Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Girl Reads :: Chapter Book Recommendations

Cate usually falls asleep surrounded by at least a few chapter books. She carries a book with her when we go to church or basketball games. She checks out at least seven books at a time when we go to the library. And she reads books over and over again.

I've loved watching her devour books this summer, falling in love with fictional friends and retelling the stories.

I got Cate, who is getting ready to start second grade, to look up from the pages of The Boxcar Children long enough to tell me about her favorite series of books. She likes reading mysteries that aren't scary, characters who are funny, and anything about horses.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner 
I bought the first book in the series at a yard sale several months ago and Cate recently checked out more from the library. "I like learning new things from them," Cate said.

Cam Jansen by David Adler
I originally thought Cam was a boy, but Cate was quick to correct me ... and explain where she got the name Cam. So why does she like Cam Jansen? "She has a photographic memory and I think that's cool. There's always a mystery and I like mysteries."

Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
These make Cate laugh out loud and sometimes she reads to me parts she loves. "She's funny and crazy," Cate said of Junie B.

Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
Cate had devoured these. She started reading them in order and then realized there were so many the order probably didn't matter. She's asked questions about the Titanic and Civil War while reading about Jack and Annie's adventures lately and she even got to see a rendition of "Dinosaurs Before Dark" at the local community theater.

Mermaid Tales by Debbie Dadey
We happened upon these at the library this summer and Cate has been hooked. "The mermaids make new friends and cheer up each other," she said.

Ramona by Beverly Cleary
Greg and I read aloud a couple Ramona books in previous years before Cate was ready to read them on her own, which she's been doing for awhile now. "She's even crazier than Junie B.," Cate said about Ramona Quimby.

Wayside School by Louis Sachar
These make Cate laugh out loud. And there are more of them than I originally thought. I know because I bought them for her from Half.com.

Having a chapter book reader has me reminiscing about my own childhood reading adventures. What books do you remember loving or are you seeing your kids love?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, so if you buy something through these links I will receive a tiny portion but the prices don't change for you. Thanks for supporting this blog.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Messes into messages

Over dinner last week, three friends and I discussed old-fashioned, paper planners, which we still use. I actually started a new one this month. There's something fresh about clean pages to begin the next 18 months.

Thing is, my life usually doesn't look like my calendar. Sometimes the best laid plans aren't the best. A week ago, my calendar reminded me God's got the details figured out.

While walking into the hospital for my daughter's ENT-related appointment, we ran into an attorney friend who offered unsolicited but valuable advice.

Then my kids were invited to a friend's house about an hour after I realized I need childcare to me available for a dear friend walking through a hard season.

The encounter and text invitation were divinely timed. They impacted Tuesday and the days to come. And, you know, I originally thought the kids and I would be spending last Tuesday at a nearby water park.

Of course, I didn't realize it would be 75 degrees in mid-July. The Maker of it all – our calendar, our relationships, the weather and the universe – still manages to surprise us in such delightful ways.

While God's been orchestrating details, I've been learning about an even deeper level of community. Darkness does that sometimes. Light can be easier to find when people come together and trust each other with their stories.

My heart has been heavy for some people who have been walking through darkness. A friend's marriage is crumbling. A woman I've gotten to know recently is starting over as the program that was helping her abandoned its mission, but, thankfully, she’s still committed to healing. A college friend shared with me a mental health past I didn't realize he had that is still affecting his life today. Another college friend struggled with infertility and is now hoping all goes well with the babies – yes, plural – growing inside her after a successful IVF procedure.

These people aren't satisfied to stay in the darkness. They're taking steps toward healing and protecting and surviving. But like a Casting Crowns song says, life isn't about surviving but rather thriving.

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry

So living water flowing through
God, we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire

Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for 
so much more than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive …

Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable, anything is possible

{Casting Crowns’ “Thrive”}

God’s light seeps through this temporary darkness and changes us. My new friend who is starting over stood up yesterday in church and praised God despite her hard week. And she put the purpose of life into words: God turned her mess into a message.

Life is messy sometimes. But we don’t have to settle for making it through. God wants to author messages out of our messes. These messages speak of God’s faithfulness and love, so let’s not be afraid to share them.

I'm joining my friend Jen Ferguson for the weekly Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood Gathering, where people share the messages that have come from their messes. Then on Wednesday I linked with Beth Stiff for Three Word Wednesday, Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart, and Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

{Belong} On Gathering Together

I'm joining the Five Minute Friday writers for the first time in forever. Crystal Stine is hosting this week in Lisa-Jo Baker's online absence. Want to join us? Please do. Set a timer for five minutes and write. This week's prompt is "Belong."  

I've needed this week.

Vacation Bible School. It's been on my calendar these five evenings in a row for months. It's not even our church, but it's an event my kids have loved from the moment they walked in the joy-filled sanctuary a few years ago.

Even though I knew I'd be kid-less from 5 to 8 p.m. five nights in a row, I didn't have big plans. I figured Greg and I would hang out. Then a friend whose kids are also at the same VBS proposed a double date. Then my best friend and I decided to make a girls' night out of one of the evenings.

If I was alone, I could have scrapbooked or worked on my ebook or read or cleaned or ran errands or talked on the phone. But I was blessed with some time I needed more than any to-do list.

I was given a chance to have long conversations with my husband. I had time to sit in the passenger seat as Greg drove us around the lake to a couple destinations that quieted all the noise in my soul. Like an old married couple, we walked into the grocery discussing how times flies and our kids are growing up too fast. I had dinner before pedicures with my best friend whose life is especially messy right now. And I have another date coming up with my husband tomorrow.

Mothering is one of the greatest blessings in my life. But I was feeling empty, like I poured all myself out. This week has refilled me and reminded me where I belong. And, you know what, my kids are learning about how they always belong to Jesus, even when if they're different than everyone else ... like weird animals.

That's a good week for everybody.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Love Your Ordinary

There's one thing I don't like about Independence Day: It marks the middle of summer. Perhaps I need to a glass-half-full perspective on this, but summer is half way over. My kids go back to school in five weeks. Five weeks from today. 

Summer, slow down please.

I love the ordinary of summer. 

No alarm clock in the morning. Afternoons at the pool. Flexibility with dinnertime and bedtime. The longer daylight hours. Lightning bugs. Snow cones. Impromptu lunches with friends. More afternoons at the pool. Our town's old-fashioned walk-up Dairy Queen. Reading fiction books, both my girl and me. Ben's constant request to go outside.

Summer doesn't have to be fancy to be lovely. That's what I love about it.

Mixed in with our ordinary days have been a week on Hilton Head Island, S.C. with my parents, an aunt and uncle, and my siblings and their families. We spent time on the beach and around the pool. We ate delicious food around various tables. We talked and laughed and reminisced and planned. {You can see tons of pictures of all that here.}

And then the day after we got home, Cate went to her first overnight camp {two nights!} and had a blast. I wasn't anxious about it because she was made for camp. After I helped her get her set up, she walked outside with me to hug Daddy and Ben goodbye. And then without hesitation: "I'm going back inside to get to know the other girls better."

She wanted to stay longer than the camp actually lasted and is already talking about going back next year. When I ask about her favorite part of those three days, she says, "Everything."

Ordinary summers for us also include a couple vacation Bible schools -- one is in the evenings this week and the other is a couple hours each morning next week. We've got plans for an amusement park, a visit with a new nephew, another weekend with my family, and hosting friends here.

Ordinary here is the stereotypical summer days mixed with plenty of socializing. I love it here, this time of the year with these people of mine. Ordinarily, I'd write more here, but I'm busy making these memories that matter.

I want to remember the ordinary because I get the feeling I'm going to look back and the little moments are going to be the big moments. 

I'm linking up this post with Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, Jennifer Duke Lee's #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Jill Savage's Hearts at Home Blog Hop.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

On Death & Life

Death has a way of shedding light on the living.

My husband's grandpa, Tommye D Taylor, who is best known as Papaw around here, passed away Saturday, June 28. He lived 87 years full of loving, serving, making deals in the transportation world, traveling to do business in all sorts of places, and dreaming up all kinds of ideas. We celebrated his life this past week with a visitation on Tuesday evening and the funeral and burial on Wednesday afternoon.

Even those events had his ideas all over them.

Papaw had given many family and friends personalized shovels so we could bury him the day he died. Well, he ended up agreeing to a traditional funeral not long before he passed away, but we used the shovels as he intended.

I wish I had counted how many people had the shovels with their name and relation to Tommye engraved along the red handle. There were many. Papaw loved people more than anything and his people showed up to celebrate him.

Probably not coincidentally, I'm reading "In Light of Eternity" by Randy Alcorn with my small group from church. Thinking about the heavenly reunion between Papaw and Greg's dad, Gary, best known as Granddaddy, gives me a new perspective of heaven. Granddaddy died unexpectedly more than four years ago.

While we miss both these men here, the faith they lived out assures us their deaths weren't the end. 

"Death is life's greatest certainty. Death will come whether or not you're prepared. But death is not an end; it's a transition that will bring us face to face with our Creator."
{Randy Alcorn in "In Light of Eternity"}

Earthly death and the mourning that comes with it prompts thinking of what's eternal and what really matters here.

Every day, but especially in light of death, I'm grateful for community that is lived out in simple ways: A friend grocery shopping for me at 8 pm. A friend bringing me a meal one night and watching my kids the next. Laughing while playing a board game with cousins. A friend who shows up even when her life is hard.

With this great-grandfather and grandfather not in my kids' lives anymore, I'm thankful there are other grandfatherly men around us to influence my kids and encourage my husband. Yes, they left gaps in our lives, but they left a legacy we're ready to share and live.

And there is peace in knowing Christ promises this life isn't the end for those who believe in him {John 3:16}. Now that's something for which we should live.

I'm linking up this post with the weekly Soli Deo Gloria Gathering and Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Free indeed

Happy Fourth of July, friends!

We'll be parade-watching, hamburger-eating, and water gun-shooting this weekend with friends and family. We'll swim and socialize. We'll recognize how blessed we are to live in this country during this time. We'll remember that even when life doesn't make sense we have a hope that comes because of the earthly freedom soldiers secure and the eternal hope Christ gives.

If you're looking for some patriotic encouragement, my favorite bloggers that offer such are Beth Stiff at Simply Beth and Kristen Strong at Chasing Blue Skies. They're both military wives who share real-life stories and offer hope.

How will you celebrate your freedom?

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How God Build My Faith & Family

Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood is an online community my friend Jen Ferguson has poured her heart into. She has a vision for women to encourage women through the hard seasons of life. For me, infertility was a hard season. It's a story I shared last week at Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.

What came next is my favorite testimony of God's faithfulness.

After 22 months of trying to conceive, my husband and I decided to turn our attention, energy and money to adoption. We had absolutely no idea what that mean or how that would work, but I had more peace than I’d had in the whole let’s-have-a-family journey.

During that season of infertility, I constantly cried, yelled, prayed and hoped: “God, please help us become pregnant.”

Yes, I wondered if God – the giver of life – was hearing me. I would soon find out he most certainly was hearing the desires of my heart.

We began the adoption process, tackling it one conversation, phone call, and prayer at a time. I was tired of recounting the timeline of infertility and putting on a strong face with the professionals, so we decided not to apply to an adoption agency. We decided to just wait and see. Gradually, we told people about our desire to adopt. We started with friends and family as well doctors and attorneys in our small town.

Then two months later, on Christmas Eve 2006, we were at my parents’ house and my sister and her now-husband told us about an 18-year-old girl they knew who wanted to find a family to adopt her baby. Not quite a month later, we saw our daughter via ultrasound and named her Catherine Anna on the way back to Murray, Kentucky, from Bloomington, Indiana.

We were naming her after my mom and Greg’s grandma, but God orchestrated a detail to remind us he cares: Catherine is the birth mom’s middle name. Other details reminded us God was in control, authoring a story for our family.

{Read the rest of this story at Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.}

I'm also linking up this story with Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory.

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