Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I want to be different . . . journal prompt

Last week I was an outside observer to an incident that I can't really give details of here due to it's confidential nature. But let me just tell you that it was something that any average citizen who was treated this way would have been appalled. But these weren't 'average' citizens. These were former prisoners. As I've gotten to know some of these people I've noticed something that has bothered me and made me take a closer examination of my own life. 

From their vantage point, they don't expect to be treated with respect. 
They don't expect people to be honest with them.
They don't expect you to like them.
And most of all, they certainly don't expect you to be their friend in the true sense of the word.

What they expect is to be lied to,
shunned by others,
looked down on,
and used and abused. 

In truth, part of that is because that's how many of them have treated other people. I get that. But the rest of the story is often that they have always been treated that way. Granted, some of these people come from great homes and they just screwed up. And now they can't see any way back to healthy relationships and a 'normal' life. I believe with all my heart that this can be changed for many of them. Don't get me wrong, I've been brutally honest with them. If they do something stupid, I'd be the first in line to call their parole officer if I thought they'd be safer in jail. And I realize that not everyone wants to be saved from a destructive lifestyle. I'm not naive about this. But that doesn't give me license to treat them with disrespect.

I am sort of a no compromise type of girl. This is right; that is wrong; what is it you don't understand? That's me. Life is pretty black and white to me. (No racial implications there at all.) I don't see many gray areas. I realize there are some fine lines in life that we all have to walk. And the older I get, the more those lines seem to blur. I'm not sure if that is my age or the culture, or perhaps a combination of the two. But I usually don't have a hard time seeing right from wrong. 

Some of these people honestly do.
Sometimes they act completely out of survival mode and just deal with consequences later.
Act, then think.
It's a terrible way to have to live. 
Sometimes they literally need someone to talk them step by step through the ordinary tasks that most of us take for granted. But if they want to change their lives, many of them can, with help!

Through the weeks leading up to Pentecost our church is reading a devotional on holiness that our pastor, Matt Friedeman wrote. Our memory verse this week is:

Jesus replied: 
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37

If this is how I want to live my life, and it is, then people matter. All people. Not just the ones who fit in. Not just the ones who are socially acceptable. Several of these people have become my friends. The response I get over and over from them is that I'm something extraordinary just because I actually care about them and treat them with respect. Not true. There is nothing special about me. I'm just a sinner saved by grace. My past didn't involve a prison with metal bars, but I was just as much a prisoner as they were. I'm no better than anyone else. 

What I took away from this incident that happened, which was completely inappropriate and an emotional violatiion, and possibly a legal one, is that I NEVER want to be that person that they expect me to be. Pastor Matt often says we want to love like Jesus does at DaySpring Community Church. 

Jesus loved the socially unacceptable. 
Jesus loved the poor. 
Jesus loved the outcasts. 
Jesus had compassion for those who were caught in sin. 

I want that kind of love. 
I never want anyone to say that I looked down on them because of their social status. 
I want to love my God with everything that is in me. 
And I want to love people with that same kind of love. 

I want to be different from what is expected by those who are the 'least of these'. 

I want to be different from the world. 
I want to love like Jesus does. 
Always. 

Blessings,
Renea

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Journal prompt.

If I could tell my younger self . . .

If you aren't familiar with Celebrate Recovery, here is a quick overview of how a meeting goes. We open with worship, followed by either a lesson or a testimony. Then we break up into small groups followed by a meal together. In small groups we discuss what we heard in the large group and have a series of questions related to the evening's theme as discussion starters. We can answer one of those questions or discuss whatever we are struggling with. Or we can say pass if we don't want to talk. 

One of the questions on our list during group this past Friday was, "If you could go back and change anything what would you change?" Most of the ladies chose this question to answer. Some of their answers were simply heartbreaking. 

It is amazing to watch God working in these ladies lives. But I so wish that I could just miraculously convey the message to them that there is hope. That God loves them. That the pain and suffering they are experiencing now will one day by used for God's glory to help someone else who has been in their shoes. But first they have to allow Him to bring healing into their broken hearts. That is a hard sell when you are in the midst of said suffering, and you've never known unconditional love. 

For someone who is in survival mode, it's really hard to comprehend letting go of the little ounce of control that you feel you have, even if it is to give that control to the creator of the universe. For those of us who have walked with the Lord for years, sometimes we take for granted the trust and faith that we have, knowing that God really is working all things for our good. When you are a person who hasn't had much good in your life, or who hasn't had anything good for a really long time, GOOD seems like something that only happens to other people. Taking a chance on trusting an unseen God can seem pretty risky for a heart that has been broken, stomped on, and left on the streets to die. Some of these ladies have survived only by sheer willpower and street smarts. Trust, freedom, unconditional love, and GRACE, are completely foreign terms to many of them.

I chose not to answer the question of what I would go back and change. The list is too long, too painful, and way more information than I had time or the nerves to share. And since that isn't an option anyway, I chose to focus on where I am now. What my life is like after 26 years of sobriety and trusting God every day.
                    
                         For grace over my past, 
                                                  peace to find joy in the present, and 
                                                                           strength to face whatever the future holds. 

This isn't quite what I said to them, but here's a small portion of what I've learned over the years.

I've learned that I'm never going to have all the answers. 
I've learned that forgiveness is cleansing, both being forgiven and gifting that to others, even when they don't deserve it. 
I've learned that my heart can find joy, even when I'm not happy. 
I've learned that being transformed by a holy God doesn't take away my control, it gives me self-control.
I've learned that my God is truly everything He says He is. 

So, if I could go back and tell my younger self anything . . . 
I'd tell her to let go of her fear, quit worrying about what others think, and enjoy life.
I'd tell her that she is loved already and that no one on earth can fill that emptiness in her soul.
I'd tell her that beauty on the inside is so much more pleasing and lasts longer than what is on the outside. 
I'd tell her that acne does eventually go away.
I'd tell her to listen more and talk less
I'd tell her not to judge others harshly, because she has no idea what they are going through.
I'd tell her to read her bible every single day, even if she doesn't understand what she is reading.
I'd tell her that prayer is a conversation which requires listening as well as talking.
I'd tell her that there are going to be some really hard days, but Jesus is going to hold her through it all.
 And that after those hard days, she will see God's hand was at work through the pain.
I'd tell her that giving everything to God means getting everything of Him, 
and that is worth more than she could ever imagine.

And more than anything else,
if I could go back and tell my younger self only one thing . . .
I would tell her that God loves her.
HER.
Not just the whole world. But her.
Unconditionally.
Completely.
Beyond anything she can imagine.
As an individual.
As a child of the king of all kings.
As a chosen daughter.
As a precious child.
That's what I would want my younger self to know.
Because that is what has made all the difference in the world to me for the last 26 years.

He loves ME.
Period.

Blessings,
Renea

Monday, April 6, 2015

Today I am thankful for. . .

Journal prompt:
Today I am thankful for . . . 

This past week I've spent a lot of time contemplating the weight of Good Friday, the celebration of Easter, and Holy Week in general. It's still so hard for me to comprehend the love that Jesus showed on Good Friday. The beatings, the insults, being spat on, the utter cruelty of the cross. And he chose this - for me! How incredibly humbling!

If I were forced to defend my faith with my very life, or in the face of a brutal rapist as some of our sisters in other countries are, if I knew my head would be chopped off if I didn't deny my God, would I still admit to my belief? Or, would I even continue to believe at all? I hope I never have to answer that in reality. But I do wonder.


Jesus' words on the cross, "IT IS FINISHED!" marked a finality that rocked the world of those looking on, literally, with an earthquake, graves opening up, and the sky turning to darkness. But truly, it was not the end of the story! For us, it was the beginning of our freedom, the necessary debt paid for sin. I pray that you recognize the agony of Good Friday, but that you rejoice in the celebration of Easter where your redemption comes!

Today, I am thankful for living in a country where I have been privileged to learn about my Savior openly and in freedom.
I'm thankful for a church that constantly challenges me to a deeper walk.
I'm thankful for relationships with believers who accept me as I am but refuse to let me stay there, spurring me on to growth in my faith walk.
I'm thankful for my family who stood by me at my worst and loved me anyway.
I'm thankful for my husband who lifts me up with encouragement to use my gifts for His glory and loves me like I had never imagined possible.
And, most of all, I'm thankful for Jesus who unselfishly gave His own life to give me mine.

Blessings,
Renea

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Genetics are a funny thing. . .

Sometimes I wonder about God's sense of humor. And just in case you doubt he has one, just ask any parent of a child older than about a year old. Inevitably by that age there has been at least once that the parent has gazed with awe and wonder at said child and thought, 'God's getting me back for. . .' whatever.

Genetics are an amazing web of intricate combinations that are far beyond my comprehension. And sometimes, just sometimes, you find a genetic code that is so strongly stamped onto a person that you just have to look on in amazement.
And if you doubt that last statement, go back and ask the same parent again.

Most of us have at least one thing that we always swore would never happen when we became parents. In my case, one of those sworn to avoid things was my mom's standard answer for any question. "You'll have to ask your daddy." Translation, NO. See, Daddy worked at night for most of my early life. This meant when I got home from school, he had just left for work. And when I got up in the mornings, he was sleeping. So any request for permission had to be planned days in advance, which I never had the forethought to do.

For most moms, a stark reality hits us at the most inopportune moment and when we least expect it. Usually it's about mid sentence into what is about to be a tirade of warnings to a child who has done some dastardly deed or has uttered a forbidden rebellious statement that probably deserves a soapy dinner. And once it happens, you can never un-remember it. It's that moment when you open your mouth and your mother comes out. It just happens. And it's a frightening feeling. You are all at once a child in trouble and the old lady that you thought you'd never be.

But I really intended for this to be about something I did yesterday. I admittedly have the attention span of a flea sometimes. I can sit for hours and work on a project. But if I'm trying to multitask on chores, I walk away to get something and get distracted and forget what I was doing. I'm acutely aware of this brain malfunction. So I try really hard not to do two things at once that could be a problem if you forget to complete one of them. Like ironing. Or frying bacon.

Yesterday I was boiling chicken for soup. It was going to take a while. So I decided to do something else while I waited. I decided to wash a couple things that needed to be hand washed, which meant stopping up the bathroom sink and running water in it. It doesn't take long to fill a sink in a RV. But while I was waiting, I thought I'd take the two steps to the kitchen to check on the chicken. And I got distracted.

For the record, there is no overflow hole in the bathroom sink in our RV.

Now about that genetic code . . .

One of my daughters came in to pick up the grandkid after the water incident. She went to the bathroom. Being well trained by her mother, she wanted to wash her hands. But the bathroom sink was full of everything that was thrown in there off the counter to get it out of the standing water that had overflowed from the sink.

So I told her to wash her hands in the shower. But I forgot the shower floor was covered with wet towels used to sop up the water from the counter and out of the carpet where it spilled over to the floor. There was also a small pillow in there that my hubby had thrown in because the grandkid spilled soup on it.

I, like any resourceful mother, dug out the hand sanitizer in the pile in the sink and just squirted it on her hands and told her to go home and wash her hands.

By this time she was laughing hysterically. Not so much at the situation as at the fact that she tells people all the time that she got it honestly. If ever there was a child that was stamped with her parent's DNA, it's that girl. Bless her heart.

In other news, the chicken noodle soup came out fine.

Blessings,

Renea

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Testimony . . .

Right now I have about a dozen posts that are still drafts for one reason or another. Some are awaiting pictures. Some I just haven't finished. And some I'm struggling to find the right words to convey the message I want to give. This is one of those posts.

About a week ago my pastor asked me about giving my 3 minute testimony in church, then expanding that testimony into 30 minutes for Celebrate Recovery. I've been helping with Celebrate Recovery for just a couple of months. The Lord had clued me in that giving my testimony was coming. As soon as my pastor mentioned it to me, the nightmares started. Working with Celebrate Recovery has brought up so many memories that I would rather keep buried, hidden deep in the past. Things that are no longer a part of my life. Hurts that God has healed me from, but still bring feelings of shame and guilt when I dwell on them. There was so much damage that was done by poor choices I made. And fears that linger from damage that was done to me by others, those scars that fade with time but still sting when reopened.

Nightmares were a regular part of my life for a long time. For about two years after I was raped, I dealt with terrifying nightmares at least several times a week. They usually come back any time I have to open that wound again and talk to people about rape. Over the years, I've learned how to combat them. I know that prayer and fasting are the answer. But I didn't do that this time. For about a week, I just let them fester like an open wound. A week of sleepless nights. A week of missed opportunity to give my heavenly Father victory over my past. Again. Sometimes we are such lost sheep, even after we have been found. For me, I often find myself in a new pasture, or wandering in an old pasture that I thought had been destroyed, lost and afraid again.

Then I remember. I recall those promises I've learned to depend on.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away;
behold, new things have come." 
II Corinthians 5:17

I am reminded by my precious Savior that his love is sufficient, that his grace has covered my past, that I am no longer that lost sheep, that his plans for me are all good, that he hears me when I call to him.

And he answers.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart."
Jeremiah 29:11-13

As I've been praying about what I should share in a 3 minute testimony, I've struggled with what I should say. How do you convey years and years of foolish choices, a broken, destroyed life, AND God's grace that redeemed that life 26 years ago - in 3 minutes? I've been reading 'The Lent Project' by Journey Church. On Day 22, the prayer at the end of the devotion concluded with this sentence.

"Make me so focused on Your message that I stop feeling the need to spread my own."

And it hit me. Like God just reached down into the depths of my soul and clarified everything. My testimony isn't about mistakes I've made, my failures, my poor choices or insecurities, my broken life! My testimony is about what He has done in me, His healing, His redemption, His undeserved mercy. Three minutes certainly isn't long enough to recount all the amazing blessings He has poured into my life in the last 26 years. But 3 minutes of His miraculous works beats 30 minutes of my failures any day!

I pray that anyone reading this has found the beautiful healing love that can only come from a perfect God. If you are struggling to find God's grace, please know that He is pursuing your heart. His relentless love is infinite and unconditional. He will never fail you or desert you. And I would love to share with you how he has radically changed my life! Feel free to message me any time.

Blessings,
Renea

60 and Counting . . .

"Age ain't nothin' but a number."

I don't know who said that. But it is true. As we age our bodies tend to become increasingly uncooperative, our minds forget more than we remember, and our spirits don't seem to have quite as much passion for things we used to think so important. But other than those little details, I haven't really found aging to be such a bad thing. And there are certainly some advantages I hadn't expected, like I can honestly say no to chaperoning youth lock-ins because I'm just too old. And since the kids are grown, I get to play with the grandkids and send them home spoiled. lol.

Last month my hubby celebrated his 60th birthday. He was a little bummed about thinking he was getting old. So my family and I threw a big surprise birthday party for him. I wanted him to see how much he is appreciated by so many people. He doesn't really like to be the center of attention. But I figured with lots of friends and family around he would forgive me. It was great to see all the people who came out to show him they cared. He's a pretty super guy, besides being ridiculously talented musically, really smart, and an accomplished computer nerd, he's just an all around nice guy. Plus he's an amazing hubby and father. Here are a few pics from the party.
Not only was the party great, but the fact that due to his crazy schedule, I couldn't schedule the date and time until about a week before the party, we still managed to keep it a surprise!


And of course there was food! My mom smoked pork loin and I made blackbean chicken soup. It was quite an adventure keeping preparations for a party for 50 or so people a secret!


I adore this guy. Seriously.

Now, about that cake . . .
I you've seen my Instagram feed, you probably know that I affectionately call by hubby #MyPianoMan.
I made the cake using my favorite pound cake recipe, Paula Deen's Mama's Pound Cake. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/mamas-pound-cake-recipe.html
I made three 9 inch square layers. The top one I cut in half. My piano man sometimes plays two keyboards at a time. Hence, the stacked look. It would have been more realistic made with chocolate fondant, but since I'm allergic to chocolate, the black keys were about all I could handle. lol! Making this cake definitely did not take as many steps as the Frozen cake I made for the granddaughter. It actually was pretty simple.

I iced it with this: http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing

Then I covered it with the marshmallow fondant recipe from this blog:
http://rosebakes.com/how-to-make-homemade-marshmallow-fondant-yummy/

Yes, I mixed it with a spatula, just like she says. I usually use my heavy duty mixer. But I actually found this to be much easier than I thought it would be. The only thing I found difficult with this recipe was, after letting it rest for 24 hours, it was really hard. Like so hard I couldn't knead it in one big ball with my arthritic hands. I had to break off pieces and knead a little at time. But one I got it kneaded, it was great to work with. Her site has lots of helpful tips and techniques.

The black piano keys are Kit Kat bars dipped in Wilton melted black candy melts, available at Michaels. I placed the Kit Kat bars on a wire cooling rack and spooned the melted candy melts over them. Then I smoothed the top with the back of the spoon. After they dried for a while and started to set, I lifted them off the cooling rack by sliding a butter knife under them and moving them to a clean spot on the rack. Once they were set, I just moved them to wax paper and refrigerated them until I was ready to use them. You can lift up the candy that dripped down under the wire rack and reheat it. Before I put the Kit Kats on the cake, I scraped any hardened candy melt drips off the bottom or sides with a sharp paring knife. This made the sides look straight and the bottoms nice and flat.

I glued them to the cake using this fondant glue recipe: http://rosebakes.com/make-fondant-sugar-glue/
This worked great!

The white keys are just fondant rectangles, rolled a little thicker than normal and cut to size. I used a tape measure to get my spacing pretty even for the lines. The indentions between the keys were made with an ice pick.

All in all, I was happy with how it came out. And my man was happy. That's really all that mattered. I am definitely blessed beyond measure!

Blessings,
Renea

Monday, February 16, 2015

Frozen, Queen Elsa, and a little princess . . .





Jan 31st we celebrated one of our granddaughter's birthday with a full-blown Frozen party, complete with Queen Elsa herself helping host the affair. It was 7 year old little princess magic! Elsa was charming and sweet. The girls were wild. And we pumped them up with lots of sugary marshmallows, cake, punch, and candy.

Parties and events are kind of my thing. So my daughter, after much convincing, allowed me to just run with the whole party planning, decorating, games, cake, the works. I had a blast! Since all of that sugar was my idea, I'm sure their parents hated me by bedtime! But it was a perfect party.

If you are in the central Mississippi area, you can hire a princess for your party from: https://www.facebook.com/vaughnentertainment
I highly recommend them!
Elsa and the birthday girl
My sweet hubby went up and down a ladder about a hundred times to hang all those snowflakes and icicles. Bless his heart. I don't know why that guy still loves me, but he tolerates all my grand schemes and just keeps putting up with me! And those huge 3D snowflakes are super easy to make! You can get the directions from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7of1MSYHcw
After they were made, I sprayed them with Recollections Simply Pastel spray mist in blue. I don't think it is available any more. Most of the crafty supplies came from Michaels after Christmas clearance, including the blue wrapping paper I covered the little tables with, the foam snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and the Recollections paper snowflakes on the kid's table, even the helium tank. And the balloons came from the Fun Finds aisle.

While they waited for Elsa to arrive, the girls made Olaf with three sizes of marshmallows, pretzels, chocolate chips, and cake icing to make him stick together. I didn't consider that the girls would actually EAT Olaf after they made him. Thus began the sugar high  . . . lol. The little paper containers holding the 'parts' are Wilton, I think. I picked those up at Big Lots, too.

When Elsa arrived, she wanted to make an Olaf, too!

Then they played pin the nose on the Olaf. Elsa put the blindfold on each girl and turned her around. The girls were just giddy over this. So cute. I made Olaf by painting a background on white foamcore with shades of blue, purple, and white acrylic paint. Then I smeared some Craft Twinkles with my finger to make it look sparkly. I sketched Olaf on white posterboard then went over the lines with black Sharpie and cut him out. I glued him to the foamcore with Glossy Accents by Ranger and painted his arms and touched up the Sharpie lines with black, white, and brown acrylic paint to add some shading to him. Then I hung him on the wall with Command Strips so we could take him down after the party.

For the noses my daughter traced the outline and drew them on orange cardstock and cut them out. (My printer was out of ink or I would have just printed them on orange copy paper.) Because we wanted to keep Olaf to hang in Jolie's room after the party, we 'pinned' the noses with some masking tape rolled up on the back of the noses instead of using pushpins. Isn't Olaf cute with all the noses stuck to him?

Then Elsa wrote down the gifts as the birthday girl opened them, and she got very excited over the Elsa Barbie! And the birthday girl got very excited over the Minnie Mouse play set she got. I love these two pictures.

There was 'Snow Punch' made by my mom. It was yummy. And super simple. Blue Hawaiian punch, ginger ale, and vanilla ice cream. The straws came from Michaels Fun Finds.The blue skirt for the punch bowl was a small Christmas tree skirt I grabbed at Big Lots after Christmas clearance, as were the icicle lights hanging in the fabric behind the table and behind the chairs where Jolie and Elsa sat to open presents.

The party favors were candy coated Oreo cookies with snowflakes on top, a little Wilton blue shimmer, and some Wilton edible glitter, all tied up in a Wilton treat bag with a balloon, a snowflake ring, and custom made 'thank you' tag by my amazing personal graphic designer (which I forgot to take pictures of!). The mold for the cookies, the snowflakes on the cake, and the snowflake rings came from www.teresascreateacake.com. The cookie mold makes 5 candy coated cookies. I used Wilton white candy melts and rubbed Wilton blue shimmer on top after they hardened, all available at Michaels. We topped off the bag with a Recollections snowflake sticker and they turned out just adorable.

And the cake, complete with turrets (Wilton Castle Cake kit), an 'ice' (Wilton clear plastic) staircase, and ice spikes (candy glass from this recipe: http:/www.pamspartyandpracticaltips.com/2014/01/elsas-ice-candy_17.html?m=1) and snowflakes (Wilton white candy melts, Wilton snowflake candy mold, with Wilton blue shimmer rubbed on top).

I made the cake using Paula Deen's recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/mamas-pound-cake-recipe.html.
The icing was http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing
And the fondant was http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Rolled-Marshmallow-Fondant.
After the cake was all put together, I used more of the Wilton blue shimmer and edible glitter on it..

Elsa, Anna, and Olaf were also present on the cake (Disney skating figurine set at Toys 'r' Us). The Olaf plates and napkins are Disney and I picked those up after Christmas at Big Lots, also. There's lots of after Christmas clearance stuff here!


And the group picture. Lots of little princesses. Just too stinkin' cute!


The birthday girl loved it all. And for a week after it was over, she would randomly say what an awesome day she had at her party. That, my friends, makes all the work worthwhile!

Blessings,
Renea

Links and other sort of stuff:

Queen Elsa: Vaughn Entertainment, Clinton, MS on Facebook. They have several princesses to choose from. Tell them I recommended them!

Cake recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/mamas-pound-cake-recipe.html

Candy Glass Recipe: http:/www.pamspartyandpracticaltips.com/2014/01/elsas-ice-candy_17.html?m=1

Candy snowflakes on cake: Wilton white candy melts, Wilton blue shimmer, Wilton snowflake candy mold

Party Favors : Oreo cookies, Wilton treat bags, Wilton white candy melts, Candy mold and snowflake rings - http://www.teresascreateacake.com/

3D Snowflakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7of1MSYHcw

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Milestones and anniversaries . . .

I started trying to write this post months ago when I had a little epiphany.  But I just couldn't get the words to convey the meaning I was feeling. I didn't understand at the time, but now I realize it was all part of God's timing. Funny how that works sometimes.

This is a long post. If you don't read to the end, at least scroll down and check the link at the bottom. Even if you don't need the info, I can guarantee you know someone who does.

Last year, 2014, marked some pretty important milestones in my life. Like quarter century milestones! In September, my piano man and I celebrated 25 years of marital bliss! Well, it hasn't all been bliss. But we are still madly, deeply, in love, and that says a lot after 25 years in our culture, especially with the baggage we came into marriage with. In February, 2014, we celebrated the month we met, also 25 years ago. I know. You are doing the math now. Yes, we met in February of 1989. We married in September of 1989, seven months after we met. Even more amazed that we are still married now, aren't you? LOL! (We did have an extensive set of mutual friends, but still, I really don't recommend this.)

It dawned on me around January 15th last year that there was another 25 year anniversary that I had completely forgotten about. This is really strange. Mostly because I thought it would always prevalent in my mind. I never would have dreamed it would be merely an afterthought as I was driving down the road, like, oh, yeah, it's been 25 years!

What milestone is this?

Sobriety . . .

25 YEARS . . .

SOBER AND DRUG FREE! 

Yes, there's another math thing. I met the man of my dreams almost one month to the day after my commitment to, well, more on that in a minute.

In Jan of 1989, I fell flat on my face before God, broken, empty, and alone. In complete desperation I begged Him to take my ruined life and help me be the person He wanted me to be. No games. No bargains.
No pretense of my own ability to help myself.

And for 25 years, I have been sober. Not one slip in 25 years. Well, except for the time I ordered a cappuccino in an Italian restaurant and didn't realize until I tasted it that it had alcohol in it. Kahlua. Who drinks that stuff anyway? Chocolate flavored alcohol. In coffee. Who knew? Lesson learned.

I don't say any of this to brag. Far from it!

There are a few things I'm always acutely aware of. One is the incredible grace I have been shown, by more people, and by God, than I could ever begin to repay or deserve. I have been blessed with amazing parents and a brother who lovingly tolerated me even at my worst. And the second is that I truly am a living, breathing example of the phrase, 'only by the grace of God.'

I would love to say that my 25 sobriety anniversary is due to my deep abiding faith and my close personal relationship with God. And, although true, it wouldn't really be the whole truth. Yes, I do have a deep abiding faith in God. And I do have a close personal relationship with my heavenly Father. And, yes, that has been the rock that I have leaned on in times of struggle and joy. But there were other factors that had a strong influence on my sobriety as well, especially at first.

Probably the strongest influence at first was abject fear.
Fear of doing damage to my children.
Fear of losing the wonderful man that God had brought into my life.
Fear of disappointing my parents and my brother, again.
Fear of where I might end up if I took just one more drink.
Fear of failing God.

At some point, over time, as I learned new behaviors and made new friends, as my faith grew, my fear turned into trust. But it didn't come easily! I had to work at it constantly, with people and with God. And especially with myself. I had to learn to do what I needed to do, instead of what I wanted to do. It was a slow painful process that my sweet husband, family, and my heavenly Father held my hand and loved me through.

So, I write this from a heart full of humility. And with a note of encouragement to anyone who is struggling with addiction.

Wherever you are, you are not too far from your heavenly Father's reach!
No matter what you've done, you still have value and worth!
And no matter how desperate your situation, your life can be redeemed!

Consequences from poor choices will still be there, but that doesn't mean that you are beyond hope for tomorrow. If I've learned anything on this journey, it is that my gracious God has gone before me time after time, and always will.
. . . to lead me.
. . . to guide me.
. . . to continue making me over into what He created me to be.

Change is hard. Walking away from lifestyles and habits that are ingrained in us is very difficult. But it can be done! It isn't easy. But if any of this describes you, do whatever you have to do to give your life over into His hands. Get involved with a church family that will support you and love you through the difficult days. Walk away from friends who are a bad influence. Change jobs if you need to. Even avoid family members who draw you into behaviors that you need to avoid.

Do whatever you have to do!

Rarely in life do we get fairy tale endings. If you ask anyone who has known me very long, they will tell you my life has been no fairy tale. But I have been blessed beyond measure. And I did get my prince charming. And we are living happily ever after. With a lot of storms and challenges. But I wouldn't trade the journey we have been on for anything else in the world.

And NONE of it would have happened if I hadn't taken that huge step in Jan of 1989.
A step that scared me practically to death.
A step that cost me nearly every friend I had.
A step that removed every social avenue I had known for most of my adult life.

A step that saved my life.

God loves you. 
Don't ever doubt it. 
Don't ever forget it.

Blessings,
Renea

We have just started a program in our church called Celebrate Recovery. I highly recommend it, whether you are dealing with addiction or other hurts, habits, and hang-ups from the past. Celebrate Recovery is a way to get the support you need to deal with any of those. And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to shoot me an email or message!

If you are in the Jackson metro area, our meetings are on Friday nights. Here is the link to our website with more info: http://www.dayspringonline.org/

Our facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/DaySpring-Community-Church/222284828727

If you are somewhere else in the world, check out the Celebrate Recovery website to find other groups:
http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One Little Word 2015

This is my second year to participate in this One Little Word adventure. I wasn't super active with it last year, but it has been a constant little reminder in the back of my mind throughout the year. I've had a hard time this year coming up with my word, which caused me to really reflect and see if there is even any point to this process for me. And the resounding answer I've come up with is, YES! Looking back I can see how God has used this little word to guide me in some ways that were somewhat vague at the time, but now are more clear.

For 2014, my word was CHOOSE.

In August, 2013, we moved out of our home into our little RV. It was a huge, difficult decision and took a lot of prayer and soul searching for me to be ok with it. When we finally made the decision to move, the adjustment period was even harder than I had expected. Moving into the RV gave us security. We are in a wonderful area, virtually no crime, armed security on the premises at all times, and absolutely no fear of going outside or being inside. Unless you've lived in a high crime area where you never go out the door without being armed and on your guard, you really can't relate to what feeling safe means. Learning to distinguish between the sound of fireworks and automatic gun fire is simply not how people should have to live. My family had felt trapped for so long in a declining neighborhood consumed by crime, and here we were in our RV, completely safe. And I was miserable. I missed my big kitchen. I missed my laundry room. Yes, I really did miss my laundry room. I missed my scrapbook room. I missed my bedroom closet, the one that I hated when I lived in my house. I missed privacy. I just missed my house, period.

There were lots of tears, lots of frustrations, lots of grumpy days.

Then Christmas came. And I grieved. All my decorations were in storage. There was no where to put any out in the RV. There was no where to put wrapped presents. There was no big oven and counter tops to take care of the massive amount of baked goods and candy that I usually make. And I cried. And felt more frustrated. And was more grumpy. 

At some point between Christmas 2013 and New Year's Eve, I decided my word for 2014 was going to be CHOOSE. I was tired of being miserable. And frustrated. And grumpy. I decided that this is my life now. My hubby and I CHOSE this change because it was the best choice available. Now I had to CHOOSE to make the best of it. I did my best in 2014 to stop whining about what I didn't have any more and look at how blessed my life is. I accepted that my perspective is based on what I CHOOSE to see and how I CHOOSE to look at my circumstances. I certainly didn't do it perfectly, but if you look back over my One Little Word posts on this blog you can see that there were changes in my attitude. I decided to CHOOSE to see the good in life.

Sometimes the hardest step to changing is just deciding that you need to.   

And it has been hard. But it's happening. And I am adjusting and much more comfortable with our little, tiny home. So I've decided to continue this journey with One Little Word. 

My word for this year is BUDGET. 

I know that may sound like a strange choice. But this is the year I want to learn to BUDGET my LIFE! Not just my finances, which definitely could use a new budget attitude, but my entire life. My time. My resources. My finances. My talent. Everything. I don't want to be that person who gets to the end of life and regrets how I budgeted my life. I want to focus more on family, friends, ministry, giving. I am a master at wasting time doing things that show absolutely no results. And I'm not off to a great start changing that for this year. But I'm working on it. I want to be able to look back on this year and see that I gave it my all! I want to see that I truly spent time, effort, money, and energy on what really matters. I want to be able to say that I planned well AND executed those plans. I'm great at making lists and coming up with ideas. I'm not so great at follow up.

So, here's to 2015. The year I want to BUDGET my LIFE! I hope your year is off to a great start! And I hope you will join me on this little adventure called One Little Word.

Blessings,
Renea

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Laundry Detergent DIY

Yes, I am one of those weirdos who makes my own laundry detergent. There are several reasons for this madness. And believe me, about halfway through this batch, I really thought this was madness. Mostly because I didn't write down the instructions last time and forgot one very important crucial step. More on that in a minute. Here are my general reasons for making my own laundry detergent:

1.  It's cheaper.
2. It makes my life much easier.
4. It only takes 1 - 2 tablespoons per load. That's it. And no dryer sheets.
5. Did I mention it's cheaper than buying the pre-made at the store?
(Actual recipe is at the bottom of this post. Just in case you don't want to read my craziness.)


The recipe I use is for the powdered version. If you are looking for a liquid version you'll need to look elsewhere. The liquid recipes just look like way too much trouble to me. For this recipe, basically you just dump everything into a large container and mix, except the Zote. It's a bar of soap. So most of the instructions you'll find online tell you to grate it. I did this once. I nearly lost what's left of my feeble mind. Seriously. All of the recipes call for Zote or Fels Naptha soap - grated. If you want to see the differences in the two, there are several comparison articles you can find through google. I personally like how the Zote smells. And it seems to dissolve fine in hot or cold water. And you can get it in pink. Sold! Last time I made this I found a video on microwaving the Zote to remove the moisture then just crumbling it. I was ecstatic! It works like magic! HOWEVER . . . this is extremely important. And I forgot this step. See that exploding Zote in the picture? Cool, huh? BUT do NOT do that! 
Here's the step I forgot. Cut your soap into about 1 inch squares. THEN put one at a time in the microwave on a plate. Start with 30 seconds to 1 minute. All microwaves are different so experiment to see what works best in yours. Whatever you do, DON'T put the whole thing in the microwave. Because 3 hours later you will still be putting Zote in the microwave, crumbling the edges, putting it back in the microwave. 
And you will hate me. 
And you will hate your dirty clothes, if you don't already. 
And you will hate anyone who is anywhere near you telling you how crazy you are, like your adult daughter who keeps looking at you like you just walked off the funny farm and rolling her eyes. 
And you will hate the very idea that you thought you wanted to make your own laundry detergent in the first place. 
Trust me on this. 

And then you will get impatient and put it in the microwave for too long. And you'll end up with something that looks like this. Burnt soap. Eeeuuuuwwwww. You know what burnt popcorn smells like? Just imagine burnt soap.It isn't pretty. And it doesn't smell nice. I recommend you have 2 plates of Zote going at one time. Let one cool while the other is heating in the microwave. I just used a heavy duty paper plate, you know one of those expensive dollar store kind.  Be WARNED - any moisture that is still in the soap will be really HOT!!! Your microwave may smell like soap for a couple of days. You can get the smell out by heating a cup of white vinegar for a minute then just wiping out the microwave with a damp cloth. Unless you didn't follow instructions and tried doing the whole bar at one time. Then you will need to clean all the soap that fluffed up over the edge of the plate and got all over the microwave. You should trust me on this, too.
So, after you've cut your Zote into squares, and put one square at a time in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute, it will grow to this big fluffy thing. I just peel off the part that has dried out and stick any wet pieces back in the microwave for another go. I did end up getting the grater out towards the end. It does grate a lot faster after microwaving so you might want to use a combination of the two, microwave and grate.
Yes, I wear gloves. Not because any of it is toxic, but just because I have super sensitive skin and usually end up mixing the whole batch with my hands. Without gloves I would be washing my hands every 2 minutes. And that would slow down the progress. Patience is not one of my strengths.
Here is a link to a video that breaks it down. They were smart. They used a bowl. Duh. Maybe I will remember next time! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMflb84KOhk

SO . . . 
2 containers of this 7th Gen Oxi stuff - about $5.00 each
I've also used  Oxiclean and the Kroger brand. I think the 7th Gen works a little better, but that could be just because it was cheaper. Or because I'm a sucker for something that says, "Free and Clear." I picked this up at Big Lots. Kroger carries this brand but they have changed the packaging. So if you look for it at Kroger, it won't look quite the same.

One box of 20 Mule Team Borax - about $5.00
Most places that carry laundry detergent carry this.
2 bottles of Purex Crystals, whichever scent you prefer - about $4.00 each
I like the purple. But this time I used one purple and one blue. I guess I wanted more color. If you insist on using dryer sheets, skip this step. I have found I have less static in my clothes by using the Purex and skipping the dryer sheets. It also leaves no oily residue on your clothes that destroys the fire retardant properties of children's pjs. So for me, this is a win/win! And my clothes come out just as soft and fresh. 
Plus it's one less thing to store and remember to do. I'm all about consolidating tasks and storage. Have I mentioned we live in a RV?

2 bars of Zote soap - $.97 each
You will find this in the laundry detergent aisle with the other products used. It comes in pink and white. Kroger used to carry it but this time I was only able to find it at WalMart. And it was in a really odd place, like the middle of the aisle in between several brands of  laundry detergent. I had to look several times before I found it. You can use Fels Naptha soap, also. You would think they would be in the same place on the shelf. But don't count on that. I use the Zote because I just like how it smells. 
And I prefer the pink. Mostly because it's pretty. 
But this time I used one white and one pink, not for any particular reason. It was a weird shopping trip.

One box of this washing soda stuff. About $5.00
Also found in most stores that carry laundry supplies.
2 boxes of Arm and Hammer baking soda, or one large box - about $1.00 each for the regular size box.
If I'm at the grocery store, they usually don't have the large box. So it just depends on where I'm shopping. WalMart usually has the large box in the laundry aisle. But you can also just pick up the regular old baking soda in the baking aisle of your local grocery store.

Once you have all your Zote microwaved and crumbled, or microwaved and grated, or just grated if you are just desperate to build your arm muscles, you just dump everything together and mix. Easy peasy! I wash about 8 loads of clothes a week in a large capacity washer. This mixture lasts me about 9 months. My clothes come out clean and smelling fresh, not like a perfumed laundry soap. 
You only need 1 -2 tablespoons, I promise!
 This is what it looks like all mixed up. Pink and blue and white. Lovely! 

After you mix it all up, just store in a container. I fill a small jar or plastic container to use when I'm doing laundry and store the bigger one in my storage room. This is what my container looks like. It's just a plastic one that I got at the dollar store. It will hold the entire recipe, however, it is easier to mix in a big bucket or large stock pot. And I highly recommend if you live in close quarters, like an RV for example, that you wait until a nice day and do all the dumping and mixing outside. I did this batch inside. I sneezed a lot. Really. A lot. Even with the windows open. Definitely an outside project.

For some stains that I know won't come out in the wash I use plain old peroxide, especially for things like blood or little potty accidents. It only costs about $.60 per bottle and works great! Just pour the peroxide on the stain before washing.

TOTAL COST: APPROXIMATELY $32.00 FOR NINE MONTHS OF LAUNDRY DETERGENT 
INCLUDING THE FABRIC SOFTENER! 
If my calculations are correct, that's approximately 270 loads of laundry for $32.00! Disclaimer - math is not my strong suit. But I can tell you it lasts me about 9 months doing about 6-8 loads a week. 
So don't trust me. You do the math. My math is not known for being reliable.

So here is my recipe:
1 box 20 Mule Team Borax
2 regular boxes of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda OR 1 large box 
          (depending on what's available)
1 box Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
2 containers 7th Generation Natural Oxy Stain Remover Free and Clear 
          (Or OxiClean or a generic of your choice)  
2 bottles Purex Crystals
2 bars Zote Soap 
     
You will need a large container to mix and store.

Grate the Zote OR cut into approximately one inch pieces and microwave each piece for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Allow to cool then crumble into container. If there is some that didn't crumble, you can also grate what is left or reheat again.

Then just dump everything together and mix with a large spoon or your hands.

Use 1-2 tablespoons per load of laundry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Once upon a time there was a girl,

who had a blog,

who never posted on her blog,

and

she

was

me.

We are finally back in our little RV home with wifi and 4G on our phones! Woot! For the last 3 months, we have been living with my parents due to health issues that rocked the world of our entire family. My mom had surgery in April that went terribly wrong. Then my dad had a severe allergic reaction that required several days of constant monitoring. I will probably post more on these two issues later, but for now, I'll just say both parents are doing much better. Mom is walking again (with a cane) after her disastrous surgery that broke her femur. Daddy is hobbling around after the huge blood clot in his leg that still isn't completely healed. If we can keep them both out of the hospital for a while I will be ecstatic!

Yesterday was my first day to be back to my regular walking. My day started early with a 1 hour commute to sub for a friend at her school. Driving over the water is always refreshing, even when it is foggy and the sun isn't quite up yet. (I may have taken this picture while driving over the spillway at 6:30am. Shhh!)

Walking by the water is even better than driving over it! This is one of the things I've missed the most.  These pictures are from my evening walk yesterday.

There is just something about large bodies water that makes me breathe deeper, think more clearly, feel more gratitude. God is so gracious to have endowed us with such beauty to enjoy. So today I'm choosing to LOOK.

Look at His creation.

Look at the gifts all around me.

Look at how far He has brought me.

Look at the beauty of the earth.

Blessings,
Renea