Monday, March 24, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Cupcakes

There's nothing I love more than being a wife and mom, and this weekend my girlies and I had the most incredible fun in the kitchen. Their little hands measured, poured, and blended with love for people who love them.

Their teachers.

Or, as one of my girls like to say, her "second mom."

Tonight the city in which we live will be naming the Teacher of the Year. In a powerful display of parental love for the teachers that make up our kids' school, seven of the thirty-two nominees will be from our building. This inspired my PTA staff appreciation co-chair and I to do a little surprise cupcake party for the nominees and all the teachers because collectively they make school a place our kids want to be.

Since my girls are "all in" kind of kids everything is done to the fullest, and these cupcakes were no different. They wanted them to be teacher appropriate and what we came up with was pretty great-



Apple cupcakes :)

{To make them simply dye your frosting red, place 2/3 of a little tootsie roll in the center with 1/3 of an Apple Os candy ring to make the leaf from behind. Finish with a tiny piece of heavy tented paper with a written A+ on it}

Of all the professions out there, I've quickly come to discover that teaching is often the one that lands the most public debate. People chat about whether or not they are financially compensated adequately for their work as though it is our business and argue common core into the ground. What is getting lost in the process are the faces and hearts behind the work and my prayer is that we as parents will change that. Step into the classroom. See how many hours these teachers spend before and after school preparing the academics and responding to emails and creating newsletters and sharing photos through classroom websites. Watch them wipe away tears for a child whose heart is broken. Listen to them creatively build character in tomorrow's leaders. Observe the way they get to know each child so well that they can individually inspire them to be their best and meet new goals. Check out the piles of paper that need to be stapled and laminated things that need to be cut and sorts that need to be labeled and treasures that need to be hung on the wall. And then tell me you aren't blown away by the love and sacrifice these teachers give day in and day out.

"Teaching is the profession that teaches all of the other professions." ~Unknown

Today I encourage you to do something - anything - to high five your child's teacher. Their influence is invaluable and, I believe, the best way we can strengthen education is by being a cheerleader to the people at the center of the process. Pump their spirits up with an email, make the surplus of needs more manageable by helping out in the classroom or through things you can do from home, or maybe simply make a cupcake :) In the end it's about saying, "I see you & I'm so grateful for everything you do."

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Reminder: You only have one more week to enter to win a copy of my book NOBODY TOLD ME to read through with or gift the t(w)een you love.  Comment here to enter!
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Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Guard Your Heart in Marriage

Last week I posted “How to Live Proverbs 4:23 in a World of Love and Heartbreak.”  Shortly thereafter someone asked me the question, “What about once you are married?  Then what does this verse mean?”



I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a romantic at heart.  I still love that my hubby proposed at the exact time on the clock that he asked me to be his girlfriend.  His ringtone is our first dance song because it still makes me smile just as bright as it did nearly fourteen years ago.  And in college, I once gave him a message in a bottle for Valentine’s Day when he was a peer advisor on a pretty much all football player floor.  I thank my lucky stars that he stuck with me.  I’m pretty sure that violates all things man code.

We are a culture smitten for romantic love and fueled by movie lines like, “You complete me.”  Anyone who says they didn’t melt when Tom Cruise came running through that door is down-right lying.

We love love, but do we love love for what love really is?

Not long ago I was sitting around a table when I heard, “Ya.  He’s gotten skinny from stress.  His wife told him one morning that she didn’t know if she felt love for him anymore and packed up.”  Not only did this hit me hard because this was a young couple, but because this is one of multiple marriages I know of recently that have unraveled for the same reason.

“Feel” love?

If that is the standard for marriage we’re all in trouble because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s ever scurried away a hot mess.  Marriage by its very nature puts us in constant contact with another to see the best and worst of us.  Maybe more of the worst because we trust that they’re in it for the long haul and, therefore, are more comfortable letting our true colors shine through.  Less than precious moments, unfortunately, come with the territory.

And when did we get this notion in our heads that marriage needs to be steamy magnetic attraction all the time to mean we’re in love?  Let’s be honest, if that were true we’d be a completely exhausted, non-productive people.  Love is not heart-pounding romance all the time.

Perhaps we’ve confused likeability with love and passion with purpose.

I flipped The Message Bible open to the most famous love verse of all time and found love defined like this:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.  (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Did you catch it?

Love and marriage is not about our happiness.  It’s not about feeling completed by another.  Quite the opposite, it’s about first being whole in God to live selflessly with and for the other.  It lets go of keeping score of what the other does and doesn’t do for us and shifts emphasis to seeing our spouse through the eyes of Christ.  In doing so, we better see their good and can champion them to be their best.

As was the case for the single people, the key to guarding our heart in marriage is focusing on His idea of love not the romanticized earthly model.

So it is important we make choices to reinforce this Truth in our lived experience.  As a non-expert, here are things my hubby and I feel are pretty key.

Recognize that love is a choice not solely a feeling.  If you don’t settle that in your mind from the get-go there will be trouble in paradise quickly.  Our kids irritate us and make wrong decisions but we don’t consider permanently fleeing.  We talk through it with them, forgive them, and try to work as a team to make whatever the problem better.  The same should be true for our spouse.  We choose to love them and in doing so we fight for our marriage always because our spouse is a gift and our marriage holy.  Attitude is everything.

Make a decision to keep your eyes on your spouse alone.  It seems like a given but in today’s society it’s not.  I’ve seen multiple marriages crumble because of a grass might be greener on the other side mentality.  Sadly, this leads to an endless cycle of new questions and wants.  Relationships continue to fail because contentment is never found in the One who can eternally satisfy.

Share your high and low every day.  It’s my favorite marriage ritual and as hokey as it sounds it ensures we discuss the things most affecting us when our busy lives sometimes limit discussion time.

Worship, pray, and talk about your faith together.  This world is draining and tough and will beat up the best of us.  Making sure that God is steering your sails and that you are talking through things with Him at the center is vital.  It keeps you in tighter communion with the Lord and empowers you to work through the "stuff" of life.

Forgive.  Ruth Bell Graham once said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”  Amen.

Flirt/Date.  That’s right. I said it.  And often!  Just because we choose to love does not mean we enter a lackluster life.  Fan the flame, my friends!  Marriage is the context that God gave us to fully express romantic love.  Flirt with each other because it is fun J  Date because even if you have kids you were a couple first and the strength in your unity will give your kids security.  These special moments will only intensify your desire to choose to love.

Spend time with other Christian friends/couples.  I believe it is true all throughout life – our friends will either be toxic or build us up.  If you as a couple choose to hang out with fellow Believers, especially fellow Believers committed to living out this “I do” thing, you will be encouraged in your faith walk and motivated to better love one another with a more Christ-like attitude.  You’ll want not to have a better spouse but to be a better spouse because your first priority will be glorifying God.  The outflow of that will be two people wanting to encourage the other so much that God creates in our marriages closeness and blessing greater than we can imagine.
Ultimately, guarding our hearts in marriage is more of a mental exercise than an emotional one.  In dually leaning in on Christ and committing to the marital vows, we are freed to trust that our spouse will be in it forever even though our likes and dislikes and circumstances and dreams may change along the way.  A chord of three stands is strong.  And this is good news for those of us living an imperfectly perfect life.
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Reminder: I'm giving away one copy of my book NOBODY TOLD ME and all you have to do is leave a comment here.  Get over there and get your name in for the win right now!

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Newfound Fun This St. Patrick's Day

We've never been huge St. Patrick's Day celebrators in our house but this year we're changing that.  Our kids are at such fun stages and they really know how to bring out the fun in life.  Being a mommy is the best!

Last night we kicked off prep for the day with nails.



I'm so grateful for nail pens. :)  I nailed that shamrock like a boss.  Aren't I punny.

Then my man and I had a date night in the kitchen.  We made these super amazing, all things incredible chocolate mint brownies.




If you plan to make only one thing festive today, I encourage you to make it these.  They are so good!  This morning we delivered them to school office staff and the girls' teachers with a note on the napkin that we are lucky to be blessed by them.  On a much less impressive note, I had them with coffee for breakfast.  Holidays call for dessert first, right?!

It appears a leprechaun invaded our house last night and made a Lucky Charms mess on the piano. 



The girls were so excited they printed off pictures to show to their class :)

I've never had so much fun on a day we usually just wore green to avoid getting pinched.  But, our little blessings remind us how lucky and blessed we really are...AND how to maximize joy in the everyday.  And isn't that what makes this messy side of Glory great?!

Life is filled with blessing and buoyed by the gift of Christ who sees us through it all.



HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY, friends!  Open your eyes to your blessings.  Share your joy with others.  Smile.  We are a lucky people.

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Reminder:  Don't forget to enter my NOBODY TOLD ME giveaway! I'm so excited to be giving away a copy of my book to a lucky someone and it only requires a comment to enter!

 
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Two Fiction Books You Shouldn't Go Without Reading

Before a friend left for vacation this week, she asked me what books she needed to have in hand.

I promptly handed her "7" by Jen Hatmaker because it is a non-fiction book that has gotten under my skin like no other besides the Bible.  Hopefully it doesn't ruin her ability to have fun on her trip.  This read shades your perspective on everything, including how you spend money.  If you haven't read it, do.  You will be better for it.



Then I gave her the name of two fiction books no one should go without reading.



First is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.  I lent my copy to someone and don't know who it is so I promptly re-ordered on Amazon to start reading it again.  This beautifully written fiction piece is based around the Scriptural book of Hosea.  Taking place in the California gold country, Angel is angry and wants to keep men from her heart.  They've already used her body.  Sold into prostitution as a child, she doesn't believe in a character male or that men could see beyond what is on the outside.  And then Michael Hosea enters the picture.  Unlike the other men Angel has come in contact with, he loves the Lord and seeks only to live His will, which includes marrying Angel and loving her with an endless love.  Given her past and resentment, she doesn't make this easy.  In fact, the dance of wanting to believe in a pure love versus past history makes life altogether painful for both of them.  But, through this love story, she finds herself in an even greater love story through the eye of Jesus.  You won't be able to put this down and I'm sure you will read and re-read just like me.  It should be on everyone's bookshelf.



Second is another you can't put down, but lucky for the reader it is much smaller in size so you can easily finish it in an afternoon.  It is Andy Andrews's The Noticer.  Andrews says, "Many people ignore the 'small stuff,' claiming to have an eye on the bigger picture, never understanding that the bigger picture is composed entirely of small stuff."  And that is what this book highlights.  Taking place in Orange Beach, Alabama, readers come to know different residents and the fears and obstacles they face - everyday obstacles that you and I will relate to.  But, as each individual's story surfaces, an old, unkempt man named Jones shows up and carefully encourages them to consider perspective beyond what is immediately noticeable to the human eye.  Since we are a culture quick to judge and people who easily lose hope, this book is one we all need.  Jones will rise from the pages and give you new perspective that will encourage you in your walk and make you a better friend to the people around you.

Don't miss these, people.  Inside these pages you might set a new record for the quickest you've ever read a book :)

And, speaking of things you don't want to miss, be sure to enter the giveaway for my book NOBODY TOLD ME.  All you need to do is comment for a chance to win this book on dating, purity, and sex to make your job as a parent discussing these issues easier and encourage the t(w)een you love.  Click here to enter.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Teaching Youth How to Live Proverbs 4:23 in a World of Love & Heartbreak {With a Nobody Told Me Giveaway}

Youth group is happening in the java café at church tonight.  The smell of caramel cappuccino creates an inviting atmosphere for all the young people moseying in to figure out how to live this faith life in a complex world.  

Of all the people in the crowd, three faces have my attention.   One girl sits at a small round table of females only.  When males approach for innocent conversation she appears squirmy and keeps her response short.  In an attempt to watch over her heart, she’s avoiding any opportunity for relationship to grow.  At another table a girl chokes back tears and rushes to the bathroom with her besties, because that is what girls do.  Rather than make her heart ice like the first girl, she chose to feel and warm herself to the possibility of love.  Though they kept their purity, the relationship ended in break-up and the fresh pain spills over in hot tears.  Her ex-boyfriend hunches over the pool table from across the room.  A good and godly man, he fumbles with emotion his own.  Hurt doesn’t know gender and the internal grief he bears threatens tearful collapse but that doesn’t fit the mold society has wrongly formed for males, which expects him to move on emotionally void like the distant girl at the all girls table.  He’ll let his heart bleed behind his bedroom door later tonight.

On the wall is word décor including Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” 
And all three secretly question if they are living it well.



Proverbs 4:23 has long served a banner verse for purity.  The problem is in trying to help our youth honorably save themselves for lifelong loyalty we’ve created a fear of connection and love that has effectively closed others out.  Oh how Satan must be having a hay day with this.  Christians, formed in love, placed in relationship with love, now hindering the marriage relationship that God first formed and celebrated because of trepidation that vulnerability means doing this verse wrong.

A relationship is the means to marriage and if we pull the reigns too tight we leave no room to let God write our love story.  Sadly, it isn't only potential joy that is lost.  Relationship with Christ will suffer right along with it.  When you're so frenzied with what you are going to keep out you can't keep your eyes on Him. 

Obviously this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise wisdom in who you better get to know and say yes to dating.  Without question you should still reject all known ungodly influences and relationships must mirror’s God’s intentions for purity, honesty, patience and kindness.  Locational boundaries need to be determined to ensure that you won’t find yourself alone in the position of temptation.  Mental decisions to save your physical self are critical BEFORE you date and frank verbal discussions about those boundaries need to happen on or before the first date to ensure that there is no confusion and both individuals are respected. 

But this doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel hurt.

Ultimately the purpose of courtship and dating is to provide clarity about who we are most compatible with.  And, while we can enter a relationship because the other shares faith in the Lord and possesses character qualities we want in a future spouse, that doesn't mean that there will never be heartbreak along the way.  Few find "the one" on their very first date.

This leaves you vulnerable, a place no one likes to be but a place every person must lend themselves to being if you truly want to find the person God has for you.  You will share meals, cheer on games, make memories, exchange gifts, share secrets, slow dance, and cautiously dream dreams because it is what people who enter relationships with intentions in a future do.

And if it falls apart it doesn’t mean you’ve wrongly lived of this verse.  It means a mismatch of the “right” two people.
Sometimes break ups help you better understand what God dreams for you.  Whether it be in the fixing of a character flaw yourself or the identifying of differences you want in a spouse, God helps you use what you’ve learned to get you to a healthier place – with or without a significant other.

You see the key to living this verse is really asking yourself who is in the driver’s seat.  Is it you or is it God? 
Another verse in Scripture talks about guarding your heart and it clarifies all the mess and isolation and pain and guilt we’ve piled onto Proverbs 4:23.  Tucked away...

To finish reading this post + enter the giveaway click here and enjoy some more Proverbs teaching in the March MODSquad edition

 

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If You Relate to Disney Frozen's Elsa More than You Care to Admit {When We Need Rescuing from Ourselves}

photo credit MODSquad

Somehow it came up on our ride home from the Super Bowl party. The day I stormed out of our apartment many years ago.

You have to understand that my husband and I married fresh out of college with only dreams and no professional income to our name. We moved into a one bedroom one bathroom apartment that left us lots of opportunity to bond because space wasn’t a luxury we reveled in.

I can’t even tell you what had me a hot mess that day because we couldn’t remember. What I can tell you is that my options in those days for alone time were limited to locking myself in the bathroom, the bedroom, or getting out of the apartment into the wide outdoors.

The last was my option of choice.

Much to my chagrin, it wasn’t mine alone. My hubby followed me and my quickly moving legs right down onto the streets.

“Melissa, would you slow down? You are walking insanely fast.”

“That’s fine. You weren’t invited on this walk.”

I know. The Proverbs 31 wife is rolling over in her grave.

“Well they told us in pre-marriage class not to let each other stay upset so I’m not going to let you go.”

He couldn’t see my eye roll but he could hear my huff.

What I can only imagine was laughter from my ridiculousness melted the wall around my heart and stopped me in my tracks. Dang that adorable laugh. It gets me every time. Contagious. And, as my own laughter fell into harmony with his, I reached for his out stretched hand ready to do life together.

Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be.

Disney’s Frozen “Let it Go” plays on repeat in our home these days. My girls, right down to the two year old, are obsessed with Elsa, Anna, and Olaf. I kind of am too because for the first time Disney got love right. Not just romantic love but communal love.

Because I don’t like spoilers, I’m not going to ruin the movie plot for those of you who haven’t seen it {but when you get done reading this GET. IN. THE. CAR. AND. GO!} other than to say Elsa contains the power to turn everything into ice. At one point, Anna seeks out Elsa in her ice castle and beckons her into relationship and, when together, Elsa discovers her love can thaw what is frozen.

The theological dork in me loves this. The piece of me that tends to emotionally flee feels schooled by a kids movie.

Many people would be surprised to know that in introvert/extravert testing I essentially break even. The extravert column had one more point, enough to call me extraverted by technicality but not really in livability. I’m a leader, a listener, an organizer, a friend, and a goof-ball that will have fun with and in front of others. But, I also have a tendency to retreat. To hide in my own man made spaces. And, when it is for the sake of a little mama-needed silence, it is okay. When it is for the sake of reflection it can nurture. But, when it is to isolate myself from truths about me and my story it is an empty form of freedom that limits my ability to live a satisfying life.

I want to be the good girl.  The one with the spiritual maturity of Beth Moore, the calm and kindness of Mother Teresa, and the confidence of Richard Sherman – minus the ‘tude. I want to have it all together.

And I’m fairly confident I’m not alone.

So how then do we live when the insecure, messy, painful, tough, not-so-pretty parts of our lives surface and bring out cold hurt in our hearts? When we need rescuing from ourselves?

We....

To finish reading this post click here and enjoy some other posts on love in the February MODSquad while you are there.


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Mommy's Chicken"

It's conference week at the elementary school my children attend and one of the things our PTA does for the staff we love is serve homemade meals each of the three conference nights.  It is a small way to give back to those pouring so much into our children.

This year I made "Mommy's Chicken."  It probably should have a more intelligent sounding name but that is what my kids call it and it's stuck.  Plus, my mom made it for me in my growing up years so it just makes sense :)

This is the easiest, most succulent, tender chicken you could ever make.  In fact, it is so simple the word recipe sounds like a stretch.  Added bonus? You make it in a crockpot, so it basically cooks itself. 



You will need:
1 Tablespoon butter
4-5 chicken breasts
4-5 slices American cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup

To make it, simply throw the butter into the bottom of your crockpot and add the chicken breasts.  Put one slice of American cheese over each breast and cover with one can of cream of mushroom soup.  Cook on low for about 6 hours (depending on how hot your crockpot cooks).

Additional instructions would be: stir if you feel like it.

I know...pretty intense, right?  Try not to break a nail.  :)

When I make it at home I also add potatoes and carrots right into the crockpot so that when it is done we have a full meal ready to go.

This makes for a super yummy meal for your family and is a easy way to bless others.  Little acts of love go a long way...even simple ones!
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