Monday, January 31, 2011

Not to be Served, but to Serve

We live in this little bubble in our nice little house in our middle class suburb with a great group of friends and our usual weekly routine. Safe and sound. And we like it that way. But, over the last two years, I feel God challenging me to step out. As a family, we all felt the call and began to prepare for a family mission trip to India this summer. It was a process where God softened our hearts and placed a desire in the hearts of EACH of the five of us to something NOT safe and sound. We went from hesitant to questioning to surrendering to excitement.

And, we never saw it coming, but then God slammed the door on that trip. I realized how much I'd embraced the idea when I grieved the fact we would not be going after all. But, the end of that plan doesn't have to be the end of a venture out of our bubble. We don't have to go half-way around the world to meet the needs of people. This past Saturday brought just such an opportunity.

Our church has partnered to help with a homeless ministry in south Fort Worth, and I've loved seeing the youth go plug in regularly to assist with worship services and other needs. Not every opportunity is appropriate for us to bring all our children, but this past Saturday we went to help sort donated items. I have to admit that I didn't initially have a great attitude about it when I considered all the other activity of the weekend. But, as I thought and prayed about it, I saw the opportunity for what it was. And, it was a GREAT experience that whet an appetite for more of these opportunities.

It was eye opening for my children to just drive through that certain part of town and realize in a tiny way how big the needs of the world are. We sorted clothes, blankets, toiletries, and shoes. We bagged some items up to be sent to another area ministry, and sorted warm coats by size to be handed out the following day at worship. Honestly, we didn't do much. There is so much more that needs to be done in the world to serve others. But, it was a tiny start. And I think that's just what our family needed--a gentle push out of our comfort zone to get the ball rolling.

INTENTIONAL challenge: As Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life, it's NOT about us. We live in an entitlement culture, and as followers of Christ, we have to make a conscious decision to go against the flow. No one is ever too young or too old to take that first step toward serving others and embracing the idea of looking for opportunities to meet needs. Pack a box of goods for deployed soldiers or needy children. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or a local food pantry. Organize a donation party for Shoes for Orphan Souls or Bear the Burden. Find a short term mission trip for your family. We have to lead by example and get our hands dirty, too. So, what tiny step can you take this next week? Make a plan to serve others and you'll be BLESSED!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Frugal Friday--Avoiding the Eating Out Trap

C'mon, moms. You know the drill. You are wiped out from an exhausting day of mom duty, laundry, errands, cooking, cleaning and on any given day, a wide assortment of things you did not plan to tackle. Eating out is so tempting because if you have to stand in the kitchen on your feet in upright position for one minute more than it will be the death of you. But, it can also be expensive. Today, I want to share with you my top ten easy meals to keep on tap or make in a hurry in order to avoid eating out.

1. Frozen pizza--I know I'm stating the obvious. And, no, this is not a particularly healthy alternative. But sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures. I keep a $4 frozen pizza (whichever brand of self-rising crust variety is on sale) on hand at all times. It's my go-to on those rare occasions we have a babysitter or mom is in bed with a migraine.

2. Skabetty--I know my girl doesn't say it that way anymore, but I couldn't resist. Yes, the old jar of spaghetti sauce and some whole grain pasta. Or, my new and improved version--throw in a bag of frozen turkey meatballs.

3. Red beans and rice with cornbread--As Dave Ramsey says, beans and rice, rice and beans. I keep a ready mix of red beans and rice on tap. Throw in some J.iffy cornbread muffins--maybe even some sausage links, and it's a quick meal.

4. Breakfast? Yep, it's what's for dinner! Fry up some eggs--or scramble them, add in some bacon (I'm totally addicted to the precooked bacon you throw in the microwave), maybe some pancakes, and call it a day. Really, you can throw this together in 10 minutes. For variety, I occasionally fry up some ham with it, or grab refrigerated biscuits to make sausage, egg and cheese biscuits.

5. Grilled chicken salad--This is a summer time favorite around here. I throw a few chicken breasts on the G.eorge F.oreman grill with some teriyaki sauce, and mix together a fast green salad. I can't believe it, but my kids actually love this. And, on a hot Texas summer day, I know I can make this in a flash without turning on the oven or stove.

Okay, the second half of my list requires a little more planning--but not work! These are EASY recipes you can throw together and cook. When you know that your day is booked up completely, your crock pot can be your best friend. These recipes require a 5 minute prep and throw in the oven after school--or throw together in the crock pot in the morning.

6. No peek chicken and rice--Throw 1 cup uncooked regular rice (I use brown) in the bottom of a 13" x 9" pan. Add in some chicken breasts--about 6. Then pour 1 can cream of mushroom soup and 2 cups cold water over that. Sprinkle an envelope of dry onion soup mix. Cover tightly with foil and cook at 375 for 90 minutes.

7. Golden Mushroom chicken--Throw about 4-5 chicken breasts (you can also use pork chops) in a 13" x 9" pan. Add in some baby carrots and quartered potatoes (I even leave the skin on). Pour one can of golden mushroom soup over it all. I add either a half can of water or white cooking wine. Cover with foil and cook at about 350 for about an hour or so.

8. Chicken tacos--Throw some chicken breasts in your crock pot. Add in one can of chicken broth and one envelope of taco seasoning. Cook in crock pot on low for about 6 hours. Cut up the chicken, and place in flour tortillas. Add in some cheese or sour cream or guacamole if you want. Maybe even heat up a can of refried beans. EASY.

9. Sausage soup--I throw in a package of sausage links (beef or pork) into the crock pot. I add in a can of diced tomatoes, a can of whole kernal corn, and a can of black beans. Sometimes I add in a dash of garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook on low all day. Serve over minute rice if desired.

10. 5 Hour Stew--Okay, it's 5 hours to COOK, but only about 5 minutes to make and throw in your crock pot! Add in 2 pounds of stew meat, a handful of baby carrots (are you catching my cooking technique? I learned from my dad....), 1/2 chopped onion IF desired, 2 large potatoes unpeeled and quartered, 1 green pepper cut in strips, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 TBS sugar, 1 TBS salt, and 3 TBS corn starch. Cook on low in crock pot all day. Make it fancy option: I take this as a new baby/sick friend meal with some bread bowls I buy at the grocery store.

INTENTIONAL challenge: We will ALL have hectic days. So, let's just plan for it! Keep some easy, throw together meals on tap. In the time it would take you to go to a restaurant and pick up unhealthy fast food, you can make something fast and easy and healthier at home. Your checkbook will thank you! That's my challenge to you. Now, I'd love be challenged by YOU with some of your favorite, easy, go-to meals?! Please comment below and share the love!

Whooah, We're Half Way There

Yes, folks, it's that time again at our house. Just look at that little dumpling! My toothless wonder hit a milestone today...drum roll, please. Today, she is six AND A HALF! Which means it's party time. For those of you unfamiliar with the crazy antics of my family, half birthdays are reason enough to throw a party.

[Disclaimer: If you have heard this story before, feel free to skip to the end
. Or even move on with your day.]

When my oldest turned six months, I could hardly believe it. I had not seriously maimed him, harmed him, or hurt him. We had survived! For an entire half-year. In my first time mom angst, that was reason enough to celebrate. So half-birthdays happened quite by chance. My MIL and her mother lived near us at the time, so they joined us and my mother for dinner and cake. On a whim, I cut the cake in half and we sang to the oblivious baby boy as he sat on my lap. Somewhere between there and the next half-birthday or two, we began singing half of the birthday song--as in, only the first half of each word. It goes something like this: "Hap Bir ta oo, hap bir ta oo, hap bir de [fill in first half of child's name], hap bir ta oo."

Do we know how to have a good time or what? As our children have gotten older, the tradition has evolved a bit. They get to choose one friend to join us for dinner--and the child's family if possible. And, they get to choose the menu for dinner. This usually entails some explanation as I extend the invitation. "Yes, we'd love to have your family for dinner. We're having hot dogs and cheetos--you know, the usual dinner party fare. " And, no gifts are allowed. After all, this kind of fun doesn't need anything more, right?

INTENTIONAL challenge: So, tonight we celebrate my baby girl turning six AND A HALF! (Yes, she does shout that last part because she's so proud). We're having mac-and-cheese from the box (no other kind will do for her), fruit salad, and spice cake with cream cheese icing AND rainbow sprinkles. I know you are all jealous. This isn't any new tradition at our house, but it's one that I am mindful to continue with full abandon. So, what new tradition can you begin? What reason for celebrating can you embrace--or how can you celebrate for no good reason at all? Make it a Happy Thursday party! Life is full of the mundane--I dare you to break out of the rut and throw a party.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One is Silver and the Other is Gold

"Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." That, my friends, is about the sum of what I gleaned from two years as a Brownie. Oh, that and remembering the creepy drive to the Girl Scout camp on the island of Oahu where we passed the house that belonged to Elvis. We'd wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, then everyone would scream, "LOOK!" just in time for about a ten second look at a tall hilltop. I don't even think we could ACTUALLY see the house--but there was some kind of landmark on the hill.

I was so honored last night to sit in my living room with old friends (as in, I've known you a while now--no comments on age) and new friends, and realizing some of you already knew each other from as far back as high school. We sat together to discuss Six Ways to Keep the 'Little' In your Girl by Dannah Gresh. I just had this moment where I felt such hope knowing that my girl is surrounded by girls whose mothers have the same heart--to see our children choose God's way in a culture that doesn't.

One of the things that struck me the most was when we discussed fostering friendships with other families so that our children are surrounded by Godly influences and other role models. You know, when Mom is not as cool to your child, they might confide in so-and-so's mom who is cool to them. I first thought of the quote about it taking a village, but then I thought better of that. Because, you see, THIS is the body of Christ in action.

We need each other. Plain and simple. I need your wisdom and ideas and support and love. And, I need to move past my pride to let my need be known. I need to show you the same grace and mercy and kindness. We are family, after all--and stuck together FOREVER. Literally. My kids need to see these relationships as examples, to point them toward the type of friendships that will edify and sharpen them and challenge them to choose God's way. Narrow is the way that leads to life, and broad is the path to destruction. But, throw in a few like minded travelers, and the way gets much easier.

INTENTIONAL challenge: I am struck with the challenge to pray more for my children's friendships, particularly over the pain my children feel in the void of friendships at times. We all battle loneliness at times, don't we? I am also challenged to DO MORE to foster friendships with other families who love Jesus so that we can help each other. We are all busy. Fact of life. But, I am telling myself this--if I am TOO busy to connect with others, then I am TOO busy. What will you plan in the next week to help foster friendships? Invite another family over for dinner or a game night or dessert. Plan a play date. Ask another mom to join you for a mother/daughter outing. Take the first step. You might find some gold in your treasure hunt!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Amazed by Grace

Funny. Not as in ha ha, but as in ironic. That I should blog about being transparent, and then end my day so poorly yesterday. It's like I was haunted by own words when I contemplated today's post. And, I knew I couldn't hide the truth of it. The day started well enough, but I completely imploded by the end.

Somewhere between helping a child with homework, an increasing headache, a sick husband, no dinner plan, and laundry list of tasks interrupted every two seconds by a very chatty child...I unraveled. It wasn't pretty. The undoing came on the heels of a child who whined about how nothing looked good for dinner. I let said child know to either allow me fix something or go get something, but please decide. Then it happened. If I wasn't faced with my own demise when child retorted that I shouldn't take out my frustration on them. Touche. I agreed with this statement, and then clarified what I was frustrated about that was the child's responsibility. We both apologized and forgave each other, and ran to grab some dinner. (Note of clarification: I am not generally a short order cook for dinner. One of those weird nights....ya know, I just needed you to know).

As we drove home, the child expressed how sorry they were about the incident. I agreed, and explained that sometimes we feel anger--and we both have to watch how that's expressed. I tried to throw in a quick teaching moment about how anger isn't a sin, but losing our temper is, and it's something I need to work on, too. I still went to bed feeling lousy about it and didn't sleep well at all.

Somewhere in those late night thoughts and sleeplessness, I remembered that God's mercies are new every day. (Lamentations 3:23). I felt challenged again to accept God's grace. I am super hard on myself and God has been challenging me lately to embrace his grace for my shortcomings. I love how Louie Giglio describes it--God is not offended by our humanity. Neither is he surprised by it. I need to have more grace on myself. It will help me to pour love over a multitude of sins--like a whiney child at the end of a hard day. I've come to see that until I can truly accept God's grace for my perfectionistic self, I won't be able to extend it completely.

INTENTIONAL challenge: I struggle to accept God's unmerited favor and mercy for myself. Is there an area of your life where you are having a hard time accepting God's forgiveness? I love the lyrics of Tenth Avenue North's current song: You are more than the choices that you've made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You've been remade. Friend, as I say this to myself--I offer it as a challenge to you, too. What do you wrestle with that you need to allow God to cover with His grace and forgiveness? We need to be released from it!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gen-u-whine Article

At lunch last week with two dear friends, one of them recounted how a neighbor told her she was the "women who had it all together." This seemed to sting a bit for my friend because she strives for authenticity. Enduring a season of loneliness, she wondered if others had some false perception of her that kept them from seeking her out. She hungers to deeply connect with others, with no false pretenses hindering that connection.

This conversation has rung in my mind over and over. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs by Casting Crowns, Stained Glass Masquerade.

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

If we are going to share this time together around this blog, I want to be sure that I am not putting walls around my weaknesses and that I am not living some stained glass masquerade. Being genuine and authentic is very important to me. As I learned at a revival at our church last year, I want to create a home that is HOT. Honest. Open. Transparent.

So, here goes. Hi, my name is Heather, and I am a recovering perfectionist, people pleaser, and worrier. By the grace of God, I have been released from the strongholds of fear and rejection. But, I tend to fret and wrestle issues out with the Lord, striving to surrender them to him, and praying, "I do believe! HELP my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Some old wounds still sting at times, when I read between the lines way too much, and over analyze things. Then, I have to talk myself off the ledge remembering that I am chosen by the God of the universe, and rejection is not my identity. In other words, sometimes the voices in my head talk loudly! And, it's not unusual for me to find myself saying, "STOP BEING SO IMPATIENT!" to my children through clenched teeth. Um, yeah. Do as I say not as I do--doesn't work.

One of my goals with my children is to show them how to cope with those imperfections in themselves AND in others. It's a fact of life that no one is perfect. I work hard to apologize when I mess up with them. I try to relate their struggles to my own so that they never feel the weight of perfectionism. And, I'm sure I fall short a million times over. I do not have it all together. I need the strength of my husband and church family and friends to hold me accountable and keep me going. Nothing thrills me more than finding a safe place to fall where I can let it all hang out.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Don't we all need a safe place to be transparent? Is your home this place? Do you have friendships where you can be H.O.T? What is one step you can take to drop your masquerade with your husband, your children, your friends?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frugal Friday--Say NO before you have to say no

I remember when I was about my son's age (GULP) my dad sat me down for a little heart-to-heart. He offered a few tidbits of wisdom about the coming teen years. Two things stood out to me. First of all, he said that he knew as a teenager I would think my parents didn't know ANYTHING and he was okay with my impending perception about his intelligence. He felt confident I'd come back around and move past my eye rolling, "my parents have no idea" stage. (See how right he was? I am quoting his WISDOM 20+ years later!). The second thing he told me was the best way to avoid temptations was to avoid the situations where I would be tempted. Simple enough, but great wisdom.

In my quest to tighten our financial belt, I have come back to my dad's philosophy. I cannot be tempted to impulse buy an item that I never see. Here's how I am applying this advice. I am tossing out catalogs without looking at them. I am unsubscribing from e-mail sales alerts. I am avoiding even going into a store unless I need to run in for a specific item. Even then, I am working to head straight for that item and avoid browsing. When it comes to our food budget, I am striving to keep some convenience foods, such as frozen pizza or frozen turkey meatballs, for the nights I might be otherwise tempted to eat out. And, for the love of my savings account, I am being ever-so-careful about Target and Hobby Lobby. You know, run in, grab only what's really necessary, make a quick escape and no one gets hurt.

Now, I know, I know--last week I said to take advantage of good deals. I hope I don't sound as though I am contradicting myself. Here's my intention. Know what you REALLY need and the upcoming gift needs and such. Keep your eyes open for those bargains and seize them. But, truly work to seek out what you need and avoid all those other temptations. If you come across a sale, ask yourself--do I need this? If you can't IMMEDIATELY pinpoint a true need, then step away from the sale! Or, better yet, when you have a need, research a great sale--one that you seek out instead of the temptations coming to you.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Evaluate your spending habits. Really take inventory of the temptations you encounter. Do you really need that catalog? If you love their stuff, when you need something you can always get on their website and check their clearance items. You don't HAVE to be tempted to impulse buy. Do you REALLY need that e-mail alert? Apply the same philosophy--if the highlighted sales items aren't things you need, delete it without reading through it all. Avoid "just browsing." It often turns into grabbing just that ONE thing. Today, what are some ways you can choose to say NO before you have to say no?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can't believe he's 12

At 3:31 pm twelve years ago today, my world changed in an instant. A miracle was placed in my arms, and my heart has never been the same since. This was the child I prayed for. This was the pregnancy I was told would never be viable. Just his birth was a milestone. And, there have been nothing but milestones since.

Generally speaking, I've learned it's not healthy to live in the past. But, at times, I believe it's Biblical to take a little visit to the past. In Genesis 8:20, Noah built an altar of remembrance for what God had done for him and his family. In Joshua 4:8, the twelve tribes of Israel each took a rock from the Jordan River to commemorate where they'd been on their journey. In the day-to-day struggles of mothering, I can get bogged down and forget just how far God has brought us.

Who am I, Sovereign Lord,
and what is my family, that you have
brought me THIS FAR?
2 Samuel 7:18

I become all sentimental and retrospective on my children's birthdays. For days, my Collin has tolerated my ramblings about how "this time 12 years ago, I was [fill in the blank]." But, truly, I'd like to celebrate my amazing boy by commemorating some "this far" moments.

* the year of projectile vomiting and all that this involved
* the uncertainty and anguish of being a first time mom
* the endless ear infections and subsequent tube surgeries
* the hearing loss that by the grace of God was reversed with tubes
* the opinions of others that I learned to tune out in favor of the truth about my guy
* the tender heart of a child broken by the grief of those he loves
* the crazy toddler antics--one in particular which I will not disclose
* the big move that nearly broke his heart (yes, the 1/2 mile move!)
* the decision of this boy to turn his life over to the Lord
* the joy of seeing a young man blossoming where my little boy once stood

INTENTIONAL challenge: It doesn't have to be your child's birthday to stop and remember how FAR God has brought your family. Mothering is an up and down journey where the days can go slowly and the years can fly. Take a moment to look through baby pictures or a baby scrapbook. Pray that God can help you remember all the ways He's shown his grace and faithfulness along the way. What "THIS FAR" moments can you celebrate today? (WARNING: KEEP A KLEENEX HANDY!)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Have a Dream--Part Two

One of the things I most admire about MLK is that he dared to dream. I know, I know...that's stating the obvious given the title of one of his most famous speeches. But, bear with me. I admire that Martin Luther King Junior was so bold as to believe that our God is in the business of the seemingly impossible. Even more daring, he trusted that God could use him even in the face of such opposition. I love that Martin Luther King Junior dared to dream big dreams with his God, and then stepped out in faith toward those dreams.

When was the last time you sat in a quiet place, alone with the Lord, and dared to dream big with Him? When was the last time you confided in Him the big huge things you dream about, and then dared to surrender to the "immeasurably more than you could ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20) that God might have planned for you and through you?

When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I struggled through my lisp and speech impediment to say an author and an illustrator. This is still my dream. But, only God could have brought me to a point where I now dream of speaking publicly along with those childhood dreams of writing. Oh, I have some big things in mind. With my imagination, I can picture all sorts of things. At the end of the day, I pray I can submit my dreams to the Lord's plans for me, and trust that He can dream even bigger than I can.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Stop and dream a bit about how God might use your talents, skills, gifts, time and dreams for His fame. Don't box yourself in--dream big and WILD. Sit with your spouse and dream together for your family, your marriage and your future. And, sit with your kids and ask them what their dreams are. Have your little ones draw pictures of their dreams and your bigger ones write them out (or bullet point them if yours aren't that fond of writing like one of mine). Create a dream poster with your family's dreams or journal these dreams. Remind your children that nothing is impossible with God. In what ways today will you dare to dream with our God whose specialty is the impossible?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have a Dream--Part One

Traditions are big to me. I like how they give a sense of connectedness and identity for our family. We have traditions galore--even for Martin Luther King Junior day. Chris and I both deeply admire MLK, and want our kids to appreciate who he was and what he worked so hard to achieve. So, every MLK day, we watch his "I Have a Dream" speech with our children.

We have been deliberate to talk about the way things were and what MLK was all about--because we want our children to appreciate how far we've come. Understanding the mistakes of our past will help us avoid making them again. Martin Luther King Junior died the year my sister was born. In that short span of time, much has changed. No, we aren't perfect yet, and yes, we have far to go. But, I love that my children find segregation unimaginable, and in their own words, "That's just stupid! Why would anyone ever make some people use a different water fountain?"

I grew up as an Army brat on Army bases with people of all races and nationalities. More importantly, I grew up in a family where my parents truly did teach me that a person's character was important--not their skin color. I'm not saying that I have it all together. I am saying that I was raised with an appreciation for all people and an intolerance for bigotry.

The values that we teach our children are integrally tied to our history. My children have two uncles, two grandfathers, and two great-grandfathers who served in our military. These men served in World War II, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and in search and recovery at the Pentagon after 9/11. I don't want to shy away from these topics--as hard as they might be. My children have much to gain by understanding who these people are--even those they have never met. I love to help my kids know my dad by telling them funny stories about him, or things I admired about him. I feel that my kids need to know about great men and women of history--both in our family history and in our country's history. We can shape our children's world view beginning at home, in small ways, through shared history and conversation.

INTENTIONAL challenge: I'd venture to guess that you have family members that your children never met who can still serve as inspiring examples. What personal stories can you seek to share? On a larger scale, what people in history do you admire? Have you explained their significance to our country and our world to your children? Today, what is one way that you can help your children appreciate the heritage they've been given through your family, through our country's history, and in our world?

Monday, January 17, 2011


I'm sure every one of you have Mommyisms that your mom quoted to you so many times that you thought you'd scream if you heard it one more time. You know--the infamous, "Because I said so," or how about, "if so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" I've made it my life goal to add to that list with creative twists for my own children. Some of my classic lines include "Well, I am not so-and-so's mom, I'm your mom so that's my rule for you." Then there's "disobedience brings discipline, obedience brings blessing." And, these days, I seem to find myself saying, "choose to respond instead of reacting."

When sibling rivalry rears its ugly head, I see my kids reacting to each other instead of thoughtfully responding to find a solution. And, as I've prayerfully considered being more intentional, a very humbling revelation has struck me. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I believe this issue falls under the category of being the person I want my children to be.

Like an out of body experience, I've seen myself reacting to the kids instead of responding. I've realized this typically happens when I'm in the middle of something and get interrupted. Or when I'm tired or hungry. I've tried to pay more attention to my triggers. And stopping to take a deep breath or say a quick prayer doesn't hurt either. Neither does remembering that calmly responding with some problem solving approach or expression of concern completely deflates the tension. For instance, the other day one of my darlings had ignored repeated requests to stop making rude sounds. It was in the middle of another morning fire drill, trying to get the kids off to school. I was my usual non-morning-person self. Just as I was about to snap, I caught myself. I took a deep breath, and then told the offender that when he made those loud sounds, I felt stressed. I reminded him to choose obedience the first time, and please understand how his choices impacted others. He APOLOGIZED sincerely and stopped. IT WORKED!

INTENTIONAL challenge: One truth that God is repeatedly driving home to me these days is that I set the tone in my house. I can take the easy way and be lazy, rolling with my selfish nature and reacting to the children. Or, I can deliberately choose obedience and receive a blessing. I may even begin to belt out an Aretha-like rendition of, "R-E-S-P-O-N-D!" Today, will you pay more attention to the tone you set with your children?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Frugal Friday--Carpe Diem

I am a blog stalker. For the purposes of craft lifting, nothing says relaxing to me like watching mindless television and cruising through some inspiring craft blogs. And, after I get my kids sent off to school, I like to start my day with a cup of coffee and a little Big Mama. Oh my word! You really should check her out. One thing I've noticed (and admired) about some bloggers is their cute little theme days. It makes them seem so official. So, I decided to go for it, and try out the idea of Frugal Fridays with the intent of sharing some money-saving tips.

So, I'd love it if all three of you who occasionally read my blog would join me on Fridays to learn some ways to be better stewards of your resources. Maybe you can squeeze me in after you read Big Mama and One Pretty Thing?

Here's today's thought. CARPE DIEM! Y'all, didn't you just LOVE Dead Poet's Society? (Am I totally dating myself?). Who knew Robin Williams could venture beyond silliness? Anyway--back on track here. I LOVE to give gifts. Nothing thrills me like finding or making something for someone to show them that they matter. If only my budget could keep up with my desires. But, I have stumbled on some ways to make that all work together, and one goal I have for 2011 is to really seize the day. This week, I have successfully snagged some amazing deals on gifts for this year--including some Christmas gifts.

My dear friend, Rebekah, shared a code with me to grab some digital photo books for $4.19! REALLY! And, dad gum it, despite my entire project being lost, my uploaded photos disappearing and all other manners of obstacles, that new website did NOT defeat me! I haven't gotten them yet, but I'm really excited to have some Mother's Day and Father's Day gifts on their way. I also scored some fabulous deals while catching a little of the Today Show on Tuesday. Never knew they had Steals and Deals where retailers offer huge deals to viewers. And, for the sake of scrap booking, I was able to get 99 photo prints for $0.99. Here is one of my favorite websites to find the codes for bargains such as these.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Whatever it is that you enjoy or need, with a little patience and planning, you can enjoy them on a limited budget. The key is to CARPE DIEM! Embrace delayed gratification until you find a great sale or secret savings code--and then take full advantage of it and stock up. This is something I want to do better with this year. What efforts will you make to stretch your dollar by taking advantage of a great sale?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Digging for the Dirt

I vividly remember my oldest child's first day of kindergarten. I could hardly believe my boy would be away from me for 6 hours a day, under someone else's care. The fact that I had a three week old baby didn't help--raging hormones only added to my angst and emotions. Thankfully, that first Kindergarten week was only half-days in order to ease the transition. I'm sure it was good for my son, too.

So, at lunch time--three WHOLE hours of Collin's life without me--we eagerly picked him up for a special meal at his beloved Burger Box. I peppered Collin with questions about his first day. Who did he meet? What did he do? How did he like his teacher? How did it feel to be such a big boy? Did he learn anything new? Collin stared at me like I'd grown a second head. He nodded, muttered "I don't know" or grunted in response to each question.

My heart was broken. I faced the harsh reality that I would no longer be so aware of Collin's daily activities. My long suffering husband patiently told me, "Babe, you have two sons. Don't expect to know all the details. Boys don't give details." Gulp.

In my never ending quest for information, I've realized I need to dig for the dirt because these boys will not offer it willingly. In my quest, I've come across a little secret technique. And no, it does not involve shining a bright light down on their faces whilst they sit tied to a chair. While it does not fall under the category of INTENTIONALITY efforts new in 2011, I thought my secret was worth sharing. (Not to mention that in my constant search for craft ideas, I stumbled across something that inspired this blog post).

Several years ago, after watching the movie The Story of Us, Chris and I adopted the family tradition of asking about the best part of each family member's day. When we're feeling brave, we also ask about the worst part. We don't do this every night at the dinner table, but it is something we do regularly. While my boys may not be forthcoming about all details of their lives, they usually do share some insightful snippet in response to these questions. We've gleaned insight about bullying, friendships, worries and successes. And, on a particularly challenging day or after a difficult experience, we often ask our kids to find a best part, thereby coaching them to practice being thankful in everything.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Perhaps you want to incorporate a similar idea into your family's routine. Here's an idea for you--go to this blog for a GREAT tool to help you look for the best in each day and thereby dig out the dirt in your kids' lives. Personally, I might craft lift this for a gift idea? I'm afraid that if I keep making notebooks, lists, and other such things for our family then my children might rebel--and every mama can only do so much! Regardless of whether you do this craft or not, what conversation starters can you begin to incorporate into your daily dialogue to show your concern and to connect with your family?

Wait a Minute Mr. Postman...

I remember how badly it smelled at the nursing home where I visited my great grandmother. Unfortunately, by the time I came along, she was bedridden with dementia issues. These are my only memories of any great-grandparent, forever documented in the picture of my sister and I in matching polyester short sets with our pixie (and I do mean SHORT) haircuts. Lovely.

You always want better for your children, and thank the Lord, my kids are blessed to have three great-grandmothers. One still hikes, quilts, volunteers and exhausts me with her social calendar. On our last visit with her, we played around on some cow statues--and she herself climbed on one just to prove she could. I don't remember her exact age (mid80's), but she calls herself "sorta antique-y."

Another is 93, and many of you have heard of the world famous Mamaw. She is spunky and independent, and a real go-getter as well, despite some recent issues with memory. The third great-grandmother is actually someone they've never met in person, but who is faithful to send birthday cards (YES! WITH cash!), as well as cards for all types of occasions in between.

I always INTEND to do better about staying in touch with these amazing ladies, but snail mail is not something I do well. I know all three sweet women struggle with loneliness after the many losses they've endured. Despite my best of intentions, I always get side tracked with other tasks. If I'm going to be INTENTIONAL, I need to invest more in the lives of these women who've given us such a great legacy.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Time to do something about this. It's too important to ignore any longer. So, yesterday, I printed up address labels for envelopes to each of the great-grandmothers, and slapped on our return address labels. I put a few envelopes for each lady on a huge binder clip, and you know me-had to add a little crafty touch. Then, I put the clip on a hook at the bottom of our prayer board in the kitchen. Now, when I sort through the children's endless papers and art work, I can grab an envelope, throw in some art work, and jot a quick note. Voila! I hope to send a note weekly, rotating great grandmothers so they each receive a little something once every three weeks. Since I've done a tiny bit of prep, I can surely manage the 10 minutes it would take to let the great-grandmothers hear from us more regularly. I also hope this will also help my children to cherish their elders and feel more connected to them. SO, what little step will you take to ensure you are staying in touch with someone who needs to hear from you and feel your love and concern?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The [family] Notebook

When I was in that pregnancy/newborn/infant season of mothering, I was blessed to sit under the teaching of my amazing friend, Karen, through several Bible studies. ALL these years later (because we all know this is the year of the big 4-0 for me), I still find my mind going back to truths and encouragements that Karen shared. That's a true sign of great influence. Particularly because, going back to the 4-0 thing, my memory ain't what it used to be.

One of the things that Karen shared was how her school day mornings were like a fire drill. She described how hectic and frazzled it could be to feed, dress, pack lunches and accomplish all other superhuman feats in efforts to send her three children off to school on time. I found great encouragement in this description as I imagined my future because if "seems to have it all together" Karen struggled in the morning, then surely I could have grace on my future school-age mommy self.

Now that I'm there, I often think of the how Karen described HER mornings during this season. I would love to start our day by sitting all around the breakfast table and indulge in an in-depth daily devotion. Except for two things. None of us are morning people so my children aren't ready for this first thing in the morning. And, we always seem to be racing the clock. So, I'm finding myself falling back on Karen's idea for setting our minds on things above as we start our day--the family notebook.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Here's how it works. I bought a little notebook, and each evening (or first thing in the morning) I write out a verse relevant to something we are wrestling with or working on. I put the notebook on the breakfast table with a pen, and each family member writes out their prayer requests for the day. Or, mama helps those who are still learning to write. You'd be amazed what I glean about my children through what they feel comfortable writing out. Especially my boys who answer my constant search for details with one syllable answers. So, what little step will you take daily to focus your family on the Lord?

Monday, January 10, 2011

As a Last Resort

I can get stressed. Okay, okay--sometimes I really just need to be talked off the ledge. (Please, Chris Enright--do not post any comment below!) Truth be told, though, it's nothing short of a miracle with how God has worked to release me from the chains of anxiety. My current status with worry ain't nothing like it used to be. For many years, fear just plain bound me up and ruled my life. I've come a long way, baby--by the grace of God.

In those years, I managed to perfect "envisioning worst case scenario" to an art form. I do borrowing trouble really well. This past weekend included some activities that could lean toward stressful. And, I found myself picturing how bad it could become. My mind was racing toward all sorts of potential issues. And, my head started to throb. I felt my pulse and heart racing. I gave into it for a few minutes and then a thought came to mind.

After stressing and venting, as a last resort, I could pray. I could have kicked myself. Why do I, all too often, turn to prayer as a LAST resort? It should be my FIRST response. I took a deep breath and prayed for wisdom. My mind immediately turned to a sermon from family camp in August 2009. The speaker talked about 2 Corinthians 12:9 and how we need to see our weaknesses not as a problem but rather as an opportunity. Our weaknesses are an opportunity for God to show up and to work. In those moments of weakness, we need only to cry out, "I am weak with [fill in the blank]. God, please show up here!" So, that's exactly what I did, then I sat back to see how He would show himself. For the record--the day could not have turned out better!

INTENTIONAL challenge: We all have areas in our life that cause us to feel stressed and anxious. We can choose to go down that path--or we can choose to turn instead in prayer and say, "Lord, I am weak here. Just show up!" Then, sit back and wait for Him to do just that--show up in ways we can't even imagine. With what particular struggle today will you choose to turn to Him about--not as a last resort, but as a first plan of action?

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Sweet Lil Dumpling

Part of the beauty of writing a blog is that I have a public forum to brag about my amazing family. (Another part of the beauty of a blog is that you don't even have to feign interest--you can just skip to the bottom if you want to read the intentional challenge of the day).

Of course, all three of my children are brilliant! My middle son recently showed off his brilliance through his mad spelling skills. Yes, friends, he was one of only 17 children who qualified for the school spelling bee! And, one of only 5 fourth graders. Just in case you were wondering the specifics of his feat.

So, we have been making flash cards, creating word walls, and doing all we can to encourage him in his impending endeavor. Since today was the big day, I was trying to think of how to make him feel special and to calm his nerves yesterday. You know, it doesn't have to be complicated. Showing that it's the thought that counts REALLY is in the little things. I decided that last night's dinner menu would be per his request--just like we do on our children's birthdays and half-birthdays (half-birthdays--that's a blog post waiting to be written).

I knew before I even asked what his answer would be. But, I went ahead and asked because I wanted him to know that it was all about him the night before his Spelling Bee Debut. Of course, the boy wanted the family favorite chicken and dumplings. A little labor intensive, but worth the beaming smile on his face.

INTENTIONAL challenge: When someone knows your favorite movie, candy, television show or meal, doesn't it make you feel loved? It's these little things that make a difference because someone knows you THAT well. It's picking up your child from school with his or her favorite Sonic drink or grabbing your husband's favorite candy. So, what preference of your loved one will you accommodate today?

P.S. For those inquiring minds: my guy was the only fourth grader to make it past the first round of the spelling bee! Whew--I think I was sweating more than those poor elementary kids. But, so proud of him for his accomplishments and effort.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Go With it

Um, yeah. That's a little ridiculous. Yes, folks, that sure does say 21 WEEKS--not 21 days. At Christmas, we were shocked to receive an unbelievable gift--a Disney cruise, followed by a quick stay with Orlando based friends to hit the park. And, no, I don't generally spend my days creating crafts to count down an event nearly a half-year away. It's the tyranny of the urgent around here for me.

But, my sweet girlie girl was DYING to make this. Apparently, I set a dangerous precedent back in 2008 when I created a countdown to help my youngest mark the days until a big family vacation. My persistent princess has been begging me for over two weeks to make a Disney countdown. With hosting Christmas, visiting family, doing laundry, having migraines, getting the kids ready to go back to school, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, finishing tasks for my contract job--and did I mention laundry?--making a countdown for a trip five months away has just not been on my radar.

When Caris woke up yesterday with only low grade fever and lots of energy, I somehow knew her hounding would reach peak levels regarding this countdown. With my focus on being more intentional, I realized this was an opportunity to do what I wouldn't normally do. I set my agenda and tasks aside and met my daughter's request. I'd like to be the kind of mom who can do that more often AND without having to think about it and work at it. Honestly, it just doesn't come naturally to me. I have to admit, however, that Caris and I had a great time cutting, pasting, and Cricuting (is that a verb?). The real reward, though, was how happy she was to have my full attention and how proud she was to show her brothers and dad what we accomplished together.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Maybe your child or spouse or friend will ask you today to do something that is not on your agenda. Perhaps you'll be asked to play a game or read a book at a most inopportune time. And, like most days, you probably have so much to do you can't fathom setting your tasks aside. But, what request will you be willing to accommodate today--even if only for a few minutes of your day?

Last Man Standing

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything."
Alexander Hamilton

True confession time. I am not perfect. I know! GASP. And, neither is my family. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would cringe if someone witnessed those private and not-so-proud moments in our homes. Take Christmas Eve for example. I really had made a plan to make it a fun day. And, like most days, some tasks were in order along with the fun. This, however, did not go over well. There was whining, fussing and bickering. Not to mention the kids' behavior.

So, my man and I set the children down for a little come to Jesus meeting. We expressed our displeasure about the attitudes--including our own. We talked about the need for teamwork, and we clearly explained some impending consequences if everyone didn't man up. Then, in a rare flash of brilliance, I started a discussion on what kind of home environment we each desired. I asked every family member to use one word to describe how they wanted our home to FEEL to them. We talked about keeping those words in mind and being deliberate to create THAT kind of home. You know--standing up for THOSE things as our standard, instead of falling down the slippery slope of all kinds of foolishness and mayhem.

I wish I could say that since that conversation, we've experienced some sort of nirvana. But, at least we've more clearly defined some goals to help guide us when we misstep.

INTENTIONAL challenge: Take 10 minutes at bedtime or dinner or breakfast or in the car (you get the idea) to have a similar conversation with your family. Ask for each family member to give one word to describe how they'd like your home and family to be. Then, figure out a way to post these ideas as a visual reminder. Something like this.

So, what family and personal values will you determine you stand for?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Just What are Your Intentions?!

Intentional day #4. ROAD BUMP. Well, that didn't take long. Allow me to sum it up.

Many are the plans in a man's heart
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21

As in, I had my day all planned out, including some ideas about being intentional. However , the Lord's apparent purpose for me today has been to take care of my sick baby girl, including a visit to the doctor and pharmacy.

This, I believe, sums up the reality and truth about living with intention. You see, I can have the best of intentions and really great (even God honoring) plans. But, the Lord has a bigger purpose. And that, my friend, is what living INTENTIONALLY is really all about--submitting to and embracing God's bigger purpose. Every day. In the little detours, as well as those much bigger and more difficult life changing detours. No exception. Even when you lose someone too early. Even when your finances take a hit. Even when doors close on some really big plan (like say, for instance, a family mission trip to India). INTENTIONAL means being deliberate to choose to believe Him about who He is and to follow even when plans and hopes have been dashed.

Now, I have to admit that my plans for today were not all that important in the big scheme of things. But, I am happy to report that somewhere between Dora, Diego and Barbie's Fashion Fairytale, I did manage to pull off my intentional challenge for the day.

INTENTIONAL challenge: In this season of my life, my most important mission is to steer my kids toward Jesus. I often struggle with just how to accomplish this. So, in my sleepless pondering night before last, this idea came to me.

Those are Christmas cards we've just received. I put them on a ring clip, and attached them to the bottom of our chalkboard prayer board. Every day, we will pray at the dinner table for the family who sent us the card for that day. And, hopefully--I'll remember to e-mail, call, or FB message the family to let them know they've been prayed for. What little habit will you begin toward growing your family spiritually?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Word on the Street

I'm so over New Year's resolutions. Stealing an idea from my friend Nicki, I started going with a word for the year. As each year winds down, she prayerfully considers her word for the next year. One year it was freedom as she worked through Beth Moore's Breaking Free. So, last year my word was EMBRACE. As in, embrace the season of life that I'm in. Embrace certain people in my life--who they are and what they are able to bring to the table. Embrace His grace (BTW--still wrestling through this as I expect so much from myself).

Drum roll...I kept landing on the word INTENTIONAL for 2011. Gotta be honest--this scares me. I am an achiever and have the best of intentions. When these intentions are not carried out, I tend to get down on myself. But, I think INTENTIONAL means that I strive to live with more purpose, heading in the right direction. To be more INTENTIONAL with my time, energy, and resources. To be more deliberate in these all too fleeting years of mothering. To be more purposeful in my role as a wife instead of giving my beloved the leftovers of myself. Maybe I even quit being a letter thinker--and actually write that thoughtful note.

With a recent bout of insomnia, I've had hours at night to contemplate what INTENTIONAL means and how to go about this. So, here's what I'm intending to do. In little daily ways, I will challenge myself daily to do something with intention. You blog friends will be my source of accountability as I post about my progress in the year ahead.

Day One INTENTIONAL challenge: I spent New Year's day scrap booking with a friend. Scrap booking is my creative outlet and very therapeutic for me. I can dwell on great memories of my three little darlings instead of being stuck on the challenges of mothering. Plus, scrap booking with a friend meant that I also fed my soul and need for connection. What hobby will you be INTENTIONAL to make time for?

Day Two INTENTIONAL challenge: I've always been a collector. Seems like I often clutter my brain by collecting new ideas. I hear about some fabulous way someone runs with an idea, or I see some tip or recipe in a magazine. And, if you know me at all--you know I clutter my brain with craft lifting ideas. One such idea was to start a book club for a fabulous parenting book. A college friend and sorority sister posted on FB about doing this in Chicago. I commented about how I wish I didn't live so far away. She challenged me to do the same in my area. SO, on January 2, I created the FB event and sent out the invitations for this book club. Easy peasy. What great idea will you be INTENTIONAL to see to fruition today?

And, BTW--despite only three hours of sleep, I was INTENTIONAL to get up today with my kids and see them back to school even though my man offered to handle it. I've got another thought for this third of January--hatched at about 2 am. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post!