Friday, September 28, 2012

If there's water, there's growth. Well, not exactly.

If you water, then it will grow. 

This is what I assumed because my knockout roses and camellias are beautifully blooming just from me (or more often than not, John) watering every other day.

So if there's water, there's growth, right? Well, not exactly. 

The problem with "if... then" statements is that life has variables. 

Even though I watered my tomato plants and they were thriving, all of a sudden I returned to a completely eaten plant. No more leaves, no more growth.

Before. Tomato plants are the ones wrapped around the stakes.
After. Leaves eaten by caterpillars.
But I watered?!

This scenario is just like life. Sometimes we don't see the warning signs, and even though we're checking all of the right boxes, there's no growth. 

If you're a leader, this could be with your employees. Have you tried "watering" (i.e. investing) your time in an individual only to see that person not thrive like you expected and hoped?

Maybe you're trying to grow in an area yourself. You're reading books on how to manage your time and started keeping a calendar, yet you still forget about that assignment due today. Or you're still late to your friend's party.

Sometimes we (meaning I!) get frustrated when growth is slow or stagnate. In these situations, I often expect the "if I do this, then this will happen" scenario to work perfectly. 

Instead, we must learn to ask the right questions:
  1. If growth has stopped, what factors could have caused this?
  2. Do I have control over any of those factors?
  3. Am I watering the right area to begin with? 
  4. If not, what is a better use of my time? 
  5. Where will my investment have the most impact?
  6. What variables need to be in alignment to ensure growth will occur?
  7. Which of those variables do I have control over, which depend on other people, and which ones are out of anyone's control?
Asking these questions will enable you to get a clearer picture of reality. They will also show you the best use of your time and resources so you are investing in areas with the highest probability for growth.

Once I saw my tomato plants had been completely eaten, I checked my other plants. I noticed the leaves of my green beans and my basil also had bites out of them. I also saw a caterpillar on the green beans. Now that I know the warning signs, I can take the right steps... and not expect watering to do all the work. My next step? Lowe's Garden Center to the rescue!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Give yourself permission to accept grace

I am an only child and part of Generation Y, the generation who believes they can accomplish anything. Now add that to my Achiever mindset.

It can be difficult for me to give myself grace and not always feel the pressure to have produced something by the end of the day. For me right now, I am starting a company and trying to begin writing a book. A lot of this requires ideation - not actual products you can point to.

Being achievement-oriented and ambitious I believe are some of my strengths. But strengths can sometimes be taken too far, and this week it was refreshing to be reminded about grace.

As my She Reads Truth study said, "We are no longer slaves. We're not slaves to sin, emotions, what may come in our days. We are not slaves to our past, to our future, to our vain imaginings. We are not slaves to who we were or who we were supposed to be."

...Or who we believe we should be.

Instead, we are redeemed by God's grace to be His daughter (Galatians 4:1-20). The key question is not whether I accomplished anything by the end of the day but how am I living? Am I showing the world who I am, or showing the world that I am my Father's daughter, redeemed by grace?

Are you on the road for the grace journey or the destination?

Many people are familiar with the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, and Tim Keller has written an excellent book on this topic. As a recap, a younger son gets his inheritance early and squanders all of it "in reckless living." After hiring himself out, he finally returns home with a repentant heart.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." The father didn't even let him finish asking for forgiveness before preparing a huge celebration for his son's return.

The father welcomed back his son as a full heir, just as we are promised that we "are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Gal. 4:7). The word embraced used here literally means "fell on his neck." The father grabbed a hold of him, and the son let himself be embraced, understanding the extent of his grace and forgiveness.

In contrast, the older son (who stayed with his father, served him, and never disobeyed) shows self-righteous resentment toward the celebration of his younger brother. He refuses to participate in the party because he lives by trying to prove himself, rather than accepting everything as a gift.

"His father came out and entreated him," just as he had with the younger son. He says, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."

But the older son refuses to be embraced.

Who are you today? Are you a daughter or son with a full inheritance of grace, or are you wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Favorites

Although I love summer, the fall just has an excitement in the air. So in honor of the beginning of fall, here are a few of my fall favorites:

1. Sunday afternoons in the park with my hubby

What is more perfect than reading, relaxing and then playing football, Frisbee, and bocce ball in beautiful Grant Park? (In high school, our friends all joked that John was like a camp director who always had a bag of baseball bats, balls, and other sports equipment... well, that's still true in marriage!)

2. Pumpkins... anything pumpkin!  Pumpkin candle, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin muffin...

Pumpkin Muffins
These are very similar to my banana oatmeal muffins, but you simply add cinnamon and replace the bananas with a can of pumpkin, or do a half-and-half combo like I did.

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup almond milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3 cups gluten free rolled oats
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbsp. chocolate chips (optional- I didn't add them this time)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together.
  3. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray, or use liners.
  4. Divide batter between 12 muffin cups, filling almost to the top.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, or just until edges start to brown and the muffins are firm to the touch.
  6. Let muffins cool, and then remove them from the pan - they won't stick this way.

3. It fits into #1 above, but reading either outside in beautiful weather or curled up in a blanket after dinner

I am currently reading an excellent book called Half the Sky, but since it's heavy and sobering at times, I'm also re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia, a favorite series from childhood.

I'm still in awe over the creation scene in the first book of the Narnia series, The Magician's Nephew:
"In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing... Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard... One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out - single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world... If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing."
4. Pulling out the slow cooker!  

...And making my slow cooker pork tacos for friends.

5. Approaching our first anniversary in less than a month and reflecting on God's many blessings

John was back at Wheaton yesterday for work, and had lunch at one of his old favorite spots, Portillos. He sent me a text that made me pause and be so grateful for our journey together:

What are you thankful for this fall?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fit Friday with Yummy Pre- and Post- Workout Foods

After exploring the connection between body and mind yesterday, I thought it was time to get a little practical and give you a fat-blasting workout and some healthy - but delicious - recipes for energy before and after your workout.

Let's discuss food first: it's always easier to workout knowing there's a delicious post-workout snack waiting for you! This is one of Leah's (from Chocolate and Wild Air) 5 tips for waking up early to workout.

Energy Bites: Inspired by Gimme Some Oven's recipe

I've been loving these energy bites this week! They are a perfect grab and go snack before a workout and the ideal afternoon pick me up. Plus, they only take 5 minutes to make (and no baking required)!  

1 1/3 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup whole flaxseeds
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup raisins (or you can substitute chocolate chips!)
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla

Preparation: Stir everything together and form into little balls. Keep refrigerated. 

 Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal

After you workout, it's a treat to come home to a bowl of this oatmeal! It's fall flavored and so creamy... yum!

1/3 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup pumpkin
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 Tbsp. whole flax seeds
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 banana, sliced

  1. Prepare oatmeal according to directions. You can make it in the microwave and use almond milk in place of water, if desired. 
  2. Stir in pumpkin, peanut butter, flax seeds, and spices.
  3. Top with sliced banana.
Fat-blasting Circuit
Now onto the fat-blasting circuit, which is sure to have you sweating and good sore the next day!

All you need is a set of 5 pound weights... and your body weight. Why do exercises using my own body weight wear me out so much? Try out these "little" workouts and you'll see what I mean!

0:00-3:00 Warm up and lightly stretch

3:00-13:00 10-minute Crossfit Workout from FitSugar : This workout combines four different plyometric exercises (i.e. jumping) to get your heart rate up.

13:00-23:00 10-minute Fat-blasting Bootcamp from FitSugar : I loved this workout because it used exercises I'd never done before, yet were easy to get the hang of.

If you have the time (and energy!) repeat those two videos.

23:00-33:00 Video 1

33:00-43:00 Video 2

43:00-45:00 Cool down and stretch

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What working out has to do with being holy

When I started BeEmbraced, I knew I wanted to write about things that were important to me but also related to the "be embraced by the journey" theme. It's easy to see how exploring my faith, writing about my marriage, and calling others to community correspond. And even my adventures in the kitchen can be considered a journey.

But what about my recent Fitness Friday posts, love of exercising, and goal setting for 10K's... what does working out have to do with being embraced by a journey?

Exercising with friends is the best!
Here, Alex (a best friend of mine) and I are about to go biking by the beach.

This interesting and engaging video from John Piper addresses how physical exercise relates to sanctification. (Click here to watch it, which I highly encourage!)

The premise is that without taking care of our bodies - through sleep, healthy eating, and exercise - we are more tempted to fall into bad patterns (i.e. sin) like impatience, irrational anger, slothfulness, etc...

The reason that our shortcomings are often exaggerated when we don't get enough sleep, or eat junk food, or watch hours of TV instead of going for a walk is because we are physical and spiritual beings. The two are connected.

Michael Hyatt, in his popular post "Slay Your Dragons Before Breakfast," discusses why he considers slaying the dragon of physical lethargy sometimes even more important than slaying spiritual lethargy.
"I use this weapon [engaging in exercise] to cut off the dragon’s left head: physical lethargy. Sometimes, I think this is even more important than the middle head [spiritual lethargy]. Why? Because if I am not exercising regularly, it negatively impacts every other area of my life. It becomes more difficult to manage stress. I find that I just don’t have the energy to fight the other beasts I encounter."
Just as we are called to be good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure, we must also be good stewards of our bodies.

I find it very intriguing that Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete in training to describe spiritual endurance, reinforcing the connection between body and mind:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." -1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We take the time to get oil changes because we know our cars run better and longer when we do. Shouldn't we also take care of our bodies by getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising in order to run the good race?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Whose approval are you seeking?

This month has been a significant change of pace from the busy summer we had traveling. We haven't had many weekend plans and have been able to get to sleep early on weeknights. In short, it was exactly the type of month I knew we needed, so we could rest physically and mentally.

However, have you ever been looking forward to downtime or relaxation only to find yourself uncomfortable in the quiet? I realized this weekend that I was frustrated with not having a "plan of action" for Saturday or Sunday. Come Sunday night I couldn't point to anything I had "accomplished" other than having a few friends over Saturday night and going grocery shopping.

Why couldn't I accept the gift of rest? Why was I uncomfortable with the quiet?

I joined the She Reads Truth community yesterday, and we are reading through the book of Galatians. The verse that stuck with me all day: "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).

I think most people can connect with the struggle of seeking others' approval. Whose approval was I seeking by being restless during the blessing of a relaxed weekend? Why do most of us feel like we need to point to an accomplishment at the end of the day... or maybe only people (like me!) with "Achiever" as their number one StrengthsFinder theme have this struggle?

Needless to say I was convicted by the Galatians verse above and reminded about a sermon I'd listened to that morning on Luke 10:38-42: The story of Mary and Martha. (To read the verses, scroll to the bottom of this post.)

The majority of times that I've heard this passage explained it centered around not preoccupying ourselves with busy-ness. But it's so much more than this. During this time in history, Martha was doing exactly what was culturally expected of her: making dinner preparations and serving guests. What was shocking, as John Ortberg points out in Who Is This Man?, is that Jesus calls her to learn and be a disciple instead - which was solely a man's job in this day.

Jesus isn't telling Martha not to serve; He's uncovering her real intention behind serving. Be bold. Understand why you are serving. It's pointless if you're only "serving" others to ultimately serve yourself. To prove you have what it takes. To show that you can be the best host. To get others' approval or attention... there are so many reasons that our service toward others is because of selfish motives.

What is your heart seeking when you serve? Seek first the kingdom of God, not an earthly righteousness to prove your worth.

Mary and Martha: Luke 10:38-42
"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to Keep Your Marriage Adventurous

One of the main reasons that I started this blog is because I wanted to encourage others to be embraced by the journey they are on. Yet when I wrote my first post about 10 months ago, I didn't anticipate embarking on such a big adventure myself. Isn't that how life works: in speaking encouragement to others, you speak truth to yourself.

My current big adventure is starting my own company, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago. I promise I will fill you in more in a later post, but for now let's talk about marriage.

I recently read a post by Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy discussing how to encourage the man in your life by igniting his adventurous spirit. It reminded me that one of the main reasons that I had the courage to give starting my own student coaching company a shot is because of the support of my husband. Without his encouragement and him giving me the freedom to start this adventure, it probably wouldn't have happened. Though it meant making some changes, like forgoing my salary (at least while I get up and running!) and figuring out a new schedule together, he was 100% supportive.

Since I'm so grateful for this opportunity, I wanted to find a way to fit a small adventure into John's day. Writing notes to each other is something we really value in our marriage, so before he got home from work yesterday, I wrote messages on 6 sticky notes and hid them around the house. One was above the doorknob, so when he came home with all the groceries he picked up for us, he'd know how much I appreciated him. The others were scattered in random spots for him to discover.

Although this is only a small example of an adventure, I started thinking about ways to incorporate adventure into our marriage even in the midst of schedules, traveling, weekly commitments, etc.

  1. It's important to first know what hopes and dreams your spouse has. At our 8-month marriage retreat, this is one of the questions that John and I answered individually and as a couple. Knowing what your spouse hopes for gives you the power to speak encouragement into that dream and recognize opportunities for it to grow.
  2. Schedule time for adventure. Blogger and leadership expert Michael Hyatt often says that if it doesn't get scheduled, it doesn't get done. Is there something you and your spouse have wanted to do or see? Find a time for both of you to write it in your calendar. Recently John and I went rock climbing for a date night - it's something that I especially had been wanting to do together. So we planned our Friday night so I could make a quick, early dinner for us when John got home from work and we could head out for our date. Even if you think scheduling is a hassle, it's so worth it once you're on the adventure!
  3. Give each other freedom to pursue individual adventures. There's definitely a lot of value in "adventuring" together, but realistically your dreams are not always going to be the same as your spouse's. Just as it's important to spend quality time together in marriage (especially for me, since this is my primary love language!), it's also important to support each other in individual pursuits. An example of this is John giving me the freedom to start my own company, or cheering me on at my latest 5K race. This summer John played in a softball league, and instead of viewing their game nights as taking away from our nights together, it was an opportunity for me to bond with the other wives and cheer on the team. Your support of your spouse's interests will mean a lot to them!
These are just a few ways for keeping your marriage adventurous. How do you incorporate adventure into your day?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Significance of a Feast

Food is a central part of culture and community. When I travel, a highlight is always finding local restaurants and experiencing a literal taste of where I am.

Several months ago, John and I watched the movie "Babette's Feast." I'd read the story written by Karen Blixen before, but the movie brought the words to life. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

The story takes place in 19th-century Denmark and revolves around two elderly, pious Christian sisters Martine and Philippa. Their austere lifestyle begins to breakdown when their cook, Babette, spends all of her lottery winnings on preparing a Parisian meal for the sisters' congregation. At first the congregation refuses to indulge in such a sensual luxury, but gradually the rich, colorful, delicious feast breaks down the guests' hard hearts, resulting in reconciliation and redemption among the congregation.

I love the concept of a community dinner bringing people together, especially since it resulted from Babette's gratitude yet great sacrifice. Perhaps this is an example of a living sacrifice, pouring yourself out for others. We are made to enjoy God's creations, especially in the context of community, and "Babette's Feast" reminds me of the ultimate feast promised in heaven.

Yet what is also intriguing is that the original author of the story, Karen Blixen, suffered extreme health issues when writing this story of a feast, and she eventually died of malnutrition. It's uncertain whether her illness was syphilis as she claimed, and it's now mainly attributed to anorexia. It's somewhat shocking that someone struggling with anorexia could write such a vivid story about the redemptive healing from a feast.

However, I suppose that we can best relate to places in which we struggle. Sometimes the areas where I'm weakest are the ones I have the most perspective in and am able to empathize with others. "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinth. 12:10).

On a different note, I love how food brings people together. I enjoy setting the table for dinner parties and planning out menus for the week. I've recently been using Hen House Linens napkins.

I love brightly colored table settings- hence my love of Fiestaware!

On Labor Day, my grandmother gave me an entire bagful of place mats, cloth napkins, and tablecloths, so I've been playing around with different place settings, shown below.

Ultimately, I enjoy setting a nice (or colorful!) table because I love having a tableful of friends and neighbors. The community that results from eating a meal together is unparalleled.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fitness Friday: Lower Body Bootcamp

Here's my second edition of Fitness Friday! I've been needing to fit in quick workouts because I've been busy starting up my company, which has been so much fun!

Today, the main focus is on the lower body: legs and glutes. However, it's also a good overall workout that will definitely get your heart rate pumping.

Here's the plan, with a 25 or 45 minute version dependingon how much time you have.

0:00-3:00 Warm-up

If you have time, repeat the two videos. 

23:00-33:00 Video 1

33:33-43:00 Video 2

43:00-45:00 Cool down

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review: "Violets of March"

When I first read Modern Mrs. Darcy's post about synchro-reading, I immediately thought of my dear friend Leah.

In addition to reading, line dancing is another love Leah and I share!
(Leah is third in line, and I am fourth.)

Leah's visit to Atlanta

Synchro-reading is essentially an online book club, where you read and discuss a book together even though you're far apart. With me living in Atlanta and Leah in Louisville, I knew it'd be a perfect solution for our mutual love of books.

The first book we chose for synchro-reading (I'm sure they'll be many more to follow!) was Violets of March by Sarah Jio. As Leah summed up, "It is the story of Emily, a woman struggling to overcome a broken heart by visiting her beloved aunt at her favorite childhood vacation spot. Mystery swirls around Emily and her great-aunt Bee, a longtime resident of Bainbridge Island in the beautiful Pacific northwest."

Before we started, our plan was to read 10 chapters the first week then discuss, and finish the last 10 the following week and discuss. The plot ended up being so engaging that we flew through the book instead - though we did pause and reflect halfway through and then at the end.

For our first synchro-reading experience, we just emailed each other our thoughts on the characters, plot, scenery, and whatever else came to mind. Since we both are book nerds, we dove into the symbolism too - with Leah even researching the Greek and Roman mythology behind violets.

Overall, I loved the chance to read a book with a friend, and emailing our notes provided a lot of flexibility. I would highly recommend synchro-reading with anyone who enjoys reading... which brings me to my high recommendation of reading "Violets of March" too!

You can check out Leah's review of the book here. Since she provided such a good summary of our thoughts, I'll just give you an overview:

  • Plot: A+ in my book. The storyline was so compelling that I flew through the book and didn't want to put it down. It's a mystery with family history and romance all tied into one. Though we were both able to "solve" some of the mysteries, there were several surprises at the end, while still being very believable. It definitely would have been a perfect beach read! And I can see it being made into a movie too, like "Sarah's Key."
  • Characters: During the first half of the book, Leah and I were disappointed with the character development. I really enjoy books that get inside the character's minds and show transformations. Instead, this is more of a plot-driven book (hence, a good beach book). However, toward the end you start to see some changes and developments, which brought the book to a close nicely.
  • Scenery: The book takes place mainly on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific northwest, and the Puget Sound is almost a character in and of itself. I would have preferred a little more descriptions since I have never been there and it sounded so beautiful. I connected with the concept of a place being restorative and taking on meaning on its own.
  • Bottom-line: Definitely worth a read, especially if you're headed on vacation this fall or already making a beach reading list for next summer!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brewery, Brautwurst, and (GF!) Bread

Labor Day weekend was quite exciting around the Shack household. John was busy morning through after midnight both Friday and Saturday helping to put on the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games, and after my dad left Atlanta one of my best college friends came into town!

Eating pretty much sums up the weekend- hence the blog title.

One of our Atlanta outings of the weekend was to Sweet Water Brewery. The brewery was fun for hanging out at and getting a quasi-tour. (It was very crowded because of Labor Day and the start to college football, so we didn't go through the entire 100 person tour group.)

Me, Alex (my Vandy friend), and Erika (Alex's - and now my! - friend who recently moved to ATL)

Since Sweetwater didn't have gluten free beer, I only had half a glass, and to make up for it, Alex and Erika made sangria with our dinner. The recipe was easy and delicious:


Pint of sliced strawberries
2-3 sliced peaches
1 bottle of white wine
2 cans of Fresca or grapefruit Izze soda

Mix all together in a pitcher and let chill in the fridge for a couple hours. Yum!

I'm sure you're wandering what we had sangria with, and I promise there was no shortage of gluten free carbs this weekend. We the started off with a big brunch of homemade gluten free pancakes, scrambled eggs, gluten free zucchini bread, and sliced fruit. Recipes to come once I've perfected them!

For dinner one night: Gluten free pizza. For dinner the next night (with the sangria!): Gluten free pasta.

Gluten Free Pizza (From Bob's Red Mill)

2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup warm water
1 egg
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
2 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pizza sauce
Pizza toppings: I used caramelized onions with garlic, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, green pepper, and fresh sliced basil


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine yeast, sugar, and water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add egg and oil to wet ingredients, then add dry ingredients. Mix with a hand mixer for a minute, adding a teaspoon of water if dough moves up beaters.
  4. Scoop onto greased pizza sheet. Wet your hands with warm water (this is key to getting to dough to spread out!) and spread dough over sheet and smooth. Let sit 10-15 minutes for a thicker crust.
  5. Cover with pizza sauce (I recommend Trader Joe's brand) and desired toppings. Top with cheese (if desired). Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Where does the brautwurt in the blog title come in? On Labor Day, John and I headed to Helen, GA to visit with family who was staying there. Helen is a German lookalike town, hence eating German food on the Chattahoochee River. Juxtaposing Southern accents and watching people tubing down the Chattahoochee next to a German town was quite comical. We had a great day - and more yummy recipes and beautiful place settings to come inspired from my grandmother!

Auf Wiedersehen!