Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Thankfulness List

Honestly, I am not nearly as thankful as I should be for, well, anything. I focus a lot on saying thank-you to people, but as for living thankfulness, that's a different story.

I do think thankfulness is important for living a truly content and happy life. Which would explain why I struggle with being content with what I have. I often find myself wishing for things I don't need, and--despite what I think--am probably better off without. Then I end up sulking or feeling like I am somehow inadequate because of what I don't have.

So, what better time of year to work on being thankful than Thanksgiving? I'm glad we have this time of year to help us re-focus, if we choose to let it. And while I usually laugh at the fact that it's followed by Black Friday's consumerism craziness, I'm glad it comes first. There's some hope for us if we can focus on thankfulness before we hit the holiday shopping season.

This is what I'm going to challenge myself, and all of you, to do: Make a thankfulness list like the one below. Get really specific and list all of the things you're thankful for. Then keep looking back at your list. Let it stay with you and remind you of all that you have as we move into a time of year that is often marked by greed. I hope and pray that gratitude will stick with us throughout the year.

My Thankfulness List

I am thankful for...
  • Jesus Christ. He'll always be at the top of my list, not because I want to be ultra-religious, but because I need him. I need him more than anything because his death and resurrection made a way for me to have a relationship with God. It freed me from the captivity of my sinful, selfish self, and gave me life. He is the reason why I am thankful.

  • My best and dearest friend, Nick, who also happens to be my husband. We've traveled a long road, from being acquaintances to co-workers, friends to more than friends, then back to friends to long-distance friends, after years back to more than friends, fiances to spouses. He's always been there for me, putting me and my needs above his own, showing me what Christ's unconditional love looks like. I love you, Nick!

  • My amazing family, which includes my wonderful parents, my awesome brother, my sweet in-laws and great sibling in-laws, two grandmas, uncles and aunts, crazy cousins and their adorable babies, and a cat and dog. It also includes some individuals who have made the journey to heaven, two of my unborn siblings who I can't wait to meet, and both my grandpas.

  • This journey of life God is taking me on. Some days I really don't know what he's doing and question him a lot. But when I look back, I can see how he has used different circumstances to bring me to important places and lessons and people.

  • My friends, near and far. I have had the pleasure of getting to know and befriend so many special people over the years. I am so thankful for how they have touched my life, challenged me and lifted me up in times of pain. I am so thankful for friendship.

  • The seemingly "unanswered" prayers. I used to beg God for a lot of things I thought I needed. Looking back, I'm so glad he said no.

  • Times of heartbreak. I was thinking about this the other night as I was falling to sleep. There were some different guys in my past that, at the time, I thought I would end up with. When things would fall apart, I would be heartbroken, but over time, God would mend the hurt. I'm so glad for those endings because they spared me from a lot more pain in the future, but I'm only now learning that.

  • Talents and abilities. Not just my own, because it is so great to see what each of my friends is good at. But I'm thankful that God made me a creative person because I find a lot of joy in making things, in writing, in taking pretty pictures, and in reading a good book.

  • Material things like a home to live in, a comfy bed to sleep in, delicious food to eat, a deck on which to grow plants, a phone to keep in touch with loved ones, warm clothes in the cold months, a computer to write on, coffee to drink, and books to line our shelves. We've been given a lot in this life.

What are you thankful for this year? I'd love to read your list, or even hear just one thing off of it, so please, share away in the comments! :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Support Dressember for Girls Like Me

The goal of Dressember is to use clothing to declare a message, and to simultaneously raise support for an extremely worthy cause, International Justice Mission. (Read more about this in my previous post.) I fully believe in the work IJM is doing to help rescue people out of slavery and sexual exploitation because I was once a victim too.

No, I wasn't a victim of human trafficking, but in high school I was the victim of a repeat crime that was sexual in nature. If I hadn't had the support and help of my family and law enforcement officials, it most likely would've continued or gotten worse.

My heart aches for those who don't have help and support, who don't have someone to speak up for them and defend them. I know what it feels like to be defenseless, and also what it feels like to have rescue and a voice. Now I want to be a voice and help provide rescue for women and girls who so desperately need it. And that's why I'm participating in Dressember.

Maybe you have a story that's similar to mine. Maybe you've helped someone who was a victim. No matter what your experience has been, I'm asking you to stand with me this Dressember. Together we'll be a voice for victims, declaring that crime should not be allowed to continue. Declaring that each person deserves dignity, respect, and freedom.

How can you help? Come on over to my Dressember Challenge page and ask yourself what you can give to this cause. Every dollar you invest goes to IJM (and is also tax-deductible within the U.S.), no amount is too small to give to this great work. After that, please share my page with others you think should join the cause. Together we'll be stronger and louder in the fight for justice.

Monday, November 17, 2014

31 Days of Dressember

Next month I'm committing to doing something I've never done before. It's called Dressember.

Throughout the month of December I'm partnering with The Dressember Foundation to help raise awareness and money to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. Dressember is a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to all women. So what does this mean?

For the 31 days of December, I and other participants will only wear dresses as we advocate for the inherent dignity of all women. You can support me in my efforts as I work to raise money for International Justice Mission by donating, sharing my participant page on social media, and inviting your friends to join the cause. Donations are secure and tax-deductible within the United States.

But, I'm not just wearing dresses and asking you to support human trafficking victims. I'm doing some more to up the ante.


>> If you support me by donating any amount to my Dressember challenge, you'll receive updates by email--including photos of the dresses I wear--and I will list your name on the "donor wall" on this blog.

>> If you donate $50 or more, you will also receive a handmade thank-you card from me.

>> If you donate $100 or more, you will also receive a handmade bookmark from me.

>> If I reach or exceed my goal by December 24, I will wear my wedding dress on Christmas day.

So now it's up to you. Will you join me in supporting this awesome cause? If you've still got questions, check out what Dressember is all about, or read up on these frequently asked questions. Then click one of these links:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Give the Gift of Freedom

If you're like me, each year you try to get a jump on Christmas shopping by at least planning what to get for the people on your list. Well, let me help by giving you a new idea! I suggest checking out International Justice Mission's gift catalog for not just some great options, but some ways to give more than just a present.


Through IJM's gift catalog, you can help combat slavery, defend widows and orphans, empower churches to seek justice, and more. Your gift will honor a friend or loved one and, if you purchase by December 10, you can receive a beautiful printed card to give or send to that friend. (Find out more about how this works.)

I invite and ask you to consider this gift-giving option. It's a way to make the Christmas season about more than novelty gifts and Santa Claus as it calls us to remember Jesus' gift of love and sacrifice to free us from the slavery of sin.

Click here to find out more about IJM and its mission.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thanksgiving at My House

This year Nick and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our place. We still have about two weeks to plan and prep, but it's never too early to get and share some inspiration! (Including on Pinterest with some new ideas.)

I think this year, my house will look (and taste) like a mix of Thanksgiving and Christmas because it's always hard for me to wait to put up Christmas decorations. I want to enjoy them as long as possible because they bring warmth and cheer to an otherwise cold and dismal season in Iowa.

It will possibly also taste a little like Christmas as we're ditching the typical turkey for a ham. This won't be the first time we've switched up a usually traditional menu, however. Last year for Christmas dinner my mom served family-agreed-upon burritos/tacos and sides. We had friends over and had such a great time; no one missed the turkey or the stuffing.

As for the rest of the menu, we're planning for the usual suspects: mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, my mom's yummy stuffing, bread, cranberry sauce, and savory sides like olives and pickles. Plus dessert. Then we'll enjoy the annual tradition of watching the Cowboys game, which will be even more exciting this year as they're playing the Eagles (aka, Nick's favorite team). There's nothing like a little rivalry to make the day more interesting!

While we gear up for the big day and its festivities, there's nothing better than sharing with friends. And for this post, I'm sharing my favorite biscuit recipe, which also easily converts into really amazing cinnamon rolls. They may just have to become a Thanksgiving breakfast tradition!

As always, if you have something to share, please leave it in the comments (even if it's just a link to your Thanksgiving Pinterest board, I would love to check it out)! What are your Thanksgiving traditions or favorite dishes you can't go without? Will you be cheering on the Cowboys or the Eagles?! :)

Old-Fashioned Baking Powder Biscuits

Makes 12-15 biscuits
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening or margarine
3/4 cup milk
1. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
2. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut shortening into flour mixture until consistency is like course meal.
3. Add milk; stir with a fork just until a soft dough forms. Then turn dough on floured surface and knead gently 10 to 12 times until no longer sticky.
4. Roll or press dough into 1/2-inch thickness and cut with 2-inch floured cutter. Place dough rounds on ungreased cookie sheet 1/2 inches apart for soft sides or 1 inch apart for crusty sides.
5. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Learning about Success from the Life of Joseph

Success. It's something our culture thrives off of and lives for. It consumes many of us as we struggle to achieve our vision of a successful life. It has become a necessity for earning the respect and attention of colleagues and friends.

What does success look like to you and how do you measure it? Is it reaching a goal or milestone, becoming wealthy, achieving power, or becoming famous? Whatever it is, it always involves forward motion, personal growth, and some measure of independence or self-reliance. But what happens when we don’t see our version of success?

I struggled with feeling unsuccessful in my career when I took a part time job that had nothing to do with my field. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my work, or achieving anything in my career. I wondered what God was doing, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to find out. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and find something that would feel more fulfilling. 

In church, I spent most Sundays sulking in my seat, thinking about all the great things people around me were doing while my life was at a standstill. Then one Sunday there was a message on Joseph and my entire perspective changed. God completely transformed my view of success through the life of Joseph (chronicled in Genesis 37-50), teaching me that His definition of success is much different than mine.

Work for the Lord
The first lesson that the life of Joseph taught me was to work for the Lord wherever I am, no matter where that may be, no matter what I am doing. Regardless of where Joseph was, he was constantly focused on honoring God and working for Him. He spent time in slavery and in prison—places far worse than a frustrating job—but didn’t let that detract him from the Lord’s work.

As followers of Jesus, the Bible calls us to work as though we’re working for Him, not for men, because we are ultimately serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). This sounds simple, but it should affect every aspect of what we do. This truth calls me to examine whether or not my work is honoring to the Lord. Am I diligently and thoroughly completing each task in a way that represents my love for Him? Or am I doing the minimum to simply get the job done? Joseph challenges me to do more and be more for the Lord.

Don’t get distracted by circumstances
Sometimes the circumstances of our lives cause us to question where God is and what He is doing. No doubt Joseph wondered this as he was being sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites by his brothers. Or when Potiphar’s wife lied about him attempting to rape her, which got him thrown into prison. Or when his fellow prisoner, the chief cupbearer, forgot about him when he was restored to his post by Pharaoh. But when we look at Joseph’s life as a whole, God allows us to see how he was working through each circumstance to bring about his divine plan.

In the midst of a challenging circumstance, it’s difficult or even impossible to see the big picture. At times God gives us a glimpse into what He is doing and how He is working, but even when He doesn’t, we can know for certain that He is working (Romans 8:28). Difficult circumstances are an exercise in trust and obedience as we make ourselves available for the Lord’s work and watch to see where He will move.

Don’t worry about direction

When I look at the life of Joseph, I see that God’s way of working doesn’t always make sense and sometimes feels backward. Instead of building from a slave to free man to a leader, Joseph went from being a slave to a prisoner and then to a leader. Going from a slave to a prisoner sounds like a backward move and I’m sure at the time it felt like things were going from bad to worse. Where’s the success in becoming a prisoner? But God used this as a critical step to get Joseph where He ultimately wanted him, in Pharaoh’s court.

When I went from having a great full-time job in my career field to that part time job, it absolutely felt like a backward move. The forward momentum of my career suddenly stopped and I felt like I lost all that I had gained. It was important for me to learn that a “backward” move didn’t really mean anything to the whole picture of my life because God was using it to put me where He wanted me. This was a step in a direction that only He knew and I needed to trust Him in it.

God is always with you
This is the greatest, most amazing truth for followers of Jesus: the God of the universe is with us (Matthew 28:20)! And God was with Joseph, as Genesis 39 states multiple times (verses 2, 21 and 23). We, like Joseph, never have to face the challenges of life alone. We have a constant source of strength, help and guidance throughout our lives. And this brings me to my next lesson from Joseph.

Success is from the Lord
Not only does the account of Joseph’s life make it clear that God was with him, but it also clearly states that the Lord gave him the success he experienced (Genesis 39:2, 23). This is a convicting reminder for my selfish pride; when I think I am successful, I’m not. Only the Lord can generate success and He grants it to whomever He wills whenever He wants.

This should cause us to question, the next time I am praised for a job well done, to whom do I credit my success? Do I build myself up or do I give credit to the only Reason for my achievement? It’s important to mentally make the shift from thinking of success from a me-centric view to a God-centric view as He is the one deserving of all glory and praise.

Learn God’s definition of success
Finally, and most importantly, we need to adopt God’s definition of success, which is extremely counter-cultural. He isn’t looking for His followers to get rich quick or achieve fame status, though at times He does grant those things and more. His definition of success results in the saving of lives.

In Joseph’s story, God used all the circumstances—good and bad—to bring about His ultimate plan to save His people from seven years of famine (Genesis 41-47). In our story, God wants to use us to save lives not just temporarily, but eternally. He moves us, through our circumstances, to lost and hurting people, in desperate need of salvation. Our job is to look for and take advantage of those opportunities, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

Monday, November 3, 2014

Celebrating this Blog's 6th Birthday!

In celebration of Life Unscripted's sixth birthday, I am bringing you my tips for starting and keeping a blog. Since high school I've had about five different blogs, and this one has lasted the longest. So here I share what I've learned over the years with six tips for you.

1. Keep only one blog. This advice comes from personal experience after starting way too many blogs on different sites. Keep it simple and only have one place to collect all your posts. If you get bored with the way it looks you can always change the layout, header, and colors, even the name. This is why I recommend the next tip...

2. Use your name for the URL. When you're setting up your blog, you have to put in a name for it which also becomes your URL [web address]. I recommend using something like your name or an abbreviation of your name rather than a catchy blog title, just in case you ever want to change the title of your blog.

Before I stuck with "Life Unscripted" I had some different titles in the heading of this blog. It took a while to settle on something I liked, so I was glad the link was something more permanent, like my name. Of course I did get married later, but I've kept "Loyola" around as my middle name, so it still works. ;)

3. Write for yourself. It can be really tempting to write about things that will get pageviews, and sometimes the two coincide, but I recommend writing about things you care about first and foremost. Sometimes no one will read your posts and other times a ton of people will. Regardless, you should enjoy the subject matter you spend time blogging about. So whether it's politics, DIYS, social issues, or fashion, have fun and write away!

4. Make yourself write. If you're going to start a blog, you have to make yourself stick with it. Yes, we all suffer from writer's block and sometimes you'll be so busy you won't have time to blog. But in as much as you can, stick with it and keep writing! Ask friends for ideas if you've hit a wall, or take a break from long, serious posts and do something fun.

5. Connect with your readers. Readers are the best, especially when they interact with you! Don't be that blogger who doesn't have time to respond or ask for feedback. Make sure to reply to comments and ask questions [even off your blog, like on Facebook or Twitter]. Let your readers know you're listening and you care.

6. Try something new. You're already trying something new by starting a blog, so keep it up! Try writing about different things or presenting them in a new way. Create a post with lots of photos, make a listicle, share a Pinterest board, use Storify to create a story, make a Polyvore board, post a video, write a project how-to. You don't have to sit down and write 20 paragraphs each time. Switching it up will keep things interesting, for you and your readers.

Now add a tip! What are some of your tips for blogging? Do you have any suggestions or rules you stick to? What advice would you share with a first time blogger? Put your tips in the comments!
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