Friday, September 30, 2011

Marriage 911----date night!

I've been thinking so much lately about the importance of date night.  It is absolutely a necessity in order to put the relationship with your spouse ahead of our roles as mothers and everything else on the list.  Taking that time to focus on each other is an essential way to turn off the rest of the world and completely reconnect with one another. 

It's a treasure that I cherish beyond words.  Finally being blessed with being able to take that time together is altering our marriage in such a tremendous way.  For the last 13 years or so, that time together was missing and to say that our marriage suffered for it is an understatement.  For about the last 3 months we've been blessed tremendously to have taken a bit of time away one night every week.  For the 6 months before that we started going once a month.  Though our marriage had already been going through some positive changes and was absolutely getting stronger every day, date night has been one of the greatest catalysts in making it go from great to extraordinary.  We are to the point now that if we miss that time together, we both feel it's loss.

I often think back to the many years we didn't have this time together.  For those of you that are in the same boat that think you can't afford it, let me offer my support.  I understand that!  For us, we've lived so far away from relatives for the majority of our marriage.  We've lived through money being so tight that it was impossible to pay a babysitter or even spend money to do anything together.  Having multiple children creates difficulty in finding babysitters.  Having young children that have stranger anxiety or are incredible connected to mom make it difficult to leave.  Been there done that!  I understand the difficulties, the strain, and the longing. 

Let me encourage you to MAKE it happen.  Dates don't have to be expensive.  Yes, we long for the romantic candle light dinners in a nice restaurant, concerts, movies, etc... I can assure you that anytime together where you are focusing on each other becomes romantic.  We've saved up for the more "expensive" nights out at trendy restaurants and have enjoyed our time, but the ones that have meant the most are the ones that have been nothing more than sitting at a picnic table or on a bench at the park and just talking.  You CAN go out and watch a movie and not buy popcorn and soda.  Dollar menus at fast food restaurants may not be the "ideal" date, but yet they work wonderfully.  As a matter of fact, if you and your spouse have been together for many years at met at a fairly young age, I imagine many of your dates back "in the day" were just at your local hang-outs after a football game.  For us Sonic and Hardees were the only places close by!  You really didn't care where you went together as long as you were together.  Dating now as a married couple can be the same thing! 

What I know now is that I would have given anything to put that kind of focus on our marriage YEARS ago!  I know now that a date didn't have to be about spending money we didn't have to spare.  It was about the time and focus.  It could have been as simple as putting the kids to bed early and having a candle light dinner at home.  Sure, going out would be the ideal situation, but we could have made it work. 

Though babysitters REALLY were out of the question for many of those years, either by availability or it being cost prohibited, I admit now that we could have made this switch MUCH earlier than now.  There were several times that a few new friends in our neighborhood and most especially in our church began to offer to keep our kids for us to go out.  I never followed through.  I didn't want to be a bother!  I didn't want to be an imposition!  What if the kids didn't use their best manners?  What would those people thing about us if our house wasn't spotless?  I mean really....I came up with countless excuses.  How wrong I was!

Take the time.  Don't look back with regrets.  Parents with very young children, START now!  Commit to at least once a month.  Increase from there if at all possible.  Pray for God to open doors to allow it to happen.  It is NOT selfish to spend that time away from your children.  I wrongly thought so for so long.  

From another perspective, I want to issue a challenge.  Is there something you can do to make a date night possible for a couple you know?  Can you offer to keep their kids for a couple of hours?  What about trading out babysitting services with another couple once a month?  You keep their kids so they can go out and they return the favor for you the next week.  What about dropping a card in the mail with some cash or a gift card----either with a sweet note from you or anonymously.   Speaking of gift cards:  they are TRULY a gift to a struggling family or young couple!  It was because of an unexpected gift card in the mail to a restaurant that pushed us along to take our first date night.  The financial barrier was removed.  It pushed me along to take someone up on their offer to watch the kids.  It started the ball rolling for us and we've not looked back.  The sweet friend that did that for us was thanking us for some extra effort we had been spending volunteering.  We didn't help for the "thank you", we just helped because it was in our hearts.  She had no idea that her kind gesture was opening the door to one of our greatest treasures---date night!  Even today, I don't think she has any idea that her act of gratitude opened the door to turning our marriage into something tremendous.  Never underestimate the power of a simple gesture when God prompts you! 

For those of you thinking that you would like to help a young couple but probably couldn't financially offer enough to make a "good" date night, let me assure you that it doesn't have to be BIG in your own eyes.  There have been many times that we've received gift cards that wouldn't cover two full dinners, dessert, etc..  but we've made it work.  It is JUST as enjoyable to go out and order dessert!  Many times we have split an appetizer and a dessert or even just gone in for dessert only.  Trust me---we didn't miss out on anything!  It doesn't have to be a large amount! 

Kevin and I already have our next 3 date nights planned.   We've learned the art of being frugal and still having a fantastic time together.  Tonight we are attending opening night of Courageous (can't begin to tell you how excited we are to see how this movie changes our lives since we've been praying about it's impact for months!) and I used Fandango gift certificates to buy the tickets from a Groupon offer MONTHS ago.  Next week we are eating out at Outback because of a free dinner coupon I received from a facebook offer.  The week after that we are eating out at another restaurant because of a gift card that came from a very unexpected sweet gesture earlier this week.  It may be a night we only eat dessert or it may end up being a night that we "splurge" a bit!  Who knows.  The point is that God is making a way.  He sees the desires of our heart to put our marriage in the right order of priorities.  He is giving us that opportunity like never before.  However, we had to START it.  We had to make the effort.  We have to continue to keep date night a priority.  We continue to pray for God to open doors for us financially and time-wise.  EXTREMELY easy to let that time slip way in our busy lives.  We have chosen to honor that commitment between each other NO matter what.  If it means saying "no" to something else, we say "no". 

So, today plan a date with your spouse in the next few weeks.  Take time to put focus on each other and shut out the outside world.  It says to your spouse that "you are my number one".  When marriages are falling apart every direction you turn (that's never been more true than right now in my own extended family and I know I'm not the only one!), take the effort to guard your own marriage.  It's necessary.  Satan is relentless.  Take the time to guard your hearts and build a stronger foundation to withstand those obstacles that are thrown at you EVERY day.  Even if that "first" date feels awkward because you've forgotten how to talk to each other, stick with it!  I promise:  it will come back and you will begin to crave that attention from each other!

Kick the challenge up a step.  Encourage another married couple with children.  Provide them with a financial blessing in some form---no matter how big or small.  Provide them with a few hours of childcare.  If they can't/won't leave their children, give them something to encourage a date night at home: a movie bucket, take-out dinner.  Get creative!  Best of all, just encourage and lift them up and pray for them.  Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder that you are thinking of them and want the best for them.   Pray and ask God to open your eyes and heart to a marriage that you can bless in some form! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sometimes by Step

*Note:  be sure to enter the giveaway here for Prefense hand sanitizer.  Ends Sunday night!*

I had planned on writing this post MUCH earlier in the day, most especially when it was so fresh on my heart.  However, I took a little detour with an emotional breakdown this morning and it has taken me a few hours to get my heart back on track enough to write what God had put on my heart earlier.  The breakdown came from a clash with reality.  Though I have a large stash of greeting cards, both handmade and store bought, built up, I needed to add a few special ones for Kevin.  This morning I thought I'd spend part of my Parent's Morning Out time by stopping at Hallmark and restocking.  I usually go to Hobby Lobby, but I remembered I had an $8 perks coupon.  So off I went.  I was excited because it thrilled me to be able to read as many cards as I wanted without having the kids pulling me in every direction.  Card shopping with the kids is just usually a disaster waiting to happen.  While I was there, I mentally ran through all of the current and upcoming holidays and occasions.  I wanted to get as many taken care of as I could.  I found myself stopping in the male birthday section.  With Kev's birthday coming up soon, I thought I'd go ahead and look.  However, the "dad" section caught my attention.  Oh yes, I needed Dad a card.  His birthday is tomorrow and if I'd hurry I could get it sent out in today's early mail.  No problem.  I started to grab a couple of cards and immediately (IMMEDIATELY) found one that I loved.  Then it hit me.  What in the world was I doing?  It was like a sudden clash with reality.  Dad isn't here.  There isn't a physical address or physical body to send the card to.  I know that.  I've thought of it often over the last several days.  It just happened to be one of those "caught up" in the moment kind of things.  At that moment, I thought I might have a complete break down in the middle of Dena's.  Instead, I calmly put the card in the stack of the other dozen I had.  There was just something about it.  I couldn't put it back down.  THAT would have been too hard.  That would have been crushing.  That would have been admitting reality.  Oh I get is just sometimes too hard to "stick" to!!! (Now don't go thinking I'm insane.  I'm really not!!!).  I made it to the check-out, was friendly and talkative with the sales lady, and made it almost to the van before the sobbing hit.  The rest of the day has been okay, but I'll admit that tears are easily falling at the slightest urging and staying focused on other tasks has been incredibly difficult. what today's post was intended.  I had the post all planned in my head earlier, but only remember about half of what it was.  So this will just have to do.....

This morning I took off for my walk and since I didn't have to leave until 8:45, I spent a little extra time.  I knocked off 4 miles today.  Wahoo!  My body may need it, but WAY more importantly my heart and soul needed it.  God found me again.  He found me  by sticking words to a song in my head----again!  Noticing a pattern?

This time it was "Sometimes by Step".  It's another one of those that we may have sang at church recently, but I don't think so.  I play it on the piano, but it has been a REALLY (REALLY x 10) long time since I've sat down to play.  I don't think I've heard it on the radio recently.  It just happened to pop in my head while I was praying, walking, and thinking. 

Though I love the part that says, "Oh God, you are my God, and I will ever praise you." It's the other words that keep running through my head.  "Step by Step you'll lead me and I will follow you all of my days."  Step by step.  Those are the three words that kept running all over me.

I thought about how in learning and in teaching the only way you can do it is step by step.  Our kids don't learn to walk before they can sit on their own.  I didn't teach Adriana how to operate the sewing machine without first sitting down to show her the steps of threading the machine, working the pedal, etc.. I don't teach chemistry without going back to the beginning and teaching atoms and molecules.  I can't teach Peyton multiplication without him first having a solid foundation in addition.  I can't teach Bradlee to read without teaching him the building blocks of phonics.  You don't learn to cook by looking at the end of the recipe first.  You have to start with step one. 

I felt like that was what God was trying to tell me.  So much lately I've been caught up with the end result.  I want this or need this.  I want to build the bridge between who God wants me to be and who I am.  I get so caught up in my failures and sinfulness.  I fail to see myself as God sees me. 

Step by step.  Take it one step at a time.  Keep my eye on the prize?  Yes.  Look back at where I've been? Yes---but only to learn from mistakes, not to beat myself up over and over.  It's VERY easy for me to get caught up in the "I should know better than that" or "by now I shouldn't be doing that" or even "by now I should be __(here)___, but I'm still only __(here)___". 

I don't expect my kids to know how to do something the first time I present information.  I really don't expect them to learn more complex lessons without first learning the foundations.  Why on earth do I expect it from myself?  Obviously I don't want them to be lazy or use excuses of something being too hard and I don't want that to be part of me either.  Yet, I fail to give myself the same grace.

I absolutely want to move forward with God.  He is DEFINITELY laying some big plans on my heart and with Kevin and I both.  We (or maybe that's me more often than him...he's more patient) often are getting impatient with waiting for that plan to be revealed.  I want to rush ahead and get going.  Yet, God plainly told me today that I'm only going to get their step by step.  I can't skip from step 2 to step 7 or from step 3 to step 20.  I have to move along the steps in order, spending as much time on each one as HE SAYS!  My kids get impatient and want to skip ahead to the next step.  Sometimes that is WELL before they are ready.  Sure, I can let them go ahead.  Yet, I know what happens when I do.  Fail.  Lack of understanding.  Confusion.  Why should I be any different?  God is just needing me to stay right here on step XYZ until HE SAYS I'm ready for the next one.  I might want to argue and say I've learned enough or I understand enough.  Maybe I think I'm ready.  He knows better.  He always does!

On a side note, later this afternoon I pulled up some videos of that particular song and let it play through a couple of times.  Though these aren't the words that went through my head this morning, they still touched me when I listened to the song in it's entirety. 

"I will seek you in the morning and I will learn to walk in your ways".  That is a nugget of truth!  It's not coincidence that the more days I get up and spent that time with Him, the stronger my faith becomes and the greater my understanding of my purpose and my direction will be.

Then this one specifically gripped my heart.  Especially after such an emotional day that I didn't expect.  "Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter in my steps.  BUT NEVER BEYOND YOUR REACH!"  Thank heavens!  No matter how far I fall or how hard it is to get up, I am NEVER beyond the reach of Christ's hand to pick me back up!  Neither are you!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hugs from Heaven----Jesus Calling

Just a little over an hour ago, the kids and I drove over to church for our Tuesday Story Time.  Bradlee enjoys that time so much.  While we were there, one of our precious friends gave Adriana a gift basket that she had won at a fundraiser picnic for an incredible cause dealing with foster children.  She had to leave early to make it back to church on time and wasn't there when they drew names for the prizes.  The basket was a kids basket put together by a local Christian bookstore.  When we got home, I started going through the basket to see all the treasures and decide what to do with each of them (keep, Christmas gifts, Operation Christmas Child, etc...). 

Inside was a sweet little devotional book for kids.  At first I just noticed how cute it was.  A very vintage children's book style that I LOVE!   Then I realized it was the kids version of a book that I LOVE.  "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young.  I was excited to look through it because so many days the "adult" version has REALLY touched me.  My copy was a gift from a friend at church.  She gave it to me several weeks after Dad died, when I was feeling so alone in my journey because the "world" had moved on and my heart was still breaking.   It has been a wonderful vessel of encouragement and strength. 

I immediately turned to today's date to read what it had to say.  Her words, inspired by God, just rolled all over me.  I've been grasping at anything encouraging and uplifting as these last few days (weeks, months) have been emotionally and physically draining.  It's taken so much effort to drown out the lies of Satan, to maintain focus, and to march forward in faith. 

Her words, so perfectly timed.....not coincidence!  I call moments like this, the ones that give you Holy Ghost goosebumps (yes, my southern is popping out!!!).....hugs from heaven.  Those reminders that God is listening and knows your heart and knows when we need an extra boost and knows how to put just what we need in our path...even in strange ways! 

I am constantly working in your life, even though you may not realize it.  Especially when you are tired or hurt, or the day has had too many troubles, you may not notice Me at all.  But I am there.

When you are tired, I am the One who is gently urging you on.  When you are hurt, I am the One who is softly whispering, "It's going to be okay."  And when you are overwhelmed, I am the One who is running before you, clearing the path of things you just can't face today.

In those times that you have felt the weakest, I have been working the hardest for you.  And though you may not see Me right now, one day you will look back and know that I was right there all along, giving you all that you needed.  Your memories of those days will be bright with the glow of My Presence.

Don't those words just bring extreme comfort?  I know without a doubt my heart was needing the reminder.  I am tired.  I am hurt (in so many ways).  I am overwhelmed (more every day, even though I'm working hard to step away from just isn't happening quickly enough).  The beauty of the words is the reminder that Christ is already ahead of me.  He is making the way.  He is whispering His words of comfort.  It may be the sweet words of a friend.  It may be a book being placed in my hands at just the right moment.  It might be the words jumping off the pages of scripture.  It might be the words of a song.  It might just be the joy and peace that reaches deep inside that can't be explained.  Regardless of what "it" is at that moment, His comfort is reaching out and hitting the target.  When I'm emotionally tired, He is providing the needed hugs either from himself or through someone I love.  When I'm physically tired, He is providing rest and energy.  

It is very easy to NOT see God at work when struggles are overwhelming.  It's easy to get caught up in the situations directly in front of us.  It's easy to feel abandoned and that God doesn't care.  I can assure He does.  We just have to have our eyes open to see it.  Just like I wrote last night, "Open the eyes of my heart" .....  Life truly is hard at times and it can be very hard to see God at work, but HE IS!  That is a promise we can bank on!   Our eyes and heart just have to be open to hear Jesus calling us....calling us to Him!

Open the Eyes of my Heart-----Finding Joy that Overflows Even Despite Heartache

It's been a HARD few days and some REALLY hard days are coming up.  I won't sugar coat it.  Life is somewhat kicking us in the tail right now. 

However, life has been absolutely amazing.  God has been moving in our hearts like never before.  Kevin and I have been drawing even closer than ever.  Some of you are probably smiling wondering how that is possible since we are already pretty inseparable!  Some great things have been happening. 

Yet, my heart is heavy.  I'm doing my absolute best to focus on the positives.  I've been down the road of depression and I know how very important it is to "nip it in the bud" when it comes creeping back in.  My eyes are wide open to the blessings I'm experiencing and so often during the day I have to stop and TRULY redirect my thinking to make sure I'm focusing on the amazing things God is doing in our lives! There are plenty. 

However, curve balls are being tossed at us and sometimes it's just enough to break me.  On Friday, the day that Kevin and I celebrated our 16th anniversary, in the back of my mind it was a struggle for me.  That day marked 9 months without Dad.  3/4 of a year GONE without him and it still is as fresh and raw as the first day.  This Friday night, Kevin and will be blessed to go out and watch the movie Courageous.  It is something we have been planning ahead  for months.  It is something that is so important in our lives right now and we KNOW that God is going to use it in a mighty big way.  However, that day is also my Dad's birthday.  Our first one without him present with us.....yet, my heart also leaps with excitement think about how amazing of a celebration he is going to be having with the one that created the universe.  Can't get much greater than that.  Yet, my heart is truly sitting heavy with sorrow.  I'm just a couple of weeks away from heading back home and that trip is a "heavy" one for us.  However, I'm so thrilled that my "sweet T" will be coming back with us to stay for awhile.  Our entire family is excited for her visit.  My heart needs it even though I know there will be some sad moments. 

We've been dealt a couple of rough blows and the blows seem to keep coming.  Just tonight we got slammed with one that is ripping both of us apart.  Satan is all over us right now.  I know without a doubt that it's because we are being effective, we are moving closer and closer to being in step with what God has for us.  WE KNOW IT!  Yet, it makes it hard.  It's hard to stay focused on the plan God has for us when our hearts are breaking and heavy.  Kevin stopped me tonight and just tried to hug it all away (even before our last blow).  Though that helped and I cherish those moments, it didn't make it all go away.  It's like when our kids are hurt, Mommy and Daddy just want to make it go away.  We can try and we can soothe, but we really don't have that magic power to make it not exist!  Though we try with everything in us.

My stress level continued to climb and the voices of doubt wanted to overtake, but I remembered the song that kept going through my head this morning when I was walking and praying.  "Open the eyes of my heart Lord.  Open the eyes of my heart.  I want to see you.  I want to see you.   To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.  Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy."  I can't remember actually singing or hearing the song recently, so it was definitely one of those moments provided by the Holy Spirit.   My stress isn't gone and I'm overwhelmed with concern for people that we love, ones that are making poor decisions that are dividing their families, and for some health issues that those we care about are facing.  However, I have a growing sense of peace as those words have come back to my heart again.

This session of Bible in 90 Days (B90) is quickly wrapping up.  Today, I found myself almost 5 days behind and as I spent considerable amount of time tonight trying to catch up (now only 1.5 days behind!), I kept finding words in the Gospel of John that totally just continued to speak more and more peace to my heart.  I am a worrier.  I easily find myself stressed out.  Even though I know without a shadow of a doubt that that is NOT the life God wants for me, I still struggle daily with it.  Though that grip is getting less and less, it is happening at a much slower pace than I would like.  It's one of my GREATEST weaknesses. 

However, the words I read tonight just kept speaking over and over of peace.  Faithfulness.  Joy.  The things I've been experiencing even through the darkness.  They have been within reach.  I'm grateful beyond words than I can express to feel that.  God is truly opening the eyes of my heart and I couldn't be more grateful to be His daughter. 

Though I've highlighted like crazy the book of John, here are a few of my favorites.....some are ones that really jumped out for the first time or jumped out VIVIDLY.  Reading from the NLT continues to be an eye opening experience for me.  Though sometimes I feel it is a bit "loose" in translation, it still puts it in a way that my brain can wrap around much easier!

  • 1:4-5 "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it."  THAT is what I'm experiencing right now.  Darkness is hovering around us like a fog that won't burn off.....but light is so much stronger. 
  • 3:30 "He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less."  Truth!  Praying it.  Holding onto it.  It's not easy, but it's necessary. 
  • 5:4 "Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don't have God's love within you."  Amen!  Why on earth do I continuously seek approval of others?  Why does my heart ache over issues of rejection and abandonment.  The Word says it plain and simple and I need to grasp it with both hands and hang on tight. 
  • 8:5-6  (Jesus speaking) "You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful in my teachings.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  That isn't just a famous quote, it's straight from the Bible.  Truth sets us free.  Holding on to the truth when it seems like the world is against us brings freedom!  Remaining faithful to Biblical standards is what matters.
  • 14:6  (Jesus speaking) "I am THE way, THE truth, THE life.  No one can come to the Father except through me."  We have spent two Sundays on this one verse and have at least one more week to go.  I've learned so much from this series.  Though I've heard this verse countless times and memorized it as a young child, it's coming to life more than ever.  What is important to note is that the article "the" is purposely written.  It means ONE.  It means my way, my truth, and my life MUST line up with HIS way, truth, and life.  No variance.  There is NO OTHER WAY!  It's not MY's HIS way!
  • 14:27  "I am leaving you with a gift---peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don't be troubled or afraid."  I think the NLT wording of this verse really made it touch me deeply tonight when I read it.  It is a verse I was familiar with, but the different wording really made it sink in.  I needed it!  The world may not understand the peace that fills my heart, they can't!  However, God has put it there as a gift.  A treasure. 
  • 15:9-11 "I have loved you even as the Father has loved me.  Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father's commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!"  My joy is overflowing.  Even in the harshness of the battles we are facing, I'm able to find joy.  It isn't something I've been able to stop the flow of.  To me that is beautiful!  It is something I sought for so long and battled so hard to find when I struggled so greatly with depression and now I'm in the place that I can't seem to turn it off.  THANKFUL!
  • 15:18 "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of it's own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world."  I cling to this verse on those days that I feel alone in making choices that take myself or my family out of the "popular" crowd.  When I want to wallow in pity....these words put me right back on track.  I am meant to be different than the world, no matter how alone it may feel at times.
  • 16:33 "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world."  That verse doesn't say you might have says you WILL HAVE MANY.  It doesn't say I will never hurt, struggle, or my heart won't break.  It basically says, I guarantee you will!  The beauty of the verse is the hope and encouragement the second part brings.  I HAVE overcome the world.  Can't get much more strength than that! There is nothing I am facing or any emotion I am feeling that God can't handle!

So, it may be WELL past when I'm supposed to be asleep and when I am trying to turn off technology, but I had to share the comforting words I had been reading tonight.  Though I originally thought about waiting until tomorrow, I wanted to go ahead and "get them down" while they were fresh.  Tomorrow is a busy day and I don't want to take the chance that I won't get them written.  That seems to be happening a LOT lately!  I know someone else reading is probably struggling with some harsh curve balls in their life right now and I pray that the words found in John bring comfort and encouragement!  THAT is the desire of my heart.  THAT is why I so often take the time to blog! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Prefense Review & Giveaway

I have been using a new hand sanitizer for the past couple of weeks.  It is one that I had never heard of.  I was interested in trying out the product to see how I liked it and I was offered the opportunity to also host a giveaway.

My review:  PREFENSE hand sanitizer is definitely something that we are interested in using beyond this trial period.  For those that know me, I'm a germ-a-phobe.  I'm notorious for having an extra large Sam's size pump sitting around and going through the bottle frequently.  Most especially I am an addict in the winter months out of necessity and habit.  Having dealt with a compromised immune system for many years, being vigilant against germs is second nature for me. 

However, I HATE the alcohol that is in my current brand.  It stings.  It stinks.  It dries my hands out when I use it frequently.  Yet, I use it anyway.  Fortunately, my daughter read about another brand that she thought I might be interesting in trying.  SCORE!

Prefense!  It's natural.  It contains no alcohol.  I was hesitant because I'm picky about how things smell.  The big question:  did it please?  Oh yes!  Does it deliver?  Definitely!

A bit of information from the company:

• No alcohol! Prefense is made of natural ingredients and has absolutely NO alcohol in it!

• Our technology protects you for 24 hours or 10 hand washings! This is what moms really love to hear about!
• Prefense is non-toxic and safe for kids! It will not hurt you if swallowed!
• Prefense is silica based which means it doesn’t dry out your hands like traditional alcohol sanitizers. It actually smooths and softens your hands. You can totally see this when you apply it!
• Prefense protects against staph, strep, E.coli, drug resistant MRSA strains, and more. We fight germs that other hand sanitizers can’t.

This mom LOVES that it is natural and safe for kids.  No more worry about "what if"!  My hands are grateful!

Prefense is on Facebook and Twitter.  You can purchase it directly from the company or from   amazon.  They are currently running a great special on a combo pack of the smaller bottle and wipes in their store.

Giveaway----Prefense has generously offered one reader the LARGE  8 oz bottle of 640 applications (which could potentially last you a VERY long time...even as much as almost 2 years according to their data). 

To enter:  simply just leave a comment on this blog post!  (If you are commenting as "anonymous" please be sure to include your name and email address so I can contact you if you are the winner!)

For a 2nd entry:  become a follower of my blog, then come back and leave a 2nd comment that says you follow.  Simple enough.

Winner will be chosen at random.  Giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, October 2nd.  Winner will be contacted on Monday!  Good luck!

Thank you, Prefense!  You've made a believer out of me!  (Honestly!!!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A little Grace, A lot of Priorities

These last few days have been those that I've caught myself running in circles, even much more than normal.  I can remember several times I stopped in a room without a single clue of how I got there or what I was intending to do.  Though I've been busy and unable to REALLY relax in the past days because of so many demands or people needing me to do something, I've been OK.  Being busy doesn't bother me AS LONG AS I'M ORGANIZED.  Fortunately that has been the case.  Unfortunately that hasn't been the case! 

I seem to have covered the main bases, but failed at some of the little details.  I managed to keep the house presentable (with lots of help from Kevin and Adriana), but today I really noticed "piles" adding up in corners and it began to really get me down.   Books are overtaking every corner of OUR bedroom----our haven from reality.  MUST get a grip on that NOW!  When Kev and I close the door at night, it is time to shut off the rest of the world and focus on each other.  A bit hard to do that when stacks of school supplies, books, bills, and "reality" are lurking around!  I also found myself standing in the kitchen this morning cooking breakfast to discover AFTER the milk was completely heated that we didn't have a grain of sugar to finish making cream of wheat (my boys ABSOLUTE favorite----I was trying to earn brownie points and start the day with extra smiles!).  Instead of "hero" status, I got the "mom you messed up" speech.  That milk became hot chocolate since I couldn't think of anything else to do with it and breakfast became straight from the can biscuits.  FAIL!  Yet, everyone survived.  No one starved.  Fortunately, my sweet friend showed up with a bag of sugar when she picked up her little one.  Her sweet gesture might just put me back in the running tomorrow for "brownie points"----just maybe!   It has been one after another on the little "fails"....and keeping my heart in check in the process has been tough. 

The point is:  I can't do it all.  My perfectionism has to be tossed away.  I don't earn my way to heaven by acts of service.  I don't lose the love of God by not getting everything right.  My husband doesn't love me less if he has to dig through a basket of socks because they didn't get matched up.  My children don't love me less if they have to eat "fake" biscuits instead of something they like better.  THOSE are demands I put on myself.  Demands that I've noticed other friends putting on themselves as well.  I say this:  it's time to STOP putting so much darn pressure on ourselves to live "perfectly".  GRACE.  Grace!!!! 

Something else that is extremely important is defining priorities.  After you define the priorities, you HAVE to put your focus on them.  Otherwise, they don't remain your priority. 

I saw that in FULL visibility this week.  Our schedules are a bit completely over packed this week.  Because of that, Kevin and I had to make absolutely sure that we put in extra effort to make sure that we maintained that our priority was each other.  It meant sacrificing at times.  We had to say no to some things and we had to go out of our way to "speak" each other's love languages to make sure there was no doubt where we stood with each other.  I didn't want to go out on our date night because I was tired, emotional, and just stretched too thin.  He made me.  It was worth it.  We reconnected our focus and had the chance to  really talk about some things that were well overdue.   Had he not made me follow through on our commitment to one night out at week, I would have lost out on that great opportunity to hear his heart and express some of what was in mine.  The last several nights it has been after 9 before we have been in the same place for more than 3 minutes.  It has meant that the nights I was gone, he worked diligently to accomplish as many household tasks as he could so that when I got home I could focus on him.  On the nights he was gone, it meant I did as many of his "typical" things as I could, had as much of my school work for the next day done, and put my list away when he got home and turned my attention to him.  Priorities.  Without them, I know we would have crashed and burned this week with all that we have going on that we are trying to balance.  Fortunately, once we are through with tonight, our schedules return to a bit less craziness and normalcy returns.  Thank goodness!

Perfectionism.  Throw it out the window and embrace grace.  Priorities:  stick with them.  Make sure that you follow through!  They are worth it.

By the way----hopefully this post will encourage someone.  Hopefully it will inspire me on another day when I've lost track of my priorities or when I've forgotten the power of grace and perfectionism has overtaken.  I'm sure it won't take long to need to reread these words myself.  Maybe even by tomorrow or even later tonight.  :) 

Grace.  Priorities. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Glimpse of a Typical Monday...

How about a different type of post today.  Today's post is in pictures.  A typical day. 

Bradlee playing one of his learning games I made over the summer. 
This is alphabet spoons.  He matches the capital letter (white spoon) to the lower case letter (clear spoon).
Place in alphabetical order.

So far so good...

Searching for his next letters....

Found his lower and upper case "H"...

Saying his memory verse before we move on to the next lessons of Raising Rock Stars...
Raising Rock Stars

Integrated Physics & Chemistry

Deep in thought with Language Arts...

1/3 of the laundry piles that are waiting their turns while I bounce between everything else! 
Fortunately these stacks are getting smaller and the freshly folded pile is getting larger!

Now it's time for lunch. A much deserved break. Then we will back at it! Hopefully this afternoon will find us with our lesson plans on track, the laundry done, the house dusted and vacuumed, and dinner ready. Somewhere in there will be a trip to return books to the library and time to plan tomorrow's lessons, time to read my B90 assignment and checking in with my group of readers, and time to knock a few other things off my "list".  Dreaming, right?  I'm working another volunteer shift tonight at OWB and then it will be home to CRASH. Thankfully at the end of this night, my sweet husband will be waiting and we will finally have our time to reconnect at the end of the day. Finally a chance to not be running in crazy circles dealing with everything else.  Priorities back in place.   Ahhhh...... can hardly wait! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't Give Up!

Today, I just want to offer a BIG round of encouragement. 

For those of you that are DARING TO BE DIFFERENT in the way you are raising your family, PLEASE do not give up.  If you happen to be wondering if it really matters.  Let me assure, it ABSOLUTELY does.  If you are tired completely exhausted, keep going.  If you think no one cares about the effort you are putting in and that you aren't really seeing many results, keep going! 

This week everywhere I have turned I've been hit with such harsh reality of how things around us are just spiraling out of control.  I have no doubt that you are seeing it as well.  It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that moral values are degrading at the speed of light.  I won't go in to details, but we've seen it very vividly more this last week than ever before.  Others are commenting often they see it every which direction they go. It's alarming. 

I've been struggling with what I'm seeing.  My heart is breaking and to be honest I'm furious.  I want to grab parents by the neck and tell them to grow up.  I want to ask them if they can't see what they are doing to their kids by being their very best friend instead of a parent.  Don't get me wrong:  I want to be my child's friend, but that role is SECONDARY! 

Yes, my kids have their own fair share of discipline issues.  They are far from perfect.  We battle issues of respect, obedience, selfishness, bad attitudes AROUND THE CLOCK.  They are not immune by any means!  Kids do need grace and they absolutely do need patience and forgiveness just like each of us do.  However, we can't let that be an excuse to not be parents FIRST.  Self-esteem is important.  Knowing their personal value in Christ is absolute!  However, that doesn't mean that we stop disciplining in order to not harm their feelings.  We just have to find a healthy balance! 

It's a rampant problem.  It's ridiculous.  Teachers in traditional classrooms aren't able to teach because they have to spend countless discipline hours on things that should have been taught in the HOME FIRST!  We can't expect them to meet the academic requirements when they can't get more than 5 minutes of actual teaching time!  Even in the church setting it's crazy!  Parents that WANT their children to have a great moral upbringing still refuse to parent at home.

Parents that are trying your best, even if  you feel that you are  failing, do NOT give up.  Every ounce of effort you put into teaching your kids----it is worth it.  Even if you are about to pull your hair out because things aren't going as well as you want, PLEASE stick with it.  Even if you can only change one small behavior at a time!  Celebrate the small victories and let that build for the next one. 

Parents that are seeking to be different in how you guard your child's heart by monitoring their media:  Keep at it!  The parents that are sticking to their guns by not allowing facebook until 13 (the *legal* age ) or older even though peer pressure is insane.  Don't give up!  If you are making diligent effort to protect their hearts and minds from inappropriate TV and media choices.  ABSOLUTELY do not give up!   Even if you feel that you are the ONLY parent in the world, stay on the path. 

This world needs a change.  We can't deny it.  Just turn on the TV, radio, or computer....look out your window.  Moral values are being seen as wrong and sinfulness is being promoted as what is normal.  Don't buy into that lie!

Specifically, homeschool moms:  don't let the wet blankets convince you that the effort that you are putting in is worthless.  Even on those days that you have not an extra ounce of energy left, don't doubt the impact you are making.  It's EXTREMELY easy to get discouraged.  Let me take this moment to say,  God sees you.  He sees you when you toss and turn at night because your list is so long that you can't turn it off.  He sees you when you are so frustrated because you can't balance everything or you feel like you aren't measuring up.  He sees you when someone downplays the sacrifice you are making.  Trust me, HE sees you when you are at the end of your rope and just needing someone to tie another knot on the rope so you can hang on.  Let me be the one to say it:  it's an exhausting, lonely road at times.  Yet, there has been nothing more rewarding or beautiful in my life.  Don't let the nay-sayers (even if it's the lies in your own head!!!!) convince you that what you are doing doesn't matter!

We can't change the hearts of everyone in the world on our own.  What we can do is influence one heart at a time.  That heart can then change another.  God is in the business of taking small things and making them huge.  It starts in our OWN homes.  It starts with how we treat our own spouse.  It starts with how we raise our children.  Small steps.  It's at the dinner table.  It's when way say no to another activity that will pull us away from putting our family first.  It starts when we make steps to be "different". 

Just don't give up.  Let your heart soak in that the little things matter.  Even if in the big picture you don't see it right now, it absolutely matters.  Be encouraged! 

Remember this:  "There is no greater joy than to know that (your) children are walking in the truth."  3 John 1:4  Hold on to that verse!  Let it soak in on those days when you are just literally ZAPPED!  When you feel alone on the journey you are taking....embrace it!  Though school is going phenomenally better than I ever dreamed right now for us, I'm still holding onto this verse.  Tomorrow is a new day and what is working may not work and we may derail faster than lightning. Murphy's law may go into effect before I even finish typing the next word!!!!  When I feel the pressure of failing at something either academically, spiritually, or just in regards to behavior.....I have to hold on to knowing that the seeds have been planted and God will let them grow.  Even if I can't see it happening, IT IS!  Just like in my own heart, God is making changes.  I can't see the full results right now and I don't know the full direction He is leading, but I don't doubt for one second that He is moving.  It's the same with our children, we can't see each and every little change immediately but it is happening!  Just don't give up!

*Just so you know:  this post was written one day after I showed up at PMO without one child's backpack and the other child had on no socks and shoes that were at least 1 size too small and a pair of jeans that were two inches too short.   I had to go back home and retrieve the missing items and get the right shoes and socks. That same morning was one of those days that if it could have gone wrong, it did.  This Mom had to put herself in time-out later in the day because her own heart was carrying the wrong attitude.  It's easy to lay down and give up.  I get it!  Our home is SO far from perfect!  Just know that we all carry baggage and we all feel the sting of failure.  God loves us.  He loved us enough to send His only son to die for us even though we were standing in our own filth.   No one is perfect.  It's impossible of a goal.  Just choose to be the best you can be THROUGH Him and let Him carry the rest!*

Monday, September 12, 2011

Catching Up: New Beginnings

Oops...almost a week without a post.  Shameful!  :)   Some things have to go when life gets a bit on the busy side and this time around it happened to be my blog.  I don't like it when it happens that way because I TRULY "enjoy" this part of my life....tremendously!  Yet, there are times that the words just don't come or time is too short.  This past week was a bit of both! 

This post isn't a deep or profound one.  It's just an update of life in our little corner of the world.

We are in a season of "new beginnings" in the Goad house.  It seems to be the prevalent theme. 

New beginning number 1: school started, successfully.  Though we've officially only had a few days under our belts, it has been tremendous.  Our best start...EVER.  I know there will come a time that things WON'T be as enthusiastic and smooth sailing, but for now I'm cherishing these moments.  It seems (again AT THIS point!) that having all three kids involved is working out picture perfect.  God put a series of events in order that allowed EVERYTHING I needed to get started come in last minute.  It barely happened, but it did!  Should have let that worry go a LONG time ago.  God had it under control from the beginning.  Balancing all three kids has been smooth.  Granted, that smoothness has come from ceaseless praying and tremendous amounts of planning for MONTHS.  I'm sure our "crash" day will hit soon, but at this point I couldn't be happier with our new year. 

New beginning number 2:  Parent's Morning out kicked off!  Oh my!  The happiness from this mom is unparalleled!  Three Thursday mornings a month I am blessed to have two and a half hours of ME time.  Though I used that time to clean, lesson plan, etc... in the beginning, my husband and friends quickly set me straight and I've not once gone back on my promise to use that time for me.  This week I actually took the time to get my hair cut for the first time in nearly 8 months.  It made VERY little difference in the "style", but it was heavenly for me to sit there and be taken care of for a few minutes.  I also had time to do some birthday shopping for Peyton and a bit of early Christmas shopping for our granddaughters.  I also look forward to my "turn" at volunteering the last week of the month.  I will get to love on some sweet babies that always steal my heart AND this year I'm thrilled with the group of women I'm volunteering with.  It's going to be a great year no matter if I'm getting my time or if I'm volunteering so other moms can have their turns!  Bradlee is also absolutely thrilled to be in a class with Miss Marthe again.  She does a fantastic job with them and they learn so much Biblical foundation and it's not just "babysitting" time. 

New beginning number 3:  I blogged about putting myself back on the list and taking charge of my health again lat week.  I'm happy to report that though the scale hasn't really cooperated yet, my clothes are already feeling a bit less constricting.  My energy has soared!  My mental clarity is getting better every day!  It is VERY much worth getting up before the kids.  Though I was bummed to discover that I had washed my pedometer (FAIL!) this morning, I was consistently getting in enough steps to reach 5 miles a day.  Typically I'm doing about 3 miles in the morning and then picking up the other 2 through the day.  I've also already increased the number of reps that I'm able to do on the weight machine in trying to get my upperbody strong again.  Wahoo!  I was quite proud of myself the days I went while it was raining!  As long as it isn't storming like crazy, they do have this amazing invention called an umbrella.  I've learned how to use it!  :)

New beginning number 4:  we finally accomplished some overdue tasks in regards to housekeeping, organizing, etc..  It may not mean much to most, but for those of us (ME!) that thrive on order and get VERY down on myself when things aren't in is amazing!  I have complained about the condition of our carpet for months and finally spent 22 hours cleaning it.  It is still worn out and definitely didn't restore to new condition, but at least I know it is clean!  That also led to some moving around of furniture and doesn't that always give you a boost?!

New beginning number 5:  607 starts tomorrow night.  It's our midweek program at church and I have LOVED being a full time volunteer for the last two years.  Kevin and I serve together and it is such a tremendous blessing to us.  Adriana has volunteered with us in the past, but she now has her own high school small groups that night.  Different season of life for us having an "older" kid!  Kevin and I have had the same group of kids at 607 for the past two years, but tomorrow night we are getting a "fresh" group of kids.  I can hardly wait to get to know them.  We just felt it was time to let "our" kids have new faces and build some new relationships with new leaders.  So many of them did steal my heart, so I'm glad we still get to see them during parts of the evening!

New beginning number 6:  Peyton turned 10.  Being that he was born on THE morning of THE September 11th, it has always been such an emotional, bittersweet day.  Peyton had a great day.  We spent two services at church, went out for lunch at HIS favorite place (Fazolis...not our favorite but ALWAYS his!), cake, and gifts.  What was different about this year is that he understands the gravity of the day now.  I obviously had a very hard time with it on that day (as most people did, but add that to the emotional pull of giving birth on the day the world changed for all of us and crazy hormones!!!) and then again on his first birthday.  Now we just embrace the fact that God had a plan in bringing him into our lives on that day.  He definitely has a plan for his life and we can HARDLY wait to see how it unfolds.  We already know he is destined to do something amazing.  A kid doesn't have the knowledge and skills that Peyton has just for "any" purpose.  God has designed an amazing plan for him!

New beginning number 7:  Learning to be OK with having to let somethings go in order to keep my sanity.  This is an ONGOING struggle, but I am finally making progress.  I will never get past my perfectionism and DRIVE, but I'm finding myself less out of sorts when things don't all get done according to my LIST.  The spiritual growth of the past several months has definitely let me hear God more clearly and I'm often hearing His reminders that my list and His don't often match and that His list takes priority.   I'm LOVING this new beginning.  It's hard.  It's painful, but yet it's AMAZINGLY freeing!  "For I know the plans I have for you", says the Lord.  "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found by you," says the Lord.   I love those words from Jeremiah 29.  They are absolutely true and I'm growing in those words more every day!

New beginning number 8:  my B90 group is just a couple of days away from reaching the New Testament.  We've lost a few members along the way due to different life factors interrupting, but I know everyone has felt God stir their hearts like never before no matter where they are in their reading.  Hearing from one of the ladies in my group today talking about how she finally feels like this is going to happen for her just warmed my heart.  A new beginning of confidence is priceless.  Knowing that something that seemed so daunting in the beginning is actually a goal within reach is just breathtaking.  I'll never know where those little ripples will end up. 

New beginning number 9:  my friend that spent a couple of weeks in Ghana, West Africa stopped by with a special gift for me.  She brought me a framed collage of some pictures of my dresses with some of the precious orphans wearing them.  Though she was being thoughtful and SWEET, what she didn't realize is that she set a new fire and passion alive in me.  Her gift hangs in our entry way and every time I see it I feel a stirring and a calling.  Though we've (Kevin and I and also as a family) talked often about finding our purpose and where God is going to use us, it seems like the door is beginning to slightly open.  NOT a clue as to how we are going to move forward but absolutely certain that we aren't going to sit still.  For now, God has revealed to us that we are to focus on becoming 100% debt free so that we are more "free" to make commitments and choices when actual doors begin to open.  Hopefully with dedication, prayer, and God's continuous blessings that goal will happen within the next 15-16 months.  I just know that I have an unquenchable desire and longing when I see those pictures.  Making those 82 dresses was just the beginning.  Yes, it was healing for me.  Yes, it became a large part of me.  Yet, there is much more waiting! 

New beginning number 10:  tomorrow starts a new chapter in our lives.  I'm blessed to be keeping a precious two month out little girl a couple of days a week.  I can't describe how it warms my heart.  It's been about 12 years since I've brought in a single penny to our budget and the bit of extra is going to help us get closer to our debt free goal a bit at a time.  However, it is WELL beyond that.  I just feel blessed.  Yes, it's going to be quite a bit of extra work and I'm going to have to be SUPER on top of my game to make sure that I keep everything needing to be done balanced.  I can't describe it.  I've heard others tell me I'm crazy to love little ones THAT much, but it's true.  I simply adore them!  I know her Mommy is DREADING tomorrow so much because her heart is so connected to her and my heart aches for her feeling that way.  Even though she knows she is going to be well cared for, it is just ripping her apart.   I would be worried if she wasn't feeling that way.  If she didn't find it difficult to leave her, I wouldn't want to be keeping her.  I don't want to keep just ANY child.  I want to keep one that it can be a ministry for and one that I can give more of myself to....not one that it's just a "job" for.  That's not who I am and I wouldn't be adding more to my "plate" if it was just a job.  I've never even held this precious wee one, but I can honestly say that she has already grown in my heart so much.  Her mommy is absolutely precious and our family loves her.  Oh...her Dad isn't too bad either!  I'm loving the influence he is already having on MY daughter by teaching her to be strong in her faith and to make a difference in this world. 

So there you have it.  An update from the Goad world.  Maybe I'll be back soon with some "deeper" posts, but for now this is what is on my heart.  Just celebrating new beginnings and thankful.  Thankful for new starts and growth.  Thankful for just the basic things that make us smile and the things that help us keep our priorities in line.   Mostly thankful that His mercies are always new every morning.  Nothing is greater than holding on to that promise!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do Not be Anxious about ANYTHING!

Time to compare a couple of Bible verses to my own life and see if I'm measuring up.

"Don't worry about ANYTHING..."

Anxious about everything.  Worrying about too much.  Head is spinning with worry. 

"Instead pray about EVERYTHING..."

Praying?  Oh yes, constantly it seems.  Yet, still not covering all the bases.  Maybe I admit to praying, but not faithfully believing often enough.

"Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done."

Thankful.  Absolutely.  More than I have ever been.  Yet, I still take things for granted.  I still feel like a "bother" with bombarding God with all the little things.

Those are the words of Philippians 4:6.  When you take it phrase by phrase and break that verse completely down, I have to admit that I'm not measuring up.  I'm letting my own head get in the way and letting worry overtake WAY too much.  Yet the Bible plainly says I'm not to worry about anything.  Period.  End of discussion.   No escape clause that says, you can worry about this, that, or the other.  No fine print that says you can worry a little or you can worry a lot as long as it doesn't get out of control.  The verse doesn't really leave any wiggle room.

Guess what the next verse says: 

"Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Did you catch that?  THEN you will experience God's peace which goes beyond and above anything I can understand.  HIS peace will overtake my heart and mind.  Oh, what beautiful words.  IF I let go of the worry and ask God what I need with a thankful heart, he will fill my mind with peace that can't be explained.  What comforting words.  What needed words.  Maybe those are words that you need to hear today as well.

I am frustrated today.  I'm overwhelmed.  I'm stressed.  I'm worrying. 

Time to stop.   Time to let it all go and let that peace overtake every cell of my body and every tiny little corner of my heart.   Just today I was reminded of how ridiculous of demands I put on myself at times.  I posted last week my goals for the week.  I met about half of them completely, a few of them partly, and a couple not at all.  Today that list was looking at me and I was furious with myself for not accomplishing them all.  I truly need to get them done to make the transition into school Thursday as smooth as possible.  I didn't make it.  However, many other things got done that weren't on the list.  I spent a full day around the clock putting up a year's worth of green beans and corn which I'm beyond thankful for.  We didn't think it was going to happen this year because produce hasn't been plentiful in our area this year.  God opened that door wide open and I had to take that opportunity when it came up...even though it put me behind on what I had expected to be doing.  I put aside the list and spent two full days with my husband and children doing only family things.  My list can wait, but my children are only in my care for so long.  My husband is my top priority outside of my relationship with Christ.  What it comes down to is this:  balance.  Kick the frustration to the curb.  Goals are just that.  Goals.  They aren't written in stone.  I will make a new list of goals for this week and go at it again.  I do think it helped keep me much more focused.  It did take a weight off of me by not having as many things running through my head.  Maybe this week I'll meet more of those goals, maybe I won't.  As long as I'm not being lazy, I'll take what I can get.  With school starting as well as many of our other activities, surviving this week with enthusiasm and a smile is my main goal.  Yippee!

For now, I'm repeating those two verses in Philippians over and over.  Actually they are running through my head in song form thanks to Seeds Family Worship.  Though I read in NLT, the songs are NIV.  So at the moment these words are bouncing through my head and beginning to reach my heart:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. "

Perhaps even more beautiful are the words that come after those verses (and after the song that I can't turn off in my head today....which is a good thing!). 

vs. 8 NLT "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."  Oh yes, what beautiful words those are.   It doesn't say think about all the things going wrong.  Think about everything that is stressing me out.  Don't worry about tomorrow.  It says FIX my thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.  Think only of things that are excellent and praise worthy.  Don't think of garbage.  Don't listen to the lies that fill my head.  Time to kick those to the curb. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm a LIAR! (Got your attention didn't it?)

Vulnerable?  Transparent?  Honest?  Revealing cracks in the armor?  Been there, done that....and about to do it again in a major way. 

Here we go. 

I have bent the truth.  I've denied telling the full or "real" story.  Therefore, truth is, I am a liar. 

There, I said it.  Deep breath. 

You see, I've talked often and consistently about how though life has been hard lately that I've found unwavering strength in God.  I've talked about how a few close friends and my husband have been lifting me and carrying me.  Those things are VERY true!  However, there is a portion I left out.   A big portion.

See, I've also had this other coping mechanism that has clung to me and is now suffocating me.  I've turned to it time and time again.  Some times purposely and others without really thinking about it, it has been my soothing source.  It's been available around the clock.  It has become a crutch so much that taking it back away is terrifying, yet necessary.

Emotional eating.  Eating for comfort.  Pouring myself in a bowl of ice-cream or a box of cereal (straight from the box!).  Running out to those places to grab a quick meal from the drive through just because I'm too emotionally zapped to think about fixing something for my family to eat for lunch.  Chocolate.  More chocolate.  Even more chocolate.  Little Debbie and I have become such close friends.  Need a sweet snack?  Got that covered.  Want something salty?  I've got that, too.  Want a combination of both of those?  Well, I've got just what you are looking for. 

Reality check.  If I'm going to be fully used by God, I have to break some relationships.  Treating my body with such disregard isn't going to get me anywhere.  It's putting a wall between myself and those I love and between myself and God at times.  Time to remove those walls....knock them down, bury the debris, and start new.

Though there was a time I could truly admit that weight gain was acceptable, I can't say that now.  For many years of steroid usage to control my lupus, gaining weight was an unfortunate side effect.  Doing anything to lose weight was greatly frowned upon because it sent my body into flare mode.  Fortunately, those days are significantly gone.  Though I still battle the disease, it's severity has dramatically lessened to the point that I can go weeks without symptoms and when they do hit it's just for a few days. 

Yet, being brutally honest, somewhere during that time I let that side effect became an excuse.  An excuse.  Not a valid reason. 

No more.

I was definitely on track last spring and early summer.  I was walking upwards of 5-6 miles a day and was making decent (not great) food choices.  I was making progress.  VERY VERY slow progress, but progress!  Life derailed and I derailed with it. 

For one thing, my Dad would kick me in the tail for letting myself "go" these last months.  He would be irate to be an excuse for not taking care of my own health. When I was doing so well last year, he was thrilled because he was worried about me not taking care of myself and was happy that I was on the right path.   It would make him furious that I have become "weak".  With so many women in our family having diabetes as well as Dad himself, he was beginning to get concerned that it would become an issue for me as I got older.  

Yet, the real turning point has come from a reality check.  When I look in the mirror, I no longer see the heart I have on the inside.  I can't see my "worth" without really looking hard to find it.  All I see now is a face I don't recognize because it's becoming more distorted with every pound.  All I see are the eyes of disappointment in myself for getting this far after working so hard to start seeing progress.  All I see is where I should be by now (goal weight) and the failures.  If I look long enough I have to turn away because my eyes reveal the truth.   When Kevin tells me I'm beautiful or I look nice, I laugh.  Can't accept his words because I don't quite believe them.  When he gives me those backwards hugs that usually make me melt, all I'm thinking is "please don't let him put his hand too far down around my fat belly, I hope he finds the "smaller" part".  The reality of the scale is a scary thing.  Though I typically don't try to go by a number because I KNOW that there is more to health than a number on the scale, reality is that number is now ridiculous.  Time to face facts.

Here is the real truth.  Though I feel like I am disappointing my family, my husband, MYSELF by not being more in control of my health and letting my emotions take over, even more alarming to me is the disappointment I feel in regards to my relationship with God.  Oh, I know without a doubt I am loved.  I know that my family doesn't give love or deny love based on a scale.  I know that God loves me even when I'm stuffing JUNK in my mouth.  I KNOW that!!!!  I BELIEVE THAT!  Yet, I'm not living up to my potential and that is wrong.  It isn't a sin to eat a fudge round (or two!).  Yet, my heart isn't in the right place and I'm not turning FULLY to God to meet my needs.  If there is anything between myself and God, I have to remove it.  No doubt about it. 

I've talked many times before about how the Holy Spirit speaks in odd ways at times but He always gets my attention.....eventually.  There have been LOTS of those moments lately.  My heart has been changed and my focus has been redirected.  I recognize that it's time to get myself back on that list and put ME first for awhile.  It isn't selfish.  It's necessary.  I had already had this change in my heart because of several different Holy Spirit moments, but I had one of those goosebumps moments while on our camping trip.  I was reading a Karen Kingsbury and the words I had been thinking and feeling were echoed in the words of one of her character word for word.  It was identical to the conversation I had in my own heart in the days before.  An echo of the heart.  It was confirmation.  Time to change.

So, here I am.  I can't make EVERY change overnight.  However, I am committed to make daily choices to move back in the right direction.   Not trying to worry about the actual number on the scale, but focus on how I feel.  A friend advised me that because I really am overwhelmed right now with so many things going on to just take a few steps every day ....don't try to do it all or I will crash and fail.  I will fail and then I will be even more disappointed in myself.  So, it's about some basic simple choices every day.  Once I get a balance on a few steps, add in more.  That is workable!  That will bring about eventual progress.  Maybe not drastically in the beginning, but as time goes on...yes!

For now, it's about getting up every morning and taking that walk by myself.  I will admit, I am LOVING it.  It is proving to be the BEST time for God and I have to some one-on-one conversations.  No kids interrupting every half second.  At most, I just have to mutter a quick "Good Morning" to others I pass along the way.  Something else I've already noticed, I have mental clarity that I've been missing so much of.  Mommy brain had been taken over.  Emotionally being drained has taken it's toll in BIG ways.  The combination of exercising and QUIET have made tremendous strides in returning the balance I am needing.  For now I'm not even taking my iPod.  I'm soaking in the silence.  I'm thinking.  I'm praying.  I'm not being still and lazy.  It's working.

I just don't want to lie anymore.  I do want God to be my TRUE source of comfort and healing, not whatever I can stuff in my mouth to soothe.  I don't want to keep lying to myself and saying I don't matter enough to take the time for myself.  I don't want to listen to anymore of the lies I tell myself.  Lying IS a sin.  Removing sin from my life is a MUST.   Praying to be a reformed liar----one that walks in truth, believes truth, and acts in truth.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

His Hand----Reaching Out---NEVER empty!

*First and foremost, I've struggled with this particular post.  In my heart, I've wanted to write it for so long and yet have been "bound" and unable.  However, today is the day that I have found that I can no longer not write it.  I literally don't think I slept a wink last night because I was tossing, turning, praying, thinking, and trying to form the words in my head. 

I've recently shared how this little blog has transformed into a ministry for me and how I seek to be used of God in every word I write.  Whether I'm telling about the ordinary days, sharing what God has revealed, or even if it's just a recipe or "how to"....I fully want to be used by God to touch someone.  *That* desire has grown drastically over the last weeks and months as I've witnessed hearts being touched and changed.  NOT by my words, but HIS through me.  When it comes to harder posts to write, I struggle.  I don't just want to "babble" or just blow off hot air.  I want my words to be His.  I struggle when those words are "too revealing" and let others see more of me than I'm comfortable sharing.  Out of my comfort zone.  I struggle when my words may hurt.  Yet, how can I be fully transparent and used by God if I'm choosing what to say and what not to say?  I'm either all in or not in at all.  I know that as a blog reader and avid book reader that my heart is moved the most and I am transformed the most when the writer allows herself/himself to be vulnerable and they share ALL of themselves.  I guess that is what scares me.  Yet, here goes....*

Ohh....warning....if I find myself able to say what I'm feeling, I know this will be even longer than my normal novels.  I try to avoid being lengthy, yet it never works that way.  :)

Some words are ugly.  Some words hurt.  Some words are tacky.  Some words are just best not said.  Some words are "4 letter" words.   Referencing 4 letter words typically conjure up images of things not to say.  However, some 4 letter words are not bad to say as in curse word category, but yet they hurt. 

Today, I'm dealing with one such 4 letter word. 


Loss, hurts.  It stings.  It rocks the foundation of everything you believe in.  When you experience loss you are on a journey that you truly have to take alone.   Though people can encourage you and support you, it's a solo journey.  No one experiences the exact same feelings and emotions that you carry.  They may can empathize and hurt with you, but their own journeys are different.  We all have our own set of emotions, our own memories, and our own way of processing every thought that enters our mind.

Loss is just an ugly word. 

Today is an anniversary of sorts for me.  Not one to celebrate, yet one to acknowledge as a "hole" maker and one that put a few cracks in my armor.  One that seemed to open the floodgate for many losses to come in the next several months. It was a loss that touched my heart in a way that I didn't know was possible.  I didn't even realize how emotional I was going to find myself in these last weeks and specifically yesterday and today. 

Today marks the day I lost something I didn't really know I wanted so dramatically at the time.  Though we weren't actively planning for a child as we had our other three, I desperately wanted to be a mother again.  To find myself with that blessing (and shock!) and then just a few short days later to have it "taken" away was hard.  Though my experience is NOTHING like the pain that some other woman I know have dealt with because we hadn't announced to others or even  had enough time to wrap our own brains and hearts around it, it still hurt.  It hit me in a deep place that I wasn't really sure existed.  Being that I value motherhood SO tremendously, it rocked me. 

Just a few days after the fact, while I was still physically struggling (not to mention emotionally and spiritually), we had the decision to make about attending Kevin's family reunion.  I was NOT ready on any level to attend, but yet we felt VERY drawn to attend.  Little did we know that that day would create such precious memories with a dear Aunt of Kevin's.  We didn't know that when we attend this year's reunion on Sunday, that it would be without her there.  Loss again.

Though we originally only dealt with the loss of our child in private (even though just BARELY a few weeks in the making, he/she was STILL our child!!!) and with the help of a few close friends (most specifically because I was physically struggling with an immediate Lupus flare-up and needed help meeting my responsibilities and taking care of the kids), a few months later I shared that "loss" on my blog.  We didn't share with any of our family at that time because it was just something we felt was between the two of us.  We had our reasons.  It was raw.  It was hard and it wasn't something I wanted to share.  Period. 

However, a few months later life took a drastic turn.  A turn that blew my mind and still does.  Dad's diagnosis.  A diagnosis that took him from a healthy, vibrant man to one that walked home with Jesus in just a whirlwind of 5 weeks.  An emotional journey that stretched and pulled my faith in every which direction and then some (and still does!).  Having just recently experienced loss on so many levels (a child, family member, a large financial loss, etc...), God began a work in my heart like never before.  I have no regrets.  He had my attention in a way like never before.  Through all of the pain and confusion I was experiencing, I was hearing His voice speaking to me like never before.  He was so close I could almost feel His breath on my neck.  When I couldn't breathe, I could feel Him breathing for me.  It was like when I found myself in those panic attack modes, I could feel Him lifting my chest to allow the air to come through.  For those of you that have ever suffered one, you know that feeling of an elephant sitting on you.  Every thing tingling and on fire as you struggle to get a breath.  He was so close that I could feel Him letting that air fill my chest.  Often.  So close that this highly emotional basket case of a woman was able to be calm and had a strength that she didn't know existed. 

In one of those moments of Him breathing for me, I began to understand some of why we had gone through the loss of our child.  Though I'd not shared that part of me openly with many people, I talked with Kevin and asked if I could blog about what I was feeling.  With his permission, I wrote a post that shared how even though I didn't understand why some things were happening that I trusted God.  Though His will and my will weren't matching up, HIS WAS PERFECT.  Here.  I briefly mentioned our heartache ONLY because I felt led to share that part of us because it revealed how God was at work in our lives EVEN through the painful things we don't understand.  It was my way of writing about how that in seeking to relinquish all control of our lives to God, that we have to take the hard things with the good.  Though I received some precious responses to that post, some that showed me that I had done EXACTLY what God was asking when I was that transparent about pain we were experiencing.  There was one response that brought about another loss. 

A family member took that post and COMPLETELY missed the entire point.  Without going into details, from that point on I have no longer been "worthy" to be in her life.  Someone that SHOULD have been a great support in the last months has been completely absent.  Not a single acknowledgment to me personally in the greatest loss I've ever experienced (Dad).  No follow up to see how the kids are doing.  Not a single, I'm sorry for your loss or how are you doing.  "Unfriending" me from facebook that serves no purpose except to keep her from seeing a window into our lives and the lives of my children.   Nothing in nearly 9 months.  Another loss.   One painful loss leading to another.  Yet, HERE is the truth.  I forgive.  I carry on.  Yet, it will NEVER be the same.  NEVER.   When a parent walks away from a child or a grandchild, there are just some things that can NEVER be the same.  EVER.  Forgiveness doesn't mean I lay myself back down to be stepped all over. Forgiveness isn't forgetting.  Forgiveness comes from the heart (which I can control) and forgetting comes from the brain (which I can not control).  Forgiveness means I release you.  Forgiveness doesn't mean the pain disappears.  I still have to grieve for the loss and still feel the pain from the wound left behind.  It's a process.

Even though my heart is heavy today over those losses it brings an even greater reminder of how I'm still struggling with my greatest loss.  Dad.  Security.  The loss of "normalcy".  The loss of a rock.

Loss is an ugly word.  It creates UGLY emotions.  It makes me act ways that I truly don't want to be guilty of.  I find myself out of balance and I'm short with the kids.  Or my emotions are so raw that I don't know how to handle being so emotionally overwhelmed and it causes breakdown of communication with my husband.  I even admit to bits of depression creeping in.  It's a snowball effect. 

Yet, there is something important to remember.  Though I do feel alone because no one can understand 100% what it is like to be in my head/heart (just as I can't fully get into theirs no matter how close we are!), I'm not alone.  I have Christ walking and breathing with me.  He knows feelings of loss.  He knows anger.  He knows bitterness and betrayal.  He knows what it is like to have someone turn their back on you during your greatest need.  He knows!  He KNOWS!

Give me a minute to show a few more cracks in my armor.  What many of you comment about seeing in me: strength, faithfulness, grace, etc... is NOT me.  I am nothing.  I am incapable of doing a single thing on my own.  I'm weak.  I'm emotional.  I'm selfish.  I'm broken.  I carry scars that few people know about.  I try hard to keep up the outward facade of strength, yet I'm a broken individual on the inside.  Don't let the outward appearance fool you. 

The whole point of this post and what I want you to SOAK in (if you've managed to hold on this long and haven't fallen asleep or flipped to another page in cyberworld).  The reason why I'm risking so much by being so vulnerable, transparent, and honest.  The reason why I've struggled with how to write this EFFECTIVELY is this:

I am not who you see.  Anything and everything good you see in me is NOT me.  It's Christ.  HE is the ONE that binds up my brokenness and puts PURE, REAL, UNDILUTED joy in me.  HE is the ONE that comforts when no one else can.  HE is the ONE that lets me put aside REAL hurt and focus on others.  He is the ONE that lets me love my husband completely, thoroughly, and relentlessly.  He is the ONE that teaches me how to love my children unconditionally and give to them when I don't feel like I have an ounce left to give.  He is the ONE that really sees my inner battles and LOVES ME DESPITE of it all.  When I can't look inside myself and feel anything worthwhile (because I've listened to the lies of the devil, the lies of the world, and lies that people have told me), HE is the ONE that sees it.  He sees the REAL me and loves me, unconditionally!

You see, I know that though our  "hurts" and "inner battles" may be different (though some may be the same since there are things that we all tend to battle!) some of you are struggling just as I am.  Struggling to bridge the gap between the person we feel like and the person that God sees.  Struggling to bridge the gap between the person we want to be in Christ and the person that we are.  You feel some of those same painful losses and wonder WHY?  You battle some of those same feelings of being overwhelmed.  You feel like your world is caving in.  No one really understands the REAL battles you are facing.  They don't see the REAL you under the "strong" outer shell.  You feel like if they saw the REAL you that they would run away and abandon you.  Let's face it:  some people REALLY do turn their backs on us.  It hurts.  Sometimes we really do face a loss that shakes every cell in our body. 

What do we do? 

That is the simple part.  That is the easiest part to write.  TURN to God!  Let Him wrap His arms around you.  Reach out to HIM.  He isn't going to disappoint.  Yes, our situations may not change.  Pain is still VERY real.  But what we find in Him is indescribable.  He takes the "un" out of the word "unworthy" and shows us just how valuable we are in His eyes.  So valuable that He sent His only son to die for us.  No matter what self-esteem issues you battle or what you see when you look in the mirror, GOD loves you.  He is just as close as the air we breathe.  No matter how tough the situations we are facing may feel or how out of control it seems, God is a constant.  He doesn't abandon.  He doesn't turn away when we need Him most.  Instead of turning away, He just stretches out His hand.  The hand that gives strength when we have none.  The hand that wipes away tears, even the most secret ones we hide from the world.  The hand that leads the way when we don't know which path to take.  The hand that defends and protects.  The hand that lovingly corrects.  The hand that loves us right where we are and just as we are, but loves us enough to not leave us that way. 

Today, I'm reaching out to that hand.  Reaching out to that hand that understands every emotion I'm feeling and every painful part.  Reaching out to the hand that belongs to the person that sees all of me, every hidden recess, and doesn't walk way.  He just reaches His hand out a little bit closer when I'm unable to reach up to Him.  Reaching out to the hand that has my name written in it.  It has yours, too.

Isaiah 49:16 tells that he has written or engraved our names in the palm of his hand.  God can't forget us even when we feel like others have.  He can't.  Our names are written in His hand.  Though some of us may be forgetful and have to write notes on our hands to remember things, He doesnt' forget.  Our names don't wash away.  They are ENGRAVED or TATTOOED on His hand.  He doesn't wipe our names away when we fail.  Whether or not our hearts are open to feeling His love at any particular moment, it doesn't matter.  HE LOVES US!  We can't take that way.  Even if we run away from Him, He is just waiting for us to come back.  Just like the prodigal son.  He searches for us and wants us to come back.  Just like the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep.  We can't outrun Him.  We can't hide from Him.  No matter what we've done or no matter what we see when we look in the mirror, HE LOVES US.  He loves you.  He loves me.  We can fully place our trust in Him. 

That is what I'm clinging to today and every day.  Though my heart is heavy and my emotions are raw.  Though my questions are many and answers are few.  Though wounds are painful.  I'm reaching out to that hand, and I KNOW my hand won't come back empty.

In closing, (finally!!!!!)...I leave you with these words that have been going through my heart over and over today.  Words of a song that means so much. 

In Christ alone

I place my trust

And find my glory in the power of the cross

In every victory

Let it be said of me

My source of strength

My source of hope

Is Christ alone

In Christ alone do I glory

For only by His grace I am redeemed

For only His tender mercy

Could reach beyond my weakness to my need

And now I seek no greater honor in just to know Him more

And to count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord