“See Ya’ Later, Alligator…”

Whenever I visit my nieces, (who happen to live 2,000 miles away) I always have such a great time. They are so innocent and joyful and playful and just a complete BLAST. After a few days of bliss, it is actually very difficult to leave. The thought that the good times have to come to an end, that I won’t see them for a while, that the next time I visit, they will have grown and evolved into a different phase of their development, and that I will simply just miss them, can be pretty hard to bare. However, my oldest niece has a way of lightening the mood. She has a carefree way of looking at the situation. Interestingly, she doesn’t get all sappy and overwhelmed with the departure, almost as if she knows that we will indeed see each other again, that we will talk on the phone, that we will exchange Christmas/birthday gifts and messages and that we will embrace the next phase of our growth and celebrate it. She gives me a big hug and I simply say, “See ya later, alligator!” and she retorts, “See ya’ soon, baboon!!!!” 😂😜😜

After 11 years of living in the great state of Georgia, teaching some of the best students, working alongside brilliant colleagues, worshipping with the best church family, sharing space with awesome neighbors, cheering in the stands with some of the most amazing parents, and bonding with the best friends I’ve ever had, our family bids the most sincere, heartfelt and tearful “See ya Later, Alligator.”

Our journey takes us to Arizona, where my son will attend Grand Canyon University to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and technology, my husband will transfer his same job but greatly reduce his commute, my daughter will complete her final years at a pretty great neighborhood high school in our area, and I will pursue some new adventures as well.

We have been preparing for this departure, understanding that it would be difficult, but not processing just how much. We have truly made the most amazing relationships and memories throughout this phase of our journey. We were even fortunate enough to live in our own little slice of heaven the past four years, fully equipped with amazing friends, schools, and landscape. Leaving may have been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

Thankfully, the first leg of our transition has been a success. We have been in Arizona for a little over a week now. Of course it wouldn’t be true Harper fashion if we didn’t make it an adventure.😊 We broke up the 30-hour drive into a few days with hopes that the beautiful scenery and the promise for the future would outshine our feelings of sadness and exhaustion from packing, loading and moving. Though we are not all the way settled, we are on our way. We are looking forward to building, growing, living, loving and adventuring in the great Valley of the Sun.

As time moves on and my heart heals from being away from the beautiful people and way of life I had come to love, I hope to take on the spirit of my amazing niece. I know I will see my friends again. I know I will talk to them and exchange on social media. I know we will share holiday messages and celebrate all the growth and great things that are to come. I know this is not the end. So with that, I send the biggest virtual hug ever given, and instead of goodbye, I will simply say, “see ya’ later, Alligator!” Here’s to exciting adventures on this leg of your and our amazing journey… I LOVE YOU. 😘😘😘

BEYOND THE LABELS…

Black, white, doctor, Christian, teacher, stay-at-home-mom, parent, honor-student etc.… These are all labels at which we can be identified. They are titles we wear with honor like a badge for all to know who we are, where we’re from, and what we’ve accomplished. They are a major source of pride at which we may have spent years of time, money and labor to attain and require a certain level of respect from people to address us as we live by the standards of the weight they carry.

What about the labels that are not so honorable? The titles we have been assigned. The tags that carry a negative connotation and sometimes even stifle our ability to thrive. Single-mom, at-risk youth, divorce’, overweight, retarded, hot-tempered, emotional, 3rd string, nerd, dead-beat dad, naïve, etc.…

From an early age, our children run the risk of being tagged with various labels that can define the way others see them and more importantly, how they see themselves. They can be given by teachers, peers, mentors, coaches and even us as parents.

When my son was three years old, we noticed he was not meeting the typical developmental milestones for children in his age group. He wasn’t talking, making eye contact, showing signs of expression or interactive response.  Doctors and school officials performed several tests to further investigate these concerns. Thereafter, they diagnosed him with autism. And there it was, my son had been labeled. The experts in the field, used professional, fact-based information to determine that he was socially/developmentally “disabled.”

My husband and I were devastated to receive this news.  We were so young. So new to parenthood. We were clueless. The only word we heard was “disability.” The depth of that term left so many uncertainties and filled my imagination with limitations to abound. After grieving for a few days, feeling sorry for myself, and researching aimlessly on how to solve this problem, I prayed. And then, believe it or not, I LISTENED. I heard the Lord tell me so clearly, that He was the God of possibility. That in Him, we are ABLE to do ALL things. So if the Word was true, the term “DISABILITY” was contrary to His Word.

I picked myself up and decided that I was going to turn my brain off on this matter and be led by the Holy Spirit on EXACTLY what my son needed in order to prosper in every area of his life. I must say, this journey has been one of the greatest, yet toughest of my life. However, I am a teacher. I am a Christian. I LOVE children. My husband and I were well equipped for the road ahead and we took it step by step.  We were not going to let the label given by the doctors trump the label given by the Word of God.

For the last several years our family took each stage of this process day by day. Every step was completely new to us. Every challenge required a custom plan that I couldn’t find in a book, online, or from friends. I completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit. For an example, there was a season when my son would cry over everything. Each day there would be an instance at school or at home that seemed very feasible, but for some reason it was overwhelming for him. Now my natural response would have been, “suck it up. You are a big boy! You can’t be crying over this little stuff!” However, that would have broken him. Nevertheless, I still couldn’t allow him to let his emotions govern his behavior. The Lord simply gave us positive incentives for him to work toward in order to stop crying. Sounds super easy, and IT WAS. GRACE. He stopped crying and hasn’t had a problem since.

Of course, over the years, my son has battled many other struggles throughout his developmental journey, such as staying focused in class, managing time properly, playing well with other kids, using language appropriately, articulating his thoughts accurately, participating in group activities, building confidence and so many others. Most of them didn’t come with a two-week solution. Many of these challenges took YEARS to conquer and some of them required extreme decisions in order to ensure his success.

When homework and daily routines became a bit overwhelming, I stepped away from a 15-year career in order to be at home. We downsized our living expenses and even moved to a smaller home in a rural area in order to meet the growing needs of our family. And as always, we saw God’s hand throughout the entire process. We had all the tools, and resources; we knew the places to be and times to be there. He blessed us with amazing teachers, pastors, friends, coaches, classmates and role models to help aid and support us throughout our experience.  This was certainly a team effort. And whilst we had great individuals involved in our mission, we never made his diagnosis public. We never gave explanations, concessions or excuses for his performance or behavior. As a matter of fact, we never even muttered the word autism in his presence. He had NO clue. We simply assessed his abilities and held him to the standard of excellence. If you can be great, BE GREAT. If you can’t be great, let’s do whatever we can to help you be YOUR greatest.  

Cole’s diagnosis was given when he was 3 years old. Last week he turned 18. And last month he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. In that moment, on the football field of a school in North Georgia, my closest family and I held a sign with the words “GO COLE” in HUGE capital letters. He sat in the front row in the top 10% of his class. He wore a sash around his neck that said, “HONOR GRADUATE,” along with a gold cord for his involvement in the National Honor Society and a purple one for the National Technical Honor Society. Earlier that week, he was given several awards along with $40,000 in local and national scholarships. Two weeks before that, he was named Prom King of his high school, earlier that year he was named Most Valuable Runner of his cross-country team and set 2 new school records for his times in the 1600- and 3200-meter run. He founded the chess club, was active in FCA, TSA, academic club, and volunteered to run the live broadcast of the boys’ and girls’ basketball games. He started his freshmen year with few friends, little to no involvement, while struggling to keep up socially, academically, and certainly athletically. By his senior year, he had grown the respect and admiration from so many. They simply loved him to greatness.

During his journey, no one had a CLUE of the tremendous effort it took for him to reach his goals.  The extra hours it took to complete his homework assignments, the weekend/off season practices he devoted to or the level of commitment it took for him to stay on top. He quietly pressed his way…

In February of this year, after two weeks for testing and meeting with several school and state officials, Cole’s autism diagnosis was reversed. Teachers and staff members were thrilled for him and all the progress he made over the 15 years of his journey. Shortly after that meeting, we carefully revealed to Cole of the label he was given early in his life. He was so shocked. So proud. So grateful. We reflected for HOURS, making sense of all the various steps we had taken, and all the beautiful people who were so helpful throughout.

In the fall, Cole will attend Grand Canyon University, in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he will study Electrical Engineering and Technology. We are beyond grateful for the first part of his incredible journey and how God used him to defy the labels given to him early on and replaced them with ones that carry great honor. I cannot wait to see what is in store for his bright future.

As we all endeavor to establish our identity, as we go on our own growth and developmental adventures, take on many different roles, hats and labels, I pray that we will BOLDY seek out the labels given to us by our Heavenly Father. I pray that if you or your loved one has been assigned a label, description, prescription, diagnosis, or title that doesn’t line up with what you know is true,  I dare you to push past the limitations of that label given to you (even by the experts in the field).  That you fight the good, and sometimes seemingly long fight of faith. And that you run your BEST race… not to the best of YOUR ability, but to the best of HIS ability!!!!! That tag doesn’t have to be a life sentence. YOU WERE BORN TO WIN!!!!! †

Forgiving Mom…

I recently had the honor of speaking at a Women’s Day event at a church in my area. There, in front of a few hundred amazing ladies, I was able to share my testimony and some of the amazing ways God has been so faithful in my life. It was a great time of fellowship, celebration, food, fun and most of all, love. At the conclusion of the event, I was able to exchange with some of the ladies one on one. They opened up and shared some of their testimonies with me. They noted many of the commonalities we had in our stories. One topic that kept coming up in my discussions was the many women affected by “mom hurt.” What is mom hurt, you say? It is the hurt many encounter during a painful childhood, mostly due to a difficult experience with their mom.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I’d like to address this issue head on. I realize it is a REAL pain. Though many women have had a wonderful relationship with their mother; she was supportive, caring, loving etc. SO many women/men have experienced the opposite. Perhaps their mom wasn’t around. She abandoned them during their childhood. She put them second to a career, addiction, boyfriends etc. Whatever the case, she did not perform her duties/responsibilities to THEIR standards. And of course, THOSE standards are the “normal,” reasonable expectations that should come very naturally to ANY mother. I GET IT!

But what if those typical/normal/reasonable standards DIDN’T come naturally to her? What if she TRULY did the BEST she knew during that time? What if, she was completely consumed with immaturity, selfishness, greed, etc.??? What if she was only doing what was done to her? What if the pain she inflicted on her children was not intentional? And even still, what if she DID know how badly she was behaving, but did it anyway? That HORRIBLE mom is not worthy of love, honor, respect, or ESPECIALLY forgiveness. I mean, LOOK AT ALL THE PAIN SHE CAUSED!!!!

I can TOTALLY relate to these feelings. My mother-daughter childhood experience was interrupted by some of the very things I mentioned earlier; like addiction, neglect, abuse and abandonment, and it had some MAJORLY devastating impacts on my life. However, a wise person once told me, you can’t expect someone to give you what they don’t have. It is like walking up to a friend and asking them for $1,000, but all they have is $400. Because it seems NORMAL for us all to have $1000 on hand, does it give us a pass to lay in perpetual bitterness? Gloom? Doom? If they only have $400? “I mean, if they had $1000 to give me, I would be SOOOO much better off.” “What in the world can I POSSIBLY do with only $400????” “I NEED ALL $1000!!!!!!”

Many people today have suffered YEARS of pain, frustration, bitterness and unforgiveness because a mom did not live up to the expectation she was charged to fulfill. Though this can have a major impact on the life and welfare of children, it does not give ANYONE a license for a lifetime of unforgiveness.  As we grow older, we can find healing and ways to repair the brokenness caused by a negligent mother. When we accept a relationship with Christ, He can fill the holes and suffering left from our painful encounters. He can and will send replacements for the loneliness and sense of abandonment, to where the absence of a loving mother will seem insignificant. However, we block His hand when we choose to hold on to feelings of resentment, revenge, anger and bitterness.

If we simply consider the scripture, we have no choice but to forgive our mom. “You have NO idea what my mom did to me!!!” You say. Though I have not been in your situation, I DO understand how you feel. As children, our moms take up the greatest real estate in our heart. They are the givers of life. They are supposed to love us like no other. They are supposed to cherish us and sacrifice their very life so that we become all God has called us to be. I DO UNDERSTAND THAT. However, we are called to honor our parents. We are called to walk in love, even when that person has hurt us deeply.

After YEARS of a strained relationship, my mother and I are restoring a beautiful bond. It has not been easy, but true love and forgiveness has guided our hearts to mend and repair what was once broken. I am so grateful my kids get to see my mother at her BEST. That I get to enjoy a renewed exchange while we are both mature, healthy, and whole. That we get to share this beautiful time together free of residue or expectation.

The relationship between a mother and child is paramount. There is nothing like it. When it is damaged, it can hurt like no other. And though it can cause some major scars, God is the ultimate plastic surgeon. It is nothing that can’t be repaired.  Surely, you may never be best friends, go over each other’s house every day, or even do the things you once did. Nevertheless, I pray you get your heart to a place of forgiveness. Where your current day or future success and happiness are not hindered by hate or anger. Where you are not plagued by the expectations that weren’t met in your life. That you no longer hold her accountable for unpleasant outcomes you endured. And that you release her from the bondage of your grief. Instead, may you seek love freely given by the greatest healer. May you let HIM heal your wounds and fill your heart with the greatest love of all. And may you go on to Mother from a place of grace and peace, because no person, encounter or thing has the power to stop you from enjoying every drip drop of your amazing journey!!! BLESSINGS TO YOU!!! HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!!

It’s Time, Girl, For GIRL TIME!!!

Hey you… Super Girl! Yeah, YOU!!! I know you are busy out there getting er’ done, rockin’ out like the BOSS that you are. On top of ALL the things you do every day, you are also going to church, working out, reading and serving, and doing all the things to help keep your awesome self, awesome. However, I have yet ANOTHER way to help extend the life of your awesomeness…You already know what it is, GOOD OLD GIRL TIME!!!!! YEEEESSSSSSS MA’AM!!!!

I don’t know about you, but I am fortunate enough to have been surrounded by amazing gals my entire life. Whether in high school, college, during my career, at church and even as a stay at home mom, I have been blessed with some GREAT girlfriends! Though life can get super busy and seasons change, friends move away, the benefit of time with friends never changes.

I’m not talking about any old gals. I’m not talking about getting together to gossip. To compare titles and status.  I’m talking about those equally-yoked friends. Those ones that challenge you to be great. Ones that celebrate with you. Ones that can pray for you in times of need and talk you off the cliff. Ones that will come to your baby shower and share their parenting experiences for extra support. And YES, ones you can, eat, shop and enjoy life with.

As we get older, our schedules and calendars are bombarded with so many tasks. We wear so many hats and are responsible for so much. Of course, the grace of God is sufficient to get it all done in excellence. But sometimes, we don’t allow time in our schedule to breathe. Our lives are out of balance. We don’t make time for ourselves and we don’t make time for our friends. Sometimes we even go into an isolation phase, where girlfriends or anything else becomes yet another item to check off. I GET IT!!!!! However, we were created for fellowship. Sometimes a couple hours with some amazing gals, is just what we need for some rejuvenation, redirection, recharging and some REAL laughs out loud!

For the last few months I have been intentional about making time for the beautiful women God has blessed me to know. I know they are not in my life by accident and we don’t even talk every day. But whether enjoying a girls’ night out, brunch, shopping, dinner and movie, massages, vision parties, morning walks, or even road trips, my life would not be as rich without them and our amazing time together. They inspire me. They push me past my comfort zones. They celebrate me and love me right where I am and I am better because of it.

I also realize my friends are not here to just benefit me. I am careful to bring my supply to my crew as well. Whether an encouraging text, a kind gift or gesture, a thoughtful act, a love exchange or time together, my girls know I got their back and am here for them too. Sometimes we can underestimate our role in a friend’s life. We think they seem to have it all together and don’t need us. Quite the contrary, there are gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, experience and other goodies we have that add so much value to the lives of people in our circle.

Anyone that knows me, knows I LOOOOVE my kids. I make time for my husband, take care of our home and maintain a busy schedule. However, over the years, I am FULLY aware of how rich my life is with the women God has strategically placed in my path. They add SO much color to my life. Our time together is so valuable to me. I look forward to it and am so replenished after each encounter. I pray that you cultivate relationships with gals that brighten your life. That you know how much your light brightens theirs and that you allow those relationships to add amazing experiences to your awesome journey.

I meet with these AWESOME gals every month (ish) 🙂 for dinner and great times. We all “Mom So Hard” yet make time to get together for some much needed girl time… I am so grateful they all live close by. They are SUCH a blessing to me!!!!

This awesome gal and I have been friends for 10+ years. We used to teach together, but since I have retired, we are sure to meet monthly for girl time, brunch, shopping, movies, family celebrations and even road trips. She makes EVERYTHING a BLAST!!!

I don’t get to see these awesome ladies often, so when we are all in town together, we are sure to connect for great fellowship. We love and laugh and share our dreams and hold each other accountable. They are such an inspiration to me…

I was recently able to enjoy another great day with this awesome gal!!! Though she is younger than me, we are able to share our experiences and celebrate the various milestones on our journey. She is a major talent on the rise. I love sharing adventures with her…

At the beginning of the year, I enjoyed a vision board slumber party with these amazing gals from my church. It was a great time of food, fellowship, shopping, movies, girl talk, and creating and sharing vision boards. Though we see each other in church, we also celebrate on holidays and other major dates. I love doing life with these gals…

An AMAZING friend, whom I’ve loved and admired for 20+ years came down for a weekend. We enjoyed great conversation, eating, shopping, massages and just unfiltered time together. We don’t get to see each other often, but when we do, it is so refreshing. We had a BLAST and I look forward to another getaway soon!!!!

A Healthy Balance of Work and Family…

My grandparents raised me for some of my childhood. I remember my grandmother picking us up from school each day. I remember my grandfather coming home from work by 5pm and my grandmother having a hot meal on the table by 6pm. There we discussed all that happened throughout our day. Most nights we even had dessert. After cleaning the kitchen, we all gathered together for some sort of evening activity such as playing cards, fishing, putting a puzzle together, etc. followed by watching Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and the 8:00pm show for the night before going to bed.

Those were the good old days so to speak. What the heck happened? Somewhere along the past few decades that modest yet loving lifestyle has gotten lost in translation. It has been overridden by the desire for more. The fulfillment of family time has been traded for the demands of the workplace and the need to stay busy. The respect and admiration once given to a homemaker/stay-at-home-mom, has gone to the one who can seemingly juggle the most. The excitement of the child standing at the door waiting to greet their parent after work, is replaced with a kiss on the cheek during their night’s sleep. While the love, time, energy and devotion once given to a marriage is exchanged for idle time on social media, shopping and glasses of wine to fulfill a missing void only a spouse can satisfy.

The problem with this is we have sacrificed the sanctity of our family. We tell our children and our spouse each day where they rank in our lives based on where they fall on our priority list.  We convince ourselves that our family comes first, yet they understand full well that they are among the last. Most of our world revolves around the demands of our jobs and our household gets what is left over. Perhaps we only work 8-10 hours a day, but we drive an hour each way. Once we arrive home, we have our phones and laptops attached to our hip like a doctor on call. And we devote an entire room for our at-home office in order to accommodate the after hour requests.

Now that everyone in the house has a place of obligation, each morning is filled with the family’s individual race to their day’s destination. Peace is maintained as long as neither party oversteps their lane into the other’s. There is time for work, school, and perhaps an athletic activity to occupy each day’s agenda, off to bed and then repeat…

I believe most parents and spouses have good intentions. You will hear the frequent reflection, “I just want to give my family the life I never had.” I appreciate that effort. However, what was so bad about living in a 3-bedroom 1-bathroom house? What was so bad about homecooked meals? What was so bad about hand-me-downs and DIY projects for the family? If it means more time with YOU? I know the comforts of life cost money. I understand raising kids is a huge expense, and the price of living requires us to work for sure. But judging by the value of our cars, size of our houses, brands of our clothing, updates on our gadgets, I’d say it’s looking a bit more like selfish ambition vs. the desire to provide.

I hope everyone fulfills their desires. I hope we advance in our careers, pursue higher level degrees, start businesses, all that. But I pray it is not at the expense of our families. It was not easy on my ego to step away from a teaching career I loved dearly. I worked so hard to earn that master’s degree and was doing very well in my journey. But when the demands of the career interfered with the increasing requirements of my family, I had to shut it down. Sure, it has been a MAJOR sacrifice. Especially financially. But I realized I had to prioritize my assignment as a wife and mother. It had to come first. Here I am 5 years later, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

After almost 20 years of marriage and raising 2 children, I would say there were two main decisions we made early on that helped preserve the balance of home and work life:

  1. We built our budget and livelihood on one salary. Though every force in our world told us to borrow and spend the max, we only used my husband’s salary as a base for our purchases.  This decision gave us the wiggle room to make financial adjustments for our family when necessary. It protected us during times of recession when companies decided to make major cuts in salaries, raises and health care. It made it much easier to step away from my teaching job when the demands of our family increased. Though it meant a smaller house than what we could have gotten, we didn’t miss a beat and it proved to be a MAJOR benefit for us all.
  2. Protect “peak time.” Most kids are in school for about 7 hours each day. From the time they get home from school until they go to bed is peak time. Weekends are included in this. As for us, we make sure we are present during their peak time. I put away my phone and give them my undivided love and attention. I show them they are my priority. Similarly to the time I found so sacred with my grandparents, we eat together each night, we discuss the events of our day, and we spend quality time engaging in activities we all can enjoy. It has proven to help maintain the sanctity of our union and helps us all keep things in perspective.

Whether we choose to work full-time or part-time; whether we are a stay-at-home parent, or even a single parent, we have to maintain the preeminence of our family.  They have to know they come FIRST in our lives. We communicate this each day by the decisions we make to secure their seat in our agenda. I love all the women’s empowerment movements. I celebrate the advancements in career and education. I even understand the idea of providing the best life we can for our children. However, we have to acknowledge that the “best life” for our children and spouse is a balanced life. One where they are safe and secure. One where they can learn and grow and feel loved and celebrated. One where honor and respect abound, and priorities are intact. When our families are healthy and whole, the need for gadgets, high-ticket items, approval from others diminish. They are secure in the love that is cultivated in the home and will go out and do amazing things in their journey. I pray you cultivate a healthy balance between work and home and that you are intentional about making the necessary adjustments to not only saying your family comes first but showing them that they do. Blessings to you. 😊

SEASONS CHANGE…

By now, we are all ready for Spring to hurry up and grace us with her presence. We’ve enjoyed our dose of snow and cool boots and sweet scarves. It is time for some sun shining, birds chirping and buds blooming. Interestingly, we all forget how we embraced the idea of November and December and Christmas and snow and holidays and family gatherings and all the great things that make winter a beautiful wonderland of sorts. We are now filled with the hopes of what a new season will bring. Nevertheless, by the time summer rolls around, temperatures rise to 90+ degrees, we will once again find ourselves crying the blues and looking ahead to what’s next.

How often do we have these same reflections in our daily lives? While single, we can’t WAIT for God to bless us with the perfect partner to share our lives with. We are thrilled about the new promotion we just got. We celebrate the monumental experience of buying our first home. And can’t even contain the joy of our first child. However, as the days go on, the tasks pile up, or even boredom sets in, we find ourselves looking forward to what’s next.

I certainly understand and subscribe to the idea of moving forward.  The future forecast always seems to bring about hope and growth and newness. However, where do these hopes of promise leave us in our current season? How do we not grow stale? Bored? Frustrated with the “right now”? How can we maintain our contentment and appreciation while we wait on the next season?

I remember when I was pregnant with my first child. I was SOOOO happy at the thought of carrying a life inside me. How miraculous!!! As time went on, I got bigger, well let’s say, HUGER and HUGER and tired and grumpy and when I tell you I couldn’t WAIT to deliver the baby… I COULDN’T WAIT!!! Speed along to his arrival, I was ELATED!!!! OMG!!! Happiest days of my life, right? OF COURSE. Then the real work began. The real commitment. I soon looked forward to toddler time… at least then he could walk and talk and do things on his own, right? UUUUGGGGHHH. That season brought about a whole new slew of challenges. Speed this along 17 years… As I sit here and consider that this same child is now a senior in high school, that he will be graduating in a few short months, and moving onto college to start a life of independence… What I wouldn’t give to see him walking around with drool running from his mouth, hobbling in his overalls with a saggy diaper…

Moral of the story is that as we look to brighter days and new seasons, whatever season of life we are in, good or bad, we have to know that the season WILL change, that things get better, that tough times don’t last always, that people grow, that increase will come, and spring is indeed on the way! We must know that every single day and every moment of our journey, good or bad is one to embrace, learn, and grow from, but most importantly, to enjoy.

This may be tough because some of us reading this right now are in the hardest of winters. Perhaps you are enduring a season of illness, a tough marriage, a financial hardship, a job you don’t like. I get it. However, you have to dig deep, and for some of us REAL DEEP, to see the lesson, the beauty, the growth and opportunities that lie in the moments of this part of our journey. How can we get better here? What tools will I gather for my next season? What can I do to enjoy this season right where I am?

As we look on with great expectation to the next chapter, it is so important that we not just endure this undesirable time in our life. We can’t fill our mind with thoughts of stress, depression, doubt, boredom, and gloom. Life is about seasons. While every day won’t be one on the mountain top, we can do our best to maintain a mountaintop outlook. We can see the beauty in the moment and focus on the good times we have. We can learn and grow during these seasons, so we can carry our new insight into our next season and share with others. If we are too busy focusing on the spring, we can miss out on the beauty of winter we were so excited about in the beginning. If you are single and desperately waiting to get married, ENJOY your freedom and not having to cater to or be responsible for another human. If you are a stay at home mom looking forward to getting back to work, though it is a challenging right now, ENJOY not having to get up every day and report to an office. If you are living in a tiny apartment and can’t wait to get your first home, ENJOY not cutting grass or having to heat such a large area. Or a new graduate, eager to start your first job, ENJOY not having to pay student loans and living with your parents during this last stretch of time…

As I look forward to my son graduating from high school, I realize these days won’t be here for long. I can only imagine how much I would miss if I wasn’t intentional about making every moment of this season count. While I am driving him to yet another senior obligation, early morning SAT exam, academic banquet, athletic event, I am careful to embrace the beauty of our time together. As you go about your season, I pray you can squeeze out moments that make you smile. Times to help you grow. Lessons you can take into your next season. That while you look forward to the what’s to come, you enjoy every drip drop of the portion of the journey you are on right now. This season will not last forever. Enjoy it while it’s here! Spring is on the way… 😊 🙂 🙂

OUR VEGAN(ish) LIFE: The How’s, Why’s and What’s of Our Decision to Live a Vegan Lifestyle…

So, if you know me, you know that for a few years now, my family and I have committed to a vegan-ish lifestyle. I say “vegan-ish” because, we are not ALL the way vegan. As a matter of fact, I don’t even like the label itself as it is very specified and leaves little room for variation. Nonetheless, we often lean on this title as it is the closest to describing our eating habits. Interestingly enough, I find more and more when I explain to people that we are a vegan, it elicits a host of questions and even frustrations that ultimately lead to confusion. And for this reason, I am writing about our journey as veganists. 😊

What: What is your practice? Overall, my husband, two teenagers and I eat as clean, natural and healthy as possible. That means we see food as medicine, or nutrition our body needs to perform the many tasks we all do. Though we love our food to taste good, (and we see to it that it does 😊) we try to view food as source of fuel vs. a substance of pleasure. Therefore, the things we eat are generally fresh, whole (unprocessed/unrefined), natural, locally grown (when possible) and mostly plant based.

Why: Why have you chosen a vegan(ish) lifestyle? Though there are many diets and eating trends people currently follow, our decision was not based on a fad, weight-loss goal, or even illness. Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I have been healthy eaters and have always benefited from that way of life. However, over time, we noticed the increasing level of negative news regarding the unnatural processing of the animals we generally consumed, their poor treatment and the affects it was having on our country. After extensive prayer and research, we further investigated our concerns and concluded that our family could live without the consumption of animal products. We discussed it together and decided to move forward with our decision to eat what we call, a whole food, plant-based diet.

How: How have you maintained this lifestyle? As a homemaker one of my major responsibilities has been preparing meals that nourish our family as well as teaching our children how to make healthy choices. This decision required a ton of research. We have all come to lean on the nutrients provided in meat and dairy, such as protein, iron, zinc and magnesium. It was important that I included substitutions and even additions for some of the vitamins and minerals they would not consume while eating a plant-based diet.  I have been careful in the planning of meals and snacks to ensure we are not just checking off a box that says we don’t eat meat, but that we are intentional about providing sources of true nutrition to sustain overall health and wellness. We create a menu each week and grocery shop to prepare those specific meals accordingly.

What don’t you eat? We generally don’t consume foods made by animals, including meat, eggs, or dairy products. We don’t eat fast or highly processed foods. We don’t use the microwave or eat pre-cooked foods or dairy/meat substitutes. As a rule of thumb, we try to assess the origin of the food and determine if it came from the ground or if it was made in a factory. Can we recognize or even pronounce the main ingredients? If not, we generally do not eat it. Though this seems to be strict criteria, we have found that it works for US. Our decision comes with no judgement or sanctimony, only a measuring tool for maintaining our goals.

What do you eat? Many people assume vegans eat celery and lettuce for breakfast and run around all day feeling weak and depleted. On the contrary, like most people, we eat 3 meals per day and snacks throughout.

A typical breakfast in our house could be steel-cut oatmeal, stone-ground grits, avocado/cinnamon/garlic toast, fruit/veggie smoothies, buckwheat pancakes, fried potatoes and even an all-natural cereal with almond milk.

Lunch for my husband is generally leftovers from the prior night’s dinner, but for my kids, they pack a lunch that consists of an entrée, fruit, vegetable, starchy snack and desert item. Which generally means a pb&j sandwich, peanuts/almonds, carrots, raisins, avocados, apples, oranges, grapes, chips/pretzels, granola bars, cookies, dark chocolate, popcorn etc.

Dinner changes all the time. Vegetables are the main staple and we generally form each entrée around a large variety of them including veggie soup, chili, sushi, burritos, pizza, tacos, pastas etc. We eat from a large selection of beans as well and use them as a great source of protein, iron and fiber. Many times, we have beans and rice coupled with collard greens or some other main vegetable. We also enjoy various salads and sometimes a simple loaded baked potato.

Why do you say vegan “ish” instead of vegan? Most true vegans do not use animal products at all. They don’t even wear leather. That is not us. The greatest part of the “ish” in my description comes from the fact that we do include a small amount of fish in our diet a couple times a month. We try to buy local or at least wild-caught fish when possible, but this decision allows for a bit of balance for us all. However, we are strongly opposed to the harmful/unethical treatment of animals and do not support any form of it.

Do you eat out? Of course. At least once a week, we either get take-out or dine at a restaurant. You would be surprised how many establishments cater to vegan/vegetarian diets. We especially enjoy Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, even Indian and Vietnamese restaurants. They tend to provide vegetable rich options and use herbs and spices as a means to add flavor. However, I can generally find acceptable meal selections at typical mainstream establishments like Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, and the like.

Effects: How has a vegan(ish) lifestyle impacted your life? First of all, though it wasn’t the goal, I personally lost 25+lbs immediately, while my husband and children maintain a healthy weight overall. We have not missed a day of work or school due to sickness. We have energy and stamina to maintain a very active lifestyle. Both my kids are in year-round sports, while my husband and I are avid hikers and enjoy outdoor activities on a regular basis. I have experienced a major balance in my hormones and have overcome challenges with acne, thinning hair, migraine headaches and other nutritional/hormonal imbalance related issues. Overall, I feel full of energy and my body and mind are strong and alive.

I am fully aware of the various diets and trends many follow today. For some, veganism is just that. I am careful never to push our beliefs on anyone or look down on people for the choices they make for themselves or their family. I fully believe we have to be led and must do what works BEST for us individually. However, it is so important that we do our diligence when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Many of the methods of production of the products we consume are unclean and unethical.  It is up to us to make informed and sometimes uncomfortable choices that will benefit us for the long haul. God has called us all to do amazing things in this life. I am prayerful that though many of the producers continue to create harmful food options, that other ethical farmers and producers will continue to create ways to grow and sell foods that give life and wellness so that we may enjoy a long, healthy, happy, amazing journey… 0000000





Cover photo cred: greenermums

A Different Take on Giving This Christmas…

Ok. Before I get started, let me tell you what this is NOT. This is not some amazing philanthropic endeavor, or way to feed 10,000 families in a starving land. Honestly, I wish I was sharing that kind of news, but this is a much simpler idea I’d like to share to help spread the art of giving right in the four walls of your own home.

If your family is like mine, Christmas goes a little something like this: Mom pays careful attention to amazing details of her children. She has listened and taken stock of the desires of her family’s heart for the last 2-6 months. By the time the holidays roll around, she has an amazing list of all the great things she plans to buy. She then tells the hubby, who nods in appreciation and acceptance of these great ideas and after her thoughtful hunt and purchase, she then finds great wrapping paper, stockings and gift bags to present these lovely trinkets on Christmas day. Meanwhile, the kids are ESTATIC with anticipation for yet another joyful season of GETTING!!!! Christmas Day rolls around and Mom sits back and watches her successful gathering session pay off with excitement and happiness for a day where each member of the family feels like someone took the time to consider EXACTLY what THEY wanted, and made those wishes come true. Some amazing moms even yield the credit to a big man in a red suit as the benefactor of this great extravaganza… 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼

WELL… after watching that scene for the last 17 years, our family has agreed to switch things up a bit. First of all, I have really been into the idea of enjoying experiences vs. THINGS. As I get older, I have come to realize how short-lived the happiness of obtaining items can really be. It is a plight that sends many into debt and even depression after realizing once you get “IT”, there is always a desire for MORE… “IT” is never enough…  and “IT” never gives the lasting high created by memories or experiences that leave a lasting impression, a lifelong memory or moments for reflection and growth. Over the years, I have come to replace high ticket items, technology, and great trinkets, with opportunities of adventure and togetherness.

While our family will take another trip this holiday season, we will still attempt to give them the “gift under the tree” experience, but this year it will be with a bit of a twist. This year we have set a spending budget of $400. Each member of our family will pull a name from our family of four. They will keep that name a secret. For the next several days THEY will conduct research on their person. They will study them. Listen to them. Consider the desires of their heart. On December 15th, we will wake up early and venture out to the mall. Each family member will get $100 in cash. They will then be responsible for searching for great gifts for their selected family member. As the mom, I will be on hand for advice or guidance if necessary, but it is up to them to make this a memorable experience for their person to enjoy on Christmas day.

I love this idea because it does several things:

  1. It allows EVERY member of the family to appreciate the art of GIVING as well as receiving. I SOOOO love to give. Though our family is a family of givers, I hope our children will see how great the entire giving experience is and make it a part of everyday life.
  2. It helps everyone appreciate and understand the importance of a budget. Though we would LOVE to give a lot more, we must spend according to what we have. Apple can’t determine that amount, we must. There is no joy in giving when you have to pay for it for the next several months. I love that we can share this experience together. Look for deals! Find the sales… Make that money stretch!
  3. It requires everyone to consider another’s desires over their own. They will have to conduct the necessary research in order to be successful in their experience. Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own wishes, we fail to consider anyone else’s.
  4. It takes the weight off one person producing for everyone. Though I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas hunt, purchase, wrap and presentation session, it is a joy I would like my family to practice as well. Especially as my kids are getting older, it will be imperative for them to learn the art of giving for their current and future relationships.
  5. It is a reminder that we all get things throughout the year… All the time!!! We can’t possibly buy EVERYthing for EVERYbody in one month… (Whoever came up with such an idea??? 🤔🤔🤔 lol!)
  6. It helps highlight the idea that the family trip is our true Christmas present. Our undivided time together and the adventures we will share will supersede any thing we could wrap and place under a tree.

As a country, the secularization of Christmas has created a “get” mentality in many of us. A lot of our giving is out of obligation vs. the genuine desire to share. Many of us go into debt to meet unrealistic expectations and fail to see the true beauty in what this amazing time of year is all about. While we will still decorate the tree and enjoy the lights and holiday music, I am hopeful to help create experiences that spread love, joy, peace and the true beauty of cheerful giving, (within a budget of course) that will help produce memories that last a lifetime. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Here’s to all the wonderful ways you choose to celebrate God’s love this holiday season! 😊😊😊😊😘😘😘

Photo: Bplans

OFF THE WALL…

When I was in 6th grade, I remember our middle school having a big dance. Though it was held in our gymnasium, and the teachers were our chaperones, somehow, to us, it was considered a MAJOR event. I knew most of the kids in my grade and even the upper classmen. We had been going to school together since elementary. I was actually considered decently popular (if there is such a thing in 6th grade… 😊) And though the DJ was BLASTING some of that year’s greatest JAMS, it did not stop my tremendous fear of getting on the dance floor. I literally sat there the entire time watching all the kids dance wishing I had the guts to get out there and jam right along with them. Instead, I played it safe, and stayed my butt on the wall the entire night overcome with great envy and fear. I was so disappointed in myself. Over time I matured. I gained a bit of confidence and by the time I was in the 8th grade, I was not only helping to organize the dances, but I had choreographed routines to Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson’s greatest hits in order to show off my dance skills with my friends!!! Lol!

Speed this up to 2018, 30+ years later, recently, I have been listening to Michael Jackson’s awesome hit song, “Off the Wall.” If you get a chance you should check it out. But the lyrics made me remember that 6th grade experience. I wonder how many of us get stuck in that same “wall” rut. We get caught up in our mundane routines of life. At one time they may have seemed thrilling, but as we get up, go to work, take the kids to school, come home, eat, sleep, and then repeat… we find ourselves slipping into a bit of boredom and even despair. We are frustrated with the monotony, but don’t really know any other way. The kids HAVE to go to practice. We HAVE to work, do laundry, cook, clean, etc… and it becomes too easy to lean up against that wall and watch everyone else enjoying themselves. Because, for us, the thrill is gone…Yep. I get it.

HOWEVER. There is SO much more to life than a job. Than taking kids back and forth to practice. Than sitting in traffic. Than living that predictable, controlled, mundane life. Life is supposed to be ENJOYED!!! Full of adventure and love and zest and FUN!!!!!! It can seem a bit intimidating to step outside our comfort zones and try new ideas, travel new terrain, explore unfamiliar scenes. I mean, who has time or energy or even money for all that???? But getting off the wall doesn’t mean we have to go do a solo dance routine. Doesn’t mean we have to purchase a tuxedo and meet with a dance instructor or to audition for Julliard…

It could mean getting up and watching the sunrise. Committing to a new hiking destination once a month. Making a dish inspired by various countries all over the world. Road tripping twice a year. Getting that new pixie cut you’ve been too scared to try, renting a convertible for the weekend, buying silver boots to wear to the concert of your favorite band, learning a new language online, saving up to see a new country each year. Renting a pontoon for the family vacay. Taking dance lessons. You get the idea. Whatever the case, YOU GOT TO GET OFF THAT WALL!!!! The safe route is a road that leads to stagnation. Boredom. And Despair. Yes, you have a job. You have to be a responsible adult, spouse, parent, employee, homeowner etc… But we MUST commit to doing things on a REGULAR basis that, though may be uncomfortable, or cost a little money, or require a little planning, force us to get off the wall and enjoy this life.

As it stands right now, I have two teenagers, a husband and a dog. All of them require my time, energy, love and commitment. I am FULLY devoted to them. However, I understand that in order to live a balanced life, in order to be 100% for them, I HAVE TO do things that stimulate my joy, stir up my excitement, put thrill back on the scene. Some of the things I do/have done in the past have been simple, free, inexpensive, or sometimes not so much, but I am committed to doing something carefree and fun at least once a week and if possible once a day!

It is so cliché’ to say life is short, but it is so true. When we leave this beautiful place, we can’t take our jobs, our cars, our houses or clothing with us. It won’t matter what items or titles we’ve acquired. What will matter, are the experiences we enjoyed and how much LIFE we lived and the amazing memories and lessons we gained along the way. We must be intentional about squeezing every drip drop of this awesome journey.

I pray that you don’t get on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc… and look at everyone else on the dance floor. That you don’t scroll through their pictures of trips to the ocean, but that right where you are, you make those moments for yourself.  Get so good at living off the wall, you have choreographed dance numbers for every song that is played. You are jammin’ so hard, you inspire others to jam as well… And in the words of the great Michael Jackson, you will be sure to find, “Life ain’t so bad at all… if you live it off the wall!!!!” 😊

resized_photogrid_1542225726971001_89801107250347391976201.jpeg

DIY: How to Decorate a Teen Girl’s Room: A Space of Inspiration

Every child wants a place where they have ownership. A place of belonging. A place that has their distinct signature that says “ME.” It should be a place of freedom, where they can let go of their inhibitions. It should stimulate creativity and inspiration. A place where they can always feel welcomed and celebrated.

As parents, we may not be able to provide this kind of space in their classrooms, on the bus, in the locker room or even at church, but we CAN give them that space in a little corner of their world… their bedroom.

I have 2 teenagers. I recently redecorated their rooms to fit a more age appropriate palate. As they develop and evolve into the awesome young man and woman they will become, I want their décor to reflect some of the attributes I mentioned earlier; to create a place to help make their journey memorable and special for them. I was able to accomplish all of this by applying one simple rule:

CELEBRATE THEM!!! Use colors, materials, signage, posters, fabrics, bedding, rugs, pictures, initials, lights, art, trophies, medals, furniture, and ANYTHING else you can find to honor and inspire THEM!!!! THAT’S IT!!!!! I will share with you just how I did that for my daughter and also my son.

It challenged every level of my creativity to capture the complexities of my teenage daughter’s personality in one setting. (She’s an athlete, yet slightly girly, she’s an old soul, yet slightly trendy, she loves the bible, yet finds inspiration through literature and other figures she admires, etc.) However, it was fun to see it all come together.

For the first time, I didn’t paint the walls. Instead, I went with a Denim and Rustic Meets Pink and Classic theme… WHICH IS SO HER!!!!

I made a garland window treatment out of various pairs of blue jeans, lace, burlap and ribbon as a cool focal point. I did this by simply cutting the fabric and tying it to a hanging twine.

I hung my staple signage over the window to reveal a message specific to her. “BE YOU” seemed applicable so I chose metal and wood letters to drill into an old slab of barn wood.

When I couldn’t find the perfect center piece for the window, I decided to simply hang an old pair of her favorite Converse. Strange perhaps, but SO HER!!!! Under the window, I added a bench from Overstock.com for additional storage and seating and found a couple fun pillows at Ross/TJ Maxx to compliment the space.

20181013_1701552483613154715889225.jpg

Though there are great teenage chairs out there, I replaced her old polka-dotted bean bag with a classic denim chair I found on sale at the Pottery Barn Outlet, and then I handmade a chunky yarn blanket as an accent to add texture.  I imagined this space being a special spot she could read or enjoy quiet time, so I hung a full-length inspirational canvas tapestry of a quote from Maya Angelou.

To compliment the proportion of her full-size bunk bed, she and I found large letters from Michaels, to spell her name. We bought sample size paint pots of various denim colors and painted and distressed each letter a different shade and added flowers around it for a nice touch.  For her bedding, I chose a simple pink cotton coverlet with lace to allow the pillows and other elements of the room to pop more.

Of course, every teenage gal needs a full-length mirror to create amazing outfits. But of course, I couldn’t let it be just any old space. In a world that constantly tells them they are not good enough, I wanted this space to be special. To add sparkle and shine, I simply used Christmas garland and décor to give this space the pizazz it needed.

20181013_1602008032282281056728041.jpg

Finally, over her dresser, instead of a TV, I added a large corkboard where she could add pictures, ribbons, awards, reminders or anything of importance to her. Next to the corkboard are shelves to serve a similar purpose. This is HER space. Over time, she can add artifacts that are meaningful to her to showcase her heart. Above the corkboard are paintings from one of our favorite artists, Kelly Rae Roberts. Each piece is a portrait of a beautiful girl with beautiful colors and expressions that coincide with colors and themes I used throughout her room.

20181013_1606566686205494309982254.jpg

Overall, I was thrilled to see this room come together. Teenagers are very complex. It can be challenging to capture all the beauty of their heart and mind. However, I took my time, and worked hand in hand with her to create depth and breadth that represented the essence of her spirit. When I see her in her special space, it makes my heart happy that we could create a place for her to feel free and comfortable and celebrated and respected and loved. Ideally all this energy will transfer to her heart. It will follow her into the corners of her world and every place she dwells. And she will have a bit more confidence to share that beautiful heart, mind, and spirit with the rest of her world…

Whatever the age, or gender of your child, may you capitalize on their strengths and interests and showcase all the elements that celebrate them. You don’t need a huge budget, just a way to fill their room with everything that makes them sparkle and shine!!! 🙂

DIY: How to Decorate a Teen Boy’s Bedroom: A Space of Inspiration

Every child wants a place where they have ownership. A place of belonging. A place that has their distinct signature that says “ME.” It should be a place of freedom, where they can let go of their inhibitions. It should stimulate creativity and inspiration. A place where they can always feel welcomed and celebrated.

As parents, we may not be able to provide this kind of space in their classrooms, on the bus, in the locker room or even at church, but we CAN give them that space in a little corner of their world… their bedroom.

I have 2 teenagers. I recently redecorated their rooms to fit a more age appropriate palate. As they develop and evolve into the awesome young man and woman they will become, I want their décor to reflect some of the attributes I mentioned earlier; to create a place to help make their journey memorable and special for them. I was able to accomplish all of this by applying one simple rule:

CELEBRATE THEM!!! Use colors, materials, signage, posters, fabrics, bedding, rugs, pictures, initials, lights, art, trophies, medals, furniture, and ANYTHING else you can find to honor and inspire THEM!!!! THAT’S IT!!!!! I will share with you just how I did that for my daughter and my son.

Creating the perfect setting for my son was quite easy. Since he was little, we knew he loved all things logic. Including math, science, chess, robotics, technology, information, etc… The challenge was bringing this all together in a digestible and functional way, that would keep him interested, yet not distracted. This is a place where he not only does his homework, but he designs robots, plays games of chess, reads books, but also sleeps!!!

I found prints of the patents of the chess game and board right on eBay. I framed them with a rustic wood frame I got from Hobby Lobby. This served as a perfect focus point for his room above his bed. I used it as the anchor of my designs and built everything else around it.

20181013_1635344211453099249875853.jpg

I think a display of their name is a staple piece to add signature to one’s room. Shoot, the average adult likes to see their name on their office door, desk etc… Kids aren’t much different. I found extra-large size wooden letters on Etsy and created a neat arrangement next to his bed.

20181013_1610436759190534817317370.jpg

Above the window, I added my signature sign to reveal a message specific to him. though I “borrowed” the idea from The North Face, I find it to be super fitting for my son. 😊 I nailed the words “Never Stop Exploring” into a slab of old barn wood that I painted black, with hopes that he would be reminded of this very important message each day.

On each side of his window, I added a couple basic pieces I found in various stores. One is a simple arrow that points up, while the other is a picture of the planets in order of their arrangement. Both pictures light up. I find that most kids like the same ambient lighting we adults enjoy, just in a more age appropriate form.

Though the highlight of every room to me is the headboard or the bed itself, the owner of the room will spend a large portion of their time lying in the bed. Their focus will be on the space adjacent to the bed. So, this space is very important. Here I added a hanging solar system I found on Amazon. The planets spin in orbit similarly to the way they do in space. It is such a neat focal point and my son seems to love it. I also added a world map and a mirror and cleared an area for a spinning chair to create a place for him to read, do homework, relax, or even stargaze through the telescope that sits in front of his window. To fill the large wall across from his bed, I added a huge blackboard tapestry filled with physics and other scientific formulas. Though this language is COMPLETELY foreign to me, my son LOVES it and it gives him a little something to configure when he feels up to the challenge.

On the side wall between the door and his closet, I added a bench for extra seating and storage. I also hung a metal bin for his awards, certificates, and college letters. I love to see that he is filling this space quickly. The display of his success is a great reminder of his accomplishments. Finally, above the end table of his bed, I added a small reading lamp. Above it is a shelf for additional storage and a print of the periodic table.

Overall, I was thrilled to see this room come together. Teenagers are very complex. It can be challenging to capture all the beauty of their heart and mind. However, I took my time, and worked hand in hand with him to create depth and breadth that represented the essence of his spirit. When I see my son in his special space, it makes my heart happy that we could create a place for him to feel free and comfortable and celebrated and respected and loved. Ideally all this energy will transfer to his heart. It will follow him into the corners of his world and every place he dwells. And he will have a bit more confidence to share that beautiful heart, mind, and spirit with the rest of his world…

Whatever the age, or gender of your child, may you capitalize on their strengths and interests and showcase all the elements that celebrate them. You don’t need a huge budget, just a way to fill their room with everything that makes them sparkle and shine!!!

The Power of a Village… THANK YOU!!!

Let me start this blog off by saying this: by no means is my son an Olympic athlete. He started running cross-country a couple years ago as a means to stay active and be a part of a team. Last week he had his first meet of the season. Up until then, he had regular practice each day and even ran some in the summer. He also grew quite a bit over the last few months and was excited about his new “man” strength! 😊 But somehow for the first time, before the race, I saw fear in his eyes. He was so nervous and spoke of pain in his ankle and shin, and just lacked confidence. Nonetheless, as always, we were on the sidelines cheering him on expecting a successful run.

After his race, he was near tears. He was so disappointed in his performance. He was passed by some of his underclassman teammates, finished with a lower time than his previous year and placed 56th overall. He was devastated. We of course, cheered him up, encouraged him and helped him refocus his attention toward the upcoming races as best as we could.

That next week went on like a typical week. The kids went to school, practice, church, and we had our normal family time each day. Oh yeah, we also had a little Labor Day get-together at our house, but other than that, the week was normal. Hindsight, I’ve come to reflect, that our week was anything but normal.

That Sunday, our pastor preached a message about the power of the Spirit. He talked about telling your body and your mind to line up with what God says about you. That Monday during our get-together, one of his great mentors went on a run with him, while some of the other fellas sat on the porch with him and watched a couple of his favorite shows. They spoke life to him and just treated him like the awesome young man he is. On Wednesday, he went to youth Bible study, where the pastor talked about “believing”/ having faith over fear and doubt.

By Thursday of this week, it was time for another race. On the way to school we gave him the typical pep talk, prayed and encouraged him to do his best. Later that day, as he stood at the starting line with 100+ young men, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were hoping for the best. As always, I made the 1-hour drive to be on the sidelines, while his dad got permission to leave an hour early from work to be there as well. When the gun went off to start the race, I saw a difference in him. I saw a confidence. A determination. As he fought his way to get toward the front of the pack, I was excited about how this race could go.

For the next several minutes, I watched him run through the woods, up and down the hills, and on the track with boldness. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, the terrain was steep, rugged and rough. He reflected later that on his toughest hill, we wanted to take a break and just speed walk a bit. But he remembered what he learned that week. He simply “believed.” He commanded his body and mind to line up. He listened to the cheers of his teammates and his parents. He realized that for the first time in his cross-country career, he was the lead runner of his team. It propelled him further. He gained momentum. At the last few meters of his race, I saw the fierceness in his eyes. He flew across that finish line with the fastest time he’d ever run, the highest ranking he’d ever had and the proudest he’d ever been.

He later recounted all the small things that pushed him to be great. And though I’d like to think he has an awesome team at home, I fully understand that, as parents we couldn’t possibly do this journey alone. That it is not just the training, love, wisdom, discipline he gets inside the four walls of our house, but it is the weekly Word he gets on a continual basis from our awesome pastor. It is the pep talk he gets from his loving Aunt when he sees her in the summertime, or the love he gets from his Grandmother that cares for him in our absence, or the visit from his Grandfather and Uncle, the beautiful people he sees at church that impart love and affirmation, the teammates that cheer him on from the sidelines, the ladies that served in the nursery and youth department, the teachers that encouraged him to be great, my colleague who drives 3 hours to cheer from the stands, the babysitters that cared for him with love, the positive TV shows that line up with the things we teach him at home… are all forces working hand and hand toward his success.

As parents, we are called to the beautiful yet sometimes challenging task of loving and training our children to become all God has called them to be. It is indeed a journey that lasts a lifetime, however, we also need to remember that it is a collection of the amazing people who surround them, who impart knowledge, wisdom and love that will aide in that journey as well. As graduation draws near, I am beyond grateful for the AMAZING people who have loved on our children past, present and future. I see the fruit of their seed come to life daily. I am also intentional about putting these type of people in their path from birth throughout.

If you are privileged enough to be a teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, mentor, pastor, or any position of influence over children, never doubt the power of your influence. My son still has the trophy given to him by his 2nd grade teacher. He remembers the $100 his uncle sent for his fundraiser, or the encouraging card his Godmother sends each birthday. He remembers when his mentor came to his chess meets, or when his Uncle took the time to read his comic book. You have more power than you know. Your words and acts of love STICK.

Parents, I pray you SUMERGE your children with love and encouragement inside and outside the home. Recognize that this is not a task you can do alone. That every single fabric of their life will leave some sort of imprint. May their journey be filled with people, places and things that bring hope, inspiration and love. In the meantime, thank you so much to all the amazing people all over the country, past and present who have left a beautiful imprint on my son and daughter’s life. You mean more to us than you know. You truly have made a difference in their life and ultimately are the hands and feet of God.

received_3013870437783073550676505524798943.jpeg

 

Cover photo: Quotesnew.com
Text photo: Jenni Dixon

Modesty With a Dash of FABULOUS

Modesty. A term that seems subjective. Similar to the word beautiful, or fabulous, we tend to think it’s parameters are in the hands or discretion of each individual.  A 15-year old’s idea of modesty is certainly different than that of a 65-year-old. Two totally different eras, right? Over time, we have dumbed this word down and replaced it with terms such as old-fashioned, Plain Jane, simplistic, and even boring.  However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, modesty is defined as: “Behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”

Interestingly enough, a typical 65-year-old would look at today’s 15-year-old in shock of their form of modest apparel. My mother recently cared for our kids while we went out of town. During that time, she questioned the length of my daughter’s school running shorts, claiming they were too short. It is easy to blow that idea off with the thought that “she’s old.” “Clothing is very different these days.” “She can’t possibly understand.” However, as a society, we have grown to be less and less modest with our attire. Our blouses have gotten lower, shorts and skirts have gotten higher, holes have gotten larger and garments in general have gotten tighter.

I remember a family vacation a few years back when we went to the beach. I remember my then 11-year-old son swimming and playing in the sand and being exposed to hundreds of girls and ladies in skimpy string bikinis. This was new to him, because he had never seen me wear one and his sister was two years younger and had never worn anything like that either. It made me sad that he was basically surrounded by a bunch of girls in their bra and panties. That I had no way of shielding his eyes or thoughts from the images that were before him. That we have become so liberal as a people to feel comfortable enough to expose ourselves so freely.

I remember starting my teaching career when I was 21. My first year I taught 12th grade, which meant six of my classes were full of 18-year old’s. They would be exposed to me turning my back and writing on the chalkboard, bending down to help them with their assignments, or even walking through the class or hallway in a very tight setting. I got dressed each day with the thought that I didn’t want to hamper their focus. That though I wanted to be stylish and relevant, I would not be a distraction. A deterrent. A hindrance to their learning in any way. I didn’t need their attention on my butt. I didn’t want to win their approval through my breasts. I wanted to gain their respect. I wanted them to listen to me and pay attention to the lesson I was teaching. I used tools such as my smile, my kind heart, my genuine concern for their success to gain their trust and admiration.

After 15 years of teaching high school, though I may have had a few admirers here and there, I never knew about them. I never had a student disrespect me or treat me in an unprofessional manner. I attribute that to the way I carried myself. Over the years, I gained many accolades as a teacher, however, it was never attributed to my physical appearance. I firmly believe because of my stance on modesty and respect, it allowed many students to learn and become successful in my class.

I will always remember the admiration I felt for former first lady, Michelle Obama. She was the epitome of class. On every appearance she was beautiful. Very stylish. She drew the attention of everyone in the room and was ALWAYS fabulous. Though she was in shape, had a beautiful figure, we were never exposed to it. Similar to Meghan Markle, Joanna Gaines, Victoria Osteen, and others in the limelight, we can admire their beauty, talent and position without knowing their bra size. These women are esteemed by millions of people all over the world and they gained those positions honorably.

So, what does modesty look like? Does that mean we have to be frumpy? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is being FABULOUS, yet not at the expense of causing the opposite sex to stumble. It is being confident without exposing your body parts to prove it. It is gaining attention, without someone’s lust used as the measuring tool. I’ve heard it said, “If you got it, flaunt it.” However, I maintain the idea of, if something is precious/valuable, conceal it. Protect it. Guard it. Our bodies are precious. They are not meant to be used as tools to bait attention. It is a sign of true insecurity. Be confident enough in yourself to know that you are worth more than a cheap stare, an inappropriate comment or lewd gesture.

Know that regardless your age, others are looking to you to define beauty. I realize my daughter is watching me.  I realize I must maintain integrity without compromise of style, especially since we hold her to the same standards. We are strategic with shopping and try to model these standards whether at the beach, church, gym, work or school.  I recently attended a formal event. Without trying, I selected a dress where my body was covered from neck to heel. Though that sounds SO frumpy, it was actually very classy. I was able to look and feel beautiful while honoring myself and my husband as well. I understand it may be challenging to find great clothing that is modest without the compromise of style, but it can definitely be done.  I try to shop brands such as Free People, Altert’d State, J.Crew, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Lucky Brand, Old Navy, Gap and others that are more glowy and less showy. 😊

Modesty doesn’t have to disintegrate/diminish over time. We can continue to uphold the terms of it’s definition, even as styles and ideas advance.  Regardless the era, we need to let our pure heart be our greatest asset. Let it inspire our attire and behavior. Let it exude through our smile and style so much that we are indeed attractive, but for reasons that are pure and admirable, respectable and inspirational. When you know your worth, when you realize you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you won’t have to scream it from the rooftops, it will shine in every area of your life!!! Go get your shine on, Beautiful!!!! 😊

photogrid_15355831988922650848333824544235.jpg

Title image photo cred: Pinterest
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

19 Year Anniversary: Fight or Flight???

My husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage last weekend!!! It was truly a major milestone!! Both of us come from single parent homes and are really figuring this all out as we go. Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve had many people say they look to us (and other couples) and see their #marriagegoals, an awesome union, the perfect little family… I mean, I work from home, my husband has a great job, we live in a cute little house in the mountains, we have two awesome kids, we’re all healthy, we live debt-free, and we love God… I mean, we kayak on the weekends and eat at the dinner table together every night for goodness sake!!!! WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE, RIGHT????

I have to admit, though all those things are true, this year was probably one of our toughest. It shook our marriage to its very foundation and had us considering some hard-core questions. It wasn’t because any THING happened. Nobody cheated, nobody lost their job, we didn’t file for bankruptcy or suffer from some major illness. It wasn’t that at all. Honestly, I can’t attribute this wall we hit to anything specific. Perhaps a build up of a ton of tiny little things, or even small transitions over time. Perhaps the fact that we have two teenagers in our home, or that we live two hours away from most of our affiliations, maybe that we were both growing at two different speeds and… I DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!! But whatever the case, the tension was mounting, we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything and the opportunities for disagreement seemed to abound.

This was heartbreaking, because, my husband and I have been best friends since I was 18 years old!!! Our connection has been so genuine and so rare. We do EVERYTHING together. We have SO much fun. We have an amazing history, and more importantly, what we have built and accomplished together is incredible.

Nonetheless, the devastation of our divergence took a toll on everything. It seemed like a dark cloud followed us everywhere we went. The fact that we knew the Word, that we had super friends, ministers and pastors we could turn to, we couldn’t even identify a problem to fix! I imagine this being the part in a person’s life where hopelessness sets in. Where you just say, “We grew apart,” “We just fell out of love,” “We decided to go our separate ways.” And though I admit, I was SOOOOOOOO frustrated and overwhelmed by the tension and stress, if you know me, you KNOW, I was NOT about to give up!!!!

19 YEARS!!!! 19 years of building life together. Making memories. Working through all other MAJOR obstacles. Building and growing. And most importantly, the kids. They were watching us. They were counting on us to step our game up and work this Word. To help them believe in the love we teach and preach about every day. NO SIR!!!! We could not let them down!

For the last several months I committed to doing my part in getting myself together. I read books and devotionals, talked to AMAZING friends, listened to teachings, filled my social media feed with encouragement and even created some alone time to focus on my own personal growth. I took the magnifying glass off my husband and put it on God. During this time, we still had disagreements. We still had rough days, but by now, my faith was so strong, I was confident that relief was on the way.

About that time, I saw an ad for a marriage conference come across my screen. It was called SPARK and it was being hosted by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. It just so happened to fall on our anniversary weekend. Though we had bought books to read together, committed to a marriage challenge and were both doing our own individual growth plans, we knew we needed something BIG to get us the proper tune-up. We both knew this conference was IT!!!!

My husband took care of all the accommodations and last week we flew to Houston for a life changing experience. We were in an auditorium with thousands of other couples. Newlyweds on up to people married for 50+ years. The atmosphere alone was inspiring, not to mention the amazing speakers and the wisdom they shared with all of us. My husband and I gleaned so much.  It was EVERYTHING we needed to get us back on track. We spent a couple extra days there just talking and refocusing. We got our first couple’s massage and did some of our old favorite things like walking on the beach, going out to eat, shopping, and just spending uninterrupted time alone to recharge and restore.

I considered how many couples experience hardships that cut deep, that shake the core of their marriage. Some of them have had affairs, suffered job loss, illness or even just hit a wall on their journey. It seems SOOOOOO much easier to quit. Like starting over would wipe away the deep pain they experience on a regular basis. “It’s not fair!”  “I don’t deserve this!”  “I can do better all by myself!” I get it!!! But quitting is NOT an option!!!! You have to FIGHT for your marriage! You made a promise before God and all the other witnesses that you would love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Now I know today contracts/covenants don’t hold the weight they once did, but that doesn’t make them any less weighty. What is the boundary on your “worse?” Does your “sickness” have a limit? Does “poorer” not include being unemployed for 6 months? We have to go the distance. We have to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to make this partnership work. No matter what.

Interestingly, when our brakes go out on our car, we don’t throw the entire car away. Most of us take it to the shop upon the first squeak. Some of us wait until the light grind, but we never just let the brakes go all the way out; and we don’t leave the car abandoned and go out and buy a new car, with new brakes. Yet too many times at the first sign of discomfort we are ready to trade in the old for “better.” Instead, we must be willing to do the regular maintenance necessary to keeping the car in tip-top shape. When it needs a tune up, tune it up. When it needs a small repair, do it. New cars are great, but their brakes wear down as well. They will need tune-ups as well.

People ask all the time how we made it 19 years. They see us and think we don’t have any real problems. We got it made. I have a GREAT husband, he has a GREAT wife. We don’t know struggle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have our tough times. We have persevered through some MAJOR adversities. The difference is we have made a commitment to NEVER quit. We will take this baby to the shop over and over again. We will perform repairs and continual tune-ups over and over again. We will get up and fight every day to have the happy marriage we always dreamed about.

When times get tough, remember to give each other grace. Read a book, seek counsel, go to a conference, whatever is necessary to keep your marriage healthy and happy. Give your spouse the insurance policy that if he/she gains a few pounds, goes through menopause/post-partum depression, loses their job, gets sick, grows at a different pace, YOU will be right there fighting for them. Believing the best. Helping them win…TOGETHER, through the good and the bad.

No matter how tough it gets, there is grace for us to conquer our storms. And no matter what, quitting is NEVER an option!!!! As for me and my husband, we are going ALL THE WAY!!!! I am so grateful for 19 years and I am SO looking forward to the next 19!!! Here’s to you and your Happily Ever After…with your no- quittin’ self!!!

“I DON’T NEED TO BE FAMOUS…”

I was boutique shopping with a beautiful friend of mine the other day. She just so happens to be an awesome singer and a super favorite around our small town. The gal working the register, an obvious fan, noted “When are you gonna go on TV???!!! You are SOOOO good!!!!”

My friend responded with great modesty, true to her character, “I don’t need to be famous, I’m happy just playing my music here at home, with my people.”

I was so blessed by her response. I could TOTALLY relate. However, I could also understand how foreign her response was to the clerk. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be famous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be seen and adored by thousands, if not millions, right? Why not share your talent with as many people as you can, right?????

As a society, we’ve gotten to the place where more is better. Where all we do is measured by the number of likes, customers, product sold, people in the audience, etc. We crave acknowledgement, a certificate, pin, title, award, or some sort of notoriety for everything we do. We secretly want our content, our YouTube, blog post, picture, or even rant to go viral. We want to be discovered. We crave validation. Acceptance. And ultimately, love.

The problem with this is, in our plight to be noticed by the masses, we forfeit the journey of growing, learning and allowing God the chance to promote us in His timing. We spin our wheels and max out our resources to produce results, often times based on standards of another person’s success. We are so busy climbing ladders, grinding, and chasing a name, we miss out on the little opportunities to cultivate relationships that produce the lasting love that matters.

Within the last couple years, my singing friend retired from an awesome career in education to be at home full time with her family. Nope, she didn’t pack her bags and move to Hollywood, instead, she volunteers at the school, she helps her husband with his business, coaches her son’s basketball league and tends to her parents and elderly grandparents. When she gets a chance, she sings and plays guitar at local venues, festivals and weddings around town. But SHE is super ok with that. Currently, she doesn’t have a triple platinum album, she doesn’t have a Grammy on her wall, she won’t get Administrator of the Year this year, but in the meantime, her daughter has a friend she knows is always there when she needs her. She has a solid marriage of 17 years. She hasn’t missed a ballgame and is able to take her mom to her weekly check-ups at the doctor.

Perhaps if we get back to some of these things that really matter in this life, we will grow our character. We will develop the characteristics necessary to sustaining greater levels of success. We will have a true support system of people who love us and look out for our best interest along the way. We will have made major impact on individuals and created memories throughout.

I’m not saying give up the pursuit of greater or abort taking your talent and visions to their highest level possible. Go get your Grammy!!!! Just don’t let it be at the expense of the things that truly matter. Don’t let it be an attempted replica of someone else’s journey. Many of the people we all admire, follow on Instagram, and see adorned by millions, go to bed lonely with no one they can truly trust. When their career ends, they have no one by their side. No trusted companions or skills to help them sustain or recover their achievement.

As you pursue your purpose, trust in God’s ability to customize the experience for YOU. Put your best foot forward in everything you do because it will ALWAYS lead to greater. Be sure to enjoy the growth that happens during the journey and develop and cherish relationships with the people in your life right now. You will find, their love is better than the superficial love that comes from the masses. The mountaintop is so much better when you get their whole, with great people on your team, with true love in your heart, and with God leading the way. Until then, sing your heart out and enjoy each time you perform in your hometown, post your best blogs if only for an audience of 100, and rock out that business from the ground up … You’ll get your Grammy soon enough… While you’re at it… enjoy the journey!!!

Proverbs 16:9