Saturday, January 31, 2015

{iPhone Rewind} :: January

I have debated back and forth on whether or not to do this every month, but I find it helpful. It's a good place to dump the photos I take on my phone, without having to write a whole blog post. So here we go with year 4 of {iPhone Rewind}!

Sasha has become quite the snorer! Mike and I were working on doing some organizing and cleaning around the house, and Sasha decided she was done following us around. So she enjoyed a lazy Saturday, curled up on her pillow, snoring the day away :)

Obviously not an iPhone photo, but I still liked it anyway. It finally got cold outside, and boy was it COLD. I think this is a good principle to live by  :)

I was excited when I read the letter that we would be getting a refund. And then I saw the check. They're thorough, I will give them that...

Flowers from my love. Just because. He knew I wasn't feeling well and thought they would make me feel better. He was right :)

A night-cap latte a la my hubby. LOVE our nespresso!

75 and sunny on January 27th makes this warm-weather-loving Texan happy :)

Friday, January 30, 2015

{30 Before 30} :: Write a Letter to Myself to Open on My 39th Birthday

This was kind of a goofy one, but part of why I have a blog is so I can look back and "remember when." I figured this would be a good way to remember what I was thinking and learning as I entered my 30s. It might give me a little perspective as I enter my 40s :)

Since the point is to open the letter on my 39th birthday, I will not be posting it here. Instead I have written and sealed it and placed it in a safe place {that hopefully I won't forget in 10 years!}

Thursday, January 29, 2015

{30 Before 30} :: Visit the 21 Historical Markers within 50 Miles of our House

I realize this one is completely random {and completely nerdy}, but hey, why not? Something different to do. But apparently I can't count...because there are A LOT more than 21 historical markers within 50 miles of my house. There are probably more than 21 within 5 miles of my house. I remember thinking the number seemed low, but what do I know? I navigated the Historical Marker Database incorrectly, and I definitely miscalculated on that one.

In visiting these historical markers, I also learned that there is more than one database of historical markers...which just makes things super confusing when trying to map them all out. Some are listed in the Historical Marker Database, others are listed directly with the Texas Historical Commission Atlas. Needless to say, there are A TON of historical markers, and it's almost impossible to visit them all. Oh well.

Laura joined me for the first round in Dallas County, because she's that kind of friend...the one that puts up with her nerdy friend :)  Again, I missed A LOT of markers, but it was still fun to walk around downtown Dallas with Laura!

The second round was just in our neighborhood. One of the things I love about McKinney is the rich history. We live about 10 blocks north of the historic downtown square, and just outside the historic district. So most of the markers close to our house are other homes in the historic district. And I LOVE that! 

You can't read the plaques on many of these, simply because I didn't feel comfortable walking up onto someone's front porch to snap a photo. And I had to snap these photos fairly quickly so I didn't look like a creeper in the neighborhood, but it was fun to just walk around the historic district finding so many of these homes on the Texas Historical Commission list. Again, I didn't see all of them {there are SO many more}, but you can only blog about so many houses, right? :)

The First Presbyterian Church {look familiar? this is where Redeemer met!}

Friday, January 23, 2015

High Five for Friday!

{one} Last night was Date Night, and my sweet husband declared it technology-free night. No Netflix, no computers, no phones. And it was wonderful! We had dinner together and just sat and talked, played a few rounds of Bananagrams, and made cookies. It was perfect. We do those things often, but never without our technology close by. I really enjoyed the lack of distraction; we need to do more nights like that :)

{two} So I chopped off my hair yesterday. I had originally started growing it out 2 years ago when I realized that Humira was causing it all to fall out. I had a panic moment and decided I wanted to grow my hair out while I could. I loved having long hair, but I just felt like I needed a change. It's not super short, but I did cut about 5 inches off, and I feel SO much lighter :)
{three} Random thought, but can we just all acknowledge how awkward selfies are? And the fact that they are termed "selfies"? They never come out right, and how narcissistic is it to take a photo {or multiple photos} of yourself? Obviously I still take them here and there, but they're just so weird to me. I guess it  wouldn't be any less weird to ask someone else to take a picture of you, but it's still weird. There's nothing really to this point, I just felt the need to acknowledge my discomfort with taking a photo of myself in my bathroom mirror. 

{four} Since the winding down of Redeemer, we have been taking some time to rest, but we have also been praying about what the Lord might have for us next. We still feel called to ministry, but we are seeking the Lord on what that specifically looks like. We would appreciate your prayers as we continue in this transition phase. We are excited about what He has planned for us...we just need to know what it is! :)

{five} In the interim time, we have been visiting churches in the area. We helped our people get plugged in, and Mike and I have started working on getting plugged in ourselves. Since we don't know where we will be in 6 months, it's hard to get super connected, but we know we need to be in community, serving someplace. Since we have such an affection and relationship with Mercy Church {Mike has preached there several times, we are close with the lead pastor and his wife, etc}, we have decided to serve there during our transition time. We are excited to come alongside them, and we feel we can serve them with our gifts and understanding of church planting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

{30 Before 30} :: Learn to Use My Camera in Manual Mode

I will continually be working on improving my photography, but I knew that would have to start with getting familiar with the inner workings of my DSLR...including manual mode!

I started by reading my camera's manual. While you may think it was a huge snooze fest, it really wasn't at all, and I actually found it incredibly helpful {go figure}.

I found several online tutorials that were incredibly helpful, but ultimately I decided that I needed something a little more structured. I came across an amazing Groupon for an online photography course and just couldn't pass it up. 

I absolutely LOVED this course. This was the next best thing to taking an actual photography course {which I wanted to do, but didn't really have the time and couldn't really spend the money}. So this was the perfect solution for me! It helped refresh me on photography basics, and I learned a lot of new things too. And because I am a nerd, I just really enjoyed the format of lessons, homework, and interaction with online tutors :)

I also signed up to be a member of Click it Up a Notch. There are SO many fantastic tutorials, and I love getting photography tips in my inbox. The whole site is designed to get you more comfortable with your camera, prompt you to actually use your camera more often, and ultimately help you take better photos. Not to be a professional, but just to have better memories! She talks in easy-to-understand language and offers great examples.

I don't know if I have necessarily improved my photography {yet} but I at least know how to operate my camera a little better. Which can only help me as I continue to practice and work to improve my photography, right? :) 

Friday, January 16, 2015

{30 before 30} :: Encourage Another Church Planting Wife

I put this one on the list because it was something I desperately wished I had while we were planting. While my husband received a ton of support and encouragement from local church planters, I unfortunately did not. And that was hard. And lonely. The women at Redeemer were encouraging, but there is a different kind of need for pastor's wives that members of the church cannot offer, simply by nature of roles and ministry.

Acts 29 desires to be helpful to wives, but the actual implementation is a bit challenging. I went to a wives' tea the fall before we launched, and I met some wonderful ladies, but that was it. There was no follow up, and I haven't seen most of them since then. It's not Acts 29's fault, it's just difficult for church planting wives to find time to network with each other, especially since we're all spread out throughout the metroplex. And since we never achieved full-member status, we did not have access to the retreats, which is where I think most of the wives connect.

Working full time, launching the church, and monitoring my health made connecting with other church planting wives fall down on the list of priorities. I was fairly exhausted, and all of my energy was going to ministering to the women at Redeemer. I also struggled with knowing what I had to offer. I desperately needed encouragement from someone who was further in the process {and quite frankly, outside of our process}, so I felt at a loss. We had just started our church planting journey, and then a few short months later it was over. What encouragement could I offer another church planting wife, when our church plant didn't make it?

When we were a few weeks past the close of Redeemer, the Lord placed this on my heart again. And he placed a fellow sister on my heart, the church planting wife of a church with whom we have had close ties for a couple of years. We have talked often about getting together, but life and schedules had just prevented it from happening...until I made the conscious decision to not let it anymore. We had our first official hang out, and I am so thankful for this sweet gal. It was like meeting with a kindred soul. I really wish I hadn't waited so long to make the time to meet a priority.

I don't know exactly what I will have to offer her by way of encouragement, but I do understand some of the unique struggles of being a church planting pastor's wife. And that is a priceless gift that I don't want to waste. More than once, she has told me, "You just get it!" And I do :)

Whether it's just coffee to hang out and talk, or sending her encouraging emails or fun care packages, I hope that I can be an encouragement to her. Just knowing that there is someone there and available to talk and listen would have been an encouragement to me. Or knowing that someone was praying for me and the specific challenges of church planting prayer is that I can be that for her. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Beauty for Ashes

Completely random fact about me: I'm not a fan of Christian music. I love {newer} worship songs and hymns. But the actual Christian music genre? Not so much. I don't listen to Christian radio because I just can't handle the cheese factor. Be honest: Christian music can be just plain goofy. It always seems to be a decade {or two} behind the times, and it drives me crazy when artists pen Christian-sounding lyrics to secular songs.
But this decided distaste of goofy Christian songs didn't come around until I went off to college. Before then...loved it. I grew up in the height of Jaci Velasquez, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Michael W. Smith. I rocked out to my brand-new DC Talk CD on my boombox {because before that, it was cassette tapes, ladies and gentlemen}. I had a group of friends that sang Point of Grace songs at every opportunity {sometimes in public. on purpose}, and we often fought over who got which harmony parts. Oh, the 90s  :)
This morning I woke up with a song in my head, and it was instantly a flashback to my childhood. It made me smile because of how dated the song sounds {that last bridge is like a semi-rap...hilarious}, but the words are what have been on my heart this morning.
Beauty for Ashes, Crystal Lewis
He gives beauty for ashes
Strength for fear
Gladness for mourning
Peace for despair
When sorrow seems to surround you
When suffering hangs heavy o'er your head
Know that tomorrow brings wholeness and healing
God knows your need, just believe what He said {chorus}
When what you've done keeps you from moving on
When fear wants to make itself at home in your heart
Know that forgiveness brings wholeness and healing
God knows your need just believe what He said {chorus}
I once was lost but God has found me
Though I was bound I've been set free
I've been made righteous in His sight
A display of His splendor all can see
It's not a particularly deep song, and some of the lyrics are over-simplified {in my opinion}, but the Lord was reminding me this morning of Isaiah 61:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." {Isaiah 61:1-3}

My Redeemer binds up my broken heart and comforts me in times of sadness. By His grace, beauty will come from the ashes, His joy will replace my weary and battered soul, and I will praise Him despite the heartache. I have come to know that this is true of my Savior. I have also come to learn that it's not always going to look like the exact answer to my prayer or the desire of my heart. But it will be far better. Sometimes here and now, but assuredly in eternity. And in the end, it will be a beautiful display of His splendor and goodness.

I needed this reminder this morning. And I'm thankful He woke me up early to remind me of it...even if it means a goofy-sounding Christian song is running through my brain today :)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 Book List

My one goal for 2014 was to read more. In 2013, I read 4 books...all year long. I knew I could do better in 2014, and I did! I decided not to pick a specific list and just read what I wanted as the year progressed, and that actually helped me read more. I didn't feel committed to one specific list, but rather could read whatever I wanted. All in my head, I know, but whatever works :)

I felt pretty accomplished until Laura told me how many books she read! little reader friend definitely outdid herself this year! So while I have a LONG way to go to catch up to her, I am still glad I read more books last year than the year before. Baby steps :)

1. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp // review here

2. When Sinners Say I Do by Dave Harvey // original review here // This was a re-read because we were walking through premarital counseling with Sami and Adrian. Definitely a good review!

3. The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle // SO FUNNY. This is a light-hearted look at marriage, and I loved how the author shared her personal story. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion while reading this book.

4. The Proverbs 31 Woman by Good Morning Girls // review here

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak // This book was more somber; it is the story of a young German girl during World War II, and it is narrated by Death. I really enjoy historical fiction, and this was a well-written book.

6. Hannah's Hope by Jennifer Saake // This book was probably the infertility book that spoke to me the most; I'm pretty sure I cried from cover to cover. She expressed in words what I have felt throughout our journey, and she offered hope and gospel-centered grace. While I wouldn't encourage all of her advice (i.e. taking a break from church), I appreciated her humility in offering fertility options that she and her husband walked through and committed to Jesus. She wrote in such a tender way that didn't tout right vs. wrong, but instead pushed her readers to seek out the Scripture for answers, always erring on the side of caution. I would very much like to meet her in person someday to give her a hug, and tell her "thank you" for writing this book. Because of her journey, she created Hannah's Prayer Ministries, which is also a great resource for those facing infertility.

7. He Remembers the Barren by Katie Schuermann // Fellow sister in Christ struggling with infertility, if you read no other book, read this one. This book is saturated with the gospel, containing the exact words that those walking the hard road of infertility need to hear. Many of the infertility books I read were written by authors who eventually became biological mothers through varying infertility treatment or a surprise miracle. Their stories/advice/words were no less valuable, but this sweet sister never achieved pregnancy, and yet she writes with such faith and love for our God. She consistently points the reader to the cross, helping you to focus on the beauty and grace of our Savior, instead of your circumstances. It gave me courage and hope that I can {and will} survive this road, even if God chooses to say "no."

8. The Infertility Companion by Sandra L. Glahn // This book was more like a textbook. It contained good medical information on infertility, treatment options, and the emotional realities of this struggle. It was very straightforward and technical, which I actually enjoyed. It was helpful for me to understand the differences in treatment, and to understand at least one Christian organization's bioethical stance on those options. I think it is a great resource that presents good questions for couples to ask/answer as they consider and move forward in varying types of treatment. It was a great springboard for us to do further research on the types of treatment we are considering.

9. When the Cradle is Empty by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter // This was another good resource on infertility, but probably not my favorite. If you are trying to decide on which infertility book to read, it's not a bad one, but I found others more helpful.

10. Dancing on Barren Land by Lesli A. Westfall // Same as #9

11. Infertility: A Silent Struggle and the God Who Hears by Whitney Cornelison // This book wasn't what I expected; it was a lot shorter and fairly simplistic. But in our struggle with infertility, reading others' stories was still helpful.

12. Best of 999 Reasons to Laugh at Infertility by Infertile Naomi // This book was created from a blog. I would recommend it for those struggling with infertility only if the struggle is not new to you. I think this would have been hard to read if I had read it earlier in our journey. You have to be far enough along in the process {and in a good place} to read, understand, and appreciate the humor. Some time and war wounds will make it easier to laugh. That being said, I did laugh, and it felt good to laugh. Because there are a lot of incredibly ridiculous things about infertility.

13. You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan // review here

14. The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine

15. 8 Ways to Improve your Photography by Courtney Slazinik // This is a super short e-book, but I still enjoyed it! I follow the author's blog {Click it up a Notch}, and I just think she has a lot of great tips on everyday photography.

16. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin // This is a great book. I have walked through many of the author's Bible studies, and I absolutely love them. Her format reminds me a lot of BSF, but is a tad less formal. I really respect her approach to studying the Word, and I have the same heart to see women fall in love with the Word and really dig deep. This book is a great resource for those wanting to learn how to become a student of God's Word. Highly recommend.

17. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo // I first read this book in high school, and I really enjoyed it then. When Mike took me to see the play, it made me want to read it again! It's just such a good story. It's long, but so worth the read!

18. Talking to Young Children About Adoption by Mary Watkins and Dr. Susan Fisher MD


I was really glad I read more in 2014. I think I would have read even more if I wasn't also focused on my {30 Before 30} list. I have a number of books lined up and ready for 2015...maybe I can break 20 this year! :)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Infertility :: The Struggle to Grow Our Family

I have debated back and forth on whether or not to publish this. It has been written, edited, tweaked, erased, re-written {on multiple occasions}, and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be ready to put it out into the blogosphere. Putting it out there for the world to see is difficult for many reasons, and for a long time I just haven't been ready. I don't think you're ever really ready for that moment when all is exposed and the intimate parts of your heart are laid open for the world to see...

But the reality is that this is part of our story. It's part of our marriage and our family, and it is shaping so much of who we are becoming in Jesus. This is certainly not a path we would have chosen, but it is the one the Lord has chosen for us. And I believe that He uses even the deepest of heartaches and struggles to show His glory.

This “path” is our journey in trying to grow our family, our walk through infertility. I {naively? arrogantly?} believed that when we were ready, we would be able to have a baby. I knew it could take a little while, but I never imagined that I would be sitting here 2 years later, sharing our story and struggle to achieve something our hearts so desperately desire. The struggle with infertility has been, in a word: heartbreaking. And I don’t mean that to be dramatic. I mean it to emphasize not only the reality of the struggle, but also how the Lord has been breaking down idols and expectations in our hearts.

There’s a lot in my heart on this issue, so I'm not really sure what it's going to look like to unpack it all. I plan to eventually share more specifics of our journey, but for now, it's good to just pen words to our struggle. It's freeing not to have to be cryptic about why 2014 was so hard, and why I wasn't sad to see it go. I realize putting this out for the world to see will probably invite questions. And questions are good and ok. But please be patient with me if I don't instantly share every intimate detail of our journey. The heartbreak and the struggle are still very real to us.

For a long time, it has been such an intimate and private struggle, and it was reasonable not to share it with the world. But I do believe it's time to begin sharing some of the realities we are facing, time to share our journey. I have been so blessed by those who have had the courage to share their struggle with infertility, so I pray that the Lord would use our struggle to encourage others.

I still don’t understand why this is our struggle, and most days I really wrestle with that in my heart before the Lord. But it is ours nonetheless, and it is not outside of God’s knowledge or care. Since it is part of my journey {and one that I hope is drawing me closer to the heart of my Savior}, it’s only fitting that it is shared here. Not only for a personal record, but my prayer is that I can offer some measure of encouragement, wisdom, and grace-filled words to others. If nothing more than to say, “I have been there. I understand, sweet sister, and I am sorry this is your struggle too. But more importantly, Jesus is here, and He is still good."