Goals for 2015

GoalsIf you ever sit down with me to ask for advice on prioritizing areas of your life, I’ll tell you two things. One, simplify everything. Two, set no more than three goals to work toward at a time.

So for 2015 I thought I’d try something amazing, out of this world, life changing! I decided to actually try that out for myself.

I’m a prideful, impatient woman who believes I’m far more capable on my own than I actually am. I’m a project finisher who likes to get ‘er done, so any time I see a need for change, I reorganize my entire life by coming up with something like 30 things I’m going to change starting tomorrow. Perfect.

This time I started by listing all the roles I now have. I came up with 13 major roles and 57 sub-roles. Simplification is long overdue, can I get an amen!? So I got rid of as many roles as possible and took notes on what was left to see if patterns emerged. Three things popped out at me–I consistently rely on me instead of Jesus, I’m always distracted, and my house is NOT set up for the amount of people who live in it. Looky at that. No more than three things to work on.

As a result, my 2015 goals and sub-goals are as follows:

Gospel Centrality–I’ve lost this. I can talk the talk like nobody’s business, but my heart has forgotten truth. By God’s grace, I’m part of the most gospel-centered church I’ve ever known, which means my friends soak me with the good news of King Jesus. But in the times they aren’t in my face I easily lose my way and drift off into the horrible news of Queen Courtney. By the mercies of God, I want to immerse my mind and heart with Christ’s work, not mine. Most of the following sub-categories have all but disappeared in my life.

  • Regularly study scripture
  • Pray so I can more clearly see God at work
  • Memorize gospel-rich scripture
  • Read gospel-centered books (Bill’s helping me make a good list, and I’ll ask him to post it here in case the list would be beneficial to your soul)
  • Listen to gospel-centered sermons and music

Listen Well–My mind is busy, and I talk far too much. While I’ve tried to crucify my mouth and busyness on many crosses instead of resting in the grace that’s mine, my thoughts and tongue need a break. My ears, however, are flabby and need strength training.

  • One thing at a time when it matters–putting my phone down if the kids are talking to me, stopping school if a neighbor knocks on the door, or cheering with my man (and blessing the heck out of him!) for the Colts instead of knitting and half-watching–the point is to minimize multitasking to help my mind slow down and focus on what’s important
  • Ask questions followed by more questions in most conversations–in other words, be more interested in what others have to say than my own voice
  • Make time for intentional conversations–through both deliberate times (like a coffee date with a friend to just chat) and fun activities/events (like a craft or outing with my kids)

Set Up Home to Work Well for 10+ People–We have an OK size house, but there are many overhauls that need to happen to help it work well for a family our size. In addition to the ten of us, we plan to open our home to a young mom and her baby soon. Plus, we desire to adopt more children if the Lord wills.

  • Follow 52 Weeks to an Organized Home with my amazing friend, Lawana.
  • Use most of our “home improvement” budget on organization rather than beautification
  • Intentionally train the children to help more in this area





Sleeping with Grief


Bill and I have been talking about sleep lately–an area of our lives that either gets too much priority or not enough. We obsess over it, giving up good things in order to get the amount we need to “feel good,” or we pridefully think we can go without. So we committed yesterday morning to hold each other accountable to have a gospel-centered view of sleep.

Less than an hour after we made that commitment, my mother called choking out unbelievable words: “Before you hear it on social media, I wanted to tell you that Michael, Monica, Joshua, and Caleb were killed in a car accident last night.”

A commitment to sleep suddenly felt very stupid.

Cruce_FamilyMichael was the youth director of the church I grew up in. My parents have now been part of that church for 31 years. It’s the kind of church I still call “mine,” the family I still keep in close contact with because I just can’t quite let them go (21 years there, yo), the people I still rejoice and weep with, the ones I still love watching grow in maturity and wisdom and grace.

Bill was part of that church, too, for a couple of years. 15 months of his time, he was the interim music director. Michael was hired on during our last 5 months there before we left for Louisville.

Too short of a time to be around this beautiful family.

Michael always smiled. Always. He bled Jesus. Like you couldn’t get Michael to have a casual conversation without him bringing Christ’s name up. He made you believe Jesus was worth worshiping, and he unintentionally made you realize how you worship everything but.

Monica was quiet, soft spoken, sweet. Everything I’m not. So obviously, I really liked her. I hadn’t had nearly enough conversations with her, but over the past couple of months, God graciously brought her back in my life. They were foster-to-adopt parents. At the times I’ve been most overwhelmed, she’s been there to encourage me and give me wisdom. A woman who barely knows me except through my parents and brief encounters once a year, taking time to build a sister up.

Then the call.

No more. No more conversations with Monica. No more Instagram pictures of eternity-focused verses from Michael. No more youth pictures with him lying on the ground in front of the group, probably covered in mud. No more watching two CRAZY little boys growing into mature, godly men. No more.

Sleep wanted to come, but only tears. Endless, burning, choking tears. Tears that pushed me to obsessively check social media just to feel others’ tears, too, to be back with my family, holding each other up.

Sleep felt wrong. I wanted to feel. But eventually, much earlier than usual, it came. The body can only take so much.

And now, new mercies. A rested body that’s grace from God. And the reminder that the Cruces are sleeping, too.

It is not death for the believer to die. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) They’re all four with Jesus, in the most peaceful sleep in the history of ever. And their rising up won’t be just for a day, but for eternity.

They’re not dead, only sleeping.

So tonight, I accept sleep joyfully, reminded my body isn’t strong enough on its own. It has to be recharged, held up only by the love of Christ. And one day, I’ll be alongside the Cruces with the same Christ who energized my body for him all these years. The one in whom my soul rests, waiting for the last sleep and the eternal morning.


Time to go back to the history books
After learning that the first IHOP was opened in 1958, Liam pondered, “Oh, so it looked just like this except they would have used candles instead of electricity?”

Ya gotta be sure about these things
During snack, Liam threw away all his blueberries because they had gone bad and got an apple instead:
Miriam: Can I get an apple, too, because my blueberries were bad?
Court: Yes.
Ariana: But she already ate all her blueberries!
Miriam: I was just seeing if they all tasted good!

I’m a doctor, not a saint
Liam: I learned an important lesson from watching Star Trek: Don’t say half the words the doctor says.

Snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails
Liam: Why does it always have to be that girls are creative and boys just knock things down?

The trouble with homonyms
Ariana: Am I ever going to use any of my cents?

Bathroom humor
Liam’s first crack at making up his own joke:
Q: What did the man say when his toilet started leaking?
A: Oh, poop!

Ten Weeks of Summer Fun

I’m taking a bit of a different approach this summer. Instead of trying to do bucket lists or planning week by week, I’ve scheduled the whole summer in a calendar!  I loved and used the daily theme ideas from ReMarkable Home:

But I made some minor adjustments to fit our family. We have a weekly Tuesday obligation that keeps us home in the mornings, so I switched Monday and Tuesday. Her titles are way cuter as a result. :) Also each Friday, my kids get to invite a friend over. At least THAT one worked out.

Mobile Mondays

Tinkering Tuesdays

Wet & Wild Wednesdays

Thinking Thursdays

Fresh, Fun, and Friend Fridays

Using those daily themes, I plugged them into handy dandy calendars with links. We’re still doing school this week, but my kids pushed through and finished most of their curriculum already, so the schedule starts today since I know we’ll have some extra time. The days there are no links are either days Bill’s off or a family birthday, meaning we’ll do things differently. You’ll also notice I pushed into an 11th week. That’s mainly to make up for the few days I didn’t schedule anything and to add a couple extra activities/outings I just wanted to do. I intentionally don’t have anything for August because let’s be real. There’s no way we’ll actually do ALL the activities on the day they’re planned (or maybe at all!), so August is basically make-up month until school starts again.

May 2014 Calendar

June 2014 Calendar

July 2014 Calendar

Clothes–The Least Wonderful Times of the Year

I’m happy right now. So happy. Because I’m officially finished switching the kids clothes to spring-wear. That means it will be six whole months before I have to do it again. Does anyone else get this elated about completing that task?

There’s nothing romantic about making sure your children have proper attire each season. If you find it to be so, please don’t speak so that we can still be friends. It’s boring, tedious, confusing, and messy. And sometimes I get jealous that my kids’ clothes are cuter than mine, but whatever. I’m not a fan, BUT through the years I’ve at least gotten the process down to a semi-art, an art that still takes more than a week to complete and has beauty that DEFINITELY is only in the eye of the beholder (namely me), but an art nonetheless.

So here’s the way this goes down with the Bells:

1. Organize your storage simply: We have a large tub for every size and each gender that are labeled with a fancy strip of packing tape and a Sharpie marker. It’s going to be in the basement. No one but you and Better Homes and Gardens cares about beauty here.


2. Have a fashion show: I make my kids try on every. single. garment. As with adults, there is no one-size-fits-all. So even though with one child size 8 shirts are clearly right, there will always be that one that lands somewhere just above the belly button and will be passed down to a child three years younger. Thank you, clothing designers.

3. Keep a good list of exactly what you need for each child: One year, a department store was having a killer sale. Bill and I knew the sizes our kids needed and went crazy. When we got home, we had something like 9 new outfits for our 3rd child (who didn’t need new clothes in the first place) and not enough for others. I also used to make the mistake of knowing how many tops and bottoms they needed. That worked great except for the fact that half of the tops didn’t have a bottom that would go with that doesn’t look like it’s from the 80’s.

Here’s the list we have for spring/summer. Ours is very simple because I love the word “simple” and because we don’t have to get dolled up for anything. In other words, this list isn’t a one-size-fits-all either. I have eight of most things so there’s a spare if one gets dirty (I don’t do extra laundry except by force) and so we avoid a fashion faux pax of wearing the same outfit every Thursday.

  • 8 outfits (that go together–don’t be us)
  • 8 pairs underwear
  • 8 pairs short socks
  • 1 pair tennis shoes (if there’s a good sale, my oldest son gets 2 pair because he prefers them and will need a 2nd pair by the end of the summer anyway)
  • 1 pair casual shoe (if you’ve met us EVER you know this translates into flip flops)
  • 4 pajamas sets (we wear these multiple nights in a row, yes, we do)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 rain boot (this is VERY optional for us)
  • 1 rain coat/jacket
  • 1 umbrella to share between two people

4. Shop for what’s needed to finish the list for everyone and nothing more: No comments here about how to do this. If I did comment I might have to confess I never do consignment sales/shops for no reason except I’m lazy and want to get it over with quickly and might tell you I basically get everything from The Children’s Place and try to justify it by bragging about all the great sales I found. There are great blogs out there about saving money. This isn’t one of them.

5. Take pictures of the outfits you brilliantly put together: This is gold for us. We like to get a project done and then never think about it ever again. So when outfits are being decided for the day, we just look at the picture we’ve taped to their closet door. Voila! The kids have freedom to “choose” their own outfits and we don’t have to be ashamed to be seen with them. Win win. Oh, and as you can see, the picture doesn’t have to be pretty. Just good enough for you to know what everything is.


6. Do ALL your laundry: How long this takes is up to you. Sometimes I push to get it done in a day. Sometimes I stick to my usual schedule of one color-group a day. The point is, get it done so you can pull all the old sizes out (from closets and dressers, too), put them in handy dandy plastic tubs, and stick those babies in storage never to be seen again–until the fall…

7. Store a few opposite weather clothes in a handy spot: Since we don’t live in the deep south, we basically get four months of semi-predictable temperatures. The rest of the time we’re at the mercy of super reliant meteorologists to know if we’ll be wearing shorts or thermal underwear in the spring. I own storage tubs that fit under beds, and we fill them with a few articles of clothing for each child that are out of season. That way I don’t have to trek down to the basement to dig through the granddaddy tubs every other day, nor do I have to stuff the kids’ drawers with every article of clothing they own.

So there you have it. Nothing magical, but it works well for us. What magic tricks do you all have up your sleeves with clothes?

A Letter to a Daughter of God

I wrote this quick note to Bill: “So blah today. This is the part that makes me feel like things will never get better. And that’s just it. Things won’t til Jesus comes back. So how do I make it until then with hope and joy?”

After three other lengthy and encouraging emails speaking truth, this was a fourth he wrote as though it was a letter from God to me:


“My child, my daughter, I made you and I know you and I love you. I know you hurt and struggle. I know you are crushed by the darkness around you. I know your life is not the life you planned for yourself nor the life you would’ve picked. But it’s the life I’ve given you because I love you. And you’re weak. Oh so weak. I know. I feel your weakness. My own son knew that weakness, too. And I shared that weakness along with him, just as I do with you. I’ve never left you, even on your darkest days. And I never will, no matter what. You are mine. You always have been and always will be.


“But I am jealous for you. Jealous for you to truly believe deep in your heart that everything that has happened to you, all of the things I’ve allowed to happen, all of the things I’ve orchestrated—all of them were for your good. And the pain and the weakness and the loneliness and the darkness, it’s for your good. Because you need me now more than ever before. You thought you knew me when you were younger—ha! You knew the edge of my pinky toe! But there’s more to know, there’s more to see, there’s more glory to find. Infinitely more. And I want to show it to you, to give you more of myself, to let you experience the joy of your master. But it’s hard for you, because as you’ve known me more, you’ve known more sorrow and darkness and sin than you ever knew before. Those things are distractions, shrouds that keep you from looking at me with the young eyes of faith. You have older eyes of faith now and they’ve been blurred by the worries of the world and the battles of the flesh. But I can heal eyes. I’ve done it before.


“Don’t be afraid. I am with you, all the time. I’m your daddy. And I’m letting you toddle along, watching you stumble and fall. But I want you to get up and try again. And again and again and again. I’m right here with you, ready to catch you, ready to help you. But I also want you to grow. And part of growing is learning the new steps, the new way of walking. And I’m teaching it to you, because I want you to walk on your own. But bumps and bruises always go with learning. I can heal those, too.


“I want you to remember something: I gave you that womb and those eggs. I gave you that husband. I gave you those children. I want you to know the love of a mom for her children, that wants to comfort them in their worry and hurt and fear. Because I have that same love for all of my children. I have that same love for you. I want you to know what it’s like to love someone else that way because I want you to know that you are loved that way. And yes, I’m still loving you even when you turn from me, when you chase after other things, when you fight for independence from me. It doesn’t please me. But I chuckle at it, too, because I know you’re struggling on the path toward maturity. It’s a long path, but I made the path and the footing is sure. And I can chuckle even when I’m displeased and I have to discipline you because my love is far bigger than your disobedience. There’s nothing you can do to change that.


“I gave you that house. I had it built 100 years ago in preparation for you. I had it ruined and burned for you. And I had it rebuilt and restored for you. I want you there. I also brought all of your neighbors, the black ones and the white ones, the poor ones and the rich ones. I knit this tapestry and I’m looking right at you in the midst of it. I know you love my creation—the trees and the hills and the birds and the sky and the rocks and the rivers. I did make all of those things and it fills my heart with delight to see your joy in them. But they don’t bear my image, they don’t carry my glory. But all those people who live around you, who drive around you, who are loud and different and scary to you—I made them, too. And I put them around you, because they’re in a deeper darkness than you have ever known. And the glory I gave them, the glory I gave all mankind, is more radiant than anything you’ll see in a mountain or a valley or a stream or a storm. Rejoice that you are surrounded by my creation. And let your light shine before them, because they need to see that light. There is much darkness there, much death and sin and decay. It’s as ugly to me as it is to you. Uglier, even, because I know fully what could be. But I love transforming ugliness into beauty. And I love letting my children help me in the kitchen to get my work done. I want you to help me, too. It’ll be hard, but you’ll never be alone. You’ll be doing my work and I will not forsake you.


“My daughter, you are mine. Nothing will change that. I want good for you, more good than you could ever ask for or even imagine. But it’s a joy that comes in trusting my methods and my ways, not a joy that can be bought or fashioned or found somewhere else. You are my daughter. I am your dad. Nothing will change that. Nothing will stop my love. Besides, your brother is right here with me, constantly pleading with me on your behalf. He is right now. I am doing everything for you, for your good. I always will.


“I love you.”

Identity Crisis

We haven’t been blogging . That’s kind of a pattern with the Bells. Make a commitment to ourselves to blog and then break it within a couple of weeks. Blogging is important to us. It’s not about readership, but it’s about being able to communicate the depths of our souls, expressing something in written word we struggle to communicate in spoken word.

But I don’t feel like blogging most of the time. I try to justify it with the whole six kids homeschooling bit, but I always seem to find time to do plenty of other unnecessary things in my day. I don’t want to be raw. I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want someone to disapprove of what I say. I would rather stay bottled up.

My vision for this blog was to be real, to let you see a family who isn’t put together, who isn’t beautiful. But I decided I didn’t want you to see that. I’ve faced opposition here in Naptown, and I’ve decided that’s more important than God’s glory. I want to be closed off, to make sure I don’t look like a Debbie Downer, to keep my convictions to myself.

I wanted to show that the worth of those who are in Christ doesn’t come from our children’s behaviors, the way our church functions, our self-discipline, our physical appearance, the smooth flow of our house, the way we serve. I wanted to show that our worth comes only from the blood of Christ, that he did perfectly what we’ll never be able to do and then covered us. I don’t feel that most of the time, so I don’t write about it. But that was the point in the first place, to write and be vulnerable on the days I didn’t feel it.

Bill sent me this blog today– http://hiddenwithyou.com. I want to be like her when I grow up. I want to be open and vulnerable, truthful about the way most Christian women truly feel. I want to stop acting as though this world is anything more than awful. I want to open up about the spiritual battles that go on inside us as a result. And with contentment I want to long for the day Jesus comes to make all things right. Maybe some of that longing would come if I let you inside more often.


Dinnertime conversations:
Victoria: Mommy, I tooted in my mouth!
Me: Do you mean you burped?
Victoria: Yeah, I burped.

I’m so flattered:
Liam: Mom, we think you’re the second best draw-er in the house.
Me: Thanks!
Liam: Well, we used to think you were the worst…

We have room for improvement:
Bill: Everyone needs to go clean up the mess downstairs.
Liam: Is it cleaning day or is someone coming over?

For several months, Miriam told me I was pretty no matter what I looked like. Then this happened:
Miriam: Do you know why I always tell you you’re pretty?
Me: No.
Miriam: Because I think if I didn’t say that, I might get in trouble.

Is there a DeLorean around here?
Miriam: We watched “Back to the Future”!
Us (not knowing where or when they would have seen it): What!?
Miriam: It was something like that.
Ariana (trying to help): I know. That’s “Robin Hood”!
Us (baffled and speechless as to how Robin Hood and Back to the Future have anything to do with each other): …
Liam: Do you mean “Meet the Robinsons”?
Miriam and Ariana: Yes!

She’s always right:
Lindsay (V’s speech therapist, pointing to a picture of Olaf from “Frozen”): Is that Olaf?
Victoria: No, dat’s a sno-ma (snowman).
Lindsay: Isn’t his name Olaf?
Victoria: No, he’s sno-ma.

Why All the Lent Haters?

Growing up in a church in the restoration movement, there was no liturgical calendar to follow. No Advent, no Epiphany, no Lent, no Good Friday. In fact, we didn’t even really acknowledge Christmas and Easter. “Them dern Catholics makin’ up special days and seasons that ain’t in the Bible…”

But in years since, I’ve found some benefit from the liturgical patterns. Not as ritual or sacrament, but as a way to focus on important historical/redemptive events in our home. The seasons and holidays serve as a great way to talk about what God has done and rejoice over it together. This seems to take the spirit of Old Testament celebrations and remembrances of God’s mighty acts (like the Passover) as a family event–without the law-driven requirement to do so.

One season we’ve found particular joy in using as an annual reminder of God’s intervention in history is Advent heading into Christmas. We use the Advent season as a time to learn the story leading up to the birth of Jesus. And then Christmas is a day where we celebrate and sing and dance and praise Jesus. All day. It’s pretty great.

Lent3But I find myself disappointed as we enter Lent (which starts today, if you’re not up on these things) because in scouring the internet I can find a gazillion books and resources and traditions on Advent for families, but a search for Lent ideas brings up…pretty much nothing. I find it disturbing because Easter is far more important than Christmas. I don’t mean the days themselves, but the events commemorated on those days–Christmas as the celebration of God-with-us, Easter of our Lord’s resurrection. Of course, you can’t have Easter without Christmas (theologically speaking), but Christmas without Easter is just a nice story with a cute baby, cuddly animals, and a pretty star.

And it bothers me that my kids can tell me far more about the shepherds and the angels and the magi and the manger than they can about the guards and the garden and the thieves and the tomb. “If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain.” I want my kids seeing Easter as far more thrilling and celebratory than Christmas.

So with a lack of good resources out there, I’ve been pushed more into doing my own thing with Lent. But I really don’t have the time (nor the discipline!) to create something from scratch. And I’ve found that something daily, pre-written, and that has some hands-on portions for the kids go best for us.

So, here’s the great Lent/Easter experiment for 2014. We’re going to use this (free!) daily reading and devotional from NT Wright. Over the next 53 days, we’ll read through the entire gospel according to Matthew. Wright follows each reading with short devotionals which are insightful and engaging. We’ll also use blank 3 x 5 notecards and take turns drawing pictures of the events we just read about. Then we’ll tape those to the wall in order, a visual representation of the life of Jesus for the kids to see and reference throughout Lent. On Sundays, we’ll use six candles that will all be lit on the first Sunday of Lent and each following week will have one less candle lit (kind of an anti-Advent wreath) until Good Friday, when they’ll all be out. Then, as you probably guessed, they’ll all be lit (with even more candles all around too) the entire day of Easter to celebrate that the Light of World has burst forth from the grave.

I’m kinda thrilled.

So, that’s what we’re gonna do. I’ll keep you all updated on how it’s going and post some pictures of our magnificent artwork.

What do you do for Lent, if anything?