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Valentine’s Day Family Traditions : Part 1

Four years ago I had an idea.
An idea that was a bit spur of the moment; as is obvious by the scrapbook paper patterns used to bring this vision to life. No red hearts, pink stripes or glittered sweethearts were in the craft closet that day.

At the time, I had a 9, 8, 6 and 4 year old. Valentine’s Day was fast approaching and I knew I wanted to begin to create meaningful traditions for our children around this day.
I’ve always had a fond adoration of this celebration most frequently known for expressing love for others; and I wanted to develop in them a similar appreciation.
Normal sibling spats had begun to occur and our children had a propensity for pointing out the faults of their “live in roomies”, rather than dishing out words of encouragement. (Can all the Moms give a collective “Amen?”)

I wanted to work towards switching their perspectives- to help them see more good in each other, to recognize each other as gifts from God and to develop a sense of comradery. AND I also wanted to create a tradition of showering one another with words of affirmation.
So, I grabbed a stack of 12×12 paper (that stash I have in case I ever find time to scrapbook again), constructed two large hearts for every family member, applied a little glue, punched two holes, laced some twine through each and added name tags. I stuffed a stack of bright white index cards into the nearest cute container and called the children into the dining room for the big “unveiling.”
As they trickled in one by one, I carefully hung their respective heart in the window, showing that they each contained a pocket that we would soon begin filling with blessings.
It was like a covert mission, I told them: “Slip in as quiet as a mouse, write a note of kindness and drop it into a heart for someone in our family.”
This added element of secrecy made the buy-in pretty easy!

For sure, it was an idea quickly executed- but I knew if it stuck, it could deeply impact the hearts of my children.
Here’s why:
Proverbs 16:24 says, 
Kind words are like honey—
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. NLT

Oh how I love that passage of Scripture and the visual image it helps me share with my children. All 4 of them can resonate with the sweetness of honey to their lips. They can watch the golden yellowy syrup oozing from the container, so thick and sticky. And they can begin to see how their words can have the same qualities. A simple gesture of a handwritten or spoken word can indeed sweeten someone’s day. As these positive and kind thoughts come out, they seep into the recipient’s heart; blessing and encouraging their very souls.
So, we watched and we waited, to see if this would stick.
And it did.

I would catch my littles at the table writing and my heart would nearly explode. They made their way in and out of the dining room more times than I could count, slipping those simple 4×6 cards into the hanging hearts. Before long, the pockets were bursting at the seams with kindness and blessings.
Then, on Valentine’s Day they finally got to taste the sweetness of those words.

You could almost sense the fullness of their hearts, just by gazing into their sparkling eyes.
And that’s when I knew- this was a tradition that would be around for a very long time.

Now, my children are 13, 12, 10 and 8. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, they’ve already asked for those same hearts to be hung up again.
I thought by now I would have made a newer, cuter version…but I just can’t.
These 6 hearts have become just as much of the tradition, as the words that will soon fill them.
In fact, I’m already counting down the days until we’ll sit around the table- reading, reflecting and rejoicing in words that are as sweet as honey!
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Click to download our Valentine’s Spread Love Leave a Note Sign?

 

February 1, 2018 - 9:45 pm

Valentine’s Family Traditions : Part 2 | annie agarwal photography | Buford, Georgia Photographer - […] not really sure how this tradition began, but much like the secret notes I shared about last week, this one stuck too! It must have been somewhere in the mix of juggling […]

January 29, 2018 - 3:20 pm

Annie - Thanks so much Jaime!!

January 25, 2018 - 12:50 am

Jaime - Love this idea!

How Our Family is Jumping Into The New Year

It’s true that the beginning of the new year is fresh with possibilities and simultaneously covered in a sea of resolutions that will likely sink come February 1st.
Workout everyday.
Read the Bible for 60 minutes each morning.
Eat veggies, not chocolate.
You aren’t alone- we were those people too.
But it didn’t take long to settle back into old habits.
And every time, we collectively felt like we failed.
So, a few years ago, we came at January 1 with a new approach.
Instead of unachievable goals, we decided that forward motion was a win.
We narrowed down our lists and opted for things that connected with the larger overarching theme of growth.
Exercise to be healthy.
Read our Bible every day.
And yes, eat more vegetables.
But still, that left us a little flat. We wanted more.
We wanted to start off our new year with excitement and deeper purpose and that’s when we adopted the single word strategy.
I’m sure you’ve heard it or maybe even done it yourself, but we decided to take it to the family.
Sitting around the dinner table, we considered our previous year, thought about our highs and lows and narrowed down some areas that needed to be strengthened.
Then we picked not only a word, but a verse to hide in our hearts together as a family.
2017 brought about a conversation about the power of our words and we decided on the trendy phrase LIT (because it made all 4 kids smile) as a way to instill this virtue.
Only use LIT words when speaking to others:
L– life giving
I– inspiring
T– tender
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 NIV
For 12 months, I could utter “use LIT” words or the simple phrase “life or death” and my children would instantly know they needed to get their words into check. (And yes, they were also allowed to remind the parental units, respectfully of course.)
Was it a perfect plan?
No.
But did it bring forward motion and progress and growth?
Yes.
So this year, we deliberated again.
We felt like over the past 12 months we’ve been leaning into the peace that the Lord provides, but haven’t as quickly been focusing on the individual peace we have the opportunity to bring to our home. The move surely had something to do with that, as emotions have been more like roller coaster rides with everyone just waiting for their own turn in the seat.
Sure, we’ve grown closer as a result of the transition to a new state, but there is still work to be done.
We settled on PEACE for our word of the year and felt like James 3:18 was the encouragement we needed to revisit for the next 365 days.
And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18
Plant Peace” is quickly becoming my favorite new phrase to rattle off these days!
To make it super practical for all of our children, here are a few things we are implementing: 
PRACTICE: We each take turns reciting the passage (from memory) on Saturday mornings over pancakes (and any other day of the week we need the gentle nudge)
TALK: We talk about it daily; in car lines and grocery stores and wherever else our feet may take us
SHOW: We display the word and verse in various places
*On the door that leads into our home, so every time we are walking through the garage heading inside we are reminded of our commitment to Jesus and our family
               *In a frame on the kitchen counter, because it’s the most frequented room in our home (hello, teenage boys)
CELEBRATE GROWTH– We spend time during family devotions talking about our progress, because that’s really the point of this all- forward motion.
We know we can’t have perfect years or perfect families; but we do serve a perfect God who desires the best for each of us.

And we believe that as we seek to honor Him through this simple exercise, He will grow us to be more like Him with each passing day…365 of them to be exact!

 

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Do you have a unique approach to starting off the New Year with your family? 
January 22, 2018 - 7:55 pm

Annie - Thank you! We are excited to see how He uses this during our year to grow our character to be more like His!

January 20, 2018 - 12:12 am

Polly - What a fabulous idea. May God richly bless your family!

winter : a season of the heart || buford snow day

We left the familiar on a hot July morning, when the Florida heat was blazing, the humidity was strong and though it was summer, our hearts surely felt like it was anything but.
As we traveled the road between our new home and the place where we’d left our hearts behind, the children tried to entertain themselves with walkie talkies and chapter books, giving attention to anything but the heaviness in their souls.
For weeks they had dreaded this moment and there wasn’t much to excite them or calm their fears.
But there was talk of snow.
Yes. Snow.
A strange topic of conversation in the middle of summer, especially for these little Floridians.
The four of them would dream about the possibilities they’d heard, of blankets of white covering open spaces and days off from school.
For weeks, maybe even months after moving, it was the only positive they could find in a sea of difficult changes. We would catch glimpses of smiles and hope, as they considered what it would be like to wake up to something so beautiful.
We gently braced our brood for reality, encouraging them not to get their hopes up, all while secretly praying that the Lord would grant them this one little slice of joy in the midst of their heartache.
For the first few months we continued the mundane tasks of life in a new place… routines began to fall into place, fears of new schools began to diminish with each passing day and we tenderly nudged their hearts to settle down.
But it was hard.
For all of us.
And even though we’d found ourselves out of Summer and transitioning into Fall, our hearts continued to feel as though we were smack dab in the dead of Winter.
It felt heavy and dark, we longed for the warmth deep friendships provided and for the security that comes from feeling like you belong.
Instead, it felt cold and stagnant. We were surviving, but wanting more.
The late turning of the leaves, ushered in Winter a bit quicker than we expected and suddenly we found our hearts matching the dreary landscape we could see through our window panes.
We kept pressing on. Praying hard. Seeking Jesus. Asking for His help and hope, joy and peace, for new friendships and redefined purpose…and yes, snow.
And then it happened.
I had joined Eden on a bowling field trip with her 5th grade class and as the balls were rolling steadily down the lanes, soft white streaks slowly began dancing down from the sky.
I will never forget the look in her eyes when I moved her gaze from what was in front of her, to what was happening just beyond the doors of that alley.
Honestly, that’s what we’d all been trying to do since July- to look beyond the hard spots right in front of us and to focus on what was to come- to see beauty and purpose and joy in the waiting.
Waiting.
It took 5 months of waiting.
But my kids, they got their snow.
It came down so quickly and with such intensity, schools let out early and we got an entire afternoon to run and slide, to build snowmen and make snow angels, to smile and laugh and forget all the worry that had been residing in our hearts.
We were present with one another and content with the exact place God had us.
You see, it may seem silly- but that snow- it was more than just stellar precipitation.
It was a gift.
And we didn’t just unwrap it as a family. We savored it and we thanked The Giver.
Our family needed this day, we needed this moment.
Our children needed to build a strong happy memory in their new home and this was unlike anything we could have concocted on our own.
It was life giving.
A few days later, our oldest piped up on a trip to the grocery store, “Mom, that snow day was the most fun I’ve ever had with you in my entire life; and it was the best day we’ve had since moving!”
And a lump formed in my throat.
“Perhaps, buddy if we had one awesome day here, there are many, many more to follow. Let’s just keep looking beyond and trusting in what God is doing.”
For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

 

What we’ve learned in this season of Winter:

1) God is always with us, even when we can’t see or feel Him- HE IS THERE!
2) You can always foster a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving, even when things are tough.
3) Love others well, especially the people inside your four walls. They are gifts from above and should be treated as such. Circumstances will change, but these blessings are constant.
4) Winter is a season. Spring is coming.

Are you in a season of winter? Here are a few ways to “look beyond:”
Pray. Not just a quick, once a day prayer- but moment by moment as needed. Some of my richest prayers, and subsequently, my deepest spiritual growth has often come during a “winter season.”
Memorize a few verses that will bring you comfort and remind you God is in control. A few of our family favorites:
Psalm 56:3 But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. (NLT)
Psalm 94:19 When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer (NLT)
Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (NLT)
Wait with purpose. If you’re looking forward to a new season, but just waiting for it to come, step out of idleness and step into activity. Get focused on Jesus and then go do something! Invest in someone. Meet with someone (even a new friend) for coffee. Serve in your church or with a local ministry. Considering others and their lives, gives you perspective and can help you shift your attitude during your own season of winter.

Know someone who is in a season of winter (maybe it’s not a move, but a significant loss, a dream shattered, a longing unfulfilled)?
Here are a few easy and practical ways to minister to their hearts:

Pray for them and then let them know. Nothing warms a heart more than an email, text, phone call or handwritten note from a loved one who has lifted you up.
Listen. Especially if it’s your child(ren). And listen not to solve a problem, but to hear the hurt.
Invite them over for dinner, bake them cookies or leave a bouquet of flowers on their doorstep. Small tokens like these build strong bonds over time and help scatter both sunshine and love to those with weary hearts.
Check in on them, as the Lord prompts your heart; but also on a regular basis. It’s ok to schedule it on your calendar so you don’t forget! Your consistent care and attention to their hurts will speak volumes to their hearts!
Celebrate with them when they have a “winter breakthrough!”
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How have you grown through a season of Winter or how has someone ministered to your heart during a time like this?

abbie’s senior session || tampa senior photographer

Even if I tried, there wouldn’t be sufficient words to explain how precious this young lady is to all of those who know her! She radiates joy, has a deep passion for the Lord, is a strong leader and is quite literally going to change the world!

She’s
Kind.
Thoughtful.
Intelligent.
Loyal.
Compassionate.
Hard working.
Generous.
Intentional.
Gracious.
Faithful.
(and an avid reader)
And this is just the beginning!

It’s crazy that the last time she was solo in front of my camera, she was twirling in a pink and purple tutu, probably still in her single digit years. Fast forward to now, with thousands of memories in between and Abbie is a senior, about to step into the dreams God has placed on her heart.

What an incredible honor to document this moment in her life and what an even deeper honor to call her friend.
Abbie, you are such a beautiful young lady, with a heart of gold. My deepest prayer for you, is that you always stay rooted in Christ and that you follow hard after Him in this and every season of your life. I truly can’t wait to see all that HE has in store for you!

 

January 12, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Patricia Hardesty - Abbie you are so very beautiful, I know you are very strong in your following of God and his words, and he will always be a guiding light for your path into your future. So very proud of you, the very Spiritual young lady that you are. God Bless you Abbie as you go forward into the future.

Love & Hugs

Aunt Pat

New Year – New Thoughts // Reflections

Six months ago, to this very day, I stepped into our new home for the first time- and by first time, I mean just that. You see, with a husband living in a different state for a few months, conducting the house search on his own, I had only seen the space via FaceTime. Want to talk about a faith growing experience for a super particular, attention to detail perfectionist? I didn’t even fully understand the floor plan based on that super choppy cell phone adventure, so crossing the threshold on July 5th, was both exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

Yet, I knew that this house was the one the Lord had hand selected for our family. He had made that abundantly clear. So while there was so much unknown about this move, one thing was for sure- we could rest in the confidence that He had called us here and provided a place for us to make our own; a dwelling that even met all of our children’s desires (hello, basement and big back yard)!
The walls in this house have surely heard a lot over the past 6 months, as we’ve all adjusted to life in unfamiliar territory. Inevitably, there have been tears and stressful conversations; but mostly I hope that what sticks are all the prayers. The down on your knees kind. The ones offered up when we’ve each found ourselves in a quiet space, a closet, a room- and fallen down asking God to continue to make us brave, to continue guiding and directing our steps, to help us navigate with our children all of the emotional struggles of relocating. The prayers lifted up from under bed covers when tears were flooding down cheeks and hearts were simply broken.
Prayers.
They are powerful and over the past 6 months, surely those conversations with our Heavenly Father have sustained us; they have carried us day to day, from one new thing to the next.
They have reminded us that alone, we can do nothing- but WITH HIM and THROUGH HIM, we can, because He will. His Word and His Unfailing Love have brought comfort and peace in ways that we simply can not explain.
But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    yes, I prayed to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
    my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 18:6
And now, after a ten day Christmas break in Florida, coming back to Georgia oddly felt like coming home. We crossed over the threshold again, but this time it was different. We entered and breathed a sigh of relief to see and smell and walk into the familiar. Sure, there are days where we still wonder, days where we miss the old; but there’s a fresh sense of hope in our hearts. We’re looking forward to this new year, to adventures waiting to happen, to dreams that will be uncovered and friendships that will be fostered. We’re also expectantly waiting on the Lord to bring clarity to areas that need it and contentment when we long for what once was comfortable.
A new year. 
A world of fresh possibilities. 
Jesus, our prayer is that these next 12 months would honor You!
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As you look ahead, what’s your prayer for the New Year?