7 Organizational Tips for an Intentional Summer

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(Photo from 2011)

I have 2 favorite times of year:  Christmas and Summer.  Partly because I have my little guys home with me for an extended period of time.

We are on the brink of summer break.  I always have high hopes of long leisurely days together, reading book after book, sipping lemonade in the sun, long walks and talks, and late night cricket concerts.  And of course I envision the 5 of us basking in each other’s presence, relishing in our time together, warmth and love flowing from person to person.  Moments of beauty throughout the day.

Usually by day 2 reality sets in.  After 9 months of a structured schedule and relatively little time together, we need to readjust to being together for so many unstructured hours.  And by the end of Week 1, I find myself already sad that we are one week closer to the end of summer.

Each summer is bittersweet.  It’s a beautiful time together, but I’m always reminded that we only have so many summers with our children.  I want my boys to know that every ounce of my being wants to spend as much time with them as possible.  I never want them to believe that I dread summer when they are home.  I cringe when parents say (in front of their kids) that they are already looking forward to August when the kids go back to school.

To make the most of the fleeting moments of summer, we must be intentional.  And a bit more organized.  Here are a few tips for organizing an intentional summer before the season hits.

  1. Create a summer bucket list.  Involve the kiddos.  This is such a fun way to get everyone excited for the season ahead.  And it is so fun to look back on at the end of summer and remember the great times and memories created.
  2. Create a chore chart or system.  Some way to get the kids involved in the daily tasks around the house.  Chores help them to feel like they are making a difference in the family.  And when they know that fun can’t take place until after work, you will be amazed at how quickly and completely they can work!
  3. Create a daily schedule.  Now I don’t mean a strict time schedule that you will follow every single day.  More like a guideline for the days you will mostly be at home.  I used this website for some great inspiration.  I really loved some of her ideas.
  4. Create a reward system.  We are using a reward chart for reading and math.  Once they fill up their chart, we go out for ice cream.  20 minutes of math and 20 minutes of reading earns one sticker for each.  This potentially means ice cream every other week!  Completed books earn a treasure box trip.
  5. Determine any goals you have for the summer and write out a plan for achieving them.  This may require scheduling things ahead of time to ensure you work towards the goal.  Every Monday is Missions Monday.  I created a list of projects we will do every Monday during the summer.  I like knowing I don’t have to scramble around to get our project ready.
  6. Create a summer bulletin board in your home.  Our summer board has our daily summer schedule.  In addition we have a section of summer fun food coupons and summer outing coupons.
  7. Determine what is important to your family and if it is possible go ahead and print out a schedule.  The summer $1 movies are a big hit here, so I print out the schedule ahead of time and schedule in which movies we will plan to see.  It helps me to make sure we do the things we really want to do.

Being organized not only keeps me sane, but it allows me to make the most of the time I’m given.   I spend less time thinking and more time doing.  The thinking, planning, preparing are done ahead of time.  So when the time arrives, I can be fully in the moments.

Here is a glimpse of what we are doing to organize our summer:

  1. Summer Bucket List-Completed by entire family
  2. Each child has their own clipboard.  On the clipboard is their chore chart, library and bookstore reading program charts, our reading/math reward chart.
  3. We have a daily schedule
  4. We have the schedules for summer concerts and movies we plan to attend
  5. We have Mission Mondays planned and ready to begin
  6. My boys don’t enjoy going to VBS or Bible Clubs.  So I’m doing a Bible study with them this summer.  We will have Home Bible Study every Wednesday morning.  Last summer we read through Case for Christ for Kids together (awesome, awesome, awesome book…my kids were a bit young for it though).
  7. As a Kick Off Summer gift, I’ll be giving each boy a new journal.  They can use it for journaling away these long summer days.

What are some ideas that work well for your family?  How do you create fun summer times and keep the stress down?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Winner Announced

The winner of the Mothers Day giveaway is Michelle Payton Chapman!  Have fun ordering you new soaps!

A Mother’s Day Giveaway

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It’s been a long time since we’ve had a giveaway.  In honor of Mother’s Day, I will be giving away a $25 gift card for Sweetland Soaps.  My sister’s company.  Yes, I’m biased.  But.  The stuff really is spectacular!  Totally handcrafted using goats milk from their own farm.  Check them out! (for giveaway details see the end of this post)

When we were little, Mother’s Day was always a day for us to make mom breakfast in bed.  364 days of the year she was up before the rest of us.  1 day of the year she magically stayed in bed, allowing us the perfect opportunity to surprise her.  Eggs scrambled a little too hard. Toast cold and a little on the burnt side.  Glass of orange juice sticky from little hands doing the pouring.  All arranged on a tray, maybe a little flower on the side, handmade cards telling her she was the best mom in the world.

To a child a mom is their world.  She is the one.  The only.  The everything.  The one who listens.  The one who wipes.  The one who fixes.  The one who calls.  The one who laughs.  The one who plays.  The one who is always there.

She is the one who walks into the room when they are sound asleep.  And prays and pleads with God on their behalf.  She is the one who behind the scenes is praising God for every aspect of their lives and boldly asking for more.  More of His goodness sewn into their hearts.  And yes, she even asks God to use them as mighty warriors for His kingdom, knowing full well what this may bring.

She is the one who stays up later than the rest.  Making that costume into the wee hours.  Washing that special shirt that must be worn the following day.  Cleaning up the messes that are evidence of life lived fully.  Making that home one that is warm and inviting, fresh for the next morning’s awakening.  Putting her special touch on life.  Little lunch notes, a special light she leaves on, a special candle she burns, a special place she sits.  She is the one up before the rest.  Meeting with God so she can be the mom they need.  Preparing lunches.  Preparing lesson plans.  Preparing their hearts.  Paving the way for a blessed day.

She is the administrator.  The scheduler.  The balancer of it all.  Whether she works or stays home or does a little of both doesn’t matter.  Because her heart is with her little ones and she does it all for them.

She is the one who pours out her heart so completely into those little ones for so many years that she can hardly envision a life that looks any different.  And she is the one whose heart will be ripped open wide when she realizes she is no longer their everything.

Lord willing, the Lord will be their everything.  They will look to Him to be their healer, their fixer, the lover of their soul.  They will have been loved so well by that mama that they won’t need her to be their everything.

Her role will change but the memories will remain.   Her legacy will live.  The pouring out of love.  It hurts.  The pouring out of self.  It’s hard.  But that is exactly how God needs it to be.  When that mama’s heart breaks, He will heal it.  When that mama is lonely, He will comfort.  When that mama needs someone to nurture, He will bring her the hurting and the needy.  When she needs to put her special touch on life, He will bring Her the ones who need a special touch in their lives.

To the mamas whose babies are grown, you will always be a mama.  Even when you don’t need to mama to your babies, God needs you to mama to His people.  Keep pouring out for Him.  And be thankful for how He has used your life to impact your children.

To the mamas in the trenches, this season….well, that is all it is.  It’s a season.  It will pass.  So grasp every single second.  Sniff their sweet cheeks every chance you get.  Hold them when they are too big to hold.  Pray your heart out for everything you can imagine.

And to the ones who desperately want to be a mama, and you wait.  And your heart physically aches as you long to use the mama in your heart.  That mama heart that God gave you.  As you cry out to God asking for this blessing.  Use that heart right now.  Right where you are.  Use that mama heart to love and nurture the ones God is putting in your path for this season.  A mom is more than a position in the family.  It’s a heart.  A heart that loves.  And there may just be someone who needs some of the heart that only you can give.

Happy Mother’s Day a little bit early.

*********Mother’s Day Giveaway**************

To enter: (one or all of the below.  Each earns 1 chance to win)

  1. Like Barefoot Walks on Facebook
  2. Leave a comment-Anything you want to share about Mother’s Day, your mom, your kids, favorite memory.  You get the picture.
  3. Share any post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  Please be sure to comment with what you shared and where.

Entries must be in by Monday, May 6th 11:59 pm.  Winner announced here on Tuesday, May 7th.

When the ugliness of gossip reveals the beauty of friendship

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We’ve all been there.  The place where you open your mouth when you should have kept it closed.  The place where you unintentionally created a mess that you wish could be cleaned with a wet wipe, erased forever.  The place where words escape our lips that hurt someone we never intended to hurt.

These are the moments we could live without.

Satan loves when we are in this place.  Because when we are in this place, if we aren’t careful, sin can mount one on top of another.  The deeper we are caught in sin, the more difficult it becomes for us to see the light.  We can become so focused on the issues, that we lose sight of the One who desires to sanctify us.

I’ve had my fair share of these situations.  And recently I watched one of my children struggle through it.  How I wished it were me.  But it wasn’t.  This time.  It was one of mine.  One who is thoughtful and tender-hearted, kind and compassionate.  His typical sin patterns are in other areas, not this one.

Gossip.  Gossip isn’t just a sin that 14-year-old girls struggle with.  It’s one that every single one of us faces at one time or another.  We can mask it with something like, “Hey, so and so really needs us to pray for them right now.  Did you know that…..”  We can make our gossip sound holy if we try just a little.  Gossip isn’t just malicious talk.  It is “light chat or talk”.  It is idly talking about the affairs of others.

Besides how gossip affects the person being talked about, it affects us.  It affects the one doing the talking.  Often gossip is an effort to build ourselves up.  To make ourselves appear better than the other person.  Suddenly, we are smarter, a harder worker, luckier, whatever. We are something more than they are.  Pride begins to grow.  And it is an ugly monster that is often seen easier by others than by ourselves in our own lives.  Pride is the root of so many other sins.

The moment he walked through that door, I knew something was eating him alive.  His conscience.  Or better yet, the Holy Spirit planned to prick his heart without ceasing until he cried uncle, which he finally did.

“Mom, I did the stupidest thing today.  I don’t know why I did it.”  And he broke down.  He explained how he was talking to a group of friends and told them how one of his friends (who wasn’t there at the moment) had a crush on someone else (also not there at the moment).  And how another friend overheard and told him that he was going to tell the friend being talked about.

As I listened to him telling the story, I was transported back to my childhood when I lived through these same exact type of moments.  It’s part of childhood, it’s part of school, but more importantly, it’s part of how God grows us.  Through our failures.  Through our weaknesses.  Through our sins.  Through our repentance.

I’m grateful to the friend who threatened to tell on my child.  God used that child as an instrument in the life of my child to bring him to repentance.  Initially, all he could talk about was how upset he was at the friend threatening to tell on him.

“But, honey, you have to hear this.  What you did was wrong.  Forget what anyone else did for a moment.  Look at the part YOU played in this.  Look at the situation you created.  If you hadn’t said what you said, this friend would have nothing to tell on you.  You sinned first.  And your sin has caused someone else to sin.  Do you see the danger of sin?  It doesn’t just affect us.  It affects everyone around us.  Our sin can cause others to sin.  If we guard our own hearts, we can encourage our friends against sinning.”

We had to have this conversation about 5 times before it sank in.  He blurted out, “I feel like God is slapping me in the face.”

“He is most certainly not!  In His kindness, He is bringing you to repentance.”  And thank God for that!

“Let’s pray right now.”  He rolled his eyes as I walked to the shelf where my Bible resides.

“Mom, really?”

“Yes, God’s Word is where we need to be right now.”

I read to him Proverbs 16:28 “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

Proverbs 20:19 “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.”

Proverbs 26:20 “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

“This is not who God wants you to be.  And it’s not who you are.  Do you see what God’s Word has to say about gossip?”

“This is what we have to do.  I’m going to speak to the friend’s mom who is saying he is going to tell your other friend.  Meanwhile, you should consider calling your friend you gossiped about and coming clean.  Tell him what you said.  Tell him you are sorry and that you wished you had never done it.  Ask God to forgive you, which He will.  And you will sleep better tonight.  You will have stopped this from progressing.  You will have a clean heart.  And you will have learned never to do this again.”

“Mom, I can’t do that.  He will kill me.  He is so big and I’m like an ant compared to him!”

“You can do this.  He is your friend.  When you do the right thing, he will likely forgive you. You may be surprised at how your friendship gets even better.”

After his dad gave him the exact same advice, he came to me and said, “Can I call him now?”

So we did.  I spoke with the mom explaining what had happened and that my child wanted to make this right, handed the phone to my boy, and walked down the hall.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to this child confess to his friend what he had done wrong.  “I want to tell you that I’m very sorry for what I did.  Today at lunch, I told some people you had a crush on someone.  I wish I hadn’t done that and I’m very sorry.”  The friend forgave him, the conversation ended, and he came back to me a different child.

“Oh my gosh, I feel so much better.  You and dad were so right.”

After school the next day, he came home and said, “You know my friend was even nicer to me than normal today.  And he is always nice to me.”

“Funny, how that happens.  I really believe that we develop deep, true friendships when we are real with each other.  We all sin.  We all mess up.  It takes a special person to admit their faults and ask forgiveness.  Your friend now knows that you really care about him.  You care enough about the friendship that you were willing to lose it.  Or get beat up,” I laughed.

A dose of realness is what we all need.  We live in a culture that tempts us to live under a facade of perfection.   A state of being where we don’t allow ourselves the grace to mess up.  Where we have a hard time admitting our faults because when we do then others may see the real us.

But the real us is who the world needs to see.  The real us.  The one who makes mistakes.  The one who opens his mouth and says careless words about a friend.  The one who doesn’t have it all together.  The one who is WRONG.  Yes, we are all wrong from time to time.  When we can admit our faults, when we can see that we played a part in the problem at hand, that is when God can use us.  That is when satan is messed with.

And in a world where we want people to like us and we want to keep people from being mad at us,  the best way to accomplish this is to be boldly raw.  Totally transparent.  Uncomfortably genuine.  The person that God created is the real you.  Not the one we think people want to see.  They want to connect.  And they can’t connect with what isn’t real.  Not on a deep level anyway.

I watched Christ at work through my child.  And as usual, when God is working on my child, He is also working on me.  I’m convinced every relationship God grants to us is an effort to sanctify us.  Relationships are challenging.  But when we can be real, the depth and beauty of that relationship is far greater than we could ever imagine.

******I drafted this post and saved it to post at a later date.  The afternoon I finished drafting the post, I spent some time with a friend.  As our children played, we chatted and caught up.  In conversation that started out innocently, before we knew what had happened, we found ourselves in a similar situation I had just written about.  

She asked a question.  I answered.  She asked another.  I answered.  But I shouldn’t have answered the way I did.  I should have stopped and explained why I couldn’t go further.  

She and I felt the Holy Spirit instantly convicting our hearts.  She apologized.  I apologized.  We both recognized our faults.  And then I shared further with her about how I had just written about exactly what she and I had just experienced together.  

Though I felt awful for sinning in the area of gossip, I was grateful I failed in that exact area at that exact moment.  We never have sin under wraps.  We never truly conquer any particular sin or sin pattern.  We are all one step away at all times.  The good news is that Christ is there if we accept.  And though we will still sin, we are completely forgiven.  And the freedom in that is priceless.  

I was reminded that afternoon with my friend that relying on Christ is a moment by moment necessity.  The minute we begin to puff up and feel any sin is a thing of our past, we are one step closer to falling.  But when we are uncomfortably raw with the friends God places in our lives, then we are one step closer to Him.  Because in those rich friendships, when the ugliness is revealed, shared, and redeemed, we can experience Christ together with the ones He has blessed us with.  And I can’t imagine this life without the beauty of true, genuine, authentic friends who see my mess and choose to love me anyway.*********

Everyday is a Holiday

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“You know, Mom, everyday is a holiday to me.”   His body lay sideways across the arm-chair, feet dangling over the side.  I studied those legs.  They are getting bigger, longer.  I tried to ignore the fact his toenails needed to be cut.  Held my tongue from nagging and just relished this rare moment with him.

“Why is that?”

“Well, today is Thursday.  And there will never again be THIS Thursday.  Each day we have 24 hours.  And we have to be wise with how we use those 24 hours because once they are gone, we will never have them back.”  He took a bite of his apple, picking at the skin.  “That is why everyday is like a holiday to me.”

My boy, you are preaching to the choir.  You will never know how much I treasure every single second God grants me with you.  You will simply never know.

“You are so right, sweetie.  We need to make the most of every single moment we are given.”

Suddenly, I didn’t care that it was an hour past his bedtime.  I didn’t care that I wouldn’t get to finish the laundry now.  I didn’t care about anything other than soaking him up.  There will never again be THIS Thursday night.  The one where he was relaxed and had my full attention because his brothers were asleep.  The one where I realized he gets it.  He gets the beauty of this life.  It’s a gift.

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

One Surreal Moment

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My earliest memories involved books.  Reading was the only thing I ever really wanted to do as a kid.  My parents would force me to go outside to play.  Even when they forced me outside, I would usually grab a book.  And read.

Reading was more than a hobby.  It provided a means of escape during the early years of my parents’ divorce.  I could escape into another world that seemed more secure than mine.

When I was in kindergarten, I tried to check out a book the librarian told me was too advanced for me to read.  I was so upset because I really wanted to read that book.  I went home upset because the librarian didn’t believe that I could read it.  So my mom spoke to the librarian and assured her the book wouldn’t frustrate me.  Marathon Miranda.  I took it home, devoured it, and my love of books continued to flourish.

Around 1st or 2nd grade I developed an interest in writing.  I thought to have a book in the library you simply wrote it and handed it to the librarian.  An instant published author. So I wrote my first “book”.  It was titled Red Light, Green Light.  4 red construction sheet stapled pages with 4 simple sentences and elementary drawings.

“I wrote this book.  Can you put it in the library so other kids can read it?”

The librarian took that book from me, praised my work, and said she would be sure to take care of it.  Well, each week I would scour the shelves looking for “Red Light, Green Light.”  Week after week I asked the librarian if it would be on the shelves soon.  Eventually, I quit asking.

Fast forward about 27ish years.  During my morning quiet time with God 4 1/2 years ago, I had an idea for a book.  For 4 1/2 years, I have worked on this project, prayed about this book and how I want it to impact families for Christ.

And on Good Friday I stood in the middle of a store with my boys, my mom and my step dad, when I pulled out my phone to check the dinging of an email.  When I read these words, I cried in the middle of the store.

“Renee,
Thank you for allowing us to review your manuscript. After careful consideration, we would like to offer a publishing contract for this work.”

Surreal.  Simply surreal.

And today I signed the contract!

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I have so much to tell about this story.  The amazing work of God.  His undeniable hand in every facet of this.  His timing.  Oh the timing.  He had to make me wait 4 years.  There was too much sanctifying work to be done.  And still is!!!   I can’t wait to share the rest over the next several weeks and months.

And of course this isn’t the destination.  It’s only just beginning.  As a trusted friend and advisor recently reminded me…this is simply a fork in the road leading me further down the path God has planned.  It’s only the beginning.

When We Choose To Forgive

This post was drafted 2 weeks ago.  I’m not exactly sure why I hadn’t posted it yet.  Maybe it’s because I’m not the voice of forgiveness.  I would feel like a hypocrite.  But I’m not writing this from the position of “I’ve mastered this…do what I do.”  I’m writing this from a place of repeated failures and as the recipient of undeserved, unmerited, lavish, radical, crazy grace and mercy.  

I didn’t change a thing in the post you are about to read from what I wrote 2 weeks ago.  Not a word.  I felt there was a reason God gave me the words to write at that time, and who am I to determine a different message must be written.  But I had to add what has happened to me since I wrote this post.

It’s easy to forgive.  When there is no conflict in your life.  It’s easy to write about forgiveness.  When you aren’t the one struggling in it.  It’s easy to forgive.  When you are counseling another.  

It’s NOT easy to forgive.  When you feel “right”.  It’s NOT easy to forgive.  When you are hurt.  It’s NOT easy to forgive.  When you feel you are saying “What you did was ok.”

I wrote this post 2 weeks ago.  And recently God allowed me to be thrown into a situation that had nothing to do with me.  In the blink of an eye, hurtful words were flying, hearts were broken, sins were revealed, and relationships marred.  I was fully plunged into the heat of the battle.  My husband reminded me that it wasn’t about me.  This was about spiritual warfare.  This was an attack.  But God had prepared me for it, I just wasn’t seeing it yet.  I fought my mind, which wanted to replay the scenes over and over again.  I fought the voices playing over and over again in my head.  And I asked God to help me to forgive.  Help me to be like Him.  I felt the pull of my own sin weighing me down, knocking me off-balance.  I heard Steve’s voice saying, “Don’t let this take you off your mission.”  

The next morning, I prayed again and again.  “God, how do we forgive?  I know you tell us to forgive 77 times (meaning never quit forgiving).  But it gets so old.  I don’t want to keep forgiving.  But I love you, so I want to walk in obedience to You.”   

I zipped up my fleece, double knotted my running shoes and took off down the trail.  Over and over again, I said to myself, “I will not repeat the conversation.  I will not think about who did what and who said what.  This will not bring about forgiveness.”  I looked through the trees along the path.  One stood out.  I envisioned Jesus nailed to that tree.  A holy, perfect God, who WILLINGLY allowed himself to be nailed to that tree.  Each strike of the hammer represented my sins.  My unforgiveness.  My pride.  Then I was among the mockers who hurled insults at Jesus.  I was one of them!  Jesus stayed on that cross, taking the full weight of our sins, sins which we categorize as bad and not so bad, but God does not.  They are all heinous to Him.  And then.  Then.  Jesus answered my question.  He told me how to forgive.  He cried out to God, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (see Luke 23:32-34)

They know not what they do.  Sin is blinding.  We know not what we do.  And that is how I can forgive.  There are 2 clear pictures of forgiveness.  The first is Jesus dying on a cross, taking my sin, and offering forgiveness for my sins when he never even sinned.  God offers forgiveness IF we choose to accept it with His free gift of salvation given through the death and resurrection of His Son.  The 2nd picture is given through the Son, who hung between 2 sinners.  One believed, and Jesus assured him He would see him in Heaven.  He forgave his sins.  And Jesus asked God to forgive those who were crucifying Him because they know not what they do.  In the picture of the cross, forgiveness is plastered all over it.

I don’t deserve the mercy God gives me.  I don’t deserve the forgiveness He offers me.  But His grace.  His beautiful, amazing grace.  

And so, I CHOSE to forgive.  I CHOSE to obey God.  I CHOSE to win.

During my run, immediately after this revelation, this song began to play.

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Here is my original post.  Please, please, please listen to the track at the very end of this post.  It is about 20 minutes long, so listen when you have a few minutes.  It could change your life and how you view forgiveness.  It could change every moment you have with the ones you love…….

Something dangerous chips a hole in our heart if we aren’t careful.  Little by little.  Each chip leaves an opening just big enough to allow another danger to flow into the depths of our heart.  The part that we need to guard and protect.

Unforgiveness.  It’s nasty and seeks to destroy.  It paves the way for bitterness to take root.

If we don’t recognize its grip on us, we are setting ourselves up for broken relationships, hardened hearts, and discipline from God.

We do not deserve God’s forgiveness.  Yet He forgives us.  He forgives us wholly and completely when we ask Him.  He doesn’t forgive us because we deserve it.  Because we are “good” most of the time.  Shouldn’t God be our model?  When we choose to forgive someone, we aren’t saying, “What you did was ok.”  We are choosing to forgive because that is what God desires for us.

What in us prevents us from forgiving?  Our pride?  Our need to be right and to prove to others we are right?  Is that more important than obeying God?

God instructs us to forgive because He knows the damage that is done when unforgiveness is present and bitterness takes root.  The road it leads down is lonely.

I recently heard a talk given by Dianne B. Collard, author of “I Choose to Forgive”.  She forgave the man who murdered her son.  I sat in complete astonishment through her entire talk.  Speechless when I walked out the door.

Here is the link.  I can’t encourage you enough to listen to this.  It’s less than 30 minutes.  You will be captivated, convicted, and compelled to forgive.

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