Saturday, January 28, 2012

Celebrating a First

I cannot believe an entire year has passed since we welcomed Jett Elliott into our lives.
He has added immense joy to our family.
I love watching Rylee, Asa, and Jenna as big sisters/brother. They dote on him, love to make him laugh, and watch out for him. Jenna, in particular, is a nurturer. She was playing with him once while we had friends visiting. They were in the same room that we were in. We told her "Jenna, you go on and play." As serious as can be, she looked up at us and said, "Okay. But are you going to watch Jett?" Ha!
We kept Jett's first birthday celebration small. We had a few families over for ice cream sundaes. They were simple and yummy.I was going to make a Texas sheet cake because they are super yummy and because I felt a little mommy guilt for not really having a birthday cake for him to smash. But, when I went to make it at the last minute, I didn't have enough cocoa. Oh darn! Guess the Mom of the Year award goes to another one...again.
But, he had just as much fun! I had bunches of neat toppings by raiding my pantry. Seriously...oreo cookies, gingerbread cookies, wafer cookies, sprinkles, fruit, graham crackers, animal cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, caramel popcorn, ... and then some whipped cream and sauces brought over by my friend.

Yum, yum, ONE!He also got some sweet gifts. The boy has lots of toys for this age, thanks to hand-me-downs. Diapers. That's what he needs. (hee! hee!)
And, if you care to go back and see the joy from one year ago, you can read his birth story [click here].

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Making of Fun

In case anyone is interested in the behind-the-scenes prep of our Princess and Knight party, here it is.The princess cake was made using the Pampered Chef large batter bowl and one Pillsbury strawberry cake mix. You have to bake it for a very long time (about 40-45 minutes) to make sure the inside is completely done. The outside gets dark, but you end up cutting it off to shape the cake anyway.
You can purchase a doll "top" for this purpose or just pull a dolls legs off, like I did. I found the doll in a craft store (apparently it's meant for you to crochet some clothes for it...ha!) and I used a 40% off coupon, making it a mere $1.80 topper.
I did a crumb coat and then frosted it with homemade white buttercream frosting. I was planning to just accent with sprinkles, but couldn't figure out how to do it easily. So, the whole thing got coated in blue crystals. The bodice of her dress is just icing and sprinkles, like the cake.
The castle cake is 2 8-inch square cakes stacked. The corners are ice cream cones--one upside down and the other on top. I should have baked four with cake mix inside, but I didn't. So, I put a giant marshmallow inside, another 1/2 on top of that and then filled the top with frosting. I notched the corners so the cones would set in. Then, we used mini mallows on top and sugar wafer cookies for doors and windows.
(Asa was being silly and, at the prodding of a friend, stuck a horse in the castle.)

The wands are star shaped foam hot glued to a dowel. The girls put foam stickers to decorate, then we tied curling ribbon on the bottom. We had glitter glue but realized it was crazy messy and ditched it. It also takes too long to dry for using at a face-paced party.

The crowns are sparkly wire with curling ribbons attached at the back.

The swords are from Target's $1 bins. (Yay for dollar bins!)
The shields are cut cardboard wrapped in gold wrapping paper with handles made from duct tape. They were done completely by Joel. I cut out some shapes (including a fleur de lis I got online) from foam and the kids glued those on. They also used masking tape to make stripes.

The pinata came from WalMart and is really labeled as a T-Rex. Some construction paper wings and flames from his mouth (made by Joel) transformed him into a more fierce beast.
Lunch (never pictured) included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tuna sandwiches--cut small, turkey tortilla wraps, chips, chex mix, and grapes. We served fruit punch and water.

Along with cake, we had some "magic wands" on the table -- large pretzel rods dipped in white chocolate and covered in blue sprinkles.

Joel made the invitations (he uses Publisher), and we had them printed as 4x6 pictures.
To decorate and make our home more festive, I hung blue streamers, made some flags from construction paper, and hung lots of balloons from the ceiling. Balloons and streamers are a very inexpensive way to pack some punch. You do NOT have to use helium. Everyone commented on the balloons and it was 4 $1 packs attached to the ceiling using $1 of curling ribbon. Easy and fun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Six Amazing Years

Six amazing years that have flown by. Six years of giggles and laughter. Six years of crazy bustling life. Six years of standing in awe of the One who gives all good gifts. Why me? Why do I receive such beautiful blessings? But, I greatly accept them. And celebrate!
We did a Princess/Knight themed party. When the kids arrived, the girls made princess wands and got a crown. The boys decorated shields and got a sword. (Really, the boys stuck one thing on the shield and headed out back where the fighting had already commenced!)After a little time to just play, we gathered the kids and I explained that the fierce dragon was jealous of the princess and locked her away in a castle. There was a rumor that the dragon's magic eggs contained the secret to freeing the princess. The boys went outside to hunt for the magic eggs while the girls stayed inside the castle and had to hunt for a way to escape.The girls found pieces of a puzzle, put it together, and read the message written on the back. To be free, you must slay the dragon.The boys got clues from the eggs and put together a puzzle, as well. The message on their puzzle said "To free the princess, you must slay the dragon."

We took a break to get our strength by eating lunch. (Sorry, no pics. I was a little busy!) Then, we headed outside to slay the dragon.The 5th girl to take a whack was quite strong. I didn't think the pinata was going to hold up for the long line of boys too. But, amazingly, the kids all took two whacks and then the dragon finally went down on Sarah's third hit!We had quite the crowd!We went inside to celebrate the release of the princess (aka: cake and gifts).Jenna and Asa had a wonderful birthday celebration! ...and were spoiled rotten beyond belief by their sweet friends.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let The Prep Work Begin

Actually, the prep work has been in full swing for about 6 days now. Banners, swords, shields, crowns, wands, pinata, streamers, balloons, ...

The twins will be turning 6 years old on Sunday.

Princess and Knight theme here at our house on Saturday.

I was practicing my cake making skills last week.

We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Little Pain in the #@!*%$

Just thought I'd share a close-up of Joel's companion for 2011. We're so glad to leave this piece in last year.To fully appreciate the intricacy of it's design, click on the pictures and look more closely.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lovely Fuzzy Slippers

When I find slippers I like, I hang on to them.

I think I received my black fleece Land's End slippers from my dad and stepmom when I was in high school. I still have them and wear them. Hard sole, soft top. If I'm walking on cold floors a lot, I really like them. And, they can go outside in a jif if I need to.

But, my all time favorite "slippers" are these fuzzy sock-like things.
During a long road trip, I bought these in a shop because my feel were cold in the car. I want to say it was during our first trip to Texas when we were moving here in 2007.

They had little nubby anti-slip spots on the bottom. Those have worn off long ago.

The whole thing hugs my foot and provides great warmth without lots of bulk. I wore them all the time, then they went missing. I could not find them anywhere! I mean, I looked everywhere in my house, the car, and the garage for these slippers. It frustrated me beyond belief. I ended up buying a pair of some other slippers, but they never measured up.

Then, in early December I went into the auditorium storage room at GFA. I glanced to the top of a cabinet that had the supplies I was looking for and guess what was on top of that cabinet?!

My slippers!!!!

I reached for the fuzzy mass on top of the cabinet and began laughing out loud.

I used to lay our kids down in that room during our Friday All Night prayer meetings. I must have left them in there. Then, we stopped laying the kids down there. That was probably sometime in 2009!

Sometimes, it's the smallest things that can make you smile....and keep your feet happy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hard Questions - Final Part for Now

I've had a few of my friends mentioned that it seemed I changed my mind after my first blog post about these articles and questions. So, I wanted to briefly clarify (in case someone is reading who cares about the discussion but hasn't asked me).

When I first wrote the post about Hard Questions, I wasn't really saying I agreed completely with the articles. I just said that they put some questions in my mind.

I've struggled with the church's use of the words "God's will", "calling", God "speaking" to us individually, etc. for several years. It's something Joel and I discuss on a somewhat regular basis.

Part of it stems from seeing friends change their position on things they were adamant about at one time. Part of it has come from people asking us how we knew we were "called" to move to Harrisburg or join GFA staff. I'm sure it wouldn't surprise any of you to know that not everyone likes the decisions we've made in life...serving in ministry, moving, having more than one kid, what we name our children, how we raise our kids, how we educate our kids, what we eat, etc. When you talk to some people about these kinds of decisions, some say "God told me...".

We have said "God led us to...".

That's where this issue came from.

Have we tried to "pass the buck" and "blame" God for decisions we've made? How has God led us? Should we be more careful when we say God told us to do something? Perhaps we need to be using different verbiage.

I put the articles on the blog so others could read it and encourage/challenge me with their thoughts and insights. I appreciate the feedback I've gotten. I'm already feeling like I'm in a totally different place with my mind understanding things more clearly.

In future weeks I may blog about specific topics within the book and articles that have resonated with me or things I didn't agree with. But, for now, this will wrap up the Hard Questions. I'm always open to emails or feedback, so comment or send me a note and we can keep dialoguing about it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Some Hard Questions - God's Will

I emailed a friend tonight and was explaining a little of what I learned today. After I wrote it, I was pleased with how I explained it (one reason I haven't tried to explain more on here yet....can't seem to make it sound right).

So, here are my latest thoughts:

I was re-reading the little book I mentioned in my blog post about finding God's will.

Today I read the chapters about the different kinds of God's will, so to speak. The author talked about God's will of decree (what happens is what God wills and what God wills is what happens; His overall sovereignty), God's will of desire (the commandments; how God wants us to act--loving, kind, humble), and then God's will of direction.

He asserts that we get hung up on His will of direction (totally focused on the future and making decisions that are not even moral decisions). I read the book a year ago and some things really shook me up. I think it was my initial impression of the book and thinking the author was arguing that God doesn't guide us. He really doesn't say that at all.

Rather, he says we need to trust in God's sovereignty and be focused on obeying the commands (act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God) and then live life!

It's very liberating...and that's his whole point. He maintains that we end up being useless for God and lazy because we do nothing until we feel like we know exactly what God is willing for us to do. Instead, he says God's will of direction is sort of discovered as we are walking day by day.

It's not a map to follow, but is the trail we leave behind.

We take it one step at a time...anything ahead of that is not trusting God.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Some Hard Questions - Accountability

Thank you for the comments and encouragements regarding the Hard Questions I've been working through in the last year. Instead of replying to comments and keeping the dialogue in the comment section of that post, I am going to dialogue it out a little more here in another post (maybe a few; we'll see).

First, let me start by saying that I wasn't sure what to think of the articles I read by Stand To Reason. I'm the kind of person that reads things at face value. I'm a sucker. I'm completely naive on some things. If you want to find a gullable person to believe your latest prank, come find me. I don't like sarcasm for that reason. I am too often the brunt of the joke because I want to believe people.

Therefore, when I read things, I usually take them for what they are. I'm not the skeptical reader. I don't begin to analyze things right away and immediately let my hairs get bristled. So, when I read the articles, the arguments seemed to be reasonable. There was Scripture to back it up. The author was logical.

Most importantly, I think the enemy was at work.

I say that last line because the articles made me question something I had recently spent a great deal of time teaching. That teaching time encouraged me and many others. It had me thinking about other opportunities to teach. I think the enemy didn't like that and used the open window of opportunity to throw more doubt my say.

I'm not someone who thinks there is a devil around every corner. I don't think every bad thing that happens to us is orchestrate by our enemy. However, I do believe we ignore the unseen kingdom way too often. We don't utilize the power we've been given or claim the victory that is ours.

To answer some of my questions:
My friend Lisa made some great comments about God leading people throughout Scripture. She cited the biblical examples of the 12 disciples, the apostle Paul, the prophet Elisha, David, Moses, and Joseph (OT) who were all called specifically by God to do a task and go to a specific place and leave where they were living.

My friend, D, referred to 2 Peter 1:10 --a Scripture that's often been quoted in relation to a specific task/job (aka: calling). That's exactly what I've wrestled with throughout the last several years. If we read the Scripture in context, he is clearly talking about our election as saints and our calling to be followers of Christ. I think we have to be careful not to take Scriptures out of context to meet a need we have or to say what we want to hear.

My friend Deanna and I have been corresponding further about this issue. A few things she pointed out (also via her dad, who is a good friend of ours as well) is the fact that the articles use a lot of what Scriptures don't say to make a point. You can't really make a point about something by pointing out what's not there. In any court of law, you must prove things beyond a reasonable doubt by providing concrete evidence. You will never convict someone of a crime by just showing what evidence is not in existence. Great point!

Scripture doesn't say for us to do A then B then C and we'll get D...the voice of God. But, it is full of examples of personal relationships, as my friend Summur pointed out in her comment. George, Deanna's dad, pointed out the principle of "first mention" in Scripture. I've learned about that from Beth Moore studies I've done in the past. Basically, that principle says that the way we learn about something is by looking at the first time it's mentioned in Scripture. That usually tells us its meaning. In the case of our relationship with God, we go back to the garden in Genesis. God created man to have a personal, interactive relationship with Him. It was tainted by the fall. Jesus redeemed that and through Him, we can have that relationship with our Father again.

Right now, I think I'm at the point of looking most specifically at the issue of accountability.

I can't say that reading these articles and having these overarching questions in my mind has shaken my firm belief that God has spoken to me and led me personally throughout the last two decades of my life. I know God. I know Him personally. It would take a lot more blog posts to try and articulate how I know it. But, I know it. And, throughout the last year, I haven't stopped believing it.

I think what I've been most concerned about is when someone invokes "God told me...", it puts up a wall that immediately eliminates our ability to hold one another accountable. It's like the trump card.

Maybe that's what my issue is after all.

It has become so commonplace in the church to talk about God's leading of us personally that we've stopped being accountable to one another with our actions. Where is the balance?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Some Hard Questions - Join Me

Parts of this post have been in "edit" mode for almost two months.

I decided it was time to finally make them a reality.

The very long post of yesterday with tons of Christmas pictures had to be posted in a somewhat timely manner and I find I don't ever really type what I want to say on here, so this post is just going to be more "rough draft" than even my unpolished normal writing.

Where to begin?

Let me start with saying I have always had a love/hate relationship with social media, specifically blogs and Facebook. So much of what we see is just the beautiful, what-I-want-you-to-see stuff of life. If you struggle with jealousy or envy or feeling sorry for yourself or have hormonal days, then you've probably sat in front of a computer screen, stared at what someone posted, and felt worse about your own life or circumstances.

We all have an image in our mind of what life should be like, what we'd like to be doing or see happening, and it's usually beautiful. We see someone else's beautiful when our life isn't so lovely and envy it. Sometimes it sends us even farther into the valley.

I recently joined Pinterest. Mostly, I was searching for hairstyles and liked the ease of looking through pictures others had pinned with the keywords "short hair".

Pinterest...another social media for me to love and hate.

December is a time when social media can be particularly hard for me. I want to do these cutesy crafts and projects with my kids. I want to have a lovely decorated house. I want to make this season meaningful for my family. I want.... want, want, want. Oh, Pinterest makes the wanting more easy to see!

But, this post isn't about social media. Really, it isn't.

My life isn't a storybook. It's beautiful and fabulous and lovely and full of amazing gifts God has given me. Five people surround me daily to prove God's goodness to me.

But, this December, I found myself not feeling "ready" for Christmas. For the life of me, I could not get myself to a place of emotionally and spiritually being "there". I can't put my finger on it. I've discussed it with a few people and suggested maybe it's hormones (highly likely), the adjustment of having a baby again (highly likely), or spiritual (placing my stock here most).

I'll probably blog a little more about the first two later. But, right now, I just want to share something that has caused me much anguish and questioning this last year.

Last fall (2010), a series of events happened that caused me to step back from my life and start to look at things, seemingly, from a different point of view. I never really wrapped my brain around all of it and then my life turned again as Jett was born. [Not like I hadn't had three kiddos before him, but I forgot how enveloping babyhood is.] So, I ended up spending most of 2011 asking some hard questions of God and never really getting answers. I still don't feel like I've dug in enough to His Word or Him, in general, to get the answers. I feel like I've been busy surviving and trying to scrape together bits of what I felt like I used to have together...namely managing my house and family.

So, as I start 2012, it's really just a continuation of these lingering questions.

Here they are:
--where in Scripture to we see the idea of a "calling", specifically as it relates to vocation?
--does God lead us/"call us" to specific tasks? do those change? is there an overarching "calling" on our life as believers?
--does God speak to us, in a conversational way? where do we see that Biblically?

Some of these questions arose as friends walked through trials, changes came that were out of my control or influence, and I began reading some things.

I read the book Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung. Whew. It challenged me. It got me thinking.

Then, I read an article published by Stand To Reason. Since the article was part one of a three part series, I was sort of left hanging until the second article came out in the summer and then finally the third one was published in November. [Link to STR articles. Solid Ground is their monthly newsletter/article. This is the archives homepage. You can read each of the three articles. They are PDF articles, so there isn't a way to link to a webpage other than this. They are titled "Does God Whisper, Parts 1, 2, 3".]

I'm putting all this out there in blogland hoping someone will take time to read the articles and give me some feedback. I have printed copies that I'm currently re-reading. My plan is to dig into them and really seek the Lord this month.

I'd welcome your thoughts.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Celebrations - very long with pictures

My mom arrived late Wednesday night to spend Christmas with us. Joel worked on Thursday, then got a half day off on Friday. Our wonderful friends, Jim and Pam, came over on Friday for some lunch and hanging out.
Pam even brought the lunch with her! She made a delicious calzone-type filling with chicken and then had the kids help her use crescent rolls to form the "wreath" of yumminess.

It was nice to have a relaxing and festive lunch with our family. Pam and Jim are our kids' "Texas grandparents" and spoil them rotten. It's such a blessing to have older adults in our lives to dote on our kids, but also encourage, lead, and challenge Joel and me. The day was especially sweet for me as my mom was here with us too!
This is to prove I was there. They also brought gifts for the kids.Jett was a little interested in opening his gift...a soft book with rattles on it.
Rylee LOVED her new chapter book! And, the twins liked their books about character.I was playing with the flash on my Nikon, trying to soften it. Then, Jett got very interested in being the subject.Christmas Eve was spent in jammies wrapping gifts (for me), cutting blocks of wood and making a last-minute gift (for Joel), and playing with Nana (for all our kids). Joel's cousin, Chris, arrived in the early afternoon. Then, we headed to church for the 4:30 service.
We enjoyed going to Olive Garden for Christmas Eve dinner. It was a delicious treat for all of us! The kids discovered a love for OG this summer.
I forgot to take pics during our dining experience, so I snapped a few shots as we were preparing to head home (yep, a few were in the loo).
Christmas morning brought squeals of delight!
Our kids open their stockings first. Well, first they ran to look at all the gifts that had been placed around the Christmas tree!
Then, they went to unload their stockings.Jett wasn't interested in his own stocking, but he liked exploring the contents of Asa and Jenna's.I didn't film our annual hunt for baby Jesus because I was feeding Jett. But, once the kids found all the figurines for our 6 nativity sets and Jesus was, indeed, in the manger, we read about the birth of Christ in Luke chapter 2. Then...we shared presents!The kids helped bring the gifts from the front living room back to the respective recipient in the back living room. We took turns going around watching the kids open each gift. I really liked how it helped them focus on who gave each one and really checking it out before tearing into their next package.
One of my absolute favorite parts of Christmas morning is watching the kids open the gifts they got from their siblings. The giver is usually just as excited as the one receiving!In this case, Rylee was thrilled that Jenna and Asa picked out the jewelry box she had been asking for!
Jett got a few wrapped gifts, but he had the most fun emptying the used paper from a big box we put it in.
Jenna has been asking for a pair of binoculars since we used a set while camping back in May. She was beyond excited that our church family in Pennsylvania would send her some for Christmas! And, I love to hear her say "binoclears" just slightly wrong.
Asa had a completely Star Wars and Lego Christmas. He got seven sets of Legos and loved every single tiny piece!
Asa also got this giant "tinkertoy" set. It's wood corner pieces and pvc pipes that he can configure into a tent of his choosing. Then, you throw a sheet over it and ta-da have a fort!
I finally put the camera away and stopped taking pictures of everyone opening gifts. I wanted to enjoy the moment and figured the photos end up looking pretty much the same anyway.
We went to church (which I absolutely loved, by the way). I think we should have a church service EVERY Christmas Day. I mean, hello?! What exactly are we celebrating? It was splendid.Sharing the joy with friends is always fun!After going to church and having lunch, the kids pulled out their new gadgets and got busy.They also enjoyed some time in front of various screens.We gave Uncle Chris a picture frame with the kids' handprints. This photo will go in the middle.
And, Nana was busy filming the excitement, reading with kiddos (that's her and Rylee above), helping care for Jett, and cooking. We all agreed her visit was way too short!
And, seriously. I am blessed. Just look at this handsome man who loves Jesus and his family and is this good lookin' to boot!