Monday, December 23, 2013

My Testimony

It's taken me weeks to write this down. God has been telling me to for a long time. Most of my blog posts are about things that have to do with home and organizing or recipes and family, but today I will go in a different direction. This time we're going deep.

This is my testimony. This is how God changed me. It is what it is. It is true, raw, and authentic. Here we go...

Five years ago Christmas Eve, I was a pregnant with a little boy by my then fiancé, and was a single mother of a six year old little girl from my first marriage. I was engaged but had been dumped by my fiancé three days before we were supposed to be married, which was just a few days before Christmas. And a few weeks before that, I had been laid off from my job. Earlier that day, I had driven home from my parents house to my apartment, which was about an hour away (my daughter was with her dad until Christmas Day). I cried almost the whole way home but I knew that I had something very important to do. I had to go and pray. And I had to do it by myself and for myself and my children. And, At the church near my apartment that I had attended for the last year or so with my daughter. As I dressed I thought, how are we going to make it? I don't have a job, and I'm pregnant, who will hire me? God how am I going to raise this baby on my own?? So, I cleaned myself up, got dressed and got makeup on, well enough that I didn't look like I had been crying so much. I went and sat in the pew and just listened. The music was magical, and the tears began to flow and broke down the wall of my tears one by one and as the pastor spoke about forgiveness and grace through trials. He told us how God was ready, willing and able to meet us where we are; the deepest valley or the highest mountaintop. That there is no sin too heinous that God couldn't meet us there and help us dig our way out of the depths. I knew then all I needed to know, what he's been telling me for years: NOW, REALLY TRUST ME!

You see, I had been a Christian my whole life, but somewhat of a lukewarm believer. And I had never completely surrendered my life to God. In my early adulthood I would sin, get myself in a bind in one way or the other and I would bargain with God. "Hey Buddy, if you'll get me out of this one I won't do it again and I will attend church (or this.. Or that (insert righteous deed here))". Until this moment of complete and total brokenness by my own doing, I was too stubborn to surrender to Him. And then it happened...

After the sermon, I went to the altar rail to pray. In that moment, I gave my heart to Jesus completely. You see, I had nothing to lose because I had already lost everything else. My fiancé, my pride, my income, and all that was left was my child and me and my unborn baby, growing in me. And then there it was... my spirit, raw and exposed. This was it! I cupped my hands and gave the signal that I wanted someone to come and pray with me. A prayer pastor came over and put her hands on mine and prayed for me, for my baby and for my little girl. She prayed that we would find strength in Jesus who as a lowly babe came to save everyone, even me, at Christmas or any other day of the year. I cried, she cried, and I SURRENDERED. As if I had been at war with Him all these years. I gave in, I put up the white flag, threw in the towel, I was done running, once and for all! 

I have two ordained ministers in the family and have been to about a million church services it seems. Yet none was as meaningful as that night I accepted Jesus with my whole heart. 

After I received His Grace, I had a very complicated pregnancy. After many long months of bed rest, and hospital visits for preterm labor, my son was born. He was a very sick little baby boy. He was 30.5 weeks gestation and was born with a myriad of health problems. He was born so early due to preterm labor and pelvic congestion. His heart rate started falling and mine was going very very fast with every contraction so they had to do an emergency c-section. I remember sitting on the operating room table waiting for the anesthesia person to come in. He asked if I was okay, and I felt a wave of calm come over me. It was adrenaline mixed with prayers. I just knew God had us... I saw little Aiden in an incubator for the first time while I was in recovery. He was crying and was being wheeled into the area by a team of doctors and nurses. My mom never left my side.  He was crying but they let me touch him! I felt his warm skin and with my touch he quit crying. It was.... Magical.

With that said, He had bad respiratory problems and was intubated at birth. He weighed 3lbs 11oz. He had tubes and wires coming from everywhere. He had to be fed through a tube and had a line in his belly button for medicine. I didn't get to hold him for the better part of two weeks.

 I sat by his side in the NICU for 33 loooong days and though it was a terrible time of worry and ups and downs I knew I was not alone. God was right there with us and I knew that because of the surrender Christmas Eve, I was equipped to face this challenge calmly and with thoughtful discernment as some very important and life altering decisions had to be made. I was calm most of the time, even though that may be debatable by some (lol). And even though my daughter broke her arm one week into it and I was torn on where to be, at the ER with her or at the NICU. Because if Aiden breathes his last breath, I sure as hell wasn't going to miss it.

Aiden came home on oxygen and Sophie's arm healed. I went back to work for a wonderful company in late 2009. My parents moved closer to help me with Aiden so I could make an income and still provide for Aiden's medical, physical, and occupational therapy needs. Additionally his immune system was weak, and we needed the help. Thankfully, they helped, juggled and did what they needed to assist while facilitating me being head of my household and parent to my kids. Aiden's biological father was never involved and signed his rights over in the fall of 2010. 

During the fall of 2010, I met a wonderful man, who is now my husband, and we started dating. In January of 2011 Sophie, then 8, complained of a weird bump on her head. After test after test, she was finally diagnosed after a surgery to remove a lump on her skull, which we affectionately called "ouchie the bump". The pathology report said it was "Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis" and the head and neck surgeon referred her to Texas Children's Oncology. After meeting with them they said one year of chemo was likely. We prayed like CRAZY! I had everyone I knew (and many I didn't) praying that some how, some way, the tumor would be completely gone (surgery only got 'most' of the tissue, she still had a 1cm skull-eating tumor left in her skull!!). So... The vigil began while they staged her LCH (which usually requires chemo and in worse cases, Bone Marrow Transplant). Miraculously a few days later we spoke her oncologist and he told us that we needed to cancel her port surgery!!!! I was so relieved!!! The tumor was identified as "miraculous" and "shrinking by itself". Today Sophie is a happy healthy 11 year-old who plays percussion in the school band and won a place in the school UIL competition for writing and is an amazing artist. She goes through scans annually but, Thank God, though there is still some tumor remaining, she is strong and healthy. She credits God with her miraculous healing and so do I.

About the same time as Sophie's LCH diagnosis, Aiden started having massive Grand Mal Epileptic Seizures. The neurologist uncovered an asymmetry in his hippocampus and also since he had a level iii brain bleed in the NICU they now tell us he will never outgrow the seizures. He was also given a diagnosis of latent Cerebral Palsy at that time due to severe muscle weakness. 

It was by far the hardest time of my life and made what I went through at the beginning of my pregnancy seem small relative to this challenge. Instead of blaming myself or anyone else I would just close my eyes and I knew thay God was there. You see, God transformed my "lukewarm" heart into something strong, loving and open!!!  In December of 2011, I married the love of my life and became bonus mom to his four beautiful children, and he became stepdad to Sophie and Aiden. In 2012 he adopted my son into his family and we were a complete family. Blending the families hasn't been without its struggles. Through it all God has truly been my whole strength as he delivered us from sin and death into LIFE! Did I ever expect to have SIX kids and remarry? No way! But you see, God had plans that exceeded mine!!!

Thankfully Sophie is now in remission as of March 2013 and Aiden is healthy despite his underlying issues. Everyone is adjusting to our new family and doing well. Grace by Faith has brought us here and will see us through.

Sunday I was pleased to be able to attend the church where my brother was appointed as pastor last June. His sermon was about hope. I thought this sermon was perfectly designed to explain the hope of Christ in the Christmas story of a baby wrapped in cloths, born to an unwed mother. It was an awesome discription of how we should humble ourselves and be like the lowly babe laying in a mud coated barn.

When you 'have it all' why would you need to have hope? MAYBE... You have food on your table. You have all your bills paid. You purchased all the best things for your loved ones on your list and your home is clean and the laundry is folded and the kids are happy and well adjusted and productive adults. Why would you need hope? Because one day, in one instant your life can change and your heart needs to be filled with the good news of salvation so that when the music fades, the happy ending happens and the "real life" happens you will be equipped to handle it. ALL of it.

It reminds me of the question, "what do you give the person who has everything?" Hope through Grace is the answer. Hope for a change of your own heart this season. Hope through Jesus Christ. He bore our sins... ALL our sins (even the deep dark dirty stuff that we don't tell anyone about...) THOSE sins, and died a brutal death on the cross and forgives us ALL of them if we just accept the gift of grace and have faith that He does forgive us. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to prove that through him the promise of eternal life is ours! 

So this year, what I'd like to give you for Christmas is hope. Grace, and it's not from me, it's really a gift from God. And it's free...albeit a few weeks late... But late or not grace is all we have sometimes... And for me grace has made all the difference.

Have a great day friends!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Boys room part 2

In this blog post I will outline the things that we have done in the last few days to get my boys room organized and ready for the holidays. If you're like us with six kids in our home we tend to see a lot of pieces of toys come and go in broken bits in shreds as the children will use them throughout the year. 

As we blended are two households we didn't have nearly enough storage for all of the items that the boys had to be easily stored away so that the room could be "clean" for the days activities. Now that my boys have transitioned into a homeschooling environment it became more important that we get things down on their level and organize things so they're easy to access and play with during the day but easy to put away.

So we bought two of the Expedit Units from IKEA and assembled them. 

There really easy to put together in this is a picture of them completely assembled in with the boys things on them.

Then we have the large organizing table in the middle of the room with the play table for cars the cars fit nicely in the two drawers on either side of the table and the boys can easily clean them up when they're done. See how happy they are???!!

I'm so thankful to have been gifted the large table in the middle of the room for the present this Christmas from a friend at church. Her attic is relieved of this item, and I am sure my boys will play with it for years to come!

Let me know what strategies have worked for you and organizing your kids rooms!?? I realize it's a constant struggle, but we are getting better about keeping the room picked up and now we have some useful tools in which to keep them organized!

Thanks for reading!

Have a great day friends!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Boys will be boys... Part I

Today I was hard at work in the boys room. We have two new IKEA lack tables that I put together so they can play Legos on them. We also had another table for art/play that was gifted to us by a friend and another bunch of shelves that we also bought at IKEA. 

Here are the two tables in place and my boys happily playing by them.

And here is some art that I printed out and placed in some old frames that I was about to send to good will.

I am about half way done with their room. Praying I make it. Whew! Mommy needs a break. More photos coming soon!

What are some of your favorite ideas for kids rooms? Storage?


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No, you won't get everything on your list.

This year our kids will not get everything on their list. They will get love and be shown the love of Christ revealed on Christmas. They will have full tummies and love and family all around them. They will not get a red mustang ride on toy or a red motorcycle or a playhouse in the back yard or a Xbox. 

Don't get me wrong, there will be toys and trinkets and fun things under the tree. Simple things. They will not get Kindle Fires or i-anything... But they will get iloveyous and icares a million fold.

After years of spoiling them, I worry I am disappointing them by not giving them everything they ask for. However the season is far less about the things that they receive than the GIFT of Jesus. And, the only way to instill the truth of that is to pull back, do less, love more and I am really okay with that.

As your preparations for the Christmas season continue, remember a baby, lying in a manger with nothing more than rags around him who was, is, and will always be enough. 

Have a great day friends!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is paper clutter driving you MAD?

With six kids and my husband coming and going, we deal with this issue daily. It's like anything else, it takes discipline and is a daily item you have to keep tabs on. So here are some 'rules' to managing the paper clutter on a daily basis.

1) Handle it when it comes in. No letting piles build up. 

Ask the kids daily if there is anything to sign / pay for / know that's going on at school. The younger kids' backpacks (and sometimes the older ones too) need to be gone through daily.

We have a "clip system" where we keep the kids papers that need to be signed/reviewed. We look at the "tray" nightly.

2) Keep bills that need to be paid in a "to be paid" basket next to the computer so you can pay them and let them go. Go to an online bill paying system when available. Pay bills once a week and shred them if they're available online.

3) Medical receipts. Still working on this one..... But..... We have to scan these in and send the to 'other parents', so I am going to be looking for a way for us to scan them into a folder on our shared household hard drive. Great investment by the way if you have a lot of data / pix / movies / videos so they can all be stored in one place.

4) Junk mail is junk mail. Throw it out. If it's a coupon, put it in the coupon binder and then it won't be sitting out cluttering up your life.

5) Other paper... Keep things by year, then just keep the last seven years. Permanent files are separate, and never go away. Life insurance policies, household documents, etc. Property files, keep for seven years after after sold.

This is a great info graphic from Clean Momma. Check her out on Pinterest. Information galore!

6) Binder System: the most important thing is that you have a system that works for you and that your family buys in to the system also. Otherwise it won't work! 

 Check out MyDomesticatedLife YouTube channel for a good home management binder tour.

Planner: YES, I still use a handwritten planner. I got into the habit of using a hand written planner and then got sold on Erin Condren planners a few years ago through my friend Tonya. I go through my digital calendar weekly and as I add appts and add them to the planner. Planner is where I plan menus, to do lists, etc, so it's more than just appointment setting for me.

My husband and I also still use a Gmail Calendar to keep our appointments merged on our iPhones. It seems a little redundant, but it works for us, and he buys into the gmail system so... We will keep doing it.

Check out HappilyaHousewife's YouTube channel for an unboxing of an Erin Condren planner. They're like 50 bucks but it's good for a year and a half, so to us it was worth it.

7) Art / Keepsakes: we have a file for each kid. Art is filed and then during the first few weeks of the summer or the spring semester (depending on the time of year) each kids' file is gone through and trash is trash, art and keepsakes are either dated and kept in their "memory box" (which is just a large plastic bin) with their name on it or photographed for an "art book" that I will make on shutterfly for a graduation gift.

8) Magazines: get digital copies where available. Don't keep issues more than a year. Go through the issue and tear out and scan in the articles you want to read and put them in a "reading file" digitally or in hard copy for later viewing.

9) Family Meeting: Everyone in the house needs to respect and know the system. If it's just YOU organizing everyone it will never work! 

Remember: Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. -Chinese Proverb

10) Status update: on a weekly basis ask everyone how it's going with any new systems that have been implemented. Ask for honest & constructive feedback. I can't stress the importance of a FAMILY INVESTMENT in the system. Try a few things, let me know how it goes!

Thanks, J