Friday, February 27, 2015

ARMY 6

This year we tried to persuade the children to forgo birthday parties and just take a family trip to LEGOLAND.  However, the little guy couldn't wrap it around his head.
"That sounds great!  And my party will be an Army Party."
"No buddy, we're not going to have parties this year.  Our trip will be your party!"
"OK.  And when we get back we can have an Army Party."
Oh forget it!
So, we decided to go totally simple (my mom is laughing!) and invite a few close friends, raid Daddy's closet for Army stuff and spend maybe $20 at the Dollar Store.
 
 The only thing I made was the cake, thanks to Pintrist for the fun idea!
 




 Each kiddo threw on some Army camo and posed with the flag.
 
 Then PT began

 
We set up a fun obstacle course of a Paratrooper Drop, Belly Crawl, Zig Zag run, Grenade Toss, and Fortress Escape!

 Gotta love Dollar Store balloons!!
 



 
Then to the Chow Hall for dinner.
 
We prayed for all the men and women that serve our country.

 
After dinner they were given their secret mission assignment and camo face paint!
 
We hid (aka threw) about 120 tiny army men all over the back yard. 
Each soldier was issued a flash light, compass, and glow stick.
 
In the dark, their mission was to rescue the MIA soldiers and return them to safety before the enemy tagged them.  They needed to use their training earlier to be quiet, quick and strong!
 
If they got tagged by the enemy, they had to hand over all their MIA tiny Army men and crack their glow stick and hold it above their head and wait for a fellow soldier to come free them.
 
After the mission was accomplished, we went back to the Chow Hall and celebrated!

 
Then back out to the dark to play with sparklers.


A great night was had by all and truly...
 
the Mission was accomplished!!!
(did you know they make Army men gummies??)


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It's Hard to Slow Down When It's Always Sunny

Looking back, I remember often having the guilty feeling that I should be outside. 
On a sunny day, I might want to lay in bed and read or play with my dolls, but I'd think,
"It's too nice of a day to stay indoors," and with a guilty pressure, I'd head outside.
I would almost anxiously wait for it to get dark because then I'd have permission to come back inside!  Maybe that's why I've always loved the rain.  It gives me freedom to be inside without guilt!
But when you live in the Golden State, where it is sunny about 360 days a year, there isn't much freedom to remain inside, still, quiet, under a blanket for those such as me.
 
 
A few years back when I read Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts," something profound struck me.
She encourages all to slow down, stop rushing through life as if it were an emergency.  Slow down and live fully in the moment.  Slow down and notice the details in a spider's web, the reflection in a drop of water, slow down and receive the gifts of God that are all around us in the details we often overlook because we are spinning too wildly with busy and haste.
With a group of women, we discussed Ann's question about the dangers of a hurried life, "Describe a time or season of your life when you were moving so rapidly that you skimmed over many of the good gifts God has given you.  As you look back, what did you miss because of the sheer speed you were moving?"
 
Something hit me about this struggle to slow down and the dangers of a hurried life -
It's hard to slow down when it's always sunny.
 
And that's it! 
I've grown up where it is always sunny and there are little to no "seasons."  With a guilt that started somehow as a child, I've constantly forced myself to be out and productive when the sun was shining, which is 90% of my days!  How can I possibly slow down when I live in a place that demands a "go go go" pace sheerly because of the weather?!
If you live where there are true seasons, you are forced to slow down, whether you want to or not!
A true winter causes you to drive slower in the snow and sleet.
You hunker down inside because the elements outside are too harsh to face.
You cozy up by a fire because you are chilled to the bone.
You slow down and are still because you have no other choice.
Don't get me wrong, I know many are buried in snow right now and not exactly seeing it as a gift to slow down!  My cousin is home from school in Pennsylvania because of freezing weather and snow and my Uncle in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is telling of 21 degrees below zero temps (is that even legal??)  And our dear friends in Tennessee are home from school because of the harsh cold, and they are not telling these tales in a joyous tone!  They are lamenting in a way!
 
But it is a gift to be forced to stay home and slow down. 
We live in a world of super sonic jets, but we were created for camel travel!
Cancel the life plans that demand being on time, prepared and ready.
Just sit at home and be still.
 
It rained here last weekend.
All day Saturday!
It was glorious.
For the most part I sat on the couch and did nothing.
We had a birthday party scheduled to celebrate my son turning 6, but we canceled it.
Mostly because he caught a little cold, but also because of the rain that wouldn't allow the party to be outside.  I honestly spent most of the day disappointed that I could be more productive and throw the party!  But after several hours of shifting my "go go go" thinking, I sunk into the rhythm of the rain and just relaxed.
It's raining, so it's time to slow down and just enjoy the gift that is now.
 
It wasn't long before the sun came out again and the struggle began again.
How can we slow down and enjoy this one beautiful life we've been given?
If you're at home today because of the weather - school is canceled, roads are closed, work is shut down - be grateful and enjoy the slowing you were meant to live in.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

LOVE

Last night marked a year.
For one year now, 5 little girls have gathered in my dining room twice a month to sip lemonade from tea cups, eat mini pizzas and treats, and talk about what it really means to be one of God's Girls!
They are precious.
 
I want my girls to know from a young age that true friends are ones who come around you to listen to you and pray for you.  True friends spur you on towards LOVE and good deeds, they don't walk down the path of gossip with you and point you to the world.
True friends look differently, go to different schools, wear different clothes than you,
but their hearts look much the same.
We've been working through the Fruit of the Spirit, taking our time to talk about each aspect of the Holy Spirit Fruit that shows in our lives as we allow Him to dwell in us.
Of course I saved LOVE for our February gathering!
Last year we talked about God's great love for us, that we are His Masterpieces!
But the love we talked about last night was different.
Last night we talked about our responsibility to love others.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35
 
3 big parts in these verses.
First the "what"
LOVE one another
Second the "how"
As I have loved you.
Lastly, the "why"
So that by your love everyone will know that you are my disciples.
 
We sipped cherry milkshakes (departing from our traditional lemonade because pink milkshakes with heart straws looked just too cute!) and ate mini pizzas while we discussed this verse at great length.
 
We are commanded to love
Commanded!
Have you ever thought of that?
It's a command without option.  Without caveat.  Without exception. Without excuse.
LOVE one another. Period.
 
We are commanded to love in the way God loves us.
Around the table we shared how God loves
"He cares for us."
"He puts our best first."
Selfless
"He gave us Jesus to die for us."
Sacrifice
"God loves everyone, even those that hate Him."
Unconditional
 
When we love in this way, the same way that God loves us and in the way Jesus exemplified in his earthly life, people stop and take notice.  This kind of love is radically different than the love the world shows.
It seems that our world is lost in the love of self.  That kind of love only points inward. 
It's a dead end. 
But the unconditional, selfless love of God points out.
It points up.
 
Milkshakes and pizzas gave way to decorating heart sugar cookies as we talked some more.



"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Hebrews 10:24
 
How can we encourage each other to love?
One girl shared about a mean girl at school.  Another girl nodded, "yea, she's really mean."
"It would be easy for the two of you to walk away from her and talk about how mean she is.  You could gossip about her and turn others away from her," I started.
"But what if together you pray for her?"
We are commanded to LOVE, and we are asked to consider how we can encourage each other to keep this very difficult command.
 
We concluded our time praying for one another, and praying for the mean girl.
 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Give Thanks = Content

Our pastor has being doing a wonderful series called Change of Heart, examining the conditions of the heart - the hungry heart, lonely heart, prideful heart...
Yesterday he talked about the suffering heart.
There was something about the morning that was different.
There was a thick presence in the air.
Perhaps it was my new fun haircut!  Or perhaps it was the Holy Spirit.
As the music played I found myself fighting back tears - not totally uncommon for me! 
 But this felt different, like a wave was about to crash over me and no matter how fast I tried to turn and run, I would not escape the enveloping water.
"Blessed be your name,
in the land that is plentiful,
where streams of abundance flow,
Blessed be your name."
 
We began to sing what has already become an "oldie but a goodie,"
and I could hear the roar of that wave getting closer to me.
 
"Blessed be your name,
when I'm found in the desert place,
though I walk through the wilderness,
Blessed be your name."
"Every blessing you pour out I'll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say,
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be your name."
 
After reading Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts, I've learned to apply this truth in my own life,
whether blessing or darkness, give thanks and bless the Lord.  It truly is one of the great keys to being content (my word for 2015).  Cultivating a grateful heart also grows a content heart.
And as the refrain approached, so did that tidal wave.
 
"You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name."
 
Not just teary eyes, but the "oh my word, I'm about to shake and perhaps snort with weeping," realization hit me as fast and hard as a crashing wave and there I was, cute new haircut and all, using every dry finger to wipe my eyes as tears fell more quickly than I could catch.  I knew my running mascara had now radically transformed my look!
 
And in a moment I was right back in that car in front of my doctor's office, almost 4 years and a month ago to the day, tears falling like rain with the realization that the hopes of our 4th baby were gone.  Where there once was a heart beat, there now was none.
As I wept in my car with the news, I racked my brain, trying to find answers and questioning what I had done to make this happen.
I heard God speak the words of this song, truly the words of His own in scripture,
 "I am the giver of life and I give and take away, blessed be My name."
I found great comfort in those words.
I also found a great challenge in them.
Can I bless God when He takes away?
Will my heart choose to give thanks and bless the Lord in my loss?
 
I was caught totally off-guard at church yesterday as I sobbed.
Just when you think you've moved past a loss, the grief hits you at very
unexpected times, even 4 years later.
But as I cried and sang those words, I found a strength rising up within me as I declared,
"My heart will choose to say, blessed be the name of the Lord."
 
Yes, I will be content in all things because I am choosing to give thanks and bless the Lord in the good and in the bad.
 
God's love crashed over me yesterday and I'm so grateful that I could not out-run that wave.
Messy cry and all.
He reminded me that true contentment comes when I choose to have a heart of gratitude
and bless Him at all times.
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
 


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Heart Recipe

 
 "I have good news and bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?,"
I asked my parents as we arrived to our annual trip to Cambria.
"The good news I guess," my Mom answered.
"I've cracked the code!  I've finally figured out Grandma's cinnamon rolls!"

For as long as I can remember, my grandparents would come visit us from Illinois and my Grandma would bring a large shopping bag filled with small tin foil packages.  Each one contained a single cinnamon roll that she had made.  She would bring these delightful treats hundreds of miles to us and we'd be over the moon about it!  The tiny foil packages would quickly go to the freezer where they'd remain until we took a selected amount out and placed them in a hot oven to warm up.
Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls are a part of my childhood like roller skating, water skiing and ballet.
As I got older, I begged to learn to make these fantastical buns and finally, with my crimped hair and acid-washed skirt, Grandma Jones and I made her cinnamon rolls in our very own kitchen.
She was rather particular.
I don't think she liked much help in the kitchen and liked to do things herself -
especially her famous cinnamon rolls!
But she let me help a little, grabbing the rolling pin out of my hands from time to time and correcting my mistakes.
Boy I wish I would have paid more attention that day! 
I was probably a junior in high school and had no idea then that those rolls would stump me for years to come!
My Grandma passed away just after I graduated from college.
Years later I decided to try to make Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls on my own as a surprise for my family.  With her bread recipe I jotted down on some scratch paper, I started out on the all day adventure.
"Place 3/4 of a 5 pound bag of flour in a large bowl.  Heat the milk and let it cool, test the temperature with your elbow..." These mysterious instructions left much room for interpretation!  My first batch was pretty, but lacked flavor.  There were not many specifics on what exactly to put in the rolls.  Cinnamon, sugar and butter obviously, but how much?  So each year I added more ingredients to try to make the flavor match my Grandmothers, and each year mine came up short.
My Grandma never frosted her cinnamon rolls,
so I couldn't mask the mistakes with a layer of sweet, white confection.
I began to write notes on the recipe of what I tried and if it worked or not.  What became my New Years Day tradition of making Grandma's cinnamon rolls, also became the day of trial and error!
This year my children were eager to help in the day long festivities.

 I did a little research of other cinnamon roll recipes to see what I might do differently. 
For the past several years, my focus has been on the filling of the rolls - more butter, more sugar, sprinkle sugar in the pan and on top before baking, more cinnamon, try brown sugar...  They just needed more flavor!


I snapped a quick photo to text my mom, announcing what was filling my day.
Her reply said it all! 
"Remember, Grandma Jones put a bag of sugar on top!!"
In other words:
If we're going to eat these things one more year, please, for heaven's sake, add MORE sugar!!!!
 
 The dough was mixed and rising for 2 hours.
It looked like a cream colored moon, rising to fill the sky.
My favorite part came - "punch it down."  There's nothing like putting your fist in the center of a heaping mound of soft yeasty dough!
The dough was turned over and let to rise again for 1 1/2 hours.
All was going well.
It was now time to punch it down again and start rolling out the rolls.
Looking at the tempting ball of dough, I pinched a small piece off and put it in my mouth.
The sensation was not what I expected.
I rushed to the recipe.
Had I forgotten the salt?  Had I put in the right amount of sugar?
This dough had no taste!
Making Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls this year was different.  Over the past year, I have started baking my own bread almost weekly and by now I have the recipe almost memorized.  I know that for 2 large loaves of bread I need 1 Tbsp. of salt and 1/4c. of sugar or honey.  With my Grandma's bread recipe which yields 3-4 loaves of bread there is less than half that amount of salt and sugar! 
AH HA!  I've cracked the code of Grandma's cinnamon rolls!
It's the dough that's the problem, not my lack of cinnamon and sugar in the rolls!
The dough itself lacks flavor!
Remember at the top of this tale I said I have good news and bad news?
Well, you've heard the good news - I figured out why for years my cinnamon rolls don't taste as good as Grandma's!  And now for the bad news -
I figured this out after I made this labor intensive batch!


The parallels to real life are all over this cinnamon roll fiasco!
There is something missing in our life, something just isn't quite right.
We search for answers in our attempt to have the fulfilling life we long for, but adding more things just doesn't seem to make the difference.
Year after year we make new resolutions, try new things, buy new clothes, new cars, change careers... we do everything we can think of to change the flavor of our life, but the problem doesn't lie on the outside. 
More cinnamon and sugar won't change the heart of the cinnamon roll! 
What we need to change is our heart!
A life that is following God's recipe for living is a full, flavorful, delicious life.  When we lay down our own thoughts of what life should be and surrender the recipe we've always used, then God opens our eyes to all sorts of surprises and possibilities we never imagined.
We often place our time and energies in things that won't yield eternal rewards and we keep coming up short, year after year, trying to dress the problem in a different outfit, but the problem still remains.

Until we change our heart recipe, we will continue to lack flavor.
What recipe are you following to live a flavorful life?
So look out.  Next year I'm changing the bread recipe and making the best cinnamon rolls yet!

*all photos on this post were taken by my children!
**my apologies to all the friends I dropped off a hot batch of these tasteless rolls to! Next year will be different - I promise!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Grateful Heart Friday

A few years back I did a little something on my blog called "Grateful Heart Friday."
I still hold to the truth that we're not born with grateful hearts, we need to cultivate them!
Which means we need to practice gratitude everyday until it becomes like breathing - it just happens naturally on it's own without trying!
 
Last year I did an amazing study with some friends on the beloved book
 "1000 Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. 
It was incredible to say the least. 
Haven't read it?  Do it!
 
A huge part of being content (*my word for 2015),
 is to recognize and receive the gifts that are all around us, everyday. 
If we are always looking for something other than what we've been give,
we miss out on the gift that is right now.
 
When I say, "thank you," I am receiving what is being offered in the moment and I am filled.
I am content.
 
With that, let's stop and say thanks for all the gifts we received this week as
 Grateful Heart Friday commences!
 
I'm grateful for a dear friend who took my 3 children for the evening so that I could bless another friend with a ride to the airport.  I'm grateful for a soft-start to our homeschool week.  I'm grateful that my children love to learn and are eager to work! (at least this week they were!!)  I'm grateful for Downton Abby starting!!!  I'm also super grateful for American Idol starting!!  It's those simple pleasures!!  I'm grateful for a new lamp.  I'm grateful for an awesome hike in our town with beautiful views and mountains.  I'm grateful for fabulous friends that live across the street.  I'm grateful for a husband that took off work to get our plumbing issues fixed so I didn't have to.  I'm grateful for the Cooking Club.  I'm grateful for fun kiddo activities starting up.  I'm grateful for the start of award season!  I'm grateful for cloudy days and sunny days at the beach.
I'm grateful for hot cocoa with my hubby and his willingness to step out.
I'm grateful for a God who never ceases to extend great gifts to His kids!
 
What are you grateful for?
Make it known!
 
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done."
Psalm 105:1

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Content

 
 
Just after Christmas a word popped into my head for the New Year. 
 Many years ago I talked to a friend who always adopts a word for the new year - listen, try harder (that's 2 words, I know!), rest... and I thought that was so cool.  But as I sat and tried to think of my word for the new year, I panicked with the pressure of choosing the right word!  So I let go of the whole "word for the new year" thing!  Until a few years back when I was sitting at Westward Beach, partaking in my New Year's tradition of sitting at the beach alone recapping the year that just ended and looking forward, prayerfully, to the one just beginning.  It was that day that God impressed a word upon my heart for that new year, or phrase rather, "Be strong & Courageous."  Little did I know that I was entering the start of a 2 year battle with loss and anxiety.  God knew what He was doing that day - encouraging me to be strong and courageous for what was yet to come!
 
Since then, I have been grateful that on my traditional New Year's Day at the beach, God has given me a word for the year. 
This year it came early! 
 
Content
 
That was the word the came like a lightening bolt, striking my heart.  Content.
 
Being a former perfectionist, I've been programmed to always be looking for things to be better, stronger, faster, more productive...  Nothing wrong with striving for better things in life, but taken to an extreme, it can kill you!  Also, there can be an undercurrent of discontentment that always drives someone to have a wandering eye or change things and "make them better." Towards the end of 2014 I began to see how discontentment has crept into many areas of my life - family, friends, home d├ęcor, church, me... 
 
If we are always looking for something other than we've been given,
we miss out on the gift that is right now. 
 I realized that I've been missing out on a lot!
 
2015 is the year that I'm going to be content. Not because I'm going to suppress any desires I have for something new or different, but because I'm going to trust that God is for me, has my best in mind, and He has given me all I need in this moment.
 
Psalm 23  "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
He is sufficient.  He is all I need and all I want.
Content
 
Happy 2015!

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