Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stay with God


I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Waiting is hard. Whether you're waiting for something or somewhere or someone you love with great anticipation or waiting for direction on your next steps, the in-between time can seem long. People will say, "What's new with your adoption?"

I don't really have an answer because nothing is new. We're waiting. We have an updated home study and no real plan because every time we try to make a plan we meet road blocks. It's been discouraging. We've asked the social worker to show our profile to a couple birth moms and plenty of people know we want to adopt.

But nothing is new. We're just waiting.

Sometimes those are hard words to say because we want to tell people the plan. And, really, for me, too often that plan I share with people is mine. God is teaching me that he has a plan that may look nothing like mine. It's a lesson I've learned over and over again, yet her I am again learning it.

Yes, I want to adopt again. But more than that I want to see the goodness right here in the land of the living. Sometimes that's hard while waiting because instead of soaking of the present goodness I catch myself peeking around the corner, trying to see what's next.

That picture above is a scene I captured while traveling on the South Island in New Zealand. We were going from Queenstown to Milford Sound, where one of the world's most beautiful fjords was a must-see sight. And it was beautiful there. Amazingly beautiful. But the journey there was beautiful too.

I read these verses from Psalm 27 this morning and then I glanced out the window to see orange and red and yellow and green leaves mostly still on the trees. And I saw goodness. God reminded me that he's always working and creating new seasons. But rather than anticipate what's coming, I need to see the beauty for what it is right here, right now.

I really like how verse 14 is written in The Message:

Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit.
 
I’ll say it again: Stay with God.

Stay with God. That right there is what makes waiting possible. Because, really, waiting is actually living. There is much goodness in the land of the living. I want to stay with God so I don't miss it.
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I'm linking up today with Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday

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'Tis the season ... for deals

This picture came to mind while writing this post. That's 7-month-old Cate as she appeared on our card in 2007.

Honestly, I like Christmas shopping well before it's Christmas time. It helps me enjoy the season more when I don't have a shopping list hanging over my head. Plus it means I buy gifts as I find them and often use great deals that show up in my inbox.

So, in the spirit of Christmas being less than two months away, I thought I'd share some deals. And you'll notice I think photos make lovely gifts.

Shutterfly Photo Books
These are my favorite brand of photo books and they're 50% off through Monday, Nov. 3 when you use the code PUMPKIN.

zulily
Just in general, yes. I've bought University of Kentucky, My Little Pony and Lego goodies for fall birthday and Christmas presents. The sales are quick and some items aren't available long, but I'm sure if you browse long enough you'll find a good deal on that perfect gift for someone.

DaySpring
Encouragement can come in cards, home decor, books, journals and coffee mugs. There are often deals here. Right now, there are some new fall gifts. You can also save 40% on one item through Saturday, Nov. 1 with the code EARLY GIFT. {Yes, I took advantage of this and bought a gift. And, yes, now I want what I bought for my own kitchen table.} Free shipping comes with an order more than $30 when you use SHIPPING30.

Photo Cards
Last year, I ordered lots of smaller sets of different Christmas cards as I found deals. I used Ink Garden, York Photo, Shutterfly and Tiny Prints. I recommend them all, so be watching those photo printing companies if you want to stock up on free and discounted cards.

Right now, York has 10 FREE 5x7 ornate stationary cards that can be personalized through Saturday, Nov. 23 with the code CARD GIFT. You have to be a new customer and pay a few dollars for shipping.

And Ink Garden also has 10 FREE cards and 40% off the rest of your card order for new customers! For the cards, use the code WinterCards. And for 40% off use Cards40. These offers can be combined through Dec. 17.

Amazon
I prefer Amazon over Walmart any day. I live in a small town remember. After much debating, we finally became Prime members again. This time we had to pay for it, but I'm glad we're back. {Find about a free Prime trial. There is free two-day shipping, lots of movies and TV shows to stream for free, and Kindle books to borrow for free. For free.} Starting Friday, Amazon is going to have various deals each week through Nov. 30 while counting down to Black Friday. You can also purchase holiday gift cards and get a free gift box and free one-day shipping. And, yes, books always make good gifts.

Have you started Christmas shopping? Seen any good deals lately?
________

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spur one another on ...


Our kids were off running around in wide open spaces while we chatted at the beginning of our church's annual fall party on Saturday. So I gathered these friends and asked my husband to take our picture. "Moms need to be in pictures too," I said.

And it's true. Moms spend so much time corralling, organizing, training, feeding, transporting, hearing, packing and dressing people. We care for those around us with instinct and purpose. But sometimes we only remain behind the scenes. We go on the vacations. We are at the parties we host. We see our kids succeed and grow and create. We support our husbands. But sometimes we're missing from the scrapbooks.

These friends of mine are among the people with whom I choose to do life. All those things we do, we often do with each other. Our kids are friends because there's really no other way. We text and call and show up. We deliver meals and say prayers. We brainstorm and execute.

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

They spur me on, alright. 

All of us have been through heartbreak in the past year or two. Corrie is the one in the picture holding the baby. Y'all, that's Lucy, the baby doctors said may not live past struggling to take her first few breaths. Clearly, that didn't happen. 

It's been a year since Corrie learned something wasn't right with the baby she was carrying inside. She shared some reflections from the past year in church on Sunday. She reminded our church body that sometimes life is heartbreaking, but that we choose to serve a God who is always good. He redeems and creates these stories we're living out. She knew she wasn't the only who faced heart ache this year.

Yes, there has been loss and disappointment among us. But we've gathered our families and joined with these people who understand. We've thanked God, sometimes through tears and aching hearts, because we do believe in goodness. And we haven't given up meeting together. 

Sometimes our meetings come at restaurants as we talk over noise our kids create. Sometimes our meetings come in texts back and forth. Other times the meetings come on Saturday evenings near a bonfire and on Sunday mornings in a sanctuary. 
________

I'm linking up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where writers share stories that go beyond what a photo can capture, and with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria, where God's goodness is proclaimed. And then on Wednesday I also linked up with Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory because this is an important chapter in The Story. 

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

{Giveaway} Can't-Wait Willow


I've lost count how many times my 6-year-old Cate has read "Can't-Wait Willow" since it arrived in the mail earlier this month. After first, she was enticed by the cover. But now she likes to story too. Sometimes Ben sits down with her to read about their new friend Willow.

In the book, Willow is so excited that the Over-the-Top Circus has finally come to town! The only problem is, when left to her own devices, she can’t say "no" to some good things.

On the way to the show, she is distracted by enticing treats and fun that she just can’t turn down. Willow arrives late and is sad to find that not only has she has run out of time and money but she won’t be able to enjoy the pink cotton candy of which she’s been dreaming. Willow is given valuable advice and a second chance.


This is such a powerful, practical lesson for kids. Even as an adult, I sometimes need to be reminded that not every good thing needs a "yes" from me. Some things are better later, when God's time is right. Other things are good for certain seasons. I'm glad Willow helps teach my kids that sometimes the best things really are worth their wait.
_______

About the Author :: Christy Ziglar, financial planner, mother of twins, and niece of legendary motivator and the world’s original optimist, Zig Ziglar, is bringing the same timeless wisdom and ageless advice to an entirely new, younger audience through her new Shine Bright Kids picture book series.

About Shine Bright Kids :: This series provides children and their families with a relevant framework to help instill solid values and teach the importance of making good choices. The series teaches principles including: using good judgment, taking responsibility, self-control, having a positive attitude, and demonstrating perseverance. Check out the Shine Bright Kids website for free reward charts, activities and other parenting resources.
_______

So, who wants a copy? Just leave a comment below about something you've said no to that led to something even better for you. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll randomly choose a winner on Saturday, Nov. 2.

EDITED :: CONGRATULATIONS, Tabitha! Be watching your mailbox because your copy of "Can't-Wait Willow" is coming your way soon! Thanks, friends, for entering and reading along with us.
________

Disclaimer: I had no idea I'd have so many giveaways in this blogging season. But my family loves books, and free ones are even better. I only giveaway and promote things I think my family and yours will like. FlyBy Promotions sent me a free copy of "Can't-Wait Willow" for review and is providing a copy to whoever wins this giveaway. My daughter was genuinely excited when I handed it to her the day it came in the mail. I did include an Amazon affiliate link so if you purchase a book through my link, I earn a very small percentage. 

And, speaking of free books ... Here's another great {and easy!} way to get some

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Right Now :: Cate

People always tell me these moments of mothering little ones will fly by. I have no doubt this is true. In effort to remember, I document life in words and photos. Here are some glimpses into my girl, who will officially be 6 1/2 in less than two weeks, right now. 

1. The other night I made meatloaf, roasted potatoes and green beans for dinner and Cate was excited. We also recently went to Cracker Barrel where she ordered her standard meal there: Corn, fried okra and bacon.

2. She's lost nine teeth in the past 16 months.

3. At her parent-teacher conference this week, we learned she chooses writing whenever she has free choice of a school activity. I'm not surprised because she typically carries a notebook with her.

4. Cate still likes to watch Disney Junior. And I'm totally fine with that. Other favorite TV choices remain "My Little Pony" episodes and "Land Before Time" movies.

5. She takes a book or three with her to bed every night and along to football games and restaurants. Berenstain Bears books are popular. Recently, she's also read some chapter books, including "Ramona the Pest" and "Heidi."

6. If she doesn't get a chance to ride her "two-wheel bike" in the afternoon, she is at least planning when she'll get to ride.

7. She still likes to wear dresses and sparkly shoes, but she is starting to come around to jeans, which she literally hasn't worn in years until recently.

8. She builds with Legos, plays school and creates all sorts of crafts when she plays in her room.

9. Even though she'd never admit it, the school week wears out Cate. This shows almost every Thursday. Thankfully, she loves school and does well, even when her spelling list includes words like diligent and buccaneers.

10. While she seems taller and older nearly every day, she still likes to cuddle with me in the mornings. We're the two in our family who like to wake up slowly and quietly.
________

Ali Edwards did posts like this about her family. I loved the real-life documentation so much I wanted to do it for myself. Stay tuned because future installments on Ben, Greg and myself will be coming soon. 

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Go Cardinals! {The 2013 World Series Edition}

Friendly rivals in July 2005

A favorite person of mine is a Red Sox fan. Katie lived in Boston for awhile years ago, so I get it. I married my college boyfriend who taught me the love of the game in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a historical home run battle. Katie and I exchanged much banter about our two red teams in 2004. I prefer to remember that more than the actual result of the World Series.

Busch Stadium in St. Louis

Starting tonight, I can cheer for only one red team. The St. Louis Cardinals. It's the World Series, baby! St. Louis is one of my favorite cities and has been the destination of many family road trips. I've been a fan a long enough at this point to be able to remember moments and games. And, really, I'm not sure anything beats Game 6 in 2011. And 2006 had a good ending too.
  
Fenway Park in Boston

We went to Boston two years ago, right as the Cardinals were beginning their wild card journey to becoming champions for the 11th time. {11 in '11 ...} And, yes, of course, we toured Fenway Park then. The Red Sox weren't still playing baseball then, you know.

Need more baseball stories? I've got some from you from the archives ... 

{Behind the Scenes} A souvenir in hand
{St. Louis} That's a winner!
Wild Cards! {aka Cardinals win the World Series: The 2011 version}
A view from the good seats
Day-long Date
Take me out to the ball game ...

And, really, this video will get you in the World Series spirit. Because some nights your team wins the whole thing. Yes, only one red team can win ...

Go Redbirds!
________

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} A boy and not-his dog


I'm not a pet person. Thankfully, neither is my husband. Yet, I don't want my kids to be afraid of dogs or other pets. Seems like a double standard, I know.

But something is working. My kids generally like dogs who belong to other people. A current favorite is Grandmom's puppy Baxter. Like my boy is all boy, this puppy is all puppy. Perhaps that's why they get along.

That picture above is Ben and Baxter snuggled up together earlier this month when we were visiting Grandmom in Louisville. Truly it's a small miracle both of them are sitting still. And, you know, they actually sat like this for awhile.

I posted this picture on Facebook and several people liked it. But then another friend, who is a boy momma herself, told me Ben's Superman pajamas reminded her of a song called "Godspeed Sweet Dreams," which was originally recorded by Radney Foster and then later covered by Dixie Chicks.

Every boy mom needs to hear this song.

"Dragon tales and the water is wide
Pirate's sail and lost boys fly
Fish bite moonbeams every night
And I love you

Godspeed, little man
Sweet dreams, little man
Oh, my love will fly to you
Each night on angels wings
Godspeed, sweet dreams

The rocket racer's all tuckered out
Superman's in pajamas on the couch
Goodnight moon, we'll find the mouse
And I love you

Godspeed, little man
Sweet dreams, little man
Oh, my love will fly to you
Each night on angels wings
Godspeed, sweet dreams

God bless mommy and match box cars
God bless dad and thanks for the stars
God hears amen wherever we are
And I love you

Godspeed, little man
Sweet dreams, little man
Oh, my love will fly to you
Each night on angels wings
Godspeed, Godspeed
Godspeed, sweet dreams"

Godspeed, indeed. And God bless other people's dogs. 
________

I'm linking up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where we share pictures and post the real stories behind them. 

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Pleasing the Lord


I sat down at the beginning of this new week and read these words:

"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. ... For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. ... So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise." {Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-10}

Verse 10 jumped out at me: "Carefully determine what pleases the Lord."

These words are surrounded by commands: Don't be sexually immoral, impure or greedy. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes are unnecessary. Be thankful to God. Don't be fooled by excuses for sins. Don't live in darkness. Live in Christ's light. Be careful how you live. Don't be thoughtless. Don't be drunk. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Sing praises. Give thanks. Submit to one another. {Yes, that's my personal summary, but you get the point!}

I was reminded that the specifics of imitating God and living a life in the light aren't always going to look the same. Yes, God calls his people to the same standard, but what we do with that varies. We make decisions about our marriages, parenting philosophies, schooling choices, extracurricular activities, daily routines, and careers. We have different gifts and talents and passions.

Seek God when you make decisions. And then be confident your Maker is leading you where he wants you. Yes, seek friends to encourage you and share this live with you. Yes, look to others you trust for inspiration.

But don't compare. Your life and my life aren't going to look the same. God may call me to give up something he asks you to pick up. My time isn't going to be prioritized the same as yours. Our calendars will look different and so will the ways God surprises us with his presence. You're going to go places I don't get to go and I'll journey down paths that differ from your forks in the road.

And that's OK. This is something that has been on my mind recently. It's one of those topics that crops up in my heart every now and again. God's telling me it's important. He's reminding me there is a mighty power that comes with grace. 

So, yes, pay close attention to those commands Paul wrote to the Ephesians, but also realize God manifests our obedience in personal, unique ways that all come around to pleasing him when we carefully determine our steps.
________

I'm linking up with ... 
Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party.
Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory.
Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday.
The Hello Mornings blog. 

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

{Giveaway} Trades of Hope

A local friend of mine is working to make a difference and I wanted to give her a chance to share hope with you. Meet Becky Lile. She's a wife, mother of two, college professor, and Trades of Hope compassion entrepreneur. And, hey, she's giving you a chance to win a beautiful accessory ...  


Hope. What a beautiful word. A beautiful concept. A necessary concept. People thrive on the ability to hope and see something positive in the future. I look around my little corner of the world, and even in my very worst moments and lowest times, I see hope. Opportunity. A future.

And one of the amazing things about hope is that we have the ability to give it to others. This idea has been on my mind a lot lately. A sweet friend of mine has been living in India, Thailand, and Burma for the last few months, and her Facebook posts about working with orphans, moms, widows, addicts, and more have been both challenging and encouraging. She is telling them about God’s great love for them, and through that many are experiencing new life and new hope. She also is helping in many practical ways, and through that many have new hope. Lives are being changed. I love that she is there, and I would love to visit her and join her for a while, but that’s not my season or my calling or my job right now.

A few months ago, I heard about a company called Trades of Hope, and immediately I was drawn to the vision. Trades of Hope is a missional business that partners with artisan groups in several countries to sell handmade, fair-trade items made by women who are coming out of desperate situations.

The women make beautiful items, and Trades of Hope helps market those items so that the women have a sustainable business and stable work environment. These are women who are now able to support themselves and their children, avoid prostitution and sex trafficking, overcome gender bias, live on sustainable wages, and have hope.

These women are not in poverty because they lack abilities, but because they lack opportunity. They do not want charity; they need an opportunity. And beautiful scarves, jewelry, bowls, and handbags are part of the solution.

Every purchase through Trades of Hope gives women the opportunity to get clean water and medical care, to send their children to school and put food on the table, and it gives them a second chance at life!

The artisans are women in Uganda who can send their kids to school and pay for their HIV medical care by making bracelets; victims of acid attacks in Cambodia who learn a trade of crocheting and knitting while gaining dignity and healing; Haitian women who are keeping their babies instead of giving them to an orphanage because they’re making beauty out of cereal boxes; even girls in California, rescued from sex trafficking in our own country, who are learning they are cherished and redeemed while making recycled glass necklaces.


In a time when we hear so many tales of heartbreak, suffering, pain, and persecution, it is a blessing to know we CAN do something to make a difference … and to help provide hope. As you begin shopping for family and friends for Christmas, birthdays, or other events, please consider giving a gift that gives twice.

{Orders from Trades of Hope usually arrive within 5-10 days, but if you're Christmas shopping you should keep in mind orders may take a bit longer to arrive in December.}

I invite you to take a look around my site, view the accessories, and read the artisan profiles. You are welcome to host a party with a purpose or purchase a fair-trade product and make a difference for positive change in the world – one accessory at a time. And if you want to become even more involved, contact me about becoming a compassion entrepreneur.

I’d love for you to see these gorgeous, life-changing items in person. At least one of you will! One reader will win this aqua scarf made by women in Nepal.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and has an unemployment rate of more than 40%. Many girls are lured into the sex trade to survive. Every year approximately 10,000 girls from ages 9 to 16 are sold, stolen, or forced into brothels. The young women making these scarves have been given an opportunity to earn a fair wage by making handcrafts. They can make a living with dignity and are being trained to own their own businesses. Now that is a pretty powerful scarf!

If you’d like to win this beautiful scarf, use the Rafflecopter entry form below. A winner will be randomly chosen Saturday, Oct. 26.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


UPDATED! Congratulations to Alecia from There's Something Different for winning this lovely scarf! Thanks to everyone for reading, participating and sharing. And thanks to Becky for posting this giveaway here!
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Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Be a Good {Long-Distance} Friend

College friends reunited in March 2012.

We have friends coming into town this weekend. One of the perks of living in our college town is friends coming back for Homecoming. This year our friend Kelly and her two daughters who are my kids' ages are staying with us. I'm so grateful for these times of being able to catch up with people we don't see enough of in our everyday lives.

Two weeks ago, I posted How to Be a Good {Local} Friend. Better late than never, here is the next installment for those of you needing inspiration on how to maintain the long-distance friendship.

1. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else to spark real conversations. Those conversation may happen in emails, text messages, phone calls or Facebook messages, but go deeper than what's happening in the public profile of your chose technology, ask questions, swap stories or continue previous conversation on a personal level. {Holly and I have had real-life conversations in hundreds of emails.} Maintaining long-distance friendships is certainly aided greatly by technology, but you still have to make an investment.

2. Send care packages and real mail. Yes, do it for birthdays or other special dates. But also do it just because you two once bonded over the deliciousness of circus peanuts, share a special love for those seasonal Brach's Chick and Bunnies, and happen upon a bag of this candy while grocery shopping. Yes, that's a specific example from my life, right, Katie? It doesn't have to involve candy. You could send cards or photos or gifts.

3. Invite them over. Long-distant friends may not be conveniently located in your same town, but you can still invite them over. Get dates on the calendar and make plans.

4. Be willing to go see them. When we go on a road trip, often prompted by a particular event, I try to schedule dates with other friends who live in that area. It doesn't mean I can always see everyone I hope to see, but it's worth trying.

5. Tell your kids about these friends. My kids adore a few of my out-of-town friends. So when we do get to see them, they're just as excited as I am. Seeing my kids befriend my long-time friends' kids who live other places is one of the greatest joys of motherhood. And they adore the grown-up friends too when they know they're like family.

6. If you can't be there physically, send something. When my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly a few years ago, some friends journeyed to our small town to grieve our loss and celebrate his life with us. Others couldn't be here, which is understandable, but they sent flowers, pictures frames, cards and texts of prayers.

What else do you do to keep in touch with your long-distance friends?
________

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stop the mommy wars!

Moms {and dads} make countless decisions every day to do what we believe is best for our kids. Thing is, not all our decisions are the same. And that is OK, really. 

These decisions too often become debates with lines deeply drawn: Formula feeding vs. nursing. Co-sleeping vs. a crib in a different bedroom. Working vs. staying home. Schooling choices. Discipline methods. And there are so many smaller decisions about our routines, naptimes, snacks, food choices, TV time, extracurricular activities that are made constantly.

Motherhood rocked my world and I have no idea where I'd be without my friends who are journeying through this season of raising little ones. We have so many things in common. My kids have known some of my friends' kids their whole little lives. Others go to church or school with us. We meet at the park for lunch, go swimming and to the movies, and celebrate birthdays and milestones.

Yet we don't all do motherhood the same. I have friends who home school and others whose kids go to the nearby public school. My kids go to a small, private school. My best friend is in the process of going back to work full time, while I'm trying to be intentional about my stay-at-home time. Everyone in my house sleeps better when we're all in our own beds, but I have a dear friend who is used to little ones in her bed.

We could defend and debate why we do what we do. But, truth is, we're all doing the best we can. Real life isn't perfect. Some choices are hard. But our best is even better when we let each other in and cling to this community we're creating.

This is the essence of the Knock It Off! campaign Hearts at Home is promoting.

The Knock It Off! Commitment

I realize how often I judge myself.
I realize how often I judge others.

Because of these realizations, I commit to:
* Giving myself grace when I make mistakes.
* Extending grace to other moms when they make mistakes.
* Offering other moms the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to judgmental conclusions.
* Recognizing that I cannot be and will never be a perfect mom.
* Refusing the temptation to judge when other moms make different choices than I make.
* Embracing differences instead of criticizing them.
* Resisting the urge to compare my insides to other women’s outsides.
* Making strides in honesty with other moms and living an authentic life.
* Doing my part to stop the mommy wars, one "Knock It Off" decision at a time.

{Sign this commitment and learn more here.}

If I see a mom with a screaming kid in the grocery store, I don't want to assume she doesn't discipline her child. Maybe she's having a hard day. Or a hard month. I want to be ready to lend a helping hand when a mom of three is juggling life when I pass her on the street. I hope I speak kindness to other moms rather than spew all the reasons she should do what I'm doing. I want to have conversations about real life and spur one another on toward the decisions we all have to make every day of our lives. 

Want to join me? 
________

I'm linking up with author Jill Savage today as she and other bloggers promote the Knock It Off campaign. Visit her blog and Hearts at Home for more encouragement. This year as been about embracing imperfection in my own life. One of my favorite resources on the topic is Jill Savage's "No More Perfect Moms." I'm including an affiliate link to the book, but regular readers know this isn't the first time I've recommended it! I'm thrilled she has a follow-up book called "No More Perfect Kids" coming out next year.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

{Guest Post} The True Timekeeper

Jen Ferguson is one of my favorite online blogging friends. I'm determined to meet her in real life some day, hopefully soon. She's real when she shares stories and prays right then and there when she says she'll pray. Her words have encouraged and blessed me. Today I'm honored to share some words from my story over at her place.


I don’t wear a watch, but I usually know what time it is. I don’t like to be late and actually prefer to be a few minutes early.

I use an alarm to wake up most mornings these days and I show up when I need to be wherever I’m going. I show up to transport kids, for appointments and commitments, to meet a friend for lunch, and to watch a friend’s kid who is my kid’s friend. I run errands and take care of household chores.

And I usually think I’m on time.

But, really, I’m not actually in charge of my time. And I’m certainly not in charge of other people’s time even though I think I am and I’d like to be.

It’s a good thing I know who is in charge of time, even when I’ve got the time wrong. Too often I rush the moment. Sometimes I wait until the last minute and have to hurry everyone along because I have a stubborn streak. And then stress escalates and time seems to speed up while others’ movements slow down.

But God’s time is perfect. He sees the whole timeline and doesn’t make mistakes with the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and years.


{Finish reading what God's been telling me about time at Finding Heaven Today ...}
________

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Grace that smells like fresh flowers

While I was burning soup that was supposed to be our dinner tonight, my husband was buying my flowers.

Really.

Yes, I burned soup. To make it worse, it was my freezer and only needed to be heated up. For whatever reason, I put the soup in a pot and turned on high heat. And then I got distracted.

Some soups may have fared alright but the broccoli cheese soup was nearly overflowing the pot and full of burnt globs when I finally stirred it and turned down the heat.

I called my husband and the conversation went like this:

Greg: Hey, darlin'.
Me: I just burned dinner.
Greg: Do you want me to bring something home?
Me: How about we go to Zaxby's? Kids eat free tonight.
Greg: OK, meet me there in a few minutes?
Me: Sure. But aren't you still at work? 
Greg: I'm {pause ...} at Kroger buying you a treat. 
Me: A treat for me? 
Greg: I thought you would like some flowers. 
Me: That's sweet. And thanks for not caring about the soup I just burned. 
Greg: See you at Zaxby's in a few minutes. 

That's some real-life grace right there, where fresh flowers drown the smell of burnt cheese and broccoli.  

I'm still reading "One Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian. I highly recommend it. I'm on page 167 of 227, but I would have recommended it from the introduction alone. While reading it the last couple weeks, I've had so many thoughts of grace and how it applies to identity and marriage and friendships and Christianity and service and parenting and daily life. And, like only God can do, opportunities to live what I'm learning are happening all around me.

This isn't the first time I've messed up dinner, forgotten an ingredient in the middle of cooking, or allowed my day to get away with me without making a plan for what we could eat. Greg has never made my identity as a wife be defined by what we eat for {or where we eat!} dinner. Even the time we both got sick after eating some homemade beef stroganoff, Greg didn't love me less because I failed at dinner time.

I didn't cook much when we first got married. In 2005, I decided cooking wasn't so bad and now we even have our favorite recipes. But plenty of times I still mess up. Yes, in the kitchen, but also in all the rooms of my life.

And then Greg walks in holding a bouquet of flowers. Just because he knew I'd like them.

This isn't the first time I've been handed a gift that has absolutely nothing to do with my performance. And by gifts I don't mean tangible treats like flowers, but all the expressions of grace that show up in my life. My husband has done it many times before. I'm blessed with friends who know how to spur one another one. I'm hoping my kids learn how to give like this. When I let go of my perfectionist, performance-based ways, I know that it's so much freeing to give and receive grace than keep a scorecard of successes and failures.

And God has done this since the beginning of time. Grace was God's idea. He showed the ultimate grace for me and you with his son on a cross. And he continues to show it in my life in simple moments, like my husband buying me flowers while I'm busy burning our dinner.
________

I'm linking up with ...
Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where grace abounds. 
Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where real stories are shared. 
Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, where God moves.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

{Giveaway} Audrey Bunny

Now that my girl is a full-fledged reader, she doesn't sit in my lap and let me read her books as often as she used to. While I love seeing her quietly devouring "Heidi" in one day, I enjoyed reading her a book recently. And what a book it was.

"Audrey Bunny" by Angie Smith is new, but it's already on my list of favorites. It's an adoption story that applies to everyone. Seriously. Such sweet words that remind us God loves us, created us uniquely, and chooses us. {Just like Psalm 139 expresses.}


Cate embraced this sweet children's book. The pictures by Breezy Brookshire are beautiful. The words tell a story of adoption and acceptance. Audrey Bunny is embarrassed about an imperfect mark, but that same mark is what makes her unique and loved by Caroline.

"... Caroline looked right into Audrey's eyes. Then she lifted up her bunny ear and whispered, 'I've always known, Audrey Bunny. The spot over your heart made you beautiful to me.' Caroline's eyes glistened as she finished. 'I chose you, Audrey, and I love you more than you could ever know."

This message is dear to me because Cate and I have had lots of conversations this year about adoption. At 6, she's so accepting of the way God made us a family. I'm looking forward to having similar conversations with my 3-year-old Ben as he grows up.

My hope is they both continue to know God orchestrated their stories. As they grow up, I want them to know they're chosen and loved, by us their parents, yes, but most importantly by God, who made us and love us beyond what we can comprehend.

"Audrey Bunny" is sweet, beautiful and full of truth -- and ideal combination in a children's book.

Take a peek inside ...

_______

About "Audrey Bunny" :: This children's book is about a stuffed animal named Audrey Bunny who fears her imperfections make her unworthy of a little girl's love. She'll learn the truth soon enough, and young readers will learn that everyone is special and wonderfully made by God.

{This post Angie wrote about "The Mark" in the book is worth reading.}

About the author :: Angie Smith is the wife of Todd Smith (lead singer of Dove Award winning group Selah), bestselling author (of "Mended," "I Will Carry You," and "What Women Fear"), and one of the most popular speakers and blog writers in the country. She holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Vanderbilt University and lives with her husband and daughters in Nashville, TN.

So, now, the giveaway. Other than the actual Bible or devotionals, what other books speak truth into your child's life? Share one book title in the comments as your entry for the giveaway, which is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll randomly choose a winner on Saturday, Oct. 19.

{Edited 10.19.13 :: Congratulations, Mary! You win! The book will head your way soon from FlyBy Promotions.}
________

I had "Audrey Bunny" by Angie Smith on my Amazon wish list when I got an email from FlyBy Promotions asking if I wanted a copy to review and another to offer one of you. Well, yes. And thank you. Obviously, I recommend you buy this book if you aren't the one who gets a free copy in the mail. It's available at Amazon, DaySpring and B&H Publishing. {Those first two are affiliate links to locations that seem to be offering discounts of the $14.99 publisher's price.}

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Just a mom

I became a mom to two almost 4 years ago. November 2009.

People talk about the terrible 2s, but nobody warned me about 4. Seriously, this has been the age {so far} that has rocked our house.

First, with my girl. The week she turned 4, I thought she had a personality transplant. Crying breakdowns became normal for what turned out to be a temporary season. You know, the midst of certain seasons, I feel like things will never change. And this was one of those, but, really, I don't think it even lasted all that long.

In fact, I forgot about it.

Until last night.

I was sharing with our small group from church that Ben hasn't been himself. Now, he's an independent, stubborn kid who has opinions about most everything. But, even so, he's been whiny and has seemed sad about nothing really. There have been breakdowns we can't even trace back to a specific disappointment or situation. And while I was asking for my friends to pray for him and us as parents, Cate turning 4 came to mind.

Ben will be 4 in 47 days.

And I'm grateful I've been here before because reminiscing gives me hope that this too shall indeed pass.

I've said it before and I know I'll say it again: Being a mom is hard. Yet I don't want to be doing anything else. I've actually felt distracted from my role as a mom {and wife} because I took on too many "other" commitments. God's been teaching me about seasons and letting go and saying no and being present and finding balance.

One of these lessons came last week when I was reading "The Applause of Heaven" by Max Lucado. In a chapter on meekness, he writes:

"Once again, the mundane became majestic. Once again, the dull became divine, the humdrum holy. Once again, God's power was seen not through the ability of the instrument, but through it's availability. 'Blessed are the meek,' Jesus explained. Blessed are the available. Blessed are the conduits, the tunnels, the tools. Deliriously joyful are the ones who believe that if God has used sticks, rocks, and spit to do his will, that he can use us."

I've been realizing over and over lately I'm living in such a way that assumes I have to be more than "just a mom." I've created a life that has me too busy to enjoy the moments with my kids because I'm wondering when I will have to to get this and that done. I am not available in the ways I want to be to my husband, my kids and my friends.

God has been nudging me away from these good things to remind me being "just a mom" is a worthy calling. My identity isn't in my performance and productivity spurred on by perfectionism. I'm a child of God. Yes, I'm a wife, mom, daughter, aunt, friend, neighbor, writer, diabetic, house keeper, grocery shopper, errand runner, carpool driver ... and the list could go on.

And God's got plans for me here. Here where loading the dishwasher and folding another load of clothes may seem mundane. Here where I find freedom in not going anywhere. Here where I can say yes to my friends who need help because I've purposefully left space on my calendar. Here where hurried doesn't have to be the way of life. Here where God meets me in the ordinary moments.

The breakdowns will come and they will pass. The strange 4-year-old season that rocks our house won't last forever. Neither will the days of them needing me like they need me now. God uses whatever we've got. He uses us wherever we are. It might seem mundane but he makes it all majestic. We've just got to be available.
________

I'm linking this post this week with ... 
Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party. 
Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday.
Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

{Giveaway} One Way Love

When someone asks how I am, I often answer with a list of what I've accomplished. Far too often, productivity terms my perceived worth.

God's been talking to me about that. He's been showing me how my true identity is in him. He's been reminding me life is about relationships and moments, not necessarily conquering a to-do list.

I certainly know perfectionism, which often pushes me toward a distorted identity that I base on performance. While I know my identity isn't in what I do, I too often get caught up in proving I can juggle motherhood, freelance work, housekeeping responsibilities, hobbies, friends, and serving in our community.

Um, I say I can. Maybe I can if I want to be stressed, overwhelmed, and missing the best parts of life. But I am certain that's not what God wants for me.

In the past several weeks, God has convinced me that there is freedom in letting go and saying no. But doing this I can say yes to what God truly has for me. Last week, I let go of a freelance job. And I know other specific things I'm supposed to do {or, rather, not do ...} so I can be more available and present.

These are the sort of things on my mind when I opened "One Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian. And then when I started underlining in the introduction, I was confident I was reading a worthwhile book. 

"When we worship at the alter of performance -- and make no mistake, performance is a form of worship -- we spend our lives frantically propping up our images or reputations, trying to do it all -- and do it all well -- often at the cost of ourselves and those we love.

... The hub of Christianity is not 'do something for Jesus.' The hub of Christianity is 'Jesus has done everything for you.' And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of Christian faith is our love for God instead of God's love for us. Don't get me wrong -- what we do is important. But it is infinitely less important that what Jesus has done for us."
{From the introduction of "One Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian}

Enter grace. Such a big, sometimes mysterious concept. But Tchividjian makes is so real and practical. So many good lines I want to remember in ways that make my life different.

"Grace generates panic, because it wrestles both control and glory out of our hands."

"... because Jesus paid it all, we are free from the need to do it all."

While this one-way love will change us, obsessing over that process will distract from the purpose. I've been known to over-analyze a moment. I've been sucked into trying to figure it all out and then wanting to explain it. This book has reminded me that self-absorption, like performance and perfectionism, is exactly the opposite of grace.

Even as I learn of grace, I'm still surprised by its presence. Tchividjian says being unexpected is one of the primary characteristics of this amazon one-way love:

"Grace is always a surprise. We are hardwired for reciprocity and punishment; tit for tat is an utterly instinctual mode of thinking and living. So when someone withholds judgment, especially when it is deserved, we are astonished." 

Admittedly, I've read this book too fast. I need to go back and reread the parts I've starred and underlined. I've jotted down notes next to passages because grace is a transforming truth I need more of in my life.

Ironically, I need to slow down in life too. Yes, life is busy, but I know God is calling me to be even more intentional with my time so I can be present to be available to what others need and what the Maker of it all is trying to show me.
________

About "One Way Love" :: Real life is long on law and short on grace -- the demands never stop, the failures pile up, and fear sets in. Life requires many things from us -- a stable marriage, successful children, a certain quality of life. Anyone living inside the guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty of daily life knows that the weight of life is heavy. We are all in need of some relief. Bestselling author Tullian Tchividjian is convinced our world needs a fresh encounter with grace.

Learn more at the book's website.

About the author :: William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. A Florida native, Tullian is the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. He is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal. He is an ordained minister in Presbyterian Church of America. He is the author of six books, including the best seller, "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" that won Christianity Today’s 2011 book of the year. He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the country.

Follow Tullian Tchividjian on Twitter.
________

Now, it's giveaway time! If you could pick up a book that speaks to what you're going through in life right now, what kind of topic would you choose?

Leave a comment below answering that question and you'll be entered the winner. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll randomly choose a winner on Friday.

{Edited 10.11.13 :: Congratulations to Jen Ferguson for winning this copy of "One Way Love."}
________

I received a copy of "One Way Love" to review from FlyBy Promotions, which is also providing a second copy to whoever wins this giveaway. It may have been free, but this book's message echoed so many things God has been showing me in my everyday life. And, hey, "One Way Love" {Amazon affiliate link} is worth the money if you want to buy it. 

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Quiet

I needed today.

I spent the morning at my house alone while both my kids were at school. I spent the morning in sweatpants that made me feel like I was waiting for a flood but they were comfortable anyway. I spent the morning reading and cleaning and responding to emails and rearranging furniture. Laundry was going. Chicken was cooking in the Crock Pot.

My house, my thoughts, my words, my calendar, and my to-do list were quiet. And that's exactly what I needed.

Speaking of quiet, finding a home for this table is what led to the furniture rearranging. What's that have to do with quiet? Well, it had been sitting in the upstairs hallway for almost a week. Now it has a home. {Clean and organized help quiet my life.} And I have a new place to do morning reading and writing. {Quiet place for my HelloMornings.}

Please notice the quilt. Holly made it for me and calls it The Everything Quilt because it's from scraps she had leftover from other more-themed quilts. That's kind of like our friendship, which is a whole bunch of everything to me.

So, back to my day. My sister-in-law brought Ben home and I popped a frozen pizza in the oven. We had lunch. He watched some Disney Junior and then took a nap. I did more of what I had done in the morning and then watched an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" while I folded a couple loads of towels.

Y'all. I was done with "Grey's Anatomy." It was once a favorite of mine. So well written. Such strong, likable characters. But the plot got lazy. Everybody had slept with everybody. So I quit the show. And, really, I hadn't looked back.

And then I watched the premiere of season eight. Now I'm nine episodes in and I'm sucked back in. {Seriously, this ninth episode was oh-so good.} The plot is strong again and even includes an adoption story line. The characters aren't getting on my nerves like they were. It's like I want to fold laundry, you know, so I can sit down and watch.

Really, I don't need another show to watch right now. The DVR is set up to record "Scandal," "Parenthood" and "The Good Wife" this season.

So, anyway, I only had time for one episode this afternoon before I had to leave the house for the first time today to pick up Cate. Yes, rearranging furniture and watching TV trumped showering. Yes, that means I went to pick her up in my waiting-for-a-flood sweat pants and the shirt I wore yesterday and slept in.

OK, I know. That's quite a confession. I'm just keepin' it real, though. So much so I called my dear friend Katie and left a 2 minute 42 second message about my day. Clearly, I haven't socialized much.

Now it's time to prepare the poppyseed chicken casserole I'm making for Jaclyn and her family who are coming over for dinner and Settlers of Catan. I think I'll shower too ... or at least change my clothes. And maybe I'll hang back up the framed pictures I started moving around on my walls.

I'm an extrovert with introvert tendencies. And I needed today just as it's been.

So, how's your day been? What shows are you watching these days?
________

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

How to Be a Good {Local} Friend

April 2013.

After school one last week we went to met Jaclyn and her kids at the park because it had been too long since we'd be together in person. Texts only sustain for so long when you live three-tenths of a mile from your best friend.

Five kids in five years have taken a college friendship to new levels that I'd be lost without. And my kids know it too.

My niece and nephew were in the van after school the other day when I told my kids we were going to meet Luke, Norah and Caroline at the park. My nephew asked if Jaclyn was my sister or friend and my 3-year-old Ben answered: "Jaclyn is almost family."

Indeed. Almost family is one of the reasons I love living in this small town of ours. God surprised me with some of the best friends of my life here. We do live together, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

In honor of my friends here who are like family, I put together a list of how to be a good {local} friend:

1. Make plans. Invite someone over. Suggest a meeting at the park or coffee shop. Host other families and people in different season of life for dinner.

2. Text and call. Follow up if you know someone had an appointment or started a new job. Just ask how she is. And really listen.

3. Deliver dinner. This is a favorite of mine since I learned several years ago when Cate was born what a blessing this truly is. I like to take a casserole or soup earlier in the day so my friend can just bake/reheat it when she's ready to eat.

4. Send real mail. I do this sometimes because, like the food delivery, I like it myself. Not too long ago a friend sent me a multi-page, handwritten letter! Such a treat! Emails are good too.

5. Include friends in your regular routine. There is another family we eat with after church most weeks. Another family shares our addiction to Settlers of Catan. We have friends getting ready to have their first baby that have introduced us to more than one new game.

6. Tell a friend if you miss her. Just because someone lives close doesn't mean we have to be alright with not actually seeing her.

7. Do it -- just because. It could be anything. Bake them a dessert. Treat her to lunch. Send her flowers.

8. Offer to keep her kids. Maybe you know she's busy. Maybe you know she'd like a break. Maybe your kids want playmates. Just because works here too.

9. Share real life. Trust them with the hard things. Let them in when your house is a mess and your heart isn't much tidier. Reveal fears and dreams.

10. Make yourself available. This may mean to ask if there are errands you can run while you're grocery shopping or being willing to rearrange your day to help her. It could also mean incorporating any of the other nine things listed above, even if it interrupts what you had planned.

What else would you add? How are you a good friend to those near you or how have they been good to you?
________

Coming next week: How to Be a Good {Distance} Friend.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gracias, Mexico.

I have this mental list of places I want to visit and things I want to do on road trips. Honestly, Mexico wasn't on the list. But I'm oh-so glad my husband had the idea to go. So, with that said, here are seven reasons I'm saying thank you to Mexico.


 1. The all-inclusive resort was great. The food there was delicious. The grounds were pretty. And the people were so friendly. We used All Inclusive Outlet and learned about El Dorado Royale, an adult-only resort between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This was our first time staying at an all-inclusive resort and I totally recommend it.

2. I slept so good while we were gone. Perhaps that's what relaxing does for a momma away from her kids. Unfortunately, I haven't slept that great since we've been back home, mostly thanks to a nagging cough. So, really, I kind would like that king-sized hotel bed back.


3. Beach cabanas. For a beach lover like me, having a bed or couch in a personal shaded hut right there on the beach was the perfect setting for me to relax. Did I mention I read three novels while we were on vacation? Yeah, that's what happens when I have free time and relax. Greg says I'm nicer too. {The relaxation must have been good for my health too because my blood sugar was so consistently good.}

4. The kids had fun here too. The grandmas split the five full days we were gone. My mom stayed here the first night we were gone and then took the kids to her house in Louisville for the weekend. Then my mother-in-law stayed here with them the last two nights. {Technically, we were gone only four nights, but we didn't get home until 2 a.m. that last one.}

5. Greg and I needed the time. I'm not much on going on trips without my kids, but this particular trip came at a good time in our life. We've had a busy, busy summer. I wrote freelance and managed lake houses and took care of kids and did fun things with kids and spent hours at the pool and hung out with friends. And my husband's busiest season at work is July and August. The time to talk, reconnect, eat meals I didn't have to prepare, explore, and just be together was good for us.


6. Adventure is fun. Years ago I would tell you I wasn't adventurous at all. But I think I kind of am, actually. We've bungy jumped and ziplined before. On this trip, we spent the day with Adventuras Mayas, where we ziplined, rappelled and snorkeled in a fresh water river in a cave and in the ocean. They also fed us delicious Mexican food. {This was the only day we left the resort, but it was certainly worth it.}


7. Sunshine. We went to Mexico during its rainy season, which I understand is risky. {Just look at the forecast not long before we left.} But it only rained during the day one of the days we were there. I didn't swim as much as I thought I would {see #3}, but we certainly enjoyed being outside. Other than lounging, we enjoyed a bike tour around the resort on our first morning there.

So, gracias, Mexico. We loved our time with you.
________

I uploaded all our pictures to a Facebook album, if this sample isn't enough. Here are a couple recent posts that indirectly are related to our trip: Find Your Balance. Six Things I Learned in September.  

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} Pedaling through life

I told her about riding my bike with my friends through out neighborhood. It was the way I transported myself from one place to another. Throughout our horseshoe-shaped neighborhood, I peddled up and down hills, into friends' driveways, and back home again. I still have the scar on my knee from when flipped and crashed down the hill on Cardinal Drive. Upon that 10-speed bike, I dreamed of what was to come next and how I would get there.

Riding bikes reminds me to be free. As a kid, that bike of mine helped me explore wide open spaces and foster relationships that mattered. Independence and confidence came as I pedaled and coasted before nightfall came and us neighborhood kids traded our bike rides for games of flashlight tag.

It's hard to explain all of that to a 6-year-old girl who was hesitant to pedal on her own. But, like mommas do, I knew she'd love the freedom that would come when she decided she wanted to learn to ride a bike. 

And let me tell you, when my girl decides something she's all in. Greg worked with her some on Saturday {when I took this picture}. She didn't ride on her own that day, but she conquered her fear, which, really, was the biggest obstacle.

As I cooked in the kitchen that morning, I thought about how she's so much like me. She's hesitant of change and has to get herself to be the place of embracing it. But once she's there, she's committed and eager.

Last night I came home from a meeting to news from Greg that our girl had rode her bike by her self. Cate was still awake when I went to check on her, so she jumped {literally} in her bed and told me about it. Even Ben told me about it this morning. His excitement about his sister's accomplishment was genuine.

I hope her first solo pedals were only the beginning to so much adventure before her. I hope for friends and place to inspire her like my neighborhood bike rides did me. And I hope she realizes sooner than I did that trying new things and changes that come naturally with life are worth embracing.

Oh, and totally unlike me, she rode her bike for the first time in a dress and sparkly flats.
________

I'm linking today with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, where we share real life. 

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