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Where I’m From

My awesome friend Ashley and I are both getting back into the teaching saddle after a lengthy hiatus this year, and she inspired me to get in on the fun of the Where I’m From poem with this post, which you should definitely read. Then you should go ahead and just subscribe to her blog while you’re there because you’ll likely feel all kinds of encouraged and inspired  after reading her posts like I do.

Anyway, because Ashley asked me to write my own Where I’m From poem so she could have some examples to show her students, and also because I’m now planning to have my students write their own as well, I threw aside the jitters I’m feeling before heading off to work tomorrow and got my poem written.

Where I’m From

By Kelly West

I’m from homemade dresses and blonde French braids.

Naming calves each spring and stock tanks doubling as swimming pools.

I’m from summers made cooler by eating Pop-ice in front of a green box fan.

Blowing bubble pipes and weaving clover chains kissed by the morning dew.

I’m from being chauffeured in the back of a truck to the filling station each Saturday where I could pick out which flavor of Tootsie Pop® I wanted.

I’m from learning about Moses parting the Red Sea in Sunday school then going home to cheer with the red sea at Arrowhead.

I’m from pondering life under the stars as I drank in the country silence, punctuated by a coyote’s soulful interjection.

I’m from piling wood for the winter to receive the prize of roasted hot dogs and marshmallows – the perfect crispy brown – for lunch.

Afternoons held The Flintstones and Carmen San Diego and evenings Dr. Quinn and Walker, Texas Ranger.

TGIF meant learning about life from a teenage witch and a Boy Meeting the challenges of the World.

I’m from when snow days meant Matlock and The Price is Right.

I’m from where bike crashes left me coated with brown dirt and tiny pebbles tearing open my skin to try making their new home.

Where I’m from, I learned shoes were only necessary in cold weather and snow boots don’t make good hammers.

I’m from a time when Shania reminded me to feel like a woman and page 16 in the hymnbook said to count my blessings

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When a Good Thing Comes to an End

Today is perhaps my last quiet day home with just me and the kids for the summer. Monday morning, I officially become a full-time working mom for the first time. It’s a transition I am excited to make, and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities it opens up for not only me, but also my family.

But of course, in order for something new and exciting to begin, it means the end of an era. The stay-at-home mom season of my life has to come to an end so I can become a teacher again. Seasons of transition always bring with them a jumbled excess of emotions to unwind and make sense of, so of course this summer has kept me busy doing just that.

The time I’ve been home with my kids has been an invaluable opportunity. It has also been the most challenging time of my life. I’ve undergone countless overhauls on perspective, purpose, needs, and identity.

DSC02744

I now know the negative effects sleep deprivation has on me;

Sweet Summer

the impossible yet necessary quest to strike up a balanced friendship with isolation;

Me + kids

three-year-olds can give you bloody noses (unintentionally of course);

Sand box

I’m capable of praising and loathing poop multiple times in any given day;

CarRide

play dates are sometimes more important for the moms than they are for the kids;

IMG_8558_picmonkeyed

and coffee has miraculous powers.

I’ve also learned one of life’s most important lessons in the time I’ve been raising these kids I love so much: Every experience- both and good and bad – is for a season.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, and I will forever be grateful that God honored that desire of my heart, but for our family, it is time for a change.

My kids aren’t babies anymore because they weren’t created to remain in the infant stage forever. They were made to grow, and so was I. The greatest gift God has given me as a mother is that, no matter how many changes my family or I go through, I will always be a mom – Dash and Daisy’ mom. As their mom, I’m given an incredible responsibility to teach them how to be brave, try new things, and never stop learning or growing.

The saying, “All good things must come to an end,” may leave a melancholy air with it. As I’ve worked through my jumbled emotions this summer, I have decided it’s unfortunate and unjust to make that statement by itself. I’ve reflected on the numerous good things and times that have come to an end in my lifetime, but I can say with certainty that eventually, saying goodbye to those things has always brought about new good things, and oftentimes even better things.

So yes, I do feel a tad emotional as this time in my life winds up. I will obviously miss the luxury of staying in my pajamas on the mornings that follow up a rough night with a sick kid, but I am thrilled at the opportunity to leave a legacy with 130+ kids in addition to my own each year. I might not get to relish afternoon nap time in the way I used to, but I get to be a very active and empathetic cheerleader for Dash as we start school together in just a couple of weeks. Most importantly, I get to prove to my kids that it’s important to live with this philosophy:

When good things come to an end, make

 

For When You Think You Shouldn’t Try That One Thing You’ve Been Meaning to Try

I started this blog three years ago this summer. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, as silly as it sounds.

But I am not the natural-born risk taker. I loathe bandwagons and noisy, pompous words online and in person. No one I knew personally had taken blogging to the level of setting up a website and writing articles for people to read. What did it matter what I had to say, anyway? I had a rational, compelling argument against taking the steps necessary to having my own space in the rapidly-growing blogsophere.

God would not leave me alone about the idea, however. There were times I felt physically pulled to my computer to make this thing happen. I whined a lot while I was figuring it out. A LOT!

I played the role of Gideon laying out one fleece after the next before God to make sure this was actually what He wanted, and He boldly confirmed that this is the exact direction He was leading.

I finally believed Him when I got a $12.51 check in the mail from our mortgage company one week after I prayed He’d provide the $12 for the domain name purchase. That is the only time in the history of ever that we received a CHECK from our mortgage company.

Yep. It was about that time I decided I should believe God, so I labored through, fully expecting that He had plans to grow this blog into something glamorous because He wanted me to do it so badly.

Nearly three years later, this place in Internet Land hasn’t grown very much at all. It’s risen and fallen and fallen some more, in fact. Even so, I have grown a ton. I’ve learned about obedience, faith, identity, serving, vulnerability, and ignoring the desire to chase after trends. God hasn’t made a great name for myself and neither have I, but I’ve grown a lot more comfortable with accepting that I’m not the one who’s supposed to have a great name because God’s name is the only one that is great and worthy of recognition.

I’ve debated many times in the months since starting this writing journey whether or not I should continue or let it go. There have been times I’ve begged God to let me let it go, and other than occasional seasons of stepping away to rest or deal with life, He reminds me that He is the one who completes the good work He’s placed within me. (Don’t believe me? He said it here in Philippians 1:6.)

It’s funny that I don’t identify myself as a blogger as much as I used to a couple of years ago. Rather, I’ve realized I’m just an ordinary, work-in-progress woman who happens to sometimes write on a blog as well. The internal struggles I’ve faced about this particular aspect of my life have helped prepare me for the bigger challenges that real life has handed me, and I’m grateful for the gift God has given me by saying, “Do this blog thing! It will help unlock a lot of personal issues you need to work through to be more like Me.”

That $12.51 check was the first time that God spoke to me in such a clear way, and in the trials that have challenged me since then, I can go back to that moment when He said, “I’ll always provide a way for you to follow my leading. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.”

Success Definition

Instead of growing into an impressive blog with dozens of emails from publishers begging for a book deal, I’ve learned to believe that fact that no one actually wants to believe about life. Success is not measured by numbers. It’s really not. Success is about obeying God no matter what it might cost. It’s about standing behind His promises when they look different than you thought they would. It’s about understanding grace, accepting it, and abiding in God’s love.

So that thing you’ve been putting off doing even though you know God’s telling you to do it? It probably won’t turn out anything like you think it will, but there will come a day you will be so glad it didn’t. You will also be better for it if you choose to be brave and follow Him.

Making Life Less Complicated

Sometimes I read too much.

As I prepared to enter motherhood, I picked up every book recommended to me on pregnancy and parenting. One particular book seemed like the perfect purchase in the book store. Each chapter featured things unique and special to that particular week of pregnancy. I got hooked into pouring over the words on the first two pages of the chapters because it gave me a glimpse at that sweet, unborn child growing inside me.

Then I kept reading. What followed the beautiful sketches of the first couple of pages were a far cry from the blissful, hope-filled words I’d just soaked in. The authors of this book decided it was a good idea to inform hormonal and increasingly paranoid mothers-to-be of every random disease that could happen in their children. Because we moms will obviously take it all in stride and not worry one bit about the 1 in a million chance that we could be somehow responsible for morphing our children into X:Men (or women).

Somewhere about a month into my pregnancy and reading of said book, my husband kindly and calmly suggested that I skip the majority of each chapter when I sat down to read the book each week.

“But I should be prepared for the worst! Ignoring the problem isn’t going to help anyone.” I stood on my soapbox, proclaiming this to him with great conviction.

Bless that man for not laughing at me or ripping the book to shreds in my face. Instead he said, “You are right, but we don’t currently have a problem. Why worry about every possible worst-case scenario? Reading these descriptions is taking away some of the joy of anticipating this child, so don’t read too much into everything by studying too much doom and gloom.

I can see a pattern in my past of when I’ve read too much, and it always turns out the same.

I read how to be a great parent and immediately start believing that I’m never going to achieve the level described in the book.

I read how to have a successful marriage, and suddenly the marriage that was going great in real life is in hypothetical turmoil in my head.

The articles I read about being prosperous make me question the success of my accomplishments.

There’s a balance in it all that I’ve come to realize exists when it comes to reading into and about life. The bottom line is, I tend to psyche myself into believing everything I’m doing is complicated.

Parenting
Marriage
Health
Housekeeping
Friendships
Ministry
Knowing God’s willIdentity

Those are all difficult things that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but I believe that I’ve been reading more into the expectations of life thus making the individual aspects more complicated all by myself.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 states everyone’s purpose in life right after giving a warning about not getting too caught up in reading tons of words from scholars,

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

My friend, following God isn’t easy, but it’s simple.

The formulas for success are ever-changing as people gain more education and prestige. However, even Solomon, the wisest man of all, admitted that pursuing the complex and educated answers was pointless.

I’m not implying that we should remain in the dark about what’s going on in the world. Nor am I arrogantly claiming to have no need for supplemental resources that can point me in the right direction when I’m clueless. (I am becoming more choosy about those resources, however.)

Time and again when I look at crossroads in my life or the lives of the men and women mentioned in scripture, the right decision was made because we listened to the voice of God.

He has the right answer. When we remove the fear, doubt, emotions, or excuses that have convoluted our reasoning, the answer is there. Not often in a bold display, but quietly confident and waiting for us to accept it.

 

Getting Back in the Groove

Testing. Testing. One, two, three.

Is anyone there?

There’ve been a whole lot of crickets and not very much activity in this space for a long time. I’ve been quiet around here; you’ve been quiet around here, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There are times we all have to step away from things, people, and places that we love. It’s hard to make the break, but I find that it’s even more challenging sometimes to know how to pick back up.

And that’s where I am: not sure what to do in this little corner of the Internet. Not sure what to do with the lessons I’ve been learning. Do I share them? Or are they meant to be my own personal lessons?

I’m still not sure, so I’m doing the next thing I can think of. I’m going to share some random thoughts and updates as I push through the awkward and try to remember this “writer” part of myself that I’ve grown not quite as acquainted with in recent months.

1. I am continually evaluating what is good and necessary for reading online in my own personal life. Don’t get the wrong impression, my idea of good isn’t always super-spiritual. I think recipes are good, don’t you? Or articles about my favorite TV shows, obviously. 😉  I have a small list of blogs I enjoy reading, most of which belong to women I know and love in real life. I love reading them because they encourage and inspire me while keeping me connected to people I care about.

2. I have a feeling that if you’re anything like me, you’ve grown weary. The demands of living life wear every last one of us out. Then in our down time, we often turn to the Internet to provide entertainment, information, or connection from the world outside our busy-bubbles. And it makes me more tired sometimes to do that. The sheer number of causes, organizations, lifestyles, and groups that my newsfeed beckons me to grow more educated about or join is overwhelming with a capital O.

3. It makes me feel like an official (ahem) “experienced” adult when I see how different the world looks to my kids in comparison to my childhood. It blows my son’s mind to use an old-school paper towel dispenser at a public restroom. “But Mom! Why doesn’t it work when I wave my hand in front of it?!?”

4. A friend and I have been working on getting into healthy routines. That means I’ve been trying to actually pay attention to what I eat as well as work out consistently. First off, it’s a huge blessing to have arrived at a season where I can get up (most mornings) before the kids and work out. I’m not nearly as cranky as I had been feeling and have a ton more energy. A second point I need to make while I’m on the topic is that I was in a gross state of denial about how much sugar I actually ate every day. This does not mean that I will click on that article I keep seeing on Facebook that claims I will never eat sugar again if I read it. Nope. I won’t do it. I still love chocolate too much.

5. I’m thankful for you! Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say. Thanks for being an encouragement to me with your own life. Would you do me a favor if you have a couple of minutes and send me a message about the kinds of things you enjoy reading when you take time to browse the web? (My email is kwesterf(at)gmail{dot}com) Your time is precious, and I want to add a positive moment to your day should you choose to stop by my blog, so let me know what you enjoy reading.

 

The Because of Grace List

If you’ve spent any time around me in the last year, you know I’ve been learning a lot about grace. While I’m confident I’ll never fully comprehend this invaluable gift from my LORD, the bits of understanding I gather from one life experience to the next brings me more and more freedom.

And I want you to experience an ever-growing freedom as well. Grace is essential for joy, hope, and a meaningful life. It’s deep, but it’s also present in the simple things. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, the simple things are the most tricky for me to claim grace over.

I get that my relationship with God is one hundred percent a gift from Him because of His grace. It has nothing to do with what I do or don’t accomplish, yet it seems that I often get stuck in a rut of trying to compensate for my inability to contribute to grace in that area by setting ridiculously high expectations for my day-to-day accomplishments. Then when I fail (which ultimately happens every single time) I spiral into a state of mentally beating myself up. The next thing I know, I’m spending all of my energy focusing on what I’ve failed to do that I’ve forgotten to bask in and share the grace-filled life that God intends for me to live.

I write this because I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I’ve talked to many women who are right there with me in this battle to claim grace in ALL areas of our life. That’s why I’m issuing a challenge. If you relate with what I’m talking about, will you take a stand and begin a change in your life?

At the end of each month, I’m planning to list and share some of the things I’ve accomplished in the span of those days that made it up. They don’t need to be huge accomplishments, although I anticipate that some of them will be.

Going into January, I made an ambitious list of goals I wanted to accomplish in the new year. I believe it’s great to make goals, but I also know that there are times that life happens and I can’t accomplish them in the way I had hoped. Or, as is the case for me this month, I set too many goals to happily live in my current season of life.

I was beginning to feel discouraged about what didn’t get done until God gave me a reminder that His grace is enough for all aspects of my life. He has been good to me and has still enabled me to accomplish some great things this month. That’s something He deserves credit for. It is much more pleasing for Him to hear me utter thanks for His strength and presence rather than listening to me wallow in my self-centered frustration over what I left undone.

That’s why I’m making a list called my “Because of Grace List.” Because of grace, I did accomplish great things, mundane things, good things, happy things.

Because of Grace List

Do you want to join me? If you have been saved by grace, then let it define you – all of you! Write down some of the things God enabled you to do over the last 31 days. Even if you came short of the goal you set, write down what you finished.

Sickness strikes most all of us this time of year, and it may seem that you weren’t able to get anything done because of that, but I challenge you to think about what you were able to do when you found yourself spending extra time on the couch. Did you have a chance to pray more, spend more time cuddling your child, read a book, catch up on rest, or dream about the future?

If you are taking part in this challenge, don’t just do it quietly. Let’s be in this thing together. I mentioned earlier this month that I joined a community of writers who took on the My 500 Words challenge issued by Jeff Goins. I did something more than I usually do when I decide to participate in challenges. I joined the Facebook group, and that made all of the difference. I love the way that social media enables people with a common goal to encourage each other and stay accountable, so I am working out some way that we can come together to encourage each other in this.

If you’re ready to dive into this Because of Grace List challenge with me, then let’s start a community. Community is what keeps us going when we want to give up on our own, and I while I can make a list by myself, it could more greatly impact my life as well as your life if we have each other. So what do you say? We start right away, but you can jump in at any time. Stay tuned for details, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you if you’re joining me.

Favorite Reads of 2013

This was my year for reclaiming my love for reading! I asked for a Kindle last Christmas, and I’m so glad that I got one. That Kindle and I got to know each other very well in the early months of the year when I was up nursing my newborn at all hours of the night. I remember seeing literally every hour of the day and night for a couple of weeks there, so I got a head start on my goal of reading at least a book a month.

In fact, I was able to double that goal, and finished out the year by completing 24 books. Before you get too impressed, you should know that some of these books were very short. One of the things I love about my Kindle is the ability to try out tons of freebie books on there. Even though I have multiple libraries in my city, I stink at getting there and then getting the books back on time. It’s a flaw of mine aggravated somewhat by only having one car that I don’t have daily access to.So yeah. The Kindle is a good fit for me. 😉

Books Quote

Photo Credit

One of the biggest hang ups I’ve had in recent years when it comes to reading is starting 10 different books and never finishing any of them. This year, I adopted the idea I’ve seen on Pinterest of creating a board for all of the books that I’ve read over the course of the year. I know I’m just like a little kid, but for some reason that worked just as well as getting a sticker on my paper at school for me. I couldn’t pin the book until I’d finished it, and I loved being able to look back at my board and see what all I’d accomplished as the months passed.

If you’re curious about what I read and are looking for some reading inspiration, here’s the link to my Pinterest board.

And now here are my top six favorite books from the year (in no particular order). Oh, and I never have gotten around to setting up an affiliate program with Amazon since I changed my web address, so I’m not getting a commission on any of these books should you choose to purchase them.

1. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle – Oh. My. Goodness. The perfect balance of funny and important lessons. It’s honest, relatable, encouraging, challenging, and just plain fun. Are you a mom? Do you plan to be a mom? Read it! No seriously, READ IT!

2. Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman – If you’ve read my blog at all this year, you’ve no doubt heard me reference this book on more than one occasion. It was a great tool to change me for the better this year. So good.

3. Embracing Beauty by Trina Holden – I needed this book! It’s such a practical, encouraging, and helpful book to any mama in the season of having babies. Feeling beautiful and putting effort into myself is not always easy when my body is between sizes and my schedule is non-existent. Trina gave me some great food for thought and motivation into how I could actually make it happen and make it an act of worship as well.

4. Invisible by Lorena McCourtney – This was probably my favorite fiction read of the year. (As a side note, I need to incorporate more novels in my reading diet!) I got this book on my Kindle and read it in the middle of the night during feedings last winter. It’s a fun murder-mystery. Nothing too heavy or thought-provoking, but if you’re into who-dun-it stories, this is a good one to check out. I even sacrificed going back to bed after I was done feeding the baby so I could finish the book. 😉

5. Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic – I was late in the game to pick up this book, but it was a great book for moms of littles. I know, I know, most of my favorite books are about motherhood. But you know what? I think there’s a reason for that.Moms need a lot of encouragement. This one is a must-read for anyone with little munchkins.

6. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis – What an inspiring read! God has called each of us into ministry, and reading Katie’s story challenges anyone who reads it to step outside their comfort zones and minister to everyone.

What books did you read this year that you recommend I add to my list of books to read for next year?