The Middle of Nowhere: How I Learned to Love More

I’m visiting grandparents this week. They live in the middle of nowhere at least 5 miles down a country dirt road. I am not exaggerating! This is not where I grew up, my dad moved here for his job my freshman year in college.

Everything here seems so much more expansive. You can see stars for miles. You can see all sorts of creatures. We see birds, flowers, bees, spiders, lizards, raccoons, and even the occasional deer or fox.  Of course we can see most of these at home, but somehow it seems more impressive, more expansive, bigger.

Life is slower. There is no rushing here and there, partly because it’s the way of life, and partly because there are just not that many choices. You can only drive so fast over a 5 mile gravel road with potholes. There is so much to do, yet so little. My daughter has a huge forest land to run and play in, a nature park right outside the door. “Granny” has tons of old toys and books which are completely new to my daughter.  There are birds to watch, lizards to catch, bees to run from. There is plenty of space to throw a ball that does not entail mommy chasing it down a steep hill (our current home situation)! The best part of all: there are at least 2 other people to give her attention: Granny and Granddaddy!

I love my city, my house, my life. I don’t wish to move to the country (though I would not rule it out), but the country is a nice place to visit. This country place reminds me of just how beautiful life can be. It shows me how to be present and oh, how the opportunities abound for teaching about how awesome our God is. How majestic is His name!

“Can you count the stars?”  “Isn’t it amazing how God made all these stars.” “Look how many variety of flowers there are; it looks like a painting.” “How great is it that God gave you so many people who love you.”   “Look how God made the lizards and spiders.”

This country place makes me stop. It makes me slow down. This place reminds me to appreciate the world God has given to me and to respect it. It reminds me to share my love of God with my children and with others.  There is something about an old porch swing that gives you answers, answers that were in front of me all along.

1. Point out God’s wonder and beauty around you. God made the butterflies, the stars, and you. Just like you can’t count the stars, you can’t measure how great is God’s love for you.

2.  Spend Thirty Minutes a Day with your loved ones.  I’m currently reading Purposeful Parenting, by Jean S. Barnes. She suggests to spend 30 minutes a day with our loved ones.

“Practicing the Thirty Minutes a Day Rule became intentional- and turned into so much more. By intentionally making thirty minutes a day for simply delighting in one another, we learned how to really pay attention to each other in snatches too…. Looking for ways to give one another undivided attention became a lifestyle, and it strengthened our relationships just like layer upon layer of glue holds things together, because nothing makes the ones you love feel more cherished than your attention, your constant practice of being there. In being there, I discovered another wonderful practice in how to show the kind of love that’s transforming. This practice is about seizing extraordinary moments that might otherwise pass you by as ordinary. It’s about seeing the cracks in your child’s soul, where values, discoveries, and new ideas can be planted and begin to seep in and take root.”

I say we take this a little further, and also apply it to significant others or anyone else we may be living with at the moment, be that a roommate, a parent, or sibling.

3. Pray in the moment. In the serenity of the country, I was looking at Facebook (ironic, I know!), and I saw a post from a friend whose son is having surgery. I showed my daughter the picture of the little boy and I said, “He is sick. He needs our prayers.” Then we prayed right then. I had never done this before. It must have been God given. I think it did leave an impression on my 3 year old, but it taught me so much more.

4. Accept distractions.  Though the country is quiet at times, often it really is not. You have tree branches creaking, birds chirping, porch swings rocking, bees and hummingbirds buzzing. At night there is the wind blowing when it is stormy, frogs and crickets singing their melody. And the occasional cougar screaming (yes there are cougars in that part of the world). Owls may hoot and woodpeckers are pecking, but though the wind may be blowing through the trees, the distractions are different. It is the distraction of just watching in amazement at the bumblebees for 20 minutes as my sister and daughter did; it is the finding of extraordinary large pine cones and the variety of flowers all around you. It is the distractions of chasing the squirrels and raccoons off the bird feeders. Yes it is a different distraction, one that is God given.

I recently attended a conference where the one thing that stuck out to me was that our children our an interruption ministry. That has changed how I look at parenting. Instead of being annoyed every time I am interrupted while cleaning the dishes or doing laundry (these tasks will take me all day, if finished at all), if I look at my children as a ministry, it changes my whole demeanor.

5. Tell them you love them. This goes for more than just your children, but includes your friends, your spouse, your siblings and parents. We all need to hear that someone loves us. God did not make us to be solitary people, he made us to be loved and to love. Tell those that are important to you that you love them. All the time. Everyday.  I love you even when… I love you especially when…. I love you all the time.

Thanks for reading! Please share with those who need to hear these words!

For the Love of Chocolate

DSC_0197I LOVE chocolate! Just about any kind, with nuts, without, with peanut butter, caramel, whatever. If it has chocolate in it or around it, I will eat it and be bribed by it. One of my favorite kinds of chocolate is Dove chocolate, every flavor. I even love the little sayings that come in the wrapper. Now, I’m sure the Dove manufacturers did not intend to provoke profound thinking on their wrappers. And often, I just read them in passing. Some are cute, some are downright stupid (sorry Dove), and some are sweet. But one recently did have me pondering deep thoughts (maybe it’s the breastfeeding hormones).  “Do all things with love.”

Do ALL things with LOVE. Really?? Do ALL things with LOVE? Am I supposed to potty train with love, change diapers with love, eat, feed my children, fold laundry with love? While these things seem trivial, are they? What if we did everything from the lens of “Do ALL things with LOVE“.

Would that make the mundane things a little more enjoyable, or just increase the pressure of being a parent? After all, as all moms and dads know, toddlers and infants are exhausting (as I’m sure any age can be).  Between taking my two year old to the potty for the millionth time, cleaning the floor and sheets from pee and poo (I am happy to report that we are now almost completely potty trained!, just trying to get that #2!). Between  begging her to go # 2 on the potty and bribing her with a new toy and ice cream (which has not worked), and just short of forcing her on the toilet (which I realize does not work either!).  Between nursing every few hours to soothing a fussy baby at all hours, the last thing I  think about sometimes is love. I think about sleep and rest and peace! I think about being able to sit down with my lunch and not have little hands grabbing at my plate demanding at that instant to eat, even though they may have just eaten or just said they were done! I think about drinking HOT tea or coffee. I want to read a book in its entirety and in one sitting. I want to finish writing this post without interruption. I want to be able to eat my chocolate without having to hide it or share it with my child.

Maybe that is the point. Parenting is not glorious work. But neither was Jesus’ work . Did he want to constantly be traveling and speaking and healing? How many times did he get interrupted while praying or having a meal with his friends. How many times did he get woken up by cries and whines? How many times did he just want to spend time with his Father without having to break up an argument or soothe somebody? He did those things out of love and with love. Do ALL things with love.

“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16: 14

What if, instead of lamenting our days away we said the following instead:

How amazing is it that my two year old is learning to go to the bathroom all by herself? How awesome is it that I can see my baby boy growing right before my eyes?. How extraordinary are all those dirty and wet diapers, for they are a sign that he is healthy?

While not the most glorious acts, these are all opportunities to show love. Show our love in discipline and teaching and learning. And even though this season of my life with young children seems to be dragging by at times, I know this too shall pass. Will I look back and say I did all things with love and that my children knew they were loved? At the end of the day, ask yourself:  Did I have a heart filled with love or was my heart weary and weighed down with the tasks and to do lists of the day?

I want to make sure my children know that they are loved. I don’t want them to remember a clean house, every meal being at 6:30, or an organized playroom. While there is certainly nothing wrong with, and I do aim for those things, my point is this:

I want my children to remember the laughter we shared, coloring and building blocks together. I want them to remember me baking with them and taking them to the park. I want them to have love filled memories.  I want them to remember that I loved them, just as they were. And, perhaps, I will share my chocolate. 🙂 (Sometimes…)

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to share!

Be sure to follow me for weekly encouragement from the realities of my ordinary life!

SOME of MY FAVORITE THINGS THIS WEEK

This week has been the start of a busy next few weeks, so I wanted to end the week on a positive note.  So here are a few of my favorite things this week:

1. My husband. Today happens to be his birthday, so in celebration of that day, I have to say he definitely tops my list of favorite people. He puts up with my craziness and loves me adoringly. I know, even though we fight and drive each other crazy sometimes, I am so lucky to have him in my life. I thank God for allowing me to find him!  My constant prayer is that our relationship’s priority will be God centered.

2. In celebration of this day, it is also my husband’s cousin’s birthday today! She tops my list as well. She is like a sister to my husband and has become the same for me. Ironically, I met her before I ever met my husband, as we happened to go to the same college and crossed paths briefly her first year and my last.

Happy birthday to both of these amazing people!

3. Sunshine after two weeks of rain and flash flooding! I am thankful for the rain and all that it means, but I love the sunshine so much more!

4.  Making a successful dinner that my husband, my daughter and myself all loved! There were no left overs. Here is the recipe if you want to try it!

Drumsticks with Roasted Grapes

Ingredients:

1 lb. chicken drumsticks; 3 tsp. of olive oil, divided; 1 1/2 tsp. chopped rosemary; 3/4 tsp. salt, divided, plus a pinch of pepper; 1 cup red grapes; 1 cup quick cooking polenta; 2 tsp. unsalted butter; 1 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toss the chicken with 2 tsp. olive oil, the rosemary, 1/4 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Roast chicken for 10 minutes. Toss the grapes with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp. olive oil. Add the grapes to the baking sheet. Roast 25 more minutes.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil. Add the polenta in a thin stream, and whisk until smooth. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat. Stir in the butter, sprinkle with Parmesan, and serve with the chicken, grapes, and pan juices.

Credit goes to the magazine, PARENTS, March 2015

5. MOPS meeting: I am finally feeling like I am starting to make connections. As an introvert, part time nurse, and full time mother and wife, it is so hard to make connections and friendships with people. The introvert part of me makes that especially hard, as it is way out of my comfort zone to share myself and my life with others. That and my tendency to think others won’t care, really hinders my relationship building sometimes. Add to that a busy life, and that is a hard equation to solve.

6. My awesome sister finished her first marathon! (And a trail marathon at that!) She constantly does things that blow my mind! She was my hero as a child and I am proud to call her friend now!

7. Family time with a grandfather, uncle, aunt, cousins, great uncle and aunt, and several other family friends! What more could I ask for then to see my little girl building lifetime bonds with all these wonderful people!

It was a busy and memorable week! Not every week is so busy or memorable, but they are all extraordinary in their ordinary way! Feel free to share some of your favorite things of the week! I would love to hear about it!

We Made it Through Five Years of Marriage!

January 16th marked my husband and mine’s five-year anniversary. Yay! We made it!  Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but with the grim statistics that always seem to be reported, I am overjoyed at this feat. It has not been without struggles, but we continue to grow stronger together. I told myself that I was not allowed to give marriage advice until we had at least been married five years (and even then, just advice to those who have been married for less than 5 years). Now, I am not a marriage counselor, so this is by no means professional advice. I am continually being humbled and shown what it means to love. I would just like to share what has helped my husband and I through our first five years. Hopefully it can help you in your marriage or provide a renewal.  I would love for you to share your advice, especially those who have been married for ten plus years!  We are nothing if we are not humble enough to accept advice or constructive criticism.
1. COMPROMISE: You hear it all the time. But for a control freak like myself, it is a hard pill to swallow. But there are things you will not agree on, and you will have to find a compromise.

2. Be direct with what you need. Guys and girls are different. There are multiple books written on the subject, but just listening to marriage complaints among your friends or co workers is enough to make you see that you are different. Men and women talk about different things. Just listen, and you will see. (Of course there are always exceptions). Men are not mind readers and they are not thinking about folding that pile of laundry that has been sitting in your living room for a week, or giving the dog a bath, or how much the floors need to be cleaned. They just aren’t. (We, as women, could probably learn something from them on that note). It does not mean they are purposely trying to infuriate you, they just need you to tell them what you need.

3. Try not to talk about your husband or wife negatively to others. There are times, especially as women, we need to vent  It  needs to be to a trusted person, whom you know will be honest with you. It is so easy to get caught up in the comparison trap and the bashing talks. But nothing good can come from it. Just walk away.

4. Say thank you! And I appreciate you. And I love you. Say it often. Say it again and again. Say it for any little thing. Thank him for taking the trash out even when he always does it. Thank him for walking the dog. Thank him for letting you sleep or workout while he watches the kid(s). Thank him for going to the grocery story or picking up dinner (even if forgets something or picks up the wrong item). Just remember to say it!

5. Take time for just the two of you. Make a pre planned date. Even if it is just driving around town for an hour. Maybe it’s twice a month, once a month, once a week. Find what works for you.

6. Have a weekly or daily devotional or family time. It does not have to be a drawn out affair. Maybe even just 5 minutes. I can tell a huge difference in my husband and mine’s tension and communication when we don’t do this. It keeps you honest and focused.

7. Your spouse needs to be first priority (aside from God). Not your kids, not your siblings, not your parents or in-laws, but your spouse! I strongly believe to have a strong relationship with all the latter, you need to put your spouse first. I know (especially with children) that it seems counter intuitive. But your kids will be healthier and happier for it. They need to see that you value each other. Where do you think they are going to learn how to be a functional member of society or learn how to love?

As stated previously, I am by no means a marriage counselor or therapist. The above statements are what have worked for my family thus far and my personal opinions.  I am just an ordinary woman trying to find the extraordinary in my daily living.

Finally, I am going to share some of my favorite books on marriage and relationships. I would love your book recommendations and marital advice!

Sacred Marriage: by Gary Thomas

Captivating: by John and Stasi Eldredge

Wild at Heart: by John Eldredge

Couples Who Pray: by Rushnell Duart

The Five Love Languages: by Gary Chapman

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Our One Year Anniversary!
Our One Year Anniversary!

The 7 Most Amazing Women I Know!

We are defined by many things. You are the summary of those with whom you spend the most time. Sometimes, it is people who are still with you, other times it is from the past. For me, the following women have made me who I am today:

1. My mom. I would not be the person I am today without her. We’ve had our struggles (particularly when I was a bratty smart mouth teenager), and we still do at times (as I suppose all mothers and daughters do). She is amazing. She raised three daughters (at one point all under the age of 5, two under the age of 3). She moved from Illinois to go to college in Arkansas away from all her family. She then met my dad in college. They provided us with an amazing childhood full of birthday parties, girl scouts, vacations, baking cookies, and many more of which I could write pages upon pages.

2. My eldest sister, Andria. She was my hero growing up, the person whom I looked up to most. At about 4 years apart, I thought she was the most beautiful person; I wanted to be just like her (probably to her annoyance). She has been through so much in her life of which I could  never understand. She has also had some amazing accomplishments: Master’s degree, Nationally board certified teacher, just to name a few. About 6 years ago, She also moved to a new town where she knew virtually nobody but me and my boyfriend (now husband) and her now husband. 🙂 More on that another day.

3. My 2nd eldest sister, Jamie. We are 15 months apart. (I do not know how my mother did that especially after having a baby of my own. I would have freaked!). We shared a room most of our lives and fought like cats and dogs. But when push came to shove, we were always there for each other. Now  she is one of my best friends.  I could not be more proud of her right now. She is about to graduate from college in May. She works full time, takes care of two kids, is married, and is going to school basically full time. She is a living testament to the word determination.

4. My lifetime friend, Amy. Friends since we were toddlers (so our parents say), we were never far apart till I left for college. We have drifted as most friends do, but she is the one non- family member I make an effort to see when I am in my home town. (More a testament to her than my lack of efforts to see other very worthy people). She is,  without a doubt, one of the strongest women I have ever known. I hope to share her story (with her permission) one day.

5. My Grandma Johnson. She passed away April 2013, right as I was driving down to visit and introduce her to her newest great granddaughter. Again, I must cherish our 21st century face-time, as that was the only time she was able to see Sophie’s little face. She passed away before we got to her town. She was an amazing woman with stories to be told that I may never know myself. She lived to be in her 80s. It always amazed me how sharp her mind was and that she was still visiting nursing homes in her 70s. I have some great memories of the pies she made, the games she played with us, and many more memories. My daughter has part of her name. I only hope I can share the legacy of that name.

6. My mother-in-law, JoAnne. We recently lost her to a fight with cancer in late July. It still breaks my heart that she will not be able to be with our Sophie and any future children. She loved being a grandmother. She was a woman of great service, hospitality and love. Even in her illness, she had a servant’s heart.  I can only hope to impart her love to Sophie so that she will never be forgotten.

7. This last one is for my daughter, who I can only pray will be as amazing as our God will allow. She is amazing now in how she has changed my world and inspired me to love more and to be more bold in my living. It is such a huge responsibility to raise a child, at which I am only succeeding  by the grace of God. She lights up a room and fills my heart with silliness and love.

There  are many more amazing women (and men) in my life of which I hope to share their stories one day.  Remember to take the time to tell those that are important in your life how much they mean to you . One day will be our last day. Let them know, either by mouth or letter, but let them know soon.

Matthew 5:16 (ESV): In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

2006, My sister, Jamie, pregnant with her firstborn
2006, My sister, Jamie, pregnant with her firstborn
2012, Three Amazing women standing next to me . Expecting my first child.
2013, Three Amazing women standing next to me . Expecting my first child.