In memory of Jeff

I write to you today on the coat tails of receiving news that a childhood family friend of mine has lost his battle to ALS.  He was my age, and I even messaged him hours before he died.  My words to him were to not fear death.  That we all have to be ready to die, because any of us could go at any minute.  That night after writing to him, I was in and out of dreams where he was in them.  I would partly wake between them, turn over and whisper a prayer for him.  Little did I know he was slipping into the arms of Jesus during those hours.

Life can feel so sorrowful at times.  I was driving home right before writing this, crying over the heartbreak of death.  My friend is survived by a mother and three sisters.  His Dad died when we were in high school.  As I rocked Jude tonight before laying him in the crib for bed, I thought about his mother.  A sweet lady who has buried a husband, and this weekend will bury a son.  My mother’s heart cried for her as I thought about all the nights she did the same for her boy as I was doing for Jude.  All the night waking, the rocking, the kissing skinned knees, the wiping of tears, and the singing of lullabies. She tucked him in at night all the way up until his very last.

We all know people who have died.  No one is exempt from the pain of loss.  But as I was crying this evening, what kept bubbling up out of my heart over and over again was the Bible verse, “oh death, where is your sting?”  I looked it up when I got home and it is 1 Corinthians 15:55.  It says “oh death, where is your sting?  Oh grave, where is your victory?”  The loss of a loved one is like a deep horrifying sting.  It hurts terrible…and it lingers for a while.  Two verses later, it says “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  This tells us that there is good news.  In verse 55, the word “grave” in Strongs definition states that the original Greek word here is Hades, or Hell.  Paul was saying that Hell does not have victory over us…or better stated, Hell does not have the final say over us.

So if this is true, how do we get victory over Hell?  Verse 57 tells us.  It is God who has given us that victory through Jesus Christ.  Without Him…there is no victory.  There is no good news.  There is no hope for us.

But praise God, we have a blessed hope.  For those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, His blood paid for our entrance into the glorious place where God lives, far from death and pain and loss.  The place where Jeff slipped into just a couple nights ago.

But he is not crying like we are.  The Bible tells us that Jesus will wipe away every tear.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or sorrow, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”, Revelation 21:4.  This doesn’t mean that Jesus is walking around Heaven with a tissue in his hand wiping everyone’s tears.  It means that there ARE NO MORE TEARS in Heaven.  For He wiped away all the reasons to cry for us and from us.  His death meant there will be no more death for us…no more Hell.  The pain He suffered meant we will not have pain anymore.

What a Savior.  What a God.

I don’t have the answers as to why some of us seem to have more grief and loss than others.  Some would look at my friends Mom and say that she has had a terrible lot in life because she lost the two men in her life that she loved the most.  Some would blame it on God, or question why He would allow it.  Or worse yet, many people throw out the blanket statement, “it must have been God’s will”.  This statement is as far from the truth as possible.  God’s will has NEVER been for death to even happen.  We weren’t even created for it.  That’s why it’s so hard.  Our original DNA wasn’t hard-wired to comprehend and live through the death of a loved one…but because of the fall of man, which the Bible says started with Adam, death came.

Romans 5:12, and Romans 5:21 says “therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man(Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all have sinned…as sin reigned in death, even so grace must reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (emphasis mine)

What is all this saying?  It’s saying that death came into the world through Adam’s disobedience, but life and victory came into the world through Jesus.  That’s why Paul wrote “oh death where is your sting?  Oh grave, where is your victory?”  Because death is not victorious anymore!  Death is not the final statement on our lives!  It may feel like it because it hurts so much to say goodbye.  But, to those of us who have put our trust in the saving grace of Jesus, it’s just “see you later”.  That person who has their faith anchored in Jesus who slips out of life here, slips into Heaven without as much as another thought.  It’s like taking off a coat.  A coat that is cumbersome and worn out that desperately needs new life.

So to my friend, Jeff, who is now running around Heaven side by side with Jesus in a perfectly strong new body, I say…”I will see you later, my friend”.  No goodbye.  No sympathy for a short life.  He just got promoted to the best place we will ever see or know.  Where Jesus Himself is ruler over a whole new order of things.  Where he will never again know pain, loss or grief.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be in a place like that…forever.

Thank you, Jesus, for giving your life for mine…and for giving your life for Jeff’s too.

 

Our Family’s Favorite Bibles

In our home, we think it is very important to read the Bible, but if I’m totally honest with you, with five children, it is a struggle for me to rise early and have time in God’s Word by myself before my kids pile into my room in the morning to wake me up. I do try to read the Word or pray scripture right when I wake up while I nurse Jude, but it usually only lasts a few minutes before someone else cracks open the door and asks to come in.  Sometimes I feel like the second my eyes open, the kids are alerted that Mom’s awake and they must ambush her.  I try to remind myself that someday I will miss this (maybe).

I will say that I do love being in the groove of studying God’s Word.  It’s worth the struggle to crack it open.  It is the only book in the world that is alive!

God’s breath comes out of each page infusing us with wisdom, guidance, and love.  

I know my gas tank needs as much filling of this each morning as possible before the day gets going and life pulls all of it’s demands out of me.  If you’re like me, how do we remedy the fact that we know we need God’s power to get us through the day with patience and love, but struggle to find the time to read it?

One of the ways I’ve found is to read the Bible out loud to the kids while we eat breakfast.  No, it’s not that quiet, reflective time in the Word by myself, but it fills me up in a different way.

I get to see my kids eyes opened to the power of God right in front of me.

I try to prioritize reading out loud to them for about ten minutes while we eat breakfast and then we discuss what we read together.  It’s not long, it’s not technical, it’s just reading and discussing.  I ask questions like, “should Abraham have obeyed God in the call to sacrifice his one and only son or not?”, and “although God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, who actually did sacrifice his one and only son”?  I love seeing their eyes light up as they give me their answers and opinions.

Now, before you continue in picturing these perfect morning Bible sessions at my house, let me take a paint brush and color in the parts you may not have in your picture yet…

Let’s see…I’m rushing to get every one seated at the table before they finish eating and are off and running to the next thing.  Once I start reading, I’m corralling the two-year old back to the table about a dozen times as her God-given design is to never sit still.  Simultaneously, one of the older kids is usually up and down getting Jude more food in is high chair as to stop him from screaming.  Although eventually he doesn’t stop screaming which is my signal to be all done.  And, as of recently, Coco the bird is sitting on the table in front of me eating crumbs and whistling “The Adams Family” over me.  No joke.  Not sure whose idea it was to invite him to the breakfast table.

It’s not a perfect picture.  But, it’s totally worth it to me when we are cleaning up the dishes and I hear the kids dialogue with each other about what it must have been like for Isaac in the moment his dad was tying him up to be sacrificed, and how relieved he must have been when all of a sudden an angel spoke and told his dad there was a sacrifice that God provided instead.

These conversations are important to me because I know they are leaving life long impressions on their hearts.

Currently I am reading the kids the book of Acts out of my Bible, and we just read about the first martyr, Stephen, in chapter 7.  We read about how he said he could see Heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God right before they stoned him.  This particular morning, I read the Bible to them in the play room while they played with toys because I didn’t get to the breakfast table in time to read.  We discussed what that may have meant that Jesus was standing.  The Bible says in other verses like Ephesians 1:20 and Hebrews 10:12 that He is seated at the right hand of God.  Jesus even said of Himself that we will see Him seated at the right hand of God in Heaven.  So I asked, “why was He standing for Stephen”?  We discussed how we show honor to people by standing, or maybe Jesus was so emotional about seeing Stephen being stoned for His sake that He couldn’t help but bolt to His feet.  We then wondered about how often He is seated on His throne in His rightful place and how much He is off playing with the kids in Heaven.  We discussed many other ideas which led to other questions and ideas, and so on.  All while they tossed a ball around and played with toys.  I love the wonder that the Bible opens up, not only for children but for us adults too.

These are conversations I love having with my kids.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything else.

This is one of the many reasons we home school.  I don’t want rushed mornings.  I want mornings together, and time to read God’s Word to them.  If the mornings aren’t a good time for your family, then try the evenings before bed.  If I don’t get to it at breakfast, then I try to read to them at lunch or any other time we are all together, but first thing in the morning seems to be the best for us.

It helps me start off my day encouraged and like I did the most important thing already.

aaron-burden-236415

So, I would like to share with you some of our families favorite Bibles and devotionals.  Some of them I have read to the kids in the mornings, and some of them they have read on their own, but all have enriched the kids Bible knowledge.

“120 Bible Stories” is my favorite one.  I’ve been reading this to the kids for five years.  I usually read it in order, one story from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament. When we finish it, then we start again.  What we love about this one is the pictures on each page are paintings that are very realistic. The kids are glued to the pictures while I read and I like that it helps them identify with the characters because they look realistic instead of like cartoons.  There are questions at the end of each story to ask your kids as well. I highly recommend this Bible.
I like “The Children’s Illustrated Bible” because it has realistic illustrations as well as pictures of Israel peppered throughout that pertain to the story.  My kids really like looking at all the pictures and they spur a lot of conversation about Israel and what life was like during Biblical times.  Because of this, I would say this is my second favorite one.

We like “Friends With God Story Bible” because the illustrations are really good.  It is also written differently in the fact that the stories are told from the perspective of the person. So, Abraham tells his own story from his perspective and so on.  There are also character qualities woven within and questions after each story to ask the children to reflect on.  I have found on several occasions my oldest daughter reading this to my seven-year old at night because they both really like it.

“My ABC Bible Verses” is not a Bible but every page has a Bible verse on it for your family to memorize together.  There is a Bible verse for each letter of the alphabet.  I keep it with whatever Bible we are reading so that we can open it up and recite a verse together on days where I have a little more time.
My two year old likes her own Bible board book, “My Favorite Bible Storybook For Little Ones”.  It has a handle on it for her to carry around, and has hidden flaps to open on each page to keep her hands busy.

This “Jesus Calling” is a devotional that your pre-teens can read on their own.  My son was ten when he read through it at bedtime and he really enjoyed it, and I’m going to have my daughter who is ten begin reading through it as well.

The illustrations in “For Such a Time as This” are absolutely beautiful.  My ten-year old daughter keeps this book in her room.  Every story is about the women of the Bible and is told from their perspective.  She really enjoys it.

“Princess Stories” is another one of stories of the women of the Bible.  I began reading this to my oldest daughter when she was seven, and now she keeps it in her room to look at herself.

“The Big Picture of What God Has Always Wanted” is a really great book for explaining in a simple way the entire Gospel so I wanted to include it.  It explains to your children why Jesus had to come to redeem us and how all God ever wanted was a family. I highly recommend making this a regular read with your kids.
Although not a devotional, “Heaven is for Real” is a great book for getting kids thinking about Heaven.  Told from the perspective of a boy who went to Heaven, my kids enjoy when we read through this together and looking at the pictures. It is a great spring-board for conversation about all the wonderful things and people awaiting us in Heaven.

I thought I would include this one because although I don’t own it yet, I will soon because I think the pictures look wonderful.  I have such a love for well illustrated books!

Well, I hope this list will help get you started with some good Bibles and devotionals to read to your children or grandchildren.  Or possibly as a gift to your niece or nephew at their next birthday, or maybe the perfect baby shower gift.  Whatever the occasion, the investment will not be a waste!  Get those kids started early with a love for God’s Word.  You are sowing seeds that will produce a harvest!

Please let me know some of your favorites too!  Blessings to you and your family!

My Favorite Stress Buster

Sometimes life can feel HEAVY. There are days I feel like a balloon that with each stress throughout the day I inflate a little more.  Can you relate?  I hope you can’t, but if you can…

 What if I told you that I found something that will decompress that stress within thirty seconds?

And the great news is it’s free and so fun.

Let me introduce you to a little thing called dancing. Hurray for dancing!!

Such a simple thing, but I am telling you it has the power to deflate stress, soften a hard countenance, mend a rift, lighten the mood, and make you feel great. Children absolutely love it. They were born to wiggle and bop to music, and they love doing it with their parents.

My two-year old is a dancer at heart. Which is not surprising to me at all because before we got pregnant with her, I prayed that we would have a girl, that she would look like me, and have my personality. I wasn’t even thinking about dance when I asked God for her to be like me, but He’s always into the details. I grew up dancing off and on, and to this day, I absolutely love to dance. I tell God that I will be the one dancing before His throne in Heaven.  I’ll have boundless energy, and I just may never stop!

My man also likes to dance. He’s a mean swing dancer and can toss me around the kitchen floor like a rag doll. He’s also not afraid to jump around in silly ways to make the kids laugh. So if Dad is home, we are all dancing.

We break out in dance parties almost every day at our house. Usually when we are making meals in the kitchen or doing dishes. I always have music playing in the house, but when we are congregating in the kitchen, it’s natural for someone to say to the Echo, “hey Alexa, play…”. Even our two-year old knows how to boss Alexa around.

The tunes start playing, someone turns it up, and we all start shaking our tail feathers.

It’s an AMAZING stress buster! All the things that were pressing on my mind…gone. Any tensions between me and another child…gone. The to-do list…gone. I’m telling you, it’s like medicine to our souls.  Yeah, some of those stresses come back, but at least I got a much needed break from them!

The most magical part is even conflicts between children begin to float away, like we’ve hit the reset button.

“But I don’t like to dance”, you say (gasp!). Well, I would encourage you to break out of your mold a bit. Try something new. It doesn’t matter how you dance, just move to the beat a little. Your kids may raise an eyebrow at you when you first start, but as you get going, they will probably jump in…maybe not some of the teenagers, but that’s okay. At least they are seeing you have fun.

Which leads me to another point…never underestimate the importance of your kids seeing you having fun.

No matter what age they are, they need to see Mom having fun. Bonus would be if they get to see Mom and Dad jumping around laughing together. Those memories leave deep impressions in their minds.

All you have to do is Google stats on how dancing effects health and you will see a long line of benefits including reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, while boosting body image, self-esteem, and overall confidence. Wahoo!

My heart behind this post is to encourage you to lighten the mood in your home.  Make your house a fun place to grow up in.

Dancing is a really easy way to make this happen.  You’ll not only bust some stress, you’ll burn some calories, and get a really good laugh while doing it too (and don’t even get me started on the benefits of laughter)!

If you are all alone at the house or live alone, well, there is no reason not to dance your heart out.  Making dinner and doing dishes is so much more fun with a little hip swaying.

I hope I’ve nudged you enough to begin bringing dance into your daily life.  To get you started, here are some of our favorite songs to dance to…

The soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman”. We are listening to this everyday right now. So good!

“Bulletproof” by Citizenway.  The lead singer/songwriter, Ben Calhoun and his wife introduced Kevin and I. Our kids would not exist without Ben and Alison!

“Happy Dance” by Mercy Me. Alison, my friend who married Ben is the lead dancer in the video, so another shout out to the Calhouns!

“Love With Your Life” by Hollyn

“Feel It” by Toby Mac. The music video has fun dancing in it too. My 12-year-old son loves all of Toby Mac’s music. He’s great in concert too!

“Backseat Driver” by Toby Mac & Hollyn  This has been my two-year olds favorite dance song for a year now!

“I Feel So Alive” by Capital Kings.  Honestly, any music by Capital Kings. My 12-year-old son plays their music whenever he’s on dish duty. It helps him move a lot faster, and have fun while he’s working!

“Count Your Rainbows” by 1 Girl Nation.  My 10-year-old daughter likes this band. They are a great example of female artists.

“The Cha-Cha Slide” by DJ Casper.  I’m sure you’ve danced to this at weddings. All my kids like to follow along to this one. He takes you through different dance instructions that are easy to follow, like “left foot stomp, right foot stomp”.

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. Pull up the music video if you want some dance inspiration!

Here’s some oldie but goodies that will be sure to get you moving.  Toddlers seems to love oldies music:

“Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & The Comets

“Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis

“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley

“The Twist” by Chubby Checker

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

“Chantilly Lace” by Big Bopper

“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Sherry” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Our two-year old tells Alexa to play this multiple times a day. Even though it has a slower beat, she loves to dance to it.

And what about disco, 80’s, or show tunes? There are so many songs to choose from! Whatever gets you moving!

If you don’t own an Amazon Echo, I would highly recommend it. That is all we use for music in the house anymore. I can just say, “Alexa, play me “Bulletproof” by Citizenway”, and it starts playing! I can play radio stations, as well as ask her lots of different questions like “give me the news briefing”, “what’s the weather like outside?” or Kevin can ask “how long is my traffic commute today?”

But for music, it’s our go-to. If you don’t have one, you can buy one here…

So, what are you waiting for? Bring on the stress buster! Your kids will love it, and I guarantee, after 30 seconds of moving to some beats, you will too.

Juggling the yes and no of commitments

How do we know when we are doing too much?  I mean, is it just me or does it feel like there is pressure everywhere you turn to do more and be more? Put in more hours at work, make more money, volunteer more at church, keep your house more picked up, give your kids more opportunities, cook more healthy meals, exercise more, get more sleep, be more sexy, be more crafty, be more friendly, be more educated, be more engaged, be more thrifty…more, more, more.

I’m totally exhausted already. 

You know what I’m going to say here.  You’ve heard it before, but I’m here to gently remind you that you do not have to be everyone and do everything.  Let me rephrase…you can’t be everyone and do everything.  If God wanted it that way, He wouldn’t have made so many of us to color the world so creatively! 

The reason I am writing this post on the topic of do, do, do, more, more, more is because I am feeling poo, poo, pooped.  Yep, three poos there.  I’m Wiped with a capital W, cashed out, down for the count, want to crawl under blankets and sleep for a week pooped.

I was thinking today, why do I feel so exhausted?  As I recounted the last couple weeks, I was instantly reminded that I did too much.  Way too much.  Let me remind you that I have five children, three of which are homeschooled, a two-year old who could keep the world busy if given the chance, and a just turned one year old who still has me up some nights to nurse, and when awake is into everything. 

Now that sounds like enough right there to keep a person busy, right?

Well, on top of the ordinary everyday life, I had way over committed myself.  Over the past two weeks, we had a few evenings where couples were over that we mentor (we love doing this by the way), we also helped at a marriage class at our church (love doing this too), we hosted a soup night for our life group (love), Kevin had church meetings, and any extra mental energy I had was being poured into Kevin’s business because of some changes we are making.  Oh, and last but not least- drumroll please…Kevin was out of town on a business trip for 3 whole days (Peeps, that’s a lot for me.  Did not love this).  That does not include the lunches and dinners out with friends, or the classes I help with at the kids home school co-op, kids activities, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and the to-do list that never ever EVER ends.

Why am I telling you this?  To brag about how busy I am? (What a silly question, yet I do feel like our culture praises busyness, which I don’t get at all.)  NO!  To tell you that this. Is. Too. Much!  No one can do that much and do it well.

This is why I’m wiped.

If your plate looks similar to mine the last couple weeks, I think you and I need to learn to say that little word that so many of us have trouble saying.  No.  Try it with me…no.  No, thank you.  No, I will not be able to help with that.  No, I’m sorry, I think I will have to take a rain check.  No, I would love to, but I don’t think I will be able to make that possible.  Nope, nope, nope.  It doesn’t have to be said in a mean way, and it doesn’t have to be said to every invitation or expectation.  

On the flip side…you may have to learn to say no to yourself.

No to the extra hours at the office, no to starving yourself to be more skinny, no to the stress that you haven’t made all the crafts on Pinterest that you’ve pinned, no to the idea of having a perfectly picked up house, no to the temptation to be more for others.  If you resonate with any of this (umm, my hand is way in the air), you just may need to rest in who you are and in God’s peace for a while.  He is certainly not asking you to be more or do more.  You are putting that on yourself.

Jesus said “come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”, Matthew 11:28-29. 

What yoke are you putting on yourself?  Jesus wasn’t talking about taking the yellow part of his egg and sharing it with you (that’s spelled yolk, just in case you were wondering).  He was referencing the yoke placed on oxen when they work together to pull a heavy load.

He is saying that when you are attached to His work load, it’s an easy one.

We should have peace when we are that close to Him.  We should have peace when we are working with Jesus.  We should have peace when we are doing the things that He has asked us to do.

So I must ask you, are you doing the things He has asked you to do?  Or are you getting caught up in the “mores” of life instead of yoking yourself to Him?

As you ponder that, I do have good news for you, and that is to say YES to the best stuff.  Everything that we get invited and asked to do is good stuff.  Everything I would like to do more of is good stuff.  And I want to do it all!  But, how do we decide what is the BEST things to commit to?  Well, here is the check list I try to go through in my head before committing to something (…when I’m level-headed, unlike the last couple weeks)…

1.       Does God want me to be committing my time to this?  Ask Him before you say yes, and take a few days before giving an answer.

2.       Does this activity benefit the whole family?  This is our plumb line with kids activities.  If it doesn’t benefit family life, we aren’t doing it.  We have the kids in gymnastics classes and swimming classes at the same time so that I am not running children this way and that and screaming to get in the car all the time.  I don’t want to live that way, and I certainly don’t want my kids to remember me that way.

3.       Does your spouse think it’s a good idea?  It’s tempting to want to be involved in everything or have your kids involved in everything, but I think spouses can see the routine from an outside perspective and know if it’s going to be too much.  Kevin and I rely very heavily on each others opinion when it comes to commitments.  I know I am very grateful for the way we work together in making decisions. There have been many times that one of us wanted to commit to something, but the other didn’t think it would be our best yes, so we didn’t, and were very grateful afterward.

You may also want to set boundaries like only committing to two social events every weekend, or three evening commitments in a week.

Talk with your spouse and decide what you want your normal flow to be like, and revisit it often.  Kevin and I had a “two social events per weekend” rule for a while, but have found ourselves as of late having weekends where we are running from one event to the next.  That’s not how we want our weekends to look.  We want it to be full of restful and rejuvenating time to connect with the kids and each other before starting another week. So we talked, and committed to scaling back again. 

As I leave you with these thoughts, I ask you, are you weary or burdened?  Remember that Jesus said to attach yourself and your energies to Him, and He promises rest for your soul.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful? If your answer is yes, then your rest may start with saying no more often…or maybe it’s saying yes to only the best things.  Whatever your answer, know that many of us are doing this juggling act with you.  It’s a skill worth mastering, but for tonight what do you say we call an intermission and get some popcorn?  Yep…I think I’ll go for that too.

Soup’s On!

The other night at our house was a sweet time with friends, so I just had to write about it.  Wednesday evening about 6:30 the smell of soup and fresh bread filled our house while people spilled in the door from out in the cold, greeted each other with hugs, and shared a warm meal together while laughter and life filled the corners of our kitchen.  We enjoyed two hours of uninterrupted conversation with adults while the kids played in the basement.  I enjoyed partaking in the rare occasion of slowly eating my food, while tasting every bite and conversing with close friends.  As any one of you Mama’s know, this is a treat within itself!

Kevin and I decided about six months ago that we wanted more times like this at our house.  I thought I’d share what we do in hopes that you may want to adopt the tradition and begin having more gatherings around your kitchen table.

Soup Nights

We have given these nights a simple name because the idea is…simple. We call them Soup Nights. We say to those invited, come if you can and we will have a big pot of soup on the stove and warm bread.  No other sides, no dessert, and no frills to complicate the evening and stress us out.  Just a simple and warm meal to share with friends.  There is no pressure to rsvp, no pressure to bring anything…no pressure to come at all!

This week there were ten of us, and as the sound of spoons were clinking bowls and laughter echoed around the kitchen, I took the moment in and thought about how I’m so grateful for these people in my life.  After dinner we gathered around one couple that needs God to come through for them quickly, placed our hands on them and prayed.  Then we all shared about some of the things God is doing in our lives, some of our favorite moments of this past Christmas, and ways we want to make next Christmas even better with our families.

So who are the people we invite over for our soup nights?  I’m glad you asked.  I’d love to introduce you to them…

Life Groups

My husband and I have led or been a part of what our church calls Life Groups since we were married nearly fourteen years ago.  The people have changed that have been a part of these groups, but the vision has not.  Your church may call them small groups, cell groups, or something similar to that, but the point is to have a small group of people who you regularly see and really do life with.  For us, it has been life changing to be a part of these groups.

The group we lead now meets at our house once a month for a night of prayer and study.  We vary what we study based on the groups desire.  We also pray for each other and our kids, and encourage each other through life’s ups and downs. The two hours we are together is never wasted!

But this year we also started adding a soup night once a month as a way to hang together with no agenda.  You know how life is.  You think about getting together with someone, and before you know it a year passes by and you still haven’t scheduled anything!  With soup nights on the calendar, it’s a simple way to have a standing date with the people you want to see more of.

Have I sold you on the idea yet?  Yours does not have to be a part of a life group or a church at all.  It could be your neighbors.  Think about if you and six or seven of your neighbors got together and shared a meal once a month. The feel of your neighborhood would completely change.  Or maybe there are coworkers that you would like to get to know better.  Or you could invite some of the parents of the teammates of your kids sports teams.

It’s not difficult, and you can make it in such a way that it’s not expensive either.  Just keep it as simple as possible so that you will want to do it again!  We do a lot of hosting at our house, so I know from experience that if I have to worry about more than one dish, plus get my house clean, and make the table look perfect for seating (all the while yelling at my kids to not touch anything!)… I’m a wreck.  Take it from me that people don’t care if your house looks perfect or the table is set when they walk in.  They care about people and time spent together.  So put your efforts into that.

Have you ever heard the phrase “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care”?  I love that saying.  The point is that the people in your life don’t want to hear you talk about your own ideas or what you know or where you stand on life issues.  They want to know how much you care about them first.  So keep the main thing the main thing…and that is people.  No matter our life story, political or spiritual views, or what types of food we do or don’t eat, we all want to know that we are cared for.  Soup nights is just one way to do that.

Jackie’s Spaghetti

I remember when I was nineteen and I had moved away to Colorado with a friend.  Everything and everyone was foreign, but we found a new church, and there was a widowed lady that attended there who was still raising two of her own boys.  She decided she wanted to take about five of us young girls under her wing.  So every Tuesday night, Jackie would have us over to her small house where she would serve us pasta and Pillsbury crescent rolls.  It was the same every week.  She told us she had to keep it cheap and easy, and would even apologize that it wasn’t a grander meal, but honestly that simple food ministered to us girls deeply at that time in our lives.  After dinner and catching each other up on our week, we would all help with the dishes and then move to the living room where she taught us something out of the Bible. We drank in every last word she had to say, asking her tons of questions as we tried to squeeze out of her every ounce of life experience and wisdom she could offer. It really was a powerful thing she did for us on many different levels.

Every Tuesday evening, I knew down to the deepest fibers of my being that I was cared for.  I was important to someone.  And it all started with an invitation to come over for some spaghetti from a woman I had just met.

Never underestimate the power of an invitation to share in some food.  You may extend the invite for others, but you will be blessed even more.  Proverbs 11:25 says “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed”. So if you find that you could use some refreshing in life, why don’t you start with three simple words…“friends, soup’s on”!

 

The Syrup of Champions!

This time of year can be rough in the area of keeping our families healthy. Everywhere I turn, someone is down with the cold or flu. When you have a larger family like we do, it is of the utmost importance to keep everyone healthy because a cold can take one or two months to circulate through everyone. Yuck! So, whether you are looking to ward off the flu or colds this winter, I have the perfect defender that everyone should have in their refrigerator. Give it up for…elderberry syrup!

We love elderberry syrup here at our house. We started making it three winters ago, and since taking it, we are hardly ever sick. Yay!! (I will also say that the reason I believe we stay healthy is we don’t eat much sugar at all. Sugar decreases your immune system, so do your body a favor and stay off of it!)

Back to the elderberry syrup. Why is it so good for you, you ask? It has been shown to boost the immune system, decrease mucous, calm a cough, aid digestion, increases circulation, and is a great anti-inflammatory.

Some cultures throughout history have said that there are more benefits to the elderberry than can even be counted. There are recorded recipes for elderberry medicines that date back to ancient Egypt. But don’t take my word for it, let Hippocrates tell you. The ancient Greek known as “the father of medicine” called the elderberry his medicine chest for the wide variety of ailments it cured. It is packed with very high levels of vitamin C, as well as A and B; minerals like iron, phosphorus, potassium, and copper.

There are so many studies that show time and time again that the elderberry greatly reduces sickness and strengthens the body. Just google the benefits of elderberries and you will have a lot to read through!

Now, there is one problem with these little berries and that is that the seeds and twigs are poisonous. Do not eat them, and keep them out of reach of your children! They contain a cyanide producing glucoside in them. I technically don’t really know what that means, except that if you eat more than a few of the berries at a time, you could throw up. Trust me, I know.

The first time I made the syrup, the website I was using said you could save the berries and eat them since they had been cooked. So, like a good student, I did. The next morning I threw some into our morning smoothie. As my oldest three kids and I drank them down, they started saying that their stomachs were hurting them, and within ten minutes they had all scattered to three different bathrooms and were all throwing up at the same time! It was crazy! I also felt sick to my stomach for about an hour but it never actually came back up. Phew! I was nursing my fourth child at the time, and I ended up calling a friend to use some of her breast milk she had in the freezer so I could pump and dump for the day. I wanted to be extra careful just in case the berries could harm her. It was an adventurous day to say the least!

I scoured the internet for information on eating elderberries and found much conflicting information. So, the best I could find is that the seeds and stems are what is poisonous. So learn from my mistake and don’t eat them!!

On the other hand, the juice from boiling them has all the wonderful benefits of the elderberry without subjecting yourself to being poisoned.

The other ingredient in this syrup is raw, local honey. It is very important that it be raw. Raw honey has not been heated and pasteurized, so all the power packed vitamins, minerals, and enzymes are preserved. Honey is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Amazing. The honey actually helps to preserve the elderberry juice because of this. Every fall I go to the farmers market and buy a gallon of raw honey to last me through the winter months. If you have a health food store in your town, call and ask them if they sell raw, local honey. More than likely, they do. Why local? I’ve heard from bee keepers that it is best to eat honey that has been harvested from within a 100 mile radius to you, that way your body is getting pollen that is specific to your area and not foreign. If that is not very important to you, then just make sure it’s raw.

Another bonus about honey is it has been shown to be as effective at calming coughs as over the counter cough syrups. So if you’ve got that tickle in your throat that tells you a cough might be coming, this syrup will act as a dynamic duo in helping you heal.

The cinnamon stick, ginger, and cloves in this recipe add to kick your immune system into even higher gear, but they are optional. If you only have dried elderberries and raw honey, you can still go ahead and make this health tonic.

For those of you who have been buying elderberry syrup at the store, you already know that the stuff is expensive! Hence why I am teaching you here to make it yourself. This is cheaper, healthier, and I think it tastes better too.

So, without further ado, here is the elderberry syrup recipe that we make: (links are included to Amazon for easy ordering)

2 C dried elderberries Frontier Elder Berries Whole Organic – 1 lb or Elderberries Whole, European Elder Berries, 1 Pound Bulk, Frontier

4 C water

1 cinnamon stick Frontier Organic Cinnamon Sticks, 0.85 Ounce

3-4 whole cloves Whole Cloves 3.5 oz

1 slice of fresh ginger root roughly 1 inch thick

  1. Place the elderberries, cinnamon stick, cloves, and ginger in the water on your stove. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to low, place the cover on, and simmer for 45 min.
  2. Remove from the heat and let it sit until it is completely cooled.
  3. Strain the berry mixture through a paint strainer or cheeseclothRegency Natural Ultra Fine 100% Cotton Cheesecloth 9 sq.ft  into another clean saucepan. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze! Get as much of that goodness out as you can. (Shout out to paint strainers: I always use this in place of cheesecloth. You will have to go to a hardware store to get them. They are amazing, and you can wash them in the laundry and use over and over again. Once you use one you will never go back. You can thank me later!)
  4. Measure the amount of juice you have and add an equal amount of raw honey to the berry juice. Gently heat the mixture, but do not boil it! We want to keep all those health properties of honey intact. This will take just a minute or so until the honey is nice and melted and the two have combined.
  5. Pour the syrup into a glass container and store it in the fridge.

Swing Top Bottles Set of 4 Glass Kombucha Fruit Beverage Beer Liquor 32 Ounces Each Clear Flask Airtight Seal Stopper with Bonus Funnel Included
Voila! You just made your own batch of elderberry syrup! Wasn’t it easy?! This should last you a couple of months in the refrigerator.

Take 1 tsp- 1 Tbs a day, ½ tsp for toddlers. (Remember not to give it to your babies under one. They can’t have honey yet because it could cause botulism, a poisoning from bacteria. Although super rare, please play it safe.)

If you feel as if you are coming down with something, you can take it up to every hour. If you dedicate yourself to doing this, you will notice that your body will fight off the bug very quickly. It really does wonders if you start at the first sign of something and stay consistent.

We also pour it over pancakes, or mix it in with kefer or yogurt. You could also mix a little in with hot tea-yum! It is very tasty, so you probably won’t have to talk your kids into taking it. If my kids are fighting something, I will mix a splash of it in a glass of water and then add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. The elderberry syrup cuts the strong acidic taste from the vinegar. I call it “the special drink” because it packs a powerful punch against sickness, and I want my kids to think it’s something special so they will enjoy drinking it! So far, it’s working.

I decided to do a quick video walking you through how to make it.  I hope you will see how easy it is!

With any herbal remedy, it is good to take breaks to give your body and immune system a rest, so we only take this in the fall and winter months, and usually 4-5 days out of the week, unless we are fighting something.

I’m so excited for you and your family to begin adding elderberry syrup to your arsenal of attacks against colds and flu. Please share this with everyone that you spend time with regularly so that you all can stay in tip-top health throughout the flu season!

Wishing you and yours a very healthy new year!!

In it for good

This post is to bring you a quick note of encouragement if you are feeling weary. This morning I was feeling this way. Kevin and I stayed up late last night because, hey, it was Friday night. Our evening ritual lately has been to sit in our hot tub that is out on our deck because it has been below zero here for too long. It’s magical to sit out there and look at the stars and sit in the quiet, crisp (freezing) night, but still feel toasty warm. We sit out there and chat and catch each other up on our day for about an hour. By the time we got out last night, it was 10:00, but I wasn’t ready to go to bed, so we watched a movie. Midnight came around fast, and as we turned off the lights and collapsed in bed, we kissed each other goodnight and immediately Jude received the memo that Mom and Dad were about to fall asleep and he needed to wake them up. It’s a weird phenomenon, but if you have children, more than likely you know what I’m talking about. I don’t know how babies do it, but somehow they know right when mom and dad are going to go to sleep, or when they are getting in bed to do something else, if you’re catching my drift. Children give us never ending opportunities to grow in patience, don’t they?

So, we brought him in bed with us to nurse, and the three of us slept together until he started stirring around 1:30, and then I tapped Kevin (not totally accurate, actually looks more like jabbing him with my elbow over and over again until he wakes up) to carry him back to his crib. We’ve always done that with our babies. He goes to their room and gets them, brings them to me in bed, I nurse them, and then he brings them back to their room. He’s a trooper with a capital T. All that to say, I didn’t really fall into a deep sleep until after 1:30, and then the morning nursing session came all too fast. So, I was feeling weary this morning. Tired always equals not good things for me. I am very sensitive to needing enough sleep, so when I don’t get enough, it’s hard for me to function. I blame it on the fact that I’m Swedish. I’m not sure what being Swedish has to do with needing sleep, but my brother-in-law is actually from Sweden and he’s the same way, so I’ve deduced it to the fact that all Swedes must be this way….right?

After I woke up, I really wanted to exercise but didn’t have the time go to the gym before the kids had to leave for swim lessons, so I went in the basement and did a DVD workout. Over time, little ones trickled downstairs, and for the last ten minutes, I was actually doing crunches on the exercise ball with Jude on my belly because otherwise he was sitting next to me crying. Janelle was also next to me with resistance bands on her head and around her neck, “Mommy, I’m exercising!”.  “Yep”, I grunted out, but what I was really thinking was, “stay out of my way-I just want to work out!”.  Total honesty here, people.  I finished up and quickly ran the two upstairs and suctioned out Jude’s snotty nose because he’s teething and has boogies running down into his mouth, took Janelle to use the potty, changed Jude’s diaper (all the while he’s been crying for like ten minutes-ahhh!), and then put a movie on for Janelle so I could run Jude up for a nap.  I was sitting on the rocking chair in his room nursing him and I sighed to the Lord, “God, I’m weary. How do you expect us to do this? It requires so much of me.” Immediately he reminded me of Galations 6:9 which says “let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up”.  He has reminded me of this verse more times than I can recall, and I’ve purposely meditated on it many times over because it really helps me in moments like these.  Children can make us feel weary.  I don’t care if it’s the physical drain that babies and toddlers take, or the emotional and mental drain the older ones take.  Some days, it can feel like someone has walked up to me, stuck a straw in my head, and sucked the wonderful life right out of me. But God knows we get weary.  He made us.  And He always has an answer for us.  As He answered me today, I was reminded of how I am doing good to my children and my husband by the mundane little (and big) overlooked ways that I serve. Sometimes it all feels like nonsense…but it’s not. We are doing good to those around us. You are doing good to those little ones that look up to you all day long. You may feel like no one sees it, but let me tell you, they see it, and they are little mirrors. They will become how you treat them. Many times, our harvest is reaped in our children.

If you are in the empty nest season, then don’t grow weary in doing good to your husband by being a loving, kind, supportive wife.  And if you are single, don’t grow weary of doing good to your co-workers, friends, neighbors and family members. Everyone needs more good in their lives, and that is a free gift you can bring others, and the return will be a harvest of peace, joy, and goodness.  There are days, like today, that it’s sooo not easy, I know.  That’s why God has to remind us to not give up! So let’s not give up friends.  Sometimes we want to throw in the towel (or throw a tantrum), but let’s take a deep breath together instead, and keep sowing goodness.

In it with you…