Saturday, July 29, 2017

3 Back to School Shopping Tips

It seems like each summer we are out of school for about 3 or maybe even 4 weeks before the 'Back to School' products start popping up. At that point in the summer I'm enjoying the relaxed schedule, sleeping in later and I want to ignore the ads that tell me to get prepared by purchasing mounds of paper, binders, and crayons. Once 4th of July is over the stores really ramp it up and then it's unavoidable.

Here we are with just 2 weeks left of summer and Meet the Teacher is around the corner. The supply lists have been posted and it's really time to start getting ready. As this is my 8th year getting kids back to school, here are a three of my best tips on how not to break the bank on school supplies.

Tip #1: Shop at Home

Now, I'm sure there will be some online shopping happening this year, but that's not what I mean. The supplies the kids need may be already in your own home. We raid our drawers and closets to take inventory of what we already have before we head to the stores. We bring out all our leftover supplies from last year, all the items we've gotten in the meantime and pretty much anything that could be used another year.

Once it's all sorted into piles we test out the markers, sort the crayons back into 24 packs, and check to make sure the glue sticks haven't dried out.

Then we take a look at our school supplies lists and the kids go 'shopping' to find what they can reuse and cross off their lists. I talk to the teachers to make sure that they don't need a 'new' pair of scissors or brand new pencil pouch, but it's amazing what you can find around your own house that still has plenty of life in it. Of course, the stores want us to believe that we need to have a brand new pack of pencils, but I probably won't need to buy more since we already have 50 pencils at home that we've acquired through the year at birthday parties, from fundraisers, and carnivals. Some things that are consumable like crayons and glue sticks we do buy new but we like to have a box set up with those things at home so the kids can do homework easily with the supplies all in one place. 

Tip #2: Invest in quality on bigger purchases

When it came to purchasing a backpack, I knew I wanted our kids to get a JanSport because it had a lifetime guarantee. So even though it was a little more money up front, we purchased one backpack that lasted our kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade. The zipper on one of ours came off one year and we shipped it to them and they fixed it up and sent it back at no charge. Last year we upgraded our daughter to a larger backpack when she went to middle school and we are hoping she gets several years out of that one also. Her old backpack doubles as an overnight bag or to store her stuff when we go on road trips. So if it's something your child will need for many school years (lunch box, calculator) consider spending a little more the first time you buy it so you don't have to buy another one next year.

Most of the things I do come from trying to live economically, but it's also good for our planet to reuse instead of buying new. It also helps our kids because we are teaching them not to listen to the marketers who say we need more stuff when what we have works just fine.

Tip #3: Shop the sales at different stores and different weeks

About the most expensive thing you can do when it comes to back to school shopping is pick up a list from the front door of a store and check it all off while you are there. Now, time is money and if you don't have the time then that's what you have to do. But, if you have a little more time you can save a lot of money by shopping the sales and doing your shopping over several weeks at different stores.

My go to store is Office Depot/Max because of their weekly specials and amazing deals. Each week in the Back to School season they have deals starting at 1 cent. Seriously. 1 cent. The only conditions are that you can purchase a max of 3 of the item and your total purchase has to be over $5. I often will pair the 1 cent deals with the $1 deals, which are also amazing. Here's my purchase from today:
With deals this good I purchase the items even if it's not on my kids' lists because I know I may be able to use them next year or I can donate them. It's only costing me a cent or a buck to pick up an extra pack of erasers or Sharpies but it's saving teachers a bunch when they can only purchase 3 but they need 30. We also use the extra stuff in our Operation Christmas Child boxes. I got those same pencil boxes last year even though my kids didn't need them and we packed them up with supplies and sent them to a needy child across the world.

In this trip I grabbed a pack of their premium paper that is normally $9.99, reduced to $5.25. I will get $5 back in their rewards program effectively reducing my cost for all the above to $5.34 before tax. I'm not usually a fan of 'get rewards back later' so I make sure it's already a good deal before I purchase it. But with a lot of school shopping left to do I'm sure I'll be able to find something to spend the money on next month.

Update Week 2: Here's what I used the $5 towards, it was super easy. I just told them at the register I had rewards to use and it took $5 off. Next trip I'll have $49.95 to spend. I also stacked my purchase with a 30% off coupon I got in my email from them.

Last year I was able to walk in and get these deals just by looking on the advertisement. Some sell out quickly so going on Sunday became a habit for me. This year I joined their email list and was able to get more deals in their email than were advertised to the public. Next week they have paper listed as a 1 cent deal so I will be stocking up (see above!).

The other part of is to shop at different stores and check around for the best prices. Last year I found the best deal on a calculator and 12 tab dividers on Amazon and Crayola crayons for 25 cents at Walmart. So don't just stick to one store if you want the best deals.

With all the money I'm saving, maybe I'll treat myself to a trip to the spa once the kids are back in school!

Update: Week 3 
Purchased all this tonight and didn't pay a penny! The paper deals are available each week and so I'm expecting to get $29.95 back in rewards even though I used rewards from last week's purchase to get all this for free.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Laugh-Out-Loud Pocket Doodles for Boys and Girls

After getting The Big Book of Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids last year and laughing until we cried, I knew the kids would love the newest books from Rob Elliott.

Our oldest kids are in the target age and they love laughing and telling jokes. We gave them the books before we took a road trip and they entertained us and themselves (without electronics!) by telling us jokes. Each page has a joke and part of a doodle to finish and a prompt for the kids to get ideas of what to draw. Unfortunately G tends to get car sick if he reads for too long so he had to put it away. He pulled it out again the next day when we had lunch at a restaurant. It kept his attention while we were waiting for our food to arrive.

I love his little tongue out concentrating.

From 8 year old son:
"I like it because it's funny and the jokes are really creative. I like it because you can draw on it and you can finish the pictures of the jokes. I think it's cool because it teaches kids drawing skills.

The jokes are mostly play on words and are all good clean fun. It begins with a page of five rules for telling jokes:
1. Don't make jokes at other's expense
2. Keep it clean
3. Laughter is great medicine, so find something to laugh at every day
4. Tell your favorite jokes to as many people as you can to brighten up their days, too
5. Body noise and body fluid jokes are the best

I'm not big on potty jokes so that last 'rule' doesn't apply when the kids are with mom....with dad is another story. I haven't read any jokes like that in the book itself though.

From 10 year old daughter:
"The jokes are really funny and even though I'm not a really great draw-er it's helping me to get better."

The girl's book is not drastically different from the boy's book, the jokes are all different and most are not gender specific, but some use girls names instead of boys names. There is also a 'Laugh-Out-Loud Pocket Doodles for Kids" book available from the same author that would work well for kids of either gender.

They love them and I have one more tool in my arsenal to combat the "I'm Boreds" of summer.

I received copies of these books through the Revell Blogger Review Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Merry-Go-Round of Meanness

Today after church I was negotiating a hostage situation....I mean, I was refereeing the kids' most recent argument. G 'fake punched' A and so she kicked him back. Then he hit her with his Bible (his BIBLE, y'all!) and then she mocked him and laid the sarcasm on thick as she told him that was a great idea and to keep using his 'sword' against her.


Isn't it always the way it goes? 'She hit me so I pushed her!' 'He called me a name so I threw his toy!' One person starts it and the other person has to finish it and 'get them back'. The kids feel justified in lashing out at the sibling who wronged them.

I'll hear a conflict brewing in the other room and then a bang followed by crying and, "I'M TELLING!" When they come to me and tell what the other one has done, as long as they are not bleeding or in serious pain, you will often hear me saying, "I don't want to hear what she did to you, tell me what you did to her." or "Was he totally unprovoked? What did you do that made him want to hit you?"

One of the biggest regrets of my own childhood was how much my sister and I fought. We are both feisty, three years apart and there was competition between the two of us, sibling rivalry. There were some times that our arguments ended with pulling hair, slapping and pushing. Of course my parents punished us and made sure we knew that it wasn't okay, but still we fought like cats and dogs. One night my dad was so exasperated with our fight that he started 'mock cheering' for us in turn like he was watching a fight on TV: Go Lark, hit her with a right! 

I've prayed for so long that kind of fighting would not be a part of our kids' experience with their siblings, and that they would love each other and be friends. I hold on to the fact that my sister and I enjoy a good relationship now, and we rarely ever pull each others' hair.

As a mom who loves Jesus I get really frustrated when my kids are treating each other so horribly. I know it stems from their own sinful nature so I try to show them a better way to handle their conflicts. I know I'm not consistently doing this right but here are some things that *seem* to help:


One day when they were fighting over who got to be first on something (a common theme with our oldest, but that's a post for another day) I explained that our family is like a team. Teammates don't get mad when one of their own does a good job, they cheer them on. They don't get frustrated if someone scores points for the team because what is good for one member is good for the whole team. So if they are treating each other as rivals instead of teammates I remind them, "We are all on the same team!" I say this when one is jealous of the other or when they are having issues with sharing (funny example on their issues with sharing) because we need to take turns and not let one person be the 'star' of the team. Having a 'team' spirit in your family promotes unity and cooperation.

Merry-Go-Round of Meanness

When they get in a cycle of revenge and getting each other back it's like they are pushing a merry-go-round. One person may start it and then the other person jumps on and gives it a push, and then the other has to give it a bigger push and so on. It can get going so fast that you can't even get off safely without getting hurt. When that happens, someone has to decide to stop pushing so it will slow down. It's much easier to not take the bait to get on in the first place. I'll say, 'Sounds like you guys are on the Merry-Go-Round of Meanness" when they are being unkind to each other as an encouragement for them to realize what is happening and how they can make choices to end it.

Acting out 

In the heat of the moment it's so hard for a kids' brain to think quickly enough to react positively instead of overriding what they want to do. Often we will walk through an argument again and practice what they could have done instead and I will coach them on how to say what they are feeling ("I'm angry that you won't let me play with that toy") and help them get to resolutions that can help them in the future to resolve things on their own (I want to finish what I was playing and then I will come tell you when I'm done with it).


This is the key, really. Unless they are growing in self-control, none of what I say or do is going to matter. When we have a conflict resolution time we pray that the Holy Spirit would be developing the Fruit of Self-control in their lives. We share verses like, Leviticus 19:18 "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." and Romans 12:19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Just knowing those verses is not enough, they need the power of the Holy Spirit in them enabling them to love and act in self-control.

Why "who started it?" is the wrong question to ask

What if my son has been hogging a toy and my daughter wants it and starts being mean to him so he will give it to her? It may have started with my son's selfishness in hogging the toy but my daughter is also being selfish because she is not waiting for him to finish and instead of waiting patiently she's acting out in a sinful way. Neither of them is blameless so it really doesn't matter who started the argument. We all need to learn how to be kind to others who are not kind to us, so they need opportunities to practice that character quality. If I swoop in and tell my son to stop hogging the toy or set a timer so that they have equal amounts of time (guilty of this one!) then they learn what is most important is fairness, not serving others and self-sacrifice.

Preaching to myself

These suggestions feel like gospel living to me. But honestly when I am being 'lazy parent' I get tired of their fights and so I just yell at them both to knock it off and be nice to each other, or send them to their rooms. Sometimes I get so worked up I have to send them to separate spaces so we all can calm down and then I divide and conquer, talking to one child at a time then bringing them back together to reconcile. I have to remember that they are little sinners who are in need of grace and lots of repetition and practice before they learn these foundational character qualities.

How do you handle the Merry-Go-Round?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Matheny Manifesto

Got a guest blogger today, my very own Hubby. From time to time a book comes along for me to review but it's more along the lines of his interests. Since this book was about baseball and youth sports I thought he'd enjoy it.

Years ago while managing a youth baseball travel team, Mike Matheny (current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals) wrote a letter to the parents of the kids who signed up to play on his team. The gist of the letter was:

* Parents are the problem with youth sports
* Myself and the other coaches are in charge, so shut your mouths and let us coach
* I’m a Christian and I’m going to share my faith so drop the PC act and deal with it
* I’m going to teach the kids the fundamentals of the game, push them to get better, and teach them how to play the game with dignity and class
* Not everything is going to go the way you (or your kid) likes it, but trust us coaches
* If you don’t like anything I’ve said in this letter, there’s the door

The letter went viral because it struck a nerve. It resonated with a lot of people who have been disillusioned with contemporary youth sports culture and because it caught on like wildfire, someone came up with an idea to expand the letter into a book-length “manifesto” about how to fix youth sports.
Matheny’s tone throughout the book is much more nuanced than I just made the letter out to be, but he certainly doesn’t pull punches. It comes across as firm and well-thought out. I loved the book for a number of reasons.

I found his argument that parents are the main problem with youth sports culture to be spot on. (Although I would add that media driven stuff like recruiting coverage and high school games being broadcast on national TV are as much of a problem.) I’ve refereed and coached youth sports and from both positions I’ve seen parents ruin the experience for their kids. I loved Matheny’s fix for the problem: for parents to trust the coaches and not get involved.

I also appreciated his approach to integrating his faith into his work. As a Christian, Matheny has a mandate to share the good news of Jesus with whoever will listen and to do so in a way that balances truth and grace. He strikes that tone in Chapter 10 and I have no doubt that Matheny practices what he preaches.

It was also wonderful to read about how he teaches the boys on his team to play the game the right way, to be respectful, to not argue with umpires when they blow it, to show toughness, and to be thankful. I coach in a youth sports league that emphasizes sportsmanship, skill development over winning, equal playing time, and fun, and I resonated with Matheny’s take on how to turn youth sports culture into something enjoyable for players and their parents.

The last thing I enjoyed about the book was a pleasant surprise: the personal stories Matheny told about his time playing professional baseball. As a catcher, Matheny had an interesting experience of what happens on the field. His chapter about respecting umpires was fascinating, particularly when he explained the relationship the catcher has with the home plate umpire. Those kinds of priceless inside stories are found throughout the book and give the reader a view of the game that can’t be had from the bleachers.

This book should be required reading for anyone involved in youth sports: league administrators, coaches, assistant coaches, and especially parents. I plan on passing it around to some of my friends who coach youth sports. The Matheny Manifesto is for anyone who enjoys a challenging, insightful, and engaging read.

Monday, June 8, 2015


I've mentioned before that insecurity is a huge issue in our culture, and so when I saw this book I decided it would make for a good read.

I consider myself a pretty secure person because Jesus gave his life for mine and I am able to rest in his love for me. Because I am pretty strong willed (and passed that lovely trait on to my daughter) when someone else has a idea or response that clashes with my own I can tend to think like Taylor Swift and shake it off and not be worried that I'm doing something wrong. But, there are certain people, mostly family, whose opinion I value highly and it bothers me a lot when I think I am disappointing them. I thought reading this book might help me untangle my self esteem from the opinion of others.

I was immediately turned off and distressed by the first chapter and had to put the book down for a few days. I considered not even finishing it. The author shared a very personal account of sexual abuse by a stranger when she was four years old. She told it as a letter of forgiveness to man who abused her and included specific details that gave me more information than I felt like I needed know as a reader to understand her situation. I have a very sensitive heart and mind and am easily disturbed by TV shows or books that are violent or graphic, particularly against women and children. I know I can't watch CSI without having nightmares or just getting more paranoid about being victimized and then not trusting the Lord. So, while she needed to give her background for the reader to understand where her insecurity had it's roots, for me personally it was too much.

Fortunately I picked the book up again a few days later and really benefited from it. Her main idea is that our hearts are a tangled mess, beat up, black and blue as pictured on the cover.

She starts by discussing women throughout the Bible who were also tangled messes and how their actions were a result of the hurts they felt. She moves on to how our insecurities as women get tangled up by our own expectations, in marriage, as a mom, in our identity in the home, girlfriends, social media and success. Plenty of areas for us to dive in and explore where our worth gets tangled up.

I most appreciated the chapter on motherhood and how we often try to find our worth in our kids and how 'well' we are doing as a mom. When we are seeking for them to give us value, the stakes for success are a lot higher.

You don't have to be a mom for more than five minutes before you get a taste of "Mommy Guilt". I found out I was pregnant and thought, "Oh no! Didn't I have some wine the other night!?" Moms feel guilt over everything.

Eating- Breastfeeding vs. Formula, make your own baby food vs. store bought?
Sleeping- Cry it out or Attachment parenting?
Schooling- Homeschool/Public School/Private School/Christian School?
Working- Stay home Mom/Working Mom/Work from Home Mom

The list can go on and on!

It seems like the guilt is quite fierce when the children are babies and toddlers because new moms don't have much experience to fall back on. We forget that God chose us to be this little one's mom and we doubt that he will give us the understanding we need to competently parent. But even though it may start there, I don't think it really ever stops! When the kids are grown and gone we still can try to find our worth in how well they are doing, their jobs, their family, and their success. We give ourselves far to much credit for how our kids turn out and take far too much blame.

And when we are trying to find our worth in how we do as Moms, let the Mommy Wars begin! If the choices we make for our family have to prove that we are good enough then we are going to defend those choices, and promote those choices to others and then judge others who don't make the same choices as we have. We seem to all be competing against each other to make ourselves feel better about our choices.

I struggle when I think about how some moms are all organic and growing their own produce in the yard while mine had Pop Tarts for breakfast (I limit it to once a week! I'm still a good mom....right?!).

I put my laundry habits out there for the world to know and then worry that people will think my house is not clean (wait, who cares?). I was blessed by her chapter on domestic disappointment and a phrase she adopted to help her untangle her self-worth from the state of her home. "I want my house to be clean enough that it's healthy, but dirty enough that we can live happy." 

As I read the book I realized that even though I may consider myself pretty secure in my worth, in some areas I still get tangled up and I need to continually remind myself that my worth is not in what I do, what I look like, or my success and failures. My worth is like real-estate. It's all determined by the price that someone is willing to pay for it. Since Jesus died to pay for my soul, I am invaluable.

Now, Lord, let my actions reflect that I believe it.

I'm giving away a copy of the book to one lucky blog reader! See how to enter the giveaway below! If you comment, make sure to click on the 'I Commented' button below! If you already follow me on Twitter, help yourself to a free entry below by clicking on 'I Follow' and tweet about my post for an extra entry!
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I received a copy of this book through the Revell Reads Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Laundry every 10 days

Since my husband mentioned me and my laundry habits today in our church's devotional I thought I'd pass on a bit of my laundry tactics. I hear lots of people complaining about the never ending laundry and doing laundry every day. When I mention that I only do laundry 2 or 3 times per month people are astonished.

Step 1: Make less laundry.
I used to wear something for a couple hours or a day and throw it in my laundry hamper and the laundry fairy would come and next thing I knew those clothes were hanging in my room a few days later fresh, clean and ready to go. Then I went to college and the laundry fairy did not visit me anymore and I had to start taking my clothes home on weekends (just kidding, I only did that the first semester). I successfully learned how to do my own laundry but it still wasn't a big deal because it was just for one person. Getting married added more but it still wasn't overwhelming. I think somewhere in the baby days when there was so much laundry because of spit ups and diaper blowouts, I stopped deciding that something needed to be washed just because I'd worn it for a day. It never failed that I would put on something clean and then 20 minutes later it'd have spit up or baby food on it. I'd go through 2 or 3 outfits in one day, for myself AND the baby! So if I wore something for a couple hours late one evening and it miraculously didn't get dirty I'd lay it on a chair or hang it up and put it back on the next day until it got spit up on and then begin again. I got used to wearing something until it got dirty and actually needed to be washed. So now that I don't have diapers and spit up to deal with I can wear a shirt or jeans for two days with no problems. There are exceptions, of course, where something won't pass the smell test if it was summer and I was outside for longer than 5 minutes. Or if we've gone to Sonny's BBQ, even if somehow I was able to keep sauce off my lap it'd need to be washed so I don't smell like brisket the next day. Also any clothes that I workout in. Luckily, I don't work out very often.

My 8 year old has not gotten this memo. He tends to wear one thing to school and change out of that and into play clothes in the afternoon or decide he wants to dress up as Spiderman but then puts on new clothes instead of looking for the ones he took off earlier. Same for socks! Instead of looking for the socks he took off an hour ago, he goes right to his drawer where a new fresh pair are waiting for him and he doesn't have to look for them. I keep saying, 'One pair of socks per day, buddy.' I tell him it's fine to change out of his school uniform when he gets home but keep one shirt and pair of shorts out for a couple days until they get dirty and sweaty, which is pretty much every day if he goes outside to play. Lego building does not quite incur the amount of sweat needed for a wash. So I'm still trying to get him on board by telling him, "the fewer clothes you wear the fewer you will have to put away," since he HATES to put away his clothes.

Wearing stuff more than once is not just good for laundry, it's also good for your clothes.  Now, not everyone has this luxury and where you work it's not an option to wear the same things 2 or 3 days in a row, but perhaps rotating outfits and pairing different tops and bottoms together can help reduce.

Step 2: Buy extra underwear and socks.
Some people have to do laundry often because they just run out of clean clothes to wear. So we buy an extra pack of underwear and socks for each family member. I think is a relatively small price to pay and I save money in the end by less loads of laundry and time saved. Each person has at least 12 pairs of underwear and socks. For school uniforms I make sure they have enough to go two weeks of school: 10 shirts and 5 pairs of shorts, 5 pairs of pants for winter. The shirts don't last more than one school day, but sometimes a pair of shorts or jeans can go two days. They have favorite pairs of shorts and keep wearing them until I put my foot down and make them put it in the laundry basket. I am also fortunate to receive handmedowns from friends. Our kids probably have too many clothes but they keep getting t-shirts from this camp, or that VBS or this special event, so they don't seem to ever run out of shirts.

Step 3: Get a good stain pre-treater.
Every day after I do laundry someone eats spaghetti. I don't know why this is but I think there are cosmic laundry forces against me. So in order to fight back I employ some Resolve/Spray N Wash or some liquid detergent and a bit of scrubbing. I'll get as much of the stain out and the rinse it and leave it on the washer.

Step 4: Rally the troops.
Our 10 and 8 year old are told it's laundry day and they bring all the baskets from the bedrooms and dump them in the kitchen floor. Then they sort them into piles of whites, darks, lights, towels/sheets, and jeans. Rarely is this done without bargaining and complaining and sometimes there are tears, but perhaps one day! A mom can hope right?!

After they have sorted I go back through and refine the piles and pull out white underwear stuck inside some jeans, and check pockets for loose toys, gum, or change (my tips). I also pull out the delicate items and sort into 'delicate darks' and 'delicate lights' as these go in a different cycle. An important step I take is to flip some clothes inside out like shirts with logos (especially iron-on) and fleecy items so they last longer.

Step 5: Wash, Dry, Sort, Repeat.
I usually do 6-8 loads of laundry on laundry day. Whites, Lights, Delicate lights, Darks, Delicate Darks, Sheets/Towels, Jeans and an extra load like a comforters or pillows or rugs that occasionally need to be washed. This week I'm washing the kids' backpacks so they can be put away. To streamline the sorting process, for clean laundry I have a basket for each person and an area to hang each person's hanging clothes. The laundry room is not too big so I can't spread out too much. I just stand in the middle and sort and hang.

 Yes, I stood on my washer to take this.

Kids' clothes hung up on the left, adults' on the right.

Each load takes about 1 hour to wash and 1 hour to dry so if I do 6 loads it takes me about 7 hours from start to finish if I do them back to back (which is more efficient for me and the dryer). Obviously I'm not doing much once I throw it in so I can go back to playing with the kids or blogging or reading or whatever. When it's all done, baskets are delivered to the rooms and the children are not allowed to go out and play or have media time until it's all put away. As some heard this morning, Hubby does not have that same stipulation and so his basket may or may not get emptied, but with all the other wonderful things he does, this is of no concern to me.

What about you, do you do a load of laundry every day? What is your plan for tackling Mount Laundry?

Update: We are on day 7 after the laundry was done and had to break down and do a mid-week load due to a mysterious potty accident that happened while the babysitter was here. That also required an entire bathroom cleaning including the toilet, floors, walls, and cabinets just in case. So I went ahead and washed the shower curtain since I didn't quite know to what extent (other than the smell) the accident had spread to.

Also, the Hubby's basket made it from the laundry room to the dresser. Where it sits full of clean laundry today. Still. 9 days later.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Grace That Breaks the Chains

Last Spring I went on a women's retreat and our speaker used materials from Victory Over the Darkness. I really appreciated the truths that she was sharing and wanted to delve deeper and so I bought the book myself.

It was such a such a great read I wondered why I hadn't ever read it before. Now I recommend it all the time and think it's in my top 10 book recommendations for Christians. Knowing who we are in Christ is so important for Christians to have a grasp on. When we don't know who we are in Christ, we are so unsure of our position and standing. When we know the truth it sets us free, and that led me to getting the next book by Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker.

It also was a great read and builds on a lot of the principals from the first book. The Bondage Breaker goes into depth about how to overcome sins that keep us from living a Spirit filled life. The Steps to Freedom in Christ found in chapter 11 is a tool that has been used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world to renounce the sins and finally finding victory.

As I looked through books recently this one caught my eye because of the subtitle:

I struggle with perfectionism and have been learning this year about resting in God's grace so I thought this book might be a helpful tool. It is an excellent read for anyone who deals with perfectionism or especially for those who have been influenced by a legalistic home or church.

The trio of authors started with a Barna survey to determine how widespread a legalistic worldview was within the church. They asked questions such as, "The Christian life is well summed-up as 'Trying hard to do what God commands.'" The majority of people surveyed, 57% agreed strongly with the statement and another 25% somewhat agreed. The problem is that the Christian life is NOT about our efforts to be good and obey the rules. Performance-based Christianity opposes the truth that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

In the first half of the book they used scripture and personal experiences to explain the laws of legalism that bind us in guilt, shame and fear and exposed the power of our own pride and the true enemies of our freedom in Christ. The second half built on that foundation and showed how to renounce the lies and live in the truth, breaking the chains that legalism and performance based Christianity. With memorable analogies and real-life examples I gleaned new ways to combat my own legalistic tendencies and left each chapter with a fresh love for the Lord and appreciation for His grace.

I heartily recommend this to all Christians who struggle with feeling they will never measure up and have lost the joy of their salvation.

I've passed it on to my hubby who is also a first-born and knows his perfectionist tendencies. He tends to go into full-drive OCD when it comes to books...he really enjoys keeping them looking nice and new, never ever dog-earing pages or underlining. I think he may have nightmares about bent covers and creased spines. He took it and proceeded to try and fix a couple of the edges that were imperfect. Oh the irony! Lord help us rely on your grace and not on ourselves for our worth!

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


It seems to me that humans have a seemingly insatiable need to be loved and valued. A void in our hearts that never seems to be filled. We want to be accepted for who we are and if we don't feel that acceptance we will seek to 'fix' what is unacceptable. The problem therein is that our feelings are not always a valuable judge of reality.

Our culture is continually succumbing to this insecurity. There is no getting away from hearing about Bruce Jenner's transformation into Caitlyn Jenner.

If you asked a child, "if you are born a boy can you become a girl?" they would likely laugh at you and look at you like you had two heads. 'Of course not!' would come the reply. But we, sophisticated adults, have bought into the lie that there are no real absolutes, so why can't a man who feels like a woman actually become a woman?

I came across an article last night about "Transable" people. As defined in the article, transability is "the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment."

Did you get that? Someone who is perfectly able feels that they are not in the right body and desire to become disabled by choice, some by cutting off their own limbs or arranging 'accidents' to achieve the disability they desire.

It is a logical next step from transgenderism, or Gender Identity Disorder as it was formerly called when considered a mental illness. How long before we are forced to believe that a person's request to chop off their own legs is normal (and should be covered by insurance!) and those around the person should be non-judgmental and accepting?

It stems from our society's post-modern worldview that promotes the belief that there are no moral absolutes and our feelings are reality. If we continue down that path it will lead to the establishment of what Wesley J. Smith calls a fundamental right to 'personal recreationism.'

But before we get our able bodied Christian feathers ruffled and puffed up in pride, are we not guilty of the same things?

In the 90s, straight hair was not in, at least, not at my middle school. Big poofy bangs were where it was at. I wanted to look like my friends, but no matter what I tried, curling irons, mountains of hairspray, hot curlers, perms...nothing would keep my stick straight hair curly for more than a day and not wash out. It was like my hair laughed back at my attempts.

I desperately wanted to be accepted by my friends and so I did what I thought I needed to do to look 'pretty.' This is what was called, 'the poof' y'all. Seventh grade picture day mom and I pulled out aaallll the stops to achieve the look I wanted.


In the picture above I see an insecure girl hoping for people to like her. Somewhere along my teenage years I decided that fighting against what my hair did naturally wasn't a great use of my time and I stopped worrying about others' approval.


By 11th grade I was much more at peace with my stick straight hair. Instead of trying to have something I didn't I was able to appreciate what I did have. Growing out the poofy bangs also helped.

We all go through a process of coming to terms with how God made us, the limitations we have and how we look (women in particular). The goal of that struggle is to reach a place where we learn to make peace with our body. Or as they say in preschool, "You get what you get and you don't pitch a fit."

When we are not satisfied with how God made us, it's basically a pride thing. We tell God, "The way you made me is not right. I should be like this instead." We focus on all the things we are NOT instead of the things we are.

The culture around us isn't helpful either. Don't like your body? Have plastic surgery! Don't like the color of your hair? Dye it! Don't like the color of your skin? Use self-tanner!

Now, am I eschewing all forms of beauty products and saying we should not bother with exercise or a healthy diet? Do I regret that my parents invested money into getting me braces to fix my teeth (Heck no! Thank you Mom and Dad!). There is a spectrum on how we make changes to our appearance, on one side, taking care of the body that God has given us and on the other side fighting against how he has made us.

I know of friends who dye their hair blue and purple and I think it's a bold statement of their own inner personality, they enjoy playing with their locks as a way to express themselves. We can't become legalistic and judge others because of their choices. Only we can determine when we are enjoying the body he has given us and when we are dissatisfied with what we have, and making changes as a way to fulfill our hearts.

Though we shouldn't judge others we can still see a friend struggling in this area and have a conversation to encourage her in truth. If I am concerned that my friend is seeking satisfaction from changing the way she looks I can speak love, life and acceptance into her heart. Indeed, I'm not a true friend if I'm not willing to risk my own heart by speaking out.

The point is, where are you seeking fulfillment? Is it from the way you look? Or in your worth in Christ?

Isaiah 53:2 tells us that Jesus had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. And yet, he was satisfied with the earthly body God gave him and it didn't hinder his mission. In fact it was part of God's plan to make his mission succeed because people were attracted to what was on the inside.

As followers of Christ we are unconditionally accepted and when he sees us he sees the perfect blood of Jesus covering all our sins and stains. We can live loved. We can live lives of contentment because we know we are loved, valued and accepted.

Even though we will continually mess this up we can turn to the one who made us and find our satisfaction in Him. He is the only one who can fill our insatiable need and fill the void in our hearts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Blog Restart!

Been doing some work on my blog lately and making goals and lots of changes. I've been trying to figure out what I want my voice to look like on the internet. I've decided to switch my focus on this blog to more about my thoughts. I've taken all my family posts and moved them to private blog (you can contact me if you want to be a reader on that blog).

I first started this blog to share my thoughts on motherhood and have a place to write about current events and interact with others who were in a similar place. Over the years it morphed into a space I could also share family happenings and pictures with friends but I find now that Facebook is a better place for that as I can be more selective there and have more privacy with our family pictures and events.

So Larkslife will become more my own internet journal and a way for me to be able to get better at writing and interacting with the issues that are of interest for me. I'll write about current events, discuss mom stuff, review books that I'm reading, thoughts on Jesus and all with a Lark-feel to them. I'll still occasionally post the cute things the kids are doing but with more concern for our family's privacy I won't be posting names and you'll see I've changed my previous posts to reflect that.

Hope you'll join me! I'm looking forward to developing as a writer and creating a community where it's safe to discuss issues and dialogue with people of differing backgrounds and ideologies.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Beauty of Grace

There are so many talented writers out there in the blogosphere. I love reading insightful blog posts and sharing them with others. The book, The Beauty of Grace is a beautiful collection of the best all put together in a neat hardback book.

I enjoyed reading these stories, each one was so short and sweet. The only drawback for me in reading the book in a day or two was that they were probably best enjoyed one at a time. This would be perfect for a mom to put in the bathroom, in the car, at the table or anywhere she might have a few minutes each day. Each one is just right to think on and give you encouragement for the day.

The authors are some of my favorite writers so many of the stories resonated with my stage in life as a mom trying to live for Christ in the midst of the busyness and mundane.

I received a copy of this book through the Revell Reads Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Life With a Capital L

My favorite bible verse is John 10:10 which states, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." 

Since college I've been fascinated by the concept that Jesus came, not just to give us eternal life in heaven, but to give us abundant life here on earth. Knowing that has enabled me to life my life so free and full, not getting bogged down by the mundane but being able to enjoy all the wonders around me both big and small.

But sometimes I get stuck. 

Bad things happen and I wonder, 'how in the world is this life abundant and full when there is so much tragedy in the world and here at home?' Sometimes I get to the end of a day and wonder, 'did I really do anything today that mattered?' I'll feel like I'm just existing, not truly living. I get caught up in the daily, the rote, the routine and I want to break out of the rut.

'Life with a capital L' has been a call to return to that abundant life, and a guidebook. 

This year I've been on a journey to understand myself more and to appreciate my humanity. I've been learning to give myself grace and freely experiencing my emotions. I've been so good at holding it all together and being strong and in control. But this year with such difficulties as we've experienced, I've learned that God is in control and that I can fall apart and He is still with me.

So I was intrigued by the book's tagline: 'Embracing your God-given Humanity.' He explains that our life is to be lavishly lived, not because of a health, wealth, prosperity gospel, but with the knowledge that our Heavenly Father is good and gives us ways to appreciate and to enjoy life (freedom, beauty, worship, love, etc).

The first part of the book focuses on reclaiming our humanity. He explains that God doesn't want us to become less human, but more so. To do this we must engage with God's original purpose for humanity, to be thinking, feeling, creative beings, reflecting His image to the world. Many Christians think that in order to become more like Christ they must strive to be more spiritual and eschew their humanity. Heard shows that Christ came to redeem humanity to it's original state in the garden and we are called to embrace our humanity and become more fully alive.

The second part of the book takes a deeper look into ten areas where the everyday life can become Life with a capital L: Freedom, Heart, Beauty, Illumination, Story, Worship, Love, Time, Brokenness, Heaven.

It's evident Heard has steeped his mind in scripture, literature, poetry and art. He is able to make his points by pulling examples from a variety of different sources. The end notes are filled with scriptures and the regulars like CS Lewis and Tolkien, but so many more. It's evident that he loves poetry and but is not so out of touch that he can't weave in modern day pop culture references to Star Trek and the Matrix. 

Taking his life changing experience of the painting by Nikolai Yaroshenko, "There is Life Everywhere," Heard is able to explain how the darkest experiences of this life cannot hide the invitation to the Life that Jesus is calling us to.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a deeper experience of life and who sometimes is frustrated wondering, 'there has got to be more than this.' I can't wait to read it again.

I received a copy of this book through the Blogging for Books Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Confessions of a Former Bully

Bullying is such a hot topic right now. We are getting so much information from the school about it: special night events at school about how to stop bullying, letters about how bullying won't be tolerated, special initiatives and on and on.

Most of the information is along the lines of how to teach your child what to do when someone is bullying them.

-Tips on how to report bullying
-How to stand up to a bully
-Strategies to stay safe from bullies
-Helping other kids who are being bullied

But is that all we want to do? Teach our kids how to handle bullies? Are there bullies that they can't do anything about and so we just have to learn how to tolerate them?

Why don't we hear more information about how to teach someone NOT to bully? Wouldn't that be a more productive way to address the issue?

My daughter is a loving, kind, intelligent girl and this week she came home to tell me that one of her classmates is telling others that she is a bully and a snitch (which, isn't that bullying?). As sweet as she is, our girl is a strong willed, confident, first-born who is destined to be a leader one day. She's learned how to use her leadership power to manipulate her younger brother and friends. We've discussed with her how she gets to choose whether her leadership gifts will either be used for good or for bad. She's navigating the elementary years and trying to figure out how she fits in the world.

Being labeled as a bully is a real stigma. I'd say that many kids who bully don't even realize they are bullying others. Being a bully in my day was characterized as the big kid who beat up the little kid and took his lunch money. But now bullying is any kid who is picking on someone else or using their words (not just fists) to get others to do what they want. And there is also cyber-bullying to be concerned about also.

I happened on this book the other day at the library and I want to highly recommend if you are concerned your child might be bullying others you have a child.

It gives a grace filled look at what being a bully really means and how to change. It is written from a child's perspective in a great 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Dear Dumb Diary' style that makes it a fun and engaging read for kids. But it's full of great information on both sides of the bullying issue: How to not bully others and how to deal with someone who bullies.

I really appreciate a look at this issue from the bully's point of view. That the bully is a girl is even better and more helpful for my daughter. The main character of the book talks about how bullying hurts everyone, even the person who bullies.

I think that most kids will probably find themselves on both sides if they are honest. I know mine are learning and growing and hopefully they are learning lessons like these and I'd love it if more people shared this book with their children.

I did NOT receive a copy of this book for my review, just thought it was worth reviewing.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Mom's Prayers for Her Son

A few months ago Hubby read through A Dad's Prayers for His Daughter and so when this book came up I was excited to get it:

This year I am becoming increasingly aware of the power of prayer. As a mom there is only so much that I can do for my kids. I can provide a good environment for growth but it's God who does the work of growth in their hearts. Through tough experiences I'm seeing that my prayers are not simply hopes tossed up to heaven but a real, powerful weapon against the work of the enemy in our life. James 5:16b - "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

In my prayers I am going to battle on their behalf, I'm fighting for their hearts. This book has been an encouragement to me in my prayer work for my sons. I'm finding my heart agreeing with the prayers and praying them for my sons, myself and the rest of my family too.

The 77 prayers are not categorized so you could go to any based on what your child might be needing prayer for. There are 15 side stories aside from the prayers and each prayer and story has a few verses of scripture. The prayers are varied on many different areas of his life including:

When He's Angry
When He Goes Online
When He's Stressed
When He Feels Alone
When He Needs Self-Control

Many of them are specific and since I'm reading straight through the book I find that some of them don't apply to his life right now. It would be great to come back to in that time of need or to pray in advance over him. They really could be adapted to any age child, I'm finding that I pray them over my 3 year old and over my 8 year old, but that I most often think of my 8 year old. I can envision the issues he is dealing with today and in the near future.

These prayers are helping me be specific in my prayer work for the boys, not just offering up 'Oh Lord, be with them today, help them, keep them safe.' Through these prayers I'm considering the heart of my boys and how I can bring them before God's throne and ask Him to change their hearts, protect their minds and guide them into His truth.

I received a copy of this book through the Revell Blogger Review Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Good News About Marriage

I ran across an article on Facebook a while back about some recent research done on marriage and divorce statistics and the book that detailed the research. It included some startling findings.

  • rriages are happy.
  • Simple changes make a big difference in most marriage problems.
  • Most remarriages succeed.
  • - See more at:

  • The actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percent.
  • Those who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.
  • Most marriages are happy.
  • Simple changes make a big difference in most marriage problems.
  • Most remarriages succeed.
  • - See more at: actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percen-The actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percent.

    -The actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percent. 
    -Those who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.
    -Most marriages are happy.
    -Simple changes make a big difference in most marriage problems.
    -Most remarriages succeed.

    I was intrigued and jumped at the chance to review the book, "The Good News About Marriage." We've all heard the statistics that 50% of marriages end in divorce, that Christians are just as likely as non-Christians to get divorced and remarriages have a high rate of divorce. Where did these statistics come from and how have they been misinterpreted? explains in the first chapter how she got started on this 8 year project. She was working on an article about marriage and wanted to cite correctly the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. She tried to find the study for 2 or 3 hours and finally tossed it to her research assistant, Tally, so she could get back to writing. When Tally got back to her after several more hours without a definitive answer they called an expert on marriage and divorce who told them, 'No one knows and there are many different types of surveys and different ways of tracking divorce.' They found that the Census Bureau stopped projecting divorce rates in 1996 and those projections were based on divorce increasing while it's actually decreased.

    With my background in Psychology I did a lot of work in school on how to conduct research studies and analyze statistics, so this book was especially interesting to me but it may be cumbersome to those who aren't into tracking numbers and statistical research. But the message of the book needs to be spread because these are very discouraging myths about marriage and divorce.

    It was really interesting to see her unpack each of the myths, to show where the statistical studies had been misapplied, misinterpreted or just simply did not exist! There were some studies that were 'projections' that had, over time, become accepted as the reality. According to the most recent authoritative data (Census Bureau 2009) 72% of people are still married to their first spouse. And that data does not account for those who are not still married but their marriage was ended by the death of their spouse, not divorce.

    The myth of 'divorce being equal in the church as it is outside of the church' is based on a Barna study that has been misunderstood. The study in question was looking at divorce trends based on faith based beliefs and self assessment of faith, not faith based practices like worship attendance. So participants were asked if they affiliated themselves as a Christian, not whether they were currently practicing their religion. New tabulations of the data shows that when a person attends church it lowers their chances of divorce by roughly 25-50% compared to those who don't attend. It also found that those who prioritize their faith and/or pray together are dramatically happier and more connected.

    As for the remarriage statistics, she found that a large majority of remarriages last. Among women in their second marriage 65% are still married to their spouse and of those who aren't many of those were widowed rather than divorced (because second marriages tend to happen later in life and thus have a higher likelihood to end because of the death of a partner than marriages at a younger age).

    Why is any of this even important or note worthy? One of the reasons that marriages don't make it is a loss of hope. There is a sense that 'we only have a 50-50 shot of making it' or a couple who is considering divorce thinks 'well, at lease we have a lot of company.' Some people avoid marriage all together thinking, 'Why bother?'

    It's also encouraging for pastors to know there is hope in the church for marriages! To know that studies have shown that couples who attend church, read their bibles, and/or pray together have a lower rate of divorce is a reason to encourage couples to get involved with a supportive church community and that believing in God and acting on your faith does make a difference in practical things like the success of your marriage.

    We have lacked confidence in the institution of marriage for far too long. It's sad to go to a wedding, flip a coin and conclude that this couple only has a 50-50 shot of making it for life. This book really encouraged me by the facts that have been undermined by misunderstandings and incomplete data. Now we can change the way we think about marriage, divorce, and the positive impact that faith can have in the life of a couple.

    I received a copy of this book through the Blogging for Books Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    Breathing Room


    I'm going through and deleting old emails. My husband offers up a concerned 'What?' and I bemoan the fact that I've realized that the blog book review I was thinking was in November is actually due this week and I haven't even started the book. 'What book is it?' he asks.

    "It's called, 'Breathing Room.'" We look at each other and just laugh.

    Ah, life's ironies.

    'Keep it all together. Get the to do list tackled. Don't be out of sorts. Be friendly and happy!' Where are these voices coming from? All in my own head.

    We try to be strong, to be the person we want to be. 'I am not someone who forgets deadlines,' I tell myself. 'I'll just have to read it...this weekend? No, that won't work...too many other deadlines that are important to not miss also.'

    We have an image of what a woman should look like . 'It's not going to happen,' I realize in my head. 'It's going to be late. They will think I am lazy.'

    We keep striving for pintrest-like perfection but it's always out of our reach. 'Why did this have to be due this week!?'

    Leanna Tankersley's personal and intimate description of her journey of learning to accept her own humanity is an invitation to breathe deeply and exhale, showing us how letting go can help us live more fully. I know I need to RSVP to that and just let go of all my 'shoulds' and just realize that I am not Superwoman and I can't do it all.

    The book is a view into her world of crazy. Living as a wife of a Navy Seal, having twins and a newborn and living in Bahrain. How she just survived and learned to give herself grace instead of condemning herself for not being able to measure up to her own standards.

    Being dysfunctional and real is too vulnerable. There's so much potential for hurt. I am even hesitant to write this blog post because in it I'm admitting that I am not living up to my own expectations of myself. What if I'm not living up to others' expectations either? But this year in particular I've been learning to just do the next thing. I've been doing a lot of 'self-care' and realizing that if I don't I will blow up and it will not be good for anyone.

    She shares some great tips for how to let go. One chapter in particular rang true with me, 'Beginning Again." She shares some of her failures as a mom and how each day and even each moment is a new chance to begin again, to start over. To say I'm sorry and have a clean slate. To be forgiven and to forgive yourself. I have a tough problem with forgiving myself. I think I should know better and not mess up so much, but I'm learning that I'm a human and I need to extend grace to myself like I do to others.

    She discusses grief and her sadness after a miscarriage and so expertly explains grief: 'Grieving is the process of recognizing the loss of what might have been....The bothersome thing about grief is that it rolls in, life a wave, and then rolls back out again. You never know when it's going to hit. Some days it just pooled around my feet. Some days it knocked me over, completely submerged."

    The book reads like a series of insightful blog posts, some I could have skipped over and some I held onto in my mind and camped out on. Part narrative, part reflective, part encouragement, each chapter was a quick few pages and easy to mentally chew on.

    Hopefully I'll be able to give myself some Breathing Room and the grace and space I need to process life through life and encourage others to do the same.

    I received a copy of this book through the Revell Blogger Review Program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.