Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Disney Life in a Box

There are some things that I don't plan for. A loss of a job. A change of my plans. Needing to buy a new toilet because ours regularly overflows at least twice a week. Getting sick. Having to purchase a back door because ours gets stuck and refuses to open. Car repairs. My plans always seem so good and right ... exactly like things should be, you know? No catastrophes. No strange, last-minute items popping up. I wind up planning things like I'm living in a Disney fairy tale -- everything turns out "happily ever after" and I'm happy to get my way. The woodland creatures are singing (except for the mice -- no mice allowed) ... the stars are shining ... my hair, clothing and make-up are flawless ... and yay for me and my incredible planning. But it often (VERY often!) doesn't turn out like that. And it usually throws me for a loop until I'm reminded that ... (repeat with me, please!) -- "God's in control. He has a purpose. He loves me." Why in the world would I fight against that?!

But I do. A lot. Often. More than occasionally.

Just today something else happened that didn't go according to my plan. My concern was for the life of the person I had planned for (honestly!), and in all actuality, things turned out to be a huge mess. My first instinct was to get upset and pray for God to do things my way. I HAD thought all this through and this was definitely for the best ... right? And God reminds me that He's in control, He has a purpose, He loves me (and the person I'm praying so desperately for).

You see, I live in a box. It's quite a lovely box, thank you very much. But it's still a plain ole' cardboard box.There are sides with a top and a bottom that will close very nicely around me so I can be snug and content in my cramped space. And the box is set out in the middle of a huge, endless field with only the borderless sky as a ceiling.When I make my plans, I'm limited to what's in my teeny tiny box. That's all I can see. That's all my mind can imagine. My dreams and plans are small and ... box-like. And I tend to be content with that. I don't live alone, however. God's with me ... and He is waaaaaay bigger than my box. I'll make my small little plans and think they're so perfect in my tiny, boxed-in life ... and God will change my plans. Why? Because He's outside the box. He sees all of the potential, all of the growth, all of the ways it could be. Simply put, He knows what's best.

As long as I'm living here on earth, I'm somewhat limited to my tiny little box. But God, in His infinite grace and mercy, gives me glimpses of life beyond. And He reminds me that HE is not limited. God loves me too much to let me stay in my cardboard home. Rather than get upset when my dreams don't go according to what I've envisioned, I need to remember that I'm in the box ... God's not ... and yes, "He's in control. He's got a plan. He loves me."

So glad my God can't be put in a box.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Clean, He Kills

I like to think that I'm a fairly determined and persevering person. When I start a job, I like to see it through until completion. We've talked in past posts how I enjoy organizing things. It's personally rewarding to take a mess and organize, transform, and change it from chaos to something of order. That was my goal today -- to go through the three big closets in our bedroom and make them beautiful ... until my husband cautioned me about the spiders that are sure to be hiding there. He proceeded to talk about mixing up some chemicals for me to spray in the closets after they were emptied out, rounding up some rubber gloves for me to use, and then informed me to have a good day. Gulp! Kill spiders? Guard against dangerous chemicals? All to have my shoes nicely organized and my purses beautifully displayed?

So, I did what any normal woman would do. I passed on cleaning out the closets today. I figure I'll wait when Wes is home and HE can wear rubber gloves, pull things out from the corners, and smash the dastardly, murderous spiders for me while I run hysterically screaming from the room if we happen to spot one.

My next thought was to clean out the storage shelves where Wes keeps all his tools, electrical supplies, plumbing things, blah blah blah. None of it is pretty, but it needs to be organized and put in labeled bins for easy access. Sounds like a good plan, right? When I informed Wes that I wouldn't be cleaning the closet, but would be organizing the shelves instead, he casually told me to not be surprised if I see any mice. Are you kidding me? Don't even get me started on my fear of mice. Ever heard of the bubonic plague? I've got news for you -- mice (and their close cousins, rats) were behind all of that! As I sat there wide-eyed, my husband kissed me good-bye and left for work -- leaving me to the mercy of fanged, deranged mice that are hiding around my home. I'm in the process of finding a super-duty antibacterial, anti-mousal (I just invented that word) cleaning agent for the shelves.

My day of organizing has been ravaged by spiders and mice. Granted, these spiders and mice haven't been seen, so technically they're not a threat. Who am I kidding? Of course, they're a threat! Considering that I hadn't even thought of varmints in my closet or storage area, now I'm scared to death to change out my shoes due to deadly spiders (I'll be wearing black flip flops for the rest of my life because those are the only pair not IN my closet at the moment) and do NOT ask me to go get a light bulb because a disease-ridden mouse might contaminate me.

Instead, I'll just plan a day where my wonderful husband can help me organize. He will be so happy to hear that. Since he was kind enough to point out the spiders and mice, surely he'll be kind enough to take care of those critters for me while I clean. Just another example of our working together ... I clean, he kills. And that's why God put us together.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Life Olympics

It is a good thing that I'm not an Olympic gymnast. First of all, my age might be a little stumbling block. It definitely would NOT be good to have my joints and bones creak more than the uneven bars. Secondly, my fear of heights would keep me from even attempting to go any higher than 2 feet over the vault. And going over the vault sideways or upside down or any other way where I'd feel a little out of control and could hurt myself? No, thank you. Thirdly, I'd think it would be fairly important to have some kind of abdominal muscles to do any type of gymnastics, and yeah ... we won't discuss my abs. Not at all. So don't even try. And lastly, if something hurts, I am NOT going to want to do it repeatedly (the only exception to this in my life was having four children, but notice that four is the magic number for me -- I didn't do it daily for years!). No, I was NOT cut out to be an Olympic gymnast.

I love watching them though. I can't help but admire the height they get as they go over the vault (better them than me!). I'm in awe of the way they can move, and bend, and contort. And balancing on that beam (which is just 4 inches wide, by the way!)? Puh-lease! I have a hard time balancing on my high heels!!

It's exciting to see what these gymnasts can do. They're the best of the best. The cream of the crop. Their mommas must be so proud. But the thing that stands out the most to me is their determination and their perseverence. I'm sure that when they were tiny little girls who went to the gym the first day, they didn't do incredible floor routines or death-defying tricks on the balance beam. Pointing their toes when they learned to walk, working up to a sommersault, actually climbing UP on the balance beam and just walking across it -- that was probably more what happened. It took years of practice, of failure, of continuing on when it got difficult, of determination. But these are the very things that led to these Olympic gymnasts' success.

These are the same things that lead to my success as well. No, I don't do elaborate gymnastic floor routines ... but I've played on the floor with my children and grandchildren. No, I don't swing through the air on the uneven bars ... but I've journeyed through an uneven life with my husband. No, I  don't vault my body up in the air ... but I've vaulted in to the unknown and established relationships with people I never knew. No, I don't walk the narrow balance beam ... but I've walked with my Lord. In every single one of my relationships, in every single aspect of my life where God is leading and teaching me, determination and perseverance is required. Just as He doesn't give up, so I'm to hang in there as well. And, at the end of the day, I won't be standing on a podium and receiving a gold medal. Instead, I'll be approaching a throne and will hear a "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

And THAT is worth it all ...

If Jesus Had Facebook ...

If Jesus had a Facebook, what would He update? If I disappointed Him, would He change His status to single? Would He delete my pictures and erase me from His timeline?

If there's one thing about Jesus that I can count on, it's His consistency. Not changing His relationship status. No game playing for Him. He committed years before I was born -- years before man walked the earth, years before the world was formed -- that He would be in a relationship with me. He has instructed me to give my earthly relationships a permanence because all that is here is a mirror of what is in eternity. One word that perfectly describes Him is permanent. Jesus is unchanging. Jesus isn't like the shifting sands or the variable winds. He's solid. He's firm. He can be counted upon. Just as when I argued with my parents, I didn't suddenly become an orphan -- so God doesn't disown me. Just as when I have a spat with my husband, I'm not divorced until we make up -- so God doesn't sever our relationship. Just as when my children make wrong decisions, I'm not suddenly childless because of my disappointment -- so God doesn't turn His back on our relationship. And that's me! Me -- the one who struggles with consistency, the one who is wishy-washy and lacking, the one who is weak. How much more permanent is my Father in Heaven?

When Jesus and I began our relationship, my relationship status was changed to "In a Relationship". Through the years, there have been highs and lows. There has been unfaithfulness. There has been reconciliation. There has been new birth. There has been changes. Changes in the relationship ... not an ending in the relationship and starting a new one. God Himself has never changed. He's waited patiently as I grew, as I learned, as I truly began to value what He had given me when He gave me Himself.

Jesus might not have Facebook where He daily updates His status. But He's got the sky where He writes His love for me daily in the sunset. He's got the sun that rises daily to remind me of His consistency. He's got the laws of gravity that remind me of His strength. He's got the nail-scarred hands to remind me of His sacrifice and love. Those scars? I put them there. Yet, He doesn't hold it against me. Instead, they are there to show me just how far He'll go to demonstrate His love for me. Once ... for all ... forever.

Jesus and me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ssssh! He's Sleeping! Take A Picture!!

When my children were little, I constantly took pictures of them while they were sleeping. I did this for several reasons. First, they really looked so adorable ... and peaceful ... and angelic. I would just watch them and memorize their tiny, perfect features and took pictures so I'd always remember. Secondly, as they grew older, I loved taking pictures of them sleeping due to the fact that they weren't poking a sibling ... or picking their noses ... or scowling because they didn't want a picture taken. It was cooperation (well, kind of ...) and my babies were beautiful. I wanted people to see it!

As they've gotten older, I'm not around to take pictures of them while they're sleeping. That would be really creepy because I'd have to get in my car in the middle of night, drive across town, sneak in through an unlocked window (which they better not have!!), crawl over to the bed, snap a picture of my adult child, and then hurry and leave before getting caught. Not that I've ever thought of doing that. Like I said, that would be very creepy.
I don't tuck my children in anymore. I don't peek in on them while they're sleeping. I don't pull up the blanket that has been kicked off and crumpled at the bottom of the bed and carefully place it over my sleeping child. I don't listen quietly for their peaceful exhaled breath. I don't gently push back the tousled hair from their foreheads. No more of those incredible night-time rituals for me. My children were never aware of these rituals. They never knew that good ole' Mom was hovering over their beds at night ... and not in a creepy way.

I DO continue night-time rituals for my adult children though. They range in age from 23 to 31 and since I'd get arrested for sneaking in to their homes, instead I do something that's even better. I pray for them. I lift each one up to the Lord, praying for specific areas of their lives. I pray for relationships ... new jobs ... new babies and families ... moves ... safety in work ... sensitive hearts ... future godly spouses and godly friends. I pray that they'll move on from the poor choices in the past to the beauty of God's choices for them in the future. I pray for their hearts' desire to be walking with the Lord, to seek His face, to know Him personally and intimately. And, as this middle-aged body often awakes during the night, I continue my prayers when I'm not sleeping.

No, I don't physically cover my sleeping children with blankets anymore. Instead, I cover them with prayer. One of the joys of being a mom ...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Color-Coded Life

My poor dear husband. It's kind of scary to start a blog like that, but in this instance, it's really true. I've always been an organizational freak, but with four kids, their friends, four dogs, and life going on around me ... well, it was usually just a dream to be able to color-code everything. I HAVE always organized my closet ... and I like nice drawers where everything has its place. I alphabetize my spices so I can find them easier. All of my earrings are paired together and put in buttons in my earring box so I don't have to scramble to find a pair -- they're already together! Make-up is organized in the drawer (and I can tell if anyone has been messing around with things in there, which is particularly seen after my little granddaughters come to visit! They love Nammy's chapstick and lip gloss!). There are junk drawers with bins, trays, and organizers so it's not tooooo messy. Kitchen utensils are in pretty crocks so I can find the exact one I'm looking for without digging through a drawer. I even use a different highlighter each year in my Bible so I see what stands out to me this year as opposed to the years before. And oh, life is good.

I love to organize. I love things to be in their proper places. And now that all of the kids have moved out of the house and we're only down to two dogs, I'm organizing more than ever. I'm even moving in to my husband's territory. Poor Wes. I'm attacking his tool boxes and shelves. I'm anxiously scouring his office for ways to put it together better. I'm literally trolling on Pinterest to get different ideas or organizational tips. And again, I say, poor Wes.

He's been with me long enough that he sees that a little bit of organization really IS a good thing. (Plus, when something works out well, it makes me feel like Super Woman!) And he's also been with me long enough that he's patient ... and kind ... and will go along with my ideas. We can be seen wandering through Lowe's or Wal-Mart, looking for more organizational tools. Because we work well together, I'll give my idea to Wes -- and he's the creative genius that makes it happen. Want to keep the phone cord from floating all around the table while you're charging your phone? Install a tiny cup hook on the underside of the table and voila! The cord stays in place. (You can use a binder clip on the side of the table if your phone cord will cooperate.) Instead of sitting on the couch at 8:30 at night being two zombies in front of the television screen, I'm directing and Wes is hanging shelves ... or we're going through tool boxes ... or paint is being slapped on the wall. And you know what?! It's actually fun. (Don't ask Wes because he won't give you that same sentiment. He just loves me and suffers along with me.)

Yes, things are slowly but surely being organized more and more in the Allen household. And, for the record, I'm just following in my Father God's footsteps.

I Corinthians 14:33 God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
I Corinthians 14:40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

And no, those aren't my most favorite verses in God's Word, even though I wholeheartedly agree with them and think they're wonderful. My God is a God of order ... and decency ... and peace. There is much security and comfort for me in that knowledge. He's revealed to me that when I try to organize and put things together, I'm looking for security. I know that seems kind of silly, but if I could seriously color-code my life and the lives of those I love so that it would be organized, orderly, without surprises, and I'd be in control of it, then I'd be one happy camper. God has also revealed to me that I'm not the one who's supposed to be in control (duh!). Instead, I'm to have faith in Him and HIS organization. What might seem like chaos to me is His controlled plan, and I'm to follow along, knowing that His plan is the best for all concerned. I'd like to say that He's also revealed to me that Wes's office and tool boxes are in dire need of my organization, but those are just my own brilliant ideas. Fortunately, the office and tool boxes are more along the speed of things I'm allowed to organize (with God's permission as well as Wes's) ... and I leave lives to Him. Pretty fair trade-off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I. Hate. Politics.

It's getting to that time of year again. Here goes for another personal confession -- I absolutely, totally, with all that I am, H-A-T-E politics. (Seriously, no exaggeration there!)  I hate getting on Facebook and seeing all of the "commentaries".  I despise the commercials where one candidate bashes another. I hate hearing other people talk about politics because they wind up talking horrible about someone. I loathe the debates that turn in to screaming matches. I can't stand the back-stabbing, the mud-slinging, the lies, the arguing. I seriously hate it all.

When I was venting about this to my laid-back husband, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "It works." Ugh! You know, THAT'S the very problem! It shouldn't work! Are we numb-brained enough that we can't just take the facts and then figure out what we want from there? We have to have these emotional, attacking arguments to convince us who's right and who's wrong? Maybe I'm incredibly naive, maybe I'm intellectually lacking, but I think I've got enough brains and common sense to realize who I want representing me in political office without all of the horrible rhetorical that comes from BOTH sides.

And it just continues to get worse. Well, that might not be totally true. I have a feeling that it's always been this awful -- even back in the days of our Founding Fathers. From what I understand, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had their personal differences. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas weren't the best of buddies. Ever read about the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr? It all stemmed from the smearing in a political campaign. This political nastiness has been going on since the beginning of America unfortunately.

To me, the answer simple. A candidate tells what he believes and how he'd vote. Leave the other candidate out of it. He runs his campaign and leaves the other guy to his. How hard can that be? And, as for me, I'll vote for the man/woman who I believe has the same convictions that I have -- and we'll live happily ever after. Ok, that's where my naivete comes in. We won't live happily ever after because life happens to step in. But we CAN live without tearing other people apart, can't we?

I can't help but think that God is grieved by the way we conduct ourselves. When Jesus walked this earth, I don't see any record of His slamming Herod, Pilate, or the Roman government. And honestly, the Roman Empire wasn't high on the list of moral excellence, but the Bible tells us that God is the one Who establishes the government. He wasn't surprised by what was going on. He had that government in place for His reasons and His purposes. Jesus knew that and wasn't screaming about its shortcomings. No one knew better than He that there were some serious issues -- not only in government, but in the hearts of all men. Jesus didn't turn a blind eye to what was going on. He didn't ignore the issues. But He also didn't belittle those who believed differently than He did. In actuality, He DIED for those people, just as He did for me.

I realize there will be people who won't particularly like this post. Sorry about that! Just my soapbox for the day ...

Friday, June 29, 2012

You Hurt, I Hurt

One thing I've noticed: when you're counseling someone, or just listening to them, if you're really good at what you do, you feel a part of their pain as well. From someone who is highly allergic to pain, this is NOT what I want to learn. If you've read any of my blog posts, you'll have noticed that I like comfort and am pretty averse to pain.

Through the years, I've experienced quite a bit of pain -- usually because of my own dumb choices. Girls that I listen to or share with have heard me say multiple times that I'm one of those "been there, done that" type of people. Unfortunately, that just means that I've been stupid and have suffered the painful consequences because of it. The thing that has amazed me the most, however, is by just listening to someone's heart burden, how God takes me back to a time when I was in a similar situation. And usually this is not full of pleasant feelings.

But it's almost like I NEED to go back to those feelings, to those thoughts, to those experiences so that I can truly empathize and help direct these girls that I'm dealing with. Because God is Who He is, however, He reminds me that I'm NOT that same person that I was ... that I've been forgiven ... that I've forgiven others ... that He's "lifted me out of the miry clay" ... and that every single life experience that I've had, whether it's been beautiful or extremely ugly, can be used to minister to someone else. And it's my heart's desire to pass those same little reminders along to people I care about.

Other lessons that I've learned:

1) You know you've been healed and have forgiven someone when you can think on an incident without anger. Notice I said "think on" ... not "dwell on". This is a time when it's vitally important to take every thought captive because it's easy to fall back in to the trap of bitterness and anger, whether it pertains to someone else or ourselves.

2) Forgiving myself is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Forgiving others can sometimes be really difficult, but forgiving myself is even harder. God reminds me that I don't need to continue"nailing the nails" over and over again. Jesus paid the price ... once for all ... and even though I struggle, I need to forgive myself because He has forgiven me.

3) God is faithful. He DOES create beauty from ashes. He DOES turn ugly situations that I created because of wrong choices into opportunities to witness to and encourage others. Beauty from ashes is a perfect picture of God's grace ...

4) Transparency begets honesty and transparency. When I'm honest and allow people to hear about the person I was, they're more in awe of Who God is ... because He has done (and continues to do) a transforming work in my life. I'm  not who I was. I'm not who I'm going to be. God's in the process! It gives hope to girls who are mired in the same situations I was in to see that there IS "light at the end of the tunnel".

5) Growth is almost always painful. I don't know why, it just is. Maybe because if it hurts, we'll remember it a little bit more. But, see #3. God's faithful to comfort.

Loving other people hurts. That's a fact, and I don't know that it will ever change. However, loving other people THROUGH their hurts and struggles is soooooo rewarding, especially when I can help point them to the One Who heals the pain. All of my circumstances, all of my yesterdays, all of my wrong choices -- all pale in significance in the beauty of what God promises to do today ... what He promises to do for me AND for you!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thirty-Two Years and Counting ...

Wes and I just got back from a mini-vacation celebrating our 32 years of marriage. It was wonderful ... and relaxing ... and fun ... and we both were really pouty on the day we got home because we wanted to go back. It's amazing how after all these years of being married that we still find ourselves learning so much about each other.

As an example, Wes learned that I am a huge hotel snob. We stayed in a small motel for the first two nights of our trip. Wes thought it was old, but decently clean. I, on the other hand, commented about how it looked JUST like the Bates Motel in Psycho ... tore up the beds to inspect the mattress and sheets when we first walked in the room ... refused to allow our suitcases to be put on the bed and insisted on putting any of our sleeping clothes into a tightly sealed laundry bag immediately upon getting up. Yes, the motel was old (older than both Wes and I, I'm thinking), was semi-clean (there were spiders and some icky things in the bathroom), but we managed to survive ... particularly when we wound up at an adorable, wonderful, and perfect bed and breakfast for the next two nights.

I learned that my husband honestly and truly hates to have his picture taken. Through the years, we've laughed at how Wes will "smile" for the camera -- meaning he just stares at the camera until the picture is taken. If he actually DOES smile, that's probably an accident and meant for something other than the picture-taking. I also learned that my husband loves me more than he hates to have his picture taken, so he very nicely posed a few times while I had the camera in his face.

Wes learned that I am absolutely and totally indecisive when it comes to choosing a restaurant. For some reason, that's a decision that is beyond my capability. He'd ask me where I'd want to go and I'd almost panic. If he suggested a possible restaurant, I'd be only too quick to agree, but choose a place on my own? Not possible ...

I learned that my husband thinks I'm cute, even when the wind catches my dress and it blows up around my face and I flash my pretty yellow panties to all of the people walking on the street behind me. I also learned how kind he was when he assured me that probably no one even noticed. Yes, it was a big, fat lie, but wasn't he sweet?

It was nice to take the time to just be together -- to see that we still "liked" each other after all of these years of having kids in our house -- to laugh and think we were hysterically funny, even though no one else seemed to quite understand our humor. We've said over the years that we've pretty much done absolutely everything wrong in our relationship, but because of God's grace it's all worked out. Well, God's grace and two hard-headed people who were determined to make the relationship work.

It was a wonderful time, and we're already talking about where we want to go for our next anniversary get-away. Never too early to start planning, right? And as long as we stay in a nice place, I don't have to choose a restaurant, and Wes doesn't have to have his picture taken a gazillion times, we'll be good. Actually, even if those things all DO (or don't) happen, we'll still be good. After 32 years of learning together, there's always something new to discover.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Darkened Room

The one bad thing about having a blog is that I have to watch how honest and transparent I am. If I had  hemorrhoids, people definitely would NOT want to read about that. (And I really don't, by the way.) No one wants to read about a fight that I'm having with my husband ... no one wants to hear about family problems ... no one cares about health issues. Basically, people don't want to hear all of that stuff. However, my life is full of issues that I keep quiet and under wraps, and those are the issues where God is stretching me and teaching me. I need to be sensitive to my family and to my readers so that no one is particularly offended or appalled at what I'm sharing.

My problem? I tend to be overly honest and transparent. My face, body language, and voice inflections gives my feelings away. And if you hang around long enough and I semi-trust you, I'll wind up bearing my soul to you. If I've done that and you've been frantically looking around you for a way of escape, I'm issuing a blanket apology right now.

Currently I'm dealing with some fear issues. Out of respect for someone I love (privacy, not telling too much, blah blah blah), I'm not going to go in to any details. But let's just say that the routine, structure, predictability, and security of life is being shaken right now. And, if you know me, you know that I absolutely L-O-V-E routine, structure, predictability, and security.

This is the picture that God has given me. It's like we're walking in a darkened room without knowing where the light switch is. The fear of falling and getting hurt immediately comes over me. Okay, I'll be really transparent and honest here -- it's the fear of the boogey man that I KNOW is hiding in the corner waiting to pounce on me. So, there are two options: 1) Freeze where I am and panic; 2) Grab on to a hand of someone who knows where the light switch is and let them guide me.

Notice that the first option was to freeze and panic? That's because that is my first response. I usually can wind up terrifying myself with all of the "what-if's" and wind up hysterical. The problem with this response is that I'm still in the dark room, I'm not making any advancements or progress, and the pain will not only be probable but inevitable because I'll wind up flailing and trying to make it through without knowing what's ahead of me. Nothing good is accomplished and I'm absolutely alone in what I'm going through (unless the boogey man is there and that's still not a good picture).

The second response is obviously the one that God is wanting me to choose -- both for my benefit and our relationship. God doesn't need to reveal His plans to me so that I can give my approval, but He does want to make the journey with me. I may not understand all that is happening or even why it is happening, but God is capable. My heart understands that. My job is to trust and follow while He leads me through. My security is not in the light switch (revealing what I want to know), but the Guide Who leads me through the darkness. I learned many, many years ago that He is sovereign, can be trusted, and is my salvation. By placing my hand in His while He leads me through the darkness of not knowing and fear, my faith and our relationship is strengthened and grown. And He reminds me that's what ALL of life is about ...

"The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He willl never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Carrying My Mattress

It was May 3, 1999. I ran through the house, adrenaline pumping through my body. I was barking orders to my children, hurrying everyone into the small half-bathroom in the center of our house. The largest tornado in the written history of the world (at that time) was heading toward our town, and I was admittedly panicked. Of course, it could have been a teeny tiny little ole tornado and I still would have panicked (I've never learned to be comfortable around those things!). And I live in the heartland of Tornado Alley -- go figure!

In spite of my freaking out, I herded our children (and dog!) into the bathroom, then scurried back to get a mattress off of one of the beds to use for protection from the possibility of flying debris. Later, after the danger had passed (the tornado wound up changing direction and went a few miles south of us) and my husband came home from work, I was relating what had happened and discussing with my family how fear and adrenaline can make you physically able to do things that you normally wouldn't have the strength to dol. I had run through the hallways of our home carrying a large, bulky mattress oveer my head ... single-handedly ... all by myself ... all alone ... I was Superwoman!! Ta da!!!!

Our boys literally collapsed in laughter when they heard me recounting the story of my panic-stricken night, because it was so different from the one that they had seen. In my frenzy, I thought I had been given a super-human strength. Seriously. I remember thinking I could have probably lifted a Volkswagon that day. I was that hyped up with adrenaline. In reality though, I discovered my youngest son had been carrying the mattress behind me. I was basically just balancing it, even though I thought I had been doing all of the work. No wonder it seemed so easy! Now, every time we hear that a tornado is heading our direction, this is a favorite story that has to be re-told. Woo hoo. "Mom thinks she's strong enough to carry a mattress all by herself" ... "Mom freaks out when tornados are around" ... "Let's laugh at Mom -- AGAIN!" So glad I can be the entertainment for our family.

The most interesting part about this incident, however, is the dead give-away to my fleshly character. My nature is one of independence. I want to be able to "do it myself". I want to lean totally on me and what I'm able to do. I want to count on my strength to save me or those I love. How often I've tried to "carry the mattress" of my life and my circumstances! How often I've tried to do what only God can do.

I've been created with a need to be dependent upon God, to be in fellowship with Him. When I lean on anything but Him (including me!) for my strength, I am only fooling myself. Just as I couldn't carry that mattress through the house on my own strength, so I can't be the right type of wife or mother (or Nammy!). I can't generate my own peace and security. I can't be a godly witness to those around me. I can't see in to the future to know what paths or directions to take. I might be able to accomplish a little towards these goals, but without God's strength, the road is harder, the heartbreak is stronger, and the mattress is definitely waaaaaaay heavier. What I am able to do on my own is second best to the blessings God has in store for me when He is allowed to work in and through me.

There is not a whole lot that I can do on my own that will truly excel and succeed, but there is everything good that God and I can do together!!

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness"
2 Corinthians 12:9 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Losing My Heart to Teen MOPS

I've lost my heart to a group of girls. The opportunity to meet them presented itself in September and has continued on through this time. Let me describe the "average" girl at Teen MOPS (Mothers of Pre-schoolers).

She's 18 years old and is the mommy of a one-year old. She chose life for her baby even though people around her encouraged her differently. She's single, raising the child alone without any financial help or assistance from the father. She has family near by, but is living on her own. Currently she's in the Alt-Ed classes at her high school, working to get her diploma. She'd love to go on to college, but doesn't know that she'll be able to with a child and needing to work, but the hope is there. She works a minimum wage job, and receives aid from the government to help with food, her apartment, and day care. Life can get incredibly lonely and overwhelming when you're 17, a mommy, and on your own.

The girl described above is a composite of our girls. But each girl in our Teen MOPS program is unique. They range in age from 16 to 24. Some girls have just the one baby, while others have two, three, or four. Some are married, some are single, some are engaged, some are dating. Girls live at home with their parents or grandparents, live alone, or live with their husbands or boyfriends. Some girls have dropped out of school, or are in regular high school or the Alt-Ed classes. Some girls are taking college classes or vo-tech classes. Many, many, many of our girls, however, have received their high school diploma, which is a big feat (and cause for celebration!) when you're raising babies.  All of them, without exception, are truly heroic in that they chose to give life to their precious babies. All of them, again without exception, deal with difficult choices every day as they struggle being young moms. But, all of them -- and I mean ALL of them -- love visiting with other moms who are going through the same stage of life. They love to make the different crafts that we do ... they love to play the silly games that we play ... they love shopping in our Mommy Mart ... and they love visiting with other girls. They laugh and giggle ... share wisdom with each other ... tell stories of sick babies, poopy diapers, paying bills, and listen to others tell their stories as well.

And I love them. I seriously love them all. I love their bravery and their determination. I love their hearts to learn and grow. I love their openness and honesty. I love their hugs and the opportunity to hold their precious babies. I love praying for them and praying with them. I love the fact that each one wants to be the best mommy she can be.

People have told me that I'm doing a wonderful thing (ministering to these girls) and honestly, that just cracks me up whenever I hear it. In reality, it's the other way around. My Teen MOPS girls have opened and expanded my heart. They've blessed me beyond belief and showed me that it IS possible to love people that I've just met. My life will never be the same after meeting them ...

And, if you're one of my Teen MOPS girls ... and you've managed to get all the way to the end of the blog ... know that it's YOU I'm talking about. I love you!!

If you're not one of the Teen MOPS girls, you're missing out on a blessing, let me tell you! But you can be a part of our group, even if you live far away. Just continue to pray for them as they continue on this path of life. Pray for their strength and stamina, pray for their growth and maturity, pray for their joy in trying circumstances, pray that they'll come to know Jesus as their Lord, Provider, and Comforter.

Losing my heart has never been so wonderful ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing Up

Someone asked me the other day why it's so hard to grow up. At first, it kind of stumped me. I mean, we just naturally grow up, don't we? We get bigger ... and taller (well, some of us!) ... we learn lessons ... and we kind of just grow up on our own. At least, that's what I thought at first. But I realized I was thinking of growing older. And growing older is waaaaaaaay different than growing up. Be prepared for a little bit of "Diana wisdom" becauser I'm going to throw some at you.
1. Growing up means that you put other people first. You don't just think of yourself, but you think of someone else -- what won't hurt them, what their desires are, what will inspire them.

2. Growing up means that you've managed to learn a little bit of self-control. You know when to stop.

3. Growing up means that you refuse to take everything seriously and blow things out of proportion. Drama is NOT a favorite past-time in the life of a grown-up.

4. Growing up means that you think beyond the moment. You look to the future and see how the things you choose, decide, do will affect your tomorrows.

5. Growing up means that you often return to your roots. You see the things that were done right and build on them for your own life.

6. Growing up means that you move on from the harmful things in your past. You don't embrace them, but instead you learn from the lessons that you've learned. You learn, get stronger and smarter, and move on.

7. Growing up means that you choose your friends wisely. It doesn't mean that you refuse to have anything to do with people that are on a different path than you or who aren't making wise choices (Jesus didn't even do that, thankfully for me!). But it means that you're careful who your closest friends are. They'll encourage you in the right way.

8. Growing up means that you enjoy the little things and try to not take everyday things for granted -- the beautiful sunshine, a baby's giggle, a good homecooked meal, holding the hand of the one you love, having all of the family around you.

9. Growing up means that you realize how valuable your time is. Sadly, you also realize how much of this precious commodity you've wasted. Every minute, every activity, every plan becomes more important as you see that you want to finish well.

10. Growing up means that you forgive more. You've seen the grace that has been extended to you and you pass that along to others.

There you go. These are just a few of my observations on growing up. As I get older (which I seem to be doing much more quickly these days), I don't want to be THAT person who just got older without actually maturing. I'm the most grateful for a God Who continues to teach me as I go, Who works with me in growing up, Who loves me when I fail, and Who never ever gives up. In reality, He's the One growing me up. It might be difficult for me sometimes, but I'm sooooo glad that He continues despite me. Yep, I DO want to grow up. Getting older? Now that's another blog ...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Am So Patient ... NOT!

Wes and I were talking the other day, and I made a comment about how I'm more patient than I used to be. He just smiled at me ... and said nothing, which honestly said way more than if he HAD said something. Personally, I DO think I'm better, but I've still got a long ways to go. Now that I think about it, that really hurts my feelings ... but that will be another blog.

Some examples of my notable impatience?

** I despise waiting in a check-out line. I can feel the tension literally work itself up my body and I wind up wanting to scream. I've never actually done that, but you should see me squirm and move around in a check-out line. My husband tells me that I act like I'm in pain.  (Now that I've admitted that to anyone other than my husband, I feel pretty bad about my impatience meter.)

** If I buy an anti-wrinkle cream, I expect to look 10 years younger the first time I try it. I don't want to have to wait for six weeks or however long the product advertises. Give me instant results!

** Diet and exercise takes way too long for me. The first day that I eat right and cut my portions back or if I start a work-out routine, I expect to get in to all of my skinny clothes and have people comment how tiny I've become. Besides, sweating is just icky anyway.

** I don't particularly care for fast food. I'd prefer sitting in a restaurant, but I'd also prefer that they serve it in "fast-food" time. I might be impatient, but I'm never mean to my server for waiting too long though. Impatient and mean are two different things, right? But if that food gets there really fast, I'd like to kiss that cute little ole' server right on the cheek IF they didn't arrest me for being a wacky weirdo.

** And do NOT get me started on traffic jams ... or waiting rooms. It will just be too painful for all of us.

So, yes, I haven't been particularly gifted with being patient. It's something I've had to learn (and obviously am learning very slowly according to my husband) through many repeated events throughout my life. I've had four children, for Pete's sake! Surely THAT should count as something for me on the patience scale!! I've housebroken puppies ... I've had student drivers ... I've waited for repairmen to show up -- all without hurting anyone or breaking any laws. So, I'd like to think I've made a little bit of progress.

So, it just goes to figure that the main ministry of my life right now is what would be considered a "sowing" ministry. You know the one -- the type where you spend a lot of time sowing seeds but you don't happen to see much fruit or growth. Yeah, that kind. The kind of ministry for an incredibly patient person. (Let me state clearly though, it's not the people that I get impatient with. It's all of the millions of details and the organization that gets to me.) Of course, we already mentioned our four children. That's the area where the patience-learning first began. The funny thing? The areas of my life that bring me some of the greatest joy are in my "sowing" ministry and in the lives of my children. Yet those are areas that require the most amount of patience -- an area which I'm sorely lacking.

Obviously, God is working and granting me the patience when I need it. He points out that I might never see the fruit. He points out that not all of the seed might grow to fruition. But He also promises that some definitely will. His Word absolutely never returns to Him void, so I'm to continue with this business of seed sowing. God is the One Who provides the growth. God is the One Who will decide when the harvest is ready. All He asks me to do is to faithfully sow His seed ... to patiently sow His seed ... to continuously sow His seed. As I plod along with the sowing, He brings me great joy because someday, somehow, somewhere ... it will all be worth it. Even an impatient heart like mine can recognize that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rainy Woo-Hoo Days

It's a gray, dreary, drizzly day. Can I get a "woo-hoo"? As much as I love the sunshine and warmth, I've discovered that days like today are kind of nice, too. Of course, I have absolutely no energy and don't get anything productive done on days like today. Give me a blanket, a good book, a handful of chocolates and I'm good to go. Throw a little bit of a nap in there and I'll be one happy camper.

Personally, I think God throws days like today in the mix just for me. I tend to be a little bit of a "over-doer". Okay, I'll admit it -- I seem to run myself ragged most of the time. There are always places to go ... things to do ... people to see, call, or text ... deadlines to meet ... events to plan for ... things to clean ... laundry to wash ... items to buy ... dogs to be fed or groomed ... gifts to purchase ... showers or parties to attend ... cards to send ... work to be done ... errands to run ... food to be cooked ... you're getting the idea, right? There's always something urgent that needs my attention, and needs my attention NOW. Because I keep going until I fall over in a dead faint or become dreadfully sick and at death's door (yeah, I'm exaggerating a little bit), these gray days are a good reminder for me to slow down ... to have a little bit of "me" time (which I've decided is NOT one of the seven deadly sins). And let's face it, in an empty-nest-household, there's definitely more time for me to spend time on me. (Don't tell my husband. He thinks I work just as hard as I used to when our house was full of a gazillion kids and their friends.)

God continues to watch out for me in this busy life of mine, and gives me the periodic gift of rest and recuperation (even when I'm NOT sick!!). Please note, He gives me those occasional days for rest, but if I don't pay attention and keep going, He'll become pretty insistent that I slow down and will force convince me to stop and rest. Unfortunately, that usually only happens due to illness or injury, so I've learned to look at rainy days as my vaccine against days of overwork. So, for today, I'm grateful for this gray, drizzly day ... and looking forward to my reading, chocolate, and nap this afternoon. Hope that you grab a little bit of "you" time for you today as well!

Monday, February 13, 2012

So-Called Empty Nest

After a weekend of having just Wes and me living in our house, I've learned:

     * When I clean the house, it stays cleaned.
     * When we sit down to eat dinner, there's always at least half of the food left over to stash away for another meal.
     * I wake up in the morning and the house is quiet. In fact, the house is still quiet in the afternoon and during the evening, too.
     * The laundry hamper doesn't overflow. Laundry only needs to be done a couple of times during the week.
     * Our calendar looks oddly empty.
     * Planning menus or activities for only two people is fairly simple ... and basically cheap.

Describing our house and life like this seems strange to me. But that's what an empty nest is -- strange. Although, come on!! Is it really an empty nest when all of the kids' stuff is still in our attic and spare rooms?!

There are good things that go along with the so-called empty nest (my term for the nest that is devoid of children but still full of their belongings) -- more time for Wes and me. We can actually eat steak once a week if we want to (and be able to afford it!). We rule the remote and can watch what we want on TV (if we can both manage to watch it without falling asleep). Household chores don't seem as bad because the house stays pretty well cleaned. If we decide at the last minute to go out to eat and to see a movie, we don't need to tell anyone -- we just go. And, if Wes wanted to sit around in his underwear to read the paper and drink coffee, he could. He doesn't (in case you really care to know), but he could.

I always thought I'd hate this time because our kids were so much the center of our lives. And man, did we love having those kids!! We loved the ball games ... the late-night talks ... the huge family meals ... the chaos, the noise, the busy-ness of it all. Don't tell them, but I even loved their messes and cleaning up after them just because it meant they were there! But I'm finding that the empty nest, like all of the other stages of life, is good ... and right ... and welcome. Yes, we love it when our kids are home. In fact, we hope they continue to come home to visit ... a LOT!  We love it when our grandbabies are here, and we're looking forward to filling up our home with even more of them! Yet we also love this time for just Wes and me -- relearning each other, being the best friends we were meant to be. It's a stage of life that I honestly wasn't looking forward to, but one that I've found myself seriously not hating. Of course, it's only been a weekend. (After I wrote that, I realized it sounded really bad, like I'm pessimistic, but that's not the case! I'm actually anticipating that this new stage will be a good one for us.) Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Make-up for Wal-Mart

My biggest fear is that I'll wind up on the People of Wal-Mart website. You know the one. Someone with a camera catches a woman walking around in her furry houseshoes while wearing a bikini and earmuffs. Now, before you go thinking I go out in public wearing either houseshoes or a bikini, you can definitely rest assured that I do NOT. But that website is really scary -- the things that people wear when they go out in public is amazing! In fact, after looking through the website, I find myself being a little smug that I'm one of the Beautiful People of Wal-Mart, except there's not a website for that.

So, the website of folks wearing incredibly awkward things to Wal-Mart is one of the reasons why I make sure that not only am I dressed decently when I go out, but I also have my hair done and my make-up on. In fact, I basically don't go anywhere where my hair and make-up aren't done and I'm decently dressed. I used to be so strict about this that I didn't even go check my mail without make-up!! I don't know who I was afraid I'd run in to in the 30 feet between my front door and the mail box, but you never knew, right?!

Do you know how many times I've just wanted to run to the store to grab some eggs or milk and have had to take the time to prepare myself before I go? I've had to take the extra 30 minutes or so to run a straightener through my hair, throw on some make-up, change out of sweats, and go grab some dumb ingredient from the store so I can finish dinner. I used to say it was because I didn't want to look bad in public, but I've come to realize it's to spare the other people, particularly if it's in broad daylight. No one deserves a scare like that.

Actually, as I've gotten older I see that it's all vanity. Yes, I admit it. I've fought being vain for years. Not that I think I'm gorgeous and beautiful. I just want OTHER people to think I'm gorgeous and beautiful. And vain people want to cover up the imperfections ... to show a perfect picture of themselves to other people -- a picture that has been airbrushed, redone, and is utterly false.

How nice it is to know that I don't have to pretty myself up for God. He loves me just as I am -- sweaty, dirty, not particularly attractive. There have been times I've been even worse than just unattractive. I've been broken beyond repair, and still He welcomes me.

I've got a sneaking suspicion that God has a website of people He loves, people that He counts as righteous and beautiful because of His Son. And there will be a picture of me on that website -- no make-up, hair curly and messy, in sweats and a t-shirt -- because God loves me just as I am. And THAT is wonderful to know!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mess With One ...

Our family is really close. Some have even described the relationships as "creepy close". Now, before you picture all of us as toothless, dueling banjo-playing, backwoods hillbillies, please know that is not true. We all have our teeth, none of us know how to play the banjo, and we live in the suburbs. We just have a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY deep-rooted value and understanding of family.

When someone loves and brings joy to one of the members of our family, the other ones will immediately embrace the joy-giver. In fact, we've been known to bring adopted members in to our family circle who are "honorary Allens". When one of our family members dates or marries, get ready -- because we're part of a package deal!! Our intent is not to intrude, but we want to love on the people our family loves on. Our family members are our best friends, and we want to include and love who they love.

On the other hand, when someone hurts or wounds a family member ... hmmmm. Yeah, that's not good. I'd like to say that we all handle that well, but we don't. Some of us handle it better than others. A few members of our family want to maim confront the offending party. Some want to totally write the "bad guy" off and ignore his existence. Some of us are big on forgiveness and continuing to pray for the person. But all of us, without exception, deeply feel the hurts and wounds of our family.

A perfect example of this is when our sons were quite young. We were at a softball game watching their extra-studly dad pitch and play when I saw our middle son (who was three) square off with another little boy who was five. The five-year old had been picking on our son, and since our son grew up in a house full of boys, there wasn't any backing down on his part. Our 6-year-old son saw it as well and immediately ran over and began defending his younger brother by grabbing the older boy, throwing him to the ground, and pounding on him while younger brother joined in. In the meantime, our youngest boy (who was 18 months old) was running as fast as his short, chubby legs could go, and jumped on the pile of brawling boys, swinging his arms and punching the non-Allen as hard as he could. By the time I got there, the 5-year-old was crying and I had to drag all of the Allen boys off of him. Mess with one, you get them all.

Another example? All through junior high and high school, our poor daughter was constantly supervised, watched, and harrassed by her older brothers. If a guy liked her and was brave enough to get past the brothers, that was pretty impressive. Her brothers made sure that didn't happen too often. They confronted, bullied, and basically harrassed any young man who they felt like would not be appropriate for their sister. And since their sister was the princess of the family, it was highly unlikely that any boy ever created in time would be appropriate, let alone good enough for their sister. She hated it but loved it at the same time. Her sense was that family is there to watch out for you.

As I write this, I'm struck with the fact that we're a pretty good example of a 1 Corinthians 12 family ... with the exception of maiming and harassing, of course. 1 Corinthians 12 compares the physical body to the spiritual body of Christ, discussing how the parts are all equally important. What affects one, affects all. When one suffers, all suffer. When one rejoices, all rejoice. Our little family (which continues to grow by marriage and births) is a perfect example of that. The best part? We're our little family within the bigger body of Christ's family -- watching out for each other, loving each other, protecting each other, serving each other, caring for each other. Whether we're talking about our physical family or our spiritual family, we were created to be a part of one. Family is a-w-e-s-o-m-e!!

I'll leave you with the song that our kids grew up singing. In fact, ask them to sing it to you. They all still remember the words. And remember, mess with one of us, you get them all.

Na na na na naaaaa
Na na na na na na
Na na na na naaaaa
Na na na na na na
From city to city
From state to state
Don't mess with the Allens
Cuz we're really great
Na na
Na na na na na na

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Good Thing/Bad Thing

I've been thinking about the "good thing/bad thing" today.

The good thing is that I tend to let go of the past (eventually!). The bad thing is that I can get overwhelmed with what's in front of me.

The good thing is that I'm short enough that I don't hit my head on low hanging branches when I walk underneath them. The bad thing is that technically I'm not tall enough to ride the go-carts at Celebration Station (but I have a driver's license, so they let me).

The good thing is that I know I don't walk this road alone. The bad thing is that I fear that even though I'm not alone, it can't be handled.

The good thing is that I like to cook. The bad thing is that I like to eat everything I cook ... and then some.

The good thing is that I walk with God, and He's bigger than anything out there. The bad thing is that I often don't believe He's big enough.

The good thing is that I'm getting older. The bad thing is that I look it ... and please don't offend me by offering me a senior citizen discount (although that has never happened yet, but I'll definitely be offended when it does!).

The good thing is that God reminds me over and over and over again of the times that He has been sufficient. The bad thing is that I tend to forget.

The good thing is that my husband and I think we're hilariously funny. The bad thing is that we're the only people who think that.

The good thing is that God is extremely patient and gracious with me. The bad thing is that He needs to exercise that patience and extend that grace moment by moment (but I'm sooooo thankful He does!).

The good thing is that I've been given an incredible family ... and they're cute, and funny, and smart, and dang near perfect. The bad thing is that I often take them for granted.

The good thing is Jesus loves me ... and there's nothing bad about that.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
-this version is credited to Mother Teresa

I love this piece written by Mother Teresa. It speaks to my heart. Probably because I often feel like people are unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered ... that there are unfaithful people around me ... that there are deceivers and ungrateful people surrounding me ... that it doesn't matter how much I do, it's not enough. All of that is focused on me though (did you notice that?!). People are self-centered because they're not looking out for ME. People aren't faithful to ME. People are deceiving ME. People aren't grateful to ME. Each line of Mother Teresa's piece starts out that way, but the second line  is an encouragement to look outside of ourselves.

The best line? "In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway." It's what it all comes back to in the first place -- Who I'm serving, why I'm doing what I'm doing, what the ultimate focus is to be. It's all about God. That's the beginning ... the middle ... and the end. Anything else is not enough.

It all comes down to this. Dealing with people is hurtful. They're not always nice. They are often stupid, without remorse, refusing to change. I can be the Judge -- weighing the evidence, finding them guilty, and walking away. And who on earth would blame me? People don't deserve mercy or grace when they're determined to continue doing wrong, right?! But where do I fit in this picture? Am I really the Judge (especially when I try to sit in that seat) or am I one of those people determined to continue doing wrong? Where would I be if God had refused to extend His grace and mercy to me? Like Mother Teresa says, He "did it anyway".

As He did for me, so I must do for others. Because He forgave, so do I. They don't deserve it, but neither did I. God does, though. He deserves my best. And the most amazing thing? When I look at people the way God does, I see their need ... I see their hurts ... I see their potential. It makes the "doing it anyway" a special blessing, because I'm serving those that He loves ... the ones that He's given me a love for as well. How can I do any less when I consider all that He's done for me?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sci-Fi 2012

Another new year? You've got to be kidding me! I've just NOW gotten to where I consistently remember to write 2011. I don't know if I'll ever totally remember 2012. And doesn't 2012 sound really sci-fi? Like it's not a real date ... just a number that's been thrown out there in the cosmic future.

Okay, enough of my ramblings about how I can't believe it's 2012. Since it's my tradition to review the past year in a blog -- well, if tradition accurately describes the second time I've done this -- then I'm ready to get started showing you all of the wonderful things going on in our lives. Now that I think about it, this might take the place of a Christmas letter! Aren't you excited?!?!

Biggest news? We had a wedding in our family and added another wonderful daughter-in-law. She's a Texan that has adjusted well to Oklahoma, and we're blessed to have her. She fits in well with this wacky family and helps to class us up a little bit.

We got to keep our littlest grandbaby for a week. Oh my goodness, we're definitely older than when we had our own babies!! But, it was a fun time for all of us -- well, at least, it was for me! I loved the time with her and hated to give her back to her mommy and daddy.

After years and years and years of being an Oklahoma State Cowboy fan ... after years and years and years of being disappointed or dismayed after football season ... after years and years and years of being on the losing end of the spectrum (you get the picture!), we celebrated with an incredible football season. Man! I get excited just thinking about all of those games! Seriously, I'd like a repeat of the 2011 football season for 2012 ... and 2013 ... and 2014 ... and so on.
Wes's dad went home to be with the Lord this year. Sometimes it seems like it's still not real. We find ourselves telling different stories -- about how he liked to play card games, about his competiveness, about his love for sports, his dry sense of humor, his "grampa" sandwiches. We miss him a lot, but know that he wouldn't trade places at all. He's seeing Jesus' face!

Our oldest granddaughter was the star of her ballet recital ... and the star of her soccer team ... and the star of her choir program ... and the star of her Christmas program ... you get where I'm going with this, right? Yes, she's OUR little star. Oh! And she's learned to read this year. I've heard her! She likes to read books to her Nammy, and Nammy loves hearing her!

And just because I love this picture, I have to include it. It's my precious little family ... all of those kiddos that grew up in our home, some of whom have gone on to create homes and families of their own. There's never a boring moment when we're all together, especially when they all come home and manage to bring all of their dogs along with them! It's always a highlight of any time for Wes and me when all of our kids are around.

We've had two different major surgeries in our family this year (unfortunately, having a surgery DOES seem to be an Allen family tradition) ... moved kids from one place to another (several times!) ... Wes and I celebrated 33 years of being together (from our first blind date in Stillwater in 1978) ... we became actively involved with an incredible group of young mommies and their babies in Teen MOPS ... and life is once again very good in the Allen household.

We're assured of God's love for us, convinced of His provision and protection, and grateful for His blessings. Even more, we're looking forward to what He's going to do in the future. The comfort is knowing that He already has it planned out and the prayer is that we'll be sensitive to seeing His fingerprints over all of it.

Bring it on, 2012!!!