Looking for Heroes

We all love a good story with a hero we can stand behind.

Our sons love heroes, too. That’s why my son has a fireman dress up suit and masks of Captain America, Ironman, and Spiderman.

Having a boy, I am always looking for real-life heroes to introduce him to- policemen, soldiers, first responders. I want him to see these men and women as the true heroes in our world. Yet, there are other heroes I want him to become familiar with. Those heroes are found in the pages of the Bible.

In our devotions he has “met” Moses, Samson, Elijah, and David. But there are so many more men and women in God’s Word that I want him to meet.

And I’m not the only parent who feels this way. Shannon Otwell is the father of a little boy named Nate. He also wanted to introduce his son to Bible heroes, so he wrote a book, The Treehouse Adventures of Nate-Nate & Maxie Dog: Gideon, making Nate and his dog Maxie characters in an imaginative story, taking them back in time to meet Gideon, one of Israel’s judges and a Bible hero.

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Nate-Nate and Maxie have a treehouse. Using their imagination, their treehouse becomes a pirate ship sailing them back in time. During their trip, they hear the amazing story of how God took Gideon’s 30,000 soldiers and sent home all but 300 of them. They participate in a reenactment of the breaking of the clay jars and blowing of the trumpets, and they get to meet Gideon.

This book is filled with bright, colorful, well-illustrated pages. Upon opening a page, one side contains a full page illustration and the other side contains the story. Each illustration perfectly represents the story being told. I loved that as we were reading the story and following along with the illustrations, one character would show up quite often. We enjoyed finding out that this particular character was Gideon.

The story is well told and attention grabbing. My son (5 years old) sat quietly, listening intently to the story and pointing out parts of the illustrations that matched what he was hearing. As a homeschooling mom, I like the fact that my son will have a book in his personal library that he will be able to read on his own in a couple of years that will help build his faith. (I think a 2nd grader would have no trouble reading this on their own.)

The Treehouse Adventures of Nate-Nate & Maxie Dog: Gideon is the first book in what the author hopes will become a well-loved series. I personally am looking forward to seeing which adventure will come next.

Publisher: HIS Publishing Group; ISBN: 978-0578187082; Age Range: 2-10 years old; Grade Level: Kindergarten- 4th grade. 

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Needs: Theirs, Mine, and (H)ours

Imagine that you are running a 5K.

You’ve set a steady pace for yourself and you’re doing well. You haven’t spent too much energy, and if things keep going along the way they are you will finish this race with enough energy to pump your arms in the air as you collapse across the finish line.

Suddenly, a hurdle is thrown in your path. You can either keep your pace and expect to run right through it (with horrible results) or you can pick up momentum, leap, and then resume your steady pace. Another hurdle may or may not be thrown in your path, but you never know.

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As a woman, you know that this 5K race is one you run every single day. Some days there are obstacles/hurdles that suddenly appear at any given point and on others days the path couldn’t be clearer while you are trying to reach the finish line in this race of life.

If you are a work-outside-the-home-mom, that hurdle might be the call from school telling you that you have a sick child that needs to be picked up. For the stay-at-home-mom, that hurdle could be the dreaded crayon incident that occurs while you are homeschooling your older child and sends you scrambling for some type of cleaner while saying “no, no, no” and trying to keep your cool at the same time (if it sounds like I know something about crayons on surfaces other than paper….. I do).

There are always going to be little things that come up during your day. Your children and your spouse need you and quite often need something of you. You have needs, too! And there are only so many hours in the day.

 

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So how do you keep from getting derailed but instead ending your day with a semblence of peace?

1. Put God first

It goes without saying. When you put The Lord first in your day, even if it is just having a prayer time with Him first thing in the morning, you are, in escence, handing your day to Him. It could not be in better hands than that.

2. Evaluate your responsibilities for the day

Make a list of what you and your family need to do, and then check it twice! Do you really need to get everything on that list done? What can be eliminated? Is your list overreaching what is even humanly possible to do on any given day?

3. Evaluate what your family’s needs/desires/wants are

If you have small children, mommy/child playtime is high on their list of needs/wants. Keep that in mind. What does your husband want? A nice dinner, a particular favorite meal, couple time? Keep his needs in mind. What do you need/want? A hot cup of tea or coffee during naptime, a chance to put your feet up for half and hour? Keep you in mind, too.

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4. Break up your day into thirds

On a sheet of paper (or open a page on a digital notebook), write down morning, afternoon, and evening.

Then take your list of responsibilities and your family’s needs/wants and fit them within the three parts of your day.

For example, my list yesterday looked like this:

Morning- devotions and prayer, exercice, dress, quick clean, 2 loads laundry, and homeschool.

Afternoon- fold laundry, blog, , begin purging Ian’s room, prep dinner, read, and play games with the kids.

Evening- watch a movie with the family, quick clean, layout clothes for tomorrow (me and kids), pack Ian’s lunch, pack Brian’s lunch, pack Addie’s back pack and lunch, clean the kitchen, and prepare for Classical Conversations Community Day.

For me as a goal oriented person, I like knowing that one of my “things-to-do” is to stop, sit, and play or interact with my kids in a fun way without thinking about what I have to do next.

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I do get “me time”, also. As long as all of the kids’ responsibilities are completed by 2:00 in the afternoon, they have a designated technology time that allows me to sit with a cup of coffee while I read or take care of my online things. For me, that is relaxing.

By getting everything done by the time the kids go to bed in the evening allows me to be available to spend quality time with my husband.

Not having an excessive amount of things on my to-do list means that when hurdles suddenly get thrown in my path during my daily race, I have time to adjust my speed, pray, leap, and keep running.

It’s a new day, Ladies! Lace up those running shoes and let’s hit the pavement at a steady pace today!

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what to do with kids Christmas break

Things to Do with Your Kids This Christmas Break

It will be here before you know it…

Christmas break!

And I just heard it…. the cheer of little ones embracing their upcoming freedom, and the gasp from moms who are looking for ways to fill their children’s time for the duration of the break.

If you are going away for some of the break, then half of your battle is already won, since leaving home is an adventure all its own and comes with its own entertainment for young ones. But if you are staying home during your break, then filling the hours of your days is a daunting challenge.

Because I homeschool my children, I am always looking for ways to keep my kids on their toes after our schoolwork is done with fun, meaningful activities that I can plan and prepare for the night before. They are not stress inducing activities or even complicated in their preparation, but my children feel as though they have been thought of and have even expressed their appreciation of these planned times.

what to do with kids Christmas break

Each activity comes with a time limit so the activity is ended before boredom sets in and leaves anticipation for the activity to be repeated in the future.

We do not do all of these activities each day. This is just a list that I use to choose from when planning our day.

At Home:

  • Silent reading (30 minutes)- My son who recently turned 5 has been doing this for a while now and can sit for the duration of the time. He cannot read a full book at this point, but he is a pro at looking at pictures and even doing some picture search books.
  • Read aloud (30 minutes)- This does require Mom’s involvement, but that’s okay! Choose books that are related to the season you are in (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.). Having a book basket helps with this. This would also be a great time to begin a classic or novel with them (we have read the Winnie the Pooh collection together).  You will be amazed at how their understanding and communication skills grow with this simple activity. During this time, I pull out the blocks and perler beads and my children quietly create while they listen.
  • Color/Draw (20-30 minutes)- Coloring and drawing is an important childhood skill that our kids need in order to develop fine motor skills among other things. [source]

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Play-doh (20-30 minutes)- Kids love play-doh, and moms can easily use this time for some therapy. Squishing play-doh is relaxing and has the ability to keep kids entertained without any effort on our part.
  • Bake cookies (30 minutes)- This one requires a little bit of work, but there is no hard and fast rule that you have to make your cookies from scratch (we don’t always). Kids love the process of mixing and seeing their work turn into something they can actually eat.
  • Play games (30-45 minutes)- This is a fun one! Grab all of those you have hidden away in a closet and play a few. Depending on ability, the games may even get a bit competitive. A few of our favorites are Shopkins Uno, Candyland, Dominoes, Go Fish, Sorry, Guess Who, and Connect Four.
  • Watch a show (30-120 minutes)- This activity is great when Mom just needs to sit with a cup of coffee in a quiet room for a bit. Pull out a video (your children’s ages and attention spans will dictate the length of your movie), put your feet up, and enjoy the quiet. If your children know that movie time only comes at a specific time of the day, they will appreciate that time even more.
  • Play outside (30-60 minutes)- This is the stuff of childhood and the maker of good naps for little ones. Fresh air, sunshine, and the ability to run unrestricted are all great for a child’s well-being and also is important for Mom. Pull out the bicycles, roller skates, scooters, hula hoops, and sidewalk chalk or let them enjoy your personal jungle gym. No matter what they do, it will be a win for everyone. Need more ideas? 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca Cohen is a great book with 365 outdoor ideas.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Video games (30-60 minutes)- Kids enjoy video games and technology is the wave of the future, but that doesn’t mean our kids should have unlimited access to it. Schedule time for your kiddos to play some of their video games. By scheduling time for this activity, your kids won’t spend too much time in front of a screen, they won’t tire of their games too quickly, and video game time will become a very special time for them.
  • Free play (1-2 hours)- Free play is so important for children.  Not only does it give them the ability to decide for themselves what they want to play, but it gives them a chance to pull out the toys and stretch their imaginations. And with Christmas just around the corner, it will give them a chance to really play with their new toys.

Quick trips

Sometimes, you just need to leave the house, but you don’t want to spend a lot or be out all day. Here are a few ideas for taking quick trips that don’t involve shopping or stores. Don’t forget to schedule in travel time.

  • Library (1 hour)- Libraries are so much more than warehouses for books. They are now being upgraded with play areas, puzzles, learning games, and story time. Take advantage of these amenities that your library has to offer and spend an hour in a quiet but fun atmosphere.
  • Local park (30-60 minutes)- If you don’t have a swing set, your local park is guaranteed to have a great jungle gym (take proper safety precautions). From playground equipment and open areas for unhindered running to walking paths and  bike trails, your park has much to offer that a backyard can’t. Pack a lunch and make your adventure last a little longer.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Donut/ice cream run (30 minutes)- Have the kids been really good for you on a particular day? Why not treat them to a donut shop or Ice cream shop run? Encourage their good behavior with a small treat and a quick adventure outside of the house.
  • Visit a friend (1-2 hours for littles 3-4 hours for bigs)- I am a firm believer that visits with friends need to fall into a reasonable time frame, especially if you are spending time in their home with little ones. Your visit has time to end on a good note before little ones begin to get too antsy.
  • Bounce house or kids gym (1-2 hours)- Do you live in an area that has a bounce house or kids gym? Take advantage of these. Purchase a membership if it is something that can be used quite often by your family. This is a great way to fill a couple of hours of your day, give your kids ample space to exert plenty of energy, and give you a fun place to escape to on rainy days when a park visit wold not be possible.

What are some other ways you can inexpensively provide meaningful activities for your children during a school break? Feel free to share them with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

invest your marriage

Investing in Your Marriage Without Spending a Fortune

You know how it goes.

Wedding day comes and you are ready to spend your life with this man who didn’t just steal your heart- you gave it to him willingly. You dream of the impromptu dates that will occur- a late night run to Starbucks to get coffee because really who needs to sleep! In your mind’s eye, you imagine talking deep into the night and waking up fully refreshed the next morning.

You plan weekly date nights. Since you are both working, you think nothing of the cost of going out for a sit down dinner weekly. You’re in love and nothing else matters.

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Then one afternoon a few years into marriage, you wait for your sweet husband to come home from work so you can give him the news you were both hoping for. You’re pregnant!

Once the baby comes, you determine to not give up on your date nights because connecting with each other is important…. but you can’t go out weekly because the budget won’t allow it. Your income may have been cut in half and now there is one more person pulling from it.

So what do you do?

Committing to our marriages is so important. Marriage takes work and time.

Is it possible to getaway from it all without breaking the bank?

When you add up the cost of babysitters, dinner, a movie, maybe a coffee and dessert, it can put a real dent in the budget and your attitude about date night.

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Or you can get creative!

My sister, brother-in-law, husband and I have figured out an arrangement that works for us.

Every other month we get a weekend.

This past weekend was Brian and my weekend. Faye and Jim had our kids from Friday thru Sunday, and Brian and I had the weekend all to ourselves. Next month, we will watch my nephew, and Faye and Jim will have their weekend.

This is the time we can go out to a leisurely dinner together. We can leave our county and head into the “city” for more options. Because the kids are with Faye for the weekend, we don’t have to rush back to relieve the babysitter.

Babysitter= Free

One of the things we enjoy doing on our weekend is seeing a movie. Theaters are always an option, but we have found a way to keep those costs down, too. Have you checked your debit card points? Our debit card had been earning us points that we didn’t know about. When I stumbled onto this, I discovered that we could purchase movie tickets with our points.

We also keep track of which movies are being put on Amazon or into our local Redbox kiosk. My husband gets coupon codes sent to his email (for Redbox), so we are able to rent a movie and enjoy it from the comfort of our own couch and our kitchen is our concession stand.

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Movies= Free or cheap

One of our favorite things about our weekends is the rest factor.

Because the kids are being cared for elsewhere, I can sleep deeply, not having one ear and eye open (moms can relate). No one wakes us up early. We sleep in, and we are fully rested when our children return to us.

Nightly accommodations= Free

We are homebodies. Although we enjoy an adventure, rest and relaxation means staying home in our pjs and chilling. We eat what is in the fridge, freezer and pantry. Going out to eat for at least one meal on our weekend is part of the fun. Sometimes we have gift cards which help keep costs down significantly, other times we don’t.

Food= almost Free

On Sunday, whoever is watching the children returns them. The one receiving the children prepares dinner for all to share. We sit at the table, share our weekend adventures, listen to the kids retell the fun they had, and feel full in our hearts from a hearty weekend investing our marriage.

Investment in our marriage = Priceless

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We look forward to this time every other month. It is refreshing for us as a couple and as parents. The time it gives us to pour into each other and ourselves personally is so necessary but so often neglected. We are able to pursue our hobbies without feeling mommy or daddy guilt. “Mom and Dad” talks to decide the direction we want to go with the training of our children, to figure out what has worked and what needs to be adjusted, and to encourage each other on parenting successes are possible without interruption. We are able to establish short term personal, marital, parental, and financial goals since we can reevaluate every other month.

As a couple, find what works for you and is safe for your children. Investing time into our marriages and being responsible parents are crucial for our families.

There are ways to invest in your marriage without spending a fortune. Sometimes, you just have to be creative.

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The Lesson from the Termite’s Nest

Song of Solomon 2:15- Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

A few years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise. One of our stops was Playa de Carmen, Mexico.

As we walked for what seemed like forever to the bus that would take us to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, Brian and I noticed that all of the trees were painted white from the ground to part of the way up the trunk.

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At first I didn’t think anything of it, but as we drove through the city, we noticed that EVERY tree had been whitewashed. I just chalked it up to “that’s just how they do it here” and didn’t think anything else of it.

Until……

We finally reached our destination a little more than an hour later. As were walking the mile and a half from where our bus dropped us off to the entrance of the ruins, Tour Guide Juan stopped us and had us look over into the trees.

He continued, “Did you notice that all of the trees in Playa de Carmen were whitewashed from the ground to halfway up the trunk? There is a reason for that. You all know termites eat wood, but something happens to their bodies when we take a mixture of limestone and water and paint our trees. As the termites begin climbing up a whitewashed tree, the temperature of their bodies rises and they burn up. If we didn’t whitewash our trees in Playa de Carmen, you would see termite mounds like this one everywhere.”

We went on into the ruins and I forgot all about the termites, whitewashed trees, and the vendors we would have to push through a second time as we made our way back to our bus.

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As we were leaving the ruins, I saw this termite nest (pictured above) and something hit me. With all of the green around, the tree hosting this nest had no healthy foliage on it. The tree itself could not grow while something was sucking the life out of it. It could only die.

Our homes, families, and lives are living things. Satan wants to destroy those things. If he came with a hack saw, motorized saw, or ax, we would recognize him immediately and protect those things that are so precious to us.

Instead he comes into our lives as a termite- something so tiny that we would not even notice it or recognize the harm it could do (overly busy schedule, television, Internet, food, harmful relationships, etc.). He comes as a termite that doesn’t mind how long it will take to suck the life out of us. He comes in the form of a thousand little things that slowly drain our will, desire, and ability to fight back. Before you know it, there is no life left in you.

We need a whitewash!

We need to take preventative measures before those little termites even have a chance to climb into our lives.

We need to set time alone for ourselves with the Lord and His Word.
We need to set boundaries.
We need to learn to say “no” to things that take our time away from what is important.
We need to invest time in our marriages and children.
We need to let go of the desire to have more and be content with what we already have.
We need to be willing to let go of some of our material possessions that bog us down.

It is possible to remove the termites once they have made a nest, but it is hard work and, in some cases, can be costly. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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That day, Brian and I made some wonderful memories at the Mayan ruins, saw some amazing structures that have lasted a thousand years, saw the bluest water on the coast of Tulum, and took some amazing photos.

But I think the one thing that will never leave my heart from that day was the lesson I learned while looking at a termite’s nest.

I pray I never forget what it looks like. I want it to be a constant reminder to me that I need to keep my “tree” whitewashed.

This post was originally featured on my previous blog The Joy of Homemaking.

perfect-bedtime-book

The Perfect Bedtime Book for Little Ones

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I began reading to my children from the time I brought them home from the hospital. I looked for as many Bible story board books as I could find, and rotated through them. I loved the board books that were gifted to us as well that taught my children about colors, animals, and first words. I grew to love my collection of board books, and I was thankful that the pages were strong enough to survive my two children

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My son will be five next week, and recently I discovered that he prefers board books over “paper” books. During our silent reading times, he gravitates to the board books I pull out. At the library, he ignores the rows of brightly illustrated picture books and sits in front of the board book shelf.

When I received my copy of Snuggle Time Psalms by Glenys Nellist in the mail, I’m not sure who was more excited- Ian or me.

I asked Ian what his favorite things about Snuggle Time Psalms were- “the pictures and hard pages.”

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My favorites about Snuggle Time Psalms are:

  1. The message– As the title suggests, each page begins with one verse from a Psalm. After the verse is a rhyme that perfectly explains to a child what the verse means. The rhymes are written using terms that speak to children where they are. Words like teddy bear and airplanes make the meaning of the Psalms relevant to toddlers and preschoolers and puts the verse in terms they can understand.
  2. The author– Glenys Nellist has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Her writing style has such a gentleness that I have found the way I read her books to my son affected by it. When you pick up any one of Glenys’s books, you’ll find that you cannot  read them quickly. They cause you to pause time, to slow down, and savor the moment with your little one. I have even been known to pick up her books and read them to myself when I need a pause in my day. As a mom, I love that my son always asks for “one more” as we read through Snuggle Time Psalms.
  3. The illustrations– I have always been a huge fan of great illustrations. For little ones who can’t read or are still learning how, illustrations are how they “read” a book. Cee Biscoe has a gift. She can make her illustrations come alive while giving them a gentleness to match the words on the page. They are calming, beautiful, and endearing.

If you are looking for a board book that will survive your toddler/preschooler’s love for reading and will also give them a solid Biblical foundation, Snuggle Time Psalms is a perfect book to bring your children into the presence of the Lord from the comfort of their mother’s lap.

Publisher: Zonderkidz Year: 2016 Pages: 30 pages ISBN: 978-0310749257 Retail Price: $9.99

You can read my reviews of Glenys Nellist’s other bookstall these locations: Snuggle Time Prayers and Love Letters From God.

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celebrate-the-ordinary-days-fall

Celebrate the Ordinary Days- Fall Edition

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September is here and with it comes the anticipation of all things fall. Sweaters, boots, leaves changing colors, and pumpkin flavored everything…. yes, fall is coming.

Here in Florida, we can only imagine what the rest of the world experiences for fall. We live vicariously through Pinterest photos and Hallmark movies and imagine the crisp feel of the air on Thanksgiving.

However, there are so many delightful, ordinary days sprinkled into the months of September through December that it doesn’t matter if our leaves actually turn color and fall in January. We can still enjoy these days along with everyone else who live in the perfect fall climates further north.

Here are some of my upcoming favorite ordinary days (this list is by no means extensive) and how I plan to recognize them in splendid ways or just acknowledge them in passing. After all, that is the beauty of ordinary days.

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September 22- First Day of Fall (We celebrate this day by decorating for the season of fall, not a particular holiday.)

September 23- Native American Day (I have several books about Squanto and Sacajawea that we read at this time)

September 29- Coffee Day (no explanation needed…)

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October 4- Taco Day (Tacos for dinner!)

October 10- Columbus Day (This year we are going to make this Christopher Columbus themed craft.)

October 15- Sweetest Day (Enjoy a sweet treat.)

October 17- Boss’s Day (A good day to show our children how to respect the ones who sign our paychecks.)

October 24- United Nations Day (We will take some time to learn about this organization.)

October 28- National Chocolate Day (Watch the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

October 31- Reformation Day (We will be “nailing” the 95 Thesis to our door using tape on the back of the papers and my son’s plastic hammer and learning the Five Solas.)

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November 3- Sandwich Day (This will be easy to celebrate…)

November 8- Election Day (Take your kids with you as you place your vote… and explain to your children that a secret ballot means they are not to announce your choice of candidate to everyone in your voting precinct.)

November 11- Veteran’s Day (Several state parks in our area offer free entrance on this day in exchange for supplies to be made care packages to be sent to our troops- a more than reasonable trade. Find out if any state parks in your area offer this service to you.)

November 15- America Recycles Day (Take note of what you and your children are currently doing to help preserve our environment, and decide what changes could be made to help even further.)

November 24- Thanksgiving

November 26- Small Business Saturday (Look into small businesses in your area that could use a boost during the holiday season.)

November 27- First Day of Advent (Begin celebrating the advent of Jesus and the Christmas season.)

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December 4- Cookie Day (Bake a batch or more of cookies. Package them to be given as gifts for your neighbors, friends, and teachers.

December 7- Pearl Harbor Day (Take some time to reflect on the impact this event had on our country 75 years ago.)

December 15- Bill of Rights Day (Review what the Bill of Rights are and show them Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the Four Freedoms.)

December 20- Last Day of Fall (Get ready! Christmas is around the corner!)

Let’s make fall’s ordinary days a memorable time for our families. 

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intentional-celebrations

Building Monuments

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God loves a good celebration. So much so that He instituted times when His people came together to rejoice with food and symbols to represent what the celebration was for.

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But the celebrations were not meant to be frivolous. They were not meant to be commercialized. These celebrations were meant to be spiritual monuments for the people to look back and remember God’s goodness to them as they made the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. These celebrations were to mark specific moments in time when God showed His provision, protection, love, and mercy to His stubborn, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:13). These celebrations were to contain lessons that would be passed down from generation to generation so there would never be a generation who did not know the Lord or the things He had done (Judges 2:10).

As I think of my own life, I can remember distinct moments where God showed His hand of provision, protection, love, and mercy on my journey from childhood into adulthood.

He provided a piano for me when my parents could not afford to buy one. (In fact, my family nor I have ever had to buy a piano, but we have almost always had one in our home or access to one since I was 11 years old.)

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He provided the money needed for me to attend college through scholarships, generous gifts from others, and some savings my father had intentionally put aside without the need for college loans.

He protected us from an oncoming tornado when I was 7 years old and caused that tornado to completely turn around and head in a different direction.

His love and mercy allowed my mother to know she would have a granddaughter before she passed away.

His goodness provided for our children so much that we can look at their rooms and count on one hand what we have had to actually purchase for them.

I want these memories to be monuments for my children to see, for them to reflect back on when times get rough in their lives, when they are unsure how the end of the story will turn out. I want to retell these stories to my children so they will not forget them, and so they will have stories to pass down to future generations of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.

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As I thought of our personal monuments, I realized that underneath the debris of our calendar holidays, there are beautiful monuments for us to refer back to when the going gets rough.

When you pull away the tinsel, the lights, the wrapping paper, the wish lists, and the empty boxes, there is a stable with a sleeping Baby who was given as the greatest Gift humanity has ever received. During those times when we feel that we have nothing, that hope is lost, that life is for those in high position and not for us, that Baby stands as a monument saying, “I was given to you.”

Hidden under the very last strand of shredded, plastic, green grass, eggs, and bunnies is a cross of raw wood that is stained with blood. When we visit that monument we are reminded of how very loved we are- so much that someone was willing to die in our place to carry our burden, and reap the punishment for what we sowed.

Some monuments are built as reminders to us of principles in God’s Word.

Buried under the flowers, chocolate, cards, and paper hearts is a man who, as tradition tells us, defied an emperor in order to keep those in his flock from breaking God’s law.

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Journey past the rainbows, the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and shamrocks and you will find a young English boy, kidnapped by pirates, and taken to Ireland to be a slave. Despite his circumstances he prayed to God one hundred times a day, escaped his captors, and eventually went back to Ireland as a missionary to reach the people he had grown to love for Christ.

Travel through the fields of cornucopias, feathers, black and white garb, and gaze upon the monuments of a small band of pilgrims who are celebrating what only the hand of God could have brought about and done.

I want the “holidays” to be more than just a stressful time filled with rushed trips to the stores, receipts, and commercialism.

I want these days to be “holy days”- days that turn our focus to God and His goodness towards humanity.

I want my children to visit these monuments yearly, not with the expectation of temporary trinkets they may receive, but with the expectation of receiving the long-lasting gift of hope these monuments stand for.

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One of my favorite books is Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book, A Homemade Year. In it, she lists dates that are significant to the history of the Christian Church at large- spiritual monuments. Days that I usually breeze by as I go about my year have a spiritual significance and lesson to teach me and my children. Days that I would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a library trip were monuments meant to turn our hearts towards the Lord.

Many of these dates are not on our calendars.

They are probably not even on the radars of marketers.

But these dates are there, and they are a gift. Not just to me, but to my family as well. They are days that I have an opportunity to use as monuments for my family. Monuments with a beautiful history that my family can look back to and remember God’s goodness in the past and His promised faithfulness in the future.

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12 Principles for 12 Years of Marriage

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This weekend, Brian and I will be celebrating 12 years of marriage. (You can read about our engagement here and our wedding here and here.)

In those twelve years we have experienced major purchases, the loss of close family members, the births of two children, personal growth, spiritual growth, job changes for me, and finding true, meaningful friendships with others.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage (and if anyone says they have one- they’re lying!), but we have had a great marriage.

I began thinking about what are some basic principles in our marriage that have helped us in our relationship with each other.

Jesus is the center of our relationship- Early in our marriage, our young couples Sunday school teacher taught that the marriage relationship is like a triangle. Each point on the triangle was one of the three members in the relationship- God, your spouse, and yourself. The closer you both move in the direction of God, the closer you get to each other.

Try it! Get a paper, write down the three names in your relationship (with God being at the top most point, put your fingers on the names of you and your spouse and move toward the top point. Cool, huh?

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (NASB) If we seek Jesus above all, all of the other things in our lives (including our marriages) will fall into place. Will it always be cake walk? No. But having Jesus at the center will keep all of the pieces in place.

Permission to ask each other the hard questions- One of the foundations of a good marriage is trust. Sometimes, in order to establish that trust, we have to ask the hard questions, not  just the surface questions. Questions that deal with integrity, faithfulness, and the heart. All the way back to our dating days, we gave each other permission to ask the hard questions. But if you are going to ask hard questions the next principle has to also be established….

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Total and complete truth and honesty- When asked a hard question, our rule is that complete truth and honesty has to be the answer. After twelve years of marriage, we have established a firm foundation in honesty and truth. We have also learned how to respond to each other in a way that there is no apprehension in being completely honest. (It also helps to have married someone with a predisposition to being truthful. For any Divergent fans out there, Brian would totally be Candor! The jury is still out on which faction I would fit into.)

Full support of each other’s endeavors- Our spouses come to us with things they enjoy doing. Sometimes, our spouse wants to go out on a limb and try something new. Supporting our spouse and their endeavors is crucial.

Brian loves sports. When we were dating he was part of a softball team. While we were engaged, he played basketball with a league (and won the championship I might add). When we were first married, he played basketball in our church gym with some of the other guys. After we had Addie, he rejoined a softball team. He has been a part of Fantasy sports leagues for as long as I have known him…. and I have supported each of these. But I have found that supporting him  does not mean we stay in that place forever. Because he has the space and freedom to enjoy these, when he feels the time has come for him to hang it up, he does. I don’t have to tell him to. I don’t have to push him to.

In turn, when a few years ago I was asked to be the interim Children’s Ministry Director at our church, I had Brian’s full support and backing. He jumped in and helped me with chores that had always been “mine” so I could effectively do what I needed to do without worry about my house duties.

Having “our thing”- Do you and your spouse have a “thing”? Something specific to you? Something you enjoy doing together? Brian and I enjoy closing the evening by sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee while watching a show on Netflix. We like to do series shows because we get invested in the lives of the characters (and, yes, I always cry when the series ends). During the shows, something we see may trigger a thought that leads to a conversation. We keep the remote between us so either of us can grab it at anytime, pause the show, talk/laugh/remember something from earlier that day with the kids or work, and then get right back into the show. It’s our thing.

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Communication- Communication is more than just talking about your day. As Peta tells Catniss in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, “Friends talk about the deep stuff.” How did something make you feel? Did you read or hear something that made you think? Do you have plans, goals, or ambitions for your family? Is there a direction you want to go, but you need support? These are all questions that can get you started in communication. Just don’t ask them during a sports game… or when he’s really hungry.

We have begun working on communication skills with our children. At dinner we play a game called “High and Low.” We go around the table and each person has to share their “high” for the day and their “low” for the day. That jump starts us into asking deeper questions and moves the conversation further.

And if you are really at a shortage for ideas, you can always take Peta’s cue and ask for a favorite color.

Respecting each other’s role in the relationship- Brian works full time outside of the house, I am a full-time stay at home homeschooling mom. Brian brings home a paycheck, I am investing into the lives of our children. We have chosen these roles for ourselves, and we respect the role we each play in our marriage. No one is looked down on for not bringing in a paycheck, and no one is more revered for bringing home the bacon. Each role is respected…. and when necessary, we gladly help the other in any way we can.

Respecting each other’s convictions- Marriage is made of two people from two different original families with two different sets of convictions. Regardless of whether you agree with the convictions your spouse came in to the marriage with, respecting those convictions is important. Convictions are deeply embedded feelings of right and wrong, and telling someone they are silly to hold a conviction is wrong and definitely not going to build your relationship closer. If anything, it will push you apart.

I came from a home where going to the movies was not permitted. My parents had their reasons for making those rules which I completely understand and respect (they grew up in a time when movie theaters were used for making out in and wanted us to avoid seeing that). Because of those rules, Brian and I did not go to the movies while we were dating even though Brian had no problem with movie theaters. He completely respected the convictions of my family and never questioned them. It took several years of marriage and God establishing my own personal convictions in my heart for me to say it was okay for me to go to the movies with my husband. But I am thankful that there was never any pressure from him to change my convictions.

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Always looking out for one another- We each know our spouses strengths and weakness better than anyone else. We know if they are biting off more than they can chew. We know if they are spreading themselves too thin. We know if they are allowing themselves to be a doormat. It’s our job to look out for each other.

Beyond supporting each other, we have always been a sounding board as well. I would remind Brian that as much as I loved watching him play sports, he needed to pull back a bit of the enthusiasm. Pulling hamstrings, spraining ankles, and popping his neck out of place (all things that really did happened) did not allow him to fulfill his responsibilities to our family. In turn, when I make too many plans, Brian reminds me to pull the brakes and plan a few days where we do not leave the house to get the rest the kids and I need.

Freely giving grace- There are going to be days when things don’t get done, when the grass gets too tall, when it has been so busy there are no clean towels, when dirty clothes are left on the bathroom floor,  and when take out needs to be picked up. And that is where grace comes in. Grace doesn’t nit pick at what wasn’t done. Grace looks at what was done.

Grace sees the husband who works hard everyday, who comes home exhausted, and lets his kids jump on him.

Grace sees the wife who has taken her kids out of the house for the day, who has given them new experiences to put under their belt, and who still completes the bedtime routine even though she just wants to put her feet up.

We all need grace.

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Laughing/having fun together- Can you laugh with each other over the smallest thing? Can you have fun with each other anywhere? Can you turn an evening at home into an adventure?

We have had progressive dinners around the house.

We have laughed hysterically over the no clean towels incident mentioned above.

We have pulled out plastic hangers, pretended they are bows and arrows, and chased the kids around the house while shouting Robin Hood quotes.

We have made popcorn, rented a long awaited movie, and created a date night for ourselves.

We have pulled up carpeting (and laughed), rearranged furniture, and turned it into an adventure.

We have looked for all of the loose change in our home and cars and gone on a date with just that and discovered how creative we could really be.

Spending quality time together without the kids- Children are a blessing. Always. But one day our children will grow up and leave us. Will you be left with a stranger or with your best friend?

Growing up, my parents always went away once a year by themselves. Sometimes it was for a weekend, sometimes it was for a week. But they always spent time together without us. And Brian and I have followed suite.

Now, you don’t always have to go away. Having a date night works. If you can’t pull off getting a babysitter,  you can spend time together at home, too. One of my favorite sites for at home date night ideas is the Dating Divas website.

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And because the day after our wedding anniversary is the 13th anniversary of our first date, here is a bonus principle.

Don’t allow friendships to replace the deep relationship that should be shared with your husband- Friendships are valuable. Friendships are important. But don’t ever allow a friendship to replace the relationship you have with your spouse. The relationship you share needs to be protected, cherished, and valued more highly than any other relationship you have.

Confessions of a “Self-Diagnosed” ADD Mom

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Bored and easily distracted… It wasn’t long before I realized my problem and decided to just go ahead and personally diagnose myself.

Let’s just go ahead and say it… I was experiencing an attention deficit disorder when it came to playtime with my son.

Okay, so no, I wasn’t always distracted… I did “try” to play, but I’ll have to admit that when I became bored of playing with cars or couldn’t find my imagination when making conversation with dinosaurs (I don’t know how many times I’ve asked how they’re doing), my mind could easily take me and my attention away from my son and either straight to social media or something else that I might find to be more interesting in that moment….even cleaning up.

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Okay, okay… you need to give a mom some grace, right? (I know what most of you are thinking. “You’re with your little guy 24/7. A mom’s job is never done. You need a mental and emotional break every once in a while, right?”)

While I certainly appreciate the love and support from you all, there was still another side of me that believed things should look differently. (Well…For me, at least.)

Yes, being a mom is a 24/7 job, filled with to-do’s like changing diapers, feeding hungry bellies, cleaning house, and kissing boo-boos. But what I was finding was that the quality of my focus and attention during playtime with my son became diluted if I allowed distractions to freely come as they pleased. Thus, my real priority in that moment- my son- could easily take a back seat to the things that really weren’t that important at all.

Facebook was a good example of that. (Um…. At least for me it had been.) …Which is why I had to delete the app off my phone…

“What?!!! No!!!” You gasp.

Oh…….believe me. It was hard at first… And, no… No  one asked me to do this…

(Now, please don’t misunderstand me… And my wonderful Facebook friends can even tell you…. I AM still on Facebook. However, now in order to access it, I must go onto our office desktop. Yes, my app is gone. And although I can and still do share photos via IOS on my iPhone, I have been extremely intentional in not using my phone to actually view Facebook newsfeeds, comments, messages, “likes”, etc. Our office desktop is now where I must go to do that…making it less convenient for me to access it during a normal weekday, and that ‘s just how I want to keep it.)

This came out of necessity and in some sense out of obedience. Let me explain.

A while back, a phrase came to my mind out of the blue which I believe is something I really needed to hear at that time (and still do)…and that phrase was… “Eliminate distractions”. I honestly believe this was God speaking to my heart, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t begin working on this until about a month ago. Since taking that step, though, I’ve begun to notice that my focus and engagement in the present moment has greatly improved.

You see, over time, I began to notice that social media so easily became a welcomed distraction for me when I either got bored or didn’t feel in the mood to play, and it really wasn’t doing much to help me build quality time with my son. 

It’s kind of sad to think how we as adults are so quick to judge kids and young people these days on their lack of attention in school or their lack of engagement with their families… And yet, when you think about it… Do we as adults even realize the things that are distractions in our own lives, preventing us from focusing on what mattters most? Are we really enjoying the moments? Or is something else occupying our mind and our attention as well?

purposeful-moms-iphone-distraction-social-mediaYou see, just as we, as adults, get “bored” playing with cars or dinosaurs- which may not make much sense to us or be as fun as checking social media- our kids too will face those same kinds of challenges when they are also expected to learn and focus on something new (and maybe not as engaging as their favorite games, toys, or activities).

So, if there’s something I’m learning through this, it’s this… The same expectations I have of my child, should also be the same I have of myself. And furthermore… Being engaged and focused during time with my little guy are gifts that tangibly demonstrate my love for him, especially as I’ve noticed quality time to be one of his primary love languages. (By the way, if you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman, I highly recommend you do.)

No, I’m not saying I have to play with cars and dinosaurs 24/7 or even have the greatest ability to do so. But in this moment… For this 30 minutes of playtime and throughout my day when I know I should be giving him my fullest attention… It’s in these moments that I must remind myself that I am there for someone else- not myself. I am there to be engaged and present in his life… To show love in practical ways by putting myself aside so that he can have joy in this moment.confessions-ADD-mom

And you know what? I’m actually beginning to enjoy my days a whole lot more because of it. It’s funny how even over a brief timespan, you can already begin to see changes happen. And that’s how it is with many things in life. (Sometimes, it takes making a somewhat “hard” decision- in letting go of the familiar and the convenient- to help you begin seeing the results you always wanted but just didn’t know were there for you to have.)

Over just a short amount of time, I’ve really begun to enjoy playing with my son. Not only have I seen myself grow in my “career” as a Mega Block engineer and a fan of Mighty Machines, but even more than that, with God’s help, I’m becoming more creative just in general during playtime.

For me, being a “self-diagnosed” ADD mom is choice… And, while I still have opportunity to grow in this area, I’m finding that as I continue to allow the Lord to work in my heart, and as I continue making the daily choices to focus on what matters most, my days are becoming more filled with God’s peace, rest, and opportunities to tangibly demonstrate love to those closest to me.

And these are the choices that one day, with God’s help, I’ll look back on and be thankful that they weren’t sacrificed for something that was less worthy of my attention.
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