Friday, October 28, 2011

don't get too comfortable.

the comfort zone is a dangerous place. in this zone, it's easy to become robotic, simply going through the memorized habits and motions.

i was quickly reminded of this about a month and a half ago when my teaching schedule was thrown for a loop. one week, i was in my comfort zone, teaching mostly small or individual classes of adults, with just two classes of 11-12 year-old children to challenge me. things were simple. the next week, it was a whole new ballgame in which most of my classes were wiped out to be replaced by teaching at a primary school in a nearby town. all children. all day. twice a week.

i hadn't taught any children at all until this year. needless to say, i was praising God for the few weeks of "practice" i'd been given with the two children's classes that were in my original schedule. to go from teaching small classes of adults and a few teenagers to classes ranging from 13-20 students ages 8 and up is quite a change, and i've decided that teaching children who don't speak your language is near the top of the list of ways to test my patience.

the past month and a half definitely hasn't all been smooth sailing, and i'll freely admit that there have been multiple times where i've wanted to throw up my hands in defeat, break down in tears, or do a combination of both. however, the good moments have definitely outweighed the bad, and i'd like to share a few of the heartwarming and/or entertaining moments with you.

*word at the school has quickly spread that i am the native english speaker, and whenever i walk down the halls, students that i've never taught say hello in english (though quite sheepishly, much to my amusement). the students who i have taught are often much more confident and animated, and many of them practically shout, "hello, ashley!" better yet is when i walk into my 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes, and the students light up like christmas trees and excitedly shout my name. even if they act like stinkers in class, it's nice to know that they appreciate my presence.

*on the first day of teaching the 7th class, there was a group of boys near the back who weren't paying attention. i walked back to them, crossed my arms, gave them the stink eye, and told them that i wouldn't move until they had answered one of the questions in the activity we were doing as a class. of course, they gawked at me like i was speaking chinese. one of them finally spoke up, so i moved on. later on though, they were being quite loud and distracting, so i shouted, "ticho, prosim!" (quiet, please) in their direction. these students didn't know that i could speak and understand some czech, and the boys' jaws practically hit the floor while all the girls stood up and clapped.

*i teach a few after-school classes, where there is no czech teacher to supervise. since it's only me, the children often lose their incentive to behave and end up driving me crazy. two of the classes contain multiple hyper-active children, so i've found that providing a word search or scramble can often help them to focus. when they finish the exercise, they come up to my desk to have me check it and give them a grade. even though it's not technically for a grade, it gives them great pleasure when i put a 1 at the bottom, which is the best grade possible. but of course, the grade isn't enough. they also want me to sign it. one week when doing this, the students decided that i was a celebrity and practically attacked me in a mad attempt to get my signature. they had me sign random papers, exercise books, hands, and even one boy's wallet. i'm sure their parents were pleased that i refused to sign their foreheads.

*in another after-school class, there is a set of two boys that always stay behind to help clean up the classroom. they typically just wipe down the chalkboard, but yesterday they even took to straightening the rows of desks (in a slightly OCD-manner, i might add).

*last week, when my public children's class (held at the fishnet office) was over, one of my students came up to me and handed me a picture she had drawn of me. my heart definitely smiled in thankfulness at the sweet gesture. and how fitting, as our lesson was on thanksgiving. i have posted the picture below in hopes that it will bring a smile to your heart too :-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

pursuit of purity

many years ago, i decided that i wanted to remain physically pure until i got married. my parents even bought me a purity ring to symbolize my goal.

flash forward to the present, and while i may still be physically pure, my mind is anything but. with the help of public schooling and questionable film and television content, i am no longer naive. the fact of the matter is, once you see or hear something, you can't unsee or unhear it. it's physically impossible. whether the original seeing or hearing was intentional or not, the devil has a way of using this questionable content and numbing us to its influence. eventually, we are so comfortably numb that we see no issue with what once would have at least brought up a red flag.

i'm not sure what it was, but something this summer woke me up and made it impossible to remain comfortably numb. i'm tired of my purity ring being just jewelry that i wear, with no true symbolism anymore. i'm tired of catching myself thinking that i'm somehow holier than people who have had premarital sex or children out of wedlock. basically, i'm tired of lying to myself about my purity (or lack thereof), so i've decided to create a new symbol.

the ring finger of the left hand has special significance because it's where we place the wedding ring. since marriage is one of my biggest dreams, i look at this empty finger of mine a lot. therefore, i decided that this was the perfect place for my new symbol: nail polish. i can imagine what you must be thinking. nail polish? really? it might seem ridiculous, but you know what? it works. having this one nail painted over the past month has truly helped me to guard myself against tempting my purity. not only that, since having only one nail painted is unusual, it makes people curious, which allows me to share what i'm doing and have people hold me accountable.

my goal is no longer simply to remain physically pure until marriage. instead, i'm focusing on holistic purity: purity of the heart, body, and mind. as i've recently learned, true purity encompasses every aspect of one's life. abstinence is only one aspect. my heart and motives must be pure as well. really, i'm only lying to myself about my strive for purity if my mind is full of worldly and lustful thoughts. neither can i truly claim to be pure if my heart contains jealousy and covets the marriages or romantic relationships of others.

yes, i struggle with being content in my singleness (especially as friends left and right are getting married or engaged), but i don't have to struggle alone. God knows what i need (which is perfect, because half the time, i don't even know what i want, much less what i need). in this waiting period, i will pursue holistic purity and take comfort in that i serve the author of time.

Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

2 Timothy 2:2: Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Psalm 51:10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Traveling Mercies

4-hour drive to Chicago. 8-hour flight to Frankfurt. 5-hour layover. 1-hour flight to Prague. 4-hour train ride to Ostrava. Miscellaneous time in between? Priceless.

It's official--I'm back in Czech! There are so many things I want to share with you, but first off, I want to share about the journey. Even though I've been a Christian for most of my life, I'm still amazed at how God provides. He truly knows exactly what we need at every moment of our lives (which is good, because usually I don't know what I want, much less what I need). Though I've traveled to and from Czech before, I've never done it completely on my own, so the few days leading up to my departure last week were a bit nerve-wracking. I knew what to do in theory, but from what I've experienced these past 23 years, reality can pan out quite differently. Not to mention, I've found that saying goodbye does not get easier the more you do it. At least not for me.

Thankfully, God blessed me with amazing parents, who were so thoughtful as to drive me to Chicago and thus decrease my travel time by one less run through security. Though it was an inconvenience for them, it definitely helped to lessen my stress (minus the saying goodbye part...that part gets me every time). After getting to my gate, which for the record, was much too small for all the passengers planning to board a flight across the ocean in a large metal tube, I managed to get twenty minutes of free Wi-Fi, a.k.a. hello Facebook! During this magical twenty minutes, I found out that a friend and student of mine was going to be in Prague the next day as well. Yes, Martin, I'm talking about you :-) I planned to call him when I arrived at the airport just as my free Wi-Fi said goodbye.

How do you pass the time at an airport gate when your access to internet is cut off? Do you sleep, listen to music, find the nearest bathroom, or...God forbid, talk to other passengers? Now, some of you may have a hard time believing this, but while my father can talk to strangers for hours, I'm the shy one. In fact, after a year of rarely making small talk with strangers (as is usual in Czech culture), I found it quite difficult to involve myself in typical American small talk this summer. For a moment? Fine. But for an extended period of time with a stranger? Strange and uncomfortable.
Well, I don't remember how it happened, but I actually managed to start talking with the two passengers nearest to me. One was a woman headed back to Jordan, where she'd been living for the past ten years with her husband and three children doing ministry with a Christian organization. We didn't have a chance to talk for long, but that brief interaction alone was so encouraging!The other woman next to me lived in Phoenix (just 30 minutes north of my grandparents that I visited this summer) and was heading home to Algiers to visit family. We ended up watching each other's stuff during bathroom visits to preserve our seats in the packed-full gate area.

Once on the plane (praise the Lord, I had an aisle seat!) I was seated next to a friendly German woman and her son who were heading home with her other two sons and Canadian husband. I don't remember who struck up the conversation first, but she was fascinated by how an American could live and work in a foreign country and wanted to know all the details of how I got to Czech, what I was doing there, how it compared with America...the whole nine yards. When I started sharing about how my job is a ministry, I was worried that it might stop our conversation right in its tracks. However, not only did that not happen, but the woman actually wanted to know more! She asked how my students responded to my faith, especially with such a low percentage (1.8%) of professed believers in Czech. It was so encouraging to speak with someone from a different country who shared my faith and could see both the perspective of a Christian and a non-believer in terms of my ministry.

I didn't manage to get any sleep on the 8-hour flight due to my previously mentioned conversation and a lovely touch-screen multimedia center on the back of the seat in front of me (hello on-demand movies, tv shows, map with flight status, and games galore). Once in Frankfurt, I didn't have to change terminals or go through through any security checkpoints other than a quick glance of my passport at passport control, which made for a very relaxed morning. My Lufthansa gate even had an area with newspapers and a free coffee machine that treated me to two surprisingly delicious latte macchiatos during my 5-hour layover. The 1-hour flight to Prague was practically over before it started, and suddenly I was grabbing my luggage and making my way to the shuttle that would take me to the train station for the last leg of my journey. Boy was I glad to only have one suitcase.

Once at the train station, though getting there through construction in downtown Prague was quite precarious, I had the privilege of meeting Martin for a short while. It was so nice to see a familiar face after such a long trip. The usually difficult process of getting my luggage (in this case, 50 lbs. worth) up the steep steps of the train and out of the way once a seat has been found was made much easier due to 1. two women who pushed my bag up from the platform as I attempted to pull from on board the train, and 2. a seat just inside the door with plenty of space for my suitcase to sit right next me against the empty wall. Hooray! The hardest part was over. Since it was a Wednesday, the train wasn't packed full, which made for a much more relaxing time. I even managed to sleep for an hour. When it was finally my stop, a friendly Ostravian even offered to carry my suitcase down the steps for me. What a nice chap. But the nicest surprise was that the escalator from the platform to the main walkway (as opposed to at least 30 stairs) was actually working for once! Hooray! I wanted to kneel down and thank the Lord right there, but since there was a line, I sufficed for a silent thank-you while riding it instead.

My fellow city-teammate, Jess, met me upstairs and was kind enough to let me stay with her for the night since my flat was completely void of life, and more importantly, food. She provided dinner, a bed to sleep in, and pancakes the next morning. What a pal. I'm so blessed to have four other teammates here in Ostrava. I can't imagine living here completely on my own. God made us to have relationships and live in community. He made us to need human companionship. And during my journey and the past week, He has certainly provided it!

Now that I've written quite a novel of an entry, I think it's safe to say that I could boil down all previous paragraphs to two main points.
1. I made it to Ostrava safe and sound.
2. God is so good!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Year One

Packing today. Prague tomorrow. Home on Thursday. Wow. I can't believe my first year is over. Looking back on what life was like exactly one year ago brings to mind a particular word: CHANGE. While it feels like the year has flown by, so much has happened, and so many changes have occurred. Some are silly, some are serious. I don't think I can manage listing them all, but here is a snippet:

*I learned to survive without both air conditioning and ceiling fans. It wasn't easy. It still isn't.

*I can now kill bugs with my bare hands. Only small ones, but hey, that's something.

*I built meaningful relationships with students, other teachers, and youth from church and Young Life. I'm so glad to have another year with them. I really can't imagine saying final goodbyes right now.

*After one year without a car, I've all but forgotten how to drive. Let's just say that I'll be practicing my parking skills in the nosebleed section of the parking lot.

*I mostly overcame my fear of lighting matches thanks to the gas stove in our flat. It's still a little scary, but hey, progress is progress.

*I learned how to teach and managed to not bore my students to death! :-D

*I met my four teammates and learned how to live with them while loving them. We had our ups and downs throughout the year, but overall, I feel so blessed to be part of their team. I love you, girls!

*I learned how to use and rely on various public transportation systems. Boy, will I miss those in America. I rode my first train in August and have ridden them countless times since then. Such a convenient way to travel.

*I taught my first teachers, no less! Yes, I felt totally unqualified, but it was a good learning experience.

*I developed a love for Czech people, especially youth. I never thought I would want to work with youth, and now I spend my spare time on weekends volunteering with Young Life.

*I learned how to speak some Czech. Since I teach English and live with other Americans, I don't think I'll ever be even close to fluent, but at least now I can confuse telemarketers when they call during dinner :-D

*I became very aware of how important it is to appreciate the little blessings every day, especially during the gray and depressing winter.

*Living in Czech has taught me to be more comfortable with myself. I can now go about my day without wearing a stitch of makeup, and it's such a relief.

*I went a whole year without using a dryer for freshly-laundered clothes. At first, I thought I'd die of S.U.S. (starchy underwear syndrome), but I've actually come to appreciate our humble drying rack.

*I learned a whole heck of a lot about myself, and some things were hard lessons to learn. However, I am grateful that God is continuing to shape and mold me into the person He wants me to be. I am continually amazed that while He doesn't need me at all, He still wants to use me. He has given me such a heart for ministry, and I feel so blessed that He chooses to use me in spite of myself.

This year has been quite a ride and I'm excited to see what God has in store for year two. Thank you to everyone who made my first year in Czech such a success. Friends and family (and dog!) at home, I'm so stinkin' excited to see you! To all my Czechsters, I love you and I'll see you in September!

P.S. Here's a picture for your viewing pleasure. It's of the main square in Krakow, Poland on a rainy night during Easter weekend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

it's the final countdown

one more month. that's it. my classes will be officially over as of 9:30 on friday morning. at that moment, a whole school year of teaching will be complete. wow. i will probably engage in some kind of happy dance to celebrate surviving my very first year of teaching.

after classes are over, there will be preparation for english week and english camp, hopefully some time for relaxation and a bit of exploring, and then english week during the last week of june and english camp during the first week of july. after that, i'll have a few days to recuperate, pack, clean, and say "see you in the fall" before boarding a plane to head back to indiana.

july 14th. that's the day. i'm lucky enough *insert sarcasm here* to head out on a 6am flight. i have a three and a half hour layover in frankfurt, a super long flight in which i'm praying for an aisle seat, another hour and a half layover in chicago, and then i arrive at the ft. wayne airport around 4pm. it's going to be one long day, but i'm excited to see my parents and celebrate with some delicious mexican food :-D i'm almost as excited about guacamole, chips & salsa, margaritas, and fried ice cream as i am about seeing my parents. just kidding ;-) mom and dad, you're definitely at the top of my list of what and who i'm looking forward to.

it's quite possible that i will be in a traveling-induced coma for the next few days after i arrive, but once that's over, i am planning to see some wonderful friends, reunite with my church family, enter a cooking/baking frenzy, attend a wedding, gawk at the bling of my newly-engaged friend (yes, amanda prior, i'm talking about you :-D), and see how long i can hug my dog for without him going stir-crazy.

i'll only be home for about a month and a half, and i'm already trying to figure out how i can do it all. there are grandparents i'd like to see in other states, boy meets world marathons/dance parties/baking extravaganzas to have with amanda, huntington friends to visit, favorite eateries to dine at... and by golly, i'm going to try my hardest to squeeze it all in to that time.

boy oh boy, i'm excited. but it's also bittersweet. yes, i'm coming back to ostrava next year, so i don't really have to say any goodbyes (which is good, because i really can't imagine doing that right now), but things will be different next year. i will have some of the same students, but some will be new, friends will leave for universities outside of ostrava, and some friends will actually be leaving for a year in america. some changes will be good while others will be hard to adjust to. i really can't say what next year holds in store other than change and hopefully growth. i hope to continue to grow as a teacher, as a friend, as a roommate and teammate, and of course as a Christ-follower. i hope to continue building the relationships i've already started here and also begin new ones.

that's all for now. to my friends, family, and dog at home, i love you, i miss you, and i'm so very excited to see you. to my friends here in czech, thank you for making my first year here such a successful and joyful time. i love you all and i am very happy for the opportunity to spend another year with you. it's an understatement to say that i'm excited to see what next year holds in store :-)

Monday, May 23, 2011

feels like the first time

first off, i must apologize for my ridiculously long absence. i have a few blog posts in the works though, so hopefully they'll make up for my recent blogging hiatus. in this particular post, i'd like to share some of my experiences from last week. enjoy!

last week was a week of firsts. not just any firsts, mind you, but firsts that really only come with living overseas as a foreigner. so here they are, in no specific order of preference or entertainment potential:

1. i saw my first nude sunbather. thankfully, they were on the other side of the riverbank. though i will say that my first thought was something akin to, "toto, we're not in kansas anymore."

2. i visited a grocery store that i'd always wondered about but had never set foot inside of, called lidl. if you've experienced aldi's in the states, then you've basically been to lidl. i was fortunate enough to make my visit during 'asian week,' aka hello cheap teriyaki sauce, sweet & sour sauce, and chow mein noodles week. yay!

3. i baked for the first time in the 9 months that i've lived overseas, which sounds like an eternity. i mean, really, that's enough time for a baby to bake in a belly oven. i made a delicious batch of m&m cookies. only they weren't really m&m cookies, seeing as i substituted the cheaper and more widely available czech version known as lentilky. and i'll let you in on a secret...though the peanut butter and almond varieties of m&ms will always hold a special place in my heart, i think lentilky are actually better than plain m&ms. the candy shell is just a smidge bit thicker, which creates quite a satisfying crunch. and there i go again, being the typical american and talking non-stop about food...the point of the story is that the cookies were quickly gobbled up by a room full of hungry teens at younglife klub, so i dare say that they were a success. next stop on the baking train is muffins. and heck, maybe i'll even go crazy and bake another batch of cookies before another 9 months goes by.

4. i went to another new place all by myself (twice in one week, i know!). this time, it was a local cafe right at one of the tram stops by my flat. i'd always wanted to go in, but trying out a new cafe just didn't seem like the thing to do alone. however, this day was especially sunshiney, i didn't have any obligations for hours, and i had a copy of jane austen's northanger abbey with me. so you see, there wasn't any good reason to delay my cafe adventure any longer. well, it turned out to be quite an adventure. i'd heard that they had chai tea, which isn't something you often find here, as the czech word for tea is pronounced exactly like chai, so if you ask for chai, you're basically asking for plain old tea. needless to say, i was brimming with excitement for real chai tea. however, i couldn't find it on the menu. instead of simply (though is it ever truly simple when you don't fluently speak the language?) asking if they had chai tea, i thought maybe it was called something else on their menu. i found another item with tea in the name, and the price looked to be what i'd imagine, so i ordered it. i should have known that something wasn't quite right when the waitress asked me if i wanted it warm or normal, but i didn't want to seem like the ignorant foreigner, so i said normal and went back to my book. but as i looked over to watch her make it and saw her reach for a bottle of alcohol, i knew that i'd made a huge mistake. not that tea with alcohol would necessarily be awful, but it wasn't what i wanted, especially at 10am. of course, when i'm under stress, the tiny amount of czech i do know goes completely out the window. i should have been able to say something like, "i'm sorry, that isn't what i wanted. do you have chai tea? yes? i'd like that, please. thank you." however, what actually came out was more like, "no, no, no. ugh...i'm sorry, ugh, but no. ugh, do you have chai tea?" in other words, i totally failed in not looking like an ignorant foreigner. but never fear, in the end, i was able to get the chai tea that i'd been looking forward to. though i will admit, i think i'll wait a few weeks before showing my face there again.

5. i had american bacon for the first time since...august? boy oh boy, it was delicious. bacon is the number one reason why i could never become a permanent vegetarian. on this oh so special day, i also had homemade biscuits and gravy and waffles (courtesy of lidl) with peanut butter and syrup. it was a good day for my stomach.

6. i got my first mosquito bites of the season. not just one of course...more like ten. and let me tell you, czech mosquitos are vicious. i'm truly convinced they are some sort of evolved, mutant machine of evil. the bites are huge and red, and they stick around for ages. yay summer!

so there you have it. a seemingly normal week of my life in ostrava, but with a few more firsts than usual. i hope they brought you a chuckle or two :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

31,536,000 seconds

One year = 365 days, which = 8760 hours, which = 525,600 minutes, which = 31,536,000 seconds (assuming it's not a leap year). No, I'm not giving you a math lesson. I'm simply trying to break down the additional amount of time that I've dedicated to God's work in the Czech Republic. That's right, I've decided to stay in Ostrava, Czech Republic for another year.

Those of you who know me well know that I do not make big decisions lightly. Heck, I have been known to stand in the hair product aisle at Walmart for a ridiculous amount of time just because I can't make the seemingly simple choice of which shampoo and conditioner to purchase. Needless to say, the decision to stay overseas for another year was not a snap decision. I miss my family and friends, my dog, and the numerous comforts and familiarities that I took for granted in the snuggly, warm bubble of home. However, God has made it very apparent that my time here is not up yet. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to make it sound like I feel that I have to stay...I love it here and I want to stay for as long as possible. While my contract with TeachOverseas is only one year at a time, I really don't want to put a time stamp on my life here. I want to be here for as long as God allows.

God is doing some major work in the hearts and minds of the youth I work with in Ostrava, and I'm constantly amazed that He chooses to use someone imperfect like me to help build His kingdom. I am so excited to continue the relationships that I've started this year with my students and the youth at younglife. In regards to the potential of staying here for more than two years, I have no idea what His long-term plans are, but I know that they are perfect. In fact, I found a quote recently that seems quite fitting: "If we can trust God with our eternity, we've gotta trust Him with our now." Perhaps it seems obvious, but I think it's a great daily reminder that God cares about our day to day life, not just where we end up when this life is over.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Will Bring Praise

I've recently had a song on my heart. It's Desert Song by Hillsong. Perhaps you've heard it. If not, I strongly recommend giving it a listen. The lyrics are powerful, yet simple.

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that's within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is a God who provides.

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame.

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here.

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I'll stand.

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here.

All of my life, in every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship.

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here.

And this is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow.

When I think about the lyrics to this song, I am both challenged and encouraged. I don't know about you, but praising God in the crummy times of life is never easy for me. When it seems like nothing goes right (or at least the way I want it to), my first instinct is to lick my wounds or feel sorry for myself. However, this song challenges me to praise God no matter what the situation is like, whether in the desert, fire, battle, or harvest. Notice that it mentions only one "happy" or comfortable situation...and that's at the end. As Christians, we are going to endure trials and suffering. We are going to be put into uncomfortable situations, and those experiences are for a greater purpose that we might never understand. But no matter what experience God brings us through, He is there with us the whole time and deserves our praise.

I love the part of the song where it says "God is my victory and He is here." HERE, as in, He is present. How awesome and encouraging it is to know that my Lord, my creator, is here with me. He isn't some distant being that pushes me around like a figurine in the game of LIFE and watches to see what happens. He knows my trials and pain just as He knows my hopes and dreams. He knows these things because he is not just watching; He is here, He is present.

I hope the words of this song challenge and encourage your heart as they have mine.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Different Kind of Makeover

Happy New Year! In light of celebrating the change from 2010 to 2011, I have given my blog a bit of a face-lift. The change in year seemed like an appropriate time for tweaking, which brings me to my thought for the day: Makeovers.

Makeovers are popular. People (usually women) get bored with how they look or want to freshen-up their look. This is especially popular after the New Year. In fact, I don't think I can remember a time when I went back to school or work after the holidays and didn't see visible changes that people had made. These changes were usually in the realm of hair length or color. Are makeovers a problem? Of course not! I quite enjoy makeup, and I happen to have two boxes of semi-permanent haircolor in my closet...

However, since it is the time of New Years resolutions, I can't help but think about how much focus we put on our image. Diet and exercise plans typically top the list of most popular New Years resolutions (which, let's face it, are usually short-lived) and you can find countless articles on ways to spruce up your look--be it with clothes, makeup, hairstyles, jewelry, etc. Now, maybe you don't put a lot of thought or effort into your appearance. Maybe you don't wear any sort of makeup, take much time to fix your hair, and have never made any diet or exercise goals. Good for you. I admire I am a member of the majority of people who put too much thought and effort into their appearance.

Therefore, my goal (or resolution, if you will) for 2011 is to put LESS focus on my outsides, and MORE focus on my insides. No, I'm not talking about taking vitamins or trying to eat more heart-healthy foods. When I say my insides, I mean my mind and my heart. I want to focus on clearing out all the junk that has taken up residence in these parts so that they might better reflect Christ. In place of all that junk, I want to fill my mind and heart with content that is holy and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

This is my new goal. Does it mean I should throw out my makeup? No, but it means that I will be spending less time in the mirror and more time in the Word.