Easter Reflections

 

Last week was a crummy week for my family. My husband and I came down with a stomach bug and my little ones weren’t feeling well. Instead of doing our yearly Easter traditions, we were stuck in the house. What made it worse was I came down with a nasty case of “The Comparisons.”

I spent the majority of my illness laying on the couch scrolling through social media. I was bummed to be missing our church’s Holy Week services, but on top of it, my social media feed was filled with posts and ads for Easter events at other churches. Easter egg hunts with a bazillion eggs, light shows, productions, live animals, acrobatics (I’m not exaggerating).

I began to think, “Am I doing enough? Why would families want to come to my ministry? What do I even have to offer?” Our community church does not have the finances or manpower to compete with all these events.  It’s easy to look at bigger and think it’s better. But I knew I needed to focus on the one thing I can offer – Jesus. Now I’m not saying those other churches or events aren’t offering Jesus. I’m sure they are in their own way, and that’s the point. Each church needs to focus on the unique vision that God has entrusted to them.

My vision for Easter to was provide a place where our kids could know Jesus, not just know about him. Our lesson was “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (I’m currently using TruFire Story curriculum). I set up 4 prayer stations for the children to respond to after the Bible lesson. At each station they spent time in prayer and did an activity:IMG_20180403_134318806

  • The Way: Children wrote a sin they needed to ask forgiveness for on a slip of dissolving paper and then placed it in a bowl of water and watched their sin disappear.
  • The Truth: Children wrote a truth they know about Jesus on a slip of paper and placed it in an Easter egg.
  • The Way: Children wrote their name on a bandaid and placed it on the cross.
  • God+Me Forever: Children came to the altar to worship and praise Jesus.

 

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Today I cleaned up our room from Easter. I cleaned out the bowls that held the confessed sins of our children. I read through the eggs that contained innocent and pure Truths. I prayed for the multitude of names stuck to the cross. Finally, I thanked God for the group of Kindergartners that I prayed with to ask Jesus to be their Forever Friend. It may not have been acrobatics and lasers, but I know all of Heaven was rejoicing in that room on Sunday and that’s enough for me.

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A Children’s Pastor’s Perspective

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Guys, I’m mad. Mass shootings are nothing new, but this one feels different. Yes, I’m sad but, more than anything, I’m mad. I’m mad that this has happened again. I’m mad that this very well could have been prevented. I’m mad that nothing is changing. But you know what I’m mostly mad about? The posts on Facebook. The response from people. The hypocrisy. The blaming. The fighting. The same old arguments. Because let’s be honest, people, nothing is going to change. While I agree, there are steps to prevent mass causalities, the reality is that this is not a legislative issue. It’s a heart issue.

Children are taught that they are the result of a cosmic phenomenon; the result of billions of years of evolution and survival of the fittest. Here by chance, not by purpose. And when does life begin? At what stage are we considered human, and not just tissue? We’re taught it’s your body, your choice. And if you don’t like the way you are born, then change it. So if life is by chance and a choice, then what value does it have?

The real war is not being fought on Capitol Hill but in our schools, in our homes, and in our hearts. So many people are saying “do something!” Who’s responsibility is it to do something? I would say all of us. So what are we doing? Sending text messages to our congressmen. Posting on Facebook in between funny memes and Olympic updates. It angers me, because if you want to win the war, you have to fight on the front lines and that is in the hearts of our children.

Our children need to hear that they were created for a purpose. That they are loved for who they are. That they are chosen for such a time as this. But who’s going to tell them?

A couple months ago, we made an announcement in our church that we needed nursery workers; people to minister to the most innocent. We played a video about the importance of reaching our children and the responsibility we have to them. I stood in the hallway after service, ready to have conversations. Do you know how many people came to get an application? one. ONE! One person answered the call to fight the battle for our children.

And this isn’t a slam against my church; I have an amazing team of volunteers. But this is an ongoing problem across America! Ask any Children’s Pastor. Go to any Children’s Ministry conference. What is our number one problem? Getting volunteers to serve in Children’s Ministry! And why is that?

“I don’t want to miss the sermon.”

“I’m too busy.”

“My children are grown; I’ve done my time.”

Bottom line – it’s inconvenient. It’s someone else’s responsibility.

So yeah, I’m mad. I’m mad that this happened again. I’m mad that the solution is to play the blame game. I’m mad that Christians are posting about prayer in school but won’t volunteer to teach kids how to pray at church. I’m mad that people are fighting for gun control but aren’t fighting for our children’s souls. I’m mad that children are scared. I’m mad that this is the world that my children have to grow up in.

But I’m going to do something about it.

I’m going to be the change. I’m going to speak truth to them and any other child that will listen. I’m going to link arms with the teachers & volunteers who are doing them same and, together, we’re going to change the culture.

 

 

Making Plans Part 2

I recently wrote about my love for planning and wanted to follow up with the details on how I use my planner.  For a long time, I had a planner for work, a hanging calendar at home, a bill tracker, and the calendar in my phone. Things started slipping through the cracks because I couldn’t cross-check each of these calendars on a daily basis. I needed something where I could keep track of every aspect of my life and easily see it at a glance.IMG_20180107_233042005

My friend introduced me to the Erin Condren Life Planner and it was love at first sight! First off, Erin Condren products are incredibly motivational and colorful. The fun designs and inspirational quotes make me want to use it. Second, it’s really easy to personalize. I’m going to walk you through how my planner is set up and how I choose to use it.

The Life Planner is divided into months and weeks. I like being able to see my month at-a-glance, but also have space to write more detailed plans and notes on the weekly pages. The weekly pages are available in three different formats – horizontal, vertical, and hourly. I prefer the vertical format. It divides each day into three sections. Some people might use it for morning, afternoon, and night. I use the top section for my appointments. The middle section is for my to-do lists. The bottom section is currently for my daughter’s homeschool plans. As she grows, I’ll probably end up investing in a teacher planner to keep track of assignments. Any other lists (shopping lists, to-do’s, phone calls, etc) go on the side. There are lined space underneath each day, but I typically cover those with washi tape or write a motivational quote.

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On both the monthly and weekly pages, I color code all of my appointments. I use a different color for:

  • Personal Appointments
  • Work (church activities)
  • Writing/Training Assignments
  • Bills/Finances
  • Family Activities/Appointments
  • My husband’s schedule

At the beginning of the year, I put all my family birthdays, important dates, and work calendar onto the monthly pages. I then work about a month out at a time, filling in the weekly pages. On Sunday night, my husband and I look at our week and compare calendars, making sure we’re not missing anything. That’s also when I make my daily to-do lists.

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Scrapbooking is a hobby that I just don’t have time for right now. Decorating my planner has taken its place as my creative outlet. I like to use washi tape to create sections and use stickers to highlight important dates. I also use color coordinated dot stickers to highlight important to-do’s.

I use the extra note pages in my planner to make charts and lists. Lists not only help me keep track of what I have to do, but it also gives me a visual for what I have accomplished. Crossing things off a list is such a satisfying feeling. On the monthly intro page is where I keep track of all my bills that need to be paid. I also have started tracking my daily habits, such as remembering to take my vitamins, drink enough water, and do my daily chores.

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Because of our busy and abnormal schedule, cleaning can seem like an overwhelming task. I created a chore chart with daily tasks. It helps me not feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done, but also keeps me on task!

Dreams & goals are something new that I’ve started keeping track of in my planner. I like to have long-term plans but I’ve never written them down. Putting them on paper makes them real and gives me motivation to accomplish them. I divided my life into 12 sections and came up with dreams/goals for each section. I plan to accomplish these throughout the year, as well as add new goals.

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There many types of planners so find one that works best for you. But if you’re interested in an Erin Condren Life Planner, you can use my referral link to receive $10 off your order!

How to Save & What to Splurge at Walt Disney World

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I got these amazing printable Disney stickers for my Life Planner from Studio1955 on Etsy.

I recently posted on how planning is therapeutic for me. One of my favorite things to plan is a Disney vacation. A Disney trip can seem daunting and expensive, but with proper planning, you can find many ways to save money and make it possible. There are travel agents who can help you find ways to save, and even plan the trip for you. But if you like to do things yourself, here are some of the ideas I have discovered for how to save money and what to splurge on.

First, I strongly recommend planning at least 6 months to a year in advance. This allows you time to save for your trip, search for the best deals, and make the best reservations. You may even have your trip paid before you go; which allows you to enjoy your vacation without worrying about cost.

Paying for Your Trip:

For our last trip, I opened a Chase Disney Rewards credit card. They had a special offer that gave me $250 in Disney gift cards. We used the Rewards card daily, instead of our debit card. By the time of our trip we had a couple hundred dollars earned in Disney gift cards, which we used for food and souvenirs. The Disney Rewards card also saves you 10% on certain Disney purchases and offers special pricing on certain Disney vacation packages. Plus, you only have to pay a deposit when you book your trip. The remainder is due 45 days before your trip.

If you are a member of Disney Movie Rewards, you can earn rewards for purchasing Disney movies and movie tickets. We cashed in our rewards for another $50 in Disney gift cards.

If you are flexible with your dates, you can save more money by avoiding peak seasons. The cheapest times to go are in January/February, between Easter and summer, early fall, and between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Disney typically offers deals during these times, such as discounted lodging or free meal plans. I saved 15% on a room for going after Easter and got a free meal plan for going in early December.

Transportation:

If you can find an inexpensive flight, I recommend flying. Disney has free transportation for guests to and from the airport, as well as around the Disney property. There’s no need for a rental car, as long as you don’t leave the property. We have always driven, which is typically a two-day drive from Michigan. This can add additional costs such as hotel stays, food, and gas. However, then you have your own car to travel off-property or do things on your own time (instead of being bound to the shuttle schedule).

Disney Transportation: Disney offers free shuttles around the entire Disney property. Shuttles run about every 20 minutes, and take you right to the front gates. However, some routes may require multiple stops.

Parking Your Own Car: Parking at the parks costs $20/day (We paid $100 just in parking on our last trip). Using your own car means you are on your own schedule, but you will have to walk to and from the parking lot. Also, you will have to ride the monorail or ferry to the Magic Kingdom.

Lodging: The biggest decision is whether or not to stay on Disney property. We’ve done both, and I see benefits to either side.

On Property: There are definitely perks to staying on the Disney property. The first is transportation, as stated above. Secondly, guests of Disney resorts can take advantage of extra park hours. Every day, one of the four parks is open either 2 hours earlier or 2 hours later for Disney resort guests. Resort guests are also eligible to make Fastpass+ choices 30 days earlier than just ticket-holders.  Also, when you book a Disney vacation package, they send you luggage tags and coupons for various activities/restaurants. Once at the resort, each family member receives a Disney travel mug that they can refill for free at any resort/park. Another benefit, is being close enough to the parks that you can go to your room to rest and then back to the parks when crowds are lower (very helpful with kids!).

IMG_2359There are over 25 resorts on the Disney property, ranging in price from $100/night to over $500/night. We stayed in the Pop Century Resort, which is considered a “value resort.” It’s basically like staying in a 2 or 3 star hotel, but with all the Disney magic. All the value resorts have pools, an arcade, and a cafeteria-style restaurant. It wasn’t a luxury hotel, but was fun and everything you would expect from Disney. I recently found a value resort for $104/night, which is actually cheaper than staying at an off-property hotel! If you do your research, and are flexible with dates, you can find a good deal.

Off Property: You may find a cheaper option off the Disney property, such as a hotel, timeshare or rental. This is especially beneficial if you need more than one room. However, some expenses to consider are needing transportation, paying for parking at the parks ($20/day), and purchasing food. We stayed in a timeshare that charged $8/person for their shuttle to the parks. It was cheaper for us to drive our own car and pay parking. Plus, then we weren’t stuck with the shuttle schedule.

There are a few hotels that are on Disney property but are not considered a Disney resort. They are surprisingly inexpensive and a great option to be close to Disney but not completely immersed. Plus, they offer a few of the benefits of staying in a Disney resort. I would recommend checking those hotels before checking hotels off the Disney property. We stayed one night in the Holiday Inn across from Disney Springs and were very happy with it.

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Bonus Tip: You don’t have to stay at a Disney resort to visit it.  You can check out the resort or eat at their restaurant (but not use their pool). We visited the Animal Kingdom lodge for lunch, looked at the animals, and played on the playground. This is a great way to experience the more expensive resorts for free!

Picking a Park:

The next big decision is how long to stay and how many parks to visit. Disney has four theme parks and two water parks. We have never done a water park because we typically travel off-season (to save money) so it’s never warm enough to warrant a water park. The past two visits, we did 5 park days and one rest day. This is an intense pace, but we figure that’s what we came to do!

The more days you purchase, the cheaper the tickets become. For us to buy 5 days, it was only $30 more than doing 4 days. Splurge: I recommend spending two days at the Magic Kingdom (I’ll post a review of the parks in a future post).

The Park Hopper pass allows you to visit multiple parks in one day. This may save you money by not having to buy as many tickets, but you won’t be able to spend as much time in each of the parks. Also keep in mind that Magic Kingdom tickets are more money than the other three parks, and ticket prices fluctuate depending on the season. Bonus: Children under 3 are free, so time a trip just before your child’s 3rd birthday!

How to Eat:

If you stay in a Disney resort, you are eligible for the Disney Dining Plan. Disney typically offers a free dining plan in the Fall/early December. We took advantage of this one year, which was an amazing deal. We each got two quick-service meals/day plus a snack/day. The quick-service meals typically came with a main dish, side, dessert, and drink. It was more than enough food for us and we didn’t spend a dime! The meal plan can be expensive, and you can find cheaper options, but I recommend it for the ease of mind.

If you don’t stay on Disney property or do a meal plan, then you are on your own for meals. You can pack lunches or eat for less off property but you’ll need a car. There are no “cheap” or fast-food options on the property. On our last trip, we did not do a meal plan. We ended up splitting meals to cut costs. We also bought groceries and made food at our time-share.

I recommend using Gardengrocer.com, which delivers groceries to hotels on the Disney property. I placed an order online a few weeks before our vacation for items like diapers, water bottles, snacks, and breakfast items. They were delivered right to our room on the day we arrived. The earlier you place your order, the bigger the discount they offer.

Day 3 MK-23.jpgSplurge: I recommend doing at least one character meal. We did breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, which was very expensive. We had to prepay which turned out to be nice because we could just enjoy the meal without thinking about the cost. The food was not worth it, but we were paying for the experience which was priceless! We also did the Disney Jr. Play & Dine breakfast at Hollywood Studios. It’s an all you can eat buffet for a pretty good price, so we took advantage of it and filled up on Mickey waffles.

Other things to consider:

Photopass: Disney offers a photopass package for you to pre-purchase. Throughout the park, Disney photographers take your pictures with characters and on certain rides. All your pictures are tied to your account so you can download them when you get home. The photopass offers you unlimited downloads of all your pictures. Photographers will take your picture whether you have the photopass or not; and they’ll also take your picture with your own camera. I’ve never done the photopass because we just bring our own camera. However, on our last trip there were a few photos that the Disney photographers got a better shot than we did. I ended up buying a few of these pictures after the trip, which added up fast. If you’re looking to save money, then just bring your own camera. But if pictures are important to you, splurge on the photopass!

Things to buy before your trip: We allowed our daughter to pick one souvenir at each park, and there are plenty of inexpensive options. But I did pick up some fun stuff before we left. I purchased some T-shirts on clearance from the Disney store for my daughter to wear to the parks. Dollar Tree has a lot of Disney brand products. I bought glow sticks and a glow wand that I gave our daughter for the nighttime fireworks. I bought a cheap notebook for her to get character’s autographs. I also bought some crayons, activity books, and toys for the car ride.

Splurge: One lesson I learned is don’t buy cheap ponchos. I bought ponchos at the dollar store in case of rain. Well, it POURED the day we were at Animal Kingdom and the dollar store ponchos did nothing. We were soaked within 5 minutes and spent the rest of the day wet and uncomfortable. I wish we would have splurged on Disney ponchos so we could stay dry and have a cute souvenir to reuse on future trips.

Our Disney vacations have taken many different forms, and each one has been great. There’s no wrong way to do Disney but if you’re looking to save money or take advantage of the most options, then you have to do your research and give yourself time to plan! Please feel free to ask questions or offer your money-saving ideas!

Making Plans part 1

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2011 Journal Entry

In 4th grade, my teacher had a box of prizes that we could earn with points for doing our homework and such. I was so excited to choose a Ziggy planner (Remember Ziggy? The guy with the big nose). Even in fourth grade, I had a love for planners, calendars, lists – anything that helps me be better organized. It wasn’t until I started going through fertility treatments that I discovered the relationship between my love for planning and my need for control.

After my first round of treatments, I started seeing a therapist and a lot of our sessions focused on control. Fertility treatments are a weird dichotomy of feeling out of control in a very controlled environment. First, you feel no control over your body whatsoever – why can’t I have a baby? Why won’t my body do what it was created to do? You try every idea, position, food, supplement, and old wives tale but nothing works. On the other hand, the treatments are very controlled – start with a test, take these pills, more tests, shot on this day, abstain for these days, bring in specimen, ultrasounds, blood tests –and yet you have no control over how or if your body is going to respond.

One thing my therapist had me do was make a list of ten goals I wanted to accomplish in my life (outside of having a baby). My list included things like buy a new car, work in full-time ministry with Greg, become a published author, and go on a Disney vacation. Within two years, I had accomplished all ten things on my list. Why? Because the list gave me focus and hope; it offered me control.

Since then, planning has become an important part of my mental health. When I start to feel overwhelmed or out of control, I pull out my planner and look forward. I plan events or trips to give me something positive to focus on and a hope that there will be something better in my future. For example, to combat the baby blues after having my son, I planned a ten day camping trip around Michigan. Are we taking that trip? Not anytime soon, but that’s not the point. I spent the long sleepless nights keeping my mind focused instead of letting it get carried away with new baby worries & sleep deprivation.

I break planning into three areas:

  • Short-term plans: I spend Sunday evening looking over my calendar for the week and month. My husband and I talk through every day so that we both know what to expect. Then each evening, I double check my plans for the next day.
  • Long-term plans: I like to focus on major events that I am looking forward to within the next 3-6 months. I spend my spare time planning parties, work events, or social gatherings. When I’m feeling anxious, I’ll make a mental list of all the things I’m looking forward to.
  • Dreams: Dreams are free! I like to dream and plan things like vacations or home improvement projects. They may actually never happen but they keep my mind occupied when needed.

The one thing you have to be careful about when planning is watching your expectations. If you plan something and reality doesn’t match expectations, it can be a huge disappointment. You can read here about how I handle expectations. Another fear is that it doesn’t leave room for spontaneity. But for me, having a plan does the opposite. The more control I have over a plan, the easier it is for me to divert from it. Part of my planning is having an understanding of all the possible outcomes and being okay with any of those outcomes or being able to make a new plan. This help me feel in control of an uncontrollable world. In part 2, I’ll share how I use my planner to keep my life organized.

Side Note: I’m not saying positive thinking and planning will cure anything or work for everyone. In the past, I managed my panic attacks with medication and I still regularly see a therapist. I have just found that planning is therapeutic for me, like many hobbies are for other people. 

Dwell in Possibility

Every January, I like to choose a new word to define my goals for the year. My word for 2017 was “Momentum.” My goal was to keep moving forward; an object in motion stays in motion. I feel like all I did was move in 2017 – new baby, new business, new opportunities. Things moved so fast that I had to let some things slip through the cracks, like this blog.  It’s a new year with new resolutions; including writing more frequently. I am grateful for all God has blessed us with, because none of these things ever seemed possible.

And so, my word for 2018 is Possibilities. God showed me this past year just how BIG he is and how big he wants us to dream. I don’t want my life to be defined by my circumstances. I don’t want to stay still and become stagnant. The momentum from 2017 showed me that anything is possible – because of God. And when you live your life dwelling in possibility, it becomes easier to say yes to new opportunities and to try things that move you past your comfort zone.Jon_Carley-30.jpg

I dwell in Possibility
A fairer house than Prose
More numerous of windows,
Superior of doors.
Of chambers as the cedars –
Impregnable of eye;
And for an everlasting roof
The gables of the sky.
Of visitors – the fairest –
For occupation – this –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise.
                        -Emily Dickinson

Building a Homeschool Library

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This weekend I finished a project I’ve been dreaming about for years – organizing our home library. I’ve had so many comments on my Facebook post that I decided it would be fun to write it up for my blog, in case anyone is looking for ideas or inspiration.

My collection of children’s books began while I was in college. I took a course in Children’s Literature, which was one of my favorite classes. We had to read and review various children’s books including picture books, chapter books, Newberry and Caldecott winners, and even “banned” children’s books. I had to buy a few books for the class which sparked in me a desire to collect books I remember from my childhood. I hoped to one day share them with my own children. Over the years I’ve continued to add to that collection through a variety of ways:

  • Monthly Book Club – This can be an expensive option, but it built my initial collection fast. You buy a certain number of books for around $5 and then commit to buy so many books at full price over a time span. There are many subscription plans like this available from different companies.
  • Bargain Book Stores – We have a store called Ollie’s by us that has an amazing book section. They have children’s books for around $1.99-$4.99. I have found bargain bookstores at outlet malls as well. These types of stores typically get their books from buyouts, bankruptcies, etc. It can be hard to find a specific book, but they’re great for random books you wouldn’t think of purchasing. I like to go every few months and stock up on seasonal/holiday books.
  • Used Books – There are a couple places I look for gently used books. Thrift stores, like Salvation Army, sell their used books 5/$1.00. Our local library sells paperbacks for $.25/each. Garage sales and mom-to-mom sales are also great places to look.
  • Online – The internet has many options when it comes to new or used books. This is also a great way to purchase out of print or hard to find books. One website I tried was booksbythefoot.com. For around $25, you can get a box of around 100 used books. It is a gamble though, because it includes a variety of ages and a variety of book conditions and you have no control over what is shipped in your box.

I wanted to organize my books by topic/genre, so when I’m planning my homeschool lessons, it will be easier to find similar books, as well as put them back. It also helps me see what  I already have or what I need when purchasing books. I divided my books into sections and placed them into baskets I purchased from the dollar store. I’m sure I’ll add more sections as our library and my children’s interests grow!

Our Library Sections:

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Winter
  • Fall
  • American History
  • Michigan History (our state)
  • World History & Geography
  • Home & Family
  • Friends/Character
  • Me/My body
  • Math
  • Colors
  • Phonics/Reading
  • Science
  • Animals
  • Birds/Bugs
  • Dinosaurs
  • Transportation
  • Folktales/Poetry
  • Fairytales
  • Fiction
  • Berenstain Bears
  • Dr. Seuss