  It's a work on faith, actually, and I hope to share some of my journey in that with you as well this year.  If anyone out there is into publishing, let's be friends! :) I'm going to need a publisher one of these little days when I finish my book.  
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Real Relationships (On long distance/long term ones, singleness, friendships, families, etc.)
I love writing about relationships, people, the importance of friendship, marriage (though I am not, myself, married), and all other things involving relationships.  I'm hoping to feature a lot of guest posts in this genre, so please e-mail me with things you'd like to post! I'm particularly interested in capturing the diversity and complexity of relationships.  My experience is as a twenty-something surround by young friends getting engaged and married, while other close friends of mine struggle with singleness in the midst of all of that.  I'd love to hear from others in this stage of life, as well as those who ARE married (newlyweds or those who have been married for years!), those who have struggled with failed relationships (my heart goes out to you & I know it's hard to share those things, but if you feel led I'd love to feature your wisdom on this), those with difficult family relationships, those with loving family relationships, toxic friendships, blessed friendships, relationships with the Lord, etc.  I just want it all! Relationships are so intriguing to me.  
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Guest Posts (from anyone & everyone! Even if we've never met, message me!)
Do you have a small business that you're trying to promote? A side hobby that you want to share with others? Maybe you just have something on your heart and don't know where to post it.  This is your forum.  It's your space just as much as it is mine.  Prefer to remain anonymous?  No problem.  Truly, I'm excited about this part of the blog this year.  Please don't hesitate to participate in this, and don't feel silly in doing so.  Embrace what you have to offer and hop on in.  I'll welcome you as a loved family member here on Grace Like Rain
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I think that's all for now, friends.  The 2013 forecast looks bright, and I'm optimistic about where we're going together.  Hope you'll stay for the ride!

Grace & peace to you all.
C. 
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