Looking for treasures in all the weeds

How often have you found a treasure in the least expected place? If you are a thrift store or antique lover, the thrill of the hunt probably drives you on. I was thinking about finding treasures in the least expected places this last week, while I was weeding my garden.  It definitely looked more like a ‘weed garden’ than a ‘vegetable garden’! I had to remove 75% of the growth in some areas as I looked for treasure. Somehow when you are gone for a week and leave a freshly cleared patch of ground, the weeds seem to swarm in. It can be rather discouraging looking at that mess and wondering if anything good will come of it.

It can often feel like that when you start something new like attend a new conference (where you don’t know anyone), move to a new state, start a new job, begin a new season of life.  Often the hardest parts of it stand out the most, making it feel so overwhelming. And we wonder when it will pay off. For a parent it might mean seeing the living room strewn with toys, dishes undone, and hearing the tantrum upstairs. For someone in the office, it may mean seeing the unending emails. And we wonder if anything good will grow out of this.

But underneath all those weeds, there is new growth. The green beans are sprouting, there are little baby squash plants, and the kale is just coming up. With careful searching, perseverance, and an eye for what is true and good, new growth can be found. Perhaps in that sea of people at your conference, new job or new church, you will find someone who will be your life long friend. Perhaps when your child’s tantrum is finished, you’ll see evidence of a heart change and that something you said bore fruit. The growth is there, but it may require some weeding, perseverance and searching to find it.

This last week, we had our van loaded up for vacation and we were just about to load the kids in to begin our drive when we received notice that our place for the next three nights was canceled. And we realized that our son had a low grade fever and wasn’t feeling well. It was a discouraging start to our trip. So we gave him some meds (which did the trick, and he felt great the rest of the week) and starting searching online for somewhere to stay that night. We ended up staying 30 min  further away than we wanted to, but it turned out great! Another place had a last minute cancellation, which was the perfect space for our family and dog. And when we started exploring this new, unplanned city we found ourselves in, we found an amazing 400+ acre free nature park which housed bison, an elk, birds, turtles, and hiking trails.  Our family loved starting our vacation there!  It was hard to see when we first got in the van with a sick kid and cancelled plans, how there could be good underneath.  But the Lord worked out all the plans.

God is constantly working, even if we can’t see it. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Is. 43:19) We need to trust Him, persevere, and clean out the weeds until His new life is visible and ready to flourish.

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When growth looks like a wasteland: or how to encourage yourself when your goals feel like they will never happen and your seeds will never sprout.

You see that? That looks depressing. I may be an avid gardener with a house full of plants, flowerbeds in the yard, and been gardening since I was a bean sprout, but waiting for seeds to germinate is one of the hardest things ever. They take soooooo long!! It doesn’t help that many of the people where I garden are retired so they can spend as many hours as they wish making their plots beautiful.  Most of them also don’t drag little ones along with them, and they plant full size plants instead of seeds. All of that makes my garden plots even more depressing.

Often our dreams and goals feel like my sad plot. We perform duties and make investments in what we believe to be noble things and we hope for great returns on our effort, but instead we find ourselves looking at a barren plot waiting for the seeds to hint at new life.

As a mother, I feel this when my toddler throws a screaming tantrum, or when I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing else besides changing diapers. As a homemaker, I feel it when I see the dirty dishes where it had just been sparkling clean yesterday. As a teacher, I’ve felt it when you work hard on a unit and feel so sure it will be the magic to help a certain student move forward, but you are still waiting for that magic to happen. In the business world, it may be a quiet faithfulness to your job, wondering if it will ever be noticed.

The ground still looks barren. 

This week, I found a gentle word of encouragement in a children’s picture book. Bring me some apples and I’ll make you a pie, tells some of the childhood of Edna Lewis, a famous southern chief. To be honest, I was jealous of her orchards, berry bushes, garden, and the ample produce they found in nature. The book shared how they gathered each fruit, vegetable, and nut in turn, and how they preserved it so they could keep a bit of summer sunshine for the cold winter months.

It made me reflect on how many years those trees must have grown without any produce, before the family was able to have enough to harvest. How many hours were spent preparing those bean and corn fields, before the big gathering celebration began? It wasn’t always harvest season. Some days it was planting season.  Other days they worked to preserve the joy of their goals being accomplished, so they could hold on to that bit of sunshine when the cold barren season came.

And just like their orchard planting, walnut scavenging, bean/corn field sowing, eventually culminated in a grand harvest to be preserved for the cold winter months, and made into apple preserves, cherry pie, canned green beans, corn pudding, etc, so my little seeds will eventually germinate and produce new life.  Every year, they eventually grow, (well, most of them) yet every year it’s the same discouraging waiting process.

And just as my seeds require time and patience, so do my dreams and goals. They will not happen this week or maybe even this year, but they will happen. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

Can you promise me something? Promise me, that when I start to despair over my garden or over my children or over ___________ (fill in the blank), that you’ll remind me that the harvest will eventually come?  In turn, I’ll do the same for you.

Robert Louis Stevenson is accredited with saying, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”  Each towering tree came from a single seed that was simply planted. Robert H. Schuller said, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”

Let’s keep planting, and trust HIM for the harvest.

You can stay home with your kids! ~a book review

Money…it seems like it always comes up in conversations. Even if you’re not discussing bills or income directly, it’s there in the background as you talk about the value of an item, whether you’ll have the funds to fulfill that dream, or make plans for summer break.

In her book, “You can stay home with your kids!”, Erin Odom provides 100 “tips, tricks and ways to make it work on a budget”. Whether you are trying to live on one income, working to pay off debt, or just trying to live on less so you can spend less time working and more time living life, this book is for you.  It isn’t a textbook style budget book, but rather a cute and simple (but with a lovely hard cover!) book of tips.

 You can stay home with your kids!

The book covers saving money on everyday living expenses (use cold water for washing laundry), meal planning, planning celebrations on a budge, DIY household products, how to find free family activities, health care, clothes shopping, and adding income to your budget.

Being from a thrifty family, I already do many of the tips. However, there were some that I’ve heard of, but just haven’t tried. Next on my list to make is our own hand soap and toothpaste. I’d also like to make more freezer meals or do large batch cooking, just to have things ready for crazy afternoons. I haven’t read through her section on generating income yet, as I’m slowly thinking through each of her ideas. But I’m curious how to implement them as life definitely gets increasingly expensive the more family members or pets we have.

I was very excited when I saw this book on the Booklook Bloggers review program, as Erin Odom was on my list of authors to read. Though this was a complementary review copy, all the opinions written above are mine. This is a quick read, full of helpful tips for living economically so you can spend your time/money on what matters most to you.

Making room for the new

My violets have been in desperate need of trimming off the old blossoms and dead leaves, and I finally got around to it this week. You know those tasks you keep rewriting to the next day’s to do list? Now I can officially mark it off. As I was pulling the dead leaves off one of my larger plants, my daughter asked me something like, “Mama, why you pull those off?” It must have seemed strange to her to see her mama pulling leaves off a plant after all the lectures she’s heard about looking and not touching, being careful with flowers, etc.

“I have to pull off the dead stuff to make room for the new”, I replied. 

Then I thought about my response more, and marveled at how true that is in all of my life. How many times have I heard God say lately, “You need to clean out the old stuff, so you can make room for the new seasons I’m bringing you”.  Any gardener would laugh at the thought of that African Violet tenaciously clinging to it’s dead blossoms despite the promise of new, fresh blossoms and baby leaves.

Yet, how often do I hold on to stuff, memories, old dreams, etc despite God’s whispers to me of new seasons with new life.  

As we prepare for our next little one to arrive this year, my mind automatically starts wondering about space.  Where will they sleep? Where am I going to fit his/her clothes? How do I keep track of multiple sizes of diapers? Though I haven’t gotten it done yet, I’ve mentally been making a list of areas that need to be cleaned out and stuff donated so I can fit in our new blessing. And not just ‘stuff”, but there is a letting go of activities or old manners of doing things as our family grows.   I’ve been volunteering at Good News Club at the Elementary school for 6 or 7 years, and my littles have attended with me. But with our new addition coming, I’ve said farewell to that season.

While there may be grief in letting go of the old, there is also excitement in looking forward to the new. 

Without winter there couldn’t be spring. Without a seed giving of itself, we could not have fresh growth. I’ve been processing what it means to minimize what is not essential, so I can maximize space and time for those people and activities we love most. I have so far to go, so don’t look to me for solutions. If anyone has this all figured out, please share your ideas in the comments. 🙂

And while it may be a slow process to trim away my old blossoms, I look forward to the new seasons promised me. 

When you have to forgive the violet thief…

There are two treasures that you don’t touch in our house. You don’t touch Papa’s board games and you don’t touch Mama’s plants, specifically my African Violets. I’ve been raising them for probably  over 15 years and I constantly marvel at their delicate flowers.

Most of mine are this deep purple color, but at least one is pink.  In the past, I’ve had some mostly white ones, with just a touch of pink in them. Currently, I’m raising babies from my own plants to transplant and gift to friends and family. Since most of my violets are purple, I’m especially fond of other bloom colors.  My favorite lately was my pink one in full bloom.

I say was…because forgiveness was needed last week. While a friend was visiting on Monday, I showed her this pink one in full bloom.  My daughter asked to see it, so after giving her a reminder of “Don’t touch the flowers, only look”  (which is the reminder I give her with our tulips outside) I turned back to my friend for five minutes.  Yes, I’m sure you can guess what happened.

My heart was crushed and I didn’t know how to process it. There’s no way to predict when it will bloom again. And clearly, they can’t be glued back on.All I kept thinking was how this week’s Bible study lesson was on forgiveness. What timing!  As our lesson clearly stated, I knew out of the vast ocean of forgiveness I had received, that I must forgive her too. (And compared to marker on the wall or chopping off her hair, this wasn’t so bad)

My struggle wasn’t  in if I could forgive her, but how to help her understand the cost of that forgiveness.  Forgiveness costs the giver something.  God’s forgiveness of me cost Jesus his life.  My forgiveness to others comes out of the great storehouse of forgiveness I have received from God.   It is the relinquishing of a debt.

As I layed her down for her nap, I sobbed.  My heart was crushed, and she needed to know that though I still loved her and forgave her, my heart was still sad over her actions.  There was still a cost to her actions.  At her age, she is only sorrowful that our friendship is broken.  She tries every technique she can think of to make us “be friends” again. “I still love you mama”. “Mama, your heart changed?  You’re happy again?” “I’m sorry mama”.  She is sorrowful that we are not friends, but not repentant over her actions.  She can recite back her wrong doing, but I wonder how much of it her heart understands.

So much of parenting has given me a living picture of my relationship with God. How many times am I sorrowful that I disappointed Him, without grieving my sinful choices?  How many times do I say I’m sorry, but yet that action may happen again? How many times does He faithfully forgive me, though I don’t fully grasp the true cost of that forgiveness?

Ahh, my dearest daughter, you and I have much to learn in this area of repentance and forgiveness. Together, we will learn to admit our wrongs, ask for forgiveness from the heart, and be deeply grateful when that cost is paid in the form of forgiveness.

We’re in this together.

PS. Let me know in the comments if you have any tips on helping children understand apologies, admitting wrong, forgiveness, ect.

Only half the picture: or when the obedient children of today turn into tomorrow’s drama

This last Wednesday, a random stranger stopped me at the library to marvel at the obedience of my toddler. Yes, let’s stop to wonder at that for a moment……for it may never happen again. We had pulled up to the library, and my toddler was waiting for me to get the little one out. This gentleman stopped to complement me on how she stayed right with me, and asked how I trained her to do that. He explained that his own children usually bolt in a million directions. Caught off guard, I initially responded, “lots of prayer!” But then followed it up with something about clear directions, follow through, consequences, and timeouts to think about what a better choice would be. My answer may have sounded a bit mixed up as I was completely caught off guard.

I went home feeling validated that at least a small part of my work had payed off…for a moment.

But the man only saw half the picture. He never saw the next morning as she cried and whined, and complained about everything. Or heard my desperate prayers for God’s help. Or saw how much I just wanted to put her in timeout and shut the door for some moments of peace. He never saw us Friday morning when I had to hot glue the bear she broke back together, or when she had to clean up the cats’ water she spread all over the floor.  He only saw half the picture.

How often do I look at someone’s snapshot and immediately judge that their whole life must be as marvelous as this “half picture”.   Seeing Instagram pictures, smiling children on Sunday, or seeing a person in public vs. as they really are at home, gives us only half the picture of their life. My obedient child of Wednesday turned into my drama child of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  I know I often fall prey to feeling like I don’t measure up after viewing other’s shining moments. But it’s because I don’t see their sink of dishes or toddler tantrums.

Equally wrong is when I only look at a snapshot of my life, and believe that to be the whole picture. If I only look at her tantrums this weekend, or the Cheerios on the freshly swept floor, I quickly feel exhausted.  But I would miss our tea parties and nature hikes. I would miss our morning devotions, and night time songs. I would only see half my picture.

So if your day feels like a cracked bear hot glued together….

Or like you’re living the dream……

Remember, that moment is only half the picture.  Let’s celebrate moments in our friends’ lives….while remembering they are real people with messy moments too. And let’s hold on to the memories of strangers complementing our child’s obedience to get us through the days of wet floors and tantrums.  Let’s look at the whole picture. Let’s live in grace.  Grace for ourselves, and grace for others. Let’s celebrate the moments in each of our lives that are beautiful.  And cheer each other on, on the days when the only thing we are thankful for… is that not every day is like this.

We’re in this together.

Precious Treasures

Your heart pounds as the king solemnly explained his mission to your surprised ears. You, an ordinary person of a humble lineage, were to carry one of his crown jewels through treacherous forests to be received by the king’s son when he reentered the kingdom. “It will not be an easy journey,” he continued.  “Many will seek to disorient you, and turn you toward another kingdom. You will hear naysayers, and voices of doubt and fear. There are those who will question why you would risk your life and lay it all on the line for me, when you could be back in the comfort of your home, in the land of self indulgence. 

I did not choose you because you were the most brave, wise, noble, affluent or strong. I chose you because I know your heart…that you are loyal. A man or woman who has crossed the line, signed the roster, pledged his/her allegiance without looking back is worth more to any king, than any special ‘gifts’ one may have.”

As you set out on your journey, his words echoed in your head….’loyal’. You knew that you had nothing to offer to your king….except loyalty.  That though this treasure didn’t belong to you, nor was any reward promised, you would live or die to deliver it to the Son.   You would guard it with your life, surrendering comfort and ease for a journey of servant-hood and trials. Then, when you met the King’s Son, as he returned home, you would present this treasure joyfully into his care. You would simply state, “I have simply done my duty, as a servant of my King.” 

~~~~~

Last weekend, I was discussing education choices with a dear mama friend, and I made the statement “you have some precious treasures”, to which she obviously agreed. As I thought about this statement later on, I processed how true it is.  How often have you seen a parent give all they have so their child could have a better education than they did?  How often have you seen teachers bend over backwards to help a struggling student?  Children are our ‘precious treasure’, for which we gladly pour ourselves out. Even in exhaustion, a mother still rises in the early morning to feed a crying baby.  Even in weariness, a teacher still plans interventions to meet each level of students.

But in the end, they are never really ours. They are lent to us by our King. And in the end, when his Son returns, we will present these precious ones back to him and say, ” I have simply done my duty, as a servant of my King.” And He will respond with those words we have eagerly desired to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

All He asks for is our loyalty, He will take care of the rest.

May your seconds feel like minutes and your minutes like hours…

As I sat and rocked her…again…all while wishing I was the one to be heading to bed, I began thinking of this moment.  This perfect moment. Her warm body snuggled to me as we rocked in the antique chair passed on by great grandparents, never mind that her leg hurt or I was anxious to head to bed myself.  In that moment, it was just us. Her soft breath on my neck as she slept on my shoulder, unaware of her leg pain anymore.  And in that moment, I wanted the seconds to feel like minutes, and the minutes like hours……so when that time is gone I could hold on to that moment.

You don’t have to tell me how fast time will go. It feels like only yesterday that she was my baby (I often tease her that I’m going to squish her up again to be my baby because she is too big), but yet it feels like tomorrow she will already graduate high school.  You never seem to understand your own parents’ sentimentalism until you have your own children.

One of the reasons I love my husband is his sense of urgency with time.  Having lost his sister and dad too early, and lost contact with different close friends, he doesn’t take time with those closest for granted. He is very aware of not letting anything take him away from our family, and very mindful of being intentional with the moments with our kiddos. At this moment, he’s out working in the yard with his little shadow, whose heart was crushed when she thought she may not be able to join him.

Time waits for no one. I don’t take any day for granted with these little ones, for I know none are guaranteed.

I read or heard once about someone who rocked their baby just one minute longer or snuggled just one minute more for they knew that season would soon be over and they would hold to those moments.  Psalm 90:12 (NIV) says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Today, lets be intentional.  Let’s hug one more time, call just because, “be” in the moment, and reach out again.

May your seconds feel like minutes and your minutes like hours…so when that time is gone, you can hold on to that moment…..and know you spent it well.

When your dreams for others feel as elusive as the hope for spring

This past weekend we had a blizzard…yes, a full on record breaking blizzard with over a foot of snow dumped in one day. Yet, the calendar says it’s spring. My heart is anxiously waiting…

I have hopes too for my little ones, dreams for their future, hopes for their character. Sometimes, those dreams can feel as elusive as my hope for spring. But I must remember that good things start small. If someday I hope for them to wash the dishes along side me, today I must submit to water spilled on the floor, dirty dishes “washed” and placed still dirty in the drain rack, and a constant begging for more water, more soap, and the other scrub brush while she stands next to me to “help”.   I wait….

The snow covers my dreams of spring, and makes me anxious for how planting will happen next month. I wait….

But I must remember to look for the ‘spring’ moments mixed in with the waiting. Though her “But I don’t want to!” and her pushing her brother show me her rebellious nature, her “I’m sorry, mama. Please forgive me for not listening to you” shows me her heart softening. She may kick, scream, or protest when she doesn’t get her way, but she is one of the first to show compassion when you are sick, to pray for Jesus to heal you, and to pray for the sirens we hear. Spring is coming.

“While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22 ESV   It is promised. We won’t be stuck in an endless winter.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV

Whatever your elusive dream is for your child, friend, or loved one, trust that God is working. The spring blizzard may come and all may be buried under 13 inches of snow, but spring will come. The best things start small. As you wait, pray and patiently do your part to model and instruct, God is working to bring forth His new work.  He has blooms and blossoms planned out that we cannot dream of on our own. And one day, the snow will melt away and we’ll see the fruit of our prayers, investment……and waiting.

Spring will come. 

A million ways to say “I love you”

Love is said a million ways. We most often think of the big dramatic first “I love you”, which signifies this is more than a simple friendship. I remember standing outside my parents’ house with my now-husband, and hearing him ask, “What would you say if I told you ‘I love you’?” It was a defining moment in our relationship, but even more importantly, he had backed up those words through months of invested friendship (getting to know my family, figuring out my favorite coffee, texting me Scripture verses, etc).

In the last couple months, I’ve been thankful for the many ways I’ve heard “I love you” through special actions of friends when I’ve needed it. I suppose this post is more of a gratitude journal coupled with a personal challenge to love others well.

Love looks like getting a text message from a friend just to ask how you’re feeling that day.

Love tastes like chicken strips sent home with you by a friend because it’s the exact food you’ve been craving for four days, and you quickly devour that bag in three days.

Love sounds like the quiet prayers of a two year old pleading with Jesus to help mama not be sick.

Love smells like your husband faithfully cooking supper each night because you’re too tired to do it all.

Love feels like your bed when you are sent upstairs for a nap, when your eyes just can’t stay open anymore.

Love tastes like Juice Stop picked up by your husband on the way home, because it’s the only thing you can eat.

Love sounds like washing the dishes, because he knows you hate the dishes. And you simply say, “I love you too.”

Love looks like flowers given just because.

Love sounds like prayers on your behalf being sent up.

Love looks, feels, tastes, sounds and smells like many things. The words may be great to hear, but the actions give it power.

Today, how can you say “I love you” without using words? And perhaps, start recording how often you “hear” it too. You may be surprised by the number of ways you’ve heard it just this week.