Then We Asked The Neighbors To Come

I have a crazy picnic table in my front yard now.

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Yes, that’s a turquoise, kelly green, and cocoa brown picnic table.

There’s this long and winding God story of how I got from hearing a message at Allume about hospitality and having six families I’ve never met in my front yard this week.  Twelve kids (only one of whom was older than 6).

But I’m still trying to figure out how to share it because I’m pretty overwhelmed at what God did to my little scaredy-cat, make-a-good-show, heart.  I will write a little about the journey once I’ve sat with it a while and it’s still pretty much unfolding.

I will say I did a lot that made me uncomfortable.  More than just driving the hubby’s truck to pick up an unfinished picnic table at Lowe’s and then spending the weekend sanding and painting a table with permanent paint with three five year olds (yes, they were each allowed to pick a color they wanted to use for the table).

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More the uncomfortable “what will people think” actions.  Walking up and down my street on Saturday morning with my kids and putting flyers in everyone’s mailbox inviting them to come to “the table” for Monthly Mondays.  The first of which would be the very next Monday with pizza and drinks.  Standing in my front yard with my kids at 5 pm wondering if anyone would come.

But this is what was more uncomfortable to me:  I have lived on my busy street in west Houston for eight years and I don’t know anyone that lives around me.  All of the 15 flyers I passed out on either side and across from my house went to people whose names I didn’t know and whose stories I’d never heard.  That became unacceptable.  And God basically let me know that He was proposing this as the solution.  I felt like I was going to throw up as soon as we delivered those flyers.

So there we stood, in the front yard, with ten boxes of pizza, a big cooler of water bottles and juice boxes, and a bowl of name tags (because I’m terrible with names and I figured if we all put our house number we’d know where the others were located on the street).

Six families came.  Y’all, out of fifteen houses, SIX whole families came.  Twelve kids played in the front tire swing and gobbled cookies one of the neighbors had brought “to the table.”

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I could have cried.  In one hour, six families on a busy street in a big city met and had dinner.  I heard the most amazing second chance love story from the retired couple down the street.  We discovered the husband in the house next to us is from Louisiana like Bray’s family and hunts and fishes just as avidly.  We had five different private schools represented because most of the families in our neighborhood don’t attend the public school where we are zoned.  Two moms offered to help me host December’s Monthly Monday of cookies and cocoa.

And everyone was told this table was theirs too.  That our house could be a place they were always welcome to come visit.  My kids maybe started to learn that our space has been given to us to share with others.

I’ve been trying to survive with work and triplets and a maze of schedules and competing demands.  I need to show the kids, and myself, that life shouldn’t all be rushed and hurried and that we can’t hide out behind our four walls when we get a spare moment to regroup.  Instead, we have to clear out some of the clutter and make time for community.

That’s what we’re missing.  That’s what we all need more of.  Community.

Wordless Wednesdays

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The Best Yes Study: The Courageous No

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If you are joining us in our book study of Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes, we’re looking at Chapters 4 and 5 today.  (If you want to catch up, just click that leadership link – because making room for your best yes is definitely a hallmark of a successful leader.)

I don’t know where you’re at in the process of setting the boundaries God would call you establish, but because of the particular place I’m at in my journey two passages struck me in particular.  One, was this last call to action from the end of Chapter 5 that I’ve quoted above – The Courage To Say No!  Because friends, sometimes it takes some serious bravery to say no to seemingly good things in order to carve space out for the best.

The second passage was right there at the beginning of Chapter 4 aptly titled, Sometimes I Just Make it All So Complicated (is that just me? do you complicate things too?):

There are other decisions we simply need to say yes or no to and move on. Find that courageous yes.  Fight for that confident no. Know it. State it. Own it. And move on without all the complication. Sometimes it just comes down to that deep whisper within that says, “Uh-huh, yes.” Or a simple, “No, not that.”

This just happened to me this past week.  I had an opportunity that had all the hallmarks of what should be a “YES!”  But something didn’t sit right.  I didn’t say no but I also didn’t say yes.  I said, “we’ll see.”  I really wanted it to be a yes.  But something far deeper inside of me said that it wouldn’t.  Then I received a letter with a request and every single cell in my body sang out, “YES!”  It was undoubtedly a yes.  It was a yes that was in direct conflict with the first opportunity.  I immediately turned down the other choice and sent in my yes to the second request.  Something in me had known.  Many of my decisions are not that easy.  But this one, instinctively, was completely straightforward.  Don’t complicate the easy decisions, even if it seems contrary to what might “appear” on the outside to be best.  There will be plenty of hard decisions ahead.

Lysa shares a passage from Philippians that tells us we are capable of discerning what is best if we layer knowledge and insight on top of the discernment: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best… (Phil. 1:9).

Wisdom makes decisions today that will still be good tomorrow.  As we seek knowledge and insight, we will make wiser choices in our yes and our no.  And don’t allow your fear or your emotion about what the choice is or might appear to others to complicate an otherwise clear choice you have discerned.

In Chapter Five, Lysa asks a question that all too often we skip over when the decision isn’t clear, Could this fit physically, financially, spiritually, and emotionally? 

She goes on to share what to do when you are conflicted, as I often am, about whether your response is Yes or No: Whenever there is a conflict between what we feel we’re expected to do (anyone been there? their yes is a slave to their expectations?) and what we feel we should do, it’s time to step back from the decision.  Seek clarity from the only source free of the entanglements of misguided opinions and unrealistic expectations. God.

All too often, those around us bring their own expectations to our decision.  And if we care about them, it clouds what our choice should be.  We do the same things to others.  We bring our personal wishes and perspective to try to influence others yeses and nos.  Sometimes, you must step back from all of those competing demands to clear your head.

I have had a series of choices in the past few weeks.  Ones that historically I would have embraced with a resounding yes.  However, there are several reasons my no has issued instead.  The first question is does it fit physically?  I have committed to so many yeses this year, that I have had no time to work out and I am completely and utterly exhausted.  Very few yeses fit physically in this season of my life.  Next, financially?  Often, the yes would be a financial plus so there is no drawback there.  Spiritually?  This may put me in conflict because I know God put a desire in me to connect and encourage other women.  So the yes would enable me to do that.  But it can also drain my alone time with God. As an introvert, I need alone time to build my faith.  Finally, does this fit emotionally?  Ahhh.  We fly by this need too frequently.  Once again, after a year of too many yeses, I am emotionally drained.  I have so little bandwidth and that reserve I must save for my husband and children.

When I evaluate my decision on this scale, instead of an external measure of success, it frees me to make confident nos.

Now it’s your turn?  Do you ever complicate an easy decision even though you know deep down what the choice should be?  And are you measuring the complicated decisions on the right scale?  Share what stood out for you in Chapters 4 and 5.

Fashion Fridays: Styling Your Family Christmas Photo

I’m a little OCD about family photographs.

First of all, I love them.  I would have them taken four times a year if Bray would give me the budget.  As it is, we do a professional photo shoot once, maybe twice, a year.  This year, we had to forego my beloved pumpkin patch photo shoot but I was NOT going to miss the Christmas photo shoot.  They only get that dressed up at Christmas and Easter and, by heavens, I want proof of it!

Here are some basic ground rules for our family that may not make my tips as workable for your family.  One, I don’t like everyone wearing the same thing – like those photos with everyone in white shirts and jeans.  They are great, but I just need more individuality in my pictures.  Additionally, Bray does not want the kids to match.  So despite all the fun matchy things you can do with triplets, I have to go with “coordinating” rather than “matching.”

With those basic principles in place, here are my styling tips and lessons learned for the family Christmas photo shoot:

1.  Buy the boys clothes first. 

Boys ALWAYS have the most limited selection.  It is particularly dire if they wear sizes 4 to 6 because, unlike girls, that age is clothing-nowhere-land for boys that want to wear something other than t-shirts with weird graphics.  Dress clothes will completely evade you in that wilderness of sizes between preschool and size 8.

Yet all too often we allow an adult outfit or a GIRL’S outfit (who has a thousand choices) dictate the style/color scheme/formality of the picture.  I made the huge mistake this year of falling in love with a silver dress for little bit and having to move heaven and earth to find appropriate boys outfits (because of point #2).

2.  Pick holiday themed colors.

Now I am a seriously classic Christmas girl.  But I realized this year that all of our Christmas photo shoots were green and red.  They also often involved plaid and a sweater vest.  I wasn’t kidding – CLASSIC!  However…if I’d like to have any differences from year to year, it was time to mix things up a bit.

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With red and green out the window, and having fallen in love with the silver dress, I decided on silvers and blues for the color scheme – still classic enough of a Christmas color scheme for little ole me to sign off on.  Plus, how hard can it be to find silvers and blues for boys?  Like, the easiest boy color on the planet!

That is a myth.  Dress clothes are completely mythical if you want boys size 6.  Here are the places to shop for boys: a) department stores, b) zulily if you have a zillion years to wait (yes, my adorable gray fedora came in the week after the pictures), c) Gymboree, for pants, d) the Tie Shop for accessories, e) eBay.  I shop more and more on eBay because I can never find what I want in mainstream stores.  Etsy and eBay are life savers.  Just check shipping speed and cost – no two day Prime there.  I finally did find the silver/blue combo in reverse order for each boy.

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3.  Give yourself more than the week of the pictures to do everything else. 

In my case, with the boys/men in pants and dress shirts and little bit in a super fancy dress, I felt like I needed a nice dress, preferably in jewel blue and black tones to go with the color palette.  I tried, and returned, everything.  I then found a patterned gray and black skirt I loved that I tried to plan an outfit around (ahem, never plan an outfit around a skirt).  Still on the DAY of the pictures I had multiple options strew about the bed, none of which were terribly flattering.  (Luckily, because of the meltdown mentioned below, we barely got one family shot and you just see my head – whew!) I also ran around the day before finding silver and blue themed Christmas props (gorgeous Nutcrackers, which we NEVER even used!).

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4.  If you have nappers, don’t schedule the photo right after the kids wake up.

Enough said.  Seriously.  I know photographers like late afternoon photos but if your kids nap til nearly 3 and then you have to get them ready and out the door by 4, you will have a terrible photo shoot.  You can only pray the last five minutes turn out, as ours did, since the rest of the shoot will be an epic meltdown.

5.  Relax.

I’ve not mastered this one.  Maybe next year?

 

* Photos courtesy of the lovely and talented Julie Shochat.  She’s a saint.  The photos used are not the ones featured on my Christmas card in case you thought I was spoiling the surprise.

What I’m Cooking

Y’all, do you ever just get SO tired of cooking?

This weekend I thought, how are we needing to eat lunch, we just ate breakfast?  And then, I swear, as soon as lunch was cleaned up, it was time to cook dinner!  I’m walking through the grocery meat aisle thinking, there is nothing else that can be done to a piece of chicken!  (I don’t eat pork or red meat, but I will periodically cook it for my family and just hope it tastes okay…)

So I thought I’d share a few of my recent dishes that weren’t complicated and that tasted yummy enough for two adults and three five year olds to eat (for two days, because y’all, if I’m going to cook, there’d better be some leftovers).

Let me preface my recipes with this: I am a total foodie when I travel and get to eat out, however at home I’m pretty easy.  I don’t use fancy ingredients and the only thing I buy organic is milk, chicken, and eggs.  These were all cooked after work for dinner except for the roast chicken which is more of a Sunday dish.

1.  Hamburger Stew. 

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If I could fill this whole page with soup and stew recipes I would.  But my kids would kill me.  At least with the cooling temperatures I can sneak one in every Monday.  Most of my soups are crockpot based, but this one was easy enough to do on the fly and we ate it for dinner on Monday and Wednesday (I try to serve an intervening dish).

This recipe is based on Ree Drummond’s hamburger soup with alterations that make it fit our needs:

– Swap the ground beef with ground turkey (I’ll feed them beef, but not in soup because if I make soup I WANT TO EAT IT!).  Swap the beef broth out for vegetable broth.

– I used a bigger can of tomatoes, I think it was about double the size of what she recommends.  And I probably added a bit of water – I need this a little soupier.

– I dropped the yellow bell pepper.  Two were plenty.

– I didn’t use the chili powder (my kids don’t love spicy), but I did use some fresh herbs that I already had handy.  I honestly don’t remember what they were but I think it was thyme and sage.

– I added a can of corn and a couple zucchini and dropped one of the potatoes.

It was so yummy and only took about 30 minutes to make after the prep (cut the veggies in advance if you can).

2.  Roast Chicken. 

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I generally have chicken breasts on hand, but sometimes a whole chicken is just what the doctor ordered.  My very favorite cookbook, and I love cookbooks, is one I’ve had a ton of years (The Ultimate Southern Living) that has a simple crisped herb chicken with roasted garlic recipe.  I make it on Sundays for dinner because of the cook time and serve it with veggies – I think I boiled carrots (a little butter and brown sugar for the kids) and roasted some broccoli.  Easy peasy.

The recipe calls for 1/3 cup each of onion, diced carrot, and celery, but I probably use more b/c I stuff that chicken to the brim.
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp. dry white wine
3+ lb broiler-fryer
1/4 cup butter, melted (um, I’m probably a little closer to 1/2 cup)
2 tsp chopped basil, oregano, thyme
1/2 tsp salt and pepper (but does anyone measure salt & pepper, not me, I just throw it on)

Combine the celery, carrots, onion, parsley and wine and toss (wine is optional, I don’t always include it).  Clean and rise the chicken, pat dry.  Stuff the body with the vegetable mixture. Can tie the legs together if you wish, and tuck the wingtips under the chicken.  Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Combine butter and the herbs/spices. Brush the chicken with the butter mixture (generously).  Cut a couple of heads of garlic in half and drizzle with olive oil placing them around the chicken.  Roast at 375 for 1 hour or until a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees (for me it always takes longer than an hour, allow for that).  If you like bread, serve with good bread to spread that yummy garlic on.  The house will smell SO GOOD!

3.  Easy Cornbread.

So I am a complete proponent of starting from box mix and adding a dash and smidge to make it special.  I do that with Jiffy cornbread.

For my family, I start with two boxes, but if we’re with Bray’s parents I add another box.  Follow directions on box and add in one can of cream corn, shredded cheese to your taste (for me it’s a cup-ish), and diced jalapenos (again to taste, we don’t use a ton because of the kids).  Bake in a prepared cast iron skillet and serve right from it.  When cooking at 350, it takes at least 45 minutes because it’s goopier than most cornbread but everyone inhales it.

4.  Twice Baked Potatoes.

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I roughly use the basics from the recipe on Taste of Home with a few tweaks.

First, my potatoes never bake in an hour and I am anti-microwave baked potatoes, so allow an hour and 15 minutes.  Also, when you cook the broccoli, only cook it for about five or six minutes.  It should still be bright and firm.  Immediately drain the hot water and fill pot with ice water to keep broccoli bright.  Make sure you cut the florets small so they mix well with the potatoes.  I also use a bit more sour cream and cheese because these are potatoes, and you should use the snot out of sour cream and cheese when it comes to potatoes.  I also blend in garlic salt and pepper to the filling.  The tops of the potatoes that I have cut off, I dice and use the next morning for a breakfast skillet.

Y’all these are more than enough as an entrée and my kids adore them even though they’re not huge potato eaters.

What are you cooking?  Help – I need some fresh ideas. 

Soup photo courtesy of The Pioneer Woman and Potato photo courtesy of Taste of Home.