Saturday, December 31, 2016

So Long, 2016

    I would never be one to christen any year "the hardest year of my life". See, the thing is, my life isn't over, and depending on the Lord's will, very possibly won't be for a long time. So I suppose I could say that a year has been the hardest up to this point, or very painful, or exceptionally difficult. However, I still try to refrain from using those terms. Because my thoughts are this: basically, life is just hard.

    As a believer I have Christ, but the world is still sick and sinful, and that is where I am stuck for the time being. This old fallen world will always be full of death and disease, and pain and trials. This year, well it wasn't really any different. Crazy stuff happened, not just to me personally but in the world as a whole. The only thing really going for 2017 at this point is that there is no way that it can be identical to any year we have had before.

    However, as tempting as it is to be defeated by the fact that the chances are 100% that the world is going to continue to need Jesus and act out of desperation and insanity because of that, I as a believer get to have hope. The quote above, from Relient K, has been going through my head for a few days now. It is from their song, "Let It All Out" and since I'm not the writer, I can't really say if he is talking to God or not. However, I keep thinking that in my life, that is what I am saying to God. I want to approach 2017 with a fresh faith, a new hope, to borrow a Star Wars phrase. I can't imagine what 2017 would look like if I went forward as if I couldn't fail, as if all that I do is on Christ's behalf.

    I am tired. I won't blame that on 2016. It is an inanimate object, a period of time that had no control over its contents. I am tired because my faith is weak, because I have allowed circumstances and occurrences to toss me about.

    "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:31-32

  2017 isn't autonomous. But it is fully in God's control. This year has been long, it has been hard. It is no different from any other year this world has ever existed through. January 1, 2017 isn't magical. It won't change anything. But faith in God can. I can choose to make New Year's Day a turning point, a place to mark where I made changes and sharpened my determination and focus to trust Christ for success on His behalf, to have faith that He can work His will through me. I am looking forward to that. I want to trust as if I have never known defeat...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 Reading Challenge for Kids

Last year I created a reading challenge for kids. It was so successful I decided to make another this year. (It was even featured over at Money Saving Mom!) I created a printable to make it easy to keep track of your child's progress. There were a few questions last time around, so I thought I would try to cover some of the answers here. Let me know if you have anything else!

Q. Should I use specific books?
A. Nope! I tried to choose reasonably broad categories, and you can adapt them as you see fit for your family. Nobody will fine you if you don't use it the same way as somebody else. ;) I did *not* create this with certain titles in mind. I don't have a list, and sometimes we picked books based on the categories and sometimes we read books and then found categories they fit into.

Q. Where can I find books for the challenge?
A. Anywhere you want! Your own shelves, the library, the thrift store, the neighbor, Amazon... Just don't steal them!

Q. How long should the challenge take?
A. As long as you want. If your child reads one book per category, there is a total of 20. You can spread it out over a year, just work until they finish the list, or if your child is a fast reader, set a shorter amount of time! Make it challenging, but not overwhelming.

Q. Can I read to my child?
A. Sure! If you  aren't catching on already, I really just wanted this challenge to be a jumping-off point, a catalyst to encourage kids to read a greater variety of books. If your child isn't a strong reader, or prefers to be read to, or you just want to share books together, feel free to read to them. Or mix it up and read some aloud, and have them read others independently.

Q. Should I offer rewards? If so, what kind?
A. You can consider that reading is its own reward, or you can use some "motivational tools". You can offer a small monetary amount for each title, you can offer candy or some other small treat,or even screen time! Or you could offer a new book at the end, or movie tickets, or a specified amount of money. Pick something that motivates your child! Please just don't make it drudgery or your child will curse me. 

Q. What is the best age to use this?
A. For independent work, I suggest 8 to 12. For strong readers, you can definitely go younger. If you plan to work with your child you could probably even do 4 or 5, although I doubt they will appreciate the concept of a list. If you use it with a very young child just use it to choose titles yourself.

   This is all about what works best for you. If it encourages your family to enjoy exploring books, or helps your child to read a few extra words this coming year, it was all worth it. If you don't like this list, then feel free to use last year's if you haven't already!

You will have the most success if you print the challenge from this link. Have fun and happy reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Means There Are No Bit Parts

        I can't believe that it is Christmas Eve and this is the first time the whole month I have taken the time to blog. I have chased dozens of ideas around in my head, I created a printable and even developed a new recipe, but I never would commit anything to print, so to speak. I have struggled my whole life with feeling inadequate and unimportant, and this holiday season it has really been getting to me. My every step, some days, feels dogged by chants of "not enough" and "no one cares". This isn't a pity party, it is just gut-level honesty, which is pretty much all I have ever put out here, so nothing new.

    I won't blame anything, it isn't the fault of the media, or my friends, or my lack of therapy. I have learned that I need to rely on the Lord to satisfy my needs, as nothing else will do. And that is probably why I have been so heavily weighed down by my insufficiency, because I know what to do but I'm not doing it.

    Sometimes I am just worried that I am not making a difference, that nothing I do really counts. Everyone else seems to have a starring role, and I feel stuck behind the scenes, or worse, standing in line hoping for a ticket. Everyone else has their name up in lights, and I can't seem to catch a break.

    And I wondered if sometimes Joseph felt that way. In "The Christmas Story" he has a strange part, if you really consider it. He barely merits a few lines in Luke, most of his story is found in Matthew. He is called a "righteous man" and is recommended by his family line. He is the descendant of David that gave Jesus his heritage. But really, after he appears in the story of twelve year-old Jesus teaching in the temple, we don't hear much about him. He fades from Scripture and often our memories.

    I recently bought a nativity to share with my preschool class. It was what seems to be the normal set-up, the holy family, the Magi, a little stable. I asked one of the children to name the pieces with me and when they got to the man with the staff they said, "shepherd"! No, it was poor Joseph, who had less significance in their mind than the lowly sheep herders. We know his name, but what do we really *know* about him? Not too much it seems, other than his background and his few actions that show him to be a protective, caring man of God.  But still, sometimes, he seems a bit part, his name appearing far down on the list of characters in the show. Did his name even make it on the marquee at all?

    But you and I know better. Even if my preschool student didn't recognize Joseph's importance, we can. We know his obedience saved Mary and Jesus, that he had faith to follow through even when the way was unclear. We know he was vital to the story, just as God had planned it.

    And when I really pay attention, I know that is true for me, too. Because Christmas means there are no bit parts. Jesus came so that EVERY life can have meaning and value. Every one gets to be essential to the story line that points to the glory of God with every page. He is the star, but we all get to have killer supporting roles, making sure that the message gets across.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:19b-20 HCSB
   Because He lives in me, all that I say and do has value. Just like Joseph, I have a part to play. And even if it seems small at times, in reality it will last for eternity if I am living by faith. I may not have more than a few lines to read, but Christ makes them essential if He is living in me.

"And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17 HCSB
    His birth and His death make every life important. Christmas means there are no bit parts. Thank You, Father, for sending Your Son.Help me to remember that You are the reason for *every* season, and You alone can make my life worthwhile.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Jocelyn, On Your 11th Birthday

Dear Jocelyn,
                   I am a little sad that this is the first of these letters that I have written late. Since your birthday was on Thanksgiving this year it was almost impossible for me to write your letter, and I didn't want to do it before your birthday. Hopefully, if you ever read all of these, you won't mind that I wasn't on time.

    Wow. This has been one crazy year. I always think that if something has been hard on me as a comprehending, mature "grown-up" it must be even harder for you, as a kid. 2016 started off with the death of one of our favorite people, Grams. That was the first really important person you have ever lost and it has been a doozy. Watching you deal with your grief has changed me as a mom. Encouraging you to show your feelings, and seeing how you have openly been so very sad, has been hard. But watching you fiercely love Gramps, and never allowing it to make you bitter has helped me to see that it isn't impossible to grieve as one who has hope.

   Because you are filled with hope. Each passing day I see your love for Christ deepen, and you search to become more like Him. It is so crazy to say this about your own child, but you truly do challenge me in my walk. Honestly? I kind of want to be like you when I grow up. You have a joy for the Lord and a passion to share Him fearlessly. Your gift of evangelism is certainly something you have in common with Grams. I can see the beginnings of the transition to adulthood, and it is painful for both of us sometimes. You have shed more tears in the past year for various reasons than you have in rest of your life. But even in the struggle to deal with your changing feelings and starting to become more aware of the complexity of life, you've continued to turn to the Lord and stayed strong in your desire to tell everyone you come in contact with about Him.

   I pray that sticks with you. We are coming to the end of the innocence of the "little girl" years. It isn't easy for me, but I'd much rather have you grow up than face the alternative! Watching you mature makes me bittersweetly nostalgic. I am excited to see where you will go, but at the same time I just want time to slow down a little! I feel this way much more frequently than I did when you were an adorable toddler, even.

   I'm just praying you hold on to the sweetness of spirit and joy for living that makes you *you*. You are incredibly kind and generous, creative and friendly. You've spent this year learning so many new things. You've stayed with hard things, like dance, determinedly practicing, not bent on being the star, but just on improving. You committed to working diligently in school, not complaining and getting your work done. You've taken a real interest in history, and blown me away by using the summer months to work hard in math so that you are now working a grade ahead. I thought sixth grade would be difficult, but you have surprised me!

    You've really made a name for yourself with your helpful willingness. I can count on you to do the work of an adult, practically, when we are volunteering at church! Watching you carefully pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes blessed me so much. You have a real heart for ministry. You always say you want to grow up to direct VBS and it probably won't be long before you are more qualified than I. I look forward to working for you! People genuinely love to have you around-the only credit I can take for that is all the prayers I have prayed for you. The rest is all the Lord.

    He knew we would need our ray of sunshine. In our little family you definitely can claim that! I love you so much it hurts sometimes, and I am praying constantly that the Lord shows me how to be the mom you need and deserve. Every time I write one of these letters I cry, not for the time that has passed, but for how blessed I am to get to call you my daughter. For how proud I am of you, for how intensely I love you, and how sweet it is to know you return those feelings. You are amazing, beautiful inside and out, and I love you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

To the Veteran I Love Most, On Veteran's Day


     You weren't the typical fresh-faced enlistee when you joined the Army smack-dab in the middle of the Iraq War. We knew if you joined the military it wouldn't be a question of  "if" you were sent to fight, but rather "when". We had only been married for barely a year, but you were still older than many of your fellow recruits. You started fighting before you were even in the military, trying to secure a spot, working hard to meet the requirements that seemed always just out of reach-not quite the right weight, not quite fast enough. But you were persistent, and finally, you were in.

   We pored over the brochure that listed all of the Military Occupational Specialties in the days before you went to make your choice in St. Louis. We narrowed our choices down to twelve, each specified by it's own unique number and letter code. You would talk to the recruiter there, and decide which one would be the best fit.

    I remember standing in my teller cage at the bank when the call came in: you told me you had decided on 19D. I knew that wasn't one of the twelve. You told me it was "Cavalry Scout". I was dumbfounded-neither one of us knew what that really meant, but you did know that you were to report to BASIC training at the end of September. That was not as far away as I wanted it to be.

    We packed. I moved. You left. BASIC tried you like I had never seen anything try you before. You have only ever cried twice in all the time that I have known you, and home for Christmas that year you admitted  with tears your fears that you would be "recycled" forced to endure training over again for not succeeding, or worse yet, you would be kicked out entirely.

  But you made it. You graduated in February-top in your class for marksmanship. I was so proud. We had breathlessly awaited your assignment and when we were told it was Ft. Hood, TX, we weren't really sure how to feel about that. But precious little in the military is about feelings, so we hauled everything down from Illinois and you started working and I started waiting.

   If there is anything that describes a military wife it is "waiting". Waiting for her husband to come home for dinner, waiting for the house on post, waiting for the next assignment, waiting for those precious phone calls during deployment, waiting for homecoming. I saw precious little of you, and when you were told soon after you reported that you would be deploying in the fall. Right after we also found that would be when Josie would be coming too-the question was which would arrive first?

   If I thought I had endured hard, I wasn't prepared to be the wife of a Cav Scout at the height of the war. Being pregnant with a husband who was rarely home (you often left for work at 4:15 am and would not arrive home until 9 pm or later and that was if you weren't gone overnight training) is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was harder on you.

   But not as hard as leaving your weepy wife and three day-old baby. I had no idea when I would talk to you next. The reality that I might not ever talk to you again clung to me like lead blanket. It was a very, very real possibility. You finally called after three weeks-and the five minutes we spoke was a gift straight from heaven.

   That year. I look back now and see all the places the Lord carried us. The times you hung up in the middle of 2 am phone calls and I could *hear* things going off in the background. The weeks and weeks we couldn't speak because one of your fellow soldiers had paid the ultimate sacrifice and communications were cut off until the family was notified. The precious letters that you painstakingly wrote. The carefully planned care packages, packed with all the skill of a professional Tetris player. That time you told me about driving your Humvee, and feeling sloshing around your boots, and yelling for everyone to get out, and the fire-the sloshing was fuel, and you had been driving a death trap unknowingly. And realizing that I had been awakened from a sound sleep-praying for you at the exact moment, and despite that the movie-worthy explosion and your poor gas-soaked feet, you all made it out okay, because God is gracious.

    And all the things you didn't tell me. Not about that deployment-the Lord returned you to me in one piece almost exactly a year later. Or your next deployment not quite three years later (we were blessed, many weren't home for that long) this time leaving behind a two year-old and a six month-old, and of course, me. Many things you didn't tell me for many years.

   And now, after seven years of service, like the Biblical Jacob, and years of being "out" I realize that you will never be a civilian again. You will always be a "vet". You have your favorite war stories, the ones that make everyone laugh, or keep them on the edge of their seats. We tell tales of post living, and long nights, miserable higher-ups and the ones who made your job a tiny bit more bearable. But I will never be able to really know what it was like for you. I will never know the parts of your heart that are forever stained by the awful realities of war, the ache you carry for those you served with who came home permanently wounded (both inside and out) or in a flag-draped box.

     You are now that crusty old vet. And I could not be prouder. God did not call you to life-long military service, but the time that you served was definitely part of His plan for us. I had spent my childhood growing up with a fierce pride for America's military and it was the pinnacle to be married to someone in service. The Army took much from us-memories, peace, security, your health, but it gave us much, too. You will never be who you were before you served, but I know you don't regret that.  You were proud to meet your country's call in a time of need. You were proud to wear the uniform that proclaimed that commitment. And now you are proud of the memories you have of your bravery and sacrifice.

    You are a veteran. In the truest sense of the word, and I now know what Veteran's Day means. It means that for one day, we honor you for being willing to sacrifice limb, love and life to keep those you hold dearest and those you have never met, free. We can never truly repay you for that sacrifice, but I hope you know, my dear sweet husband, that I, at least, am thankful for it every single day.

P.S. The beautiful photo above was taken by a observer at a Veteran's Day parade in Colorado Springs. The photographer tracked me down afterwards and offered to send the photo to me, as she thought I would enjoy it. She did, but I never did really thank her appropriately. It is my favorite photo ever of Joel and Josie, and if I ever found that person again, I would say thank you for the precious gift she gave me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Election Day Promises

  This election has been unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. The inundation of political posts and speeches and posters has been mind-boggling. I have seen less vitriol come from opposing sides in civil wars, fewer insults from belligerent sports team fans. I have heard many exhorting voting in the name of fear, hatred and plain spite.

    I have prayed over this upcoming election like I have prayed over precious few things in my life. I have searched the Scriptures for answers, and sought wise counsel. I cannot tell you who to vote for- only the Holy Spirit should have that job in the life of believer. However, I can tell you a few things about this election. A few things I wish I had seen more of, and a whole lot less of the above. No matter who "wins", and I think most of us feel like we will be losing regardless of the verdict, I can tell you, if you are a believer that:

1. We not only do not have to fear, we SHOULD NOT fear.
" So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 NIV
    We are directly commanded over and over in Scripture to have NO FEAR! Why is this election striking so many as terrifying when we are told by the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth to have no fear? I firmly believe that as Bible-believing Christians we *should* vote, and do so as the Holy Spirit prompts after prayer and contemplation. However, this horrid fear-mongering doesn't glorify anyone but the sinful self and the devil. This world is promised to end, we cannot avoid that no matter how we try. Our job is to trust the Lord, not fear and share the Gospel. We should be afraid to place our trust in men (or women)-no matter how godly they may seem, whether their values and morals align with ours or not. We must place our trust in the Lord and He has commanded us to not fear.

2. God is still in control.
"Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him." Psalm 115:3 NIV
    I have what may come as a startling thought to some of you: God may have plans for our nation that differ from your's. I feel that we are desperately in need of some discipline, much grace has already been extended. Trust that no matter who is declared the next_______ (fill in government official) that God ultimately will be the One that allows that to take place. He is fully aware of what is taking place, He is hearing our prayers, and hopefully seeing our actions done in faith. He will do, or allow to happen, whatever will bring the most hearts to Him.

3. He can work any outcome out for the good of those who trust in Him.

  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 NIV 

  All of America is not saved. But if you are, you can believe that He will work this for your good. We should be much more concerned for those who can't claim this promise than worried over the next president. The Lord invites us to participate in His will, and we can do that by praying for wisdom for all voters, carefully selecting our candidates and  participating in thoughtful, constructive discussions about the state of our country. Leave the rest to a God who truly has our best interests at heart. He hasn't changed since He spoke Jeremiah 29:11.

4. Our mission remains unchanged. 

"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
   We cannot neglect that the Great Commission is not "vote for X" but to go into all the world to share the salvation available to all through Christ. We do not know how the Lord will work, but He promises He *will*. He has ALL the authority! And that is all we need to know. Perhaps the candidate we abhor will be elected. But who are we to doubt that may be because it will provide us with even more opportunities to share true hope with a hurting world? Few whose lives are perfect feel a need for a Savior. But everything seemingly going wrong prompts many to look for answers. We've got 'em, we just need to share them.

  Please, hear me. We cannot afford to "stick our heads in the sand" but often we can be accused of forgetting Who is really in charge. And it has nothing to do with what is decided at the polls. This is an opportunity to let our light shine, to really be a voice for true change in a nation that appears to be going mad-and that doesn't stop after we cast our ballot. He has always been here, and He will still be God on November 9th. Let's make sure the whole world knows that. I can promise you-nothing will glorify Him more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Talk

Sit with me, and we will talk light into a dark night...

      I had a talk with my eight-year old this week. It wasn't something I had ever really thought about having a conversation about. With him. At eight. It wasn't a conversation I really wanted to be having with anyone, but when he sees you crying in the middle of Target, he's a pretty perceptive little guy and I was faced with the stark realization that there never would really be a "good" time to have this kind of chat. But not having it all could be much worse.

   You see, when you are a parent, you prepare yourself for questions about "the birds and the bees" and uncomfortable topics like gender, and homosexuality, and even for the weird ones like, "why is the sky blue?". And maybe you are a better parent, so you have already talked to your children about this, but I'll be honest, it isn't something I wanted to talk to my kids about, because it is just so darn complicated, and awkward, and just awful.

   But that was what made me realize that I actually *had* to talk about it. I won't beat around the bush any more. What I had to talk to my precious little boy about was suicide. We have a person we love dearly, and that person faced this situation down this week. And it broke my heart, but strengthened my resolve: this is serious and we have to talk about it. Collective "we" and personal.

   That person's story isn't mine to share, so I won't. But this is something that is on-going, and the people involved have done everything "right". And we are walking a path that is unknown to us, but praise Jesus, nothing has been done yet that can't be undone. But the shame of the whole matter is that there is just so much shame in the whole matter. Why don't we talk about suicide? Are we afraid that if we speak it we will give it power? That is a lie, straight from the pit. Talking about it *robs* suicide of it's power, because the fact of that matter is, shame is the leading cause of taking one's own life, in my opinion.

   The shame and guilt involved in crying out for help is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. It is directly un-Biblical and we need to stop with the whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and "real men (or women) don't..." Sometimes, you not only don't have bootstraps, you don't even have boots! That is why the Lord gave us one another. Because my job is to hear you when you cry, and love you. Paul says it better (Doesn't he always?)

"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1

 Is there any more saddening sin than that of denying one's worth in Christ? Is there anything more tragic than someone who is blinded to the value of life-their own included? But where does it say, "Make that the un-talked about forbidden sin." No where! It says we are to restore them *gently*. With compassion. Full of love. Like Jesus.

   You can go no further? I will carry you. Carry you straight to the throne. Because there is the only One who can make your life worth living. And it is so worth living. YOU ARE LOVED. And I shouldn't wait until you are hysterically crying out to say so. Maybe if you knew how much I loved you, you would feel safe to tell me how you really feel.

  And that is what I told my sweet son. I said, "If you ever feel like you don't want to be here anymore, like you would be better off if you were dead, I want you to know that I will hear that. That I won't be mad, or punish you. That I will love you, and we will get help."

   And I realized something. Talking about suicide has to start long before someone is depressed, and desperate. It has to start with really truly knowing and loving one another. I have been dealing with some things in my own life lately, and I owe so much to those who have come alongside me, got down in my mud, and said, "We won't leave you here. We're in this for the long haul." And that is what we need to be. These people know me, they saw that something was wrong, and they are lovingly working with me to help me be restored.

   Help isn't a few well-placed cliches. It is months and years of love, of grace-giving, of forgiveness. Of developing a thick skin to insults but a tender heart of compassion, and ears sensitive to hear what isn't being said, of eyes intuitive enough to see beneath the surface. Of becoming more like Jesus. And knowing that medicines, and therapists and prayer are all different components of what is probably a complicated solution. This didn't happen overnight, and it won't be healed that way.

   But it starts by saying, "I hear you. I see you. I won't condemn you for your burden. That if you trust me enough to tell me that you want to take your own life, or cease existing anymore, that I won't shame you. I will love you, and I will carry that burden with you, for as long as it takes."

   Sometimes that means supporting the person directly, both spiritually and physically (Hello-therapy and medication aren't free!). That means keeping your phone on, and your radar up. Sometimes it means supporting the family, because they are suffering on this journey. Sometimes it means sharing your own story. We can be a light in the darkness that is suicide. We just have to speak up.

So, I started here...


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back to School Scripture Printables

    So, a few days ago on Facebook (You don't follow Clare's Contemplations on Facebook? Go do that now and come back! ) I promised some "Back to School" printable verses. Well, I am happy to say, you need wait no longer! I am really happy with the way these turned out. The 2 Timothy verse is *very* "school", so I decided that I would make the James verse a little more seasonally neutral.

    I really wanted to celebrate the return to school aspect of September, so I pulled together a bunch of colorful school supplies I had around the house and paired them with colorful candy I found at Walmart. (It's actually "birthday" candy, you can find it in the card and gift wrap section, but the primary colors made it perfect for my theme!). I am really fond of using things I have around the house to put together different decor vignettes. It makes everything feel fresh, but doesn't cost much. Using candy is also fun, and because it's consumable I don't have to store it from year-to-year. An added bonus is that my husband loves having it around!
The James verse I put together with my globe and teacher's bell. I keep both these things displayed in my living room year-round, but putting them together with a stack of colorful classic books just makes it read "educational"! 

I also have a fun wreath that I put together, but I will save that for a different post. Are you decorating for back to school? Or do you prefer just going with autumn decor? Either way, let me know if you find a place for these printables! You should be able to just right-click on the images to save to your computer (I suggest saving to "Pictures") and then print from your saved location. You should be able to adjust the sizes of the printables to your preferred size. However, be aware that they may not print exactly to size. The 2 Timothy verse printed perfectly at an 8x10 size, I just had to cut off the excess paper. The James verse I printed at a 4x6 size which left the margins at the top and the bottom, but I liked how it looked so I left it that way. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What's Cooking: Zucchini Bread and Applesauce

   If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times: I love simple and quick recipes. Those are my top priorities when choosing things to cook (unless it happens to be a showstopping dessert, and then I relax my standards). It isn't because I can't cook, it just isn't my most favorite activity. There's the whole time-and-effort versus outcome deal. Like you spend forever chopping, stirring, flipping, mashing, etc. *and* you have to clean up the kitchen and it's gobbled up in five minutes, often with nary a thank-you!

   However, I have become distinctly more conscious about food waste, the more I read about it. And, I do appreciate a nice baked good. So, if the mood strikes me or if I have something that needs to be used up, I am more willing to stretch those boundaries. This week I happened to have a pile of soon-to-rotting apples, well past the decent to eat raw stage, and a large zucchini a sweet friend had gifted me with. So, to the Pinterest!

    I thought I would share these recipes with you because I love to hear how something works out for someone else, and I like to know if they made any changes. I won't publish the full recipes, I don't want to deny the original recipe creators their due. But if you get a chance to try these, I highly recommend them! Just click on the recipe titles to go to the originals.

 Homemade Applesauce
This is SO EASY. Truly the most challenging part? Peeling the apples. I do it the old-fashioned way, by hand with my little metal peeler. I don't mind too much, it's rather soothing and mindless. I use Jazz apples from Trader Joe's and as they tend to be pretty sweet to begin with, I don't add as much sugar as the recipe calls for, I also use a ratio of roughly two of these to one regular apple, as they are fairly small. I've made this twice and it has been delicious both times-my kids truly do prefer it to store bought. Besides decreasing the sugar (I probably use between 1/2 and 3/4 the amount it called for, but I am planning on trying to use less than 1/8 of a cup the next time I make it). I also add 1/2 tsp. of vanilla with everything before I boil it, because I pretty much believe that anything sweet is better with vanilla. I don't own an immersion blender but it has worked perfectly fine to dump it all into my Ninja blender jar and puree it that way. I made a recipe and a half this last time (that's how many apples I had) and so we didn't eat it all at once. It seems to save perfectly fine in the fridge, at least for a few days. We haven't had it last any longer than that, and I have no urges to try canning, so I can't say anything about that. I am betting it would freeze just fine, though. Seriously. so good.

Greek Yogurt Zucchini Bread
    I appreciate a good "healthy" recipe-especially when it doesn't taste like one. This is one of those recipes. Even my husband, who is quite wary of any "healthy" baked good, ate this. My kids actually thought it was cake. I will say, mine clearly doesn't look like her's, but I did follow the directions pretty closely, so I am guessing it was either my oven temp (it's finicky), my zucchini was too wet (I did blot it, but maybe not enough?) or that my ingredients weren't all room-temp. Whatever the case, it was still delicious. I am definitely going to try it as muffins, though, since it won't take as long to cook that way. My notes: I used honey instead of agave (I guess they are pretty much interchangeable and I don't keep agave on hand) and I used coconut oil. I had never baked with coconut oil before, so I was impressed that it was so easy. I chose to add chocolate chips (of course!) and didn't put nuts in it. She doesn't say how she grated her zucchini, I chose to finely grate mine, just so it would be less noticeable. I also used sweetened vanilla Greek yogurt, so that upped the sugar quotient on mine, but it was worth it. I didn't feel bad about it, since it doesn't have any other white sugar in it. This one is definitely a keeper, my kids are already asking me to make it again. I served it for dinner with quiche and it was a great side, and then we had it for breakfast this morning. Definite win over donuts in my book!

So there you have it! Let me know if you try these, and what you think. Have you tested any recipes lately? Were they keepers?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Can't Make This Up

Me. Without makeup. Shocking!

     So, I noticed a recent trend on Facebook: makeup. Or rather, the lack thereof. In the past few months I noticed a push by a direct marketing company to "go naked", that is, without makeup, not without clothes, thank goodness! Another article pointed out that the singer Alicia Keys has decided to forgo makeup entirely, in part to simplify her life, and in part to point out that women shouldn't have to wear "masks" to be accepted. Also trending, the hashtag #nomakeup.

    Guys, I did not realize this was a thing! I am in my mid-thirties now, and I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this in light of the apparent "boldness" involved in going sans face-paint, but I am not a big makeup fan. I didn't wear anything but mascara and lipgloss (seriously, I slapped on some LipSmackers, I cannot make this stuff up) in my own *wedding*! And it is not because I am a hippie, or am firmly against women getting glammed up. It really stems from the fact that I am probably too lazy...

   I am amused by this current trend because it just reiterates to me that we can make a fight out of whatever we want. I don't know that "society" forces women to wear makeup. Or be skinny. Or only eat organic food. Or wear a certain brand. Or be ______. You fill in the blank. I think we sometimes put that pressure on ourselves.

   Maybe I just hang out with really polite people (I doubt it. Have you met my family? Just kidding. Sort of.). Maybe everyone is afraid of me. But seriously, I wander around completely bare-faced all the time. I do usually put on some mascara and bronzer for church on Sundays, and the older I get (and the more transparent my eyelashes!) the more I will put it on for other occasions. Co-op mornings, when I have to get up too early, for one. ;) But I don't wear foundation, and I absolutely cannot figure out eyeshadow to save my life. I literally only learned how to use an eyelash curler last year. And no one has said anything. No one has pointed and laughed. No one has left unkind comments on Facebook or Instagram.

   Because I kind of think it isn't a thing, or maybe rather that it shouldn't be. I think generally people don't really care. I am not against makeup. I know plenty of people skilled in that art, but it isn't my thing. I prefer flashy jewelry and learning new hairstyles. I know lots of people who those things don't interest them at all. I think it kind of falls under that whole category of being uniquely made. Maybe that's just me?

   But seriously, the next time you hear about this kind of  "controversy" consider whether it is a real concern or merely a push by the media (or even your well-meaning friends) to create a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe you have had people insinuate unkind things about your lack of concealer, but I think it is pretty darn easy to squash that kind of thing with a simple, "Thanks, but it doesn't bother me." Perhaps people go the other way and imply you wear too much-the same answer will suffice. I frequently have to remind myself not to let these types of things get under my skin.

   I am guessing Titus faced some similar problems. Paul wrote to him about the qualifications for elders, but I don't think it is wrong for any of us to aspire to this standard:

"Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." Titus 1:8-9

    It leaves lots of room for interpretation in some regards, and very little in others. It doesn't say that we should wear mascara and never eyeliner. But it does say we should be self-controlled and lovers of what is good. It does say we should know sound doctrine, so that we can both follow it and defend it. And the following verses say this:

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good." Titus 1:15-16

 This is some pretty stern language directed at the trouble-makers who were constantly harping on circumcision. Something physical. Something external. Something that doesn't make or break spiritual standing. Sound familiar? The fact of the matter is that there will always be those seeking to cause dissension and we can't just blame it on the media. We do it, too. We could stand to closely question more things and try harder to decide if they are really the hill we want to die on. Losing friends over whether or not one wears makeup seems like a pretty easy decision in my mind. It is easy to get caught up in a seeming "controversy" (Anyone remember the supposed "Red Cup" debacle last year? Seriously, I think sometimes people need hobbies...) and to perpetuate  supposed facts and opinions, but I think there are some more words from Paul that we could all stand to remember:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Philippians 4:8

   If we are thinking about those things, we are probably speaking about those things. And as it is sound doctrine, we can encourage others with it. And defend ourselves. So the next time that someone points at a "problem" and you have to pause to ask yourself if it is really a problem, chances are good that it is just a difference of preference. And that is not really something worth getting worked up over. Or made-up for. Whatever. 

So, how about you? Have you seen anything lately that makes you wonder if it is really a problem or just someone looking to ruffle feathers?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Coffee and Chocolate Thank-You

                  Sometimes I want to put together a super-cute. pun-tastic, multi-part thank-you (These S'Mores Jars, for example.). And other times, especially when I need quite a few, I want something that comes together in about five minutes. These. These are that thing. So.Easy.

      I put these together for the kids' VBS teachers this week. I have never sent my kids to another VBS in town that I haven't volunteered at, but Jocelyn had seen an advertisement, and I had a meeting with the director to pick her brain (I'm directing VBS at our church) and I decided that I felt comfortable sending them there. Who knew having every morning from 9am-noon to myself would be so fun? Probably moms who send their kids to public school...I digress. Anyway, I know how much work it is to volunteer for VBS, so I wanted to show my gratitude with a small token.

   The basis behind these is simple: *most* people appreciate candy and coffee, even if only on rare occasion. And when you are exhausted from a week of wrangling other peoples' kids, and months of planning beforehand, there are few things you want more than coffee, some chocolate and a nap! Thus, combined with a great sale on Frappuccinos at Costco, this idea was born!

   No pun this time, (I know, crazy, right?!) but I thought it was cute nevertheless. The label reads:
"After this week you deserve coffee, chocolate and a nap. We can provide two out of three. Thank you for serving the Lord wholeheartedly. Ephesians 6:7" 
   The great part is that these labels are not specialized to VBS volunteers. You could give them to your child's teacher after the first week of school, or to their camp counselors. Or to their coach or music teacher after a week prepping for competition or recitals. Or to any volunteer for a high-prep event that requires a week's worth of work!

   The components require precious little thought. If you have a gaggle of people that need thank-yous like I did, buy the 36 variety Mars chocolate pack from Costco and the 15 bottle Frappuccino pack of coffees. Then you just need some cardstock to print the labels, and some cute ribbon. It was the happiest of coincidences that I had this arrow ribbon from Hobby Lobby on hand. It is an *exact* match to the labels! I didn't plan it that way, I promise, but I was *super* happy with how it turned out!

   The labels require a 2 and 1/2 inch circle punch. I then just used a standard hole punch to thread the ribbon through. I pulled both sides of the ribbon through at the same time, and then the label is actually held on by the fact that it can't slip off over the knot, rather than actually being tied-on, but that is just a personal aesthetic preference.

Here is the printable. Can I just tell you how excited I was that I was able to save it and post it here? Soooo excited!

Coffee and Candy Thank-You Label

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Free 4th of July Printable Verse

    I wanted to share the printable that I made for Independence Day this year. If you have ever seen any of my holiday decorations, you know that I usually avoid "traditional" color schemes. However, I have to say, if you don't use red, white and blue for your 4th decorations, it is well...just plain unpatriotic! However, I did love that Target had a line of little paper goods in their Dollar Spot that included pink and used some less-traditional blues. So I used those to set the tone for my July decor this year!
 I LOVE decorating with coordinating candy, and I used tons this year-there is so much fun Americana colored candy available. I bought Kit-Kats, Reese's Cups, Twizzlers and Toostie Rolls. I was excited with the red, white and turquoise gummy bears I found at WinCo.

    Jocelyn put together this adorable anchor thread art from a kit from Target. I mixed it with some Kraft Star marshmallows, and some Kisses. I love putting seasonally appropriate scripture on the little metal "chalkboard" that my oldest sister sent me. I also happened to have that anchor ribbon already on hand, from Hobby Lobby, and it went great with the whole "nautical" theme.
Red is just the best color for decorating! It works for so many holidays. A friend made me this wreath years ago, and I frequently add little accessories to make it seasonally appropriate. The chipboard anchor is actually a gift tag from the Target collection. That is where the garland is from, too.

I robbed the tags for parts to make the anchor garland, and this is more of the pennants from the same kit-it was quite a few for just $1!

You can always right click on the photo at the top of this post to save and print, but I am also including a shareable link if you find it easier to print from Google Docs. Let me know if it doesn't work!

Looking for more fun 4th of July ideas? I have a whole Pinterest board full of them! Find them here:
Feelin' Independent Pinterest Board.

Galatians Fourth of July Printable

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Do What You Can...

...with what you have. Such an easy thing to say. Such a difficult thing to do. A companion saying to, "Give God thanks with what is in your hands." We live in a culture that often seems to demand perfection, and I am guilty of buying into the lie that things not done perfectly should not be done at all. I would like to challenge that notion. What if perfection didn't look like what we have been told? What if perfection was really about something else?

    This has all been stirring around in my mind for quite a while now-I'm talking well over a year. It goes hand-in-hand with my struggle to define what failure really means. If you consider it with me, perfection is pretty much the opposite of failure to most of us, right? If you have done something perfectly, you get your desired results. That may be praise, power, fame, satisfaction, love... whatever it is you seek. Failure, on the other hand, means you do not get what you want. You may get a participant's ribbon, but you didn't win. You did not achieve your goals, you did not satisfy your desires. You failed.

   Harsh words, am I right? Because I won't lie-my goal is usually to win. And if there isn't tape to tear through at the end of the course then I search for someone, anyone, to define that end point for me. That may be friends and family, Facebook, magazines, radio, name it and at one time or the other I have tried to satisfy "their" expectations, whether real or imagined, and "win". It's a tough way to live. It is exhausting to try to be perfect all the time. And no one always wins. We all have moments of failure and defeat.

   And it leads to living scared. You don't do...much. Anything new, untried, unfamiliar. Those things could lead to failure. They are unknown quantities. I lived in constant fear that I would fail. And people don't like losers. Losers do not accomplish anything. And you must do things perfectly to win.

   It sounds so crazy to write it out, but anyone who has heard those thoughts in their own head knows that ration and reason are not usually companions to anxiety. The very nature of being anxious is to be afraid. And we are not afraid of what we know, but rather of the unknown, of the future. And often we are afraid of others-I can't control how you will act or respond, so it is better to avoid you than deal with my fear over not knowing what you will do.

    So we hold back. Countless opportunities are lost, moments wasted, paths not taken, because we might fail. We might not be "perfect". And it is hard for the Spirit of God to lead where there is a constant feeding of the spirit of fear. Those two...they aren't friends.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment." 2 Timothy 1:7 (HSCB)

    But what if we considered that success, perfection, winning...those things are not to be defined by the world, or even those around us. What if we considered that there is only One who can define those, and He has made us perfect?

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:17-19 (NIV)

  If I am made perfect in love, that's all I need. I no longer need to live in fear that I will make mistakes and fail and be useless. It is easy to say, not so easy to do. But that is why I have decided that even though it isn't easy, either, I am going to try to do what I can with what I have. To praise God with what is in my hands, even I see it as imperfect, even if it feels strange. And new. And there are unknowns.

    And it is leading me to do some things that I never thought I would before. To talk to people that I don't know. To sing on the worship team, when there are so many others more qualified. Because these are my talents. No, not the things I am good at, but rather, talents as in the "Parable of the Talents". You know-where one servant gets five talents, another two and the last, only one. Well, I had a very wise pastor who once said he was "two-talent preacher". I thought that was strange, as I felt he was very qualified and successful (there's that word!). But he explained that he still was not the most talented pastor ever, however, he could use what he had, so neither was he hiding his one talent in the ground.

   That's me. With my two talents. In my open hands, hopefully. I don't want to bury what I have in the ground, even if it doesn't seem like much. I am perfectly loved, and so sometimes my failures can be successes. I am working at not allowing fear to keep me from giving of what is in my hands. Even if I don't know where it will lead.

   We went to an art fair a few days ago. Our city has a downtown area that is being restored and rejuvenated, and we followed a little path down under a very well-known bridge. We had never been down there before, and I was surprised by how quaint and peaceful it was. I was also very surprised, but for different reasons, by the scene at the bottom. There, underneath a pylon, was what can only be described as a camp. Someone had neatly spread out a sleeping bag, and carefully placed around it were a backpack, an ashtray, a water bottle, and other items clearly consisting of the entirety of someone's worldly possessions.

   My heart broke. All I could think is that this tiny pile of ragged belongings was all someone had to call "home". I have always had a tender spot towards homeless, but "they" say you shouldn't give money. Who knows what it could be used for? And "they" say that most of the time homeless are drug abusers, and vagabonds who wouldn't live any better if they could. "They" say they are liars and thieves, refusing to work because they are lazy. "They" say that there isn't much we can do for them.

    But you know what was in my hand? Figuratively and literally, a tiny bit of cash (which is, in itself a miracle, since I rarely have "real" money). And the tug on my heart could not be ignored. So I took those few little bills...mites, one might say, and I looked my fear in the face, not only of "them" but of disrupting, of inserting myself into someone else's story unwanted, and I decided that I would do what I could with what I had. And so, I took those tiny paper bits of faith, folded them up and placed them under that ashtray.

   And I don't know how that story ends. I don't know if I was "successful". I don't know that I did things "perfectly". I don't know if I "won". And I don't care. If you read this and think that I am looking for praise or recognition, you've missed the point. I only did it because I knew that I would be held accountable for not listening, for not heeding. And that is the only type of failure that I should be avoiding.

   And I'm not sorry. I realized that I should only be sorry for the times that I didn't. For the times that I have allowed the fear to drive out the love because I fed it, and watered it, and cuddled it close. That the only real failure is refusing to do not just something, but anything. It is a new way of thinking for me-this refusal to try to define everything as a "perfect success" or an "abysmal failure". To realize that following Jesus looks a lot more like mites, and cups of cold water, and two-talents, and saying, "no" but doing "yes", than it does like gold medals, and award trophies and titles and wealth.

   That following Jesus means opening my hands and doing what I can with what I have...over and over again. Until He comes. Because He is perfect, and that is the only way I can truly become more like Him...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Super Simple Supper: Boy Scout Meals

    I feel a tiny bit silly posting this "recipe", but honestly, sometimes these really easy, humble ideas are some of my favorites when I stumble across them on the internet. I don't love to cook, so anything that it mostly tossing ingredients together is right up my alley! This meal fills the bill-and it is a one pan wonder, so clean up is a breeze, especially since you don't even cook directly on the pan! My other favorite part of this is that all of the components are frozen, so it is easy to always keep the ingredients on hand.

  I have seen other takes on this dish elsewhere and it is called a variety of other names: hobo dinners, foil packet meals, but we always called them "Boy Scout Meals". I know foil packet meals are popular for camping, but we always made these at home, in the oven.

    If you know me at all, you know I *don't* camp. The one time in all of our marriage that I threw a kicking and screaming fit (no, I am not proud of it) was the one and only camping trip that we took about three months after we were first married. Long story short, it had been a miserable trip: spiders the size of my hand (we found out later they were tarantulas), vermin in our food, rain, an un-level campsite, sunburns, mosquito bites, and the straw that broke the camel's back: a tornado was spotted several miles away, potentially headed towards our camp. I demanded we go home, a decision I do not regret. I do wish that I had perhaps been a little more adult in the manner in which I asked, but regardless, we came home and have never gone camping since!

   But you don't have to go camping to enjoy these easy, all-in-one meals! You only need a few ingredients and prep time is a matter of minutes.
 Here's what you need:
-Frozen fries: I prefer the thicker crinkle ones, a handful for each patty
-Frozen veggie mix: the classic peas, corn, carrots and green beans, 3/4 cup per meal
-Onion soup mix, 2 tablespoons for each meal
-Burger patties (or ground beef formed into patties)
Prep time: 5 minutes  Cook Time:30-45 minutes
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pull out a square of foil and place one of your patties in the center.

And here's why I don't call it a recipe. You throw a handful of fries on top of the patty. Add roughly 3/4 cup of frozen veggies. Shake 2 tablespoons of the onion soup mix over the whole mess.

Then, with no delicacy at all, scrunch (that's a professional cooking word, in case you weren't aware) the foil around the burger. Make sure it keeps all your goodies securely in, but leave it mostly open at the top. The goal isn't to steam the contents, but rather to keep the heat around the patty.

Put your bundles on a cookie sheet. In all my years of making these, I have never had one leak, but I also have never split the foil. I use a jelly roll pan with sides so I don't have to worry, though. Place the meals in the oven and bake at 400 degrees. I don't want to be super precise with my times, I would estimate between 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of your patties. I usually set the timer for 30 minutes, and then check a patty in the center for doneness. I cook mine until they are no longer pink in the center. If your patties are frozen, that will also affect the cooking times. If they aren't done after 30 minutes, I check them every 5 minutes or so until they are done. It is fairly difficult to overcook these, but I still like to be on the safe side.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately! I cover mine in ketchup, but Joel prefers A1. You can dump the contents on a plate, but I always just put the whole packet on my plate and eat straight off the foil. Since these are a protein, veggies, and starch all in one convenient bundle, I don't even serve a side! You could definitely pair these with a fruit or salad if that's more your style, though. And because you didn't even cook on the surface of your pan, clean-up is effortless! This meal definitely takes me back to my childhood. Which because of how quick and easy it is, I have time to reminisce about. ;) I think next to my crock-pot meals, this is one of my easiest meals, and fortunately for me, one of my family's favorites! My husband had been asking me to make this for several weeks, so he was thrilled. What's your most favorite easy "recipe"?

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