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Did you know that less than 5% of adults take part in 30 minutes of physical activity a day?

That is only 1 out of every 20 adults.

Be honest with yourself. Are you the 1 or the other 19?

I know you want to be active, but obstacles keep getting in the way.

You don’t have time because your schedule is packed with summer activities and traveling. Your days are filled with traveling to see friends, family, and new places.

When you’re not busy running around, you decide you want to work out. You put on your workout gear, but the weather does not cooperate. It seems to be either hot and muggy or thunder storming. Either way, if you tried to exercise your clothes would stick to your body by the end of your routine!

If you want to join the 5%, give these 7 easy solutions a try.

1. Think Outside the Box

Summer is a great time to be creative with your workouts. Since the weather is nicer, it’s more enjoyable to exercise outside.

Some workouts you may want to give a try this summer are:

  • Aqua Zumba
  • Archery
  • Frisbee/Disc Golf
  • Biking
  • Kayaking/Canoeing
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Stand Up Paddle board
  • Tennis
  • Walking/Jogging/Running
  • White Water River Rafting
Swimming is a refreshing way to beat the summer heat!

Mike and I are lucky to have a $1 Aqua Zumba class at our community pool. By searching online you may find some really neat workouts happening near you!

2. Schedule It In

It’s too easy to fill up our summer with activities and not make room to work out. We decide that skipping our workout isn’t such a big deal until we realize we haven’t done much of a work out in over a month!

To avoid this, you need to plan ahead. Schedule in your workouts like you would do for any other activity. Fill in your daily routine, vacation and travel plans and see when you have time for working out. Or better yet, fill in your exercise plan before your calendar gets too full!

Write down your schedule for the week and find times to fit in your workouts!

3. Have Back-Up Options

With temperamental summer weather, a storm can happen unexpectedly. You don’t want to miss a workout because the weather is not cooperating. Keep a running list of indoor workouts you can do on days when it’s too wet or hot to go outside.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Exercise Classes – Many organizations offer indoor exercise classes year round. Places to look for classes include studios, gyms, churches, and community centers. Search Groupon to find a deal for an exercise class near you.
  • Workout Videos – From beginner HIIT workouts to Pilates classes and more, there are many great resources online. (If you still use DVDs, brush the dust off of your workout videos and give them a spin)!
  • Exercise Equipment – Do you own an elliptical or treadmill? How about weights or a medicine ball? Look around your house and see what you can use to work out. If you need some motivation, try creating a fun workout playlist (or find some Ancient Faith Radio podcasts) to listen to.
4. Find Workouts on Your Vacation

While vacation is certainly a time for rest, it doesn’t have to be sedentary. You can find opportunities to get some exercise when you are away.

When Mike and I vacationed in Delaware we found ways to stay active. We biked, swam, and took walks. Other vacations we’ve taken involved hiking and kayaking.

Before you go on your next trip, research the opportunities available in your destination. Take advantage of unique opportunities in your area. (Did someone say SUP?)

Stand Up Paddle board (SUP) is a great summer exercise! 5. Walk When You Can

Walking is one of the most fundamental ways to stay healthy. It strengthens your cardiovascular health, muscles, and bones while reducing excess body fat.

Plus, when the weather is so gorgeous it’s hard to not want to get up and move! Here are some ways to fit more walking into your summer:

  • Walk to your errands
  • Park your car further away than necessary
  • Take the stairs
  • Walk inside a mall on a rainy day

You also have many opportunities to walk frequently on vacation.

  • If you are staying at a hotel you may be able to walk to nearby attractions.
  • If you are going to the beach you can walk along the sand and on the boardwalk.
  • If you are camping you can find trails to hike.
  • If you are going on a road trip you can make an effort to stop at parks along the way.
6. Play

Since you spend the majority of the day with your children, find ways to get active with them. Make an effort to hit up parks, playgrounds, and pools on a weekly basis.

Make an effort to play outside with your children.

If you struggle to get out, there are still plenty of ways to move around at home. Run through your sprinkler, jump rope, or hula hoop.

Take out your sprinkler and run through it with them. Bring out hula hoops and jump ropes.

(As a bonus, If your kids are engaged in outdoor activities by themselves you may even be able to squeeze in some of these five-minute exercises).

7. Make it a Family Affair

Working out alone is great, but doing it as a family is even better! When we exercise together we increase our social, emotional, and physical health. Exercising together helps us:

  • Make more quality time for each other
  • Improve our health
  • Provides a sense of adventure
  • Teaches us new things about ourselves and our family members
  • Develops our social skills
  • Become a role model to our children and spouses
  • Sleep better (this is true for our children too!)

So grab your husband and children and do any of these fun activities;

  • Jump on a trampoline
  • Play tag
  • Hula hoop
  • Play hopscotch
  • Bounce, kick or throw a ball
  • Go mini golfing
  • Take a walk or hike
  • Ride a bike
  • Swim
  • Dance
  • Walk your dog
  • Sign-up for a 5K and train for it
Get your whole family involved in some active, summer fun!

As you can tell, there are many ways to stay active this summer. If fitness is a priority, don’t let the summer pass by without fitting in some of these exercises.

Are there any other exercise tips you would add to this list?

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I’m not going to lie. I’ve been feeling pretty envious lately.

You see, I often struggle with my career. The work I’ve done lately (besides blogging) has been fulfilling, yet not stable. I am trying to reach goals both monetarily and professionally and I keep coming up short.

Sometimes I wish I had someone else’s career. I think to myself “that person has it all figured out. Why can’t I?”

I am almost certain you feel this way too. Maybe it’s not a job, but a house. Or you wish your children were better behaved, or that your in-laws lived closer and could help with the kids. Perhaps you wish your husband didn’t work such long hours or that you were slimmer. Whatever it is, it’s envy, and it needs to stop.

What is Envy?

It’s the desire to have a quality, possession, or attribute that someone else has. In other words, it’s coveting what you don’t have. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy or insecurity over not having the item (job, house, car, lifestyle, etc.) you crave.

Envy reminds you of your own perceived shortcomings. You may feel like you are not good enough or you will never achieve (X). It can lead you to feel pretty down about your situation.

Envy also has a direct correlation with coveting. When you want what you don’t have you are coveting, which is also breaking the 10th commandment. If you are envious you are not blessed.

What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?

How does recognizing your blessings help you overcome envy?

My priest recently talked about what it means to be blessed, and it’s not what you think. Being blessed doesn’t mean that you have everything you could ever want or desire. It means you are filled or satisfied.

Think about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He outlines 8 Beatitudes, which is translated to blessings. Below I’ve replaced the word “blessed” with the word “satisfied”.

Satisfied are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Satisfied are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Satisfied are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth…” (Matthew 5:3-5, OSB)

From the offset, the Beatitudes don’t seem to be blessings at all. Who wants to be meek, mourn or persecuted? Being blessed doesn’t mean everything is going ‘right’ in your life. It means you are satisfied with whatever situation God has given you. Recognizing our blessedness helps us put off feelings of envy.

Like most things, this is easier said than done. That’s why I’ve outlined 4 ways to help you go from feeling envious to recognizing how blessed you are.

Learn to become satisfied with what God’s given you and you will transform envy into blessings. 1. Realize You’re Not Alone

We all struggle with sin. If I were to guess, I bet envy would be one of the more common ones. It’s too easy to look at another person’s life and wish you had something of theirs. With social media, email, and texts it’s so easy to be informed of what’s going on in other’s lives. While it’s great to connect, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, which lead to envy.

The truth is, everyone feels envious from time to time. This doesn’t make lessen its sinful nature, but it’s comforting to know you are not alone in this struggle.

Take this fictional scenario for instance. This is likely occurring in your life right now and you don’t even know it!

Lauren wishes she had a large house like Samantha. Samantha wishes she had a body like Brittany. Brittany wishes she had her parents nearby to help care for her kids like Lauren.

You see that each woman has something “desirable” but stills feels envious of someone else. These women are focusing on what they want to change, not what is going well. When you only focus on what you lack you won’t see the blessings God has given you.

So the next time you feel envy remember that others struggle with this sin too. No one has everything, even if it appears that way.

2. See Yourself as God Does

The Bible cautions us to not envy. Paul mentions envy in his Epistle to the Romans:

“…Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:12-14, OSB)

Let’s put on the armor of light, Christ.

In this case, the “work of darkness” is envy, while the armor of light is Christ and His goodness. We are to be like Christ and to “not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. Because remember, lusting after something is the same as coveting what we don’t have, and coveting is envy. It all comes full circle.

When we covet what we don’t have we neglect the blessings in our lives. In Genesis 1:27 it says that man was created in God’s image. We are all made in the image and likeness of God, yet we are not the same. We are members of the same body, yet have different functions.

Paul highlights this in his message to the Corinthians:

“But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-26, OSB, emphasis added)

Do you sometimes feel as if you are the “weaker” body part? Perhaps you are an elbow but you wish you were a leg. You wish you were strong and athletic and you neglect to see how purposeful you are. You make arm movements possible! You are super important and practical. Yes, you may not see elbows emphasized in beauty magazines, but they are still necessary!

Each body part is created by God and it’s important.

If this analogy seems silly, it’s okay. It’s funny to think about our brothers and sisters in Christ as being members of one body. However, it’s a great parallel to our everyday lives. God loves you as you are. He made you the way you are for a reason, to fulfill a role in His kingdom. It may not be as glamorous or desirable as what you want it to be, but it’s necessary nonetheless.

Your life is your own and it won’t be like anyone else’s. Recognize the gifts God has blessed you with and use them to glorify Him. Make a list of your strengths. What are you particularly good at? If you don’t know, ask your friends and family. Doing this exercise will help you see yourself as God does.

3. Notice the Hidden Blessings

When you notice yourself feeling envious use it as an opportunity to reflect on your life. You may see how God is using this situation to strengthen you, to make you a better person.

I’ve always loved self-reflection. However, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered how God is using my suffering to strengthen my character, producing perseverance, character, and hope. (Romans 5:4).

Many jobs I’ve held fell apart for reasons beyond my control. By having downtime in between jobs I’ve found time to self-reflect and chart a new course for myself. I’ve gained much determination in learning how to pick myself back up and reinvent myself. Also, these trials helped me to start this blog and have inspired content that I’ve used in this ministry. What a blessing!

Seek out the silver lining in your current situation. Maybe you struggle with weight loss and you are jealous of those who are fit. What are you learning about yourself in this situation? How is God using this trial to make you a better person?

  • Has your struggle with weight loss helped you learn how to eat well?
  • Did you join a gym or fitness class?
  • Do you have friends who can support you in your journey?
  • Are you able to help others lose weight?
  • Has your health journey led you to become a health coach or personal trainer?

Write down the ways in which God is using your situation to develop your character. What are you gaining from overcoming your perceived ‘weakness’? In what ways have you been more able to relate to others?

It’s humbling to not “have everything”. In an ironic way, God uses our weaknesses to make us stronger.

Noticing your blessings brings joy to your life. 4. Know That It Gets Better

Our lives are constantly evolving. What you are envious of today will come to pass. Either your situation will change or your outlook on it will. Most of the time it’s both.

Think back things you’ve envied in the past (such as in high school). They probably seem silly to you now, but they felt so real back then. Likewise, what you are envious of now will go away, especially when you take it to God through prayer.

We come to God in prayer to overcome our sins. By acknowledging our desire to change, He works in us to soften our hearts. This helps release the hold envy has in our lives.

It won’t happen overnight, but consistent prayer makes any situation better. The more we commune with God, the more our love for Him increases, “and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, OSB)

Resources

If you need more help with overcoming envy, I encourage you to focus on the positive. My posts 3 Reasons You Need a Happy Book and 7 Ways Gratitude Journaling Brings You Closer to God are excellent resources to lift you up.

In addition, I tried to find an Orthodox prayer on envy without any luck, so I wrote this one. Feel free to use it any time you feel envy taking hold in your life.

Prayer for Envy:

“O Lord help me to remove this feeling of envy from my life. Help me to remember that I am not alone in this struggle, but you are with me. Allow me to see myself as you do. Help me to notice the blessings in my life, especially those which are masked by my current feelings. Also help me to believe that by the power of your strength envy will no longer have a hold on my life, even if my situation doesn’t change. Amen.”

What helps you overcome feelings of envy in your life?

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Have you ever gotten your little ones involved in the Fourth of July celebrations? No, I don’t mean with fireworks, picnics, and parades. These are all great, but not always practical for moms with young children.

  • Your family may live too far away to gather for the Fourth of July
  • The parades are nice, but you might leave early because your children (and yourself) will get too hot!
  • Fireworks are too loud (and disrupt the bedtime schedule).

If you find that you cannot celebrate the Fourth of July in these traditional ways (or if you are just looking for activities to enrich the day) look no further. There are many fun ways to celebrate the holiday with your children if you’re willing to get crafty (and a little bit messy)!

I’ve put my suggested starting ages for these projects – that is, the earliest or suggested age for these projects. However, you know your children best, so if you think they can do the project earlier, but all means go for it!

Here are my top 15 choices for art and sensory activities for ages 0-3.

Art

As a certified Art Educator, I am passionate about involving children in art. Everyone knows art helps develop creativity in children, but it does much more than just that.

Exposing children to art at an early age strengthens their literacy, problem-solving skills, fine and gross motor skills, and the neural connections in the brain. Art helps children to become smart, well-rounded people.

Here are 7 projects to inspire learning in your little ones.

1. Almost Mess-Free Star Painting (8 mon +)

Don’t worry – this easy craft is only a little messy for yourself (but not messy for your children)!

2. Baby and Toddler Safe Paint (8 mon +)

Only 4 edible ingredients are needed to make this safe (and colorful paint). Make three batches: one red, one blue, and one white for a patriotic painting!

*Note: Only introduce this to children who are able to eat solid foods.

3. Edible Yogurt Paint (8 mon +)

If you have yogurt on hand you can make this 2 ingredient finger paint.

*Note: Only introduce this to children who already eat yogurt without a reaction.

4. Star Suncatchers (12 mon +)

When I worked in a daycare as a Young Toddler Teacher, I used contact paper all the time due to its versatility. Another bonus is that it’s very hands-on, yet not messy. Try out this simple craft.

5. Cookie-Cutter Paintings (12 mon +)

This project uses spring shapes, but you can easily insert star cookie cutters or any other star-shaped objects you may have. (Ex: You can cut sponges into a star shape).

6. Salad Spinner Fireworks (2 yrs +)

If you have a salad spinner you don’t use this is a great project for you!

7. Fourth of July Rockets (3 yrs +)

This project requires a bit more work, so it’s great for older children. If you try it with younger children you might end up doing more of the work then they do (which is no fun).

Want to try it with your toddlers? Make one of these modifications:

  • You can take out red, white, and blue paint along with sponge brushes and allow children to paint their “rocket”.

OR

  • You can wrap a piece of contact paper around the tube (I told you I love that stuff) and secure it with masking tape. You can then rip or cut construction paper or tissue paper and have them stick it on.
Sensory Experiences

Sensory bins are a great way for children to learn about the world around them. In exploring these bins, children heighten their sight, hearing, touch, smell, and sometimes even taste.

Sensory play stimulates nerve connections in the brain, helping children develop the ability to complete complex learning tasks.

It also supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving capabilities, and social interaction.

Choose any of these 8 activities to stimulate your children’s senses.

8. Pool Noodle Sensory Bin (8 mon +)

A little bit of water and cut up pool noodles makes for such a simple and fun play time. (Make sure to supervise children while playing in the water at all times).

9. Puffy Paint Fireworks (12 mon +)

If you’ve never tried puffy paint before you should – it’s so much fun! Shaving cream and glue (along with a little bit of paint) makes for a textured painting that your children will adore.

10. Kool-Aid Sidewalk Chalk Paint (12 mon +)

While I don’t have Kool-Aid in my house I might have to pick it up for this fun squeeze-bottle art activity. Use cherry and berry blue to make it patriotic (although the cherry may turn pink, not red).

11. Red White and Blue Play-doh (3 yrs + )

I recommend this homemade Play-doh project for any children who won’t eat it (since it contains glitter). However, if you omit the glitter your toddlers can enjoy it too.

12. Star Sorting (3 yrs +)

The small pieces in this sensory bin make it great for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills in your preschooler. You can take this activity further and work on sorting colors too!

13. Fourth of July Sensory Melt (3 yrs +)

This activity requires a lot of patience (for both you and your child). If you take the time to make this right your child may be occupied for hours!

14. Patriotic Sensory Bin (3 yrs +)

If you have a variety of red, white, and blue items on hand you can make this sensory bin. It’s easily customizable so use whatever you’ve got and let your children explore!

15. Firework Sensory Bin (3 yrs +)

For those of you sick with all the red, white, and blue, here is something different!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these 15 ideas for art and sensory play. Let me know if you do any of these with your children this holiday!

Do you do art or sensory play with your children?

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Today I want to share with you a guest post I wrote for Orthodox Motherhood. For those of you who don’t know, Orthodox Motherhood is a blog created by Sarah Wright. She is an Orthodox Christian, a mother, a wife, a teacher, and a writer. She blogs to Orthodox Christian women on topics of faith and family.

Recently she contacted me asking if I wanted to write a guest post. I love connecting with like-minded individuals, so I said yes!

When deciding what to write about, I kept coming back to the idea of making our homes “little churches”. If attending church is our spiritual foundation, then living out our faith at home is the support beams that strengthens us. The more you integrate the life of the Church into your home, the stronger your family will be.

How can we do this in a practical way? Learn the 5 simple ways you can make your home a “little church” over at Orthodox Motherhood.

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Prayer is integral to our lives as Orthodox Christian women. Theophan the Recluse in his homily on prayer states that “the work of prayer is the first work in Christian life”. If prayer is so fundamental to our calling as Christians, we ought to aim to pray daily, even while we are away.

However, it can be so easy to forget about God when we go on vacation. Between planning, packing, and traveling, we hardly have enough time to think about God. Also, when we are so caught up our vacation outings it’s easy to forget about God.

Last year Mike and I were visiting another church and the priest was talking about remembering God when you are away from home. His words were:

“We do not take a vacation from God while we are on vacation, and thank God He does not take a vacation from us.”

Wow! Isn’t that quite the statement? We don’t want God to forget about us, so we shouldn’t forget about Him!

I know it’s easier said than done, so I have created some travel prayer cards that you can use for your summer trip. When you pack your bag, put these in. You will remember God’s presence throughout your vacation.

Subscribe to receive a copy of my printable travel prayer cards.

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I included prayers for these different categories of traveling:

  1. Before You Leave
  2. On Your First Day
  3. Daily On Your Trip
  4. Upon Your Return

The Before You Leave” and “On Your First Day” prayers I received courtesy of Family Life Ministry and Kurskroot. The other two categories I could not find prayers for, so I created my own!

To receive copies of these prayer cards, fill your name in the contact form. The prayer cards will be in your inbox shortly!

Directions:

  1. Each prayer card has a front and a back. Fold the paper in half vertically (the hotdog way).
  2. Cut across the three horizontal dotted lines. You should have four cards.
  3. You can glue or tape the prayer cards together.

Ta-da! You now have some prayer cards for the road.

Slip them a zippered plastic bag, a clutch, your Bible, gratitude journal, or another place they will stay safe.

It is my prayer that these cards will be a reminder and a motivator to pray while you are away.

Do you remember to pray while on vacation?

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When is the last time you had an emotional check-up? If you are unsure of what that is, you are not alone. Emotional wellness is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. The way you feel about yourself and your life has a huge impact on your well-being.

An emotional check-up is when you take an inventory of how you’ve felt recently. It’s a chance to recognize your negative emotions and learn how to find joy, despite difficulties.

Have you experienced any of these feelings in the past few months?

  • Anger
  • Jealousy
  • Discouragement
  • Fear/Worry
  • Insecurity
  • Frustration
  • Sadness

It’s normal to feel these emotions at times. But to become a stronger individual, we need to learn how to effectively cope with them.

How do we handle these emotions as they occur? What do we do with emotions that keep reoccurring? How can we learn to work through them and become resilient?

The answer lies in having a happy book.

What is a happy book?

A happy book is a place to turn to when you need encouragement. It’s a collection of uplifting words used to take you from sadness to joy. It’s a place to find reassurance in God’s faithfulness. It’s a space to overcome destructive thoughts and obstacles. Finally, it’s a place to receive encouragement from others.

Why is having a happy book so beneficial?

1. Helps You Find Strength in the Lord

Have you ever been so upset that you didn’t know what to do? You tried to pray but all you could do was cry? If you are distressed beyond consolation, bringing out your happy book will help. A happy book can be a precursor to prayer when you are distraught. It helps you resolve your issues by focusing on the bigger picture of how God works in our lives.

Understanding that God is greater than our emotions is a very powerful concept. It allows us the ability to understand that the rough patch we are experiencing is just temporary. Better things are on the horizon. We understand that we can get through our difficulties because He has overcome the worst of them all – death. When we realize how deeply Christ loves us, supports us, and how central faith is in our lives it helps us refocus. Our problems get smaller as we realize God is bigger.

When I was younger I would let my emotions get the best of me. If I had a thought enter my mind I didn’t agree with I would get really upset. Also, I got hung up on the sins of my past. Reading these verses brought me comfort:

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20, OSB)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor 5:17, OSB)

Reading these verses gave me strength in the Lord when I was discouraged beyond belief. Whatever you are working through, there is a verse that can give you encouragement when you need it most.

Adding encouraging Scripture verses to your happy book will cheer you up when you’re feeling down.  2. Helps You Reflect on Past Struggles

Having a happy book is a place to find strength, especially when you compare your current struggles to older ones. If you write down reminders of how God has helped you in the past, it can help you make light of a current issue.

In college, I struggled with moving on from my past. I needed constant reminders of how to work through this issue, so I wrote letters to myself. This is part of one I wrote:

Amber,

You must make peace with the past. Images and memories that upset you from your past have no place in your mind. They are visitors who should be dealt with accordingly…know in your heart that you are not defined by your past – only by who you choose to be today and each new day. Each new day you are being recreated into a better person. God help me to live by these words I have written. Amen.

Love,

Amber

It might feel strange to write a letter to yourself but it’s a great tool for self-reflection. Writing a letter gives you the will to overcome obstacles. Reading the letter is a reminder that you tackled this problem already, and you can do it again.

3. Reminds You of the Love of Others

While the main source of our strength comes from God, there is no reason we can’t find comfort in the loving words of others. Other people can help us find the good in ourselves.

While dating Mike, I was upset about something related to my skills and abilities. He took the time to write 20 talents of mine, along with an explanation for each. This lifted my spirits and helped me see the value in myself.

Kind words from loved ones are like an emotional hug.

A happy book is a place of refuge in God, a mirror to reflect on how you’ve overcome past struggles, and a vessel for the love of others. Having one is an enrichment to your spiritual-emotional life. If you want to say good-bye to unresolved pain and hello to emotional stability, create one. You will not be disappointed.

Want more? See my post about the super easy way to make a happy book.

Disclaimer: If you are experiencing true mental-emotional distress, I would seek out your priest and a professional therapist.

Do you have a happy book to turn to when you need encouragement?

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Are you wondering what a happy book is? If so, read this post.

Getting Started

If you want to create a happy book first you will need some supplies:

  • 3 ring binder, 1” or thicker
  • Clear plastic sleeves
  • Paper (notebook paper or any other paper)
  • Bible
  • Pens
  • Decorative paper for the cover

First, you will want to make a cover for your happy book. I used smiley face stationary paper I had since elementary school, but you can use whatever you have on hand. It can be as fancy as you want.

Find Material

Next, peruse your gratitude journal, Bible, and other sources for words of encouragement. It’s crucial to find verses that provide a sense of relief and encouragement to you. While some verses may be special to someone else, they may not make much of an impact on you. Focus on finding prayers that help you see the bigger picture. I also recommend searching for prayers from Saints and spiritual fathers online, or in your favorite Orthodox books.

If you need help finding prayers for a variety of struggles, I highly recommend the book The Right Prayers for Every Need. Inside you will find a collection of prayers on topics ranging from doubts to sorrow and everything in between. I received this as a Christmas gift years ago and it has been such an invaluable resource for dealing with my pain. I loved it so much I even bought it for a family member!

Write Them Down

Once you’ve found the prayers and Scripture verses you want to include, write them down. Place them in plastic sleeves and put those in your binder. You don’t have to write them all at once. Write as many as you wish.

If you feel inspired, try writing a letter to yourself to help you overcome an issue you are facing. This type of writing can’t be forced, so pray about it and begin writing. If inspiration strikes, great! If not, come back to it another day.

More Ideas

You may want to keep a small notebook with you at all times. That way, when you are reminded of a comforting verse or positive affirmation, you can include it in your book. Also, if you are inspired to write this letter to yourself, you will have a place to record your thoughts as they come to you.

If you find it helpful to know how others appreciate you, you may want to ask them and record it in your happy book. If you are feeling down it never hurts to be reminded of what others love about you. If you have kids, you may want to keep a special card or two in your book.

Likewise, if you glean inspiration from others, record it. It can help to cheer you up on a bad day.

There you have it! This is a quick and easy way to make a happy book. I hope you decide to make one – it’s super easy and a great help for when you are discouraged.

Are you going to make a happy book? Let me know how it goes!

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Have you ever seen another family out to dinner and they were all looking down at their cell phones? Not one person was looking up. They were ‘together’ but not ‘present’.

Be honest – this has probably happened with your extended family, too. Perhaps you were not out to eat but at a relatives’ house. Or maybe everyone sits around a T.V. or finds it difficult to maintain an authentic conversation.

What does it take to be present with those you love? Read on to discover three ways you can be more present with your extended family.

1. Practice Active Listening

If you had a Communications class in college you may have come across the concept of active listening. Active listening means that you attentively listen to another person when she is speaking. You fully concentrate on the conversation. This demonstrates to the speaker that what she has to say is something of value.

Some ways to show active listening are:

  • Eye Contact
  • Smiling
  • Posture – Lean slightly forward to show you are engaged.
  • Mirroring – Automatic reflection of facial expressions (this can’t be forced)
  • Stay Focused
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Remembering
  • Questioning
  • Reflection
  • Clarification
  • Summarization
Mirroring and showing eye contact are two ways to demonstrate active listening with your family members.

Demonstrating active listening improves your relationships. Think back to the last time you spent time with your extended family. Did you enjoy the conversations? Do you think you or your family members used any of these active listening techniques?

My favorite conversations with family members were all ones where I felt what I had to say was of value. When I noticed my parents looking into my eyes, asking questions, and staying focused on what I had to say, I felt validated. I bet when I showed similar attention to them they felt similarly.

Active listening doesn’t happen overnight but takes time to develop. By learning these skills you can strengthen the ties with your family.

2. Remove All Distractions

One of the greatest barriers to listening is having too many distractions. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by messages. Whether it’s notifications from our cell phone, advertisements on the internet, or the television blaring in the background, distractions are all around us.

When you spend time with your family, try to remove these disruptions. Turn off your cell phone (or leave it in your purse in another room). Choose to hold a conversation away from the T.V., and ask your relatives to put away their laptops. It is nearly impossible to practice active listening in a noisy room.

Leave your technology behind if you want to have a quality conversation.

Once you are in a quiet place, free from technology, it’s time to turn off the greatest distraction of all – the noise in your mind. Sometimes this is hard for us women. We are used to handling so much, and it can be hard to let go of our concerns. Our minds drift off when we think of our to-do-lists, with thoughts like:

  • Did I put away the dishes?
  • What will I make for dinner?
  • Do I have time to pick this up from the store when we leave?

Being preoccupied with the cares of the world stifles our conversations with others. Christ knew we would have this issue, so he exhorts us to “not worry” in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink: nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek, For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-33, OSB)

When we remember He is in charge and He provides for us we can more easily focus on others. The next time your mind starts to roam, get it back on track by resting in our Savior.

Give your worries to God so you can more easily focus on others. 3. Remove Judgments and Insecurities

Most of us lead different lives than our extended families. Your marriage, children, career, faith, and interests are probably very different from the rest of your family. While there is nothing wrong with that, these differences can cause tension in the form of judgments and insecurities. Both of these pitfalls threaten our relationships with our relatives.

The Lord warns us of the dangers of judging others when He says:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2, OSB)

You and your husband may want to live a different life than your relatives, and that is fine. Make sure your conversations are “seasoned with salt”. (Colossians 4:6) Showing unconditional love to your relatives, especially when you disagree, helps you to grow closer to each other.

Season your conversations “with salt” so you know how to talk to all family members.

If removing judgments sounds hard, then ridding yourself of insecurities is even harder. As you and your husband build a life for yourselves, you will make decisions that your relatives won’t agree with. The choices you’ve made with your money, career, and family are all touchy subjects. It can be easy to feel insecure around your relatives, especially if you believe they would have made different choices.

While I’ve felt comfortable with the choices my husband and I have made, I’ve sometimes felt insecure around extended family. The choices we’ve made have not always been favorable. I’ve learned it takes time to not feel judged by relatives, and it’s a process I am still working through.

What helps me is realizing that you have to chart your own life. When you are proud of the choices you’ve made then it’s easier to let go of following the expectations of others. This is your life. It doesn’t have to resemble that of your mom, your sister, your grandparents, or anyone else. Have confidence in your decisions, and share them with your extended family.

In Conclusion

Being fully present with those you love takes effort. It takes discipline to practice active listening, as well as turning off distractions. Most importantly, it involves the ability to remove judgments of others, while simultaneously gaining confidence in your own decisions.

Learning how to be present with one another will deepen your bonds with your extended family.

What is one thing you will try to do to be more present with those you love?

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Ever since my husband, Mike, and I got married we began spending more time with other married people. We made many Orthodox Christian friendships (many of whom are couples) as we joined various young adult groups in our area. These friendships began early in our married life, and I could not be more grateful. Having married couples in your life strengthens your marriage.

Yes, spending quality time with your spouse is crucial in ‘mastering’ your marriage, too. However, you also need couples in your life to help you have a fulfilling marriage and life. If you are not keen on doing “couple things”, hopefully, these 7 benefits will change your mind.

 1. You Get to See Your Partner Shine

Being around other couples helps us notice the best qualities in our husband. Whether he’s a jokester or a kind-hearted soul, seeing our husband interact with others boosts our feelings for him. The more you spend time with other couples the easier it will be for you to recognize why you fell in love.

Something I’ve always appreciated about Mike is his charisma. I am always amazed by how considerate he is of others, as well as how capable he is at entertaining. While I notice these qualities when we are around our single friends, it is heightened when we are around couples. I appreciate how he asks questions to both spouses, not playing favoritism. I see how willing he is to give others the best seat, while he takes a folding chair for himself. I am proud of how courteous my husband is, and it only makes me love him more.

2. You Have an Opportunity to Reflect

Mike and I are a fairly social couple. Spending time with other couples gives us an opportunity to relate the dynamic of their relationship to ours.

We’ve appreciated how couples give each other “the look” that they are ready to go home. Friends of ours have brought us housewarming gifts and we’ve returned the favor. By learning about our friends’ relationships we discovered what makes their relationship ‘click’.

Observing the relationships of others helps you reflect on your own. We’ve discussed the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship more easily after spending time with other couples. We learn well from observing others, so having couples in your life helps you make your marriage stronger.

Being around other couples sparks conversations about your own relationship. 3. You Learn From Others (or Teach Them)

In every group of friends, there is someone who does everything first. There is the couple who gets married first, buys a house first, and has kids first. There is no point in comparing yourself to others since everyone has a different time table. However, there is merit in learning from those who have gone before you.

As it is stated in Proverbs:

“For a wise man who hears these things will be wiser, and the man of understanding will gain direction.” (Proverbs 1:5, OSB)

Learning from others gives you an idea of the course you want to chart in your life. Mike and I have a couple in our life who reached these milestones before us. We see them as an example to emulate. We are learning through observation, and that has been helpful for us.

After we got married, we began spending time with more married couples. As we watch couples buy houses and begin families we’ve learned quite a bit. We’ve learned what type of heating is best in a house as well as tips for breast and bottle feeding. All these nuggets of information we are tucking away for later.

A friend of ours told us that we are the couple that they are watching. Hearing that felt like such an honor as I know he admires our relationship and desires his marriage to be as strong as ours. I hope we can give him the guidance he needs as he navigates his engagement.

Having couples in your life gives you people to learn from, and may also help you be a positive example to others.

4. Your Faith Gets Strengthened

Our faith is strengthened when we spend it with other couples, religious and secular.

When we were over our friends’ apartment for dinner we witnessed their evening prayer routine with their daughter. We saw them read their prayer while holding her, teaching her how to bless herself in the sign of the cross. It was short yet sweet, perfect for a toddler.

Other times we’ve noticed the symbols of faith in our friends’ homes. We’ve observed various prayer rooms, icon corners, and spiritual books. Seeing how our friends recreate the church at home gives us inspiration and guidance.

In January we had two good friends over for dinner. While learning about how they met, they told us they realized they needed each other for their salvation.

Mike and I discussed later how riveting their relationship story was. While we know our marriage is a journey together for salvation, we never thought of it as a need. Their powerful story brought us closer together.

Spending time with non-Christian couples strengthens your faith, too. My one friend is not Christian, but she appreciates learning about Orthodoxy. She has come to church with us and we have taught her the tenants of our faith.

Most recently, while we were having dinner with her and her boyfriend, they respected our desire to pray before our meal. Sharing your mutual faith with your non-religious friends reinforces your own beliefs, and gives you the confidence needed to share your faith with non-believers.

Our couple friends reinforce and strengthen our faith. 5. You Have Potential Godparents

Let’s be honest, many of us have (or want) kids. The more friends you have in your life the wider pool you can draw from when you need to decide who will be godparents for your children. You don’t need your godparents to be married, or from the same couple for that matter. However, you will want to know them well, and see the strength of their faith. This is accomplished by spending time with a variety of Orthodox Christian couples.

We do not have children yet, but just this year we were asked twice to be godparents for children of two different couples. Both of these couples we have spent quality time with, both at our place and theirs. If we didn’t take the time to get to know these couples well, I don’t think we would be godparents now.

6. You Can Have Girl and Guy Time

While spending time with married couples is important for growth in your relationship, it also gives you the time with friends you need. Making friendships with other couples gives you chances to have girl time, guy time, and double dates.

Recently, Mike and I had two couples over for dinner. We had time together during dinner and afterward the guys played some games while the girls talked. Another time we shared dinner with a couple for half the night while the other half of the time was spent gabbing one-on-one (him with the husband, me with the wife). It was a great balance of together time and the guy and girl time we needed.

Other times I have planned get-togethers with the women and he’s done the same with the men. Having time for friendships strengthens your marriage because it gives you an opportunity to forge friendships with other women.

Having women in the same season of life as you is beneficial. You can share together in the joys and struggles of marriage, equipping each other to “love [your] husbands” fully and resolve your conflicts. (Titus 2:4) The more couples you meet, the greater opportunity you have to make these quality friendships. 

Forming couple friends helps you have more girlfriends to call on when you need girl time. 7. You Have Friends for Playdates

Couples tend to have children, so by forming friendships with married couples you will have more women to get together with for playdates. Some girlfriends of mine go on walks or take their children to classes together. Developing these friendships now benefits you, your husband, and your children.

As you can see, there are many reasons why making friends with married couples strengthens your marriage and wellbeing. By taking the time to schedule in opportunities to create friendships with other married couples, you will have a happier, healthier marriage.

Do you spend time with other married couples? What benefits do you see in your relationship?

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