Saturday, December 21

There is Still Time for a Silent Night


      I walked into church to pick up Ella from preschool and caught the eye of a fellow momma friend whose daughter is in Ella's class.

"Phewww…" she said, "I've been running around like crazy all morning. Errands and Christmas presents and trying to get back here. Do you feel that way?"

Yes. Yes. Yes I do.

I too had been running around all morning…and then all afternoon; picking Ella up from preschool, grabbing Aubrey from my moms, bringing Aubrey home for a nap, sneaking out with Ella to go back to Ava's school for a Christmas party, and then home for a snack before gymnastics. We dropped Ava off, got Ella's hair cut,  picked Ava up and and rushed everyone home for dinner

And that doesn't even include any of the  running around for gifts and Christmas preparations that has been going on in-between.

I would have skipped baths all together that night, but a very creative mother painted all of the kids feet green in school earlier that day (for a Christmas craft) and so Ava's elvish feet needed a cleaning!

The kids went to bed and I took a deep breath and watched 15 minutes of some kind of holiday ridiculousness on television (I think it was SNL Christmas skits from the last 20 years).

I finally turned the television off, deciding a quiet house was better than all of the craziness on t.v. and thought for a few minutes about Christmas and what it all means and why it feels so hectic.

I've read so many essays and blog posts and articles lately on how overindulgent the season has become and I can't help but agree. EVERYTHING is so over done. The number of gifts we buy, the amount of food that we eat, the number of cookies we are supposed to make, the lights and the decorations and the shopping and the cards.

I love a lot of those things in and of themselves, but with three young children to care for and a house to take care of I've realized I need to be very deliberate about what we can and cannot do. We didn't put lights on the house. We didn't make it to any of the local theatre productions that I would have loved to go to. We didn't make the Christmas treats for the neighbors that I would have loved to make. I bought a handful of craft supplies to make ornaments…I think we got to one of the five I had planned.

Our Christmas card hasn't gone out yet (though I'm partially blaming that on the company we ordered them from because they were supposed to be here much sooner!).

As I drove out to pick Ella up from preschool on that morning I was listening to Christmas songs in the car and thought to myself, "Where is the Silent Night?"

Where is the peace? Where is the holy? What is all of this stuff all about? 

I couldn't help thinking about how all of this stuff that we are supposed to do and buy and make has become a major distraction from the one and only thing we are actually supposed to be thinking about at Christmas…It has become a very big distraction from centering our minds on Christ.

Christ is where the peace is. Christ is where the holy is. Christ is where the quiet joy is.

But in order to find and focus on Christ we must be very, very intentional. We must stop the running and just sit, quietly. We must skip some cookie making and cultivate a quiet heart.

As I once heard a wise mom from my church sayWe must put first things first. 

What does that look like? What does that mean? 

For me it's meant asking myself everyday…What is MOST important today? 

Yesterday I wrote this in my journal in answer to that question:

-That my girls know I love them.
-That we talk about Jesus and the real Christmas story.
-That we laugh and find joy in these weeks.

That's it!

And then I jotted down a couple of things that I thought we could do that would integrate the most important things into our lives…

-Hug the girls.
-Sit with them and read a Christmas book about the nativity.
-Watch Charlie Brown's Christmas (I love the part at the end where Pigpen recites the Christmas story!).
-Ask an intentional question around the dinner table. Something like, "If you were one going to see baby Jesus what would you bring as a gift?"

I find that if I've done these things by the end of the day I feel much more peaceful than if I've checked 12 things off of the errand list. Funny thing is, when you put first things first you are forced to let go of some of the other things. When you put the other things first you never get to the important things. 

We make the choice.

But I also realized something else…There is some sense of hectic, and hurry and franticness inherent to this season that I must simply learn to accept. It's a natural part of life and of preparing for a celebration or party or event. When I paint expectations of all of these preparations happening without any hangups, or busyness I'm not painting a very realistic picture for myself.

As I thought about that I thought, Even Christ was born into some chaos. That night that he came into the world, in a stable, so very long ago, was not as quiet  or the "silent night" that the song makes it out to be. Not all of it, anyway.

Mary had a baby in a barn for goodness sake.

I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I would have been such a good sport about having a baby in a barn. With animals. And hay. In the middle of a city so brimming with people that every hotel room was full.

I'm guessing that wasn't in Mary's birth plan.

Nevertheless, while the moment and place of Jesus' birth was probably not very "silent", I'm guessing there were some very beautiful, and incredibly holy moments after all was said and done. When Mary finally held her baby boy, the promised savior of the world, in her arms for the first time.

I'm sure she kissed his head, and took deep breaths and for a few moments was able to say…It IS well with my soul and ALL is good.

So, while the season may be hectic, and while there is a lot to do, and many people to see... there can be quiet, holy moments in the midst of it all.

We must be intentional about them.

In a culture that is over the top on all things Christmas (that really have little to do with Christmas), we must be intentional about bringing the holy into our lives. We must stop, and focus on what really matters.

The other night I printed out some Christmas songs and told Scott we needed to do something that reflected the true spirit of Christmas…I didn't want the whole month to go by in such a flurry that I felt I had missed the real heart of Christmas with the girls. I like to give presents, and we have an Elf of the Shelf floating around, and the local youth bureau sent Santa letters to the girls. That is all fun for sure, but it is a small part of the REAL picture.

Silent Night is actually one of the songs I've been teaching the girls this year. They also love Away in a Manger…and of course Jingle Bells.

We grabbed those songs, and two books about the Christmas nativity story, and Scott's guitar. We turned off all of the lights in the living room and laid blankets in the only clean spot on that floor (there was laundry and toys and diapers and messiness EVERYWHERE) and Scott strummed those chords and we sang our songs.

Ella had a slight temper tantrum in the middle of it all (lest you think this was a perfectly, perfect moment…they never are!) because she wanted to hold the music, but all and all it was one of the few things we've done in the last three weeks that I felt truly reflected the Christmas that I want our girls to experience.

A Christ centered Christmas.

When I think about that moment I realize, in some ways, it was similar to Mary's night in the barn. A holy moment happening in the middle of mess and chaos.

What if we started to realize that many of our holy moments might just take place in messy places? In messy living rooms, or singing in the car, or reading scripture with our children in the morning while they are smearing eggs on the table and using their pajamas as napkins.

Christ's coming into the world the way that he did did not meet ANYONE's expectations for how a savior would come to earth.

Perhaps our expectations for how picture perfect and serene and idyllic Christmas is supposed to be needs a little tweaking too.

If you feel like the month is rushing on in a flurry, and you're missing the real, peace-filled, Christ centered moments, it's not too late.

Print out a version of the Christmas scripture for your children and read it to them by the Christmas tree.

Teach them lyrics to sweet songs about baby Jesus.

Talk about Christ as the gift to our world.

Find ways to give to someone less fortunate (we are thankful to our church and preschool for providing several opportunities for these types of things in the last month.) Talk about those experiences and the importance of them.

Put first things first. I promise it will feel better than making an extra batch of cookies or accomplishing that last Pinterest craft.

The eternal impact on your kids will far outweigh the external impact of the decorations and you might just begin to feel a little bit of your own silent and holy night in the middle of your messy living room too.

p.s. I've printed a handful of our Christmas songs from this website, which also has very easy sheet music for children (I was showing the girls how to play some of the easier songs on our keyboard).

p.p.s the image above was borrowed from which offers a tutorial on how to create a similar painting with kids.

Friday, December 20

A Million Little Ways: A Book Review

From time to time I get an email invitation from Revell asking if I'd be interested in doing a blog review about a new book they have coming out.

I used to say "yes" to more of these review invitations, but books require time, especially if you're going to read the entire thing and then write a review....Time is not something I have a whole lot of these days and so I've said more "no's" than "yes's" lately.

That said, back in October I got an invitation to review A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily Freeman and couldn't say no (despite knowing that I didn't have a whole lot of time for the "yes"!)

In part because I enjoy Emily Freeman's writing. I love her blog, Chatting At the Sky. I love the way she captures the simple and makes it profound.

I also love art, the idea of creating art (in the many different forms that can take for each person on an individual level), and anything on the topic of creativity.

Part of me knew I'd find it a challenge to get the book read on time. Part of me also thought, I shouldn't read this right now because it's going to inspire me to want to do things I don't have time to do or pursue. 

However, I said yes and I'm so glad I did.

And even though this review is an entire month late (sorry to the folks at Revel!)…I'm so glad to add this book to my repertoire of non-fiction, inspirational books on creativity.

In this book Freeman compels others to look within themselves for clues to who God created them to be, and to live from those truths in a way that blesses others through the sharing of our art; whether that take the form of something more traditional like a painting, book, or song. Or whether you find new ways to be creative in your gardening, house decorating, or cooking.

In reference to her title, there are a million little ways God creates us to create. We simply need to  listen more carefully and then live more artistically.

While I LOVED the book as a whole, I did find it hard to wrap my head around the first few chapters. I confess, if could just be mommy brain- I have a hard time wrapping my head around a lot of things lately! Whatever the case I mention that in case you start to read it and think, This isn't my thing. Stick with it, you won't be disappointed.

The beginning chapters seemed more theological and philosophical to me. You all know that I'm not in a very philosophical stage of life…we are practical and nitty gritty over here in the land of diapers and construction paper and finger paint. But the chapters seem to become more practical about a third of the way through the book and once I hit those chapters I was completely engaged, underlining huge chunks of text and making lots of mental notes!

Here is a quick summary from the publisher about the book: 
The majority of us would not necessarily define ourselves as artists. We're parents, students, businesspeople, friends. We're working hard, trying to make ends meet, and often longing for a little more--more time, more love, more security, more of a sense that there is more out there. The truth? We need not look around so much. God is within us and he wants to shine through us in a million little ways.
A Million Little Ways uncovers the creative, personal imprint of God on every individual. It invites the discouraged parent, the bored Christian, the exhausted executive to look at their lives differently by approaching their critics, their jobs, and the kids around their table the same way an artist approaches the canvas--with wonder, bravery, and hope. In her gentle, compelling style, Emily Freeman encourages readers to turn down the volume on their inner critic and move into the world with the courage to be who they most deeply are. She invites regular people to see the artistic potential in words, gestures, attitudes, and relationships. Readers will discover the art in a quiet word, a hot dinner, a made bed, a grace-filled glance, and a million other ways of showing God to the world through the simple human acts of listening, waiting, creating, and showing up.

And some of my favorite quotes: 

Our imaginations are endless. You get to frame things in a way only you can, with a voice only you have…Does the world need another book? Song? Painted living rom? Not necessarily. But the world does need you come come alive right where you are and not where you wish you were. If writing books or songs or painting living rooms is what makes you come alive, then that's what you'll need to do. (Chapter 6, See)

For those of us who have a dream tucked away in our back pocket, perhaps it's time to bend our ear toward the craziest of ideas and hear what they have to say. Over the years, that dream may have taken on many different names in your mind: Silly. Ridiculous. Hobby. Foolish. Impossible. Waste of time…Doubt and fear have convinced you to keep it hidden, convoked you to rename that dream Wrong.

What would it take for you to pull your dream out again, to stop taunting it with cruel names and to simply listen to what it has to say? No filters. No back talk. No eye rolls. Dare to handle it, to hold it in your hands and consider it with kindness and compassion.

What is your moon, your airplane, your boy-wizard book? What is your brave lyric, your odd first chapter, your new business motto? What is your crazy idea? No, not your perfect idea. Not your logical, well-plannd, power-pointed practical idea. There's a place for those too. But many times the most logical ideas start out crazy. What is your crazy idea and what should you do with it?

Maybe you should chase it.    (Ch. 7, Listen)

Wonder is normal for little ones. They haven't yet learned to categorize their appreciation of art into worth and waste…A child sees the wonder, takes it in, picks it up, and walks among it. A rock, a leaf, a  giraffe, a violinist-- it's all wonderful to him. He plays an air guitar, draws a picture of a tree, traces his hands on a piece of blue paper. Why not?

The east with which I am able to release the art I was made to live seems directly related to my willingness to embrace wonder. (Ch. 11, Wonder)

We are the mirrors of God on earth, the megaphones of glory, the hands and eyes and hearts of heaven.

God is the Artist and he has made us.

We are his poem and we will make art.    (Ch. 12, Create)

This book has something for everyone, whether you consider yourself the "creative" type or not. It is deeply spiritual and incredibly encouraging.

Here is a link to read more about it if you are interested…

Tuesday, December 10

When the Scribbles are Intentional

The morning had rushed on in a flurry of kitchen clean up, and bedroom clean up and paper sorting and baby care. Each task I found myself engulfed in was accompanied by the steady cadence of an internal reminder…"As soon as I finish this I will _________ with Ella."

The blank was filled in with a variety of activities; read, color, play a game, ask her what she would like to do.

And just as I would finish one thing, say unloading the dishwasher, the baby would cry or have rolled over to the library book basket, pulled out a book, stuck part of it in her mouth and managed to rip a corner off the last page.

Ella looks at me with wide eyes and alarm.

"Yup. We'll just tape that right back on and it will be as good as new."

Before you know it I'm on to something else and I STILL haven't sat to play with my sweet, round faced four year old.  I wish I could say that this is just the pattern of one singular day, but sadly, it seems many mornings go this way…you know with a nursing baby, and a 1st grader to get off to school and the craziness of three young girls…and the messes and laundry and meal making…

I try, try, try to be intentional with them, but the flurry of needs and activity can leave me wondering how whole days have gone by and a book hasn't been read or a page colored.

Sometimes, I've come to realize, creating intentional moments in the midst of raising young children can feel like trying to play a chess game outside in the middle of a hurricane.

It's kind of hard to focus. And the pieces start to topple over. And you're chasing them across the yard. And you're not sure which end is up. And just when you get the blown over game pieces set up again…Woosh!

Maybe it's just my life, but never the less...

Oh parenthood!

(Forgive me if you feel like I've said this before, or some version of it too often lately, but it seems to be the dominant theme of this season of life and I'm trying to figure it out as I go. So thanks for listening again!)

On that particular day, the baby eventually went down for her afternoon nap and Ella and I cuddled on the couch to read books and play a game and do workbook pages. We had a fantastic time together and I felt grateful to have had a few moments to connect with just her.

Just as I was about to say "Alright, before the baby wakes up I need to go do some laundry" I spotted the large, poster board sized post it note pages that Scott almost threw out the night before but deemed potentially kid-friendly.

"Hey Ella, want to color a picture?"

Her eyes lit up. "Sure mom!"

Despite the fact that massive amounts of laundry did need to be done, and ideally before her older sister got home (because then things get really nutty), I looked at her and thought…"Oh gosh…she goes to kindergarten next year and then she won't be here during these quiet moments to color with. She'll be coloring with an art teacher and 19 other energetic kindergarteners." 

I put one of those pages on the wall in our hallway and grabbed a box of crayons. I suggested a Christmas tree (it seemed the obvious choice at this time of year) and soon we were sketching tree branches and ornaments and piles of presents under the tree.

Apparently, in her mind anyways, this tree was outdoors because she added a moon and birds.

I told her we needed some stars.

She decided we needed some wind.

And so with her sweet, still slightly pudgy four-year-old hand she drew crazy wisps of wind all over that page. Wisps that to the bystander might just look like scribbles. They were not scribbles in her world. Every scratch of crayon on that page had intention.

I love her imagination and her creativity. I look forward to seeing where that creative mind will wander and what she will create and pursue someday. I hope this moment and many others in her days at home create a foundation and a passion for the creative that will always be with her.

I think about her intentional wind and how crazy it looked. And I think about our lives right now and how crazy they feel.

And yet, within the craziness, despite the craziness, in the midst of the craziness, we must intentionally carve out moments to spend in real meaningful ways.  Like that Christmas tree and those birds and the stars in our picture, standing steady and beautiful in the face of blowing wind…

Like the presents she drew underneath that tree…if we unwrapped them…if I unwrap them…there might be small ornaments or trinkets within those packages with words delicately written: abundance, blessing, beauty, joy…

Even on the windy days.

Saturday, December 7

Reflect: A Five Minute Friday post

When Scott and I lived in the Boston area in the days B.C. (before children!) we made many trips to New Hampshire to ski and hike.

New Hampshire is a beautiful state…a state full of mountains and long windy roads and hills full of trees and vistas and stunning scenery. Scott is an outdoorsman at heart. He worked at Eastern Mountain Sports for a short time in college, and owns things like ice axes, climbing ropes, glacier glasses (very round, odd looking sun glasses that I almost laughed at when he first put them on!) and head lamps. 

I'm a girl who likes the outdoors, but who also appreciates a functioning toilet nearby. 

He fell in love with the idea that I liked the outdoors enough to try rock climbing with him when we first met. I fell in love with the rugged, Birkenstock wearing enthusiast that he was. Our differences have often met in humorous ways in between- like when he anchored me to a tree so that I could belay him while rock climbing.

Or when we have argued about the best use of three hours in the woods…

"But babe, I just wanted to take a nice hike, on the path, up the side of the mountain. I didn't really want to set ropes and scale it from the side." 

"Well…what fun is that?" 


And that is where marriage meets…at the intersection of what we were hoping for from our partners and the reality of what is. 

It's a messy thing. And a beautiful thing. And while it seems to not make sense sometimes I am reminded that God saw the bigger picture of our relationship while we were only seeing, with rose colored glasses, a small part of who we believed our partner to be. 

And when we butt heads over house chores and child rearing and how to best spend our time and money…When it seems like our differences are bigger than our similarities... It does me some good to reflect. 

On where we have been, and what we have done together. On how far we have come in thirteen years together. On the ways that God has provided for us. On that ways that He saw fit for an emotional, bookish, artistic girl with a whimsical heart to be joined with an outdoorsman with a business degree and a love of apple pies.

With how our two, becoming one, has become three and then four and now five. 

Reflection reminds me that all is as it should be. All as God intended for it to be. That my idiosyncrasies and imbalances, combined with his, somehow make up a more balanced picture. The perfect set of parents for our three little cherubs. 

When we were hiking those mountains in New Hampshire we often came across little rock formations that look like this…

A cairn, or trail marker made out of rocks to mark the path. From the top of a mountain looking down you can see where you have been and where you are going…All at once you feel a sense of accomplishment for what you have done and renewed hope to continue on your journey. 

We all have moments in our lives that serve as trail markers in the same way…What are the trail markers in your past, standing tall and strong in your memories? Maybe it's the story of how you met? Or how God interceded in your relationship? Maybe it's the day your babies were born? Or a wonderful trip that you took together? 

Reflection reminds us…by looking backwards... to see forwards with renewed perspective. 

So, until the kids are a little bit bigger and we can reconnect with the passions that originally brought us together, I will enjoy the moment by looking back to see where we've been. I will breathe in the joy of where we are. And I will allow it to carry us forward to where we are going with a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm. 

And, in the meantime, I just might count my blessings that I'm not being tied to a tree. (:

This post is part of 5 Minute Fridays hosted by Lisa Jo Baker. To read more posts like this or to learn more about 5 Minute Fridays click here. 

Winners, Friends and Writing Programs

Thanks to those of you who left your sweet comments behind to be entered to win a copy of Chicken Soup for the  Soul: Devotions for Wives. 

And the winner is (randomly picked by myself via scraps of paper!)… Chaunie! 

Chaunie and I met almost two years ago at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. She is a super sweet gal who was quite pregnant with her third child when we met.  We shared stories about writing and how to best navigate Disney with kids (she had already been, we were planning our first trip!), which seems completely fitting given our roles as mommas and writers!

Chaunie brought the manuscript of her book Tiny Blue Lines: A Guide for Young Moms to that conference and wound up finding a publisher! Her book is due to be published next Spring (May 2014). WooHoo!

I admire her tenacity and commitment to writing and to being a fantastic mother…and how she is striving to find a way to balance and manage it all. If you have a chance you should check out her very cute blog at 

If you are a reader and writer you should also consider checking out the Festival of Faith and Writing. It is a biennial (I just learned that "biennial" is the proper term for happening every two years!) conference that brings in some fantastic writers and speakers. This will be my fourth time attending the conference and I always leave feeling inspired and having met some WONDERFUL people. Several of the women I have met at that conference have become wonderfully encouraging friends.

While we are on the topic of writing I finally purchased some writing software for my computer. The program is called Scrivener and it is supposed to be a fantastic writing tool (so fantastic that the very well known Michael Hyatt apparently now uses it to organize ALL of his projects, which is definitely saying something!) and it seems very cool. The problem is that I need a one-day intensive on how to use it so that I can actually start organizing my ideas in it!

I may opt for the Scrivener for Dummies book!! (I'm not joking!).

Thursday, December 5

Learning to Be a Helper (My Chicken Soup Devotional story)

Have you helped your hubby out lately?! I confess, it's not always the first thing on my priority list with three children at home…which is what inspired this story...

Learning to Be a Helper
“The Lord said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” 
(Gen. 2:18)
            It was an ordinary, chaotic weekday morning. A floral canvas lunch box needed to be filled, breakfast needed to be served, backpacks needed to be packed, hair and teeth brushed, clothing properly picked out and put on all in time to get our oldest daughter, who was in kindergarten, to the bus and our youngest to her preschool class on time.

            In other words, as usual, the needs of my children were far more pressing than those of anyone else in the house (read: my husband!).

            “The children need to be eating in two minutes!”

             “They need to be dressed in fifteen. The bus comes in twenty!” 

            In the midst of scrambling eggs and buttering toast for our two girls, he often finds a moment to fix me a cup of coffee, cut a grapefruit into sections or make me an egg sandwich for the road.

            “Here you go babe,” he’ll say as he slides them across the counter to his manic lunch making wife.  

            I am embarrassed to confess that not only do I do no such thing in return, but I often forget to even offer a “thank you.”

            Then, one day, several weeks ago I reread a scripture in the book of Genesis that really impacted the way I started to think about things.

            “The Lord said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Gen. 2:18).

            A helper? Perhaps in the early years of dating and marriage I strived to help, but in the six years since becoming parents “help” had become such a large part of taking care of the girls that there seemed little time or energy left for helping my husband in tangible ways. If anything most days left me asking for help from him rather than offering help to him.

            On this particular morning, several days after reading that passage I decided to do something that would surprise him; I made him a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ran outside (in the snow!) to start his car while he was getting dressed.

            As he came flying down the stairs to head out the door to his morning sales appointment and raced to find his keys I smiled and said, “They’re in your car. I started it for you.”

            Stopped in his tracks he looked at me with raised eyes and a confused grin.


            “Yes. Really. And there is some toast wrapped for you to take on the road.”

            “For me?” He almost laughed, “Where did you come from?”   
            The question was well deserved. While there are many times I have wanted to be a helper to him, I have allowed the needs of the children to take priority over the needs of my husband, leaving him to fend for himself.

            I’m realizing that, even in the midst of the busyness of raising small children, I can be more deliberate about finding small ways to help him.

            When I am being a “helper” even in the midst of the mayhem I am not only serving him, but HIM—the heavenly Father who brought us together in the first place.


Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for my husband. I pray that you would help to show me ways to be his helper today. Please forgive me for the ways that I have neglected his needs and give me the strength and energy I need to be a good mother and wife. Amen.       

This story/devotional can be found alongside the encouraging voices of 100 other women in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional for Wives  (Available on Amazon and at other major booksellers).

If you are a wife you will definitely be encouraged by the stories in these pages…it also makes a sweet gift (:

By the way…I'm giving a copy of the book away this week! You can either leave a comment here or on my previous post about being published in this book and I will randomly draw one name to be the lucky winner. You must comment before the end of the day on Friday. I will draw a winner and post their name here on Saturday morning (:

Tuesday, December 3

How About Some Chicken Soup? A Giveaway!

Many of you know I had the delightful opportunity to be published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book earlier this year. Yay!

The official title of the book is Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives (you can check it out here on Amazon).

It's a super sweet book full of short, but really encouraging stories written by 101 women (myself included!) on all sorts of topics relating to being a wife.
The whole thing has been such a great experience.

I submitted this story last February, when I had a little bit more time to write because Miss Aubreycakes was tucked safely away in my belly while I tapped away on my laptop at Starbucks and the girls were in school (haha! those were the days!).

So, as you can imagine, it was quite exciting to hear from them shortly after Aubrey was born to say that the piece would be appearing in the book which would be published in September.

Ironically, a sweet friend of mine (Amelia Rhodes) who I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing several years ago was also featured in the book. Neither of us knew that we both had stories in the book until that email came out and we posted our delight about being featured on Facebook. This was Amelia's second Chicken Soup appearance and she will be featured in a third book early next year (Great job Amelia!).

(As an aside, while I'm telling you all about Amelia, you should know that she wrote a very sweet and encouraging book about friendship, fellowship, community and relationships, and the importance of it in our lives. That book is called Isn't it Time for a Coffee Break? You should definitely check it out (I reviewed it back in January.  You can read my review here).

So, back to the Chicken Soup devotional...

What I love about the Chicken Soup brand is that they continue to publish sweet, inspiring, positive stories about people and life. They are a little bit of light in an often gloomy world.  And there is something for everyone (wives, daughters, mothers, runners, writers, dog lovers, musicians…you name it and there is probably a book related to it!).

What I also love about them is that they are a large enough company and brand that they do a pretty good job of marketing their books and materials and hire folks to work on marketing for each of their books. Their marketing gal did such a great job that my small, local, community newspaper, without ever a word from me, ended up calling and asking if she could interview me and wrote up the sweetest little piece in the paper.

I confess...I was a little bit embarrassed at first.  I mean, I didn't write a BOOK after was just a teensy weensy little story.  But honestly, the writer did such a great job that it ended up being a really great experience and a very sweet piece focused more on the challenges of trying to fit writing into my life as a mom (very true indeed!) than anything else.

A friend of mine even told me later that her sister bought a copy of the paper to give to one of her friends who is also a mom with a desire to write, but who hasn't had a ton of time to devote to it-- she thought the story would encourage her and inspire her.

Honestly, that made it all worth it!

I'm just a momma, etching out some words when I can and hoping to encourage other women and mothers in the process. If any little thing I say can be an encouragement to someone else I count that as a blessing and thank God for it.

I also have an extra copy of the book to give away! Yay!

If you'd like to be entered to win a copy of the book just leave a comment below (make sure your name is in the comment section so I know who you are!).

For an extra chance to win you can:

Like my "Little Writer Momma" page on Facebook (click on the FB flag at the top of this page) and leave me a comment either there or here letting me know you've done that.


Lastly, I'd love to get my Google Connect Friend number over 50...that #48 has been staring me in the face forever!! (Not that it REALLY matters...but you know...). So if you click on "join/connect" there and let me know I'll enter your name into the drawing an extra time!

I will draw a winner on Friday night and announce it here on Saturday morning!

I'm also going to post my devotional story from the book on check back if you'd like to read my story about making Scott peanut butter and jelly.

Yes, that is ACTUALLY what the story is about. I told you it was a silly little story! Stop back on Thursday to read all about it (:

While we're on the topic I haven't told many people this yet, but I have a second story coming out in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. The book is due to be released in just a couple of weeks on December 24th!

It's kind of funny, after ten years of marriage, to think about having a story included in a book called The Dating Game, but it is the story of how Scott and I met (I was his waitress) and I HAD to submit it! I'll share more about that next month after it comes out (:

Sunday, December 1

What We've Been Up To-- Thanksgiving, Sitting Up and Everything in Between

Hi Friends, 

It's been a fun filled couple of weeks around the house…We've had Thanksgiving dinners at school, Christmas shopping excursions, sledding adventures, gymnastics classes and all sorts of other activities. 

Speaking of gymnastics, our living room has turned into a gymnastics studio…that's right, the back of our couch has become a balance beam, the girls have been doing flips and somersaults over the chair in the corner, Ava has been practicing round offs from the edge of our cheap Christmas Tree Shop coffee table and there has been every manner of flip, hand stand, split, cartwheel, stretch, jump that goes on in the middle. All of this around Aubrey who is now crawling and finding ways to scoot herself to baskets of books and power cords, which we regularly find in her mouth. 

I vacillate between wanting to take order and telling the kids to sit like proper children and not jump all over our furniture and realizing that they are kids and they'd rather play "gymnastics" than watch t.v. and I'm actually ok with that. 

We'll buy new furniture when they're all out of the house someday…

And yesterday we pulled six or seven bins of Christmas decorations out of the basement to decorate the tree. I told Scott that our house looks like we just moved in. There are random bins and boxes and furniture scattered willy nilly all over the place. It's so far from orderly that I'm waiting for one of those Clean House shows to show up here…I would welcome them with open arms actually! 

And I'm still putting Halloween decorations away. Uh huh…we've got Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations all melding into one fantastic decor. 

While I'm telling you about this you should know that there is a strand of Christmas lights…clear bulbs…across the top of our house that we turned on today. Guess what? They've been there since last Christmas. 

Oh gosh…we've become THOSE people. 

It's kind of funny actually…we were going to take them down SOOOO many times this year and then something would come up. Um, like, us having a baby…and next think you know it was September and we said "Why bother?! At least they're clear. Actually, if you didn't know they were up up there you might not even notice." 

Expect now I've told you all. 

Ah yes…life at the Littlewood household. It's a funny place. 

Here are a few photos of the fun….

And while there is so much more I'd love to say, there is not time to say (type) any of it…

Hugs to you all. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas preparations. 

I'm working on being present to all that is happening and counting my many messy blessings. 

It's probably time to put the baby jungle mat away when they pull it over and crawl under it instead of playing quietly on top of it…what do you think? 

We're sitting all by ourself!

Ella is apparently thankful for rubber bands among other things…which completely cracks me up and doesn't surprise me at all! 

Our attempt at practicing intentional thankfulness during the week leading up to Thanksgiving… Those our all of our hands (except Aubrey's…I've been meaning to put hers up there, but you know how that goes!)

And while there is so much more I'd love to say, there is no time to say (type) any of it…

Hugs to you all. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas preparations. 

I'm working on being present to all that is happening and counting my many messy blessings. 

Wednesday, November 20

Why Change is a Good Thing

While I was out driving this morning I saw something, a tree, that literally took my breath away. 

It was a small tree lining the edge of a somewhat busy road-- not the type of tree, or in the space, you would expect for a "wow" kind of moment.  The sky was clear blue and frost covered the ground and branches.  It was one of the first mornings this year when the temperature dipped below 30…and while I'm not always a cold weather fan, I do love a cold sunny day. 

The branches of the tree looked black, darkened by the frost, and hanging from the branches were the
most exquisite little yellow berries. I was struck by how beautiful they were and also by the fact that I had never noticed them before. 

Have those been here all along? I've driven this road hundreds of times in my younger years and as an adult and I've never noticed how beautiful they were before. I've never noticed a tree with yellow berries at this time of year before. 

I almost laughed aloud. How clever of you God, I thought. I always notice something new at the changing of the seasons. 

As I continued to drive with my senses now heightened I observed tree after tree…With most of their leaves having fallen to the ground it was easy to see the branches and how they all seemed to be pointing straight up towards the sky. Almost as if they were in church, singing a song of worship, with their hands stretched out towards God. 

Of course…all of nature…pointing us back towards God…when we take the time to look and appreciate it in all of it's incredible detail. 

Psalm 66:4 says, "All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” 

It is part of the reason that I love this time of year…I love the transition between seasons. If the trees simply stayed green and lush all year, I would enjoy them, but I would start to forget to notice them. They would become such a consistent part of the backdrop of my life that I would take their beauty for granted and simply drive by them more times than not. 

When they change…when their leaves transform from green to gold, and then begin to fall; when their branches stand bare and glisten with frost and snow; when the buds re-emerge and then the leaves start to grow again…then we notice. 

And so today I am thankful for the changing seasons. I am thankful that I live in the Northeast where I  get to appreciate God's creative and genius design that perks up my senses every three months, just as I start to fall into a stupor and stop noticing. 

Change is a good thing. 

On that topic, but off the topic (bear with me), Ava asked us to change the positioning of some of our living room furniture this weekend. I obliged because I love her creativity and her spark to want to change things up sometimes. I've gotta tell you, I'm LOVING the new placement of things. It has totally reopened some space in our living room and everyone has been dancing and doing cartwheels and enjoying the new traffic flow. 

I'll snap some shots when they are all here dancing and post them later. 

Life Lesson: When things start to get dull, take a walk to notice the trees and move your couch to a different place. I kid you not, it added such a perk to our weekend! 

Saturday, November 16

Five Minute Friday: Tree


On mornings when I've awoken at least a few minutes before the little ones, I quietly tip toe downstairs, find a warm blanket and curl up into an old corduroy chair in our living room. I spend the few minutes I have saying a prayer or reading a verse from a devotional or my Bible, and write a note or two in my journal. These moments are anchors in my day.

I love that time.

However, the quiet, uninterrupted thoughts are far and few between these days. As a matter of fact, the moments in that chair are far and few between as we've found ourselves in the midst of a season of sleepless nights; a baby nursing, older children with ear infections and bad dreams that require tender hugs afterwards. I don't mean to grumble, but it's feeling like a L-O-N-G time since a solid night of sleep has allowed me to be refreshed in the morning hours.

I'm a tired momma lately.

A tired momma who is clinging to the reality that this is a season...

And from the chair, when I make it there, there is a tall tree that can be clearly seen through the windows at the back of our living room. I've watched that tree in morning hours...on snowy days, and rainy days, sunny days and windy days. I've watched that tree brave the elements of all of its seasons.

I've watched it tilt and bend in the wake of strong gusts and blossom and sit still and strong. I've watched the leaves come and go, change from buds to barren, from green to golden.

I often watch that tree and am reminded of the verse is the Psalms... (She) is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all (she) does she prospers (Psalm 1:3). 

I am reminded that every season is part of a bigger picture.  That no matter what season we are in, if we root ourselves in Christ, we posses a strength and a nourishment that gives life to our daily details in every season of our lives.

This post is part the 5 Minute Friday link up. To join in the fun check out Lisa-Jo's blog here!

Friday, November 8

The Blessed Mess

I look around and see things scattered everywhere.

School papers. Dishes. Shoes. Construction paper. Crayons. Clean diapers. Dirty diapers balled up and still sitting on the floor. Towels. Socks. Candy wrappers. Hair bands. Butterfly wings. Recipes ripped from magazines. Bottles. Scraps of toast from breakfast. Mildewing pumpkins. Incomplete baby books. Unstarted baby book. Water glasses. Week old newspapers.

Yes, you know the list could go on. And on. And on. And on.

The items, each of them, trigger anxiety in my churning mind. Items to do. Items to add to my calendar. Items I don't want to forgot. Items to be put away.

It's so much doing, running, striving, trying, exerting energy to get it all done.

This morning, during a few moments of quiet in the car as I drove to a doctor's appointment a song clicked onto the CD player. A song of worship. With lyrics that say, "I lift my eyes up, to the heavens. Where does my help come from?"

Eyes upward. Not outward. Why do I always forget that?

When we lift our eyes upwards, when we focus on God, when we offer Him worship and talk to him and ask him what he has in store for us on this day, the mental focus shifts. It always changes...from running to resting.

Rest doesn't always mean to stop completely, I remind myself (even though that would be nice some days!). It sometimes means to stop momentarily to regain your composure. To shift your focus from the lots of little things that can bring you down, to the bigger, more important picture.

When I lift my eyes the soul takes a deep breath. I realize that all of the tasks that sit before me, the daily, sometimes mundane tasks, are all a part of the plan He has for my life. When I consider them in that light, they suddenly have purpose.

Then, somehow, magically, the kind of magic only God can do in my naturally anxious mind, when I look back down towards all that is in front of me I find myself laughing. I chuckle and smile and think about that silly Phyllis Diller quote that says, "Cleaning your house while your children are young is like shoveling before it stops snowing."

Now that's a bit of advice this Buffalo momma can relate too.

I find myself realizing that these items that surround me EVERYWHERE are the pieces of the beautiful and blessed life that we live.

I am a blessed woman. The mess is a sign that I am blessed.

And so I sat down to write this post. I had a very few minutes of free time and my choices were run or write. It used to be that I could fit both into my life...lately I'm increasingly finding that it's one or the other and so I must choose. Run or write?

The answer is often different depending on the day, but today the running felt too much like the crazy, hectic striving. The writing felt more like rest.

And so I'm writing my words, hoping they reach your heart today. Hoping they remind you that you are very blessed in many ways. That your mess is a sign that you are blessed and blessed abundantly.

Which seems like a very appropriate thing to remember in this month of Thanksgiving.

(the above photo was borrowed from Google Images)

Sunday, November 3

Grace- A Five Minute Friday Post


Our third daughter's middle name is Grace. Aubrey Grace Littlewood. 

We did not give her that middle name simply because we thought it was pretty. Although I do think it is an incredibly sweet name. 

It actually started as a joke between Scott and I....before we even knew she was a girl. "If we're going to have a third child...if we're going to have a third GIRL...we're going to need a LOT of grace around this place!"

We joked about the drama...the kind of drama that can only be explained by many females living under one roof...and said many times..."This one better be a boy!" 

Of course, now that she is here, we wouldn't have it any other way...But I will say that I have already calculated that there will be at least one year where we will have 3 teenage daughters all at the same time...19, 17 and 13...and oh my heavens will that be a crazy day. 365 days actually. And oh my heavens will we all need to offer grace and space to one another. 

The truth is, family dynamics and parenting are incredible training grounds for learning and practicing grace. 

I must offer myself exorbitant amounts of grace for all that I lack as a mom...the times when I lack patience, when I am not a good time manager, when I overreact to something small, when my house is way messier than I could have ever imagined, when my children's rooms and faces and hair is a messy tangle and their clothes are scattered in piles all over the house. When I am not living love as fully as I always thought I would have as a mom (you know, before kids when you think you'll do it all right?)... When I function out of my tired mommy self rather than relying on God...and it SHOWS! 

Oh...I need grace. 

And I need to learn to teach grace. To teach my girls how to be kind to one another, to be patient with each other, to forgive one another...not IF one of their sister's wrongs them or hurts them in some way, but WHEN...because it's going to happen. 

And the grace Scott and I must offer each other...constantly. Daily. It's hard sometimes, to be two people, with two different temperaments and personalities and ways of doing things. Sometimes we joke about how God must have looked down and thought it would be really humorous to put man and woman together in marriages just to see how poorly we would begin behaving...what silly (and not so silly) things we would fight we would drive one another our parenting ideas would differ...and our approach to stress and how we handle it would differ and how all of that would create fireworks of the not so pretty kind. 

Grace. Grace. Grace. 

So...Aubrey Grace...I love to say her name because it is a reminder of a gift we must offer to each other on a very, very regular basis. It is the salve that heals and mends and strengthens and restores relationships. 

There is something really amazing about grace. 

(This post is part of 5-Minute Fridays...a space where Lisa-Jo Baker offers a prompt and hundreds of lovely ladies write for 5 minutes about that word(s). Here goes!)

Saturday, October 26

Waving My Wand

Are you a momma who has ever wished she had a magic wand?

A magic wand to...

  • Make meals
  • Sort, wash, dry, fold and put all of the laundry away
  • Do your grocery shopping
  • Organize your children's school paperwork
  • Organize the itty bitty pieces that belong to your children's overabundance of toys
  • Clean up after making meals
  • Plan meals
  • Make more meals
  • Make all the beds in the house all at once
  • Clean the inch thick layer of dust off of the cabinet hanging over the toilet and on ALL light fixtures
  • Pull all of the out of season clothing out of closets, sort it and put it away. Then hang all the new, in-season clothing for multiple children.
  • Go shopping for boots, gloves, hats, socks...all the warm weather stuff...for multiple children
  • Return the endless bounty of things that wind up needing to be returned because they are defective or don't fit and wind up sitting in our mud room until that can no longer be returned 
  • Iron your clothes that have been crumpled at the bottom of your bed or in a laundry basket for too long
  • Make your weekly Target trip for diapers, and toilet paper and wipes and juice boxes and stickers and crayons and paper and...the list goes on.
  • Take your shower for one minute- cleaned, hair washed,dried and ready to go (why must this take SO long?!)...while we're onto this...maybe the wand can shave my legs, dye my roots and paint my toenails all at the same time...
  • Organize my refrigerator and freezer so I don't buy a 17th bag of frozen peas because I was sure we were out of them! 
I'm sure you could all add a lengthy number of items to this list as well...My friend Dana from church wrote this on Facebook yesterday...
"I feel like I'm about a month behind on life."

Oh momma, I feel you! I do too!

If the magic wand could just do all of those things for me I could finally more consistently get around to the things that feel more important to me...the things that I wind up feeling guilty and sad for not getting to...

  • Going on dates with my husband
  • Going for long walks with my kids
  • Working on memorizing Bible verses with my kids or listening to good music or taking them to the ballet...
  • Working on the blog posts that I'd love to share or starting the book that thumps around in my heart and mind daily. 
  • Making cookies for my neighbors. 
  • Eating my lunch without shoveling into my mouth like I'm in a donut eating contest vying for the most amount of food in the shortest amount of time
  • Pulling out my vegetarian cookbook and trying something new

This list could go on and on too.

I know. I know. We're supposed to put those things on the second list FIRST. But it's HARD...isn't it? It doesn't quite work that way all the time. 

I have another confession here...

I never expected motherhood to be this all consuming. To be this...dare I say it aloud...overwhelming. 

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now. 

No one told me you would love your kids SO immensely, but that they would present so many new needs and demands and "to-dos" into your life that you would feel like you could hardly keep up. That you would begin to feel like a cooking, cleaning, shopping, management machine...

That you would feel like you no longer had time to do the things you used to love to do...That you would feel like you were running so fast and so non-stop just to keep up with the daily stuff (we're not even talking extras here!) that you feel like someone should give you a permanent brown paper bag in case you start hyperventilating. 

That you would TRY your best to enjoy the moments, just like everyone says, but that you would be quite surprised by the fact that they must be enjoyed in the midst of such chaos. 

Who knew?! 

...That you would feel sad that you no longer had time to do the things you used to like to do and that you would then feel sad for feeling sad because it somehow felt like you were a bad mom for feeling sad about it all...

I haven't blogged a whole lot part because I haven't had the time. 

In part because I feared that if I sat down to blog it would all sound like this...blah, blah, blah...overwhelmed...blah, blah, blah...tired...blah, blah, blah...this is nuts...blah, blah, blah...did I mention that I'm wee bit overwhelmed?

Here's another confession...Somehow, when you have your first child it feels ok to mention that you feel this way. It's all new. It's a life change. You're allowed to be shocked and feel a little crazed and dizzy and hazed. 

By baby feels, ironically, like you should have your act together. Like admitting that you feel overwhelmed is going to make people look at you like you're whiney and need to get your act together. 

So friends, I'm sorry if I sound whiney...I AM trying to get my act together...I SWEAR. 

I went on a field trip with Ella yesterday and was having a chat with another mom, who also has three (her youngest is 8 months old), about all of the craziness in our lives. 

I might have let my guard down and confessed that it all felt overwhelming.

She might have been totally candid and laughed while she said, "Oh gosh...I feel overwhelmed EVERY day of my life." 

I might have wanted to give her the most giant hug ever because her one moment of honesty helped me feel a little bit better about how I was honestly feeling. 

Instead I decided to be brave and just share it all here...that way if anyone else is feeling this way you can feel a little bit better too.

Dear Tired and Overwhelmed Momma, 
I want you to know that you are not the only one feeling the way that you do. I feel that way too! I'm sorry I can't come over and help you with all that needs to be done, but know that my house is JUST as messy as yours and many parts of my life feel just as neglected as yours and I'm hoping we'll be able to stand back and laugh about this all someday...
 I wish I could come over and give you a hug right now. I would sit in your mess or your could sit in mine and we could just laugh about it all. Laughter IS one of the best medicines (next to prayer!). I often think about inviting you over, but it feels...well, messy and overwhelming to do so...but maybe I'll get past that and just do it one of these days anyways. 
For now...we must try to do the things on our "B" list despite the things on our "A" list. We must love and hug in the midst of messes and enjoy the small moments in the midst of chaos. 
  Even though we feel disconnected sometimes, we're all actually in this crazy mess     together and I'm saying a prayer for you today.  

                                     Blessings to you, 

To leave you on a lighter note I must give my husband partial credit for inspiring this blog post. I was heading out of the house this morning to come to Starbucks to eek a blog post out of my hazy brain...I was going through the list of things that needed to be done and why I should not be going to sit at Starbucks to write a blog post (can you say major mommy/wifely guilt?!).

He said, Lisa, you need a magic "let it go" wand. When all of this stuff starts to make you anxious you need to wave the wand and say "let it go".  He asked Ella to bring him one of her wands. He handed it to the baby and let her wave it around for a minute (before she could put it in her mouth!).

"Let it go mom! Let it go." 

How can you not laugh at that?

So, I walked about of the door with my big computer bag and my books and my pens and my paper. I'm trying to let it all go...even though I confess I'm writing mental to-do lists as I sit here. I realize this is a season and we'll get it all figured out...or, at the very least, we'll get through it. Hopefully with a smile on our face and a pocketful of crazy memories.

And I suppose, if I really did have a magic wand, and the only thing it did was to  help me "let it all go" I'd probably be on a better road to mommy perspective recovery.

Really, at the end of the day, it's not about what we do or don't do or need to's about our perspective in all that we do.

I'm going to keep waving that wand (or having Aubrey do it because it's way cuter !).

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  Philippians 4:6