Monday, October 10, 2016

Creating a Family Mission Statement

When Brandon and I were engaged he tossed out the idea of creating a family mission statement. I hadn't really heard of the idea before, but had seen pallet signs stating "house rules" popping up in craft stores and around Pinterest and was intrigued with doing something similar.

During our first year of marriage we had quite a few conversations about what we wanted our family "values" to be. We knew from the start that we wanted the mission of our family to be to serve God and others, but talked a lot about what we thought that looked like from a practical level and how we could implement it into our daily lives.

Here are some of the general notes we came up with:

Mission Statement:

- To know and radiate God's love
- To become a family after God's own heart
- To build up treasure in Heaven
- To represent Christ in all things

Family Vision:

To not fear or despair about growing old


- Invest in relationships
- Practice gratitude
- Show hospitality
- Use resources creatively to further God's kingdom, promote justice on earth, and build relationships
- Mind your attitude
- Be present
- Train children in order to give them increasing amounts of freedom and responsibility (assume responsibility and freedom)
- Laugh
-Value experiences over stuff
- Accept and give God's love
- Develop your character
- Appreciate beauty
- Dwell on excellence

These were such fun conversations to have! They encouraged us to talk about our faith walks, upbringings, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

Ultimately we ended up selecting several values that we felt best described the mission we desired for our family and this past summer we worked with BetweenYouAndMeSigns to create a piece of art to display these values in our home. Not only is this sign one of my favorite pieces in our home, but it is prominently displayed in our dining room - making it one of the first things visitors see when they enter our house and something we look at as a family multiple times a day (in passing and at every meal!).

Whether you have a well established family or are just starting out, I would highly encourage you to take time with your spouse and/or children and create a family mission statement for your home!

" for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

Friday, August 19, 2016

Simple Joys

Last night I gathered with several women from my church for one of my new favorite bi-monthly traditions - a recipe swap! We each bring a favorite dish and share a meal together.  While talking one Sunday, several of us realized we all had tons of recipes pinned on Pinterest, but often didn't get around to actually trying them! This has been a great way to taste some of those recipes and find out what is really good before trying it out on our families :) One of the ladies gathers the recipes beforehand and has them printed, hole punched, and ready to insert into some colorful binders bought for the occasion. While it's been a fun way to find some great new recipes, my favorite thing has become just getting to know some new friends!

Since many of us are young moms or newlyweds, conversation typically centers around the little ones in our life, marriage, and faith (i.e. last night several of us realized that ironing is at the top of our dreaded chore list - but our husbands don't mind it at all!). Last night we decided to try something new and pulled out some of the IF:Gathering Conversation Cards. My favorite question of the night turned out to be: "What is something simple that brings you joy?"

We talked about how it's easy to come up with the big things in life that bring you joy - vacations, holidays, date nights, etc., but what about the little everyday things? Are you even on the lookout for what those little things are?

Some of the answers included:

- "Mail Dates" - a couple's nightly walk out to the mailbox and around the house after their kids are tucked in for the night
- A good cup of coffee
- Sweets!
- Quiet time when all the kids manage to nap at the same time

My answer was walks - especially our Sunday family walks. Almost every afternoon Beckett and I head out for a walk after his afternoon nap and before Brandon comes home. Both of us love getting outside and I love to take in the silence or listen to a sermon/podcast while Beck engages in some intense people/animal watching. We live in the middle of a great park system and are blessed to have several trails through the woods and around parks and ponds right at our fingertips. Back in the spring, Brandon and I started heading out every Sunday afternoon for a family walk. Most of the time Brandon loves to choose a new location for us to try (ranging from local park reserves, one of the numerous lakes in our area, or around Brandon's childhood neighborhood :)), but sometimes we will just end up wandering around our neighborhood. I love this tradition and the time it gives us to connect as a couple while being active together!

While I didn't share it last night, I was thinking this morning that one of the other simple joys in my life is getting Beckett up in the morning and from his naps. These days, 95% of the time he wakes up with a big smile and is often talking to himself when I come into the room.

What about you? What is something simple that brings you joy?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lasting Lessons From My Single Years

10 years ago I was getting ready to start my freshman year of college. I was excited to start a new school where I was convinced I would meet my new best friends and future soul mate. While I didn't go to college to get my "MRS" degree, meeting my future spouse was definitely at the forefront of my mind. After all, my parents and siblings had all left college engaged, and wasn't a Christian college the perfect place to meet a man who would share my values, morals, and faith?

Except things didn't work the way I had planned. Instead, the next four years included many seasons of embarrassment, depression, and even jealousy as I watched many of my friends get engaged while I stood by wondering if my dream of become a wife and mother would ever come true.

And in God's timing it did. 

But what I don't want this to be is a post written by a married woman just reflecting back on her single years and stating how she should have acted. After all, I'm married now, I got what I wanted, didn't I? It's pretty easy for me to look back on a difficult season of my life and say how I should have acted knowing how things turned out. Instead, I hope this is a point where I share some lessons that I learned during those difficult years that continue to impact me as a married woman today - lessons that I hope might encourage other women - married and single alike.

Freshman year of college....who wouldn't want to marry me?!

(1) Being married isn't better than being single.

I don't think this is said enough, particularly in conservative Christian circles where young women are often raised to believe that our role is to become dedicated wives and mothers (maybe less in more secular circles). To become such is a beautiful, wonderful thing and was always my deepest desire. But because this was my dream, and what I thought was "better," I spent many many years feeling as though I was "less than" because I was single. I wondered what was wrong with me.

I've frequently heard well intentioned individuals tell single women to use their single years as a season of preparation for marriage. Serve others and prepare yourself to be a wife or mother. And while homemaking skills are important, I think this directive gives off the wrong message - it is reiterating that marriage is the ultimate goal, and that there is something wrong with being single.

When in fact, there is nothing wrong with being single, and God never promises us marriage! Our only goal in life should be to serve God and love others to the best of our ability - not marriage. We need to recognize that God will meet our needs, but not necessarily all of our desires. Being married isn't better than being single, it's just different.

[Y]ou are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

But I promised this post wasn't just about looking back and saying "what if." Consequently, I think this lesson can be applied to so many other areas - just switch the phrasing around...."being  _____ isn't better than being ____." Gender, race, age, occupation, financial status, spiritual gift, etc. Comparison is dangerous, and it is so easy to falsely apply worth to how we compare ourselves/our circumstances to others.

My college roommates - at the time this picture was taken I was the only one not in a serious relationship. Within the next year and a half all 4 were engaged.

(2) Living in the future makes you lose sight of the present.

I spent so much time during my single years reflecting on why I was single, being frustrated with the fact that I was single, and looking for a potential future spouse that it makes me wonder what leadings of the Holy Spirit I cast aside? What opportunities did I miss because I was too focused on my earthly desires vs. God's heavenly plan?

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God
Corrie TenBoom

Your single years are an incredible opportunity to serve others. As a wife and mother I still love looking for ways to serve, but the reality is that my first priority is my family. Honestly, the single women I know who are the most content are those who are actively engaged in serving their families, churches, and communities. 

As a married women this is a lesson I continue to remind myself of! I frequently get caught up in thinking, "I can't wait until _____ is over" (i.e. Brandon's work schedule is lighter, an event has passed, Beckett has reached a new stage). Of course the problem is that when I think this way, I end up missing out on the daily happenings and seeing God in the ordinary.

One of my favorite things during my single years was taking the time to invest in the lives of my nieces and nephew.

(3) Being married doesn't solve all your problems.

While I don't think I really believed that marriage would solve all of my problems, I think I was pretty sure it would alleviate most of them! And to some extent it has - but only to be replaced by the new challenges that come along with being a spouse and mother!

I recently heard a sermon where the pastor said, "if the grass looks greener on the other side - it's time to water your own grass!"

These guys bring me so much joy, and continuously challenge me in new ways!

(4) There are some things in life you can't control, and if you try to force them you might end up worse off.

For some singleness is not just a life stage, but God's ultimate plan. For a time in my life I was not willing to recognize this as a possibility for my future. Consequently, I stayed in a relationship much longer than I should have because it was comfortable, safe, and I knew would eventually lead to marriage. But it wasn't right, and by holding on as long as I did I ended up causing a lot more pain than necessary. It was only after I fully surrendered my future to the Lord and was truly content with being single that I met my husband, and only at that point in time did I realize how much my prior relationship was lacking, and how difficult a marriage to that individual (although he is a wonderful, compassionate, Christian man who I deeply respect) would have been.

I recently re-read Corrie TenBoom's The Hiding Place, and was moved by the way she and her sister Betsey didn't reflect on their singleness as something negative, but seemed to embrace it as a way through which God molded their character and drew them to him.

Brandon during his single years

Ultimately, if you are single, my biggest piece of advice would be to recognize your worth. You are loved and cherished regardless of your relationship status and are fully complete in your relationships with Christ alone! (Colossians 2:10)

Monday, August 1, 2016

You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

"There are really places in your heart that you don't know exist until you love a child." 
Ann Lamott

7 months ago this sweet little man made me a mother. One of the questions we frequently get is, "does he smile this much ALL the time?" And the answer is typically YES! Unless he is hungry or it is 6 pm (the witching hour totally exists around our house) Beckett is full of smiles and giggles. Believe me, I do not take his happy disposition for granted!

I do believe there are a few things we have done to encourage his sweet spirit - namely the fact that while we have a strict schedule and solid habits we are trying to instill in him, we also try to fairly relaxed parents. We have a schedule most days so that when special events come up or a bad nap happens we can go with the flow. We try not to fuss or make a big deal when Beckett gets upset, but do our best to respond calmly and positively. Most importantly, we encourage his smiles with lots of laughs and smiles of our own. I've quickly realized that when Beck is having a hard day, it's often because my attitude is off.

I love how Beck's sweet disposition draws others to him. He is quick to give smiles to strangers wherever we are - the grocery store, church, on an airplane - which has opened the door for me to have some unique conversations with others I might not have had. At 7 months, Beck has already showed me that something as simple as a smile really can have an effect on someone else's day!

Keep smiling little man!

"A happy heart makes the face cheerful..."
Proverbs 15:13

Friday, July 22, 2016

When the Ordinary Becomes Extrordinary

Nothing special happened today, and yet today was a special day.

Beckett sat on his own for the first time for longer than 5 seconds, we had a play date with a sweet little girl who has the most amazing expressions, Beck had a wonderful time eating corn on the cob and broccoli for dinner, and we ended the day with a bath where Beck showed off his impressive kicks and swimming skills to Grandma.

My heart is so full.

So many wise mommas told me to treasure these ordinary days - warning me that they go by too fast, that our little ones grow up too quickly. I take this advice very seriously. Ever since I noticed how quickly my little one left the newborn stage and how fast toddlerhood is approaching, I started to take a few extra moments each night to treasure my sweet boy and the day we've just had.  And a magicial thing happened - I realized that nothing "special" had to happen to make a day sweet or memorable. I started to recognize that smiles and laughter really do make the world go round, and that a day that seems frustrating can be softened by some extra cuddles in the rocking chair.

And so, in a time where politics and violence make the future seem uncertain, I'm choosing to cherish the ordinary and appreciate the extrodinary gift I had been blessed with.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Reading Highlights

Normally I'm not much of a non-fiction reader. I start off with good intentions, but will often get bored and walk away from a book half-way in. Brandon is the complete opposite and has been a good encourager in challenging me to dig a little deeper in the quality of books I read! That said, I've recently finished reading 2 excellent books that I had to share!

1. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax

In this book Sax, a physician and psychologist, examines the increase in obesity, anxiety, and depression in children and relates this decline in physical and psychological health to modern parenting. Sax argues that parents have become to passive in their parenting and are more afraid of what their kids think of them rather than how their children are behaving. Consequently, kids are being allowed to "call the shots", spend hours on their smart phones and playing video games, and rely on peers and figures in he media to substitute the guidance they aren't getting at home.

I loved how Sax gave concrete examples from his own interactions as a psychiatrist and how he gives practical advice as to how parents can respond to this problem. The book isn't written from a Christian perspective, but many of the parenting philosophies directly align with thoughts and conversations Brandon and I have had that stem from our beliefs. I could barley getting through a page without stopping to read something outloud to was one of those books that If I'd been highlighting important points or things I wanted to remember, the pages would be drowning in yellow!

2. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

If this book did anything, it affirmed Brandon and my desire to homeschool. This is a fascinating read that examines the American education system and compares it to higher performing international programs. Ripley follows several American students whom study abroad for a year and compares their experiences while she reviews national education programs and why "smarter" kids are being produced abroad. I was particularly interigues because one of the students Ripley follows was from one of the local high schools here in MN (that is highly ranked). Some of the primary areas Ripley examines are the students' perspectives towards education, the training and recognition of teachers, the importance of being taught how to think rather than how to pass a class. 

So now I'm hooked :) Any non-fiction recommendations I should try out?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Legacy of Love

The last few weeks have been incredibly emotional.

My first Mother's Day started out on an incredibly sweet note as we dedicated Beckett at church. However, on my way home from church I spoke to my mom on the phone. She was unusually emotional - which I first thought was due to the fact that she and my dad weren't able to be in town for the dedication. But after a few minutes she told me that it looked like my grandma was going to pass that day.

Deep down, I wasn't that shocked - my Grandma turned 93 in March and has been in poor health for e last several years. Since this past fall, she has been in and out of the hospital 5x. But the news still blew me away. Amazingly, Grandma rallied that afternoon and was up and about and requesting baby back ribs and carrot cake for dinner. We new it was only a matter of time though, and on Thursday morning we got the call that she had passed.

The last week has been a blur. We spent the time with my family and grandpa - sharing stories and a lot of tears. The hardest part was watching my Grandpa. After 67 years of marriage he still said to me, "we both thought we had a few more years left..."

But what was really incredible was my grandma's funeral. At 93 you would think there would have been a fairly small tour out given that the majority of her friends no family have already passed....but people just kept coming! There were the Muslim owners of the restaurant she and my Grandpa frequented - along with almost the entire restaurant wait staff (think average age 18-23), neighbors from Michigan. New York, and California, and several of the nursing staff who has helped care for her over the last 2 years. They all came with tears and stories - so many stories. It amazed me the lives my Grandma touched in her final years of life and the witness she was to so many nonbelievers. Our family assumed the nursing staff must frequently attend funerals for those they card for, but when we asked they all emphatically said no - Grandma Esther was special.

Let me give you an example. As a child my grandma lost her mother at the age of 14 months....except she didn't know that. Once her mother passed her dad quickly remarried a widow and the couple had a son together. For years, my Grandma suffered what we would now plainly label as extreme emotional abuse at the hands of her stepmother - only to be told by a neighbor girl at the age of 13 that her mother really wasn't her mother after all. This event undeniably has a profound effect on my Grandma's life, and because of the lack of love she felt as a child, she seemed to make it her mission to make sure those around her felt loved - especially children. One of the ways she shared this love, even if just for a moment, was by becoming the "sucker lady" at our local mall. Almost everyday she and my grandpa would go for walks around our local mall. Grandma would slowly walk up and down the corridors, pushing her walker - and every time she passed a child she would stop and say hello and offer them a sucker from her basket. Now, she had to learn that times have changed and if was a good idea to ask the parents before offering the treats, but she continued this tradition for over 10 years!

I was able to speak with my grandma twice on the phone during her final week. She couldn't say much, but both times she made sure to tell Brandon, Beck, and me how much she loved us. But the best part was - I already knew this. Grandma never hesitated to tell you how much she cared about you or how special you were to her - and you knew her words weren't just for show.

As a strong believer, I know she is celebrating in Heaven now, and I praise God that she is free from the immense physical pain that plagued her for so many years. But that doesn't change the fact that there is noticeably a void at our family table - her spirit, sweet kisses, and never ending voicemails will be truly missed.