Monday, June 30, 2014

How God met me on the shoreline

We walked the shoreline one morning last week looking for shells that were worth keeping. The tide was out, so the sandy part of the beach seemed massive. Yet few shells seemed colored uniquely or shaped wholly enough to put in the plastic buckets.

Except to Ben.

He found broken pieces of shells with different colors. He gathered small shells that were perfectly shaped. He wanted pieces that looked like they could be images of animals – you know, like when a kid interprets the clouds’ designs.

Just because a shell was broken didn’t disqualify it from Ben’s bucket.

Usually one to be where the party is, Ben wandered more slowly than the others or detoured from the group. It was then when he discovered treasures.

We were on a morning walk on the beach, gathering natural souvenirs. But God met me there, cueing Ellie Holcomb’s song called “The Broken Beautiful” as the soundtrack for the moment my heart needed to soak in.

I know that I don't bring a lot to the table
Just little pieces of a broken heart
There’s days I wonder if You'll still be faithful
Hold me together when I fall apart?
Would You remind me now of who You are?

That Your love will never change,
that there's healing in your name
That You can take broken things,
and make them beautiful
You took my shame
And You walked out of the grave
So Your love can take broken things
and make them beautiful …

{Ellie Holcomb in “The Broken Beautiful”}

Ben was right. It didn’t matter if the shells were whole because even the broken pieces had beauty.

Our lives are the same way. None of us are whole. But we’re holy.

We’re set apart, which sometimes means we venture away from the crowd. We all have our own damage and hurt and disappointments and fears. But over time the tides ebb and flow, washing away the jagged edges and making the fragments smoother.

God tells us to bring to him all of those pieces – the conflict among people you love, the dispute with people you once called friends, the phone call that has never come, the waiting, the best friend whose hurt stirs up your past, and the busyness that haunts your summer. Despite our tendencies, we don’t need to be anxious because he hears our prayers and gives us peace that passes all our understanding. {Phil. 4:6-7}

He prepared us for this. {Ephesians 2:10}

He’s not done yet. {Phil. 1:6}

He has a plan for me and you. {Jeremiah 29:11}

And it’s going to be good. {Romans 8:28}

Like my boy with his shells on the shoreline, God gathers up all the pieces of our lives, knowing they’re worth keeping. Yes, some are pointy and others are dusty, but God covers them all with love and grace and compassion and mercy and forgiveness and peace.

With this post, I'm joining the weekly Soli Deo Gloria Gathering, where brokenness is believed to be beautiful. 

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Six Things I Learned in June {at the pool}

Oh, June, where did you go?

You've been a mixture of cool, spring weather and hot, muggy summer. We've eaten well with you and spent more hours than I can count at the city pool. There's been blueberries and muddy fun. We've gathered around the table and shared more than food.

You've been a joy, June.

{And now for some things I learned this month ... at the pool.}

1. Being brave is fun. Just ask Ben. So much joy and courage in that kid. And now he swims without his Puddle Jumper.

{And nobody is paying me to say this: Puddle Jumpers are the best life jackets ever. Ben's used his since he was 18 months old and already jumping off the side of the pool. They even count as Coast Guard-approved life vests for kids 30-50 pounds if you're on a boat.}

2. You can make friends wherever you are. I love watching my kids befriend kids they've never seen before and then play games and swim with them. Of course, we live in a small town so it's likely they will see them again.

3. There are rules everywhere. And, yes, some are silly but it's still respectful to follow them.

4. Swimming late into the early evening makes it hard to cook dinner. Just ask Greg how many texts he's gotten lately around 5 p.m. that go something like this: "Hey. We are still at the pool. I'm not cooking. What do you want for dinner?"

5. Old-fashioned books are easier to read in bright sunlight. So I've been reading an actual book that stays in my van for the pool and another book on my Kindle at home. I'm in the middle of "I Am Hutterite" by Mary-Ann Kirkby when I'm not actually in the water. {You can see what I've read so far this year here.}

6. Saving lives is a big responsibility. I can't believe I life guarded as a 16-year-old girl who didn't even have a driver's license. {OK, so, I only had to jump off the stand to rescue one kid. And he wasn't drowning. He was just terrified as he tread water.} These days, these teenagers seem so young.

So. How's June been for you?

These monthly posts are usually linked with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky, but she's taking this month off. Here are previous month's recaps from 2013: June. July. August. September. October. November. And from 2014: January. February. March. April. May.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Trying to Trust God While Trying to Conceive

Jen Ferguson connected online and then met in real life. I'm looking forward to the day we get to hang out in person again. For now, I'm grateful for what she's doing over at Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood, where she's fostering a real life community. Part of its accessibility is resources like guest blog posts that encourage women walking through all sorts of difficult seasons. It's important to know none of us are alone. 

I knew when she was asking for people to consider sharing their stories I wanted to write about our infertility journey that led us to adopt our two children. Today is the first installment on the hard years of infertility. The second part about adoption will publish on July 2.

I learned the hard way deciding I was “ready” to have a baby wasn’t enough to get pregnant.

In December 2004, I stopped taking birth control pills, thinking that giving those up was submitting myself to God’s will. My husband was already ready and was just waiting – quite patiently, I might add – for me to have a family.

I’ve never been much of a science-minded person. But I knew enough to know when I didn’t have a menstrual cycle for the six months after trashing my birth control pills, I wasn’t going to get pregnant. I called the doctor, who at the end of the appointment prescribed Clomid to help me ovulate.

I walked out of the doctor’s office with what seemed to be the tool I needed to get my way. I probably should have been more nervous about taking a fertility drug, but I was already desperate to fix this.

Somehow I was still shocked that this next step in life wasn’t that easy. For five months, Clomid helped me ovulate, according to many vials of blood work, but it also made me emotional – perhaps “crazy” is a better description – and strained my marriage. Even through the emotions, I was convinced this was all just part of trying to become a mom.

Between the doctor’s appointments and blood draws, I prayed, “God, please help us become pregnant.” I uttered those words six words over and over again – as friends were announcing their pregnancies, on the good days when I had hope, and on the hard days where I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting my way.

{Read the rest over at Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood, where real connections matter.}

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Oh, Carolina ...

{If there were a soundtrack for this post, it would be Needtobreathe's "Oh Carolina." You can listen here. And if you haven't heard Needtobreathe's new album, I highly recommend it. All of it.}

Some of my best childhood memories involve beach vacations. The location is different now, but these vacation continue now that us three kids are married and have kids. We're up to 13 of us now.

We'll all gathering this week at a house in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where we'll swim, eat, play games, laugh, explore, read, spend lots of time talking about where we're going and what we're doing next, swim, and eat.

In 2005, we discovered Hilton Head when a hurricane was en route to Perdido Key, Florida, which was the backdrop for many childhood memories. We haven't been back to Florida's Panhandle because we fell in love with South Carolina's Low Country.

{See posts from previous Hilton Head trips: 2005. 2008. 2010.}

In 2012, we were adventurous and stayed at Isle of Palms near Charleston. It was nice. But it wasn't Hilton Head.

So, Hilton Head, we're coming back to you.

Do you have memories tied up in a specific vacation spot?

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Books I've Read in 2014

Reading and summer have always be intertwined for me. Now that my kids are both officially swimmers, reading is even more possible at the pool. Although I've been in the water often lately because it's been so summery hot. {That's not a complaint - I love summer!}

We're leaving for the beach on Saturday, so I have new books on my Kindle and plenty more on my Amazon wish list. And here we are, pretty much half way through the year. {I know, it's hard to believe ...} So today seems like a good time to share the books I've so far read this year. 

I keep an ongoing list over at Goodreads.

"Missing You" by Harlan Coben
"Fall From Grace" by Richard North Patterson
"That Certain Summer" by Irene Hannon
"One Perfect Spring" by Irene Hannon
"Made in the U.S.A." by Billie Letts

Non-fiction :: Christianity
"Let. It. Go." by Karen Ehman
"Love Idol" by Jennifer Dukes Lee {Review & Related Posts}
"The Applause of Heaven" by Max Lucado
"Chasing God" by Angie Smith {Review}
"Restless: Because You Were Made for More" by Jennie Allen {Review}
"Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God's Story" by Donald Miller {Related Posts}
"Front Porch Living: A Faith Journey to the Summers of Yesteryear" by Lori Dunham

Non-fiction :: Parenthood
"No More Perfect Kids" by Jill Savage and Kathy Koch {Review}
"Bringing Home the Missing Linck: A Journey of Faith to Family" by Jennifer Jackson Linck
"Surprised by Motherhood" by Lisa-Jo Baker {Review}
"Trucks, Tantrums and Trusting Him: Confessions of a Boy Mom" by Jennifer Jackson Linck {Review}
"A to Z Summer Fun: Ideas to Inspire Family Fun" by Cathy Baker {Review}

Non-fiction :: Marriage
"Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High Maintenance Marriage" by Kayse Pratt {Review}
"The Marriage You've Always Wanted" by Gary Chapman {Review}
"The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life" by Melanie Shankle

Non-fiction :: Writing
"Self-Publish: Moving from Idea to Product" by Erin Ulrich & Teri Lynne Underwood
"How to Market and Sell Your eBook" by Sarah Mae

What have you read this year? Recommendations always accepted!

Find more reading suggestions at the Creative Home Keeper's Summer Reading List, where Victoria's also hosting a link-up for other bloggers. 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Life is messy.

We had friends over three nights in a row this week. The agendas were different: Game of Things and Settlers of Catan with our best friends one night, discussion of Randy Alcorn's "In Light of Eternity" with our small group the next, and then USA's World Cup game with soccer-loving friends. {Yes, we're a family of four extroverts.}

All the gatherings involved food. And they all involved real life.

Nothing was perfect but I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Crumbs were left on the floor and counters had residue from various dishes. People shared their struggles and asked for advice and prayer around our table. Kids tracked in water that dropped from their clothes and hair after an impromptu water fight.

I feel blessed in the four walls of my house.

Greg and I love marriage so much more now than when we were newlyweds almost a dozen years ago. We get each other and the grace between us more. Sure, parenting is hard but we're seeing growth and progress. And I'm learning to appreciate the moment with my favorite three people.
Even the messy ones.

Because this is life. This is my life. 

Sometimes sadness and conflict and heartache seem overwhelming outside my house even when inside my house is peaceful. In the past it’s been the other way around: Peace has come from the outside.

But even when the messes are with people who don't live in my house, I feel the mud and the dripping water because I believe in community. I don't want to do this life alone and I don't want the people around me to either.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

Sometimes life is messy.

Sometimes mud squishes between my toes and then I cry for my friend. Other times kids come in needing a towel to dry themselves off. I say something I know matters but still am left wondering how it was received. Friends pray together because there's nothing else we can do. "Hospice" keeps weaving its way into conversations about a beloved family member.

But I want to let other people in my house and my heart. I want them to pull up chairs around my table. I want to know what's on their hearts. I don't want to worry about the messes that will eventually be cleaned.

One day we'll be cleaned up and wash off in the ultimate way.

“Heaven will cleanse us of sin and error, but it won’t erase our lives and memories. The people we’ve known here, who God has sent to impact our lives, are his gift to us, as we are his gift to them. To forget these people would be to forget God’s grace and provision.”
{Randy Alcorn in "In Light of Eternity"}

Ah, yes, God's grace and provision. These people and their hearts matter. Our messes are temporary, but right now matters forever.

Joining my favorite online encouragers with this post: Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria gathering, Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, and Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Growing Pains :: Continuing His Work

She tripped in the shower and then a few days later on a kickball serving as a soccer ball. She feels the pain in her legs sometimes at night. Her legs are longer and her body taller.

Ah, growing pains.

Until the last few months, I would have never described Cate as clumsy. But as she's growing she's figuring out how to move and be and live.

Aren't we all a little clumsy when we are adjusting to something new? Our perspective can be skewed and our routines scattered. Knowledge and conviction clutter our minds. Decisions suck up our time.


"Then You remind me You made me from the dust
And I can never, no never, be good enough
And that You’re not gonna let that come between us
I get so clumsy
I get so foolish
I get so stupid
And then I feel so useless
But You’re sayin’ You love me
And You’re still gonna hold me
And that You wanna be near me
‘Cause You’re makin’ me holy
You’re still makin’ me holy,
From where I stand
Your holiness is up so high I can never reach it
My only hope is to fall on Jesus"
{From "Clumsy" by Chris Rice}

We’re going to fall down and mess up and trip over whatever is in our path, especially when we’re adjusting to something new. It's there when our face is on the ground and our legs aching that we remember we need a savior. The bruises fade and wounds heal. The scars may remain, reminding us where we’ve been and just how far we’ve come.

Growth happens over time – and a little at a time. I'm realizing more and more that's so we can adjust with each pain and nudge and revelation.

Even though it seems like my girl has grown up to her 51 inches overnight, it really has been a process. Some days I notice her new height more than others, but I often realize she knows more and can do more with each day she lives.

Cate’s not done growing. Yes, she’s come so far but she still has room to grow. The same can be said of me. And you. And them. Thankfully, God promises us he continues the work he’s begun in us. I suppose that means we’ll have growing pains as long as this earth is our home.

I'm linking up this post with Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, and Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Come on, adventure awaits ...

We woke up Saturday morning without a plan.

Weekends have been busy for months, so it was so refreshing. {Yes, the fact my family let me sleep until 8 a.m. added to the refreshment.} We slowly made a plan, deciding to go out to a favorite local breakfast spot and then stock up on some fresh veggies from the farmers’ market before going to some yard sales. We struck out at several yard sales before our last one offered some great clothes for Ben and my newest nephew as well as some colorful ink pads for my girl and her stamps.

As we finished going to yard sales, my friend Sarah texted me about their morning fishing outing that had failed. She was disappointed for her husband, who wanted to take advantage of Kentucky’s weekend that didn’t require a fishing license.

I told her Greg had wanted to go to Land Between the Lakes to fish, so we ended up making an impromptu plan for the afternoon. After gathering fishing and lunching supplies, I took care of my one lake house management commitment, which happened to be on the way to our chosen fishing spot.

Well, honestly, Sarah and I talked while four of the five kids and husbands fished.

After a few hours, we loaded back up our mini vans to travel the 34 miles back to town. Right as we pulled away, I received a few weather-warning texts about a thunderstorm and possible tornado. While discussing what we should do, the skies ahead looked dark and had occasional bursts of lightning. We decided to seek shelter rather than take the chances crossing a narrow bridge over Kentucky Lake and wish we had taken shelter while it was near.

We ended up spending another hour with Sarah and her family at the Land Between the Lakes Visitor’s Center. The guys kept an eye on the radar and we all decided we made the right decision.

Maybe the day felt adventurous because I’m such a planner. Perhaps planning not have plans is necessary for me to embrace spontaneity.

Regardless, I loved our adventurous day.

The adventures continued Sunday when we went out to my mother-in-law’s house in the country just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee line after our usual post-church lunch. Greg wanted to target shoot and the kids like to run free out there. So that’s what we did. I humored Greg with some target shooting – and liked it. The kids played outside and ate ice cream inside. Ben caught a frog that he helped swim in the bird bath. Cate used binoculars to watch hummingbirds.

Greg talks about wanting to live in the country one day. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. But I do love having country adventures available to us. Like not having plans, shooting a .22 rifle at a target takes me out of my comfort zone.

But, you know, it’s not so bad out there. I should step out more because adventure does await.

Have you had any adventures lately?

I'm joining the Soli Deo Gloria Gathering, which is back after Jen Ferguson listened to God about revamping the community. This post of mine isn't exactly deep, but it does go along with Jen's focus on FUN this year. 

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Friday, June 6, 2014

{Review} Restless

Some of the moments that have shaped me the most have been the hardest to walk through. But they matter. Those seasons of heartache changed me and showed me how much I need God. The grieving and adapting and resolving are often processes, but those trials continue to shape my perspective of what God is doing and wants to do for his glory – in my life and all around me.

This idea isn’t new to me. I spent time thinking about it when I worked through Donald Miller’s “Storyline.” God’s glory – especially in the hard times – became even more real to me as I read Jennie Allen’s “Restless: Because You Were Made for More.”

Like “Storyline,” this book prompts introspection of where you’ve been and where you’re going – and why that matters. Both authors also use Joseph’s life has an encouragement that what could have broken us can still be redeemed.

After decades of suffering, some of which came by the hands of his brothers, Joseph still embraced redemption.

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.

Joseph was able to speak kindly to those who had hurt him because God changed him. God saved his life – and likely others – because Joseph realized suffering was just part of the story. His brothers weren’t going to fulfill him, only God would.

Sure, Joseph’s life was messy. So is mine. I’m guessing yours is too.

But God just needs us to bring it all to him.

Jennie Allen energized me to live intentionally – for God’s glory alone. What we say to people, where we send our kids to school, how we prioritize our marriage and other relationships, who we invite over and in, where we go, how we spend our time and our money, and what we teach our kids ... all of that matters.

“Restless” is a book that encourages and challenges on the same page. It’s packed with truth I wanted to highlight with my pen and absorb with my heart. There is space to write and process and I know I’ll revisit these pages over and over again.

My word for this year is LIGHT. And God’s been incorporating that single yet powerful word into nearly everything he’s teaching me this year. It carried over while I was reading “Restless” and learning more about how God’s glory exists in my everyday life.

“We are souls undone and rebuilt by the Spirit of God. As God surveys this earth, he sees light and darkness. And he sees his light, his Spirit wandering through neighborhoods, offices, schools, Walmarts, Chick-fil-A playgrounds, and eating breadsticks at Olive Gardens. We possess God and are filled with him for the very same purposes that Peter, John, Paul, Mary and Luke in the early church were filled with him. We are filled with God to pour him into the darkness, pour him into the broken souls who are starving for something.”
{Jennie Allen in “Restless”}

And that starts wherever you are. Messes and all.

I received a copy of "Restless" from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. So here it is, my honest opinion, although be glad I limited it. I could share quote after quote and talk for days on this one. 

I'm linking this review with my friends at Circles of Faith, where you can find more book recommendations in a monthly post dedicated to such.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Be deep-spirited friends

While refilling my Diet Dr Pepper before I left lunch at Qdoba earlier today, I also was making sure 4-year-old Ben didn't walk out the door and into the parking lot and warned 7-year-old Cate to stop twirling right in front of a man she had no idea was behind her. Now, I appreciate a preschool boy’s willingness to hold the door for someone and I admire a second-grade girl who is confident enough to dance right there in the middle of a restaurant.

But I also am a mom.

I need to get tabs on my boy who often moves faster than me. I want my girl to be aware of what else is happening around her. This mothering job is constant and full of lessons – both the ones I learn and the ones I teach – when I least expect them.

As the drink refilling, door holding and girl twirling were happening, the guy who was almost victim to my girl’s swinging arms grinned and said, "No worries. You have a lot going on."

Honestly, in that moment, I felt like I had a lot going on. And I only have two kids. {And this wasn't the first incident involving my daughter’s arms at Qdoba.}

As I waited for my two to get their buckles fastened in the car, I started thinking about what he said and how it mirrored something I'd been thinking about: Everybody has a lot going on.

The mom of five runs around at a pace I can't imagine sustaining.

The woman in the midst of dreading taking another pregnancy test because she's sure it'll never be her turn is weary from the waiting.

The husband who works long hours because he thinks that’s the best way to provide for his family is bound to be lonely.

The couple who isn't connecting like they used to is struggling to find a way back or out or forward.

The couple who dreams of a large garden and room for their kids to run in wide open fields wonders if now is the right time for such a transition.

The women expecting twins, graduating college, planning her wedding, starting a new job, waiting for a job, worrying about how mothering two will be, waiting for an important phone call, deciding about the best schooling for her kids, or volunteering for the cause closer to her heart all have a lot going on.

But the busyness that comes with intentional living can't stop us from loving others.

Sure, we all have people and projects occupying our minds. But we can’t forget to check in our friend who is waiting or the one hurting.

We have places to be, but we can’t ignore the needs we see near us.

We have appointments and commitments. There are heartaches and pain. But we aren't alone in having a lot going on.

I don't want to get so caught up in my own convictions, disappointments, and priorities that I miss out on being able to be a friend. And I really want to be the deep-spirited friend who truly puts others before myself. I don't want busyness to rob me from actually living.

I'm linking up this post with some of my favorite encouragers: Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory, and Lyli Dunbar's Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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