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Our final craft last year for Pocket Blessings was putting together smash books. It was my first time making one and decided to theme mine for mamahood and finding the joy in the daily. I searched and gathered and printed little quotes that were encouraging to me and smashed them together with pretty papers and stickers and the like. I ended up miss punching the holes to bind it together, never fully finishing it and tucking it nearly in to my craft cabinet.

I loved the thought of it and idea behind it and combining it with the concept of savoring joy moments by writing them down, enabling them to last longer. This lead me to creating sheets and templates and layouts. An easy print out of all the inspiration and quotes in one place, not so smashed together. A little more organized and a little more cohesive, which I find I am loving these days. Along with the inspiration, there are places to write down moments from the day that you enjoyed and a landing spot for you to look for the joy throughout the day when there seems none to be had.

It is a place to carefully look at life and what captures your heart and births thankfulness, despite the difficult or monotony of the day. Because life is about these moments. It is about breathing and laughing and finding the joy, no matter how hard or easy. It is about being fully present and feeling and thanking God for it all when it does not always make sense and choosing joy.

The notebook is a place to hold this season of life, the moments that make up your life from the grandiose to the minute. There are places for pictures and writing and washi tape and whatever else floats your boat. You can number them or date them. The ideas are limitless.

For Pocket Blessings this past month, we put together these little notebooks, so I thought I would share them with other mamas out there. Here's a little how to, if you are curious and looking for direction. 

The details:
To make the cover:

We cut cereal boxes and cover board down to 8.5" x 5.5" using a rotary cutter. Chipboard or old books would work great, too.

We covered them with paper and fabric. I personally loved the paper covers, they were a little easier to cover. A 12" x 12" paper can cover both the front and back, when cut in half. I left the insides uncovered but they can be covered, too.

Punch holes with a crop a dile. Depending on your thickness, you could use a hole punch but it will not have the fun and durable eyelets to finish it off, like so. 

There are a total of 28 different pages to print, which works best if you print on both sides.
Pages can be inserted in any order and reprinted to change the order of the pages.

Cut pages in half and hole punch. Be sure to punch holes at the same measurement as the cover.
Add rings and it is finished and ready to be decorated. 

Create one for yourself and one for a friend. They make a perfect gift for a new mom or an experienced one. If you make one, be sure to share your awesomeness via #findthejoytoday. 

Follow along and subscribe via email to get the free PDF download emailed to you. 

I met Julie and her friend, Jennifer in the hotel Starbucks when I attended the Allume Conference last fall. I ordered a drink and was planning on taking in the downtown view from the outside patio, soaking in just being there  across the country - childless, without any expectations and a God adventure on my sleeve (I have found it is easier to be open to these sorts of things when traveling alone, be to it to the grocery store or library or across the country, wherever it leads)  but as I waited for my name to be called, I started talking to Julie and Jennifer.

They invited me to enjoy the morning with them on the patio and I agreed. They were sweet and real and hospitable, even in an unfamiliar Starbucks. We spoke of God and life and our children and the fact we had no idea what we were doing at this conference, all as first time attendees but knew that this is where God was calling us to at this moment in time.

Julie is one of those easy to talk to people and real and deep and speaks with love and grace. Her heart is in each word she says and her authenticity is evident. She cares for her family and people and what God is doing in each person.

She shared about her book she was working on and we exchanged contact info, as we indulged in the last of our drinks and parted ways.

We have stayed in touch and she was gracious enough to share part of her journey in the Hearing God series at the beginning of the year. And now I am super excited to announce that the message that God has put on her heart to share, which is never easy to share, is being released today in her first book, No More Secrets: Set Free from Fear, Shame and Control by Discovering True Grace.

I was blessed with the privilege to get an advanced copy of the book a few weeks ago and read it through in one night. I love Julie's honesty and transparency to be herself and share issues that she has overcome through Christ. We do not all have the same struggles or the same fears but her message reaches past the actual struggle to the freedom from whatever is holding us back. Freedom that is found and rooted and Christ. Julie was sweet enough to let me pick her brain about her new book, so without further ado, here she is.


How did God lead you in to compiling your experiences in to a book?

Writing is how I process. So during this year of intense struggle, I filled my journal with thoughts, prayers and examples of all God taught me through His Word. I started blogging again and shared some of my journey there. One day I was sitting at the computer and I heard the Lord say, Ok, I want you to compile it all. I thought about it for weeks, and I couldn’t shake the sense that I was to turn this journey into a book.

I didn’t know if compiling it was for my continued processing and healing or if it would one day be a published book. So I just kept taking the next step. When I finished compiling everything I had written during that year, and read over it all several times, I put it away for a few months, continuing to pray for God’s guidance.

One day the next step was clear: find an editor. I found a writers’ group nearby, and so decided to check it out. My first time there, I hoped to just observe, but quickly found out I was the only one with material to read. Before I started reading, I told the leader, “I feel like God is asking me to make this a book.  So I want you to tell me if you think it has that potential.” When I finished reading the first chapter, she confirmed, yes, this could definitely be a book.

On the way home, I was unable to contain the tears from spilling down my cheek, totally overwhelmed at what God had put in front of me. The publishing process itself made me want to quit so I tried complaining to God about how I can’t do this. After I finished whining, I remember Him saying, But do you trust me? I decided then, my job was to write and what happened after that was up to Him.

Now here we are. He provided a wonderful editor that challenged me and pushed me to be more specific about my struggles. He carved out time for me to focus on finishing this project and I look forward to seeing what He does with these words.

"We think our church friends only want to hear the good stuff. We think we need to be strong for them and not let them see us hurting. Now we don’t have to wallow in self-pity, but we can be real. We must be real. We all need a place to share our brokenness, our temptations, and ask for prayer and help to overcome.: (No More Secrets) How has letting go of your fears and shame changed your friendships and yourself as a friend?

It’s funny you ask about friends. Circumstances in my life have changed so much over the last year that it’s actually been a lonely time for me. That plus all the time behind the computer it takes to write a book, I feel like my personal friendships have suffered.

I will say that the year I wrote this book, I identified fear of man as a big stronghold in my life. I care about what people think of me and I hate it when my actions negatively affect someone else.  

Sometimes even our obedience can do that. The Proverb says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We sharpen each other while we walk out what we sense God asking us to do. God had to break this fear of man in me so I will look to His approval over the approval of my friends.  This has hurt a few friendships lately and been very difficult.

"I just have to trust Him. Words that are so much easier to write than actually live out each day. To just keep walking when the road ends takes faith." (No More Secrets) What does trusting God look like practically in your life now and how has that changed since you were younger?

I would say earlier in my walk with God I had a set of expectations of how, when, and where I wanted God to answer my prayers. I expected Him to do certain things and when He didn’t, I grew frustrated.

I’ve learned to turn my expectations into expectancy. He hears my prayers and wants to answer me. He just may not do it like I want, when I want. Expectancy knows He will answer, and is eagerly on the lookout for how that will play out.

How have you grown since writing the book?

Oh goodness, I’ve grown leaps and bounds in this whole process. Dealing with fear is an on going process for me, rather than a once-and-for-all done deal. It seems to come in waves, but I’m getting quicker at recognizing fear’s footprints and dealing with it before it paralyzes me.

What is your biggest take away for readers? 

As long as we walk this earth, we’re going to be tempted. Often this temptation comes in the form of what we thought we could never do. Temptation itself is not sin, but temptation is not something to take lightly or think we are strong enough to handle. It wants to destroy us!

I love my husband’s illustration I share in the book about living life in a round room. A round room has no corners. Everything must be brought to the center and dealt with. It’s much easier to handle difficult issues when we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

This topic isn’t talked about much in the Christian community, especially when it comes to thinking too much about the opposite sex. That’s almost taboo. My prayer is that we can find the courage to talk about these issues and get them in the light. I see affairs affecting more and more families and it all starts in the mind. We have to figure out how to handle our thoughts and the temptations Satan sets for us, otherwise they turn into sin and eventually death.

A special thanks to Julie for sharing her story. You can find more about Julie on her blogFacebook page and of course in her book available on Amazon. 

I have heard people say gifts and talents change over the course of time and for some, perhaps that is true. But I have come to find that it is more like a funneling system. Putting in all the things you have tried or want to try and experimenting and seeking God through it all. Everything goes down but not everything fits. Not everything fits in to our lives, in our schedules or makes sense in this season. But at the core, the core of our being, are things we were designed to do that make us feel fully alive. We may suppress them or deny them or confuse them with something else that pays better is more conveniently located but they are still there. Just waiting. Waiting to spring to life. Waiting for birth.

I like to think that the roots start somewhere in childhood, intermingled in the day dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up and in the ways you spent your time and the hobbies you pursued and the classes you looked most forward to or the things that came most naturally. The things that kept you up at night trying figure out or explore or work on. One more brush stroke. One more pitch. One more song. One more equation. One more mile. One more speech. One more. One more.

The words discovering and yourself , when put next to each other, have always seemed so silly, with an awkward connotation; as if you are a thing you have to explore and in the background the song Normal, from Nightmare on Puberty Street plays, questioning "Am I Normal?" It is here that you lose the best of yourself, taking yourself for granted because those things are easy and everyone can do them.

But the reality is,  not everyone can do that and those are the things that make you, uniquely you. And some discovering is in order. An uncovering and prodding and digging of sorts. It is coming to a place of truly understanding yourself. Coming to understand what makes your heart jump and what makes your eyes take a double look and what makes you feel most alive. What makes you pray harder and takes you out of yourself. What makes you feel closest to God and makes you depend on him more. Doing what you love and loving what you do. There is a reason. And for some, you may earn a paycheck from it and for some you will never see a penny and it may cost you everything but gives birth to life, truly living and that is worth it.

For me, writing is one of those things. It reminds me of all the words out there to play with that are at my fingertips. It is inspiration bouncing around thoughts and grabbing my phone to write them down before they fall off the edge. Writing is engrained somewhere in my DNA, next to ice cream lover and doodler and maker of sorts.

There are seasons of blank papers and others brimming to overflowing and it has not always been so clear how it makes me tick but that has been part of the process and prodding and fun of discovery. The light bulb turning on and God's guidance and confirmation. 

It is the breaks that so often give way to the birthing process. Breaks are good and essential but always a tell tale sign when you get back to it. It could be the realization the project / work / job / hobby / insert something else here, was not life giving or needs to go in another direction or something you truly missed. An absence in your soul.

And for me, with each key hit, it is as if rainbows and sunbeams are bursting from the key board and life is coming back in to existence, back in to the rhythm. Not always. But those days are the best. 

Here's to funneling and prodding and discovering. 
I have yet to participate in a Five Minute Friday post. A post where a word is given out and you take five minutes to write whatever comes to mind right them. Just five minutes and no editing. Timed writing always seems to make my head swirl and lack focus, an area that needs improvement, so I finally decided to give it a try (though I thought I had before). Not to mention, Ricardo challenged me to post something this week and I always love a challenge and I have missed setting time to write lately. So here is what whole and five minutes look like to me.

My birthday weekend was spent with a suprise-ish trip to Redding, complete with an Art Sozo class and trip to Bethel Church, staying at a cutest little Air BnB, with an amazing view of the city. I had never heard of a Sozo, ultimately thinking were doing a similar art concept to Paint Night. They have a picture to draw and show you step by step.

But that is nothing of the sort and we were in for a fun surprise. As it turns out, a Sozo is about healing and wholeness and God bringing out it all and when you add art to the mix, it is a canvas for him to show you in a visual form. Always healing.

Our first exercise to use the paint involved colors and shapes and God showing what four feelings were revealed in each. Anger. Peace. Sadness. Joy.

For me, sadness was not being whole Sadness was all things blue and in the shape of a macaroni noodle. Little semi circles, incomplete and lacking wholeness.

Being whole is a process of healing and God and self reflection. It is being empowered and driven towards God and people and loving yourself right where you are at. Something God has taken me through and continues to draw out. 

You can join the fun with #fmfparty here.

We are excited to announce our adoption of Ryland James, as of February 19th, he is officially a member of the family. In honor of our celebration, I will be sharing our journey in to fostering and adopting in a few short posts. Fostering is near to our hearts and our prayer is that God would open yours, too, to see what he has in store for your family and maybe our journey would be some encouragement to get you started. (If you missed them, here are parts one and two and three.)

It has been a beautiful, crazy time going from two to three. Days filled with holding one child and carrying another and prepping snacks and washing bottles and making sure dance parties are still part of the everyday. Accompanied by lots of firsts. First time with two in diapers. First time having regular visits with numerous social workers. First time having bottles of formula piling up by the sink. First time forgetting to pack a bottle. The months and adjustments danced by.

In October, all parental rights were terminated and we waited out the appeal period over the holidays. Everything was going as had been assumed. It felt a little eerie but exciting, none the less. He already fit right in the family. We signed our adoption placement paperwork on January 19th and awaited our finalization date.

The night before the final court signing it really hit me. This was the end. No family was coming forward. Social workers would no longer be involved. No more meetings or water temping or extra paper work for the doctors. No strings attached. He was to be ours. Officially.

We made it to the court house with no time to spare. Ricardo paid for parking and I left our diaper bag at security. We met with our social workers, one of whom was unable to be there for signing. We declared we were ten years older than Ryland to the judge and signed our son in to our family, officially.

The receiving of a gift like this is hard to put in words. There are so many dynamics and people involved in fostering. My heart broke for his mama, whom we have yet to meet. And for her family and their history, which we know merely a drop of. It broke for the loss the connection and love but rejoiced in God's blessing of choosing him for us. He is chosen, as are the babies I birthed. God chose and consecrated them for us.

There is a tendency towards some sort of ownership that takes place between conception and birth. The uncomfortable sleepless nights and heart burn and extra weight on the scale all takes you one step closer to becoming the owner. You work so hard giving up your favorite foods and cutting back on others and endure constant back pain and swelling feet knowing it will all be worth it in the end when you hold your little one for the first time.

 Being given a baby without strings attached, so to speak, without putting in the physical work and enduring labor pains is a different sort of gift in its entirety.

 The miracle presents itself as that, and rightly so. The gift is just that. A gift. A gift from God revealing his nature of redemption and restoration.

To be given the gift of a baby is nothing short of a miracle but receiving the gift of someone else's is like getting a double helping of the miraculous in a beautiful, broken kind of way.

When you get pregnant, you expect to give birth and have a child but when you sign up for foster to adopt, you are opening up the unexpected. Learning about giving and taking away.

It brings thoughts of baby feet or tiny toddler hands and endless possibility. Where they will go. Who they will follow. Who they will lead. And whether it be for a time or a life time we get to experience the journey and see the paths marked out for them.

Whether or not they will be with us forever is not if importance but whether we will love them like they will be, is. Ownership is not part of the equation. They are God's children. As are those we birthed.  And we get to demonstrate love to them like he loved us.

If there is one thing about our family and fostering, reunification is always on our hearts. As we hear stories of the broken families and traumatic pasts, we also know the power and redemptive work of God. We are not better than the parents who are struggling with addictions or priorities and we are not here to swoop in and save their children. We are here to come along side a hurting and broken family and love them where they are at. To love their children the best we know how, while they get help. To pray for a miracle for them and their family to be fully restored. But if that is not possible, we are here to care for them as our own, though our prayers of redemption never stop.

We are ready to put our hearts in a blender. To love children who may not know love and love their parents who may not know it, either.

When God does something, he does not merely do the minimum, he goes beyond our wildest dreams and makes something amazing to share with others. To share of his grace and peace in the process and surrounding us with a group of friends to pray for us and everyone involved the entire time. And family and friends to carry us as we adjusted and went to appointments and entered in to a fuller and richer life. And for that, we are ever thankful. 

We sit here nine months after being certified, having grown our family from four to five, thankful for his gift. And pretty sure that God is not leading us to stop here, whatever that means - whatever adventures await us. 

We are excited to announce our adoption of Ryland James, as of February 19th, he is officially a member of the family. In honor of our celebration, I will be sharing our journey in to fostering and adopting in a few short posts. Fostering is near to our hearts and our prayer is that God would open yours, too, to see what he has in store for your family and maybe our journey would be some encouragement to get you started. (In case you missed them, here are parts one and two.)

When we filled out our paper work determining the criteria of the children we would be willing to take, it felt a little inhumane. Which race? Which gender? How old? Which of these special needs are you comfortable with? With every question, the thought of saying no to someone became real. My child could have special needs. I could birth a child with special needs. I have not raised a child that old yet. The thoughts went on.

We ended up being pretty open, according to our social worker, and namely set the age - a child from birth to five years. We were expecting an older child because that is typically how it goes. But to our surprise, our adoption adventure was not to be a typical story.

Three days after our first baby left, a Friday morning, my cell phone rang again, as I stood in our backyard pushing Penny on the swing. This time just a few details of two day old baby boy who would be coming home from the hospital the following day came across the line. His tests were negative. He was healthy. Would we take him? Oh, and by the way, he was up for adoption.

We had an entire day to prep all the newborn gadgets. To wash the car seat and assemble the swing and buy diapers and bottles and purchase another crib, as Jude was still in one and not ready to give it up. Typically, there is merely a few hours at most before the arrival, we were blessed with a day.

Driving to the hospital to pick him up was surreal. Ricardo was working and Penny and Jude were with my aunt. I met with our social workers in front of the hospital to fill out paper work, empty car seat in hand, ready to be filled with new beginnings - the first possibly long term child to be placed in our home.

We were blessed with the sweetest social worker through out the process, who asked if I would like to take a picture there. I was hesitant at first but even if he would not stay in our care long term, I reasoned, at least he would know someone loved him from the beginning and could be put in his baby book. Enter semi-awkward first picture.

Signing the hospital discharge papers in the mom spot and taking his little bag of belongings to my car and placing him in the car seat for his first ride home, to our home, is hard to put in to words. I had not birthed himI was not his mom, nor did I know I would be, yet I was allowed this sacred space, pen in hand.  

Who gets to enjoy a newborn without any of the physical work involved? Without months of food aversions and growing waste line and the pain of delivery. It was like Christmas caring for a newborn without the recovery. 

This was the child we had been praying for the past few years. 

Saturday morning, our agency called us informing us that despite his adoption status from the previous day, we were being considered the emergency placement home by the county. They reassured us that they would talk with the county workers but nothing was certain.

It was a reminder of the complexity of the system and a reminder that we had opened up our home for this, for this baby, however long he would stay. However long God had him in our care. And it was another opportunity to fully trust God.

We spent the next few weeks getting use to our new normal, with an out pouring of love from our friends and family via dinners and babysitting.

We met with social workers and talked with attorneys and loved our tiny baby as if he were our own. Penny and Jude took to him without hesitation. Hugs and kisses, though sometimes a little over zealous, were constantly being had. 

We met with Ryland's adoption social worker when he was a  mere two weeks old. Nothing was certain but it had been decided we were to be his adoptive parents, if relatives did not come forward.

We are excited to announce our adoption of Ryland James, as of February 19th, he is officially a member of the family. In honor of our celebration, I will be sharing our journey in to fostering and adopting in a few short posts. Fostering is near to our hearts and our prayer is that God would open yours, too, to see what he has in store for your family and maybe our journey would be some encouragement to get you started. (You can find part one here.)

We enjoyed our new little family, as we went from three to four, adding a boy to the mix. Jude was born December 2013 and we adjusted and enjoyed the craziness of caring for two littles. 

We attended a friend's wedding in October 2014 in Reno. While we were in the area, we visited with friends we had been blessed to walk with through their journey of fostering to adopt. Our friend is a pastor and we stayed for service. It was Orphan Sunday. Tears ran down my cheeks as I listened. My heart continuing to break for the children. For the child God had for us. I have never cried so much in a service. Or knew without a doubt that we had to start the certification process again. There was a child waiting for us.

We contacted our agency and got started filling out packets of paperwork and all the fun things you do to get ready. We were thankful that some of our past interviews were kept, which sped up the process and we knew what to expect this time.

We had planned to go through months, if not years, of court dates and visits and prayers for families and reunifications and everything else that a typical foster to adopt process takes in order to end up in adoption. Everything we had heard and seen others walk through its doors. 

We had prepared ourselves as best as we could, while we installed new locks on the cabinets and spent hours in more trainings (I have to add, these trainings were AMAZING and every parent should take them; not to mention yummy food is provided) and rearranged our home to accommodate another little person and completed the check list of county regulations. We were wet behind the ears with our official, newly certified home.

A whole two days passed between being certified to receiving our first call for a baby. We were out of state. The logistics did not work. Another week. We received a call for an emergency placement. We said yes to the sweetest seven month old baby boy for eight nights.

It was during those eight nights that I found myself asking what we were doing. What we were doing opening our home and interrupting our schedules to cater to strangers. What we were doing bringing social workers in to our home on a regular basis and welcoming the uncontrollable. And what if what we were doing was going to wreck our children and their childhood. It was a wake up to the reality of what God had for our family.

We were not meant to live cookie cutter lives or be so set on our own pursuits that we miss out on those around us. Being in community, having friendships and loving others allows for interruptions to be turned in to opportunities.

For us, this was our opportunity to be interrupted with phone calls for children and for self centered prayers to be turned to those in the system, those who needed Jesus. This was our entry in to deeper gospel living and receiving more than we had to give to those God placed in our care.

Receiving the blessing to care for those who cannot care for themselves and be reminded of how rich God has made us, not in material form, but in Spirit. In his love and compassion and this was our opportunity to overflow, despite the exposure of opening up our home and our hearts. 

We were ready, as we could be, for the next call.