What a Dad Sometimes Can’t See

This week I am so excited to welcome my brother-in-law and friend, Landon Brown, to Once Upon a Writer. Landon is an amazing father of three, and when I first read his account of my nephew, Garrett, and his dragon fighting adventures, I knew it was a story of whimsy and wisdom…a story I couldn’t wait to share with you.

~ Written by Landon Brown ~

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” C.S. Lewis

I caught a glimpse of skin, stripes, and shiny plastic as I turned from the kitchen towards the living room. 

It was 9:00 pm on a Saturday, traditionally a day to gather up the pieces of family life dropped along the path of the week.  This Saturday, however, found our family scattered to the four corners of our world with Melanie away at a conference and my two oldest children with friends.

I almost missed it as my mind registered the scene of my seven-year-old son and his nine-year-old best friend. 

The call of adventure woke these boys at 7:30 am and they…

Rode bikes through a battlefield fighting the enemy with a Nerf gun…

Scorched the putt-putt course and won a pair of swords…

Broke the swords in a dual…

Ran from an imaginary villain through the Monkey Joe obstacle course…

Fought WW2 after they got home…

Built a fort using blankets, and pillows, and chairs…

All while making those shooting and sword fight noises only boys can make. Now (whew!!!), they were home and not far from bedtime.

It was what I didn’t see as I entered the living room that made the day worth remembering and cherishing…

I didn’t see the band of pirates chasing these “scalawags…” 

I didn’t see the ocean teeming with hungry sharks and giant tentacled octopi (cool word) that dared them to teeter off the ship (couch) and fall into waiting jaws… 

I didn’t notice the helpless princess they were protecting and trying to rescue…

Nor did I see these things for most of that tiring Saturday.

I almost missed it.  I almost saw nothing but a messy living room, and I almost got upset to find two broken swords scattered on the floor. But something (the Holy Spirit) reminded me that this make-believe world in the minds of these boys was given to them by God. 

One day these two “warriors” will grow up to be men…protectors and providers. Families will look to them to fight the enemy of their souls with no less energy and determination.

So let them fight.

Let their imaginary battles rage on, and let them dream of rescue. Let them imagine enemies, and castles, and sword fights. Victory and defeat.

Because the enemies will one day come, and they will be real, and the stakes will be high.

Let’s teach them about The Lord of Angel Armies, who warns us of the ultimate enemy, who fights our battles for us, who rescues us from peril. Let’s teach them about miraculous victories and impossible odds overcome by His power and might. Let’s teach them about the final victory of Jesus over His enemies and of the final restored kingdom of God on this earth.

Tell them stories…don’t lose the opportunity while their imaginations soar.

Tell them God’s story.

Give them hope.

And, dads…remind yourself of these things often. May God grant all of us eyes of faith that we may wonder at the things we cannot see.

Today Was A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a summer evening alight with the glow of fireflies…

I love fireflies. I love to watch them on a warm summer night as they light up my back yard. I love the joy they bring to little girl faces and the way they bring back memories of jars on the sill and my own childhood.

There’s something about the magical appearance of fireflies that makes me think of God. That God would see fit to create such an insect. An insect that shines light in the darkness, an insect that makes even the most ordinary night in summer seem like something from a fairy tale speaks to His unrivaled creativity and His passionate love.

My girls have a book that we love to read at bedtime. It’s titled, Sleep Baby Sleep, by Maryann Cusimano Love. My favorite verse in the story goes like this:

Shine, baby, shine,

Graceful child of mine.

Be like the firefly who glows

No matter how the darkness grows.

Shine, baby, shine.

When God made the firefly He didn’t just give us beauty He gave us a picture, a reminder of life.

This world, it’s full of darkness but we who know Christ have a light inside us. A beautiful light, a magical light. And we are at our best, and our brightest, and our most beautiful when we shine that light in the darkness.

Most of the time we long to shy away from the dark, but this is not what God has for us. Instead, He longs for us to shine in the dark, in the black of night, when this world needs His light the most. He longs for us to enter in, to take on the messy, to take on the shadow, and make a difference by offering beauty, by offering hope, by offering light and life.

Brave Prince, Lovely Princess may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the magic, in the beauty of fireflies. May you look out your window or stand on your lawn and revel in the truth of their light.

In light that glows in the darkess, in hope that beams in the night, in Christ who shines in us.

When You Want to Feed More Than Stomachs (Plus Recipe)

I love the chance to bless the socks off of someone I love. And while I’m not a baker or an expert chef, I love to bless with food.

A few weeks ago my neighbor and friend left for a two-week vacation with her family. While she was away I happily agreed to water her flowers, pick up her mail, and keep an eye on their house while they were gone.

About a week into their vacation she sent me a text saying their plans had changed. Her husband’s father had been scheduled for surgery to treat a cancerous tumor that had been found in his brain.

Feeling deeply for my friend and her family I wanted to do more than water plants and pick up their mail so I started to consider other ways we could bless our friends in their time of need.

Before my friend left for their trip she mentioned to me that she was trying her best not to go to the grocery store so food wouldn’t spoil while they were away. With this in mind I knew they were coming home to an empty fridge and pantry.

The last thing I want to do after being away from home is head for the grocery store. And I didn’t want my friend to have to do this either.

As I did my own grocery shopping I picked up a few basics to get them started upon their return. Milk, eggs, bread, fruit, and juice for their kids went into my shopping basket and home to my kitchen to await their return.

Still I wanted to do more. I knew they had been through two hard weeks. Having a long awaited vacation interrupted by a serious family emergency is trying on so many levels and all I wanted was to show them we care.

On the day before their expected arrival my husband mowed their lawn and I baked zucchini bread. I added a fresh loaf to the grocery pile and planned a supper to take over to their house for their first night home.

As I boiled pasta, chopped veggies, and sliced up bread for their supper I thought about food and how it so often seems like the most natural way to comfort the people we love.

When babies are born, when friends are sick, when loved ones pass away food may be the number one way we show our support and care.

A meal taken to friend seems to say far more than even the best Hallmark card. Essentially it says, “I can’t fix this, but I can fix a meal. I can bring you food that nourishes something basic, something core to who you are. I can show you, in a fundamental way, that you are loved, and cared for, and taken care of.”

The gift of food is also amazing because it nurtures not just the receiver but also the one doing the cooking, the baking, the taking of the meal. As I cooked for my friends I felt drawn to God as if I were taking on a part of Him, a part of who He is, a part of what He does by nourishing far more than physical needs. While I cooked I also prayed that through these groceries, that through this meal, my friends would be drawn to Him as well, that their stomachs and hearts would be filled.

When the groceries and food were delivered my friend’s reaction was priceless. As I fussed over whether or not I got their preferred type of milk, and how I should have thought to bring cereal, or how I forgot to grab their mail, my friend stopped me and said, “Jen, we feel so loved. Everything you did was perfect.”

These are words I’ll always cherish, not as a pat on my back or boost to my own ego, but as evidence we accomplished our goal. We made them feel loved. In the midst of a crisis we saw a need and met it. We became Christ with pasta and brownies.

I love the chance to bless the socks off someone I love because, really, it blesses my socks off too.

The Perfect Take-Over Meal

This recipe is one of my favorites when it comes to a meal that is easy to prepare and easy to transport. It is delicious, perfect for a new mom, kid-friendly, and has become a favorite amongst my family and friends. I love to round out the meal with a tossed salad, a loaf of Italian bread, and brownies for dessert.

Creamy Pesto Chicken


2-3 Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (Cooked)

16 oz. (1 box) Rotini pasta

1/3 c Basil pesto sauce

1 jar Alfredo sauce

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Oven Temp: 350 degrees

While chicken is cooking, boil and drain pasta. When chicken is fully cooked remove from the oven and cut into bite size pieces. Mix cooked pasta in large bowl with Alfredo sauce, basil pesto, and chicken.

Pour mixture into a 9×13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until hot. Top with shredded parmesan.

When It’s Time to Do the Hard Things

“I think it’s time we sit down and workout a budget.”

As my husband spoke these words I could feel the gears in my head, my stomach, my chest turn to a screeching halt.

There are so many things I’d rather do than sit down and workout a budget. Organize the basement? Sign me up. Clean out the fridge? I’m there. Scrub the toilets? I’m your girl. But take a long hard look at how much I spent at Barnes and Noble last month? No, thanks, I’m good.

For the past few years, despite our limited income, my husband and I have cruised along delightfully unaware of how much we spend eating out, at the bookstore, at the wine store, at Redbox. Of course there have been times when our lack of a budget has caused us to scramble when bills come due, but for the most part ignorance has been bliss.

Enter Dave Ramsey. I knew when my husband picked up Mr. Ramsey’s most recent book on teaching your kids how to be smart with money our budget-free days were numbered. (For the record Smart Money, Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze is a great book and a highly recommended read for parents with kids of all ages.)

As my husband closed his book and looked me square in the eye, I knew I didn’t want to do it, to look at our spending, to workout a budget, but I also knew he was right.

Together we sat down at the kitchen table, Chris with his laptop, and me with our most recent credit card bill, a yellow highlighter, and a knot in my stomach.

Line by line we went through the bill, entering each expense in a spreadsheet. Forty dollars here, ninety dollars there; we worked our way through to the truth of our finances.

In the end the numbers weren’t pretty but they gave us a clear picture of where we are and what we need to do.

It wasn’t an easy experience. Start to finish it was a tough thing to do but to be honest, when it was all said and done, I did feel a peace, perhaps even an odd since of joy because we did the right thing. We did something good and healthy for our home, our family.

Setting a budget…

Eating healthy…

Choosing to exercise…

Asking forgiveness…

Inviting your neighbor to church…

Speaking the truth, in love, to a friend…

Doing the hard things is never easy and rarely is it fun. But it’s needed, and necessary, and it comes with it’s own reward.

In her book, Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist writes,

“I resist and kick at discipline every chance I get, and then when I break down and do something hard, I find that it builds something in me, that it makes me stronger, not just in that area but in all sorts of areas.

Spending beyond your means…

Grabbing a bag of chips…

Watching television…

Hardening your heart…

Avoiding your neighbor…

Turning a blind eye…

All of these things are easy, but where is the reward?

Hard things define us, they make us who we are, they make us the best we can be.

Whatever the hard things are in your life today, don’t procrastinate, don’t put them off. Make the right choice. Do the right thing. And live in the peace, live in the joy, live in the reward of doing what you didn’t want to do but chose to do anyway.

Do the hard things. Let them mold you, shape you, define you.

Let them chisel you out of the cold, hard stone into the masterpiece you are. 

Four Ways to Combat Summer Stress

It’s summer! While this fact comes with many good and wonderful things for us to enjoy, (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation) it also comes with just as many things that can be incredibly overwhelming (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation.)

So what do we do? How do we make it to fall with our heads and our hearts intact? One thing that helps my family and me during a hectic summer season is to remember the Four P’s of Summer…Today I’m posting at The Blog Pile. To continue reading follow this link to www.theblogpile.com.