Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vacation Wrap-Up, Grace, Gratitude, and More...

We just arrived home from our 9 day adventure into the north (a.k.a. Tennessee - yep, that's "north" to me!). It was a wonderful, relaxing trip. We started the trip by driving to Alabama and spending the night with my best friend from college. I got to meet her sweet baby boy for the first time, she cooked us dinner, and we visited with her and her husband for several hours. SC's DVD player broke on the way to their house, so as a Christmas present for SC, they bought her a new DVD player. Isn't that the sweetest? I absolutely love the friendships that never grow old. I honestly can't remember the last time Iris and I spoke on the phone (at least, before I called her to see if we could come visit) and yet it was like no time had passed at all. And I was reminded again how much I love those two (now three!) and their hearts for the Lord. Such amazing people. I knew I did something right picking her for my maid of honor all those years ago. ;)

From there we went to Tennessee. We spent Christmas Eve watching football and walking around downtown Gatlinburg. It was sooooo cold! Seriously, this Louisiana girl is not cut out for super-chilly temps! Christmas Day, my mom & grandma cooked Christmas dinner and we sat around eating and lounging pretty much all day.

Monday we went to lunch as a family, then spent some time in the city before heading back to watch the Saints decimate the Dirty Birds Atlanta Falcons (and watch Drew Brees beat Dan Marino's all time single season passing record!). Tuesday we took SC to the Dixie Stampede, which was pricey but worth it. They had a live nativity, a toy shop that "came to life", lots of horse riding and tricks, and a huge meal. The only detraction was that you have to eat with your hands! I cannot stand to have anything on my hands (yes, clearly I need therapy), especially something greasy, so it was a big adjustment for me. I ended up bringing most of my meal home. But SC had a blast, and that was all that mattered.

That afternoon, it started SNOWING!!! The snow (lightly) fell off and on for the rest of the evening and night (more on this later). The next day, I went with B, SC, and my grandparents, and we hiked to Laurel Falls. I was so proud of SC for going almost the entire way without being carried. She loved seeing the waterfall up close, but it was so cold she was ready to leave as soon as we got up there. Then that evening B and I went out on a date. We got Mexican food (because we're weirdos like that) then walked to a candy store for some caramel apples to share.

Thursday we went to Ober Gatlinburg. We enjoyed it, although we didn't enjoy the long lines and high prices. We took SC on the chair lift and the Alpine Slide, then we rode the tram up and down the mountain. She also took advantage of the carousel and the kiddie area. She had such a good time, and it's hard to find something to grumble about when your kid is having so much fun.

Friday was our last full day. My grandparents left that day so it was just us and my parents. We had lunch then took SC to play mini golf. It was her first time and she had so much fun! I loved seeing her learn how to putt and by the end of the course she didn't want anyone helping her. We had a little scary moment when we took a mountain road we thought was a by-pass and it turned out it wasn't. But we (obviously) made it back safe and sound.

Now we're home and looking forward to 2 days of rest and relaxation before we all hit the ground running again on Tuesday. It was so nice to get away. My hubby hasn't had a vacation since May 2010, and he spent most of that vacation inside with me because I was sick with (what I didn't know was) multiple pulmonary embolisms. This year has definitely had its share of stresses, but it's also had its share of sheer joys. This family vacation was a wonderful way to cap off the year, and I'm so thankful my folks treated us to such a wonderful time.

* * *

Changing gears now, God has continued to reveal more and more about grace to me over these last several months. It started when we began attending our not-so-new-anymore church earlier this year. I noticed how often my pastor and his wife (my Bible study teacher and old college friend) talked about grace. At first my heckles raised a little bit - so much talk of grace concerned me that I was about to start hearing a doctrinal spill on Calvinism. But God quickly convicted me of such thoughts. He challenged me - did I really and truly believe His grace was only evident in salvation experiences and forgiveness of sins? No, His grace is in everything. (It's most definitely giving me a new approach to reading 1000 Gifts.) I started to see how every little thing in our daily lives, from breath in our lungs to sunshine on our shoulders, was indeed grace. I began to marvel anew at the awesomeness of God, at the graciousness (for lack of a better word) and generosity of God.

SC had prayed and wished fervently for snow in the weeks leading up to our trip. I checked the weather right before we left and sighed with disappointment, and broke the news to her gently that we wouldn't be seeing any snow. She still remembers the freak, 2 hour snowfall from 2008 and has begged for snow every year. She handled the disappointment OK, but I could tell she was really let down.

But then, on Tuesday, we looked out the window and there it was - fat, soft flakes drifting and swirling to the ground. It wasn't a lot, and it was barely enough to stick the following morning, but to a five year old who has her heart set on seeing the one thing she never gets to experience? It was everything. It was breathtaking. It was magical. It was grace.

I found myself praising the Lord for answering such a small, simple prayer of a child. A quiet, unassuming snowfall. Something the locals would not even bat an eye at. But something my child watched, touched, molded, held with wonder.

We are surrounded by grace. Everywhere. At all times.

* * *

That brings me around to gratitude. I think it's only fitting to close out 2011 in a state of gratitude. I've learned to say "thanks" many different ways this year. For hard things that, had I had my choice of plans, would never have happened the way they did. For the complete, overwhelming graciousness and generosity of God and of those around us. For challenges. For mountain tops. For lessons learned. For valleys. For sickness. For healing. For unconditional love from God and from others. For conditional love, as hard as those relationships can be. For family. For friends. For faith. For a God that keeps His promises. For a God that sends grace through the simple, yet beautiful things. For God, because He is who He is. And He is.

* * *

I don't do resolutions. The diet ones never stick because right about the time I make a diet-related resolution, Rouse's starts putting out their king cakes, and any and all intentions of being more health-conscious fly out the window. But this year, I feel the need to set up some, not so much goals, but standards. Areas of my life that are in consistent need of strength and growth.

1. Spend a significant amount of time reading the Gospels. I thought about attaching a day limit to this. Either 90 days or even a year. But those things don't work for me, because they always end up being more about the number than the task itself. I feel compelled to spend serious time focusing on the words about the Word. This challenge has been fostered mainly by two people - my husband and my Bible study teacher (also known as pastor's wife, old college friend, etc.). My husband encourages me so much because daily we seem to have a discussion where he brings up some parable or teaching or example of Jesus. I find myself wanting that time with Jesus. I want to savor all there is about my Savior.

2. Be purposeful with relationships and firm in boundaries. Pour into and invest in the people I know and love deeply, and set (but more importantly, enforce) necessary boundaries for relationships that need healing from the Lord.

4. Be disciplined in the areas of responsibility in my life - my family, my home, my daughter's education.

I hope 2011 has been a great year for you.
Even with the ups and downs, it's been a year that I've grown to love and would not trade for anything. I am so grateful to God for all He's taught me, and I cannot wait to see what He has in store for 2012.

Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Complete-the-Sentence

I'm linking up with Critty today for her Christmas complete-the-sentence link up!


My favorite part of December is.... my husband gets 10 days off for Christmas every year!

The Christmas song I can listen to over and over is.... What Child Is This by Kevin Max

My favorite Christmas gift when I was a child was.... This gigantic keyboard. I saw it at a Montgomery Ward (remember those?) and the price tag was like $200 (it may have been more or less; I just remember it was an astronomical amount to my 11 year old brain). I almost cried in the aisle because I knew that was WAY too much money to ask my parents to spend on a gift. I must have stood there half an hour and stared at it while my mom shopped. On Christmas morning the last package I opened was a big one, and inside was that keyboard. I burst into tears of gratitude. I will never forget that gift, because my parents made possible what I thought was impossible.

If traveling anywhere in the world were an option I would spend Christmas.... Hmm... France? Maybe Greece?

Christmas movies are.... Meh. (I know! I'm such a Scrooge!) I only really like the funny ones.

My must have Christmas treats include... French Vanilla hot chocolate!

Decorating for the season looks like.... This year? Nothing but our advent calendar. But usually a tree and some knick-knacks.

When it comes to Christmas gifts I prefer to... give one meaningful gift rather than multiple "stuff" gifts.

The Christmas season makes me feel.... SO EXCITED!!! We get to visit my best friend from college (whom I haven't seen since my almost 6 year old baby was only 6 months old!) and then spend a glorious week+ in the Tennessee mountains with my parents & grandparents! Hot tub on the chalet porch in 40 degree weather? Check and check and check.

To me Christmas means.... Immanuel. God in His grace coming to us, because we are completely unable to reach Him.

And for fun... add your own sentence! Anything you want to share about Christmas! I have absolutely loved creating and designing Christmas cards this year, and I can't wait to release new designs for 2012 (yep, I'm already thinking about it!)!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary's Song, the Church, and the Gospel

This past Saturday was a Saturday I hope I never forget.

I got the opportunity honor to serve at a Christmas tea at a local recovery/rehab ministry for women called Mary's Song. Mary's Song is a ministry of Victory Fellowship here in NOLA and is a long-term facility where women come and live (usually for 12 months) as they overcome their addictions and begin their new lives. I was asked by my friend S. back in September if I would like to be a part of the tea. I had recently gone through an amazing though tough (as in lots of brokenness) time in my relationship with God, and I knew He was calling me to be more of a "walker" of my faith. As in go into the hard places and do hard things. Not gonna lie, I was so nervous and had no clue about ministering to women who were former (or recovering) addicts and some even coming out of the adult entertainment industry (a business choice often used to fuel their addictions). But I felt God pushing me to go, so I told S. yes.

So the tea was this past Saturday. I showed up with pretty much the intention of just being hands and feet to serve. I kept my eyes peeled for things to do, things I could do behind the scenes to make sure everything got done in time for the tea. When a volunteer was needed, I raised my hand. I didn't know what to say to any of the women of Mary's Song, but I could work.

As the clock wound down closer to the time the women would come into the fellowship room, I could feel my heart starting to race a little bit. As I helped set the tables, I saw the design was to have 3 Mary's Song women and three "volunteer" (I don't know what else to call us!) women at each table. I wanted to sit by my friend A. but I also wanted to be at a table with a volunteer who had been to the tea before. You know, so I could just kind of hang on to their coattails as they talked.

I started walking around asking whose table was whose. I started to panic even more when I realized each table had two volunteers already sitting at it. Every table but one. So A. and I sat down at the last table. I waited, just knowing another volunteer - a more seasoned, experienced volunteer (it's was A's first year volunteering too) would come and sit with us. No one came.

I almost had to laugh, because I could feel God's sense of humor over the whole thing. I was so scared to talk, and had no clue what to say, so I made my own little plans to make sure I stayed as comfortable as possible. And He said, "Nope! I'm going to put you at a table where you'll be forced to begin conversations with these women. You are not going to 'tag along' on someone else. You're not only sharing the Gospel; you're sharing your life today."


We visited for a few minutes with the three women at our table. Their names are Alice, April, & Rose (I'm writing them so I don't forget them). Each had a story - hard drug use, previous rehab experience, children taken away, jail time. Each had memories from a past before addiction overtook their lives. And each had a testimony at how far Christ has brought them in their journey. Fifteen minutes into the tea and I had tears in my eyes.

S. opened with a greeting and prayer, and then another volunteer came up and read the Christmas story from Luke 2. I chanced a glance around the room and my heart swelled. All around me, women from Mary's Song were crying into their napkins. Some had their hands thrown in the air in praise, heads back and eyes closed. I immediately become convicted again: when is the last time I was moved to that much emotion hearing about the birth of my Savior? I confess I've slipped into a complacent mentality where very often the reading of the Christmas story is just one more thing I check off my Things Christians Do At Christmas list. It goes no further than my head. I repented of the hardening of my heart over the miracle of God come down to live among His people.

Then my friend A. got up to speak and share her testimony of addiction and recovery and victory in Christ. My socks were blown off, and the tears came again. A, I'm so proud of you and I rejoice with you at how far Christ has brought you! A few other women shared their testimonies, and more tears came from around the room as the name of Christ was blessed and He was praised for His healing and deliverance.

We then moved to the time of gifts. Each woman was able to make a bracelet for her "Secret Santa" name, and each was asked to think of an encouraging word to pass on to her sister when giving the bracelet. I watched as the women hugged and cried as they blessed each other with prayer and encouragement.

Then each lady got her gift bag from under the tree. People generously donate the small collection of gifts, but you've never seen women so grateful. They looked in awe at the small journals, immediately applied the lipgloss, and shed tears over the stamped envelopes that went along with blank Christmas cards to send to their families.

Finally it was time to reveal the big surprise. About a month ago, S. was given a "Christmas list" by the director of things the women needed. These items were mostly for personal hygiene - toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, brushes, even underwear. We received many donations - including huge gifts of dental products from LSU Dental School - and the basket was packed to overflowing. As S. pulled the blanket off the table to reveal the goodies, about 75% of the women burst into tears and raised their hands in gratitude to the Lord.

Over toothpaste. Over underwear. I couldn't keep the tears back myself.

A bagpipe player came in and played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, which is the song they use to close their morning worship services. All around hands lifted, tears streamed. I bit a hole in the side of my cheek trying to not cry harder.

We then started to pack up and hug the women goodbye. April & I clung to each other and we both sobbed for probably a full minute straight. When I left, I was shaking.

And I realized then: I'd just seen the church.

* * *

About this time last year, my hubby was neck-deep in interviewing with a church that, from all outward appearances, was calling us there. In fact, had we not declined the invitation, we'd be there at this very moment. Looking back, I now know I was not ready to be a pastor's wife. My notion of church was completely screwed up.

For so long - decades, if not longer - we've defined church as a building. Growing the church doesn't mean sharing the Gospel with the lost. It means bringing in more bodies to our existing buildings by any means necessary. It's been a courting of the rich, the affluent, the powerful. (Please understand I am not criticizing those with money or power - I know rich and/or powerful people who honor Christ with their lives, their wallets, and their influence; what disgusts me is when ministers show favoritism to those individuals over individuals without those means.)

This past year has wrecked my previous notions of church. Wrecked them. Do we need to meet together as a body to worship and study God's Word and encourage one another and pray for one another? Absolutely - we're told not to forsake the fellowship of believers. But what we do inside the building is not church. Church is what happens when Christ's name and salvation are preached. Church is what happens when souls that are striving along without Christ come in contact with His glorious grace and become transformed. Church is what happens when the power of the Gospel sets people free.

It is not about getting behinds in the seats. It is not about a number on a wooden plaque at the side of the sanctuary door. It is not about fancy lights or a new projector or a dynamic speaker. It's not about how many numbers follow the heading of income on the church budget. It's not about how full the parking lot is. Ministers (and by ministers I mean everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, because we ALL have a ministry whether we think we do or not!) have got to stop chasing after the things of this world and trying to somehow reconcile them with the things of God.

Some of you who know me personally might be saying, "Tara, isn't your husband going into full time ministry? How can you say those things aren't important when they will directly affect you and your family?"

My response: So? Do you honestly mean to tell me that I can trust Christ for the eternal placement of my soul, but I can't trust Him to make sure the light bill gets paid, or that our family is provided for? That I have to balance my faith in one hand with schemes in the other to make sure the needs are met?

As I looked at these women this weekend - beautiful on the outside despite drugs and alcohol trying to destroy them, and beautiful on the inside because of the transforming, life-giving grace of Christ - I knew this was the church I wanted to be a part of. I want to be a part of the church that shares their life and their love with their communities. That shares the Gospel with society's rejects. That reaches out to those in bondage and offers them the true chain-breaker, the Rescuer, who is Jesus.

These people aren't popular. They aren't profitable. But they are loved. Loved by a Savior willing to die for them because He loved them so much.

I love the movement I am seeing among believers today, the movement to take church outside the building, and to fulfill Paul's description of being the church. I pray I never become complacent about this issue again.

I know this sounds strange for someone whose family is heading into full-time ministry. It would make sense to want what is safe, to follow the models we've seen in the past where church is "done" and yet there's still the cushy comfort zone. But there is nothing - nothing - more important than the Gospel, and there is nothing I can place over it, especially not my own security.

I am so grateful for my husband, a man who truly loves those the world deems unlovable. I am so thankful for my daughter, a child who even in her young life loves every child she meets. I'm thankful for our church, who models on a large scale this Gospel mobility God is calling me to take up.

Most of all, I am thankful to Christ - for grace. The grace to live, the grace to challenge, the grace that makes me able to repent of my mistakes, and the grace to move forward in the grace of His power.

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful Christmas this year, and as you focus on the miraculous gift of God and love come down to reconcile to His creation, that you too will be challenged to make known the riches of His Gospel - during this season, and all seasons.

"Long lay the world in sin and error, pining
Till He appeared and the soul found its worth..."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Things and To-Do's and What-not's

I have no organization for this whatsoever. So it's bullet points today.
  • My child has decided I am the human equivalent of the Grinch this year because we are not putting up a tree this year. I know. I'm awful. But we have a very, very, very small apartment, and we are going on a trip over Christmas break, so the whole deal of getting everything down just to enjoy it for three weeks was honestly? Not worth it to me.
  • My hubby & I got to go to the Saints/Giants game last week. We had incredible seats and the game was awesome! Definitely one of my favorite memories of living in NOLA will be attending the Saints games. Who dat!!!
  • I picked out my own Christmas gifts this year (thanks, hubby!). The first was an enameled cast iron grill pan I got for $14 at JCPenny's the day after Thanksgiving - online, mind you! No crazy crowds for me! :)
  • My second gift is the Project Life starter kit. I have been wanting this for a while. You see, I used to paper scrapbook. The papers, the embellishments, the tools - you name it, I did it. Then I had a baby and I could no longer spend 2 hours of my day working on just one page. I had printed out $100s of dollars of photos of my baby during her first year of life, determined to scrap them old school. It's now 5.5 years later and those photos are still in their envelopes from Sam's in a tupperware bin under my bed. I've considered doing a digital book for her baby book, but just couldn't bring myself to do it knowing how much money I had in photos stored under the bed. So when I saw Becky Higgins was having a Black Friday sale on her products, I ordered the core kit (in Amber; I thought it would make a nice pattern for a baby book) and some pages. It's now on my crafty to-do list to get my almost-six-year-old's baby book finished.
  • I need to finished SC's growth chart I'm painting for her. I'll post photos when I'm done!
  • My other project is a gift from my MIL. While we were in Baton Rouge over Thanksgiving, I went by the antique store Circa 1857. There I found some old paned windows for $15 each! The previous owner had painted the panes but a little paint remover with take that off. My MIL checked them over thoroughly to make sure they were structurally sound (she's a lot more knowledgable about that kind of stuff than I am), and then she got them for me as a Christmas gift. I cannot wait to start working on them! They need some TLC but when they're done, I'm going to hang them on the walls and put photos in the panes (I was inspired to do this by a window/frame my pastor's wife has in her living room).
  • I cleaned out my closet last weekend. As in, I pulled out every. single. item. of clothing and tried it on. If it didn't fit, it left. If it fit but I (honestly) knew I'd never wear it again, it left. I have a stack to take to the consignment shop now, and I feel so much better having gotten rid of what was not needed. It feels really good to declutter and only keep the things that have a use.
  • I've been trying some new recipes I've found on Pinterest. I'll post some good ones soon! :)
  • In a few weeks we leave for Tennessee for Christmas vacation with my parents & grandparents. I'm sooo stoked. We love traveling to cold weather places! (I wonder why? LOL.) SC has actually been asking for snow in her prayers. :) My parents are paying for the whole trip for us, as our Christmas gift, and B & I could not be more excited (or grateful!).
  • I'm completely done with Christmas shopping for SC and with birthday shopping for her (since her birthday is in early 2012). I also almost have her birthday party completely planned. Pretty much the only thing I have left to do is order invitations and buy the food. Hmm, I wonder where I can get some cute Fancy Nancy invitations? ;)
  • But speaking of Christmas gifts, I've been a bit crazy. You see, I went shopping with my good friend Haley the week before Thanksgiving, and we took Target by storm. We got everything on our lists for our kiddos (it was a kiddo-free night for both of us!) and we closed the place down. But I've been watching sale ads like a hawk and each time I see a sale or a coupon, I go and get it at the sale price and return the other. I even unwrapped something the other day because I was able to use a coupon and save $5 on the gift (yep, crazy). My hubby would probably argue I'm not saving any money because I have to keep driving to Metairie or Kenner, but the way I look at it is, I'm going to those places anyway - might as well make some exchanges to get the lowest price! :)
  • I completely copied this for the backs of our family Christmas cards. Seriously, what a wonderful infographic about a family! I'm already brainstorming for an infographic creation of my own to offer for Christmas cards next year!
  • We have been reading the advent devotional from A Holy Experience... soooo good, and such a wonderful way to sit back and be still and remember the true reason for this season, which is Christ.
  • Very excited about some new opportunities coming up at our church. I will post more details soon! :)
  • I am still selling bags for Asha House. Leave a comment (with a way for me to get in touch with you) if you are interested in getting a bag to help get women and children out of sex trafficking in India!
  • And finally, business stuff. I am very, very excited about some new lines I'll be launching in 2012. I plan to introduce a whole line of bridal shower/party invitations, as well as expand the baby shower line and introduce a line of baby announcements. I will spend Christmas break working to get all of these ready to launch.
  • It's cold and rainy here today (yay!), I have chicken noodle soup in the crock pot, and my baby girl and I are chilling out all day. We might make some cupcakes later, or we may just stay snuggled on the couch. It's a good day.
I'll now leave you with a photo of my super-sweet girl my super-awesome-super-talented hubby captured this weekend.

(almost can't handle the sweetness - love this girl so much!)

How about you? How is your December treating you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Raindrops on roses...

I decided to link up with Nester today for her Favorite Things blog link up! I won't beat a dead horse, but you should go read her post about Favorite Things Parties. It sounds like such a fun idea! I need to pin it to remember for a ladies Christmas party one year. I'd love to do it this year, but it requires 1, money; and 2, time - two things I don't have an abundance of this month. :) BUT - heads up to all my friends - if we ever get together for a Favorite Things party, there's a 99.99% chance you'll receive something on this list (depending on what price range we select).

So, to get started for my favorite things - Food & Drinks.

It's no secret I'm not a coffee drinker. I like my coffee white and sweet, which I think pretty much disqualifies me from ever having my opinions about coffee taken seriously. But something about the cooler months makes me *gasp* brew a pot or two just for me, and these are the things I love with it.

1. Community Coffee Hazelnut. I prefer grinding whole bean, but ground is OK too. It's the best coffee ever.

But with it being the Christmas season I cannot forget hot chocolate. Behold, the best flavors (ever) of hot chocolate.
1. Ghirardelli White Mocha Hot Chocolate Mix. They sell THE BEST white hot chocolate at PJ's, and I'm always seeing cans of this sitting on the counter, so I think this might be the mix they use.
2. Land O' Lakes French Vanilla hot chocolate. It's especially good when mixed with hot milk.

Next... Entertainment.

I don't get to spend a lot of time indulging in different forms of entertainment, but when I do, these are what I go for.
1. Arrested Development, Season 1. Yeah, yeah, I know no one watches DVDs anymore, that they've gone the way of walking to and from school for eight miles in the snow. But I'm trying to keep these affordable here. AD is, in my opinion, the funniest show ever made. I can sit down to watch it - even after seeing it a zillion times - and still laugh until the point of tears. It's that good.
2. LOST, Season 1. I don't really need an explanation for this one, do I?
3. Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. My favorite book series, one that always brings me to tears each time I read it.
4. Radical by David Platt. I don't think another book, with the exception of the Bible, has had as great an impact on my life as Radical has. It's a must-read.
5. Holy Night by Kevin Max. My favorite Christmas album. Any old-school DC Talk fan will fall madly in love with his amazing vocals to classic Christmas songs and hymns.

Next... Essentials in my bag.

These are the things I carry with me everywhere. I start going into panic mode if one of them is missing.
1. Vera Bradley Zip ID case. Yes, I realize next year I'll have been out of college for a decade, and therefore why would I need a small wallet with a place for an ID? I'll tell you why. BECAUSE I'M A MOM. And sometimes I don't want to have to fool with carrying a purse when I've got a zillion other things to carry. I don't know what I'd do without my wallet that attaches to my keys. And if you shop Vera's sales, you can get one for less than $5.
2. Key wristlet. See #1 for why this is essential. My dear friend mab gave me one of these last year, and it has forever changed my life. I can hardly remember the days where I used to dangle my keys from one finger while managing a child, a purse, several bags, etc.
3. B&BW Pocket Bac in Japanese Cherry Blossom. Use this once and your hands smell awesome the rest of the day.
4. Erin Condren Life Planner. OK, technically this doesn't fall into the under $30 category. BUT if you manage to snag an Erin Condren gift card from One King's Lane (another one of Nester's favorite sites), you can get this amazing-not-sure-what-I-did-before-this planner for a cool $25.

And finally... The Home.

A few items I have in my house that I will treasure forever.

1. Saints sherpa throw blanket. I wrote about this blanket before. It's the best ("The best, Jerry!") blanket I've EVER owned. It's so fluffy!!! (Name that movie.) And just in case the Saints aren't your team (which I don't know why they wouldn't be - that's just crazy talk!), there are other NFL teams available. Just don't buy the Cowboys one. We can't be friends anymore if you get the Cowboys blanket. (I'm kidding... kind of.)
2. Ikea Knappa pendant lamp. I first saw this lamp at my sister-in-law's house and fell in love. Then I called my other sister-in-law who lives in Dallas and begged her to go to their Ikea and get one for me. So she did and sent it down with my in-laws the next time they came to visit. Then my first sister-in-law, the one who originally had the lamp at her house (confused yet?), moved away from NOLA and asked if we'd like to use her lamp since she didn't have a space for it in her new place. So now we have two (!!!) Knappa lamps at our house, one over the computer desk and one in my daughter's room over her play kitchen. And I love them dearly. They are even more beautiful in person.
3. "Bienvenue" fleur-de-lis iron welcome sign. OK, there's a story here. Last Christmas I went to Hob Lob in Baton Rouge with my cousin's then-fiancee (they just got married at Thanksgiving this year!). As we turned to face the front of the store, I saw hanging on the wall this beautiful ring with the fleur-de-lis and "Bienvenue" on it. They also had one that said, "WHO DAT Nation" and, had I been able to purchase it that day, I would have gotten that one without hesitation. I am nothing if not a fan. Anyway, the tag on the sign was $100 and I didn't have a 40% off coupon with me, and I had no way of printing one before the end of the day. The responsible side of me thankfully took over and refused to let the but-it's-so-pretty side of me buy it without consideration of coupons and saving money. I consoled myself by promising myself that we would go home, I'd print my coupon and drive to Slidell to purchase the sign (we don't have a Hobby Lobby in NOLA - I know, first world problem). I did that very thing. When I got to Slidell, there were no signs. The manager at the Slidell store informed me that each store can buy different merchandise so it was probably something the Baton Rouge store bought locally in Baton Rouge. We didn't make it back up to Baton Rouge until March. I pretty much pushed my husband out of the car at his grandparents' house and sped back to College Drive to go to Hob Lob. No more signs. They called the O'Neal store. No signs. The manager came and told me that those signs usually sold out the day they stocked them, and he couldn't tell me when they would get another shipment in. Dejected, I left, vowing to never again delay purchasing something I loved that much. Fast forward to July. I was in my hometown staying with my mom while she recovered from surgery. I met my BFF from high school at this little wholesale boutique we always like to shop at together when I'm home. As we wandered through the shoe section, I just happened to glance up at the different metal decor hanging on the wall. Lo and behold, there was the sign. I asked Anna to get it down for me (she's quite a bit taller than I am) and I checked the price. $37! I ran to the counter and bought it immediately. It now hangs right beside our door. And I know the Amazon price is astronomical, but that's for 6, and it was the only place online I could find them. If you want one, you'll either have to buy six or have to travel to my hometown to get it. :)

So there you have it. My favorite things list. This has been fun! I can't wait to check out what others have chosen.

What are some things on YOUR Favorite Things list?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

...for the least of these

This afternoon I pulled out my calendar to assess all the events we have coming up over the next week, fortnight, and month. Almost all of these non-recurring events involve some sort of meal or, at the very least, a snack. So I pulled out a card and jotted down a shopping list for things I needed to purchase so I can contribute my food to the table.

After church tonight, list in hand, I headed to the Rouse's that sits conveniently between the church and my home. I handed my daughter the shopping list and she called out everything I needed as we wandered up and down the aisles. I ran into a few people from church who had the same post-church shopping idea that I had. My hands were busy filling the cart, but my heart was elsewhere.

My heart was in India.

Finally we gathered everything on the list and went to the checkout. The cashier scanned all my items. "$29.10 is your total," she said.

As I swiped my worn card through the machine, my heart lurched.

Not a single thing in those white plastic bags were for sustenance for my family. Everything in those bags were ingredients for dishes to take to events.

For the same price of everything in those bags, I could provide food, clothes, shelter, education, medicine for an orphan in India... for a month.

I struggled the whole way home, with waste and abundance, with responsibility and compassion. Words of the day kept floating back into my mind... Beth Moore warning us about being sucked in by our culture of self-indulgence... Caleb speaking tonight about willing to be uncomfortable in order to be Christ to others...

Not that the blue pen marks on my calendar are bad things... they're good things. They're permissible... but are they beneficial? Can I in good conscience even call them beneficial when children are starving, children are freezing, children are stolen, children are torn from their innocence?

I pictured the big brown eyes, the white smiles against the dark cheeks, the brilliant colored salvar kameez. The photos that I've studied over and over, memorizing faces. The voices I can hear in my head from watching the videos my husband brought back over and over again. Hearing their sweet voices say, "Wanda namalu!" with their thin hands clasped in front of them. And I couldn't help but feel wasteful, selfish.

I'm writing this today to share with you some ways that you can help. Please prayerfully consider supporting a ministry in India that rescues children. Christ is our great Rescuer, and we have been given power in His name and a challenge to walk as He walked. Should we not be a rescuer to those who need to be rescued?

I'm sure there are some reading who are thinking, "I already donate to {organization name} so I don't need to do anything else." Please, please prayerfully consider this before making any final decisions. According to UNICEF, India has the highest percentage of malnourished children in the world. And just look at these trafficking statistics for India (this is only for minors - CHILDREN! These numbers do not include trafficked women!).

"In 1998, between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepalese girls, some barely 9–10 years old were trafficked into the red light districts in Indian cities, and 200,000 to over 250,000 Nepalese women and girls were already in Indian brothels.[3]

According to UNICEF, 12.6 million children are engaged in hazardous occupations.[4]

In 2009, it was estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation, including for prostitution or the production of sexually abusive images [1]

Only 10 % of human trafficking in India is international, while almost 90 % is interstate. Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year of which 11000 remain untraced according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India.[5]"

40,000 children abducted every year. 11,000 remain untraceable.

If you think you can't (or shouldn't) consider this cause, think about if this was your child (or if you are childless, think about a close loved one - a nephew or niece, godchild, brother or sister). Think about if it was your child who was starving to death on the streets. Think about your son having to sleep in a pack of 15-20 boys on the street to protect themselves from sexual predators and thieves. Think about your daughter being stolen or sold to the highest bidder to be raped repeatedly before she reaches double-digits in age and is considered used up.

What if your child was one of the 44,000 abducted... and became one of the untraceable 11,000?

Think about it. And think about what a relatively small contribution from you can do.

You can rescue that child. You have the power to be his or her rescuer.

3 Ways to Help Orphans in India

India Partners operates much like Compassion, except their sponsorships are concentrated solely in India. For $30 a month - less than the cost of one meal out at a restaurant for a family of 4 - you can rescue a child. Provide him or her food, education, medicine, shelter, clean water, clothing. Protect him or her from the destruction that comes with poverty.

My husband has been to India twice. He's slept at the orphanage, kicked a ball around with the children, seen how it operates first hand. I've met Babu when he visited the States in 2009. I've shaken his hand and heard his testimony with my own ears. I've cried as I've listened to him tell about rescuing girls from prostitution rings. And my heart has ached as I've listed to how he only receives money for 200 children, but he stretches it to take care of 300.

If we're going to talk religion, then this man is living out the religion that God finds pure and faultless. You can also sponsor a widow through India Partners.

(Some of the girls with the new "mattresses" brought to them.)

Asha House is another Indian ministry set up solely to deliver Indian children from poverty and trafficking. I've committed to sell 30 bags for Asha House as part of a group of 30 people selling 30 bags. If we each sell our 30 bags, it will raise $18,000 for Asha House. Asha House is currently in New Delhi, with a new orphanage being opened in Calcutta.

These are the bags I've received to sell. The photos do not do them justice. Each bag is hand sewn, hand painted, and/or hand embroidered by Indian women who live at Asha House. If you see a bag you like, please leave a comment (make sure your email is linked so I can contact you) and we will work out payment and shipping.

(please ignore my grody couch and focus on the beauty of the bags)

Please consider purchasing a bag. These were hand sewn by women in India who have found shelter, either for themselves or their children, in Asha House. The bags are $20 each (I will find out a price for the scarves and mini-bags), and every cent goes right back to helping get Indian children out of poverty or sex slavery. These would make a wonderful Christmas gift (the bags are STUNNING in person!), and the value of what will be done with your money far exceeds the $20 purchase price. Please consider getting one for yourself and/or for someone you love as a Christmas present.

(Sidenote: I'm working to get Babu connected with Asha House - wouldn't it be wonderful if the young women and widows could make bags to sell free-trade to raise money for Orphan's Faith Home?)

Compassion is one of the largest child rescue programs in the world. There are currently 93 children on Compassion's India list waiting to be sponsored. Compassion costs slightly more than India Partners ($38 per month) but is still well worth the investment in a child's life.

(Pastor Babu and one of the orphans)

I know we're in a tough economy right now. I know money is tight for everyone. And while I can't tell you what to do with your budget, I can tell you my own convictions. I can tell you that I don't want to come face-to-face with Christ one day, and Him ask me was that budget so tight that I couldn't have fit one child in there? I can tell you that I probably spend close to that much on soft drinks each month, and that's an area I can (and should) cut. I can tell you that in the grand scheme of things, $30 a month is not an exorbitant amount of money. It's cutting out a few tiny indulgences throughout the month, indulgences that I don't need to begin with. It's saying no to the mentality of our culture that says we deserve to self-indulge. It's saying yes to the Savior who says that whenever we feed or clothe the least, we've indeed done so for Him.

(My sweet hubby, sweat stains and all)

I know this is a lot to take in (and it's a looooong post, too). Please consider helping. Maybe you already have a heart crisis, an injustice so big it keeps you awake at night. Maybe your heart is in the horn of Africa, reeling from the famine there. Maybe your heart is in the Middle East, grieving for children whose families have been torn apart by the wars and unrest. But if you don't have a place that keeps you up a night, consider making a part of your heart's home in India.

These photos represent the life you could offer a child that is currently on the streets of India... or worse. Please consider becoming the hero that so many Indian children so desperately need.

All images belong to my husband, taken by him during his trips to India in 2006 and 2007.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pet peeves, rants, and general grouchiness.

Just a disclaimer: I may or may not be suffering from the monthly scourge of womenkind.

This isn't the most pleasant of posts. But, well, see the disclaimer.

First, pet peeves.

1. Following behind someone on the interstate who is tailgating the person in front of them. Seriously? Tapping on your brakes every 30 seconds? I can never tell if I need to legitimately slow down or if you've closed in too much on that two inches of space you're keeping between you and the bumper in front of you.

2. Humans that put on some sort of animal head mask (the worst are wolf and horse heads) and then stand perfectly still in some field and have someone take a picture of them. That's not art. That's just freaky. STOP DOING IT.

3. People who get on Facebook during sporting events and troll/complain about their friends posting about said sporting event.

Currently number 3 is what's got me really frustrated. My frustration started two years ago. It was the Saints Superbowl season. I got together with a group of friends of mine on Facebook and we posted during the entire game - jokes, snarky comments about the refs, and lots of WHO DATs. Well, that brought out the trolls. Especially the passive-aggressive trolls. It brought them out so bad that one girl posted something along the lines of, "These people need to get a life. I mean, I'm a Louisiana girl too and you don't see me cheering for the Saints like that." (Misti & Penny know exactly what I'm referring to.) I ended up blocking her because I got tired of seeing her nasty comments about Saints posters. (Sidenote: ironically, I unblocked her about a year ago and guess who was posting like crazy about the Rangers in the World Series? Pot, I'd like you to meet kettle.)

Speaking of the World Series, it gave me an opportunity to reassess my thoughts on sports posting on Facebook. I hate baseball. Hate it. Going to a baseball game of any kind is on my un-bucket list. (Thanks for that phrase, Jodie.) So when everyone and their mama was posting about the Rangers, I had two options. 1, post snarky, ugly comments about all the fans "junking up my news feed talking about the stupid Rangers"; or 2, stay off of Facebook when I know a game is on because guess what? Fans are gonna post.

I chose option 2. Because for real, it's pretty awful of me to think my feelings about who should post what on a free social media site that no one is obligating me to use are more important than others, and it's also pretty dang conceited. Besides, I enjoy being a fan of the sports I follow and use social media to express my fandom. It's hypocritical to expect something else of other fans because it "inconveniences" (really?) me.

Fast forward to this past Saturday night. LSU vs. Alabama. #1 vs. #2. The biggest game in college football this year. #1 playing #2 in the regular season has only happened like 5 or 6 times previously in the BCS system, and it was the first time for both teams to be from the SEC. So whether you're an LSU fan, a Bama fan, or just a fan of college ball in general, this game was a big deal.

The trolls were out in full force. I saw tons of posts about how people were so thankful the game was over so people would stop clogging up their news feed with LSU comments (these posts often came from people who currently live in southeast Louisiana... again, really?). And then there were the people from my alma mater (Louisiana Tech) who were criticizing those of us who were cheering for LSU. Um, hello? I didn't realize that just because I went to one university, that prohibited me from cheering for any other state school. We're all proud to be from Louisiana, right? What does it matter who I cheer for? I cheered for ULM (Wait - who? Who's ULM? Where are they? Exactly.) when they beat Alabama earlier this year. All I have to say about that is GET OVER IT. It would be one thing if Tech and LSU were active rivals. They aren't even close.

And for those who cry "bandwagon" every time LSU has a winning season? SO WHAT. What's wrong with bandwagon fans? I think it's arrogant to criticize others for bandwagon-ing, because you're in essence saying, "You're not as real a fan as I am because you only like them when they win." So? Tickets are still sold, merchandise is still purchased. GET OVER IT. I can't speak for others, but LSU is a tradition in our family. My husband was the first - THE FIRST - person in his entire family to go to a different university other than LSU. He was raised watching LSU football. It's a tradition he's brought into our marriage and one I've embraced as it's something we can enjoy together.

To wrap up this peeve/rant, if you don't want to see posts about sports, DON'T GET ON FACEBOOK DURING A BIG GAME. It's that simple. The absence of your online presence during those times is a lot more becoming than your ugly comments.

Whew. I feel better now.

And now onto grouchiness. (Again, I may or may not be suffering from the woman's monthly scourge.) Tonight at SC's dance class I was talking with an Indian woman whose granddaughter is in SC's class. We were discussing the girls and she asked me about homeschooling. She was completely unfamiliar with the concept of American homeschooling. So I gave her a quick overview of what we do. Then she asked me why I chose to homeschool.

Before I could answer her, I heard a voice from behind me. "Because she's crazy!"

I turned around to see a woman I didn't even know who had been eavesdropping on our conversation. I was rendered completely speechless; how do you respond to something like that? So I just turned my back on her and continued my conversation with the Indian woman. Finally at the end of our conversation, the lady goes, "What I meant by crazy is that it's a big responsibility to homeschool, and you'd have to be crazy to do it." I gave her a half smile and walked outside to make a phone call. I guess she realized how rude she sounded and was trying to make amends.

I suppose I could have used this opportunity to have a more Christ-like manner towards this lady, but I was thrown for a loop. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, living where I live. I mean, for crying out loud, I got called the B-word in Walmart the other day because I asked a lady to scoot her cart over so I could get down the aisle. I'm just not good with off-the-cuff reactions to awkward or rude situations. Obviously this is an area of my life that I need to surrender to the Lord (and could also benefit from a healthy dose of love & kindness via the Holy Spirit).

I also learned today that at times when I may or may not be suffering from my monthly ailment, I should not in any way, shape, or form have any responsibility for making a craft with a room of 4-7 year olds.

That is all. I'll come back soon with a better attitude. Just give me about 4 days.

Friday, November 4, 2011

White-Out (and some stuff)

I continued to subscribe to a certain magazine (let's just say it rhymes with "Veal Pimple") long after I stopped having interest in their articles. There was no way I could afford a $225 vest on a seminary budget, and no way I could start my own compost heap in a seminary apartment (gross), yet I continued to subscribe and read.

Why? Great design.

There was something about the way this magazine was laid out. Text & photos from articles only covered the bottom 2/3 of the page, and the top was a brilliant white space with a headline in a crisp, sans-serif font - large enough to read clearly but not so large it felt like a billboard on a page.

I loved the clean feeling of the magazine. And all the white space somehow made me feel calmer just reading it. Which I guess is a good thing, considering the whole point of your magazine is simplification.

I love white. I love how it feels open, clean, crisp. I love how it really sets off whatever is placed on it. It's why food stylists always recommend displaying a meal you've prepared on white dishes. I've had to really reign myself in and make sure that not all my Christmas card designs have a white background. But here are a few of my favorites that I just couldn't resist.

What do you think? Do you love white like I do? Or does too much white seem boring to you?

Want a chance to win one of these cards (including 50 prints + envelopes)? Then you need to head over to Talk 21 and enter the giveaway before it ends this afternoon!

* * *

And now for the other stuff. Last night was the craft fair our school hosts every year. I started making bows and headbands a few years ago (needed to make custom stuff that wouldn't fall out of my girl's super-fine hair!) so I booked a table for the craft fair. When I first asked my hubby if he cared if I did the craft fair, he goes, "I don't know, you always get so stressed out during those things." So this year I vowed that I would just have fun and not get stressed at all.

And it was working. I was cool as a cucumber all day yesterday, looking forward to fun evening. Until 5:30. When I realized my bag full of $100 worth of change was gone.

I dashed home and tore up the house looking for it. It became more and more evident that the bag was NOWHERE in the house. I called my husband and made him tear through the bags of bows and headbands I'd left in his office as I dashed out (his office is in the student center where the craft fair was being held). Nothing. I searched my car, my purse from top to bottom. Nothing. I started to cry - the ugly cry.

I called my hubby and asked him to go find the fair director and ask her what I needed to do, since one of the requirements to be a vendor is you have to be able to make your own change. She had $60 cash that she took to the school business office to get changed for me and told him I could pay her back with whatever I earned. So I came back, mascara running and red nosed and splotchy faced.

I felt horrible. As I was chastising myself over the stupidity of losing the bag, one of the campus police came up to my table. I saw the fair director behind him smiling. "Did you lose something?" he asked.

"Yes, yes I did!" I could feel the tears stinging my eyes again.

"Can you describe it for me?"

"It's a blue bank bag with the word AmSouth on the side in white, and inside was $100 cash."

"Hold on one sec." He walked over to the police station and came back... with my change bag.

I burst into tears again. The fair director came over and gave me a huge hug. The police officer told me someone had found it in the parking lot and turned it in to campus police.

I could not stop crying. I was rejoicing and praising God for returning the money. I wished I could find the person who turned it in so I could tell them how unbelievably grateful I was to them.

The rest of the night went wonderfully. I sold a lot of bows & headbands. And I got teary-eyed again when my little girl came over and asked for 50 cents to get a cupcake, and I watched her walk off and buy it herself. Then she asked for $3 to get a bracelet, and walked over to the booth with her friends and bought it herself. How is it she is growing up so fast?

I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend. We had talked about going to Secret Church tonight (FBNO is doing a simulcast) but I think we're now leaning towards having a quiet evening at home, just the family. I have some custom designs to make - one a peacock-themed Christmas card and the other a Cars invitation, so I should have those up by the end of the weekend.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! We finally got some cold weather today, although it will be back in the 70s tomorrow. Fall weather will get here (and stay!) eventually!