Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Spring for Susannah

In her debut novel, Spring for Susannah, Catherine Richmond does a great job playing with my emotions. When I began this book, I honestly thought this was going to be a butterfly story. You know, the girl is mousy and anti-social who develops into a beautiful, confident woman that only the man she ends up falling in love with can pull out of her. And part of plot is just that, a butterfly story. The story quickly changed into an entirely different story that had me reading the book every chance I could get, and wishing I could read the book on the chances I couldn't get. 

Set in the Dakota Territory after the Civil War, Susannah, with no other options, and no place to go, becomes a mail order bride, traveling out to the middle of no where to marry a man she knew only through letters and through the words of his brother, her minister. Jesse, one of the first homesteaders in the Dakota Territory, has a need for a companion, a wife to talk to in a sod house where the closest neighbor is miles away. 

I found myself pulling for Susannah and Jesse. It was always two steps forward, one step back with those two. They depended on each other and Jesse's incredible faith in God to get through a brutal winter, a prairie fire, and an infestation. It seemed every time things would start to look up, something would knock them back. These struggles caused both of them to grow in different ways. By the end of the novel, they had both morphed into totally different characters than when they first began. And I found myself hoping there was a book 2 to this novel, so I could see if their dreams did come true. 

I read books pretty frequently, normally picking up the next novel as soon as I'm done with the first one. Because of that, it normally takes me two or three chapters before I'm immersed in the lives of the characters. NOT THIS BOOK. Honestly, I was sucked in immediately. The first night I picked it up, it was hours before I put it down, and only because I had to get up early. I was impressed by the real emotions Catherine develops in her characters and how real the struggles were. Most novels, the characters deal with one or two conflicts that results in a pretty quick resolution. In Spring for Susannah, the timing was right, the events seemed logical, and the emotions seemed real. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Catherine Richmond's novel and cannot wait to read her next one. 

Happy reading, everyone. 

Devotion: God's Timing During Struggles

Photo Credit 

"Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, 'His name is John,' and everyone was surprised. Immediately, Zechariah could talk again, and he began praising God." Luke 1:63-64

It had been almost 3 years, and we were still living with my parents. Our house, 100 miles away, was sitting empty, for sale, with very little prospects. And we were living with my parents hoping, each day, we would get the phone call that someone was interested in our house. Those 3 years were some incredibly trying times. It's hard to raise your growing family in someone else's home. And I'm sure that it is hard to let your grown daughter, her husband, and her 2+ kids basically take over your house. During the time we were there, we got pregnant with our 3rd child, our only girl, went through the entire pregnancy, and was there the 1st year of her life, never having a nursery or baby room of her own. It was also the time of my most difficult years of teaching. Every day I came home just emotionally exhausted with the struggles of teaching in a new school, with students who don't know how you work, and with parents who don't know to trust you.

It was a HARD 3 years.

But God is sovereign. He knows exactly what He's doing, and His timing is perfect. Everything He does has a purpose; each moment a piece of a puzzle grander than I'll ever see.

I was reminded of this time of struggle for me this morning as I was going through today's verses in the Bible study I am doing through Good Morning Girls. We just started the book of Luke, and today's scripture reading was about the birth of Jesus's cousin, John the Baptist. If you don't know the entire INCREDIBLE story, basically an older couple was able to conceive after giving up. Zechariah, the father, didn't believe the angel {yes, I said ANGEL...who doesn't believe an angel?}when he said Zechariah's aging wife, Elizabeth, was going to be blessed with a child, a boy who would grow up to help prepare the way for God's son, Jesus. Because of Zechariah's doubt, the angel took away Zech's voice.

So fast forward to today's verses. Read the entire section of John's birth HERE. In this Bible study I'm doing, we follow the SOAP method {"S"cripture, "O"bservation, "A"pplication, and "P"rayer}, and today's verses we were to write out are the ones above, Luke 1:63-64. At first I was not impressed with the scripture choice, thinking that maybe verses 65-66 would have been a better option. Then after really looking at the scripture, what I noticed was Zechariah's statement about the name of his son. No one expected the boy's name to be "John"; it wasn't a family name, and it was Zech's first child. Why not name him after Zech? It became obvious to me that Zech and Elizabeth had already "discussed", probably through writing and sign language, the child and what his name should be. You would think that God would have given Zechariah his voice back as soon as his heart understood the truth. But he still struggled.

God's timing is perfect. Because of the miracle of Elizabeth even conceiving a child and carrying it to term, there would be a ton of people present to celebrate this little miracle. God chose that moment to give Zechariah his voice back. It was a moment where everyone would see it actually happen, and would be amazed, and, most importantly, would tell everyone they knew. If you read the entire section, word of Zechariah and Elizabeth's miracles spread around town and through the mountains. His struggles happened for a reason. God had a greater purpose than just teaching Zechariah a lesson. He wanted the significance of John's birth, John's existence to be noticed, to be surrounded by miracle upon miracle. People would be watching this child. Word would get around that God had a special plan for this John. And word did.

Something simple as a person losing his voice set in to motion a chain of events that all went back to glorify God. His plan, His purpose is perfect. His timing has meaning.

What a reminder for me when I am going through struggles. There was a reason why my house didn't sell right away. There is a reason why I struggle with my weight. There is a reason why no matter how much we budget and cut back, we are still struggling to make ends meet. There is a reason why my children have their struggles. Why YOU have YOUR struggles. Waiting on God's timing can be difficult, but see it more as an honor that He is working something special in your life that will have a positive effect at the right time. It will be worth it in the end, and you will be able to see how incredible God's timing is.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Review: The Key on the Quilt

Stephanie Grace Whitson has done it again. She has written another novel that has captivated my mind and has left me wanting more. I have read Sixteen Brides and Unbridled Dreams, both books capturing my heart. So when I saw The Key on the Quilt, the first book in The Quilt Chronicles series, I grabbed it up fast, brewed me a cup of coffee, wrapped myself in my great-grandmother's quilt, and began reading. 

The story, set around a late-1800s penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, is about three women who come from three very different backgrounds. Each woman comes to realize her true role, her true identity as danger threatens their existence. 

The main character, Jane, is an inmate. Throughout the story, we see how she works hard to just "do her time" by creating a cocoon around herself, barely speaking to anyone, and just going through the motions each day. She is forced, though, to show her true heart to not only the other inmates, but also to the prison matron, the warden, and his wife. We see how she struggles with her past, tries to hide from her present, and is afraid to look towards the future. 

Then we see the story through the eyes of the prison matron, Mamie. She came to this job following her heart's calling after a tent revival. At first she struggles with how she is to minister to the women the rest of the world consider less-than-human. After much prayer and prioritizing the needs of the inmates, she begins a journey of true service, meeting people where they are and addressing individual needs. And we get a bonus story through a very unlikely friendship that teeters on a deeper relationship. 

Finally we get see all of these events through the eyes of the warden's wife, Ellen. She's a southern, well-to-do woman who married a yankee man who had to work hard for what they had. He uproots her well-established life and moves the family to Lincoln. She, too, struggles with her present. What is expected of her as a warden's wife? What does a gentle southern lady like herself supposed to do with women who lie, steal, and kill their way into a prison? Through her relationship with Mamie and with quite a few dangerous events with Jane, Ellen comes to see her true purpose. 

This was a great read. The characters, much like the quilts that are prominent throughout the story, weave in and out of each other's lives, eventually making a beautiful story of friendship, love, forgiveness, and purpose.  Many times I questioned the title of the book, thinking it should have been named Grace Notes, but just like a quilt, the completed project reveals a much grander story than just the individual pieces. 

Stephanie Grace Whitson's second book of this series comes out in the Spring of 2013. I can't wait to see how else she weaves the stories of complicated women into beautiful servants of the Lord.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Devotion: Receiving God's Love and Discipline

"He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is safe." Proverbs 28:26

It had been an hour, and no one had said anything to me. I stood at the front of my car with my daughter in the shopping cart waiting. I had locked my keys in my car, and I was waiting on someone to come open my door for me. And while I waited, I fully expected someone, anyone to be a good Samaritan  Yes, help was on the way, but I thought for sure these other mamas, older people, and even employees at this certain grocery store {known for its customer service} would at least inquire why I was standing, with my daughter, in the parking lot in front of my car...for an hour. Just as my blood was starting to boil about how inconsiderate other people were, help arrived, with a smile on his face. As he worked on getting my door open, he talked about how fortunate I was. It was a sunny day, it wasn't too cold outside, and he was actually available when my husband called. You see, he was a family friend who works for fire department. He was off duty and was about to head into the gym when my husband called to ask for help. Since this nice man normally doesn't take his phone into the gym, if my husband had called 5 minutes later, we would have had to call a lock smith and pay a bill we just couldn't afford. While he was telling me all this, my heart was starting to hear what GOD was saying through this man: I was being blessed.

That night my family and I had our family worship time. Our verse for this week is Romans 11:22, "Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God." As we went around the circle pointing out ways God has been kind to us and ways God has disciplined us, I immediately thought of my parking lot epiphany. God had been kind to me. It was supposed to rain and be cold that day. It just so happened that while I was out it was quite pleasant. Instead of locking my wallet inside of the car as well, I had my money on me. That meant I didn't have to be embarrassed as I put all my stuff back on the shelves. The list began to grow. As the weekend carried on, I was determined to see other ways God was being kind and ways God was disciplining me. Here are just a few examples:

I got only 30 minutes of sleep the previous night....my daughter was incredibly well behaved and even understanding when I just needed to rest instead of play.

My friend Mindy was missing out on Breakfast Club....I was able to eat with two other ladies whom I don't get to see that much anymore.

The well-planned get together at my house did not follow the schedule...everyone had a great time, and it was fun hanging out with a bunch of friends and all their babies.

We misunderstood the schedule at church and had nothing planned for Sunday School...we spent an hour catching up with the youth.

I was going to miss a sermon I wanted to hear at church...I got to hold a sweet, sweet baby of a friend who had moved away and was back for a visit.

My husband nor I had arranged for someone to sit with my boys during church {I was in the nursery and my husband plays in the praise band}...two ladies took it upon themselves to sit on either side of my children...not necessarily to monitor them but just to be visible adults.

Only one family showed up for Home Group at our house...we spent over 2 hours in serious and not-so-serious conversation with that one family that it was such a blessing.

And this is the short list. I could go on and on about how God was showing me that He cares, that he is loving on me, and that He was disciplining me to be a better person.

I told my boys as they got out of the car this morning to go to school their homework was to look for ways God was being kind and stern and that we would discuss it when they got home. I have challenged myself to do the same today and I challenge YOU to do this as well. You might be amazed. The verse at the top reminds us to trust in God's wisdom. Following HIS path, and not our own, is what keeps us safe and will open our eyes to all the many ways God has His hand in every moment of our lives.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why We Don't Homeschool Our Children

Let me first say that this is in NO WAY a commentary bashing those who choose to homeschool their children. I have many friends who successfully homeschool; I know many homeschooled young people who are now in college; and I follow quite a few blogs and Pinterest boards that share homeschooling curriculum, activities, and ideas. This post is strictly a reflection on why my husband and I chose to NOT homeschool. 

It is the first day back from Christmas break, and I'm up eeeaaarrrlllyy preparing breakfast, checking bookbags, and getting lunches packed away. I take quite a few deep breaths as my sons struggle to get back into the routine of getting up early, getting dressed, making their beds, eating their breakfasts, doing a devotion, brushing their teeth, and getting out the door on time.

On the way to school, my oldest child speaks up in the backseat, "Hey, mom? Why don't we just stay at home instead of going to school? You're a teacher. Why can't you just teach us?" Now first off, this isn't because he doesn't like his teachers. In fact, he loves his teachers. I think he's just hitting that age where the novelty of getting up each morning before the sun rises is starting to wear off. His questions lead to an interesting conversation, and I want to share with you what I told him.

A few years ago, when we decided I would be a stay-at-home-mom, Joe and I asked each other the same questions. In that first year, my husband mentioned quite a few times he wondered why I didn't decide to homeschool our kids. After much praying, some soul searching, and many conversations, we decided it was best for our kids to be in the public school system. These were the reasons:

1. Teachers are trained:
As an educator, I know how much goes in to daily teaching. Each teacher has to go through a minimum of 4 years of training {college}, and is required to continue taking classes for as long as they want to keep their certificate. Teachers are constantly trained on ways to better their classrooms, their curriculum, and their relationships with their students, parents, and fellow coworkers. If educating my children was all about reading novels, reasoning through literature, understanding grammar, and applying grammar and all writing skills into developing essays, then, sure, I could homeschool my kids. But I stink at math. I almost failed chemistry. And as much as I love history, I wouldn't make that great of a history teacher. Could I teach my children how to read, write, and do math on a basic level? Sure I could, but why not trust someone who was trained and is held accountable, by not only me, but also by coworkers, principals, superintendents, the president, and tax payers? If I taught my own children, the accountability isn't as intense. Would my children need to accomplish certain goals and pass certain tests? Yes. But I would never really have to keep on my toes knowing that at any moment someone could walk into my home and evaluate whether or not I am teaching to a high standard {which, by the way, SC has one of the toughest standards in the country, many times even tougher than the national standards}. My simple response to my son was that his teachers are better trained and equipped to teach him than even is teacher-mother.

2. Better resources
I have worked in three very different districts, and even before I became a teacher, I was a substitute teacher in two other districts and did my practicum teaching in yet another two districts. That is a total of 7 school districts I have had the pleasure of working in, and I have seen, at least at the middle and high school levels, what kind of resources are available to the students. Even the "poor" districts had more resources than what I could afford or even have room for in my own home. With the constant advancement in technology, the schools are really becoming a hot spot for learning, providing so many incredible ways for students to grow. I volunteer on a regular basis at my sons' school, and I love, as a teacher and as a parent, the opportunity to learn how to work new equipment, to be on the cusp of technology, and to see how the teachers in my sons' school are developing into better teachers.

3. Benefiting from a "free" education
First off, I know that technically I am paying for my children's education through taxes. Even if my taxes go up 1 cent every two years, I know that my money is going to benefit my children. Are schools always using the money wisely? Probably not. But that isn't any different than, really, any government agency. Are some superintendents, principals, and even coaches getting paid a crazy amount? Yes. But no matter how much I complain about it, I still will be paying my taxes. If I'm paying for it, then my children need to be benefiting from it. My children have access to incredible resources, technology, and educational opportunities. When I first started staying at home and we were discussing the possibility of homeschooling, we priced around homeschool curriculum. I consulted with quite a few of friends who homeschool. What I came to realize was that if I wanted to teach my own kids, it would cost, year after year, more money than we could afford. So not only would I be paying for my neighbor's kids to go to public school, but I would be forking over a pretty penny on curriculum for my kids who are staying at home. Financially it just made sense for us to send them to school. And just a little side note here, we did our research before we had kids. We chose to live in a certain area so that our kids would be going to better schools. Is where we live far from our church? Yes. Is it far from my parents? Yes. But for us, making sure our children had a great education was more important to us than living 10 minutes from work, or from the local shopping centers, or even close to our church. And it has paid off. Our children go to a Blue Ribbon School, which means it is one of the BEST elementary schools IN THE COUNTRY. Why not benefit from that?

4. Community
One of the things I stressed with my son during our conversation was the importance of community. While my children are at school, they are not only getting an excellent education, but they are also learning to be a part, on a daily basis, of a community. In a community, you learn to deal with people who are nothing like you. Some are smarter; some are not as smart. Some are incredibly talented. Some are really weird. Some fade into the background. Some have parents who are at the school all the time. Some don't even have parents. Some are model students; some are incredible rude and disrespectful to everyone around them. But everyone is different, and my children need to learn that. As different as each of my children is, they are still well-behaved, good kids who wouldn't dare speak to me the way some students talk to their teachers. I want my children to be a part of the lives of different children. How else will they know how to handle a child who is missing 4 fingers on one hand, or who has seizures, or is so concerned about good grades he hyperventilates if he makes a B on some test, or someone who wears funky clothing if they are not exposed to that person every day? Jesus made it a habit to be a part of the lives of so many different people. He encourages us to get to know each person for who God created. In the past 3 years, my children have learned how treat others who are different with respect. They have encountered bullies, children with serious medical issues, children who are adopted, children who worship differently, children who have no money, and children who have a TON of money. I love they get to know God's varied creation in a simple, controlled environment as the school. And I really think they are better for it.

5. Being Lights in a Dark World
It was fitting that my sons and I had this conversation this morning. Before we left for school, we talked about John 8:12, "Later, Jesus talked to the people again, saying, 'I am the Light of the world. The person who follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the Light that gives life.'" When I was giving my reasons to him about why we don't homeschool, we talked, in depth, about community. That lead to us talking about our roles as believers in a community. If we are to carry the Light of the world with us, we need to make sure other people can see that light. What better way to teach my children how to show  the love of Jesus than how to serve Him by serving others? So many times I have spoken to my children about how to pray for their friends or why it is important to speak to everyone in school, including the custodians and cafeteria ladies. My husband and I believe that the best way for our children to learn how to apply what we are teaching them at home and in our church is to act out their faith in their classrooms, on the playground, and in the cafeteria. If they struggle, we are here to guide them and encourage them. Going to school has really taught them how to remember to pray for their non-believing friends. We then talked about what would happen if all believers left the public school to be homeschooled. What light would be left in the schools if all the believers left? What hope would be there for others? Jesus didn't hang out with the religious people. He spent every day around sinners in order to give them hope. Teachers who are believers are very limited in what they can do and say in the schools. But the students can bring their Bibles, openly pray for others, participate in service activities, and share the Gospel to the lost. I love, love, love that I can be there to help them before they go off to college to learn how to do that on their own.

and finally....

6. Being a Part of a Support System for Other Believers
After talking about being lights in a dark world, we then talked about other believers my children know. Both immediately were able to mention their friends who love the Lord. I told them one of the best things about being in a public school was the support system they can develop with other believers. They can pray with each other, pray for each other, and encourage each other. It is so important for our children to learn about being a part of a believing community. I gave them the example of our home group. Each Sunday night, members of our church meet in someone's home to pray together. We lift up prayers for health, for jobs, for relationships, and for so many other things. We rejoice with each other, praising God for the good things he has blessed us with. I explained to the boys how important it is to be a part of a believing community. Could my children be a part of a community if they were homeschooled? Absolutely. Many of my homeschooling mom-friends meet with other believers on a regular basis. But if we are choosing to keep our kids in public school, then they need to be reminded the importance of lifting up other believers in a non-believing environment. And again, what better way to guide them than have them live it out at school under the careful guidance of their believing parents? We personally feel that in order for them to hone these skills before heading off to college is to have years of practice with careful guiding along the way.

I feel like the homeschool bandwagon is taking off, and there are so many incredible resources available that it makes homeschooling a reality for so many families. But for our household, we are choosing to send our children to public school. If you are on the fence about which form of education to provide for your children, do what my husband and I did: make a list of reasons why each one would be good and bad for your family. Weigh those options and decide which is best for your family. Listen to the Lord in which path He will take you and your family.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Crockpot Potato and Ham Soup

It's after Christmas and New Years, and I have a ton of ham leftover. So I started making homemade ham and cheese hot pockets, BBQ sandwiches, and ham, egg, and cheese casseroles. And I still had ham left over. I started rummaging through my freezer and decided, based off of what I found, that I could finish off the rest of the ham by making this cold weather delight. 

It came out more like a chowder than a soup, but it was so good. I put in all the ingredients into my calorie counter, and I was surprised at how few calories went into a single serving {see note below}. It was filling enough that each person really only had one serving, and we were pleasantly full. I loved how easy it was to make this soup, and even better at how easy it was to clean up. 

If it is cold and raining where you are, like it is here where I am, this would be a great soup to help warm up your belly. 

Crockpot Potato and Ham Soup
Most of the ingredients.
This picture is excluding the Swanson's chicken broth, the chopped up ham, and the thyme. 
  • 1 bag of Simply Potatoes Hashbrowns
  • 1 family bag of Birds Eye Steam Fresh Asparagus, Gold and White Corn, and Baby Carrots 
  • 1-2 cups chopped baked ham
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tsp onion powder 
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp dried marjoram
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 cups fat free chicken broth
  • 1 can {10 oz} Evaporated milk 
  1. In a large crockpot, add the hashbrowns, frozen {don't cook in microwave} vegetables, chopped ham, chopped garlic, onion powder, spices, and broth. 
  2. Cook on LOW 4-6 hours, on HIGH for 6-8 hours. Stir occasionally. 
  3. The last 30 minutes, add the can of evaporated milk. Stir to mix well through the soup. 
  4. When serving, feel free to top with shredded cheese, sour cream, or chives. 
This made enough for each member of my family to have two servings, which made 10 cups. Adding all this to my calorie counter, it came out to 155 calories per serving. {23 carbs, 4g fat, and 9g protein}

Quick, easy, and good. That's what I'm talking about. Let me know if you try it, and if you have suggestions of what else you would add to this. 

Happy eating. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Devotion: Evaluating My Progress {Reviewing my 2012 New Year's Resolutions}

"Brothers and Sisters, I know that I have not reached yet that goal, but there is one thing I always do.  Forgetting the past and straining towards what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above." Philippians 3:13-14

Happy New Year!

This past Sunday, my pastor presented three questions for the congregation to think about and, if willing, stand up and share their answers. 
"What did God teach you in 2012? 
What has your church meant to you? 
What are your hopes for Grace on the Ashley?" 

As much as I wanted to stand up and answer, there just wasn't enough time for me to spill out all that God taught me, what my church meant for me, and what I planned to do with the lessons learned. So here, today, I share the answers to my questions by evaluating my progress through the past year. You see, at the beginning of 2012, I made 34 New Years Resolutions. I was determined to make 2012 a year of true growth. And as much of a struggle 2012 ended up being, God taught me so much through accomplishing goals, not accomplishing goals, and re-evaluating some of the goals I had for myself. Below you will see my list of 2012 New Years Resolutions and my response to most of them. 

New Year's Resolutions for 2012
  1. Do a devotion EVERY DAY
  2. Organize daily schedule
  3. Take a break from Facebook one full day a week
  4. Walk every Wednesday and Friday
  5. Bake bread at least once a week
  6. Go to New Orleans
  7. Go down one dress size
  8. Meatless Mondays
  9. Speak softer to my children
  10. Be more obvious in my love for my husband
  11. Make freezer meals at the beginning of each month
  12. Go to lunch with my mom once a month
  13. Pay off a major debt
  14. Clean/organize the pantry room
  15. Clean/organize the craft room
  16. Have the youth over
  17. Have the college kids over
  18. Make a new friend (not an acquaintance, but a friend) 
  19. Stick to chore schedule 
  20. Stick to reward/consequences chart
  21. Have family worship once a week
  22. Take the kids to volunteer at a homeless shelter
  23. Visit Connie Maxwell
  24. Find a new hobby
  25. Have one sewing project a month
  26. Promote a local business on my blog once a month
  27. Get a family photo done (professionally) 
  28. Go to the dentist
  29. Have a date with the husband once a month
  30. Try a new, exotic food
  31. Have a successful garden 
  32. Read a non-fiction book 
  33. Go to bed with a clean kitchen 
  34. Recycle
I have organized my response to my Resolutions into five categories: "Relationships," "Home Management," "Life Changes," "Community," and "Accomplishments." 

Let's start with "Community": Numbers 22 and 23
I wanted to teach my children this year the value of serving others in the community. One was to volunteer at a shelter and the other was the visit one of my favorite places, Connie Maxwell Children's Home. I wanted my children to understand the world is so much bigger than just our home, just our neighborhood, just their school and our church. Although I didn't accomplish either of these Resolutions, I did, however, introduce my children to Random Acts of Kindness {see this post and this one}. What God showed me through this year was that teaching my children about serving others didn't always mean you needed serve food at a shelter or volunteer an afternoon playing games with children, but it also means speaking kindly to a waitress, greeting the Greeter at Wal-Mart with true concern, and bringing a gift to the cashier who serves you each week. 

"Life Changes": Numbers 4 and 8 {and sort of number 7}
My goals for 2012 were to finally lose that baby weight from my last child. I promised to change my diet by serving healthier options {see tab on the right for "vegetarian"}. I promised to make daily exercise part of my regular schedule. And although I did not accomplish number 7, God has showed me to be happy with how He created me. If you struggle with weight, and you have not read my post "I'm the Fat Friend in the Group...and I'm Okay," please do so. God placed me in the path of other people who are struggling to lose weight. He gave me words to pass on to others who are really about to give up. He brought others to me to lift me up, encourage me, and assist me as I struggled this year. NOT losing weight has turned out to be a blessing in so many ways. And my family is still benefiting from healthier eating, and my children are learning from  me ways to stay in shape and keep bodies moving. 

"Home Management": Numbers 5, 11, 14, 15, 19, 20, 25, 31, 33, and 34
My home has completely turned around. My children have learned the smell of homemade bread, so much so that my 1 Hour Bread has been renamed "Jed Bread" after my middle child helped me make it the first few times. We have turned our bread making into a family affair, many times making bread just to give out to others {Random Acts of Kindness}. In the past year, I have tried out quite a few bread recipes, and homemade bread is a staple in our house {see "Bread" tab on the right for more recipes}. 

As for my house, I did clean the laundry and craft room {read the last part of this post}, but we had some unexpected blessings come our way that caused us to move more things into the craft room. So, although my laundry and craft room are good candidates right now for "Hoarders", so many blessings came to us this year that I'm not going to chalk this one up as a failure. 

A few other hit and misses this year were also the chores and my garden. Well, maybe not as many "misses" as "hits". Despite it being a very dry summer, and the invasion of some nasty bugs that ate many of my plants, we were still able to enjoy our harvest. As for the chores, it took almost all year, but my children are really getting into the routine of coming home from school, doing homework, and then doing chores. Some weeks we just don't get to it, but for the most part, we did {including going to bed with a clean kitchen}. My house is much cleaner and is "guest-ready" more days than not. It has prepared our home to be a place where we can serve others. What a blessing. 

"Accomplishments": Numbers 6, 7, 13, 24, 26, 27, 28, 30, and 32
So 2012 has been a very rough year for us financially. Because it was an election year, my husband worked extra loooonnnggg hours for most of the year. With those two things combined, most of these "accomplishments" never happened. We just didn't have the money or time off to "Go to New Orleans," "Get a family photo done" or even make doctors visits {my 3 year old completely missed her well check up}. And instead of paying off a major debt, we actually gained more debt. We missed paying a bill by one day {a bill, I must say, we have never missed in the past 10 years}, and as a result, we were charged an extra couple of hundred dollars. That put going on a 10 Year Anniversary trip to New Orleans out of the question, and caused us to skip out on a few other family things  we wanted to do this year. 

BUT, I will say we were still blessed. God is faithful. We ended up having a "Where are They Now...a 10 Year Wedding Anniversary Party". It was so much fun having most of our wedding party and some of our key friends join us to celebrate 10 years of marriage bliss. And when I said I wanted to find a new hobby, I initially thought I was going to learn a new language, but ended up, at the very end of the year, teaching myself how to knit. It came in perfect timing so that I could make a few Christmas gifts, and am now sitting just a foot away from a special new project I hope will bless another. God changed the view of my accomplishments and blessed me and my family incredibly. 

and finally...

"Relationships": Numbers 1, 3, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 21, and 29
I really wanted 2012 to be all about developing better relationships with others, those I knew closely, those I just barely knew, and those God would send my way this year. I was SO BLESSED this year. At the beginning of 2012, I was having emotional issues with the state of my relationship with my family and friends. I was oh-so-lonely and was being attacked by Satan about my lack of true friendship with other women in my lives. I made it a goal for 2012 to evaluate what I was doing or not doing that was keeping me from developing deep, meaningful relationships with other women in my life. Through a series of activities, I have developed some incredible relationships with other women in my life. I began a "Breakfast Club" where a few moms and I eat breakfast together at a small, old-fashioned restaurant, Eva's Restaurant. Not only have I grown so much with the women I eat with, but I have come to love their children as my own. AND, as a bonus, I have learned much about our waitress and am beginning to see such a beautiful ministry develop. 

Our church decided to start Home Groups on Sunday nights. Since we live far away from the church, it was rare that we were able to join the church in prayer each Sunday night. So for all of us who lived away from the church, we were given an opportunity to meet in someone's home to pray for each other. It has been incredible. This year, we have seen two babies born, someone got engaged, members moving on to bigger and better things, changes in jobs, and so much more. Through this meeting, I was able to really develop some great relationships with some women in my church whom I probably wouldn't have had the courage to develop a friendship with otherwise. AND I got to get to know some awesome college kids through ministering to them and high school kids through taking over their Sunday School class. Although I didn't have them over as much as I wanted, I really came to love these Young People as family. 

As for my family, we have had a rough year, but have grown so much through it all. My husband and I started off the year going on a date once a month for the first few months, but his job and our lack of money kept us from making it a regular thing. I developed ways to minister to my husband so that he would feel blessed and desire to come home each day. I also changed the way I dealt with my children. As expected, some days are better than others, but I took this year to really focus on learning how to love each one. My oldest son and I have some  pretty intense conversations about everything. My middle child and I have found new ways to enjoy each other's company, and I have learned so much about him. {I really think he's going to be my architect}. And my daughter. There's such joy with my daughter. I have started making Thursdays our day to just do something special together. Some days we just go to the park; others we go get dessert somewhere. She's growing into such a little lady. 

And finally my relationship with my Father in Heaven. Although I didn't do a devotion every day, I did one most days. I participated in a few Bible studies, and I began listening to my Lord more and more. When I was getting upset about not accomplishing my goals, about not having enough money, about how much my husband was away from home because of his job, about my weight loss goals, about my relationships with others, about my role as a homemaker, God would remind me in so many ways how He was blessing me. Many times those blessings came from unexpected places. I began looking for Him in everything. I can only grow more and more with my Father as long as I live. I am beyond amazed at how He knows what's best for me. 

So what's in store for 2013? 

I am not going to be as much as an over-achiever this year. I believe that last year's extensive list set up for how God is going to use me this year, 2013. As this year was coming to a close, God was opening my eyes to ministry opportunities. He placed in my life key people who I truly believe will help me as I attempt to serve others. He developed skills in me that I will be able to use this year to spread His Love. I am beyond excited to see what God has in store for me, for my family, for my friends, and for those who are going to be a part of my life this year. As in the verse above, I will put behind me the disappointments, failures, and struggles of last year and strain for the goal that God has set aside for me in 2013. 

May 2013 be a year filled with so many blessings and joy. I look forward to growing with you.