Friday, August 30, 2013

Nine Things I Learned in August


I keep meaning to do a St. Louis post. We had such a fun weekend. But here I am a week later, still just mentioning our family's weekend getaway. {I did share one of my favorite stories from the weekend. And, you know, my boy is still sleeping with that baseball.} Thing is, the trip embodied so much of this month, and really this summer.

In no particular order, things I learned {or maybe remembered} in August ...

1. Sometimes you have to step back, stop focusing on individual details, and consider the whole picture. I literally had to do this to get my kids in the picture with the entire arch. I've also had to do this with all sorts of other scenarios this month, including our adoption process that is stagnant and frustrated, raising a boy who is always moving and making noise, and realizing I'm not in control of what actually happens.

2. Even on the hard days, there is laughter and beauty. I've never been pregnant, but I feel like just getting this adoption process off the ground is creating in me pregnancy-like emotions that cluttered my head. And make me cry. {I'm not assuming to know what it's like to be pregnant, just to be emotionally sensitive.} Last night we had plans on the calendar for weeks with friends. I honestly wanted to stay home. But, you know, going was good for my soul. Plus my kids are good entertainment for the soul, even when my heart is heavy.

3. Boys will be boys. And sometimes they split open their legs on a rock and have to get stitches. Well, really, at least one boy I love dearly did that. Stitches are out. Leg is healing. And my boy is still going strong.

4. The anticipation of changes gets to me more than the actual transition. Kids are in school. All is well, despite my crazy momma emotions.

5. Friends sustain me. I'm a people person. And even when life is exhausting, I need my people to help me through.

6. God's timing is perfect. Whether it's a text from a friend or a family trip to St. Louis that has been on the calendar for months, God knows what we need and when we need it. I do need to remember this applies to bigger situations, like adoption. Y'all, he does hear our prayers and he's working even when we can't see the movement.

7. I like to make music playlists for seasons in my life. Right now, there is the adoption journey playlist being perfected. It got started this time with these songs.

8. My daughter really will learn to tie her shoes. This morning for the first time, baby!

9. My boy will pick up frogs, try to catch a mouse, but screams if he sees a spider, even a daddy long legs. Thankfully, said mouse was caught in a glue trap that my cleaning lady at the lake house disposed of the next day. But, really, Ben wanted to catch it himself. With his bare hands. Too bad his strategy of beating the side of the refrigerator with a broom while yelling, "Hey, mouse!" didn't prove successful.
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Continuing this listy series that helps me remember, I'm again linking up with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky like I did with the things I learned in June and July

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

{Out of the Blue} Their words are Jesus to me


I emailed some friends a plea for prayers last week because I felt desperate and judged and frustrated. I was a little worried when I hit send that my friends would ignore my ramblings or perhaps even judge me more than the stranger already had. Most of these people I emailed have been in my house. We've watched each other kids. We've loved and disciplined and laughed and cried and broken down and built up and dreamed together. A couple people are online friends who have been on a God-sized dream journey with me and I figured the extra prayers wouldn't hurt.

I shouldn't have been surprised when I got texts, emails and phone calls saying: I love you. I love your family. The fact you care what kind of mom you are makes you a good mom. You are not alone. What do you need?

My friends held me up. They continue to spur me on. They continue to pray. They let me ramble clustered emotions.
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And then that same day I sent the vulnerable email, I turned up the radio {because, really, if it's louder, won't it drown out the frustrations with truth?} and heard song after song that I felt was for me.

"Hello, my name is child of the one true King/I've been saved, I've been changed, and I have been set free" :: From "Hello, My Name Is" by Matthew West

"I wanna live like there's no tomorrow/Love, like I'm on borrowed time/It's good to be alive" :: From "Good to Be Alive" by Jason Gray

"We can't pretend to see the ending or what's coming up ahead/To know the story of tomorrow/But we can stay close to the One who knows/We can trust our God/He knows what He's doing/Though it might hurt now/We won't be ruined" :: From "He Is With Us" by Love & The Outcome

"Step out on the edge/Don't be afraid of it/And when you feel the rain/Call his name/He'll find your in the hurricane" :: From "Hurricane" by Natalie Grant
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During the past couple days I've read in Ephesians about how we're adopted as God's children and he lavishes glorious grace upon us. And I've read more truth as I've clicked on links throughout the big 'ole Internet that makes the world seem kind of small, really.

"Hope for Spicy Families" by Jen Hatmaker :: "One of my favorite truths from Scripture is that condemnation is a trick of the enemy, not the language of the heavens. Shame is not the rhetoric of redemption, so if we are a slave to it, we have moved outside the protective covering of mercy. And it is harsh out there, debilitating actually. If your inner monologue is constantly critical, endlessly degrading, it may be time to move a few feet back under the umbrella of grace. For there the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Then we can breathe and assess our own parenting with the same kindness we extend to others. You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough."

"Stop Second-Guessing" by Jennifer Camp :: "Stop pondering the ways you need to do life differently. Stop second-guessing where I am and what I love doing with you and how amazing and beautiful I’ve made you to be."
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I shouldn't be surprised. These songs and articles echo what God has been speaking to my heart. They seemed a little out of the blue to me, but God promises he's with us. And I'm choosing to believe these songs and words and friends are Jesus in my life. 
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I'm sharing this hod-podge post with Kristen Strong's Out of the Blue series, which has reminded me God is always working. 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

{Three Word Wednesday} God adopts us.

Awaiting the hearing to finalize our second adoption. {January 2010.}

God adopts us.

This is a truth I've known, but it took on a whole new meaning as our family expanded, starting with Cate's birth and adoption in 2007. Adoption is something we've learned about as we've gone through it. Two adoption processes and we're still learning. The third time around has proved to be a whole different story.

I've realized God builds on truths I already know when I slow down enough to pay attention. This week in our HelloMornings study, we're studying the first 14 verse in Ephesians. We've talked about promises and truths and identity.

And here is the truth that keeps tugging at my heart: Before I knew God, he chose me. Because he chose me, there is glorious grace poured into my everyday life and an inheritance prepared for me.

"It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone."
{Ephesians 1:11 in The Message}

Other translations of that verse say we were chosen {NIV}, we are united with Christ {NLT}, we were made a heritage {ASV}, and we have obtained an inheritance (ESV}. We are family.

I get that. These two kids didn't grow in my womb, but we prepared for them and embraced them from the beginning. We named them and prayed for them before we held them in our arms. We're grateful their birthmoms chose life for them and that God chose them for us.

We adopted Cate and Ben. They're our children. They're named in our wills. And they didn't have to do anything to be called daughter and son. We chose them in the beginning and we choose them still. Likewise, God chose me from the beginning and still chooses me today. And you. We all have our stories of how we met God, but he wants to give us all that is his.

God adopts us.
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I'm excited about this new series from my blogging friend Beth, so I'm linking up this post with her today. I'm also joining Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers for #TellHisStory. And these words are linked with HelloMornings because we've been reading Ephesians 1:1-14 and soaking in promises and truth. 

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We {heart} grandparents.

Let's go, Grandmom!
{Louisville Zoo. July 2013.}

My kids were literally cheering and running laps around the house yesterday afternoon when I told them both Gran-Gran and Grandmom are coming to the Grandparents Day breakfast at their school next week. Their excitement was genuine and sweet, but it did make it wonder if I'd shared the news too early. I may be hearing about this for the next nine days.

Even so, grandparents are worth celebrating. Grandparents Day is Sept. 8. 

I've seen some good ways to do that lately. Perhaps they'll even make you want to cheer and run laps.

One of the many card choices at Cardstore.com.

SEND A CARD.

And Cardstore makes it easy -- and cheap! Send a personalized card from the website straight to the recipient for just $1.99. This deal is good through tomorrow {Thursday} night. Use CCK3822 at check out.

You can also make cards at Treat, where you can save 25% through Sept. 30 with 25SAVE.

REMIND THEM LIFE IS GOOD. 

Do you know Life is Good products? I love them. I stocked up on some cute T-shirts for Christmas presents when zulily was having a sale. But right now you can save 10% off already-marked clearance items at lifeisgood.com. Use the code GOOD at checkout through Saturday.

CREATE A PHOTO GIFT. 

Our parents love photo gifts with the kids sweet faces on them. Get creative. Get practical. Get personal. Walgreens is offering 35% off photo gifts through Saturday with the code GIFTFOR35.

You can also make photo gifts at Tiny Prints, where you can use LABOR25 through Sept. 3 to save 25% off sitewide.

GIVE INSPIRATION.

DaySpring offers lovely gifts that will also inspire with quotes and Bible verses incorporated. And the clearance section is definitely worth browsing. I recently stocked up on Truly Blessed mirror and a few other goodies for Christmas gifts. You can save $20 off orders of at least $70 with the code 20off70. Or you can get free shipping with a purchase of $30 or more when you use shipping30.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} A souvenir in hand


He's cute, huh? One friend called him darling.

Yes, he's those things. And more. Including mischievous.

When we were in St. Louis this past weekend, we took our kids to a baseball game and the guys in front of us were determined to get Ben a baseball to commemorate his first Cardinals game. Well, the nice guys ended up doing just that ... while Cate and I were up getting dinner from a concession stand. It's actually a game-used ball the bullpen catcher tossed up. Sitting two rows behind the bullpen has its perks, especially when the people in front of us are kind.

So when I got back to our seats and Ben {and everyone else around us!} told me Ben got a baseball, I did what any photo-obsessed momma would do. I got out my camera and said, "Hey, Ben, show me the baseball."

And he did.

Then quickly hid it.

Back and forth. In sight. Out of sight.

Then he just hid it, knowing full well I couldn't get the picture I wanted. Turns out, Greg did get the picture while I was away. So that's the one that went up on Facebook to document the souvenir. Of course, Ben provided another picture-worthy moment when he decided to sleep with the ball. Three nights since, and he's slept with the ball every night.

Perhaps he's dreaming of knocking one out of the park so the crowd can cheer.
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crystalstine.meI'm linking up Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes and hoping another St. Louis-inspired post is written soon. But reminiscing is always fun too. See 4-month-old Cate and not-quite-1-year-old Cate at Busch Stadium during previous trips to the ballpark.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Hello Mornings, Hello Exercise

Goodbye summer snuggles. Hello early mornings ... 

Hello, 6 o'clock hour. Honestly, I'm not really that into you, but you've actually been good to me and for me this week.

It's true. I've been getting up before I have to get up. And it's been good. It's been an emotional week, but waking up 30-45 earlier than necessary to get kids ready for school has been good for my soul. I'm doing a Bible study on Ephesians with a small group that "meets" on Facebook each morning as we each begin our days.

So, yes, this is me saying I'm glad I signed up for The HelloMornings Challenge. Having a more regular time of study and prayer is one of my goals for this school year. The other is exercise.

First week in: I got up early all five days to read about Paul and his letter to the Ephesians. And I exercised three of the four days I had planned to either go to a class at a gym I'm considering joining or walk/run with a friend. And the only reason I cancelled my exercise plan on Monday was my son's emergency room visit on Sunday created some extra things for me to do to start my week.

I'd say that's a good start. 

And I'm glad I'm not doing it alone. For exercise accountability, I'm thankful for my friend's guest passes that have allowed me to try out this class and for my other friend's offer to meet at the park to walk and run. Admittedly, we both needed to talk Thursday about some things going on in our lives so we walked a few miles instead of picking up the pace to a run, but, still ... I'm developing a routine, which is what I needed.

For the Bible study, I'm making new friends online and joining two others {Kristen and Mel} I met through our God-sized Dream Team. I'm certain this Bible study will spill over into my everyday real life too.

Especially when I read words like this ...


"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as your truth in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."


What powerful words. And even more powerful is knowing God can transform us like that. For me, right now, it's helping me to set the alarm a little earlier and schedule exercise of some kind in my day. What happens during those times affects the rest of my day, my conversations and my relationships. Some mornings will be hard. I'll get distracted or feel defeated. But the next morning will come, and God's new mercies will be there.
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This post is linked up with other women who are sharing what they've learned this week in The HelloMornings Challenge. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

{#TellHisStory} Adopting community


I believe in community. And, truthfully, I need people.

This adoption process has been the most emotional one yet. And it's barely going. I don't even really want to call it a process because that seems to imply it's going somewhere. The last couple weeks have included emotional ups and downs as we try to take steps toward growing our family.

See those three sweet faces above? It's them and their parents who have gotten me through. It's my friend who is recovering from major surgery yet praying for me. It's our families who ask what we need them to do. It's the real conversations and hard questions.

Community has sustained me.

We aren't sure what our next step will be after meeting some road blocks on the path we were on. I've learned much and thought about questions nobody has ever posed to me before.

Our first two adoptions are seeming so easy and simple. It's never gone unnoticed that the Creator of the universe orchestrated bringing Cate and Ben into our family. Their stories are my favorite chapters in our story and I'll gladly tell them again and again. I've sensed for quite some time that God is doing something different with this one.

I don't know what that something is. I don't know if we'll bring home a 14-month-old boy or another newborn baby. I'm not even sure whether we'll use an agency or proceed with a third independent adoption.

But I do know God is already changing my heart through this process that is barely a functioning process at this point.

And I do know God has surrounded me with people who pray. And show up with muffins and Diet Dr Pepper on a morning I had cried my eyes out and not eaten breakfast yet. And text scriptures to me.

We are hoping to expand our family through adoption. But, truth is, we hope to bring a child into our community that truly knows how to love.
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I'm linking this up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storyteller for #TellHisStory. {Read all sorts of past adoption posts here.}

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Recent shopping habits

Hey, he likes his new car seat ... 
I boycotted Walmart for five months.

Do you know I live in a small town? Shopping options are limited. I'm a Kroger loyalist and have been all my life, really. Just ask my mom. If I need household products or gifts that can't come a grocery store, I've been going to Big Lots or Dollar General Store. Or ordering from Amazon.com.

So, really boycotting Walmart in a small town is kind of a big deal.

I decided in March that I was done shopping there after the oil change guy was rude and not helpful when I asked for an oil change. In fact, they weren't doing oil changes the two days in a row I went without explanation or any indication when they would return to their advertised service.

It wasn't just that. It was a series of poor customer service experiences, habitual movement of food items {really, why are the snacks by the dog food?} that would keep me wandering the aisles, and two open check-out lanes when there were 10 times that many potentially available. The store has since installed self-check lanes, but that hasn't solved the customer service problems.

I can say this with confidence because I broke my boycott earlier this month. I needed a new car seat for my growing boy and, well, nowhere else in my small town sells them. I may have been able to find one at Big Lots, but I wanted to look at a few brands and read descriptions on boxes. So while in the baby section, I picked up a few gifts and then headed to the check-out thinking maybe I'd overreacted by boycotting Walmart.

I found what I needed. I only had to wait for one lady to finish paying for her goods. My kids helped me load our items on the conveyor belt. And then I paid. The total seemed high, so I checked my receipt as soon as the cashier handed it to me.

Yep. Too high.

She had charged me twice for a $12.98 item. I point this out to her and she responds in a sweet voice, "Oh, I'm so sorry. But I can't do anything about it. You'll have to go to customer service."

So I did. I waited behind two people who were being helped by two unenthusiastic women who didn't really seem to know what they were doing.

I walked out of the store with $13.76 in cash, my son's new carseat, a few gifts, and a renewed boycott.
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This story leads to me to online shopping, which I love. And, y'all, there are deals to be found. I even started Christmas shopping recently, thanks to zulily deals that keep showing up in my inbox.

I should tell you that I have all shopping-related emails filtered {I love Gmail.} to a separate folder. So they skip my inbox and I only look at them when I'm intending to shop online. That cuts down on the impulsive spending that could happen otherwise.

Without further ado, how about some {fun} deals I've seen lately?

Happy. Happy. Happy. Yep, Duck Dynasty, people. And DaySpring is selling some Duck Dynasty notebooks, folders and binders {from $2.99} just in time for sending your kids back to school. They're buy two, get one free, so you could stock for gifts.

DaySpring's August sale also includes some great books, such as "You're Already Amazing" by Holley Gerth, "Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst, and "One Thousand Gifts" photo gift book by Ann Voskamp. Clearance gifts include some adorable coffee mugs that would also bring some encouragement to anyone's mornings.

Another perk of online shopping is earning cash back through Ebates. All you have to do is sign up and then search for whatever website you're using and go to that store through Ebates. It automatically tracks your purchase and adds the cash back you earn to your account. Every few months, you can choose a check payment or an Amazon gift card.

I've mentioned the FREE books I've earned through Tyndale House, but, really, it's super easy and totally worth it.

Where do you like to shop online? Seen any good deals lately?
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sticks, stones and stitches


That's Ben in his element. No shoes. Sticks and rocks all around. Near water. He's all boy. He moves constantly, like until the moment he crashes into his bed at night. We take the naps when they come these days.

So, yes, I'm surprised we made it three years and almost nine months before needing to take our boy to the emergency room for an injury. Yes, made it. Passed tense.

Ben has five stitches in his shin. And, honestly, they haven't slowed him down.
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Ben had been throwing rocks and hitting trees with sticks earlier in the afternoon when we were out at the lake this past weekend with friends. Yet he was injured up close to the house when he slipped off a landscaping rock he had been standing on. It was flat and smooth on the top and jagged around the sides. One of the jagged portions sliced his shin open.

The four adults hadn't seen it, but I knew immediately upon hearing his cry that he was hurt. And then I heard Greg say, "Oh, son, you're bleeding." So Greg and Jaclyn, who earns major friend points, started cleaning him up in the bathroom sink while I gathered supplies. I came up with gauze, Neosporin, and peroxide.

He screamed as they cleaned him up. I got nauseated just looking at it, but managed to take a picture. I texted it to a nurse friend and my mom. Jaclyn's husband, Bryan, and I wondered aloud if we should take Ben to the ER, but I was convinced because the gash had stopped bleeding he was fine. And once they stopped with the peroxide, soap and water, he stopped screaming.

So, continuing to earn major Daddy points, Greg wrapped it in gauze and we turned on "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" for our combined five kids in five years. Seemed safe. And calming. And then they all went to bed.
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Ben slept all night. We changed the bandage in the morning and headed to church a few hours later. We did have in our minds we would have one of the medical professionals at church look at his sliced open leg.

But, y'all, I have to tell you. By this point, I was convinced he was missing a big chuck of skin and wasn't sure what they could possibly sew up anyway. In our small congregation there are two ladies with nursing backgrounds, a gynecologist, and an emergency room doctor. While one stands out as being the best for our given scenario, I would have showed any of them. {I did ask the gynecologist about a spot on Ben's arm once, wondering if it was ring worn.}

After the service, when the ER doc took a look he immediately said, "This needs stitches."

Nineteen hours after the injury, I learned my boy needed stitches. Yes, there was some momma guilt that I should have trusted my instinct, but, you know, I could really stare at the wound.

So we did what any good parents would do and we feed our kids lunch and then took Ben to the emergency room. But, really, who wants to take a hungry kid to the ER when you know it's going to hurt?! Yeah, that's what I thought.
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So about 20 hours after the injury, Ben lounged in the bed with a remote control on his chest like any official man and acted like we'd come to watch Disney Junior. He was thrilled "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" came on and seemed happy to be introduced to the "Octonauts." He happily picked out a blue teddy bear from the bin offered to kids at the registration desk and stickers from the nurses.

Two hours later, his leg was ... closed up.

{I have pictures of both the gash and the stitched up leg, if you're really interested. But for my friends who don't want to see such things, I've got your back. For those who do, I can send them by text or email at your request!}
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A few days in and he's proved to be a champ. Perhaps he's just created to be a warrior. He's fearless and tough. And if he'll stand up for women and families and his friends and injustice as confidently as he stood on that landscaping rock, this world will be a better place. If he gets right back up, unafraid of some scars and bruises, they'll he make it and be stronger for it.

God reminded me that we aren't in control of our kids' falls or the hurts they cause. But we can help and love and be there, even if it makes us cringe to see. They're resilient. And they heal.

Ben's a boy who isn't slowed by some stitches. The pediatrician will take the five stitches out next week, but, hey, he'll have a good story to tell and a scar to go along with it.
________

Technically, Ben went to the ER once before. He was not quite 7 months ... and constipated, apparently. And he has another scar, thanks to pizza. Oh, and the same ER doc at our church fixed Cate's elbow once. 

Yes, even knowing my son, somehow this emergency room trip still caught me by surprise and it showed me even more of who my boy is created to be. So I'm linking up with Kristen Strong's Out of the Blue series.



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Thursday, August 15, 2013

{Out of the Blue} God is at work here

My emotions the past couple weeks surprised me. I can certainly be emotional, that's for sure. But sending my kids to school isn't the kind of thing to usually make me teary-eyed.

My best friend who has lived with me through so many seasons of life seemed surprised by emotional edginess and wasn't sure it was related to the new school year. And then texting conversations with another dear friend helped me process what was really going on in my heart.

God is preparing me. 

For something.

Perhaps for someone. 

Most of you probably know, we hope to adopt a third baby. We aren't sure when or how this will happen, but I think I was mourning the end of this particular summer because I am sensing our family dynamic is going to change. Anticipation makes me extra emotional. Add in all the variables that go with adoption, and it's the perfect storm for the end of summer to seem like an exceptionally big season change.

I believe God is working. I know from our two past adoption experiences that there are so many details orchestrated by the Creator of it all before we even hear of a birthmom. I don't know exactly how, when or even if we'll add a third child to our family, but I believe God is preparing me for a new season that has nothing to do with school calendars.

But, speaking of school, those crazy emotions subsided. My heart was so calm yesterday morning when my husband I drove them to their first day of school. I love that they are in the same place this year and am so thankful for the particular place it is. I had a great morning without them that included grocery shopping and exercising with a friend.


School uniforms for the win, people. Yes, it surprises me I'm on board with this. But, goodness, it's easy and look how cute they are! And contrary to what it seems, yellow isn't the only acceptable color. They can wear white, cream, light blue and navy too.

Another first-day-of-school surprise was the weather! 61 degrees on opening day, really. It's unheard of here in Kentucky, where humidity typically lingers well into August. I can't even remember our last 90-degree day. Cate even muttered the words: "I need a jacket." Then, in typical 6-year-old drama, she snuggled up with her brother to gain some warmth before posing more sweetly for the camera.


Yesterday afternoon was packed with adoption possibility, thanks to an unexpected conversation with the director of the agency we've recently applied to use. Our home study is updated, officially as of Tuesday evening. Despite all the unknown, I feel peace that God has our family in his hands and will show us what he's been working on when the time is right.

My same dear friend who was surprised my tears last week texted me this verse last night: O Lord my God, you have done so many miracles for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. {Psalm 40:5}

Isn't that the truth? This life here with these two kids I sent off to school yesterday, surrounded by friends who share truth and help process emotions and encourage me to exercise again, serving and knowing a God who makes all these details work together for the good is nothing short of miraculous.
________

I'm linking up with Kristen Strong's Out of the Blue series

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

'Tis the back-to-school season

My kids played with some friends in a creek last week, soaking in a cooler yet somehow still muggy August morning. It wasn't warm enough to swim, so they found other water for entertainment.

I was walking slower behind them as they took off for the creek and looked up to notice a patch of red on a big tree full of green leaves.

It looked like someone spray painted it. Apparently splotchy, early leaf changes are normal for whatever kind of tree that is, but it seemed like that tree was for me. Like God knew I needed a reminder that seasons are good for our souls. 

And, truly, they seem to come fast, but, really, they are gradual. With seasons come opportunities to become more of who we're created to be.
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My daughter will walk into first grade tomorrow and my son will take his seat {hopefully!} just down the hall in a preschool classroom tomorrow morning. It's not totally new. Cate will be just a room down from when she spent her kindergarten days and Ben went two mornings each week last school year to another preschool program we loved.

But here we are. Year #2 of full-time school for one of my kids and part-time for the other. Yes, that means I have a few mornings a week without kids. People mention this fact as if I'll be searching for something to do.

While I will have time to do different things when I don't have kids by my side, I have plenty of ideas of how I'll spend my Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. In fact, I have a mental list: finish the freelance assignments I have, possibly expand my freelance work, exercise regularly, develop better Bible study habits, continue managing two lake houses, and volunteer at their school. Of course, I could also catch up on laundry, clean my house, grocery shop, or clean out closets and drawers one by one.

And, really, in the big scheme of motherhood, and life, nine hours isn't that much.
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Where we'd send our kids to school was a big deal because, like so many other things in my life, it has turned out different than I expected. But better too. Choosing a school for our kids was part of a faith-building journey I've been on for awhile now. Ah, yes, seasons there too.

This summer I've learned more about taking life one day at a time, embracing adventures that come along unexpectedly, and choosing the present. It's still a process, but I've been more at peace because I've loosened my grip on life. I'm hoping that as we fall back into a school year routine, I don't truly fall back.

Seasons are good. They are how God created this world and our lives. I know this. I believe this. But, still, this summer passed to quickly and I sense the fall will be more of the fast-paced ways. I look at the calendar and see the year ending in a blink of an eye.

But holding on isn't the answer, really, even though it's my instinct. Seeing that patch of red leaves from a distance reminded me that seasons are natural. And beautiful.

When I stood under that tree, closer to my creek-splashing and rock-climbing kids and their friends, I saw other patches of red beginning. Seasons are full of details worth noticing. Perhaps I need to stop mourning summer with my head looking down and raise my eyes up and forward and all around.

This is life. There is beauty right here that wouldn't come if seasons didn't change.

So, here's to new classrooms, new teachers, new habits, new schedules, new friends, new opportunities, and new lessons that point us to the One who really does have the whole world in His hands.
________

I'm linking up with sweet Jen's Soli Deo Gloria party. And with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes. Who would have thought a picture of a tree with a patch of red leaves would spark so many thoughts! {Edited on 8.14.13 to also link this post with Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory.}

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Cate Taylor Age 6

Loving summer with friends. 8.6.13.
With a new school year beginning later this week, I thought I'd capture some of what Cate is like at 6. So, as her brother made much noise in the background, she answered my questions willingly. 

Why do you like being a kid?
I get to have toys.

What's your favorite things about summer?
That I get to go swimming and have fun.

What do you hope to learn in first grade?
About outer space. {This is the first I've ever heard of this interest from her.}

What do you love most about Ben?
He's nice to me ... sometimes.

You'll be 10 in four years, what do you think you'll be like?
More like a grown up, like text people and be taller.

What's your favorite dinner meal?
Meatloaf. {Really. This has been a constant for awhile.}

Favorite movie? 
"Ramona and Beezus" {She watched it again last week after finishing the book.}

Favorite TV show?
"My Little Pony" {Thanks, Netflix!}

Favorite book?
The Berenstain Bear ones. {She admitted earlier this summer she chooses them before bed to read out loud to herself because they are long. That's a procrastination technique I have a hard time arguing with!}

Favorite song?
All of them. Slugs & Bugs. Go Fish. And the VBS ones. {That would be this. And this.}

Tell me three things about Jesus.
He's in the Bible. He loves everybody. A lot of people worship him.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A mom. And maybe a flu-shot doctor. {It's the first time "mom" has made the list.}

What five things do you really like to do?
Color and draw. Write. Play with Legos. Play with friends. Have tea parties.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

{Giveaway} October Baby inspires


As an adoptive mom to two kids, I cherish two women who chose life for their babies. That's probably the biggest reason "October Baby" resonated with me. But all these messages spoke to my heart: Life is beautiful. Everyone has a story. Our actions affect other people. God has different ways of creating family. At its core, "October Baby" is a story of forgiveness and life.

The truth shall set us free indeed.

The movie was well down. The characters were strong. And the soundtrack is excellent. Yes, a few parts were rather predictable, but I found myself teary-eyed at the end anyway. "October Baby" offers hope that hearts and relationships can be healed.

And, honestly, I loved Hannah and Jason's friendship. Such innocent love on which to build a life. Watching them was reminiscent of the early days of Dawson and Joey's friendship and reminded me of the kind of man I want to love my daughter one day.

I'm glad I finally watched "October Baby." While Christmas shopping last year, I found the DVD for a price that made it a good stocking stuffer, so I gave it to my husband. Earlier this week we were flipping through Netflix choices, looking for something to watch. Not long after we pushed play, I turned to Greg and said, "I guess there is no reason for us to keep the DVD. Might as well give it away."

So that's what I'm doing. Giving it away.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway ends Friday, Aug. 16. Please use the Rafflecopter above to enter, starting with the blog comment about what you thought about this movie, if you've seen it, or what other movie you've liked lately. Once you've commented, there are additional ways to enter.
________

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Friday, August 9, 2013

{Cooking} What's for dinner?

Cooking doesn't come to me naturally, but I've learned to like to cook.

Sort of. {It should be noted baking is not the same as cooking in this case. I bake exactly two things that don't come from a box. And one of those things does come partially from a box.}

I like to plan meals. I like to grocery shop. I don't mind taking the time to prepare dinner. I have gained enough cooking confidence to tweak recipes after I've tried them once. But, honestly, a homecooked dinner is one of the first things to go when a day gets too crowded or I need to let go of a chore.

And I married a man that has never once made me feel like a slacker wife for sending a text at 5:05 p.m. and referring to whatever current circumstance prompts me to ask him to meet us for dinner or bring home dinner when he leaves the office.

Without meal planning, we'd never eat dinner at home. Or, rather, we'd never eat something that wasn't carry-out at our table. Even the most simple meal planning helps me through the 4 o'clock hour when I need to decide what time to start cooking dinner. Jotting down meals and making sure I have the ingredients for them is enough to propel me to the kitchen and keeps me from asking, "What's for dinner?"

Taking meal planning to the next level is even better. You know, when that actually happens. The two best ways for me have been freezer cooking and subscribing to eMeals.
_______

Freezer Cooking
Courtney is my freezer-cooking friend. Before we had school-age kids, we freezer cooked regularly. It's been far too long since we made a productive mess while tackling a list of meals. I'm thankful we had a freezer cooking session yesterday before summer wraps up.

I've had a few people ask for recipes and for suggestions on a process, so I thought I'd share what we do. Like many things in life, there are many ways to go about it, but this is what works for us.

  • Find a time you can devote yourself to the kitchen. We typically block off a day and use every bit of at least six hours. Keep in mind we have four kids between us who want to eat lunch. {OTHER IDEAS: If you're not making a day of it, doubling a recipe or diving a casserole are great ways to store extra meals in your freezer as you go about your regular cooking. One time I swapped meals with friends. In that case, I prepped one meal six times and then we all left with six different meals.}
  • Compile the list of recipes. Our go-to resources are "Don't Panic - Dinner's in the Freezer" and "Don't Panic - More Dinner's in the Freezer." We've made several recipes out of these books more than once -- and not just when we're preparing meals to freeze. 
  • Make a grocery list. It'll be long! Usually, Courtney and I decide what we want to make. And then I take all the recipes and list all the ingredients {in order of Kroger aisles, of course!}. Before I got to the grocery store, I mark off any items we have, like milk, eggs, soy sauce, or seasonings. 
  • Grocery shop. In our team, this is my job. I like to grocery shop more than Courtney does. So I just buy all the items and then we split the bill. {It's quite an adventure if I'm shopping for our stuff as well as regular items for my own house. In fact, this most recent trip to Kroger for our freezer cooking goods came the day after I'd shopped for my family and was the only time I wasn't juggling two lists, dividing groceries into two sections so I could keep the totals separate.} BONUS tip: We don't necessarily plan ahead well enough, but if you watch your grocer's ads and plan meals based on what meats are on sale, you'll not only be prepared but save yourself some money.
  • Cook any meat ahead of time. Now, this may sound silly considering you're already preparing to cook ahead of time. But the first few times we cooked, Courtney and I spent tons of time browning beef and cooking chicken. We finally realized if we'd throw some chicken in a Crock Pot before we met to prepare many meals, we'd be better off. {I learned this summer that frozen chicken breasts can be tossed into the Crock Pot and good just as well as the ones I wasted time thawing. Seriously.
  • Bring casserole dishes to store your meals. {If you don't want to have your favorite Pyrex dishes in the freezer for weeks, then buy some of those disposable aluminum pans.} Soup and marinated meat are best stored in Zip-locs, so bring some of those along too. And foil works well to wrap those disposable pans freezer tight. 
  • Divide and label meals so it's convenient for you. If your family won't usually eat an entire 9-by-13 casserole, then divide it into two 8-by-8 dishes. If you're supposed to top the casserole with cheese or leave it covered with foil to cook, then label it as such. So, yes, bring a roll of aluminum foil and a Sharpie so you know what's in your freezer once you start piling it in there. 

And in the spirit of transparency, after six fun, productive hours in Courtney's kitchen yesterday, I stashed all the lasagna, manicotti, chicken enchiladas, sesame chicken, pizza, chicken bundles, broccoli cheese soup, and meatballs in my freezer and then took my kids to dinner. My husband had a meeting. And, well, I had a full freezer. 

Now, for some recipes. This earlier post includes recipes for Parmesan Garlic Chicken, Hawaiian Chicken, Colorado Beef Enchiladas and Taco Soup. And another post includes Black Bean Tortilla Bake. Soups, lasagna and casseroles usually do well in the freezer.

Just don't forget to thaw them before you actually want to bake/cook/heat them. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. 
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eMeals
I've mentioned eMeals more than once and recently posted about this subscription program. I even included a recipe for King Ranch Chicken Casserole. I have since then discovered an eMeals recipe that may go down as my favorite. I already want to make it again, but I don't want to burn out my family on this one recipe. {I sort of do with recipes what I do with new songs I discover: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.}


Our only complaint about the Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken is we wanted more. All four of us wanted more. Isn't dinner truly a success when the kids are asking for more? 

Now, I was really glad to discover Kroger carries bags of frozen stir-fry rice and vegetables. I mean, who knew this even existed?! It was alright, although my own fried rice is better and isn't really that complicated so when I put this recipe on repeat, I'll probably break out some of my own rice mixture, you know, the one made from instant rice and frozen Asian-seasoned vegetables. Yeah, that's how homemade works around here.

Yes, you have to pay for eMeals. But it's worth it when the seven meals planned and organized into a list according to my specific grocery store chain show up in my inbox. It's usually three or four pages. Each recipe looks like the one above with the ingredient, instructions, preparation/cooking time estimate, and suggested side dish. I don't always make the side dishes planned, but they are helpful for inspiring side dishes that are in our family's regular rotation.

It's totally a worthwhile investment of our family, especially because the recipes have been easy and don't require tons of prep time. And, hey, I've got a deal for you: Use the code SCHOOL15 to save 15% off any new purchase of an eMeals plan.

So, what's for dinner?
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You can read previous freezer cooking posts here. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox." Affiliate links included.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

{Dear Weary Mom} It's OK to cry

Dear Weary Mom,

I've got to tell you, I had my first-ever "oh, my, goodness, they're growing up too fast" cry yesterday. It came on the heels of frustrations mounting in my heart. It came after my kids watched too many episodes of "My Little Pony" while I worked, trying to clear my to-do list before tending to the little people who truly trump anything else I have to offer to this world.

The tears fell after I picked an argument with my husband. Well, an argument may not be the right word. I treated him poorly because he failed to meet my expectations and couldn't see through my rough exterior. He didn't fight back with angry words. He reminded me that some days are hard, but God helps us through and gives us His joy to be our strength.

I didn't cry at their first birthday parties or when they walked or when they talked or when I dropped my girl off at kindergarten last year or walked my boy into preschool. No, I cried those heavy momma tears on a Wednesday afternoon the week before they go to preschool and first grade.

I've loved watching them growing up into the people God created them to be. But this summer isn't ending the way I wanted poolside. No, the temperatures have been too cool and the clouds to gray. It's rained most of today, when I was supposed to take the kids to a water park with a friend and her kids. My kids are handling the un-August-like weather better than me. I'm wanting to hold on.

This summer has been fun. Really, that's my problem. I'm not ready for it to end. I'm not ready for the alarm clock to sound five mornings in a row. I know once we get going it will be good. My kids like school. I like their school. But yesterday I found myself pushing away the people I love most just like I did the night before a school presentation when I was in middle school. Anticipation can be poison to my soul. {Don't be anxious, I know. Pray, yes.}

I let weariness get the best of my heart. I let frustration dictate my thoughts and behavior.

After the tears fell, I remembered that motherhood is hard. It's best when you're surrounded by people like my mother-in-law who spoke truth and wisdom into my life, like my friend who texted real-life stories and struggles back and forth with me, like my husband who doesn't use words to fight but God's word to encourage, like my kids who are joy-filled despite my shortcomings.

While regrouping mentally yesterday afternoon, I got a new Bible in the mail. {Um, perfect timing, God. And, hello, FREE BOOKS!} I flipped it open after dinner to one of the devotions in the Old Testament that referenced Haggai and Zechariah. Totally not a place I've spent much time, but the words were exactly what I needed.

"... Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my home. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored ..." {Haggai 1:8}

"This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies says: Be strong and finish the task! Ever since the laying of the foundation ... you have heard what the prophets have been saying about completing the building." {Zechariah 8:9}

We aren't building God a new temple like these Judeans were after 48 years of exile, but we are raising families for His Kingdom. And it's hard work over a long period of time. The foundation is only the beginning.

It's OK to cry. Some days are hard. This is a hard job we're doing day by day, moment by moment. These are people we're raising. There are going to be struggles and hopes squashed and seasons we don't want to end. But there will be days filled with much laughter, growing, believing, serving, giving, and creating. We're promised both kinds of days in life. But we're also promised that they all will work together for the good when we love God.

So, weary mom, take heart. Let's do this. With each other and the Lord of Heaven's Armies on our side.
________

I'm linking up with Hope for the Weary Mom today. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

{Printcopia} Hanging on to moments


I'm really glad I have this photo hanging on my wall now. It's a good reminder that the best adventures aren't always planned. I'm working on mothering and living more that way.

So what better way to remember than print one of those moments that helped change you on a 16-by-20-inch canvas?

Yeah, that's what I thought. 

25% Off PrintcopiaThis photo canvas was courtesy Printcopia. A representative from Printcopia contacted me earlier this summer and asked if I wanted to review a canvas. I was excited because I like canvas prints, but I don't usually want to pay for them.

Photographs are my favorite home decor, but I tend to opt for larger prints that I end up putting in frames.

Creating the canvas at Printcopia was easy-peasy. And it was shipped promptly.

And ...

One of you can win an 8-by-10-inch canvas with whatever you want hanging on our wall. Or maybe you want to make a gift. Between now and next Wednesday, when my kids go back to school, use the Rafflecopter below that the Printcopia representative set up to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Oh, and, hey, if you don't want to wait or you want to order something else, you can buy one, get one {of equal or lesser value} free at Printcopia through Aug. 12. Happy end-of-summer to you!
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I was provided the 16-by-20-inch canvas for free in exchange for a review and putting the Printcopia on my sidebar. I've since become an affiliate, meaning a tiny percentage of any purchases through these links helps support this blog. And, hey, giveaways of great products are always good too. 

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} The Tea Party


People always told me how different girls and boys are. I grew up with a brother, so I believed these people.

But, really. Boys and girls are different. The ways they go about doing things. The level of their noise. Their amount of movement. He chooses the blue plate. She wants the pink cup.

Yet there are times they come together. And, truly, the times they do are my absolute favorite moments of being a mom to two. They can be sweet. They're quite a team when they work together. They're funny and creative.

Lately, they've been watching "My Little Pony" episodes and having tea parties. Not necessarily together! Yes, these fall on the girl side of things. But they'll argue that there are boy ponies and then proceed to name them. And, honestly, I'm not sure about the tea parties.

But, hey, she likes that he's a willing participant. And it's good for him to sit still!

So last week there was a tea party on a sheet in the kitchen. She had the four places set for the two of them and two dolls propped up on pillows. They had water to pour from one tiny pitcher into their even tinier cups. They had fruit snacks on miniature plates.

You know, now that I think about it, the fruit snacks were probably what piqued Ben's interest. 

Not two minutes after I took the photo above and posted it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Ben climbed up on the arm of the nearby couch and jumped. Right onto the tea party. Feet first. Surprisingly, he didn't break any tiny tea party dishes.

Cate got tense. Like she was going to get mad.

And then we both laughed.

Because, really, what's a boy-girl tea party without the boy causing a little ruckus?! I wonder what Apple Jack would do?

Then the second part: Would you believe the tiny pitcher broke just before the next tea party? It's still sitting on my kitchen counter waiting for some attention from the hot glue gun. Cate has settled for a gravy boat that we got for our wedding 11 years ago and have never used. It works, even though it's like a giant next to the the tiny tea party set. And, as Cate would tell you, it has blue and green strips and not pink butterflies on it.
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crystalstine.meI'm linking this ordinary motherhood moment with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes. I love the way her link-up encourages people to show their real, imperfect lives. 

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

11 years and some surprises

My favorite picture from Aug. 3, 2002. Louisville, Ky.

Greg has surprised me in big ways three times in the 15 years I've known him. I'm not easy to surprise, mostly because I ask tons of questions. He surprised me the day he asked me to marry him. Then again 8 years he managed to have my family and closest friends keep my 30th birthday party a surprise. It was even a week late, which gave him the Mother's Day hook. Well played, husband.

The most recent surprise came this spring. Greg and I were taking advantage of both our kids being in school and spent an early lunch hour at a local restaurant that sells the best gyros. Not long into the conversation, Greg reveals he's been thinking about taking me on a trip. This isn't the biggest shock because we're often planning our next road trip adventure. But he said he wanted to take just me to a beach.

You should know, beaches aren't typically his first-choice vacation spots. But he knows they are mine. We spent the rest of lunch discussing where we thought we should go. We threw out all kinds of tropical spots. Truly, I didn't care where we decided to go.

The surprise wasn't where we would go. The surprise was that we were going. Somewhere. Together.

Greg and I are notorious for giving each other gifts early. We're terrible at gift surprises. We also are quick to plan a trip and say it's our anniversary present to each other. One year we bought one of those bike trailers for our kids to ride in, you know, for our anniversary. Hey, riding bikes seems like a good thing to do together.

Oh, so you want to know where we're going?


Do you see that? My husband is taking me to Mexico. In one month and 16 days. You know, for our 11th anniversary, which we're celebrating today.

I say Greg has surprised me three times. That's true if you're talking about total, out-of-the-blue surprises, but I've actually lost count. We've known each other for 15 years and almost six months. We've been married 11. We've readjusted our plan when God led us down new paths for work more than once, how to have babies, and thousands of tiny decisions that make up our life together. We've gotten off on the wrong exits or taken detours that became adventures. We've laughed when maybe we should have cried and certainly cried when we should have laughed. We've watched games and played games and read stories and told stories and created stories.

Our life isn't anything like I planned, so, really, maybe that's the biggest -- and greatest -- surprise of this thing called marriage.

Husband, I'd say yes all over again. I'd go through the hard years again to get here. Thanks for surprising me in the few big ways and thousand of tiny ways. Our life is better than the one I had planned for myself. Here's to another four decades together!
________

Other anniversary posts: Five yearsSix yearsSeven yearsNine years. Ten years.

{8.8.13} I linked this post up with Kristen Strong's Out of the Blue, where we documents the stories that surprise us. Clearly this one fits! 

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Friday, August 2, 2013

{Five Minute Friday} Story


I'm joining Lisa-Jo Baker and many other writers who take five minutes out of their day to just write without worrying about it being just right. Lisa-Jo gives us the prompt, and then we write. It's been awhile, um, two months, since I've participated. I'm happy to be back. 

This week: STORY.

Go ... 

He slips into my bed before I'm ready to get up. So we snuggle. I'm usually in and out of sleep. On the best mornings, he falls back asleep too. This morning he nudged me awake and then said, "Momma, let's talk." So we talked. About a recent visit to Grandmom's. About swimming. About our day. He tells stories I already know about the bear pooping while we were watching him swim at the zoo or the big gorilla who peed for a long time.

My girl tells stories too. She's a little slower waking up in the morning and appreciates the quiet like I do. But when she's on, she's on. She makes up stories. She retells stories from movies. She reads stories out loud. She asks me to tell her stories.

My husband likes to tell stories from his childhood. My kids already have their favorites. You can imagine in a family of four extroverts, there are many stories.

I believe God is the author of them all. Just read my blog's tagline: Seeking God as the author of every story. My entrepreneur husband, my first-grade girl who never forgets, and my have-no-fear preschool boy are my favorite characters in my story. The way God made us a family remains my favorite chapter. Our life is a story that continues to unfold with plenty of adventure and plot twists.

Stop.
________

You're welcome to join us. You just need five minutes. Once you've written, link up here. Read my past Five Minute Friday posts here.

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