Learning to Try

Mom, do I have to go?” he complained.  “Why did you even sign me up for this? I never said I wanted to play the drums!

Yes. You have to go. And you never told me to sign you up for soccer or basketball or drama camp either! Buddy, just trust me. I know you, and I really think this is something you will enjoy!

Okay, fine. But just remember, I didn’t ask for this.

Thirty minutes later, my pre-teen boy walked back down the hall after his first drum lesson. He was standing a little taller and a tiny grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. His teacher said he would send me a link for the drum sticks and book we should order, then fist-bumped my boy, telling him he did a great job and he’d see him next week. 

Yeah, see you next week!” my little drummer boy replied, swooping his hair back and heading for the door.

The whole ride home was filled with non-stop chatter about what they did and what he learned.  He kept asking me if he was going to get a drum set, when he was going to get a drum set, what it was going to look like, and how much it was going to cost. Finally, I made him look me in the eye and say, “Thank you, Mom, for signing me up for drum lessons and making me try something new. You are the best!”

Okay, so I tried. Instead, he laughed and mumbled “Thank you” under his breath… I’ll take it!

And it made me think. 

When is the last time I tried something new?

New things can be scary because there are so many unknowns. What if we aren’t good at whatever we try, or we make mistakes, or people laugh at us? What if it turns out to be a waste of time or money? What if it doesn’t turn out like we hoped? 

These are all valid questions, and worth consideration.

But a better question is, what if it does?

What if you love it? What if you’re good at it? What if you make new friends and learn something about yourself and uncover a new passion you didn’t know was hiding in there? What then?

A little over a month ago, I felt kind of disconnected from myself. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on; there was just a lot going on and I was sort of numb to it all, like I was going through the motions instead of really living. So, for several days, I spent some time outside by myself. I took several long walks, breathing in the Fall air and listening to the leaves crunch beneath my feet. The sun sparkled across the lake, and then painted the evening sky with splashes of red. I watched as the world around me slowly revealed the fingerprints of its Creator, and something in me came back to life.

And suddenly, I longed to write about it. More than that, I felt CALLED to write.

I used to love to write when I was growing up, mostly sappy poems about broken friendships and the longing for love which only high school girls understand. But I also enjoyed writing papers for school (shh, don’t tell) and letters to friends. Most people signed yearbooks with statements like, “Have a great summer!” and “Don’t ever change!” but not me. No, somewhere out there are dozens of yearbooks with a full page of my handwriting recounting every single memory I treasured and declaring my undying devotion to our friendship. 

Apparently, I was a writer and didn’t even know it. 

Since then, my writing has been limited to my children’s church and youth ministry lessons and a bazillion private prayer journals. I wrote for my own benefit, never with the intention of showing anyone else. I started a book once, but then I had another baby, and somehow I never managed to finish. I blamed it on my responsibilities- how could anyone expect a homeschooling mom of four small children to finish a book? After all, I was doing good to keep them all alive and squeeze in a shower!

But I knew the truth. I didn’t finish because I was scared.

I knew I wasn’t really a writer, I was just someone who loved to write. Is there a difference between the two? Maybe. I think it has something to do with an audience. In any case, I quit trying, which isn’t like me.

I am a firm believer in life-long learning, so I have spent much of my adult life trying new things. I learned how to scrapbook in my 20’s, and I took sewing and tennis lessons in my 30’s. I learned how to grind wheat and bake bread, and how to homeschool my children. And when my kids started in theatre, I even learned how to change someone’s costume and get them back on stage in 12 seconds flat! So I am definitely not afraid to try something new. 

But trying something new with an audience feels a little different. A little scarier.

So I understand how my boy felt walking into his first drum lesson. 

What if I fail? What if I can’t do it right? What if someone laughs at me or I try my best and no one likes it?

What if I write and it doesn’t make a difference?

But then I remember how he looked walking down that hallway, hiding his grin. It didn’t matter to me that he only played the first page in the book, with a rhythm so simple I probably could have played it, too. It didn’t matter to me that no one heard him play except his teacher. It didn’t even matter to me that his first drum lesson didn’t change the world one little bit.

No, what mattered to me, his momma, was those squared up shoulders and that secret grin. What mattered to me was he stepped out in faith and tried something new, even with the risk of failing. He walked in there a scared little boy and came out looking a little more like a man. That’s what mattered to me.

It gives me a glimpse of what might matter to my Father.

I am not really sure why the Lord is calling me to write, but I am confident He is. Writing is not new to me, but writing for an audience, however small, is. 

Like my boy, I did not ask for this. I am being obedient and trying something new. It is scary and I am uncertain. I am clueless about what to write. I am unsure of my ability, but I am offering my availability, which seems to be all He requires. 

I have no idea where it will go from here; I guess that isn’t really the point anyway. The purpose is not in the outcome, but in the learning, in the willingness to try. 

When is the last time you tried something new?

My New Year's Prayer

Lord,

As I turn the page from one year to another, one decade to the next, there are many changes ahead. Some are known and some are unknown. A daughter leaving, a family changing, doors opening and closing before my eyes. 

The evil one whispers all the things that can go wrong. My mind begins to wander down dark, twisting paths where shadows linger and fear lurks. There is so much I cannot control! What if I make the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t happen like I planned? What if they walk away from You? There are so many what ifs…

But then I hear Your voice, a quiet whisper. 

“Do not fear, for I AM with you.” 

Your Spirit blows a fresh breeze of truth, and the darkness scatters like thieves at dawn. You are with me! 

I am not alone on this journey into the unknown. You go before me, shining Your Light onto the path ahead. I do not need to worry about the shadows; I will simply focus on the next step. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. You will lead me, step by step. 

I reach for Your hand.

I glance back at the past, the road that has brought me to where I stand.  I now see only the blessings, the thread of Your Spirit woven intricately through each hill and valley, guiding me onward, closer to You. I stare in wonder at what You’ve made out of all my wrong turns and attempted short cuts. The dark times are still there, but as they blend into the design of Your tapestry, they are transformed into something more, something greater, something deeper.

Something beautiful. 

I breathe it in, and I am thankful. 

You stand behind me, shield raised, blocking the arrows of regret and shame and missed opportunities and whatever else the evil one can muster. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” lie lifeless on the ground, slain by the only One with the authority to raise them up. 

Yet, You do not. 

You cast them away from me and nudge me forward, into the Light. This is the path You have chosen for me, and I will not choose another!

Slowly, I lift my eyes from this course I travel, and I turn my gaze to You. 

I am reminded that You cannot be confined by our expectations or our calendar.  You are eternal; the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. You exist outside the bounds of time as we know it, and nothing is hidden from You. Not my past, not my future, nothing! Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence?

“My child, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So, when I am consumed by the complexities of the moment, 

or anxious of the days ahead, 

or regretful of the years behind, 

this truth brings me comfort. 

You are the One who was, and is, and is to come!  

My life is in Your hands.

My 2019 Reading Challenge List, Reviews, and Recommendations

As the New Year begins, I find myself tying up loose ends from 2019. I shared in a recent post how I use an Annual Reading Challenge to keep me reading and broaden my choice of books (you can read about that HERE).  Over the past few days, I have spent several hours wrapping up my 2019 reading list and preparing my list for the coming year. 

I just typed and then deleted a whole bunch of stuff because, truth be told, if you are reading this, you probably just want to know which books I read and whether or not I like them. So, I will get to right to it!

Here are my 2019 Reading List, Reviews (or random thoughts), and Recommendations.

Disclaimer: This was not a stellar year of quality book choices for me. There were a few that I loved, a few that I liked, and the rest were fine but not earth-shattering. I had a lot of really good books left on my list at year’s end that I am looking forward to reading this year!

2019 Reading List:

Non-fiction:

  • Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (John Acuff)
  • Meeting Rich: A Litergy. A Legacy. A Man with a Guitar in my Living Room (Caleb J. Cruse)
  • Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall)
  • The BIGS: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals about How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Ben Carpenter)
  • Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith (Voice of the Martyrs)
  • Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Adam Barr)
  • Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope (Jenna Bush)
  • *The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
  • Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life (Robert Benson)
  • The Art of Work (Jeff Goins)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

  • Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids (Scott Turansky)
  • One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World (Julie Ferwerda)
  • Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World (Vicki Courtney)

Fiction:

  • A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)
  • The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)
  • Austenland (Shannon Hale)
  • In the Heart of the Canyon (Elisabeth Hyde)
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis (Patti Callahan)
  • Necessary Lies (Diane Chamberlain)
  • Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Women in the Castle (Jessica Shattuck)
  • The Housemaid’s Daughter (Barbara Mutch)

YA Fiction:

  • *Hunger Games series: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
  • Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Uglies Series- Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras (Scott Westerfield)
  • Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)
  • Impossible (Nancy Werlin)
  • The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dressen)
  • Lorien Legacies (I am Number Four) series: I Am Number Four, Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five, The Revenge of Seven, The Fate of Ten, United as One (Pittacus Lore)
  • The Program series: The Program, The Treatment, The Remedy (Suzanne Young)
  • *Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities #7)- Shannon Messenger
  • Legacy (KOTLC #8)- Shannon Messenger

REVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Didn’t Love:

Of all these books, the only one I didn’t actually finish was The BIGS (and the rest of its really, really long title). tried, I really did! If you are all about making it big in business, no matter what, then this book might be for you. I can usually pull something out of a book that is helpful or applicable, but I had a hard time finding anything relevant in this one.  Also, the author’s voice came off a bit arrogant to me, for whatever reason. So if your reading tastes or life passions are at all similar to mine, skip this one.

Overall Favorite Non-Fiction Books:

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins was the second to last book I read in 2019, and if I had to pick a favorite, this would be it. It is an easy read, fairly short, and super inspiring.  It is a terrific book for college-age students who are searching for their life’s calling and profession, as well as for all those who find themselves longing to do some sort of significant work with their life. Finish is another book in a similar category, which is worth reading if you are good at starting things (like me) but not so good at finishing them (also like me).

Same Kind of Different as Me is a true story, written in novel form, and I loved it. It is the story of two men from very different walks of life who are brought together by God and eventually grow to become family. The perspectives shared and the lessons learned by both men are pertinent to all of us and very inspiring.

Compassion Without Compromise was another favorite. It is co-written by two pastors; one who experiences same-sex attraction and another who has spent many years counseling others who do. It is an honest, insightful, approach to an issue many Christians struggle knowing how to respond to. To me, the authors do a wonderful job of speaking both grace and truth. They give a lot of insight into the true spiritual questions underneath what most people focus on (which applies not just to homosexuality but every other sin!). If you are looking for answers on how to address specific situations, you will not find them here. While they do answer some FAQ’s, most of their answers direct people to pray for God’s guidance in their specific situation and relationship, which I find extremely wise. This is a great book for Christians who love ALL people, but wrestle with how to respond in grace without compromising the truth and authority of Scripture.

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

I liked all of them! The first one (Say Goodbye to Whining, etc…) is one of my all-time favorite parenting books. I have read it multiple times and it never gets old! The last one, Your Boy, has fantastic content, but the edition I have is a bit outdated as so much has changed in recent years, with smart phones and social media. Even so, it is worth reading if you have a pre-teen or teenage son!

Fiction:

If you enjoy historical fiction, there are several books here you should add to your list. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a delightful, engaging back story of C.S. Lewis’ future wife and their developing friendship turned romance. Necessary Lies is set in the 1960’s on a small town in rural North Carolina. It is an insightful story of compassion, unlikely friendship, and horrors of eugenics.  Winter Garden and The Women in the Castle both stood out in this category as well. My favorite, though, was The Handmaid’s Daughter. Set during a civil war in Africa that was completely unfamiliar to me, this tale of class structure, hidden secrets, friendship, and survival was difficult for me to put down. 

The Snow Child is a sweet retelling of classic Russian fairytale. It was a perfect book to read sitting by the fire on a snowy day, with a mug of hot chocolate! 

And then there is A Man Called Ove. I’ll be honest- this one took a little while to grow on me. The main character’s grumpy, negative attitude was difficult for me at first. But after a few chapters, the old curmudgeon began to grow on me, and I was so glad I didn’t put it down. 

YA Fiction/Fantasy:

I read a lot in this genre during the summer, and usually pull out a few old favorites to re-read, which is how Hunger Games made the list. I won’t highlight it here, but obviously I like it.  I especially enjoy reading series, as it keeps me in the created world a bit longer. I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies) was surprisingly my favorite YA series this year. It has some sci-fi elements, which I don’t usually love, but which totally worked in this book. The characters were well developed and the story drew me in- I think I read all 7 books in a week and a half! It is a great series for teen boys, which can sometimes be hard to find. 

The Program series was a unique twist on dystopian, centered around Big Money/the government trying to “fix” the depression and suicide epidemic among teenagers. The middle book in the trilogy was weak, but the other two were fun to read. The Uglies series was also enjoyable. Honestly, I think I shied away from it for years because of the name, so I am glad I finally read it. It is typical teen dystopian and somewhat predictable, but that never stops me from being sucked in, and this series was no exception! 

Keeper of the Lost Cities has been a favorite series in our home since the first book came up several years ago. We always pre-order the next release, and then my oldest daughter and I fight over who gets to read it first (she won this year). Legacy was as enjoyable as the others. Several of the scenes were a little too long and wordy, but I’ve gotten used to getting more info than is really necessary in these books- I just chalk it up to good character development! If you follow this series at all, you won’t want to miss this book, as we finally get some answers to a few long-awaited questions.

As stand alone books, both Speak and Code Name Verity were definitely worth reading. They are completely opposite in topic, and I would recommend both books for older teens, due to mature content (Speak addresses date rape) and quite a bit of language. Both authors use a unique writing style, and handle their topics extremely well. Some of my more conservative friends might want to avoid these two. 

TOP FIVE PICKS OF 2019:

So, if I had to pick my top 5 from this year, they would be:

  • The Art of Work
  • Same Kind of Different as Me
  • The Handmaid’s Daughter
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis
  • Compassion Without Compromise

And there you have it! I already have some fantastic books on my 2020 Reading Challenge list, many that I didn’t get around to reading this past year. I will post that list soon for those who are interested. But if you have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Why I Do an Annual Reading Challenge (and you should too!)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Apparently, I am a girl who loves a challenge.

Maybe it is because I played soccer on boys teams, or because I grew up with brothers, or because I read a lot as a child and have an adventurous heart. Whatever  the reason, I have always found it difficult to turn down a challenge!

All these years later, I am finding that to work in my favor…

I know a lot of people make resolutions this time of year, but they don’t work out very well for me. I am kind of an all or nothing person, so when life gets in the way, as it inevitably does, I end up throwing my hands in the air and bumping my resolutions to the curb like last week’s trash. 

However, I do much better with a challenge! There is something inherent in a challenge that brings out my competitive nature and renders me much more likely to succeed. 

So, over the past few years I have found myself participating in a variety of challenges: I have participated in 30 days of praying, de-cluttering, detoxing, and more. This year, around Thanksgiving, the Lord put it on my heart to start writing more intentionally, so I began a 30 day challenge to write at least 500 words a day. You can read about that HERE and HERE (and you have that to thank for this blog post!). 

My favorite challenge, though, is my annual Reading Challenge. I used to love to read, but somewhere along the way, between work and children and adulting, life got busy and it slipped through the cracks. One of the things I appreciate most about homeschooling our children is that it reminded me of my love of reading. Having a daughter who loved to read helped, too, because I previewed a lot of books for her, which gave us a special way to connect.

At first I mostly read things my friends (and my daughter) recommended, but then one year I stumbled across the idea of a reading challenge. I quickly found out there are at least a bazillion different ways to do it! So I ended up creating my own. I decided to use it as a way to keep from getting stuck in my usual genres and stretch myself into intentionally reading other things.

I still take recommendations, but I make sure to include biographies, classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as a couple written from a different viewpoint than mine (politically, spiritually, etc).  I like to add some fun categories, like a book with the setting as your hometown, a book written by someone you know, or a book centered around somewhere you plan to travel. This year I am also adding several books on writing, and then I will fill in the rest of my list with my go-to genres: Christian non-fiction and my favorite, YA fantasy/dystopian fiction (don’t judge me, it’s my guilty pleasure!). My list is fluid; I add to it throughout the year as I get new suggestions or pick up a new book, and I rarely read everything on it. That’s okay, though- those books become the base for next year’s list!

I check out the majority of my books from the library (I am still a sucker for paper books; can’t quite transition to the kindle yet), and I use Goodreads to create my lists and track my progress. It is also a great resource for reading reviews to determine if I want to read something, as well as for finding similar books when I really like a subject or an author. I haven’t quite made it to reading a book a week yet, but I am still amazed to finish the year and find I checked off 45+ books! I think my goal the first year was 20 books, so that’s quite an improvement!

And there was a year or two early on when I didn’t meet my goal, so if that is you, don’t be discouraged. Just remind yourself that whatever you accomplish is better than not accomplishing anything- this is a challenge after all, not a resolution!

In my next post, I will share my 2019 reading list and some of my thoughts about the books, including which ones I recommend and which ones I didn’t like at all (there was only one). But I couldn’t end this post without sharing a few of the gems that I found through some of my previous Reading Challenges! These are books I highly recommend that I would probably never have read without the incentive and intentionality of a reading challenge:

Fiction:

The Nightingale (Kristen Hannah)

Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)

The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)

The Swan House (Elizabeth Musser)

Non-fiction/ Biographies:

Fearless (Eric Blehm)

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Under our Skin (Benjamin Watson)

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

Choosing to See (Mary Beth Chapman)

Missing Kylie (Mark Myers)

And there are a few more on my 2019 list, so be sure to check out my 2019 Reading Challenge Year End Review, coming soon!

What about you? If resolutions are not really your thing but you have a competitive streak, perhaps you may be up for a Challenge. I’d love to hear about it!

12 Ways to Have a Magical Family Christmas at Disney World (Despite the Crowds!)

We just got back from spending a magical family Christmas at Disneyworld, so I thought I’d share a few things we did to make sure we experienced all the magic! 

But first, a disclaimer:  If you have never been to WDW before, in my opinion, Christmas week is not the time to go. It is by far the busiest week of the year. My husband and I both agreed that if it had been our first time there, we would never come back… and that would be such a shame, because it is so much fun at other times in the year! So save yourself some stress (and money) and schedule your trip during a less-crowded time. February and September are ideal, but Spring Break and other months work, too!

Now, since we have established that it will be CROWDED, these are some alternatives we found to the usual, everyday Disney experience. So open your mind to some new possibilities as we did (or ordinary possibilities in a new environment), and let the fun begin!

1. For Rides, Go Early/Go Late.

 If you can’t imagine going to Disney and not riding rides, then there are a few things that will make the Christmas week wait times a little less torturous. Be there for “Rope Drop”– Get up early and arrive at the Park gates before they open. You will have about an hour to squeeze in several rides before the lines stack up, so choose the rides that normally have the longest lines first. Normally, the first 2-3 hours after the Park opens have short lines, but we found this window to be much shorter during Christmas week. The same concept applies in the evening. Arrive at the Park about 2 hours before closing for your best chance at short lines, and skip the fireworks/parade/etc. We love to ride Big Thunder Railroad during the fireworks- you can almost walk right through the line, and nothing is better than viewing the fireworks as you fly around the turns! Plan your Fast Passes to coincide with your arrival times, and then fill the rest of your day with other Disney adventures!

2. Go to the Pool.

Florida weather can be unpredictable in December, but there is a good chance you will have at least one day in the upper 70’s. And if it’s chilly, just jump in the hot tub. Plus, the Vitamin D will boost your immune system!

3. Resort Hop to see the Gingerbread Houses

Several of the resorts feature real houses made of gingerbread and frosting that match the theme of the hotel! You could spend several hours going from place to place taking pictures with each of them, finding the hidden mickeys, etc. 

4. Check out the Gift Shops

While you’re resort hopping, be sure to peek into the various gift shops. We have found that many of the resorts carry different merchandise, so you might find something you love that you won’t find anywhere else!

5.  Eat your way around the world in Epcot.

This ended up being one of our most fun days! We arrived at Epcot around 11am and most of the wait times were already an hour or longer, so we headed for the World Showcase. Since we couldn’t agree on what we wanted to eat, we decided to share a variety of foods throughout the countries. We shared nachos in Mexico, some bubble tea in China, a giant pretzel and some caramel in Germany, and then opted for different desserts- shaved ice from China and gelato from France. We took our time and stopped in a few of the shops that we generally skip over, and just really enjoyed the slower pace. By the time we got past France, we were ready for our next adventure… 

6. Ride the Skyliner.

If you have not been to Disney in awhile, the Skyliner is a new form of transportation which carries people between Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and several resort hotels (Caribbean Beach, French Riviera, and All Star). The cable cars run continuously, and you can hop on at any of the stops and take a ride. It’s a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of different resorts, and it almost feels like a ride in itself! It definitely beats standing in a 2-hour line for Test Track. If you exit Epcot in between France and England, the Skyliner hub is directly on your right after you leave the Park.

7. Indulge in a Holiday Snack Hunt.

Disney rolls out several holiday treats just for the season that you don’t want to miss! Our oldest daughter follows a bunch of Disney bloggers, so she made a list of treats for us to try on our trip, and we checked one off every chance we got. The gingerbread cookie sandwich from Germany was amazing; The peppermint gelato macaroon from France left a lot to be desired. But the fun was in the trying! So google WDW holiday treats before you go, and you’ll know where to find all the goodness.

8. See a movie.

Everyone needs some downtime… maybe it’s been raining all day (or week), or you’re tired of the lines, or whatever. Disney Springs has a movie theater, and there are several other theaters off-property within a short drive. Many of the resorts also show free family-friendly movies in the evening out by the pool. We spent our first day watching the new Star Wars movie to avoid the rain, and it was a great way to start our trip! (PSA- Disney Springs has a bowling alley, too, if that’s more your thing)

9. Resort Dining. 

There are so many great restaurants at the various resorts around property! Use this time when the parks are so busy to try something new. You can view the menus online, so choose something that appeals to your family and be sure to make a reservation. We ate Christmas dinner at Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge, which is one of our favorites. We have eaten at most of the resorts, and have yet to find a restaurant we didn’t like!

10. Magic Kingdom Scavenger Hunts: Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom Quests/A Pirate’s Adventure. 

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom and saw that the line for It’s a Small World was over an hour, we knew we were not going to be riding any rides. We decided it was the perfect time to try out something we have always wanted to do- an interactive scavenger hunt! We began with the Sorcerer’s Quest (start out at the Fire Station near Main Street) and completed an entire quest, which took us through 4 areas of the park. We made a quick stop in Mickey’s Philharmagic during a rainstorm, and had to get some dole whip when the quest led us to Aloha Isle, but neither pit stop interfered with our adventure. When we finished, our kids did the Pirate’s Adventure without us, and they enjoyed that one even more, as it was more like an interactive clue hunt. I was afraid our kids would think the scavenger hunts were too babyish, but they all really had fun, even the teenagers! Our boys liked the trading cards that came with the first quest, and they were all especially happy to receive a fast pass to Pirates of the Caribbean when they completed their adventure! This turned out to be a fantastic way to spend a rainy, super crowded day at the park. And there are multiple quests, so we will definitely do it again!

11. Candlelight Processional (Dining Package). This was definitely the most magical part of Christmas at Disney for me. We usually spend our Christmas Eve morning visiting a local nursing home with our church family, followed by a candlelight worship service that evening. That is part of what helps our family keep our focus on the real meaning of Christmas, and I was concerned that we would lose that focus being at Disney. But then my sweet husband found out that Steven Curtis Chapman (my fave!) would be narrating the Christmas story at the Epcot Candlelight Processional, and bought us a “Dinner & Show” Package to make sure we would have seats for Christmas Eve. I would definitely recommend pre-purchasing the dining package, as the Processional fills up quickly and you are not likely to get a seat without it, especially on Christmas Eve. We ate hibachi in Japan, hit a few rides, and then got in line to get good seats for the service. The orchestra was amazing! And SCC was a fantastic narrator, so genuine as always. I cannot explain how it felt to be celebrating the birth of Christ (God with us!) with so many other believers in the midst of such a secular place! It definitely made Christmas for me. So a huge shout out to my hubby for making it happen! 

12.  Lastly, Close out a Park on Christmas Eve. This was not something we planned, but it turned out to be truly magical! After the Candlelight Processional, we went back to the Wilderness Lodge and opened our Christmas Eve present (matching Disney pajamas, of course!), and began to settle in for the night. Then someone mentioned that Magic Kingdom didn’t close until midnight, how fun would it be to be there on Christmas Eve? Next thing I knew, all six of us were heading toward the boat, ready for an adventure! It was crowded, but not terribly so, and we were able to ride several of our favorite rides (including Big Thunder during the fireworks! Woot!) and enjoy a Mickey bar before heading back to the resort. With our oldest daughter graduating from high school this May and heading off to college, memories like that with all of us together are not something we take for granted. It was definitely a magical way to celebrate!

Of course, there are lots of other magical things about Christmas at Disney- holiday themed rides, special parades and performances throughout the parks, etc. But these are the top 12 things that made our Disney Christmas so magical this year. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Who knows when we might find ourselves there again… (Okay, probably not anytime soon. But still, I still love hearing ideas!)

The Gift of Hope

It is two days before Christmas. 

A stack of presents sits on the bed waiting to be wrapped. 

There is laundry to be done, food to prepare, and a half-dozen items still left unchecked on my to-do list. Yet, I find myself returning to the gifts. 

I have always loved opening gifts on Christmas morning. When I was a girl, I used to wake up in the early morning hours and sneak into the living room to peak at the gifts before everyone else woke up. Santa never wrapped the gifts he brought, so I would make a quick scan of the room, searching for that special something I had hoped for and making note of anything I thought my brothers might be excited about. Once I had taken assessment of the loot, I would sneak back to my bed and watch the minutes tick by, until it was finally time to get up. 

But it was more than the actual gifts I received; there was something magical about those pre-dawn expeditions to the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights cast a mystical glow over the room, and the packages all looked so beautiful piled one on top of another, each adorned with brightly colored ribbons or bows. I knew I would love the gifts inside, but there was something about the anticipation in those solitary moments that filled those boxes with something else…

Hope.

Soon enough I would find out if all my hinting, asking, and praying had paid off. But in that moment, the real gift was the hope of things to come. The hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

I look at these gifts lying on my bed and think about the hope contained in each one. I reach for a football for my little man, and with it I wrap the hope of neighborhood pick-up games and father-son bonding time. Next, there’s an Indoor S’more maker and some board games, each wrapped with layers of family time and the hope of many beautiful, lifelong memories. The socks and shirt for my hubby are enveloped in the hope of good health, resulting in many years of wearing. And the gift cards for our girls seem straight forward enough, but are also packaged with the hope of quality time and great conversations. 

Simple gifts, really, but each wrapped in the hope of so much more.

I think about that Christmas long ago, when Mary watched strangers bring gifts to her baby boy, pondering the mysteries they contained and treasuring those moments in her heart. How her heart must have soared when she opened the chest full of gold; a gift for royalty, stoking her hope in the angel’s promise, that her baby was going to be something more, a King like no other. The frankincense filled her with hope as well- a gift in recognition of the divine role Jesus would play in Israel’s restoration. Her baby really was the Messiah! Oh blessed hope!

But what of the gift of myrrh? Did Mary understand the hope contained in that meaningful gift? I imagine not. Myrrh was used for many things, the most common being an embalming oil. It seems a strange gift for a baby; but it was the perfect gift for a Savior! It was a foreshadowing of His journey to come, and confirmation to us all these years later that none of it was by accident. 

That baby was born so He could die for us. 

He was a simple gift, really, but wrapped in the hope of so much more. He was the hope of things to come, the hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

Dancing in the Waiting

I took my boys for their much overdue annual check-ups today. As is the case with most doctor appointments, we found ourselves seated in the waiting area for a good 15 minutes before the nurse called their names.

What do you do with two rambunctious, energetic boys in a waiting room?

Well, let’s see. We played “sticks,” a math game using our fingers, and then played One-Potato-Two-Potato with our feet. After that, Eli dared Noah to stand in the middle of the waiting room and dance in front of everyone. Noah is not one to turn down a dare, so up he went, shaking his bootie for all the world to see. Giggles abounded, and a second dare was quickly issued. Before long, the nurses were peaking around the appointment desk, offering suggestions on different dance moves and clapping along to his songs. We were having so much fun, we almost forgot we were waiting!

Looking back, I feel like I have spent much of my life waiting.

In middle school and high school, I was waiting to be popular (ugh) or waiting for a certain boy to like me (double ugh). Then I was waiting for the Lord to show me which college to go to and what my major should be. There were several years of waiting on the Lord about my future husband- was there someone out there for me? How would I know when I found him? Was this the one for me, or was there someone else?

“Wait on the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord.” Ps. 27:14

So much waiting…

After I married Jeff, we waited on the Lord to direct our path. We waited on Him to show us where to start a church, and then we waited on Him to bring people to our church. And that whole time we were waiting for Him to give us a baby (you can read that story here). 

Once those prayers were answered, there were other things to wait on.

We waited on the Lord to show us the right time to move on and where to go next. We waited on friendships and guidance and more babies. We waited on answers about our calling and the best way to school our children. We waited for the Lord to give us a church home, and spent three years doing family church before He gave us an answer. We waited for ministry opportunities. We waited for the right time to get a new puppy. We waited for wisdom in parenting and wisdom in our marriage and wisdom for life.

We have waited and waited and waited.

But we have also lived.

Yes, the waiting often overwhelmed me to where I couldn’t think about much else. But if the waiting lasted long enough, living was inevitable. I had to do something- I couldn’t just sit around and wait.  

Somewhere along the way, I learned that waiting is more than just sitting.

It is an active verb, not passive.

It was friends living life with me and helping shape my character so I was ready when I found “the One.”

It was story after story of God’s faithfulness in our family and in our church, things only He could do, drawing our hearts to Him, even as we waited. 

 It is Noah dancing in the waiting room, making the most of the “in between” time.

Do I dance in the in between?

Waiting shouldn’t be about focusing so much on what I’m waiting for that I miss what is all around me. No, the Psalmist encourages us to “Wait on the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord. 

God is at work all around us! When I fix my eyes on Jesus instead of whatever I’m waiting on, my perspective shifts. 

When I remind myself of His truths, I am able to release my fear and embrace His peace. Don’t get me wrong; waiting on the Lord is still terribly hard, but it is no longer overwhelming or isolating or paralyzing. 

It transforms waiting into something different. 

It is breathing. 

It is looking outside of my situation.

It is pressing into Jesus and doing the next thing. 

It is embracing the present because I trust Him in the waiting. 

Will we trust Him in the waiting? Will we look for Him in the “in between”? Will we miss the gifts He offers because they are not the ones we are waiting for? Or will we get up out of our chairs, fix our eyes on Jesus, and find a way to dance as we wait on the Lord?

Lord, I trust You in my waiting. Help me dance in the in between.

Investing in Teens, Part 3: Ready to Listen

It never fails.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I realize I have about 30 minutes to myself before I start making dinner. Just as I settle in with my book, my teen plops down on the couch next to me. “Whatcha reading, Mom? Oh, that sounds cool. Hey, did I show you this video I found…”

It’s 11:27 pm and my bed is calling. I finish brushing my teeth and walk into my bedroom, and then hear footsteps in the hallway. “Hey Momma, do you have a minute?” she says…

Why is it my teens never want to talk when I’m ready to listen? It seems like, without fail, they always approach me at the most inconvenient times! 

Oh, that happens to you, too? 

It’s crazy, right?

Last night I listened to a video interview with Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life.church, on “Raising Biblically Based World Changers.” I already had this blog topic planned, so I perked up when he mentioned how important it is for us to listen to our teens. 

He said, “While young children need our physical presence, teenagers need our emotional presence, but they are not always emotionally available to us. So when they are, we need to drop everything and listen.

He couldn’t be more right.

In the last blog post about listening so teens will talk, I shared some things we can do to ensure that we are actively listening to and communicating with our teens instead of just trying to tell them how much we know. 

Today I want to share a few ways we can make the most of opportunities to get our kids talking, so we’ll be ready to listen when the time comes.

1.  Learn WHEN your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen. 

This may seem silly, but I have found this one thing helps my listening attitude more than anything else. Believe it or not, my patience level at 11:27 p.m. is not super high- I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by that time in the day. The LAST thing I want to do is spend an hour reminding myself of all the things I need to do to be a good parent while my teen pours out her heart- or at least, that’s the last thing I FEEL like doing.

But the truth is, underneath the feeling, there is actually nothing in the world I would rather do more than listen to my teen’s heart. So learning their rhythms has helped me a lot in preparing my own heart to be ready.  

The best way to do this is simply to pay attention. Make a note of when your teen approaches you for conversation, even seemingly insignificant conversation, like sharing a TikTok video or rehashing some terrible call in last week’s game. Before long, you will likely begin to notice a pattern or a rhythm to when they tend to make themselves available to you. For some it’s after school, or right before dinner, but for many- especially older teens- it’s after 11:00 p.m.  Maybe their defenses come down when they’re tired? That’s my theory. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty much universal, so watch for it!

The important thing, though, is to discern your teen’s rhythms so you can prepare and be emotionally available to them.

2. Learn HOW your teens make themselves emotionally available for you to listen.

Some kids spout their innermost thoughts like a gushing fire hydrant, while others wait for you to pry every single word out of their zippered lips. Some kids process externally, while others process internally. Some are comfortable sharing their feelings, and others, not so much. None of these things are right or wrong; they are simply how your teen tends to communicate. Learning these tendencies is kind of like learning to speak our teen’s language, because they show us the best ways to approach conversations with them. 

Does your teen have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally but like to write? Keeping a shared journal is one way you can help them open up to you. One of our daughters tends to hold her feelings inside. She had an especially difficult time expressing anger and frustration towards us or sharing things that she thought we just wouldn’t understand. Using a journal gave her a chance to open up without feeling disrespectful, as she was able to write down things she never would have had the courage to say in person. It also helped her process her thoughts so she had a better grasp of what she was really feeling, and it gave me time to think and process as well so I could respond with grace and truth. Now it is a beautiful record of our relationship over the years, and she can read those pages to be reminded of how very much her dad and I love her! As she has gotten older, we have made an effort to coach her in expressing herself verbally, but the journal was very helpful for a season.

Our other daughter expresses her feelings almost too easily and hates to write, so the journal idea wouldn’t work for her. Instead, we’ve learned (and are still learning!) that when she gets worked up about something, she is not ready for conversation until she releases all her emotions. Since my husband has thick skin and a higher tolerance for confrontation than me, he likes to poke and prod and help her get it all out, so they can deal with whatever is really going on. I, on the other hand, gently tell her I can tell she’s upset, so she needs to go into another room until she feels better and then I’ll be ready to listen. Okay, so my words often sound gentler in my head than they do out loud, and they are rarely received calmly by her- but we are working on it! Once she calms down, we usually have a great conversation about whatever is going on in her world. 

Some teens find it very difficult to express themselves at all! But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to share. It just means they need someone to invest the time in helping them figure out how to open up. Maybe they like to text, or make videos. Maybe watching a TV show or playing a video game together will allow them (or you) opportunities to bring up topics they would otherwise not talk about.

The important thing is to invest time in learning HOW your teens communicate so you can look for opportunities and be ready to listen.

3. Learn WHERE your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen.

Does your teen love Starbucks? Then buy them a latte and sit down for a chat. Does your teen love baseball? Head to the field. Does your kid avoid one on one conversations? Then wait until you have them trapped! 

Actually, I’m not kidding. Some of the best conversations with teens take place in the car. I have found that teen boys, especially, seem to open up better while riding side by side in a vehicle as opposed to sitting down face to face. I don’t suggest this avenue (ha, get it?!) for bringing up super volatile issues, but many awkward or embarrassing topics (which for boys can mean anything slightly emotional) are much more productive if discussed with some sort of distraction. It could be riding in a car or working on a project together or playing golf- anything that works for you, as long as it gives your teen an opportunity to open up without feeling like they are the center of attention.

Remember, it is still important for them to have your full attention, but just in a way that doesn’t make them feel so self-conscious. 

During his interview, Groeschel mentioned that he has found his teen’s friends often open up to him easier than his own kids. Therefore, he has learned to engage his teen’s friends in conversations, and they eventually join in. If your teen doesn’t always respond well when you initiate conversation, try bringing their friends into it and see what happens! Perhaps they will open up more in a group of friends.

4.  Show your kids you’re ready to listen by keeping communication open.

This is probably the most important thing we can do as parents. No matter what your kids tell you, don’t act surprised, shocked, or disappointed. Don’t be overly antagonistic or judgemental towards their friends. There will be time for those insights, but the best thing we can do when our teens are emotionally available is keep them talking. Ask questions, make connections to their feelings, find out what they think about things, anything. As Groeschel said, “the goal is just to keep them talking. We should shoot for 90% listening and 10% talking.” The more we know, the better we are able to express our love to them, to pray for them, and to offer help or advice when they seek it.

Again, just because I know the importance of being ready to listen to my teens, doesn’t mean I always am. The past few days have been filled with failures on my part in this exact area, so I am definitely preaching to the choir! 

But I won’t stop trying. 

As exhausting as parenting can be some days, our time to speak into our teens lives is limited, and we cannot waste it. But before we can speak, we must be intentional about listening, so they know how much we care. 

When our teens are ready to talk, will we be ready to listen?

A Day in My "Mom Life"

“It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day!” I mumble to myself, pulling back the covers and forcing myself out of bed. I really need to pee, but apparently so does the puppy, so I head downstairs first and wait by the door with my legs crossed while she does her business. Fifteen minutes later, when I should be enjoying my tea and Quiet time, I load my middle children into the family chariot and make my way to school. My oldest daughter, who usually drives everyone to school, doesn’t have any exams today, so she is snuggled up in her bed at home while I play carpool mom with the rest of the city. My darling children are so concerned with their dreaded exams that they jump out of the car without even a hug or a thank you.

There is no time for breakfast when I get home, because Sleeping Beauty and the youngest prince are apparently both still under the influence of Maleficent’s sleeping spell. With the puppy bounding behind me, I climb the tower stairs and fling open the curtains in both their rooms, spilling sunlight onto their pillows. A few well-placed licks from the puppy wakes them from their slumber, and I help them make their preparations for the day. Back downstairs, there is no time for tea either. Schoolwork awaits, as well as a sink full of dishes and 13 different milk-stained cups scattered across the counter. When the kitchen is clean and the schoolwork is completed, I have just enough time for a quick rinse in the shower (no time to wash hair- it isn’t Saturday, after all!) before leaving the house again.

Princess #2 has finished exams and requested a lunch date with her besties, so of course, I am happy to oblige. Baby brother tags along, and we settle in at a long table after placing our order. My sweet friend, Liz, (the besties’ mama) arrives while we are still eating, and I begin to get excited- I might just get a few moments of adult conversation! See, it is a good day!! But alas, just as we get started, baby brother invites my sweet friend to join him in a game of digital beer-pong, and who can resist those dimpled cheeks? Shrugging off my disappointment, I gather up our belongings and prepare for the rest of our day. 

The next few hours are a whirlwind of carpool pick ups and drop offs, snacks and dinner, jackets and shoes and scripts and basketballs. Finally, I drop the monkey boys off at basketball and head over to the Coffee Lodge for a few moments of quiet and leisurely Facebook scrolling. I can already taste the hot chocolate with extra whipped cream… until I notice that the doors are locked and the “Open” sign is the opposite of glowing. Ugh. Back to the smelly gym I go, empty-handed and heavy with resignation. I spend the next two hours trying to plan a Small Group lesson while entertaining each monkey while the other one practices. Finally they are done, and we hurry through the freezing rain to our car. 

Once home, it is more snacks, a second dinner, baths and prayers and tears and I need another blanket, until finally, FINALLY, the monkeys are in bed, and the sisters are not far behind. 

With an exhausted breath, I sit down to spend a few minutes to myself at the computer, when I remember the King is home from his trip and awaiting my company for our nightly TV viewing. The bell rings, and I have been summoned. 

With a little laugh, I roll my eyes and smile to myself. This is what I always dreamed of… a family to serve, a family to love. 

It’s been a good day.

Advent: Obedience in the Unexpected

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

This was Mary’s response when an angel suddenly appeared and informed her that she had been chosen by God to carry the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

Is that how we respond to God when unexpected things come our way? 

Because, while we all consider Mary a hero on this side of the story, that title is generally earned by doing really hard things. Being the birth mother of the Messiah could not have been an easy task!

Let’s be real. If the angel were being a little more straightforward, he might have said something like this: 

“Mary, because you’ve been so faithful, God has chosen you for a most difficult assignment. Should you choose to accept this mission, you will endure public ridicule and shame. Your beloved Joseph will most likely believe you betrayed him. Since he’s a nice guy, he might quietly divorce you, but there’s always the risk he will have you stoned to death in the public square instead. On the off chance he sticks around, you know people will be whispering about you wherever you go. You will have to leave your family, your home…

Oh yeah, and this baby? Raising the Son of God will not be as easy as you think. The story will play out a little differently than expected. Eventually people will honor your place in God’s story, but first you must endure the loss of that which you love most. You must place this child on the altar before his heart even flutters within you, and you must promise not to hinder that which will surely shatter your mama-heart. This is a gift of great joy for all the people, but it will cost you tremendous grief.  So… are you in?”

Hmm…

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Now granted, Mary did not know all the trials that lay ahead, but she had to at least know the immediate repercussions of this unexpected announcement.

And still, she chose obedience, without hesitation.

In this season of advent, I am asking myself this question: When God brings me hard assignments, do I respond with such an accepting, obedient heart? With such trusting faith?

Do you?

Cancer.

Miscarriage.

Job loss.

Financial hardship.

Infertility.

Illness.

Pain.

Broken Relationships.

Sudden Loss.

These are hard things. Unexpected things. Seemingly impossible things

But nothing is impossible with God. 

The gospel accounts do not tell us why Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But the fact that her immediate response was “I am the Lord’s servant” is a good indication of why she found favor with God. My guess is that Mary had proven herself faithful in the little things, day in and day out. She did not search for her identity in her beauty or her father’s name or her future marriage. She did not need the approval of others to define her worth. How do we know? 

Because she was willing to give all those things up without even a moment’s hesitation. 

What was it that enabled Mary to look past her personal sacrifice and welcome the will of the Father? She was the Lord’s servant, and nothing else mattered more than that. She knew the God of her fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Great I AM, could not be wrong. Her life was in His hands; she could open her heart to Jesus. What had she to fear?

Perhaps we can draw some encouragement from Mary this Christmas.

What hard things are you facing right now? What in your life is not going as you expected? Our heavenly Father can be trusted! Like Mary, we can open our hearts to Jesus, and allow our Savior to usher in the joy and peace that can only be found in Him. We can choose to look past our circumstances, even in the midst of pain and loss, and welcome the will of our Father.

May we say with Mary this Christmas, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”