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Last year I celebrated Christmas quietly at home with just my husband, my children, and my mother-in-law. My body was weak from six rounds of chemo and I was emotionally drained from the battle we were waging--both physically and spiritually-- for my health. But my spirit remained joyful--hopeful.

I saw Christmas in a new light. Sure, I had a new perspective on what truly matters in life, as often happens when you face a crisis. But more than a revelation on the value of life, I had a new perspective on the whole purpose of Christmas. Suddenly, it was more than a simple story of faith. It was now a glaring declaration of God's love for us...for you, for me, for each of us individually.

Isaiah 9:6

It wasn't long after that weary Christmas Day that I received a Compassion Bag from Compassion That Compels. Since then, I've been privileged to write for their ministry and have grown to love Kristianne and her heart for women battling cancer.

This year, I will gather with all my family and celebrate Christmas CANCER FREE!! I'm talking about it over at Compassion That Compels...won't you join me there? While you're there, consider sponsoring a Compassion Bag for someone battling cancer. She'll appreciate it more than you'll know...trust me. And maybe next year, she'll be sharing her own story of victory!

Read the rest here.

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It happens about this time each year...I begin the slow transformation into Frantic-Crazy-Christmas Mom. Armed with my long list of must-do, have-to-do, and want-to-do items, I hit the ground running on December 1. My transformation escalates as Christmas parties, obligations, shopping excursions, baking, wrapping, and travel fill the calendar. By the time December 25 rolls around, I've gone from Buddy the Elf to Mrs. Scrooge in a mere 3 1/2 weeks.

Last year was the first time in a long time that didn't happen. I was finishing up six rounds of chemotherapy, so I determined to focus on my health and my family and not worry about the rest of it. It was one of the most relaxed, enjoyable Christmases I can remember.

Even though I am recovering from two surgeries this year, every fiber of my hard-core, overachieving self wanted to jump back into the frenzy. I wanted to try every holiday recipe on Pinterest and every DIY wreath project on my FB feed! (Never mind the fact that I have been banned from using a glue gun on more than one occasion!)

But if there's one thing I've learned in our journey over the last 14 months, it's to focus on the truly important things. There's nothing wrong with Christmas parties and homemade gifts, but when my time and energy are consumed with accomplishing my to-do list, there's no time or energy left for what really matters...people. That's when it's time to kick the crazy to the curb!

5 simple steps to kick crazy to the curb this holiday season (plus resources!)
photo credit: nineminutes via photopin cc

1. Make a plan. We sat down as a family a few weeks ago and made a plan for our holiday season. We asked the kids their favorite traditions--foods, activities, events, etc. Then we scheduled those on the calendar; the rest are optional. We even gained an entire evening in December when we discovered an event we were all OK skipping!

2. Create time for family. We just completed a marathon trip for Thanksgiving--3 destinations and 19 hours in the van over 5 days. Why? Because we saw more family in those five days than we've seen all year. Yes, it was exhausting, but we'd do it all again in a heartbeat. If we wait to find time for family, we never will; we have to be intentional to create time for them.

3. Focus on giving, not getting. We asked our kids, "If you got only one gift from Mom & Dad this year, what would you want it to be?" Don't worry, our kids will not be deprived of Christmas gifts this year, but that question accomplished a couple of things: 1. It helped us hone in on the one thing they really want (as opposed to the 1,463 items they circle in the toy catalog!), and 2. It tapered their expectations (because they will never get all 1,463 things they circle in that catalog!)

I'm confident our kids understand Christmas is about Jesus, not about gifts and stockings. But this year, we wanted to be intentional about giving to and doing for others. We found opportunities through organizations like Operation Christmas Child as well as making special gifts for individuals in our lives.

4. Find silence. My favorite spot in the month of December is in front of the fire place with the Christmas lights on. I'll wake up early and curl up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of coffee. Then I simply sit and bask in the silence. Sometimes it's only 10 minutes before all my creatures start stirring, but those 10 minutes of calm will give me enough sanity to make it through the day!

5. Remember Jesus. That seems so simple, really--almost trite. Of course, we know Christmas is about Baby Jesus in the manger, but too often we stop there. We forget that Baby grew up--then gave up His life for us. Too many times we forget that part until Easter.

But that's what Christmas is really about...it's more than the fact that Jesus came, it's why He came. He came because God loves us so much that He could not leave us where we were. He loves us so much He wants a relationship with us, and that could only happen through Jesus.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:16, The Message)

You don't need more things to do this Christmas. But if you'll take a few minutes each day to focus on God and thank Him for Christmas, it will go a long way in keeping the crazy out!

How do you stay focused and keep the crazy out during the holiday season?

It's not too late to start an Advent reading to help you keep your focus. Here are some great resources to get you started:

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room by Nancy Guthrie
Jesus: Light of the World by Candace Crabtree

Free resources
The Dawning Indestructible Joy by John Piper (free download for December 2014)
The Hope of Christmas
Advent: Preparing to Celebrate Christ's Birth by Billy Graham

For kids & families
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift
Truth in the Tinsel
More than Candy
Check these 4 Advent Resources for kids

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I'm so excited to introduce another guest blogger to you. I only met Fawn a couple of years ago, but we quickly realized we share a love for writing, blogging, a good laugh, and a heartfelt, 3-hour conversation over breakfast. Her desire to give back and help others is inspiring, and her organizational and tech-savvy skills know no bounds. Today's post is evidence of that as she shares a simple and easy idea for solving an age-old problem: How to Tame the Polar Gear Vortex!

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Last winter was an especially brutal one, and both the weather forecasters and the persimmon seeds are predicting much of the same this winter. If you're like me, you're probably not looking forward to the cold temps OR the process of bundling and unbundling the entire family every time you leave the house.

Last year I got so tired of piles of wet things at my front door and searching for that one missing mitten, so I decided to do something about it. We don't have a lot of storage space in our entry way, so I wanted to add something that would help corall hats, mittens, and scarves and free up more floor space for boots. The floating basket idea was born.

Tame the Polar Gear Vortex...a simple solution to organize your winter gear.

Supplies for the project:

  • Plastic or other sturdy basket/container (I used three – one for each child and one for my husband and I to share)
  • Level
  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer
  • Drill or screwdriver
  • Pencil
  • Finishing Nails
  • Wall Screws

I found my baskets in the bathroom section at Target. They are Curver Style brand in size small. I chose them because they are made from recyclable plastic, so they would be waterproof and easy to wipe down. They also have an open weave design that makes it easy to hang them on the wall, and they don’t look like a plastic bin (IMO).

Steps:

  1. Determine approximate location where you want to hang your first bin. Hold it up to the wall and make sure it is level.bin leveling
  2. Mark where your nails/screws to hold the basket up will go with a pencil. Depending on the style of your basket, you may have to drill holes through the basket for hanging first. bin marking
  3. Take the basket off the wall and hammer the finishing nails into the pencil marks. Then, remove the nails, hold the basket back up to the wall, and push the nails back in so the basket is hanging on the wall. The finishing nails let you make adjustments if needed without making big holes in the wall. bin screw2
  4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 for all of your containers. I used a measuring tape to measure out the spacing so it would be even. bin measuring
  5. Once you have the bins hanging where you want them, screw them into place with wall screws. Try to get a screw that matches the color of your basket, or you can paint the screw head. bin screw
  6. Fill those bins with the cozy gear everyone needs to keep warm!

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In the summer time, our floating baskets transition to hold summer gear – one for small outdoor toys, one for sunscreens and bug sprays, and one for first aid and sunglasses.

summer bins

Total cost was less than $35, and the kids no longer have excuses for missing gloves and hats!

fawn (1)Fawn Rechkemmer writes about motherhood, being green, health and fitness, travel, and more on her blog, Instead of the Dishes.  She lives in Southwest Missouri with her husband and two children, where she is a freelance writer, editor, and PR consultant. 

 

 

If you have a child with food allergies, you know the fear that Halloween brings--not fear of the tricks, mind you, but fear of the treats. Any occasion that encourages my allergic child to accumulate a mountain of candy from a variety of sources is enough to strike fear into this Mama's heart.

As a general rule, I tend to reside in the "our children are overly-sugared" camp. Still, I would never dream of depriving a child the ritualistic pleasure of loading up on the goods on Halloween. And that includes my child with food allergies.

I want him to enjoy the gathering, sorting, swapping, and (rationed) consumption of his treasure just as much as his sister does. But since those shiny wrappers also contain a potentially life-threatening reaction, there needs to be an extra "layer" of precaution. No one wants to end Halloween with an Epi injection and a trip to the ER (or worse!).

So, how do you have a happy and safe Halloween with food allergies?

5 Tips for a Successful Halloween with Food Allergies | thereisgrace.com

1. Know the Source
We don't do much door-to-door trick-or-treating. Between events at our church and my husband's workplace, we end up with plenty of candy and most of the porch lights are off by the time we roll back into our neighborhood. Since those establishments only pass out individually-wrapped candy, I know the ingredients can be easily checked and cross-contamination is at a minimum. Stick with houses (or business establishments/organizations) you know and trust.

2. Check the goods
What kid doesn't like to take inventory of their stash as soon as they get home? This is not only fun, it's also necessary for food allergies. My son sorts his candy into three stacks: candy he knows is safe, candy he knows is unsafe, and candy we need to check. If the ingredients are listed on the candy itself (and many are), it makes checking for allergens quick and simple. If they are not listed, a quick visit to the manufacturer's web site will usually do the trick; most list ingredients of their candies there. SnackSafely.com  provides a comprehensive list of peanut- and tree-nut free snacks (and many egg-free snacks). Click here for their special Halloween edition.

3. Make the swap
After the sorting and checking is done,  the swapping can begin. My son's first option is his sister. Since most chocolate is off-limits for him (because most contain soy), this works out well for Sis. :) She's quick to swap him her Skittles and Smarties for his Reese's and Butterfingers. If there are leftovers once bartering is done, he can then swap with me: I keep a supply of "safe" treats on hand that he can swap for his unsafe treats. I recently came across this idea of "buying" Halloween candy from your kids; I'm seriously thinking of using it this year!

4. Think outside the candy wrapper
The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages families to offer alternative, non-food treats as an option for kids with allergies or other dietary needs. Their goal is to raise awareness of food allergies, but I think it's also a great way to provide a little variety. Yes, Halloween becomes mostly about the candy, but it's ultimately about the fun. So, thinking of treats beyond the sugary kind is fair game. If you're worried about competing with those neighbors who offer full-size candy bars, check out this article with a great list of non-food treats that are sure to be a hit!

5. Enjoy!
When you live with food allergies (or have a child who does) any event, holiday, or celebration that includes food prepared by someone else brings with it a level of stress. The key to managing that stress is balance: be informed, be diligent, and be safe. Beyond that, relax and have fun. I want my son to be equipped with the information he needs to be safe. And then I want him to go out there and have some fun!

Looking for more resources for a Safe (allergy-friendly) Halloween?
4 Halloween Strategies for Accommodating Kids with Food Allergies
Tips to Trick-or-Treat Safely
Food Allergy-friendly Candy and Treats
Yes, Your Kids Can Still Trick-or-Treat with a Food Allergy
The Scariest Part of Halloween Can Be Dealing with Food Allergies

It won't be long before Holiday Parties are here. Find out how we navigate those with food allergies, too!

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I love hearing stories of God's grace in the lives of others. I love it even more when it's someone I've watched walk through the pain and into a deeper understanding of the grace God gives us. I'm honored to have one of those special people sharing here today.

I first met Christy when she was my sister's roommate in college. Years later, I would work alongside her in a ministry office. I had no idea the pain that was hiding behind her beautiful (and consistent) smile every day. Christy's story reveals a pain I know so many have faced, and I'm thankful she's sharing her it here today...

Walking the path of heartache can be full of dark days, but, when offered to God, the beauty born in that darkness has divine purpose | thereisgrace.com

My first marriage was the most painful experience of my life but it’s also where I learned the depths of God’s love and healing. Because of that, I open my heart and let others see where I have traveled.

I married a man I met at Bible College and embarked on what I thought would be my dreams come true. Within the first year, I began to see signs of addiction but I didn’t have the life skills to truly recognize the red flags. So, I just kept thinking things would get back to normal.

By the third year, he was someone I didn’t know – from alcohol to drugs to pornography to gambling to unexplained absences and I had no idea what to do. I hid. I cried. I prayed. I stuffed those emotions that were desperate to get out.

Day after day, I prayed and clung to God in a way I never thought possible. Yet, there was no change and I was stuck relationally. I was a married woman living the life of a very single woman – spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially.

I went through years of heartbreak, disappointment and deception caused by the one man who swore to protect, cherish and love me. He broke every promise he ever made and, in the process, he broke my heart. I didn’t know the damage that was being done at the time because I was just trying to survive.

After seven years of this cycle, something clicked inside me and I decided it was time to leave. So, I moved back home and he went to a program called Teen Challenge.

During that year and a half he was in Teen Challenge, I started dealing with my pain and emotions. While working through the disappointment my life had become, I found that God still had many dreams He wanted to bring to pass. I went back to college to finish my associate’s degree. I began to blossom into me – a stronger me. It was the beginning of my independence and finding the woman God created.

After completing Teen Challenge, he did well for a few months but then relapsed. After ten years of marriage and no real change, I could no longer keep walking this road. I felt a release to move on without him.

I filed for divorce and moved to Missouri to finish my bachelor’s degree. It was really hard to leave my family and friends who had become my comfort and support system, but I knew it was time for the next season of my life.

Today, I stand on the other side of that whole experience a different person. I have met and married my soul mate – a word I could never truly use before. While I have other battles to face, my life is full and my heart is whole. Those years of brokenness not only gave me perspective, but I also learned some key lessons.

The enemy’s plan is to snuff out life, especially when it’s painful, but God’s plan is to grow beauty and purpose from pain. Walking the path of heartache can be full of dark days, but, when offered to God, the beauty born in that darkness has divine purpose. God grew me into a woman that solely depends on Him and has used my story to minister to others in a way it never could have had I not gone through that painful time.

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:10)

When I was entangled in heartache, it was so easy to stop living, but God didn’t create me to just exist. Living through pain takes courage but it doesn’t have to be in my own strength. On the days I didn’t want to do life, I found that God’s sustaining strength was perfected in me through my weakness.

Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:19)

I could look back on those years and see them as wasted, but God doesn’t waste pain. In fact, He specializes in bringing the spectacular from pain. God has redeemed beyond what I lost in my first marriage and He has used my suffering to bring others to His healing hand.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50:20)

Christy is a city girl from Oklahoma who has converted to country living in Missouri with her husband, Dave. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, chocolate chip cookies and deep conversation. Christy blogs about her life experiences and how she walks out her faith in every season. Visit her at In the Making.

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There's nothing quite like a girls' weekend, am I right ladies? We all love our families, but there's something about being with people who don't need you to cut their meat or sign another permission slip. And it's all the better when those people are some of your dearest girlfriends...girls who share similar interests and with whom you can just be you... not mom, not homemaker, not chief cook and bottle washer...just a girl in cute shoes and a carefree smile.

I had the chance to do just that a couple of weeks ago. I spent three days with a few girlfriends (over 7,000 girlfriends, to be exact) at the Designed for Life Conference. It was an amazing time of worship, laughter, fun treats, and challenging messages. If you've never experienced a dynamic women's conference, here's why you should consider coming to Designed for Life next year:

7 Reasons You need to attend the Designed for Life conference | thereisgrace.com

Girl time: I promise you won't have to wipe anyone's nose or watch any Nick Jr. You can spend your whole time talking about frivolous things like shoes and handbags or dive into the deep end and discuss the deeper meanings of life.

The Boutique: Seriously, I'm not even a hard-core shopper, and I love the boutique! So much fun stuff...and you can shop as long as you want without having to take someone to the bathroom!

Fun Surprises: Pre-service games and giveaways to special gifts and parting treats. You'll be thrilled and treasured all at the same time. If gifts is your love language, do NOT miss this conference!

designed-for-life-2
Special thanks to my friends for letting me hijack their cute pic! ;)

Connection: Whether you come with a group or by yourself, you'll find unexpected friendships born and established friendships grow deeper. If you end up coming alone, don't worry, there's The Meeting Place where you can connect with other girls. Who knows, you might just make a lifelong friend!

Amazing worship: From the first note, worship at DFL is full-on. There's no "building up to the final session." The DFL worship team comes to worship from the get-go. If you're not ready to jump in at first, don't worry, you will be soon!

Challenging speakers: Chris Caine, Priscilla Shirer, Charlotte Gambill...these are the powerhouse women who brought God's Word to the conference this year. They are world-renown, quality teachers of the Word. And they did not disappoint. Check out the speakers for next year's conference...you don't want to miss it.

God moments: There's something about getting away from the normal routine of life and setting aside time to focus on God and all that He has for you. Yes, God speaks to us in our everyday moments, but I believe it's in those moments we truly set aside for Him that He can do even greater things in us. That's what DFL is all about.

Each session this year felt like the message was specifically targeted to me, personally, and my situation. And I talked to so many other girls who felt the same way. Only God could do that, and that's ultimately what makes DFL a conference worth coming to...God shows up and meets you where you are.

I realize a big conference isn't everyone's "thing." If that's you, I understand. But I want to encourage you to not let your personal preference keep you from all that God has for you. You will be a better woman, wife, mother, employee, and friend when you go back home. Because no one can encounter God for three days straight and not leave changed.

DFL Recap - 2015 Promo from James River Church on Vimeo.

Check out what's in store for DFL 2015.

Alright, DFL sisters...these were only 7 reasons. What are your favorite reasons for coming to DFL? What was your favorite DFL memory? Let me hear from you!

 

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My love affair with fall flavors is no secret. Each year when the leaves begin to turn and there's a hint of crispness in the air, I get an uncontrollable urge to bake. I don't just stick with tried-and-true recipes, either. I scour Pinterest for the latest concoction of fall delicacies. In fact, I've got an entire Pinterest Board dedicated to it!

I'm not picky, either...if it's got apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, or any combination of them, I'll try it. That usually makes my family nervous...especially my husband whose mantra is, "If it's not broke, don't fix it" (meaning, don't mess with what already works). But I like to branch out and try new things. Most of the time it turns out well. Sometimes it doesn't.

Then there are those moments when you find...perfection. One recipe that becomes a staple each season. One that you look forward to making...and sharing...and eating every year. Like this decadent Apple Spice Cake that has served my family well for more than 10 years.

Sure, you could make this cake anytime with your average, store-bought apples. And it will be good. But it won't be the same as making it in the fall with fresh, locally-grown apples...yum!

A nut-free recipe for Apple Spice Cake with options for egg-free/dairy-free. Perfect for Fall!

That's why I'm sharing the recipe for Foodie Friday over at Missouri Women Bloggers. Hop on over to check it out; you won't be disappointed! (Yes, it's got sugar, and for those who know me...no, I didn't eat any this year!) ;)

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It's officially Fall...my FAVORITE time of year. Here in the Midwest, that means cooler weather, warm beverages, pumpkin yumminess, and of course, the seasonal clothing switch-out.

Unless you have closets the size of my garage, you know what I mean: twice a year (in the spring and in the fall) you pack away all your off-season clothes and unpack appropriate wear for the upcoming season (good-bye flip flops; hello hoodies and boots!).

If you have children who are still growing, you know this is also a great opportunity to take inventory of what still fits and what needs to be purchased before the temperature drops too far. And, if you have kids in that age range, you're familiar with the concept of a children's consignment sale--an event where mothers can bring clothing, toys, books, DVDs, electronics, etc. their children have outgrown and offer them up for a reasonable price (usually). For a mom, it's a great way to clean out those closets, make a little cash, and stock your child's entire wardrobe for the upcoming season.

And that is exactly what I do.

There's just one problem: once I'm in this giant sale, with so many cute outfits and adorable shoes, my eyes glaze over and I go garage-sale crazy. You know the condition...it's usually preceded by such statements as: "I'm not sure this will fit her, but it's only $3!" And "I doubt he'll ever wear this, but how can I pass it up? It's such a great deal!"

Yes, my friends: Garage Sale Crazy.

That is how we end up with 247  shirts (195 of which are black with a cute character on the front), but only 3 pair of pants for each child.

After years of this struggle, I've determined I need a plan going into such situations. I can no longer rely on my memory alone to guide me. I need a list (oh, how I do love lists!).

So, I created one. (Actually, I created two...one for boys, one for girls.)

Ever wished you had a list of the clothes your child needs for the upcoming season. Well, here you go! Free printable of Fall clothing for boys and girls | www.thereisgrace.com

Ever wished you had a list of the clothes your child needs for the upcoming season. Well, here you go! Free printable of Fall clothing for boys and girls | www.thereisgrace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then I thought, Hey. I bet other moms could use the same thing.

So I decided to share it with you.

Whether you use it for a consignment sale, garage/yard sale shopping, or just tuck it in your purse in case you hit a sale at the mall, I hope you find it helpful.

You can track of the basics your children still need (undies, socks, PJs, shirts, pants), plus how many and what colors. (Anyone else ever end up with 15 pair of white leggings, when you really need brown?)

There's also a place for seasonal items like holiday outfits and snow suit/boots so you won't be the mom at Target the night before the big snow storm, fighting over the last pair of size 2 snow boots. ;)

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Click to download: Fall Clothes Printable-BOYS, Fall-Clothes-Printable-GIRLS

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Don't let the title fool you...I have never been Miss American anything! Today, I am honored to welcome my good friend Casey Gibbons of Realife Casey.

I first met Casey more than 15 years ago when she began attending the youth ministry where I volunteered. As I got to know Casey over the next few years, a great friendship blossomed and grew. We have spent hours talking about ministry and writing, sharing motherhood woes and triumphs,  and walking through personal and physical challenges together. Now, we have the privilege of watching our children grow in friendship (a blessing to this Mama, for sure!).

As a wife, mom to 6, writer, ministry leader, and blogger, Casey is one of those "how does she do it all?" women. But she's the first to tell you she relies heavily on grace (and admit sometimes it doesn't all get done!) She remains as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, and she has graciously allowed me to share this post (from June 2013) about her experience as Miss American Teen. Please welcome, my  friend Casey Gibbons:

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As a former pageant girl, you can imagine my excitement when I turned on the TV last night to check the weather only to find that the Miss USA competition was just begininng! It was perfect timing. My husband was already in bed so I didn't have to turn it off due to immodesty and my five little girls were in bed so I didn't have to have a two hour training session on finding confidence aside from how a person looks. It was just me and the tv.

Although pageants are much different than when I participated, a flash of memory lane rushed through my body. It was 15 years ago that I was crowned Miss American Teen 1998 in Orlando, FL. It was a dream come true for my 18 yr old world. After months of hard work preparation and competition, God allowed me to win the national title. Yes, I cried. My family cheered. My hometown celebrated. My school friends went fan crazy. And I spent the next year going all over the country speaking, helping causes, serving communities, and living it up best I could.

Without boring most of you, all I can say about my pageant experiences was that I had the time of my life. My whole family participated with all the excitement. For us, it was making memories and doing something together. And I learned how to handle myself in public speaking and formal settings. I was challenged in my ability to lead in the community and in my school with grades and participation. My body was held accountable and my mind was sharpened during those days. In addition, I made a ton of friends and was able to share Christ to hundreds of girls.

Fast forward to now. As my eyes are glazed over thinking about my time "conquering the world" with a young in-shape body, glamorous clothes, fancy food, high-rise hotels, personal makeup and hair artists, talent shows and fame, I am keenly aware of my current state of being.

Miss-American-Teen-3

My body has given birth to five children, my clothes are worn out Pj's, my food tonight is animal crackers and yogurt served in a Veggie Tales bowl, my housing arrangement is a low-rise that smells like rotten eggs from the soaking pan days old, my hair hasn't been washed in four days, I haven't worn an ounce of makeup for over two weeks, my talent consists of rocking my coughing toddler back to sleep, and I am now famous among needy EGR (extra grace required) teenage girls who are texting me even though we just got home from being together for a week.

Yes, life is different now. But I am writing today with good news! There is a verse Paul wrote in Philippians 4 that challenges me.

I don't have a sense of needing anything personally. I have learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I am just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Philippians 4:11-13, The Message)

There is such a strength in being content in all circumstances. Although I had wonderful memories from my pageant days, I can be content in the current stage of life! My joy and satisfaction comes from the Lord, not in how outward things are going for me. As I sit here looking and feeling completely different than 15 years ago, I am still full of joy at the place God has me. This doesn't make sense in natural thinking but it's true! As long as you are where God wants you to be doing what He wants you to do then you will be okay!

Don't fret friends! Don't look to your past accomplishments and wishful thinking for the "old days". God has a plan for you TODAY in the workplace, the home, the school, the church, the store, on vacation, and anywhere else you find yourself! You may be have different circumstances but God is with you! Because of the joy that can only come by God's grace, I am loving my life and you can too! There is no need to wait for things to "be like they used to be" so we can be happy again. Life changes. Things happen. We have a promise from the Lord that He is with us and will give us all we need to face life as it is, today!

So, I don't know about you but I am embracing my place in the world I now live in. I am not 18 and I am not a pageant girl. But what I am is a woman who is content is all cirmcumstances at all times as the Lord gives me strength.

I praise Him for the past, lean on Him in the present and look with anticipation for the future! And my prayer is that you will too.

caseyCasey is author of A Girl's Life with God and well-known speaker to girls of all ages. She has been married to her best friend, Scotty, for 14 years. They have five daughters, ages 12, 10, 9, 7, and 4, and they welcomed their first son this summer!  Casey blogs about motherhood, ministry, home education, and life in general at Realife Casey!

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This summer, my family and I visited the beach. That's a pretty big deal for this Midwestern girl. I can probably count on two hands the times I've seen the ocean up close and personal.

As every girl knows, a trip to the beach requires a new swimsuit...which, of course, means the dreaded trip to find a new swimsuit. Such a trip would have been traumatic enough in my 20s as I would have lamented over my not-so-supermodel physique. (Oh, the things we worry about in our 20s!) It would have been slightly more troubling in my 30s as I attempted to camouflage the effects of birthing two babies and the toll those babies had taken on my body. But in my 40s...

Well, in my 40s one would hope it would have been different.

I've heard it said, and I believe it to be true, that after 40 you really don't care what others think. Sure, I'd like to look like Cindy Crawford, but that ain't gonna happen. I've stopped holding on to the dream. I have finally found comfort in my own skin and come to grips with my own physique...cue the victory parade!

But now I faced a new obstacle: scars.

scars

My first surgery in 2010 left me with a 6-inch scar running down the back of my left thigh. Of course I know it's there, but since it's on the back of my leg and it's faded over the last few years, it's easy to forget about. This time, however, there was a new scar, and this one wasn't so easy to hide...my port.

For those who don't know, a port is a small device implanted just under the skin for the purpose of delivering chemotherapy drugs. While I am thankful to have had it during chemo, I wasn't looking forward to toting it along on my vacation. It's implanted right under my right collar bone, so it was easy to cover up with clothing through the long, cold winter. But now it was swim suit season. That was a whole new ball game.

Unlike the one on the back of my leg, this was one scar I could not ignore. When someone looked at my face, there it was...a few inches below my chin, looking like it was about to burst out from under my skin. It was unmistakable. It was unavoidable.

That is when I decided...it would just have to be seen, and I (and everyone at Ft. Walton Beach) would just have to live with it!

Strangely enough, it didn't bother me once my feet hit the sand. :) I figured those who didn't know what it was could probably care less. And those who did know what it was...well, they would understand.

They would know that it's more than an ugly protrusion under my skin.

More than a disfigurement.

It's a physical marker of the battle I am waging. A weapon in my arsenal.

That's the thing about scars...those of us who have them understand what they represent. We don't see the ugly or the imperfection. We see the struggle. The fight. The victory.

As I type this, I am recovering from yet another surgery, and I have yet another scar. Before all is said and done, I'll likely have two more.

I don't like scars. Not because they're ugly, but because they represent pain. Deep pain. Pain no one should have to endure.

They remind us of a time when we were weak, vulnerable.

And for that reason, I'm learning to appreciate my scars. I don't know that I'll ever grow to love them. But I pray I will always remember what they represent...

"My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)

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