December had alot of things stirred up for me; it started with the Jen Hatmaker conference in Tupelo. Goodness, God uses this chicky to mess with people. She was talking about stepping out in faith to be a disciple for Him & what that looks like. And that service for others may be awkward at first because we don't know what we are doing, but God uses all of it.

 So I got to go with the loverly ladies from my church-so glad we got to hear this together. Laugh together & get away from our children. Tim was warning me about potential icy conditions in Tupelo, he could have been speaking Japanese for all I know-I was not listening, nor cared. I was going.

And after I returned home, I sent out this picture and text to my fellow sistas. 

 And literally 20 seconds later, I got this email from our new Chinese friends-2 students here for a year studying at local JSU. She asked if she and friend Caroline could possibly stay with us for 3 weeks while their dorm was closed down. So after a quick convo with Tim, and a laugh to God-I replied YES. God had laid the groundwork to say yes. Within this time keeping the girls, they have been in 3 other homes other than ours. I love hearing about their observations of their host families and their houses. They are so perceptive & don't miss much.

God put international people on my heart about 10 years ago. I began helping teaching ESL at a local Presbyterian church. And truthfully, the only reason I did it because I realized how skimpy my volunteer work was when the ad agency I used to work for put my "new hire" headshot/blurb in the business section of the paper. I had nothing to ad besides where I went to church. So I didn't really do it because God told me to, it was mostly selfish motives-I realized I wasn't doing anything & wanted something to tell people that I did. So I went through the motions for the first year or so, but then God started to soften my heart towards these sweet ones who are in a strange new world. And God used Corinne & David Bradford (who totally get international missions) & my partner in crime Emily Boling Giffen to spend alot of time with international people-loving them, being loved by them; sharing the gospel with them in my clumsy, unsure way. But once the kiddos came, I had to phase out of this ministry-it was pretty hands-on. But a couple of years later, I started working with a ministry in my own church-which pairs families with Chinese students who are studying at JSU for a year. What precious people I have met. It is hard telling them goodbye after the year, because I'm pretty certain I won't see them in this life again. But I think I told you about one of girls from last year-Ting. She because a Christian while she was here & being able to hug her goodbye-knowing for sure I would see her in heaven was the sweetest feeling.

Not sure why you needed to know all of this, but it came out. I'm glad God continues to want to use me even though I feel like I don't know what I'm doing most of the time.

So our December has been partially skewed because we have been seeing it through the eyes our sweet Chinese friends: Berlin & Caroline (see these cute things above!). They have heard the nativity story for the first time this Christmas. And after observing December for a few days in our house, they asked if Santa was in the Bible. At first I was surprised by the question & wanted to laugh, but then I looked down at my advent candles & TELF (our elf) was straddling one of the advent candles. And then that was funny & their question made perfect logical sense. If Christmas was the biggest Christian celebration, Santa must be in the Bible. It made me kinda sick. BTW, they were astonished and somewhat horrified that most kids believed in Santa until about 9 & that all the grown-ups were in on it. They asked…aren't they sad when they find out. YES, honey-it is one of the saddest days of a child's life when they realize Santa is not fo real. I'm sure I will always struggle with the balance of Christmas-not letting presents, Santa & that Elf take over. (See Santa picture below).

Christmas Turkey hands. Christmas come on fast, was Thanksgiving even over???

Christmas lights in Canton.

This is a weird picture of us but really perfect. I feel like my nose keeps getting bigger. I have heard cartilage expands with age (NOTE: old men with big ears & big noses).
So we all needed to go to WM, & don't judge-but I split the girls up among my kids, we each got a kid. Poor girls, they got conned into buying Lucky Charms, oreos, a huge container of tic tacs & other treasure I keep discovering in my pantry.
Post-walmark trip. I personally think WM takes years off my life-Max does too.
I've been looking for Mistletoe everywhere-or a batch of it I could reach. We found some that had fallen. Lucky Tim.

A visit from Tim's parents. This was PJ day for Henry at school. We usually have to peel him out of bed, but this morning he woke up on his own at 5:45. 

Lemons Henry painted at school. He was so proud of them. After the picture, he screamed at Ruthie: You didn't paint these lemons, get out of my picture. Henry is such a chilled little dude, but Ruthie pushes him to his limit. I get it, man.
Time with Santa.

Christmas Night: Berlin & Caroline being very kind & gracious listening to dad tell a story that I'm pretty sure they didn't follow. I can barely keep up.
The grandkids (minus Polly's crew) with their stockings.
Christmas Eve over at my sister Kathleen's. Max mad at group pictures.

Some peaceful time at a lake near my parent's house.

Max mad at the horses.
Mom & son (taken by Ruthie Largen). I got most of your head, mom.
Cousins playing a new board game.
Max mad at the beautiful sparkly tree.

We took the kids (and Berlin) to skate. Oh my. Ruthie was like a squid on skates-no bones. I didn't have the heart to crop out this cute thing on the right. She's not with us, but wish she was-she was funny.

Proud mama moment-Ruthie making her own sandwich for her school lunch.
Lift up Berlin & Caroline (and me). Please pray that God uses this time under our roof for His good. They go back to their dorms Jan. 8. Berlin (on right) goes back early to China January 15. I want them to know that: God wants them as His own, He loves them & He will always follow after them.


flu friends

So each year, Tim's family gets a place at the beach and invites us and his bro's family to gather for the holiday. A wonderful, spendid, fabulous gift. But this year, the flu bombed our house. It started with Henry-boy (who did not receive a flu shot). Then it got me (who did get a flu shot), then Max (who did not receive a flu shot). Please note: A dose of Mom guilt piled on top of my flu.
We were set to depart the Tuesday prior but we kept trying to wait out the flu. But on Wednesday night, my pragmatic husband says-we should consider splitting up for Thanksgiving, half going to the beach and half staying home. I wanted him to clarify which half I was in, but realized he meant the flu people stay home and the well people go to the beach. At that point, Henry, Ruthie & Tim were healthy & Max & I were getting left behind. I am being dramatic, but along with the majority of the universe-the beach is my happy place. To make it more sad, I had my bag packed 5 days before and the night before Tim had not yet packed his bag.

Last night when Tim tucked the kids in, he told them Max & I were staying home. About an hour later, Ruthie came into my room crying. Saying she didn't want Max & me to stay home. What were we going to do all alone? I kinda wanted to cry with her. But singing a different tune this morning when we were hugging goodbye-as she declared it the best day ever!
One other sad/happy point is that Tim's birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year. I like making his birthday special, & this is as special as it got this year- we did manage some flu-infused chocolate chip pound birthday cake before they hit the road. I made it while trying not to cough in the batter. I figure all the germs would be cooked out anyway. I know I should be devoting this post to my better half, but this one is about my atypical Thanksgiving. Tim will get his own post, after I get this one out about me.

My Thanksgiving day lunch. Actually, I was thankful that mom sent me some tamales the day before for the feast. My dad did call and promises to bring me a Thanksgiving plate this afternoon.
Entertainment for us, Max kept wanting to light & blow out Tim's candles. We did this over and over until we set off the smoke alarm.
 My thanksgiving turkey.
The dog show. I never have sat and watched this thing-it is not for me. Have you noticed that it looks like the dog trainer puts the dog treat in his/her mouth before they give it to their dog? Not cool. But Max let me snuggle him and we watched almost the whole thing-barking and woofing.
Then it was my turn to watch a 20 month old appropriate show-Something's Gotta Give. And since Max is still cleared for inappropriate TV, we watched it together. This is one of my favorites-room for crying and laughing. The best type of movie.

Well, I guess this day should have kinda depressed me, but actually-it was nice. I am from a large familiy-3 sisters & there are 22 plus some when we get together. There is busyness, cousin squabbles, cousin memories, shopping, start/stop conversations, kitchen tension, lots of apple devices & LOVE when we gather. But this year, Max and I just chilled out and my brain got quiet. I really stopped and thanked God for what He has given me.

ADDITION//////PLEASE NOTE: This day got depressing around supper time when my dad was sweet enough to bring by Thanksgiving leftovers. Max was so excited to see him. We had not been out of the house in 4 days. He was screaming doo-doo, doo-doo (short for Dewey). Hee hee. Anyway, dad unloaded the food and we chatted. DAD: Well, couldn't get anyone to come with me-they seem to think you 2 have the flu. ME: We do. DAD: Oh, hell-we'll I guess I better get going then.

So, we proceeded to dig in after our visitor ran for the hills. All contentment dissipated when Max gagged on his turkey and threw up on the carpet. Thanksgiving without my family together was no longer nice/quiet/serene. 


Thanksgiving Blessing Mix

Thanksgiving Blessing Mix
I needed to take a snack to Henry's school and found this. Very simple. And there are variations here and there for this mix. Here is what I used:
Bugles Shaped like a cornucopia, a symbol of our nations’ abundance.
Pretzels Arms folded in prayer, a freedom sought by those who founded our country.
Popcorn The sacrifices of the Pilgrims’ 1st winter. Food was so scarce that settles survived on a few corn kernels a day.
Pumpkin seeds Promise of a future harvest, one we will reap only if seeds are planted and tended with diligence.
M&Ms Memories of those who came before us to lead us into a blessed future.

One trick is to put the big items all in a bowl: popcorn, pretzels, bugels & then add the pumpkins seeds and MMs to the bags individually, so that each bag gets a bit of each component. And love the cup tip I saw somewhere, it makes it easier to fill the bags.

You can grab this template below. But there are others around the web-this is one i did up right quick.

 Smart tip for filling ziploc bags with goodies like this.

 Also, I read to Henry's class and found this book, really cute if you want to share it with your kiddos.


missions mishaps & happenings

Mission Mamas. A mama and I were talking and had the idea of getting mom/kids together once a month and do a service project all together. Actually, my friend got the idea from reading about something Jen Hatmaker does with her kids. We were so proud of ourselves for this wonderful new mission focus. This is going to be fantastic, the kids will be shaped and molded to be mission-minded individuals. Let's do this.

The first one was to stuff our Operation Shoe Boxes
A few highlights of the first go:
-Each child coming to grips that we were not keeping the toys, but they were being sent away to other kids
-Max clinging to my hip & screaming like a deranged spider monkey who was drunk on bad bananas
-We brought a globe from home to show the kids where the boxes were going. New Guinea was a possible location, but no one knew where New Guinea was???
-At one point, someone asked me if I was okay. I said no, I think I need a drink. I don't know what my expression was doing, I thought I was keep pretty calm for a baby screaming in my face, all while instructing the kids to lay their itty bitty hands on their boxes so that we can pray for the precious child who shall receive his/her box.
-Afterwards, Henry stated Wish I was poor and lived in another country, so I could get a shoebox full of toys.
The night after our first go, I kept laughing, laughing at the whole shoebox scene & laughing at how I keep forgetting to keep my expectations LOW with kids and ideas like these. But God reminded me that you gotta keep at it. It is your job to teach them they are not the center of this universe & they need to be in tune with hurt of others. And reminded me that mission mamas is not about the mamas (it needs a new name).

So we went for #2.

The second one was to make Blessing Bags.
I was familiar with this one, actually my friend Jennifer got this project together a couple of years ago. Essentially, you stuff bags up with goodies, keep them in your car & hand them to someone who may need it out on the streets. And after I met Anthony at the Jackson Starbucks, I knew this was the project we needed to do. I go to area wifi spots on my days kid-free and do my graphic design work. So I was enjoying my
few hours in the zone when I noticed a little guy come sit next to me. I didn't automatically know he was homeless when I saw him, but when he sat 2 feet from me-I could not ignore his smell and thus realized he had to be without a home. Goodness. I got fidgety. There I was working on a Christian newsletter for one of my clients and here was a guy 2 feet from me that I needed to acknowledge in a natural, somewhat normal way. I wanted to add something good to his day. So I decided to go get him a coffee. I quietly slid it his way and told him I got this for him. He smiled and went and got 6 splendas and fixed it up right. I introduced myself and that was it. Then my kid-free time was over and went. I can't quit thinking about Anthony and how he needs so much for than just a cup of coffee. Tonight temps are freezing, we brought our plants in. I keep thinking about Anthony. He is cold somewhere-freezing. Tonight,  I went into my closet & closed the door (when I was supposed to be helping with bathtime) and cried thinking of him and so many who are cold to the bone tonight. I found this prayer and said out loud. It was nice to have this beautiful prayer when I was at such a loss. But my addition to this prayer was to let me see the hurting, bring them into my world. Let me not ignore them. I'm praying for another encounter with Anthony. I can get stuck in the sad place-"the why is there so much hurt in the world, Jesus-just come on back NOW" place. I don't want to be stuck, I want to be used by Him. These bags will not make a dent in the hunger/homeless crisis in Jackson, MS. But I pray it will let this person know they are not forgotten or ignored. And I pray it will help my kids look out for the hurting & not be scared to reach out.

 We got our supples: gatorade, nabs, granola bars, snack mix & brown sacks.
 I made these cards for the kids to color and sign their names to, which would be placed in the bags (template below).

 Sweet Ella Kate, stuffing it up.

I swiped the post from Ella Kate's mom. Too much going on for me to document it.