Beyond New Year's

It’s January and many of us are recounting the Christmas cookies, special drinks, and festive foods we’ve ingested over the past month. We’ve embraced the stark arrival of January’s ordinary routine because although we cried putting away our Christmas trees, we’re ready for normalcy once again.  We all know this is the time for putting our best foot forward; setting high goals for things like fitness, time management, and diet. If you haven’t started back at the gym yet, you’ve at least mulled over your projected intentions for the new year. But as you think of health goals, I implore you to not choose an “all or nothing” mentality. It’s this very state of mind that will cause you to eat a dozen donuts in a weak moment--because if you cheat with one, then why not indulge in the other 11?

Changing a lifestyle means persistently challenging our habits, even when the New Year’s high wears off. I’d love to say that one can master Whole30 and run hilly marathons overnight. I’d love to say that one counseling session can heal all our emotional baggage, but it’s not true. My own journey has required a lot of small steps to impact the total trajectory of my health. It’s taken years to lose weight, find exercise that I enjoy, learn how to be emotionally vulnerable, and pursue God in the midst of it all. It may have started with a New Year’s Resolution, but I didn’t master a healthy lifestyle in just a year.

Healthy change is a process. It happens when we put grit and thoughtfulness into our daily decisions. In time, those little decisions build a strong foundation that sustains our lifestyle beyond January. Our lives can’t go from 0 to 100 overnight and stay in high gear-- it’s just not sustainable. So let’s embrace the different seasons of change; there will be times when we really rock at life and times we derail from our plan. The most important thing: keep going. Because one good decision is better than 10 bad ones.

If you’re like me, you struggle with wanting to do things perfectly. For instance, when I don’t follow through with something, I tend to feel shame. Like when I make a goal to work out 3 times a week and it all dissolves after one strong week. Or when I cave and go through the Sonic drive-thru for a Reese’s Blast, and I feel like crap afterwards. Or when I can’t keep up with my endless to-do list so feel unproductive. It’s easy in these moments to want to throw in the towel because if I cheated at one meal of my day, then why even try the rest of the day? Sound familiar? The enemy of progress in our lives is an “all or nothing” mentality. If we don’t have grace calculated into our goal formula for the year, we’re not going to see lasting change.

Think of all the great things you want to achieve in 2017. Picture the self you imagine at the end of this year. Now, break it down. What is one thing you can do today that moves you toward that version of yourself? Maybe it’s putting more vegetables in your diet (shouldn’t we all) or truly forgiving someone. It could mean saying no to sugar or going on a walk. It could mean opening your Bible for the first time in awhile or getting help for your addiction. It could mean finally taking your chronic illness seriously or letting go of the hurt you’ve so tightly held onto. Simply choose one thing and do it. Then go to bed knowing that you’ve chosen something life-giving for yourself---and that’s truly amazing. Then tomorrow, wake up and repeat.

Here’s to a healthy 2017 and beyond!

Diana: In Pregnancy & Painting

I pulled up to the quaint, white house where every window was decorated in green wreaths and red bows. Diana met me at the door with a big hug and led me into the kitchen where she was baking gluten-free muffins. Diana has a glow about her and, it’s not just because she’s pregnant. Everywhere she goes, she carries a welcoming presence with her. I met Diana through a mutual friend, but we’ve only had short exchanges in passing at church, so I was excited to spend time with her. She poured me a mug of coffee, and we started sharing our stories.

As she sat there pregnant with her first baby, Diana recounted the ways God had been faithful in her life. Originally from Canada, Diana spent 5 years teaching in Haiti (during the earthquake). In Haiti she met her best friend, Sarah (our mutual friend). After her time in Haiti, Diana moved to Kansas City where she married Sarah’s husband’s best friend (best friends married best friends--isn’t that perfect?) Now Diana serves the Kansas City community in several ways including advocating for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), where she meets with a local family regularly and represents the foster siblings in court.

I asked Diana about what she’s learned being pregnant. She responded, “I’m in awe of who God is through all of this. There is a baby growing inside of me right now. He really is a creator and invites us to create with Him.” As she shared about the beautiful reality of pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice Diana repeating the phrase “in awe.” It’s true--this human experience exudes a supernatural beauty within us. Diana reflected on the many joys of pregnancy including the comfort in having a good friend as her doctor, but the idea of labor itself feels daunting. All the unknowns flooded her mind: “What will it feel like?” “Will there be complications?” “Can I do I really do it naturally?” Even in the uncertainty, I see how Diana firmly holds her trust in the Lord’s good character. She reminds herself of truth by memorizing scripture for the times she feels doubt or fear.

Later, we walked upstairs where Diana showed me the baby’s nursery. The winter sun seeped into the room through the big window which highlighted the clean, white walls. Everything in the room felt illuminated. In front of the window, where the the baby crib sits, is the space Diana once claimed for painting. This room is where she’d stare out at the colorful magnolia tree in their front yard and paint snippets of God’s beauty on paper. Now, Diana gladly uses the kitchen as a makeshift area to do her painting, but she still enjoys making gifts for friends and strangers from all over the world through Etsy.

Diana shares her love of painting on Etsy as Open Window Papery. The name of her business reflects that very window in her room where she found inspiration in creating art. It also encompasses the open posture she holds towards God and the beautiful world He leads us to discover. This openness is how Diana receives inspiration to demonstrate and reflect God's beauty through art. In a world full of branding, social media promotion, and making everything big, Diana stays grounded in her business by keeping it simple. She doesn’t get wrapped up in the pressures of business that suffocate her passion but is content using her gifts in the ways she feels called. I admire her desire for authenticity and am glad she shares her talent with us.

During this Advent season, Diana waits in hopeful anticipation for her own baby to arrive. It’s evident how God has used this season of growing life to draw her closer to Himself. I love that Diana doesn’t ignore the fears that the unknown brings but rather embraces them with the truth of God, which keeps her grounded in the midst of change. Diana holds her heart wide open not just when she paints, but as she boldly steps into all that God has in store for her and her new family. That’s flourishing. And just as God has been faithful in and out of every season of Diana’s life, I believe that He will also be faithful as she confidently approaches the gift and uncertainty of motherhood.


Created by Diana McLarren with Open Window Papery. Diana is currently on a hiatus while she prepares for her baby to arrive (any day now!) but you can still connect with her on her Etsy shop here and look for updates this spring! 


Advent: Accepted

Our reward system for good and bad behavior begins when we’re children. We’re rewarded with stickers for coloring in the lines and sent to time-out for disobeying in school. As a kid, I did everything I could to get that gold star and avoid getting into trouble. Deep down, I believed that gold star meant something about me. It made me look good in front of my friends and resulted in praise from my parents, so I did more to earn it.

We still use this reward system as adults. We may not pass out gold stars anymore but we keep track of successes and failures in our lives to see if we measure up. We compare our level of productivity, appearance, success at work, the amount of money we make, and how perfect our lives appear. We use this outcome to determine our level of worthiness: If we do or have these things, then we’re OK. Our striving for perfection leads us on an exhausting chase that will never fulfill, and it was never meant to. 

Many of us relate to God this way. We flaunt a list to God of all the reasons we’ve earned his love while using religious achievements to try to curry favor with Him. On the contrary, some of us lay our sin in front of God to prove why we’re not worthy enough to receive His love, while sulking in our shame. Neither of these are the gospel. The gospel proclaims that our worthiness isn’t based on what we do. Our true identity is rooted in this foundational truth: God is our Father. We are his children, fully known and still fully loved. Salvation has nothing to do with the works of our hands, nor is it based on external circumstances. Salvation is a gift of God, given to us through faith.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Today, I take great comfort in the reality that God’s love knows no bounds. As I sit here with a weary heart, I rest in the fact that God accepts me despite my fears and failures--He loves me in the midst of my striving and performing. I’m accepted. When Jesus took my place on the cross, He gave me freedom from striving and trying to earn my way to Him. Accepting this free gift of grace allows me to walk in true freedom and joy, as a beloved child of God. This is the good news.

3 Ways to Detox During the Holidays

If you're like me, you've been catching yourself eating pumpkin pie and stuffing leftovers for breakfast these last few days. The month from Thanksgiving to Christmas is full of holiday celebrations and delicious, sugary treats. It's hard to resist the homemade dishes we only get to enjoy around this time of the year.

Eating healthy doesn't have to be an all or nothing mentality. You can indulge in some of the festive foods the holidays bring but you don't have to completely go off the deep end. So, if you're feeling bloated and ready to get back on track, here are 3 easy ways to detox this week:

1. Drink Lemon Water- I've loved adding this new routine to my mornings. I simply pour 2 drops of lemon essential oil into hot water and drink it before eating breakfast. I love how cleansing it feels and the natural boost it gives me. It's not only refreshing, but drinking lemon water aides in digestion (if you're constipated, give it a try). It also helps to clear up skin, lose weight, and provides vitamin C (which we all need this time of year). If you don't have essential oils, you can use fresh lemon juice too. Give it a try, I know you'll feel great!

2. Try this Detox Salad- When most people think of detox, they think of drinking gross smoothies or refraining from eating altogether. This doesn't have to be the case! Our bodies need nutrients that we can find in different foods all around us. This salad has become a staple in our house. It's tasty, full of good stuff, and easy to make! If you're new to meal planning, this is a great place to start. Make this on a Sunday and don't worry about lunch the rest of the week!

3. Get out and Walk- The wintertime gives us several excuses to miss our workout: it's colder outside, gets darker earlier, and our schedules get busy. Even if it's not a high-intensity workout, your body still wants you to move! Get out and go for a walk, even just for 30 minutes. Going for a walk doesn't just benefit your body, it provides a great mental break. We already fill our lives with noise and distraction, use this time to slow your brain down instead of throwing in your ear buds. And the great thing is, you don't have to do it alone. Some of my favorite moments have been walking on the trail with Matt. I love that we get to decompress from our days and enjoy intentional time together. You'll find that getting up and moving will give you just the boost you need during the holidays, even when you miss your workout!