Category Archives: Practical info

Six Rules to a Rock-Solid Relationship

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Joneses

Robby and me on our wedding day six years ago.

This year, Robby and I celebrated our Sixth Wedding Anniversary! (Hand-clap, please.) Before we were married, our friends and family shared some sage advice with us. We added that to what we had picked up along the way and, before we knew it, we had several great rules to live by.

In honor of our sixth anniversary, I’d like to share with you our top six rules for a rock-solid marriage. Some of these can also be applied to relationships with friends and family, so keep reading, even if you’re not married.

 

1. Pick ‘em Right

Robby and I had great peace when we got married because we knew God wanted us to be together. We started our marriage on rock-solid ground because we promised to keep God at the center of our relationship.

Before you say I Do, make sure he’s right for you! How? Pray earnestly and with an open heart. If He tells you to walk away, then do it, knowing that His plans for you are good. (See Jeremiah 29:11.)

A rock-solid relationship has to be built on God, the one true Rock. (See Deuteronomy 32:2.) God has to be the focus of each of your lives in order for your marriage to succeed.

Marry the one you find the least annoying to be around. – Jeremy E.

2. Treat ’em Right

It’s so hard to find time to just be together, but Robby and I have learned to make it work. We don’t always answer the phone when it rings or get the dishes washed after dinner. Sometimes, we have to go out to eat to ensure we’re not distracted by the demands at home. But we do whatever it takes to carve out quality time for one another.

Your spouse is the one person on earth who has vowed to love and cherish you above all others. Don’t take that for granted.

If you’re having real marital problems, sort them out before they get too big to heal. If you’re just starting out, then treat each other with love and respect, and you’ll avoid a lot of heartache.

Just be decent to each other. – Jeremy E.

3. Watch Your Mouth

Robby is the quiet one in our relationship, and I’m more of a hothead. I’ve had to learn to guard my mouth—especially when I’m emotional or tired—so I don’t say something callous or hurtful.

The Bible says the tongue has the power of life and death, for good and evil. (See Proverbs 18:21.) Make sure the words you speak into your marriage are a blessing and not a curse. Tell the truth, but say it in love. Avoid yelling or saying ugly or demeaning things. You can’t just say, “I didn’t really mean that,” and make it go away.

Also—and this is extremely important—never, ever, ever, say “divorce.” Once you say the D word, it becomes an option. Once it’s an option, it’s much more likely to occur.

Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth. – Unknown

4. Give Him Space

Robby and I are both analytical, and we need time to process our thoughts. After hanging out with friends or family, or spending time in town, we like to go to separate corners of the house to “piddle” (that’s “work on house stuff” for those of you not from the South). Sometimes, we’ll just veg in front of the TV. That allows us to be close to one another physically without draining each other mentally.

Give your spouse the space he needs. When you have room to breathe, you’ll enjoy your time together even more.

It’s a good thing that you have different hobbies, so you’re not always on top of one another. – Jeff M.

5. Mystery Alive!

Robby and I agreed early in our relationship to keep the “mystery alive.” That means we don’t do anything really gross in front of the other person, including belching, passing gas, going to the bathroom, spitting, or picking our teeth. (I still can’t understand why some people do this stuff in front of their spouse. How do they go from gross to intimate? I don’t get it.)

If you want a strong relationship, keep the gross stuff to yourself as much as possible. This isn’t about being fake but about being courteous. You’ll respect each other more, and it’ll be easier to be romantic on a daily basis.

Mystery alive! – Me

6. When in Doubt

I can honestly say I’ve never doubted Robby’s faithfulness. I know he loves me and would never do anything to hurt our relationship. In the few instances when I couldn’t reach him by phone, or he came home later than usual, it never crossed my mind that he was doing something inappropriate.

A strong marriage is built on trust. That means you should always give each other the benefit of the doubt. When he’s late and he hasn’t called yet, or when he doesn’t text you back right away, don’t assume that he’s out doing something wrong. If you really trust him, then you trust his actions when he’s not around you.

Happy couples give each other the benefit of the doubt. – Topic of several studies, books, and articles.

 

What are some rules you live by in your marriage? Please share them here to encourage others. Thanks!

 

 

Taco Soup (Recipe!)

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Taco Soup with toppings. (Food and Photo by Ashley Jones)

The holidays are finally upon us and, if you’re like me, you’re dreaming of your mom’s dressing, your aunt’s pecan pie, and an extra slice of pumpkin pie. However, by the time Christmas comes, most of us are “turkeyed out,” looking for something with a little more flavor. And since it’s turning cold out there, it needs to be nice and warm.

This time of year, the go-to meal in our family is my mother-in-law’s famous Taco Soup. She made it the very first time I went to visit them, and I’ve been making it ever since. Although it’s called a soup, it’s hardy enough to be a chili. The ingredients are simple and inexpensive, it tastes great heated up the next day, and it would keep well in a crockpot if you want to take it to a potluck. Oh, and it’s gluten free. You just can’t lose with the Joneses’ Taco Soup!

 

Ingredients

Soup

  • 1 lb. hamburger meat
  • Onion, chopped
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can “Ranch Style” pinto beans *
  • 1 can whole kernel corn
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes with peppers, regular heat
  • 1 package taco seasoning mix, mild or regular heat
  • 1 package Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix

Toppings

  • Fritos corn chips
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sour cream

* Ranch Style beans are seasoned pinto beans. If you can’t find them in your grocery store, just use two cans of regular pinto beans.

 

Directions

Brown the hamburger meat with some of the onion and taco mix. In a large pot, add the remaining soup ingredients to the hamburger and simmer until ready (about 30 minutes). You may want to add a little water, but the consistency should be between a soup and chili.

Serve in a nice crock bowl and let each person add their own cheese, sour cream, and Fritos.

Depending on how spicy your ingredients are, this can be a medium to hot dish. Have something cool and sweet ready for dessert.

 

Helpful Hint

Did you know you can freeze soup in Mason jars? Just leave about an inch at the top for the liquid to expand and use a regular lid. Wait for the soup to cool before placing in the freezer, and freeze the jar upright.

Defrost the jar in the fridge or in your lunch bag if you’re at work. You can even heat the jar in the microwave, but be sure to defrost it and remove the lid first.

WARNING: A rapid temperature change can cause any glass container to shatter. This is why it’s important to defrost the jar before heating it in the microwave. Similarly, you shouldn’t place hot glass (like a coffee pot) in cold water.

Healthy Living

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Healthy Living

I’ve always been rather slender. From high school to my late twenties, I took that as a license to eat whatever I wanted – hamburgers, fries, pizza – you name it, I ate it.

Like most college students, I tried to balance a day job with nights filled with homework, and years full of one change after another. It wasn’t surprising that I was tired much of the time, but I became concerned when the fatigue outweighed my energy and I began to have persistent pain in my arms and legs.

God’s Intervention

Fortunately, God gave me the strength to persevere, culminating in a graduate degree and a professional career. I then met Robby, and we were married in 2011. But just as everything was coming together on a personal level, my health continued to deteriorate. Doctors kept pushing medicine, but I wasn’t able to take any of it, and I didn’t feel it was right for me, anyway.

Once again, God intervened and led me to a chiropractor in town who specializes in nutritional care. It was there that I learned that I am…drum roll please…sensitive to wheat gluten and sugar! I know, it seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? It turned out that my health problems were a result of my body trying to process food that it simply wasn’t able to handle. All those years of eating whatever I wanted had caught up with me.

The Decision

For me, it was a no-brainer to stop eating those things that were harmful. I felt like a new person within three days of avoiding gluten, and even better when I reduced my sugar intake, eventually switching out my sweet tea to unsweet. I now have more energy and better overall health than I’ve ever had. I’ve made a lifelong decision to eat those foods that are healthful and to avoid those that harm me – a decision I reaffirm every time I take a bite.

You may be wondering how Robby has taken all of this. Well, it turned out he’s sensitive to gluten, as well, though not to the same extent as I am. Early on, he offered to eat whatever I ate, helping us to avoid preparing two different meals every night. Sometimes he reaches for a “glutinous” dessert, but he readily agrees that our new diet has benefitted his health as well as mine.

As Robby and I have shared our story with folks, we’ve been amazed how many people tell us they have experienced something similar. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe wheat is “bad.” In fact, the Bible tells us God made it (along with everything else), and the New Testament records Jesus and His disciples eating it. However, there are a lot of studies out there that indicate the wheat varieties readily available to us here in the US are not the same as they were thousands, or even hundreds, of years ago. Add to that the impact of modern pesticides, and we’ve got a food product that many of our bodies can’t process easily. 

Start Off Right

I’m telling you all of this to encourage you to be healthy, regardless of where you are in life.

If you’re healthy now, good! But it takes effort to stay that way. Many healthy people still consider themselves under some kind of stress, whether it’s starting a new semester, dealing with family issues, or staying up nights with a new baby. Stress in your life means stress in your body.

The first thing we want to do when we’re stressed is to skimp on regular, nutritious meals. We also head for the pastries and pastas because they give us a quick (and cheap) sugar rush. However, I caution you against this “just fill me up now” mentality.

Instead, plan ahead so you have good foods available to grab in a rush. I keep gluten-free Kashi or Kind bars in my purse at all times. See below for other snack suggestions.

Also, stop and think about the messages your body is sending you. Do you get sick or sluggish after eating certain foods or at certain times of the day? Does your nose run or your sinuses drain after eating? Are you able to eliminate waste easily every day?

If you have any concerns, be your own advocate! Western medical doctors aren’t trained in nutrition. (I know, it’s crazy but it’s true!) Do your own research of nutritional topics from various resources so you can formulate your own opinions and decide what kind of diet works best for you. Be sure to take into consideration your personal taste, habits, budget, and commitment. And, if one is available to you, see someone trained in nutrition for more information and support.

(Disclaimer: I am a student of the Bible, not a doctor. My testimony is real, but my medical degree is not.)

Scales don’t tell the whole story. (Photo by Ashley Jones)

Scales don’t tell the whole story. (Photo by Ashley Jones)

Don’t Give Up

Second, if you’re dealing with health issues now, take heart! I believe my story is proof that God does work miracles.

Yes, sometimes God heals in an instant – and don’t we all want that kind? But often He calls upon His people to help one another, to act as a doctor or a counselor for someone else. How gracious is God that He would allow us to be the method to carry out his healing!

In my case, my doctor and his partner are both wonderful Christians, and God has used them to lead me down a healthy path so I could be well. This has enabled me to live a whole life; have a full, happy marriage; and have enough energy to write this little blog to you after working all day at the office.

Keep praying for your healing, and be open to whatever method God may use to get you there. No matter how the healing comes, we give God the glory!

Food Suggestions

From time to time, I’ll post some gluten-free recipes here that you might find useful. In the meantime, here’s a short list of some of the basics Robby and I eat during the week (and we love all of them!):

  • Eggs, bacon or sausage, and a bit of fruit for breakfast
  • Stir fry on rice (we like it with turkey kielbasa)
  • Chicken and yellow rice with black beans (one of my favs!)
  • Meatloaf and mashed potatoes (using gluten-free bread crumbs in the meatloaf)
  • Baked fish, especially wild-caught salmon
  • Beef or pork pot roast with veggies
  • Taco salad (see my blog Serving Taco Salads for the recipe)
  • Taco soup
  • Sausage and bean soup
  • Leftovers for lunch (There ain’t nothing wrong with that!)

For a morning snack, I like Greek yogurt with sunflower seeds. My 3-o’clock “gotta stay awake” snack is usually apples with cheese and gluten-free crackers or almond butter. The key is to include a protein with each meal, especially since gluten-free flours may spike the blood sugar more than wheat flour. However, when I’m on the run I’ll grab a Kind snack bar made of fruit and nuts or a Kashi bar made of popped rice and chocolate.

Resource Suggestions

Gut and Psychology Symptom introduces the GAPS diet. This was more extreme than even I needed, but it’s a great background resource and helps to explain the various functions of the body and why certain foods might trigger a negative response. By Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD of neurology and nutrition.

Fiber Menace explains the author’s theory about how products with supplemental or man-made fiber cause dysfunctions and diseases of the gut. I’ve had my gall bladder removed, so I have some experience with this myself. By Konstantin Monastyrsky.

Scripture References

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NAS  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

James 5:16, NAS  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Renting? Get Renters Insurance!

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Renting? Get Renters Insurance!

Being Spared

A few weeks ago, we had a really strong wind come through our neighborhood. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but that was all it took to destroy the townhome across the street from us. A huge tree fell across the driveway and went through the roof.

Our neighbors’ house after a tree fell on it during an afternoon storm. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

Our neighbors’ house after a tree fell on it during an afternoon storm. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

It turned out that the elderly couple that rented the townhome had run out to the drug store on a whim. If they had been playing board games in their usual place in the living room, they would have been killed. As Christians, they thankfully acknowledged that the Lord had spared their lives – an amazing testimony.

Losing Everything

Unfortunately, the Lord did not spare their home or their belongings. The tree took down a power line as it fell on the roof, and the walls were unstable. The firefighters were able to turn off the power to the line as well as the home’s electricity, reducing the likelihood of a fire or explosion. However, it was too dangerous for the family to go into the home to retrieve their belongings.

The firefighters were able to locate the lady’s purse and a small bag of medications. Everything else – clothes, furniture, photo albums, paperwork – was destroyed when the roof collapsed or by the rain that came through the roof over the next few days. To make matters worse, they didn’t have renters insurance, so nothing was covered.

Protect Yourself

I have a bachelor’s degree in Risk Management and Insurance, and I have worked in the insurance industry since high school – in insurance agencies, on the consumer helpline at the state, and now as a risk analyst at an insurance company. As a professional and a neighbor, I truly hated to see this couple suffer such a loss – and I want to help you avoid this situation.

Now that it’s August, many of you will be moving to start a new school semester or a new job. You never know when something is going to happen, so be smart and protect yourself. One important way to do that is to get renters insurance.

Different living situations:

  • If you are living at home with your parents, your belongings are covered under your parents’ homeowners insurance policy. There’s nothing more for you to do – except to tell them “Thank you.”
  • If you live in a dorm, you may still be covered under your parents’ homeowners insurance policy. Ask them to check for you.
  • If you live with a friend or rent an apartment, condo, house, townhome, or mobile home, you are not automatically covered on anyone else’s policy. Congratulations on your independence! Now, read below to learn how renters insurance can help you keep it that way.

Low price:

First, the bottom line: renters insurance typically costs between $14 – 20 a month, which is totally doable. If you have auto insurance, you can probably get a discount if you carry your renters insurance with them, too, which can further reduce the impact on your wallet.

Different coverages:

Renters Insurance actually covers quite a bit.

  • Belongings / Contents – When we think of renters insurance, we think of our stuff – clothes, furniture, computer, iPhone, tablet, etc. Policies can cover (insure) these items up to a certain value, such as $20,000. However, there are often limits for certain items, such as computers and TVs, so you need to make sure the policy limits are high enough to cover your specialty items.

Even though it’s a bit more expensive, I always suggest getting “replacement cost coverage.” This means that if something, such as your TV, is damaged or stolen you can get enough money to pay for a new one, not just the value of the old one.

Pay attention to where your contents would be covered. For example, some policies may cover your belongings anywhere in the world, so if you lose your luggage on your trip to Spain, you could claim it on your renters policy. You may even have coverage if your bike is stolen while parked at school.

Also, look for when your belongings are covered. Policies typically provide coverage if your belongings are damaged in a storm (like my neighbors). However, it may not cover your belongings if there is a flood; this is called an “exclusion” in the policy.

  • Additional Living Expenses – When our neighbors’ townhome was destroyed, they were able to stay with family. However, if they had renters insurance, it would have paid for them to stay in a hotel for a while. It would have also covered other additional expenses, such as having to eat out more often.
  • Liability and Medical Payments – Things happen. Your friend rolls off your yoga balance ball and breaks her nose; a guest trips over your new shag rug and sprains a toe; your dog bites the pizza delivery guy – and they all want you to pay for their medical expenses, lost wages, etc.

Fortunately, renters insurance usually includes coverage to help with these type of expenses. It’s a great way to help keep your friends, keep your money in the bank, and avoid getting sued.

Resources:

If you live in Florida, I recommend the Renter’s Insurance page at www.myfloridacfo.com for more details. If you live out of state, you can reach out to you department of insurance.

To find a policy that is right for you, you can search online, call the company that insures your car, or just call an insurance agency located near you.

Practical Scripture:

The Bible has many scriptures encouraging us to be prepared and responsible. Here’s one that comes to mind:

Luke 14:28-30, NAS  “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Jesus speaking)

Serving Taco Salads (Recipe!)

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Serving Taco Salads

When you think of ministering to others, what comes to mind? Flying across the world to an impoverished nation? Running an orphanage? Being a full-time preacher? What about taco salads?

Matthew 25:34-40 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Jesus speaking)

What Jesus is saying here is that He wants a relationship with us, but He also wants us to take the next step and become His hands and feet in the world. When we serve others in God’s name, we are ultimately serving God Himself.

I think most of us understand this idea, but we blow it up a bit, adding our own requirements…it has to be hundreds of miles away; it has to hurt a little, or even a lot, to really count; it has to take a lot of time; etc.

But when we add those requirements to God’s word,  we are just making it harder to serve Him and serve others – and we really end up serving the god of pride.

Practical Service

Matthew 25 is such a beautiful chapter because it shows us more of God’s heart, and it gives us practical ways to share Him with others – just by seeing the needs around us and doing something about it.

When I was growing up, I usually had at least one friend who had a rough home life or didn’t have enough to eat all the time. Then I had friends who wanted to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and baby showers, but they didn’t have a lot of money for food and decorations. And then there were funerals and other sad or difficult times when we needed to gather round and support one another.

You can probably relate to these situations. And what do they all involve? Food! We all need to eat, right?

In these times, you and I get the opportunity to be the real hands and feet of Jesus. The good news is that we don’t have to be professional chefs, or spend a bunch of money, but we do need to be prepared. What would you make if a friend needed your help tomorrow?

From time to time, I’ll share some recipes with you that I’ve found helpful – easy to make and big enough to share.

This first one is…

Mom’s Famous Taco Salad

Ingredients

Taco Salad Ingredients (Photo by Ashley Jones)

Taco Salad

1 lb ground beef
Taco seasoning packet
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Shredded cheese
Salsa (fresh is best)
Shredded lettuce
Tortilla chips
Sour cream

Dressing (optional)

Mayonnaise (4-6 tbsp to start)
Chili powder
Cumin

Directions

Brown the ground beef, drain the extra grease, and add the taco seasoning packet. Place the prepared beef in the bottom of the serving bowl. Set aside.

Taco salad in a large serving bowl, surrounded with blue and yellow corn chips. Yummy! (Photo by Ashley Jones)

Make the dressing by mixing several dashes of chili powder and one dash of cumin in about 4-6 tablespoons of mayonnaise. Continue to season until it tastes yummy. (If you serve the taco salad with sour cream, you can skip this step if you prefer.)

Spread the dressing on top of the ground beef. Then add the remaining ingredients in layers: beans, corn, cheese, salsa, and lettuce.

Serve with plenty tortilla chips, sour cream, extra salsa, and other condiments of your choosing, such as guacamole

Most of us take food for granted, assuming our friends and neighbors have as much in the fridge as we do. Sadly, that’s probably not true. According to http://www.feedingamerica.org, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in “food insecure households,” including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. Think of all the folks that would sleep better tonight, with full bellies, if we each shared a taco salad.

If this encourages you, and you do make a taco salad for someone you care about, I’d love to hear about it! Leave me a comment and let me know how you used this as an opportunity to serve and be a blessing to someone else.