Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back: 16 in 2016

Not too long from now, we'll ring in a new year.  Well.  I'll ring it in.  The rest of my people will be asleep.  What am I talking about?  They're already asleep!  But now is the time I look back.  And remember, laugh, smile.  
Or, in some cases, I'd just rather forget.

When I think back on 2016, I can honestly say it's been the hardest year of my adult life.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  There were some really hard places and spaces this year.  There was anger and hurt and grief and sadness and loneliness.  By the time September rolled around, I was just ready for the whole entire year to be over.  Done with.

When I think back on 2016, I don't have a whole lot of good and fun to say about it.  There was good.  There was fun.  But there was more heartbreak, I think, than anything else.  Or so it seemed.  I've spent the past several days thinking back, looking back, even though I really didn't want to.  There were just some things I'd rather not remember.  I'd rather forget.  But the more I remembered and reflected and thought, the more I began to see God's hand of grace and mercy, things He did that only He could do in the midst of and through all of those hard places and spaces.  I can see the good now.  I can see what He did, what He's still doing.

Last night I was scrolling through one of my social media feeds.  One of the non-profit organizations I follow posted a Bible verse that caught my eye.  So I grabbed my Bible and looked it up because I wanted to read it in context with the entire chapter.  I had asked the Lord to give me a verse for 2016.  I was still waiting on that verse, and I thought perhaps He'd given it.  But when I looked it up, the very first word my eyes landed on was "year."  It wasn't in that verse.  It wasn't even in that chapter.  But that word . . . YEAR . . . nearly jumped off the page and landed right in my lap.  And then I read the verse.  Not the one I was looking for.  But the one that caught me and wouldn't let me go.  I read it again.  And again.  You see, it's my verse for 2016.  The Lord answered and gave me my verse for 2016.

"You crown the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance."  
~Psalm 65:11, NKJV

I mean, just look at the words in that verse!





And then I read the whole chapter.  It was penned by David, a song of praise to God for His good and provision.  He praised God for spiritual blessings and also for natural blessings (like rain and crops and such).

And then I looked that same verse up in other translations.  The New Living Translation made me laugh and nearly cry all at once.

"You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
even the hard pathways overflow with abundance."
~Psalm 65:11, NLT

I mean, the words . . .




But the best part?

Hard pathways overflow with abundance.

And that, friends, is my 2016 . . . a year of hard pathways that overflowed with God's abundance of grace and mercy and forgiveness and goodness and LOVE.  I mean, I'm just all excited right now!

So, in no particular order save chronological, here's my top 16 of 2016:

ONE:  Mason shot his very first deer!  He was so excited.  But you know what?  He hasn't been hunting since!  I couldn't help but laugh last week.  Seth was planning to go hunting on some of his off days, and he asked Mason if he was ready to go.  Mason's response was, "I already shot a deer."  I mean, it's like he's "been there, done that and got the trophy (skull) to prove it."  And he doesn't need to do it again.  That seems to be his attitude.
TWO:  We did a little renovation project, and Ellie girl got her very own room!  She was so excited to pick out the paint color for her hot, hot pink room.  And Hannah Kate was so excited to have her room back to herself.  I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions we made!
THREE:  Hannah Kate gave her heart to Jesus and called on Him for saving faith on June 10, 2015, but it wasn't until March of this year that she made her profession of faith public and was baptized on Easter Sunday.
FOUR:  We avoided the ER in 2015, but this year found us back there again when Mason took a direct hit to his nose with the baseball.  I still can't believe it wasn't broken!  I'm also happy to say Mason's nose is just fine these days (and thank goodness because this Momma had visions of a jacked up nose for life)!
FIVE:  We celebrated Hannah Kate's 5th year of dancing and Ellie's 1st year of dancing.  Hannah Kate did such a beautiful job dancing her solo on the big stage.  The recitals (because they weren't in the same one!) were so much fun this year (even though Ellie didn't exactly cooperate . . . meaning dance . . . like I thought she would!).
SIX:  Mason totally blossomed this year on the baseball field!  He finally found his niche on 1st base, and his bat warmed up a bit.  For the first time ever in his years of playing, his team won the championship.  He was also considered for the All-Star team.  We were so proud of him on the field!
SEVEN:  We spent a week at the beach this year and shared a beach house with our sweet friends. It was a perfectly relaxing vacation.
EIGHT and NINE (the birthdays, even though July could count for, like, four or five!):  July is always our busiest month, and this year was no exception.  Vacation Bible School.  Mason's 11th birthday.  Ellie's 4th birthday.  Our 16th wedding anniversary.  Oh my goodness.  How do we even do July?!?  I need to start planning for that right now!

TEN:  One of my favorite memories this year is our new table.  Because that's the kind of place where more memories are made on a daily basis!  This post was, on a personal note, one of my favorites this year.
ELEVEN:  And then the flood came.  It had already been a heart-wrenching few weeks in the Baton Rouge area.  We grieved with the Sterling family.  We grieved with the wives and mamas who lost their husbands, the children who lost their daddies in the senseless police shooting.  Our communities suffered such tremendous loss in so many ways.  And even though those police officers weren't my husband . . . I didn't even know them or their families . . . and my house didn't flood . . . the impact of those events was profound.  Even now, it's unbelievable.  I think this one event, the flood, is what will forever mark 2016 in my mind.  I think, for all of us here, this one event pretty much defines 2016.  

In the midst of the bad, the hard, there is good.  The older children and I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Dream Center in inner city Baton Rouge as they began the process of cleaning up and cleaning out so renovation and restoration of their buildings could begin.  I do hope that experience will stick with Mason and Hannah Kate.  It was profound.  

As the days wore on, we all began to realize that this thing wasn't going away quickly, that we would be dealing with the aftermath of the flood for MONTHS, maybe years.  The work that needed to be done was so overwhelming.  It was so hard knowing what to do, where to start.  But you just took it one thing at a time, one house at a time.  I had the opportunity to organize a group from our church to mud out one of our church member's homes.

Again, the days and weeks wore on.  The weight of the whole thing was so heavy on us all.  But I can't even imagine what it was like, what it's still like, for the thousands who were displaced by the flood, those still living in campers and trailers and hotel rooms and with family or friends.  So I wrote another post.  And, y'all, it was my most-read post of the entire year.  According to my feed, that post was read SEVERAL THOUSAND TIMES.  Yes.  Over 3,000 times!  My little blog has NEVER reached that many people at once!  I was stunned, to say the very least.  And thankful because I was simply asking folks to pray.  

And, for those of you wondering . . . most of my friends are still in the re-building phase of the process.  It's very slow.  So very slow.  One of them JUST LAST WEEK got her check from the insurance company.  So, finally, she and her family can begin rebuilding and restoring their home.  Yes.  The flood was in August.  It's now December.  They just got their check.  It will take another four to five months before they're ready to move back in.  But that's the story for most.  And, there are still many who haven't received the monies they need or are entitled to.  So there's still lots more to be done here.
TWELVE:  I met Beth Moore and received an autographed copy of her new novel.  Of course, Beth Moore has no idea who I am.  But I'll never forget my 15 seconds with her because of the words she spoke to me as I was leaving.  You keep on doing what God has called you to do.  Because, if you remember, I said earlier that by September, I was done with 2016.  Her words were so encouraging to me, a gentle reminder that 2016 was not over and that I truly needed to keep on even though I didn't feel like it, didn't even want to.
THIRTEEN:  Well, it's a good thing 2016 didn't end with September.  Because we went to Disney in October!  I think, if you ask the children, this is what they'll remember most about 2016, their favorite part.  I wrote several posts about our trip.  We spent five days amongst the parks.  Hollywood Studios.  Magic Kingdom.  Epcot.  A day to rest.  Magic Kingdom again.  Magic Kingdom one more time!
FOURTEEN:  Thanksgiving.  We spent Thanksgiving in Georgia this year, as we've been doing the past few years.  But this year was extra special to me.  First of all, we hadn't been since Thanksgiving LAST YEAR.  So just to be at home and with my people after what had been such a difficult 2016 . . . well, it was so refreshing, so healing.  We spent time with my family, I spent time with my bestie.  It was so. good.  But, it, too, was tinged with sadness and grief.  

I haven't yet blogged about this (and I will soon), but my Grandmother was called home to spend eternity with our Lord on November 26.  I have to be honest.  At the time, I immediately told God that her death was such a fitting end to 2016.  Perfect.  But the more I thought about it, the more I processed it and prayed through it, it was, indeed, perfect.  Because, you see, Grandmother hadn't truly been "living" on this old earth for the past five years anyway.  Her mind was ravaged by Alzheimer's.  She died an earthly death, but she is more alive now than she ever has been!  It was the day I flew back to Louisiana that I realized I'd come full circle.  Healing was coming.  Restoration was coming.  As a matter of fact, it had already begun.  I saw so much of God's goodness to me, to my family.  God came close to me in a way like never before.  But it took all of the pain and sadness and hurt and grief to get Him there.  So, yes, Thanksgiving is at the top of my 16!
FIFTEEN:  Hannah Kate is nine years old!  This girl has really and truly come into her own this year.  She's such joy to me.
SIXTEEN:  And last, but certainly not least, we celebrated Seth's 40th birthday!  His little surprise party was another of my favorites this year.
So, yes, 2016 was hard.  But God was OH. SO. GOOD. in the midst of it all!  I have to say He gave us the most beautiful month of December ever!  It was such a sweet month for us, for me.  It was the perfect gift from Him to close a year that, looking back, really and truly has been a hard pathway overflowing with His abundance . . . Psalm 65:11, NLT.

And, 2017 . . . I'm so giddy for you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Our Very Merry Christmas

Christmas.  The most wonderful time of the year indeed!  We always have a special Christmas, but there was just something about this one.  Something I can't put words to.
But before we get to Christmas, let's talk about Christmas Eve.  My favorite part of the day was definitely church.  But it, too, was another beautiful celebration all the day long.  We began with brunch.  I have such sweet memories of brunch as a child.

Every Christmas morning, Granddaddy, MeMama, Pa and Grandmother would all come to our house to see what Rob and I got for Christmas.  And they would stay and eat brunch with us.  Since we have church on Christmas morning, we have brunch on Christmas Eve morning.  Our menu this year was several of our tried-and-true favorites along with a new dish I've wanted to try for a couple of years now.  Hannah Kate absolutely loves Mimi's sausage balls so I always make those.  But this year Hannah Kate made them for us.  We also had a breakfast casserole, sweet potato biscuits and spiced curried fruit.  The new recipe this year was a bacon and cheddar grits quiche.  Let's just say I won't be doing that again.  It was a near disaster!  But I salvaged it, and it was good.  I'd rather just have me a big ole bowl of cheesy grits!  PawPaw and MawMaw came over and ate with us.
After we ate we opened all of the Georgia gifts.  We had such a good time doing this in the middle of the day because it gave the children the rest of the day to play with and explore their gifts.
When Hannah Kate unwrapped this gift and someone (who shall remain nameless) saw the box, said person flipped out . . . "Why does Hannah Kate get a TV?  I mean, I'm pretty sure mine isn't a TV.  That's not fair.  Why does she get a TV in her room, and I don't?  THAT'S NOT FAIR!"  I think even Hannah Kate was a little stunned because she knew she hadn't asked for a TV.  She also knew a TV in her room is something that will never happen.
So we learned a good lesson (again!) about not judging a book by its cover.  Or a gift by its wrappings!  Needless to say, Hannah Kate was so excited.  She's never had a big lego set before, and this was at the top of her list.  She's already assembled a little over half of it, and it is just the cutest thing ever!  I mean, these aren't the legos of my childhood for sure!
This makes me laugh.  It looks like Mason has horns!
He, too, asked for a lot of legos.  Lots of legos.  And Star Wars.  Every spare minute he's had since he opened his gifts has been at the table putting his lego sets together.  As a matter of fact, he's sitting there right now assembling the last one of the four he received.  (And I already have a stellar plan in place for lego storage!) 
I think Aunt Kristi must love shopping for the girls.  And we love that it's always monogrammed and girlie and pink!

Personality plus here.  You'll see what I'm talking about in a minute.
Ellie really enjoyed opening all of her gifts.  She's at the age where everything seems and feels like a surprise.
She was excited about her new jewelry box.  Especially the "dancing" ballerina.
Whatever time hasn't been spent putting legos together has been spent playing games together.  I think their favorite game is this Finding Dory one.
I really should've counted how many legos came into this house, but I didn't.  I'm pretty sure I don't want to.  I just know this has constantly been my view.

After we got home from church that evening, I spent a little more time in my kitchen.  I made Seth's favorite pralines, and I put the finishing touches on my mint brownie pops.  These sure were a lot of fun!
I was up early Christmas morning to assemble and bake the homemade cinnamon rolls.  Yes.  Yeast and all.  I put the dough together two days earlier so all I had to do Christmas morning was roll it out, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, roll it up, slice it and bake it.  Even if you are scared of yeast and don't bake (like me!), I can't recommend these cinnamon rolls enough!  They come out perfectly every single time, and they are so good! The recipe really isn't hard at all, and it is so yummy that it is so worth it!  You just have to ignore the sheer amount of sugar and butter this recipe calls for!  I use Pioneer Woman's recipe, but I half it because it makes such a huge amount.  And this is only half of the halved recipe!
And then when they come out of the oven, you drizzle (or, in my case, generously pour) the homemade icing over the top.  I mean, have you ever seen a more perfect pan of cinnamon rolls?  I think not!
And they just taste so divine!  I can think of no better Christmas morning breakfast treat than this (including my nutcracker plate and mug)!
Now, can we just take a minute to notice that the girls are wearing sleeveless dresses?  On Christmas Day.  Y'all.  It is so. hot. here.  So. hot.  I fell in love a couple of months ago with the little dress Ellie is wearing, but I debated a lot before I bought it because it was sleeveless.  I convinced myself that we wouldn't be outside.  We'd be inside.  And she could wear tights.  So it would be fine for "cold weather."  Let's just say she didn't wear tights.  And the weather definitely wasn't cold or anything close to even cool.  Hannah Kate didn't even wear the dress I bought her for Christmas because it was just too hot.  Her dress was long sleeves and had a little fur vest with it.  So we pulled a new dress out of her closet that we were saving for spring.  We ditched Mason's sweater vest, rolled up his sleeves and put him in shorts.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Christmas in Louisiana.
After we got home from church, we opened our gifts from each other.  Again, did I mention that Mason asked for legos?  And that was it.  So I had to be a little creative this year.  He's hard to shop for these days.  But an idea came to mind so I went with it.  
I did my research, read all the reviews.  And I was assured this would be the perfect telescope for a "beginner" and one that would be easy to assemble and use.  I wanted to hopefully spot some planets and see the rings around Saturn.  So this was most recommended.  But when it arrived, and I saw the box, I began to think I bit off a little more than I could chew.  And perhaps I did.  Seth got it put together tonight, but it's very cloudy so we haven't put it to the test yet.
And, of course . . . (If I had it my way, that shirt would be red and black with a bulldog on it!)
The girls opened a lot of these purple boxes.  Their American Girls dolls are definitely the most played with toys in our house.  (Although these legos are giving them a run for their money now!)

As with Mason, I had to get a little creative with Hannah Kate.  I needed one more gift for her, and I really had no idea.  But something popped up on my Amazon feed that caught my eye.  I thought she might enjoy it so I got it.  Needless to say, when I saw her reaction, I was pleasantly surprised.  I'd never heard of it before, but she had.  I asked her when and how, and she said she saw it on a TV commercial.  They don't often get what they see on TV so this was obviously a real treat for her.
And stockings.  We LOVE stockings over here!  Especially when they have baseballs and basketball socks and candy and all the Axe body care products in the world . . .
. . . and books and bath fizzies and fuzzy socks and DVDs and monogrammed notepads . . .
. . . and more bath toys and DVDs and . . . fun stuff!
And then things started getting silly.  Real silly.  This girl has so much more personality than you could ever imagine.  She hides it so well, but it's always a treat when she opens up.  She went all kinds of crazy on us!
And then I look up, and she's here.  I just don't even know.  I'm so glad I was able to quickly capture it with my phone because when I look at this picture, I think it sums up our Christmas so perfectly.
And then it was time for Seth and I to open our gifts.  Of course, Ellie had to help Daddy unwrap his.
Of all the gifts I received, these are the most priceless.  The kids each made both of us cards.  Both of these are just so special and mean so much.  I mean, it just melts my heart.
And Ellie joined in, too.  She drew our little family and a few friends.
After we opened gifts, we got ready for lunch.  Since Troy and April didn't arrive until later in the day, we were having our big turkey and dressing meal for supper.  We (meaning the sisters-in-law and I) tried to change it up this year and do something different.  You know, like lasagna or shrimp and grits.  Man, I'm really craving shrimp and grits right now!  But, anyway, that didn't go over very well.  So Ashley and I volunteered to take care of lunch.  We did "heavy" appetizers.  But, first, I assembled my little treat plate.  This right here is my Mama all the way.  I think this would make her proud.
The appetizer I was most excited about was my apple slice wreath with toffee caramel cream cheese dip.  So pretty, so easy.  And so not original.  So don't be to impressed.  Give me a recipe or a picture, and I'm your girl.  Ask me to come up with something of my own, and you might need to go to the drive through.  But how fun is this?!  
Ashley made a cheeseball and a couple of dips, Barry made jacked up oysters and I made the apple wreath, dogs in a blanket (for my picky eaters), Christmas pinwheels (cream cheese, turkey, spinach and craisins) and little smokies.  I also made a cranberry tea that I also thought was really good.
We spent the rest of the day with the family, opened gifts, ate again.  I took all of two pictures the rest of the day.  But we also managed to get this one of MawMaw Mac with all of her great-grands (and the deer).
And that was our very Merry Christmas!