Still Thankful in November, Days 7-17

It's been a few days since I've updated, okay a few weeks, but I've still been faithfully counting my blessings and today I have a big list to share!  I'm tucked away in the Smoky Mountains this morning, writing these gifts by the crackle of a fire and with the Praise Baby Christmas DVD playing in the background.  We've had an amazing, whirlwind of a month that's taken us all over the country.  I was a little worried when I realized we had so many back to back trips planned, but as we come to the tail end of it, I can't believe how wonderfully it's worked out and how needed this "pause" has been for us.  I feel like we've been able to breathe some rest into our souls and I'm grateful that we've been able to truly relax and enjoy one another.  What a gift!  But before I get too far down that tangent, I need to jump back into my list and catch you up to speed...

Day 7- (Election Day) I'm so grateful for the peace of God amidst a culture that seems to grow colder and farther from Him at every turn.  He's in control and He's Sovereign over all and no matter what, I can rest in that.  That's not to say that these aren't turbulent days and that we don't need to remain defenders of truth, but we belong to Him and we can face the reality of our times knowing this world is not our home or our hope!

Day 8- My girlfriends who are in the same season of life as I am.  I'm grateful for the friends the Lord has brought me over the years as we raise small children together.  I've not always had friends who have been in similar life stages so I'm extra grateful for my stay at home mom friends who are always up for playdates, coffee dates, phone calls and funny texts to endure days that are harder than others!  They bring my heart joy and I love watching our kids enjoy one another too.  I'm also thankful for my friends from other places who I've stayed in touch with and who bring me joy through facebook and blogs and phone heart is full with so many precious women who love Jesus and are like minded in the way we live. 

Day 9- I've mentioned them before but my high school group of girls are just a huge blessing to me.  I love what the Lord is doing among us and I love the chance we've had to get to know one another and grow this year.  In the same vein, I'm so grateful for Trav's full support in doing this. I couldn't do it if he wasn't so willing to spend a few hours on Sunday afternoons with the kids, happily sending me out the door and then asking me all about it when I get home.  It wouldn't work if he didn't see the value and refreshment in it, so I'm thankful he does!  I'm also loving all the fun activities I've been able to attend in support of these Senior girls!  Spending time at the HS State v-ball tournament cheering 2 of them on in the championship game was so much fun!  I even brought Ava with me to several games this year and she loved that special time we had together too :) Thank you Lord for the opportunity to do ministry like this!

Day 10- Older wiser women who invest in me.  I'm involved in a Titus 2 ministry at our Church, which is based on the Biblical mandate from Titus 2 of older women investing in younger women.  There are precious women in my life who I love to learn from, watch, pray with and just be around.  They encourage me, support me, challenge me and inspire me.  I don't know them all personally and there is no magic requirement or big commitment to be involved.  I go to a monthly coffee/training for mentors time that is just a sweet blessing to me.  Everyone needs someone who is older than you are in your life!  There is so much wisdom to be caught :)

Day 11- Our Church is really digging in deeper to care for orphans and obey the call of the Church in this area.  Travis and I have a heart tug for this and we are praying for the Lord to make our next steps known, whatever that means.  We went to a documentary tonight on Oprhan care called, "Fautless" and it was incredible.  My heart aches for too many kids who have been abandoned, abused, discarded, and tossed aside through no fault of their own.  We have to step up as the Church and do something about it.  It will never be solved on a global scale, orphan care happens on an individual basis and case by case.  I'm grateful for the vision of our Church leadership to seek the Lord and encourage us to seek Him too on behalf of the orphans. We are also asking for the obedience to do what He asks us to...

Day 12- Health.  Every time I take our kids to the doctor I'm reminded how thankful we are that they are healthy and not facing a medical hurdle.  That's not to say we'll always have our health, none of us know what tomorrow brings, but for now I'm thankful for two busy kids who are able to do everything they want to and for two healthy parents who get to be here to see it. 

Day 13- Grandparents!  I'm thankful for my parents who took our kids for a week so we could go to Texas for a conference and for Trav's Mom who watches them everytime she comes to town so we can go out or do things we need to.  It's a blessing to have grandparents in our lives and I know if we lived closer to everybody, we'd have more help and we'd get to reap the benefits of that relationship more.  But we are so grateful for the effort they make, for the time investment and relationship our kids have with their grandparents.  I know my parents are over the moon enjoying them while we're gone and we are sure enjoying the freedom and silence!  Ha ha! 

Day 14- Speaking of being away, we were in Texas for a few days before Thanksgiving at a youth ministry conference.  I'm thankful for this FUN opportunity to get away with Travis and soak up some great training and inspiration, but also to relax!  We haven't had 4 nights away from the kids ever and this is just what we needed.  SUCH a TREAT!!

Day 15- One of the trainings I attended was a mentoring workshop and it was so great!  I have a passion for that kind of ministry and it was such a great intensive class.  I'm so grateful our Church saw the value in sending us to a conference like this one.  It's so great to get some new vision and help as we all attempt to serve students and impact them to trust Jesus as Savior and welcome Him as Lord over their life.  Loved this training! 

Day 16- In addition to mentoring, I also chose some breakouts on marriage and ministry.  Travis and I attended one together, as well as a Q & A, and I went to the other with our HS Pastor's wife.  They were so good!  And helpful.  It was some great perspective and I think we all appreciated the reminders to protect our marriages and our families and not let ministry take over.  So easy to agree to, not always easy to live out in the face of other people's expectations on us.  Again, we are very blessed to serve under leadership that encourages us to keep family first and set healthy boundaries.  It's always wise to stop and evaluate how we're doing and have those conversations regularly as seasons come and go.   

Day 17-  We are thankful for the partnership we've had with our high school pastor and his wife.  We all attended our conference together and it was a great time to laugh and be refreshed in our friendship.  We've served together for 5 years I think?  In the youth ministry world, that's a long time :) But there are great benefits to longevity in ministry and we are glad to partner with them in our love of students!  We had a great time in Texas together!


Thankful in November, Day 5 & Day 6

Day 5- I'm thankful for these little monkeys! 
I posted this yesterday on facebook, for the amusement of many.  This is how we woke up on Monday morning!  We heard some giggles and Travis went to investigate...He appeared in our doorway and said, "Steph.  You have to come see this."  That's never how you want to wake up :) There they were, two little "toothpaste artists" frantically trying to clean up their painting job with toilet paper and baby wipes!  Carter took one look at me and said, "I clean up! I clean up! I clean up!"  Umm, yes...Thankfully we had the presence to react carefully because although messy, really we were just tickled!  We laughed, warned them not to do that again, and then I cleaned it up.  (Thankfully, kids toothpaste is pretty easy to wash off walls, FYI!) Was it my favorite way to start a Monday morning?  Probably not.  Am I thankful for funny moments in life like this one?  Yes!  At some point in my former (read: pre-children) life, this would have thrown me for a loop.  Now, after 3.5 years of going with the flow, I'm finally learning to just let my kids be kids, knowing that we all learn what's good behavior and what's not usually by doing the wrong thing first!  Choosing your battles, keeping some perspective, and giving them GRACE as they grow up and mature...these are all things the Lord is working in me as I parent.  Some days I model it well, some days I don't.  But I'm grateful for these two little people who are helping us grow and mature ourselves.  Like marriage, I think parenthood is a refining work of God.  And for the days we can laugh instead of cry, I'm thankful! 
Look at those two stinkers! 
Don't you just love Daddy's choice of PJ's for Carter, by the way?  Rocket ships and whales...Gotta love when Daddy gets the kids in bed!! 
Day 6- I am thankful for the freedom to vote!

I managed to get to the polls today with my little people in tow and cast my vote, which is incredibly important and defintely a freedom that we should not take for granted!  This election is an important one for all of us.  In addition to the Presidency, in Minnesota we have the Marriage Ammendment on the ballot, protecting the definition of marriage between one man and one woman.  It's a big deal and it's been hotly contested and the source of much contention.  I am praying that we will vote to protect traditional marriage, but I just have no idea how our state will go.  We believe strongly that because the Lord designed marriage very clearly in His Word, He's also the one who gets to define it!  Not culture.  However, we do have a responsibility to defend God and His Word, so that's how we voted. 
Elections tend to bring out the ugliness in a lot of people.  All of this slander and mud slinging and judgementalism, I'm so ready for it to be OVER.  I'm so thankful that my eternal future isn't in the hands of government, that my peace doesn't depend on politics or that my hope doesn't rest on who is ultimately in the White House.  I think we can all agree that no matter who gets voted in that office, they both need the Lord to give them wisdom and guidance.  We have much to pray for, regardless of outcome!
So with gratitude in my heart for the opportunity to cast my vote, we wait. 
And no matter what happens, this is why we'll be able to rest tonight...


Thankful in November, Day 3 & Day 4

Happy Sunday to you!  I've been enjoying a quiet afternoon at home today, which has been like medicine to my soul.  Oh time change, how I used to love you...But now that I'm a parent of little people, how I despise the interruption you bring into our routine.  I picked Ava up from the nursery early today, after they came looking for me because she crying...I'm chalking it up to not enough sleep and her refusal to eat breakfast this morning.  Thankfully they both took great naps but Carter woke up crying and snuggled in my lap for about 30 minutes...It's just one of those Sundays! 

I think I'm really going to love this journey of thanksgiving throughout the month of November.  It's tough to choose just one thing a day to share, but here are my thoughts from the 3rd and 4th.

Day 3- I'm thankful that God is still in the business of miracles!

My blog friend Faith just became a Mom yesterday and with the birth of her amazing girls, God worked a real life miracle that so many of us got to watch unfold.  I won't steal her story, but she and I "met" through our blogs almost 5 years ago I believe?  We crossed paths somehow, I can't even remember, but our friendship was born through our shared longings to be Mothers.  We exchanged emails for awhile, each of us lamenting about the wait and encouraging each other through it.  Over the years, my wait came to an end sooner, but Faith and her sweet husband persevered a little longer.  We all got to watch as she shared so honestly about her ache and her hurt to be pregnant.  SO many people have lifted them up in prayer and pleaded with the Lord to grant them the desire of their hearts. 

It's been an amazing journey to see the Lord work, but it certainly has not been easy.  They have been such a sweet, living testimony of God's sufficiency despite their unchanging circumstance.  Over a period of time, He led Faith's husband into full-time youth ministry (which made me love them even more!!) and I watched while they stayed faithful and believed God through their pain.  They could have cursed God, but like Job, they chose to praise Him anyway.  And in His great plan, He answered them!  Not only did He create a little life, He created TWO little lives!!  Two precious girls that all of us have been waiting to see and behold.  And yesterday, we got that chance when the tweet came that they arrived and the pictures started appearing...Little Emery Grace and Kinley Pearce entered this world early, into the waiting arms of their Mommy and Daddy and into the hearts of so many of us who have prayed for them before they were ever known.  Miracles from God's hands to Faith and Chad's arms.  Amazing!!

I think my friend Faith is aptly named because she's kept her faith through a difficult journey and when it looked bleak, she actively put her faith in the one who promised to answer her and to work out His perfect plan for her in His time.  What a faith builder for all of us to see the glory of our great God in the faces of two sweet baby girls.  Go check out her blog post today and see for yourself the two little miracles who made her a Mommy!  Who would have ever thought that the world of blogging could connect hearts from all over the world, people who would have otherwise been perfect strangers, and point us all back to the Author of life?  I'm so grateful for my friend Faith and for her girls.  Everytime I think of her, I smile, knowing God heard her cry and gave her a double blessing!  This is the scripture they shared yesterday and I think it's a beautiful one...

Psalm 126:4-6 (The Message translation)
And now, God, do it again—
    bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Day 4- I'm thankful for friends who walk faithfully through hard places.

On the flip side of my friend Faith's miracle is the sorrow of a dear sister at Church who just lost her son.  On Friday I hosted our monthly Pastor's Wives Coffee and our dear friend shared with us the heartbreaking story of her son's recent and brutal murder.  As I listened to her with the ache of a mother's heart, I saw the sadness in her eyes as she relived her loss again.  Nothing could be worse I think, than that.  Losing a child, even an adult child, in a senseless and horrific way is a pain that no parent should have to endure.  It's a reminder of the evil in our world that is no respector of persons and strikes with no warning.  Her pain is real, raw and difficult to bear up under.  And yet...

I heard her say, with great confidence, that her hope in the Lord is not only sustaining her moment by moment but also bringing healing and hope to those who've previously had none.  She is able to say that God is still her rock, still in control, still good.  Although her feelings may fluctuate, the truth of the Gospel and it's redemptive power, stands.  In the worst storm she's endured, her anchor holds.  Jesus promised a life eternal when He conquered death and the grave and she knows that this life is not the end.  She will see her son again, who has been made whole and is in the presence of his Savior and when the the Lord calls her home, he will be waiting to welcome her too.  And I'm watching her not only say these things, but walk them out and believe them as if her life and her hope depended solely on God and His Word being true.  Because it does! She has an incredible peace, amidst her sorrow, that holds her together right now.  I'm so thankful for her, so grateful for her example in my life, although if I could change her circumstance I would.  She's paying a terrible price for her faith to be proved genuine.  One that she never asked for but is faithfully trusting God to see her through. 

In the Psalms, David told the Lord he would bring a sacrifice of praise to the altar.  For many years that phrase meant nothing to me until I found myself in a similar place as David, choosing to praise God even though it was a sacrifice to do so.  My flesh didn't feel like there was much to praise Him for, but His Word in me and the Holy Spirit in me reminded my soul that He wanted all of my broken heart, not just the pretty places. He was worthy of my praise at all times and died for me to prove his love.  My friend is doing the same thing.  It's not easy to praise the Lord when someone carelessly takes the life of your son and leaves him as if he matters to no one.  He did matter.  He mattered to a great number of people, namely to his aching Mother who is left to grieve for him until they meet again in Heaven. 

My heart breaks for my friend who loves Jesus with every fiber of her being and who is still choosing to lift the name and work of Jesus on high, even in her darkness.  She is an incredible woman of God and I thank Him for crossing our paths, for the privilege of knowing her and serving alongside her.  The more I get to know her, the more she amazes me. 

Two friends I'm grateful for tonight, two women who remind me of Job's critical choice in Job 1:21...
"...The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord."


Thankful in November, Day 1 & Day 2

This is my third blog post of the day, who am I???  After some very busy weeks, today has been a sweet reprieve of rest.  I have been enjoying the view from my couch this afternoon  and I have no plans of changing that tonight.  Except for the two little people who may force me to get up every now and then, but seriously, Mommy needs a night with my feet up and nothing sounds better than doing a little writing too.
Among my group of friends on facebook and twitter, there is a great trend that is happening again this year.  Lots of people are listing something they are grateful for every day in November.  I didn't do it last year but thought I would do it this year, except on my blog instead, so I can write more.  Big surprise!  So here are my first two entries from November...
November 1- I am grateful for my Mother in Law and the way she loves us so well!
Trav's Mom (or Texie, as our kids call her) is so good about coming to see us and spend time with us.  I'm grateful for ALL of our extended family but it means a lot to us that she would make the great trek north over and over again to be here.  She always gives us nights out, time to run errands, she makes dinner, does my laundry and plays for days on end with the kids.  And we love her and appreciate her for it!  So I'm grateful for you, Pam.  Thank you for serving us and including us in your schedule.  I know it would be easier if we lived closer or could get to Texas more often but we are blessed that you are willing and able to fly here several times a year and we don't take it for granted.  Our kids love their Texie and so do we!
 Someday, when my own kids are in similar seasons (prayerfully) I want to do as much as we can to help them, spend time with them, love on them and bless them just as all of our parents have done for us!
November 2- I am grateful for our cozy, little home.
 The longer we live here, the more grateful I become.  I don't always love this condo but I am truly thankful for it.  I'm thankful for the person it has helped make me...Not perfect, but in process.  Living here has made me more content, it's taught me to appreciate what the Lord has ordained for us and generously given us.  I'm thankful that it's forced gratitude in me and helped me learn how to fight for joy, despite your circumstances or how you feel about them.  I love that this little condo is cozy, inviting, and just big enough for all of us...
I'll always love that we brought our babies home here.  These early years are precious, packed full of memories and these walls hold such joy and love.  We've struggled here, wrestled here, laughed here, wept here, prayed here and met the Lord here.  I lose sight of my perspective some days and long for the next home, for more space, a better location...I'm human.  Some times I wish I lived anywhere but here.  But those days are self-absorbed and not worth dwelling on. 
We are blessed, SO BLESSED, and we've been given much...
This is OUR home and I'm so grateful for it!
Join me?  What two things are you thankful for today?  

Halloween 2012

Fair warning...LOTS of pictures in this post.  I simply couldn't help myself! 
I'll try to keep the dialogue minimal..."Yeah right!" When I have ever done that?? 
I know that's what most of you are thinking!  Sorry, you've been warned!
Halloween was on a Wednesday this year (as you all know) which is not helpful when your Husband/Daddy is a youth pastor and has to work!  ha ha!
So I had the task of getting these two yahoos ready for a fun day :)  Texie supplied us last year with Halloween outfits and surprisingly, they still fit this year!  After a playdate, lunch and naps, these two were more than ready to get their trick or treating on!
 So, I laid out their gear and we made the transition from Ava and Carter to Minnie Mouse and Superman!  They were both pretty thrilled to dress up and I was under the gun to get it all done and ready in order to be at a friends house for a little fun :)
Here he is, Superman himself.  Already dipping into the candy we were supposed to be giving AWAY to our neighbors, not eating :)
 Clearly, he wasn't buying it...
For the record, it is not easy to get two kids ready and photographed by yourself. 
Single parents, again, I marvel at your mad skillz.
My brother in law said she looked like Cindy Lou Whoo from Whooville!  Ha ha, I think he's right!
It would have been an easy sell to be a princess this year but all of our dresses were just not going to be warm enough to be outside all night so I found this little outfit and thought it would not only make a cute Minnie costume but also be something she could wear later.  And that turned out to be a good call because she LOVES is and having a hat on her was a good thing when the sun went down.  Plus, isn't it cute??  Same with Carter.  He got a new t-shirt to wear and that cute cape came from his cousin, Dominic!  Thanks, Dom!!

All ready to go see some of our neighbors and Carter, AGAIN with a sucker in his hand!  Seriously, everytime I turned around he was dipping in that bowl for another sucker. 
5 pm and already I was sweating :)
We left some treats out for the few kids who might come to our door while we were gone.  From the looks of it, we probably got less than 5.  And I'm sure I knew all 5 of them because they are grandkids of our neighbors!  Oh well, makes me feel less guilty about being gone all night!
And speaking of neighbors, we have so many sweet ones.  They were so kind of drop things off, knock on our door to make sure we'd come see them or leave things out for our kids.  I'm so thankful we have nice neighbors who love our kids!  We are blessed by that and when this rolls around every year, I really think it's a highlight for lots of them to get a visit from our kiddos.  We make sure to interact with them all year round, but it's especially fun to see them dressed up!
They talk about it for months afterwards :)

Bundled up and ready to go!!
 We had a very important stop to make first though...Daddy needed to see his little superhero and mouse himself!
 And spontaneously, a friend took this picture of us, which is one of my new favorites! 
 There are no words for the cuteness of this kid...
 ...ditto for this one!
 Even Superman loves his Mommy!!
We couldn't keep them from the action for long, they were ready to go :)
 We met up with some sweet friends who invited us over for chili and treats and some trick or treating around their very busy neighborhood.  Meet the sweet girls who made our night possible!!  They helped me keep Ava and Carter well stocked and on more than one occasion, helped keep me from losing them to disaster.
Why would I include this picture, you might be thinking??  Well this is a very accurate glimpse into that night.  Ava was doing her own thing at all times and Carter was basically just a flash in the night!  They both literally ran from house to house and I could barely keep up!  Heaven help me if this falls on a Wednesday night again!!
It was quite a scene however to behold.  They were the hit of every house and we met some very sweet people who were very generous :)  It took Ava no time to get the hang of it and Carter was all about ringing the doorbell!
After Ava got some candy here and Carter too, Ava patted Carter on the face with her mittens and said, "Say trick or treat and thank you, buddy!"  Always the little mother :)
Seriously, so grateful for these high school girls and their help!
My kids had so much fun and came home with quite a stash!  But really it was so much fun to interact with our neighbors, to get to know another family better and meet some other friends and family too.
We were all pretty exhausted when we got home, but what a fun Halloween it was!!
I'm pretty biased but I think I have the cutest Superman and Minnie Mouse ever, right?
Happy Halloween from the Armstrongs!

Curious Carter

I blogged about Carter's birthday breakfast a few weeks ago, but I thought you might enjoy some more pictures from the rest of the celebrating we did.  In lieu of a party this year with friends, we just had a couple of sweet times to celebrate with the four of us.  We left the birthday decorations up and kept Curious George on the table for a good week, which was fun for the kiddos to enjoy George at every meal time.  Carter turned 2 on a Wednesday, but on Friday night we celebrated again.
We had spaghetti (Carter's favorite) and then had some promised dessert...
Pumpkin cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting.  Super good!
 Carter is our sweet tooth kid.  He's just like his Mommy!  We both love a good cupcake and I think I might have been just as excited to consume these as he was.  His Nana and Papa sent us some Fall goodies...
...including THIS adorable Curious George shirt!  I even got some treats in that package, some new baking accessories for fun cupcakes and cookies, so I was pretty motivated to make some for the birthday boy!
 Of course we sang to the birthday boy again..
And after he blew his candle out, he chose the lion cupcake.
Tough choice, they were all pretty cute!
 After dinner and cupcakes we got set up for our new Friday night family favorite...Movie Night!!
 We clear out the furniture, turn off all the lights, bring in lots of blankets, pillows and of course popcorn!  Nothing fancy, but our kids just love it.  And really, so do we :)
Carter can't sit through a whole movie yet, but he's getting closer to that.  He loves to watch cartoons now and if he can't stay still the whole time, he plays around us while still watching.
Ava is TOTALLY into the movie though :) She loves this new tradition and requests it often.  Popcorn is a treat for both of them and I think that thrills them just as much as the movie does!
Ava is not only a movie girl, but she's a girl of many expressions and sound effects while she watches...
She was particularly taken with this movie because it was...
...Cinderella!!  It's recently been re-released on DVD so this was their first time watching it.  I know, not exactly a classic choice for Carter's birthday, but at 2 he doesn't really care too much yet so we went with it!  The next weekend we chose Toy Story for him, if that makes it seem more fair :)
We love a quiet evening in our jammies too, but mostly we just love the opportunity for some free snuggles.  I forsee lots of movie nights this winter! 
Carter got lots of sweet gifts from his grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.  Thank you!!  On this particular day he got a special delivery that he was quite intrigued by...
Aunt Shaye sent him something that he was pretty excited about...
 What is it??  A garbage truck :) And if you remember, we love the garbage truck around here!  This was a HUGE hit.  So thank you to Aunt Shaye!  And everyone else who gave us lots of trains, books, clothes, shoes and even a gift card to the Disney store we get to spend!  What a fun birthday for this little guy.  We sure love him and are grateful the Lord gave us Carter.  He definitely makes our October so much more fun!!