Thursday, February 28, 2013

{Out of the Blue} Truth throughout

My girl and a classmate on their school's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"-themed Christmas float.

I'm the daughter of a retired public school principal and a retired public school teacher, both of whom continue to work with school districts in various ways. My grandma worked for a public school board of education. The two years I had my aunt for junior and senior high school English class, I didn't know how to address her. My print journalism bachelor's degree is from a public university. One of my newspaper jobs had me covering two K-12 school districts, a public university and a private college.

I'm a product of public education who understands Kentucky's strange education jargon. And, you know, I think I turned out fine. So, of course, I debated with my husband for years about a schooling decision for our family before we even had to make one.

I was determined to send my kids to public school. I justified with academic, social and spiritual reasons. But, really, I just wanted to do what was comfortable. This wasn't the first time I was convinced I was right without giving God a chance to speak to my heart.

Out of the BlueKristen at Chasing Blue Skies has a weekly link-up on surprises. This week's prompt is: 

What is an unexpected adventure the Lord dropped in your lap or asked you to take? 

God spoke to my heart during Cate's second year at a local Christian preschool, where they prayed before lunch, talked about people in the Bible, learned scripture verses, sang songs that spoke truth, celebrated Jesus' birth at Christmas, and talked about the resurrection at Easter.

I realized when I sent my girl to public kindergarten, that truth was going to get watered down. We live in a community with two high-performing public school districts. My girl was on the verge of reading, is as social as they come, and wanted to go to kindergarten. She was made for school and I had no doubt she'd do fine wherever she was.

But I didn't want her to do fine. I wanted her to thrive. I wanted her learning to be based on a foundation of what is eternally important.

So I started looking into a nearby, private school that uses a classical, Christian curriculum. I didn't really know much about it, and I'm certainly still learning, but the more I talked with the principal there, the more I realized she was verbalizing the philosophy I held in my heart but hadn't put into words yet. God is the creator of everything. He gives us our minds, our skills and our talents. He's the creator of this world. His truth is portrayed in art and music and literature. His story is told throughout history. All of this is the foundation of the math, reading, writing, geography, and science lessons. Truth is woven throughout. 

We registered Cate for kindergarten at New Covenant Christian Academy before her 4-year-old preschool year was finished. I haven't regretted our decision once. I shouldn't have argued with my husband all those years. I shouldn't have been so prideful in my decision without really even consulting God. Yes, I'm the daughter of public school employees here on this earth, but I've been adopted into God's family.

My best friends here homeschool or send their kids to public school, but God has reaffirmed more than once we made the right decision for us. I wasn't sure what my public education family would think, but they seem to trust Cate is in good hands to learn.

I volunteer there each Friday morning. I've been on a couple field trips and help by taking pictures to submit to the local newspaper. I've become friends with the principal, who is such an encourager. And more recently I was asked to be on the school board.

I assumed Ben would go two more years to the preschool we've loved and then on to kindergarten at New Covenant. But, yet again, God has prompted me to change my mind. He's registered for preschool next year at his sister's school.

This isn't the first time God's led me somewhere I never expected to be. I'm sure it won't be the last. But, you know, He knows what He's doing. And my family is better off because I'm not really in charge anyway.

I'm linking up today as part of the "Out of the Blue" series at Chasing Blue SkiesWant more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

{#TellHisStory} Bring Him Glory

She's comfortable enough here that she tapped on the door and then just walked in. I said hi from the kitchen and my kids literally jumped on her and her boyfriend. She's my kids' babysitter and their friend. They were excited Amber and Sean were coming over tonight but Mom and Dad were staying home too. We were all going to eat dinner together.

Last summer Amber asked me if she and Sean could meet with us regularly and just talk. For college students, they were being wise as they pursued their relationship with each other. Greg and I have an imperfect story we wouldn't change. We like where we are, even though most parts of our life are nothing like I planned. We started dating in college, like Amber and Sean. We were involved in the same campus ministry. We studied different things than they are. And I never ever had or will ever have a pet snake like she has.

We're glad they're in our lives. Yes, reminiscing with them makes us feel old sometimes, but we like opening our life to them. Our kids adore them. And there are only a couple of people who get my boy as well as Amber does.

Yesterday had been a full day. I had extra kids most of the day. I made extra food for my friend who is temporarily working a full-time job and prepared dinner for us to share with Amber and Sean. I had some writing inspiration I needed to go with while kids napped. Yes, I had three kids {two of whom aren't even mine} napping for about two hours. Ben seemed to have a harder-than-usual time listening and obeying. I took my 3-year-old boy and our 2-year-old friend to the grocery store, storytime, to pick up our 4-year-old friend, and then to Taco John's, where we met my friend and her two boys.

It wasn't a bad day. In fact, most of it was smooth and good. But it caught up with me in the 4 o'clock hour yesterday afternoon when I was making dinner, taking my boy to the potty in hopes he will soon decide diapers really are for babies, texting with a friend I hadn't heard from in way too long, and answering questions and listening to stories about my kindergartner's day.

Individually, these things aren't a big deal. But, yesterday, together, they had me overstimulated and on edge.

So when Amber walked in my kitchen and asked "How's your day been?" all that I could come up with is "tiring." As I was saying it, I realized my response made me sound ungrateful for these little people who fill my house and the opportunities to spend time with and help my friends. I knew as I was classifying my day  as tiring, there are people who work harder and longer than I do every day of their lives without the conveniences I have.

I wanted my husband to come home. And when he did a few minutes later, I felt like I would crumble out of relief of no longer being the only one in charge. He tried to help. I got snippy and demanding. We all sat down at the table and I still wanted to cry. I felt every whine, request, and disobedience from the whole day catching up with me.

Frustrations filled my heart. And I then I realized I whined and requested and disobeyed God as many times as these kids did.

My perspective improved over dinner. I think just sitting and having other adults around helped. Amber helped me clean up the table. We played with the kids for awhile. Then the little ones went to bed, our guests left, I washed some dishes and packed the kids' lunches for today, and then I sat down. And ate two Reese's eggs.

My husband and I got into bed early. We both were worn down from different kinds of busy days. I closed out a full day with words by Holley Gerth that were good for my soul.

"Oh, no, friends. God has more for you -- so much more than you can even imagine. You are made in his image, and the more you display all that he has placed in you, the more you bring him glory. And when we bring him glory, we feel joy, freedom, and purpose. Life becomes a gift rather than a chore."

Amen, friend. 

Yes, my day was tiring. I felt weary. But that's not all. My day and life aren't limited to that because I have a purpose in these days of balancing mothering with serving. Amber wanted to be mentored, and yesterday evening was as real as it gets. It wasn't perfect, but it's part of the process God is using to draw my family to him and show us and others the glory that outshines every other imperfect human emotion and response that we use to define our days. 

I'm linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers. #TellHisStory is a chance to tell a story that connects your story to God's story. I also linked up with other mommas at Kayse Pratt's blog. Holley Gerth's "You're Made for a God-sized Dream" officially releases later this week, but you can buy it now. This post contains affiliate links. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

Winner, winner, winner!

And the winners are ...

Cathy Baker wins a copy of "No More Perfect Moms" by Jill Savage. Courtney French wins Holley Gerth's "You're Made for a God-sized Dream." LeeAnn Willett is getting "Holey, Wholly, Holy" by Kris Camealy.

Congratulations, friends! And thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

{God-sized Dreams} Inspiration

The God-sized dream assignment this week: Find a God-sized dream story that inspires you and share it with us. 

As soon as I read that prompt, I thought of my friend Holly, who was in Kenya pursuing stories as I sat at my kitchen table last week. This telling of stories is something she's been doing, but her dream was sending her to new places to tell stories that haven't been told.

Holly inspires me with her passion. She works hard in whatever she's doing and dived right into figuring out how to establish a nonprofit. She doesn't have all the details figured out, but she trusts the One who does. It's exciting to watch her put her beliefs into actions.

I introduced you to VoiceBox Media at the beginning of this year and now Holly is back to tell you a little about what she learned during her first trip with the nonprofit news organization she created. She went to gather stories about Kenyan Kids Foundation and came home with those ... and more.

Holley taught one of the Kenyan boys how to use her camera. 

"Everything happens for a reason" is one of my life mottos, and nowhere in my life is it more true than when I started living this dream of mine, VoiceBox Media. Rewind about 12 years and I was in Romania for two weeks having my life rearranged and my paradigms shifted. Fast forward to present day, and here I am living that shifted paradigm -- a journalist reporting on international humanitarian issues and for my own organization. A friend recently told me: "You've found your dream job. You created it." And she's right.

I spent six days last week in Kenya, 3 1/2 in the bush, reporting on the work of the Kenyan Kids Foundation. If I didn't already believe that "everything happens for a reason," my trip would have proved it to me. Two examples are the connections I made in airplanes and airports.

On my flight from Amsterdam to Ethiopia, a gentleman was sitting in my seat, mistaking my row and seat number for his. I said I would sit in what was his assigned seat, the one in front of him. Because of this, I sat next to Annemieke from Holland, who works with a nonprofit that sponsors sports camps for disabled children in South Africa and Ethiopia. She's very intrigued by VoiceBox and there's the possibility of a story there.

On my return flight from Amsterdam to the states, the plane suffered mechanical failures and the flight was cancelled. It was the last flight out that night, so the airline rebooked us for the next morning. When I was standing in the security line the next morning, the man behind me noticed my Kenyan airports sticker on my carry-on bag. He struck up a conversation with me and next thing you know, he's way excited about VoiceBox and wants to meet when we're both settled back in our Texas homes.

Both are encounters that should not have happened, but did.

Another example is while I was reporting in Kenya, I thought that my story needed to be flushed out with interviews with a teacher and a school headmaster. About 15 minutes later, a teacher and a school headmaster were in my car driving us to a student in a remote village. While the team talked to the student, guess who I interviewed for my story.

There's power in being vulnerable enough to put your dream on the line, and to believe (as another friend aptly reminds me) that God is into the details. Plane seats and mechanical failures become instruments to create a chance encounter, and the unspoken desire of this journalist was met in the African landscape.

This is the year to put your dream into motion.

You can follow VoiceBox Media on Twitter and FacebookTuesdays are God-sized Dream days around here and I'm linking this post along with many, many other dreamers on Holley Gerth's blog. You'll find encouragement, truth and community there. 

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Monday, February 25, 2013

{Florida in February} Busch Gardens

I like amusement parks and zoos. I liked them when I was a kid. I liked them before I have kids. So I certainly like them now that I'm a momma. Busch Gardens is like an amusement park with a zoo, so, obviously, it's my kind of place. Oh, and, hey, it's in Florida.

Did I mention I loved going to Florida in February? Well, yes, I'm going to be one of those old people who spends a month {perhaps two ...} down there. I hesitate to call my future self a snowbird because, well, I live in a state that doesn't get much snow.

Busch Gardens quickly made our agenda when we decided to spend an extended weekend in Florida, where my cousin was married in a lovely beach wedding earlier this month. The amusement park was the second item of business for my kids who were geared up to see Winter.

My complaints about Busch Gardens are limited to the price of admission and the shortened winter hours. Otherwise, I loved this place. I rode a wooden roller coaster with my husband, mom and brother. And, you know, it didn't leave us feeling the effects of a jerky ride. It was a good way to start the day.

See that ship that's nearly upside down? My 9-year-old niece and 5-year-old daughter got on that with me. I was so proud of them! My niece tried to tell me she didn't liked it after the thrill sunk in and we were back on ground, but she smiled the whole time we were on it. Cate is tall for a 5 year old, but she was just at the 42-inch height requirement so her feet didn't quite touch the ground. Perhaps that added to the upside-down thrill ... and scare.

They got over it and rode a roller coaster with an upside-down loop. I think they were less scared because the upside-down-ness was much quicker than the ship that gradually goes higher as it goes back and forth and then pauses as you hang upside down.

My fearless boy was said he couldn't ride in the bumper cars {and others} and I felt sorry for him. So I bought him some cotton candy. Most of you know I'm not usually that easy. But, hey, I'd be sad if somebody told me I couldn't ride a ride. Of course, I didn't want in a bumper car and I was reminded why as I watched my 30-year-old brother aim directly for his wife and daughter dodging the strangers along the way.

Ben loved the rides he could ride, though. And, you know, I'm looking forward to the day when the four of us can spend the day riding roller coasters together. {Greg and I went to Six Flags for our sixth anniversary and were recently thinking about doing it again. Spending the day riding roller coasters is our type of fun!}

Even though her adventurous spirit is tamer than Ben's, she's still a fan of amusement parks. I preferred to capture her sweet smile and not the gems on the side of this carousel horse she wanted documented. Priorities, people.

Busch Gardens was a great place for us to spend one of our days in Florida in February. We'll have to go back again sometime. Of course, then the kids will be taller, more roller coasters will make the agenda and I'll be a little closer to becoming an official snowbird.

Read my other Florida in February posts: Dolphin Tale. The Beach. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

{Cara Box} Beloved Friend

Cara Box
From fourth-grade and continuing for the next 13 years, one of my two best friends was a girl named Cara. It's been a decade since we've been close, and, you know, I miss her. We used to talk about what our lives would be like. We'd dream. And we'd make plans.

My life isn't much like I thought it would be, and it makes me sad she's not part of it. Every scenario I had for life included her. We have a mutual friend so I see the occasional Facebook picture or hear her name. I know tidbits, but those will never fill the gap.

In April 2010, not long after when my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly, I recognized her handwriting in my mailbox. She'd sent my husband and I a sweet sympathy card. She always was good to encouraging people with notes and I was thankful for the reminder of a friendship that will always be dear to me, even if it didn't continue like I had hoped.

When a dreamer friend posted about Cara Box, I was immediately intrigued both because of the name and the concept. Who doesn't want to make a new friend and get real mail? Exactly. And, hey, I learned "Cara" means "beloved friend." Quite appropriate.

So I signed up for the February exchange.

Kaitlyn has quite an efficient operation of matching people {this month by home state} and coordinating a theme, a timeline and rules for a gift box exchange. I sent Mandee a box, although I'm hoping she actually ends up with it. The postal tracking code says it's been delivered, but she doesn't actually have it ... yet. And Whitney sent me a box.

Along with Valentine's Day, this month's theme was about supplying items for a date. Whitney sells Pure Romance products. These are new to me, but that massager is amazing and Greg is looking forward to a question-and-answer game that aims to bring intimacy and conversation. I rarely {um, hardly ever ...} buy beauty products, so the nail polish, lip gloss and exfoliating scrub are nice treats for me.

From reading Mandee's blog, I learned she's a fellow Murray State alum and seems to have an entrepreneur spirit, so I sent her some encouragement with that in mind. While buying, packing and mailing Mandee's gift, I thought these new girls and my old friend who will always be close to my heart.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Words

The Hardest Part of Parenting is Me :: "I look deeper–past the dirty room and scattered laundry and I see it there; it wears a different face, but under the layers of order, I see my nasty desire for control. Because really? The battles aren’t about a clean room or tidy drawers, folded laundry or emptied trash. It’s about my unhealthy desire to be in control of things that don’t really matter because I’m not in control of things that really do." I like how Kristen Welch finds truth in the ordinary. She does the same thing in her devotion book for moms. So, yes, I recommend this blog post, but I also recommend "Don't Make Me Come Up There: Quiet Moments for Busy Moms."

How to Know You're Headed in the Right Directions :: "The truth is we don’t know. We don’t know whether we’re headed in the right direction or if this new idea will work — or totally flop. But not knowing was never a good enough reason to not act. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity for faith, to put yourself out there and grow." And when you finish reading that post, go click on the link to the excerpt of his book. I don't really even know what his next book project is, but I think I'll want to read it. Good stuff, Jeff Goins.

I Cried, Decided to Be a Better Mom, Then Yelled at My Kids :: Oh. My. I've so be there. Like more than once a day. "Life doesn’t become easier just because we realize how sacred it is, or how quickly it can be gone, or how we might not have our little one to hold tomorrow. Life moves forward, and our sin-disease moves right along with it. Sin doesn’t give us a break, or care about our little ones, or pause when we need to re-group." I'm looking forward to watch else Sarah Mae has to say.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

{Five Minute Friday} My Mom

I'm participating in Five Minute Friday, a link-up writing prompt at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog. This week the prompt is "Tell me what your mama did that made her yours ...

Five minutes starts now. GO ... 

My mom signed us up for swim lessons not long after we could walk. I've loved the water ever since. She didn't push us to play sports or an instrument, but she did expect us to finish what we started. She fed us lima beans regularly because that's one of the few vegetables she likes.

She didn't complain about driving me, my brother who is almost three years younger and my sister who is 18 months younger than him to practices or commitments. She let me go to slumber parties, even when she knew I'd be cranky the next day because staying up late doesn't really agree with my mood. She helped us with projects and reminded me the anxiety I felt about speaking in front of my peers would pass.

I still don't like speaking to a crowd -- my peers or anyone else. I still believe in finishing what I start. And I still like to swim. I'm 33 years old, but my mom is still my mom. 

She's supported me from the beginning. She's come when I needed her, like when she drove almost 4 hours when I was admitted to the hospital with my diabetes diagnosis. I may have been almost 25 years old, but I was terrified of my first hospital stay. It even trumped that third grade project on D.W. Griffith.

My mom was there and is there. And she comes here. That picture of us? It's from 2009 when she surprised me at the 30th birthday party my husband planned. See, she was there? And, yes, she supplied that hideous hat!


Want to join us? Here are Lisa-Jo's rules: 1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking. 2. Link back here and invite others to join in. 3. Please visit the person who linked up before you and encourage them in their comments. That is like the one rule we all really care about. For reals.


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

{No More Perfect Moms} More than a decade

I met Greg when I was three months shy of 19 years old. Now, I'm a few months shy of turning 34. When you frame our relationship with those ages, I thank God for getting us through, especially in the beginning.

When we met, I was a college freshman four months out of what I thought was a really serious relationship. And, you know, I guess when you're 17 years old, the relationship you choose for yourself is serious.

Greg and I broke up a few times, mostly because I would get way too caught up in logistics. And, well, I was barely 20 and trying to figure out life. God always managed to give us grace to move on to the next stage of our relationship, even when we had no idea what we were doing. 

I've told our stories here. We met through a mutual acquaintance and went on a date the next week. We dated {and broke up} for 4 1/2 years and then he proposed about eight months after I graduated from college. Almost every college memory includes Greg somehow. We were married about six months after he surprised me with a ring.

That was more than a decade ago.

{Read more posts about us here: CourageousI am not aloneTop 10 of Us.}

Honestly, I like marriage the farther I get into it. Our marriage is nothing like I thought it would be, but, of course, God had plans better than the ones I scripted for myself. We've taken career risks, traveled many miles {literally} together, argued, laughed, made friends, adopted twice, grieved, decided where to send our girl to school, and learned that we really do like hanging out together. He knows when I'm about to emotionally crumble and helps me pick up the pieces. He knows when my blood sugar is high. He's become a better Words with Friends player because I used to beat him. And he knew I was cranky the other night because I get edgy when I know he's going to be gone for a few days {which is rare, thankfully!}.

Our days and weeks and months and years are far from perfect. But that imperfection has gotten us here. I'm a slightly more relaxed person because he's softened my edges. He can find things more quickly because I've organized our life. We synchronize our lives with Google Calender, but some days we assume the others knows what we were thinking. Reading minds hasn't come with our time together, but embracing this imperfect life together does. There's no way I'd want to do this life without Greg because I do it better with him by  my side. I'm looking forward to the next decade. Or four.

I'm linking up with Jill Savage's Hearts at Home Blog Hop. This is another post in an ongoing series about how God's teaching me to embrace imperfection. I received a free PDF copy of Jill Savage's "No More Perfect Moms" as part of the book's launch team, but I truly want to embrace this message. 

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{Out of the Blue} Surprise Friendship

I am surrounded by some of best friends a girl could have right here in my everyday life.

Jaclyn and I have a 14-year history that spans so many seasons of life. Together we have five kids in five years who love-hate each other like siblings. Sarah and I text almost every day and like to lunch together even though our 3-year-old boys don't like to sit still. Courtney and I have different schedules as she homeschools her two and my oldest goes to kindergarten, but our friendship is worth making it work even if we don't love how the once weekly playdates have changed. Jenn and I became friends because we kept running into each other at preschool and birthday parties, so now we make plans to run into each other.

My community of these friends and others has sustained me and spurred me on toward whatever was coming next. I miss these women when I go very long without seeing them. I texted them all when my girl spiked a fever and I was trying to figure out what to do. They were there for me, even when I was 848 miles from home.

So, honestly, I wasn't looking for new friends. But God gave me some anyway.

Out of the BlueKristen at Chasing Blue Skies has a weekly link-up on surprises. This week's prompt is: 

Tell me about a surprise friendship of yours, one you didn’t necessarily anticipate forming.

Holley Gerth assembled this God-sized Dream Team that I've written about before. We have a Facebook group where much encouragement happens. At first, it seemed several of other 99 women knew each other and had existing relationships. I had read Holley's blog regularly before this and heard of other women who have well-read blogs. But that was it for my prior knowledge. Admittedly, I wondered about my place in this group because I wasn't necessarily desiring an online community of new friends. But I did want inspiration and encouragement as I sought God in a new way.

Well, you know, God has his way of doing what he wants to do regardless of what we think is necessary. 

I've bonded with a couple of the women over blog posts. Elizabeth and I seem like we're meant to be friends. Jessica sent me an elf hat {ah, now the photo makes sense ...} because when I blogged about buddies I talked about how the word makes me cringe and think of Buddy the Elf. Tonya's adoption story is one I love following. I just finished reading a book Kris wrote. Kristin and I have talked about trusting God when he leads us to change. And each time Holley writes {on her blog or more privately in our Facebook group} it's like she's sitting at my kitchen table. And that's on the tip of the encouragement iceberg, friends.

These women have grand ideas that inspire me. I wouldn't get to hear their dreams and prayers and hopes and struggles if I didn't invest in this online community that has surprised me with its depth and place in my life. Whether they mean to or not, these women cheer me on as I mother, dream, write, act, plan, promote, communicate, love and serve.

So, thank you, God, for surprising me yet again by proving your ways really are better than mine. Of course, this has been true and will always true, so I probably really shouldn't be surprised.

I'm linking up today as part of the "Out of the Blue" series at Chasing Blue SkiesWant more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

{#TellHisStory} Surrender

This idea of surrender keeps showing up in my life. While I embrace imperfection these first couple months of this new year, the words I read keep reminding me to give it {whatever it is changes depending on the moment} back to God. The songs I hear echo this message of me not being in charge.

God knows I need repetition. Perhaps that's why "No More Perfect Moms" {written for moms}, "You're Made for a God-sized Dream" {aimed to encourage women} and "Holey, Wholly, Holy" {a book about the Lenten journey} keep coming back to these messages for me: Surrendering is winning. Letting go is finding freedom. Knowing I can't do it all by myself in this moment or, really, ever, is being productive. Don't compare what's going on inside you to what you see on someone else's outside. We need to do what we can and trust God with the rest.

And then I keep hearing "White Flag" on the radio.

The battle rages on
A storm in temptest roar
We cannot win this fight
Inside our rebel hearts
We’re laying down our weapons now
We raise our white flags
We surrender all to you
All for you
We raise our white flag
The war is over
Love has come
Love has won
Here on this holy ground
You made a way for peace
Laying your body down
You took our rightful place
This freedom song is marching on
{"White Flag" by Chris Tomlin}

It's true. The battle is won. Love has come. If I could just grasp hold of that in the moments I feel like I'm battling 3-year-old independence, 5-year-old questions and negotiations, my own desires for perfection, simple miscommunications that prompt a snippy tone with my husband, weariness, and bad blood sugar days.

Instead of battling, I want to raise my white flag. And surrender to the One who really is in control.

"Grace overtakes a sin-wrecked life and makes us holy. I wrestled this grace to the ground and I'm thankful to say that because I lost, I won."
{Kris Camealy in "Holey, Wholly, Holy:
A Lenten Journey of Refinement}

I grew up knowing about the liturgical season of Lent. I started noticing God's pursuit of me when I sat in a pew toward the back of a Catholic church. My high school journalism teacher was also my Catholic church youth group leader. It was a season of me figuring out my life. I became a Christian and decided I wanted to be a writer the same year.

But it hasn't been until recent years that I've begun to really understand what a Lenten season is really even about. I haven't technically given up anything this year, but I feel like I'm giving up my heart in a new way. In a way that makes me slow down and surrender more.

"It occurred to me that perhaps what God calls us to give up, really, is ourselves. The paltry offerings we prefer to give up, while they feel challenging, are perhaps less pleasing because we fail to give up the one thing that stands between us and Christ. Ourselves. Only when we have given up our own ambitions and desires, from that death to self, can we be used to produce much for His kingdom."
{Kris Camealy in "Holey, Wholly, Holy"}

As a kid in the Catholic church, I missed knowing God is a personal God. That gap closed later because God is also a mighty God who works all things together for the good when we choose to love and follow him. But getting to the good and seeing the good can be hard in this broken world where we want to fight our own battles. It's when I try to battle for myself that I am reminded I need this personal savior of mine who already hung on a cross for me.

I loved hearing 1 Peter 4:12-13 from The Message in "Holey, Wholly, Holy": Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

Yes, glory is around the corner. Let's raise our white flags.

SURPRISE! In the spirit of surrender, I want to give you something. Well, a few of you something. I going to give away the three books I mentioned earlier in the post. I ordered a copy of each of these three books specifically so I could give them to three of you.

{Learn more: "No More Perfect Moms," "You're Made for a God-sized Dream" and "Holey, Wholly, Holy"}

There are several ways to enter, which are outlined in the Rafflecopter below, but the one official entry is to tell me below which of these three books you'd most like to read. There are other tweeting and liking options for additional entries. Three winners will be selected randomly next Wednesday. God's got a story to tell, and we're part of it. I hope these books help you live out what God is calling you to do.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I'm linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers. #TellHisStory is a chance to tell a story that connects your story to God's story. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on TwitterDisclosure: Those are affiliate links for the books and song. But I just bought the books this week for you so clearly I think they're worth it and the song is already in my iTunes playlist.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

{God-sized Dreams} Stop delaying, start doing

I'm probably the only momma around who goes to the grocery store and comes home with ideas for a book.  But, really, that's been happening since my 5 1/2-year-old girl {who told someone she's almost 6 ... um, May is still a few months away!} wasn't even walking, much less asking to push the kid-sized cart.

I got these ideas down little at a time. And then I shared with some friends, mentors and a stranger who becoming a friend. I've heard back from some of these people and their words have helped re-shape my idea.

From Holley Gerth, who is spurring a community of women on toward their dreams: The most dangerous word for a God-sized dream is “someday.” How can you start implementing your God-sized dream {even in a small way} right where you are? You’ve just opened up some space in your life and you’ll need a proactive plan or that space will get claimed by something other than your God-sized dream – guaranteed. Write a post about what you can stop delaying and start doing.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
{Isaiah 40:31}

In her book, "You're Made for a God-sized Dream," Holley Gerth mentions this verse and then points out all the verbs. But none of them is sitting. Yes, waiting is an attitude God sometimes asks us to embrace. But not doing anything isn't an option when God has called you to something or someone.

I've been thinking about what they readers have my rough draft have said. You know, this one part doesn't really flow with the rest what you've got. What if you added ...? How about letting the story span more time? Could you expand the idea of grocery shopping?

Did you catch what I said? I've been thinking ...

It's true. I have these ideas in my head. Perhaps I should just start implementing them on the pages instead of keeping in my cluttered mind. Stop delaying and start doing. Stop thinking and start writing. Hope. Soar. Run. Walk. Write. One story at a time. One word at a time. Dreams happen when steps are taken toward them, discerning when to say "no" and when to say "yes." So, let's go ...

Tuesdays are God-sized Dream days around here and I'm linking this post along with many, many other dreamers on Holley Gerth's blog. You'll find encouragement, truth and community there. Yes, that's an affiliate link for Holley's book, but I'm reading it and love it all on my own. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

Monday, February 18, 2013

{Florida in February} The Beach

I may have lived in land-locked Kentucky my whole life, but I've loved the beach for a long time. Growing up, my family vacationed on Florida's Panhandle many years in a row. I've taken road trips with friends to Naples {twice}, Tampa, and Panama City.

Almost eight years ago, a hurricane changed our plans to vacation with my family in Perdido Key, Florida. We ended up in Hilton Head, SC. And, you know, besides a trip to Jacksonville Beach when my dad was working there in 2006, I hadn't been back to Florida. But I've been to South Carolina five times since then {July 2005. June 2008. July 2010. July 2012. November 2012.} and seen the beauty of the northern Atlantic coast.

When the save-the-date card for my cousin's Feb. 9, 2013 wedding on St. Pete Beach, Florida, arrived in my mail box several months ago, I heard the Gulf Coast calling my name. I didn't realize I'd missed it. Of course, I'm not likely to ever deny a beach my presence if it's possible to be there, where the land meets the water and downs out the chaos of everyday life.

We spent four nights in Madeira Beach, one of the many Gulf beaches near Tampa. Our condo sat at the end of the row of buildings next to John's Pass, so we could look to the south and see water and a drawbridge and out to the west and see the ocean. The location was lovely.

I ran on the beach a couple of times. Half of my family of four went to my cousin's wedding while the other half went to the immediate care center because Cate spiked a fever just days after her brother started a fever with strep throat. We saw Winter from "Dolphin Tale" and spent a day at Busch Gardens. We ate good food, played Spoons, and hung out around the heated pool and on the beach.

Yes, I could have spent another week {at least ...} there. Good call, Jennifer, on planning a beach wedding in February. We loved being there and loved an excuse to come back to Florida. It didn't take long for me to remember why I loved the Gulf Coast, where white sand covers the ground and the sun sets perfectly behind the water horizon.

Even in this paradise, imperfect life creeps in.

Our first morning there, Ben woke up with a rash. Turns out it can come with strep throat, according to my nurse friend who consulted a resource to see if it's "normal" for one to show up after a few days of antibiotic. Ben spent Wednesday and Thursday -- the two days before we left -- with a fever that wouldn't quite break as his body battled strep throat.

My nurse friend Courtney told me to make sure it didn't spread to his trunk. I really thought she texted the wrong word. I couldn't figure out what autocorrect mistakenly corrected. I was alone in my confusion. My husband and sister-in-law knew she meant his chest and belly.

After swimming in the {chilly} ocean and then the {heated} pool, Cate couldn't get warm. I figured it was just her body still chilly from the ocean swim. But even after a hot shower, it took a jacket in nearly 80 degree weather to warm her little body. The ocean was nothing like "The Bachelor" polar bear plunge I'd just days before on TV. After lunch, some homework and watching a movie with cousins, she walked up to me and told me she needed to take a nap. I saw glassy eyes and a flushed face. The thermometer confirmed: 102.2.

She ended up at the immediate care center, thanks to her Daddy who was missing the wedding we flew to Florida to attend. I was pretty sure she had strep throat and even tried to call our pediatrician back home. Cate's official diagnosis was tonsillitis. And thankfully she perked up the next morning and was able to enjoy the rest of our vacation.

Meanwhile, I rushed around to get wedding-ready {read: shower and put on a skirt} and forgot to put back on my insulin pump. Of course I didn't realize until eight of us filled a mini van.

We turned around and my gracious sister-in-law {who was closer to the door than my third-row seat next to the boys and their car seats} saved us some time by going back up to our fifth-floor condo to retrieve my pump from the bathroom counter. This is the same sister-in-law who is a hair stylist and offered to blow dry my hair. Seriously, that's speaking my love language. I would hire someone to come blow dry my hair every day if that a realistic option.

Then we had to wait for the drawbridge to come back down before we moved south on Gulf Boulevard to St. Pete Beach. We pulled into the parking lot about 12 minutes before the wedding was scheduled to start but couldn't find a parking spot. We ran by the valets, questioning why we didn't think of that option, right at wedding start time. Seeing the bridal party still gathered not at the ceremony site was a relief. We found our way to seats and took deep breaths.

After the wedding was over, my mom told Ben he was good. "I not make any noise!" he said. Of course, part of him not making any news was the yogurt-covered raisins he ate and stored for later in his shirt pocket.

That's my wedding date. A guy of many emotions.

Back at the condo, Cate rested and thankfully her fever came down. It's worth noting in a matter of three days, I had two kids start amoxicillin. And it was Cate's second time in less than a month. Ah, motherhood, always keeping us on our toes. It's certainly the job that never takes a vacation.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

{Florida in February} Dolphin Tale

I took my kids to see "Dolphin Tale" last summer when a theater not far from our house was showing already-released movies on the big screen for $1 admission. Of course, the three of us combined for more than $3 at the concession stand, but, still, I love going to the movie theater and jumped at the chance for a family-friend movie. Remember, I'm kind of picky about what I let my kids watch.

"Dolphin Tale" is one of just a couple non-animated movies my kids have seen. To say they love it may be an understatement. Cate talked about it for months. She recounted the story, asked questions about Hazel and embraced dolphins when she saw pictures of them.

Winter -- the dolphin on which the movie is based -- lives in Clearwater Marine Aquarium. One night this winter when we were putting Cate to bed, she asked me to tell her again where Winter lived. Tampa, Florida, I said.

Then I realized we had plane tickets to fly to Tampa for four days one long weekend in February so we could be at my cousin's wedding on St. Pete Beach. I don't know why I hadn't put together our trip south and my kids' beloved movie hero until this moment.

I made the mistake of telling my kids we could go see Winter when we went to Tampa in February. I think this was in December. And my kids talked about it until we got there. At least Cate, at 5, has some concept of time. Three-year-old Ben, on the other hand, asked when he got up, randomly throughout the day, and before he went to bed each night, "When we go see Dolphin Tale?"

Meanwhile, we had to show Greg the movie so he'd be in the know of Winter -- a dolphin whose tail was caught in a crab trap and permanently damaged. The movie is inspirational and my kids were happy to sit through it again!

Well, folks, we went to see "Dolphin Tale" a week ago. My only regret is letting my kids -- especially Ben -- know our plan so long before it became a reality.

Along with their cousins, my kids were glad to see Winter. They also got to see fellow dolphins Panama and Nicholas {who performed during a brief show}, Bailey the turtle, and some stingrays. While walking through the rescue marina, Cate talked about scenes she remembered from certain spots. She had a notebook with her too. 

Honestly, I'm not an animal lover. But I was impressed with this marina. They rescue marina animals and release them back into their natural environments if possible. If not, they give them a home. 

Take Nicholas -- his momma died of pneumonia a few days after the two dolphins were found one Christmas Eve. Because Nicholas was so young, he laid by his momma's side and ended up sunburned, which left scars that interrupted the way his skin would otherwise be camouflaged. Plus he didn't have a chance to learn survival skills from his mom before she got sick. So he puts on shows to Clearwater Marina Aquarium visitors like us. 

The kids got stuffed dolphin souvenirs. Cate's is winter and currently named Winter. Ben's is gray and named Nicholas. These names are subject to change, but both dolphins will remind them when they saw the real dolphin who learned to swim without a tail. Winter has a prosthetic tail that she wears sometimes and helped her learn to swim with the proper up-and-down motion. My kids stuffed versions even have a different colored tail so they don't forget what makes Winter special. 

Although I'm pretty sure they'll be able to tell Winter's story for years to come. And it's one worth telling. 

Disclosure: That's a compensated affiliate link for the movie, but, really, my family obviously thinks it's worth owning. And, yes, there are more Florida stories to come. 

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weekend Words

The Radical Life of an Evangelical :: I don't love the word "evangelical." But while reading this, I realized it's not the word as much as the misinterpretation of it. "Evangelical is not a word for an outdated cultural movement, but a way to wrap your whole life around a cup and a cross. It’s not an empty promise for prosperity, but investing our very lives in each other because of an empty tomb." Well done, Jennifer Dukes Lee.

A Mom's Lenten Journey: Less Yelling, More Praying :: Um, wow. I could have written this. Well, except, Erin actually has a plan to address what she wants to change. The arguing and negotiating from my 3-year-old boy has {unfortunately} prompted some yelling lately. I need to cling to the truth before I let words spew out of my mouth. I'm thankful I read this just when I needed it most.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

{DaySpring} Save 30% on great gifts

This mug and other cupcake products are 30% off
through Feb. 24 with you use the code 30FAVE.
I like to give birthday gifts. And, really, just gifts in general. Perhaps I'm just forcing my love language on people I care about. 

Even so, I have a little closet at home that has gifts in it. Sometimes I've picked something out for someone specific. Other times I just find things I like along the way and store them up until it's the right moment to give them someone else.

One place I often find gifts if DaySpring. I did much Christmas shopping there and even received a few things from there. I have a notebook I love and some cute, decorative blocks sitting on my mantel.

Most recently, I gave a friend a coffee mug for her birthday. She broke it when she was showing it off when she got home from her party, so I ordered her another one.

Guess what? That coffee mug and other cute items from DaySpring's "Sweet Gifts" line are on sale! Get the coffee mug, a notebook, tote bag or note cards for 30% off until Feb. 24. Just use the code 30FAVE when you check out. Who doesn't want a cupcake near them to remind them of God's goodness?!

There is also this cute "Everyday Joy" line with similar products that may be more your style. These items also are 30% off through Feb. 24 with the code 30FAVE.

Find other February Monthly Specials while you're browsing. Happy shopping ... and gift giving! 

Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used, but I love DaySpring's products. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

{Five Minute Friday} Beloved

Swimming in February was more than alright with Ben. This is him last week in Madeira Beach, FL.

I'm participating in Five Minute Friday, a link-up writing prompt at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog. This week the prompt is "Beloved ...

Five minutes starts now. GO ... 

For the past three years, the word "beloved" has made me think of my boy, Benjamin.

It's not the first word that comes to mind. Messy. Loud. Funny. Stubborn. Fearless. All boy. Those are the words that I'd first use to describe Ben. But in those messy, loud, fearless moments of jumping into the pool with no hesitation or wanting to play outside when it's barely above freezing, my faith has been changed.

My first-born girl was easy as a baby and she mostly still is a kindergartner. My boy has challenged me and forced his Daddy and me to figure out new strategies to discipline and encourage and motivate. And, truthfully, I feel like I fail at what is best for him on a regular basis. He likes to negotiate and debate, and too often I fall into his game. I raise my voice far too often because I just want to get his attention.

But in the next minute, he'll make me laugh. He's got a grin and eyes that make me forget the wrangling and persuading I did five minutes before.

When I made Ben's adoption book, I struggled to think of a name for it. Greg suggested "beloved" and then I Googled verses to find one to go with that. I found one, alright. And then I realized the same verse was at the bottom of on the blessings from our friends.

About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Yes, he's messy and loud and fearless. I'm still figuring out how to parent him, but he is beloved. By God and his momma.


Want to join us? Here are Lisa-Jo's rules: 1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking. 2. Link back here and invite others to join in. 3. Please visit the person who linked up before you and encourage them in their comments. That is like the one rule we all really care about. For reals.


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Thursday, February 14, 2013

{Out of the Blue} Answered Prayer

Awaiting the informal formality of finalizing Cate's adoption, which was one of God's best surprises. 9.20.07.

For almost two years, I prayed to be pregnant. I didn't expect some immaculate conception, but I did expect all the vials of blood that were being drawn regularly to lead to information that would help. I thought when the doctor unblocked one of my two tubes, that our chances would improve. I took medicine that made me crazy. I saw a specialist two hours from my small town. All because I wanted to be pregnant. 

Out of the BlueKristen at Chasing Blue Skies is starting a new, weekly series on surprises. This week's question is: 

How did the Lord answer a prayer for you in a way that surprised you?

While I was busy praying to get pregnant and trusting my doctor who believed medicine was only part of the equation, the One who really is in control was orchestrating a story I couldn't see yet. An 18-year-old girl in Indiana was pregnant and praying for an answer to this surprise growing in her belly.

Before we went for what was our second visit to the reproductive endocrinologist in Nashville, Tenn., Greg and I agreed if the doctor recommended in-vitro fertilization, we would turn our attention to adoption. This seemed right for my emotions and body, the well-being of our marriage, and our finances.

So when the doctor said he thought our best chance of becoming pregnant would be in-vitro. Instead of sadness, I felt peace. It was the kind of peace of passes all understanding and I was so grateful to be experiencing that and not the emotions that mounted in the nearly two years of me praying and hoping and trying to be pregnant.

This was September 2006. We had no idea what adoption would be. I was worn out from telling doctors and nurses this infertility history with each medical step we took. I wasn't ready to answer social workers questions that would surely come with applying to an adoption agency. So we just waited and told friends and family and doctors and lawyers of our hope to adopt.

We didn't know yet that an 18-year-old girl was about a month into her pregnancy and her first semester of college.

Then on Christmas Eve, just three months later, my sister and her then-boyfriend-now-husband brought news better than any gift they could ever wrap in a box. They knew a girl who was looking for a couple to adopt her baby that was due in May.

After a phone conversation and some weeks of waiting, we ended up meeting this 18-year-old girl who was an answer to our prayers. I had prayed and cried and hoped and wanted to be pregnant. But, really, God knew the desire of my heart. I wanted a family. I actually didn't care anything about being pregnant. I just thought that's how I was "supposed" to have a family. Those years of praying were heard. I didn't even pray the "right" words, but God still knew. And he worked while I waited. And when the time was right, God answered my prayer in a way that surprised me.

Turns out, we were an answer to this girl's prayers too. She told us that when we looked via ultrasound at the baby growing in her belly and in our hearts in January 2007. She said it again over lunch that spring. I still tell her how grateful we are that she chose life for this baby who made me a momma.

God surprised me in one of the best ways of my life. That adoption process and the harder days of infertility leading up to it were a faith journey for me. I still like to tell the story because it's full of God's faithfulness and details that remind me He's the author of stories better than any I could script.

I'm linking up today as part of the "Out of the Blue" series at Chasing Blue Skies. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

{Compassion} Life in community

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

I've learned about community by living in it. I have four close friends who I text almost daily and usually see at least once a week, if not more often. I have a couple other dear friends who I would see regularly, if they just lived closer. I have ongoing conversation with one via email and am usually engaged in a game of phone tag with the other. Then there is a bigger circle of friends from church and who are friends of my closest friends with whom I share life  on a less frequent but still regular basis.

These are the people who brought me meals when we brought babies home. They are the ones who text me just to check on me. They are the ones I ask to help me with my kids when I need to go to the doctor and my mother-in-law isn't available. We brainstorm and problem solve and dream. We tackle frustrations. We organize parties and events. We pray for each other. Our kids don't know live apart from each other. We share dinners and game nights around my kitchen table. Sometimes our kids even share strep throat.

We share life. 

And it's in living like this that I learned the value of serving one another. God got my attention in the everyday moments through texts and phone calls, while sitting on the park bench watching our kids play, around the dinner table, and at baby showers and birthday parties. I want to help them when my friends are sick or stressed. I want to have their kids in my house. I want to make room for on my calendar. I want to give to them and learn from them.

It's because of these same relationships I'm spurred on to help others outside my tribe of people. Some of my favorite people to help are little ones who remind me of my own kids yet live lives in such different conditions in other countries. Sponsoring kids through Compassion International has become part of our life in community. These kids we've never met yet love already have found their ways into a birthday party and a church service. And their pictures are hanging from my real-life friends' refrigerators.

Won't you consider opening your community to these little people who need an extra dose of love?


I'm linking this post with fellow Compassion Bloggers sharing which Bible verses prompt them to serve others. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter.