Monday, July 28, 2014

Parenting is HARD, Y'all!

Parenting is hard, y'all. Like crazy hard. And there are no cliff notes, cheat sheets or short cuts. There's no borrowing your friend's notes who had the class before you...because Lord knows, the test is going to be different. Parenting is the cramming-all-night-for-days-at-a-time-and-praying-something-sticks-for-test-day kind of hard. We've planning for the boys' college funds, but it might also be wise to start putting a little aside for therapy because I'm certain I'm messing them up somehow. 

NOTE: Now would probably be an appropriate time to apologize to my own parents for all the pain and agony I caused them growing up...who am I kidding - that I'm still causing them!

Seriously though. Parenting is probably the most difficult thing I've ever done...and my boys are just seven and four. For goodness sakes, we haven't even hit the teen years. And I think one thing that makes parenting so difficult is that there is no end. With a project or a task or a renovation or whatever else it is you're tackling, there's an end. A clearly defined moment when you can step back and declare (hopefully, triumphantly!) "IT IS FINISHED!" But I think we'll be parenting in some form or fashion until we reach those pearly gates. 

And I'll be honest, there are moments when I think I can't possibly answer one more question or pick up one more toy or match one more pair of socks. My fruit of the spirit basket is just plain empty, y'all...and it feels like the off-season for all things fruity. I can't possibly intervene in one more argument or explain why it's not ok to leave  dirty dishes in the sink one more time. Wait - that last one is for the "Marriage is hard, y'all!" post! #loveyouhoney

But then - in the midst of the chaos and crazy - God moments happen. There are little glimpses of heaven in their smiles or their laughs or the kind words they say or the compassionate acts I am blessed enough to see. They happen when I least expect them and oftentimes I miss them until later when I'm falling into bed reflecting on the day. But they are there.

A few nights ago, we were herding our little buffalo to bed - and well past a respectable bedtime for a seven and four year old, mind you. I had been "working from home" <insert hysterical laughter here> with the boys most of the day. We'd been to eat dinner where their table manners and overall behavior left much to be desired. And then - just because I am totally insane and like to torture myself - I thought a "quick" trip to pick up a "few things" at the grocery store would be a good idea. Oh my stars! By the time we reached the checkout, I was ready offer them to the next person who commented on "how cute" they were. I'm kidding...mostly.

Thankfully, I was able to sneak away to run a few miles before the sun went down to recompose myself as we made our final approach toward bedtime. But by the time we actually started toward the bed, everyone was in a funk...and I do mean EVERYONE and I do mean FUNK.

I finally got Riley into bed. He could tell I was exasperated...he's smart like that.

Riley: "Mom, I don't want to cuddle tonight."

Me: "What? Why? Are you pouting because you got in trouble?"

Riley: "No...I just don't deserve to get to cuddle."

<Insert mama's heart breaking here.>

What an amazing moment to teach Riley what GRACE looks cuddle that sweet baby boy until he pushes me away (because he's starting to do that now, you know). And to let him know that no amount of terrible table manners, smart-mouthed back talking or bullying his little brother could make me love him any less or want to lavish any fewer cuddles on him. Cuddles at bedtime are an act of love - of me expressing my love for him - and his behavior doesn't change my love for him (just my blood pressure!). Cuddles are the good stuff that end a long day and make all the yuck and the craziness from it disappear. Cuddles are the unspoken "I love you" that we all need sometimes. Cuddles are the bomb, y'all.

The really cool thing about that moment? If I feel that way about him...isn't it mind blowing to think about how much more our heavenly Father wants to pour out His amazing and unconditional love on us? Overwhelming to think about the joy He finds in giving us fantastic blessings - undeserved blessings?

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:11 (NLT)

So bring on those cuddles, sweet Jesus! Wrap me up in Your arms and let Your grace wash over me when I've been a terrible mom/wife/daughter/sister/aunt/friend/person in general. Let me know that YOU still love me - even when I don't deserve it. Cuddle me until I am secure in Your love and know You are sovereign over all the yuck and are working Your blessings into my mess in Your time. Thank you, Lord, for these wild little boys...and for the lessons they bring.

Oh, the parenting lessons! They are really God lessons...perfectly disguised in little boys with no manners or concept of acceptable voice volume.

Has God given you a lesson through the little people in your life? I'd love for you to share it in the comments!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Good bye for now, dear friend...

Tomorrow (July 24) will be two months since my friend, mentor and boss, Tim Dortch, passed away. In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday he was giving me a hard time...about everything. And other days, it feels like a million years since I've seen his grin or shared a laugh with him.

If you never had a chance to meet him, I'm sorry for you. If you did have the pleasure, you will likely never forget him, and his passing has left a hole in your heart as well. 

Tim with Madam FoFo, her daughter and grandson.
This precious baby has hydrocephalus; Tim was instrumental
in coordinating the initial treatment of his condition.
I met Tim in June 2012, on my first trip to Haiti. I'll admit, my first thought was, "Are you kidding me? Is this guy for real?!" He was like Larry the Cable Guy and Billy Graham rolled into one person. Let that soak in for a minute...

And as I got to know him, I came to understand -- yes, he was indeed "for real." He was for real about enjoying life and laughing with friends. He was for real about his love for his family and his pride for his daughter. He was for real about loving people and pointing them to Jesus Christ. He was for real about living a life sold out for his Savior -- a life that looked absolutely crazy to most people. 

He took chances to help people, often putting himself in harm's way. He learned new skills to bring relief to people seemingly forgotten by so many. He often adapted the American way of doing things to accommodate culture and produce the best end result to help the greatest number of people.

But most of all...he just loved Jesus.

And because he loved Jesus, he loved people. His passion for the people of Haiti and the Dominican was contagious. Countless Americans have traveled home from that beautiful place ready to sell the farm and move to the Island of Hispaniola to do just what Tim did God and love people. 

Tim's FAITH was an amazing witness to everyone he met. He lived it daily. His choices reflected a belief in a God bigger than we can imagine. Until I met Tim, I'm not sure I truly understood what faith LOOKED it it responded to scary choices.

I remember one specific phone conversation with Tim about a year ago. I was wrestling with the decision to leave my academic appointment at Mississippi State and take this leap of faith to partner in ministry with HMM. I confessed my fears to him about "giving up" my benefits and my retirement and taking a significant cut in well as my fears about fundraising for the salary for my new position on the HMM staff.

He chuckled a little and asked, "Are you gonna take it with you to heaven?" 


"God is calling. Whatcha gonna do?" 

Silence...and then tears. 

His gentle way of calling me out was painful and humbling...but so needed. Friendship is like that sometimes. The perfectly timed call. The perfect words spoken. The kick in the seat of the pants we need to get going.

Tim Dortch was a good friend. 

While I was only blessed to call him "friend" for a short time, he made an eternal impact on me and countless others. I cannot imagine the loss his wife and daughter and other family and friends who have had him in their lives for much longer are experiencing.  

The hole is big. And the pain of loss is deep. It feels like it's never going to end. 

But I am grateful for the peace that comes in knowing Tim is rejoicing now. He is undoubtedly rigging things in heaven with ridiculous amounts of duct tape and teasing all the angels relentlessly. I pray he is pleased with the progress HMM is making as we work to carry out his vision for the Promised Land in Haiti and for the ministries in the Dominican. When I get frustrated or tired or just wonder if what I'm doing is having any impact for the kingdom, I think about Tim and his legacy...and I just keep on keepin' on. 

I am certain my dear friend heard those precious words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!" as he entered those beautiful gates May 24, 2014. Until I see you again...
Tim Dortch, Anse-a-Pitre, Haiti : December 2013

Friday, July 18, 2014

Twice as Nice : My Two Favorite Recipes

If you know me or have been following my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm not  a "foodie." The closest thing I've ever done to blogging about food is pinning recipes I will never take the time to learn to make -- or likely couldn't find the ingredients to make -- to my "Yumminess" Pinterest board. The struggle is real in the kitchen, people. #mypoorhusband

So this post is BIG. For me to blog about food really means one of two things...

1) The world is ending. 

2) These recipes are EASY. 

You're safe to assume the the answer is 2, dear friends.

One of the greatest things about being a Noonday Collection Ambassador is that you get to party like a rock star. And by "rock star" - I mean, eat lots of amazing food several nights a week that you didn't have to cook. Let's take a moment and just give a huge shout out to all my hostesses who have ROCKED the food for your trunk shows! 

So, as we approach a new season of Noonday trunk shows as well as the kickoff of college football season and then move on into the holiday season, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share two of my favorite recipes. And by "favorites" - I mean, they taste delicious and require minimal effort.

Up first is a spicy little number that my sweet friend and hostess Leah Ledford introduced me to this spring. Thank you for the extra five pounds, sister friend!

Mexican Dip
1 8 oz cream cheese (softened)
1 cup of sour cream
1 can of refried beans
1 can of chili
1 packet of taco seasoning
2 cups of Monterrey Jack cheese

Mix first five ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Stir until blended. Pour into greased 13" x 9" greased baking dish. Cover with cheese. Bake at 350* until cheese is melted and turning brown (approximately 20-25 minutes). 

Serve with tortilla chips. 

WHAT?! It can't be that simple! Feel free to mix things up...get CRAZY and use chili without meat or maybe even try the Mexican blend of shredded cheese. You cannot mess this one up!

Next up is this sweet little combo that fools you into thinking it's healthy because it has "fruit" in the name and you are directed to serve it with fruit (apples are my favorite!). Do not, however, be fooled my friends. Big "Thank you!" to my friend and hostess Dr. Kristen Turner for introducing this delightfulness into my life just before swimsuit season.

Caramel-Heath Fruit Dip
2 blocks of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 jar of caramel topping
Heath topping (near the chocolate chips on the baking aisle)

Mix cream cheese and brown sugar. Top with caramel. Sprinkle with Heath topping. Serve with fruit or graham cracker sticks. 

Shut the front door! It's sinful how delicious this is and how easy it is to make it. You've been warned...but feel free to thank me later!

Both of these are super quick, don't require a lot of ingredients and are great for bunko, tailgating, girls' nights, Noonday trunk shows (hint, hint!) or any other gathering of people who like to eat delicious food. 

Again, I'm no foodie, but I do "delicious" and I do "easy" well! Enjoy, dear friends!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Us!

VBS Story Time partners, June 2014
It's only seems fitting that this be my return-to-blogging (cough, cough) post since my last post was about my March. I guess there's just something about anniversaries that seems to make me nostalgic and maybe a bit weepy...ok, most things make me weepy, but try to stay with me. 

It is also not surprising that Jeff is not here to celebrate with me since about 70% of our anniversaries have been spent either with the youth group on their summer trip or apart because he was with the youth on their summer trip. Get home soon, honey! We have some celebratin' to do!

Ten years ago today, I married Jeff Walton for better or for worse in a little hilltop chapel in Gatlinburg. And if I'm being honest, there has been a fair amount of both over the last decade. It's not all rainbows and unicorns here on Walton Mountain, people. When you take two people in their late twenties who are both as stubborn and set in their ways as we were and then put them in a (very) small house together for the first time - as in EVER because our entire dating relationship was long distance - there are bound to be "a few" disagreements.

But Jeff has helped bring about or create some of the most amazing moments of my life. So, today, we'll focus on and celebrate those. In honor of our 10-year anniversary, I give you my... 

TOP 10 FAVORITE MARRIAGE MOMENTS (cue music from "The Waltons") 

10. That time you almost died (Stay with me, people!). That two-hour drive to Tupelo frantically trying to keep up with the ambulance, followed by a week spent quarantined in the hospital together, was truly the first understanding I had of "in sickness and in health." Staph infection is serious, people. I am so thankful to have no worries that when I get old and senile, we'll either be old and senile together or Jeff will be happily wiping drool from my mouth. It's a pretty picture, right?

9. Monday cleaning days (I miss those, by the way!). During an especially hectic time for me at work, Jeff took a few hours every Monday and cleaned our house. It might not sound very romantic to you, but to this tired mama who wanted to come home and enjoy a few hours with her babies, a clean house was the BEST gift he could have been given me. I'm grateful to be married to a man who "gets me" (Don't bring me flowers to set out in the midst of chaos and disorder. Can I get an "Amen!"?).

8. Watching Jeff coach our boys' various sporting adventures. There is something about a man who is willing to coach three-year-old soccer that just gets me. I want to pull my hair out just watching those little munchkins run around aimlessly. I am so grateful for his enthusiastic love for our boys.

7. My one-year anniversary present. Most women have big expectations for that first year. I mean, you have year-old wedding cake to eat so you might as well go big on everything else, right? Me? I got an inflatable swimming pool...and I loved it! We lived in a house without central heat and air, and I was working from home frantically trying to finish my dissertation...nothing better than a little dip in that pool mid-afternoon. My man gives good gifts, ladies. Be jealous.

6. The weekend getaway to Chattanooga (obviously pre-children!). I loved the freedom of that weekend - no agenda, no plans - just spending time together hiking and talking and laughing. That will always be one of my favorite vacations.

5. Hearing my husband preach the Word (even if he did stay up all night waiting on it to be divinely delivered to his brain and transferred to his fingertips). There is something amazing that happens to his heart when he preaches that I love seeing. The sermon he delivered the Sunday after the tornado hit our little community will forever be my favorite and a constant source of encouragement for so many.

4. Experiencing Haiti together. Seeing Jeff love people I have grown to love so dearly made me love him even more deeply. Watching him paint precious little hands for craft activities and sing silly songs with a classroom full of children makes me fall even more deeply in love with him. So thankful to be living on mission with him...

With Eli, January 2010
3. The birth of Eli Benjamin Walton. Oh, sweet Eli! He is truly the child I believe Jeff's parents (ok, and maybe mine!) prayed for when Jeff was a child. Eli challenges us on just about everything and has shown me that Jeff has levels of patience that I didn't know were possible. Love the boy...and love Jeff for his ability to parent him with more patience and grace than I can muster at times.

2. The birth of Riley Ellis Walton. He made Jeff "Dad" first and created for me a million new reasons to love my husband as I watched Jeff care for this precious little life (and me!) in those first few months. Jeff tolerated my crazy first-time mom issues all while doing his best to give me rest and recovery time. Watching Jeff change his first diaper might also be in my Top 10 funniest parenting moments (for another post).
1. Walking down the aisle in that little chapel in Gatlinburg. There was no anxiousness or fear (I was probably just young and naive!) - just an excitement about our future together. I knew I wasn't perfect and neither was he, but I knew we were perfect for each other. Awwww. 

So, there you have it. The ten years of our marital bliss summed up in one fairly concise blog post and a few photos. The late night hosts would be so proud!

Happy Anniversary, Jeffrey Paul Walton! I love you to the moon, around it 57 times and back again. You're still perfect for me (but if we don't get the anniversary trip booked soon, there might not be a 20-year anniversary...just sayin'!) #pickadate #pickalocation

Do you have a Top 10 favorite marriage memories? Would love to hear how long you've been married and some of your favorite memories!