Thursday, December 19, 2013

Giving that doesn't cost a dime

A little over two years ago, we made this somewhat non-sensical decision, took a little leap of faith, and I became a stay at home Mom. Our income was cut in half, and we became real resourceful real fast. I can't wait to share with you what the Lord has taught me about my prideful heart and His provision during this time. But that's another post for another day.

For now, I want to share with you a smidge of some of the ways we have been able to give charitably over the last couple of years. When your income is cut in half, but your heart grows exponentially for great organizations that love people well or for other needs in the community … Well, you have to get a little inventive with how you can best serve and bless them.

First, I am a tried and true fan of Kroger. I love that store. My local store always has the kindest employees that go out of their way to help me… and I feel like I really do get great deals there, too! One thing I really love about Kroger is their Community Rewards Program. All you do is login with your Kroger Plus Card, look up your non-profit organization you want to support.. and BAM! They start receiving rewards based on your purchases! I chose a really great Pregnancy Center in the next town over, Tomball Pregnancy Center, to receive the rewards from my shopping.

Another great thing about Kroger is all the sales they run! They have great specials, and I can combine those with coupons found on their app or their website…. and I can save big bucks doing this! I can't even tell you how stupid happy I get when I find a great sale and get my groceries at a great price. Over time, the Lord softened my heart and I was encouraged to give more sacrificially. So instead of keeping those extra pennies I saved to myself, I'd fill in the gaps of my grocery budget. When I save a few dollars on whatever meat happens to be on sale and lower than I budgeted, I might buy a few extra rolls of toilet paper and donate them to our refugee ministry. Other weeks, I might watch sales on diapers or formula to bless a family in our church. At first, I felt a little silly with how little I could give based on what our money would allow. Then, I realized how foolish and prideful those sentiments were. It's not about how much I can give.. but what's at the heart of my giving.

Next, I can't tell you how much I love being an Amazon Prime member. It is A-MUH-ZING! The hubs uses it a whole bunch for church stuff.. and so do I, and it's made Christmas shopping 10x better. But, I also love that a portion of all of our purchases goes toward ending sex-trafficking. At no cost to me, Amazon Smile kicks back some of the profits from our buys to our chosen non-profit org, Love146. "Founded in 2002, Love146 works toward the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation through prevention and aftercare solutions, contributing to a growing abolition movement. Love146 combats child sex slavery and exploitation with the unexpected and restores survivors with excellence."

Now, don't just sit there all kerbobbled and flabbergasted for too long because you didn't know about these avenues of giving sooner! Get to it, register your Shopper Card with Kroger for Community Rewards and choose your favorite non-profit org to receive kickbacks from all your Amazon purchases through Amazon Smile! Or even better, see if your preferred grocer or any other kind of stores offer these same type of "incentives"! 

(**I am in no way being paid or receiving any kind of promotional kick-backs from either Kroger, Amazon or the listed non-profit organizations for this blog post of any activity that happens as a result!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Karate Kid

She was a hot mess of nerves and excitement, swaying from one end of non-stop chatter to bouts of tensed up silence. With each passing mile that we drove, her sweet little hands grew clammier and clammier. 

Finally. We arrived at our destination. Her heart rate finally calmed after we registered her into the appropriate categories and events. Next came pure excitement.

She watched with growing excitement as her Sensei demonstrated some pretty sweet karate moves down on the main floor. 

Excitement morphed into awe and fascination as another Sensei broke boards with his fists, feet, elbows and his head.

Then, it was finally time for her to strut her stuff and compete. 

She punched as hard as she could. Then, she punched as fast as she could. And for each event she didn't place in.. she got a commemorative participation medal. 

Next, she kicked as hard as she could, and was only awarded with the participation medal again.

But in her last event, she kicked the fastest she has ever kicked. That size 13 foot shot out like a rocket at the metered block. And the anticipation over maybe getting a medal grew as each kid behind her kicked their fastest, too.

 Expecting to receive just another commemorative medal, she walked proudly to the awards table….. and was utterly shocked and dumbfounded to learn she had placed 1st in fastest kick!

Her smile lit up the entire gym as she ran with unbounded joy to show off her prize for kicking the fastest.

Way to go my cute little Karate Kid! You competed with grace, and accepted each medal with glee. While you would have loved to have placed first in each event, you showed wonderful humility and happiness no matter the size of the reward! It made my Mommy-heart so very happy to share this special day with you, to cheer you on, and to celebrate each medal rewarded. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

My son is cleaner than yours. No. Really. He likes hygiene.

I let the water run a little longer than I normally do, relishing in the serenity that it brought. Most nap times include a spot on the couch imprinted with my form. Too tired to do much else, I rest for what I know the second half of our day will bring me. But today, I let the water run over my tired back until it ran cold.

Later that evening, I exclaimed to my husband how it was probably the first time in 10 years that I had taken that long of a shower.

Being a mom of 3 busy-bodies, I keep my showering time to a minimum. To be quite frank, showering is not on the forefront of my mind most days. I've got lunches to pack, mouths to feed, things to sanitize, butts to wipe (sorry, its blunt.. but its the truth), and about 5 million other things running through my mind and hands to be too concerned with having impeccable hygiene. So, showering usually gets squeezed in at the last possible minute before we have to head out somewhere.

One particular day, we were in a rush to get somewhere. I took all normal precautions to insure minimal interruptions during my shower time. Security gate locked at top of stairs: Check. Movie turned on to encourage busy hands to be kept out of things: Check. Shower curtain closed, but door cracked to hear if the natives got restless: Check. Yada yada yada.

I had just worked the lather of my shampoo to a supreme level of awesomeness in my hair when I heard the tinkering of little hands going through something in my bathroom. I peeked ever so slyly around the curtain to see who was doing what.

Josiah, our youngest and only boy, had my toiletry/hygiene drawer open and was rummaging through it. With great care, he loosened the cap to my not-so-cheap moisturizer and proceeded to moisturize his face diligently. Oh, brother!

Choosing not to fight this particular battle, I returned to showering… only to hear more movement in the bathroom. Trying to use my diminishing time effectively, I continued with my shower routine while sneaking glances at the toddler who was grooming himself quite meticulously.

In the span of the next three minutes, my son deodorized himself, brushed his teeth (with my toothbrush mind you), and fixed himself a killer mohawk.

It was all so precious and cute. And then. Dear Lord… Surely he was done by now, right?

As I rinsed the conditioner from my hair, it got real quiet. I smirked to think that my 2 year old SON had gone through an entire hygiene routine, and not made a single mess.

I pulled back the shower curtain and let an audible gasp escape my mouth. Oh, heavens. He was so proud of himself, sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor, painting his toenails with painstaking detail in the prettiest ivory color.

Too bad his Mama frightened him and made him mess it all up with her shocked sudden intake of air!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Joyfully and expectantly waiting

It's the most wonderful time of the year! At last, Christmastime is upon us. I'm high on apple-cider and spiced scents; sugar is constantly coursing through me from intravenously feeding on sweets.

My kids can hardly stand the waiting for all the presents to be unwrapped on Christmas morning.

And somewhere in the mix of all the carols, the books, the movies, and the joy of the season.. we are diligently pointing our children to the real, undying, and unchanging Joy of the season. It is after all the real reason why we celebrate this time of year, it is Jesus' birth. Glory!!

My heart is overwhelmed at the thought of God in the Flesh. Emmanuel. God with us. Hallelujah!

This Christmas season, we are focusing hard on Jesus.

One practical way we encourage our children to focus on Jesus throughout the season is to not encourage belief in the mythical Santa Claus. We definitely watch Santa Claus themed movies, read books about him, and even do some crafts that include him. But we are honest with our kids and let them know that he's just a fun make-believe guy. We also discuss how the story of the modern day Santa Claus came about, through Saint Nicholas. (This post actually goes way more in depth with all of this though.)

While we read fun, secular style Christmas books during the Christmas season, we try to focus more on books whose central theme is the birth of Jesus. Whether the book be a more traditional one, or even a story about a bird who happens upon the stable where Jesus was born and flies to tell all of the other created things of His birth… we try to keep it Jesus-centered.

And for the first time, we are doing an Advent study as a family. We are setting aside time each night.. or every 2 nights, depending on what life throws us each day, to read through the Word and expectantly wait to celebrate Jesus's birth on Christmas morning.

 I have a tendency to get a bit carried away and dive in a bit over my head on things. I decided not to do that with our Advent study though. I didn't want to get carried away with all my plans and hopes, only to feel overwhelmed 1 week into it and give up! This year, we're keeping it pretty simple.

I found a great kid-friendly Advent study through the Verge Network. Basically, we are just reading through the Jesus StoryBook Bible  (which I love), or the "grown up" Bible. We started at the beginning of the Bible, and we're working our way story-by-story, seeing how desperately we needed our Savior to be born.

To make it a little more tangible for the kids, I slapped together some decorations I had laying around the house for an Advent style calendar thing! An old wreath I bought and had planned to use for some craft, but never did anything with. A frame the hubs made for our daughter's birthday party holds the word "Christmas" quite nicely, while some burlap scraps painted with the letters "Merry" adds great texture. Then, I splurged on some Christmas-y scrapbook paper, printed some numbers on 'em, stuck a hook through them, and hung 'em on the garland. (On the back of each piece of paper, I wrote which story accompanies that day. Right now, our garland not-so-accurately shows we have 22 days till Christmas. We gots some catching up to do!)

It is my hope and prayer that through all the motions and all the joy of this Christmas season, and through our time of study each night (or ever 2 nights) our children are filled with a joyful longing to celebrate Jesus's birth. That the joy they feel seeing Christmas lights holds no comparison to the joy of knowing the true Light of The World. (John 8:12) That the happiness they feel over letting Christmas paper fly off of carefully wrapped presents would be only but a glimmer compared to knowing what a true gift Jesus is to us and the salvation only He can bring.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

These are a few of my favorite things!

When the dog barks, when the bee stings…. Oh. Oops. Not supposed to be lost in song over here.

What I should be doing is sharing with you some of my FAVORITE organizations and shops!

Over the last couple of years, there has been a stirring in my soul to shop and give more effectively. I don't really have too much beef against large chain stores, as they provide SO MANY jobs and can do lots of good through their large numbers.

But when it comes to gift giving, I try to make each purchase count on multiple levels! Here's a very quick run down on some of my favorite organizations that are doing really great things across the globe!

1. Trades of Hope

There are SO MANY reasons why I love Trades of Hope. It'll be hard to condense it. Ultimately, Trades of Hope is all about empowering women from around the world to work their way out of poverty. Through our purchases of their handmade Fair Trade products, we offer them a future filled with hope! Trades of Hope partners with tons of really great organizations in lots of amazing countries who are on the ground to ensure proper living wages and checks and balances. These groups enable the Artisans to make up to 6 times what is the norm in their country. This ensures that the Artisans are able to clothe, feed, house and educate themselves and their families! While charity is good, it does not solve the problem or break the cycle of poverty. These women want and need the opportunity for sustainable business and incomes to provide for the long haul. The groups that partner with Trades of Hope also offer medical care, education (for the artisans and their children), child care when needed, and clean drinking water!

2. Punjammies

Punjammies is a lot like Trades of Hope in the sense that they both exist to free women from the bondage of the sex slave trade and also to prevent women from being lured into trafficking. A woman is brought into the sewing center, taught the craft, and masters it to provide beautiful workmanship. Each pair of pajamas punjammies offers is named after one of their brave sewers. Punjammies also provides an education, medical care, education and if needed, child care, for their artisans.

3. Lifesong For Orphans

I don't even know where to start here. Lifesong is an orphan care ministry that is just huge in lots of things. They provide grants to adoptive families, support for foster care families, education and meals to orphans in 3rd world countries… I mean they just kind of do everything! They offer great products you can buy for your loved ones, or you can give a donation in someone's name.

4. MercyHouse

The Mercy House exists to RAISE FUNDS TO provide alternative options for pregnant girls living in the streets of Kenya. The Mercy House will aid them in education, nutrition, housing, prenatal care, Bible study, counseling and job skills for sustainable living. I'm kind of fond of the founder 'cuz she's a Texas gal that loves Jesus, Sweet Tea and people. 

If you're looking to give a gift that truly makes a difference, I'd highly recommend these awesome organizations!

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's the darndest things.

Last week was a supremely chaotic mix of relaxation, turkey, cold weather, lots of family time, and fun. It was also a week interlaced with grief over the passing of my beloved Dad. He's been gone for 7 years now.

Growing up, we my Mom had a very strict rule of no Christmas music or decorations until after Thanksgiving.

I'm a grown up now, an adult living in my own home. I only cringe a little bit thinking what a disappointment I must be to my Mom, playing my Christmas music way before her rule would allow.

Jubilant melodies tickled my ears as I was scrubbing toilets and wiping layers of dust away from the furniture.

I've long let go of my country music roots. But every once in a while, they creep back in and I can't help but enjoy the twang of my yesteryears.

The piano only had to play a few notes over the speakers before I recognized the song. Soon enough, the harmonic twangy voices of Alabama were taking me back to a different time and place.

They sang of a Tender Tennessee Christmas, but all I could picture was a gangly 9-year old me in hand-me-down Rockie jeans, black boots and my best western button up. My brunette hair fixed for a special time out with my sister and the most loving Dad. I should have been daydreaming about snow and Christmas trees and everything that glitzes in the lights. But my mind recalled picture after picture of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and the night my Dad took us to see Alabama there.

I have a lot of great memories of my Dad, who time after time showed his love for us in the most humble ways. I still have a hard time remembering to get my oil changed, or to even glance at my tires. Dad spoiled me in the worst kind of way and always, always, always took care of those things for us girls. I still miss his famously disgusting hamburger noodle casserole dish. Sometimes.

But one of my favorite memories of my Dad is the night he took my sister and I to see Alabama. We had walked around the Rodeo, saw lots of the side-show type things, went through the shopping area, and finally arrived in our seats. After watching the main Rodeo events, it was time for Alabama to play.  It was only after a few songs that I got a pretty bad fever. I decided I was well enough to stick it out for the rest of the show, but I was desperate for a pickle. (Don't ask. There's this weird thing in my family where all of us kids LOVE pickles.) My Dad, being ever so loving, went to the concession stand,  and stood in line only to find out that they don't sell pickles. But the HLSR had multiple kinds of concession stands. So, in my little mind, there could have been a small chance that maybe one of the other concessions stands sold them. My Dad only let out his trademark "sigh" and strict instructions for us to stay put before he went to search for a pickle for me.

He was gone for what seemed like hours, something I still feel slightly guilty about. Never found my pickle, but left me with a pretty great memory to mull over after all these years.

Dad and me on my wedding day. My Dad had a tough exterior, but was a big 'ol softy on the inside.