May 8, 2016

Thank You to Moms, of All Kinds

A mom . . . a dad . . . approximately 2.5 children. Married, for life. Isn't that what we think a family is? Isn't that what the church has taught for decades, maybe centuries, at this point?

 

Maybe it's time to reconsider this definition. I'm not talking about changing our stance on same-sex marriage. I am talking about the fact that frequently the redeemed families God puts together look NOTHING like the definition of family we just mentioned.

 

It may be a single, elderly mother with a handful of African orphans living in her home. It could be a mom, a dad, a stepmom, and a stepdad - all who love Jesus and love their children and are earnestly working together today to raise their family to love Jesus and further His Kingdom. It could be grandparents raising their grandchildren because the parents are gone. It could be a husband and wife with three children of their own who graft in a single father and his young son desperately in need of the support of a larger family. 

 

It could be a young teenager who found herself pregnant and placed her baby for adoption, a woman that chose to bring this baby - and the automatic, extended relationship with the birthmother - into her family, a father, and two more biological children that were God's surprises after the adoption. 

 

We have so many families - of all shapes and sizes - around us. Yet, time and time again, our judgment is clouded by the preconceptions and biases we have towards a definition of family that may not even be reflected in our own home.

 

As we approach Mother's Day, we find the same thing applies to our definition of mothers. My young boys would probably define a mom as someone who gets married, has babies, and loves their family for the rest of her life. But there are others that would define mothers much, much differently. There are some who would define their "mother" as the woman who chose multiple men over her child. There are some whose definition of mother is the woman who stepped in when no one else was there - there may be no ties by blood or by marriage, but the ties of the heart and the interweaving of the lives leave no doubt of the relationship that exists. There are some mothers whose arms are empty this year because their children are no longer with them. Some of these mothers want children desperately and can not have them. Some of these mothers gave birth to a beautiful baby that was taken way too young. Some of these mothers chose to terminate their pregnancy and only now are they realizing how empty that has left them.

 

Some of these mothers made the best decision they could have made for their child, and they placed those babies in the arms of another mother who had prayed for, hoped for, and longed for that baby. Those brave mamas arms are empty too. There is a special place in their hearts that is empty, too. Unfortunately, the church has neglected these "moms" for a long time. We praise the idea of choosing life. We condemn the choice to end a pregnancy for convenience or out of fear. But we don't talk much about the women who find themselves pregnant and truly not in a position to raise a child well. We shy away from hard discussions about mothers who choose adoption. Our silence and avoidance imply condemnation, intentional or not. We shame the decision, and discourage others who might consider it because of this.

 

Why have we stuck our heads in the sand here? What is it that makes this topic, of all the topics we could avoid, one that seems so easy to ignore? Is it because these women don't fit into our definition of family? Is it easier to focus on the adoptive mother and father with their child and call that a "complete family"? Does it bother our box . . . our definition of family when we suddenly find ourselves with a second mother in the equation?

 

Today, I would ask you what is it that causes us, as the church, to push women to choose life but ignore an entire group of women who have chosen life for their child . . . and then made maybe the most difficult and most courageous choice a mother could ever make - to sacrifice her desire to keep that child by her side and instead do what is best for him by allowing him to be raised in a household where he has been wanted and prayed for, where he will be treasured and raised safely and securely, where he can learn of a God who had a plan for him long before his birth? 

 

Maybe it is time for us to step up as the church and praise these women and their decision. I know these women. These women are brave. These women are tough. These women are anything but selfish. They are the definition of what a mother should be. Think about the environment in which these women have made this decision. It comes with a heavy cost of personal sacrifice. There is no one cheering them on; in fact, many will forget these women ever became mothers. When their belly no longer protrudes and their arms are empty, it will be easy for others to not see the stamp of "MOTHER" imprinted on their heart, but these moms, they don't ever forget. Those babies made them moms, and they remain moms for the rest of their lives. It doesn't matter whether they see the child regularly after the adoption, or never again - they will forever be that child's mother.

 

Isn't it time that we begin to make room for families with TWO mothers or TWO fathers or children who actually have another family but still have a need from this family that God has uniquely placed them in for a season? Can we break out of our rudimentary definitions of things in order to embrace what we see God doing in the people around us?

 

It seems that at times the church is too quick to condemn, vilify and question people who are simply doing what Christ has called the church to do. On Mother's Day, of all days, let us not be THAT kind of church, but let us embrace the moms, of all kinds, in our lives today.

 

April 26, 2016

Look What I Found: Super League Gaming Discount!

I can't even tell my boys about this because they will talk of NOTHING else until this arrives . . . and then maybe NOTHING else again until they find out if they can do it again.

I don't know if you knew this . . . but you can now play Minecraft in a movie theater!


Gamers of all ages will be super excited about this opportunity to participate in this fun, face-to-face social experience. Using the big screen, kids will have a chance to implement superhero-themed maps and mods in a custom Minecraft adventure, Rise of Heroes.

Just bring a laptop with Minecraft 1.9.2 installed. You will be able to play first person on your computer and then connect wirelessly to the Super League server which will put you and everyone else's gameplay up on the big screen. Parents and siblings can attend for FREE and cheer on their favorite gamer.

Your gamer will be able to collaborate and team up with 4-7 other members their own age as they create their own worlds, fight against the elements and others, all while being creative and using their imagination. The teams play for 90 minutes, once a week for four consecutive weeks. In the end, the winning team will even have a chance to split a college scholarship!

The league begins on April 30. Visit this link to find out if there is a location near you. 

Tickets are $60, but you can use the promo code USFAMILY10 to get $10 off. 





December 13, 2015

GREAT Stocking Stuffer Ideas - Order Now!









A Rain Poncho - In Texas, we can use a rain poncho anytime of year. We have gotten lots of rain recently and it probably isn't over unless it gets cold enough to freeze all of the precipitation. These are simple and can range anywhere from simple, plain and inexpensive ($3.95) to a fun, kid-themed, high-end version (the OliveKids poncho pictured that runs just over $20.)

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Exergen Temporal Thermometer - Some of you may find this to be a very, ahem, unique stocking stuffer, but hear me out. As a mom, I know how difficult it is to take a little one's temperature and how much more difficult it is when you don't know what their temperature is because you can't get them to let you take it. I also know how unhappy children are when they already don't feel well and they suddenly have to hold a glass thermometer in the mouth or . . . even worse, somewhere else. For both mother and child, a temporal artery thermometer would be a very welcome stocking stuffer.

Just run it across their forehead and read the output. That's it!

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Do your kids love things with their name on it? Mine do! They love staking their claim over even the tiniest things - like shoes, pencils, bouncy balls, etc. Knowing this, I make it a goal to find things that have their names on them. But with names like Riley, Colt and Weston, I don't find a ton of items pre-printed with their names.

Easy solution to that? StickerYou labels with their names! The great thing is you can upload your own images to even further personalize these sticker labels. Even better, you can also create your own temporary tattoos!! If you have kids under the age of 10, this is right up their alley.

Use promo code 13STICKER to get 13% off your order at StickerYou!

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REAL wooden, colored, pencils! If your kids are as literal as mine, they'll be fascinated by these . . . and they're adorable. 


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This is a personal favorite of mine. CardNinja has a small attachment that turns your phone into a wallet . . . I don't even carry a purse anymore. You just peel off the backing and attach the expandable, stretchy pocket to the back of your phone directly. It will hold cash, cards, license and more. The stretchy material snaps back so that you don't have a stretched out piece of material that will no longer hold in anything. 

Now, one thing I wish someone had recommended to me was waiting to attach the CardNinja pocket to the outside of a good solid, phone case. Unfortunately, I didn't and now I will be getting a new phone because I shattered my screen this weekend. That now means I will have a new phone with a new screen AND a new case with a new CardNinja on the outside!
CardNinja - $9.95 (as of 12/12/15)





December 1, 2015

HomeOwner's 101: Basics for 1st Time Home Buyers






Thank you Capital One Home Loans for sponsoring this post. This is a paid endorsement. To learn more about how Capital One Home Loans tools can help simplify your home-buying process, visit CapitalOneSmartHomeLoans.com.

The journey I have been on in the last few years has taught me just how big a fallacy it is to assume that everyone has the same experiences in life or learns the same lessons.

I have now successfully purchased two homes.

One was a starter home - a brand-new build where we where we were able to choose every detail from the ground up.

The other was a foreclosure that involved going through a difficult, tedious process which ultimately netted us a home in need of a lot of work but also with a lot of equity very quickly.

However, in my line of work, I regularly deal with people who are saving up for down payments, buying homes, selling homes, refinancing homes, investing in rental properties. It's exposed me to a much wider array of home buying experiences than I would ever be able to have personally.

And it has taught me there are some basic lessons that not everyone has had the opportunity to learn in life, and everyone beginning the process of buying a home should know right from the beginning.

#1 - Know what you can afford.

This might be one of the biggest steps that just gets glossed right over. Or maybe everyone assumes they know. One of the best ways to figure it out is to use a calculator like the Capital One Home Loans Mortgage Loan Calculator. You can adjust the price, the down payment and the loan type to help you approximate what your monthly payment would be.

#2 - Don't assume your loan payment is the total cost of owning a home.

I can't tell you how many prospective first-time homeowners think they can buy much more house than their budget will actually support because they think the final number from the loan calculator is the sum total of what their month cost will be.  Thankfully, the Capital One Home Loans Mortgage Loan Calculator also figures in your approximate taxes and insurance so you get a good idea of the full monthly payment.

Make sure you create line items in your budget for an increase in utility payments if the square footage of the home is bigger than what you are coming from or the rental agreement covered any of your utilities. If you don't have at least 20% of the home value to put as a down payment, you also need to factor in Private Mortgage Insurance. And, last but not least, make sure you allot funds for repairs and maintenance. Whether your house is shiny and new or has a list of problems to fix from the get-go, it will cost you more than you think. Don't let all of the planning and cost to go to waste because you can't keep the house in good repair.

#3 - Get your credit in as good of shape as possible. 

Once you know what you can afford, then you need to make sure you get the best interest rate possible. It matters . . . seriously. Getting your interest rate lowered even by .5% can save you as much as $20,000 on a $300,000 loan financed over 30 years. So invest the time to make sure you get as good a rate as possible. Do some basic things - pay down as many credit balances as possible (don't close them!), pay for everything on time, don't do anything that will make people run your credit.

#4 - Pre-qualify before you go house shopping.

In today's market, this almost goes without saying . . . except that it doesn't, because some new home buyers don't even know what "pre-qualifying" is, let alone that it should be done before they go house shopping. Here's the deal, though, if you go house shopping and you find one that you love - then what? You make an offer, right? But if you haven't been pre-qualified you don't actually know if the bank is going to lend you enough money for that house. And if someone else already did, guess who's going to already have that house under contract before you can even get a return phone call from the loan officer. Just trust me, get pre-qualified.

In today's era, you can do almost all of the qualification process online. For example, Capital One Home Loans now has the availability for you to qualify in practically minutes. You can apply online, upload documents and digitally track the progress of everything from your application through closing.

#5 - Don't ever make the mistake of thinking you have found the ONLY house that will ever work for you.

My dad taught me this lesson early on when we were house shopping for our family and I was a young child. I generally say whatever comes to my head - so if I hated it, everyone with us was aware and if I loved it, they were also aware. But my dad pulled me aside and told me to stop saying all of the positives out loud in front of the agent. Every house can be walked away from. There's always another one. He's famous for saying, "You're not married to any of them." and "You were looking for a house when you found this one. You can go right back to looking."

There is a lot of truth in that though. If you ever set your mind on a certain house at the expense of all else, it will likely cost you "all else" and maybe more. You may very well settle for paying too much, over-committing your budget dollars, ignoring red flags, and hurrying through one of the most important decisions you will make in regards to your financial future.

BONUS: The earlier you can settle into a house that you can adapt for your future needs without having to sell and move, the more financial freedom you will have. In fact, paying an extra $100 or $200 towards the principal each month can not only save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest but also free up funds earlier in life for you to invest so that you can put it to work for you and be able to retire comfortably.

If you want to read more about the home buying process, read Capital One Home Loans "What to Expect Brochure."

Also, if you live in the Dallas Metroplex, you can attend a FREE, open-to-the-public Open House Event with HGTV’s Love It or List It, Too stars, Jillian Harris and Todd Talbot, on Saturday, December 12 at the Stonebriar Centre mall in Frisco, TX.

During the event, they’ll share even more DIY tips and tricks for simplifying the entire home buying and owning process. For more information, visit SmartHomeLoans.com.




I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.




November 26, 2015

2015 Christmas Gift Guide: Item #8 - Loose Leaf Tea Subscription



Oh, this is a gift that is actually on my OWN list. I love hot tea. I drink hot tea almost every morning in the fall, winter and spring . . . maybe even a few days in the summer. I seriously LOVE hot tea.

I don't know about you, but when I think about sipping hot tea, I think about everyone dressed white, on huge porches, being served by butlers. And having a monthly subscription to Loose Leaf is like having a personal butler to provide you with recommendations and new flavors to try.

Each month, a box of savory loose leaf teas is shipped directly to your door for just $17. Each box contains 4 or 5 new teas for you to try, 2 muslin reusable tea bags, and a thorough description of what each tea contains.

Try each of the teas and order more from the Simple Loose Leaf online store at a member's only discount of 50% off.

Right now, readers of the MelissaStuff Blog get 25% off a gift or ongoing subscription at Simple Loose Leaf with the promo code 25HOLIDAY.

Seriously this is the best gift for the tea lover in your life, even if that tea lover is you!