Saturday Smiles: End of the year edition … and news on the blog for 2012

Happy last day of 2011!

We do a lot of remembering on New Year’s Eve, for good and bad, about the year that’s wrapping up, and we look on the coming year with hope and expectation.

Whatever 2011 held for you, I wish you every good thing in Christ for 2012.

Here are my weekly smile-makers. And read on for a preview of what you can expect on this blog for the new year!

We got a Wii for Christmas, and while trying out the swordplay game on Wii resort, I laughed so hard I think I scared my 3-year-old. My husband crushed me in the duel, and for some reason, it was funny to me. Laughing uncontrollably, for whatever reason, is a guaranteed smile-maker, even after the fact.

My son and his “tiny wittle bear.” I’m not sure how this started, but he got this little stuffed bear for Christmas, and now when he looks for it, he says, “Where’s my tiny wittle bear.” Totally adorable. Perhaps not the best picture, but I wanted to capture the moment before we lost the bear. I nearly left him at a rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike yesterday.

Holding babies. Though we didn’t meet our nephew yet, we did meet and see my husband’s cousins’ new babies. There are four this year, not counting our nephew. Babies fascinate me. I always wonder what they’re thinking. Plus, they’re easier to talk to than grown-ups sometimes.

Our son decided that his Christmas present to us would be learning to do this.

This morning, he climbed out of his crib before I could go in to get him. And he ended his 3-hour nap by strolling into the living room unannounced and carrying no less than three of his sleeping friends. Toddler bed, here we come.

Our daughter’s personality. It has blossomed of late, and she is sporting a major ‘tude. In the coming months, I sense there could be more drama in this house than a high school theater club.

Endings are never fun for me, but a song I’ve always liked says that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” So, the end of the year brings new beginnings.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2012. A trip to Disney. My husband’s graduation from seminary. And the great unknown after that.


So, speaking of 2012 …

I don’t consider it a New Year’s resolution, exactly, but I’ve wanted to get on a more regular blogging schedule for a while. This year, I’m going to give it a shot, for my sake and yours.

Here’s what you can expect:

My Cup of Tea — Okay, so I usually start the day with coffee, but I do enjoy a good cup of tea, too. On Mondays, I’ll start the week blogging about something that’s been rolling around in my mind that I just can’t keep to myself. I’ll pretend we’re talking over coffee or tea, and I’ll tell you what I think or how something has impacted me, and you can tell me if you agree or disagree. I love conversation and thinking about things in a new way.

The Weekly Read — On Wednesdays I’ll post a review of a recent book I’ve read. Through Christian Speakers Services, Blogging for Books (Waterbrook Multnomah), Tyndale Blog Network and BookSneeze (Thomas Nelson), I have regular access to Christian fiction and non-fiction, but I’d like to branch out. If you’ve read something good recently, I’d love to hear about it! I recently joined GoodReads, so you can see what I’m reading or want to read, or send me a recommendation.

Saturday Smiles — I’ll continue to write about the things that have made me smile that week. In the couple of months since I started this exercise, I feel like I’ve noticed the positive things happening in my life more, and I’ve let the negative parts of the week go a lot more easily. It’s been a good, life promoting addition to my week.

I may find reason to stray from this schedule from time to time, but for the most part, you’ll know what’s coming.

Happy New Year! And thanks for reading!


What Christmas means to me

It’s Christmas morning, and most of us are probably unwrapping presents, or fiddling with toy packaging of already opened presents, or cleaning up the paper and boxes and bags. Maybe we’re eating a special breakfast in our Christmas jammies or this year, getting ready for a church service. As you read, I’m probably doing one or more of those things. Just thinking about Christmas morning gives me warm fuzzy feelings from head to toe. It’s the kind of moment where you wish you had a pause button for life so you could look around a little longer and take it all in.

The tree.

The lights.

The joy.

The giving.

The smiles.

The hugs.

The everything.

Christmas was special even before I knew about Jesus or his love for me. It still is but in different ways.

This year, one of my priorities for Christmas was to give. We don’t have a lot to give, but I wanted the special people in our lives — particularly the ones who have helped us in some way — to know how much we appreciate and love them. So, the kids and I made gifts. We made ornaments/fragrant wall hangings like these.

 We layered cocoa mix in a jar and made moisturizing hand scrub. We whipped up a batch of our increasingly famous molasses softies. We sorted and bagged and wore ourselves out. Then we delivered. To Isabelle’s teachers at the Y. To church friends. To our mail carrier who is also our neighbor. To our landlords, who are also our neighbors. And to the firefighter who came after dark one September night and pumped nearly 30 inches of water out of our basement. He, too, lives in the neighborhood.

It’s this last delivery that affected me the most. I’m not brave or bold when it comes to approaching relative strangers or knocking on doors or making unprepared remarks. I put it off till almost the last moment, delivering the package when I was sure no one was home and on the day before we left for Illinois.

I left the bag of goodies on the front porch. Just stepping onto the porch broke a barrier in my mind. We have walked past this house many times on our travels around our block. But setting foot on the property, leaving a gift and a note, making contact, felt like an invasion, but not an unwelcome one.

Maybe this will help say what I felt.

So much of what happens in my daily life feels self-absorbed. Or self-protective. I often insulate myself from anything beyond what’s necessary to survive a day of parenting. Like talking to grocery cashiers. Or committing a random act of kindness. Or giving what I don’t have. I don’t open my world to anyone else, and I’m surprised (sometimes annoyed) when someone dares break into it.

But isn’t that what Christmas is all about? God in Heaven, when the time was exactly right, when all hope was almost lost, broke the barrier separating the earthly from the spiritual, and became human. He made contact with His creation by taking on flesh. We call him Baby Jesus, Jesus Christ, Messiah, Savior and a host of other names.

Jesus’ birth gives us hope. We are not alone. We do not have to fend for ourselves. We are not lost. Someone cares. And sees. When life seems dull and gray, the Light of the World bursts into our lives like a ray of sunlight on an overcast day.

Maybe we didn’t ask Him to get involved. Or take notice. Or intervene. But He did, and by this, we are encouraged.

My biggest fear when I do something like deliver cookies to a neighbor I hardly know is rejection. What if they think I’m being nosy? Or what if they don’t like cookies? (Seriously, who doesn’t like cookies?) What if they don’t want visitors? (Some of our neighbors have a “No Trespassing” sign in their windows.)

I let the fear keep me in my own house, convincing me it’s safer to stay inside and mind my own business and not get involved.

But on those rare occasions when I do cross the street and knock on the door, I’m exhilarated. People are polite. And grateful. Sometimes they even reciprocate, which is not my goal at all. They smile, and I leave wondering what else I can do to unexpectedly bless someone.

I followed up the gift-giving with Christmas cards. Hand-written. Personal greetings. Licked, stamped and addressed. I love e-mail and text messaging and Facebook and Twitter. But none of that compares to a card sent in the mail. It’s that personal contact again. A sign of someone else in their world thinking about me in my world.

So, if you’re reading this on Christmas Day (surely you have better things to do on Christmas Day!) or the day after or a week later, think on this: How can you pleasantly invade someone else’s world to bless, encourage and offer hope? If answers to that question don’t come easily, then think about what you’d appreciate and do that. And when you do it, leave me a note here. I’d love to hear all about it.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday smiles – family and friends edition

It’s Christmas Eve. And a Saturday. So, I’m reflecting on all the things that made me smile this week. Being home with family makes the list longer than usual. A good problem to have.

My first one-hour massage. Or any massage for that matter. It was heavenly.

Sherlock Holmes. My husband and I took a date day and saw the second one in the series. Love, love, love.

Dressing alike, unintentionally, and embracing the awkwardness. Hi, we’re the Paisleys.

Buddy day. And watching the next generation of buddies embrace our kids in play and fun. We are blessed with friendships we sometimes take for granted.

Apples to Apples. Best. Game. Ever.

Watching White Christmas with my daughter and my mom. She is the fourth generation of Johnson women to practice this tradition. We’ve added eggnog and Archway cashew nougat cookies to our annual viewing.

Leaving cookies out for Santa.

Meal planning and cooking with my partner in life, love and food. We stocked my sister-in-law’s freezer for worry-free meals after her baby is born, and we planned a holiday lunch for my husband’s family. It was an experimental sort of lunch for us, but thanks to our Food Network viewing habits, it was a success.

My son’s well-timed outbursts. He particularly likes to shout things in church when all is quiet. Tonight, he loudly proclaimed, “I want Mommy to wipe my nose!” and “No, I don’t want to go with Daddy.” Nothing says Christmas Eve candlelight service like a stubborn 2-year-old.

Christmas jammies.

Talking to my nephew, who is yet to be born. And watching our 3-year-old daughter place her hand on her aunt’s pregnant belly and feel her cousin kick. Precious.

Monkey Joe’s.

And an aunt and uncle willing to chase their niece and nephew around the complex and play.

Christmas — merry, indeed.

Dying to die, called to live: Review of “Life, In Spite of Me” by Kristen Anderson with Tricia Goyer

I will think of Kristen Anderson every time I hear a train whistle or cross a set of tracks.

She was 17 the day she decided to die. Kristen laid down on a set of railroad tracks, in front of an oncoming train, and waited. What she describes in her book, Life, In Spite of Me, is horrifying and shocking. When I hear a train whistle, I think of the moments she describes and shudder. Amazingly, Kristen didn’t die that night. But she did lose both of her legs.

What follows in the book is her journey from the depths of wanting to die through the despair of wondering why she was still alive to the decision to follow Christ that gives her renewed purpose and an extraordinary outlook on life.

Kristen’s story is honest and raw. The details are difficult to read sometimes, but your heart will break for this young woman’s experiences. She is courageous to tell her story so openly.

She is also a picture of hope and redemption, living proof that God is in control and has a plan, even when we can’t see it or don’t follow it.

This was a quick and compelling read, peppered with vivid language and details that place the reader at the accident scene, in hospital rooms and in the middle of Kristen’s personal struggles to cope with her suicide attempt and the physical and mental recoveries from it.

I won’t soon forget Kristen’s story. If you’re looking for a light holiday read, save this one till after the New Year, but definitely put it on your “want to read” list.


Want a sneak peek? Click here for the first chapter.


In exchange for this review, I received a complimentary digital copy of Life, In Spite of Me from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of the Blogging for Books program.

Want a chance to win a free book? Click the link below and rate this review on the Blogging for Books site.

What faith in action looks like — a review of Wait No More by John and Kelly Rosati

If the Rosati family had a motto it would be: Nothing is impossible with God.

They should know. God miraculously grew their family through adoption and the Hawaiian foster care system, a story they tell in Wait No More.

It’s a compelling roller coaster of a read, full of suspense, joy, fear, disappointment, elation and just about every emotion in between. The Rosatis are honest about their fears, their failures and the nitty gritty, not-so-pleasant aspects of adoption and raising adopted kids. They’re also upfront about their faith and having no regrets that God gave them four gifts in their children.

I tend to read adoption books cautiously. My husband and I have talked about it, but never seriously, and with two active kids under the age of 4, I’ve put the idea out of my mind lest I go out of my mind thinking about more kids in our family. The Rosatis acknowledge that adoption isn’t for every family, but they feel everyone — all Christians, that is — is called to care for orphans in some way. That’s an aspect of it I hadn’t considered.

I admire adoptive families, but I’ve never asked how I could help them or considered that maybe life isn’t peaches and cream because a family opened their home to a child who didn’t have one. I’ve romanticized adoption in the past. Wait No More has opened my eyes to other ways to support orphans and adoptive families.

Consider reading this book not only if you’re looking into adoption, whether it’s overseas or domestic, but if you’ve wanted to help orphans but didn’t know how. The book includes a listing of resources for further information and help on the topic.

Wait No More is a picture of faith in action. The Rosatis didn’t always have the answers or a clear idea of how the next step was going to happen, but they trusted God anyway and were blessed in doing so.

What blessings might be ours if we lived life the same way?


In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of Wait No More from Tyndale House Publishers.
I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network

Saturday Smiles: The Going Home Edition

What a crazy week!

I could tell you that it was crazy because my husband finished two papers for finals week, our van went in to the shop to fix a disturbing whining noise, and the kids and I spent most of our time washing clothes and dishes, packing and cleaning.

Or I could show you this.

Our son, doing a babushka impression.

Or this.

 Our daughter’s fashion sense. Headband. Cross necklace. Nightgown. It works for her. She’s either 3 or a fan of ’80s Madonna. I’ll let you decide.

I could tell you that the kids opened presents from the woman I call my English grandma because she’s a lady I befriended the semester I lived in England with whom I’ve kept in touch for more than a decade. She’s always sending us the neatest gifts for Christmas and birthdays.

Like this.

Mmm. Chocolate. Or in the words of our kids who have composed a new jingle for the company, “Cad-bury, Cad-bury. WE WANT SOME! WE WANT SOME!”

So to recap, busy parents plus inventive and creative children plus chocolate equals crazy.

The light at the end of the craziness was our planned trip home for the holidays. So craziness is worth it to be with family for two weeks.

Especially when we get to enjoy days that include this.

A walk through a forest to pick out a Christmas tree. In the snow. In practically the middle of nowhere. Bonus: the tree only cost $10. That’s some cheap entertainment and memory making right there.

Walking through a forest, even if it was “just” an overgrown Christmas tree farm sparked every ounce of creativity in me. I imagined stories as we tromped through the snow. And I wished for a magical sort of setting for my kids to play in as they grow. (Lord, hear my prayer.)

There was too much to smile about this week. Our van was fixed in time for us to take an 800-mile road trip. We only forgot a few things in the midst of our packing frenzy, and the one thing that makes the trip the most bearable — chewing gum for a car sick child — I remembered less than a block after we pulled away from our house. Thank you, Jesus.

Best of all, we made it to Illinois without any traffic or weather delays, with tired but smiling kiddos and tired but relieved parents.

My kids’ reaction to the snow, even if their first glimpse of it was 5 a.m. local time, was priceless. They thought the snow came to Illinois just for them.

My husband is snoring on the couch. The house is quiet. And my heart is full. We celebrated birthdays today as a family. My grandma’s — which is today — and our son’s from a few weeks ago. We cooked for our family tonight — our go-to beef stew recipe. We shopped all over town for ingredients and tracked down an appropriate pot to cook it in. We felt a little bit like participants in some sort of Food Network challenge as we rushed to beat the clock to have dinner ready in time. Then we watched with satisfied smiles as young and old devoured the stew.

The smiles escape for big reasons, like our daughter helping her Nana and Papa’s snowmobile club hand out food baskets to shut-ins. She was thrilled to say “Merry Christmas” to them and be involved in serving others. My heart smiles at her heart of compassion. And for small reasons, like the invention of family restrooms and their inclusion in interstate rest areas.

Familiar sights. Roads well-traveled. Family all around. The soft glow of Christmas lights on our newly picked tree. How our children thrive with their relatives.

If I go on, I won’t stop.

The smiles are stacking up, with more to come this week.

Thanks for indulging me in another week of smiles.

Saturday Smiles – Joy Edition

I know, I know. It’s Sunday. I’m a day late, but I can’t give up the catchy title, so here we are.

It’s the third Sunday of Advent. The focus: joy. I experienced a lot of joy at church this morning, and when I think about what makes me smile, much of it is rooted in joy. Here’s a sampling.

Two people offered special music this morning. They sang two Christmas selections. They are not professional musicians nor was their performance what I would call polished. But it. was. beautiful. And you want to know why? Because one of them is legally blind and the other uses a cane to walk and has other physical issues. They held hands as they sang, presenting a picture of what the apostle Paul wrote — “when I am weak, then you are strong.” To some, they might be considered useless individuals. But I believe God smiled on them today and smiles on them every day of their lives on earth. And that makes me smile.

Last night, driving home from Kmart around dusk, the moon was large, orange and hanging so low in the horizon I thought we were going to drive right into it. It looked like a Christmas ornament hanging from the heavens. On the radio, “O Holy Night” — my favorite Christmas hymn — was playing. Pure magic.

Prior to that, while we were headed into Kmart, a woman delivered two McDonald’s coffees to the Salvation Army bell ringers, who were grateful for the liquid warmth as they volunteered their time. What a great idea! I wish I’d thought of it, but I’ll try not to forget it. Small act. Big impact.

Our 3-year-old likes to pass out stickers at church. We call it her sticker ministry. I love watching people’s faces light up when they see her coming.

She’s going to miss the Christmas party at church next week. The kids are going to visit shut-ins and bring them a craft. Even though we’ll be with family in Illinois then, she was super upset that she wouldn’t get to help pass out things to people who can’t come to church. She was relieved to learn that she could help Nana and Papa with a service project in Illinois. Such a big heart for such a little girl. I love it.

The kids and I spent much of the week making Christmas gifts for people we’re thankful for this year. The kitchen was messy. The dishes piled up. I grew weary of being anywhere near the kitchen. The kids couldn’t keep their hands out of some of the ingredients. My son covered himself in paint. We made two trips to Dollar General and one trip to Hobby Lobby and two trips to the grocery store. And with a kitchen full of gift bags stuffed full of love, I’m satisfied. And eager to spread the Christmas cheer.

We have a short but full week ahead of us, and while all the things we have to do don’t necessarily make me smile, knowing we’ll be with family by the end of the week is my inspiration to work hard and get ‘er done. I love and miss my family in Illinois and can’t wait to see them and spend time with them.

Smiling? Oh, yeah.