Saturday, July 30, 2011

This side of paradise

One thing I don't take for granted is where we live.

I know that, especially during the summer, our area is a prime destination for vacationers, not just from elsewhere in the U.S., but from all over the world.

Which means when we don't have any summer trips's not such a bad thing.

Where we live is a summer trip. And we get to enjoy it year-round.

I'm super thankful.

So for the next five days we're on Staycation. Doin' the things we love.

Soaking up the sun.

Getting sandy.

Eating junk, and eating well.

Forgetting the rest of the world for a bit. {And that was just day one.}

So I'll be disconnected for a few, in order to focus on my people.
Here or there or anywhere, I love being with them.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: in Gina's words

Happy Thursday, everyone. Today my friend Gina is sharing her words on grace with us. And they are convicting ones for me. A challenge is hidden within them, and I appreciate her leadership and wisdom in bringing this challenge to us all, in this busy, buzzing world.  Please share some love and gratitude for Gina today, and if you get a chance, visit her blog Not So Random Stuff, where she shares so much more of her wisdom there on marriage, motherhood, and her journey as a woman. I admire her pursuit of what I see as simple discipleship. Her blog, by the way, also makes me want to move to the Pacific Northwest. Like tomorrow. Enjoy her post, and enjoy the day.

Hi everyone! I’m Gina from Not So Random Stuff. I am honored that Leslie asked me to share with you today. I am a busy wife to a pastor and a homeschooling mom, and am ever longing to find more of God in the midst of what sometimes seems like utter insanity. Some days that’s really hard, but other days are drenched in his grace. In my life lately I’ve found myself struggling to find a balance between being too busy and finding rest, so today I want to share how I’ve found God’s grace anew in this area.
the grace to say no

Sometimes I find myself in the midst of busy, with nary a pause to breathe. Activity piled on activity, striving to fill my days and my kid’s days with stimulating things. Things to do, and choices made sometimes turn joyful activities into dreadful activities. And sometimes those choices leave this mom going through the motions simply out of a sense of obligation.

I find myself there sometimes, wanting to fill my days with things that have value. Wanting to keep my kids from being bored, from having too much free time on their hands, wanting to do things that matter. Simply wanting to be doing.

But doing for the sake of doing does no one any good. And the business of piling activity onto activity leaves me exhausted and worn thin, stretching me and my family to the breaking point.

And then God’s grace comes in as whisper, it is grace found in saying no. Saying no to the unnecessary, saying no to the activities that don’t really matter.

I take my role as a homemaker seriously, and I long to make my home a haven and place of peace for me and for my family. In this most important job, I have found that saying no really matters. I have found my place as a mom who is content to do less, much less. I am not the mom who takes her kids from one place to another, endlessly going from one activity to the next. I used to feel guilty about that, when I say no to social things or other fun activities for the kids or for me. But I have found that peace reigns freely in my home when I am doing less. That is God’s grace for me. I suppose there will be seasons when this is different, but all I know is that for right now home is where we are all supposed to be more often than not. And that is okay. I’ve found God’s grace available in abundance when I say no, even to the things that seem good and worthwhile.

God’s grace is evident in the words I read in Proverbs not too long ago:

She considers a [new] field before she buys or accepts it [expanding prudently and not courting neglect of her present duties by assuming other duties]; with her savings [of time and strength] she plants fruitful vines in her vineyard.
(Proverbs 31:16, Amplified Bible)

When I say no to the things that don’t matter, I have time and energy to tend to the things that do. It’s a simple thing, saying no. But it is something that’s been tough to learn, as God has stretched me in this area I have found a new sort of rhythm to my days, one marked by grace and sometimes even free time. My less busy life might look very different from the lives of those around me, but that is okay because I know that right now that is God's best for me. And that is his wonderful, gracious gift to me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Generous July, Part 2

In this post, I wrote about a simple plan, which spun out from one of my favorite children's books, and involved our church's VBS fundraiser. This is Part 2.

The kids and I, along with three other families, hosted our fourth annual lemonade/bake sale to raise funds during the week of VBS.

Specifically, this year, we raised funds for Belwop Children's Rescue Center in Kenya, run by a woman named Veronica. She loves and houses neglected and abused children, and currently cares for 21 of them. Which is too many for her home. She has had to turn many away. In order to afford food for them all, she is often forced to spend her rent money. Our church's goal was to raise $5,000 during VBS to fund the building of a larger home that Belwop would own. The land is there. The plans are drawn. A structure simply needs to be built.

We learned, through Skype, through hearing Veronica speak the words herself, that she wants to be able to take in 100 orphans. All six hundred energetic kids assembled last Monday morning in our church's sanctuary heard Veronica repeat, "God can do it! God can do it!" in the late Kenyan night, while all her children were already in bed.

When my daughter was five, the first year she was old enough to attend VBS, I began to see her very tender heart for the needy. Her mercy, her love was beyond mine. And I knew I needed to nurture this seed of compassion in her. From then on, this annual bake sale became something we prepare for weeks in advance.

{This year, we made our own Lego creations to sell, took a photo of each, broke them apart, and bagged them into mini-building sets with the photo stapled to the front.}

We invite other families, we begin crafting, and we strategize our spot and time frame for optimizing sales. It is so much work, and it is so worth it.

I can't describe the looks on my children's faces when I can see they feel effective, capable, and know without a doubt that they are significant in this big world. They know. They realize love in action is powerful and they know they are working for the Lord. And what satisfaction they find in it! I was impressed by their dedication and tireless energy.

{It helps to have a friend who is an incredible baker with super-secret cupcake recipes.}

Two hours of sales on a street corner during rush hour, 6 kids, 4 moms, and dozens of passers-by yielded sales of $360. It was incredible, and it was our new record for the four years we've set up shop.

And those two hours and that chunk of change was our piece. It was six sandwich-sized Ziplocs carried by six pairs of little hands, each containing one share of the earnings, proudly passed to a teacher on Friday.

It was a child loving a child on the other side of the world.

Veronica was nearly in tears when, on Friday, we told her via Skype that the children of VBS had raised a grand total of $6,700 for her new home.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!
Ephesians 3:20-21

Talk about generous. God is the most generous of all simply for inviting us to be a small part of His great love-work in this world.

I hope you too have found a way to have a Generous July. Because God is so very generous to us.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Watercolor family members

The "guys" (stuffed animals) in our house are really family members.

They have backstories, relatives, fears, voices, theme songs...the list goes on.

Patches the horse arrived the day my son broke his leg, four years ago. He is so loved that his black eyes are now pushed in, and his fur is no longer white. His stuffing is lumpy, so he has a hard time posing for portraits. But he is the best friend to my boy. Puglet is Patches' brother. He is so loved that his ears, once stitched down into neat folds, now stick straight up. His fur is matted, and his body squishy. Puglet and Patches do not like to be apart. But they do both love to sing, and sleep nestled under the arm of my son nightly. And they pretty much run his bedroom when he's away at school.  

Pooh Bear has been a special part of our family for about seven years now. My baby girl chose him from the crammed shelves at Disneyland after a long day at the happiest place on earth when she was just a toddler. I was a tired mama, just wanting her to make a decision from amongst the hundreds of pairs of plastic eyes staring down at her. But those toddler hands chose Pooh, and who knew what a treasured character he'd become. His ears are permanently matted from having been chewed on, then put in the washing machine, then chewed on, then a thousand times over. Pooh Bear sings his own Pooh Bear songs, of course, and is always looking for some honey. He snuggles under my daughter's arm every night.

So when I wanted to set my kids on a task today, I chose a little watercolor session, painting portraits of their best friends. I love their paintings so much, and these guys will be framed and hung on the wall just like we would our other family members. In case you want to try this simple project, here are some of our watercolor secrets:

It is very important to use a type of heavy paper intended for watercolor painting, especially with littler kids, since they have a harder time controlling the amount of liquid going onto the paper. This paper won't warp even with big puddles of paint on it. When you get a good coupon to the craft store, buy yourself a pad or two. (And then make sure it doesn't get used for other stuff.)

1. Have your child lightly draw his or her subject in pencil first (my six year old needed help with his outlines).
2. Then let them trace the sketch with black Sharpie. (Yep, normally I'm not okay with kid Sharpie usage.)
3. Erase all the pencil lines left.
4. Then paint.

I try to teach them to gently stroke the paint on, not "scribble" it with the paintbrush, as they are inclined to do, like they would a marker. It takes a much more delicate hand for them to wield the bristles of a paintbrush versus using straight pressure with a crayon or marker. I think it's good to teach a child (who is old enough to understand and has fine motor control) how to properly use all kinds of art tools. Each person gets a small brush for small spaces, and a larger brush for backgrounds. Each also gets a cup of water and a folded paper towel for dabbing off too much water or paint.

After the paintings dry, it looks a bit better to trace another time over the Sharpie lines. I do that part, careful to maintain the childish wiggles in their lines.

They can also sign their paintings with the Sharpie, and date them with the year. These will look so great in black frames, huh?

She had to put on the shirt that went with the project. Obviously.

I think I'm extra glad we did these today because someday in the future, Patches, Puglet and Pooh will be put on a shelf to gather dust (sniff). But the memory of little hands painting their likesnesses with love will remain.

Simply lovely.


Regret comes on the weekend

Last week was so rough for me.

Not only because of serving all week long, from 8-1 pm daily, for our church's VBS. That made me physically and mentally exhausted. But I was in emotional chaos as well. My husband and I were in a bad way. I was perpetuating the problem, as I had nothing left after each day to pour into repairs. I was waiting out the storm, huddled inside myself, just waiting for Friday to roll around. And suffering all the way through. Thankfully, the clouds parted on Friday night. The chaos died down enough for me to pull myself together, and my husband and I enjoyed some much needed alone time over pizza and wine.

Today we sang this song at church, "How He Loves". You know it, I bet. Most recently, the David Crowder Band made it famous. But it was written by John Mark McMillan.

The line that struck me deep today was this:

I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us.

I could make quite a list of regrets from this past week. I could write them out and taste a satisfaction, even justice, from a bit of self-loathing. I could let guilt shove me against the wall. I could take time to maintain my regrets.

Or I could think about the way He loves me.

I can't do both. One knocks the other out of the way.

If I so much as glance in its direction, Love rushes at me. That's why I don't have time to maintain my regrets. God's love is a hurricane. There's no packing up. No getting ready. His love is a swift and shocking flood that carries away my explanations before I can assemble them. I don't really have time to understand His love before it overtakes me.

This morning, God reminded me of His overwhelming love, and my regrets were suddenly lost, washed into my distant, grace-blurred past.

Tonight, my husband showed me this video, the story behind the song. Listen to this man's heart, John Mark McMillan's. It's incredible. His words resonate with me. He talks about being inspired by God's love which grabs us and holds on despite how messy life is.

His love covers me even in the midst of my anger, my resentment, my regrets.

If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.

I hope you have a good Monday, friends. Regret-free.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: in Sarah's words

Hi dear friends.
I am knee-deep in serving at VBS this week. I had this notion I would have a couple opportunities to blog, but no. No way. It is way too demanding, and the heat is making me feel even more tired than I should be. Which is why Sarah is my favorite person in the world right now because she is guest-posting today! Yay for Sarah and her beautiful words. She has written such a vulnerable post for you all. Please show her some love, because I know this came straight from the center of her heart. And then, be sure to check out her blog, Handbags N Pigtails, because she has great words on mothering and wifering (like that?) and the rest all the time. Plus she makes really cute purses. But most of all, I greatly respect her faith, her witness, and her intentional mothering, and I'm thankful to know her. 

Hey everyone! I’m Sarah from Handbags*N*Pigtails. I’m a small town girl who grew up with big city dreams but ended up right back in the same small town. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and best friend and I’m “momma” to two sweet-hearted little girls, ages 5 & 7. I live my life ever grateful to the Lord for having bigger and better plans for me than I could have ever imagined and want to always be in the center of His will for me, whether that means raising my girls today or serving on the mission fields of Central America years down the road.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and to give you an expected end.” Jeremiah 29:11

Currently, our lives are anything but boring as we serve in numerous church ministries, remodel our 1860s home and carve out family time. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. Our family motto is “less TV, more creativity” and we make that happen by staying busy with hobbies. My husband Eric is a teacher/coach by day and a balloon artist/beekeeper/youth leader by night. The girls enjoy gymnastics and violin, and my passions are sewing and thrifting, aside from spending time with my little family. We take nothing for granted and try to hold it all very loosely in our hands.

I am very humbled that Leslie asked me to guest post here for Grace on a Thursday. When she first asked me about sharing something, I had no idea what it would pertain to. But over the past few weeks God has really been speaking to me, convicting me to my core about the words that come out of my mouth. And I felt him pinpoint three different areas in my own life that need changing when it comes to the words I speak: 1.) Death & life, 2.) Controlling my tongue and 3.) My reactions to situations and how I let them affect me.

Death & Life

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Well I’m here to tell you that’s a big.fat.lie. Words do hurt. And how do I know this? Because I’ve been at both ends of the stick.

I was once friends with someone who became offended over something I was completely unaware of. And when the situation came to a head, I was on the other end of some very hurtful accusations and angry words. I had no control over how this person felt about me and could do nothing to change her perceptions of me. I felt helpless. Misunderstood. Crushed. And as though I were 2 inches tall. In truth I’ve never really forgotten those words. They still resonate in my mind at times when the enemy is trying to discourage me. When he tries to make me believe that I AM those things.

But I’ve also been the one dealing out harsh words myself. Most often to my kids when I’m having a bad day or when my patience is running thin. And how do I know that those words are hurting them? Because I can see it on their faces. When I overreact to their bickering. When one of them stains a brand new dress. When I just can’t take it anymore. They are there, the recipients of the first thing that comes out of my mouth. Sometimes there are tears. And there I am, guilt-ridden and teary-eyed myself. Because the last thing I meant to do was crush them. But it happens.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” – Proverbs 18:21

“A soft answer turns away wrath but grievous words stir up anger”-Proverbs 15:1

“Pleasant words are sweet to the soul and health to the bones”- Proverbs 16:24

Controlling My Tongue

One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from the Anne of Green Gables series. Yes, I’m an Anne fan. She is known for being the hot headed redhead who speaks her mind. And she’s constantly being reminded to “bite her tongue.” I am convinced that line was written for me. Because there are times I should literally do it. As always, the book of Proverbs provides some insight when it comes to all of this:

“He who shuts his lips is esteemed a wise man” - Proverbs 17:28

“When words are many, sin is not absent but he that holds his tongue is wise” - Proverbs 10:19

“He that keeps his mouth (guards his lips) keeps his life (guards his life) but he that speaks rashly will come to ruin” - Proverbs 13:3 & 21:23

“There is more hope for a fool that for one who speaks hastily” - Proverbs 29:20

Over and over again I am kicking myself for talking too much. Saying stupid things. Useless things. Cracking jokes just for the sake of saying something. Why is it that I feel the need to always say something? Because I am imperfect. Human. Fallen from grace. And yet, God is always there with a new dose of grace for me. Another chance. Redemption from my imperfect self.

Being Slow to Anger

I’ve kind of already mentioned this but it’s such a big issue for me that I felt it needed its own bullet point. One of the things I’m praying for is deliverance from anger. I used to think I was a patient person. And then I had kids. They have tested and tried me in ways I could never have imagined I would be tested. But its been good to me. Because they’ve showed me who I truly am. And sometimes I don’t like that person very much.

How do I react when my girls misbehave during church? Or don’t pick up their toys right away? Or if they whine for what seem like hours on end? When I stub my toe? Or when my email account refuses to let me send a guest post the night before it’s due?

My first reaction might be to yell. Or say something I’ll regret five minutes later. To unleash on my unsuspecting (& innocent) husband. Or any number of reactions. But I’m not proud of any of them. I want to handle these things with grace myself. To have that soft answer mentioned above. To be, dare I say, even unaffected by stressful situations. But I’m not there yet. And so I cry out for grace. Because only my Savior can give it to me. Not my children or my husband. And I certainly can’t get it from a shrink or even my best girlfriends. Only Christ has that gift.

“One that is slow to anger has great understanding but a quick tempered man shows folly” - Proverbs 14:29

“He that rules his spirit is greater than he who takes a city” - Proverbs 16:32 & 25:28

“A fool gives vent to his anger but a wise man keeps himself under control” - Proverbs 29:11

So how would I survive without God’s grace? I shudder to think of that. Because I know I would be lost without it. His grace makes it possible for me to let go of my failures and wake up every morning to a day “fresh, with no mistakes in it.” (That’s another bit of Anne phraseology there, if you didn’t catch it).

So if you’ve stuck around long enough to be reading this final thought, thank you. Now you know I’m far from perfect. And my point in including the above scriptures was not to push it down your throat but merely to share some encouragement with anyone who might possibly suffer from the power of their words as I do. If nothing else, Im totally preaching to the choir here. But I look forward to the day when God will deliver me of this. And then His grace will be poured out for yet another one of my flaws.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Top 5 distractions in church

I've been compiling this mental list over the past few weeks. Not by choice. But because certain things have been really distracting to me when I'm trying to pay attention in church. Maybe you can relate.

Number 1. Mullets.

Last week, we sat across the aisle from a man in a nice white dress shirt, black dress slacks, and a serious mullet. He looked perfectly normal, with a clean-cut haircut from the front, and a clear mullet from all other angles. I glanced over at him at least four times, just trying to understand the poor guy. I'm certain his mullet prevented me from learning something.

Number 2. The sign language lady.

This lady's skill is just beyond my comprehension, and that makes me want to stare at her. I can't understand how she can be saying one thing with her hands and hearing a different thing in her ears that she needs to remember and then translate like ten seconds later while she listens to something else. It's amazing how quickly she can convert what she's hearing into sign language so smoothly and beautifully! Have you ever watched this woman? She's sort of magical and rare. She's the church's unicorn.

Number 3. PDA.

Yes indeed, one can view instances of uninhibited Public Display of Affection even during church. Last weekend, we sat behind a couple who could not keep their hands off each other. What appeared to be full-on, two-handed, deep-tissue neck massaging was taking place during the sermon. Not to mention they were practically sitting on top of each other. If I were the pastor, I'd post signs that said, "Love your neighbors, but please sit one Bible-width apart from them." I'm sure this is probably the reason most churches have traded pews for theater-style seats.

Number 4. Really strong or really gross perfume.

That's obvious, right? I have a sensitive smeller so I can be really thrown off by strong smells. You know you've sat by that woman before, and it isn't pretty. A fragrant offering during worship isn't literal, people.

Number 5. Misspellings on the song slides. 

I admit, this may just be distracting for me. But if the screen is telling me to sing, "Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be your glorius name," my brain stops at the wrong word and I've totally lost my moment. My singing goes on auto-pilot as I try to figure out why no one proof-reads those things. 

I know. It's a miracle I get anything out of the Sunday service, what with my brain all over the place. Did I miss anything on my list? Well, never mind. Just pay attention, and if you see mullet guy in your peripherals, try to avert your eyes.

Happy Sunday.


Friday, July 15, 2011

I didn't plan to write about fear.

Hi friends!

Today I'm over here, with my pal Jami at her amazing blog Call Me Blessed.

She asked if I might write about something for which I'm thankful.

My post turned out nothing like I'd planned.

But Jami's cool with it. Just one more reason I love her.

{Also you should follow her. She is one awesome, faith-filled girl. You'll love what she's bringing.}


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: My gripe with the Christian talk show host

I often have my car radio set to a Christian station during the day (I even did this VLOG about it while actually sitting in my car). I'm almost never in the car at night, so last night when I got in the car to go to a meeting (one which could have been entitled "Two Hours Where We State the Obvious," but I digress) I found myself listening to a call-in program I'd never heard before. There were about three hosts answering questions of a theological nature. I caught one young lady caller asking what to do about her deep guilt over a habitual sin in her life. There was no question what she kept doing was wrong. She stated she didn't want to, but would return to the sin over and over again. She said, "Like 100 times I've messed up again." And the guilt was eating her up.

One host started off addressing her issue by saying, "Well, guilt is a good thing..." And I am gonna stop right there. Because this is Grace on a Thursday, I will try my best to give this chap grace, and presume he didn't actually mean what he said. Because I could not disagree more. Guilt is never a good thing. Never. And honestly, I've heard that said so many times that I knew it needed to be my topic this week.

Conviction is the good thing. Conviction points us to improvement, and comes directly from the Lord who is at work in our hearts. Guilt is condemning and shameful, seeks to hold us down, and comes from the pit of hell.

Here's my little test. When I make a mistake, what goes through my head?

Guilt says, "I can't believe I did that! How could I have lost it AGAIN? I'm such a _______."
Conviction says, "UGH that was so wrong. I'm so sorry. Thank goodness God will give me another chance."

Guilt says, "That just proves I really am a mess."
Conviction says, "I need Jesus to remind me who I really am."

Guilt says, "I'll never get it right. This is a lost cause."
Conviction says, "I am so needy. Lord grant me forgiveness and fill me with truth because I am lost without you."

Guilt says, "Seems like all I do is hurt that person."
Conviction says, "I made a bad choice, and with the Holy Spirit, I can choose better next time."

Guilt is a dead end. I feel that guilt has an insatiable quality. In other words, you can never feel enough guilt. And it comes with a very personal despair. Conviction, on the other hand, is first a grieving for one's mistake, and then is an arrow pointing to growth and change. There is a HUGE difference.

One is graceless. One is grace-FULL.

I will say this, though. This work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, this continual pruning and grace-covering, is only offered to those who allow Jesus to be in charge of their lives. All of the above is defined by whether or not a person has been redeemed - and is ultimately guiltless - by Jesus' death and resurrection. If a person doesn't believe their sin has been paid for once and for all by Jesus and the cross, then they remain guilty before a holy and perfect God.

The big, giant "However" is that if a person has believed, has confessed he or she is in need of a savior, and is walking with God, there is no need to tolerate guilt or condemnation. A guilty Christian is not a Biblical concept, and it cheapens what Jesus has done for us. His tremendous sacrifice was enough. He took off my garments of guilt and has clothed me in HIS righteousness. It's not because of anything I've done or earned. It's in spite of what I've done and earned. And for me to feel guilty for my sin is to go backwards and buy into lies about who I am.

And yet I do it all the time. I go down the road of tolerating - heck, fully agreeing with - the accusations against me when I make mistakes. They seem so darn logical and deserved. You know I have all that shame nonsense spinning in my head.

But God generously offers me grace, always picking me up once again. Washing off my guilt and shame, encouraging me to try just one more time to make the better choice. And because of His great, great care, sometimes I manage to get it right.

The Bible says it's God's kindness that brings us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

Guilt never brings us anywhere but down.

{if you struggle with guilt or shame, like I tend to, here's a post I wrote about something I learned not long ago that meant a lot to me.}


A song I want stuck in my head

Last weekend, we were visiting family and so attended their church with them. The worship team played this Jared Anderson song, and I was in love. It makes me want to flat out weep, and so that qualifies it as my new favorite.

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:

‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 3:13-14

As I listened to and sang this song during church, I kept having a visual in my head of Jesus, smiling so hard He was near laughing. He was looking at me, asking,

 "Is anything too difficult for me?"

You know the answer to that question.

Here's to the great I AM.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Virtual iced tea


{linking up with Amy this Tuesday morning}

It's warm in these here parts! No place for hot drinks for me this week. I'm all about the iced tea right now.

And if we were meeting up at Starbucks for iced tea (like I am with this friend this morning!) this is what I'd order (though those Coconut Mocha Fraps look SOOO good!) "Grande black tea in a Venti cup with extra ice, unsweetened," and this is what I'd share.

Summer is super fun, but also sorta rough. I'm getting very, very few of my regular jobs accomplished. Why oh WHY do I think, "Oh, in SUMMER, I'll reorganize the craft pantry." "Once the kids are out of school, I can work on the photo albums." On and on I deluded myself a few months ago. What on earth was I thinking? I get far LESS extra projects done in the summer than during the rest of the year, because my number one priority is doing these things with my kids.

Yes, that is a great priority. Yes, enjoying summer activities is truly at the top of my agenda. Yes, these years will fly by, and one day, I'll have more time than I can dream of to organize the pantry. I'll probably feel sick to my stomach at how much free time I have in an empty house during the long, hot summer days fifteen years from now.  So yes, every summer I choose the same thing. But also, every summer, I feel increasingly behind on my jobs. I guess I can't escape it. I just have to roll with it.

Today, we played with friends, went swimming, painted with watercolors, ate popsicles, made cookies, did some journaling and workbooks, and had a great family dinner. It was seriously an awesome summer day.

Who's to say that doing those things with my kids is not really doing my jobs? Isn't that exactly what my main jobs are all about? Yes. I think so. I'm totally making a good trade.

The hideous craft pantry will have to wait. Yeah, I know. Good thing it has doors.

So what are you up to this Tuesday? And more importantly, do your kids "organize" like mine do?? Just curious.

Have a great day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Generous July, Part 1

When my brain starts hatching a plan, and I get on blogger to start sharing my plan, I don't ever know where to start. I am a big muddled mess of what I'm calling "energetic thoughts". They are ideas with momentum. And tonight, my ideas were triggered by a book. (That always happens to me.)

This book! Please buy it right now. Now now now. It is arguably one of the most important books you can read to your kids. OK? Just trust me because we've read a zillion books. (See how my thoughts are all fidgety and zealous!!??) Breathe Leslie. Here's a synopsis.

The Quiltmaker's Gift is about a woman who makes quilts only for the poor. She refuses to take money from the various wealthy who come to her door to purchase them. She makes one at a time, finds someone in need, covers them in the cold night air, and goes home to start a new quilt. But the king of her land is very greedy. He commands his people to bring him gifts. And then he commands the Quiltmaker to make him a quilt. She refuses, as he is clearly not "in need." Though she has compassion on him, seeing how sad he is, and challenges him: "Give away all your things, and I will add a piece to your quilt for each gift you give." Of course, in his pride, he refuses. But eventually, very slowly, he begins to give. By the time he's given away all his possessions, a task that takes him through years of travelling the world to find new people to bless, he's so filled with happiness that he forgets about the quilt. When the day comes for the Quiltmaker to present him with his quilt, he is finally poor, dressed in rags, owning next to nothing. But he contests that he is quite the opposite, that he is the richest man alive, his heart bursting with joy. And he has saved his final possession - his throne - for her. The story ends as the two partner in giving, she making the quilts, and he delivering them to the needy in the town. 

This book has been on our shelf for a few years now. But something about tonight's reading was different. The kids were older, and could understand more of what was being communicated through the story (My daughter said, "Mom! This story has a moral!" Yes it does, sweetie). Then the subject of Vacation Bible School came up, and how, in two weeks, we'd be raising money for an international cause, one of the focuses of our church's VBS. Three years ago, we did a lemonade stand. Two years ago, it was a lemonade stand, bake sale and I made some barrettes to sell. Last year, we partnered with friends and had so many things to sell they were hanging from the trees. My son decorated "telescopes" made of covered paper towel tubes. My daughter traced the covers of her favorite books neatly onto tracing paper. And my friend made bottle cap necklaces. We made over $250. So tonight, The Quiltmaker's Gift got us talking about what makes a person truly rich. Our conversation turned into a little brainstorm as to how we might sacrifice in order to be generous.

Some ideas were the usual, lemonade and cookies studded with MnM's. But we also tossed around making book bags, and building simple lego creations, and braiding friendship bracelets to sell alongside our treats.

I reminded my kids that all our things come from the Lord. Not just our material things, but all of our time, talents and treasures. These are our resources. They are really all God's things. And He has given us more than we need so that we can be generous people. It doesn't really matter what we sell, does it? Just so long as my children know that we are blessed to be a blessing.
Since we will be working on little projects until VBS in late July, I'm calling it Generous July.

I know you could do it too. Find a cause (that's the easy part) or just a family in need. Talk to your kids and get their ideas. Stir their hearts for someone else. Show them how truly blessed they are. And then remind them WHY

Let me know if you want to casually participate in a Generous July project as well. It could be as simple as a corner lemonade stand, or a car wash on your cul-de-sac. Your kids have no concept of the amount of money involved. You could raise ten bucks and it could powerfully impact their hearts for the needy. It could plant a seed of compassion that will grow into something more one day. Your project need not be elaborate. They must only see that your family values blessing others with what God has given you. I'd love to hear your ideas.

And I'll certainly keep you posted on ours.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Looky here, lurkers

Hey, I decided this weekend should be de-lurking weekend.
(know what that means? a "lurker" is a name for those who read blogs but prefer to stay unknown or "silent")

Waitwaitwait! Don't go away. This is what I mean.

I myself sometimes fall into that category.
So I'm going to comment on AT LEAST one blog I've never commented on before.
I'm going to say Hi to a nice, cute, blogger friend, and let her know she is making a difference. Because each of us truly is, in our own corner of the world. And I believe we should take the time to lift each other up. Also, I'm not about to ask you to come out of hiding on this blog, if I'm not willing to do the same elsewhere.  

So let's de-lurk together.
(I think the more I use that made-up word, the more I'm thinking it's real.)
How about you? If you've never said Hello and introduced yourself here before, why not now?
I know a lot of you are newish. So who are ya? Where are ya? Do you blog? If so, about what?
What's something you love?
Weiner dogs? Cross-stitch? Kayaking? What?

{This post contains a random list of things you may not know about me.}

Or if you don't want to comment here, that's cool. But I'd encourage you to say Hello somewhere else. Let someone know you benefit from what they are putting out there.

Blogging feels risky at times. And it's nice to know that a community is nearby, listening, praying, and sharing your joys and pains.

And if you have been following along for a while, I want to say thanks for encouraging me in the many ways that you do. It means so much to me.

Every one of your words blesses me.
So thank you.

Now I'm off to try to shake my "lurker" status and bless someone else...


Friday, July 08, 2011

10 Summer secrets

I'm in the mood for a list.

Today I'm sharing with you a few random summer secrets getting us by right now...

1. Nickels.

I pay my kids a nickel a page for doing workbooks in the summertime. I buy ones that target their weak spots: handwriting for my son, division facts for my daughter, and they both have age-appropriate spelling books. Then, they save up their nickels for spending money on any trips or outings we take. They actually like it, and we've done this for the last 4 summers. Win-win, people.

2. Washing my car.

Somehow, the idea of washing my car in the driveway, in swimsuits, with a big bucket of suds sounds like crazy fun to my kids. (Except when there is some accidental spraying of the hose at one another. Or at me. Then things go sour.)

3. Dollar movies.

Find them in your area. Now. Pop your own corn. Pack your own treats. Doesn't matter if the movie's at 10 am. Popcorn, dry cereal, and a juice box count as breakfast in the summer, right? RIGHT?

4. Library with a capital L!

Dude. We have a summer's worth of books to read and stories on tape that we recently checked out. We even went to Goodwill just to buy an old cassette tape player so that we could check out the cassette tapes. We have like 10 hours worth of Jungle Book and Pollyanna to listen to. After we checked out all that happiness, we visited the "Friends of the Library" annex, where they sell old donated books for pennies. And we got a heap of that stuff too, all for twenty-five and fifty cents each. {I even scored on two vintage children's records for hanging up.}

5. Make your own Popsicles

Lemonade and blackberries. Limeade and diced strawberries. The possibilities are endless!

6. Make your own Cherry Limeade

Limeade, grenadine, sparkling water and sliced limes. Now, if I drove through Sonic to pick up a bag of their perfect pellet ice, it would be Sonic Cherry Limeade heaven.

7. Life {the board game}.
My kids and I have just started playing this game. It was one of my favorites as a kid. And we are having so much fun! We laughed hysterically the other night when my six year old son had twins, and then landed on the space that said he then adopted another set of twins! Then he became president. He thought it was the funniest game ever. (It says ages 9+, but he played it just fine. I just had to count the money for him.)

8. Trading beds.

My son's been begging to sleep with me. Neither of my kids were ever interested in sleeping in our bed before, so I'm inclined to say a big yes to that rare request. So last night, he was in my hubby's spot. Tomorrow night, I get the boot, and my daughter gets my spot. Any chance to change things up a bit keeps life interesting, right?

9. Maintaining some structure.

Such a boring one, but so important for me. Kids' bedtimes are still at 8. We try to be home by 3 each day and have "down time" until 5, when I try to start dinner. And some days, I'm realizing we need to stay at home and do chores. That's real life, that keeps me sane. I simply cannot provide a Disneyland experience for my kids every day, all day long, for the entire summer. Someone's still gotta run the house. And they need to be helpers with that as well. I don't live strictly for their entertainment.

10. My own personal quiet time.

I'm trying to get up at 7 most days, and spend time reading and praying before all things start to whirl around me. It's amazing when I make it happen. I need that time. I'm craving that time. Pray for me, if you think about it, to stay consistent.

Well, friends, that's what's been going on in the day to day in our house! What about you? What have you been doing to survive this summer? (Or winter, if you're below the equator...haha...PJ...Widge...)

Hugs today.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Looking in the Mirror

Today I was reading of a fellow blogger's journey as a new mom. She is a brand new mom. Like one month new. She was sharing her struggles, and listening to God's voice comfort her as she already battled feeling like a "bad mother." She was surprised that parenting was so challenging right out of the gate.

I was recognizing that I'm nine years into this motherhood deal, so I stopped to think about how things had changed from being one month into parenthood till now. I still have days where I battle feelings of being a "bad mother" too, so I wondered what was different. What, if anything, have I learned in nine years about myself and what kind of mother I am?

One thing is pretty certain: I haven't grown more perfect. I cannot confidently say that I am "better" at mothering overall. I'm better at some things, skill-related things, of course. I can whip up some good meals, handle a mean diaper rash, and securely install a carseat (and that's not so easy). But I still melt down at silly things. I still yell. I still overreact, under react, control, complain, and feel cranky when my child only wants to eat my lunch and not their own.

I still battle my broken, selfish nature all the time. It is not any less present in my life, compared to nine years ago.

So here it is. The one thing I am certain has changed, the one thing by which I feel confident I can measure some growth is that I am more comfortable facing that nature. Being a parent makes us look in the mirror and face our brokenness way more than is humanly comfortable. And in the last nine years, I've gotten more used to it. More used to feeling humbled. More used to accepting the Lord's correction. More used to asking for forgiveness, from God and from others. And all of that means I've become more familiar with grace. You can't really understand grace unless you experience it over and over, and you can't really experience it until you face your mistakes head on.

A child has a way of causing our weaknesses to bubble up to the surface. That little life is a catalyst for a perfect "refiner's fire," for exposing our sin, and revealing opportunities for God to prune and heal us. And that's why parenting requires so much courage. The courage needed, at least for me, is not for training up my children. In comparison, that's the easy part. The courage I need is to face myself - my mess, my broken and selfish nature - and allow God to work in my life. That is truly challenging. Because I could choose not to. I could shut my eyes to my past, my pain, and my issues. I could choose to feel sorry for myself and believe and behave as if I'm destined for failure. That's an option.

But God is holding out grace, available every day. How can I resist that? He is waiting to wash me in love, heal my issues, and then teach me how to love my family. His offer is so attractive that I am drawn to it much more than the self-condemning pity party.

I feel like such a slow learner as a mother, but somehow that's okay now. I can accept my weaknesses because I trust that He is my strength. Nine years ago, I didn't accept myself in a lot of ways. I was afraid to look in the mirror, and I knew I'd be disgusted with myself if I did. I'm not saying we should be comfortable with our sin. Not at all. Grace is not an excuse to continue in a bad habit. But if we are followers of Jesus, then we have no business condemning ourselves when He does not. That cheapens everything we know about the cross. Grace gives us the freedom to look in the mirror, unashamed.

The surprise is that I see exactly who I was created to be: a daughter of the King, and a mama who is lovely because He loves me.