Friday, July 29, 2016

11 Things I Learned in July

Oh, July, you’ve been too quick. But you’ve been fun. I’ve driven more new-to-me roads than even before and been on some more familiar ones, but I’ve also learned more deeply to appreciate the journey. This month the journey has included road trips, boat rides on the lake, and afternoons at the pool.

People ask if we’re settled in our new house and I usually say, “Pretty much.” And that’s the short-answer truth. But the long answer: We’re as settled as much as we can be while there are still guys working on the enormous garage we’re renovating. That garage will house the piles of outdoor toys on our side porch that also serves as our everyday entrance. That garage will also house all my husband’s tools and camo attire and hunting accessories that are stored in various other places.

I’ve hung some pictures but there are stacks of others elsewhere, sitting out of our walking paths through the house but in plain sight. And we have this beautiful 10-foot long, floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelf that is still missing cabinets on the bottom cabinets where the board games still in boxes in another corner.

So, you know, we’re pretty much settled. Sort of.

I figure there will be more time for all of that when the kids start Aug. 10.

There you have it, July. You’re making me mourn the end of summer but look forward with great anticipation to a schedule. But, before you go, how about some things you’ve taught me …

1. The last several episodes of season 11 of “Grey’s Anatomy” we’re really good.

I burnt out on this show years ago but occasionally binge watch episodes I haven’t seen. Yes, Derek dies, which I knew before I even watched, but that storyline leads to some great TV.

And the last quote of the season? Perfection, nearly.

“You can build a house out of anything, make it as strong as you want, but a home, a home is more fragile than that. A home is made of the people you fill it with. And people can be broken, sure, but any surgeon knows what’s broken can be mended, what’s hurt can be healed, that no matter how dark it gets, the sun’s gonna rise again.”
– Meredith Gray in season 11 finale

Yes, then I kept watching into the 12th season. I know. So. Many. Seasons.

2. Elin Hilderbrand is a great new-to-me author. 

I saw her name when her endorsement was on the front of another book I was reading. I randomly chose “Summerland” from the library and then moved on to “The Rumor.”

{I’ve been on a bit of a fiction binge lately, as you can tell from my list of books I’ve read so far this year. And it seems Hilderbrand has many books, so that’ll keep me going!}

3. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls is prettier than the U.S. side. Of course, it’s also busy when it’s a double holiday weekend with U.S. folks celebrating Independence Day and Canadians having their own Canada Day. But, hey, it’s pretty!

We went to Buffalo, NY for a long weekend at the beginning of the month for the baptisms of my twin niece and nephew. It was a fun trip and we’re looking forward to being with my siblings and their families again next week ... at the beach!

4. Hand, foot and mouth disease is no joke. That’s what Rachel brought home from Buffalo. Thankfully, turns out the case she had wasn’t even that bad, but there were still a few rough days.

5. Sometimes driving 180 miles one way with one friend for lunch with another friend is worth it. 

Of course, her van may break down and kids end up playing in the sprinkles at the park in their clothes. Road trips and friendships are always adventures worth having. {Here’s a little more on that.}

6. My kids and husband don’t have the same love of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that I do – even when the doughnuts are hot and fresh. Yeah, I can’t explain it either. But they do like watching them be made.

7. New Needtobreathe music is my happy place. Okay, this isn’t something I learned, but I love the new album so I needed to include it. My favorite songs are “Happiness, “Hard Love,” and “Testify.”

8. Detours keep us focused on the journey, giving us opportunities to see new places and appreciate the details around us. 

The most direct route to our new house in the country has been closed for three weeks – the majority of the time we’ve lived here. I've discovered various routes home, and I have my favorite that includes a beautiful field of sunflowers.

9. Even when a friendship spans decades, new traditions can be made. 

We went to St. Louis for the third year in late July {hello, hotness …} so we could go to Six Flags with our best friends. We spent three nights there and also went to a Cardinals game, Soulard Market, the {free!} science center, and the {free!} zoo.

And, really, I know the attractions aren’t actually totally free because local property owners pay for the science center and zoo, but it’s such a nice treat to tourists like us!

10. And when in STL in July, don’t buy right field bleacher seats for an evening game at Busch Stadium. With a 6:15 p.m. start time, we were in the sun until the sixth inning – and the last section to feel shade. Trust me, it makes a difference.

11. An old-fashioned DiscMan provides my son hours of entertainment. Hours, really. {And he’s cute!}

Tell me about your July.

I'm linking with Emily Freeman like I do at the end of every month

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Go to them

I have married friends who work in ministry with international college students in New York City. They were recently in my town, which is the husband’s hometown, sharing about their ministry and some things they said struck a chord with me.

I know God has called me to share with and serve moms – young moms who don’t have much support, adoptive moms, birth moms, women who are surprised by pregnancy and not sure what to do about it, women who want to be moms but are in seasons of infertility and waiting.

That’s different than the Muslims my friends serve in the nation’s biggest city. But some things they shared made sense in my small-town heart.

We can ask people to come (into our churches and into our homes and into our lives and into our ways of doing things), but that’s not going to be their first steps. Instead, we should be willing to go to them. We need to step into their lives and stories with no strings attached. We need to love them wherever they are.

We need to stop saying “come ...” and be willing to go. {Tweet that.}

Who “they” are to you may not be Muslims or moms. But there’s someone who needs you to go to them. Maybe your neighbor or your cousin or your child’s teacher needs a friend. There’s someone – or maybe a group of someones – who need to hear your story so they can trust you with theirs. {Tweet that.}

I was thinking about this recently when my best friend and I drove 180 miles one way to have lunch with our other dear friend who moved away last year.

We miss her in our everyday lives so we just loaded up my mini van (which only held us and our kids because one of my kids was at church camp) and drove toward our friend. Meanwhile our friend drive toward us and we met in the middle. We ate and went to the park and then our friend’s mini van broke down. So I went to pick up her kids and we improvised ... and let the kids get in the spray park in their clothes.

A lunch trip won’t change the world, but being with people dear matters. To be able to serve well, we have to invest in the relationships that keep us grounded. These friendships have sustained me and give me inspiration to pour into others. And sometimes we have to go places to make that happen.

Of course, you don’t always have to go far – maybe just to your phone or your mailbox. Maybe you can go where you always go but linger long enough to notice the others in your paths. Or perhaps you’re supposed to go somewhere new.

As Christians, we like to do Bible studies and acquire more and more knowledge, which is fine, but that can’t be all we do. We have to go do something with what – especially who – we know. We have to go and serve and love.

And then we can invite them in to our churches and into our lives and into our homes and hopefully they’ll want to come. Hopefully they will know we are Christians by our love.

152 Insights to My Soul


#ThreeWordWednesday has been full of guest posting goodness this summer, so be sure to read any posts you may have missed. 

Susan Shipe shared about summertime fun. Melody Hester offered advice for navigating new seasons. Tiffany Parry shared about the joy that comes with freedom. Alecia Simersky talked about rejoicing in the day God has made, even with the day involves hard changes. Lyli Dunbar offered lessons on surviving summer storms. Joanne Viola reminded of the importance of rest

You can also download The Summer Not-To-Do List I made for you, if you haven't already, and find some book recommendations among the books I've read {so far} this year. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Special Rest

I love the change of seasons as I look forward to the change in scenery, each bringing a beauty all their own. The same trees, out back in our yard, bring an awareness and an awe all their own.

I never tire of the orange, red, and yellow hues of fall. Then the branches, devoid of any leaves, hold the splash of white as the snow falls, reflecting the brilliance of the sun. They change once more as little bursts of pale green and red buds peek through the tips, eventually giving way to full out green when the leaves fill in again. Every year I marvel at the varied shades of green.

Only our God, infinite in His creativity, could design seasons which would help us also manage the seasons of our lives:

  • Fall. This season often reminds me of a fresh start, beginnings, perhaps because it brings a new school year. The smells of crisp leaves, the first fires, pumpkin candles, and apple pies bring a comfort all their own which is both familiar and unique. The season of harvest reminds us to be thankful for all that He has done in our lives.
  • Winter. There is a reverence and peace which comes with the first snowfall. No matter how many snowfalls I have now experienced, each reminds me that I have been made whiter than snow.
  • Spring. The season of growth. All that has been dormant, lying under the surface, begins to come to life and grow once anew. Spring brings a hope – of greater growth and production. It encourages us to get back out there in the arena of life and enjoy all that is before us.
  • Summer ...

The season we are currently enjoying. The season of rest. These are the months we long for throughout the year. We desire the break from our busy schedules and routines which dictate our days. It’s the season of rest. I have found myself asking the question, “What is rest?” More so, what does God want us to do in resting?

“Rest” can mean a physical settling down of something at a particular place. “To rest” sometimes indicates a complete envelopment and thus permeation (both definitions come from Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary). To rest should then mean a period of mental or spiritual calm, a relief or freedom from that which pressures us each day.

The messages are heard all around us. You know, the ones which keep pushing us to achieve more and work harder. “Do it now.” “Work hard!” “You’ll never get ahead unless you do more!” “Don’t stop.”

We need to close the lids of our laptops. Lay those cell phones down. And take a rest.

God knew the earth needed the season of summer in order to rest. {Tweet that.} How much more do His people need this same season? Listen to what He says:

“So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest.” {Hebrews 4:9-11, NLT}

God Himself worked hard yet He knew to take a rest. We need to do the same. But notice, we are exhorted to “do our best to enter that rest.” It strikes me funny that we need to work at resting or we will not rest at all. As we rest and our minds are calm, we are better able to focus on Him, gaining renewed perspective. Our hearts are softened, malleable to His touch. Remember the definition of “rest”? We become completely enveloped and thus permeated by His Spirit.

Enjoy these days of summer. Relax with family and friends. Laugh. Play games.

This special rest.

It is the most productive thing we can do this summer. {Tweet that.}

Joanne Viola is a wife, mom to now adult children, and “Mimi” to two granddaughters. She began blogging so that her family would always know her thoughts as she processed through the journey of life. She is the director of partner care for The Lulu Tree, a non-profit serving women and children both in Uganda and Sierra Leone. You can find her on her blog, Days & Thoughts, or on Facebook and Twitter.


#ThreeWordWednesday has been full of guest posting goodness this summer, so be sure to read any posts you may have missed. 

Susan Shipe shared about summertime fun. Melody Hester offered advice for navigating new seasons. Tiffany Parry shared about the joy that comes with freedom. Alecia Simersky talked about rejoicing in the day God has made, even with the day involves hard changes. Lyli Dunbar offered lessons on surviving summer storms

You can also download The Summer Not-To-Do List I made for you, if you haven't already, and find some book recommendations among the books I've read {so far} this year. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

10 months with Rachel

Somehow, Rachel is 10 months. That’s five-sixths of one year. And this girl continues to bring so much joy to our lives.

She does so many fun things now, like give kisses and high fives. And she tries to blow kisses, which ends up looking like a squishy face with her hand in front of her mouth.

She’s into everything and everywhere. She likes to get into the kitchen trash can so much that I had to splurge on a nice trash can that locks. Our new house has wide hallways, so she basically runs in her walker down them – with much delight, of course! While at restaurants, she likes to wiggle out of the high chair straps when possible and stand up.

No fear this one, just like her brother.

This past month was also when she had hand, foot and mouth disease, thanks to her 2-year-old cousin unknowingly sharing with her when we were in Buffalo. It was a couple rough days, and then more days of her rash healing, but we made it through. Speaking of Buffalo, this water baby loved being in the midst of Niagara Falls – so much so she leaned and reached out of the stroller so she could get more wet.

She’s been sleeping longer, has four top teeth visible right beneath the surface, holds her own bottle much of the time, and eats anything in front of her. She especially loves black beans from Qdoba, peaches from a can, carrots from Cracker Barrel, and eggs from my skillet. She’s figuring out the sippy cup too.

She’s figuring out a lot of things, really, and that discovery is full of joy.

Look back on Rachel’s growth :: One monthTwo monthsThree monthsFour monthsFive monthsSix monthsSeven monthsEight months. Nine months.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Created by the Creator to Create

When I saw the Five Minute Friday prompt, I really wasn't sure where my words would take me. I did look up the word "create" in a dictionary just to give my mind some extra prompting. (It's been a busy-crazy-good week, people!) So, here we go, five minutes of writing on one word. Join us at Kate Motaung's place

Ready, set, go ... 

I create things all day long, but I wouldn’t always consider myself creative. I create meals and routines and memories. I like to create scrapbook pages and pictures with my words. I encourage my boy to create things from Legos. My girl creates by sewing and drawing and playing her keyboard.

To create is to bring something into existence or to cause something to happen as the result of one’s action.

That definition reminds me to create is to influence. That’s powerful. As a mom, I create what my kids will remember as their childhood. I create a home and a foundation for some many other experiences they’ll have. My husband and I create our marriage and in turn a legacy to pass to our kids.

And the foundation of it all is the fact we believe in and serve the Creator. We were created by the Creator in His image to create for His glory in whatever we do. {Tweet that.}

That alone makes us creative. So let’s create.

And stop.

Subscribe to get new posts and/or a monthly newsletter with content not available on the blog in your inbox. When you subscribe, I'll send you a FREE #choosingJOY printable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Surviving Summer Showers

The internet is full of good people, and Lyli Dunbar is one of them. I'm not entirely sure where we first crossed paths, but I'm glad we did. She's the kind of person who asks how to pray and then follows up with encouragement. On the blog today, Lyli is sharing what being a lifelong Florida girl has taught her about surviving storms, both the natural kind and the literal kind. 

I am a Florida girl. I live in the land of perpetual summer where flip flops are the uniform year round.
In June, however, we do experience a bizarre weather phenomenon that I like to call the 3 p.m. shower. Almost every day at 2:30 or so, I will look out the window and see a gradual shift in the atmosphere. Dark clouds roll in and cover the pretty blue skies like a blanket, and the wind starts howling through the trees. Everything changes.

I’ve lived in the Sunshine State since I was 5 years old, but this always catches me by surprise. Honestly, I am not a fan of the rain. I know that the green blades of grass need the water like a baby needs milk, but I hate having to pull out my umbrella.

I was lamenting the stormy weather one afternoon at work when my co-worker Lorene, who is a living ray of sunshine, shared she doesn’t mind the rain one bit.

“Every summer, I tell the Lord that I am okay with the daily rain showers. Just don’t send a hurricane.” We haven’t put up our storm shutters in more than a decade, and her comment woke me up and reminded me that I really shouldn’t complain about a sprinkle because God is mercifully sparing me from an onslaught.

Yes, summer is cannon balls in the pool, popsicle smiles, and bare feet in the sand. I just got back from spending three days at the beach with my husband, and my heart is bursting with happiness. But, before we left, the transmission blew out on his car and rained on my parade.

God is teaching me that I always need to pack an umbrella. Rain will come. I must expect it, even on sunny summer days.

Thankfully, I don’t need to fear that the sky is falling because He is sheltering me from the storm. The umbrella of His favor never leaves me.

Maybe like me, you are facing a little wind and rain right now. How do we keep smiling when the weather is suddenly dark and gloomy?

Three Survival Tips for Summer Showers

1. Keep pressing in: Stormy days remind us that we can’t do today without leaning into God’s strength. Let Him renew you.
“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3, ESV).
2. Stay prayed up: Don’t get distracted by the weather. The enemy of our souls loves to get us moody, mad, and miserable. Combat the blues by getting on your knees regularly.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth” (James 5:16-17).
3. Offer up your heart: Let the rain soak into your broken places and soften you to the needs around you, rather than hardening your heart.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow. {Tweet that.} Summer showers will bring growth and refresh our souls if we surrender our expectations and trust that God’s timing is perfect.

Lyli Dunbar enjoys road trips with her husband, connecting with women through Bible study, and reading way too many books. She shares how everyday experiences help flesh out her faith at 3-D Lessons for Life. A disciple, wife, educator, and mentor, Lyli is just a girl working to keep the faith day by day. She serves as Social Media Manager for Missional Women and is a contributor at Start Marriage Right and Daily Devo. You can also connect with Lyli on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.


#ThreeWordWednesday has been full of guest posting goodness this summer, so be sure to read any posts you may have missed. 

Susan Shipe shared about summertime fun. Melody Hester offered advice for navigating new seasons. Tiffany Parry shared about the joy that comes with freedom. Alecia Simersky talked about rejoicing in the day God has made, even with the day involves hard changes. 

You can also download The Summer Not-To-Do List I made for you, if you haven't already, and find some book recommendations among the books I've read {so far} this year. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Build what matters

I saw the Five Minute Friday prompt last night on Twitter and immediately knew what I wanted to write about. When I finished folding some clothes, I typed this out on my phone. I love when one word spurs on so many thoughts and pulls together what's been happening in my mind. That's what Kate Motaung's one-word prompt did for me last night. 

Five Minute Friday is a flash mob of writers, all writing for five minutes about one word. This week the one word is BUILD. Write away. And then join us at Kate's place

Ready, set, write ... 

A year ago my husband, oldest girl and I were in Guatemala. That one week in a foreign land rocked my world. There have been related tears and joys and friendships and dreams – all rooted in one week in a land whose language I barely speak.

My first mission trip changed my perspective of pretty much everything. We went there to build houses and distribute clothing, food, and wheelchairs, yet God is building something bigger. I see parenting and church and service and relationships and society different than I did before stepping foot in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

For the past year, God has been building upon that mission trip I took to Guatemala. I know what he’s doing in my life, and I have to wonder what he’s still doing there with the seeds we planted.

Sometimes in the midst of everyday life, I still find myself wanting to let God build more, starting in my heart and mind and spilling over into all the corners of my life.

We moved into our new house June 18. Since then, we've unpacked {most} of our boxes and arranged furniture. The washing machine here didn't work so before I did my first load of laundry, we had to move some appliances around. We've had one toilet overflow twice and the plumbers have been here twice to fix two of the three toilets.

Ben had a pretty bad case of poison ivy the day before we left for a road trip that started with Greg's business meeting four hours away and continued with a stop-over in Louisville on our way to Buffalo, NY, where we visited my sister and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. At the end of our trip, my nephew unknowingly shared his hand, foot, and mouth virus with Rachel. W came home to "road closed" signs near our house, thanks to crazy amounts of rain. A few days later lightning from another storm struck a tree that blocked us from the open portion of our road.

It all seemed overwhelming. I thought I had come into summer intentionally choosing a freer scheduler and then I found myself outlining my day on Post-It Note because I was worried I’d forget something. Summer has been more adventurous than I planned.

And then, right there with a Post-It Note slapped on my calendar, I remembered my week in Guatemala. I remembered what we were doing on July 7 and July 8 one year ago. I remember how building houses built my faith.

And I remembered that God is building a good thing here too. We are making a new-to-us house a home. We are creating memories and embracing adventures. We have work to do for God's glory.

All of that is the kind of building that matters.

Read all my Guatemala-related posts here

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Embracing this day

I'm glad to welcome Alecia Simersky to the blog today as we continue talking about embracing change this summer. Alecia and I connected through the God-sized Dream Team when we helped with Holley Gerth's book launch. She has since become of the executive editor of the God-sized Dream website for which I'm a contributing writer. 

Oh, how I’ve enjoyed reading the previous guest posts Kristin has welcome to her site this summer on change. Like many of them, I don’t enjoy change. When change comes a knocking on the door of life I go into full resistance mode. I’m always telling myself, “Alecia, put on your big-girl panties and move on!”

I’m in a season of change. And change is not something I do well. I’m more comfortable with sameness – I like routine, I like to know what to expect.

Years ago, when my son began kindergarten, I felt devastated inside. I knew once he started school the years were going to fly right on by, just like they had with my oldest daughter who was four years older than him.

I cried a little everyday leading up to his big day. And when the time came to get up and prepare my son for his first day of school, in the early morning hour of my quiet time, God laid one simple verse on my heart. “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

I stood at my front door and watched both kids hop onto the school bus with my eyes misted over with tears and repeated the words, “This is the day the Lord has made…” over and over.

As a family we have moved eight times. (You would think I was accustomed to change with our life!) However, each move pushed me out of my comfort zone and I was forced to make a new home among strangers.

My faith grew and stretched with each new transition. {Tweet that.}

God went before me and more than provided and answered prayers. He brought new friends for the kids and myself. With new church homes and Bible study groups, my social circle grew along with my faith and assuredness of His goodness.

Change has forced me to accept …

I can’t keep my kids little – though I’d LOVE to!

I can’t halt mother time from making me older or my normally dark hair from becoming gray! (I wish!)

And I haven’t been able to stop the moves, though I have fought, cried, and prayed against each one.

I had to come to a place in my heart to accept change as the way of life. {Tweet that.}

Once again, I’m finding myself in a new season of change. (We aren’t moving!) The days keep pressing forward and next year my daughter heads to the high school to finish her last three years of school (hold me). My son officially puts his elementary years behind him and moves up to the middle school. Sigh. And, I’m looking for full-time work outside the home for the first time in 14 years.

This is A LOT of change! I want to hold my babies tight and forbid them from getting older. I want to snap my fingers and grow a beautiful lush green money tree in my back yard that magically makes finances less stressful. Because, unfortunately, the type of writing I do doesn’t help pay the bills.

I’m stepping forward into our new season of life with excitement and trepidation. Yes, life changes and new seasons of life bring new adventures, and God simply reminds me each day, “This is the day I have made, so rejoice in it and be glad.”

Alecia Simersky is wife to Trey and mom to Keeli and Jackson. She likens her life to that of a gypsy since they have moved eight times in 15 years. They now live in a place she lovingly refers to as God’s-country, Auburn, Alabama. She is quiet by nature, introverted, quirky, and fiercely loyal. In her free time she loves to write and does so at her personal blog and is the executive editor of the God-Sized Dreams website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Alecia mentioned the other summertime change posts. Well, you can read them here: Susan Shipe shared about summertime fun. Melody Hester offered advice for navigating new seasons. Tiffany Parry shared about the joy that comes with freedomYou can also download The Summer Not-To-Do List I made for you, if you haven't already. 

Subscribe to get new posts and/or a monthly newsletter with content not available on the blog in your inbox. When you subscribe, I'll send you a FREE #choosingJOY printable.