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.

Your Ticket to the Best Moms’ Night Out Ever {Giveaway}

Congrats, random commenters Robyn Dodson and Emily E! Check your email.

I met some of my favorite people at the movie theater after a long, hectic day.

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I ordered a big bag of popcorn for dinner. On a school night.

We moms know how to party.

I settled in for a very needed Moms’ Night Out. 

 

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And I laughed and laughed and then cried and then laughed some more.

My teen daughter asked what the movie was about after I got home and I said, “Well, it’s about a mom who blogs who really needs a night out. She is tired and her kids are crazy and the night gets a little wild….”

But before I could finish, my quick-witted teen said, “Wait.”

“That sounds just like you! Did she just write a book called Diamond God?”

It took me a minute.

Rhinestone Jesus. Get it?

This movie is the most relatable mom movie I’ve ever seen. It will make you feel normal. Understood. You will laugh.You might just cry. You will be reminded just how important your job is. You will love every minute of it.

You guys.

Give yourself a gift and go see Mom’s Night Out. I can’t wait to take my whole family back to this very positive, inspirational, God-centered fun movie!

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Today, I’m giving away 2 sets of 2 tickets. Tell me how long it’s been since you’ve had a mom’s night out in the comments as your entry.

(I received free tickets for this event, but the glowing review is all mine)

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Don’t forget to enter my Facebook Mother’s Day Contest:

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The Surprises of Motherhood

Motherhood has surprised me.

And I’m not just talking about my third child.

Every phase and every stage have left me saying, “Well, hello, there. I wasn’t expecting you.”

Like the burping-everything-you-say-phase–I’m so over you.

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We are also currently in the siblings-arguing-over-every-little-thing-stage.

This one might kill me. Or cause me to kill. I actually said the other day, “I hope you have three kids just like you!” And then I think I heard my dear mom laughing wildly somewhere.

But there have been good surprises, too. Phases I didn’t know would bring me so much joy- like my son’s quick wit or the way my teen daughter helps dress me.

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Or the way it feels to hold my children-as crying babies, or sulky teens, we are a perfect fit and even when we hurt each other, we heal each other.

Motherhood is hard.

I lay awake at night and pray for my children and mostly for their mother.  I am torn almost every day. Am I hurting or helping? Do they need grace or discipline? God help me to know which to offer when.

Motherhood is beautiful.

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I see glimpses of who they are becoming. It takes my breath away–these small moments of glory when they choose well, put others first, live out integrity when no one is watching.

Yes, I have been surprised by motherhood.

If you’re a mom or have a mom, I encourage you to read my friend Lisa-Jo’s brand new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom. It’s a beautiful, uplifting story that will remind you to look for the breathtaking moments in the mundane. It will encourage you to keep up the good, hard work.

And on a tough day that leaves me speechless or a good one that surprises me with delight, this book works for me and it will for you, too.

What’s On My Reading List This Month

The table next to my bed has a pile of books I’m digging into this month and probably the next couple. If anything, I’m an ambitious reader.

When do you read?

My reading habits: I always have a book tucked in my purse, in my car, on my Kindle app, next to my bed for those moments during the day when I’m waiting or trying to fall asleep. I’m also a bathtub reader. I am usually working thru several books at one time and usually read non-fiction, although I love a good fiction book when I’m traveling. I’m also not much of a TV watcher.

The fun thing about some of the books on my nightstand right now is they were written by friends! (Amazon affiliate links):

Books on Nightstand

1. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus:: Oh, this book is rocking our world. It’s a long God story, but if you have a heart for missions and discipleship, this book is a must read. I heard the author speak recently and met some of the heroes on the pages in Kenya recently. It’s helping to shape so much of our work with Mercy House.

2. Live to Give: Let God Turn Your Talents into Miracles:: This is our new “family read.” Every month or so, we start a new book to read together out loud as a family after dinner. I’m really excited to dive into this book with my family. It’s sure to be inspiring!

3. Happy Wives Club: One Woman’s Worldwide Search for the Secrets of a Great Marriage:: I love writing about marriage and being married. I’m a happy wife and I love Fawn’s heart to join a million happy wives to support the beauty of everyday marriage.

4. Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World:: I’m digging into Tsh’s memoir that challenges us to live slower, intentional lives. I love her global viewpoint and can’t wait to apply her suggestions to live my life instead of letting life live me.

5. You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days:: Holley is the best encourager I know. Some days, especially the hard ones, we need to remember-despite life’s ups and down-we are going to be okay because we have Jesus.

6. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
(not pictured):: I just ordered this book on Amazon. It will be hard to read, but absolutely necessary. If you’ve ever wanted to help the poor, this is a must read. It’s the paradigm shift we need to make to reach the poor in their reality of violence.

How about you? What you are you reading lately?

The One Thing That Has Brought Our Family Together: {Review & Giveaway}

UPDATE: The winners of this giveaway are Mrs. R., Colleen B and Erin K.

I have two kids in junior high now, three in school.

And I feel like I owe all parents of kids age 10+up, a big fat apology.

Because. Y’all. We have spent years trying to parent intentionally, slowing down our lives, limiting extracurricular stuff. Then this season started and I’m looking at the calendar in shock. With just one after-school activity each and church stuff, it looks like it’s going to explode.

And I’m so thankful the ignorant, naive Kristen from years past, started one very important habit.

If there has been one thing that has strengthened our family and kept us together, around the table, around a chair, around each other, it’s reading together.

Not only have our kids fallen in love with reading (yes, they are the ones with flashlights under the sheets because they just need to finish the chapter, Mom), they have fallen in love with reading together.

We’ve gone on wild adventures and learned about different cultures together. Books have led us into deeper community with each other. They have urged us to ask hard questions, press into our struggles. They have been a catalyst to richer family life.

We read around the table after dinner regularly. We also read individually with each of our kids. We pat the space next to us and say, “Let’s read, together.”

And as my kids have grown, the books have grown with us. But no matter how old they are, they want to read.

I have to tell you about the latest one that has captured my family, all of us.

My husband reads to our first grader every. night. She loves it and looks disappointed when I step in to substitute. I love that they love this time together. She is reading on her own (you know the sweet first grade KIND OF READING THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO STICK A FORK IN YOUR EYEBALL), but there’s just something about reading a chapter book together that is special.

Plus, it’s a lot quicker.

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Begin, the first book in the Growly Series by Phil and Erin Ulrich started out as their book. It’s an epic adventure about a little bear named Growly and my daughter begs for another chapter every time they finish one. Last night they finished chapter 17. What’s funny is I can tell you every single thing that’s happened in the adventure so far and so can my son. We just couldn’t not listen! It’s wholesome family reading at it’s best and it’s also illustrated beautifully.

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The vivid descriptions make it easy to imagine exactly what’s happening in the story. It’s a great book to read to your 4-7 year old and children 8-11 would enjoy reading it on their own. We can’t wait to read what happens next to Growly! It’s sure to be adventurous.

The other night it was getting late and my hubby was busy with work, so I picked up where they left off. A few paragraphs in, my husband found us cuddled up reading and asked us what had happened so far. I handed over the book and smiled.

I’m not sure who loves Growly more! You can get your own copy here for $8.99

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The author Erin, who is also my blog designer and a sweet friend, sent us a copy to read together and today she’s giving away three copies. Hop over and check out the book and the amazing pictures and leave a comment here to be entered.

And please, make time in  your crazy busy lives to read together. You won’t ever regret the adventures it takes you on!