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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mexican Stuffed Shells- Easy as making tacos (almost)



I have never ever put a recipe on my blog before, but I made these last night and they were so delicious. 
My husband piled on the seconds and my picky eating son said "Actually I really really like them."  
So I thought I'd share the recipe here. 
My husband, my son and I actually at it all ourselves, so next time, 
when all 5 of us are here eating I will have to double the recipe-
Just a heads up for you bigger families!

Prep time was about 15 minutes
Bake time is 45 minutes

Ingredients
1 pound ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 package low-sodium taco seasoning
4 ounces cream cheese
16 jumbo pasta shells
1 1/2 cups salsa (I used medium)
1 cup taco sauce (I used medium)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup Monterrey jack cheese


For possible toppings:
3 cut up green onions

olives
Sour cream

Instructions

Heat oven to 350°.
In a pan brown the ground beef; add taco seasoning and prepare according to package directions. 

Add cream cheese, cover and simmer until cheese is melted. 
Stir together and mix well. Set aside and cool completely.
While ground beef is cooking, cook the pasta shells according to package directions; 

drain. Set shells out individually on a baking sheet so that they don’t stick together.
Pour salsa on bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. 

Stuff each shell with 1-2 tablespoons of the meat mixture. 
Place shells in 9×13 pan open side up. Evenly cover shells with taco sauce.
 Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add shredded cheese and bake for 10-15 more minutes with the foil removed. 

Top with green onions or olives if desired. Serve with sour cream! YUM!

Hope you enjoy. 
Aside from stuffing the shells, it was pretty much as easy as making Tacos.

I got the recipe from here: Mexican Stuffed Shells 




Sunday, August 24, 2014

Because I Told You So



Proverbs 31:26
When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.

As a parent, I question myself a lot. 
I question my husband a lot. Our tactics. Are we carefully parenting? Are we mindful of how our words or actions can affect our children long term? I scrutinize my own words once they hit the air. And I judge myself. Perhaps sometimes too harshly, I don't know.
Those times when I lose my patience.

I really think about the future a lot as a parent. I think about their future.
If I am honest, I would say it is an area where fear has crept in and I have to continually ask the Lord for wisdom,
"Am I doing this right~this mom thing? Am I really the best mom that he (or she) could have?"
My kids tell me all the time that I am the best mommy in the world. Of course they think the world of me, but I want more than that. I want everything for them. I want to teach them to think about the future. Not in 'what do you want to be when you grow up' kind of way. But more of a 'WHO do you want to be when you grow up' kind of way?
And I want them to WANT to be a person of integrity and character. I want them to WANT to love Jesus. I want them to WANT to treat others with respect and kindness. I don't know that I was ever really challenged with that question-who do you want to be? I don't know that it would have mattered to me at such a young age.

Is everything 'because I told you so?'
Is it? Seriously? Is it? Is that just how it is with kids? At what point do they decide to start treating their siblings nicely just because they love them? I mean, DO they love them?  At what point do they decide to do their homework because they are simply motivated to do so on their own? Okay, that second question may have been reaching, because I don't ever remember being motivated to do homework, but I know their are kids more ambitious than I was. How do I make my kids be one of those kids? How do we get our kids to think about their future?
I read this incredible post by Lysa TerKeurst called Before They Go To School...Have This Conversation and it spoke volumes to me. It was all about teaching our kids to pre-decide who they want to be. Who do you want to be when your friends are making fun of someone? Who do you want to be when you come across drugs? Who do you want to be when your mom asks you to clean your room? It's all about WHO you want to be...Decide right here and now what you will do when you come across this, this or this... Decide right now what attitude you will have no matter what when this happens.

(By the way this is just as good for us adults. I'm all about pre-deciding lately)

Does that make sense? Our kids are young. We make them do what we (our family) do, of course. And we will continue to do so. But I also want them to one day choose for themselves to do it because we are instilling it in them to do it the right way and it's something admirable and it's truth. Not JUST 'because I told you so.'  I want to get it into their heads now to choose the right attitude before they become teenagers and choose the wrong one. Make a decision NOW who you want to be and start working on that person. Don't wait until your life is filled with mistakes that you have to go back and try to fix, patching up scars and broken hearts. I want to shield them from the mistakes I made. I want to shield them from hurt. And the only way I know to do that is to teach them to decide WHO they will be in 10 or 20 years and start making their choices now to be that person.


It's so hard to do though with kids. Their world is NOW.
They can't seem to comprehend that choices we make today affect our tomorrow. Their laziness about their messy room may not seem like its a big deal today, but it is the attitude about it that may very well affect their life tomorrow. It's a daily prayer of mine as a parent to get this right. I love the word intentional. It means I do things on purpose. I don't want to parent by default. Some days we can't help it. Toddler meltdowns. Newborn cries. Pre-teen attitudes. Teenager drama. Life doesn't always go as planned. But I can always intentionally look to the Lord for wisdom. And in between all the ins and outs of a sometimes messy momma's life, he can give me the words to say with the patience to say it (not scream it).

I was thinking about this today on our exhausting car ride home from our mini vacation today. One in which ended with my oldest son being grounded from the computer after his complaining followed by disrespect for me followed by public defiance. He kept asking and crying for another chance after we had given him several already. My mind was exhausted. I cried silently "Lord, I don't know what to do. What am I doing wrong?"

I heard this. You are more.
You are more than a strict mom and more than a too permissive mom. You are more than a mean mom and more than a not enough mom. You are more than a mom that yells too much and more than a mom that doesn't discipline enough. You are more than an exhausted mom and more than lazy mom. You are more than a tired mom. YOU ARE MORE. I gave you THESE children and I gave you the ability to handle them, care for them, nurture them, teach them, discipline them, instruct them, love them & play with them. YOUR kids were given by ME to be blessings to YOU. I trusted YOU with these precious lives because I knew with my grace and my strength you are MORE than what you see or feel.
You have ME living on the inside of you to guide you and lead you through their different life transitions. Keep asking me and I will keep instructing you...and don't be afraid of their future. My word says "Start children off in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not turn from it." `Proverbs 22:6

The Lord just reassured me that its not by my strength, but by his strength that lies in me. 

As parents, we should never ever hesitate to ask God for his wisdom. Cry to him & reach up asking him for a refreshing of strength each day. Commit your day to him before it even begins. Commit those little lives to him each day. If they are more His than ours, then He will be there to instruct you how to love them. Being a mom is hard. It's lots of work. It is a life of selflessness and patience, endurance and never giving up. We should never have "had enough" of them, nor should we give up on ourselves. We can do this.

Linked up with Mommy Moments.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Chasing After God's Heart


May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart 
be pleasing in your sight, LORD, 
my Rock and my Redeemer. ~Psalms 19:14

If you would have asked me 5 years ago what my favorite books of the Bible were, I would have answered with confidence "The Epistles."  What I love about the epistles is they are chalk full of instruction on how to get things right in life. Everything from marriage to friendships to parenting to church structure to respecting leaders to loving others to obedience, you can find pretty defined answers of what we should do to live this life gracefully. Sometimes we need structure and definition. Some of us don't like it and we want life to be a free for all, but as for me, a little (or a lot of) instruction is helpful. Life is chaotic and hard enough without always trying to figure out what to do on my own. I gleam from the wisdom of God's word. I want to know what I can do to honor God. Not what I can get away with in dishonor to him. He deserves more. And frankly, so do we. Instruction is better for us...and He knows that.

But something interesting changed in me when I started writing 2 years ago. 
I became more about the heart.
I seem to connect with Gods word with my heart now more than ever before.
Something deep inside me grabs a hold of each word and intently & carefully listens for the heart of God. Where is his heart in these words? His heart is to love me, to give me a better life.
However, I don't just want instruction to want to get my life right for me. It's not all about me. But I want  to live my life for God's glory. Why? Because I love him so...

With me, His word doesn't seem quite so point blank. It's so much more than that. Sometimes I hear people quote or debate scripture and I wonder where the heart is in all those words. Without having intimate fellowship with Jesus, those are just words. Religion. There are certainly guidelines and commandments and such, but if you are a loving participant of your relationship with him, suddenly those things which he asks of us aren't just rules. It's not only about instruction on how to live, but it's communion.
Every act we do in this life as a Christian is (or should be) in response to our love for our Savior. Respecting our spouse is suddenly an act of love to our Heavenly Father, instructing our kids or spending time with them is now an act of love to our Savior, honoring our leaders is honoring the Lord.  Every act of obedience is an act of love and intimacy. And the list goes on. 

Which brings me to say this. I love love love the book of Psalms. I love David. The heart felt in his words get to me. His cry is so desperate and dependent on the Lord. 
I love his honesty with himself and with the Lord. He was honest in his fears. Honest in his failures. Honest in his hurts. Honest in his questions. AND he was honest in his assurance in the Lord. He knew there was hope above and beyond what looked so real and felt so hard to him. And he voiced both to the Lord. There is something about authenticity that invites the reader or listener to grab a seat, sit on the edge and want more. You know what I mean?

It is interesting that when God placed David in the seat of a King, He called him a man after his own heart. He said 'he will do everything I want him to do. We all know David made some big messes after that. Yet he was all about heart.
It was both his love for God in an intimate way and his obedience to 'do what God asked him to do' that made him the man after God's own heart. When you are all about heart, you are all about being candid and genuine. David spoke & loved from his depths. And least that's what I get.

The Bible isn't a mountains of words to memorize or rules to obey, but it's an affection between the Lord and his children.  (And included in every affectionate parents heart for their child is instruction. Yes? Because we want more for our kids. The best in fact.) And I love that place with the Lord. That candid place. That place of genuine love for Him. That place where instruction and obedience is synonymous to intimacy between us and him. It brings life and refreshing.  He is the ultimate person + creator of authenticity,creativity + reliability. He is the King of Kings. He is the life giver. He is the lover of my soul. He's not words we memorize. He is so much more.

If we chase after his heart as David did, we can understand who God is. When we can begin to get real with God, when we get down to the nitty gritty and unmask ourselves to Him (He knows us anyways), his heart is revealed in return. It's not that He doesn't reveal his heart through the Bible or his spirit with us, but so many times we don't understand it. Not really. Even in all our study, if there is no fellowship, it still is just words or rules.

I want to be more like David. A girl chasing after the heart of God.  I want to chase after God's depth like he did. When I talk to God, I try to be candid. I try to be honest with myself about what I am feeling and fearing and loving and disliking so that I can be honest with God. I have fears and questions and failures, yes~ right here and now, not just 5 or 10 years ago... but when I lay them at his feet, He is able to reveal to me each time afresh that He is more than it all.

His heart longs for ours to beat side by side with his. To know him more.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls
all your waves: and breakers have swept over me
By day the Lord directs with his love-
At night, His song is with me
a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalms 42:7-8





Sunday, August 10, 2014

Doing Life With You


When we started dating, he was just 23. I was 19. I remember that summer, asking my mom to pray with me about finding a husband. Now when I see newlyweds who are my age then... it just seems so young. But that was the truest desire of my heart. Simply to find a husband. Each new guy that showed up at church I kept my eyes on and my heart open. It was the summer before I was supposed to go away to college. I had taken a year off after high school and decided I wanted to do "something." But I really had no idea what that something was, so college it was. On a whim that summer, I went on a month long missions trip to Albania. It was there, the girls I was bunking with kept talking about marriage. I came home with a changed heart. Yes. Marriage was what I wanted. I broke up with my boyfriend, who I knew wasn't "the one."
And I prayed....

A few months later our church opened a venue that was to host christian concerts every weekend. My parents, being the pastors, had asked long time friends of our family that were attending our church to manage the place. It was then, in preparation for it's grand opening that the unspeakable happened. We were reintroduced and sparks flew.

Our families had known each other since I was about 6 years old. When people ask me when we met, I never know what to say.  As a little girl, I remember spending the night at his house after church with my family because of snow storms + their house being near by. But we moved away to Michigan. And that was a long time ago. I'd see him occasionally in passing as a young teenager when we moved back. But he usually nodded at me & that was it.

He didnt attend our church at that time, but that summer,  he swung by the "light club" to help his mom prep for the grand opening.  I was there helping my parents, as they were the pastors of the church opening the place. And as Jeff & I painted, the jokes and giggles between us were obvious. He was a tight jeans, mullet sporting, duster wearing cowboy and I was a baggy jean, purple hair wanna be skater girl.
Clearly we were not meant to be.... or were we?

Long story short, we flirted. I got scolded by my parents to not break his heart since they were friends with his parents.
I got mad at my parents & I tried to avoid him to punish my parents, I guess. But our feelings for each other were undeniable clearly. So one day, he asked me if I could be his girlfriend. To which I said 'no.' To this day, I still can't believe I did that. I was so young...and stupid. I had a hard time getting past his style. It just wasn't "me." And I guess I couldn't get past the fact that I sorta "knew" him basically my entire life.  But I am so glad God knew me better than I knew myself. Eventually (like 3 days later) I told him I made a mistake and I had changed my mind and said "yes." We got engaged 2 months later. Married 13 months later...
And a year after we got married we left our families in Wisconsin and headed to Bible college together,  both majoring in supportive ministries.



Jeff is exactly the person I needed... not just needed, wanted.
We have been together for 19 years now. 18 years married in November. We have had our shares of ups and downs. Mistakes made. But we have grown from them. We are not always hot and heavy. I mean, we have our moments. But we are always best friends. No one can make me laugh and roll my eyes ( in a good way) as much as he can. He is the perfect mixture of annoying and funny and loving.  I can't imagine my life without him and I am so thankful to have celebrated 18 birthdays with him.

Today is my husbands birthday and I want to wish him a Happy Birthday...
Jeff, I love you. You have made my life so happy. I am so thankful for you and our 4 wonderful crazy kids that God has entrusted us with. I look forward the the chaos, the adventure, the love, the tears & the laughter with you for the rest of our lives.

I'm so grateful I get to do life with you...
Love, Julie

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5 Intentional & Mess Free Ways To Spend Time With Your Kids


Sometimes as a mom, I just need a day where the mess is minimal but the smiles are still big!
Dividing my time among the kids isn't easy and feels almost impossible when I am constantly cleaning up after them...and as I clean, they mess right behind me. I try to go with the motto, oh well, because their happiness (& fun) comes first. But their happiness doesn't always have to mean messes.
Really, I think in this day and age we underestimate the good old fashioned quality of just spending time with our kids. We want to make sure whatever we do with our kids is picture worthy for our instagram or pinterest accounts, but more often than not our kids just want to be with us. Messes can be made at times, but it's not always necessary. So I wanted to give you a few of my favorite activities (and theirs!) to do with my kids. Without the mess and without the cost!
And they LOVE me for it. Everytime.

MONSTER DRAW MIX UP-(a piece of paper and 2-3 crayons or markers)
Ok, I just made that name up. But my kids love it. All you need is a piece of paper and some crayons or markers, etc. One kid starts by drawing a part of a body. It usually ends up being a head. Then they pass it on to the next kid, who adds their body part (eyes, lips, antenna, whatever) and then they pass it to me, the Mom. All we do is we keep passing the paper round and round and we keep adding body parts/clothes/accessories. It usually ends up coming our looking pretty odd, which is why we call it a monster. The kids LOVE it. And it usually only works well if I play the game with them. One piece of paper, 4 markers, 3 kids, one mom...not much of a mess at all.

WALKS & CONVERSATION- (legs, free time & willingness to listen)
This is probably my son's favorite thing to do with me. I'm not kidding. He just told me before I wrote this that he is not like most kids so I guess give it a try and see. You really just have to be willing to not be too busy to really listen to them intently and have conversation with them. It works best with my son, because he loves to talk. He will yammer away for 45 minutes straight about Mario and Minecraft and I try hard not to let my mind wander. I really have to listen to because he asks me my favorite this or that so I can't get by with just a "uh-huh" or "oh yeah?" It's usually a one kid activity so that he/she isn't interrupted by siblings and feels special. But every single time, he tells me this when we are done "I love talking to you. You're not like most adults. Most adults don't listen. You listen to what I'm saying."

DANCE PARTY-(energy & music)
The girls especially love this one. Wesley will join in too once in awhile. But it's really brainless, fun activity to do with kids. Kids love to dance. Just watch them at weddings. They love it even more if you are taking video of them dancing or if you dance with them. So that's what I do. I dance with them. I get tired, take a break, find a new favorite song and go at it again. They still aren't too old to hold hands and go round in a circle.

GO FISH-(plain deck of cards)
Why must we complicate things? Everytime I go to the store I see those kids decks of cards, you know, Go Fish, Old Maid and such. I always tell myself to buy them and teach them to my kids. But for some reason I never did it. And recently, while we were camping, my son got stuck without the internet or 3DS and he couldn't sleep. I pulled out the deck of cards I brought along and played Go Fish with him. Super easy. Then I came home and taught it to my oldest daughter and my younger daughter walked in. Next game, she had to play... and now they ask me to play ALL THE TIME. Really? Go Fish? Yep. And the deck of cards has been sitting in Jeff's sock drawer for a very long time.

WATCH A MOVIE WITH THEM (a movie & free time)
It seems like such a simple thing to do and yes, we probably do it from time to time anyways by default or we pay $40-$50 to take the whole gang to see a movie. But my kids are extra cuddly, extra cozy and extra happy when we can either a) Have a family movie night or b) I just sit in their bed or they sit in mine and they say "Mom, you want to watch a movie with me?" and I answer them "Sure." They seem so disappointed or just sort of turn and walk out if I'm unable to or I tell them "Go watch a movie with your sister." It's intentional time with them (and put your phone away too!).


Here is one of our monster mix up drawings. I hope you have a sense of humor, because this one made me laugh and I can't ever get rid of it.. I never told the kids what "the problem" with it is. They will figure it out, one day.




Monday, August 4, 2014

Speak Life: the challenge


Well, this past week we started something new in our family. I got so tired of hearing the kids constantly calling each other names. Everything from poop to idiot to butt cheek to dummy has been flailing through the air in our house and it gets exhausting constantly telling the kids to stop it. Just stop it. So on a whim I told them we are starting something new. We are starting a "speak life" challenge and each kid will have a chart. And when they reach 35 days without calling a name, they will earn a toy or game of their choice. This includes calling themselves a name. They are to speak life over themselves too!

Sometimes I question whether I should reward them for something they should be doing anyways, but we do it for everything else. We have chore charts, potty charts, homework charts. Ok, who am I kidding?  I don't, but I know people do it. And honestly, this is just as important (if not more) than any of those things and the reason we do the whole chart + reward thing is to train behaviors we want to instill in our kids, right? So that's what we are doing.
We will get these kids to speak life to each other no matter what the cost. The challenge has been going on for about a week and it's not been perfect, but it's been better. There are still tears when 'they forget' and blurt out an insulting name and I tell them they don't get a sticker on the chart for the day. But it's been better.

I even gave them an incentive to gain an extra sticker if they catch Jeff or I calling a name.
Granted we don't yell out "butt cheek" to our kids, but the word "brat" or "baby" has slipped from our mouths on occasion when the kids are really testing us. Sad and shameful, but we are still learning and letting God correct us. I guess that's the best way to put it.
But either way, I don't like it. Not from their mouths, and not from ours. The other day Jeff slipped and said something about one of the kids being a "baby" and Jada caught him and he said to me "How am I supposed to parent like this?"
The answer: Well, it's a challenge. It really is. For all of us. For me especially, when my kids are rolling their eyes and accusing me of never buying them anything. Oh man...(insert the "when I was a kid" speech). But we are to set an example. We can't expect them not to call names if we are still calling names. There is a better way to train them. Yes?


So, that is what we are doing. Being better parents, training up kids who know what to say and what not to say. I told them our words are powerful. God created the world with words. I gave them this verse to think about.
Proverbs 18:21-The tongue can bring death or life, those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

So I challenge all of you this week. Let your mouth speak life to those around you. Teach your kids to do the same. It's not cute or funny. Yes, I admit sometimes I do have to hold back a laugh or turn my head because I'm smiling (mainly due to their creativity), but I'm trying hard to instill positive words in these kids.

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