Happy Thanksgiving!

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Just wanted to post some pretty pictures and wish my readers a Happy Thanksgiving!  We’ve been pretty busy… lots of baking, decorating, and going to the park nearby to see lights each night!  And just dwelling on the gratitude of all our blessings.

I love this time of year.  I actually enjoy the wildness of it all.

Today we had some of my older son’s friends come over – the house was full of boys running around like crazy 😀 playing loud music in our “music station” of our game room, being silly and dancing around the house ❤

I baked cookies and set the boys all up to decorate some to take home when they got picked up.

It was SO. MUCH. FUN. ❤

I don’t think I’m ever happier than when our house is full of people – or kids – especially crazy boys 🙂  Makes my heart warm seeing them have so much fun.

 

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It’s been so beautiful here lately, and with perfect weather – and just cold enough at night to warrant hot chocolate drinks!  😀

Same scene as above, but this is what we’ve been seeing every night we’ve been able to go:

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The Christmas trees are suspended above a lake to look like they’re floating on top of the water.  Just amazing to see in person!  I tried to get a good pic.

So romantic, and so magical ❤

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Like a winter wonderland. 😀

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I love this time of year… focusing on what we’re thankful for, seeing family and friends and lots and lots of cooking and baking!  It’s hard to imagine a happier time ❤

Hope all you readers have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Staying Focus: Having Joy in Spite Of

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I feel like I’ve learned so many little lessons from not only this Joy study itself, but the many different things in my life during this time.  It’s amazing to experience God’s peace and joy, even in the midst of things that would seem negative, things that normally would rob one of joy or happiness or peace.

This week, we’ve been learning how to practice having joy in spite of difficult or less than desirable circumstances.  This journey over the past few months has truly grown me and stretched me, to where I’m not even the same person I was a few months ago.  I’ve heard so many messages now on what God was pressing on my heart – Staying Focus – and so many gifts of wisdom from people in my life on how to respond in better, more Christ-like ways to attacks and accusations.

I don’t retaliate anymore when I’m tempted to.  I don’t try to fight back in ways that only make matters worse.  I don’t give in to feeling ashamed when Satan uses people to bring up my past failures, things I’ve already apologized for and reconciled with them about.  I know God’s used my past failures to help me learn how to respond better in my life, and that I’m fully covered in His grace.  There is no more condemnation for my past failings.  And I know how to spot Satan’s attempts at stealing my joy – they don’t even work anymore – when he tries to condemn me for things I’ve already been forgiven for.  I know I’m covered in God’s grace, and feel no condemnation!  I still have joy 🙂

Now I actually celebrate and am actually a little excited to see insults and slander, not because of it or the pain it does cause me, but because I have the renewed chance to respond the right way this time.  To do things right.  Even last night, I decided to pray for someone that was obviously acting without self-control… again, and trying to cause harm by what she thought was a good plan at retaliation at feeling wronged.  It was exciting for me to know and decide right then at that moment, that I would not retaliate, and that I would pass that test God was giving me to learn how to deal better with sinful people.

I decided not to retaliate with insults or accusations of her past wrongs, or attacks like the last time I failed this test.  I decided I was going to forgive her, again, pray for her, and thank God for what she was doing and saying.  Sometimes we have to forgive people multiple times because they keep allowing Satan to use them.  But my reaction last night, is a far cry from what I would have done just a few months ago.  And that’s amazing!

It’s something to celebrate!  So I’m celebrating this week, for doing something I never would have been able to do with such grace this time last year.  I’m celebrating for the progress and maturity this means for me.  I’m celebrating because in passing this test, I’ll be able to move to the next level with God and be ready for whatever He has for me there.

So be encouraged readers!!  Have joy – joy in spite of.

Protect Your Rest – Protect Your Family

Last week, one of the leaders in our Bible study sat at my table, she listened as we went over our homework and talked about the ideas or thoughts we had regarding it.  When it came time for her to speak at our table, she let us in on something she thought we should really know:

She said she wished she had spent more time playing on the floor with her kids, had had dinner more often at the table, rather than spend so much time driving around town getting to their activities.  She said she was always in the car, the kids ate their fast food dinners in it as they drove to the next big thing.  And now, as she’s looking back and her kids are much older, she wishes she had lived this part of her life differently.

She wishes she had spent more time actually present with her children, rather than merely with them.

Regret.

I had this sense of despair listening to her story… none of us want to have regret like that, especially in how we raised our children!  But how can we keep from having the busyness of life suck out our time together as a family, appreciating each other?

Rest.

Rest is the antithesis of Busyness.  We need to protect our rest.  We need to have boundaries against how much we are pulled away from our family.  We need to guard our serenity inside our homes.  We need to stop getting our kids so insanely involved in every activity under the sun so that they’re exhausted – just exhausted – both physically as well as mentally drained.

We need to let go of any guilt we feel about our kids not being involved in everything, and embrace just one or two activities that won’t take over and steal the joy we have when we are able to rest with our children.

Peace is the opposite of Anxiety.

How many moms and dads need some more peace?  If you’re buying into this lie that we need to be as busy as possible, eat dinner in our cars most nights, spend every waking hour chasing something that we’re not even seeing an end to, then let’s come together and think seriously if this is what we want to be doing with our time.  We only have our kids for a certain amount of time, and from what everyone tells me, it goes by way too fast!

Living our lives running everywhere, never stopping for a break, never really getting to ENJOY our kids or life together, feels like living the life of a slave.  A slave to a life we think we need to have or achieve.

But God came so that we could have life, and live it abundantly!  Living abundantly doesn’t mean fast food dinners and regretting that we didn’t see our kids more – really SEE them.

His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.  We are not slaves of this world, or at least, we don’t have to live as though we are.  We have freedom in Christ.

There’s freedom when you protect your rest – freedom to breathe, freedom to sit down as a family around your dinner table and enjoy for food for once!

Before we had kids, in fact, when we were pregnant with our first, my husband and I promised to each other that we would not over-involve our kids, and that we would always try to have dinner around the table with them.

Even with my son going to his sport’s practice 3 nights a week (excessive for us), we still have 3 hours together to play, relax, do homework, relax some more, and then eat dinner at the table before heading out to practice.  In that order.  Protecting your family’s rest will look different for each family, though.  A major factor of why we aren’t stressed even though we’re going out 3 nights a week to a field to practice, is because I’m able to be a SAHM and our children don’t have to wait for me to get off work. We can make sure our family has enough rest by altering our life or the activities we let them be involved in to ensure it.

You can’t give something you don’t have.  If you aren’t guarding your own peace and rest, how will you teach your children to?

I have those 3 extra hours that allows for my son to play, relax, do his homework in an unrushed manner, relax some more on the couch, then eat his dinner.  A working mother does not have that luxury, so a program that involves 3 nights of practice a week might not be what her family needs.  Protecting your rest will look different depending on how over-extended or busy you may already be.

But let’s not live our life with regret.  Our leader was a working mom, and she still admitted that there were times when she should have played more with her kids on the floor, or eaten with them at the table – so don’t use your career as an excuse for not spending enough time being really present with them.

Let’s show our kids how much we value them, and guard our family’s peace, protect our family’s rest.

Water Fights & Breezy Days

My grandpa’s dementia is progressing.  When we go to see him, and we are still trying to weekly, I never feel like it is enough.  A couple of hours pass by too fast, whether it’s reading to him, talking to him about things, or singing to him, it just all goes by too fast, and it sucks that I only see him once a week.  I’ve thought of making it twice a week, and for the second visit just to drop by to see how he is and say hi.  At least keeping him apart of our life is somewhat doable, but he also misses so much of it.

He was such an incredible man.  He and my grandma took care of me when my mom went back to work when I was 6 weeks old.  I still have the strongest affections for scrambled eggs and sausage, the way he would make it, and my grandma’s particular toast with butter & strawberry jam.  The tastes of those foods immediately remind me of the joy I spent being raised by them.  My grandpa was crazy!  So fun and unpredictable – wild for a grandpa, honestly.  This last Friday when I took my sons to see him we teased him about all his tattoos… he’s still proud of them.  He was a sailor in the Navy after the time of WWII, and his tattoos are an ever present reminder of a past we can only imagine from his animate stories and pictures from when he was younger.  He was so handsome – so uninhibited and funny.  The tattoos still visible on his forearms and upper arm, go so well with his personality and masculinity, even as an 87 year old.  He was one of my favorite people growing up.  It’s hard to see him deteriorate in front of me, like watching a beautiful disaster that one can’t prevent, and yet, he tells me he looks forward to Heaven and gets this excited, boyish gleam in his eyes talking about it.  Sometimes he forgets who I am, but I love how he smiles so satisfied when he finds out I’m his grand-daugher, and that these kids are his great-grandkids.  He smiles, tears up sometimes holding the baby, or laughs his sweet laugh that I miss so much when my son does something comedic.

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This weekend has been full of love and family, spending time together, playing outside together – going on adventures.  Water guns, water fights, baseball and soccer, deep conversations with my dad, seeing my mom cuddle the baby, my dad playing catch with my older son in our backyard.  The beautiful weather we’re having.  It’s just a time of a lot of fullness.  There’s always something to do, always another thing to attend, always a party, always something to clean, or cook, but I love it!  I love embracing the fullness of our life right now.  We are so busy, and yet so happy.  It makes me incredibly grateful for the quiet moments.  My oldest out playing in the sunshine, wearing a king’s crown and wielding a super-soaker, the baby swaddled and sleeping peacefully on his play-mat in the living room.  And me at the kitchen table, drinking an afternoon cup of coffee surrounded by an ambiance of peace.  Such a beautiful place to be in.  Such a beautiful, wonderful life.

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My brother with my son

My brother with my son

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He has my eyes!!!

He has my eyes!!!

Breathe: Finding Peace in Trusting God… & Resisting the Urge to Continue

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1919 Train-wreck Head-on Collision

Its amazing how when I take these studies I’m never quite prepared for how much I’m going to learn, and how applicable it will be to my life and the very things I need to grow in.  This past week (week 2), I’ve been learning from Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe Bible study about what our out of control areas really say about us.  What does it mean when we’ve been packing our schedules too full, or obsessing over something we’ve lost in our life, or shopping when we really need to be saving, or arguing continually on social media?  What does it really mean when we feel like we just have to do this?  When we feel like we must say our piece to someone?

When we feel like we just can’t resist the urge to continue?

Priscilla talked about how the Israelites, after God had brought them out of slavery, were still stuck in a slave’s mentality.  They couldn’t grasp the blessings God had in mind for them, if they would only slow down… and stop.  Being slaves, they were never afforded the luxury of taking a Sabbath, of resting or resisting work that could be done.  They were solely, SOLEY measured by their productivity, and were punished harshly – sometimes even killed – for their not being enough.

Not being enough.  To me, that phrase has come to the surface as I’ve been studying this topic the past week.  I often feel like I just can’t resist the urge to continue, because I feel the need to prove to someone or myself that I’m enough.

This last week, I had an experience that proved this fault in me undoubtedly.  I posted one of my Marriage & Sex articles in an online forum that was talking a little about the topic I had covered in my article.  One man in the forum started to get angry and began attacking me personally… my blog, my looks (I wasn’t pretty enough), my husband (he wasn’t alpha enough), our “shitty life” (it didn’t look “un-shitty” enough I suppose), and almost anything else you could think of.  He insulted me up and down, called me several times a whore, a shit, and possibly other things I’ve forgotten.

I was amazed at my reaction… this has happened before… and I’ve usually reacted very harsh and have gotten myself dragged down into the mud with this type of person, in a sort of battle to the death.  I usually feel compelled to argue to them my worth – instead of trusting in what God says about me, instead of believing that He is the only one I answer to, and who ultimately holds the verdict on my life.  Before, I’ve honestly wondered (after the fact) why on earth I felt so compelled to argue with them, I knew deep down there was no way to convince them of who I really was, so why the URGE to continue?

Now I understand, instead of feeling complete and full without their approval, I felt I needed their acceptance and stamp of “Wow, You’re Enough!” on my life or my writings.

I did get dragged into the mud at first as I started to go down my usual path of trying to reason with someone like this.  His insults got increasingly worse, and then I gave in to the temptation, and said some cruel words about his own situation – truly hurting him.  He, of course, did not take my assessment of his situation well at all, and dug even deeper into his barrel of insults to fling.  It was then that I realized what I was doing, and how wrongly I was portraying God to Him (and all the onlookers in this online forum).  I didn’t want to, but I knew God wanted me to submit to Him, obey, and stop the arguing.  It was clear by the way the man reacted at an even higher level of rage that I had truly hurt him, and it was clear to me that I needed to apologize and show him grace and mercy.  My reply completely and utterly silenced him, the argument was settled, and even ended on the beautiful note of my offering him grace and mercy in the face of such horrible things he had said to me.

It felt incredible to submit to God, and trust that He was the One who ultimately had the last Word on my life.  It filled me with so much peace and tranquility to know that I actually could (in Him) resist the urge to continue with this man down such a hurtful, unproductive, peace-shattering road.  I knew I was responsible to God for how I chose to react, and so righting it and being a light to him and any others in that online forum (who knew I was a Christian), was directly related to how much I wanted to actually please God.

Maybe you’ve already learned this lesson, but if this resonates with you at all, and you find yourself thinking about a certain area in life that has started to destroy your peace, know that I’ll be praying for anyone reading this, that you find this kind of rest.  That you understand that you can say “Enough is enough!” because He’s already made you enough.  That you don’t feel the need to prove or argue your point anymore, because you understand that He is the one who determines your worth – it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

May you find peace in truly trusting God, and resist the urge to continue.

(Image from littletonhistoricalsociety.org)

A Heavenly Home to Go To

I’ve been doing some major Spring Cleaning in our house for the past couple of weeks, going through old storage boxes, throwing things away, putting aside things to sell at a garage sale, and reorganizing the insane mess we’ve made bringing all this stuff out in the first place. We’ve even decided to completely rearrange the garage while were at it – for good measure!  I don’t really like this kind of cleaning… where things get messier before they seem to get better, but I can see how necessary it is from time to time – even in organizing a closet or pantry (blog posts to come!) – it’s going to take some hard, unproductive looking work to bring everything out before carefully planning where to put it back in.

I honestly don’t work well in the midst of mess… even though the boxes are neatly sectioned off in their own little area, waiting to go back into the garage once we have that rearranged and cleaned out, it still bothers me that they are invading the space that used to be so serene.  It serves as a constant reminder that I haven’t finished a huge task yet. 

Our messy house got me thinking again of how great it is to have a peaceful, heavenly home to go to.  I miss the home I loved to look at, and curl up on the couch to enjoy being in.  The beautiful thing is that a house doesn’t have to be perfectly untouched and tidy to feel heavenly – a lot of the ambiance has to do with the people and attitude that fills it.  This got me wondering… does a messy house (for me) lead to a  messy attitude?  I truly think there’s a connection there, because I don’t feel my best when our house doesn’t have clarity and order. 

Here’s to Spring Cleaning… that we finish it fast before I go insane. 

Serenity

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds.

We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil.

Serenity is contagious.  If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back.  And a smile costs nothing.

We should plague everyone with joy.

If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?  (136-137)”

―     Swami Satchidananda,     The Yoga Sutras    

 

“One man practicing kindness in the wilderness

is worth all the temples this world pulls.”   
     Jack Kerouac,     The Dharma Bums    

 

“It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.”

Abraham Lincoln

“I will be calm.  I will be mistress of myself.”  
―     Jane Austen,     Sense and Sensibility

“Nothing is so aggravating as calmness.”
―     Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”   

Thích Nhất Hạnh,     Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life    

“Blessed are the peace-makers

for they shall be called the children of God.”

Matthew 5:9

The Dancer . Christopher Ferreira

This is one of my favorite songs – I have the musical taste of genre-maniac, and I found this on my Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Pandora station.  Christopher’s inspiration for this song came from a dream he had about an older man remembering his past. “In this memory of his was a beautiful dancer whom he fell in love with. So this piece is her story, while “The Farmer” is his story.”

Turn it all of the way up, sit back, close your eyes and listen.

It is Heaven.

The Unthinkable. The Untouchable.

I’ve experienced the beauty of having God deliver you – bring you out to a place of rest – He revealed to me a beautiful inheritance.  

If God is for you, then who can really be against you?  His Word is final, and you are redeemed – the price on your head has been paid.  No weapon formed will succeed against you. 

The Accuser, although he stands and accuses you day and night in front of God, the only Judge, you will not be condemned.  God won’t allow you to stay in a position where you are condemned. 

Are you listening to the accusations of the Accuser, who wants to steal your happiness, peace of mind, confidence, and plant doubt?  Or are you listening to your Father, who happens to be that Judge, who defends you, intercedes for you, even when what the Accuser says is right! 

Christ stands in the gap – when He walked the earth He did the unthinkable, He touched the untouchable (the diseased and broken-hearted men and women of whom their own family had rejected), He went after the unlovable, grouchy, and sometimes deceitful people, He had compassion and love for them, and showed it shamelessly. 

Encouragement:

“Lord, You are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleaseant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.   

I will praise the Lord who counsels me – even at night my conscience instructs me.

I keep the Lord in mind always because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely. For You will not abandon me nor allow Your Faithful One to see the realm of the dead.

You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures!” 

Psalm 16:5-11

 

(thoughts inspired by a Max Lucado sermon)

Our European Stay-cation

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“Cruelty & wrong are not the greatest forces in the world.
There is nothing eternal in them.
Only love is eternal.”

“Failure means nothing now, only that it taught me life.” -Elisabeth Elliot

These few weeks being home and getting to enjoy my son and be a woman who takes great care of her life and house and family – have been so beautiful! My son is learning more with me being the one to teach him – he was in an “advanced class” at his daycare, his wonderful teacher who loved him like a second mother urged me to let them bump him up – she was afraid he would be bored. But when I started to really work with him at home that first week, I could tell he was having major trouble recognizing numbers and letters (which would put him behind and not advanced right now, even though he is incredibly smart). He’s always been ahead mentally, I think he fooled his daycare teachers! He’s an incredible guesser, but with me tutoring him one-on-one, he is actually learning everything – and learning it incredibly fast!

I teach him Reading, Writing, Math, Music, Science, Art, Cooking, Geography, Languages, and World Culture. Sounds intense for a 3 year old? I only do 2 hours of “classes” a day, and usually one of those classes is a soft class like Music, Art, Culture, or Languages. I want him to have more of a European upbringing, they take raising their children very seriously. Women in Europe usually take 1 to 2 or 3 years of maternity leave just to be able to focus on this new change in their life and family, here you are lucky to get 2-3 months! Taking time for your family is valued in Europe. Being a wife and mom is valued in their society. The average work week (even for men) is 35 hours – not 40+… they know how to enjoy their life – and a major part of their enjoyment of life, is enjoying it together with their family. Not to mention they drink wine all day and eat carbs. 😉 That’s paradise right there.

Fridays are our field trip days with no classes – I want him to understand how important having fun is, which I believe, is just as important as academics. What use is having all the scientific knowledge in the world without the ability to enjoy your life? I take him anywhere and everywhere – downtown, Sea World, the Zoo, to beautiful gardens, to stunning museums, to parks – we have a blast together.

Here’s to living life simply, in beauty, with delicious home-made pizzas and frittatas, scones and pastries. Thank you Europe, I appreciate the impressions you’ve made on my life.