Small Life Updates: A Smorgasbord

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I’ve had this blog for quite a while now—nearly three years without a single missed week, which is incredible! Writing some posts have been much more difficult than others, due to the chaos and ebb and flow of life. But, at the end of the day, I am glad I have a continual online presence.

In the past nearly three years, I’ve given you all but a small glimpse of my life here and there. I still stand by each of those posts. However, consider today’s post a smorgasbord of small life updates, if you will. There are quite a few things I’d like to tell you that I personally do not think would fit into their own post or I do not want to fit into their own post. So, here goes nothing!

First, a few weeks ago, I mentioned I wanted to bake some chocolate chip brownies. Well, I got to yesterday. Yay! I set aside a few for my husband and I and had him send the rest to work. It’s always exciting to be able to accomplish something I’ve been waiting to do for a while.

A small part of me always likes to see just how long it takes me to accomplish said goals. It didn’t take me nearly as long to make them as I thought it would. Granted, I had some pressure to do so. But, it was a good pressure. Besides, it gave me an excuse to bake, which is more than fine by me.

Second, in that same regard, I have recently realized baking isn’t just an every now and then hobby for me. It is a true passion of mine! Perhaps, that’s why I’ve talked about it more on here, recently. I just didn’t know it quite yet.

Honestly, I always feared that I wouldn’t have any other passion in life besides writing. Yet, God answered my prayers! He planted a deep desire in my heart to bake, especially for others. This realization taught me that I could never live in an apartment without an oven now. This baking loving fool needs an oven. If you’d like to hear more about what made me come to this realization, comment and let me know!

Third, as of a few weeks ago, I discovered I will not be graduating until December 2018, instead of October 2018. I’d love to tell you this did not come with its fair share of tears and frustrations. But, it did. Eventually, I found peace with my decision to prolong my graduation date.

Pretty much, I made the decision to take an extra course to meet one of my requirements instead of suffering through two, higher-credit hour courses just to get done sooner. I know God has a plan and purpose for this delay, even if I may not understand it or agree with it.

I am slowly working to crush the idol of school in my life, guys. It’s a work in progress. God seems to use the things I want most to teach me He is ultimately in control, that my plan is not His plan.

Fourth, the health problems I spoke of a few weeks ago were not the typical flu that swept the nation. No, in the past month, I’ve dealt with what appears to be gallbladder issues. After countless appointments and tests, I am fairly confident what is wrong with me. Thankfully, for right now, I don’t need surgery. Although, it is not completely off the table. I’d appreciate prayers for improved health! I am sure I will give another update if my circumstances change.

Lastly, I would like to simply say welcome to all my recent followers. And to those of you who have been around since the beginning, thank you! To all of you, thank you so much for taking the time to read my words. I hope and pray that this platform, this sharing of my heart and life, encourages even just one of you. Most importantly, may this blog be a constant reminder that God deserves all glory, honor, and praise.

Blessings,

Renata

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A Topic Worth Discussing: Boundaries

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I’ve been mulling over a topic for the blog for a while now. I’ve been mulling over it for myself more than anyone else. Yet, I think it is a topic definitely worth discussing. This topic, from what I can tell, is one of those infamous taboo kinds.

The topic I am talking about? Setting boundaries.

Just typing those words made me feel two invisible weights drop. Why is that? Why has society seemingly created a culture that doesn’t want to talk about boundaries?

Perhaps, it is because we live in a world where people still want to believe they can trust others. Although, news story after news story begs to differ.

Perhaps, it is because, at their core, boundaries take humility. They take realizing we aren’t invincible. They take acknowledging we are not God, nor should we strive to be Him. Boundaries are the loudest declaration we are humans bound to be hurt by other humans.

Here’s the hard truth I choose to live by: We need boundaries. Boundaries are healthy. They are beneficial. They help heal. They help restore.

I won’t deny, though, part of this comes from unresolved trust issues, which I have touched on a time or two on this blog. My life story, specifically being left in a hospital at birth, ignited a lifelong battle of trust issues. I have very few, and I do mean, very few people I trust.

And even then, a still, small voice in my head always has this hunch that even those people will betray that trust. It’s a vicious cycle. And it is because of that vicious cycle I have boundaries.

Plus, I am not the toughest gal around. I mean, for goodness sakes, this is the same gal who won’t get a big dog—despite how fluffy, adorable, and lovable they are—simply because I wouldn’t be able to deal with its weight.

Ultimately, if something were to ever happen to me, I don’t know how I’d be able to fight for myself. I am a fighter, yes. But, most of that fighting comes from my stubborn, emotional nature—not a tough and rugged physical physique.

In other words, between fight and flight, I choose flight. Or going numb. Between fight and flight, I choose to give in. It’s tough to admit that some days, but I know that about myself, which helps me work to overcome it. Believe me, I want to be a fighter in that regard. But, at the moment, I am wired to fly.

Nevertheless, I am thankful I know this about myself. I am thankful for this knowledge because it helps me be realistic and logical about my boundaries. For the most part, I know which boundaries to set in which situations. To be honest, though, I am still working to clearly define other boundaries.

As part of being a private, yet an open writer, I won’t divulge what those boundaries are. They are for me and those close to me to know.

Besides, I think part of what makes boundaries so important is simply being aware of them and knowing when to make them known. I don’t consider my blog one of those areas I need to make them known.

It is challenging. It is convicting. It is humbling.

Nevertheless, I tell you, dear friends, set them. And hold fast to them. At the end of the day, if you don’t, you’ll be the one who gets hurt.

Trust your gut. Trust your instinct. If you know you should avoid a certain situation or person, do. Your safety and peace of mind are far more important than mockery. Let people mock. Let people judge.

Yet, always give grace. I am telling this to myself more than anyone else. Don’t let your boundaries be so rigid that you cannot live life. Be careful, yet open. Be cautious, yet optimistic.

So, I write this to tell you, I am mulling over a vital need in this world. I am just beginning to dive deep into a greater understanding of who I am and who I want to be in this world. And because of that, this is probably not the only time I will talk about it in some way, shape, or form on my blog.

I strive to shatter the stigma. I strive to bring the taboo topics to light one post at a time.

I sincerely encourage you to join me in this pursuit of greater understanding. Spend even five minutes defining and setting your boundaries. Tell someone you trust what those are, so he or she can keep you accountable.

Blessings,

Renata

A Recent Cooking Fail: Dinner Gone Bad

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I have a confession, guys. A couple weeks ago, my husband and I experienced our first cooking fail in our marriage. And let me tell you, it was bad.

When I say fail, I mean, the dinner turned out so badly that we had to get food elsewhere at a drive-thru just so we could have something. When I say fail, I mean, I have to go through the cringing chore of throwing away food. And it’s usually not a little bit of food either since we cook with leftovers in mind.

Seriously, let me tell you, guys. I hate wasting food. I can’t help but think of all the people who can barely afford food and I am throwing it away. My years of serving on hunger committees and knowing what it’s like to be hungry as an orphan in Russia get to me deeply. Usually, I am more upset about wasting food than I about the meal being bad or inedible. I even find myself trying to get through it just so I don’t waste it!

Sorry for that rant. Like I said, I don’t like wasting food.

Now, you won’t believe what we messed up either—mac and cheese. Yeah, I know. How can you mess up mac and cheese? I can assure you, it’s possible.

Granted, I will say, the recipe we followed wasn’t too clear, nor was it a basic mac and cheese. It was a fancy white sauce mac and cheese. The recipe turned out badly because we cooked the sauce too long. From my findings afterward, I realized it’s pretty easy to overcook white sauce since it’s dairy based.

If you were to ask who actually messed up, my husband would take the blame. He was in charge of making the white sauce, while I got the pasta and other ingredients ready. I am not saying he messed it up just to throw him under the bus either. He himself said it was his fault.

Yet, I can’t help but take some of the fault and blame, too, since I walked him through the process. I knew the recipe better than he did since I was the one who found it.

It’s funny how walking into our marriage, I was convinced he would be the far better cook. I was also convinced we’d have to order a pizza every week because I made a meal so poorly. Nevertheless, over two years later, and we’ve only had one terrible failed meal.

Don’t get me wrong, we have had other meals not turn out great, but they were edible. You know what meals I am talking about. Those meals you messed up just enough that it’s tough to get through at times, but it had its moments of greatness.  Or, those meals you know exactly how you messed up and how to improve for next time.

For instance, I once made a meal just for myself that didn’t turn out well. I made a mushroom spinach spaghetti nut squash one time. It was all right, but not fantastic. More than anything, that meal taught me I am not a big fan of spaghetti nut squash! I find it difficult to make something practically tasteless taste good. Perhaps, it would have turned out better if I put meat in it. Who knows!

Honestly, though, looking back on the last two years, most of my meals always turn out decently well.

Still, I can’t help but laugh at this fail. Of all the meals I thought I’d fail, mac and cheese did not make the list. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the failure. For, making the meal got me out of my comfort zone. I never made a white sauce before, so I had to give it a shot somehow.

I haven’t decided if I will try to make it again sometime or not. For right now, I don’t think so—at least not anytime soon. If I do, it may not be that exact recipe. Still, I would really like to perfect white sauce. I think having a white sauce recipe could be quite helpful and handy.

I’ve discovered I am at a point in my cooking/baking life that I am willing to take more risks. My risk-taking involves trying a recipe I wouldn’t see myself making. I can’t tell you how many cooking videos I watch. It doesn’t help that I don’t have enough time to cook and bake everything I want to!

Although, I am still going to follow a recipe, no matter how much experience I have. I know some people who consider a recipe a loose guideline. I think it is a step-by-step guide to strictly follow. To each their own.

I’ve learned I’d rather try a meal and not like it than regret it. There’s something so incredibly special about making a meal and knowing instantly, “Yes, this is a favorite. This is a go-to for me!”

For me, those dishes or treats include a pineapple pound cake, my version of Chipotle, and a Tikka Masala curry. I know the list is small, but it is a starting point, nonetheless.

And let me tell you, nothing beats getting super excited about making a dish and it hits the spot. Granted, I know that also means risking getting super excited about making a dish and it flops—like our mac and cheese.

But, to me, no matter the turnout, it’s worth it. You can either look back and laugh at the awfulness or be joyful another meal is worth repeating. Regardless, it’s better than never knowing.

My call to you this: If you think a meal could go badly, make it. Take the risk. Even if you only make a single serving, try it. You have to start somewhere. Who knows, maybe you’ll be like me and fall in love with cooking and baking. Although I do prefer baking.

What are some of your cooking or baking fails? Have you tried to recreate the dish or treat since or was it a one and done kind of experience? What are some of your tried and true go-to meals? I’d love to hear!

Blessings,

Renata

How I Make a Bad Day Better: My Go-Tos

Proverbs 17-22I’d be lying to you if I said this week wasn’t another challenging one. It was. It most definitely was. I’ve had some unresolved health problems linger recently. Plus, I’m still, slowly but surely, working through the ripple effect of the pit I found myself in over two years ago.

I tend to see life through a negative lens. I think my life circumstances have somewhat subconsciously forced me to be that way in order to cope with the traumas I’ve experienced. Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.

However, I know there is a better way. I just know there is. Regardless, it takes a lot for me to acknowledge it and put it into practice.

So, I am writing this post as a challenge and reminder to myself of things I can do whenever I feel down and lonely. Perhaps, some of these ideas will help you, too!

Name three positives in your day. So, for instance, despite all the emotional baggage of yesterday, it did have some positives. For instance, I was able to clean my home, which helped me calm down. I was able to enjoy a delicious chicken sandwich. Most exciting of all, I was able to finish my homework at a decent time.

Bake. As I’ve mentioned before here and there, I love to bake. Even though I don’t have a big sweet tooth, I love to bake, especially for other people! I usually set aside a couple of the treats for myself and my husband. Then, I give the rest to other people.

Recently, I’ve really wanted to make homemade chocolate chip brownies. I was just going to make regular brownies. Then, the other day, I added some chocolate chips to a brownie box mix a friend brought over, and I was sold. I told myself, from now on, the only way I will make brownies is with chocolate chips. Here’s to hoping I can make them from scratch soon!

I realize I may not always have the option to bake on a lonely day. But, I like to know it’s there, especially considering I usually have almost all of the necessary ingredients on hand already. It’s easy to have a go-to stash of baking ingredients even after only baking a few treats here and there.

Read. As an English major, I love to read. In fact, I’ve written a blog post all about my favorite pieces of literature and whatnot. You can read it here. Even though I love to read, I don’t read nearly as much as one would think I do.

I don’t like to read much when I am in school simply because I already read a lot for school. Plus, I hate starting a book when I know it could take me awhile to finish it. For instance, the last time I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, it took me nearly six months, if not a year, to finish it. That made me cringe!

I’d rather not read a book if I cannot fully invest in it. I realize that may seem ironic, but it makes sense to me, especially in my current stage of life.

Take a bath. I am not one of those people obsessed with baths. I highly doubt I’ll ever buy a bath bomb. But, I do appreciate a bath every now and then, especially on a stressful or sad day. But, only for a brief moment. It kind of grosses me out to be sitting in a bath water for an extended period of time. Am I the only one who thinks that?

Listen to praise and worship music. During my rough day yesterday, without even thinking about it, I listened to my Jesus playlist, as I call it. In fact, I thought I’d listen to another playlist, but instead, I listened to my Jesus playlist. I don’t think that was a coincidence either. I believe God ordained that moment. I believe God was with me.

Let me tell you, it’s amazing what listening to God-honoring music can do to one’s soul and spirit. No, it doesn’t make the anguish of my heart go away completely.  But, it does wash over me with peace. It reminds me, God has a plan and purpose for the trials and tribulations of our lives. We may not see that plan or purpose take fruition before we go to heaven. Yet, it exists, and it prevails just as He ordains.

Listen to an entire album from start to finish. This one may seem weird to some of you. But, I swear it works for me. I think the best artists are the ones who make their work tell a story from start to finish. Each song is a continuation of the last and a prologue to the next. I don’t find albums as genuine if the storyline is choppy or nonexistent.

For instance, the other day, I listened to John’s Mayer’s newest album The Search for Everything. I’d heard all the songs before, but never in one sitting. He released the album in an unconventional, yet very John Mayer way—three or four songs every Friday four weeks in a row.

So, the other day was the first time I listened to the album in its entirety from start to finish. It was an interesting experience. It definitely made me see why people consider it a break-up album. Although it was sad, it did brighten my day. It brightened my day because it allowed me to see life from someone else’s perspective. Most importantly, it reminded me, yet again, we are not alone in this life.

Drink incredible coffee. As most of you know, I am a coffee fanatic. Because of this, I don’t want flowers or chocolate on a rough day. Simply enjoying an incredible, well-brewed cup of coffee is all it takes for me some days.

Usually, that means, going to one of my favorite coffee shops in town that I know won’t disappoint if I have the time. There’s something incredibly invigorating and wonderful about seeing one’s passion come to life. For me, one of those passions is drinking quality coffee. It just makes sense.

So, there you have it for me and you. There are some of my go-to ways to get out of the dumps, as one may call it. May I be reminded of this list whenever I am in a need of a pick-me-up. I’d love to hear what you all do!

Regardless, though, I can assure you, no go-to list is as powerful as our mighty God. May He always be the anchor of our souls in times of trouble and joy. May He always be the source of our joy. May He give our dry bones life. We are not meant to live this life alone, dear friends. Call on Him and He will give your weary soul rest.

Blessings,

Renata

Appreciating Stillness: Listening to God

John 10-27-28Yesterday was one of those days when I didn’t think I’d have any free time. Yet, I found myself in the early evening with all my necessary homework done and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

It’s a weird feeling. I had plenty I could do, but nothing I desperately wanted to do.

So, I just sat. I just sat and looked around in my apartment.

I wasn’t bored, per se.  I was observant. It almost felt like I was in a haze or with my head in the clouds. Usually, my mind is going a thousand miles a minute. Hardly ever do I just sit in stillness.

It was nice yet agitating.

I couldn’t help but think I had to do be doing something.

But, in the stillness, I think God was trying to teach me a few lessons.

They weren’t the lessons one would think either. I think God was trying to teach me in stillness, in chaos, in answers, in uncertainty, He is in control.

Plus, His is omnipresent. He created stillness so we could hear His voice. God talks to us through His Word and through prayer. There are too many times we pray without ever stopping to hear what He has to say to us in return.

He is here with open arms. Let us not shy away from His wonderful, glorious, awesome majesty. Let us listen with our eyes, ears, and hearts open to what He has to say.

He created stillness as our reminder that He is God.

He created stillness as our reminder that at the end of our lives, the things of this world will perish. We will be left with nothing but ourselves and God. No person or thing of this world will come with us.

He created stillness to show us that all the good in this world will not get us into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus. We must believe that He died on the cross for our sins, that He is Lord and Savior. We must publicly proclaim this truth. Then, go out, and make disciples.

He created stillness as our reminder that He is the sustainer of life. We don’t need anyone or anything else besides Him. He is the breath of life.

Don’t run away from moments of complete stillness. They may be uncomfortable, but they aren’t terrible.

So, close your eyes, open your ears and your heart to what God is trying to tell you. Imagine you are in His presence in heaven. Listen to Him. Let Him speak to you. Feel His presence like you’ve never felt it before.

Blessings,

Renata

God Heard Me: An Answer to Prayer

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First off, I’d like to start off this blog post by saying I am doing better than I was last week. This past week has still been difficult, but it has improved. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

I would appreciate continued prayers as I slowly deal with the root of my troubled heart I mentioned last week. Truthfully, it will take a handful of counseling sessions and deep prayer with God to deal with it all.

Nevertheless, like I said, I come to you this week a little better. I am still struggling with different areas of my life.

Honestly, I started this week truly wondering if I was going to find the time to write a blog post. This week of school is probably one of the busiest, if not the busiest, I’ve ever had. Usually, in my eight-week courses, week 4—the halfway point—is the busiest. Yet, in this course, it is week 3, which is where you find me.

I started this week sinking into a pile of quicksand built by the foundation of gobs of reading material. However, I asked the people closest to me to pray for me this week. Usually, I don’t ask others to pray for me—at least not earnestly. But, this time around, I did.

Walking into this week, I knew the only person who would get me through was God. Therefore, I was not ashamed or hesitant to have a group of believers covering me in prayers. I asked for them to pray for the root of my troubled heart and that I would be able to get through a hectic school week.

Praise Jesus! He answered my prayers. I felt the answer to prayer probably more so than I have ever felt before. Even more so than being at peace with a big life decision. As I’ve shared before, in my personal walk and relationship with God, more often than not, He proves His faithfulness—in both answered and unanswered prayers—in the smallest of ways and moments.

He proves His majesty and supreme control of the entire universe in the details and in the climatic event.

He proves His majesty and supreme control of the entire universe with a grain of sand and a tidal wave.

Therefore, I know it was an answer to prayers that allowed me to have the strength to read one of my five chapters on Monday evening. And that was after the busiest day of my work week! I knew it was God who gave me the wisdom to know what notes to take.

I knew it was God who gave me the energy to continue to read yesterday even though I did not feel well. Most importantly, it was God who gave me peace as I answered two discussion prompts that I thought would be extremely time-consuming and difficult.

God was, is, and always will be with me. He was with me to complete the first batch of assignments due this week. He will continue to be with me in my second batch of assignments, even amid a busy weekend ahead.

I say it again: God was, is, and always will be with me…and you!

Also, I think He is using the busiest school week to remind me a lesson I learned nearly two years ago, faithful and true: God will carry me through. He will carry me through my school load. And He will carry me through the troubles of my heart. In the process, He will cast out the fears and doubts of my heart.

This, I know: I may not be a perfect follower of Jesus, but I do have a perfect, unfailing God.

So, I remind you and myself: Prayer works. Sincere, earnest prayer works. And it is because of this truth I do, indeed, write with joy and passion this week.

Thank you, dear friends. Thank you for walking this journey with me.

Blessings,

Renata

 

Troubles of My Heart: Seeking Peace

Psalm 25-17I know I am back in school when I have to write and publish a blog post on the same day. It is challenging to write a post when I have an idea and want to write. It is even more challenging when I don’t want to write.

I find myself there right now. I don’t want to write.

In fact, I have an idea for a post. I thought I convinced myself I would write about it, too! But alas, I can’t do it. It wouldn’t be right or honest in my life at the moment. It is very difficult for me to write about one happy, cheery topic with a heavy heart.

I’d rather tell you I am struggling than make you think I am a stranger to struggle, pride, and fear.

Honestly, all I want to do right now is sleep. I just want to close my eyes and separate myself from the chaos in my life. This week has been a particularly challenging one.

Today, I was more depressed than I have ever been before. Or, at least it felt like it. To tell you the truth, I somewhat know the root of it all. But, not entirely. I hate that. I hate it when I cannot precisely pinpoint what is bothering me.

The biggest reason why I don’t like it, though, is it means I have to deal with some difficult situation or emotion. My body and mind are notorious for practically shutting down when it is time to deal with situations.

Usually, when I deal with difficult situations, I am constantly reminded that there is sin in this world. As I grow closer to God, my heart hurts more and more for that sin. I am terribly pained by sin—my own and others.

I am reminded that we constantly fall short. Even the kindest people in the world sin. Even the kindest people are just as sinful as the most malicious.

I sit here knowing I am going to have to deal with the root of one of my biggest bouts of depression ever. I must deal with it. I ought to deal with it.

But, I don’t want to deal with it.

Perhaps, that is why my heart and mind are so tired and anguished. Perhaps, that is my body’s way of saying, “It is time, Renata. You need to deal with this. You need to pray about it. You need to seek the Lord’s counsel. You need to humble yourself.”

This week, I merely ask you to pray for me. I pray for the Lord’s healing in my heart. I pray that He may relieve my anguished heart

I pray that He may open my heart to what He is trying to teach me in this extremely exhausting week. I pray that I may die to self to know Him more intimately.

I pray for Him to rejuvenate and renew my soul. I pray that I may find joy and peace in Him, regardless of my life circumstances.

I hope to write with passion and joy next week. Today, I write with a heavy heart longing for God’s ever-present peace to wash over me.

Regardless, I sincerely hope and pray you all are well.  I pray that God would protect, guide, and love you in whatever season you are in. Please, let me know if there is any way I can be praying for you in this week ahead.

You are not alone, dear brothers and sisters, whether you be experiencing joy or sorrow. You are not alone.

Blessings,

Renata