Wednesday, February 21, 2018

6/52

"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2018."



Cruz: All of my pictures of you lately reveal signs of a growing and changing little boy.  Just look at your two front teeth!  This was taken right before your first grade music concert.  You were very excited, as you are with most school-related things these days, and my heart almost burst as I watched you confidently take your spot and immediately began scanning the room for us.  I saw you mouth the words, "Where's my mom," to the boy next to you and when your big brown eyes met mine, your face lit up.  Always look at me that way, okay bud?

Mila: We've been finding more and more time to do girl things together these days and you're eating it up.  Cruz went to a UNI basketball game with a friend one night so we saw it as a good opportunity to transform this Cheerios box into a princess castle Valentine's box.  While I don't love valentine's box construction, this one was pretty fun.  Except for that darn letter "A" that wouldn't stay on. :) 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

7/52

"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2018."




Cruz: You've been showing a new interest in football these days, asking a lot of questions about it and using an old purple UNI ball you retrieved from the basement to entice the neighbors to play a game with you.  I watched you from the window and when you came in, you asked Beau to work on some plays with you.  You said that Ty (the only 4th grader in the group) was on your team, but you didn't understand any of the words he was using when he told you what to do!  Sometimes I wonder what you'll choose to invest your passions in!

Mila: We had a fun Valentine's day, taking advantage of the warm temps. with a little sledding before supper.  This was the first year you didn't cry within the first 15 minutes!  In fact, as we loaded the car up, you asked if you could go down the hill one more time, this time by yourself.  You are brave and fearless and it scares your daddy and I! 

A Birthday Tea


There are few things I love more in life than people around my table.  So when Mom and I were discussing my grandma's upcoming 80th birthday, my mind started swirling with ideas to treat one of my favorite women with an afternoon for just the girls.  It's not very often we get to do this, and all week Mila kept telling Beau and Cruz we were going to kick them out of the kitchen so we could have a tea party for Grandma.  I love that she is getting to the age where she is appreciating these special occasions, too!








On a dreary February Saturday, I transformed my table into a spring retreat.  Mason jars were filled with pink tulips and velvety white stock, little succulent pots adorned each place setting, and a homemade lemon blueberry cake became our centerpiece.  Mom and I served chicken salad with grapes, celery, and cranberries on croissants, a lemon kale salad with quinoa, shrimp salad, and fresh fruit.  And my favorite touch were the tea cups!  I've collected quite the mix of new Anthropologie cups mixed with a few vintage sets purchased for Mila's Tea for Two birthday party.  They looked so pretty stacked up on a wood tray next to the table.  I stopped at one of my favorite most recent additions to Cedar Falls Main Street, The Tea Cellar, and purchased a couple of new spring flavors to add to my current favorites, Winter Berry and Honey Almond.  We were set!









We slowly savored our lunch, spoiled Grandma well with pretty packages of perfume, stationary, a photo album of pictures, a new Bible, and a flower pot, and gathered back around the table for tea and cake afterwards.  My favorite part of the day was this time - slow, uninterrupted time to sip tea, savor a piece of cake, and listen to Grandma share stories of her family growing up.  She was one of the youngest of twelve siblings, and remembered her mom serving tea nearly every single afternoon, a tradition that spanned well into Grandma's years of raising her own kids and welcoming grand-kids.  Her parents both passed away far too soon, but I smiled to think we were getting a taste of Great Grandma's legacy that afternoon.  A legacy I would love to make more of a staple around here.






It was a beautiful day gathering four generations of women from our family to celebrate a matriarch we love and look up to so very much.  Grandma is one of the most special women in my life.  I was blessed to have grown up just down the street from both her and Grandpa, and rarely went a day without seeing them.  Being the only granddaughter of six grandkids, I was the recipient of frequent special adventures, trips to La Crosse to accompany Grandma on shopping trips while Grandpa attended work events, special afternoons working on craft projects around her kitchen table, and memories sitting side by side with on the piano bench as I mimicked her dominant left hand and followed the same notes with mine.  Grandpa took me on my very first driving lesson, let me "borrow" his black oldsmobile as my "first car," and accompanied me, Mom, and Grandma as they watched me try on several prom dresses my senior year, eventually pitching in so I could have the bright pink one that was just a little over budget.  

Grandma, I admire so much about you!  You are strong and kind, selfless and devoted, and full of grace and a deep deep love for God and His people.  I am so thankful to be part of your gene pool and only hope I grow up with the same maturity, grace, and beauty you demonstrate every day.  Thank you for being such a constant, present, loving part of our lives.  Your kids, grandkids, and five little great-grandkids are blessed beyond measure to have you leading the way.        











         

Friday, February 16, 2018

IF:Gathering 2018 || Where I'm At


Last Friday and Saturday, we gathered with over 300 women from 48 different churches in our community for IF:Gathering 2018.  The seven inches of snow we received the night before couldn't stop the anticipation that had been building around this weekend for a long time.  This was my first year on the planning team and ever since the seven of us road tripped to Texas for IF:Lead in September, we had been dreaming and praying about this IF:Gathering, desiring to create a space where women of all ages would be seen and valued, a place where they could revive a spark in them and feel called to take brave steps in obedience, and a place where God was front and center to it all.  Sure we cared about the details that would make women feel loved - the leather bookmarks with the word ablaze burned on them, the blankets draped across pew backs, Swiss orange chocolate coffee from Barn Happy, the popcorn bar, homemade pie, and signature IF logo stamped on hundreds of brown coffee sleeves... but the event itself quickly became the backdrop as we desired so much more than a two day conference.  We wanted God to move; to stir something up in every sweet soul there, and wanted to be intentional with encouragement and opportunities for brave next steps to keep those sparks lit up after the lights of the weekend dimmed and everyday life set back in.

IF God is real, then what...







The last two IF:Gatherings have been instrumental in my walk with Jesus.  In fact, I was nervous to be on the planning side of the conference this year for fear I wouldn't be able to participate and take away as much compared to years' past.  But if I've learned anything the past two years it's not to underestimate our God.  My vantage point this year not only allowed me to take in the conference, but to use my gifts to serve and love on so many other women.  It became more about them and less about me.  I guess I wasn't expecting to feel so much joy from serving, but it only seemed fitting that God would give me the opportunity to share so much of what I love about IF with others, many who were there getting it all for the first time.  Whether it was holding a baby so a young mom could eat lunch, passing around loaves of bread for women to break and pass around their table, or carrying plates for the sweet spiritual mamas who loved on us and made us cry with their words of encouragement, it was a joy to serve and experience God's goodness and power through their experiences.  







God showed me some fruit this weekend, evidence of what two years of obedience looks like.  He showed me through Melissa and Katy, two dear friends from our IF:Table that started two years ago.  This was their first year of IF:Gathering and it was a joy to watch God fill them up.  He showed me through my sweet college girls.  We had over twenty of them come, half of them from the life group that meets at our house.  They were there all weekend and I could have listened to them process their thoughts, pray together, and take brave steps of faith for days.  He showed me through my team of IF Cedar Valley girls, six of the seven of them I barely knew six months ago and now call them dear friends.  They chase God and love others well.  Watching them use their gifts in their own unique ways was inspiring and empowering.  It seemed all the things God has weaved through my life the past two years came to a head this weekend.  A true picture of what life could look like if we all linked arms and ran this race together. 


     



The conference itself was once again amazing.  I had something important to learn from each speaker, and felt on fire, deeply convicted, and a little tied up in knots at various times throughout the two days.  Christine Caine brought me to tears Friday night with her deep rooted truths and uncomfortable conviction.  I had never heard her speak before and Deedra told me to buckle my seat belt.  By the time she was over and tears were literally running down my face, she put her arm around me and said, "fan of Christine Caine, huh?"  Jo Saxton's teaching on being stuck in the middle was easy to relate to and resonated with so many.  Bianca's spicy delivery and beautiful picture of Paul's praises in prison left me undone.  Katie Davis Majors and her unbelievable story of moving to Uganda as a 20 year old, remaining faithful every day, and feeling called to adopt 13 Ugandan girls from an orphanage made me realize the power of everyday faithfulness and being brave.  Annie Downs reminded me that sometimes, discipleship is just simply watching someone dance.  And of course, Jennie Allen reminded me that God doesn't need any of us to carry out His great plan of redemption.  He chose us to be part of His plan because He loves us and delights in using us. 
       




Monday, I carved out some time in my day to process everything.  I read through my notes, rewatched teachings, and reflected on the things that made me feel alive, as well as the things that felt a little heavy.  I sorted them all out, uncovered some themes, and determined some good next steps to take.  I've learned this process is vitally important to move beyond just the feelings that surface and actually put them into action.  I've had the opportunity to hear what God has left on several different hearts since IF and I love that He speaks to each of us differently, all beautiful and powerful and personal to where He has us.  







Here is what I was left with after my weekend at IF:Gathering 2018

1. God wants our faith and obedience





"But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was.  But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works - this person will be blessed in what he does."  (James 1: 22-25)

The word obedience gets a bad wrap because it sounds like we actually have to put effort forth to follow Christ.  The speakers at IF talked so much about our generation and the world we live in today as Christians.  Jennie Allen referred to us as a "half hearted world."  Vivian Mabuni said it's like we're vacuuming without the cord plugged in, doing the motions without the source.  Ann Voscamp said our flames have been put out because we're drinking the sludge of approval, self-image, and the opinions and agendas of others.  And as each shared the issues facing many of us today, they shared ways to rise above the very things pulling us away from this obedience.  Daily Bible time.  Daily prayer time.  Communities of people after the same thing.  Living more with our actions instead of our mouths.  Our flame doesn't just flare up on its own, and it takes active, everyday desire and discipline to fan our flame.  

There are days when I feel half-hearted.  There are days when I feel like I'm going through the motions without an energy source.  And there are days when I'm very much caught up in the sludge of this world.  But I know these things because I also know what it's like to be on the other side, too.  To feel free and on fire.  To really feel like I'm living as a new creation, set apart and on mission for God's kingdom instead of this world.   When I fix my eyes on Him, and practice daily disciplines to know Him and seek Him throughout my days, He gets louder.  And through that everyday faithfulness, I start to see a bigger picture of His purpose for me and His good plan for my life.  God showed me the fruit of some new obedience this weekend and it will serve as a fuel for moving forward.     

2. I want my life to be a living testimony






One of the many reasons I was so impacted by the words of Christine Caine is because she used my year's verse as the focus for her teaching.  She talked about endurance and said following Jesus is far more a marathon than a sprint.  She said she hoped her "testimony" isn't that one time she decided to believe in the gospel, but a lifetime of choosing a life with Him.  God has placed us and positioned us here, and given us the baton of faith to run with and join Him in His work to disciple His people.  There is no such a time as this.

The verse in Hebrews doesn't say we are surrounded by a great cloud of spectators.  It's a completely different ballgame to get out of the grandstand and run the race.  But this race takes endurance, spiritual muscle to withstand the long haul, and a lot of skinned knees and exhausted spirits along the way.  But.  Yet.  The finish line is too good to not lace up those shoes and hit the pavement.  

Perhaps my favorite part of the entire weekend of IF was the intimate volunteer worship Jess organized for forty or so volunteers.  She asked a few different people to speak to us, people who have discipled her throughout her life.  Two of them, Tim and Kris Boettger, spoke to us from the book of 2 Timothy, but said so much more through their actions and words about each other.  Tim talked about his wife and said that every morning for as long as he can remember, he wakes up early and finds her already at the kitchen table, reading her Bible and writing in her journal.  Then every day, she passes on some sort of her learning, a scripture verse, prayer, or note of encouragement, to him and their two college-age kids through a text.  He talked about her living testimony, and cried as he looked at her.  And then he looked at us and said that women of God are strong, faithful, full of grace, and full of love.  He said we will change the world in our churches, our workplaces, and around our kitchen tables by simply choosing God and choosing the people in our lives.  

Like Kris, I want my life to be a living testimony.    

3. I have a deep yearning for change and want women to throw flames





Many people resonated with Jo Saxton's message about being stuck in the middle.  When we're in the middle, it's hard to see what we should be able to see and we can become a little asleep to it all.  

I was in the middle two years ago.  I know it because life feels different now.  I'm on the track, running the race.  I may still be running with chains around my ankles, but I feel the wind in my hair and the adrenaline in my bones.  And I long for that for everyone!  

But with this yearning, I'm seeing myself struggle with loving people well.  I am easily let down and take things personally.  I struggle to know how to give grace while also loving with truth.  I easily feel like Paul, bruised, beat down, and unseen, but struggle to put my own ego aside and put peoples' needs in front of my own.  I want to encourage women and not push them away.  I want to offer grace and understanding, but not have to suppress my own self in order to do so.  This one leaves my stomach tied up in knots, but I'm praying for maturity and understanding along the way.

4. Live free and BE BRAVE





It's amazing how much I still let the world determine my steps.  I listened to speaker after speaker share the gospel and speak with conviction, and I realize I am still after the approval of others.  I loved when Rebekah Lyons said, "Whatever it is that Satan is using to bring you down, rise up and let God take care of it."  And how do I do that?  Through God's word.  I loved Bianca Olthoff's passion for the Bible, especially through the eyes of Paul.  In 2 Timothy 2:9, Paul writes: "I suffer to the point of being bound like a criminal.  But the word of God is not bound."  God's word is what He's left us, and it has not lost its flavor.  It alone can set us free.


"If you continue in my Word, you really are my disciples.  You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." 
(John 8:32)

There you have it.  Three years of IF:Gatherings, and three years of running on mission.  Skinned knees, but a wildfire burning in my heart.    

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why I'm Giving Up Social Media for Lent | The Spiritual and Practical


"Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage."
Psalm 84:5

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  I'm sitting here at a mustard colored table across from my hubby at Cup of Joe, sipping a Sweet Thang Strawberry Chai that tastes exactly like something you should be drinking on Valentine's Day.  Beau agreed to impart his insurance wisdom with five periods of Civics class at Peet Junior High.  I just happened to be there this morning, too, so the two of us decided to use our "planning period" to grab some coffee, sit across from each other and get a little work done.  We have a family date night planned for tonight, and are planning to dig into a date box after the kids go to bed.  We decided to forgo gifts for each other and bought ourselves and fancy new coffee maker.  I'm pretty jacked. :)  

I usually love me some Valentine's Day, but I'd be lying if I said the whole day wasn't taking a backseat to another thing that's been on my mind for awhile now.  Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season, and the first day of my social media fast.  For the next 47 days, I am saying goodbye to Instagram and Facebook.  I have never done a social media fast before, although the idea has always intrigued me.  I've considered doing this before, but have always made excuses as to why I didn't need to take part in this exercise of self-denial and separation.  But things have changed lately, and my mind has shifted away from needing this to actually desiring this break.  I've been going back and forth since the new year when I wrote about freedom as a vision for my year ahead.  It seemed only natural that in order to free up my life in the way I was desiring, I would need to rethink some of the areas of my life that often chain me up or take me away from that free mindset.  

There are practical reasons for why a social media fast will likely be a good thing for my me.  I grab my device all too quickly, in the car, when I'm talking to my kids, or when I could be more focused on my life instead of the lives of others I'm seeing on my screen.  But the season of Lent seems the perfect time to engage in this endeavor as a spiritual fast as well.  Lent is a season in the church calendar that takes us from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  It's a long season, often a dark season, as we take a long look at the cross and reflect on our own sin that put Jesus there.  I listened to a podcast awhile ago and was struck by the speaker who said, "If we do Lent well, Easter Sunday will truly be the celebration it should be."  And while practicing Lent isn't required, it is an opportunity to slow our pace, draw closer to Jesus, and fast from things we typically delight in as a way to refine our delight in Him instead.

"Overtime, I can feel the monuments of self stack up.  My pride, my independence, my distraction, my sin.  Lent becomes a time when I give God permission to knock those monuments down and reorient my life in a way that fixes my eyes on the cross."
Amanda Bible Williams

The following are ten reasons, both practical and spiritual, I am personally giving up social media for the next several weeks.

The practical side...

1. I need to take a step away to realize how bound to it I really am.  I haven't done without social media for more than a few days here and there and to me, that is a problem.  I want to regain control of its role in my life, set some new limits, and reflect on how life looks different without it.  Oftentimes, I think our society is good at identifying the problems in our lives, but not always so good at realizing that we have control over a lot of them.  This is an area I definitely have control over.

2. I want to focus on my life, who I am and where I'm going, and it's just hard to do that when I'm scrolling through the lives of others.

3. I simply want more time and less distraction in my days.  I want to read books and be creative instead of mindlessly scrolling Instagram.  I am most excited to see just how much more time I gain in my days.  

4. I'm looking forward to filling that time with other things.  I want to nurture the relationships in my life, in the flesh instead of over a screen.  I want to stare at my kids' faces and really listen to their stories.  And I want to invite more people for coffee.  And I want time to just be quiet!

5. It will make personal conversations more interesting.  Isn't it funny how when we actually do run into someone, we often already know what they're going to talk about?  I want to be surprised again, to truly see people and feel like I haven't seen them for awhile!

And the spiritual side...  

6. I want to feel Lent more this year.  I want to draw closer to the sacrifice He made by sacrificing something myself.  As small as it is, I pray every time I think about what I'm giving up, I think about ALL He gave up.

7. I want to depend on Him more deeply.  I tend to be a pretty independent person and need to give some of that up in order to understand my true dependence.  

8.  Jesus fasted for 40 days himself and experienced extreme hunger and temptation.  But through that experience, He also experienced extreme closeness to God and clarity in His mission here on earth.  

9.  I believe we live in a time where we don't like to self-deny ourselves from anything.  The world is at our fingertips, which makes the enemy really happy because it's so easy to use this world to take us away from our eternal one.  

10. I want to anticipate spring in a new way this year.  Not only the green grass and warm sun, but an opportunity for a rebirth and fresh start to what I delight in and depend on.  My hope is that after this season ends, I feel more free, more healthy, and more ready to appreciate and respect the devices that can so easily be abused.  

I love that two (from what I know) of my college girls are also taking part in this journey.  I was reading Erica's blog post about her social media fast and loved this: "I am hoping that by giving up social media, I am able to run with endurance, faith, and patience to my true comfort and savior, rather than one of the flesh.  I am praying that by taking time to be silent, still, and maybe even a little uncomfortable, I am able to learn obedience, honest, truth, and faithfulness."       

So starting today, I am social media free until Easter Sunday.  I'll still be blogging and will share reflections throughout these weeks on what I'm learning and how I'm growing through it all.  By the time I return to the world of Instagram, the snow will be gone and signs of spring will be all around.  There is no such a time as this!

But seriously, no social media.  If you have something super important to tell me or you want to connect, you're going to have to CALL or email!  I love tea and coffee and wine and all make perfect pairings to real, face-to-face connection and conversation. ;)    

Monday, February 5, 2018

Our Winter Getaway


When our plans to take the kids to the Mall of America changed after Mila threw up at our friends' house the morning we planned to go, we had two disappointed kids on our hands.  We weren't sure if she was even sick, but didn't want to take our chances and purchase a day of tickets to ride rides if we were already dealing with upset tummies.  We decided to just head home that morning, and poor Cruz softly cried for half of the three hour drive.  We had been craving a weekend away since the holidays ended, and had planned the ultimate kid weekend to take advantage of our day off for Martin Luther King's birthday.  Because we knew it was so important to them, and us too, Beau and I vowed to make it happen before spring.  But then when we got home and looked over our calendars, our free weekends were few and far between.  Definitely wanting to avoid the Super Bowl frenzy up in Minneapolis, we decided to head back up there just two weeks later, and made Cruz's day when we picked him up Thursday afternoon and shared that he wouldn't be returning to school until Monday.

The icing on the cake, though, was the last minute change of our hotel thanks to our adventurous Daddy.  We had plans to stay at a hotel close to the Mall of America, but the night before, Beau called the new Great Wolf Lodge to check on their pricing and availability.  They happened to have a room at a price that actually beat our other reservation!  So we left early Friday morning to take full advantage of all the fun this indoor water park has to offer!




I'm not a huge indoor water park fan (the only time I prefer to wear a swimsuit is if I'm going to get some sun), but quickly fell in love with all the extra amenities this place had to offer.  The check-in staff greeted us upon arrival with a pair of wolf ears for each of us, we received wristbands that also served as our credit card for the weekend so we didn't have to bother carrying anything along with us, and we had full access to ice cream, cocktails, french fries, and lots of other goodies, wherever, whenever.  The water park area had plenty to do for all ages, including a lazy river, wave pool, large toddler zone, and several slides including a big family one with a light show as we made our way down the tube.










We swam for a few hours, and then us girls decided to change into our cozies and check out what else our lodge had to offer.  We got some ice cream and sat by the big wood fireplace in the lobby, made friendship bracelets and played Bingo, and then met the boys for bowling and pizza.  I loved the atmosphere of everyone being there for the night, most people walking around in either pajamas or swimsuits, completely unaware of the happenings of the world outside our fun zone.  After eating our pizza overlooking the pool area, the boys decided they wanted one last before-bed swim, so Mila and I headed for a pajama party and story time together.  And I had a martini!  It was glorious!  Then we tucked our very tuckered out kids in their bunk beds and turned out the lights!






We woke up early and excited to spend a day at the Mall of America Saturday.  We had no plans to shop, just to soak up our kids and ride rides until we dropped at Nickelodeon Universe.  We hadn't done this since Cruz was just two and realized pretty quickly our kids' ages opened up a whole new world at this place!  At first, Mila was very timid, screaming when we put her in a little kid bumper car where Cruz and her were the only ones on the ride!  The ride operator had to stop midway to get her out.  Beau and I were shaking our heads thinking maybe it wasn't a good idea to get us all unlimited wristbands.  But a couple of hours in, our girl got brave and wanted to do it all.  









It's pretty clear both kids get their fearless spirits at amusement parks from their daddy!  I enjoy rides now, but you couldn't even get me on the Tilt-a-Whirl when I was their age.  But to Cruz, the bigger it is, the more it spins, and the more it goes upside down, the better it is in his book.  He loved it all and we were quite impressed with him as the day went on!  From the water slides to the roller coasters, he was very much in his element!  



















The highlight of our day was definitely taking a ride on the new, Fly Over America ride that is very similar to the famous, Soarin' ride from Disney.  Afterwards, we took a break from the rides and split up boys vs. girls so the kids could spend some of their birthday/Christmas money at the Lego and American Girl Store.  They were both in their own little piece of heaven as we gave them ample time to explore and pick something special out.  I followed Mila around for an hour as she touched lots of dolls and finally decided on a sweet Wellie Wisher.  Then we had burgers and milkshakes at Burger, Burger, and went back for more rides as the sun went down and the rides lit up.

As we watched the sweet ways Cruz took care of his little sis on rides, or Mila's face as the little tower of terror dropped for the twelfth time, we were both reminded of how important it is to invest in these little experiences.  They are a break from the normal routine that often distracts us and blinds us to the small little things that make up these days of our family.  When we break away from it all, we just linger in the moments more...their sweet facial expressions and their ways with each other, the silly things they say, and all the feelings that go along with being their mom.  We are quite the crew together and these memories of adventure, whether they be near or far, are so very special.  

And I could have watched them on this car ride forever.  Mila's arms up the entire time, sitting as close as she could to her brother, giggling uncontrollably at every crazy turn as she fell on his side.  And he let her, over and over again.  And when she flung herself a little too far and bumped her head?  He spent the remainder of the ride with his arm around her, consoling her as the ride ended and came to a stop.  















            

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