Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Once a Teacher...

I have been a teacher since my youth (just ask my younger sister-my sole pupil for many years!), and I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to pursue a career in public education for 6 1/2 years in Georgia. Although I am now staying home full-time with my boys, it's not surprising that I've wanted to keep my foot in the door with teaching. Thankfully, I've been able to do that with Redeemer's afterschool tutoring ministry since moving to Jackson over 2 years ago.

Redeemer has had an afterschool program for many years now, and when I first moved here, I was able to get involved with curriculum development. My friend Christina and I now co-lead the program, which is a huge blessing. She handles the administrative duties since she has a business background, and I handle the curriculum for our K-6th graders, as well as tutor training.

We currently have 24 students and 24 tutors who meet weekly during the school year to work on reading. It's been amazing to see how the students have improved with this one-on-one help. I get the priviledge of reading with each student to assess their reading level, so I get a first-hand look at how they have improved throughout the year.

I love this ministry dearly, and it has been a great door for families in our community to become a part of our church. I also love how this ministry is gospel centered in that the students get to hear a Bible lesson prepared by our awesome Bible teachers (Mrs. Beth & Mrs. Betsy) each week.

Last week we had a really fun Christmas party. The students got to decorate sugar cookies, make ornaments, drink hot cocoa, and listen to the Christmas story. Let's just say this teacher-nerd had a little too much fun creating a centers/rotation schedule for the event...ah, once a teacher, always a teacher!

Check out some pics of the party:

Making some ornaments!

Zoe & Mary Claire having some fun

Bible lesson with Mrs. Beth

Johnny & Thompson enjoying some hot cocoa

Friday, December 2, 2011

Giddy up! Evan's three!

Last week, Evan turned three years old! We celebrated with a Backyardigans/cowboy birthday party (got the idea from free online printables- check it out, moms, for some cute, creative, FREE stuff!) at his favorite local park with some of his friends from church. Thankfully the rain held off just long enough for our cookout/play time!

I planned to upload some pictures of the party tonight, but I just saw that my sister uploaded pics to her blog today (and her camera is MUCH better than mine), so please take a minute to check it out! Thanks for saving me some time, sis :).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Farm Family

Last year, Evan cried when he had to wear his costume to our church's fall festival. This year, he was thrilled that he got to wear his costume twice (school & church) and practically dragged us out the door to get to the "Halloween party" as he called it. Since both of our little ones were farm animals (cow & horse respectively), Ryan & I thought it would be fun to dress up (and I use that term loosely) as the farmer & farm lady (as Evan referred to me). We had a great time!

Levi's not too sure about having a cow for a brother!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Melt My Heart

The past few weeks have been a bit tough around here living with & disciplining a moody almost three year old...but then, when you least expect it, the clouds break and God gives you an angelic moment to hold on to! That moment happened this morning at our house. Evan woke up a little too early, so he hopped in bed with us for a little bit. He pointed across the room at our wedding photo and said, "Mommy's a princess!"

He wanted to hold the picture, so I handed it to him. He just kept staring at it and saying how mommy was a pretty princess. He didn't even want to get out of bed when we got up. Below is how we left him (and he stayed there, gazing at the picture, for at least 15 minutes!).

Ah, what a sweetheart. I guess we'll keep him.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2nd Anniversary Part 2: Ministry Update

Keeping true to my word in posting Part One, it's time for an update on some of what's been happening in ministry at Redeemer over the past year.

Providential Enounters Revisited

Some of you might remember reading on our first anniversary last year about our very cool encounter with James Meredith, local civil rights leader who integrated Ole Miss in the 1960s. We met him at a local community barbeque, and long story short (read last year's blog for the whole story!), I felt compelled to invite him back to Redeemer for a church service and also to visit our Sunday School class that was studying the book When Helping Hurts, which looks at how we can better serve the poor. Well, imagine my shock when just a few weeks later, who should show up in Sunday school but Mr. Meredith himself?! I pretty much had a little heart attack. He continued to attend our class for several weeks and eventually became a regular attender of worship as well.

Now I want you to understand that I really wanted to write about this way before now, but I felt that it wasn't my place. That might sound odd, but after getting to know Mr. Meredith a little better, I could tell that he was very private about some things, his spirituality in particular, and I felt I needed to respect that privacy. I could tell that God was working in his life, but I didn't really know how much until an interview with Mr. Meredith was published in the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson's local newspaper, last spring. In the article, he expresses how he had wrestled with God his whole life, but finally made peace with God last December. How amazing is that? That happened during the time he was atttending Redeemer, and since he said it himself in the media, I don't feel like I'm overstepping my bounds to share it with you. How cool that God used our church to minister to such an important man in Mississippi's history!

Moving Up & Out

Another really exciting thing happening at Redeemer is our building expansion. We broke ground last spring and should be finished the first of the year. Our building occupies one city block, so architects had to be creative in how they designed our expansion. Basically they built a new shell over our existing sanctuary, then knocked down the interior walls. Our new sanctuary will seat double what it does now, which will be about 650 seats. We are also adding additional classrooms & nursery space. The cool thing is that we're continue to grow despite the construction zone and being crammed into our Fellowship Hall as our temporary sanctuary.

The side of the Sanctuary (note the missing walls!)

Living behind the church while this is going on has been an adventure for Evan for sure. Almost every day I hear the request, "Mommy, let's go look at the tractors!" or "Can I ride on Cranky (the name of the crane in Thomas & Friends)?" Many times we even pray for the tractors. While it has been fun to watch the building going up, I certainly won't miss the noise or layer of dirt on our cars when they're finished!

The back of the church (what we see from our house) and all the bricks about to go up!
There are many, many more cool things happening here at Redeemer, but those stories will have to wait for another day. We count ourselves very blessed to be a part of such a special body of believers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2nd Anniversary Part One: Feeling Settled

It's hard to believe, but this past weekend marks two years since we moved to Jackson, MS, and we can honestly say it's definitely starting to feel like home now. When I was growing up, I moved every two years until I was in middle school. I remember my mom saying that the two year mark was when you just started feeling really settled, so it was always hard to leave at that point to begin anew elsewhere (although it was always a fun adventure, too). I definitely think she was right. We are feeling settled. We love our church, are developing some great friendships, and we have several favorite restaurants (which isn't hard to do with all the great local spots!), a sure sign of being settled, right?

When we first arrived in Jackson, we moved into the church's "intern house" (so named because ministry interns and their families had lived there before) thinking it was just temporary until we sold our home in Atlanta. We even packed our belongings into two categories: things we need right away, and things we'll unpack at our next house in Jackson. Little did we know that the Atlanta housing market would continue its downward spiral, and we would be left with no choice but to rent our house and remain renters here in Jackson.

Two years later, I am attacking the second group of boxes. All this week, I am taking advantage of cooler mornings to vigorously prepare for a fall garage sale to rid us of superfluous things, realizing that less really is more. It's amazing how we've adjusted to a smaller space! Our home here is a small 3 bedroom, one bath (yes, that was an adjustment!), built over half a century ago as a part of a GI neighborhood (now known as Broadmoor) for troops returning from WWII. It's really a cute house with lots of charm, and it's right behind the church. Ryan literally walks to work every day-you can't beat that for a commute!

This new found enthusiasm to simplify and settle in more in our current home comes from many conversations as of late that Ryan & I have had. God has been working in both our hearts to really develop a love for this community where He has called us to serve. Broadmoor is the neighborhood where many of our youth, and almost all of Redeemer's tutoring students, live. We have recently become involved with a new neighborhood association and are getting to know more of the people who live here.  Since we live in the neighborhood where we serve, we often have some of our students stop by to see us, visit, and in some cases, stay for dinner :).

To say that God is working in our hearts concerning the neighborhood should lead you to believe that we weren't so fond of it in the beginning. To be perfectly honest, I was leary of living in Broadmoor when we first moved here because it was quite a change from Hanarry Estates (our old neighborhood) in Lilburn. I certainly didn't feel as safe when I went on walks by myself with the kids due to wandering dogs and random men walking around. In fact, I just stopped going without Ryan or a friend. We often hear of break-ins in our neighborhood, and for the first time in my life I live in a home with an active security system. I could also tell you a few interesting stories involving cops, missing criminals, etc., but that's a whole different post.

Despite these differences, Broadmoor does feel like home now (and don't worry, the street right behind the church is safe and pretty quiet too!). Ryan & I believe that this time we spend living in the community we serve is a gift from the Lord because we are able to better understand those He has called us to minister to. I am currently reading Generous Justice by Tim Keller, which is incredibly practical for our current ministry. Keller does a wonderful job of showing how God's generous grace should lead us to care for the poor and help to bring justice to those in need (I won't even try to explain how Keller makes the argument because he's much better with words than I am, but if this topic interests you at all, READ THIS BOOK!). One of the ways he says true transformation of communities happens is when people actually LIVE in the community with those they are trying to serve. Now I realize this isn't always practical for everyone, but it's cool how God has provided us this rare opportunity. I'll leave some of the ministry details for how this is working out practically in Part me, you'll want to read it to see what God's been up to here in Broadmoor!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fighting Fires

Last night our neighborhood participated in the National Night Out program, which is a part of our neighborhood's crime prevention partnership with the local police department. It was a cook-out where folks got to know their neighbors. Some of Jackson's local fire-fighters showed up with their fire engine trucks for the kids to enjoy. Let's just say that Evan was in little boy heaven!

On another note, you know that adorable stage of babyhood when they become so darn cute that you just want to keep kissing them all day long? Well, Levi (now 6 months old) has officially entered that adorable stage--laughing, smiling, cooing, & drooling non-stop. I just love it! Here's some proof:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day

This week was Evan's first day of "school." Okay, so he's only 2 1/2 (3 in November), and it technically wasn't school but a Mom's Morning Out at a local church (Highland Pres.), but it was still a big deal in our house. This was the first time I've dropped him off somewhere and left the building. I'd say it went pretty well for the both of us. He didn't even want to leave when I went to pick him up (very good sign!). He'll be going on Tuesdays and Thursdays this school year. I'm sure there will be many fun adventures for him at "school" this year.

I couldn't resist a first day shot even though Evan's still not wild about pictures.

I'm sorry, but there's not much cuter than a little person wearing a book bag!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What a weekend!

This past weekend was a special one for our family. Levi was baptized at Redeemer's morning service on Sunday, and that evening was a special church service in honor of Ryan's ordination into the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) after a year long process of examination. The weekend was made extra special by having each of our families in town, as well as our former pastor and his wife, Dave and Jill Seifried.

Levi being baptized by our pastor, Mike Campbell

David, Holly, Gail, P.D. and Jill enjoying Sunday lunch

Our parents and us at Ryan's ordination reception

Evan totally adored his cousin Kyle!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Fun in Hotlanta

It's been awhile since I've blogged...partly because we were out of town for two weeks, and partly because, well, I guess summer mode has kicked in and I've just gotten lazy about it!

Evan, Levi, and I had the priviledge of spending two weeks earlier this month in the Atlanta area visiting friends and fam while Ryan spent two weeks at the beach with the youth group (one week with junior high and one with the high schoolers). Now don't go thinking I braved the 6 hour drive all by myself. My sweet mom flew out to drive back with me (shout out to our family friends, the Thompsons, for providing her with a buddy pass!) so I wouldn't have to manage an infant and a preschooler on my own! The boys did great, but the trip there took 10 hours instead of 6! We paced ourselves to say the least.

Our time in Georgia was wonderful. We spent lots of time near the water since it was in the upper 90s and even got to pet some animals at the Yellow River Game Ranch (very fun!). Check out the fun below:

Levi loves his Aunt Erica & Uncle Matt
(looking tan back from their mission trip to Nicaragua!)

Celebrating Poppy's bday at Chili's

Evan showing some love to the bunnies
at Yellow River Game Ranch

Nana and Levi hanging out poolside

All the cousins enjoying the kiddie pool

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bob and Larry

Evan, like many preschoolers around, has a slight obsession with Veggie Tales. He even has two pint sized stuffed animals of Bob and Larry (thanks to Grammie) that sleep with him every night. So when we received a mailer of a Christian bookstore grand opening featuring an appearance by Bob and Larry, it sounded like the perfect family fun day activity. We were pretty sure our timid son would admire them from a far but be terrified up close. We were not disappointed.

Apparently pint sized stuffed animals is one thing, but a monster sized cucumber and tomato is something else entirely. Who can really blame him?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

First Vacation

Levi took his first trip to Atlanta to visit family a little over a week ago. I was a little nervous about traveling 6 hours by car with a 2 1/2 year old and 12 week old, but the boys traveled surprisingly well! We first went to McDonough to stay with my parents for several days, then we spent the last bit of the week in Decatur with Ryan's side of the family. Because it was so hot, we made sure to spend as much time as we could near cool water! All in all, it was a very nice week with both sides of the family. Levi definitely enjoyed meeting many of his extended family for the first time.
Poppy & Evan, chillin' poolside

The awesome quilt mom made for Levi (her 1st one!)
Aunt Erica getting some laughs from Levi

Nana & Levi
Cousin Fun Time (Lydia, Kyle, & Evan)
Levi & Great-Grandma

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Elusive Green Grass

Lately I've been struck by how easily I can slip into feelings of discontentment, despite how blessed I know I am. One minute I can be enjoying being home with my boys, thankful that I don't have to miss a minute of their rapidly changing lives, and the next, I find myself wishing I had an additional purpose in which I could interact with adults and be affirmed of my work. Both states of mind feel completely real and compelling to me at the time. How is it possible to swing from one perspective to the next so quickly and frequently? Am I suffering from a mommy-brain induced schizophrenia?

Deep down, I know the answers to these questions. It's not limited to the time and place of my life now. Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. How often have I thought, "if only I had ___ (fill in the blank: more time, more friends, more money, a better class of students, a job, children, no job, etc.), then I would be happy"? I know this thought is a lie that the evil one uses to cripple us. The truth is that nothing satisfies my longings for happiness but an intimate relationship with the Lord.

So why do I still struggle with this when I know the truth? Ah, it is the age-old mystery of the battle of the flesh and the spirit. I know that because I am a believer of Christ, I am no longer bound by my sin, however since I am alive in this world, my old sin nature is still a temptation for me. So what's the cure? How can I possibly remain content in a world that is every moment telling me I need something else to be happy (all you've got to do is turn on the TV or read a magazine to see that, folks!)?

I was reminded this morning of the power of God's word through our pastor Mike Campbell's compelling sermon on 1 Peter 1:22-2:3. He gave a great illustration that really brought light to my struggle. He said that we often treat reading the word like we're eating Popeye's spinach. We want a BAM! experience in which we are instantly fit and ready to go. Instead, reading God's word is more like a healthy diet, it affects our lives slowly over time.

Thus, the solution for my tendency to become discontent is to faithfully remain in the word, reminding myself of what is true and constant, believing that His word is living and active and able to transform my life. The transformation will take time, unlike the promises of "3 easy steps to a new you" solutions the world tries to sell us. So if you struggle like me to remain at peace with where God has you right now, turn to God's word for a solid foundation. I'll end with a quote from Charles Spurgeon that my pastor used today. Pretty profound, I think:

The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Like a Weed

Our little Levi will be 10 weeks old on Monday, only, as it turns out, he's not so little! At his two month check up, he weighed 12 lbs. 12 oz, was 23 1/2 inches long, and measured in the 95th percentile for size (big difference from his 25th percentile older brother!). To get a better idea of the difference between the boys, the picture below shows Levi, at 9 weeks old, wearing the same outfit Evan wore for Easter at 5 months old. Looks like Levi might catch up with Evan before too long!

Levi, 9 weeks old

Evan, 5 months old

Friday, April 29, 2011

Evan's BFF

So Evan has a new BFF around these parts, and no, I'm not referring to his new little brother Levi. It seems that Evan has entered the pretending stage of play because his stuffed Elmo is officially his new best friend! Coincidentally, he received this little Elmo the same day he met Levi at the hospital, so at least he's warmed up to one of them (just kidding, he loves Levi too!).  At our house, whatever Evan does, Elmo does: eat a snack, play a game, ride in the car, watch a video, get his nails trimmed, etc. Here's some documentation (Disclaimer: none of the following were staged, except by Evan himself):

Sharing a graham cracker

Evan directing Elmo how to play "Old MacDonald's Farm"

Elmo is clearly enthralled.

Apparently Elmo wanted to play with Levi, too!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter 2011

We celebrated the Lord's resurrection at Redeemer Sunday morning, then in the afternoon we had friends over for an egg hunt and cook out. It was a blast! Here's some pics from the day:

A very happy Levi & Daddy

Mommy & her boys

Evan insisted on wearing his Bob the Builder hat for the hunt.

Pure joy!

Evan chillin' with his buds!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Month Old

It's hard to believe that Levi is already a month old! Here are some recent pics. He really is a little chunk!

Levi's "playtime"
Big brother Evan getting some snuggle time

Levi & Ellie the Elephant

His best pirate impression

Friday, March 25, 2011

Levi's Arrival

Levi Matthew Dean made his grand appearance into the world last week, Monday, March 14th at 9:12 AM. He weighed 7 lbs. 11 oz. and was 21 1/2 inches long. Pretty big compared to his older brother's birth weight of 6 lbs. 2 oz.!
So here's how it all unfolded...

In case you didn't know, my due date was March 7th, which came and went without much fanfare. The plan was that my doctor would let me go a week past my due date and if nothing happened, she would induce me on Tuesday, the 15th. With Evan I had a planned c-section because he was breech, but Levi was not, so I was hoping to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesearan). Statistically, these are most successful when labor is not induced. So...come Sunday evening before my doctor's appointment, I was getting desperate for labor to happen naturally. I decided it was time to listen to the old wives' tales. What did I have to lose?

Ryan and I went on an hour long, fairly brisk walk, and then the whole family went out for some Italian because so many folks had said that eggplant parmesean can induce labor. I order the eggplant and ate every last drop! The next step was supposed to be a foot massage by my lovely husband, but by 9:00 Sunday night, I started having labor contractions. Was it the walk? The eggplant? Or just the fact that I was a week past my due date? Who knows, but I was just so thankful that labor had come on it's own.

I labored at home for 6 hours till those contractions got to the "magic number" (5 minutes apart), and then Ryan and I headed to the hospital at about 3 am while my mom stayed home with Evan. Once I was checked by the doctor, I was already 5 cm, and by the time I was admitted to the labor room and checked at 6 am, I was 8 cm! I did have an epidural at that point (my dr's recommendation due to prior c-section), BUT it didn't quite take all the way, which made for an exciting, and quite painful birth (if that's a 3rd of the pain, bless those natural birth mamas!!). Thankfully everything about the labor went as smoothly as I could have wished for and Levi is completely healthy! Praise the Lord! And I must say that recovery from this delivery is much smoother, especially since I have a two year old to chase after, too!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ministry Amidst Tragedy

Last week, Ryan and I were awakened by an early morning phone call from our pastor informing us that one of our church members, Michael Barranco, had died suddenly in a tragic car accident over night. It's the news no one ever wants to hear and our hearts were broken, not just because our church lost a truly Godly 48 year old man, but also because his family-his wife and three teenage children-lost their loving husband and father. Mr. Barranco's children are all active in our youth group, comprising most of our youth group's Wednesday night band, and Mia, the oldest, is Evan's favorite babysitter. In the short time that we have been in Mississippi, we have come to know and love the whole family.

This tragedy tremendously affected our entire congregation. You see, Michael was involved in many areas of our church. He was the scout leader for our boy scouts troup that ministers to teenage boys both in our church and our neighborhood. Several of the boys from our neighborhood saw Michael as a father figure in their lives and were devastated by the news. He was also very involved in Redeemer's music ministry. That man had soul and could sing so well! He was one of my favorite song leaders on Sundays not only because he was majorly talented (he's been in several blues bands and has even sung jingles for local commercials), but mostly because his love for the Lord was evident in the way he led worship.

Ryan and I had the amazing opportunity to sing at Michael's funeral. The family asked for Ryan to sing the last song Michael had sung at Redeemer Church just two weeks prior. Ryan and Michael had sung it as a duet, so this time, Ryan sang the lead and I harmonized with the choir backing us up as well.

Michael Barranco's funeral had to have been the most amazing one I've ever attended. At the visitation, there was a line wrapping around the block for people waiting to pay their respects to the family. A total of over 1,800 people came that night! His funeral was standing room only in an auditorium that seats 800, and they had to turn people away because there was no more room. His career as an architect in Jackson had earned the respect of many in the city, and he was deeply loved by many people. After hearing all the loved ones and friends share stories of Michael, it was apparent that he never wasted a second of his life and lived it fully for the glory of God.

Please keep the Barranco family in your prayers as they mourn their incredible loss. I know that the Lord will comfort them and hold them close during this difficult time.

If you have a moment, check out the links below:

The first one is of Ryan & Michael singing "All My Praise" together. If you can hear the words, it might give you chills as it did me--"Even in the shadow of death, I will praise you...".

The second post is of the same song performed at his funeral just two weeks later.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ames Day?

When I walked in Evan's room this morning, the first thing out of his mouth was "ames day", which he repeated continuously with a big smile on his face. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what he was saying until we walked into the living room and he pointed at the TV saying "ames day". Then it hit me! He was talking about James Taylor, whom he and Ryan had watched on DVD last night playing guitar at an Eric Clapton guitar festival. Later we turned it back on and below you can see him studying James Taylor's skills (note the folded arms!). Maybe we have a future guitar player on our hands?