three important appointments

Something that helps me clear my mind and nourish my soul is to keep three special appointments each week: a business meeting, a fun date, and a time to spiritually recharge. This is not my original idea, but I heard it on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast featuring an older couple talking about their secret to a strong, healthy marriage through the years.

Keeping these appointments would be beneficial to everyone at all stages of life: single, dating, engaged, or married! Here’s my version of that older couple’s idea and how try to integrate it into my weekly routine.

Business Meeting: Every Tuesday night, my husband and I have a time to connect about the logistics of our lives. This is a simple version of our agenda: Prayer, Recite out loud our family vision statement, Review: finances, calendar, social and ministry happenings, goals, old and new projects, and we even have a little point system that helps us with motivation (If you are interested, I’ll post a video about our point system below). Prior to our meeting, I update our books, and make a new agenda for the meeting. Yes, I know it sounds totally stale and, well, business-like, but it’s such a freeing thing for us to do in order to stay on the same page and not feel like our lives are out of control. If you are single, this is such a great way to keep short accounts with yourself and your own schedule, goals, and finances. Having your own business meeting is an excellent habit to get into now that will yield great dividends in the long run.

Date Night: Hanging out and having fun probably seems like a “no-brainer” easy thing to do when you are married, dating Cristi cell phone random 010 or engaged, but I want to encourage those of you who are single to have date nights too. When I was single (and was not even getting asked out very often), I would make an effort to get dressed up (heels, makeup, hair, and all) and go to a quaint cafe or oceanside restaurant with my bible and journal and I would call it a God-date. Seriously, I had so much fun and I really felt my worth and my beauty. Even though I usually ordered only a dessert and some tea (I had a tight budget), I engaged with the Lord through the experience. Other times, I would bundle up for a sunset walk along the beach. I listened for the Holy Spirit’s voice to tell me what He thought of me, to confide in me whatever He wanted to say, and I can honestly say that those dates were some of the sweetest ones I’ve

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ever had in my life! Just because you don’t have a “significant other” in your life doesn’t mean you don’t get to go on crazy-awesome dates.

Spiritual Recharge: This is a rest time, a Sabbath time, a time to reflect on the last week and get fueled up for another one, but even more than that to enjoy the present. We tend to have either all-day Saturday or Sunday to do this. We block out the day so that we don’t schedule anything that would be draining and we only allow life-giving activities. For us that means: going to church, taking a nap, going for a run or swim, reading a relaxing book, working on a creative project, having friends over for lunch or dinner… you get the idea. The point is: set aside an appointment on your calendar to recharge and reconnect with the Lord. He commands us to take a Sabbath rest, not only because He knows we need it, but because it helps us to remember that He is the One who makes the universe function, not us. We are just not that important (whew, praise God for that!!).

For those of you who are interested to hear more about our weekly points system, here’s a brief summary of what we do:

without chocolate

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one of my chocolate-free desserts during singleness

Several years ago, a dear friend of mine gave up chocolate.  She was like an older sister to me. I thought she was crazy for forgoing chocolate.  She decided that she was going to fast chocolate until she met her husband.  This girl loved her chocolate, and she would feel the sacrifice.  She was going to use the desire to eat the yummy treat as a reminder to pray for her future husband.  I probably tapped her on the back and said, “Good for you. I hope you feel like it’s worthwhile when all is said and done!”

A couple years later, I helped her pack for her honeymoon the night before her wedding. She was giddy and overjoyed to marry the man she loved so much.  I had met him for the first time at the rehearsal dinner (since we lived states away) and I was amazed by how God answered her diligent, persistent prayers.   She totally prayed for this man and I was amazed at how specifically God answered in her husband to be.

At the marriage ceremony the next day I sensed the Holy Spirit pressing upon my heart to do a chocolate fast of my own.  I wanted to plug my spiritual ears and pretend that I didn’t hear that divine instruction (because I really liked to be able to eat chocolate)!  However, I was curious to see how God might use this fast in my own life.   The chocolate cupcake served to me at their wedding reception was the last taste of chocolate I had before I got married.  I was one month shy of going 5 years without chocolate.

Footsteps
date #3 when the chocolate fast first came up in conversation

A funny little side story takes place at a picnic at the beach near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.  My husband and I were on our third date.  He had prepared a pretty sophisticated dinner using his backpacking stove.  When it came time for us to have dessert, I could tell he was especially excited.  He pulled out fresh strawberries and chocolate.  I was cringing inside because I knew I needed to hold to my fast, but I already really liked him and didn’t want to be rude.  He proceeded to melt the chocolate in fondue fashion and as he prepared the strawberries for dipping, I had to tell him.  I said that I was on a chocolate fast and I would normally be ecstatic about the dessert he made, but I can only eat the strawberries.  He looked at me intrigued.  Of course, he asked what I didn’t want him to ask, “Why are you fasting chocolate?”  I told him that I didn’t feel at liberty to share, but that I was excited to have some yummy strawberries.   Fast forward about a year.  We were driving somewhere and he told me that he still didn’t know why I was fasting it, but he told me that he wanted to join in and pray for me as I continued my fast.  Several months later, he proposed and asked me about the fast.   I finally told him and he was, of course, delighted.  We broke the fast together the day after we got married… with chocolate dipped strawberries on the balcony of our hotel room.

I share these stories with you to share my own experience of God answering prayers and I share to encourage you to take up the discipline of fasting.  The main point is to not feel condemnation or pressure to fast a certain amount of time or way.  Be gentle with yourself as you learn and grow in the fasting discipline. The goal is to grow in your yearning for the Lord and to be drawn into His presence even more often than normal because of the repeated reminder that we need Him.  Whatever it is that we are fasting: food, time, finances, talking, media, whatever it may be – we are meant to draw near to Him with a sincere heart.

As you seek to dig deeper into the discipline of fasting, here are some resources that might be helpful to you:

I would encourage you to read all you can from the Word (search fasting at www.biblegateway.com) and meditate on His Word.  Remember this is not a legalistic exercise; it’s a relationship strengthening discipline.  His love is so GREAT towards us!

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousnesswill go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”  Isaiah 58:6-9

going organic

A little over two years ago, my husband and I sat deeply engaged in conversation with a friend who shared some of his PhD in Nutrition knowledge with us.  I remember feeling my head swim with information and resources. Part of me felt skeptical about all the organic food talk and all the changes he challenged us to make, but I decided to be open-minded and to do some of my own research.food

We started by watching documentaries (see below for trailers), then we set off early on Saturday mornings to explore our local farmers markets, then we sat down with a rancher we met there and he taught us the value of organic grass-fed beef, then I began buying almost all organic produce, chicken, and eggs, then we cut out processed foods (ie any snacks you can buy prepackaged), and the levels get deeper and deeper…

Meanwhile, our sleep got better, we had more energy, our portion sizes were better controlled because each serving had more nourishment and our body didn’t ask for more food as quickly, my acne was beginning to clear up, and we experienced an overall improvement in our health.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Not to boast about our food savvy or healthy habits, but to share a glimpse into a gradual life change with many benefits that are available to you too!  Regardless of whether you are single or married, you can be a good steward of your own body and bless, not only your own life, but those around you now (roommates, family, friends) and in your future (husband and children).

Here are a few links to get you started (or to dive deeper) in your healthy (hot and holy) living:

Food Documentaries worth checking out:

Food, Inc.

“In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults… Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.”

In Organic We Trust

“IN ORGANIC WE TRUST is an eye-opening food documentary that follows Director/Producer Kip Pastor on a personal journey to answer commonly asked questions about organic food: What exactly is organic? Is it really better, or just a marketing scam?

The film digs deep with farmers, organic certifiers, scientists, and organic critics to explore the content beneath the label and the truth behind the marketing. It takes a balanced approach to clear up misconceptions about organic food while highlighting practical solutions that are transforming the way we grow and eat.”

If you have Amazon Prime, many of these are available on Amazon Instant Video, like this one: 

Also, here are some excellent food blogs and websites to check out:

Mama Natural

Oh She Glows

Pure Mamas

Frugal Foodie Family

Kayla Howard

O’Mamas

The Weston A. Price Foundation

Empowered Sustenance

We are part of the following food co-ops from which we order our organic food:

Azure Standard

Country Life Natural Foods

We also buy raw milk, honey, and eggs from a local farmer and beekeeper.  Getting your “real food” sources and systems take some time and deliberate effort, but it’s worth it!  Take one step at a time and don’t rush yourself.

changing seasons

Recently, I returned from a much needed vacation in Curacao.  All week long, I was reminded that God commands us to rest. As we prepare for the autumn season let’s be intentional about incorporating rest into our daily, weekly, and yearly schedules.  This video shares more about this concept of rest.

I couldn’t help but share some photos from our time away:

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(Yes, the water was really that blue.)

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Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

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Our first official video from this summer!

We had a summer series this past June where I (Cristina) taught the Bricklayers 101 class. Evan Walker filmed this series and made a couple shorter videos for us to also feature on our website. We are so grateful – he did such a great job! You’ll see this video on our website’s Home page too.

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For more regular updates, be sure to follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beautifulbricklayers

August Spotlight: Audrey Milburn

381192_10101081760100915_1537262551_nSince we are a community of women, we want to put you, Bricklayers, in the spotlight. Every month we will interview a Bricklayer (either married, single, engaged, or dating) so you can share wisdom and encouragement with one another. This month we interviewed Audrey Milburn: a lovely, radiant woman of God! We hope you enjoy this glimpse into her life.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Uganda for 17 years and then worked in Rwanda for a few years, which is where I met my husband. He was out there doing Business As Mission and I was developing children’s ministries in Rwanda. I’ve been married for 2 ½ years and have lived in the U.S. for a little more than that (I came to the States to marry David). I currently am a counselor at a Christian counseling center called CIFT and just recently graduated with my Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy. Other than my passion for families, I enjoy reading Sci-Fi books, swimming, interacting with any type of animal, playing tennis, watching Star Trek, and eating fondue.

How did you start dating your husband?

I met David in Rwanda one summer while driving him and another missionary to a missionary conference. I led worship that year, and as I stood up front, I

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found myself drawn to this man who worshiped God with such authenticity and pursuit – just like David in the Bible. We spoke a few times during this one-week conference, spent two days talking after that, and then he left to come back to America. We corresponded by email and Skype for about 6 months until he flew me to California so I could meet his family, and we began dating. That began 2 years of long-distance dating, using email, Skype, letters, and phone as our modes of communication.

Being that you are no longer in the season of singleness, but now married, what would you do differently in your single years and what would you do the same?

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I would have memorized Scripture more and been on my knees more, praying for the man who would eventually come into my life. I also would have journaled more and recorded my spiritual and emotional journey with God. What I would keep the same: stay intentional with my girlfriends in singlehood, let the Lord- not the world- define relationships, and develop disciplines in my life (time for God, exercise, ministry, friends, sleep, etc.).

How did your girlfriends support you in singleness and now in marriage? How do you stay intentional in your friendships?

Some of the best experiences I had were in Bible Study groups or small groups

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with women. These were places where we could share struggles, fears, prayer requests, and praises, and really lift each other up. This also solidified in me the desire to wait for God’s best and to not water down the standards I knew God wanted for me in a husband. Some of my favorite single times were in working out with a friend at the gym and talking about life, disappointments, and relationships. Now, in the U.S., friendships take a lot more intentionality, especially since I’m married. Friendships now take more courage and purpose in seeking out people at church, Life Group, or social circles that I desire to get to know better. I cut back an hour or two of work, or a workout, or an extra hour of sleep to be intentional in friendship.

When do you feel closest to God (activity, place, interaction, etc)?

I feel closest to God when I’m serving others (I’m an extrovert, by the way) or when I’m spending time with Him in nature. I also have had some of the most intimate moments with God while driving my car and talking (or crying) to him out loud. So turn off those radios, roll up your windows, and pour out your hearts to God while you’re on your way somewhere!

What has your friendship with God taught you how to be a friend to the girls and the special man in your life?

The most important thing: I can’t just talk – I need to listen a lot! Being an extrovert and having a naturally outgoing personality, I can talk to God or my husband or a friend for hours. But the challenge, and the key to a healthy vibrant relationship with anyone, is to be still and listen. My ability to listen and then empathize has grown one hundred fold since being married (and also pursuing counseling)! My advice to each of you is to practice this now – to listen and wait upon God, and interact with what He might be telling you. My friendship with God has also taught me how to be selfless in a way I never understood until I entered marriage! God is stretching me so much in these past years to seek the benefit of others over my own, to love others in the way they need to be loved, and to forgive like never before!

What would you say to your sisters in Christ who are experiencing heart ache and longing for marriage?

I would remind you that marriage is not the end goal – there is more beyond. The things that will last are what will exist without or beyond marriage: your relationship with Jesus, your love for and serving others, and your unique God-given gifts. You think your quest for purity ends on the wedding night? By no means! I’m learning what it means to be a pure married woman, in my thought life, in my interactions with men, in my speech, and so much more!

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Also, I would tell you this: that man that you’ve asked God about, that man that you believe God would want you to marry, that man you’ve dreamed about – he does exist! Don’t give in or give up when someone second-best comes along. I found this illustration of a guava tree when I was single and in the middle of Africa. In this picture, there were all these ripe guavas within arm’s reach of me on the lower branches, and all I had to do was pluck one and eat it. But these lower-branch guavas were rotten or pocked by hail, or pecked by birds, or infested with ants. But through the trees, way on the highest branches, a dangerous climb upward, I spotted some beautiful, sweet, perfect guavas. I wanted one of those! But was I willing to take the climb, be patient, get leaves in my hair, and pursue the better one? I sure was! Does that make sense? So don’t lower your standards. Don’t talk yourself down or doubt your prayer life or your heart’s cry. That man exists.

August Book Review: Embracing the Love of God

Every month we would like to give you a glimpse of a book recommended by a fellow Bricklayer.  Melissa Pena shares below about how this book helps us understand more about friendship with God and how that translates into our relationships with others.

In the book Embracing the Love of God, author James Bryan Smith explores the gentle heart of God for His people; His tender heart for us and those around us. Smith gives a fresh take on familiar Christian themes of acceptance, forgiveness, and care through the use of anecdotes, scripture, and moving insights.  In each page, Smith guides the reader through how deeply knowing God’s love for us impacts all of our relationships- with God, ourselves, and others.

My first read through of this book was a very timely one as I read it during a time when I found it very difficult to accept myself and extremely challenging to forgive someone in my life.  I was convicted, transformed, and healed through the words found in this book. While initially the themes sounded so commonplace to me, Smith provides such profound insight that I found myself truly learning about God’s great love all over again. I highly recommend this book & hope you enjoy!

Some stand out quotations from the book:

“For too long, I was impressed with my ‘commitment’ to Christ; now I am only impressed with Christ commitment to me.” 19

“Real, genuine acceptance begins at the point of weakness.” 51

“Accepting God’s offer of forgiveness humbled me because I could do nothing to earn it. All I could do was stand in awe, which, incidentally is a good place to stand.” 70

“It is not our offender’s desire to be forgiven that has prompted us to forgive, it is our desire to be free.” 104

DIY friendly stationery

Snail mail is somewhat of a lost art. Thankfully, we can revive the joys of sending and receiving a handwritten letter for a very affordable price. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE getting personalized mail when I open the mailbox.

Consider spending a few minutes to share a few encouraging words with a friend. In this post, I share what my husband and I do to make fun, personal stationery for every occasion.

Step 1: Make or buy custom word banners (Thanks, Happy Birthday, Congrats, etc.)

Step 2: Bring them with you on a trip or simply in front of whatever backdrop you prefer.

Step 3: Have someone take your picture or set up your camera to self-timer.

Step 4:

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Print your pictures (ideally in 4×3 inch size and we print about 25 of each banner)

Step 5: Buy panel cards (we got ours in assorted colors at Target), photo adhesive, and colored paper.

Step 6: Cut colored paper to desired size and shape, adhere photo to paper, and paper to panel card.

Step 7: Write your note, stamp, address, and send it with love!

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

PS Yes, you are seeing braces on my lower teeth in the video. In the next couple of months look for the full set!

wisdom to heed

The Bible is not silent when it comes to this month’s theme of friendship.  Proverbs, especially, drips wisdom and offers many helpful words of instruction to us.  This sermon is one I listen to and recommend over and over again.  See if you might be able to identify some application to your own life.  Once you sit in on this one, you will probably want to listen to the whole Proverbs series.

You can listen or watch it:

Friendship (Proverbs, 2009) by Mark Driscoll

Questions for consideration:

  1. How is Jesus a real friend to you?
  2. How can you be a better friend? To whom?
  3. Whom (if anyone) would you consider a good friend to you? Why?
  4. In light of our study, what is changing your thinking regarding friendship with whom do you need to no longer be friends, and whom do you need to pursue more intentionally?

Be the friend you want to find

As many of you know, I am in a new community since I moved halfway across the country last month away from my family and friends.  Here are a few quick things I’ve learned all over again in my efforts to make friends:

–          Be yourself: If you want true friends, you have to be a true version of yourself. If they don’t like you, that’s okay, bless them in your heart and move on.  If there are things you can learn, then apply the lesson and pray that God would give you wisdom and discernment in making healthy, safe friendships.  Be honest, sincere, and genuine and you will be more likely to receive that treatment  in return.

–          Be intentional: I needed to make a decision that I would pursue friendships and any time I felt sorry for myself for not having friends I remembered that I needed to “be a friend” in order to have friends. I texted women that I had met through various circumstances and asked to get together.  I asked if we could go to church with them so we could find a home church.  I asked questions about their lives and shared about my own.  I didn’t sit back and hope God plopped good friends in my lap, I am keeping my eyes open and asking God for opportunities.  When He brings them, I do my best to be intentional about reaching out.

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–          Be available:  Building quality friendships takes time.  Our lives so often get filled up with activities, work, ministry, and life circumstances that we can easily put time for friends to the side.  I’ve been guilty of this. I’m realizing that a good heart to heart talk with one of my girlfriends is so edifying, uplifting, and life-giving that it’s a priority worth keeping.

–          Be patient: with myself and with others as they get to know you.  Every friendship needs to be nurtured and trust needs to be built before getting to the deeper layers. Give it time, attention, thought, prayer, and you will be on your way to more fulfilling, purposeful friendships.

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