Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm a writer {aka What I Learned in February}

I quit my day job, where I was paid to write stories, to become a mom six years, five months, and two weeks ago. I've spent that time changing diapers, filling sippy cups, enforcing naptime, meeting my friends at the park, potty training little ones, adopting a school schedule, disciplining, reading stacks of books, laughing, crying, playing board games, planning meals ...

Well, you know, the list goes on and on.

And I don't regret a single day. If I had stayed in the newsroom, I would have chronicled other people's stories while missing out on the ones God was writing here.

I knew it was God writing this chapter of being a stay-at-home mom because I would have never planned it for myself. But sometime during these years as a mom, I've forgotten to call myself a writer.

Yes, there are seasons in life. Some roles take a back seat to others, depending on the time of day, year or season of life. Maybe labels don't matter because I haven't stopped writing. I've poured out my heart here and in emails to friends and on my journal pages. Writing is the best therapy as I navigate motherhood.

I'm a momma to the two most tangible reminders of God's faithfulness. And I'm a writer who has stories to tell about it. Sometime writing means the dishes in the sink pile up because I have to get the ideas down. Other times being a momma means I send myself emails so I don't forget those words that just popped in my head.

Sure, you've heard pieces of the stories here. But there seems to be more.

I came home from our small group Sunday, Feb. 16 inspired. We'd had conversations about adoption. Yes, we talked about my kids specifically. But another woman poured out her broken heart and we talked about the bigger picture, the one Paul tells the Ephesians about:

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory."

The conversation wasn't new information, but it struck my heart in a new way. I have these stories of earthly adoption that parallel what God has done for us. They're the stories of how a became a momma and they're the stories of how God rescued my heart.

God told me someone else needed to hear it from beginning to end, with the cries of my heart and the faithfulness of God included. So I started writing when I got home that Sunday night.

And in a week I wrote, organized, edited, and updated 19,462 words.

I don't know exactly how these words will become a book from here, but I believe they will. I was leery of publishing an ebook because it seems like anyone can do that. Even with my hesitations about ebooks, I read "Self-Publish: Moving from Idea to Product" by Erin Ulrich and Teri Lynne Underwood this past week. Those two addressed my specific hesitations with practical advice.

I emailed some writer friends with my idea and have gotten some fabulous feedback from a few. A few others are planning to read my rough draft. Ideas have been coming to me when I least expect them.

Only God knows where it will go from here, but I'm inspired in a new way that's good for my momma soul. So I'm calling myself a writer again. And this time I've got some stories of my own to publish.

I invite you to "like" my page on Facebook, where I'm embracing the inspiration God's given me. I changed the name from "152 Insights to My Soul" to "Kristin Hill Taylor :: Writer" because I wanted to streamline my presence there with my other contact information and hopes of eventually publishing a book ... or two. Thanks for encouraging and supporting me and my written words in this journey. 

Admittedly, this is a slightly different take on "Things I Learned ..." series I've been doing in recent months. But this is what I've got. And I'm linking it with Emily Freeman anyway.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Grace that inspires

With markers in hand, Cate was creating a detailed picture for Gran-Gran's birthday present. It involved a rainbow and leprechaun. Although I'm not entirely sure of the significance, I know she had a plan. When Ben haphazardly swiped the red marker across the corner of the paper near the sunshine, Cate was irritated. She thought her vision was messed up with the stray red markers.

I totally get that reaction, but I reminded her  Gran-Gran was going to love whatever she made. With some convincing, she let go of the irritation she had for Ben's interference and finished her picture while Ben kept his marks on his own picture.

We went about our weekend that included a granddaughter-planned surprise party for Gran-Gran. I forgot about the picture snafu the day before.

The day after the party, Cate was talking about how she made the sunshine rays out of the red mark Ben left on her paper. She was talking to me, but Ben was listening closely.

"You aren't mad?" Ben asked.

"No. That was yesterday," Cate said

She had no hesitation in her voice. She meant it.

She had moved on. Truly.

I explained how she was demonstrating grace and forgiveness to her brother. Having held onto too many grudges myself, I was proud of her for realizing letting go was so much freer than dwelling on imperfect interference.

"I thought I just changed my attitude," Cate said in response to my lesson on grudges.

Ah, yes, an attitude adjustment. She's right. Changing her attitude helped her let go. Letting go helped her enjoy the rest of the day, including the party she was thrilled to plan with her cousins.

Grudges create barriers between people and hearts. Grace opens the door to joy.

Author Holley Gerth asks, Who inspires you?

These two little ones do. {They wouldn't like me calling them little. But they're 6 1/2 and 4. They're still little.}

They're full of joy and ideas and dreams and grace. Yes, sometimes the energy and ideas pile on my weary momma brain and lead me to mental exhaustion. But their innocence and life remind me of what matters.

Some days I don't feel equipped to be a mom, their mom.

I don't want Cate to carry a burden of perfectionism like I have for so long. Her personality leans that way already, and I want to show her freedom that only comes from laying it all down at the foot of the cross.

I don't want to silence Ben's joy, but on the days I become annoyed with the noises and repeating words and constant movement I'm afraid that's what I'll end up doing. Knowing how best to channel his energy while still training him that there are times to stop talking and moving is hard.

But then I see Cate's big, brown eyes soaking up life and Ben plotting his next joke and endearing interaction. God reminds me of the faith journey he's brought me on. Their adoptions followed a heart-wrenching infertility season. Their lives are testimonies to God's faithfulness.

God most certainly wanted me to a be a mom, their mom. 

Learning about laying down perfection and teaching my daughter to do the same is possible because of the faith journey that led us here. Figuring out how to be a boy mom is part of my story. These two are my God-sized dreams personified. Greg and I want God to have his way in our family. I don't always know what that means, but I know the One who does, even on the hard days.

If I knew how to do it all perfectly right now, then I wouldn't need the One who gives and sustains life. I want that grace that Cate showed her brother to swing our front door open. I want joy to come in here.

I'm joining writers at God-sized Dreams, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory

This post is part of something happening in my heart hearing the message that I'm pre-approved in God's love. Next week I'll join Jennifer Dukes Lee and others who are saying yes to God and laying down idols as the Lenten season begins. I've gotten a sneak peek at "Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval and Seeing Yourself through God's Eyes," Jennifer's book that is inspiring this movement. I've read enough to know you'll want to pre-order it and have it in your hands when it releases on April 1. Her post today introduces you to the movement and offers some fun printables. 

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Monday, February 24, 2014

{No More Perfect Kids} Excellence vs. Perfection

One of the hardest things about laying down perfection is knowing what to pick up instead. Obviously, life isn't perfect. And neither am I or my husband or my kids or my days or my anything else. But there is a fine line being perfect {or, you know, trying to be ...} and striving for excellence and contentment.

It's a fine line, yes. But there's a big difference.

While reading "No More Perfect Kids" by Jill Savage and Kathy Koch earlier this year, the contrast of perfection with contentment and excellence struck my heart.

"Contentment involves confidently living life as it is. We parents our kids as they are. ... Contentment means we won't focus on what we don't have, what we can't do, and what's wrong with everything and everyone around us. We'll be aware of these things, because we know life can't be perfect, but we won't focus there. Rather, we'll focus on what we do have, what we can do, and what's right with the world -- including our part of the world."

{Jill Savage in "No More Perfect Kids"}

Do you hear that? It's about changing our focus and embracing our real lives. {And, yes, this isn't the first time I've blogged about this book. You can read the first post here.}

You know, the life with a noisy, messy boy and a girl who talks so fast I have to ask her to slow down and repeat herself. Yes, and the life with dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and those sticky spots on the floor. Yes, sometimes people run late and forget what they said they'd do in this real life. And, yes, this real life has disappointments but it has plenty of joy too.

For a long time, I thought if I were content with this real life of mine, then I'd be settling. It's really quite the opposite. When I'm content, I'm free to take risks because I'm not worried about perfection.

Ah, sweet relief. 

More relief came when Jill Savage outlined the difference between excellence and perfection in the second chapter of "No More Perfect Kids." Look at these contrasting lists:

EXCELLENCE :: Something done well. Attainable. Positive. Freeing. Allows for failure. Expects mistakes. Growing. Learning. Open. Motivated by confidence. From God. Empowering.

PERFECTION :: Done without fault. Unattainable. Negative. Binding. Punishes failure. Panics at mistakes. Dying. Performing. Closed. Motivated by fear. From the world. Rejecting.

Far too often I have parented and even lived burdened by perfection instead of striving for excellence. I've squashed my son's joy because his noise level interfered with my task-oriented focus. I've burdened my daughter with nagging correction. I've picked on my husband who didn't read my mind.

I want to embrace my son's joy, even first thing in the morning. I want to show my daughter the freedom that comes with doing her best and learning as she goes. I want to love my husband in ways that burst open the communication. I want us all to stand firmly on the secure foundation that comes only from God.

I want to strive for excellence, rest in contentment, and let go of perfection. 

I got an advanced copy of "No More Perfect Kids" by Jill Savage and Kathy Koch as part of the book's launch team. The book will be available for purchase in March, and if you buy the book between March 13-23, you'll get additional FREE resources worth more than $100 from Hearts at Home and Moody Publishers. Stay tuned because there's more on this book to come. Yes, I truly love it that much. 

This is an ongoing theme in my life. Last year, I blogged often about embracing imperfection and was part of Jill Savage's launch team for "No More Perfect Moms." This post contains Amazon affiliate links because these are books I believe in, but prices won't change if you order through my links. Thanks for supporting this blog!

Joining Jen Ferguson and her Soli Deo Gloria party with this post. 

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

A story of the lamest injury ever

My husband and I have been sleeping upside down in our bed. Like our heads have been where our feet would usually be.

Since early 2013, I've had some shoulder pain. Shh, I know, that's a long time. But it hasn't been constant and has varied in intensity. And I've been to the orthopedic doctor. Twice. I've had a steroid shot that rocked my diabetic world for a few months and only temporarily took away the pain. And now I'm doing physical therapy on it.

Really, it's the lamest injury ever.

I don't know even know why or when it started hurting. I do know I didn't help the issue when I went tubing on the lake on Memorial Day weekend. Yes, I'm talking eight-plus months ago. It had been hurting before the tubing, but I was still in denial.

Blow drying my hair, taking off my jacket, and reaching behind my seat while driving shouldn't be physical challenges. But apparently that's what inflammation does to a shoulder like mine.

So, anyway, I started physical therapy last week. Yes, for the lamest injury ever.

The plan is to go twice a week for 45-minute sessions that involve deep massages of my pectoral muscle, exercises to increase the mobility of my shoulder and elbow and strengthen my shoulder, and cold packs. The exercises and cold packs are happening at home too.

I have three sessions down and I have some hope, although yesterday's appointment was intense.

So I've been trying to do what I can to nurse my shoulder back to health. Perhaps my kids will eventually stop referring to my bad arm. I realized sleeping on it probably wasn't helping and I couldn't will myself to not sleep on it given our usual positions in our queen side bed because I like to sleep facing out of the bed.

"Husband, we have to switch sides or sleep in the opposite direction."

We chose the opposite-direction sleeping. Neither of us wanted to give up our sides of the bed and the bedside tables that accompanied them. So we moved our pillows down and tucked in the sheet at the head board. I've been sleeping much more comfortably.

For a few nights recently, Ben found poor excuses to come down to our room in the middle of the night. So the first night last week that we slept that way, he ended up standing by Greg's feet for who knows how long before Greg redirected him to the foot of the bed.

Even in his nighttime confusion, Ben thought it was funny. "Daddy, you're sleeping upside down." Yes, Daddy is the better nighttime parent.

Ben was fooled again when it was actually morning and he came looking for me, the one who will feed him breakfast and tell him what we're doing with our new day.

Anyway, at least I'm not sleeping on my sore shoulder anymore. Progress, right? 

I've promised Greg this sleeping arrangement isn't forever. I can say that because I have hope this is going to pass and be a funny story about a lame injury that took way too long to heal.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joy comes as Family Game Nights

Gathering around a table has long symbolized community for me. Yes, there are holiday traditions among various combinations of family and friends. But there are far more everyday moments. As a family of four, we eat dinner together with few exceptions. We often share meals with friends. And we like to play games.

This is where I find joy.

We got a new table recently. I'd been dreaming of this for the space we have. It's a counter-height square table that seats eight. I'm still hoping to find a rug to bring in some color and break up all the wood, but I feel at home around this table.

And we've been breaking it in with some competitive matches of Bananagrams and Skip-Bo. Games go through phases around here, especially as the kids grow into games they can play. {Unless, of course, you're talking about Settlers of Catan, which has remained a fixture among our best adult friends since February 2007 when our obsession began.}

Come take a seat around our table ...

If you're sitting around my table, you'll eat food that is easy to make. I like to cook dinner but I cook simply. I don't like recipes that have tons of steps or millions of ingredients. I really like eMeals and recipes I've learned and tweaked to our preferences along the way. I don't bake much, but that doesn't mean we don't like sweets.

And for entertainment purposes, I wanted to share some about the games we're into right now. The first list is about games Cate, my first-grader, likes to play.

  • Bananagrams :: Cate is still learning about the speed element of this game, but she likes finding words to use. Right now we play this together. It's a boys versus girls thing around here. Of course, that means Greg is just making sure Ben doesn't swipe any of his letter tiles in the quick pace of making words in crossword fashion.
  • Skip-Bo :: A card game that says it's for ages 7 and up. It's about ordering cards while trying to get rid of all your own stockpile. 
  • Catan Junior :: I already told you about the adult addiction to this game. Good thing there is a kid version too. Like the original, it's about expansion and strategy. 
  • Blokus :: The board reminds me of Tetris, but here your own pieces can only touch corners. Plus there is a competitive element of blocking your opponents. Sometimes when the kids are sleeping Greg and I like to break out this one. Shhh. 
  • Sorry! :: This one always produces the insincere "SORRY!" but it's a good lesson for kids to learn to be good sports when games don't go their way. Ben is close to being able to play this one. 

And for the younger kids, like my 4-year-old Ben ...

  • Uno :: Ben just recently learned this one. It's good for numbers, colors and matching. Thanks to Diego and Dora, they both have long had the "Uno!" part down. 
  • Sequence for Kids :: This is my favorite preschool game. It's easy enough they get it, but it also involves some strategy. {No offense Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders!} The goal is to get four of your own markers in a vertical, horizontal or diagonal row as your draw cards that match animals pictures on the board.
  • The Best of Charades for Kids :: I'm not a fan of charades generally, but I like that my preschooler who doesn't know how to read can still act out words based on the pictures on the cards. Each card has one picture and two words that can each be performed. Ben is especially good at animals and sports. 
  • Hedbanz :: Once I can get beyond the intentional misspelling, this is a good game. It's like 20 Questions for trying to guess what picture is on your head. 

When I think about what brings me joy, I can list various people and places and moments. But so many of them come back to being gathered around a table, sharing a meal, playing a game, laughing and talking through real life, and making memories. For the first time, I'm in a season of motherhood I'd consider freezing time, you know, if that were possible. I'm a big fan of age 6. Playing games is certainly a part of that.

What brings you joys? Any board games by chance?

I'm joining Holley Gerth for this week's Coffee for Your Heart. I don't drink coffee, but challenge me in Words with Friends any day. {I'm KHT on there, if you're wondering!}

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

{Storyline} People over projects

I'm an extrovert who loves projects. 

Perhaps that's a contradiction. But it's true.

I'm working through Donald Miller's "Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God's Story" with some friends online. The most recent exercise from that book involved creating a timeline of the positive and negative turns I listed. I wasn't sure what this would reveal about my life's theme, but one thing quickly surfaced.


I realize that's not deep. But people have mattered in my story.

God has used relationships {both good and bad} to draw me to him and change me. From my parents to my marriage to various friendships throughout the years to my kids, these relationships have sustained me, drained me, refocused me, shaped me, and changed me. I've seen God's grace, faithfulness, provision and conviction through people through my life.

Being a mom has changed me and shaped my faith in more ways than any other relationship I've had. This surprises me sometimes, but then I remember adopting Cate and Ben have been God's greatest displays of His faithfulness. Some of my hardest and best moments have come because I'm a mom, their mom. So, of course, that's where I see God.

It's ironic relationships surfaced as a theme for me because so often (perhaps too often) I see myself as a task-oriented person. I thrive on conquering a to-do list or finishing a project. I often have multiple projects going on at the same time. But those aren't the things that made my timeline.

The day I ran 15 errands in three hours doesn't matter. The time I scrubbed the bathroom floor doesn't change lives. A clean house is pointless if everyone inside it feels pushed aside. God certainly gave me perspective during this exercise.

It's a perspective that boils down to people over projects. And, you know, sometimes I have to remember, people aren't projects. I can't set out to perfect my kids' behavior because their hearts are what actually matter. Even when a dear friend is struggling in her marriage, I have to trust God to heal those two hearts in his time. My husband needs grace when he walks in the door from work and I'm frustrated about what's been happening in the hour before.

Here's to loosening my grip on my to-do lists so I can truly see the people near me. I'm certain I'll see God there too. 

Have you noticed a theme in your life? I'd love to hear about it in a linked up post or in the comments below. You don't have to have read "Storyline" to join the conversation.

This is the third post in a 10-week series as I work through "Storyline" by Donald Miller with some friends. Read other posts in the series here. Next Tuesday we'll be talking about how God redeems. 

I'm joining Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, and Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday with this post because those ladies have taught me a thing or two about why people matter. 

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Friday, February 14, 2014

{Giveaway} 5 ways to The Marriage You've Always Wanted

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Or as we like to say around here ... Happy First-Date Day! 

Greg and I went on our first date 16 years ago today. It's a story I still love telling. {You can go here to read the long version.} But, more importantly, it was the beginning of this relationship that has literally changed my life.

And I don't mean that in a totally sappy way.

Photo by Jenn Hall King.
Marriage is hard. But, after 11 years 6 months and 11 days in, I can tell you we think marriage gets better each year. Just recently, Greg and I were talking about our marriage. We both have quirks that annoy each other, but when it comes down to it, there's not anything we'd change about our marriage.

Sure, I could be more diligent about not opening the bathroom door numerous times while he's in the shower, letting the steamy air escape.

He could stop leaving his dirty clothes piled up in the bathroom and rid his bed-side table of piles.

I could consider not putting my cold hands and feet on him as soon as we get in bed.

And he could stop packing in plastic grocery sacks.

But this marriage of ours is solid because we've chosen to invest everything we have into it. Even so, marriage requires constant maintenance. One way I feel my wife role getting new life breathed into it is through some excellent books that I've come across recently.

My blogging friend Kayse Pratt recently released "Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High Maintenance Marriage," a short ebook packed with wisdom, encouragement and challenges for married couples. {You can read my review and a little more about our marriage here.} I've also been reading "There's an Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life" by Melanie Shankle. Talk about real-life funny weaved together with truth.

And then there's "The Marriage You've Always Wanted" by Gary Chapman. I'm pretty sure it's going to be the book I hand to anyone I know getting married. The wisdom is practical and based on the Bible. I wish I had taken the time to learn more at the beginning, but I'm thankful I eventually learned the freedom that comes with letting go of the unhealthy and unnecessary expectations and held fast to what really mattered. {And, yes, I still have to come back to this and remember.}

Some of the stories in "The Marriage You've Always Wanted" hit so close to home that I read them to Greg. We laughed because it was like Chapman had peeked into our life. Other times I cringed because he was describing the selfish place I resided for too long and still sometimes fall back into.

Here's five tips inspired by Chapman's book for having that marriage you've always wanted. I'm sharing them with you, yes, but I'm reminding myself too.

1. Love with words that build up. As Chapman says, "One of the most powerful means of edification is the compliment. Find something small or great that you like about your mate and express appreciation."

2. Let your action speak love too. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love it courteous. Love is unselfish.

3. Communicate. "No, your husband cannot read your mind. ... Communication is an act of the will," Chapman writes. And communicate about everything, including money and sex.

4. Work as a team. Yes, husbands and wives each have family and household roles they are better suited for, but that doesn't mean the other shouldn't step in and help. An often frowned upon concept, Chapman describes submission in possibly the best way I've heard. He talks about the Trinity, order, unity and spiritual gifts and how those apply to marriage, which requires submission to be a mutual exercise. "Submission is the opposite of demanding one's own way and is required on the part of both the husband and wife," Chapman writes.

5. Leave your parents, but continue to honor them. Thankfully, we haven't had in-laws issues. Yes, our families are different, but we've found ways to enjoy them both. Holidays, vacations, traditions, and expectations are so rooted in our childhoods. Married couples need to make their own decisions and traditions, but learning from those who have gone down this road before us is always a good thing.

ABOUT THE BOOK :: "The Marriage You've Always Wanted" (144 pages, Moody Publishers) is available now. You can picture the perfect marriage in your mind, but re-creating it in reality doesn’t come easy. Trusted counselor and relationship expert Dr. Gary Chapman reasons that the most sought-after ingredient in any marriage is true oneness. In "The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted," he presents expert wisdom and common sense methods to establishing that true unity on emotional and practical levels.

Discover the wit and insight that makes his worldwide presentations and marriage conferences so popular. Are you trying to change your spouse? Do you know what it means to really love someone? Do you feel ignored or even alone in your effort to improve your marriage? Dr. Chapman has answers and action steps on topics from expressing your emotions to managing your money, all in a format that will have you and your spouse talking and learning with every page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :: As anyone who has attended one of his marriage conferences knows, Dr. Gary Chapman’s expertise in marriage begins with the success and failures he and his wife Karolyn have experienced in their marriage for more than 45 years. His own life experiences, plus more than 35 years of pastoring and marriage counseling, led him to publish his first book in the love language series, "The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate."

Since the success of his first book, Dr. Chapman has expanded his Five Love Languages series with special editions that reach out specifically to singles, men, and parents of teens and young children. He is the author of numerous other books published by Moody Publishers/Northfield Publishing. He also speaks at marriage conferences and hosts a nationally syndicated radio program.

Dr. Chapman and his wife have two grown children and currently live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he serves as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church. Dr. Chapman holds BA and MA degrees in anthropology from Wheaton College and Wake Forest University, respectively, MRE and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has completed postgraduate work at the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

ON THE WEB :: Official website. Facebook. Twitter.

GIVEAWAY! :: Somebody is going to win a copy of this fabulous book!

If you're married, tell me in the comments how long you've been married and what's one of the greatest lessons you've learned in that time. If you're not married, you can enter too. Just tell me a lesson you've learned from a married couple you know. A winner will be chosen randomly on Friday, Feb. 21.

This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents.

CONGRATULATIONS to Brooke Lowry for winning this fabulous book. Thanks to everyone who entered and shared some valuable lessons they've learned in marriage.

I received a copy of this book from FlyBy Promotions in exchange for this review. These opinions are my own. FlyBy Promtions is also providing the winner of the giveaway with a copy of the book. The winner is selected randomly, but if you've won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win again. Affiliate links included in this post.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gold medals & hearts

I could always take or leave Valentine's Day. And I don't say that in some bitter tone that dislikes a Hallmark holiday aimed at expressing obligatory love. I think Valentine's Day can be sweet, but it also can be overdone. Plus kids really do make any holiday more fun.

I should pause here to mention that Greg and I went on our first date on Valentine's Day in 1998. But it had nothing to do with the holiday and everything to do with it was the Saturday after we met through a mutual acquaintance.

So, now back to the present and not 16 years ago. I impulsively picked up My Little Pony cards for Cate to give and Jake the Neverland Pirates cards for Ben to give when they weren't even with me. They were with me the day the picked out treats to include with the cards. Cate chose those classic candy conversation hearts and Ben opted for heart-shaped fruit snacks. My kids are predictable in this way, people.

And during our "snow days" we addressed and assembled them. Well, honestly, they did. I provided a list of their classmates because I'm picky about people names being spelled correctly. Let's just say I've received many checks, notes, invitations, texts and Facebook messages addressed to K-R-I-S-T-E-N. I'm actually K-R-I-S-T-I-N, for anyone keeping track.

Then they went to work on Valentines. Cate addressed all of hers and signed her name. She put a box of conversation hearts in a Zip-loc with the card. And then she addressed all of Ben's cards while he signed his name and paired the cards with fruit snacks.

My boy who likes to tell to say the wrong letter on purpose when asked to identify a letter was excited about writing Bs and Es and Ns for his friends. The fact his Es sometimes have five horizontal lines is all the sweeter. I know it will pass and this is me embracing imperfection. And independence.

Y'all. I want my kids to know Jesus more than anything else. But not far below that in my mothering priorities is developing independence. 

I don't want to carry their backpacks in from the mini van. They're perfectly capable of carrying their plates over to the sink from the dinner table. My girl is a champion sock matcher and you should see my boy push an entire basket of dirty clothes into the laundry room, where he can sort of sort the colors.

And I praised God when they tackled these valentines in a way that should win them some kind of gold medal. Not only did they accomplish it with some independence. They also are so excited to hand them out.

I'm sure it's possible they're more excited to receive valentines from their friends.

But, y'all, I didn't have to go to Pinterest to get instructions on how to create some elaborate valentine mailbox. I should note here I've been on Pinterest once and don't have an account. I did think we are going to have to decorate the fruit snacks box and then scrounge around the house for a second box.

But then I found the brown paper sacks in my craft stash. Yes, I'm certain they're from some previous craft I never got around to doing with my kids.

My crafty daughter suggested we should add some ribbon so the bags have handles. And that was a good idea. UNTIL I found some sparkly pipe cleaners. You would have thought I uncovered gold. Nope, just gold and silver and purple pipe cleaners that make fantastic handles taped to the inside of the brown paper sack that my kids covered with stickers and words.

Simple yet sweet for the valentines win.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When you're filled with the light ...

Zac Brown at CFSB Center in Murray, Ky., on 2.8.14. 
Photo by Kyser Lough. See more here. 

I don't have an ounce of musical talent. Really, I'm not sure what those three years of playing the clarinet were about. But they're over and now I just depend on professional musicians for my entertainment.

Three and a half years ago, I saw Zac Brown Band at HullabaLOU and decided it was my favorite live band. So, of course, I've been wanting to see Zac Brown and his talented band again. I really never considered it would be in my small town.

Well, it was. And it happened Saturday night.

And to make the evening even better, I went to the concert with my friend Sarah.

Let me give you a little background on Sarah and me: We hang out usually a couple times a week. Often our families lunch after church and then we see each other during the week at story time and often another lunch somewhere. We text pretty much every day. When it warms up we'll take our boys to the park, where their energy is better burned.

So, yes, we swap stories, ask for advice, figure out motherhood, watch each other's kids and invest in our church community together. But our conversations are usually interrupted by the noise and movement that comes with her three kids {two boys then a girl} who are 4 years to 9 months and my 4-year-old boy. Sometimes my 6-year-old girl is with us, but she's often at school.

And I think that's our second picture together. We have a few with groups of friends and tons of our kids, especially the boys who are less than a month apart and have been friends since they were born more than four years ago, together.

Feb. 8 had been on my calendar for months. Zac Brown Band with Sarah. Y'all, I think it was the third {possibly fourth ...} time Sarah and I had hung out with our kids. Can you imagine how much talking we got accomplished in the five hours we were together?

Yeah, exactly.

We went to dinner and then to the concert. We missed the very first opening act because we were enjoying eating slowly, not cutting up anyone else's food, and having long conversations. We did get to the arena in time for most of Levi Lowery.

Do you know him? Yeah, I didn't either. But I could stop thinking he looked like Jack Black. With Willie Robertson hair and beard. And turns out he wrote "Colder Weather" with Zac Brown.

So, yes, Zac Brown. I did wonder if I'd hyped myself up so much in the past 3 1/2 years and would be let down hearing and seeing the band live again. No worries there. It was a fun show and I was introduced to a couple new-to-me Zac Brown Band songs I've since downloaded. My favorite was "Let It Rain," which is on ZBB's newest album released on iTunes.

I can't get enough of "Let It Rain." I can't count how many times I've listened to it since Saturday. My family may want to me to take the song off repeat. Yes, I like the sound but I also like the message.

"Breathe in deep, let it out
Wash the bitterness out of your mouth
There's no room left for darkness
When you're filled with the light it comes out"

Yet another reference to light. That's the word God keeps laying on my heart. For me, the light comes when I let go. It's about lightening the load and delighting in my life right now. And when there's light, it drowns out the darkness. It's in the light where goodness and truth dwell. It's in the light where we can truly see. {See Ephesians 5:8-20.}

So let go. Find some good music. Take a friend with you. And choose the light.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

{Storyline} Oh the places we go

In the road of life, we have to make decisions and turns. Some times we have to yield or stop or speed up. We have to wait our turn and merge when there is space. Moment after moment our journeys are being written.

Donald Miller uses Joseph's life to talk about positive and negatives turns we experience in life. These are the events and moments that'll make it on our storyline that illustrates our life. In Joseph's life there were many. He hears from God in a dream, was thrown in a well because he bragged to his brothers, taken into slavery, excelled in slavery and ran Potiphar's house, accused of rape and imprisoned, excelled in prison and ran the prison, interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's confidants, waited for justice, made second in command.

Not everything that happened to Joseph was good, but God continued the work he had begun long ago in Joseph's life. Through all the negative and positive turns, Joseph's heart was changed.

But Joseph said to them, "Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

And isn't that really the point of it all? To be changed from the inside out so we can make difference in the lives of those near us is what brings God glory. Our lives are the subplots in God's bigger story.

In this week's "Storyline" exercise, I listed some positive and negative turns in my life. All of them involved relationships, career-related decisions or health conditions.

I've been shaped by my parents' marriage, friendships, discovering I was good at telling other people's stories in print, deciding to follow Jesus, moving away to college, meeting my husband, getting married, church community, being diagnosed with diabetes, a season of infertility that lead to adoption, taking what seemed like financial risks when my husband started his own law practice and then a year later quitting my job to become a stay-at-home mom, adopting again, my father-in-law's unexpected death, expanding my skill set to include managing lake houses, and laying down our desire to adopt a third time.

And those are just the major moments. There are thousands of smaller moments that matter.

We don't live so we can mark major moments on life's timeline. We live to be changed and grow and make a difference and bring glory to the Maker of it all.

These stories of ours matter. The major milestones are worth marking. The everyday moments are worth remembering. The relationships sustain us. The decisions are made almost constantly, regardless of whether we're intentional about them.

"You didn't make yourself in your mother's womb, God did, and to say you aren't important is to say his creation lacks substance. Are you the center of the world? No, but the one who created the world created you as the pinnacle of that creation. Accept this fact and with it the responsibility to live a great story. Lives depend on it."
{Donald Miller in "Storyline"}

My life depends on my story being part of God's story, yes. But so do the lives sharing my house. And the ones down the street and the ones I keep up with on Facebook. How I live my story goes beyond me. I'm the character in my story, but I'm not alone. There are hard days and tough decisions and pleasant surprises and everyday joys. Ultimately, God will use it all -- even the rocky roads -- for good. For his good. For our good. And for their good. Wherever it is we go.

What positive and negative turns would be on your storyline? Have you seen God working good through those moments? Please share in the comments or link up a post of your own.

This is the second post in a 10-week series as I work through "Storyline" by Donald Miller with some friends. Read other posts in the series here. Next Tuesday we'll be talking about the theme of our lives. 

I'm also joining Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Jesus rearranges us

When I was a kid, I used to love rearranging my bedroom furniture. Somehow I would manage to move the full-sized canopy bed, dresser, and bookshelf/drawer combo around the dark brown carpet all on my own. I'd avoid blocking the three windows that overlooked our backyard and the neighbor's yard that diagonally separated my yard from one of my best friend's.

Even then, I liked order. For someone who has long been reluctant to embrace change, I have no idea why rearranging my bedroom furniture was appealing. Perhaps controlling the change was comfortable for my perfectionist ways.

I could fall asleep soundly with my bed in a different place, but anticipating a change in life I don't have control over could keep me up at night. Yet when we follow Jesus, we have to rearrange our life. 

The sermon in church on Sunday included that idea. I've been thinking about it since. As soon as our former pastor who still is on the speaking team uttered those words, I was taken back to pushing and pulling my furniture across the carpet.

And I remembered how I've dug in my heels so many times. I've stalled changes in life because I was afraid of what the new season would bring. I've resisted change because I wasn't in control of what would happen next. I've said never to living where I live, a job I loved, quitting said job to be a stay-at-home mom, and enrolling my kids in a private school that turned out to be a perfect fit for us.

Never say never, I know.

Because Jesus may call you to lay down something down or pick up something new or invite someone in or go against what you've always known or take steps into the unknown. God doesn't leave the us the same. He makes us new and continues making us new. He doesn't leave us in the wilderness but changes us as we journey to the Promised Land.

In December, I had to let go of my desire to adopt a third child. It was bittersweet. It was hard, but it was freeing. Since then, I keep walking by the room I thought we'd make a nursery again. It's just been sitting there. Empty. Bare.

God laid on my heart the desire to give the room purpose again. So as of Saturday, it's a guest room. I have no idea if it will forever be a guest room, but this rearranging was necessary for my soul as I follow Jesus. Moving around furniture this time wasn't as easy, but I'm glad it's done.

In the process of life, God rearranges our desires and our decisions. He fills our hearts with convictions we never anticipated being important. He perfects us through real life that often looks nothing like we imagined. Sometimes it's hard, but we're always better for it.

Like I rested peacefully in that childhood canopy bed of mine wherever it was in my bedroom, I don't want to be scared to let go. I want to rest in what Jesus has for me, even when it means rearranging my thoughts, desires, dreams and expectations.

I'm joining Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday and Lyli Dunbar's Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snow Day Saturday!

We may have had three "snow days" this week, but we actually had snow when we woke up this morning! It was just an inch or so, but it was enough to sled down the hill across the street from our house at the park, build a snowman, and make snow cream.

Missions accomplished by 11 a.m.

And that was all after we had the delicious cinnamon toast {again ...} to which we're addicted.

The morning also included some reminiscing about three years ago almost exactly {Feb. 7, 2011} when Ben was 14 months old and not walking. He didn't love the snow then but his big sister did. Falling face first in the wet stuff did motivate Ben to take his first steps later that night.

My how time flies ...

They both were loving the snow today. We were the first to make sledding tracks down the hill. Definitely a perk of living across the street from the park!

Our snow cream was good! It's the first time I've ever made it. {Yes, I know, but I'm a Kentucky girl who prefers humid summers to snowy winters. But, hey, the kids have given me some inspiration to embrace seasons and adventure.}

Here's snow cream recipe we used ...

1 cup half and half {or milk}
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups snow

Combine everything but the snow in a large bowl. Stir until sugar is dissolved. And then stir in snow a little at a time until the mixture is creamy.

My kids added sprinkles to the snow cream. Seemed like a perfect way to top off a snow day Saturday morning.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How snow days are like a vacation

That's the view out of front door on Monday.

After the first snow day this week, I told my husband the day was like vacation. An unexpected vacation. He laughed. And it is kind of funny.

Here I was recapping our Monday that involved both kids being home all day. Usually, Cate is gone for eight hours and Ben for half that. But, still. For a momma, a break in the routine that frees up some time and releases some responsibilities is like a vacation.

Then on the second snow day, we got out because I had a doctor's appointment, we lunched with my friend who had watched my kids, and then Ben had a doctor's appointment. During that time, there was freezing rain falling and gray skies to cover the entire day. It felt less like vacation, but it still didn't seem like a normal Tuesday.

And now we're on our third snow day this week.

"Snow day" is not really true anyway. We should call them ice days. I apparently live in some weather bubble where the snow goes just north and south of us, and we're left with the ice that covered tree branches and power lines. I don't care for snow, but I would like one snow day that actually involves inches of snow so my kids can make some snow angels, build a snowman and throw some snow balls.

Ice just doesn't work the same way. Still, snow days or ice days or any other expected days removed from routine are like vacation. Here's why:

1. We don't use an alarm in the morning and we stay in our pajamas longer. It also means we've eaten some delicious cinnamon toast instead of grabbing a granola bar as we race out the door.

2. Chores are easier to ignore, meaning I find it easier to sit on the couch with a book. Or two. And when I do get to the chores, there is more time to do them. Even on vacation, we need some clean plates for dinner.

3. The kids play more creatively when they whole day lays free before them. I've let them use Sharpies on balloons they then bat around the house. They've painted. Cate has her Valentine's ready for her class next week. We've written letters and drawn pictures for our Compassion kids.

4. There's new entertainment. Wanting to spice up Monday, I let the kids exchange the movies they picked out for each other for Valentine's Day. I'm notorious for giving Greg gifts early, so it's not really surprising I used the first snow day as an excuse. So they've watched "Stuart Little," "Stuart Little 2" and "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown."

5. Regular details of my routine don't have to happen. No lunches to pack. No carpool to drive. Errands can wait. No homework in the afternoons. Things get cancelled.

I'm not entirely sure how long this vacation will last, but I know I want to enjoy it while it's here. To fully enjoy it, I probably need to venture out to the grocery, somewhere I usually go at the beginning of the week. But at least I have the rest of the day to get that done.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

{Storyline} Only Love Today

Love this encouragement from Hands Free Mama.

God has many roles in our lives. He's a father, shepherd, king, author, and creator. He's full of grace, love, judgement, forgiveness, commandments, promises, hope, and strength. And in all of that, he's a storyteller. He creates the story and he gives us roles in the plot. He knows the conflicts and how we'll overcome them.

And he lets us in on the ending.

But we're not there yet. We're still in the pages, discovering more of what adventures, characters and conflicts are part of our stories. Through it all, God wants us to connect. To Him. To ourselves. To each other. To our neighbors. To strangers.

It's a risky business, really.

"Love is all about risk and it's not for the faint of heart. A controlling person is driven by fear, not strength. People are controlling because they fear the risk inherently involved in relationships. The more fearless a person is, the less controlling he becomes.

Now, here's a truth that may surprise you: God isn't afraid and so God isn't controlling. He actually gives people the opportunity to walk away. This is the only way God can have a sincere, authentic and loving relationships with His creation."

{Donald Miller in "Storyline"}

"Storyline" is about God's story and how we all have a subplot within that. I'm working through the book with some online friends and I'm blogging my way through. This week we're talking about the introduction and my mind is already flooded with thoughts.

So here I am thinking about planning and writing and living my story, but not because it's mine. Ultimately, it's God's. He's the author, but he let us in on the pages. He lets us dream and plan and pursue. Yes, sometimes he changes our plans because he sees more of the book, but we're given freedom and creativity that we can use to intentionally make a difference.

For me, knowing this reminds me life is a process. There's going to be good days and bad days but if we're seeking God, our life is going to matter because it's about more than just ourselves. Sometimes we don't know what next, but we do know the conflicts and adventures and relationships are taking us somewhere and through it all we're slowly being perfected into becoming more like Christ.

I've been thinking about this subplot of mine and I'm not entirely sure how it will unfold. But I also know that's OK. I don't always have to know the future because I know the Author of it all. 

But when I think of my story, what comes to mind first is how I want to be a person who provides for other people and cares for them in tangible ways. As a wife and mom I already do this on a near constant basis. I also see myself reacting this way when I see a need. I want to gather items, offer assistance, etc. In church Sunday, the sermon mentioned how Jesus was hospitable.

Community and hospitality have always been such a big part of my life. It's been around kitchen tables, during play dates at the park, and in ordinary conversations that God has transformed my heart. It's been in these every day places I've seen God most vividly.

Hospitality comes from the same word as hospital. And, yes, it's just as healing.

Because I've been changed in community, I want to be able to share some of our story of becoming a family and being a family through a written story. I want to collect diapers and supplies for the expecting momma who is being shunned in her home country and seeking political asylum here with her daughter is who about my daughter's age. I want my convictions to be lived out in action.

I want to love. Only love today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. It seems simple, but it's complicated and transforming.

I used to think that meant I had to have a bigger audience and bigger dreams. But seeking God gives me all the audience I need. He gives me strength and purpose right here, in my ordinary, everyday life caring for my family, my friends and others in my small-town community.

I'm not entirely sure how this subplot fits into God's master story, but I believe it does because love matters and is worth the risk.

How does knowing God has a story {and we're part of it!} help explain life? What do you think your subplot might be in the story of God? You're welcome to link up your thoughts below or share in the comments. Each week, there'll be a different prompt. Next week we're talking about where we've been so far in our stories and mapping our lives on timelines.

This is the first post in a 10-week series as I work through "Storyline" by Donald Miller with some friends. 

I'm also linking this post with some other friends: Jen Ferguson and her Soli Deo Gloria party; Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory; Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday; and Lyli Dunbar's Thought-Provoking Thursday. All these communities encourage real love. 

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Monday, February 3, 2014

{Review} Worth the Fight

"Haven’t you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

In four days, I will have known Greg for 16 years.

Um, yes, I do need to pause here and ask, Where have you gone, Time?

I hadn't turned 19 yet, when we met through a mutual acquaintance. I was a freshman in college, happy for a new environment. All my future thoughts were focused on school and becoming a journalist.

I thought about my byline more than I mentally planned a wedding. In fact, Greg and I broke up a couple times in college, usually due to my insecurity that commitment was the right step. I'm not sure why I was hesitant to always be all in. But God eventually got the two of us on the same page at the same time about The Future.

He surprised me with a visit, flowers and a question. I was thrilled, thought they were pretty, and said yes. And we lived happily ever after.

Aug. 3, 2002

OK, well, that happily ever after isn't exactly true. 

In fact, it's not true at all.

Marriage is hard. After knowing each other for almost 16 years, including 11 1/2 years {exactly, today!} of marriage, Greg and I have decided we like it more the farther into this husband and wife thing we get.

Over the years, we've had communication break downs, far too many selfish moments, conversations about intimacy, conflicts about things I can't even remember, and clashing expectations. We certainly haven't always agreed on everything, but, thankfully, neither of us want a dog and cats make us sneeze.

We've been in the trenches. But together we've found a way back out. We laugh often. He beats me in Words with Friends way too often. We love to travel together. He's the best dad I know and makes me a better momma with each season of parenting.

What's better than fighting about the hard days is fighting for each other and the marriage you're building together. 

My friend Kayse Pratt is releasing today "Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High Maintenance Marriage." She has a way of being encouraging, practical and real with her words that encourage couples in five areas that have proved essential in her marriage: Commitment, Communication, Service, Laughter and Sex.

This 32-page ebook offers real life wisdom, challenges to improve your own marriage, Bible verses to encourage, and a list of other resources.

"Worth the Fight" is a short book packed with so much truth. So, I'll share a favorite passage from each section.

COMMITMENT :: "Marriage requires commitment. ... God intended it to be for life, for me to love their women wholeheartedly, and for women to respect their men unconditionally. We might mess those roles up every day, but that doesn't change God's intention."

COMMUNICATION :: "When Jon and I were dating, we talked about everything. ... And then we got married and moved in to the same house and realized that 'good communication' was not exactly the same thing as 'talking a lot.'"

SERVICE :: "We are called to love unconditionally, and that means serving without reservation. That means looking for ways to make your spouse's life a little easier, instead of becoming embittered that they aren't making yours any easier."

LAUGHTER :: "Playing together leads to laughing together, and laughing together reminds you that you actually like the person you're stuck with."

SEX :: "God created sex to be a unifying experience between two people who have committed to serving each other for their entire lives. ... Sex is a way to physically express the miracle of marriage -- two becoming one."

Marriage isn't anything like I expected when I did get around to planning that wedding of mine a dozen years ago. But, you know, it's better. And I'm thankful I'm not the same girl I was when Greg and I met almost 16 years ago. Marriage is a refining fire at times, but it's worth the fight.

As part of Kayse's book launch team, I did get a free copy of this book, but these opinions are my own. AND she's offering all of you 20% off TODAY ONLY! Just use the code worththefight20 to get the book for just $3.19. {It's regularly $3.99.} This post contains affiliate links, but that doesn't change the price for you and I'm truly encouraged by Kayse's words.

If you're looking for other family/house resources, Kayse Pratt also wrote "Getting It Together: Your Guide to Setting up a Home Management System that Works" {my previous review} and "Undivided Mom," a devotional for moms.

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