Cookie traditions (and the best ginger snap recipe ever)

I'm a cookie girl. (Well, and an ice cream girl and chocolate girl. But that's for another time.) Growing up, our family would make my great-grandma's sugar cookies for almost every holiday. I remember the excitement of helping my mom mix the batter, squishing down the cookies with a sugar-coated glass, squeezing frosting out of plastic bags. My brother and I always enjoyed eating the "ugly" ones.

When I got married, I learned my husband came from a cookie family too. His family would have a cookie-baking marathon in December each year, making piles of ginger snaps, spritz, and chocolate chip cookies. When we married, our traditions merged... and I learned to make their cookies the "right" way. It took a few years to learn that I couldn't mess with perfection. Whole wheat flour was not an acceptable substitute! ;)

Last weekend, I was both excited and nervous about attending my first cookie exchange with friends from church. I wanted the cookies to be just right -- and needed to make 140 of them! Here are five of the lessons I learned about marathon cookie-making:

Lesson 1: Use good recipes.
I was confident in the ginger snap recipe that had been passed down for three generations on my husband's side. The chocolate peppermint cookie recipe I found online looked amazing, but I had never tested it. I was feeling a little unsure about that one, but it turned out great!

Here is the ginger snap recipe (I hope I'm not breaking any unspoken rules of secrecy!):

Christmas Ginger Snaps
(Recipe from Great-Grandma Petrykowski, Grandma Metzger, and Mom Prihoda)

Cream: 1 c. sugar, 1 c. shortening (I used butter because I'm healthy that way)

1 egg

2 Tbsp molasses (I used a bit more molasses and less sugar)
2 c. flour
1 tsp ginger (I used extra ginger and less of the other spices)
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Roll into 1" balls, roll in sugar, flatten with fork. Bake at 375* for 10 minutes. (Careful - they burn easily. (But I didn't have any trouble with burning.))

As you can tell, even with the most perfect recipes, I'm not great at sticking to directions. :)

Lesson 2: Make sure you have the ingredients.
I actually planned ahead this time and checked the ingredient lists. I'm glad I did, because apparently when you triple cookie recipes you need an exorbitant amount of butter and eggs. ;)

Lesson 3: Recruit good helpers. Especially if you have kiddos that need attention.
I was so grateful my mom happened to be taking last Friday off, and was willing to help make 140 cookies. I would've gone insane without her. My oldest happens to love helping mommy in the kitchen, but his attention span is only so long!

My sweet helper, making only a little mess.
Lesson 4: Make a few extra for taste-testing. :)
The ginger snaps were chewy, with just the right blend of spices. They're delicious with a cuppa chai tea! The chocolate peppermint ones were so rich and chocolatey, with a nice crunch of peppermint on top. Yum!
Lesson 5: Survey your accomplishment, and leave the dishes for later. 
 After making 140 cookies, I was exhausted. I called the hubs and asked him to pick up take-out, and left the dishes for the next day. :)

All of the work was worth it when I got to spend a few hours with friends from church trading cookies and catching up. Plus, now I have enough cookies to eat and share throughout the Christmas season. Unfortunately, I didn't catch any pictures of that day because we were too busy having fun! (Also, I brought the kiddos because the hubby was at work, and was going crazy chasing them around.)
It makes my heart happy to be forming new traditions with my friends and family. Do you have any cookie traditions? What is your favorite holiday cookie recipe?
{I'm happy to be linking up with Leanne Penny's Cookie Exchange. Leanne is one of my new favorite bloggers -- she has an incredible story of journeying toward healing and peace after awful tragedy. Thanks, Leanne, for hosting!}


Making room this first Sunday of Advent

It's Advent. And I'm anxiously awaiting my Savior. Last week felt like a breakthrough -- I was feeling better after 3 weeks of antibiotics, able to breathe through my nose again. The after-Thanksgiving gratefulness was lingering. And this week I feel crappy again and my mood has plummeted along with my health (oh, and hormones don't help). I need someone to pull me out of this.

This first Sunday of Advent, I think about Mary's complete abandon to God's will, her childlike trust in His goodness. I got to choose to have two babies; my hubby and I chose this crazy responsibility. Well, yes, it was ultimately God's doing -- but we chose it. Mary? She was just told, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus." There was no asking, no planning. And she trusted. Am I trusting? Her response to the angel after being told she was with child --

"My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name." (Luke 1:47-49)

Her faith has always amazed me; especially now, as I struggle to trust God with my daily tasks. "God, I'm so overwhelmed. God, my house is such a mess. God, why is this so f*ing hard?" (Yes, sometimes I swear in my prayers - gasp.) Sometimes I see the overflowing trash can and I just can't bring myself to deal with it. I ignore it, and then get annoyed when I can't balance anything more on the pile the next time. I do the same thing with my heart -- feeling convicted about something one day, but letting it sit to rot until I just can't handle it anymore.

It's weeks like this that I'm so grateful for how God sees me. Even in my mess, He has called me a new creation. He has called me pure and holy. He has made me His own. Just as He filled Mary's empty womb with His son, He fills my empty spaces with Jesus. It's okay to let my garbage come to light, to take out the trash.

The trusting isn't about trying harder -- it's about emptying myself to make room for Him. This first week of December my plan is to create some empty spaces, and to invite Him in.

My boys checking out the Christmas tree.

"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

Happy Advent, friends.

How are you celebrating Advent? How do you prepare Him room?


How to do Church as a Busy Working Mom

I love church. I was a youth ministry major, and thought I wanted to work in a church someday. However, the week before our wedding found me applying for a government job downtown, and now I've been there for five years! I love that my job gives me flexibility to work four days a week, and to take time off when I need it. However, being a busy working family has been hard on our church involvement.

Before we had kids, my husband and I were active youth group volunteers and made it to church most Sunday mornings. After J was born, we stepped back from volunteering for awhile, and our Sunday attendance dropped a bit. Since having our second baby, we've really struggled to be involved again. Sometimes it seems like we barely see each other as it is, and Sunday is our only day together as a family; not to mention, our only day to get house projects done, visit friends and family, etc. It's even harder to be involved on weekday nights, because the hubby gets off work at 6 downtown, and we barely have time to eat dinner and get the kids bathed and in bed. Excuses, excuses... I know. But it's hard.

Here are some of the things I'm learning about how to do church as a busy working mom:

1. Have realistic expectations. You will not make it every Sunday. Your baby will not always love being in the nursery. You will miss sermons while walking the halls or feeding your baby.

Image: lifecreations

2. Realize this is a season. Seek God and do what is best for your family in this season. Continually seek Him and ask Him where you can glorify Him most.

3. Step back if you need to. Pre-kids, it's so much easier to volunteer, attend Bible studies, host a small group. After kids, you might need to choose what's most important and step back from everything else for awhile.  

4. Find ways to connect with the other moms in church. If the church mom's group meets while you're at work, maybe you can join them on weekend playdates or for a mom's night out. Some of the ladies in our church do a freezer cooking club -- that's been a great way to spend some time together AND be productive!

5. Be yourself. If you are having an awful week and are stressed out, it's okay to cry through worship. When people ask how you're doing, be honest.

6. Plan ahead for Sunday morning: Get up early. Pick out clothes on Saturday nights. Choose an easy breakfast to serve. Plan to leave 10(+) minutes earlier than needed.

7. When all else fails, listen online! My church posts audio files of their sermons online, so when I miss a sermon, I sometimes catch up on my lunch break. :)

8. Find a flexible service opportunity. (This is the hardest one for me right now.) Can you bring your family to serve at a homeless shelter on a Sunday afternoon? Can you edit newsletters? Can you help in the nursery once a month? Can you mentor a teenager? I have been most blessed by my church when I have given back -- and I miss that. I don't want to serve out of guilt (or selfishness!), but out of true love for God and his church.  

9. Cut back on other activities and prioritize. As kids get older, it's easy to get caught up in ALL THE EXTRACURRICULARS. We plan to minimize our kids' involvement in other activities so that God, family and church can be the priority.  

10. Pray. Pray for your church, your pastors, your family, and ask God to show you your place in his church.  

What would you add? How can busy families stay involved in church? Have you struggled with your church involvement?

{This post is part of a series for (in)couragers. If you are a working mom, we would love for you to join our community here.}


Living free and forgiven

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8, 9 ESV)

I've always been a little hard on myself - the typical perfectionist oldest child, wanting to do everything the right way and make everyone happy. I recognized my guilt before God at a very early age, knowing I could never measure up to His perfection. The forgiveness and cleansing that were poured out on me when I decided to follow Jesus have set me free, and have followed me all my life.

But still, I struggle hard with guilt.

Some of my guilt is truly deserved. Even though I have been made a new creation in Christ, I still struggle against my old sinful motives, thoughts, and actions. It seems that having a family and growing in community have brought any hidden sinfulness into glaring light. I have been selfish, impatient, angry, bitter, wanting my own way. I have yelled, cursed and sulked. I've sought comfort in ice cream, sleep, and social media instead of in God. And I've made excuses -- it's just hormones/sickness/anxiety/stress/exhaustion that made me do it. No matter the excuse, I am guilty... so guilty.

My sin has been fermenting in my heart too long. I can't hide it anymore, can't excuse or place blame anymore. I confess: I was wrong. I have sinned against God, my husband, my kids, and so many more. Lord, cleanse me, forgive me...


Some of my guilt is self-imposed, unnecessary, Pharisaical. It comes from trying to live up to everyone else's expectations - and my own - instead of God's. It comes when I'm surrounded by stay-at-home-moms and feel awful that I can't spend as much time with my kids, can't keep up with my home as well, can't cook homemade meals as often. It comes when I read about missionaries doing amazing things for God, and I'm just doing my everyday work for Him. It comes when I make to-do lists for myself and never complete them. When I fall asleep on the couch instead of spending time with my sweet hubby. When I look at the dirt, dust, and crumbs on my floor and swipe something nasty out of my baby's mouth (again). When I turn on the TV for my 4-year-old so I can just get one thing done (or have a moment's peace). That kind of guilt seems to follow me everywhere.

But Jesus says I'm FREE (John 8:36).

So, am I to live however I want? On my journey to greater self-care, I've often felt selfish. It's been hard to figure out how to live freely, but not selfishly. And then yesterday, I read this:

"My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?" (Galatians 5:16-18, MSG, emphasis mine)

It's not about me, not about knowing what I want or "deserve". It's about knowing God, listening to Him, being led by Him alone.

Let's live free today, sweet friends. Have you been struggling with guilt? What are you going to do with it today?

{In case you need to hear it too... Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)}

This post is part of a series for (in)couragers. If you are a working mom, you are so welcome to join us here for encouragement, prayer, and community! I am so grateful for how this group of ladies has poured into each other's lives - they are such a gift.


Car seat love

I was so excited to be invited to my friend Allison's Graco Safety party last week. We've used a Graco infant car seat for both boys, and it was so much fun to see the new features they have added in the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40. Not to mention, I got to hang out with some super sweet bloggers that I have been reading for years (and was slightly starstruck). :)

(Intently discussing car seats at the Graco Safety party)

I'm not much of a researcher, but when it comes to car seats and my boys' safety, I've done my fair share of Googling and combing Consumer Reports. It horrifies me to hear stories from my mechanic husband about parents who don't use car seats for their kids, or who have seats that aren't properly installed. Did you know car accidents are the number ONE killer of children aged 1-12 in the U.S ("The Right Seat", safercar.gov)? If you have a child in a car seat, I highly encourage visiting this site to brush up on car seat guidelines. This is important stuff!

At the party, Allison and Heather did a great job of explaining the features of Graco's newest car seat:

1. It is the only infant car seat that allows a child to be in the same rear-facing seat from birth until age two - comfortably. It has an easily adjustable 8-position recline so big kids can sit up straighter in their seat (hence, more leg room).

2. Its straps are easily adjustable with no re-threading! (There was much excitement over this during the party!) Most of us admitted to avoiding moving those straps up because it was so darn time-consuming. The Click Connect 40 makes it easy.

3. An optional foot rest prevents big kids from getting mud all over your seats. Genius, I tell ya.

4. The cushy headrest and cute patterns are also nice perks!

Thanks to Allison and Heather for hosting such a fun event -- and many thanks to Graco for providing this awesome car seat for us to review!

{The Graco SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40 – the first and only newborn to two-year infant car seat that actually grows with your baby from four pounds all the way up to 40 pounds. The car seat is designed for a parent on the go. The infant car seat can be easily removed from the base and used as a carrier when the infant is small, providing portability and convenience so you can easily move your infant in and out of the car without disturbing them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently made the recommendation to keep all children in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2. Graco set out to make this product so parents can keep infants rear facing longer while still keeping them comfortable.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Graco. The opinions and text are all mine.}


On first birthday parties and remembering to breathe

The food was ready, the house as clean as it was going to get. My kids (and hubby) were napping, and I had two hours to myself before my baby's first birthday party. I wandered the house and listened to my heart pump. I ran over in my mind all of the things my guests might need, reminded myself to put toilet paper in the bathrooms. My shingles sores stung, my back tense from the pain and the anxiety. My nose burned from a(nother) sinus infection. My chest tightened and I reminded myself to breathe.

Stress management is not my strong suit these days. My brother likes to remind me that my life is pretty awesome - I have a wonderful husband, adorable kids, a good job. And he's right. But some days it feels like everybody needs me too much, like every little thing is going wrong, like my brain just can't handle all the noise and the emotions. I get all wrapped around myself, spun so tight I can't even move.

And then this morning I read - "Cast all your cares upon the Lord, because He cares for you." He cares. All these little things I'm fretting about - He cares about them. All of my health concerns, my relationships, my goals and disappointments - He cares. And if God cares, maybe I need to care a little more too. If I'm feeling stressed out all. the. time. -- something is not right. My body and brain and spirit seem to be in a constant state of emergency, and I need to respond.

My good friend at work is a former psychiatrist, and has heard about all of my illness and stress during our coffee dates. Yesterday when I told her (for the tenth time) "I just don't know what to do next"; she told me that excuse seems to be the "wall" that prevents me from moving forward, and that perhaps just gathering more information would be an empowering step. I cried when I recognized how "stuck" I've become. I'm so grateful for wise friends who aren't afraid to tell it like it is.

So. My goal to deal with stress this week is to research postpartum anxiety, sinus infections, and shingles, and to find a doctor in my area who will take a holistic look at my health and help me figure out what's going on. Sometimes I think I get stuck in this "martyr" mentality of just suffering through -- but it's been too long. I need to get back to living again.

Oh, and the party? It was a blast. Our birthday boy spent half the party snuggling with relatives and half of it hamming it up. He smashed his cupcake and devoured it with a smile. He bounced up and down over his gifts and even said "ta-da" (thank you) for some of them. The cousins played and colored, the grandparents told stories, and I enjoyed every minute. Even when grandma had to ask me where all my toilet paper was. ;)

The birthday boy - so happy about his cupcake!

Do you have any tips for managing stress/anxiety? (MN friends - any advice on good holistic doctors?)

This post is part of a series for the (in)couraging Working New Moms group. Are you a new-ish working mom? You are invited to join us here!


A self-care manifesto for tired moms

Dear, tired, hard-working mom,

I give you permission. Shut your phone off, sit down for awhile. Grab some hot tea, light a candle, take a deep breath. Eat an apple, admire it's color, enjoy it's tartness. Slow. Down.

Your work is good, but it's not everything. Take some time to enjoy the work of the Lord and the fruits of your labor. Enjoy your kids, your back yard, the colors of the sunset. Take it all in.

Play. They won't be asking you for much longer. Build a tower, wrestle, make a fort, read a book, sing a song. Live this moment with your littles. Don't think about what you should be doing. Just play.

The to-do list is not your master. Let the dishes pile up, dance in the kitchen, bake something. Remember what life was like before responsibility - remember what you love, who you are.

Kiss your husband -- hold his face and look into his eyes for a few long seconds. Smile at him. Laugh. Remember those silly things you used to do -- tickle, poke, flirt. Listen. Say yes.

Say no. You don't have to please everyone - only Jesus. Make space for yourself, your family. Stay home once in awhile. The world will go on without you - and your family will thank you.

Drink a cold glass of water. Take your vitamins. Shower. Go to bed early. Eat your vegetables. Go for a walk. Make a doctor's appointment for yourself. Feed the body that bore your children.

Pray. Open your dusty Bible, eat it up, soak it in. Cry out to God. Forgive. Remember how loved and treasured you are. Remember how loving, strong, powerful, present, and beautiful He is.

Take care, love.

(P.S. After a postpartum year of four sinus infections, hand foot mouth disease, anxiety, and now shingles -- I need to take this letter to heart. Self care is important. Our bodies and spirits need daily nourishment; we are not made to operate on auto-pilot.)


Your work is good

Dear working mom,
Your work is good. Your deadline-meeting, phone answering, email writing, blogging, diapering, dinner cooking, toilet cleaning -- it's all good. God in you is pushing back the chaos of a fallen world. He's mending hearts, growing minds, healing bodies -through you.

Your Maker says its good; that the long nights, exhaustion, body breaking, those days you feel you're dying inside - it's joining Him in the cross bearing.

I've spent many days sitting in a cubicle, my heart crying out to Him, longing for more meaning and a purpose. Finally He showed me -- it's not the kind of work you do that matters. It doesn't matter if you're a hand, ear, butt cheek, or femur. Be who I made you, and be it well. Live where I placed you, and live well. Die to yourself, squeeze every drop of joy out of the days, even the bone weary ones. Your work matters because I made you and I treasure you.

I think of how my toddler is learning to write his letters, and how heart-busting proud i am of his squiggly lines. Because he is mine, because he is growing and trying and enjoying his accomplishments. And how my Father rejoices over me too --even my most squiggly lines. Even when I throw down the pencil and cry, refusing to accept help - He overflows with love and grace toward me.

And when your body is drained and your spirit weary, remember his promise - He will be a soul-resting-place for you. You need not be anxious or worried. Pause, look up, give thanks, and rest in Him.

Are you a new-ish working mom? There's a place online for you - you are invited. Also, click over to read Anna's post on the value of our work today.


(in)couraging Working New Moms

I've been waiting to tell you... My sweet friend Anna (from Girl with Blog) and I are starting an (in)courage community group for working new moms! We are so excited for this opportunity to build up other moms during this joyful and challenging stage of life.

We come to you with open hearts and arms, providing a place where you can be honest and real, where you can rest and recharge. I invite you to click over to Anna's blog to read more about our story, our plans, and how to join our group.


Survival mode

When S was born, mothering a baby came back to me so quickly and my body seemed to spring back almost as fast. But within a few months the sleepless nights piled up, the dormant allergies awoke with a vengeance, and sinus infections came one after another. I felt guilty for the sinus meds and the four rounds of antibiotics, wondering how my little nursling was being affected but knowing I needed to get healthy so I could be a better mommy to him.
I blame the physical exhaustion and postpartum hormones for the anxiety that has ensued. It isn’t debilitating, which is why I haven’t sought professional help -- but it has been a struggle for me. It seems to come most often when I’m in transition – when I’m rushing to get the kids out the door to run errands, when I’m looking for my car in the parking lot to no avail. My heart starts pumping, my mind seems to stop working, my chest gets tight, I go into survival mode. I think it’s a result of living in survival mode for too long.
When I brought up the symptoms to a friend and to my husband, they encouraged me to get help if I needed it. I decided to start with trying to take better care of myself, physically and spiritually. I took my vitamins more regularly, read my Bible more often, started writing again, listened to good music, planned more girl time. The sinus infections finally subsided, and my spirit is slowly healing too.
Sometimes as a mom, I think I need to put my needs aside to care for everyone else. But in order to best love my family, I need to love myself too. I need to do things that allow God to breathe life into me. I need to build in times of rest and renewal. I need to make the time to eat well, drink more water, take a shower. So when my spirit feels too tight, I take a deep breath and ask God what He wants me to do next. I realize that my to-do list does not define or control me, that God’s expectations for me are not burdensome.

On my entryway wall are inscribed the words from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So I gaze on them often, and my soul learns to rest in Him.

(In case you need a moment of rest - this song from Jimmy Needham has brought me so much peace...)


To my 20 year old self

Strangely, at the private Christian college I attended, I struggled most with finding community. I came in as an 18 year old junior, and knew almost nobody. During orientation, I tried desperately to connect with someone, anyone - and felt awkward and alone. Rather than participate in more awkward activities, I went to the State Fair with my amazing boyfriend (and hey, that turned out well in the end!). My roomates and I got along well enough, but they formed their own friend groups and I didn't want to just tag along. In our daily chapels I resigned myself to sitting alone in the crowd, doing homework to appear like I was just fine while my heart ached. I despised getting lunch in the cafeteria, sitting at a huge table by myself while friends laughed around me. I walled off my heart and tried hard not to care, but I was bleeding inside.

Shame didn't help matters. I was struggling with my sinfulness, feeling like such a bad Christian compared to the amazing students around me. I confessed my struggles to a few, and withdrew even more when they didn't seem to know how to respond, when I didn't know how to move forward. My mind was being filled with knowledge of God every day, but my heart was walled off.

Looking back on those days, I can thank God for the pain and loneliness, for being my comforter and healing my broken places. I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self a few things...

1. Show up. You can't build a community if you don't show up! Go places, accept invitations, invite people over.

2. Be interested. People don't care how interesting you are if you aren't interested in them. Ask questions - silly ones, deep ones - and listen.

3. Follow through. If you pour out my heart to someone one day and ignore them the next, you are sending mixed signals. Be consistent, even if you feel awkward or embarrassed.

4. Give. Even when you don't feel like you have much to give. It's enough. Share your heart, encouragement, skills, food, home, whatever you have. It will bless others, and you.

5. Be real. Don't pretend like its all okay if it's not. Share, cry, be silly, laugh. The people you want to be your friends can handle it.

What would you tell your 20-year old self?

Four years ago

"J, I'm so glad you made me into a mommy four years ago."

"I didn't make you a mommy - God did!"

Four years ago, God made me a mommy. I found out I was pregnant on the morning of my 21st birthday -- what a way to enter adulthood! Motherhood has brought me to my knees, made me realize the depth of my sin, showed me my great need for my Father's love and strength. It has brought me oceans of joy and valleys of intense pain. And I'm forever grateful.

On Sunday, I made a point to celebrate my four-year-old. I (mostly) ignored the Pinterest posts on how to host a fantastic, handmade superhero party, and instead bought a cake at Sam's Club and party favors in the dollar section of Target (half off!). I woke up early and strung banners and birthday signs haphazardly around the house, wrapped gifts in Christmas paper, then made extra coffee and gave thanks to Jesus for my boy.

J slept in (praise God!), and when he emerged from his room I told him "It's your birthday, four-year-old! You are so precious to me!" His eyes widened when he saw balloons and banners and gifts all around.

"Mom! There's 1...2...3...4 birthday signs for me! There's presents! Can I open them?!"

We snuggled and watched cartoons until daddy awoke, then J ripped into Christmas wrapping paper and thanked daddy for his new toys (somehow he knows daddy picks out all the best toys). I made french toast at his request, and tried not to show my frustration when he decided to eat dry Cheerios instead.

I finished party preparations while the hubby entertained the boys. I vowed not to get stressed, to focus on celebrating my boy - and it was wonderful. We played at the park with 30 friends and family members, knocked open a pinata, ate Sam's Club cake and sandwich wraps, opened gifts, and J was in heaven.

(I can't fail to say -- a million thanks to our sweet friends for watching the kids and making a hundred sandwich wraps on Saturday night! Truly, they are Jesus to me.)

Four years old!

I'm learning that being a mom isn't about being Pinterest-perfect. It's about celebrating my kiddos, helping them to see and become who God made them to be. It's about accepting the help, the mess, the bittersweet growth. It's slowing down to live this moment, rejecting the anxious thoughts of all I "should be" doing. It is certainly not very glamorous, but it is so beautiful.


On being Jesus to each other

Claire and I became best friends at ski club in sixth grade. We rode chairlifts and talked about the tough things middle schoolers face -- friendships betrayed and unreciprocated crushes. We filled in each other's friends-only files (anyone remember those?) and had butterfly best friend necklaces.

Last weekend we got coffee (me) and tea (her), walked around a park, and talked about marriage, friendship, children, and wanting to re-learn each other's quirks after years of living apart. This ebb and flow of lifelong friendship, the coming together and leaving and still loving - this is community.

I first met my husband's friend group at a dirty bachelor pad where I wouldn't even sit down on the toilet. They talked in movie lines and I sat quietly. Over years, the bachelors married and I learned their lingo and inside jokes. The women are often referred to as "patient ladies" because of the guys' shenanigans, but we are blessed with so much laughter in return.

The group expanded and traditions formed. We do weddings, birthdays, leftover Thanksgiving, a summer cabin trip, rib fest, game nights and bonfires. We pray for each other and help each other through rough times. We have a Facebook group to share the things only we'd think are funny. Our babies are growing up together. That's community.

It wasn't always like this. In our early dating and married years, most of our close friends were away at college. Those days of figuring out how to live together, how to deal with morning sickness, how to be parents - they were kind of lonely. I praise God for our amazing parents, siblings, and church who were (and still are) such a support to us; I thank God for blogs like (in)courage and O My Family that showed me I wasn't alone. And I'm so grateful that our support system, our community, has expanded and deepened in the years since.

"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Community grows us, shapes us, keeps us accountable. It lets us be Jesus to each other.

I'd love to hear your thoughts - What does community look like to you? Have you struggled to form community?


Tools of the Trade

We took a short trip to my in-laws' cabin a couple weeks ago, and left for home at bedtime. The boys fell asleep fairly quickly, but when we stopped at the A&W drive thru for sustenance root beer and cheese curds, baby S was not happy. My genius husband recommended using my white noise app - and 20 seconds later, baby was out cold.

In addition to white noise machines, here are some excellent tools of mommyhood that I've picked up along the way:

CamelBak water bottles for kids & mommies make everyone happier. Staying hydrated, especially in hot weather, always makes us feel better! Plus, they don't leak or break, and for some reason I drink way more water out of this than out of a cup. I will warn you - be sure to wash it every once in awhile, even if it just holds water. The silicone spout can get mildewy after awhile. (Ask me how I know.)

Whole carrots (not the baby kind) have been great for baby S to chew on during dinner - especially when we're out and need something to occupy him for awhile. He's pretty good about just shaving off slivers with his tiny teeth, but I still keep a close eye on him just in case. Now when I get the carrots out of the fridge, S crawls over to me and starts to whine for one! Atta boy.

Silicone kitchen utensils make great toys. They are fairly indestructible, I don't mind if baby chews on them, and they're easy to hold. You do get some funny looks when you bring a whisk out in public, though. :)

Apps like Disney Junior, Jake's Pirate School, Monkey Math, Cut the Rope, and ABC tracing can be lifesavers during hectic times. I usually let my 3-year-old play on my phone while I make dinner to maintain some sort of sanity while baby is whining and pots are overflowing. ;)

Buckets & plastic gloves make for an excellent trash/treasure hunt outside. The toddler gets excited about piratey things these days, so treasure hunts are right up his alley. We enjoy finding bits of moss and fungus, unique rocks, and flowers - and also do our duty to keep our neighborhood clean at the same time!

Music. I don't know how many times an upbeat song has turned a rough day around. J loves "I will Find You" by Jimmy Needham, and "Boat Song" by JJ Heller. We also like to make up silly songs like "Macaroni and Hungry Pickles" to the tune of "Are you Sleeping?"

What are your tools of the trade? How do you turn around a rough day with kiddos?


My baby brother is a missionary!

Oh, friends, it makes my heart so achingly full to type those words. The little boy I used to have tickle fights with is moving to Ecuador tomorrow for a year or two, or maybe more.

He'll be living in the jungle, teaching English to five year olds, sharing his wide smile and his Jesus-love. And I think back to sitting up too late having long theological discussions, and teaching him about how to treat a girl, and how he makes friends with everyone he meets. And I pray for protection, accountability, close fellowship, and most importantly for God to grow and use him.

It hurts my heart to know he'll be so very far away, that we will miss out on each other's lives for a time. And yet I know that he will be blessed as he puts God first. This little guy I used to teach is now teaching me so much.

I love you hermano!


Ordinary days made holy

On any given workday, this is my life in a nutshell:

12am - baby wakes, feed baby
3am - baby wakes, feed baby
5:30am - wake up, get ready for work, feed baby
6:15am - leave for work
6:30am - get on bus, read today's Bible verses from the #shereadstruth YouVersion plan, pray (or sleep. Or surf Facebook/Twitter)
7:15am - arrive at work, eat breakfast while checking emails
8:30am - pump, then back to work
12:00pm - pump, eat lunch, back to work
3:00pm - pump ( that's a dangerous word to misspell!) :)
3:45pm - leave work, catch my bus, take a nap or read on the way home
4:30pm - pick up J, have a snack while doing dishes and catching up on his day
5:00pm - Nana drops off S, attempt to entertain both while making dinner. (Or decide on takeout and play until Daddy gets home.) :) Feed baby when he gets cranky.
6:15pm - Hubby gets home, eat dinner, clean up
7:00pm - play outside/wrestle time/etc
7:30pm - bath time
8:00pm - feed baby, tuck kids in
8:30pm - put J back in bed (repeat a few times usually...)
9:00pm - get ready for tomorrow, watch tv, talk to the Hubby, or crash on the recliner
10:30pm - crawl into bed

This ordinary life, it's exhausting. There is very little "me" time or couple time. There is little time for housework or hobbies or seeing friends and family. And some days I'm just beat. Other days I remember to look with God's eyes on the important work and worship that is happening here. It is not easy. But Christ makes it worth it, makes me worthy, redeems the ordinary and makes it holy.

These days are meaningful because of Christ. Going to work is not just for the sake of gaining money, power, or success - it is to serve Christ, to love my coworkers and my family. Making dinner and feeding my baby are not just for survival, but to serve Christ, to nourish the bodies He gave us, to enjoy each other's company. The more I recognize Him in the menial, everyday things, the more my heart sees him, the more alive I become.

I've been mulling over Romans 12:1-3 from the Message translation:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him." (emphasis mine)

I have a question for you, friends -- do you struggle to see your everyday tasks as worship? How can we consciously offer our ordinary days to God?



One year later

It's been a busy, out-of-breath, sore arms, loud house, full heart kind of year. I've been weak, sick, tired, stressed out, but God has given me strength, joy, hope and encouragement.

Samuel James was born on October 19, 2012 - little brother to Josiah (almost 4), the wiggliest baby ever, a lover and a fighter. He was born in an intensely beautiful natural waterbirth, and I will forever be grateful for how peacefully he entered this world. The labor nurse and midwife agreed it was the calmest birth they'd witnessed - all praise to God for that one! He gave me such strength, rest, and peace, and all I learned from birthing Sam stays with me as I continue this labor of motherhood.

Life lessons from labor:
1. God's peace and calm lessen the sting of pain - stress and worry only heightens it
2. Rest when you can! Us mommies never know how much we'll sleep on any given night, or when baby will wake up from a nap. Enjoy those times of rest to the fullest - even if it's just a breath between a contraction. :)
3. Meditate on God's Word - soak it in through prayer, music, reading, talking about it - it is our bread, our sustenance.
4. When in doubt, turn on some calming music and take a bath! Getting in that birthing tub right before transition was so relaxing - and us mamas need to just take some time out every once in awhile. :)

Family photos from Memorial Day 2012:

Hopefully I'll be back more often in the year to come - I look forward to sharing more of what God is doing in my life and in my family!