sunday inspiration.

-- 1 --

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of ideas on how to care for orphans. This wonderful list, from Rage Against the Minivan, is far more extensive, and lists a lot of specific organizations that are doing this kind of work.

-- 2 --

Can you imagine praying for discomfort? Actually asking for anger, tears, and foolishness? Read this Franciscan benediction (found via Michael Hyatt):

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

I honestly don't know if I have the courage to pray this. Do you?

-- 3 --

I love these creative gift packaging ideas from Scrapbooks, Etc (part of Better Homes and Gardens):

(Source: Embellish a six-pack holder or takeout box)

-- 4 --

I love this candle chandelier, but I'm wondering - wouldn't the candles potentially drip wax on the table? Or maybe on someone's head? Maybe if it had a glass on the bottom?

This idea is similar - I'm not sure which one I like more!

-- 5 --

These little photo keychains are adorable, and look really easy to make. I'm thinking about creating a few for kids' Christmas gifts this year.

every day for a month, the conclusion.

One of my goals for the year was to post every day for a month. I'm not sure why I originally chose this as a goal - maybe because a friend told me I should post more often (thanks for the encouragement, Melissa!), and maybe I was just curious to see what I could find to write about for a month.

Here are some of the things that I've learned:
  • I heard someone once say that if you want to be a writer, you need to do it every day. It doesn't even need to be very good, but you need to develop the discipline to write even when you don't feel like it. I don't have any aspirations to be a writer, but I do think that's a healthy guideline for any skill or habit you want to develop.
  • Writing can be very therapeutic. It sometimes takes me a long time to process something, to work it out in my head. Some things, especially problem-solving kind of things, need to kind of marinate for a while, but there's also a lot to be said for processing out loud. Writing kind of works the same way.
  • On the other hand, its very difficult to write about something when you're in the middle of processing it. I think there's value in getting not-yet-fully-developed thoughts down on paper (so to speak), but its still very difficult to explain something that I haven't quite figured out in my head.
  • Forcing myself to write out what I'm thinking teaches me things, about me. And I think it will be interesting to look back in a month, or a year, and see what new things I'm learning. And what old lessons I need to learn again.
I don't really write this blog for anyone but myself. I write it because I have something I want to say, or something I want to share, or because I just like the process of journaling in this way. Yet I still hope that this blog represents who I am, the things that I care about and spend time on and the things that matter to me. In forcing myself to write every day, I think I've come closer to achieving that. In the last month, I've written about my faith, about CASA (twice), about children's ministry, about Africa and processing that, about family, about home and craft projects, about songs that I liked and songs that were incredibly powerful for me, and more.

Now that I'm at the end of the month, where posting every day is no longer a (self-imposed) requirement, I'll slow down, but I am hoping to write more frequently than I was before.

sunday inspiration.

This week's inspiration post will be a mish-mash of the deeper, the practical, and the crafty. Because that's just where I am right now.

-- 1 --

When you've seen poverty, or suffering, or need, what next?

"I am terrified that now I have seen — I am responsible, and my response is pitiful. What in the world does it take to be radical? Give me that aisle!

I had written in my thank you card to Shaun on the way back to the airport, on our way back to our plush lives, 'I pray I fight the middle to my last breath.' "

-- 2 --

Amy and Brian from A Little Busy took a little-used corner in their hallway and turned it into a mini library with built-in bookshelves. I love the way they made this into usable space.

(Source: A Little Busy)

-- 3 --

Have you seen this? Wall art made from canvases, spray paint, and a doormat. I've seen the idea before, but I think this might be my favorite version.

(Source: Sprik Space)

-- 4 --
I think if I were buying my house again, and hadn't yet refinished the floors, I just might paint them all, especially in fun patterns like this:
(Source: Grams)
-- 5 --
I love these mirror frames made from old pallets. I especially like the layered look to the frames. I'm thinking about redoing this frame to use similar old, weathered and rustic wood.
(Source: Young House Love)

singing over me.

Tonight, this song is whispering truth to my soul.

When I waited so long
When my tears were my song
With my hope nearly gone
You held me, God

To believe in the face
Of the dry, weary place
When you felt far away
You held me, God

Oh, there is freedom in surrender
Oh, I know it

Your songs have never stopped
You've been singing, always singing over me
Your words are still enough
And you're singing, always singing over me

The chaos in the cause
Teaching me to see, Lord
The beauty in the storm
So I believe

When I see through your eyes
Through the testing of time
Every cloud silver-lined
Cause you're with me

Oh, there is freedom in surrender
Oh, I know it

Your songs have never stopped
You've been singing, always singing over me
Your words are still enough

And you're singing

You give me faith
You give me strength enough to wait
To stand in faith
And listen for, listen for your melody

Your songs have never stopped
Your songs have never stopped

Your songs have never stopped
You've been singing, always singing over me
Your words are still enough
And you're singing, always singing over me

Your songs have never stopped

You've been singing, always singing over me
Your words are still enough
And you're singing, always singing over me
Always singing over me, always singing over me
Always singing over me

reorganizing the bathroom cabinet.

This is just one more project in my continuing quest to get rid of the things I don't need, organize what's left, and hopefully in doing so, create space for the other things God wants to do in my home and life.

My friend Heather asked me if I could watch her boys one evening this week while she and her husband ran a few important errands. I was happy to - I was just planning on being home, working on house stuff, and I always love hanging out with their boys.  So while the boys played for a while with their brand new toys and with my dogs, I looked around to see what kind of straightening I could do in bits and pieces. I decided to sort through some of the stuff in my bathroom cabinet, particularly getting rid of expired medicine, both mine and the dogs.

Once I got going, I kept at it, until I had tossed the stuff I didn't want, laid everything else on the counter around the sink, and pulled off the old contact paper and shelf liner. I was going to start loading everything back in, until I remembered that I had always thought it would be fun to paint the inside of the cabinet (and it would clean it up a bit, too, as the white was looking pretty dingy). I figured it wouldn't take long to paint and it wouldn't hurt to leave the stuff sit out on the sink overnight, so after Heather and Nick picked up the boys, I spent a quick 15 minutes painting the inside of the cabinet.

(the before - see, grungy, right?)

Its not a perfect paint job, but its definitely good enough for the inside of a cabinet! I loaded everything back after giving it a full day to dry. I got rid of a lot of things that I don't need, and was also able to move some extra supplies in here from the hallway closet, where they'll be more visible and more likely to get used. This will also help when I re-organize that closet a bit - its a little more full than I'd like.

All told, I spent maybe 30 minutes on this project, over three different times (sorting/unloading, paint, and putting everything back). Sometimes I wonder why I make things so much harder than I need to? Planning is all well and good, but there's a lot to be said for just getting it done, too.

homemade christmas.

Normally, by the end of October, I've finished writing my Christmas gift list and have purchased at least a third of the things on it. This year, I'm way behind - I've only finished one gift (mostly), and there are still several holes left on the list. And to make things worse - this year I've decided to make all my own Christmas gifts.

My main problem is the guys - its hard to find gifts for men and boys that they'll actually use.

In the meantime, here are a few great homemade gift ideas (that I'm not using):

Transform an inexpensive thrift store frame with spray paint and textured fabric, or make a beachy frame with scraps of wood:

Create a unique collage out of a thrift store cubby organizer or a wooden utensil divider:

Create a fabric-covered notebook or make a journal out of old board books:

Frame travel mementos or a map that has personal significance:


Fill a pop-top can or homemade gift box with small items:

Back to my dilemma - anyone have any gift ideas for men and boys for me?

brand new day.

The video is interesting, but I heard this song today, and I really like it.

Most kind of stories save the best part for last
Most stories have a hero who finds you make your past your past
Yeah, you make your past your past

stepping up.

I have a love/hate relationship with TV, and some other time I might write about that in more detail, but today I want to talk about something I watched last night. I saw last Thursday's episode of Private Practice (a show that centers on the lives of doctors in a California medical practice), and the end of the show disturbed me so much that I'm still thinking about it.

The episode was large about Betsy, who's father died at the end of last season. Her mother was a drug addict who died earlier. In this episode, Betsy's aunt dropped her off at the medical practice, because she couldn't/wouldn't care for her any longer. A few of the doctors considered adopting her, but all of them ultimately decided not to, and called social services to take her instead.

Perhaps its because I feel like I'm in an in-between place, a place of waiting for God to say, "That big thing that you've been preparing for? This is it. This is how I want you to serve me and love my children." And maybe its because the issues of adoption and orphans are weighing so heavy on my heart right now, but I wonder about how many times the right thing to do, the thing that God asks us to do, is right there, staring us in the face, and we walk away because we're afraid of what we might need to give up. It breaks my heart to consider how many times we let even the most obvious opportunities pass through our fingers.

I know this is a fictional story, that's its not real, but I think the lesson of it is true. And so tonight I'm wondering about the opportunities that God has placed in my path, and whether there are some that I've passed up, even as I'm praying for his clear direction.

my life is like white water rapids.

A few months ago, at a women's small group, my friend Heather asked us to come ready to share a metaphor we would use to describe our life:

I feel like I'm barely treading water.
My life is a 3-ring circus.
Life is a roller coaster and I'm just along for the ride.

At the time, I said my life felt like a trip on white water rapids. It was fairly calm at the time, but the crazy stuff was just around the corner - and it was a good kind of crazy, the fun and adventurous kind, the kind you actually sign up for.

Lately life feels more like swimming in a current - if I don't pay attention, I can look up and realize that I've drifted off the course I want to be on. Its not anything in particular - just the general busy-ness of life. Its so easy, isn't it, to get caught up with the flow?

Heather challenged us, as she was challenged, to be intentional about changing our metaphors. Instead of treading water, thinking of Peter walking on the water to Jesus.

I'm curious - what are your metaphors for life? And, if they're negative, how can you change them?

sunday inspiration - food.

Row 1, left to right:
Chicken Cacciatore with Rice from Hunt's Recipes
Peanut Butter Trifle from Just Sew Sassy
Pasta with Roasted Broccoli from Gina's Skinny Recipes
Eggplant Parmesan from Newly Woodwards
Caramel Sauce from The CooCoo Nest

Row 2:
Spanish Rice from Our Best Bites
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Stuffed Bell Peppers from A Year of Slow Cooking
Summer Salad from Everyday Insanity
Phyllo Fruit Tart from Gina's Skinny Recipes
Chicken Potpie Empanadas from Real Simple

Row 3:
Chocolate Croissants from From Glitter to Gumdrops
Holiday Cheese Truffles from Beneath My Heart
Zucchini Pizza Bites from Gina's Skinny Recipes
Banana Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies from Inside BluCrew Life
Meatless Enchiladas from One Lovely Life via Life is Just a Bowl of Cherrys

jacob's chalkboard.

My 7-year-old nephew Jacob loves to draw, especially with markers. So when I first heard about chalk markers (via this post), I knew that they would be a perfect birthday gift for him.

Katie and Vince are slowly refinishing their basement, so I knew that there would likely be lots of large wall space that I could fill up with a big chalkboard. I talked to Katie about my idea and about how big she wanted it to be. She said as long as I could fit it into my car, she didn't care.

Well, it fits in my car - but only if the backseat is folded down. I bought a piece of smooth luan plywood and had it cut down to size (3 feet by 4 1/2 feet) at Home Depot. Then I painted it with three coats of chalkboard paint using a small foam roller.

The frame is made of inexpensive pine 1x2s. I cut the boards, mitering the corners, then spray-painted each piece of the frame a bright blue (Jake's favorite color). I used wood glue to assemble the frame, nailing each piece together, then nailed the entire thing to the chalkboard from the back. Since the chalkboard itself was so thin, I needed to use pretty short nails, and I wanted to make sure the nails didn't miss the board entirely, like they might have if I had nailed from the front. Plus, this way I didn't need to fill or repaint nail holes.

He loves it! Now I just need to come with ideas for a Christmas gift...

need to breathe.

Chances are, if I'm listening to music at work, its the NeedToBreathe radio station I created on Pandora.

I've mentioned one of their songs before, ten months ago, but I've been loving their music even more lately. Several months ago they played at the Norva in Norfolk, and I thought about going, but it was one of those crazy weekends where I was out of town and it would have meant hurrying back...anyway, now I regret not going.

In this hour of doubt I see
But who I am is not just me
So give me strength to die myself
So love can live to tell the tale

Let the songs I sing bring joy to you
Let the words I say profess my love
Let the notes I choose be your favorite tune
Father let my heart be after you


Tonight, I:
  • visited one of my CASA kids
  • (finally) dropped off the first round of  stuff-to-donate that have been sitting in my living room for a week
  • started packing for my trip to Frederick tomorrow
  • straightened my house so my dogsitter won't be shocked when she walks in the door 
  • finished a Christmas gift for my sister (that's one down and many more to go)
  • picked up the curriculum for the next Bridge Kids unit
  • dropped off my spare key to the dogsitter and some of the materials for this year's Operation Christmas Child event to one of this week's volunteers
  • and made this cake. 
(image source: Apple Cider Cake from Eat at Home)

Unfortunately, my cake didn't come out nearly this pretty. In fact, at first only about two-thirds of it even came out of the pan at all.

The plus side is, when its that much of a mess, you can try a piece and no one has to know. Unless you post that you tried a piece on your blog, and then everyone who reads it will know. But I don't care - because it tasted wonderful.

photo collage options.

I need advice.

I'm working on a project to turn this old window in a huge wall display (using this as inspiration).

Each window will include a single photo, and I think I've chosen the ones I want. But I'm having trouble choosing between color or black and white. What do you think?

how to care for orphans.

I've mentioned before that I've been interested in orphans and adoption for years. One of the beautiful things that God has been teaching me over the last year is that there are many ways to care for orphans. Here are a few ideas:

1. Adopt a child.
This is clearly the most obvious way to support orphans, and, I used to think, the only way. But what about those of us who can't adopt, or aren't called to (yet)?

2. Become a foster parent.
Being a foster parent is not an easy job - kids can be in and out of your home, they come with all kinds of past hurts and baggage, and the sheer volume of people involved in one person's case is enough to make your head spin (social workers, CASAs, mentors, case workers, guidance counselors, therapists, lawyers, parents and step-parents and other family members - the list goes on).

3. Give.
Adoption is expensive (though usually less so if you're adopting from the state foster care system). There are a lot of volunteer organizations that help to offset the cost of adoption for families who want to do so (like Bethany Christian Services or Shaohannah's Hope). You can also financially organizations that care for children and orphans around the world (like Mercy House, a new maternity home for pregnant girls living in the streets of Kenya, slated to open in late 2011, or Amazima, a ministry to the Karamojong people in Uganda).

4. Volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
This is why I do it, and some of the things I've learned.

5. Support friends who are adopting or fostering children.
There are a ton of ways to help friends who are adopting or fostering children - bring them meals, help with material needs, or offer to babysit or help transport children (there may be background checks and other steps necessary to do this).

I read recently about an organization in Atlanta calld Faith Bridge Foster Care, that seeks to build a community of volunteers around a foster family to provide support and resources. Its a fascinating model that partners with local churches with the express purpose of changing foster care in the U.S.

6. Provide a home for a young pregnant woman.

7. Sponsor a child.
There are a lot of organizations that already work on behalf of poor children throughout the world, like Compassion and World Vision. And with most of these, you have the opportunity to not just provide financially for food, clothing, and education, but to also write to and encourage the child.

8. Pray.
I've listed this one last, not because its the least important, but the most. I was reminded just recently (through this post) that prayer should be our very first step.

What are some other ways to care for orphans? I'm sure there are lots of ideas that I've missed - I'd love to hear them!

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
~ James 1:27

from to-do to done.

I'm a planner and a list-maker. I would be in trouble without the ongoing to-do list I keep in my Blackberry - seriously, if I don't put it in there, chances are its not getting done. And for as long as I can remember, I've always started my work day with a to-do list, complete with little checkboxes. I usually make another when I get home. So I'm a big fan of the to-do list.

But recently I started doing something new. Rather than making a list of things to do, I've started keeping a list of the things that I've done. And it has been very freeing.

Despite my best intentions to make a reasonable list, its rare that I actually complete everything I plan to in a day - so it is much more encouraging to have a list of accomplishments, rather than even a few empty checkboxes, at the end of the day. It also gives me a chance to record the things that come up, that need to get done then but never make it to the list.

I'll keep using my Blackberry to track my long-term to-do list, but on a daily basis, the done list is working well for me.

sunday inspiration - creative photo displays.

More Sunday inspiration, this time with a theme - photo display.

-- 1 --

This popsicle stick photo puzzle would make such an adorable photo gift, and yet it would be so simple to make.

-- 2 --

I've been looking for just the right shutters so I can use this idea in my own home. Unfortunately, the only ones I've seen at thrift stores so far are plastic.

-- 3 --

This picture window project is one of the most creative photo displays I've seen.

-- 4 --

Wouldn't this ladder-turned-easel be a great way to store blankets as well?

-- 5 --

I love big chunky frames, and with beadboard all the better. This project would be simple enough to make with scraps of molding, or a combination of inexpensive frames from thrift stores.

baby shower gift (boy).

I needed a last-minute baby shower gift (last minute only because I procrastinated on actually buying the gift), and though I considered making something, I couldn't come up with an idea that I was really sold on.

Then, I saw this adorable idea at somewhat simple, and decided to do the next best thing - buy a gift and package it creatively.

I picked up everything I needed at Target - a pack of onesies, a set of burp cloths, a baseball glove, a baseball, and a small plastic bucket. I layered everything together, wrapped it with cellophane basket wrap, and tied a ribbon on it from my stash.

(please ignore the messy house in the background)

I love the way it turned out. The only bummer - I decided last-minute not to go to the shower (I'm still feeling under the weather), so I didn't get to see the new mom's reaction.

when the rain comes.

I'm currently working through a cold-medicine-induced haze, so let's share a music video today, hm? Enjoy!

on a mission.

Yesterday I talked about witnessing poverty while in Africa. I hoped that the lessons from that time will stick with me, will be things that are truly life-changing.

One large piece of processing this, is taking a hard look at the things I have and the things that I really need. I'm currently working my way through my closet and dressers, pulling out all of the excess. I've filled two bags already, and I'm not done yet.

Next, I'll be looking at the gift closet, craft supplies (including the myriad of jewelry stuff I haven't touched in nearly a year), and the kitchen.

I'm also thinking about ways to better use this house of mine, particularly the office/guest room and the back room behind my bedroom. Except for the handful of times a year that I have guests stay from out of town, these rooms are mostly used for storage. And it seems like an awful lot of storage space for one person.

The other thing I'm thinking about doing is getting rid of my TV. Its old - my parents bought it for me when I first graduated from college 10 years ago. I got rid of cable a couple of months ago and only watch TV online now, and it seems like an awful waste of space.

If you don't have a TV, especially if you've gotten rid of it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - any regrets?

the aftermath of witnessing poverty.

One of the blessings of witness poverty is that it brings a lot of things into sharp focus.

Oh, not at first. At first, that is there and this is here, and the two are quite literally worlds apart. At first, when you're thrown back into life as you know it, you're just trying to keep up, to adjust, to find that rhythm again.

But then, the truth of there starts to seep into the reality of here. This is where I am now, where I find myself hyper-aware of how very much I have, and how very little I really need. I'm convicted about how much of that excess, that waste, is due to my own selfishness and laziness. I have two spatulas because if I use it one night, I don't want to have to wash it before I can use it the next night. I buy more socks and underwear so I have to do laundry less often. I have way too many thrift-store things to make over, or half-finished projects laying around, because I actually consider shopping a hobby. I have this wonderful house that, while it isn't huge by American standards, is definitely more house than one person needs.

So the question that I'm left with is, now that I'm realizing all of these things, what am I going to do about it?

tuesday inspiration.

Otherwise known as sunday inspiration, part 2.

A couple of days ago, I posted links to some of my favorite projects and ideas online. Today, because I don't have a lot of personal thoughts and inspiration to offer, I thought I'd point you towards some of my favorite things I've read recently, of a deeper nature.

-- 1 --

"But, the desire to live a life bigger than our house begins with our hearts. It’s about praying the big, scary prayers… asking the Spirit to guide you in the ways of courage instead of comfort...No matter what it looks like for you, you have to desire this kind of life."
~ Nish from The Outdoor Wife

It is so true that no matter what adventure you're called to, its something that you have to pursue intentionally. Its all too easy to be seduced by the comfortable things we know. Reading this post reminded me of that.

-- 2 --

"For me – for years – God had a third world address. He moved there after I went to El Salvador in 2005. And for years afterward I got on planes to meet Him and missed Him when I came back to the cul-de-sac again. Against the backdrop of the darkest poverty and out-in-the-open evil, His light and love was clearly visible. My spiritual eyes adjusted to the brilliance of His compassion streaming from every church and every servant I met in Uganda, Ethiopia, India, the Dominican Republic…But back home I couldn’t see a thing in these muddled middle tones."

Shaun writes about the mourning that takes place after you've experienced poverty, and about learning to see God in America. As I adjusted to being home, as I have been struggling to process the what-next part of going to Africa, this post was a beautiful reminder to me that God is here, too.

-- 3 --

"I don’t want this trip to savored and then slowly forgotten like a “life-changing” piece of pie. I want this trip to be a seed planted deep within my soul that with the proper care will bloom, grow, and bear beautiful fruit. I want this trip to be a recognizable turning point in my life. I want this trip to be a recognizable turning point in my heart."

Lindsey went to Guatemala on a Compassion Bloggers trip just a few days after I returned home from Africa. My soul resonates with the words she shares about those things we call life-changing - how can we really know if something was life-changing, until after we've seen if life was truly changed? I still think the bigger impact of my trip will be something that I won't understand until months, even years down the road.

-- 4 --

"Environments are more powerful than words, no matter how carefully those words are crafted."
~ Pete Wilson from

This post on the importance of environments has been running in the back of my mind for the last two days. I'm wondering, are there places in my ministry where I've tried to inspire people (volunteers, parents, and kids) to something, only to throw up a roadblock?

-- 5 --

"Fear makes you settle. Fear puts limits on what God wants to do with your life. Fear “tricks you into living a boring life.”

Kim writes about taking a leap of faith to spend four months overseas teaching English. I love this reminder that our God is not a God of fear.

how we teach kids about missions and giving.

There are many things that I want to be true of our children's ministry (Bridge Kids), and maybe some day I'll write a post about the full breadth of them. For right now, here are just two:
  • I want our kids to understand missions, on a level that is relevant to them.
  • I want our kids to be generous in seeing and meeting the needs of people around the world, and of people here in our community.
Of course, our methods for creating that is always changing and evolving, but there are a couple things that we've done that I think have worked well.

1. We keep it on their level.

Our kids don't give money toward a generic fund, but rather they raise money towards specific causes. In the fall, they raise money for shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (I've written about this before) - and every year, their generosity and excitement to give blows me away. They've also raised money for gifts from the Samaritan's Purse gift catalog, including baby gifts and sports gear.

Giving to a church or an organization is too big for them to understand. (I think sometimes its too big for adults to understand, too.) But they can understand that there are children who don't have toys or toothpaste or crayons.

2. We strive to make it personal.

Rather than teaching kids about missions on a high level, we try to connect it to someone in particular. Instead, we talk about our friend Gavin, who lives in Russia with his parents so they can tell people about Jesus. They've made cards and sent videos to Gavin. They've also raised money to send with people from our church who built houses in Peru, and bought soccer balls for me to take with me to Africa.

3. We model it.

I think probably the best way to teach kids to give, is when they watch us give. The parents of our kids are already doing this, and I'm currently looking for ways to involve entire families in some of the projects we're doing. For example, this year, rather than the kids packing shoeboxes on their own, we'll have a church-wide packing party. My hope is that others can experience the joy I do when I watch kids excited to give.

sunday night inspiration.

One of the benefits of committing to write something every day for a month is that I'm forcing myself to actually finish some of the half-formed post ideas I've had sitting around for a while. Its definitely a good thing, but...

I just got home from another busy weekend in Frederick, and between that craziness and the last week's worth of posts, I don't have much left to share tonight. Instead, check out inspiration from some other people.

-- 1 --

Some of my favorite blogs to read on a regular basis are doing a series of posts for October:

31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer

-- 2 --

I made chicken and wild rice soup using this recipe earlier this week, and it was amazing - tasted just like Panera! This is definitely one that I'll be making again.

-- 3 --

Becki at Infarrantly Creative has amazing vision! Check out what she created out of a vintage TV cabinet.

-- 4 --

Love this - bed springs turned interactive art piece. The Lettered Cottage is still one of my favorite places on the web to visit.

russian art.

A few weeks ago, my aunt told me that she had found some things at an auction that she knew I would like. She gave them to me tonight, and she's right - I love them.

They're paintings of scenes from Moscow, and they are beautiful, though my late-night pictures don't do them justice:


The second one, at least, looks like an original watercolor. The writing at the bottom of each is in Russian, so I tried to take pictures to send to a friend for help translating. Unfortunately, it was tough at night to get a good shot of the second, but here's the first:

I'm planning to build frames for them to match the ones I already built for the dining room.

casa: what i've learned.

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about CASA, and specifically why I started volunteering as a child advocate. Today, I'd like to write about some of the lessons that God is teaching me through this ministry.

Before I start, though, just a disclaimer - this is by no means an exhaustive list. I've only been doing this for five months now, and I expect there is much more that God wants to teach me.

First, I am so incredibly blessed. Of course, I knew that everyone doesn't grow up in a loving family - but its one thing to know that as a theoretical concept, and quite another to come face to face with the evidence that it is true. Many times, I've talked to these kids and heard their stories, and just been overwhelmed with gratitude for the childhood that I had.

A couple months ago, after hearing a particularly heart-breaking story, I just had to call my mom to thank her for just loving me, no conditions attached. Later that day, I tweeted this:

I grew up with a mom who loves me, no strings attached. I don't remember often enough just how blessed I am.

Doing this work is helping me not to take the gifts in my life for granted. I'm much more appreciative of my parents and my family, and I'm trying to say so more often. By the same token, I also want to make sure that the kids in my life know that they are loved. I want them to be able to look back on their life, and remember actually hearing the words.

Another thing I'm realizing, in a very practical way, is that love is a choice. Sometimes, it means choosing to do the thing that you don't want to do, because love isn't accidental but intentional. I'm reminded that God loves us when we're unlovely, that he pursued us even when we wanted nothing to do with him. That experience of intentionally laying aside something I want, in favor of something that communicates love to someone else (even if they aren't quite able to receive or understand it) - it only makes me more aware and more grateful for the price that Jesus willingly paid.