Monday, April 30, 2012

30 Before 30

In three short months I will turn thirty years old.

30 years.

And I am struggling to understand how I feel about this. I confess that this is the first birthday that has bothered me. The first birthday that has caused much deep and reflective thought. Because there is something about leaving one decade behind and beginning another that has my mind, and my heart, swilring round and round. And sometimes I am left reeling. I wonder if what I have done in the past is enough. And I wonder where to go from here. What does my future hold? I seek, and yet I do not always find the answers I am searching for. I want a life plan that is concrete. A life plan that I can hold on to. Something that says go here and do this. That is what my almost thirty year old brain desires. But I know that is not how life works. Nothing in life is certain. The only thing that is certain is that time marches on whether I want it to or not. The days, the months, the years... they continue on without my permission. The passage of time out of my realm of control.

My almost thirty years have taught me all I can really control is my attitude.

So I have a choice when it comes to this passing of time. I can choose to say stuck, refusing to move forward, always dangling one foot in the past. Or I can embrace the coming and going of a year. I can learn from my past, while embracing my future. I can choose to view life as a journey, every bend in the road an opportunity for growth. Each new year, each new decade, a chance to discover a bit more of the person I was created to be. And in case you were wondering, I have chosen the latter.

I have chosen to embrace turning thirty.

And I have chosen to welcome it with a bit of fanfare. A birthday worthy of celebration! The ending of one era, the beginning of another. I also decided that I needed a list. A 'goodbye twenties', 'hello thirties' list. A list of things that I hope to accomplish within the next three months.

{My 30 Before 30}..... in no particular order.

1. lose last ten pounds of baby weight
2. begin couch to 5k training
3. participate in a 5k
4. make a home cooked meal for my family, entirely from scratch
5. host a dinner party
6. go to dinner and a movie (alone)
7. prepare our home and liscense to foster babies
8. do a random act of kindness
9. plan a surprise for Boss
10. take each of my children on an individual date with Mama
11. establish a daily quiet time with God
12. establish daily family devotions
13. go on a family picnic
14. dance in the rain
15. blog every single day for 30 days + blog my life story
16. discover more about my city, eat at a local dive
17. have a 'thirty and fabulous' photo shoot + family photo shoot
18. get a customized blog design
19. write each of my still living family members a letter letting them know what they mean to me
20. buy a little black dress (little in size, not in amount of fabric used)+ shoes + accessories
21. go dancing with Boss (this is something we have NEVER done before in almost a decade of marriage)
22. work on my photography skills
23. have a family camp out in the back yard complete with campfire songs and smores
24. find my perfect shade of lipstick find my perfect make-up everything
25. (re)read and review 1,000 Gifts, The Mission of Motherhood, Heaven is Here, Kisses from Katie, and Bloom
26. buy and review October Baby
27. sponser a child
28. have a tea party with my daughters
29. plan some time away with Boss sans children, plan a girls weekend trip with my Mama
30. develop a consistent personal evening routine (skin care regimen + bedtime)

So there you have it. My 30 Before 30. Some of them silly, some of them serious. Some of them goals that I want to work towards. Some of them things I want to do with my time on this continued journey of self discovery. All of them important to me for one reason or another.

Look out 30, here I come!

*** For how you spend your days, is in fact how you spend your life.***

Monday, April 23, 2012

Soccer Star

When Kate grows up she is going to be a soccer player. Perhaps even a soccer star. She told me so. And when she is too old to no longer play professionally? No biggie. She'll just be a coach. These are her life plans (she's five), and have been for quite some time. I told her that sometimes as kids grow they change their minds about what they want to be when they are grown, but she has assured me this would not be the case for her.

Alrighty then.

So I did what any mama of a future soccer star would do. I signed her up to play! Because she never had. All of her life's plans revolved around a game she had never played. But not any more! Because this season my baby is a Golden Eagle! And we are all really, really proud of her. Not because she actually happens to be quite good, because she is (she was the only kid to score goals in the practice scrimmage, and she also scored a goal in the first game of the season!), but because she was brave enough to step out from behind the shadow of her older sister whom she adores (a place she has placed herself). Typically, if Emma does it, Kate does it. And if Emma doesn't do it, Kate doesn't do it. But this time she just went for it! She was brave enough to try out for a sport that no one in our family has ever played, much less talked about, because she wanted to. And her new found confidence is what we are praising! We could not care less if she scored thirty goals or not a single one. We are simply proud of her for taking the risk and trying something new. So congratulations, Kate!

You are our shining soccer star!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Planting and Pointing

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had BIG dreams for her life. She never wanted ordinary, only extraordinary would do. She spent hours upon hours dreaming of the man that she would marry, the children she would have, the adventures she would go on. She dreamed too, of the service that she would do for God. Serving Him was important to her. She wanted to do BIG things for His kingdom during her time here on earth.

She wanted her days to matter. She wanted her life to count.

Eventually that little girl grew up and went to college. A BIG old state university. Texas A&M Universty, to be exact. Whoop! Only she didn't really go there for a college education. She went to find love, to live life, and to have adventures. (Shh. Don't tell this college girl's parents who paid for this BIG college adventure.)Some of her most favorite college adventures were when she would go on mission trip's with her friends to children's homes around the country. During these trips this college girl fell in love with the children's homes that she visited. She loved the children, the BIG, loud, crazy houses, the BIG white vans that the houseparents drove. She loved it all! And she wondered if maybe God wasn't leading her towards this work one day? She didn't know, but she sure hoped and prayed that He was.

During her junior year, this girl found BIG love with a man she now calls Boss. They dated for two months and were engaged for six, before they committed their lives to one another one hot, May day. And one of the many things she loved about Boss? He dreamed as BIG as she did allowed her to dream BIG and supported her dreams. Because he supported her. And if this girl thought she had BIG dreams before, now she was flying. Right away they started their little family, and right away that dream came true. But before too long, life had led them down a path that they had not intended for themselves. Boss worked a regular job, the girl was a stay at home mama, and they lived in a cookie cutter house. It wasn't a bad life that they were building, but it wasn't for them. It was an ordinary life. And both of them wanted more.

One day, as she was thinking about their lives and pondering change, the girl remembered how much she used to love the children's homes that she visited. And she felt her heart being nudged in that direction once again. So she shared the desires of her heart, her BIG dreams, with Boss, and the most amazing thing happened. He said, let's go. So they did. Boss left his regular job, they sold their cookie cutter house, and they went. And they never looked back.

For the past six years Boss and this girl (his girl) have served nearly forty children in need. Children ranging in age from five to eighteen. Children needing a home and love. Children needing a good example and guidance. And there have been many, many happy times. Much laughter and learning abounding in their home . And there have been hard times, too. Hard lessons to learn. For this girl, the hardest lesson to learn was understaning that just because you dream BIG things, and perhaps do BIG things, does not guarantee that you will see BIG results. In fact, you are not guaranteed seeing results at all. Time and time again, this girl gave her heart to a child, fell in love with a child, only to have that child hand her heart right back to her. Only now her heart was missing a little piece. A piece that child now carried, whether they wanted it or not. Time and time again this happened. Time and time again this girl vowed that she would not get attached to anyone else. But she always did, because that's the way her heart worked. But she kept secretly praying that God would send her one child, just one child, that would make all of this time, effort, love, and hurt worth it.

If she could just change one life, then her life would count.

That's what this girl thought. And then three years ago, God sent her the one. Or so she thought this child was the one. And a part of her fell in love once more. For three years she gave this child all that she had to give. She tried to stand in the gap, make good decisions, parent the best way that she knew how. And she thought it was enough. She thought she was enough, because this was her one. The future looked bright, and nothing else mattered if she could change at least this one.

Today, the future for the one dimmed considerably. Today, the one walked out. Tonight, this girl is hurting, because she feels like she didn't change even one. Not a single one. And she wonders if what she has done with her days has mattered after all. So this girl did what she always does when she is hurting. She headed to the bathtub to soak away her sorrows, to think and to pray. She needed to make sense of it all. To make sense of all of this time given, and to make sense of all of these children who have walked away. Because it doesn't make sense to her. And she told God that. She asked him why she couldn't change a single one. And as she began to sink further into the warm water, thoughts began to sink from her brain into her heart. Where she needed to make sense of it all. And once again, she was reminded that she was seeing it all wrong. She doesn't need to change anybody. Not even one. Only God can do that. Her job is to plant the seeds, perhaps water a few, but never to change. Changing them is never her job. Only The One can do that. And this girl was also reminded of something else. She had once again gotten so busy trying to change the one, save the one, that she had forgotten that she only serves an audience of One. And nothing else really matters. It is him she is serving. It is his seeds she is planting. And that is her only job.

The point of her life is to point to Him.

That is all. And if she does that, if she plants seeds and points, plants seeds and points, perhaps one day he will do the ultimate work of change. And maybe she will see the results. Maybe she won't. But it shouldn't matter to her either way. As long as she is planting and pointing she is doing her job.

And The One she serves is BIG enough to take care of the rest.

And this girl knows this. She really does. But sometimes she needs a reminder.

*** As I finish editing this post tonight, the one who left is sleeping safely in her bed here in our home. She has returned. There is still much to be worked through and sorted out, but for tonight she is here. And Boss and I will keep planting and pointing and pray that the seeds take root. And then we will leave the rest up to the only One who can change. ***

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Daughter, The Actress

They say that some traits are genetic. And I say that I would have to agree. Because my daughter Emma, the actress, rocked it out on stage this past weekend in her spring musical performance of School House Rock (Live)! Clearly she gets her mad skills from me. Some people believe that home schooled children are deprived both socially and from age appropriate life experiences. And I say that I would have to disagree. Because my daughter, the actress, is living the good life, learning things, and having fun all at the very same time. She is beautiful, and smart, and kind, and smart, and likable, and smart, and funny, and smart, and sarcastic (another lovely trait she inherited from her mama), and smart. And did I mention that she rocked it out on stage this past weekend? Because she did, and I am so, so proud of her!

At the beginning of this school year our family joined a home school group in our area, and immediately Em wanted to sign up for Musical Theater Jr. Every week for this past year, she has gone to class and worked her hardest to learn all of the words to the songs and all of the steps to the dances. She has practiced at home and sang in the car. And she has done it all with a smile on her face. And in case I haven't mentioned it, last weekend she rocked it out on stage. She is one awesome kid, my daughter, the actress. I am so proud to be her Mama!

* Thanks to Denise Owens Photography for the cast pictures! *

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons

For five years now, we have made our home out here in the country on the grounds of the children's home where our family serves. And here's the deal. At times it has been hard. Really hard. Being in full time ministry is hard. Being a foster parent is hard. And sometimes, in various seasons of our work here, it has felt like life has handed us lemons. Lemon, after lemon, after lemon. During our time here I have been kicked, spit on, manipulated. I have been lied to and disrespected. I have been stolen from and called every name in the book. I have lost countless hours of sleep and had to clean up the poop of an older child who refused to clean up after themselves. I have given my whole heart to a child, only to have it handed right back to me the next time the child did not get what they wanted. I have had parents write horrible things about me, horrible untrue things that hurt deeply, and at times I have been misunderstood by coworkers. Here I have watched Godly families crumble under the stress and strain of it all. Here I have crumbled. All of these things lemons. All of these things leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

And the children we have served? They have been handed lemons, too. Only their lemons were often worse than anything you or I could ever imagine. Their lemons came in the form of abuse and neglect. Their lemons came from abandonment and feelings of being unwanted. Some of them had parents that chose drugs and alcohol over their children. Some of them had parents or family members who took advantage of them in every way imaginable. Some of them have the scars of their lemons on the outside of their bodies, while other's carry their scars on the inside, storing up their bitterness in their hearts. All of them handed too many sour lemons. All of us trying to come together in one home, on one piece of land. And it has been hard.

At times over the last five years I have wanted to quit. Not because it was time for us to move on, but because I felt that life here was too hard. Too many lemons. I wanted to run away from it all, a coping mechanism that I had used far too many times in my past. When life hands you lemons, run far, far away, as fast as you possibly can! That's what I used to say to myself. But God never allowed me to run from here just because things were hard. Instead, he taught me a new way.

In a way that only he can, God turned my lemons into lemonade.

He took my sour and turned it into something sweet, something refreshing. Time and time again. So many times, I often wonder why I ever doubted at all. Here we made friends who became family. Lemonade. Here we learned to see others as Christ sees us all. Lemonade. Here we showed children a new way, a refreshing way. Lemonade. Here we learned sacrifice. Here we learned patience. Lemonade and more lemonade. Here we raised our children on country sunshine. Lemonade. Here we watched God restore broken families, the sweetest lemonade of all. Here God put amazing, beautiful, older Christian girls in the lives of my daughters. Girls who just last week worked along side my sweet ones at a lemonade stand they set up and ran right here on our campus.

And I found it quite fitting that right here, right here on this very piece of land that houses so much sour, so much bitterness, brokenness, and pain, right here in the middle of it all, lemonade was being sold. A sign to me that God is still working. That he can take the sour and make it sweet. That he can take the broken and make them beautiful. That he can refresh and restore with one tiny sip. The God that I serve is willing to take our lemons and turn them in to lemonade. And you and I? We never have to be thirsty ever again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The One on Time

It was late and I was tired. It had been another long day of school lessons, discipline, meetings, phone calls. I was ready for some down time, some me time. I wanted nothing more than to go downstairs and open my computer. To lose myself in the world wide web for awhile, reading other people's stories, wishing for their exciting lives, before crawling into my own bed, in my own life. It had become a nighttime ritual for me. I pushed open the bathroom door, emerging after my evening bath, and the bright light of the bathroom cast a warm glow in my otherwise dark bedroom. My eyes were drawn to my bed where Boss lay with our two daughters snuggled up against him. I stopped and gazed at their beauty. My sleeping beauties.

I was about to leave when I noticed it. When I noticed her. She was not asleep after all, despite how late it was and how long our day had been. My almost eight year old, my night owl, just like her mother. Her eyes were open and she was staring at me quietly. My computer was still beckoning me from downstairs, my me time was still calling. But so was my daughter. She was calling me with her eyes. So I did something that, quite sadly, I have rarely done the older she has gotten. I crawled into that big old bed with her and pulled her tight up against me. I began to smell her sweet hair, hair I don't stop to smell often enough now that she does all of her own bathing. I began to tickle her back, swirling love onto her skin with the tips of my fingers.

What are you doing, Mama? she asked.

Just snuggling you, baby. That was my reply.

Thank you, Mama, she said. I didn't think you liked being with me at bedtime.

And my heart broke a little bit at her words.

When I used to imagine motherhood, before I actually had children, grand bedtime routines would fill my head. My own mother used to tuck me in every night as a child. She would tickle my back and then my tummy. My dad would come in to kiss me. I did not love everything about my childhood, but this is something I do have fond memories of. And I thought it would be the same for my own children. I imagined evening devotions together, snuggled up in bed as a family. Maybe some story telling, definitely some back tickling, and prayers before we kissed their sweet cheeks and sent them off to dreamland.

But over the years something different evolved in our family. Something just as sweet and special to those involved, and something that is quite arguably one of my girls most favorite times of the day. Cuddle time, they call it. Each night my family kisses me good night and then Boss and our girls head up to bed for cuddle time, where they all three fall asleep in our bed in a big hug of love. I carry the girls to their own beds much later when I come up to find rest myself. Cuddle time is something I know Boss and our girls will cherish the memory of forever. But it is something that does not involve me. Because I had chosen for it not to. Because I had wanted me time instead.

So that night last week, when I pulled my oldest close, she was not meaning to hurt my feelings. Her words were not said in a hateful way, or with a hurtful tone. She was just surprised. Surprised that I was choosing to lay there quietly with her, instead of being downstairs spending time with, well, me. You know, I stayed there for well over an hour with her after that. I willed her to know how much she was loved by her mama. And I didn't place her in her own bed until her little eyelids had finally drifted shut for good.

I have been thinking a lot about those moments with my daughter this past week. I have not spent the past week thinking that I am a bad mother. Because I am not. It is not wrong that Boss and the girls have special things that I am not a part of. And it is not wrong that as a busy mama I desire some me time. Instead, I have spent this past week thinking about time and what a gift it is. A beautiful, amazing gift. And the most amazing thing about the gift of time is that we get to choose how we spend it. We get to choose whether we will spend our time on things of this world with no lasting value, or on good things. And sometimes we must choose between spending our time on good things or spending our time on the best things. Having some me time that night would have felt good. But on that particular night, spending time with my daughter felt better. It was the better choice.

Far too often I waste the gift of time, filling my days with meaningless things, things of no eternal value. And even worse, I often waste my time wishing I had someone else's life, someone else's time, instead of striving to make my time on this earth beautiful and amazing. Too often I settle for bad or good enough, instead of seeking out and spending time on the best. Spending time on what feels good in the moment, instead of spending time on things that will last. One night of cuddle time with my daughter taught me that. 24 hours in a day. That's all that we get, and there aren't any do overs. Let's make the most of it, this gift called time. The clock is ticking...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Enjoying Easter

Our family had a beautiful day today. The Easter Bunny 'hopped' into our house last night and left lots and lots of goodies. The excitement and joy was contagious this morning! My children looked darling in their bright spring colors, and Boss was dashing, as usual. Grammy and Da joined us for worship, and then we had a delicious lunch and egg hunt with friends turned family. Grumps and Gramms are the two most generous people that I know. Our lives are blessed for knowing them. The surprise this year? Grown ups got to hunt eggs, too! Ever the competitor, Boss walked away with the golden egg! And I figure, what's yours is mine, right babe? We ended our day with cards and waffles. One of my most favorite days of the year. So thankful I serve a RISEN Saviour! Thanking Him tonight for this beautiful life.

P.S. Lest you never believe that our family, our life, is perfect, check out Jack's face in some of the photographs! Mister Man had quite the meltdown when he was denied more chocolate. Have no idea where he gets his dramatics from. Perhaps from Boss' side of the family?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Magic Moments

I still believe in magic. It's true. I will turn thirty this summer, which sounds to me very much like turning into a grown up for real, but I still believe in magic just like my small daughters. Not the kind of magic that transforms Prince Charming into a Beast, nor the kind that turns a pumpkin into a carriage. That kind of magic is reserved for fairy tales and story books (though I will forever be a sucker for a happy ending). But I believe in magic of a different kind.

I believe in the magic of the everyday.

I have never wanted to be anything other than a wife and a mother. I had other interests that I thought about pursuing at one time or another in my growing up years, but nothing ever captivated my soul quite like the thought of getting married and having children with my love. Sometimes it was all I could think about, talk about, dream about. I dreamed about being poor and in love, together in our early years, just beginning our new life. I dreamed about having babies right away, and lots of them! I dreamed about happy colors, comforting blankets, aprons, home cooked meals, chocolate chip cookies, gardens, and a white picket fence. It was all very magical, this life I had created for my little (or big) family in my dreams. I could not wait for my dreams to come true. I could not wait for the magic to begin.

And then he came along, that February of 2002. Dark hair, kind eyes, easy smile. And I knew, I just knew that someday he would be mine. A little spark of magic burst forth. It was September of that same year when I knew that I loved him, and November when I said yes. The love, that magical feeling, was overflowing by this point. My magical moment had finally come! I couldn't wait to be his Mrs. His helper. His forever love. In May of 2003, my dream came true. We had a beautiful wedding, an amazing honeymoon. Everywhere I looked there was magic.

That same summer we decided to start our family, and by October there were two pink lines on the stick. We were going to have a baby! The magic had overflowed and a new life was beginning. She joined us the following July of 2004. Perfect, and beautiful, and pink. And even amidst tired eyes, and crazy hormones, I could not wipe the smile from my face. I was living my dreams.

After that there were moves, adventures as I like to call them, and new houses, new friends. Every new place and every new face adding to the magic of the life we were carving out for ourselves. In 2006 a new sister joined our family, and in 2010 a tiny brother. My cup overflowed, so many magical moments it would be impossible to name them all. Life certainly wasn't perfect, but it was our life, and it was what we wanted. It was enough. I couldn't imagine not always feeling that full. Not always seeing the magic in the everyday. At times it would drift in and out as it does in any life, but it always came back. The magic always came back. I just assumed that it would always be there.

So no one was more surprised than me when I lost the magic. I couldn't find it anywhere. I suppose it was still there, but I quit seeing. Somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming. I stopped seeing the magic. Or really, I stopped looking for it. I felt a bit lost, not really knowing my purpose. Where once being a wife and mother seemed like enough, suddenly the magic was gone. Boss and the children were still magical, they always will be to me, but my perspective was off. I kept crying out to God, wanting him to hit me over the head with his plans for my life. I wanted grand plans and grand purpose! I wanted magic, but not the everyday kind. I wanted big magic!

And then I got pregnant with number four. And I thought maybe that was my answer. Maybe mothering four children would be more magical than mothering three! I began to get excited. Surely big things would be happening soon! And they did, just not in the way that I planned. As you know, we lost that baby. And I thought the magic was really gone then. Lost forever. I knew I would feel happiness again. Boss and my children most always make me happy. But for me, happiness was different than magic. That feeling that everything is right with the world. That you are right where you should be. I wasn't sure when, or if, I would find that feeling again. Maybe life wasn't as magical as I had once thought.

Last week our family spent the week at Disney World. And as cliche as it sounds, I can honestly say that is where I found my magic once again. And it wasn't in the enchanting music, the beautiful costumes, or in the princesses. It was Emma racing to hold my hand as we walked from one attraction to another. Choosing me to be her partner over anyone else. It was seeing Kate's eyes light up, believing that some of the fairy tales were true. It was in allowing her to keep on believing. It was in Jack's kisses. And in his laughter. There was magic in holding Boss' hand. It was in stripping away everything else, all that I thought I wanted or deserved, and really seeing what I already had. A beautiful life. I looked at the family we had created, together, and it all came back to me. What we have is enough. This life? It can be magic. If we search for it in the everyday. If we strive to see beauty in the simple. If we can do those things, then the magic is all around us. I don't just have to dream of being a wife and mother, or of aprons or home cooked meals, or traditions. I can make it happen. I can do that! I can take my regular life moments and make them magical.

I can choose to believe in the magic of the everyday.