Thursday, June 11, 2015

Explored: Kalona, Iowa

I'm starting a new "Explored" series to show the places I get to visit and explore. I also want to use it as an opportunity to highlight some of the unique and interesting things you can find in Iowa, though it definitely won't be limited to just Iowa. ;) Thanks for reading!

Since moving to Iowa City, Nick and I have discovered the nearby Amish town of Kalona. We were last there a month ago, so this is a belated post about our explorations.

One of our favorite places to visit while in Kalona is the Amish grocery store, Stringtown. You can find lots of unique food items in bulk, as well as fresh produce and, in the spring, flowers.

During this trip, we visited the Kalona Brewing Company for the first time. It features a mix of modern and vintage decor, a 15-barrel brewing system which can be viewed through huge glass windows, and a menu that includes healthy, organic, and gluten free options.

After lunch we did some exploring, visiting local shops and stores including The Shop, featuring home decor and finds; the Kalona General Store; Kalona Bakery; and the Pink Begonia, an antique and handcraft shop, where we found a cute little patio set for our deck.

We ended our time downtown with a trip to the Kalona Coffee House, another place we enjoy stopping for smoothies, coffee drinks, and ice cream.

On our way out of town, we stopped at Sister's Garden and Bloom, two antique and finds shops contained in old houses. They have housewares, apparel, candles, and hundreds of other unique items.

If you're in the Iowa City area at any point, Kalona is a must-visit!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Forgiven Lovers: A Short Guide to Changing the World

"Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." {Luke 7:47-50}
I love this passage, it's one of my favorites from the New Testament. It's a beautiful reminder that love and forgiveness commingle in our lives to produce each other. Forgiveness drives us to love, love drives us to forgive.

This Bible story starts in the home of a Pharisee, a devoutly religious man. The Pharisees believed their good deeds made them holy, elevating them above those deemed sinners. They were the legalists of their day. This particular Pharisee had invited Jesus over for a meal.

At some point, a womana known sinner in the townshows up after hearing that Jesus is there. She weeps and her tears fall on Jesus' feet, which she then wipes with her hair. She anoints His feet with fragrant oil. The Pharisee misses what is happening because all he can think is, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!"

There's more to this story, but let's stop here for a moment. When you read the Bible, you see that Jesus didn't turn a blind eye to the heart issues of the Pharisees (or anyone for that matter). He called them out on numerous occasions. (See multiple instances in Matthew 12.) You would think that since Pharisees were the keepers of religious knowledge, they would've understood what Jesus was about. But they missed it because they didn't realize they weren't any different than the sinners they looked down upon. (See Luke 5:29-32.)

The same thing happens today in churches and towns and on social media and in blog posts. Religious people have had a field day with anything deemed wrong or sinful since the beginning of recorded history, and probably before. Legalistic tendencies--the process of elevating oneself while condemning another--are nothing new. The only difference is that today there is the broader platform of the internet from which to broadcast rants, finger pointing and hurtful speech.

When people who claim to be followers of Christ engage in this behavior, they lose sight of what Jesus came here to do. Let's go back to the story.

After the Pharisee has his moment of shock and disdain, Jesus tells him a story. "A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?" The Pharisee responds, "I suppose the one he forgave more."

Bingo. That's the key, that's what this is all about. Jesus affirms the Pharisee's answer, then points out the love the sinful woman is displaying. He says, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil."

This woman knew she was a sinner. She didn't need anyone broadcasting it from the rooftops or blasting her on social media. She knew what she had done wrong, that her sins were in fact many, and that she needed something more. She desperately craved the forgiveness she could only receive from Jesus. That forgivenessinstantaneous, I believe, though also verbally given by Jesus laterfueled an outpouring of lavish love.

That's what forgiveness from Jesus does, it enables us to lovetruly, richly, lavishly. We can't get it until we admit we need it, and we can't give it until we receive it. And friends, receiving forgiveness means accepting it.

In my opinion, therein lies the problem with the Christian community at large. Some of us can't see our own need for Jesus' forgiveness. That even though we do so-called good deeds, they are no better than filthy rags. We earn nothing by our efforts and we are no better than those we scorn. We are the ones who need forgiveness. 

Then there are those who have asked and now need to accept Jesus' forgiveness. This is where I so often fall, and maybe that's why I can see it so easily in others. I can't tell you how many times I have felt guilty for one single offense. And over and over again, I keep asking Jesus to forgive me for the same exact thing. And that, friends, is wrong.

Asking for forgiveness involves believing that we will be forgiven, then receiving that forgiveness. If you don't accept forgiveness, you don't really believe you're forgiven, or that you're forgiveable. You're not trusting that Jesus will do what He says, that He will keep His word, that He will and does forgive you the first time, every time. 

If we don't believe Jesus' wordno matter what it iswe make Him out to be a liar, to be dishonest, to not be good. And we are no better off than those who have yet to ask for His forgiveness. Accepting Jesus' forgiveness means believing it, taking it in, letting it change you, letting love take the place of sin and pain, letting Jesus rule in your heart. And that, my friends, is the key. That's what this is all about. 

I want to challenge you, if you say you follow Jesus, to examine your heart. Do you need forgiveness, or do you need to accept forgiveness? Is anything standing in the way of you being able to truly love those who so desperately need it? Anger, finger pointing, name calling, and the like won't change hearts, won't call people to Jesus. Only love can do that.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Art: It's the Best Thing

So by now most of you have seen the shop that I opened on Society6, and if you follow me on Instagram, you've seen the daily drawing challenges I'm participating in. Pushing myself to get back into regularly creating art is one of the best things I've done lately.

Art has been a big part of my life since I can remember. I grew up drawing, painting, sculpting, taking pictures, and writing. I had a legacy of artists who went before me, including my grandfathers and my parents. I was surrounded by inspiration, and encouraged to pursue different artistic projects.

In high school I took pottery classes, art, textiles, and different writing classes that further fueled my love for creativity. I never thought of myself as a great artist, just a kid living life through a creative lens.

Sometime after college I slowly stopped doing a lot of the art that I loved. I began to forget what it felt like to make something, to enjoy the process of creating, to share my work with my family and friends. I think I lost the ability to appreciate the little things, to see the details and capture them.

Then last month I heard about this thing called #DoodleADayMay and thought it sounded like a fun project. Each day there was a different one-word prompt, what you did with it was entirely up to you. Forcing myself to make a new art piece each day quickly reminded me of why I used to love art so much.

It sounds strange to say, but I feel more like myself now. The little girl who loved to draw ponies and rainbows and live life in stories is back. I'm excited for each day, excited for the prospect of making something, of challenging myself, of imagining. When I'm not creating, I'm thinking of new ideas, wondering what I will draw next. And my art supplies are never very far away.

I'm thankful that God gives us things, shards of who He is, to use in this life. I know God is a master artist, a creative Being. His designs are before us every day; the veins in a leaf, the colors in a galaxy, the beauty of the human body. He took joy in everything He created, calling it good, and we, human beings, were the best. We are small representations of His image, and we get to share in aspects of who He is. I'm thankful that I get to make small shadows of the things He has created.

I'm also so thankful for the support I've received from all of you! I've already sold some items from my shop, and I've been getting such kind feedback on my artwork. It means a lot to have your support and encouragement!

You can always find my latest creations on Instagram and Tumblr, and find my shop designs organized newest to oldest here. If you like what you see, please share my shop with anyone else who may be interested! Also, there is FREE worldwide shipping going on through June 7!
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