Good Neighbor Award

This week, we started a new annual tradition in our neighborhood: The Good Neighbor Award. It was inspired by a desire to express our appreciation to someone who has served on our HOA board for the last several years, but is moving across town. It was only appropriate that before he heads out, we take the opportunity to honor his hard work.

Since I wasn’t able to find much out there in this realm, I created a template for anyone out there who would like to start this in their neighborhood.

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Good Neighbor Award Template

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Our HOA meeting


Next year, I want to post to our Neighborhood Facebook Group with some advance notice (before the spring HOA mtg) and give people the opportunity to nominate others for the award and then vote. I think this takes away the feeling of “politics” that can be associated with something like this and hopefully puts it back in the hands of the neighborhood.

I’m also including what I read about the recipient of the award to cast a better picture of specifically how we thanked him. In addition, we gave him a gift card to Home Depot.

Good Neighbor Award Speech


How have you honored those in your ‘hood who’ve served publicly and/or behind the scenes?

 

 

 

10 Thoughts on How to Table Talk

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This post could also be titled: “Bringing the Real Woman to the Table: Christian Hospitality in the Age of Pinterest.”

What is Table Talk?

Very simple. It’s an invitation for conversation and a widening of one’s skill sets in your safest space: your home. It’s creating a place for growth and conversation in the context for perhaps one of the most underestimated means of God’s grace… Hospitality.  And it can look different based on your passions and on your audience… whether friends, neighbors, or currently for me- college women.

For me, it’s looked like a once a month on Friday’s, I invite some college girls from Cru (our ministry at Mizzou) to come to our home for 2 things: a lifeskill and some Biblical content. Sometimes it’s a big group, sometimes it’s small. But it’s always quite intimate and a good time.

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Some topics for Life Skills include (insert your own!):

  • Cooking Chicken & Making stock
  • Hospitality (While Rejecting Performance)
  • Gardening for Dummies (and composting)
  • Cake Decorating
  • How to Sew a Button
  • Asking Good Questions & Basic Listening Skills
  • How To Get a Job & Build a Resume
  • Time Management
  • Self Defense
  • Budgeting & Finance tips, etc.

Some topics for Biblical Content:

  • How to Wait Well
  • Dating
  • Trusting God through Different Seasons of Life
  • Christian Marriage
  • Sexuality
  • How Disciplining Your Kids Shows Them God’s Love & Care
  • Walking with God through Motherhood
  • Grieving
  • Sorting through Calling
  • Encouragement

When I first posted a picture on social media of our initial Table Talk (see above with the girls in our kitchen), my phone exploded from women across the country- and even abroad. It was mainly moms in ministry eager to do the same, but feeling like they didn’t know where to start. It seemed to be striking a nerve in many young women that wanted- maybe needed- specific direction… and maybe even permission to love people in this way.

The following is a result of many conversations compiled into the following 10 tips/principles for those who want to try their own version of Table Talk. 

  1. Beware the Phantom Host. 

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We all have a vision of what the phantom woman/wife/mom is. Whatever it is, it’s a myth and doesn’t exist.

In an age of Pinterest, the standards can feel so high- societal pressures to be a certain sort of crafty, have some Joanna Gaines swag on our walls or even just a clean house (is that even possible?!)… sometimes it’s all just too much. And because I don’t feel like I can be that Phantom host or any kind of expert on things (let’s be honest, I’m just surviving life at times), I just avoid. Because having people in my home will expose that I really don’t have it altogether after all.

   2. Bring your best and worst; Bring the real you.

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This means embracing your giftings & talents as well as your limitations. It means not dogging on yourself and talking excessively about what a hot mess you are (guilty!) but it also means letting it go when you didn’t have time to wipe down your counters thoroughly or get your bathroom as clean as you would like. It means that you don’t have to be all things to all people, but that you are freed up to be the REAL you. The good, bad & ugly and you’re inviting people into your world to see the highlights and the lowlights.

  3. Put yourself out there. Any time we initiate with any group of people, it’s risky business. I always remind myself that God brings who He wants to each time, so if it’s a smaller group, great- even better sometimes! The results are up to God and will vary, but just keep doing it.

  4. You don’t have to be an expert. The idea isn’t to come across like you’ve got it all together. Some of the lifeskills are areas that are new to me, like cake decorating and gardening. The idea is more to get their feet wet and learn something new in a fun way. Same with the Biblical content portion- they aren’t topics I’ve now mastered; they’re areas I’m growing in and providing a place for discussion along the way.

  5. Be resourceful. Along the lines of embracing limitations, don’t feel like you have to cover every subject or lifeskill alone. Who are the people around you and what skills do they have to offer that you think you & others would benefit from? A couple months ago, I brought in a neighbor to facilitate/ teach on finances. She shared from her own experiences (both good & bad) with money, some Biblical principles and even pulled up her Mint app on our apple TV so the students could see how she actually budgeted. It was awesome!

  6.  Value the “ordinary things” as “important things.” I say this a lot, but it’s because it’s true. When we only make time and space to talk about what we consider spiritual things, we subconsciously communicate that maybe those other “real life” things just aren’t as important to God.

When women open up their most sacred space and offer help to other women in basic life skills- whether it be how to do laundry, avoid debt, or how to sew a button- we communicate that God cares about all areas of our life. That there is no sacred/ secular divide. That be it gardening or diapers or their future or current workplace or their ability to ask good questions or flirting or how to use a meat thermometer- that these are all important to God. That the little things really aren’t so little; they’re sacred and worthy of time and attention.

 7. Get your guests involved. During your lifeskill portion of the time you’re together, I suggest giving your guests something to do. If you’re cooking, let them chop. If you’re gardening, let them plant or weed. People like to have something to do, especially if they are new to a group & don’t know the other guests well.

 8. Focus on things that you’re interested in. What are your hobbies/ interests/ passions? And if you don’t know what they are, start exploring and bring in some other people who are interesting and that you’d be excited to learn from.

 9. Keep it simple. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you overwhelm yourself. This might fit better under #5, but there have been times when I’ve asked for help with some of the snacks. Christmastime was so crazy and I knew that my capacity would be slim for a Christmas Tea themed Table Talk, so I reached out to some empty nester friends and (heaven forbid!) asked for help. One friend made a couple of beautiful cakes and the other made tons of cookies- it was GLORIOUS and so, so appreciated.

10. It doesn’t have to be perfect. As we’ve added more kids, it’s become harder and harder to un-smudge all my appliances and get all those tiny fingerprints off the windows and wipe down this or that. And you know, it’s a good thing because as a wise woman once said, I’ve had to truly “let it go.” And more than that, embrace that it’s the spirit of a home that people will remember and the sense that they were loved and welcomed, not how clean my countertops were.

May we reject the phantom host and may our tables create sacred space for us to embrace our strengths and limitations, so we can grow and develop and thrive.

The Jesse Tree: Best and Most Kid-Friendly Way to Celebrate Advent

shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.    The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.  Isaiah 11: 1-3

What is the Jesse Tree?

“The Jesse Tree is a way of telling the story of God’s plan from the beginning of time to redeem His people by sending a Savior.  It follows the lineage of Christ’s family and key people in the Old Testament that God uses to tell His story from Creation through Christ’s birth.  It is a countdown daily to Christmas with the telling of a story, and an ornament that acts as a symbol and visual reminder of the story.” – Jacki Rucksdashel, The Jesse Tree Project.

An Ornament Exchange:

A little over a month ago, my friend Andrea (one of the women in our church small group) said she had a project for the 7 of us called: the Jesse Tree. It would involve each of us making several sets of ornaments and then doing an exchange. At the end of it all, we would come away with a beautiful set of ornaments and a Christmas advent tradition for our families for years to come.

I never could’ve predicted how special this would end up being. On so many levels.

I admit I was overwhelmed at first, but I was compelled by the vision, so we did it. Here’s a pic of the Joseph coats I made with my girls. Granted, they were mainly just playing with the clay, but they loved being involved.

We had 2 weeks to get our sets to Andrea and then we’d all meet up for a girls night for the exchange. Andrea organized them all for us in beautiful boxes and included a small photo album with the Scripture readings for each day and pictures of our families so we could pray for each other.

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Haley’s Story: One family touched by the Jesse Tree

Right before we met up for the exchange,  I was walking into church and saw my neighbor Haley, who I was pretty sure was not currently a church-goer. I was so excited to see her (and her husband), I messaged her right away. She explained that over the past month, God had been truly changing their lives. She also wanted to know if we were in a small group and if so, could they join. Um, yes.

My only sadness was that we had just finished all of our ornaments and were about to do our exchange. Little did I know, God had something special for Haley.

After posting a pic of our girls night where we did the exchange, I clicked on #jessetree to see what other people out there had done. That’s when I saw a Jesse Tree giveaway! How perfect would it be to give these to their family?! Fast forward, out of 553 entries, she picked me!!!!!!!

It’s hard to put into words how special it was to present these to Haley. We have developed a huge heart to show Christ’s love and light in our neighborhood and have been sowing those seeds for almost five years. To see a family come to Christ, have instant community and be given a set of (gorgeous) ornaments that explain the story of Jesus throughout the pages of Scripture… I am in awe. I thought God was late to the party. I questioned His timing in bringing Haley to our group. But through this whole process, God reminded me that He is far more kind than I am and He is able to demonstrate His goodness in ways that are far outside of my box.

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Haley’s family praying together as they do the Jesse Tree Devotional.
The Most Kid-Friendly Advent Devotional: 

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After talking with Jacki Rucksdashel (founder of the Jesse Tree project) on the phone, she decided to include a devotional for our family as well. Let me tell you, it is AMAZING. She wrote this devotional because she had trouble finding super kid friendly devotionals. It reminds me a lot of the Jesus Story Book Bible and every story points to Jesus.

Here’s what each day includes (as stated on her website):

  • Verse of the Day
  • Bible Reading for THE STORY (My husband and I found this to be our own study time with the Lord to prepare our hearts for Christmas, and we read THE STORY to our kids.  When they get to be a little older, we plan on reading the story from the Bible. Of course, do whatever is best for your family!)
  • THE STORY– This is the Biblical account written in narrative form for young children.
  • Questions to check for understanding.
  • Prayer to get you started.  Feel free to pray your own prayer!
  • Worship–songs, poems, videos or books to inspire praising Him.
  • Extended Activity–Extra optional activities to do with children to help solidify what they learned.

It is geared toward kids ages 3-8. Our kids are 6, 4, 3 and 1 and are LOVING it. We typically read the story out of her devotional and then stream the YouVersion Kids Bible app through our phones onto the TV and re-watch it.

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Supplementing with the  Version Kids Bible App is a great way to engage younger kids with the Jesse Tree.
How YOU Can Participate in the Jesse Tree:

  1. Get a group of women together to do an ornament exchange.
  2. Order the devotionals through the Jesse Tree Project.
  3. Get a small Christmas tree & shoebox for displaying & storing your ornaments.

Coming from someone who has the best of intentions but poor follow through, you will not regret the investment of time you put into this. It will get the Bible story deeper into you and your kids and also help you focus on the true hero of Christmas.

Grace Based Parenting Discussion Questions

“How we view God determines how we parent our children.”

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Seven years ago, I read Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. We were pregnant with our first child and it pretty much framed my whole context for parenting. It might sound dramatic, but really- not a day goes by that I don’t still think about these things. If you are looking for a super practical book on do’s & don’ts for disciplining your children, this is not your book. But if you are looking for a bigger parenting vision that will shape those everyday decisions, this is it.

The premise of the book is that God primarily parents us out of grace. Truth and discipline come in the context of His greater story of love toward His children.

He talks about  7 types of Parenting: Fear-Based, Evangelical Behavior-Modification, Image-Control, High Control, Herd-Mentality. Duct-Tape and Life-Support/ 911 Parenting. If you can’t relate to at least one of these, we probably can’t be friends because I’m several of these.

He also talks about a child’s three greatest needs: security (met through love), significance (met through purpose) and strength (met through hope) and 4 necessary freedoms for our children: The freedom to be different, vulnerable, candid and to make mistakes. This is SUCH GOOD STUFF!

If that doesn’t convince you, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The real test of a parenting model is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race. Notice I didn’t say ‘as vital members of the Christian community.’ We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings. Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ’s love…”

“God left our families in communities to serve as porch lights, if you will, for the lost people around us.”

“How we view God determines how we parent our children.”

“Sometimes God deliberately puts things in our children’s lives that make them feel extremely fragile- and He doesn’t take them away.”

“Jesus makes people feel comfortable even when He catches them without their makeup. When circumstances scrub off the layers of their self-confidence, and their shortcomings wash away the foundation of their self-righteousness, Jesus isn’t appalled by the blemishes He finds underneath.”

Other topics for discussion:

  • Safe vs Strong kids
  • Loving our kids based on their needs and best interests vs. ours
  • Helping your children develop skills that enable them toward future greatness
  • Helping your children develop a spiritual purpose
  • Encouraging your children to live a great spiritual adventure
  • Non moral/ Preference issues elevated to spiritual issues
  • Legalistic or Cheap grace homes vs grace based parenting
  • Regularly affirming your child
  • Rejecting what your friends think as most important
  • Consequences

I recommend getting the book & reading it with friends. We really benefitted from sitting with our peers who were in our similar stage of life and sharing openly about our struggles as well as our hopes and dreams for our children. I’m attaching my questions & I hope they’re helpful to you. Enjoy!


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The Grief of a Quiet Conservative

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It’s been a quiet day on social media for a lot of my fellow evangelical, Christian friends. I’m hearing from tons of my friends who are liberal (or maybe lean that way) and from many of my minority friends. I hear despair and fear and grief and one person who said to another, “Just let me be sad.”

… But as for my friends who identify as Conservatives: overall silence. Perhaps some are silent Trump supporters. But there’s another type of  conservative out there who is quietly scrolling through Facebook, whose heart is heavy and is grieving. Who is deeply disturbed and outright horrified over what they’ve seen with Donald Trump…. Me. And I can’t be the only one.

I’m quiet because I don’t want people drawing conclusions about me and my values from a post… though I know this is something I can neither control nor avoid. I still fear being misunderstood and misrepresented because the truth is I’m not liberal.

But today, I speak. Today, I am sympathetic to the posts of my liberal friends. Because today, I grieve.

Maybe you can relate. I have convictions to be a voice for the voiceless, the widowed and oppressed, to protect life and religious freedom. AND as a follower of Christ, I also reject racism, sexual lust and perversion, bigotry, bullying, abuse and sexism. I’m not saying that Trump supporters stand for those things- the ones I know don’t and I don’t like when people demonize people on either political party. But because of the specific comments made about minorities and many of the overtones that were associated with Trump’s campaign, maybe you can relate when you hear me say that my heart broke this morning I stood with my four young daughters, all 6 and under, all staring at the television.

Sure, there are some specific issues where I’m relieved to know my voice will be heard. But what about so many whose voices have not been heard today? Who are legitimately afraid?

For all of us who are grieving today, there is One who sees and hears our cries… He is good and has no evil in Him. He is trustworthy. And when we’re afraid or disappointed, mistreated, unheard and overall despaired, we can make our cries heard without fear of being judged or attacked or bullied.

He is the True Champion of women… and men, too. He’s the Champion of children and babies… and of the poor and marginalized. And of those with disabilities… that is to say, me.

I posted this picture exactly three years ago yesterday and thought it was appropriate. Whatever your beliefs about the Pope, I hope we can agree that this picture is a moving depiction of what Jesus Christ does for us. He never casts us out- far from it. Instead, He reaches out to each one of us- in all our self-loathing and all our self-loving- warts & all.  He invites us to a permanent place at His table, as His own.

So, I come with my heavy heart to the great and true Champion, Jesus Christ. In Him I put my hope. Maybe you can relate.

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Photo featured in New York Daily News on Tuesday, November 26, 2013.

A Villainous Birthday Bash

I always say every party is my favorite. But for real this time. The Disney villains, people.

The Invite. I wish I printed the invites but realistically, ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m a texter-inviter. I love these little characters- I normally try to not spend money on the invites, but this was $3 well spent on Etsy.

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The Music. Never forget the music! Especially when it comes to a Disney party. Nothing puts you in a villainous mood like listening to Cruella Devil & Poor Unfortunate Souls 😉 Follow my Villains Spotify playlist here.

The Cake. If you know me, you know I love to make cakes with my girls. We started last spring because I figured with 4 girls, this would be a helpful lifeskill. Our villains cake was our biggest challenge yet. Far from perfect, but so much fun! From top to bottom: Maleficent, Queen of Hearts, Ursula and Cruella!

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Decor. Black, purple, green. Think white roses painted red (queen of hearts reference) with some tissue paper & cardstock to create a magic mirror. And a bunch of pictures you find on google image of villains (search villain minimalist). Also-once again, you know I’m a sucker for a kids party in the garage. Go for it, kids. Spill EVERYWHERE!

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The Food. I’m a huge fan of party themes where the food comes to life, so to speak. It makes it fun for the kids and my girls like to help with EVERYTHING. For villains, we did Ursula tentacles, Maleficent brownies, poison apples, puppy chow and “pupcorn.” For drinks- Wishing Well Water and my favorite, Queen Grimhalde’s Drink (aka dry ice & green Hawaiian punch). Click here for my Printable Villain Labels.

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Best decision EVER: renting the evil queen costume!

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For these, we just bought 2 cans of purple frosting. My girls dipped them in there, added the sprinkles (that came with) and put them on parchment paper. We froze them so (1) they weren’t messy and (2) I like to make most all the food ahead of time.

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These were little mini brownies with leftover purple frosting and little chocolate molds I made.

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Though the poison apples were pretty much inedible, there were a HUGE hit and the talk of the party. My sister in law helped make them by using this poison apple recipe. They kids thought they were so cool.

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Please excuse me while I swoon over the dry ice!! I was a little shocked by how well it worked!

The Favors. I ripped the favor tag idea from Pinterest & the girls helped stuff with these Halloween candy.

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Games. Bags, Hook Toss, Villain Bingo and a Poison Apple Piñata. With the bags game, I may just paint cardboard for every party now- it’s too easy and provides a little something else for the littles to do.  I stumbled upon this Villains Bingo game, but there were only 8 cards. So, we split the kids up into teams of 3, which worked great. The girls and I made the piñata with a balloon, newspaper & paper mache. My girls are at ages where they like to make things like that it is something fun we can do together where they can contribute and get excited for the party.

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Recycled from our Neverland party!
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Go June, go!

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I pretty much lived my piñata party fantasy where almost every child got to take a turn and then when it broke, it was mayhem. If you knew how poorly constructed the piñata actually was, you’d appreciate this miracle.


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Happy Birthday, Juney. We love that you are sassy as a villain, but sweet as a princess.

5 Tips on Hosting A Royal Afternoon in the Neighborhood

I think because we have 4 daughters and they know they’ll get used, friends have generously given us more princess dresses than we know what to do with. And the last thing I want is for those to hang in a closet during these magic years. So, partly for that reason, combined with my love for neighboring, we added a Royal Afternoon to our list of neighborhood parties. I admit, that was in some measure code for Princess Tea Party. But it was my way of at least trying to open it up to all the neighborhood knights!

Here are a few simple ways to host your own Royal Afternoon in the Neighborhood:

  1. The Invite. Keep it simple & post to your neighborhood Facebook group or text to a few neighbors & ask them to help you spread the word.

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2. The Food. I’m a sucker for a theme. And given this was NOT a princess tea party, the theme was NOT Cinderella, rather “Once Upon a Time: A Royal Afternoon With Snacks.” So, naturally we had pumpkins, mice, brooms & carriage wheels, aka mandarine oranges, strawberries, cheese and donuts. And cake and cookies. Oh, and “Dragon Juice” for the knights, of course. And I need to add that one neighbor completely ran with the food! I came up with the vision but she executed! And then another neighbor helped with set up! It was an all around team effort.

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Because you can never have too much cheese.

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A neighbor made these gorgeous cookies!

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Dragon Juice!

3. Photo Prop! I’m a sucker for a good photo prop & there were two neighbors who wanted to help with the party… So, the two of them magically created this gorgeous carriage from cardboard & glitter. I was so impressed!

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4. Jousting. Though I knew very few boys might actually end up coming, I still wanted to try to have some games that weren’t so girly. So, I  bought these cheap swords/shields and covered them with a pool noodle. We divided the kids into two teams and I sprayed whipped cream on the end of each sword. The first one to get whipped cream on his/her opponent won! This was a HUGE hit!

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5. Dance Party. When in doubt, dance. I brought a portable speaker and blared “Let it Go” at an ungodly volume. It was a really fun ending & got the parents involved as well. Here’s my Disney Spotify playlist– enjoy!

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Originally, I had wanted to also coax the dads into being waiters, but I probably did not (a) pick the best weekend (b) plan far enough in advance and/or (c) have the best persuasion skills. It was still a TON of fun & a great memory with the neighborhood littles.


What’s your favorite princess tea party memory (ahem, I mean Royal Afternoon for Knights & Princesses)???

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