How to Give God's Grace to Yourself {and Everyone Else, Too}

How to Give God's Grace to Yourself {and Everyone Else, Too}

Most of us are pretty familiar with John 10:10.... it's at the top of this page if you aren't so much :) But we often quote the second part of the verse without thinking too much on the first. The full verse says: 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (other versions say "to the full"). 

A psalmist describes the enemy as a lion on the prowl. And that, my friends, he is. And I'm beginning to think that the mark of the beast is a hashtag on one hand and a pinterest logo on the other. 

If you struggle with perfectionism (like I always have) then Face-Pin-Twit can add an extra-heavy dose of "not good enough" into your heart. Who we are as a wife, mother, friend, lover, homemaker, homeschooler all come into question, and there's room for improvement everywhere we look. 

Read More

30 Days of Thanks-{GIVING}

30 Days of Thanks-{GIVING}

November is traditionally the month that we give thanks... it's become quite the trend on Facebook to post one thing each day that you're thankful for all through November. I think this is a fun way to reflect on all of our blessings as we approach the holiday season. However, the Lord has recently placed something on my heart that I would like to begin as a tradition (and CHALLENGE!) for my family. It's a tradition/challenge that I'd like to share and would feel humbled and blessed if you would join us in it :-)

This year, rather than take 30 seconds and think of a thing I can SAY thanks for each day, I'd like to take time {real time} to reflect on a way to GIVE THANKS. The Lord GAVE His only begotten son so that we may have everlasting life... as we walk through November, we approach the month of His sacred giving.

I want to spend my November in anticipation of the anniversary of His gift to US, by GIVING all that I can, in Thanks.

Here's the plan...

Read More

Perfect Peace- Who wants some of that?

Perfect Peace- Who wants some of that?
“You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You—in both inclination and character],
Because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation].
“Trust [confidently] in the Lord forever [He is your fortress, your shield, your banner],
For the Lord God is an everlasting Rock [the Rock of Ages].

-Isaiah 26: 3-4

Sometimes hard times happen. They come when we least expect it, under the fold of joyful times. Times when everything seems just perfect, the enemy jumps at the opportunity to steal and destroy (that's kind of his thing). He takes joy in taking moments of joy and attempting to turn them to ruin. And so we struggle. We struggle with keeping it together, and keeping going and taking our thoughts captive. We struggle with seeing the TRUTH in life and the good, and we sink into the laziness of sadness or frustration or foolish thoughts...

Read More

A Prayer for Less of Me

A Prayer for Less of Me

This morning as I sat down to my daily prayer and Bible study time, I felt my heart searching. I was thinking a thousand different thoughts and without prompting, 2 little words came to mind: 

Open me. 

So, I prayed it: 

Lord, Open my eyes to the least of these in this world. Never let me turn a blind eye to their needs because I have wants....

Read More

10 Steps: How to Die to This Life

Then he said to them all:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow meFor whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save itWhat good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very selfWhoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26

With a new year here, and fresh beginnings in the air, I've spent a good time in prayer asking the Lord for a plan for this New Year. A direction and path... a purpose. I've been wracked with the notion that my life is truly my own.  Not to say that I don't have loved ones who deeply impact my schedule and preferences, but the truth of the matter is that: in the end, I'm living for me. I'm also living for my husband, and my children... but I'm LIVING for me.

Yes, I serve in my home, my community and much church. But that's not my point, truthfully. What I'm saying is that I'm still doing it all for me.

Deep down inside, no matter how much I preach to myself, I still have ulterior motives and selfish motivations. Pride, self-glorification, checking boxes off a list... 

And if we are all really honest, I think we can all admit to not always being motivated by Christian love when we serve. Oftentimes, the motivation comes from external praise rather than Holy Spirit promptings. 

So, I ask myself: Am I doing enough? Am I living sacrificially (and not for external praise but because the Holy Spirit prompts me so urgently that I can't turn away)? And I'm shaken to the depth of my core with the notion, with the gut-wrenching knowing, that I'm NOT.

See, I've been wrecked lately by the thought of this Esther Generation. This generation of women who are seeking after Christ with reckless abandon. Who are willing to live sacrificially and always seeking to do more because they just can't shake the feeling that there's always more healing to bring, love to share and wounds to bind. 

We want to be, do, BLEED Godliness

.

We also have a heart for "the least of these"... as we should. As we are called to. This Esther Generation is called such because we live a life of luxury... and I don't mean those with a six-figure income. I mean, if you're reading this right now, you are among the most affluent in the world. WE are in the palace. We are behind the walls, peering over from a safe distance- saying "look at those people. They need help!!! Babies are murdered and starve to death, girls are kidnapped and sex-trafficked, women dig through dumps to feed their children, children's throats are slit while they sleep."

We can SEE them,

FEEL them

, from atop this fortress. And we fervently believe we have been put HERE for such a time as this. A time when a fervor of passionate, God-fearing, God-seeking, God-bleeding women and men come together behind the gates and say- "This can't be it! We can't just sit here and pretend like that's not there! What would Jesus do for Pete's sake!"

He walked among and loved on and healed the lepers. We all KNOW what He would do. He'd pick up that cross and He would tote it. He would lose HIS LIFE to save just one. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Him- to do as He did. We are called to lose our lives.

And with this fever pitch of New Year's resolutions, and seeking for simplicity-- and a burning urge to tear down the palace walls- this is such a time.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. {Luke 12:48}

But what does it look like? What does this Esther Generation have to do on a daily basis? How do you lay down a life?

How do you DIE to this world and it's stuff and big houses and the next vacation?

How do you let it all go and balance it all? How do you serve your family and help to save the broken and helpless and orphaned and sick?

One day at a time. One moment at a time. One life at a time. If you're like me, you feel a pressing urgency. You want to do something BIG RIGHT NOW. You want to fix it, bring all the babies home with you and give everyone in the world some Jesus- then it will all be alright.

But we can't. We can't fix "it" because "it" is a broken-down, sinful, shameful, selfish, evil world.

But it's broken and evil and sinful in such a way that it CAN all glorify Him.

You see

that's

the purpose {of life} and the burning need- to glorify Him.

One day at a time, one moment at a time, one life at a time.

If it was all rainbows and skittles and unicorns, who would need a god? But our world is not that.

It desperately needs a God... a living, redeeming, saving, grace-filled, merciful God that would lay down and die for you. And in order to follow Him, we have to lay down and die.

One day, one moment and one life at a time.

We have to give up, get out and bleed grace.

We have to overflow out of this palace into the world- with our time, our words, our money, our passion. One day, one moment, one life at a time.

We've been put here for such a time as this. A time when there couldn't be a greater chasm between how rich we are and how rich they aren't. And the thing about it is, we no longer have to get on a ship and become lifelong missionaries in order to touch people thousands of miles away. We have the Internet, airplanes, mail... we have riches, we have education, and we have technology in our palace.

God has created a burning desire in our souls to reach out and touch His children in this world, and He's given us every tool imaginable to do it.

So when it comes down to it- how do we die to this life? We must DENY ourselves. We must take up our cross and follow Him. We must deny ourselves conveniences, or plenty of sleep or new shoes. We must take up our cross- which for us means do the really hard stuff, risk persecution and judgement and loss of life {this life}... and Follow Him.

Do what He did. Act like He did. Love like He did. That's the recipe- the recipe for the Esther Generation to follow.

Denial+Crossbearing*(Daily)=Following

So what can this look like for me? For you? How can we "prosper" in this? Proverbs 11:25 says The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

So how can we be the generation that swings this around? That denies this life and digs deeper? Who doesn't buy into the more-is-better mentality... and decides that a child eating is more important than a new pair of shoes?

1.

Prayer

. A whole lot of it. In all times, in all situations, prayer.

2.

God's word

. Daily. Pouring and praying it deep into your soul- passionately pleading with Him to CHANGE YOU.

3.

Give it up

. Start small- the Starbucks. The weekly dinner out after church. The new purse each season. #preachingtomyself

4.

Look for opportunities

to give in a way that rebukes the enemy's attempts on your life. A/C tear up? Send money to provide for a coat for a child in Ukraine. We had a round with lice lately- so we sent funds to provide for the treatment of parasites for 25 children in impoverished nations. Let him know that every time he comes attempting to confuse or distract you, that you'll do good to spite him.

5.

Sponsor a child

through

www.Compassion.com

or

www.Amazima.org

Amazima is an organization founded by Katie Davis 

www.kissesfromKatie.com

She is a phenomenal inspiration (and

her book

is an absolute must read)- following the Lord's call on her life to move to Uganda and adopt 12? daughters... at the age of 18.

6.

Read

Seven by Jen Hatmaker

and be inspired about how to do more for less, so that others can have more.

7.

Let go of the fear of being radical

...do whatever the Holy Spirit urges you to do- at all times and in all circumstances. Don't question, don't doubt, just obey.

8.

Adopt a child

. Or, help fund someone else's adoption. There's Jesus-freaks everywhere, traveling the world, bringing babies home. They need your prayers and your money.

9.

Be healthy

. Take care of yourself. Eat well. You can NOT be the body of Christ, the hands and feet of our Lord, if you are sick, tired, grumpy and unwell.

10. Take it one day at a time- one moment at a time- so that you can help one life at a time.

Blessings sweet friends! xoxo

Peace on Earth {tidings of comfort & joy}

Updated to add a Freebie... get it while it lasts from Amazon MP3-

Meredith Andrews' He Has Come for Us!!!

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,

but the angel reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Luke 2:6-14

An army of angels appeared. An army... legions if you can quantify that. They appeared. On Earth. They appeared and they spoke- and they said Peace. On. Earth. They came, and they praised, and they delivered the Good News, and they pronounced a messsage from the One whom sent them- Peace on Earth. Now, there's Peace on Earth.

Peace has arrived... for Everyone.

Peace on Earth in the form on a baby, wrapped in wrags, in the stench of manure... born to a girl who'd never known a man. Peace on earth showed up in the pit- outcast with no room for Him anywhere. But He still came.

The angel army came not to annouce that one day they would HAVE peace... that one day, at the END of the toil, they'd have peace. You see, that's true. One day, since that baby came to be nailed to a tree, it's true- at the end, they'd have Peace.

But what the angels said is Peace on Earth. Not later... not when the kids go to bed, not when the next paycheck comes in, not when your wife starts cooking dinner every night like she should, not when your husband looks at you again like he used to, not when the cancer is gone, not when you get the promotion... not later. Now, back then. Every day since... Peace came to earth.

He came down in a barn and was broken down upon a tree and washed the earth clean. From THAT moment, Peace was upon the earth.

They brough Good News- news that would bring joy to ALL People.

Peace came to earth... He washed us clean, and He is still here.

In all the moments, in all the stench of loss and fear and worry and insanity... Peace.

So have Peace, sweet friend. Not later on down the road after the _________.

But now, bathe yourself in His Peace, because YOU are why He came down.

And read

this book too please

. We are so close to His coming... Mary is so heavy with child, but there's still time, because it doesn't end Dec 25th.

So Far: 30 Days of Thanks-{Giving}... Join Me?

So Far: 30 Days of Thanks-{Giving}... Join Me?

I am so blessed and so excited at the outpouring of love, support and goodwill that has already taken place in these first few days of our 30 Days of Thanksgiving

As a recap- rather than focusing on saying what we appreciate each day (which is completely valid and totally underrated in itself), we are focusing on GIVING in Thanks. God is a pretty great GIVER- He GAVE his only begotten son to save us from ourselves. I, personally, really appreciate that.

He also calls us to give attention to our lives, to HIM, to what He is doing in us, through us and all around us every.single.second of every.single.day.

Read More

Is Death Punishment? {In Memory of Lost Loved Ones}

***Bumping up to refresh my soul... because this is always a hard time of year.

As a Christian I would be duty-bound and somewhat convicted to answer with a resounding NO! Death is when we are called home to our Lord and Savior, where we get to bow at the feet of Almighty God, and were there is no sin, pain or sickness. Death is a rescue from the stench of this earth. We are only in our temporary home... and as my dear Kali put it-- when we are on Earth it's like we are on vacation and we will get to go back to our Real Home soon. Based on what I know of Heaven, this is a cruddy vacation, but her sentiment is precious ;-)


As I was driving home from my weekly Wednesday night bible study class (which absolutely ROOCKSSS even though I have a hard time shutting up and totally overshare) I was driving down the road praising the Lord with every cell in my body. I was singing at the top of my lungs to a song on the radio, with hand lifted to the sky. And, as I typically do, I had a wave of anxiety hit me for just a second... "What if I wrecked and died RIGHT NOW? What if the last time I saw my husband and children today was the LAST TIME? What if they get hurt or sick or have an accident when I am up here and they are down there? What if I died and my family lost another one of us? How could they bear it?" Then the next thought was exorbitantly silly in multiple ways. A) That I thought it. B) That it comforted me. I thought... "I can't die RIGHT NOW! I'm praising and singing to God. I wouldn't die right now while I'm worshiping him..."

Ok, the flaws in my logic are as follows:

1) I am assuming that God would *kill me* which is why I think that if I'm worshipping Him, he won't. I mean, who would kill someone who is praising them?

2) I am assuming that death is a punishment so if I pray for safety and well being and worship hard enough, then I (or my family) won't die... today anyway.

3) That my worship of Him would change the plan He has laid out for my life.

Tonight, I'm really wanting to tackle point #2 because I think it is the BIG LIE. Death is a punishment. I think we all like to think that it's not because we know, in theory, Heaven is way better and sounds like a cool place to be. However, we, in practice, fear death and see it as a punishment... a "taking away of life."

  • Death is a punishment because it takes those from us that we love and we want them HERE with US, everyday, forever.
  • Death is a punishment because it's unfair... so many who are horrible people live to a ripe old age while the young and just die.
  • Death is a punishment because we don't understand it. Even those with a significant faith life cannot fathom Heaven so we have a hard time *looking forward* to something that is a complete unknown.
  • Death is a punishment because so frequently it is not fast and painless, but long and painful and drains the life of all those around the afflicted.

So, how do we "practice" that we believe death is a punishment?

We go to significant lengths to keep ourselves and our families safe... safe from DEATH: Seatbelts, car seats, home alarms, guns, self-defense classes, prayer for safe travels, helmets, FDA, USDA, Homeland Security, etc etc etc  Like 90% of our lives are built around protection from the bad, from the end, from Death (and I totally made that percentage up).

Now, first we can assume that God has endowed us with a certain instinct to preserve our lives at all cost and to a much greater length, the lives of our children. There's no wonder that we invest so much in self-preservation. It's an in-dwelt instinct as old as time, to protect or lives and and the lives of our children. We are seen as deeply mentally ill if we are willing or desiring to end our lives sooner rather than later (which I don't obviously argue with). I mean, a guy sawed his own arm off to get out of a cleft in some rocks and drug himself lifeless miles for help. That's a STRONG instinct.

However, we also have to stop and think about this (as Christians)... IF we believe that this is our temporary home, then how faithful are we that we fight leaving it so hard? And we grieve with no end in sight for those that we've lost? And I don't mean stop wearing your seatbelt and take up sky-diving. I have no death wish.

What I'm speaking of is the life-altering consequences of the death of a loved one? Especially a *premature* one. As long as we view death as a punishment, as a taking away of life (especially before someone "should've" died), we cannot ever have peace. Ever. Until we, ourselves, are dead.

I personally have had significant loss in my life. I've lost a parent, a grand-parent who was very much like a parent, class mates and friends, as well a my cousin. My cousin was the deepest and closest to my heart because A) I loved him like a brother. We were raised as brother and sister... he, my sister and our other cousin. And B) The circumstances surrounding his death were sudden, earth-shattering and to our human understanding, completely senseless.

Time and time again, we (and I mean my entire family) have retraced the steps and events of that Halloween day 7 years ago. We have seen the images, re-visited those words we could never unhear, cried the hot and angry tears, and asked time and time again, "LORD, WHY!?!" Every day for 7 years we have all remembered him and wept and asked WHY? We have thought about special memories fondly then wept with the sadness that we will not be able to create more. Every year, when October comes around, a deep sadness sinks into all of our bones with dread of the memory of it all.. of the day. The saddest day of all.

We ask WHY because we do not understand, cannot understand His will. On paper, we know it's all for His good and His purposes and His plan, but we can't see HOW it was good or purposefull. Couldn't there have been another way? He was 26 and a GOOD MAN! He was hard-working, loving, a devoted son, and a good friend. He didn't DESERVE to die. His family didn't DESERVE this heart ache and pain. His friends didn't DESERVE to lose him. His death has impacted countless people and his memory is thoroughly intact and I am quite confident always will be, as long as we all draw breath.

The problem for me, and for many of us no matter who it is that we have lost, is that I view his leaving us as a punishment. I view the taking away of his life as a LOSS for us and for him. It is not. It is only gain. He gained ETERNAL LIFE. Right now, at this moment, he is in perfect rest with his father. He sees all, knows all, and feels no sin/pain/anger/hurt/torment. He can't even feel our pain that we experience fresh everyday for losing him. He is in the angel armies paving a path for those he loved while he was flesh and blood. He has met Jesus and been comforted and loved by him. He is in Heaven. Literally heaven. His death was shocking and horrific and untimely in our eyes, but in the eyes of His maker, it was perfect. He was coming home to see his true father, once and for all. For you see, God had already given HIS ONLY SON for us. He understands what it means to see your only son taken from you. Jody was our only son, but he was one of many to God and now he is seated at His right hand in righteousness.

Death seems like a punishment to those left behind because we find it so hard to truly believe without doubting. If we could truly imagine Heaven and see it for a second, we'd probably be ok with our family members being there. But death, like all other discomforts of life, is a way to forge us for His purposes. If our loved ones never died, how ready would we be to go Home? If we never had to sense loss or devastation, would be we ok with staying here in this flesh? As days tick by and all our bodies slowly progress toward death, our father is drawing us nearer. We are all dying. Every minute of every day. He just chooses to bring home some sooner than others. NOT because it's He's taking away their life, not because He wants us to live in pain and misery for the rest of our time in these bodies, but because He loves us each immensely.

He knit us together in our mother's womb and numbered the hairs on our heads. He made us in His image and loved us with pure mercy and grace... a perfect love. He wants us to fulfill the job He has for us here and come home. If even it hurts the ones we leave behind, He wants to reward us for a job well-done and bring us home to Him... our TRUE reward. We prize earthly rewards so highly then try to escape our eternal reward out of fear and disbelief. We do not know what God's purpose was for bringing Jody into this world OR for taking him home so early (too early in our eyes), but God knows and His plan was fulfilled to perfection through Jody (and all whom we lose). How blessed is that?

Jody did his work. His toil is over. It was so much shorter than any of us would've liked. The same goes for Daddy, Grandma, Tracy, David, Cory... so many I've known and lost. Their toil is over, they are HOME. For eternity. For forever and forever and forever, they are home in the lap of the one who created them from a whisper. They are home and so blessed. And blessed are we to have gotten to live with them, love with them, and walk through this journey with them. They are not gone because He doesn't love them or because He doesn't love us. They are gone because He loves us all so much.

That's sooo hard to process and it's taken me 7 long years of why's and angry fists and buckets of tears and gut-wrenching sobs to finally get it. He is home and one day I will be to. Maybe tonight in my sleep or 50 years from now, but we will all be united together in worship of a loving and gracious God. We will all know the company that Jody is currently keeping. I hope the Lord doesn't allow the spiritual Alzheimer's that I so frequently suffer to take this deep gut-knowing from me. I pray that this great hope that we all have for life eternal never leaves my bones but allows me to say good-bye with greater grace and thanksgiving than I ever imagined before.

To my family, you are my world. It seemed our world cracked opened and swallowed us all alive. But He is there, holding us still... and Jody is smiling down.

How I will ALWAYS remember us all.
 Exodus 33:22-23 tells us "When my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand, until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen"

When we feel the earth quake beneath our feet and see only darkness around us, His Glory is passing by and he has tucked us away in protection. When we come out from the darkness, we will know that He was close enough to touch and it was His Glory shaking us to our core. ONLY in his closest presence are we sheltered by His hand.

My Baby Turned 7 {Birthday Weekend Details & Pics}

I'm in shock... my itty-bitty, teeny-weeny blue-eyed baby turned 7 yesterday. I'm pretty sure it was like less than 24 hours ago that she was born at 6lb 7oz... and had to be popped a few times to give a good scream. To this day, I think her peaceful entrance into this world and then being slapped silly could be a good reason for a little bit of that 'tude. But I digress... needless to say Kali Alysabeth has stretched this mama every-which-way but loose. Lord knows I needed it... she's my child that I routinely scream at for acting just like... ME {oops!}.

Flashback time!!!



Oh my GOODNESS!Where has the time gone!

Like, an actual real-live doll *tears*

A child after my own heart, she chose a weekend of fun activities and sight-seeing over a birthday party. I'm pretty sure we didn't save any money but I really enjoyed the opportunity just to love on my girls and explore without any crazy party planning. For me, it was a much more enjoyable experience.

On Friday, we went to Historic Westville for the day. It was awesome and kind of horrible at the same time. I believe it deserves it's own review, so I will be typing that up later. After Westville, we headed up to Atlanta. We had a free night from hotels.com {always book through them!} and utilized it to get a deeply discounted rate at the Hilton Garden Inn in Downtown Atlanta. This was a beautiful hotel, in the phenomenal Marietta District. L.O.V.E. Needless to say, hubs and I will be headed back from a mom and dad only weekend sometime in the near future. Everything you could possibly want to eat, drink or do is within a block or two. Can't beat it!

We were blessed with a spectacular city-view room on the 8th floor. We went out for dinner right across the road at Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria. It was quaint and comfortable. Kali was in a big rush to go ahead and open all her gifts, so that happened right away! She had opened her "big" gift before leaving... so she and daddy could play with it... or so daddy could play with it; not sure who that was really for ;-) JK, she begged for that car after watching a video of it on amazon and has played with it obsessively since.

This is a girl who got EXACTLY what she wanted!




Anyway, Max's Pizzeria offered a gluten free crust. It was OK. I sent it back for being undercooked. They still brought it back not quite done. I spoke with them about how to get it cooked properly BEFORE putting the toppings on. I hope they take my advice because it was a great dough... I just prefer my crust cooked :-)

Our sweet waiter brought the girls some little doughnut smelling yummy-goodness since it was Kali's birthday (and his birthday as well!). We enjoyed that and went back to the room for some much-needed snuggle, rollaroundonthebedgiggling family time. That was definitely my favorite part of the trip :-)

The next morning, we were up and at em with a good breakfast at the hotel's buffet. $12.95 for adults and FREE for kids under 12. Um, yes, thank you. The girls devoured the made-to-order pancakes and I kind of over-indulged myself on freshly scrambled eggs (not those breakfast bar kind from the HIE) ;-)

We walked the big 2 minute hike over to the aquarium. I've yet to talk to anyone who has gone to both the Georgia Aquarium and Ripley's in Gatlinburg. We have, so here's the shakedown. The Cox family consensus is that Ripley's is better... but we don't know why. Maybe the "Pirate/Princess Gets in Free Day" brought in a WAY bigger crowd than we could appreciate at the GA, so that left a bit of a bad taste in our mouth; but we just all were more wowed by Ripley's.

The GA had BELUGA whales and WHALE SHARKS. Hello! It was phenomenal! The dolphin show was out of this world (other than not getting splashed when we specifically set out for the splash zone!). It was really a wonderful experience... however, there were 1,2930,19303,193023 people in that building. I'm. Not. Kidding. It was also Educator Open House day so I believe that doubled the foot traffic. There were HUGE lines in the restroom, the restrooms couldn't get cleaned quickly enough, the cafeteria was so packed you couldn't breath, there were no tables to eat at, the ice machines for drinks were even over-worked. And there was no available oxygen left in the room. You couldn't really enjoy just observing the awesome animals because you had to get out of the way of the next person {or get shoved out of the way... I'm quite sure ATL should no longer count as "the south" when it comes to manners :-/}
 

 
Anyway, we give the GA and the entire day 2 thumbs up, but it would've been unbelievable had it been less insanely crowded. After our day at the aquarium, we moseyed on back to beautiful Alabama.... with my tiny baby a full year older, but fortunately not one bit different ;-)
 
 
 
 
Surprised and excited at Max's to open her gifts!
 
 
 
She liked her My Little Pony!
 
From her new favorite movie :-)
 
Beautiful Big Sis
 
In the room... pondering deep thoughts :-)
 
Playing with her new stuff
 
So precious... sitting in her "window seat" with her daughter
 
aforementioned daughter
 
Not too shabby!
 
 
Dressed up for Pirates & Princess day!
 
That guy is hot ;-)
 
His mini-me + Her mini-me= Mini-mini-me?
 
Arggg Meharty!!!
 
2 of my favorite people
 
 
 
 
Just a couple of sharks over your head... no biggie
 
And a ginormous Manta Ray
 
 
 
 
"I have something on my mind...."
 
Pretty girls!
 
 
Japanese Spider Crab... scurrryyyy big!
 
Baby Beluga!
 
He came right up and waited for his photo op
 
Just chillin'... haha... punny
 
Wish I could give him a big kiss back!
 
Jellies are photogenic!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Isabella can give you a nice long introduction to the sea anemone if you'd ever like one :-)
 
My THREE favorite people!
 
Eating her birthday canoli... gone in 60 seconds!
 
Bye! Bye!

Living a Whole, Healed, Put-Together Life {Parenting & More}

Romans 5:1-5 (MSG, emphasis mine) tells us:

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.


There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

As I wrote about a little over a week ago, God has really poured out His desire for me to parent more like Him. I outlined a lot of that here. But over the past week, He has not transformed my parenting. He has transformed ME. I have never FELT more loved, healed, put-together, peaceful and joyful. I have poured myself into everything He has placed before me, struggling to walk in blind faith and He has become my place of rest.

I am starting off with the Romans 5 verse because I actually came across it AFTER I had started walking this way. I had been praying fervently to be as much like Him in my parenting as possible. It came to me that I cannot bark, punish or fight them into obedience... because fear-based obedience is temporary and empty. I must LOVE them into a trusting relationship in which they seek to be obedient to my will (and the Father's) because they trust that I will help them do what's best. 

But HOW and what does that even look like? It sounds great on paper... but what do I DO when they argue, fight, talk back, don't obey? First, I realized that I must THANK Him for those opportunities. Through the almost clairvoyant and life-altering writings of Sally Clarkson in  The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity and once again, Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are , I came to two conclusions. First, I must be fully and whole-heartedly invested in this work of motherhood. I cannot straddle the fence, always fancying the other grass and waiting for a way out... to see if He might be calling me to do something bigger, better, shinier or easier. I have to be all in, all the time. It is my call and duty. PLEASE ready Sally's book as it has been a tremendous, tremendous heart changer for me. 

I also began reading One Thousand Gifts again, about halfway through, for the second time. The first time I read it I was inspired and moved. I started writing down all the stuff that seemed like stuff I was happy about. Oh... I should be thankful we're healthy and we have a house and a good marriage... blah blah blah. Things that were you're regular old, un-emotional checklist of "Good Stuff in Life." Nothing that set me apart in this world. This time, I was truly changed and actually felt the shift before I began re-reading her book... this heart change was an answer to fervent prayer and her book was fuel for my fire.

Rather than looking at the mundane in a mundane mood and mundanely writing them down, I began experiencing these things. My initial "Ah-Hah" moment came at the end of Proverbs 31 when it says in verse 31 (NLT)
"Reward her for all she has done, Let her deeds publicly declare her praise."

Initially, I took this as "let my great deeds declare to the outward world how I should be praised". OMG, that's embarrassingly wrong lol. Let my deeds be my praise to HIM. Everything I do with my hands is in praise of Him. I serve my family as a worship. As I sink my hands into those nasty dishes in the sink for the 190390332th time in a row, I am doing so because I am blessed. I have food to dirty the dishes. I have a nice electric dishwasher to sanitize all the germs away so we aren't sick. We have dishes to eat off of and forks to eat with. We have all the fresh, organic, healthy foods we could ever want. We ARE BLESSED.
And as I focus on those truths in the muck of the dishes, my heart sings, truly truly sings. I had to pray fervently that my actions would be my praise to Him. That he would change my heart more toward Him, and that He would be glorified in my service. I then began to look for ways to see the Joy in all that I do that is dull and repetitive.

 
Here's the parenting kicker...Then I started seeking the way that JOY lives in my children. My children are nothing but JOY... they are JOY incarnate. They are so frequently in JOY, and I am so frequently out of it that it's MY SIN that pushes them out. They're singing too loud and giggling too loud and don't they know I'm doing the dishes for the 190390293th time and quit acting like that, go do something! They walk away hurt and punished.

MY SIN has removed them from their perfect Joy. Rather than become agitated (which is so easy when you're living in sin), shouldn't I begin to sing and praise for the JOY that I get the opportunity to share in every day? If they SHOULD be doing something else that I have assigned to them, how much more of a testimony is it if I first acknowledge their joy then redirect them back to the task at hand... encouraging them to en-JOY that task. They so frequently bother me by being *silly* while doing things I've asked them to do because I want them done NOW, quietly. Why shouldn't they play dress up as they clean up? Isn't it more fun that way? Why shouldn't they scooter around the house to take clothes to the laundry room? Why wouldn't I want some of THAT kind of happiness rather than trying to pull them into my impatience and unhappiness with the boring-ness of my life? Shouldn't parenting be corrections and re-directions and examples SET IN THE JOY? Why would they ever choose right when my back is turned if the only consequence for choosing wrong right now is a scolding or grounding or angry lecture? 

Shouldn't I also be so delighted and excited about all the wonderfully mundane things that my father has blessed me with that people tell ME to shut up and go on that I'm getting on their nerves?  Shouldn't I be setting the example of JOY-seeking rather than sin pushing down? Away from their father that they sooo naturally seek out? Isn't he alone JOY? And when they are in the joy, it's only our sin that smothers HIM out of them and as they grow older they forget it and look at the ugly and forget the JOY-seeking?



Church and bible-talk and seeing me read my bible and pray does nothing for the souls in this home if I don't LIVE OUT THE PEACE THAT I FIND IN MY TIME WITH THE LORD! If I am so filled with His joy, peace and love while I sit in my chair with my coffee and bible in hand... why shouldn't that spread out through my life in every way? Why have I not been taking that gratitude for His love and word and actions in my life into every single possible moment of my life? Is that really that hard to do? I certainly THINK all the time... usually stressful or worry-based thoughts. When I thank him from the bottom of my heart for that 10th pile of laundry to fold, then I am bringing my bible study out of the chair and into my life where it 100% belongs! Ann Voskamp says that our souls become what we attend to... should we attend to the Joy in our lives or the worry and fears?

So as I came to realize this, my sin-stinking pressing down and pushing out their JOY, I came to realize that if I reside in a place of absolute gratitude for all the moments, even the ugly, then I would be praising HIM with my deeds... praising Him as I do those deeds and through those deeds. I also became aware that nothing is more of a testimony to those whom I share my home with than that I am constantly in a state of Joy because of His love. It is undeniable and unfathomable. It doesn't mean I'll never be down. This world is fallen and I am sinful. But as long as I am seeking to glorify Him and praise Him with my deeds and see HIS perfect will in each moment and each thing, then I cannot be undone. I cannot be angry, impatient, dissatisfied, irritated or desperate at the SAME TIME that I feel gratitude and joy. The dark cannot reside in me when I am residing in the light. 

Romans 6:22-23 (MSG) tells us:
But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Every moment that passes that I CHOOSE for laziness, irritation, impatience, selfishness, self-glorification or fear to rule my life, then I am allowing sin to run my life... I am choosing sin. What has that gotten me? Nothing. Death and sin-stink. However, when I allow THANKS-GIVING (and nothing is more worshipful that gratitude) to rule my days and all my moments, then a whole, healed, put-together life is on it's way. It's here!!! (For more information on how naming and recording our gratitude is biblically called for, please read the book :-)

If you've read One Thousand Gifts, you've *read* a lot of what I'm saying here. But I promise, I came to many of these conclusions completely without re-reading her book and as much as some of it grieved and moved me the first time, it did not change my heart. God's word changed my heart and it's like Ann Voskamp wrote it all down... word for word. For more on living a Joy-Full life, please get her book and visit her blog aholyexperience.com 

But back to Romans 5 that I started out with. So, I've been walking this walk, working hard to see God's joy and beauty in each moment, each situation. Looking for the JOY has allowed me to parent with so much more grace. I now feel separated from any ugly in the moment and wrapped up in the opportunity of it. It's like I'm finally saying YES to all He has been giving me this whole time.
Also, through Sally's book I've come to realize that each moment that was previously viewed as an interruption and irritation is all about teaching. When I am 100% first a mom, then hearing "MOMMMY!!!" for the 10,000th time in a day is no longer irritating. I feel incredibly blessed and precious to my children. I am now able to take a deep breath, look them in the eyes and take 20 seconds to ask my heavenly Father how to handle this situation. How would He teach ME in a similar situation? How has He in the past? How can I keep them in the Joy, earn their love and trust and guide them/lead them toward a closer relationship with Him? I most certainly have failed a few times and will continue to do so. However, the overall tone of our home, of my heart, is 100% more peaceful, fun loving and JOY-FULL that it has ever been before. 

After a few days of having the Lord lead me to these great books and smack me in the faces with these verses, He kept leading me back to Romans 5 that I started out with. And I realized, right there in black and white were literally the directions for how to do everything I just described.
Let's break it down shall we:

1. We first open the door to God... How? Through worship. Not "have I prayed today?" worship but "Have I prayed without ceasing today? Have I lifted up all my deeds to His glory? Did I focus on the blessings of my works as a gift from Him? Did I find the Joy in the little and big moments? Did I allow sin to tell me what to do?" OPEN the door to God (and don't let it shut!).

2. We find that once we open it, He was waiting right there and that incredibly blessed surprise causes us to shout our praises! Try giving thanks in your hardest, ugliest, meanest moments for a day or two, and you'll completely understand what this means. 

3. Then we begin to praise him during the trouble... during the ugly and hard we say Thank You. We look for and accept His perfect will on our lives and we say thank you. (For more on ugly beautiful, read One Thousand Gifts :-)

4. Once we begin to praise Him during our troubles, then we develop passionate patience. As I've noted before, a lack of patience is a lack of gratitude for the moment. If we en-Joy this moment, then we breath through it and cannot feel a lack of patience. If we bear down and fight the moment, thanking no one, then patience is fleeting. Once again, try finding the joy and your patience become infinite. The patience only disappears when you return your focus to yourself, to your sin.

5. This praise, this gratitude for the moment that develops passionate patience in us, develops in us the tempered steel of virtue... Virtue by definition is moral excellence or strength, courage and the capacity to act. When we are grate-ful and grace-ful then we are passionately patient which leads to strength, courage and the capacity to ACT on what our Father calls us to do.

6. This constant praise and virtue development leave us in a constantly alert state for what our God, our joy-ful grace-giving God, will do next.

7. When all life, the good-the bad-the ugly is filled with JOY, gratitude and virtue, then we never feel short changed. We are truly Joy-Full.

8. Then, as I can personally testify, we cannot begin to hold ALL that the holy spirit pours into our lives. Our cups runneth over. 

This type of God-seeking, constant worship that turns the ugly and ordinary into God glorifying service makes your life incredibly full, whole, healed and put-together. It is the act of walking away from the SIN and only focusing on HIM. And a parent who walks this way cannot lead their child down a fallen path. We will stumble, we will fall, but we are never forsaken. The enemy will seek us out and try to weigh us down, but we are whole, healed and put-together by the hands of God
I'm only a short way into my little Gratitude Walk. I know I have many more trials coming my way and much work to do. I am so uplifted by that thought because I know more trials bring me closer to Him and further from my sin.

 I know this was a long post, but I hope you didn't find it lacking. I am also updating the gratitude portion (on the 1000 Gifts page) if you'd like to check out what I've been Joy-Filled about lately.

TODAY, I am grateful for the every moment... for the gifts from the Moment-Giver. When things are exhausting, irritating, patience-draining and dirty... taking a moment to see, name and honor the beauty of those moments honors the GIVER of those moments and wipes clean the myre leaving ONLY HIS LOVE, mercies and perfection. It erases the impatience and fills the hole with merciful grace and love... cleansing the sin and the sinner.

If you have been encouraged or challenged in any way, please share with me in the comments section. I'd so much love to hear from you!