April 19, 2017

So You Want to Start a Women's Bible Study Group

Alright, sister, don't bail on me just yet. Because I can already imagine what you might be thinking.

"Well, no, actually, I don't really want to start one at all. I don't know what I'm doing! I'm scared to death. I wish God would ask someone else. But I'm thinking maybe God is telling me I should start one, and so I'm hoping for a little guidance on how to do that. Even though I'm terrified."

All of which is totally understandable. And I would have given this post a title more reflective of that reality, except that "So You Think God Might Be Calling You to Start a Women's Bible Study Group and You're Trying to Be Obedient To Him Even Though You Don't Know What You're Doing" wasn't going to do much for us, search-engine wise.

If you're still with me, allow me to say this: congratulations! Because if God is calling you to this, He will equip you for it. And if He is calling you to it, that means He has amazing things in store for you. Joys and honors and delights and blessings you cannot even imagine right now...especially if your brain and heart are semi-frozen in fear or dread.

I know that fear and dread pretty well myself, because that's how I felt 12 years ago when God first dropped several pretty clear hints (not burning bushes, but close) on myself and a friend of mine that we should start a small-group women's Bible study at our church. More than a decade later, I can tell you that Proverbs 32 (the name of our group...check out this post on my neglected second blog for the story behind the name and the group) has been without a doubt one of biggest blessings God has brought to my life in my entire life. 

I didn't know what I was doing then, but God has graciously taught me a few things along the way, and I'll do my best to pass them on to you. But first, a couple disclaimers (my attorney husband would approve):
  • I am not a theologian nor a Bible scholar. I do not have a degree in biblical studies. I have not taken a class on how to lead Bible study. I cannot read Greek or Hebrew, and it takes me a while to find the book of Nahum without using the concordance.
  • The suggested steps I'm going to outline are what have worked for my little group. They are not the be-all and end-all of women's Bible study. They are not fool-proof. 
  • This is not the only way to do women's Bible study. This is just the way my study sisters and I have done it.
Still reading? Wonderful. Let's get to it.

1. Pray about it. You knew this had to be first, didn't you? Nothing (with the possible exception of being the mother of a teenage driver) has amped up my prayer life more than facilitating women's Bible study. You're going to need to pray this thing up all the way along, so you might as well start now. 

Ask God if He wants you to do this in the first place. Ask Him to help you do it. Pray for your future group members. Pray. Then pray some more.

2. Consult wise counselors. Now that you've checked this out with The Wisest Counselor, ask a few other trusted sources (pastors, friends of faith, your spouse, your mom...) to pray for and with you on this. Tell them what you're thinking of doing. Ask them what they think. If they all say you should do it, that might tell you something. On the other hand, if they all say you shouldn't do it, that might tell you something, too.

3. Get permission. For starters, you might want to consult your family. Their support will be invaluable. My husband is actually Proverbs 32's biggest fan, because he's seen first-hand what a difference it makes in our life. Logistically speaking, you might also need to get permission from your pastor or your church board if you're planning to be affiliated in any way with your home church and/or use their facilities.

4. Round up a team. Or at least a partner. Maybe. You can do this on your own, but there's a lot of truth to this counsel:
"Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Holman Christian Standard)
It helps to have at least one other person as a sounding board, a sharer of the load...someone you can bounce ideas off of, someone who can tell you, "No, it is not a good idea to play an ice-breaker game at the first meeting where everyone has to go around the table and tell what kind of animal they would be if they were, in fact, an animal." 

5. Decide what kind of group you want to be. Do you want your main focus to be solely Bible study? Prayer and Bible study? Bible study along with activities and outings? Topical discussions? Do you want to slant this for a particular age group or demographic or life situation? 

At P32, we decided we wanted to be mostly about the business of in-depth Bible study. We do pray with and for each other, but it is not how we spend most of our time. (Check out that post I mentioned above for details on how we maintain this balance.) Our only demographic limitation is that participants have to be women. Young or young-at-heart, single or married, with or without children...all are welcome, and we always choose study materials that are not dependent on age or marital status or maternal status. This has worked well for us, because we are affiliated with my small country home church, and our group size--around 15 women weekly--easily accommodates a range of ages and backgrounds. But if you are in a more populated area or are going to be affiliated with a larger church or just want your group to be more specifically focused on a particular demographic--say, young moms--you might want to settle on that from the get-go.

6. Figure out some facts. How often are you going to meet? Where are you going to meet? What time are you going to meet? Will you provide childcare?

When my friend Pam and I were initially discussing starting P32, childcare was our first hurdle: both of us, along with several of the other women we thought might be interested, had young children who were not yet in school. We decided we would just provide childcare on a rotating basis: everyone in the group would take a week when their turn came up and would then be free to participate in the study all the other weeks. As it turned out, though, my mom heard about this plan and announced she would be our P32 "grandma." This she did faithfully for many years. Now, my mom sits next to me at the Bible study table; several wonderful home-school kids lovingly watch our nursery clients while their grateful moms drink in the refreshment of God's Word and converse with other human beings who aren't begging for snacks. (Please. We bring our own snacks.) 

As for the other details, we meet every Tuesday morning from about September through March (with time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas and uncooperative weather) from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in one of our church's classrooms. Since it is on an upstairs level, I've taken to referring to it as our "upper room." Your group, though, might want to meet every other week. You might want to gather in a home. You might want to go year-round. An evening might work better if you're trying to accommodate work schedules. Here again, there is no one "right" way to do this...there is just what's most right for your situation in a certain season.

7. Choose materials. I'm assuming you want to study the Bible. But do you want to use auxiliary materials to help you do this? Do you want to study a topic or a book of the Bible? Do you want to include video teaching? Do you want to have homework?

Many women's Bible studies follow a similar format: a video teaching session and group discussion during your weekly meeting, followed by five days of personal homework. The video sessions are usually about an hour long. But at P32, we've done things a little differently, because the fact is that an hour of video teaching and five days of homework is too much for many participants to sustain over the course of several months. I never wanted P32 group sessions or the homework to end up being just another "have-to-do" on someone's list.

For that reason (and also to be good stewards of our church's financial resources...the leader kits for these studies are not inexpensive), we have taken the following approach: each week during our class time, we watch approximately half of a video session and do the attendant discussion. For homework, we break the five days of study into two weeks: one week, I assign the first two days of homework from the workbook, followed the next week by the other three days. We've done this every year, and again and again, I hear women say how thankful they are for this somewhat unconventional approach. Again, our goal is not to power through our study as if it's some chore like cleaning the toilet; our goal is to study God's Word and to be changed by it. While our approach may be "rule-breaking," it has worked beautifully for us. Yes, some weeks, the video teaching refers to homework we haven't yet done, and sometimes the homework references a portion of video we haven't yet seen, but I always tell my ladies to sit tight when that happens. Everything comes together in the end. 

My two favorite sources for study material are Lifeway.com and Christianbook.com (a.k.a., Christian Book Distributors--CBD). If you're not sure what you want, start with CBD. You can browse "Bible studies and curriculum" and then refine your search several ways (audience, books of the Bible, media type, etc.), narrowing your choices from the approximately 15,000 options out there to those that might be a good fit for you and your study sisters.

And if you know someone else who's done small-group studies in the past, ask them what they've liked! If they're fired up about something, it might be a good place for you to start, too.

8. Gather a group. Now find some people to be in this study with you. Spread the word via social media. Talk to your friends of faith. Run an announcement in your church bulletin. But don't be too concerned about numbers: our first year, we had "only" seven ladies in P32, and it was life-changing. All of us had a sense we were part of something BIG that God was doing. Other women in our church started noticing what was going on, and the next year, we jumped to 20. We've hovered around 15-ish every since...a lovely number that doesn't require breaking up into smaller groups for discussion. But if you end up with 100 women, that's great, too. You'll just need more chairs and probably at least three boxes of tissues.

Our ladies are a mix of young mamas with diaper bags and grandmas with some life mileage behind them and every age in between. We have members of our church and members of other churches and women who don't attend church at all. Our only "requirements" are that participants want to study the Bible and that they respect the other members. Our attendance policy is "come as often as you can, and we'll miss you when you're gone," and our homework policy is "do it as much as you can because you'll get more out of the study." 

9. Just do the thing. There comes a point when you're prayed and planned and promoted and prepared the best you know how. Now, it's time to jump in. Cue up the video if you're using one, make sure you've got some working pens and enough seating, and go forth with the confidence that God loves it when His daughters dig into His love letter to them. He is your leader; you only have to be His willing instrument. 

Feeling terrified? Not sure what you're doing? Not sure what you've gotten yourself into? Not sure you can even do this at all? You're right on track. (For more on this subject, head over to this post I keep referring to.)

10. Pray some more. Pray for your participants. Pray that God will give them victory each week over whatever the enemy throws at them to try to keep them away from Bible study. Pray for yourself: my Tuesday-morning prayers are usually along the lines of, "God, I can't do this today! You'll have to do it for, through, with, and in spite of me." And He does. Every. Single. Time.

Well. If you've read this far and you're still thinking of jumping into this life-changing ministry, I am thrilled for you! I have a holy jealousy for all women to experience what I have through P32. Please know that I would be honored to answer any other questions you might have as you move forward. I'll say it again: I am not an expert (see "disclaimers," above). But I love this subject, and I love sharing what God has graciously taught me. And if you're a seasoned veteran at this and have something to add, please do it in a comment or over on Facebook. I, for one, am an old Bible study facilitator who's more than willing to learn some new tricks.

Other possibly useful resources:

This post may be have been shared at these lovely link parties.

March 30, 2017

Brownie-Batter Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies

If you've been on my Facebook page lately, you may be feeling a little déjà vu-ish at the moment, because this post was inspired by a recent post there.

To recap: my girls were getting ready to host their friend Kelsey for a sleepover. I told them to ask her what she wanted for dessert, and Kelsey said she couldn't decide between brownies and chocolate-chip cookies. 

My younger daughter, who is well-versed in our family's dessert repertoire, told her, "I know what you want." 

Enter Brownie-Batter Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

I included the basic method for these cookies on Facebook, but here's a more detailed recipe. Because no one should have to choose between two of the great desserts of the world when it's entirely possible to have them both in one life-altering bite.

Brownie-Batter Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies {print}

1 standard-sized batch chocolate-chip cookie dough, well chilled (make your favorite recipe or make my favorite recipe or use a tube from the grocery store or haul out that tub you bought from the school fundraiser and stashed in the freezer...any chocolate-chip cookie dough will work as long as it is well-chilled and firm)

1 batch brownie batter, made by mixing together the following ingredients and freezing until solid and firm...don't try to cheat this step:
  • 1 standard-sized box plain, basic brownie mix (I like Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge)
  • melted butter equivalent to the oil called for on the box (e.g., 1/3 cup melted butter instead of 1/3 cup oil)
  • water as called for on the box (e.g., 1/4 cup for 1/4 cup)
  • NO egg(s), no matter what the box calls for (e.g., none for one, none for two, none for three...this brownie batter contains ZERO eggs)
Once you've got a well-chilled batch of cookie dough and a solidly frozen batch of brownie batter within reach, you're ready to roll, wrap, and bake. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and either coat a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Scoop about 1 scant tablespoon of frozen brownie batter out of the container you stored it in and roll it into a ball. You may have to show the batter who's boss at first, but it will get easier as the batter softens up a little. Now take about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons well-chilled chocolate-chip cookie dough and smoosh it out a little in the palm of your hand. Place your brownie ball in the center and fold the cookie dough up around it. You are trying to entirely encase the brownie batter in cookie dough. Yes, this is a little messy. But so are lots of other things in life that are much less delicious than these cookies will be. Carry on. Pinch the cookie dough around the brownie batter ball until the brownie batter is safely tucked inside and cannot be seen. 

Place on your prepared cookie sheet and repeat with enough of your remaining dough and batter until you have as many cookies as you want to make. Chill/freeze remaining dough and batter until you need it.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until cracked around the edges and puffed in the center. Cool on the cookie sheet for several minutes or until the cookies are firm enough to remove to a wire rack without falling apart in transit. Eat while warm, with a big glass of cold milk.

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I've never made this kind of plea before on this page, and I'm not going to do it again. But if you haven't stopped by my Facebook page, I'd love to have you do it now. I have this weird dream of getting to 777 "likes"--7 being a number of completion in the Bible and all that. I don't know...it just seems so tidy to me. Unlike my house. Which is enough said on both these subjects. Thanks for reading.

This post may have been shared at some of these blog parties.

March 23, 2017

Ten Things You Can Never Have Too Much or Too Many Of


There are a few things I can't imagine needing another one of...ever. 

Mugs, for instance. Hot chocolate, hot tea, life-sustaining coffee-flavored creamer: I have vessels for all of these. All at once. With several in the dishwasher, awaiting a run cycle. Even if we have guests. 

I'm also good to go on lice outbreaks, having done three. (Which was four too many.) 

And decorative scarves. For every mood, outfit, meteorological condition, and neckline, I. Am. Set. 

On the other hand, here are a few things I've always got room in my kitchen or closet or desk drawer or life for.

1. Friends who know what you're really like...but like you anyway. People in my life who fit this description, you know who you are. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Also, thank you.

2. Chocolate chip cookie recipes. Once you find a classic recipe you like and can rely on for emotional rehab when your family has a rotten day, you stick with it. But there's always some new variation out there that just might change your life, and really--do you want to miss it? Here's my favorite, one-stop-shopping collection to get you started. 

3. Caramelized onions. Every time I make a batch of these (usually for the caramelized onion, spinach, sausage, and Parmesan pizza my husband and I slightly addicted to), I look at the huge pile of raw rings in the pan and think, "We'll never need all these." Then, half an hour later, when I'm staring at the two tablespoons of finished product, I think, "Why didn't I make more?" (Need a lesson/recipe? Start here.)

4. Rolls of tape that have ends you can find. Re: "they can put a man on the moon...."

5. Staplers that actually work. And by "work," I mean they actually staple (gasp) on the first try and do not cause me to yell, "WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH THIS STUPID THING???!!!!" before throwing it against the wall. For example.

6. Outfits that fit any time of the month that you feel good in that don't wrinkle or bunch up or show stains or require that belt you used to have but haven't seen in three years. 

7. Music that inspires, motivates, soothes, heals, helps, guides, and comforts. Some of my favorites (a VERY incomplete list):

8. Love that comes anywhere close to the 1 Corinthians 13 standard. Or even tries to on a regular basis.

9. Working batteries. I would love to know what it's like to have too many of these in my house. In fact, usually, I'd just like to know what it's like to have any at all.

10. Faith. Life is hard--for now. But God is good and great--forever.

What's missing from this list? I'd love to have you add it on in a comment or over on Facebook. And if you've got a make and model for #5, will you please, please let me know about it? My walls are thanking you already.

This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.
Photo credit: Sanja Gjenero, www.rgbstock.com/gallery/lusi.

March 13, 2017

Things You Think When You Are the Parent of a High School Senior

I am the mom of a high school senior. 

This means I am perpetually getting into my purse for one of three things: 1)tissues (see, "senior moment"); 2)my credit card; 3)my phone (see, "camera to record senior moment for which I will need a tissue").

My mind is spinning more than usual these days, ever since the calendar year and my daughter's graduation year turned into THE SAME NUMBER, God help me.

But in the midst of all the spinning, my brain seems to be on a continual loop with the following recurring thoughts...

1. I have GOT to memorize her social security number.

2. Exactly how much meat do I need for a taco bar for 200 people?

3. Where is that video of her singing that solo in that school program that year when she was in elementary school?

4. Will this be the last time she's home for Valentine’s Day/putting up the Christmas tree/her birthday/family game night? Did I take enough pictures this time around in case it is? Where is my phone? Where ARE the tissues?

5. Will she like these cups for her party? (Takes picture of cups while hiding in the electrical supply aisle at the grocery store. Sends to prospective graduate for approval.)

I cannot believe this is her last band concert/basketball game/high school musical/swim meet/pediatrician’s well-check.

7. My entire life has become an acronym: FAFSA, EFC, SAR, GPA, SAT, ACT. (SOS.)

8. How far in advance can an extended weather forecast for the day of her party be trusted?

9. June is only how many months away?

10. Did I miss the deadline for that scholarship application/yearbook senior picture submission/graduation party rental?

11. I have GOT to make a list.

12. "Just buy the basic model and put the extra $250 into a college fund, for crying out loud!" (Upon hearing about a $299 baby monitor that tells parents when they're low on diapers.)
13. This is not just a year of lasts. It’s really just the last year before a year of firsts.

14. Have I made her favorite meal lately? Has she been home to eat her favorite meal lately?

15. Why did we wait so long to do all the stuff around this house that needs to be done before her party?

16. Please, God, don’t let it rain on graduation.

17. Please, God, don’t let it rain on her party.

18. I think I'd better start listening to "Pomp and Circumstance" over and over to try to build up my emotional immunity.

19. Note to self: buy waterproof mascara.

20. I don't think I could love this child more than I do right now. But I thought that when she was born, and look what's happened since.

Shameless share: my senior.

If you're in this season right now, what's going around on your mental hamster wheel these days? If you've been there and done that, what do you remember thinking over...and over...and over? If these days are still ahead of you (way, way ahead...don't think about it yet), maybe you know a senior parent you can pass this along to. And while you're at it, hand them a tissue, will you?

**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**

February 23, 2017

7 Sources of Encouragement For Your Teen Daughter's Heart

I would have made such a good pioneer woman. 

There are lots of reasons behind this conviction (working title for that post: "Reasons I Would Have Made a Good Pioneer Woman"), but chief among them is the fact that those 1800s mamas didn't have to raise kids in an era of internet and cell phones and
texting and Wi-Fi and insta-this and face-that. 

Still, in spite of my frustrations with technology and its frequent (ill) effects on the emotional state of our household ("MOM! Is the internet down AGAIN?!!), there are things I love about it--like these seven faith-feeding resources that have all been approved and recommended by my in-house testing panel (namely, my 18-year-old daughter).

However much I may envy our foremothers' simplified life choices--"let's see...is this a 'work' dress day or a 'good' dress day?"--I'm grateful these encouraging options are available now. Because I well understand there is a lot to be said for voices that speak truth into my teenager's mind and heart but are, let's face it, not me.

1. YouVersion Bible app. My daughter discovered this treasure when she was looking for a Bible for her phone. It is that--and a lot more, plus it's free. She especially likes YouVersion's subject-based Bible reading plans--12 days on prayer, for instance, or 21 days on worship--along with its Scripture images. I like that she's using her phone to access something significantly more life-altering than her friends' Facebook status updates.

2. Godly Dating 101. I know some families eschew dating entirely in favor of courting...or arranged marriage, maybe. And having been through the dating ordeal with my firstborn, I'm inclined to agree with them. But don't let the word "dating" throw you off: this resource promoting "chivalry, modesty, purity" offers sound advice on so much more than dating that I think it could almost be called Godly Living 101. I save their Facebook posts for myself all the time, even though I'm happily planning on dating only my husband for the rest of my life. Check out this Facebook post for an example of something I saved on the spot.

3. QWC Devos. When my daughter was just barely on the other side of a painful breakup (see "dating ordeal," above), she Googled "Christian dating quotes" and kept seeing powerful results all from the same source. She eventually found her way to the Facebook page and website of Quite Women Co.: "a place for women to be quite the women God has called them to be." Her phone camera roll is filled with screen shots of their posts, and she uses their devotionals as the basis for a Bible verse of the week that she journals about. Often, during our nightly chats, she says, "Oh, I've got to read you this from Quite Women Devos." And when she does, I'm usually struck in the heart by the profound truth of what I'm hearing, put in ways I only wish I could come up with on my own.

4. Adam Cappa. Categorized as a Christian pop musician/band on his Facebook page, Adam Cappa is also a husband and dad who offers cut-to-the-chase counsel on God-honoring dating and relationship goals, for "ladies and gents." (Recent example: "the greatest couples worship Jesus, not each other.") My daughter and I often message each other posts we want to make sure the other hasn't missed, usually with the tag line, "Adam Cappa does it again."

5. Elevation Worship. I'm a passionate believer in the power of music as a conveyor of truth. What my girls take into their ears gets absorbed by their brains, trickles down to their hearts, and comes out of their mouths and their emotions and their actions. Their newest musical obsession--which I share--is Elevation Worship. As chauffeur mom, I paid my dues in my daughters' younger years, listening to ABC songs and "The Wheels on the Bus" ad nauseam en route. Now, this gorgeous, powerful music is my reward for time served. But an even greater reward is that this is also what my daughters choose to listen to when I'm not the one driving them around.

6. Project Inspired. Billing itself as "the biggest community of Christian girls on the web," this site offers one-stop shopping for young women of faith. With articles, music, fashion advice, Bible studies, and more under the banner "God, friends, life, love," Project Inspired is the ministry of model, wife, and mom Nicole Weider. My daughter--my very own "PI girl"--told me the other day, "I feel like 99% of what they say is biblically accurate, not just what the author thinks. I feel like it's not just the author's opinion or what they did or what they think you should do, but what the Bible is actually saying." I love both that she's noticed this about the site and that she cares that it's true.

7. Hobby Lobby. No, I didn't confuse this blog post with my errand list for the week. It's just that Hobby Lobby happens to be the main supplier of the first source of encouragement my daughter lays her eyes on every morning: her "inspiration wall." She got the idea from a friend several months ago: a wall filled with Scripture prints and quotes that would inspire her every day. She asked for canvas prints for her 18th birthday, and Hobby Lobby was the place to find them...and find them...and find them. 

But the most treasured piece on her wall actually came from a different source: Kcreatives. I found Kimberly (the "K" behind Kcreatives) via a sharing thread in an online writer's group. The beautiful handcrafted creations on her Facebook page beguiled me  (she's on Instagram, too) and led me to an idea for a one-of-a kind 18th birthday gift: a personalized watercolor setting of Jeremiah 29:11.

Of all the things my teenage daughter could have hanging on her wall (good grief...didn't I have a Rick Springfield poster?), I can't think of anything much better than this.

If you're the mom or aunt or grandma or friend of a teenage girl, what resources do you know of that feed her mind and heart and soul? Please share them in a comment or on Facebook. Those of us who love these young women need all the wisdom we can get.

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Past posts that have something to do with this one:

This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.

February 16, 2017

Five Ways to Rescue a Rotten Morning

The other day, while I was looking for a baby picture of my older daughter to submit for her senior class slide show (sob), I came across this classic morning moment from my girls' younger years. 
Frankly, this is still how my girls feel about mornings.

As a mom, I consider one of my most crucial roles to be that of morning cheerleader: I truly want to get every member of my little family out of the house in as good a mood as possible. 

Now, before you roll your eyes and move onto to some other post that doesn't inspire the gag reflex, please read this disclaimer: my success rate at this lofty goal is about ten percent. My own mood in the morning is, well...a subject for another post. But when I am successful at sending my husband and daughters out and off feeling loved and cheerful(ish) and optimistic(ish), it's usually because I've put one of these tactics into action.

1. Embrace your power. Here's the deal, and I get that it can feel like a raw one: if you are a mom, you have some power to make or break a morning. I know perfectly well I can determine how the day starts in my house by my mood, my attitude, my words, the tone of my voice, and how much sighing I do. This kind of power can either look like a huge opportunity or an oppressive burden, but as the heart of your home, mama, it's yours whether you want it or not. Of course, you can be cheerful and optimistic and singing rather than sighing, and your people might still moan and groan, but if you choose to harness your power for good (and by "you," I'm mostly talking to "me," you understand), your rotten-day ratio will probably take a hit. Love does a lot more than love is, and sometimes what love does is channel its inner Mary Poppins, plaster on a smile, and say "good morning." 

2. Look forward. I know tomorrow is promised to no one. I know "the past is history, the future is a mystery, and present is a gift...that's why it's called the 'present.'" But in our family, we believe that looking forward to something--with the full understanding that there are no guarantees it will actually happen--is at least half the pleasure of it. 

At this very moment, my girls have countdowns on their phones for: 1)spring break; 2)dance recital; 3)Outcry (a Christian worship event I fully expect to charge up their spiritual batteries for at least six months); and 4)our mother/daughters/grandparents summer trip to Cape Cod. But at 6 a.m. on a school morning, it also helps to look forward to nearer pleasures: sleeping in on Saturday; our annual family "no go, no snow" winter retreat weekend; a new outfit (when you have teenage daughters, there is a lot to be said for the fashion/feelings connection). 

Years ago, I even "titled" every week day to help us get through: we have Make-It Through Monday, Totally Tuesday (because, God be praised, at least it's totally NOT Monday), Woo-Hoo Wednesday (yay, we've made it that far), Thank-Goodness-It's-Thursday (there's something victorious about making it to Thursday), and Finally Friday. Whatever it takes, people...whatever it takes. 

3. Crank up the volume. No, not on whining and complaining. I'm talking about harnessing the mood-improving power of music. (For scientific proof on this phenomenon, check out this post my music-loving friend, new mom, and fellow worship team leader Sammie shared with our group recently.)

My current go-to favorite is this one from TobyMac...the name alone should tell you why I keep it on deck at all times.

4. Sweeten the deal. Our family's fondness for food is no secret around here: we like to eat, and the transforming power of a good meal or a warm batch of chocolate-chip cookies is something I rely on. I know the experts (read: people who are not living in my house on the average Monday morning) say you're not supposed to use food to deal with feelings. But as I have done before on this blog, I'm claiming the truth of the Almighty here...if it was good enough for the biblical Hannah, it's good enough for me.
"Then she ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." 
(1 Samuel 1:18)
When I know ahead of time that a particular morning is going to be less than stellar, I sometimes haul out the big guns of mood management: these Double Chocolate Crunch Muffins. Most of the prep work can be done the night before, so if I drag myself out of bed the minute the alarm goes off, I can have these out of the oven by the time my girls stagger to the breakfast table. 

Double Chocolate Crunch Muffins {print recipe}

Crunch topping:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (regular, Dutch-processed, or a blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar (pack it tightly into the cup to measure)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour (white whole-wheat, regular whole-wheat, or whole-wheat pastry flour)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (regular, Dutch-processed, or a blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar (pack it tightly into the cup to measure)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat free...NEVER fat-free)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I know, this seems like a weird ingredient, but it has incredible tenderizing powers, and I 100% promise your breakfast will NOT taste like cleaning solution)

Additional ingredients:
1/4-1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate morsels
nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-spot muffin tin with cupcake liners and spray each lightly with nonstick cooking spray. (Yes, you need to do both these things.) 

For the Crunch Topping, stir the cocoa powder into the vegetable oil with a fork. Dump in the brown sugar and flour and blend with a fork just until crumbly. It should look like chocolate gravel. You can do this ahead of time; just make sure it's stored airtight.

For the muffins, blend the flours, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl with a fork or whisk. (Do this the night before if you're trying to get a jump-start on these.) In a separate, medium-sized bowl, mix the remaining muffin ingredients (water through vinegar) with a fork or whisk. Dump the "wet" ingredients on top of the dry and mix together with a rubber spatula just until incorporated. Where muffins are concerned, lumps are good. Leave 'em in. Divide the muffin batter equally among your prepared cups (I use a spring-action ice cream scoop for this). Divide your prepared Crunch Topping equally among your muffins, pressing down slightly to ensure all your lovely chocolate gravel ends up baking into its muffin bases. Sprinkle each muffin with a few (or more) mini chocolate chips. 

Bake at 400° for 12-18 minutes or JUST until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs (not wet batter) clinging to it. Cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before gently removing from the tin for consumption or to cool completely on the rack. Store airtight at room temperature for a day or two, or freeze for a month-ish.

5. Add in some "want to." Your morning routine might be like ours: scheduled down to the second. About 25 things need to have happened around here by 7:03 a.m., or we've got trouble. If the morning is looking ripe to be rotten, though, it might help to make a little time for some happiness-inducing activity. For my girls, that will always be dance. Anytime my daughters have a couple extra minutes on a given morning, they'll pull up a song on YouTube and work on a recital routine. Not only does this help them learn the thing, it also improves the day from the get-go. 

For your kids, the fun factor might come in the form of reading a book for pleasure or playing a few minutes of a game or starting some creative project they can finish later (sorry for the mess, mom). Even a brief stint at a want-to activity versus a have-to one can help hit the reset button on a day that's headed south.
Notice the laundry basket in the background?
Clearly, this is NOT a stock photo.

How do you make over a moody morning? (Apart, of course, from that old "go back to bed and pull the covers over your head" standby?) Share it in a comment or over on FacebookI'll be here, trying to summon up some recessive cheerleader gene and waiting for your wisdom.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
This post may have been shared at some of these cybe soirees.

February 9, 2017

Dear School Guidance Counselor: My Daughter Is Making the Right Choice

Dear Miss X,

First, I need you to know that I think you’re fabulous. Parents who were already ahead of us in the high school game told us over and over that we were “so lucky” our daughter had you as her counselor by virtue of the first letter of her last name. “Miss X is awesome,” they told us, and they were right.  You are.

I know you want what is best for my Lydia, so we are 100% on the same page there. 

But I think we were on different pages in terms of what "best" looks like and where it might be found...

You know that my daughter is an A student who works hard for those grades. She's carrying a 4.0 GPA. She is dedicated, organized, polite, diligent, and respectful. Her teachers love her. She’s a skilled musician and dancer. She can do anything God wants her to do when she grows up.

And what she wants to do is work with preschoolers.

We have been advised that early childhood education(ECE) is not always regarded as an esteemed profession in our society. Friends and family have warned us again and again that “there’s no money in it.” We know some people think “anyone” can do it. We are well aware that when educators talk about the best and brightest students fulfilling their potential in the workforce and “being anything they can be,” this is not usually what they’re talking about. We’ve noticed that when motivational speakers list careers to strive for, they tick off engineering and medicine and science and law but never mention ECE.

But we also know this: apart from music and dance and family and God and friends, what Lydia loves are little children. She sees them in the grocery store and gushes about how adorable they are. She loves their little hands and their high-pitched voices and the way they pretend to make hot chocolate at the sand table. She teaches a preschool dance class, and at recitals, when she's leading her tiny ballerinas, I don't watch them: I watch my daughter. Her animated face. The way she saves the day when one of them falls down and Lydia tells them, "No big deal! It's okay! Keep going!" The group hug they all rush to give her the moment the music stops.

Of course you’re well aware that Lydia has been spending half of every school day hanging out with preschoolers as part of our area career center's early childhood education program. She has dreams of opening her own daycare or preschool someday, throwing in a few dance classes, and calling it "On Your Toes." (Which, Miss X, I am all for on account of her "Costume Corner" idea that might finally allow me to get all her old dance outfits out of my closet.)

When Lydia’s teachers ask what her future plans are and she tells them about her dream, this is what they say: "But why would you waste your time doing that? You're so smart." And I always think, "Really? We don't want the best students teaching our society's very youngest learners? Is that really how this works?"

I know you wanted her to "at least" go to the career center's "Education Academy" and pursue an elementary ed degree after high school. But Lydia does not want to teach even kindergarten, let alone a higher grade. 

My daughter loves to play and interact and pretend with 3- and 4-year-olds. She well understands that their play is their learning and that what they are doing when they make hot chocolate at the sand table is actually forming learning pathways in their brains. Pathways that might one day help them understand calculus or French or chemistry or robotics or violin.

But more than all that is this truth I wish you had the chance to see for yourself, a truth I finally had to step in and tell you myself because I could see that my daughter was too worried about being disrespectful to do it: Lydia loves working with little kids. It's how her heart beats. It's her passion. It's what she was born to do. It's what she is gifted to do. There are children who will need what Lydia has to offer. What Lydia can do is not something just anyone can do. That it may not be a high-paying power career in our culture does not make it any less Lydia's calling.

I know you see Lydia’s record and her potential, and I’m so grateful for that. But I needed to advocate for my daughter and let you in on deeper part of who she is that cannot be reflected by a grade report and any standardized test.

So Lydia is on the early childhood track, and she loves it. Her teachers at the career center love her. Her work experience supervisors love her. "Her" kids love her. And when I reported all this to you, dear Miss X, you told me, "You were right. I didn't know. But this is what Lydia should be doing, and I'm so happy for her."

Thank you, Miss X. I'm happy for her, too. Because among many other dreams I have for my daughter, I want her to be happy. And I know you do, too. It’s just that sometimes, the mom is the one who knows best what page that happiness falls on.

Lydia’s mom

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February 2, 2017

10 Mom Things I've Said A Lot More Than 10 Times

"Elizabeth. When someone pays you a compliment, they are not looking for a discussion. Just say, 'Thank you.'"

This bit of wisdom is one of many things my wonderful mom said to me more than a few times when I was growing up.

Moms say the same things over and over for two reasons: 

1. Those things are true. 
2. We are too tired to come up with new material all the time. 

Which got me to thinking about the mom standbys I've been known to say with some, er, frequency.

1. Well, it's got to be somewhere. I feel like I've spent the last 17 years looking for lost stuff. At least once a day, I tell my girls that whatever they can't find "has got to be somewhere." Because it has. Now in the case of, say, my high schooler's lost cell phone, we still haven't figured out where "somewhere" is, but the phone IS somewhere. It might be a trash heap or it might be smashed in a parking lot or it might be in some mystery spot in her room we haven't though to check, but it IS somewhere. Whatever is lost IS still in existence somewhere. It didn't vaporize, for crying out loud. And I don't mean to brag, but no one in this house is better at figuring out where somewhere is than me. My daughters don't call me "Sleuth Mommy" for nothing. Most recent Sleuth Mommy score: my daughter's lost purity ring. Which was somewhere, as it turned out. Namely, under her dresser. All of which is to say that I'll have to take issue with Tim Hawkins as seen in this video clip. Tim, I love you, but don't call me Captain Obvious. Call me Sleuth Mommy.

2. It will be okay. It will. I have two teenagers, and they're both hormone-ridden girls, so I employ this phrase A LOT. And it's true. Whatever "it" is, it will usually be okay. Someday. Probably soon. In heaven if not before. It's the stuff that might not be okay until heaven that's tough to stomach.

3. Just do your best. And by "best," I mean best under a given set of circumstances, on a given day. Under other circumstances on another day, best might look better than it does right now. But just do it. That's all I ask.

4. Do you need a snack? Once I figured out I was going to have girls and only girls, I started talking to moms of boys and asking if I could rent their teenage sons to feed. Because I love to bake and feed people, and teenage boys are notorious for wanting to eat. Once my girls got older, though, I retracted my offer because as it turns out, my teen girls eat plenty, thank you very much. Which THRILLS me. But their healthy appetites do mean I spend a lot of time coming up with snacks-of-redeeming-nutritional-value that can be eaten on the run, in the car, en route to dance, before a track meet, etc. And in case you're wondering, the answer to "do you need a snack?" is almost always "yes" (insert tones of semi-starvation).

5. Are you listening to me? By which I do not mean, "Are the sounds coming out of my mouth being received by your auditory senses?" By which I do mean, "Are you paying attention to what I am telling you and, more to the point, do you have any intention of actually acting on what I'm saying?"

6. Did you put it in the laundry? Usually said in response to "is such-and-such clean???!!!" shouted from the top of the stairs at 6:08 a.m. on a school morning. Usually a Monday morning.

7. Be careful and pay attention. I have a teenage driver. I say this frequently. And then I pray. 

8. I'm so proud of you. Not just of what my girls have done, but of the effort they've put into the doing. And not just of who my girls are but of who they are becoming.

9. Don't forget to ___________. Brush your teeth. Find out what time the birthday party starts. Turn in your permission slip. Take your vitamin. Look in the bottom of your locker for that missing library book. Give me the shirt you want washed (see #6). Text your mother when you get there. 
Et al. Ad infinitum.

10. I love you. The end. And the beginning. And lots of points in between.

I'll leave it to the brilliant Anita Renfroe to cover all the rest of the things moms say on a daily basis...and she'll do it in 3 minutes and 24 seconds flat. Watch this video, then leave a comment or hop over to Facebook, and let me know what mom thing you've said more than a few times (even if it's something you'd be perfectly happy never to have to say again).

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