Adios 2016!

Oh the blessed 2016. I want to kick this year in the shins. If 2016 were a person, it would nod in agreement, take the shin kicking and leave the party.

I thought that those words are what I wanted to start and end with. Don’t get me wrong, I want to kick it in the shins really hard but there is so much more to the story…to all of our stories. 

This past year has been maddening. There have been moments where all I could do was throw my head back and laugh and I did…and not because it was funny.

I have had answered prayers, a job promotion I didn’t go out looking for, an incredible church family that dreams with us, walks with us and does the hard things of life together. What would this year have been without those I could boldly look in the eye and admit when I am not ok…and to be greeting with grace, love and “of course you’re not”… and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

It has been a year where the dreams won’t die and God just reminds you that He will do it so just…keep…swimming.

I have written more about loss this year because I have never walked out the shock of it like this year. It has been healing and hard.

This year has remind me that when everything is shaken, my God is not and He is with us. When the holidays will never be the same and life-long traditions change a bit, Jesus does not. Jesus changed everything and he does not change.

I’m ready for 2017. I know it is just a new calendar year but we all need the mark of new. 

He is the God of the new thing…

He is the God who makes us new…

He is the God who restores…

He is the God who is still God when our year is the hardest and the best… His love and kindness does not change and cannot be shaken even when we are. 2016 has been hard but it has been a year of God showing how he sustains us.

2017…I got my eye on you. Let’s do this!

Favorite Things Monday: Bittersweet Christmas Edition

All over today there are clearance signs going up, Christmas decor coming down and cleaning up taking place. It always seems like Christmas takes forever to get here, then its gone in a flash. I want to hang out in it just a little bit longer. Just a little bit. Maybe it’s having kids or a crazy schedule or like everyone else, we have life keeping us on our toes, but by the time I get to sit down and breathe and enjoy the holiday, the holiday is over.

I have loved the last few days. We had a Christmas Eve Eve service at church. You guys, that was special. Our kids did their Christmas performance that they had been working on for months, but they did it with the worship team. While I am not at all anti kids singing silly Christmas songs, it was really special to have them know and sing words with such weight to them…and have it all as part of the worship service. I love our church family. It’s just so special and unique and incredibly dear to me. Come and see what I am talking about. Only God could have put this bunch together and I cannot wait to see what He does with us in 2017.

I have spent more time focussing on certain passages of scripture this holiday season. I tend to forget that between the old and new testament that God had been silent for a really long time, then starts speaking and showing up in incredibly unexpected ways. I have been caught up those shepherds in the field who knew what those angels singing in that field were trying to tell them. They knew that this baby changes everything. Everything. 

Immanuel. God with us…

He came to us. Always with us. For us.

This was a bittersweet Christmas. I have said that this has been the incredibly difficult and sucky year of firsts since losing Caleb. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years until he walked in that door on Christmas Eve of 2015. I got the biggest bear hug. The day after Christmas last year was so special to me. It ended up being my last conversation with Caleb. He gave me more encouragement and hope than he could ever know. I’ll cherish that conversation forever. Christmas day was chaos but like all family chaos, you always know its worth it and not to be missed.

I’ve cried over the last few days and just had to let that be ok. There was no avoiding it. I have enjoyed time with my kids and watching them with family and gifts and getting to eat everything they want and not much of what they don’t. I have loved every single night of Advent with them. I have loved every second of just being at home and being with Ray. Thank God for that man…

But those tears still came like I knew they would.

Immanuel. God with us…

In our broken places and our unanswered questions, He is God with us. He is God who came to us, to restore us, to heal us, to show us just how much He loves us.

Because Jesus came and changed everything, I can hurt and still have hope. I can cry and know He is with me. I can ask God how and know that He just does.

So Christmas…

Celebrating the birth of Christ. God with us. I am going to linger in this celebration just a little bit longer.

I’m grateful for all of it. The silly Christmas pj’s that my husband agreed to…without an ounce of badgering him about it (despite what that lady at Target assumed), the kids in all their wide-eyed wonder, gifts and more gifts and gift giving, getting to snuggle my sweet new niece… I loved it all.

More than anything, I love the reminder of what this insane holiday season means. Through chaos and noise and what I am reminded of when nothing else makes sense…

You guys… Jesus. Changes. Everything.

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The Brave Christmas Tree…

There are most definitely times in our lives where we have to suck it up. There are times where I have to put on some bright lipstick and remember where I came from and go. There are times when you gotta do what you gotta do.

Then there are the times when the doing can’t be prepared for, can’t be talked into and you go in knowing it’s gonna hurt. 

These are the brave…

This has nothing to do with moving past a life altering event. This has zero to do with “faking it till you make it” or “putting on a smile”. Appearances go flying out the window and takes pretense with it. We all know better and the facade just doesn’t matter. 

This is so much bigger than all of that. I am learning and am learning from the example of others that when there is no moving on, there is stepping forward.

The brave show us all (and often times themselves in the process) that just one step at a time holds more power over our pain than we imagine.

For me this year, I saw bravery in a Christmas tree.

I hoped so badly that I would see pictures of a Christmas tree. I knew that it was quite possible, highly likely and 100% understandable that there wouldn’t be.

Then I saw it… 

A brave Christmas tree, set up by my brave family during a time of year that screams that the feelings this will bring up aren’t worth it.

It’s a brave tree.

When your memories bring you joy and break your heart:

When it would be easier to ignore your life and people who love you but you show up:

When you just don’t know and everything is shaken. When you have done all and cry it all and you put up that blessed tree because just maybe, just maybe there is enough hope to get you through. When you take a step forward:

When you don’t feel like it and when you wish with everything in you that you didn’t have to be.  

You are so brave…

To all your braving a brave Christmas tree this year, you have modeled a strength that has schooled everyone around you. You have leaned into the hope of Jesus and remind us all that He can’t be shaken. You are brave and tonight, this is for you.

Favorite Things Monday: Countdown Edition

The Christmas Countdown is more than on, it’s RIGHT HERE!!!!

Nobody panic. You got this. I got this. The children are alright. Your family will forgive you for not living up to the illusions that are only reality in your head.

Take a minute. Breathe. Find the joy in the little things, the big things and everything in between.

To quote my kids Advent reading: “Every little thing is going to be okay, because God is working good through every little thing. There is never a night, never a darkness when gifts and miracles and joy aren’t coming-coming right to you”. Ann Voskamp

 

This past weekend, we all froze and loved every second of it. Sophia had a mini soccer tournament right here in Wells Branch and it was just our soccer association. That means it was the families that become like family and cheering for the girls that we will all fight for. That means that no one goes for hot chocolate just for themselves and we all threaten each others kids with what cold air will do if they don’t warm up before the next game.

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I wanted to say a lot of things today, then my friend said some really good things and I need to share. I get to watch her walk this out. We have seen each other through a whole lot and what a ridiculous ride it continues to be. So grateful to call her family. The best is yet to come…and when she writes about the here and now you better pay attention. Also, the little stinker pictured on the blog, I have to bribe her with cookies to make her like me. I go from “Miss Chantel” to “that lady” in two seconds flat. You have to earn the love from that one. Jesus help us.

Read it…after you read this. Read it here!

 

It was this day, five years ago that my husband was talking crazy and having serious migraines. We ended up in the ER to find out, he had internal bleeding in his upper G.I tract that we had no clue was there. It’s crazy. It took 2 blood transfusions, an overnight hospital stay, more tests and what felt like answering the same question one thousand different ways. We had no clue how it go to where it was. We were a whole 3 months old as a church and my husband was literally talking crazy. Literally. He doesn’t remember a lot of it. He preached the following Sunday and informed the church that “apparently his sub-conscience is not sanctified”.

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Thank God for His peace and the prayers from friends all over the country that literally carried us. Five years later and I am still in awe of the peace. CAT scans and tests and waiting rooms and all the while, not playing the “what if” game with myself and not even realizing how freaked out I should have felt till after the fact. It’s nothing short of a miracle and 5 years later, we continue to have a clean bill of health. Also, I ask him one thousand questions if he gets a headache…I’m human.

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It’s the time of year where this verse makes the rounds a little more than usual. While I love the portion of scripture, what I love more is what happens in my head. I hear my Unca’ Ron playing his guitar and singing these exact words. I remember everything about the rhythm. I can hear my Aunt Sharon singing harmony. While I got to see them at Thanksgiving, I haven’t heard them sing in a really long time. Thank God some memories are not diminished by time…and when you sing scripture, you never forget it.

 

To end out this wonderful week, I give you “kids crying with Santa”. I’m that mom who would lose the ability to breathe from laughing…and there was always a screaming child. Always. Today’s gift of hilarity is brought to you by Ellie. Followed by an older picture of Cephas side-by-side with my nephew Wyatt. They were wearing the sam sweater and as you can see, had the same reaction.

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Favorite Things Monday: Life and Advent Edition

This past weekend was the result of plans and some plans falling through. It has been cold and rainy in Austin, Texas. Where most of the country expects and dreads it, we wait for these few days of cooler temps. We put a fire in the fireplace, then had to open the front door because that cold front hadn’t quite made it’s way in. I’ll complain about the cold by the first week of February, but for now, we will enjoy it while we can.

Friday night was spent with an unnecessary fire in the fireplace and friends around my kitchen table.

Sophia had a tournament scheduled that was inevitably cancelled because of all the rain…so dinner with another friend on Saturday night.

I love people around my kitchen table!

Sunday morning with my favorite church and favorite people was wonderful. I loved everything about Sunday. It was followed by a lazy afternoon but with both kids enjoying a full afternoon with the same friends they got to hang out with on Friday.

It was a lazy kind of full weekend.

The last Sunday of November marks the official beginning of Advent.

We love making this a focal point and a big deal. We do cozy blankets, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and sweet treats. We make attempts to correct any bad attitudes before we get started. We pretend it feels like winter outside even if it doesn’t.

Naturally, one kid didn’t like the Starbucks brand of hot chocolate and the other didn’t like the muffins. We called it a win when they each had something they liked.

When we opened up our Advent book from last year, my daughter declared “Mom, we didn’t finish last year, this is still on Esther! Do we start from the beginning or start where we left off”?

I join what I believe to be the majority. The only way I show any kind of balance in my life is in the amount of days I am totally on the ball versus the days I drop it. I prefer to take my cue from the beloved Miss Stacy from Anne of Green Gables. “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it”. Yet, anyway.

My favorite Christmas ornament is my newest from Magnolia Market. It screams what my heart needs right now. It’s holy. It’s surrounded by Starbucks cups, a Kylo Ren, ornament balls and proof that we live in Texas.

Advent isn’t about getting it all right. It’s a time of anticipation, expectation and waiting. I love this time to focus and teaching my kids how to do the same. Not just read to them but explain the back story. Give them the “why”, because they need to know that God started with perfection and has been fully present in our mess. That He made a way and loves us and leads us straight back to Himself. That Jesus did what we couldn’t and went to great lengths to do it. From the wonder of heaven, to the manger, then to a cross to and an empty tomb. Christmas reminds me that God was silent  but working to make things ready and His people were waiting. A THRILL of HOPE, the weary world rejoices… How weary they must have been and then suddenly… Suddenly there is a young girl who would become the mother of the Savior. Suddenly, there were shepherds in a field.

All the years of silence and then, God seems to move suddenly.

I love when this hits me fresh all over again.

Advent makes it a little easier to keep my mind set on the main thing.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. And so will mine.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

I love it. I really do. From the lights and trees, cozy houses, cooler temps and holiday beverages, to the feeling in the air, I love it.

I think I have been pretty honest with how this year has gone. It has been the hybrid year. I have asked more hard questions than ever. I have seen God’s faithfulness new wats. I have known the love of God in ways I have never known it before. I have prayed bigger and more ridiculous prayers that wouldn’t have happened unless the pain and loss did. I have cried my eyes out. This has been the year where joy and pain have fought for a seat at the table. Both have won.

So here we are. The most wonderful time of the year.

Is it?

I have wondered for months how this would feel.

Then we took our little trip to Waco to visit Magnolia Market.

I cried. Remember that? I wrote about it.

Then I found this little gem. I bought 2.

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It takes center stage on my Christmas tree.

I needed it. The reminder. The bigger picture. The HOPE.

The reminder that Jesus changes everything. The reminder that we read in John 1:14. That the Word (Christ) became flesh and lived among us. The reminder that God doesn’t work in ways that make sense, but He sure does have a plan. Our mess and brokenness doesn’t disqualify us, it magnifies Him. We have this promise. He restores and went to great lengths to do it.

Jesus actually did come and change everything.

I don’t know what kind of reminders you need walking into this Christmas season. My hope for you that instead of overwhelmed, you find…well, hope.

I don’t know how to end this one. Hope doesn’t end and neither does the conversation.

Since the holiday season should be full of all the fun and ridiculous things, let’s just go with how my husband said to end this.

“Ta-da”