Friday, November 18, 2016

Living Out of the Box Around a Thankful Table

This post was written for and published on Bought Beautifully's blog for their "Thankful Table" series...

One neatly wrapped box awaited to be opened, to be seen, to be marveled at what could not fit in that box.

Six young, anxious sleepy-eyed girls scurried to the tree one Christmas morning on Goodrich Street. There were wrapped presents scattered under the stubby asymmetrical tree, but tearing through those presents wouldn’t be the memory imprinted for years to come. It would be that one small, neatly wrapped box with the slit cut through the top that would imprint its mark into one child’s mind.

The family surrounded that box, child anxious on her knees, as they enthusiastically removed the top, like a jack in the box, labeled, “My Gift to Jesus.” They each received and read their own slip of paper and remembered their gift to Jesus written the previous year and witnessed in their hearts how God had responded out-of-the-box in the messiness of real life. They then closed the box and parents and children wrote down a new offering–something from their heart in response to what God had given–and folded that offering three or four times before slipping it through the slit again.

There was just something special about recording what was significant to a particular time and capturing it for a lifetime. There was something about witnessing what was good and promising in the midst of life unraveling; God’s faithfulness through it.

Those little girls wouldn’t sit around that gift box in front of their family tree in the years to come. Instead they would witness life’s heartaches and brokenness in their young lives. They would feel a family divided and a new land open wide across their own. But they would continue to offer their gifts outside of that box and would continue to see God.

They would see restoration, redemption and hope.

Across the sea, in Haiti, a man or woman crafts a journal. They don’t have the luxuries that we know here in America. Children will carry water and walk a long road to school only because of a chance they’ve been given, not simply “a given.”

They work ferociously with their hands and feel abundance in their hearts.

The hands that made this journal have also known heartache and brokenness. The hands that made this journal have been rescued from poverty and dependency and are now able to provide for their family with dignity.

The journal tells a powerful story of restoration and hope. 

Those six girls hovering around that gift box in front of a tree on Goodrich Street grew up and expanded their family to over forty members when they gather for a holiday, including parents, husbands and children.

That family is mine. The child anxious on her knees, me. I’m still that child on her knees, anxious to see how God is working through stories unfolding.

Across the sea, men and women are giving their children hope for their future. They call themselves 2nd Story Goods because a new story is beginning to emerge in each of their lives.

This Thanksgiving all forty something members of my family–five sisters, husbands, twenty plus children and grandparents will all pile in and gather around my family’s home where we will continue to offer our gifts, this time around a thankful table, writing (and drawing for the littlest ones) in one of those beautifully handcrafted journals from Haiti that tells its own story.

A story of restoration, redemption and hope.

As I’ve grown, I’ve come to see how all our stories are connected. We are all born into hope, come to know brokenness and are restored back to hope through a Savior who pursues us, rescues us and makes all things new. The hands and feet of Jesus may look a little different in each of our lives, and I wonder if we always recognize them, yet it is the key to a beautiful story unfolding.

Now we have a way to connect to a story of restoration across the globe, to also be the hands and feet of Jesus, and build hope for their future.

So let’s reach around the globe this year and join hearts and hands around a thankful table of believers, as we share our stories and offerings of thanksgiving.

And then witness how God works outside of that neatly wrapped box. 

Bought Beautifully's mission is to search the globe to find ministries, organizations, artists, entrepreneurs, and individuals who are living out God's call to love. Bought Beautifully sells their products so that you can live out love through your purchases. 

[2nd Story Goods is one of the many vendors Bought Beautifully partners with.]

Over the next few weekBought Beautifully will be partnering with different people on various platforms for a “Thankful Table” series with the hope for this series to share ideas and inspiration to encourage thankfulness this holiday season.  I am honored to kick off the series. Won't you click on over and see whats cooking over the next week?

Browse Bought Beautifully's website and marketplace here.
Browse Bought Beautifully's blog here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When You Need Your Child To Know God Not Just About God

We'd sit on the couch for the better part of an hour – before jammies were swapped for shorts and a t-shirt – snuggling and remembering when this gangly boy, who stretches to my shoulders, was two and three and four and couldn't get enough of my snuggles.

"I remember when I didn't want our snuggles to end," he'd say.

And there we'd sit intertwined, his sisters and brother running through the back yard.

It'd started with a journal entry and a prayer for him on this morning, before sleepy eyes opened and fatigued bodies wandered upstairs. A prayer that words could not contain for a life so beautiful, yet not fully mine.

You realize that when they're ten – how their outcome is really not yours to determine, no matter how much influence you've had. You realize it's time to step back, let the men step in and to leave plenty of room for mistakes – and for God.

And I'd pray for that to happen and for his heart to grow into one after God's own and that I'd trust God's provision over his life.

And I don't know what this looks like or what it means to become less so his father can become more – more of a role of his Heavenly Father for him – so I pray that God do it in spite of me. Oh please, do it in spite of me. 

Because this quickly growing child doesn't want to read a devotion in the morning and has gotten out of the practice of reading his bible at night, but he has all the right answers. And I wonder if he knows because he's been told or because he's tasted and seen.

We'd talk about God, sitting their together, but only after we'd jump in puddles, play backyard soccer  and giggle, all the while snuggled on the couch together.

Then we'd talk about how vast God is, how he can be in today and yesterday at the same time. That a thousand years to us is a day to Him and how His ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts.

And I'd ask, in the context of God's greatness, if it made sense that we, human beings, should know and understand the mysteries of God before we should believe?

"Well, no." He'd say as though completely absurd.

How can we, in our finite minds, understand a God who is not measured by time or space, as we are?

No, we'd agree that we have to believe in the greatness of our God in order to know. And when we do put our trust in Him, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to more than we could have ever seen on our own.

And I'd quietly entrust his heart to God again right there.

We'd do this talking for the better part of an hour and I wouldn't need to tell him how much I desire he grow in relationship with Jesus, not just know about Him. I wouldn't need to tell him because we would have experienced relationship, just then, in a way I would want him to experience relationship with Jesus, and he wouldn't want to get up when I asked if he was ready to get dressed for the day. So we'd sit snuggling and talk some more, like he didn't want it to end.

And I think that maybe this releasing will draw him closer to the heart of Jesus – just sitting with him, reminiscing, giggling and talking about the wonders of God – closer than all of my instruction and trying, stacked up to heaven, could afford.

Sharing with Tell His Story

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Quest for Home: Part Two

I'm honored to be writing this post as part of Emily Wierenga's blog tour for her new book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home In The Last Place I Thought To Look! 

You may want to read, A Quest for Home: Part One, before reading today's post, the conclusion. 

Five sisters sang every chance we had in Wyoming, but living on opposite ends of the state wasn't much different than living 2000 miles away, so I moved north after one semester at the university.

In the next year and a half, we performed the National Anthem for a Colorado Rockies game, a pre-show to the rodeo for Cheyenne Frontier Days and other local gigs. We traveled to the Music City to record a demo CD and met with agents and producers. We were five sisters turning heads and I didn't even own a pair of cowgirl boots or listen to country music.

But I found comfort in pursuing life with my sisters in the way we had bonded growing up. I didn't feel so disappointed in my family, and I wasn't running from them or trying to prove something to them – or myself – anymore.

Somewhere in this time of setting aside my pride and leaving New Jersey I submitted, let go, accepted who I was as the daughter of the imperfect mother who bore me and fought for me, like she did her own life and still fights for things that matter because she's a fighter. And the imperfect father who couldn't be there for me because he was and always had been too far away, when I just needed my daddy. And a sister to the five girls who had felt the same fears, shared in the same disappointments, and journeyed the same distance to the unknown territory we had come to call home for the past thirteen years.

And it was beginning to feel like home.

So I went back to school through the universities extension program and kept singing with my sisters until I got my degree and singing waned and I met, right there where I started, the man I wasn't even looking for.

In the place our children now call home.

There were good things throughout my wanderings. For one's journey is never truly in vain, no matter how lost one becomes.

I had to journey into the valley and through the depths to make the climb back up and out the other side, into the land of freedom.

And I was on the up-climb.

Journaling my journey not only healed me, but taught me to be a writer. Poetry and song lyrics flowed from me like honey. And God was in the writing and the healing.

Because though I left, God didn't leave me.

I left Montana searching for something outside the fabric of my very being and I ran from God because the life He had given me wasn't good enough, so I didn't think I needed Him anymore. But I did.

And the outward journey was really about an inward journey. 

It wasn't about where I took that Greyhound or from which state I was uprooted. Leaving had always been about how far I was willing to run from the roots of my heritage, the sin of my family, and from the God who walked with me and held me every step of the way.

And the arriving was never about how far, but how deep, I was willing to go to find home.

I don't know if God just, poof! healed the bulimia or if simply choosing to walk in obedience to Him brought me complete freedom. When I finally stopped running, it eliminated the need to stuff – like there was simply nothing to shove down anymore, nothing to purge from my life, or to run from or to.

I found that sense of home simply where I allowed Christ to reside, in all of the empty spaces, and in the very life He had lain before me. 

I found home where I could  feed the hungry, embrace the hurting, and truly forgive; and He never said it would be easy. 

Although I grew up a Christ follower, this was the beginning of my life growing and flourishing in Him. It's where I learned who I truly was and the very purpose of my being.

An acceptance that I was His. I was bought with a price and because of that, I was free.

I'm still on the up–climb, thirteen years later, and the work of walking in freedom never felt so good. Because I know what awaits me at the end of this quest. I've seen it from a distance, I've experienced it in glimpses and it's that place we're all longing for this side of heaven – home.


I've been reading Emily Wierenga's book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home In The Last Place I Thought To Look, and loving her story and journey that reminds me so much of the moral of my story and journey – our journey's. We can all relate to this travel memoir, on some level, about how God gently pursues us where ever we go and gently leads us back home. Emily is and award winning journalist and author of four books. All proceeds for Atlas Girl go to The Lulu Tree, a non-profit helping moms and orphans in Uganda. Get your copy here!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Quest for Home: Part One

I'm honored to be writing this post as part of Emily Wierenga's blog tour for her new book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home In The Last Place I Thought To Look! 

"Don't go," my mother would plead in tears one day and, "I want you to go. I don't want to hold you back," the next. Her emotions were back and forth, up and down for weeks before my planned departure and it broke my heart to see her struggle like that, but my mind was made up. My school year at MSU–B was concluding and I was taking a Greyhound with a friend to Bloomfield, New Jersey–a town just past Newark.

It wasn't that there was anything spectacular waiting for my friend and me there. A one-bedroom apartment, four roommates and a job at a steak house is all that awaited us.

But I was twenty-three and had been longing for home since I was eleven, when my five sisters and I were abruptly uprooted from our home in Pennsylvania and our roots in New York, and moved to the middle of nowhere in Wyoming because my mom had a friend who said it was a good place for a single mom to raise six girls.

A Greyhound to New Jersey was simply the closest I could get to where I thought home had been. And although I thought I was running to a place I once called home, I was really running away. I thought I would do and find and be everything that my family couldn't in a broken, dysfunctional upbringing.

I ran from church and God, though I wouldn't admit it because I wasn't abrasive by nature, so it still looked like God when I believed the power was within me and I couldn't put my finger on why I felt so discontent. So alone.

I ran from limitations and feelings of inferiority. I ran from fear, betrayal, abandonment, and disappointment.

I ran from needing to have my life in control, and from binging and purging when it clearly wasn't.

I didn't know what to do with those confused feelings that surfaced, so I stuffed them, then got rid of them, then cried – day after day.

I ran because I knew I was created for something more, something important, something with purpose and meaning – and I didn't know how to get there without crashing hard in trying.

I could see where I wanted to be – that bright meadow just across the way. But a deep cliff leading into a valley separated me from that glorious place, and I simply couldn't keep my footing.

Maybe I was looking for a way around it.

And so I left.

And the next year I spent searching. I earned my rent most days and learned how to survive in the big world–a world that didn't have answers, just a lot of activity. A world void of meaningful relationships, but best if you had connections.

My roommate and I rode the bus to NYC on days off work and spent many evenings in local pubs. We spent the summer weekends on Jersey Shore, and in this area of city life everyone wanted to know whether you were an actress, singer or model.

The thought of being somebody was invigorating.

Maybe if I were one of those I would have at least known who I was. But I didn't have the upbringing that pushed me to strive for any of those – except maybe singing, but I wasn't meant to sing alone. So I continued to feel lost, clinging to those opinions that claimed I "should be" one of those, famous somehow.

Or maybe if I found Mr. Right, everything would fall into place. I played the part of being set apart – picky, in other words – so that I would surely find the "right" one. But instead of finding him, I made him up in the charming ones I met. Because I didn't believe he was really out there and I just wanted so badly to be cherished and rescued from an empty life.

And what I found in this place two thousand miles away and only hundreds from where grew up, was that I was farther from home than ever. I found that disappointment followed and discontentment grew, even in all of the fun – all that empty, worldly fun.

I found that the power in me was not strong enough to win those battles I fought within. I wouldn't remember it just yet, that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world, and without Him I was powerless.

I didn't want to go back to Wyoming, but a broken relationship and a persuasive sister convinced me to go back to the university town because she wanted me closer to home to sing in a sister group they had formed, because we sang together growing up and music was the one thing that bonded our broken family.

So I set aside my pride that I needed to prove something and said okay as long as I could finish my degree.  I bought my plane ticket, packed my bag and weary heart and said good-bye to my one roommate left, the one I came with, then landed at the University of Wyoming for the following school year.

I wasn't home, but familiar faces and fresh, clean air made me feel a little closer.

How and where did I finally find home? Click here for the conclusion of A Quest for Home.

I've been reading Emily Wierenga's book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home In The Last Place I Thought To Look, and loving her story and journey that reminds me so much of the moral of my story and journey – our journey's. We can all relate to this travel memoir, on some level, about how God gently pursues us where ever we go and gently leads us back home. Emily is and award winning journalist and author of four books. All proceeds for Atlas Girl go to The Lulu Tree, a non-profit helping moms and orphans in Uganda. Get your copy here!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

And Then God Shows Up: How Our First Homeschool Year is Concluding {and an encouragement for you}

Everyone who chooses to homeschool inevitably encounters that first year experience. The experience that says it was hard but it was worth it. Maybe I'm speaking for myself when I say that the hard in that first year is really in the pruning of the parent. Me.

The hardest points this year for me were when I most held on to control, expectation and fear in this new and uncertain endeavor. When I would not fully trust the direction God was taking us but rather, found myself bound by checklists and duty to a system–just another confining system. This will be your biggest challenge, too.

And the most growth that has taken place is when God has opened my eyes to a child not just a curriculum and a personality, learning style or bent not just a schedule. That will be your greatest freedom.

And truthfully, the only way that kind of freedom happens is through the breaking of those chains–those confining chains that are all in the name of the "best interest" of our children. Turns out, God knows that better than we do.

Burdens inevitably lie in the need to meet more or simply different varieties of our children's needs. And those burdens are heavy because we're human and because we deeply love these lives we've been entrusted–burdens for them, heavy enough that we seek and pray and lay those burdens at the foot of the cross.

And we press on and love them and persevere and there are wonderful moments and glimpses of the bigger picture in and through it all.

Make no mistake, though, there will be burden and brokenness in that first year of homeschool. Maybe there always will be. And shouldn't there be? Because that's where God shows up. I mean really shows up.

He clears the path where obstacles have lain. He opens doors where none were seen. He brings clarity where there has been confusion, provides rest where we've become weary, and offers hope in the face of despair.

God is so good. He is opening doors for next year in ways that only he can be glorified through it. Some things you just can't engineer through sheer will. People, schedules and needs don't always mesh but when God orchestrates something in your life, it just falls into place. 

What can I say, but our community of collaborators and resources are growing. We have all made new friends along with the old and I am so excited to see what God will continue to do as we seek him and entrust the lives of our children to him.

As homeschooling parents, we have got to have long-term vision, patience and perseverance. The first year may be the hardest, but God will surely bless those efforts and act of obedience. If we press on, we will see those seasons of harvest, as we continue to be molded by the Perfecters hands.  And we will witness that God clearly shows up to provide for every one of our needs.

We have concluded our year with a field trip back to Bradford Brinton Memorial and presenting memory work to Green House Living next week. We're concluding with much satisfaction and gratitude and so much more to look forward to. God is good.

I think I can really breathe now.
But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory in Christ Jesus. –Phil 4:19

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

6 Ideas for Downtime this Summer {Plus a Bonus Weekly Agenda}

We have the freezer stocked with frozen treats, books out, prize box filled, and just days left until summer vacation! We’re planning lots of downtime, but even constant downtime needs a plan. Otherwise, everyone can go a little batty very quickly!

Here are some ideas for your summer down time:

1. Plan a Service Project:

We're kicking off the summer with a group service project: last year we invited friends over and partnered with Craft Hope in making bracelets for orphanages in Russia.

This year I've contemplated keeping it local and having children make art together and then take it to a local nursing home's Alzheimer unit.

2. Go camping:

Camping is a must in Wyoming, along with other trips you may have planned. But even if you’re in a season of life where camping is not possible, pitch a tent in your backyard.

3. Create Your Own Summer Reading Program:

We'll read all summer long, but will have a special three-week incentive program. I got the idea for it last year here. Our kids loved this last summer! Robby was anticipating it already again at the beginning of May . They love it because they get to pick a prize every day. But also because they really do get immersed in the reading they/we do.

4. Implement Scripture memorization:

I've chosen the first section of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the Beatitudes, for the children to memorize over the summer. How far they get will be determined by each one's age.

Incentives for this might be a ticket for a date with mom, a date with dad, invite a friend over to play, etc. That way we're working in that quality time that we desire to make time for, too!

5. Do a Nature Study:

Learn about trees and flowers, bugs and birds all around your neighborhood and community. I found this great resource for doing a nature study here.

6. Choose an Organized Activity:

The YMCA, Sheridan College, and Sheridan Historical Society have programs for children ages, at least four and up.

I like to take advantage of time together over the summer so we try to keep individual activities at a minimum. I love to see the relationships of my children grow and imaginations soar when they have books to stimulate their imagination and time for uninterrupted play, to act out all of their new adventures.

Structure Your Week to Simplify Your Life:

This is  a great idea I found last year here, to schedule a little activity into each week.

Monday: Craft Day

We'll pull out the paints, glitter, clay, glue, scissors, (maybe even the sowing machine), etc. and get creative with a different fun project each week!

Tuesday: Library Day

We'll make a weekly trip to the library.

Wednesday: in the Kitchen Day

We'll try out new creations and recipes. My children love getting creative in the kitchen!

Thursday: Service Day

This may be making thoughtful notes for family, visiting a nursing home, or helping someone in need.

Friday: Fun Day

This will be our water play day: pools, fountains, water guns, slip and slides...

Keep in mind, much of your weekly agenda will take only part of the morning and still leave plenty of time for outdoor fun!

Summer time around here is a time of relaxation and fun with a little structure to keep everyone in the know as to what to expect, as the days can run into each other easily and quickly without a plan.

We hope to fit in plenty of exploration, playing in our backyard, parks with friends, tennis with grandpa, and getting wet with cousins - A LOT!

I am a believer in making a plan and then working it out flexibly. So go jot down some ideas and have a great summer!


Check out these great sites for more fun ideas for your summer:

Friday, May 2, 2014

Five-Minute-Friday: Mess

I'm joining Lisa-Jo Baker  for Five-Minute-Friday with the writing prompt: 


Legos and Playmobil are splattered across the downstairs floor, sound effects bouncing off of the walls. Another sits calmly, reading in the midst of the action. Math links and Base Ten blocks are scattered over the school room floor, a village is going up. And yet another sits quietly solving two-digit addition problems with Chopin playing in the background.

There are remnants of our day throughout this house and as much as I'd like to keep up on the mess, I'm finding there is a difference between staging and living. Because staging is how we want our life to appear, whereas living is jumping in and creating it. Another day, another hour might look a little different, but active none-the-less–active bodies, active minds, active emotions and I couldn't live this way before.

But this is different. Because I'm right here in the mess with these four children and when you're in it rather than observing it, the mess becomes art–beautiful, creative and peaceful.

We are creating art together in this home, splattering colors and textures of our unique blends.

And as an artist is not put off by messy remnants of his work while splattering paint on a canvas–I cannot be put off by the messy remnants of our ultimate vision.

When we walk into a room noticing only the mess, we miss the masterpiece.

Five Minute Friday