A Different Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving week.
The kids and Brad had the whole week off!
Paige and I went on a girls-overnight getaway. It was fun to have some one on one time with her. She chose to go to Build a Bear workshop and eat at Rosie's Diner. She was very excited about staying in a hotel (ok, so was I!) and swimming in the pool. She's such a sweet, fun-loving girl.

The next night Caleb had a few friends over for his first ever sleepover (I have been informed that it is never a slumber party with boys) to celebrate his birthday. Which was Oct 5th. Better late than never, right? They had so much fun and weren't near the trouble I thought they might be. I kept them fed and they were happy. Boys are so easy sometimes.
I spent 6 hours at the hair salon. To get this.

I really like it. It's so different for me, so it's taken some getting used to. Brad still thinks it's too dark (it's fading, which it's supposed to do). I tweeted a pic of it yesterday and didn't get much response. Maybe everyone agrees with Brad. Maybe no one cares either way.
We used paper plates for Thanksgiving. It was almost physically painful for me to forgo a pretty tablesetting. I made a pretty centerpiece and decided to go with it. I was so glad I did. I realized that I am the host and the host sets the tone for the day. I was relaxed and so was everyone else. And clean up was a breeze.
We set up our Christmas tree on Friday. The kids seemed more anxious than ever to help. It's a slow process which led to some frustrations. In the end we have a pretty tree and happy kids. We finished the night with our annual watching of "Elf". I love laughing with my family.
Brad's dad came in for the weekend. I always find comfort in having family stay with us. This time was no different.
We went to see the Muppets! So funny. You should go. And go with some friends who remember watching them as a kid. Because your kids won't.
Meh-nah Meh-nah.
I didn't take many pictures (Emma did, so if there are some amazing ones I'll be sure to share. That's if I can ever find my camera) I was in my pjs most of the week, so I thought I would spare you the evidence *wink*. I was also really deliberate about slooooowing down and not stressing out. That meant things weren't always pretty or put together.
And I was just kinda lazy and didn't feel like taking pictures. But I did spend good, quality time with these precious people who are my family and friends.
It was a truly thankful, Thanksgiving.


God gave me...

a husband who is more gracious, patient, talented and funny...

one son who is smarter...

one daughter who is more organized...

one daughter who is more daring...

one daughter who is more affectionate...

one son who is more outgoing...

than me. If I could combine all of their strengths and add them to me, I'd be perfect!

But, I guess that's one of the blessings of a family. I have so much to learn and every day God gives me gentle, loving glimpses of areas I lack.

I am in awe of how He gives each of us different, beautiful pieces of His perfect Self.

At least I never get bored with myself (annoyed, yes. But never bored.)...there's always something to be working on!

I'm even more thankful for these amazing people that I get to call my family.


It's like...

standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

The breeze in my face.

Toes dangling off the edge.

There's a large safety net. Invisible, but definitely there.

It's scary and exciting, but there's no real danger.

Only adventure and anticipation of the unknown.

I'm just waiting for the cue to jump. The timing has to be right.

Waiting for direction. A jump in the wrong direction could be disastrous.

It happens through my quiet time with the Lord. These inklings that something is on the horizon. Then through the words of a friend. And another. And another. Then through an acquaintance. This gentle prodding to move.

Sometimes we're walking blind. But the key is to move.

And then to wait when necessary. The way a child waits to cross the street. Wait for a clear path and then move when told to.

I'm so thankful I have a hand to hold, to direct me and guide me.


Rules for Dads of Daughters

I'm up early this morning (as I usually am).

I noticed the light coming from beneath the door of my bedroom, meaning Brad is awake too. Then, I see my Emma sleepily walk to our bedroom door, open it and walk in to him.

I love that she has no hesitation. She knows she can approach her daddy and he is available to her. He is a good daddy.

She comes out of the bedroom and tells me he's going to teach her how to play chess. This morning. While it's still dark outside. Before she has her first chess club meeting at school today.

He is there for her. Her strong daddy who knows everything and can do anything (we'll enjoy this while she still think it *wink*). There aren't many things that warm my heart more than watching the man I love love our children.

I found this on pinterest this morning.

I read it through teary eyes.

Good reminders and sweet thoughts.

You can find the original post here.


I Shouldn't Cry Over Spilled Milk

but I really want to sometimes.

We have on average 5-6 mornings a week when we sit down for breakfast as a family (Sundays we eat and go to church in shifts depending on who's serving that day) and I think 3-4 out of 6 days someone spills their milk/cereal/drink/yogurt. This week we're 2 for 2 so far.

Our mornings can be chaotic...someone can't find socks, didn't finish homework the night before, is out of lunch money, throws a fit at the table, needs a paper signed, needs a pumpkin/costume/stuffed animal, needs some coaching on their attitude...

I know I should prepare for school mornings the night before. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I'm too tired or I was out late with people or I forgot what we needed or I just...didn't.

I don't know why I expect things to go perfectly. And that's really what it comes down to. My expectations. I wake up early, pray for the atmosphere of our home, for our attitudes to be right, our motives pure. Then I expect my prayers to work like magic and thwart off any arguments, stresses, dirty looks, last minute somethings, accidental spills. I am actually thrown off when we don't have a peaceful morning full of worship and scripture and hugs and lots of love.

Well, the love is always there. But sometimes I have to stop and breathe to give it the attention it deserves.

Life is life. We live in a fallen world with all it's irritable imperfections.

And I have to remind myself that my kids are in training...

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Are there areas in which I'm still being trained? Yes, of course. So, why do I expect that if I've corrected the same poor behavior twice...three times...17 times my child will never struggle with that issue again?

It's all about expectations and seeing these things as normal life, rather than as surprising disruptions to the perfection I long for and envision.

Tomorrow we will do it all again. There is joy to be found in the hashing it out, in the going the extra mile, in the diving into these incredible relationships the Lord has blessed me with. I will choose to lean into the struggle and maybe see how God is training *me* through these beautiful, sometimes hectic, mornings...


What's Working For Us...

I found this method for memorizing scripture last spring.

Memorizing scripture allows it to invade your heart, your thought processes. It allows God's Word to become ingrained in your actions.

Teach me your decrees, O Lord;
I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions;
I will put them into practice with all my heart.
Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.
~Psalm 119:33-35

We have been at it for 6ish months now. And it's working!

We work on them at the breakfast table. Some come quickly, some take more time. And it's all okay because we are memorizing scripture!

You can read all the details here.

Have you found a good system for scripture memory?


On Relationships

I'm reading "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp (for the second time. This time with an amazing group of ladies from our choir. It's a must-read, in my opinion).

This last week we read and discussed God's grace and how it applies to our relationships. I am in my 30s and I am still learning so much in this area! I went through the typical, painful relationships of junior high and high school and then had one or two close friends during my college years. Then I got married and, for years really, my husband and my kids were the only ones close.

Now, here I am, a grown woman, and I feel like I'm having to learn how to be a friend all over again in many ways. Having an amazing, healthy husband has been a huge benefit to me...he has taught me so much about how to be healthy in a relationship, whether it's friendship, marriage, or child to parent. If only I could put those lessons learned to use all the time. *wink*

Here's a few things I know...and am still preaching to myself...

Don't place unrealistic expectations on the other person. Don't expect them to be your one and only, bestie, sole confidant. A healthy person has a few, trusted people in whom they can place trust. Don't expect your husband/wife to fill the void a same-sex friend should. Likewise, don't confide all your marital problems to your best friend and expect her help. Let your kids be kids...they are not perfect and they are not your best friend. Evaluate each relationship for what it is and let it be that.

Communication is key. Don't expect them to read your mind. Say what you need to say with love. Start sentences with "I" rather than "You". And no name-calling. Ever. Remember that those words don't go back where they came from, even after apologies. Words stick. Let them be healthy and life-giving.

Be the first to say I'm sorry and quick to forgive. Ouch. This one is so hard for me! A little humility goes a long way. Don't let stubborn pride come between you and those you love.

Be the kind of friend, spouse, child, parent that you want to have. If you wish someone would call out of the blue to see how you're doing, do that for someone. If you wish your spouse would hold your hand spontaneously, reach for his or her hand. If you hope people are praying for you, pray for them. If you wish your children were more attentive to your instructions, be more attentive to them. This doesn't guarantee your desired outcome right away, but it protects your heart and helps you to invest in those around you. People will show love when they are loved.

Observe the 10 year rule. Have a friend who is 10 years older than you. You will be amazed at the comfort that comes from having a friend who's been there. Have a friend who is 10 years younger than you. You will laugh more and see the world in a different way.

Let it breathe and be what it is. There are not many things more frustrating than trying to make someone into something they're not. If he's not ready to commit, he may not be your husband. If she seems unwilling to spend time with you, she may not have time to invest in your relationship. If that family member hurts you over and over, you may need some space. If your 3 year old won't potty train, remember that we all get it eventually...wait, maybe that's another post...

Remember that Jesus is the only perfect One around. He really is the best friend who will never hurt you. He always has the best intentions and will never take advantage of you. Even better...being friends with Him guarantees that you will be a better spouse, parent, child, friend.


The Messy Side of Ministry

"Sure, have her come over"...I almost regret the words as soon as they leave me.

The house is a mess. I'm in my mom uniform, not near the cleaner, more put together me that walks through the doors on Sunday. It's most likely pizza for dinner. And I'm tired.

Sometimes it's all I can do to keep it together around here...and barely at that. With a husband who continually gives and 5 young children who giggle and run and fall and cry and have an amazing ability to turn my daytime neatness into joyful chaos within 10 minutes of after school fun.

The walls of this house are comfort to me. It is our sanctuary. Not a quiet one, but a safe one. A place where life is messy and loving and forgiving.

I have perfected the art of protecting our time. Early in our marriage I fought hard for that privacy, that desire to have time to ourselves. The pressures of ministry can be strong, I had heard. I took on the role of defender of our schedule...partly out of wisdom, partly out of fear.

It is important to be wise with our time. Our children find safety in family time, in undivided attention from us. We laugh and cry and argue and make up and we love and hug and tickle and play games and we are here.

And hasn't He created all of this in us so that we can share it? To not only tell of the fun, of the unconditional, sometimes hard, love that happens within these walls? Could it be that some of the most real, most powerful ministry happens here?

For me, it is the harder, more personal side of what we do. To let people in. To let them see the mess, the imperfections. To not only be transparent, but to be vulnerable.

But He sees and He knows and He takes my weaknesses and turns them into something beautiful.

So she comes. And we talk. And she sees messy bedrooms, evidence of a rushed morning. She observes bickering and hugs, scrapes and kisses. We laugh over coffee. It is stretching for me and if she knows she doesn't say. I see the connection spark in her eye, the longing for friendship in a new city.

And I'm thankful. Thankful for a God who covers for me. Who desires willingness over perfection. A God who uses me to touch another life.

And transforms mine at the same time.


There is Nothing

I had a great weekend at Women of Faith. I learned a lot, made new friends and came home with renewed vision and excitement for what God holds for me and our family.

One of the things I recommitted to is waking early. I try to do this most of the time, but with the craziness of life I've been, well, tired.

Sunday night I set my alarm (which I hate doing) so I could wake early and have some quiet, early morning time to read and pray. And drink coffee, of course.

The alarm went off and I had a great, quiet hour. Then, the rest of the day happened.

I strained my neck, resulting in a lot of pain. I fought with my husband. I was too hard on my kids. My littles had meltdowns all. day. long. I didn't get near enough done. I bailed on 2 opportunities to catch up with friends.

Ugh. It was a rough one. By last night, the dust had settled. I went to bed at peace, but exhausted.

I am very aware that there is an enemy who HATES that I'm waking early. And he will try to discourage me from doing it. But none of this changes who I am or who I serve. I am the child of an amazing, merciful God who has enough grace to cover my 'ugh' days.

So, I woke early again today. I had this song going through my head...

I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Rom 8:39



hurts sometimes.

Why is it so hard for me to trust? Why do I feel like I have to have every. single. thing. figured out?

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
Proverbs 19:21

This seems to be the theme of my life these days. And the crazy thing is that I LOVE that it's His purpose that prevails. I LOVE that I don't have to figure it all out.

Or do I? If I say I trust Him, that I LOVE His plans...why is it hard to surrender and rest in it?

I've been going to yoga for a few months now. When we start a challenging position, it hurts. Then I breathe and tell myself to relax. It's amazing how my muscles respond and it no longer HURTS. It is still what they call *uncomfortable* but not as painful.

The stretching of my faith is the same. At first it HURTS. I fight it and I can't relax. Then I breathe and surrender. I can find rest in the stretching. I may still be uncomfortable, but not in pain.

Lord, help me to trust. To relax. To breathe. Thank you for holding it all together.


A Month Later...{Uganda Memories}

I've been home for about a month now. Some of my take-aways from Uganda...

Jesus loves me (this I know)...He loves surprising me. He loves showing off His creation.

We spent a day at the headwaters of the Nile River.

I was in awe the entire day. The fact that I (Andrea, mother of 5, homemaker, wife-who-tends-to-stand-in-the-background...THAT I) was standing on the banks of the River Nile, the river Moses floated on...and the fact that I didn't even KNOW I was going until a month before...well, it all just blows my mind.

He loves His people...

Even when we're struggling. Even when things like poverty and war and heartache happen. He loves us and He is with us. And there is JOY and PEACE to be found even in these strong, courageous people (children!) who have experienced these things first hand.

I want to be a good mom.

Farida told me that she's never known the love of a mother. And she hasn't. I feel there are many children who know their mother and still don't know the LOVE of a mother. I want to be present and loving and giving. I don't want to only provide for the needs of my children. I want to live each day, as their mother, to the full. I want them to grow and KNOW that they are loved and wanted and cherished.

I want to be a good steward of what I have. There are many days when I begrudgingly do my housework. I loathe scrubbing toilets and mopping. The women that I met in Uganda work hard (and mop with a rag!). They don't have many belongings, but they take pride in what little they do have. Instead of grumbling as I work, may I be thankful for my blessings...and be thankful for a toilet to sit on!

Life with Jesus is exciting! And adventurous! If I've learned anything, it's that anything can happen at any time. I can have my plans, but God is the One who directs my steps. May I be pliable and flexible enough to allow for His plan over mine. He really does know me best and He knows what's best for me. There is freedom and peace in surrendering to His plan.

I have fallen in love with Uganda (just thought I'd say it...as if the bazillion posts about it didn't let you know) and the wonderful people I met while there. I pray that I can go back someday. I would love to go with Brad and with my kids. But, as I'm learning...only God knows if and when and how...


Desire {Uganda Memories}

aka "Desiah"

The first time I saw this adorable little boy, he was furiously banging a broken stapler with a rock, trying to make it stick together as a make-shift truck. He reminded me so much of my little Micah...I was instantly drawn to him.

When he looked up at me, I bent down and opened my arms to him. He smiled big and ran to me. He motioned that he wanted to see a tree. I took him over and he began to giggle nervously. Before I knew it, he was slapping me...half laughing. I started laughing too and then decided to let him down when it started to hurt! It was such a strange interaction...but he definitely left an impression on me!

I saw him the next day standing next to a car. I smiled at him and he smiled back. I started chasing him around the car...

We were pretty attached after that.

I tried to see him every day. In a way, it was soothing for me to hold him and play with him. I was missing my kids and he was one of the only young-enough-to-be-held kids at the orphanage.

He followed me around as I did work around the orphanage, painting mostly. I gave him a ball and a silly band. One day, I brought a couple of empty water bottles out to the school yard so he and his friend could play with the sand.

I would go home very dirty and dusty most nights, from having held him on my lap. He liked to play with my braids and he would cry when I left.

His situation is unique...his "house mom" is also his birth mom. This fact helped me resist the temptation to stick him in my suitcase. I sure thought about it though! (kidding!...kinda) He's just so cute!

My last night there, I held him in my lap and shared popcorn with him. I left him at his house with half a bag, so he was all smiles. I smiled back, even though my heart was aching.

Since I've been home, I've seen pictures from some of the other teams (our team partnered with a team of doctors) and many include him. He is such a cute, fun, energetic boy. I know I'm not the only one who thought he was pretty great!


Marvin {Uganda Memories}

I met Marvin one day on the school yard while I was taking pictures. (The kids LOVE having their pictures taken. It was one of the ways I met many of them. They don't have any mirrors, so they love to see themselves on the camera!) He didn't say anything, he just quietly slipped his hand into mine. He went with me wherever I went that day.

When I asked him his name he was so soft spoken that I couldn't understand him, so I had one of the other children ask him. I found that none of the kids I had connected with knew him. He is so quiet and shy and he tends to observe the other kids, rather than engage.

After a while, he asked if I would come to his house. (The kids live in concrete homes. Each home has 3 bedrooms and a living area. 1 bedroom is for the "house mom" and the other 2 for kids, 6 kids in each room. Some of the houses have furniture and use the living area as a dining room or living room. The kids especially like to show off their beds, a bunk bed 3 beds high with a mosquito net over it.)

When we reached his house, his house mom was sitting on the porch, weaving a mat and listening to her radio. I introduced myself and quickly realized that she didn't speak any English. I tried my best to explain that Marvin had invited me over. She got up quickly and motioned for me to come inside. I'm not sure if there wasn't any electricity, or if she just didn't have her light on, but it was very dark inside. Her only piece of furniture in the living area was a school bench. She pulled it out from the wall and motioned for me to sit. Then she knelt at the other side. I was so overwhelmed by her hospitality and desire to make me comfortable. We tried to talk for a minute or two and ended up laughing about the fact that we couldn't communicate.

Marvin came inside and showed me his room. By then, some of his older "brothers" had come home. They were able to interpret for me. It was getting dark and time for me to go home. I asked the older boy if he could ask Marvin if it was okay if I left. Marvin said no. We all laughed about that. I sat on the porch for a few minutes and talked with his mom, through the interpretation of the older boy. Then I went home.

My relationship with Marvin was sweet and simple. He would find me and hold my hand as I visited with some of the other kids. One day I brought him some bubbles. He was so happy and I loved watching him play.

Another day I took him to my house, away from the other children, and gave him a ball. We bounced it back and forth on the porch of the house for a long time.
I will always remember this sweet boy with the quiet disposition. The hospitality I experienced at his house is something I will cherish forever.


Farida & Hanifah {Uganda Memories}

Farida was the first child I met at Adventure Village, the orphanage of Christian Life Ministries where our team stayed, played and served for two weeks.

Farida is 13 and she and her sister, Hanifah are orphans. Orphans caused by death, poverty and abandonment.
My first few days getting to know her, we spent time jumping rope, painting toenails, blowing bubbles and singing songs.

She was very excited and proud to show me her bed

and especially her school work.

She loves school and takes pride in working hard so that she can become a doctor. If she continues to work hard and get good grades, she will have an opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious boarding schools in east Africa...an opportunity made possible through Christian Life Ministries.

One evening, as we were sitting on her porch talking about America, the girls asked me what I do for work. I told them that I am a mom, that I stay at home with my children while my husband works. Farida said "I have never known the love of a mother."

This was so hard to hear. It was really difficult to keep from grabbing her and holding her and crying with her. However I had learned through my interactions with her that she is not an emotional or touchy child, which I'm sure is a result of years of disappointment and hurt.

I took the opportunity to ask her how she had come to the orphanage. What happened to her parents? Does she remember them? She and her sister, through their limited English, told me of how their father had died when they were young. Their mother was unable to care for them due to poverty so she left them with their grandmother. I asked Farida if she remembers her mother. She smiled and said no, but that she would surely recognize her if she ever saw her because she had seen a picture. She then told me of how her grandmother wasn't able to send her to school and, upon hearing of education opportunities through Adventure Village, brought her to the orphanage.

I asked her if her grandmother ever visits or writes and she said no. Hanifah, Farida's sister, said she wants to get an education so that she can find her mother and then help other children find their parents.

As heartbreaking as this story is, these girls are healthy. They are fed three meals a day. They have access to medical attention and medication if they need it. They are getting an education. Most importantly, they are being taught scripture and about God's love. They participate in worship times. They smile with an inner joy...a joy that maybe only comes through seeing, knowing God's faithfulness in hardship and hurt. These girls are strong and courageous. I learned a lot during my time with them.

During these two weeks, I was deliberate with my words. I made sure to tell them that they are beautiful, smart, strong. I told them God loves them and that He is faithful...always. He sees them and knows their pain. I told them to study hard in school, to persevere when things are hard. I wanted to make sure that they know someone cares for them and loves them. They have God, they have their Adventure Village Family and now they have me too.

My last night there, we sat together and talked. We took pictures. We exchanged letters. When it was time to say goodbye, we hugged (which I felt was a big step for Farida) and cried (another rarity). We promised to keep in touch. I kept my desire to see them again to myself, knowing that I shouldn't make promises I may not be able to keep. Only the Lord knows when, and if, I'll ever see them again.

When I got home I was able to give my children letters that Farida and Hanifah had written to them. My children now have friends in Uganda. How great is that? God is soo good.


I'm Home!

From an amazing, mind blowing, wonderful trip to Uganda. I am still very much processing the trip, gathering photos and reviewing my journal, so I will update in detail soon.

For now, I thought I'd take advantage of this jet-lagged morning to give a shorter update.

It was great.

It was what I imagined it would be and it was much more than I could have ever imagined.

I had some insecurities going into this trip that the Lord helped me sort through and overcome. He is so good and so faithful. He made this dream of mine, being in Africa snuggling and connecting with orphans, come true. I am so thankful.

I made some great, new friends. Some Ugandan, some American. We cried together and laughed (and laughed!) together. These are forever-memories.

I didn't really suffer from culture shock, but more heartbreak for some of the conditions I witnessed. I found myself frustrated to tears on more than one occasion.

The trip was life changing in that it was a fulfillment of dreams and hopes I've had for years. I was already in love with these people...and I hadn't even met them yet! I think it's similar to pregnancy...when I was pregnant with my children, I already loved them. When they were born, it was confirmation of that love. Love coming to fruition. This trip was a birthing of the love that I already had in my heart.

I just have to take a moment and brag on my husband. Words can't even describe the admiration and gratitude I have for him. He always is a super dad, but especially these last couple of weeks! He created some memories that our children will remember for many years...sleepovers, movies, Chuck E Cheese, playgrounds, water balloon fights, horseback riding, walks, french toast, dollar store runs...knowing that they were having so much fun here made it easier for me to fully engage over there. AND I came home to a clean house! He rocks!

I will share more in the next week or so. Two weeks of emotions and experiences is a lot to sort through! The jet lag is a bit challenging too...in some ways I don't feel like I'm back yet! I'm awake for several hours in the early morning, by myself, while my precious family sleeps. Then, from about early afternoon through bedtime I'm tiiired and not worth much to them. Can't wait til that's over!