Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wonderfully Complex?: It's In the Bible, Yo

This summer, our deemed, slow summer, we've done well.  We've been homeschooling consistently, hosting and attending playdates, enjoying minimal scheduled activities (just Miss E's gymnastics which is only an hour a week), and spending lots of time swimming (vitamin D!). 

But one thing I've really neglected is Bible verse memorizing.

Now, I'm not your average Jesus-girl.  And I'm guessing most of us Jesus-girls really aren't the "average" that we read about in good Christian girl books.  You know, the mom who gets up at 5 a.m. just to light a candle, sip herbal tea, and curl up in a floral armchair in the corner of her bedroom. She has a Bible on her lap and a box of facial tissues nearby for lots and lots of good Christian girl crying while she confesses all her sins, prays profusely for her husband and kids and all sixty of her family members and dear friends (and don't forget kids' future spouses!), and asks for strength and wisdom for the coming day. 

Not me.

Here's the real me:  I don't like long sermons.  They bore me.  I don't like slow, whiny worship songs.  They make me cringe. I don't like prayers that seem to have six sequels.  I don't like crying.  I don't like surrender, submission, or blubbering confessions.  I don't like corny lines or Christian brush-offs.  I don't like when people say, "I'm blessed!  How are you?"  I don't like Bible studies based on books written by women who wear a lot of lipstick and have perfectly-shaped hair.  I don't trust those women.  I don't like fluff. 

I like concise.  I like honest. I like people who aren't afraid to blurt out a curse word when it's appropriate for the situation and they are truly feeling really, really crappy about what's going on in their lives!  I like persistence.  I like being uplifted.  I like worship songs that make you dance and think, God is really, really great and big and all-knowing and powerful. I like people who talk about hard stuff but don't wallow in self-pity.  I like seeing God made bigger through people pointing up, not at one another.  I like Christians with cool tats that symbolize their faith.  I like real, authentic Christianity that is messy, yet simple, and unapologetic. 

But I am, of course, a contradiction. 

I spend a silly portion of my day thinking about the ways I've failed myself and others. I compare myself to others, mostly those I follow/friend on Facebook.  I then feel guilty reading anything on FB when instead, the good Jesus girl should be praying or confessing or working on her selfishness, lack of empathy, or unkind thoughts. 

And in my desperate moments, when everything possible has been spilled, when we are running late or the goals for the day have not been met, when my kids have watched too much TV, when the kitchen is a disaster and I have yet to make dinner, when my blood sugar is skyrocketing or plummeting AGAIN (ain't nobody got time for that!), when each child has (what they believe to be) an immediate need---all at the exact same time, and when my husband calls to cheerfully ask, "How is your day going?"...

When those things are happening, it's when I utter once sentence to Jesus:

"Lord, give me strength."

It's sometimes all I can muster.

So tonight, as I type this, my husband is at a men's church event, all three of my children are sleeping peacefully in their beds, and I'm sitting on the screened in porch with a glass of red wine, I'm looking up Bible verses to help my kids memorize.

Because I know, I know, how important Scripture memorization is.

You see, I used to memorize Scripture for purely selfish reasons. Like at church camp.  Campers had to memorize 7 camp-themed Bible verses in order to earn our camp t-shirt.  You HAD to have a camp t-shirt.  It was a shirt with a horrid design (usually a sword or shield that symbolized spiritual battles...or something like that).  And on the last night of camp, you ran around at dusk, permanent marker in hand, letting your new best friends sign your shirt (yes, like a cast or a yearbook). It was a BIG deal.

I used to, like all my fellow campers, memorize those verses as quickly as possible to score a shirt and move on.  We didn't acknowledge, appreciate, or even grasp the significant of Scripture memorization.

But as an adult, I get it.

Bible verses have whispered their way through my soul in some very dark and very wonderful times. These were often times it had been weeks, even months, since I'd cracked open my Bible.

I hid the words in my heart, even though I didn't realize it, all those years ago. 

And these words have tremendously benefited me.  Nourished me.  Reminded me.  Convicted me.

I spend too much time feeling guilty about what I'm not doing instead of praising God for what I have and am able to do through Him---His grace, His timing, His love, His blessing.

I spend too much time thinking, "I'll be happy when..." or stressing about what is on the schedule this week, this month, or even this year. When God says worry about today, not tomorrow.  Today is enough.

I spend too much time listening to voices that do not matter. God wants me to have discernment.  To focus on Him.  Seek first His kingdom, His righteousness, His plan.  All else will fall into place.

I spend too much time seeking the next opportunity.  Instead, God tells me He knows His plans for me.  Those plans involve a future and hope.

Sometimes there are wonderful things surrounding me.  And God taps me on the shoulder and shows me the most vibrant, colorful sunset.  See that?  "That's Me," He says.  He allows a stranger, a friend, or even one of my own crew (husband or kids) to say the perfect thing at the perfect time, and He says, "That's me, too."  He brings me new friends, new experiences, new chances.  That's Him.

So tonight, as I looked up Bible verses to memorize with my kids, I was fiddling with a website that allows the user to choose which Bible version the verse appears in.  I was trying to find versions I was more familiar with.  I typed in Psalm 139:14, which I'm most familiar with as this:

Psalm 139:14  (NKJV)
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.

But then I decided to try a few other versions, and God surprised me with this: 

Psalm 139:14 New Living Translation (NLT)
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
Thanking God for my complexity?  And doing so while, in the same verse, admiring God's workmanship (in creating me)? 
That's wonderful? 
Messy me?
I so easily forget the point of salvation.  The gift that it is.
It's for messiness.  Not perfection.
It's for sin. Not purity.
It's for ugliness. Not prettiness.
It's for sorting out.  Not having it all together.
It's for conviction and guilt and shame.  Not for carefreeness and innocence and confidence.
I think I've taken so long to get this Bible memory stuff underway with my kids because I've been carrying too much of my own "stuff" to think we are worthy of the endeavor of digging a little deeper.  Teaching Miss E addition, subtraction, reading...these things are easy.  Teaching Baby E how to write her name, how to recognize her numbers and count, how to draw her shapes...easy. 
But to teach truth.  That's heavy.
Until we jump in headfirst and just do it, the heaviness will prevail.
And that's not what God wants for us. 
The thing is, I feel incredibly unprepared to teach my kids anything about or in the Bible. 
But if I think about it, I am prepared.  I've been getting prepared my entire life. 
God doesn't need perfect.  Not even close-to. 
He's the perfection.
I'm ready. 
Let's do this. 
And let's start with the truth (which sets me free). 
I'm wonderfully complex.
So are you.
And that's...
well, He said it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Questions for Children's Book Author Blake Washington

I'm excited to introduce my readers to Blake Washington, author of a fabulous new children's book called Hooray for HeliumWhat I loved most about her book is that it focuses on science, and she uses racially diverse characters.  The best part? She's just getting started!

Rachel: Tell me about yourself, personally and professionally.

Blake: I graduated in 2009 with a degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and work full time at a food manufacturing facility.  When I'm not at work, I'm typically with family and friends or taking a long walk around my neighborhood.  I have a big family with lots of siblings (including a twin sister) and hope to one day have a big family of my own.  Right now it's just me and my turtle, Phillip, but give me a few years and I'm sure my family will grow!  We adopted my little brother when he was four, and I plan on adopting two children myself.
Rachel: What inspired you to write Hooray for Helium?

Blake: My niece and nephew were my inspiration.  They are also the two main characters in the book. My nephew in particular inspired me as he said that he wants to write and publish a children's book of his own.  He is 9 years old and I couldn't be more proud!

Rachel: Your book features characters of different races. Was this intentional?  Why?

Blake: Absolutely.  I am mixed myself, black and hispanic, and I wanted an educational book targeting all races.  Every child should see a character that looks like them either on the cover or in the book.  We are a nation of so many colors and it is important to me that we uplift them all.

Rachel: Many books for young kids are about superheroes, princesses, pirates, and villains. Why create a book that focuses on science?

Blake: I volunteer as a tutor and noticed the students typically had a knowledge gap in math and science. I try to make learning fun and thought that a fun rhyme scheme paired with hands-on experiments could help close this gap. My goal was to encourage children to ask questions and explore the world around them. 

Rachel: What are you working on now?  Can we expect more books about science in the future?

Blake: I am currently focusing on setting up book signings and classroom presentations for Hooray for Helium, but I am also working on the second book in the series!  I have a few more pages to write before I complete the first draft.  This book introduces children to a different element of the Periodic Table. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Get Ready! A Book For Young, Black Girls!

I'm excited to share with you that my first children's book should be released late this summer!  For details and updates, please like the book's FB page.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lunch Box Love Notes

When I was in grade school, I took my lunch almost every day.  What I didn't have in my lunch box was the Fruit Roll-Ups that everyone else (seemingly) had.   But what my lunch did include, on the inside of the top lid, was a sticky note.

In my mom's script was a message:

I'm proud of you!

Have a good day!

See you after school!

It's Friday!

These notes almost always included a sparkly sticker or a hand-drawn smiley face.

These sticky notes, which I'm sure there were hundreds of them over the years, were small reminders of my mom's great love for me. In the midst of a sweaty day, full of math facts and spelling words and games of four-square, were small squares of paper that reminded me of the fact that I had someone cheering for me, encouraging me, loving me.

Fast-forward a few decades.

I'm a stay-at-home mom of three littles. They are wonderful, crazy, energetic, and at times, all-consuming.  My life is predictable: dishes, laundry, kisses, cooking, driving, reading books, negotiating, tickles, sweeping, writing, picking up, wiping, reassuring, packing, unpacking.  It can be simultaneously blissful and chaotic and frustrating and mind-numbing and humbling.

And it's so easy, despite being in church for as long as I can remember, to forget my foundational truths.  

Because in the midst of disciplining, planning, cleaning, teaching, playing, loving, and going, it's always immediate needs first.  Who needs food? A diaper change? An appointment made? A drink? A bath? We run out of milk.  Something spills.  The kids cry or argue.  Who needs a hug?  A bandage? Redirection?

I need a reminder.  No, I need reminders

Renewal.  Redirection.  Reassurance. 


I need a lunch box love note.

And that's why there's the Bible.  And the Christian radio station.  And Christian friends.  And small, everyday miracles and moments.

These are the ways God whispers into my life and says, "I'm still here.  I've never left.  And I never will."

I can do great things through Christ.

I am doing great things, but only through His strength. 

I need His strength, because the job of raising three kids (successfully) is simply impossible to do on my own.

Some days, I'm so overwhelmed.  Other days, I simply surrender to the chaos, and not just surrender to it, but join in.  Some days I'm muttering curse words under my breath as yet another huge mess is made and another argument ensues over who gets to be Peter Pan.  Some days are sunny and happy and everyone is well-behaved and well-mannered.

But every day, every day, I need His strength.

Most days, I fail to recognize this fact.

And no matter how unfaithful or forgetful I can be, God shows up.

In a song playing quietly in the background of our noisy kitchen.

In a text from a friend.

In a phone call from my sister.

In a smile from a stranger.

In a verse during a very quick skim of my Bible.

These love notes are my breath, my hope, my possibility.

My encouragement that says I can keep going, keep doing, keep loving. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Homemde, Healthy Soaps to Inspire You to Take Care

White Sugar, Brown Sugar is proud to share our latest favorite company, Lia Naturals.  Not only are the soaps divinely scented, but they are healthy and beautiful.  They make fantastic gifts! 


Meet Jarmelia: 

Hey y'all! My name is Jarmelia and I am an artisan soap maker. I am the mom of 3 small children and have been married 8 years. We currently live in beautiful Charleston, SC. I began making soap as a way to take better care of myself after my first child was born. I never knew how much of a beating my body would take from just being a mom! As a way to get back to taking care of me and also help other moms take care of themselves, I created Lia Naturals Bath and Body.

I make all natural skin care products for women, mainly natural soaps. My products are made with natural plant oils and butters, I strongly believe that beauty should be as natural as possible. My products are unique because they are inspired by Motherhood and my journey as a woman. The colors and scents encourage women to make themselves a priority. Take time to soak in the bath, wear perfume even if you have no where to go, feel your best at all times. 
Connect with Jarmelia on Facebook, Instagram (@lianaturals), and Pinterest

White Sugar, Brown Sugar readers, use the code
at checkout to save 15%!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Reading, from Adoption to Self-Improvement

One thing we aren't short of in this house is books!  Between the library, my obsession with Amazon, and my mama who loves to give adorable picture books to my kiddos, we have quite the collection!

If you are looking for something to read this summer, check out my list of must-read books with adoption themes

If your kiddo is enthralled with animals, here are some fabulous books that use animals (and/or nature) to explain and explore adoption

First, here's what I've recently read.  As a type A mama who just wants as simple "yes" or "no," and is tired of the bull, criticism, and fluff...I really appreciated these down-to-earth, funny, gettin' real books: 

Know you need to stop obsessing over your cell phone's many magical features (including that FB, Twitter, Pinterest, or Etsy app?) and start LIVING?   This book is a must-read!  

Tired of parenting books telling you the "perfect" solution to raising a smart kid, feeding your child organic food, potty training your toddler, vaccines (and the many horrors), guides to playdates, etc?  This book is hysterical and quite "honest," as the title suggests

Need a book about how beautiful and difficult life is?  A book that inspires you to press on while still being humble, forgiving, and honest?  This book is a must-read, written by the author of one of my favorite blogs, someone whom I had the pleasure of connecting with recently.   

And finally, if you are tackling teaching your little one to read this summer, refer back to this post on simple ways to raise a reader (without electronics!). 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Three Young Kids

I hate excuses.  And I really hate excuses that are followed up with wordy explanations. 

This Bible verse plays a loop in my mind when I hear someone flake out, half-commit, or simply don't show up...again:  "All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37---NIV)

I taught college English for nine years before I "retired" to stay at home with the littles and focus on my writing career.   I've heard so many excuses.   College students go beyond the whole "my dog ate my homework" and really step up their game.  One student missed his group work day in class because his lizard needed tail surgery.

I've had students blame me for them failing the class.  Newsflash: A 38% cannot be bumped up to a 70% passing.  It's simply not ethical.  And please, please don't become a nurse.  I wouldn't want you being a nurse to anyone in my family---like ever---with that attitude! 

Um, no, the paper deadline won't be extended until the end of the semester.  It's only week #3. 

You want 20% of your grade in extra credit?  No.  No.  Just no.  No, I don't want to grade an extra paper your plagiarize off the Internet, and then hand you a bonus 20%.  

(Honestly, my preschool children act more responsible than many college students.  Yikes!)

I have taken my years of teaching (and the numerous excuses) to heart when parenting my children.  I require them to sometimes answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no."  No evading.  No bull.  No extras.  Yes or no.  Did you whack your sister on the head with the toy truck? 

There is freedom in truth. 

I am a person who wishes to adhere to all my commitments.  Be on time.  Be organized.  Have it together in order to not inconvenience or disrupt the other party.  If you agree to do something, do it well. 

I'm working to say no.  When it doesn't benefit my family, my career, or my well-being, I need to say no.  It's not because it's all about me.  It's not because my family is the center of everyone's universe.  It's not because I don't have a desire to say yes, because I really like a new project or idea. 

It's because I have a reality.  Not an excuse.  A reality.

I have three young kids.

Doing just one outside activity a week (gymnastics) is too much at times.  Getting out the door requires an hour (at least) of advance preparation.  Multiple diaper changes and toilet breaks.  Clothing changes galore.  Three snacks per kid.  And snacks to go.  Oops---diaper blow out.  No, you cannot take your top fifteen favorite toys.  Triple check the diaper bag for supplies.  Forget the diaper bag, realizing it only after I'm ten minutes from home. 

Spending one evening with family?  At least four bags (including two full-size suitcases).  

Trip to the library?  Sling for the baby, bag for library books and DVDS, purse, diaper bag, shoes on all children, sippy cups of water, and most likely multiple snacks.

Yes, the kids are pretty much my world.

They require so much of me.

And I have high expectations of myself.

I want to get this parenting thing right.

I used to get uber-annoyed when old ladies at the grocery store would say, "Wow.  You've got your hands full."  I hear it all. the. time. 

But I'm beginning to believe, or make myself believe, that their observation is a compliment

I'm doing a really good job.  I've got this.  

But I'm only going to do a good job if I'm realistic.  No, I cannot attend your weekly Bible study for ladies.  I'm ready to drink wine and watch trash TV by 3 p.m. each day, but I abstain until 8:30 p.m. when the kiddos are in bed.   No, I cannot join your organization, meeting, or group. No, I don't want to meet you at the restaurant, with my three children, so I can pay $40 for lunch that will end up on the floor, on me, and all over the table.   No, I don't have the energy to drive 45 minutes to a kiddie play place in the city where I will inevitably go crazy trying to make sure my children stay within my eyesight.  No, we don't do anything before 10 a.m., or between 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., or after 7 p.m.   Those times are for sleeping and eating.

The truth is that the reason I will say, proudly and honestly, that the answer is no because I have "three young kids," is because it's not about the kids.  Well, not JUST about the kids.  It's about me and my sanity, too.  It's about making sure I'm happy and healthy.   And it's about the kids learning that life is full of choices, and all choices have consequences. 

My kids don't take cello lessons and they aren't learning Mandarin, nor are they in three sports all at once.  The baby is in ZERO mommy-and-me classes.  We aren't at the ball field at 9 p.m. each night.  We eat almost every meal at home, around the dinner table.  We kick a ball around in the back yard. We read books in the living room, sprawled out on pillows and afghans made by relatives.  We create dance routines in the kitchen.    

And we are all just fine. 

Not just fine, but happy.

Free to play, be, imagine, rest, rejuvenate, have friends over, take an impromptu trip to the local park. 

I'm going to tell you no.  Often.  Because I have three young kids.  

It's our truth, our reality, and our joy.