Christmas Eve

I love letting the kids each open a gift on Christmas Eve…

img_5993wmI love these kids!

img_5996wmEveryone with their Christmas Eve gift. By now, Hannah and Titus have figured out that they’re getting pajamas. But, that’s just part of the fun, in my opinion. This year, Hannah insisted that Daddy needed new Christmas jammies too!

img_6023wmRebekah & Rachel got matching Minnie and Daisy pajamas (they love all things Minnie Mouse!); Hannah got horses (of course!); and Titus got a glow-in-the-dark Triceratops (only because I couldn’t find a T-Rex).

img_6026wmLooking cute and cozy in their new jammies! And, hopefully ready for a good night of rest…

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2016 ~ Year In Review

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Dear Family and Friends,

This year, much like every year, was full of joys and trials. But, through it all, Lord has given us many reasons to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks!

January – Jason continued a tradition that he started a couple of years ago at our church. At the beginning of each year, he preaches a special series of sermons for the purpose of “Strengthening Grace.” This year, he taught on some of the key elements of the church. It fit in so well with his ongoing series in the book of Acts. He has also been teaching a Sunday School class on the Doctrine of God, and leading our church’s monthly men’s study. In addition to his preaching and teaching responsibilities, counseling, discipling, performing weddings, and developing new ministries and leadership have kept him more than a little busy! In order to keep up with everything (between church and a young, growing family), we had to make the hard decision to eliminate our midweek service this year. But, we are eagerly looking forward to its return this coming year…along with a new children’s program!

img_9030cfm-copyFebruary – Titus turned 4 on February 7th! We celebrated with a Monster Truck-themed party with a few of his friends from church. Superheroes, Transformers, and monster trucks are his newest obsessions. He often tells me that he wants to be a monster truck driver when he grows up. And, he has already promised us all a ride! He is in Kindergarten this year! He is still young, so, I know I should say that our plan is to go slow and keep it simple…but, it’s not. He is not having any of that. He loves school! I thought some of his first-day enthusiasm would have worn off by now, but he continues to amaze me with his eagerness and hard work each day. He asks for more work than I have planned. He is disappointed when his schoolwork is completed for the day. And he has been known to cry when I tell him that we don’t do school on Saturdays. Reading is his favorite subject, and he loves practicing his new skill by sounding out everything he can get his hands (and eyes!) on! He has become very responsible, remembering and diligently doing his chores each morning. He loves his sisters, even if he does show it by alternating between terrorizing them and being their best buddy. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how young he really is, because he is growing up so fast!

img_9015cfm-copyMarch – We celebrated Rachel’s first birthday on March 23rd! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a one-year-old so into opening presents! She thoroughly enjoyed every single moment of her party…just like she does everything. This girl has brought so much joy to our family this year with her sweet smiles and silly antics. She started walking shortly before her first birthday, and has recently mastered climbing the stairs! (Going down is still a bit of a work in progress!) She rarely sits still, but, when she does, she is a cuddle-bug. And, she gives the best hugs! She loves being outside, coloring, play dough, all things Minnie Mouse, and playing dolls with Hannah. She shares a room with her big sister, Rebekah, and it is so sweet to hear them talking and singing together before they go to sleep. Her vocabulary seems to grow each day. And, even after 4 kids, I still treasure each new each new word and sentence. She greets me each morning with a big smile and a loud “Peek-boo!” She rarely says yes. Instead, she always responds in the affirmative with an enthusiastic “Sure!” But, I think my favorite is hearing her sweet prayers before bed and mealtimes. We look forward to seeing these simple prayers grow into a true faith and obedience in the years to come.

April – At the beginning of the month, we had the privilege of having John and Janie Street out to speak at our church’s annual Bible Conference. They taught on “Parenting for the Long Run.” As always, it was wonderful to see them, and sit under their wise, biblical teaching again.

img_9035cfm-copyAlthough we had to delay the celebration a few times, due to illness, we celebrated Hannah’s 11th birthday this year! Of course, she handled the delays graciously, with a maturity far beyond her 11 years. She is our sweet, creative, dreamer. She loves to write stories, draw pictures, and make cards for her friends and siblings. She is in 6th grade this year, which I am told is considered “middle school” here in Texas (but, that just sounds a little too much like junior high). Her favorite subject continues to be science (Zoology), because, in her words, “we are finally studying land animals!” Her favorite land animals are horses…which we will begin studying shortly after the new year. But, she has already checked out every book our library has on the topic of horse care and training, dreaming of someday getting one of her own! Her grandparents gave her a day of “horse camp” for her birthday. She spent a Saturday at a local stable, where she got to ride and groom a real horse! Even cleaning the stalls could not make her enormous smile disappear! I think it was the highlight, not only of her year, but of her life! She has also joined a homeschool band, and is learning to play the flute. She seems to be a natural, and absolutely loves it! She is currently preparing for her first concert, which is coming up this week! She is a wonderful big sister, and continues to be a capable and willing helper. She cares for her siblings, and works hard at the many things she is asked to do around the house. But, her favorite place right now seems to be in the kitchen. She loves learning how to cook and bake! And, we all got to enjoy the results of her hard work when she made a delicious chocolate chip-pecan pie for Thanksgiving – all on her own.

May – Just before Rachel’s birthday, we were thrilled to learn that we were expecting another little one to join our family in November, around Thanksgiving Day. But, sadly, we miscarried just before Mother’s Day. My mom was very sweet to fly out here to help us as I recovered. And despite the circumstances, it was a special blessing to spend Mother’s Day with her. At the end of May, some complications landed me in the emergency room. Although it was a difficult time, both physically and emotionally, and my recovery was slow, through it, the Lord used it to allow us to address some other health issues, and I am feeling better than I have in years!

June – In addition to my health issues, we all spent about 2 months fighting what seemed like a never-ending cycle of illnesses. There were too many sleepless nights to count, mountains of laundry, multiple prescriptions, and several visits to the doctor’s office and urgent care. It did end…eventually. And, we were even able to enjoy a visit with Veronica’s parents, sister, and our nephew/cousin. But, this time definitely made us all very thankful for our normally good health, and for the help and care of our church and family! People brought meals, cleaned our house, and watched sick children while we took others to the doctor. Jason’s dad even rescued Titus and me after we got stranded in a downpour and flooded streets on our way to (yet another) doctor’s appointment!

July – Everyone recovered in time to enjoy our first real vacation! Well, I guess it was really more of a “stay-cation,” since we didn’t go anywhere. But, we rested, and visited the park and splash pad, and took care of a few projects around the house. It was perfect!

img_9056cfm-copyAugust – Jason and I celebrated our 15th anniversary. The celebration really was quite simple. More than anything, it was an opportunity to reflect on, and thank the Lord for the life, the children, and the ministry that the Lord has given us so far.

September – We started our 7th year of homeschooling! It has been quite the puzzle trying to figuimg_5812wmre out how to fit in all we want, and need to do each day. This year, I am teaching 6th grade, Kindergarten, and Pre-School…while simultaneously trying to keep a 1-year-old (constructively!) entertained. At the same time, I am also trying to get everyone to weekly band practice (during naptime!), grocery shopping, keeping track of the giant stacks of library books we check out each week, potty training, feeding growing children 3 (or more!) times a day, and attempting to keep the resulting piles of laundry and dishes under control! My days, and hands, are definitely full! Some days, it miraculously all gets done. Other days are a little (or, a lot!) crazy. The good days are sweet reminders of graciously answered prayers. The chaotic ones are too, but, they are also vivid reminders of God’s patience with His children, and opportunities to rely on His grace and strength when my own is severely lacking.

img_9022cfm-copyOctober – We celebrated Rebekah’s 3rd birthday! I think her favorite present was the bouquet of balloons from her party. She sang about them for a week! This little girl loves music! She loves to sing, dance, and pretend to play all sorts of instruments (but especially the flute, like her big sister!). Rebekah is equal parts sweetness and spunk. She is very compassionate, and it just breaks her little heart to see anyone sad or hurt. She is always the first to offer a hug when one of her friends or siblings is upset. And, she is our family cheerleader, and can often be heard encouraging her brother or sisters (or mom and dad!) with a hearty “Good job!” when they finish a chore, or project. She has joined us for pre-school this year, and is having fun with her own lessons, as well as listening in on a few her brother’s and sister’s. But, since she doesn’t like to sit still for too long, we are keeping things simple and fun for her this year. She would much rather be outside, “fwinging” (swinging), climbing up the slide, going to the park, riding her scooter or tricycle, and catching lizards or butterflies.

November – On Thanksgiving, we got to enjoy a visit with Jason’s aunt, uncle, and grandmother. And, Rachel got to meet her Great-Grammy! The 3 older kids helped make our Thanksgiving desserts! It was so fun to work alongside them, and to see their excitement to share the pies that they helped to make.

December – This month has already been busy with school, band and choir practices, fellowship with friends, and fun preparations for Christmas – at church and at home!

At times, this year has looked very different than what we would have liked. But, as we reflect on all that took place – the sweet and happy moments, as well as the sad times – it was a year marked by the grace, the mercy, and the providence of a sovereign, loving God. And, as a new year lies before us, we continue to rest and rejoice in the steadfast goodness and faithfulness of our Lord.

We pray that He would be the source of your joy and hope this Christmas, and in the year to come.

By His Grace,

img_9039cfm-copyJason, Veronica, Hannah, Titus, Rebekah, & Rachel Whitley

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Politics and Religion

“…the power to bring righteousness to this country does not now and will never reside in public office.” –John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You (pg. vii)

I have always said that it is a good thing that God saved me, or I probably would have become some sort of feminist political activist. I actually love politics. I love a good debate. And, I love this country.

But, more than that, I love the Lord. My ultimate allegiance is not to an earthly kingdom (or republic, if we’re being technical). It is to Christ, and His kingdom.

And, my behavior, both during this election cycle, and beyond, in the wake of its results, has to reflect that.

I was a Cruz for President supporter before Ted Cruz was officially running for President. And, to be honest, I still am. I wish with everything in me that I could cast my vote for him tomorrow.

I have been asked a number of times, how I respond to Ted Cruz’s ultimate endorsement of Donald Trump. This is how I have answered:

I fully agree with Cruz’s exhortation, at the Republican Convention, to “vote your conscience.” And, especially as it concerns Christians, I still believe that is the best choice. (Even if “voting your conscience” means that the person you choose to cast your vote for is a write-in, or third party candidate.)

Because, I firmly believe that if more Christians had voted according to their consciences, and Christian convictions, we would not be in the mess that we currently find ourselves.

In all honesty, I do not like that Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump. But, I greatly respect him for doing so.

Wait. What?

Yes. I respect him for endorsing Donald Trump.

He gave his word that he would support the eventual Republican nominee. And, he did. That is integrity. That is a man who keeps his word. And that I respect.

However, just because I respect him, does not mean that I agree with him. Frankly, there are a number of people that I greatly respect, that I strongly disagree with right now.

“It is very surprising, and sad to hear so many Christ-followers talking like we have a “line item veto” in the voting booth. Does anyone really believe you can vote for something about the person, but not the person? Can we really believe we can vote for a candidate’s stand on one issue, but cross out that candidate’s character, behavior, past views, or immoral behavior? Nowhere does the ballot give that option. And frankly, nowhere does Scripture allow us to separate behavior and beliefs from the person. Biblically we are whole beings. Being partly right doesn’t equate to being right. When you vote for a person you are siding with all they are, like it or not. To think otherwise is to rationalize your support based on their hypocrisy.” –David Hegg

I have not kept my concerns about Donald Trump a secret. Like many, I have, what I believe, are very real, very serious concerns, about him, about his character, about his integrity, and about a future presidency with him at the helm.

As Christians, we can, and evidently do disagree about this. But, we should (according to Scripture) be able to do so lovingly, kindly, and respectfully. And, we absolutely must do so without giving the watching, unbelieving world an opportunity to speak ill of Christ.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” –Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

You will not hear me questioning your salvation for voting for Trump. Who I cast my vote for does not equate, or invalidate, my salvation.

You will not hear me gleefully saying “I told you so” after the election if he does not keep his word. (Or, should Hillary win, I will not say “I told you so” when she does exactly what she has said she will do.) In fact, if Trump should win, I desperately hope I am wrong about him. I hope that you will be able to say to me “I told you so.”

You will not hear me mocking your choice, or your convictions. Whether you vote for Trump, Johnson, McMullin, Castle, or Hoefling. Believe it or not, while I may disagree, I genuinely understand why you might think this is your only choice. I even understand if you feel the need to sit out the top ticket race. (But, please, please, be informed, and vote in every other race on your ballot!)

I will not “unfriend” anyone (online or in real life) for voting differently than I do. I dare say, the majority of my friends are voting differently than I am. For my part, I still consider them friends, and fellow believers.

But, I have to say, I have lost a great amount of respect for the way some Christians have handled each other in this.

principlesThis cartoon. Oh, this cartoon. The mocking, insulting tone of this one, little cartoon has quite possibly made me angrier than almost anything else I’ve seen this election season. Why? Because, it has been posted by a number of people, many of whom want others (especially other Christians) to respect their decisions on a host of issues, based solely on the fact that their choice was made on the basis of their “principles” and “convictions”: Homeschooling. Birth control. Family size. Entertainment. Vaccination.

No. That, my friends is hypocrisy. Plain and simple. Principle and conviction is either a valid reason for making a choice or it isn’t.

Please, do not mock and belittle a fellow believer for truly seeking to honor their biblically informed conscience in this matter.

And then there is the mentality that says (in response to someone using a third-party vote to say “I told you so.” to Trump supporters),

“Of course if Hillary wins and our freedom to preach the Word is taken away, we can say ‘I told you so’ to the traditional Republican voter other who wrote in someone or voted 3rd party.”

Really? Really?!?!

This medium cannot accurately convey the incredulity that I feel at this statement. Should Hillary Clinton win, and effectively abolish our personal and religious freedoms your concern is going to be saying “I told you so.” to someone – a fellow brother or sister in Christ – who chose to vote differently than you did?

Again, I ask, really?

Christian, please, use the privilege and the voice that we have been given in this country. But, do so in love. Please, do not use your voice, or your vote to guilt, mock, or belittle others into your way of thinking. Use it to speak for those who cannot – for the vulnerable, the weak, the unborn. Vote for your children, or your grandchildren. Vote your (biblically informed) conscience.

But, do not believe for a minute that the ultimate hope and change for our nation hinges on your vote. It doesn’t.

 …for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” –Daniel 4:34b-35 (ESV)

 Regardless of who I vote for, who wins, and who loses tomorrow, God is still on His throne, still in control. It is not a cliché. It is not a platitude. It is the truth.

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”Job 42:2 (ESV)

Christian, now is the time use that faith you are so proud of.

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Birthday Balloons

pageRebekah’s Little Einsteins Birthday Party

IMG_5763wm{Rebekah and her BFF, Sophia}

We celebrated our 3-year-old Rebekah with her grandparents, and our sweet friends from church.

IMG_5713wm

Second to Minnie Mouse, her favorite show is The Little Einsteins. She could watch the episode, “Birthday Balloons” on repeat! (And, ahem, has on occasion.) So, since she likes to pretend that she is Annie, we created a party based (very loosely) on that theme.

Lunch was, by request of the birthday girl, hot dogs. (I put them in the crock pot before church, on low, and they were ready to eat when we got home!)

IMG_5723wmMy one moment of creativity: I recycled a (Pinterest-inspired) idea from Rachel’s Ladybug Party, and made Leo’s Conducting Batons. Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods, with star shaped sprinkles, because one of Annie’s Birthday Balloons was a star!

The cake… Rebekah just likes cake. It really doesn’t matter what flavor…just as long as it’s cake. So, getting her to pick a flavor was difficult. But, she eventually settled on chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting. (Which, conveniently matched up with the Little Einsteins episode that our party was based on!)

IMG_5750wmI assembled the cake before we left for church, and, while my lack of cake decorating skills have been well documented here on the blog, this was a new low. It didn’t go well…at all. To put it mildly. The top layer began to crack while I was frosting it. And, there was not enough frosting in the house to glue it back together.
But, in the end, it tasted good.

IMG_5754And, Rebekah was thrilled.  Because, cake.

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She got some fun gifts from her friends, and her grandparents.

IMG_5725wmBut, I think her favorite gift was the bouquet of balloons.
We tried to duplicate Annie’s balloons…and she loved it!!

 Happy 3rd Birthday, Rebekah!

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Happy 3rd Birthday, Rebekah!

Happy 3rd Birthday, Rebekah!

Happy Birthday, my sweet little Bekah-Bug!

As a newborn, you seemed to look around at our crazy family and wonder what we had gotten you into. But, you fit in to the chaos, and add to it, just perfectly.

You are my sweet, spunky little Bekah-Bug. I love that you have your own style, and your own (very strong!) opinions. From what you want to wear (all Minnie Mouse, all the time!), to how you love to climb up the slide. You are all girl, and love all things Minnie Mouse, pretending to bake muffins and cakes, and all sorts of goodies, and taking care of your baby dolls. But, you also love to run, play in the dirt, and ride your scooter, and catch bugs and lizards with your brother.

So far, you continue to be the only not-morning person of the group. It takes you a little longer than your siblings to get going in the mornings, and you definitely do not like to be woken up. But, once you do wake up, you are full of energy, and smiles, and ready to go! And go, and go, and go… You officially stopped napping this past year, which has curbed some of your night owl tendencies. But, you still love laying in bed, singing at the top of your little lungs, and chatting with (or at) Rachel. And, I think it is absolutely adorable when you cry because your little sister fell asleep before you. You just love her company.

You are our family cheerleader. You always have a sweet smile and hug for everyone. And, you always give your brother and sisters a sincere “Good job!” when they complete a task, or try something new. You have grown into such a sweet big sister! You comfort and entertain your little sister with a surprising amount of patience! And, I love how you look up to your big brother and sister. You think everything they do is just amazing…and of course, you want to do it too.

I pray that you would grow to love and serve the Lord with the passion, enthusiasm, determination, and spirit that you put into everything you do.

Happy Birthday, my sweet Rebekah. I love you.

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