September 23, 2013

Sparky's Birthday Surprise - A Fun, Free App to Teach Fire Safety

Learning fire safety is an important lesson for children of all ages, but how do you communicate this information to young kiddos in a way that they will remember it? The answer: You make it fun!

The new app, "Sparky's Birthday Surprise" is full of fun games and activities to help teach important information like what to do if the fire alarm sounds, how to safely exit the house, and how to meet up with family at a designated place.

Of course, we hope our kids never need to apply this information, but it's super important that they be informed on how to stay safe in a dangerous situation.

My four-year-old loved playing with this app. His favorite part was helping Sparky put on his fire hat and jacket. There are several different options of play: read to me, read and play, and just a book. This is a perfect for kids of various skill levels (it's geared toward children between 2-6) There's also a fun music video, games, and a coloring sheet.

As a mom, I loved that not only was my child learning important fire safety tips, but he was also was able to work on his basic reading skills (in the interactive mode, touching the word will also read it out loud).

The animation was bright and colorful, and the narration was very well done. All in all it was a fun and educational app! It's one of my kids new favorites.

The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. You can download a copy of the App here

**If you're a teacher or homeschool parent, there are a ton of great teaching materials to coordinate with the information (interactive whiteboard lessons, printable worksheets, and discussion questions). You can check out the additional resources here.

I was provided access to the app free of charge (Of course, it's free for everyone to download as of the writing of this post). :-)

September 18, 2013

What's my motivation?

Maybe I'm nuts, but occasionally I let my imagination run away with me. Sometimes my train of thought goes something like this:

"Dear Lord, please let me win this blogging contest,
because if I win this blogging contest I can go to this conference,
and if I go to this conference then I might be able to make connections and grow my blog,
and if I grow my blog then I'll be able to reach more people,
and if I reach more people then maybe I'd be able to land a publishing deal,
and if I landed a publishing deal then . . ." it goes on and on.

It's rather embarrassing to admit, but it's true. I have in my mind a destination, and so, I think of all the possible ways that God could pull the strings and get me to that destination.

Never once do I stop and think, does God want me to have a publishing deal? Is there supposed to be something "grand" in my future or am I just supposed to continue as usual. What if I work on this blog for the next five years and only twenty-four people ever even read this blog post?

What if this is all it ever is? Would I be content? What is fueling this desire for "more"? Is it because I think I'm something special? Is it pride? A lack of contentment?

What is the purpose? *cue the dramatic spotlight* What's my motivation?

I think when it all comes down to it, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Why are we doing what we're doing? I don't care if you're the CEO of a major corporation or a car mechanic, eventually, we have to ask ourselves the question "Does what I do matter? Is this what I was put on the earth to do? Is there something more?"

I've been studying the book of John in my Community Bible Study group, and one of the things that has struck me the most about John the Baptist was his humility. I think he recognized his place in the big picture. His job was to point people to Christ, not draw attention to himself.

When he recognized that the Messiah had made his arrival, he didn't put together a strategic plan on how to keep his large following. You didn't find him throwing himself a pity party in the wilderness, complaining that "Jesus has more followers than I do." He simply acknowledged, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

John had a God-centered perspective. It ultimately wasn't about the size crowds he was drawing, it was about doing what God asked him to do.

How different would my life be if I simply asked God what he wanted from me instead of trying to pursue what I think is best? What would happen if I focused more on God's glory than my own? I can tell you one thing, I think it would take a lot of stress off of my desire to "perform."

What a freedom to know that my only  responsibility is to simply use the gifts and talents He's given me, to the best of my ability. He doesn't expect me to live up to the gifts and talents of someone else.  I'm not called to be Beth Moore or Lysa Terkeurst. I'm called to be Sarah Brooks, and ultimately, that's what God's going to hold me accountable for. What have I done with the gifts I've been given? Have I used them to serve God's purposes or my own?

As a teenager, I felt God whisper these words to my heart: "Who will tell them?"

For years, I struggled to understand what that meant. I went to school and studied Missions because I assumed that that was what God intended.

After all, who tells people about Jesus?


While at school, I found myself really wanting to take journalism classes. It was really exciting and interesting to me. I eventually decided to double major in Mass Communications and Christian Studies - missions emphasis. I was still planned on serving as a missionary at some point, but I've loved writing since I was a little girl, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to learn more.

Now, a few years down the road, I'm beginning to see how God has pulled my path together. He has given me the opportunity to "tell them" in a way I never initially envisioned. This certainly wasn't the destination I set out toward sixteen years ago, but it's a good fit, and in God's master plan it makes sense.

For me, the temptation has always been to come up with a plan and then expect God to bless it. It's a lot more challenging to trust that He has a plan that may differ from my own. It's hard to relinquish control, but He's trustworthy, and once I get to a point in my life where I truly believe that, it makes it easier to pry my fingers from my well-crafted plans.

I don't have a clue what the future holds. I honestly don't. Do I have dreams? You bet I do, but I'm learning that I have to take each dream to Him and say, "Lord, this what I want, but you know best. You must increase, and I must decrease." It sounds cliche, but this is the prayer for my own life.

You have a plan and a purpose, and I know that it's ultimately not about making my name great, but about making your Name great. My prayer, God, is that you would show me how I can point the attention to you. Show me the areas where I need to decrease so that you can increase. Because I know, God, that fulfillment comes from fulfilling our God-given purposes, not from achieving fame or success. Fulfill your purposes in me. Help me to bring you glory in everything I do, because your glory will last forever.


September 13, 2013

Violence and Poverty

Violence is like a cancer. When it is present, it slowly tears down your defenses, leaving you vulnerable to a host of other problems. Poverty and violence go hand in hand. Those without power and resources struggle for hope and direction. More often, the quest for power and control is manifested in a culture of violence. 

Crime is a problem in El Salvador. The Civil War of the 80s and early 90s has given way to a new wave of violence as street gangs now claim their territory and seek to exert their power.

What does this have to do with Compassion? Compassion works at the center of three concentric circles: The local church, Compassion International, and those facing poverty.

This summer, I had a chance to travel to El Salvador with MOPS and Compassion International. I've spent time in other countries in the past, and there's always an element of "culture shock" when you visit a new place.

There were times where times when I felt a little uncomfortable. I'm not accustomed to having police armed with automatic weapons following us around for our protection. I felt somewhat awkward and out of place, not quite sure how to process the poverty and the masses of people crowded onto buses or sitting together in groups at the local plaza.

Why does helping the poor matter? Why is the work of Compassion International important?

Raise your voice for the voiceless! Defend the rights of those that do not have! Raise the voice and do them justice! Defend the poor and the needy! Proverbs 31:8-9

El Salvador has known its share of bloodshed, but this is a new day, a season of hope. The country director, Guillermo Munoz, spoke with passion for his country and those trapped in poverty. Compassion is striving to bring that hope to the communities where their projects are located and to the thousands of children participating in the sponsorship program.

A recent UN study in Asia brought to light the high precedence of rape in many impoverished countries. The researcher draws an interesting conclusion. 
"There's been quite interesting research to argue that men come together in gangs and then get involved in a whole range of violence and antisocial activities as a way of trying to assert their masculinity, to make themselves feel like strong and powerful men. The conditions of poverty that they live in prevent them from having access to more traditional manifestations of manhood, such as being a provider. Their energies get directed rather into demonstrating sexual success with women, demonstrating dominance and control over women, and fighting with other men."
While in El Salvador, I had the privilege of visiting several different project centers. At one of the locations, the pastor was telling us a little bit about the community they live and work in. There are two major rival gangs in El Salvador, and their violence accounts for a large portion of the crime within the country. The amazing thing is that Christ is making a difference in the lives of the people in their community. Two men from rival gangs now work alongside each other serving the local body of believers - one as a youth minister and the other as a building caretaker. 

This is where Compassion offers such hope. Instead of young men needing gangs to find power and identity, they find identity in the positive environment of a Compassion project center. They encourage things like the power of an education, making plans for the future, and fostering a community of brothers and sisters who learn together. It's a built-in community that offers life and hope rather than crime and death.

Many of the children come from broken families plagued by gang violence, what a blessing to be able to make a difference in the lives of children who might not otherwise have a hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and violence.

I sponsor a little girl in El Salvador. I had the opportunity  to spend some time with her at her local Compassion project center. I wasn't able to visit her home because it was to dangerous for me to go there, and yet, that's the world she lives in every day. I pray for Andrea, that God would keep her safe, that he would change her community, and that God would use the church volunteers and compassion staff to be the hands and feet of Christ in her life. 

I sponsor a child because I want to offer hope where hope is hard to find. Compassion is a tool that God is using to make a difference in the lives of children. Will you be a vessel of hope to a little boy or girl living on the other side of the world? It really does make a difference for these kids to know that someone out there thinks that they are special, that God has a plan for their life, that through hard work and perseverance they can break the chains of poverty and change their family for generations to come.

Chains are breaking. Can you hear it?

Read more about my trip to El Salvador:


September 10, 2013

"MathTacular" Review

Math was never my favorite subject when I was growing up, but learning fundamental math skills is essential for future academic success. "MathTacular!: Unbelievably Understandable Math" from Sonlight uses fun, practical examples to teach math basics. As a mom, I appreciated the many ways that simple, everyday items around our house can be used to reinforce math skills (matching up pairs of socks, counting by twos using snacks as manipulatives, etc.)

I have to admit that the production quality of some of the segments feel a little bit like a home video, BUT with that being said, the content is excellent and covers a wide range of topics everything from learning how to count tally marks to how to tell time.

This has been a great DVD for my four year old who is learning the basics of math. There are a total of 67 different "lessons." All of the lesson are under 5 minutes, with the majority of them being between 1-3 minutes long. The MathTacular is approximately 150 minutes

As a mom, I feel like I learned several new ways to introduce mathematical concepts to my kids. There were several games like "Wormholes & Warp-drives" that I know my son would love to play. The concepts are age appropriate and introduced in fun ways. My kids really enjoy watching the video. There is also a set of nine printables on the DVD that include things like shape names, colors, money value, days of the week cards, etc.

The information is explained well and my kids enjoyed watching it (and I enjoyed that they're learning something in the process.) I think this would be a helpful addition to any homeschool curriculum for early learners (pre-k through 2nd grade).

MathTacular is on sale this week at Educents! You can get a copy of MathTacular Vol. 1, Inquisikids, and MathTacular Math Manipulatives Guide for $31.50 (regularly $44.98). 
Deal Expires 9/15

The version for sale on Educents contains 4 hours of math content.

I received a complimentary copy of MathTacular to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed are my honest thoughts of the product. Post contains affiliate links that help to support the work of the blog at no additional cost to you.

September 7, 2013

Does Child Sponsorship Make a Difference?

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

Does child sponsorship make a difference? Does it even matter? 

While in El Salvador with Compassion International, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that being a sponsored child made in the life of men and women who have been through the child sponsorship program. I sat around a dinner table as they each shared their stories. Stories about strangers who had stepped into their lives like angels and had changed the course of their lives forever. 

A photo of Alejandro, myself, and Carolina at dinner for LDP (Leadership Development Program). 
Carolina had the same sponsors for her whole time in the program. A couple from Minnesota married later in life and were not able to have children of their own . . . so they decided to sponsor a child. The wrote her regularly, and Carolina kept each letter in a small pink, plastic box. She showed us a picture album full of postcard and photographs from the family's farm. She described the couple as her angels. They invested in her life, not only through monetary contributions that helped meet her physical needs, but through words of encouragement. They wrote her several times a month and shared news and prayer requests.

She is now studying Psychology at the university level with the hopes of returning to her community. She said she lives in a dangerous area with a high level of gang activity where murders occur on a weekly basis. She says that the children of these gang members have witnessed a lot of traumatic things and they also have experienced a great deal of emotional turmoil. Her prayer and plan is to be able to provide emotional support and encouragement to these children to help them work through their issues. She says that if it weren't for the program there's not a doubt in her mind that she would have ended up just like the other women her age, pregnant as a teenager with a couple of children. Now, at age 22, she has one year left at University. 

She's a group leader of 8 other people in the LDP (Leadership Development Program) at her university. She credits Compassion with changing her life and her sponsors for encouraging her along the way to pursue her dreams. When she was 15 her sponsors travelled to El Salvador to meet her in person. She proudly showed us pictures of her sponsors standing with her family. With tears she told us what a difference their words and support made in her life. 


A group of Compassion college students, sponsors, and Compassion staff.
Moira is in the red shirt and black skirt on the left hand side of the photo.
When Moira was a child she found out that her father had wanted her mother to abort her. As a child, this was devastating news. She said she used to hate him. She refused to celebrate his birthday or have anything to do with him. She spoke with tears in her eyes of how her sponsors told her that she needed to forgive her father for his past mistakes - that the hate and anger would hurt her in the long run. She said that the first time in her life she made the choice to celebrate her father's birthday. She wiped tears from her face as she described the cake she made for him. She said that although their relationship is not perfect, it's getting better.  

Now she is in school studying English translation hoping to one day have a job as a flight attendant. She chose to tell us her story in English and she did an amazing job. I don't have a doubt that she'll be able to accomplish her dreams. When her sponsor had a chance to come visit she was able to spend the day with Moira and with her other sponsored child, a little boy from another center. The little boy's dream was to one day be an airline pilot, Moira's dream, to become a flight attendant. Wouldn't you know it . . .the sponsor works at NASA, an organization that knows just a "little" bit about flight.

Ruth is 21 years old. At the age of five she became a part of the sponsorship program. During the entire time she was in the program she only received 2 letters. One when she was around 5 and another when she was around 12 years old. She treasures the letters and the photo of her sponsor. I could sense that she regretted that she didn't hear more from her sponsors. Letters are so special to these children. be able to read the words of a family on the other side of the globe, telling them that they are special, that they have value, that they can accomplish amazing things. 
Some children at the Child Development Center where Ruth works.
She alone is responsible for overseeing the 41 women who participate in the CSP (Child Survival Program). She spends two hours each day travelling to visit each woman in her home. Each meetings lasts for about 2 hours. She goes over basic things like helping children develop fine motor skills and developing positive self-image in the moms. She prays for them and shares with them encouragement from God's word. She does this from 8 am to 5 pm, walking up unpaved roads and trails, winding her way through tin houses and fields. She does the work of two women by herself, but she doesn't complain. She says that when the time is right God will bring another person.

She went to school to study Health, but had no plans to become a doctor. She wanted to find a way to serve her community. Now the people in her community know that if they are sick, they can come to Ruth and she can help them. I was struck by her composure and her humility. She acknowledged that moat of the people her age (21) are more concerned about having fun, but she wants to do something that will make a difference and bring God glory. 

Where would she have been if not for Compassion? Where would she have ended up without the mentors and leaders at her center, the people who poured into her life telling her that she could make a difference in her community. This is a story you hear often if you speak with Compassion kids. They want to make a difference. They know what a difference someone made in their own life and they want to pass it on and make their communities and countries a better place to live. So many of these young adults I spoke with said they have plans to sponsor children. They look forward to pouring into the next 
generation of Compassion children. 

Andrea and I meeting for the first time
This is MY sponsored child, Andrea. Her story is still being written and I'm honored to be a part of it. I have not a doubt in my mind that this whole sponsorship thing has nothing to do with me. I have a feeling that God has big things for Andrea, that he loves her very much and wants to use me to communicate that message to her. I don't know what her future holds, but I pray that she'll always remember how much God loves her and that He has a plan and a purpose for her life.

Does child sponsorship make a difference?
Yes. For these three women, it has made all the difference in the world. As a sponsor, myself, I can say that child sponsorship is changing me. It helps my family look beyond our own four walls and reach out to love and encourage a little girl on the other side of the world. Andrea has a special place in my heart. I keep her picture on my fridge door right along with the smudged hand prints and "artwork" of my two little boys. We pray for her daily and look forward to seeing how God changes her life through the work of Compassion in her home country, El Salvador.

Don't want to take my word for it? Check out a recent article in Christianity Today about research that was done on the effectiveness of the Compassion child sponsorship program. 

Read more about my trip to El Salvador:

**Want to start sponsoring a child? Click on the banner below for more information**
Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

August 28, 2013

Rock N Learn Phonics Review

Phonics DVD Volume 1 & Phonics DVD Volume 2

I am an avid reader, and I can't wait to pass on a love of reading to my own children. I know that learning how to read on their own will open up a whole new world to them. That being said, I'm not a reading teacher. I'm not an expert on phonics and I can't remember all of the rules when it comes to things like silent e, long/short vowel sounds, or blends. 

The Phonics DVDs from Rock N Learn contain over an hour of educational content put to music and animation. They cover all of the essential information when it comes to phonics (all of things I knew at one time and have simply forgotten). 

To be honest, some of the songs/animation were rather cheesy. It reminded me a lot of 80s pop/rock music and the animation is computer generated. It was a little over the top for me, but my boys absolutely loved it. They kept asking to watch it over and over again. 

My sister is a kindergarten teacher and I had her watch these videos with me to give her opinion on whether or not they would be helpful. She said that from a teacher's perspective that they did a good job of covering the material. 

My only other criticism is that there is no menu option on the title screen that allows you to select a particular segment to watch. I think that would make it more helpful for use in a classroom setting (as opposed to having to fast forward, or jump ahead several times to get to the section you wanted to go over). 

These videos are targeted for children age 6 and up, but my four-year-old really enjoys watching them, and I feel like they'll give him a head start on learning how to read. Yes, the animation and songs can be a little cheesy, but it's educationally sound and my children really enjoyed watching them and singing along. 

These DVDs are currently available on Educents for 50% off (through Sept 4, 2013). They also include downloadable phonics workbooks that include activities that supplement what they've learned in the videos. 

Phonics Volume 1:
Covers short vowels, consonants, blends, digraphs, word families, silent e, phonemic awareness activities, read-along sentences, read-along stories, and sing-along songs. Ages 6 & up. Approx. 70 minutes

Phonics Volume 2: 
Covers long vowels, vowel combinations, syllables, ending sounds, silent consonants, rule breakers, read-along sentences, read-along stories, and sing-along stories. 
Ages 6 & up. Approx. 78 minutes

*I received a copy of these DVDs to review. The opinions expressed are my honest thoughts of the product. This post also contains an Educents affiliate link that helps financially support this blog (but it won't cost you a penny)." 

***UPDATE (8/29)** 
I have learned that there is a way to access a menu of the individual lessons by chapter on the DVD. Just click the menu button from the remote or right click on the control panel if viewing it from a computer.  It will take you to a screen that looks like this: 


August 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Sarahs: A lesson in poverty

The heat radiated from the open flame. Within a minute, sweat started appearing on my back, causing my shirt to cling to my body. The already warm and humid air combined with the heat from the fire created a sweltering environment. The tin roof and tin walls seemed to amplify the heat emanating from the cook fire. It felt like I was cooking inside of an oven. Small scraps of trash and paper, a few broken egg shells, and a few pieces of wood provided the fuel for the fire.

 I kept stirring, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure that the majal didn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. If the majal was burned, it couldn't be sold in the market. If it couldn't be sold in the market, then the family would have no money to eat.

A warm cup of majal, made from water, powdered milk, rice flour, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon
Each day Blanca prepares the majal at her home in the morning and then transports it to the market which is a bus ride away. It's served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon. With her profits she buys the ingredients she needs for the next day's batch and feeds her family with the remainder.

Blanca lives in a small tin house with her three children. She is also eight months pregnant. The father of Sara and her two older brothers abandoned the family and now leaves her to provide for her soon-to-be family of four on her own. 

When I asked her how we could pray for her family, she said "Pray that we will always be together." When I asked what her dreams were for her children, she said she hoped that one day her children could live in a nicer home, where they could each have a space of their own. For now they live in a home with tin walls, a tin roof, and dirt floors. Sara shares a bed with her mother and her two older brothers sleep on the other side of the room. 

When you live in the midst of poverty, it's hard to dream of a future and a hope. When poverty is all you've ever known, it's easy to assume that that's all you'll ever experience. Thanks to the work of Compassion in Sara's hometown in El Salvador, there is hope that the cycle of poverty will be broken.

Sara has a sponsor through the Child Development Sponsorship Program of Compassion. Thanks to the generosity of a person she's never met on the other side of the globe, Sara has the opportunity to receive encouragement and opportunities to change her family's future. At her local child development center, Sara receives educational tutoring, regular medical check-ups, nutritional assistance, life-skills training, and most importantly, the opportunity to know about the love of Jesus Christ.

 When I think about Sara, I realize how very different our childhoods were. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood. Sara lives at the back of a car junkyard. I shared a room with my little sister. Sara shares a room with her entire family. I never had to worry about whether there would be food on the table when I came home from school. Sara has gone without.

I moaned about having to do menial chores like making my bed or cleaning the abundance of toys off the floor. Sara washes the family's dishes by hand using a barrel of water and a plastic basin.

Her playground consisted of twisted metal and rusted out cars. Pigs, chickens, dogs, and a cow wandered their way among the abandoned vehicles. My playground was safe and secure in my own fenced in back yard.

It's easy to look back on my own childhood and think, "Why was I blessed and Sara wasn't?" The answer is simple. I was blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

I'm not wealthy by American standards, but I have enough. In fact, I have more than enough. If my $38 can literally change the life of not just a child, but an entire family, it's a choice I'm willing to make. To me, it's a much better investment than a new pair of jeans. It's something with the potential to make an eternal difference.

I've met these kids in person. I've shared a meal with the Compassion workers and leaders in various communities around El Salvador. I've seen their passion and their love. I've seen the sacrifices they make of their time and their energy to redeem their communities and the children that live there. Child sponsorship does make a difference. You, from your living room, can be a powerful force to change someone's world.

Budgets are tight. I totally, absolutely get that. We're right there with you. Wanna know what you can do? Pray. Seriously. Pray for these children and their families. Pray for the pastors and leaders. Pray for their safety and their welfare. Pray that their work will be effective in the lives of the children. Pray that children can be released from heartache of poverty and can then in turn, be used to make a difference where they live.

There is something you can do.

You can make a difference.

You can change the world. 

One child at a time.


July 26, 2013

A Simple Cup of Tea

I'm super excited to have my mom, Debbie Lowrie, as my guest blogger today. I definitely wouldn't be the person I am today without the investment that she poured into my life. Thanks, Mom, for modeling motherhood and for not selling me to the circus during my temperamental toddler years (I now understand what patience that must have required)! You can read more at her blog: A Splash of Grace. 

A Simple Cup of Tea

I start almost every morning with a cup of tea.  Some mornings it may be an English breakfast tea or green tea.  Other days it’s a fruity herbal tea or a spicy chai!  No matter what the flavor, I find comfort in sipping the hot beverage.  Research has discovered many health benefits of tea.  Some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Others encourage weight loss, lower cholesterol, and help with mental alertness.

Even though there are many health benefits to drinking tea, that’s not the primary reason I drink it.  To me, a cup of tea represents a few moments away from the hectic pace of life.  It’s soothing.  It’s a time when I can stop and enjoy a few moments of quiet before my busy day begins or as a mid-day break.  It may also have something to do with my Scottish heritage. 

Great Britain is known for its tea consumption.  As I researched how their afternoon tea got started, I discovered that in the early nineteenth century in England, people usually only ate two meals a day – breakfast and then dinner around 8:00 in the evening.  Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have complained of “having that sinking feeling” during the late afternoon.  The Duchess found that the solution was to have a light snack and a pot of tea privately in her bedroom during the afternoon.  Later friends were invited to join her for “tea and a walking the fields.”  Others quickly picked up on this idea and before long, many were nibbling on sandwiches and sipping tea in the middle of the afternoon.

I realize that the “sinking feeling” Anna had was just hunger, but sometimes we can get a “sinking feeling” in the middle of the day that has nothing to do with hunger.  Sometimes I wake up with that “sinking feeling” or it hits me in the evening.  Mine has more to do with fatigue, or stress, or sadness. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed  and wonder if I’ll survive one more day! How about you?  Maybe all we need is a good “cup of tea and a walking the fields”!  But how is that possible when you have little ones that need your constant attention – when you haven’t even had time to take a shower. You simply long to go to the bathroom without little fingers poking under the door.  You daydream about a time when you’ll have a few quiet moments to yourself to walk the fields. Those days WILL come, but in the meantime have a cup of tea – even if it’s just in your mind!

When you get that “Sinking Feeling,” stop for a moment and savor some TEA:

TBE THANKFUL for what you do have. 
It’s easy to get in the habit of wishing things were different. Life can be hard, but even in the mundane work of your day or in the trials that you face, you can be thankful.  As you put your dirty clothes in the washing machine, stop and thank the Lord that your family has clothes to wear; that you have precious children that can make them dirty; that you have a washing machine and don’t have to walk to the river to scrub your clothes on the rocks!  Turn moments where you normally would complain into moments of thankfulness and prayer.  Being thankful has a way of putting things in perspective. Take a sip of tea!

EEMBRACE the phase of life you are in. 
We often live in the past or the future, but seem to have a hard time living in the present.  Children can’t wait to become teenagers. Teenagers can’t wait to be adults, and adults wish they were teenagers again!  Each phase of life has its own joys and struggles.  Wishing a phase away robs you of all the blessings and “growth” that can be experienced in the present.  So laugh and dance with your little ones while they are young.  Enjoy the messes and make memories.  These times really do go by quickly. Don’t wish them away! Take a sip of tea!

AALLOCATE time for yourself. 
Life as a mother of young children is EXHAUSTING!  Take a little time for yourself.  You need time to regroup, rest, and be refreshed or you will have nothing to give to others.  For me, one of the most important ways to be renewed is to spend time reading the Bible and praying. Sharing life and frustrations with others is also important.  Knowing you are not alone often gives you the courage to press on one more day!  Take advantage of your child’s nap time, or perhaps partner with a friend and trade off childcare – maybe once a month – so you can have an uninterrupted couple of hours to be refreshed.  Do whatever it takes, and you’ll be a better wife and mother for it. Take a sip of tea!

So, the next time you get that “sinking feeling” in the middle of the afternoon, (or in the morning – or even in the evening), why don’t you stop and grab a simple cup of tea.  Pause for a moment and savor its warmth.  And while you’re at it, like Anna did, invite a friend to join you for a cup of tea. She probably needs it too!

July 22, 2013

Dear Duchess

Dear Duchess,

Welcome to motherhood.

I'm sure by now you've taken the time to marvel over tiny toes and fingers. Perhaps you've counted and recounted, marveling how his small fingers instinctively curl around your own.

I don't think it matters if your official title is "Your Royal Highness" or just plain ole "Mrs.," Motherhood ushers in a whole new dimension of identity and responsibility.

Yes, our lives are quite different. The only throne I'll ever sit on is in need of a good cleaning. The only photographer who stalks my movements is a four-year-old with a kiddie digital camera. No one cares what I'm wearing or where I'm travelling on holiday.

But, one thing I've learned on this mothering adventure is that deep down we're all the same. We know nothing. We have to learn everything and then relearn it again and again. The poorest mother in the mountains of El Salvador and the mother of a future king each wrap their hearts around tiny human beings.

We wrap up our hopes and dreams around these little bundles and we realize deep down what it means to love someone so much that you would die for them.

The pressures and responsibilities are different. Our obligations are different, but I think our hopes and dreams for our children are the same. We want them to be happy. We want them to be successful. We want them to grow up to be people we can be proud of - people of character and conviction.

The birth of a child is the beginning of an incredible adventure. It won't always be beautiful. There will be days when you'll think to yourself "What was I thinking?" Days when a thousand different people will analyze and criticize your parenting choices. Days when you'll be tempted to just throw your hands in the air and go for a walk. Maybe royal babies are different, but I doubt it.

So, welcome to this new adventure. May you always remember the day you received your newest title, "Mom."


July 17, 2013


If you're visiting from MOPS I want to say welcome!

I'm a mom just like you are - trying to wage war on the laundry, dishes, and seemingly endless piles of toys (that I swear reproduce like rabbits while I'm sleeping).

My three-year-old and two-year-old call me "Mom," but my name is Sarah. I'm a third-generation pastor's wife, stay-at-home mom, and writer who currently lives in New Mexico with my handsome and hardworking husband.

Lest you think I'm the model of motherhood, at this very moment, my sink is overflowing with dirty dishes and there is a pile of goldfish scattered all over the carpet.

I love being a mom, but I can honestly say it is the most challenging and discouraging adventure I've been on. I feel like my mission is to encourage and equip moms to be the best that they can be. I want them to know that moms are valuable and that the work they do is priceless. We're not perfect, but neither are our children. God has given us everything we need to be the best mom WE can be. I'm learning that God has placed us where we are for a reason. By being faithful in the little things, He is able to take our little and turn it into much.  

Mom - you are loved. You are valuable. You are enough. Keep up the good work!!

I hope you'll come back again for a visit!

You can also connect with me on social media!


In case you need a giggle, here are a few posts I wrote about being the mother of a preschooler:

Top Ten Reasons Why I'm Late - Preschooler edition

You Might be the Mother of a Preschooler If. . .

A Gift of Dandelions


July 4, 2013

A place for Compassion

He peeked around the side of his cinder block house; his dark brown eyes shielded by heavily lashed eyelids. He smiled and I could see a spark of mischief in his eyes. It's a look I've seen before in three-year-old boys. He walks over to a fence and talks with a friend. They play with the barbed wire that lines the perimeter of their house, wrapping long leaves around the sharp barbs.

I swear, he looks just like my son. His complexion is darker and the language is different, but I look at him and see the same eyes, the same smile, the same gusto as my oldest child. They are only a few months apart in age, but their life situations are worlds apart.

His mother, Ana, never attended school. Fortunately, her father taught her how to read and write in her home. The oldest of nine children, Ana shared about her childhood and her father's eventual illness. She shared how she met her husband through a family friend and how one day he went to an event at the local church where he heard about the Lord. Three days later, Ana went to the church and was able to hear the message of salvation.

They now have two children a little boy, age three, and a one-year-old daughter, Esmerelda. She and her husband have been married for five years, but they have been together for eight. They raise dairy cows in order to support their family. In the morning they milk the cows and the husband then transports eight containers of milk on his motorcycle to sell in the market in San Salvador. If they have a good day, they sell about $8 of milk. A portion of the money goes to pay the boy who helps sell the milk in the city and a portion then goes to provide care for the animals. When a cow no longer produces milk, they sell it and then use the money to purchase another animal. Her husband began tending cows when he was eight years old. The average family living in poverty in the rural areas outside San Salvador survives on $1 a day for a family of five.

In steps Compassion. A few years ago Compassion International opened what is called a Child Survival Program in their community. The Child Survival program seeks to educate and equip moms as they face the crucial first years of a child's life. When the program first arrived in the area, Ana's first child was 1.5 years old. A volunteer from the Compassion project came through asking if there were any pregnant women in the community who would be interested in participating. A few months later, Ana found out she was pregnant with her second child. She immediately went down to the center and enrolled.

The Child Survival Program focuses on four main areas: Physical, Spiritual, Cognitive, and Social/Emotional needs. What I really appreciated about the program is that they refer to the mother and child as a unit, "un union." They attend to the needs of the mother, knowing that by equipping her, she'll be best able to care for and nurture her child.

One thing a mother in the program said really stuck with me. "The Child Survival Program helped me to dust off my dignity." She told me that many of the women in her community struggle with low self-esteem and low perceptions of self-worth. By teaching these women that they have value in God's sight, it enables them to have a healthier image of themselves, which can then be communicated to their children. They have value because they are created and loved by God.

In the culture of El Salvador, there are many times when a woman is left with a child and no husband/father in the picture. It's not uncommon for a man to have children with multiple women and then move on when he so desires. Some of these women are so in need of financial stability that they will stay with an abusive boyfriend simply because they have no other way to physically survive or support their families.

Poverty can be a prison. The chains can be mental, emotional, and financial. The mission of Compassion is the set the prisoner free in Jesus' name.

Yes, Compassion meets the physical needs of these families, but what I heard over and over again from the moms that I spoke to, is that they appreciated the spiritual nourishment as well. They appreciated the times of prayer and Bible Study with the other moms at the Child Survival Program. They valued the lessons on basic things like nutrition, developing fine motor skills, and child development.

We sat at Ana's home, under the shade of some palm trees and listened to her story, her testimony. Ruth, one of the Compassion workers shared a Bible verse with Ana and her family.

Isaiah 55:1 "Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." 

Ruth leaned toward Ana, "What does that verse mean to you?"

"God is giving us spiritual food if we come to him," Ana said, "God is calling to us and He's asking us to join Him. Every day we need the mercy of the Lord. Even if we have no money. Come. Buy. Eat. If no one can help me in this land, God can do it. All the time we need to seek spiritual water, and we know we will find it when we seek the Lord."

 I seriously could write volumes about today - about the amazing children I met and the tireless workers who face unique challenges and dangers, about the mothers and the babies and the difference that Compassion is making in their lives.

I know there are a bazillion different agencies helping the poor, but I've seen this one behind the scenes and you won't meet a better group of people, with a passion and a love for the Lord and for the children of this country.

The Child Survival Program provides the following services for mothers and their babies:
*Regular medical exams for both the mother and the child, begining at pregnancy.
*Regular height and weight checks for the child
*Food supplementation for those children at nutritional risk.
*Vaccines and medicine as needed
*Mosquito nets for the sleeping area (which is very important in an area where Malaria and Dengue Fever are present).
*Regular classes on childcare and child development (covering basics like how to help develop fine motor skills, nutrition, how to keep your child safe from accidents or illnesses.)
*Workshops for the mothers so that they can learn a trade and help support themselves financially. (The CSP we visited today teaches the mothers how to sew. They are then able to make clothing for themselves and items to sell at markets). Ana was so proud to show us the skirt she finished sewing the day before.
*Bible Classes and Prayer Time
*Birthday parties for the mothers and their children (One mom said she was so excited for the chance to eat at a restaurant. And was proud to announce that there were TWO pinatas: One for the mothers and one for the children.
*The children also receive a developmentally appropriate toy every three months. Ana said that this was such a blessing since they don't have the resources to provide simple things like toys for their children.

I seriously could go on forever. As a mom myself, I felt a bond with these women. We all enter motherhood the same. Not entirely sure what to expect, not entirely sure what to do. I'm so thankful that the people of Compassion have come alongside these women and have sought to be a blessing in all areas of their lives: physical, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive/knowledge. Over and over again they wanted me to tell everyone how thankful they are for the program, that is has made a difference in their lives and in the lives of their children.

We talked with Ana about the dreams she has for her children. I want my children to know the Lord. I would love for my son to be a pastor or a president of youth. I want them to be leaders and to love the Lord, and thanks to the work of Compassion here in El Salvador, Ana's dreams for her dark-eyed son just may come true.


June 9, 2013

A Mother's Love Song

It’s so terribly frightening, this love that walks of its own accord.

These little feet, once unsteady with inexperience, that now leap and run and race to new adventures.

I kiss his cheek and still remember the feel of his skin for the first time –
Its pink newness. The softest thing I’d ever felt. I remember tracing my finger along his cheek, tracing the curvature of his jaw and his lips, lost in absolute wonder.

His eyes, the same dark hues of his father. Stolen glimpses of the man he could become. I search for him, seeking out an image of the future. What will he look like at thirteen? On his graduation day? Standing at the front of the church waiting for his bride? I envision him holding his own child for the first time -confronted with the awe and wonder and fear and insecurity that parenthood ushers in to each heart.

I open my eyes and he’s one. One year.  I hear the songs sung in the early morning hours. Not another soul awake. Love songs overflowed from my heart to my lips. Even then, I knew these moments wouldn't last forever.

Today, I place my cheek on his hair and breathe in its earthy fragrance – a smell unique to little boys – part sunshine, part dirt, exuberance and activity. He wants to be a bee when he grows up, or a cowboy, or Spider-man. Part of me wants to pause this moment - to imbibe the joy and wonder of four. To enjoy a world where heartaches are mended with a mother’s embrace and when sorrows are chased away with the promise of the cookies hidden high beyond his reach.

But time marches on. It rushes through my fingers. I clench my fists, struggling to hold onto the moments, knowing that you can’t hold on to a rushing stream. It slips through my fingers, carrying the days and moments and years with it.

The future frightens me. I want to wrap him up and keep him safe always, and yet I know that sometimes the best things in life are risky.  They’re beautifully dangerous.

I've decided the most difficult part of motherhood is the letting go. The ability to hold loosely to the heart that beats outside my own body. So I watch and cheer and wait, knowing that one day he will be on his own. His need for me will change. For this moment, for this one spot in time, I’m at the center, but I won’t stay here forever. New faces, new adventures, new challenges will draw him from the nest. They’ll challenge him to test his wings, to step out onto the ledge and dare to fly.

That’s the way it’s meant to be. Deep within my heart I know it’s true, and yet I still feel the ache of goodbyes not yet spoken. I know he isn't mine to keep. I know he was never truly mine to begin with.

I learn to be still.

I choose not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.

For now, I’ll look into his little boy face - eyes that look like his father’s and lips that look like my own. I’ll read the same story for the hundredth time and answer the question that’s been asked a thousand times before. Fully understanding that the days are long, but the years are short.

My mind captures a thousand images, tucking them away in the secret places of my heart. The scent of a newborn, the softness of his skin. The unsteady steps and the cadence of a baby’s laughter. The exuberant hug of a toddler asking, “How much do you love me, mom?”

I love you to the moon and back.   Always have. Always will. 

May 28, 2013

Promise Box by Tricia Goyer *Book Review*

When Lydia Wyse returns to the town of West Kootenai, Montana for her mother's funeral, she plans on visiting and returning to her busy life as a editor in Seattle. Having left the Amish community several years earlier, Lydia struggles to reconcile her past with her future. She left the community to start a new life. Does she even want to return? Would they accept her if she did? A Promise Box, left to her by her mother, opens her eyes to the answers she's been looking for.

 Amish bachelor Gideon Hooley has as secret of his own. A mystery from his childhood haunts him and he hopes that his time in West Kootenai will give him the answers he needs. When a beautiful English woman enters the community, Gideon feels a spark, but knows that he could not marry someone outside of his faith.

I have to admit, the Amish way of life is a bit of a mystery to me. Having grown up in the Southwest portion of the United States, I'm more familiar with Southern Baptist potlucks than I am with the Amish Ordnung. That being said, I enjoyed taking a glimpse into that different way of life. I have to admit that the simpler life (free of smartphones, constant noise, and hectic schedules) does certainly seem appealing at times.

The Promise Box (Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors) is ultimately a story of redemption - of coming home. I love how Tricia Goyer weaves the promises of scripture throughout the story. Yes it's a love story between two characters (who doesn't love a classic romance), but it's also about the love between a mother and her child, and more importantly, the love between a Heavenly Father and his creation.

I love the idea of a promise box. I'd love to start something like that for my own children - a record of God's promises and faithfulness to me and to my family.

What is your favorite promise from God's Word? 

Tricia Goyer is celebrating the release of her lastest novel, The Promise Box (Zondervan), by hosting an Amish Baking Box giveaway and connecting with readers during her June 12th Book Chat Party!

One "promising" winner will receive:
  • Apron, hot mitts, and kitchen towels
  • Amish baking items (rolling pin, pie plate, etc...)
  • Sherry Gore's Simply Delicious Amish Cooking
  • The Memory Jar and The Promise Box by Tricia Goyer 
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 11th. Winner will be announced at the "The Promise Box" Facebook Author Chat Party on June 12th. Connect with Tricia for an evening of Amish fun - book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Tricia will also share an exclusive look at the next book book in the Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series and give away books and other fun prizes throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of The Promise Box and join Tricia on the evening of June 12th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 12th!

I received a complimentary copy of the book to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed are my honest thoughts of the book.