Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Intentional Christmas by Clair Boone, mom of two

Are we late…again?” My 4 year-old asks as I bundle him and his 2 year-old brother into the car and head out with a sigh of relief that no indeed, we’re not late.

He has good reason to ask since it seems like we flit through life with such breakneck speed that we miss life along the way.  We’re always dashing out the door or hurrying to be on time; he’s realized that life can seem like one big race that nobody gets prizes for, even the early birds.
"Be intentional about sharing
the story of Jesus’ birth
at Christmas"

With my propensity to dash around, I have realized that if I’m not intentional about slowing down and simplifying life to celebrate Jesus this Christmas, I won’t be modeling what I value for my children. So I’ve opted for a few simple strategies:

Simplify Decorating
Instead of adding lots of decorations around the house, opt for a few simple ones. After all, what goes up must come down! Use items from outdoors like broken twigs and pinecones to make simple centerpieces.

Intend to Create Traditions
Traditions begin as you choose an activity to enjoy as a family. Maybe it’s caroling around your neighborhood, visiting a Christmas display or watching a Christmas movie and munching caramel popcorn; start one thing as a family that your kids will remember.

Celebrate the season with friends and family
Invite another family over for a simple dinner. Notice those who might be lonely and need a friend during this season. Keep hospitality simple so you can enjoy the company of your friends.

The True Story of Christmas
Be intentional about sharing the story of Jesus’ birth at Christmas with your children. Find space in your busy schedule to read sections of the story from Luke 2 out loud as a family.

Dear God, thank you for gift of your son who we celebrate at Christmas. Help me to slow down and teach the value of a simple Christmas to my children.

Clair Boone is Mom to Isaac (4) and Chase (2). She lives just outside Chicago with her husband, Tim, and loves helping other moms save money through her blog, See her blog for 7 make-ahead cookie recipes that you can freeze:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Upside of Worry by Caryn Rivadeneira, mom of three

Recently my husband and I both went from being self-employed to other-employed. While we considered this change in status to be a tremendous and much-needed blessing, it didn’t come without stress. What our self-employed lives hadn’t provided in terms of financial resources and dental insurance, it made up for in flexibility

Since having our first child a decade ago, we had been able to work and be with the kids – for the most part – when they got home from school, on the sidelines of baseball games, in the car as we shuffled off to tap class.

"God has gone ahead
and is preparing the
very road we travel on."

So although our new employment status now meant we wouldn’t need to stress so much about how we would pay for life with three growing children, it did restrict our flexibility. And I’d be lying if I said that this didn’t cause my heartbeat to rise as I wondered how my kids and our family life would adjust to our new work arrangements.

Most of the time, however, my worry stayed manageable. But sometimes, the worry morphed into something greater — something closer to panic.

I realized fear or worry or even panic can have an upside. I have learned to recognize these emotions as cues. Because when wonder turns to worry, it tells me I’ve forgotten God’s promises. In fact, Isaiah 45:2 says this: “I [God] will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.” That’s a promise of great strength! It is quite a comfort to know that no matter how life bends and curves, no matter the new direction it takes our families, God has gone ahead and is preparing the very road we travel on.

Dear God, thank you that I can trust you to be strong and go before my family, even when I am worried about the details of our lives.

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Life Event When It Lets You Down and co-founder of Redbud Writers Guild. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her family.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Wisdom of Shampoo by Dale Skram, mom of four

I grabbed my shampoo bottle and noticed the phrase, “Know the hair you have to get the hair you want.” Normally I don’t read the bottle, but that phrase caught my attention. Pantene has all kinds of shampoos to address all kinds of problems. If you have dry, limp, or color-treated hair they have a solution for you. All you have to do is know your hair and your hair’s “issues” and then Pantene can make all of your hair dreams come true.
I think those folks at Pantene are extremely wise, and I realized that their philosophy of shampoo applied to my life as a woman and mom. In order to become the person that I want to be, I must first know who I am today. And when I admit who I really am, which is often short of where I want to be, then I have taken that first step toward change.

"My anger came out in yelling."

For example, I was getting really angry with my children about leaving their toys, shoes, and stuff all around the house. My anger came out in yelling. My husband would ask, “Honey, why are you so angry?” I would reply “I am not angry.” I just couldn’t admit it. 
One day a neighbor standing at the front door heard one of my rampages, and I couldn’t hide my anger problem anymore. My first step on the road to being the person I wanted to be — a calmer mom — started with me admitting my anger to some people I could trust. And while all my dreams about the person I really want to be haven’t quite come true yet, I am trying to be honest about who I am at each stage on this journey of change.

Dear God, show me who I am today in one specific area. Give me the courage to agree with you and then change me into who you want me to be.

Dale is a popular speaker and MOPS Mentor in Boulder, CO ( She presents on the topic of mom friendships in the MOPS video curriculum for 2012-13.

Love Without Borders by Carla Foote, mom of 2

As we sat on the long international flight, I watched as a mom and dad and their new daughter tackled the 14 hour homecoming flight. The girl was 2-1/2 years old, from an orphanage in India, and in our hours together her parents shared about the two year process of bringing her into their family to join their two sons. Their joy was evident and I was impressed with the way they tag-teamed to cuddle, entertain, feed and nurture her during the flight.  And all of us onboard were thankful that she and a few other toddlers did sleep some during the long flight. But I knew that the challenges of parenting were longer and deeper than a 14 hour plane ride, and this family would need their reservoir of love to be refilled regularly.

I made a conscious effort to affirm the great job they were doing and to talk to the mom about MOPS. I suggested that a community of moms would give her energy and encouragement in this new phase of her mothering journey. She admitted that most of her mom connections were with families of older children, now that her boys were school-aged.

"We can be encouraged when we are down,
and we can encourage another mom
when she is down."

The great joy and love that we feel for our children does help equip us for motherhood, whether we enter motherhood through adoption or biological birth. But sometimes the feeling of love can wear thin as we face the daily challenges of life. That’s where our community of MOPS lifts us up – we can be encouraged when we are down, and we can encourage another mom when she is down.  You are part of this community now through your MOPS group, and hopefully you are taking risks and going deeper in relationships with the moms in your group.

What about the moms who don’t have this welcoming and loving community? I could just as easily have chatted with this mom and not mentioned MOPS at all, but why wouldn’t I want to share tangible and practical encouragement with a mom? We are all surrounded by moms who need love without borders, a love that invites and welcomes moms into MOPS.

Dear Lord, help me to be a mom without borders. Help me to open my arms, my heart and my prayers to moms in every circumstance, and to welcome them into community when the opportunity presents itself. Amen.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Preschool Regrets by Alexandra Kuykendall, mom of four

I sat in the classroom on what felt like a doll-sized chair, my knees up to my ears with the heavy three-ring binder on my lap. I didn’t have to open it to know it was full of school policies (read: expectations for parents to give in many ways) and class rosters. It was preschool orientation. What am I doing here? I asked myself. I quickly counted six years of preschool mothering under my belt. Like I need to be taught how to have a child in preschool.

And this was not just for any preschool. This was our neighborhood cooperative preschool. Despite the three minute drive from our house and the perfect Tuesday/Thursday afternoon class schedule, I was beginning to regret my decision to return to this school where the expectations felt like a second job.
"Helping in the classroom
had sounded quite manageable
months ago."

The classroom helping requirement felt daunting. Once a month I would have to figure out somewhere to send the baby so I could help in my 3-year old’s classroom. Helping in the classroom had sounded quite manageable months ago. What’s one afternoon a month? I’d thought. But I also knew from experience come November with sick siblings home from school and Christmas errands, I’d be resenting the classroom requirement. Why did I sign up for this?
But as well as I knew the scrambling involved to make classroom aiding work, I also knew how happy I was each time I helped. Sitting with my knees up to my ears I remembered as each month rolled around with my previous preschoolers how glad I’d been that I’d made time to see my child outside of our familiar home environment. I looked around the room at the easel, the play kitchen area, the reading corner with its bean bag chairs and display of “back to school” themed books and imagined my newest preschooler exploring it all for the first time. The regrets melted away as I readied myself to join her as she took one preschool-sized step into the big world.

Lord, help me to be present in the mothering duties I avoid. Help me to see them as opportunities to grow along with my child.

Alexandra Kuykendall is a writer and editor for MOPS International and regularly blogs at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blink, It’s Fall by Tracey Bianchi, mom of three

I blinked. That was my mistake. My lids kissed one another in that way they do some 20,000 times per day. I blinked. Crushed my mascara-laden lashes into one another for a nanosecond and opened them to notice a yellow Aspen leaf quaking on my neighbor’s tree. I blinked and the sun slipped into my yard an hour earlier than it did in June. The aisle at Target once boasting goggles and sun block now peddles pencils. As summer days surrender to fall, many of us lament the loss flip flops. Ready or not, we are careening toward autumn.
For many of us this season brings mixed emotion, the joy of routines recaptured or perhaps an uneasy feeling. Some of us sending children off to preschool or elementary school for the first time — or perhaps our first ever “Mommy & Me” class just started.

"It takes the same time
to crack a smile
as it does to blink."

New classes, schools and endeavors for our children mean that us moms are new on the block too — not one of those seasoned, seemingly calloused moms in the corner whose ease we secretly envy. Nope, many of us are the rookies. The ones desperate for a smile and kind word. The mom who does not know the routine about where to hang jackets or park for pick up. 

We need a friend to show us grace. Will it be you? Me? As you wade through the wonder of fall and lament the speed with which summer melted, take a moment to look around at the women in your new circles. Who are they? Do they need a smile or a warm greeting? Do you need this from one of them?

It takes the same time to crack a smile as it does to blink. A moment, ever so brief yet ever so needed. Moms around us need connections every day. May our fall routines include the giving and receiving of friendship to those moms around us. We are all in this together, let’s embrace one another along the way.

Dear God, help me be a woman who gives grace and friendship, and help me find connections for my soul in my everyday community.

Tracey Bianchi is the author of Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood, the MOPS theme book for 2012-13. Connect with her at

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Intergenerational Strategy by Margot Starbuck, mom of three

Before I had kids, I had all sorts of big ideas about how I’d strap them to my back and we’d hop on my scooter and serve the world’s marginalized peoples. Once I had kids, I could barely find time to slip out of my nightshirt, let alone leave the house. Those in rural Africa and America’s inner cities were just going to have to do without me for … the next eighteen years or so.

And while I’m not making any transatlantic voyages for a while, I did start to notice folks who were marginalized in my own community. In fact, I could see Miss Betty’s living room from my front porch. Because her family lived at a distance, Miss Betty was hungry to see children. As God opened my eyes, I started to notice all sorts of ways to serve right under my own nose.

-Elderly Miss Virginia, on a route I often power-walked, sat outside everyday both due to a lack of air-conditioning and also to have some human contact.

-A senior center opened up downtown near the school my oldest attended.

-Everyday, at noontime, aging Mr. and Mrs. Dunham traveled fifteen miles to visit their daughter, with multiple disabilities, who was institutionalized.

"You’ll find plenty of opportunities
to move with Jesus
toward the ones he loves."

It became clear pretty quickly that there was a whole population of “hidden ones,” marginalized especially by age and ability, who would welcome human affection. Here are some age-appropriate ideas for intergenerational relationships:

1. Take advantage of your first child’s early infancy, before separation anxiety sets in, to visit care facilities where older adults can hold your child.

2. Give your 6-12 month old “floor time,” with favorite toys and mobile at the home of an elderly neighbor while you chat.

3. If a neighbor spends time on a front porch, give your preschooler a bottle of bubbles and let her play in the yard.

With a little holy imagination, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to move with Jesus toward the ones he loves.

Lord, as I mother, I long to engage with the world you love. Show me the places where my child might dispel loneliness right in my neighborhood.

Margot Starbuck is a writer and speaker who lives in North Carolina. You can connect with her at
Her book, Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor, explores more of these simple ways to touch your community.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hear Me, See Me by Ashley Larkin, mom of three

I stood knee-deep in grime-filled clothes that smelled like a campfire while the girls played in their bedroom. We'd just returned from a camping trip, so while my husband and second-born finished unloading, I unpacked bags and started laundry.

Though my heart was happy, my body felt drained by the weekend of ground-sleeping, waking throughout the night, setting up and breaking down camp. Not to mention the everyday tasks of mothering that followed me into camp.

While camping, I was amazed to see what our kids could do — carry 60-pound jugs of water from a hand pump and clean the dishes with barely any help from grownups. Wow, who knew?
"The truth is that my words
and actions do matter. I matter."

Back at home, I asked the girls to stop playing and complete one simple task: put dirty "camping pillowcases" in the laundry and replace them with clean ones. It soon became clear that the girls were ignoring me or hadn't heard me. I strained to explain myself calmly, ending with, "Camping is fun, but it's also hard work. We need everybody to chip in."

Moments later, I turned from laundry piles to see my oldest lying on her bed, my youngest rolling on the floor, task undone. Tightness filled my throat while anger pushed through to a full force yell: Just do what I've asked! Do you see what I'm doing? Why do I have to yell for you to pay attention?

Almost instantly, I felt sick for losing my temper. Within minutes, I apologized, but not before recognizing my hurt and wrong beliefs: My words are unimportant. My efforts are unappreciated. I'm not worth paying attention to.
Though my approach was wrong, and I've got better tools in my mothering box, the truth is that my words and actions do matter. I matter. So I will continue to show my children not only the value of work, but also of self-control and, when needed, consequences.

God, please give me wisdom to instill responsibility in my children. Even when I mess up, thank you that you hear every word and see every task. I am grateful you are the God who sees. Amen.

Ashley writes about the beauty of living fully awake to everyday moments on her blog, Draw Near. She and her husband, Michael, are parents to three daughters, ages 10, 7 and 4, and live in Portland, Oregon.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Finding My Home Place By Sara Munday, mother of three

When I married, my husband and I moved away from home. I had always lived near family, but now I found myself in a place that felt so foreign. I became depressed as I felt more and more alone. I had no friends, no family, my husband worked late hours, and my neighbors all worked outside of the home.

This feeling of being alone increased when we had our first child and struggled to be good parents. My husband and I felt so lost and lonely that we were talking about giving up and moving to live with my husband's parents until he found a job near family.
"For the first time,
I was in a crowd
   in which I belonged."

When our son was six months old, I visited a MOPS group out of sheer desperation. Something changed that day. For the first time, I was in a crowd in which I belonged ... for no other reason than because I was a mom. I attended every meeting and every event the MOPS group offered that year. Through MOPS, my husband and I finally felt like we were at home in a state so far away from everything we knew.

When it was time to move again, the first thing I did was search for a MOPS group near our new home. Even though we moved in the summer time, I quickly found a group that I would attend in the fall. I called the group’s coordinator before we even finished unpacking, and she invited us to play dates throughout the summer. This is when I realized that no matter where I was, if I could find a group of MOPS moms, I’d be home.

Dear God, please help me to accept the moms around me and to make them feel welcomed into our lives. Please help me be a part of seeing No Mom Alone. Amen. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oh My Words! by Kim Peterson, mom of one

My husband has the largest vocabulary of anyone I know. Playing Boggle or Scrabble with him always ends up with me breaking out the dictionary to challenge at least three of his words. Whenever he uses the word “unguents” in everyday conversation, I know he is flirting with me. I relish the challenge of trying to out-wordsmith him.

It seems my 4-year-old daughter hasn’t fallen far from the tree. An early speaker, she memorizes songs and movie scripts easily, manages an impressive vocabulary and even invents words of her own. After our indoor Easter egg hunt this year, she asked me, “Mom, do you know why I preferred to have Dad get the egg on the table?” On any given day, it’s not unusual to hear her telling me, “Mom, that is not appropriate!” I always forget that her developmental level is not as sophisticated as her understanding of language.
"I delight in seeing parts
of my husband that I love
emerge in my precious daughter."

Besides a large vocabulary, my husband and daughter also share a very mischievous streak. Before bedtime, the family roughhousing usually reaches its peak. After reading books with our daughter in our bed, we trek to her room for prayers and hugs and kisses. While cuddling on the bed, Daddy usually accidentally “trips” on us. After the barrage of giggling dies down, our daughter will jump off the bed and then jump back on top of us. Next, comes the squeal, “Daddy, attackle Mommy!” Attackle--get it? Attack and tackle put together.

I delight in seeing parts of my husband that I love emerge in my precious daughter. Watching them play together and share little moments remains one of my greatest joys. True, with the two of them in my life, there’s never a dull moment. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.  

Dear Father, thank you for my family and their gifts. Help me to cherish them and the special things we share. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Losing It by Cori Salchert, mom of eight

When I was pregnant with my third baby and very hormonal, I spent most of my days chasing around an almost 2-year-old boy who never walked, only ran. I also had a 3-year-old daughter who had some speech difficulties. Sarah called her younger brother “baby” for a couple of years until I told her he was a little boy now. She then switched to calling out, “Hey boy, come here” whenever she wanted him. Despite her best efforts (and mine), her speech difficulties remained.

"I know now
she wasn’t being
disobedient or rebellious."

One evening I lost it. When she responded, “kanku” instead of “thank you” I decided to take matters into my own hands. Her speech wasn’t good enough and I was going to straighten her out here and now. “Say,  ‘Thank you!’” I repeated louder. Intimidated, she drew in a breath and carefully replied, “kanku.” It grieves me to admit I went back and forth with her for a good 15 minutes – she in tears and me insisting she say it correctly – before my husband intervened.

All but one of our kids experienced speech struggles. And I grew more comfortable with how to lovingly mother them through those challenges. But I still wince when I remember that encounter with Sarah. At 23, Sarah has no recollection of this incident, but I still asked her forgiveness the other night. I know now she wasn’t being disobedient or rebellious. I simply expected something from her she was unable to give. I’m grateful for not only her forgiveness, but also my ability to grow and change as a mother.

Dear Lord, be with me in all my “nexts.” From one day to the next, show me how to love large and loosely, and please never let go of my hand. Amen.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Graduate by Andrea Jones, mom of three

I couldn’t contain my tears. I was undone. There was my 5-year-old daughter, Alyssa, in her preschool cap and gown. I received the photo in a text message from my husband, taken during her photo shoot at school, and graduation was just two weeks away.

It seemed like yesterday that I’d stopped nursing her. Days at the park spent urging her up the slide and then back down. Memories of our “explorations” on the Highline Canal collecting rocks, leaves and other “clues” flooded my mind. I smiled, thinking of the two days after her birth. I slept with her next to me in my hospital bed, just me and my red, wrinkly little girl. My graduate was “a big girl now,” and I couldn’t contain my emotions.  
"She was filled with
excitement, wonder and fear
all at the same time."

She’s worried about her new school, kindergarten, new friends and if her new teacher will love her as much as her current one does. She whined for the past week before her annual physical and booster shots she needed to get before school started. She was filled with excitement, wonder and fear all at the same time. Hmm … I know how she feels.

She’s ready. Ready to tackle the responsibilities of calendar duty, plant keeper, snack organizer and whatever else kindergarten can throw her way. Yet, here I am, fighting back tears, realizing my tomorrow is here.
I feel as if this is the first time I’ve had to let something go and move into a new season. Seasons change, and the next certainly will become our now. To my graduate! Mommy is proud, and I will love you forever! 

Dear Lord, be with me in all my “nexts.” From one day to the next, show me how to love large and loosely, and please never let go of my hand. Amen.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mom's Time Out by Gayle Wright, mom of two

I love my morning coffee. Sweet and creamy with a dollop of whipped cream. I can’t wait for my morning treat! The kitchen comes alive with the sputtering machine and the smell of fresh brew. It relaxes me just thinking about it. 

"It’s not easy juggling
all the things a mom
does in one day."

But actually, it’s more than the coffee I look forward to. It’s that precious time I have carved out for myself each day before the non-stop action begins. It is my time to be still; time to breathe a few deep breaths, read and pray. And it gives me a chance to run through the day ahead of me: my pre-work chores, errands to the bank, to fill up the car, to pick up snacks for the kids’ lacrosse practice.

Strategizing to cover all the bases, I lay out my plans and concerns for the day before my heavenly father. It’s not easy juggling all the things a mom does in one day, but it helps to know I’m not in it alone. My morning coffee time helps set the tone for my day, equips me to better meet the challenges ahead. Challenges like … running late for carpool! Oops, gotta go!

Dear God, oh how glad I am that you care about my daily work! Infuse me with your energy and your sense of priority, so I might go about my day well. Amen. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kids Eat Free by Clair Boone, mom of two

Eating out was a treat that my husband and I enjoyed before we had kids. When our first baby was born, we figured he was portable and we’d just bring him along. Easy right?

Visions of him sitting and just people watching as hubby and I gazed into each other’s eyes quickly evaporated after about 30 minutes of him trying to climb out of his high chair. He’d knock the silverware on the floor and giggle as we picked it up only for him to repeat his new trick. He plowed through the bread we hoped would keep him busy for an hour and then he started yelling for more. It was then that we realized we’d forgotten his bib so we wrapped a napkin around his neck – and he decided to start eating it!
"We’ve decided that meals out
aren’t as fun in reality
as they are in our heads."

Once our meal came, we hurriedly ate and left the restaurant, heads hanging in shame as Isaac screamed his way out of there. Not my favorite memory. But I’ve had a chance to learn from other moms and develop a few tricks of my own since then.

We’ve decided that meals out aren’t as fun in reality as they are in our heads, so we work hard to make regular date nights a priority. And when we do bring the kids along, we opt for places that offer kid-friendly snacks that help keep him busy (think peanuts with the shell on). Finally, if all else fails, we’re not above bringing the DVD player! Not exactly our former idea of dinner and a movie, but hey, whatever works.

Dear Lord, thank for my “mentor” moms. Thank you for placing them in my life and allowing me to glean their wisdom. Amen.

For more creative tips and a list of where kids eat free, visit Clair’s blog:

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Ant and the Moth by Liz Sagaser, mother of two

It was a hot Monday afternoon following a hard weekend filled with precarious health, wired kids and a packed schedule. The sun was shining, and I stepped outside to take a walk and clear my head. Life felt more “heavy burden” than “joie de vivre” at the time, and I wondered if I was strong enough to be the attentive and loving mom and wife my family deserves.
"I am often tempted to believe
that my burden is greater
than I can bear."

As I pondered my situation, I found myself looking down. At my feet, I noticed a large moth moving along the cracked pavement. Upon closer inspection, I saw that a single tiny ant was hefting the entire weight of the moth back to its nest. Imagine covering a distance of what would be miles for you and me with a car and passengers lifted over your head, and you’ll have an accurate picture of this ant’s journey.

I am often tempted to believe that my burden is greater than I can bear. But surely, if God gave a single ant the ability to carry up to fifty times its own weight, I know he will give me the strength to care for myself, my husband and my children in the face of life’s challenges. I may have a lot on my shoulders, but God’s got the whole world in his hands – and he is willing to help me carry my load as well.

Dear God, help me hand off my load to you. Carry me through thick and thin, keeping my heart close to yours. Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mama, You’re Beautiful by Tally Flint, mom of four

I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t wrestle with body issues. Some of us can point to specific instances in our lives when we doubted our own beauty. Some struggle with believing we’re beautiful on a daily basis. For most of us, I think our relationship to our beauty resembles a roller coaster ride: we’re either up or we’re down, but rarely going steady for an extended period of time.
"I was made by a God
 who loves beauty,
 for a beautiful purpose."

Motherhood adds a few loop-the-loops on that roller coaster ride. Whether we carried our babies inside our bodies or not, we look different after children come along. Gone are the days of leisurely getting ready in the morning, of painting our nails pretty colors, styling our hair “just so.” And let’s be honest: I certainly never had a chest that resembled empty pastry bags until after I had my kids!

Yes, I look different. I am different. But I’m learning to believe I am just as beautiful as I ever was, maybe even more so. Because I have four little ones who gaze up at me as I step out of my closet to say, “Mama, you are so beautiful!” And as I grow in my ability to believe that myself, I teach them what true beauty is all about: knowing I was made by a God who loves beauty, for a beautiful purpose.

Dear God, thank you for making me beautiful! Help me to see myself as you do. And help me to see the beauty you put in those around me too. Amen.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Family Planning by Rachel Oliver

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”  
                                                                      ~ John Steinbeck

My mother had me, her first child, when she was 25 years old. As 25 came and went in my life, without a husband or children, I realized my family was going to look a little different than the family I grew up in. I met James when I was 30, and happily said “I do” a few weeks before my 32nd birthday.
"Each mom’s journey
is as unique as the
individual mom is herself."

As we rounded our first anniversary, we dumped the birth control and decided to see what would happen. We’d had lots of talks about how many kids we wanted and were pretty confident in our timeline. As the summer came and went with no positive sign on that pregnancy test, we became a little more proactive in our attempts. Finally it happened, we were pregnant! A week after we found out, I miscarried. We mourned our loss and, with our doctor’s approval, jumped back into trying. Two months later we celebrated another positive test (well, three really … just to make sure!). But a few months later, we were again met with a devastating loss.

My journey to motherhood probably doesn’t look like yours, and it certainly hasn’t been what I planned. Each mom’s journey is as unique as the individual mom is herself with twists and turns, up and downs. I may not know where mine will go from here, but I know it isn’t over. And I have great hope for the future because I know my loving God is the one mapping it out.

Dear God, you know the desires of my heart. Help me trust in your plans for me and hold me close through whatever my journey holds. Amen. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Just Relax by Tally Flint, mom of four

My 4-year-old twins had their well-child appointments yesterday and were due for a whopping four shots each. Gearing up for something like that is never fun, but I’ve learned that being up front about it is best. The doctor left while we waited for the nurse to return with the vaccinations. My boys paged through books, played with the doctor’s swivel chair and occasionally repeated that shots are not fun but would be over soon.    
"I thought of all the times
when I work myself up
with anxiety and fear."

The nurse arrived and Oliver went first. As soon as the antiseptic-treated cotton touched his leg, he let out banshee screams of terror, flailing about, and making it difficult for the two of us to hold him steady. He was wound so tightly that he actually bled when the nurse poked him, and his legs remained sore throughout the rest of the day. Jack, however, calmly reclined on the table, took a deep breath, smiled widely and stated surprisingly, “That didn’t even hurt!”

Oliver made it so much harder on himself by tensing up and giving in to the fear. I thought of all the times when I work myself up with anxiety and fear. I worry about every detail instead of simply breathing deeply into God’s promises for my life. Promises that he is in control, that he loves me and mine and that he has a very real and good plan for me. Next time I’m faced with unpleasant circumstances, I plan on following Jack’s example.

Dear God, help me cling to your promises during both the joy and the pain of life. Comfort me and hold me close, help me go through challenges knowing I’m in the palm of your hand. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Four O’ Clock Panic by Clair Boone, mom of two

 Although I’m the only one that cooks in our house, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had that “4 o’clock” feeling. I’m sure you know it well! That “Oh my goodness we need dinner” panic.

I cook daily yet still seem to procrastinate every time until I can’t possibly put it off any longer I take a quick look in the freezer, grab spices in an effort to get creative and pull out pots and pans only to hear that familiar sound: my baby crying. There is a certain finesse required to pull things out of the fridge while balancing a 1-year-old on your hip. And I’ve started to think it requires something beyond myself to add into the mix a preschooler shouting from the bathroom, “Mom, I’m ready to wipe!”  
"Can someone say win-win?!"

Getting a nutritious meal on the table proved a struggle every night. Something had to be done. So I gathered like-minded moms from my MOPS group, and our meal swap was born. On a set day, each person contributed enough ingredients to cook two different meals for a family of 4-6. By the end of our efforts, we all went home with many healthy, freezable meals that we could cook in a pinch. We saved money, allowed for no-pressure cooking and spent a fun day with girlfriends. Can someone say win-win?!

Mothering takes patience, yes, and energy. But it also takes creativity and a support group helping you along the way. I am so glad I’ve stumbled on a way that gives me both.

Dear God, thank you for being a creative God. Grant me inspiration as I go about my day-to-day mothering. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hurt Knee, Pierced Heart by Alexandra Kuykendall, mom of four

I hit my knee on my van this morning. I was climbing into the back to unfold the third row of seats before taking a carload of kids to school. It hurt. It will go away, I thought. But it didn’t, it throbbed. I didn’t even hit it that hard. What a wimp. My thoughts continued. I held my knee, gritted my teeth and looked down at the concrete garage floor. “Are you okay Mom?” Surprised, I looked up to my staring audience of three daughters and one carpool friend. “Yes, I’m fine” I said, reassuring them it hurt for now, but it would get better.

"I pray for their children who ask
“Are you okay Mom?”"

I looked at the floor again and pictured being thrown onto the concrete, kicked in the knee, and not stopping there … the chest … the head. Why would a bump on the knee take my mind there? My husband and I are part of a community that offers safe housing for women and their children escaping domestic violence. Last week I heard one of the moms describe being thrown down a flight of stairs by her child’s father. As I felt my knee throbbing, I imagined my whole body hurting like this. Then I pictured my audience. My children watching as someone I loved, and they loved, hurt me in a terrible way. My ache grew from my knee to my heart.

As I’ve been limping around the last few hours, my thoughts keep landing on my fellow moms. Every painful step reminding me of the physical and emotional pain they live with because someone they trusted turned on them. I pray for their children who ask “Are you okay Mom?” even though their little hearts know something is terribly wrong. I pray for their protection and for more safe places for these families to find refuge. I pray grateful prayers that the worst my children see is my own clumsiness climbing in and out of my van.

Dear God, thank you for being ever present in any painful situation and for being a strong and mighty defender of the weak. I know you fight for us. Please teach me how to fight for justice with you. Amen.

Domestic violence touches one out of four women at some point in their lives. If you or someone you know needs help, talk to a MOPS leader or church counseling resource and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, Focus on the Family also has counseling resources for family issues at 1-855-771-HELP.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter Excitement by Sherry Surratt, MOPS CEO & President

Let’s hide ‘em again mom!” This came from my three-year-old son, Mike, as he held up his striped Easter Basket brimming full of plastic eggs that we had just discovered in the back yard. I wondered briefly if I could persuade him to pursue another activity that didn’t involve me stooping, bending and trying to think of even more new hiding places. What in the world is so fun about finding the same eggs over and over again? But Mike loved it. I hid the eggs several more times, and with each discovery he’d call out “I got ANOTHER one!” in a sweet, excited squeal.

As I think back over all the Easters in my life and the ones yet to come, I yearn for that same fresh anticipation. Though it happened long ago, it was my Lord and Savior Jesus who so freely gave his life for me. Though I hadn’t yet been born, God was willing to send his only son to die for me.
"God, don’t let me forget what an incredible
love you have for me, even though
I’ve done nothing to deserve it."

This Easter, I’m asking God to give me child-like excitement over Good Friday and Easter Sunday. God had an incredible plan so many years ago that isn’t just a story written in a book. It was the ultimate design that made a way for you and me to be forgiven, cleansed and restored. God knew we couldn’t do this ourselves and he loved us so incredibly much that he made a way. And the way cost him dearly; the price of his son Jesus.

I invite you to experience this Easter with fresh eyes. Read the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in John 20-21, and let God remind you that this was for YOU. You are loved, treasured, sought after. He desperately wants to know you and have a relationship with you.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 "

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Open House by Carla Foote, mom of two

I went to an open house on Saturday, mostly because I was curious about the inside of the house I had watched being built for months. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone. I am normally quite content in my home, but after I saw the gleaming tile in the bathrooms and the smooth wood floors on the main level, and bright, white carpet in the bedrooms (who installs white carpet?), my home looked a little dingy.
"I realized that my house
looks like a home –
where real people live."

In my own bathroom, I tugged at the shower curtain to cover up the slimy parts of the caulking that need replacing. I tried not to notice the shadow on the grey carpet in the bedroom, a reminder of some flu season several years ago … even after cleaning, the stain is visible from a certain angle. I put the pile of mail under the shelf on the desk so it didn’t clutter the bookshelf in the dining room. And I realized that my house looks like a home – where real people live.

I got over the imperfections and noticed the loving jumble of family pictures on the shelves on either side of the fireplace. I sat in my chair where I love to read and think. I admired the framed children’s art in the hallway. I looked at my front porch where I can greet my neighbor who walks by with his dog. I noticed the pile of Christmas cards from friends, still sitting on the shelf months after Christmas. And I was thankful for a home.

Dear God, thank you for providing my family with everything we need. Help me learn to be content, no matter my surroundings. Amen. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Letting Go By Tally Flint, mom of four

I always looked ahead to the start of preschool and grade school with anticipation for my kids. I couldn’t wait to see the exciting things they’d learn and the way their worlds would change forever because of it. But I never thought about how hard it would be to send them off without me. What if they need me when I’m not there?
"May God go with you,
and work through you, today
and in all days. Amen."

A dear friend of mine introduced me to a prayer she says over her children as they are about to walk out the door for the day. She holds their hands in hers, and says, “May love and strength be in your hands.” She places her hand on their hearts, saying “May love and courage be in your heart.” She touches their heads and says, “May love and wisdom be in your mind.” And finally, she closes with, “May God go with you, and work through you, today and in all days. Amen.”

Just four little lines, and yet they express so well the concerns of my mother-heart. I want to hold my kids close, to protect them and to lead them to right choices. But as they grow, this becomes increasingly unrealistic. And so I turn to God to protect them, to guide them on their way and to bring them home to me again. It’s a difficult habit to get into, but the more I do it, the more I remember that God’s arms are the safest place for them anyway.

Dear God, be with my child always. Give me your peace and assure me that my trust is well-placed in you as their protector. Amen. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mmmmm Monday: Barbecue Chicken Pizza

6-8 chicken tenderloins, cubed
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp BBQ sauce
1 premade pizza crust
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Cook Chicken in olive oil over med-high heat until no longer pink. Coat with 1 Tbsp BBQ sauce, set aside.

Spread 1/4 cup BBQ sauce evenly over surface of pizza crust. Sprinkle with Gouda cheese. Cover with 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Distribute chicken pieces evenly over cheese. Top with red onion slices. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top. Bake at 500 degrees until crust is crisp and cheese is bubble (8-10 minutes)

Serves 6-8 people

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mmmmm Monday: Single Serving Cobbler

I love cobbler. But I end up eating the whole things when I make them.  I recently found this recipe to make enough to enjoy one time without having to worry about eating leftovers for days. All you need is fruit and the tiniest amounts of butter, sugar, flour, and milk.

Melt 1/2 Tbsp butter in small ramekin.

Mix 1/2 cup fruit (I often use a fruit cup if I don't have fresh fruit) with 1 or 1 1/2 tsp sugar and put in the ramekin.

Top with a mixture of 2 Tbsp flour, 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar, and 2 Tbsp milk.

Bake for 20-40 minutes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Local Outing: Cullman Wellness & Aquatics Center

I have heard that the aquatic center is great. It has great amenities that can be enjoyed year-round.  Swimming in the winter always seems like a big treat.  The center includes
  • Outdoor Water Park and leisure pool that features two large water slides, high and low diving boards, lazy river, water play area, and zero entry area for special needs
  • Full fitness center complete with weights, cardio, specialized equipment, and professional training
  • Indoor rubberized walking track
  • A variety of aerobic and cycling classes
  • 8 lane outdoor and 6 lane indoor competition pools
  • Indoor leisure pool
  • Whirlpool spa
  • Gymnasium equipped for both basketball and volleyball
  • Large locker rooms with saunas
It is $10 for a day pass.

The hours are listed below but you may want to check the website for pool open hours.
4:45 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
4:45 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Heart Impact by Sherry Surratt, CEO and President of MOPS International

I love Valentine's Day. It always causes me to remember the past, even as I celebrate the present with hearts, cards and just the right amount of chocolate. I remember the day I met Geoff, my husband of almost 30 years. I remember the days each of my two kids were born and how I fell in love from the first moment I laid eyes on them. Valentine’s Day also causes my heart to be full as I think about how much I love having each of them in my life.

This February my heart is definitely full as I contemplate the changes in my life over the past six weeks. My husband and I packed up our house in California and moved to Denver, and I started my dream job as CEO and President of MOPS International. The move has been filled with challenges and changes, some of them small, such as finding a new favorite grocery store and the right salon that understands my contrary hair. But others have been hugely profound as I have learned firsthand the heart impact of MOPS for thousands of moms around the country.

Today my heart is full for you too – I am so glad that you have found a MOPS community and have connected with a local group of moms who can encourage you and equip you for mothering.

I  have also realized in moving to a new place, there can be lonely moments, times when I miss friends and family I’ve left behind. And from the stories I hear at MOPS, I know I’m not the only one who might feel lonely sometimes. I know that every mom needs a friend, and that MOPS is the best way for her to find that lasting friendship. That’s why I am so passionate about the ministry of MOPS and so excited to be a part of this organization.

So if you find yourself in a moment of loneliness, take a risk and text a mom in your Discussion Group at MOPS and invite her to share a cup of coffee. And if you aren’t lonely, look around and see if there’s someone else who might be and invite her to your MOPS group. In addition to sharing some glittery cards or paper hearts with family and friends this Valentine’s Day, take time to share YOUR heart with another mom.
Do you have some great ideas for ways that MOPS can connect with more moms? I’d love to hear from you!  Email me at 

Dear God, thank you for the gift of relationships – open my heart to those I love and those I will come to love.

Mmmmm Monday: Grits Breakfast Casserole

1 cup grits (not instant)
1 stick butter
1 small jar cheese whiz
3 eggs (beaten)
2/3 cup milk
1 lb sausage (cooked and scrambled)
grated cheddar cheese for top

Cook grits as directed on box. To hot grits add butter and cheese whiz.  Stir until melted. Set aside to cool completely.  Add eggs, milk, and sausage. Pour into greased 9x13 dish and sprinkle with grated cheese on top.  Bake at 325 for 45 minutes.

Can put together the night before and bake in the morning.  Let it come to room temperature or lengthen cook time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Scripture Memory for Kids--Genesis 1:1

It is important to memorize scripture with your children.  We are going to try and give you some tools for helping your kids learn scripture.

We will start with Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


Snack: Creation Mix

Activity: What did God Make?

Games: Creation Matching Game and Creation Word Search

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Blues by Tally Flint, mother of four

Despite living in a city that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, I get the blues every winter. They settle in after the post-holiday serenity and sometimes threaten to stick around until May – when summer’s carefree attitude sends them packing. I know they’ve arrived from some tell-tale signs: good nutrition goes into hiding; I dread having to run errands outside of the house; my positivity shrinks; my energy levels plummet. I still do laundry, make meals, kiss boo-boos. But life sort of loses its luster, and I don’t feel as if our family thrives during those times.

" I am not alone
in battling my blues."

One thing good about something happening every year is that you learn how to adapt. I’ve learned to anticipate, prepare for, and at times overcome my blues. I’ve surrounded myself with a small group of friends who know when I’m struggling and pray for me faithfully. Making regular exercise a priority is more important than ever during these months. Same with trying to eat right. I sign up for social outings that force me out of my house and into my community. And I stick to the basic rule that if the sun is shining, I better get myself out to enjoy it.

For me, such practical changes really make a difference. I know there isn’t any one thing that works for everyone. But I do know I am not alone in battling my blues. I have a sisterhood who walk alongside me and an understanding Father who never ceases to shine his love on me, even in my darkest days.

Dear God, how wonderful that your love for me does not depend on my attitude or performance! Grant me your peace, infuse me with your spirit, and direct me to people who can help. Amen.

Monday, January 30, 2012

My Glass Is Half-Full by Carla Foote, mom of two

I have to confess that I’ve been a little whiney lately. Not something I’m proud of. Maybe it started last month when I had the refrigerator repairman out a second time so we could have water and ice cubes dispense from the fridge rather than just a drippy puddle on the wood floors from somewhere under the fridge. Or maybe it was the fact that last weekend when I pushed the button to start the clothes dryer, nothing happened.  Or that I went to the ATM for some cash over the weekend, and my card didn’t work!

As I listened to myself, I heard way too much whining over these small inconveniences and decided to shift my thinking to the positive:

I have a refrigerator, a freezer, a water and ice dispenser, and my water is clean enough to drink. My house has reliable electric power, so I can run my appliances. I have milk, eggs, apples and ice cream and all sorts of food. I am grateful.
"My attitude is something
that I can choose."

I have a washer and a dryer. I don’t have to wash my clothes in a river and drape them over bushes to let them dry. And I have lots and lots of clothes. Not to mention a husband who dismantled the dryer, put some W-D 40 on the dryer engine and fixed it. I am grateful.

I have enough money for groceries, gas and so much more. I am grateful.

My attitude is something that I can choose. Some days I make better choices than other days. But more and more, I want to choose gratefulness. 

Dear God, thank you for giving me all that you have. Grant me your perspective, that I might maintain an attitude of gratefulness regardless of my circumstances. Amen. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ugly Duckling by Rachel Oliver, expectant mother

I may only be 12 weeks pregnant, but mommy fears have already crept into my brain. How bad is labor and delivery? What if I can’t breastfeed? Will I be a bad mom if I put my child in daycare? What if there’s something wrong with my baby? I dismiss most with a simple, I’ll deal with that if it happens and focus on trusting God that I am the mother he created for this baby. But one very superficial fear keeps popping up.

What if I have a homely child?
I know it’s silly, but let me set the stage. My brother and his wife have two gorgeous kiddos with an expectedly-gorgeous third on the way. People actually comment on how beautiful they are when they’re out in public. That’s a lot to live up to.
"Charm is deceptive,
and beauty is fleeting."

My husband and I are attractive enough people and, most likely, our child will be a beautifully-average child who will capture my heart immediately … and yet I fret. Fret is a good word for it, because to say I worry puts too much emphasis on it. I sometimes worry that I won’t be as good of a mom as I could or should be. I might worry that my child will make bad choices. But I fret that I will have an unattractive child.

And then I am reminded in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting.” My mom told me that while I was in her womb she would pray that God would grant me a gentle spirit. I think that’s probably a better use of my time – praying for a child whose spirit is beautifully loving. 

Dear God, thank you for the blessing of children. Please fill my child with your beautiful goodness. Give him eyes to see those who are hurting and in need and a heart that moves him to help.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Grace for the Good Girl—letting go of the try-hard life by Emily P. Freeman

I had a friend recommend this book and although I haven’t finished reading it yet I have found it to be very enlightening.  The following is the summary from the back cover of the book:

You’re strong. You’re responsible. You’re good. But as day fades to dusk, you begin to feel the familiar fog of anxiety, the weight and pressure of holding it together and of longing left unmet. Good girls sometimes feel that the Christian life means doing hard work with a sweet disposition. We tend to focus only on the things we can handle, our disciplined lives, and our unshakable good moods.

But what would happen if we let grace pour out boundless acceptance into our worn-out hearts and undo us? If we dared to talk about the ways we hide, our longing to be known, and the fear in the knowing?

In Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman invites you to release your tight hold on that familiar, try-hard life and lean your weight heavy into the love of Jesus. With an open hand, a whimsical style, and a heart bent brave toward adventure, Emily encourages you to move from your own impossible expectations toward the God who has graciously, miraculously, and lovingly found you.

I also wanted to include a few passages that stood out to me.

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage. It protected me from teenage pregnancy and bad grades and jail.  But it did not bring me any greater understanding of God.  It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations.

I subconsciously categorized people into classes of either right or rebellious rather than seeing them as people in desperate need of God.

Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is an idol, even service to Christ. He doesn’t want my service, He wants me.

There is a powerful video that will give you a better idea of who the book it written for and what it is about.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Daily Juggling Act By Sarah Jio, mother of three

As an author of soon-to-be four novels and mom to three boys, my life is pretty full. Full of chores, tasks, activities, and “To Do” lists. People often ask me how I manage to write books while tending to my very active kids, and as I glance around my office and see the Legos scattered beneath my desk and a sippy cup next to my keyboard, I'm reminded of what a juggling act my life is. I'm devoted to being the best mom and the best writer I can be, but there are certainly days the two don’t mix.
"My attitude is that this
is my season to be a mom."

Just last week, my three-year-old threw one tantrum after the next, my five-year-old spilled a container of yogurt all over the rug (it was an epic spill), and my baby excelled in his role as Mr. Fussypants Extraordinaire (teething). Needless to say, I didn't write a single word that day. Before I had kids, I used to write in big stretches of time. I'd have all-day writing marathons on Saturdays, and log eight, or even ten, glorious hours at my desk. Nowadays, I'm lucky to get a full hour of uninterrupted writing time.

But I’m learning that’s okay. My attitude is that this is my season to be a mom. I doubt I’ll ever look back and say, "I wish I'd written that book faster." But I bet I will wish I'd taken them to the park more when they asked to go. I try to keep this all in mind when I feel discouraged or frustrated, and it always helps. True, my life does require a lot of juggling, but it’s mine, and I cherish it.

Dear God, thank you for creating me for all my important jobs. Grant me the strength and wisdom to do each with grace. Amen.

Sarah Jio is the author of four novels, including The Violets of March, and The Bungalow. To learn more about her and her novels, visit

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chicken Pasta Salad Recipe

1 cup of mayonnaise
1 pack of ranch dressing mix (or 1 tsp garlic salt)
1 can of drained mandarin oranges
slivered almonds
bow tie pasta
8-9 chicken strips (boiled)

Mix together first two ingredients.  Then, mix with all other ingredients.  Serve cold.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Like Father, Like Mother by Jacy Bowers, mom of 2

My son earned the lead role for his second grade musical around the same time I agreed to a speaking engagement. Talking comes naturally to both of us, so I was surprised to realize we were both feeling anxious about our upcoming events.

Throughout our preparation, I had no problem encouraging my son. I confidently told him I believed in him, that acting was one of his gifts, and that I knew he was going to be great. But as I worked on my talk, I couldn’t help feeling insecure and scared. I could build up my son, but couldn’t believe the same about myself.
"I believe in my son,
just as God believes in me."

Then it hit me: I believe in my son, just as God believes in me. In the midst of my fear and insecurity, my Father was trying to encourage me. God believed my gifts made me well-suited for this speaking role. Why couldn’t I believe that too?

Thanks to our practice together, my son ended up having a lot of fun with his performance. And thanks to the lesson I learned from encouraging my son, I was ready to do the same with my speaking engagement.
Dear God, thank you for giving me children that I can love and support the same way that you do for me. As I lift up my children, remind me that you lift up me. Amen. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Toy Review: Mamaroo

My son, Graham, just turned three months old today.  For the past few weeks he has been smiling and learning to focus on people and things around him.  It is the best thing in the world to see him smile.    

But during those times when I need to have a minute to get some things done around the house, Graham gets to enjoy the mamaroo.  It is like a futuristic swing.  We love it.  It has five unique motions including Car Ride, Kangaroo, Tree Swing, Rock-A-Bye, Ocean Wave with five different speeds.  Our favorite is the car ride on the fastest speed.  It includes a removable toy mobile with three plush toy balls decorated in the style of classical artists (Van Gogh, Monet, Seurat).  We love the five built-in nature sounds, plus a hookup for any mp3 player.


The mamaroo is great for putting Graham to sleep and for times when he is awake and just wants to look around.  It is a bit pricey, but has been great to have.