Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Signs of Life]

As we chatted in my pastor's office one afternoon my daughter began writing on a piece of paper hanging on the wall. He stopped me from stopping her, "Signs of life, our church is full of them." Ever since then I have been thinking about that simple statement so much! Our home is also full of life signs and there are so many that I decided to share my top ten. I also encourage you to look around your home and see the "mess" as signs of life. Sometimes "signs of life" can discourage me (after the umpteenth time of picking something up or wiping something down) so this outlook has been so good for me!

1. Little fingerprints. They are everywhere. Walls. Oven door. Furniture. Windows. Mirrors.

2. Cracker crumbs. I finally had to ban them from the play room and bedrooms (sleeping in cracker crumbs = restless night). Every time we cleaned I found half eaten crackers and crumbs everywhere. Despite my best efforts to keep food in the kitchen and at the table, cracker crumbs seep into every nook and cranny. Including computer keys or hoodie pockets or ground into the living room rug or between the couch cushions... 

3. Art work. It is also everywhere. Like on the kitty chair in the playroom's reading corner. On the walls. And thanks to my sister-in-law, who gave the girls bathtub crayons, art work is alllllll over the bathtub. I think my favorite is the octopuses that Bean drew and refused to let me wipe off because, "I would miss them Mommy!" Some isn't a surprise (like what I hang on the refrigerator) or the snowflakes in the window or the heart window stickers the girls LOVED hanging, but they are all signs of life.

4. Toys. Briella Bean loves making beds for all her stuffed animals and dolls. Sometimes she'll have 20+ beds scattered around the living room alone. I dislike this game so much because she drags each and every blanket from her room and the giant bucket of stuffed animals with a book for each of them and of course each of her animals need something to sleep with....! If she plays this game in her room, we can't open the door (which we have worked on). This perspective has helped tremendously with this particular game because it takes so much time to clean up, but my daughter loves playing it. So when the game begins I begin praying about my attitude because this sign of life isn't one where I should let my panties get in a bunch.

5. Piles of books. I actually love this particular sign of life. I might actually encourage it. The more time my family spends in books the better. There is always a pile of library books, a pile of books Bean looks at during her rest time, a pile of books I've put aside for the letter of the week, a pile of books I'm reading (which always includes my Bible), a pile of books Kyle uses for his personal study time before teaching for Sunday school or youth group, a pile of books I just purchased and need to put away (yes, this is common)... 

6. Noise. Right now Brielle is "working" on her computer while I work on mine, so I keep hearing "K. K is for Kite." because it's the letter of the week and she keeps hitting the button over and over again. Also, Ele is singing to her baby. Marley is on the watch and feels the need to growl at the neighbors (I've spent the last 10 years trying to break him of this annoying habit). I love having music in the background. After typing all of that Ele has now moved on to her play phone that is singing a different version of the ABC's and Brielle's computer keeps saying, "Use your mouse to pick an activity, press the letter button..." (can you tell I've heard all this before?) Now Ele is yelling at something that isn't doing what she wants it to... signs of life.

7. Dirty dishes and messy counters. Breakfast was finished and lunch will be started in an hour. I wait until after lunch is done and the girls are resting to clean up, so if you were to visit before then, you'd see lots and lots of signs of life. 

8. Shoes and clothes. Does anyone else struggle putting clean clothes away right after washing and folding them? Or get tired of reminding the children (for the umpteenth time) to put their shoes in their closet? Or snow clothes hanging out to dry during the winter and swim suits and towels during the summer? Or PJ's shed on the floor to dress in today's princess dress? All signs of life.

9. Strange smells. Haha, or this could be a sign of death. But seriously, we have dogs and they can be stinky (do I need to elaborate?) And we also have a baby in diapers. And children who hysterically laugh every time they burp or fart. And children who carry food around with them (which we had to outlaw, but can sometimes slip from our watchful eyes) and sometimes the combination of all these things creates a strange smell somewhere in the house that is incredibly hard to find. 

10. Items in weird places. I've found a half eaten sucker in the blender (no joke), toys in our shoes, play food in the fridge. Brielle loves to bring styrofoam cups home from church and I'll find those in the fridge as well. I once found a magic wand in my underwear drawer. Books are a normal thing to find the dirty clothes laundry basket. Also, Brielle is a master at hiding items in the craziest spot, so this particular sign of life could go on forever...

Plus one: Markings in my Bible. Every day I try to read my Bible. During that time I use many colors to mark sovereignty verses, important phrases, wisdom to live, gospel/grace/mercy, etc. etc. My girls see me do this everyday and so my Ele decided she would do it too. Upon finding these cute markings I could not be angry. This is one way I desperately want my girls to mimic me. Read your Bible girls! 

I have so much content to share just from the time it took me to write this post! Like Ele finding random leftover Nerds hidden in some crack in the floor, showing me it was in her mouth, yelling "EAT!" - all proud of this fact. (I can't make this stuff up.) Or this adorable moment where the girls were making beaded jewelry and Bean was teaching Ele colors; "ruined" because Ele decided to chuck the beads all over the living room, stuff as many as she could between the couch cushions and spilled her animal crackers during her ornery laughing fit. (I think I'll be finding beads for the next few months, and as I do I'll remember this 5 minute moment and smile.) Also, Bean got the beads out so she could make me a necklace, which I love, of course.

Thanks to these signs of life we buy magic erasers in bulk and do our very best to teach our children behavior that isn't destructive, what is appropriate to color on, when messes are okay and when it's best to have one or two toys out at a time... all of this takes time. So with the time given, I truly believe mommy's need to spend it creating a home that is welcoming and child friendly. I also believe there is a balance between being a slob and embracing the signs of life; find the balance because your children are making memories. I can't say I do that perfectly day in and day out. Some days are better than others because, quite frankly, sometimes the signs of life drive.me.crazy. The job of picking up and scrubbing clean never ends! Ahhhhh! BUT if there's one piece of advice seasoned parents always give me, it is this: treasure your time because it goes by so quickly. Take their advice because if it's true (which I'm 110% sure it is) once they are gone and the house is quiet and clean - you'll be begging for those little signs of life. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book of the Week [The Jester Has Lost His Jingle]

The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Salesman is one of our absolute favorite books in this house. We love the story line of a Jester who tries to make the king laugh, but the king lost his laugh so he banished him. From there the Jester desperately searches for laughter. His journey helps him understand that it's hidden deep within.
But it isn't the story that gets me, or the clever rhyming, or wonderful vocabulary, or even the creative style.

It is the story behind the story.

I recently wrote ten reasons why you should never skip the author's note at the end of a book, here's one example why! I never would have learned that David Salesman wrote this book as a result of some grumpy classmates that ruined his good mood. Or that afterwards he drew a jester and captioned it, "The jester has lost his jingle." According to the note at the end of the book, it was this same drawing that captured his attention moments after learning he was diagnosed with cancer. He realized that no matter his circumstances, he needed to laugh and make the best of life.

The book was born.

It was the continuation of this particular story that made the book for me! I found the author inspiring. Even more so when I read that this book was his senior project at Yale where he graduated Magna Cam Laude of his class. However, it wasn't just his work ethic or intelligence that pulled on my heart strings, it was that this book was published after his death at age 22. A promise fulfilled by his family, so that it's message of laughter would be shared with children coping with cancer and other illnesses.

That is what makes this book phenomenal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Reasons to Never Skip the Author's Note]

At the end of every book is a note from the author. Here's 10 reasons to never skip it...

1. It adds depth to the story. When you learn why an author wrote a book it may blow your mind. For example, after reading one of my all time favorites, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I learned that the original author became ill and asked her niece to finish the story. She died before it's completion, but how the story began is one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, nearly as much as the book. Plus it helped me to understand the work she did to uncover the history behind this phenomenal historical fiction novel. The niece wrote the author's note as a tribute to a story teller I wish I had the chance to listen to in real life! 

2. You will learn something new. After reading, and loving, A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist, I found out that the letter she based her book off of was one that a father actually wrote to his daughter during the Civil War (it will break your heart) and that a schemer actually did put an ad in the newspaper for men to purchase brides. THEN he created separate contracts! The women signed a contract stating they were going to work and the men signed a contract thinking they were getting a wife. Can you imagine the chaos when they met?!

3. The story behind the story will inspire you. After reading one of my all time favorite children's book (written in the 80's) titled The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman I was awed by his story. After being diagnosed with cancer (which took his life at the age of 22) he made the choice to be joyful. This book is all about that choice and if I had not read the author's note, I would have missed out on how one man's struggle forced him to find the joy in life, thus inspiring me to do the same.

4. It will make the story come alive! After reading about how Suzanne Collins is an expert on how war affects children, I took her books more seriously. Wow, they are depressing, but they are also eye-opening. She knows what she's talking about and she chose science fiction to tell us about it.

5. You will respect the author that much more. If an author writes a really good story that's because there's a lot of prep to be done beforehand. Research. Reading. Interviews. Travel. Research. Reading. Reading. Reading. So many times the author talks about that hard work and not only does it add depth to their story - making it come alive, but I typically learn something new, and walk away inspired. 

6. You make a friend. Although I have yet to meet my favorite author's face-to-face, I can honestly say I would call each one of them a friend based on their writing alone. Writing reveals a lot about a person - their wit, intelligence, work ethic, etc. And it's usually their note to their reader that makes me like them all the more.

7. It makes the author human. I know that sounds crazy but it's upon learning about their struggles, dreams, hard work... that I realize, hmmm they're more like me than I realize! 

8. It helps you understand the why, the who, the what, the when, the where, the how. The author typically reveals quite a bit about their story and there are so many times that my understanding of the story increased ten-fold because of that little note at the end.

9. The writing is just as good as the story itself. If you liked the writing style of the book, you will like the writing style of the author's note. The same person wrote it. So read it.

10. Sometimes it's like a continuation of the story. If the story is good I don't want it to end, so this is one way of making it last just a little bit longer. I savor every word. Sometimes, just sometimes, the author gives a little bit extra. It's like finding hidden treasure!

Plus One: Sometimes they share their testimony. In Atonement Child by Francine Rivers she tells this incredible story of a young woman who was raped, became pregnant and faced the decision on whether or not to have an abortion. Her testimony sounds very similar. It forces you to respect the content for which she was writing, because she has personal experience, but it adds so much depth, her testimony is inspiring and made her book come alive! Everything I listed was accomplished by reading Francine's note. I'll never forget the story because of this particular author's note.

If the book is good and the author has something to say about it, don't skip it! Seriously.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Most Amazing Thing I've Ever Heard a Parent Say (From a Teacher's Perspective)

"I know that if I want my child to learn something, it's my responsibility to teach it to them."

I wanted to scream from the roof tops, "THANK YOU!"

But I resisted the urge and instead quietly told her how much I appreciated hearing that. I've been in too many situations and heard too many parents say that it is the school's job to teach __________. Nope. That is yours. Want your kids to know how to do their taxes? Handle finances appropriately? Act responsibly? Know right from wrong?

Teach them.

Teachers in the public school system typically have 20+ kids in their classroom. Over half of them are not where they should be, and the government has a whole host of requirements that come with the job of teaching abc's and 123's. If you want to know what I mean just Google your state's teaching standards by the grade per subject. That is what we are required to teach, along with the curriculum provided from the school, along with Title 1 and special education requirements, along with meeting the needs of high ability learners and multicultural requirements, all while not letting any of them fall behind academically, so each and every one of them can pass a standardized test that we all agree is stupid.

Time is not a luxury.

So with the time that you have, learn from this momma. Teach them to grow into responsible citizen's of society, so that when the day comes that they are to go out in it, you have raised a hard working, kind, contributing individual who is able to think for themselves. And pay their taxes. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Favorite Passage in Genesis

I began writing a top ten, the title being 'favorite passages in Scripture' but when my list began with my favorite in Job, to multiple pieces in Ecclesiastes and Romans and Ephesians and Hosea and Isaiah... Proverbs... Psalms... I quickly realized that I could not narrow it down to a mere ten. Sooooo I scraped that idea because it became an impossibility to pick ten. Therefore, I'm going to pick my favorites from each book, beginning a series of blogs about my favorite passages in Scripture. Who knows how long this will take, but I cannot wait to share with you my favorite part in Genesis!

The story of Joseph is a favorite because it is quite clear that God at work setting up the story of the passover where He reveals Himself as the only true God - establishing His mighty name and the giving of His Word. The Israelites had to be in Egypt in order for any of this to happen and He used Joseph in amazing ways.

The Background Story
First God gives Joseph dreams that illustrate the power he'll have in Egypt, but his lack of humility to his brothers gets him in a bit of trouble. They act on their jealousy by selling him into slavery. He ended up in the home of Potiphar, who was an officer of Pharaoh and there he became the overseer of the home because, "The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man." (39:2) But Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him and when she failed at doing so, she accused him of trying to rape her. He was sent to jail, "where the king's prisoners were confined" (39:20). These things were horrible, but they were not an accident! He was a slave to one of the most powerful men in Egypt so that he would end up in a specific prison so he would interpret the dreams of the man who tested PHARAOH'S cup. God orchestrated each of these events to put Joseph in a place of power so that Israel would bring his family to Egypt so that years later God would deliver His people with a mighty and outstretched arm! 

My favorite passage explains this, but just to clarify this fact, look at the rest of the story: The keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. Why? Read 39:20: "BUT the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." "Some time later" (it could've been many years) two men were thrown in prison for angering Pharaoh. It 'just so happened' that they were put in the prison with Joseph, where he attended them. They each had disturbing dreams and were distraught because of them. Joseph's response to them both, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me." (40:8) Once they did, Joseph told them the interpretation and they came true. It wasn't until two years later that the cup-bearer remembered Joseph and it was all because Pharaoh had disturbing dreams! As a result, Joseph gave God the glory for the interpretation, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (41:16) Once Joseph told Pharaoh about the seven years of prosperity followed by the seven years of famine, Joseph makes this amazing statement, "God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do." 41:28 Pharaoh was so amazed at Joseph's wisdom that he Pharaoh put him second in command. During the seven plentiful years (that God brought about - reread 41:28) Joseph stored up food to prepare for the famine (that God brought about - reread 41:28) and when his brothers heard of Egypt having food, they went to get some for themselves, and once they realized it was Joseph they bowed down to (remember the dreams that began this fiasco in the first place?), the entire family came to Egypt and Joseph took care of them!

*You should know that this portion of my Bible has a lot of purple underlines and highlights. Purple = God's sovereignty (In other words, every piece that illustrates that God was in control is purple.) I encourage you to read this story beginning in Genesis 37.

My Favorite Passage
I do not know how long Joseph was a slave or how long exactly he was a prisoner or how many years he had to wait to see his father, brother Benjamin, or how long it took to see his first dreams fulfilled (where his brothers bow down to him), but this story illustrates God's sovereignty beautifully: God works all things out for good according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) ALL things. Not just some things. He works out the good and the bad for His purpose and my favorite passage in Genesis proves it:

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Genesis 50:20

Joseph forgave his brothers and in doing so relayed this message: when you sold me into slavery, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Nothing was an accident, or happen-chance. God did it because He had a plan to save lives and He was going to fulfill the promise He made way back to Abraham, which Joseph reminded his brothers on his death bed, "I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Genesis 50:24

Which brings me to my next favorite passage in Scripture... so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Biggest Moments of Failure and Success]

Beginning with 5 failures...

When things get hard or painful my natural tendency is to simply give up and quit. I hate that about myself. Most of biggest failures come from giving up and quitting for all the wrong reasons like when I quit playing college basketball. Or gave up sprinting the last 100 meters of the 400 meter dash all through high school simply because it hurt. Knowing what I know now, I never reached my full potential.

Some of my biggest failures in life come from moments of pride or anger. Unfortunately, many of them happened in the classroom when my actions shamed students into a behaving rather than dealing with the heart of the matter in a way that respected each individual.

In my short 4 years of motherhood there have been many moments when I have failed my children immensely. I have said "I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?" to them more than anyone else in my life.

Okay, perhaps second only to my husband. Not only did I fail him in my past choices, but I continue to fail him in my role as a biblical wife. Do I love him as God has called me to love? Do I submit, not just in my actions, but in my heart and mind as well? Do I honor and respect him as the leader in our home? No. Not perfectly day in and day out, or moment by moment, so I am so incredibly thankful for his constant forgiveness in my failings.

I also fail daily by being emotionally impulsive. More times than I can possibly count I have made a fool of myself because I say and do things based on the first thing I feel. I am constantly learning how to be the person who is not controlled by my ever-changing emotions and displaying them with appropriate timing and in a God glorifying way. Some of the things I regret most were because I was overcome by an emotion and immediately reacted on it rather than praying, reflecting on Scripture, asking questions, and seeking advice.

In each of these failings I know I cannot be perfect, so I am praying that God does a good work in me as He draws me to Himself. The more time I spend in Scripture the more I realize just how much I fail Him daily and it is because of my failings that I learn to appreciate Jesus all the more. He has forgiven me once for all through His work on the cross and God does not see my failings because of my faith in Christ. Does this mean I continue in this sin? Nope. I need His help daily! 

Ending with 5 successes...

Graduating from high school felt like the beginning of adulthood for me. It was thrilling to be able to walk off the stage, diploma in hand, ready to go out on my own. It was even more thrilling when I graduated from college. This time I walked off the stage with purpose. I was ready and excited to begin my teaching career. When I finished my Masters in Education three years later, I felt like an expert in my field.

And yet those degree's pale in comparison to the moments one of my struggling junior high or high school readers successfully read a book by themselves for the first time. Or when test results came back revealing a student who came into my class reading at a 3rd grade reading level at the 7th grade and grew in a years time 2 or 3 grade levels. Or when a student who previously hated books excitedly walked into my classroom to tell me all about a book he was enjoying. Those moments they were successful made all the hard work worth it!

Still, even those moments of success were nothing compared to giving birth to two beautiful girls, Brielle and Eleanna. That was by far the hardest work I have ever experienced, with the biggest reward. Every day as a mommy has it's ups and downs, challenges, struggles and rewards, but if being a mommy is all God asks of me for the rest of my life, I feel it's been a "successful" one.

Some of my proudest moments of "success" has been because of my children's success. Like when they took their first steps. Or when Brielle wrote her name for the first time all by herself. 
Or when a concept I've been trying to instill in them sinks deep into their soul. Or when Brielle successfully memorizes her Bible verse of the week. When I pour my heart and soul into their successes I can't help but calling it one of my own biggest moments of success. So much of who I am is because of my children...

... and my husband.

This February marks 10 years of togetherness with him.
One of our first pictures as a couple.
This July will be 8 years of marriage.
That is a huge success in my book because we barely made it through our first year (read a bit about that here). But thanks be to God and the work He's done in our lives - we are happily married as a result of HIM. Has it been easy? Will it be easy? Is it perfect? No, no, and no. We've learned that as long as our focus is on Christ and His Word - in all of life's "successes" and "failures" - we have a foundation that cannot be broken.

I am assured of one thing for the rest of my life: I can face my future successes and failures confidently because of the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. No matter what happens in this life, I have bigger and better things ahead of me. I truly believe the biggest "success" of my life is the day I meet Jesus face to face and place the crown of "my" successes at HIS feet.