Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013

I had a really cool newsletter all typed up but I can't figure out how to just "copy and paste" it in here so it looks all fancy like.  SO, I will just share the info and pictures.  That's all you really care about anyway :)

House full of girls

Highlights of the Year:
*We moved to our new home in February
*Sarah turned the big 3-0 in March
*Sarah earned the $10,000 GOOD Bonus (Get Out of Debt) with It Works in August
*Coralyn turned 4 in October
*Kyiah was born on November 19
*Kellah turned 2 in December
*Lawrence finished his Master's program for Elementary Administration

JESUS Is the Reason for the Season
     As we were out Christmas shopping, a sales clerk asked Coralyn if she was getting ready for Santa to come.  Since we don’t “do Santa” at our house, Coralyn didn’t really know what to say and kept quiet.  When we got to the car, Lawrence explained how she could tell people that she is getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  She then proceeded to tell us that Jesus is better than Santa because Jesus loves us so much that He died on the cross for all our sins!  So true!

     We are certainly looking forward to all the special Christmas festivities, but as we hustle and bustle, we want to be sure to remember WHY we are celebrating and share Jesus’ love with everyone around us!

Time Flies When You're Having Fun
     We certainly kept busy this year!

     In addition to selling our house and moving, we have started hosting a Bible study for the kids who have attended Ponca Bible Camp in the summer.  They invite friends too, and each week we have about 25 boys and girls in our basement!

     Thanks to some generous friends, we were able to take a “free” trip to Branson during Spring Break.  We also enjoyed a short mini-vacation in St. Louis this summer.  Then, in October, we headed back to Branson to celebrate Lawrence’s parents’ 40th wedding anniversary!

      We spent 2 weeks of the summer at Ponca, one of our favorite things of the entire year!  Over 100 kids from the Liberty area attended camp this summer over the course of 6 weeks!!!

      We literally had something going on every single day for almost every single month of the year.  November was actually our first month to slow down – you can’t really plan for things when you are expecting a baby and don’t know when she’s going to come!

Young at Heart
      Lawrence and I both celebrated big birthdays this past year, with him turning 35 and me 30!  We still feel young at heart though and haven’t slowed down a bit!

     Lawrence just finished up his Master’s in Elementary Administration and has been part of the Leadership Team at school.  He is also leading an after-school program called Boys to Men for the 5th grade boys at Kellybrook.  He’s serving on our church’s Pastor Search Team as we look for a new head pastor.  For fun, he’s been playing volleyball with various recreational teams.  Oh, and he’s an amazing husband and daddy to boot!

      I’ve been busy too!  In February I became a distributor with It Works and have loved getting to help people reach their health goals while still contributing to our family income from home.  I’m also doing daycare, watching 2-3 precious kiddos every day (in addition to our girls).  I am still teaching childbirth classes and got to work with over 20 couples to prepare for the arrival of their babies.  I was also privileged to help welcome 7 babies to the world by serving as a doula.  I am finished with my work to become a lactation educator and just waiting on the final certification!  And somewhere in there, I’ve done lots of laundry, cleaned up countless messes, and cooked quite a few meals. 

      We may be busy, but we enjoy what we do and feel God at work in all these activities! We are so thankful for all He is doing in our lives and are excited to see what He has in store for our family this coming year!

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
     Lawrence is feeling even more outnumbered these days as we have welcomed girl #3 to our family!

    Coralyn is 4 now and LOVES to read.  Sometimes, she will stay up and “read” for over an hour after we put her to bed at night.  We have enjoyed our weekly trips to the library for storytime and always come home with a huge bag of books.  She knows all her letters, shapes, colors, and likes to do “school work” at home.  She likes to make crafts and help me bake.  She remembers everything and can tell you how to get to her friends’ houses – definitely her father’s daughter!

     Kellah is 2 and a little copycat, wanting to do everything her big sister is doing.  She loves making things with playdough, coloring, building block towers, doing puzzles, riding in her Cozy Coupe, and throwing balls.  She is a go-getter and has no fear!  She also has a sweet spirit and is a good helper, making sure the daycare kiddos have their shoes and jackets and bags when it’s time for them to go home.

     Kyiah is just a month old, but we can’t imagine life without her!  She certainly made an unforgettable entrance into the world and seems to be full of life already!  We’re excited to watch her grow and see what kind of personality she has.  If she’s going to keep up with her sisters, she’ll have to be tough and ready for anything at any moment!

Sister Love

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kellah Grace {2 Years Old}

How is it really, truly possible that my sweet baby girl is now 2 years old?  Wasn't she just born yesterday?!  I could tell you the birth story, every minute detail included, if you asked me.  Or you can just read the blog post yourself, if you really want to know...

She arrived just in time for Christmas!

Having a Christmas-time baby was never in my plans.  I didn't want a child close to any holiday for that matter, because I didn't ever want to have birthday parties on the same day as Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I have learned to be very careful what you tell God you don't want!!! :)  My 3 girls were born in October, just weeks before Halloween; November, just days before Thanksgiving; and December, just days before Christmas.  Not at all how I would have scheduled their birthdays, but I wouldn't change anything either.  They are each precious and they all came exactly when they were supposed to!!!

Kellah Grace entered our lives on December 17, 2011 at 8:05 am, just 6 hours after my very first contraction.  Supposedly, she was a week late, but she weighed a whopping 7 pounds, so I am pretty sure my due date was wrong.  I knew that from the moment we found out about her though.  You see, we had miscarried the year before, on December 18.  And when I saw the positive pregnancy test and rushed to the computer to find out my estimated due date, I was surprised to learn it was December 10.  I just knew she would come later, though, closer to the anniversary of the miscarriage.  And she did!!!  It was as if God was giving us something to celebrate rather than mourn.  She is our rainbow baby, a reminder of God's promises to never leave or forsake us, to always be right there with us even when the flood waters seem to be rushing in and threatening to drown us.  She is our beautiful gift, a testimony of God's never-ending grace, His faithfulness and abundant goodness even in the hardest of times.

Kellah's pregnancy was a time in our lives when things were rough in many aspects.  Financially, we had no idea how we would pay our bills each month.  Yet, God came through time and time again.  We had just been licensed as foster parents and had a difficult placement right off the bat, our lives even being put in danger in the first 2 weeks.  Needless to say, we were daily dependent on God for every single need.  And through Kellah, he seemed to remind us to be at peace, to be still and know that He is God, that He will not only take care of us, but will blow us away with His blessings.

When I was pregnant with Kellah, we prayed she would be a "gracious warrior," like the meaning of her name.  We wanted her to stand up for what's right, even when it's not the popular thing to do.  We wanted her to notice the needs of those around her and be proactive in helping them in whatever ways she could.  We wanted her to be fierce in her love for God, passionate in her commitment to live for Him, dedicated to showing His love to all those around her.  Boy has she lived up to her name and those prayers!!!  She may be small (still wearing 12 month clothes without any problem), BUT she is strong and mighty.  She is a go-getter, a climber, a mover and a shaker, a dancer, a laugher, a lover of life.  She doesn't like to miss out on anything and doesn't let her size keep her from doing anything the big kids are doing.  She will make herself known - either with a scream or a push or a shove - to get her way.  She's not about to let someone tell her what to do if she doesn't want to do it.  I love the ferocity and stubbornness, but she can be a handful at times too.  That spark and spunk isn't always so cute! :)  For every ounce of courage and adventure in her body, Kellah has some sweet tender kindness to match it.  She is quick to help me, to get things the daycare kiddos need, and now that she's a big sister to make sure Baby Kyiah is okay - sometimes to the extent that she SHOVES the pacifier in her mouth, SMOTHERS her with a blanket, or attempts to carry the carseat when it's time to go somewhere.

Speaking of being a big sister....SO crazy how Kellah seems to have grown overnight!!  She's still small for her age, but boy does she look HUGE next to little Kyiah!!!

Kellah also LOVES her big sister, Coralyn!!  I absolutely melt as I listen to the two of them laugh and play together.  They play princess, read books, do puzzles, and make HUGE messes together.  They just started sharing a room, and oh my goodness did my mama's heart swell when I saw this that first night:
This morning, I heard them talking in the bed and peeked in to find Coralyn reading Kellah a book.  Precious!!!!  I pray all 3 of my girls are best friends growing up and for their entire lives!

They do love each other...

Kellah is still our reminder of what Christmas is all about!  God WITH us.  God interrupting our lives and living among us, inviting us to LIVE in His presence every single day.

We celebrated her birthday with family and friends on Sunday.  We "had a ball!"  That was the theme since she's into balls and GOING.  Seriously, the child can NOT sit still for more than .2 seconds!!!  But we love that about her...

Today, I took the girls to Zona Rosa to play at The Grove and get "ice cream" at Yogurtini.  We had a blast!
Like I said, she won't sit still for very long at all!!  Especially not when there is a slide to go down.

She did stay put long enough to enjoy her special birthday treat though!

Tonight, we will head to Chick-fil-A and let the girls play there too.  It's one of their favorite things to do!

Well, Kyiah hasn't quite figured out how much fun it is yet.  But she will!

It's hard to believe Kellah isn't my little baby anymore.  She's the BIG sister now.  And the little sister, still.  Ah, the middle child.  Lawrence tells her they have something in common, at least.  Speaking of Lawrence, Kellah is becoming quite the Daddy's girl.  When she wakes up in the morning, she asks for Daddy first, not me anymore.  She cries when he has already left for work, and RUNS to the garage door as soon as she hears it going up to signal Daddy is home.  She calls him, "MY Daddy" and clings to his legs, begs for him to pick her up, to dance with her, to swing her around or do gymnastic tricks with her.  Blesses my heart.

It's a good thing she's cute.  Kellah is a stinker.  She will steal my breakfast, my greens, and my coffee.

Kellah is into balls, but she also likes puzzle and is really good with her shapes now too.  She enjoys coloring and making crafts with Coralyn.  She pretends to bake and cook in her play kitchen.  She is starting to get into books more, but won't sit through me reading an entire one to her.  She will, however, sit and flip through book after book on her own.  Little Miss Independent.  (I seem to have at least 2 of those so far.)  And of course climbing -- she LOVES to climb!  And then run and jump and dance and fall to the ground, only to get right back up and do it all all over again!  She's my little energizer bunny.  I pray she uses all that enthusiasm for life to bring glory and honor to God in ways I can't even begin to imagine.

I don't know what plans God has for my Kellah, but I know they are amazing.  He has designed her just the way He wants (Psalm 139) and has good works prepared for her to do (Eph 2:10) and will help her live them out.  I am just blessed to be a part of this, to be her mama and have her on loan for however long God gives her to me.  I am excited to watch her grow up, teaching her about God and helping her live for Him with every fiber in her being.  I love her so very much and really can't imagine life without Kellah Grace!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Socks and Underwear

If you spend any time on the internet or watching TV,  you have most likely seen this amazing story about WestJet airlines in Canada.  Before boarding, the passengers were asked to scan their tickets and then tell the virtual Santa Claus want they wanted for Christmas.  Without second thought, the passengers then got on their plane and set off for their destination.  Little did they know that the WestJet employees were busy checking their requests, hustling off to buy the gifts, and rushing back to get them wrapped and ready for them by the time they landed in Canada.  When they arrived at the baggage claim, instead of suitcases coming down towards them, they saw neatly wrapped presents -- inside were the very items they had shared with Virtual Santa that they dreamed of getting for Christmas this year.  People received Kindles, iPhones, cameras, even a flat screen TV.  And then there was the guy who had jokingly said he wanted socks and underwear.  Guess what he got?  Yep, socks and underwear!!!  I bet he wished he had taken the virtual Santa a little more seriously as he held his socks and underwear and looked around at everyone else with new phones and TVs!

We can laugh at the poor guy, but maybe we should learn something from him too.

Before I share what God taught me through this heart-warming story, I want to add a little disclaimer:
I am NOT saying that God and Santa Claus are on the same level.  
I am NOT comparing God to Santa or vice versa.  
I am JUST passing on to you what God seemed to speak to me through this story.

How often do we miss out on receiving amazing blessings from God?

When we pray, do we really, truly believe God hears us, that He can and will answer us?
Do we pray big, unrealistic, humanly impossible prayers OR do we pray safe prayers?
Are we scared to ask God to do something because we fear He won't or can't?
If we pray "little" prayers then maybe we're more confident we'll get the answer we want.  BUT, if we pray for something that is huge, something we know only God can do, then we tend to be a little hesitant, doubting if God will do what we have asked.  At least, I know I feel that way all too often.

Right now, we are praying for a little 4-month-old baby girl named Nella.  She has been diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), for which there is no cure.  Basically, her muscles will stop working.  However, her brain will be fully functioning, so she will be fully aware of the pain her body is in.  Doctors have given her weeks to months to live.  Every night, we pray for God to touch her body and heal her, completely.  And yet, I don't expect Him to.  Not if I am totally honest with myself.  

You see, for many many many months we prayed for our dear friends' little boy Levi, who had a brain tumor.  We prayed God would heal him, but He didn't.  At least not this side of heaven.  Levi went home to be with Jesus earlier this year.  

Before that, we prayed faithfully, earnestly, daringly for another sweet family and their baby boy Samuel.  He had some complications at birth such that he was deprived of oxygen.  We prayed for God to heal him, to restore his brain, to let him live and tell the amazing story of divine intervention.  For reasons I don't understand, God chose to take Samuel home to heaven to be with Him.  

When I think of God-fearing, faith-filled, passionate lovers of Jesus, I immediately think of Levi's mom Alicia and Samuel's mom Grace.  They are the most amazing women I know, living boldly and wholeheartedly for Jesus in all they do, teaching their children to do the same.  If God would answer anyone's prayers, surely He would grant Alicia and Grace their pleas to heal their baby boys.  James tells us to pray in faith, without any doubt or hesitation about God's ability to answer us.  I know Alicia and Grace did just that, every single day, all day long for that matter. And yet, God didn't do what they so desperately wanted. 

You might think that these women would walk away from their faith, turning their back on God since He seemingly did the same to them.  Far from it, they have remained strong and steadfast, continuing to love Jesus and live for Him despite the pain they experience every single day.   

These moms and two little boys have forever changed me, and many others too who also prayed for Levi and Samuel.  I tell myself if Alicia and Grace can still believe in God, so can I.  Not only that, I can trust Him to hear my prayers and answer them.  Granted, He doesn't always give me the response I want, BUT He always listens to me.  And so, I keep praying.

This WestJet story, though, reminded me that I still need to pray BIG.  I have become lazy in my prayer life, just offering up quick prayers as I rush through my day.  "Please help So and So with their marriage."  "Be with So and So as they seek Your will."  "Help my girls grow up to know You and live for You."  So generic.  Nothing specific.  Nothing humanly impossible.  Nothing only God can do.  I'm kind of like the guy who asked for socks and underwear.  I forget that I serve a God who created the universe out of nothing.  He spoke the stars into existence.  He breathed the planets.  With one word, zebras and peacocks and bombadier beetles appeared.  At His command, the Red Sea separated and the Israelites walked safely across to the other side on dry land.  The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is still at work today - in ME!  If God can do all that, then He can certainly heal baby Nella.  So, why do I doubt Him?  I shouldn't.

I need to be more like the people who asked for cameras, iPhones, Kindles, and big screen TVs.  I need to remember to whom I am praying and pray BIG.

If I pray socks and underwear prayers, I'm going to get socks and underwear answers.

Only as I "dare" to pray BIG am I going to get GOD-SIZED answers.

Won't you join me and start praying for the impossible?  After all we are praying to One for whom NOTHING is impossible!!!  We just might be blown away with the answers to prayer we get!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Less Is More

That's a hard one to swallow this time of year.

During this holiday season, we seem to have an unspoken competition to see who can get the most, do the most, be the busiest, be the most stressed.

The more presents under the tree, the happier the family.
The more parties and events on the calendar means you're a successful, popular, well-liked person.
The more elegant and fancy the dish you make, the more compliments you receive, which of course makes you a more joyful, cheerful person.

More, more, more.
We're always trying to out-do each other.

But WHY?

Maybe we don't even realize we're doing it.
And yet, we somehow get caught up in the competition, striving to win a prize we can't see or touch or hold.  Recognition from others.  Tweets on twitter.  Comments on facebook.

But really, truly what does all this praise, recognition, and accolade amount to?

Except maybe credit card payments.
A messy kitchen.
A tired, weary, cranky, stressed-out mom who snaps at her kids.

Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

Yesterday morning, I read a great blog post and was kind of slapped in the face.
I was reminded that LESS IS MORE, that I need to STOP and SLOW DOWN, to keep things SIMPLE.
Then, to confirm that was the lesson I needed to learn, a friend in my small group last night shared how she was "forced" to play with her 2 small children for almost 2 hours.  Her husband was having his students present their final papers in their home, and she was confined to the play room with her kids, giving her no other option but to play.  She couldn't clean or organize or make supper or do anything else on her normal to-do list.  Normally, like me, she is busy getting things done around the house and doesn't have time to sit and play for hours on end.  Granted, we both will sit down and color or read or play with our children in little segments throughout the day, but to just do nothing but play for more than 15 minutes is not a pleasure we rarely allow ourselves.  We can't.  We have too much to do, too much to get done.  Or do we? 

As I was shown yet again yesterday, this is simply not the case.
Or at least it doesn't have to be.
The choice is MINE.

And so today, we are slowing down.  We are keeping things simple.

For the past 3 days, we have gotten out and about -- shopping, running errands, going to story time at the library, playing at Chick-fil-A.  All good things.  But it was all just too much for my 3 small girls.  Today, my 4-year-old informed me, "We are NOT going anywhere today.  No more shopping or going outside until winter is over."

Well, I don't know about staying home until March, BUT for today that's the plan.  We are just having fun coloring and traveling to outer space in our pretend rocket and reading books and holding the baby.  Nothing big or spectacular.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's best.

Remember, less is more!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

My 4-year-old is obsessed with Charlie Brown right now.  She has watched every episode available on Netflix, multiple times.  Who cares if it's about Valentine's Day or Halloween.  While she watches Charlie Brown, her 2-year-old sister takes a nap, so I try to get things done around the house -- cleaning, laundry, prepping for supper, etc.  Oh, and cuddle with my 3-week-old!

Today, as I was doing my own thing, I couldn't help but stop and watch and listen to Charlie Brown too.  As I did, I learned a life lesson:

You won't know unless you try.

Charlie Brown may be a good man, but I don't want to be like him.  
Now, hear me out...

If you know anything about Charlie Brown, you probably know he has quite the crush on the "little red hair girl."  Only problem, he has never actually talked to her.  He's too scared.  He's afraid she will reject him.  And so he sits on his bench during lunch and watches her from a distance.  He makes a Valentine for her, but doesn't give it to her.  He wants to ask her to a dance but can't walk over to her.  He finds her pencil she dropped but can't get up the nerve to return it to her before someone else takes it out of his hand and does it for him.  Poor Charlie Brown!

Or is he?
Should we really feel all that sorry for Charlie Brown?

At some point,  he's got to get past his fear.  If he loves the little red hair girl so much, what is keeping him from going up to her, saying hi, introducing himself?  In one episode, he is getting advice from "Dr. Lucy" and asks what he would do if the little red hair girl does like him and then he realizes he doesn't like her as much as he thinks he does.  How will he leave her?  Exasperated, Lucy screams, "How are you going to leave someone you have never met in the first place?!"

We can laugh at Charlie Brown, but how often do we do the same thing?
How many times have we let fear get in our way of trying something new?
How many opportunities have we missed because we were too afraid of what someone would think of us?
How often do we have an idea or a dream but are too scared to even try to make it happen?

We tell ourselves everything that could go wrong.
We think of all the bad things that could possibly happen.
We focus only on the negative.
We convince ourselves that we shouldn't even try, that our idea is ridiculous anyway, that our dream is too big to ever become a reality, that everyone will laugh at us.

And so, like Charlie Brown, we end up sitting on the bench all alone, with a bag over our heads.

Like I said, Charlie Brown may be a good man, but I don't want to be like him.
At least not in this instance.

Instead, I want to take life by the horns.
I want to dare to dream.  And to dream big, huge, IMPOSSIBLE dreams.

I don't want to miss out on anything.
I don't want to let opportunities pass me by.

And so, I am ready and willing to TRY, to give it my best shot.
That's all I can do.

I will make mistakes.
I may even fail.  
I may fall down.
BUT, I can always get back up.

As I was reminded today:

I liked this one too:

And this one:

Then, there was this:

What are YOU afraid of?
What's keeping you from reaching your goals?
What's stopping you from making your dreams come true?

What if you let all that go?

What if you went for it?

What if....

What if...

So stop waiting!!!

Let's make today count!!!
Let's live life to the fullest!
Let's try our hardest and give it our best.
Let's dare to dream!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Your Dreams

The weather outside is frightful.  I think the high for today is somewhere in the low 20's. Brrrrr!  So, we're having a lazy Saturday inside our nice, warm house!

I got to sleep in, all snuggled up to my newborn baby girl.  Then, as I just laid there in bed next to her, I watched her sleep.  So peaceful.  So content.  I want to soak up these moments, because I know they won't last forever and once they're gone, I can never get them back.

Eventually, I forced myself to get up out of bed and slowly made my way downstairs where I heard Christmas music playing.  I found my 2 year old sitting on my husband's lap as he worked at the computer.  I started a pot of coffee, fixed some breakfast, and then sat down to enjoy my scrambled eggs and blueberry pancakes.  My 2 year old felt the need to pull her chair from one side of the table to where I was sitting.  She "needed" to be right next to me.  Again, something that won't last forever, and so I smiled and treasured this memory, storing it away in my heart for those times when my daughter is a teenager and yells, "I hate you!" or something awful that she hopefully doesn't really mean but feels the need to say in her fit of hormonal rage.

As I was putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, I felt little fingers tickling my back.  I turned around, expecting to find my 2 year old, but instead I found my 4 year old smiling and laughing as she delighted in surprising me.  I gave her a big hug and melted as she whispered, "I love you, Mommy!"  Yet another precious moment.  Nothing big or grand or extravagant, but oh so meaningful.

Perhaps it's all these "little" priceless treasures that have gotten me in a dreamy mood today, but whatever the case, I am feeling quite pensive and reflective and excited, honestly.  I feel as though I am on the edge of my seat peering into the future, trying to imagine all that could happen and daring to dream.  Not just normal dreams though.  Big, huge, WILD dreams!

Actually, it's as if God is daring me to let Him dream for me!

I was upstairs in the nursery, feeding my baby girl and dreaming again, when it was a though God whispered in my ear, "I can do better than that."  I stopped making my mental list of all I want to do and accomplish in the new year that is just ahead of us.  I listened.  "My dreams for you are bigger than your dreams."  I was blown away at that thought and couldn't help but smile.  My joy quickly turned to fear, however.  You see, if God is going to be able to work out His plans and purposes for me that first requires me to give up my own plans and purposes.  I would need to surrender my hopes and dreams.  I would have to lay them at Jesus' feet and trust that what He would give me in return would indeed be far better than what I had imagined myself.  I shrunk back, wanting to hold on to what I had planned for myself and my family.  I wanted to cling to my plans and hopes and dreams.  They were all good things, after all.  BUT, as God reminded me, "My ways are not your ways.   My plans are not your plans.  Mine are better, far better!"  It was as if God was challenging me to take Him at His word:

"Now all glory to God, who is able, 
through His mighty power at work within us, 
to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
~Ephesians 3:20

or as the Message version puts it:

God can do anything, you know --
far more than you could ever imagine or guess
or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it not by pushing us around
but by working within us,
his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

I love how God speaks to us through His Word.  It may have been written thousands of years ago, but it's still alive and applicable today.  I also appreciate how God knows exactly what is going on in my mind and heart.  He, then, meets me right there and shows me in His Word how He wants to work in my life to bring glory to His name.  The reality of that can be scary, extremely scary, at times - like now.  Yet, I certainly don't want to miss out on what God has planned.  If I cling to my hopes and dreams, as big and crazy and even unattainable as they may seem to me, I will miss out on something better, far better.  If I hold on to what I think is good, I won't be able to receive God's best.

My husband and I will be sitting down during Christmas break to write out some of our dreams for this upcoming year, and I am looking forward to that.  I so enjoy doing life with him and am blessed beyond words to have him as my partner and companion on the journey God has laid out for us.  But as we put on paper what is in our minds and hearts, I am challenged to dream even bigger.  Or really, to let God dream for us.

Ironically enough, my husband just called me down to the basement where he was winterizing our window.  He's all excited about how we can have kids over to hang out and do tutoring and who knows what all else.  We already have a weekly Bible study, but evidently God has bigger things in store for us.  Or as my husband shared, "I don't know.  It's like I'm renewed and rejuvenated and ready to dream."  

Evidently, God has been speaking to my husband today too.  
Which makes me all the more excited!

Who knows what will happen in 2014?
I have no idea.  
All I do know is that it's going to be beyond our wildest dreams!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'Tis the Season

We've stuffed ourselves with turkey and now we're stuffing our cars with presents that we'll stuff under the tree.  Before we unwrap all those bright packages, we'll probably sit down to a nice meal and stuff ourselves with rich food once more.  Then, we'll stuff garbage sacks with torn wrapping paper and empty gift bags and cardboard boxes once all the presents have been opened.  Then, we'll stuff our closets and toy chests and drawers and garages and basements and who knows where all else with all our new stuff.  A few days later, we'll stuff our faces yet again as we snack our way into the New Year.

'Tis the season...

We're stuffed.
Our houses are stuffed.
Stuff is coming out of our ears.

The only thing that is empty is our wallets.
And our bank accounts.

Or is it?

What about our hearts?
Are they stuffed?
Shouldn't they be with all the joy and good tidings of the holidays?
Shouldn't they be with all the new toys and trinkets and clothes and cars and whatnot we just got?

But what if they're left empty too?
What if there's a hole in our heart that none of that stuff can fill?

You see, noTHING can fill that hole.

It's God-sized hole.
One only Jesus can fill.

As we stuff our faces and get new stuff, we tend to forget the REAL REASON FOR THE SEASON.
We forget that Christmas is about a tiny baby born in a manager over 2,000 years ago.
We forget that Christmas is about the hope and joy and peace that baby boy brought with Him to earth.
We forget that Christmas is about the presence of God, not presents under a tree.
We forget that Christmas is about the gift of salvation, not stuff.

Today, we finished Christmas shopping.
It only took us 3 days.  Granted, we had 3 children ages 4 and under with us, but still...
I added up how much we spent and was somewhat sickened at the grand total -- about $600!
And we didn't go overboard.  Really, we didn't!!!

Here's what we got:
*2 presents for my mom (can't say what they are because she might read the blog and I don't want to ruin the surprise for her)
*1 VERY simple present for my dad (a calendar with a picture of our girls for each month - I can say what we got him because he told me that's what he wanted and he doesn't really read my blog anyway)
*2 toy trucks for a cousin (part of a gift exchange we do with my husband's family, $10-$15 limit)
*Pokeman cards for a cousin (part of the gift exchange)
*Pokeman cards for another cousin (part of the gift exchange)
*Stocking stuffers for the 5 women in my husband's family ($10 total for all the gifts)
*Stocking stuffers for the 3 men in my husband's family ($15 total for all the gifts)
*Presents for the person I drew for the gift exchange for my husband's family ($50 limit)
*Presents for the person my husband drew for the gift exchange (another $50)
*Presents for our teenage niece ($30 total)
*Presents for our 3 girls
     -pajamas for each of them ($30 total)
     -sets of socks for each of them ($20 total)
     -sticker books for the 2 older girls ($2 total)
     -watercolor paint sets for the 2 older girls ($2 total)
     -toy balls for each of the older girls, because this is the toy they picked out! ($8 total)
     -diapers and wipes for the baby, because she's 2 weeks old and isn't going to remember her 1st Christmas and with 2 older sisters and lots of hand-me-downs doesn't really need anything given we have 12 - yes TWELVE - tubs of clothes and 2 rooms - yes TWO BIG ROOMS - full of toys and books galore ($20)
     -cardboard castle for all the girls to color and decorate and play with together ($15)
     -wooden letters to spell out each girl's name and paper to decorate them ($35)
*Ornaments for each girl to represent something they like/their personality this year ($50 total)
*Ornament for our family to represent us as a whole this year ($15)

And there you have it...$600!  Gone!  Just like that!

My husband and I didn't even buy presents for each other - we would rather save the money for a big vacation and enjoy each other's presence and the memories we will make as a family!

We didn't even buy toys for our 3 children, except for a football and ball with things in it that shake and make noise!  They already have toys coming out of their ears (and noses and eyes and mouths and every other place already).  We know the grandparents will buy them new toys.  We don't really have any more room for more toys.

I can't even begin to imagine how much we would have spent if we had bought each of the 3 girls even 1-2 new toys each.  Say we spent just $25 on each child, that's like ONE nice toy.  $75 more...gone!

It's not about the money.  Not really.  At least not this year.  In years past we would have never been able to afford this type of Christmas - simple as it is.  2 years ago, we were on WIC and wondering where in the world money was going to come from to pay our electric bill let alone put presents under the tree.  Thankfully, this year we are not strapped financially.  We are certainly counting our blessings and praising God for His abundant provision!

That doesn't mean we're running around filling our shopping carts up with stuff just because we can.  Yes, we can afford more this year, but that doesn't mean we have to get more.  Nor that we really want to.

I guess it's just not who we are.

The idea that we just spent $600 and still have money left in the bank blows my mind!  But, the reality that we could have spent so much more blows my mind even more!

We don't NEED anything more. We have so much already!!!  I am sitting here in my living room/dining room in our new house (I guess it's still new even though we moved in February and have lived here almost a year now) and still can't get my mind around the fact that we really do live here.  As I look around at my kitchen and into the play room and the door that leads to the basement and the stairs that go up to our bedrooms, I can't help but feel blessed.  And burdened at the same time.

Burdened with the reality that not everyone has it as good as we do.
Burdened with the truth that people are shivering in the freezing cold today, with no place to call home.
Burdened with the fact that so many kids won't have any presents this year, let alone a decent meal or clothes to keep them warm.
Burdened with the responsibility that I can and should do something about that.

And this is actually when I start to get excited about Christmas again!
All that shopping and getting of stuff drained me.
BUT, the idea of GIVING fills me up again.

It's not just about blessing others with stuff though.

Yes, we had fun picking out things to fill a shoebox for a little girl.  But, I am much more excited about the joy she will have as she opens that box and the hope it will bring as she will be given a Bible too and have the opportunity to learn about the best gift of all - a relationship with Jesus!

Yes, we have donated to some friends and various ministries they are involved in.  I am thrilled to be able to help "stuff a bus," bring some orphaned children into forever families, pay for a surgery, and ensure that a little boy has a Christmas he'll never forget.  In all these things, the best part is knowing that we shared the love of Jesus, that we filled someone's heart in a way that it can never be emptied.

After all, 'tis the season!