Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Grown Up Christmas Wish

I sip my coffee to the sound of Christmas promises.  The music fills me ears and the lights on our rotating Christmas tree catch my eye and steal my writer thoughts.  {I suppose the benefit to allergies is the ability to get a fake tree that moves J  It’s a hit with the kids}

Underneath our unique green sit two gifts.  Each one has been made by the girls at school.  Soon more packages will be removed from their hiding spaces and placed under the tree in pretty paper and bows.  But, the truth is, my heart this morning is for the people seeing these lights dimmed.  Life doesn’t always feel like the nice, neat wrapped up presentation of the season.

For many this is a time where pain and hope co-exist with dream of a better tomorrow.

And my husband asks me what I want and I gaze at the luminesce, digging deep for an answer that respects his desire to bring me smiles with the earthly while balancing swelling hope for the holy.

 

I wish peace to take root in the heart of all weeping because life has necessitated a new normal.

I wish appreciation for marriage and the choice to love everyday in a culture bent by fleeting notions of romantic love.


I wish respect for all life.

I wish security in the lives of children and that they wouldn’t be defiled of their youthful innocence due to situations outside their control.

I wish confidence for teenagers- that they would remember their value comes from their Maker not a number on the scale, who their friends are, or if they have a significant other.

I wish known gratefulness to families separated by service to our country. 

I wish safety in homes, on campuses, and on battlefields spanning the globe. 

I wish focus on what we have and not what we think we are lacking. 

I wish for authenticity in a society of mask-wearing individuals.

I wish that we would all challenge ourselves to be a gift to others so that we can unknowingly stand in the gaps and be a living gospel to a world desperately in need.

I wish to make more room for Christ in our lives so that in the times of greatest trial confidence prevails.

I wish not to chase the stuff of this life but the One who makes it.

What I want cannot be tied up under my circling tree.  It can only be prayed over in the heart and challenged in how I live.  But, perhaps that is what makes Christmas so magical.  Maybe the real smiles come not through the pretty put together pictures of the season but the brokenness that colors this side of Glory it mends. 

“She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”  Matthew 1:23

The Almighty leaves His throne to join our messy lives in a messy stable and, in doing so, claims oneness with our humanity.  Because of this chosen beginning, we lean in through every emotion and situation life presents, confident that we will not only be held up, but that He will make us strong and empower us to be the instrument of change to make these Kingdom transforming wishes come true.
 
Sweet manger child, thank you. 

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life on Our Knees {A Christmas Devotional}


 image credit Tracie Stier Johnson
“My soul is quiet and waits for God alone.  My hope comes from him.”
Psalm 62:5 NLV

I was at dance practice with my daughter, preparing for the mother/daughter dance we’re a part of for the Christmas show.  Like much of my life I was so focused on getting my steps done perfectly in time that I failed to note all that was happening around me.

In the corner of my eye I caught glimpse of my friend, also dancing with her daughters, bowed before the manger.  My heart hiccupped and tears filled my eyes with choreography that magnified a posture I want to live.

A life lived well is spent on our knees.

The world claims....

To finish reading this devotional please visit MODSquad where you will also be blessed by many more devotionals to get your heart in the true spirit of Christmas.

For more on how God used this dance uniquely in our mother daughter relationship, please read the story.


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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Stage, My Girl, & A Dance to be Remembered

"All the world's a stage," Shakespeare once said, "and all the men and women merely players."

Each move we make watched, memorized, etched on the heart of those watching.

Needless to say when the email arrived inviting me to participate in a mother/daughter ballet dance my heart flip flopped.  When I retook the dance floor this summer I was reminded how much I missed formal instruction in a studio that was once my second home.  And my sweet Grace?  Well, ever since she's been old enough to know what "What do you want to be when you grow up?" means she's consistently said a ballet teacher.  This is a love we share.

"Are we going to do it?"  Her eyes sparkled with longing more than I've ever seen in anything she's asked of me in her eight years on this earth.

"I don't know," I sighed.  "I haven't been on the stage in a long, long time."

"Oh, you'll be fine, mom" she responded with the bat of her hand, completely unphased by my fear.  "Just send the email."

I wanted to drink of her confidence but right now I simply needed to move my fingers.  I knew this was a moment that she was watching me and my yes or no would permanently be remembered.  Email sent.

Dance is the is like dreaming with your feet. ~Constanze

Each Saturday we made way to class together.  We swayed, twirled, and potaboureed in unity.  The twinkle in her eyes never dimmed.  Movement of the feet said, "I love you" without words. 

A couple weeks in the first bad dream came where my ballet slipper slipped and I fell on stage.  In the next one I forgot my moves.  My blood pressure went up a million fold over the whole public performance thing but I tried to keep it under wraps for a girl who takes to the dance stage without fear because she is being taught by teachers who build her up in a way that gives confidence in every arena of life.  The mother/daughter instructor being the same one I danced for all of my years.

To mask my concern I told Grace I needed to practice every night because I was old, which makes me prone to forgetfulness. :)  And dance in our living room we did.  Only it wasn't just her.  The younger two had to have their turn moving their feet in harmony with mine and having their face cupped in love right along with her.  Enchanting adoration impossible to duplicate in another way.

The day of the recital arrived and I loaded the vehicle in a state of disbelief.  The last time I was on stage big glasses and N Sync were cool.  Grace smothered me in a hug, whipping me back to reality.  "I'm so excited, mom."

The dresses were removed from the hangers and I tied the back of her cream cascaded bodice while she admired herself in the mirror.  All too soon this is going to be a wedding dress.  {Dramatic it may seem but we waited years for her and in the blink of an eye she is eight.  Time is never to be taken for granted.}  Tears welled.

 



The music was cued and on my count I stepped toward my girl, taking her hands into mine and dancing to words I honestly pray over her life {Grab a Kleenex}



The black out hit and we did our ballerina runs off the stage.  Tears burned hot for minutes gone too fast, no mistakes, and a reminder from my God that the dance stage isn't nearly as scary as I'd made it out to be in my head.  It was me and my girl in a magical moment that I know will go down as one of the memories we forever recall.

Dance is the hidden language of the soul. ~Martha Graham

This morning I turned on the radio and through the sound waves was playing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" aka our curtain call, and I couldn't help but smile for God's precious reminder of one of the most beloved gifts I've ever been given.  Dream and love we did.  And, oh how I pray we get to do it again.

The stage of life is filled with entrances and exits many.  Life pulls us in a million directions.  But, from this experience I'm reminded for me, for you, that when we listen to God as our director, we can pause where we need to, experience added courage where we need it, and get our part right.

There is a loved one watching you with hopeful eyes, friends. Be aware and share in that which you love most when you are able.


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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fingerprints

Much of my preteen years were inspired by heroes in Stoneybrook, Connecticut.  Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill started an awe-inspiring group of babysitters and I raced through the The Baby-sitter’s Club series with interest AND the mind of a sponge.  I wanted to be cool for my “regulars” just like them.  And I logged a lot of hours watching fun little people…

When I saw her again she had no idea who I was.  There was no reason that she should.  I ditched the long, permed hair and overly large (once fashionable) glasses in favor of shorter, straight hair and contacts.  Having more than doubled in years and bore three children of my own, it was me that had changed. 
“Every parent showed.  I am just getting in here.”
I instantly recognized the voice and her face and put two and two together.  Back in my babysitting days I spent countless days with two of her family members.  Two children who’ve made a mark on the Kingdom. Their family was close and, because of that, we’d come in contact.  It took everything in me not to go, “Oh my gosh I know you,” but I figured it would come off more nutty than normal to a tired woman so I opted for silence and grabbed her a bowl to fill with warm soup.  Lord, thank you for resurfacing some of those sweet memories.
When a paper arrived in the mail over a year later with her name inked in I knew our paths were bound to cross again.  This time more extensively.  She was about to become a significant influence in our daughter’s life.  “That’s good,” Hannah smiled.  “Her daughter dances at the same place I do.”  Small. World.
“Oh, that will be great,” my friend who also happens to be Hannah’s godmother cheered at Bible Study that night.  “We were once roommates.”  Shocked, I took it as confirmation from Above that this was a match made right.  A bit overwhelmed by the unlikely link, I rushed home to tell my husband.   The connects are becoming too much.
A pint sized woman with a gallon sized heart, she welcomed time with Hannah wearing a smile on her face.  In her presence is a spirit of calm and a confidence first birthed by God and nurtured by the power of her perfectly placed encouragement.  This wise woman, praying protection over kids’ hearts and leading in a way that inspires impressionable youth to be the best version of themselves, is helping give our girl wings and dream new dreams.    
Because of her influence our time intersected more often too.  During quiet moments conversations opened up about parenting with purpose and I found myself holding on to each word that exited her mouth.  She chooses them so carefully that each one feels inspired in a way that leaves me longing to hear.  And I knew I was being gifted by her presence just like my daughter.  In this beautiful woman I see a shining example of the intentional parent I want to be as my children grow.  Mentorship is born and I drop to my knees in thanks.  I’m undone, Lord.
I must confess I have moments where humanity gets the best of me.  Where I feel like life is too random, unexpected, and surprising for a planner like myself.  And, in those moments, I whisper, “Where are you, Lord?” 
And then God says, “Open your eyes and look around, my child.”
We have a God who never lets go.  Moments may overwhelm.  Times may raise questions.  But His grip remains constant and when we take the time to really see there is a myriad of visible evidence of His fingerprints hemming each season of our life together into one perfectly sown life.
I could not have written this Jesus-filled woman into my days as He has.  When I look at her in my life so many years ago and back purposefully again I don’t just see cute clothes and a warming grin.  I see a reminder of the Weaver’s Hands proving to me His constant presence.  I see His majesty and am challenged to lay down my fear and apprehensions about how everything will turn out in favor of thanksgiving for the earthly reminders of His eternal design. He is weaving together a tapestry worthy of my trust.
And He does the same for you.
This Thanksgiving I invite you to open your eyes and look around.  Whether you are in a season of confidence or plagued by doubt, He is with you.  Maybe He will remind you in the face of another.  Maybe you will see it in the leaves that refuse to give way to the cold or a tiny reminder outside your window.  But, when you do, the “where are you, Lord” will fade to the powerful voice of the cross drawing your gaze to the One saying, “I am right here.”

This is worthy of celebration.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Holiday Gift Guide to Remind Your Teen Girl Whose She Is: 10 Gifts with Eternal Intention

We are entering the Christmas season and teens can be some of the hardest to buy for.  Since my work puts me in constant contact with them, I thought it would be fun to create a holiday gift guide for this special group of young people to help those of you with girls that find yourself stumped.



May this be your inspiration AND help you keep relationship with Christ at the center.





How awesome would this Red Letter Words message be for your girl to see every day?  I love the look but even more I love the reminder that God created us each with a unique purpose to carry out.  Take a look at all the print options to decorate your girl's bedroom or bathroom with life-giving words.





What girl doesn't love ruffles?!  My friend Maggie makes the sweetest handmade bags, wristlets, wallets, headbands, etc. each with her signature ruffle.  But, what I love most about her products is the story behind it.  It wasn't that long ago that learning to sew and starting a handmade business was merely a dream.  God has grown it into a beautiful success story that will keep your girl fashionable and inspired.

 
 
If your girl likes to work out how about this great tank that marries cute with Scripture?  Cross Training Couture is where it's at.
 
 
 
And as long as you're at it, why don't you reinforce the value of your girl's body and God's design for healthy relationships with my book.  When she knows whose she is and why He created the boundaries He did for future relationships she is more likely to honor Him and experience His best.  True stories and questions from her peers will keep it current and cool and reinforce the purity messages you are sharing at home.


There are very few magazines anymore that you can order subscriptions to and wonder if the message it sends will support your values but Sisterhood magazine will.  It's filled with current issues, a cool look, and an online sisterhood support to help your girl keep a Godly focus in a culture with sliding values.  AND, MODSquad is giving away three subscriptions right now so hop on over there ASAP and enter your comment to win one of the best gifts you could give.


I can't wait until my girls' fingers are mature enough to have a ring that won't need constant resizing because this crown ring is a great way to remind girls that they are a daughter of the King.


 
 
The writer girl will love this Carey Scott "Because of Jesus" journal. With a cover that highlights the many names of who she is thanks to Jesus being in her life it is sure to help encourage and refocus her writing session. 
 
 
 
 
Everyone loves music and Britt Nicole has a great beat and lyrics every girl should get the privilege of hearing.  Her CD "Gold" is worth every penny for the song for the song Gold alone.  If you haven't heard it, treat yourself now. 
 
 
 
 
Do polka dots equal cuteness or what?!?!  This GoYePreach iPhone cover is rubber so it won't crack like a hard case, plus it's affordable, stylish, and a constant reminder that she is covered in His love.
 
 

Last but not least is one of my favorite gifts to give females of all ages.  KraftyKash custom bible verse necklaces allow you to put your teen's life verse (or just a verse they can be encouraged by) into wearable form.  And, since each one is hand clipped there are no two that look exactly alike, making it totally unique just like your girl.  Side Note: I add a pearl bead.
 
AND SPECIAL FOR YOU
 
Kashoan has offered all my readers a 15% discount off your ENTIRE KraftyKash order so get one or two or lots. :)   In addition to bible verse necklaces, she has map and dictionary necklaces and fun  leather cuffs.  Check it all out here and simply use the code NOV2013 before midnight on 11-25-13 to get your great gift at a steal of a deal!
 
**Picture credits belong to the sites from the products I have highlighted.  I do not receive a financial kick back from any of the gift options except obviously purchases of my book :)  I just really liked the things I selected and knew you would too**
 
Have fun shopping for the girl(s) you love! 



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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One in the Dark

God gave you a gift of 86, 400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?”
William Arthur Ward

The lights were off and the room fell silent.  After a busy day, our children were wiped and wanting to go to bed.  This alone was indicative of a miracle.  Our six year old climbed up on my lap and snuggled in.  I brushed her hair behind her ears and whispered that I loved her.  Every mama knows it is in these moments that the little in our girls and the movement of time collide.

“I want to sleep, mom, but I can’t.”

The events of her exciting day ran wild through her mind.  She was caught up in the moments and struggled to let them go.

I can relate.  I struggle with the same.

I often see what is right in front of me.....

To finish reading this post and read many more on "being thankful" please visit MODSquad

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When Failure Equals Success: What I Wish I Would’ve Known as a New Mom

When I first found out I was going to be a mom I read all the books and knew exactly how often to feed, at what age to expect milestones, and could swaddle like a boss.  Naturally I was never going to allow thumb sucking, my kids would be potty trained at two, they would nap until preschool, always self sooth at bed time, I would know what information to give them when, and, of course, they would always listen to us because we were such wise parents.

And then real life hit.  Those days came where I was ready to call it a day but it was only four o’clock and I felt more a massive failure than shred of success.  Add to it others’ commentary and emotional drowning threatens.

Oh, new mama, let it go. 

I’ve been praying over our mom breed a lot lately.  We don’t make this role very easy on each other.  Sometimes in our desire to claim A+ success in the parenting manual we come off more like vultures than doves.  I can only imagine it crushes the heart of God who created us in community with purpose.

Can we just be honest and say this hard work and no matter how much prep you do nothing runs adequate?  Yet God meets us there…



The moment quickly comes when the desire to comfort your baby supersedes the words on the pages of those books and voices around and you let them sleep in the car seat to sooth their stomach and you learn that sleep makes life more manageable for all. 

Maybe you’re going back to work and maybe you are not.  Those who choose to stay home will be scorned for “wasting your intelligence” and those who return to the workplace dinged for bonding time and you learn that you have to respond to God’s personal call over your life so that you don’t lose yourself.

You will take your toddler to the pool and the moms around you will discuss things that feel big but are really pretty remedial.  Is your kid walking? How many words do they say?  Getting vaccinated?  Sleeping all night?  Do they still have to wear a swim diaper?  And someone will clear their throat and loudly announce as if it is a teaching moment that they don’t feed their child meat, only tofu.  You’ll retreat home and put your precious babe down to double check the book to make sure that meat isn’t anywhere on the “wait” list like peanut butter and eggs.  And, when it’s not there, you will learn that the comparison game reduces your child to a sticker on a success chart and hinders you from celebrating what they are accomplishing when.

That perfect little gift will learn “me” and “no” {quickly proving that we are in fact born with a sinful nature} and fight repeatedly with siblings. After the millionth attempt at positive redirection you'll be driven to your own time out or extended potty break and you will learn that it is only positioned on your knees with your arms lifted high that you gather real strength to forge ahead.

Despite your greatest attempt at teaching pens are for paper only you might find a mural on the wall and that huge plastic playing house might in fact become home to roof climbing resulting in an injury and on those days you will learn that it is in these failed moments of listening that God gifts you opportunity to talk with your children in a very innocent way that there will always be times in their life where they are tempted to break one of your home/church rules but rules are made to protect…and hopefully prevent future pain with “biggies” like drunkenness, impurity, and the like down the road.

The evening will come when your child, well old enough to self sooth…maybe even 6 J….will come to you struggling to sleep and rather than hugging them and sending them back to bed you will pull them on to your lap, turn off the lights, and turn on worship songs to send them into dream land, and you learn that sometimes the potential for habit formation is less important than treating them like the child they are.

Even when issues of your very own line of education and training come up you might feel more unsure than expert with your own kids and you learn that you weren’t meant to go it alone in the first place.  It is in drawing on the nuggets of knowledge from the God-placed wise, trustworthy, and experienced Christian mamas around us that help nurture us so that we might better nurture them.

These moments come faster and more often than we ever dream possible when we are pregnant and have visions of the perfect parent we will be.  Undoubtedly this is because there is only one Perfect Parent and to survive this gig we must look beyond ourselves.

So can we just shed thee I-got-it-all-together costume and encourage each other, mamas?  Can we affirm each other that even when things don’t happen by the book there is still value to be gained and that although we might do things differently the most important thing is listening to God through each millisecond of this journey?  Because at the foot of the cross God reveals victory lessons and life-changing wisdom that helps us all feel comfortable in our own parenting skin.

This world is full of many voices.  Don’t worry, new mama.  God’s got your back.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Concessions of the Heart: The Domino Effect of Our Every Day Decisions

I still remember taking her in to the nursery to say goodbye to my co-workers when the tears erupted like Mount Vesuvius.  Grace was bundled tight in her five point harness, looking up at me as if to say, “What’s next?”

I had no idea.  Sleep was on forefront on my mind.

Sweet Loretta put her arm around me and asked what was wrong.  I could have blamed it on the hormones.  I could have said exhaustion.  But the truth was after my husband I and spent years crying out to God for a baby He had answered and now I suddenly felt a frightening mix of thanks that the Lord allowed us to be parents and sheer fright that we were now fully responsible for the upbringing of this innocent child.  “I can’t believe we get to take her home.”

 

I am sitting at my computer at the stroke of midnight.  Now a mother of three time is not my own and restful nights a distant memory.  Writing work begs of being done and in my inbox sits a slew of emails, the last from a student who knows Pam Stenzel and my name from a book spine.  I know not what she looks like - only a name and age - yet everything in me wants to reach through my computer and give her a hug.  Her story rocks me.  Her parents let her date very young.  Too emotionally immature to handle the issues that accompany that privilege she made a choice that has left her an expectant mother.  A baby having a baby.  A house divided.  Futures at stake.

I shut the computer to call it a night.  In a few hours my alarm would go off and the morning excitement was sure to be on high given the fall parties happening at school that day.  I needed sleep.  Only I couldn’t sleep because I felt for everyone in what had to feel a cold house.  My heart pounded for a baby at the mercy of an adolescent mother with unrealistic expectations for the future.  My heart ached for this girl who felt alone.  My heart hurt for her parents who had to be feeling massive regret because, while their daughter had to own the choice to have premarital sex, it was their blessing to allow dating before she could even drive that placed her in a position to unlock powerful questions and emotions long before the proper time.

We can give an inch and unravel a spiritual mile.

This is with every decision you make, my child.

I hate it when God decides to work on my heart at night J  But I suppose I should be used to it.  Walking in faith requires us to be alert at all times, never turning our eyes from Truth or shutting them from reality because when we do we can pretty much expect a slow fade to follow.

“This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 31:21

These are big Scriptural shoes to fill but He promises His presence to guide us along the way.  And, whether we are making decisions for ourselves or in the parenting of children, we need to be conscious that any step, no matter how seemingly small, from the biblical path will open the door to the potential exploration of understandings not of the Lord and ways of living apart from Him that could lead to some very painful detours.

I’m not dealing with dating or sex with my girls….yet.  (And, Lord, if you want to use my work in purity ministry to scare any wayward boys away that would be lovely).   But in that moment of insomnia God was revealing to me just how consequential all the seemingly “little” choices we make are.

Are the web sites we let them visit and games we let them play promoting respect for life or corruption?

Are the underwear we’re pulling off the shelves to purchase for them speaking of child blamelessness or inviting a modesty meltdown that begins the exploration of sexy that'll attract them to the “Bright Young Things” line before they are bright enough to understand the message it sends?  (And why are those basic covering cottons next to impossible to find, by the way?)

Are the shows/movies we let them tune into filled with language that encourages niceness or do they teach tearing others down? 

Do the lyrics to the music they’re listening to defile others or promote God’s design?

Do I talk about food and exercise in a way that minimizes their body to a number or tells them of the temple their body is made special by their Creator?

Are they in the presence of friends that live well or not?

I’m becoming increasingly aware just how awake I need to be because I don’t think there is such thing as a menial decision anymore.  EVERY yes and no we make has an effect on another decision made.  The enormity of this truth nearly sucks my breath away.  I want my kids to love what is good and God honoring so much that they aren’t enticed by the side steps and detours.  I want to live my life in a way that sets a good example.

I know I won’t get it all right.  And, I know that my kids don’t get immunity even with my line of work and they will make mistakes their own. (Thank you, Lord, for your forgiveness)  But, I can choose to be intentional.  I can choose to be the parent and not the friend.  I can choose to lean in on God’s promise to qualify me in all I face.

Want to join me?

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Perhaps It's the Little Ones who Don't Act Perfect in Church That Have it All Right

She taught me a lesson in church that day in a moment that should’ve embarrassed me.

Like all Sunday mornings my husband and I filed into the church pew with our three little girls in between us. And, like all Sunday mornings, we entered our silent plea that they would be at their best. Every faith-filled parent knows this rub- the desire and importance of worshipping as a family from the get go but the fear that their every whisper sounds like a scream and their every movement tornadic.

We believe in the importance of teaching our kids family worship. And, to expect them to want to enter God’s Holy House when they are older if she shuffle them elsewhere while we go seems unrealistic…so we go with expectant, hopeful hearts that they will gather more understanding of His extravagant love in the upright posture of self control.

We Christians are Sunday morning pretty people, aren’t we?

During a song our two year old whispered that she had to pee. I swear my husband and I did a fist bump in our hearts that she asked so quietly and politely. Since my man was closer to the end of the aisle, he discreetly took her out while the older two girls and I continued on in worship. Loudness transitioned to silence as we prepared for teaching from the pulpit. At that same time, my husband returned with our excited potty training two year old who stopped cold in her tracks right in the church aisle loudly….LOUDLY…pronouncing “Me pee.”

Well, so much for Sunday morning perfection. Myself and everyone around me broke out in laughter. What else can you do? Kids keep us humble and this is real life, people.

As the service continued, I watched her make way to her grandparents next to us and whisper of her success. I watched her sit back down and look up front, well aware that she was taking in some even if not all of what was being preached. And, during the sending song I watched her join her older two sisters in dance, moved by the music. {They all could’ve been named Miriam with the way the love to dance before the Lord.}

I am grateful for the little ones that don’t act “perfect” in church.

You see, in my trying to teach my children lessons they are constantly teaching me too. Ava’s announcement cracked me up but on a deeper level it reminded me that we can come just as we are. I’m convicted that my big girl pants and nice clothes mean nothing if I’m coming so concerned about doing it all right from a societal perspective that my guard prevents the work of the Holy Spirit to move in me. After all, the Lord wants me to celebrate my joys, honestly weep at His feet in times of sorrow, and to dance in celebration with the unique delight He alone brings to life.

If we claim he loves us just as we are why do we put on the work of a show? If we want others to believe in the radiance Jesus brings to each moment of our life why do we present stuffy worship?

These little people learning self control and the love of God in the sanctuary who don’t care about having it all together are actually mirrors to what a real a relationship with God looks like and, oh do I want to reflect that.

Unguarded. Transparent. Open. Free. This is the posture of the heart that brings us into genuine communion with Christ, strengthening our walk and gifting eternal elation to twirl through life in the overflow of His love.

Letting go of our show allows The Lord to show us how to more fully live.

She taught me a lesson in church that day in a moment that should’ve embarrassed me.
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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

7 Keys to Decreasing Holiday Stress & Increasing Familial Satisfaction

We’re about to enter “the most wonderful time of the year.”  At least those are the lyrics we sing.  But, according to a holiday stress study by the American Psychological Association our lives tell a different story.  Only 27 percent of women feel like they can relax during the holidays.  Beyond that, 69% of people report a lack of time and finances.  Let’s be honest: uptight, hiding in the bathroom to get a few extra minutes to ourself, and feeling the brink of broke is a better combination for human combustion than love and adoration.

So what can we do to break this mold?

Read all 7 Tips at MODSquad and enjoy other posts on celebrating holiday traditions while you are there!
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

In Everything Give Thanks {Finding Riches in our Mess}

It's evening and I'm driven to create a fall centerpiece. I'm so crazy anxious to do so that I drove to Lewis tonight for just a new permanent black marker because, of course, when I want to do something is when I find out the two black ones we own are inkless. Awesome.

Yesterday we went to a friend's pumpkin patch. She gave us free pumpkins that literally weigh more than the kids and the girls skipped around with eyes the size of saucers at the sight of pumpkins they didn't know could grow so large. While they frolicked and laughed I searched for a dining room table worthy winner. We live life on a budget and this was my opportunity.

The scents of fall are my favorite of the year. Pumpkin, apples, coffee beans....they warm and welcome and help make homes into sanctuaries. I yearn to make it so in my own.

The non-artist in me carefully...okay nervously...penned "In everything give thanks" with the 1 Thessalonians 5:18 scripture reference inside the "g." Our freebie mason jars from my mother-in-law's delicious salsa and canned peaches (sorry, Andrea, you aren't getting these back) served the perfect home for votive candles surrounded by coffee beans whose smell magnifies when the wick is lit. It turned out perfect and I proudly proclaimed it "my favorite dining room centerpiece I've ever made" to my husband who supported me in the midst of my permanent marker insanity and made me feel like I was totally normal. I love you, Charlie.



Once everything was complete, I pointed the camera for a picture.  As silly as it sounds, the decision to write on the pumpkin came after debating many possibilities and I wanted to send a photo to my mom because that was her vote.  But, when I did, I found myself moving for the "perfect" angle to portray the perfectly refined life.

I moved and I moved and I moved.  I looked at the words on the pumpkin.

And I smiled at the reality of my life so evident before me.

My husband and I waited to become parents.  We prayed.  We doctored.  We cried. We lost a baby and questioned if we had courage enough to risk again.  But we also knew that life lived to His fulfillment requires taking chances and stepping outside of comfort zones we think protect but actually imprison.

Grace came.  Hannah came.  And then Ava. 



Our house filled with toys and markers and crafting supplies that delight girls silly.  Day after day around the dining room table they gather coloring, painting, adding stickers to beautify.  And night after night my husband and I scrub away the markings from papers missed.  But, it isn't perfect.  Paint I hope a Magic Eraser can magically erase stains one end.  Sticker residue will require a google search to clean.  This free table loaded into our home when my mom got a new one is now marked with our everyday crazy, blessed, messy, real life.

Perhaps there is no such thing as the perfect angle?

And suddenly I give up trying for perfection because God whispers that sometimes it is our mess that reveals how truly blessed we are.



Thank you God for my man, these beautiful girls, our trip to the pumpkin patch, and the life-changing lesson.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

I'm just going to go ahead and confess that I've never made bread before.  I've always had this idea of doing so and when my husband I were first married I saved all the "over ripe" bananas to make banana bread....until the bananas took over our freezer and my hubby finally asked if I had a plan for our ginormous collection.  The end result was him buying a loaf pan because, you know, that is necessary for the whole bread making thing, and making the bread himself.  I married a keeper :)

But, today when I woke up it was in the 60s, raining, and feeling like fall.  The cook in me wanted to try something new.  And, the minimalist in me is bound to actually try all my Pinterest recipes so that I'm not overwhelmed with meaningless recipes on my board that I could care less about.  The good news for my family in this is that they will get to try a lot of new recipes and break the monotony of my "staples."

So today was the day.  Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread from the Java Cupcake sounded like the perfect treat with my coffee while we watched football and played with the kids.



It turns out they were equally as excited about it and jumped in to help so we spent together time preparing yumminess in the kitchen.  It was splendid.

This bread is fall apart lusciousness.  It may or may not be healthy.  I don't even care.  All I know is that my mouth wants more and that means you need to know about it because if I can make it, you surely can too :)

Here is what you need:
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup + 1/4 cup chocolate chips, divided
  • powdered sugar for garnish
  •  
    To make it:
    1)  Preheat your oven to 350 and grease one loaf pan.
     
    2) Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
     
    3) In a separate bowl combine the eggs, pumpkin, oil, vanilla, and sour cream until it is smooth.  {I used a hand mixer}
     
    4) Make a well of the dry flour mixture and pour the wet mix in.  {I transferred the dry mix into a KitchenAid and used that to mix it}.  Blend until it is smooth.  Fold in one cup of the chocolate chips.
     
    5) Pour into the bread loaf pan and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips on top.  {Confession, I used more.  In fact these words came out of my mouth as I instructed my 8 year old future homemaker, "Oh honey, let me teach you one lesson about cooking. Never skimp on the chocolate chips."  I think this is solid advice.}
     
    6) Bake 60-75 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean.  {It took ours 70 minutes}
     
    7) Let cool for 20 minutes and then lightly garnish with powdered sugar.
     
    The kids, who don't normally dig pumpkin recipes, clamored over this.  We gathered around the fall apart bread like we've never eaten a meal in our lives and chowed down.  It made for a perfect Saturday afternoon.  Sans the ugly Notre Dame loss. :)
     
    Don't miss making this, friends.  And, if you want the printable recipe be sure to visit the Java Cupcake link.  She has nice one for you!

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    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Exposed {A Note to Miley Cyrus & Every Girl Who Feels They’ve Passed the Point of “Good”}

    Dear Miley,

    Today is Transformation Tuesday and with news that you’re posing nude on the Rolling Stone cover it comes as no surprise that you’re a popular pick.  From the days that the world came to know you to the image you choose today is a complete 180.

    When I first read about your photo shoot this morning I bounced right past anger and disappointment directly to sad.  My girls are not yet old enough to have “followed you” where we have to have an uncomfortable conversation around the dinner table.  But, my involvement in crisis pregnancy center ministry has lent itself to the presence of many other girls that blend into your world.  Girls that wear little to entice a lot.  Girls who hide their eyes behind the mask of thick eyeliner to block the world from spotting any pain harbored there.  Girls who feel they’ve passed the point of “good” and create a rough exterior to protect the loneliness inside.

    Certainly you are at a disadvantage.  The public spotlight would not be an easy place to age.  To have people watching and critiquing your every move, relationship, belief, and pound gained or lost would be agonizing, particularly in a Hollywood culture that encourages you to grow up before you are mentally mature enough to do so.  That is why I was saddened when Robin Thicke and the adults around you didn’t take steps to stop the award show debacle.  If we don’t train children up in the way they should go we can’t well expect them to know how to act.

    However, that is still a fine line.  At a certain point, we all need to accept personal responsibility in our lives.  Consequences to sinful choices we make are still our own.  Pain that morphs from those decisions will be real.  And, to continue chasing the wilder, sexier, more worldly life will, at some point, lead to burnout.  You can never find rest in a world with no limits or definition for achieved pleasure.  This is a lesson we all learn in different arenas of life: relationships, size of our homes, make of our cars, number on the scale, the message sent in the style of our dress….

    And today you are exposed.  People are talking about and posting pictures of the two fold Miley- the little innocent girl and the older tongue hanging out, skin laden one. 

    But I like to believe this should be a three fold picture with a blank in what is yet to come.

    You see, Miley, your story isn’t complete.  You see, young girl in the crisis pregnancy center, this doesn’t have to be the “forever” you.  You see, young girl crying in your room because of choices you’ve made or things have been done to you that make you feel like your “good” is gone, there is more to be written.  God welcomes home the prodigal with a party, remember?  He nourishes the hurt with living water.  He embraces us even in our darkest moments to help us become our brightest.

    You are not alone, Miley.  Ultimately we are all exposed to the people who know us most dearly and there is no hiding from our Creator.  But, He sees our earthly fights and promises to make beauty from the ashes.  Through His grace there is no such thing as “too far gone” only opportunity for growth.  What a gift this is for all of us.  And in those loving arms we can come exposed and leave restored.

    I’m praying for you….for all of us…that we remember this promise.  That we don’t let walls hinder our peace.  We have a good God.  He sees good in us.  And, when we trust in His ways, life becomes genuinely good again.

    If you know a young woman who needs to hear that she can make new choices and turn her life around, please consider gifting her with NOBODY TOLD ME.  It has real stories from their peers of those who have found the strength to change their ways and walk in His promise and protection.

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    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    Celebrate Your Inner Star: American Girl Party

    Today 15 girls filled our house ready to celebrate their inner star.  Apparently it's the year of American Girl parties for us.  Ava had her Bitty Baby theme party in May and now our "big girls" chose a more mature version of the same love.

    I made invites on Picasa



    And used these great free Jani Photography American Girl star printables to get started on cupcake toppers





    I also used them to make a hanging "Celebrate Your Inner Star" banner from our chandelier.


    Before the girls arrived we organized the table to show off our party activities.  First, they made "Doll and Me Necklaces."


    It was some intense crafting.


    Then they had cake and ice cream, highlighted by the "coolest ever" American Girl party drinks.  Hannah spotted these star ice cube trays at Walmart


    If that doesn't scream American Girl I don't know what does :)

    So we made them red with food coloring and served them in Sprite.


    After their bellies were full, we made "Doll and Me Hairbands."


    Using what I now know are shank buttons thanks to the precious lady at Hobby Lobby who corrected my "buttons with the circle things on the back."


    To make them we pulled the hairband through the circle and then looped the remainder of the hairband through like this tutorial shows.  Because the hairbands were a little thick, we used some of the necklace string to more easily thread the hairband through.  The girls loved picking matching sets for them and their dolls.  I loved that both activities allowed the girls to bring their individual favorite colors and styles to life.

    Before they left they put all their treasures in take home bags from Target.



    Their crafting truly brought out their inner star and the girls had an amazing time.


    "Even better" than they imagined possible according to these to adorable birthday girls.



    What a great afternoon bringing the American Girl motto to life 
    "celebrating girls and all they can be." 


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    Saturday, September 7, 2013

    On My Bookshelf: 7

    With yesterday being National Read a Book Day I would be remiss not to tell you about the book on my bookshelf. It's getting under my skin and making me borderline neurotic. The book is 7



    by Jen Hatmaker. I have long loved Jen Hatmaker's blog because she tells it like it is without pretense but this is the first book of hers that I've read. I heard it was "good" and came strongly recommended by many. My friends that told me this should have forewarned me that it'd make its readers down right nutty before I suggested it to my entire bible study. Now we have a whole group of women with constant conscience checks thanks to my suggestion. Sorry group, but I think we are better for it.

    "I can't have authentic communion with Him while mired in the trappings He begged me to avoid." Hatmaker

    * I suddenly find myself carefully calculating my meal plans so that less is thrown away and I'm more cognizant of how much I consume in a world where too many go without.

    * I think about how much money is invested in the clothing sitting in my closet and consider what percent of it I really wear. 

    * I feel guilty that I drop off clothes at the Goodwill merely to clear my conscience & it has a convenient 24 hour drop off when I could more purposefully give my used treasures to places with specific needs.

    * I look at sale signs in the store windows with sadness for how it is widening the gap between those that can't afford and aiming to fuel the accumulation of what I don't need.

    * I question if my style shows people the authentic me or if it hinders my approachability.

    "His humility appeals to the unloveliness in us all.  We are drawn in by His simplicity, then transformed by His magnificence."  Hatmaker

    * I realize that a home I call modest would seem a castle to many around the world and yet I dare call it small.

    * Time sucks from the computer and TV and electronic overkill hinder my time in the Word and giving attention to my family.

    "Don't be fooled by the luxuries of the world; they cripple our faith."  Hatmaker

    * I find myself digging toothpaste and lipstick boxes out of the garbage because they are a couple among many things that could be recycled and I was too lazy to realize it.  This is now driving my husband a small form of crazy because I told him he shouldn't be throwing toilet paper rolls in the garbage and called him out a Little Debbie box.  He's never known me to be a tree hugger but if God calls the earth good I'm convicted to take more efforts to care for it.

    *  I bought plastic sandwich and treat containers that I have to hand-freaking-wash to put school lunches in because I'm pretty sure my use of plastic sandwich bags is offensive.

    * I'm trying to support more handmade businesses that make more use of my every dollar.

    * I'm challenging myself to be more at peace with mama life that sometimes includes a few messes and still invite guests more warmly into my home because it invites friends into my real life and opens up communion with the authentic me.

    * I'm looking at the money spent on our homes and church buildings and giving and personal lives and asking myself if the Lord would truly recognize me as Christian based on how that looks.

    "Annual U.S. and European spending on perfume: $12 billion
     Clean water for all global citizens  $9 billion"    Hatmaker

    * I sometimes build more into my day than I should and the result is self-driven stress.

    * I'm aware that the sharing of an apple with someone in need could actually be the sign of God's presence & I'm wondering what I'm withholding from the expanding of the Kingdom.

    And as if seeing my world in a whole new way isn't enough to do me in, heartfelt words about their adoption call actually made me cry at the gym.  Had my face not been red and drowned in sweat from the stationary bike people would've seen my tears.


    I'm currently obsessed with The Rend Collective's "Build Your Kingdom Here" because of lyrics like this

    We seek Your kingdom first
    We hunger and we thirst
    Refuse to waste our lives
    For You're our joy and prize
    To see the captive hearts released
    The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
    We lay down our lives for heaven's cause
    We are Your church
    We pray revive
    This earth

    Lyrics that fit the mission of this book and make me a better version of myself.  I'm convinced that the implementation of Hatmaker's ideas could change the tide of our culture.

    My bible study has met each week at the coffee shop (isn't this the perfect coffee cup for our read) and become a more thankful people with more mission focused hearts.  I thought I was doing it well, but blinders have come off and there is more room for intentional living than I even realized to be true. 

    Add it to your reading lists, friends.  I'm convinced this is a book no one should miss.


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