For Such a Time as This

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It’s not a perfect day for blogging over here.  Jeff and I are running on little sleep from the last two nights.  The (almost) two year old is tantruming right now because she wants her homemade popsicle,  but she doesn’t.  None of us can figure out what she wants, least of all her.

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One of my eleven year olds is tantruming right now because he wants to be a part of us, but he doesn’t. He can’t figure out what he really wants either.

My firstborn is rip-sticking in the house, and two of the younger kids are rollerblading- one of them just tried to rip-stick with rollerblades on – and all of it is basically rendering me unable to think because I don’t do well with chaos. (Says the mom of seven kids.)

I just had to re-start supper because the Instant Pot wasn’t coming up to pressure correctly. My afternoon coffee is lukewarm now (see all of the above).  Oh, and we have to go pick up our 45 lb dog from the vet this afternoon.  He was attacked by a neighbor’s dog a few nights ago, so there we were at 4am, Jeffrey and Me, hosing off his mud, batting away mosquitos, and assessing his wounds.  And now he has to be inside the house, convalescing for two weeks while he heals.  Sigh.

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Oh. And we have a guest coming for dinner tonight.  I hope he doesn’t mind the mess. Or the dog.

As I said.  Not exactly conducive to blogging.  But I’ve had a few things on my mind I needed to process here.

Sunday morning, halfway to church, Jeff got a text from our pastor asking if I was going to be there for service.  We had a new family visiting.  They were Chinese, and he didn’t think the wife spoke English.

Wanna know where I was?

Home with half the kids, who still had hacking coughs and sniffles.

I gotta be honest, I was bummed.  I had a few raw moments with the Lord about it as I was standing over the sink washing something. Here I had been for countless months, praying for God to bring some Chinese friends into my life and the Sunday that this family shows up, I’m not even going to be there.

For years this is something the Lord has been refining in my heart.  I struggled for a long time with feeling like I had lost my purpose, or I didn’t know who I was anymore.  I used to do things I felt mattered.  Things that involved nations and gospel and souls and ministry.

Standing over the sink, the Lord quickly reminded me of the lesson He has been teaching me for a long time.  I am right where He wants me, doing just what He wants me to do.

I am here with my family and my growing kids  – not biding my time until I can do the important things.  These are the important things.  I am here for such a time as this – the time when my children’s souls are most pliable and open to the gospel.  The time when their hearts are still close to ours and their character is still being shaped.

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A friend and I were just talking about this the other day.  I hear this so often from young moms and I have said the same things: I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t even know what I like to do anymore. I’m so busy just being Mom, I feel like I’ve lost myself.

And truly, we have.

But I’ve come to believe that is really the way it’s supposed to be.

When we get a few years into motherhood, we begin to feel “the old me” slipping through our grasp.  Our days look different.  Our bodies look different.  Our minds feel sluggish. We are losing ourselves.

This is like a cocoon phase.  Yes, we are losing who we used to be. But I really believe the “answer” isn’t to bide our time until the kids are older so we can get back to our old selves.  And the goal isn’t to get enough “me” time to reclaim ourselves.

Moms, I think God is putting us through a metamorphosis.  I believe it’s by His design that we die to ourselves, that we be refined through motherhood, and begin to be transformed into a new person, with a new purpose.

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We’re reading through the Bible this year with the kids, and a few nights ago we finished up the book of Esther. It was refreshing – and sobering –  to be reminded that she was willing to lose herself in order to be the instrument God wanted her to be at that time.

Sunday mid-morning, Jeff and half the kids went on to the service. I finished washing whatever it was at the sink and decided I wasn’t supposed to meet that family at church – at least not that day.

That day – and today – with all the chaos and the tantrums – I am a different me.  I have a different purpose. And I have no job skills to bring to the table except being completely dependent on His strength in my weakness, trusting that He’ll give me whatever I need to be right here where He has me, for such a time as this.

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Seeing Life for What it Is – Part I

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How is it nearing the end of July?  Seriously, it has not slowed down this year one bit.  We have finished a school core, painted the dining room, watched things grow (mostly kids, but some vegetables, and a puppy too.)  Taken a marriage retreat and a trip to grandparents, the beach, and two to the ER – not in that order.

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Happy girl just pulled her first cucumber from the garden

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She’ll be TWO in two months!

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Our new Sonlight core all set to start soon!

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Everyone loves 10-foot ceilings, until it’s time to paint.

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Perfect Day! First time to the beach for my youngest girls and my two Ukrainian-Americans :)

Lately I’ve been seeing life for what it is- a vapor. A fleeting gift.

A breath.  A vital battle. Time that should be spent with focus – sometimes we really need a time of refining to wake us up from our distractions.  ( I call it waking up from the Matrix).

The enemy is such a great distractor, as C.S. Lewis has described, (and the Bible warns us)

“You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his (the human soul’s) wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers, or his work, or his sleep; a column of advertisements from yesterday’s paper will do.  You can make him waste his time… in conversations about subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room.”
(The Screwtape Letters)

And C.S. Lewis didn’t live in the age of screens and social media.

Life is just flying by at the speed of … life.  It really does go by as quickly as the Bible says it does, and we’re spending so much of it being overcome by daily distractions. (totally guilty here)

I bet only a handful of you will make to the end of this post without getting bored and distracted by something else (wink).

We’re just swimming (and drowning) in distractions.  And we’re also overcome with an illusion of our own power – power to control our lives (and the lives of others- again, guilty over here.)

Work. School. Career. Spending. Borrowing. More spending. Vacations. Renovations. Physical alterations.

We are caught up in the notion that we have the power to control the details of our existence – down to the shape of our noses and the wrinkles on our face, the strings of silver multiplying in our hair, and the size of our muscles – and our bank accounts… and our living rooms.  (Interesting side note: in America our houses and cars are getting bigger but our families are getting smaller…)

Just think about the current trend. Everywhere I look on social media we are encouraging each other about how much control we have over our own life and destiny –  how “strong” we are.

We are “enough”.
We are “bold”.
We are “fierce”.
We are “brave”.
We are “mighty”.

The truth is that’s what our hearts are telling us, but our hearts are deceitful, and can’t be trusted.  The truth is that we’re really not in control of much, least of all our own tongues, though that’s one thing God does tell us to control, but that’s another subject.

We think we can guard our turf, and the Word tells us to guard our hearts.

We revel in the advice to “set boundaries”, but Jesus tells us to think of others as more important than ourselves, and love them as we love ourselves,….  and to put others first, turn the other cheek, and forgive to infinity.

We like to wear our sign (t-shirt, tattoo, whatever) labeling ourselves “fierce” and Jesus tells us to be tenderhearted.

We like to put on our warpaint and our workout clothes (the ones that make us look good, of course) and tell each other how “strong” we all are, and yet God says

“My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

And we forget that when Paul said “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength” he was referring to being content in his difficult circumstances – not killing it at his job or his workout at the gym.

We are proud.  So very proud.  We actually take pride in being proud.  But God says He opposes the proud – He actually fights against the proud – and gives grace to the humble. Think about that for a minute. That’s a frightening thought, actually, but don’t push it away. Remember, we need to wake up from the matrix.

God loves humility.  Humility is beautiful. Imagine that.  We come close to making it a Bible principle that we should stand our ground and fight for our rights.  Jesus didn’t.
And God says, “vengeance is mine” – not ours to take.

This life   i s   a   v a p o r.

Poof. Gone.

And we as believers are awfully (deadly) distracted these days – maybe more than ever before in history.  And we look like the world more than ever before.  Lately, as the Lord has been bringing me through the fire of refining, I’ve come out with this renewed awareness that we are in danger of wasting our lives on building up our earthly bodies and homes- and neglecting to disappear behind a sign pointing the world to Jesus, who is really the answer for a dying world searching for the fountain of youth.

And neglecting to see the beauty of life that isn’t fixed-up with a “perfection” filter slapped on, with just the right caption to describe it. (me, guilty again)

I as a Mom have been in danger of neglecting to teach my children the dangers of pride, the beauty of humility, and the focus of eternity.

And the cruciality of true, face-to-the-ground worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – Yaweh.

I have in my possession  1) a quiver of arrows to be sharpened and sent out into a dark world, 2) a very real enemy who “prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour,” and 3) a short puff of a life to complete this task.  And a huge propensity for distraction.

I too get caught up in thinking about where in the world we want to travel…. how are we going to pay off student loans… what color should we paint the dining room….

Life is jam-packed full of things to distract us from the actually important things.  It’s time for (me, at least- I’m not sure any of you are left reading this) to w a k e    u p.

I need more than just a little #bulletproofcoffee & Jesus – I need to realize I am absolutely powerless to fight my own pride and win battles that actually matter for eternity.  And I need the covering of God, to be filled with His Word – not just the favorite parts that look good painted on the wall – but all of it.  Especially the “sharp as a two-edged sword” parts.

I need to wake up and disengage from the matrix of this glittered-up world and be on my face in prayer – throughout the day.  Not just a few sentences breathed over the steam of my mug while I find the right lighting and angle to post my devo to IG.

It’s time for me to come out of the fog and see this life for what it really is….. I’m not promised another breath of it.

If you’ve made it to the end – wow!  Thanks for sticking with me.  Join me tomorrow for Part II, where I share what I’m actually doing about this “wakeup call”.

 

 

 

Havin’ a Great Day

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I hope everyone’s having a wonderful Saturday!

We’re over here having a pretty standard weekend for the Hazies –laid back.

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Sisters forever. Forever reading.

It’s a rainy day, so there’s a lot of the above photo going on.  This is the only photo I snapped on the sly.

I gave all the big girls a haircut.  Lena really wanted bangs. I had to overcome my decades-old trepidation over having bad-bang-haircuts and just give her what she wanted.  She was very particular about what she wanted but I cut them long and sloping to the side at first.  Nope. She wanted them short and straight across.  I cut them again, short enough to style straight across her forehead, but still long enough to sweep them to the side.  She never wavered.  Shorter, still.  This pre-teen thing is not for the faint of heart, I tell you.

So I just went for it and lo and behold, what she wanted looked just right on her.


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I should have known, just looking back at…..

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I don’t know if she’d go for the GIANT bow now, though.  Wow, I can’t believe how much she has changed…

Jeff picked up a deal on a weed eater this morning…. brought it home, pulled all the pieces out of the box and had it together in no time. Last year we’d had some friends who have a lawn service taking care of our lawn, since our mower had died a few years before that.  But one day I started praying that the Lord would provide us a lawn mower to do it ourselves because we were in a stretch where money was kind of tight.

Wouldn’t you know just a few days later another friend drove up in front of our house and pulled out a nice walk-behind, self-propelled lawn mower?  He had gotten a new one, and decided to give his old one to us.  Just the kind I had hoped for, which would make it easier for me to cut the grass when Jeff was too busy, and also be something the older kids could learn on.  God knows, doesn’t he?  So now we have a weed eater to go along with our lawn mower, so we can get about our business of #adulting, because apparently this is a thing?

Yesterday our whole family wore matching t-shirts. I kinda loved it.

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We were given the cutest shirts by our local Chic-fil-A this week.  We had recently attended Cow Appreciation Day – you know, where the whole nation dresses like a cow to varying degrees (I didn’t know about it until the night before, so we had to go with the everyone-cut-out-construction-paper-and-tape-it-to-your-clothes route right after breakfast)…   Well, my whole little crew got their picture taken, and apparently when pics from the day were uploaded on the local CFA Facebook page, people voted for their favorite by “liking” the photos.  I didn’t even know this was going on, so it was to my udder surprise (sorry, I had to) when a friend messaged me and told me my kids’ photo was voted Best Herd.

"Best Herd"

“Best Herd”

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She likes her chicken.

She likes her chicken.

You can’t make this stuff up.  So much fun.  So they made these ridiculously cute shirts – and even threw in some for Jeff and me!

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Goofing off while he's snapping photos. Imitating a cow, maybe?

Goofing off while he’s snapping photos. Imitating a cow, maybe?

"Over the Moooon for Chicken"

“Over the Moooon for Chicken”

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I can’t say enough wonderful things about the folks at our local CFA.  We know the owners personally – they’re the kind of people who just stop by your house when they’re driving around that part of town – seriously, they’ve done this a handful of times.  They even came by one evening a few years ago and helped us with our bathroom renovation!  (That reminds me, Becky, we still have Mike’s hammer!) And they make every person feel like they are on the elite list.

Back when we were preparing to adopt Christopher and Lena, we held a fundraiser at CFA and they were super supportive and so excited once we got the kids home.  And we were just one family they walked with through the adoption process.

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Recounting all those memories this week just made me so grateful for community.

God sets the solitary in families. (Psalm 68:6)  And he sets family in community.  We’re meant to live this life together.

When re-focus on this kind of perspective, it’s hard not to have a great day.

 

 

A Brutally Honest, Awkward, Re-Introduction

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IMG_4989Well, I really don’t know how to get this post started.  So I guess the band-aid rip-off technique is as good as any.  I haven’t been here in Blogosphere for quite a while.  And coming back to it – well there’s no natural-feeling way to jump into it.
You know how you have those friends who – when you don’t see them in ages, you get together one day and it’s like you’ve been talking every day all along?  Yeah, getting back to blogging? Not at all like that.

It’s more like when you’re in the mall and you run into someone who used to be in your Sunday School class and you really *should* know their name, especially because you were the facilitator, and you can’t-for-the-life-of-you remember their name because you have a condition which causes your brain to freeze up and put a lock on all name-files you’re attempting to access, so you just smile and use phrases like “hey….. you… how are you, …. girl?”  Lame.

Coming back to blogging after so long feels a bit more like that.

I’ve kinda yo-yo’d a bit… stuck my toes back in the water here and there, eeking out a post from time to time.  But I haven’t been consistent at all in the last several years.  What used to be a joy to me (blogging) quickly became a non-essential when life hit us like a train about six years ago.

Let me level with you honestly with one sentence: adoption has been a harder journey than we could have imagined.  I’d love to share more about that, as it’s something I feel pretty passionately about and believe the Lord has really done a work in us – our family and our children specifically –  and showed us many things through and about adoption – but that’s a post for another time.  Maybe. If I can blog consistently again.  Lord-willig and the creek don’t rise, and all that.

Six years ago, our little family was… little.  And cute; I’m just gonna be honest. :) We kinda had our ducks almost in a row, and we felt so full and blessed – enough that we felt we had a surplus to pour over and bless others.  We lived in a cute little 3-br house with chickens and a privacy fence and a garden and a swingset. I blogged pretty regularly and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed making homemade items for our kids and sharing about it on the blog (which at that time was called “Our Blessed Life”).  I shared sewing creations and playdoh recipes and snippets of our life.

Some of you began following us in the next chapter, when we were led to adopt Christopher  and Lena (who, through the adoption journey were called “Kirk” and “Lori”) and you prayed for us, supported us, cheered us on, and watched from all over the world while we journeyed to Ukraine, met our son and daughter, and brought them home.

Rescued from the Orphanage in Ukraine

Then the train hit us pretty hard.

Post-adoption trauma.  And unexpected pregnancy – I was pregnant and neck deep in morning (all day) sickness on the 2nd trip to Ukraine to bring the kids home.  Once we got everyone home, I had two traumatized kids on one side of the breakfast table speaking only Russian – and only to each other – and another set of traumatized children on the other side of the breakfast table speaking only English and trying desperately to get their new siblings to interact with them.  And a toddler who never slept.  And all I wanted to do was sleep.

By the time we were all together as a new family I was experiencing a delayed culture shock (if there is such a thing) heightened by the pregnancy-nausea making everything unbearable to me, resulting in me not being able to stand the sight or smell of my luggage that I’d just dragged back from Ukraine.  It literally sat in a pile in the corner of the dining room for a month because I couldn’t bring myself to touch it.

A little box of half-eaten raisins stuffed into a zipper pocket on my carry-on, in case I needed them on the flight for Carson (who was then 18 months old) sat forgotten and rotting in my untouched, still-packed luggage while our attitudes sat rotting on display at the dinner table daily.

We were all going through our own trauma.

I changed the name of the blog to Our Blessed Broken Life.  Because already the Lord was showing me that this life isn’t about having the best, cutest one we can have – but about pouring ourselves out…

The Lord brought us through that and we found our rhythm, our new normal, but it was always more stressful, more strained, more tiring and more emotional than life had been before adoption.  Our baby girl Olivia was born and we were all in love.  Christopher and Lena watched in rapt interest as I nursed her – likely something they had never seen done at the orphanage.

We had outgrown our cute house and bought a house in a different part of town, and gave up our chickens, our privacy fence – and our swingset.  In return we got a hot water heater that didn’t work for a month, a bee-infestation in the wall of our house (still there, by the way), and plumbing needing to be replaced in every single sink and bathtub in the house (still one more to fix.)

We limped along.

In 2014, the Lord brought us through the journey of carrying our little Rebecca, whom we found out at the 20-week ultrasound had Trisomy 13.  So many people all over the world were praying for #babyrebecca.  Then we met her too quickly when I went through an emergency C-section to save my life around 30 weeks pregnant, the day before my 40th birthday.  We held Rebecca until she took her last breath about 45 minutes after she was born.  She weighed one pound.  There was such sorrow and such joy.

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Again, we were all going through our own trauma, and in the midst of it, still neck deep in making many mistakes in our adoption parenting journey, and dealing with attachment issues in our son and daughter.

Grief came in waves like the ocean, ebbing and flowing, and life went limping on.

Then six months later, to the shock of the entire world – okay maybe just us and some of our family and friends – I was expecting another baby.  I struggled with faith that I would actually bring home a little pink bundle and not a pink bouquet of sympathy flowers.  Almost one year to the day after Rebecca’s birth, I again went through an emergency c-section to save my life, and my daughter’s  (in a different, more urgent scene).  It was surreal and very traumatic in ways I wouldn’t even deal with emotionally  until a long time afterwards.  Even writing about these things now makes my palms sweat.

Jessa – our gift from the Lord – was born 8 weeks early, and was perfect.  She stayed 21 days in the NICU while our friends and family helped with our kids, with meals, with getting me back and forth to the NICU every morning and evening for feedings and skin-to-skin time with my own personal little tiny baby doll.  (I wasn’t supposed to be driving for 2 weeks after my surgery).  The family of God – the body of Christ – is an amazing gift.  I don’t know what we would have done without our family and church family.

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And during that time, we continued to make so many mistakes in our parenting, and one of our children went through the worst period (to date) of attachment issues, acting out in ways they never had before.  Twice, we even sent this child with trusted family for respite while we got our feet under us because we had nothing left with which to help our child.

The trauma subsided, and with us all under one roof again, we resumed limping, thanking the Lord for the gift of a baby girl we never expected to enjoy.

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The storm waters have been still for almost two years now, and in that quiet period, the Lord has been perfecting some of his refining work in us.  Quietly opening His Word to us, and showing us grace in a way that maybe we had been blind to before.  I feel that I am just now – almost 6 years after adopting – coming out of a mental and spiritual fog.  I feel like I am waking up from a coma of sorts.  I just recently looked back at the early years of my blog and even posts about the beginning of our adoption journey and found myself thinking who is that girl?

So as I step back into the Blogosphere and trust that maybe the Lord has something to do through my writing here (if maybe only for my own sake), …. let me re-introduce myself.

Just the Two of Us... in a sea of children...

Just the Two of Us… in a sea of children…

I’m Shannon.  Mom of 7, and 1 more who’s already gone on before us.  Wife to an amazingly patient (and funny, and good-looking) man. I don’t have my ducks in a row.  I know a lot less than I thought I did a decade ago.  I make a lot of mistakes, and thank God for his patience and kindness.  I’m living a life I never thought I’d be good at, and actually I’m not, so that’s good, because it’s HIS strength I have to lean on daily.  I’m a survivor of the adoption journey and an advocate for those who are broken and in need of a family and the Gospel.  Passionate about the nations.  And I’m a writer. ….. nice to meet you. <3

 

 

 

A Merry Christmas

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Our short, cute little tree is aglow with lights and our favorite decade-old ornaments… We let the kids totally decorate it themselves.  The mismatched stockings are strung along the banister, growing fatter with Christmas letters as the day approaches.  (Two of the kids reminded me again that they still don’t have their names on their stockings. Oops.)

Our Christmasy weather has come and gone and it feels like muggy Texas spring outside as I lean over the cluttered kitchen counter, trying to decide which fudge recipe I’m going to make.

The extra greenery we collected when we picked out our tree still sits in a garbage bag in the laundry room, competing with the growing mound of dirty clothes.  I was going to use all that greenery to make a pretty wreath for the door.  Oh well.  Now the only festive thing to greet our weary mail carrier is the sun-bleached, water-logged “Happy Birthday” garland we’ve left hanging outside since Jessa’s party the first of October.

We let our Advent candles burn late the other night, so most of them are a melted mess and I forgot to buy extras… And the freezer section was out of cinnamon rolls, which is our traditional Christmas morning breakfast… so add that to the recipes I’ll contemplate before finally deciding on the canned variety.

It’s all so wonderful!

I have been so blessed to be able to (mostly) let go of the Greeting-Card image of this season and embrace life.  Our life.  The mess and full schedule and dried up tree needles on the floor (since I keep forgetting to water the tree), and the staying up late and the crazy antics of kids who’ve had too much sugar – they’re all just signs that we’re alive!

But wait, there’s more!

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

And you who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us… cancelling the record of debt that stood against us. (Col. 2:13-14)

If you are overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) this Christmas…  If you’re tired or anxious…  If you’re burdened with a to-do list or a social calendar, or disappointed about everything this season is not – there is good news for you.  You’re alive.  And if you belong to Christ, you have an eternal hope that can be the lens through which you see all the imperfectness of this life on earth.

That is truly wonderful.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

 

 

 

Get Your Hearts Ready

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“Advent is for adoring Jesus”

Joy and Peace

We have just begun Advent!!  I LOVE this time of year.  And even though I have not been able to pull myself together and get any Christmas decorations up yet, we are enjoying our nightly candle-lighting and story reading as much as the kids are!  (See this post for what we’re reading).

But Jeffrey and I are also seeking to go a little deeper in our own personal devotion time this advent season, and here is a great way to do it:

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Desiring God (DesiringGod.org) offers two free resources available for download – each with 25 devotional readings (for Dec 1-25). You can find out more by going here.

Jeffrey read the first devotion (from Good News of Great Joy) to us over supper tonight, and it was a great conversation starter and catalyst for priming our hearts to tune into the real focus of Christmas.

Even with all the interruptions from little talkative people, and an animated baby throwing her spoon of sweet potatoes, I was able to glean a meaningful truth from the reading.

Tonight’s takeaway for me? We need to make room in our hearts for Christ.  And in order to do that, I need to de-clutter my heart: take a real inventory of the sin and complacency I’ve let build up, and see with fresh eyes how much I desperately need Jesus. And then he read this:

“Christmas is first an indictment before it’s a delight…”

That part really struck me.  We are all familiar with the delight of Christmas – you can’t walk in any store after October and not be thrust into the full swing of the holiday cheer.  But Christmas an indictment?  Huh?

I explained the definition to the kids: an accusation.  Being accused of a crime and having to go before the judge for sentencing.

Christmas is all because a Savior was born…. why?
Because we needed one!

Christmas is first an accusation of our sin and need of a Savior… and then it is a delight!  Because we couldn’t save ourselves and Jesus came and changed the ending of our story! Christmas is all about the Gospel. The Good News of Great Joy!

When we spend Advent preparing our hearts with this kind of message, Christmas takes on a new depth.  And we experience it with more joy!

So even if we haven’t decluttered the house enough to get the Christmas decor out of the garage, we can begin to make room in our hearts.

Do yourself a favor and let the elf sit on the shelf this year.
And pull something more important into focus for the next 24 days.

It’s not too late to do this!  Trust me, we’re already 2 days behind in our reading of Bartholomew’s passage, but we’ll catch up and it will all work out by Christmas.  (By the way, if you’re interested but you haven’t ordered the book, you can get it on Kindle for $2.99 here!)

Can you tell I really love Advent? :)  Our Advent celebration has never Pinterest-perfect.  But it’s always been worth it.  Jump in with us.  Let’s get our hearts ready.

What Grateful People are Made Of

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Happy Thanksgiving!   It’s the culmination of our tweets and status posts and IG selfies listing all the things that make this hard life sweet and good and worth it.

This is an exercise we do, right? And that’s okay.  It’s good to remember what we have and why we should actually be thankful – feel thankful – all throughout the year, not just when the leaves start dropping and the turkey comes out of the oven.

But – well I know this is true for me – being grateful seems to be somewhat of a struggle a lot of the time. For all the reasons I don’t even have to list here – because you know.

Jeffrey and I were talking about a few nights ago, and just a few people came to mind who seem truly, undeniably, grateful almost all the time.  It made me wonder how do they do that?   I don’t know, because it certainly isn’t something I’ve mastered yet.  But I know how to recognize one!

Seven Characteristics of Grateful People

  1. They are Content
    This is more than just looking around and taking note of all the good things in their life.  Grateful people have a depth of contentment in their own set of circumstances, in blooming right where they are planted and sticking things out for the long, long haul – without letting bitterness take root. And without looking at the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
  2. Their Focus is Outward
    When I talk to one of these Grateful People, they almost never talk about themselves or their own circumstances.  Instead, they are always asking about others, seeking to encourage, help, comfort, or come alongside me or others around them.
    They pray – really pray – for the needs of others as part of their daily life.  They give their time and energy to helping others .
  3. Their Strength is Upward
    I’ve witnessed these individuals giving their time and energy for others – not because they have it to give.  Some of them have health issues that cause pain or weakness in their body. Some of them work long hours. Some of them are helping to care for an elderly loved one several days a week.  Some have large households to manage.  But they focus outward and they give out of a heart that is somehow refilled supernaturally… and a Strength that is not their own.
  4. They Don’t Get Caught up in the Past… or the Future
    Admittedly this is where I get tripped up the most.  I try to hang on to the girl I used to be or the places I used to live… or I get antsy for the next season, the next adventure.
    But Grateful People seem to have learned how to leave the past where it is, and not reach their hand forward to what hasn’t been given yet.
  5. They Have Suffered
    This is more than going through a lean season and then being thankful for plenty.  This is more than having hope deferred and then having that prayer finally answered.  Every truly grateful person I know has suffered deep loss.  A tragedy.  A death.  A disease.  Or even a combination.  This is one Jeff and I can understand a little.  There is a sweet closeness to God that we have only experienced through suffering when we learned that our little Rebecca had Trisomy 13… and later when we had to say goodbye to her and walk our other children through that…. when you suffer a valley like that, the good gifts around you come more clearly into focus.  More cherished.  I have never been more grateful or felt more blessed than when we were in that deep valley.  Grateful people have truly suffered.
  6. They Choose Joy
    Grateful People seem to know there is only one thing they can really control in life: their own  response.  Their own attitude.  Grateful People have escaped the disease of Entitlement, and  they understand it’s a blessed broken life.  And they choose to be joyful in whatever moment they are living.
  7. They are Worshippers
    With each truly grateful person I know, this is really key.  I can’t talk with them for more than a half hour without hearing them talk about how the beauty or goodness or faithfulness of God.  Their life has a light about it that kinda makes me think of Moses coming down from the mountain with his face glowing.  You just see it them.  Even when you see the brokenness and weakness in their body or their circumstances, you see a light and a sweetness that only comes from spending time loving on God.

    After thinking about all this, it made me really grateful to have people like this in my life who are such genuine examples. I think I’m going to commit to praying for each one of them and see if I can come up with a way to do something thoughtful for them.

What do you think?  Would you add to this list?  Do you have someone in your life who shines with a grateful heart?  Share with us in the comments…

And… Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I hope you are well, and surrounded by those you love. <3

 

Keeping Advent Simple

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So we’re less than a week out from Thanksgiving.  I’m a stickler for not even mentioning the Christmas tree until we have appropriately celebrated Thanksgiving to it’s fullest- it remains one of my favorite weekends all year long.

But since we started celebrating the Advent season about seven or eight years ago, I have to at least be thinking a little ahead, since the season always begins shortly after Thanksgiving.

If you’ve never really celebrated Advent, don’t stress. I didn’t really understand anything about it until several years ago.  As we remind our kids each year, “Advent” means “the Coming” – and of course what we’re talking about here is the coming of Jesus Christ – the sole reason we celebrate Christmas.

The season of Advent helps us get our hearts and minds into a joyful expectation for Jesus.

So, there’s a lot out there as far as what you can use during this time to make it fun and meaningful for your family.  But I gotta be honest – for us it just works really well to simply stick with what we know.  I’m often tempted to get on a bunch of blogs I really like and see what’s new or what everyone else is doing… not to even mention Pinterest… but if I’m not careful I’ll get bigger ideas than what we can really attain right now, and I’ll end up making it stressful and hectic – which is the exact opposite of the atmosphere we want in our home during Christmastime.

We found a few things years ago that remain meaningful and traditional in our home – so let me share them with you:

 

advent-books

  • The Jotham’s Journey Series
    This is a series of Advent books written by Arnold Ytreeide.  There are four books (Tabitha’s Travels is not shown above), and truly you can go in any order.  You read one book per year, and each story is about a young boy or girl who has some kind of adventure (sometimes perilous or dangerous) and in the journey, the main character ends up hearing about the coming Messiah… and I won’t tell you what happens :)  Each story stands alone but each story is also interwoven into the others.inside

    Our family has LOVED these books.  Since you read a different one each year, it will be years before you will repeat a story, and it’s always just as enjoyable as the first time you read it.  The book is broken down into sections to be read aloud each evening leading up to Christmas Eve. Even our younger children enjoy listening (Jeff and I often want to read ahead), and we’re always sad it’s over at the end.

    Last Advent we read the new book that Ytreeide had just released, “Ishtar’s Odyssey” and it didn’t disappoint.  We read by candlelight around the table each evening.  At one point during the story, Ishtar enjoys some baklava.  The next day we happened upon a package of the yummy treat at Sam’s and brought it home so we could all enjoy some baklava during the next evening’s reading.  Our kids are still talking about it.  Our older kids ask to get these books off the shelf all year long, but we make everyone wait until Advent.

    getting-ready-christmas

  • Getting Ready For Christmas
    It looks like this one isn’t available on Amazon, except as a used book from other sellers.  Bummer. But if you can get it on time, and you have very small children, we found this to be a great beginning to celebrating Advent.  We first used this when Maggie and Lilly were ages 2 and 3 (and still have some of the sweet little homemade ornaments they made while going through this book).  And this year I’ll be using it with Olivia (4) and Carson (6)… and hopefully with Jessa in a few years. :)
    Each day leading up to Advent, there are simple pictures, a short reading, and a verse.  Each day also offers something to do with your child.  Some days it’s helping them with a homemade ornament; other days, it’s as simple as looking at the stars outside.inside-2
    This book is one our little ones have really enjoyed going through with us, and it’s a very stress-free way to begin celebrating Advent.  And this is a way for me to spend some quality time with my younger kids during the day during Advent season.  However, there are some readings in this book where I have to add a bit when talking with my kids in order to connect it to Jesus coming.  So just be aware of that.

These books, which we purchased years ago, along with candles, and sometimes desserts or hot cocoa are all we need to keep Advent season simple, memorable, and most of all, meaningful.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for Advent this year, or how you keep Christmastime meaningful for your family. Tell me in the comments. I promise not to compare! :)

Here’s some pics from Advent over the years…  eek, they were so little!

Eager ListenersAdventNativity
Reading Getting Ready for ChristmasHot CocoaCocoa Mustache

When We Feel Powerless

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I was up past midnight last night working on a blog post… but truthfully I’d have been in bed way before that if Baby Girl would just sleep.  Like, ever.

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This one.  We are having the hardest time getting her to sleep unless she’s on me.  And once asleep she doesn’t stay asleep long.

Last night- like almost every night – it was past midnight before she finally gave up the fight – literally.  She literally fights sleep, and us in the process. In the 6 hours that I was in the bed with my eyes closed, my sleep was interrupted more than six times. Not just the baby… our other kids will wake us up as well… can I have some of your water… my nose is stuffy… I can’t sleep… I had a bad dream… My leg hurts… Can I have another drink of your water… that kind of stuff is pretty routine.

So yeah, six hours in the bed, and awakened over six times.  This is the stuff Monster Moms are made of, you know? And I have to add that Jeff gets less sleep than this on a regular basis.

We really need a date night.  Or a retreat.  Or just a nap for goodness sakes.

Despite all our best intentions and lots of research and failed attempts at restful nights, our kids have historically just been terrible sleepers.

The list of things we’ve tried is long and pervasive and I won’t bore you with it.

This morning for some  insane, ridiculous reason, the kids got up two hours earlier than normal!  I got up feeling achy and cranky from lack of sleep.  This wasn’t the first or fifth or thirtieth time the kids had gotten up before they were supposed to and started playing and being noisy when they were supposed to be following a routine of getting dressed, making beds, etc.  In fact, it’s the third time this week. One of the perks of homeschooling is we get to be more relaxed, but one of the downsides to being a relaxed, laid-back family is that the kids often stretch that to the max and want to be free spirits when parts of the routine are really not optional (like they wish they were.)

I was frustrated and stern.  They were lethargic and discouraged.

As I stumbled like a zombie to the coffee pot, I realized I had a choice to make.  I could rant and rave and berate.  I could complain and whine and feel stuck in my circumstances.  I could bemoan the fact that these kids “never obey”, that I never get adequate sleep or enough free time or even just enough time for necessities.

OR… I could choose to have a better day than that.

I felt like there was nothing I could do to make things work.  I felt (and feel) like this is never going to get better. I felt powerless.  But the truth is I tell my kids all the time that they have the power to change their thinking… to change their attitudes… to change their day.  They really do, and if I tell them that, then I have to live that out too.

So I took my coffee and sat everyone down for a pow-wow.

“Guys, do you get up and dance in the pew at church or blurt out stuff to interrupt Pastor Dustin during a sermon?”

They all looked appalled and laughed a little “no,… no way”…

“Why not?”

They seemed to think it might be a trick question. “Well, … because that wouldn’t be right. That would be disrespectful,” one of them said.

“And we’ve been trained not to do that,” Lilly said.

“Carson, do you drive your cars down the center aisle during church and make loud ‘vroom’ noises?” I asked.

He hid his face like he would be utterly embarrassed to do that.  “no way!”

I started asking them more questions:

  • Do you take off your seatbelt – ever – while I’m driving down the road?
  • Do you practice handstands during a wedding?
  • Have you painted murals on our walls?
  • When is that last time you wore a diaper?

I started to show them just how much self-control they really do have.  Every day.  Hundreds of times a month.

So there is no reason they can’t use that self control to begin their day the right way.  And there’s no reason we can’t all use our self control to have better attitudes.

We all decided to start fresh and work together to make it a good day.

Has it been perfect? Nope.  We’ve had more than a few corrections and attitude adjustments – some of them before breakfast. Some of them my attitude.

But something in the back of my groggy mind clicked:

When I feel powerless, I’m not aiming high enough.

That seems counterintuitive, but when I feel powerless, it’s usually because I have my eyes on the day-to-day goals I’m trying to achieve, and it’s not coming together like I need it to.

 

C.S. Lewis said:

“Aim at Heaven, and you get earth ‘thrown in’;
Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

Sometimes the day-to-day goals aren’t supposed to be the aim.  I’m looking at schedules and schoolwork and chores …. God is looking at hearts and souls.

When I’m looking at the daily grind around me, I start to roll up my sleeves and think I can do this.  When I aim higher – at cultivating love, patience, kindness, gentleness (in myself or my kids)- I realize this is a mighty battled waged in God’s Country. To survive this kind of battle I need a bow that retains its strength, and arrows that do not easily miss.  I need the perfectly weighted sword with a blade that never rusts.  I need a bit of healing cordial.

In short, I’m never going to survive, much less win the Spiritual battles without the Valiant Lion of Judah going to battle for me.

When I aim higher and the realm is not of this world, I have to rest in God’s doing the work – in His way.  And He never fails.

What does this look like? How does it work?  By constantly talking to God about it throughout the day… taking my frustrations to Him and asking Him to help me see things through His eyes… asking for His help to take my thoughts captive… asking for His help to be gentler when giving correction… asking for His help to know how to handle behavioral issues when they arise.  Looking past the actions and seeing hearts and asking Him to take those hearts in His hands.

So now I’ll go lay down the baby – who is currently sleeping in my lap while my computer is perched on the couch armrest – and hold my breath and pray she stays asleep.  I’ll spread out a large-family-size bag of frozen nuggets on a tray for my hungry tribe. I’ll pull an arrow from my quiver and adjust my aim a little higher.

And hope that between the battles, I can squeeze in a nap. :)

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The Sabbatical is Over

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Well, let’s jump right in.

I feel like I’m pulling out my old typewriter from high school, dusting it off, fiddling with the paper feed, trying to remember how to do this.  It’s been two years since Rebecca’s funeral and a year since Jessa’s whirlwind birth and 21 days in the NICU (after God saved us both through an emergency surgery at 32 weeks pregnant)- the major events which caused me to lay down my pen for a while.

Many times I started to pick it back up, but couldn’t find my voice.

Flannery O’Connor said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
And as a life-long journal-er, I’ve always been able to relate to that.

So here I am, after putting the kids to bed (multiple times), with a one-year-old toddling and drooling around the living room… and I type while holding her back from my laptop with my outstretched leg – because if I wait for her to sleep, I will literally never blog again.

Over the last year I kept thinking something profound would come to mind and I would have the perfect thing to say to you all – to reconnect – and bring my blog back to life.

But the perfect words never came.  And I realized perfect doesn’t belong here.

I named this space Our Blessed Broken Life for a reason.  There is always at least a little bit of brokenness in all of us.  Life is messy, and real, and really imperfect.

At least mine is, and I kinda like it that way sometimes.  Because in our darkest times the past few years, I realized there is a joy and a beauty and a closeness to God that has only come through suffering.  And through lots of mess and chaos and imperfection.

As Elisabeth Elliot said, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”  I’m pretty much studying for my doctorate in that life course.  I bet some of you are, too.

The truth is, the last several years have left us tired exhausted, stretched, more gray up top, and feeling less like we know any of the answers.  And yet, we’re continuing to learn to extend grace when we don’t want to.

That patience is something you actually have to practice.

And that we can choose joy, no matter the circumstances.

Nothing profound.  Just life.

So I’m gonna line up my paper and try to load it in without any snags, and just get started drumming on the keys.  If you wanna join me, you’ll be more than welcome on the journey.

One thing I know: The sabbatical is over.

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