Tea Parties and the power of words

It was just a simple tea party…with milk and cookies for all. We sat around, drank our milk and marveled at the beautiful birds in our poetry book. Yet, that moment stood out in my dear daughter’s heart as the moment Mama invested in her.

It was just a simple comment, made by a mother of eight, who looked at me with my baby and toddler and said, “you are in the hardest season right now”. Yet, that comment has stuck with me and given me courage to press on for there is hope in future seasons.

It was just a simple statement, when another mom friend called me a “super mom” (only because they don’t see the inside story). Yet, that statement was food for my soul, words to affirm that I wasn’t as messy as I thought in this new mom job.

Simple gestures, simple words that we casually express, with no thought of what a difference they would make. How many comments, or kind acts that inspired you, can you remember over the years? Little things forgotten by the giver, but to you they became a lifeline, a moment that gave you courage.

It wasn’t my simple cookies that made that moment special, nor the candle burning for ambiance. Nor was it the beautiful poetry book filled with gorgeous pictures of birds in flight. Though, Sweep up the SunAmong a Thousand FirefliesStep Gently Out, and Wake Up! are among our favorites!

When she is older, she won’t remember all the books we read or what we ate. But she will remember that ……we were.  It is the sitting, the being, the shared moment that makes all the difference. No one asks for our most clean house, or eloquent speeches with perfect grammar, or a polished gift. Rather people just want to be noticed, to be recognized, to be affirmed that they are not as much of a mess as they think. They just want….us.  That shared moment where one soul affirms another.  Where a person’s simple presence or words can breath enough courage to withstand the day or season.  Where words become food for the soul.

They just want us to invite them to tea. 

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June….where did you go?

When I received a message from my sister that she was looking forward to seeing me in a week, I stopped to ponder…’wait, why will I see her that soon?’  Then it hit me….June was over. It was already July and all the events I had pushed into my ‘middle of summer’ box were suddenly here.  Does anyone else feel like that?  I think it’s partially due to all the rain and chilly weather we’ve been having, that makes it feel like summer is just starting.  Summers here are way too short! I was just reminded this week that school starts for many people next month…only a matter of weeks.

This post is kinda different from my usual. If you all hate it, then I shall never write this kind again. (well, no promises).  🙂  I just feel reflective today. June had a couple of monumental firsts: our first family vacation with littles, and our first ‘stay-cation’ for our anniversary.  We weren’t sure how traveling with 2 littles and the family dog for a week would go. Would we all hate each other or bond? Would this open the door to future family vacations or make us want to wait until the littles are older? Thankfully, it went fairly smooth! We visited some lovely nature parks, a huge zoo, went hiking at a wildlife safari place and state park, and made lots of memories. The most exhausting part was our drive home when the kids DID NOT NAP! They talked for hours and begged for food FOR HOURS!  We were ready to be home after that drive. 🙂

We also had our first ‘stay-cation’ for our anniversary. My parents took care of the kiddos for the weekend, and we stayed home!  It was MUCH cheaper than booking a place to stay, and we got to do the main things we love: board games, sit-down dinners, nature walks and a movie. It was soooo quiet here, it was weird. But we were thankful for the time to chat without multitasking toddlers.  The little ones definitely missed us and kept close by our sides when we met up again!

Our games:

Freedom: loved it!  Great strategy and great theme!

Freedom

Space Base: It was well put together, and definitely requires a replay.

 Space Base

Space Base

Our Movie:

Paul the Apostle:  loved it!  Well done, accurate, and thought provoking!

Paul the Apostle

Lessons I’ve been trying to learn this last month include ‘Finish and Focus’ (from the last blog post) and limits. Note to self, don’t encourage your husband to read your blog posts, for then he’ll hold you accountable for the lessons you publicly stated you were learning and remind you of them as often as he sees fit. (which is more often than I see fit). 🙂 I mentioned limits, for I tend to have superhero size dreams for what I can do, but as the months progress toward my due date my stamina has definitely decreased.  Case in point: Monday our hike included a hill and it was hot. The rest of the day, I was wiped out.  Proper limits are definitely a life lesson. Knowing how much you can say ‘yes’ to before you need to say ‘no’. Or a better question: What do I need to say ‘no’ to in order to say ‘yes’ to the most important things?

The main book I’m reading and loving is:

936 Pennies

This book is sooo good!  I’ve earmarked a lot of pages to come back to!  One of these days, I’ll write a review of it to share some of the main points. The premise is that we are each given 936 weeks with our child from birth to 18, and the question is ‘How will we spend them?’.

What have you been reading, watching, and learning over the last month?

It may be ‘good’, but is it ‘best’?

This year of gardening, I’ve done some weird things. I’ve been pulling out the sunflowers, morning glories, and broccoli raab like weeds and leaving them to die. I know….sounds awful and drastic. And totally goes against my normal nature of cherishing and protecting every form of plant and bug life, even to the point where I can’t throw out a house plant till it’s good and dried up, with no hope of recovery. So, why this drastic action?

Because the ‘good’ had taken the place of the ‘best’. 

Morning glories, sunflowers, and broccoli raab are all wonderful plants! The picture above is from my garden last year. They are gorgeous! But they also self-seed very well, which means they like to come back…..everywhere!  The morning glories were planted three years ago, the sunflowers were planted by the birds or some unknown person, and the broccoli raab was added last year. Someday, I dream of having a fence line covered in morning glories, and a field of sunflowers.  They could grow to their full potential…..because they would be in their proper place.

Proper place…..I started thinking about that as I was pulling up all the little seedlings this year. A sunflower in it’s proper place is a thing of beauty, gathering all the butterflies and honeybees to itself. But those same sunflowers also have the power to choke out cucumbers, green beans, summer squash and the things that are ‘best’. They also are not a good choice for when I’m nine months pregnant trying to clean out my garden, and I have to pull out those stalks by hand.  So they may be ‘good’, but they are not the ‘best’ for me.

How many other things in my life are ‘good’, but not ‘best’?  I thought about that this morning as my scattered brain was in the middle of trying to get soapy water to wash the floor, the littles were hungry and required food, I found a bag of potatoes going bad that needed me to cut them up, and my flower vase was asking for more water. Truely, for a moment, I tried to do all of them at once. (clearly that didn’t work)  They were all ‘good’. But then I had to step back and decide what was most important for me to finish…what was ‘best’.  Feeding the children obviously took first place, then cleaning the floor since that was the job I had first initiated before everything else called my attention.

I’ve been trying to apply the mantra of “Focus and finish”, something my husband has been trying to remind me of and also something I picked up from Crystal Paine in her post, “My New Mantra: Focus & Finish”.  My scatter-brained way of doing things, running around trying to keep up with everything ‘good’ leads to me not getting the ‘best’ things done and leaves a trail of half-done projects behind me.

Here’s a list of questions I ask myself:

1. What must be done today? (a similar question: If I get nothing else done today, I will feel successful if _______ is completed.)

2. What must be done now (the kids’ nap schedules often dictate my list)

3. What have I already started, but not finished? (Focus and finish)

4. What one thing will make the biggest difference in our home, life, etc today? (example: clearing off the table makes a much bigger difference than going through one box from the closet)

5. What will make a lifetime impact? (usually soaking up extra snuggles from the littles outranks most things)

You don’t have to learn from my example, like I said…I’m working on this. Just offering the things I’m learning, and in turn I’d love to hear from you what you find that works.

We all hope for ‘fruit’, the accomplishment of what is ‘best’. But it will require us to narrow our focus, not getting caught up in the million ‘good’ things calling to us.  But instead to focus on what we most want and need to cultivate/grow/accomplish/do.

Even flowers can become ‘weeds’, if  not in their ‘best’ place.

100 Bible Stories for Children: a book review

We’ve loved the baby and toddler Bibles over the last couple years. You can tell by the broken covers, worn corners and loose binding that they have seen their share of action.  My little one can “read” them to you, telling you many people’s names and what happens in the story.

Packaging

I was excited when I saw this gem produced by Tyndale Publishing!  100 Bible Stories for Children is like the next step up from the toddler Bible. It is written for children ages 5-8, and has beautiful color illustrations.

 

It has an expanded collection of stories compared to a toddler Bible.  The 100 stories includes the Twelve Spies, Samson, Gideon, Job, Paul and Silas in Prison, Stephen, and John’s letters in the book of Revelation. Most toddler Bibles don’t include all of those, so this is a good ‘next step’ Bible for younger children.

When we first got it in the mail, my little one was so excited to ‘read’ it and look for familiar stories. She perused the pages like looking for old friends and excited to meet new ones. I totally recommend this version as the next step up from a toddler Bible.

I received 100 Stories for Children as a complimentary version part of the Tyndale Publishing Blogger review program, however all of the opinions and experiences are mine.

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What other versions have you enjoyed? Let me know in the comments!

Being faithful in the small things sometimes means getting rid of your stuff.

Small things……small children, small projects, small books, small houses, small dreams, and small victories. There are many ‘small things’ in life that call for our attention, yet may not excite us. While we believe they are worthwhile, essential to life, enjoyable, and necessary, they may not feel as adventurous as the daring dreams we long for.

Today I’m thinking on this phrase ‘being faithful in the small things’ (taken from Luke 16:10).  It will look different to everyone. To someone learning to read, being faithful in small things will look like continuously practicing smaller books until they are equipped to pull out the larger ones. At times, small children may seem less exciting as we dream of future days of road trips, camping, and board-games with older kids. But unless we are faithful in those small projects, small people, and small dreams, we will never be ready for the big ones ahead of us.

This is my “small things”.  Simplifying, minimalizing, cleaning out…call it what you want. I call it ‘preparing for our next baby’, ‘minimizing what’s not important so I can maximize my home and time for what has value’, and ‘preparing for future adventures’.

If you dream of sailing to far off places, 

then you must ready your ship 

so you can pull up anchor at a moments notice. 

 

Athletes don’t just decide to run a marathon. They run around the block, lift the first five pound weight, kick the first ball….everything has a small beginning. One of my favorite phrases from a high school graduation card given to me, says “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

When I was venting my overwhelmed feelings to my husband and wondering how to tackle each thing on my heart, he reminded me of that phrase.  I can’t accomplish the big dreams today. But I can be faithful in the small things. Each day, I can take another ‘bite’. I can do this small project, small dream, small step that will eventually lead to the big things I hope for.

(see my decluttered and dusted shelves from today’s project?)

 

If my dreams of having a place where I can garden at my own house were to be fulfilled, then I must be faithful to be a good steward of my current home.  If my dreams of creative, thoughtful, and ‘self-motivated to learn’ children will happen, then I must invest the time now to cultivate those characteristics.

Do you ever have those ‘zinger’ conversations? Where you are talking with someone and ‘zing!’, their comment hit you right where you needed to hear it? Last night, my husband and I were discussing his methods of cleaning out the laundry room and what to do with the unneeded items in there. He wanted to get rid of a certain item and I said we had to keep it (though we have no current need for it) and then he said it…..’We have to be faithful in the small things. If you ever expect to get another place, then we need to be faithful with the house we have. There, that’s a word from God for you!”.  I couldn’t argue with that. Indeed, that very phrase ‘faithful in the small things’ had been whispered to my heart at least a month before.

How about you? What are your little things (that may not seem exciting) that you need to be faithful in? What ‘bites’ of the elephant do you need to take? Leave a comment to share! I’d be interested in hearing!

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.

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.