"The thistle is a prickly flower, aye, but how it is sweetly worn."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Week

Thanksgiving week in pictures:

 Jude and I had some pictures taken for our Christmas cards.  I gave up on having Jimmy take them for me in a cute local.  It has been the rainiest fall here on the weekends.

 We had two Thanksgivings.  On Thanksgiving Day, Jude and I went with Jimmy to his great aunts house.  His grandparents always come up to Ft. Worth for the holidays, so it was nice to get to see them.  This was the first time they had met Jude :)

 We also did a Thanksgiving dinner yesterday (Saturday) with my family.  My {pregnant} sister was very adamant that she needed specific sides and dishes my mom has always made this holiday.  We all worked together to comply.  It was kind of fun though because my sister and I planned a lot of it, and my mom worked with us.  I don't think all 3 of us have ever done Thanksgiving together, so it was fun to think about.  You know those moments where you are like- oh I'm an adult- it was like that.  

Jimmy was actually in charge of the turkey though.  My neighbor recently gave me his old grill which is half propane/ half charcoal smoker.  Jimmy really wanted to try smoking the turkey, and I was more than willing to allow him that priviledge.  He did an amazing job- even waking up at 4:30 to start smoking it.  It had an amazing mequite smoked flavor.  Heavens to Betsy...  And now Jimmy is going to be taking up a smoking habit.  And I am all 'ohmygoshbrisket!!!!'

 In true Rinehart fashion, we ended the day by playing a game of 5 Crowns and Catch Phrase.  Jude hadn't napped all day.  We looked over from our games and saw that he had fallen asleep in the middle of Spiderman.  Such a sweet kid.  He never once complained or cried.

He ended up just taking the perfect cat nap- short enough to allow him to go to sleep easily tonight, and long enough to allow him to regain some energy.  We spent the evening celebrating my dad's birthday and just enjoying our time together.  It was perfect :)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Spiritual Discipline of Thanks

If you know me well enough to be my facebook friend, you know this about me: I count my blessings every day.  They are numbered and listed in my status update every morning.  This has earned me a reputation as having a thankful heart.  But that's only partly true.

In June of 2012, I read 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Next to the Bible, I would say that book has done more to change my life than any other.  It felt like she wrote that straight to my heart.  She talks about her struggle to understand God's grace and how He really is good.  She talks about her struggles with fear and anxiety, to the point of involving cutting and panic attacks and medicine.  My heart rejoiced as I read her struggles because I realized I wasn't the only one.  

At the time I read this book, I had had a daily intake of xanax for about 6 months.  In January of 2012, all the pressure and fear that came out of my marriage and divorce and carrying the entire world collided into days of sheer panic and sleeplessness.  I knew exactly how she felt because I was in the midst of that storm myself.  And so, I took every word she said to heart.  I drank in the ways counting gifts changed her life and prayed fervently that it would do the same to mine.  I don't even think I had finished reading the book before I bought a notebook and began to write gifts as I saw them.

1.  My toddler singing chips and salsa songs at breakfast
2.  Surprise opportunity to go to Toddler Art at the DMA
3.  A child's thank you
4.  Jude asking a baby if he was ok.
5.  Covered porches

These pictures are of us at toddler art.

I actually very clearly remember this day.  Jude and I had the best time together at that toddler art class. It was probably one of the first truly happy days I had had in a long time.  Over the last 18 months, I have continued to count my gifts.  Sometimes diligently, sometimes the list has fallen to the wayside.  Although whether or not I wrote them down, I noticed a direct shift in my thinking once I started that list.  Little things I wouldn't have noticed before began to take on significance.  I remember driving back from my sisters and noticing the way sunlight reflected in rainbows off of the speed limit sign and being joyful.  How many gifts and opportunities for thankfulness had I missed in my previous 28 years by not opening my eyes?

Fast forward to now and I'm still counting.  As of this moment, my last gift was #1339- Rising before the sun in my dark, quiet house to read my Bible.  Earlier this school year (August probably) I started posting the new bits of the list each day on facebook.  I have had numerous people tell me that it encourages them to read all that I am thankful for.  I'm thankful for that :)  I hope that it helps other people see the little things they have to be thankful for on a daily basis.  I hope that it reminds them that God is good and His grace is everywhere.

But I will tell you what that list does not mean.  It does not mean I am wonderously happy all the time.  I am not constantly skipping and singing through life.  Compared to 18 months ago- I am enormously more joyful, definitely.  It has changed my attitude in every way possible.  I see God in more and I stop to pray more.  It gets easier and easier every day to find the good.  When I first started this, it was hard.  I remember sitting in my classroom last year literally straining to find something I could be thankful for. I would eventually find something, but it wasn't easy.

I've since learned it isn't supposed to be.  Giving thanks has a reputation for being this magical Christian attitude that just bubbles forth because Christ is in you.  I think that perspective might be a lie.  Giving thanks is a discipline.  Like any exercise regiment, it is extremely difficult at first.  Giving thanks is much like training to run a marathon (not that I have ever done that).  You can only find a few things to be thankful for at first.  Or you are too easily distracted to remember to give thanks.  Some days you want to be anything but thankful.  But you choose to count gifts anyway.  Some days you heart is not really in it.  But you choose to count gifts and pray He change your heart.  

He does.  There has been a huge, huge attitude shift in me since I started counting gifts.  I notice how much more I smile.  I notice how evenly keeled I stay compared to before.  I notice how hurtful things don't control my mind anymore.  I truly do have more joy than I had before.  It's not perfect.  There are lots of days when I am still straining to count the gifts.  But it's nowhere near the strain of first beginning to count.

So to encourage you, it is possible to have a thankful heart.  It is possible to see God's grace in all things and give thanks in all circumstances.  But to do that is a spiritual discipline.  It doesn't come easy.  It requires you pressing through the tough days with thanks when you really want to complain.  It requires you letting go of the things that aren't what you wanted and thanking God because you know He's at work in this somehow.  

I pray that all people may continue to count their gifts far past Thanksgiving.  Not only does it change your life, it's really commanded in scripture.  The high road is never the easy road.  But I promise it is so worth it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

On My Heart

Motherhood has been on my heart a lot here lately.  I think it's because of this {extremely} convicting study I've been doing on 1 Peter via this book.  I'm not even sure why of all things it has convicted me in this area as motherhood is not the point of the book.  I think mainly it's just how I can come home from work exhausted- and that looks anything but gentle sometimes.

In my diligence to be a Light on my campus as well as the best teacher I can be to my students, I sometimes feel like I'm burning my candle at both ends.  I can end up forgetting to keep the most important things the most important.  More than anything else, that smile is my mission.  How often do I really train him and teach him who Christ is?  Sure he sees my example- he knows I go into my office and read my Bible.  But do I really teach Jude who Christ is, sadly not often.

I desperately want to change this.  I want to be the kind of mom who raises godly men (and maybe women someday).  Last week, my pastor talked about the judgement of the saints- when Christians will have to answer for how we used the talents and gifts He's given us for His kingdom.  I do think I faithfully use those things in my workplace, but I am sadly lacking in my home.  As a Christian mother, I think my main calling is raising godly children.  My home is supposed to be a place where the Holy Spirit dwells in everything.  During the summer, it is so much easier for me to sing hymns and read the Bible with Jude.  During the school year, those things are the first to fall to wayside.

What should a Christian working mother's home look like?

This is the question I'm asking myself currently.  I won't even begin to act like I have an idea.  I am praying that God grow me into that place and show me what it should look like.

I've also been *painfully, painfully* aware of how quick these seasons fade.  Jude's interests are becoming more and more 'big boy ish' every day.  Less and less toddlerish.  He's already 4 years old, and I cry inside every night I realize there are so many moments I just can't get back.  Right now, he's still very attached to 'momma'.  But time is running out on me.  The time of nurturing and teaching him is now.  His brain is active and aware and able to make connections.  He respects me and believes me.  If I don't teach him truth now, I'm going to lose the opportunity to ever teach him.  It's sobering and scary, and honestly breaks my heart.  I miss my little baby.

And so this Christmas, we are starting some new traditions, particularly with Advent.  I want Emmanuel, God with us to be part of our daily conversation.  I don't know how you convey the intimacy of the incarnation to a 4 year old, but I want to try.  I want to light the advent wreath every night.  We are going to read devotionals after dinner.  I want to prepare my heart to receive Him, but I also want to teach Jude how to receive Him.  The significance of this holiday is so easily lost amidst the hustle and bustle of black Friday deals and lists, lists, and more lists.  Yet none of those matter in the midst of eternity.  This holiday is about focusing on things unseen that one day, when you least expect it- in a way you never would have expected, the unseen becomes God with us.  What we hoped for becomes tangible.  The deepest longings of our heart are filled in Him.

Motherhood.  The greatest calling.  Even in the incarnation, you have the greatest calling of raising Christ Himself.  And it all centers on having palms open, receiving whatever gifts He bestows on you with thankfulness and humility.  But also dedication and endurance.  A willingness to follow His lead when it seems dangerous (being attacked by Herod) or doesn't make any sense (Joseph marrying a girl who appears tainted).

Oh how I pray that Jude will understand the significance of this season....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pushing back the hindrances

Lately.  Lately I am realizing that this year has a calling much higher than I originally anticipated.  I'm seeing that God had far bigger purposes for my life right now.  Actually, I thought I was going to take the year off from learning any spiritual lessons.  Ha.  Haha.  God is far too faithful to let me just maintain my status quo.  I should have known that.

It's amazing to me how God works.  I've had a very 'flavorful' life in regards to lessons learned.  You would think I would have seen a lot, learned a lot, and be shocked by little.  Nope- not true at all.  I'm continually surprised and stunned by the new heights He calls me too.  I can't believe how 'unstretched' I currently am for this new place.  I guess more than surprising, though, is how humbling it is.

I thought I knew so much, had so much figured out.  Truth is, I have so much to learn, so much to understand.  So much pride has been uncovered.  And with that comes a multitude of other things.  I didn't realize this closet existed.  It was too far back in the recesses of my soul I guess.  God's cleaning it out.  It's messy.

But it's beautiful.  I know He is able to do immeasurably more in me than I expect.  (Eph 3:20)  I know that He's faithful to complete the work He started in me.  (Phil 1:6)  He's doing a lot of work in me.  It hurts.  I'm feeling emotions I really haven't felt- probably in 15 years.  {and of course this emotion would have been clouded by teenage absurdity back then- so in many ways this emotion is straight up new to me}  I haven't the slightest idea how God is going to use this in me personally, other than making me more like Christ.  Really, though, being Christlike is all I want.

I do have hope, though, that my current suffering will have eternal good for the world around me.  I see how I am being separated out.  I see the contrast it creates around me.  I see the incompatibility of myself with the world.  While that is really hard, and not something I've experienced, I believe with all my heart that it is a divinely ordained purpose.  I have hope and groan in anticipation of the day the ground is done shaking and new levels of glory are revealed.  I am praying for that.  I hope you pray for it too as you read this.

But more than anything, I am praying I run in a way that is worthy.  It is so scary to attempt to run a race that everyone is watching, and watching to see how you run and whether or not you will fall.  Of course, the reality is that I will fall.  Plenty of times.  As evidenced by my prideful sins, I have a long way to go to be really Christlike.  I am so thankful for His grace which covers each of those mistakes.

As I set new paces in the various areas of my life, I pray I may "forget what is behind (especially how I've failed or am hurt) and strain on toward what is ahead (being more like Christ- showing who He is), I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" - Philippians 3:13-14.  I feel like I'm daily beating myself into submission with the Word.  It's just not easy.  But praise Jesus that "my light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory for me".  Here's to looking heavenward- pushing back all the things that want to cloud my vision from seeing His face- and being the Light in a very dark world.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On the blind and how they can't see

I'm in a new and sometimes confusing place in life.  I have so many blessings- far more than I can count or express gratitude for.  God's love is just so clear and His hand so blatant sometimes its hard to not just stand in awe of who He is and what He's done.  At the same time, there are moments of real darkness where what He's asking of me is really, really hard.  I have no idea how to handle it, except keep looking up.  Keep seeking His face.

I'm thankful for His promises- and more than that I'm thankful that all of those promises in the Psalms and Isaiah that I love to memorize are YES in Christ.  I am thankful that because of Christ I don't have to be afraid of the big army of spiritual forces.  I'm thankful the rising waters won't wash over me because Christ will uphold me.  Sometimes those promises are all I've got.

I'm thankful for the body of believers.  Christ's presence in the believers who I see everyday fills me and flames His light in me.  Their encouragement spurs me on in this race I'm realizing I've been placed- a race I never quite saw myself running.  God is so faithful to provide exactly what we need when we need it.  The way these Christians support me and build me up strengthens me in a way that has helped me continue to press toward the prize, to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, to know He is perfecting my faith through this race which gives me so much hope.  But also there is JOY because I know that this race isn't ultimately about me.  It's about the hope of His Glory.  It's about the prayers that the world around me- my little slice of the world I'm salt and light to- may change.  Right now most of those in my world walk around with veiled faces.  They neither fully see God nor do they fully reflect Him.  But my prayer and my hope is that as I walk through life with them with my face unveiled, they will see God's light.  I pray their blinders will come off.  I pray they will see the beauty of God that is everywhere, in every single person.  I press on towards the goal of those around me beginning to reflect His glory too.

It's not the race I thought I would be running this year.  Yet, I know that is so like God.  He calls us out of the familiar into the unfamiliar, to a place that looks nothing like we expected, to a place that is exactly where He needs us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fall 2013

This year has been super full for Jude.  He started his Preschool 3 class at a church in our community.  He started playing soccer, his first organized sports experience.  He turned 4 years old.  And finally, we went to our favorite local pumpkin patch.  Here are some pictures from these special events.

Click here to create your own Shutterfly photo book.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Jude- four months

Jude's 4 month photo book I made... I'd like to thank OshKosh for this one and the $20 certificate they gave me for shutterfly- which expires on the 31st.  Nothing like $20 off and a deadline to make me get this done :)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

on how All {really} is Grace

So much on my heart- and where on earth do I begin.  For starters, I recently wrote this post which has been read over 600x.  My blog is very much a small blog read by some of my friends and family.  I might get 100 people to read a post after a few weeks.  Yet, both times I have publicly come out about my personal experience with abortion, the stories get read and read and shared and shared.  My original post has been shared on about 5 different blogs- some personal life blogs and some Christian/theology blogs.  It's pretty mind blowing to think about how the internet can allow a story to spread.  It's even more mind blowing to think that the one thing I would never admit- less than a year ago mind you- is the thing I'm realizing God can most use from me.

Someone left this comment on my ig regarding the post "Sin stays hidden, but God brings redemption for that which is brought to light".

For the past year and some months, I have been trying to live out '1000 gifts' and counting all the ways Grace covers everything around me.  Maybe it was the unfolding of recognizing Grace that made me feel brave enough to say yes I had an abortion in the first place.  I don't know.  I know Grace has changed everything.  Grace is so much deeper than I originally thought.  We all know that it's God's Grace that saves us.  And yet, His Grace goes so much farther than just that one act.  It is constantly taking my shame and transforming it, redeeming it from something hideous to something beautiful.  I would never have imagined that that could be true of abortion, but it is.

Sin led me into premarital sex, an abortion, a bad marriage driven by guilt, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, emotional trauma, anxiety, and eventually divorce, single parenthood, fear....

Grace took all of those things and produced Jude, my atonement child.  Taught me about love.  Gave me the courage to leave my marriage.  Helped me heal and see that abuse wasn't what I deserved.  Grace gave me the most Christlike servant- boyfriend.  Grace constantly speaks through Jimmy as I learn what it's like to be forgiven, to be served, to be loved, to be held accountable with kindness, to be encouraged.  Sometimes it just truly blows my mind to look at my life from 2007 and my life now in 2013.  There is so little the same about the person I was then and now- much less what my life was made up of then and now.  I'm beyond blessed.

And for what?  I certainly don't deserve it.  I've done it all wrong the first time around.  But oh the deep deep love of Jesus.  He takes all I've done and turns it around to bless me.  And yet also for his glory.  Because it really isn't about me.  These 1000+ gifts aren't because of me at all.  They are about Him.  The ugly becomes the beautiful because His Story is best told through the brokenness and redemption of my story.

Why can my abortion story be read at least 3000 times during this past year?  Because God's Glory shines best through my cracks.  It's an amazing thing.  I'm (in some ways) thankful for all my bad decisions, for all my pain, for all my shame, for all the nights I just wanted to die really.  I'm thankful because I see how God had carried me through all of those darkest moments.  I'm thankful because there is no greater thrill than knowing that God can use me and my story somehow.  I'm thankful because I know God can use a story like mine for greater good in the pro life vs pro choice debate far better than He could had I never made that decision.  I'm not sure what the correct word here is.  I certainly regret my original decision.  Yet, I can see how God sovereignly allowed it so that I could bring His Story out in the open.  1000 gifts.  Maybe not the most beautifully wrapped gifts.  Certainly full of ugly.  But praise God- He transforms the ugly into beautiful every day.

"But Joseph said to then, 'Don't be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." 
~ Genesis 50:19-20 
(my most favorite voice about God's sovereignty)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The ugly side of my abortion- for Wendy Davis.

**Disclaimer- before you read this, there is some background knowledge about me on the left regarding my grace-filled abortion story.  Click here to read**

There are a whole heckuva lot of things going through my mind right now.  I promise nothing in regards to quality of writing currently, because quite frankly, I'm shakingly upset.  That being said "riddle me this Texas- how does a meaningless Texas congresswoman go from abortion filibuster to governor possibiltiy".  Where exactly do you see credentials in that?  One speech does not qualify you to run a state.  That does not catapult you from middle school athletic team to NCAA division 1 team.  Sorry.  I don't really care what other 'social programs' she in theory supports.  I don't care that she supports more insurance for Texas children (I do too).  I don't care that she cares about Texas jobs (I do too).  One speech does not prove you know how to lead a state.  A state, which by the way, has managed to escape severe repercussions from the economy despite the fact that the National government is selling us to China one trillion dollars at a time.  We shouldn't elect people because they give good speeches.... Oh wait ::cough. Obama. cough::  End of rant.

In all seriousness, I just wanted to come at this from a personal perspective.  There are a whole, whole lot of people who vote and are strongly pro choice or pro life.  However, there are also a whole lot of people who vote who feel other issues are more pertinent that abortion.  I can understand that in a lot of instances.  I don't think that argument applies though when the only reason we know the person exists is because of their abortion stance.

Most people are not technically qualified to share a personal opinion on the validity of abortion.  Most of the people haven't had one.  But I have.  So I feel like I get the special right to share.  For me this isn't just a 'my faith says this' issue.  This is a 'from my personal experience' issue.

I had an abortion at Planned Parenthood Dallas.  Just a basic looking office building somewhere around Greenville-ish.  I had to show my ID at the door.  Did you know they don't let you into the clinics unless you can prove you have a right to be there?  That means that unless you are having an abortion personally or accompanying someone you have no idea what is going on behind that door.  If you are accompanying someone do you know how far you are allowed in?  Not past the waiting room!!!!!  Do you know what this means?  When you have your consultation in which you basically say you are willing to have this abortion you are ALONE.  You and the 'nurse'.  No one has any idea what's going on behind that door.  Do you know who goes in with you for the sonogram?  you are ALONE and no one has any idea what goes on behind that door.  Do you know who goes with your into the actual clinic where the abortion takes place?  YOURSELF.  No one has any idea what goes on behind that door.  Do you know who goes with you to the 'observation' area?  You go by yourself.  Fun fact- unless Wendy Davis has had an abortion she doesn't actually even know what's going on behind those doors.

Want to know what it's like?  You have a sonogram first.  But you aren't allowed to see anything.  Because if you saw anything you'd see it actually looks like a baby.  Then you have a consultation in which you say you are doing this of your own free will.  They also warn you of the common repercussion of abortion- which is incidentally depression.  Then you go to the tiny 'operating room' which is incidentally just a basic check up room.  You are propped up.  You legs are spread.  A device is used and literally the baby is drained into a bucket.  In my case a yellow mop bucket.  Wendy Davis is famous and running for governor for defending my right to do that.  There is nothing ok about draining 7 week old fetuses from a mom to a mop bucket.  A nasty mop bucket.  This is my story y'all.  Not the news.  This is my personal experience.

After that I went into the observation room where I sat with 5-7 other girls crying.  We were all crying. Because what we just chose to do was not ok.  And there's no way you can actually have the abortion and not realize that.  I actually don't remember much of that part.  Except that I threw up everywhere.  Probably because I was so disgusted with myself.

You know what I most clearly remember?  The nights I'd claw at my own skin because my entire body was wracked with guilt.  The nights I hated to go to sleep because I couldn't deal with the pain of knowing what I'd done.  I experienced depression all right.  Guilt induced depression.  I spent the next 2 years wrestling with the thought of grace and could God's grace cover what I'd done.  Maybe it was even more than 2 years.  I will never forget, though, the way I would scream into my pillow at night trying to muffle the sound of gut wrenching tears I cried.  I had two roommates at the time- and couldn't bear the thought of them knowing my shame.  I cried that way for months.  I mean this- the only thing that kept me from taking my own life was God's grace.  From the bottom of my soul, I could not take the pain.  And again, I don't go a week even now I don't think about how old that baby should be.  He/she would be starting kindergarten this year by the way.

That's what Wendy Davis really fought for.  And that is what catapulted her to run for governor.

Praise God that He took the pain and carried my shame... that He is the God of the sinner like me.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Calling, right now

Today I read this blog which I loved.  Throughout the years I've followed and unfollowed (and followed again sometimes) a variety of blogs.  At my core, I am an avid reader.  I will waste most of my precious hours reading thoughts, thinking about those thoughts, and pondering changing my own thoughts in response.  This blog is the kind that can make me do just that.

Lately, I just haven't been blogging.  And if you were to keep track of all the blogs I used to read vs the ones I read now, you would know a precious few blogs are still around on my blog feed.  It's not that I didn't love those other blogs, it's just there is so much to the whole blogging community thing that I just don't think is part of my assignment right now.  For awhile, I thought maybe it could be.  Who doesn't like the idea of lots of people reading what they write?  I'd love to be able to write and write all the time.  But it just doesn't seem to fit into my assignment right now.

I could probably spend an entire blog post on all the things I can't do right now, but where's the fun in that.  Instead, there are so many things that I can do where I am right now.

So here is a list of the simple things I'm called to do right now:

1- I am called to Shepherd.  I read this week in Ezekiel about God's role as the Shepherd in Israel's life, and I immediately thought of all teachers (and moms).  It was so beautiful.  v15-16: I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak... I will shepherd the flock with justice.  I just love that.  The environment I am called to create is one of peace and welcoming and home and belonging and healing and strengthening and freedom and justice.  That's not an easy job when you are dealing with 'sheep' who throw temper tantrums or talk back or try to see what they can get away with.  Sheep who are forgetful and tired and distracted.  It's certainly never ending.  Yet, God's chasing after my own heart is similarly never ending.  I just impulsively responding to Jude's disruption of my typing with frustration.  And God had to remind me of what I was in the middle of typing.  And remind me to actually do it.  It's not easy for me in all my selfish humanity.  But I do know this is my assignment.

2- I am called to wait and be patient.  Jimmy and I have this amazing relationship.  I am beyond blessed with his presence.  He is just someone I plain love to be around.  He stretches me- to be a little calmer, a little more patient, a little more understanding (I have very OCD like tendencies about my kitchen).  He models for me what service looks like when it's truly lived out.  I am assigned to learn from him and follow him.  Yet, we are still within dating boundaries.  So sometimes I have to learn to be content where I am.

3- I am called to encourage.  This is something that I am really starting to see as the how God can use me right now sort of thing.  I don't have time to serve in my church.  I barely have time to get to church each week.  I'm not the kind of person who does well juggling lots of things.  I need downtime- not because I'm selfish or lazy.  I honestly am just a truly introverted, highly sensitive person who becomes overwhelmed.  It really limits what I can do.  What I am realizing is that through the discipline of 1000 gifts, God has helped me become gifted at seeing the good.  I can share that perspective with teachers, parents, friends, etc.  That really is a needed service in this world.  So many people are weighed down by so many things.  Encouragement in a 'dirty laundry news society' is truly needed.  And I can do that.  I love doing it!  I could spend all day encouraging others.  That's an assignment I feel enabled (by Him) and called to do.  And I just really love it!  Christ has filled me greatly the last year plus.  He only fills what He expects to flow over and on to others.  There is so much joy in encouraging others!

4- I am called to trust.  For those of you that have followed my life awhile, you know that anxiety has been my constant companion.  I think I have always had undercurrents of anxiety all my life.  I am one of those highly sensitive people.  I am a true melancholic introvert (as in the personality type) and stress easily over my own perceived imperfections.  After Michael and divorce, those things just hit the fan, and anxiety turned to full fledged panic.  Right now, I am in the middle of weaning myself off medication, which was very much my saving grace.  I'm nervous that it won't work.  Nervous that I will end up back on them.  Nervous I'm perpetually flawed.  But I know perfect love drives out fear.  I know God is good.  I know even in His presence, the bad is used for good.  With that knowledge I am called to trust.  I choose to believe that God has the power to heal me from never needing medication again.  If he does that it will be for His glory alone.  I choose to believe that if he doesn't He has a reason for my continued struggle with anxiety.  I know He loves me.  And love like His covers it all.

My assignment is pretty simple.  Yet it is also very full.  It isn't the kind of assignment that will make me known in popular circles.  That's ok.  I know that this is where I am, this is where I am called to be. I can't do it all, but I can be faithful with what I am called to do.  In the parable of the talents, some were entrusted with many talents, some a few.  Yet, all those who were faithful with their talents were told 'well done' at the end.  I may have just been entrusted with simple talents, but whether my talents are big and mighty or small and mundane, the point has always been to be faithful with them.  And that, I can do :)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reflections on Grace

I'm sitting here listening to rain softly fall on my window panes, and I'm once again reminded of the good and beauty around me.  I don't have time in real life to sit around and post incessant pictures and blog posts like I want to.  Or I choose not to.  Life has become this amazing, beautiful thing lately.  I am enjoying savoring every moment, drinking it in full.  Who am I these days?

Grace has transformed me from a doer to an acceptor.  I don't feel the need to cross off every single thing on my to do list like I once did.  I feel satisfied that at the end of the day, I have done a job that (albeit imperfectly) was done with my heart focused on Christ and His glory.  I'm content.

Grace has transformed me from rigid to fluid.  I have never really been one to go with the flow in many senses.  I am not one for conflict, but my own personal agenda being messed with used to send me into a tizzy.  And now I just find myself stopping and saying "ok God this is the situation.  You brought this change for a reason.  I don't know why, but help me walk through it."  And those major problems become even smaller than annoyances.

This week I noticed a change in my students- just more off task that normal.  But I reflected and prayed and pondered.  And realized maybe I needed to restep up my number of positive interactions to the same level as the first few weeks of school.  It's an attitude and focus shift that has 100% to do with me- not with my kids.  And when I went to school the next day, I was able to completely return to the blissful joy of teaching with my students.

The past 2 days have been just fantastic.  I feel beyond blessed.  Yes, my children sometimes act like 6 year olds.  Silly children :)  But grace is always there for me to ask for and then impart to them.  Grace makes all the difference.

It's so interesting, especially being in a school and hearing so many conversations about child behavior, how often we just don't have grace for the child.  We are so egocentric really in our own adult behavior we forget that a child is really just a child.  How short 6 years on this planet really is...  How tiny those little fingers trying to write on the lines really are...  How even at 29 I struggle with impulse control when I want to talk to my neighbor in the middle of church or staff development, and yet I think my kids have lost their minds when they do this same thing... Silly me... I have grace for myself, but can forget to have grace for the little ones.  Or how often I lose the bill I need or my keys or forget to turn off the curling iron or leave my shoes lying in the middle of the floor.  Simple things an adult should be able to handle, yet I do them all the time.  And yet still forget my own imperfections when staring at a little child's messy desk and missing writing paper.  Or how many times I have gone to my team leader to have her restate directions I should probably remember... Yet wonder why on earth my kiddos ask me to repeat directions 5 times in 5 minutes.

Grace.  It really is reality.  How foolish it is for me to forget how my life and existence is completely and entirely wrapped up in His grace and the grace of others.  How can I not share this grace with the least of these.

I have so much right now that I am thankful for.  My time of peace and rest and pure joy continues with each day I spend on my new campus, with my new admin, with my new team.  I am so thankful for all God is going to teach me this year.  I am so thankful for His purpose in my life.  I am so thankful that life really is 1000 gifts that keep on giving.

The Lord always gives me verses for my school year right before I start.  They don't always make sense initially.  Here is what he has given me this year:

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God's... You will not have to fight this battle.  Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you... Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.  ~ 2 Chronicles 20: 15, 17

I'm not sure what that verse will mean this year.  I do know that for all the 1000 joys of my new school, there is a whole lot to learn.  New school culture.  New perspectives.  New personal dynamics.  New ways of viewing the same expectations.  New grade level.  New standards.  I do find great encouragement knowing that God in His Sovereignty placed me in this exact culture with this exact new set of colleagues and this exact set of children.  And more than anything, I know he did it for my good.  And I know that if God is grace, then all these things that seem hard are really just opportunities for His grace to flow in and His grace to flow out.  Each moment is filled with the holy.

That just blows my mind.  The moment of fear- God's there.  He's holy and good.  And because of His presence- that thing that wants to overwhelm me is actually holy and good.  If only I lock eyes on Him and allow Him to lead.  My heart overflows.  Oh friend, taste and see that the Lord is good.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

My New Classroom :)

This past week was my first week of school at my new school.  I am just in heaven.  I am hoping to temper this post with as much love and respect as I can for Title 1.  As most of you know I have taught in 80% + low SES schools for the last 6 years.  For me, this is my 7th year of teaching, and I'm terming it "My Year of Jubilee" as taken from Leviticus 25.  

Title 1 requires your mind, body, soul, emotions, everything.  You are a slave to those kids.  I truly poured myself out like a drink offering for those kids.  I don't regret a single second of that experience.  God taught me so much about myself and how much daily life was dependent on His presence.  I put counting 1000 gifts into practice with those kids.  And it was HARD to find things to be thankful for when no one can read in 2nd grade, CPS is involved in 3+ children's lives, you aren't sure if one of your parents hooks for a living or not, your drug baby has no emotional control and the smallest things cause her to break down, the angry child can't NOT roll her eyes and smart off at you for the smallest request, etc, etc.  They helped me make thanks-living not just a discipline, but a habit.  I am beyond thankful for them all.

But this is my year of Jubilee.  And I feel the Lord giving me back my soul, and my strength, and my love for teaching.  Just like slaves were returned during this year, I feel like I've been returned, redeemed, and rejuvenated.  I love everything about my new school.  I love that my principal considers himself a "teacher of teachers".  I am so thrilled to learn from him and my assistant principal.  I love that my assistant principal goes to my church, and I get to rest assured that her actions- even should I ever disagree with them- are ultimately founded in Christ.  What a comfort!  I love that I am on a team where all 5 team members contribute ideas, are strong teachers, have amazing work ethic, and are hilarious and fun to be around.  I love that I have 22 kids that when I say get out a pencil they just automatically say 'yes ma'am'.  I wouldn't have even asked them to say yes maam for that.  I love their joy and love of learning.  I love that I don't have to force them to do anything school related- they already love it.  They aren't perfect, but I sure am not going to have to perform stunts to engage them.  I thought I loved teaching before.  But looking back, I ended each day emotionally tired and frustrated.  Now, I end each day only physically tired.  Emotionally though, I'm just full of joy.  I don't walk in with some amount of dread each morning praying that I have the patience to deal with my special friend's anger and antics.  Title 1 took every emotional cell out of me.  I'm so thankful to just love on my kids and truly teach.  After 5 days, I still am excited about the year.  That's never, ever happened.  (Except maybe my 09-10 year- those kids were amazing)  

I'm not saying it's perfect or that kids are perfect or parents are perfect.  They are human.  And there will still be days that are hard.  But they will just be days.  Not every single day.  When I'm praying over my class in the morning, I have this vision of myself in a dimly lit classroom.  And it's only lit by me.  Like there is this angelic light surrounding me, which I assume is the Holy Spirit.  And I know my presence in my classroom will have a purpose.  I am still called to be a light to all these kids, to love them like Christ loves the little children.  And I know I am pouring my heart out to be Christ's hands, feet, and heart to them all.  And I see that calling every time I have this vision if you will.  I really believe God has something up his sleeve with showing me this.  So I pray I stand firm in Him and am what He has placed me there to be.  But no matter what, I am just 1000x thankful, because I know the amount of peace He has just poured onto my Year of Jubilee.  And my heart overflows.

And now for a tour of my room :)

 My reading area:  reading chair, lamps, library books, cafe reading wall, word collector wall, my handmade curtains, my cozy reading genre pics...

 My testing table, my writers workshop clips, my child accessible math manipulatives, other resources...

 My ode to the prairie with my Kirsten American Girl doll, Kirsten books, Texas books, Cajun Night Before Christmas, Word Wall, Display shelves, family pictures, birds, my thistle, my Little House on the Prairie collection, the big frame on the left now has my quote "grace is reality" in it- my constant reminder to offer grace for all the tears, frustrations, and imperfections that enter my room...

 My desk area- I've kind of changed up this display, but it has my reminder to choose joy and that it is well, my calendar and math area with child accessible number line, places for math words, and all the math I want to incorporate into my calendar...

 My signature room "Australia" for kiddos who are having a rough day.  I always read "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day" and explain that kids can go here if they are overwhelmed by their emotions.  It also doubles as a cozy reading spot.

 Close up of my display area.  Including my hippie duck given to me by a former student, my 2 gnomes I got from 2 different teacher secret pals.  Also I covered the front of the shelves with decorative masking tape.  I am pretty much in love with it.  I love how it makes the white pop out and gives it this calming seaside feel.

Some more close up of my tape.  Really really pleased with how this turned out!

Friday, August 30, 2013

For Your Maker Is Your Husband- Repost

For Your Maker is Your Husband- Isaiah 54

Susannah has a Bride of Christ link up currently.  Technically, I have already written this post several months back.  But it says everything I would want to say already about my thoughts on this subject.  And it was one of my most viewed posts.  So cheers to a redo :)

For those of you who don't know, I've been working on reading through the Bible for basically 2 years now.  I've made it through the New Testament once and am back in Mark.  In the Old Testament, I've read Genesis through to 2 Kings and Job through to Isaiah.  Yesterday, I read Isaiah 54.  I actually read verses from this when I was reading through one of my favorite life changing books, Breaking Free- by Beth Moore.  (this book is a must read for all women I think, especially if you have experienced any type of abuse.)  She refers to part of this chapter when she talks about the dreams of all women to be fruitful and have children.

I had never read this chapter in its entirety, at least that I remember.  This chapter is for any woman who has struggled with fertility, or been abandoned, or divorced, or abused, or unmarried.  If you have struggled with any of the big 'women issues' or disenfranchisement with typical 'women dreams' in life, this chapter is for you.  I wish I could type it out in its entirety, but instead I'm going to link you to this chapter on another website.  Here.

I hope you read it and found it encouraging!  Here's where I have struggled:  I've been abandoned, I've been in an abusive relationship, I've worried about never getting married, in the past I worried about never having kids, I've worried that I won't be able to have kids by the time (if) I get remarried... I still struggle with some of these things.  Thankfully, with my experiences through healing from a divorce and abortion and all of those things, my struggles have become less.  But I do notice those thoughts every now and then.  I've just learned to trust God (in those areas- I still struggle a lot with faith).

I'm learning to accept reality with joy.  The reality is that Jude will be much older than any other brothers or sisters he may have.  But the joy is that I've gotten to pour into Jude more than I ever will with any child.  It's been just he and I as long as he can remember.  While it isn't ideal, it does create a special bond and almost friendship that you won't have otherwise.  I don't know that it's always a good thing, but I do think it is a special gift for the single momma.  And I have a feeling I will be close to Jude in a lifelong way because of this.  Another reality is that I will be 30+ before I get remarried and even later before I have more kids.  But the joy is that the road I've walked will make me extremely thankful when all of those things come along.  I will really appreciate them in ways I wouldn't have otherwise.  Another joy is the possibility of adoption.  Yes, in my dream world, I have 5 biological children.  But I do think that as you experience different parts of life, you get to experience different parts of God's character.  I do think that adoption allows you to understand the fact that God adopts us more than I currently do from the lack of adoption standpoint.  Whatever your life experience, wherever you are, there is joy to be found, and a way to see God differently because of it.  And that's always a gift.

This passage encouraged me in many ways.

* vs 1-2 tell us women to burst into song, shout for joy, do not hold back... How many times have you thought "I will do that sometime after I'm married... I will be able to do that more when I have kids... I would be able to do that if it weren't for abuse....  I know I have.  But God tells us to not let our dreams for the future nor our past hurts hold us back.  God has you where you are today for a purpose. A great purpose.  Dive into it fully!  If God is leading you to something, go for it with everything you have.  You can trust him to provide for the future along the way.  But don't spend your life waiting.  Serve him now.

* vs 1 also says that many more are the children of the desolate woman than she who has a husband.  At this point in my teaching career, I've had 120+ children that I have poured my entire soul into loving, teaching, molding in every way.  There is no way I could ever biologically have that many children.  But I consider them all mine.  And I've prayed for them all like they were mine.  And I love them all deeply.  I haven't forgotten any of them.  And you better believe that one of the first things I will do after I get to heaven (besides hugging my Grandma and my other baby) will be to ask God who out of my 'kiddos' is in heaven.  Or making sure He tells me when they do get there!

* vs 4 tells us to not be afraid, do not be ashamed, do not fear disgrace...  While I think this was more intense in Bible times since barrenness was considered a consequence of sin, women are still prone to thinking less of themselves when they experience these lost dreams.  But we don't need to feel that way.  I'm currently reading Loving God with Your Mind by Elizabeth George.  She quotes Alan Redpath as saying "there is nothing that can ever touch me until, first of all it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose."  I love that!  Abuse came with great purpose!  Abandonment came with great purpose!  Single mommahood came with great purpose!  If I am single forever it will come with great purpose!  If I never have more children it will come with great purpose!  And rest assured,  all your past and present circumstances have come with great purpose too!  None of us know the future, but we can trust God that the future is full of great purpose as well.

* vs 5-10 is our love song I think.  A love song from our Maker who has an unfailing love that will not be shaken.  I personnally love the way it talks of how he loves and calls back the wife who married young only to be rejected.  He loves us so much.  So intimately.  Have you ever spent hours creating something?  For me this comes back to painting.  I remember every brushstroke.  I remember the colors I used and mixed.  I remember blending the colors just so.  I remember putting the paint thicker for certain reasons.  I was there for each second of the process.  And I put all of my energy into each square millimeter.  No teensy spot went unnoticed.  And the more I pour into a painting, the more I love it.  It makes it hard to give away a painting, because there are parts of me in that painting I could never get back.  Even though someone may love the painting and see beauty in it (he- like a husband) could never love it the way I (like God) could love it.  Because I created it.  Women are the painting.  And God has poured himself into each cell and second of our lives.  And even if a dream guy comes along to buy the painting, he will never love it as intimately as God loves us.  Not even close.  You are loved so deeply.  And that is worth far more than a house full of children or the best marriage or a pain free past :)


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Weekend Pics- Nailed It

This past weekend I was determined to nail it as much as is possible when getting ready for the 1st day of school.  At a new school.  And in a new grade.  I'm pretty sure I did a kick ace job.  Jude and I hit the ole Target around 9:00.  Because I literally cannot manage to get everything I need in one stop.  I don't even know how many times I have gone to Target and Hobby Lobby and Wal Mart leading up to starting school, but it borders on ridiculous.  

Jude and I were talking in the car and he requested soccer and the pool.  And then he said he wanted to play soccer by our 'lake' and take a wagon ride.  And then he added picnic.  Sweet thing just came up with all these ideas on his own.  So we did just what he wanted.  I bought us some drinks from a coffee shop.  We packed some cheese and crackers in the wagon.  And walked down to the lack.  It was delightfully windy out as we sat on the bench enjoying our snack and looking at the lake.  

As most of you know, I am minorly obsessed with the prairie.  Some might look at the above picture and see dead grass.  I see waves and wind blowing and purple tints and green.  I hear cicadas singing and wind rustling and birds chirping.  I smell the sweet herbal scent of grass baking in the sun.  I feel pure bliss.  I love the wide open spaces of Texas skies and fields.  I feel so alive when I am surrounded by this.  And the amazing thing is- these photos aren't filtered.  The sky is just really that blue.

One of the many things I love about the prairie is that it's always changing.  Grasses and flowers die and new ones take their place.  Roses are great, but it's the wild flowers that always amaze me.  How beautiful is this one.  I can't remember what it's called.  It reminds me of a hydrangea with it's lime green and white hues.  So pretty!

Jude and I did practice soccer.  I taught him to not use his hands :)  He starts soccer practice tomorrow (Thursday) so we are really thinking in soccer terms right now.  It was so fun to kick the ball around with him.  I love how playing makes you feel so alive.  Until of course you start realizing it's getting close to 100* out there ;)

He loved exploring the lake and walking to its edge.  Love love his little hand on his hip.

Little boy in a big big world.  So amazing to think about.

After burning up while playing soccer, we ended it right by cooling off at the pool.  I enjoyed sitting.  And you can see Jude on the side making a friend.  Such a friendly kid.  He amazes me by how brave he is with going up to whoever is around and engaging them in play.  So sweet.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fostering Independence

When you first find out your pregnant, you find yourself bombarded with well meaning advice over the best way to feed your baby, sleep train your baby, wean your baby, swaddle your baby.  You name it.  People have an opinion on it.  You start out seriously considering all these pearls of wisdom.  Then you realize you are sleep deprived and overwhelmed.  You enter survival mode, which seems scary.  But the good thing is you emerge from that 'trauma' knowing yourself as a parent.  You learn which pieces of advice work for you and which don't.  Opinions of others lose their importance because you realize you actually know what's best for your child.  And you start to see yourself as a parent.  Maybe not the parent you thought you'd be.  Maybe not the parent 'that book' says you should be.  Maybe not the parent you had.  But you find your own parent identity.  With that identity, comes peace.

For me that identity has emerged in two ways- neither of which I expected.  For one thing, it turned out, I was an attachment/extended nursing/cosleeping/baby wearing kind of parent.  It worked.  Now that I am in full fledged toddlerdom/preschoolhood, I am seeing myself as another type of parent.  I push my child's independence.  Never in my life would I have expected that.  Especially coming from the attachment wing of baby raising.  As it turns out though, my life is busy.  I just don't have time to do every single thing Jude asks me.  Without really thinking about it, almost as an impulse response really, that has been used to turn him into the most independent 3 year old.

He can get his own snacks.  He can get his own drinks.  He gets himself dressed.  He puts his clothes in the dirty clothes.  He brushes his teeth in the mornings.  He puts on his own shoes.  He throws his trash away.  He puts his dishes in the sink.  He makes his bed.  He puts on his seat belt.  He opens his door.  He cleans his own bloody nose (gross I know but he did it and stopped it himself).  I could go on.  Honestly though, he does a TON of stuff on his own.  He doesn't do it perfectly all the time (although a lot of the time he does).

I just simply let him try.  If I can't hop to it, I just tell him what to do.  He tries.  Most of the time he figures it out or comes close to figuring it out.  And man is he proud when he does.  He is incredibly confident in his own abilities simply because I have him try.  He doesn't cry about now being able to (unless he really, truly can't).  He doesn't 'but mama' me.  He doesn't whine or baby talk.  He just takes care of business.  And he does that because I simply don't do it for him.

I'm not saying that this is THE way to raise independence.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't coddle younger children more.  What I am saying, is that if you choose to offer the chance to let your kid do it themselves, they will probably surprise you by just how capable they really are.  And now that Jude has gotten so used to doing so much on his own, he just rises to the occasion himself.  He takes the initiative without me 'you try first'.  He blows me away daily with the things he decides to do himself, and he does them pretty well!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Toddler Water Slide

This summer Jude has becomes obsessed with the pool.  As in he asks to go every time we pass it.  Which is every time we enter our neighborhood.  I would love to be able to accommodate him, but life is just not that convenient.

I started positioning my sprinkler to hit his slide just right.  He loves this because it makes a "water slide".  He gets to zoom down it fast, he gets to get wet and play in the water.  He thinks it's amazing.

I love it because I get to entertain him while I'm watering my grass since for some reason the back part of my sprinkler system doesn't work.

And I love it because I can actually do things like throw in a load of laundry while he's having a blast outside soaking up his daily dose of vitamin D.

And it makes for some cute pics too :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Simple moments, simple pictures

This weekend turned into a pretty simple one when Jimmy told me Friday morning he was heading out of town for the whole weekend.  I had sort of expected Michael to get Jude, but thankfully, he didn't.  I'm in the middle of staff development back to school stuff, and I wanted to combine some fun stuff for Jude in addition to all the work I have to do.  That being said, no boyfriend weekends mean dirty hair, scarves, and no makeup.  As you can plainly see.

It was a good weekend to hit the donut store.  Also, I have no milk, no coffee creamer, etc.  So breakfast was gonna be scrounged up one way or another.  Might as well make an occasion out of it.  Donuts are soooo daggum good.  I really wish they weren't terrible for me.  Jude agrees.

We ran our errands so hopefully we can eat for the week.  Although, with back to school, it seems like the list grows insurmountably with all the things I realize I need.  In fact, no pictured is the time I went back to Hobby Lobby.  And back to Target.  All in the same day.

Jude asks me daily to go to the pool.  It's pretty hard to go when I've been working so late setting up my classroom, but I promised myself I would take him at least once this weekend.  As soon as our groceries were unpacked, we headed down there.  Earlier this week had been my happy mail day wherein I get a copy of Coastal Living, which is my favorite mag.  One day I'm going to live at the beach y'all.  One day.  Until then, I read Coastal Living....

It is kind of nice too, because Jude has gotten increasingly independent in the water.  Which means I can actually do things like sit on my lawn chair and read.  The baby stage is sure cute.  But- the older they get, the more you get time to breathe.  And well, I don't hate it.  Jude mostly threw his sticks and retrieved them.  Oh and made friend with literally every child in the area he was in.  He is the most social child.  And since I am amazingly shy- I do not even know how he came out like this.

Because sometimes you walk out of your room after changing out of your bathing suit and see your child building blocks with a mask....

I also got a back to school pedi today.  I thoroughly enjoyed my latte, my book, and have my feet massaged and prettied up.  Gotta look awesome for Meet the Teacher this week!  I even went with classic red so I could fit it as we 'Set Sail for Learning'.  Schools love to give us slogans for the year...  I'm kind of a fan of nautical stuff (see Coastal Living) so I'm not hating it...

Jude enjoyed couch naps and old quilts...

And I gave up finding valence curtains that I actually liked for my classroom and decided to make them with burlap, various blue and orange ribbon and fabrics, fabric adhesive tape, and hot glue....

So far, I actually really like how they turned out.  They were 100% no sew.  Time will tell if they pieces stay on.  But at least I have a glue gun handy in my classroom....