Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Celebrating more than my son’s birthday

My son’s birth story reminds me of God’s goodness and faithfulness

Today my son turns 7. I’m amazed with my children how I feel like they were just born a couple of months ago and yet I also feel like they’ve always been part of my life.

On my son’s birthday each year, my husband and I look at videos and photos of the day he arrived. We get tears in our eyes and talk about how thankful we are. We smile at each other about how adorable and tiny he was — and we remark about how blue he looked even an hour after his birth.

My son was born with his cord wrapped around his neck, blue all over and not breathing. He was whisked from my arms and surrounded by a slew of medical personnel.

I remember lying there as he was worked on across the room. My doctor tended to me and assured me this was normal. I prayed and quietly cried. The last three months of my pregnancy were miserable and incredibly painful, but nothing I went through and felt affected my son. I was so thankful for that. I wished so much in that overwhelming moment that it could be me again and not him. I am not sure I have ever felt so helpless.

Finally, after 20 minutes, he breathed on his own and we heard his first cry. I have never been so happy to hear a cry as I was that day.

Even now, seven years later, I look at the photos my husband took of him in the NICU (where he had to spend a couple of hours with just my husband while I was getting taken care of) and my heart aches a bit. I missed those first few moments with him. His birth wasn’t at all like I planned or expected. BUT, it ended up well. As I prayed with tears rolling down my cheeks that day, God was right there and took care of both my baby boy and me.

Life is so much like that. Things take a detour from what we expected and our hearts can shatter into millions of pieces. Sometimes they can also be filled to bursting within a short time as well, which is what happened on the day my son was born. But whether we’re in the middle of heartbreak or joy or somewhere in between, God is right there, taking care of us. Even when we can’t see Him, He is always working.

I praise and thank Him for my baby boy who is now a happy, thriving 7-year-old. I can’t even begin to put into words how thankful I am that God showed up seven years ago and made sure my little guy was able to breathe on his own. I am thankful that the day ended in joy and not unspeakable heartbreak.

Each milestone my son reaches is just another testimony of God’s goodness and provision. God is good — and that is worth celebrating today as much as my son’s birth!

40 Life lessons learned by age 40

Funny and poignant life lessons

In a couple of days, I will leave my 30s behind and turn 40. I’ve been pondering this decade shift for the last couple of months. I’ve concluded that I don’t mind the new number. And I’ve also concluded that I’ve learned a lot in my four decades of life from the serious to the silly.

1. Age is just a number.

It really is just a number. Once you are fully into adulthood, that number doesn’t matter so much. In fact, sometimes I have had to stop and really think (or do dreaded math) to remember my actual age. This year of turning 40 will be one of my easiest years to remember it, I think!

2. Pimples don’t care how old you are.

One of the biggest lies I ever believed were that pimples were only for teenagers. How fair is it to be dealing with both white hair AND blemishes? Not very!

3. Birthdays get less fun as you get older.

This has nothing to do with actually aging and more to do with missing people who are no longer around. Add in that your real wish list is filled with items that can’t be bought and birthdays lose some fun.

4. Nobody cares what I’m doing.

That sounds depressing, but what I mean is I don’t need to worry about what other people think of what I’m doing. They don’t care. They aren’t paying attention. They are too worried about what other people think of what they’re doing to care what I’m doing. So if I want to bring a book and sit and read while I let my son play on the playground after school instead of making small talk with other moms, it is OK. They’re not standing across the playground talking about the audacity I have to be reading.

5. God is always there.

While that’s something I’ve always known, it’s something I’ve learned even more. I’ve been through stuff now. I’ve seen Him at work. I have learned that even when He seems quiet, He is still there and still working. I have so many stories I could tell you!

6. I’m an introvert and that doesn’t make me weird.

When I was growing up, nobody talked about being an introvert or extrovert like they do now. I felt happiest in my own space doing my own thing and had no desire to go to big parties or surround myself with loads of friends. I didn’t know that wasn’t weird then, but I do now. It’s how I’m wired. And I’m not the only one who feels that way!

7. Everybody you talk to isn’t your friend.

I’ve also learned that extroverts like to talk and they’ll talk with anyone who is around them. Oftentimes they’ll open up about personal topics even though we aren’t all that close. That doesn’t mean we are becoming friends. It just means I was conveniently located to them for a chat. (And I have to add that sometimes they do become your friend.)

8. You never get too old for sparkles.

My 9-year-old daughter and I joke that one of our favorite colors is sparkle. It’s OK. I’ve embraced it. I’m typing this while wearing a sparkly watch, having nails painted with purple sparkly polish and drinking from a bright purple cup covered in glitter. Sparkles are just as fun for some of us at 40 as they were at 4!

9. You can not see a true friend for a while and catch back up right where you left off.

Adulthood is busy, especially with kids in the mix. Nobody has time to constantly be talking or meeting up. But your true friends are easy to catch right back up with even if you only see them every three or four months — and that’s OK!

10. The world keeps turning even when yours stops, but yours will start again, too.

Sometimes life hits you with something so hard that it stops your world from turning. You can barely breathe or even imagine how people around you are going on with life like normal. Yet, the world keeps turning. And no matter what happens or how long it takes, eventually your world will start turning again, too, even when it feels like it never will.

11. Find the right people to trust.

Not everybody has your best interests at heart. Not everybody who acts like a friend really is a friend. Be cautious. But find the right balance of caution so that you aren’t always closed off. I take a while to open up to people. I have lost a chance at making friends because I held back too long until I was comfortable to share, but that’s OK, too. Not everybody in your life is meant to be trusted.

12. Give grace and second chances.

Nobody is perfect. Everybody messes up. And sometimes people need grace and second chances more than anything else. Choosing to give them those things doesn’t make you weak. It makes you more like Jesus, which is the goal. I am so glad He gives me unlimited grace and second chances!

13. Give yourself grace.

I am still working on learning this lesson. I struggle with being a jerk to myself when I mess up. But I’ve made some progress on giving myself grace and recognizing when I’m doing the best I can versus when I need to get my act together!

14. Start getting ready to leave the house before you really need to in order to be on time.

If you have young kids, start five minutes before you think you need to start getting ready to go. If you have toddler or babies, start 15 minutes before you think you need to start getting ready to go. No matter what, something will happen to delay you almost every single time.

15. Sometimes you just need to eat the doughnut and shut up about it.

Maybe this is on my mind more right now because I’m working on eating healthier, but sometimes you just need a treat for yourself. Have your treat and shut up about it both out loud and in your head. Just enjoy it!

16. Never take your snow brush out of your car if you live in areas that get cold.

You’ll not remember to put it back in and find yourself trying to clean snow off your windshield in a parking lot with your gloves. Trust me.

17. Write it down or you’ll forget it.

If I have something I need to do, I write it down or set a reminder in my phone. Otherwise, it often gets lost in the jumble of everything else I am keeping track of in my head. I don’t believe the lie any longer that I’ll remember something.

18. Don’t get so caught up in big moments that you miss the little ones.

Some of the best memories I’ve made in my entire life have been in the small moments. The big moments are great, and I’m thankful for them. I’ve also had big moments go horribly awry. But I can’t even begin to count the small moments that have made my heart swell.

19. No matter how much time you get with a loved one, it’s never enough.

I haven’t lost a loved one, yet, who I thought I had had enough time with. I don’t think it’s possible. And that makes me want to spend time with my loved ones even more, because I have learned how fleeting life can be.

20. Dogs and children are good for your soul.

Some of my worst moments were made better by the love and companionship of a furry friend and/or my children. They have brought me joy and made me smile when I didn’t think it was possible.

21. Take photos and videos of everyday moments.

I love having a chance to go back and watch my kids as babies or see photos of good times in the past. Sometimes they are bittersweet with loved ones who have passed away, but that makes me all the more thankful for the photo or video.

22. Music makes a difference in my attitude.

I kind of harp on this, but it’s so true for me. I have loved music my whole life. I play three instruments and competed with two of them throughout high school and a bit in college. I have performed countless times, but the real story of music for me is the daily one. If I’m listening to the right kind of music, I keep my focus where it needs to be. The power of Christian music is strong.

23. Change can be hard, but you have to embrace it.

I don’t like change all that much, whether it’s positive, negative or neutral. But, it’s a normal part of life and I’ve found I’ll make myself miserable if I cling too hard to the way things used to be – even when that means embracing a new normal that I don’t want or ask for.

24. If you need to make small talk, ask people about themselves.

Early in my career as a journalist, I learned that people like to talk about themselves. And they like when someone really listens to them. I applied these lessons to making small talk and have made good connections with others that way. I’ve also just survived social situations that had me feeling awkward that way!

25. Everybody has a story – and a struggle.

In my youth, when I was going through something difficult, I’d think nobody understood or people around me weren’t struggling with anything. It didn’t take me long to realize how wrong that is. Everybody has a story and a struggle. And that goes back to number 12 about giving other people grace.

26. The best way to get through something hard is to get out of yourself.

During some of my most challenging days, I’ve been able to feel better (even momentarily) by doing something for someone else. Sometimes we need that reminder that other people have needs too, so we can stop wallowing in self-pity. But…

27. Sometimes you just have to feel all the feels.

I can be pretty good at denial. Shove those emotions down. Ignore the ache. It will go away. That’s never how it works. So sometimes I just have to feel the feels, so the speak. I’ve learned that feeling those feelings are all a part of healing.

28. Chocolate may not be a cure for everything, but it’s pretty close.

I don’t think I can add anything to that statement!

29. Life is filled with unexpected stuff.

We don’t expect some of the challenges we face. Yet, they happen. We get other surprises as well. I expected that both of my kids would have dark hair like my husband and me and dark eyes like me. Those are dominant features. My first child has red hair and blue eyes. I always say that her looks were unexpected, but we love them. And it’s true! Now if only I could always embrace unexpected stuff with that attitude.

30. Like what you like because you like it. Don’t worry about what other people think.

I totally geek out over certain things like new Drizzt novels, Marvel movies and anything related to “Beauty and the Beast” or “Wicked.” I have a canvas painting of Drizzt hanging in my living room. I don’t really care if it isn’t anyone else’s cup of tea. I love it and so does my husband. You do you when it comes to fandom!

31. Everybody is as clueless about adulthood as I am.

This year I have had moments of telling myself, “You are almost 40 years old. Why are you still acting so insecure?” Fair point. However, I’ve also learned that we are all just kind of faking our way through adulthood. Nobody really knows what they’re doing or feels confident about it.

32. Puns and corny jokes make me laugh.

I just saw a meme about white boards saying they are remarkable. That stuff gets me every time!

33. Having kids has taught me more about God’s love than I ever expected.

First, I can’t imagine how He could love us more than I love my children. It seems quite impossible. And second, I see how they mess up and make mistakes and know that doesn’t change how much I love them one bit, just like God does with us. Third, I fully understand that discipline is necessary to help them learn how to be better people, just like God disciplines and teaches us.

34. Having kids has also taught me how much more I need to appreciate my parents.

I’ve always appreciated my parents and had a good relationship with them. But, having kids has taught me how much they handled behind the scenes or how much they did that I didn’t even think of from making my food to doing my laundry to dealing with finances.

35. Carry a smaller purse. It’s OK.

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but I’ve learned that I don’t need to carry everything and the kitchen sink with me when I leave the house. Part of that is necessity because my shoulders and back protest a lot these days. But, I have pared down what I carry and diminished my purse size, and I’m not going back!

36. Contrary to popular belief, you can be a good mom without wine or coffee.

I’ve never had either and won’t. And I think I’m doing OK at this mom business. So far, I’ve kept my kids alive for 6 and 9-1/2 years. Neither one of these substances make you a good mom. That’s all you — and God!

37. When you’ve figured a budget for vacation, add an extra $100 or so onto what you think you need.

It just disappears. And if you come home with extra money, save it for the next trip!

38. Nobody is better than anybody else.

This has two sides to it. First, don’t ever think you’re better than someone else, because you’re not. I look at the world around me and see people messing up. And all I can think is there but for the grace of God go I. Second, don’t ever think someone is better than you. Like my dad always says, everybody puts on their pants one leg at a time. At the end of the day, we’re all human and that’s what matters most. Don’t judge people based solely on their worst moment – or their best!

39. Put down your phone and/or social media and just be.

Electronic distractions are everywhere. My favorite gas station has screens on each pump blaring information at me. I am not against electronics at all. I’m married to a technophile. But I also know I need to set limits so that I’m not always on a screen. I don’t want to miss moments because I’m busy being “connected.”

40. Practice gratitude.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson of all. Gratitude. If you focus on being grateful for what you have instead of resentful for what you don’t, you will be so much happier. It really does take practice! The times I get in the biggest funks are usually when I’m thinking more about what I can’t do or don’t have. Being grateful leads to being content which leads to being happier.

10 tips for planning a fun, simple kid’s birthday party

My son’s birthday is next week. Boy that comes quick! We’ve been doing some birthday planning around here. I try to work ahead with my kiddos and ask them a month or two ahead of time what theme they have in mind (both have picked themes previously that didn’t have party supplies made commercially and required me to get creative). That also gives us time to talk about and fine-tune the theme to make sure it’s practical and do-able as well!

We have some of our own birthday traditions our whole family really does enjoy. Along the way of having kiddos and planning parties, I’ve learned a few things that work well and figured I’d share them with you, because we’re in this together!

My overall birthday party philosophy is to make sure I plan a party my kids and their friends will enjoy. I have found numerous decor ideas and snack table ideas and so forth on Pinterest that I know kids won’t really care about. I don’t care if I impress the other moms who come to my kids’ parties. I care if my kids and their friends have fun! This perspective helps me remember what matters most (my kiddo feeling special and having fun on his or her birthday) and reduces my stress level and pressure I feel to create a perfect party with lots of small details.

Think about your budget.
This is pretty much where everything always starts, isn’t it? You’ve got to know how much money you are comfortable spending in order to plan well. Personally, I tend to stick with a lower budget because it just makes sense to me for a kid’s party and there’s so much you can do without breaking the bank. Consider costs for the location, food, paper products and treat bags.

Figure out your space.
Obviously you’ve got to have somewhere to have the party. For me, not having it at home is the very best plan. Having it at home adds lots more stress for me. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone, but I’m guessing it’s true for most of us. So figure out where you’re going to have the party. Go back to your budget and decide if you want to pay for a venue and if so what might work with your budget as well as how much space you need and how many people you want to include.

For the first friend party we threw for our daughter, we went to a local bowling alley. It was fun for her but it also meant that we had to keep the guest list smaller and that we weren’t able to have ice-cream because they didn’t have a freezer. But on the other hand we didn’t have to have plan any activities (because bowling!). Since then we have opted to have our parties in our church gymnasium. It’s been a great fit for us because there is lots of space inside, great parking outside and a kitchen we can use.

Decide on your guest list.
Before you mention it to your kiddo, think first about your budget and where you are planning to have the party. Are you having it at a venue that offers a limited number of spaces for kids parties? Are you having it at home and only have room for a few kids? Are you having it somewhere that you can invite as many kids as your child wants? Once you have an idea of about how many kids you are thinking to have, start talking to your child about it. I have done both options of giving my kids a specific number that we have to stay with and just asking them who all they want to include. It totally depends on your situation. Now that we use the gym at church, I don’t give them a set number, but we do pay attention to who they want to invite.

I try to encourage them to include friends they spend time with and enjoy. I’m less inclined to invite the entire class. I like the kiddos to pick kids they will play with, interact with and have fun with. Of course, I’m also an introvert, so I tend to think smaller gatherings are better anyway. That may be just the opposite for you and your family and that’s totally fine! You just need to know up front.

Get out invitations at least two weeks before the party.
I think the earlier invitations go out, the better. If you can get them out a month ahead of time, go for it! I have done invitations three different ways. For my daughter’s first friend party, I sent them out via email with a Google form to RSVP. That wasn’t as successful.

Facebook has worked well for some party invitations. I have done that more for my daughter because she has been with the same basic group of kids since kindergarten. And now that she’s in third grade, I am either friends with their parents on Facebook or can easily find them. So I just make a Facebook event and invite people that way.

Paper invitations also work. In fact, for my son’s party I went the paper route. You can buy invitations and fill them out or make your own and print them. I printed ours. Be sure you don’t forget information and include the date, time, location (with address) and contact information for RSVPing (I usually do my cell phone number and email address). I have also included before whether parents were welcome to drop off and leave the kiddos or if they needed to know anything else. For example, when my daughter had an art party a couple of years ago, I noted on the invitation that they might want to wear something that would be OK to get washable art supplies on.

Decide on activities.
We have a pretty set format for our parties. One of the popular stations that works no matter what the party theme is a coloring table. I print out some coloring sheets are geared toward the theme and put out some crayons. When the kids come in, they immediately have something they can do. Good to see you! Want to color? I leave it set up throughout the party so that if kids want to go back to their coloring they have that option.

I try to plan about two organized activities or games thinking about the age range of kids I have. My daughter (for whom we’ve had the most friend parties because she is older) tends to like activities more than games, but we have done both. For her art party, we had craft stations. For her baby doll party, we basically played lots of pretend and asked the guests to bring a doll or stuffed animal and they could do different things like a diaper toss game but also sit at a table with doll food and feed their “babies.” This past year, she wanted a Barbie and beauty theme, so we had nail painting and lip gloss making.

My son, on the other hand, is younger and more active. He likes games. We have done a version of pin the tail on the donkey that was pin the fire on the dragon for his dragon-themed party. At the same party, the kids swung at a dragon pinata with a toy sword to slay it. I try to keep it simple. But, I do find that having one or two organized activities helps keep the kids engaged and having fun.

Once you’ve decided what to do, then decide your order. We typically do games and activities first, which take about an hour. Then we have snacks for about 30 minutes before finishing the final 30 minutes with opening gifts.

Don’t forget food!
Of course you need food at a party. I usually plan my parties for 2 to 4 p.m. so we can offer snacks but don’t have to serve a meal. This is my plan for two reasons. First, my own kids don’t like stopping their playing and fun for eating all that much. So they want things quick and easy rather than having to sit longer and eat a meal. Second, it’s cheaper.

The biggest thing I do with food is make sure it is what the birthday kid likes. My daughter — bless her heart — doesn’t like cake or icing very much. (I’m still trying to figure out how she belongs to me!) So we don’t have cake. The last two years we had doughnuts instead. (I got all the same yeast doughnuts and then got her a bigger one to put a candle in.) One year we did an ice-cream sundae bar.

These are the cupcakes I made for my son’s dragon party. I topped enough of the kids’ ones with small dragon figures so they got an additional party favor that way. I’ve also used rings as cupcake toppers. This year I’m using small cake pop sticks with printed images of Miles Morales from “Spider-man into the Spider-verse” on them at my son’s request.

My son, on the other hand, loves cake. I usually bake the cake for him because I love baking and it does save funds. Cupcakes are my go-to for kid parties because they are easier to serve. I usually do chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing. They look fancy if you use an icing bag and just plop it on top with a tip so it kind of swirls, but you can totally just use a butter knife or spatula and smear it on. I also like the individual ice-cream cups to serve the ice-cream instead of having to scoop it out. But, you can definitely scoop it out as needed or into small plastic cups or bowls ahead of time.

Along with the sweets, I offer other kid-friendly food. Goldfish are always popular. Sometimes I do pretzels, too. For my daughter’s party we also had cheesy puffcorn and it was a huge hit. I try to offer a fruit of some sort as well like grapes or strawberries. My husband and I station ourselves at the food table when it’s time for snacks and help the kids make their plates, especially at younger ages. We also simplify where we can. Like for my son’s party last year, we used punch cups and filled them with some pretzels and Goldfish so the kids could just grab a cup of them instead of having to scoop them out.

For drinks, we keep it simple and usually have a pitcher of lemonade (with back-up to refill the pitcher) and a jug of water. For my daughter’s baby doll party I did make punch and floated some brand-new, clean rubber ducks in it, though.

Decorations don’t have to be elaborate to be fun.
Some moms are super great at decorating and crafting. I am not one of them. While I can easily make the cupcakes because I love baking, I can’t easily make lots of decorations. Maybe you’re the opposite. If so, go with what works for you. Almost always it’s easier on the budget if you can make something versus purchase it.

This was our table setup for the dragon party last year as well. I found the inflatable dragon for a couple of dollars to add some fun. And my son played with that dragon for a couple of months afterward!

My decoration plan is simple. I buy a plastic table cloth for the food table that matches the theme or colors. I buy the matching plates and napkins and cups of a similar color. I buy a birthday banner that matches the theme and hang it. Sometimes I use crepe paper and balloons we blow up ourselves for the door leading into the gym so people know where to go. I will say that I’m not a mom who lets the kids play with balloons because I have crazy balloon anxiety and can’t handle it. Otherwise, we usually end up making some decorations to hang up that are coloring pages for the theme that we color and glue to construction paper. The kids like being involved with this and it’s fun to see their artwork on display.

Plan for some extras.
Once I’ve made the list of kids to invite, I tally our numbers, including siblings for families we know. For example, when we invite children from church, we usually know the entire family and expect all the children will come. When we invite children from school, we know they may or may not bring a sibling along. So I always make sure to plan for a few extras, because if someone brings a sibling or a cousin visiting for the weekend or whatever, I don’t want them to feel left out when it comes to treat bags or activities. I also make sure to have an idea in my head of how many parents may be there and plan enough food to make sure everyone can have snacks.

I like to fill treat bags with stuff I know my kids would like and actually use. I try to stay away from all candy, because I don’t like all-candy treat bags for my own kids. I like things like stickers, notebooks, temporary tattoos, fun erasers, pencils and small toys. I do usually include a couple of small pieces of candy as well. I look for things I could say yes to my kids eating one or two of after going to a party and eating sweets there.

Make sure you have enough help.
As you assess your venue, number of children, activities and food, think about how much help you’ll need. While my husband and I work well together and get things covered, I’ve found that having my parents come along as well is incredibly helpful. For my daughter’s party last fall, for example, I ran out of time to clean and cut the strawberries, so my mom did that while I set up the party. She also helped with nail painting while I manned the lip gloss making table. Sometimes asking extended family or friends to come along and help makes life so much easier.

Assign someone to take photos.
Who doesn’t want lots of photos of their kids’ birthdays?! With the digital age we don’t have to worry about going through too much film either. Sometimes I use my cell phone, but for their parties I tend to take our digital camera instead. Either way, though, I ask someone else to take some photos. My parents are helpful with that. I want photos, but I can be so busy helping the kids through games, activities, snacks and opening gifts that I don’t get a chance to take many. Having someone else do that for me has been invaluable. With that said, think about what kind of photos you want to have. I always like one of the kids by the birthday banner before everyone arrives. I usually try and take photos of the decorations that way as well. And, of course, I want photos with the candles on the cake (or doughnut!) and while they’re opening gifts. I also like to get a photo of all the kids together. Usually I bribe them and do this after activities, but before snacks so I can say something like, “If you want cake, come over here for a photo first.” Ha! It works!

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