Merry Christmas, Grandma!

We did our Christmas card digitally this year but my Grandma reads this blog and I really wanted her to see it.  So if this is the fourth or fifth time you've had to look at this, my apologies!

But Merry Christmas, Grandma!  We love you!

Iphone photo overload

While the girls are down for a nap today, I've decided it's about time to clear off my Iphone and share some photos!  Man, there are some great times captured on that thing.  Here's what I found as I scrolled down memory lane... (did you catch the pun?  I supposed it'd be even more clever of me if I didn't point it out, huh?)

 This was in April right after we first moved to Wisconsin and lived in the farmhouse.  Maurah took this and I think she did a pretty great job!
 Maurah also took this one of Hayden waiting ever so patiently while we were at a doctor's appointment.  I'm not so sure I won points for mom of the year with my daughter rolling on the dirty floor but we made it out of that office with no tantrums so that was a huge deal.
 One of our very great friends here took our kids out for a couple of hours for me when we moved into our new home here.  Little did I know that she took them all throughout town..the library and the police and fire station where the kids got to meet the firefighters and check out their trucks and gear.  How cool is that?!?
 This was the sky on our way to our first drive-in movie.
 And our first drive-in movie was Cars 2!
 These next few pics are from a day where I decided the kids and I would walk to Cole's school to play at the park...I wasn't exactly prepared as it was an over 90 degree day and I had zero water or money with me...I think by the time we got to the park, we spent maybe 15 minutes playing and then came back to our air-conditioned home.  Again, probably not a mom of the year moment, but we survived. ;)

 This is the "Quit taking pictures and just help me off of this thing!" look. 

 This picture of Hayden cracks me up.  The girl is limber, that's for sure!
 And this is the, "Quit taking pictures...I'm hot, tired, and it's DEFINITELY time to go home" look.
 So we got on our wheels and made it back home...l o n g e s t  w a l k  e v e r

 Baking chocolate chip cookies!
 Laina's tantrum because we ran out of it kosher to take pics of your kids' tantrums?  I hope so because there are a couple more on here! ;)
 Shirtless wonder Maurah...taken by Hayden
 My sweet friend's new baby Benjamin!  I got to meet him for the first time on our trip to AR for another friends' wedding!
 And I captured him...I pretty much asked to hold him any chance I got that weekend.  He looks a little alarmed in this pic I think!  Probably wondering who the crazy lady was that kept kissing him!  Ha!
 Very typical Maurah...I love it.
 Beach day!
 I love how Hayden has her legs crossed here.
 Sweet shades
 Look, Mom!  Double fisting the pacis!
 Girls' night and birthday party at church
 Two crazies who I love stole my phone. :)
 This pic was taken by one of the kids of course, but I love it because it shows my life...dishwasher open, baby in arms, another child hanging on my legs...I look at this and it makes me happy.  Which makes me even happiER because it means I love my life.  And that's just awesome.
 This was one of Maurah's wedding days :)
 Hayden is rockin' the tan lines here
 Cole made his own ABB pattern out of cubes and wanted a picture to email to his teacher and was so proud...although you can't really tell from his expression
 Sisterly love!!  So weird to think that someday they'll have their pictures taken like this with their real babies...
 Not the most flattering of me, but this was a fun time taking pics with the girls on the couch.
 This is when Laina fell asleep on Cole's floor in the middle of throwing a tantrum because we ran out of candy corn.  Do you notice a connection with this girl and sweets?
 Another fit pic...this was one of Laina's very first time outs...I just think her fancy dress and her actions are a hilarious combination.
 Pretty Hayden in my heels, with her baby in arms.  This girl will make a seriously chic mama one day.
 I'm pleased to report that Laina survived her time-out :)
 Jasmine Star...I love her!  I was SO excited to get her magazine and these sweet hair clips for a photo shoot I have coming up on the very same day.  Happy Mail Day to me!
 Jake's and my first date since Laina was born!  It was AWESOME!  We went to downtown Milwaukee to this really cool - grownups only - restaurant.  So thankful we got to do that!
 Maurah helping make the apple pie for Thanksgiving dessert
 Laina is learning the "Maurah pose"?

 We love baking!
 Sweet sisters...and always wearing their "fancy" skirts.
 My first Pinterest creation...a hair tie home made out of an oatmeal container.  I'm still loving it!
My second Pinterest creation...Christmas shirts for the girlies!
And fingerpainting...always a fun adventure :)

So that's it!  I saved you from the 82 photos of our walls and tables and floors that the girls took when they confiscated my phone at different times.  If you're really interested in those, then you're truly a Manne stalker! :)  

a messy house and so much more

The other day I was cleaning up the house and I was incredibly proud of all I had done.  The house was a mess before the boys left for the day and the girls and I made even more messes with our playing and baking as the day went on.  I found myself thinking, "I wish Jake could have seen exactly how messy this was so he knew how much I really accomplished today."  (Because yes, I'm incredibly mature like that.)

But that thought started me on a few more.  Like how we really can't appreciate the beauty of things if we haven't seen the messy condition they started in.  Or how we tend to take something's - or someone's - beauty for granted if we've never seen the chaos within.

I know that in my life, God has brought beauty from the messy...from my ever wandering heart in high school, from being away from my family for 7 weeks in a hospital bed only to have the girls in the NICU for almost 3 more months.  From Jake and I struggling so badly in our marriage that I thought I would never be able to look at him and even like him again.  From living in a place for four years where I never had friends that really knew me...really knew me...pretty much until the end and the loneliness that came from that time.

Yet, in all of this, I grew more than ever before.  God redeemed every messy, hurtful situation with a beautiful provision.  

In high school - He showed me His love and protected me from so many hurts.  He eventually gave me a husband who also knew His love and would love me as God calls him to.

In the hospital - He healed my body, gave me new friendships, gave me strength that I never had to rely on before (I now feel like I can take on the world!), and above all, gave me two healthy girls that bring me joy every day.  I look into their faces and I see no sign of the fight they faced when they first graced this planet.  Except for a small scar on Hayden's arm from the pic-line placed to save her life, you would never know they had such obstacles to get through as infants.

In my marriage - He showed me how to persevere, to forgive, to ask forgiveness, what it means to truly let go of the past and to have a humble heart.  Our marriage is better than ever.

In friendships - He taught me that He is the first One I should turn to above all else, but that I also need to put myself out there a bit more.  People won't want to open up to me if I'm constantly a closed door to them.  He gave me incredible friendships there and I've been blessed with so many new friendships in our time here already.

All of this is to say that I've seen God make a lot of beauty out of ashes in my only 28 years of life.  Sometimes I think we strive to have a "no-hurt life" where people are always kind to us, say exactly what we want them to, we're always healthy and so is everyone we love.  We want money to always be flowing in and no stress in any way.  It seems like that would be truly receiving God's blessing.

But that's not when God is at His best.  

If everything in the world worked out perfectly and we never had to depend on Him for anything, how much more would we take Him for granted?  If people were always kind and faithful to us, being exactly what we needed when we needed it, how much more would we deny our relationship with Him?

The last two years, I've prayed something pretty bold throughout the year.  It's this simple statement:  "Lord, do whatever You need to do to draw me closer to You."  This can be a scary thing to pray because it's often in the hard times that we draw nearer to God.  But I absolutely believe and know that it's after those hard times (and sometimes within them as well) that we can see the beauty that God had in mind for us the entire time.

I'm not saying pray for disaster and calamity to take over your life!  But I am saying that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to want an escape route.

Maybe God is doing something incredible inside the chaos.

It's after the storm that a rainbow is reflected.

It's after they start to die that fall leaves are so rich and beautiful.

It's after a hard, dead winter, that the buds and blossoms and green grass almost hurt our eyes, they're so rich with color.

And it's after we fall that He can pick us up.  I pray that every time He picks us up, we can see from His perspective.  That His redemption and restoration of our trials in life will shine so much brighter than the messes.  That we appreciate that beauty...His beauty.

My prayer for me.  And my hope for you. :)

matthew 3:16-17

For the last few weeks, I've been doing Beth Moore's 90 day study on Jesus for my quiet time in the morning.  At first, I have to admit, I struggled with it because I'm used to doing her "regular" Bible studies in the morning which prove to be intense and long.  In this 90 day one, I often only read a verse or two of Scripture, answer a couple of questions and then read a little synopsis she's written.  My initial impression was, "Really?  What am I going to get out of this when I'm barely reading anything?"

But was I ever wrong.  Funny thing...God can use even just a few words from His Word and challenge me throughout my day.  He has already done this multiple times through this study, even with my negative attitude.  This morning was one of those mornings that I pulled a lot from the words laid on those pages.

Here is the text:

"As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased."  Matthew 3:16-17

One of the questions asked was about receiving a father's blessing and what kind of mark that leaves on a person whether they have received it or not.  Since Jake and I work in youth ministry, we see daily the difference a loving father makes in the life of his child.  We've seen both the blessings and, really, the curses, if you will, that come from a father and his abundance or lack of love and support.  A child with a father's love tends to be full of respect for his/herself and has confidence to face the world.  A child without a father's love tends to face this world constantly looking for something to fill that void.  Obviously there are exceptions to this, but this tends to be the norm.

It's also been researched that the filter we view God through is the same filter we view our fathers through.  So, if your father was loving?  God is loving.  If your father was abusive?  God is messed up and full of wrath as well.  It's such an interesting parallel and one I'm not really diving into today, but it just brings a little more light to what I'm thinking through this afternoon.

Beth pointed out that on this particular day, as Jesus began His ministry, God opened up heaven...a place Christ hadn't seen for a long time...about 30 years to be exact!  She also pointed out that Jesus probably wasn't audibly hearing the Father's voice every day since God called him to sympathize with us here on earth so this was an incredibly special moment for him.  She writes,

"So the audible voice of His Father sounding forth at His baptism must have just fallen on Jesus with the dearest of familiarity.  This was the love of His life.  I want to think that through the night, He replayed that voice and blessing in His own mind a thousand times.  "He loves Me.  Life is hard here, but He's proud of Me.  I have the blessing.  I have the blessing."

These are of course not words found in Scripture but I love her idea of what Jesus may have thought after not being with His Father for so long.

Don't we all need that?  A boost to know we're doing okay?  And where do we turn to get that boost?  

I know in my own life, it's to two husband and my dad.  Sure, I have friends, my sister and sisters-in-law, even my mom to tell me that I'm doing a great job.  But for some reason, it's from these two men in my life that I receive the greatest blessing when they let me know that they're behind me and they have my back.

It made me think what kind of parents Jake and I are and whether or not we're offering this kind of love and acceptance to our kids.

So this morning, my journaling was this:
"God, thank You for the kind of Father You are.  I love that when Christ began His ministry, You made sure to open Heaven to let Him know how You loved Him and approved of Him.  So many kids today don't have that from their parents.  Please remind Jake and I to be that for our kids - to be their #1 supporters and encouragers, especially when rough roads lie ahead.  Help us to encourage the kids in the ways You've made them and not for our own gain. (That's such a biggie, isn't it?!?) Thank You for setting such an example of love for Your Son - and that it's something practical that we can do for our kids too.  You are so awesome and I'm so blessed You're my Father too!"

I want my kids, throughout each of their days, to be able to say, "They love me.  Life is hard here, but they're proud of me.  I have the blessing.  I have the blessing."  And, ultimately, my prayer is that they will be able to repeat this same thought about their Father in heaven because of the love and approval we've extended to them.

I think this is probably one of the greatest blessings I can give to the little blessings God has given me.

intention vs. direction

I heard a quote somewhere before and it goes like this:

"Direction, not intention, determines your path."

It's a simple statement but one that's really hit me between the eyes as of late, especially when it comes to relationships.  Specifically, I'm thinking of my husband and kids.

My intention, of course, is to always love them, have them know that I love them and to always be a source of encouragement in their walks with God.  My intention is to have a family who loves God completely and to allow Him to use me as a tool for that to happen.  My intention is to have kids who are influential, hard working members of society who have a passion for things that are just and, above all, that they would love God and love others.  These are the things I dream about when I think of my family and my hope of what we'll be.

But my intention isn't what gets me there.  It's the every day choices I make that determines the direction I'm headed.

I have to ask myself, have I been heading toward this direction with the way I've parented my kids so far?

Has God been a part of our every day so that He's naturally a part of their every day when they're away from me?

Have I spent time with them that is full of both quantity and quality?

Do I allow them to just be themselves and engage in their worlds rather than expecting them to join me in my own?

Have I exposed them to seeing needs around them or (I'm waiting for the gasps on this one!) even allowed them to be needy by not stepping up and providing for them but allowing God to answer their prayers instead?

Have I been sensitive to the needs of my family and truly sacrificed and worked to ensure that they feel loved and supported?

You see, of course my intention is to have all of these things be a part of our normal lives.  But when the calendar gets full and dinner is going and kids are wailing and the phone is ringing and there is work to be done at every corner I turn, it's very easy to pop on the TV and not fully engage again until we say a quick prayer before bedtime and possibly read a story or two.  

The choices I've been making as a mom are choices that benefit me.  I'm getting my day's work done, but at whose expense?  I'm answering emails and calls and making sure that photos are edited even earlier than the deadline I told my clients but it takes two or three times for my daughter to say my name before I turn away from my task to dress her Barbie.  When was the last time I sat and played Barbies?  Or built Legos?  Or turned a movie on to snuggle in and relax together rather than checking off my to-do list in the hour and a half of time it allows?

One of the things we've made for this December is a step in the direction we're trying to go.  We have made December a "no game month."  This simply means that computer games and phone games and Ipad games aren't an option...for any of us.  Even for me, I'm allowing myself to check email, respond to what I need to, and, if I do much of anything else, I will write a blog about my family.  The people who are headed on this journey with me.

Hopefully, I'll have lots to write about playing dress-up, playing board games, coloring and running around outside.  And hopefully in this little step, it will lead to another little step and then another and another...until I'm completely intentional with the direction of our course.

How about you?  How does this relate to your work?  Relationships?  Leave a comment because I'd love to know who else is with me on this!

Kids' Quotes

Here are a few blurbs of what I'm loving lately:

Maurah and Hayden are really into playing "wedding."  Right now, they are in the living room, all dressed in big, flouncy dresses, Maurah as the prince and Hayden as the princess, twirling each other around and around while Hayden sings a made-up song at the top of her lungs.  It is so fun to watch them have each other to play like this together.  They are SO into this, that while Maurah and I were on our date the other night at Joann Fabrics, she asked if we could please go down the "dress aisle" A.K.A. the silky, frilly material aisle.  As we walked through all of the tulle and lace, she showed me every dress that she wants to wear when her prince comes to marry her.  I just smiled and soaked up that bit of sweetness with her, hoping she settles for nothing less than a prince to sweep her away, but knowing the reality that at least one broken heart awaits her in her future, as it did for me and most other women who have ever lived and loved.  I'm savoring these innocent moments with the girls and their first, imaginary loves.

Laina is really into giving loves and hugs right now.  This morning, she came up and squeezed me as hard as she could and then said, "And a kiss!"  To get real kisses from her is a huge treasure!  She either turns her head away or licks you right now, so dry lips puckered is a real treat!  :)  She also walks around wearing a big tutu much of the day.  My very talented cousin made two tutus for the twins when they were little and Laina has claimed Hayden's as her own!  Whether in jammies or clothes, there is that tutu right on top!  She's worn it while we carved pumpkins, she's worn it to church, she's worn it to pick up Cole from school.  She walks around saying, "Look at me, I'n a pin-thess!"  I smile just thinking about it. :)

Cole comes home every day from school and gives me a humongous hug.  I love that guy so much.  I already look at him and see absolutely no sign of baby in him and realize how much faster these years are going to go now that he is in school and the majority of his day is spent outside of the house.  I love watching the independence he's gaining and the way he so easily makes friends at school.  His personality has so many similarities yet is so different from mine.  I had a very small group of close friends because I was so shy and never did I dare to meet anyone from a different grade or even a different class.  He has friends in every single Kindergarten class and also has befriended some first graders!  He's totally comfortable in his own skin and loves to be social.  He's into making up stories (his imagination is incredible!) and telling jokes.  The latest joke is this:  Knock-knock.  Who's there?  Interrupting cow.  Interrupting cow---MOO!!  Jake and I have heard this probably 100 times in our lives but still laugh every time Cole says it because 1) the kid can really "moo" and 2) he is cracking up himself and it's hilarious to hear him giggle like that!

Maurah, Hayden and I were playing a game of Memory today and Maurah was so excited.  I said, "Maurah, do you like playing games?"  "Mm-hmm," she responded.  Then she said, "And I love to smile.  Smiling's my favorite.  Just like Buddy the Elf!"  I think I've been letting her watch ELF a little too much lately but I LOVE that she can quote it!

We've been doing a thankful tree in our dining room where the kids add a leaf of something they're thankful for every night.  Our leaves range from going to church, to what Cole played at recess that day, to Laina's multitude of leaves that say "Merry Christmas!"  She said it the first night, got some laughs and has said it every night since.  We're excited to see at the end of the month just how many leaves of hers say something about Christmas on them!  Ha!  I am LOVING this and want to find a way to do something similar all year round.  If we forget to do it, they are right there telling us about it.  It's so nice to walk into our home and see all of our blessings posted on the wall.  Such a great visual to remember the kind of perspective we should have each day!

Things the little kids say that I don't want to correct:

The girls say "I have the cough-es" when they cough a little bit.  It's just so cute how they emphasize the end of the word.

They also ask for chapstick because they have the hiccups.  Not sure where they came up the idea that chapstick was to soothe hiccups, but I laugh every time they ask for it!

Laina makes the pig's sound any time she sees a pig and says, "Koink! Koink!"  It's way too adorable for words.

The girls are really into watching Cole either play computer games or listening to him read.  Whenever they ask if they can watch him, he responds with, "Yeah!  Sure, hun!" I wish I could convey his voice when I type this out and hope I never forget it.  It's a little bit higher pitched than how he normally talks but is filled with love and excitement because it makes him feel really special too, that the girls would want to watch him.

These kids are so awesome.  I love their personalities and how they're all so different but we make up such a tight-knit family.  I hope and pray they stay such great friends forever.

A New Spark

June also brought with it a somewhat new adventure for Maurah.  She joined MainStage Academy of Dance in the winter and showcased her work t...