Friday, January 30, 2015

Picture Every Day Project


Here is my picture a day for yesterday. By the time I took it we were heading into homework time and the other kids needed the computer.

Here's another one I really liked:

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I took 273 pictures yesterday. Mostly of my oldest two cracking up. Here is one of my favorites:

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You can see more by clicking on the photo below - it's mostly just silliness though.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

photo every day project: day 2



Well what do you know? I've got another few for my photo every day project!! You can click above to see more from today's pictures. He is totally obsessed with ringing the doorbell every time we come inside. I let him do it a couple of extra times so I could take a picture of him (with the D700). There's one of him ringing the doorbell at the end of this set :)

 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Coming Alive


I read this thing once, this leader was saying "I'm a wife, I'm a mom. I don't even remeber what it's like to have a hobby." I seriously wanted to throw the book across the room. I kind of get where she's coming from -  if I'm super-distracted well then just forget about it, my kids are basically raising themselves. I'm painfully aware that what I don't do nobody else is going to do. But also - I'm more than just one thing.

This week I got to do something pretty extraordinary for my little world. I got to participate in filming the announcements for church. It was so much fun! I walked away exhausted, freezing and on a creative high. I drove home remembering how important it is that I show my kids how to do a good job of living a life. That I be involved in the things that make me extraordinarily happy, that I step away briefly now and then to do the things that make me come alive.

Parenting, and motherhood especially, can sometimes feel like it is sucking the life right out of me. I need to do things that pour life back in. For me this is being active with my photography, and creative projects, being plugged into my small group and nurturing close friendships, reading great books, & writing. 

What about you? What makes you come alive? How do you set a good example for those little eyes on how to live life well?

Photos Everyday

I'm thinking about starting a photo-a-day project. I have done it several years in a row but never lasted all year... still it was a good practice.  Today I picked up my Big Girl Camera and took a few shots. The white balance was kinda' off but this is what this morning looked like. Watching Cat in the Hat on Netflix. There are more photos to see if you click on the image you can scroll through the set on Flickr.

Let it go


Yesterday morning I wrote a post on Instagram. I carefully thought about what I was writing, posted it and almost immediately felt deeply how inadequate my words had been. I had written about nine beautiful verses, full of hope, but focused in on one word. 

Trials. 

I struggled with the accusation that I was writing like one of those gloomy Christians. Feeling like a failure I thought about taking it down or just reducing the number of words. 

I got in my car and headed to the grocery store with all these words words words... and as I turned the radio on the song "Oceans" came on and I remembered writing about how I wanted to go DEEP with God this year. Taking steps that are bold and far out of my comfort zone. 

I felt God remind me that I can't carry the weight of perfectionism out onto the deep water. 

The reality is that this is where I am. In the middle of a long, brutal, soul-crushing trial. Knowing that trials are necessary and that even though they hurt they really are doing something good in me gives me hope. 

The reality is that anyone who puts anything out there is going to have to battle perfectionism. If we wait until our words are perfect we won't say anything at all, at least nothing bold and brave. Excellent, yes. Perfect, no.
So I'm going to keep on writing, pushing forward, getting better. Letting go of the fear of what people will think when they see my cracks and imperfections. When they spot the gaps and see my deficiencies. I just have to let it go and keep moving forward into the person that God has made me to be. More clearly, brighter, bolder. 

Redeemed. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

White space, saying no and the Best Yes



White space.

It's the area in a composition that is blank. Blank, but powerful. Whenever I teach a photography class I always say "don't crop too tight, give your composition room to breathe".

We need white space in our days too. We need empty spaces in our days and in our weeks. Room to breathe, space to regroup, places to respond to God.


Sometimes we get to a place in our lives when we feel like the wheels are spinning but we are going nowhere. Like my mom would say, we're running around like a chicken with her head cut off. I was definitely in that place about a year ago, I don't even remember what exactly I was doing, I just remember how beautiful it felt when I began to lay things down and the strength I found as I began to say no to commitments that over-crowded my week. 


Now my weeks are free but my days are full. I am free to meet a new friend for coffee, free to have a play date with another mom in my small group. I am free to watch my friends kids, free to take a walk, take a nap, read a book. I have room to breathe, think & write. This has felt like walking in the rhythms of grace. This has felt like obeying God with my time and days, like waking up to my calling and taking one baby step of faith at a time into who God made me to become.

I just started reading "The Best Yes" the other day and the first chapter reminded me of the power I have experienced in laying things down and saying no to overcrowded weeks. I remembered what a huge difference it made to begin to say no to the clutter so that I could say yes to what God was calling me to do with the days He has given me.
 
This year I have started picking things up again, one by one. Some of thing are old, some are new. Some weeks have been really full. It's been good but it's given me new opportunities to practice saying no. I do not want to become so busy with obligations that there is no more room in my days and weeks for asking God "what do you want me to do? Who do you want me to reach out to?"  I want to be mindful of overcrowding my week. I need room to breathe in my days and white space in my week.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Engagement Session



I was so excited when Robert contacted me to see if I'd be available to do a last-minute engagement session. I couldn't think of another couple more joy-filled and in love than these two. I told my kids "it'll be practically impossible to take a bad picture of these two." and that turned out to be so true. They were so easy and fun. Click on the photo above to click through their session!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What I have learned 2014

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I don't have a lot to share in this what I learned post.  Maybe I learned a lot, maybe I need to go read back through 2014's journal but this year felt a little bit like circling back on myself, not really making much progress. When I thought about what I learned I really only came back to this one thing:

Gentleness 
This year I made an attempt to choose gentle correction and encouragement over yelling, lecturing, and a lot of strong discipline. Towards the end of last year I had a conversation that changed how I parent. I was talking to a mom with a son who was just little older than mine and who was having some of the same behavior troubles at school as Josiah. We were talking about how disciplines weren't working for our sons and she said "the only thing that has really worked has been praise"

I took this advice to heart and worked on encouraging Josiah. We didn't have long talks about his behavior or have strong negative disciplines for bad behavior. If it was a really really bad day he'd write a note to his teacher, that's about it, some of his electronic privileges depended on his behavior but he didn't get yelled at. And you want to know what? It worked. He still has bad days and gets off track but not like last year and for the most part he is listening better at home.

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I was already practicing gentle parenting strategies with Eli and noticing how well it was working. I was talking to my sister about how happy I was with this new parenting style and she said "the real test will be how well it works with your other kids" and I really started making an effort towards gentleness with the rest of my kids. 

The difference is epic.

Working on encouraging my kids every chance I get about every improvement in their behavior has worked. Telling them how much I love them, telling them when I notice that they really tried to stay under control or respond better. I don't lecture. I sit with them. I try to understand what is going on. I try to empathize. I try to let them say their piece. And yeah, life is still crazy and loud and my kids fight but I'm yelling less, and they are listening better. Win-win.

I've noticed the difference the most in my oldest. Beth is impossible to discipline. I have been tearing  my hair out for the last thirteen years trying to think of a discipline that will make a dent. If you send her to her room she shrugs and acts like she loves to be alone. If you take away one privilege she sighs, rolls her eyes and moves on. Like she's thinking "these silly parents." You can yell, lecture, punish - nothing. Until praise. I am trying to listen more, talk less. I'm trying to remember to say sorry and try to notice when she does something well. I started hugging her more, whether she wanted it or not. Eventually she started hugging back. She started becoming more empathetic towards me and has started noticing when I am starting to get stressed out and will give me a hug. This means everything to me. She also stated volunteering at church and between the praise she has started getting at home and the praise and sense of responsibility that she has found there I can see that is has just made the biggest difference in the world.

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I've noticed a big difference in Katie-Abigail too. She is my toughest kid. She is my zero-to-sixty baby, the one that refused to co-sleep, and who weaned herself early. She is my one who is constantly coming at me out of left-field. She is my kid who will get emotionally flooded really quickly - and then becomes nonverbal. She is hilarious and sweet but she is a handful. Switching gears to listen more, to go slowly with her and talk about strategies for next time has seen her overall stress levels go down. We feel like we are on the same team now.  I see her smiling more, exploding less and it feels like another huge stride in raising her well.

I've also tried to embrace gentleness with myself. I try to stop myself when I notice that I'm mentally beating myself up. I have begun to realize that all of who I am is created by God in His image. My weakness, even areas of temptation are still part of God's image - skewed by sin, cloudy and broken but there and that in my salvation the image of God has a chance to be restored in every area of my life. I am dropping the heavy load of mommy-guilt and resting in God's provision for my family - and me. I'm seeking Jesus' way, seeing the unforced rhythms of grace. I am embracing the reality that I am going to have grumpy days and pushed-to-my limit nights and that my kids are going to have to hear I'm sorry and hopefully somehow in all my mess God is redeeming.

That is what has worked for me. How about you?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What Worked for Me in 2014

I just read The Modern Mrs. Darcy's "What Worked for Me" post. I thought it was a brilliant idea and really made me think about the entirety of this last year and how I've made progress (slow, painfully slow progress but progress nonetheless). So I've been gradually collecting a few things to share with you all (or you know, the five people who read my blog now).


1. I started using my library's website
Maybe might seem like a no-brainer but I had a hard time tracking down my account information in order to log into my library system's website. and procrastinated endlessly. Finally one day this year I was brave and asked the nice lady behind the desk to re-set my PIN and promptly went home and set up my account, auto-saved my password and bookmarked the site. Now I log into my library's website at least every week. It has saved me from accruing as many fines as I did last year (I might as well have been paying a monthly membership! It was totally embarrassing) and I've used the website to request dozens of books that I would never have read if I'd just walked in. I also started requesting lots of books and only reading/finishing the ones I really wanted to. Sometimes I have too many books at once and can't read them all but that's okay. I have read way more this year than any other year and that has been very good. I didn't finish even half of the books I requested but since they were from the library (free!) I have no problem with that. Starting a book and then abandoning it because I'm not enjoying it has just been part of my process of finding the books I enjoy reading. It's better than not reading at all. Way way better.



2. My girls started doing chores
Let the angelic choirs sing! My kids have finally started doing chores on a semi-regular basis without needing to be closely monitored or endlessly hounded. I can now say "Beth, please go empty the dishwasher" and voila! it is done.  I say "Emma the bathroom needs to be cleaned" and it gets done. One day a couple of months ago I told Beth to go fold a couple baskets of laundry since she was so desperately bored and she did it in record time. All she needed was some music to listen to and she Knocked. It. Out. So I just want to give a big shout-out to all of you mama's of littles - I know it feels like it's never ever going to happen, and some days you live under a mountain of guilt that rivals your mountain of laundry waiting to be folded. Trust me, one day - it will happen, and that day will be glorious but you might be so busy with everything and everyone else that you just have to stop for a second to appreciate that you made it to this landmark moment. Also I want to mention that Beth is 13 and Emma is 11. My 7 year old makes his bed and my 9 year old occasionally helps me with random chores but it is mostly my older two who have become dependable and genuinely helpful. Maybe that decidedly places me into slacker-mom status but it's what works for me. This whole chores-thing didn't click into place at six or eight or even ten, but it did happen. Eventually.


3. I kept my stroller in the van
This year I started walking with my best friend once a week. The first time she asked me I wasn't so sure how this would work but it has turned out to be one of the best things that has happened this year, as far as good habits go. We walk and chat while I push Eli in the stroller. Now I also try to walk twice a week in addition to the walking I do with my friend. I walk around my neighborhood, I walk on the trails at our park. It's fantastic (free!) exercise for me and now that Eli has accepted that he has to stay in his stroller while I walk it's been great. By keeping the stroller in the van it is easier to take advantage of every possible opportunity to walk. It makes things more complicated on grocery-shopping days but it's so worth it.

4. Spotify, Evernote & Dropbox
I started using these wonderful services more this year for listening to music, keeping my notes consistent between multiple platforms & sharing files. These sites/apps have been wonderful and made my life easier.

What worked for you?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Overwhelmed

It's the last day of Christmas break.

I love my kids and I have loved having them home. I loved that we had one last day together. But today had been a train wreck. 

My life is so loud. 

I have had so much in my head today. I hate that sometimes all the thoughts in my head crowd out being present with my kids. I'm thinking about writing projects and some upcoming events and my to-do list and struggling to stay present and totally overwhelmed by trying so hard to not overreact to the high level of noise constantly interrupting my train of thought.

My kids have been so loud today. I just want to cry and scream and beg for them to please please please just be quiet and kind to each other and for heaven's sake stop shooting each other with their nerf guns.

I hate feeling this overwhelmed. I hate feeling this hyper-sensitive. I do not like this part of myself. I know that there are moments when being this way is really good. It is good. But it is not always easy. 

I wrote to a friend once "may you be overwhelmed by nothing but God's great grace for you today." and I realize that I need these words for myself today.

Tonight I sent the kids to the back of the house and sat on the kitchen floor and cried. It was a good, much-needed cry. Then the water boiled and it was time to get dinner working. I turned on my worship playlist, stirred my veggies, watched my pasta and practiced surrender. Inch by inch letting go. 

I'm thinking now about that verse that says a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die - Jesus was talking about His death. How His plan for His people was radically different than what they expected. They expected a now-triumphant king. They did not expect a crucified savior. 

But I'm also thinking that this verse is for me too. That Jesus keeps asking me to lay down my hopes, my dreams, my expectations, even my self-image - everything. Let Him have it all, let it go, watch it die. I keep feeling that the things He has for me are different, better, than anything I would choose for myself. 

But I can't have it both ways. I have to let go to my rights, my expectations, my demands on God for my life to go as planned or be a certain way or for things to be just so hard but no more. 

In surrender there is freedom. So much freedom. And so much grace.

And because I just couldn't help it here is a music video that encapsulates what is on my heart today:


I am not the Walking Dead


After what has felt like a week of Saturdays, it was finally Sunday. I sat in church next to my oldest daughter so thankful for these moments of uninterrupted worship. The sermon was just what my heart needed to hear. I wrote in my notes "I am not the Waking Dead"

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins... But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 NIV)

I am NOT the walking dead. I do not have to drag myself around in the rags of my own best efforts. I do not have to live in the filth of old lies and deceitful desires. I am not chained to the rut of habits that lead to death.

I have been made alive. I have been clothed in the wedding gown of grace. I have been set free to run and dance in the path of God's ways!

But, you know it doesn't always feel like a dance. It is also a struggle and a fight and life has this way of dragging you down. It's easy to become distracted. It's easy to become discouraged. Some days we put our heads down and just trudge through. 

Today let's lift our eyes. Let's not forget who we really are. Let's not live another moment as if we are the walking dead. We have been made alive! 





Friday, January 2, 2015

A small moment

This afternoon things got bad. I was on the borderline of screaming at everyone about everything. I could see my kids cringing. I had a discipline issue and felt myself ready to go into full-on nuclear explosion over a pretty routine sibling squabble (even though in the moment a squabble never feels routine. It feels like a full-on assault on all of your parenting).

I went into the kitchen to try to calm down. I'm like what is going on?! I remeber, very very clearly that I used to feel like this ALL of the time. I remeber why I used to spend so much time behind my camera and at my computer, it was my life-raft that made me feel like my head was above water.

I think I'm just tired, I've been out of any kind of routine for three weeks. I have had to do so much more parenting. I have had only tiny bits of time to be still and just be. I have had to answer questions about video games, computer time and candy all week and feel like I'm teetering between failure on both ends - between the grinch mom who doles out fun in minutes, and the fun-mom who lets my kids stay in their PJs all day and be on electronics all day - I have been trying so hard to keep it together and now I feel like I have hit the wall, I have hit full-on overwhelmed. 

In the middle of wall-to-wall chaos I feel like my to-do list is screaming at me from every corner. From the stack of books I long to sit down and finish to the Christmas tree that needs to be taken down and all of the clutter and chaos in between.

But I am trying to take a look around, take a deep breath and tell myself that it's not that bad. Yes, I have a lot to do, yes there have been a lot of distractions and changes to plans, but they have all been good changes, they have all been good things to do. I'm going to sit here, drink a glass of water, because as much as I want a cup of coffee I don't want to be up till 2am even more. Coffee isn't magic juice. It won't make me feel like I have a spine again or solid ground under my feet again. It'll just make me hyper-alert, and more ready to totally explode.

I am going to choose to be thankful that this is just one day. I'm thankful that I've grown out of this. I'm thankful that this is not my every day. I am going to slow down, breathe. Put on a DVD for the kids, wash these dishes and just do the next thing and then the next and remeber that the three hundred interruptions will be good ones. They will be chances to show my kids, and so teach them kindness and calmness - and apologizing for when we are not kind. 

My word for 2015

My word for this year has been forming in the background since around October. It has everything to do with this song so if you don't know it. You can listen to it here: Oceans - where feet may fail has been an anthem for me this past year. It has been a song I have come back to over and over. If I could choose just one song for 2015 it would be this one. (BTW: My song for 2014 would be this one OR maybe this one)  I feel God calling me out onto the water this year. To live this year, this whole year out in the oceans deep. One radical step of faith at a time.

I'm not really a "radical step of faith" kind of person. At least I don't think I am. I'm a faithfully serving in the background kind of person. Quietly doing what I can. I don't mind having little moments of walking out onto the water, so long as I can get my feet back onto the beach ASAP. I'd much much much much rather live on the beach, feet on the ground where everything will be okay if I was wrong about what I was feeling and everything working out even if God doesn't come through for me. But I feel God leading me to be done with all of this cautious skepticism.

Romans 4:19-25(MSG) Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.


The promise I have from God, that we all have from God is that He Is Enough. Despite whatever we feel like we lack, He is More and Better and our Everything. He is strong and true and undefeatable. We can trust Him in the storms and in the tough dry bleak seasons of life.

This year God has led me to moments of epic faith. He brought me into situations that have felt like a strait-up dead end and I watched him come through for me. There have been a handful of moments this past year where I have cried out to God "I'm hanging by a thread." and God's answer has rung out clear and strong and true "Yes, you may be down to just one thread, but that one thread is me and I will never fail you." Watching God not fail me over this past crazy-tough year has prepared me to believe that He'll come through for me this year too.

I've come back a lot to the image of a lighthouse. There have been so many moments throughout my life when I have felt like a storm-wrecked beach. This year God gave me a new image -  storm-tossed beach no longer, but a lighthouse. When the storms crash the lighthouse stands strong, built firmly on the rock, shining brightly in the darkness.  He has made me to be a little lighthouse and Jesus is MY lighthouse:



I am walking into this new year feeling terrified.  Honestly I'm starting this year feeling like I've been sucker-punched by life. Questioning if I'm wrong about everything. I have no idea what it means to choose a word like "radical" for this year and wondering about this year to be a year of walking out onto the water. But this year is about just taking one step at a time. Maybe it'll be messy. Maybe it won't end at some neat and nice ending spot at the end of the year, but to do anything else seems to be betraying all that God has done for me and in me and through me in the past few years. I feel scared and broken. But this song gives me hope. I think it speaks the truth about everyone who feels broken:

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