Family

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School starts today, at least for most of the friends in our smallish community. This is the day my Facebook feed will be packed with excited faces, posed eagerly in front of a school building with brand new clothes and a heavily-laden backpack. But for the first time in five years, my kids won't be with them. I won't be driving them to school, and we won't walk down those familiar halls packed with anxious parents to the freshly-decorated room they will call home for the next nine months.

This is the year my kids (and I) begin a new adventure: homeschool.

How and Why We Made the Transition from Public School to Homeschool | www.thereisgrace.com

It still seems a little strange to say, We are homeschooling. Not strange in an uneasy way, but strange in a "we're about to embark on a whole new way of life" way.

I am a firm believer that a family's decision of how to educate their children is a very personal one. In fact, the goal of The Great {Education} Debate series I did a couple of years ago was to explore the different educational options that work for different families in different situations.

In that series, I was very open about Why We Chose Public School, and as I recently reread that post, I realized I still stand behind everything I said. It was the right decision for our family at that time. When I wrote it two years ago, homeschooling was the furthest thing from my mind, but God has a funny sense of humor. In fact, I chuckled when I read this quote I wrote back then:

public-school-3

Ironic, that the very principle that confirmed our decision for public school back then is the same principle that led us to homeschooling now: obedience. Crazy how we simply can't put God (or His plans) in a box, huh? (Even crazier how many times I try to do so!)

So, how did we come to the decision to homeschool? Very carefully. 🙂 In fact, it was a multi-step process that all came down to that one, simple, frightening word: obedience.

Here's what that looked like for us:

Desire

Back in January, in an effort to #BeIntentional in every area of my life, I began to pray--really pray--for God's blessing and favor on our family. After battling cancer for more than a year, I wanted desperately to regain the time I'd missed out on with my family. It didn't seem fair that my kids had been without their mom at times, simply because I was fighting for my life. I believe God desires to do more than simply heal. I believe He also wants to restore what the enemy tries to take from us. So I prayed for God to restore the time that cancer stole from my family.

I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. (Isaiah 58:11-12, The Message)

As I prayed, God began to whisper, homeschool. I chuckled to myself and continued to pray. He would whisper again, homeschool. I would laugh a little louder and whisper back, Disney World. Seriously, wouldn't it make more sense for God to bless us with a trip to Disney World than to radically change our lives with something like homeschool?! And yet, God doesn't seem the least bit concerned with what makes sense to me! 😉

I continued to pray (for a free trip to Disney World), and as I did, the idea of homeschooling began to shift from being "great in theory" to becoming something I really wanted to do. I decided to casually mention it to my husband, hoping he would dismiss it and we could move on with life. But he didn't. Instead, his response was, "Maybe we should consider it." (WHAAAAAAAT?!?!?)

Discussion

I am blessed with a fantastic community of like-minded mamas, many of whom homeschool their children. So I asked them questions...A LOT of questions. I went to meetings. I read blogs and articles on homeschooling. I messaged FB friends whom I knew were homeschoolers. I called my sister (who homeschools) and talked her ear off on more than one occasion!

The more I learned about it, the stronger my desire grew. Isn't it funny how God directs your steps by leading with your heart?

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. (Psalm 37:23, NLT)

I took all my information and research back to my husband, and we both agreed: homeschooling seemed like a good fit for our family at this time. There was one problem: We didn't know how to make it work. I was only a few months from my battle with cancer; was it really a good idea to take on a huge life change like homeschooling? Plus, I had just released my book, and the promotion alone would be a full-time job. Then, of course, there was the financial side. Unfortunately, homeschooling is not covered by our taxes like public school, not to mention that huge pit of medical debt we are still climbing out of.

Decision

By this time, we both wanted to make the leap to homeschool, but we just couldn't figure out how. We were at a crossroads. Then I got a phone call from the homeschool community we were interested in. I'd already met with the director, asked questions, and expressed our interest in the community if we chose to leave public school.

She was calling to let me know the community would be growing in the fall, and they would need to open another class for 9-12 year olds (my daughter's age). If we decided to homeschool, would I consider tutoring the class...which is heavy on English grammar and writing. It would pay enough to cover the tuition for both our kids.

If she had asked me to tutor science or geography or Spanish, I would have had to politely decline (and keep from laughing out loud). But English and writing.....um, let me think about...YES! Sign me up!!!

I kept my composure and told her I'd discuss it with my husband. Honestly, there wasn't much discussion, because when I told him, he simply said, "This is obviously God. Tell her 'yes.'"

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about our decision to transition from public school to homeschool. So, why share all of this? Maybe your feeling a tug toward home education, or Christian education, or private education. Maybe you're considering a huge life change in another area--a move, a job change, or a relationship. Maybe you simply need direction in your everyday life.

Whatever the decision--whether big or small--remember God is working for your good. Your job is simply to seek His wisdom, follow His leading, and trust His plan.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. (Proverbs 3:5,6 The Message)

In what ways has God ordered your steps lately?

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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My daughter and I are all signed up for camp again. This will be the third year we've gone. Some may say I'm crazy for going to camp at the age of 42 (and they may be right), but when your daughter asks you to be her leader, you do it because: 1) there probably won't be many more summers when she wants me at camp, and 2) we make camp a priority for our kids (and here's why).

This is also the first year my son is able to go. I'm excited for him and for my husband who is going as his leader, even though he's never been to camp before! So, in honor of all you church camp veterans and the newbies, I'm sharing my top 10 tips for camp leaders. We need all the help we can get, because camp at the age of 42 is an entirely different experience than camp at the age of 15, or 25 (or, who are we kidding...35)!

Top 10 Tips for Camp Leaders | www.thereisgrace.com

1. Be informed. Read the information, attend the meetings, and ask questions. The more you know, the more prepared you will be, which leads me to #2...

2. Be prepared. Don't simply read the information, do what it says. Camp organizers didn't create those guidelines because they were bored one day. They have answered hundreds of questions, handled numerous issues, and lived through camp a time or two themselves. Glean from their wisdom.

3. Get sleep. Between homesick campers and sturdy-but-not-so-comfy cots, you won't get much sleep at camp. Don't start out exhausted; do your best to go into camp rested. (And make time to catch up on it after).

4. Eat well. If you're over the age of 30, you understand your body doesn't bounce back from physical strain quite like it used to. Whether you're over 30 or not, your body can use all the help it can get to endure the physical rigor that comes with camp. That means nutrition, and lots of it! Camp food isn't typically health food, but you can find good options if you try, so do the best you can.

5. Pray. Don't forget to prepare your spirit as well. God may have an opportunity just waiting for you to impact a student's life. After all, that's the whole reason you're there, right?

6. Pack light. If there is a suggested packing list, follow it. It's there for a reason. It will help you determine what types of clothing you will need. Are chapels dressy or casual? What type of athletic activities should you prepare for? Do you need bedding? Flashlights? An alarm clock? Following a list, will help you be prepared without overdoing it.

7. Check your preferences at the door. There's a good chance something will happen over the course of the week that you don't care for. See that as your opportunity to put on your big boy or big girl pants and be the adult. Campers will look to you in how to respond, so dig deep to find a good attitude and set an example.

8. Build relationships. You're there for the kids, so be there for the kids. Make an effort to search out that one kid who isn't having a great time and include him. Find that girl who is especially homesick and help her make friends.

9. Be the adult. You're not simply an oversized camper. You are the adult...so be one. Make every effort to reflect the standards, the attitude, and the heart of the camp leaders. You are an extension of their leadership.

10. Have fun! Church camp can become one of your fondest memories if you go into it prepared and have the right attitude. So when all is said and done, relax and  enjoy it!

Want to be a Rock Star Camp Leader? Find out how, here!)

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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It's been a few years, but I still remember the look of pain in my daughter's eyes. She came home from first grade in a bit of a funk. When I asked what was wrong, she explained that some kids at school had called her a name.

Instantly, I felt my inner "Mama Bear" awaken. WHAT?!?!

Defying every impulse I had to call the school and chew someone, anyone, out for letting some second-grade hooligans hurt my baby, I calmly asked,  "What did they say?"

Her eyes filled with pain.

"I can't tell you. It's a bad word." There it was again...Mama Bear Rising. It took a few minutes longer this time, but I managed to control my it.

She reluctantly agreed to whisper the offensive word in my ear. She leaned close and whispered a word that is simply not allowed in our home..."Stupid." Then I saw tears fill her gorgeous brown eyes.

I held her close and assured her she is not stupid. I don't think she's stupid. Daddy doesn't think she's stupid. Most importantly, Jesus, who created her, absolutely does not  think she's stupid.

"Do you think you're stupid?" I asked. She shook her head. "Then it doesn't matter what anyone else says, does it?" The waterworks came then.

"But it still hurts!" she cried.

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless #BeIntentional | thereisgrace.com

And she was right. The old playground saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is quite simply a lie.

Words do hurt. Whether they're simply said without thinking, for a good laugh, or out of raw emotion in the heat of an argument. Once they're said, they can never be taken back. They can be repented of, even apologized for, but never taken back.

Kids are notorious for being outspoken, a little clueless, and sometimes rude. They are, after all, kids. They are also remarkably resilient. It didn't take long for Little Miss to bounce back and dive, carefree, into her latest art project. But those words will stay with her for a long time. The next time she is called something unkind (and let's be honest, it will happen), it will hurt a little more, because hateful words have already left a tiny wound.

I'd like to think that, as adults, we know better. We know to think before we speak and weigh carefully our words. But if my life is any indication I'd have to say that's not always the case.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Proverbs 18:21, The Message)

That tells me that (1) my words have the power to bring life to someone or bring death to their spirit, and (2) that I have the power to choose.

If words can bring life or death, we should at least consider the power in them before we let them tumble out of our mouths. If I held a high-powered weapon, capable of killing with a single shot, I wouldn't wave it around or shoot it off aimlessly. You'd better believe I'd be extremely careful in how I held it, carried it, and transported it. I'd refrain from using it, except when absolutely necessary.

Maybe that's what the writer of Proverbs meant when he said:

Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. (21:23)

Careful words make for a careful life; careless talk may ruin everything. (13:3)

Observe the people who always talk before they think—even simpletons are better off than they are. (29:20)

Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense.(15:2)

The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words. (10:19)

For me, it's a daily struggle, and it's worse when I'm tired, stressed out, or overwhelmed. (Who isn't all of those things most of the time?). But I keep at it. Why? Because I want my children to realize the power of their words.

I want them to understand that they possess great power in their words. And with that power comes great responsibility. 😉 Their words can bring life or bring death. They should be chosen carefully...used wisely.

Maybe our grandmas had it right after all... "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!"

Let your conversation be always full of grace... (Colossians 4:6)

BeIntentional-250How do you strive to #BeIntentional with your words? Share your ideas in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

More great reading to help you #BeInentional with Your Words:

The Words We Say

 

 

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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For as long as I can remember, there has been a piece of paper held to the front of my grandma's fridge by a magnet.

On this simple piece of notebook paper, scrawled in my grandma's handwriting, are two simple statements of great wisdom. I've read these statements many times over the years (usually as I snuck "just one more" bite of homemade cookie dough.)

When I was younger, I didn't give much thought to the words. Now that I'm a Mom, these simple statements have taken on new meaning. I don't know where they come from...if Grandma read them or heard them somewhere, or if God just dropped them into her heart one day. Because that's the sort of thing He does for my grandma.

I have watched her live these words for decades. And if I can remember these truths and learn to live them out, too, then maybe I can give my kids the love my grandma has so freely given for so long.

I don't know who (besides my grandma) to credit these great truths, but I pray they will encourage you:

Grandma's Wisdom {printable}...true then, truer now | thereisgrace.com

Grandma's Wisdom {two printables} | thereisgrace.com

Go ahead...print them out. I bet they'd look nice on your fridge.

 

signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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No, I'm not single. Let's just get that out of the way. I'm happily married with two children...but before you leave, let me explain...

My husband and I started dating when we were 27 and got married when we were 30. That means I spent roughly 12-15 years of Valentine's Days single. (Technically, I spent almost 30 Valentine's Days single, but those last 12-15 were the hardest.)

single-on-valentines-day

Believe me when I tell you I know a thing or two about being single. As a general rule, I wasn't sad or depressed. I lived a full life--I had a lot of friends and a healthy social life. But there was something about Valentine's Day that seemed to bring me down, no matter how content I was with my life.

While the rest of the world is expressing their love to their most important person, you can't help feeling even more alone when you're single. Somewhere, deep down, you really are happy for all the happy couples in the world. Still, it's not an easy day when you're not one of them. I get it.

As an old married woman now, I think I have a little perspective to offer. So if I could sit down with each of my single friends over coffee and share my "big sister" advice with you, here's what I would say:

1. You are loved.

Remember this: Alone does not mean unloved.

Just because you're the only one who doesn't get roses at work or a card in the mail, it doesn't mean no one loves you. You probably know this already, but you've somehow managed to forget it in the midst of all the greeting card and jewelry commercials.

There are people around you who love you...parents, siblings, friends, family. They may be focused on their own relationships right now, but that doesn't mean they love you any less. They're just distracted. You need to know that.

And just in case you can't think of anyone who loves you, let me give you a hint...

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. (1 John 3:1, The Message)

2. God has a plan.

I can see your eyes rolling now. Because, yes, that's what I did at age 25 when someone said those words to me. It seemed so trite at the time, when I was "so old" and still single. Trust me...it's not trite. It's not cliché. It's true.

God sees you exactly where you are. He loves you exactly how you are. And He has a plan for you.

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11, The Message)

I don't know if His plan includes marriage. I don't know if it includes a relationship (and yes, I know how scary that sounds right now). But I know this: His plan is the best. And just because you're not in a relationship right now doesn't mean you'll never be. And, hear this: it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you!

3. Have fun.

This might seem a little difficult this Valentine's Day weekend when you're afraid to venture into public for fear of puking at the sight of another red heart balloon. But you can invite some girlfriends over to watch a movie (maybe not a romance) or play games. I guarantee you're not the only one without plans this weekend!

Here's the bigger idea: Instead of pining away or growing anxious about your singleness, make the most of your time. Further your education. Volunteer. Take up a hobby. Grow your interests. Press in to know God more.

In the 10 years I was a single adult, I was able to complete my education, gain valuable work experience (that's when I seriously took up writing), lead a ministry team, participate in numerous missions trips, and travel to places like Alaska and Paris. I love my life now, but trust me when I say there are no plans to visit Paris anytime soon! 😉

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve 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, 12 The Message)

This is where I would set down my coffee cup, lean in close, and hope you really hear me when I say, Your story doesn't begin when you get married; you're writing your story now.

Yes, dear sister, dream about your future mate. And definitely pray for him. But don't forget to live your life now. God not only has a plan for your future; He has  plan for your present.

Make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Married friends, what did I miss? Any other advice you'd offer?

 

signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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It was Valentine's Day...our first Valentine's Day together.

We had been on dozens of dates by then, but this was Valentine's Day. I agonized over the right outfit, mourned the fact that my hair didn't do exactly the right thing, and tortured myself over whether to wear heels or flats.

He showed up on my doorstep in freshly-ironed dress pants and a crisp shirt and tie. Behind him, his SUV glistened, the result of hours spent washing, waxing, and Armor-Alling. He opened my door, and whisked me off to a magical night of Italian food, soft candlelight, and sparkling conversation. This was the stuff dreams...and jewelry commercials...were made of.

At the end of the evening, he handed me the most beautiful card. I soaked in every word, vowing to remember them all. Then I noticed a simple, hand-written note at bottom of the card: "Happy Valentine's Day! I love you, Steve." Every other word tumbled right out of my head as my eyes lingered on those three little words, "I love you." I read them again, "I love you."

I looked at up at his face, waiting with anticipation. He opened his mouth and out popped those same words, "I love you." That was the first time he'd said them to me; I floated all the way home and didn't touch ground for days.

Intentional Marriage: an effort to loving intentionally in marriage | www.thereisgrace.com

Fifteen years, two children, and a cancer battle later, our dates look a little different. Now Valentine's Day is just as likely to include a trip to the grocery store or a couple of basketball games as it is an evening out on the town. We are living the dream in a vivid state of reality, complete with sick children and temper tantrums.

These days our love is not all about butterflies in my tummy and stars in my eyes. It's not about dress pants and shiny tires. Because when the stars fade and the butterflies give way to sleepless children, job stresses, medical crises, and lost love ones, your marriage needs to be built on more.

After 15 years, his "I love you" can still make my heart soar, but now I hear it just as much in the things he does as in the words he says. I hear it when he tells the kids to kiss me goodnight and sends my bone-weary body off to bed, even though he's had a long and stressful day himself. I hear it when takes my van and brings it home with a full gas tank, freshly washed and vacuumed. I hear it when makes a special trip to the store for my favorite chips...just because.

The truth is, my husband does a much better job of being intentional about me than I do about him. Too often I let life get in the way. I get too easily distracted by taking care of the kids, the house, my health, and many other details of life that I forget to #BeIntentional about the one who means the most to me. So I am going to #BeIntentional about changing that.

I just need a little nudge every once in awhile to not take for granted the most important earthly relationship I have. You too? I thought so. So I just happen to have a couple of great resources that will do exactly that...and I'm giving them away for Valentine's Day!

Intentional-Marriage-Cover-3D-200-pxIntentional Marriage: The Art of Loving Your Husband is a 31 day devotional by my friend Crystal Brothers. In this simple devotional, Crystal gives you 31 practical ideas for focusing on your husband in a day-by-day format plus date night ideas and conversation starters. (Read more here.)

 

For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men by FWOShaunti Feldhahn will open women's eyes to what the men in their life - boyfriends, brothers, husbands, and sons - are really thinking and feeling. Men want to be understood, but they're afraid to "freak out" the women they love by confessing what is happening inside their heads.

Enter to win both books below! (Contest ends Friday, Feb 13 at midnight!)

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. ~Mignon McLaughlin

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BeIntentional-250

What do you do to #BeIntentional in your marriage? What additional resources do you recommend to someone wanting to #BeIntentional in marriage? Share your thoughts in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

 

More Great Reads to Help you #BeIntentional in Your Marriage: (Follow the #BeIntentional Pinterest board for these and other resources.)
What Love Is...Really
For Better or Worse
How to Fall in Love Better Than All the Love Songs
[Love Looks Like] 2:07a.m.
The Time I Got an Electric Griddle for Mother's Day
Building a "Real Marriage" {a review}
Trouble With Focusing on Your Marriage
10 Secrets to a Successful Marriage
Making Marriage a Priority
58 Tips from Marriage Coaches

 

signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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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 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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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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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!

winter bins1

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. 

 

 

signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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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signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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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.

signature-1Like what you've read? Sign up in the sidebar to receive blog posts via e-mail and get a FREE printable of 10 Inspirational Scriptures. It's as easy as that! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, too!

Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.