Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sitora's dance


It has always been a part of me.

So I wasn't surprised in the least when it became a part of her as well.

My daughter loves to dance, and she has a real gift.

It started when she was a baby. We would do "Jesus time" at home or at the House of Prayer when we lived overseas in Central Asia. It took about 30-45 minutes to get across town to the House of Prayer our teammates had set up. Sometimes we would take the underground metro and walk the rest of the way, or sometimes we would take a taxi. A passerby would most likely not even notice the small alleyway that led to the old building which housed the prayer room we so dearly loved. Taking our shoes off as we entered, we walked up a flight of stairs and plopped down in the room filled with a simple CD player, a few inspiring posters, decorations, and craft supplies. Sometimes I would meet a friend there with her child and sometimes we would go alone, but no matter what, we adored the prayer room. With music playing, I would watch Sitora dance for Jesus and learn from an early age what it meant to spend time lavishing her love and devotion to Him. Sometimes we would make crafts (I called it "Baby Praise") and other times we would just pray and dance.

Fast forward to age 8, and Sitora has now been a part of two different dance companies after moving back to America. The first one we tried a few years ago was a typical dance studio. She enjoyed it but I wasn't impressed by the atmosphere. What I heard being said it the waiting room by staff members and dancers broke my heart and made me question if Sitora should continue dancing there at her young impressionable age.

Through the various homeschool groups we were a part of I finally heard about First Position Dance Company in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Never before in my life had I heard of a dance studio that focused on worshiping the Lord like I had done with my children during our Jesus time at home. My boys love Jesus time just as much as their sister, although sometimes they modify the dance portion to "jump on the pillows to keep from burning up in the hot lava floor" time ;)

The company focuses on the dancers' character and relationship with Jesus through mentoring and Bible studies, as well as teaching dance with excellence. Sitora has absolutely adored every minute of dance this past year and not only have I seen her grow in her dance skills, but she has also shown a desire to start her own Bible study for girls! The company has a beautiful and God fearing atmosphere and their performances share the gospel with power and creativity. There was drama, acting, testimonies, videos, rap, glow in the dark props, glitter, confetti, and of course dancing!

I was asked to photograph the dress rehearsal, and on the day of the performance I snapped a few photos as well. It is no exaggeration when I say that I was crying nonstop while taking these photos. Watching these students (boys and girls!) glorify the Lord with their talents and abilities while uplifting praise and worship music played just wrecked me... in a good way. I was continually wiping my eyes in between each click of my camera button.

May my daughter and sons always long to worship the Lord with all of their mind, soul, and strength.

Here is a short clip of Sitora doing her worship dance before the performance. The dancers all prayed together for the show and anyone coming who might not know Jesus as their Savior. The gospel is clearly presented in many forms during the show and our prayer as a company is that everyone coming will be touched in their relationship with God! After the prayer time each dancer took a turn doing worship dance for the Lord. Cue the waterworks.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Friends are messy, but friends are beautiful

As many of you already know, I've been helping launch a book by one of my favorite authors, Christine Hoover, from :) Messy Beautiful Friendship - Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships has put a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes and I'm only in chapter 4, by golly. By the time I finish this book I'm bound to be a blubbering mess!

Have you, dear one, ever struggled with a friendship?

Have you ever been hurt or wounded by a close friend?

Have you ever hurt a friend yourself and were miserable about it?

Have you ever backed away from a friendship and let it fade away when things got tough?

Have you ever sworn off friendship altogether because it's just too stinkin' hard?

I've been there myself, friend. Many, many, MANY times. Over and over. Too many times to count.

When I read the first two chapters digitally before my book came (which ANYONE can get when they pre-order the book here, along with other goodies like interviews with Christine and her friends and husband on the topic of friendship!) I was in tears realizing I resonated with the words on the pages. My heart was echoing the exact same thoughts and feelings she had... and all these years I thought I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO STRUGGLED WITH THIS FRIEND THING.

For goodness sake, when in the world did friendship get so complicated? Making and keeping friends as a child was as easy as slurping down a chocolate milkshake. I moved several times in my childhood and each and every time I made friends almost immediately. It came naturally.

Then came college! HOLY MOLY WAS COLLEGE FUN! Our campus was filled with Jesus loving, missions minded, radical Christians who were ready for deep friendship and desired to serve the Lord with passion together. It was my dream come true. All of a sudden I was surrounded by like-minded young people JUST LIKE ME. All my life I'd felt like SUCH the odd ball because I was called to ministry and missions. I was always the Jesus freak doing Jesus freak stuff acting like a Jesus freak. But all of a sudden, at Bible college I was completely entrenched in a sea of Jesus freaks like myself. To my amazement, I wasn't the odd ball anymore. Poof. It was a magical fantasy world of friends and fun and serious spiritual growth all tied up into one big lovely package.

Late nights giggling in our dorm rooms, spontaneous worship nights playing instruments and singing aloud to our Savior, Saturday mornings spent in downtown Minneapolis serving the poor and sharing our faith, classrooms filled with students hungry for Biblical wisdom, coffee shops scattered with homework and theology test study guides (because THEOLOGY, oh my word)... I miss it all to this day.

But like the natural seasons of nature, our lives have seasons that ebb and flow with the changes life brings. College has come and gone, and we were sent out into the world to make disciples of all nations. The memories we shared and the lessons we learned would follow us for a lifetime.

... a lifetime in the real world.

College is not real life.

As fun and amazing as it was, it did not hold the realities that regular adult life entails.

Real life is nervously sending in resumes and praying for job offers.

Real life is applying for an apartment and hoping you find enough roommates to help with rent.

Real life is searching for a church as a visitor where you can be involved and grow spiritually without knowing a soul there.

Real life is getting the call from the doctor that infertility might be your future.

Real life is finding out your husband is getting laid off from his job because of budget cuts.

Real life is locking yourself in the bathroom because your child is clinging to you like dog hair on a new suit and you just need ONE MINUTE TO YOURSELF PLEASE, DEAR LORD.

Real life is looking for the right preschool for your toddler to attend next year and wondering if you
are making the right choice.

Real life is balancing a budget, paying the bills, cleaning a house, folding the laundry, cooking the meals, mowing the grass, washing the car, and trying to find and maintain a thriving social life all without losing your sanity.

Real life is watching your family members wave goodbye as you sob uncontrollably and drive off to your new city for your new job not knowing how you will survive without them nearby.

Real life is wandering down the grocery story isle wondering which item you should put back on the shelf because you just don't have enough money to cover it all.

Real life is tying a bow around the goodbye gift you bought for your best friend who's husband took a job across the country with hot, wet tears streaming down your face.

With all the difficulties and trials and challenges and joys that real adult life holds, who has time to find and nurture deep and lasting relationship?

We do.

I do.

You do.

Because we need each other.

Because we are not islands.

Because God created us for friendship... with Him and with other people on this earth.

Because without friends, we might be missing out on experiencing God in unique and powerful ways.

Christine says in her book, "The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another and the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory."

"But you don't understand, Casey," you might say. "You don't know how this person hurt me. Badly. Deeply. I don't know how we could ever get back what we once had. I don't know if I want to try again with anybody, anytime, ever again."

Listen. I get it. I've been there. I AM there. A lot. But let me be the first to tell you that without friends, we will wither. God did not create us to be islands. A part of us will die of thirst without the watering of a good friend. Sure, some of us may be more introverted than others, but that doesn't mean we are exempt from friendship and what God wants to do IN us and THROUGH us with friendship.

Christine explains, "Sometimes, when the wound is especially deep, our tendency is not just to write the friend off but also to write friendship off. We're hurt so badly that we give ourselves over to cynicism, bitterness, and resentment and we wonder if friendship is worth the risk of wading through the emotions and hurts, attempting reconciliation, and making ourselves vulnerable again."

"Isn't it [friendship] pushing through discomfort and refusing to give up on people even when they disappoint us?"

"... we don't have to be ashamed that we find friendship difficult at times... When we persevere through difficulty in friendship, however, we discover something valuable: God has changed and grown us through our friends and we've been the iron that has sharpened them in return."

"... friends will disappoint us... And guess what? We're going to hurt our friends too. Our friends will fail us, and we'll fail them."

We mustn't give up on friendships, dear ones. Don't write off friendship altogether because you were hurt before. We don't give up on our marriage or our children, so why do we give up on our friends?

(Note: When a friendship has turned toxic, abusive, or is sending up some serious red flags, it may be time to seek out a counselor or wise friend to give advise on when it's time to set up some boundaries. Certain situations require this when the friendship has proven to be no longer safe. That is not the kind of friendship I am addressing here. I am discussing good, freeing, loving friendships that have hit a roadblock and require tender loving care and work as apposed to letting them fade away.)

I personally struggle with letting a friendship fade away if they've wounded me deeply. I retreat, pull back, and decide it's just not worth the pain. But when this happens in my marriage, I do the opposite. I fight for our unity, I open up about pain, I push and prod for my spouse to give me his vulnerability and tell me the truth even when it's hard. I pursue my children in the same way. Why not with my friends? Why am I so afraid of being honest with my friends when they've let me down and letting them be honest with me when I do the same?

I don't want to be this way anymore. I want to fight for my friendships. I want to enjoy God together and look more like Christ because of having them in my life.

Will you join me? Will you venture on this journey with me together as we wade through the murky waters of wounded hearts and shattered dreams and let God heal and restore what we've given up on?

The preorder goodies are available on the MBF book page here:

To see a short video of me discussing the book and how it is impacting me so far, watch here!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sitora's 8th Superhero Birthday Party!

If you know me at all, you know I absolutely love throwing parties. You name it, birthdays, holidays, baby showers, bridal showers, New Year's Eve, game nights, autumn equinox, you know... whatever excuse seems good enough to throw a party- wink wink ;) (Totally joking about the autumn thing...)

Although the love for parties flows deep inside my veins, I must admit to myself that I have my breaking points and cannot throw parties on the regular. Every day of the week seems worthy to throw a party, but I digress, there is more to life than celebrations (I know right? So boring.) Sadly, I came up with a family rule to keep my priorities in check (you know, like folding laundry weekly should trump planning my latest pinterest party). I informed my little tribe that they would get a traditional birthday party with friends and a theme every OTHER year, while we would focus on a small family get together the opposite year. This will keep mommy's sanity in check.

To complicate matters, last year we added another bundle of joy to our clan one month before Sitora's 7th birthday, her scheduled traditional THEMED birthday party, and I was so. not. ready.

Host a party full of people in my house with a newborn when I am feeling huge, oily, hormonal, sleep deprived, half- alive, with spit up adorning my shoulders? Yes, that sounds amazing. I'll take two orders of that please! Ya, no thanks.

Poor Sitora. She was disappointed but completely understood. Her ability to empathize astounds me and I am forever grateful for her constant loving attitude. (Case in point... she often says to me, "Mom, I can tell you are feeling stressed today so I did x, y, and z for you!" I don't deserve her.) So we ended up celebrating her 7th birthday with family members while staying at a hotel and planned a quick "surprise" party while she was swimming. I think we hung up a few streamers and bought some cupcakes, but that was about it. It was so incredibly simple, and she still talks about her one and only surprise party to this day.

Because of last year, I wanted to make up for it and give her the best party possible this year. Not because I have to, but because I want to. She is seriously the most incredible daughter on the face of this earth. She works hard at home on her schoolwork, chores, and with her younger brothers. I want to spoil her every once in a while.

I asked her to pick a theme for this year's party and it took her mere seconds. So I reinstalled my old friend pinterest to begin planning. (Yes, I uninstalled it from my phone. No, that wasn't what I truly wanted. Yes, I take too many pictures with my phone. No, I don't empty my phone often enough. Yes, I regularly delete apps on the whim to take just one more picture because I ran out of space. No, I will never delete you, pinterest, from my phone ever. again. Just kidding. I probably will tomorrow.) Pinterest came through, yet once again, and it took me all but a few days of pinning to create the perfect party! The hard part was over. Now it was just time to execute the plan.

I kid you not, in all seriousness and with zero exaggeration, it took me a full week working from morning until night with hardly any breaks to create this party. I'm guessing it was close to 40 hours. I bought all my supplies from Wal-mart in two separate trips (because you always forget something the first trip, amiright?) I put homeschool on hold for that entire week (except for what the kids could do themselves in their workbooks) and busted my tail off cutting, gluing, tying, folding, painting, coloring, and every other craft verb there is. Sitora helped as well, which sometimes was a struggle for me wanting every little detail to be perfect, but in the end I started to chill out and gave her some responsibilities.

At one point at the end of the week, SuperDan walked into the kitchen around midnight and glanced my way with a peculiar look asking, "Um, so... are you like... almost done planning this thing?"

He was right. This had gotten way out of hand. But it was too late to turn back. I had entered... the party hole. I was on a mission. And when I'm on a mission, ain't nothin' gonna stop me.

Did I also forget to mention that I was throwing this birthday party at a hotel over 2 hours away at our extended family Christmas get-together? Yes, I know I am 100% crazy. No need to convince me of that.

So we packed up our vehicle, which contained 50% people, 10% luggage for a trip lasting four days, and 40% birthday party supplies and decorations. I know this is completely logical. Makes perfect sense. Everyone should try this. It builds character.

Was it easy to pack up an entire birthday party and execute it somewhere other than my home? No. Did it turn out 100% the way I pictured it? No. But that's ok. Sitora was happy so I was happy.

We came. We saw. We conquered. Our vacation with family was a blast. The party was perfect. End of story.

So what did the party all entail?

1. Crafts- All the cousins decorated their superhero masks, personalized capes with the letter from their first name, a silver glittery cuff for their wrist, and a name tag hanging from their necks to scribble down their superhero name and check off the list when they completed their superhero training tasks.

2. Games- The superhero training games were: Super Aim, Shield Throwing Training, Jumping Over Buildings Training, and Find and Capture Evil Villains.

3. Music Video- We watched the Lego Youtube video to Jesus, You're My Superhero and danced along with the actions. It was epic. You should have been there.

4. Prayer time- Sitora asked that we all break up into small groups and pray for one another, because the power of prayer is our greatest superpower! (All her own words.) To say this moment brought a tear to my eye would be an understatement. Basically this was my favorite part of the entire day.

5. Cupcakes and presents- In my perfect mommy world, I would have made cupcakes from scratch and created other adorable homemade treats. But I am only human, and that's probably a good thing. SuperDan bought all the snacks from Wal-Mart while I was prepping the party and my sanity thanked him. He's still my favorite.

It was a party to remember. I am so thankful we were able to spend this special day together with family because we rarely get to see each other. The Lord has called us all to different parts of America and though it would be easier to just live in the same city and share life together 24/7, we all know following Jesus is best. Our family blesses us in so many ways and this was my small offering back to them as a thank you for everything they do for us.