Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I know it was yesterday, but since Allie flies in today it still feels like Christmas around here! Merry Christmas everyone! This year, as Zach and I enjoyed our special day together, eating scrumptious food and lounging around, I really just wallowed in all that I am thankful for and really tried to catalog every detail in my memory.

This year, I am especially thankful for....

Health for my family. That Zach, Allie, and I are healthy and that it's no big deal for Zach to dance me around the living room to "Baby it's cold outside" after our Christmas dinner. :) This is a gift.

My sister's health. Lindsay is doing great and we are so thankful that her journey with brain cancer has been much more positive than negative. This is a gift.

Allie's salvation and decision to follow Christ. Only recently did I really realize what a huge blessing it is to know without a doubt your child loves Jesus and has asked him into his/her heart. THIS IS A GIFT.

My marriage. I am sure some people get sick of seeing/hearing about it, but I am so incredibly thankful for Zach and our marriage. Having a happy, healthy marriage is kinda rare today and I feel so blessed to have such a special one. I love Zach more today than I did yesterday and I still feel so lucky that he is my husband. This is a gift.

Our ministries at FHC. The fact that Zach and I get to use both of our skills and God given gifts for ministry at such a great church is a blessing beyond words. This is a gift.

Zach's album release. I'm so happy that we were able to trudge through the production part of this process so we could release these incredible songs that Zach has been writing. It is a joy to see how it has been received and how many people they minister to. This is a gift.

Our house. It's warm, cozy, dry, and a place of retreat, rest, and safety for my family. This is a gift.

Our friends who have had sweet babies this year/ stories of God's faithfulness through pregnancy - Abigail, Lydia, and Caleb. These are a gift!

And lastly, but most importantly, Jesus. Thank you God for sending your son to be our rescuer and our hero. Thank you for covering our sin and making it right with us through your son instead of just letting us try to work for it and inevitably fail. Thank you for your love, grace, peace, and so much more than comes from knowing you and being transformed by you. THIS IS A GIFT!

Merry Christmas to all our dear friends and family. We love you.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Traditions

I consider myself a fairly adventurous person. You won't find me scuba diving or willing to be one of the first to take a commercial flight to outer space (I HATE octopus and outer space), but you will find me trying/creating new things all the time. New adventures, new experiences, new memories with my two loves Zach and Allie. And even though I love to mix it up and explore all things "new," there is a part of me that loves tradition too. Sometimes, it's just fun to do the same thing over and over. Sometimes it's fun to look forward to something each year when you know exactly what it will entail.

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas time at my grandparents house in Jacksonville. On Christmas Eve, me, my sister, and my two cousins got to sleep on the floor in sleeping bags in the formal living room in front of my grandparent's Charlie Brown-ish Christmas tree. It was so fun and felt like such a treat on such a magical and exciting night. I still can remember falling asleep in the multi-colored glow from the Christmas tree lights, just beyond the fancy ceramic nativity perfectly arranged on the foyer table.

Oh Christmas... it always brings back a flood of good memories with my family from Christmases past. Our family of three has now started to create our own unique Christmas traditions since we can no longer travel to Florida to be with my extended family due to our ministry commitments. One of those is our Christmas tree.

Tradition #1: Fresh cut Fraser Fur Christmas tree
Since my dad personally brings us our tree prior to Thanksgiving, (read this post for more details on this tree delivery service :)) we get to enjoy the tree for well over a month! Usually on the weekend after Thanksgiving, we will decorate our tree as a family while listening to Christmas music or watching a Christmas movie. I LOVE THE CHRISTMAS TREE. It seriously brings me so much joy to rush downstairs in the morning and turn it on and end my day sitting on my sofa enjoying it's warm, cozy glow.

Tradition #2: Annual special ornament
We also have started getting a special ornament each year. We might buy multiple ornaments that year, but the really special one is tagged so we can remember what year it was from. (To see what Allie and I picked this year, read this post.)

Tradition #3: Annual Allie's Adventures book
Traditions aren't just limited to the holidays for us, they happen year round! For me, the new year starts off by compiling images and stories from the past year to put in a book for Allie. Each year since we have been a family I have made her one and I look forward to continuing this for years to come. It's so important to me that she can easily remember our adventures and life together just by flipping through the pages of a book! (To see Allie's book from 2010, read this post, and from 2011, read this post.) I am actually pretty excited to get started on 2012's book! Stay tuned. :)

Tradition #4: Summer Memory Journal
And speaking of memories, last summer we started keeping a daily memory journal during the five weeks Allie is here. It was seriously so fun/funny, and I look forward to doing it again this summer. (To see our memory journal, read this post.)

Tradition #5: Family vacation
Last summer we also took our first real family vacation. It was a a tour of the southern coast of the US and included stops in Charleston, Savannah, Cumberland Island, St. Augustine, and central Florida. (To see our trip, start reading this post and the following four.) I really hope we can make this an annual thing, visiting new places each summer.

Tradition #6: Family Reunion
But we also visit an old place each year. For over 40 years my family has been going to Lake Junaluska, NC for summer vacation. I have only missed two summers in my almost 30 years of life and it is something we all look forward to. In addition to being here with the family, we have started going to Big Creek Park, just over the state line in TN. When I was a kid we went to Sunburst, but now we have moved on to a more adventurous locale. :) Allie LOVES this place and I'm so happy she loves this family tradition.

Tradition #7: Birthday tees
For Allie's birthday each year, we make custom birthday tees. Zach and I did this on a whim the first year just to do something fun and quirky, but it has turned into an annual part of the birthday celebration.

Tradition #8: The P Day
If you have been following this blog for about the last 6 or 7 months, you will know that Allie and I have taken to regular P Days for mother-daughter fun. We've had like... four or five this year and each one has been unique and fun it it's on way. (Read this post for more on one of our P Days together.)

Gosh I love making memories with me family at any time of year! It's seriously the best. What are some of your family traditions?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Truth or Tradition?

So not until recently did I really realize the impact my job has had on my faith. In addition to all the fun, creative, unusual stuff I get to do, part of my job involves writing the large group scripts for the Exploratorium. As a team, we develop the concept and general content for what is taught, but it's my job to fully flesh it out into a scripted lesson for storytellers to present to our kids. I aim to write it so that anyone can teach it and all age levels can comprehend it. Anyways, all that to say... I have absorbed a lot. And this has given me the opportunity to explore and investigate my faith for myself too. 

One subject we are bringing to light this December with our K - 5th graders is the tradition of the nativity versus truth of the Bible and I wanted to share some of the details here on the blog. If you aren't a Christian or are unfamiliar with the actual biblical text surrounding Jesus' birth, you will be surprised to know that many elements (such a donkey, a mean inn keeper, a barn, wise men, etc) most Christians believe to be a part of this story are no where to be found in the actual Bible story. I know, shocking, since it is so common for us to believe this due to all the Christmas pageants and little nativity sets we see all the time.

To get the real story, I encourage you to go back and read the text in Matthew and Luke, paying attention to all the words. (Side note: This is why having a good version of the Bible is so important because simple words translated incorrectly can majorly derail us from the original meaning. I suggest the ESV Study Bible which is a word- for- word translation of the Bible versus many other phrase- by- phrase translations. Also, even the very best attempts at translating correctly can be lost on us due to drastic cultural differences. It is important that we also understand the time and culture surrounding the text in order for it to make sense.)

So for those of you that just wanna get the bullet point version instead of trying to translate words from Greek on your own, here is the Cliff Notes version of the REAL story of Christ's birth.

Were Mary and Joseph alone on the journey to Bethlehem? 
Highly unlikely. During this time in history, most people walked everywhere. The roads were dirt and actually quite dangerous due to robbers. Because of this, people normally traveled by caravan. Also, since everyone was going to their hometowns for the census, it is likely there were many people on the road and possibly even some family traveling with them.

Did Mary ride on a donkey? 
Maybe. Nothing says for certain whether she walked or rode.

Were Mary and Joseph frantically looking for a place to stay because Mary was in labor before they entered Bethlehem? 
No. They had been there for days.

Was Jesus born in a stable/barn because there was no room for them at the local hotel/inn? 
Nope.  So back then, people didn't stay in hotels everywhere like we do now. People mostly stayed with family or friends or even at a stranger's home. It was not unlikely to entertain strangers even though it seems so dangerous to us now. Most homes at the time actually had space for visitors to stay in a moments notice. The word we read as "inn" is actually originally translated to "guest room." It is most likely that Mary and Joseph were staying with family (since it was Joseph's home town) and that due to everyone being there for the census, the guest room at the house was already taken by visitors. Back then, the design of most homes was a 2-story strucure. The primary living space/ sleeping area was upstairs, and the downstairs was used for animals and some storage. At night, the animals belonging to the family for survival purposes (not an entire flock or anything) would be brought into the first floor to feed and sleep. (Having a separate wooden structure for animals would have been really unlikely since this was not the traditional way of caring for animals and wood for building purposes was not in abundance. See Israel/ Bethlehem landscape and local botany.) It is believed that this first floor living space for animals is where Mary and Joseph hung out due to an overcrowded home and where Jesus was born.

Was Joseph with Mary when Jesus was born? 
Probably not. Ancient Israelite culture did not include the father figure holding the wife's hand and cheering her on while giving birth. At the time of birth, the men of the home/family, would leave and give the mother privacy while the women would stay and help the mother. Afterwards, the entire family would be re-united to celebrate the new life. It is likely that Mary could have been surrounded by her future-mother-in-law and maybe some of Joseph's sisters.

Was Jesus laid in a manger after he was born? 
Yes. Since they were staying on the first level of the home where the animals stayed, this now makes sense. We aren't sure whether it was made out of wood or of stone since very little has been found through archeological discoveries.

Did three wise men bring gifts to Jesus the night he was born? 
No. The wise men didn't show up until Jesus was about 2 years old. We don't know how many there was, but we commonly see three because three gifts are named that were given to Christ. If you are interested in knowing more about the star of Bethlehem that guided the wise men to Jesus, I encourage you to watch this very interesting (and rather scientific so get ready) DVD-
Was Jesus born on December 25th? 
Very unlikely. The explanation of this is very long and rather complex, so I encourage you to look into some additional materials such as this cd I have from the Holy Land Experience -
It is great if you can get your hands on one (or borrow mine). It's almost 9 years old so it might be out of circulation now.  

Did Jesus, who is God's son, come to earth as a man to save us all from sin? 
Absolutely!!!

And really, that's all that matters. But it is important to know truth from tradition so we can more fully understand the majesty and grace of who Christ is and what he has done for us.
If this information is shocking to you, I highly encourage you to check out Truth or TraditionCommon Misconceptions about Christ's birth, and additional ESV online resources if you have access to them. These sites are kinda clunky, but they have great information, scripture references, and cultural explanations of details of this very important event!

I love how the Truth or Tradition website ends their research with this observation though...
"The story of the birth of Christ reveals what we today consider to be the true spirit of Christmas. Not people closing their hearts and homes to a couple in need, but rather people opening both their hearts and their homes, and joyfully giving to others in need and helping where they can. It is wonderful that the Christ, who gave so much to so many, was born in circumstances in which people were so giving to him."
It really is a much more beautiful picture than I ever thought! Now, when I look at a nativity set or watch a Christmas pageant, I am reminded of how much richer and deeper God's word is than I could ever imagine and that I need to continue to seek truth based off God's word instead of just accepting common beliefs or practices that are a part of our culture.

Happy Christmas ya'll!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Cake

If you are like me, you love all things sugar and spice and everything... cinnamon. A few weeks back I made this coffee cake and it was amazing. Well of course it was... does Martha Stewart ever put forth a bad recipe?


Anyways... with Christmas approaching I wanted to share the recipe because it would make the most delightful holiday breakfast bread with coffee. Such a sweet and delicious cinnamony treat.

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Ingredients:


  • For the streusel topping and center:
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans

  • For the cake:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions:
  1. Make the streusel topping: Mix together flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small to medium clumps form. Mix in 1/2 cup pecans. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Make the streusel center: Mix together remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 cup pecans.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a bowl.
  4. Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Continue to beat until well combined.
  5. Spoon half the batter into pan. Sprinkle streusel center mixture evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter, and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Sprinkle streusel topping mixture evenly over batter.
  6. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Remove cake from pan, and transfer to parchment.
  7. Make the glaze: Mix together confectioners' sugar and milk. Drizzle over cake, and let drip down sides. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flouhouse Family

Back in early November I did a photo shoot for the Flouhouses and their family of 10. Honestly, I was super scared out of my mind to take on 4 kids and 6 adults on a cold, November morning, but it turned out fine... great actually. I wanted to share a couple of my favorite shots here on the blog because this family has some seriously adorable kiddos.

Kennedy
 Grandkids
 Mr. Miles
 Lydia



 All together now
Love this series of Kennedy playing in the leaves (click to view enlarged)
And this one of the boys.
 Miles, up to no good. :)
Thanks Ashley and Taylor for the opportunity (and for trusting me!) to take pics of your precious extended family. We love ya'll!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In flight surrender

After almost a week of family time during the Thanksgiving holiday, Allie flew back to Alabama unaccompanied for the first time. This wasn't the original plan, but I am so incredibly thankful it turned out this way so we would be the parents to prep Allie for this transition, be with her in the airport, and make it as smooth as possible.

Zach and I have been looking forward to this day for almost two years and here's why...

Two years ago we moved from Atlanta to central Florida. This massive transition changed many things in our life, but it greatly impacted our closeness to Allie and ease of getting her regularly. Our once 4 hr drive from Atlanta every other week now became 11 hrs which took our regular commutes to air travel.  At the time, we weren't sure how we could pull this off, but we knew without any doubt that God orchestrated our move, was sovereign over all, and that included Allie being a part of our family.

Before taking the ministry position in Florida, Zach arranged with his boss to travel bi-monthly to Alabama, Mondays - Wednesdays, since he naturally wouldn't be able to travel on the weekends due to leading 5 worship services. This was incredibly gracious of that church and also Zach's mom, who has consistently provided support and housing for Zach and Allie throughout the years in Alabama. (Cindy, what would we do without you? :) You are seriously the best MIL a girl could ever ask for and I am so grateful for all you have done and continue to do for my two favorite people on earth!)

So Zach began flying, every other week, and let me tell ya- it wasn't easy. At the time, there was no direct flight to Huntsville or way of getting to her from the city we lived in. Zach and I would drive 1.5 hrs to Orlando from our home in Ormond Beach, Zach would board a plane and connect in either Atlanta, Charlotte, or Chattanooga, and then head on to Huntsville. Many, I mean MANY times these flights were delayed, cancelled, or problematic. Once, due to a cancellation, he even had to drive 11 hrs through the night to get back in time to preach (yes, he was preaching AND leading worship), for the weekend. Even though it was difficult and expensive, we pressed on as Zach always has. Since Allie was born she has always been his priority no matter what. It would take me days to write a post that included all he has done for her and sacrificed for her over the years, but even when he has been completely broke with nothing to his name except his dad's first guitar, he has made a way to be with Allie and meet her needs. He is a total rockstar in more ways than one. :)

For the year we were in Florida, Zach flew every other week to be with Allie. Then, in a slew of unforeseen events, God up and moved us to Charlotte. At first, I was really resistant to the idea because it didn't help us get that much closer to Allie. To me, the goal was get closer to Allie. Get to Nashville and stop the madness! In Charlotte, we would still need to fly. However, God changed my heart and He has shown us, in MANY ways, why we are in Charlotte and that He has a perfect plan for Allie here. For more deets on this and how intentionally God has been providing for our Allie, read this post.

Anyways, now with a full life in Charlotte, it was time for Allie to come to us so she could be a part of it. She needed to have her own bedroom at our house. She needed to see her dad do what he is so passionate about and something God has anointed him to do. She needed to have friends and sleepovers and birthday parties. She needed community and a real life here, not just a few days with dad at Nana's every other week. It was a difficult transition with many bumps for a variety of reasons, but Zach started flying to Alabama, picking Allie up at the airport, flying her back to Charlotte and vice versa on the way back. Yes, it seems insane when there are airline polices in place for her to fly as an unaccompanied minor without a parent, but it is what needed to happen. So for the last year we have been buying 3 planes tickets instead of one every time Allie comes (unless my MIL or BIL came too) just to get Allie and ensure she is not only a part of our life, but building her own life here in Charlotte. It has been difficult and expensive, but it has been worth every penny to get Allie here. I really hate that she can't be here more and it breaks my heart when she begs us to stay. But such is the life of a child of divorce, always missing out on something, somewhere, and at this age, she's not old enough to do much about it.

So anyways... the day had finally arrived - Allie's 12th birthday. With it came much joy and presents for Allie, but also.... she had now crossed the threshold of when all parties involved had agreed to let her fly without Zach. As is the case with all things new and unknown, Allie was a little anxious, but you would have never known it. She was cool and relaxed in the airport as we went through all the steps, waited to board, and got her to her US Airways escort at the gate entrance.

(For those of you who don't know, when a child flies without a parent, they are taken through the airport and all the way to the gate by a parent. The only time they are "alone" is when they are in their seat on the plane and now under the supervision of the flight attendant assigned to them. At the departure gate, the parent dropping off must remain until the plane is in flight. At the arrival gate, the other parent is required to be waiting at the gate as well when the child arrives.)

Maybe she was totally fine because we had talked through everything with her about a billion times on various flights over the last 2 years and in many conversations. Maybe it was because we got her her first phone so she could call us once she sat in her seat, before the "turn everything off" announcement was made and as soon as her plane touched down in Alabama. With it she felt tethered to us, connected, even though it was turned off during flight. Maybe it was because I had been praying for God to overwhelm her with peace- His peace, and that her heart and emotions would be calm. It was probably the latter that did the trick, but I neglected to pray for my own peace! Ha! Big mistake. :)

As soon as we hugged Allie bye and watched her walk with the attendant to the plane, tears started streaming down my face and both our hearts were overcome with anxiety. What were we doing?!! Why was she flying alone?! Why did everyone tell us this was no big deal and something Allie should have been doing all along?! Obviously those people had never watched their child walk to a plane!!! As the internal meltdown began while we waited in the airport for her flight to take off, I started doubting everything I know to be true, everything good God has done in our life. I started giving into the fear and anxiety and questioning his very intentional plan.

Before I crumpled into a heap on the airport carpet, I started to examine my reasons for feeling this way. Why am I fearful? Why am I so anxious? Is it because I feel that Allie is unsafe? No. I know she is as safe as she can be and statistically much more safe on a plane than in a car. We would never do anything that threatened her safety. Is she unhappy? No. She seemed her normal self. I discovered that the reason I was anxious and fearful was not rooted in anything legitimate, but only in my desire for control.

I felt panicked and fearful and anxious because she was now outside my control. There was nothing I could do during that 1 hr flight if she needed me. And that's when it hit me. The word that my sinful self tries to fight everyday, the word that I treat like my enemy, but is ironically the road to freedom -

surrender.

I needed to surrender her to God, her ultimate provider and protector. God reminded my heart that she is His, not ours. He reminded me that I need to trust Him to meet her needs instead of believing we can take care of them all. He reminded me of all the things I wrote in this post last January, all the incredible things God has done in our lives, and that He has not just... forgotten about the need to fly to get Allie here. He is working and sovereign over everything and I need to start acting like it in regard to our situation with Allie.

I came down off my ledge as Allie was in flight, but Zach and I were both a bit... traumatized until we heard her happy voice on the other end of that precious new phone. Ha! I am so so so grateful it was such a good first experience and that we have overcome this first hurdle. Ironically, as difficult and frustrating as this can be sometimes, I am also thankful for the obstacles surrounding this co-parenting situation with Allie because it constantly points me to the cross and reminds me to lean into Jesus and surrender. I know that when I do, I can be more filled with his peace, joy, and love and that will ultimately serve our daughter in a much greater way and will show her how to do the same.

Friday, December 7, 2012

P is for Polaroid

P Days. Allie and I love 'em. (If you have no idea what I am talking about check out this post.)
Our mother-daughter creative day dates took a slight turn over the Thanksgiving holiday to include Zach in a Polaroid P Day. What is a Polaroid P Day you ask? It's only a day when you drive around town, looking for things that start with the letter p, and take a Polaroid picture of yourself with it.

Sounds stupid, but it was some crazy fun. (Thanks Eric and Lisa for letting us borrow your awesome camera!!!)


Our silly polaroids

Some of my favorites...







Man I love these two.
Favorite girl in the world.
I can't wait for more P Days in 2013!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trimming of the Tree

Christmas trees are a huge family tradition for us. For years my dad has driven from Florida to western North Carolina just to get fresh cut trees for our family and family friends. It's an awesome tradition that has brought me my very own gorgeous tree for the 7 years I have lived on my own. I am so grateful to my dad for committing to do this, even in years when it has been hard, and setting up the tree for me/us. Thanks dad!

We got our tree actually before Allie got here for Thanksgiving, but we decorated it as a family the following Saturday while listening to Christmas music (thanks apple tv!). I love moments like these!

Christmas tree decorating started with saying goodbye to Andy the pumpkin.
 Lights first
Down from the attic!




Each year we get at least one new special ornament that I tag for that year so in year's to come we can have a really special collection. Last year's ornament was a snowflake Allie gave us.
This year Allie and I went ornament shopping for the 2012 ornament. We played a little game in the store where we each had 5 minutes to pick out 3 ornaments. Then we would show each other and pick one to be our special one for the year. Allie and I both selected this bird's nest ornament so it was the obvious choice for 2012!
A few other cute ones we picked up include this bird made of yarn
a yellow metal star
 and a silver guitar for Daddy of course!
I loooove sitting in the warm Christmas tree glow each night in the living room. It seriously is one of my favorite things about the Christmas season and I love how I can now look at our special ornaments and remember our stories and life together. Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Give Good Gifts

For years I have been supporting World Vision. Each year I look forward to Christmas time for various reasons and one of them is that it's when the World Vision Gift Catalog comes out.
Last year I wrote a post about our love for the catalog. Our family of three ended up giving a number of items to people in need through the GC, but this year I wanted Allie to have the opportunity to give out of her own money. We weren't gonna force her, but we really want to encourage this... lifestyle of giving and a heart for helping those in need. Allie had gotten about $75 for her birthday from various family members and I also told her she could do some extra chores to earn some money. I didn't want to just give her the money to give.

Wow... was I blown away by her response.

She sat on the sofa for nearly an hour, pouring over the catalog and doing math, adding up various gifts to see what she could afford.
I honestly expected her to spend maybe.... half? her money. But no. Allie wanted to give it ALL.

She ended up doing some outdoor chores (sweeping and cleaning our porch and deck in addition to clearing out all of our garden from this spring)

(picking leaves out of the garden netting)

and earned an additional $20 to put towards her gift.

That brought her total to $95. With it, Allie bought:

2 chickens
Mosquito nets needed for 2 families
5 fruit trees
(The total was actually $91, but that was the most Allie could get under $95)

Seeing her so willing to give away everything she had just... overwhelmed me. Gosh I love this girl!!! I am so honored to be her stepmom and help her grow into the woman God wants her to be.

God has blessed us, so we want to bless others.

Another organization that my DGroup is supporting this year is Gospel for Asia that helps equip missionaries as well as those in need. Thanks TLC for bringing this to my attention and giving us the opportunity to give!

Now I know that these 2 organizations provide support primarily through financial giving, but that's not all that you can do. There are tons of FREE ways to give and make a difference in the lives of others.

For the last 5 weeks at Forest Hill, we've been doing a series called Justice and shedding light on some big world issues that require our attention- things like orphans, the persecuted church, slavery/human trafficking, hunger and clean water, and genocide. In our effort to delicately share these truths with children, we've stumbled across some incredible resources that anyone can do to help change lives and spread the gospel throughout the nations. Here are my favorite 8 ways to get involved:

1. Help orphans
You can sponsor a child through World Vision, Compassion International, or Mission of Hope in Haiti. There are agencies throughout the world who ensure that these orphans receive food, shelter and an education.


2. Help the persecuted church 
Get Bibles into the hands of those who cannot walk to store and purchase one because it is against the law. Check out Voice of the Martyrs.

3. Help the persecuted church

Write a letter to someone who lives in a persecuted area to encourage them. Check out Open Doors.

4. Help stop slavery
Knowledge is power so educate yourself and learn about what is happening. Find out which companies are knowingly purchasing goods from places where child slavery is happening. Use your money to stop them by NOT buying their products. You have the power! One company committed to helping stop slavery is called Free 2 Work. I wrote about this previous on this blog post

5. Help stop hunger
www.thehungersite.com is a website where you can easily help the world’s hungry. You simply go to the site, click on the button and 1.1 cups of food will be donated to feed the hungry at home and overseas. It is free, takes just a few seconds and makes a difference so get into the daily habit of visiting and clicking!

6. Help stop hunger
www.freerice.com is a website where you play simple online word games to earn rice that is distributed through the United Nations World Food Program. You simply answer multiple-choice questions about word meanings. For every answer you get correct, Freerice.com donates 10 grains of rice. This may seem insignificant, but in its first month of operation alone, Freerice donated more than one million grains of rice. It is simple, fast and free; you help end world hunger and improve your vocabulary at the same time!

7. Help stop genocide
Are companies in the world doing enough to help? Some buy their materials for their products from groups known to be part of conflict and stirring up hatred. Check out www.raisehopeforcongo.org under Conflict Minerals to see if the technology you are buying may be contributing to the next genocide.

8. Help stop genocide

Teach people how to forgive. When you have been hurt of wronged, the best thing you can do is forgive that person. Genocide will not happen if people would learn to forgive each other.

Seriously ya'll... some of these take just a click on the computer to help or require you to change brands. It's that easy! I'm gonna start going to thehungersite.com and freerice.com daily (and Allie too when she is here) to start doing more to help. It's what Christ has called us to do and it is a privilege to serve those in need and share God's love with them.