Monday, December 24, 2012

Going "Home" for Christmas?

I've been thinking about the concept of "home" lately. Especially at Christmas, the idea is emphasized that we all have a home, not just in the physical sense, but emotionally. We have a place and people around whom we feel we can be ourselves, we are loved and accepted, known and embraced with all our quirks and shortcomings. We don't have to walk on proverbial egg shells or unduly weigh our words. We are at ease, experiencing peace and comfort and all those warm fuzzies everyone talks about.

But, going home for the holidays isn't always like that, is it? Having family and even people we call friends in our home isn't always like that. Sometimes, there's tension, emotional distance, difficulty in communication, offenses, bitterness, and maybe even hatred toward those with whom we share a home or to whom we open our home at this time of year.

And, then there are those who can't be home this time of year. They can't be with the ones they love and cherish. I think of my friends, the Goerlings, whose dad/husband is in Afghanistan. I'm sure they'd all love for him to be home with them this Christmas, but he can't. Or, my friends, Joel and Cindy Rishel, who expected to have 4 boys from Brazil home with them for Christmas this year. They're in the process of adopting these little men, and we all thought they'd be together by now. But, they're not.

Even going home to my own family in PA, I can't help but to think of both the beauty and the brokenness my family represents. My family exists because two people died. My dad died of cancer when I was twelve. My stepdad's late wife died when she was hit by a car while she walked along the side of a country road with a dear, family friend.

And, what about 26 families in Newton, Connecticut, who have presents wrapped under their trees ready for their children and loved ones who will never open them, who will never come home again?

This afternoon, I learned about other families in upstate New York who will be making funeral plans for their loved ones, firefighters, who responded to a 911 call gone awry. Those brave, dutiful firefighters will never return home.

The word "home" carries with it so much meaning, expectation, potential joy and pain.

So the words to the well known Christmas song, "I'll be Home for Christmas" don't really ring true for many of us sometimes, at least probably not in the sentiment they're sung.
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me...

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams...

We can't count on others all the time, can we? And, those we do count on sometimes leave us. Or they can't be there when we need them.  Christmas remains, nevertheless, an invitation home. But, perhaps not in the way we conventionally think about home.

Matthew 1:23 says, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel--which means GOD WITH US".

John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh (this is Jesus' birth) and DWELT AMONG US", literally pitched his tent with ours.

At Christmas we remember when God made His HOME among men.

For Christians, Christmas is not just the memory of God with us; it is the REALITY of God with us that we celebrate. God is WITH us.

God was with my dad when he took his last breath. He was with me as I stood by his bedside holding his hand one last time. God was with my stepdad's wife, Eunice, as she received that death blow from a reckless driver. God is with Tom Goerling in Afghanistan and also with his family here in Maryland who long for him to be with them, too.

The God who created the heavens and the earth, who gave us our life and sustains us is WITH us; He has made His home in us.

John 14:23 says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and will come to him and MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM".

As a Christian, Christmas is a place to call home. It is a place where Christ has intersected our real world with its real muck and mess to be WITH us, to make His home with us. Knowing and remembering this can supply all the comfort, peace and joy one wants or needs.

When you're in that living room, sitting around the tree, cordially opening gifts you really don't want or need, thanking people with whom there is relational discord, remember GOD is WITH you. And, He has come not just to comfort you in that moment but also to empower you, strengthen and grace you to be a reflection of HIS grace to those people around you whom you call family or friend.

When you skype with the one who can't physically be with you this Christmas or pray over their pictures, remember God is WITH you. He is there to hold you together, to help you wait, to strengthen you for the hardship of being apart.

When you visit that gravesite, weeping that your loved one will never be home again for Christmas, remember that God is WITH you. He is there to comfort, to heal your broken heart, to give peace and joy. He is WITH you.

If you are not a Christian, Christmas is an invitation to come home.  It's an invitation to know Immanuel, God with us. It's an invitation to know His forgiveness, love and grace! It's an invitation home.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of 2012 reflections

With 2012 drawing to a close and 2013 awaiting, I have enjoyed taking time to reflect on all God’s faithfully brought us through and anticipating all He might still want to do in and through us in this upcoming year, pending the end of the world, of course. ;)

This year, like most, ushered in the new and unexpected, but it also held the constancy of tradition and rhythms of routines. For both I’m grateful and recognize it is God’s loving kindness, mercy and grace that carries us through them all in a way that keeps us drawing nearer to Himself, genuinely desperate for Him and finding Him trustworthy and dependable.

Both new and unexpected events from 2012 included:
·         Bella’s special princess tea party with a handful of her closest friends for her 5th birthday in February
·         Joining a local farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) and eating lots and lots of greens
·         Lawrence leaving public accounting after 8 *long* years and taking a position as Director of Finance and IT with MedChi, an association that promotes the needs and well being of physicians in Maryland
·         A reunion with some of Bri’s closest buds from her college days at IUP
·         Beginning in earnest renovations to our townhome to prepare it for a spring, 2013, listing on the market
·         Bella beginning Kindergarten and the boys, 3rd grade. Bri has especially enjoyed watching and helping Bella learn to read. What an amazing and special privilege, one she doesn’t take for granted
·         Bri and the kids joining a new homeschool  co op called Classical Conversations which has been a huge blessing to all of us. Learning has never been more meaningful and fun!
·         Lawrence and Bri attending a marriage conference with speaker, Paul Tripp.
·         Buying, building and learning more than we ever wanted to about Legos, the boys’ (and now Bella’s) current obsession.  Guess what they’re getting for Christmas?! J

In the midst of transitions and new beginnings, however, we were able to maintain the familiarity of traditions and comfort of routines through the following:
  •  Hikes at some of our favorite local parks
  • Trips to Grandma/pa’s in PA
  • Time with cousins, building memories and having fun
  •   Eating out—especially at Dunkin Donuts for special occasions like birthdays and the start of school
  •   Weekly date night for Lawrence and Bri at TGIFriday’s or just a cup of coffee at Starbucks
  •  Outings to our favorite local gardens, Ladew and Longwood
  • Once a-month family dinners with the Almengor’s
  • Regular playdates and dinner with good friends who have stayed the course with us through many seasons of life

Seems much of our life revolves around food!  

Looking forward to 2013, we cannot possibly anticipate all that God has in store, but we are nevertheless praying about or eagerly expecting the following:
·         Our local Y opening up a pool!!  It may sound trite, but we have long been looking forward to this along with many other members of our Y, and I know it’ll be such a blessing to our family
·         Selling our townhome and purchasing a new home which would serve some, specific needs and desires of our family
·         Beginning growth hormone treatments for Judah which will involve a daily injection

Would you give thanks with us as well as pray for our little family regarding the changes 2013 holds for us, both known and unknown?

We are so grateful for the friends and family with which God has surrounded us. You all are a demonstration of God’s merciful kindness to us. Your encouragement, love and prayers are wonderful gifts from God that we do not take for granted. Thank you for loving us!

If you want to keep up with us on a more consistent basis, you can visit us online at or friend us on Facebook, profile name “Briana Almengor”.  We’re always up for your spontaneous or planned visit as well. As long as we’re at our current townhome, our address is 224 Ferring Court  Abingdon, MD 21009. Or give us a call: 410.688.7553

With gratitude to the Giver of every good gift, which includes YOU,
Lawrence, Briana, Judah, Tucker and Bella

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tell me I'm not alone

Parenting has undeniably been the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to do well.  Marriage is tied with parenting. And, while I don't feel like I'm doing an exemplary job at either, I am gratefully stunned that God has given me the gifts of both.

That said, I wanted to relay the following "scene" from a moment in my day today, a less than glorious parenting moment but a rather common one unfortunately. It turns a bit comical toward the end which I know is just the grace of God at work in my life helping me not take myself so seriously, not be so easily angered, and learn to make light of things that do provoke.

It's 4 days before Christmas, and inevitably there are food items to buy. Instead of taking time away from being all together as a family when LA is home in order to go by myself as any other sane momma would do, I decide to take my three crazy kids to the grocery store with me. That's how I "take one for the team" here in our family. I've always had an inclination toward martyrdom. :)

Wegmans is where we'll be picking up those few last items on the list, including gruyere and organic pie shells because after all, where else am I going to get organic pie shells besides Wegmans? And, no I'm not making my own; that's not one I take for the team.

Weaving our way in and through the aisles is as challenging as driving on I-95 during rush hour.  Wegmans really should have traffic lights.

We make it to check out without breaking anything or anyone. Success. The self checkout at Wegmans, however, is a bit sensitive. My children like to call it "stupid", but then again they call everything stupid. We're in that phase of childhood development.

It's actually quite sophisticated and stupid all at the same time. If a child sits on the bagging area, for instance, it gets quite confused. Apparently, it knows the weight of the grocery item one scans and expects that weight to then be placed into a bag on the bagging wheel. So, when Bella plops herself on top of the bagging wheel, it gets a little upset and starts beeping. And then the checkout girl has to come over and shut it up. And, when I use the $5 Wegmans coupon, it gets upset and the check out girl has to come over and shut it up. And, when I try to scan another $1 off Wegman's coupon, it gets upset again, and the check out girl has to come over and shut it up. again.
And, now I'm upset and someone's going to have to come and shut me up pretty darn soon.

But, I keep it together. Well, that's not completely true. After Bella sat on the bagging wheel for the 3rd time, I did turn on her a bit, harshly telling her to not sit on the bagging wheel. ever. like never, Bella. Got it?  ah, grace filled parenting at its finest. NOT.

Deep breaths, Bri. Just get the kids to the car.
After finding the car (that took a while because I didn't park where I normally do. Rude for someone to take my spot, don't ya think?), I start to hit the keyless remote to open the car doors. But, the kids are pulling on the door handle at the same time.  Our van is a bit sensitive (hmm....seems like I experienced touchy electronics once already today. Isn't there a limit to how much one can endure of this kind of torture? oh, first world problems).

After too many tugs on the door handle and one too many clicks on the keyless to no avail, I lost it on the kids, "STOP TOUCHING THE DOOR"!  But, they didn't.  So, again I yelled and again, and I'm sure my kids thought my head was going to start spinning.

I was able to stand outside myself at that moment and realize I was so out of control. Guess that's called the Holy Spirit. :)  I'm so grateful He faithfully does His job well!  At that point I began talking about myself in third person, "Mommy needs help from Jesus right now to be patient..." and then broke out in song pleading with the children through some kind of made up melody that they please not touch the door. "Oh, for the love of my sanity, please don't touch the door", I sang.

I don't think my kids knew what to do. But they didn't touch the door. And, because I am a glutton for punishment, I went from Wegmans to BJ's.

Monday, December 03, 2012


Hope, hope, hope--How I want hope. How I need hope. Everyday, I need encouragment to fight the good fight of faith, to believe that God is good, that God is with me, that God is working all things together for my good.  Everyday, I need HOPE as a fuel to keep me pressing on in Christ, to keep looking to Jesus for forgiveness, help, wisdom, my righteousness, perseverance and love.

Hold out hope to me. Anyone.

I am desperate for hope.

I know I'm not alone.

One of my pastors spoke from one of my favorite passages in the Bible this past Sunday with the theme of "hope".  I want to have this passage of scripture before me all this week. Perhaps I'll memorize it. Do you want to memorize it, too?

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.  

Isaiah 61:1-3

Also, to listen to Jimmy's message on hope, click here .

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The "Heart"

Referencing the Paul Tripp marriage conference entitled, "What Did You Expect" that Lawrence and I had the privilege to attend a few weekends ago, Tripp draws our attention to a popular "game" we all play, especially with our spouse. I'm sure you've heard of it and play it yourself from time to time: the blame game. You know the rules of this game; I don't have to spell them out for you. Most likely, you started playing this game around the same time I did, as a toddler perhaps even before we could walk or talk.

In marriage, we play the blame game any time we become convinced that our marriage would be so much better if our spouse would change.  Tripp confronts this thought saying, "The 'blame game' is heresy--it never leads to a good marriage; it never leads to unity, understanding or love."

How often are we caught in that trap?  When we think that, we are believing a lie. My speech and/or behavior is NEVER caused by my husband. It can be a response to something he's done or said, but it comes from within my own heart. A person cannot say or do anything that wasn't birthed within the desires, motivations and inclinations of her own heart.

Our hearts are what Paul Tripp calls the "causal core of one's personhood", the steering wheel, if you want to think of it that way, determining what comes out of your mouth and what dictates your actions.

"My words and actions always tell me more about ME than they do about my spouse".

So what have my words and actions told me about ME this week?
It depends on the moment. But, many times I must say that my words and actions toward my family especially indicated that I love myself a lot more than I love them.
I have grown irritated and impatient with my children when they haven't obeyed me right away.
I have demonstrated anger toward my husband when he neglected to demonstrate thoughtfulness toward me in a way I expected him to.

I can gratefully say, however, that God has been right there with me in those moments, convicting me of my self-centeredness, pride and anger. By God's grace, confession and repentance came quickly in those moments when I took a harsh tone with my children or gave the "cold shoulder" to Lawrence.

Truthfully, I can grow quickly discouraged that I am still growing so easily angered with my children and husband. But, instead I want to see the grace there has been in these moments....not grace that removes temptation but rather causes me to confess sin when I've blown it and even sometimes not give into the temptation in the first place. Those are really sweet moments.  I experienced some of that this morning with my daughter.

She was having a really hard time focusing on school, staring out the window rather than attending to the work she had to do, fidgeting in her seat, with her hair and fingernails. I just wanted to get through the lessons and move on to helping the boys so that they could be finished with their school work before their Abuelo (grandfather) arrived to teach them Spanish. I had a long list of "to do" items clamoring for my attention. I did not appreciate her dragging her feet with her school work.

Impatience was "knocking at my door"; anger was welling up, and I wanted to be coercive and manipulative in that parenting moment to get her to pay attention and do her work. Here's one of those "little moments" that matter. By God's kindness, He captured my attention in the moment and allowed me to see the opportunity that lie before me to grow in godliness!

In my mind over and over again, I cried out to Jesus to help me demonstrate patience and long suffering to Bella, to persevere with her and encourage her rather than grow frustrated with her. He gave me empathy for her recalling times and circumstances when I've been asked to do something I don't want to do or have the energy to do. Most significant of all, He reminded me of how HE has treated me--with long suffering, patience, always being for me not against me, always wanting me to grow and thrive, never brow-beating me or manipulating me into obedience to Him.

I took many deep breaths, "breathing in" the Holy Spirit's power to do what is so far beyond me to do, rule over my emotions rather than allowing them to rule over me.  And, we got through the work. It wasn't fun; it wasn't easy, but God was there with us in that moment.

My heart is a storehouse of desires, motivations, will and emotions and so is yours. Out of those full hearts, we speak and act. What have your words and actions communicated about what's in your heart this week?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Made for Worship

The first principle Paul Tripp points out about marriage is that a "marriage of unity, understanding, and love is not rooted in romance, but in worship".

Say what?

Consider this truth: All mankind was born for worship--not to BE worshiped, though don't we all think so at times, but TO worship another, namely our Creator.  If you need a little convincing, ponder your experience of  the most recent sporting event you watched or attended, an amazingly scrumptious meal or dessert you ate, or even a museum you walked through. It's likely either you or another were participating in inferior forms of worship...what the Merriam Webster dictionary would call the giving of "extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem".

Worship is innate. It is something we were born to do. But, the object of our worship for which we were created is often replaced by lesser things.

Romans 1: 25 says, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator who is forever praised".

Daily, in some form, we make this exchange. We forget or deny that we were born to worship One and only One, and it's not ourselves.

What does this have to do with marriage?

There are many implications of this truth on marriage, but the one I'm going to focus on first is this: When we are not worshiping God, our Creator, giving our devotion and respect and ultimate admiration to God, we can assume that in some way we are worshiping ourselves. I am tempted a gazillion times a day to take God off the throne of my heart and put myself in His place, mindful only of what I want, what I need, what I feel. When that happens, there's bound to be marriage problems.

Here's one example of what it looks like for me...
My hubby comes home from work and I am tired from a full day of homeschooling, running errands, doing housework, breaking up sibling squabbles. I am not interested in serving another person. I've served all day. At that moment, I am really not thinking about anyone else's needs or desires or feelings other than my own. And, boy am I acutely aware of my own. I describe them in vivid detail almost every evening to my husband.

I want my husband to come in and take over, to know precisely the "line" I've required my children to tow all day and not lower the standard thereby undermining my authority. I want him to correct and train and encourage the children so I can emotionally and mentally "check out". If he'd help with the dinner dishes and picking up the house, that would just be a bonus.

So, when the kids don't respond to my call to come set the table or they complain about the meal I prepared and LA doesn't verbally jump all over them for it, if he's just a bit slower to respond than I normally am, I can absolutely lose it...on him and on the kids. I make the assumption that he was never going to address the children, he doesn't care or see the level of disrespect they have toward me. It goes further then to character judgments as well--he's checked out on us emotionally or is being lazy not wanting to address my children's hearts or behavior. He's apathetic toward my feelings.

All this happens within a snap.
Ever been there or somewhere similar?

And, you can imagine that what comes out of my mouth (because this girl has trouble keeping it shut!) is harsh, judgmental, accusatory and disrespectful (oh the irony). On the rare occasion I do manage to keep my mouth shut, the silence and slamming ensues. Slam cupboards and dishes all while pursing my precious lips tightly shut.

Believe it or not, I am worshiping in these moments. What I want, for my husband to engage with my children, is not a bad thing. It's a good thing; I should want that. When it takes the form of worship in my heart is when I am wanting it more than I am wanting God and His will for that moment in time. He wants me to grow in patience. Perhaps, He wants to help my children grow in hearing and responding to His Spirit convicting them in the quiet of their thoughts and heart versus being reprimanded immediately by their parent. He certainly doesn't want me to be bitterly spewing angry statements at my husband.

So, what do I do knowing my inclination to worship my desires, needs and wants?
Where do I go when the worship of myself has eclipsed the worship of God?

I'm grateful that God continues to stop me in moments like what I just described to convict me of my self worship. Sadly, I don't always bow to His conviction right away. Sometimes it takes me awhile. But, God's Spirit, thankfully, always wins and brings me to a godly sorrow over my sin. And, it is then that I can confess that sin, run to Jesus, the One who bore all the wrath of God that I deserved for all my moments of self worship.

And, God reminds me in I John 1:9 that when I confess my sin, HE is faithful and just to forgive me of that sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

Then, I think upon God, upon HIS perfection, HIS wisdom, HIS righteousness, HIS beauty, goodness, grace and mercy and bow again to HIS will for this small moment in my life.

In "real life", I ask for forgiveness from Lawrence (and my children if they were witnesses of my behavior or speech) and think on things that are excellent and praiseworthy about those brief moments around the dinner table. I think about what God may have been seeking to accomplish in my life, in my children's lives and in my husband's life at that instant. And, I consider God's redemption of my wrongs. I ponder all the ways God could be making good on my bad, and it's at this moment that I'm typically undone....for at least 3 minutes before something else may tempt me toward self worship. ;)

It's moment by moment here in my world. The little moments DO matter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"What Did You Expect"

My husband and I had the enormous blessing of being able to attend a marriage conference this past weekend hosted by Sovereign GraceChurch, Cherry Hill.  The speaker was Paul Tripp, and if you have not heard him speak or read anything he has written, you need to stop reading this post now and go to Amazon to order ANYTHING that he’s authored. I promise you no matter where you are in life, it will meet you in some way. Paul Tripp is a profound biblical author and speaker and has been used by God throughout the varying seasons and circumstances of my life to point me again to God’s truth, the wisdom of His ways and the goodness of His heart.

Anyone who knows me just a little bit probably knows that I don’t consider my marriage to be an easy one. It’s okay; my husband knows I feel this way. He feels that way, too. J  We’re both in it for the long haul. We love Jesus; we love each other. I would say that we’re incredibly different and that those differences are the cause of our frequent and heated conflicts, but I don’t think that’s entirely true.  We’re actually incredibly alike in the ways sin ensnares us, I think. We often say the most arrogant man on earth was attracted to and married the most arrogant woman on earth and boy, do the sparks fly!  The latter explanation likely gets a lot closer to pinpointing why Lawrence and I endure so much conflict in our marriage to one another.

Over the next week or two (or however long it takes me to actually write these posts), I thought I would share some of the key points I noted from the marriage conference in hopes that I would come a little closer to actually applying and God willing, gaining some traction toward a more God glorifying relationship with my husband.

I decided to do this publicly on my blog for two reasons: 1. Writing these posts will be a form of accountability for me to review my notes from the marriage conference which is one step closer in applying them. 2. I am hoping anyone who reads this will pray for me and our marriage (yes, this is a shameless plea for prayer…I’m pretty comfortable with asking for prayer!)

One inadvertent effect, I hope, from writing these posts will be that some of you who read may be encouraged and challenged in your marriages or other relationships because truth be told, so much of what I will share from the conference is applicable in a variety of relationships, not just marriage.

So, first post’s big idea is this:
“The character of marriage is set by the little moments.  The little moments matter because that’s where we live and that’s where God is.”

For me that means I pay attention to what many would call my “bickering” with Lawrence over just about anything and everything. We seem to find ourselves arguing at times about what most others would probably overlook or not even notice in the first place, like how to fold a blanket. True story.

It means putting down my dinner preparations to greet him warmly when he gets home from work with a hug and/or kiss.

It means not rolling my eyes when he flirts with me.

Many times, it means just thinking before I speak rather than reacting with words and a tone I often regret.

What might it mean for you to pay attention to the little moments?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Outdoor Refuge

The weather here in our part of the world could not have been more beautiful this weekend. Considering it a near sin to stay indoors with weather so inviting, I shoo-ed my kids outside on Saturday and set out to join them.

But, I live in a town home community, and while this type of living arrangement definitely has its advantages, e.g. endless opportunities for relationship and service to one's neighbor, close proximity to stores and other conveniences, small plots of land for which to care, it wasn't those conveniences I needed or desired this weekend. 

I wanted an outdoor refuge. 

I like one of the definitions of refuge at ""--"a place of safety; shelter; safe retreat". 

When I pass the threshold of my front door and close it behind me, I know that I'm in a place of refuge, a place of safety and retreat from the hardships, strains, and temptations that are outside my home, even though there is certainly some of that within my home, too. 

But, I also discovered this weekend that I desire outdoor refuges as well. God has given us fresh air to breath, changing seasons to experience in all their unique qualities, sunshine to take in as natural medication from the stresses of life. 

The "community" of town home living is a bit smothering for me at times, and I can be tempted to grumble for the lack of personal space. I was faced with such temptation this Saturday, but God's Spirit kindly and swiftly prompted me to give thanks instead for the outlets He HAS provided to me as outdoor refuges. 

We have an abundance of local playgrounds in Harford County, our tax dollars put to good use! And, my family certainly does make use of them. In addition, however, God has provided a few other family-favorite, outdoor refuges. One is a local garden, Ladew Gardens and one not as local but larger scale garden, Longwood Gardens, both of which we're privileged to be members.  

If, like me, you long for an outdoor refuge and aren't able to enjoy one in your own back yard, consider investing in a membership to some outdoor space such as a garden, historical site or farm.  The benefits of a membership versus just a visit is the access at low peak times (i.e. less people...when I get outside I don't want to share.  :)  The idea is SPACE to roam, quiet to think and take in all the wonders of God's creation.

Enjoy a few slideshow pictures (click on the top picture to see the entire slideshow) from some of our excursions to Ladew, Longwood and a local historic site, Jerusalem Mill.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


For about three years now (the same amount of time I've been a homeschooling momma), Thursdays have not been the best day of the week for me. No, it's not the TV primetime lineup that's lacking. I actually have no idea what's on TV on Thursday nights.

I'm not altogether sure why Thursdays are typically difficult for me. It could be that I've homeschooled for 3 days and we're all growing weary but not quite to the weekend yet. It could be that I'm out of the house on most Wednesday nights much later than usual. Or, it could be that I don't get to the gym on Thursdays to release those good-mood producing endorphins.  I really don't know.

All I know is nearly every week, I get to Thursday and CRASH--physically for sure, which tends to lead to me crashing emotionally and mentally as well.

So, today when I woke up and knew I had to make a visit to the MVA (MD Vehicle Assoc) for a license renewal in addition to my normal duties of school, laundry and food prep., I must admit there existed a strong temptation to feel defeated before I even rolled out of bed.  Add to that the fact that I would have to take my three children with me to the MVA, go to a doctor's appointment in the late afternoon, and have my home and heart prepared to host my pastor and his wife at 8 o'clock that evening.

Anticipating the day's agenda, I was convinced it was going to be a "just survive" kind of day.

With that in mind, I sarcastically posted on my facebook a link to the MVA webpage with the status, "Look what I get to do today with three kids in tow! I will survive".  Not a veiled plea for help, but a declaration of my fortitude and faith in God who goes before me, I clicked "post" and jumped into my day.

Sometime between Bella's writing lesson and the boys' math lesson, I headed downstairs to change over laundry and sneak a peak on facebook (come on, homeschool moms, you know you do it!). :)
Lo and behold, a friend made a generous and kind offer to watch my kids while I renewed my license.  In the midst of replying to her offer with an enthusiastic, "YES!", I received a text from another friend (who, by the way, hadn't seen my fb status) asking if Bella could have a playdate with her little girl.

Truly, I couldn't have arranged it better myself.
And, I didn't arrange it; God had!

On Thursday, this Thursday, the hardest day of my week, God used the thoughtful offers of two friends to heighten my awareness of HIS awareness of me.

These kind offers were not just gestures of friendship, though they were that at the least. They became for me a much greater thing: a divine moment in my day.  Being relieved of the pressure and stress of taking three kids to the MVA did serve me, no doubt, to endure the wait that inevitably comes with a trip to the MVA.  But, the effect of my friends' service went far beyond that.

It made me mindful that God sees me; He knows my frame. He knows that Thursdays are hard days for me. He knew that this Thursday was going to be even more challenging than usual.  And, He provided in ways I didn't anticipate or even ask.

This--this grace--this undeserved blessing--this awareness that God knows me and is with me buoyed me so, filled my heart with faith for the remaining responsibilities of my day and also with joy, the "cherry on top".  Sadly, I can't say I face most of my Thursdays with joy. God is growing me in faith for them, yes, but joy is the caboose that hasn't quite yet come along for the ride. Today, it did!

Don't underestimate the profound impact an act of kindness can have on a person--not just in providing practical help in times of need but buoying a soul and being used to enlighten one to the active presence of God in her life.  It's a powerful thing indeed.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The God of Again

Are you in need ...AGAIN

Do you need to forgive-AGAIN
be forgiven--AGAIN

Do you need spiritually refreshed--AGAIN

Do you need to reach out and build friendship--AGAIN.
You are weary of initiating, laying yourself bare, carrying others' burdens, caring. 
You need a fresh filling of God's heart and strength and resolve to seek His Kingdom first--AGAIN

Do you need healing--AGAIN

Do you need encouraged---AGAIN

Do you need to serve--AGAIN
or to be served--AGAIN

Are you being asked to wait--AGAIN

To all of you who for one reason or another have that word "again" in your dialogues with God, I believe He would say--I am the God of again.

I will heal again
       strengthen again
       encourage again
       give grace
for I am the God who does not grow tired or weary; my understanding none can fathom.  My resources never run dry. I have and am all that you need and more than you need, and I am the God who wants to meet you AGAIN."

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Discouraged Lately?

To say I'm prone to discouragement is likely an understatement. I'm discouraged early and often and lately, it's been a daily battle. What is there to be discouraged about you may ask? For me, it's anything and everything these days.

I'm discouraged that my children are so hateful and disrespectful toward each other and me and their father. I'm then discouraged as I consider that LA and I have sadly set that example for them.

I'm discouraged that I have gained 5 pounds in the last several months. But, then I'm also discouraged that I can't be mature enough to not care, that my vanity is still so great that I obsess about the silly 5 pounds that likely few, if any notice. (Now you will. Ha!)

I'm discouraged by the lack of Christian witness I think my family displays when out in public: kids screaming and hitting each other, me screaming at them or being harsh. But, then I'm discouraged that I have chosen the lifestyle of homeschooling my children which forces us to be in each others' faces all. day. long and potentially creates more context for conflict and more temptation. This leads to the discouraging reminder that other families are homeschooling their (more than 3) children and have a rather peaceful co-existence. They even ENJOY one another's company. When out in public, they are pleasant, smiling, or at very least not drawing all kinds of negative "press" to the homeschooling community.

I'm discouraged by my inconsistency to keep in touch with family members and friends. But, then I realize I'm still trying to figure out how to keep my own little nuclear family clothed and fed most days. That thought discourages me to consider I am 8 years into this mothering thing and STILL haven't figured out how to juggle some rather simple balls of home management AND keep some semblance of relationship with those outside my four walls.

I'm discouraged when I spend too much time on Facebook, twitter or emailing at the apparent neglect of my family's needs, which are obviously great as evidenced by their hateful and disrespectful speech and actions toward one another.

I'm discouraged that after 10 years of marriage, it remains almost as difficult to communicate with my husband as it was when we were first married. In fact, it may even be more difficult now because in our communication we're both tempted to bring in that whole "record of wrongs" we're not supposed to keep.

I'm discouraged that I don't read my Bible more, serve more people at my church or in more capacities, follow through on burdens put on my heart from time to time, particularly the burden to write both here on the blog and personal notes of encouragement or thanks to others.

And, the greatest discouragement of all for me is quite the irony. It's that I'm discouraged!!  Doesn't the Psalm say,
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

So this is one of those life-long, ongoing battles I face and have been facing rather acutely in the last several months. Where do I go with these thoughts? By God's grace, because of His goodness and mercy that runs hard after me day after day, I am not satisfied to let them sit and fester negativity and anxiety in my mind. I do not want these oft repeated, discouraging thoughts to lead me down to the pit of despair where I have been before and never want to go again. Though, I will admit that the temptation to give in to discouragement is STRONG.

So, where do I go?

  •  I pray. 

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
    may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
    my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

Psalm 40:12, 13

  • I sing.

  • I remind myself of what is true, lovely, pure, excellent, praiseworthy.
God will complete the good work He's begun in me. (Philippians 1:6)
God loves my children more than I love my children, and He is able to begin and complete His good work in them as well.
God's grace is greater than my sin, greater than the sin of my children, greater than my weaknesses and shortcomings. I have two quotes hanging on my kitchen cabinet doors that I look to often lately.

God specializes in using ordinary people whose limitations and weaknesses make them ideal showcases for His greatness and glory. taken from "Biblical Womanhood in the Home" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

God is always bigger than the need. Believing that God is bigger than your situation produces passion in your praise. (And, because of my shortcomings and weaknesses, I can't properly site the source for this.) 

  • I talk
Admittedly, I've been doing less of this lately, and perhaps that is contributing to my overall sense of gloom and doom these past few months. Nevertheless, I do seek out my community of fellow believers in Christ and share the ways in which I'm tempted to give in to discouragement. I ask for prayer. So often God will use others to encourage me with perspective, hope and encouragement to keep fighting the good fight, keep believing in God to be greater than my circumstances. 

  • I journal
Just recently LA came home, and I asked for just a half hour after dinner to sit at our local Target with a cup of coffee and journal. Because he's an amazing husband and very kind to me, he happily obliged knowing it would be for his good as well as mine for me to get away for a bit and journal. I had what I call a "heart dump" to the Lord. Via stream of consciousness, I wrote down all the burdens, anxieties, perplexities, concerns in my head and heart at the time. I believe it was 4 pages long, a list of the gazillion things in my teeny world concerning me that my God is MORE than sufficient to carry. 

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!  
Psalm 102
  • I listen
On the occasion that I don't have a child helping me prepare dinner, I will listen to a sermon online. I often go to where I will scroll through the abundance of audio sermons by one of my favorite preachers, John Piper. Here's the one I listened to tonight (a re-listen):
  • I wait
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:14

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 40:1

It's not a passive wait but a desperately humble one knowing ultimately it is God who must prevail upon my heart, upon my affections and mind. But I trust in Him and His Word. He says that no one whose hope is in Him will be put to shame. So, by God's grace, I will persevere. I will give thanks. I will look for the good, hope in Him, strive to see my life and circumstances through the lens of faith. And, by God's grace I will again be encouraged.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Chocolate Berry Crumble

During the week of July 4th, we were blessed to spend a couple days with my brother and sister-in-law who live in Indiana, PA, home of my college alma mater, IUP. And as any good houseguest does, I perused their book shelves to see if there was anything of interest.

I found a gem, and my sister-in-law, Krista, who is a gem herself told me to take it for my own: a cookbook entitled "Eat Out! The Outdoor Entertaining Cookbook."  Chockfull of recipes with ingredients I love such as fresh herbs, veggies and beans, the book was a delight to pore over.

Only arriving home Saturday night, I nevertheless tried a recipe first thing for our traditional Sunday night, "breakfast for dinner." And, of course it involved chocolate!

Here is the recipe with additional comments at the end:

2 cups fresh blueberries (I used frozen)
2 cups fresh raspberries (I used frozen)
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (I used frozen blackberries)
1  1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 unsalted butter, chilled, cut up
1/3 cup buttermilk*
1 egg

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray 9 inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray (or coat w/ butter). In large bowl, combine berries, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of the flour; mix gently.  Spoon into pan.

2. In medium bowl, combine remaining 1 cup flour, cocoa, 3/4 cup sugar, baking soda, salt; mix well.  With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture crumbles.  In small bowl, combine buttermilk and egg; blend well.  Stir egg mixture into flour mixture until well blended.

3. Drop dough by spoonfuls over berry mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar (I omitted this part).

4. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and cobbler is set.  (Top surface should be dull and dry to the touch.)

5. Meanwhile, in small bowl, whip cream with 1 tablespoon sugar until sugar soft peaks form. Cover; refrigerate. Serve warm cobbler with whipped cream.

*Many people, including myself, don't keep buttermilk on hand. So, an easy way to make buttermilk using fresh milk is as follows: 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of fresh milk. I usually put the lemon juice or vinegar into my measuring cup and then fill the rest with milk. For this recipe, you would use 1 teaspoon of vinegar to 1/3 cup milk.

My notes: 
In true Briana fashion, I used what I had. I didn't have fresh berries; I had frozen. And, I'm impatient, so instead of letting my berries thaw slowly on the countertop, I threw the frozen berries into a large skillet along with the sugar and flour. I then let it heat over medium heat and stirred until the berries were thawed and well combined with the sugar and flour. I then simply dropped spoonfuls of the dough on top of the berries right in my skillet pan which was oven safe. I threw the entire thing in the oven like that...a skillet cobbler.

Also, my children didn't care for this dessert because of the seeds in the berries. An easy remedy would be to choose seedless berries or fruit according to your children's liking. OR, make it with the seeded berries and enjoy the entire thing by yourself, like I am doing!

I also omitted the whipped cream on top simply because I didn't have whipping cream. It was absolutely delicious without it, but of course would only be better with it I believe!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sibling Harmony= Parental Bliss

Scene 1:
"Who farted?" inquires son number 2 and then proceeds to inch near his siblings' bums to identify the culprit.  After experiencing what rightly was a violation of his privacy, son number 1 hauls off and punches son number 2 in the lip several times.

Screaming ensues. Peeved mom intervenes.

Scene 2:
Son number 1 informs his sister loudly, "THAT'S NOT YOURS! I GOT IT FOR CHRISTMAS. GIVE IT BACK NOW!!!" Sister pulls the lego closer to herself, turning slightly away from her irritated brother. "May I play with it for just a few minutes?" she respectfully pleads.
"You may play with it as long as I'm right here with you. But when I'm ready to go outside, you have to put it back in its place," consents son number 1 kindly.

After watching the play by play closely, mom resumes washing the dishes, joyful that her children fought to work it out on their own.

I trust that any parent reading this can smile and nod recognizing the two scenes I described. And, I would also bet that any parent would much prefer the latter scene over the first. Sibling harmony does indeed equate parental bliss.

This crossed my mind today around 11 a.m. when I realized my children had gone nearly all morning playing peaceably side by side, working together toward a common goal: building a super-duper, cool, train track.

Recently, the Lord quickened to my mind how, like me, HE delights when HIS kids live their lives peaceably side by side, working together toward a common goal, that of telling the world of His goodness and mercy toward sinners. He delights not just because our efforts toward accomplishing His purposes are much more effective, but because we, His children, are enjoying a part of the abundant life He died to give us!

Psalm 133:1 says, "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity."

But, living at peace with siblings is not always easy, is it? Both biological and spiritual siblings can really work on our nerves at times. We disagree. We don't always view life or circumstances from the same perspective. We offend and are offended. To live at peace with one another as God calls us requires concerted effort at times. It requires humility and most of all, it requires love.

I tell my children often regarding living with their siblings, "It's a fight either way...we're either fighting against one another for our own selfish ends or with each other for the sake of unity and peace."

Unity and sibling harmony within the Body of Christ IS a FIGHT. And, we are wise to prepare for these skirmishes by equipping ourselves w/ the armor of the Word...

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense  says Proverbs 19:11.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. I Corinthians 13:4-8

Love covers a multitude of sin. I Peter 4:8

Our unity as Christian brothers and sisters not only pleases our Heavenly Father; it speaks volumes to a watching, lost world, looking for ways out of conflict, looking for peace. As believers, we know peace with God so that we can also know peace with each other.  He fought His flesh so that we can fight ours.  He defeated the dominion of darkness so that we can come alongside each other and defeat the real enemies, that of the world, our flesh and the devil, not each other.

In his sermon this past Sunday, my pastor shared a quote from theologian and author, Wayne Grudem.  It hit me square between the eyes in my own personal wrestlings for unity and peace within the Body.

Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound- to Satan's perverse delight.

Will you fight with me for unity and peace with your Christian brothers and sisters? Will you fight to overlook offenses, to love earnestly, to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things? It hurts to do this. Sometimes, it hurts a lot. And the only way we can do this ongoing, one offense after another, is to look to Jesus, the One who absorbed every offense without retaliation or threats, but instead entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly.

Look to Jesus and love. 
Look to Jesus and live in unity with your Christian siblings. 
Look to Jesus and know peace.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Guileless in Goalessness

How do you like that title?  :)

So, May's 30 day challenges to wake up early, go to bed early and pray for my leaders daily was a massive failure. Maybe my previous 30 day goals I really wanted to do, and these I only felt I should do? Maybe life took a few unexpected, major turns this past month, and I found myself a bit distracted from focusing on the challenges? Maybe I attempted too much for this month and should have chosen one or the other but not both? Maybe I just became fried of focusing on the same thing for 30 days in a row? Whatever the reason, I took a nose dive with May's challenges.

And, while June's 30 day challenge seems more attainable, work on improving the outside of my home 15 minutes daily, I am guiltlessly making a choice to set aside this 30 day challenge for now.

Our family is undergoing some changes, and I need to focus my energies on prayer, preparation and "rolling with the punches."

I hope to still write here on the blog, but I must admit that I am lacking motivation to articulate much at all via pen or otherwise. Having recently experienced a flare with my back, I find it difficult to concentrate and be as productive as I would like with the residual, gnawing pain I am still withstanding. Some days are better than others. Today is not one of them, but I haven't been to my chiropractor in almost 2 weeks. I am hoping to see him tomorrow.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
Psalm 40:11

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Memorable Memorial Day Weekend

Like many Americans this weekend, my little family hit the road to visit with extended family in Pennsylvania. Between Lawrence's busy season and the high price of gas, it had been since Christmas since we had seen some of my family. Even though a jam-packed full weekend of events, we thoroughly relished being together again, enjoying a respite from our realities, some of which are speckled with trial or challenges. It was a gift from the Giver we all happily received.
These are my absolute favorite kids in the world (minus 4 more nephews under age 2 if you can believe it!)

Within 10 minutes of where my brother and sister-in-law live and only a half hour from my parents is a National  Guard training site, Fort Indiantown Gap, along with a national cemetery, the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. Having never visited these sites before, I thought it was appropriate to take a drive through before heading to my parents for our Memorial Day picnic.

The drive through the cemetery was sobering to say the least. My husband and I both gained some needed perspective on trying circumstances we're walking through currently by somberly viewing thousands of graves and hundreds of families visiting them that day.

Here are some photos from our visit:
(to see the photos more clearly, click on the image)

It was a Memorial Day I won't too soon forget, one in which I really remembered that freedom isn't free. "Thank you" doesn't seem sufficient, but I and my family do thank all who have and do commit to put the "mission first", "never accept defeat", "never quit", and "never leave a fallen comrade."