Gazing Upward
  • Reading and Writing
  • May23rd

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    I love that three of my four kids can read. It’s like revisiting my childhood when I share with them books that left such strong impressions on me as a kid.  It’s also nice when I can encourage (enforce) reading time which oh so quietly occupies them.  Then I can escape to my room to decompress and bury my nose in my own book.  For this introvert, that’s my happy place!

    With long summer days ahead, and all the free time that I (naively) envision having, I’m excited to delve into an ARMFUL of books I’ve had sitting on my nightstand for months.  Here are some of the ones I’ve pulled to read….

    The Whole-Brain Child
    12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
    by Siegel and Bryson

    I started this book a year ago but got caught up in end-of-the-year festivities before I finished it. So I’m picking it back up.  The authors are a neuropsychiatrist and a parenting expert who put their heads together to create a guide for helping children develop emotional intelligence.  It’s an informative yet entertaining read. They give a clear explanation of how the brain is wired, and then they provide practical ideas to help kids balance their emotions with logic.  For a mom of a child who can spiral downward in rage or anxiety, this book is an incredible tool!  My favorite tip – if your child is nervous before a big game, performance, audition, or interview, tell them to add simple equations in their head. 1+1=2     2+2=4      4+4=8.   By employing the logical left side of the brain, you balance out the emotional flood of anxiety from the right side and become calmer.  Caroline swears this helped her with dance tryouts!  The authors give an example of swimming….you can’t swim well with just one arm; it’s imperative to use both!

    How to Really Love Your Child 
    by D. Ross Campbell

    Now I did borrow this one, so I’ll just have to take notes.  Campbell co-authored The Five Love Languages of Children with Gary Chapman. This book similarly helps parents understand the emotional needs of children and how they perceive and receive love.  Having made some recent observations, I’m suspecting that my 8-year-old, Grace, is not feeling fully loved and accepted, despite my all the words of affirmation, hugs, kisses, etc.  A friend found this book to be very insightful for her family, so I’m looking forward to implementing some of the ideas and skills to ensure that my daughter feels unconditionally loved.  There’s definitely a parenting trend among our generation to avoid strict discipline or else harm your child’s psyche. But that’s not what this book is advocating.  This is more about how you connect with and engage your child in everyday life, not just when they act out.

    Are My Kids on Track?
    by Goff, Thomas, and Trevathan

    Can you tell I’m on a parenting-revamp kick?  Ironically, these books just happened to appear on my radar this past week. I certainly wasn’t searching for books on the emotional health of kids. In fact, it all sounds very hokey. But I had already been thinking about how to better teach empathy. And when I heard the authors on an episode of “The God-Centered Mom” podcast, I knew this book would point me in the right direction. There are various milestones for emotional, social, and spiritual development. And it’s our job as parents to help our kids grow in these areas at the appropriate pace so they can flourish.  For Caroline, who was adopted at age 12, these milestones have come much later because she didn’t have a typical or loving upbringing.  While I was initially more attracted to this book for the sake of my littles, I’m predicting that it will be very applicable to my oldest.

    Giddy Up, Eunice
    Because Women Need Each Other
    by Sophie Hudson

    Sophie Hudson is well-known as the author of the Boo Mama blog. She ‘s also located right here in  Birmingham, Alabama!  I fully expect this book to have me in side stitches from tearful laughing fits. And I also expect to be inspired to step outside my circle of friends and pursue relationships with women across generations.  There are several older women who live on my street who have countless stories I’m eager to hear.  Time to put the kettle on for tea!

    Uninvited
    Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely
    by Lysa TerKeurst

    I’ve actually already finished this book, but it so deeply resonated with me that I have to share.  This book is for anyone who has ever felt rejected, insecure, inadequate, or overlooked.  I would venture to say that every single person falls into this category.  With wit, vulnerability, and Scriptural references, Lysa teaches how to process hurt in a healthy way so you can handle future rejection with more confidence, and most importantly, recognize the unwavering love of Christ that steadies the soul and heals the heart.

    Nothing to Prove
    Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard
    by Jennie Allen

    I am a huge fan of Jennie Allen. She appears to be one of the most grounded, theologically-sound, humble, and genuine women doing ministry today. In her latest book, she speaks to those who feel like they’ll never be enough or measure up.   I can’t help but feel that way some days as I scroll through Instagram pics.  Pointing the reader to Jesus, Jennie illustrates the freedom and power that come when you admit your weaknesses and needs, and then allow God to meet them.

    Steadfast Love
    by Lauren Chandler

    Lauren is the wife of Matt Chandler, the lead teaching pastor at The Village Church in Dallas. If you’re looking for some great sermons, check him out!  Seven years ago, Matt was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  Lauren writes of the journey of faith God took them on during such a terrifying and uncertain time.   It’s hard to worship when you’re stuck in the hard places, but Lauren reminds us that we can experience the steadfast love of God during those seasons.  And we will come out of those valleys stronger and victorious when we allow Him, and nothing else, to be the anchor of our souls.

    The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
    by Kate Andersen Brower

    I find a lot of great ideas and encouragement from parenting and Christian living books. But I also love a good page-turner, from suspenseful mysteries to coming-of-age novels to biographies and memoirs!  I’m particularly fascinated by true life accounts and personal stories.  Recommended by a fellow bookworm, The Residence is like the Downton Abbey of the White House.  Amazon describes the book as “an intimate account of the service staff of the White House, from the Kennedys to the Obamas.”  And it’s a fun companion to my current TV binge-watching show, Designated Survivor.

     I’m always looking for more recommendations! Especially in fiction.
    What’s on your summer reading list?

  • May16th

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    Every year, I seem to engage in three periods of reflection and evaluation:  the launch of a new school year, the celebration of a new calendar year, and the transition into summer.  There are always fresh ideas, new goals, renewed resolutions, and unbridled determination (which may or may not last but a few days.)  The allure is that I love fresh starts and second chances.  These times remind me that I can make a choice to break out of unhealthy or unproductive patterns. I can give a worthwhile goal another GO. I can reprioritize to include a project I’ve long kept on the back-burner. And I have an excuse to go splurge on new office supplies. Because who doesn’t feel better after buying a pretty new notebook and fancy colored pens and nifty paperclips?? Nothing makes me want to get organized like gorgeous, patterned filing folders.  Surely I have some soul sisters out there who feel the same way.

    So the 2016-17 school year is wrapping up, and I’m making my summer wish lists, bucket lists, and project lists.  As I look back at my 2017 New Year’s goals, I see one resolution in particular that I did not make good on…. updating my blog.   I kept putting it off because I wasn’t sure where to start, or if anyone actually reads blogs anymore, or if I even remembered how to sign in to the dashboard! Alas, five months into 2017, I’m adding it to my summer goals and giving it a try.

    I’ve always loved to write, and this blog was such a great forum to sift through my thoughts. It’s a space where jumbled emotions transformed into words and coherent ideas. It’s a space where I often had big revelations in the midst of typing about mundane happenings. And most importantly, this blog became a “stone of remembrance” for me where I could look back at posts and recall the many times God demonstrated His faithfulness. Because I certainly can’t rely on my memory anymore!  In the limitless world wide web, I found a small sacred space where I learned more about God, myself and others.  I made connections with incredible people whom I never would have met otherwise, and I was left the better for it.

    Let me clarify, I’m not calling this blog itself “sacred.” What I mean, is that I have found that when I take a few moments to quiet myself before Jesus, He can bring some sort of order to the haphazard impressions and feelings that emanate from this crazy life. In fact, when I set apart these moments to reflect and look for His hand at work in my daily life, I find myself humbled, encouraged, inspired, and changed.  And I was much more likely to reflect on daily life when I was blogging and writing.  Sometimes these moments were just a few seconds and sometimes they were much more. No matter their length, the key is that they were moments I set apart – and when I do so God makes them sacred. He does that for us all whenever we come before Him.  I look forward to sharing the silly, the serious, and yes, the sacred, as I continue this journey as wife, mother, and friend.

  • January22nd

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    I introduced  you to my new blog site and then abandoned you, didn’t I?  I had good reasons. I promise. Like devouring all 3 books of The Hunger Games trilogy in 5 days (plus another 3 books I’ve been wanting to read.) And planning Carter’s 4th birthday party.  And redecorating Grace’s room which is now shared with Carter. But alas, I know you don’t want my excuses. So I’ll just give you the updates.

    First of all, some book recommendations.  A few weeks ago, I finished Stella Gibbon’s novel Cold Comfort Farm.  It’s light, humorous (as in giggle out loud funny), and endearing.  It was published in 1932 but was made into a movie somewhat recently.  I can’t wait to see how the characters are portrayed in film! If you want an “easy” and uplifting read, pick up this novel.

    I mentioned The Grace Effect in my giveaway post.  It’s exploration of Ukraine and the result of societies dominated by communism and without (authentic) Christian influence, along with the narratives of his adoption of daughter Sasha, were difficult to read and enlightening at the same time.  Ironically, I was reading it alongside Francis Collins’ The Language of God which also offered apologetics and inspired me to understand my faith and convictions in more grounded, practical, and logical ways… which in turn strengthened my beliefs.

    Enter The Hunger Games which begins with a post-America totalitarian government and a people virtually without hope. I recognized the unintentional theme in my reading and gave some time to putting together a big picture of God and the world. It’s easy to take our faith for granted when God is  allowed to be a part of our lives.  Picturing my life without religious freedom, and thinking of the dread that a communist or totalitarian government would bring, I realized how thankful I am to be an American.

    And back to this intense and page-turning trilogy…I could not put it down! I have since gotten Scott hooked.  After I finished the last book, I had become so invested in the characters that I remained in a Panem daze for a couple of days before I was able to snap back into reality.  Believe the hype…read these books!  They also offer a mature and realistic perspective on love, as opposed to so many current books which convey love as selfish and lust-based. The first movie comes out in just a few weeks. Who’s going to see it??

    Are you wondering how I found time to read so many books this past month? Well, let’s just say that I had a messy house and piles of laundry to tackle when I finished my literary blitz.  With energy coming back in my 2nd trimester, I guess I felt the need to catch up on all the reading I slept through over the last few months.  It was quite enjoyable.  And my husband was quite patient with my lack of domestic productivity.

    On to house projects.  While we’re planning to begin an addition soon (we’ve decided we may wait to get our lot sold first), there is no way the nursery would be ready before June 16th.  And Carter had reached his wit’s end regarding his teeny tiny room.  In fact, for the past few weeks, he hasn’t even slept in there but preferred to sleep in Grace’s room.  Scott and I had discussed having the “littles” share a room and making Carter’s room into a nursery, but I was intimidated by the costs and vision for redecorating a coed room.

    Then I made a great discovery!  After finding this picture on Pinterest…and drooling over these striped drapes, I visited the blog which had posted the photo.  I found a talented decorator from Texas who provides internet consultations using inspiration boards for a very reasonable cost!  Here are two examples of her boards:

    I had to send her room measurements, color ideas and dislikes, photos, pics of furniture staying in the room, whether I like DIY projects, etc. And then I could pick which level for her to shop in (ie. Low end=Target and Overstock; Medium end= Home Decorators Collection, West Elm; High end= Restoration Hardware, Layla Grace). I told her a blend since I have expensive tastes but love to accessorize with lamps from Target, etc.

    Amanda would email back and forth with questions and ideas, and then she put together a virtual room via inspiration board. She also sends links to purchase all the items.  Many items she found for me, such as lamps, drapes, and wall prints, are from Target or Etsy.  We bought Serena and Lily bedding but even got it discounted from a local store.  This help was just what I needed to get a vision for the room and then save time by buying what I wanted/needed instead of spending hours shopping and searching and ultimately overspending.

    I’ll post pictures when the room is completed, but I’m waiting on everything to arrive.  A hint of what’s to come…the color scheme is navy, chartreuse green, and coral (with most of the coral being on Grace’s side.)  And we ordered these beds from Restoration Hardware since Carter has been begging for bunk beds.  They’ll be separated into twin beds for at least another year, but Carter is satisfied just to know they’re coming.

    I can’t wait to see the room completed. And the kids are beside themselves with excitement. I’m also pumped to have a little place for the baby. We were going to just put the crib in our room, but that’s no fun to not have a place for baby’s clothes, decor, and fun items. After all, this is my last chance to enjoy a nursery. I’ll post pics of it too when done.

    I’m off to apply a second coat of white paint to Carter’s dresser.  Hope you’ve had a great weekend!

     

  • January2nd

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    Call me sentimental. Or old-fashioned. Or perhaps habitual.  The simple truth is… I’m a lover of traditions.

    Many traditions are tied to holidays or special occasions.  So as our first Christmas and New Year’s Day with a child approached in 2008,  I suddenly felt pressure to nail down the practices we would hold for years to come.  For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out from the get-go.  Adding to some family traditions which Scott and I had celebrated since our childhoods, we had begun to establish some new traditions after we married.  Scott assured me that we could add in family customs throughout the years. After all, would our 11-month-old even recall his first experience of traditions? And isn’t it fun to discover and establish new rituals throughout the years?

    Reading through Noel Piper’s beautiful and practical book Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a book that I return to often for ideas, direction, and encouragement),  I was reminded that “our celebrations are occasions to look back and remember what God has done in the world and in our lives.” (Piper, p.64)  Piper, wife of renowned author and pastor John Piper,  also shares this great quote from Milo Shannon-Thornberry: “Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”

    Now that our children are at ages where they can understand, communicate, and contribute, new traditions have been springing up.  And it’s so much fun!  Ever since getting married, Scott and I have entered each new year with a planning retreat.  Well, I say “retreat” with a liberal meaning.  The first two years, we got away for a couple of nights to do our planning and evaluating.  During the last couple of years, our “retreats” occur on our living room couch after the kids have fallen asleep.

    We originally got the idea from our pastor and his wife who have been doing this same planning every year. They even shared a basic outline of topics they discuss and evaluate. Scott and I elaborated on the outline and have covered everything from dietary/health goals to financial plans for the next year to marital goals.  We not only establish goals together but also make lists of our personal hopes and plans.  For example, I often make a list of books I want to read. Or hobbies I want to pursue. Friendships I want to rekindle. Or habits I want to build. We generally cover these topics: health/physical, marital, family, spiritual/ministry, career, hobbies, social, personal, and financial.

    Making a list of anticipated expenses, whether in housing repairs or vacations, we are able to prioritize which item needs attention first. So we end up being on the same page when those expenses come down the pipeline.  We’ve made goals of weekly or monthly dates, reading a marriage book each year, and other relational issues.  (And I bet all you parents of young children can guess which topic we annually address and vow to give time and intention to! 🙂 )  We’ve even included goals as silly as vowing to eat a green vegetable at least twice a week (we just aren’t vegetable lovers).

    I’ve never really been one for making resolutions. But our planning retreats are helpful in leading us to reevaluate our desires and plans vs our actual activities and pursuits.  We know that we will fall short of our goals and lists, but putting them on paper helps us be more intentional.  And it’s always fun to look back on past planning lists and see how God has worked.  Last year, I smiled as I reviewed  some of our dreams from years past.  From completed adoptions to my first published article, I giggled at the fulfilled plans which once had seemed like distant possibilities.  We have some plans and goals which remain constants every year, but reviewing them reminds us that they are priorities.

    Yesterday, in celebration of the new year, we sat down with our kids to help them determine their own goals and plans for 2012.  Carter’s top two goals were: (1) to learn how to fight bad guys, and (2) to not be scared when the toilet flushes!  He also decided he wanted to learn how to read a book all by himself.  Caroline hopes to study ballet, master English, and win Super Mario Kart on the Wii.  Grace declared she would be potty-trained, learn more ballet, and learn how to write her alphabet.  Their plans are not deep or even remotely spiritual.  In an effort to divert them from focusing solely on themselves, we encouraged them to set a goal of memorizing a  new Bible verse each month and to find a project to serve the community.  But it’s a start.  Next year on New Year’s Day, we can whip out the list and see what they have accomplished.  I also hope that they will take this tradition as an opportunity to trace what God has done in their lives and the community throughout each year.

    I have to confess that I failed my parents yesterday in not carrying out their own tradition of years past…making black-eyed peas and rice on January 1st.  But I must remind myself, it’s never too late to start a new tradition or bring back an old one.

    I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate with your own families.  I should have posted this before New Year’s to garner ideas for this holiday, but we can print them and save them for 2013.  Whether it’s rituals for birthdays, Easter, Advent, or any other holiday/occasion, feel free to share how you make the celebrations special.

    Happy 2012!

  • November8th

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    I found these sweet devotionals last week and had to share. Sweet Dreams Princess and Goodnight Warrior, by Sheila Walsh, provide a precious nightly ritual which includes a brief Bible story, a related devotion, and then a prayer, praise, or promise. While the devotions aren’t very indepth or original, the wording is age-appropriate and captivates my little ones.

    Just a warning that both books are almost exactly the same in that they have the same biblical stories. But they cater toward boy or girl (oops, sorry….warrior or princess) in the devotion part. The author had my son at the word “warrior.” I actually like this format because I can read the story just once to both kids, and then I can spend special time with each one on the devotion. It’s a great way to wind them down before bed and bring their thoughts back to the God who loves them. The difference in the content of their prayers is amazing.
    Oh, and a fun little bonus….the warrior cover glows in the dark!