Showing Off Some Faith, Hope & Love {Giveaway}

UPDATE: Congratulations, Kim Mitchell, you are the winner of this giveaway.

The other day a friend of a friend came over. She was young and heading out of the country to do social work in the sex trafficking arena. We chatted and for a split second I sort of wanted to roll back the clock and live vicariously through her wide-eyed freedom and adventure.

As she started to leave, she said, “I’ve never had a place of my own or had a certain style, but when I do, I want it to look like yours. I think this is my style.”

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Oh, you mean colorful, inspiring hodgepodge? 

“I used to fill my home with stuff. A few years ago, I decided that it had to be meaningful and inspiring to stay,” I said as I pointed out the inspirational art, the pictures of Mercy House girls and babies, the colorful world maps and the missions statement over our fireplace.

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When people walk through my door, I pray my home offers them three things:

Faith-A reminder that God can do anything through anyone

Hope-He redeems our past and transforms our future

Love-I  want warm, infectious love for God and others to be felt

2013-09-13 01.22.59When Show Off Arts, my favorite inspirational art store asked if they could send these gorgeous canvases, I approved. This lovely trio are bright and colorful. They look amazing on my wall!2013-09-13 01.22.39Today, I’m giving away this beautiful set of three canvases. To be entered, please visit Show Off Arts and leave a comment here with your favorite piece.This giveaway ends Thursday.

Protecting Your Home from the Digital Invasion

“Mom, I can’t access “health and beauty” on Pinterest. I wanted to watch a hair braiding tutorial. Did you add another filter?” –words from my 13 year old daughter.

Oh, how far we’ve come with technology.

Hand holding smartphone with a blank screen

In 1997, I heard my first dial up to the Internet from the new shiny desktop computer in our first home. I got an email address.  It changed my world.

Way back when eBay was virtually unknown, I sold stuff to stay home with my first child. The Internet became an avenue for me to communicate and work without ever leaving my home (or getting out of my pajamas. Whatever.)

I know there are people in our culture who have opted out of owning a TV or a radio. They don’t stream Netflix or go to the movie theatre. They try to limit the influence of our culture. Believe me, I get this.

But most people in our society have access to the Internet at home. And many have it at their fingertips all the time from their phones to hand-held devices.

I wouldn’t be a blogger, an author or a non-profit founder without the Internet. It’s a big part of my life. And it’s the way of the future, from education to communication to hair care apparently, nearly every aspect of our lives is impacted and dependent upon technology. It’s great and my family embraces the digital age as much as the next.

But it’s scary because our generation of children have more access to technology than ever before. And with access, there is a barrage of negative images and information, we’d rather our children not be exposed to. As parents, we have to monitor not only what our kids are exposed to, but also their access.

Side note: I will say that as much as we try and filter bad things from coming in, we simply cannot protect our children from every bad image out there. It’s not possible or realistic. Our children are curious, sexual beings (scary thought, isn’t it?). As they mature, it is completely normal for them to be interested in sexuality. So rather than stick our heads in the sand and live in fear of them seeing a nasty image, we do what we can to filter and then we talk to them about what they will eventually be exposed to in some way. We explain through grace that the emotional and sexual feelings they are tempted with are NORMAL and most importantly, we offer them solutions on what to do with their curious thoughts by teaching them self control.

But today, I’m talking about establishing digital boundaries in your home.

My husband asked me to listen to this podcast the other day by authors Dr. Arch Hart and Dr. Sylvia Frejd, who co-authored the book Digital Invasion, The: How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships. Let me tell you, I was convicted. Because my job is on the Internet and it takes a lot of restraint (which sometimes I display and sometimes I don’t) to turn off technology.

While we heavily monitor what our kids are exposed to and over filter everything (I’ll share our favorite one tomorrow), we need to turn it off more. It’s our responsibility as parents to monitor good use of technology in front of our kids. I read a quote once about a mom gossiping about another mom who was on her iPhone the entire time during a birthday party. One of the ladies in the group responded, “Just think about how busy that mom must be to be on her phone. Isn’t it awesome she’s at the party?” Honestly, it made me feel less guilty about taking that important skype conversation in Kenya or sending the email regarding an issue at Mercy House.

But at the same time, no matter how busy we are, there is technology etiquette I want to establish in my home and model for my kids. As encouraged by Dr. Hart and Frejd:

 Establish Digital Boundaries

  1. Don’t check your phone while you are in a conversation (My kids don’t have smart phones or email, but some day they will. For now they are watching my husband and I).
  2. Don’t check your email/phone before you read your Bible (ouch)
  3. Take regular fasts from technology
  4. Set a time limit (see below)
  5. Time limits below might be shocking, so start by cutting whatever your kids are currently doing in half

According to America Academy of Pediatrics, based on research, this is the amount of time our children should be viewing technology (TV, games, computers, etc):

  • 0-2 years old-zero technology
  • 3-5 years-1 hour a day
  • 6-12 years-90 minutes a day
  • 13-19 years-2 hours a day *Most kids spend over 8 hours a day on technology

Of course, I realize that isn’t always practical. There are sick days and long, hard mom days (I KNOW, BELIEVE ME). But I think once we become aware of how much are kids are interacting with technology, we can evaluate if it’s too much.

(Here’s what is already on our etiquette list):

  1. Don’t bring technology to the dinner table
  2. We allow 30 minutes of mindless TV during the school week and 30 minutes of (educational) computer time or games and we are more lax on Saturdays
  3. Observe media free time every Sunday until 5pm

A recent study that interviewed 1000 kids from the ages of 4-18, showed these results: Technology is becoming a kind of “co-parent;” too much screen time is impeding childhood development; and parents’ obsession with their devices is harming communication with their children and even fracturing families.

“Children hate it when their parents pick them up and are on their phones and don’t even turn to say, ‘Hi honey, how was your day?’ Instead they’re giving them the shhh one minute signal which basically says ‘you’re not as important to me as whoever this other person on the phone is.’ Car rides to and from school as well as dinner, bath and reading time — parents should be present and phone-free for all of these daily rituals, she says. “Kids do not need our undivided attention all day long, but they do in those real-life moments of talking and reading and doing the hard work of parenting — dealing with meltdowns, teaching them how to pick up their clothes.” The bottom line: If you think your kids don’t notice that you’re distracted, you’re deluding yourself.”  The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital AgeCatherine Steiner-Adair EdD

And that quote alone, makes me want to unplug from technology and plug into my children.

Do you have technology etiquette in your home?

An Open Letter to the Mothers of Preschoolers:

Fun boy hanging on the rope, child's notebook page

Do you know what the hardest part of having a newborn was for me 11 years ago?

A two year old.

One day I answered the corded phone in the kitchen (yes, I’m that old) and made sure my two year old followed me. It was my mom, who lived more than 1000 miles away checking in on my chaos and her two grandchildren. My son was less than two months old, tucked safely in a bouncy seat in the other room.

I missed my mom a lot and hearing her voice was such a comfort. After a minute or so on the phone, I realized my two year old had left the kitchen. I put my mom on hold and ran to find my busy child. I had a new baby in the house and my two year old was what some might call A HANDFUL. Perhaps you know this stage?

I rounded the corner and found her leaning over her baby brother. She wasn’t hitting him and I sighed in relief. She ran off as I got close. But as I turned to head back to the phone, I noticed a strange red drool coming from my baby’s mouth out of the corner of my eye. My first thought was that he was bleeding.

AND THEN I FISHED A RED SKITTLE CANDY FROM HIS MOUTH.

My toddler tackled me from behind, “I share Momma!”

My baby smacked his lips and I sat in the middle of the floor and cried. I wondered how close my newborn came to choking and how close I was to shaking some sense into a two year old. My mom eventually hung up.

I have chased a two year old through a quiet library, screaming at the top of his lungs, both of us crying the whole way home.

I have whispered threats in the middle of the grocery store, bribing and begging my way down every aisle.

I have hung my head in shame after learning my three year old educated the church nursery staff on the details of his momma’s private parts.

I have packed my dinner in a To Go Box because we simply couldn’t make it through a meal in public with a two and four year old.

I have hated some days and longed for the quiet house that comes with the sacred nap time hour.

And for as many challenging days I had while mothering little people, there were three times as many that were simply good. Sweet chubby hugs, chocolate kisses, little hands in mine, the brilliant moment of teaching something new, watching little minds grasp and grow, counting breaths, stroking sleepy heads, the wonder of everyday.

But this letter isn’t a reminder to LOVE EVERY MINUTE  and LIVE IN THE MOMENT because one day it will all be gone. You get that. You’ve watched your tiny bundle turn into a toddler, you’ve packed away little onesies and big memories and I know you know your children are a precious gift from God. But honestly, there are some moments we don’t ever want to relive, there are some phases we won’t miss and there are some burdens of guilt we don’t need to carry.

You are normal. Yes, this season is beautiful and amazing. But it is equally hard. What you do in your boring, every day tantrum- filled life is important. You are molding, you are shaping. You are raising children who will eventually be able to wipe themselves. God willing.

I made a lot of mistakes. I was too hard and too soft and too human. And I probably only did two things right: I loved my little children and I loved God and did my best to introduce and intertwine the two.

With the end of every phase, another one lurks around the corner. [We are currently in the “my-tween-son-constantly-makes-noises stage and my teen daughter tells-him-what-to-do-phase. My mother in law warned these stages could last for years. Sweet mercy.] As your children get older, you will go from physical exhaustion to emotional weariness, and like it or love it not, you will get there one preschool day at a time.

Today, I have kids who are simply lovely. They are smart and funny. They care about others and are growing in grace. They can also point out a mullet a mile away, create an argument out of thin air and sometimes they make fun of grown women who wear puppy sweaters, so clearly my work isn’t done.

Yesterday my day was full of sarcastic laughter with my 11 and 13 year olds. We had intimate conversations about good stuff and mature discussions about current events. I realized how much they have taught me about motherhood and life. From their preschool days, they taught me humility and how to lay down my pride, they reminded me life isn’t always in my control and to trust God more. And today they teach me to let go a little more, to trust them, to laugh, to be ready for deep conversations, and mostly to be present.

So, momma of a preschooler or two, you are establishing routine, building character, teaching right from wrong. You are tired. Your days are long. But your every day hard work is purposeful and one day you will be my age in a quiet house. Your car will be filled with stinky tween boys and giggling teen girls. And you’ll remember these preschool days… and smile. And possibly high five someone that you made it.

Until the next phase hits.

Love,

An older momma cheering you on

An Invitation to Step (in) Mercy

Three years ago today on Sept. 12, 2010, I invited you to be a part of an incredible God-story. Some of you may remember…
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Thirty-six hard, beautiful months ago, Mercy House was born. It has been a labor of love to help those who would need to labor and learn to love.

An unlikely family was created, babies conceived in abuse and desperation, united sisters through grief and shame.

 

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One-thousand-eighty days ago, Mercy House opened it’s doors to be a haven for pregnant girls to become mothers, to fall in love with their unplanned babies. It’s a home of second chances, an environment for orphaned girls to connect, for lifelong friendships to establish.

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It’s a place where hope is born.

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It’s a home for new life and 12 tiny miracles so far…

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It’s a house where aunties are created and cousins play.

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It’s a refuge where girls like Cindy can lay down their burdens in exchange for transformation.

“When I joined the house, my challenges were nothing to smile about, it was not a joke because I had a big burden deep inside me. I worried a lot even though I never wanted to show it out directly. I also wondered how I would get used to the new environment at Mercy {Rehema} House with new people and policies set since I never had any at home…It was nothing close to my home having been brought up in a filthy slum. But I thank God for this far, am totally changed and my life transformed am a proud mother, the burden is gone and above all a new creature fully transformed.” Cindy, age 18

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It’s a beauty for ashes kind of place, where God takes what the world has trampled and turns it into something breathtaking.

Twenty-six thousand minutes ago we said yes to a God-sized dream.

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And today, we are inviting you to be a part of the story again. We have the opportunity together with (in)courage through Pure Charity to change the world for the girls and babies of Kenya.

Phase 1: Drive Mercy {Van}

Phase 2: Learn Mercy {Classroom Additions}

Phase 3: Generate Mercy {Generator}

Phase 4: Advance Mercy {Computer Lab}

Phase 5: Live Mercy {Second Home}

Mercy House is a place that will change your life the minute you step into the story.

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Will you step (in)Mercy today? <—————– Click to learn more about Phase 1 (of 5)

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Thank you Dayspring and (in)courage for being a part of this dream!

photos by Bess Brownlee

WFMW: Freezer Meals?

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We are a low carb, high protein dinner-kind-of-family with my husband’s diabetes and for general health reasons. In other words, we tried Paleo and lasted for two weeks. Momma needs a carb every once in awhile.

We’ve really enjoyed e-meals, but I’m contemplating once a month freezer cooking because gah on grocery shopping every week. I love the idea of spending a day prepping meals for an entire month.

I stumbled upon Once a Month Mom and love her 101 summer freezer meal ideas.

I’m turning the tables on you this month and asking for tips: Have any of y’all tried it?

Please share pros and cons in the comments.

I hope it works for me!

 

Anchored in Life {The Vintage Pearl Giveaway}

UPDATE: Katherine (comment #306) and Sara (comment #128) have been randomly selected as winners of this giveaway.

Our family went to the beach more this summer than any other I can remember.

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The closest beach is Galveston, so clearly, we aren’t picky about crystal clear waters or seaweed.

We took our visiting nephews a couple of times, had a little summer staycation with the kids exploring the island. Then in early August, Terrell and I did this:

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What God didn’t give Galveston, he bestowed to Maui times a thousand.

In the past, the beach has been a hot, sandy place that I could take or leave, but that’s changed for me. It holds precious memories with family and a once-in-a-lifetime escape with my husband of almost 19 years.

anchor of hope

It also served a brief respite from a very difficult year so far. We’ve had a lot of loss and the time together served as an anchor for us, a place to be refreshed and renewed.

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I’ve used all my trial-sized Mango shampoos and coconut lotion and all I have left of the summer and the beach is what I can remember. That’s why I ordered this new necklace from The Vintage Pearl. This little seahorse represents strength, strength for the hard days behind me and the ones ahead.little silver seahorse

I love the new pieces from The Vintage Pearl (like these cute sports charms and these GORGEOUS new vintage lockets), to these beautiful beach ones that make me want to pause and breath deep and not forget the treasure of summer I want to always remember:

seashell treasure

Today, I’m giving away TWO $75 gift certificates–winner’s choice! Please hop over to my favorite silver shop and leave a comment on this post with your favorite piece.

This giveaway ends Thursday.

The Real Family Rules

If you’ve spent 5 minutes on Etsy or Pinterest or even Amazon, you’ve seen the now infamous subway art Family Rules. They are lovely and precious and available in 92 varieties and every color and font imaginable. We have the vinyl version over our piano. In black.

But if your family is anything like mine, these aren’t the real rules in our home and they aren’t always true.

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Because I don’t always laugh out loud or hug often and I for one am glad there isn’t a rule making me to do. People in my house don’t always share or love one another. Sometimes we yell at each other on the way to church and when I ask them to help, they hide in the bathroom. And sometimes when we try something new, we really hate it and cry in the middle of the lake.

That’s our reality.

I think the grass-is-greener mentality is an age old problem, but with instant access to technology, someone else’s grass is filtered to look much greener on our screens, in our feeds and tempting us to change our status to match.

It’s dangerous business altering a picture to perfection before we snap it. The bottom line, technology has made it easier to give us a prettier reality, but the truth is, it’s never as perfect as it seems. Or real.

I’d like see Pinterest boards filled with disastrous recipes gone wrong, outfits from the clearance rack that don’t perfectly coordinate, real hair tutorials that involve dry shampoo or a dirty pony tale, and pictures of first day of school breakfast feasts that involve eggs on a paper plate.

While I’m interested in pretty pins on a screen, when I try replicate them in my real life, it’s more of a Pintermess.

Live your messy life and don’t apologize for it. Don’t scrub the ink off your toddler’s arms before you Instagram it or move the dirty pile of laundry in the background. Because your real life moments are a beautiful mess. And they are more encouraging to your friends than you know when they show up on their screens and feeds.

Here’s what the real family rules in our house are:

  • If your sister pushes you, do not lick her arm in retribution.
  • When you whine, you make your mother twitch and (bonus), you get to go to bed early.
  • Always do your best, but if your best is a 64 average in math, you’re going to tutoring.
  • Be kind with your words. Talking back is a bad idea.
  • Apologize when you’ve done wrong, but please don’t yell “I’M SORRY!” across the house in an angry tone.
  • Share stuff (except don’t remind me of this rule when I won’t let you drink out of my sweet tea glass).
  • Have fun. But if  you have too much fun, you might have to mop it up.
  • Be Happy. And remember it has nothing to do with getting your way.
  • Try new things, unless it’s mom’s razor on your tongue. That will hurt.
  • Be grateful. Ingratitude will be a red flag to momma that you need a chore or two.
  • Hands are for hugging or giving wedgies, wet willies, what have you.
  • Follow your dreams, unless they include a lot of facial piercings.

How about you?

What I Want My Kids to Know About Money

My kids generally get money twice a year:  birthdays and Christmas from extended family and friends.

The rest of the time, they want it from me. Go figure.

Child counting money (Shallow DOF)

We are doing our best to raise grateful kids in an entitled world. Kids who understand the difference between needs and wants, know how to save a buck, live frugally and have the means to be generous when the opportunity presents itself. It’s tough in a cultural that thrives on instant gratification, overspending and frankly, debt.

When my husband and I first married, we lived in an apartment. Practically unheard of in our society that pressures newlyweds to build a home, borrow a mortgage and outfit it with a Pottery Barn catalog. My first pedicure was 4 days before I birthed my second child. I was 30 years old. It’s a bi-weekly visit for many little girls in our country and don’t even get me started on hair highlights, fake nails and $100 jeans for teens. I’m not saying these things are wrong, but I do think it’s dangerous territory to buy what we can’t afford  or too much of what we can afford and pass this easy finance along to our children.

Even without allowance or iPhones or the “you can have whatever you want” parenting philosophy, we noticed our children were constantly asking for more stuff. I realized they didn’t understand the importance of a budget, the value of a dollar or the crucial art of savings–because we had never taught them.

After listening to a podcast on Focus on the Family by guest speak Mary Hunt, founder of Debt-Proof Living, talk about her book Raising Financially Confident Kids, I knew we needed to make some changes. Mary is a hardcore budgeter and financial planner. We are neither, but at the beginning of the summer, we began what I will call a Light version of her suggestions as an experiment.

I’m amazed at the results and will be digging into more of her suggestions in the book.

This is what we did (Mary’s plan is somewhat different, but we based ours on her thoughts and then did what worked for us):

At the beginning of every  month, we give our children a lump sum of money based on their age. We stagger ours from the youngest to the oldest. (Lump sum sounds like way more than it is, but I think you have to figure out what will work for your family and budget. Mary Hunt suggests monitoring what you spend on each child for months, so you’ll have a clear idea what the amount should be. It’s more than you think it will be). We didn’t do that, we allotted them what we felt like was enough, not too much based on our monthly budget.

We have chores in our house. My kids check the chart to see who is helping with dinner, who is cleaning up, who is responsible for not letting our pets die of hunger and we all pitch in on household and yard duties. This is expected and non-negotiable. We don’t call the money we give them allowance, it’s more of a salary because we all work in the house.

The deal: My husband and I pay for all of their needs.

And our kids use their salary to pay for their wants.

Defining needs with your kids is an important conversation (and oh, so fun, convincing your daughter she doesn’t need every item on the hair aisle). This is a new pair of school shoes, new jeans if they need them, haircuts, music lessons, etc.  This is not the latest video game, toy, cute top at the mall or latest technology for my son’s archery equipment.

Oh my. This has rocked everyone’s world–in a good way!

From watching one of my children spend every dime and then realize THAT WAS IT for the month to watching another save more than I thought possible, it’s been a journey of education in teaching our children how to handle money.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this experiment so far:

  • It’s easier for my kids to spend my money than their money. 
  • It’s really made my children think before they spend. I’ve watched them return something to the shelf numerous times after they realized they would need to use their money.
  • It’s reduced all the small “junk toys” that are a temptation.
  • It’s teaching them the value of a dollar.
  • It’s teaching them to save money. My son has way more money in his wallet than I do right now!
  • It’s significantly reduced the “gimme gimmes” that were common on shopping trips.
  • It’s reminding them the difference between wants and needs.
  • It is teaching my kids about saving money for something they really want rather than spending it on immediate pleasures.
  • It enforces the practice of not letting our kids “borrow” money from us.
  • It encouraged my kids to want to give money away to others. I love this! My son is dreaming of sponsoring his own child.
  • It has my kids talking about opening their own savings account.
  • It has made them more responsible. (Right off the bat, one of my kids lost their money in their room and it went missing for an entire month. That’s one way to save!)
  • This concept works amazing on trips and vacations also. We gave our kids a small amount of money when we went to the beach this summer. One blew the whole thing on a pricey shirt, one saved it and one got a handful of trinkets. Everyone was happy and we stayed in our budget.

In Raising Financially Confident Kids, Mary mentions that as kids get older, their “salary” changes and also encourages the concept of giving 10% and saving 10%. Now that we’ve decided to make our experiment a normal part of our home, we have added this (I wish I had from Day 1, but I hadn’t gotten to that part in the book).

I’m excited to watch my kids grasp the power of saving money and the beauty of giving it away.