Saturday, June 30, 2012

Remembering to count...

Today we hosted an all-day church picnic at the amenities center for our property in New Braunfels. It was so incredibly fun to spend the day with church family, celebrating the 35th anniversary of the establishment of our church - Believers Fellowship.

In the midst of all the "fun in the sun", I almost forgot to count my blessings. Then, my children saw my blog up and asked me what I had been blogging about, so I read to them all my "counting blessings" posts. I also found grammatical errors in random posts I have made. And then forgot which ones so I could go fix them... if you notice any, feel free to point them out!

Here is today's count:
29. My mom and her willingness to keep her "grand-puppies" all day, and for spoiling them
30. Cell phones so I could direct lost friends to the picnic
31. Excited girls getting ready to go to camp next week
32. Sweet high school kids who spent their day playing with our littlest two in the pools
33. A yummy dinner whipped together by my culinarily-gifted husband
34. Children who went to bed before 8pm
35. Getting to share our blessings with the church

What are you thankful for???

Friday, June 29, 2012

More and more...

22. Wonderful neighbors who share a love of the Lord (and good coffee)
23. Impromptu trip to San Marcos for dinner with E's parents
24. A washer and dryer that runs all day
25. Duct tape, and all the little creations that children can make with it
26. A short drenching rain in the middle of the afternoon (and more predicted...)
27. Gluten-free sugar cones crushed over Neapolitan ice cream
28. A cozy and safe home to share with my sweet family

Who knew...

... duct tape could be so fun for little boys...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blessings rain down...

15. A safe and relaxing day-trip to visit a friend who moved three hours away
16. A husband who baked for us as he awaited our return from above day-trip
17. Texas heat which makes for fun sprinkler-in-the-front-yard play
18. Two sweet puppies who travel well in the car
19. Puppies losing teeth to the squealing enjoyment of the children
20. A garden that didn't die even though I neglected to water it in 100+ degree weather
21. Watching a movie with my husband after the kids go to bed

Psalm 107:1 - Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Lost list...

This is my first list of seven things, as sent to my friend via email. When I wrote my post yesterday I tried to locate it so I could list the first seven, then the new seven and start a running list... but it was lost. Thankfully, my friend still had it and sent it to me so I could add up my blessings...

1. Air conditioning (it was 110F today)!!!!!
2. Children eager to be creative and willing to learn new things
3. A husband who is patient with me
4. Fresh tomatoes, squash and jalapeƱos from my garden
5. Friends who spur me on to love and good deeds
6. Computers to help me stay in touch with precious friends far away
7. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Seven things...

Lately I have found myself to be in a grumbling sort of mood. It is not a pleasant thing for me (or anyone else around me, for that matter), nor is it a healthy reflection of my position in Christ. The worst part is, I don't know how I got here... I think I have been slowly fading into this funk through the last two months.

So, when I find myself struggling in this area, when I am grumbling or murmuring, the first thing I need to do be honest with myself. I need to admit that I am in sin. In the ESV, Philippians 2:14 says, "Do all things without grumbling or questioning." A long time ago I posted this verse for the children in a sort of paraphrase, taking the major translations and inserting in all the different words use, "Do all things without complaining and arguing, murmuring and disputing, grumbling or questioning." Listing all the synonyms kind of wipes out any escape hatches for me to use.

Identifying my sinful tendency is not enough. Once I see it, I have to do something about it. I have to humble myself and beg God for His forgiveness, especially because when I am choosing ingratitude and grumbling I am questioning what God calls good for me. If others are the recipient of my resulting bad mood, I have to go to them and ask their forgiveness for not having a joyful heart, or worse, for my harsh and quick responses.

Just yesterday I decided to do something radical about it. I asked a friend to hold me accountable to sending her a list of seven things each day I can be thankful for, or that I recognize as blessing. The whole idea is inspired by Ann Voskamp and her little booklet to record 7 gifts a day, 7 days a week. I can't tell you how long ago I printed off copies of this (it would be too embarrassing), but I am finally using it. I recognized that my thinking has shifted away from thankfulness and gratitude, so some re-training is necessary.

So here are my seven things I am thankful for today:
8. A sweet friend who was willing to swap kid-sitting so we could each go to appointments alone
9. Cooler temperatures this morning (low 80's) so I could weed my front flower beds before breakfast
10. My husband who works hard each day so I can stay home with our children
11. French press coffee in a beautiful mug from Poland
12. Children who are striving to work diligently and joyfully at chores around the house
13. French toast and sausage for dinner and other quick to prepare meals for busy nights
14. Bright sunshine illuminating the beauty of God's creation

I am reminded of the line from an old hymn, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God has done"... I am wondering why it ever took me so long to start counting...

** The above list was edited to reflect that I am counting up my blessings... no content was changed.**

Monday, June 25, 2012

Craft Circle...

I have a plan...
Everything is cut out...
Eager children are coming over...
All that remains is to wait and see if this...

Will turn into anything at all that looks like this...

Or this...

I will let you know...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Poor George...

This is what happens when you leave the recycling on the counter too long...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Surprise blessings...

We love Adventures in Odyssey. Yep, a lot. So much in fact, that when we found out that AinO was coming to Dallas, TX to celebrate their 25th Birthday, we canceled our plans to camp at the beach and decided to go to the Birthday Party!

We purchased the 10am show tickets thinking it may be less crowded. We knew that would mean and early morning, on the road by 8:15am, and even though we got to the show an hour early, around 400 other people had gotten there even earlier.

We got signed in, were donning our AinO wristbands, and found a place in line awaiting the opening of the doors. Nearby, there was a booth for a radio station and I watched as kids would go up and come away with an AinO sling-style backpack. I told Elliott to go ask about them, that I would hold our place in line. He came back with coloring pages. He said I should go ask for the backpacks since I was so much more "outgoing". So, I gathered up all the kids and stood at the booth and just asked how to get backpacks for the kids.

The woman at the booth asked the kids what they listened to on the radio on Saturday mornings. The children shouted, "Adventures in Odyssey!" Then she asked the children what station they listened to it on. I cringed knowing we have no idea what the stations in Dallas were. Then I noticed the number for the station was right on the sign in front of us showed the station call number as 90.9FM. I tried to point it out to the kids to answer her when Noah boldly proclaimed, "90.9!". The woman was shocked by his correct answer and handed out backpacks to each kid. Then, she asked me if I would like VIP tickets, and I said, "Yes, thank you, that would be such a blessing." Elliott laughed at me when I came back with the tickets, shaking his head.

Finally, after waiting in line for about twenty minutes, the doors opened for us to go find seats. We acted like sheep and just followed the people in front of us. One of the people from Focus on the Family, who was running the event, came over and told the folks in our line that we had headed toward the wrong door, a different line was lined up for that door, our line was supposed to be going into a side door. I apologized and made sure to gather everyone and head to the correct door, others in front of us just kept going into the other door ahead of people who had been waiting longer in that line. When we got to the correct door, the same woman from Focus on the Family handed me a postcard. I said thank-you and started to ask what it was but she interrupted me and said to put it away, I would find out what it was later. Thanking her again, I was swept into the crowd looking for seating (first come, first serve).

We found some seats mid-way back, claiming them before Elliott went and asked what it meant to have the VIP seating. As soon as he came back we moved, there was a whole reserve section in the lower front of the auditorium which was set apart for VIPs. Once we finally found seats we were in the fourth row in the center of the stage. I could not believe it. We got settled and the kids opened their backpacks. Each had a CD of three AinO shows, a chapter book, pens, coloring books, Mr. Whit tattoos, and other goodies. I discovered that the postcard the woman had given me was autographed by all of the actors. Wow! We were all in awe of our blessings, showering down so amazingly on this trip.

The show was awesome. And funny. Really funny. And long! We definitely got "our money's worth"! Being that it was so long, well over an hour, the littlest ones in our group were in dire need of a potty break before the Q&A was over. So, letting the olders stay with Elliott for the Q&A, I took three of the youngers and we found the restrooms. Not wanting to disturb the rest of the show, we asked where the autograph session would be. We were pointed in the right direction and told that it would not start until 12:30pm. EEK! That was an hour away! Oh well, the three littles and I headed off just to see how long the line would be, figuring we could make a decision as to whether or not to wait once we were in line.

We wound around the building, the signing was neatly tucked away from the entrance to the show, I am sure for crowd control's sake. We snaked through the line set up to create order for the over 2000 people who would be standing in line for autographs and found ourselves second in line. When I texted Elliott to let him know where we were, he said to stay put in line. It was a while before we met back up with E and the other kids. As it turned out, the postcard that the woman had given us meant that we won a door prize and Elliott and the older kids were off turning in the card to claim it. By the time we were all reunited there was only about twenty minutes left until the autograph session would begin. We decided that being second in line would mean that we would get through pretty quickly, so we stayed.

While we had brought a piece of paper for each child to have signed in case we got the opportunity, but the kids decided to use their new books instead. We prepped them, as did those running the event, that the actors would just sign their names and we would move through quickly. However, we were shocked as we were going through the line, each actor took such interest in our children, asking them about pets, favorite shows, "Wait, are you two twins?!?!?"... some asked for their names so they could address their autograph personally. A few times, different actors took out their personal cell phones to take photos of our kids because they just thought they were so cute. As we neared the end of the table, "Chris" asked for hugs from the kids! We were so impressed, not only with each of their very impressive voice talents, but also with how personable they each were and how kind they were to our children. When we left, we realized that it had taken us nearly thirty minutes to go through the line with the actors.

As we drove back to our RV, we were each marveling at the blessings from the day, the VIP tickets, the door prize (which we pointed out to the kids was a blessing of joyfully submitting to the authority of the people running the event), the free gifts, the autograph session, the show. We were driving home when we found out Noah had no idea that the station in Dallas' call number was 90.9FM, he had answered that because it was the truth, we do listen to AinO on BBN in San Antonio, which just so happens to also be "90.9FM". Later, Elliott noticed on the Facebook page for AinO that our kids were in more that half of the photos from the morning show. We also found out that after 2 1/2 hours of signing autographs they actually had to turn away folks who had been standing in line that whole time. WOW! We were now even more in awe of our special experience. Every time we talked of it through the weekend (and we still are), we are quick to recall how God blessed each moment.

When things go wrong...

Our family went on an RV trip this past weekend. As usual, we went and picked up our travel trailer a couple of days before our trip so that we could pack it and make sure we got everything tucked away just right for the trip. When we picked it up from storage we discovered that one of the tail lights that had been acting up and decided to stop acting and was completely dead. When you are driving a 30' long trailer, brake lights and blinkers are a tad important. Plus, our inspection was due for the RV, so we had to get this fixed.

If I am honest, I must admit that we don't really know what we are doing. We do the best job we can to keep things clean, tidy and kept up because we are pretty clueless as to what to do when things go wrong. We had already replaced the bulb on our last RV trip thinking that was the problem, but it wasn't. After a few calls and some searching on Google, we determined that we needed to replace the entire brake light assembly. Thankfully, a RV store nearby sold them, so we bought one. After we had the travel trailer in our driveway we changed out the light fixture, caulked it nicely to protect it from the elements and hooked up to see if it worked. It worked. We rejoiced.

After a couple of days of packing and planning, the day we were leaving on our trip came and we hooked up the RV, did our normal walk-around to make sure everything was working so that we could go get our inspection done, and the brake light was out. We plugged and unplugged the cord between the RV and the Suburban and nothing worked. Discussions ensued as to what we should do. Elliott and I process things differently. Let's just say, one of us sees the cup as half full, the other as half empty. During these types of situations it is like our two cups get dumped together, one containing orange juice, the other milk. Yeah. Not so pretty. We have been married for 12 years now and I have lately been noticing this trend. So, I have been asking the Lord to help me respond in a more godly way than I have been known to respond in the past. I have been asking God to give me grace to speak in loving and kind ways when the differences in our personalities are made very evident. After some brainstorming, we decided to head on our way, as the store where we purchased the RV was in the same direction and we could stop and ask for some help.

We were thankful and praising the Lord that we made it to the RV store safely and without incident. Elliott got inside and the folks in the store were helping to direct him to some items that might help him with diagnosing the problem. A man standing nearby overheard our dilemma and approached Elliott saying he was an electrician and could help him trace the problem. The two of them came out and the man went to work investigating our problem. He traced it to the breaker box in our Suburban, showed us how to test for things like that in the future and even gave us his tester. When Elliott and the man went back into the store to buy the new fuse, I turned to the children and said, "Isn't that wonderful kids, God sent and angel to help us."

A few minutes later, Elliott and the gentleman came back out with the new fuse. The man helped us by teaching us how to install the new fuse and made sure everything was working. Once he knew we were all fixed up, he said goodbye and went back into the store for the items he had originally come for. As Elliott was getting in the car I asked if he had offered to pay him. He had but the man had told him that he had everything he needed and was glad to help. Then Elliott told me that the man was with the Gideons and knew some folks from our church. The only reason he was at the store today was because his wife was at a women's prayer meeting at their church. So I turned to the kids and said, "God not only sent an angel, He sent a Gideon!"

We got our inspection done and after a few hours delay, we were on the road. The whole day we couldn't stop talking about how God had been so gracious to us. And I was so encouraged to see how God worked in my heart not to explode when things went wrong, but instead He caused me to choose to trust Him and His good purposes in the moment.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One of those conversations...

The older children saw a cow on the other side of a fence while we were stopped in a parking lot. The girls asked if they could get out and go see it. Before I could answer, Micah informed everyone in the car, "It's not a cow, it's an elephant!" When we tried to reason with him that it was actually a cow, he listed off his reasons for it being an elephant. I decided it was one of those toddler conversations I wasn't going to win. I said, "Well, I never have seen a brown elephant before. Cool."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Of water bottles and trips to the ER...

Yesterday at 4am, the older four kids and I set off to the coast to go birding with friends. We stopped at the top of the street to pick up a family going with us, and our early morning trip was officially underway. And 3 1/2 hours later we were the first ones at the Leonabelle Birding Center in Port Aransas. Excitement was in the air!

We got seriously started around 8am. There were so many birds! And many which we have never seen because we don't live next to such a large body of water. I was photographing birds. The kids were being quizzed by our Young Birders Club leaders about field markings and differences between species. We were having a great time!

We were spending some time at the top of this tower, which overlooked the whole birding center, observing bird behavior and looking through the spotting scope for a good thirty minutes. When we decided to move further down the boardwalk, I started down the stairs behind my friend and some of our kids. Suddenly I felt my ankle roll and I knew I was going to fall. The stairs were steep and it seemed like I was headed straight down which would have meant I would knock down my friend and three young girls. So, I threw the water bottle in my hand into the canal and grabbed the handrail, twisting to keep from flying down the stairs. Immediately, my knee felt like something popped and I was in excruciating pain. After laying flat on the stairs for awhile, the pain subsided long enough to get up. Hannah was sad that I had launched her water bottle into the home of a large alligator, but we took a picture of it floating away as a memory.

My first thought was sit down and cry. My next thought was the kids and how they have looked forward to the trip for a year now. I wasn't bleeding or anything really bad, so I put a smile on my face and decided to act like nothing happened.

We kept on, seeing cool birds, taking nearly 600 photographs, laughing and learning. After three hours we took a break for lunch and we stopped at a grocery store for some Motrin. I think that is when the pain really started to hit. My knee was freezing up too, not wanting to bend or flex.

We met back up with our group at 12:30pm. I was hurting really bad, I couldn't have probably identified a house sparrow if I had to, much less pay attention to small details in the field markings between different plovers. So I went to sit in the car. Eventually, it was decided that we would go home without going to the beach front portion of the trip. The children were gracious and understanding.

As soon as I got home, my mom came and got me to drive me to the ER. Elliott was hanging out with the kids. We got right in at the ER. X-rays showed no breaks, tomorrow I will have to call my old Orthopedic Surgeon for a consult and MRI. Today I am laid out on the couch, thankful my husband has been working hard to get our church services on the web streaming live to watch.

Earlier I decided to try to capture the likeness of a bird we saw quite a few times at the coast with my watercolors. Here is my version of a Great Blue Heron. :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A day in review...

Yesterday morning as Noah went off to golf camp with a friend, and I walked back into my kitchen, I immediately knew what I wanted to accomplish. Top of my list: Clean my kitchen. Deep clean. I wanted to make sure everything had a place, and everything was in its place versus the "counter shuffle". You know what I am talking about, right? When you find yourself shuffling one pile from this counter to that counter but never accomplishing the act of putting it completely away in its proper place, much less cleaning the counter under it. Second on the list: Finish putting away the numerous piles of odds and ends that have been unearthed as I have been trying to unpack from pre-packing our house when we tried to sell it a little while ago.

The morning was progressing nicely. The kids played with the dogs for a long while and then were sleeping happily in their crates. The dogs, not the children. :) The children had moved upstairs and were playing peacefully. I couldn't believe the tranquility, it was almost too good to be true but I was enjoying it so much that I decided to stay ignorant and just plod along with my to do list. The morning's chores were coming along wonderfully; laundry was going, the dishwasher was unloaded and loaded, the hand wash stuff was done, half of the counters in the kitchen were cleared and cleaned. I started working on the other side of the kitchen when it happened.

I didn't hear any loud or crashing sound, but I was suddenly notified of a lamp that broke. It broke in a weird way, in that the base broke and was now being kept from crashing to the ground by Hannah standing in an odd position while calling for me to come. Heading up stairs I was welcomed by Micah and Caleb (the two children playing with the lamp) pleading their innocence. I surveyed the damage, called out to Grace and Faith what materials I would need for clean up, and began to clean up the upstairs family room.

In the process of cleaning, I had to move the couch out of the way. After I was done with the cleaning, I decided I liked it where it was and moved the recliner to where the couch, and lamp, used to be. I was getting ready to go downstairs when I happened to peek into the extra room upstairs. Why I didn't just head right back down into the kitchen, I will never know... but I didn't. I called the twins to come help me clean up the toys that weren't supposed to be in there. I had Hannah help me move the mini-ottomans into the upstairs family room, and then I put some stuff away in the closet, and looked around.

Ever since Elliott stopped being able to telecommute and we combined offices downstairs, the "extra" room has lacked a purpose. While our house was on the market it had a fake purpose, but since the girls were all reunited into the bedroom they share, all that has been in there is a huge book shelf and a black leather couch. The older kids' guitars were sitting on the couch when I got the idea. I decided to make that room the "music room". I moved the digital piano upstairs, and now children can practice in private, as well as have uninterrupted lessons. I can't wait to see what our piano and guitar teachers think!

At this point, I likely should have just gone back to the kitchen, but I had to make a pit stop... suddenly, the reason for the quiet and tranquility of the morning became apparent... Micah had been in the bathroom. Alone. For some time. Toothpaste. Water cups. Baby soap. Sigh. So, I rolled up my sleeves, and cleaned the bathroom, the whole bathroom, and nothing but the bathroom. Every little nook and cranny. It needed it. It is a happy room to go into now.

I came out of the bathroom and stood contented at all that had unexpectedly been accomplished. I likely even let out an audible sigh of relief at it all. Then I had the brilliant idea to go vacuum the kids rooms while I was upstairs with the vacuum cleaner. I find it comical how sometimes, after a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, I can just as suddenly feel overwhelmed to despairing. However, God's grace was present as I was able to walk the children through the problems in their rooms with a much calmer and loving way than I have typically been able to muster. Rooms vacuumed, everything put away. It was lovely to be upstairs.

By now, Noah had returned from golf camp, and everyone was hungry. So, I threw together some lunch, kept working on laundry, plodded along on chores and normal life resumed... no more to-do list checked off. I chuckled to myself how my day felt very much like "If You Give A Mouse a Cookie..." but I cherished the fact that every time I would start to become annoyed I would think about how my response would show my children what I thought about God. I am continually telling the children that God is Sovereign, their grandpa has brain cancer, their friend's little brother is sick, they know of other friends who are hurt, and we assure them that in each of those situations God is working for the person's good and for God's glory.

But what and I teaching my children about God's Sovereignty when my day doesn't go as planned and nothing goes "my way"? Sometimes is seems that it is easier to rest in God's will for my life when the "big things" happen while somehow thinking that during the mundane parts of life, God is not as concerned. However, the opposite seems true when I look back on what God has used to shape me, to change me, and conform me into the image of Christ through my decade of being a believer. I must admit that He has chosen to chisel and form and polish me through testing and trying me in the dailyness of life. Spilt coffee, broken lamps, played in toilets, dirty counters...

If you give a momma a distraction... she'll have time to ponder the wonders of the Lord...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Loving my neighbor...

I admit it. I do not know my neighbors as well as I likely ought to. And if I am really being honest, it is partially because I am a chicken. While you might likely think of me as outgoing and willing to talk to anyone, the fact is, I am great about talking to anyone who comes up and talks to me. I am generally timid about just walking up to someone, especially someone I may not know very well, like a neighbor.

And for a few months now, I have been praying for opportunities with my neighbors. There have been a few times when I have been pulling weeds in my front flower beds and a neighbor comes out, I get up from the ground and try to strike up a conversation in my dirt covered way. Other times, I have gone to the car to get something and notice a neighbor playing in the front yard with their kids and I run in and get mine all gathered up and we go out to play.

Through such opportunities, I have learned about neighbor's husbands being deployed, other neighbors having surgery, still others having trials with kids or spouses. All of these have been opportunities for us to reach out and share the love of Christ with our neighbors in tangible ways. Making coffee for a neighbor before they go to work, bringing a meal after surgery, watering a yard while neighbors are out of town (and throwing in some weed pulling too).

Recently, the news got out that Elliott is the President of our HOA. We have had a neighbor, from down the street, come over a couple of times to talk to us about how they have someone who regularly walks their dog by their house and lets the dog poop in their yard and leaves it. They don't have dogs, but they do have small kids, and the mom can't stomach the clean up. I empathize with them, that would not be a welcome "gift" to walk out to.

So, when this neighbor came by today, knowing there was very little I could do for her in regards to getting the offending dog(s) to stop their behavior, I asked myself what could I do to love this neighbor and show her we cared about her problem. It was very obvious that she was bothered by the presence of this dog's poop, so I offered to go clean it up for her. After raising six kids, two rabbits, two dogs and (formerly) two frogs and multiple toads, not to mention after two years of helping at a friend's farm with horses and cows and chickens, poop doesn't bother me.

As I walked back to my house, with some random unknown dog's present, I thanked the Lord for this opportunity to meet my neighbor. I actually don't even know their names (I am really bad about remembering to gather that information!!!), but now I can purposely seek after opportunities to share the Gospel with them.

How are you loving your neighbor? 

Planning productivity...

As this weekend begins, it seems to me that it will be the first weekend we have come to in a long time where there is nothing planned. Nothing. Strangely, nothing. It is quite tempting to think of sleeping in until noon. But with six children, two dogs and two rabbits, 8am might be a more realistic goal.

With nothing on the calendar for Saturday, I am planning to be productive. Lately, I have been struggling in my responses to my children... snapping, grumbling, sighing... I have felt overburdened with my crazy never-stops-growing-longer-and-longer to-do list. We did a great job pre-packing our house to move, but have not done nearly as well un-packing, and I really would like to be able to walk in our garage again someday without risking a twisted ankle.

So, my plans for this weekend... make a menu and grocery shop, clear the counters in the kitchen and off the washer and dryer, clear out the dining room, and unpack one box at a time from the garage so I can efficiently purge any unneeded items, as well as reduce the accumulation of clutter by making sure every item really does have a home and putting it there.

What will you do this weekend?