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Monday, August 19, 2013

Road Trip Hangover

First off, FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER!

I come to you today with my third cup of coffee and surrounded by 8 kids (2 neighbors) and lots of un-done stuff.

This past weekend we traveled 3 hours each way to Ohio to visit family and friends.

It was so, so much fun and the kids really had a blast. We jam packed their weekend with great activities and unforgettable memories.

It's postcard-like in the way it sounds, isn't it?

While Joe and I were packing 18 changes of clothes per kid, toothbrushes, 900 lbs of blankets and pillows, enough snacks to feed the Duggars, and somewhere in there---my sanity---I must have missed it when irritability, stress, annoyance, and a short fuse hopped into my bag.

The trip itself was great, but I was bogged down at different times with a crappy attitude. It didn't help that my voice was almost completely gone, so every word I said was said with much concentration. That takes a toll, believe it or not.

Being outside of my "usual" and adjusting to a different environment is tough for the best of us, but for me is really a challenge.

And I nursed some hurt feelings and a bruised ego more than once along this trip.

As I have been stewing on it today, I wanted to "work through it" before writing about it, but instead I think it's good to let you in on it as it's happening. I absolutely HATE when that one person always has the right answer or always has her head on straight, so I imagine there are some of you who may also get sick of reading posts about a lesson learned or a struggle conquered.

Here's where I am struggling right now...how do I respond in a gracious manner when someone hurts my feelings or steps over a boundary? How should I (or SHOULD I) respond when I see someone (close to me) being a hypocrite? When is it (Or IS IT) my place to address a Believer who has lost course?

I mull and simmer until it eats me up. And then I take a deep breath and say "Let Go and Let God." And then I remember how much I hate that phrase.

And just when I was at my wit's end today and angrily clicking the "X" to close out Facebook before I threw the laptop across the room, I read the verse of the day on my Bible App: (Do me a favor and read the whole thing. I know it's long.)

After the death of Moses the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: “Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people. Cross to the country I’m giving to the People of Israel. I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on—just as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon east to the Great River, the Euphrates River—all the Hittite country—and then west to the Great Sea. It’s all yours. All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” (Joshua 1:1-9 MSG, Emphasis mine)


And I cried because it was a direct message to not give up.

As I was feeling a whirlwind of emotions like anger, irritation, annoyance, hurt, frustration, etc...I was also thinking "who am I to believe I have any kind of ministry? Who am I to think I have anything to offer in the way of wisdom? I am a mess. I fail daily at grace and mercy and forgiveness. I get frustrated easily and harbor grudges. I get on a high horse at times and mentally tick off all the ways I am better than others...

And then this verse crossed my path and I knew it was affirmation that I should not let moments hours days of weakness defeat me. I will fail. Over and over again. Jesus was not silent about that. The true failure comes when I allow those stumbles to derail me completely and listen to the lie that I don't have a story to tell or a lesson to share. 

If you're struggling right now, even if it's been a loooooong struggle: weight loss, smoking, drinking, drugs, your thoughts, your words, your temper, etc...just know you are not alone. Even if someone looks like they have it together on the outside, you can rest assured that they don't. 

The best thing to do when you are smack on the middle of frustration is to realize you have a choice in how you let it affect you. You can either dive in, emotions first, or you can take time to close out all other outside sources and put yourself in the Word. Sometimes that can happen in just one verse. Sometimes it takes longer. God will reach you through His Word. Read until you get peace from Him. Even if that peace is just to be patient and wait on Him. Not all issues get wrapped up in 30 mninutes or less. Sometimes they take a while and require persistence and patience (unfortunately, 2 areas I do not excel in). But I'm learning. And I'm noticing that I can recognize when I start spiraling down that tunnel toward a blow up or toward saying things I'll later regret. I'm still stinking up the joint as far as that goes, but there is IMPROVEMENT! :)

And I hope that encourages someone today! We're in this together.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Geeking Out At The Women Living Well Conference

Hello and WELCOME! If you found me through Time Warp Wife, I am absolutely giddy that you are here!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously... short of some close friends and my mom... this blog is not usually so heavily traveled! I love making connections, so please feel free to leave a link to your blog if you have one. Thanks for stopping by! :) ~Mandy

{Pardon any misspellings or grammar errors or run-on sentences. I am feeling a little under the weather, but wanted to share this while it's fresh!}

Yesterday was nothing short of amazing.

Other than getting up at 4:30 a.m.

That part kind of sucked.

But, I was so excited to hit the road with some girlfriends and go to the Women Living Well Conference in Ohio.

If you have never heard of Courtney from Women Living Well, let me introduce you to her.

She's an adorable blonde who chooses to live her life by serving her family and allowing her husband to take the lead in their family.

Seen by many as archaic, oppressive and repressive, Courtney lives a life serving God and her family.

And she's fabulous.

Here I am with her!



I was ridiculous and tongue-tied and I think I even talked over her (?!).

(Note to self: ALLLLLLWAAAAAYS wear fitted shirts when you know there will be photo ops! I'm afraid mine does me no favors in this photo.)

So let's back up to the morning when I arose before the rooster.

I stumbled out of bed and jumped in the shower.

Then I decided to put my contacts in...which is a big, fat mistake if you're still half asleep because they burn like acid.

There I stood in my towel with my eyes tearing up like Niagara Falls, convinced I'd have to go to the conference with dripping wet hair, an ill-fitting towel and eyes feeling like they had razor blades in them.

It passed.

Then I got dressed in the carefully chosen outfit from the night before (after a series of outfit changes befitting an Oscar Host on Oscar Night).

No outfit is complete without Spanx (or my $9.99 Target version) so, I shimmied into mine (which was actually more like squeezing sausage into a tube. There was tugging, pulling, weeping and gnashing of teeth, but finally I had them on...and they graciously covered my gut, which after 6 babies, is still quite an issue for me. I breathed a sigh of relief to be covering my "trouble area" and excited about looking slimmer in pictures.

And exactly 5.2 seconds later the top of my "no-slip" Spanx rolled like a burrito right on down to my waist. And suddenly the area I was trying hardest to conceal was on display and beautifully accentuated in all its bunt-cake, muffin-top glory.

Oh well, no time to fuss, I still had to do my hair and make-up, unload 800 car seats from the van since I was having passengers, make some coffee, and grab a bagel.

I unloaded the van, only to find enough food under each car seat to feed a 3rd world country.

I grabbed some towels for my friends to sit on and loaded my bag in.

It was somewhere between unloading the 4th car seat and reaching into the depths of the back seat to recover my 7 year old's lost Lego guy that my Spanx decided to journey north. At the same time, the friction from my hurried movements was increasing the temperature of my mid section to about the temperature of hell.

If you can imagine a thick piece of lycra being yanked up between your butt cheeks after being heated to inferno degrees by a blow torch, you'll get an idea how I felt.

But there was no time to change as my friends started to arrive!

Photo: Women Living Well Conference!

{L-R: Kim B, Annice, Kim C. AWESOME women and wonderful road trip buddies!}

In we packed, 4 giddy women, sans kids and husbands, and took it on 2 as we peeled out of the driveway.

The journey started off right on target when, within 5 minutes of leaving my house, I took a wrong turn and put us on the highway heading in the wrong direction.

No worries...after a quick U-y, we were onward again.

The tolls posed a new problem, however since my driving skills are rusty. I'm used to driving short trips from Point A to Point B and this highway driving business is a thing of my past. I forgot our van goes over 50 mph.

It was at the first toll booth where we had our first near-death experience. I started down a lane that wasn't open, and with cat-like quickness, I jerked the wheel and headed to the next lane. And then I inexplicably stopped with the van perpendicular to the toll booth.

Never fear, the kindly semi truck driver about to T-Bone us layed on his horn in a friendly "I'll allow you the right-of-way" manner.

And then we were off...again.

And then I took a wrong exit and we had to circle around.

And then I did something else that scared all my passengers.

And then we were there!

Hallelujah!

We were united with the other parties of our group. And it was the first time all 5 members of Deliberate Women were EVER in the same room together!!


Photo: Here we are at the Women Living Well Conference!! The first time off all 5 of us have been in the same room together !! :) L-R: Annice, Ginny, Lindsey, Mandy & Alayna

{Deliberate Women L-R: Annice, Ginny, Lindsey, Me, Alayna. SOOOOO Blessed to be in ministry with these ladies!}

And then everything began.

I TOTALLY lost it and got all excited when I saw Courtney stand up and address us.

I could even ignore my creeping Spanx and 900 degree temperature.

I couldn't even begin to share with you all I learned. Over the next few weeks I'd like to try.

Let me just say to be in a room with so many other women who love God and speak out so boldly about their faith and about loving their husbands and families using God's principals was so absolutely refreshing.




We were not even in the conference for 1 minute and I was teary.

I know I am ridiculous.

I was so absolutely excited to see someone in person whom I had looked up to and admired from afar. (And she's tinier in person than I thought!!)

I think every single woman who spoke cried and shared raw emotion with us as they shared their hearts and their testimonies. And we cried right along with them.

These were real women with real stories, and backgrounds with pain and trials and happy times. They were more than the beautiful head shots we see on their blogs.

I'm not sure if their talks went exactly as they'd planned them, but I know God was working in my heart through their words.

Darlene from Time Warp Wife won me over.

Photo: I got to me Darlene from Time Warp Wife. She's AMAZING!!!! Hate that FB won't let me tag her page on my phone!

She is amazing. I read her testimony on her blog over a month ago and was floored as she shared about her infidelity and the grace and forgiveness her husband showed her. They now have a thriving marriage and she shares on her blog how to be a Godly wife and how to overcome problems in marriage and love your husband Biblically.

I HEART HER!

If you don't know, I have a history of infidelity as well.

In past relationships I have been both the Cheat-ER and The Cheat-EE.

In neither circumstance did I show grace and dignity like Darlene and her husband did. But I want to learn to be more like her and build a marriage like she is based on God's principles.

We also got the privilege of meeting Karen Ehman from Proverbs 31 Minitsries. In a word...Love! :)

She's hysterical. And I learned a new term from her: "Horizontal Fellowship" HAHAHAHAHA!

To be delicate, that describes the fellowship between husband and wife. ;)

She was so funny and so real.

She shared her struggle with her weight and she won me at "I can't stop eating this Twinkie."

It was like she spoke my heart.

And her "out there" and mildly, maybe-bordering-on-inappropriate sense of humor was like looking in a mirror. Except much wiser and much funnier. :)

I got to speak with her (and she signed my copy of Courtney's new "Women Living Well" Advanced Copy Book!! All the while probably thinking "You could have at least bought MY book for me to sign...") and I praised her for her sarcastic wit and sense of humor...she said "I thought maybe I'd tone it down but my husband told me to just be myself". And I got weak in the knees because I often have the same conversation with myself about toning it down. But Joe would probably agree that I should. ;)

It was at that point that I left the conference ladies alone and allowed them to eat their lunch unimpeded.

And then I spent a small fortune buying books the ladies had written, because Dear GOD I cannot help myself.

And then at the end we flocked up to the stage to have our picture taken on "THE COUCHES" that the conference ladies sat on for their "Round Table" discussion.

And we posed all "The View" like, dreaming of a day when {maybe-God willing} we can host an event like this.

And then we got in the way while they tore down the stage and tried to pack up and say their goodbyes. :)

Darlene asked for a link to our Deliberate Women blog and I panicked about the quality of the site and the misspellings and grammar errors surely in my posts. :(

Then dinner called our names.



And the preggo girl in our group was ready to eat one of us since she hadn't really eaten all day (she's the one in the far back, left salivating and telling the waiter with her eyes that he better get us some bread STAT!)!

We skipped out to our cars (minus my constant wedgie), light as feathers--or rather seriously gorged on some good eats-- after a full day of hearing wisdom from ladies we admired and knowing we still had a stretch of hours ahead of us full of great company and no kids. :)

And then we took a group shot in the parking lot while annoyed drivers waited and we all sucked it in to look our best.



And then we hit the road.

And the conversations that took place in the next 2 hours were so wonderful. We opened up about different things, shared some stuff from our "closets" and--I feel--bonded.

There's nothing like late night chats by the light of the dashboard to bring about openness and honesty, is there?

I got to know those 3 ladies better than ever and I respect them more because of it.

And...aside from a weird detour that my GPS probably thought would be a cute prank that sent us all over God's creation and all long Route 70 and a terrifying moment when I swerved to avoid hitting Ricky Raccoon and we all screamed...we were back at my house.

Sigh.

Safe and sound and so full of wonderful experiences.

I saw my friends off and climbed up the front steps, anxious to hug Joe and get OUT of those BLASTED Spanx!

I checked on all my sleeping babies, thankful to be back home with them.

And, with a complete, full-on pounding headache, I laid on the couch and Joe rubbed my head until I fell asleep. :)

It was pretty much a perfect day.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Another Summer-time Fave! Idlewild & Soak Zone!

So....I am ashamed to say that I have lived in Pittsburgh since 2001, had kids since 2005 and NEVER visited Idlewild!

Let me just remedy that this summer.

It's almost back to school and my kids are climbing the walls.

It's time to make some awesome summer memories and let the kids blow off some stink.

Here's your chance to save too when you take your crew there!



Still open daily through Wednesday, August 21, then weekends through September 15!

 Looking for your ticket to family fun?  Nestled within the foothills of the beautiful Laurel Highlands, just outside of Ligonier in Westmoreland County, you’ll find Idlewild & SoakZone, named “Best Children’s Park in the World” by Amusement Today and “Best Park for Families” by the National Amusement Park Historical Association. 

Since 1878, Idlewild has been providing smiles, laughter, and memories longer than almost every other amusement park in the entire United States.  Originally a simple picnic ground along the Ligonier Valley Rail Road, the park has grown into a sprawling entertainment center rich in tradition, nostalgia, and natural beauty, and is recognized as one of the top destinations for family fun in the country.

 

Idlewild strikes the perfect balance between traditional and modern-day amusement.  At one end of the park you’ll find tranquil Story Book Forest.  Featuring a winding path through a real forest, guests visit cottages and other character scenes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes – providing a great chance for parents and grandparents to revisit their youth as they introduce their own little ones to Mother Goose, Goldilocks and many more. 


At the opposite end lays SoakZone, gushing with “splash-tacular” fun from the Wowabunga Family Wave Pool, over a dozen waterslides, Captain Kidd’s aqua-structure, Lil’Squirts kiddie pool, and the new lazy river, Float Away Bay.  In between, families can experience cheerful excitement within the entertaining Hootin’ Holler’ western town,Jumpin’ Jungle interactive playground, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and Raccoon Lagoonkiddieland - one of the largest and most scenic children’s areas in the country.

The park’s roster of nineteen major rides includes rare gems like the Whip, not to mention the top-notch Rollo Coaster, which has appeal to both children (often listed as their first ever coaster ride) and longtime coaster enthusiasts, (whom designated the ride an “American Coaster Classic”).  Compare those classics to the park’s more modern rides, like the fast-paced Wild Mouse steel coaster, towering high among the park’s tall evergreens and offering high action at every quick turn.

Idlewild is truly multi-generational.  Grandparents are often seen riding alongside their grandchildren among the family-friendly rides and there’s a wide array of entertainment directed to both the young and the young at heart.  At the core of every attraction is the principal that the entire family can enjoy it together. 

It’s unique charm and laid-back atmosphere just invite you to relax.  Shady trees, lakes and the Loyalhanna Creek passing through its center, make Idlewild compare more to a state park than any other amusement park you’ve ever seen.  The center midways are lined with benches and there are plenty of picnic groves where families can enjoy a picnic lunch together as they take a break during their fun-filled day.

SAVE 2 Ways at Idlewild & SoakZone this summer!    Save $8 per admission online or Save $5 per admission ticket at the gate! http://www.pittsburghkidsguide.com/coupon.php?bid=5283&dealid=936®ionid=58

Diggin' In My Heels For Summer To End

 So with August already here and summer screeching to halt, back-to-school plans in the works, a warm summer nights swan song rapidly approaching, and a calendar noticeably absent of some great summer trips...

I am taking advantage of some local day trips. For my local Pittsburgh-er friends, this is for you!


Sandcastle is Pittsburgh's favorite destination for refreshing water fun!  Open since 1989, this park spans 60-acres and offers over a dozen different water slides with varying speeds and angles of descent for thrill seekers of all levels. If you prefer to stay dry, take a leisurely stroll on the Boardwalk where you can enjoy food and games. On Sunday evenings, Sandcastle's River City area transforms into Pittsburgh's premier oldies resort with JukeBox Sunday Nights.From company outings to birthday celebrations, Sandcastle creates occasions everyone will remember with private VIP cabanas to tents for larger gatherings and plentiful food options with our professional service staff. With attractions like Thunder Run, Lazy River, and Wet Willie's Water Works for children, Sandcastle has something for everyone!   Still open daily through August 18, then weekends only through Labor Day!     Don't fear the rain .... they offer a great weather guarantee!!!! 

Save $24 with a Family Four Pack or $5 off one regular admission or  http://www.pittsburghkidsguide.com/coupon.php?bid=5281&dealid=951®ionid=58



Friday, August 2, 2013

Just Love

Moving has been such a life changer.

It seemed so ordained the way things worked out (our old house and the tragedy that is that, not included).

But I wholeheartedly believe the people we have met since moving here is one of the--if not THE--main reason we are here.

I met one neighbor whose little boy jumped right into my heart. He spent days at our house for about a week. The kids loved him too and they would play for hours, he fit right in immediately.

And I adore his mom.

So, imagine my surprise when she announced they were going back down South, maybe indefinitely, after only knowing each other a couple of weeks. After I had already become smitten with her little 5 year old guy.

Joe thought I was absolutely nuts when I sobbed...yes, sobbed...for a few nights.

Backing up...one day while I painted our front door, I remember feeling the amazing spring breeze, seeing this gorgeous landscape that surrounds us here and thinking, "one of my best friends could live in this street."

The possibilities of a fresh start and of starting over were so ripe. I was so looking forward to getting to know everyone in our new neighborhood and creating new relationships.

And then along came this woman who I hit it off with immediately.

And there she went, right back down South.

I couldn't understand why God would put this woman right in my path, make me fall in love with her adorable son, and then take her away again?!

That God...always working so mysteriously and all.

Here's a shot of the kids with their BFF.


He's the guy in the middle with the road rash on his head. Poor guy, took a spill off his bike the day before. 

And then, after he moved back down South and we picked up our flattened hearts off the ground, we started getting to know the neighbors on the other side better. 

At first, we were cautious. 

They were quick with their fists and didn't seem to want to play nicely with our little buddy who moved South. 

But we continued to get to know them, and got to know their parents. 

And now our kids practically live in both houses as they play all day with each other, volleying between the neighbor's house and ours. 

And I have a new friend--the boy's mom. :)

Not to mention another family who moved in with 2 beautiful little boys and an adorable newborn little girl. The mom is a riot and I foresee lots of texting and bbq's in our future. :)

So, the tally is up to 3 friends in our new neighborhood for me. :P

And today it hit me why we're here. 

I was having a conversation with one little neighbor guy...the one who seemed the hardest to get along with. The one who was kind of "mean" to the kids. The one Joe and I were very cautious having the kids play around. 

His mom and I had a conversation and she shared with me that he's on the spectrum. I think she was hesitant to share that with me for fear that I would judge her or think differently of her son. 

And that breaks my heart for 3 reasons:

1) I DON'T want to be that person who judges someone because they struggle in an area.
2) The thought that people are mean to kids because they struggle makes me so sad. 

And

3) I WAS judgmental....before I knew he was on the spectrum. I just thought he didn't play nicely with others. 

And that's embarrassing. 

But this was really driven home when I had a conversation with the little guy today.

He and R (our 8 year old) were working on landscaping. They cameover to beg some water and I asked this little guy if he was excited for school. He said he wasn't because school was boring. 

Then he told me that he goes to a different school.

A school for kids who "fail other schools."

He wouldn't look me in the eye and it took him a long time to come up with the words he wanted to use to tell me why he went to a "different" school. 

And my heart broke. 

I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and said, "You don't fail. You learn differently. There's a big difference. Everyone's different." 

And I rubbed his back and patted his head, wanting to just scoop him right up in a bear hug.

This poor little guy.

Not only does he struggle in areas, but it obviously weighs on him that he's different. He's already told himself that he's a failure. And people like me who don't want my kids playing with someone "rough" or "bossy" help create that feeling of failure. 

I am so absolutely convicted right now. 

I know our job on this Earth is to love. 

Period.

We are here to love others without qualifying them. Without drawing a line in the sand as to when we will or when we won't.

We are not to predetermine who is worthy of our kindness or care. 

And we, Joe and I and our kids,  have a specific calling here on this street to show that and to live that.

And we are training our kids up to think, act, and feel the same way about people. 

And I have never been more proud than I am when I see our kids loving with abandon. 

They are so innocent and free of stigma that it takes my breath away.

They are the purest versions of us that I wish we were more like. 

They see people just as they are. 

And treat them just as they want to be treated themselves. 

And I can learn a whole lot from them.
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