If you know me or have read my stuff for any length of time, this little truth probably does not come as a shock. I’m one of those bah-humbug types that loathes Hallmark for creating a day that forces me and millions of Americans to spend money on overstuffed bears, overpriced roses, and oversized chocolates that send us into a sugar coma.

And now that I have children I must choose between being the Pinterest Mom, who makes her own Valentine’s out of pipe cleaners and fairy dust, or being the Slacker Mom who buys Valentine’s at Walgreens the night before. I’m sure you think I belong in the latter group of moms. And based on previous blog posts, I deserve this assumption. But I have you fooled. I’m in an altogether different, more shameful, category. I am a Cheapskate Mom. I buy the Valentines post-V-day when they are 60% off, and save them for the next year.

Sorry, kids. Not into Frozen and Trolls this year? That’s all I got.

But it’s not all the overspending and added stress that has me hating on St. Valentine’s big day. It’s the way society puts pressure on us to show love just one day out of the year. Aren’t we supposed to show love 365 days out of the year? Aren’t we supposed to love God, love our neighbors (Luke 10:27), and even love our enemies (Mt 5:43-45) every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of our lives? Not just when cupid shoots his arrow. Not just when we decorate with red paper doilies.

But All. The. Time.

Another reason I shy away from V-day is because it feels forced and inauthentic. I want my husband to bring me flowers because I’m awesome (yeah, I said it), not because a Facebook Ad told him to. I want an unmarried friend to invite me to coffee because she values our friendship, not because society has made her feel lonely and second-class.

Some of you might not feel very lovey-dovey today—or any day. You might be nursing fresh wounds. You might be carrying around baggage so heavy you’re practically dragging it behind you. You might have built up a wall around your heart to prevent others from getting in. If this sounds familiar, please know that there is no way you or anyone else can love others apart from Jesus. That’s why Scripture says, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) When He lives inside us, we are able to pour that love out to others, no matter what date is on the calendar.

So today, don’t go down the road of self-pity by drowning yourself in Halo Top while binge watching Gilmore Girls, or curse the day with eye-rolls as you scroll through social media. This year, try loving someone in the name of Jesus: Take flowers to your elderly neighbor. Invite the new family to your house for dinner. Make cards and cookies for the fire station. I guarantee your feelings about Valentine’s Day will shift from self-focused (or not-even-focused) to Jesus-focused. And isn’t that what we want every day—not just on Valentine’s Day?

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. . . Think Again

Female HandPerfection. We all try to achieve it: Perfect body. Perfect skin. Perfect home. Perfect family. Some things we can change and improve, but the one thing we can never rewrite is our family history. Our quirky Aunt Eunice will never be polished. Our strange cousin Leonard will never quite fit in. The skeletons in our closet will spill out every time we open the door. The good news is, God never intended for us to have a perfect family or a prestigious genealogy. Jesus didn’t come from impeccability, and he doesn’t expect a flawless family tree from us either.

 

We all have a broken branch somewhere along the way. Some of us try to cover it up. Some try to ignore it. Others try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

 

How do you handle your broken branches?

 

Male HandAs you might have already learned, none of those responses leads you to a place of healing and peace. If we want to become the healthiest version of ourselves, then we need to embrace our broken branches . . . every last twig. We need to face the pain to find the joy.

 

It’s a new year, which means new resolutions, new beginnings, new starts. Now is the time to work through your past, embrace your present, and work toward a healthier future for yourself and your family.

 

As one woman wrote, “Finished chapter two. I love to be reminded that I’m not perfect. Only [Jesus Christ] was [perfect]. Pointing out all the dysfunctional families—including my Savior—yep, I’m not as strange as I thought. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the reminder: ‘With God all things are possible.’” – Franny Morten


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I am embarrassed to say that many years, after the gifts were unwrapped and the kids were happily playing with their toys, I looked around and thought, “I forgot about Jesus. I forgot to invite the most important person to the party.”

 

I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

 

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s we run a sprint to the finish line trying fit in all the traditions:

  • decorating the cookies
  • singing the carols
  • exchanging the gifts
  • attending the parties
  • smoking the turkeys
  • hanging the lights
  • decorating the house

 

It’s enough stress to make even the merriest of elves cry, “Bah hum bug!”

If you want to forego the chaos of Christmas and focus on the King, here are a few tips to keep your holiday merry and bright:

 

1.Remember that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday. In the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, class parties, and visiting distant relatives, we forget the simple truth that it all revolves around our Savior’s birth.

 

2. Streamline your traditions. A few years ago I considered at all the traditions we had collected from my side of the family and my husband’s side of the family. I thought about the ones that brought us joy and the ones that seemed daunting. We asked our children what tradition was their favorite, and then I chose three that we incorporate every year:

  • Polar Express – We put the kids in PJ’s, give them a ticket, and they hop aboard the Polar Express (our minivan, or this year our 12-passenger van) which takes them on a ride to look at Christmas lights. In the van we serve hot chocolate, popcorn, and candy canes.
  • Family movie night – We always make a pallet on the floor, watch Elf or Home Alone, and eat pizza and popcorn in our PJ’s.
  • Christmas Eve gift – On Christmas Eve the kids get to open one gift, and it’s always a new ornament for the tree that is in their bedroom. When they grow up and start a family of their own they will have a collection of ornaments to take with them.

 

3. Know what brings you joy. Whether it’s decorations, traditions, or the five parties you’re invited to, know what things bring you joy and what weighs you down. Are you cooking your Great Aunt Mildred’s chess pie because that’s what is expected at Thanksgiving? Maybe bake that new chocolate pecan pie recipe you’ve wanted to try this year instead. If you really don’t want to go to your second cousin’s New Year’s Eve party because it’s five hours away and you have to find childcare for your three little ones, it’s O.K. to politely decline. Know what brings you joy: simple décor or decorating your home like Neiman Marcus. Attending every holiday party or only your favorite one. Baking like the Pioneer Woman or ordering pizza and spending more time with those you love. Know yourself and what brings you bliss, then live within those boundaries . . . and make no apologies for it.

 

4. Reject Pinterest Perfection. The other day my daughter was stressing (over what, I can’t remember because when you’re raising a tween, these defcon 5 moments happen hourly). I calmly replied, “Clarey, nothing in life has to be perfect.” To which she responded rather forcefully, “Everything in life has to be perfect!” Ugh. We have a lot of rough years ahead of us. Pinterest is great for inspiration; but not so great for our self-esteem at times. If you are craftastic, awesome! A wizard in the kitchen? Fabulous! I am neither of these. But I know where I excel and where I don’t, so I save my talents for areas I enjoy and don’t beat myself up over the rest. Let’s promise ourselves to enjoy Pinterest for what it is: great ideas. And reject the temptation to achieve the illusion of perfection.

 

5. Limit Gift Giving. Our family chooses to follow the “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” model of gift giving. I also have friends who give their kids three gifts because Jesus received three gifts. Setting boundaries on gift-giving is a healthy practice for many reasons:

  • It reminds kids that Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday, not about the latest Xbox.
  • It keeps our budgets in check.
  • It helps parents reign ourselves in if gifts is our love-language.
  • It helps us focus on quality time vs. quantity of stuff.

 

6. Take a deep breath. Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, take a few moments to read a good book. Go to a yoga class. Grab coffee with a friend. Don’t let this month fly by without feeling like a normal version of yourself.

 

Let’s us not spend this advent season focusing on doing or buying; rather let our hearts cry out:

O Come Let Us Adore Him!



Dear Corbin –

Let me start by saying you are the BEST surprise we never knew we needed! God, however, always knows what we need.

  • God knew that CeCe needed to grow up with her baby brother.
  • God knew that Campbell needed a roommate and a best friend.
  • God knew that Clarey needed another little one to mother.
  • God knew that Carter needed someone to listen to him read.
  • God knew that Dad and I needed our faith stretched and challenged.
  • God knew that our entire family needed a little caboose with a gentle and joyful spirit.

 

 

When I first knew about you, I wrestled with whether or not I could handle the demands of five kids. A dear friend said to me, “Elizabeth, I know these days are difficult for you, but one day it will all be worth it. Your kids are going to do amazing things, whether it’s Carter giving a big speech, or that foster baby you almost didn’t take . . .” and I don’t remember another word she said because the moment she mentioned you, you became real to me. You were no longer a baby I hadn’t met . . . you were my son.

When people find out that you are CeCe’s biological brother, they often say, “Oh, well of course you had to say, Yes. What else could you do?” But we want you to know that bringing you into our family was not a decision made out of obligation. You were not a duty. You were and you are a privilege.

 

 

  • You were a decision made out of prayer. We prayed for wisdom and guidance. We wanted to provide for Carter, Clarey, Campbell, and CeCe and give them all they needed and deserved, yet we wanted to serve you well too.
  • You were a decision made out of love. We realized that we had enough love for more children and we knew you would have enough love for all of us.
  • You were a decision made out of wonder. We envisioned your future with us and without us, and we didn’t like the unknown. We realize the future is never a known commodity, but now we get a front row seat to watch your future unfold and there is no place I would rather sit!

Corbin Ray Oates

In the Bible God often gives people a new name—a name of significance. We, too, gave you a name that carries with it great meaning.

Corbin means “raven”:

“Consider the ravens:

They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn;

yet God feeds them.

And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24)

 

We look back at the details and circumstances that occurred years before you were even born and we know that God has always been caring for you . . . you are that valuable! There will never be a moment when God is not caring for your every need.

Ray means “radiant” or “beam of light” and that is exactly what you are. You are a light and a ray of sunshine. You have never had a bad day (except for the day you got your adenoids out—that was a really bad day). You are always happy, easy-going, full of life, and ready to snuggle. You are our a gentle giant who exudes joy, even when you bump your head or step in an ant pile. You are named after Daddy’s dad: Bobby Kenneth Ray Oates, or Bob-O as the grandkids called him before he went home to be with Jesus. You and Bob-O have birthdays just one day apart, you both have infectious laughs, and you also have similar physiques, including rotund bellies that shake when you laugh. You would have loved playing together and I know Bob-O would have spent hours chasing you around the backyard. Your Bob-O would have loved you so.


If nothing else, remember this, Corbin:

You were created by the same God who created the entire universe.

He knows you.

He loves you.

He has big plans for you.

Your life matters.

 

And we are honored to play a small part in your big life.

We love you.

Mom, Dad, Carter, Clarey, Campbell, and Cecelia

 

 


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Last month I suffered a major disappointment: the book I have worked tirelessly to write, promote, and get into the hands of women everywhere will not be released on October 24 as planned, but in early January 2018. This was enough to drive me to eat a carton of Blue Bell. At midnight. Alone. But I refrained.

 

Now, it might not seem like a big deal to you, but when I considered the countless hours I spent organizing a book launch team, planning a book launch party, and working with my social media marketing manager to prepare for the October release day, only to have to press the undo, pause, and restart buttons, it was This is Us-level sobbing.

 

Fortunately, this is a book release and not my marriage—not the one relationship I look to for comfort and safety as I move through this chaotic life. But there are have been days and seasons when my husband hurt and disappointed me . . . and times when I have done the same to him. Can you relate? I’m guessing you can.

 

So how do we respond when our spouse disappoints us? I’m not talking about a grave offense like adultery or abandonment. I’m talking about the everyday let downs that leave us feeling unimportant, unseen and unloved:

  • They bust the monthly budget.
  • They forget we have a girls’ night out planned, and they call to say they are working late tonight.
  • They say something harsh when what we needed was compassion and understanding.

 

What should we do when our spouse disappoints us?

  1. We pray. We ask God to show us our part in the situation. What led to the disappointment? How does God want us to respond to our spouse? Then we pray for the courage to approach our spouse with truth, grace, and forgiveness. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

 

  1. We seek wise counsel. It is a good idea to seek the advice of someone we trust: a mentor, pastor, Bible study teacher, close friend. This is not the time to air out our dirty laundry on social media, ask our mentor to indulge in our self-pity, or ask others to take sides. This is the time to glean from the wisdom of someone who has walked our path.

 

  1. We communicate with truth and grace. Most of us have the tendency to lean too much toward truth (we share the facts with no regard to our spouse’s feelings) or toward grace (we pardon our spouse without revealing our own pain, then we let it build up to dangerous levels, ready to explode). Let us muster up every ounce of courage within us and then tell our spouse what they did to disappoint us while offering them grace and forgiveness knowing that we will disappoint them at some point as well.

 

  1. We seek restoration. Scripture is clear that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The enemy wants nothing more than to cause division and destruction in marriage. It is our job as Christ-followers to seek restoration in marriage. We must work our way toward one another, not let ourselves drift away.

 

  1. We prevent repetition. Talk with your spouse about what led up to the disappointing situation so history won’t repeat itself. The only thing worse than being hurt once by your spouse is being hurt twice . . . by the same offense.

 

  1. We keep it in perspective. As I mentioned before, disappointments are a part of life and marriage. But they are just disappointments—not devastations. If your spouse forgets your anniversary, remember that it’s not the same as gambling away your retirement. So many of our day-to-day disappointments are mild in comparison to the world’s hurts.

 

  1. We move forward. We consciously decide to leave our disappointment in the past and move confidently and joyfully into the future. We use this time as a learning experience and commit to growing closer to our spouse because of the knowledge we gained.

 


psst – I’m Not Doing It All

People often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I don’t tell you this to brag or sound prideful. I tell you this because I want you to know that, just like every other wife and mom, I am not doing it all. I am drowning . . . just like you.

Most nights my family eats grilled cheese sandwiches or corn dogs because I don’t even think about dinner until about 4:00 p.m. We eat green beans out of a can and sometimes I give my kids apples without washing them (I know, we’re rebels).

As much as I love organization and order, my house looks like a professional organizer’s before picture. Shoes in the bathroom and towels in the bedroom, remote control in the Ziploc bag drawer (WTH?), and Beanie Boos in the freezer (don’t ask). My carefully thought-out fixer-upper looks like a frat house on a Sunday morning.

Reality-Wish

Our diet is abysmal and my house is a wreck. Can you relate? I am limping along in this journey called life and most days I am just praying I make it to the finish line. How many more years until my youngest graduates??? I am tired, overwhelmed, and most days I feel like a failure because I set the bar so high that I will never be able to pole vault over it.

But two things I know—two things I cling to—are that God is full of grace, and so is my family. God has given me more than I can handle, and for that I am grateful. God knows I need to be in burdened if I am to rely on Him. I am independent, strong, and determined; therefore, God knew that if He gave me a predictable, manageable life, then I would have no need for Him. So He gave me A LOT: a lot of responsibility, a lot of people, a lot of chaos to love, teach, manage, protect, and nurture.

And my family. They give me so much more grace than I give to myself or to others. They are beautiful teachers. My husband doesn’t complain when I disappear for the evening to write or “forget” to do the laundry (again).

My kids don’t complain when I forget about crazy sock day or don’t have homemade brownies waiting for them after school. They won’t think back on these years with memories of delicious meals or creative crafts. But they will remember sitting around the dinner table together (even if we ate Hot Pockets), family dance parties, nightly prayers, and conversations about our Savior.

Friends, no one is doing it all. Not me. Not you. Not even Jesus did it all. Scripture tells us he left the crowd to pray, which means he called a time out on productivity to connect with his Father. He also moved from town to town, which means he said “No” to some people so he could say, “Yes” to others. He disappointed people, but he never disappointed his Father. How? Because he kept his eye on the end goal.

What is your end goal?

Mine is to love God and love others. To help others know that hope and healing from their past is possible, and that God offers redemption and restoration to everyone. So if the laundry doesn’t get done or we eat another grilled cheese sandwich so I can pour into one more person, so be it. I don’t think my family will mind. They don’t expect me to do it all.

Let yourself off the hook, friend.

No one is doing it all.

Not me. Not you. No one.

And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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In light of the Las Vegas devastation that just occurred, I thought it fitting to pause and consider how we can talk to our children about death and tragedy. When we were kids our parents could turn off the evening news to protect our innocence. Today, however, our kids have access to 24-hour news via the internet. Sometimes my kids even know what’s going on in the world before I do thanks to iPad time at school; meanwhile I’m at home wrangling two toddlers and reading Go Dog Go!

I know it’s tempting to protect our children for as long as possible, but we must learn to balance shielding them from iniquity with informing them of worldwide events. They need to know that trouble, evil, and misfortune occurs in this world because the Bible promises us,

“. . . In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

If we are raising our kids in a world where we cannot protect them from death and tragedy, how can we talk to them about these things?

 

4 Things to Remember When Talking to Your Kids About Death and Tragedy

 

  • Use age appropriate language.

    My kids range in age from one to twelve, so the information I give my three-year-old will differ from what I tell my ten-year-old. Consider words, phrases, and tone of voice when talking to each child, and also consider their maturity levels. Also think about your child’s temperament. If your child is sensitive and compassionate, then issues such as death and natural disasters might be difficult for his heart to handle. You might need to unpack the details in multiple talks instead of blindsiding him with one major conversation.

 

  • Be honest.

    If you try to protect your child by twisting or sugarcoating the truth, you will develop of pattern of coddling her. Do our children need to hear all the gory details about a school shooting? No. But do they need to know enough truth so when their best friend talks about it on the playground they know what is fact and what is fiction? Yes. Answer her questions honestly, yet using your filter of age appropriateness. Which brings us to my next point.

 

  • Don’t avoid tough questions.

    Kids are inquisitive. They often ask questions we avoid. They face feelings we like to stuff. If we won’t answer their questions, they’ll ask their BFF, and I’m pretty sure we don’t want an eight or thirteen-year-old imposing their wisdom about death and faith. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s O.K. to say, “I don’t know.” Your child will appreciate the fact that you are human. Some tragedies are beyond our comprehension.

 

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
-Isaiah 55:9

 

When it comes to situations such as the Las Vegas massacre, here are some questions your children might ask, and some answers you might consider:

  • “Why did he do it?”

    • Because his mind was not in a healthy place.
    • We don’t know, but we can pray for the people he hurt and their families.
    • We don’t know, but we can pray for his family because they are suffering now that he is gone.
    • We don’t know, but we can pray that something like this never happens again.

 

  • Why does God let bad things like this happen?

    God doesn’t allow bad things like this to happen; people allow bad things to happen. Remember when Eve took the bite out of the fruit and Adam followed her lead? That is when sin entered the world. (Genesis 3) Ever since then people have had the choice to do what is right or to do what is wrong. The man who hurt these people chose to do what is wrong. If God stopped people from doing bad things, then God would have created robots, not people. God created people who have free will to love Him, or hate Him; to do what is right, or to do what is wrong.

 

  • Is the man who chose to do what was wrong in heaven?

    We don’t know. Doing bad things doesn’t prevent us from going to heaven, just like doing good things doesn’t get you a free pass into haven. The only way into heaven is to know Jesus Christ as your Savior.

 

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
-John 17:3

Anytime we lose a loved one, endure a difficult situation, or walk our child through tragedy, it’s always an opportune time to remind our child (and ourselves) that one day everything that is wrong will one day be made right.

 

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
-2 Peter 3:13

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Your response to last week’s post was so encouraging! Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks organizing closets is a fun activity and cleaning out the garage is a stellar date night.

 

Adulting is tough.

We ride the train of responsibility so long that we forget to hop off occasionally to do some sight seeing.

Thankfully, summer ushers in less routine, less commitment, and more free time—the perfect opportunity to take a break from the usual, rushed pace of life to foster connection with our spouse.

If you’re ready to have fun with your spouse this summer, but don’t want to settle for dinner and a movie (BO-RING), I have the perfect gift just for you . . .

This is a FREE downloadable guide full of creative, mostly inexpensive dates guaranteed to get you off the train of obligation and into the world of fun with your spouse!

 

Click here to download your FREE copy of 60 Out of the Box Dates.