Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Uncomplicate Your Life

Life is extremely complicated. Living out this life as a full-time working mom, wife, mother of three, daughter, volunteer, servant gets messy and I don't always do it well. It can so easily become unbalanced. Schedules get full, obligations (both real and made up in my mind) take over and I become overcome with anxiety. I lash out, I stress out, I gain weight, I stumble. I want to fill all my roles well. I am doing important things. Yet, I often find myself completely exhausted and I just need a pillow and some rest. However, it seems I just don't know how to do that. To stop. To rest. To just be.

Yet the solution is simple and it is uncomplicated.

Stovall Weems, pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida provides an approachable, easy to digest guide for applying the biblical principle of putting God first. 

I'm sure you are familiar with the verse Mathew 6:33 that tells us to seek first the kingdom of God. But how does that apply to your daily life? How does one seek God first?

In The God First Life - Uncomplicate Your Life God's Way, Weems explains how to change

our priorities to live out the life we were designed for.

The new priority of our lives is to truly put God first above our own desires, hopes, challenges and circumstances. It is a commitment to living your life God's way. Weems says, "The primary thing we should wish for, crave, diligently seek is God. And when this proper order is restored, the blessing is released into our lives." (28)

The God First Life outlines how to practically reorder your priorities every day to put God first and foremost. He aligns each principle with scripture and includes examples from the early church and believers of this age. Weems says God First living comes out of seven key decisions:

  • I will make God's family (the Church) my primary family
  • I will engage in the community life of the church
  • I will be filled by the Spirit
  • I will worship God on my own and with my church family
  • I will spend time with God through prayer and His Word
  • I will give of myself and my means
  • I will experience freedom, joy and blessing that God offers

Weems goes on to unpack each of those decisions through vivid examples and practical application. He reminded me of how it felt to be a new believer totally in love with my savior. And he encouraged me to be engaged in a long-term commitment to total personal transformation (sanctification) for Christ. He point's out that God gave us the sculpting tools to enact this transformation - His Church, His Word, His Spirit, His presence, His son. 

Reading this book opened my eyes to the bland faith I have been living. Working each day for God's Kingdom at a Christian PR firm, it is easy to believe that I'm living for God but the reality is that He has not been a priority.  The busyness of my life, the life stage of my young ones, has put Him on the back burner. Though it will take some rearranging and dedication, I must reorder my life so that I am tapped into the One who can truly give me rest, and who has a plan for me. Plans to prosper me and not harm me. Plans to give me a hope and a future. 

His plan is better than my plan. 

Only one thing can hold me back - fear. Giving our trust to the Lord is a leap of faith. Living life is like being blindfolded and behind the wheel of a mini-van full of children. To make it through, we must trust that God has the map for our journey and completely rely on Him. step-by-step, to provide clear directions to our destination. If we try to steer on our own, we will surely crash. 

But perfect love casts out fear or put another way, "only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart." Jesus's act of true love on the cross can cast out our fear and lack of trust. So, I choose to put on the spirit of power, love and sound mind, as well as that blindfold, and commit to anchor myself in Him who directs my path.

About The God First Life - Uncomplicate Your Life, God's Way
A simple and sustainable path to a deep and satisfying walk with Christ There are thousands of how-to books for improving various areas of life---self, relationships, finances, fitness, business, marriage, family. And there are nearly as many books written for believers offering a framework for the 'right' approach to a new life in God. What if it were possible, Pastor Stovall Weems asks,to boil it all down to one practical, un-complicated principle that would yield the vibrant, purposeful spiritual life so many are looking for? What if, in our relationship with God, we had one simple and sustainable touch point to experience a deep and satisfying walk with Christ? In The God-First Life, Weems shows that true success in our walk with God and in life in general is not an issue of need, but an issue of order. Brilliantly unpacking the simple Scripture in Matthew 6:33, Weems gives a fresh and practical perspective on what Christian 'discipleship' is about. Bringing clarity, depth, and simplicity, Pastor Weems makes clear core truths that have been misunderstood by many Christians and non-Christians alike.

About the Author
Stovall Weems is the founder and lead pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, FL. Celebration is a global, diverse, growing multisite church, with more than twelve thousand people in weekly attendance. As a pastor, teacher, writer and sought-after conference speaker, his ministry focuses on building the local church, reaching people with the gospel, and developing passionate followers of Christ. Stovall and his wife, Kerri, have three children, Kaylan, Stovie, and Annabelle.

Disclosure of material connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would give it my fair review. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Packing for Travel Fun & Memories

This week, we traveled to the beach for spring break. We have been looking forward to some time away for a while. Our drive is about eight hours (with stops). I tried a few new things to make the trip go by easier with our three children and our big dog. Hopefully, this will give you some helpful ideas to try.

I made sure to pack lots of snacks for the car, both for the kids and for my low carb needs. In an attempt to keep spillage to a minimum, I brought empty Parmesan cheese containers to hold the snack mix. The opening on these containers makes it easier for the kids to shake out a handful of goodies and not spill it on the floor.

I made a quick and easy snack mix of Cheerios, M&Ms and marshmallows. I brought hard boiled eggs, protein bars, sunflower seeds and roasted almonds. 

To keep the kids occupied, I created a travel binder with coloring sheets and games such as the license plate game, the ABC game and a funny face magnet game. This is our first trip in our new car; it doesn't have a TV like we did in our van. Surprisingly, the kids did quite well without it. However, my oldest did have her iPhone.

I also made a new playlist that included songs from Frozen and Teen Beach Movie.

To keep the whining to a minimum, I used a reward system. I made three circles with each of the kids' faces on them and clipped them to the visor. If there was fighting, whining, talking back or disobedience; the offending person's circle came down. When we made a pit stop, the kids who had their circles clipped to the visor either got a treat or to pick the next music cd/playlist/Sirrus channel. Whomever had their circle off the visor, was assigned car clean up duty. Acts of kindness could earn your circle back up. The system worked fairly well and was a good incentive.

I also tried a new packing trick. We have a deep, but narrow, trunk space. I packed our clothes in these rectangular plastic tubs, which are easily stackable. This allowed us to stack things seat height and was easy for the foldable wagon to fit on top. 

Speaking of the wagon, I got it off Amazon figuring it was a good way to haul beach gear and stuff needed for a day at the horse track (plus I can haul my scrapbook gear to crops in it later). It will hold both kids and a small cooler and provides a sun shelter when needed. 

I also got a collapsible cooler basket for the car, beach and racetrack. I thought it would also be great for the pool. However, after two uses one if the rivets came off so I am not sure it is going to last the summer. 

With that, we were all set for a week at the beach. 

What is on your Spring Break packing list?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Easter Angst: The Bunny v The Cross

Another religious holiday taken over by consumerism faces us this month. As a believer, a Catholic and a parent, I am torn between the significance of the day and my children's delight in the expectation of the bunny. Do I forgo the bunny all together or try to balance the bunny fun with the gift of Easter?

Growing up I remember shopping for our Easter finest, dressing up, attending Mass and having a big family dinner. But I also remember dying eggs with my brothers, getting up on Easter morning and searching the house for the eggs that made a trail to our hidden baskets, and devouring lots of Easter chocolate. When I was young, I'm not sure I understood the significance of Christ dying on the cross for my sins, but somewhere along the way the Easter bunny took a back seat to Christ. Maybe it will be that way for my kids. But can they enjoy the bunny and still honor Christ?

I don't really want to keep them from the egg hunts, egg dying and Easter morning excitement. I just want them to understand that we celebrate because Christ has risen and we are free! So do I blend baskets, bunnies and eggs with the cross and empty tomb? 

Focus on the Family tell us that: Bunnies, eggs, baskets and more can become tools that parents use to bring a greater understanding of the message of Easter. Some ideas they offer here include telling the story of Easter with eggs, use characteristics of the Easter bunny to show how they are similar to characteristics of Jesus and define the terms told in the biblical Easter story so they can understand the story that is being told.

Other ideas for putting the focus on faith over fur this Easter, include:
  • Make a resurrection garden
  • Put faith-related items in the Easter basket such as a new devotional, cross jewelry, a Christian fiction novel, a puppet skit book that tells stories from the people who met Jesus, faith-based toys from Wee Believers and chocolate in the shape of a cross
  • Count down the 12 days til Easter by telling the Easter story through Resurrection Eggs
  • Celebrate the Passover meal and discuss the relationship between the last supper and Passover 
A book I recommend is The Sparkle Egg by Jill Hardie and beautifully illustrated by Christine Kornacki. The story is about a boy named Sam who is very excited about Easter coming. His excitement is dampened by the guilt he feels over a lie he tells his mom. Even though Sam's mom and dad forgave him, and he prayed for God's forgiveness, Sam still feels shame for the fib he told. Sam's mom helps him make a special craft called a Sparkle Egg and tells him to write down anything he feels bad about, or ashamed of, on a piece paper and put it inside the egg.

On Easter morning, Sam is excited about his Easter basket and even more excited about his Sparkle Egg. When he opens the egg, it is empty- just like the tomb. His parents explain that because Jesus died and rose again, we are forgiven. Once Sam accepts that he is truly forgiven and receives God's grace, he can shine and shimmer just like the Sparkle Egg. This relatable tale provides a tangible reminder of God's goodness and forgiveness.

I would love to hear how you observe Lent and Easter. Do you include the bunny? If you are a Christian, how do you keep Christ the center? 

Disclosure of material connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would give it my fair review. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Return to Hollyhill for a Summer of Joy

Ann H. Gabhart, author of Scent of Lilacs takes us back to Hollyhill to check back in with Jocie Brooke and her family who are navigating life in the early 1960s. In Summer of Love, Gabhart weaves an eduring tale of small town people from a time gone by who are used to doing life always it had always been done. These simple folk are facing the tumultuous changes of life in the 60s and finding meaning and truth in the process. We enter the story from the perspectives of Jocie, a fourteen year old girl coming of age; and her father David the town newspaper editor and preacher, whose past and future finally find resolution, despite quite a few obstacles.

The story is about belonging. Jocie's mom left when she was younger taking her older sister with her. In Scent of Lilacs, her pregnant sister returns to Hollyhill looking to reunite with her family but is sure no one would want to be involved with a single mother with a interracial child. Jocie's dad is the town newspaper editor and pastor of the local church. Still hurt by the sudden departure of his wife years ago, David Brook has found a reason to hope for happiness again, but will he accept that his is worthy of that love?

Summer of Joy is the tale of three, once-bitten twice shy individuals are all learning how to overcome insecurities and trust that they can find love and belonging once again.

I really like this series from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Disclosure of material connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would give it my fair review. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Behind the Scenes Tour of Hobby Lobby

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to tour the amazing headquarters of Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City. It was a really neat experience.  Today, I am sharing some of that behind-the-scenes tour.

The headquarters complex is massive. I toured the corporate offices and main warehouse. One things that is really neat is they have a full size store inside the warehouse completely set up with merchandise just as it is in the store. They test placement , displays, etc. to try to create the best I store experience.

Hobby Lobby also designs and manufactures much of its own merchandise, eliminating the middle man which results in lower prices and a lower bottom line for the business. I got to see the process from a design idea to the resulting products. For example one design pattern could end up as a sheet of card stock, a reem of fabric, a element if jewelry, a piece of print art, and so forth.

Next, crafters and designers take those unique products and create cool projects for the Hobby Lobby website and idea magazines, etc. I have to admit I was a little jealous of the people whose job it is to come up with fun craft projects all day!

My favorite spot was the scrapbook merchandising room. Each store has managers for the different speciality areas such as sewing, framing, holiday decor and scrapbooking. Tip: If you don't see something you want on the shelf, be sure to ask for the store's section manager - such as the scrapbook manager- and they can communicate to corporate what the consumer product demand is.

While on my tour, I spotted a few things I would like to create. Here is a welcome sign made out of Scrapbooking supplies. It's another way to use up my stash of product! I really like the layers of patterned and textured paper , fun stamps and the dimensional floral elements. I would put this in a beautiful frame and put it in my front entry. I'm thinking of doing different versions with patterns that match the season.

I hope you enjoyed my mini tour behind the scenes of one of my favorite craft stores! 

If you want more creative inspiration jump on over to www.mommyiscoocoo.com where I am so excited to be co-hosting the Come Grow Your Circles Google+ party today. If you are a creative blogger looking to grow your circles -  join us at  on Wed. and link up your g+ profile.
Are you looking to grow your circles on Google+?  Do you want better SEO and increased website exposure? This is the place to be!  Welcome to the http://www.mommyiscoocoo.com/" mommy is coocoo circles hop.

*Update we've created a facebook group for Creative bloggers who google+.  Message  https://www.facebook.com/mommyiscoocoo" target="_blank">here
 with your email address if you would like to be in to the group.

If you want to get coocoo with us on Google+:

1. Add all of the cohost to one of your circles.

2. Link up your Google+ url NOT your blog url.

3. Share a creative post (i.e. posts about cooking, DIY, crafts, etc...) to the public on Google+ and include the hashtag #mommyiscoocoo.

4. Socialize - The more shares a website or blog post has the better chance it has of ranking well.

  • Add new friends to your circles.

  • Comment and Share posts you really enjoy!

  • Throughout the day +1 posts with the hashtag #mommyiscoocoo on Google+
  • *If you want to grow your presence on Google+ email Amanda at mommyiscoocoo(at)gmail(dot)com to cohost.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    The Measure of Success: How Do You Measure Up?

    It is Transformation Tuesday! Today, coinciding with the Measure of Success Blog Tour, I am writing about how my view of success has transformed throughout the past 20 years. 

    As part of the Blog Tour, I am excited to be writing alongside hundreds of other inspiring authors about what success looks like. Learn more and join in the blog tour – CLICK HERE! Read on to learn more about my own transformation.

    Do you think it’s possible for women to “have it all”? In other words, can someone have a thriving career and a thriving home life? What do you think makes this possible or impossible?

    I think it is possible for women to have both a thriving career and home life but not with out a lot of hard work, trial-and-error and support from her employer, colleagues and family. The trick is to find out how to keep things relatively in balance. Ever since I became a mother in 2001, I have been a full time, work outside the home mom. Now, with three kids from tween to preschool, I have different challenges than when I only had my first child. When I had one child, it was easier for me to do what was necessary to get ahead - work longer hours, travel, etc. There were fewer schedules to juggle. We also had less expenses so I felt a little more at ease taking career risks.

    Now, with three kids, I feel more pressure when I am traveling, staying late, taking after hour calls or answering emails at night. I know how much pressure that puts on my husband's shoulders. His understanding and support is the main thing that has made it possible for me to be successful in my career. He wants me to do my best. He doesn't shrink from childcare duties, from parenting.

    Have you ever had to make a difficult decision about work? This could be something such as quitting a job, taking on a second job, changing careers, starting over in the workplace after staying home, etc.? What motivated you to make that decision?

    There have been a few times when I had to make difficult work decisions. One big one was when I was recruited to go run a PR firm for Catholic organizations. I had just completed six years of service at my firm, I loved my colleagues and I had the flexibility of working from home one day a week. But I wanted to grow and experience new challenges that launching a firm and managing an agency would bring. Challenges I could not experience where I was. So, I took the plunge and left a relatively secure workplace to launch a start up without any previous management experience. I would never do that now! 

    Another time, during the recession and when I was out of work, I had to make the decision to be up front about the work/life balance needs I was desiring in a new position. Atlanta is a huge traffic nightmare and If I was going to commute into the city, I was not going to give up the ability to work from home at least one day week or lose vacation time I had accrued elsewhere. This kept me from some good opportunities, but I have my sanity intact - at least most of the time.

    What do you think has shaped your sense of success? What do you think has driven your choices about work?

    My sense of success has changed over time and as I have matured as a person and as a Christian. I used to think the big salary, title and corner office meant success. When I got the big title I sort of let it go to my head. That experience taught me a lot and out of it came my biggest period of professional and spiritual growth. Now I feel that success for me means so much less about material things and so much more about connection. To me success means:
    • Having a deep, personal relationship with Jesus and making room to grow in faith
    • Making a decent living, doing something meaningful that I enjoy (which in my case is helping Christian organizations, businesses and nonprofits communicate) and doing it well
    • Having the respect and friendship of my clients, my colleagues and my senior management team
    • Enjoying a level of balance that allows me to give my best to my job and my family
    • Living within our means 
    • Having a comfortable, inviting home
    • Being involved with each of my kids in a meaningful, personal way and connecting with them daily
    • A strong devotion and connection with my husband that deepens every year despite any struggles we face
    • Making a difference in my community
    Certainly, finances have influenced my choices about work but I have always known I would work. My mom worked and yet she had the flexibility to always be there when I was home from school. I did well in school and pursued a journalism degree in college and never really thought I would not work. I am doer. If I was a SAHM, I can't even imagine the number of things I would be involved in outside the home. It is just in my nature.

    Can a woman be godly and pursue a successful career?

    Absolutely, women have always worked. They just might not have gotten paid for it. Being Godly is a condition of the heart. If you are following God's will for your life, loving and serving others it should not matter whether you work inside the home or outside the home. Both of those jobs have their own set of challenges. God has given each of us gifts and for some of us that means using them in a traditional work environment. 

    What about you? Please comment below with your answers to the prompt questions and share on social media using the hashtag #measuringup or post a picture of “where you work” using the hashtag #measuringup. 

    Carolyn McCulley wrote the Measure of Success about women, work and the home. Get your copy here.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    World Down Syndrome Day: Our Hopes for Joey

    It's World Down Syndrome Day! A day to celebrate the amazing persons who happen to have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This is my three year old. This sweet little guy had stole my heart. I'm so proud to be his mom and am so hopeful for his bright future.

    While this developmental disability means that in some things Joey progresses a little slower than his peers, raising Joey hasn't been too much different than raising his sisters. Sure we take him to tutoring to make sure he's ready for Kindergarten. We have speech therapy, physical therapy and IEPs. But really, each of our children has their own issues, things we are working on and skills we are trying to develop. And they each present their own set of parenting challenges. 

    For Joey, that means providing him the therapies and education opportunities from pre-K through college so that he can develop the skills and compentencies to eventually earn an appropriate wage doing something he enjoys, participate in hobbies and activities, live independently and have meaningful relationships. See, not really that different! 

    Here's a glimpse at Joey's life now.

    He is the first to wake up most mornings. 

    He is learning to butter his own toast. He's so proud of himself!

    He loves it when his Pop drives him to school.

    He is learning his letters, to spell his name, colors, shapes and school readiness skills in his three year old Pre-k class. Our goal is that he will be ready to join Kindergarten with his typical peers.

    He loves to help out, even sweeping up at the hair salon. He also helps switch over the laundry and empty the dishwasher.

    He loves playing with friends at GiGis playhouse on Saturdays. 

    He loves his big sisters and enjoys playing with them, chasing them, dancing with them, and currently, watching Frozen with them over and over.

    Consider joining me in support of World Down Syndrome Day by donating $3.21 on 3/21 to the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta!