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Monday, December 15, 2014

Are you weary?

Y'all, I'm weary. I'm weary of hate-filled internet comments and of having to explain that racism does indeed exist and that gay people can be Christians too.  I'm weary of keeping up with homework and school projects and trying to remember to send in the money for the Christmas gifts. I'm weary of grieving my dad and helping my kids grieve because Grandpa's not with us this Christmas.  I'm weary when I leave work and go home and cry because of all the hurt I've seen that comes from mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. I'm weary of giant piles of laundry and messy kitchens.

I don't have it together. I rarely do. I'm the mom who reads the email about not sending in the project early just AFTER having sent the project in early. I'm the mom who has twice now shown up an hour early to pick up my child from preschool because I forgot that he had soccer.  I'm the mom who bought all the supplies two months ago to make wonderful homemade vanilla extract for Christmas presents... and still haven't made the vanilla. It takes 8 weeks to make. And I keep forgetting to move our $%& Elf on the Shelf.

In fact, just to keep things real, I posted this picture to FB today. Me, no makeup, displaying my various crafting- and clumsiness-related injuries.


But you know what? That is all okay. I don't have to have it together. Because this is the season that we celebrate redemption.  I don't claim to have all the answers to religion or God or how one "gets to heaven"... but I do believe this: God wants to restore us.  When I read the Bible about heaven, it looks like justice and peace and joy. No more drug addiction, no more hunger, no more homelessness, no more racism or sexism. No more mom-guilt, no more grieving. No more giant piles of laundry or bickering children. No more weariness.

And God uses us to bring that redemption about. We get to be part of ending racism and injustice. We can work to alleviate the pain of poverty and addiction.  This season, we celebrate the birth of a baby who came to restore and redeem, showing us exactly how we can live in ways that bring peace and hope to others. He showed us how to bring restoration to this broken world. And then sacrificed himself to restore all of us back to God, once and for all. What an amazing gift.

So I lay my weariness and all my failures at the feet of the God who created me, thankful that I get to be part of his plan to bring peace and hope. And if you are weary too, I invite you to join me. We don't have to have it all together and we don't have to have all the answers. But we do have the honor of being part of the solution. That alone brings me hope.

May we find real hope and peace in the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in the idea of God's active work to restore brokenness, and may we find rest in the fact that we don't ever need to be perfect. His love covers it all. Always has, always will.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do You Do Santa? (and other ways we judge each other during the holiday season)

It's such a harmless-sounding question: Do you do Santa? Or "Do you have an Elf on the Shelf?"

But here's the problem. Sometimes there is an implied "correct" reply.  It's the same kind of idea behind "Do you breastfeed?" or even the seemingly-innocuous, "What books is your child reading now?"

I know some families who don't do Santa. They feel it's a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. That is wonderful! If not doing Santa helps your family focus more on what's important, you should absolutely stick to it!  But we need to remember that all families are different. Families who don't do Santa do not love Jesus any more or less than families who do.  There's no hierarchy here. I would love to declare Christmas a "Judgement-free zone."

Here is my take on this: so many things in my life are a distraction from Jesus this time of year: swim team practice, Tae Kwon Do, homework, crafty projects & sewing, cooking dinner, Santa, Elf on the Shelf.  Every family decides where they want to draw the line.  And sometimes that line is different from year to year (or month to month!!) In our family, we draw the line on the other side of Santa.  He comes on Christmas Eve and drops off a present or two for the kids but he's certainly not the focus of our lives for a month.  And we have an Elf because it's fun.  I do love the magic of Christmas when the kids are little. And those things, for us, don't distract us from Jesus any more or less than the rest of what we do in our lives. So I'm truly not worried about Santa.

Let's put that fat old guy in the corner for a moment, shall we? Here are the ways we make the Christmas season more meaningful:

1. Our "Jesse Tree": A few years ago, my husband came up with a readings for every night of December for the Christmas story and I made advent pocket trees and a little ornament for each reading.

We have a little tabletop tree and every night, we read part of the story of Jesus and the kids take turns taking an ornament out and placing it on the tree. The tree sits as our table centerpiece so we can see all the ornaments and talk about the Christmas story. The kids look forward to it every night!

2. We continue to serve the way we do all year. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot of "extra" serving or giving we do at Christmastime. We really have made it our practice to serve and give all year long. While I think it is wonderful to do extra at Christmas, I have a hard time fitting in too much more. We typically do an Angel Tree gift or a Samaritan's Purse box and we do one extra breakfast for our homeless friends on Christmas morning but we don't do all that much "extra" on top of our regular stuff. Maybe we should do more. And maybe one day we will. But for now, adding more stress (even for good things) actually distracts me from the "reason for the season."  So give yourself a break. It is okay if you don't do (fill-in-the-blank).

3. We spend less! I try to make as many Christmas gifts as I can or give "time together" instead of just "stuff." We spend as little time as possible this season talking about the "stuff." And our church does a big Christmas offering and splits it between local homeless ministry and Heart for Africa. I take the money I saved and we donate it to that! It helps me when I make my purchases: I think, "would I rather my money go to this piece of plastic or to help with our local homeless friends or Heart for Africa?" Makes the decision a lot easier. We don't send Christmas Cards anymore either (oh the hypocrisy... because I LOVE getting them!) and donate what we would have spent on those too.

4. We spend more! You read that right. Sometimes spending more is the way to go. We try to buy fair-trade items as Christmas presents. Typically, I spend way more on stocking stuffers than I used to because I fill our stockings with fair-trade goodies!  It may cost more, but the gift of a sustainable wage is worth every penny! I can love Jesus in the way I spend my money.

Cheers, mamas! Whether you do Santa or not, whether you have a lazy Elf or a crazy-creative one, let's not judge one another! We all want to have meaningful, joyful, peaceful seasons. Let's stand together instead of apart. Love abounds when we do this, especially when we do it over things we do differently.

And instead of focusing on whether or not you "do Santa," I'd love to hear the ways you make this time of year more meaningful for your family!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Support Police or Acknowledge Racial Bias?

It's not a secret that I believe there is racial bias in our police culture.  But I've realized something. People assume that since I acknowledge the problem, I am against the police. Or that I'm talking-down, disrespecting, or generalizing and therefore not being fair to police officers.

And I've seen my Facebook feed start to have hashtags like #supportthepolice. And I don't see them show up next to hashtags like #blacklivesmatter.

Social Media is so divisive. It reduces us from thinking, feeling, nuanced, beautiful human beings to "sides" and "slogans" that don't truly express how we feel about important issues.

Y'all. It does not have to be either or. I support my police! I love them - I am so thankful for them and I want them to feel respected for the important jobs they do.  Acknowledging there is a problem does not mean that I suddenly am a police-hater who wants them all to be fired. Nor does it mean that I believe every individual police officer is a racist who enters the force with the goal to shoot as many black males as possible.  That is ridiculous. And saying that you support the police does not mean that you believe every black male is a criminal and deserves to be shot. That is equally ridiculous.

Yet this is what I am seeing happening. We are forced to either fall into the camp of "black lives matter" OR "I support our police officers".

You know what I say? "Black lives matter AND I support our police officers."

We need a new hashtag. (you are welcome to laugh at me right now considering I'm still not entirely certain how exactly to use hashtags and still feel strongly they should be called pound signs). Something like:
#issuesarenuancedjustlikepeopleandIsupportmypoliceforceandcallforgreateraccountabilitybecauseblacklivesmatter.
Too long? Thought so.

The best thing we can do right now is to listen to one another.

Are you outraged about all you've been hearing about the shootings of young, unarmed, black males? Good, you should be. Now talk to some police officers. Real ones, in your life. Listen to what they have to say. Find out what it's like to be a police officer. And then learn what kind of training they receive. Be an ally to your police: find out how you can support your local police force to get better. Support them and help them learn how to overcome any racial bias instead of tearing them down.

Are you frustrated that police officers are being given a bad name? Good, you should be. Now go listen to some people of color. Hear their experiences with police. It may not match up with yours. That is okay, they are still valid. Listen to the people who say their voices aren't being heard. Believe them when they say they fear the police won't treat them fairly. And support them: find out how you might be able to bridge the gap between them and the police. Be an ally to the minority population, especially if you have connections in law enforcement.

And pray for each other. Pray for the group you understand the least.  Don't understand why people are angry? Pray for them. Pray for wisdom that you will understand their anger. Don't understand why it is hard for some people to see and acknowledge racial bias? Pray for them and pray for understanding yourself.  Prayer is crazy. I really think when we pray for others, it changes our own hearts and amazing things can happen.

Read the full story behind this hug here:
 http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/11/post_495.html#incart_story_package
This sweet 12 year-old spoke to this police officer and shared his fears that he wouldn't be treated fairly by police. The police acknowledged his fears by saying, "I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And the hug happened.

THAT IS WHAT WE NEED. 

Listen, and then Hug, y'all.

Let's stick together on this. You don't have to choose a side. But you can choose to be part of the solution.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Family Turkey Olympics!

One thing I'm thankful for is being part of an active family. I love that the kids & their cousins spent the week running around, playing football, and riding bikes at their grandparents'. I got to go for a couple of runs on the beach and my older kids came along on their bikes. It was heaven.

For many years, the adults in my family have run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day. Last year, my (then 8 year-old) nephew joined us. It was freezing but he did great.  But all the other kids (there are 7 cousins all together) wondered why they couldn't come.

So I thought it would be fun to do our own Family Turkey Trot this year. Luckily for me, my sister-in-law is amazing and she took it a step further... so we planned our own Family Turkey Olympics. And it made for quite possibly the best Thanksgiving ever!

And I could not wait to share it with y'all! We made some amazing memories and the kids (and I) can't wait to do it all again next year! Do this with your family.... you'll be so glad you did!

We started with a quick "Opening Ceremonies" (and even played Olympic music on a cell phone) and handed each athlete his/her Olympic jersey and a race bib.

My poor sweet niece was so sick :( She missed out on most of the events, poor baby.
Our first event was The Marshmallow Wreath Toss. Pretty self-explanatory...
I think my sister-in-law missed her calling as a sports photographer. How cool is this picture?!?!


Next up was Junk in the Trunk. It's a Minute to Win It game. You can find instructions here: http://gameshows.about.com/od/minutetowinitgames/g/Minute-To-Win-It-Junk-In-The-Trunk-Game.htm.  Basically, the kids have to dance around (without touching their Kleenex boxes) and get as many ping pong balls to fall out as they could. We used ribbons instead of belts.

Blurry photos because they were working HARD to get those ping pong balls out!


Our next event was Pantyhose Bowling! Place a tennis ball in one foot of a pair of pantyhouse and put them over your head. Then put your hands behind your back and try to knock over a line of water bottles!  Everyone, even the grandparents, participated in this event. It was hilarious:

Grand and Choo Choo showing their skills
After this we were supposed to do a toilet paper mummy wrap. We forgot. It's on the list for next year's events. 

 Our next event was the Pie Eating Contest. We didn't actually want the kids to consume vast amounts of pumpkin pie, so this idea was perfect. My brother-in-law mixed up the filling for one pumpkin pie and divided it (just the filling, no crust) into seven aluminum pie plates.  After they were cooked, he stuck 5 big chocolate chunks in each pie, then covered them with whipped cream.  The kids had to find the chocolate chunks and spit them out onto the little plate next to the. No hands, of course! Then when it was all over, they could eat their chocolate chunks.



Workin' hard!

My daughter has declared she will NOT be participating in this event next year.... note the absence of pie on her face. Apparently, messy games are not her thing.  My boys, however... different story. ;)

We moved outside to do the Cheese Puff Hat event! Kids were in teams of two, put a shower cap on each child's head, cover with shaving cream and have their partners throw as many cheese puffs as they can and see how many stick! Each partner had a chance to cover their cousin's head with cheese puffs!



Action shot - can you spot the cheese puffs in the air??

Is there anything better than covering your cousins in shaving cream and cheese puffs?

Next up was everyone's favorite event: DIZZY BAT. Grown-ups included. Y'all, I laughed so hard I thought I was going to wet my pants!

My brother-in-law thought this was going to be so easy so he took off running at top-speed... and wound up in the bushes!! I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard.

After this was the "Mom Call." Moms stand in the middle of the yard, blindfolded (or eyes closed - moms don't cheat). Dads position the kids around the yard. The moms have to find their own kids by listening for their call. Kids can only yell, "MOM!"  Both of us found our oldest and middles with no problem but had to think hard to be sure of our youngest ones!



Then the "Dad Carry!" Dads had to carry all their kids to one end of the yard and back. This was where having one sick kid worked out for my brother-in-law. He would have had to carry four!

.

The kids really liked this and requested an alternate event: The Uncle Carry. So they switched kids and did it again!

And we wrapped it all up with a Family Fun Run. The grandparents were at the finish line with a ribbon for the kids to run through to finish up!

On Your Mark... Get Set...

GO!


Finish Line!

We had such a fun day. The kids had a BLAST (grown-ups too). Please copy us one day. You'll be so glad you did. :)




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I lied to my child tonight

I just tucked my sweet youngest child into bed. We rehashed the day and he, with his wonderful four year-old sense of self-confidence, informed me that he is fast and smart. Smarter than me. Smarter than his teachers.  So smart, in fact, that he's going to become a policeman one day.  A policeman that helps people get into bed if they are having trouble getting into bed (no clue where that part came from!)

Then he paused to clarify... "do policemen spray out fires?" he asked. I told him that was firefighters.  "Then what do policemen do?"

And I lied.

I said policemen catch the bad guys. They protect you and keep you safe.  "That's okay" he said, "I'll still be one anyway. And help people."

And thank goodness it was dark because I couldn't stop the tears.

I am not trying to offend any policemen. I know some absolutely amazingly wonderful police families.  I know there are good guys out there. I truly believe it's the system that is broken.  I am heartbroken because this was never the way I imagined I would feel about our police system.

But I also know that in a few short years, I will have to have a different conversation with my black child and his white siblings.  I will have to explain to them why he has to be extra careful and polite around police and white grown-ups in general.  I will have to explain why it is not safe for him to do things or be in places after dark when it would be okay for his siblings.  Or even on the playground with a toy gun during the day.  A day will probably come when something goes missing from a place where he's been and he's the first one folks assume has taken it. I will have to explain to my children exactly why this is and how we will handle it together as a family.  I will have to tell him that not all police officers are going to be on his side.

If you are a (not black) mom, can you imagine for a minute what this must be like? How terrifying this is? And how heartbreaking?  I'm not alone. I am one of millions of mamas who will have to have this conversation with our precious children.

I didn't even know about this kind of conversation before we adopted. That's part of my white-privilege, I guess. I learned about it from black friends when they mentioned having it with their kids.  I am going to need help when the time comes because I honestly don't even know how to have the conversation. I grew up knowing the police would help me; that I would be given the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

Now is the time to speak, friends.  If you are an ally, please speak up. When you see racist comments on Facebook or when you hear them in your circles of friends or at work, please speak up.  Consider finding out what kind of training your local police force receives. Find out about body cameras.  Please don't be people who go silent when the news breaks about the next young black male killed. Please, for the sake of mama-solidarity. Stand with us.

When we speak up, racism diminishes.
When we speak up, we fight ignorance.
When we speak up, hope grows.
And maybe, just maybe, my children won't have to have that conversation with their kids.

from america.aljazeera.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Them

Them. They. Their culture. Their problems.

I'm hearing a bit of that this morning when I checked my phone to see how things fared with Ferguson last night.

Last night, my black boy and my white girl fell asleep together in the bed. Blissfully unaware of the culture in which they are being raised. And I lay in my bed and cried and prayed.

This morning, my black son will play with his white cousins who love him and be doted on by his white grandparents. And I'll probably cry and pray some more.

My family is US and my family is THEM.  When I hear that this is a "black issue," I feel it deeply. My son is black. I am white. I am raising one of those "black boys" that are filling our Twitter feeds.  I am the White Woman and I am the mother of the Black Male.

This is not a black and white issue.  It is a human issue. Threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  Yes, riots make things worse and I don't condone the violence, but I must confess to being part of a system that has marginalized a population so much that they no longer trust the justice system.  I no longer trust the justice system when it comes to my youngest. I fear the day my sweet black baby boy has a run-in with the police.

And yet I know police officers and their families. Good sweet people who work hard and love others.

This is an US issue. WE are all humans. WE belong to each other.  WE made this mess and WE are making it worse. And when the people of Ferguson hurt, we hurt.  When mamas mourn the loss of their sons, it hurts all of us.  When police officers feel the sting of remarks about our police system and justice system, it hurts all of us.  Not all black men are criminals. Not all police officers are racist.  But our system and our culture is broken. And that hurts all of US.

Today may we look at this as a human issue. Acknowledge the brokenness, acknowledge the hurt without condoning the violence.  THEY hurt so WE hurt because we are all people.

"Let's not just make noise, let's make a difference."*


*Mike Brown's parents' response last night.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Do you know what the Bible says about same-sex relationships?

My state is balancing on the edge of legalizing gay marriage this week. I thought for sure it would happen yesterday, honestly.

I've been really struggling with what the Bible says about gay marriage for the past year or so; really wrestling with the Bible, reading commentaries, books, articles on all sides of the issue. I have not taken this lightly, I promise. And I have prayed. For wisdom, for clarity, I prayed particularly hard that I would not only see what I wanted to see. I wanted to know, really know what the Bible says (not just accept what we've traditionally believed the Bible says).

And so I thought I'd share some thoughts from my journey with y'all, as we stand on the brink of history in NC.

The first thing I realized is that we need to separate being gay from acting on same-sex desires. Our best research has concluded that being gay is just who you are. Most gay folks tell us the same (I'd assume they are the best experts). Just talk to the countless gay Christians who went through "Reparative therapy" to try to change their orientation. It didn't work. They begged God to change them and it did not happen.  It is not changeable. Being gay is not a sin. Just as I did not choose my opposite-sex attraction, my gay brothers & sisters did not choose their same-sex attraction. We are the way we are.  So it's pretty important if you want to love gay people to acknowledge that gay people are not sinful for their sexual orientation. Who they are at their core, is not unacceptable, not an abomination.

So please stand with me there, Christians. No matter how you feel about gay marriage. Let's please not condemn others for the way God made them. We have zero evidence that people can change their innermost desires, even when they really really want to. And when the Church has (sometimes lovingly, sometimes not-so-much) tried to encourage gay people to change their orientation, the "fruit"of those endeavors has been depression, turning away from the Church, drug use, suicide. Good things don't bear bad fruit. If telling a gay person that they are sinful or evil at their very core pushes them to turn towards those things instead of granting them peace and hope in Jesus, we have done the wrong thing.

Can I tell y'all something? I believe what the Bible says is true. I really do. But I think we humans are prone to error. I think we sometimes interpret the Bible incorrectly. We have certainly gotten it very wrong in our history. We used to think it condoned slavery. We used to think it condoned spousal abuse/dominance. We used to think it told us the Sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth.  But as we have gained more knowledge and leaned more heavily on God to help us know him more, we have changed our standards on all of those things. And every time we've changed our widely accepted ideas of what the Bible says it's been a BIG DEAL. Lots of struggling, disagreement, desperate prayer.  It is okay for that to be a big deal. None of us are going to interpret the Bible exactly correctly every time.  We have to do the best we can, with humility, and be ready to acknowledge when we've gotten something wrong. Then regroup and try to do better.

So today I ask the Church to consider a big job: to look at the Bible again. REALLY look at it. Look at the original language, look at it through cultural lenses (huge pet-peeve of mine: to interpret the Bible for today's culture without taking into account the culture in which it was written). Because one way I trust an interpretation of the Bible is to see if it actually can be true across time, across cultures, across socio-economic lines. If it can't be true for everyone, we must not have interpreted it correctly. Because God was pretty clear that his message is for EVERYONE.

I'm not asking Christians to accept same-sex relationships today. I'm asking you to take a fresh look. Read commentaries, books, articles on BOTH sides of the issue. Read books you think you'll agree with and then read some that you know you won't.  Pray about it. Pray that our hearts will be open to the PEOPLE who are gay. Because they are people who are dearly loved by God. Jesus would have come and died for each and every one of them, even if the rest of us were never called into existence. They are beloved. And they've been mistreated as a whole by the Church at large. I think this issue is important enough to merit this kind of attention and study. Because how it's being handled right now is causing pain on all sides. Let's be open and loving. Let's talk to our gay neighbors and friends and say, "let's figure this out together because I know we aren't supposed to be enemies." You cannot speak truth into someone's life until they know how much you love them. I cannot tell someone how much Jesus loves them if they don't know how much I love and respect them first.

It is time to look at original language, to look at the culture in which different parts of the Bible were written. It is time to learn and listen with fresh eyes and open hearts. The Bible is our message from our Creator. It can hold up to scrutiny. And the more I read the Bible, the more it makes me wrestle with tough issues and then I doubt. But then the more I lean on God for answers, the stronger my faith becomes. I can stand firm in my faith when I've really wrestled with it, when I've doubted and read and prayed over things that bother me.

I have a feeling we may come to different conclusions after doing such research. I think it's interesting when that happens. That's how we have differences between denominations. I wonder if, when the Church as a whole isn't provided absolute clarity and unity on something if that means it's not supposed to be a major issue.  Could it be that there is room for churches who love gay people and acknowledge they are acceptable to God for who they are yet still believe God does not affirm same-sex relationships and walk with their gay church-members on a journey to live a life of celibacy AND for churches who openly affirm gay marriage as Biblical and walk with gay members as they live a life with a partner? And then, if someone is gay, he or she can lean on God to find which church is best for him/her? Some gay people have wrestled with the Bible and come out believing God would not bless a same-sex relationship. Some have wrestled with the Bible and come away believing that he would. Given that this is not a particular issue I struggle with, I do not feel that I should be the one to tell them which one is right but I would always extend the hand of friendship to figure it out together. The Church already disagrees on so many other issues that are not central to the gospel. Whether you love a man or a woman has nothing to do with Jesus dying on the cross. It is not central to the gospel.

Right now, the Church as a whole doesn't have clarity.  For me, when I'm unclear on something, I just go back to what I am clear on: I am to make disciples (that means relationships with others that bring them closer to God), to love, to fight oppression and injustice, to love the unlovable, to put myself last and others first so that they may feel the love of Christ.

May we hold that dear as gay marriage becomes legal in NC.


Are you in? Are you ready to wrestle with the Bible and learn more? Here's a good place to start:

First, learn about "Side A" (God does affirm same-sex relationships) and "Side B" (God does not affirm same-sex relationships). Read The Great Debate (links to essays on each PLUS a link to an interview with Tony and Peggy Campolo on how Christians from both "sides" can stand united)

Read "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate" by Justin Lee (this book in the end affirms same-sex relationships but is written with grace and respect for those who believe the Bible does not affirm). It's kind of a Side A and Side B with more Side A leanings kind of book. :)

Read this Q&A with a gay Christian who has chosen celibacy rather than acting on same-sex attraction (Side B): http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-celibate-gay-christian-response-2

Read: "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines. This book presents a look at Scripture as God-breathed and true AND supportive of same-sex relationships. "Side A"

Read "Washed and Waiting" by Wesley Hill. This is a "Side B" book written by a celibate, gay Christian.

And PRAY. Pray for wisdom and clarity, for understanding for those who have also dug deep and researched and have come out with different ideas.  Pray for unity for the Church on this issue (unity doesn't always mean agreement). Pray for blessings upon our gay friends, pray that the God of peace would make himself overwhelmingly felt right now, pray that our actions would inspire others to run to Jesus.

Friday, October 3, 2014

If:Greensboro



If God is who he says he his, then what? What do we do? How do we live out a life of faith? And how can we, as women, allow God to use us?


Y'all, God does big stuff. He just does. And he could just do it himself but for reasons beyond my wildest imagination, he uses us. He allows us to be part of his plans. Big, giant, God-sized plans. And we can be part of them. That's amazing. I, for one, do not want to miss out.

And I have seen how God works through women. I'm excited to be living in a time when the Church is acknowledging more and more that women are valuable to the Kingdom of God, that women are (and always have been) used by God to bring peace, to love others, to restore justice. We are not secondary players.

Last year I had the absolute honor of leading a small group of women to do an If:Local Gathering. Along with more than 44,000 women we joined (via webcast) the If:Gathering in Austin, Texas. We listened to women like Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp, authors who inspired and encouraged us. We heard from Christine Cane and Annie Lobert who work tirelessly because of their love for Jesus to bring women and children out of the modern-day sex trade. We heard from women who identified themselves as conservative and from those who identify as progressive, all calling us to put down our measuring sticks and focus on how we can join together.  Most importantly, we spent time together being honest and vulnerable, struggling with how we felt God calling us to be bold. We laid down our differences and realized that our small group of women could do some amazingly big things together.

No wonder I can't wait to host If:Greensboro this year!

Our plan this year is to rent a house (or two) on Ocean Isle, NC. To get away for the weekend, away from distractions and worries and responsibilities, to focus on how we want to live as women of faith.  It is going to be an incredible weekend of gathering together, for women from different churches and backgrounds, to worship and learn, and be encouraged to run boldly after God.

In order for me to ensure we have enough room for all of us, please register by October 31st. Once I know how many women we'll have, I'll book us a place. I'm working hard to keep it right around $100 per person for lodging.

Registration is here: https://ifgathering.com/gatherings/5113/

Click for some more info on the If:Gathering



Monday, September 29, 2014

Everything happens for a reason...



Except I don't believe that. I really don't. It sounds nice and I think those are supposed to be words of comfort. And maybe if I gain all God's wisdom after I die, I'll look back and understand all the reasons for things. But right now, I don't actually think everything happens for a reason.

At least not a good one.

I have folks around me suffering.  People I know and love are fighting cancer and disease, losing children, being abused, starving to death, falling into the disease of addiction. I lost my dad to a couple of those things just a few short months ago.

The only reason I can come up with for that is that this world is broken.

But don't get me wrong. I believe God can use all things for good. And that's why I have hope in the midst of this messed up, wrong world.  I don't believe God's will is for mothers to lose babies, for women to be raped, for children to be abandoned, for the disease of addiction to tear families apart. But he calls us to love - to love the mothers who have lost children and to grieve with them; to fight for the oppressed and help abused women regain their sense of value, to be families for children who need them, to extend a hand to the addict to help them to recovery. To be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I think our calling to be peace-makers and justice-fighters and care-givers doesn't provide the reason why things happen. It just tells us what to do in the face of such brokenness.

So while I don't believe everything happens for a reason I do have hope. I have hope that when things go awry in my life I know the One who can bring peace. I have hope that when I visit starving families in Swaziland that they can know the One who brings them joy.  I don't serve because I think I can fix all the problems. I do it because one day there will be no hunger, no despair, no fear, no sickness. Every time I feed someone who is hungry or grieve with someone who is suffering I proclaim the day when that will no longer happen, when God returns and everything is restored.

Maybe everything doesn't happen for a reason, but I can be a reason there's a little less suffering in this world. And right now, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God's Not Dead and Why We Need to Stop Defending the Gospel

In the very beginning of God's Not Dead, Josh Wheaton says, "I feel like God wants someone to defend him." For me, this was the moment in which the movie started to go awry.

Christians, we do not need to defend the Gospel. We do not need to defend God. God is GOD. He is all-powerful, all-sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave. He does not need a 17 year-old college freshman to defend him. Or a 35 year-old mostly stay-at-home mom either (did I say 35? I'm sorry, I meant 29). Honestly, y'all, I'm not worried about that Kingdom falling down out of the sky.

In all seriousness, here's exactly why we shouldn't defend the gospel: Because when I do that, I take my precious gospel, my good news, my hope and I ball it up and stick it behind my back. And then I turn and face anyone who doesn't value it like I do with my fists raised, ready to fight. I have just laid the lines clearly for "us" vs "them."  I plant myself firmly between "them" and God, barring their way. And in the process label "them" (anyone who is not a Christian) as the enemy.

I cannot simultaneously defend the gospel and share it. It ceases to be "Good News" when I have drawn lines in the sand AGAINST others.  I cannot defend God AGAINST someone and at the same time send them the message that God is FOR them. It is impossible.

But what about what the Bible says. Doesn't the Bible tell us to defend?

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV)

Look closely - it says be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." That means that if someone asks me why I live my life the way I do, I make no secret that I am who I am and I live how I live because Jesus has filled me so full of love that it can't help but spill over. I cannot help but be worried about the poor, fight for the oppressed, visit the imprisoned, and love the neglected because Jesus has made my heart like his. I can't help but love my neighbors, I want to be the best friend I can be because I know that's the best way for me to love others like Jesus.  And in order for anyone to have cause to ask me, I need to be living my life in relationship with other people. I can't have only Christians in my circle. I must be living a life so full of hope that someone notices and pauses to ask me why. It doesn't say I should start an argument, nor does it say that I should "fight fire with fire."

And did you notice? When I tell them about my hope, I am to do it with gentleness and respect.

I feel like God's Not Dead missed a beautiful opportunity. It could have been a movie that opened up lines of discussion, that sent a message to the masses that God is FOR you, that tore down the lines of "us vs them." But instead it built them up. Instead, it sent a message to anyone who doesn't identify as Christian that Christians don't think very highly of them.  Think about it - every single nonbeliever in this movie was not just someone who didn't love Jesus, they were horrible people. The plot was so unrealistic it that I had to set the storyline down to even think about underlying issues.  The only likable character was Josh Wheaton. 

We need to listen to the response to this movie, Christians. I spent hours researching the movie online, reading reviews, I talked to many friends who watched the movie. Then, instead of watching it alone, I invited three of my close friends to watch it with me (none of whom identify themselves as "Christian.")

So what did I find when I listened? I heard some Christians tell me they were uplifted, that they loved the movie, that it was inspiring. But from people who don't identify as Christian? They said they felt offended, devalued, that the line between "us" and "them" was strengthened (and that they had been relegated to "them"). Worse, I read reviews from Christians online that celebrated the movie because "it sticks a thumb in the liberal’s eye and finally turns the tables on them, in that it portrays them as the evil ones as opposed to Christians and conservatives." (from a post here that goes on to poke fun at negative reviews others left about the movie.)  And while that seems to be an extreme quote, I saw plenty of other reviews in that same vein.  I fail to see gentleness or respect there. 

I'm not saying it's not okay to make a movie "for Christians." I suppose that's fine. And I am going to assume that the intentions of the producers of God's Not Dead were good. I'm not sure I even fault them for making the movie. What upsets me is the culture in American Christianity that teaches it is okay to view non-Christians as the enemy, that it is a positive thing to defeat another person, that it's okay to portray people groups as stereotypes if they aren't Christians.  A culture that says "my Christian preferences should trump yours!"  I hear you saying, "but that's what they do to us!"... I acknowlege you. Yes, that happens, but look back at 1 Peter 3:9: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.”

And when Christian morale-boosting happens at the expense of the people we are supposed to love, we need to take a good hard look at the results of our actions. I want to point people towards Jesus because he's my hope; I want to point people toward Jesus because I want them to know that God loves them, that he accepts them just as they are because Jesus died for them long before they were born.  And if a movie that makes some Christians feel good about themselves makes non-Christians feel devalued, we have missed the mark.

And my friends who watched the movie with me? These women I trust, women whose opinions matter to me, women who are open-minded and intelligent, who are part of my Mom-Network and are helping me raise my kids to be good people - - they found the movie offensive.  Honestly, so did I. We had a lengthy discussion after the movie was over. Our main consensus was that it made the lines between "us" and "them" very clear and strengthened stereotypes about people groups (Muslims, women, Asians, atheists). I asked them if the movie made them feel any differently about God. The answer was a resounding no. Instead, they said that the movie made them want to distance themselves from anyone who would defend the movie.

And then they offered me a beautiful gift. They told me that they don't judge all Christians because of this movie. They said they know I respect them. They offered me grace, even though people from "my group" made a movie that was offensive to them.  They commented how they liked the part in the movie where Josh Wheaton confirms that we all have a choice.  They were the ones who pointed out to me that Josh Wheaton was a likable character. These friends of mine are a blessing. 

I believe we can be united and respectful together. My most positive take-away from this is that my friends agreed to come watch this movie with me even though I told them I was afraid it might offend them. They were willing to hang out and talk about matters of faith and issues of divisiveness.  They know that I believe Jesus loves them. I know that they respect my beliefs, just as I do theirs.  Our relationships will continue. I see God in those friends. He has used them to help me be a better mom, to help me grieve the loss of my dad, to help me try to make sense of injustices. God has blessed me through those relationships.  My life would be worse if these ladies weren't in it and I can't even imagine them being a "them."  God doesn't love me more, doesn't give me more, doesn't value me more than he does them.  We are an "us." 


**semantic disclaimer (that my husband told me I need to include): when I say "defend" I don't mean saying, "this is what I believe to be true and here's why..." No problems there. I mean "defend" in terms of pitting yourself against another in order to prove them wrong. When the point is to win, we've already lost.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I'm sad and that's okay.

Grief sucks.

That's my main thought on how I feel sometimes. Y'all, I miss my dad. Terribly. Every time I have some paperwork to fill out or decision to make about his estate, it makes me so sad. I don't want his money, I don't want his stuff. I just want him to still be here. And then there's all the milestones - his birthday, a new school-year starting, all three kids have had birthdays since he passed away. He'll never see them be 8, 6, and 4. My birthday is coming up and he always made an effort to be in NC with me on my birthday. I always thought it was silly, since I'm not a big birthday person but now I'm dreading this year's birthday without him.

But that's all okay. I'm not upset that I'm sad. I'm just sad. I am supposed to be - I've lost someone I dearly love.

We live in a culture that tells us we are supposed to be strong, that we are supposed to move on, carry on. Facebook is full of "inspirational quotes." Avoid anger, sadness, frustration. Those are bad things.

But you know what? Those are emotions. Emotions are healthy. When unjust things happen, I should be angry. When sad things happen, I should feel sad. When frustrating things happen, I should feel stressed-out. I don't have to stay that way, and I certainly don't like it, but feeling how I feel is part of being healthy.

I'm not saying we should get bogged down in that stuff. I'm a huge fan of focusing on the positive, of choosing good over bad. But right now... I'm sad. And that's okay.

So if you're sad today, that's okay. I'm sad with you. We'll feel better later.  And my joy is that much sweeter when I've walked through pain. God doesn't abandon us on days we aren't feeling strong. It's not a failure to feel sad. He's just going to have to carry me today until I'm strong again tomorrow. And that's okay too. I can glorify him in my weakness just as I can in my strength.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When your joy is forever tangled up in someone else's grief

Today is a precious day for our family. Not only is it my oldest child's birthday, it is also the day that I walked out of the orphanage with my youngest child in my arms, bringing him with me to the guest house in Ethiopia where we'd live until we were given clearance to come home to the US and to the rest of our family.

We don't really do anything to "celebrate" this day. We have so many dates related to Amani joining our family: the day we received our referral and first learned who he was, the day we first met him, the day we passed court, the day he left the orphanage to live with me in Ethiopia, the day we finally landed at the Charlotte airport and came home to live all together as a family of five. And, of course, we celebrate Amani's birthday.


Riley first met Amani in Ethiopia in July 2011 when we were there for court
Allyn didn't meet him until we landed at the Charlotte airport in Oct 2011.
Her first big sister kiss!

So why is it hard to celebrate? Well, every step of that process is not only about our joy from adding a child to our family. It is also the tragedy and trauma of my child's life. It is the steps taken for him to lose his birth parents and his birth country. It's the terror he experienced when he was taken from the orphanage - the only place he knew as home - and into the arms of a strange woman who didn't speak his language, who didn't know how he liked to be held, or how to prepare the foods he was used to.

It is impossible to celebrate without acknowledging the loss. And not fair to my child to pretend that adoption is just joy. He has gained much in our family, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that he has also lost much.

So we don't over-celebrate adoption stuff. Of course we are overjoyed that Amani has joined our family. We just aren't overjoyed about why it had to happen and what he had to go through.  I will never forget that my joy is tangled up in another woman's grief.  As a mother, Amani's birthmom is on my mind all the time. Especially on days like today.

So, dear Birthmom. We love you. We love your boy. So much. He's growing up and loves to dance and play games. He loves his school and his friends. And everywhere we go, people tell me that his smile lights up the room. I imagine that same smile across the ocean on the faces of his birth family. Our boy embodies joy. And we will always honor you on days that we honor his adoption.  You will always have a special place in our family and in our hearts. Grace and peace to you, mama. Rest your heart, your boy is well loved.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Uh Oh Game

We've been playing a lot of this game lately and I can't believe I haven't shared this with y'all yet!

Let me introduce you to the greatest game ever invented:

The Uh Oh Game!

I don't honestly know where this came from or who made it up. A friend of mine told me about it (kind of by accident, which is a funny story) and Amani LOVES it.

The Uh Oh Game is perfect for preschoolers who need a little help working on letter recognition but you can use it for anything: math facts, number recognition, colors, words in other languages, animals, shapes, whatever.

It is genius, I tell you.

Here's the game:


No lie. This is the whole thing. I cut up scrapbook paper into small squares, wrote letters on them, crumpled them up and stuffed 'em in a plastic container. 

Two pieces of paper have the words "uh oh" on them with a smiley face. You'll see why.

How to Play
Start by letting your child dump all the papers on the floor (this is fun already, right?)

Taking turns, one player picks up a crumpled piece, uncrumples it, and reads the letter. 

If he/she gets the letter correct, you are now playing basketball: Child gets to toss it into the plastic bin (we experiment with holding it up high, putting it far away, standing up over it and dropping the paper) and you do lots of celebrating. Keep trying till your paper goes in!

If the player can't identify it, work together to come up with the answer but it doesn't go in the bin, it goes back onto the floor (so it will be picked up again later). I often have Amani trace the letter with his finger, while we say the letter or while he thinks about it. And we say words that start with that letter too.

If you pick up the "uh oh" card - your child gets to dump the bin over his head or your head or whatever way he wants and the fun starts all over again.

Not hard to see why this is the greatest game ever.


Notes
We started with 10 letters or so, most of them being letters he already could recognize. The key is for your child to have LOTS of success playing the game. For example, he was great at recognizing the letters in his name, so I started with those and then added in two letters he had trouble with. And as we played, if it seemed like he was struggling with a particular letter, I'd add in another paper with that letter on it, so he'd come across it more often. I really try to make it so that there aren't more than 2-3 new letters in the bin at a time but each of those might be in there twice or even three times.

The "uh oh" cards don't go back onto the floor. Once one is found, I keep it next to me (otherwise the game would be NEVERENDING). That way, the game can be over once the bin is all full. Of course, you can always choose to keep playing.

Y'all. This game is so fabulous. Amani loves it. His older brother & sister love helping him play. And it REALLY helped him with letter recognition! You could even use it with spelling words for an older child (you uncrumple the paper and he/she has to spell the word to you).

And now your life is better. You are welcome.

Friday, September 5, 2014

GIVEAWAY

Want to win $180 worth of jewelry and accessories? 
I thought so!

I am so excited about this. I'm just really sad that I can't win. Maybe I can enter my own giveway under an alias?? No? Oh well...

My dear friend, Chris Cheek, is moving to Swaziland to live on Project Canaan for two years. She will be a mentor to the Aunties who work at El Roi, the baby care home, and a grandmother to the sweet babies (all 70 of them!).  In her own words, she goes to "etch hope into the lives of the children of Swaziland." If you know her, you already know what an amazing woman she is. I want to be her when I grow up, seriously.

She is retiring from her job in December so that she can move and she has to raise ALL of her living expenses in order to go and serve the people of Swaziland. And if you know anything about me, you know what an honor it is to be part of sending her! I love seeing how God works through women all over the world.

You can learn more about Chris and her plans to move to Swaziland on her blog HERE

And here's where you come in! You could win all of these beautiful items. All are handmade in Swaziland and the artisans who made them received a fair wage for their work.

This scarf is the main reason I am so sad I can't win this giveaway!

And these are the rest of the reasons I'm sad I can't win!

Forgive my lack of photography skills but hopefully this
gives you a better idea of what the earrings look like!

Here's what you win:
1 beaded heart keychain
4 small-bead stacking bracelets (one has the HOPE charm)
2 pairs of earrings - one blue bead pair, one brown wooden pair
2 large-bead bracelets, one with a Swazi coin
2 thread bangle bracelets (red and blue)
The striped scarf
All this together has a $180 value!

And it's easy to win! Make a tax-deductible donation to Heart for Africa to Chris's fund.
Every $15 donation gets you ONE entry, a $25 donation gets you TWO entries, and a $100 donation will get you TEN entries!!

Want an extra entry? Share on your FB page or on Pinterest and comment (with your FB/Pinterest name) to let me know you did!

Go HERE to donate, then comment on the blog to let me know you did!

She should get her list of donors from Heart for Africa at the end of the month. I'll check my list of commenters against that list so that I can see how many entries you have, and will announce the winner in the beginning of October!  

DON'T FORGET TO COMMENT - that is the only way I will know that you have entered the giveaway!!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ruined?

I don't listen to the radio much, but there's a guilty-pleasure morning radio show I sometimes listen to after I've dropped my kids off at school. I have about a 5 minute drive from their school to the Y or about a 12 minute drive home so I don't really get to hear much of what they say, but sometimes it makes me laugh.

This morning, it made me angry.

Today was a 5-minute-listen-day. But in the five-minute drive from our elementary school to the Y, I heard a conversation about how "having kids ruins a woman's body." The host was saying that he would gladly take on a pregnancy so that it would "ruin" his body instead and his wife could keep her figure, since women don't care as much about how a man's body looks.

I'm not sure what made me more mad: his presumption that his children "ruined" his wife's body or the fact that the others on his show were acting like he's a nice guy for his idea of how he might "save" his wife's body.

Can I tell y'all something? I do exercise regularly. Most weeks I can fit 3-4 days of exercise in. And it does keep me in the same-size clothing year-round. But that's not why I do it. My depression is better, my self-esteem is better, my stress-level is more manageable when I work out regularly because it means I'm taking care of myself. I want to be HEALTHY so I can run around with my three littles (or not-so-littles!) and keep up with them as long as possible. And, you know, be around to play with my grandkids. 'Cause they are going to be cute.

But I need to tell you this too: With all that exercise, my body is still "ruined."

I still pee my pants a little if I laugh too hard because of  two vaginal births. One of those made me a mom. The other made me a mom-of-a-daughter (which is, in my opinion, a slightly different creature).

I still have skin that sags around the middle. Probably from when I gained extra weight staying up late snacking while reading adoption blogs, crying over "THE CALL" posts, and clicking around on Google Earth just looking at Ethiopia. Other places are, um, a little less perky than they used to be too - let's just chalk that up to extended breastfeeding.

I have varicose veins in my legs. Probably from those above-mentioned pregnancies.

I have dark circles under my eyes. From late-nights and early-mornings.

I have back pain every day. From baby-wearing for 5 years straight. From bending over to address short-people a million times a day. From tying shoes and giving baths and heavy lifting. I wonder how many pounds of laundry I lift in a week.

And maybe my shape would change a bit if I didn't have those glasses of wine. The ones I drink with friends as we listen to one another, build each other up, commiserate. But I wouldn't give up those moments for all the money in the world.  I know I don't need the chocolate cupcakes I share "just because" with my kids. Or, um, the handfuls of chocolate chips I cram into my mouth when my kids stress me out. But I'm not giving those up either.

Because you know what else I have? Three beautiful children who call me "Mommy." Three distinct personalities I get to help learn how to shine. Three individuals who are going to change the world and I have the honor of shepherding them as they figure out exactly how.

This body of mine carries them when they are too tired, hugs them when they are hurting. My hands hold theirs to give them comfort, to protect, to guide. I fit them (all three sometimes) onto my lap for snuggles. My eyes, dark-circles and all, read books every night, check homework, and watch athletic events. Ruined? I don't think so.

Mamas, our bodies are not ruined. I pray my daughter never accepts that message. Bearing children is beautiful and amazing. The scars and "imperfections" my body now bears from childbirth and breastfeeding and the adoption process and just plain old MOTHERING are my badges of honor. I work hard to raise up good human beings. There is nothing ruinous about it.

Our bodies allow us to mother. Our bodies carry us through the day. Fine, maybe we don't look as good in bikinis anymore. I'll grant that radio-show-host that one. But as far as I'm concerned, the tasks that a mother's body does every day are nothing short of miraculous.

I am not ruined. And neither are you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Crazy, Ridiculous, Over-the-Top Harry Potter Party

We don't do big birthday parties. Ever. The biggest thing we've done was the year we rented a bounce house for the backyard but that was a party for all three kids (it's a bit of a perk to have three birthdays within a month.... but only when you can convince the kids to have one party all together).  My oldest has really only had one birthday party that was just for him - when he was 3. Plus, our whole family is super into Harry Potter. So when he asked to have a Harry Potter Birthday Party, I honestly couldn't help myself.

So here's what we did and how we did it!! We had a BLAST! I am so indebted to Pinterest and other people's blogs about their Harry Potter parties... so this is my contribution to the internet. ;)

I guess we should start with the invitations! I printed out a Hogwarts Acceptance Letter for each child, and we drove around delivering them by "Owl Post."  This was really fun. Riley dressed in his Harry Potter cloak to do it!



The Party

The front door! I made a Hogwarts Express Sign and the kids helped me make the brick "wall" to enter the house!


The Sorting Ceremony
Before the party, I texted all the moms and asked them to send me two words that described her child. We used those words to sort the kids into Hogwarts Houses. Then my husband wrote a little poem for each child and I made a bookmark with their House info on one side and their poem on the other.  My husband recorded the Sorting Hat poem and each child's poem (using a Sorting Hat voice, of course) and we hid a bluetooth speaker underneath the hat. We called each child up and had him touch the sorting hat. When he touched it, it played his poem!  I made a "Wizard Cloak" for each kid and placed the cloak around his shoulders as he was sorted. I was a little worried about this, that everyone would want to be in Gryffindor, but actually, most of them were super-happy with their sorting and a few decided Hufflepuff was the best house!
My Sorting Hat, Wands, and Sorting Hat Poem

I forgot to take a picture of the final setup, but we placed the Sorting Hat on that table. The Wizard Cloaks are hanging, ready to go, and the big sheet is for watching the Harry Potter movie later.  I made the giant frame out of a big piece of black matting board. We used it again later in the party - I love when things have double-uses!

Our Sorting Hat Song:



The Wand Choosing Ceremony

As you know, the wand chooses the wizard, so we called each child up to try out a few wands and see which one worked for him! We made up some spells to make animal noises or Jedi lightsaber/glass breaking noises and the kids tried out the spell. My husband was in the back selecting a sound effect.  It worked out really well. Typically, they'd go through 1-2 wands before getting the "right one" but then I could tell some of them didn't love the wand they got, so we let everyone try a few more spells to make sure. We made sure the spells "didn't work" for the kids who weren't in love with their wands and they switched out. I think everyone was happy in the end.  And they would laugh so hard when someone was supposed to be making glass break but instead they got a cow moo.

After the wand choosing, I let the kids pick the "core" for their wand. When I made the wands, I had my husband drill a wide hole in the bottom of each one. The kids got to pick dragon scales (sequins), unicorn hair (iridescent pipe cleaner) or phoenix feathers (craft feathers) and put them inside their wand. I was sitting with the hot-glue gun to seal it up when they were done. I got no pictures of this part because the thought of leaving a glue gun unattended with 11 eight-year-olds in my house was just too scary. ha.

I was pretty pumped with how my wands turned out! I think they look pretty realistic!

Potions Class
We have a basement, which was perfect for our Potions Class in the dungeon! 
Each Student had a cauldron, a pipette, a mason jar, and a plastic cup with a measurement marking. Black plastic spoons were on the table with the potions - I pre-treated them with food coloring so that the kids would be surprised when they stirred. I don't recommend this. They noticed the drops on the spoon and touched them... dye all over the place! I had baby wipes on hand though, so it was all good.

I made all the potions labels... special thanks to all my wine-drinking friends who brought me wine bottles after I posted a plea for them on Facebook!

Our Pepperup Potion - the kids actually got to drink these!
I may do a separate post with exactly what we did for potions.  It was mostly dry ice, baking soda and vinegar, and food coloring. We had so much fun. And the only major mess we had was made by ME - I accidentally dumped over one of the big glass canisters! The Hogwarts students were much more careful than I was! :)
He made a very good Professor Snape

Working on some Pepperup Potion

We made one potion out of non-toxic ingredients and told the kids it was a "Drowsiness Draught" and asked if anyone wanted to drink it.  Awesome Jackson did - this was his reaction! Of course then the boys started dipping one finger into the potion and pretending to fall down asleep. So fun!

This ended up being a very realistic experiment. We made Snape Slime but I used really cheap glue from Hobby Lobby. In the end, only two boys actually got real slime they could pick up in their cauldrons... just like at Hogwarts, some students are better at potions than others!
Gold Star to Caleb of Hufflepuff and Riley of Ravenclaw for their potion-making prowess!

Drinking their Pepperup Potion

This might be my most favorite picture from the whole night! Look how excited they were!
 Just a few drops of Hippogriff Snot changed their potion!

They weren't really licking it... but why in the world was that their inclination?!?!  :)

I didn't want to etch my glass canisters just in case I wanted to use them again for something else, so I used "glass etch" vinyl to cut out the Hogwarts Crest and put them on the Potions containers.
Dinner In The Great Hall



The kids really loved the floating candles!

Flaming Firewhisky - apple juice with a tealight floating on the top. I served these individually and made the kids blow out their tealight before I walked away, but this was a HUGE hit. 
BUTTERBEER!
Quote of the night from one of the boys:
"I love ice water. It's my favorite drink! Well, it was, but then you gave me that butterbeer stuff!"
Um, sorry Sarah!!

Quidditch Game in the Backyard!
Riley helped me spray paint some hula hoops, then my husband worked some magic and we had a Quidditch Pitch for the backyard!


We had three more rings on the opposite end of the yard


Our Quidditch Rules:
I had a snitch I had purchased (but you could make one by spray painting a golf ball and gluing on wings). The kids hid around the corner of the house while my husband hid the Snitch.
When the game started, each team tried to put the Quaffle through the rings and one player on each team was the Seeker and was looking around the yard for the Snitch. We had a timer and after 5 minutes, a new Seeker was selected. My two littles were "Bludgers" and they ran around and tagged the boys as they played. The original idea was that if you were tagged, you had to sit down and count to five. It had rained and it was really wet, so we ended up having the Bludgers tag the kids, but it didn't really mean anything!
Our broomsticks are just clippings from our yard and straw from a bale we got at Lowes.

Herbology

Re-potting Mandrakes! The cupcakes had chocolate frosting and we stuck a little baby mandrake inside (I glued treetops to the top of tiny baby favors)
Just before we sang Happy Birthday, we had a quick lesson on Mandrakes and their powers.

Azkaban BREAKOUT!
Unless the kids were really into Harry Potter, I think the significance of this activity was kind of lost on them, but the kids who did this thought it was fun! While everyone was getting their sleeping bags ready for movie-watching, I used that giant frame for a quick photo op. Not all the kids wanted to participate, but I got some great expressions from the ones who did:


Late-Night Snacks

I was pretty proud of the boys. I didn't put out much junk food at all, especially since we had cupcakes and butterbeer. They were really happy with the popcorn and fruit - or should I say Puffapod Seeds, Wizard Fruit, and Flesh-Eating Slug Eggs




The Fun Details
My favorite small detail was my Chocolate Frogs! I made the Chocolate Frog box and even made double-sided Wizard cards to go inside! Each boy got to take one home at the end of the party

House Frames - I had these printed out at Office Depot and stuck them in some frames I had around the house. The silver one is a fancy one we got for our wedding and I'm pretty sure I've never put a picture in it ever!

House Banner - I printed these out on burlap, mounted them onto colored felt and attached to a ribbon to make our House Banner

Chocolate Frogs and Hedwig. I REALLY wanted a caged Hedwig for the party but I was also trying not to spend a lot and to let Riley make as many decisions as possible (I love Harry Potter and it was hard for me not to completely take over and do everything how I wanted it). So he chose this little owl stuffed animal and the cage was on sale at Hobby Lobby.  It was a sweet detail... and now he gets to keep the owl. Plus it makes me giggle at how small the cage is for the poor thing!


Sooooo.... want to have your own Harry Potter Party? A friend of mine suggested that I pack up all my stuff and rent it out for a donation to my next trip to Swaziland. I am going again this January! So if you are interested in renting my props (or having me make wands, cloaks, or Chocolate Frog boxes) for a party, please let me know!!!