Veteran’s Day

Our country has a lot of freedoms; freedom that isn’t necessarily found all across the world.  Freedoms have been expressed this week that some agree with and some do not.  First, we were free to worship with the church of our choosing on Sunday to kick off our week.  You were also free to skip if you so desired.  Secondly, we were free to go to the polls and cast our votes on Tuesday.  Third, we were free to celebrate or protest a victory.  And fourth, we are free to honor the men and women who helped us gain and keep these freedoms.

Personally,  I choose to honor the sacrifice of so many on Veteran’s Day.  It’s not easy serving a nation.  Men and women are often separated from the ones that they love for long periods of time. Many times they are sent into foreign lands to help protect the freedoms of others and stay at risk for losing their lives sometimes on a daily basis. Many times those who serve see horrors that you and I probably don’t even want to imagine in death and destruction.   The food is not the best, weather conditions are no excuse for not doing their job, and at times sleeping quarters are not something the average American would accept.   The men and women who serve know when they enlist in the military that they are signing up to protect our right to worship freely, our right to vote, even our right to protest, but they also enlist knowing they may lose their lives while trying to protect others.
That is a sacrifice worth honoring.

“No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”

~John 15:13 

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I ask you to take a break today. Stop and think of the veteran’s who have served in peacetime as well as war. Think of the men and women who are serving right now.

How can you pay tribute soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen?

Here are 10 ways you can salute and honor a Veteran today:

1. At 11 a.m., observe a moment of silence for those who’ve fought and died while in service to the country
2. Display an American flag
3. Attend a Veterans Day parade
4. Thank a vet for his/her service
5. Send a letter to troops through the US Department of Defense Website
6. Work in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
7. Visit a veteran’s grave or pick up trash at a veterans cemetery
8. Visit with the family of a veteran who’s serving overseas
9. Visit with a wounded vet at a local VA facility
10. Donate to the USO, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars USA or other organizations that honor and assist vets.

Today I am taking time to celebrate my own Veteran.  Not only did my Audley serve five years in the US Navy as a submariner, he also served in our Army National Guard for eighteen months!

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An early photo of my sailor

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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She’s Getting Married

One of the first pictures I ever posted on my blog of MacKenzie Grace was this sweet picture of her on a mission trip in Jamaica.

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I’ve always been so proud of her love of God and her passion for christian living.  As all of our children have grown up Audley and I have prayed so many prayers that we raise our children in a way pleasing to God.  We have not been perfect parents, but we have tried to be what God expects.  As we have prayed over our children, we started from birth praying that when the time came, God would send the perfect person to accompany our kids through their adult years.  I was specific in my prayers that God send them someone who could compliment their personalities, love them unconditionally through all the good and bad this world has to offer, someone that they could mutually submit to and respect, and above all someone that would help them get to Heaven.

Well, MacKenzie’s getting married!

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Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, her boyfriend, Michael, popped the question this past weekend.

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And just like that my sweet little girl is going to be a Mrs.

Not only is she going to become a Mrs., she is going to be a minister’s wife!

I think God answered our prayer.

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They are giddy with excitement and so in love.

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And I can’t wait to see how God uses them in their future together!

The date is set for June 3, 2017, so be prepared to see a lot more posts as the day arrives!

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Back-To-School Success

August is coming to a close, and the three remaining kids at home have all returned to school for the year.  One has gone back to USC for her sophomore year, then I have a junior & senior to keep me running like a mad woman for the next nine months!

You would think after twenty years of “First Days” (my oldest is 24 now) I would have the ability to pull off a flawless First Day, but the truth is, I don’t have a clue.  There is always something that doesn’t go as planned, which is why this year we found ourselves doing back-to-school shopping at 10:30 pm the night before classes were to resume!

While I may not have mastered the art of a perfect First Day of School, I have learned several things over the last twenty years that do make those First Days and every day thereafter so much easier to manage.

So, here are eight simple things you can try to make the beginning of the school year a wee bit easier in your home!

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1. Plan your breakfast/mornings ahead of time to minimize chaos.  Plan out your menu and even go as far to set the table the evening before.

Don’t teach your kids to eat on the run, it’s a horrible habit that is very difficult to break and can lead to other unhealthy habits as they get older!

Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate.  If you want to serve cereal and milk, by all means serve it, just go an extra step by setting out bowls, spoons, juice glasses, etc.,  early so you aren’t slinging everything around the next morning trying to rush out the door!

If you prefer to cook, plan ahead and make sure you are up early enough to do it!  Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate, just planned and easy to execute.  Pancakes (yes, from a mix) are always an easy option as are scrambled eggs and bacon.  One of my favorite things to make for morning breakfast is homemade muffins.  These are so easy and so flavorful.  Give them a try!

Mixed Berry Muffins

2. Sign all paperwork and homework the day before.  There is no worse feeling than to have a wad of paperwork shoved into your face five minutes before you walk out the door for school.  Seriously, it DOES NOT get any better when your kids become teenagers, so make the conscious effort to ask your kids if they have anything that you need to sign or review when they are pulling things out of their backpacks for homework.

3. Set aside a jar or special bank to hold only lunch/fee money.  As each pay day arrives, go ahead and count out what you know your kids need for lunch each day (should they buy) and then stick an extra $5, $10, or $15 in the jar for emergency fees.  If your kids carry their lunch, still have an emergency fee jar available.  That speedo for swim team that was $50 last year may have gone up to $65 this year, tee-shirts for homecoming are $15 x’s two or three, and for some reason there is never enough notice when field trips are planned.  This emergency fee money is one of the best things I ever implemented in our home!

4. If you plan for your kids to carry their lunches, have them assist you in packing them the night before.  While you make sandwiches or pasta salad, they can be getting ziplock bags, fruit, chips or crackers, and granola bars to add.  Not a fan of store bought packaged food?  Try this easy, peasy granola bar recipe.  You’ll all love this one and the kids can mix them up as well!

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We have a tradition of having homemade chicken salad each year for the first day (and many other days through the year).  While I love to take the time to bake my own chicken, for the salad, sometimes, grabbing a rotisserie chicken from the deli is a delicious, time-saving option when lacrosse practice has run over the night before.

Scrumptious Chicken Salad

Also, pack lunches in age appropriate bags or containers.  My 16 year old son has absolutely no desire to carry a lunch box.  He is also a growing body builder, so he doesn’t carry sandwiches, but grilled chicken.  We found a great lunch kit that allows him to pack his protein powder and aminos as well as help him measure out the chicken or salmon he might carry.

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Now my seventeen year old daughter?  Give that girl a monogrammed bag please!

5. Keep a dry erase calendar in your kitchen.  The first of every month take 20-30 minutes and update it with everything you know that is on your schedule from dentist appointments to sports practice.

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And to think, August isn’t a busy month for us!

I also add holidays, youth group events, my personal schedule and my husbands travel schedule.  You can also color-code this, giving each family member their own color.  When the kids are older have them add things that come up after your calendar is up to help keep everything current. Doing this becomes a visual reminder for everyone in the house, especially teenagers who need that reminder of some things every now and then.

6.  Purchase a day planner and package of colored pens for each preteen and teenager to help teach them how to organize their life and time.

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There are some awesome planners that begin in July (generally when early practices for high school sports begin) and are tailored to fit the school year by month.  I also use the same style calendar so that we are on the same page.  Our planners are organized so that homework is one color, sports practices another color, appointments yet another color, and youth group/church activities another.  It works well for keeping track of little details most teenagers seem to forget.  This has worked wonderful for my girls, and now I have my son doing this as well.  You can find adorable planners at Barnes and Noble, Swoozies, and Target.  Boys of course want a more manly look, so check out Staples for a professional planner for him.

7.  Set a specific time for turning off social media and going to bed.  My kids have never been allowed to watch TV on school days, but now we face the battle of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Netflix on their iGadgets and Kindles.  While I would like to think that they are old enough for me not to have to monitor them, they are still kids.  At 10:00 PM I want the electronic devices off.  If they don’t comply, the item becomes mine.  Rest is so important to these growing bodies.  Even though they don’t want to admit they are tired, their bodies are whipped, and they need at least seven hours of sleep. How else does a 16 year old boy recover from growing 12 1/2 inches in two years?!

8. Start each day with a devotion or prayer.  This is a great way to begin the school day on a positive note.  You can find devotional books with little 2-minute devos at Walmart, Barnes and Noble and (don’t laugh) truck stops like TA or Loves.  Let the kids read so that it makes a little more of an impact on them.  We kicked our year off with Audley offering a prayer for our kids.  It was such a special time, especially since he is usually on the road traveling for work.  It was also a reminder that while you often hear “it takes a village to raise a child,” the reality is 95% of what a child learns and habits they develop come from the home, so why not give them positive vibes to carry with them through life.

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I picked this up at Family Christian Stores as a deal for $5.00.  Lifeway and FCS are great for having these little bargains at the registers!

I hope your First Days and all the ones following while not perfect, are a wee bit easier to manage this year!

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Taking In Cuba

The wanderlust gene runs deep in my soul.  I am always up for a road trip, an airplane flight, or even packing a moving van and setting out on some fun adventure or checking out new destinations.

But, I am not the only one who has this wonderlust gene in our family; my children have it as well.  Since I am in Boston on an anniversary get-away with Audley, our daughter Madeline is taking over my blog today sharing her recent trip to Cuba with my Dad (see, the wonderlust gene is multi-generational) for a little mission trip; the second mission trip some of our family has made this summer. 

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Pop and me at the Atlanta airport ready to fly

The view of her trip through her 17-year-old eyes is so very sweet and full of passion.  Enjoy.

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I think I just left my whole entire heart in another country.  Over the last year I have been praying for Cuba.  I have cried out to God on their behalf so that the people there could experience Him.

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Yes, it is a BEAUTIFUL country with so many kind and beautiful people.  Their country is not far advanced and it is in poverty.  They may be content, but they still lack one thing – Jesus.

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We went through Cienfuegos spreading and teaching the gospel.  They welcomed us in their homes and cried with us as they shared their stories.

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People there thought that they were full, but as we taught, they were quick to realize the emptiness they had inside.  This week we filled that space with Jesus.

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I fully believe that we have been called to be missionaries where we live, work, and play, but also sometimes we are called beyond that.  It is a beautiful thing that we can be tools for the kingdom, no matter where we are in the world.

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We were able to hug and tickle kids who needed to feel loved and valued.

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We got to make new friends, sisters and brothers.

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We got to spend time with His creation and worship Him.

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My Pop teaching

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But most importantly, Jesus made himself known this week.  He taught me to be a little more humble and that it is okay to not have everything figured out.  My God is UNSTOPPABLE.

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Look at all these Christian teenagers gathered in CUBA… a communist country!

I am so thankful for this opportunity and how Jesus is continuing to change my heart.  My greatest prayer is that we won’t lose our fire back in our communities; that we will continuously be sharing the gospel, not just through our word, but by our actions.

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Pray for Cuba.  There is still work to be done there, but we do know God is on the move.

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Pop studied with a young man who was baptized (one of 17 baptisms I watched) and this young man brought his friend to study and learn as well!

To the people who made this trip financially possible (I know some of Momma’s blogging friends helped), and spiritually possible through prayer, THANK YOU!

This week I have made so many friends for life.  I have learned to be humble and patient.  We saw so many people come to meet Jesus and got to encourage churches and communities in Christ.  God broke through every barrier in our way to make Himself known and our team feels beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to be tools for the Kingdom (the Church). God continued to reveal how He is our provider.

Continue to pray for Cuba and Cienfuegos’ churches.  I have a full heart and God is unstoppable in me.

~Maddie Jones~