Recommendations & Guest Posts

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians struggle to victory and age gracefully while living deliberate, determined & balanced lives that make the most of every opportunity. Within that goal come the goals of pursuing simplicity while remaining curious and unique at the same time. For more on the drive behind Struggle to Victory, please visit the Why? and About pages.

With that purpose and those goals in mind, I would like to announce that Thursdays will now feature either a guest post or a recommendation post. (Note that recommendation posts were previously on Tuesdays.) Anyone who would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory should read the Why? and About pages before expressing that interest. Guests posts published on this site must fit within the purpose and goals expressed on those pages. While I am under no obligation to publish any submitted guest posts, I will give everyone prayerful consideration. To put it even more bluntly, the Holy Spirit decides what is published on this blog, not me.

Suggestions and ideas for recommendations are also welcome and also must fit within the purposes and goals express on the Why? and About pages. See the following recommendations previously published on Struggle to Victory as examples.

This new and exciting change to Struggle to Victory is meant to enhance your experience with this blog as well as to give you additional resources to help you make the most of every opportunity in your life.

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How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?

Resources:

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Sunday Reflections – Lessons from a Jr. High Track Meet

The track season has ended, and summer approaches. We look forward to cross country in the fall, which involves running consistently through the summer. Running runs in the family for us. We have different paces (6-minute mile to 10-minute mile) and different distances we enjoy (5k to 1/2 marathons), but we all enjoy running.

While running has been a part of our family for years, this year was our first experience with track meets since our oldest son is now in 7th grade, which is the first year students at his school can compete in track. The variety of runners didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been running for 25 years now and know that people of all shapes and sizes run. I love that about running.

While I am not surprised at how my Everyday God speaks to me through the details of life, I still find delight and joy when He does it. And he did so again recently while watching my son’s junior high track meets with the following observations.

  1. Finish. (2 Timothy 4:7) At the first track meet of the year, one hurdler tripped and fell on his wrist. He then got up with his wrist dangling, looked around startled, and finished the race with one more hurdle to jump. Then, he left for the hospital to get his broken wrist treated. I don’t know this kid at all, but he showed great maturity (even in confusion and pain) to finish the race despite the pain, a lessons many adults seem to fail to grasp.
  2. Form. (Romans 12:6) While the form used depends on the type of running (distance vs. sprints for example), running form definitely makes a difference in speed and stamina. My son, while he has improved, has shall we just say an “interesting” running form. Another boy on his team runs on his toes. Two other boys (twins) have long, sweeping strides and arm movements. But they all finish the race, and they make up some of the fastest runners on the team. We all run the race differently, with our own unique style and gifting, but we all can complete successfully in the race.
  3. Focus. (1 Corinthians 9:24) Especially when sprinting, looking around at the other runners can be deadly. It can cost precious seconds that can lose the race. Focus in running means running your own race and letting others run theirs. A favorite television show of my family’s is The Amazing Race. We have watched it for many years, and it’s clear that the teams who do the best are generally the ones who focus on their own race and don’t worry much about what the other teams are or are not doing. Distractions can get us off track and cause us to lose the race.

You may be wondering why this week’s Sunday Reflections post focuses on middle school track, so let me explain. First, as I mentioned already, the track season ended earlier this week. Second, my husband ran a marathon this past Saturday, and we were out of town for the weekend. As a result of these two events, running was on my mind more than usual this week. More importantly though, I wanted to make the point that we serve a God who is everywhere. I believe He can and does speak to us anywhere, even at a middle school track meet or a marathon. So even if you miss church, although it shouldn’t be a habit because fellowship and worship are crucial to the victorious Christian walk, know that God will meet you wherever you are and speak to your heart in that place. You just need to be listening. When you are, the miraculous can happen, even learning from junior highers!

DISCUSSION: How is your race going these days? What are you focusing on?

Related Posts & Devotions:

Happy Anniversary!

This past Tuesday, my husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. (Our wedding anniversary also marks 25 years of officially being a couple.) Tomorrow marks the 6-month anniversary of Struggle to Victory. As I thought about these two anniversaries, I realized how many of the same principles that made my marriage successful will also make my blog successful as well.

  1. Consistency. Consistently forgiving, striving to meet each other’s needs and making God the focal point of our marriage. Choosing to focus consistently on these and other areas creates a strong marriage. When I started blogging, I remember the experts recommending posting consistently. Consistency creates a sense of reliability and trust, elements essential for any relationship, whether face-to-face or virtual.
  2. Commitment. No matter what, my husband and I remain committed to each other. This held true when we struggled through my chronic depression, the colic of our first child, and the journey that comes with adopting an older child. Never give up! Commitment to blogging also means not giving up. I have read more than once that many bloggers give up just before they would have hit the success for which they have been working. Simply never giving up helps ensure success in a marriage as well as in blogging.
  3. Courage. In marriage, courage comes into play with trusting your spouse. This is built and grows over time, and having the courage to keep working toward trust (both giving and receiving) goes a long way in strengthening a marriage. Courage with blogging involves putting your thoughts and ideas on the internet for all to see. It also means risking controversy and offense. Without courage, can one truly be a successful blogger that connects with readers?
  4. Connection. Connecting on a regular basis provides the glue that allows consistency, commitment and courage to truly create a strong marriage. My husband and I make a point to connect every night after the kids are in bed. (We explained to our now teenage son that this was why we insisted on an earlier bedtime than most of his friends, and he now cheerfully goes up to his room at the designated time). We also take a weekend trip together quarterly. This is the minimum, and usually we connect more than that. Connection is also essential in blogging. Connect with readers. Connect with other bloggers. Use the various avenues of comment streams and social networking to connect with others. Connection is the glue to any long-term relationship.
  5. Communication. Certainly a part of connection, communication also involves making sure goals and objectives line up as much as possible. This can mean coordinating weekly activities or focusing on larger goals such as reducing debt or making a large purchase. Communicating needs, wants, desires, etc. and being honest when doing so creates a culture of growth in a marriage. Communication for a blog means creating clear content that shows understanding of reader’s needs, wants and desires. Communication of any sort requires deliberate and intentional focus on a consistent basis.

Following in the steps of other godly marriages, my husband and I employ the above elements to make our marriage healthy and strong. Following in the steps of successful bloggers does the same for my blog. When I first began blogging, two resources provided the bulk of the information I needed. Ghostwriter Dad and ProBlogger got me started with the tips mentioned in this post as well as many others tips and ideas. I recommend them highly as resources for any blogger.

My marriage is by far more successful than my blog, and I hope it always remains as such. Yet, I know that if I employ the same principles in blogging as my husband and I do in our marriage, Struggle to Victory will be close to its 19th Anniversary when my husband and I celebrate our 39th Anniversary.

How to… Enjoy Travelling

Airport security. Traffic. Hungry children. Bored children. Hungry and bored spouse. General all around stupidity and rudeness. All of these factors can play into a miserable trip, whether flying or driving. In the past two years, realizing I can prevent much of this type of frustration has made traveling not only bearable but actually enjoyable to the point that I look forward to it just as much (well almost anyway) as the actual vacation itself.

Unfortunately, that realization came after 18 years of dreading travel time. (I’m sure many other people figure it out a lot sooner.) Combined with what I discovered about How to… Plan for a Vacation without Going Crazy, the following 5 tips truly make the actual travel time a positive contribution to the vacation experience as a whole.

  1. Take snacks and activities. Hunger and boredom usually lead to poor choices, and I’m not just talking about behavior of children. Carry-on bags should hold everyone’s favorite snacks as well as activities for those who don’t sleep while traveling (like me and my kids… my husband can sleep anywhere, anytime.) Don’t be that person whose kids are unruly on the airplane simple because they are bored and hungry. For car travel, keep snacks within arm’s reach and have lots of activities, perhaps even planning them out for every state entered or miles driven.
  2. Keep hydrated. Almost put this with #1 but really felt like staying hydrated needed emphasis all its own. Ask my kids, “What’s the first thing you do if you have a headache or start feeling off or grumpy all of a sudden?”” They’ll tell you, “Drink water.” Staying hydrated prevents a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms and just makes everyone much more pleasant. When traveling, never be without water nearby to sip from regularly.
  3. Keep other travelers’ in mind. This especially comes into play with airplane travel. People will seem rude (yes, that means you too), and people will do stupid things (yes, you too) like have too big or too many carry ones and get a little to “cozy” at times. In addition to these 5 tips (and the others many of you are going to leave in the comments), two words will make airplane travel bearable and, dare I say, even pleasant. Ready, here they are: Patience and flexibility.
  4. Utilize electronics but don’t depend on them. We take a DVD player and movies when we travel, but we don’t use them constantly. We also take phones and iPods that really get used very little because of the other activities (travel games, books with fun questions, reading to each other, etc.) that take up a lot of our travel time. Electronics bring a much-needed break on especially long trips, but the certainly don’t provide a large percentage of our entertainment. We’ve found too many other enjoyable activities to pass the time.
  5. Focus on bonding. When our focus for travel switched from getting from point A to point B to connecting as a couple and as a family, traveling became enjoyable. This is why we keep electronics to a minimum and choose travel activities we can do together. This is why we surprise each other with favorite snacks and why we try to learn as much as possible about the places we see. Find ways to bond as a family when you travel, and you’ll look forward to and truly enjoy every second you are together.

Employing the above tips really makes travelling fun for me and my family. Not only that, but because we focus on bonding and connecting with each other, travelling with my family has become a part of the vacation itself and not just a means to an end.

I’m sure there are a ton more tips that I did not think of or have the time to cover, such as those found in How To Reduce the Stress of Traveling by Elizabeth Scott, M.S.. What suggestions and tips do you have for enjoyable travel to and from your vacation destination?

DISCUSSION: How can traveling be a time to “make the most of every opportunity” to strengthen relationships?

Recommendation – My 5 Favorite Bible Study Tools

This may shock some people, but not all of my favorite Bible study tools come from a virtual library. In fact, the top three I reach for regularly currently sit on my desk in front of me as real books. Yet, electronic resources provide a terrific supplement to my three favorites. Probably none of these resources are new to anyone, but I offer them now for consideration if you haven’t tried them or may have let dust accumulate on some of them.

  1. NLT Notemaker’s Bible – No study notes. No related scripture lists. Just scripture and room to make notes. This is the Bible I take with me to church, and the one I like to use for personal study. I like letting scripture simmer without any outside influence, and I know I’ll peek if it’s there.
  2. NASB Life Application Study Bible – I usually go to this after reading scripture in my Notemaker’s Bible. Love the notes at the bottom and the scripture links in the margins. This is my second resource when I feel my thoughts and ideas are ready for more guidance.
  3. Three-In-One Bible Reference Companion – The Associate Pastor at my church recommended this to me about 8 years ago when I first started teaching adult Sunday school. This reference helps when I have a topic I want to study further by defining the word and by providing all the scripture containing the word. This reference has many times provided the outline or skeleton for developing my teaching notes or for a devotion or other writing.
  4. Biblegateway.com – In addition to the many Bible versions, this website has a variety of other study tools as well including concordances, devotionals, topical indexing and more. Between this one and #5, I find much of what I need to craft what I want to write and say confidently.
  5. Biblos.com – Just like the way this site is laid out. Like having the various translations come up all at once with the commentaries afterward. Provides a quick way to get information that helps me think through a topic as well as move forward when I am stuck.

I have been considering adding an amplified Bible to my reference collection, and it would be an actual book and not electronic. There just something about holding an actual book, especially the Bible…

DISCUSSION: What are your favorite Bible study tools? Why are they your favorites? Do you have a recommendation for an amplified Bible?

Sunday Reflections – What’s Your Status?

Does your Facebook status accurately reflect all of who you are? Or, are you only posting about the dramatic parts of your life? Are you hoping people will think you are clever by what you post? Are you displaying only what you feel is socially acceptable? If all someone knew about you was from your Facebook status, how would they describe you? Would they have well-rounded view of who you are?

What about how people would describe you as a Christian? Are you genuine and appropriately transparent? Are you putting up a front and only showing what you think others want to see? Or, are you willing to be vulnerable when necessary? Are you the same person in private and in public, or do you act like a Christian only when others are watching? If people were to describe Christians based on only you, what would that description look like? Would it accurately reflect Christ?

As Christians, our goal is to show the world what Christ is like. This does not mean we need to be perfect. That’s not possible this side of Heaven anyway. It does mean that we need to continually improve, which comes when we pursue holiness. (Holiness means to be set apart.)

Pursuing holiness means doing our best to apply scripture – all of it – to our lives. (We don’t get to pick and choose what to apply and what to ignore.) Pursuing holiness means having a Christ-like attitude that is contagious. In today’s technological age, contagious means viral. Do you have a Christ-like attitude that’s going viral? Or, do you have a negative and critical attitude that others are catching?

Compared to the Facebook status of many people, my life is quite boring nor do I eat enough. Yet, my guess is that what I’m seeing doesn’t present the whole picture of their lives and who they fully are. But I find myself wondering if I am similarly guilty of presenting an incomplete picture of my life as a Christian.

I am certainly not advocating that people air every detail of their lives on Facebook. Some topics and details are simply meant for face-to-face conversations, IF they should be shared at all. (Some things should simply be kept between you and God.) But I’m also not advocating an in-your-face Christian who forces his beliefs on others. Instead, I am promoting that we purposefully decide to present who we are accurately and honestly by the lives that we live, whether virtually or face-to-face.

In other words, do your best to be real. As a Christian, that means letting the character of Christ in you be your status as a Christian. Let the Holy Spirit present opportunities to be real – flaws and all – in a way that shows the grace and mercy of Christ. That means that in being perfected, the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self-control) continually increase in our lives. No, not perfectly, just as no one’s Facebook status can accurately present a perfect life. Instead, with a sincere heart, do your “best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) A worthy status whether on Facebook or as a Christian. Come to think of it, shouldn’t these two status’ be one in the same anyway?

DISCUSSION: What adjustments can you make in your status starting today?

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Related Posts:

Are you an “All-In Oddball” Christian?

Go Against the Flow

Attitude Upgrade

Do You Have Broad Shoulders?

Football players, especially running backs and linemen, usually have physically broad shoulders. They’re very strong and able to withstand a lot of force without moving much. Some of this ability comes via genetics, but most of it is developed through hard work, strength training and consistent practice. Their example gives us a framework for developing broad shoulders of our own, not physically, but in a way that allows us to better reach victory in life’s struggles.

What does having broad shoulders mean? It means not being easily offended or at least letting go of an offense easily. It means keeping short accounts and simply not letting offenses linger (Mark 11:25). Having broad shoulders means becoming increasingly aware of the grace and forgiveness freely given us (1 John 1:9) and then willingly extending that grace and forgiveness to others (Matthew 18:21-22; Colossians 3:13).

How do we develop broad shoulders? Developing broad shoulders involves using our strengths to stand up under and even prevent offenses as well as allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our weaknesses to help us struggle through offenses. Broad shoulders also come through disciplines similar to what football players use to become physically strong and skilled.

  1. Build on natural ability. Know your personality and temperament and build on the strengths that come naturally. If talking out a frustration helps you let go of offenses, find a safe person to listen. If writing them out helps, do that. Maybe physical activity such as running or tennis helps you let offenses go. Find what works to release tension, and then employ it regularly to ward off lingering offenses.
  2. Discipline your thought life. Deliberately choose where your thoughts dwell. Instead of thinking about a person’s intentions, consider that you may not know the whole story. Consider that you may be operating under false assumptions. And realize that a bad day, a headache or a poor night’s sleep might be all that’s at the root of the offense. Discipline yourself to give the benefit of the doubt and chose to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” and anything that is “excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
  3. Strength train regularly. Becoming stronger only happens through challenge and initial breakdown, just like our muscles only become physically stronger when we break them down through exercise. Don’t avoid life for fear of confrontation and difficulty. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you through the struggle in a way that allows you to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18) as much as it is up to you to do so.
  4. Practice consistency. This step involves visualizing what may happen in an upcoming situation and then reviewing (debriefing) after a confrontation. Deliberately chose to learn from every situation and in this way “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
  5. Be a spotter. When lifting especially heavy weights, spotters need to be present to assure safety. In a non-physical sense, being a spotter means seeking to meet others needs rather than focusing on having your own needs met. Look for ways to serve rather than be served.

Within all of these steps, always rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We can develop broad shoulders only so far on our own to possibly achieve the world’s standards. Going beyond what the world considers acceptable and doing what pleases God rather than man requires supernatural intervention. This happens by moving forward even in fear and committing your way to the Lord. It happens by realizing weaknesses and allowing God to be glorified as He makes the impossible happen.

Jesus was all about relationships when He walked as a human being on this earth, and He is still all about relationships. Having broad shoulders strengthens relationships as we realize that we are all human, and we all make mistakes. No one truly deserves forgiveness, yet our Heavenly Father freely gives it to us anyway. This can motivate us to develop broad shoulders for the sake of fellowshipping with believers and witnessing to unbelievers.

DISCUSSION: What can you do to develop your “broad shoulders”?

Please take the time to read 15 Words That Will Change Your Relationships by Barb Raveling at Beyond the Sinner’s Prayer. This post relates well to the development of broad shoulders.

How to… Plan for a Family Vacation without Going Crazy

This is the first post in a 5-part series focusing on vacations. The first four posts focus on family vacations, and the fifth focuses on summer vacation in general.

The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health lies with every person’s need to break the stress cycle by taking time to relax and gain perspective. Additionally, The Importance of Vacations, for Stress Relief, Productivity and Health lies in their ability to promote creativity, prevent burnout, help keep us healthy, promote overall well-being and improve job performance. Specifically for families, vacations promote bonding, provide unique teaching opportunities, and teach the value of adventure and new experiences. Just as important, if not more, vacations allow for enjoying children while they are young, an ever-fleeting time of life.

While the importance of vacations seems clear, Expedia considers the United States along with five other countries to be “vacation deprived.” Expedia also says that the top reasons for skipping vacations are money (38%), failure to plan (20%) and work being the priority (10%). Today’s post focuses on reducing the second top reason, failure to plan.

The following four tips for planning for a family vacations are ones my family uses when we vacation, which is usually two week-long trips a year as well as shorter trips (weekend or an overnight) periodically.

  1. Buy a travel book specific to your destination. Not only does this provide all the information on your destination that you need, it also saves time searching for the information on the internet. Additionally, a good travel book will highlight “must see” attractions and locations as well as “hidden” treasures. Tips in a good travel book include best time to go, money-saving tips and lists of what to bring. A travel book has proved to be an invaluable resource for my family, even beyond all of our electronics (iPod, tablet, iPhone and laptop).
  2. Involve the whole family in planning. While this proves easier as kids get older, even younger kids can be included in deciding what to do and what to bring. We often begin the planning with having a yard sale to “raise money” for the trip. This gets the kids excited and involved. We also allow them to research the destination and make lists of what they want to see and do. They also help pack their own suitcases and carry-ons and also help clean the house before we leave. Preparing for vacation is truly a family event, and making it so really takes a lot of stress and pressure off mom and dad.
  3. Make lists. Even at a very young age, kids can follow lists and usually enjoy doing so. We make lists on what needs done before leaving, what to bring, what to do when we get there as well as what to do as we travel. The lists are written down and accessible to everyone. My family really enjoys marking items off the lists. Doing so is like a count-down of sorts to when we leave.
  4. Pack minimally. We take or buy laundry detergent and do our laundry when we’re on vacation. This way, we can pack lightly and save the hassle of dealing with lots of luggage. Packing the essentials and favorites is the key.

These tips come after almost 20 years of trial and error and with the last two years of family vacations being the most restful and enjoyable. Intentionally being systematic about planning and preparing for vacations as brought me and my family to a place of not only looking forward to getting away but also to truly enjoying the time away and coming back closer as a family.

This rest of this series will also focus on how to enjoy traveling and family time while on vacation. The series will also look at how to not come back from vacation more stressed and needing another vacation and will end with how to enjoy time off with the kids in the summer.

DISCUSSION: Why is taking family vacations regularly so important? What tips do you have for planning a family vacation?

Recommendation – Ron Edmondson

Ron Edmondson writes almost daily on leadership, church and family. His posts are always inspiring, and especially so since they come from the heart of a pastor. Ron is in a transition stage in his ministry right now, and the insights and learning that will come from that should be inspiring and helpful. Check out his blog, and be sure to sign up to receive his Graced Again posts. Also, check out his About page to learn more about this “follower of Christ, husband, father, church planter, pastor, writer, idea man, strategic thinker, dreamer and teacer.”

To start, check out some of my recent favorite posts: