Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

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It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.   

 

2016: Year in Review

There have been times in my life when I’ve had an overwhelming sense to do everything I can to remember the moment. Sometimes the moments have been big, life altering events like my children’s births or the death of a loved one. Other times the moments are found among mundane everyday tasks. Moments that stand out as special, holy gifts. In good and bad moments, I have commanded myself to stop, take a good look around, listen, and pay attention to the people who are with me. Then I pray. I pray my careful observations will become a memory or a lasting impression on my heart in which I can always feel.

Over Christmas break, we traveled to my brother’s house where we gathered with my family. Our family lives in several different states making times when we are all together very rare and special. It was loud and crazy. There was food, a lot of food. There was dancing, singing, praying, and playing with the kids. And food, more food. There was a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of love.

While we were together, I couldn’t help but think about what it was like for my Grandma, Mom and Dad, to be surrounded by a family they started. A bittersweet mix of the golden memories of the past and forging new ones in the present to be remembered for a future time. Missing loved ones and celebrating life in their children and grandchildren. A job well done, children reared, overcoming hard times and celebrating the good times. All this wrapped up in this thing called life.

One night my brother-in-law called us into the living room to watch a video he put together of clips he had taken of his family throughout the year. He captured the big moments and the small ones and masterly put them together complete with touching music. With my family, I watched a year fly by in about three minutes. I was struck with how much of our daily worries and what we think is big stuff, really isn’t and how the small touches, details, and love in life are really what mean the most. All those little moments collected together to mean something very big. It is not the things or even the places, it’s the people that make life worthwhile and meaningful.

My brother-in-law’s video inspired me to reflect back on my year. I went through hundreds and hundreds of pictures and picked out the most meaningful captures. When I look at these pictures, I see a common theme. My word for 2016 was community. These pictures represent so many of the special communities I am part of. God has richly blessed me through this word and my heart is so full thinking of His kindness and His gift to me in people. I was going to add captions but then changed my mind. For those of you who were with me, I hope these pictures spark a special memory or a special moment for you. Thank you, thank you all for being a part of my life, praying for me, and inspiring me to be the best woman, mother, and leader I can be. I love you dearly!  Happy New Year! ❤

January- Subways and Skiing

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February- School, Snow, Sunsets

 

March- Family

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Road trip to my brother’s house where we met up with my sister, my parents, and Gammy. We do not get to see each other often so these trips are important and special time.

April- Wonder and Discoveries

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May- New Friends and Callings

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June- Overcoming Fears and Heights

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July- Gammy on the Go

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August- ADVENTURE

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September- New Beginnings

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October- Incredible Opportunities with Incredible Women

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November-SHINE…Together

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December- Home is Where the Heart Is

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Here’s to 2017….

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They’re Here…. Kindness Elves and Advent Calendars

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Our family has done many things to celebrate the days before Christmas. From chocolate advent calendars and a chain of linked construction paper rings, to making daily ornaments with Truth in the Tinsel or inspired by Ann Voskamp’s  “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.”  This year, we are adding to our Christmas traditions with two beautiful dolls who traveled from across the pond to help us spread kindness and think of others during the Christmas season.

I stumbled upon the Kindness Elves about a year ago and fell in love with the idea. Created by a UK school teacher as an alternative to the “elf-on-the-shelf” tradition, Kindness Elves place the focus on positive, character-building activities while giving families opportunities to teach and practice acts of love, kindness, and gratitude.

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Our Elves were shipped in their sweet, little home, complete with a working mailbox. In a week or two, they will appear somewhere in our house with an introduction to the kids and a heart note suggesting an act of kindness to complete for the day. It is suggested to leave the elves besides an object needed for the day’s suggested activity. e.g. inside a mixing bowl ready to bake some cookies as a gift.

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Here are other ways we plan to use our elves as suggested by the creator of the Kindness Elves. I love the idea of the “Little Book of Big Kindness.”

  • When the elves see the children doing kind and lovely things, they leave a little note for them to find in the morning e.g. “Oh I loved it when I saw you sharing your new book with your little sister” or “you were very kind to help your Mummy load the dishwasher!” etc These notes can be collected into the Little Book of Big Kindnesses as a record keeping journal.
  • Some mornings they may wake up to find the elves have lined up their shoes, tidied their coats, got the breakfast things ready or fixed a broken toy etc. Modelling direct ways to be kind and helpful as a prompt for the children in the day.
  • Occasionally they leave a treat out as a thank you!
  • On the last day (Christmas Eve usually for us) the Kindness Elves leave a little goodbye letter, thanking the children for their wonderful stay and sharing so many lovely experiences together. They say that they might pop back throughout the year for birthdays or other special occasions and that they can’t wait to come again next Christmas!

 

Need elf size heart notes? I punched hearts out of red paper. Here is a link to a sheet of heart templates to use if you do not have a punch. http://www.timvandevall.com/wp-content/uploads/Heart-Template-Printable.pdf  They are perfect elf size. 🙂

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The Kindness Elves are adorable and I know we will enjoy them, but they not necessary to complete acts of kindness this season. Check out the following Acts of Kindness Advent Calendars and start sprinkling kindness today.

Acts of Kindness Advent Calendars and Ideas:

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http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/random-acts-of-christmas-kindness-advent-calendar/

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http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/alternative-advent-calender-24-acts-kindness-kids/

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https://thechristmasangel.com/blog/activities/25-days-of-messages

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http://nourishingjoy.com/service-projects-for-kids-advent-calendar/

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http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/100-acts-kindness-kids/

You Are Never Too Old to Try Something New-Skydiving with My Grandmother

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Tuesday will be a day I will never forget. A day filled with adventure, friendship and inspiration. Inspiration provided by my eighty-six year old grandmother, Gammy, who continues to surprise me with her resilience, endurance and her energy.

Gammy has been living with us since the beginning of July and at the beginning of the summer I made a promise to her of a summer she would never forget-The Summer of Adventure. She loves to be “on the go.” Seeing new things, meeting new people and going out to eat are some of her favorite things to do and I have affectionately hashtagged our adventures as #gammyonthego.

We have chanted “Gammy on the Go! Gammy on the Go!” on our way to visit mansions in Newport, RI, chasing sunsets to gorgeous views, and road tripping to NY. Most of all, I think we have enjoyed the good company of family and friends and getting to know each other better by living life under the same roof. My kids and I have been blessed by this time we have had with her. I have heard stories never heard before and we both have been stretched and grown in different ways. I am trying to take it all in as I have become increasingly aware of not knowing how much more time we have with each other here on earth.

We arrived at Skydive Pepperill  under gorgeous, clear blue skies. A warm breeze was blowing the various flags decorating the Skydive Center and skydivers with colorful parachutes were gracefully landing with expertise in a large, adjoining field. Three other fun-loving, adventurous souls from our church family were jumping with us and some other church members had come to watch. The whole experience was made even better with them there and I was again reminded how much I love my church. The relationships that have built over the ten years at Centerpoint have become some of the most treasured relationships in my life. When it comes down to life, it really is all about relationships. Relationship with Jesus, with your family, with your friends. Relationships and trust take time to grow, through good times and hard times, but it is so worth the time put in. Life is better with good people around you and we have a whole church filled with good (FUN) people.

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I could try to describe our experience. The multiple-page waiver we had to sign, the video that stresses multiple times how you could die, the gear, the plane, the 45 second freefall, and the landing BUT a picture is worth a thousand words. So….here are some pictures and the “most awesome video in the whole world” to take you on our adventure with us.

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Our Skydiving Declarations
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Gearing UP
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Walking Up To The Plane

 

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The Queen of Skydiving

 

The plane

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In the Plane
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At the Door
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Free Fallin’

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The Coolest Grandmother in the Whole World
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Parachutes Deployed
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The Landing. Look at Gammy’s legs. They are in perfect position, better than the instructional video.
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Our Instructors- Vinny and Keith

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PS The record for the oldest female jumper at this center was 94. Gammy said we will be back on her 95th birthday (if not sooner.) I hope that am half of what she is when I am 86. So incredibly blessed!

 

Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Recipe

 

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Warm bread with butter on a cool, damp day makes me happy. Today’s dreary weather had me craving the coziness of an oven warmed kitchen and the goodness of a homemade treat. After lunch, my sous chef (aka my oldest daughter) and I made a recently discovered gluten-free bread recipe from The Frugal Farm Wife.

When it comes to gluten-free bread recipes, I usually have my doubts. Gluten-free breads are notorious for being dry and crumbly but this zucchini bread recipe had me optimistically hopeful. The recipe promised a moist, delicious tasting bread and it lived up to its promise. The bread has wonderful flavor,  great consistency, and is perfectly moist!

Gluten Free Zucchini Bread Recipe

Makes two loaves.

  • 3 cups gluten free flour  (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
  • 1 tsp. xanthan gum  (I used Bob’s Red Mill – Xanthan Gum)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cups shredded zucchini
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 banana- very ripe banana (I used a ripe, frozen one)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325º
  2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Set aside.
  3. Blend banana in a food processor or mash banana in bowl
  4.  Pulse to combine eggs, oil, and vanilla. If not using a food processor, beat the ingredients in with the banana.
  5. Add shredded zucchini to the banana/egg/oil mixture.
  6. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix until everything is combined. Use a rubber spatula to scrape flour up from the bottom and mix it in.
  7. Divide batter between two greased loaf pans. (or muffin tins, mini loaf pans)
  8. Place the loaf pans in the center of the preheated oven, and bake, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean (about 50 minutes).
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes.
  10. Loosen edges with a butter knife, and turn onto wire cooling grid to finish cooling.
  11. ENJOY!

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78 Kind Things to Say to Your Kids

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Yesterday, I wrote about the power of words and how the loudest echos can be created from the quietest, smallest voice. Today, I want to challenge you to start looking for ways to use kind, powerful words with some of the smallest people we know- our children.

Words have a way of lasting years and years after they are said. When we speak encouraging words, we are giving our children an emotional boost of hope, support and confidence. Pray for opportunities and quiet moments to embrace and use those times to support and build up your children. Read Bible verses that speak to their identity in Christ.  Pray that God’s life-giving words and our kind words would root deeply into our children’s hearts. Root so deeply, that when they are faced with challenging and difficult situations they might sow the strength and confidence those words have grown.

Here are 78  “starter” phrases for you to use. They are not only for our smallest children, they work for our children who may have grown taller than us too. If speaking words of affirmation is difficult for you, try saying one or two words at a time and work up to speaking several each day. Like with anything new and with some practice, speaking encouraging words will start to feel easier to do and your children will benefit from your practice.  I would love to hear from you and add your ideas to this growing list.

  1.  You are loved.
  2. You make me smile.
  3. I believe in you.
  4. You are a hard worker.
  5. Can I help you?
  6. I’m sorry.
  7. Will you forgive me?
  8. I forgive you.
  9. You are creative!
  10. Great discovery!
  11. You are kind.
  12. You are a good friend.
  13. You are a good listener.
  14. I’m listening
  15.  Your ideas matter.
  16. You can say no.
  17. You make a difference.
  18. You belong!
  19. Here is a place for you.
  20. Tell me what you are thinking.
  21. Thank you for helping me.
  22. Would you like to help me?
  23. Thank you for trying.
  24. Great job!
  25. I like how you ______.
  26. I see you trying.
  27. You are brave.
  28. You can learn from your mistakes.
  29. Your mistakes do not define you.
  30. Keep up the good work!
  31. I like you.
  32. Thank you for being you.
  33. God made you special.
  34. You have a lot to offer.
  35. I like spending time with you.
  36. You are fun to be with.
  37. I am excited to see you try.
  38. You figured it out!
  39. Well done!
  40. Thank you for following directions.
  41. Thank you for sharing.
  42. I trust you.
  43. I appreciate you.
  44. Thank you for being honest.
  45. You are joyful!
  46. You are loving.
  47. Thank you for waiting.
  48. You are patient.
  49. You give the best hugs.
  50. I like when you hold my hand.
  51. Please sit next to me.
  52. I am grateful that God made me your mom.
  53. You have a great sense of humor.
  54. You have a sweet and gentle spirit.
  55. I will help you with that!
  56. What a fantastic idea.
  57. Let’s do it together.
  58. Good thinking!
  59. Thank you for answering me.
  60. That was a kind thing to do.
  61.  God gave you special gifts and talents.
  62. Let’s pray about it together.
  63. You are good at ______.
  64. You are important.
  65. Thank you for helping your friend.
  66. That is wonderful news.
  67. I am proud of you.
  68. You mean the world to me.
  69. I love you to the moon and back.
  70. You are beautiful inside and out.
  71. You made my day!
  72. You are generous.
  73. You are helpful.
  74. Don’t give up.
  75. That’s a great question!
  76. I learn new things from YOU
  77. I love your enthusiasm.
  78. I LOVE YOU!

 

Keeping It All Together-Part 1

 

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People sometimes say to me, “I do not know how you do it all.” Or ask me, “How do you keep it all together?”  Here’s the honest answer, “I don’t.” 

Homeschooling, church ministries, MOPS, and life bring a gigantic set of tasks to complete in a 24 hours time period. As my kids get older and ministry opportunities increase, there seems to be more to do and less time to do it in. I find myself in a constant struggle to find the right balance of “work” and life.  I frequently reevaluate our schedule to make sure that it reflects the values and priorities we hold as a family.

About a year ago, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed and way over-scheduled. Since then, I have had to do a lot of soul searching, praying and reading focused around the importance of using time wisely. Through much prayer, trial and error, work and determination, I have made some important changes to our schedule and have seen the positive impacts those changes have made in our life and in our relationships with others.

I am not saying I am perfect at this. Some days, I still feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, I sneak a glimpse at another mom and think, “Boy, she has it all put together.” But rather than being hard on myself, those moments usually inspire me to do another load of laundry  or take another look at our schedule and how we are using our time. No judgments or comparisons here. It is sometimes hard to remember that every mom has a struggle of her own. But we all do!

Working on time management is important because:

  1. Our time is limited.
  2. We can learn to accomplish more by setting simple, realistic goals.
  3. We can improve our decision making ability.
  4.  We can reduce stress.
  5.  We can find more time for things that we enjoy (even if that means only a few minutes at first.)
  6. We can rediscover joy within our day!

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing what I have learned that has helped me manage my time and responsibilities in a more productive way. These ideas and tips have allowed me to feel less overwhelmed and more joyful in my every day routine. I hope that you will be inspired to think differently or discover something new that may be helpful in your own schedules and bring more joy into your life. Please join me.