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Tumbled Towers: A Reflection on Proverbs 3:5-6

Have you ever observed the progression of block play in a child? When they are babies, the enjoy watching you build. As they get older, the joy comes in knocking the towers down... over and over, giggles ensue when the blocks fall. Then slowly, they learn to stack the blocks... first with you, and then by themselves. When you are working together, the fun is in both the building and the knocking down. The child knows that you will help them build a new structure even better than the last. However, when they go it alone... and work so hard to do it by themselves, rejecting your help... suddenly those falling blocks aren't always so funny. Especially if it is someone else who knocks them down. I have witnessed many a tantrum over tumbled towers.

This morning, I found myself thinking about how our walk with God resembles this innocent child's play. For me, I go back and forth between these phases. Sometimes I am happy to surrender control and let God do the building. Unfortunately this is usually because I am completely broken and lack the strength to even try. Sometimes I get joy from seeing life change suddenly, like a tower falling to pieces, because I am ready for change and trust that what comes next will be good. Most of the time, though? Well, most of the time I am like that stubborn toddler who refuses help. I want to place every block, and of the frustration and anger when it doesn't work out.

I have seen myself go through these phases time after time. Yet none of these are really ideal, right? The best phase, and my personal favorite when playing with my son, is the one that so often gets forgotten when I am living my life as an adult. It is that brief time when the joy comes from working together. Building together, knocking down together. There are going to be times when the block have to fall. This is how we grow. It is so much easier to accept those tumbling towers when you know that there is already a plan for what comes next, and someone to help make it happen. This is what I want my life with God to look like. I am just not there yet.

I was reading Proverbs 3:5-6 last night: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
 
Two things stood out to me. First was the word all. "All your ways," not just those you see fit. This stood out even more because I was also reading Jeremiah 29:11-13. The repetition of the word "all" wasn't lost on me. It does, however, remind me how far I have to go when it comes to learning to seek God's direction in the day-to-day. The other thing that stood out to me was the last line... "He will make your paths straight." The math nerd in me instantly thought about how the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet my life? I don't even know if zig zag adequately describes what it would look like drawn out. Definitely not a straight line. Because usually I am stubbornly choosing my own path. Building my own block tower, if you will, and then getting frustrated when it collapses and I have to try another approach.
 
How much easier it is to walk a straight line. How much easier it is to work with God to build a life that is filled with purpose and growth. I want that. I know that walking with God, and seeking His will, doesn't mean an end to obstacles. That straight path isn't a level one... there are still changes in altitude; peaks and valleys. The difference is that when you hit one of those valleys, God is there to guide you over it instead of trying to find a way around it alone. And when those peaks come? Well, the joy of knowing for certain that it is exactly where you are supposed to be at that point is even better than when we stumble upon them by chance.
 
We can't get to this point by only surrendering control occasionally. It isn't just about seeking God's will for life's big ticket items, or when you feel helpless and defeated. God wants a relationship with us. Always. I can often see how small, seemingly insignificant, choices can be what sparks a chain reaction. When I don't allow God to work in my life on the small scale, day-to-day stuff, I am missing the opportunity to make sure any chain reactions those little decisions cause end in growth and progress. I mentioned that passage in Jeremiah:
 
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
 
We are given assurance that seeking God is not in vain: You will call upon me, I will listen. You will seek me, and find me. My Heavenly Father is always there, waiting for me to ask for help. My prayer is that I continue to learn to do that. I can see where He is working in me to help me get there... the question is will the path be a straight one, or my typical zig zag?
 
 

Moving Forward... with hope.

Today has been an intensely hard day. I am not even going to pretend I can write about this in any way other than just spilling my guts and hitting publish. Because I am overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified. Mom's PET scan results came in today. The cancer has spread into her bone. Into her bone. I was prepared for it to have spread further that we had hoped into her lymph nodes, but not into her bone. I had managed to ignore the word "aggressive" until today. I had convinced myself that the PET scan was nothing to be afraid of... so much so that I wasn't even nervous to hear the results.

When I say I am terrified, I mean it... and in more way than one. I am scared of what it will be like to watch my mom go through aggressive chemo. I am scared of what life is going to look like a year from now. It isn't just that, though. You see, I am scared of an entirely different kind of disease as well. I am scared that I am not going to be able to handle this. That the depression that haunted my first year of motherhood is going to once again show its ugly face. I am scared that A will not only lose a grandma, but also time with his mama. I am so, so scared.

But you know what? My God is an awesome God. He knew that all of this would surface, I have no doubt about that. He had a plan set in place for when it did, too. He gave a dear friend the perfect words to encourage me by text message to get me through the morning. Then... when things got quiet during nap time and the doubt and worry threatened to overwhelm me... he gave me this. A letter, written by one of my real life heroes to her family. A letter that is so painfully honest and hauntingly familiar that it tore me up inside to read it. Yet even as I was overwhelmed with the emotion it brought about, I was also fortified with hope and determination as I read Kim's words.

Because I know that I have lived through something that most people don't understand... and I won. I know that while I am scared and full of fear and doubt, I also enter this new season of life with something I didn't have before... women like Kim. I know and understand myself on a level I couldn't even imagine a couple years ago. I am going into this battle with not only a Heavenly Father who loves me, and friends who support me, but also knowledge and wisdom that the Spirit has been working in me for months now. I can remember telling Matt at several different points that I felt like I was being prepared for something big. Now I know what it was.

I am not going to be unrealistic and claim to have it all figured out. I want to be my mom's rock, but I also know that sometimes I am going to be more like a puddle of goo when things hit rock bottom. I know that I am going to need to ask for help, so that I can help her. I know I am going to need to be careful to keep my routine going, and my mind active.

I know a lot of things... I just hope that I can turn that knowledge into action.

But I do have hope. I have hope for a full recovery for my mom, and for a journey full of strength for those of us who will support her. I will cling to that hope for now, and ask that you all join me in prayer along the way. Please keep praying, friends.

Sensory Table Fun!

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon this blog via pinterest, and was immediately sucked in to this guy's awesome sensory table creations! A was napping, so I broke out my hoarder-worthy collection of toilet paper rolls and other trash useful items and set to work! I loved the idea of having accessories that could be added and removed easily, and wanted to include several different elements. Here is what I came up with:


We call is A's feed lot, because we filled the sensory table with cracked corn and he likes to play with daddy transporting the "feed" in his trucks! I added the parmesan cheese shaker filled with cracked corn and he really likes it. Now I will say that this setup is quite a bit messier than his usual play, but that is what brooms are for, right?? Here is a collage of him and daddy playing... I must have deleted the individual photos, so this is as big as it gets (the dangers of doing these things on the phone!)


And speaking of phone pics, I thought I would share some favorites from this week for Ashley's Wittle People Wednesday! :)



I hope to start sharing more of my learning time fun here again! The amazing Amber and I have a hashtag we use on Instagram (I am @bransonlee she is @ambo14) - #toddlertrays - if you ever want to see what we have been up to! I haven't been on top of it the past couple weeks, but life is finally getting back to normal so hopefully I will pick up where I left off soon! I do love the fact that I get to be A's teacher, and watching him learn is often one of the best parts of my day!!

In Chains

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door
for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Colossians 4:2-3
One of my favorite things about studying the book of Colossians with a group of awesome sisters in Christ is seeing how God highlights different words for us in the same passage. Learning to study scripture for myself has taught me how the Spirit really does speak to us through God's word. It isn't in new revelations like the prophets of old, but in a deeper understanding of how the Word we have already been given applies to our life at this very moment. Thankfully, He doesn't just teach us once and then move on to the next lesson. Our Heavenly Father is willing to repeat Himself over and over to get His point across... just like I find myself doing with my toddler on a daily basis. As it turns out, I am every bit as stubborn as a two-year-old sometimes.
 
As I read yesterday's passage, the words that I kept coming back to were "in chains". Throughout this book of the Bible, God has used the fact that Paul wrote it from prison to really speak to my heart about this season of my life. When I was in high school, at a meeting of our godparents group like the one Matt and I now lead, I felt a very definite calling to be a missionary. At that time I assumed it meant a professional missionary, and for a while that was my plan. Over time, though, plans change. Sometimes we change them, sometimes life changes them for us. I have often wondered if I missed my chance to follow this plan I feel God has for me, but as I get older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I finally realize that God's timing is rarely the same as our own.
 
Instead of going off to a different continent, I have been given opportunities to serve in my local area over the years. Sometimes I have embraced these opportunities, sometimes I have missed them. The ones I missed were usually the ones that didn't seem "important" enough. Yep, I said it. I have definitely struggled with humility over the years. I have tried to overcompensate for what I felt were my failures (like not going straight through college) by seeking out only the opportunities that would make me look important. I often learned big lessons through the roles I took, and slowly God started working on that whole humility thing. It was a slow process, though... because like I mentioned I am quite stubborn.
 
Then I became a mother. Okay, there was a lot that happened in between there, but I love how the start of every big revelation these days starts with the line "then I became a mother..." It is true, motherhood has taught me amazing things. I learn from the love I have for my son, the joy he brings me every day, the way I see both my strengths and weaknesses in him. I learn about myself as I dream about who I want him to be, and even more when God reminds me who He wants my son to be. However some of my biggest lessons were learned through the hardest parts of becoming a mother. The isolation, the frustration, the helpless feeling when everything seems to be too much. There were times that I felt that I was in chains. I may not have been in prison physically, but I was in a place where I had no choice but to slow down and cry out for help... I learned to listen. Well, sometimes.
 
As I think about how God was able to use Paul from prison, it really teaches me two big lessons. The first is that God is never hindered by our earthly circumstances. He can always use us for His work if we let Him. I see proof of this in the relationships I was able to build during that time when I felt I was so isolated. I see it in the emails I treasure about how my words here encouraged women who were going through the same thing. Even when I was struggling and felt like I couldn't do anything right, God was using me to serve Him.
 
The other big lesson I learn is that I need to slow down. Really slow down. It was so much easier to listen when I was broken and begging for help. Yet as soon as God restores me, I run off on my own and start letting busyness take over again. Fortunately, God is patient with me as I make this same mistake over and over. I do see the progress being made, but I also see how far I have to go. When I stop to think about it I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I am thankful for the grace of God that covers me when I mess up... over and over. I am thankful for the lessons I am learning, and the fact that slowly but surely God is helping me become the woman of faith I want to be. I am also very thankful for the wisdom that comes with age. I can see now that God loves me just as I am in this very moment, and accepts me without any need for change. I am learning to also accept myself. I still want to be better, but the person I want to be looks very different than who I wanted to be when I was younger.
 
I am definitely glad that I am not literally in chains, like Paul was, but learning to recognize my limitations and look for opportunities to serve right where I am is such a powerful lesson for me. I am reminded often that right now my main mission field is right here in my home. My husband and my son are to be my priorities right now, and my role as wife and mother is as important in God's eyes as any other. I may still get to experience professional missionary work someday... who knows what God has in store for me. All I know for sure is that each day I have a chance to do God's work no matter where I am. My prayer is that I continue to learn to slow down and seek those opportunities with a glad heart. I want to live the words found in Colossians: "devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful"  and also remember to pray for those who are indeed out in the mission field in distant lands. We are all doing our part to further God's kingdom here on earth, and each worker is important in the eyes of God!

Today

Today is not the ideal day to change my life...

I overslept.

Aiden is sick.

The pinched nerve in my back is making me crazy.

Mom is meeting her oncologist for the first time and I can't help but worry.

It is cold and grey out (high of 46? no thank you...)

I am once again behind on laundry and dishes, and somehow even though we rarely buy new stuff these days all my junk drawers and spaces are overflowing.

Nothing is organized... I am tired... it would be SO much easier to start tomorrow.

BUT...

Tomorrow will be exactly the same.

Except worse, because one more day will have slipped by... taunting me and calling me a failure.

So today, I am starting fresh.

I am taking the first step to dig myself out of this hole that I fell into a month ago.

A month is too long. Way too long.

I need to reclaim the joy I had found before cancer crept into the picture.

I need to not let all the hard work I put in over 5 months of building healthy habits be for nothing.

I need to trust my God to fulfill every promise I am quick to share with others who are struggling but slow to claim for myself.

It is time to fight...

and ready or not I start today.

I was looking for a photo for this post and came across this one... this is why I am so determined... this sweet little angel.
I know that God will give me everything I need to give this little boy the very best mama he can have.
Just Write

Colossians 3:12 - Bible Study Printable

I love creating lessons and printables for our teen group, and often they can be used for a variety of ages and purposes. Here is one on Colossians 3:12 that breaks the verse down using a guided SOAP (scripture, observation, application, prayer) approach.

 

We worked through the first box together, then broke the kids up into smaller groups for the definitions and application. The definitions were printed on slips of paper placed in an envelope for each group. We also handed out a large body outline to each group, and had them compile their groups best ideas onto one sheet. This is what they used to report back when we came back together as a large group.


Lots of Treats this Halloween

 
After a few very heavy weeks I honestly wasn't sure I was up for Halloween this year. It isn't my favorite holiday to start with (although I did really enjoy this article and its perspective on this day), and I didn't really want to spend much money on a costume. Well, thankfully a good friend gave us a costume her little boy had worn, and it turned out to be quite the wonderful night.

Up until this point we have enjoyed seeing the holidays as new through A's eyes, but he hasn't really gotten in to them or understood what was going on. So, I wasn't really expecting the pure joy he would get from the festivities this Halloween! We started on Saturday night with trick-or-treating at Concordia University. This is always fun for me because the dorm I lived in is always the one that hosts it. They decorate each hall in different non-scary themes, and the kids had a great time! We got to go with my little sister and her kids, as well as Matt's brother Sam who moved (back) up here from Missouri:



Then Halloween night we were busy, busy. Matt and Sam took Bubs to a "Trunk-or-Treat" put on by the church across the street from us, while I finished preparing for our Godparents meeting. A had so much fun! He had his first glass of apple cider and thought it was the best stuff ever. He proudly carried his big-boy cup of it around with him.


Next it was off to the youth building at the church for our Godparents meeting. We had a lot of fun with the kids, doing some Bible based "Trick or Treat" hunting, and playing a few games. There was also lots of food and teenage craziness.


While I cleaned up, Matt and Sam headed out with the Bubs again, this time for neighborhood trick-or-treating. (Notice a trend here? haha) They came back with a full bucket after only a few houses, and I was shocked. Then I realized that the thing taking up a lot of room in the bucket was a miniature pumpkin. I thought it was weird that someone would hand those out, but then I found out that A had sweet-talked a lady into giving him not only one of the pumpkins from her porch display but also a bag of animal crackers and a new (unopened) Hot Wheels! He is definitely a little charmer! After hearing how much he loved the trick-or-treating I decided we would do a little more once we packed up at the church.

We headed to my mom's neighborhood where I got to experience the bubby cuteness first hand! It was dark out, so he was so excited to spot which houses had their lights on and look for the "button" (doorbell). He was so sweet, and told everyone he saw "Happy Halloween!" even though neither Matt nor I had taught him that. Matt said he picked it up after the first couple houses where the adult at the door said it. He ran from house to house, asking for another house every time we left a door. It really was just the most magical night for all of us. Seeing A really get into the spirit of things  was so awesome, and definitely has me even more excited for the winter holidays now!


Believe it or not he wasn't all that interested in the candy itself (which is not a bad thing!) and only ate a couple pieces of chocolate and licks each sucker a few times before he loses interest. Luckily we have teens who will take care of the rest of it for us! It definitely was not about the candy this year, but instead just a perfect break from the stress and worry going on in our life at the moment. Such a wonderful gift from a day I almost didn't even celebrate this year... that will teach me...

photography challenge, photography challenges, online photo contest, photography tips,

Michelle’s Halloween #BlogHop

Also linking up at 5 Minutes for Mom

Mom's Cancer Diagnosis and How Friends Can Help

What in the world do I title this post... I am so scattered and frazzled right now that it is just mean for blogger to try to force me to be creative. Life has once again turned into a roller coaster here, with a steep uphill climb ahead of us right now. 3 weeks ago my mom told me she had found a lump in her breast. Yesterday, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer on both sides. It has spread to the lymph nodes, although we won't know how far until after surgery. Today she will visit a surgeon to schedule a double mastectomy.

Aside from the factual information, I have no idea how to express what is going on in my brain right now. I am scared, I am sad, I am angry... BUT I also have hope. I have friends who have been praying us through, and sending messages of encouragement at just the perfect times. I didn't say much publicly in the beginning because we of course prayed it would be nothing. Now that we have a diagnosis, though... well it is time to spread the prayer circle. So, I am asking all of you to pray for my Mom, Candi (her name is Carren, but she goes by Candi always!). Pray for strength, encouragement and healing. Pray that God would be with all of us along this journey... mom, the family, the doctors and nurses, and anyone else who will be a part of her recovery. My mother-in-law told me last night that it seems to her that cancer is a whole family illness. I know that I for one am ready to fight it, but I also know that there will be times when I need a reminder of that.

Obviously we don't know the exact details of what all of this is going to look like. What we do know is that surgery is step one. Lots of people have asked how they can help, so here is what I have to suggest right now:
  • Meals are always a good place to start. I would like to have meals lined up for 2 weeks post-surgery for sure. Freezer meals are ideal... there are three (mostly) grown boys living with her so they can stick something in the oven or crock pot (I hope, haha). However, I can also arrange for hot meals to make it to her if someone wants to cook one night and I will pick it up.
  • Mom loves to read, especially mysteries. I know I contributed to a book collection for a friend when I lived in MO. Audio books would also be great. Or relaxing cds too! Mom loves Irish music and chanting.
  • Cards, especially funny ones, with notes of encouragement would be great. Mom loves to laugh, so I am thinking things like cartoons stuck in them would be good... but also handwritten prayers can be so encouraging when life is hard.
  • Surgery, and most likely future treatments, will take place in Lincoln which is a 30 minute drive each way. Gas cards would be helpful for this.
I will know more as we go of course, but these are the things I am thinking of right now. I know that some of you have been through this, and may have other ideas. I can't tell you enough how much your messages and prayers have meant to me so far! Honestly, that is one of the most powerful things you can do to help! If you decide you want to do something I can provide a mailing address by email.

And you know I can't do posts without photos... here is one of my favorite pics of my Mom and Annabelle:

1000 Instagrams... a snapshot of our life

It is no secret that I love taking photos. When I got the chance to start using Instagram last April, though... well, let's just say I take more photos than ever. I love sharing our little moments with some of my favorite friends, and now with my Good Morning Girls group doing our Bible study together there it is by far my favorite online community. There is something so special about just being real with people who truly care about your life... especially as a stay-at-home mama. I know that my IG girls will get it when I talk about the joys and trials of this motherhood gig. When I am lonely during the day, and need some conversation with someone who uses full sentences, I know where to find it. I used to tell Matt that my blogging community was like my co-workers. Now, as much as I love blogging, this is how I describe instagram. After all, chasing a toddler doesn't always leave time for blogging, but it does create moments just begging for a quick snapshot.

So anyways, I hit 1000 posts on instagram yesterday, and I just had to sit down and put together some of my favorites! 100 favorites to be exact! So, here you go... a glimpse into the everyday life that I love so much... (you can click each collage to view it larger)




Leaves and Laughter... Happy Fall!


Yesterday we got a lovely warm day after some dreary, cold, very windy weather... we definitely had to get out and take advantage of it! We headed over to my mom's house, and ended up having some good, old-fashioned fun in the fall leaves. Matt and my brother raked and bagged (that part wasn't exactly "fun" for them, but you know...) and A jumped in piles and spread it all back out. I, of course, sat on the steps snapping photos. Every time the season changes I miss my "big girl" camera, but then I remind myself what a blessing it is to have a camera at all.






Yep, we can cross playing in the leaves off our fall bucket list! Happy fall, y'all! :)

Ranch Bean Chili {Freezer Meal}

I finally found a local freezer meal swap group, and I am so excited! I love freezer meals, and this will be a chance for me to branch out and keep the freezer stocked. For this first meeting I played it safe and did a yummy, veggie-packed ranch chili and cornbread. Now that I know how it works I can get a little more adventurous next time I think! Here is the recipe for the chili:

Ranch Bean Chili

1 lb lean ground beef
3/4 c. chopped onion
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 of each: green, yellow, red, orange bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chili beans with sauce
1 lg can crushed tomatoes
1-1/3 cups frozen corn
1 cup water
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

Cook beef, onion, carrot and peppers over medium heat until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Cool and transfer to freezer containers. Freeze up to 3 months. To use frozen chili thaw in the refrigerator then heat through in sauce pan or crock pot.



Attitude of Gratitude Challenge {Free Printable}

In my Colossians Bible study group we recently read Colossians 2:6-7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

I found myself drawn to the phrase overflowing with thankfulness. Actually, the whole passage is very visual for me... I picture myself as a strong tree, with roots planted deeply, held firmly in place by a solid rock, with a well nearby overflowing with life-giving water to sustain me. That overflowing well would not just sustain me, though... when something is overflowing, it draws attention! Just like when our lives are overflowing with gratitude it gives us the opportunity to share the absolute love and security that comes with having a relationship with Christ.

I am sure I am not the only one who has know people on both sides of this spectrum... there is the person who is always complaining about what they don't have, and there is the person who is content no matter what. I know that I would much rather stand in the company of person number two. This person is not bragging about how they have it good, or trying to shine a light on their possessions or achievements. Instead they are quietly thankful, and it is this humble gratitude that really stand out among the crowd in the world we live in.

Last night we talked about thankfulness with out Godparents group (Matt and I meet with 12 teens every week in our home for Bible study and fellowship) and we started with Psalm 100:

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

This Psalm is a blueprint for leading a life full of thanksgiving. It shows us the "who" - the Lord is God, Creator of all things and worthy of our praise. It tells us "how" - we show our thanks with words and actions. It tells us "why" - He is good, His love is eternal, and He is always faithful! When we recognize who God is and what He does for us, our praise and thanksgiving should naturally follow! (You can get a copy of the lesson we used here by the way!)

We then read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

Along with this verse, I gave them a challenge. I called it the Attitude of Gratitude Challenge. This week they will record 5 things they are thankful for each day. I have kept a gratitude journal off and on during the last year, and it is amazing how it can change my attitude. Sometimes we need to just take some time to slow down and really think about the abundance of blessings in our lives. In fact, this verse from 1 Thessalonians tells us that we need to do this more often than just sometimes. It tells us to rejoice always! Pray continually! Give thanks in all circumstances!

So, just as I challenged my teens, I am challenging myself to be more intentional about my gratitude. I thought I would make the printable I made for them available in case any of you wanted to do the same! You can download it here. By the way, these teens we work with are pretty amazing and definitely gave us some challenging questions to answer last night! So, at the top of my list for this week is being thankful for the Holy Spirit working through me to provide answers for them... I was impressed with how they really dug into the Word, and gave the questions serious thought! I have a feeling these kids will be changing the world in the coming years! :)

Putting Down Roots and Overflowing With Thankfulness

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. - Colossians 2:6-7

I love how God can make His Word so uniquely personal through the working of the Spirit. I have found more and more that as I study the passages each day with my Good Morning Girls group we all see each verse a little differently. I have learned so much from the amazing girls in my group, and when I truly allow myself to focus on God's Word and listen for the Spirit's guidance, I find that every verse is full of truth for my life. We are working our way through the book of Colossians, and I could blog for months about what I have learned so far probably. Unfortunately, finding computer time just isn't that easy! When I finished my quiet time today, though, I knew I needed to do some writing. After all, for me writing is as much about processing my thoughts as it is about sharing them!

So, for some time now I have been struggling with loneliness and a lack of community here in my small town. I have talked here before about how my recovery from postpartum anxiety and depression have left me feeling out of place. I feel like I am starting over in many ways, yet in reality we have lived here for 4 years now. Those years have been devoted first to my extended family, and then to my little family of three. Now, here I am... 4 years later and still feeling like a stranger.

During the past year especially, I have seen how God has used this time of isolation to really work in my life. He has taught me to say no, and to listen to Him even when it is hard to do. I have learned so much about myself, and my relationship with my Heavenly Father has definitely filled my heart with love that cannot be denied. Recently I felt that God was leading me to finally step outside of my home to serve Him in new ways, and I have loved that challenge! I have found a growing sense of community in our church, and feel so at home working with teenagers again. Yet still I have had the feeling that I was missing something. I would see my online friends talk about play dates and parties, and wonder if I would ever have that again.

So, how does all of this relate to the verses above? I promise I am getting there! You see, for weeks now I have been trying so hard to be more social. I have been making an effort to put myself out there, and be the one that approaches people instead of waiting for an invitation. I kept thinking about this blog post and trying to step outside my comfort zone. And let me tell you, stepping outside my comfort zone left me incredibly uncomfortable... big shock, huh? I started doubting myself even more... wondering if I had said the right thing or tried too hard. Worrying that I looked like a fool more than a friend. Ugh. God kept trying to remind me of key lessons I have learned this year about Him being my reputation manager, and having a plan for me. Yet I continued to worry that there was something wrong with me. Why was I so alone?

So finally, that bring me to today. As I read the words of Colossians 2:7, I realized that my thankfulness had not exactly been overflowing lately. I have been so focused on what I think I need that I have failed to recognize how my real needs have been provided for! I have failed to recognize the amazing blessing of the congregation we have made out church family. I have focused so much on trying to find girlfriends that I have missed the beauty of different kinds of relationships that are being built. I have also taken for granted the amazing friends I have all over the world. I get so wrapped up sometimes in wanting my life to look "normal" that I forget that my life is uniquely mine. I may not get to sit down for a cup of coffee with my best friend each week, but I do get to have the love and support of truly amazing women every day.

I have found myself thinking about Paul a lot as I read his letter to the Colossians. This letter, as well as several others, was written from the solitude of prison. And to be honest, I get the impression that even when Paul wasn't in prison he probably wasn't the most popular guy or the life of the party. Yet he was able to impact countless lives for the glory of God! He was able to genuinely love people, even if he couldn't see them in person. He was able to care deeply enough to share some tough love and truth that wasn't easy to hear. He truly let God use him just as he was, instead of pretending to be someone else. He was content in every circumstance, instead of wanting things he didn't need (well, as much as any human is capable of all these things! He wasn't perfect of course...).

It is so common to hear people talk about putting down roots in a community. In fact those very words have gone through my mind at times when I feel like a social failure. I worry that waiting so long to put down roots here means I will never fit in. Yet Colossians 2:6 reminds me that I am to be rooted in Christ! I can't ever really put down roots here on earth, because this is not my home! While I absolutely believe fellowship is important, I need to stop focusing so much on the picture in my head of what it should look like. I need to focus on what I have been given already, sink my roots even deeper into the rock of Christ, and let Him show me His perfect plan for me. Perhaps those plans include some local friends, but maybe not. I need to be okay with either outcome, and have faith in the fact that God knows me better than I know myself and He knows exactly what I need.  After all, He has blessed me with all of you!

So that is where I am this morning. Obviously I could not have fit all of that in an instagram caption (although I am definitely quite verbose there as well), but it was a message I needed to share. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn as we continue this study, and thank God daily for the amazing gals going through it with me! Yes, I wish we could all meet in person, but I am definitely overflowing with thankfulness that we have been brought together here! Have a beautiful day, friends.

The Bubs and The Babbling...

I had some photos of the bubs that I wanted to share, but then I also found myself rambling... a lot. So enjoy the cuteness and then if you want to hear what was bouncing around in my brain this morning it is here too...






And now for the rambling...

For the second day in a row I have woken up before my alarm, and before I even knew I was awake my brain was buzzing with excitement. Yesterday's excitement was about the first day of the Good Morning Girls Colossians Bible study, and that continued throughout the day as I saw each of my group members spending time in the Word! Today, I am still processing the incredible committee meeting I attended at church last night. Big things are happening at our church right now, and I can't help but marvel at how amazing God is! It is exciting for me, both as a member and as a mother, because we are working to provide for the coming generations at St. John's and I now have a little boy who is counted among those who will benefit. I have been thinking so much about my faith journey after hearing the testimony of an amazing couple last night, and I am just so blessed by how God is working in my life.

Of course every big change comes with growing pains. Right now we are feeling that with Aiden. I have gone from being home and with him always, to having meetings and times at home (like Godparents) when I can't give him my full attention. His reaction to this has been to cling to me whenever possible. Have you ever tried to do yoga with a toddler wrapped around you? Not exactly ideal. While I don't quite fit the mold of attachment parenting, it has described my parenting philosophy better than any other. So now I am trying to figure out how all of this works together. I am also realizing how important it is for me to truly learn to slow down and listen to God. I learned what happens when I don't do that last week. I know that there are things in my life right now that I am being called to do outside the home. So, I also know that God has a plan for how I can accomplish this while still giving Matt and Aiden everything they need. I just need to keep listening, and figure out what that plan is!

Today will be a day of preparing for our meeting with the parents of our teens on Wed. I have baking to do, handouts to print, icebreakers to plan. One thing I won't be doing is stressing about having everyone packed in our little home. We decided to go ahead and hold the meeting at church, and I have to say that this was a huge relief. Matt and I live very simply. Our apartment is big, but it is an apartment. Our furniture is a collection of items from here and there... none of which was purchased new, and most of which is well worn. Our decor is not terribly stylish, and to be honest I have done very little decorating since we moved in here. All of this is fine with us. It is how we choose to live. Yet I found myself worrying about what the parents would think. It is so easy to not try to live up to everyone else's standards until you are getting ready to entertain a large group of strangers! I will say that last night when I listened to a couple at church talk about how they are putting off buying new cars, repainting and redecorating, taking big trips... all to focus on financially supporting our current project I felt reassured. I know that there are more important things than nice houses, new cars, and stylish furniture... I just need that reminder now and then!

So, anyways, this is where I am as I prepare for today. I am excited, encouraged, and feeling incredibly blessed. Life is not without trials and struggles, but the joy I have far outweighs all of it. God is good!

3 Favorite (Delicious and Nutritious!) Muffin Recipes


I have been working on these recipes for quite some time to make them both nutritious and delicious. Here are the three current versions of the recipes, all in one place! Enjoy!

Zucchini Carrot Apple Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or 3/4 c. wheat 3/4 c. white)
3/4 cup milled flax seed
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded zucchini
2 cups shredded apple
1 cup raisins (or craisins)
1 cup chopped walnuts (or sunflower seeds)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, flax seed, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla and oil; mix until just blended. Stir in the zucchini, carrots, apples, raisins and nuts. Fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.
3. Bake at 350 F (175 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Makes 18 muffins

 
Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. peanut butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 medium overripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (or 3/4 c. white and 3/4 c. wheat)
1/2 c. milled golden flax seed
1 c. mini chocolate chips

Cream butter and brown sugar. Blend in peanut butter.
Add eggs, vanilla, and bananas. Blend until smooth.
Stir in dry ingredients.
Fill each muffin cup with 1/4 c. batter.
Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes.
Makes 18 muffins.
 

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

17.7 oz (about 6 cups) All Bran Bran Buds
2 c. old fashioned oats
2 c. boliing water
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. oil
3/4 c. plain pumpkin or applesauce
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 lg can pumpkin pie filling
1 tsp salt
4 c. unsweetened almond milk
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 T. vanilla
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. unbleached white flour
1 c. milled flax seed
5tsp. baking soda
1 c. raisins

In a large bowl, put 2 cups of the bran buds, 2 cups oatmeal, and boiling water. Cool. Add sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin and spices. Mix well with mixer. Add remaining ingredients and mix by hand until all ingredients are mixed well. Fill muffin cups or tins almost full (about 1/4 c. in each). Bake at 325 until tops bounce back, about 20-25 minutes. **This is a giant recipe and makes 5 dozen muffins! They freeze well, though**

Life in the Fast Lane...

This morning all I can do is laugh at myself. Yesterday was kind of a train wreck. We went to MOPS in the morning, and A hated it. He was a total mess when I picked him up, and ended up being more or less glued to me for the remainder of the day. Now, he is a pretty independent boy these days, so I have to say that by 9 PM when he came BACK to my bed (after an hour of bouncing in his crib) because he was upset and wouldn't sleep I was on the verge of the mommy crazies. I thought about how I tell Matt I wish A would cuddle more. This, however, was too much. I had flashbacks of those newborn days when all I wanted was to NOT be touched for a while.

While I was endlessly cuddling the boy, I found myself thinking. A lot. Thinking about so many things... questioning so many things. Yet the one thing that I kept thinking over and over was that I had once again taken life to the extremes. If you don't know my story, I struggled with postpartum depression and some fairly severe social anxiety disorder after Aiden was born. It has only been in the past 6 months or so that I have started to feel "normal" again. It was even more recent than that when I stopped dreading social situations. I am finally getting back into the swing of things where the nervousness before meeting new people is nothing more than what anyone feels.

I have spent my whole life, prior to becoming a mother, as a very social person. I have always been a joiner, a do-er. So, these past two years were incredibly hard. Yet they were also incredibly important. They gave me a chance to really learn about myself, and to draw closer to the Lord. I learned to listen when He told me "no" and I learned to say no myself. I guess that is why I was so disappointed in myself yesterday when I really stopped to think about the past week.

I was so excited when I felt God leading me to once again step outside my home and start serving Him in new ways. I was so excited when I could attend meetings and events without fear, and I was starting to feel like I was a part of a community again. I remember thinking a few times that our upcoming schedule sounded a little busy, but I was so focused on the lack of social anxiety that I let that consume me. It is like when a wound heals, and you occasionally poke it to make sure it doesn't hurt anymore. I have realized that this is what I was doing.

So, last night, as I was laying with my boy thinking about the week, I realized that I had taken a green light from God and raced ahead without watching for any other signs along the way. I missed the yield sign of my messy house, zoomed through the yellow light of my poor diet and lack of exercise, even ignored the flashing red light of a stress cold. I had overcommited, and in the process started to crowd God out.

Now I don't have all the answers this morning. I don't know what my schedule will look like even next week at this point. All I know for sure is that I learned a big lesson yesterday. I know that it is way to easy to lose all progress made in a heartbeat, and that if I don't slow down a much bigger crash is ahead. So, I will be spending this weekend doing just that. Slowing down. I may disappoint some people, but I know that I need to have a serious talk with God and figure some things out. I am so thankful for a God full of mercy and grace who is patient with me as I learn, and re-learn, what it means to walk with Him!

Another Milemarker on an Incredible Journey

For weeks now, Matt and I have been anxiously awaiting today. Today we will meet the 12 high school freshmen whom we will mentor, love, pray for, and guide through the next four years. Each week these young people will come into our home, and we will have the opportunity to share the love of Christ with them, while helping them figure out what it means to walk with Him as they become adults. Wow... what a big opportunity. Wow... what a big responsibility.

However, now that the day has arrived, I find that God is drawing my attention to something else this morning. I have been so focused on preparing for the event, that I hadn't taken the time to realize the significance of this in my own life. So, as I sat down for quiet time this morning, I found myself looking back through my journal entries from the start of this year, and I realized that today marks something equally important for me. Today I am seeing the fruit of an incredible journey with God this year.

When I started the year I was struggling. I was lonely, discouraged, lost. I remember feeling so overwhelmed because I knew I needed to make a change, but had no idea where to start. I asked my dear friend Kathryn to be my accountability partner, and she suggested a book for me. I know that God's hand was in this, and His will was so much bigger than I even knew. He used this one tiny step as the starting point for an incredible journey.

I studied simplicity, and with the encouragement of another dear friend I attended a women's Bible study at church. It was here that God took that first little step, and nudged me further along His path. My group at women's Bible study encouraged me to visit with our pastors about my thoughts on family ministry, and that was when I really started to feel the hand of God working. Yet I still struggled.

I struggled to figure out how all of this was to work with my current season of life... that of a toddler mama. God definitely worked in my heart for a long time on this, and I learned to say no to opportunities I thought I wanted because they weren't right. I struggled to learn what it means to be a wife and mother, and that my first and most important mission field is under my own roof. It was hard for me to accept the fact that I couldn't do it all. I remember specifically questioning the decision to turn down a request to work with the Junior High youth ministry at church. Saying no went against my instincts, and yet I felt peace with the decision. I realized that I was learning an important lesson abut discernment.

I spent months studying Proverbs 31, and during this time God changed my heart dramatically. It took a lot of work, but He managed to teach me the difference between the world's standard of excellence and His own. Slowly, He has helped me to see the value of my daily work... yes, even cleaning and laundry. I have so much yet to learn about this, but I reached a point when I felt like God was kind of giving me His stamp of approval to pursue interests outside the home. I remember over and over being reminded that my family was where I was meant to serve, but then it was like a door opened, and I was invited to venture out.

Going through that door, and volunteering to be Godparents leaders was a huge step for us. We loved our time as youth leaders in Missouri, but as I sat in our meeting with Pastor and listened to my amazing husband talk about how our life had changed over the years, I realized we had come so far since then. We now enter into youth ministry not just as young adults ourselves, but as parents. We see things a little differently. Not necessarily better, but differently. I can see how everything we have gone through has brought us to this point, and I am so excited to see where God takes us with these kids. I could go on and on (you know me...) but I suppose it is time to take this excitement and get ready for the day. All the while singing a little Sunday school song in my head...

God is so good, He's so good to me...



Okay, so maybe I am not done rambling quite yet. I also found myself thinking about the women God has placed in my life to help me along this journey and I wanted to thank a few of them real quick. I mentioned Kathryn, who held me accountable as I established my daily quiet time, and Amber, who encouraged me to seek opportunities for fellowship (and was also one of my greatest sounding boards for the struggle of finding God's plan during this season of motherhood). There was also Kim who taught me so much about discernment (probably without realizing it), Adriel who inspires me to look outside my own little bubble into a world filled with opportunity to share the love of Christ, Kim who inspires me often with her words and wisdom as a mama who survived the toddler years and is raising amazing teens, Casey who has helped me find direction and purpose as a mama, Ashley who encouraged me to do what was right for me and my family instead of feeling obligated to please others, and so many others... I am so lucky to have found this incredible group of women, and I love all of you!

Stop! Slow down! I am not ready!


When did my baby become this big boy? The one who runs ahead of mama without fear, who insists he is big enough for the tallest slides, who surprises me every day with new words... This big boy who doesn't need me to pray for him anymore, and instead needs me to pray with him. When did my little one who needed me for everything start doing things for himself? Opening the refrigerator to get a snack, trying to put on his own shoes, changing his sleep schedule even when it doesn't fit my plan.

I know that I should be proud of him. I should see this things as fruits of my labor, and indications that I am doing my job as mama. He is confident and smart, independent and determined. He wants to learn everything he can, and looks to me to teach him. Yet, there is this part of me... some days it is a big part, some days I can control it... this part of me that wants to keep him a baby. Who wants to yell "Stop! Slow down! I am not ready!" Because it is true.. I am not ready. But ready or not, here he comes. This little man who has stolen my heart and will forever run around with a piece of it that I can't get back... not that I would want to.

I find myself constantly hovering between tears and joy these days. There is no more beautiful sound to me that Aiden's voice saying prayers to our Heavenly Father, but it also tugs at my very core. Because I know that ultimately Aiden is God's child and I have been given the amazing opportunity to raise him... but that means I can't keep him all for myself. I can't slow him down, or keep him my baby. I can only lean on God to soothe my mama heart as His will is done in the life of this sweet boy.

Motherhood has taken my relationship with my Heavenly Father to places I never dreamed of before. I find myself overwhelmed at the lessons I am learning, and the ways I am growing. It has been both the most challenging and most rewarding time of my life, and I am so thankful for this precious gift. I just wish it didn't have to go so fast...

Living and Active: Getting Started

I mentioned this Living and Active challenge over on my blog facebook page, and I am excited to join in for an extra boost in my spiritual and fitness journey. The first post is up, and wow are they providing some excellent resources, including great workout printables and videos. Be sure to check it out!


The past couple of weeks have been hard for me, so this is probably coming at a good time. I have struggled with my new routine, as well as nutrition, and it has been a bit of a valley in the journey for sure. I had a moment last week, though, when I realized that if this was easy then everyone would succeed without so much effort. The whole reason I am in this place is that the easy thing to do is quit. I refuse to quit this time, though. I am definitely proud of myself for my progress so far. I am coming up on 5 months since I started, and I feel so much better! I think about where I was 5 months ago, and it really is such a change... I need to look back like that more often I think. It is easy to lose sight of how far I have come because I am always so focused on where I want to be.

My struggles with the current program I am doing, The New Rules of Lifting for Women, come from needing my husband home to spot me for heavy lifting. I am definitely a morning person, and I miss being able to have an early workout. While lifting heavy is doing amazing things for my body already, it requires a lot of dedication and planning. I am pretty limited in what I can do even on my non-lifting days because I am usually so sore and need to make energy for weight sessions a priority. I am learning to deal with this, though, and as my body adapts to the routine I am able to start doing more cardio. This weekend I had an awesome workout on Saturday! However, I know that the girls who are ahead of me say that it only gets harder so I am trying to stay focused on my overall goals.

My nutrition struggles come from me being an impatient perfectionist... how do you like that for honesty? Haha. Right now we are going through a tight spot financially, and it is harder to make great choices on a smaller budget. I know that even on my "off weeks" I am leaps and bounds beyond the days of fast food and diet soda all the time. We have eliminated artificial sweeteners, and that change has stuck even when money is tight. Of course this choice also makes my sugars high because of the lack of "diet" yogurts and snack foods. I know it is all about balance, and that little steps now will lead to the changes I want to see. I just need to be patient and dedicated, and trust the process.

So anyhow, this is where I begin this particular challenge. I love the scripture component, and look forward to building my motivation and dedication as I remember that my body is a temple, and I want it to be a healthy place for God to dwell so I am not limited in my ability to serve Him. I also look forward to being inspired and encouraged by some new bloggy friends. I could not have come this far in my journey without my online support from both blog and myfitnesspal friends. I look forward to seeing big things happen through this challenge, and am so thankful for Peak313 Fitness bringing it together!

For those visiting for the first time from the challenge:

Hi! My name is Branson and I am a stay-at-home mama to one little boy who is my main source of motivation and encouragement to get healthy. He is 2 and already in the habit of handing me exercise dvds and telling me to "walk". He love to do yoga with me from time to time, and has the most perfect form on reverse crunches during the 30-Day Shred, lol. My current workout routine consists of lifting heavy 3 days each week, with cardio on my off days. I try to get one full day of rest each week, but don't always succeed. I have been lifting heavy for 3 weeks, and definitely feel the benefits already. Plus, I admit I feel pretty awesome when I am doing barbell squats and deadlifts. I am an active member of my church home, and also love my morning quiet time. I lead a Good Morning Girls group. However, I keep saying I need to do better at memorizing scripture so that part of this challenge is perfect for me! Feel free to introduce yourself in the comments with a link to your blog... I love finding new friends to share this journey with!

Motherhood in the Trenches

Today is one of those days when I am overwhelmed at the perfect way God provides for my spiritual and emotional growth. When there is so much to work on, it is easy to fall behind in certain areas of life... like my attitude. I am trying so hard to get healthy, be a good mom, serve God, make new friends, etc. Yet in the midst of all these good efforts, an old foe crept in... a bad attitude. It started with a funk, grew to the grumps, and by this morning as I sat down for quiet time and the only thing I could pray for was an attitude adjustment.

It is easy for me to overwhelm myself. I want to be everything to everyone, and I tend to try to do it all on my own. Not only does this not really work, but it always ends with me being less than lovely to be around. Okay, I turn into a major crankster. And my poor husband gets the brunt of it. How that man puts up with me I will never know, but that is another topic...

So anyways, I sat down this morning and opened a tiny little book, titled "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches" that packs a bigger punch than books ten times its size. Every time I open it, I am amazed at how God knew exactly what I needed at this very time in my life... a big fat attitude adjustment. One that was delivered in a little brown amazon box from a friend who had no idea I was so desperately struggling. Mainly because I had no idea I was so desperately struggling. Because these things don't happen overnight. They are the result of too many days and weeks of ignoring tiny nudges and little signs. Unfortunately, I often do this until the only option God has left is to knock me over the head in a way I can't ignore.

So, I sit here this morning, humbled by the realization that in the midst of so many good efforts I have yet again failed at something so important... accepting grace and direction from my Heavenly Father. I once again got wrapped up in my own agenda, and stopped really listening to His. The things I have been focusing on are all worthy goals, but I am being reminded that I don't need to try so hard, and I definitely don't need to do it alone. God wants me to be healthy, a good mother, a servant, a friend, etc... BUT He doesn't require anything from me but a heart that loves Him and accepts His mercy and grace. Everything else will follow when I take the time to align my expectations with His. I wonder if I will ever truly learn this lesson well enough that I stop running off on my own path?

So, today I once again start fresh. There is nothing more beautiful than this truth. God provides us with unending blank slates... and I have definitely used my fair share over time. I need to take a deep breath and look at things one step at a time, turning all of my efforts over to the Lord and allowing Him to direct my paths. I hear the whisper now that I have been forced to stop and listen... "Slow down, let Me help... My grace is sufficient for you, and I have a plan..." Thanks be to God!
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. - Jeremiah 29:11-13

Wordless Wednesday

These photos are from late July, but I found them on my computer and thought I would share them anyhow!







Linking Up With:
Live and Love...Out Loud