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.

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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.

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…

Ticket To Ride

This has been a busy, and to be honest stressful week for me, as I’m sure it has been for many of you. But last night was a little peek into some of the joy that Christmas brings.  I hope this blesses you and your family like it did us…

Last night my children had what would arguably be the best ride around the town they’ve ever had.  It wasn’t so much what they did, as the experience with friends that made it so memorable. A couple weeks ago my friend Tricia asked if we would be interested in our kids joining them in a family tradition. Every year on a special night at Christmas time, they take their kids around town to see Christmas lights in “The Christmas Express”, which really means a totally decked out version of their own van, with Dad dressed up as a different chauffeur each year.

Tricia has six kids, and we have five, and she is my friend that is super organized and pays attention to details. I aspire to be like her because I am a “big picture, who cares about details” kind of gal. I can use more Tricia in my life. So, in her unique way, she prepared for this night with flare. She printed tickets on gold paper, laminated them, and gave them to me ahead of time so I could give them to the kids. The plan was they would come and pick the kids up in their van around 8:00PM and the dads would take the children around town looking at the lights together while they chatted about what kids chat about and munched on popcorn and drank hot cocoa!

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So, the day finally arrived, and I decided to hide their tickets inside their stockings. We did our normal bedtime routine around 7:45, and sent the kids up to tuck themselves in. We waited a few minutes until they were all in their rooms and then Kevin went up in the hallway and said, “guys, I think Santa actually came early and put something in your stockings, so why don’t you come down and look.” The kids looked at him with confusion, as we don’t do Santa in our house (hey-before you judge me, we still do presents and all the other Christmas stuff, but I just never had the heart to play along with it all. Don’t worry, we tell them not to tell your kids!) So, they cautiously went downstairs and checked their stockings. Inside was a golden ticket with their name on it to a ride in “The Christmas Express”!  They read what it said, and they were still totally in the dark as to what was going on, but there was anticipation growing in the air. “Alright, everyone has to be in pj’s!”, I said.  They ran upstairs and came back down in a flash. “Okay, get your coats and boots on!” At this point, they had smiles plastered to their faces, and they were asking us what they were going to get to do. We walked out into the crisp, cold air and stood on the driveway.  After a minute or two, I said to them, “something is going to happen…”, and they looked all around in the quiet. About a minute later, our friends came sailing down the road with Christmas music blaring. The sight reminded me of a cartoon! This big black Nissan NV flying around the corner, Christmas music spilling out of it, colorful Christmas lights strung along the inside, and children’s giddy voices breaking the quiet night. “That’s it!” my oldest shouted. He recognized the van as our friends van. As they pulled up, our friends honked the horn, and our kids started jumping up and down and lots of shouts went up. They had decked out their van, and it was nothing short of awesome. Tricia’s husband Josh jumped out, “tickets! tickets! Where’s your tickets?!!”, and simultaniously their kids flew out of the van to jump all over our kids and hug them.  He pulled out a hole punch, punched the kids tickets, handed it back to them and told them they need it to get in their seats. Tricia jumped out the other side of the van with a basket full of boxes she had made for each child filled with treats. They all filed in and found their seat next to their friend, and wouldn’t have been able to wipe the smiles off their faces even if you asked them to. It was great to see them so happy.

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And as fast as the big van flew into our driveway it flew back out again, this time with the Dads in the front seats. Tricia and I stayed back at our house to chat over Christmas cookies and tea while one baby slept and the other played at our feet. (It was quiet and lovely. I think we got the better end of the deal-wink!)

They were gone for almost two hours driving around to experience the Christmas lights, all the while snacking on popcorn, pretzels, and hot cocoa, chatting away with their friends. When they came back they were filled to the brim with the joy that children have at Christmas time. You know…joy. Like, the joy that kids can bubble up with out of nowhere. I’ve learned that children don’t need much to be overwhelmed with joy.

Don’t you sometimes wish you had more joy? I know I do. I struggle with that. When I was about sixteen I was diagnosed with depression. I don’t know if I really did have depression or if I was just stuck in the muck of being a teenager. Regardless, that word labeled me for a while. I went on medication, but also dove into God’s Word to see what He had for my life. As I searched His Word, I saw it. I saw that there were scriptures about joy all over the place. And that He was the one that restores joy. “In Your presence is fullness of joy”, Psalm 16:11. “You turned my wailing to dancing, you clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises”, Psalm 30:11-12.  I wanted to have the joy of a child again so bad. I went off the meds a few years later. I’m not sure I really needed them in the first place. What I do know I needed was lots and lots of booster shots from God’s Word (of course I have to put a disclaimer here: if you are suffering from depression, please DO see a Dr and get on anti-depressants if that’s what you think you need. I will have more posts on this subject since it is close to my heart). These days it’s not very often that I feel overcome with depression, (thank the Lord) but when it comes knocking on my door, I go to God.  I now KNOW that in His presence is fullness of joy.  But I also think that God knows life is really hard, and He has put a sweet deposit of joy into our children. And I love when I see it spill out. It’s like, “yes! They still have it.” Like the bell in The Polar Express that rang for the children but faded as they grew older, joy seems to fade as we get older. I don’t like that. I wish it didn’t, but it seems like the pressures and demands of life sit right on top of joy and squish it right down to the likes of an unrecognizable deflated soccer ball. If you feel that way this Christmas season, I leave you with two challenges. One, take your kids out this week to look at the lights. Send them up to bed like usual, and then surprise them. Tell them to pile in the car, have some hot (warm for safety!) cocoa ready, and some other treat, and start driving.  Maybe even pick up some friends along the way! They will love it, and they will probably remember it forever. And two, don’t check joy at the door of adulthood. Make time in life for the things that make you feel like a kid again. Think back to it. That feeling where life felt just amazing. Pray that God will bring your joy back. Pray that He will give you ideas of how to awaken it.  He will.  And as you drive your children or grandchildren around, watch their faces light up, and try to match their excitement. It may feel weird, but just try. You may surprise yourself…and them too!

Living In The Mess

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Have you ever found yourself saying the words “I feel like all I ever do is pick up messes!”? I know I certainly have many times over. With five active, boisterous children, there are bound to be daily messes. Some days, it has felt like a life sentence!

Today was one of those “messy days”…I woke up after a short nights sleep, came downstairs after nursing the baby and saw that the two year old was already awake and roaming around. Oh boy, this could mean trouble, so I quickly circle the downstairs but don’t see anything out of the ordinary. “Wow, not too bad”, I think, “she didn’t really make any messes!”  I take her pullup off of her, saying “time to use the big girl potty if you have to go”, as we are in the throes of potty training over here (yay!…said very, very sarcastically).  I busily begin making breakfast, slightly stumbling around after that short nights sleep I mentioned, when out of the corner of my eye, I see her walking like a stiff legged mummy toward me. I look at her with one eyebrow raised, “what’s wrong, Love?” “Mommy, I went poopoo in my pants.”  Oh boy.  What that means is its probably all down her leg and coming out the bottom of her pants because I didn’t run back upstairs to put underware on her yet.  Great.  Third time this week. “Oh, Love, you have to tell Mommy when you have to go poopoo and we run to the potty….. remember?” I was trying so hard not to get upset because I know that only sets you back with potty training, but on the inside I was sooooo not happy. “Okay, shuffle to the bathroom, let’s get you cleaned off”. Now I’m trying to figure the easiest way to do this. The exact same thing happened a couple mornings ago, but she was wearing old pj’s that I didn’t care about, so truth be told, I just cut them off of her so I didn’t have to slide the pants down and spread “it” everywhere. This morning, I loved the pj’s she was wearing. So, I got her cleaned up as best I could, all the while balancing on one leg while the other leg is holding the baby back. He crawled in the bathroom too and was wanting to be right up in all the action. This was when I wished my older two were home so I could ask them to help hold him, but they spent the night at a friends house, and my seven year old had a friend over and they were sleeping in. But, I did it, one legged and all, and I kept the baby out of the mess. Phew! I took the dirty pants into the laundry room, rinsed them off in the sink, and threw them in the wash. As I close the door to the washer, I glance at the top of the washer and dryer and notice that my laundry baskets are overflowing, so much so that one of the baskets has busted. What a mess! I take a deep breath, pray the pants get clean, and head back to the kitchen to start breakfast. As I wash my hands off at the kitchen sink, I look at a picture frame that sits on my window ledge with a quote that I placed in it the other day. It says “Living in the mess. Life doesn’t come in neat little packages. But that’s okay-God works in and through the mess to make something beautiful”. I smile, remembering why I put that quote there. I found it last week in a homeschooling magazine I was reading. It was one of those quotes that just jumped off the page at me because it spoke to me. This morning, it was shouting to me. And little did I know, two hours later it would minister to me once more when she would poop her pants AGAIN.

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Friends, life is full of messes. In all honesty, at my house I feel like I am constantly walking into or over a mess all day long. I can’t get away from it. God has shown me though, that the only way to get away from all messes is to get away from people. (and yes, you make your own messes too, but I know, I know, yours pail in comparison to others-wink!)

Our life goal should certainly not be to steer clear of all messes. Remember, what was one of the first words out of God’s mouth after He created Adam? “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He made Eve. Then He told them to multiply and fill the earth. People, people, and more people. Which really means messes, messes, and more messes. People=messes. But you see, it’s not good for us to be alone. We were designed to be living life with people. It’s woven throughout our DNA because your Creator put it there. I know it can be so tiring and frustrating to be cleaning up messes all day long. Believe me-I know. The food the toddler spills on their shirt, the messy hands after meals, the toys scattered all over the house, the crafts that get accidentally glued to the kitchen table, the silly putty that gets stretched out and strung across the carpet, the sharpy that was scribbled across the white chair(thank you Magic Eraser!), the socks that get taken off feet and found all over the house, homework papers everywhere, markers with no marker caps, toothpaste smeared on the counter…I could go on and on and on. And this is just before 10AM! But friends, who is making all these messes? I’ll tell you who. Future Kings and Queens of Heaven. God’s children. Beautiful, tiny little hands and feet that walk this earth looking to you to help them. And they will only be with you a short time. There is an expiration date to raising your children, and I can guarantee you when that expiration date hits, there will be lots of tears. So, choose to enjoy living in the mess while there are people in your home to be making the mess. Heck-embrace it. Why not, right? I’m not saying let your house be a garbage dump. No one can live in that. What I am saying is, let them be kids. And allow yourself to be their Mommy. Join them in their mess. Play with them while they still want to play with you, instead of following them around cleaning up after them all day and barking orders at them. And when the play is over, teach them to help you clean it all up (and teach those olders to pick up their own socks and homework!).  If you have children that are older, go sit on their bedroom floor while you have them clean up their room and talk with them. Kids will open up better when they have something they are doing, opposed to you sitting staring at them. Have them help you do the dishes and clean the floor, and talk together. Embrace the mess, and embrace the clean-up. These are opportunities to bond with your children.

So, what if the messes you face this Christmas season aren’t physical messes? Maybe you feel like your life is just a mess. You feel you’ve made a mess of your marriage, your finances, job, or friendships. God can fix that too. If you let Him. He’s really, really good at cleaning up our messes…He’s your Heavenly Father, so He does a way better job at taking care of us than we do of our children. Humble yourself before Him, talk to Him about the mess you’ve made, and ask Him to help you clean it up. It may take time, and everyone’s road to recovery looks different. Do you know that the Bible is full of people who made messes of their lives? And God made it that way so that we can learn from them. That way we can read their stories and go, “I don’t want to make that mistake”. Also, so we can read their stories and go “look at how God turned their life around after they brought their mess to Him and asked for His help”.  The Bible is a teaching manual. Pick it up and read it. It’s the only book in the world that is actually alive because God Himself speaks through it to us.

If you feel as if someone else has made the mess you are in, lock arms with God and pray. Reach out to others who can carry you through this time. But most importantly, stay close to God because only He can make your life beautiful again. Psalm 103 verse 4 says that He is the one “who redeems your life from destruction”.  That word redeem in the original Hebrew means “to buy back”. It is used 104 times in the Bible and frequently used of God when He is redeeming men out of slavery or bondage. He is GOOD at redeeming our lives from destruction (a.k.a. messes) – if we ask Him to.

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So fast forward the clock to 4PM, and I’m in the kitchen making dinner stepping over all the pots and pans that Jude has pulled out of the cupboards. I cut open a squash to cook, and Janelle says “Mom, can I play with the seeds?” I always roast the seeds for us to eat, so I usually let her play with them and wash them off. My brain was formulating the words, “just please don’t make a mess”, when I stopped myself… “Sure, Love, here you go”, and I slid the bowl of slimy squash seeds over to her. I watched her tiny hands play with those seeds for a half hour, and I must have smiled a dozen times. Watching her play brought me happiness, and God did something in my heart. He made something beautiful through the messes of my day. An appreciation for my family and the tiny hands before me. Did the seeds end up all over the counter, chair, and floor? Yes they did. Did she enjoy herself? Every moment of it. Did I feel it was worth letting her make the mess? Yes…every minute of it.

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Friends, ask God to help you change your perspective on the messes you clean up in your home. Those little (and big) bodies won’t be there forever. And for those of you with your hands in the mess, take those hands and lift them up to Heaven and ask Him to make something beautiful out of it. Trust me when I say that your life is worth being beautiful.

Hugs from my house to yours…