Monday, June 27, 2011

Wherever you are, be all there

The two of us were sitting on the carpet, surrounded by her multi-colored wooden blocks and chunky alphabet board books.  We were building tower after tower, an activity that we re-visit multiple times a day.  I saw out of the corner of my eye that she had built a tall tower for her little 17 month old hands.  I heard, "MOMMY!!!!  MOMMY!!  WOW MOMMY WOW!!!!!!  YAY!!!!"  Her squeals of delight are contagious and my usual response is to share her joy by encouraging and celebrating with her as we attempt to make the tower gain height by adding another block.  If we are successful, the same round of celebration happens all over again.  If the blocks tumble to the floor, we say "ohhhhhh nooooooo" in unison and begin our mission of constructing the highest possible tower again.

But this time was a little different.

Instead of my usual celebration, I just sat there, lost in thought...did I take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner tonight?  Did I write a response to that email?  Were the library books due today?  I can't believe I need to dust again.  I need to do the budget.  I have to plan for tutoring.  Yet again, I need to go to the grocery store to buy milk, what else do we need?  All the while, her sweet little voice continued to grow with intensity, excitement, but with a twinge of frustration as well, "MOMMY!!!!  MOMMY!!  WOW MOMMY WOW!!!!!!  YAY!!!!!"

My mind returned to the here and now, saddened that I had been ignoring her in a moment when she needed me, when she wanted my approval and encouragement.  I quickly joined in her celebration, "Great job Sweetie!  Look how tall that is!  WOW!!"  And we continued to build towers, block after block.  She didn't miss a beat and acted like I hadn't disappointed her, but I was disappointed with myself and I decided from then on to be completely present in the present.  Yes, all those other things on my mental "to do" list needed to be done, but not in that moment.

I remembered what I had read in One Thousand Gifts, 

"Wherever you are, be all there."  

Without realizing it, I began to take note of the small things.  I noticed how how careful and steady her 17 month old hands were becoming.  The baby rolls have disappeared and her fingers are slender, graceful, purposeful, and under control.  I studied her face, the little furrow in her brow and cock of her mouth, as she used all of her might to be slow and cautious while gently placing one block on top of another.  I observed her mind at work and realized that she understands it is best to use a smaller, lighter block if the tower is beginning to wobble and sway.  She is smart.  She is careful.  She is a hard-worker.  She is growing up right before my eyes.  I don't want to miss a moment.

Later, I would be reminded of Ann Voskamp's words, "Don't I always have the choice to be fully attentive?  Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.  Eucharisteo, eucharisteo.  That keeps the focus simple - sacred."  In her wisdom, Ann reminds her readers that God is the present. His very name is I AM.

She continues, "Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention."  And later,        " 'Wherever you are, be all there' is only possible in the posture of eucharisteo.  I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks, and see God."

In light of all this, I am learning to stay in the present as I concentrate on
I AM and the gifts I would have missed if I was distracted.  There is a time when I need to do the budget and go grocery shopping (and be fully attentive as I do those tasks), but it is not when my daughter needs my encouragement and focused attention. Nor is it when you take your children to the playground.  When she is 18 years old and we are packing up the car to drive her to college, I want to think back on the years she was all ours with the confident assurance that I made the most of each moment we were given.  I got down on the floor and played with her, cheered her on, talked with her, listened to her, read to her, and was there for her at every turn and straightaway.  All the while, I opened gifts that could have been overlooked and our lives have become richer and more aware of God's presence as a result.

One final thought.  I wish I had read One Thousand Gifts  and applied this principle while I was teaching, especially those last couple of months from March until May when Addison was a newborn and I had to be apart from her.  My physical body was at school, but my heart and mind were longing to be home with my sweet firstborn.  Had I focused my energy and thoughts on where I was in that moment (school), my attitude would have been more upbeat and I would have given my all in each and every lesson I taught.  Missing your baby and aching to be with her is normal and expected, but dwelling on it is not healthy, nor is it a good reflection of Jesus.  Maybe you're in a season right now that is far from anything you'd choose to go through.  You are there for a purpose and God is with you.  In the meantime, remember: "wherever  you are, be all there."


Recent gifts I've found as I constantly remind myself of the life-changing principle "wherever you are, be all there."

185.  Her adorable little pony tail that is just long enough for gravity to pull it downwards

187. Freshly cut grass by my hardworking husband

197. A dark, rainy morning that calls for quiet games to be played indoors

200.  Slowing eating juicy summer fruits - blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and watermelon

205. Pushing myself to walk farther than I wanted to and the satisfaction and energy I felt as a result

206. Seeing a breath-taking sunset out the window.  Stopping to gaze a moment longer at the beauty.  Getting my camera.  Snapping shot after shot while the golds transformed from yellow to pink to purple to darkness.  Waiting to go inside until the last glimpses of light were replaced by twinkling fireflies.  Standing in awe of our Creator.

209.  The way she says "all better" - "aw-bet-tah"

210. How she chews with her mouth closed all the time

212. Picking our first ripe tomato of the year!

213. Watching an afternoon thunderstorm simmer in the sky as I think about how powerful God is

214.  My Hero's safe arrival home after 48 hours away.

228.  Finding fulfillment and a clearer mind as I complete whatever I am doing with excellence as I focus on Who I am serving while being present in the present

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New!! Teaching Toddlers

Click on the "Teaching Toddlers" tab above for an exciting new addition to my life as a stay-at-home-mom and the blog!  I hope you find it useful!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Celebrating 1,460 Days as One

Four years ago today, on a hot, sunny June evening, My Hero and I exchanged vows amongst dear family and friends.  It was a day full of unbridled love and uncontainable joy....a wedding of my dreams.  More important than seeing all the wedding plans come together was the fact that he was now mine and I was his.  1,460 days have passed since that once-in-a-lifetime evening, and I am more in love with him now than I was back then.  We often times recognize the truth that we aren't perfect people and don't have a perfect marriage, but we are perfect for each other.  He is the answer to all my prayers and even the ones I didn't know to pray.  Marriage to him is an amazing gift that I get to open day after day.


Photos taken by Steve Barnhart Photography


As some of you know, we started an anniversary trip tradition right after we got married.  Our goal is to travel to every state until we get to all 50.  So far we've explored the following places...

Maine (honeymoon), South Carolina, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.

This year's destination?  The shores of Alabama.  No matter where we go, we always look forward to several days of uninterrupted one-on-one time eating at good restaurants, experiencing new adventures, and most importantly, just being together.

Monday, June 20, 2011


“Whether you choose to count your blessings or choose to complain, it’s helpful to understand that you have a choice.” -Tommy Nelson in The 4:8 Principle


More and more gifts continue to be found each and every day.  I am amazed at the multitude and so thankful...

113.  An unexpected evening downpour to quench a dry earth

119.  Morning fog dancing around the curtain of dark green trees

122.  A light blue, lavender sky with one long, puffy airplane trail dividing it in half

131.  Slowly savoring my once-a-year Chick-fil-A milkshake (Banana pudding!)

133.  A clean house at the start of a new day

138.  Hearing a student I tutor say, "I love writing!!"

149.  Vermont maple syrup drizzled over a warm wheat pancake

150.  The sweet, summery smell of watermelon - if I could create any perfume it would smell just like watermelon!

152.  An opportunity to practice not getting frustrated when my dog barked and woke Addison up from a much needed (for her sake and mine) nap

158.  The fact that Addison leaves on her sunglasses and hat simply for the reason that she wants to look like Daddy

159.  A cool morning that brings back memories of summers in New England - thin, refreshing air, chilly breeze, warm sun, crystal-blue skies

160.  Long talks into the night with my sister, comfortably sitting on her couch

162.  Watching Addison wear my old dress in a quiet field surrounded by mountains, birds, tall grass, and horses

Photos taken by my talented sister!

165.  Enjoying a snack shared with ducks and a quiet pond

169.  A clean baby after a busy day

Photo taken by my talented sister!

175.  Spending an evening with dear friends - feeling like no time has passed at all!

177.  Celebrating my wonderful Dad and my husband on Father's Day - what incredible men!

My dad, sister, and me many years ago

178.  Addison decided to hug and kiss the playground before we left - how sweet!

179.  Her pride and joy when she accomplishes something new followed quickly with a loud "yay!" and clapping!  :)

180.  Matt discovering hundreds of fireflies last night when he let our dog out before bed.  I have never seen so many dancing lights in one place before!  Tonight I am going to set up the tripod and try and capture this incredible sight! Words cannot do it justice!  (Note - Sadly, no luck with the picture!)


I just finished reading a book entitled Mustard Seeds by Lynn Coulter.  It was exciting to discover that Lynn already views her life through the lens of counting gifts and recognizing God in the small details of life.  Here's an excerpt:

“God called me back to faith in a hundred ordinary little ways: through a friend’s loving words, an encouraging phone call, a timely note or card in the mail.  He opened my eyes to see and appreciate his myriad daily gifts: the freshness in the air after rain blows through; a wren’s nest built in an old motorcycle helmet atop a pile of trash; the sweet, gritty taste of pears; the deep shade in a grove of pecan trees; the cool, damp feel of morning fog; fat blackberries hanging from prickly vines; my son’s laugh; dark nights that helped me sleep; the sound of a rooster’s throaty wake-up call.  God has given me a wake-up call through all these tender mercies and many more.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Teaching Toddlers: Noah's Ark Week

Noah’s Ark Week

18 Months+

(Note: The following activities are intended to be repeated each day for an entire week.)


The story of Noah’s Ark
During breakfast
Read the story of Noah in a toddler’s Bible.  (One of our favorite children's Bibles.  It also comes in a toddler version which I'm sure is great too!)

Reinforce Bible story through music.
 Soon after breakfast
Sing “Who Built the Ark?” and encourage child to follow along with hand motions.

Letter Awareness
To recognize the capital letter “A”
Morning, before nap
Write the letter A on several index cards.  Put cards in various places throughout the house.  As child finds the cards exclaim, “Wow!  You found the letter A!”  Point to A and say “A” while asking child to repeat.

As the week progresses, include the letter B on separate index cards.  When the child finds “B” say, “You found B!  Let’s go find A!”  Hold letters side by side while saying, “A, B.”  Have child point and repeat.

Practice writing A with bathtub crayons while your child is taking a bath (or with chalk when you are playing outside).  Encourage your child to point to A while saying A.

Towards the end of the week, put A and B index cards side by side.  Say, “Give Mommy A!”

To recognize the difference between 1 object and 2 objects
During lunch and playtime
Give your child one piece of food in their hand.  Say, “One, you have one pea.”  Add another piece of food and say, “Two, you now have two peas!”  Stab each pea with a fork while saying, “one, two, two peas!”  Continue this procedure throughout lunchtime.

Remind your child that God put two of each kind of animal on the ark.  Get a box and pretend it is a boat.  Gather your child’s stuffed animals and allow your child to put them on the boat while counting, “one, two, one two, etc.”  You can also sing the following song sung to “The Ants Go Marching” (one of Addison’s favorites!):
The animals went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The animals went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah,
The lion, hippo, rhino too
All went in two by two
And the rain came pouring down, to the ground, but the boat kept them safe
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom

Towards the end of the week, encourage your toddler to get you one and two things.  For example, “Go get one ball!  GREAT!  Now go get two blocks!  VERY GOOD!!!”

Play time with a  purpose
To learn through play
Set up an inflatable pool or water table outside.  Let your child play with a boat as you remind him/her of the story of Noah.  Talk about Noah’s boat and all the animals that God put on it.  If you have animals that can get wet, let your toddler put them on the boat and practice the various animal noises.  Talk about how much God loves us and how he takes care of us just like he cared for Noah, the animals, and his family. 

To improve fine motor skills, give your child different sized cups and let him/her practice pouring water from one cup to another.

Note: On a cold or rainy day, these activities can be done in a bathtub.

Encourage your toddler to explore the opposites wet and dry.  Show examples of each as you have him/her repeat “wet and dry.”

Following Directions/
To learn to recognize Mommy’s voice and obey what she says
Any time of the day
Tell your toddler that Noah listened to God and obeyed by building a big boat.  Play “Listen to Mommy and Obey” – Say, “Look at Mommy.  Listen to Mommy and obey.  RUN!!”  Then both of you run.  Say, “Listen to Mommy and obey.  STOP!”  Continue this game by having your child do various tasks such as, crawl, walk backwards, get a certain toy, etc.

To express oneself creatively while interacting with water
With careful supervision, allow your toddler an opportunity to watercolor a rainbow.  Talk about the different colors and God’s promise to us.

On another day, print out this page.  Allow your child to color the animals with watercolors or crayons.  Cut a "boat" out of construction paper.  Put the boat on top of the animals and cut doors in the boat.  When your child opens the doors he or she sees the animals!  This is a fun activity to keep to remind your toddler about the story of Noah. (finished product looks similar to the picture on the top left-hand side of this page.)

Story time
To snuggle and read together in preparation for going to sleep
Before bed
Re-read the story of Noah (maybe from a different toddler Bible) and any other books pertaining to Noah or water.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Be Still

Be Still and Know by Steven Curtis Chapman

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God

Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

Be still, and know that He is God

Be still, and know that He is God
Be still, and know that He is God

Be still; Be speechless

Be still and know that He is God

Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still, Be still

Rather than setting New Year’s Resolutions and goals at the end of 2010, I decided to choose a word to focus on throughout the next 365 days.  Without much thought, the words BE STILL were tied to 2011 for me.

Scrabble tile idea found here

"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him." -Psalm 37:7 
"Be still and know that I am God."  -Psalm 46:10

Being still does not come easy for me.  I am not a good relaxer, "rester," or "sit still-er."  I like to get up early and be productive from the time I get out of bed until I return to bed later that night.  However, I was missing out on an intimate relationship with my patient Heavenly Father as a result of this constantly on-the-move pace I was trying to keep.  I came to the realization that I was like Martha...always running around, distracted, when I should have been Mary...sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening and soaking Him up; being still.

While in college, I listened to a message by Andy Stanley (in the Sinai Code sermon series) on the importance of the Sabbath.  Andy encouraged his listeners to follow God's command by setting aside one day of the week as a work-free day.  I took Andy's challenge.  My "rest day" was not always Sunday, but it was a 24 hour period without interruptions of work-related matters (at that time, schoolwork assignments).  During this time I focused on my quiet times, spending time with friends and family, enjoying the beautiful outdoors, reading books for pleasure, etc.  God used that day of rest in amazing ways and to my astonishment, I was able to finish everything I needed to on the other 6 days!

Recently, Jeff Henderson and Andy Stanley preached an incredible sermon series entitled Life Apps.  (Click the previous link and you can listen for free!)  The fourth message really hit home.  Jeff clearly explained the importance of rest as it relates to God and the Bible.  The message is described the following way, "Can naps and vacations actually be spiritual disciplines? Communicating the importance of rest was one of the first things God did in the Bible. So why have we neglected - or worse denied - the importance of this principle? In this message, Jeff Henderson illustrates the pattern God gives us for the pace of our lives. And it just may begin with a nap."

With the truths of those messages and the words "be still" etched into my every day, I am slowly learning how to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus each and every morning and then to find moments throughout the day to be still.  I want to "sit at His feet, to listen to His Word, to receive His love, to let Him change me, and to pour out my heart's devotion to Him" (quoted from Nancy Leigh DeMoss in A Place of Quiet Rest).

What changes have I made to open the door for this kind of relationship with God?  First, I have to get up early, earlier than even I would choose, each and every morning.  My Sweetie Pie takes after her Mommy already as she is an early riser!  I need some moments of undivided attention with My Savior while the day is still young so my heart and mind are in tune with God before I even leave my bedroom. At first it was a struggle.  My alarm would go off and I would want to stay in bed a few more minutes (sometimes those "few more minutes" turned into a half an hour and not long after that my little Morning Glory woke up and my chance of a few alone moments vanished). Thankfully I am learning and changing.  Most days I go to bed each night looking forward to the upcoming morning.  This special time has become a part of my every day, whereas before it was something I tried to squeeze into my day if Addison happened to sleep in.

I am slightly amazed and very excited as I go about each day and I recognize the areas God is tweaking me to be more like Him ("tweaking" in some areas, doing a 180 in others!).  My mind and days seem less cluttered, more purposeful, peaceful, as I am avoiding distractions that move me away from God and my family.  I am able to start the day equipped with the Word and with His mindset at the front of mine.  While I still fail time and time again, I am taking baby steps in the right direction and I am so thankful for a Heavenly Father who opens His arms wide to me and who loves me enough to change me so I can be a blessing to others while bringing Him glory.

In addition to the benefits of having a deepening personal relationship with Jesus in my life, my prayer is that Addison will know at an early age that God is essential to make it through each day.  Setting this example shows her that we need God each day, not just when life takes a detour and things become difficult.  How can I hope that Addison would have this dependency on God if her Mama doesn't make it a priority?  I am looking forward to the age when Addison is old enough to observe me spend time in the Word and possibly sit beside me as she reads her own Bible (maybe even with a warm homemade blueberry muffin and the windows open as we listen to the birds!).  I want to model for her that prayer is not a monologue, but a two-way conversation.  No, I've never heard God speak audibly, but I see glimpses of Him and I feel His presence and He leads me as I spend time communicating with him.  I want to talk to her about what God is teaching me and how much Jesus desperately loves her and longs for a relationship with her.

And I don't want my time with the Lord to stop at the beginning of the day.  I want the constant communication to go from sun up to sun down.  While I may not have any more opportunities to sit alone as the day progresses, I can still find brief moments to be still.  I want to meditate on the Scripture I am memorizing and praise God for His many gifts and for His evident love.  This is where Ann Voskamp and One Thousand Gifts has made such a huge impact throughout my day.  My eucharisteo notebook and pen stay open in the kitchen so I can write down my gifts all day long.  My day sways back and forth between changing diapers, cleaning sticky hands, grocery shopping, cooking, tutoring, watering the garden to "wow, God, those birds are singing a beautiful song this morning.  Thank you."  Or, "This place is a wreck!  Thank you, God, for a house to live in.  Thank you that I have the ability to clean and serve my family in this way."  Or, "It brought me so much joy to watch Addison share a toy with her friend today.  Thank you for her sweet spirit and for encouragement that my guidance in her life is having an effect."  Thus, I am finding moments to be still amongst the chaos as I draw closer to the heart of God.

Hopefully in the near future I can take a day to spend alone, with God, in a beautiful setting.  A mini-retreat.  There are few places closer to my heart or where I feel nearest to God than WinShape Retreat.

I am carefully, slowly savoring the gift I am opening day after day...

#128  The truth of Jeremiah 29:13 - "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."


If you are willing to share, I'd love to know how you find a block of time each day and moments throughout the day to be still despite your busy life.  How are you teaching your children the importance of being still before God? 

Monday, June 6, 2011


While reading my daily devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, I stumbled upon this (written from Jesus' perspective), "Thank Me for each blessing along the way; this brings Joy to both you and Me.  A grateful heart protects you from negative thinking.  Thankfulness enables you to see the abundance I shower upon you daily.  Your prayers and petitions are winged into heaven's throne room when they are permeated with thanksgiving.  In everything give thanks, for this is My will for you."

Wow.  You'd think Sarah Young and Ann Voskamp shared notes before writing!  Better yet, they both have grown to intimately know our Heavenly Father and He has given them the same glimpse of His heart...a heart that longs for us, His children, to lavish gratitude at His feet while joy finds itself a part of our every breath regardless of the present circumstances.

How easy this is to write, but how difficult it is to put into practice each and everyday.  I am learning and I can already tell that God is at work.


I've been counting more gifts.  God is gracious and a I am grateful...

#42  Laundry - I am thankful for the man and little girl that wear the clothes that I wash

#46  Watching Addison interact with a newborn baby for the first time - tender, sweet, gentle, soothing; 100% motherly

#47  A shy green tomato slowly making its grand appearance as the first vegetable in our new garden!

#59  A cool home on a very hot day

#72 Addison's little arms giving me tight leg hugs, first the right, then the left

#95  The endless fun and entertainment of bubbles for a 16 month old

#96  Capturing this priceless moment on camera - quite a feat for a constantly moving toddler!  How I will treasure this photo forever....

#100  Morning walks and talks with a good friend

#104  A summer day enjoyed with our little family of 3 - an afternoon at the pool shared with friends, making and eating fresh Zucchini Parmesan next to My Hero, playing in the sprinkler after dinner, and an inviting bed welcoming rest

#105  Addison saying "love you" without being asked!

#106  Cleaning up one mess after another - I am so thankful for a little girl who can make a mess.  It saddens me beyond words to think of all the women who desperately long to have a baby or a healthy child in their arms.  When cleaning up after her becomes a chore, I now recognize that my attitude must change as well as my perspective.  Each cluttered room is a gift and one day she will be able to clean up after herself...another gift yet to be opened!

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." 
-Psalm 107:1