Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Weekend Of New Creatures

Scientists recently discovered six new sea creatures never before identified at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. While exploring a section of the ocean floor the size of a football field, the team found crabs, snails and worms unlike anything they had ever seen before. Almost two miles beneath the surface of the water, these new creatures will give scientists something to study and theorize about for years.

A new creature means something completely different in God's dictionary.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

For the scientists, the new sea creatures had always been there - they just hadn't been discovered yet. There was nothing miraculous or special about them, other than they were hidden in the deep dark of the ocean. They hadn't been created at just that moment for the experts to find. They were simply stumbled upon at the right moment.

For the believer, the new creature wasn't hiding inside of us waiting to be discovered at the moment of salvation. It wasn't buried under a rock or tucked behind a tree like the creepy crawly sea life. This only happens in nature, not in the life of a human being.

Instead, God changes the old creature into something completely new and different. Old things pass away, and all things become new. You can't stumble upon something that wasn't there before. You can't just discover a believer because it simply wasn't there before.

Scientists would never be able to find remnants of the old creature because they are passed away. It won't be a fossil dug up on an archeological dig. It won't be buried in a crypt or mausoleum. It no long exists, living or dead.

Make this a weekend of studying that new creature. Become a scientist yourself and learn all you can about the new creature you have become. It's through this research that you'll become familiar with the work God has done in your heart and soul.

And it won't be a worm or snail or other creeping creature you'll find. It will be a miraculous new creature touched by God Himself.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Photos From 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, I've been looking back on the year and finding some great memories. It hasn't been the easiest year, but it has been full of God's blessings, grace and love.

Our property is my favorite place to be. We have acres of woods, plenty of places to explore with the dogs and wildlife all over. It's fun to look out the window and see something new every day, just like this group of deer having a morning snack.

Another nice part of living in the country is the lack of lights. When the skies are clear, we can see the moon and stars shine so brightly.

I had fun learning lots of new craft skills this year, and this picket fence succulent planter was one of my favorites. Click here for the instructions. You can also choose the "crafts" category on the left side of this page to see everything I made in 2016, complete with tutorials.

Early in the year we had to put Bailey down after 14 amazing years of her life. She was my very first dog, so it was very difficult, but she brought us so much joy.

Sadie is also 14, and she's starting to slow down a little. She's had hip dysplasia in both back hips all her life, but she's never complained. She loves to walk in the woods and explore all the smells no matter her age or health.

And then there's Molly. This picture is her personality in a nutshell. She wants to be in the middle of everything and make sure you know she's there. Molly adores being with people, and she is definitely a 130-pound lap dog. Especially when you have popcorn.

Along with time spent with all our family and friends, we were blessed to have Danny's parents stay with us for a few weeks this year. We love them so much, and it's great to be their first and last stops when they're back in the states. We're looking forward to seeing them again next summer.

There have been many opportunities this year to stretch my creativity and grow in my home decorating and crafting skills. It's also been a chance for me to live a little more frugally, learning to take care of our home and still be a good steward of the money God has given us. To see all 12 wreaths I made, mostly from upcycled and dollar store embellishments, click here.

I think I've been more adventurous in my cooking explorations this year than ever before. Instead of getting stuck in my comfort zone, I've branched out into new cultures, ingredients and spices. It's also fun to find new blackberry recipes every year to make the most of the acres of wild blackberry bushes we have on the property.

I praise the Lord for the ways He has blessed Stuff From Trees this year. I have had many new customers in the online shop, had invitations to several local shows and met so many people who were interested in my work. I branched out into gift packaging this year, which received recognition from the Faithbox founder.

One of the highlights of 2016 was our church's Ladies Retreat - He Leadeth Me. We were blessed to host Mina Ogelsby again this year, who has always been an help and inspiration to me. It was so wonderful to spend the weekend with ladies from all over the area and learn how to be a better follower of our Lord and Savior.

One of my favorite culinary projects of the year was Danny's birthday cake. He sent me a picture of what he wanted, and I was so excited to give it a try. The inside is cut and stacked to look like his plaid shirt, and the outside is decorated with swirled icing and Flake bars to look like a tree stump.

Apparently it was perfect!

I pray you have a warm and cozy new year, filled with special blessings from the Lord. Let's prepare our hearts for everything He has planned for us in 2017.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Year Of Journaling Through The Bible

For the past several years, we've been reading through the Bible in a year here at Living as a Victorious Christian Woman. Every morning you've been able to follow along in the left hand column and read a 5-minute devotion on a verse from that day's reading.

I've heard from so many of you that this is often a highlight of visiting this site. For that I praise God because I know His word doesn't return void. My words are not truly mine, but His.

And now to shake things up.

Beginning Sunday, I am asking you to make this daily time more interactive. Instead of a full, completely written devotion, you will find find two entries: daily reading and daily writing. The daily reading will walk you through three or four chapters of Scripture each day, working our way from Genesis to Revelation in the next 365 days. This will be the comfortable reading that you're familiar with.

Here's where we shake things up. Instead of three or four paragraphs to read, there will be a brief truth from that read along with its Scriptural reference. Then you will read a question about the themes of that verse. I will then leave it to you to journal one sentence, a paragraph or an entire page answering that question.

My prayer is that this year will be filled with daily questions to make you more aware, force you to look inside your heart and then put the words God lays on your heart into writing. You can write every day, once a week or once every month or so - the choice is yours. I simply ask the Lord to lay His truth upon your hearts as you spend time getting to know Him more intimately.

So in the next couple of days, buy yourself a pretty new journal - or use the one you might have gotten for Christmas. Choose a pretty pen or your favorite colored pencils and prepare to pour out your heart to God.

May He bless you exceeding abundantly above in the year to come.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Year Of Wreath Ideas

Three years ago I received a plain white wreath as a Christmas present. I love this wreath because it is the perfect neutral background to change themes as often as you'd like. Here are examples of what I've made in the past year.

January: These are the same bows I use on the inside of my explosion boxes. Here they look like New Year's Eve fireworks.

February: red heart garland and pink heart picks, laid out to look like a starlight mint.

March: shamrocks printed off the computer and attached to lollipop sticks and green bead necklaces.

April: three shades of yellow and white flowers for Easter.

May: three sizes of clip-on butterflies.

 June: different sizes and colors of sunflowers.

July: four curly bows, a bow that is designed to wrap around the back of a chair and a USA necklace.

August: back-to-school supplies.

September: A fall leaves garland and one of my favorite Boyds bears - the one walking his sweet little puppy.

October: paper bulletin board borders and a wooden plaque that fits perfectly in the opening of the wreath.

November: fall flowers and a wooden sign.

December: A few ornaments from the thrift store and two curly bows.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Favorite Books From 2016

This has been a year of change, trust and growth for me. A large part of this has been been the direct result of books that I have read. After my morning Bible study, I have made it a habit to read a chapter or two of a study book. This has been an amazing experience for me, and I would love to share six of my favorite titles with you. Some are old, some are new and all are just plain wonderful.

* Do You Know You're Already Amazing? (2016) After reading Holley Gerth's book You're Already Amazing, I knew I had to have her new devotional. I'd read and passed around the first one to many women, but I wanted this one to be special and private, just for me. In it Holley helps us face the lies we've bought into and how to use God's Word to destroy them all and come out victorious. Love it. Love it. Love it.

* Spurgeon On Praise (1995) The absolute best way to combat fear, depression, discouragement and sorrow is praising God, and Charles Spurgeon frequently preached on the subject. This tiny book is full of insight on how praising God can chase the enemy from your heart, give you reasons to rejoice and lift others up at the same time. I'll have to go through it again soon because there are so many good ideas that I couldn't grasp them all at once.

* Fresh-Brewed Life (1999) I found Nicole Johnson's book at a community book sale, and it was one of my favorite finds. She sits with you through nine cups of coffee/cups of a fresh-brewed life, talking about surrendering to God, understanding your emotions and reactions and making personal changes that can also change the world around you. It's one of the first books I've ever read where I actually used a highlighter because it is just that good.

* Uninvited (2016) Lysa TerKeurst is one of my favorite authors, so I couldn't wait to order her newest book - yes, I waited by the mailbox for days. She knows what it is like to be hurt and rejected, so she can easily relate to the pain of rejection in our lives as well. Lysa wrote directly to my heart and helped me turn my focus away from my broken heart to the perfect love of God. If you don't have this on your book shelf yet, you need to get it today.

* Traveling Light (2001) I was given this book as a gift, and it's quickly become a favorite in my Max Lucado collection. We carry entirely too many burdens in life, burdens that should be unpacked and laid at the Savior's feet. With the study guide in the back, Max dives into some personal, practical territories in our lives, making us think about how much lighter life would be if we turned everything over to God.

* One In A Million (2010) This is my absolute favorite book I read in 2016. I actually read it five or six times, and I found more nuggets to meditate on each and every time. Priscilla Shirer made me love the story of the Israelites travels to the Promised Land even more than I already did, showing me truths about their mistakes and poor decisions that I had never seen. I want to be that one-in-a-million woman who draws close to God and refuses to settle for anything less than His best. I want those life-altering encounters with Him where I hear His voice clearly and I walk with Him more intimately than ever before. Priscilla's words of encouragement and truth let me know that I can and I will when I make having a close relationship with the Lord more important than anything else in my life.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Morning After The Christmas Day Before

For some reason, society calls the day after Christmas the most depressing day of the year. Their anticipation and happiness are tied into Christmas Day, so much so that once the gifts are opened, the food has been eaten and the family is gone, next Christmas feels like more than a year away.

For Christians, the day after Christmas is just as amazing and joyful as the holiday itself. On Sunday we celebrated the birth of Christ. On Monday we celebrate His life.

If you add up all the verses of Scripture that tell about Christ's birth, there really aren't that many. Only two of the gospel writers describe His birth in detail. More words are written about His death, burial and resurrection than His birth. We read that handful of chapters on Christmas Day, but the rest of the year is spent digging in to the rest of the Bible. The majority of our days are spent learning about how He lived, how He loved, how He died and how He rose again to secure victory over death and the grave.

The birth of Christ is the beginning of a priceless, precious story. Today we celebrate His life.

So just for today:
* love more deeply
* stand more firmly
* show more compassion
* study more diligently
* share the word of God more earnestly

The day after Christmas isn't depressing at all. It's one more day to enjoy the limitless blessings of God.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

New Christmas Eve Traditions

On this very special day before Christmas, I pray you're blessed with family, love and laughter. This precious day of anticipation is the perfect time to continue with traditions that have been handed down through the generations and start some new ones of your own.

If you'd like to do something different this Christmas Eve, something that might turn into a tradition in the years to come, here are a few ideas:

* Attend your church's Christmas Eve service.
* Drive around town to look at the Christmas lights.
* Have a night-before-Christmas campout in the living room, complete with blanket fort.
* Set up a waffle station for the evening with both sweet and savory toppings.
* Make it Movie Night and watch your favorite old holiday movies.
* Hide candy canes all over the house and then team up to find them all.
* Decorate Christmas cookies that you can share at church tomorrow morning.
* Take a family photo by the Christmas tree that you can update every year.
* Make gingerbread or graham cracker houses.
* Volunteer at a shelter or community dinner.
* End the day with Scripture reading.

Whatever traditions you choose to start or continue, I pray you'll show your gratitude to God for sending His Son to be the Savior of the world. After all, He is the reason for the season.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

DIY Framed Artwork Board

I'm considering this framed art project a Christmas gift to myself. I've wanted to make this for ages, but I hadn't found a frame I liked. When I came across this lightly stained wood frame at the local thrift shop, I knew it would be perfect.

Danny cut a piece of wood three inches wider on every side of the frame.

And I stained it a beautiful dark color.

Then I cut a piece of cardboard just slightly smaller than the frame itself so there would be space to adhere it. 

I covered the cardboard with decorator paper.

And adhered the covered cardboard to the back of the frame with hot glue.

Because there is no glass in the frame, I could use any 3D embellishments that I wanted. It's like being able to decorate a scrapbook page.

Once I was done, I adhered the whole framed art to the board with hot glue. I flipped it upside down and put heavy books on it to make sure the glue set well. I'll put a hanger or two on the back and then find the perfect place to hang it.

If you try this project yourself, make sure you send me pictures!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy First Day Of Winter!

Today is the shortest day of the year - the official first day of winter. It definitely feels like it here, especially after a bitterly cold weekend. Hopefully you were able to stay in warm and dry, too.

It always amazes me to hear people talk about the weather as though snow in Iowa in December is a rare thing. When you live in the Midwest (and many other parts of the world), you should expect to be shoveling snow in the cold.

It's not a new concept.

The day is thine, the night is also thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter. Psalm 74:16-17

Going back to the very first chapter of Genesis, God has had a plan for the sun, the moon and the seasons earth would experience. Spring comes and the land is prepared for crops. Summer comes and the sunshine warms us. Autumn comes and it's time for harvest. Winter comes and everything hibernates before the process begins again.

Our God is the God of order, nature and time. As the Creator of light and dark, sun and moon, He gives us the snow just as He gives us the hot days of summer. Our unchanging God keeps the cycles of every galaxy in perfect working order according to His will.

And yet that same all-powerful God knows my name and your name. He knows the number of hairs on your head, has kept all your tears in His bottle and has felt every joy and pain you've ever experienced. The God who created the seasons knew the earth needed you, and He placed you here for a time such as this.

Whether you have to go out in the winter weather or you can watch it through the window while drinking a hot cup of coffee, rejoice and be glad in the day God has made.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Turning A Thrift Store Frame Into Three Gifts

While at the local thrift store last week, I found this beautiful, sturdy wood frame. It even had an adorable kitten picture in it. But my plan was not to set this sweet kitten on a shelf, but to turn this $1.99 find into three beautiful upcycled pieces.

So I had a wood frame...

...a matted photo...

...and the heavy cardboard easel part.

I took the picture out of the mat and turned it into a handmade all-occasion card. I think I know the special cat lover in my life who will want this.

Then I turned the easel back of the frame into 3D Christmas art.

All I did was cover it with decorator paper and decorate it like I would a scrapbook page. Now it can stand on its own and be put anywhere during the Christmas season.

My favorite part, though, was turning the wood frame into a larger framed picture. I've wanted to try something like this for weeks - I was just looking for the right frame. On Thursday I'll show you how I made it, so make sure you come back and check it out.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Words Of Advent - Peace

Since the beginning of human history, there has been a struggle for peace. In every generation and in every century since the Garden of Eden, sin and war and evil have robbed us of peace. Take one look at local, national or international media and you'll see no end of friction and fighting in sight.

But the fourth Advent candle reminds us that peace has already been here.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

The Old Testament prophet penned these words that described the coming Messiah. While He would be known by many names and character traits, the one Isaiah closed with was Prince of Peace. In a land ravaged by war and a people in constant battle with enemies physical and spiritual, the Savior of the world was going to come with a message of peace for His believers.

Imagine the men in the synagogue hearing about a prince of peace. It was a precious name, one that would give them hope and an anticipation for His arrival. No matter how terrible the world around them was, or how much tumult was going on inside them, there was a coming Prince who promised everlasting peace.

But this wasn't the only time Isaiah spoke of peace.

Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3

The peace of God is perfect, and those who seek it will find it. It's perfectly reasonable to ask the Lord for peace - in your heart, in your mind, in your home, in the world around you. Enough of our lives are spent being stirred up by bad weather, crazy people and the evil that only wants to rob us of our peace. Praying for the perfect peace of God lets Him know that we are turning our backs on the chaos of the world and are prepared to feel the all-consuming peace that only He can provide.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:14

This favorite Christmas verse was spoken by the angels to the shepherds watching their flocks by night. Peace Himself had arrived that very night, and they were invited to see Him in the flesh. They could have used any words they wanted - or chosen from the long list Isaiah had made - but the word "peace" was the best choice.

The life of a shepherd would have included long hours of walking and standing, constantly scanning the horizon for signs of water, pasture land and possible enemies. The shepherd couldn't relax, for that might have been the moment he would have been needed most. So to know the Anointed One was bringing peace with Him would have resonated with them.

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39

Jesus Christ Himself used the word "peace" many times in the Scriptures. Here He showed His disciples that nature itself, which He had created, would respond to His peace as well. And even if He never calms the storm that swirls around us, He will always calm the storm that rages within us. One word of peace and the wind ceased. There wasn't just a little calm, but a great peace that surged in waves over everyone.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Philippians 4:7-9

If you're like me, your mind is racing most of the day, trying to keep track of the who, what, when, where, why and how in minute-by-minute detail. That peace that we don't even have the proper words to describe can fill us at those times, slowing us down and encouraging us to just breathe. When the mind is calm and thinking on the true, honest, just, pure and lovely words of good report, we can feel the presence of the God of peace. It is in those moments that we can relax and regroup, keeping Him in our minds and hearts as He keeps our hearts and minds.

What an amazing, powerful message behind this final Advent candle. Peace is so needed in our world today, and it starts by rooting and grounding itself in the hearts of Christians.

Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dipped Cookie Spoons

I always enjoy trying something new in the kitchen, and this Christmas is no different. I had a cookie pan shaped like little spoons that I found in an after-Christmas sale last year and hadn't used yet. It's now one of my new favorites, and I hope it becomes one of yours, too.

The pan has eight textured cavities, so the dough will pick up whatever shape it's pressed into. It's also a good idea to test one before you make several at a time so you'll know if it really is non-stick or if you'll need to spray it with non-stick spray.

Fill each cavity 2/3 of the way full. I discovered with this pan in particular that you need to roll the dough into a ball and then press it in, not adding a little more dough here and there to fill it in. I didn't that for a couple of them, and that was exactly where the spoon handle broke in two pieces. 

Leave them in the pan for a few minutes to lose some of their softness, says my voice of experience. They'll come out much easier and there's less of a chance that they'll fall apart when they're cooled a little.

To decorate them, I melted four squares of chocolate almond bark in the microwave and dipped the ends. They're on parchment paper, which lets them harden without sticking, and then sprinkled with different holiday shaped candies. Do you have a favorite Christmas pan, something that's become a tradition?