Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blaming God

Today I read the most outrageous news article on Yahoo News entitled, "Steve Johnson blames God for his overtime drop." The article states that after Steve Johnson, a Buffalo Bills wide receiver, dropped the winning touchdown pass in a game on Sunday, he expressed his frustration on Twitter:  

Okay, seriously?!  Besides the bad grammar and excessive use of exclamation points, I wondered if his screen name really means that he is 13 years old.  Because that's exactly how a 13 year old would respond.  Thx tho....

For some reason I could not stop thinking about this today.  It made me so mad!  But after I stepped down from my self-righteous pedestal, I thought about myself.  Wasn't it me, just today, who said in the quiet confines of my heart,  "How could you do this to me, God?"  I am facing a hard situation, and I worry about it daily.  I am grinding my teeth at night.  I am losing sleep.  And I am eating lots of candy (that's how I know I'm in a hard place) ;)  While thinking about this situation, I actually had that thought for a split second.  I mean, here we are, obeying God, sacrificing our lives for His kingdom, doing the best we can, and the situation we are in right now just plain sucks.

I have asked God that question before, in tough ministry situations that have left us wounded and wondering why we ever got into this whole thing in the first place.  Somewhere along the way, I guess I was taught that obedience + sacrifice = an easy, blessed life.  Well, it may be blessed at times, but it sure ain't easy.    

Somehow I have learned to equate good behavior with spiritual blessings.  Yet our walks with God are not mathematical equations that will always make sense and equal good things.  Sometimes we might do good things for God, like pray for people, serve the poor, give our tithes, and then expect Him to bless us.  In reality, maybe we're doing those things for our own selfish motives.  We may even treat Him like He is a giant slot machine, thinking that if we put in the right amount and pull the lever just right, we will become a billionaire.  How wrong we are.

We are quick to bless God when things are going right.  But then we blame Him when things are going wrong.

Now, I'm not saying that God won't bless us, or doesn't want to bless us, because I believe He DOES!  But are we seeking Him and His heart, or are we just seeking His blessings?  Are we seeking the Gifts, or are we seeking the Giver?

I heard someone say recently that our struggles are stepping stones God uses to draw us closer to Him.  Tonight I looked up the word "suffering" in the Bible, and found that the greatest men and women of God were also those who suffered.  They weren't the ones who had everything going right for them. (And frankly, much of what we are going through cannot even compare to real suffering). 

Romans 5:3-4
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope..."

I hope next time I read an article like this, that I have a more humble heart.  Sounds to me like StevieJohnson13 and I actually have more in common than I'd like to admit. 

(And this is his update since that news article was posted):
  1. Spoke To Friends Fam Teammates and Most Importantly I Spoke With My Wife. I Honestly Believe Evrything Happens For A Reason! Everything!
    And No I Did Not Blame God People! Seriously??!? CMon! I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why? Jus Like yal did wen sumthin went wrong n ur life!
  2. I learned A lot Within 24hrs. Saw Both Sides.(Ups&Dwns) I AM HAPPY & THANKFUL 4 YESTERDAY! w/out Sunday iWldnt have grew closer w/The Lord!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories & Photo Shoot Mishaps

This Thanksgiving was SO much fun!  We spent two nights at my parent's house and squeezed the most out of our time there.  Early Thanksgiving morning we arose and went out for our annual Christmas picture photo shoot.  My sister did the honors (she is also a photographer), and she did a great job.  Jaden  was such a ham and made so many faces at the camera that we did not have too many serious poses.  Here are some of our favorite outtakes:

(Click the picture for larger evidence)

My little poser...

Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking here...

Here either...

Nope, this one won't work...

My husband is so silly.

Overall, we had so much fun...

 and the boys were great sports too...

We got some good Christmas card pics out of the bunch, but in the end only chose one because I didn't want to take the time to make my own template or buy one either :)  (I'll post more later - there were some other fun ones in there).

One of the highlights of our trip was when Martin took the boys on an "adventure" to the park to "find Darth Vader." My dad has a Darth Vader mask and dresses up every Halloween in his costume.  Martin took the boys on a little hike with toy guns, hunting for Darth Vader through the trees and the bushes.  My dad was hiding behind a tree at the end of the trail.  Martin told the boys, "Hey! I think I see him!" and my dad popped out of the bushes, clad in all black with his mask on and even a black cape.  As he breathed heavy through his mask, the "adventure" then took a scary turn for Micah, when he burst into tears and cried, "I don't want to play this anymore!! I want to go home!  Our guns are only pretend and we need to go home and get real ones!"

My poor baby!!! For some reason Martin was so focused on calming him down (Jaden hadn't seen my dad), that he forgot to tell him THAT WAS MY DAD!  So a few hours later, after they were home, we broke the news to him.  He asked a lot of questions about why Papa would do that, but he seems to be okay now.

Ah, the memories!  ;)  I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving too!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Update on Micah

Micah is growing so, so fast.  Last week he lost his first tooth - a bottom row one - and it came out in his sleep.  We still haven't found it, but the tooth fairy visited anyway, giving him two gold dollar coins and an extra two quarters I found in my wallet :)  He took his money to the 99 cent store and bought a small toy skateboard ramp.

He is doing really well in school, which we are really thankful for considering the situation he is in.  It is pretty much the worst-case scenario, yet we somehow have felt that God is in it and he is (right now) where he is supposed to be.  But we are praying for other options.

Although we love his teacher, she has been gone 12 times since the beginning of school, and the kids have had 11 different subs.  The class is disorganized and the kids in his particular class are not learning half of what the other K classes are learning.  The homework sent home is preschool work that he did two years ago.  He's not learning his sight words, numbers or much else.  Complaints have poured in from numerous parents but nothing has changed.  We found out that on rainy days, the entire class has been left alone for up to 10 minutes because there is only 1 lunch aid per 2 classrooms, and she would have to run back and forth between classes.  I started an email campaign about that, and the principal (supposedly) changed the policy and is having them eat in the cafeteria now on rainy days.  Duh.  (I know you are all wondering why this teacher is still there.  We are not sure but she is tenured).  The problems we are facing are not just with the teacher, but with the school as a whole.  A school that we heard was one of the best in the city, that tons of people have gotten permits to attend.  Apparently things have gone downhill in the past 2-3 years since the new principal came in.

Another hard thing for us is that the Kindergarten students are sent out on the playground with 1st and 2nd graders (about 150 kids) for recess, and there are in particular three second grade boys who bully the kindergarten students. I have witnessed it first-hand on my volunteer days and those boys even disrespect me.  There are only 2 adults supervising recess, and they are stationed at the front of the yard, which is well over two acres (the playground is in the back).  

To compound matters, this year the district increased each class to 30 kids, and there is not enough supervision either in the class or on the playground.  The whole school is an accident waiting to happen.

Despite all of this (and there is even more going on), we have seen God place a hedge of protection around our boy.  However,  I cannot tell you the feelings that go through my head and heart each day as we drop him off there.  Martin and I are there 2-3 days a week helping out, but it still doesn't feel like enough.  

So, what are our options?
1) Pull him out and put him in another Kindergarten class.  However, his very best friend is in this class, and he loves the other kids, as well.  He is so excited to see them every day.  If we switch him to one of the other 3 kindergarten classes, he will have to deal with a lot of questions from the current classmates who will see him on the playground, and he may have a hard adjustment to make.

2) Pull him out and put him in another district.  We have a few great elementary schools within a mile of our house in another district.  One offers 1/2 day kindergarten, and the class sizes are smaller.  Yet again, what kind of impact would this have on him?  Are we just trading one set of problems for another?  How would he adjust to not knowing anybody at all, and would he regress because it might be too traumatizing for him?  And could he even get IN the district?

3)  Homeschool him.  Believe it or not, this still is not an option for us, for many reasons that I will not defend here.  But we feel that even in his current situation, it would be better than me trying to homeschool him and having a battle of the wills every day (beyond what we already deal with).

3) Stay and make the best of it.  This is our current approach.  Martin and I have grown to love the kids in his class.  We have relationships with the parents.  We are volunteering, and supplementing at home.  We care for his teacher and have a relationship with her, despite all of her weaknesses, and want to help however we can.  He loves his friends and he seems to love school.

So what do we do?  We are at a crossroads.  One parent already pulled her son out this week, and she was a friend of mine.  Her son and Micah went to preschool together for two years.  (He is going to private school now).  We could try to pull him out at Thanksgiving or Christmas and have him start somewhere new, but we are worried how that might affect him.  This boy really loves his friends at school.

Every day these things go through my head, and it is weighing on me.  We want the best for our child, we thought this was it, and unfortunately we have not experienced that after all.  He truly seems oblivious to it, or extremely resilient, because he comes home happy and has had a good time.  We truly covet your prayers for wisdom during this time, that we will make the best decision for him....

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Short Getaway

This past week we had plans to go up to Big Bear on Thursday & Friday, but found out on Tuesday that our friends couldn't go.  I was moping around on Wednesday, bummed out about it, and thought I'd just call a "connection" we had to see if we could stay in Lake Arrowhead instead.  He said "Sure!" but we'd have to come up Friday-Saturday instead, and so we decided to do it.  The place we stayed at is a Christian camp (the same place we got engaged), that lets ministers use one of their cabins for free.  It is such a blessing and an added bonus that the place has so many memories for us (I have been going there since I was 15).

We stayed at this same camp in March of last year when it was snowing:

This time it wasn't snowing, but it was a cold 45 degrees the entire time.  We packed a LOT into less than 24 hours: we went to the park, had a picnic, took a hike, went out to dinner, took another hike, played Scrabble, and went to Lake Arrowhead Village.  We left after lunch on Saturday, so it was fast!

It is amazing how refreshing it can be to just get away for one night.  I was badly needing it, too.  I came home refreshed, energized, and so happy.  Today I am thankful that we were able to take such a short drive to be in "paradise" for just a few hours.  Where do you like to get away to?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Christmas on a Dime

I'm so thankful for God's provision.  Our Christmas budget has always been very small, and we choose not to charge gifts on credit cards.  So I was a little worried this year when I saw that we weren't going to have anything in our cash envelope to spend on gifts, at all. Which would have been okay, really, since we have participated in Advent Conspiracy for a few years and appreciate less "things" in order to focus on what's most important.

However, this week alone I booked 5 photo sessions this month, completely out of the blue, which will give us a little pocket change to spend.  I still don't want to get carried away.  Yet my love language is gift giving, and I enjoy giving gifts to people immensely.

I read this great article about budgeting for Christmas and making sure that we don't overspend.  After reading it, I sat down to make my list of who we "needed" to give presents to, along with who we wanted to give presents to.  There are 21 people on that list total.  My budget for everyone and everything = $250.  To some people that might seem like a lot, while to others that will seem like very little.  But it equals out to approximately $10 a person, which includes our children.  That gets to be a bit....stressful.  Time to be creative.  (I struggle even writing what our budget is, because I know some people have nothing to spend, but wanted to give some perspective on what we're working with).

As I have done in year's past, I will make gifts for at least 10 of these people, and try to get the supplies to cost about $30 total.  This site has some GREAT homemade Christmas gifts (including the Scrabble Tile necklaces I made last year for everyone on my list).  I have found that people love homemade things and it means more than something store bought.  I can't divulge to you (yet) what I'm making because it's a secret :)

Another cheap gift idea is to give pictures.  I struggle with this one, because I'm surrounded by pictures and give them all the time, but I do think it's good to give updated pictures each year.  Whether they're taken with your own camera or you get them done (and try not to go overboard there, either), frames are pretty cheap and you can even buy them at thrift stores and repaint them yourself.  Nobody cares if they are professional or not - the important thing is that they are fun and creative.  Costco has the best prices on photo processing and gifts that I have found.  Even if you're not a member, you can use your family member's membership to order your prints online and have them shipped to your home, and many items ship for free!

Another idea is to have a Christmas lunch or dinner for your family or friends, and tell them that is your gift to them.  My friend Shannin did this, and shared how special it was that all of her friends and their kids came over.  The kids had a craft table and all took something home.  How creative is that?!

We are also focusing this year on giving with our children.  We received a catalog from Heifer International in the mail and went through it with Micah.  He decided that he wanted to give a flock of chicks to a family in need, and they're only $20.  We brainstormed with him how to raise the money, and decided to have a yard sale.  He will sell some of his toys, and we will use some of the proceeds to go towards this gift and towards our Christmas budget.

I think it's getting more important each year that we scale back the materialism and give more to people in need.  Let's show people we love them through our words and our actions, not "throw a bunch of plastic to our kids" and think it means something (I heard that phrase in a sermon recently) ;)  We don't need more stuff.  In our house, that means we scale down the toys and do 3 gifts per child.  Some of my friends only do 1 gift, if that.  If we change our unhealthy exceptions of what Christmas should be and honor God with our money, He will give us the best Christmas we could ever imagine.

How will your family honor God and scale back on materialism this Christmas?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipes to Make You Famous!

I have to share a few recipes I have tasted recently that were TO. DIE. FOR.  Some of these came from friends, and some from websites, but it is my duty to pass them onto you, as Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner!

Now, I am not like the Pioneer Woman who can whip up things from scratch and then make a cookbook.  But I have found that if I taste something divine and then make it myself when company comes over, people don't really care where you got the recipe. They just care that it tastes good!  Make these recipes, and I assure you, they will make you famous.

(If you want to see past recipes that will make you famous, click here).

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
(Click title for link)

This is a recipe from Paula Deen, and you can't go wrong with any of her recipes.  Sure, it has 2 sticks of butter in it, but it is the best pumpkin recipe you will find.  Many people who have tasted this have told me that they like it better than pumpkin pie (and it still has that consistency, so you feel like you're having pie). Even those that don't like pumpkin pie seem to love this!

Chile Relleno Breakfast Bake
This recipe came from my friend Melanie, who found it on Page 49 of the Penzey's Spices Grilling Catalog.  Now, I am NOT a fan of Chorizo, but my husband is.  Melanie baked this recipe using Soyrizo from Trader Joe's (made from Soy), and I gave it a try.  I was totally addicted to this dish, as was every other woman that tried it!  Martin practically did a cartwheel in our kitchen when he tasted this; I have never seen him react with such joy to a dish in my life!  :)  I halved the recipe in an 8x8 pan for our family.

Ready in a snap, this recipe from Kathy Rodriguez is
sure to kick start your morning.

1⁄4-1⁄2 Cup butter (1⁄2-1 stick) {I did 1/2 stick}
2  7 oz. cans diced green chiles, drained
1⁄2 lb. chorizo sausage, browned and
drained (optional) {I did the entire package of Soyrizo from TJs}
1 8 oz. pkg. shredded cheddar cheese  {I did the full pkg of cheddar and a sprinkling of Monterey since I had it on hand}
1 8 oz. pkg. shredded Monterey Jack
4 eggs
2 Cups milk
1 Cup biscuit mix
to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Melt the butter in a 9x13 glass baking dish. Layer the chiles over the butter. Sprinkle with the browned chorizo, if using. Layer the shredded cheeses over the sausage.
In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, biscuit mix, CHILI POWDER and PEPPER. Pour over the other ingredients in the pan. Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Prep. time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 30-40 minutes
Serves: 10-12

New Orleans Corn Bisque with Smoked Sausage
(Click link for recipe)

This was so good.  We had it on a cold night with hot french bread.  My boys aren't big soup fans, so I made them breakfast for dinner.   This is a great recipe and was easy to make.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why I Blog

(From a wedding I shot recently)

I have found there are two types of people when it comes to blogs: those that get it, and those that don't.  Neither one is better than the other, mind you;  it's just that people tend to fall into one of those two categories.  

The ones who "get it" may or may not have their own blog.  But either way, they love to read other people's blogs.  When they meet someone else that uses the word "blog" or they overhear it in conversation, they get just a little bit giddy inside - "Hey! She must be just like me!"  Those that "get it" also love to tell other people stories that they've read on their weekly blog reads.  They also may have certain bloggers in common that they follow, like The Pioneer Woman, Angie Smith, or MckMama.  

We learn from other bloggers how to do fun or useful things.  We learn more about ourselves, and more about God. It is a fast and condensed form of reading (which used to be one of my main hobbies, until I had to do a Directed Reading for my MA program of 5,000 pages, suddenly had to be prescribed glasses, and declared that I would never read a book again- but I digress).  It is a little bit like reading a magazine;  you can get through a post in 5 minutes and come back to it later if you want to.  I can honestly say that reading blogs has helped me to become a better mother and wife, as I have been encouraged by others.  I have learned new strategies for dealing with stress and household chores.  I have seen that other moms have the same struggles as I do, and it helps me to relate to others better.  In addition, I have made some real friends through blogging!  These are people who I have never met in person, but we keep in touch aside from our  blogs and would love to meet someday.

I blog because writing is an outlet for me.  I really only have 1 hobby, and this is it.  Some people scrapbook, some people crochet, some people cook, some people clean.  For me, I write.  

There are also those who don't get what blogging is, and ask questions that come off a little cynical at times.  Questions like "Gee, when do you have time to blog?  I'm so busy that I don't have time to do anything like that." or "Yeah, that's not my thing.  I'd rather connect with people for real, like on the phone or face-to-face."    In a way I think they're putting bloggers down, mainly because they don't  understand it.  It's okay if you don't understand it.  

So, here are my responses to those two questions/comments that I get all the time.  In response to the "Gee, when do you have time to blog?" question, I mainly blog at night, after the kids are in bed.  Sometimes I will start a post earlier in the day and finish it later.  But it's just like any other hobby.  You fit it in because you love it.  Don't worry, I am not neglecting my children (because that's another misconception about mommy bloggers).  I don't do it every day, but try to at least 3x a week.

In response to the "I'd rather connect with people on the phone or in person" comment, I am thankful that I do regularly connect with people in the real world.  But I don't have time to be on the phone more than 3 minutes once a day, so I hardly ever talk on the phone.  If anything, blogging has enriched my personal relationships by getting to know people on a deeper level. I blog about things I may never normally have a conversation with you about, yet the next time we see each other, we can connect in a new way because we have connected through the power of our life's stories.

So, why do I blog?

1) Because it's fun!
2) Because it is an outlet
3) Because I want every mother who reads my blog to know that she is not alone.  I want every woman who reads my blog to be encouraged.  I want every person who reads my blog to experience Jesus.

It would be great if this blog grew and had thousands of readers.  Not because I want to be famous, but because I want to encourage others and reach out, and it is a form of ministry to me.  Yet many bloggers think that bigger numbers means they have a better blog.   In the efforts to get more followers, there are "Follow Me Friday" link ups all over the web, but all they really do is give you followers so that they can get you as a follower.  They are NOT necessarily readers of your blog.  I tried it once, but quickly got tired of the "I'll follow you if you follow me" comments.  I won't do that again.  

Some bloggers get paid to blog, in essence, because they have sponsors or advertisers.  I may pursue this at some point, but I like the feel of having control over my content and not feeling like I have to write about any particular thing.  It is also a lot less stressful to not have to deal with the whole business side of the blogging world.

For now, this blog will stay what it is, and I'm okay with that.  I appreciate each and every one of you who take time to stop by each week.  It really means so much to me that you would be the least bit interested in something I would have to say.  I love reading your comments, and I love the conversations we have in person, too.  It is always encouraging to know who is reading, as I have no way of knowing without comments or knowing you in person. 

I hope this gives you a better understanding of why people blog in general, and why I choose to blog. If you blog, why do you do it?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Beautiful Music

Oh, poor neglected blog.  I can't believe it's been 10 days since I last posted.  My goal is 3-4 times a week, as it is pure therapy for me, but this was one of those weeks where I overbooked myself in numerous areas, and it just didn't happen.

First of all, as much as I LOVE speaking, I realized this week that I cannot yet double-book myself (2 engagements in one week).  It's not a lot, I know, but it's still too much for me at this point in my life.  I think once a month would be nice.  Of course, I am only speaking twice in 4 months, yet booked both of those sessions within one week.  Go figure.

Last Monday I had the opportunity to speak to a local MOPS group and shared the same message that I blogged about here last year.  It was a great morning, and I love meeting new moms.  I sat at a table with a young mom who had 3 children (and was pregnant with her 4th), who shared about how other moms judge her by how she looks and how she parents.  She shared a story about how at church, her daughter wet her pants, and she forgot to bring a change of clothes. So she stripped her down to her underwear and people were walking by her scoffing and giving her dirty looks.  She was on the verge of tears, already overwhelmed by other events that happened that morning, and she felt so judged and shamed, mainly by other mothers.  I thought, "what is wrong with us mothers, that we would make another mother feel like this?"  I'm sure the other moms walking by did not know her story; they just cared about what they saw in that moment.  Sure, I may not have chosen the church lobby to strip my child down.  But to shame her and make her feel like a bad mother, when she was already overwhelmed and trying to figure out what to do?  I was saddened for her.  I wondered how often I have judged another mom without knowing her story.

On Sunday I was given the opportunity to preach at church.  God had laid a particular message on my heart for the church about Surrender, and my sister and her boyfriend came and performed a beautiful song that they wrote.  The whole morning went great, and a lady in our church told me later that her daughter's boyfriend recommitted his life to the Lord in the parking lot that morning.  I'm so thankful to be part of a church that encourages in women in ministry and humbled to be given the opportunity.  You can listen to Lauren and Phil's song below (You can visit their Facebook page here).  If you'd like to listen to the message I gave on Sunday, feel free to visit this link and click on "launch sermon player" and then find me there.  If you ever need a speaker for your women's or youth event, I would love to talk with you more about it!