Saturday, January 6, 2018

Looking Towards 2018

This is part two of my reflections of 2017 and looking forward to 2018. I was a tad too verbose in the first one so I thought I needed to split them up. If you missed it, you can see my 2017 review here.

For the most part, I haven't made New Years resolutions a large priority in the past. No one ever keeps them, so why make them. Oh, I have dreams in my head of how I'd like the year to go and how I'd like to improve myself, but I always struggle with turning dreams into goals into reality. This year I'm going to try to set some goals and strategically work my way through them. Here's how.

For the last several years I have solely used digital tools to keep my daily life running. I use Google Calendar for my schedule, a spreadsheet and Mint to stay on track with my budget, and various apps to track habits, make plans, etc. Now, I will still use those things, but I think an actual planner may help me have something tangible to assist with follow through. The problem is there are approximately 8.2 million planners out there. And as I've said before, I hate making decisions. After much research, I finally decided on the Living Well Planner. I don't think any planner has exactly what I want. For that I'd basically have to make my own like a Bullet Journal. That requires way to much time and creativity for this girl. The thing about the Living Well Planner that I did like was the emphasis on setting goals and then strategically working towards them each month, week and day. I'll do a full review of the planner after I've been able to use it for a few months.

My Goals
I started by choosing my top three goals. These are the things I will work on first. Then I chose one smaller goal in each of the following categories: Personal Growth, Fun & Recreation, Health & Fitness, Home Improvement, Finance, and Connecting. I've listed my goals below. I've taken out some of the specifics in order to not distract from the intent of the goal. The numbers would only be important to our family.

Big Three
  • Start a podcast - This is a huge one for me. I started listening to podcasts around eight months ago. I had a few I liked and my list has now grown to about six I listen to consistently on my long commute and a few more I listen to here or there. So, why start one of my own? I've grown so much from listening to these podcasts. I would really like the opportunity to share that experience with others and look at some of the topics that are important to me and those around me. The plan is to do an interview style podcast and I'm hoping to launch it late summer or early fall. This endeavor is kind of scary for me, but I'm really excited about the possibilities! Be on the lookout for more details later and be prepared for me to ask for some help.
  • Weekend getaway with Lee - Lee and I used to go away for a few days every six months to reflect on our marriage. We haven't taken a trip like that in three years so I'd really like to take at least one trip sans kids this year. It will require some planning and intentionality on our part, but I know it will pay off in the long run.
  • Substantially reduce our minivan loan principle - Without specific numbers here, we're looking to essentially cut our auto debt in half. 
Personal Growth
  • Read 15 non-fiction books - My goal last year was to read at least one non-fiction and one fiction book each month. I didn't quite reach my goal, but I read a lot more non-fiction than I normally do. I'm taking reading fiction off my goal list this year because it's not really a huge challenge for me. Reading is the way I unwind and since I'm sure I'll get entertaining books in when I can I want to be very intentional about reading books that are a bit more edifying. 15 is more than I read last year, but it still seems quite doable.
Fun & Recreation
  • Family trip - I'm still unsure what this will look like. I know what I'd like it to look like (reading some of the above mentioned books on the beach), but with so many goals that involve monetary investments I may have to be happy with something simpler (aka cheaper). Really I just want to have a fun getaway with my family and give the kids some new experiences.
Health & Fitness
  • Eat clean 75% of the time and consistently work our 4 days a week - I'm not planning on doing this day one. I hope to build up to this by making smaller, compounding goals each month. I was gung-ho for about half the year last year and did pretty well, but by the end of the year it took a back seat in my priorities. This year I'm hoping that if I gradually work up to my goal it will give me time to really build on those healthy habits. This isn't a weight loss thing for me. I'm honestly pretty happy where I'm at. This is about being a healthier person.
Home Improvement
  • Plant a garden - One of the books I'm reading right now is Finish by Jon Acuff. It's about (surprise) finishing goals. One of his points is that we need to choose what to bomb. I'm essentially choosing home improvement this year. I already mentioned in the previous post that this is a weak area for me and I'd rather not add a lot of stress or money commitments. So I've chosen one thing that I think would add the most value (in my eyes) to our home. Right now that's our extreme lack of curb appeal. So my plan is to do some research on what flowers/plants are easy to keep alive, get those things planted, and enlist the help of tiny hands with keeping it going. This is probably my scariest goal, because I don't exactly have a green thumb, but it's something I'd really like to do. After this year I may completely change my mind and fill the flower beds with rocks, but until then I'm going to give it my best!
Finance goals
  • Start college funds for the girls - A lot of my goals involve saving/spending money. While I'm really hoping our kids will be geniuses and get full rides to whatever college they want, or they'll choose an occupation that requires special training if not necessarily college, I'd still like to save towards them having a successful future. I'm not aiming for a lot in these funds this year since we have some debt to pay off, but I'd like to at least get them set up.
  • Monthly daughter dates - Last year I learned about the awesome idea of scheduling parent/child dates on the date they were born each month. So for example, since Callie was born December 2, either Lee or I would take her on a date on/around the 2nd of each month. I'd like to be more intentional about this by actually planning it out and putting it on the calendar. 

So there are my 2018 goals! It's a little scary writing them all down, but hopefully it provides me with an extra bit of accountability. You may have noticed while reading (as I did while writing), that many of these goals mention being more intentional in a specific area. Therefore, I'm declaring my word of 2018 to be...INTENTIONAL. I'm hoping to cut out some of the extraneous things and really focus on what adds value. This is not an exhaustive list on what I'd like to work on this year of course. Increasing the quality of my time in the Word and deepening my prayer time are always important. Building new relationships and strengthening current ones are of course essential as well. I'm so thankful for the new year which allows us to reflect on all God has brought us through and look forward to what's to come!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 In Review

Well, 2017 brought a lot of changes to our family. I thought I'd recap/reflect here as well as look at what 2018 will bring. Bear with me as I try to get my mom brain to think of things from a year ago.

  • The first quarter of the year didn't bring a lot of changes, but at the beginning of May we made the HUGE step of purchasing our first home. It really has worked out so well for us mainly in that I have large kitchen I love (in spite of the grapevine wallpaper I haven't changed yet) and a fenced in backyard for our kids. For those of you who don't know, I'm not a decorator. I like nicely decorated houses, but I hate making decisions and even when a decision is made, I am often too lazy to put it into action. We're slowly getting things on the wall, but it's definitely a work in progress. Sorry there are no pictures for this one. I didn't actually take any before and after shots. 😞
  • Our family took a trip to Branson in June as part of the family retreat for the Collegiate and Young Leaders team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (which Lee's work at the BCM is a part of). We got to go have fun (well, Lee had to work sometimes) with the other BCM campus ministers' families and hang out as a family. We went to Silver Dollar City, swam in the hotel pool (Callie's favorite part I think), and I even worked up the courage to take all three kids to the Butterfly Palace by myself (not my best decision). While it wasn't a lot of fun trying to figure out how to get all the kids to sleep well in a hotel, even with adjoining rooms (spoiler alert: we didn't manage it), the trip provided for some crazy fun family memories.

  • There was a lot of summer fun for our family other than Branson as well. Lots of playing in the backyard and hanging out on a mostly empty campus. The older two also had their first swim lessons. The first lesson was a bit rough since Callie nearly drowned because she was being disobedient and Letty screamed the entire time, but by the end of the lessons they had each made huge progress (well, there was less screaming at least). Callie also had the chance to participate in her first team sport...t-ball. While she mostly enjoyed the snack after the games and spent more time playing in the dirt than even looking at the ball, she had fun and looks forward to next year. Although, we're thinking soccer may be a little more action packed for her.

  • Another big "change" for our family is that we adopted our oldest two that we had been fostering for a year and a half. I put change in quotes because day-to-day life didn't change, but of course now they're legally ours. We had a bunch of people pile into the courthouse. It was a bitter sweet day for sure. Our family grew on the same day another was permanently torn apart. We continue to pray for our girls' biological family and hope that one day they'll know the forgiveness and grace of the God Lee and I so desperately cling to. We also closed our home after the adoption and are now involved with The CALL as trainers. So we're not fostering at this time (although we might someday in the future), but God is still using us to fight the foster care crisis.

  • This year Lee and I celebrated our 8th anniversary and everyone turned another year older. The last few months of the year are part of the birthday marathon for us. We loved celebrating with friends and family, but with 4 birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas in the mix as well we are all thankful for things to be back to normal. Well, Callie isn't. She still wishes it was Christmas.

Last year I set a goal of reading one good non-fiction and one good fiction book each month. I usually read more than that, but I don't know if I'd always qualify them as "good." I didn't exactly reach my goal, but I read a lot more non-fiction than I normally do which was what I ultimately wanted. Here's a recap of some of the books I read.

Health and Fitness
I was really able to meet a lot of health and fitness goals this last year. I got down to about 20 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight, I was exercising regularly, and feeding myself and my family more healthy meals. I struggled a bit with consistency at the end of the year, but I have some plans to take a step back and build lifelong healthy habits this year. 

So, this doesn't encompass everything that happened in 2017. We all know that life is made up of small moments everyday which make a large impact on our future selves. I've got some fun goals for 2018 which I'm excited about, but since this post is already long I will do a part 2 about looking forward to the new year. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My non-fiction read for September was a biography anthology called Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I had this book recommended to me, and I hadn't read a biography in a while so I thought I'd check it out. I'm not a huge biography person, but since these were short I figured I could probably handle it. I'm glad I did.

This book gives a brief biography on seven women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. The person that I probably knew the most about was Corrie ten Boom since I had read (and reviewed) The Hiding Place earlier this year. I had at least heard of most of these women, but it was interesting to learn more about their stories and how their faiths influenced them. At the beginning of the book Metaxas talks about how he chose each of these women to write about. As a woman in a very male-dominated field, I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I liked how he put this statement. "When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it; and what made them great has nothing to do with their being measured against or competing with men." They used their God-given femininity to accomplish amazing things for His kingdom.

I will admit, I had a difficult time connecting to some of the women in this book. Joan of Arc for example. Her experience was so "other" that while I found it interesting, I also felt pretty removed from it. I would say the same about Susanna Wesley. I can't really relate to having that many kids or even her style of parenting. And while I do think she was great in her own right, and not just because of her famous sons Charles and John Wesley, there wasn't a lot that really stood out to me. However, I think everyone can learn about standing against social injustice from the other five women. Hannah More stood against slavery in Europe. Maria Skobtsova was a radical orthodox nun who loved on refugees, including Jews during WWII, which eventually led to her death in a concentration camp. Corrie ten Boom also stood against the Nazis and was sent to a concentration camp, but her life after the war is a shining example of forgiveness. Rosa Parks, as we know, risked her life and stood up against institutional racism. And Mother Teresa of course stood up for the "least of these" by living with the very people she served. I think there are incredible lessons to be learned from these women because of the relevance of their stories in the society we currently live in. They stood up for those who had no voice. And only one of those women, Rosa Parks, was even part of the voiceless minority she defended. What an incredible challenge for us to step out of our comfort zones and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So, all that to say, if you are looking for short stories of some incredible women and maybe you don't have the time (or desire) to invest in a full-length biography, this could be a great option for you. These women displayed qualities that I can point out to my own daughters. These are women who lived out their faith in remarkable ways.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Blind Spot Review - Dani Pettrey

I'm a bit late in writing the review, but my fiction book for September was Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey. This is the third book in the Chesapeake Valor series and I reviewed the previous two books here and here.

As I mentioned above, this book is part of a series, and you really need to read the first two before reading this one. This story follows FBI agent Declan Grey and Tanner Shaw, who is now working as a crisis counselor for the FBI. We met these characters in previous books and the main storyline is also a continuation from the previous book (see why you need to read them in order?). They work together to stop a terrorist attack all while trying to figure out their growing relationship as well. There are a couple of other stories going on in this one which tie in previous characters as well as their missing friend Luke. I'm assuming that story will all be wrapped up in the next book.

I think I enjoyed this book a lot more than the previous two. With the background already established I didn't find myself confused all the time trying to figure out who everyone was and what their story was. It was fast paced as usual, and the characters were well-developed. I especially liked learning about Tanner's background. What a fun surprise. If you're a fan of Christian suspense, I would definitely recommend this book (as well as her other series). I'll be looking for the next book!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Praying for Girls - Review

I've fallen behind on my reading. This is in large part due to the fact that I started keeping all three girls at home on my days off. I'm not going to stress about it though, because I want reading, even nonfiction, to be enjoyable. When it becomes something I "have to" do then I get less out of it. My July/August nonfiction book was Praying for Girls by Teri Lynne Underwood.

This book was so incredibly practical. Raising kids is so wonderfully hard, and each gender comes with its own set of challenges. Since we have three girls, having applicable scripture-based prayers to say over my daughters is invaluable to me. Praying for Girls works through five main areas of a girl's life: her identity, her heart, her mind, her relationships, and her purpose. Each part is broken up into different aspects of the main areas with Biblical truths, Scripture-based prayers (for both daughters and mothers), and creative ways to talk to daughters about those truths. Combined they form effective tools to help us, as parents, guide our daughters into becoming godly women.

I already prayed for my kids every day, but having very specific prayers that address circumstances they'll face in life, and suggested ways to talk to them about those circumstances (based on their age) was a huge blessing. This is a book I feel like I need to continuously work through over and over again to guide me through praying for my kids. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of raising children in today's society, but prayer is the best way to help us in that feat. Ultimately, we have to come to a place where we realize that there's only so much we can do, and God is in control. Wonderfully, He loves our kids abundantly more than we every could. It says in the book, "We don't have to be perfect prayers, nor do our prayers have to be perfect, because the God who hears us and loves us - and our girls - is perfect and perfectly able." What an amazingly comforting thought.

If you have girls, I couldn't more strongly recommend this book. I believe it has helped make my prayers more focused and effective, and it has given me ideas of how to talk to my kids now, and in the future about what it means to be a Christ-follower. I pray it has a similar impact on your family as well.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Women Who Move Mountains - Review

So, even though I'm just now writing the review, my June nonfiction book was Women Who Move Mountains: Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace by Sue Detweiler.

This book is essentially broken into two chapter sections. The odd numbered chapters give both biblical and modern examples of women whose prayer lives made lasting effects on God's kingdom. The even chapters provide discussion/reflection questions to aid in application. We all know prayer is important, but have you experienced its power? Do you truly believe it makes a difference.

Sue shares some very valuable insight on how to develop a rich and meaningful prayer life. The Bible is full of examples of prayer warriors, and I really enjoyed the modern examples she shared as well. If we recognize who we are because of our position in Christ, then prayer is a natural part of our relationship with God. But we don't have to be perfect or pray perfect prayers. God often uses prayer as a tool for perfecting us. I thought the questions in the even numbered chapters did a good job of getting you to think through your own prayer life and how it can be improved. Those chapters also contained common lies we believe as well as truths found in Scripture. Overall, it is very practical but encouraging at the same time.

While, I didn't necessarily agree with all of Sue's theology (minor things), I think she did a very good job of breaking down important aspects of prayer to make it seem possible to have a solid prayer life. I will admit, I didn't know going into it that half the chapters were going to be discussion questions. I was just planning on reading through it and marking things I found useful. It's difficult for me to find time to answer 20+ questions, especially since those questions are accompanied by Scripture that sometimes bounces around the Bible. I do think it would be a good book for a Bible study or book club, but it's not necessarily something you would just sit down and read. Definitely a good book, but know what it is going into it.

So if you have the time to really dig into the book and journal the applications, or if you're wanting to do a book club about prayer with other women, then this is definitely a good option. Check it out!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

With You Always - Christian Fiction Review

My fiction book for June was With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1) by Jody Hedlund. I've read several of Jody Hedlund's books before (including this one) and I've always really enjoyed them. I knew this one would be no different.

With You Always is a historical fiction set during the financial crisis of 1857. Elise Neumann, her two younger sisters and two young orphans are all taken in by the Seventh Street Mission after their parents die and they end up on the streets. Due to the decreasing number of jobs in New York City, Elise is forced to leave her younger sisters behind and ride the orphan train with other young women to one of the developing cities along the rail line in order to find a job. Thornton Quincy is a part of a wealthy family and he learns he has to fulfill two obligations in order to inherit his dying father's company instead of his twin brother. He has to build a more successful town along the rail line and he has to marry for 6 months. He's never beaten his brother in anything, will this time be any different?

Elise and Thornton meet for the first time during a dangerous riot in the streets. Many months later they meet up again on the train. Elise doesn't know that Thornton is part of one of the wealthiest families in the country or that he's practically engaged. All Thornton knows is that he wants to get better acquainted with Elise so he uses his influence to make sure she gets a job in his town. Obviously, Elise is upset when she finds out, and she's also upset by the living and working conditions in this new town. Can she help him see success is not built on fear and the bottom line, and a marriage isn't built on the approval of others?

I really disliked Thornton at the beginning. He's stuck up and selfish. He only cares about beating his brother and gaining his father's approval. Elise, however, is kind and compassionate. In spite of their rocky beginning she sets out to change how Thornton uses his great influence on others. Over time Thornton became a much more likable character. Elise was a wonderful, well-developed character from the beginning. Hedlund also writes very good supporting characters, and I look forward to seeing more of them in future books. I really enjoyed the plot, but some parts of it seemed a bit contrived. Also, there was a bit too much setup for the next book. It took some of the focus off the main story. Overall it was a very interesting concept with complex characters. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.