Friday, August 19, 2016

Rachel @ 11 months, seriously.

I pretty much have Rachel’s first birthday party planned. And I’m excited about it.

Yet last week when someone asked me how old she was, I immediately responded, “10 months.” Greg said, “You could say 11 months because she’s pretty much is.” Right. But as much as I’m excited to see her grow up, I recognize this is {most likely} our last baby.

Generally, babyhood isn’t my favorite, but this third baby came as a surprise from God exactly when we needed her joy-filled demeanor. She fits perfectly in our family and is such evidence of God’s faithfulness.

At 11 months, all of that remains true.

She is continues to be a joy, this one. She adores people, especially her brother and sister. Some of our favorite nights as a family have involved laying on her bedroom floor playing.

In the past month, Rachel discovered her love of the ocean, hasn’t rejected any food we’ve given her, wore shoes for the first time just the other day, and had her fourth top teeth come through at the same time.

She prefers to old her own bottle and still drinks a few bottles a day. Earlier this week I put formula in a sippy cup, which she drinks water from fine, and she rejected it. But she’s happy to drink whole milk out of a bottle. Next up: Trying whole milk from a cup. We are on our last can of formula so we’ll see how the transition from a bottle goes.

She blows kisses often, waves sometimes, and talks on various items as if they were phones. She claps when someone says, "Yay!" or when she hears music, which also prompts bobbing of her head.

Pure joy, I tell you.

Look back on Rachel’s growth :: One monthTwo monthsThree monthsFour monthsFive monthsSix monthsSeven monthsEight monthsNine months. Ten months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back to School

Last week I had to tell my 9-year-old girl her best friend from school wasn’t coming back this year. This summer, they’ve written some letters, gone to camp and VBS together, and looked forward to the new school year as fourth-graders together. And then sometimes life changes unexpectedly, and it hurts.

Cate processes life much like I do so I knew this was going to be a conversation we’d have to have more than once. I knew the news would well up in her heart at random moments. So I pulled her aside while we were on vacation and everyone else was occupied. We talked and cried and sat in silence.

Later that day, cousins were swimming in the pool at the beach house we were calling home for a week. With tears dried for the moment, Cate asked, “Is it really okay to do something happy when I’m sad?”

Y’all. It’s a question I asked when my father-in-law died unexpectedly more than six years ago. It’s a question I wrestled with while processing what God was doing in my heart and life after we returned from Guatemala last summer. It’s a question that rises up when I read headlines.

And it’s a question Jennifer Dukes Lee had me thinking about earlier this summer as I read “The Happiness Dare.” There in Hilton Head, where sand was in places it didn’t belong and my girl’s heart was aching, I got to share what God has taught me.

Yes, it’s okay to do something happy even when we’re sad. {Tweet that.}

“Pay attention. Savor the life God has given to you. Thank God for the good when life is beautiful. And fight hard to find the happy when life is brutal.”
–Jennifer Dukes Lee in “The Happiness Dare

This truth that happiness and sadness can co-exist is something I learned, thanks to “Inside Out,” “The Happiness Dare” and plenty of real-life experiences. Do you remember the movie “Inside Out”? It’s such a sweet story of Joy and Sadness realizing they’re best together.

On a slightly lighter note of two extremes coexisting, I’m never really ready for summer to end, but I’m craving routine. We’ve had a wild summer that involved moving, going on three trips, and squeezing in afternoons at the pool.

I will miss summer, but I appreciate the way God created seasons. {Tweet that.}

My fourth-grade girl who devours books has the same teacher as last year, which we are glad about. She has mixed emotions about getting up early and diving back into a routine, especially without her best friend.

My boy is starting first grade and he’s the one who entertains and makes friends easily. I’m never really sure what all he’s learned because he doesn’t like to recite on demand his newfound knowledge. His teacher has worked at the school for awhile and I’m glad one of my kids gets to have her.

I’m thinking about my own schedule that will involve volunteering at our local crisis pregnancy center one morning a week, hopefully settling into our still-new-to-us house, and, you know, chasing baby girl who turns 1 in less than two months and is pretty much into everything.

Summer has been full of adventure and life lessons. There’s been good books and slow mornings. Thanks for hanging with me here, where it’s been quieter. The longer days have gone quickly and we didn’t do everything I had hoped to do. But we enjoyed our break from routine yet are excited for the new routine to begin today.

I'm on "The Happiness Dare" launch team, so I got an advanced PDF copy of the book to read. But the way the message has seeped into my everyday life is real. I do recommend this book if you're needing some encouragement to find the happy. You can read my review here. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Even God-sized Dreams can change

Moving to a wide-open space to call home been one of those one-day dreams for when circumstances seemed right, the land was located in the right place, and the house suited our needs and wants.

Well, one day happened.

In June, we moved 8.3 miles away onto 33 acres. Around here, we call that moving to the country. Now I run errands in town.

Our house is all on one level, which I love. The kitchen is many times bigger and brighter and the open layout of the living, dining room fits our lifestyle, and the laundry room is bigger but still close to the kitchen. There are windows with views, wide open spaces to roam, and woods and creeks to explore.

Months before we moved in, I stood on the front porch looking out to where my boy could run free, where my husband could let his dreams take root, and where we could all five adventure together, I knew the dream had changed.

Dreams can change, you know. {Tweet that.}

I say that because I’ve been hesitant to believe that.

Join me at the God-sized Dreams website, where I'm sharing more about what moving taught me about dreaming.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

14 years together

Oh, we had no idea the adventures to come ... 

Greg bought me a new dishwasher for our anniversary.

That statement alone sounds like we have a rather boring life. But, really, I’m craving some normal after an adventurous summer. And what screams everyday normal more than a dishwasher?

My husband’s let’s-live-in-the-country dream came true when we moved in June. And I’m loving that his dream because part of our family’s story. Since moving, we’ve been on three trips – four nights in Buffalo, three nights in St. Louis, and now we are in the midst of a week with my family at Hilton Head.

Our summer has been full of packing and unpacking, getting settled enough before the next adventure, while tending to our everyday responsibilities. And our summer pretty much epitomizes our marriage.

It’s been 14 years since we said “I do” and then started sweating as soon as we walked outside. (August, people.) It’s been 14 years since we started journeying through the everyday moments between big adventures ... together.

We’ve fought and negotiated. We’ve learned to communicate better and have a rhythm that works for us. Like so many other parts of life, the best comes on the heels of the hard. I’ve liked {our} marriage more and more the longer we’ve been together.

We repeat the same jokes and usually laugh at them. We like to adventure away from home and in our back yard. Parenting has strengthened our marriage, even in the messes and noise. And we like to be together.

This is our recipe for life: Take some adventure and then mix in some normal moments. {Tweet that.} And, you know, sometimes he even unloads the dishwasher for me.

Happy anniversary, husband. Here’s to many other adventures, but let’s have some nights at home too.

Want to read other anniversary posts? Five yearsSix yearsSeven yearsNine yearsTen yearsEleven yearsTwelve years. Thirteen years.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Daring to be happy

"The Happiness Dare" by Jennifer Dukes Lee came into my life when our family was on the verge of moving earlier this summer. I know from chatting with her this book came out of her own real-life experiences, but some of the chapters seems written for me! God has had me in a season of learning how to choose joy, so this daring for happiness comes at a great time in my life.

Jennifer talks about how we all have a happiness style. She has an assessment in the book that clearly shows I'm a Doer and Relater. I took the assessment less than a week after my family moved into our new house that sits on 33 acres. So, clearly, we were settling in. And by settling in, I mean I wanted everything to be unpacked and put away and then I wanted my friends to come over. Two days in a row my best friend showed up and helped me put things away. Talk about happy!

The other styles are Experiencer, Giver and Thinker. Of course, like personalities, we often can find pieces of all the styles in our lives. {Take the happiness assessment here!}

"Imagine a world where our happy lives illustrated an attractive gospel. The Good News is a heritage of happiness. When we maximize our happiness, other people notice. They want what we have. Authentic happiness can change our world. But first it has to change us."
{Jennifer Dukes Lee in "The Happiness Dare"}

Like #choosingJOY, #thehappinessdare is good for my soul. It reminds me that productivity is fine and even makes me happy, but working harder isn't the answer to finding happiness & joy. Even when there are boxes to unpack, sometimes summer afternoons need to be spent at the pool. Even when there are chores looking me in the face, I need to play with my kids or lunch with a friend.

I want to carry that dare into the new school year with my kids and into my 15th year of marriage with my husband and into my baby girl's second year of life. I want to find happiness when I run errands and do chores and fulfill commitments and socialize with friends and cross paths with strangers. And by "find happiness," I mean I want to draw near to God, choose gratefulness, and position myself to see happy.

That's what Jennifer's book encourages readers to do. Her words don't discount grief and hard days, but they do celebrate the details that remind us God is for us and enjoying life is part of the journey.

"Happiness is not the great opposite of holiness. Happiness is at the heart of Jesus, who gladdens weddings. Does he not gladden lives today? Does he not gladden cookouts and flash mobs and moments of scientific discovery? Does he not also gladden birthing rooms and seaside retreats and majestic cathedrals where composes performed some of the greatest musical works of our time? Will he not also gladden us? I believe he will. Jesus doesn't gladden us at the expense of holiness. He gladdens us because of holiness."
{Jennifer Dukes Lee in "The Happiness Dare"}

ABOUT THE BOOK :: "The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart's Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire" was born out of Jennifer Dukes Lee's quest to find out whether our happiness matters to God and, if so, how to pursue it in a way that pleases him. Learn more online or order the book from Amazon (or other booksellers).

This 304-page book is published by Tyndale (Aug. 2, 2016).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :: Jennifer Dukes Lee is a journalist at heart. She used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters as a news reporter for several Midwestern metropolitan daily newspapers. Now, she uses her reporting skills to chase after the biggest story ever: the redemptive story of Christ. (That's front-page news.) "The Happiness Dare" is her second book. She published "Love Idol" in 2014. She and her husband are raising crops, pigs, a herd of cats, and two humans on the Lee family farm in Iowa.

I'm part of "The Happiness Dare" launch team, so I did receive a free PDF copy of this book, but the recommendation comes all on my own. Jennifer Dukes Lee spoke deeply into my life with "Love Idol," and her new book offers the same kind of life-changing encouragement. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

I Love You Just Because {review & giveaway}

“Three very different bear cubs liver together in one place,
Each chosen for these parents by God of love and grace.
And when the cubs ask why they’re loved, their parents often say,
‘We love you just because you are God’s gifts for whom we prayed.’”

I Love You Just Because” by Donna Keith is a book about a bear family, but those opening lines reminded me of my own family. We are a family of five put together through adoption.

While I was reading the book to my 6-year-old son and then sitting by my 9-year-old girl when she read it, they each talked about which bear they are like in the story. I loved the sweet conversation about how God put us together to be a family. We talk about that regularly, but I love any book that prompts more of that.

ABOUT THE BOOK :: Through cute illustrations by Alison Edgson and rhyming text, “I Love You Just Because” will help little ones understand their parents' love for them doesn't have to be earned. With the same friendly bear family from Donna Keith's first two books — “I Love You All the Same” and “I Love You Even When” — the sweet story of this book will remind you that family members love each other ... just because.

This 20-page board book is for children 4 to 8 years old and was published by Thomas Nelson on June 7, 2016.

Learn more about this book and others on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Learn more about Donna Keith on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY :: One of you can win your own copy of “I Love You Just Because,” thanks to FlyBy Promotions. This giveaway is open through Sunday, Aug. 7 to U.S. and Canadian residents. Use the Rafflecopter widget for multiple ways to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


My kids have a copy of this cute book that we reviewed and there’s a copy for one of you, thanks to FlyBy Promotions/Propeller Consulting. I received this book in exchange for a review, but these thoughts are our own.

Friday, July 29, 2016

11 Things I Learned in July

Oh, July, you’ve been too quick. But you’ve been fun. I’ve driven more new-to-me roads than even before and been on some more familiar ones, but I’ve also learned more deeply to appreciate the journey. This month the journey has included road trips, boat rides on the lake, and afternoons at the pool.

People ask if we’re settled in our new house and I usually say, “Pretty much.” And that’s the short-answer truth. But the long answer: We’re as settled as much as we can be while there are still guys working on the enormous garage we’re renovating. That garage will house the piles of outdoor toys on our side porch that also serves as our everyday entrance. That garage will also house all my husband’s tools and camo attire and hunting accessories that are stored in various other places.

I’ve hung some pictures but there are stacks of others elsewhere, sitting out of our walking paths through the house but in plain sight. And we have this beautiful 10-foot long, floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelf that is still missing cabinets on the bottom cabinets where the board games still in boxes in another corner.

So, you know, we’re pretty much settled. Sort of.

I figure there will be more time for all of that when the kids start Aug. 10.

There you have it, July. You’re making me mourn the end of summer but look forward with great anticipation to a schedule. But, before you go, how about some things you’ve taught me …

1. The last several episodes of season 11 of “Grey’s Anatomy” we’re really good.

I burnt out on this show years ago but occasionally binge watch episodes I haven’t seen. Yes, Derek dies, which I knew before I even watched, but that storyline leads to some great TV.

And the last quote of the season? Perfection, nearly.

“You can build a house out of anything, make it as strong as you want, but a home, a home is more fragile than that. A home is made of the people you fill it with. And people can be broken, sure, but any surgeon knows what’s broken can be mended, what’s hurt can be healed, that no matter how dark it gets, the sun’s gonna rise again.”
– Meredith Gray in season 11 finale

Yes, then I kept watching into the 12th season. I know. So. Many. Seasons.

2. Elin Hilderbrand is a great new-to-me author. 

I saw her name when her endorsement was on the front of another book I was reading. I randomly chose “Summerland” from the library and then moved on to “The Rumor.”

{I’ve been on a bit of a fiction binge lately, as you can tell from my list of books I’ve read so far this year. And it seems Hilderbrand has many books, so that’ll keep me going!}

3. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls is prettier than the U.S. side. Of course, it’s also busy when it’s a double holiday weekend with U.S. folks celebrating Independence Day and Canadians having their own Canada Day. But, hey, it’s pretty!

We went to Buffalo, NY for a long weekend at the beginning of the month for the baptisms of my twin niece and nephew. It was a fun trip and we’re looking forward to being with my siblings and their families again next week ... at the beach!

4. Hand, foot and mouth disease is no joke. That’s what Rachel brought home from Buffalo. Thankfully, turns out the case she had wasn’t even that bad, but there were still a few rough days.

5. Sometimes driving 180 miles one way with one friend for lunch with another friend is worth it. 

Of course, her van may break down and kids end up playing in the sprinkles at the park in their clothes. Road trips and friendships are always adventures worth having. {Here’s a little more on that.}

6. My kids and husband don’t have the same love of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that I do – even when the doughnuts are hot and fresh. Yeah, I can’t explain it either. But they do like watching them be made.

7. New Needtobreathe music is my happy place. Okay, this isn’t something I learned, but I love the new album so I needed to include it. My favorite songs are “Happiness, “Hard Love,” and “Testify.”

8. Detours keep us focused on the journey, giving us opportunities to see new places and appreciate the details around us. 

The most direct route to our new house in the country has been closed for three weeks – the majority of the time we’ve lived here. I've discovered various routes home, and I have my favorite that includes a beautiful field of sunflowers.

9. Even when a friendship spans decades, new traditions can be made. 

We went to St. Louis for the third year in late July {hello, hotness …} so we could go to Six Flags with our best friends. We spent three nights there and also went to a Cardinals game, Soulard Market, the {free!} science center, and the {free!} zoo.

And, really, I know the attractions aren’t actually totally free because local property owners pay for the science center and zoo, but it’s such a nice treat to tourists like us!

10. And when in STL in July, don’t buy right field bleacher seats for an evening game at Busch Stadium. With a 6:15 p.m. start time, we were in the sun until the sixth inning – and the last section to feel shade. Trust me, it makes a difference.

11. An old-fashioned DiscMan provides my son hours of entertainment. Hours, really. {And he’s cute!}

Tell me about your July.

I'm linking with Emily Freeman like I do at the end of every month