Category Archives: goals

marking my time by [a different calendar]

i mentioned in a past post how i make 12 goals each year that help me live & grow intentionally as a student of Life. this year is no exception, & i’m especially excited about one of my spiritual goals.

observe the religious calendar.

having grown up in church, being a preacher’s daughter, & going into ministry as a vocation, you would think i would have experienced the religious holy days, observances, & celebrations. but this is completely new to me. even celebrating christmas as the birthday of Christ is something we didn’t do in our family. but in recent years, through various books & studies, i’ve grown in my curiosity about the religious calendar — not just christian, but jewish, too.

to clear something up real quick, i don’t want you to think that i believe observing specific special days is necessary to one’s faith walk or that i want to make a rule of this for myself or anybody else. i’m not jewish, but my christian faith is rooted in a jewish heritage. i’m not catholic, but the catholic church has a gift for savoring the sacred. these things peak my curiosity, & i believe experiencing them can enrich & deepen my faith walk & understanding of Christ. 

so, i researched all the christian & jewish holy days, & i’ve chosen to observe most of them. there are a few that i may not partake of for various reasons & personal beliefs. i’ve put them all in my calendar along with alerts beforehand to prepare as needed. and i’m so excited i can’t stand it! i was so thankful that the first observance was only six days into the new year!

and that’s what i really want to share with you. on january 6, shaun & i celebrated epiphany. what is epiphany, you ask? i’d heard of it before, but i had no clue what it was. so i read alot about it. as i understand it, epiphany is the celebration of Jesus manifesting Himself as the Son of God. depending on the sect of christianity, this centers on the visit of the magi, Jesus’ baptism, &/or the miracle at the wedding of cana. i decided to do all three. there are various ways of observing epiphany, both religious & cultural, depending on denomination & country. i just chose the traditions that most spoke to me.

first, shaun & i observed the religious rituals attached to epiphany. [disclaimer: these are often performed by a priest. i am not a priest, so please don’t be offended or forgive me if you think it sacrilegious that we did them ourselves.]

i arranged the coffeetable with the necessary elements. you can see i left our christmas decorations in the middle.

candles are my addition. i just really like candles to be included in anything ritualistic. these reminded me of the Trinity, one Person of which was sent to earth in flesh to dwell among men.

i marked the three stories in our small [esv] bible. i like the nice cover & the older more formal language of this translation. we alternated reading the stories & experienced a different element on the table in between each.

first, shaun read about the visit of the magi. this we remembered by the three gifts they presented to the Christ-child. i don’t own any solid gold, so i used a gold dollar coin to represent it. the small pottery crock holds myrrh gum which smells sweetly divine. and the incense is frankincense which when lit filled the room with a wonderfully earthy aroma.

then, i read the account of Jesus’ baptism. afterwards, we enjoyed the epiphany tradition of blessing the house in which you use chalk to write the words Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “Christ bless this house.” [obviously, shaun did the writing & i did the spelling!] we also read a prayer of blessing for the house from the book common prayer for ordinary radicals. it was beautiful.

and finally we came to the wedding at cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. we commemorated this by taking communion. [the picture just shows a cracker. i actually made a simple unleavened bread, but i took these pictures afterwards, so the cracker is a stand-in.]

shaun said his favorite part was taking communion & taking it in the small wine glass. this small detail was a reminder that the event of communion is not to be mundane. i loved all of it, but ironically, my favorite part was the anticipation & preparation! it reminds me of something i once read about sabbath — that it was meant to be the centerpiece of the week, something we look forward to & live for then live off of. sabbath helps us focus on God, the Creator, once a week, but the preparation for it keeps the living for God on our minds even before the day. that’s how i felt getting ready for epiphany. every day i was more excited about experiencing it & making sure i had everything necessary. i loved every minute of it!

well, after the more religious traditions, we enjoyed the cultural tradition of eating all things spicy! specifically, two epiphany favorites: spice cake & wassail.

i made a spice cake with a caramel glaze that i found via martha stewart. it was delish! shaun said he wants it to become a regular beyond once a year at epiphany.


we make wassail regularly throughout the fall & winter in the casteel casa. essentially, it’s a hot, spiced fruit drink. i use a simple recipe that my momma passed onto me. you can find it on my recipe blog if you’re interested.

and the last epiphany tradition we participated in was the taking down of the christmas decorations. kinda sad undecking the halls, but twelve days after christmas, it needed to be done.

i hope our epiphany experience has intrigued you into exploring the religious calendar yourself. i’m already looking forward to candlemas on february 2nd. this annual goal is already accomplishing what i have hoped from it, better said by shane claiborne:

every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire’s traditions… but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars… the church’s calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a “christian” calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the “secular” world… the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God’s story at the center of our lives and calendar… without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God’s kingdom down — on earth as it is in heaven. 

2013: focusing on LOVE

every year i choose a theme word to guide me; by which to filter my goals, thoughts, & actions; to help me live & grow intentionally. i’ve been working through an inspiring list found in 2 peter 1:3-8 —

His divine power has given us everything we need for life & godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory & goodness. through these He has given us His very great & precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 

for this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; & to goodness, knowledge; & to knowledge, self-control; & to self-control, perseverance; & to perseverance, godliness; & to godliness, brotherly kindness; & to brotherly kindness, love. for if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective & unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

it is this divinely inspired list that i have been working through for the last seven years. i am now at the eighth & final characteristic — love. agape.

as i center on this most basic, most beautiful characteristic of christianity, i chose 1 john 3:16-23 as my theme passage —

we know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. so we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers & sisters. if someone has enough money to live well & sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion, how can God’s love be in that person?

dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions. our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, & He knows everything. 

dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. and we will receive from Him whatever we ask because we obey Him & do the things that please Him. and this is His commandment: we must believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, & love one another, just as He commanded us. 

of course, the book of 1 john is filled with a plethora of verses on love that my theme passage doesn’t include — God is love, perfect love drives out fear, etc. i plan to spend time studying the whole book with the help of warren wiersbe’s book, be real.

also, i don’t think i can adequately [or accurately] focus on agape through this passage alone or 1 john alone. it must be partnered with Jesus’ exhortation: love your enemies! pray for those who persecute you! do good to those who hate you. lend to them without expecting to be repaid. while it is challenging enough to love those in the body, it is all the more difficult to love your enemies. and sometimes, they are one & the same…

so, here’s to a year focusing on love. loving all people, in ACTION, like Christ — agape.

a year focused on FAITH

i have shared how i became convicted about setting annual goals for spiritual growth in my life. to continue the story from that thursday night devo in january of 2006… our friend, chris, challenged us to choose a theme or focus to guide our year in intentional spiritual growth & to choose a passage of scripture that could guide & encourage us. i chose FAITH.

the passage i chose to keep me focused throughout the year was ephesians 6:10-18 [nasb] —
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addtion to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…
like i said yesterdayi was completely dedicated to being a christian. but that was different from being completely dedicated to Christ. i didn’t realize that difference in myself until late 2005, early 2006. i had known for many years that i was better at the knowledge side of christianity & i struggled with faith. my sister & i have often commiserated over this shared fact about ourselves. we are incredibly thankful for the foundation our parents laid for us & the heritage from the churches of Christ in knowing the bible in depth. but we rarely experienced the emotional side of christianity, the passion, the heart of God in depth. we relied too much on our knowledge about God rather than on God Himself. i certainly don’t think that faith is a warm fuzzy, emotional kind of thing. faith is a decision. but there is an emotional side to God & the life to which He calls us. sorrow over sin, compassion toward the hurting, anger for injustices, & great joy in His presence. and life is emotional. there are times when no amount of biblical knowledge can stand up alone to our circumstances & emotional turmoil. these are times in which faith is a must. a different kind of knowledge. an experiential knowledge. a relational knowledge. this was the knowledge i lacked & desperately desired. i wanted to be real & for God to be real to me.
for christmas in 2005, my husband shaun gave me a most insightful gift, the book believing God by beth moore. the subject of the book is as plain as its title, dealing with our faith being real & active. it is one of the most influential books in my life. i don’t believe this to be coincidence. first of all, i believe that it was so influential precisely because it was a lesson & a journey that i so needed. shaun knew this & lovingly acted on it. another reason beth states best herself in the introduction: “i am convinced that Christ is always the initiator of matters concerning faith (heb. 12:2). so if i’m on target, you’ve neither stumbled onto this book nor accidentally found it in your hands. Christ is initiating a fresh anointing of faith in your life…” reading this book prompted me to choose faith as my 2006 focus. it was the area i most needed to grow in my walk with Christ. i still read this book through almost every year.
i don’t recall doing many proactive things to increase my faith that year beyond journaling a lot. i finished reading believing God & regularly engaged in the faith practices suggested by beth. my favorite was recording “GodSTOPs” — those times when you notice God active in your life, whether through a sunset or a particular bible verse or a timely conversation with a friend. i continue the practice of journaling these to this day. i also made one of my goals that year to study the bible & pray every day. i didn’t do it everyday. but by the end of december i had made significant progress in having regular “quiet time” with God throughout the week.
from my journal, january 18, 2006: i want to impact my generation & the Lord’s kingdom. i feel (& have always felt) called to stir things up, spark a fire, swing the baseball bat of truth, & dole out passion! and i have felt so helpless, not knowing how; and i have felt so ashamed, not having tried. i certainly don’t see myself or my church “causing the gates of hell to tremble.” we are working so hard, at what? if we’re not fighting for God, we’re standing around for satan. we are nothing more than a glorified social club. i am nothing more than a religious sorostitute. where did we put God? we blend seamlessly with the world… but i will not be like the rest of the world! i will be a follower of Christ, a co-conspirator to God!
i have to shake my head at some of the things i wrote back then… but i’m thankful for that humble beginning to a lifelong journey of learning.
from wanting to be real & effective, i gained a budding sense of urgency [something i’m still growing in & needing much growth in]. o Lord, be faithful to my faith. teach me Your Ways. drench me in a sense of urgency for Your kingdom. restore my life, my purpose, my passion. i wanted to practice my faith daily, even though i’ve never had a disciplined bone in my body. i became very attached to journaling which led to greater frequency in praying & greater thirst for studying & learning. i began to believe that He could help me believe. i began to believe that He could help me change. i began to believe that He could make me victorious in my faith, over my sins, in effectiveness for His kingdom.
but… 2006 was one of the hardest years in my christian life up to that point [& for being so young, i had already experienced a significant amount of trials, especially in the church]. there were many serious & divisive issues within our campus ministry at the time. differences of opinions & beliefs, conflicts, gossip & slander, factions, & poor leadership [including on the part of yours truly] all combined & escalated, creating some nasty consequences. the ministry that i had poured my life into, that i had allowed to become my very identity, was falling apart around me. it was a time of intense faith crisis for me.
i was tempted to & often acted on growing distant from God. and yet God continued to work on me to put my knowledge & fledgling faith into action. through spiritual disciplines, conflict, rebuke, forgiveness, obedience, depression, failure, & self-reflection. and then, it was september. one morning i happened to be doing my quiet time, reading through a book & meditating on some scriptures & songs. it hit me like a tidal wave. my own poverty of spirit. my own sin & weakness. what God has done for me & in me. that morning, i made a new decision. to follow God & not a church. to be in relationship with Him & not a ministry. to embrace the sorrow over my sin & the joy of His salvation. i was baptized at age 12, but i became a disciple at age 25. 
december 31, 2006 found me writing these words: this year has been a period characterized by my entrenchment in campus ministry, inconsistent faith & focus on God, & slavery to sin, depression, & selfishness. i am now reborn, recommitted, & repentant… i’ve spent a year “focused” on faith, yet find myself at the end so unfaithful… what i want from myself is to be unabashedly who i am, to always be willing to learn & improve, to become ever more Christlike, to work hard to reach my dreams, & to never settle for average.
i may have deemed myself still unfaithful at the end of 2006, but i realized a couple of years ago very suddenly how much God has grown me in the ways of faith. little by little, i flopped & failed my way to increased faith. as evidenced by all my falling along the way, no credit to increased faith lies with me. it was all God. i asked for increased faith, even begged for it, & did the few things i knew to do by reading my bible, praying, self-reflection, & attempting other spiritual disciplines. and in my meager efforts [sometimes in spite of my meager efforts!], He was faithful. even through the major faith crisis i faced last year, my reactions were so different from what they were six years ago. He never failed me, & He never forsook me. even in every awful thing that has happened, He has brought something good through it. God has proven Himself so faithful over these years, & He has blessed me with eyes to notice some of it.
He has turned my mustard seed of faith into a tiny seedling. it’s still small to be sure. but it has grown.

the goals of a student of Life

in my first post, how i became a student of Life, i listed several things that i think it means to be a student of Life. while that list is mostly not in any particular order, i did bookend it with the two things that matter most. in being a student of Life, the overarching purpose is … glorifying God in everything you do. in being a student of Life, the overarching practice is … intentionality in everything. everything else on the list is meaningless without the overarching purpose. everything else on the list will go undone without the overarching practice.

the first practice of a student of Life i would like to delve into certainly requires a great deal of purposeful focus & intentionality: … having goals & a plan to achieve them.

i don’t think i ever really understood the importance of this until one fateful thursday night in early 2006. shaun & i were still part of [& leading] the campus ministry at our church. at the time, i was 24 & in my sixth year of undergrad. the general practice of our campus ministry was weekly bible studies [guys’ & girls’] on tuesday nights & group worship & devotional time on thursday nights. it was the first thursday night devo of the spring semester, shortly after the new year began. our close friend & fellow leader in the ministry, chris kessler, was the devo leader that night. his lesson was on goals.

he challenged us to think about how much time we spend on school, working toward various career & personal goals. whether or not we made resolutions on january 1st, we all had goals. whether or not we had detailed plans on how to achieve those goals, we were likely spending much of our time working toward them. we talked about the kinds of goals we have — making good grades, getting internships, losing weight, being more productive, watching less tv, etc. but how many of us had spiritual goals? how much time did we spend working toward being Christlike? studying the bible? serving? praying? letting God work on our weaknesses? growing in our gifts & strengths? if we claimed to be christians & to seek after God, how much time were we spending actually doing this? did my annual resolutions or goals reflect my “priority” on God? that was the bomb he laid on us that night. and it tore my world apart. i have quite seriously never been the same.

i had grown up in church all my life. my dad was a preacher. i faithfully continued going to church even when i moved out & my parents couldn’t make me. i was a super involved member & later leader of our campus ministry. i was at church 3-5 times a week. i spent every spring break on a mission trip. i taught girls’ bible study. i attended bible camp for a week every summer, teaching & counseling teen girls. surely, no one could dispute that i was a christian who was giving God my all?!

but that night, God cut me to the deepest places in my heart & mind. i knew that my goals, what i spent all my time working towards, was not God. it was not to glorify Him. it was not to become more like Christ. and i wanted that to change.

chris issued a challenge to all of us that night. he asked each of us to choose one thing we needed to work on in our spiritual life & to set it as a focus or a theme for the year. he asked each of us to choose one verse or passage in the bible that could be a regular reminder & encouragement throughout the year to intentionally work on our theme. he warned us that he would be asking us to share what theme & verse we chose the following thursday at devo. oh, how accountability can motivate!

most of us did our homework. i don’t know whether it affected everyone else’s 2006 like it did mine. i don’t know if it’s still affecting everyone else’s 2012 like it is mine! but for me, that was the beginning of a whole new christianity & a whole new life. really, if i could pinpoint the time that i became a student of Life, it wasn’t when shaun & our teens first coined the phrase a couple of years ago. it was that seemingly ordinary but fateful thursday night in early 2006.

from that point on, i have made goals for myself every single year. i set 12 goals & divide them evenly into 3 spiritual goals, 3 physical goals, 3 intellectual goals, & 3 emotional goals. [some other time i’ll share what kinds of goals i’ve made over the years & how i’ve done accomplishing them.] and every single year since 2006, i have chosen a new theme for my year — something i need to cultivate in my walk with Christ. every year, i choose a theme passage from the bible to keep me focused. of all the practices i’ve developed in my life, that make me a student of Life, this one is the most pivotal & most profoundly influential. 

i know you’re probably wondering what i chose as my theme that first year. that’s another story for another time. [specifically, for tomorrow.] for now, i want to ruminate on how intentionally setting goals matters. we’ll never change without a goal & a plan. and probably not without some accountability, too! to be a student of Life, you have to make your whole priority be glorifying God. to be a student of Life, you must have goals that challenge & change you more into the image of He who is the Life.

what do you most need to work on in your walk with Christ? what is your goal? what are you going to do to get there?