Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Get Away

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways. All opinions are 100% mine.

I’d like to say this year (all six weeks of it) has been unseasonably busy. But let’s be honest, it’s been this way for the past 5 years. With job challenges and growing kids and pending book deadlines, end of the year non-profit demands, drainage issues in a very muddy backyard, oil leaks in the car, it’s been hectic.

I also wouldn’t change a minute of it.

Okay, that’s not completely true. I would change that moment yesterday when my dog punctured my large styrofoam cup of sweet tea and it emptied into my shoes during carline drop off.

In general, I love my life and I’m thankful for (almost all of) it. But I do long for a slow, calm day.

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When Terrell asked me what I wanted to do for the long Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend, I said, “I want to get away with my family.” Which should not be confused with”I want to run away from my family.”

Because how can both sound good at the same exact time?

So, it seemed sort of providential that the very next day, the good people at Groupon asked if we wanted to choose a local (and a not-so-local) Getaway of our choice.

Yeah, we will have to really think hard about that one. Give me a second.

Okay, um, yes, please.

We’ve spent some time browsing the Groupon Getaways portal and I was amazed at all the choices! We narrowed down our choice to the hill country in Texas. But do you know what’s hard? Choosing where to stay when there are so many amazing choices. It was a burden. I know you pity us.

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If you could choose a local (by car) spot to getaway to, where would you go? 

Stay tuned…. #MyGrouponGetaway

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Some Suggestions For Your (Tired) Eyes

I’m entering this New Year tired.

Not just the sleepy kind. I’m a do-er. I feel most alive when I’m in action. I can hardly sit still even when my eyes can barely stay open. I keep a notepad by my bed to write down the thoughts that just won’t hush. I make phone calls when I drive. I fold laundry while I help with homework. I answer emails–well, constantly. I read in the carline and bathtub and at music lessons-because why waste that precious time?

Maybe that’s why the books piled on my nightstand are ironic-they all have a central theme of rest.

And they are beckoning me to listen.

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Maybe they will speak to you, too (affiliate links included):

I got to read an early copy of Sally Clarkson’s new book and it was so encouraging. Sally is a parenting guru and she has inspired and blessed countless mothers. Synopsis: “Do you ever long for days full of joy and energy—days that bring out the best version of you rather than leave you exhausted? Do you sometimes catch yourself wishing life was more impactful and fulfilling? In a world that’s moving so fast, it’s easy to lose your sense of purpose. So now is the time to make each moment of your ordinary, everyday, beautiful existence count. It’s time to own your life.” YES.

I am honored to have a couple of my stories in Dawn Camp’s first book. Dawn is a talented photographer and this book is filled with amazing stories from popular bloggers, complete with incredible pictures. Synopsis: “Combining heartfelt stories from some of today’s foremost writers with Dawn’s stunning photography of God’s incredible creation, The Beauty of Graceis your haven of calm contemplation amid the chaos. This inspiring collection includes stories of cultivating friendship, waiting on God, choosing joy, staying connected, learning to trust, and much more. If you’re in need of a little peace, a little quiet, a little beauty, find comfort in this: you’re invited to experience them all within the pages of this soul-stirring book.”

My friend Jessica Turner’s first book is sure to be an inspiring guide to making time for you. She’s a dear friend and no one manages time better. She’s taught me a lot about self-care and I can’t wait to dig into this book! Synopsis: “In this practical and liberating book, Jessica Turner empowers women to take back pockets of time they already have in their day in order to practice self-care and do the things they love. Turner uses her own experiences and those of women across the country to teach readers how to balance their many responsibilities while still taking time to invest in themselves.”

Just the title of Stacey and Brooke’s new book has me cheering! I know both these gals personally and their heart beats for mothers. And y’all-I know all about messes. Synopsis: Do you ever feel like you’re fresh out of amazing? Daily pouring yourself out for your family, you’re tired, overwhelmed, and have nothing left to give. Hope for the Weary Mom is an honest look at where you find yourself living. In their new book, bloggers Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin (creators of the online communities Mothers of Daughters and The MOB Society) lead you to the God who meets you in your mess and show you that you don’t walk through life alone.

Our family watched The Good Lie last weekend (we rented it on Amazon). I don’t normally recommend movies because we can all find a lot wrong with them. I think this one moved me so much because it reminded me a lot of my favorite all-time book and I had just worked with 60 women from The Refugee Project that day. Our family loved this movie and it led to some very good conversations. It has stirred up a lot in me and I can’t wait to see where it leads us. Please read the Plugged In Online review. And if you still haven’t read my favorite book -Running for My Life-what are you waiting for? This book did deep things in me. It’s what made me say yes to refugees on Friday which resulted in Fair Trade Friday which is why I’m so tired. See how God works?

 

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Don’t forget Works For Me Wednesday has moved to its new home!

The Beauty of Unwrapping Christmas Every Day (Even the Ugly Ones)

I had grand plans for the first night of Advent.

Just imagine the setting with me: Holy Christmas music in the background, my family breaking bread together over a lovely home cooked meal, while we politely asked about each other’s day and write down a long list of our blessings. We would listen intently to the daily reading, reflect quietly as we pondered the truth and then gather around our Jesse tree to place the first ornament on it together.

But somehow on the first night of Advent, we ended up eating overpriced sandwiches at Schlotzsky’s across from our church because our kids were running late for youth group. We had a lovely family fight (complete with teen eye rolls, tween grumbling and whining from the whole lot) for good measure.  By the time I remembered the new Advent book I tucked into my purse at the last minute, I felt like a failure.

I’m pretty sure everyone sighed loudly when they saw it, too. Because failure is good at convincing us it’s too late, even before we even start.

Terrell pushed through and read Ann’s words aloud in that sandwich shop: “There was this family-Jesse’s family. A family that was like yours…a family that loved each other and hurt each other and forgave each other and failed each other. A family that failed God….They failed and fell and were like a fallen tree.”

I smiled at him as he read on about the miraculous shoot springing up from that hopeless family stump…”out of the stump came one tender branch that would grow right into a crown of thorns, right into a rugged cross, right into a ladder back to God….”

I swallowed down my frustration and in the first few sentences of this book, I didn’t remember my failure.

I remembered what God can do with it.

When we got home, I asked my baby to place the first Jesse tree ornament on the tree. There was no music and it was far from holy. And she reminded me twice she wasn’t a baby.

But even without the perfect setting, it was still important.

We can’t quit, even on the ugly days.

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Because it’s not the gifts under the tree our children will remember–the must-have electronics, the hottest toys–it’s the traditions.

This week, she wanted the stockings hung in order, just so. She asked for loud Christmas music while we decorated the tree and she arranged and rearranged  Baby Jesus as the Star of Season- just like last year and the one before.

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Traditions are more than hot chocolate while looking at Christmas lights or opening new matching pajamas on Christmas Eve while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas.

And that’s why we push through our failed plans and our own failures. Because traditions are the act of passing down what we believe to our children.

It’s not just a great idea; it’s a gift we give our kids. We practice and retell truth and it works it’s way into their hearts.

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And there is no better opportunity to teach these important truths this time of year.

Because the Gift has come.

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Christmas is for The Unwrapping.

More than anything, I long to slow down the rush of the Season, to linger, to focus on the meaning behind the traditions. I want to remember why we remember and I want to pass the Truth to my children.

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Counting down the days to Christmas isn’t just a fun family activity. It’s not just another thing to add to our list. Celebrating Advent makes us reflect on the meaning behind the grand tree and gifts we give to each other. It makes us pause in the craziness of the season and remember the reason for it.

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Advent is the best tradition to unwrap Christmas with our family because it’s the best way to pass down Truth.

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It’s the retelling of the Greatest Story. And it’s not just for the first 24 days of December.

It’s the intentional, meaningful, day-by-day unwrapping of the Greatest Gift ever given.

Even on the ugly days.

Especially then.

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The book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas
The ornaments pictured above. Or download ornaments.

[This post is sponsored by Tyndale Publishers. All opinions and ideas are mine.]

What’s On My Reading List This Fall {Recommended Reads & Free Books}

Fall is here and I feel like I’m falling behind. I’m in the middle of a crazy-busy season of life, but I’m determined to slow down and read. It’s how I know I’m taking care of myself. It’s a great way to relax, reflect and respond. Here are the awesome books (click on the my affiliate links below to read more about each book) I’m planning on digging into this fall:

  • Decorating Cookies Party by Bridget Edwards (Recipe book)  | My dear friend (and former next door neighbor) Bridget, has done it again! This week she released another cookie cookbook and it’s an amazing, picture-filled DIY cookie party guide. She’s got me itching to break out my mixer. Remember when I made these? I’m not exactly a baker, but I am on page 33 (!). I was honored to attend Bridget’s cookie party and it was so fun and delicious. I ate them all. Leave a comment on this post and you could win a copy!

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  • Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp (Children’s book) | I cannot wait to get my hands on Ann’s newest book for our family. It will be our guide this Advent Season. It’s full of daily Scripture passages and specially written devotion to help children of all ages understand the Advent theme for the day, and participate in suggested activities to apply the theme.

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  • God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner (Children’s book: ) | I’m planning on adding this book to my Christmas list to all the littles in my life. I love the beautiful art and the Gospel message.

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  • Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan (Faith book)| I’ve actually read this book and it was absolutely life-changing. I can’t recommend Revolution in World Missions, written by the founder of Gospel for Asia, enough. And guess what? Everyone gets a FREE copy. Click and get yours today.

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Leave a comment to win Bridget’s fun new cookie party book and make sure you click here to get a free copy of a book that will change the way you see the world!

[Updated with Winner: Congrats to random winner, Summer!]

And Now I’d Like to Talk About Food

Remember that one year we went vegan to try and control my husband’s diabetes?

Shudder.

It was the season where my kids lost the ability to discern real meat from meat-like substances.

I’ve never been known as a health nut.

As a matter of fact, I recently discovered that my junior high son was at the top of the, um, food chain when it came to unhealthy lunchbox snacks…as in everyone wanted to trade their veggie sticks and rice cakes for his Little Debbie’s and Doritos.

I told him that was embarrassing.

He said, “Yes, for you.”

[Hangs head in shame].

For a long time, I’ve felt compelled to clean up and out the pantry and feed my family less processed foods. But I didn’t know where to start. Because let’s be honest– eating bad food is cheaper and more convenient than eating good food.

But after confessing my food-related guilt to my friend Jessica, a.k.a. a real health nut, she encouraged me to start slow and small and the very next day, that’s exactly what I did. For the past month, we have radically changed our pantry and refrigerator. I thought my kids would rebel, but instead they thanked me. And instead of beating myself up over their gratitude, I said you’re welcome.

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Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. I buy a large assortment of fresh vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, etc)
    and fruit (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, watermelon, etc) every weekend and then have my kids help me chop and divide them into portion-sized zip-lock bags.
  2. I do the same with an assortment of nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, etc) and dried fruit (craisens, mango, etc) and popped popcorn in olive oil and sea salt.
  3. I am working hard to only buy from the outside aisles of the grocery store (where the fresh, unprocessed food is sold).
  4. I buy plenty of avocados, granola and yogurt and we are starting to pull ripe items from our garden.
  5. I also boil a dozen eggs every week and leave them in the fridge for snacks or breakfast.
  6. Oatmeal and yogurt with fresh fruit and granola are a favorite or veggie-stuffed omelets.
  7. Family dinners have always been somewhat healthy for us, but I’m working harder to plan ahead. We are grilling a lot more, too. Our current favorite meal: black beans with cumin and garlic, salted brown rice with fresh cilantro and a fresh chunk of avocado.

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After the first several weeks, my kids didn’t mention chips or pop tarts. But I did notice we wanted more snack choices, especially with them home for lunch this summer.

A friend sent me a $10 off coupon plus free shipping for NatureBox and I couldn’t wait to try out this fun idea.  I just got my first box and I’m hooked. NatureBox is a monthly subscription club that sends healthy snacks (you can choose from more than 100 or be surprised). I love the variety! Here’s my affiliate link and if you try it, use this code for $10 off: share10off 

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We still have some vices like toaster waffles and sweet tea, but we are trying.

Not only do I feel better about what we are eating, I feel better about what I’m feeding my family.