Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hope Is Coming {When Tragedies Abound}

The past few weeks have been breathtakingly tragic.  Internationally, nationally, locally - there is pain all around.  21 Christians murdered for their faith, two babies lost their lives at the hands of their own parent(s), reports of 45 innocent people burned alive, a dear friend lost her hard fought battle with cancer, tragic vehicle accidents that have left families at a sudden & irreparable loss.  And I didn't even have to Google those, they were just the things that came off the top of my head. It seems there is no shortage of heartache these days. Everywhere we look there is loss, heartbreak, violence, disease, war, abuse, death and tragedy.

So, what are we to do? How can we as Christians look to a world that is hurting and tired and begging for anything but another trite Romans 8:28 quotation? Don't get me wrong, I believe that God does in fact "work all things together for the good of those who love Him". I believe all scripture to be real and absolute truth - but spouting scripture and clichés at an unbelieving world does nothing to ease the pain or comfort the loss of those who don't believe.  So again I ask, what do we say? What do we do? As a Christian, it's so hard to know. And at times like these, it's exhausting to try.   There never is a "right" thing to say, never the perfect answer to the question of "Why?".

I don't have all the answers. I find at times like these, I may not really have any, but I do have one thing. The one thing that a hurt & dying world desperately needs more than any other. Hope.  I have hope in Jesus Christ and His undying love for ALL.  It is the one thing that we as a Christian community should emote and be shining into the world.  No one is beyond His reach. No one is beyond His love.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18 NKJV

How appropriate that we are entering the Easter season.  Thousands of years ago another tragedy was beginning to unfold.  There was loss, heartbreak, violence, abuse, hatred and wrath poured out upon one man and there was no one to answer the "Why".  There was only confusion and hopelessness as  those that loved Him tried to make sense of a tragedy that rocked their world.  But even though they had no answers, even though they were lost and grief stricken, even though their faith was shaken - there was a plan.  Hope was coming.

And so, I encourage you to carry on this message. Hope is coming.  We see glimpses of it in new life, the kindness of a stranger, the rescue of girls that have been enslaved and abused, a local woman with new lungs, candlelight vigils for the uplifting of another, and all the unsung heroes we meet daily.  Hope is real and tangible and the world is begging for just a hint of it.  That is what we can do.   We can share the Hope of Christ.  Hope is the antidote to fear.  Hope shines the light of truth into the darkest of places and Hope will carry us through. 

So count your blessings and tell someone about them.  Lend a hand to your neighbor and pray for your enemy.  Stand out, be different, be courageous and share with the world what you can...Hope.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit."  Jeremiah 17:7-8 NKJV

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Life In The Margins {Making The Most of Your #FringeHours}

I have been following Jessica Turner's blog, The Mom Creative, for quite a few years now.  She is real and honest, has very similar interests to mine and I always find her to be encouraging. In fact, she is a regular contributor to the (in)courage writing community has a real gift for writing.  She works full time, has just expanded her family to three small children and is always sharing really great crafting and general lifestyle information n her blog. 

When I heard Jessica was going to write a book about how she "Does it all" (hint: she doesn't). I was beyond thrilled, because although I know there is no woman (person) that can do it all, all the time - she seemed to have a pretty good handle on how to mix her busy work and home life with her passions such as blogging, crafting & memory keeping.  I was even more thrilled when I was one of a few hundred to receive an advanced reading copy of the book to review and provide feedback. 

Let me tell you, she most certainly did not disappoint.  Jessica's new book, Fringe Hours: Making Time For You is set to release to the public today and I would run, not walk to get your copy.  The whole book is filled with practical and encouraging advice about how to make the most of your day.  In this book, she doesn't encourage us women to get up earlier just to be more productive, but rather find pockets of time to pursue the passions we already have inside of us that will improve the overall quality of our lives, and in turn the lives of those around us.  Those passions and pockets of time look different for each of us, but after reviewing this book, I am certain that each of us can attain a new level of fulfillment by being fully present in those Fringe Hours vs. wasting them. 

The book is beautifully structured and written and in each chapter there are questions listed along with space to provide your answers.  It is almost like a book & journal in one. I love that Jessica's goal was not solely to get you to read her book, but take the time to slow down and honestly consider its content.  Ironically, I had to get very creative with my Fringe Hours just to find the time to finish the book, but it was a good object lesson and eye opening for me just how many "want to" things I could get to in a day as well as choosing which "need to" things I could let go for a bit.

I tend to be a go-getter and a perfectionist about a lot of things.  Working part time, blogging, volunteering, raising three (almost four) active children with busy schedules, remaining attentive to my husband and our home takes more hours in a day than either you or I will ever have.  Historically, I have been the woman that sacrifices sleep in order to get it all done or runs at break-neck speed for extended periods of time and I am always the one to suffer. I put myself on the end of a long list of priorities and have considered "self-care" a selfish notion.  What I am learning, and Jessica is sharing, is that self-care is not only unselfish, but essential to living a life of joy and peace.  My family, friends and social circles will reap the rewards of my life well lived if I take some time throughout the day to nourish me.  

The whole idea of Fringe Hours is not have a "me first" attitude, but to be okay with "that can wait" from time to time.  If I have to let the dishes sit overnight so that I can craft in the evenings, my morning will be better for it and the dishes will be much less daunting.  If I have five or ten minutes while I wait for an appointment, my time will be much better spent by pulling out a book that I love than burying my face in social media and zoning out.  Fringe Hours really are about prioritizing the things that nourish you.  Taking advantage of those small pockets of time as well as occasionally rearranging your schedule a bit to spend hours or even days focusing on something you love can be extremely beneficial.  Whether it's training for a running event, getting monthly massages, having coffee with a friend or just spending an afternoon wandering second hand stores alone, these acts of self-care are both necessary and beneficial.

Reading this book has encouraged me to slow down and really think about my day.  More often that I'd like to admit my crazy type-A perfectionist approach to life has left me wounded, bitter and tired.  My body shuts down and there are real, tangible health issues that leave me down and out and the emotional toll isn't any less devastating.  You can't serve water from a well that has long since dried up.   The tag line for Jessica's blog is "a life well-crafted".  That is the type of life I want.  One that has room for all the people I love, doing the things we love. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Never Too Young To Help

Like many of you, training my children in certain areas is much more trying than others. For me, it's housework.  Not because I don't think kids should help or because I think they are too small - I just like things a certain way and teaching them "the way" is exhausting.

But after a really rough first/second trimester which happened to occur during an electronic free summer break (long story, but you can be sure it was disciplinary) I came to realize a few things. 
1.  The training was most definitely worth the effort.
2. Just because things aren't always done my way, doesn't mean they are done the wrong way.
3. The "wrong" way is better than not done at all.
4. I have amazing kids that really, truly just. want. to. help. and I should let them more often.
5. There is no such thing as "too young" when it comes to helping out.

My (almost) 12 year old was an amazing help in so many ways during that time and really is a blessing to me daily.  As my "big kid" helper he can help with lots of our outside chores, requires less supervision and is a great help with the smaller kids.  For example, he feeds our cows in the morning before school, carries in 50 lb. bags of pellets to refill the stove and makes his own bed. 

My 6 year old has a bit more trouble staying focused, but is more than capable and (usually) willing to jump in and help.  He is assigned tasks such as taking out the trash, picking up his own room, vacuuming and tending to the laundry. At his age, that means putting assigned loads into the washer & starting it, putting said laundry into dryer when cycle is finished and then bringing dried clothes to the "laundry couch" as my kids affectionately call it for me to fold and be put way at a later time.

Even my 3 year old can be assigned tasks, and she is a servant at heart. More than any of the other kids, she wants to help...with EVERYTHING.  I'll admit it is sometimes challenging to find things that she can actually do by herself, but I am learning that she is just as happy to be my shadow and learn as we go.  Her biggest chore is to help load/unload the dishwasher. She obviously can't reach all the cupboards and I don't send her through the kitchen wielding steak knives, but she does what she can and is just happy to be by my side.  She knows how to put the soap in and which buttons to push to start the dishwasher.  I'd say that's not bad for three. 

All my children are expected to pick up after themselves to an extent. If you took it out, then you know where it goes, so put it back.  Toys, dirty clothes, backpacks, shoes, trash, etc.  This pretty much eliminates the fight over cleaning up their own rooms.  I still make beds for the younger two, because honestly I am not ready for that training session and it really is easier to do it myself for now, but we will get there.

I recently came across an article online with a suggested chore chart based on age and while I don't find it to be all inclusive and I found it useful and encouraging.  Not all family structures, schedules and living arrangements are the same, but I encourage you to find a system that works for you and start training your kiddos now. 

My sons will never be able to use the excuse that they don't know how to cook, clean or use a washing machine and my daughter is learning valuable skills that she will someday need to be an effective wife and mother.  They are all learning responsibility and the value of working together.

Monday, February 9, 2015

To The One Who Unknowingly Changed My Life

Have you ever had one of those paradigm shifting moments, where it almost feels like you're having an out-of -body experience?  I did. Yesterday. Don't get confused here - I'm not talking about a weird, literal, new age type of way.  It's just that I had one of those moments of such clarity that my world, which seems to constantly be spinning at 90 miles per hour, came to a complete and sudden stop.  

There was nothing abnormal or particularly different about our day.  It was a rather unassuming Sunday morning, actually.  We slept in a little, worked our way through breakfast, wrangled 3 kiddos into something presentable and headed out for church.  We weaved our way into the building saying our "Good Morning" and "Nice to see you"s and nestled into our seats.  And then she came in.

She is a small and fragile looking woman.  I have seen her before.  We are not strangers, but we aren't close friends.  She makes her way into the sanctuary and settles into her seat in front of us.  This is not the first time.  I have prayed for her and I'm praying now.   She is small and frail, but she is not old. She is young, and a mother.  Her body has betrayed her and she is fighting. 

The music starts and my heart is stirring, but I'm not sure why. This Sunday is just like all the rest.  But it's not.  God is about to show me something.  We start to sing and she is praising and she no longer seems weak or small.  She is strong and peaceful and full of the Light of Christ.  She is a beacon.  She reminds me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Praying for this cup to pass from her, but unwaveringly faithful either way.   She bears a burden I know nothing of. 

I recall all the petty things that get me unraveled and the moments I have taken for granted just that morning and I am wrecked.  People facing the end of their life don't fake priorities or do things for show.  While I sometimes grudgingly drag my feet out the door on Sunday morning, she has carefully prepared her day to be there. I guarantee it is harder on her than me.  She's a baby in Christ, really.  Pretty new to the Faith compared to a life-long Believer like me and yet her steadfastness shames me.  It's easy to say how we would behave or respond in a particularly trying situation, but we never really we?  There are seasons of life that reveal our heart and character and seeing her in this season has caused me to examine mine.

There is some growth needed.   There are things in my life that I need to clear away and distractions that need removed.  My heart needs to be redirected and my faith needs a boost.  God knew that.  He always knows.  And so He sends help.

The music plays on, the sermons finishes up and soon we are saying our "See you next week" and "God bless you"'s.  She makes her way out, completely unaware that God has used her to change my life.  I have prayed for her and I'm praying now.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All Aboard The Polar Express

One of my favorite things about this time of year is our (almost) annual Polar Express Party. There have been years here & there when I just didn't have the time or extra brain cells to do one more thing during this season but I have thoroughly enjoyed the tradition.  It all started with my oldest, Max and 2 friends when he was on Pre-K.  We decided to invite a few kids over for hot cocoa & popcorn in their jammies followed by card making and it was an instant hit. My kids have asked to host one every year since.

We are gearing up to host another one in just a few days. As tempted as I can be to go over the top with theme & décor (thanks Pinterest for all the ideas) I have learned over the years that less is more when it comes to this event.  This year, we are expecting between eight & twelve kids, including mine and for sanity's sake, simplicity is key.  The kids won't remember anything but the food anyway.

This has been so fun for us and if you think you might want to give it a try with your own kids or even a few extras, here is what a typical party looks like for us.

I usually plan for at least 3 hours to make sure the kids have plenty of time to craft, watch the movie and stuff their faces with Christmas goodies. This year's menu includes Hot Apple Cider, Hot Cocoa with marshmallows and/or whipped cream, store-bought Christmas shaped cookies, take & bake pizza and popcorn with red & green M&M's for during the movie. I bought Dollar Tree paper plates & napkins in Red & Green and I am using Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix from a can.  In years past, I have exhausted myself searching for the perfect recipe and then making home-made hot chocolate from scratch, baking dozens of sugar cookies the day before and then trying to keep my cool while letting the kids "help" frost them at the party.  I guess you could say I'm learning to "Let it go".

I will be making Apple Cider in the crock pot, but it is super easy and one of my favorite drinks, so it's totally selfish actually.  All you need is 2 quarts of store bought apple juice and a few cinnamon sticks. Toss them in the crock pot and cook on low for 6 or so.  Easy peasy, my kind of drink. 

We have also done lots of fun and somewhat involved crafts in previous years and I admit I have loved that part, too.  We have made fingerprint reindeer ornaments, photo frame wreath ornaments from painted puzzle pieces & canning jar lids and gone through more glitter than I care to remember.  This year, I chose to purchase some foam Christmas shapes and stockings from Michael's craft store at 60% off and will have Christmas coloring sheets on hand as well old Christmas cards, markers, glue & glitter for the kids to repurpose them into something new.

As a mom who likes things to be done a certain way and often wears herself out trying to meet unrealistic expectations, I am very excited about this new, laid back style.  My kids are thrilled to have friends over and stay in their jammies all day.  I am thrilled to be able to enjoy the day and seize the moment rather than fretting over every detail and wearing myself out before the day even begins.

So what are you waiting for? "All aboard!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

For When You Don't Have All The Answers

"What do you feel God is trying to teach you right now?" That was one of the questions posed to a table full of amazing women recently and I immediately felt my face burn knowing that I would have no good answer. 

What was God trying to teach me? I could barely remember how I had even gotten to the meeting, and I was being asked to evaluate my current spiritual state and give a report at what in the world the God of the universe might be trying to teach me in this season of survival and sacrifice.  Now, the heart of the wonderful woman asking wasn't a harsh one. There was no judgment in her question, simply curiosity and an invitation to wonder, think, assess. 

So, here was my I straight up lie to save face? Or embellish? Do I give some scripted "Christianese" answer or do I be the real, honest woman that I am often not brave enough to be?
The truth is, I didn't know all the women at the table all that well and we are in leadership of sorts, so shouldn't I have some great, inspiring answer to bestow upon them? In that moment, I knew I needed to just be real and I'd like to say it was born out of some conviction to be more vulnerable and available to people, (that would be a great lesson, no?), but really I was just too tired to try and save face.

I admitted to these awesome women that I really had no idea what God was trying to teach me. I mean, I didn't even know what I was cooking for dinner.  We talked a lot about the seasons we were all in, some similar to mine and some very different.  I was able to honestly say my not knowing was not from a lack of not trying or not listening.  There were lots of suggestions and ideas about how to seek out those lessons and encouragement to not be discouraged if I wasn't 100% sure of God's plan for my life at every moment. The important thing was the seeking, the asking and the growing.

If I continue to strive to grow and learn, keep moving forward and being sensitive to the fact that God may show His plan in the least likely of places, I am moving in the right direction.  It is so easy to feel lost at sea when weariness seems to slow the days and blur them together.  The wonderful, beautiful truth is we don't have to always have the perfect answer. We only need to keep our hearts open and our eyes focused on Jesus and one step at a time, He will get us where we need to be.

Sometimes what God is trying to teach us is that we really have no idea what He is trying to teach us and that we need only depend more fully on Him each day...and not be afraid to admit it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Think outside the box this year {literally} for your special someone

Thanks to the brightly flashing Santa sign at our local Wal-Mart, I now know that Christmas is only 20-something days away...thanks.  The list of things to-do before that time, whether they be "want to", "have to" or "need to"- feels suffocating at times. In truth, there really is only one task that puts me in a cold sweat and it's probably not what you think - shopping for my husband. 

Don't get me wrong, he isn't hard to please or picky and is always gracious no matter what I get him, big or small, but with the double whammy of his birthday on December 24th and Christmas the 25th the pressure is on.  Eric does so much for us. He works hard, is diligent & faithful, and puts his family first always.  I want him to know how much he is appreciated and a great gift has always seemed the answer.  A few years ago, I saw an article from The Dating Divas on Pinterest and thought about a new approach.

The whole idea is basically a spin on the 12 days of Christmas.  Every day, you give your hubs a small, wrapped gift to correspond with the day.  For example, two pairs of socks on the second day, $7.00 for coffee on day seven or a CD with 12 songs on it for day twelve.  The gifts don't have to be expensive or extravagant, but I can tell you the thoughtfulness and excitement of a getting a small token of love tucked into his lunch pail each morning was evident.  I created little stickers for each day and printed them beforehand so it was easy to stay organized and remember what each gift was.  By day 5, it would be impossible to keep up if I hadn't been organized and pre-purchased all the items.  Depending on your Christmas traditions & whether you open gifts Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, you will want to start your 12 Days of Christmas either December 12th or December 13th. There really is no wrong way to do it.

Another idea I have seen floating around that I really like, but haven't had the resources or extra energy to put together, is a gift called The 12 Dates of Christmas.  You basically pre-plan 12 months (1 year) of dates for you and your sweetheart and put it under the tree or in his stocking on Christmas morning.  Again, these dates don't have to be extravagant, but should be pre-planned and pre-purchased.  Ideas could be coffee and grocery shopping without kids, a matinee movie date, Redbox movies and popcorn after the kids go to bed, a few hours at the shooting range or dinner at your favorite restaurant.   Think of things he likes to do, but you might not normally be up for. It is his gift after all.  It's a great idea to make a little coupon book and attach gift cards for each date or fill 12 separate, sealed envelopes with the details of the planned date and some cash/gift cards. That way, each month is a surprise and he can't look ahead :) 

So yes, I still want to find the perfect gift but I am realizing more often than not that all my hubby really wants is a wife who is invested in him and a little effort on my part shows him more about my love for him than anything I can buy at a store. 

Originally published over at Douglas County Moms