Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

Welcome to the New Christian Living Link-up ~ #GraceTruth

I’m beyond excited to introduce you all to something that has been in the works for several weeks now. Faithful readers and Lofter buddies know that we’ve hosted a link-up called #TheLoft for some months now. Recently our hosting group was offered an opportunity to merge with quite a few other like-minded faith bloggers in a new, bigger weekly link-up. Although we’re sad to lose a little of the intimacy that a smaller group allows for, we are enthusiastic about the opportunities this new link-up brings for all faith bloggers.

So, without further ado, I invite you to join us for Grace & Truth, a weekly Christian link-up!

Jen ūüôā

Grace & Truth : A Weekly Christian Link Up

Grace & Truth exists to point people to Jesus! We hope this link-up will be a source of encouragement each and every week. If you’re a blogger our hope is that you’ll use this space as a way to meet new friends within the Christian blogging community. If you’re a reader our hope is that you’ll meet new bloggers that love Jesus just as much as you do! Most of all, we hope you’ll meet Jesus here.

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Satisfaction Through Christ
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Kaylene Yoder
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The Brown Tribe
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A Virtuous Woman
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Arabah Joy
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A Divine Encounter
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Leah Adams
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Being Confident of This
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Busy Being Blessed
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Sharing Redemption’s Stories
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1.) Follow your hosts via their blog and/or social media channels.

2.) Leave 1-2 of your most recent CHRISTIAN LIVING posts. Please do not link DIY, Crafts, Recipes, etc. Links of this kind will be deleted.

3.) Grab a button or link back to encourage new linkers. This is not mandatory to participate, but is required to be featured next week.

4.) Visit 2-3 other links and leave a meaningful comment! We want to encourage community, so please don’t link and run!

5.) Each host will choose one link to feature and promote via their social media channels next week. See requirements above to be featured.

6.) All links are randomly sorted – feel free to link as early or as late as you’d like. The playing field is even!

7.) By linking up you agree to allow the hosts to use your featured post image if you are chosen as a feature for next week.

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Reader Favorites ~ 2014

I’m so thankful for you, my faithful readers, my sisters in Christ (and let’s not forget the brothers, too). ¬†You have made this space a friendly zone for sharing my most personal writings, and 2014 was just the year for it.¬†¬†All year long, the Father has been challenging me to “Take Courage.” and having encouraging readers certainly helps me to do just that!

Often this space is mostly for me, a place to share what is on my heart, what I want to write about and hear about. But today I want to share YOUR favorites from 2014.¬†¬†If you haven’t read these top posts before, just click on the individual pictures. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite. ūüôā

reader favorites 2014, Being Confident of This blog, top posts of 2014, number one posts, grace for the work-in-progress woman

Most time in the #1 spot:

marriage, Christian marriage, how to love an unloving spouse, feeling unloved, want to feel loved, loving a difficult spouse

“I‚Äôll be honest. As a busy mom of four, I wrestle with this idea that God should be my sole supply. After all, God cannot help with the bedtime routine or sweep the kitchen or sign permissions slips or pay the bills, at least not in a physical sense. ¬†I wrestle, too, with feelings of disappointment and unkind thoughts toward a husband whom I truly wish to respect.

So, how can I demonstrate love for my husband even when he‚Äôs not demonstrating love for me?”

Most comments in 2014:

confidence, fat girl insecurities, insecure, overweight, fat, trying to lose weight, obese, heavy, healthy body image, health

“I‚Äôll never forget the first time I heard the word aimed at me. ¬†He spewed it out like vomit, his eyes filled with disgust. ‚ÄúFat,‚ÄĚ ¬†the boy accused me, and I believed it even though I wasn‚Äôt anywhere near ‚Äúfat‚ÄĚ back then.

I always was a…”

Runner-up for most comments in 2014:

That New Girl: Finding Confidence

confidence, finding confidence, that new girl, no condemnation, identity, loving yourself, identity in Christ, self-acceptance, imperfect progress

“Sin temporarily hijacks our child-of-God identity, the world teaches us that we will never be enough, and the pride and insecurity of self often confirms the lies.¬†But the truth, sisters, the amazing truth is that we don‚Äôt have to be enough because He is already everything for us. It‚Äôs this Christ-confidence that sets us free!”

Most comments of all (even though it’s from 2013):

marriage, imperfect progress, perfectionism, grace, through my grace-colored glasses, work in progress

“Last night I had a little run-in with Perfectionism again. ¬†He just won‚Äôt leave me alone.

He follows me wherever I go, pointing out flaws in my house-keeping, my parenting, my marriage relationship, even my walk with the Lord…¬†He whispers lies to me: ‚Äúyou‚Äôll never change‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúyou‚Äôre never going to be good enough‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúwhy even bother anymore.‚ÄĚ

I‚Äôve been enslaved by his words before, but last night was different…”

The Top 5 written in 2014:

#1

big list of energetic indoor fun, high-energy kids, boys with energy, stuck indoors, cabin fever, school break, I'm bored, kids bored, get energy out

Are the kids driving you crazy? Do your boys have too much energy to stay cooped up indoors? Need a cure for cabin fever?  Is the weather outside frightful?  This huge list of ideas for expending pent-up energy while stuck indoors will help you stay sane!

#2

7 ways to teach bible verses to kids, teaching bible verses to kids, memory verse, preschool, toddler, children, homeschool, church, creative ways to learn memory verses, scripture

For moms, dads, Sunday School teachers, homeschooling families, Children’s Church leaders and anyone else who works with little ones – here’s how to help them hide the Word away in their hearts.

#3

dollar store deals, cheap homeschool supplies, early childhood education, preschool, toddler, preschooling with dollar store deals, what to buy at the dollar store for homeschool

This isn’t just a list of what to buy for the littles at the dollar store. It’s also a list of how to use the items you buy! ¬†Great deals + great activities=happy learners.

#4

Saving money on kid's clothes, clothing budget, frugal, stewardship, single income family, clothing budget, tight budget, saving money, frugal living

This is part one of two posts on how to save money when buying clothes for a large family. ¬†With three boys and one girl in the house, our tight budget really gets stretched when it comes to purchasing clothes and shoes for the kids. Over the years, I’ve learned quite a few tricks for working within our small clothing budget to make the most of it.

#5

keeping Christ in Christmas, kid friendly advent free printables, The Christmas Adventure Box, family advent activity, homeschool, church, AWANA, youth group, easy advent, flexible advent, advent fun

Kid-friendly Advent with Free Printables! ¬†I created these as a companion to the Christmas ADVENTure Box that we do each year as an advent activity with our children. Our boys especially love the adventure aspect of it. ¬†It’s an easy, flexible way to keep Christ in Christmas!

Thanks for making 2014 a great year for Being Confident of This! ¬†And even though this isn’t a reader favorite (yet!), I want to leave you with one last post as you head into the new year. It’s close to my heart and really sums up what this year has been about for us.

Courage to Face a Giant

courage quote, fail or succeed, take courage in the Lord, be strong and courageous, facing a giant

Take Courage in the new year, my sisters!

Jen ūüôā

Sharing with: The Pin-it Party, Grace and Truth,

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Kid-friendly Advent~Free Printables!

Last year on the blog, I shared about our favorite family advent activity, called The Christmas Adventure Box, and this year I’m adding another component – free printables! If you haven’t read that post, I highly recommend you start there (just click this link).

I also recommend visiting my friend Lana’s site, which is where the idea originated. She gives more detailed instructions in a lesson-plan type of format which would be very helpful for teachers, homeschoolers, children’s church leaders, AWANA leaders, and so forth.

One of the things I love best about this kid-friendly advent activity is that it is very flexible – choose to do every day or just a few days a week, spend as little as five minutes or as long as an hour, and if you get behind (that never happens to us…haha), you can always do multiple days in one evening. ¬†Do what works best for your family!

kid friendly advent free printables, The Christmas Adventure Box, family advent activity, homeschool, church, AWANA, youth group, easy advent, flexible advent, advent fun

This year, I wanted to be a little more organized since last year flew by so quickly that we never actually completed the Christmas Adventure Box.  It was the year I called myself a holiday hypocrite.

So, I created some free¬†printables to attach to the items in the box¬†(like the one below) with simple instructions for how to complete each day’s activity of advent for kids. Using this method will prevent me from having to look up the blog each day or print out a new set of instructions when ours gets lost (which also never, ever happens, right?). ūüôā

Christmas Adventure Box free printables, family advent activity, kid-friendly advent, easy advent for the family, advent for kids, homeschool, church, AWANA

And I thought if I was going to take the time to make printables for this advent for kids, then I might as well share with you all. ūüôā

So, Merry Christmas to you, my faithful readers – here are free, downloadable printables to go along with your Christmas Adventure Box advent for kids. Just click the link below to download.

The Christmas Adventure Box free printables

 

I plan to print ours out on card-stock, cut them apart and attach them to the wrapped items in our box, making this family advent activity even simpler than it already is. I’m all for simplifying the holidays for less stress, especially with four kiddos in the house (okay, three kiddos and one young man).

Don’t forget to visit last year’s post for details on how to get started¬†and a list of needed items. Once your box is filled and the cards are attached, you are all set to go for this easy, kid-friendly advent that that whole family will enjoy.

Teach your children the stories behind holiday traditions

and, most importantly, how Jesus is the Greatest Gift of all!

Jen ūüôā

If you find yourself worried about how to give your kids a good Christmas, read here.

Sharing with:

A Group Look, Cornerstone Confessions, Monday Parenting Pin It Party, Mama Moments, Wholehearted Home

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Welcome to The Loft!

I’m sure some of you have noticed that this blog went absolutely silent at the beginning of summer. ¬†I hadn’t planned for such a long absence. It really started out as a week off when my husband and I celebrated our 15 year wedding anniversary with a trip all to ourselves (thanks to the generosity of others).

anniversary vacation blogging break

 

Loft ocean twilight

And when we returned, the school year was ending; chaos ensued.  And then we were enjoying the first week of summer break Рlazy mornings, late evenings and no real schedule to speak of.

I think that’s when I decided that I wouldn’t blog again until I felt prompted to do so, that I would take the summer to enjoy the extra family time. That I would soak up every last bit of these pre-K years before our twins would head to school and our home would be empty during the day.

There’s something about the oldest starting High School and the youngest starting Kindergarten that startled me into realizing how easy it is to waste precious time with precious people.

#TheLoft, fourth of july, kids, blessings

It’s been a wondrous break; worth every minute! ¬†The only thing I regret now is not telling you all that I was taking it in the first place. ūüôā

 

So, now I’m back, and what better way to get back into the groove than participating in a weekly link-up that brings encouragement to each other and glory to the Lord?! ¬†I beg you to join us for our first ever gathering at The Loft!

Jen ūüôā

The Loft is open, come on up!

 

The Loft: A weekly Hangout and Link Up for Christian bloggers
Graphic by Kerry Messer

 

#TheLoft

 

The Loft is the place for conversation, community, networking, and Christian growth. Each week we provide a topic to start the conversation.

Then, Monday night, at 9pm Eastern, the link goes live and all week you can link up your post on that week’s topic.

We’ll have fun topics, serious topics, practical, soul-ful, holiday, and so, so much more…we can’t wait to get started! This is not only a great way to connect with others, it’s also a fun and easy way to establish a writing habit. If you aren’t a blogger, you are welcome to join in by leaving your comments in the comment section.

 

Listening is a lost art. Especially in the blogosphere where everyone wants to be heard. At The Loft, we know that listening is rewarding and rich… surprisingly so. So grab your coffee mug and come on up. Hang out for a bit. We betcha you’ll be glad you did.

 

To Participate:

 

1. Be creative. Feel free to use words, photos, video, audio, your family pet, whatever, to communicate on the weekly topic.

2. Listen twice as much. If you leave one link, visit two. Trust us on this one~wink.

3. Be a community. Include #TheLoft graphic and hashtag in your post and social media so we can find each other. Also, share the great stuff you find when you visit around…we’ll be doing the same.

 

The Loft Link Up

 

When you link up at The Loft, your link will appear on 6 blogs! We’d love for you to visit The Loft co-hosts and know who we are:

Leah

Kathy

Arabah

Jen

Rebekah

Kimberly

 

Now it’s time to link up! Today is our FIRST EVER link-up! We want to get to know each other and begin making relationships, thus this week’s topic:

 

This Week’s Topic: “I am…” (finish the sentence, introduce yourself, share your passions, experiences, maybe tell us a few odd facts, or just link to your “About” page. We’re all ears!)


Next Week’s Topic: “Blogs that Inspire” (tell us what blogs or websites you go to for inspiration and what makes them attractive. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone mentions yours after finding you today?)

 

Click through below to join the link-up:

An InLinkz Link-up

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9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes: Part 2

Last week I shared part 1 of how we clothe our four children on our single-income budget. ¬†Today, I’m sharing the second part of how we save on kids’ clothes, including how we take advantage of end-of-season clearance to buy new clothes a year ahead for our children.

saving on kids' clothes, frugal living, saving money, clothing children, tight budget, single income

 Gently Used Clothing (continued from Part 1)

6.Consignment Stores for Children 

In our area, we have a few choices for second-hand clothing stores specific to children.  By far, my favorite is Once Upon a Child.  Most of these stores will screen the clothing they take in (as opposed to accepting anything like some second-hand stores to).  Prices reflect the value of clothing items, based on condition of the item and name brand.  So, when you buy from such stores, you can be fairly certain that you are buying clothes that are free of holes, stains, rips, excessive fading, etc.

What makes stores like Once Upon a Child so attractive to me is the ability to sell your own gently used clothing to the store in exchange for either cash or store credit! ¬†I really appreciate this feature for my daughter’s wardrobe since many of her items are still in excellent condition as she is the only girl.

9 Ways to Save on Kids' Clothes, saving money, children's clothing, frugal living, single income

If any of my children have wardrobe needs, I will take store credit so that I can purchase what is lacking. ¬†If I have something else in mind to buy from another store, then I will take cash. ¬†Sometimes I even take some of both. ¬†Who doesn’t enjoy shopping without having to spend any money? ūüôā

  • Tips:¬†many of these retailers also accept toys, books, puzzles, baby items, and more.

Pros: wide variety, quality clothing that has been screened, ability to make money

Cons: may not accept all trade-ins, must watch prices carefully (they tend to be a little higher than second-hand stores)

7. Second-hand Stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.)

Second-hand stores offer a good source of gently used clothing, especially when garage sales are out of season.  Local second-hand stores, rather than chain stores like Goodwill, often offer the best value.  We have a store in our small town that charges only twenty-five cents per clothing item.

  • Tips: Look for 1/2 price days or weekends at chain stores (Goodwill’s is once per month), sack sales, or coupons to save even more money.

Pros: save money buy buying second-hand rather than new, wide variety of items, support charity when shopping some stores.

Cons: prices are often much higher than garage sales (and sometimes even store clearance), some clothing isn’t in the best condition.

8. Facebook Groups and Craigslist

If you are tech-savvy and enjoy shopping online, you can find some great second-hand deals on facebook or craigslist!  Many towns and counties have developed online garage sale type pages for users to sell clothing (and other items) locally, much like Craigslist only via facebook.

I have both sold and purchased clothing items on such a group, and the transactions really depend on the people you are dealing with.  Some sellers/buyers are very honest and easy to work with, while others are just out to make a buck.

Also, safety can be a concern since you will have to meet the party who is selling/buying in order to complete the transaction.  Always, always, always meet in a public place and never go alone if you can avoid it.

Pros: local buying and selling, better pricing than many second-hand stores, easy to find seasonal items like Christmas apparel and Halloween Costumes

Cons: little to no regulation of items being sold, no way to leave feedback for negative transactions, need to arrange meetings, less variety than a second-hand store

Buying Brand New

9. Shop Clearance at Retail Stores

Shopping clearance is really a hobby of mine. ūüôā ¬†I like to shop, but our budget is tight and I want to be a good financial steward of the finances God provides for us. I also know that material things are only transient, so I don’t want to place a high value on them. ¬†Finding a clearance rack allows me to meet needs while also enjoying my hobby. ūüôā

Shopping end-of-season clothing in particular allows us to buy new, quality clothing at second-hand (sometimes even garage sale) prices.  Such items are particularly helpful for our boys since most items will be handed down twice, and some even survive well enough to be passed on to younger cousins!

However, clearance shopping is one area in which I must exercise caution.  The excitement of a good bargain often leads to over-spending or over-buying (how many skirts does one preschool girl really need?!).  Additionally, department stores thrive on marking items up and then promoting a sale thereby convincing consumers they are getting a bargain when, in truth, they are not.   So, before I share my rules for clearance shopping with you, I must caution you not to blow your clothing budget by making the same mistakes I have.

  • Tips:¬†Before you attempt to shop end-of-season sales for next year’s wardrobes,¬†know your prices¬†(takes time and research),¬†know your budget,¬†and know your needs¬†(keep a list if you need to). ¬†My favorite stores for buying quality clearance clothing are JC Penneys, Kohls, The Children’s Place, Old Navy, and occasionally Walmart.

Rules for Bargain Shopping

Buy When:

  • the item is needed (either currently or for the next year)
  • you see evidence of multiple markdowns already
  • you have extra percent off of already reduced prices (I like to wait until items are 70-90% off original prices. For online buying, check for coupon codes at retailmenot.com)
  • you will earn rewards to buy other needed items (such as Kohls cash)

Exercise caution when:

  • you’re tempted by price alone
  • the item will be difficult to match (example: a girls’ skirt with a weird color of pink or purple in it)
  • end of season clearance has just begun (I’ve learned that some stores, Kohls in particular, mark some things as “clearance” that are really just their normal sale prices. If you wait for a few weeks, you’re likely to see much better discounts.)

save money on clothes, clearance shopping, tips for buying clothes on a tight budget

Why buy a year ahead?

Whenever possible, I take advantage of seasonal clearance to buy a year ahead for our children (I mentioned this in Part 1 in the Garage Sale section).  Thinking ahead is a technique I learned from couponing, and it makes a lot of sense.  When prices are extremely low, buy more than you need for the present so that when you need the item in the future, you will not have to pay regular price.  For clothing, that translates to buying a size or so larger for the next year.

For example, when summer clothes go on clearance, I think about what they will need for their wardrobes¬†next¬†summer, including swimsuits and footwear. ¬†Thinking ahead is particularly helpful for items that tend to be more costly, such as Easter and Christmas dress clothes. ¬†Example: Once I found a toddler boys’ Christmas suit (vest and tie included) for $1.97, so I bought it even though it would not fit our son for 2 more years.

The only two downsides to buying ahead is that your budget might not allow for extra purchases (even frugal ones) and you may not have the storage space necessary to keep clothing for a year, especially if you already have several children.  In those cases, check for an area of the budget you can pull a little extra cash from (such as food) and ask friends or family for storage space in a garage or attic.

Once you have built up a little clothing in storage, buying ahead will not be as much of a stretch for your budget because you won’t be purchasing as many items for immediate needs.

  • Tips: Be sure to pay attention to how their current clothing fits and their general body type.¬†¬†For example, I’ve learned that our children all have my husband’s long torso, so I usually have to buy one size larger in shirts than in pants. ¬†Additionally, our only daughter is quite thin, so regular pants often look like clown pants on her. ¬†Thus, when buying ahead for her, I only purchase leggings and skinny jeans or slim sizes.
  • Disclaimer: Buying ahead may not work as well in the teen years when youths are prone to skipping whole sizes at once – we’re still learning about these years as our oldest is about to turn 14! ūüôā

That wraps up part 2 of how we save money on kids’ clothes in an effort to live frugally. ¬†Saving money on clothing is just one way that we stretch our budget; for more ideas, read 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget. ¬†I hope you find this information helpful!

Jen ūüôā

You may find me linking up at any of these lovely places.

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9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes: Part 1

Quite a few months ago, I mentioned in 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget that we save a lot of money on clothing for our children, and I promised to share details later on. ¬†Well, I’m finally getting around to it! ūüôā

Clothing expenses can easily burden a larger-than-average family, especially a family living on a single income. ¬†In our home, when we have a budget issue, our first method of attack is to pray. ¬†We try to pray for our needs before we even begin to attempt to meet them (of course, we don’t always remember to pray first). ¬†And when we remember, we pray for wisdom to be good stewards of the finances God has blessed us with, as well.

Here are 9 specific ways in which we save money on clothing for our children.
Saving money on kid's clothes, clothing budget, frugal, stewardship, single income family

Clothing for Free!

1. Hand-me-downs

Since we have three boys, this money-saving technique worked very well for us until we had our first girl (aside from our oldest’s tendency to wear holes in the knees of his pants in his elementary years). ūüôā ¬†Save the clothing that isn’t stained or sporting holes in a well-labeled, clear plastic tote for the next child. ¬†

Pros: no expense necessary after the initial purchase!

Cons: some items will wear out after several children.

  • Tips: ¬†Do not get rid of clothing (even if your youngest child is a different gender from older siblings) until you are certain you will not be having more children! ¬†Also, buy quality clothing whenever possible (find out how to save on new clothing in part 2 of this post) because the clothes will last longer. Finally, If you have no hand-me-downs to begin with, be willing to accept them from others in your circle – family, church family, friends, neighbors, etc. ¬†I can’t tell you how many times even our neighbors became the answer to prayers for our clothing needs, especially when we found out we were having twins!

2. Swap Clothing

Find a friend or group of friends to swap clothing with.  For several years, I swapped cloths with a friend who had a son older than our youngest boy and a daughter younger than ours.  So, she traded her toddler boy clothes for my toddler girl clothes.  We also received clothes for our daughter from church family; these clothes had been through two other families before ours!  Search for a large, organized clothing swap in your area, or even organize one of your own.

Pros: No extra spending necessary!

Cons: Storage space needed for totes.

Gently Used Clothing

3. Thred-up

Thred-up (www.thredup.com) is an online site for both buying and selling quality, second-hand children’s clothing (and women’s, as well). ¬†Once you sign up for a membership using your e-mail address, you are free to purchase. ¬†If you want to earn store credit by selling items you no longer need, you’ll want to request a bag from them. ¬†Fill the bag up as much as you can, send it in and they will give you a price quote.

Pros: receiving credit for clothing you send in; clothing is well-screened.

Cons: online only store means no trying things on; paying for shipping costs as well.

4. E-bay 

E-bay is another online site for both buying and selling, although it’s not solely for clothing. ¬†Again, you can sell your gently-used items to earn money to buy what your family needs. ¬†Additionally, you might find brand new clothing listed for lower than retail.

Pros: ability to earn by selling.

Cons: clothing isn’t screened; can’t try on clothes; shipping costs.

  • Tips: when buying on e-bay, please be careful to choose a seller with a high feedback rating. ¬†Also, if you need a large amount of clothing, listings for clothing “lots” will give you the best value for your money.

save money on clothes, budget, big family, tight budget, one-income

5. Garage Sales

My favorite way to save money on clothes is to buy them at garage sales. ¬†By far, yard sales average the lowest prices for gently used clothing. ¬†I’m a bargain shopper, so shopping at yard sales is just a lot of fun for me, especially when I find items we really need. ¬†Of course, not all garage sales are equal, so I still watch prices carefully.

Pros: fun to shop; best prices.

Cons: seasonal in our area; quality of clothing varies.

  • Tips: when buying at garage sales, you can buy more than a year ahead if the price is right and if your budget allows. Buying ahead will save you money in the long run. ¬†Be sure to store your items in well-labeled, clear plastic totes or you may forget/overlook some like I did last year!

…………………

Click here for¬†part two of 9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes¬†, including more ways to shop for gently used clothing and how to take advantage of end of season clearance sales to buy brand new clothing at second-hand prices! ¬†Until then remember: when you are offered hand-me-downs or when you find great prices at a garage sale or even the clearance section, think long-term. Don’t accept or buy only what you need for the current season (unless it will break the budget to do otherwise), but plan for a size or two ahead!

Of course, as with anything in life, learning to save money is another one of those work-in-progress areas. The best way to be a good financial steward is to cover all of your budgeting and spending decisions in prayer. ¬†I know I often forget to go to the Lord first even though He promises to provide. ¬†I’m not always the best at trusting in Him to provide, but He is able, sisters!

Jen ūüôā

You may find me linking up at any of these wonderful places.

8 Comments »

Counting Bedtime Blessings

Bedtime Blessings, counting blessings, motherhood, love

It’s past midnight now, yet I sit sleepy-eyed in the too quiet house. ¬†Our four children are all tucked safely into bed and my husband snores beside me. ¬†An extra chill hangs in the air as temperatures outdoor have dipped below zero once again.

I should have gone to bed long ago, but the quiet is so peaceful and I’m feeling so thankful. ¬†Not for any one thing in particular, really, but for many small things all at once that pile up to one pretty spectacular life that I just don’t deserve.

And it’s because of Him, our Creator God, that I am gifted with this one life, this one year, this one day never to be repeated again.

So, I’m thankful because in the midst of trial, I’m finally seeing some of the good. ¬†I don’t always see it, don’t always “count it joy,” but today I can see the progress.

Today I realized that this time of trial has greatly strengthened our marriage. ¬†I’m able to ¬†appreciate my husband in ways that I haven’t been able to before. ¬†He’s been my comfort in times of need and my encourager in times of weakness. ¬†We’ve regained that sense of companionship that so easily gets lost in the daily urgency of parenthood and of ministry. I’m counting that a victory!

Even more, after finishing only part of the laundry and part of the coupon clipping, I felt free to stop and just “be” with them, those fabulous ¬†kids who amaze me with their zest for life and their love for others. ¬†And again I’m thankful because I don’t always take the time to stop and read books or play legos or look at drawings or dance. I can’t always resist the desire for domestic perfection, but I’m never sorry when I do. ¬†Another victory I’m claiming!

And I, I walk away the richer for it.  I fall even more in love with these creatures the Lord has entrusted to us.

bedtime blessings, counting blessings, love, family

I notice the way my daughter’s bedtime hugs and kisses always come with compliments like beautifulest or sweetest or nicest or bestest. ¬†And when I pay her a compliment in return, her face fairly glows with joy. ¬†She’s my enthusiastic encourager.

I notice, too, the way our youngest son really hugs me back, both small arms around my neck and a nice squeeze (but not too hard), maybe even a few pats on the back. ¬†He lingers there, not old enough to be embarrassed yet by sitting in Mommy’s lap. ¬† He’s my sweet snuggler.

I can’t leave out our middle son, our macho man, who seems unusually happy and eager to please this evening (bedtime is normally met with his frowns). ¬†In fact, he asks me to stop reading before his bedtime story is finished so that he will have time to pick up his blankets from the floor (shocking!), the leftovers of a massive tent-fort built on this unexpected snow day.¬† It delighted me because…he’s my energetic entertainer.

The only one left is our oldest son, quick to help, slow to anger. ¬†His shoulders seem to grow broader by the day as his voice deepens. ¬† He’s developing a hunger and thirst for the Lord that thrills this mama’s heart. ¬†He’s my gentle leader of the pack. ūüôā

What really struck me this evening, though, was the sense of peace that pervaded the air here.  The transformation that love in action has on our children is profound.  When they know that in this moment right here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are incredibly loved, that they are valued for who they are, then they blossom right before my eyes.

No tears at bedtime, no scowling, no stalling…

I can see it on their smiling faces, that in just a few lovely hours, they’ve been filled to the brim so much so that it just overflows in return – love and joy and peace.

bedtime blessings, great love, God loves us, children of God

Suddenly, I realize that it’s no different for me. ¬†How much easier it is for me to obey my Heavenly Father when I’ve taken time to revel in His love for me, His perfect, unfailing, unconditional love for me. ¬†Not for everyone else, but for me.

How quick I am to chose right instead of wrong.

How strong I stand in the face of temptation.

How peaceful I feel.

And in me, the joy is unspeakable because it’s true. ¬†My Father God loves me. He’s patient with me. ¬†He comforts me. ¬†He rejoices in me. ¬†He blesses me with an abundance of good things.

And even on the tough days, when I act like an ungrateful child, He waits for me. ¬†And when I sink to the ground in absolute despair, He sits beside me. ¬†And when I’m ready to press on, He helps me stand.

Isn’t it the same for all of us, sisters? ¬†If we could just live every day with this soul-deep thankfulness for who He is and for who we are because of Him, then being the women of faith we should be, the ones we really long to be, wouldn’t be half as hard!

Instead, the work-in-progress would come easy to us.  The victories frequent rather than few and far between.   It would spill right over the edges of our very selves and stream out to everyone around us, this supernatural love.

All of those good things that we cannot manufacture on our own?  They begin with Him, through Him, from Him.

Because He is good and His love endures forever.

We can be confident in that Love, sisters, for it tells us who we are.

It brings us victory!

Jen ūüôā

You may find me linking up at any of these places.

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Cultivating Christmas: The Christmas Adventure Box

The Christmas Adventure Box ~ an easy, kid-friendly advent for the whole family!

Last week I noticed a not-so-subtle change in our four-year-old daughter. ¬†She contracted a terrible case of the “I needs.” ¬†She needs a new doll for Christmas. ¬†She needs a Barbie house for Christmas. ¬†She really, really neeeeeeeeeeds a bike for Christmas…

While I understand her four-year-old behavior is typical, I dislike that her attitude can so easily become prevalent in our home during the Christmas season. ¬†It happens so quickly. ¬†We look at a few store ads, watch a few commercials, and we easily become convinced, even us grown-ups, that we have needs we have never had before!! ūüôā

My husband and I purposed to combat the commercialism of Christmas and cultivate true Christmas spirit in our home many years ago. We looked for resources to use for our young and growing family.  We invested in Veggietales dvds about the true meaning of Christmas and a kid-friendly nativity set.  We participated in Operation Christmas Child, and we worked at local outreach events.   We read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

But we still felt like our children needed to be better educated about why we do some of the traditional things we do at Christmas time. Enter the Christmas Adventure Box – a family Advent activity.

The Christmas Adventure Box, family advent, kid-friendly holiday fun, Christmas traditions, advent for kids

 

 

My friend ¬†and fellow blogger Lana introduced us to the Christmas Adventure Box, a family advent activity/program that she developed for her own family. ¬† The idea of the box was to complete daily (or several times weekly, for us) advent activities to help us remember the Greatest Gift of All, Jesus. ¬†It was an immediate hit with our oldest two boys, especially with the word “adventure” in the title!

I know the last thing we all need during the Christmas season is yet another item for our “lists” of things to do (so please, please don’t feel pressured). ¬†However, this family advent plan takes literally less than an hour to organize and the activities can take as little as five minutes or as long as 20-30 minutes depending on how involved you wish to make it (or how long your four year olds will sit still…) It really is a simple, but fun way to focus on the reason for the season! ūüôā

Update: it’s even easier this year because I’ve added FREE printables that you can attach directly to the items in your box! Just click the link above. ūüôā

Lana has created a blog specifically for the Christmas Adventure Box which you can find here.¬† If you want a full 25 day advent list, then I recommend visiting her site. ¬†It’s very detailed and even has a lesson-plan type of format that would be particularly helpful for those who homeschool, teach children’s church, etc.

However, for our family, I‚Äôve found that it‚Äôs less stressful to schedule only a few nights a week of kid-friendly advent activity.¬† So with permission, I‚Äôve modified the Christmas Adventure Box to fit our schedule and even added in a few items that were important to us, such as spending one day on global missions.¬† That‚Äôs the beauty of this family advent activity ‚Äď you can tailor it to fit the needs or even the traditions of your family! ūüôā

Here’s how to get started:
Choose which activities you’ll be using (from the list below or from Lana’s site) for your family advent and wrap the according items. ¬†Don’t forget to download and print the cards to attach to each item! Put all of the items into a large box (The Christmas Adventure Box) and wrap it as well. ¬† Each day that you plan to use the Christmas Adventure Box, you’ll unwrap one (0r more) of the items and complete that day’s devotional/activity.

The Greatest Gift  Р read John 3:16 Рunwrap the Christmas Adventure Box.

This will be the first activity on the advent list because it sets up the whole idea of the Christmas Adventure Box. ¬†However, once you’ve completed this day, you can do any of the following days in whichever order you choose. ¬† ¬†First, bring out the large, wrapped Christmas Adventure Box. ¬†Explain to your children that you will be unwrapping an item a few times a week in order to learn more about Jesus this Christmas season. ¬†Read John 3:16 and talk about how Jesus is the greatest gift of all. ¬†You can also read prophecies from Isaiah about the Promised Deliverer. ¬†Feel free to share the full gospel with your children and pray together as a family.

Nativity, The Christmas Adventure Box, kid-friendly advent, family advent, Christmas traditions, fun Christmas activity

 

Joseph and Mary – read Luke 1:30-33 – unwrap Joseph and Mary from your nativity set.

We purchased a fisher price little people nativity set several years ago when our twins were born, which makes it easier to let them “play” with the figures. ¬†If you have littles in the house, be sure to choose a non-breakable set to work with. ¬†On this day, you’ll read the story of Jesus’ parents learning that Mary was with child! ¬†Discuss the prophecies fulfilled by Mary and Joseph found in Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 7:14. ¬†Talk about promises God has kept for your family and pray together.

Baby Jesus – read Luke 2:6-7 – unwrap the baby Jesus figure from your nativity set.

Today you can discuss once again that Jesus was a gift, not only to His parents, but to the whole world. ¬†Talk about the birth stories of each one of your children – how you planned for them, waited for them, and the joy of experiencing their birth. ¬†Ask your children to find similarities and differences between their births and Jesus’ birth. ¬†Pray together as a family, thanking Him for each family member and most of all, for the gift of a Savior.

Shepherds and Angels – read Luke 2:8-20 – unwrap the shepherd and angel figures from your nativity set.

Discuss a time when your family had exciting news to share. ¬†Think about how the angels and shepherds must have felt sharing such important news. ¬†Talk about how important it is that we continue to share the story of Jesus with anyone who hasn’t yet heard and pray together, especially for any unsaved relatives or friends.

The Wise Men – read Mt. 2:1-2, 10-11 – unwrap the wise men from your nativity set.

Talk about how the wise men had never heard about a Savior being born, but they still knew to follow the star. ¬†Discuss the ways that God reveals himself to us today. ¬†Pray together as a family that your knowledge of God’s ways would increase.

Kid-friendly advent activities for Christmas

Light of the World – read Mt. 5:14-16 – unwrap a notecard that says “Christmas Adventure!” on it.

Discuss light and dark. ¬†Ask your children how Jesus is the Light of the World. ¬†Then, pile everyone into your vehicle and go on an adventure to see some Christmas lights! ¬†(You can continue discussion as you travel). ¬†Be sure to pray together as a family. ¬†*I try to schedule this night on a weekend so that we can allow the children to have ¬†sleepover by the Christmas tree. ¬†It’s one of our boys’ favorite traditions.

Legend of the Candy Cane – read Isaiah 53:5 – unwrap a candy cane.

Read your children a brief version of the legend of the candy cane and discuss why we use them in our Christmas decorations.  And yes, Pray together.

Joy to the World – read Mt. 28:19-20 – unwrap a small globe or picture of the world.

Tell your children about things we have in America that help us to know who God is (a Bible in our own language, churches we can attend, freedom of religion, etc.).  Discuss how other countries may or may not have these items.  Explain the importance of reaching the whole world with the Good News about the Greatest Gift.  Pray as a family for most unreached people groups of the world (if you need an easy way to pray for the most unreached peoples, use the T.H.U.M.B. method here.)

The Legend of Saint Nicholas – read Gal. 2:10 – unwrap socks or a stocking.

Read a brief version of the Legend of Saint Nicholas to your children.  Talk about ways your family can pass on the gift of Christmas to others by being generous.  Watch the Veggietales video, Saint Nicholas:  The Joy of Giving. (Hint: many veggietales videos can be found on Netflix, including this one.  No need to purchase!)  Pray together for a generous spirit during this season rather than a coveting spirit.  *This would be the perfect place to include a service project such as Operation Christmas Child or serving at a local soup kitchen.

Christmas Adventure Box, family advent

Christmas Caroling – read Rev. 5:12 – unwrap a note that reads “Christmas Adventure!”

Talk about the importance of singing God’s praises. ¬†Take the whole family for an adventure in Christmas caroling and spread some cheer to your neighbors or even shut-ins from your church. ¬†Local nursing homes usually welcome carolers, as well! ¬†Pray together as a family.

The Baker’s Hand – read Isaiah 64:8 – unwrap cookie cutters.

Make and decorate sugar cookies (if you have small or impatient children as I do, it’s a good idea to make the dough ahead of time). ¬†While you are working, discuss how God shapes us according to His purposes and how we are each uniquely created and uniquely gifted by Him. ¬†Pray as a family, asking the Lord to help each one remember that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Christmas Adventure Box, kid-friendly Advent activity

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – read Thessalonians 2:15-16 – unwrap a nativity story dvd or a “Christmas Adventure!” notecard.

We have two different takes on this day’s advent activity. ¬†In the past we have used one or the other, or sometimes both! ¬†The first is to watch a dvd about the Christmas story, such as A Nativity Story. The second is to attend a local candlelight service, if you have one near you. ¬†Both options will work to help you review what you have learned throughout the month of December and to celebrate this special evening. ¬†Our family also has a tradition of an evening meal of summer sausage, crackers, cheese, and hot cocoa. ¬†I know it sounds weird, but most of those items were obtainable when we lived in Papua New Guinea during my MK years. ¬†I have such fond memories of making the most of Christmas in a tropical country that we decided to continue it once we were married. ūüôā

Christmas Day – read Luke 2:1-20 and unwrap a Bible (shhh – don’t tell, but this year we plan to get preschool Bibles as gifts for our twins!).

Today, enjoy family and gift-giving and fun all within the context of celebrating Jesus’ birthday! ūüôā

The Christmas Adventure Box collage, Nativity, Christmas, Advent activities for families, kid-friendly advent, Christmas traditions, fun Christmas activities, family fun

That’s it! ¬†The Christmas Adventure Box is a simple, kid-friendly advent activity to emphasize Christ in your home this Christmas season. ¬†The best part? ¬†It doesn’t cost a dime! ¬†Just pick the days you wish to use or even add a few of your own, wrap up the necessary items, and you are ready to go. Remember, I’ve only included my favorites here, so if you want a full list, visit Lana’s site. ¬†Enjoy!

Jen ūüôā

If you are looking for additional Christ-centered Christmas resources to use in your home or at your church, check out Buck Denver’s Asks…What’s in the Bible series for Christmas!

You might find me linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing with: Beauty Through Imperfection, Missional Call, Mom’s The Word,

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The Pumpkin Gospel

pumpkin gospel, pumpkin parable

A few days ago, I shared about how our views on Halloween have changed over the years from complete avoidance to an attempt at redemption. ¬†So, for today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share a fun fall activity for redeeming a traditional Halloween object. ¬†You can teach a bible lesson, a science lesson, and be a purposeful parent at the same time! ūüôā

Two years ago during the harvest season, I was searching for a good object lesson for our group of AWANA kids.  I wanted something fall-themed and something that they could remember year after year.  I found a lot of  great Thanksgiving craft ideas and even Halloween ideas, but nothing that really struck me, until I ran across the Pumpkin Gospel, also known as the Pumpkin Parable.

I realize that carving pumpkins is traditionally a Halloween activity, one some Christ-followers might not deem very “Christian.” And it’s okay with me if we agree to disagree on that. ūüôā But as I read the story of the pumpkin gospel, I knew the parable made sense and would really stick with children. ¬†And I’m learning that even pagan holidays like Halloween can be redeemed!

Kids love holidays.  They love pumpkins and carving pumpkins.  They also love stories.  Additionally, they need to be exposed to ideas over and over again for information to take root.  The Pumpkin Gospel was a perfect fit!

Preparations:  

You will need a table to stand at and a medium to large sized, prepared pumpkin.  To prepare the pumpkin:

  • cut out a hole in the top and clean out the majority of the goo, but save it.
  • ¬†Next, cut out a face with eyes, nose and a smiling mouth, but save the pieces you remove.
  • Then, put the removed pieces back into place so that the pumpkin looks uncut.
  • Set aside a few of the cleaner seeds to use at the beginning.
  • Then, put the rest of the gooey seeds and pulp back in the middle of the pumpkin and replace the top.

The idea is to have the majority of the work done ahead of time so that you don’t have long pauses in your story/object lesson. ¬†You will also need a cookie sheet or tablecloth to contain the pumpkin mess during your story, and a candle and matches.

Story:

Once there was a Gardener who planted seeds in His garden (show pumpkin seeds). ¬†Each day the Gardener cared for the seeds. ¬†He watered them, pulled weeds from around them, and sheltered them from the heat of the sun. ¬†The seeds grew into seedlings, which developed into plants, until one day, they produced fruit – pumpkins! ¬†The pleased Gardener looked out at His garden and said, “It is good!”

pumpkins1

One day, the Gardener went out into his field and picked a special pumpkin (place pumpkin on the table Рon top of a cookie sheet or tablecloth, etc. with the uncarved side facing the audience).  It was a bit dirty from laying in the garden, so he brought it inside and gently wiped it off (wipe off exterior of pumpkin).  Now the pumpkin looked clean on the outside, but what about the inside?

The Gardener took a knife and cut open the top of the pumpkin (pretend to cut open the top again and take it off).  And what did He find?  A bunch of slimy, yucky goo! (show kids the goop Рmaybe even let them touch it if you have a small enough group).  The Gardener wanted His special pumpkin to be beautiful, so He carefully scraped out all of the goo inside until the pumpkin was as clean inside as it was on the outside! (Remove goo and throw away. Show children the clean interior)

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin. ¬†He decided it needed a face! ¬†So, He carefully cut out two eyes, a nose, and a big smiling mouth (Turn the carved side of the pumpkin to face the audience. Poke out the eyes, nose and mouth you carved out previously). ¬†Now the Gardener’s special pumpkin looked clean AND happy.

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin. ¬†So, He put a light inside of it (insert candle and light it). ¬†The pumpkin glowed so beautifully! ¬†The Gardener’s special project was complete.

When friends and neighbors saw the Gardeners special pumpkin, they marveled at how He took something ordinary from His garden, cleaned it inside and out, put His light inside, and made it something extraordinary!

Explanation:

We are like pumpkins and God is ¬†the Gardener. ¬†God creates us and cares for us. He “chooses” us from all of the other pumpkins, but inside we all have the yucky goo – sin. (Read Rom. 3:23 and Rom. 6:23)

Just like the Gardener cleaned out his pumpkin’s goo, God wants to clean out all our sin, too. So, He sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins, to take the punishment we deserved. (Read Rom. 5:8, John 3:16, and 1 John 1:9)

Just like the Gardener gave the pumpkin a new face, God makes us a new creation! (Read 2 Cor. 5:17)

Just like the Gardener put His light into the pumpkin to make it shine, so God gives us His light to shine through us!  (Read 2 Cor. 4:6 and Mt. 5:16)

So, when we let God clean out  our sin, by believing that Jesus died to pay the punishment that we deserve, He turns us into new creations that can shine for Him!  And when others see our light, then they might want to learn how to have a light of their own, too!

Pumpkin Gospel object lesson

In an alternate version, you can also demonstrate the difference between being saved by grace and trying to “earn” salvation through works. ¬†All you will need is a second pumpkin with a face that is painted on (rather than cut out). ¬†The story about this pumpkin is along the lines of wanting to be “chosen” but not allowing the Gardener to clean out the inside.

So, the pumpkin wears a painted face (tries to make itself acceptable on the outside), but inside, it’s still full of yucky goo. ¬†Without removing the goo, there’s no room for the Gardener’s light, so the pumpkin cannot shine.

Many people try to make themselves acceptable to God in their own way ( just like Adam and Eve in the Garden).  They might go to church and act like Christians, and they might even believe in God.  But unless they trust that Jesus paid the price for their sins, then the sin remains on the inside.  They cannot become new creatures without allowing Christ to remove their sin.  So, the light of Christ cannot be in them.   (Read Eph. 2:8-10) This lesson would work especially well with older children, perhaps even youth age.

Note: I have recently learned that there are a variety of books available to help with this object lesson.  Just look up the pumpkin gospel or pumpkin parable on amazon.  If you want a more detailed script for the object lesson, you might consider purchasing one of these books to use year after year.

So, if you’re looking for a fall family activity or even an object lesson for your church or homeschool group, consider redeeming a little bit of Halloween and using the Pumpkin Gospel. ¬†Year after year when children see pumpkins lit up, they can remember the story of Who put the light inside of them!

If you have other ideas or stories for redeeming Halloween, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Jen ūüôā

You may find this post linked up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing this post with: The Mommy Club at Crystal and Co.

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Work-in-Progress Parenting: Emotional Children

Last night, our second-born, strong-willed, ball-of-energy-and-strength-and-passion son was showing me a few of his latest “tricks.” I watched somewhat half-heartedly and made the typical distracted mom comments such as “Wow!” or “That’s crazy!” or “How do you DO that?” until he made this horrible grimace. He effectively described it as “putting pressure” on his face. I happened to notice that it looked a lot like his typical angry face. ūüôā

Curious, I asked him why he would do that – put pressure on his face. He matter-of-factly explained that it helps him get his anger out when he’s frustrated or feeling angry. Then he showed me another of his typical angry poses (fisted hands clenched tightly at his sides) and told me that putting pressure on his body helps him get anger out, too. Once he was done with the demonstration, he sauntered away, like it was no big deal for a seven-year-old to have such knowledge of his own emotions and body.
parenting emotional children, boy mom, angry child, intense child, strong-willed child, work-in-progress child, children are uniquely created, work-in-progress parenting

 

I sat there stunned. ¬†Not because our son is so intelligent, although he truly is, but because a posture that I tend to “read” as angry disrespect ¬†or rebellion was, in fact, the complete opposite of what I had assumed. ¬†His tense posture was actually an attempt at self-control! ¬†And here I had been scolding him to “have a better attitude” whenever the “pressure” face and those “pressure”¬†hands appeared.

He understood his own emotions (and boy, does he have b-i-g ones) better than I sometimes understand my own.  He was learning self-control methods that work for him, without any help from me.

The conversation reminded me that even though I have now logged over thirteen years of parenting experience, I don’t know it all. ¬†In fact, I never will! Each child is created uniquely and requires unique parenting, a truth I tend to forget.

What I perceived as defiance or disrespect was the most self-controlled, respectful thing my son was capable of in his angry moments.

parenting emotional children

I hope I never again tell him to change his attitude when I see the “pressure face.” ¬†I hope I remember that he’s making a greater effort than I ever realized and applaud him for maintaining self-control in the face of anger. ¬†He has come so far in the area of emotions and self-control in the last few years, and I’m so quick to forget that in a heated moment! I’m so quick to forget that he, too, is a work-in-progress, just like his siblings, just like his parents, just like every other human on the face of the earth.

It wasn’t a proud moment for me, rather it was a thank-you-Lord moment. ¬†I couldn’t take credit for his heart changes; in fact, I was unintentionally discouraging some of the progress he was making. ¬†But God can take credit. ¬†Because our little boy who is so quickly growing into a young man accepted the free gift of salvation a year or so ago. ¬†And in a week, he’ll publicly proclaim his son-ship in Christ before family and friends as he wades into the baptismal waters.

I see the work the Lord is doing in his young heart and mind already. ¬†Even though our son’s passion and energy often cause trouble for him, I have faith that someday he will use those gifts to be a great leader and a bold truth-teller.

What faithfulness on the Lord’s behalf!

My sisters in Christ, when you find yourself in the midst of a season of seeming lack of progress, take heart. ¬†Continue to follow the Lord in your parenting, and wait to see what happens. Pray for their little hearts and minds to open to the Father’s touch.

Look for progress in the little things, the still, small moments. ¬†Remember who your child has been created to be. ¬†He’s created to be different than your other children and different even than you.

Take every opportunity to rejoice over the slightest step forward.

Because God knows what He’s doing. ¬†He created these children, these gifts, purposefully.

Only He can see where that purpose might lead them.

Jen ūüôā

As usual, you might find me linking with any of these lovely blogs.

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