Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

More Than a Visit

It’s Five Minute Friday, and the word for this week is “visit.”

Visit.

He came into the world squalling, screeching more like it – his cry so sharp and loud that it was unmistakable, our long-awaited, second-born boy.  When we brought him home, we quickly learned he would be nothing like his even-tempered older brother.  This one, this tiny red-faced infant, would make his demands known.  He would be a challenge to our previous parenting prowess.

Visit, New Baby, Motherhood, baby won't sleep

Sleepless nights turned into weeks, and eventually months, the worn carpet in the hallway testifying to the demands of our newest family member.  We loved him dearly, but sometimes we just wished for peace and quiet or that he would nap longer than thirty minutes.  He never slept “like a newborn” and even today, no matter how late he stays up, he wakes at the crack of dawn.  His Grandad affectionately nick-named him “The Raptor.”

At that time, Daddy had a second-shift job and little time off. He worked hard and long.  And we did, too, trying to just survive that long and lonely winter.

Aside from prayer, it was Grandma’s visits that got us through.  She’d often call at the end of her workday just to check in because she had a squalling, colicky baby once, too – me.  I was known as the baby who cried. all. the. time.  According to my aunt, she once came to visit us only to find my mother sitting on the front stoop crying while I lay peacefully in her arms, worn out by hours of fussing. My mother knew the frustration of the long nights and even longer days of mothering a cranky baby.

“How’s it going today, Jen?”

On the good days I answered, “Fine.” And then I told a story of something new one of the boys learned or something funny the oldest said that day.

On the bad days my silence betrayed me, a silence born of threatening tears.

Knowingly, she asked, “Want me to bring McDonald’s for supper?”

Gratefully I gulped out, “Yeah, that would be good.”

fussy baby, motherhood, colic

And so we waited, the five-year-old boy, and the fussy baby, and me.  We waited for the visit, for the promise of another set of hands and the comfort food they brought.  Her presence itself calmed me as the fear that so often comes with loneliness slowly ebbed away.  When it was time for her to leave, we wore smiles once again, determined to face the challenges of the evening with faith and hope for better days ahead.

brothers, cranky infant, baby

it gets better, new mommy, tired mommy, fussy baby

She always called when I needed it most, it seemed.  She often still does today.  I have no way to explain her uncanny awareness except to say that she’s close with the Lord, and I guess He must let her know when we’re in need. 🙂

I’ll never forget those supper visits, nor the time she gave willingly to be the hands and feet of Jesus to my weary-mama soul.

It was just a visit,

but to me it meant the world.

Matthew 25

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me;I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

John 13

34 Anew commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jen 🙂

It’s Five Minute Friday, so I’m linking up with the brave and creative crew over at Lisa Jo Baker’s place.  She gives us a one-word prompt and we freewrite for five minutes (-ish). 🙂   No planning, no editing, no stressing.  Come on over and join us if you like!

You may also find me at any of these lovely places.

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Welcome to the Sisterhood

I’m linking this up with Lisa Jo for Five Minute Friday today (even though I wrote it this afternoon) because she chose the word Grace, which I obviously had already written on today! 🙂  Funny how that works out sometimes.  I considered writing another post, but I just feel like this is fitting.  So, I hope my Five Minute Friday friends don’t mind too much. 🙂  It took way more than 5 minutes, but shouldn’t take much longer than that to read!

When this blog first began, I mentioned that God created all of us sisters in Christ unique from one another, and that He did so with a purpose!  Lately, I’ve been reminded of that fact.  Not only are we unique as individuals, but our walks with the Lord will be unique from one another, as well.  Thus, the ways in which we live out our faith will vary from person to person.

Paul describes it well in Romans 14:

 1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters…

 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall.

And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

My weaknesses and strengths will not be the same as your weaknesses and strengths, amen?!  Unfortunately, because they are different, I’ll be tempted to compare myself to you, my sisters in Christ, and you to me.  As a work-in-progress woman, I’m still learning how to have confidence in the woman God has created me to be.

However, as much as I loathe this tendency to compare, I see another, more destructive risk to this comparison game, the risk of self-righteousness.  You see, sometimes I compare myself to another sister in Christ and find her lacking, instead. (Gasp!  Shock and Awe!  Let’s be honest – it happens more often than we like to admit.)

Of course, it’s not always quite that blatant; sin rarely is.  But these thoughts that I don’t even want to acknowledge slowly creep in.  I’m so thankful my children are well-behaved (….because so-and-so certainly needs to get a handle on hers).  Or perhaps you hide it more cleverly in thoughts like this – I’ve studied the scriptures, so my position is biblical (which would make any opposing position unbiblical by default).  When we start thinking we have the corner on the market in knowledge, wisdom, or understanding, look out!  We are due for a major fall

Self-righteousness – thinking we can somehow make ourselves right.

How I wish I fell prey to it less often!

Self-righteousness centers around actions and outward appearances rather than the heart itself.   Oh, how we like to focus on the outward rather than the inward, sisters.  I know because I struggle with it, too!

And that right there is the problem: the tendency to quantify and qualify that which we cannot!  The truth is, we’re all on equal footing, all saved by grace alone and not by works, so that we might not boast.  But how often do we find ourselves boasting in our minds and hearts? I readily admit; I’m just as guilty.  God’s grace cannot be qualified.  We cannot and dare not attach strings to something He gives freely!  And oh, is His grace big, my sisters!  It’s so much more than what I can imagine.

Grace, sisters in Christ, freedom in Christ

You may parent differently, dress differently, celebrate differently, eat differently, educate differently, and on and on.  And the truth is – that’s okay.   Part of finding confidence in Christ, learning to be who He created us to be, is also learning to extend that same grace and freedom to others.  Can I not rejoice in the freedom to be me, yet still celebrate your freedom to be you?

More truth from Romans 14:

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (emphasis mine)

What is the pleasing way?  It is not “a matter of eating and drinking,” not a matter of the details, rather it is a matter of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” choosing to live by the Spirit.  That choice brings to mind 1 Cor. 10:3:1

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

In the scope of eternity, the “whatever” doesn’t matter, sisters!  The “glory of God” is what matters.  Do you see it?! 🙂

I want to shout for joy because our God is so good and gracious!  He knows our tendencies to get caught up in frivolous arguments.  He spells it out for us – whatever you do – whichever choice you make – if God’s glory is truly the motivation, then go for it, sister!

sisters in Christ, freedom and grace, not judgement, unity, Body of Christ

If we, fellow sisters in Christ, cannot celebrate each other’s choices to follow hard after the Lord, then who can we celebrate with?  This world certainly won’t be encouraging and celebrating us in our efforts to live worthy of the calling we have received.  Such self-destructive behavior can only be celebrated by the enemy, that twister of truth, creator of lies.  And I, for one, do not wish to give him any cause for celebration!

 “Beloved, let us love one another,” 1 John 4:7

We are sisters in Christ.

Let’s build each other up in love, lest we all fall prey to the enemy who seeks to devour.

 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Romans 14:19

United in Christ,

united in Love.

Welcome to the sisterhood,

and let the celebrations begin!

Jen 🙂

I’m linking up with any of these lovely blogs.

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Practicing Patience with Preschoolers

mama mondays2

It’s the longest hour of the day, that chaotic stretch of time when naps have ended but supper isn’t ready yet and Daddy won’t be home for another sixty minutes.  It’s the time of day when mamas are weary and wishing for a nap of their own.  In our home, it’s often a time of crankiness and whining and neediness and hunger and all too often, a time of mom’s frustration.

The older boys are home from school, so the seven-year-old needs help with homework and the teen needs a permission slip signed.  The twins are rubbing sleep from their eyes and asking for snacks or juice or to be held.  I’m trying to find the motivation to start supper preparations, but one twin is clinging to my leg and the other is crying for no known reason in the next room.  What’s a mama to do?

I’m ashamed to say that this mom’s reaction can often be  a sharp, “Everyone BE. PATIENT!!”, followed by a mini-rant of my own about how I only have two hands and they are both full and can’t they just wait for a few minutes because I can’t help everyone at one time!  And then there are louder tears from the crying twin and a look of quiet frustration from the teen and more scowling impatience from the seven-year-old boy who just wants to do his homework right now!  Why is it that a request to be patient or wait creates the exact opposite effect than what parents desire to see in their children?

patience, practicing patience with preschoolers, preschool, toddler, impatience, learning patience

I think most children who hear “be patient” or “just wait” see it as an immediate no.  They feel we have not acknowledged their needs and are, in effect, just ignoring them.  So, they ask again…and again…and again…almost infinitely.  As an adult who sometimes (ok, maybe often) struggles with impatience herself, I feel for my children when they have to wait.  However, I know that they need to learn patience in order to survive in the real world, and preschoolers are the perfect age to start practicing patience.

The reason I say “practice” is that patience, like any other virtue, takes time to learn. Patience is also something we must intentionally teach to our children, not something they will magically acquire on their own.  And in this day and age, I think we can all agree that patience seems to be lacking in our society!  So today, on Mama Monday,  I’ll share with you a few tips for teaching your children patience.

Patience2

Model patience yourself.  I know you saw this one coming!  Young children are excellent imitators, and unfortunately sometimes that backfires on us parents.  Our middle child was a very impatient little guy, even from birth.  During his toddler years, I spent many days questioning my ability to parent him to adulthood, seriously.

One day, he was even more impatient than usual, and I found myself throwing a little fit right back at him, asking why he couldn’t just BE PATIENT.  As soon as the whiny words left my mouth, I realized I was being just as impatient with him as he was being with me.  How could he possibly learn to be patient when his mama was not?

Change your speech.  When multiple children (or even just one) make requests at the same time and you already have your hands full, what is your response?  As you read above, my first response is typically frustration over my inability to help all four children at the same time. What if, instead of a frustrated command to be patient, my children heard me talk excitedly about an opportunity to practice a new skill?

What if instead of frowning or scowling, I smiled at them (even if I’m not smiling on the inside) and said, “Let’s practice being patient!  Who can do a really good job waiting quietly for mommy while she finishes this job?  We’ll use our words  instead of whining, and we’ll wait until mommy’s hands are free. Who can practice patience for me?”  Or, what if we used the word “choose,” especially with children who are older.  Instead of a pert command to be patient, I can remind them that they have a choice about their feelings.  They can choose patience rather than frustration. (And so can the mama!)

Distract them.  Although preschoolers are experts at wanting things, they are also fairly easy to distract (in comparison to older children).  Ask your children to find another activity while they are waiting.  Although you might make a few suggestions, put the responsibility for occupying themselves on their shoulders, not yours.  When I’m cooking supper, I might say something like, “Why don’t you practice patience by coloring while you wait for mommy.”  If they don’t like my suggestion, then I let them know it will be up to them to find something to do.

Give them a timeline.  While preschoolers are beginning to grasp the concept of time, they really can’t understand what minutes or hours or days are yet.  In their minds, ten minutes might as well be two hours, and that feels like a long time for a preschooler!  Even worse is the indefinite response of “Just wait.” However, if you relate those minutes or hours to scheduled events they are already familiar with, then they can understand how long they will have to wait.

For example, if we are going to the playground later in the day, but one of my children wants to leave now, then I would tell them we’re going after nap-time.  Use phrases like after this song, when you wake up from sleeping, after snack, when I finish this basket of laundry, and so forth, that give them more tangible ideas of the time frame they are dealing with.  If it’s going to be a particularly long wait, I give them multiple time markers, as in: first mommy has to vacuum the floor, then we’ll pick up toys, and then we get to go to the park.

Remind them.  Let’s see if this scenario sounds familiar.  “Mommy can I watch cartoons?  Can I have more milk?  Can I have a cookie? Can I? Can I? Can I?” Preschoolers have many wants.  As a mom, I know it’s not healthy for me to indulge all of those wants.  So, while I’m imposing limits, instead of just saying no or wait (for an indefinite amount of time), I like to remind them of what they have already had.  “You already watched cartoons.  Now it’s time to play.”  “You already had a glass of milk, but you may have water.”  “I already played with you this morning, but I’ll play with you again after nap-time.”

Sing the “Have Patience” song.  I don’t know who wrote the “Clean Up” song, but that person deserves an award!  It’s like magic!  You don’t even have to tell children to pick up toys because when they hear it, they automatically know what to do.  The lesser known “Have Patience” song can have a similar effect if you use it consistently.

First of all, singing in general, tends to lighten the mood.  Second, the song reminds children of the behavior you would like to see.  To find the “Have Patience” song, look here.  I only sing the chorus (and it is fun to speed it up as you repeat!). 🙂

Praise them lavishly!  At this age, children are often eager to please, so positive reinforcement usually works more effectively than negative.  If you see your children actively practicing patience, then tell them how much you appreciate their hard work (because it IS hard to wait, isn’t it?)!  Praise often enough that they are encouraged to continue practicing patience up to the very end.

For example, if halfway through a waiting period, I notice my daughter growing restless or whining, I will praise her for the good job she has done so far and ask her to continue. I might even draw her attention to how little time is left.  Many times, the magic is in the phrasing!

patience4, impatient children, learning to be patient, toddler, preschooler

Patience is a virtue worth instilling in young hearts, but it’s not an easy task.  Learning patience takes time and consistency.  It also takes a mama who is willing to look at herself and ask, “Am I a patient person?”

Of course, we cannot expect perfection.   I’m going to suggest that we learn to be content with imperfect progress in the area of patience (to borrow a phrase from Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unlgued).  As long as we are consistently moving forward in the bigger picture (even if sometimes we move back), then we are progressively working toward patience in our homes.

And in my opinion, a patient family is a peaceful family!

Jen 🙂

When is it most difficult for you to have patience?  When is it most difficult for your children to have patience?

Also linking up to Serenity Now and any of these lovely blogs.

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Firsts Lead to Lasts

Due tomy recent injury at Buttkill Falls, I’ve had extra time to ponder life, and when that happens, I tend to get a bit nostalgic. 🙂  Maybe it’s because I’m currently medicated, or maybe it’s because I’m missing out on some family life lately.  For whatever reason, when I’m separated from my people, I tend to think about them more.  I miss them. I appreciate them.

As I’m resting and pondering, and thinking about how quickly the first day of school came this year, I realize that we’re about to enter a new season of life as parents.  We have just one more year left with littles at home, and one year before our oldest enters high school.  For thirteen years now, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, but what will I do when all of these firsts lead to lasts?

First smiles and first steps.  First days of school and first solo bike rides. First baby food and first big kid beds.  First instruments and first crushes. So many firsts that we’ve been blessed with.

kids blackandwhite

But these firsts lead to lasts, and what will a born-to-be-a-mama girl do when all of her children are at school for the day?  It seems like these lasts come oh-so-quickly.

Last days of kindergarten and last days of twin high chairs.  Last days of baby clothes and last days of soccer on Saturdays.  Last days of sweet toddler cheeks and last days of bedtime stories.

The truth is, the lasts stink.  I know I’ll miss them.  But those firsts that led to lasts will once again lead to firsts.  Firsts like driver’s licenses and shaving and so much more independence.

And while my children are enjoying a whole new world of lasts followed by firsts, I’ll be opening up to a whole new world of firsts, too.

Kids Bushkill1

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Jen 🙂

It’s Five Minute Friday again!  We gather together over at Lisa-Jo’s blog and free-write for five minutes on a single word prompt.  No planning, no editing, just writing.  It’s glorious freedom!  If you want to know more, join us at: http://lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday/

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Our Big List of Favorite Games

As a follow-up to the Mama Mondays post on Why Families Should Play Games, I wanted to provide some practical information on what games to choose for your children, family, ministry, or event.  For those who don’t already know, we have four children, ages four through thirteen, and we’ve spent a lot of years working with children and youth in various churches.  So, over the years we have tried out a lot of different games available and found quite a few favorites! 🙂

The list I started became fairly large, so I’ve divided it into a few different categories such as age or group size in order to give it a little more organization.  Most of these games can be researched more online.  I also have a pinterest board specifically for learning games and activities where I gather ideas for homeschool or just home learning fun, and an AWANA/VBS board where I gather ideas for youth group and children’s ministry.  For family-specific activities, be sure to visit the Family Fun Day/Night board, too.

Games favorite

Toddler/Preschool Games

Memory (matching, critical thinking, memory) is one of our familly favorites for this age.  We started at the age of 2 (possibly even younger) with our firstborn, but not with the entire game.  For very young children, I would start by choosing out just a few matches to start with and let them get the hang of it.

Hi-Ho Cherry-O (colors and counting and following directions) is another favorite and can be played from an early age with modifications.  In fact, before you even try to play the actual game, you could have your child do some color sorting by putting all of the cherries on the correct trees!

Go Fish – I love this game because you can make your own and use it to teach just about anything: for example,Go Fish Colors, Go Fish Shapes, Go Fish Animals, Go Fish Alphabet, and so on.  Just buy a pack of index cards, print off some graphics (or use colored cardstock) and tape or glue them to the index cards.  Our middle child has been our most active child and has been that way from birth, literally!  Go Fish is one game he would actually sit still for at a fairly young age – young enough that he couldn’t even say, “Go Fish!” correctly.

Trouble – we played this game with our two oldest boys before our youngest (at the time) son could even count.  We just counted the spaces out for him.  Why did he enjoy this game so much?  He looooved pressing the domed popper in the middle. He also really enjoyed landing on other players and sending them back home.  However, we did experience some tears when one of his pieces had to be “sent home.”  At that age, we fudged a little and purposefully tried not to land on him very often. 🙂

Candyland – the best thing about this classic, aside from being candy-themed, is that you move by colors rather than numbers.  Thus, you can easily play with very young children.

Elementary-age Games

(many of the games listed in the toddler/preschool category are still interesting enough for this age group as well)

Pictureka!  We absolutely love this game that was introduced to us by friends!  It is easy enough to play that even very young children (pre-readers) can participate, but also quick-paced and competitive enough that even my husband enjoys playing.  It’s just perfect for our age range of 4 year-olds to parents.  The board is a series of large square tiles that are moved often throughout this picture-finding game. With very young children, you can make every card an all-play card and take a less competitive, more team-work approach.

Battleship – it’s an oldie, but a goodie.  I love this game because it’s challenging enough that my husband and I can play each other for at-home date nights, yet our two oldest sons can also play each other.  Our middle son learned to play it at the age of 6, but probably could have learned earlier.  It’s a game of strategy, and only requires 2 players!

Don’t Break the Ice or Don’t Spill the Beans – both are 2-4 player games that even young elementary children (or even preschoolers) can play as they do not involve numbers.  Don’t Break the Ice uses a small plastic hammer to knock out individual ice cubes until the whole platform falls. Don’t Spill the Beans is a game of balance in which plastic beans are added to a pot one by one until the pot tips one way or the other.  These games both utilize and teach scientific principles!

Our Big List of Favorite Games, games for families to play together, a big list of games categorized by age and use, family game night, games kids love

Teen/Adult

Risk – a game of strategy and conquest.  You can make and break treaties, create and destroy armies, and take over the whole world!  I think this game appeals more to boys rather than girls, but my sister and I both happen to really enjoy it even as adults. Risk  is time-consuming, but that is part of what makes it fun!

Settlers of Catan  – see description in Family category below.

Murder – this game has been a youth group favorite wherever we go, and we even played it at an adults’ game night once!  You need lots of playing space for the game to work well and you also need darkness. We created our own dim area by covering some windows when we played.  Basically, one person is chosen by random to be “it” and is unknown to the other players.  Then, everyone spreads out and the “murderer” is free to work.  What makes this game fun is that when a “body” is found, the lights come on and all players gather together to make accusations and try to figure out who the murderer is.  If the person accused is not truly “it,” then the game continues!

Games for the Whole Family

Jenga – easy enough for small hands, but interesting enough for older brains, as well.  We have played this game with our four-year-old twins and it works very well as long as we help them a bit.

Pictureka – see description in Elementary category.

Life – our two youngest aren’t quite old enough for this game, but will be soon.  They still enjoy participating through roles such as handing out pieces or playing “banker.”  This game is a lot of fun for our family and teaches about life choices, careers, finances, and random chance. The first time we played, my husband’s pink “wife” fell out of his minivan game piece and our middle child got the worst case of the giggles. Now every time we play, we talk about the time Dad’s “wife” tried to run away. 🙂

Settlers of Catan – This is our all-time favorite family game (we actually call it “The Game”) and can be played with as little as 2 players (although it’s not quite as fun) and with as many as 12 if you want to re-paint or decorate some of the pieces like we did.  The game is very unique and involves a lot of strategy and planning, as well as bartering. Basically, you are a “settler” who chooses where to build.  Your object is to grow your territory using resources that you earn according to rolls of the dice.  You build roads, cities, and other settlements as you earn the resources to build with.  You can also trade with other players, but beware of the black robber!  Although this game is a little expensive and takes time to learn, it is well worth the effort and expense!!

Aggravation/ Marble game – this game is an oldie, but a goodie.  You may remember playing it on a wooden board as a child.  This game is easy to learn, and is much like the game Sorry in that players can be sent back to home if they are landed on.

Farkle – This is one of the least expensive games ever, but is so much fun.  All you need is a set of dice (6, I believe), a printed out set of rules from the Internet, and paper and pencil to keep score with.  Although this game is numbers oriented, our middle son learned to play at age 6 and really enjoyed it.

Our Big List of Favorite Games, a list of games categorized by age and use, games for family night, games kids love

Large Group Games

Cranium – I love this game, especially for large group play, because it combines aspects of many of my favorite games.  There are 4 categories: one uses word-based clues (missing letters, scrambled letters, spelling, etc.), one uses music/acting based clues similar to charades, one uses data-based clues (true/false, multiple choice, etc.), and one uses clues that require drawing (sometimes with your eyes closed!) or sculpting with clay.  It’s basically like playing pictionary, charades, trivial pursuit, Boggle, and other games all at the same time!  The best part, however, is that you play in teams, so this game can work for anywhere from 4 to 20 or more players.

Apples to Apples – is another party favorite in our home.  It is easy to learn and usually involves a good deal of humor.  It also gives you insight into the people you’re playing with!

Catch Phrase – is a favorite for me and probably anyone who is good with words and talking.  It can be used in a group as small as 4, but is more fun with larger groups.  The beeping timer makes the fast-paced gameplay even more competitive!

Settlers of Catan – see the description in family games.

Euchre – an inexpensive card game that requires only a single deck of cards.  You can play with Four or more.  I had never heard of this game until I met my husband, but it quickly became apparent that I would have to learn.  It took me a while to learn this game, but it has quickly become one of my favorite card games!

Hand and Foot – a card game in which you have two “hands” of cards – one to start with and a second one, called the “foot,” that you play when you finish your first hand.  I like this game best when played with partners, in which case you would need at least four players.  If you have enough card decks and table space, you could play with a group of 8-10 easily.  This game simply requires several decks of normal playing cards.  Look up the rules online for more information!

Mafia – this game isn’t your typical board or card game, but can be fun if you have an adventurous group of people.  Basically, it’s a whodunnit? game, narrated by a player who sits out of the gameplay and simply tells the story.  The game involves a “criminal” who points at a victim, a doctor, who points at someone to save, and a police officer or detective who chooses someone to accuse.  The most important part of this game is choosing a good narrator because a lot of fun is in the details that they make up.  Look up the details online!

Wink Murder – okay, so this game may be a bit juvenile for adults, but I guess I’m a kid at heart.  This is another game that you can play on the fly with no preparation and no supplies.  Look up the rules online for more information.

Active Games

Twister  – children and teens alike enjoy this game of contorting one’s body in order to touch the correct colored circles.  With our two youngest, we don’t bother with differentiating between right and left since they haven’t learned this yet.  Instead, we just say, “Put your hand on blue.”  Surprisingly, one of the favorite parts of this game is the spinner!

Hide-n-Seek – yes, this is usually an outdoors game, but a few winters ago when I was doing some in-home childcare for a friend, I decided we could play indoors!  In fact, it becomes even more fun when you turn off all but a few lights and play Scary Hide-n-Seek!  Just be sure to tell the players if there are any off-limit areas before you start.  Fair warning, you will probably be asked to hide along with your younger children, especially if you play the scary version.  Another fair warning, if you’re a mom who has had many children and scares easily, go to the bathroom first, seriously. 😉

Sardines – similar to hide-n-seek, only the player who is “it” hides and everyone else tries to find him or her.  The twist is that when you find “it” you have to hide along with them until everyone ends up in the hiding spot.

Simon Says – I know this is an old school game, but my children love it.  The most popular position is Simon, of course, but it’s really good for our younger children to learn to follow directions and to listen!

Mother May I? – another old school game, but gets my children up and active without being too crazy.

Indoor obstacle course – This is mostly for younger children, but older children and parents can participate by creating the course.  Pull out your kitchen chairs, small end tables, and as many pillows as you can gather (you can even use boxes to create tunnels).  Find the longest straight stretch in your home and design your own course!  My children will do the course over and over and over……well, you get the idea. 🙂

Additionally, Energy-burning Indoor Fun for Kids is chock full of ways to help the kids burn off extra energy when you’re stuck inside.


Well, that’s it for our BIG list of favorite games.  These aren’t the only games we play as a family, but they are definitely our favorites!  I hope you find some ideas for new games to try out at your next family game night.  We’re always looking for new family oriented games to add to our collection, so let us know if you have a great suggestion!

What is your family’s favorite game?  What games would you add to the list?

Jen 🙂

Sharing with: Family Fun Friday,

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12 Twin Tips for Survival

twins collage

If you haven’t visited this blog before, you might not know that we have a set of twins (boy/girl) who are now four years old.  I never would have imagined myself having twins, and in fact, I had mixed feelingsat first (read the story here).

However, our twins have brought a doubled joy to our lives that I could never have imagined.  There is something so precious about watching them sleep side by side or hold hands as they walk down the sidewalk. Observing their unique bond has been a true privilege.  I hope they will always be best friends of sorts even though they are different genders!

Along the way, I’ve learned some methods for dealing with the not-so-cute moments of what can easily become twin madness, and I’d like to share them with you today.  These methods would also work with children who are close in age to one another! 🙂

1. Divide and conquer.  Whatever the difficult task is that you are facing, It can be much easier to handle one at a time. For example, I read many success stories from mamas who simultaneously potty-trained their twins. It seems that for these blessed mothers, what one twin did, the other followed.  However, for us it wasn’t quite as simple. Our son was just not ready, but our daughter was!  She insisted on using the potty even though I wasn’t trying to train her.  So, I decided one at a time might actually be easier, and it worked! Not everything must be done in pairs. 🙂

OR….

2. Kill two birds with one stone.  Some twin tasks are just easier to do together, such as diaper changing (one right after the other, of course), nursing (huge time saver if you can get the hang of it), going to the doctor, bathing, and feeding snacks or meals.  When you already have all of the “stuff” out, you might as well get it over with for the other twin, too!  I even learned such talents as double burping, which only lasted a month or two.  Part of finding my groove with the twins was learning which technique worked best for which tasks – either #1 or #2.

Additionally, sometimes it even makes a difference which twin you do first! After a while, I learned to always put my twin son’s shoes on last because he would try to take them off if we didn’t leave the house immediately.  My daughter didn’t seem to mind the shoes, so I could count on her to leave hers on while I wrestled with her brother. 🙂

twin tips3

3. Set up stations!  When the twins were infants, this was a lifesaver when it came time to do something like prepare a meal, or work with an older child, etc.  I had a rotation of baby devices for them and when they began to grow weary of one (after about 10 minutes), I would quickly rotate them to the next thing in line.

Instead of having two of everything, we found we only needed one of most things and thankfully, many of these devices were given to us.  So, at one point in time we had out an exersaucer, a jumperoo, a bouncy seat, a playmat, and a walker (before the walker days, we had a swing). Even today, our twins will  often choose different tasks at the same time.  One wants to color while the other one wants to work with playdoh.  When they get bored, we just switch!

4. Identify the tough times.  We definitely had specific times of the day that were much more difficult than others.  Meal times, bedtimes, and late afternoon seemed to be the worst for us.  Once we identified those tough times, we were able to problem solve a little to try and make them as easy as possible.  Sometimes identifying and problem solving require a little trial and error, but when you get desperate, you’ll try anything! 🙂  If all else fails, then….

5. Enlist helpers!  By far the best thing we ever did was to accept the gracious offers of friends and family to lend a helping hand.  Many ladies from church took turns helping me with afternoon feedings (my husband worked second shift at the time) even when the twins were quite small.  I would either pump ahead of time or I would take that opportunity to nurse one infant at a time and the company could play with the other twin.

We also are blessed to have a very helpful oldest son.  He often rocked a fussy baby while I cooked supper or helped our middle child with a problem!  Additionally, for a few months I enlisted the help of one of our teenage nieces.  I paid her very little (because that’s all we could afford), but she loved coming over to help with the kids. It was totally worth the financial investment.  Do not be afraid to ask for help, especially in the early months – it will save your sanity! 🙂

twin tips2

6. Schedule, schedule, schedule.  I wasn’t a very schedule-oriented mom when it came to nursing or even napping our first two children.  Our firstborn sort of fell into a schedule all on his own, and our middle child fought any sort of schedule from day one!  However, I’m by nature a planner, a scheduler, so I like at least a loose form of organization.  And after our strong-willed middle child, I was determined to start off right.  With two babies at once, I knew that I was going to need to be a little more of a tough mommy in order for us to survive. 🙂

Since our twins were born prematurely, they spent time in the NICU and came home already on a strict feeding schedule.  So, we were already off to a good start.  However, our infant son was not always happy to keep to the same schedule as his sister.  It was hard work to find a happy medium, but I knew I wouldn’t handle feeding and napping at different times very well.  Persistence paid off, and the majority of the time, they ate together and napped together.

Find a sort of schedule that works for you!  The best pattern to follow for those first 6 months or so is eat – wake time- then sleep, which is the opposite of what many babies naturally do.  However, this pattern sets your infants up not only for feeding success, but for sleeping success as well!  You may be tempted to let sleeping babies go undisturbed, but it will be worth working to keep them awake when they reward you by sleeping for longer periods of time.  Trust me. 🙂

7. Invest in the gear that makes your life easier.  Being a parent is hard work.  Being a twin parent is sometimes doubly hard work!  Some baby gear makes that work a lot less difficult and is worth every penny.  For example, my husband and I debated about whether or not to purchase a double snap-n-go stroller.  It’s basically a metal frame stroller that the infant carrier car seats can snap right into.  Thanks to some generous gifts, we had the necessary funds and decided to go ahead and purchase it.

Next to my twin nursing pillow, it was the best purchase we ever made for the twins!   It made so many outings much easier, even those I had to navigate alone – going to church, going to the store, going to the library, going to the doctor.  I was no longer confined to the house, which made me and our two older children very happy!  Later we switched to a double jogging stroller, courtesy of my father-in-law’s fabulous auction skills, and the last stroller we owned was a double sit-n-stand, which I highly recommend for the toddler to preschool years.  When one is tired of sitting in the front seat, you can switch them out to standing, kneeling, or even sitting in reverse in the back seat.

8. Keep your older children occupied.  Sitting down to nurse  or feed two infants isn’t an easy task, especially if you also have an active three-year-old on the loose.  Sometimes our middle child would escape into another room and I would just pray that he wasn’t destroying anything of value! 🙂  I learned that if I did not find something to occupy him before it was time to nurse, it would be a frustrating experience for us all.

I wish I had known back then about busy bags!  If you don’t know what they are, you need to find out.  Just look up busy bags on Pinterest or Google and find a variety of ideas for quiet play.  I have quite a few pinned on my Learning games and activities board.  Books worked well for us, as well as singing.  Sometimes I would even ask him to perform tricks for me while I was sitting.  And when all else failed I turned to Netflix or PBS Kids.  Did I mention that having twins also taught me to lower my standards a little? 🙂

9. Remind your older children that they are special, too!  Sometimes older siblings have jealousy issues, and then sometimes they have twin fame issues. 😉  Twins not only require a lot of extra attention from mom and dad, they also attract a lot of attention when you are out and about.  People love to look at them and ask questions about them.  This might leave your older children feeling a little ignored or neglected.  Going on one-on-one dates really helped our older children when they were exhibiting signs of attention-deprivation.  Also, relatives stepped in often and took one or both of them for special activities or sleep-overs.  Sometimes it’s as simple as mentioning something special about your older children when people are ooo-ing and aaahhh-ing over the twins.

boys

10. Remember that it does get easier!  Those early months are oh-so-tough.  I well remember the sleepless nights, the double diaper blow-outs, the duets of screaming banshees, the illness multiplied by two in winter months, and sometimes it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  But there is.  Those twins will grow up and while you’ll always have two at the same stage, rather than one, as they grow older it feels a lot less like double duty and a lot more like having two children very close in age. Believe it or not, our twins are so different in looks and personality that sometimes I momentarily forget about their special bond!

Focus on one day at a time, until you can focus on one week at at time, and eventually one month, and so on. I distinctly remember watching our twins play on the floor one day while their older brothers played at the table.  I was happy; the older boys were happy; the babies were happy.  I remember thinking, “We’re not just surviving anymore, we’re actually thriving!”  And we were!

11. Count your blessings.  On those really rough days, the ones when you barely limp across the finish line that we mamas like to call bedtime, try to let go of the challenges and remember the blessings of having twins.  There are many difficulties in raising twins, but there are equal, if not more, unique blessings wrapped into those challenges.  So when the days are dark, count those blessings.  Remind yourself of the things that you enjoy about your double gift, how one baby catches the other’s eye and the face lights up, how  they “talk” back and forth to one another, even answering one another’s cries, how they take turns giggling, and just as one is winding down, the other one revs up  and it starts all over again.  Remember those good things; cling to them!

12. Pray.  It sounds simple and everyday, but it’s not. Prayer is powerful!  Some days I woke up after a sleepless night asking the Lord for supernatural strength because I just didn’t have it in me.  He literally carried me, not just mentally but physically,  through many of those early weeks or even months.  I know others were praying for me, too – the power was almost palpable at times.

Don’t underestimate the Power of the Spirit; pray for the things you need to raise those twins – for finances, for strength, for wisdom.  I even consulted the Lord on such mundane things as “Should I pick up this crying baby or would it be better to let him cry it out?” While I didn’t get a direct answer to that question, I was overwhelmed by the peace of His presence.  And suddenly, I realized that maybe it didn’t even matter as much as I though it did.  Maybe there is no perfect way to parent, no perfect way to potty train or sleep train or breastfeed or, or, or…  That peace set me free. 🙂

trust in the Lord

Proverbs 3

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

If you have young twins or are about to have twins (or even children very close in age), I hope you find this post helpful.  And if you are already a twin mama and you have some advice to share, please feel free to share in the comments!  I love finding out what works for other moms and seeing if it will also work for me.

Jen 🙂

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Much Ado about Missions: The Experience

Much Ado about Missions

Today marks the beginning of week two of our Much Ado about Missions blog-hop series.  In case you’re joining us for the first time, in the first week we zeroed in on the need for emphasizing global missions and how we can accomplish that even within our homes.  I shared an introductory post about why the need is so great (and so often misunderstood) and then followed up with a post on 8 Resources for Teaching Missions in the Home.  Sarah, from Love Notes, wrote an excellent post on how to engage children’s hearts by engaging their hands in The Missional M&Ms.  Angie, from My Four Monkeys, finished off the week with a fantastic craft to introduce the concept of missions in Introducing Missions to Little Ones.  If you missed any of these posts. you might want to catch up before we delve into this week’s topic. 🙂

While we discussed impacting our homes in week one, this week we’ll be discussing how to impact our communities and even our world.  So, week two will be more about missions experience opportunities and outreach opportunities for you and your family no matter what your circumstances!

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that my husband is a minister in a small country town.  So, by nature of his job, our family experiences a lot of community outreach through our church and even aside from the church.   However, we also want our family to be involved in things that have an impact beyond our community.  We want to be mindful of the needs in that great big world out there and have the Lord’s heart for the nations.  I listened to a sermon recently given by a missionary who said that he drove a single mile  to the church he was speaking at that morning and passed 3 churches on the way! Yet in an unreached people group in China that is 15 million strong, not a single church exists. Not. One.

So, I’m going to start out the week by challenging you to leave the comfort of your own home, your own city, your own state and try something as a family that could potentially change many lives.  My husband and I want our children to understand the importance of global missions as much as they understand community service and outreach, and that requires us to stretch beyond what is comfortable.   Experiencing firsthand is so much more powerful than just hearing about it from missionaries who come to speak at church or your former MK wife/mother. 🙂 So, we’ve put together a very brief list of experiences that could benefit the whole family.

the missions experience

Church missions trips – If your church is offering a missions trip experience, this would be the perfect way for you, and possibly your family, to experience and serve alongside a missionary that your church is already connected with.  While  heading into unfamiliar territory, you would at least have the comfort of travelling and experiencing right alongside other members of your church.  This type of trip helps you to better understand the need as well as the missionaries you help support.

Wayumi – if  leaving your home country to serve in a remote location scares the pants off of you, or just isn’t possible for medical reasons, etc., why not start with a missions experiences available right here in America through New Tribes Mission?  You can spend anywhere from 1 day to a week at Wayumi, a center located in Pennsylvania, and be exposed to other cultures, the trials of language study, and so forth.  Although the experience offers very realistic replications of tribal huts, tribal foods, and so on, some modern conveniences are still available.  It’s a way to learn about missions and perhaps even stretch yourself and your family a bit, but the cost is significantly less than an overseas trip.

Serve with New Tribes Mission (NTM) – http://usa.ntm.org/go – this non-denominational mission that focuses on church planting along with scripture translation offerst a variety of opportunties for families and even college students.  Short term, service-based trips last anywhere from 2-4 weeks, while longer stays of a year are necessary for associate workers who go to fill an immediate need.  College students can even earn credits through the Interface internship program in Papua New Guinea.

World Changershttp://www.lifeway.com/worldchangers/index.php/about/ – is a program for youth through college age students.  These trips usually take place in the summer months, when groups travel to specific cities to complete community service projects.  In the past, some groups have gone to inner city ministries, disaster areas for restoration projects, etc.  This is not your everyday community service.  Students complete bible study/training beforehand, including learning how to use evangelistic tools.  If you have or know a youth, this program is an excellent way to teach them how to be someone who changes the world!

These are just a very few of the multitude of opportunities to serve your world beyond your neighborhood, your town, your state, even your country!  What can your family do to stretch and grow beyond what is normal and familiar to you?  How might you consider helping to reach the most unreached peoples of the Earth, the third of our world  population who currently have no hope?

I know that God asks believers to fill a variety of roles in the Body, of which missions is only one.  But I also know that God’s heart is for all nations, not just the one we live in.  I read another missionary comment recently that said what is most needed is not more money.  He reminded us, “Jesus is the fishes and loaves guy.”  What is needed is those who will be willing to advocate for the most unreached people groups and those who will be willing to answer the call of “Whom can I send?”

Deny self

As I mentioned in the Introduction of this blog-hop, I don’t have all of the answers, even for our family.  I believe it is something that all Christians should prayerfully consider. How will you respond?

Jen 🙂

If you know of another firsthand missions experience opportunity, please feel free to share with the readers in the comments!

Want to learn more about the value of a firsthand missions experience for teens?  Read here:
http://www.wordslingersok.com/2013/07/7-reasons-teens-need-to-go-on-short-term-mission-trips-2/

You may find me at any of these lovely blogs.

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9 Ways to Sneak in Veggies

What mom wouldn’t like her children to eat more of those healthy, vitamin-bearing vegetables? If only it was easy to get kids to like vegetables in the first place!

When our firstborn was a baby (13 years ago now), I thought I did everything I could to encourage veggie-loving in his diet.  When he started baby food, I fed him vegetables first, not fruit.  When he disliked a veggie, I would sneak it between bites of fruit or sometimes even mix the two.  He ate many vegetables in mushy baby food form, but when it was time for finger foods, he balked. Alas, veggie-loving just does not come naturally to him, nor does it for many children.

With the birth of our second child, I determined to work even harder to create a love (okay, at least a tolerance)  for veggies.  And then the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, decided to bless us with a strong-willed, picky eater. 🙂  However, I learned much from dealing with his picky eating phase, a phase that felt like an eternity!  By the time our twins came along, I had a much better idea of how to get those all-important vegetables in.

So, today on Mama Mondays, I offer you this list of 9 ways to sneak in those dreaded veggies!

9 ways to sneak veggies, helping kids eat vegetables, how to get kids to eat their vegetables, sneaking vegetables into kids food, my child won't eat vegetables

  1. Start from the very beginning.

    I’m talking from within the womb!  Researchers claim that babies begin to develop tastes for foods before they are even born.  Taste buds develop around 21 weeks, at which point baby receives a flavoring of what mama eats via the amniotic fluid. So, if you want your child to grow up loving vegetables, start eating more of them yourself. Not only will this make for a healthier pregnancy, but you’ll also be more likely to feed your children foods that you already frequently consume when they get to the finger food stage. Too late for this tip?  It’s never too late to start leading by example in the area of vegetable consumption!

  2. Offer veggies first!

    We’re all familiar with the fact that most children will eat the things they like most first and save the least favorite for last.  Even adults do it. 🙂 If your children fill up on foods they like, getting them to eat those remaining vegetables will be even more difficult.  On the other hand, if you offer the veggies first when they’re still hungry, they’ll be more likely to at least try a few bites.

  3. Slice, dice, or even puree!

    This might be obvious to some of you, but it wasn’t to me thirteen years ago.  The smaller the veggies are, the less offensive they are to sensitive palates.  My all-time favorite, couldn’t-live-without-it kitchen tool is my food chopper.  If I place a nice helping of normal sized broccoli in front of my youngest son, he’ll immediately turn up his nose.  However, if I chop that broccoli to bits, he’s more willing to eat it – especially if it is combined with another food or a sauce.  I know some moms who add pureed butternut squash and other veggies to the famous toddler favorite, Mac’n’cheese. The possibilities are endless when you dice and then ….disguise.

  4. Disguise those veggies.

    I looooove casseroles/slow-cooker meals for many reasons: only one dirty pan, time to do other chores while food is baking, etc.  But my biggest reason for serving up lots and lots of casseroles is because it allows me to sneak in a lot of vegetables that my children wouldn’t eat alone.  I add petite diced tomatoes, finely diced onions and mushrooms, and sometimes even bell peppers to spaghetti sauce and chili.  I add California blend (diced, of course) to our chicken divan.  If we have scalloped potatoes, you bet I’ll be hiding some veggies in there. Shepherd’s pie, homemade potpie, even fried rice – all of these dishes are veggie-friendly!  You can even hide veggies within other veggies.  How, you ask? If I gave my 7-year-old purple cabbage to eat, I’m sure he would run the other way.  But he eats it in a salad, along with pieces of fresh radish and spinach.  Twice baked potatoes, anyone?  Stuffed bell peppers?

  5. Substitute veggies for other starches.

    In addition to hiding veggies, I’ve recently learned how to substitute vegetables for pasta and potatoes.  The spaghetti I mentioned above?  Instead of pasta, use strings of baked spaghetti squash.  The shepherd’s pie?  Instead of potatoes, used mashed cauliflower.  For chili broth, I use low-sodium V8 juice (and then I add even more veggies).

  6. Add cheese, sauce, or dip.

    Although this method can easily turn healthy veggies into big calorie veggies, when used in moderation, it’s an effective technique.  We have a son who loooves condiments of all kinds, so I’ve learned to offer a small amount with his fresh vegetables. Low-fat cheese works well with cooked vegetables.

  7. Offer a variety.

    As I mentioned in How to Make Food Fun, research supports that offering a variety can lead children to eat more of a single food group than they realize, especially if the variety is colorful.  For example, if you offer bell peppers, offer multiple colors of bell peppers.  If you’re offering broccoli, why not offer California blend instead. A variety of vegetables gives children choices, as well, and we all know they love the power of choice! 🙂9 Ways to Sneak in Veggies, how to get kids to eat their vegetables, want my child to eat veggies, sneaking vegetables into kids' food, my picky eater won't eat vegetables

  8. Try, try, and try again…and then some more.

    As a rookie mom, I had no idea how many times young children need to try a food before deciding whether they like it or not.  But when our picky eater came along, I learned that children may need to try a food 10-15 times before making up their minds about it.  It makes sense really! One day Johnny loves peas, and the next day he’ll have nothing to do with them.  Often, we give up too soon on new foods and assume that they just don’t like them.  Even if your child has repeatedly demonstrated dislike for a particular vegetable, tastes can change over time.  It never hurts to pull a rejected veggie out after a few months and try it again!

  9. Find the Why behind the “No.”

    Sometimes there is a reason behind a child’s refusal of a food other than a dislike for the taste.  I saw this clearly when our twins began to eat finger foods.  Our daughter began to refuse banana, a fruit she previously loved mashed up.  At first, I was baffled. One day I saw her try to pick up a piece of banana and she made the most disgusted face ever.  It wasn’t the taste of the banana, but the sticky texture she was objecting to. I happily fed them to her from a spoon until she learned to use a spoon herself.  Consider physical reasons for refusal as well, whether it be a texture issue (I still cannot eat beans unless they are pureed) or a possible food allergy.

There you have it: Nine ways to sneak in more veggies.  One last helpful hint – you can even use these tips on husbands – true story! 🙂

If you have a clever way to sneak in veggies, pretty please share with us in the comments!

Jen 🙂

If you found this article helpful, you might also enjoy:

6 Principles for Picky Eaters

How to Make Food Fun

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5 Ways to Stretch a Budget: Part 2 (the practical bit)

Yesterday I shared with you the first half of 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget.  If you haven’t read the first half, I encourage you to do so as it contains the foundation of our frugal living.  In these tough economic times, it’s hard to find ways to make a small budget work, especially if you have a large family and are living on a single income. These tips should help.

And now, for part 2:

3. Pray for Your Needs and 4. Buy Gently Used

(these two overlap quite a bit)

Appliances – Finding good deals on appliances is admittedly harder than saving money on other items, but it can be done!  Our first action is to pray about it.  Remember, the Lord promises to provide for our needs.  Our favorite money-saving techniques when buying gently used appliances are to look at garage sales, ask friends and family to be on the lookout for us, check craigslist, buy scratch and dent, and so forth.

Vehicles – We have never had a car payment, ever. When we realize that it’s time for a new (to us) vehicle, we start praying! Sensing a theme yet? 🙂 We know we cannot afford a car payment while attempting to pay down student loans, so we ask God to send us a vehicle that will meet our needs as well as our budget.  Praise the Lord, He has always provided the vehicles we needed, sometimes even at no cost to us, including the necessary switch to a minivan before the birth of our twins!  Then, we are often able to pass on the blessing by giving our old vehicle to someone else in need.

For necessary car repairs, we also pray.  My husband does whatever he can himself, but if it’s a major repair, we usually have to ask for help.  We’ve been blessed with some mechanics in the family, but when they are busy we have also turned to church family or friends.  If you know someone mechanically minded, you could even trade services – offer to babysit, make a meal, or some other skill you or your husband have!

Furniture – In our home, you will not find new furniture. It’s a luxury we cannot afford, although I’ll admit I’ve been tempted at times!  The majority of our furniture has come from garage sales, hand-me-downs, Goodwill, Craigslist, and so forth. We often pray for furniture needs as well, especially when we moved last year and our twins needed to graduate to full-sized beds and dressers of their own.

God provided a set of bunkbeds, a loft bed, a few dressers, a desk, and more – most of which came from one garage sale.  We had looked at loft beds online for our daughter’s room since it was going to be quite small, but they were very pricey. We prayed about it and just didn’t feel peaceful about spending that much money on a want.  That very weekend, God provided via the garage sale where we found a white loft bed with matching shelves and dresser – all for $50!  They wanted to get rid of it so badly, they even threw in an extra desk. Praise the Lord! If we had not been willing to wait, we would have unnecessarily spent well over $400.

Baby Items – We have pretty much outgrown the baby years here, but when we found out we were pregnant with twins over four years ago, I learned a lot about trusting God to provide for needs in this area.  He provided a second crib, clothing, a second exersaucer (which wasn’t even a need, really), and so forth from generous friends and even neighbors. We even found car seats we really liked on clearance in one of those moments when you know God is just blessing you for the fun of it! 🙂

I also shopped a lot of garage sales, but my favorite place to shop was the nearest second-hand baby store, called Once Upon a Child.  Not only are the gently used items half the price of a new item, but also outgrown baby clothing and items can be traded in for cash or store credit.  If you don’t have one in your area, check for another baby thrift store. E-bay was another source of gently used items that I utilized.  Last but not least, I often swapped items with ladies at church. For more ideas on how to save in the baby area, read 9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes.

Vacations – We do splurge a little in this area (at least what we call splurging). God has always provided a way for us to vacation when needed.

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, big family on single income, make a tight budget work, how to save money, pastor's salary, vacation

Now that my husband ministers full-time, vacations are becoming much more of an actual need than a want, and as the saver in the family, I’m learning to see them that way. 🙂  However, the funding isn’t always available, even for a “cheap” vacation like camping. In this case, we have vacationed at relatives’ homes, we have swapped houses, and we have even found some ministries for pastor’s families who help provide lodging.  If you are a family in full-time ministry in desperate need of rejuvenation, please visit this site: http://www.lawrencewilson.com/free-retreats-vacations-pastors/ .

Utilities – You can only stretch this budget so far since heat and electricity are necessities (in this country anyway).  However, setting the thermostat at 66 or 67 in the winter months and 75 or 76  in the summer months saves quite a bit of money.  If you can’t go that far, even a couple of degrees can make a difference.

Consider rewarding your children for turning off unnecessary lights or appliances in the home to motivate them to keep utility costs to a minimum.  Additionally, we utilize the budget-billing program to keep our monthly costs even, which is easier to budget for. Consider investing in energy efficient appliances, but only if you have the finances to.  Again, if your budget is lacking, pray about it.

5. Do It Yourself Whenever Possible

Haircuts, Home  improvements, Home decorating, Lanscaping, Gardening, Sewing, Homemade cleaning products – whatever you can do on your own rather than paying someone else to do is like money in the bank!  A $25 pair of clippers lasts a long time – just sayin’. (See this tutorial to learn how to cut boy hair at home and my pinterest board for lots of other DIY tutorials.) Learn how to re-purpose everyday items such as baby wipes.  And with the invention of Pinterest and the DIY blogs readily available, we really have little excuse to avoid learning some new skills, right? 🙂

If you have already tried to d-i-y and it just isn’t working, why not trade services to save money on the things you need help with?  A few years ago, I promised my husband I would never again ask him to lay laminate wood flooring after we sold our previous home.  He was miserable doing it and encountered much difficulty, even with the help of my brother-in-law!  But we can barter with friends next time we need new flooring.

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So that’s how we live frugally to achieve our financial goals.  After 14 years of marriage, my husband has learned to appreciate my frugal nature, and I have learned to allow him to balance it out.  Sometimes it’s nice to have the freedom to buy something new, or something that is a want rather than a need.  I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in the mate He chose for me!

I’m sure I missed something, but I hope these ideas have helped you find areas in which you can stretch your budget, tooEven if you currently have a budget with a little room to spare, why not consider cutting back in just one area so that you can support global missions or feed a hungry child?  When looking around our home, I can see there are things that we could live without even today, so I’m challenging myself here, too.  Remember that as with any changes in life, learning to live more frugally is a work in progress.  Even small steps can lead to success!

Have a great budget-stretching tip?  Share with us in the comments!

Jen 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, you might suggest these practical suggestions for making things last:

http://harvestlanecottage.blogspot.com/2013/06/forty-ways-to-use-it-up-wear-it-out.html

or this post with additional ideas for savings in order to live on one income:

http://yourmodernfamily.com/how-to-become-a-stay-at-home-mom-on-one-income/

or these postw detailing how to save on kids’ clothes:

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 1)

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 2)

 

Also linking up at:

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5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget: How a Family of 6 Lives on a Single Income

  Today on Mama Monday, I want to touch on the matter of saving money!  I know in these tough times, many families are looking for ways to stretch the budget.  I also know that my husband and I learned several difficult lessons about finances early on in our marriage. So, as a family of six living on a single income, I’d love to share with you how we make our tight budget work! 🙂

Growing up an MK (missionary kid) taught me many life lessons.  I’ve seen what it is to truly be in need.  I know in many areas of the world, children often go hungry and families sleep on the bare dirt floors of a thatched jungle hut.  I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference between needs (for survival) and wants (for pleasure).  I’ve also seen our Father God provide for our family in some amazing ways – money for shoes sent from another state, postmarked before we even prayed for it!

So, when my husband and I first joined our lives together, it’s not surprising that some of our first arguments were over money – how to spend it.  🙂  I was very reluctant to spend our finances on anything I did not deem a need and my husband was more laid-back in his approach to finances.

However, a few short months later, we found ourselves expecting our first child and my husband without a job.  During that time of zero income, I forgot those missionary kid lessons.  I forgot that when we have needs, we turn to our Heavenly Father for help.

Matthew 6

 25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

………………………

As a result of trusting in our own abilities rather than in the Lord, we quickly found ourselves in debilitating debt.  It took 5 long years to dig out of the money pit we created.  Since then, we have grown tremendously in our financial stewardship, mostly out of pure necessity.

I praise the Lord for the work He has done in overhauling our money mindset!  Today, being a stay-at-home mom of four, I contribute very little to our family finances, so making the most of what we have is not optional – it’s mandatory!

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, tight budget, single income, large family, ways to make a small budget work

I often field questions from others on how we make a single income work for our larger than average family (although I know many much larger than ours).  So, I asked my husband to help me make a list of the areas in which we save money so that we can achieve our financial goals, the primary goal being that I am free to stay home with our children, and a secondary goal being to eventually live debt-free (that’s the work-in-progress part).  🙂

I hope you find these budget-stretching tips helpful!

***Disclaimer – this is not a post about whether or not women should stay home or go to work. That is a decision for each family to make with God’s guidance, and I recognize that some families just don’t have that option. Additionally, it is not a post to brag about our money-saving budget – it truly is by God’s grace alone that we are no longer living paycheck to paycheck and we still have much growing left to do.  This is a post on ways to stretch the budget if you are looking for help – how we make a single income (a pastor’s salary) work for our family of six. 🙂

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget.  Budgeting for a family of six on one income, tight budget, making a small budget work for a large family, single income, pastor's salary

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget. Budgeting for a family of six on one income.

1.       Follow God’s Plan for Finances

Start with a Budget!  It seems obvious, but many people don’t have a detailed budget, or they have one that they don’t follow. (Of course, we always stick to ours….Ha!)  If you don’t have one, make one.  If you don’t know how, ask someone for help. If you aren’t sure where to start, visit Crown Financial Ministries  for some helpful tools.

Pay off Debt – OR better yet, try not to take on any debt in the first place; instead trust God to provide for your needs.  Oh, how I wish I had understood how interest works earlier on in life!  If you are already overwhelmed by debt, check into Credit Counselors’ Corporation or a similar non-profit group as soon as possible.  The longer you wait, the worse it will get.  Trust me – we’ve walked that path before! 🙂

Offerings –  For us, giving a regular offering is non-negotiable.  However, it was not always so!  When first married, we were both still in college, so our income was very, very small, at times non-existent.  So, we didn’t give consistently and usually what we did give was the leftovers at the end of the week.  In time, however, we both became convicted that giving needed to be a priority.

We started very small: only five dollars a week.  But we gave faithfully, and little by little God helped us to increase it.  And while we wondered where our food was going to come from, He continued to provide! I want to encourage you that even if you have so very little at the moment, you can still be obedient to the Lord in this area.  Even if the amount seems too small to matter, remember that it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart.  I’ve heard that “you can never out-give God.”  Test Him!

Luke 21:1-3 “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them…”

Savings – For our family, savings is also as non-negotiable as we can possibly make it.  Of course, sometimes things come up –something major breaks on the minivan, someone becomes ill, etc.  For us, savings is definitely still a work in progress, but the goal is to have savings built up for each one of those occurrences so that we don’t have to take money from our budget to meet those additional expenses.

2.       Distinguish Needs vs. Wants

Cable TV/Internet – We  realized early in our marriage that for us, the expense was a want, not a need, and we simply didn’t have room for it in our budget.  So, for many years we used an antenna when we wanted visual entertainment, or a VCR.  Today, we splurge on Netflix – $7.99 plus tax per month. 🙂  Additionally, Internet service is not really a need (unless you work from home), but we choose to splurge on it now that we have room in our budget.  If you are struggling to meet your monthly budget, these are two expenses that can probably go.

Cell Phones – I recently read that average cell phone bills for single users are upwards of $71, and for a family of four, as much as $200!  That’s a lot of money to pay out every month for a “want”!  What has worked to keep our costs low is using Tracfone, Net10, and other prepaid companies. (Update: currently we use a company called Consumer Cellular – 3 lines on a shared plan for $67.00/ month!)

We receive all of the advantages of cell phone usage (even data plans) without being tied to a contract, and since our company pays to use larger companies’ towers (like Verizon and AT&T), we rarely lose signal! If a cell phone is a true need for you because of work, etc., consider changing to a less expensive company or plan. If you can’t change your cell phone to a lower-cost plan at this time, consider getting rid of your home phone altogether and save in that area, or consider downsizing to one shared cell phone.

Clothing – This area is probably the one in which we stretch our budget the most.  Growing up an MK, I wore whatever clothes were available, plain and simple.  Brand name loyalty was not an option for our family back  then, and it’s not an option for my family now!  Don’t get me wrong – I love nice clothing, but buying new wardrobes for our children every year is not feasible for our budget.

Clothing three children, one teen, and two adults can be a challenge, but we’ve found a variety of ways to save (check out 9 Ways to Save on Kids Clothes). Clothing for adults is more challenging, but garage sales and thrift stores can still be useful. When we have a clothing need, I often take it to the Lord in prayer before I start shopping around. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been blessed with bags of clothing from friends, church family, neighbors, and even a well-timed garage sale!

 Philippians 4:6-7

 Be anxious for nothing, but in everythingby prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Food – Again, we don’t have the luxury of caring about brands.  Although, I readily admit that I am  toilet paper snob . The cheap brands just don’t cut it. 🙂    To save money on food and toiletries, I buy store brands and shop at stores like Aldi’s, as well as local  farmers markets (when in season).  In the last few years, I have also learned a great deal about couponing!  I know, I know – not everyone loves using coupons, but it works for us. (Yes, I have a small stock-pile. No, I’m not one of those extreme couponers with a basement full of paper towel). 🙂

Another way to keep grocery bills low is to create a menu and shop for only the items you need for that menu.  This really works for our family. I also cook from scratch (or nearly from scratch) almost every night of the week, rather than buying pre-made meals or eating out, although we do splurge by eating out on occasion (dollar menu, anyone?).

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Bottom line: always keep in mind the question of whether the item you want to purchase is truly a need or if it’s just a want.  Once you have honestly assessed the situation, then you can decide whether or not to fund the purchase even if it is a want.  I also cannot emphasize enough how prayer impacts the way in which we use our limited finances.  Often, when we have a need, if I cannot find the item at a price we can afford, I wait…

And He provides.

Please join me  for the second half of 5 Ways to Stretch a Budget with more practical ways to save!

Jen 🙂

Have a tip to share?  Comment with your best money-saving advice!

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