Friday, March 14, 2014

Cooking New...

This month and last month I've really put my cooking skills to work! I've cooked new things and tried to cook using less ingredients. I really want to make it where most all our meals average $5 each. That would be $1 per person! That would be great! Most of my meals are averaging $7 and that is still not bad, considering we eat meat at every meal and fruit and veggies are served as well. A lot of foods richer in flavor cost more to make. But we've managed well so far. Tomorrow is the 15th, so we are half way through this month! That is encouraging to me! I've been able to keep my grocery store spending down, and really focusing on my meal plans. I use to do menu plans, but would change them if I didn't feel like cooking something or sometimes I would fail to buy the right stuff and end up doing something else. Then ingredients would go bad. So far this month, nothing has expired, gone sour or been trashed. We are using all our resources. I really like this! I know the grocery shopping area of our budget needed a makeover, but I didn't know how bad it really was until I documented everything! Now we are planning wiser, shopping wiser and learning daily. I still have much to learn, and love reading about others expereinces and how they are accomplishing the goal of living well and spending less. I am part of a closed group on facebook, that is helping me see ways that I can cut back and save more! I am also part of a 40 bags in 40 days group. Working to decrapify our homes and lives! I have not removed 14 bags from my house yet, but I've done a lot over the past two months to decrapify! I'm hoping to clean out our shed soon! We have to borrow a truck, but that won't be a problem. Someone is also giving us bunkbeds for the boys, but I need to get them picked up! Do you have a system you use for grocery shopping and menu planning that helps your budget? Do you even have a budget? This is fairly new to us, we realized last year that after all the bills are paid, we SHOULD have MORE money leftover then we actually do. All this little spending was slowly robbing our bank account. So now we are in control once again. Telling our money where to go before it tells us where it went! This is a new year for us! We are excited to see where the Lord will lead us to serve as we prepare ourselves for his Will!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I've had enough!

These are the words shouted from my 7 year old to her brothers. I'm sure she has heard me say this before! It's always humbling to hear your words come out of your child's mouth. How many times have you had this conversation with God? Or yourself? I've had ENOUGH! Enough of the pain, enough of the frustration, enough of the lies, enough of the doubt. Enough. I remember as a child hearing someone say, "Enough is Enough". I still don't know what that means. I do know that after a long day, hearing my kids fuss and cry and yell at each other it makes me want to shout out ENOUGH! I think most days when we are that breaking point in our lives with God and we YELL out ENOUGH, God isn't upset with us, he is made glad. He is patient and he waits for us. When we get to that breaking point we are able to allow God to do what he needs to do. Often time we blame God for the pain and the hurt and we choose to walk in a way that does not show honor to God. When I yell out ENOUGH, my children know that something is about to change. Maybe our prayers should be enough of me trying to do things my way, enough of the enemy walking all over me, enough of me getting in the way of what God is wanting to do. Lord, I've had enough! Now I'm ready!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Personal Testimony

As part of my exam for Tuesday's class, I have to submit my personal testimony. While writing it out tonight, I was compelled to blog about it! This is the basic "how I came to know Jesus" story. But either way, it's my story! 

As a young child, I attended church as part of family heritage and tradition. I was involved in the Methodist church and participated in all things church related. I was 11 years old when I went on my first missions trip to Mexico.
At the age of 12, my mother was invited to attend “Heavens Gates and Hell’s flames” at a local Assemblies of God church. It was during that dramatization I learned there is a heaven and a hell. Up until then I had no knowledge of hell. I gave my heart to Jesus that night in 1992, mostly in fear of going to Hell. The church where we visited had a substantial youth group, so my mother decided to leave the Methodist church and we started attending the Assemblies of God church.
I spent the next few years trying to be “good” and do what would be pleasing to my mother and the church. I attended youth group and Sunday school faithfully, sang the songs, went on all the trips, (including three AIM trips) and played the part. Somehow after sitting through hundreds of sermons over the course of five years, I missed that there was a relationship to be had. I had religion, and fear of hell.
I was hoping to attend an Assemblies of God college, when my plans were re-directed. Birmingham Metro Masters Commission of Alabaster, AL presented the Gospel during youth convention my senior year. I had never seen young people on fire for God, full of the Holy Spirit until then.  It was exciting to me. I filled out an application and several months later I was on my way to live in Alabama. Upon entering this ministry program, I had to work through several layers of personal pain and heartache. I had to discover Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. It was a long journey, but over the course of the next two years I fell passionately in love with Jesus. I was truly his child and he was my King! I begin to love prayer, and worship and reading his Word. Up until then, I only read my bible during church, now I was reading it daily and could not get enough! I was baptized during our graduation service of my first year. I begin to pray that God would help me live a life that would please Him.

Fast forward 16 years, and here we are today. I am still following Jesus with my heart, soul, mind and strength. I have never looked back or regretted the moment when I decided that I would follow Jesus. I am thankful for my Christian heritage within my family, but more so, I’m thankful for strangers who passionately followed Jesus and were not ashamed of him! Being from the South, it is common to be a church-goer, it was an easy role to follow. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be sold out and radical for Jesus Christ. And I still do today!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm not "That Mom."

Title: I'm Not "That Mom"

I was the baby of my family for 17 years. I didn't spend days upon days dreaming about being a mommy. I did have a baby-doll, named Jody, and she was my world as a toddler.  I do recall having baby names picked out as a young teen, but only because all the other girls did that. When I seventeen, I moved away from my home and family in North Carolina, and attended a ministry program in Alabama. It was there that I dedicated my life to the Lord and chose to accept His Call on my life. Now fast forward 16 years to the present day. I am no longer the baby of my family, I have a wonderful little sister. I am no longer single, I married a handsome godly man, and now have three beautiful children on earth, and one in heaven. We live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are youth pastors at a church. We've had this role before, we were in Seguin, Texas for 5 years as youth and children's pastors. The only difference now is that we have 3 children. Life with children and life without are two worlds apart. When I had my daughter, I was 25 years old. I remember being so nervous about the big picture. I knew I could deliver her with the help of a great hospital, and I could feed her and change her diaper. I had that all under control. It was the parent part that scared me. I had dealt with many parents of teens and children, but becoming one was terrifying for me! I was so afraid of messing up! It took me a little while to get pregnant with my daughter, so we didn't want to wait to long to start trying again for another. Little did I know, that you are more fertile after giving birth. So 15 months later, I welcomed a little boy into my world. This only amplified my fear of parenting. Now I was responsible for two little lives! We made a life change and moved across country to North Carolina. We lived with my mother. My husband took a job at a local box plant, and I stayed at home with the kids. Everyday when he would get home at 4:15 I would check out mentally and physically. I would shower and try to relax. I always felt like I was at the mercy of my children. That they were in charge. They called the shots. It was very life changing for me, the independent girl who left home at the age of 17, was now being ruled by a baby and a 1 year old. My little girl was also showing signs of a speech delay, making matters worse. She was not able to communicate with me, and so we were both frustrated. I look back at those days and think they were so LONG! I was always tired, stressed and scared that I was not doing a good job at being a mom. I had read all the right books, followed the rules, and attend church faithfully.

I wanted to be "that mom" you know the one who is calm, the one who never raises her voice, or her hand. The one that speaks so sweetly to her kids. The one who always has an extra change of clothes for the baby and herself. The one who has the healthy snacks, the one who prays sweet prayers over her children each night while they sleep. The one who, scrapbooks every memory, blogs, bakes homemade goodies all the time, cooks from scratch, creates recipes, sews all the kids clothing, crafts with the kids daily, and throws the biggest birthday bashes on the planet. The one who reads to their child and inspires learning. The one who teaches their child sign language as an infant and how to read and write before Kindergarten. The one who has their child quoting the Bible and singing solos in the church or playing the piano at the tender age of 4. The mom that home schools, takes cool field trips, I wanted to be "that mom" not the mom I was. I struggled daily with who I was NOT, instead of thanking God for what I actually was. I had friends who seem to have the "mom card" down. They knew what to do when, where and why. I was always checking books, the internet and doubting myself.

I had not embraced who I was in Christ. I had not embraced the power that was within me. I had not allowed God to lead me into the role as "mother." I learned so much about the love God has for me as his Child once I had my own children. I learned that all things are possible with him.

In 2009, my husband was offered a job at a Children's home, with one exception, his wife must come with him and work too. That was me. The wife. The mother of two. The girl who had it all together on the outside, but felt like I was not doing a good job as a mother on the inside. The ironic part is that we took on a job, as "Teaching Parents" in a home for troubled teens. I was about to be paid to be a parent. The very part of my heart that felt like I the failing the most at was now being put to the test, publicly! This particular home used what is known as the Teaching Family Model.  I know that God ordained our steps when we took this job. The training for the model was quickly adapted and used with our own children. I for once felt like I was the one in charge! We started in March, and in September, we welcomed another baby boy. I was by this time, I was fully trained in this model and walking toward being the mom God designed me to be. Keeping in mind that when my little one was born my other two were still in diapers. So that is three of them in diapers at the same time. My job paid for diapers! (I should have been "that mom" who uses cloth diapers) I was thankful when my oldest decided to finally use the potty. Again- because she was 3 and 1/2 before she used the potty it was another "fail" in my eyes. Every time my child didn't meet the "norm" or the by the book growth requirements, I felt like I failed. The model we used empowers the child to make choices and allows them to see that their behavior determines the consequence. Good behavior equals desired consequence, poor behaviors results in less desired consequence. The consequence should reflect the behavior. So if the child refused to follow instructions, then the consequence would be centered around that, practicing following instructions, or doing small task that require you to follow instructions and complete them. Until they were willing to complete their consequence, they remained at a stand still- no exciting outings, or family fun. It was their choice. They chose their behavior, therefore they chose how they spent their day. Helping them learn they are in charge of themselves was a great task, but very fulfilling. We used this similar model with our kids, but instead of just trying to get them to model good behaviors because we asked them to, we wanted get to the heart of the matter. The Teaching Family model isn't a christian model, but it works really well as a starting point. We didn't want to just create robots that do what we want. We didn't want to just modify the outward behavior.

We had the opportunity to attend a two day workshop by Tedd Trip, author of Shepherding a Child's Heart. It was in downtown Charlotte at First Baptist Church.  I remember when we went I was so eager to learn everything I could. I took more notes than anyone and my brain was a sponge and my heart was encouraged. I felt as if God has came down and sat with me during those services. I was finally able to smile when I thought about the privilege I have to the be mother of my three children. Pastor Tripp's style of teaching was intense. I bought his book and took it home the first night. I remember feeling a little under educated as I tried to make sense of it all. The next day, he begin to speak of Ginger Plowman, another author who wrote a book titled "Don't make me count to three." Along with other books about training up children.  She also had a chart that made a quick reference of scriptures that deal with issues day in and day out. It's called Wise Words for Moms. It's a handy chart that every mother should have! I purchased her book and the chart at the workshop too, and read it in two days. I could relate to her writing style better than Pastor Tripp. They both speak about the same subject, not trying to merely correct the outward behavior of the child, but the inward motives for the behavior. The children's home we worked for didn't encourage the use of the Bible as an instruction manual for life, and we were encouraged to not use it for examples when doing a teaching interaction. This sadden our hearts, and we knew quickly that our time there was finished. The Lord opened the doors for us to move to South Mississippi. We moved to Waveland, MS in 2010. My husband took on the role as Youth/Associate Pastor once again, and I became a stay at home mom, again. Though this time around I was more prepared! I had discovered the Duggar Family Rules, and posted them up in the house. My children were only 4, 2, 10 months when we moved here, so the rules were more for me to set up a foundation of what is expected in the home. I admit that the methods we use now for behavioral management wouldn't work as well for the younger kids, you have to modify and simplify it for them. You also have to take into consideration the child. Every child is different and will respond differently. The older they got, the more expectations we had for them. They are now 7, 6, and 4. This summer we started using the behavior chart found on the website: Oh My Gluestick. This chart helped provide a visual aid for my children. We also incorporated the pom pom and jars that she mentioned. We started this chart in May of 2013 and it's still going strong in the Cook house. The kids know the rules that we have set. They know that if they don't follow the rules, they must move their clips down on the chart. They also know that no-one is in charge of their behaviors except for them. Blaming someone else and saying "he made," or "she made" me do it, won't fly around here. We have decided to review our rules as a refresher. For several weeks, we took Sunday nights to teach one rule. I sat down at the table with them and had them write the rule out, then draw a picture of them obeying that rule or create a drawing that helps them actively embrace the rules. The weeks that we were busy and skipped, my daughter quickly reminded me that we need to make it up and not let it slide! Amazing how kids function under a structured environment.

I remember being told that in the middle of my chaos with them as little children, that they "just needed structure and routine" and you might as well said they needed millions of dollars worth of surgery or something else out of reach. I was not at a place where I could begin to put structure in, routine in, or order. My life was not in turmoil, or a whirlwind, I had no trauma or grief that would stop me from being their mom, and creating order. I had no reason not to be there for my kids.  I was just in need of a savior. I needed the Lord to remind me that he blessed us with these children, we were the only parents they had and the time I had was short with them. I had to embrace the fact that I may not be "That MOM" but I am their mom! Powerful revelation. I will say it again, I may not be "That Mom" but I am "Their Mom!" This is something I have to remind myself of daily. Even Saturday when I was at the soccer field, I had to retrieve something from my van, I was drawn to the van next to me, they had a bowl full of fruit sitting on the front seat. It was then I thought to myself- oh that's a good idea! I should be like that! Instead we had crackers and junk food in our van.

I think we all have moms that we want to be like, we see people living, and giving to their children and we want to do better. Yet we often see mom's who aren't doing so great with their kids and say to ourselves "well at least I'm not that bad!" This concept is sad too- because as Children of God, we should strive to do our best. One saying that has stuck with me over the years, is we do our best and let God do the rest!

Read with me in the Word of God

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Psalm 118:14 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

These are all truths that I stand on. I am still a work in progress and I raise my voice and get flustered when my kids get into arguments, or get loud. Even while I typed this, I had to take a break and remind them of the expectations we have for them. One of my current hardships with discipline is in the area of behaving during a church service. Because my husband is a youth pastor, we are there every time the doors open and even when they aren't! The kids see the church as a second home most days. So they have a tendency to act up, fight or argue during church.  My pride gets the best of me, and I feel that other people are judging me, for my child's behavior and unwillingness to participate. We are working with them on it! I always tell them that by them learning to obey mommy and daddy now, it will make it easier for them in life to obey the Lord when they are an adult. It's so important that they learn to obey. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Helping others and showing compassion are key points we cover too.

I pray daily that the Lord will help me be the mom he needs me to be for them. I count it all joy, the hardships, the pain, the tears, and all the fun moments in between. I pray that someone reading this is encouraged. That you can relate. No one has perfect children. No one has perfect parents. But we do have hope, because we have a perfect role model for both. God the Father, and God the Son. I encourage you to look at your behavior toward the Lord. How similar is it to the behaviors your child shows you? Do you constantly whine, and cry and complain or tattle? Or do you remain thankful, honest and open to what the Lord has for you? Do you ask the Lord for something and not wait on the answer before you act? My children do that often! I pray today that the Lord wraps his arms around you, that you feel his embrace, that you sit at his feet a little while and reflect on the truths of the scriptures posted in this blogpost. Remember, God knew you and your child BEFORE you were even a thought- before you were formed in the womb. He knew you. You can trust him with your weaknesses. He is not surprised by them. He is ready for you. Are you ready?

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Do you know that the Lord is fully aware of your heartache? Often times we feel like no one cares about what we are battling or what haunts us. We are left disappointed when our friends, sisters, parents, co-workers or husbands don't comfort us, or seem to show concern when we are hurting. We fail to realize that God is waiting on us to cast our cares on him.

1 Peter 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

This is good news to anyway who is hurting today, or feels like they are suffering alone. As humans we will often times be unsuccessful at being Christ-like. Yet God never fails.

Great is thy faithfulness... Lamentations 3:22-23
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Think about the lyrics to this beloved hymn and let it seep into your soul. Be encouraged. You are not alone. God is with you!

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been,Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Use it UP!

In an effort to make every day count this year, I've also decided to make every dollar count too! Going on a budget is not a new concept for me or my family. Once in our life we were  $10,000 in debt over a credit card and had nothing to show for it. I vowed then not to ever do that again! We were only into our 2nd year of marriage. We had no guidance with our money (not sure if we would have listened anyway!) But once it was all gone, and reality hit, we begin to tackle our budge head first. I told my husband that I did NOT want to start a family with debt at bay. We needed total control. We did it. We were able to in 2 years snowball that debt. It was amazing. It was a God thing! Now we've been married for 13 years and though we've never been deep in over our head with credit card debt, we still don't have good spending habits. We no longer carry debt over from month to month. I do use credit cards, but I also pay them off at the end of each month. Once I sat down and really looked at where our money was going I was heartbroken. Hard to believe we can waste so much. So I have taken the last two weeks to really get my head in the game! I have listened to Dave Ramsey's total money makeover and I have organized all receipts and got a harsh look into my habits.

Yesterday, I was asking on Facebook if anyone had a peanut butter recipe that they would share. I had did an inventory of my pantry and found 8 jars of peanut butter! Yikes! I also did inventory on my freezer and when I was finished I felt like I had just been shopping. I realized that I typically gauge my need to shop for food on how my fridge looks. If it is bare then I head to the store! NO MORE! Anyway a friend on Facebook told me about a blog-post she had read titled: Operation Use it UP! I loved the name operation use it up! That struck a cord with me. That is what I am doing! I was doing it with food, and now I'm doing it with other stuff too! I've cleaned out my bathroom and found those pesky bottles that have just a little shampoo in it and I'm using it up! I made peanut butter cookies for the first time yesterday. They turned out great and I didn't have to buy anything and used up two jars of peanut butter! I love the idea of living with less, spending less.

We've always been good about not buying big items, expensive items, unless we save up and pay cash. But my little trips to Walmart and Dollar General were taking away more money than I expected! I have also changed my method of menu planning for the next few months. I will plan according to what I have first, then go pick up the few things I need. I normally cook what we want and then see what I have and buy what I need. Making it where I buy more than I need and end up wasting food that was bought before.

So I'm still here and will still be blogging. I've just taken some time off to get some personal things in order! I'm excited to see what God is going to through this!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Spiritually Sick...

Sunday morning, our pastor spoke of a Spiritual Check up that we are in need of. Often times when we are physically sick we will put off going to the doctor. I do, simply because I am a cash patient, and it's not always easy to find and extra $150 to go to the doctor. We also put off spiritual check ups, because they cost us something other than money- they cost us time. I decided to search online and read a few articles about spiritual check ups. My favorite came from "Our Daily Bread"

I suggest that we get over our reluctance. With God’s guidance, let’s undergo a spiritual checkup, using Proverbs 4:20-27 as a checklist
Ears (v.20): Are we hearing God’s Word clearly and with understanding? Are we doing what those words tell us?
Eyes (vv.21,25): Are we keeping our eyes on the teachings that will guide us toward righteousness?
Heart (v.23): Are we protecting our heart from evil?
Tongue (v.24): Is our mouth clean and pure?
Feet (v.26): Are we walking straight toward God’s truth without wavering?
How did you do on your examination? Are there areas where you need to take action? Regular checkups will help to restore your spiritual vitality.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
Show me the way that Jesus has trod;
Then I will tell of Your saving grace,
Until the day when I see Your face.  —Hess
A spiritual checkup is the key to spiritual health.

I really like how this was put. I had to ask myself these questions. I know there are areas of my life that can use a fine tuning from the Lord. Areas of my life that I have allowed to be covered. Areas that I fear, due to what others will think, or due to what God may do. 
Are you willing to commit to a spiritual check up? More than once a year, month, week? How about a daily one? Something worth thinking about! 
I had to visit my doctor this week, and the whole process is no fun. Between the blood work and the waiting game and the exam, I was ready to be finished with everything! I remember thinking "I'm glad this is only once a year!" A lot can happen in a year. Physically. Even more so, SPIRITUALLY. Don't wait until you are spiritually sick to seek truth, and help. Go now. Like for real- turn off the computer and go. Shut down the phone and go. Pack your bags and go. Run to Jesus! 
I'm running, I'm running, I'm running to the mercy seat, where Jesus.....