Why Forest Home has our heart, and what I love most about family camp as a mama

Last year, when the opportunity to go to "family camp" we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into. Neither David nor I had ever done any vacations that structured/organized with our families growing up, and I personally had never even been away "to camp" but rather had just heard accounts from my brother and friends of the epic experience it would be.

(Side note: Thankfully-- since I wrote a book about summer camp-- I finally got to have some of my own camp experiences from which I could draw. Those familiar with Forest Home will recognize some little details worked into my story and the camp I made up in my book if it's published one day.)

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You guys, despite all I had heard, I was not prepared for how amazing an experience it would be to go to camp as a family. Last year, we fell in love with Forest Home. This year, as we prepared to go back for year two, anticipation was high, and all five of us were counting down until it was time to go. 

And it did not disappoint. 

Of course, with all of the activities on the docket, the fun-meter at family camp is basically off the chart. The kids could talk your ear off about the Giant Swing, the ropes course, mini-golf, the craft cabin, the pancake breakfast hike, and Lake Day (our family's favorite day of camp). 

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But here on the blog, I thought I'd share the aspects of camp that pull on my mama heartstrings the most, and what makes family camp a true vacation for parents (spoiler: free babysitting. Nope, not a joke).

And, bonus: it's such a short drive off the beaten track (aka Redlands/I-10) which is great because I love the mountains but I don't like scary mountain roads. People come to Forest Home from all over (we met a family from England this year!), but if you live in Southern California it is is especially convenient, while still feeling worlds away.

Family time, friend time, alone time. Fun time and down time. Family camp offers such a good balance. The extroverts get plenty of friend and family time (we spent every evening playing cards in the clubhouse), and the introverts can hide away in the cabin or in nature anytime the schedule feels like too much.

Everyone gets poured into and gospel-refreshed. Our kids get time in their classes that is like a VBS, but even better (I loved the new trail adventures where they studied the word while out adventuring). And the grownups get the word taught twice a day (we were so encouraged!) with lots of time to worship God through music, too. 

Yummy meals and tasty snacks (ie milkshakes!), and coffee to boot. The kitchen staff is amazing and the Clubhouse is known for its delicious shakes and addicting fries. The coffee shop is fun to have as a treat option, although I love that they set up free coffee stations early each morning for the early-risers. 

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Enjoying creation, and getting away from daily life. Plus, fresh-picked blackberries for dayzzz. The mountain setting is so beautiful and rejuvenating to the tired soul. All along the creek are berry bushes, and we were there at just the right time to get to see (and enjoy) the berries at their ripeness, too. This year we also did a little hike at Big Falls down the road from camp which was super fun.

And of course, the CCA program (aka babysitting every night, and I mean that includes not dealing with bedtime). Each family is assigned a CCA (childcare assistant) who loves on the kids each evening during the teaching/worship/free time, and what a blessing it is to have all that time together as a couple! Hands down, this program is one of the best parts of Forest Home family camp, and I look forward to sending my girls up to be CCAs some day, too. 

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Finally, I have to give a shout-out to my handsome husband and our friend who won the Blob contest with an epic, story-telling, creative prop-using Blob stunt. #DaveyPoppinsForEva

If you're curious about Family Camp or have any questions, I'd be happy to answer. We just love it so much!

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Delighting in the days

delight-2 In January, I chose delight as my word for the year. I'm never very good with followthrough and this one word exercise is usually no different. But recently as I thought about how I was feeling these days with our lovely summer and our new fall rhythm/schedule/day-to-day life, I realized that things had been quite... delightful... and that without particularly trying, I had in fact been delighting.

Last spring was hard. I felt like a chicken with my head cut-off with three kids doing three different things school-wise, plus sports, church, and other activities. It was crazy. I felt like if I could just make it through till summer; it was a season with little delight in some ways, but it was also a season of embracing my writing life right where it is, and pressing on and moving forward intentionally, which is in its own way, a form of delighting.

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Through the chaos, and then into the peace of summer, my delight in the Lord has been strong though. This year I've taken on a Bible reading plan that my church recommended and it has kept me in the word consistently. My prayer life has been lacking still this year, but in reading the word I have felt a growth which is powerful.

Summer was beyond delightful. Beach days, camping trips, long days, family camp (ahhh-mazing!), swimming, barbecuing, reading, baseball, relaxation, concerts (Coldplay!) time with family and sweet friends-- it was all the lovely things of summer that I adore-- the very definition of delight, thank you, Jesus. I was incredibly sad to see it go, as much as I always love the start of a new school year.

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And as we've entered the new fall season, a season which can bring with it chaos and busyness, I'm delighted to say that things have, amazingly enough, not gotten out of hand, and in fact, I'm quite delighting in our days and enjoying the rhythm of things right now.

We now homeschool three days in a row (Monday through Wednesday), and then, the kids all go to school all day on Thursday and Friday, a gift to this mama that has brought blessings galore in just the first month. Lunches, brunches, coffees, mama outings, peaceful errands, days to clean and prep, writing time, and moments of quiet have been amazing.

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I'm relishing this time and trying my best to use it wisely and keep it from getting over-scheduled. And just like I expected, it actually has me looking forward to our next homeschool days... and despite all the solo-time benefits, even missing my kids a tiny bit. ;)  For our family, and for me, it is the perfect fit.

So all this to say, even though many days I'm still tired (from knowingly burning the candle at both ends) and there are still overwhelming moments and feelings of inadequacies and frustrations with schoolwork and parenting challenges galore...

There is amidst it all a strange feeling of r e s t.

There is p e a c e.

There is d e l i g h t.

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And there is gratitude. I'm very thankful for this season, and for the ways the Lord, in His grace, has orchestrated this time. May I use it for His glory.

3 spheres of influence and calling

3 spheres of influence and calling Sometimes it's hard to try to summarize and recap a powerful experience. I want to try to give you a succinct summary of my trip to Portland last weekend, but I'm struggling to put my finger on the right words. Which is ironic, considering the main purpose for our trip was a writing conference.

It was a weekend of beauty and friendship and encouragement and kick-in-the-pants inspiration. Of good coffee and the best donut I've ever had. Of virtual friends made real and reconnecting with dear old friends as if no time had gone by at all, that is to say, of oh-so-kindred spirits.

Jumping back into regular life has honestly made it hard to try to process all that I learned, both in conference sessions, and also in heart-to-heart conversations.

I have twenty pages of notes in my Moleskine journal and a million thoughts swirling in my head, but this is what I'm most concretely able to pin down right now. As I process this, it feels a little like a manifesto, and maybe it is.

As a believer, my main goal in life is to glorify God and live out the gospel. But as an individual, I believe I have a few specific spheres of influence, areas of calling and responsibility.  I can't deny any of these or I will not be living fully as the person God created me to be. The more I invest in these areas, the more fully I will become myself (which, it turns out, is a pretty darn good definition of success, according to Emily).

1. My family. I have been gifted with the wonderful responsibility of being a wife, and a mom of three. It is my job to, in the grace of God, put forth my best effort in these relationships. A weekend away with my husband was a darn good way to invest in my marriage (but so is making his favorite dinner and sacrificing a Saturday so he can play golf).

Discipling my kids and training them in education and gospel living is my primary quotidian job. Parenting is really the hardest job I've ever had, and it refines me more than I ever wanted to be refined. It also teaches me more about my relationship with God than any other experience has.

2. My community. I believe that the sovereign hand of the Lord has put me exactly where I am for a reason, and that my family is right where he wants us to minister at this time. I love opening my heart and my home to others and I take the hard with the good because I wasn't created for isolation but for community.

My church family (and our community group and the music ministry), our extended family, friends, neighbors, school, sports teams, my local Community Bible Study group, even my long-distance friends and our farther- away extended family-- God has me right where I am to live out the gospel and connected to the very people to whom I am meant to be connected. I'm thankful for these people and for the privilege of doing life with them.

3. My words.

Two weeks after I graduated college I married David. This stage of life of marriage and raising a family and being a veritable grown-up seemed to start that day in June. Since then, those first two spheres have become such an integral part of my daily life and who I am.

The third one I have wavered in. I always felt called to words. A voracious reader, one who loved to write stories and poems and essays, a student of language and languages. I have bounced around in figuring what I felt like I was supposed to do in addition to those first two areas, but I've always known it had to do with words.

Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to not have a third sphere of life-- no calling beyond family and community-- but then I feel that I would not be living out true to who God made me to be. And I don't want to miss out on any of His plan for me.

I don't have this one nailed down yet--I don't know when it will fully emerge or what it looks like-- but I'm getting more and more inklings and feeling more of that heart-thumping pull to releasing the art I was meant to create.

In the pre-conference retreat day, we were asked in one of workshops, "How will this realization/lesson/experience change what you do on Monday after the conference?"

And so that's where I've started. I've started with words, with continuing to read, and with just plain ol' writing. I'm craving more consistentency in exercising this craft that I feel called and pulled towards. Because I've been waiting for inspiration and time, but time is just an excuse and "inspiration follows work" (Madeleine L'Engle).

There is beauty and glory in the world that needs to be translated into words, and our goal as writers is to show that the beauty of the kingdom is breaking through here on earth, and to show that to others. (Thank you, Seth and Nish, for articulating that for me).

So that's my calling, my third responsibility in life. I don't want to shy away from it even though there are a million fears that want to drag me down and away from it.

I have so many more thoughts from my experience at the conference that I'm sure will come out in one way or another as I process them. But for now, I leave you with this little manifesto, and I guess, I'd love to know if you've nailed down your own spheres of influence and calling. I know this life isn't the be all end all by any means. But I still want to make it count, and I want to be all who I was created to be.

The day I let my kids in on my dream

ready to fly Today I sat down with my kids to have a little chat with them over a cherry smoothie and those veggie snacks that taste like greasy air (oh, is it just me? my kids love them, but ew.)

I don't always sit down with them to eat during the day because I'm usually doing like five other things while eating or drinking. But today, I sat. I think they all knew we were going to talk about something because they looked at me expectantly.

"What do you think I wanted to be when I grew up when I was a little girl?" I asked them. They were a bit dumbfounded by this question actually and I had to help them out a bit.

"Do you think I wanted to be a mommy?" They nodded enthusiastically. "Yep, I did. Do you think I wanted to be anything else along with that?"

They  mumbled a few answers (I think Gigi mentioned teacher, which was a pretty good guess, and I think Brody mentioned cowgirl. Okay then.) and then Hallee, 3.5, said, "Work? Like on your computer?"

I smiled. "Do you know what I do on my computer?"

Gigi knew this answer. "Blogging?"

"And what is blogging?" I asked her.

"Talking to people? And writing stuff?" I think she gets the basic gist. ;) But I tried explaining it a bit more, and then I went on to tell them that, guess what! Mommy actually always had a dream of writing something else... books! So when I blog, I do it both to encourage people (hopefully) and also to practice writing so that I can someday (hopefully) achieve that dream of writing books.

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And then I went on to share a little more of my heart with them. It went something like this.

I'm trying to work on being more present with you during our days together. To really focus on you guys and be there when you need me or when you want to show me something or talk about something. I want to do my best to really be with you when I'm with you, ya know? {Nods around the table.}

We do lots of fun things together, right? The beach, the park, school, playing outside, reading books, having playdates etc, etc, etc. But sometimes I need you to occupy yourselves, right? Be creative, read a book, play with toy, stuff like that.

And since I'm trying to be more intentional about this, I'm also going to ask that you give me some time to work on my writing dreams too. When do you think I do this? Yep, early in the morning, during quiet play time, and sometimes (when I'm not too tired) after you're in bed. So when I ask you to occupy yourselves for some afternoon play time after we've done lots of fun things together all morning, does that seem fair?

They nodded again and answered affirmatively. It was a good conversation.

I'm hoping that laying this foundation will help them see that as a mom it's okay to have dreams still and to work towards those. I'm also hoping that during this season of Lent I can die to myself a little more in my parenting.

I didn't give something up for Lent, but instead I'm digging in here, trying to be more intentional and more available in my mothering. Be all there, and then not feel guilty when I take some time for myself as well.

During the season of Lent, we try to give things up to train our raw fingers to let go of old ways. But to reconcile with God and to breathe in the springtime, we have to do more than just let go. We have to replace our icy vices with the good, warm things of God...

This lenten season, let’s do more than suspend our vices—let’s run to Christ. Let’s be brave, come out of hiding, and be reconciled to Him. ~SheReadsTruth's Lent study, Day 3

The day I let my kids in on my dream

I scratched out this post on February 19th and since then I've gotten into a good groove of intentionally leaning in with my kids while also carving out time to work on my own writing. I don't feel like I've "arrived," but I do feel like the days go smoother when I intentionally decide whether I'm focusing on the kids or my own work (whether that's writing, housework, communication with other adults, or whatever) for the time being, rather than always trying to multitask.

Last week I submitted my first short story for a writing contest, and it was really cool to be able to share with my kids this little milestone and know that they are along for the ride on this dream journey of mine. 

10 on 10: February 2015

Finding the beauty in the ordinary today with Rebekah and all the other 10-on-10-ers is always an exercise I appreciate. As I go back through my photos from the day, wading through the under- and over- exposed shots (this is my first 10 on 10 set shot completely in Manual-- aside from a couple of iPhone photos), I find myself feel grateful and seeing the blessings in a packed-full day. A day not without challenges, but full of bits of beauty nonetheless.

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1. coffee and the word and prayer cards. 2. sweet siblings reading together (lots of fighting came later so clinging on to this moment). 3. potato soup in the crock pot. 4. dressing up the map with love (+ a gift from a sweet friend proclaiming my passion for our dining area). 5 & 6. building masterpieces with the littles. 7.  gigi learning a new skill (first ukulele lesson today!)*. 8. hanging out with this lady during gigi's lesson, while brody had a car catnap. 9 & 10. long shadows & little boys, at t-ball practice.

*I can't decide if her teacher looks more like an older David Hasselhoff or an older Patrick Swayze. Hehee.

3 Little things: a book, a drink, and a good habit

good stuff In the last week, I've found myself more than once sitting on the stairs, my head in my hands in defeat. I confess and plead with the Lord while the drama drags on upstairs.

"I know not what to do, but my eyes are fixed on you."

I have committed to this verse for this year-- to pray it, to live it out, especially on the hard days-- because striving to figure it all out myself and wallowing in the challenges do nothing for me except to wear me out more.

It's more than a cry for help. It's an active stance of leaning on Him to guide and direct me.

He has yet to audibly answer me (though it's only February so who knows what the year holds... ;) ), but He speaks to me through His word and through godly people and through good books.

Today I'm bringing back my weekly-ish 3 Little Things post because I like how it gets my eyes on things I'm digging, things I'm thankful for, things building and filling me up.

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The 3 Little Things series is all about living the abundant life and seeing the abundant goodness in life. And that's what the first little thing I'm sharing today is all about. I've been reading Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family by Michelle Anthony and it's been a great tool for pointing out the dysfunction that might be creeping in to our families.

I love that quote above from her book that I put in that graphic up above. I think it's easy to focus on pursuing the abundant life instead of pursuing Jesus Himself and receiving the abundant life as a by-product, like she says. (Michelle is a wise woman, and I actually know that because she is a friend and mentor of my sister-in-law. I read and enjoyed her book Spiritual Parenting years ago and so I was excited to read her newest book).

Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family is not just philosophy; it's super practical and it's teaching me more and more about how practically I can fix my eyes on Jesus and get more of His wisdom. It shows us the various ways that dysfunction can play out in our families, and counters with ways of living out the abundant life in our parenting and in marriages, too.

"In the struggle to determine what is good and what is better, only God can inform me from a perfect and loving perspective." ~Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family

So this book is one of those things making me happy-- because it's giving me hope and direction and I can always use more of those things in my parenting and family journey.

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 So what else has been making me happy lately? 

- Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy herbal tea-- I'm not a big herbal tea fan but I fell in love with this tea the first time I drank it. It's one of the only teas I've ever liked enough to not add anything to it, and its cinnamon-y spiciness takes me back to the spiced tea my mom gave me when I was home sick as a kid.

- Getting organized! I emptied our art/school cabinet and have been relegating all that stuff to go elsewhere in an effort to downsize our furniture collection by one hutch. We also got the girls an awesome double desk (!!) that has helped with the organization and also the school time by giving Gigi a place to do her independent work alone. I'll share details of that when I finish the whole area up there. It's so fun!

Bonus: how great is that Laura Ingalls Wilder quote up top there? I found it via Instagram and it encompasses so much of what we're working on with Gigi! I'm going to have her memorize it.

I hope you're finding some things making you happy this week. Share in the comments if you feel so inclined! :)

Linking up with Amy @ MomAdvice for the 3 Little Things!

Thank you to Litfuse for the review copy of Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family; read more reviews here. Affiliate links included, thanks for your support.