Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remembering Christmas and All the Traditions

As I sit here drinking my coffee and enjoying some cookies that my parents and in-laws made us (yes, we're spoiled), I had to stop and think of all the Christmas traditions we've done over the years. That's when I decided to whip out the computer and start typing.

This Christmas has been rather confusing for me and Ash. Last year was our first Christmas together so of course I had to make sure we did every typical holiday tradition to make it memorable :). And previous years I was with my parents celebrating so it was always me and my brother's responsibility so spread the Christmas cheer in our family and set up the decorations, which was fun. We would always have a fit if the parents wanted to put up the artificial tree by saying it made Christmas fake. In which then we would trudge through snow to pick out the perfect "Griswald" family Christmas tree (hehe). But this year is different.

We've been focusing alot of the traditions of the church with our Antioch group and perhaps still having that mindset it is making Christmas difficult for us. Going from being the cheerful, always have to keep to tradition person, its quite a 180 change. There were three reasons we didnt get a tree this year, 1) We didn't have the room, 2) It was alot of time and effort (we're not lazy, just tired :P), 3) For some reason I forgot the reason for why we "need" a tree. That's what started the confusion. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still very cheerful and positive :) I don't refer to myself as a Scrooge....yet.

It's funny sometimes listening to customers conversations at the mall. I'll hear a nice positive message from them one second, then the next thing they are complaining about Christmas. After reading so many posts on Facebook about remembering the "reason for the season" I cant help but think, what is the reason? To spend a whole week at the mall spending your paychecks before you even get them? Spending hours in a day decorating the house? Idoling a Christmas tree and comparing whose is better? Dressing up as Santa to please the kiddos? Unending gifts? Complaining about your family gatherings? Admiring the baby Jesus who apparently never grew up and died on a cross? It's confusing. This is not a tradition I want to keep nor pass down through my family.

Thinking about these things has discouraged me but also encouraged me. Where is my focus? There's alot of things I could say I want but nothing I need. (I did ask for a couples wants and didnt neglect our family presents ;-) I would have felt bad since it's expected). But what does presents have to do with Christmas after all? Who started this tradition? This year I'm spending Christmas with close family remembering that God has had a plan since before creation and remembering how He loves us :)

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Need You

If you have been keeping up with my posts then you already know of the rut that me and my husband are in. Well one night after the work day was done and we both sat down on the couch, Ash showed me this song he heard on Pandora while he was working. I fell in love. This song hit so hard.

I'm in an emotional struggle. I've never been one to open up or express myself. Ask my husband, he practically has to pry it out of me. Perhaps that is why I am opening up on here. Its easier just writing than expressing in person.

Lately my heart has been burdened. There is so much going on in this world. It is so easy to become overwhelmed. So easy to make "ME" the focus, so easy to lose track of time, so easy to exhaust yourself, so easy to forget what is important. I want so much. Not in possessions, but spiritually. I want to help everyone. I want do everything. I want to grow. I want less of me. I want the time to do all things. This is how I exhaust myself. When I become exhausted its like I am surrounded in chaos. When I feel like I am surrounded it is easy to lose sight of God.

When Ash shared this song, I knew it was a God thing. It was exactly what I needed to hear. So please listen...  (Not to mention it is also one of my favorite Christian artists).

Times by Tenth Avenue North

I love this....

 I hear you say "my love is over,
Its underneath, its inside, its in between

The times you doubt me, when you can't feel
The times that you've questioned 'is this for real?'
The times you've broken, the times that you mend
The times you hate me and the times that you bend

Well my love is over, its underneath
its inside, its in between,

These times you're healing and when your heart breaks
The times that you feel like you've fallen from grace
The times you're hurting
The times that you heal
The times you go hungry and attempted to steal

In times of confusion and chaos and pain
I'm there in your sorrow under the weight of your shame
I'm there through your heartache
I'm there in the storm
My love I will keep you by my power alone

I don't care where you've fallen, where you have been
I'll never forsake you, my love never ends,
It never ends

Like I said... it hit hard. It was like God's way of reminding me, "keep your eyes on Me, and through Me you can do all things".

I know I need you. I need to love you. I love to see you, but it's been so long. I long to feel you, I feel this need for you. And I need to hear you, is that so wrong?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Baby Shower 2

It has taken me this long but finally they are here.... Pictures from Marcy's second baby shower with us :) We had a nice Saturday afternoon shower at the church with some family and church friends. It was a fun day! Here are some photos to enjoy :)

PS. most of them came straight from the camera unedited :P

This is my favorite picture :) (haha)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

12 Reasons for Christmas

Pastor John:
  1. “For this I was born and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
  2. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; cf. Hebrews 2:14–15).
  3. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
  4. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
  5. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  6. “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5).
  7. “For God so loved the world that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16).
  8. “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
  9. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
  10. “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many may be revealed” (Luke 2:34ff).
  11. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
  12. “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarches, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:7–8; cf. John 12:27ff).
Adapted from the article, "12 Reasons for Christmas" (1991).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Awesomeness of Paul

 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Acts 20:22-24
 10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
 12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Acts 21:10-14

This is among the passages we read in our youth small group tonight. It gave me goosebumps reading this. Paul being in a strong relationship with God, that he was so compelled by the Holy Spirit to do the Lord's will even to the point of death. His only goal was to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him. Which was? Testifying the good news of God's grace!

I love reading Acts, I love Paul's letters, I love the example he leaves for us. We've been studying this in our Antioch class and it has revealed so much to me! The way the Holy Spirit uses him to advance the gospel and the confidence he has in the Lord says so much. Compare him to the Saul he was to the transformation after being saved....completely different! It is amazing what God can do.

Now dont get me wrong, Paul isnt God, he's just a man (not to sound like I'm worshiping him). What struck me into blogging about this, is that we talked about this in our youth small group tonight and I always find encouragement in hearing their words, witnessing the Holy Spirit work in their lives. I know the struggles they face in their daily lives, as teenagers and as followers of Christ but they understood this passage and saw the boldness of Paul and immediately applied it to their lives. I can see they are striving for God and to reach out to others. As Christians, we're given the command to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of Lord. We're supposed to be sharing the good news to everyone! Whatever hardships may come, (which we know they will), we should have Paul's attitude..."to live is Christ, and to die is gain" as long as I am able to finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me.

This is my prayer.. that we can have the confidence in God and be moved by the Holy Spirit in such a way that others will see God through us. That we can share the good news to everyone. That we can strengthen and encourage eachother along in God's will. That we can be the church...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Living Out Scripture

"12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak,15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil. be patient with them all.
 23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

-1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 (ESV)

I love this passage. Every time I read it I am always convicted of something new. But the thing about this scripture is it nails a variety of issues and commands...

1. Respect those among you AND over you AND who admonish you in the Lord. AND to esteem them highly in love because of their work. This verse makes me laugh in a doubting way but I find it so humbling.

2. Be at peace among yourselves. Do not stir up trouble but show God's love for one another.

3. Warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other's nerves you don't snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. (according to The Message).

4. Rejoice ALWAYS. Not when you feel like it. Not when something exciting just happened. Try rejoicing always, even when times are hard. Even when all you want to do is complain.

5. Pray without ceasing. I discovered what this meant a few years ago. Before all I could think of was Buddist or various other religions that spend the majority of their day on their knees in prayer. But it means AS you go through your day, thank God, praise God, lift up requests, etc.

6. Give thanks in ALL circumstances. Heh....ALL. It's the will of God.

7.  Do not quench the Spirit. Don't suppress the Spirit. And do not stifle those who are lead by the Spirit. Does that also mean we should be fluid instead of flexible and allowing the Holy Spirit to move rather than trying to have all control ourselves? I think yes.

8. Give ear to what others have said, but do not be gullible but test it out and throw out only what is evil. And trust what is good.

9. Be patient and do what is holy. Keep yourself free from every form of evil.

10. May God make you holy and whole. May your spirit, soul, and body be blameless when the Lord God returns. God is FAITHFUL, he WILL accomplish what he said he would.

Like I said, I love this passage. Imagine what the church (us, the body of Christ) would look like if we faithfully lived this out? For James 1:22 says, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." I pray that God will work this attitude in my life, that I can better be a witness for Him. Thank you Lord.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Forgotten God

“I believe that this missing something is actually a missing someone—namely the Holy Spirit.  Without Him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results.  The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation.  And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit.  But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural.  The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”           — Francis Chan, Forgotten God

I have to start this post out with mentioning how hard it is to write when you have NyQuil running through your system. But this has been on my mind all day so I'll keep it quick and get to the point...

How often do we forget the Holy Spirit? Hmm? Too often. Everything I have to say, Francis Chan stated it for me. Without the Holy Spirit, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-sized results. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different. He later states in his book that "
We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God." Think about that. We reason things of humanly, take credit for work thats not ours, confuse OUR emotions for that of the leading of the Holy Spirit, we plan, we strategize, but we do not keep our lives fluid enough for the Holy Spirit to work. Theres not enough room for my ego, pride and You, Lord.  This book hits hard for me.

I said I would keep this short, but if you have the time, read this book. It'll open your eyes.

"Nowhere in scripture do I see “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate.   Yet when I look at our churches this is exactly what I see:  a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives.   People who have in a sense asked Him to join them on their life journey and follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before.   The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives.  Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us, He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life."   - Francis Chan, Forgotten God

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Little Update From the Szostaks

Recently I've had a lot of people come up to me and ask about my blog. Apparently it's getting around quicker than what I write on Facebook :-P. So For those of you who follow me through my blog instead and are curious, here's a quick little recap about what we've been doing...

On top of both of us working full time, him at Windham Mill Works and me at Forever 21, we've been balancing a busy schedule of odds and ends. Church has been our main focus. We've been leading youth group for over a year now I think. And boy, do we have some great kids (more like adults :)). It has been such an encouragement listening to them and their struggles with high school but also the positive attitude they have that most wouldn't. We're going through the book of Acts right now and they bring such a variety of perspectives and questions. I think they grasp more of the difficult topics than some educated adults do. And to listen to their prayers! They pray for guidance and wisdom and understanding along with the needs for those around them, that right there is the most encouraging thing to me. So continue praying for them, they are the future church.

Second, is Antioch. Oh where to begin. Antioch is a college course that focuses primarily on the early church and establishing churches the way they should be. It has been eye-opening! I love our Monday night groups. Its so great being able to learn but the challenge is putting what you learn into action. It's put such a burning passion in my heart to do God's will and His ministry. It's also fun studying with the group we have ;-) So if you are interested in coming just let me know!

With our focus being the church, we've been working on incorporating family game nights, which we have one tomorrow night if you're interested in that too ;-). I think our next step would be community or small groups. We have a couple already but maybe another one and get some younger adults to join. But we'll see what God has planned.

Which brings me to my next update. We've been praying for quite some time that God would give us some guidance and leading on where to go, what to do. Right now, we're taking this next year, maybe less, to get prepared and save for a possible move. Our plan right now, but we understand that any human plan can be thwarted by God's if He leads us differently, is in spending some time down south for a while. We've talked about it quite a bit and it just seems like everything is pointing in that direction. There is another place in mind that we were contemplating but I think that is where we may settle down later on. All of this could be nonsense though. It is just a our goal-like plan for now. All we want to do is go where God wants us. So please pray for us and for guidance.

Well that about wraps it up :) Make sure you stay tuned for more updates!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Give A Little Bit

I woke up Wednesday morning with a dream that terrified me... I hated people. My attitude towards other was completely out of line and I had no respect, no interest, in what was going on with the people around me. It was an odd dream, but convicting. As soon as I woke up I knew that God gave me this dream for a reason.

In my last post I stated the importance of the church, of missions, and caring for others, etc. This dream goes hand-in-hand. After waking up I was so discontent with myself, just the emotions from the dream made me feel so selfish, uncaring, and self-absorbed. How much time do I spend praying for others, taking an interest in their lives, or just taking time to acknowledge them?

Where I work it's hard to think of others, mostly the customers, because you develop bonds with the coworkers. There are some picky shoppers at the mall and its a challenge. It's also a challenge to work retail and NOT complain. But that day I went to work with this dream in mind, and halfway through the day I come across an elderly lady shopping. (Most women that age that come in our store are usually pretty clueless about what they're looking for). I noticed she was caring a little oxygen tank and was walking very slow and limping. I felt bad and went and offered my assistance. I spent half an hour looking for a sweater that she liked for her friend for Christmas, unfortunately there was none left in the size she wanted. This is where I stop feeling bad... She was sooo insistent that I find THIS sweater. She asked me a million different questions, ex. if the store could order it for her, if I could order it from her, if there was a way to save it at another store, so on and so on; all of which we can't do. Normally this would be nothing, but when you can see the dissatisfaction on the customers face and they wish to speak with a manager then you know you have a picky shopper, which somehow always rubs me the wrong way. I reassured her and offered some similar sweaters and then even offered other stores nearby that might have something similar. She sat down and sighed real heavy and told me she went to the store next door and couldnt find anything similar over there but worst of all she tried to find assistance, for some one to help her and no one would. I could tell by the way she was talking she was burdened. How could someone look at the lady and refuse to help her. She could barely walk, she was all by herself, and she could barely breath! She told me how thankful she was that I was able to spend what was now an hour trying to help her and how much she appreciated that I cared. She left with a smile but still no sweater :-/  This was a sobering day at work. I couldnt stop thinking of my attitude with this lady. That if I hadnt taken the time to help her how much more dissatisfied she would have been. Even though it's just a small thing as a sweater, it was still humbling hearing those words from her.

All yesterday I continued thinking about this dream and that opportunity Wednesday. Being back on Facebook, I've been trying to keep up on all the updates and continue praying for those I'm connected with. Like I said in my last post, it's not about me. It's other first then me. And with Thanksgiving coming around, the season that advertises your one-a-year thankfulness, I thought this might make a good post. But I was convicted that there is so much more as Christ's followers that we can give. Give a little bit of your time to pray for others, give a little bit to stop to talk to someone (caringly) who would normally get on your nerves, give a little bit to read God's word, give a little bit to pick up another person's slack, give a little bit just to help someone.

24 hours in a day, how much of that time am I using just for myself? How much of that time is glorifying God?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stuck in a Rut

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

There are times in our lives when we endure various trials and stuggles. Sometimes it seems like thats all life is about. It's funny, because growing up I've never been the person to think when I hear a sermon about persevering that it applies to me. I've always been a patient person, perhaps its from waiting on my dad talking all these years (I like to think so). And being a pastor's daughter I've always seen what others have to go through and the day to day troubles that wear them down, which has been a humbling experience on my part. With that said, I rarely get convicted about persevering and enduring hardships because I've never considered my troubles worthy of worrying about.

But that's not what this post is all about. This past week has been physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. With both my husband and I working full time and having conflicting schedules along with our daily routine of things, it has been....well.....desensitizing to our excitement and enthusiasm. And when that comes along it affects us in a variety of ways. The word we use to describe this feeling is "blah". Usually, we've learned over the past, when one of us is feeling blah the other one is always quite the opposite and we're able to help and encourage one another. But this time we were both blah. We were both stuck.

At first we're completely clueless of why it is we feel "blah", but then its hits us. For a while we've been talking about possible locations where God is calling us. We know we are supposed to be doing something more in our ministry, and we've been praying earnestly for quite some time but no actions have been made. So with this burdened feeling and not a clue what we're supposed to be doing exactly, we're stuck in a rut.

One thing that I'm constantly convicted of, is that its not all about my marriage, my family, my friends, my job, my appearance, etc. Dont get me wrong, God put me and Ash together for a reason. We're joined together to do His work as one and bring Him glory. But its so much more than that. It's about God and our eagerness to do His work. Its about ministry. Its about the Gospel. Its about the Church. It's about missions. It's about humbleness. It's not about me. This is the part where I tell you my struggle... Since I first felt God's call in my life, my desire has been to live for Him, to do what He wants me to do and to share His word with everyone. I want to be totally dedicated to ministry. Constantly immersed in the Bible. Unceasingly caring for others. I WANT to grow. I NEED to grow. Who will mentor me? Who will teach me? This is my struggle. Knowing that we're meant to be doing something else but stuck in where we're currently at.

Yesterday, as I was doing my daily reading, one of the readings was Ecclesiastes 3. I've read it before but it was like I was looking at it for the first time. God has made everything beautiful in its time. Everything beautiful. When I think about that, I think of all those walks I take and just stopping to take a moment to appreciate creation, admire all that God has given us. Even in all the chaos and uphill battles there is still beauty if you look for it. Now this is the part that really gets me.... "He has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." We dont always see the big picture. We're left with what we can see at the present time with no idea whats to come. The fact that we understand there is eternity, that God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and that that's only some of what God has revealed to us baffles me. I know we're going through this time for a purpose. I know God is using it to prepare us for what is next, yet I do not know what it is. But I know that this momentary struggle does not compare to what is to come. My only prayer is that my life and how I serve Him will bring Him glory.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Baby Shower

Today the in-laws, Ash, and I all piled into my car and headed down to Massachusetts to participate in a surprise baby shower. Marcy, my sister-in-law (technically aunt but she's not old enough to be an aunt to me so I consider her a sister, is expecting an unknown Squidy due the first of the new year. Her and her husband are waiting til it's born to discover the sex... (I'm secretly hoping for a boy :) hehe.) But whatever it turns out to be I'm gonna be just as excited.

Anyway, we all got the chance to go and were so happy to be there. When it comes to a baby, we're all excited. Especially since there hasnt been a baby around either my family or my in-laws for quite a while. So without further ado, here are a few pictures from todays events :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Second Favorite Food

Can I just say how much I LOVE pizza. I'm obsessed with anything that has a tomato sauce. Which means my first favorite food is spaghetti. Duh. Ask my husband, I could eat spaghetti three times a day, seven days a week.

Well anyway, I've been craving pizza all week so I finally picked up some fixings and made it. I'm not a food blogger at all, I'm no cook. But this pizza tasted so good I had to share. Well, most of it tasted good lol.... I've never had avocados before and I've seen them appear in so many recipes I had to try it.

Didnt like em. Nope. I am a person that likes alot of flavor and it just didnt cut it. But the rest of it was good :) I swear. You'll also noticed how lazy I was in making this...I did not make the crust from scratch. Which in the end was a mistake, I could have made it better myself homemade.

The good stuff ;)

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