Friday, December 30, 2011

No Resolutions----Just Looking Forward with Anticipation!

This year is just a few hours away from ending and new one starting.

I've thought so much about this past year.  It has been a hard one obviously, but I can't just wish it away or discount how amazing it was.  It may have brought some tremendous heartache, but it has been a year of overflowing joy.  To be honest, I have to say it has been the year that God has shown just how at work He is in our daily lives and for that I have to say it has been the greatest year.  Looking back, I can see just how much He provided for us on so many levels.  I don't even wish I could have skipped the hurt.  In my weakest moments, I've found His strength like I didn't know could ever exist.  I wouldn't trade that for anything. 

I'm not really making resolutions this year.  I obviously have things I want to work on and change, but I'm not going to make them resolutions because that somehow just signals my brain to fail!  I definitely want to start the year more organized, more focused, and more "on purpose".  We definitely have goals and plans and things we are focusing on.  Yet, I'm not making resolutions.  Instead, I'm just going to keep praying for God to provide the way to make those things happen.  Praying for Him to change me where I need to be changed, help me stand my ground on areas He wants me to stand strong and to be following in His foot steps---no matter where that leads or how far out of my comfort zone it takes me!

I am VERY excited about the year ahead.  He has already opened some doors that I wasn't expecting.  He's already leading down paths that I'm not sure exactly where they are going, but He obviously does! 

One thing I'm extremely excited about is Bible in 90 days starting on Monday.  Let me just say this:  God has absolutely put an amazing group of women in this group.  Though I personally know very few of them, they've already captured my heart in their willingness to be obedient to God's leading and taking on this task.  There are some husbands that are joining in----and I know marriages are going to strengthen every day!  There are some women going through some very difficult times right now and they are believing God to provide what they need.  There are women that are just wanting God to take over that much more of their hearts and lead them closer to Him.  It's going to be a great journey ladies!  There will be some hard days that we might want to give up, but the end is so worth it!  I can't wait to see what He does in my life during this time and I know He is going to pour out His blessings on each of us! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simple Christmas? Mission Accomplished.

Over the last couple of years, we have felt very led to take a different approach to Christmas.  Last year, we had no idea that Christmas would be so incredibly different.  Though we had already transitioned to things not being so "commercial", we really weren't quite prepared for spending our Christmas in shock over losing Dad and saying goodbye. 

Even with that heavy on our hearts, we still wanted to move deeper into a more spiritual and less worldly celebration this year.  We talked for many months about how different we wanted to do things this year.  We spent much less actual money and gave more of our time.  We put a large focus on handmade gifts.  Though that did stress me out because I didn't budget my time early enough, it was still a highlight of our season.  We spent the entire month of December doing an advent focus with the kids.  Instead of just reading/telling the story once or was daily.  The kids TREASURED that time.  I thought after the third or fourth day they would be reluctant.  I was pleasantly surprised with how much they actually looked forward to that time.  We didn't travel.  That was hard at times, but it was the right decision for us.  It did feel VERY strange at times to see large family gatherings and not be involved in one ourselves, but not having that extra stress was just what we needed.  We didn't get caught up in the rushing around wearing ourselves too thin. 

Of course, not rushing around and traveling paid off when the majority of our house came down with flu like symptoms.  Thank goodness we didn't have to deal with the disappointment of cancelling plans!  That would have REALLY been tough!

Though we did make very big strides in making this year have a more holy focus and "simple", I'm sure there are things we will want to add or subtract next year.  However, there is something else we did this year that pleasantly surprised me with how well it went. 

We said goodbye to Santa.

I said it.  Yikes.  No hate mail, please!  :)

Bradlee is absolutely at a perfect age to have fully enjoyed that tradition.  It would have be fun and I'm sure he would have had some sweet moments, memory makers for sure.

We just couldn't take that approach in our family any longer. 

Now let me say this:  we DID do Santa with the other kids.  We loved the "magic" of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  The sparkle in their eyes was adorable.

Yet, the lies were convicting.  It took bigger lies to "keep" our little kids believing.  I couldn't do it any longer.

Bradlee is one of those VERY deep thinkers (for those of you that REALLY know him, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  I KNEW that even at age 5, I was going to have to tell some pretty big lies to make him believe for more than one year! 

I (we) also had the problem of how much "Santa" distracts from the real meaning of the season.  Years ago, I don't believe it was as much of an issue.  Times were much more simple.  You could TRULY embrace both aspects and do a good job of balancing them.  But now....the push of greed, "give me more", etc.. is just too overwhelming.  We are seeking to change our mindsets to that of contentment, less greed, more giving, less "wants", and being less like the world.  To push that as our focus and THEN turn around and push Santa on him just didn't feel right in our hearts.  I would cringe every single time I heard someone say "Santa is watching" or "if you do that, Santa won't come". 

It was a tough decision.  I REALLY struggled with it.  Such sweet memories of our older kids on Christmas morning.  I didn't want to not have those with him.  I didn't want to rob him of any childhood memories, imagination, or "magical moments"  (of course I don't really mean magic, I just don't know how else to word it!).   I don't even have a problem with the majority of the world having Santa visit their house.  It just wasn't for us.  We didn't tell Bradlee that Santa doesn't exist....we just didn't bring it into focus.  We focused so much on the real meaning that to be honest the "Santa" version really didn't interest him.  He made a couple of comments through the season, but it was as if he already saw it as "just another way" of doing things.

I should have not worried.  I should have embraced the peace that came with our decision long ago. 

He didn't miss a thing.  He had the most joyous Christmas morning.  His enthusiasm was contagious.  His laughter still pierced our ears.  His eyes sparkled.  Oh yes, they sparkled!

It didn't take the magic from a man in a red suit. 

We still had presents.  Instead of from Santa, they were from us.  Instead of being countless gifts that would get lost within week, we focused on one main gift and two very small ones.  (Bradlee's main gift was MUCH cheaper than the big kids, so he also got some school books/games to make up the difference.  Though he didn't care so much about those.  LOL!)

They still had their gifts to each other. 

Laughter didn't lack.  The excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve with new jammies and "wonder" of what they would open still was there. 

The rest of the day was spent serving dinner to well over 300 individuals that would otherwise have been alone that day.  They loved serving.  I, unfortunately, was heart broken to have to miss and watch through pictures since I was still running a fever.  Even today, they are still talking about people they met and the things they observed. 

The rest of the night was enjoyable as well.  Out came their new board games that we played as a family.  It might have got just "a WEE bit" competitive at times.  Laughter might have been just a tad contagious.  Eyes sparkled. 

It didn't take the man in the red suit. 

We ended the day with a special birthday party.  A birthday party for Jesus.  The boys were VERY proud of doing the cake themselves.  Yes, they made a mess....but it was priceless.  There were also two special cupcakes.  One for my Dad celebrating in heaven.  One for Kevin's Mom celebrating in heaven AND celebrating her birthday as well. 

Christmas looked different this year.  I loved it.  Yes, I had some moments of a VERY heavy heart....but that was unavoidable.  Yes, I most GLADLY could have skipped having the flu visit!  Otherwise, it was the most wonderful time of the year!  Simple Christmas-----mission accomplished!  Not once did it have to come from the man in the red suit!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Back Again!

Breaks are good things, right?

I've been taking a temporary break from blog-world.  Too much of a good thing can still be bad, right?

Last week was an emotionally tough week as the one year of the loss of my Dad came and went.  I needed the time "alone" to sort through all of those emotions.

I found myself behind on finishing up last minute Christmas gifts and had to work around the clock to get them finished.  As always!

This nasty little bug showed up at our house----the one called the flu.  Having the flu at Christmas REALLY put a kink in "our" plans, but all is well again!  Thankfully!  Germs have been chased away and everyone is mostly back to normal.  It hit me the hardest with my compromised immune system and being super-stressed, but even I'm bouncing back quickly. 

Next week starts some pretty big projects, with the greatest being Bible in 90 days and I needed a few days of "quiet" to help get my heart in gear!

Family.  They needed me.  They are my priority.  They deserved a bit more of my undivided attention!

Now....I'm back again.  Ready to hit blogging full speed ahead tomorrow!  I admit, I've missed it but the time away was IMPORTANT!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giveaway Winner---Cooper & ME

Congrats to Abby (noel.Christmas365)!  You are the winner of the Cooper & Me and the Winter Adventure book. 

(Winner was chosen by 

Cars2 Movie Fun with Crest/Oral B & MommyParties

Though I'm just getting around to posting, a little over a week ago we had a fun little get together with some of our homeschool friends and their moms. 

We had the opportunity to participate in our first "MommyParties" sponsored by Crest & Oral B Pro Health for Me. 

Setting up for the party:

Kids having some fun/exercise playing ball with balloons and air hockey:

My audio visual/technology guy :)

Kids all comfy ready to watch Cars2 and popcorn (provided in the party package!)

Best of all:  at the conclusion of the movie/party/get together with friends...the kids all got to take home their own individual bag of products provided by Crest & Oral B.  They each got a toothbrush, toothpaste, flossers, gummy vitamins, and educational materials/coupons for Mom! 

Thank you for the opportunity MommyParties and especially to Crest/Oral B!  We all had a great afternoon being together with friends, watching a movie, and going home with FANTASTIC dental care products!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bible in 90 Days--Host Site---Are YOU Ready for the Journey?

Welcome----to those of you that are visiting "just" a mom---refined by grace for the first time!  If you've found my blog from MomsToolbox, you are probably here checking out things for B90. 

First off, let me introduce myself!

About Me:

My name is Tracye.  I'm in my upper 30s (yikes!). I live in central IL, but I'm a southern girl through and through (and you will probably recognize that even if you can't hear my accent!).  I'm a SAHM of 3 (14, 10, 5).  We are in our 10th year of homeschooling (even though I only committed for one year).  I'm PASSIONATE about marriage and celebrating the kind of relationship God intended.  Married for 16 years to a man that I cherish.  It has been a rocky road, but we are finally connected in ways I never dreamed possible.  This is WAY better than the honeymoon phase---this is the tried-and-true and still madly in love stage!  I'm very active in volunteering at our church.  My kids say that if you need me I'm in one of two places....home or the kids department.  They are right!  I love babies.  I love to blog, read, scrapbook, all things crafty and frugal living.  I'm sappy and romantic.  I'm emotional and sentimental.  That's me.

I'm not a professional blogger.  I'm "just" a mom.  Yet, reaching out to women and touching their hearts for God IS my passion and it IS my ministry at this point in life. 

The most important thing about me is that I'm a daughter of The King.  Nothing matters more to me than my one on one relationship with Christ.  It's not about religion.  It's relationship.

My B90 story/history:

B90 was a catalyst of a heart change like I've never known was possible. 

I was raised in church from birth.  I was a "good" girl----never really strayed far from my beliefs.  Granted, I mess up on a daily basis and fall short many times....but I never went "wild" so to speak.  Yet, I carried around a convicting secret.  I had never read the Bible cover to cover.  It bothered me.  I had tried but failed countless times.  I spent time in God's word on a very regular basis, but I had never completely read the word.  I was ashamed.  Convicted.

I joined in with MomsToolbox four sessions ago and committed to doing it.  I made it!  I stuck with it.  In the beginning, I read to just check it off the list.  I just wanted to do it to get it done.  I wanted the guilt I felt gone.  That is the way I approached it.  Something else happened.  During that time, I began to have a thirst and hunger that was only satisfied when I dug in.  A switch took place in my heart.  Instead of reading to get it done and off my list, I began to read because it connecting me to God in ways I had never truly experienced.  It changed me and God poured out blessing after blessing. 

I was so changed that I wasn't satisfied during the weeks that followed....I was ready to do it again.  I wanted to see what God would show me in another "round".  Just reading a few verses or passages during my study time didn't seem to give me that same connection.  I decided to join in again.  Just a few days after making that commitment, my life took a drastic turn I wasn't expecting in the very least.  My dad, who was healthy and rock solid, was suddenly very sick.  He was diagnosed a few days later with stage 4 cancer and walked home with Jesus just a short (and extremely long at the same time) five weeks later.   The rug was pulled out from under me like never before.  Being that his earthly battle ended on Christmas and we spent our holidays saying goodbye, my world turned upside down.  I had every excuse to back out.  My faith was shaken.  My doubts were huge.  My heart was shredded.  Yet, that longing was so strong.  I completed the journey again.  Though I'm currently struggling with this being the 1 year "anniversary" of so much loss and so many struggles, I can honestly say that B90 was the greatest tool in my emotional well being.  Scripture came alive to me in ways I didn't know possible.  Verses popped off the pages like never before.  It was amazing the things that "spoke" to me that I missed the first time.  Despite incredible heartache, I was so overflowing with joy and peace.  Being that deep in God's word made that possible.

The changes I experienced in my own heart and the desire I wanted for others to experience  lead me to mentor a group this last session.  (Shout out to group 62----you ladies still warm my heart!  I think of you and pray for you often!  You blessed my heart in such tremendous ways!)  I had the option of mentoring or mentoring and reading.  I chose to read along because I didn't feel comfortable encouraging others to do what I wasn't willing to do!  I without a doubt am so grateful for that time!  Again, God's word opened like never before and His blessings were tremendous.

What can you expect from me?

IF you commit to reading along with us, I am committing myself to you.  I will be praying for you BY name.  I still carry around the names of those in my group last sessions on index cards.  I often still stop and pray for each of those ladies. 

I will be reading with you.  I'll be facing the same struggles and distractions. 

I will be emailing you at least once a week.  My role is to encourage you.  I will not be interpreting scripture or explaining it.  If you have questions, and you will, those will need to be directed to your pastor or come from your own deeper study.

You can expect confidentiality.  If you post a comment on the blog or email the group, that is obviously public.  If you email me directly, it stays between the two of us.  That was very important to me last session.  Many times we shared things as a group, but many other times there were private conversations and prayer requests. 

You can expect me to be your personal cheerleader!  I want to see you succeed.  I want you to experience the fullness of what God has in store for you.  However, I'm not going to be beating you over the head if you don't make it.  I will celebrate with you no matter how long it takes or how far you get!  God will reward ALL of your effort!

I will be posting links and encouraging notes to help you along the way.

What YOU need to do:

Your main commitment is to READ.  It takes the average person 45 minutes to an hour a day to complete the assignment.  It may vary from that depending on how fast you read and how many distractions you have (which you will have many!).  You must read; listening doesn't count!  You may use any translation you wish.  I will provide a link to a bookmark that you can print that lists what each day's requirement is and I will also post the reading schedule.  This is a FAST pace reading.  It isn't deep study.  When you have questions, which you WILL, you will just make a note of it and come back to it when you have extra time or after the session is finished.  I'm always amazed at the notes and highlights I make each session!

You MUST check-in every Monday.  This is for accountability.  You will simply post a comment on each check in post just letting us know if you are on track, behind, need extra support, etc...  You can also email directly is you are a "quiet" one.  That's OK, too!!!  You can obviously post what you are learning and what God is showing you, but that is optional.  You can encourage others in the group and pick up encouragement from them as well.  The main thing is: you MUST check in in some form.

When and How!

To join in, simply reply to this post and let us know you are joining.  BE SURE TO LEAVE AN EMAIL contact.  That is the only way I can contact you directly with emails of encouragement and follow ups.  I will send out an introductory email so you will have a way to contact me as well.  Once you comment, I will get you added to our group.

When:  This session will begin January 2nd, 2012 and will be complete at the end of March.  I will be honest and admit that this starting date is a VERY busy one for me.  I have so much going on those first three weeks of January.  Yet, I want to start the year off right.  I want my focus to be in the right place.  I want my priorities to be in the right order.  I know some of you feel the same way!  I asked several friends that were interested in starting their opinion on start dates and they mostly agreed that the first of January would be the best for them.  They also NEED the year started off in a positive way. 

I hope you will join us.  I can't wait to see how God blesses each of you.  I can't wait to meet you.  I can't wait to start praying for you by name.  I'm already praying for you now.  I'm like a horse at the starting gate of a big race.  I can hardly sit still.  I can hardly wait to see what God does in each of you.  I can't wait to see how God changes me and what I learn this time around.  I'm excited.  I know it's going to be a hard journey at times (we are all pulled in so many directions, Satan will try to distract), but with the encouragement of each other....we can do this!  We can do it together.  Won't you join us?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I love technology.  I may not be the "best" at learning to use it, but I like it.  However, there is a popular technology that I said I would NEVER use.  Well, you know the saying....."Never say Never". 


For years, I hated it.  I didn't trust it.  I didn't want to use it.  I would rather carry a big, bulky map and navigate Kevin.  Then came the time that I started taking trips by myself.  I STILL refused to use it.  I would much rather use mapquest and print out directions.  I still felt like I needed to have the paper in my hand with the typed directions and map.  I resisted for all I was worth.  I was just so afraid to give in.  What if that crazy voice was telling me to turn someplace that I didn't want to go.  What if I lost connection with the satellite or my phone (or the unit) malfunctioned and then I ended up REALLY lost with no idea of where I was in the least?  I wouldn't have a map with directions.  I wouldn't know where I was at all. 

Eventually I gave in because Kevin had wanted it for so long and we had a 2,300 mile driving trip coming up to Boston.   I still printed out maps and directions from each of our destinations "just" in case it didn't work.  That GPS unit saved our sanity.  Traveling in Boston is quite interesting and it's fairly typical that street signs would suddenly start flashing that they were one way (though the map didn't depict that) due to traffic flow, construction, etc..  We navigated that city as if we had been there our whole lives.  Not once did we have to call for directions and never got lost.  Granted, we heard that voice say "recalculating" countless times (and her voice still reminds me of Peggy Bundy: Katey Sagal).  It definitely took the stress off of us on that major trip!

We had purchased the GPS plan on our phones for a temporary basis, month-to-month basis.  I had every intention to cancel it once we were home.  After all, we weren't going to need it for any trips and we definitely didn't need it for traveling locally. 

Fast forward a little over 2 years, this "hold out" can't imagine life without that little device.  Even around town I use it often to find the quickest route through the city or to find alternate routes when traffic is an issue (game days!).  I've used it on countless homeschool trips when I've taken the kids alone to places I've NEVER been.   It gave me a great sense of comfort the first time I made the 380 mile trip "home" with the kids alone.  Now that I've made that trip MANY times alone, I still love having it because I know almost exactly when I will arrive or how far away from gas/food/rest areas I am.  If the kids ask how long until we stop, I can say 18 minutes or whatever it happens to be. 

I've often wished life came with a GPS system.  I wish I could just touch a little screen, type in some information and come out with a road map.  I wish I had that annoying voice telling me that I would reach my destination at such and such time.  I wish when I came to an intersection she would tell me if I should go straight or turn another direction.  I wish she could tell me that I need to slow down because I have an intersection or merge ahead.  I wish she could warn me that I need to switch lanes.  I even would like to hear that "recalculating".  At least then, I could start with a new direction.  I wish she could tell me that my next stop was only so many minutes away.  I wish she could tell me where all of the important stops on my journey will be.  I even wish I could touch a few screens and see how all of the roads intersect, the big picture, and all the alternate routes.

Unfortunately, that GPS system for life doesn't work. 

Instead, I have to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the road map of the Bible.  Scripture teaches right from wrong.  The Holy Spirit leads, guides, and convicts.  I can't go wrong when listening to both.

Granted,  I WANT to know more information.  I want to know exactly what the next step is.  I want immediate answers in making decisions.  I want to know how all of my little decisions matter in the big picture.  I want to know how the little steps connect to form that bigger picture.  I want to know the end results now.  I want the option of "recalculating" when I've gone the wrong direction.  An instant do-over!  I never want to feel lost or uncertain. 

Rea life is well....reality.  It isn't as simple as touching a few screens. 

For now, I will trust.  I will hold on with all I have in me to what scripture says and I will listen for the whispers in my heart of the Holy Spirit.  I will be patient.  OK----I will try to be patient.  I will embrace the "waiting".  OK----I will try to patiently embrace the waiting.  Neither are going to steer me wrong.   I might have to wait a little (or a LOT) longer for answers than I want, but I'm learning that maybe THIS is where God wants me.  He wants me clinging to Him and holding on when things are so uncertain.   He doesn't want me searching for the answers and finding my directions from the world....only from Him and from the ways He provides.  I may completely wish I could see the big picture and know the immediate answers to questions that I ask and direction that I seek, but trusting Him is more important.  Trusting Him to be my Global Positioning System.  He won't steer me wrong.  I'm never going to have to worry about the satellite not working.  He may send me down a path that makes me feel "lost" or that I may think is the wrong direction, but it's guaranteed to not be.  He just sees the next turn that I can't see yet. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Homeschool Planner Winner

Congratulations Kathryn!  You are the winner of the homeschool family planner.  I've sent you an email requesting your address.  Hope to hear from you soon!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Proverbs 31 Movement

Thankful my husband chose a woman seeking to be a Proverbs 31 woman (even if she fails often!). Thankful his heart wasn't looking for the Victoria Secret Model. So fantastic to see a movement starting that encourages young men to look for a Proverbs 31 woman and encourages girls to live out that scripture.

Simplifying the Holidays---Not Always Successful

I broke a promise to myself.  I do it EVERY year it seems.  You would think after so many years of failure I would get it right, but apparently not.

I SAY I'm going to simplify Christmas.  I SAY I'm going to start early enough on handmade, heart-felt gifts to not feel the stress. 

Yet, I've failed. 

Here, once again, I find myself overstressed and overcommitted. 

I cleared the calendar this year.  I got that right.  I said "no" to MANY activities.  Tonight, I had planned to attend my FAVORITE one of the entire season in regards to gatherings/activities/parties.  It was stressing me out so much solely due to the fact that it just highlighted in my heart the losses I'm still dealing with.  I couldn't get past those feelings to fully enjoy myself.  I had to say "no".  As hard as it was, I did what I needed to do for myself.  I got that right.

We simplified the decorating and "outward" appearances.   Though our home is decorated for Christmas and it looks beautiful, it is only about half of what we normally do.  Actually, Kevin did all of the decorating himself (with a bit of help from the kids).  It was just too overwhelming for me to handle.  He chose to put out the most important, most cherished items....and the rest went back in the box.  Simplified.  He got it right.

We've worked VERY hard to turn away from the commercialism.  We've done our very best to not treat Christmas like it's OUR birthday.  WE ARE celebrating the birth of Christ, though the world tends to act like it's their own birthday party or that of their kids.  (Granted, some of you DO have birthdays on Christmas.  Kevin's mom happened to be one.  What an amazing thing to share in common with the savior!)  We've got that right, for the most part.

We've taken our focus off of Santa.  I wish we had done it YEARS ago.  The kids aren't running around in constant "want" mode with mile long lists of demands.  Fortunately, we've got that right more than ever.

We set a budget that was workable.  By "workable" I mean one that is pretty frugal/minimal.  Our buying is meager again in comparison to others.  Simplifying our "buy for" list is never an easy task, but it is one that makes tremendous difference in keeping our focus as it should be.  We have not used a credit card in about 4 years for ANY kind of purchase.  We are approximately 12 months from being 100% debt free (our actual goal is the week of Christmas next year).  We kept that goal in mind.  We accept that our gifts will not compare financially to gifts that others may give those we love.  We can't change that.  I guarantee ours come from the depths of our heart even if the price tag is much lower.  We bought very few gifts for our own children, but we did work to find something that they will really enjoy.  It's about finding a balance.  The greatest victory...our that we have no buyer's remorse.  January brings not a single credit card bill.  I still put money in savings.  I still paid above the minimum on our last debts (vehicles). Our gift list might be small, but where are most of the presents you buy in March anyway?  Long forgotten.  I don't think celebrating the birth of our saviour should come with a price tag that costs as the entire next year (or longer!).  It's the world that has sold us on that and many of us have wrongly bought into that hook, line, and sinker.

We've spent a portion of every evening talking about advent.  Admittedly, this is our first time ever doing an advent focus.  We always talked about the real meaning of Christmas, focused on the Bible story, and did activities that centered around the Nativity.  Yet, I had never really done an actual advent focus for 24/25 days.  This year we started following along with an incredible e-book written by a Mom whose blog I follow----Truth in the Tinsel.  It has been an incredible experience for us.  I admit that preparing everything ahead of time and putting everything needed for each day in decorated, labeled paper bags has been my sanity saver.  I know many days we may have missed the activity had I not been prepared ahead of time.  Some nights Kevin has taken over and done the activity with the kids and it has worked well because it has been ready to go.  We hide a "clue" card and then talk about it when the kids find it.  Each clue is a character or symbol in the story of Christ.  We read the corresponding Bible passages and then they make an ornament that depicts the character or symbol.  They also remove a link from an advent countdown that Peyton made at church.  They also add a link to a separate chain that has the clue words written on them.  By the time the chain is complete, Christmas will be here and the words written on the chain remind them of each portion of the story.  Their ornaments are hung across the entry way between our living room and kitchen.  They may not be beautiful so to speak----but they are absolutely priceless treasures! So far, day 9, Bradlee can tell you what each clue means and why it is important.  PRICELESS.  This has been the greatest source of bringing the true meaning of Christ and his birth as the focus of our home.  Another success!

Yet, I've failed. 

I've gotten lost in the hustle and bustle that comes from homemade gifts.  To me, they are essential.  They mean more than a hastily grabbed gift off a shelf in a store.  Giving of the heart is who I am and it's part of what makes!  Yet, I've lost focus.  All I can see is deadlines, how much I have left to go, or what I can't finish.  It's become about rush, rush, rush.  The enjoyment is still here and the thought and love for the recipients has not changed.  However, the stress is here.  The thing I promised I wouldn't do is starring at me in the face like a ticking time bomb.  Though I simplified everything, I still am just as stressed as years before.   I always say I will start in July or August, but yet those months tick by without much effort. 

One of these days I'll get it right.  For now.....I've learned my lesson once again.  Hopefully this time it will sink in.

Fortunately, I did learn something in the process.  If I rush through to get the gifts done because deadlines to ship or the gift giving occasion is looming on the calendar, I lose why I made the gift in the first place.  It's all about focus, or the loss of focus would be the better way to say it.  If I slow down and focus my thoughts on the person I'm making the gift for I've noticed something happen.  Peace fills my heart.  If I pray for the person receiving the gift as I make it, the stress temporarily melts away.  If I think about the things that I love about the person or the hopes I have for their future, the pounding of the clock gets a bit softer.  A new connection is made.  The real reason of why I make things from the heart comes back into focus.  The focus of the season comes back into view. 

Now if only could get those feelings a few weeks or months earlier.......I might avoid so much stress to begin with!  :) 

Giveaway Reminders!

Quick reminder on two giveaways ending soon:

Well Planned Day Family Planner for Homeschool Families here ends on the 10th.
Cooper and Me and the Winter Adventure here ends on the 15th.

Advent: Focus on the Family

Looking for meaningful ways to spend time with your children discussing advent season and wanting the possibility of winning a prize in the process?

Focus on the Family is currently running contests when you participate with your children in advent activities. 

Check it out  here!  

We love the ideas from Focus on the Family and Thriving Family! 

Make this season about MORE than just the presents.  Make it meaningful and bring the focus back to WHY we celebrate and the reason for the season!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cooper & Me and the Winter Adventure Review, Coupon Code, and Giveaway!

If you put aside the spiritual milestones and precious time spent with my children in training them in the love of Christ, teaching them to read and the love of reading is the greatest joy I have as a parent and a home educator.  Just a few days ago we surprised the kids with a field trip that included an amazing few hours at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  Though we've now made IL our home for five years, it was the first time we had been able to make that short trip.  During one of the presentations, the speaker made the statement that as long as we we're opening books, our minds could never be closed.  Very profound! 

Reading is one of the greatest joys and pleasures I enjoy.  Though I've successfully taught two of our children to read well and the third (5 years old) is well on his way, it is more than just a skill I want them to learn.  I want them to LOVE it and cherish it.  So far, we are well on our way to seeing that happen.

One of the greatest ways for that to happen is to constantly let your children see you reading and to read with them and to them.  I admit that one of my regrets is that I didn't continue reading to them once they were able to read themselves.  I do plan to do a bit more of that in the coming months with "A Christmas Carol" and the Little House series. 

Bradlee has always enjoyed being read to, but right now he is in the stage that he REALLY loves it.  Every day it's about sitting and reading to him, letting him listen to books on tape/CD, and letting him read his beginner books on his own (BOB Books for example). 

Earlier this week, I received a book for review and I was thrilled that it was a children's books that is specifically geared for his age.

Cooper and Me----by Monique & Alexa Peters


The particular book we read was "Cooper and Me and the Winter Adventure".  The series is written by a mother, daughter team and the drawings are based on the drawings of the daughter (10 at the time of the first book). 

Let me just say this:  Bradlee loved the book!  He loved the story, the illustrations, and even the "extra" activities in the book.  We've since read it a couple more times and he doesn't tire of it! 

As a mom, I loved it as well.   I fell in love with Cooper and Bella, the dog characters in the book.  As you can see, I think our dog loves them as well because he constantly comes to join in when we read the book.  :)

The authors' mission is to "both entertain young children and help them gain emotional resilience as they navigate the challenges of everyday living".  Through the character of Cooper and his adventures, they do a great job of approaching tough topics.  In this particular one, Cooper and Bella get a bit lost on a snow adventure.  It opened up some great conversations about what Bradlee would do if he were ever lost and also about emotions he was feeling during the story.  I loved listening to him tell me what he does when he is scared and things that scare him. 

I know that another book in the series deals with being in the military! 

I also LOVE products that give back.  Products that I can feel good about purchasing because they continue to "give".  Portions of the proceeds from these books are donated to the Lustgarten Foundation, pancreatic cancer research. 

What I truly loved about the book is the parts that appeal to the teacher side of me.  The books end with additional activities that engage the young reader.  Comprehension questions, activities for extension, music downloads to name a few.  You can also go online to the website and download additional resources.  I love being able to take just a "simple" book and turn it into an entire learning experience. 

The book is geared towards the Kindergarten (read to me) age and is also great for 1st and 2nd graders that are developing their independent reading skills. 

I highly recommend checking out .  If you make a purchase of $25 or more through December 15th, you can get free shipping with coupon code:  COOPERBLOG 

One of you can also win a copy of Cooper and Me and the Winter Adventure.  Just simply leave a comment on this blog post (or the link I share on facebook).  Giveaway will end on the 15th and winner will be chosen by using  Be sure to leave your email address or check back in on the 16th to see if you are the winner. 

For me, I'm off to read the book yet little man's request!

*Per guidelines: “Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or

services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the
Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”*


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Little is Much-----and a B90 Announcement

I've always clung to the saying "little is much when God is in it".  It has meant more and more to me as my heart has grown and changed through the years.  Never has it meant more than in recent weeks and months as God has opened doors in several different directions---all leading in the direction of His purpose for me and the way He wants to use me.  Again---I'm not exactly sure where all of those doors are leading, but it seems like day after day He is just nudging more and more.  Admitedly, I'm a bit out of my comfort zone.  At times it is pushing me to step out on a limb and walk in faith.  Other times it's a bit unnerving because I can only see one or two steps in front of me and not the end picture.  I was sharing some of my concerns with a dear friend last week and she reminded me that where I am right now is the perfect place.  When I'm not in control and God is the one directing, there is no better place to be.  I VERY much needed her reminder. 

"Little is much"....

You just never know what the results of stepping out in faith may be.  Back many months ago when we did the "Cannonball" series at church, we talked often about jumping in with both feet when God asks us to do something for Him.  We talked about how our ripples in the water might feel small when compared to those of others, but they were still just as important.  I often feel "tiny" and insignificant in this big world (especially with how some people have looked down on me and cut me down for "just" being at home with my children and for choosing to home educate).   I committed myself then to jumping in and not looking back.  We also talked about how being obedient might be something very small to us and that we might not see the whole picture.  Those ripples of faith might be small at the time, but with God those ripples could be made bigger. 

I'm beginning to see that and I'm excited to see the next layer of ripples and to see how God is developing His plan. 

One of my cannonball moments came with the decision to participate as a mentor for Bible in 90 days.  Having completed the challenge twice, God had laid it on my heart to take it up another step.  Many of you have witnessed how very much my life has changed by being obedient to the calling to participate.  The second time I completed the journey was just days after Dad died and it was one of the biggest ways that I managed those first few months and found such emotional/spiritual strength.  At the completion, I didn't think God could ever bless me any greater than He had during that time.  I was so wrong about that!  What I had already experienced was nothing in comparison to the blessings that came through my decision to lead a mentor group.   I had the option of just mentoring and not reading, but I felt led to participate along with the group I had been assigned.  The list of blessings, miracles, growth, opportunities, doors opening and strength I experienced during that time is beyond words.  Though only a few women completed the challenge in it's entirity (which is completed normal and expected), I learned something from each one of them no matter how far along they got.  I did know a few of the women before beginning, but the majority of women were complete strangers.  Oh they quickly touched my heart and made the world seem so much smaller!  I will forever cherish those months!

Now, God has opened an incredible door again. 

The last several weeks, I have been extremely unsettled.  I've not felt comfortable with my level of spending time in God's word.  "Just" reading a few pages or doing a devotional has been leaving me empty.  I haven't had that same connection with God as I was experiencing.  At first, I thought it was greatly because of the emotional roller coaster of this newest stage of grief and the heartache of some personal situations we are facing.  I thought my emotions were just out of whack and were "blocking" me from feeling God so close.  I soon learned that though I am emotionally struggling on some levels, the discontent is coming because God was opening a door and was preparing me to step up another level. 

I contacted Amy with MomsToolbox (the online host of B90) about when the next session would be starting.  I wanted to go ahead and put it on the calendar so to speak.  I KNEW God was leading me to participate again and in a leadership role.  She and I had already talked about some level of participating again and the development of some mentor guidelines. She let me know that God was speaking to her about making some changes and that she was still working on some details and continuing to quietly listen to Him and how He was directing her.  I was encouraged that she was listening to God and He was leading her in a bigger direction.  Yet, I was still unsettled because I didn't have MY direction. 

I decided that perhaps I needed to just go ahead and do B90 on my own to see if "that" would give me the connection I needed.  It helped somewhat, but I knew that wasn't exactly "it" either.  NOT enough.  Kind of like the game we play with the kids when searching for a hidden object....the you're cold, you're getting warmer, your'e getting colder kind of game.  I was getting warmer, but I just wasn't getting close enough to the object to hear "your'e hot!'. 

I've finally heard those words.  I'm on the right track as God opened a door and opened it wide!

"Just" a Mom--Refined by Grace (that's ME!)...........will be hosting an online session of B90.  It's such an incredible feeling to have confirmation that what God was telling me and what He was revealing to her are in line.  Under her guidance, with her tools and directing...I can only imagine where God will lead this project for all involved!

As details are being worked on, I ask you to pray for me and for all the others that have agreed to accept this challenge.  Pray for those we will be leading.  Pray that our hearts are in the right place as leaders.  Pray for doors to open for this outreach to go WELL beyond anything we could ever dream.  Pray for those that will participate.  Pray that this "movement" is just the beginning.  Pray for me specifically to be able to balance the work needing to be done to prepare for it because it's already a very stressful time of year with the holidays in general (I KNOW anyone reading this understands THAT!).  It's also coinciding with some other doors opening and needing to balance everything with my "normal" responsibilities is a little overwhelming.  VERY overwhelming.  Yet, I'm jumping in with both feet.  I'm jumping in with faith and believing God to work out each and every detail.  I'm believing that He has brought me to THIS point for a reason.  Pray for me as I decide how I want to lead this, what level of involvement I will have in the blog and how I go about it.  Pray that I will be used exactly as God is leading.  Pray that the doors He is opening swing WIDE open.  Pray that the doors that are opening in various different places will all come together for one consolidated purpose. 

Pray and ask God if He is asking you to participate.  Maybe you've never read the Bible cover to cover (most Christians haven't!).  Maybe you started the challenge before (maybe even 15 times!) and didn't quite make it.  Maybe you succeeded but you are ready to try again to see what God reveals to you by reading again.  Maybe you are not a Christian and you want to see what the Bible has to say.  Believe it or not, there have been many that have participated in the B90 challenges that were in that same position! 

I'll be back with details as we get closer to kicking off the challenge.  For now, I just wanted to give you a heads up of the direction I'm going and how I'd love to have you join in.  Let me know if you think you might want to join in.  I would absolutely LOVE to have you join us and I know without a doubt that God will bless you during that time and the ripples will be continuous.  "Little IS much when God is in it!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Homeschool Mom Organization Help & a Giveaway!

If you catch just about any homeschool mom and ask her what one of her greatest battles is, you will probably get various answers.  Of course getting her to sit still long enough to tell you might be a challenge.  :) However, I without a doubt believe one of those top answers is going to be organization.  Most especially if she mas multiple children. 

I admit that is is one of my greater struggles.  I'm not a rigid by the books mom that has a set time for each subject, or a set in stone group of requirements.  However, I struggle with fitting everything in.  Organization is one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses.  Hard to explain how it can fall under both, but that's how I describe myself. 

I also LOVE pretty things.  I'm visually oriented.  I "NEED" physical things around me to remind me of what I feel is important.  If you walk in our home and look around you are going to immediately notice that faith and family are my two most treasured "possessions".  It's evident in the reminders that you see sitting around.  Scripture, quotes, and pictures adorn every wall and every surface.  I NEED it! Gosh, you can't even make a stop in a bathroom without scripture verses or quotes being on a mirror!  (OK----now I admit that if you've been in our home in the last couple of weeks you might have had to step over toys, Christmas decor boxes, and such.  You've probably had to walk past the dead plants in the yard and the dead grass.  You've probably noticed this LARGE TV sitting in the middle of the living room floor because at the moment we don't have a sturdy enough table/entertainment center to hold it and it was given to us by a neighbor.  Since it's a major upgrade from our 24 inch, 12 year old one.....well, it is just going to sit there for awhile.  You've probably had to push baby gear out of the way if you want to sit down.  I really don't care because I LOVE the joy that having a baby in our house brings.  Just pretend you didn't see all of those things and you did notice all of the "other" things that remind me of faith and family.)  I'm drawn to things that give me a visual reminder of what is important.
The Well-Planned Day Family Homeschool Planner July  2011 - June 2012  -     
        By: Rebecca Scarlata Keliher

The Well-Planned Day Family Homeschool Planner by Home Educating Family Publishers is a super combination of pretty and practical!  A visual reminder of what matters and the practicality of organizing. The family planner is great for multiple children!  It is designed for up to 4 children.  Wahoo!!!! 

Some of my favorite features besides just general organizing....
  • Encouraging articles (such as Raising Heavenly Minded Children, And on the 7th Day God Rested)
  • Tear out shopping lists
  • Beautiful design/artwork and encouraging quotes and scripture
  • Semester Goals
  • Card Registry----keep up with sending cards to encourage others
  • Spots for Meal Planning
  • Attendance Reports
  • Progress Reports
I'm going to be giving away a copy of the planner 2011-2012.  Obviously the first half won't be very usable since the days have already passed.  However, this IS the perfect time to start getting organized for the 2nd half of the year.  It's a perfect planner to have in place when the new year rolls around and those resolutions you make for the new year are ready to follow through on.  I also think having this particular plan is the perfect way to try it out and see if you want to purchase one for the next school year.  Try it out for the 2nd semester of this year and see if it helps you organize your life a little better.  They also have student planners for all levels of students.  Adriana is using the high school planner that takes her through all 4 years and keeps a running record of her accomplishments and will come in handy as we plan for college.  Yikes!!! Did I just admit my daughter is old enough to be thinking about college?  I try to ignore those phone calls and avoid reality of that day coming soon (just like her daily reminder of how close she is getting to her permit and license!). 

I'd love to give away the Family Planner to one reader.  It doesn't matter if you have won a giveaway from me before or not.  PLEASE enter! 

To enter, just comment with one of the things you struggle with as a homeschool mother the most!  Time?  Balancing the needs of everyone (that is mine!)?  Making curriculum decisions?  What stresses you the most or the most often?  Maybe just list what is stressing you today!   (As a side note, I'll also be praying that whatever that struggle is that God will send you a HUGE boost in that department!)

Let's end this giveaway on December 10th.  Winner will be chosen by and must have a US shipping address. 

You Can Learn a LOT from Chocolate!

Boy oh boy....

Chocolate.  It's amazing.  It might be the number one reason that my pants are getting tighter every day, but's my sanity saver!

Though my birthday last week (37, how did that happen?) brought many sweet treasures and priceless moments, two friends blessed me specifically with chocolate!  The first gift came from one of my most treasured friends on the planet.  Only God could have designed that friendship.  You see, we've been friends for at least 10-12 years but get this.....we've NEVER met in person!  If you ask Kevin to name off some of the greatest influences in my life and the relationships that mean the most to me, her name is going to top the list.  It's incredible to know that someone knows my heart so well even though we've never physically met!  God took a one time acquaintance online through Amazon auctions at the time (MANY years ago) and then eBay and knit her in my heart with thread that can't be broken no matter the time or distance between us.  When I stop and think of blessings in my life that I know that come STRAIGHT from Him, she tops the list.  When her very unexpected gift arrive by UPS what was in the box just floored me.  She totally sent something that touched my heart deeply and in a priceless way....and then there was the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark.  Oh my.....bliss!

Then a couple of days later, a friend stopped by with a card and a gift bag full of my other favorite chocolate...DOVE.  This friendship also means so much.  Though we currently don't get to spend as much time together as we have in the past couple of years because our responsibilities at home with three kids each just keep us RUNNING.  However, when we get together time melts away.  It's such a treasure to have a friendship where the other person really "gets" you and is in the same place in life----similar struggles, similar values, and similar desires for our families.  Adriana constantly refers to her as my sister separated at birth. 

It was when I was slowly eating indulging in those pieces of Dove that God started talking to me about some things in my heart that He wasn't so pleased with. 

I'm guilty of usually barreling through the wrapper to get to the chocolate so quickly that I don't often stop and pay attention to the little sayings imprinted on the inside.  God really kept asking me to slow down and let them soak in.  Though I wish I could say I only ate one, I have to admit that I didn't stop at just a couple.  God must have really wanted me to learn some lessons.....umm....that's my story and I'm sticking to it!!!!

Seriously....(aside from the fact that I ate way too many!) my heart was truly touched when I slowed down and read what the messages were.  I realize that they are "general" and can apply to many of us, most of the time.  They are no more personalized than a slip of paper in a fortune cookie.  Yet, it really touched my heart in a deep way.  They really "got" me where I'm struggling most.

"Keep the promises you make to yourself."  Ouch.  One of my biggest struggles right now.  I will not do this.... I WILL do this..... No matter what, I will not listen to the lies the devil has in regards to that..... I will make this a priority..... I will not over commit.....I will not let my emotions rule.... I will not let her words hurt.... etc...   Yet, I'm failing miserably.  The words reminded me that I have to stick to what I promise myself.  I matter enough.  Enough said.

"Lose yourself in a moment."  I easily get overwhelmed with responsibilities that I have to take care of and those that I add (perhaps some that I shouldn't carry!).  It's easy to get wrapped up in the seriousness of life.  I don't often take the time to just get lost in a moment and enjoy it.  I forget to laugh.  That is very obvious on weekends in our home.  When Kev comes home on Friday afternoon there is this "magical" switch----it's like we all suddenly become different people with the "weight of the world" off of our shoulders.  We literally relax so much that laughter and silly moments take over.  If people didn't know that we NEVER EVER drink, they would probably accuse us of being drunk.  We realize how we need more of those moments on regular days.  I realize how I need to just focus on ONE moment and not worry so much about the next one or even the one before.  OUCH!  Don't worry about the next one and don't fret over the last one. 

"Feel good about today."  The above statements apply here, but it's also about feeling good about today, don't focus on the failures.  I often struggle with only seeing what I get wrong each day and forget to think about what did go right.  I tend to see what didn't get done on "my" list and fail to see the typically huge amount of things that did get done.  When it comes to my health, I only see the failures on the eating healthy wagon (let's forget we are talking about my chocolate indulgence!!!) and exercise agenda.  I see what I didn't accomplish and how much I have to go to be where I want to be.  I don't see the little positive changes or give myself credit for the good decisions I make.  I often get stuck on what the kids STILL need to learn and forget how far we've come.  Etc... 

"Make Someday, Today."  This one really got me.  Tomorrow isn't a promise.  Learning to live as if today is our last day is something that we all need to work towards.  Definitely true.  Definitely something I struggle with.  Yet, these words hit me on a different level.  They were more of a confirmation that I was needing.  A much need encouragement. I've started some projects that are opening the door to some bigger things.  I have been very nervous as I've headed in the direction of these open doors.  I KNOW it's God's leading, but because I don't see the end project, I'm easily side-tracked.  I'm the type that can start doubting so quickly that I wonder if God was talking to me in the first place.  God is sending message after message that I'm on the track He wants me.  He's reminding me that my "someday" dreams are happening now in small doses.  I HAVE to step through the doors He is opening and remain confident that as long as I'm walking in His ways, He will keep the right doors open and close the doors that need to be.  I need to shut out the voices of doubt in my own head, ignore the people that are stepping on my confidence, and keep my eyes on the path God has for me.  Let that "someday" be today. 

See.....chocolate makes you smart!!!!  HAHA!!!!!  Maybe I should go grab another piece (or two)! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

FFH CD Download Giveaway Winner!

Quick announcement tonight!
The winner of the FFH One Silent Night CD (download version) was chosen using 
The winner was comment number 1:  Michele!!!!
Congratulations!  I'll be forwarding your email to the provider of the giveaway tonight.  Be on the lookout for an email with your link and directions to download soon! 
*I'll be back with some other posts ASAP.  Finding myself behind on many things and unfortunately my posts have taken a backseat temporarily and hope to remedy that ASAP!!!*

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Busy Bag: Part 2

Keeping up with the request for learning activities/homeschool related/and busy bag posts.....

Today Bradlee found a new busy bag in his workbox drawers.  He really liked this one.  I originally saw something similar on, but their version was too simple for him.  So I decided to "tweak" it a little and make it more on his learning level. 

I purchased the learning links from Oriental Trading in a pack of 500 because I included this bag in my latest busy bag swap and needed 30 sets of the activity.  I paid about $10 for the bulk bag, but I previously bought smaller packages at Wal-Mart in the aisle with educational workbooks.

I made basic cards with a wordprocessing program.  For Bradlee, I chose to do number WORDS since he isn't as proficient in reading and spelling the words as I would like him to be.  I also made a few easy addition problems for the swap and than some additional cards for Bradlee (he is more advanced in math computation than the target age of the swap).  Cut out cards.  Punch a hole under each number or word, laminate, cut out, and re-punch the holes.  Ready to use. 

He likes this activity so well that I think I will make some additional cards with some CVC words and leave out the vowel, provide 3 different options, and let him choose the correct one by hooking his link under the  answer.  Basically same procedure as the pumpkin poke math.  Endless opportunities!

*Don't forget to enter the FFH CD "One Silent Night" giveaway here.  It ends on Thursday!*

*Coming VERY soon.....a planner giveaway for homeschool moms....just in time to start next semester a bit more organized.  Not like I have a problem with being organized.  HAHAHAHAH!!!!*

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Deals & Leftovers

Whether you love it or hate it----today is without a doubt the notorious Black Friday.  You may be one of those that camped out last night to get front in line to purchase gifts on your list at a discount.  You may be one of those (like me!) that spent a bit of time online getting some deals from the comfort of your own home.  You may be one of those that refuses to shop at all today. 

Regardless of where you find yourself on that list, I implore you to consider the greatest deal ever given. 

Eternal life, no cost to you.  The cost was paid on the cross.  The cost was IMMEASURABLE, but there is no cost to you.  It's just up to you to accept the gift.  No bumper to bumper traffic.  No fighting for parking.  No waiting in line for hours. 

This special deal requires no money.  Not even a promo code or discount coupon.  It doesn't need to cause you any stress as you try to figure out how to make room in the budget for the purchase. 

It's just a matter of heart and acceptance. 

The customer service is like no other.  It's one on one and personal.  The line is never long and the desk is never closed.  No need to go from one department manager to another.  You are immediately connected to THE ONE IN CHARGE.

It's priceless.  It's the greatest gift you can ever accept.  It's the greatest gift ever given. 

As today kicks off the "official" Christmas holiday season, take the time today to put your focus on the reason we celebrate.  Take the focus off the gifts, money, stress.....and focus on the manger.  Focus on the cross.  Nothing else matters. 

Today is also one of the biggest days for leftovers.  Though my fridge isn't full this year of leftovers since we were blessed to attend an incredible "feast" with some of Kevin's extended family, others of you will have bowls, platters, and plates galore stacked with leftovers.  The day after Thanksgiving is notorious for those "leftovers".

I want to encourage you to stop and think about another type of leftover.  The leftovers we give to each other.  It's something I'm constantly convicted about and constantly battling. 

I don't want to give Kevin the leftovers of me....and I don't want his either.  My kids may spend nearly 24/7 with me, but I still don't want to be guilty of just giving them the leftovers.  We pack our days so full of things we THINK we have to.  We leave the best of us at work and bring home very little to our families in regards to "us".  Our hobbies take over our time.  We waste countless hours running around doing things that don't matter in reality.  We think our kids have to be involved in dozens of activities.  We think we need "me" time (don't get me wrong....some IS ABSOLUTELY necessary, but there is a definite balance!).  We plop ourselves down in front of TVs for hours on end.  Gosh, we can't even sit together at a family gathering without looking around and seeing dozens of phones connected to the internet.  Our time is so divided. 

This time of year it is absolutely critical that we work to not be giving leftovers to those we love.  We can all open our planners and see how just overbooked we are as we run from place to place celebrating the holidays or preparing for them.  The result is that we have nothing left to give to those that matter most to us. 

Today, stop.  Stop and see where you can make adjustments.  Do you need to take things off your list?  Can you cancel something and spend some one on one time with your spouse?  Can you turn off the TV, turn on some Christmas music and pull out some board games, crafts, or books?  Can you knock something off your list and simplify?  Do your kids really need 15 gifts that they won't remember by this time next year?  Would it be a greater impact on their future if you instead invested time with them instead of money?  What about stopping and sending a heartfelt card or letter to someone spending much of their time alone?  Pick up the phone?  Send an email.  Find a way to connect.

As a culture, we've gone TOO far away from what the holiday time of the year is about.  It shouldn't be about causing yourself such stress as you try to find ways to pay for gifts that TRULY don't really mean much.  As a family, we've been fighting HARD against culture on so many levels and Christmas is a HUGE battle.  We "want" to fit in and make everyone happy.  Yet, at what cost?  Are our marriages worth the stress that being too busy and too financially burdened brings?  Are our children learning the TRUE meaning of Christmas or are they learning to expect and want more and more?  I guarantee that God is NOT wanting us to celebrate His birth by being in debt, stressed out and on edge.

I don't have all the answers of how to flip the holidays back to the focus it should be.  Sometimes it is such a hard battle to be "counter-cultural". I do know this, you HAVE to start.  You have to make a decision that from this point on we are doing things differently.  Some family members may not be happy when they don't see the big gifts under their trees.  It's ok.  It really is.  Some people may not value the hours spent on gifts that are made from the heart.  It's ok.  It really is.  Some of us know that no matter the amount of money you spend on someone, it probably is still not "enough".  Someone can always do more.  It's ok.  It really is.  Some may not understand why you are not attending their gathering, party, or activity.  They may not understand you need to keep things simple and focus on your own family.  It's ok.  It really is. 

You just have to start somewhere.  Your kids REALLY are going to be ok with less.  I promise they gain more!  They gain the purity of the holidays.  They gain the value of family and faith.  Those things can't be wrapped up in red, gold, and silver paper.  Yet, those things have life long results.  Ones that matter.  Ones that change the world. 

Accept the best deal ever given:  the gift of eternal life. 

Give those you love the best of you----not the left-overs.

Fight against the "normal" holidays and simplify.  Put the TRUE focus of Christmas as the focus.  Not the packages.  Not the parties.  Not the endless financial stress.  Give of yourself. 

These are my wishes for the holiday season that starts today.  Last year was definitely different than I ever dreamed and my heart is obviously heavy right now, but before life took such a stark detour we were already moving towards the holidays being different.  May Christmas 2011 be the year that we move closer and closer to the meaning of the holidays.  May we find ways to continue what we started!  It's my Christmas wish.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grace Effect---- Giveaway Winner

Just a quick note:

Congratulations to Amanda C!  Be on the look out for an email from me about getting your book out to you!  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Family Movie Night "Game of Your Life" Review

It is incredibly HARD to find movies that meet OUR standards of family friendly.  I get excited when we do find something that the entire family can watch together. 

Several months ago, NBC started airing movies geared towards the family (with main sponsors Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart).  We've only missed seeing one of them so far.

I was offered the opportunity to watch the newest installment before it airs on December 2 (7 central time) on NBC. 

GAME OF YOUR LIFE---gets a thumbs up from our family for being appropriate for family viewing.  Though it is definitely more interesting to older kids and teens, even Bradlee enjoyed the video game development aspects.  My boys love ALL things technology! 

The movie's story line centers around Zach Taylor as he starts his freshman year of college in a prestigious video game design program.  Zach and his teammates are to design a video game as part of their first semester project----a crucial one that will determine if they are allowed to stay in the program.  The "meat" of the story is about how the team must come together and how an individual's choices can affect the entire team.  Zach is faced with some very hard decisions and has to work through what his priorities are and what matters most.  Without giving a way too much of the story line (since I want you to watch the movie for yourself!), I think that many times we are faced with similar choices.  Though the choice itself may obviously be different, we often have the same type to make.  Should we bend rules and cut corners because our present needs are great or do we live a life of integrity no matter what?  If we do make the wrong choice, what do we do next?  How do we rectify what we've done wrong.  A good depiction of loyalty and forgiveness is also presented in the movie and I loved that aspect. 

I enjoyed watching Zach as he was faced with hard choices.  I loved watching "moral lessons" played out in a movie that was family friendly.  Definitely a great movie for teens! 

Though I admit, this installment of Family Movie Night was maybe not my favorite of all that have aired---I did enjoy it!   I'm thankful that media executives are considering the wants and desires of families to be able to watch something together that is TRULY family-friendly, moral/values based, and fun to enjoy together.  I highly encourage you to tune in on December 2nd so that we can send the message that YES we want more of these type movies.  Show your support of family friendly programming!!!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mary, Did You Know?

Though I have many "favorite" songs during the holidays, this one has always touched me deeply. It has had an even greater impact after becoming a mother.

There is nothing on earth that can compare to that moment when you are handed your child for the first time (and I know that it happens with adoption as well!). I know some moms struggle with the bonding taking place over several days, but for many of us that first second we hold him/her there is something that happens in our heart. I know that with each of my children there was an instant love, protection, overwhelming joy and gratitude. Though I was nervous that it wouldn't happen again after the first one, I worried needlessly. An instant bond, an unbreakable one of unconditional love, instantly filled my heart.

As I think about Mary, I wonder. I wonder what she felt when her arms first held her son. I wonder, did she know? Did she have any idea what the future held for that precious child? Did she have any idea of the impact he would make on mankind for all of eternity?

Can you just imagine? Can you imagine her heart? She had already experienced a miracle by his conception. She'd already experienced hardship and emotional battles. Think about how people must have looked at her. Judgmental. Shunning. Yet, she was carrying the GREAT I AM! Can you imagine the weight that was on her shoulders?

His birth was not anything like she planned or expected. Can you imagine giving birth to your first child in a stable? Talking about humble beginnings for royalty!!!

As she held him in her arms, can you imagine the bonding she had with him? She knew she was holding a miracle. Even as much as us moms experience that amazing feeling of holding our child, it had to completely pale in comparison to what she was feeling.

I remember looking at each of my children and gazing at them with awe. Miraculous. Innocent. Ecstatic love. But to be holding your son.....THE CHRIST. Doesn't the thought just overwhelm you?

As I held each of mine, I can remember holding them with amazement and wondering what God had in store for each of them. I talk often about the instant "Mountain Mover" filling my heart when I held Bradlee. Each of those moments with each child is just a moment that can't be erased in my heart. As much as I looked at them and wondered where God would lead them, I can only imagine what Mary's heart must have been thinking.

Did she know that the precious innocent life she held would be beaten, betrayed, hung to die on the cross for the sins of the world? Talking about a TALL order for a child. We want to protect our children, even before they are born we have that protective nature. In her heart, did she want to run and hide him from the world? Did she have any sense of the gravity of the life that she held?

I wonder if she had any concept that the son she delivered would soon deliver her and all of mankind? Did she have any idea of the miracles he would perform?

How often do we think about the things we are responsible for in raising our children? We don't often consider the impact they have on us. Yet, so often they change our lives far more than we can ever change or influence theirs. I know I often learn more from my children than I can ever teach them. Imagine if that child you held was Christ.

Mary's heart. Her thoughts. Her emotions. Her sense of the future.

I can only imagine.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

FFH: One Silent Night Review & Giveaway CHRISTMAS!

I have been an FFH fan for MANY years.  When offered the chance to review their first Christmas CD, I was thrilled!

Can I just say this:  It did NOT disappoint!  In the last two weeks I bet we have listened to it more than a hundred times, literally!  It seems to be constantly playing either from my computer or from my Ipod speakers!  TRULY love it! 

Though I normally am CRAZY about the holidays and easily get in the Christmas spirit, this year it has admittedly been a huge struggle.  Obviously, what I'm feeling is normal and expected.  Losing someone you love is hard no matter what, but when that loss coincides with a holiday such as adds in such a layer of emotions that is hard to describe until you've been there.  Christmas, the most holy time of the year, now carries the greatest pain for me.  Struggling to emotionally handle these coming weeks is ....well....exhausting. 

When I downloaded and played this CD for the first time, something magical happened.  A weight temporarily lifted and I was swept away.  Literally!  When it plays, I find myself completely entranced in the beautiful AND fun aspects of the season.  My heart can embrace the beauty of the season without my heart aching with loss.

Some of the songs are classic, upbeat ones (Jingle Bell Rock for example) and we all find ourselves dancing around the kitchen until someone explodes into fits of laughter.  Some others are just soft and a bit romantic and Kevin and I will steal a dance and a kiss or two (who needs mistletoe?).  Then others.....oh those others....they absolutely just bring you into the presence of Christ and the complete reason why we celebrate this season.  The title track "One Silent Night" is absolutely incredible.  It feels like the world stops for those five minutes.  The same thing happens with "Glorious Impossible". 

I expected to enjoy the CD, but I found that I received much more than just "enjoyment".  A bit of healing.  A bit of strength.  Lots of laughter.  Connection to our savior in the chaos of a normal day and most especially moments to connect and slow down as the holiday stress hits.

The great news is that one of you can also enjoy a downloadable version of this CD.  Instead of receiving an actual hard copy, you will be provided with a link that will allow you to download it to your computer.  Trust me----if I was able to do it without any problem---I imagine you can too!  I was able to download mine easily and transfer it to my Ipod even though I have to admit I've never done it before!  I usually leave something like that up to the experts in the house----my kids!!!  :)

To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite thing about Christmas or your favorite Christmas memory!  I can't wait to hear from you!  Giveaway will end December 1st so that you can have the entire month of December to enjoy the music.

If you aren't the winner, I highly recommend adding FFH:  One Silent Night to your wish list! 

Now, I do have to throw one slight negative in.  I am just being honest!  I admit that the first song on the CD somewhat was surprising to me.  It's fun.  It has a fun beat.  I like it.  However, it just really seems out of place.  "Baby It's Cold Outside"---fun song----but just surprising to me to be on this particular CD because of the banter back and forth/topic.  It isn't necessarily "bad" or wrong----it just didn't fit with the other songs. 

Other than that,  I can't say a single negative thing about it.....unless of course, it stops playing and I have to get back up to hit re-start!!!  :)


As always, I must include this disclaimer: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."