Friday, January 31, 2014

Six Things I Learned in January

Here we are. First month of the new year done.

I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything.

But it's true. And, yes, unbelievable. So, before it totally escapes, I'm going to recap these past 31 days with some things I've learned {or perhaps realized and remembered}.

1. It doesn't snow just because the temperatures are in the single digits. OK, so, I didn't learn this. But, really, if it's going to be 8 degrees, there might as well be inches of snow on the ground so I can't leave my house. Instead, here in western Kentucky, we had a bunch of really cold days. {All of this comes from the girl who loves summer.}

2. With the right number of doctor's appointments, it's possibly to make a good dent in that new deductible in just the first month of the year. I've visited the gynecologist, endocrinologist and orthopedic for various unrelated reasons. My son has been to the allergist and pediatrician. Then there's an ENT visit for him and another check up for me next week to start February. Plus there are my diabetes prescriptions that have been filled plus Ben's new EpiPen that accompanies us to twice-weekly allergy shots.

3. Certain kids music can be good even when the kids aren't still in the car. I'm almost entirely referring to Slugs & Bugs' "Sing the Bible." If we hadn't had the "Frozen" soundtrack on so frequently and the temperatures hadn't been so cold, I may have left that one on too ... at least for a few minutes. "Let it go ..." is kind of a theme for me. {I recently wrote about such here and here.}

4. People respond to real life. I posted a couple pictures online showing my real life laundry piles and dirty dishes and discussed dinner. People liked them and talked about their own houses. And at least two people even took their own pictures {here and here}.

5. I like binge watching TV shows more than watching movies. I guess this isn't something learned as much as it's something affirmed. We finished watch "Dexter" this month, thanks to Netflix. And this week we started "Covert Affairs," courtesy Amazon Instant Video. {Speaking of which, do you use Amazon Prime? Y'all. I'm addicted. The free two-day shipping has replaced some of my trips to the store. And now I found a show to watch for no extra charge beyond the $79/annual subscription fee.}

6. I do much reminiscing in January, a month that holds some landmark moments for me. I became a Christian in 1996. Greg proposed in 2002. I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004. We met Cate's birth mom for the first time in 2007. Ben's adoption was finalized in 2010. This month hasn't had life-changing moments like those, but it's been busy and full of real life with a house, a husband, two kids, a vacation rental house, a job managing another vacation home, school commitments, friends who are like family, and family who are friends too.

What's your month been like?

Author Emily Freeman got me started documenting life this way. {See previous posts from 2013: JuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctober. November.} Emily's January post is worth your time as is sponsoring a child through Compassion International, as her post suggests. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You aren't alone.

I drove the mini van 94 miles one way to a doctor's appointment this morning. Us mommas aren't alone like that very often.

But, you know, I wasn't really alone on that stretch of highway that holds so much history for me.

After I told them where I was going, my kids would tell you it's how we go to Grandmom's. I explained that I turned off that route before I got all the way to my mom's house. But I thought about my parents and my childhood home they don't live in anymore and all those trips back and forth from August 1997 to May 2001 when I was a college student. About four hours from the only home and life I had known and my college choice, that road bridged two realities and the transition of me beginning to build my own life.

The same stretch of highway also took Greg and I to where we turned off to head north to meet Cate's birthmom various times between Jan. 18 and almost four months later on May 6, 2007, the day new life was born both in the literal sense and the way our family was forever changed.

Today the radio and my iTunes playlists played songs that took me back to moments and reminded me of people. So I texted -- hooray voice text! -- a few friends, called another and Voxed another. Driving on the open reminds me to tell people they matter to me, probably because my journey through this life wouldn't be the same without them, despite the miles that separate.

I made mental notes and actual notes because driving gives me room to breathe and think and remember and plan and dream.

There weren't many cars on the road and there wasn't anyone else in my seven-passenger vehicle. But I wasn't actually alone. And that's the way God intended life to be. We were made for community. With him. With our family. With our friends.

So even when I do get some quiet moments alone, the peace that comes reassures me I'm not alone on the open road of life. The memories, the sounds, the people, the destinations, and the silence blend together to create lovely scenery that I wouldn't trade for any other journey because this is the one God has for me. You aren't alone in your journey either. 

With this post, I'm joining Holley Gerth for her weekly community of encouragement when writers gather for Coffee for Your Heart and Beth Stiff, who hosts the lovely Three Word Wednesday

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A decade of diabetes

I had lost a ton of weight. I was always thirsty. And my contacts constantly felt dry in my eyes.

Those were my symptoms. For months. For a year at least. Really, probably closer to 18 months. At first I didn't notice. Then I needed to hold on a couple more months until my health insurance kicked in.

I chose a doctor a friend had gone to and liked. And within five minutes of talking to the doctor, I learned I probably had diabetes. She ordered a blood test to confirm, but she told me to go home and pack a bag for the hospital.

I cried. I called Greg. I cried. I called my mom. I cried. My best friend came over. I cried.

I cried because I was scared.

Even on this first day of being a diabetic, I was thankful for my doctor. She was calm and encouraging. And she didn't let me in on just how dangerously high my blood sugar was. I mean, she told me the number, which was in the 500s, but she didn't let me know just how worrisome that was. She also didn't tell me until later about my A1C, which measures the average blood sugar level over the past few months, and how it indicated diabetes had gone undiagnosed in me for quite some time.

Some time in the previous year or maybe even two, my pancreas had stopped working. A virus killing off good cells is the best possible cause, but, really, the reason is a mystery. Turns out, my pancreas doesn't produce insulin and my body was burning fat because it couldn't properly break down sugar, leading to my thirst and hunger issues and weight loss.

I should say here science was my least favorite subject in school, making medical jargon and explanations seem like a foreign language.

Upon my diagnosis a decade ago, I spent three nights in the hospital, where the nurses gradually brought my blood sugar level down with shots of insulin in my upper arm and tended to my dehydrated body with fluids. I learned how to count carbohydrates, give myself insulin shots and monitor my blood sugar levels. I realized our bodies are complex and that addressing this one need helped me feel so much better in every way.

The rule-follower, people-pleaser in me kicked in, giving me enough strength to do what I needed to do for my own good.

For more than 7 1/2 years, I took one kind of insulin every time I eat and another kind each evening. Then in September 2011, I started using an insulin pump, which was such a good decision for me. This change came on the heels of me choosing a new doctor when the one who diagnosed me closed her practice. When I hesitated about his recommendation for pump therapy, he said if I decided do it I'd regret not doing it five years earlier.

Turns out, he was pretty much right.

Then toward the end of 2012, this doctor, who taught me more about how diabetes effected my body than any other doctor before, moved from my small town. I started seeing another primary care physician in the same practice but it hasn't been the same since.

I still go to the doctor every three months to have blood work done so my blood sugar, thyroid function and cholesterol levels can be monitored. But that new doctor {the third, if you're keeping count ...} also recently moved from Murray. I have an appointment in a couple months to see yet another doctor in that practice, but I don't have high hopes she'll teach me like my first two. So tomorrow I have an appointment with an endocrinologist 94 miles away. He comes recommended by two people in the diabetic world I trust.

This doctor situation has been a burden to me. It's frustrating and keeps becoming more and more logistically complicated. Add in the fact I've been having an ongoing arm pain and unexplained hemangioma {a benign vascular tumor of sorts} on a female part, and I'm sort of tired of doctor's appointments.

One doctor recently called me a puzzle. She was talking about the hemangioma.

But she could have been referring to diabetes or arm pain. Nobody can pin down why or when my pancreas decided to stop working. My shoulder has had some inflammation before. But who knows why it decides to flare up when it does.

Talk about embracing imperfection.

I had a good cry ... well, OK, two cries ... earlier this month. Mostly looking at my calendar of doctor's appointment overwhelmed me. But I'm thankful for the way God continues to sustain me and teach me about just how complicated and precise his creations are.

My kids like to watch my change my insulin pump infusion set, fill the new reservoir with insulin from the vial, and prick my finger to check my blood sugar. I know if I go too many days without exercise that my blood sugar rises for several days, giving me headaches. And when I do exercise, I have to take off my insulin pump so my blood sugar doesn't go too low.

I certainly don't manage it perfectly, and I still like to treat myself to sweets {with extra insulin, of course}. But I take care of myself, even though it's frustrating some times. A side effect of insulin is the difficulty losing weight. Yet I have to take it. I've gained more weight back in the past decade than I lost in those months before my diabetes diagnosis.

Like most people, I'm better off to pass on the desserts. But I like food. It's a vicious cycle. Usually I am thankful my chronic condition is one that is manageable. But some days I wish I could have a normally functioning pancreas.

For someone who took the minimum amount of science in high school and college, this last decade has been a crash course in anatomy, biology and even chemistry.

I don't really want to live Jan. 28, 2004, over again. But that diagnosis is part of me. I don't cringe when I give myself a shot or prick my finger. I just do it. Most of the pharmacist technicians at Rite-Aid know my name when I walk in to pick up my diabetes supplies.

Much of those first few days is a blur. But I remember one thing clearly: When I called Greg just a few minutes after I found out, crying, of course, he said, "It's OK, we'll change our lifestyle." He said, "we," and I was reminded I'm married to my one who is willing to live life with me, despite circumstances that may alter the course we thought we were on.

And he's lived by that these past 10 years. He knows when I get irritable there is a good chance my blood sugar is high. He knows if my words start to be confusing and I'm sweating that my blood sugar is too low.

God created me and knows the details of every hormone and organ in my body. I may not know why my pancreas quit working or answers to a list of other health-related questions, but I'm thankful there are ways to continue living this life, my life.

This is certainly a real-life look behind the scenes of my life, so I'm linking with Crystal Stine today. 

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Monday, January 27, 2014

{No More Perfect Kids} Letting the light escape

My kids were chasing each other. It had started out as a game and then morphed into him picking on her and her yelling at him. My husband walked through the door into the tense moment. Again. Seriously, what is it about the hour before dinner that ramps up the stress level?

I was trying to get dinner finished. In effort to gain some control over the people in my house, I yelled some rant about how having fun is OK but wildness is dangerous and how I could use some help setting the table and how nobody was getting along and how ...

You know, I don't even remember everything in my rant. I'm certain my kids didn't actually learn anything from it either. And my husband just became more irritated with my attempt at control.

Letting go has been my desire long before Elsa sang about her icy powers. But in trying to let go and embrace the imperfection, I've failed over and over again. Yes, I've improved. But I'm still not there.

I'm not perfect, but I'm being perfected by a perfect God. Did you catch that? Notice the drastic difference when perfect is an unattainable adjective and when it's an on-going verb.

This is the process I've been embracing the past year and it's the same one I'm going to continue embrace this year. {You can read many previous posts about embracing imperfection inspired by Jill Savage's "No More Perfect Moms."}

"Change is really about exchange. We replace one thing with something else. What if you and I replaced 'being perfect' with 'being perfected'? What if we were truly able to embrace that the imperfect parts of our lives are counterbalanced with the reality of a perfect God who longs to shine His light through the cracks in our lives? What if we could believe that fully for ourselves and fully for our children, who are also 'being perfected'?"
{Jill Savage in "No More Perfect Kids"}

That's right. Jill Savage has a new book out. Written with Dr. Kathy Koch, it's an ideal follow-up to her book last year, especially for someone like me who desires change but isn't always sure how to let go. As part of the launch team, I've gotten to read the book already. It encourages parents to really get to know their children and offers practical advice for ridding parenting of perfection

As much as I recommend you buy it, I also recommend you wait until the release week. If you buy the book between March 14-22, then you'll get additional FREE resources worth more than $100 from Hearts at Home and Moody Publishers. Totally worth the wait. Stay tuned because this won't be the only time I talk about it.

So that quote above from Jill? Yeah. It pierced my heart because it's EXACTLY what I want to happen in my heart and my life and my children.

I chose "LIGHT" as my one-word focus for the year. God has since brought songs and words into my life to affirm the importance of letting go so His light alone can shine. For me, it's about seeing God in imperfect real life and holding on to his promises while letting go of my expectations.

He's there ...

... in the piles of laundry that are washed, dried, folded and put away for my favorite people in the world.

... in the dishes that need to be loaded into the dishwasher because we had food to eat around the table together.

... in the noisy, sometimes rough games the kids make up because they're creative and active.

... when I'm not sure what to say or when I've said too much.

... on the hard days because we can do all things with His strength.

... when my words are too loud and my lectures too long because he forgives and redeems.

... when my kids are slow to obey because God is slow to anger and wants us to learn patience.

... when my kids ask the same questions over and over. They're learning and figuring things out.

... when we all forget and run late and crowd our schedules because none of us are perfect but God still manages to work all things together for our good when he choose him.

... when we feel left out or passed over or like we aren't sure what step to take next.

... always, especially when we finally remember we aren't in control anyway.

Those cracks have been on my mind. And then Jill Savage goes and talks about them too. Those cracks aren't worth yelling about because I want to hear the truth they whisper and the light they allow to shine.

I'm linking this post with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where the imperfect cracks are embraced fully, and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, where the stories are real.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

{Five Minute Friday} Visit

It's been awhile, but I'm joining other writers in this flash mob of sorts. We all write for five minutes. Just whatever is on our minds when we hear the prompt. This week the prompt is VISIT, courtesy Five Minute Friday creator Lisa-Jo Baker.

I've been making plans to visit some places. Soon it's me some writer friends. And then this spring it's a long weekend adventure with the family. My family meeting my parents and siblings at the beach this summer. Then there's a surprise for the kids in the works for fall.

Planning is a hobby of mine.

Funny thing is while I make plans God reminds me he's the ultimate Planner. He's teaching me to let go and live in the light. I'm trying to be present in the right now. {Often my right now looks like this. Or this. And I need this reminder regularly.}

Planning. Letting go. Being present. It all seems contradictory. 

Yet somehow it's right where I need to be. There's a balance between a visit to a temporary place and coming home. Like a mixture of adventure and steadfastness, God has me right where he wants me. Thankfully the right now is a place I want to live, not just visit.

Join us! Set your timer. Write. No editing. Link up. Then go read. 

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

You Are Beautiful

"How amazing that he brings life this way. Through pain and hurt and the ugly things inside us we try to keep hidden away. The things we don’t talk about. In that moment, as I looked at my little girl lying in my arms, I realized this whole process was such a striking picture of how Christ works in us. He takes our disappointments, rejections, and hard times, and he makes something beautiful. He creates life and shows us what beauty looks like in places where we look and see nothing. He blesses us beyond our imaginations, in spite of all the broken roads we’ve walked. In fact, maybe he blesses us so lavishly because of all the broken roads we’ve traveled. As if to remind us that he sees us — really sees us — not just for who we are at any given moment, but for what we could be one day." 

{Melanie Shankle in "Sparkly Green Earrings"}

Becoming a momma was the hardest season of my life. It involved waiting and wondering. I let go over and over again because my plan wasn't working. I cried so many times and had my blood drawn just as often.

But then God turned us to adoption. The peace came just as I gave up trying.

Trying to become a momma.

Trying to have a family.

Trying to get pregnant.

Trying ...

I gave it up. And God gave me a daughter. 

I've blogged about adoption often here. And it's not even what I sat down to write in response to Holley Gerth's prompt "You're beautiful ... just the way you are."

But then I remembered that quote from Melanie Shankle's book I loved reading last spring. And these words came on this cold winter morning.

I see my girl who made me a momma six years, eight months, and 16 days ago. She's not that baby girl anymore. She's taller and wiser. She's a reader, a writer, an artist, and Lego builder. She likes to swim and ride her bike.

Yes, those big, brown eyes are beautiful.

Yes, the way she smiles melts my heart. And I love the way her hair never parts the same way twice.

Yes, she likes pretty things, sparkles on her shoes and designs on her shirts.

But her life is beautiful. Her story is beautiful. Her life was the choice of a teenage girl who was brave and selfless. Her life redeemed the hard season of waiting and trying that broke my heart over and over again. Her life strengthened my faith and is part of our family's story that I love to tell.

This is beauty, friends.

When the light shines, you realize that hard road was worth it. Yes, there are disappointments in life, but they don't make up life. The blessings are coming. Like when winter turns to spring, the beauty will come.

You are beautiful, my daughter. You are beautiful, my momma friend who is in a hard season. You are beautiful, the one who is waiting and trying. You are beautiful, the one having to make a hard decision. You are beautiful.  

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth, who is giving weekly prompts so our words can encourage, with Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, and Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Be brave. Relief will come.

Even at 4 years old, he had a plan. Be brave for the shots and then go to Chick-fil-A.

Ben was recently diagnosed as being allergic to trees, weeds, grass and dust mites. Clearly these are things I can't really keep away from him. So allergy shots it is. Yes, plural. One in each arm twice a week, starting today. The frequency will become less as the treatment continues. Hopefully his ear infections and nose bleeds will become less frequent too.

He didn't want to pull away from the plan until the nurse was holding the needle. Then he didn't want to be brave anymore. He wanted to kick and pull away. He wanted to resist.

I can see a bigger picture. I understand that this momentary fear will be so worth it once he has relief. He could only see that needle in her hand and the one near her on the counter. He could only remember how all those pricks in the back and arms bothered him before.

I remember how scared I was when I was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes a decade ago. That fear propelled me forward but in the beginning if I thought too much about the needles piercing my flesh I got nauseated. I still can't watch nurses draw my blood. Yet I overcame the fear because I learned it was worth it to feel better and I became comfortable taking care of myself this way.

As Ben pulled away from me this morning, trying to escape this needle that would be such a blip in the big picture, I realized I do the same thing with God sometimes.

I get scared sometimes too, even when I have a plan. I want to pull away from the One who is orchestrating the details because I have a plan of my own. I want to pull back from people I love because they've frustrated me. I want to push against change that will heal my soul and risks that will strengthen my faith.

But relief will come. 

If I just take that first step

or send that email

or ask that friend how I can pray

or try that new thing

or meet that new person

or go to the place I've never been

or let go of control, again

or if I try again after I failed the first time.

God is the giver of the dreams, so he's going to give us what we need to overcome the fear. He's going to strengthen us and heal us as we face whatever fears are like needles piercing our life.

Ben survived the two shots this morning. I'm pretty sure he'd forgotten about his fear by the time he ate his Chick-fil-A biscuit and climbed in the play area. That's the thing about fear, it's fleeting if we cling to the One who promises everlasting relief. 

I'm sharing this story with God-sized Dreamers, Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes, Jen Fergson's Soli Deo Gloria Party and Lyli Dunbar's Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

{eMeals} How to be inspired to meal plan

I mentioned I'm trying to develop some new {healthier} habits. Well, I realized last week how getting back on track with meal planning helps this goal greatly. If I don't know what I'm cooking at 4 p.m., I'm likely to ask my husband to bring something home. Or we'll go out.

I like to cook dinner. But I like to be prepared with a plan. And I like easy recipes.

We have our favorite recipes around here. Cate will tell you she loves meatloaf. Ben will eat any meat. Greg likes to tell me how much he loves many dishes, but then says they'd be even better with jalapenos in them.

I was telling a friend recently that I have my go-to recipes. These are the ones I know so well I don't need to pull out my recipe binder. These are the ones I come back to every few weeks. These are the ones I know my family will eat. And these are the ones I share with others. {Click on that link for the recipe for King Ranch Chicken, a definite eMeals favorite around here!}

Several of these favorites have been introduced to the recipe binder via eMeals. This is a service that makes meal planning easier.

For me, I needed the inspiration that comes with having seven meal plans {including grocery lists!} come right to my inbox each week.

Seriously. Sounds amazing, huh?

The plans are tailored based on your family size, usual grocery store, and food preferences. eMeals has some new plans in this new year. Choose from plans including Classic Meals, Clean Eating, Paleo, Low Calorie, Slow Cooker, Low Fat, Low Carb, Portion Control, Mediterranean, Natural & Organic, Vegetarian, and Gluten Free. You can also add breakfast, lunch and dessert options.

And through January, you can save 15% when you use the code DINNER15 when signing up.

What's your go-to recipe? Where did you get it?

This post does include affiliate links. So if you sign up for eMeals, I'll get a tiny portion of the sale but the price won't change for you. I'm part of the eMeals Blogger Network. 

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Friday, January 17, 2014

What I Read in 2013

Today somebody I haven't seen in about a month asked me if I had a good Christmas. And, you know, in some ways, Christmas seems like a long time ago.

Here we are, settled into 2014. But, y'all, it's only 17 days into the new year. There are 337 to go.

I intended to update the list of books I read in 2013 in December, right as the year was ending. But, well, time got away from me. So, I'm back tracking in my mind a little because I read some good books. Plus there are 8,352 hours still to go in 2014, so I thought you might want a book recommendation or two.

{This list has been updated since it originally appeared here. And this doesn't include books I've started by not finished.}

Non-fiction // Christianity
"Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World" by Bob Goff
"Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way" by Shauna Niequist
"Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement" by Kris Camealy {Review}
"I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy" by Angie Smith
"One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World" by Tullian Tchividjian {Review}

Non-fiction // Dreams & Work
"Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters" by Jon Acuff {Review}
"You're Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for You" by Holley Gerth {Review}
"The 'Do What You Can' Plan: 21 Days to Making Any Area of Your Life Better" by Holley Gerth

Non-fiction // Parenthood
"Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn"
"No More Perfect Moms: Learn to Love Your Real Life" by Jill Savage {Review}

Non-fiction // Marriage
"Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn't Good Enough" by Justin & Trisha Davis {Review}

"Touch & Go" by Lisa Gardner
"Deadly Pursuit" (Guardians of Jusice #2) by Irene Hannon
"Lethal Legacy" (Guardians of Justice #3) by Irene Hannon
"Vanished" (Private Justice #1) by Irene Hannon
"The Survivor" by DiAnn Mills
"In the Name of Honor" by Richard North Patterson
"Six Years" by Harlan Coben
"Trapped" (Private Justice #2) by Irene Hannon
"11th Hour" by James Patterson
"12th of Never" by James Patterson

My husband surprised me with a new Kindle Fire for Christmas, so my first-generation Kindle has been passed along to Cate, who is enjoying The Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones sagas. I've got tons of books waiting for me the next 337 days of this year.

And speaking of children's books, my dear friend Sarah has been blogging about the books she and her kids love. A former Barnes & Noble employee who continues alphabetizing the books in her house, she knows what she's talking about you. You should check out her blog.

Oh, and, hey, did you see I'm hosting an online discussion group while working through Donald Miller's "Storyline"? It's open to any women interested. The book costs $29.99 and we'll start our discussions the first week of February. {More information here.}

Did you read anything good last year? What are you hoping to read this year?

Affiliate links are included so if you purchase anything through these Amazon links, I will earn a tiny portion that doesn't change the price for you. 

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We are loved.

I ignored my to-do list yesterday. Unlike my calendar-crowded Monday, not much had to be done. Plenty could be done. There was {and still is ...} a sink full of dishes and a dishwasher waiting to be unloaded. Laundry could be washed. And dried. And folded. And put away. I could have worked ahead on commitments.

But I'm learning to let go.

So I sat in the recliner and read while Ben watched a 30-minute Disney Junior show after lunch. And then we cuddled and laughed. {Quite appropriate I'm reading "Hands Free Mama."}

I turned my phone on silent and didn't look at the screen much while I scrapbooked some pictures from April 2012.

I did feed my family, thanks partially to the Crock Pot chicken I prepared in the morning. I got all the dirty dishes near the sink before we left for swim lessons. That all counts for something, right?

My husband asked me a few times if I felt alright. I told him I didn't feel bad but I didn't feel good.

I've been eating less sugar and drinking less caffeinated cokes. {All soft drinks are coke here, just so you know. Diet Dr Pepper is my coke of choice.} I've been more diligent about exercising after a few weeks of pushing my routine to the side. But my blood sugar had been up and down all day.

Even more significantly, my spirit has been regrouping. I feel thoughts and opinions and plans being shifted and tweaked and redefined. God is nudging my heart and prompting my mind.

I'm remembering through ordinary moments that I'm loved by the One who made me. Sometimes I push against that with my stubborn mind, too-harsh words, and selfish ways. Sometimes I see all my physical imperfections when I look in the mirror. But even through my tainted outlook, God loves me.

I'm remembering those around me are also loved by the Creator of this world. I want the people around me, starting with my family and overflowing into others' lives, to know they are loved by me and by the One much greater. Even when I mess up, God loves them. God loves you with never-ending love too.

And sometimes when all that's happening inside not much else can happen outside. God's got a hold of me in a new way. I try to wiggle away when some moments frustrate my soul. But knowing he's not going to let go is helping me to slowly let go.

I'm letting go of perfection.

And unrealistic expectations.

And the uneasiness that comes with trying to hard to please people for the sake of being liked.

And the irritated voice that yells more than whispers.

And the distracted, overcrowded mind.

This isn't the first time I've let go. I have to intentionally loosen my grip over and over again. Maybe one day it'll come a little more naturally. But I know it will always require Someone who works supernaturally.

I am loved. You are loved. They are loved. Sometimes I have to let go to be reminded of what actually matters.

What matters isn't about production for the sake of tasks.

It's not about perfection for pleasing sake.

And it's certainly not about control prompted by fear and worry.

What matters is we are loved by the Maker of it all. And that is enough to let go of the rest. That's what I want to remember when I walk into my kitchen and see those dirty dishes overflowing from the sink on the counter. That's what I want to cling to when I have a frustrated momma voice rising up. That's what I want to know in the ordinary moments that make up this life.

I'm joining Beth Stiff for Three Word Wednesday, Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory, and Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart. These places remind me of God's never-ending love. 

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Monday, January 13, 2014

{Storyline} An Invitation for You

I believe in stories. Most of what I write here is me processing life as I seek God as the author of all our stories. So, really, it should be no surprise author Donald Miller's approach to living life as if you're telling a story works for me.

"It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, 'Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.'"

Donald Miller further developed this idea of living out our stories in his workbook called "Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God's Story." It's a book I've had sitting on my desk, awaiting time and attention. I really wanted a group to go through the book with me so we could discuss our stories along the way.

Last week, God gave me an idea. I found myself asking myself, "What if you lead an online study of Storyline?" As I read the introduction to "Storyline," I found myself thinking of specific dreamer and writer friends. I emailed some of them. This study in this season isn't going to work for everyone. I know that.

But God nudged my heart. And now I putting it out there.

"As a writer, I see the Bible as a story. It's a story about unrequited love. It's a story about a God who loves a world that, for the most part, ignores Him. It's a sad story, but it has a great ending. In the end, God gets the girl back.

In a way, that story has already been written. It mean it hasn't happened yet, but for a God who lives outside time, it's as good as done. And yet, the role you and I get to play in that story is still unfolding. And not only this, but we actually get to decide our little part.

All epic stories have subplots, and each of our lives is a subplot. What we want to accomplish at Storyline is simple: We want to help people live a great subplot in God's story."
{From the introduction to "Storyline" by Donald Miller}

This is your invitation to join us. 

Us is a group of women who believe our stories matter as chapters in God's story. {Specifically, I know my friend Holly is in!} You can be a writer, but you don't have to be a writer. You can have a grasp on some of the details in your story, or you could have no idea what this chapter is about. {And, sorry to you few men who read this blog, this is going to be a women's only group.}

Here's how the online study will work:

SIGN UP :: You'll sign up so I can know who wants to join us. Fill out this Google document. And then order the book. It's available on Amazon and Storyline's website.

FACEBOOK GROUP :: Once I get your sign up information, I'll add you to a private Facebook group. This will be where the bulk of the discussion happens. 

MONDAYS :: Each Monday I'll post a prompt/discussion topic/question that relates to whatever that week's chapter/story module is about. I've broken the book down into 10 chunks so our discussions will begin Feb. 3 and continue through April 7. 

TUESDAYS :: I'm going to blog my way through the book each Tuesday morning. Each post will be somewhat related to whatever that week's topic is. I'll invite others {those going through the study and anyone out there in blogger land} to link up posts that are related to each week's prompt. That means if you're a blogger, I'd love for you to blog your way through the study with me. If you're not, you're welcome to jump in further discussion in the comments or back in our Facebook group.

So, who's in? Please let me know if you have questions. I've lead Bible studies in person before, but this is the first time I've ever done anything like this. There may be some kinks, but we'll work them out. Feel free to pass this along to any other women you think may be interested. And don't forget to sign up if you want to join us.

With this post, I'm joining Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria Party, an online place that taught me virtual friendships are real

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

{Giveaway & Review} Sing the Bible

Not long after we got our early digital version of Slugs & Bugs' "Sing the Bible," we were listening loudly on the way to school right after Thanksgiving break. I dropped off the kids and pulled away alone in my van. And, yes, I was tempted to keep listening to this kids' music.

It's that good, folks.

Each one of us has our favorites. I really love "Two Shirts," "Be Dressed" and "Romans 8." I could also listen all day to "Rejoice," which is Sally Lloyd-Jones reading my favorite verses from Philippians 4. She and the African Children's Choir are wonderful additions to this CD.

Cate claims it all as her favorite, but she did get excited when her memory verse at school recently (Proverbs 3:5-6) was on the CD. In typical boy fashion, Ben likes the monster song ("Deuteronomy 6:5") and "Alien." My husband Greg is also a fan of "Alien," but he seems to have a good time with them all.

Yes, memorizing scripture, talking about aliens, and hearing monsters and bees sing truth all happens, thanks to Randall Goodgame's creative ideas and friends.

Here's a list of the songs:

1. Freedom (Galatians 5:1; John 8:36)
2. To You O Lord (Psalm 25:1-3)
3. Two Shirts (Luke 3:11, Mark 9:35; Matt. 6:19-21)
4. Deuteronomy 6:5
5. Rejoice (Phil. 4:4-8)
6. Trust In The Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6)
7. Be Dressed (Luke 12:35-37)
8. Alien (Deut. 14:21)
9. Old Testament Song
10. New Testament Song
11. Romans 8 (Romans 8:1-2)
12. Love One Another (John 13:34-35)
13. For Us (1 John 3:16)
14. What Is The Book (Psalm 138: 1-18, 23-24)
15. You Are The Christ (Mark 8:27-28, 31-35)
16. He Will Rejoice (Zephaniah 3:17)
17. Love (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 4-8)
18. Lord's Prayer

I've been excited about this album since Randall Goodgame started talking about it online and when I saw him in November 2012. I didn't hesitate to throw some support into the KickStarter campaign.

I wondered if my elevated excitement would lead to me being let down by the actual songs. But the exact opposite happened: "Sing the Bible" exceeded my excitement. {Read an official post about its release at The Rabbit Room.}

I say this every time Slugs & Bugs has a new CD, but this is my favorite. And I really mean that. How could anything top having your kids memorize scripture, laughing, hearing sweet African voices, and listening to quality music all at the same time?

And because it's so good, I'm giving alway a copy! I got five copies with my KickStarter donation, but I had to order more because the four extra copies were gifted. So I ordered more and one of them is for one of you.

Enter with the Rafflecopter below. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. A winner will be randomly selected on Thursday, Jan. 16. And if you don't win, go buy it.

UPDATED to congratulate Teresa Howes! This CD is coming your way. Hope you and your boys enjoy it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclosure: The opinions expressed here are mine and nobody paid me to tell you about this. And I'm gifting a CD I paid for myself because it's really that well done.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I will remember

We're a week in, and I still have a hard time believing it's a new year. Christmas has past. We're in the midst of a colder-than-usual winter here in Kentucky. And yet somehow I've remembered to change the 13 to a 14 when I date checks and papers and plans.

But before this month, and this year, really, start to get away from me, I have something I want to tell you. You, the family who are friends and friends who are family. You, the friends I've known long before I became a wife then momma. You, the friends I gained because us mommas need each other. You, the online friends who have become real friends. You, the friends I've yet to meet in person but still matter in my real life.

I want to tell you to remember. 

Remember where you are and who you're with. Remember that people matter.

Remember why you made the choices you did. Remember that we need to move forward but that there is always grace. 

Remember why your calendar looks the way it does. Remember to live intentionally. 

Remember the traditions you want to hold on to and the dreams you want to chase. Remember that yours won't look like anyone else's. 

Remember this moment right here, right now won't last for long. Remember that seasons matter. 

So, now, in taking some of my own advice, I want to remember Christmas before it escapes me and becomes covered with tomorrow's memories.

We spread out the Christmas gatherings, starting with Greg's siblings while we were in Branson for Thanksgiving. Even so, we were blessed with packed days in a few different locations over Christmas break celebrating with so many people we love.

First up was hanging out with some of my family and childhood friends in Louisville.

I want to remember the way Bekah and Katie I pick up right where we left off. For the second time this year, we gathered ourselves and our families together. I want to remember how refreshing for my soul this time is, even when life sometimes try to interrupt and complicate plans.

I want to remember how my kids adore their cousins. I want to remember how this Christmas was different but how it was simple and good.

I want to remember how I'm proud of my little brother who my son adores.

I want to remember how Jaclyn and I both yearned for a family. We didn't have babies in our own scripted time, but God gave us five in five years together. They don't know life without each other, and I'll always remember to line them up and snap a picture. I want to remember that like people who share a last name, our two families have traditions that are an important part of my life.

I want to remember how on Christmas Eve is a sweet, simple time for our family of four. I wanted to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, but kids weren't allowed at the one that was open. Perhaps next year I need to remember to plan something not on the actual holiday. I want to remember how we took our next-door neighbor grandparents out to dinner. I want to remember how the kids were excited for the holiday, like the eve was a holiday all its own.

I want to remember Christmas morning here at home. Just us. We read the Christmas story. We exchanged a few gifts and ate pancakes. We were us. And I want to remember how Greg surprised me with a brand new Kindle. If you know us, you know it's a miracle we waited until Christmas morning to give each other gifts and keeping one a true surprise was meaningful to me. 

I want to remember how we gathered with so many other Taylors for lunch at one house and then gifts and dessert at another. Traditions are changing, but I want to remember what matters is the people.

I want to remember the anticipation I had about meeting my new nephew. I have other niece and nephews, but, admittedly, there is something special about when your own sister finally gets to be a momma after some difficulty getting there. I understand where she's been and am so happy for her to be where she is.

I want to remember how 4-year-old Ben didn't sleep until the last 53 miles of a 619-mile trip from Kentucky to Texas. I want to remember the bittersweet surprise of traveling with two kids who don't necessarily require naps. But I want to remember that vacation can be exhausting and naps for both kids happened another day while riding in the mini van.

I want to remember how excited the kids were to hold Baby Lochlan.

I want to remember all the good food we ate. Texas sure does know how to season and serve shrimp tacos and brisket tacos.

I want to remember how my favorite day was the one where Mom and I cooked for Cassie and then we played Catan Junior, Wits and Wagers, Spades and Hearts around the table.

I want to remember that location doesn't define friendships and how my husband didn't think I was crazy for wanting to drive 98 miles to hang out with a family we'd never met in person.

I want to remember these days from Christmas Break. Throughout this new year, I want to remember to remember so all the coming days don't escape me. 

I'm linking this post with Holley Gerth's new weekly series called Coffee for Your Heart, which gives us people a chance to use words to love on one another. Come join us. I'm also joining Beth Stiff for Three Word Wednesday

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Becoming real-life friends

I began blogging long ago because a friend told me I should. This space has transformed as my life has changed. But I never expected this online place to spill over into my "real life" like it has.

This blog has long been a place for me to document my life, mostly so I don't forget all the lessons and memories I want to hold onto. But this past year this place helped me foster some new relationships. One of my favorite online-turned-real-life friends is Jen Ferguson, who blogs at Finding Heaven Today and hosts the weekly Soli Deo Gloria party that encourages me.

We've emailed, Facebooked, messaged while playing Words with Friends, texted and talked on the phone. Getting to hug her and talk to her face-to-face was such a lovely way to end the year. As part of my family's Texas road trip between Christmas and New Year's, Jen and I planned to meet in Waco -- half way between her near-Austin home and where I was staying in Dallas.

Meeting her didn't seem strange to me. I already knew her.

But here I was, asking my husband and my kids to drive 1 1/2 hours to spend several hours with another family they'd never met. Just a week or so before, my kids and I went to hang out in real life with Ashley, a God-sized Dream Team friend I'd yet to meet in person, when we were in Louisville. And a couple times earlier in the year, I brought along Ben when I had lunch with Jennie, who lives nearby but whom I met online through the No More Perfect Moms launch group.

My family does so much of our real life together. But this was new territory for us as a family of four.

The Taylors and the Fergusons met at Cameron Park Zoo. Her oldest and my youngest held hands as they walked around the zoo. Her youngest and my oldest (who are just 18 months apart) bonded with more conversations than I could keep up with. Our husbands had tons to talk about. And Jen and I continued conversations we'd begun online. {Jen wrote about what she learned while we were at the zoo together.}

We looked at animals. We told stories and laughed. We talked about next time. And then we gathered around a table at a restaurant and shared a meal. Because what's more real life than that? This friendship that began online is real life. And like a gift I wasn't expecting, Jen's friendship continues blessing my life.

I'm linking this post with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes because it's a real look at what's happening behind those pictures I posted on Facebook. 

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Letting go is part of life's process

I let go of our adoption process that hasn't actually ever been much of a process. A process implies the paperwork is a step toward something. Rather it seemed like we were walking in frustrating circles.

Two Januarys ago, I opened myself up to the idea of adoption, even though it scared me. In the past two years, God's drawn me to him and made me think about family and loving the least of these. He welled up in me a desire to expand our family.

I'm not entirely sure why, but now we believe we're supposed to lay our family before him. He still has me thinking about family and loving the least of these, but I knew I needed to let go.

Coming off two independent adoption processes in 2007 and 2009, we've never loved the idea of adoption agencies. But after waiting awhile this time around, we dived in. And we got caught off guard and caught up in the bureaucratic red tape that is an adoption process, especially in Kentucky. I became distracted and burdened.

In the past two years, God has taught me much about letting go. But he's still teaching me. I've been holding tightly this desire to have a this third child. And I need to let go. Because I'm not really in control anyway. Because I have two kids who need more than a distracted momma wishing for more. Because my husband agrees.

We met with an adoption agency the Friday before Christmas. I was reservedly excited that this would be it. After a girl in Bulgaria and a homeless toddler in Jackson, Miss., seemed like they could be the aim of this adoption process but then fell through almost as quickly as those phone calls came, I really wanted this agency to be where we were going. After some philosophical differences with a social worker who pretended to know us but didn't actually ask questions that mattered, I hoped for a connection this time.

But after three hours of sitting across a desk from the well-meaning director, I left knowing this wasn't it. On the way to pick up our kids from Grandmom, I talked a little and mostly cried.

I talked little because there really wasn't much else to say.

I cried because I knew it was time to let go.

The rest of that evening was filled with sweet distractions courtesy long-time friends' and their families. It was good to laugh about motherhood and memories. It was freeing to say I didn't know what was next. They were just what I needed.

And then the next day there was more socializing that had nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with life. When Greg and I got into bed that night, we ended up talking about adoption.

We independently had arrived at the same decision: We aren't going to pursue anything adoption related right now. And let me tell you, there is so much peace when God plants to two hearts at the same place before we even open our mouths to discuss it. I needed that clarity.

My life has finally taught me never to say never, so I'm not going to theorize about our future. I'm just going to say this agency wasn't for us and I'm going to let go.

Our hearts are open to the possibility of bringing a third child into our family. I've long believed this time would different than our other two times. I still don't know what that means or if it even matters at this point.

But I do know I serve a God who gives every good gift in the time that is perfect. And he's good even when I don't get my way. Sometimes letting go makes way for the God-sized dreams he has for us. As I learned this past year, being drawn to him is the ultimate dream anyway.

I know I have two healthy, funny kids who fit perfectly in our family. Greg and I agree we don't yearn for someone who is missing. It's more about believing we have more to give. Perhaps our family is complete. And we're OK with that.

I also know I'm not who I once was. Being a mom has changed me. How I became a mom has changed me. And these past two years of pursuing and waiting have changed me.

So perhaps the process that has yet to lead to a third child really has been important in ways that truly will change my family. Letting go is freeing. And, yes, sometimes it feels like a free fall. But God's got us. By loosening my grip on adoption, I seem more able to live my life, the one right now, right here, that doesn't involve a scripted process.

With this post, I'm joining Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where we're always free to bare our souls and where she's talking about our real-life meeting. My similar version of the story is coming tomorrow. And, yes, Greg and I really bungy jumped together in August 2009 in Queenstown, New Zealand. 

I'm also linking up with my God-sized dreaming sisters. {And then again here in March when it was again releveant!} For me, letting go is hard, and sometimes verbalizing it is even harder. But finding the words is freeing, just like the actual loosening of my grip. Read what I learned from a year of God-sized dreaming here

I later linked up with Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory because letting go is part of God's story for me, and Thought-Provoking Thursday at Lyli Dunbar's place {and who cares that's it's actually Friday now!}. 

I spent November blogging about adoption. Feel free to catch up on our story in that series
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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Diving into real life

I have all these blog post ideas in my head. Some are even drafted on my phone. {Hello productivity while driving to and from Texas!} I want to tell you about Christmas and our trip to meet my new nephew in Texas. We have new favorite music around here I want to share with you.

But we dived right back into life right after the holidays.

Some of us more literally than others. Along with another almost-relative, my kids and husband went swimming on New Year's Day. Really. It was 45 degrees outside. The pool was heated to 84 degrees.

Admittedly, I still thought it would last 5 minutes. Surprisingly, they swam for about eight times longer than that. And now they can say they did.


Since then, which, yes, I know, was only a few days, life has happened. Not in a bad way, just like it does sometimes.

Ben has been having recurring ear infections, bloody noses, and much congestion for the past several months and, really, his whole little life. Our pediatrician and I decided to have him allergy tested. That happened Thursday, the same day Cate went back to school.

Turns out he's allergic to trees, weeds, grass, and dust mites.

Yeah, really. 

I can't really keep him away from most of these things. Have you met my boy who loves to play outside? Yeah, well, then you get it. So he's going to start allergy shots in a few weeks. Honestly, I'm glad to have an answer and hopefully some coming relief for him.

Speaking of relief, I'm not sure when I'll ever finish my laundry. I folded four loads last night when Greg and I started watching Dexter again. {Thanks, Netflix, for having it. We've got two seasons to go!} And those four loads weren't the end.

Oh and there is the matter of the suitcase that has been laying open on our floor since we came home from Texas on Tuesday night. Yes, it's Saturday. I'm determined to get it picked up today before our company comes over. No, not out of wanting my house to be perfect. I just wouldn't want my friends to trip over the pink suitcase and our clean underwear.

I say determined, but clearly I've been more determined to do other things because it is still sitting there.

Want to see?

That photo collage is from last night. It was all absolutely true. The Facebook/Twitter/Instagram caption went like this: Real life. The Christmas tree is still up. Clean laundry is piled in the kitchen. And the suitcase has been laying open on the floor since we got back in town Tuesday night. But, hey, we have groceries now.

As of this morning, I'm happy to report our Christmas tree is down. And, more just keepin' it real, the tree came down in pieces. Because that seemed easiest. {Our tree was crazy, wild, in case you missed it ...} Plus disassembling it allowed Greg to use an outside tool in our living room. It was like Clark Griswald met Willie Robertson.

And I'm not a failure of a mom now that the tree my son is apparently allergic to is out of the house. Whew.

Now I'm going to pick up that suitcase ...

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

LIGHT :: One Word for 2014

Happy 2014!

As cliche as it sounds, I can't believe we are here. A new year is beginning and we're already 14 years into the 2000s, which used to sound so futuristic.

Even though it didn't look much like I dreamed, 2013 was a good year. God's continuing a good work in me and with my family.

Naturally, I'm a perfectionist who likes to be in charge and has opinions about most anything. God's been working on this part of me for awhile now. Embracing imperfection was my theme for 2013, and that's why IMPERFECT was my one-word focus this past year.

As I take steps into the new year, I know he's continuing that work in a more internal way. I feel like it's easy for me to invite people into my house even if there are crumbs waiting to be swept. I can let go of chores in a way that used to drive me crazy. But internally I still struggle with wanting to maintain order. I've been known to verbally erupt all over my kids and husband.

Recently, I can across that picture above from Isle of Palms, South Carolina, when I was looking for something else. I really like the contrast of the darkness being the background. The grass upon the sand seems to divide the light and dark.

I've been in the darkness that comes with making demands, holding onto life too tightly, and stressing to maintain order to be in the distance. I'm yearning for the other side, where the light really is marvelous.

I've had "Marvelous Light" by Ellie Holcomb playing often lately. A blogging friend gifted me the song. She had no idea how it was exactly what I needed. Well, actually I had no idea either.

"I am not who I once was, defined by all the things I’d done
Afraid my shame would be exposed
Afraid of really being known
But then He gave my heart a home

So I walked out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light ...

There's no place I'd rather be
Your light is marvelous
Your light is marvelous.
You have come to set us free
You are marvelous
Your light is marvelous"
{From "Marvelous Light" by Ellie Holcomb}

It's this song that put the word "light" in my mind. And then I kept reading scriptures that echoed what my heart needs to hear:

1 Peter 2:9 :: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

John 8:12 :: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

Matthew 5:16 :: "... let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Matthew 11:28-30 :: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

God created the light that is day and the darkness that is night. And he's been in charge from the beginning. I want to be a light that glorifies him and in doing so I know he lightens my load, giving me more opportunities to delight in everyday life. And, really, there's no place I'd rather be than in his marvelous light.

There you have my one word for 2014: LIGHT. Do you make resolutions or perhaps choose a word to focus on in the new year? If so, what's on your mind as we start again?

I'm joining others approaching the new year with a new focus: Compassion International bloggers. One Word 365. Circles of Faith. Three Word Wednesdays at Simply Beth

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