Category Archives: This is Our Life

The Everglades, Part Two

Other than my time in the Word, I feel closest to God when I am in nature. I absolutely cannot look at the incredible beauty that surrounds me and at the same time question God’s great love. He created everything in nature for us to enjoy and for Him to receive glory. I love what it says in Genesis 2:

“Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…” (verse 9, emphasis mine).

He made nature for us to enjoy. When I am outside, and I see the tiny details He paid attention to…the way a spider weaves its web, the order of a leaf’s veins, the tiniest critters most people miss, I am overwhelmed. I stand in awe. Often, I walk and I giggle as I see God’s creation before me. He loves us that much!

We love to walk. We love to open our eyes and LOOK. When we were in the Everglades, I tried to get out and walk as much as I could. The mosquitos were really bad, so it was hard to do many of the trails, but I still got out every day. I filled my soul. I watched the birds and the bugs and I let my heart feel God’s great love.

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The Everglades, Part One

Back in December, when I first started struggling, I knew that the cold and lack of sunlight were a huge problem for me. After living so many years near the equator, we’re used to year ’round sun and year ’round warm temps. Being stuck inside the last few months has been very difficult for me, and even though I’ve been taking my vitamin D and have been using a sunlamp, I knew I needed more. Plus, I know that for our family, getting away is our means of pressing the reset button. We needed it.

We have some family in Tampa and some friends in Orlando and with the need for sun and fresh air, we headed south. After a few days in Tampa we headed down to Everglades National Park. This is the best time of the year to go and so I knew it was now or never. We voted for now.

We spent four days in the part completely unplugged. We camped in our tent, we had no electricity, and we had no cell service or internet connection. It was bliss. If it weren’t for the killer mosquitos (which apparently were in their “bearable” season), it would have been perfection.

I LOVE camping. It’s not that I really love roughing it or being without electricity. It’s not that eight people in a tent is always easy or fun. But what I love about camping is that it strips all the extra stuff away. I don’t worry about doing laundry. I don’t worry about cleaning up. I don’t worry about checking email. I don’t put on makeup and I often don’t even bother changing clothes. When all of those little tasks are taken away, you are just left with time. Time to read, time to play, time to sleep, and time to talk. We did all of those things.

I read five books. We played a lot of football. We went to ranger talks. We stared at the stars. We ate s’mores and chatted with new friends. We earned five new junior ranger badges. We went on a backwater tour and we watched lots of birds. It was a beautiful time together and I kept saying one morning, “I finally feel like I can breathe.”

Here is the first installment of our photos…life around the campsite. Tomorrow I’ll share photos of my walks and birdwatching times and then on Wednesday I’ll share photos of the most popular trail in the park. Lots of gators!

It feels good to play with my camera again!

Kite flying

Kite flying

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First family football game. The girls and dad huddle up.

First family football game. The girls and dad huddle up.

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Snoozing and snuggles in the tent.

Snoozing and snuggles in the tent.

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Zachary thinks washing dishes is overrated. Why not use the tub as a pool instead?

Zachary thinks washing dishes is overrated. Why not use the tub as a pool instead?

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Love these goofy kids!

Love these goofy kids!

Mom can be goofy too.

Mom can be goofy too.

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Hot french toast

Hot french toast

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Catching butterflies

Catching butterflies

There were butterflies EVERYWHERE. It was so fun to run trough fields and be surrounded.

There were butterflies EVERYWHERE. It was so fun to run trough fields and be surrounded.

Working on her Junior Ranger badge.

Working on her Junior Ranger badge.

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A Merry Little Christmas

Although I wasn’t feeling well, it was very important to me that I be present for Christmas. I spent a lot of time praying that I would be well enough to be with the kids and have fun. I didn’t want this to be “the year mom ruined Christmas.” Even in my struggles, I am very careful with my words and attitudes toward the kids. They are precious to me and every time I speak to them, even in discipline or training, I want them to know deeply that they are loved and valued. So much is communicated through tone of voice! When mothers are fighting their own struggles, it’s easy to let the kids take the brunt of it. But their little hearts are just too precious for that. I promised myself that if I couldn’t be kind and gentle in my words, I excused myself and went to my room.

Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers and although physically I wasn’t doing well, I was able to be mentally present enough to enjoy our Christmas traditions such as decorating cookies, making our spaghetti Christmas Eve dinner, making Thai Mango Sticky Rice for Christmas breakfast, and getting through a long day of opening and enjoying gifts. We had a wonderful turkey dinner in there too. I am thankful that I don’t think the kids will have any memories of me being sick this year. Instead, they will remember happy times as a family and with grandparents and what is probably the biggest Christmas they have ever (or will ever) have.

And just a note on the gifts. There were a lot this year. Part of it is simply having six kids. Part of it is that for the first time in many years, Jason and I exchanged gifts. We have spent the last three years in transition and therefore say  no to the kids (and ourselves) all the time. We don’t want to buy stuff that we can’t take with us. And while that is still true, we expect to be in one place for a bit longer this time and so this was the year we said yes. Our kids are the most grateful and loving kids and they have never complained when we didn’t have money to buy much or when we don’t purchase things through the year. Christmas and their birthdays are the only time we buy them things. It was fun to indulge them a bit this year. When they have grateful hearts, it is so fun to surprise them with abundance.  I wonder if this is how God feels too.

And now for the pictures.

CHRISTMAS EVE

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CHRISTMAS DAY

Launching the water bottle rocket

Launching the water bottle rocket

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Real live baby dolls

Real live baby dolls

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They are trying to wait patiently.

They are trying to wait patiently.

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These two were up earlier than everyone else.

These two were up earlier than everyone else.

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Someone isn't happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Someone isn’t happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Sticky Rice!

Sticky Rice!

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New airplanes

New airplanes

A taste of the chaos

A taste of the chaos

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

Through Their Eyes

Last week, as I watched the weather forecast predict plummeting temperatures in the near future, I decided to take the kids out for what might be one of the last nice days of fall. I had just done a senior shoot the day before and the senior’s mom had recommended visiting Duke Gardens as a potential photo location in the future. I decided I should check it out before I go into hibernation.

One of my old cameras is still in fairly decent shape and I love to let the kids use it. We affectionately call it the “kid camera.” It’s a DSLR, and I love that the individual kids can use it on a setting they are comfortable with. Some use it an auto, some on a semi-auto mode and Alaina, my oldest, loves to practice shooting in manual. It’s fun for me to see them get excited about something I love so much. Even more so, however, I love to see the world through their eyes. Photography has done amazing things in my life. Primarily, it has taught me to be thankful. When you look at the world in front of you and stop long enough to see the beauty, gratitude grows. And gratitude is something I want to pass on to my kids. The world is filled with so much goodness, so much beauty, so many gifts from the Lord. Unfortunately, most people are too busy to even notice. Seeing, stopping, clicking: It makes the heart swell.

As I downloaded their images, I couldn’t help but smile at how they see the world. It was even more fun to try to guess who took each photo (they took turns for the afternoon). When I see the things that excite them enough to capture it on the camera, it gives me insight into who they are and what they find beautiful. And I hope when they look through my photos of their childhood, they will learn about what I find beautiful.

All images taken by Alaina (11), Caleb (10), Levi (8) and Katie (6) and edited by me.

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I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It

I hear it often: “I don’t know how you do it.”

I hear it almost as often as “Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”

In this 28 minute audio post, I share my thoughts on the comment and what I share with those who make it.

Please excuse my still-raspy voice and the occasional sniffle. I think my body is revolting against the temperatures that drop below 50˚. Living near the equator for years will do that to you.

 

As always, you can listen to it here or download below.


To Be Your Mama

To Be Your Mama

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

It’s a phrase I use often. It’s true. It’s intentional.

Of the things I want most for my children, nearing the top of the list is a feeling — a knowledge — that they are delighted in. That they loved, that they are cherished.

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“Preparing the Soil” wasn’t a name pulled out of nowhere. When I read the parable of the sower with fresh eyes and realized that the seed thrown (the Word) was the same in each of the four stories, I sat staring…realizing even more the incredible power in parenting.

We can throw the Word at our children. We can bring them to church, put them in Christian schools or teach Christian curriculum at home, we can buy them Christian books, send them to Christian camps, and pray for Christian friends.

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But if their hearts (the soil) has not been tended to and is not ready to receive the truth of the gospel’s great love and freedom, our attempts at growing our children up in the Lord will be in vain.

A farmer tends his soil. He waters it. He plows it. He prepares it. Before the first seed is planted, the ground is made ready to receive.

In the same way, we must tend to our children’s hearts.

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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I say it with words. I say it with actions. I say it with the things I say yes to and the things I say no to. I say it with the food I make, the trips we take, the choices we make. I say it with the tone of my voice and the feel of my touch.

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“You are loved. You are delighted in. You are a blessing in my life. You are not a distraction or a hindrance to my life. You are part of the abundant life God has given me and I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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Our Week in Photos (Sept 27 – Oct 4)

Life around here is busy. We’re in a state of transition (and will be for a long time) and there are a lot of issues to sort out and decisions to make. I’ll admit, it’s tough. The stress builds up. The emotions run high. I’ll even have an audio post on it tomorrow. But in the midst of the stress and decisions, we are aiming for a sense of routine. Of normal. Of us.

“US” means school, and baking, and playing, and reading, and resting. I want to remember these little moments because I know that one day when I look back on this time in our life, the little moments will be what matters.

She follows directions well

She follows directions well

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Some extra sight word practice for the boys...terms they find in math and get stuck on.

Some extra sight word practice for the boys…terms they find in math and get stuck on.

Almond Joy pancakes. One of my faves!

Almond Joy pancakes. One of my faves!

A family favorite...pizza rolls.

A family favorite…pizza rolls.

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Big brother and little brother, playing with cars.

Big brother and little brother, playing with cars.

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Happy homeschooler (at least for this week...usually she doesn't like doing school.)

Happy homeschooler (at least for this week…usually she doesn’t like doing school.)

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She trying a new method of curling.

She tried a new method of curling.

Off to their monthly Home Depot Saturday!

Off to their monthly Home Depot Saturday!

Alaina's beautiful cake

The beautiful cake Alaina made

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My newest little baker

My newest little baker

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Apple cider cupcakes...mmmm!

Apple cider cupcakes…mmmm!

Bethany loves doing what she calls 'gool.

Bethany loves doing what she calls ‘gool.

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A-Camping We Will Go (part 2)

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After leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park to meet up with friends for five days of camping. We were really looking forward to spending time with them! We were also really looking forward to seeing up camp and then just STAYING for five days. Setting up and tearing down takes a lot of work and we were anxious to just be for a while.

I find it very helpful when others share some of the nitty-gritty details of trips and so I thought I would share a little about the logistical arrangements of camping with two large families.

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Two families

Two Campsites

Two pop-up campers

One tent

Eleven kids (ages 11, 10, 8, 8, 6, 6, 5, 3, 3, 1, 1)

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Our friends made the reservations at the campground, and they picked AMAZING spots. We had two sites on a small loop off the main loop of the campground. This meant that there were no cars coming through, except for the few cars of the campsites next to us. This allowed the kids to spend lots of time running around and scootering around the loop.  There were no sites to the back of us which meant 1) less noise, 2) more privacy 3) prettier woodsy view, 4) deer that walked through regularly. The bathhouse was just a 1-2 minute walk, which made cleaning off dirty kids super easy.

Each family had their own pop-up camper. We wanted to be able to have our doors facing each other (and thus create a sense of one big shared site) and so our friends maneuvered their camper to turn backward so that our doors opened up to the same side.

Our family also brought and set up a tent. This large tent served three purposes. First, it was our changing room. We didn’t want clothes all over the camper and with the ages of our kids, we can’t just change openly anymore. Our tent has three subdividivisions with walls which made changing easy. The second purpose of the tent was to house our camping toilet. Our friends have a toilet in their camper, but we don’t. During the day, most of us would use the bathhouse, but during the nighttime (or anytime when the little girls needed to go), we used the camping toilet in the tent. And no, they don’t smell. Those little contraptions are very well-designed. The third use of the tent was for Zachary and his pack ‘n ‘play. He is not at the age when he can be in a bed with others…he just thinks it is party time. He (and we!) sleep much better if he is isolated. He napped and slept at night in one of the sections of the tent.

As for meals, we decided to loosely coordinate what we were having, but each family brought and prepared their own food. With this many people, it would just be too much to prep and prepare for everyone at once. We did our best to have dinners ready at the same time and we all sat together along two picnic tables that we put together. Breakfasts were simple, but yummy: French toasts, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches/burritos, cereal, oatmeal, and fruit. Lunches were either snacky foods like cheese and crackers or were simple like pasta or leftovers. Many of the dinners were prepped ahead of time and so we feasted on amazing things like enchilada soup, grilled chicken, hamburgers, grilled pizza, and of course, the obligatory hot dog night.

Time

One of the great things about camping for a stretch longer than a weekend (we had five nights) is that you can slow your schedule down. Most days, we did only one big activity (hiking, swimming, etc). Mornings were slow. We enjoyed long cups of coffee, late breakfasts, our individual Bible times, and warming ourselves by the fire (three nights were in the 50s!) The two babies still take one long nap a day and so often, the dads would take the other kids to one of the ranger activities around the park. While the babies napped, the mamas read, chatted, showered, and rested ourselves.

In the afternoons, we spent our time exploring the gorgeous park. Then we would come back to the site, make dinner, eat, clean up, have a fire and s’mores, and head to bed. I’ve got lots of photos from our various hikes and swims, but for today, just a few photos of life around the campsite. Enjoy!

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Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

So is oatmeal!

So is oatmeal!

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

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Good help is easy to find!

Good help is easy to find!

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The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, "It's a beautiful day to pick flowers!"

The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, “It’s a beautiful day to pick flowers!”

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A-Camping We Will Go! (part one)

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Every morning as I woke up this past week  — chilled air and slightly damp clothes sticking to me — these words spilled out of my mouth:

 I LOVE camping.

I know it isn’t everyone’s sentiment…but I really, really love it.

Sure, it’s messy. It’s muddy. It’s wet and cold and it sometimes it means a baby who wants to play rather than go to sleep.

But I LOVE camping.

Along with all that mess and mud is something amazing:

It’s beautiful.

It’s being outside in God’s creation.

It’s roasting marshmallows with sticky-fingered kids and looking for the perfect s’more recipe.

It’s long walks with friends in the cool of the morning.

It’s putting your watch, work, and makeup away.

It’s looking at the gorgeous stars as you share your hearts with friends.

It’s listening to three year old girls sing, “It’s a beautiful day to pick flowers!”

It’s watching a mama deer and her babes drink from the river.

It’s hot coffee, both to drink and to keep your hands warm.

It’s time for extra cuddles, from big kids and small kids alike.

It’s chicken, pizza, french toast, and even cookies cooked on the grill.

It’s lazy mornings with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

It’s bliss.

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The plan was to spend two nights together as a family in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then meeting up friends for five days at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Due to some problems with the lights on our camper, we had to delay our start by a day. But after a long and slow trip, complete with car trouble, we finally arrived at the park and had one night alone as a family. After a very busy few months it was so wonderful to just be together. After setting up camp, we ate tacos and then the kids played in the woods. Marshmallows and bed followed. The next morning was spent on a nice walk, getting our car fixed, and cleaning up camp. Our time was short, but it was oh-so-sweet.

We needed to stop to get something for the car, so we decided on a WalMart parking lot breakfast picnic!

We needed to stop to get something for the car, so we decided on a WalMart parking lot breakfast picnic!

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It takes sites like this to say, "Woah...we have a big family!"

It takes sites like this to say, “Woah…we have a big family!”

I've heard of a beach bum before, but this is my first experience with a camping bum!

I’ve heard of a beach bum before, but this is my first experience with a camping bum. Oh well, “dirt don’t hurt.”

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Nothing beat French Toast while camping!

Nothing beats French Toast while camping!

The site next to us was empty and had just had its tent pad res-anded. Our kids were in sandbox heaven!

The site next to us was empty and had just had its tent pad re-sanded. Our kids were in sandbox heaven!

 

Stay tuned for Part Two! 

 

How’s It Going?

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It’s the question we get asked the most. People want to know how our transition has been and how we are enjoying life back in the United States.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. I’m not sure if I should be honest (“It’s been really busy and really crazy but we somehow are hanging in there and sneaking in a bit of fun”) or just be polite and positive (“We’re doing great!)  Either way I spin it, it would only be a small portion of truth. To explain what the last few months have been like would take hours. And obviously, most people who ask us how we are doing don’t have hours to listen to the laundry list of happenings and emotions.

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In a few words, though, here is what we have been up to:

Transitioning: Moving back to the States takes time. There are many boring (but necessary) tasks like getting new driver’s licenses, plates for our car, choosing cell phones, getting our kitchen stocked, etc. Moving life for a family of 8 to a new country means many hours spent doing things we would rather not be doing.

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Decision Making: We’ve had a mot of decisions to make. We had to buy a car. We had to decide how to spend the summer. We have had to try to plan out our fall. There have been many long (and often interrupted) talks as we try to be wise with our time, talents, and money.

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Interviewing: The big “next step” in our life is still in process. It has been a lengthy ordeal (starting generally in November and specifically in January). We’re still not done. This has meant many hours filling our paperwork, tracking down specific documents, interviewing via Skype, and more. It is all worth it, but again, it takes time.

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Reconnecting: We have enjoyed getting to reconnect with family and friends, both in person and on the phone. We have loved being back with our church and feel so blessed to be a part of an amazing fellowship of believers. Jason and the boys enjoyed a weekend father/son camping trip with a number of other families and I enjoyed an amazing five days in Memphis reconnecting with friends from college and from our time in Indonesia. What a soul-filling time it was (and admittedly, a nice break after being a single mom for five weeks).

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Studying: My class in educational therapy has stared and I am enjoying being a student again (minus having to look up things like the current APA format for papers!) I am enjoying what I am learning and I look forward to a much deeper look into things during the residency portion of my class at the end of the month.

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Unpacking: We’re still sorting through the things we brought back from Indonesia as well as working through paperwork for our small shipment that will come in early fall. It’s especially difficult since we are staying with family for the summer and don’t want to truly unpack until we move into our house in September. But being able to find things is highly desirable and this has meant a lot of shuffling things around.

Missing: With being Stateside for almost two months, I am definitely missing Indonesia. It comes in waves and I find it hard to really make sense of all the mixed emotions. I suppose it is only normal to grieve for a place we called home for the last six years while also looking forward to what God has for us in the future. And we’re all missing Rendang.

Photographing: More and more I am realizing how alive I feel when I spend time with my camera. Whether it is taking pictures on my morning walk or watching friends snuggle as a family in front of me, capturing the beauty I see with my camera is so filling. I love capturing small moments in time for people to enjoy for years to come. I am especially looking forward to a wedding I am shooting this weekend and as long as baby behaves himself and doesn’t arrive while I am at the wedding, I will get to photograph the birth of a beautiful friend’s little man.

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Buying: Lots of stuff. It’s amazing when you realize how many little (and big) things you need to just “do life.” Whether its a major purchase (like a car) or a smaller purchase (like running shoes for the whole family), it all takes time. Lots of it.

Sorting: There have many many details and things to sort out — phones, insurance, doctors, etc. I will be so thankful when all of that stuff is done and we can feel like we have officially settled. And although I had to wait for two hours, I can finally say that as of today I am officially a North Carolina resident.

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Praying: Lots of it. Not much more to say than that I am glad that David gave us such an example in the Psalms of honest prayer. I love that I can pour out my heart in all honestness and He knows and loves me still.

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Planning: We’re gearing up for a month-long road trip to visit many friends and family. Planning for eight people to be on the road for a month is no easy feat! We’re working on finalizing our itinerary and then we need to get working and making definite plans with all of you who have said you’d like to see us.

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Writing: Although I haven’t been writing in this space much, I have been doing quite a bit more writing over at THE DAILY DIGI. You can look HERE for a list of my recent posts (scroll to the bottom). Some of my favorite ones are Memories Don’t Have to be Planned, No Manners Meal,  Flour Bombs, and Ice Coffee Pops.

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Baking: Although I haven’t gotten to do a ton of cooking, I have loved being back in an American kitchen where so many yummy things can be made!

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Worrying: I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t also mention the worrying I have been doing. I try to turn it right into praying, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed with all that has to be done and with all the unknowns of the future. This life of faith is filled with many amazing stories of God’s provision and His unswerving love for us, but it is not — in any way — easy. I let it get to me sometimes and I start to fret over many things. I’ve been working on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount so that I have something to fight the fear with. I’m partway through chapter 6 and I love to let the words flow through my thoughts.