April: G R A T E F U L N E S S

3.28.2017 | No comments

It's interesting to ponder "gratefulness" in April.  Usually you start mulling over all the things you are thankful for in the Fall when the year winds down and we celebrate Thanksgiving.  So to think about the things for which I am grateful in April, well, it feels a little strange.

Living a life of gratefulness helps destroy a self-centered, me-me-me attitude.  It humbles us.  It liberates us from having to one-up ourselves every day.  Gratitude tears down the walls of hostility that jealousy builds. Living a life of thankfulness is refreshing.  When you see thankfulness in others, aren't you just instantly drawn to them?  I know I am.

How do you live a life of gratitude?

I am sure there are books, articles, and blog posts that could probably walk you through a step-by-step process, but I just want to offer one idea.

I think you can live a life defined by gratefulness when you celebrate others.  

Take a moment to publicly celebrate someone special in your life.  Tell them all the things you appreciate about them.  Celebrating others takes the spotlight off of you and shines it on someone else.  We don't need the spotlight on us, we do that enough on social media with our passive "humble" posts.  #blessed
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
- James 1:17
I am increasingly grateful for Stephanie.  

Stephanie walked up to me at church last Fall and basically said, "Hi I'm Stephanie. I used to live in Mississippi too.  We're going to be friends."  She wasn't proposing a question of whether or not I wanted to be friends with her, she was telling me friendship was here!

God provided friendship in Stephanie at just the right time.  I am so grateful that the Lord sees our hearts, knows what and who we need better than we do.  So He provided Stephanie.

Stephanie has a tender and deeply passionate heart.  She has a fierce desire to do exactly what God says, convicting me in my own walk with Christ.  She owns more makeup than Mary Kay and is an expert at using gifs.  She goes out of her way to make me feel special simply because she wants to, no ulterior motives.  She is super flexible and patient, which is exactly what this psycho, weirdo mom needs. (For example: We celebrated Galentine's Day over a month late because, well, kids.)  One thing that is absolutely amazing about Stephanie is that she loves, I mean lights out loves, my kids.  As a mom, there's nothing sweeter than that.  Stephanie is the definition of selfless, always looking out for the interest of others over herself.  I don't know many people like that.  She's a dime, completely unmatched.  If it's not apple scones, coffee, or sushi to bring us together, then it's definitely Parks and Recreation.  

She's the creamer to my coffee.  
The soy to my sauce.  
The Ann to my Leslie. 

I am so grateful that the Lord would knit us together in friendship.  Who knew that a girl that grew up in Starkville, Mississippi (Stephanie) and a girl who went to college in Starkville (me) would both end up in Midlothian, Virginia and attend the same church where they would become forever-friends.  God is too kind in giving me this sweet friend in Stephanie.  

What are you grateful for this month?

Add this button to your GRATEFULNESS post before you link it!

Let All That You Are Praise Him: Psalm 104

3.15.2017 | No comments

I ran across Psalm 104 as I was practicing praying the psalms as proposed by Donald Whitney in his book Praying the Bible.  After reading Jen Wilkin's book None Like Him and The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, I have a richer theology and a better understanding of the Lord's attributes which cause me to stand in awe and utter fascination of who Jesus is.  But to say I fully understand tings like omniscience and sovereignty and transcendence would be absoutely foolish, because there is still so much to the Lord that is a sheer mystery; however, these characteristics of God cause me to just say, "Wow!" before the Lord.

I hope reading this Psalm causes you to worship the Lord and stand with your mouth open wide in sheer amazement.

Let everything, all that you are, praise Him.

Psalm 104New Living Translation (NLT)

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Lord my God, how great you are!
    You are robed with honor and majesty.
    You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
    you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants.[a]
You placed the world on its foundation
    so it would never be moved.
You clothed the earth with floods of water,
    water that covered even the mountains.
At your command, the water fled;
    at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away.
Mountains rose and valleys sank
    to the levels you decreed.
Then you set a firm boundary for the seas,
    so they would never again cover the earth.
10 You make springs pour water into the ravines,
    so streams gush down from the mountains.
11 They provide water for all the animals,
    and the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds nest beside the streams
    and sing among the branches of the trees.
13 You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
    and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
14 You cause grass to grow for the livestock
    and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth—
15     wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
    and bread to give them strength.
16 The trees of the Lord are well cared for—
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 There the birds make their nests,
    and the storks make their homes in the cypresses.
18 High in the mountains live the wild goats,
    and the rocks form a refuge for the hyraxes.[b]
19 You made the moon to mark the seasons,
    and the sun knows when to set.
20 You send the darkness, and it becomes night,
    when all the forest animals prowl about.
21 Then the young lions roar for their prey,
    stalking the food provided by God.
22 At dawn they slink back
    into their dens to rest.
23 Then people go off to their work,
    where they labor until evening.
24 Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
26 See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan,[c] which you made to play in the sea.
27 They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
28 When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
29 But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
30 When you give them your breath,[d] life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.
31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
    let the wicked disappear forever.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

What verses cause you to gaze in wonderment at the Lord?

I Don't Love My Baby, Is Something Wrong With Me?

3.11.2017 | No comments

Growing a child is hard.  But raising a child, that's harder.  

There are so many things you aren't told when you become a parent for the first time.  There are so many expectations that other people will put on you as a parent, and so many expectations you place on yourself.  There are so many misconceptions about motherhood in general.  Here are a few tid-bits of encouragement I'd like to give the new mom, because well, I needed to remind myself.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
-Proverbs 22:6 ESV

Loving your child might not be automatic.
This concept might sound strange, especially if you are not a mom.  However, for some, it might take time to love your child.  You've never met this person you are now cradling.  You sort of feel like you know them because you grew them for 9-months or clung to their picture for some time, but you don't know them yet.  For some, learning to love this tiny creature who depends on you for life can be a lengthy process.  You personally have undergone so many changes and society quickly lets you know how second-rate you now are.  Sure it's not intentional, but you may feel yourself being forgotten now that this sweet, angelic face is now present.  Some may even resent their child for all the attention it is getting and how much life is now changing.  You might not want to hold the baby, and you know what, that's okay.  You're not the first person to not want to hold or touch your baby.  Don't send yourself into a frenzy because loving your child hasn't come naturally like you thought it would.  Don't feel guilty or shameful because everyone is telling that there is something wrong with you, there's not.  Don't panic because this journey of motherhood isn't panning out the way you envisioned.  This is normal.  I know you love your child, but you will in time genuinely express it to your child.  Be patient.

"We love because he first loved us."
-1 John 4:19 ESV

You're not suppose to know how to breastfeed.
So the boob-police have really made this fact seem nearly foreign.  I am a quick learner at everything, but breastfeeding isn't included in "everything" apparently.  I felt like I should have known how to breastfeed my son, so I felt incredibly insecure and vulnerable when that wasn't the case.  I had doctors and nurses tell me I needed to supplement because I wasn't feeding my child adequately two days after birth.  Let me tell you this, you aren't suppose to know how to breastfeed, not even if you went to a fancy class.  You've never had a delicate child in your arms depending on you for sustenance.  It's a completely bizarre and nerve-racking experience.  It's painful at first.  It's hard.  Let me repeat, this is a thing you must learn by trail and error.  You're not suppose to know how to do it.  And if it was easy for you, what planet did you come from?  You may have to have a lactation consultant position your breast and baby's head just right.  That's what I had to do.  It takes practice, but if you are set on breastfeeding, stick with it.

However, let me just throw this in.  If you don't want to breastfeed or it's too painful or creates a sense of anxiety or you are completely overwhelmed by it, who cares.  Don't do it.  There is not a rule that says you have to.   You have to do what is best for baby annnnnnnnd YOU.  And while breast milk does provide beneficial nutrients, so does formula.  If you are relaxed while feeding your child and that baby is growing, you are winning as a parent.  (Besides, I can't remember the last time a job application or college entrance exam asked if you were breast or bottle fed, so shush the breast-is-best nazis and you do you).

Newborns don't sleep through the night.
You'll experience it.  We all have.  The friend on Facebook who rants and raves that her child has finally slept through the night......and the baby is only 2 weeks old.  Cool, well, that's not normal or healthy.  Maybe they were blessed with a freak-sleeper, but since me and you weren't, let me just remind you that it's not normal for a newborn to sleep through the night.  I know kids who have slept through the night around 8 weeks, but for some it may take much longer, even a year or two.  So don't compare yourself to the friend on Facebook, she most likely wants people to think she's somehow got it all together.

Babies cry.
I was so insecure every time my first born would cry.  I felt like I wasn't doing something correct or I was somehow a bad mom.  With family in the house, I felt like every time he cried and I couldn't make him stop, they thought I was failing as a mom.  I really felt alone.  I didn't feel like I could be a good mom.  I had a mental breakdown and cried uncontrollably to one of my best friends.  But you know what, after having my second child, I realized that's just what babies do.  They cry.  Sometimes you can't get them to stop.  And that's okay.  You might be in the car, in the grocery store, or a silent library and they are screaming their lungs off, but that doesn't make you a bad parent, because babies are professional criers.  Do they have a clean diaper?  Are they fed? If yes, they might just need to cry, and if you let them cry for 10-minutes, you're not a bad parent.

Motherhood doesn't have to be lonely.
One of the biggest struggles for me, and many new moms, is the feeling of isolation.  To say this is normal is sad, but it's true.  Just google it.  It's the number one hardest thing for new moms, even for those who are plugged in several places.  Initially motherhood is in itself isolating.  You are trying to figure out what even in the heck you are doing.  You have to physically heal, and that could take a while depending on the birth experience   You don't want to expose the baby too soon after birth to people and the elements.  You stay home because you want to sleep any chance you might get.  You don't really want people around because you don't really know how to "mom" yet.  You don't really want people to visit because you aren't really sure how to tell people you'd prefer they not hold your baby.  Your hormones are raging.  Your boobs are leaking.  How can you possibliy manage to even get out of the house before 2PM?  So the early stages of motherhood are initially isolating.  But don't make motherhood lonely.  Go to Mothers of Preschoolers.  Go to lunch with a friend, even if it's inconvenient, it will recharge you.  Allow a close friend to bring you coffee or watch a movie while the baby sleeps.  Go on a walk with a neighbor and push the baby in the stroller.  Get plugged in and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Say "yes" from time to time.  I am preaching to myself here, I constantly feel lonely even though I am surrounded by a team of wonder women.  Not accepting help is the number one way to dig yourself into a lonely, deep hole.  (And please don't be so prideful to say this will never happen to you, it happens and it's real).

"Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety."
-Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Your baby is special.
Your baby might grow 12 teeth or 2 teeth in 12 months. Your baby might sleep through the night after 3 months or at 18 months.  He might speak 50 words or she might only say 5-10.  She might walk before her first birthday, or he might not walk until well after.  Your baby might be a cuddle bug or run from physical affection.  Your baby might feed himself finger foods at 7 months or might wait until he is 15 months to really eat by himself.  Your baby is your baby.  Not your friend's baby. Not your mom's baby.  Not the Instagrammer's baby.  Not the Facebook accquaintace's baby.  Your baby is unique.  Don't compare your baby's milestones to anyone else's.  Nothing is wrong with your baby, they beat to their own drum.  Listen to the song they play.

You're the greatest mom.
In case no one has told you, you're doing a great job.  You're a great mom.  You love your child in big ways.  You sacrifice your sleep.  You change diapers, clean up puke, wipe off messy mouths, do countless loads of laundry, work another job, cook dinner most nights, and still manage to take a shower.  How do you do it, really?  You are a super human.  You are the world's greatest mom.
"She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children raise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her."
-Proverbs 31:27-28

Do you have a mom in your life that could benefit from these reminders?  
Send her this link.  I wish I had read something like this before my first child was born.  

Some Encouragement + March Link-Up

2.27.2017 | No comments

Have you ever known someone who is just exhausting to be around? And I don't mean exhausting in the sense that they are just a busy body or always on the move.  What I mean is that their words just completely suck the life right out of you.   It's constantly negative and destructive.  You leave exhausted.

We can use our words to build up or tear down.  James says that the tongue is powerful and full of deadly poison (3).  The writer of Proverbs says that the tongue can not only be full of death, but also life (18:21) and bring healing (12:18).  Paul writes in Ephesians that we should let nothing but life-giving words flow from our mouths (4:29).

It is exhausting to constantly be around someone who uses their words to tear down.  We read tweets that constantly bog us down, we deactivate our Facebooks because of the deflating words that scroll over our screen, and we turn off the news because of the depressing verbiage.  Instead of our natural tendency to complain about all the complainers, let's be proactive.  We can easily get caught up in the mess if we aren't on our guard.  If you are like me and just need a "good job" from time to time.  We all need encouragement and a few compliments from time to time.  I don't mean compliments in the way of just lip-service or flattery.  I mean real compliments, straight from the heart.  It is refreshing and empowering.

Well, I have something for you.

Hey heavy laden,

I see you.  I see you in your daily grind.  I know it might be a struggle to pull yourself together.  But I just want you to know, in case no one has told you that lately, that you're doing a great job.  You might not feel like you can tackle the mountain in front of you, but you can.  You are way more capable than you give yourself credit for.  So please, don't give up.  Keep going.  I believe in you. The days are hard, I know.  But tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.

Hey chronic doubter,

You look in the mirror and see a fictitious you.  But you're beautiful.  You, you really are perfect. The stretch marks, the flab, the scars, just stop.  You're absolutely stunning.  Extinguish your insecurities and stop comparing yourself to flawless Instagram accounts, those people aren't real. But you are.  Your realness makes you wonderful.  You question your ability to be loved, but let me tell you, you are loved, even if it's tough to at times love yourself. You are loved because you belong to Christ. You should know that you are enough.  You are enough of a woman, you are enough of a friend; you are enough of an employee, you are enough of a daughter, you are enough of a wife, you are enough of a mom.  You are enough, so stop believing the lie that you're not.

Hey unsure one,

You know that fake smile you plaster on your face sometimes, well I've been there too.  Keep grinding, you are beautiful and loved and adored.  Just know you are making a difference.  In your coworkers' lives, in your house, in the lives of total strangers each day.  You truly do.  And it's okay that the small-minded people don't accept you, thank you for being real.  Thank you for not playing games. You're amazing.

Hey exhausted lady,

You've helped so many people, and you won't even give yourself credit.  Please take it.  Wake up, you are a wonderful example of Christ.  Others are seeing Jesus in you.  That's the goal!  You are doing it!  I know it's tough because I see how hard you work, but in the calm and in the storm, the Lord is walking with you.  He fights your battles.  Rest in him.

Hey soccer mom,

Even though you just went nuts on the kids and your house looks like a bomb went off, you are an incredible mom.  You are a wonder woman.  Seriously.  In fact, you are the best mom for your kids.  I know you are tired and probably haven't showered in 3 days, but you are a rockstar.  There is no one who can quite be you, and your kids need you.  You are loved and needed.

Hey sensitive sis,

You have helped me become a better person.  I'm not sure where I would be without you.  The way you keep trusting the Lord is inspiring.  I am so proud of you and the person you have become.  Keep smiling, it's contagious.  You are so wise, wiser than your years reflect.  Thank you for giving me your time.  You've helped me in ways I can't articulate.  

Hey you,

I see you.  I love you.  Thank you.

Please place the button below (or find more here) in your post that you link-up so other people can be encouraged.  Tweet your link and tag #link2encourage and we can all follow along.

Full guidelines for the link-up here.  Remember, it's about community :)

Can you make that your goal this week? 
Encourage someone, whether you think they need it or not, because I'm 100% positive it's needed.

What Even is Motherhood?

2.25.2017 | No comments

If you have followed along for any amount of time, you will know that I have struggled in amy transition to being a stay-at-home mom.  You will know that I created a series called Messiness of Motherhood which highlighted moms of all kinds.  While composing the series, I found a lot of support in motherhood and respect for the other roles that moms take on.

We have since had our second child, Piper, and it has brought on some new challenges.  It should be noted that I love motherhood.  I am so humbled that the Lord specifically chose me to raise Ezra and Piper.  I am truly finding joy in motherhood: joy in the insane complex crazy wonderful world of motherhood.

However, motherhood hasn't quite been what I thought it would be.  Of course, I am not even sure what I thought it would be like, but not this complex web of beautiful insanity.

So what even is motherhood?

It's messy floors and stained clothes.
It's cold coffee and dry shampoo. 
It's pajamas all day and cheese for breakfast.
It's falling asleep nursing a screaming infant and building blanket forts with a toddler.
It's crying on the phone with your mom for no reason, and it's forgetting to bring the diaper bag to the mall.
It's walking through the grocery store with a wailing toddler because you haven't opened the not-yet-purchased box of graham crackers fast enough.
It's only getting your left hand fingernails painted.
It's feeling like a failure because your kid won't sleep through the night, and it's feeling accomplished because your kid can throw his own diaper away.
It's singing nursery rhymes and children's worship songs without your kids in the car.
It's turning on any cartoon in order to get 5 minutes of quiet.

It's shutting yourself in the bathroom just to check your phone, but just discovering your child can now open doors.
It's throwing the kids in the car just to take a drive, with no destination in mind.
It's seeing the joy on their faces as they make a new discovery or learn a new word.
It's wanting to give up on parenting and simultaneously never wanting anything bad to happen to your child.
It's taking (mostly) only the cute pictures and posting those, but stashing the mess-ups because those are special too.

It's being the bad guy for washing his favorite blanket and forgetting to dry it before nap time.
It's saying you'd never let your kid do XYZ, and then letting him do XYZ.
It's trying to get out of the house but yet again you're already 20 minutes late, oh well.
It's talking to your child like he's your best friend because there's really no one else to talk to during the day.
It's a struggle to find the routine that fits and feeling euphoric when you finally tweek it so it's just right.
It's the mystery of making room in your heart to love your kid more than you ever thought you could and loving them more each day, and loving deeper with every child you have.
It's learning to be flexible and giving yourself grace.
It's finding mom friends to cry to and support.
It's looking into your sick child's eyes wishing you could take every ounce of hurt and pain and fever away if it meant they would feel better.
It's wanting to scream your head off because the kid has to eat something other than bread.
It's sacrificing sleep.

It's crawling into the crib with your kid just to hang out after naps.
It's reading the same book 81 times every day because it is what he likes the most.
It's a dirty house and piles of dirty laundry and uncleaned toilets and unvaccummed floors.
It's boogers and spit-up and bubble baths.
It's Paw Patrol on repeat (can I get an 'amen'?)
It's early mornings and late nights.

It's more cold coffee.
It's hard.
It's messy.
It's even more cold coffee.
It's sweet.
It's rewarding.
It's overwhelming,
and it's a lot more that's hard to convey,

but most importantly, it's worth every single second.

What's motherhood to you?

A Letter to my Husband

2.14.2017 | No comments

I am pretty sure my husband doesn't read much of what I put on the internet, not because he doesn't care or support me, but he literally has twenty thousand other things to read for work and grad school.  I know he cares, and I know he loves me.  He shows his love to me every day in word and in deed.  I am dedicating this one to him, because after all, he is my biggest cheerleader, my most dedicated listener, and my most favorite person.

Dear Mark,

When I first met you in Starbucks over 5 years ago, I really couldn't have predicted that it would land us in an 800-square foot apartment in Virginia with two kids and a cat. (Okay, the cat maybe, you were forced to inherit her) After meeting you for the third time, I am glad I finally remembered your name.  Day after day, sitting in Starbucks at the same table did something to me.  You showed me what being a man hungry for the Lord looked like on a daily basis; for the first time in my life I witnessed what it looks like for a man to be intentional in dating.  I saw what a platonic relationship formed from conversations on the pages of scriptures looked like, and got to feel that first hand.  You were everything I did not want to lose, but everything I told myself I wasn't worthy to have. So friends I convinced myself that's all we'd ever be.

On the night of my 23rd birthday you asked me if you could "pursue me in a dating relationship the way that Christ pursues the Church."  After picking up my jaw from the ground and scooping up my melted heart, I obliged, but wanted to take it slow.  So naturally, you thought 9 days later for our first date was slow.  Thank you for not going at my pace.

I am so grateful you didn't count my messy life before Christ against me.  I am so glad you only saw who Christ saw me to be: new, pure, whole.

Mark, your passionate and aggressive pursuit of the Lord is what I find so abnormally attractive in you.  Of course, there's your washboard abs, perfectly styled Hollywood hair, and those legs.....oh I'm sorry, I digress.  But when all your physical attractiveness fades from the world's standards, there you will be absolutely brilliant in Christ.  That is what is so unnaturally attractive in you, it's Christ.

I see the way you read your bible first thing in the morning.  I would be lying if it didn't irritate me to a degree.  Here I am slaving away trying to get Ezra to stop screaming, and all you can do is read your bible.  And then I have to stop myself and repent, because it is so incredibly beautiful and manly to see you seek the Lord.  There is nothing I would rather see you do in the morning.  I see the way you pray every night on your knees beside our bed.  And I would be lying if I didn't feel convicted watching you as I scroll aimlessly on my phone.  But again, that is what I find so attractive in you.  It's your ability to trust Jesus with not just our kids, not just our marriage, not just our finances or job, but it's literally the way you trust Jesus with your entire being.

Now is the part where you are too humble to accept me thinking all this of you, but this is what I see on a daily basis.  Now is the part where you say, "Yeah, but I know my heart, and I don't trust the Lord as I should."  But Mark, that's not what I see.

You challenge me daily to grow closer to the Lord.  I wish every marriage could have this element.  I wish every husband could offer as much encouragement as you offer me.  I wish every husband offered as much support to their wives as you provide for me.  Your plate is fuller than most, but still you find time to set aside specially for me.  I wish every husband could see their wives body language they way you see mine and talk it out.  I know you're not a mind reader, and I am sorry for trying to make you one.  Thank you for being patient with me, I know I am not the easiest person.

Thank you for listening to me, and not just for listening, but also hearing me.  You really hear me and it causes you to act in love in ways people drool over in movies.  I know we're not perfect and we don't have a perfect marriage, but as I see it, it's really close to what a lot of people probably dream of.  I know we have our disagreements, but thank you for not getting animated or heated about them.  Thank you for being a rational man and seeing me as your equal in marriage and parenting.  Submitting has always been a struggle for me, but being married to a man of your caliber sure makes it not only easier, but super enjoyable.  I wish all women found the joy in submitting to their husbands the way I have with you.  I am sorry for some of the words I say in anger or the numerous eye rolls and huffs under my breath in frustration.

I want to effectively emulate the porcelain the bible says women are.  I want to have the quiet and gentle spirit the bible commands women to embody.  I want to be diligent in seeking the Lord and raising our children to love Christ.  I want you to know I respect you, and I want to honor you in front of all, because you my Husband, are unmatched.  

So thank you for seeking the Lord, for loving him far above any one else or any thing.  Thank you for loving coffee as much as I do, for it is partly responsible for the last 5 years.  Thank you for being the most thoughtful husband and kindest dad.  You are so adored.

I love you,

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