Monday, November 7, 2016

5 Tips to a Stellar Quiet Time

Do you feel like life is going one hundred miles an hour and you just want to make. it. stop? Do you ever think to yourself "I just need a moment of silence?" I think that as women we all feel like this at some point or another during each day.

I found a long time ago that when I get up early - before anyone else in my house - and am able to sit in the stillness - in quiet - I feel much more refreshed when that first bundle of noise joy comes running down the stairs. When I make time for the quiet, His voice becomes louder and my circumstances, busyness and hectic days seem smaller. It's a centering for my soul, if you will.

Do you find time for quieting your soul? 

In reality, some of y'all can't get up any earlier than you do, right? You might have a baby who isn't sleeping through the night yet, so any extra minute of sleep you can get should be taken at it's fullest. Maybe you work a job that requires getting there before the sun rises. Just because you can't find stillness in the morning, doesn't mean you can't find it at all. But you do have to make it happen. Because stillness won't just happen, right?

I put together a few tips that I've found helpful in making the most out of my "quiet time". Remember, though, don't put this time in a box, so to speak. It doesn't have to look like A + B = C. It's however you feel led, however God speaks to you, not how He speaks to me. These are just a few things that help me feel settled in the morning.

1. Be Ready //

This is maybe what I struggle with the most. As I wait for my coffee to brew from the keurig, I tend to stumble around trying to find my Bible left in some other part of the house. I wander around from room to room in the darkness - because there's no way I'm turning bright lights on before my first sip of coffee - trying to find my supplies. I have certain inky pens that my kids husband are always stealing that I mark up my Bible with. I have certain highlighters - again, that get stolen - that I often can't find in the early morning hours. And before I know it, I've wasted 10 precious minutes just trying to get my rear in gear. So this is the most important, especially if you are super short on time. BE READY.

What are you going to read? Are you reading straight scripture or do you have a devotional? I go through seasons of reading books along with scripture, although right now I just started Ann Voskamp's devotional which seems to be a little hard for me to read with my groggy morning brain. If you are just starting and have very little time, I suggest Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It's super short but PACKED with Truth. I also like looking up the scriptures in my own Bible. There's just something about flipping those pages that gives great peace.

Answer this question : what gets you distracted during your time with the Lord? Is it your to-do list? Is it your laundry buzzing? Is it checking the time? Do whatever you need to do to stop getting distracted when you sit down so that your time with the Lord is well-spent.

2. Be Consistent //

Make this Quiet Time a part of your daily rhythm, trying to do it at the same time every day.  Is it first thing in the morning? Is it during your lunch break? Is it when you get home from work? Is it at Starbucks? Get into a routine. This will make it easier for you to accomplish daily and you will come to crave it, the more you do it.

Also, try to make it happen in the same place every day. For me, it's in my hot pink chair in my studio. I write here, I read here, I think best here. And since this is where I tend to spend time with God, it triggers reflection when I walk by and remember my time with the Lord that morning.

3. Go Deeper //

This is a new thing for me this year. I've always been a book first, scripture second gal. But this year I've been reading scripture through like a book (not the easiest or most fun thing) and then if there is a book on the subject, picking that up and reading it to affirm scripture - not the other way around.

When reading scripture, if you don't understand what you're reading, keep re-reading it until you get a grasp on it... scripture tells us we have the power to interpret scripture - it's the Holy Spirit. So when you get frustrated, ask him for help. Use footnotes in your bible or an online resource. I have found the Matthew Henry commentary to be super helpful when I get stuck. You can find it several places when you google it.

4. Pray //

My favorite thing to do - the best thing I've ever done - is to keep a prayer journal. Now that I am writing here, I am not as good about this as I should be. It's like I only have a certain amount of words for the day and they get used up as an offering right here. But my spiritual life changed when I started consistently keeping a prayer journal. Sometimes it would just have things listed out. Sometimes it would be deep cries from my heart. Sometimes it would be shallow and superficial. But they have become treasures to me. Praying for my kids, for my marriage, for our circumstances at the time, etc.

If you want to change your prayer life, start journaling. 

5. Reflect on Him during the day //

I feel like this has taken my quiet time to a new level. I try to reflect on whatever I read in the morning throughout the day. So, say that I didn't understand what I read - or I didn't feel like there was any application for me in my reading one morning. Throughout the day, I try to ask God to reveal to me a Truth from the passage. Teach me something new about Himself, about my sin, about my attitude, etc. And generally - when I am intentional about doing this - He does. Sometimes it might even be at the end of the day.

For example, when I read about Samson + Delilah. I didn't see any application in the story for my own life. I read it - as I have a million times before in Sunday School - and thought, "well he's dumb." And I left my quiet times for those few days sort of frustrated and feeling unsatisfied. Until the day when I read the last bit of Samson's story. He calls upon the Lord one last time to pass judgement on all of these people who were making a mockery of Him, and God answers and prophesy is fulfilled.

Later that day, as I watched election coverage, God pressed into my heart that sometimes He chooses to use unholy people (Samson) for holy purposes. Samson believed in God, yes, but he also didn't follow God's laws. He was a sinner - and honestly, from the scripture - didn't seem to care to change that. But God used him to carry out His holy plan. Do you see how that may be applicable to the election?

The bottom line is this. God has so many lessons to teach us from His Word, and when we take the time to sit with Him, get still and listen, He will guide us. He will open up the flood gates and teach us. I hope this is encouraging, not overwhelming!! You can find a time to do this, even on the busiest of days! Do you have any tips for getting it done? I'd love to hear!!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Purpose In the Waiting.

It occurred to me the other day that there was a heck of a lot of waiting in the Bible.

Abraham and Sarah waited for their child - the one that God had promised them many years before she conceived.

David waited to be King - and while he waited, he had to hide in caves from the current King who wanted to take his life.

Moses waited for the promised land - and had to wait until after he died to see it.

Shoot, there are 400 years of silence in between the Old and the New Testament. Actually, the entire Old Testament is waiting on the Messiah. And now we are waiting on him again, aren't we?

Much of our life as believers will be spent in the quiet and stillness of the waiting room. I normally welcome quiet... I actually think I crave it (as most mommas probably do). But when God is quiet, I get anxious, tense and even doubtful. I am a huge dreamer but not so much of a doer, so when my dreams seem to be planted in me from the Lord and then there is no action on His part immediately after, I start to wonder "wait, did I hear Him right? Is this the direction that He said He wanted me to run in?"

As the reality of the waiting game sets in, my heart shifts focus and I lose sight of the goal of walking daily in obedience. When I take my eyes off of God amidst the discouragement, my thoughts begin to center instead on my shortcomings and all of the reasons why I shouldn't believe Him in the first place. All the reasons I deserve to be let down and all of the ways that I know I will fall short.

Have you ever felt discouraged in the waiting? Have you ever felt as though you were doing your part, but God isn't doing His? That you are trying your hardest to be obedient, but the believing-He-will-fill-His-promises part is starting to dwindle?

I want to encourage all of us today, y'all! God - even in the stillness - is faithful. But we must decide to see that, even when we don't feel it. There are three things can fill us with hope as we wait.

God is a God of details and even while He is working said details together for His purposes, He wants us to be a part of them. He has us here in the waiting on purpose. He is not only working out our path forward while we wait, but there is also an assignment within the waiting, right? Is it to seek Him deeper? Does He want us to cultivate new relationships in this season? Is He asking us to rest? Does He want us to take care of some sin in this wait?

There is purpose in the stillness because there are people in the stillness.

Choosing to wait on purpose is difficult as the stillness drags on,  but today, I will believe that there is purpose right here.

God is also a God of timing and y'all - I hate that I can't control this part of life. When projects move forward, when I see fruit from my labor, when a relationship dies or when a relationship blooms. I am not in control. He is. And as I grow older wiser, I realize when I look back on the still seasons in my life, the moments that movement started were ones I wouldn't have chosen but that were perfect for so many reasons. think I know my needs, but He knows them so much deeper than I do. He knows what my heart, mind and body need that I will never understand and only He can meet those needs - and sometimes it is in the wait.

So today, I will believe that His timing is best.

Finally, God is a God of promises. I feel like we should all take a deep breath here, shouldn't we? Breathe in His faithfulness and breathe out His grace. As believers we know this to be true. We choose to believe that the Bible is true and our past experiences with God most likely point to that Truth as well. Now, to remember this during the wait... now that is a challenge, isn't it?

A friend shared this verse with me last week and it has brought me much peace to cling to while I sit in this waiting room of sorts, and I hope it will for you too. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23.

Think back on the promises that He has filled in your life. Think of all the ways that He has come through for you before. Has He provided peace peace that passes all understanding? Has He taken your mess and woven it into something crazy good? Has He given you inexplicable joy when it didn't make sense? Has He proven Himself faithful even after the wait?

Today, I will believe that He fulfills His promises, because He has before and He will again.

Even when it seems that God has forgotten me I must believe that He is still there, working things out in my midst and bringing people into my path that are not there by chance. I am thankful to serve a God who understands my innermost needs, the timing that I wouldn't choose and the bigger picture. We can serve Him faithfully today in the wait we we decide to believe He is still there.

I pray this is a message of hope for one of you precious readers out there today. I am so blessed by your encouragement and His encouragement through you! Have a great week, friends!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Impromptu Birthday Party

Our sweet Landry is the typical third child. He's just along for the ride in our crazy family - especially in the fall with football and soccer and the campaign! He is so flexible, though, and brings so much laughter to our family! I wasn't sure I wanted a third, but I am so glad that God knew exactly what we needed!

For Landry's first birthday we literally sat on our kitchen island and sang happy birthday as a family of five while he learned what cake was. Then Charlotte and I headed to the Taylor Swift concert and Daddy + Brady played Madden the rest of the afternoon. 

So when his second birthday was coming up, we thought, we ought to do a party. And then suddenly it was a week and a half before his birthday and we hadn't planned anything yet!! So we agreed to invite our family and neighborhood friends (who love our sweet boy as their own) and watch some football. That was our plan. 

And then this momma got on Pinterest like she never has before, trying to erase some of that momma guilt that was settling in, and threw together a little impromptu football themed party that turned out so fun, and truly wasn't a ton of work!

We made a Nacho Bar and a Hot Dog Bar with all of the fixins' for everyone to make it like they want it. We had queso and a million different kinds of salsa... and of course, popcorn and huge stadium-like pickles. We also had a football toss through a ladder, like you see here, for the big kids. 

My sister made the darling Popcorn Bags that were filled with Boom Chicka Pop popcorn. The hot dogs were done in a crock pot, as was the queso. The penalty flags were actually tootsie roll pops that were wrapped in yellow tissue and tied with twine.

The goodie bags had a whistle, a rubber football and some football tattoos in them along with a gold coin. I used black and white straws to make the little flags... I just felt like they needed something extra. Oriental Trading Company had tons of cute black and white things, but I was too late to order them!!

We had a fun time and it was just what our little football afternoon needed! This could easily NOT be a birthday party but just a weekend football-watching party, right?! Super easy and so much fun!!!! I hope y'all are having a great weekend and I hope it involves some football, fellowship and FUN!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

3 Things NOT to Do At a Craft Show

With the Craft Show season upon us, I thought it might be a good time to have a good laugh and discuss "Craft Show Etiquette."

This year Little Branches isn't participating in the craft show season, but most of my sweet maker friends ARE!

Let's start with pointing out the obvious. Craft shows are a TREMENDOUS amount of work, y'all! Whether the maker is working solo, or has (many) helpers, there is simply a lot to do.

Think about it... one person (or one + helpers) has to :

Buy + Plan for Supplies
Price everything.
Plan the booth setup. Make props if necessary. Allow for adjustments, because the booth is never what you think it's going to be.
Pack up said supplies + booth props.
Set up the booth up. Make sure you have cash on hand. Make sure your Square is working.
Work the show. Answer the sweet questions. Remind yourself to smile and say thank you and be beyond friendly. (Because even if that is you naturally, after the tenth time of having the same conversation, it begins to feel fake - even though it's actually not!)
Clean up after the show.
Inventory. Ship. List.

And this doesn't even include MAKING THE STUFF, y'all!

I cannot express to you in words how much joy it gives me to be a maker. It is a true blessing, and it fills the weary parts of my soul. God created me like that. The shows are honestly my very favorite part! They are where are customers have faces and names and we get to have conversations. Craft shows make the process beautifully personal for the maker and the customer. So if you didn't know this before, although I'm sure you did, now you can appreciate the work even more when your eyes lay hold of the beautiful handmade products at the local craft show!

And oh, gosh, I know that none of y'all would ever say anything like this, for obvious reasons, but let's just go ahead and get it out of the way anyway, just in case. I want to talk about what shouldn't go on at a craft show.

1. Saying, "I could make this."

Even if you can, y'all. In fact, I bet you can! I bet you can make signs and knit sweaters and paint clay pots! I bet you could make completely beautiful things, but again, these makers - whatever they made - put time and effort into their craft so that someone - maybe even YOU - could appreciate it, love it and buy it. They are hoping you might say "oh - this is exactly what _____ would LOVE for Christmas!" So, please don't say I could make this... even under your breath, or to your neighbor, because that sweet maker will hear it.

She knows you could make it, but the fact is that she did make it... and put her own spin on it. These items are more than likely her heart and soul in physical form, so be gentle, friends.

2.  Directly asking the maker "How did you make this?"

This just puts the maker in an awkward position, y'all. Of course they are excited about their product, but the reality is that they probably failed many times before coming up with whatever final product there is. If you have a specific question - for example, what kind of yarn do you use in these sweaters - I know would have loved to answer that. But asking what pattern they used and how they frame up their sign is just tough for someone to answer. It's like you asking Kentucky Fried Chicken what the recipe is for their batter. You just don't do it.

***Note : If you have a question about starting a business, or how they got started making _____, please ask those questions! I know that I loved talking about my heart on our business!!

3. Take pictures - especially when you are trying to act like you aren't taking the pictures.

I know you would never do this - but this is just a reminder. There are too many people copying other people's work these days. Don't even look like you're one of these people.

***Note : If you do want to send it to someone to ask if they'd like it for Christmas, or if they would want to buy it for someone else for Christmas (because we all do that) just ask the maker. The likelihood is that they would never say no to that. And mostly, they'll appreciate the ask! I promise!

Above all, if you attend a craft show of any kind this fall, be overly complimentary to these sweet ladies (and gents) that pour their blood, sweat and tears into these weekends. They love being there, but what makes it over-the-top fun is when their are fun people that love their items, love their craft and love their story. Make conversation - even when you know you aren't going to end up buying something! It will make your day far more interesting than it would have been just going from booth to booth!!!

Here's to the Craft Season, y'all!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sunday Night Dinner

A few months ago, one of our Sunday School teachers posed this question :: "If I asked your kids 'what does your family do' what would their answer be?" and it got me to thinking. We have traditions at Christmas time and birthdays, absolutely... and even Saturday morning donuts.. but what do our kids think that we do?

We watch football on Saturdays. And Sundays. And Mondays. And sometimes Fridays.

We go to church on Sundays.

We are pretty strict about bed time.

I mean, I really couldn't even think of anything else that we did on even a semi-regular basis... and the football, even, is seasonal!

So we set out to cultivate family throughout the year. At the suggestion of a friend, we created Sunday Night Dinners.

Sunday Nights have become an such sweet time for our family, y'all. We try our best to gather around our table - just the five of us - and break bread together. We break out the fancy (read: non-plastic) plates, sometimes we dress the table up with candles, place mats and - wait for it - cloth napkins instead of paper towels. We use fancy water glasses and we serve from the table instead of straight from the pot (or oven or microwave.)

We have appetizers. And chocolate milk.

We hang out in the kitchen as a family while Charlotte and I bang around our pots and pans. And yes, usually there is a gigantic mess to clean up afterward, but oh, my sweet friends, it is so worth it.

Charlotte sets the table and Brady clears with his daddy. Jeff is teaching our tender-hearted son how to serve women, and boy don't we need that attitude right now. On a weeknight, if we eat dinner all together, Jeff clears the minimal dishes while I get everyone ready for bed... or even, visa versa. Jeff serves me often, but Sunday Nights have become an intentional way of setting an example for our sweet children. We stop being in a rush, checking everything off the list, and just slow down to cultivate and solidify our family.

Once we sit down for dinner, we go around the table and play a 'game' called "high/low". We share a high from the week and a low. An opportunity to celebrate life's good times and share in each other's disappointments. Sometimes the lows are heavy... and sometimes they're silly, like having to take a roach out to the trash or pick up after Landry.

And Charlotte, sweet girl, almost never has a low. What an example that is for me... to not hold on to anything disappointing. An eternal optimist.

Our kids are young - and I know the day is drawing near that our kids are going to roll their eyes when it's Sunday Night Dinner. But for right now, they love it, and that warms my heart. They take part in it and can't wait to share with us about their week.

I imagine SND to be the type of thing that, as the kids get older, is a big deal to invite a boyfriend or a girlfriend to. Of course we think about this becuase we started dating in high school - but I can't believe that it has even crossed my mind as a parent, y'all!  

Please don't let the fancy of all of this deter you - it doesn't need to be fancy at all, y'all. I enjoy cooking - and Charlotte enjoys cooking with me - but I don't like having to rush to get it on the table, like we have to do during the week. So for Sunday Night Dinner (SND), I start early, and that makes it's easier (and less stressful) for Charlotte to help me. Sometimes, we scrap the fancy all together and make boboli pizzas or even breakfast.

We just get around the table. Our table.

Fancy, for us, has simply come to mean special.

What does special look like for your family?

Our dear friends - when presented with the same question - created Sunday Funday. They intentionally do something fun as a family. Picnics, golf range, family bike ride, movie day, etc. Just something to set them apart and say "this is our family". Friends and extended family are great... we love them, but sometimes it's good to just be your family.

I encourage you, to create your own Sunday Night Dinner. Whatever that might be... Sunday Funday, Wednesday Night Out, Date Night In, Dinner and a Movie... create a tradition that says "this is what our family does". Because time goes way too fast.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Iced Pumpkin Spice "Latte"

So Texas has us all mixed up, y'all! It should be pumpkin spice weather, right? But (until the last day or so), it's been in the 90's here! So I've had such a dilemma with regard to my beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks.

Enter Iced Coffee.

My sister is a huge iced coffee drinker. I like to order iced coffee in the summer from SB, but have not really attempted to make my own before. After a little googling, I sort of made up my own version of an ICED pumpkin spice latte, and y'all - I promise - you will be addicted! It's so easy and tastes like I have become a professional Barista!!

So here are the ingredients :

SB Lightly Sweetened Iced Coffee
2% milk
Pumpkin Spice Creamer
Organic Agave (Light)

I use a Ball Jar, generally, because it's super easy to measure, but I think you'll probably end up making your own adjustments to your taste prefences anyway, so I'll just give you a general idea of where to start.

I fill the cup halfway full (maybe a bit more) with crushed ice. My favorite is Sonic Ice, because obviously. I pour in the iced coffee up to the 1 cup line. Milk 2 lines up (1/4 c.). Pumpkin Spice creamer 1 more line up (1/8 c.). At this point, I stir it up and give it a taste. Most of the time I add a tiny squeeze of agave - because I like my iced coffee sweet - but you really may not even need it.

And that's it. Super simple and super yummy! If you find yourself in a warmer climate than you'd like for the fall, this iced coffee is PERFECT for you! All the notes of fall, but with a tad of summer added to it! Enjoy!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Life Creative // A Book Recommedation

A few weeks ago, my new Insta-friend Wendy Speake, sent me her latest book Life Creative. I couldn’t wait to read it and I’ve been reading it throughout my quiet times in the morning ever since. 

Here’s the beautiful thing about Life Creative… it’s written by two creative moms. They’re right there in the trenches with us, ladies. They know what it’s like. They get it. 

The words that they have so eloquently written on paper make me feel like I’m not alone in this strange, but wonderful, need to create. To write and to paint. And I’m also not alone in the struggle to find balance between making and family. Art + life. 

Wendy and Kelli offer a fresh take on creativity - what they rightfully portray as a gracious gift from God. They discuss the battle that they found themselves fighting as a new mom - not even realizing that creativity was such a huge part of who they were.  But without cultivating it - even in those weary seasons of motherhood - we feel a deep and unexplainable sense of loss.

What I find so exciting about this book is that it doesn’t give you a prescription to fix it, or a way to balance it all. They point out that God is the Author of our timeline, and He created us with creativity for a purpose, for today and for our future. So what can we do now, where we find ourselves today, to live the creative life? 

Isn’t that every mother’s struggle? To find the time to do what is necessary to fill your own soul with joy? (Read the last blog post.)

Only in the past few years have I accepted that what fills my heart with joy, and what uniquely makes me me, is the need - the deepest desire and longing - to create. I used to see it as a flaw, not as a blessing. But through much study, I’ve come discover that our Heavenly Father is a creative God and celebrates creativity throughout scripture. 

The key is - surrendering to His timing to use it, isn’t it? 

This book is a MUST for all the makers, writers, artists, bakers, chefs and teachers that struggle with what the creative life looks like in the middle of motherhood, day jobs and marriage. Wendy + Kelli’s words have deeply encouraged me as I know they will for you as well. I cannot wait for you to read it! 

The good news is that it comes out TODAY!! You can buy it on Amazon here. You can follow Life Creative on Instagram here

Wendy and Kelli - thank you so much for including me in this journey. I have been extremely blessed by you both! 

And without further ado, here is an excerpt that is one of my favorites. 

For many creative souls, inspiration floods late at night when the house grows still and the distractions of the day fade. As the light of the moon winks a story into your heart, grab (a) journal, pick up your laptop, pin your inspiration, record the raw melody on your iPhone, sketch the design, lay down the lyrics at the altar table of your journal’s pages, then sleep. The rest will continue to fuel your creative soul, and it will give you the grace to focus fully on your most beautiful creations when they toddle to your bedside in the early morning hours. 

Visions and inspiration can be all consuming, but don’t worry about bringing them to fruition today, my friend. There is an appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come. There is a time for visions, a time for dreams, a time for living, and a time to create. And the One who inspires is the same One who makes all things beautiful in His time.Life Creative, page 72

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