Saturday, April 11, 2015

To Carson, On Your 7th Birthday

Dear Carson,
         It is crazy to think that I have been writing these "letters" to you since you were two. That tiny, spiky haired little guy seems a long way away now. I don't think you are the only one who has changed since then, either!

     It is funny to think that we "get to know" our kids, but that is the truth. The longer I am your mom, the better I know you. And I will admit: that sometimes scares me. Mostly because you are like me in so many ways. You hide that you are sometimes anxious under a tough exterior, but I see it in your eyes-you can be overwhelmed by new situations and you flounder some when a curve ball comes your way. But you are so much braver than I was! You are slowing finding your footing-and realizing that fear doesn't have to be a permanent fixture in your life. You get a little angry and can occasionally shut down when you don't know how to face a problem; I understand. But I always want to remind you-Jesus is with you! Nothing is too hard for Him.

   And this year, you have really seen how prayer works. So many things that we have been pleading with the Lord for have come back a resounding "Yes!". After months of praying that God would "give Baby Gracey a new heart" you got to hold that answer to prayer in your own hands.
Even at your young age you realize that it doesn't get much better than that. You are learning that God not only listens, He cares so much more about you than even your dad and I can-and that's a lot!

    You are learning so many other things, too. You will still tell people you "can't read", but you can, and you do it really well. You are always afraid of making mistakes, but you need to be a little easier on yourself. You can't do it all perfectly the first time! (Another trait you got from me.) You took Spanish this year at co-op and *loved* it. You love science, too, and right now you vacillate between the career choices of scientist and tow-truck driver. (Mostly because you still want to be just like your dad!) You go on and on about the experiments you do in class and you have replicated several of them for me at home. You always want to share your excitement about the new things you are learning. The latest is telling us all the facts you are hearing about Japan and China in your Asian studies class. We will soon be experts!

    You are making friends, too, I think mostly because you have so many amazing leadership qualities. At church, at co-op, or even just in the apartment complex, you always are heading up a group of kids.  You know everyone's name, and their apartment number, or who their parents are. You really pay attention to the details and I think that's why you make such a great friend. 

   You are a pretty great son, too. You really wanted everyone to wear superhero shirts on your birthday-it was hilarious that you planned everyone's outfit. You also remember everyone's likes and dislikes in the family-colors, food, movies, music. You love to listen to the same songs as your dad and me (which can be pretty drastically different) and you always remember the words. I introduced you to "Awesome God" by Rich Mullins this year-and it was so fun to hear you ask me to play it again. That's a song I grew up with!

     I could go on and on, but instead of writing it all down, I am just going to keep trying to tell you and show you and your sister every day how much I love you and how amazing I think you are. Your presence in our family never ceases to be a reminder of how God gives such great gifts, even when we are so undeserving. Here's to having an awesome year being 7. I love you.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Freedom of Easter


     In case you ever wondered, I do not "plan" posts for holidays such as Christmas and Easter. However, it has always been important to me to spend a lot of time thinking about and reflecting on these oh-so-important Christian dates. If I had to classify it, this time spent merely pondering is probably my most important way of preparing my heart, along with praying. I pray that the Lord will open my eyes to something new, a different way of thinking about a particular aspect, or just a completely fresh idea. I detest it when you hear someone complain about hearing the "same old Bible story"-if they don't seem familiar, yet still surprising, honestly: you're doing it wrong.

    So, this year, I have been mulling over "the Easter story". I hesitate to label it as such, because it is really a whole bunch of stories all woven in together. And you can't really start with Palm Sunday and get a full picture. In some ways, you truly do have to go all the way back to the beginning-as in "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". (Genesis 1:1) That may seem a bit extreme, but I am always totally enamored of the fact that every single verse in the Bible points to one thing: Christ, and His redemption of us.

   But I'm blogging here, not writing a book (maybe someday, Lord willing...) and so I will tell you what keeps coming up in my thoughts this year: Easter, even more so than the 4th of July, is about freedom. Glorious, unfettered, life-altering, beautiful, costly freedom.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

    Jesus died so that *I* could be FREE. And I should live my life in such a manner as to honor that sacrifice. If  I believe that the American soldier, hero of our nation and symbol of our country's hard won liberty, deserves to be honored,  how much more so the One who gives me the most real, true, form of freedom that can never be taken away and literally not only affects my life but also my soul after death?

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

     We would have found it strange, after the great men of the Revolutionary War fought all those battles, if they had decided to leave all the laws of our country exactly the same as before and continued to pay tribute and taxes to the their previous master. What would have been the point? Yet, that is exactly what I do when I refuse to exercise the freedom I have in Christ. When I drown in worry, or fear, or doubt, I am again submitting the the slavery that held me captive before He rescued me. I am bowing down the masters of sin and self that held me captive. I am not only refusing to acknowledge His great sacrifice, I am doing the opposite: I am saying it is a cheap, worthless imitation that doesn't hold the power for everyday living.

   That may seem like a harsh thing to say, but it is the truth.

"Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son." 1 John 5:10

   If I do not live my life in such as manner as to prove that I am free-free to trust in the grace of Christ, free to follow His leading in my life, free to use my gifts to glorify Him, free to believe that He will give me the strength that I need, then I am saying that I do not believe that He really has the power to set me free. And that is the testimony that God has given about His Son.

"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." 1 John 5:11   

    Isn't the greatest fear death? Isn't that truly what is the most binding, enslaving, terrorizing thought for all of humanity?  I am afraid that I have to make my life happy, and worry about how to make it perfect and satisfying because deep down I have not dealt with my real fear: that this life is all there is. That death will be the end, or worse yet, that death will be continual, for isn't that what hell is? Death that never ends? But I DON'T HAVE TO FEAR DEATH! See, in the Romans verses above it says, "through Christ Jesus [we] are free from the law...of death".

   Hallelujah! We are free! He has set us free, and it is a magnificent freedom, fully capable of making the most drastic, 180 degree, death-to-life changes. His death gave us amazing freedom. And all I want to do is to live in a way that honors that. To use my freedom to fully glorify and honor Christ with all that I am.

   So this Easter, I will celebrate my freedom in Christ. I will remember His sacrifice that not only can change my life, but has, and will continue to do so as long as I acknowledge that I am completely at liberty to depend on Him to be everything I need and guide me. I can rest secure and having peace, knowing He has overcome the world, and won my complete freedom.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Felt Petal Spring Wreath

    I have always loved seasonal decorating. However, as my life has changed (read: gotten crazier) and my home has gotten smaller (no room for giant Rubbermaids for each holiday) I've adjusted my style. Now, I am just as likely to gather up things from around the house and only add a very limited amount of actual "holiday" things. I also don't really do traditional colors if I can at all help it (read: red and turquoise for Christmas) and that is especially true for Easter. Pale, muted pastels are the opposite of my preferred palette, and they always remind me of baby showers. Not my thing!

     I have realized, though, that drawing in colors I already have around my home gives me many more options for creating cohesive, yet still celebratory, vignettes. So, when I turned my thoughts towards decorating for Easter & spring, I hit upon two things: the adorable tissue paper tassel garland my sweet friend sent me for my birthday, and the color turquoise. Turquoise is present in my home year-round, and I love it. After using it so successfully in my Christmas decor, I do believe it has also earned a spot as part of the two-color theme for spring!

    The other dominant color in the banner is purple, and those two clearly look great together. I decided for this wreath I wanted a sort-of ombre, and while it was a little tricky to find three shades of turquoise/aqua that I was happy with, I believe it all came together in the end. The blues are really subtle, but you can just tell that there are three distinct ones in person.
  So, on to supplies. I used a 12 inch extruded foam wreath, and what amounted to one piece each of seven different colors: 3 purples, 3 blues, and white. I needed less than 1/4 of a piece of extra purple, but that was due to a cutting mistake, so you should be fine with one of each. Not pictured: hot glue. You could use floral pins, too.
 I didn't photograph this part, but I cut a template from cardstock of a "petal" shape. It was 1 and 1/4 inches wide at the bottom and about 2 and 1/2 inches long. I gently rounded the top of the shape. I then cut as many petals out of each piece of felt as I could. It ended up being about 25 pieces per color. I then glued five pieces around the wreath, and then alternated the next row of five to cover the spaces between the first row. I will admit-this wasn't the quickest of tasks in my mind, but I am painfully impatient. I also didn't initially cut out enough pieces, so I had to keep stopping to do that during the gluing process. Learn from my mistake: cut out more pieces than you think you will need!

    I was pleased with how it turned out. I combined it (merely for your viewing pleasure because normally my microwave sits on top of that adorable blue dresser that I stole from my mom). You can see the sweet banner from my friend on the front. Love! I put a jar of Peeps bunnies (literally I shoved them in and stuck the lid on), and some Dove coconut eggs (yay for being the right color!)in my olive dish, on top. I "artfully" arranged some purple paper basket filler on top of a white cakestand, threw some white eggs on it (they were plastic "decorating" eggs-12 for about $2 at Walmart) and because I'm lazy restrained, I left them plain. I actually love how they look on the purple grass. I also framed a simple little print I put together.
Right click to save. Then print from saved location.
    I wanted to share it with you, because isn't this verse just the very essence of Easter? Jesus' death gave us peace, and we can take heart, because through His resurrection He overcame the world. Not a future "will" but a present "have". I used Picasa to print it as a 4x6 because that is the size frame I had available!
  I played around with the way it looked, but just being honest, in the end it looks like this:
 I will spare you a picture of my microwave intervening between the cute dresser and the wreath. But, that's real life, right? The nice part about this wreath is that I won't have any compunction about leaving it up until June, which is great since lately I seem to be accomplishing things at a snail's pace! Yay for decorations that work with my procrastinating tendencies! 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

To My Honey on Our 12th Anniversary

Always a good time, even if its just $3 pita date night.

Dear Joel,
     I probably wouldn't be writing this, I haven't in the past, except for the fact that we find ourselves once again apart on the anniversary of the day that we vowed to stay together forever. Thankfully, our separation is geographic rather than emotional or legal! I do hate to be away from you any time of the year, but it is especially a bummer when we should be celebrating our togetherness. The beauty of being an adult though, is the ability to postpone festivities to a day that is more conducive, rather than being governed by the calendar, but I still hate to let the day pass without notice.

    Twelve may not seem like an "important" number-not like 10 or 25 or 50. But the fact of the matter is, you can't get to the "important" ones without those that are "less" significant. Which in my mind means one thing: they are all pretty darn equal. Twelve is no more or less special than any other number. We have already surpassed many others that we know!

    Every year I can't help but remember our first anniversary. We were so young, and we didn't have any really marvelous ideas for making it special. Neither one of us had great jobs, and we didn't have any time off, so we decided to keep it relatively low-key and celebrate by going to the St. Louis Art Museum (we lived in southern Illinois at the time, so it was close by) and then to the much-anticipated Cheesecake Factory for dinner. That was high living for us at the time in the budget department, wasn't it?

   We arrived to the crazy parking situation in Forest Park. Wasn't it always such a pain to find anything decent? We were excited to find a spot that wasn't two miles away, and we pulled in quickly. We headed up to the museum and poked around, I don't really remember that what we saw, it was what happened after that I won't forget. We came out to our good-but-not-fantastic spot to find a *parking ticket*! We had inadvertently parked too close to a fire hydrant-we weren't in front of it, but we weren't the specified number of feet away, either. I was so mad! You know how much I hate that kind of thing, it always feels personal, even though it isn't.

    A parking ticket isn't the steepest of traffic fines, but that one was higher than the usual because we were "blocking" the hydrant. I think it was $75 and that was not the way we had wanted to spend money on our anniversary! We tried to shake off our frustration-we joked about mailing pennies in for the fine, and decided to not let it ruin our day. We headed to the big fancy mall to do some window shopping (We agreed that our "stupid tax" was enough big spending for the day.) before dinner.

   That was when I got a call that was not what we were expecting. We had anticipated, based on information from our friends, a higher than usual tax return, and in our excitement we counted our chickens before they hatched. We decided to spend the money before the return had even been calculated and buy a brand new desktop computer. We spent close to $1000, on credit, with the plan to pay it off once we had our money from Uncle Sam.

    What does that have to do with our anniversary? Well, the call was about our return. It had been calculated and was far less than we were counting on. It was $100. I just remember standing in the middle of Penney's, wondering how to tell you, knowing that it would pretty much ruin the day. We would both feel guilty for spending money we didn't have, and wonder where we would conjure up the funds to meet our new money bill. Not to mention that we both knew we would pay a hefty fee in interest.

   You handled it the way you handle most every challenge, and I know that it made me fall even more in love with you than I had been before. You just said we needed not to worry about it-we would figure it out. You didn't try to blame me, and you didn't get angry. YOu said we should just try to enjoy our day and leave the problem solving for later.

   But as we headed to dinner we both knew that we would feel terrible about spending $50-$60 more on food after the ticket and the "reduced" refund. So we agreed to eat in the food court-you had Chinese, and I can't remember what I had, but the part that sealed the deal on making the day a sweet memory was that after dinner you walked all the way back to the Cheesecake Factory and brought back a piece of my favorite cheesecake for us to share. You didn't want me to be disappointed anymore, after it seemed that the day was just going to keep downhill. And I cried into that cheesecake, not because the day had been nothing like I had hoped, but because your simple gesture humbled me so intensely.

    And now, the memory of that day has lost all its sting, and it is just sweet. We did survive, and we learned so much, but the most important part of that day was that we had each other. We didn't need fancy dinners, or a huge celebration, or tons of money (good thing!). We could overcome and still find joy in the small things because we were together. And that first anniversary has set the stage for our whole marriage. It's never been about perfection, but we have made so many wonderful memories already because we know that things are just that-things. You really can't buy love, or joy, or contentment.

   I'm so thankful that the Lord gave that day to us. I'm so thankful that I learned early on that Hollywood romances are not what real love looks like. It looks like a little piece of cheesecake after a day of disappointments, from someone who cares so much more about your happiness than his own. We learned to not take for granted that being with each other is what matters.

    And we don't. If I have to say one thing about us, it is this: we truly appreciate each day we have together. Because some anniversaries have been spent at nice restaurants, while others were spent in shoddy motel rooms while waiting for a house after a stressful move when celebration meant a dozen gas station roses in a Big Gulp cup. And some have been spent on a cruise in Mexico seven months after the actual date because thousands of miles and a war separated us. And some have been spent with our kids, and some alone, but they have all been sweet because they were a celebration not of the number of years, but the millions of in-and-out, morning and night beautiful "boringness" of sharing, truly sharing, our lives together. The mundaneness of thousands of breakfasts, of grocery shopping and potty-training. Of car maintenance and church-going. Of every day "I love you"s and goodbye kisses.

    And so, I don't really care that today is our anniversary. I love to remember our wedding, but it isn't the 22nd of February that is important. I want to be with you whether it is the 22nd of February or the 31st of August, or the second Tuesday in May. I want to wake up to you every morning, and go to bed with you every night. I want to do exciting things with you, and boring things. I want to pay bills, and buy shoes, and yell at the kids and make dinner. I miss you because you are my most favorite person in the world, and there isn't a single day that goes by that I don't thank the Lord that He allowed me the joy of being your wife. So, today I miss you, but that is just because I'm not with you, not because of the date on the calendar. And today is special, not because it is our anniversary, but because every day that we are allowed to go on, two as one, is special.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." 1 John 4:7

   I know God's love better because of you. I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm thankful for the twelve years of days I have had with you, and I am praying that He will graciously grant us many, many more. I love you. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Practically Perfect Rice Krispy Treats

     Rice Krispy Treats. A snack so easy that monkeys could make it. However, if you have been faithfully following the recipe from Kellogg's all these years (or Jet-Puffed) you are missing out on a truly delicious dessert! I won't claim to be a genius, I'm sure other people have tweaked their recipes, too. But I have come up with a tried and true method for making better-than-average Rice Krispy Treats that will make you wonder why you didn't make them this way before.

    My changes are small, but they are important. I don't like dry Rice Krispy Treats-so if you like them to taste more like cereal and less like a sweet than you will want to stick to the old way. But if you prefer them to be gooey and buttery and vanilla-y, then you should definitely try my changes. So easy, but so much better!

1/4 c. butter (only use real butter)
6 cups miniature marshmallows (the entire bag)
5 cups Rice Krispy cereal
1/4-1/2 tsp. vanilla, depending on how much you like (the secret ingredient!)

    Melt the butter over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add the marshmallows once the butter is completely melted and stir continuously until melted. As soon as the mixture is completely smooth, remove from heat and carefully add the vanilla (It can react with the hot sugar add slowly!). Stir in completely and then add cereal and mix well. Dump mixture into a well buttered 9x9 (this makes them thicker and more chewy). Wet your hands with water and press firmly into the dish. Allow to set up (usually not more than 30 minutes) before cutting into squares. I usually dump the entire dish over onto a cutting board and use a large serrated knife to get even squares. Makes 16. Try not to eat them all! If you don't, cover tightly with plastic wrap to store.

   I know it doesn't seem like any huge differences, but I have found these little changes make people rave about these Rice Krispy Treats. The whole thing is kind of hilarious, because in my family I was known for years as "the girl who burned the Rice Krispy treats". How, you ask? Because if you burn the butter and then dump everything in anyway, the whole thing turns out to be a gross mess. I've come a long way since then!

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"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less


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