Saturday, November 26, 2011

it's the most wonderful time of the year...

i have a sad truth for you...last year we put up our christmas tree on christmas eve.

here's how we got away with that...
#1 - we were in the process of packing up to move the first week of january so actually unpacking christmas boxes made me cringe
#2 - our kids were little and therefore didn't ask questions when we were the only house without a candle in the window or a wreath on the door
#3 - we lived in the middle of the woods at the time...anyone who could see the front of our house was there for a reason so we avoided any judgement by folks driving by
#4 - because we were getting ready to move {and it was the middle of the holidays} i was slightly unstable and most people around me knew that decorating {and un-decorating} a house might send me over the edge

the amazing thing was...despite my came!  
it came for me {as unprepared as i was} just as surely as it came for the folks who spent weeks decking their halls.  lesson learned...
frantic christmas preparations don't equal true christmas celebration

having said that...there is something precious about preparing for the coming of our Savior.  but it's our hearts, not our houses that benefit most from this process.  
this coming...this arrival... this advent...

i've heard a lot of irritated complaints about all the christmas cheer coming out too early this year.  even though the yuletide decor has not yet been displayed in our own home i have to admit i love the spirit.  my heart is there.  i don't think allowing ourselves to get giddy with excitement over this most blessed of seasons is anything but wonderful.  as long as our spirit is one of joy and hopeful expectation i think christmas can be celebrated any day of the year {and probably should be!}

so here's what all this looks like for me this christmas season...
:: less presents and more presence {advent conspiracy style}
:: avoiding the 'mall madness' and overall over-consumption of the holidays by purchasing the few gifts we are giving at the GIFTS OF HOPE shopping event to benefit Mission of Hope {you are invited too!}
:: an intentional advent countdown with my family {including opportunities throughout the season to serve others, love one another, and plant seeds of truth about Christ's coming}
:: limiting our social calendar allowing for more 'white space' in which the Spirit can truly move in our hearts
:: setting aside one evening with my 'gratitude girls' - back porch.  eating.  drinking.  sharing. laughing. crying. embracing.  praying.  slowing down long enough to count the gifts of this season.

i'll have some fun and practical advent ideas coming your way next week.  in the meantime - be inspired...

{i love how advent conspiracy invites us to observe this advent you watch pay attention to the ways your heart is nudging you to enter the story this year}

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a week of thanks: day three

grace :: {noun} 
[1] elegance; poise
[2] courtesy; decency
[3] favor; approval
[4] blessing; thanksgiving

grace :: {verb}
[1] dignify; glorify
[2] adorn; beautify

there is much i would like to explore on this subject with you.  fifteen minutes of research provided me with such rich and deep information that i ultimately decided we would tackle it all another day...a day when we don't all have turkey and stuffing on our brains.

before i leave you to your thanksgiving merriment i wanted to quickly slip this notion of grace into your heart as we continue to lap up the waters of thankfulness this week.

i think my very first grasp at grace had something to do with the very first definition - poise, elegance.  here's a visual for you...
grace kelly - i always thought a name had never been better suited to a person.  

somehow this quality always seemed to elude me.  and yet i so deeply desired to take hold of it.  i've been more of the crazy 'chicken with your head cut off' kind of least that's how i've always felt.  more likely to get the heel of my shoe stuck in a vent cover {this actually happened one time} than to glide fluidly across a dance floor.  over the years i've learned that there's more to 'grace' than elegance especially when it comes to jesus.

here's the funny thing...
as the glory and beauty and favor of Christ has penetrated my heart {note that i am now assigning all those grace-full terms to him...not me} i have felt myself transformed.  and the catalyst of this transformation came through the regular discipline of thanksgiving.  as the days hand me trials and frustrations i choose to see gifts...blessing...grace.

true grace abiding in our inner most being can't be seen on the cover of a magazine.  in fact i've felt it most surely behind the closed doors of my home with babies crying, dishes waiting, water boiling, to-do lists lurking, countless demands pressing down...and my heart - peace, calm...grace.  not of my own design but of His...

a few days ago i had a morning full of potty training trials, toddler diva sassyness, and endless e-mail requests {not to mention the fact that i am still living in a house that is not completely unpacked}.  as i closed the doors to my kids' rooms for nap time i felt myself taking each step downstairs with a lightness...feeling strong and yet full of...
that thing that has always seemed to escape me...  i had been looking for it in the wrong places all these years...

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
 ~ 2 corinthians 12:9  {emphasis mine}

and one more thing y'all...on a much different note.  not sure how much grace she possesses but she sure is funny...a thanksgiving laugh that i couldn't resist sharing...

{i can't believe i just put grace kelly and madea in the same post...happy thanksgiving y'all!}

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

a week of thanks: day two

How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people. :: Sir John Templeton

trying desperately to plant seeds of thankfulness in my own children's hearts.  here is a little inspiration...
these are some super cute thanksgiving craft ideas i found on the parents website.
i am definitely going to try out a few of these with my own family.
would love to see what you're doing to give thanks this season too!
i'm hoping some of these projects will extend into the rest of the year so that we will continue our attitudes of gratitude long after our bellies have been stuffed with turkey.  this one should be good for that...
...not sure i want to go with the corn motiff if i'm keeping it up year round.  i'll post our finished products once they're...well...finished.

Monday, November 21, 2011

a week of thanks: day one

{from wooden hive vintage silverware}
No one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God.
Thankfulness is the deep, contented breath of Peacefulness.

i work with the kids at our church.  my business card says that i am 'children's ministry director' but sometimes i think i am learning more from these kids than they are learning from me.

this month we are exploring what it means to have an attitude of gratitude.  i've been so excited to share the life changing power of this virtue that i practically want to do cartwheels and bound from a trampoline into the rafters shouting - 
this will change your hearts forever kids!!  
don't wait until you're old like me to figure this one out!!'  
{we meet in a gym so the cartwheels and trampoline jumping are actual possibilities on a sunday morning...lucky me}

last week i was reminded that in this process of shepherding kids and their parents, God is further impressing his truth on my own heart.  

gabrielle is 10 years old.  her height would convince you she is nearly a teenager...and so would her wisdom.  i see her cross-legged on the floor in front of me as i teach on sunday mornings.  long dark hair...slender face full of wonder...eyes that are searching...ears that listen {and understand}.

last sunday gabrielle approached me after the service.  tears bubbling up in her bright eyes.  she wanted to talk.  i prepared myself to counsel, comfort, guide...none of those things were necessary.  gabrielle would be the one guiding this conversation...she would leave little need for a response from me.

her grandmother had died.  two weeks ago.  through tears i heard the story of her love and adoration for a woman who had taught her much {especially about Jesus} and loved her well.  they had lived together.  now there was a gaping hole in their family.  with brutal honesty gabrielle explained her struggle with God during this season.  angry that her grandmother lived only into her 60's.  angry that she didn't have more time with her.  angry that her life was now filled with a deep sadness...and then...

a light started to break through in her eyes.  she smiled faintly.  words of wisdom beyond her years were spoken...
this morning we learned that the Bible says we should be thankful in ALL circumstances...even the hard ones.  you told us that even during hard times there are still things that we can thank God for.  i realized that i can thank God.  i can thank him that i got to live with my grandmother and learn so much from her.  i am thankful that i can tell my younger cousins about her because they probably won't remember.  i'm not angry anymore.  i'm thankful.

in that moment i saw the peace of God that is ushered into a heart when room is made inside for thanksgiving.  i saw the living truth of God's word penetrating the heart of a 10 year old girl and literally changing her from the inside out.  holy ground.

please share some of your moments of gratitude with us this week...
they remind us to give eternal thanks to the great giver of gifts...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

farm fun: wing clipping

as my gratitude journal fills i have noticed that many of my gifts are tied to our family farm...
:: tiny nephew farmhand assisting his uncle robert
:: sun breaking free over dew dusted fields
:: hair flying rides on the four wheeler
:: the busy buzzing of bees
:: horses galloping free

so i feel like i would be doing you a disservice if i didn't share some farm blessings with y'all from time to time.

i realize that not everyone experiences things like pulling into the driveway and having someone hand them a live rooster.  so...allow me to share...
here's joey right after he was handed the chicken when we arrived at the farmhouse after church on sunday...

that's my brother on the left (uncle robert).  he's primary caregiver of said chickens.  he is chasing that stinker of a hen who is in big trouble for conniving with that rooster to fly the coop (literally).  uncle robert won and both chickens got an impromptu trim to eliminate any future escapes...

the wing clipping was quick and easy...the chickens didn't even flinch.  apparently it doesn't hurt them at all.  it got me to thinking that i hope the process of teaching my kids the safety of boundaries is as painless...somehow i fear it won't be.  

in my own life there have been plenty of times that i have stepped outside of the fences meant to protect and secure my heart.  sometimes guidance and protection looks more like a cage of oppression, doesn't it?  just like those chickens i've thought there might be something better out there.  something better than what the master provided within the field he placed me during a particular season.  and just like those chickens, when i've stepped outside of the boundaries i've run into predators that were just waiting for me to leave myself vulnerable.  sometimes fences are more about keeping the hurt and harm out and less about keeping us in.  

the funny thing is...i've noticed those chickens congregating along the fence line...looking at what they are separated from on the other side.  allowing their attention to be focused there instead of turning around and gazing upon the acres and acres of green pasture behind them filled with everything they would ever need to live...and free of everything that could lead to their death.  i'm working on living fully in my pasture and staying away from the fence line.  i know God has something important for me to do right where i am.  and when the time comes for me to graze in another pasture, he'll open the gate and guide me there himself.  i won't have to escape when he turns his back. 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; 
I will counsel you and watch over you. 
psalm 32:8

Thursday, November 10, 2011

one more decaffeinated post

so here's the truth about my blog posts...a lot of the time i feel inspired to write about something and it all seems to come together pretty well.  i use my small windows of writing time to type something fresh from my heart to my fingertips.  a few quick edits and i feel good about publishing it into the great beyond.  once my post hits the web i am hopeful that my words will resonate with at least one or two of you folks out there.  it's the reason i write...
and then there are posts like my last one...the caffeine one...
i have to admit - i hesitated to hit 'publish'.  
it was late and my words seemed...well...too 'wordy'.  the whole thing needed some tweaking.  and plus...who cares about my battle with caffeine anyway?  i was tired but alert enough to feel a nudging to just go for it...
     ...unedited and wordy...  
as i hit the orange button i whispered a silent prayer that somehow my words wouldn't be wasted and that there would be a truth in there that someone else needed to uncover.

the next day i hopped on facebook to find that my post had been re-posted by a friend who was up at 4am that morning after a late afternoon coffee.  she was feeling yucky, couldn't sleep and decided to check my blog.  imagine her surprise when she saw the title 'caffeine-free me'.  imagine my surprise when i read her comment and the dozens of other ones that my post and her re-post prompted that day.  

i'm so grateful to God in moments like those.  not because i experience more 'traffic' in my quiet little blog world but because he takes my small, imperfect efforts and uses them in big, important ways.  who would have thought a poorly written post about me giving coffee and tea the boot would have had such a significant impact on so many other people.  the lesson for me...
it's not about me.
it's not about how ethereally my words flow or how thoughtfully they are pruned.  it's about taking the truth he pours into my heart and being faithful to share it with others.  the rest is up to Him.

the truth is - the caffeine thing is really big for me.  it seemed so simple and silly but it's not.  i feel better physically, emotionally and spiritually.  i used to think that a strong cup of coffee or a gigantor cup of sweet tea was a great tool to sharpen my mind and make me more productive on days when i was dragging.  i've come to realize that {for me at least} that was a lie.  the truth is that once i stopped relying on this drug i have felt more freedom and energy than i have in years.  here's the proof...
despite my sweet husband being gone more days than he has been home the past couple of weeks i have managed to keep my cool with the kids {read: no crazy fits of rage}, stay on top of my responsibilities at work, and fit in these fun activities {which i actually enjoyed and didn't get stressed out over}...

 {trip to the local pumpkin patch}

{semi-homemade halloween costumes...yee haw!}

{actually completing one of the many projects i have 'pinned'}

{whipping up some healthy - and yummy - pumpkin pancakes}

{pulling off a fun b-day celebration for my favorite 2 year old}

{super cute cookies courtesy of my friend jen at milk and sugar cookie company}

i would love to hear how simple {yet pretty darn difficult} changes in your own life have made a big difference...
remember - God wants to use your stories to encourage others too...